How to Set Your Self Free

One of my yoga teachers would often say, “After enlightenment there’s the dishes.” A play on the Zen proverb, “After enlightenment, the laundry.”

The same old mundane things we thought we would escape by reaching or finally attaining “enlightenment” will be waiting for us. This brings to mind the question, Where are we trying to get to? Are we already there?

When discussing philosophy during my yoga teacher training, one of the instructors pointed out:

Your spiritual path is your daily life.

As in, if you’re living the must authentic, intentional, and conscious life possible, but you don’t have time to meditate because you’re busy being a mother, it is enough. You are enough, your effort is enough, and you are not any less than someone who claims to be “enlightened” or “spiritual.”

In fact, maybe you are more so.


I started to see the connection between the above concepts after struggling through some of my own lovely muck. As the saying goes, “No mud, no lotus.”

Recently I was doing the dishes and trying to shake a heaviness that had descended upon me. A fog, a discontentment, a veil. As I blindly did the dishes and struggled to shake the heaviness, out of nowhere I recalled a famous quote by Michelangelo.

While musing on how he produced unparalleled works of art such as the David and the ceiling of the Sistene Chapel, he is said to have stated:

I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.

Repeating the words in my head as I stared at soapy water, the fog started to clear a little. Clarity seemed to land on me like a butterfly. Am I seeing the angel in the marble of myself? Am I working hard enough to set her free? This dukkha, these samskaras, this veil over my perception was not less than beautiful.

It was just less than free.

Instead of feeling free, I was feeling constricted in some intangible way. Like a block of stone. No air, no movement, no budging, no beauty.

I knew it was in there: the marvelousness, the beauty, the freedom. I had just lost my ability to see it clearly. We all know it’s there, sometimes deep down and buried under layers of old habits, personalities, or the many labels we wear.

The freeing of this proverbial “angel” –  of who we really are, of our unlimited potential – is our daily work. It is not always easy and the process does not always go how we thought it would go.

But we keep chiseling. We keep our vision clear and focused. We stay with the process because that is how we slowly unveil the beauty.

Michelangelo further says: “In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.”

We all have “rough walls that imprison” us at times. Sometimes they’re external and sometimes they’re internal. Before we can look at others and see the beauty in them, we have to see the beauty in us.

The beauty in our darkness and in our light.
The beauty in our failure and in our success.
The beauty in our transitions, be they clumsy or graceful.
The beauty in our continuous, daily effort at allowing life to unfold before us and to keep choosing to open our arms and eyes wide; to see what is truly before us and to welcome it in, whether it be mud or lotus, enlightenment or dishes.

Look closer at the block of marble your true self is encased in.
See your angel.
Set it free.


photo credit: fincher69