I'm Laura Paxton and I am free.
I am free to play, to create, to express myself, to explore my world. I am freer to think and to reason and daydream than I ever have before. I read more. I have meaningful work that I enjoy very much. I wake up each day with the joy of purpose before me.
Only about five years ago, I existed in a cramped, dark apartment where I had given up on life, agoraphobic, eating mostly chocolate bars for sustenance and playing online scrabble all day long to keep my mind off the pain trapped deep inside. How did I end up there?
Let's face it... I'm autistic. I'm bipolar. I've lived on the dangerous edges of life. I've been raped, survived a near fatal suicide attempt, was almost successfully murdered and lived homeless at times in my teens. Over the course of my life, I've also been taken advantage of, tricked and abused because of my poor judgment, (which was poorer than most people's to begin with, because I'm autistic and don't judge social situations well). Add to that how I had a mother who rejected me. Compound that with how I was immersed in the "New Age" since childhood and my spiritual practices became more and more satanic-leaning over time. How am I alive? How am I even here?
About five years ago, out of the blue, I decided to read a book on contemplative prayer by James Finley. I got to the part about how deeply people desire God and I wept. The sad tears turned into happy tears, because I realized I could finally feel again. It had been so long since I had felt anything! Best yet, the first thing I felt after many "dead" years prior was the desire for my God. I knew I needed to go back to church, and soon.
Through the past few years, I have come to experience freedom- and it only took over forty years to find it. Freedom is the opposite of what I always thought it was.
My early ideas of freedom came from my parents, of course. It was really important to my parents that I have freedom- freedom to create, play and explore the world. The only problem with that is when there are no limits to it.
When I was a young teen, I could ask my parents whether I could go to an adult cocktail party and drink all I wanted and the answer was, "We don't believe in telling you what to do." I never had a curfew. I was never grounded in my life or put on any sort of restriction. I lived an anxious life, not even sure about what was safe or not a lot of the time. Being a total nervous wreck in a state of constant crisis, drama and repeated trauma caused by all the above wasn't exactly what I would call freeing!
There was only one thing in my life my parents absolutely forbid me to do- becoming Catholic. I told a friend this on the way to a retreat recently and she laughed so hard, I think soda came out of her nose.
I wanted to become Catholic very much. I was happy in the Church community. I had a good relationship with a nun named Sister Dorothy there and I would go and talk to her. I loved learning in CCD. It all made sense. And no, I did not go to Catholic school. I just found every way possible to spend as much time as possible at the Catholic Church, from late childhood to my early teens. Yet, eventually, my parents forbid it completely, when I was about fourteen. It was their first strong, "No." And why? "Catholicism will disrupt your direct relationship with God," they said. "We want you to think for yourself and we don't want a saint or a priest or a nun or anyone else to influence you."
Sooo... How did that work out for me? Not really well! There is no feeling I know better than the sense of being "lost."
"Lost" would be my area of expertise.
In my thirties, I followed a spiritual path for about six years which purported "total freedom" to be one of its goals. I haven't seen them put forward a consistent definition of what this means recorded anywhere, but the goal seems to rest on concepts like, "manifesting whatever you want in abundance," and "not being attached to anyone else's judgments or opinions of what you choose to do." I can't even begin to describe anything more constraining and spirit strangling.
Why? Because it's all a game of, "I believe, so I get," or "I believe, so I realize I already have." Because it's centered on "personal power" which is nothing more than worshiping at the altar of selfishness. I am. I have. I do with my power. There is none of the, "God alone suffices," of St. Teresa in that. You may find "all the love you need within yourself," and feel blissfully good, but you've only found a clever way to convince yourself you don't need the more deeply gratifying "meat" of spiritual life. And what's wrong with that? Nothing, if you don't mind the shallowness and emptiness that philosophy and lifestyle creates.
I can also tell you, just because you go to a different satsang or drum circle or circle ceremony every night to find spiritual freedom, you are not necessarily freer for it. By always seeking to break through the next set of limits, (or "limiting beliefs"), you will be searching forever. Of course, there are a limited number of "winners" in this way of life, who will tell you they have found what they were looking for. Those are the ones who make money through selling you this "freedom."
Freedom is actually free.
Someone told me a fable yesterday about a group of children who wanted to play ball next to a steep cliff. Of course, they were afraid to play. They could fall over the edge. They could lose their ball. So, they just sat huddled in a circle, afraid and not having any fun. Later, some people put up a fence and then the kids felt safer and they could play happily and freely. And, that would be a good description of my life today versus my past.
Freedom has to have bounds of some sort- edges, limits, containment. In fact, without a sense of outer security, inner peace is difficult to cultivate.
Now, I've talked to many people (mostly "reverts,") who grew up on the opposite, ultra-strict extreme and they are just as "messed up" as I was. When kids aren't given any room to play at all, that can be like living in shackles. So, often they end up throwing away all limits in life as a reaction to that. For either reason, once a person makes the decision to pursue "freedom" as a "limitless do my own thing," kind of an existence, they don't end up happy in the end either.
So, here we are, the converts and the reverts, two sides of the same coin, really.
I am Home again and I can breathe again. And life beat me to a pulp to get here. Because I have "been there, done that, tried almost everything," I know more solidly than most people do how there is no remote possibility that anything other than Catholicism is the Church Jesus founded. Here in the arms of the Church is the only source of the living bread and water our soul hungers and thirsts for so very much.
We need the chalice of God's love to hold us and fill us. Unlike "spiritual teachers" through the ages, Jesus was truly God. Jesus said He was,"The Way," not "a way." Because this is so, there must exist a true way, a path of certain and steady ground. It is not an act of cowardice (such as running from difficult questions) but an act of great courage to recognize and stand up for the answer when you find it. We are deeply blessed. We have the deep, solid security of knowing, "The Way."
Freedom really isn't "just another word for nothing else to lose." Freedom is another word for "nothing more to gain," and to gain everything is absolutely possible. As C.S. Lewis put so well, "A person who has God and everything else has no more than someone who has only God." With God, we truly do have nothing more to gain. And we are free.
(A related quote.)
"In John 8:32, Jesus tells us that the truth will make us free. However, the mentality mentioned above, so prevalent today, is one which fears the truth. It holds that truth is a relative category, and that the truth claims of the Church are not freeing, but rather enslaving. To counter this, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote that Christians today need to counter the skeptics’ question, “What is truth?” with a question of our own: “What is freedom? What do we actually mean when we extol freedom, placing it at the pinnacle of our scale of values?” Taking up this call, I believe we need to learn and find ways to creatively present the now classical distinctions in moral theology between freedom of indifference and freedom for excellence, on the one hand, and morality of obligation and morality of happiness, on the other."
-Matthew J Ramage, PhD