by Mary Reitano

 “Just imagine becoming the way you used to be as a very young child, before you understood the meaning of any word, before opinions took over your mind. The real you is loving, joyful, and free. The real you is just like a flower, just like the wind, just like the ocean, just like the sun.” – Don Miguel Ruiz, Mexican author

Recently, America celebrated Independence Day. The freedom established by our founding fathers is precious to most Americans. Thomas Jefferson wrote: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” How can we maximize personal liberty and pursue happiness today? As a counselor, I suggest cherishing individuality; expressing love and forgiveness; developing peace of mind; and exercising courage.

Appreciating individuality means acknowledging strengths and limitations. It includes freedom from worrying about what others think. Author Alexandra Stoddard wrote “We can raise our sights high when we’re willing to break free from being conformists who live a conventional life simply because we are too afraid to express our uniqueness.” Originality and creativity occur everywhere—construction, cooking, business, leadership, etc. Author Alice Walker wrote “I have fallen in love with the imagination. And if you fall in love with the imagination, you understand that it is a free spirit. It will go anywhere, and it can do anything.” Free-thinking people see outside the box to find solutions. Accepting individuality includes acknowledging good and bad traits; counselors call this being fully integrated. Freedom from guilt occurs through taking responsibility, making amends, and learning from mistakes. Forgiving ourselves is liberating; and freedom from shame means not letting mistakes unfairly define who we are.

Freely expressing love adds joy to life. Love is nurtured by forgiveness of self and others. Tyler Perry, filmmaker, admitted “The most important thing that I learned in growing up is that forgiveness is something that, when you do it, you free yourself to move on.”Love includes tolerance–having flexibility to interact kindly with all types of people. To “live and let live” frees us from tension. Love means exercising freedom with others in mind. Nelson Mandela, South African statesman, wrote “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

Peace of mind is a gift that creates lightness in your soul. Do you recall playing as a child, truly care-free? As adults, this state is harder to attain, but still possible. Sometimes, spiritual resources help. Also, the discipline of focusing on resources and solutions goes a long way to reduce worry. Marcus Garvey, Jamaican publisher wrote: “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds!” Peace of mind also comes from relinquishing control, which frees energy for what can be controlled. Accepting we cannot change others is liberating–we then focus on our attitudes and actions, such as developing gratitude and contentment. Vietnamese clergyman Thich Nhat Hanh wrote: “Freedom is not given to us by anyone; we have to cultivate it ourselves.”

Freedom is obtained by exercising courage, despite fears. Journalist Soledad Obrien wrote: “I’ve learned that fear limits you and your vision. It serves as blinders to what may be just a few steps down the road for you. The journey is valuable, but believing in your talents, your abilities, and your self-worth can empower you to walk down an even brighter path. Transforming fear into freedom–how great is that?”

Mary Reitano is a National Certified Counselor and Licensed Professional Counselor in North and South Carolina.  She practices at Restoration Counseling in Lake Lure.  She can be reached at 704-858-2926 or maryalisonreitano@gmail.com.