The Dance Between Internal and External Freedom

This is something that has been gestating within me for the last two years, since the Qoya intensive where I wrote a three-card story about connecting with my ancestors, particularly my feminine lineage.

What came forward is how I saw them. The women in my family. My female ancestors.

I saw them as victims.

Victims of their circumstances.

They were women who lacked the freedom and the agency to make the choices that I have been privileged and blessed enough to make in my own life. Where to live. Who to marry. Whether to have children. What to do for work.

Of course, in many ways, this is true. I DO have significantly more agency and more external choices than they did. And for that, I am very grateful and do not take it for granted.

Yet, what came through in writing this three-card story was another layer of truth that only began to bubble to the surface then and has been taking root within me ever since.

By seeing my grandmothers, and my lineage of women, as victims, I was robbing them of their power again.

Since that moment, what I have begun to understand and integrate is that external freedom is only one half of the story. An extremely important one, don’t get me wrong. We have fought hard, and must continue to do so, for all women and beings to be granted equality of external freedom (without this privilege I could not be sitting here writing this to you). External freedom is imperative and worth fighting for.

And it’s only one half of the story.

Because no amount of external freedom will be able to free us within ourselves.

And there are so many ways that we keep ourselves chained.

For me, some of these ways have looked like taking on the patriarchal voices and belief systems as my own, people pleasing to be liked and accepted, perfectionism, not fully knowing who I am or what my values are.

Because of these chains that kept me confined within myself, I was unable (or unwilling) to take full advantage of the external freedom that was granted to me. The ultimate irony.

In fact, it sometimes felt…daunting. So many choices. A plethora of options. Which one is “right”?

To be free within myself, I must know myself. The more that I know my true nature, and the more that I accept it, the more free I become. Then I can make the choices in the external world that are in alignment with my internal compass.

I am not plagued by constant self-criticism that tells me I am not good enough for this or worthy of that. I don’t keep my work under lock and key because it’s not perfect yet. I am less worried about what it looks like to other people, and more concerned about how it feels to me. I know what I value and what is important to me because I am grounded in my body and my feelings.

We need internal freedom in the same way that we need air and water. And no one else can give it to us.

Which also means that no one else can take it away.

This inner freedom, this thing that is hard to define and even harder to perceive from the outside, is something that perhaps my ancestors had. I can’t know for certain. But what I do know is that they had strength. Each and every one of them had the strength to persevere. To survive. To live through the troubles and the travails that came their way so that I could be here, writing this to you right now.  

To do that, to weather those ancient storms, they had to have an inner resolve. A power that in some ways is unfathomable to me now precisely because they had to deal with circumstances that I cannot even imagine.

The question for me comes down to how I want to remember them. Re-member them. Do I want to strip them of their wholeness once again? See them only for who they were allowed to be on the outside? What society told them was expected and accepted? Do I want to make them small in death, in memory, in the same way I fear others made them small in life?

Or can I begin to be curious about who they were underneath the roles they took on and obligations they carried? Can I see them as more than the circumstances they had to bear? Can I honor them for the women they were, while still also grieving for the women they were never allowed to become?

Because, yes, I am certain there were parts of themselves they were never able to express outwardly.

But perhaps, just perhaps, they expressed the truth of who they were within their own hearts, and validated it by themselves, for themselves.

I don’t think there is anything more freeing than that.