The Five Freedoms, and the Five Elements
In my recent Pathways of Qi, Exploring the Meridian Medicine Wheel workshop in Chicago, I introduced the idea of the five freedoms. These are essential to exercise in the presence of unconditional love for a true, full and deep sense of wholeness and self-acceptance. They offer a sure way to escape the struggle of toxic shame and self-deprecation, and to claim and exercise them is a significant piece of ongoing personal cultivation.
The five freedoms simply stated are: 1) to perceive, 2) to think, 3) to feel, 4) to want and 5) to choose. In order to live fully from our authentic and realized self, we practice affirming our five freedoms.
- We affirm our own unique perceptions of the world around us. We have the ability to see, hear, smell, taste and feel the truth of our experience. No one else can tell us what to perceive, though conversations with others regarding their perceptions may shape our perceptual experience. What is essential here is to know that ultimately it is our right and responsibility to trust and grow our own perceptions.
- We affirm our right and responsibility to think for ourselves. No one can do our thinking for us, though perhaps many have through the art of persuasion tried to influence our thinking. Even education in a system can be a subtle form of external conditions shaping our thoughts. Again, what is essential here is to realize that we are ultimately responsible for our thoughts, and knowing when and how to express them in a good way. Sinclair Lewis’s character Babbit was a perfect example of someone who struggled to find his own original thoughts. Of course, this is a caricature of a human being, but it can be hauntingly real if you tend to be overly influenced by the strongly expressed opinions of those whom you invest with authority.
- Affirming your rights and responsibilities to your feelings is an essential skill to develop in order to live a highly functional life with a minimum of victim thinking. To me, this area is the one that ultimately is completely our own. No one can tell you what to feel. No one can make you feel anything. Your feelings are your own. No more can you say “you make me mad.” Rather say,” I find that I am mad when I reflect upon your behavior and your words.” And that is where your work begins. To own your feelings is to have the ability to be strong in your authentic self-expression. To know what you are feeling in any giving moment or setting is to have in your consciousness the power you need to be fully alive. To learn to navigate your own inner emotional landscape and to fully own the rights and responsibilities that go with your emotional being is perhaps the single most important task you can undertake.
- To affirm your right to what you want, and what you desire is another essential step on the path of personal freedom. And it is founded on the previous three freedoms. If you are free to perceive, think and feel for yourself, you will be clear about what you want and desire in your life in any given moment. And here the art of being in relationship is most sorely tested. The fact that there are so many choices, and so many things, places, experiences, available to us to chose from, and that everyone has their own unique set of tastes and needs, the art of doing things together that everyone in the party agrees they also want is a high art indeed. of course if we were completely alone, we might always in every moment find that what we want is never in conflict with what others want. Yet this is not the case. We live in social settings, and in order to maintain social harmony, there are often compromises, or delays and a need for a great deal of flexibility. But the clearer you are about your own desires, you can use them to point the way to your best outcomes. And like the Rolling Stones song tells us, “you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime, I think you’ll find, you get what you need!”
- Finally the right to chose is the last essential step on the path of freedom. Based on all the previous freedoms, your own personal choice is before you. No one can ultimately make any choice for you. You must make it inside yourself, and then work to actualize it in the world. Make a commitment to the world you wish to live in, the choices you make to devote your time, attention, energy and love to, and watch your world come into focus and begin to yield fulfillment and satisfaction. yet at the same time, see that this freedom demands stepping up to your rights and responsibilities. If you have chosen for yourself, then you have no one else to blame. This is not easy! For many, the idea of having another person chose for them can lead to a sense of relief. Gosh, I admit, sometimes it’s just hard to know exactly what the right choice is. And giving that over to a trusted friend or advisor can really help guide the way. But that is the key… a trusted friend or advisor must also always know that ultimately your reaction to the choice and alignment with the choice is essential. For myself, I like to use a “non-human source” as a guide. Some sort of divine or spirit being to help guide me. There’s a lot to be said for the line in the Lord’s prayer “Thy will be done!” To align yourself with the divine purpose for you is a profound key to fulfilling this final freedom.
So now that we are familiar with the five freedoms, how do these relate to the Five Elements. For this, I draw the link to the daily cycle of energy flow.
Perceptions I see as related to the Metal Element and the Wei Qi field. Our contact with the world around us is the first edge of experience.
Thoughts relate to the Earth Element, our nourishment and rumination energies. We take things into us, and we roll them around in our mind’s eye. The spirit level here is known as the Yi. The Yi is the rational intellect and it falls in the purview of the Spleen Channel energies.
Feelings / Emotions I give to the Fire Element, the element of the Heart and Small Intestine, Triple Warmer, and Pericardium. These energies are deeply related to our inner world of truth, interpretation and essential self-awareness and realization. There is a strong argument to be made for the emotions to be rooted in the Water element as well, but here is where I see Water being most closely related to realm of wants and desires.
Water governs the deep, driving forces that shape our motivations into life. Our Zhi, our will forces are here in the Kidneys, and they arise from within us, even from our unconscious. One can even say that Heart is the awareness that we are conscious of, and Kidney the awareness that is revealing itself as we go along. There are few places in life where this is more clearly revealed than in our wants and desires. An old German song speaks of Hans, who has everything he wants. But what he wants he doesn’t have, and what he has, he doesn’t want! And yet, he has everything he wants! We can all relate to this in one way or another as we seek that elusive feeling of fulfillment and satisfaction along the journey of life.
And finally, to chose, simply put, this is the realm of the Wood Element. Our Gall Bladder and Liver are charged with the task of making the strategic choices at each step of the way. To weight the two sides (or many sides) of any given situation and to take the ultimate responsibility of making the choice. And then once the choice is made, to learn and grow, striving ever onward in life toward the goals and rewards that await a “job well done.”
So these are the correlations. And in the task of fully embodying your five freedoms I encourage you to look and see where you may be weak or strong, need attention, or can rest confidently in your sense of achievement. If you struggle with your emotions, practice Fire Element cultivation. If you are not sure about what you perceive, check your Wei Qi field and develop your Lung and Large Intestine Qi. Apply this to each of the five freedoms, and use the Five Elements and their corresponding meridians to access the energy you need to more and more fully realize those freedoms in all areas of your life. And any place where you see your freedoms being compromised, slow down, pause, take a break and honestly assess where you are at. Then affirm once more your right and responsibility to be fully in your perceptions, thoughts, feelings, desires and choices.
I encourage you to take this into your life and put these five freedoms into action. In so doing, you will eradicate the monster of self-deprecation and banish the demon of toxic shame from running your life forever. And further, make a commitment to surround yourself with others who affirm your right to your five freedoms, and also claim the right to their own. It can be a lot of fun to be in a dedicated group of beings on the path of freedom. Let freedom ring!
And… See you in class!