Who holds that freedom for which we yearn?  

For as long as I can remember, I have been in search of that feeling of freedom, of knowing myself. When I was a child, I used to think it was my parents, my culture or even my peers that held the door shut to the feeling of freedom I desired.  Youth, Indian culture and even my zip code were the perceived barriers that kept me from truly being me as a youth.  It is a pursuit that led me from Oklahoma City to New York City and then to La Jolla and now San Francisco. It had me seeking and leaving jobs, having more children and going on solo backpacking trips and retreats. It is a feeling I crave, not a destination. I have come to realize this only with age and with having fewer variables that can dramatically shift. I can tap into this feeling now on vacation, in a dance party with my kids and often in meditation.  Yet, I long for more of it and for longer. But, the roles and rules of daily life seem a hindrance to feeling free. I can’t run off to a yoga retreat easily anymore nor attend a drum circle with conference calls and school pick ups.

Where can I find this balance with living my real life and feeling that freedom I seek?

Last night, I received a link to the photo shoot the kids and I had a few weeks prior on the sands near our last home in San Diego. For those years, the beach had been, in a way, our backyard playground. It was also the backdrop of our family’s transition from a hard-core career couple from Manhattan to a unit more balanced; it was the stage for our completed family; it was also the instigator of my yearning for more. Swiping left over photos of the kids’ smiles and their essence warmed my heart. Tears sprung to my eyes.  In them swelled my gratitude for all the moments we ever had on that beach and for the gift of getting to live this life together. The specialness. The frailty. The fleeting-ness.  

They will grow and leave one day, the photos whispered to me.  

And you will miss this.  All of it.

I continued to scroll through the entire digital album. At the end of it were the images that came after getting all “the shots.” The snaps that happened after the kids were released from posing and staying dry. They came after holding it together for over an hour in their button up oxfords and cable-knit top. The images of what they looked like when they were given the permission to flow with their instincts – and be free. 

For them, that meant jumping straight into waves bursting from the crisp ocean, stripping off their photoshoot-worthy clothes along the way and dancing in the waves. They were unconcerned about their hair, bodies and having no spare clothes nearby.  

“You, too, Shibani,” said Dorka, my friend who has also become our family photographer, prodded me to also do the same.

“What do I do?” I asked her, really posing this question to myself. 

“How do I be free?” I contemplated?

“Start. Just try,” the voice said in my head.  

And so I tried. Clumsily. Awkwardly. Uncomfortably. On the sands that I traversed pregnant with my third child, then with that baby strapped to me and now with three children in tow. I let myself feel all that I have accomplished in this natural progression of life, the pain of the passage of time and the coolness of the water. The history. The comfort. The gratitude.

Through this opening of emotion, I began to play.  

It is hard to explain why, but I am incredibly proud of these photos.  In these, I see that the freedom I crave is so, so close – simply within me. I can feel the fire that blazes when I release myself from my self-imposed shackles of how I need to be. I see how the the roar of the ocean can make my heart dance so easily and calls for my arms open and embrace the world. I am a witness to how, in that moment, I set myself free.

All it took was a little saltwater and the space (and, maybe even the permission) to let it happen.

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