The best definition I found for the word “sovereignty” is stated in the image above: autonomous; free from external control. I’ve been resonating with this word over the past year and find that my personal sovereignty is developing and deepening along with my mindfulness practice, as they seem to go hand-in-hand.
I’m finding that the state of sovereignty is much like the state of joy in that when I talk about it people inquire further, not knowing how to develop such qualities of being. So, this is my first attempt at trying to put into words what this particular characteristic is about, from my own experience that is.
Sovereignty, in regards to oneself, is about having a strong and unwavering sense of self-reliance, internal direction, and self-assurance (in a humble and well-grounded fashion) – it’s about taking and claiming full and total responsibility for one’s own quality of life and state of being. To summarize, sovereignty is about being at home with yourself wherever you go, regardless of outer circumstances. And this is the crux of Thich Nhat Hanh’s mindfulness tradition: to come back home to ourselves in the here and now, with joy and ease, so that we can then be of service and benefit to others.
Developing our own sovereignty is not about disconnecting from others or regarding ourselves as superior or becoming a “lone wolf.” It’s about being able to depend and trust in our capacity to generate joyfulness and solidity no matter where we are or who we’re with – to befriend and keep good company with our own selves and emanate that outwards, un-tethered from the clutches of self-consciousness, self-judgement, and self-doubt. It’s a state born from mindfulness, concentration, insight, and diligent practice.
I’ve often mentioned my interest in breaking down mindfulness/Buddhist-based teachings in order to make them more palatable and practical so that they might become more applicable to a wider demographic of people, especially those who are looking for more straight-forward “how-to” guidance. So with that in mind, what are some actions we can take to actually practice the development of sovereignty? Let’s see what I can come up with:
How to be comfortable in our own skin:
- Practice meditation. 5-minutes a day is great! Sitting in meditation allows us to grow more comfortable with being with our own mindscapes, which is largely what most of us are trying to escape much of the time.
- Start small. Everything takes practice, so to become more apt at befriending ourselves it can be helpful to practice going solo to a movie or a local event or out to eat, once in a while. And don’t think you can’t take along something to occupy your time, if you so choose – but instead of hiding in your phone, perhaps take a book or a journal along to keep you company.
- Make gratitude an intentional practice. The more we angle ourselves in the direction of all the things which offer us nourishment, comfort, and joy, the stronger and more resilient we become as a result. To develop an attitude of gratitude, try keeping a journal and writing down 3 things every day that you appreciate or say words of thanks before eating a meal or take a photo a day of something that makes you smile (just some ideas to get you started!).
- Become an observer – and then a guard – of what you bring in through your senses. Everything we ingest, everything we watch, everything we read, and everyone we spend time with influences us in some way. If we don’t know what’s coming into our bodies, minds, and hearts then we can’t be in touch with what we’re sending out by way of our thoughts, speech, and actions. To gain sovereignty we must be diligent in monitoring what we bring into our realms of consciousness – we must be in relationship with what’s going on internally, so that we have a continually deepening understanding of who we are, what we’re doing, and why.
- Know thyself. As an extension of #4, we must also invest particular time and energy into delving into what activities we engage in that serve more as a hindrance than a support. What are the crutches we rely on at the end of a long or trying day? What things do we do, deep down, that we feel guilty/bad about doing? What are the actions we take that fuel our tendency to feel worse about ourselves? Maybe it’s smoking too much pot or drinking alcohol every time we get together with a group of friends. Maybe it’s binge watching Netflix for hours on end. Maybe it’s over-working or over-shopping or over-eating. Maybe it’s hooking up with others in casual and frequent fashion. As I shared about in a couple of posts ago, my DOC’s (drugs of choice) are sugar and boys. And while I don’t partake in either anymore, they both still clutch at me at times. Once we start shining the light of awareness of what our own DOC’s are, we can then start investigating what, if anything, we wish to do about it. Maybe it’s nothing. Maybe we’re comfortable with where we’re at. Or maybe we realize we have the desire to change direction and we start investing our time into doing things a little bit differently.
Cultivating a state of solidity in oneself is about coming fully into relationship with who we are. It’s about recognizing, accepting, and embracing all of the parts of self that exist.
We are each, individually, a complex ensemble of instruments playing – some with sounds light and lovely, some loud and obnoxious, some grand and bellowing, some somber and wallowing.
And, yet, they all come together famously forming this magnificent symphony of self.
Instruments add in and drop out as the music of life unfolds. And sometimes the melody doesn’t make any sense, sometimes it’s dry and boring and stumbling along, sometimes it’s exciting and full of vitality, sometimes it’s sorrowful with quiet interludes peppered with voids of space, sometimes it’s cheery and bouncy, sometimes it’s dark and brooding.
The instruments change, the melody changes, but the conductor remains the same.