What does freedom mean to you?
The literal meaning is the quality or state of being independent or freedom from control of another.
Does this mean that we can behave in any way that we please?
Some people believe that they have the "freedom to pollute" or "freedom to deforest." Because these activities create negative effects on everyone else through taking advantage of the environment, I agree with environmentalists who often argue that political freedoms should include some constraint on use of ecosystems. The popularity of SUVs, golf, and urban sprawl has been used as evidence that some ideas of freedom and ecological conservation can clash.
Liberty, however, concerns the rights of all involved. This concept of political freedom is closely connected with the concepts of civil liberties and human rights. We should all have the freedom to pursue a healthy balanced life. The statue of liberty is our reminder to embrace freedom as a light, a source of goodness and wisdom to share with others. This goodness is shown through laws of human rights and equality. This statue is a welcoming sight to immigrants arriving from abroad.
Officially titled, "The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World" it is recognized as a universal symbol of freedom and democracy. Artist Bartholdi wished to give the statue a peaceful appearance and chose a torch, representing progress instead of revolution. The statue is of a robed female figure representing Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom widely worshipped in ancient Rome, who bears a torch and a tabula ansata (a tablet evoking the law) upon which is inscribed the date of the American Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776. A broken chain lies at her feet, representing our release from the rule of Britain.
Another important symbol of this liberty, or freedom through rights of each individual, is through the colors of the flag, red, white, and blue. Charles Thompson, Secretary of the Continental Congress, stated: "White signifies purity and innocence, Red, hardiness & valor, and Blue… signifies vigilance, perseverance & justice."
These admirable qualities are similar to the personal observances of yoga philosophy that Pantajali outlined in his Path to Enlightenment. One of the petals or limbs is called the Niyamas. Niyamas means "rules." They refer to the attitude we adopt toward ourselves as we create a code for living with integrity.
Just as white from the flag signifies purity, in the Niyamas, Saucha is the word that represents outer and inner cleanliness, referring to the healthy, free functioning of our bodily organs. Practicing yoga poses (asanas) or breathing exercises (pranayamas) are essential means for attending to sauca. Further, cleansing of the mind is also a form of purity, from its disturbing emotions like hatred, passion, anger, lust, greed, delusion and pride of the ego.
Just as red from the flag signifies resilience and courage, in the Niyamas, Tapas is the word that refers to disciplined use of our energy. We can direct our energy to enthusiastically engage life by paying attention to our posture, exercise habits, eating habits, and breathing patterns.
Finally, just as blue from the flag symbolizes perseverance and justice, in the Niyamas, Satya is the word that refers to Commitment to Truthfulness. This guideline is based on the understanding that honest communication and action form the foundation of any healthy relationship, community, or government. Therefore, deliberate deception, exaggerations, and mistruths harm others.
The shapes of the flag also have meaning that relates to yoga philosophy. In this quote a book about the flag published in 1977 by the House of Representatives, we are reminded to let our light shine of love and goodness, "The star is a symbol of the heavens and the divine goal to which man has aspired from [ancient times]; the stripe is symbolic of the rays of light emanating from the sun."
The U.S. flag is also a source of inspiration for artists.
No other city celebrates the Fourth of July with as much passion and spectacle as Washington, D.C. The National Mall is the nation’s most important civic space and home to some of the most iconic monuments and memorials in our country. It refers to the entire area between the Lincoln Memorial, Capital lawn, the United States Capitol, and the Washington Monument.
This space provides a monumental, dignified, and symbolic setting for the governmental structures, national memorials, and museums like the National Museum of American History, Natural History, National Gallery of Art, National Air and Space Museum, and castle-like Smithsonian Institution Building. It is a designed historic landscape providing extraordinary vistas to symbols of the nation as well as a public park for recreation and enjoyment of the people. It is filled with commemorative works (memorials, monuments, statues, sites, gardens) that honor presidential legacies, distinguished public figures, ideas, events, and military and civilian sacrifices and contributions. It is here that the constitutional rights of speech and peaceful assembly find their fullest expression.
National Mall, Washington D.C.
John Adams, one of the founding fathers of the USA stated regarding Independence Day to his wife, Abigail in a letter, “It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”
Since then, every year Americans celebrate the history, government, and traditions of the United States Independence through fireworks, parades, barbecues, carnivals, fairs, picnics, concerts, baseball games, family reunions, and political speeches and ceremonies.
On the Capitol lawn in Washington, D.C., A Capitol Fourth, a free concert broadcast live by PBS, NPR and the American Forces Network, precedes the fireworks and attracts over half a million people annually. This party also features a live symphony performance of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture,” complete with real cannon fire in the background.
Fireworks at National Mall, Washington D.C.
