Slavery in our lives – Martin Luther King Jr day

In the United States today is Martin Luther King day. This man, through the work of millions of other people, has come to symbolize human rights and a desire to end slavery’s legacy in all forms. He understood, as do others, that slavery still exists in different forms even now. It exists as institutions, it exists in economic forms, and exists in the minds of people. This last part is rarely mentioned.

So what is slavery?

To expand the idea of what slavery is to include both the world and internal states, I would redefine it as the following:

Slavery is the state of living with no perceivable choices.

You can see how this relates to the common definition of being bound in servitude to another. In such a state, there is no perceivable choice to disobey; punishment is too great and death can be meted out on a whim.

I like looking at slavery in terms of choice, because it shows how much of how we live our lives is enmeshed in a world view without it:

  • Much of the employment in the world is where pay is low, there is little respect, and there is little option for quitting because of economic consequences. This is known as “wage slavery”.
  • In society, depending on your social circle, there are certain assumptions that are not questioned without severe consequence. Noam Chomsky wrote about this occurring in the media. We’re trained to follow thought patterns by rote, automatically and without conscious choice. This could be known as “thought slavery”.
  • In most relationships, each partner soon learns roles to play, topics to avoid, habitual behavior, and ways to avoid triggering pain in the other in order to keep the relationship stable. This is done without awareness or conscious choice, so could be called “relationship slavery”. It does not matter who looks like they have the upper hand in the relationship – if there is no perceived choice, it is still slavery.
  • Internally, when we react to fears, we usually feel there are no choices. I may have a fear of missing out on life and losing control of the time in my life, and so I think I have to jump at things in order to both not miss out and not feel the fear. It is done automatically, without conscious choice. This is what fear does. This could be called “slavery of fear”.


In the last post on enlightenment, I described enlightenment as simply living in the perception of Who You Are. You could also look at enlightenment as freedom, a state of being conscious of every little choice you have in every moment.

Life is choice. We are here to learn to choose with awareness. This is power.

Even in the self-improvement circles, we’re encourage to think we have problems, and thus cultivate the need to improve ourselves. It’s a need, not a desire. So if we look anew at the word of “need”, it implies there is no choice. The desire for balance turns into another form of slavery.

The term “workshop junkies” can apply to this. When you see something lacking in yourself, perhaps from feeling drained or from believing hype, you do not see a choice – you try to fill the lack. This is a form of addiction – which again is a perception of lack of choice, and therefore slavery.

The power of choice

Meditation – simply being in every moment fresh, aware and expansive – is related the full perception all the choices available. If I am watching my breath and my mind and someone insults me, I can breathe deeply and consciously choose my reaction. It could be a firm response. It could be a peaceful turning of the other cheek. It could be a humorous and gentle response. But if I am fully aware of all my choices, there is a great source of freedom and power available, knowing that whatever the other person does, they can not disconnect me from my inner foundation. If on the other hand, I go into reactivity, it is because I do not see a choice. I am attacked, therefore I must defend myself, even if doing so hurts me in the long run. This is being a slave to reactivity and habits.

If you think about what being loving to another is, choice is present during all manifestations of the expression of love. Often the best gifts are those that open doors and create more awareness of choices that have been overlooked. For instance, if you’re in a funk and depressed, being shown different perceptions, new experiences, new emotions, or new thoughts can offer much more awareness of the choices you’re making that contribute to your depression. Someone trying to cheer you up blinding without this can make you more depressed by contributing to that state of lack. Another possible gift might be to offer the choice of non-resistance – that one doesn’t have to fight depression as there are gifts inside it. This is a valid choice, and one with freedom inside it. But without the element of choice present, there is slavery, and where there is slavery there is no Love.

Simply looking at everything as choice – no matter how demanding it seems – brings us back to ourselves. It is fairly easy to think of the world as being a dark threatening place filled with cold demands, which is the world of slavery – in this world we have no choice but to react. Bringing choice into it shows how responsive the world can be to our creative powers.

The world

Now, Martin Luther King didn’t just speak about race equality. In fact, it’s rarely mentioned in standard history books that for the latter years of his life, he spoke more often against the economic system that creates a form of slavery, as well as the military industrial complex. This was a man who moved from working against one form of slavery to seeing all beings as brothers and working against slavery in all its forms. He spoke equally of the power of love to bring light into the world.

