The spiritual significance of Freedom Day
Freedom Day is a holiday celebrated by South Africans in remembrance of our liberation from a brutally oppressive apartheid system. While we have various rights and freedoms as enshrined in our constitution, it remains important for us as spiritual beings to consciously live each day fully aware of and immersed in our spiritual freedom.
By using the power of meditation and focusing on the breath, the Art of Living Foundation encourages a peaceful and present life fully immersed in spiritual liberation. According to Vani Pavadai, senior faculty member and stalwart of the foundation, some of the benefits of spiritual freedom include being free from the tsunami of thoughts that bother us, the entanglements that we harbour in our heads, as well as our own emotional turmoil.
For the past 22 years, Pavadai has taught spiritually liberating meditation programmes, touching the lives of thousands of people across the continent.
“Spiritual Freedom is about one’s mind being free, expanded, still and at peace. Spirituality is when you have an understanding of who you are. Experiencing that intrinsic connection between the mind, body, and soul brings freedom, love, joy and inner peace,” she says.
For Dr Nontando Hadebe, chairperson of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians, spiritual liberation is when a person has been freed from negative and harmful practices that hinder them and others.
“It is us being liberated from the negative aspects of ourselves that we know are wrong. It frees us from the opinion of people and from our own weaknesses. We’re also liberated to live according to our gifts and contribute to the world, becoming people that live with ethics, integrity and dignity,” says Dr Hadebe.
In celebrating our freedom, Pavadai believes viewing liberation through the lens of spirituality becomes paramount. “Freedom Day is twofold for me: It reminds me of the terrible past we come from as a people, but also reminds me of how I should celebrate the great possibilities that societal freedom brings,” she says.
She does, however, warn of the distinctive line between societal and spiritual freedom. In enjoying our societal freedom, we should also ensure that we do not remain prisoners of our own minds.
“Today, after 27 years of freedom for our nation, I can live wherever I want to, stay in any hotel I like, eat in any restaurant I want; but does that outer freedom make me feel free in my own mind, in my own being?”
Equally, in looking at the spiritual significance of Freedom Day, Dr Hadebe believes that it redefined our spiritual identity as God’s people. “God does not support oppression. All human beings were created equally and with equal dignity. When that spirituality found root in the heart of our leaders, they were able to rise up and say that we were not created to be oppressed. It was the spirituality of justice and integrity that gave people the sense that our lives matter.
“We have been called to freedom, which is characterised by love, kindness, goodness, justice. When we live according to those values, we are truly free,” says Dr Hadebe.
While spirituality is a journey and spiritual freedom is not to be viewed as a destination, taking the necessary steps towards embracing spiritual liberation goes a long way and can better our quality of life.
Different breathing techniques and the art of meditation serve as food for the soul and nurture the core of our very existence. For Pavadai, there’s much spiritual freedom in meditation – an art she practices daily and lovingly shares with those willing to learn.
“The practice of meditation is to consciously rest the mind. To dip into the quiet space inside of us. To bring the busy active thinking mind to a rest. This rest is so necessary to rejuvenate the entire system, to align the feelings and emotions, to grow ones’ inner peace. This state of mind then reflects in our outer actions, speech and behaviour.”
According to Dr Hadebe, to overcome spiritual oppression we need to build up our spiritual strength and resilience. “Wherever there is no hope, love, strength and resilience then the negativity can be oppressive.”
Indeed, there is no one-size-fits-all and universally precise method for living in a state of spiritual liberation as we all practice our spirituality differently. However, through smiling a little more, taking care of ourselves and others, as well as being kind to those around us, we can create a world where each person can freely and fully embark on their personal journey of spiritual freedom.