Reflections on Life

When freedom and duty are one

I have been struggling most of my life with a sense of obligation to others and a self-imposed pressure to please others. It creates stress in the body which I am certain contributes to at least two ailments. I would like to attain complete spiritual freedom, heal this body, and leave behind the stress that comes with feeling obligated. Where does that pressure come from? When are we truly obligated in life to do anything?

What does complete spiritual freedom look like? To me, it means having the freedom to be myself exactly as I am; freedom to choose my path in life; freedom to express my soul’s calling; freedom from any sense of imposed obligation or associated guilt. It seems to be impossible to live in this society without any sense of obligation: if we buy the card we need to follow the rules. But perhaps we can still be spiritually free even within the apparent confines of this restrictive society. Can true freedom transcend society’s coercive policies and beliefs?

In order to glimpse spiritual freedom I think we need to look at how our behaviors are influenced by our beliefs. I tend to care a lot about what other people think. I want to please people that I care about by committing to something that will benefit them or make them happy. I feel obligated to please them and then I pressure myself to follow through. For example, I might commit early to go to a friend’s workshop when I actually have too much going on that week. I feel guilty that I need to cancel and so I might try to go to the workshop anyway which results in stress. Books like “You do you” by Sarah Knight have helped me to start seeing through false beliefs that contribute to these behaviors, like needing to please people in order to be loved and accepted. A lot of these feelings of obligation can be released when we change our beliefs which has the potential to greatly increase the freedom to be ourselves and live joyfully.

Life starts to look and feel a lot more joyful if we are doing things because we want to and out of love rather than feeling like we have to! But what happens when we have children or we are responsible to other people like paid staff? Perhaps there are some obligations to other that cannot be thrown by the wayside? I suppose it would be physically possible to stay in bed all day while our children cry out for food. But that would feel pretty awful, right? Here is where a sense of moral obligation comes in. I may not be morally obligated to go to my sister’s birthday party but I sure do feel morally obligated to tell the truth to my partner if he asks why I came home late last night. A sense of morals is what keeps the fabric of our communities alive and strong. If our collective morals are weak and people lie, cheat, and steal, I guess that is where law making comes in. The stronger our sense of morals, however, the less need there is for law enforcement. If we feed and love our children, law enforcement doesn’t come to take them away from us.

It is a good idea to stay true to our morals because we will feel better about ourselves and avoid potentially disastrous consequences. Morals point the way towards love and so following a moral code helps us to be more honest, courageous, and loving human beings. How can we know the difference between moral obligations and societal obligations that are restrictive and unnecessary? To many of us, it seems obvious that telling the truth feels right and showing love to our children feels good. But sometimes we need more guidance. I have been turning to the Bible for guideposts lately, for example loving our neighbors as ourselves. If my elderly neighbor needs help mowing his lawn, I may feel morally obligated to help him once in a while. Doing the duty out of love is very different from doing the duty because I feel like I have to. Performing moral duties without love feels like a stressful burden. Sometimes we lack love and become depressed for mysterious reasons. How can we connect to a greater sense of love when we are fulfilling moral obligations?

It occurred to me that Love is like a binding force that enables us to experience true spiritual freedom while still fulfilling moral duties. That Love grows naturally from living a moral life in connection with God/Great Spirit/the Universe, because God is Love. Moral duties outlined in sacred texts point the way towards goodness and living closer to God. When we love God/goodness we naturally want to carry out moral obligations set out in God’s laws. When we know God, we understand that moral codes/ God’s Laws are there for our own protection. Even if we don’t believe in God, we still feel the natural pull towards Love. When we are deficient in Love, we seek it in physical sources or people and it doesn’t last. Spiritual practices such as forgiveness, compassion, facing our fears, and prayer can help to open the door to Love. Lasting Love and spiritual freedom comes from an inner connection with God and living joyfully according to moral codes.

What does it actually look like, to throw away a sense of unnecessary obligations to society and to follow a commitment to good morals? I want to explore this question in every day life as part of my healing process. I will be striving to unlearn the belief that I need to please others in order to be a worthy human being. I will be using good discernment when it comes to man-made laws that have nothing to do with a moral code. I will be renewing my commitment to God to be a good person and follow His moral code in the name of Love and spiritual freedom. It is a long and difficult journey but it is totally worth walking :).

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