I’m involved in activism myself, and I work for a world where people have all the choices they desire. There’s no reason with all our advances that we need to enforce slavery in any form whatsoever. We don’t need it economically, in parenthood, in relationships, or internally. Giving others freedom brings us all joy because of the vast interconnection we’re a part of. Giving it to ourselves creates ripples that show a better way of living to all the world.

When we inhabit the full power of the choices we have in every instant – which is to say our powerful and creative nature – that is when we learn that our identity is nothing Love. The most creative, powerful force in existence.




Blog roll! I quite enjoyed the Viriditas Spiritual Center blog: she’s an ex-nun working in a homeless shelter, demonstrating her life in a very loving, selfish fashion. It’s amazing how service teaches us not to be in slavery.

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  1. Malcolm Campbell January 22, 2008 at 5:41 pm

    Slavery is a somewhat tricky/complex subject, for under your definition–which I think is fine–most people would be considered in slavery. The choices are, as we know, there, but not seen.


    • tremor January 22, 2008 at 7:24 pm

      That was the point – yes, most people do not know their own freedom.

      The other point is that everyone’s freedom helps our own. When we’re surrounded by people in bondage, chances are we’ll be pulled that way too. So it’s in everyone’s best interest to help each other attain true freedom.

  2. Hayden Tompkins January 24, 2008 at 11:21 am

    “Slavery is the state of living with no perceivable choices.”

    Interesting. I wonder how many children this description would fit?

    • tremor January 24, 2008 at 4:29 pm

      I see your point, but it’s important not to see as an adult when looking through a child’s eyes. Children are playing all the time and making lots of choices – but their worlds are very small. They haven’t been “educated” into thinking one way, either. That’s not to say that there are no children with no choices, but a child’s world is a very different one. I still think the definition applies, but you’re welcome to point out more!

  3. Valerie January 25, 2008 at 10:08 am

    Your post (found through Coehlo’s blog) reminds me much of Victor Frankl’s writing. “The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.” I would argue that that is the first freedom, from which all others flow. Thank you for a thought- and feeling- provoking entry.

    • tremor January 25, 2008 at 2:24 pm

      I haven’t read any of Victor Frankl’s writings, but I’m browsing his wikipedia entry now. That quote definitely resonated, thank you!

      Knowing what choices we have in every moment is a powerful thing indeed.

      • Valerie January 27, 2008 at 10:38 am

        I am very glad to introduce you to Frankl. There are so many amazing writers and guides to light our way, we need more than one pair of eyes to find them all.

        Looking forward to your next post.

        • tremor January 27, 2008 at 2:28 pm

          Frankl? I seem to be missing something!

          • Valerie January 27, 2008 at 3:49 pm

            yes, Frankl, Victor Frankl, whose wikipedia entry you were browsing.
            did I miss something? no need to reply if we’re all clear now, please do if we’re not.

          • tremor January 27, 2008 at 4:04 pm

            Oops, that’s what comes of my comments responder page. Didn’t see the history, and I had the full name in my mind. Yes!

  4. radha January 27, 2008 at 6:03 am

    I agree. When people feel “they have no choice” for some reason or another, this is an indicator that they are not free inside and they dont feel love. I experience, also in a context where there are infinite choices available all the time, that if I can feel love, pure love, encompassing love for each thing i am involved with and for each person I get in touch with then I feel totally free.I think MLK was meaning this kind of freedom, elevated and beyond any kind of restrictive (apparently) obstacle.

  5. malina March 20, 2008 at 4:24 pm

    great! dude! now thats history I want to learn about!

  6. Nelda Hern March 13, 2010 at 8:36 am

    I truly liked the mistress thing , can you post more?

  7. Hattie Seifts March 17, 2010 at 8:24 am

    Yeah , I d love to be in those domme games! I love your post thoug

  8. williambishop22 March 30, 2010 at 11:27 pm

    love it … slaves to automatically react to the world… what do you believe that slavery has to do with our social resistance to methods that would free us from mental slavery – mindfulness can be freedom – but as a therapist I can tell you that it is a difficult sell at times (along with existentialism) – i agree with the commnet about victor e frankl – man's search for meaning is the main book – quick read – top 10 for me of all time… life changing

  9. williambishop22 March 30, 2010 at 11:28 pm

    how do I follow you on twitter? I don't RSS feed yet

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