Lately I’ve been reading the book Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick. I always enjoy learning the stories behind history, but this particular part of history has a special place in my heart because I am the 15th generation descendant of 4 people who came over to the New World on that ship.(Important Side Note: Which does not at all cause my husband to crack frequent jokes about “inbreeding” at my expense.)
This material is dovetailing nicely with all the things I was thinking about after reading Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, back before my intestines became the unfortunately fertile breeding ground for Hostile Alien Bacteria. Specifically it’s helping me to answer the question, “What’s my word?” Because not only have I realized that, of course, my word cannot be anything other than FREE, all this reading about my ancestors has given me a good idea of where that might have come from.
Of course we all know the traditional story of the Pilgrims and their desire for freedom from the king of England and his church, but it’s the way that Philbrick describes these desires that sometimes has all my hair standing on end in amazed recognition.
When I read things like, “…the Puritans had chosen to spurn thousands of years of accumulated tradition in favor of a text that gave them a direct and personal connection to God,” I remember how powerful an experience it was for me to go through the workbook of A Course In Miracles for the first time (Philbrick, p.8).
Or when I read that they wanted to be “…free to establish themselves on their own terms”, I think about how I have done the very same thing in creating my own work, my own contribution to the world, and my own role within my marriage (Philbrick, p.16).
And when I read that during their services, “…the entire congregation had participated in a passionate search for divine truth”, I almost shot out the top of my head, because that is what my entire life has been devoted to (Philbrick, p. 12).
Of course the form of this search, as well as the form of the truths I’ve discovered, has taken many different shapes over the years.
In my younger years I was of the opinion that, There Is Only One Truth, And I Will Find It, And I Will Carry It To The Rest Of The World, and, well, I’m sure you can imagine just how well that worked out. But these days I’m more of the mind of Pontius Pilate in “Jesus Christ, Superstar” where he says,
But what is truth?
Is truth unchanging law?
We both have truths.
Are mine the same as yours?
I say that now, because back in March of 2004 at the end of an extended depression, as well as a year of doing the Course, my mind just split open and everything came pouring out. Everything I ever thought I was, every belief, every conclusion I’d come to about myself and the world, every single thought I’d ever had about anything just crumbled and then dissolved away.
I’d just experienced too many things that showed that the way I thought about life, and myself, and God was not the way things actually were. I could no longer not know what I knew. And what I now knew was this: that there are as many unique, individual paths to God as there are unique individuals on the planet.
And so I love this quote by Ghandi which says, “My commitment is to truth as I see it each day, not to consistency”, because that is exactly how I now experience my day-to-day life.
By the time the worst of my crisis had passed, my mind had literally become a completely blank slate. As I went through my day I would pick up every thought that occurred to me, from “I like these pants”, to “I believe in God”, and examine it to see if it was true for me. I literally rebuilt my mind in this way, one thought at a time.
And so now, this is what freedom means to me: that I am free, in each and every moment, to choose my own thoughts.
This was not the first time I’d been introduced to this idea, nor was it the first time this idea precipitated a major life crisis.
When I arrived at college at the tender age of 17, what blew me away was not the freedom I found to act in whatever way I chose, but rather the freedom to think whatever I wanted to at any given moment. Up until this point I was always in an environment where someone else was constantly telling me how and what to think, and because it seemed to work for me at the time I just went along with it.
But when I got to college I was completely on my own mentally speaking, and because I was unused to such total and absolute freedom, I was completely overwhelmed. And interestingly enough, this very same thing happened to the Pilgrims. Before they came to the New World they lived for a while in Holland, and according to Philbrick, “Once in Amsterdam, the Separatists from Scrooby found themselves thrust into conflict and contention. As dissidents who had come to define themselves in opposition to an established authority, Separatists were often unprepared for the reality of being able to worship as they wanted in Holland” (Philbrick, p.13)
I’m not sure exactly what the Pilgrims did to deal with this, but I, brilliantly, contracted mono, which gave me an excuse for lying in my dorm room alone for long periods of time, away from the constant pressure of new thoughts and ideas and experiences. Just like my crisis in 2004 gave me the space I needed to re-create my mind in my own, authentic image.
Happily I’m learning more and more how to experience all this freedom without needing to first experience a serious illness or a major emotional crisis.
Now I know that I can think whatever I choose in every moment. And it is all very good.
I read Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea (which was the book that inspired Moby Dick), and loved it. I might have to pick this one up.
Lynne Morrell says
I love that quote from Ghandi…I had never heard it before except in my own mind. Love it! I love that “the truth” isn’t consistent…because we change moment by moment and what might have registered as importand one day…changes to not-so-important the next. Thats freedom to me too. This was a lovely post Jenny…thanks for sharing!
I LOVED Mayflower. And I never read books like that. My dad kept raving about it and I read it only so he’d stop telling me about it. I must say, my 2nd grade perception of Squanto changed big time!