The Statue of Liberty, that sits on Liberty Island in New York harbor, was conceived by the French abolitionist Edouard de Laboulaye. In 1865, the year the United States abolished slavery, Laboulaye discussed the idea of a monument to honor the emancipation of slaves in America with French sculptor Frederic Bartholdi.
(By the way, did you know that slavery didn’t end on Jan. 1, 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation? It officially ended on December 6, 1865, the day the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified. The 13th amendment says “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”)
Although Laboulaye and Bartholdi had envisioned a statue holding broken chains and shackles, American financiers did not want chains on the monument, or any mention of slavery, and insisted the chains be removed. Because the French faced difficult economic times and couldn’t fund the project fully themselves, they relied on American money to complete the project. Bartholdi eventually compromised to avoid losing American financial support. He eventually agreed to remove the chains from Lady Liberty’s hand, and replace them with a book.
But what many of us don’t realize is that Bartholdi left the shackles and broken chains at her feet. Because of the height of the pedestal built to support the statue, the shackles and chains are invisible to visitors on the ground. You can only see the chains from a helicopter. You can only see them “from above.”
SO WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH YOU OR ME?
Quite a bit, actually. I’ll go straight for it.
I very much appreciate that Laboulaye was an abolitionist, and that his desire was to celebrate the end of slavery in America. I’m all for that. Being raised Quaker, I remember hearing in Sunday School about Quakers helping slaves. Quakers actually played a major role in organizing and running the Underground Railroad, which was a system of secret routes and safe-houses that helped runaway slaves reach freedom in the northern states and in Canada. Quakers believe it is a moral duty to support freedom for all. After all, Quakers are a pretty spunky bunch and left England for America because they wanted freedom from bowing to the rules of royalty, religious or otherwise.
Even though we can’t (easily) see the chains on the Statue of Liberty, they are there. And while it’s doubtful that American financiers, who likely made their fortunes through the use of slaves, were pure in their motives about not wanting chains on the statue, nevertheless, the spirit and essence of freedom is not celebrated by bringing chains of the past (visible or invisible) into the present.
Broken chains are a celebration of resistance, not freedom.
It’s impossible to view shackles and chains and think “freedom.”
To celebrate true clean-as-a-whistle freedom, leave shackles out of the picture. To create a new life, with total freedom to move forward, it’s vital to turn my full attention from where I’ve been to where I’m going. While it may be tempting to throw stones as I leave, or emphasize the struggle, that won’t help because it chains me to my past through continuing resistance. If I’m throwing stones, even silently in my head, I’m still pushing against what happened in my past. If I’m talking about the struggle, and I’ve got broken chains to prove it, I’m keeping the feeling of my past active in me. The (not so) funny thing is, resistance to my past glues it to me.
So, the moral of the story is, don’t be a slave to a habit of resistance.
Resistance slows you down and keeps you un-free.
Honoring the struggle of the past will keep you there, too.
Instead, choose to make a clean break.
This, by the way, requires impeccable awareness.
It also requires a strong, clear desire to move cleanly in a new direction.
Can being resistant be useful somehow? Sure, if you notice it. Pay attention to how your body feels and you’ll be able to catch it. Use resistance to remind you to wake up. When you wake up, be vigilant about noticing when you’ve slipped into exploring old territory again.
Touch on your past just enough to notice what you want now — in the present. Turn entirely toward that. Use your past as a springboard.
BE AWAKE SO THAT YOU CAN BE INTENTIONAL.
If I want my relationship with my husband to improve, I don’t accomplish this by continuously telling my friends why things aren’t working, or what a schmuck he is. That plan won’t help me create a relationship I truly want! Pointing out the many ways he’s wrong, and how I’m the smart one, of course — that won’t help either.
To begin to change, I turn my attention to being who I am, not to the small, un-free, victim version of me. I don’t keep my attention on feeling stuck. Or on the belief that he’s the true problem. I let old ideas sit right where they are. I don’t pick them up and play with them. Why? Because I’m no longer fascinated by them. Neither am I fascinated by the drama of how things aren’t working. Or by who’s wrong and who’s right. It’s old news and it didn’t work. I leave the old stuff alone, like abandoned toys, and I deliberately and consciously get up and walk out of the room.
I turn my attention to what I want now, which I’m aware of precisely because of my difficult past. Gradually, I begin to feel genuine appreciation for my past because it helped me clarify important desires. This might take a little while, but we can get there eventually. (Yes, I know. At first it feels irritating that the biggest thorn in my side becomes my growth opportunity. Oh, joy!!!)
From my own personal experience, and from working with couples, I can report that it’s often quite a challenge to set aside old expectations in a relationship. Sometimes it feels more natural to discuss past details and justify why we feel the way we do rather than head straight for a solution. But talking about the problem reinforces the problem. Dwelling on the past keeps us there.
If I believe my partner is the reason I can’t be happy, I’m expressing my own personal, self-inflicted version of slavery. This may sound like an exaggeration, but in essence, it is not. I’ve been married four times, and divorced three. I learned about moving toward freedom in marriage number four. Trust me, you want to leave the chains of the past behind.
In marriage or otherwise, we get more of whatever we pay attention to. If you prefer a feeling of freedom, pay close attention to when you experience that, and celebrate those moments.
Watch how things change!
By focusing on what you prefer, shackles fade into the sunset and they keep right on fading unless you miss them, call them back or invite them to tea. If you leave the past in the past, your new priorities can blossom. And what’s more beautiful than the long-awaited crocus, or cascading cherry blossoms, or a spring tulip all pretty in pink?