The secret of happiness is freedom. The secret of freedom is courage. ~ Thucydides
As humans we find ourselves in a difficult position. The moment we become even remotely aware of our enslaved state in this world we long for liberation and freedom.
For many of us who truly realize our state of servitude, we crave deep down to be free from resentfulness, grudges, traumas, mistrust, entitlement complexes, reactiveness, depression, expectations, desires, ideals, standards, self-judgment, and most importantly free from fear.
Our souls secretly feel ashamed: we want to have wings and we want to fly – but we realize how grounded and imperfect we are, yet we still intuitively know that we can be free.
The reality is that this problem has perpetuated itself throughout history, and since the dawn of time. Every man and every woman in every culture has searched for freedom. But freedom from what? And freedom towards what? And most of all: what really is true freedom?
What Is Freedom?
People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use. ~ Søren Kierkegaard
When you ask most people what they would define as freedom they will most likely answer something along the lines of: “Freedom is to be able to do whatever you want” as in the stereotypical depiction of free spirits.
Have you ever stopped to think about this interpretation of freedom? If everyone really did whatever they wanted this would not truly be freedom – this would be chaos and anarchy. Why? Because everyone has a different idea of what they want in life, and while one thing might benefit another person, it might impair or completely destroy the life of another.
Deep down we know that freedom has to do with what is ‘right’, or in other words, what benefits everyone, whether the individual or the collective.
But how can we know what is ‘right‘? Religions have tried to use morality systems as life guidelines but as we have seen, this hasn’t been very effective. To be free to do ‘what is right’ we have to first be able to cultivate the maturity and wisdom to be aware of the consequences of our actions. To be free we must become responsible human beings – but yet most of us just want irresponsibility.
People continue to talk about freedom, but we don’t want freedom, what we want is to be licentious. Unless your freedom can help you go higher than you were before – to grow in spirit, compassion, gratitude, unity and forgiveness – then your freedom is most likely another form of enslavement to your stimulation and pleasure seeking, fear driven, emotionally reactive, lower self.
Some people think of freedom solely as a liberation from external forces like political systems. But this is only one kind of enslavement! In reality, there are three types of freedom: physical freedom, psychological freedom and spiritual freedom.
On one hand, our physical enslavement is that which relates to our external bodies. We might be in chains or behind bars, we might be held captive and tortured as prisoners of war. We might be in a country that holds our race or gender as inferior like ancient China where women were seen as property and you had all the legal right to kill them if you wanted.
Our psychological enslavement, on the other hand, is something we are often not even aware of. At a young age, for instance, we were taught cultural ideologies of a political, social and religious nature, and throughout our lives we adopted them as the “absolute truths” in our versions of reality. We also developed beliefs about ourselves, sometimes delusionally grand, and other times grossly warped such as the convictions that we are lazy, ugly, unintelligent or unworthy. In doing so we lost our Self-Love and our authenticity.
Our countries will tell us that we are free, but most of the time they are only referring to physical freedom or psychological freedom in the form of freedom of speech and thought. But true freedom, spiritual freedom, is to be free in thought and free in soul. Only then can we be authentically true to ourselves. We like to blame our governments, our religions, our parents, our teachers and our societies, but the truth is that we limit our own freedom by not being aware and responsible for our thoughts, feelings, decisions and behaviors.
Freedom + Awareness
We seek retreats for ourselves, houses in the country, seashores, mountains. But … we have in our power to retire into ourselves. For there is no retreat that is quieter and freer from trouble than our soul … perfect tranquility, the right ordering of mind. ~ Marcus Aurelius
We need to be aware that we aren’t, in fact, free, before we can pursue freedom. The first and last step towards personal freedom is complete awareness.
When Friedrich Nietzsche said: “God is dead and man is free” he was attempting to liberate himself from the enslavement to his beliefs. He was stating that, while there was a God that lived, man could never be free, as that would merely turn us into puppets. Where we ever asked to be created, and do we ever have a say in our destruction? How can we possibly be free if we are both victims of our births and our deaths?
But Nietzsche’s words were misinterpret by many (as is usually the case), and in doing so, those that rebelled against ‘God’ enslaved themselves even more, becoming reactionary. Just like every other ‘revolutionary’ who is against something, they are never really free. How can an atheist or an anarchist ever be free when they are constantly opposed to something? When they are constantly fighting? These people are enslaved to their own thoughts about what they are fighting for or against and their own emotional reactions to it. Only through awareness can we be totally free, and only though awareness can we choose to remove ourselves from the games of duality, finding our innate wholeness.
