Updated: Apr 21, 2021
Check your assumptions, and Donald Byrd
TLDR - Liberation is possible.
Our distant ancestors let themselves marvel. They watched the stars and were mesmerized by dancing flames against the darkness of night. Regaled by myths and monsters, and awe-struck by the abundance and wildness of life, they imagined ways that such a curious situation might have come about. Comfort in ideas ensured survival against the madness of uncertainty, pain, and the inevitable visits of hunger and grief. Taking for granted how much we had filled in blanks all the while, we made this world, our shared understanding, our norms, beliefs, and common goals. All of this is to say that every aspect of our lives today is weighed by the baggage of hundreds of thousands of years of assumptions. The thing about assumptions is that they are implicit, and therefore we cannot claim that anyone in particular is responsible for them. However, when we check our assumptions, we begin to unravel the Gordian knot that keeps us bound.
In the modern context, our assumptions run wild. For example, there is assumption that caution implies fear. This puts us in a quandary; if you were alive in the 1990's you'll remember that we're all supposed to have "No Fear." First off, to use caution is to care, or to find a way to be secure (from Latin securitas - free of care), to look ahead to what is coming, or to be aware. Being aware is something that is neutral, and intrinsic to life. Essentially to use caution is to care for being alive. The implication that we should not be afraid, or vulnerable, is to take life for granted. Unraveling this assumption allows us to experience gratitude just to be alive. How wonderful to live without that assumption!
Another example is that freedom is the same as power. Again, if you were alive in the 2000's you might have heard "freedom isn't free" float into your ears at some point. Aside from being almost completely incoherent as a statement, the implication is that we must either earn, take, or use force to guarantee our power to choose. The echo is currently a lot of parlance being flung around about sovereignty (self-rule, or autonomy). Our capacity to act - power - does not arise from anything we do or do not do. Our ability to interact with existence is a feature of our being, and not a product of our decisions - our decisions are a product of our power! Power, potency, action expresses itself through everything in existence in a unique way, and it all arises from the same cosmic source. Power expresses itself through us, but are we in control of it? Are we really choosing, or is there a dance of cosmic forces moving things in ways we cannot comprehend? The Bhagavad Gita answers us, "Those who see action in inaction and inaction in action are truly wise amongst humans. Although performing all kinds of actions, they are yogis and masters of all their actions. 4.18"
To interpret this as simply as possible: Action belongs to the body, the senses, and the mind, but the capacity to act belongs to our real nature - the cosmic force that animates life which itself is unmoving and unchanging. While it appears the "we" are in action when the body/mind/senses are active, our nature is actually inactive. And, when it appears that the body/mind/senses are not active, our nature is still present expressing itself through them, and is therefore active.
Here lies the assumption that we are a someone, or a something that does or does not do things. When we begin to tug on the threads that hold this knot together, things become interesting.
Thus, I refer you to these wise voices:
"Where is the doer or enjoyer? Where is the origin or end of thought? Where is direct or reflected knowledge? There is no person here." - Ashtavakra Gita
"Soul, mind, or ego are mere words. There are no such entities. Consciousness alone is the only truth." - Sri Ramana Maharshi
"Words and questions come from the mind and hold you there. To go beyond the mind, you must be silent and quiet. Peace and silence, silence and peace - this is the way beyond. Stop asking questions...If you stay with the idea that you are not the body, nor the mind, nor even their witness, but altogether beyond, your mind will grow in clarity, your desires - in purity, your actions - in charity, and that inner distillation will take you to another world, a world of truth and fearless love." - Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj
To find an end to the confusion and struggle in life, we must be willing to interrupt the habit to constantly re-affirm the sense of "I am." It is enough to just be, without the extra pressure of trying to become, accomplish, or control. In a world that asks us to constantly conform to these actions, there is no greater revolutionary act than to engage with life as it is. When we are open to the power to act that already dwells within us, all that we can do is allow it to move us as it does. What we find is that we are a force of love, compassion, and grace in this world.
Inspired by Donald Byrd - "Essence"