Photo Credit: Capital Concerts
Fireworks were invented in ancient China in the 7th century to scare away evil spirits and bring about luck and happiness, as a natural extension of the Four Great Inventions of ancient China (gunpowder).
With the development of Chinoiserie (a movement of Chinese cultural influences) in Europe, Chinese fireworks began to gain popularity around the mid-17th century. The very first celebration of Independence Day in the USA was in 1777 and fireworks were a part of all festivities.
Fireworks are a class of low explosive pyrotechnic devices used for aesthetic and entertainment purposes. They are an art form made with light. There are four primary effects in fireworks: noise, light, smoke, and floating materials. Considerable expertise and professionalism is involved with creating the shape, form, color, balance, composition, and proportions of each shell composed of chemicals and elements.
As a growing scientific art form, today, there are 18 types of effects that fireworks can make. I’ve listed just a few here:
Chrysanthemum is a spherical break of colored stars with stars that leave a visible trail of sparks.
Willow is a spherical break of colored stars, with long-burning silver or gold stars that produce a soft, dome-shaped weeping willow-like effect.
Palm is a shell containing a relatively few large comet stars arranged in such a way as to burst with large arms, producing a palm tree-like effect. Proper palm shells feature a thick rising tail that displays as the shell ascends, thereby simulating the tree trunk to further enhance the "palm tree" effect. One might also see a burst of color inside the palm burst (given by a small insert shell) to simulate coconuts.
Ring is a shell with stars specially arranged so as to create a ring. Variations include smiley faces, hearts, and clovers.
What is your favorite style?
On the other hand, through these aesthetic devices we are ultimately playing with fire, and as we all know, that can be a risky business. Fireworks pose risks of injury to people, animals and the environment.
Fireworks not only create some wild fires, but they also produce smoke and dust that may contain residues of heavy metals, sulfur-coal compounds and some low concentration toxic chemicals. Pollutants from fireworks raise concerns because of potential health risks associated with hazardous by-products.
Concerns over pollution, consumer safety, and debris have restricted the sale and use of consumer fireworks in many countries. In the US, some states and local governments restrict the use of fireworks in accordance with the Clean Air Act, which allows laws relating to the prevention and control of outdoor air pollution to be enacted.
Environmental pollution is also a concern because heavy metals and other chemicals from fireworks may contaminate water supplies and because fireworks combustion gases might contribute to such things as acid rain which can cause vegetation and even property damage.
Fireworks are also a problem for animals, both domestic and wild, who can be terrified by their noise, leading to them running away, often into danger, or hurting themselves on fences or in other ways in an attempt to escape.
The possible toxicity of any fallout from the fireworks may also be affected by the amount of black powder used, type of oxidizer, colors produced and launch method.
In 2004, Walt Disney Inc., the largest consumer of fireworks in the world, pioneered the commercial use of aerial fireworks launched with compressed air rather than gunpowder. The display shell explodes in the air using an electronic timer. The advantages of compressed air launch are a reduction in fumes, and much greater accuracy in height and timing.
Some companies within the U.S. fireworks industry claim they are working with Chinese manufacturers to reduce and ultimately hope to eliminate the pollutant perchlorate. Hopefully, scientists can reduce even more harmful chemicals from this disappearing-light-show phenomenon.
In 2012, over the San Diego Mission Bay, a show presented by Garden State Fireworks was a disaster. 7,000 fireworks intended for a 17-minute display, discharged prematurely and simultaneously from all four barges and the pier. The entire cache exploded in less than a minute. The coordinated fireworks are triggered by computer, and the premature discharge was blamed on a corrupted computer file. The accident went viral on the internet. This not only a huge disappointment to the onlookers, but a huge waste of energy and resources.
By raising awareness of these dangers of fireworks, I hope to influence city officials and people involved with making these decisions to use more moderation and awareness in all the affects of the materials used. Do we really need 5 different 17-minute shows on San Diego’s Mission Bay? It seems a bit excessive to me. The first few fireworks have the greatest affect on us, then the law-of-diminishing-returns kicks in and they become a bit repetitive. What about a five minute show?
If we look at the bigger picture, we can set some “limitations” or guidelines so that everyone can have the freedom to enjoy a healthy life with a thriving and inspiring environment, which creates happier people.
Yoga Poses for Independence Day:
Mantra for Red, White, and Blue, through the Niyamas:
I am white with purity as I practice cleanliness of my space, body, and mind from disturbing emotions like hatred, passion, anger, lust, greed, delusion and pride of the ego.
I am red with tapas as I have the courage and directed energy to pay attention to my food, exercise, posture and breathing techniques.
I am blue with commitment to truthfulness as I strive to have healthy relationships in my community.