What often holds us back is lack of self-awareness. So we move from place to place, from person to person, from job to job, only to find ourselves with the same grievances.

Jose Marti y Perez, a 19th century Cuban writer, philosopher and revolutionary, once noted, “To change masters is not to be free.” He was talking about political freedom. But the thought also applies to personal life. Without self-knowledge, we remain prisoners of our own prejudices.

Can you be free if you don’t know yourself? Can you be free if you don’t understand others? Can you be free if what others think of you becomes more important than what you think of yourself?

Can you be free if you are easily fooled, when you can’t tell the difference between goodwill and false affection? It has been said that ignorance is bliss, but can an ignorant person be free or is the blissful person, rather, a prisoner of his own ignorance? Without real knowledge we remain imprisoned by our own past, prisoners of our own childhood.

To be emancipated is to be free from a past that places its hand on your shoulder and says, “You can go no further; you can do no better.”

Many live enchained by thoughtless customs, meaningless rituals or the mindless acceptance of things as they appear to be. Many live under the heavy weight of the carelessness of teachers, the taunting of other children or the cruelty of parents.

To be free is to accept the past as unalterable, then leaving it aside so that it is no longer an excuse or an obsession. The emancipated person never says, “It’s not my fault; another made me this way.”

Here is a story from Japan that illustrates the point: Two monks on a pilgrimage come to a river. There they see a young woman who wants to cross to the other side. She tells the monks that the river is too swift and she doesn’t know how to swim.

One of the monks, upon hearing her dilemma, places the woman on his back and carries her to the other side. They bid the woman good-bye and continue on their journey. But something continues to bother the second monk and after many miles of brooding, he criticizes to his fellow traveler, saying, “You are a holy man. Surely it isn’t right to touch a woman, and one who isn’t a relative on top of that. It is against our sacred orders.”

The monk who had carried the woman answered, “I set her down miles back, but you, you still carry her around with you.”

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