Last week the United States celebrated Independence Day. This nation’s independence was an outcome of the American Revolutionary War. Throughout history human beings have constantly fought for freedom, such as freedom from another country or freedom from oppressive politics. The United States fought for the freedom to build a democratic republic based on direct representation in government and a constitution ensuring civil liberties. Likewise, in the 20th century, Korean people fought to gain freedom from dictatorship and Japanese colonialism.
Behind the political freedom many of us enjoy lies the sacrifices and efforts of countless people who were willing to risk their lives. More than anything else, their sacrifices were inspired by their “independent spirit.”
There has always been great spirit at the heart of great human triumphs and victories. This spirit has been called “conscience” or “conviction.” Regardless of what you call it, this spirit is a powerful force that shapes not only the advancement of history, but the development and growth of individual lives. It is like a compass that indicates the direction for our lives. When we become discouraged by a hurdle in life, and even if we fall, this spirit is the strength that at times consoles us, or at times scolds us, and inspires us to stand up again. If we ignore the core values we set for ourselves and only chase after superficial things, this spirit asks us, “Who are you? What is the ultimate value you pursue?”
Because we have this spirit, we feel uncomfortable if our words and actions contradict our soul intentions and life wisdom; we feel a desire to harmonize that dissonance. Because of this spirit, we feel angry when we witness injustice, and we feel compelled to correct it.
If this spirit grows, we come to realize the importance of having great concern and affection for the world rather than just living for personal gain and security. That is why we respect and honor those who have given their lives to uphold its values, such as freedom. Indeed, it’s the spirit within us that is the strength that truly makes humans humane. It usually lies dormant in the human brain, but it can be awakened and developed. In the process of finding and developing this spirit, we can make our lives and the lives of our neighbors more worthwhile. We can make the earth a more beautiful place.
If our great spirit remains inactive in our brains, our selfish desires will dominate our thoughts, choices and actions. Everyone has selfish desires. Can you imagine a life without wanting or yearning for something? Don’t you need to take care of yourself? Our desires are not bad in and of themselves. Just like a car that’s involved in a serious accident is not bad. Our desires are merely a source of energy and passion.
What matters is how we activate and managee our desires. Desires are like fertilizer. If fertilizer just sits without being used, it will begin to smell. If instead fertilizer is used well, beautiful flowers and trees can be cultivated from it. Our spirit determines how the energy of our desires is activated. Our spirit is the compass that points the way, the energy of our desires is the fuel for our vehicle.
Is this great spirit active in your brain right now? Do you have the spark of your inner freedom? I think the essence of spirituality is living according to the drive of this spirit. Seeking mysticism for its own sake or imitating a mystical atmosphere is not really being spiritual.
Spirituality is about understanding the contradictions and complexities of life, and using the energy of our desires as fertilizer to bloom the flower of our spirit. Our bodies, with their countless emotions and desires, will disappear someday while our spirit will remain. Warmly embracing our emotions, desires, and the finite aspects of life, and creating the life we want through the great spirit inside our brains—that is a truly spiritual life and the essence of freedom.