Freedom can only come through a deep understanding and a deep awareness of life. If your government is sick with ideologies and out of frustration you choose to react, rebel and become ideologically sick also, this only leads to chaos.
Now, we’ll change course for a bit.
When we use the word ‘paradise’ we associate it with outer beauty and also freedom. Interestingly the origin of the word: “Pairidaeza”, which is Persian for ‘a walled, enclosed, garden’ reveals the true nature of the idea of paradise: no matter how beautiful, the garden is still enclosed, you are still a prisoner. The same is true of the story of Adam and Eve, who, once eating from the Tree of Knowledge, became free from the confines of ‘Paradise’, with God releasing them and their potential. However, without developing our awareness, we’ve again created our prisons in the form of national borders, religious beliefs and egocentric ideologies.
Our perception of freedom is always external: the Garden of Eden, protective government laws and financial wealth. We ask God to help us because we don’t want to take responsibility for our own lives and we don’t have the courage to experience our own divinity. And when God doesn’t help us, when the world doesn’t turn out the way we want, we blame others.
A simple example of this is our typical love affair. Throughout our lives, many of us fail to grow to love ourselves, and when we do find someone else who loves us, we become overwhelmed with happiness. Very quickly we throw our happiness into the other person’s hands thinking they’ll fulfill everything we desire out of life – but in doing so we have enslaved ourselves to them. How? For example, when they connect with someone else we feel jealous. When they don’t behave the way we expect them to, we become angry. We lack so much awareness of ourselves that we blame them constantly, and in doing so we imprison them in our own cells of expectations.
This is the nature of every encounter with other people. Someone cuts us off on the road, we blame them as ‘idiots’ and become angry instead of taking responsibility for our patience, tolerance and expectations of others. The truth is that we never made a deal with them that they shouldn’t behave the way they do – we only project our ideals of responsibility onto them so they don’t make our lives more difficult. We never stop to think that the key to freedom is changing something inside of us, rather than something on the outside.
To be free from all that binds you, from all that is false, from all that is ephemeral, to rid yourself of all that is imaginary and mortal is to experience the truth and the immortal within you. This is what the Hindu’s call “Moksha” (’emancipation’, ‘liberation’ or ‘release’) and what Mahavira spoke as “Kaivalya” (‘solitude’, ‘detachment’ or ‘isolation’). Freedom from past thoughts and future expectations is true freedom. Free to be, to exist, to experience joy, God, innocence, consciousness, is true freedom and is entirely, internally of the present moment.
Freedom comes from being aware of what truly makes you happy and taking responsibility for this. You cannot change the world as even attempting to do this creates expectations that will imprison you once more. You can only change yourself and embody the message you wish to share.
Freedom to Respond
In spite of all similarities, every living situation has, like a newborn child, a new face, that has never been before and will never come again. It demands of you a reaction that cannot be prepared beforehand. It demands nothing of what is past. It demands presence, responsibility; it demands you.” ~ Martin Buber
To be aware is to be responsible and to be responsible is having the freedom to respond. A response is not an emotional reaction, a response is a calm action that is performed while fully present and centered in your being. A response can only be born out of a mature soulful energy – an immature and lazy person is incapable of action and is consequently irresponsible.
Responding is not controlling, as controlling is only another form of enslavement of repression. For example, we try to ignore or destroy parts of our inner being, of our shadow selves, so that we can pretend to be calm and collected. A priest must control his sexual desires so that he can continue to be inauthentic and appear celibate or saintly even though his thoughts are ‘perverse’ to his standards. However, in the end this only creates neuroticism, self-denial and self-hate – something the desire to control and repress causes in everyone.
To be free takes courage, to be able to respond in an authentic way takes courage. We are so habituated to avoiding taking risks because of our fear of the uncertain and unknown. It is only through self-love, of feeling comfortable in ourselves, that we can resist depending on external excuses to be more responsible.
It is through responsibility that we can become aware of our authenticity and the infinite potential within us, of the joy and freedom inherent in life itself. And it is only once we taste this freedom, this joy, that we become aware of our capacity for passion, our highest reason for being, our calling in life.
We can never truly be free externally; we are an interdependent ecosystem of animals, plants, trees and people that all rely on each other to exist. Our individual ideas of ‘freedom’ can become other people’s binding problems. We can only choose to be aware of our authenticity, reflecting and responding to it in ways that will not interfere with other people’s authenticity. If you are truly responding authentically, you realize that to respect another’s freedom is to respect your own.
I never asked to be alive, yet I am.
As a being who is alive, I am experiencing.
The nature of experiencing, is to respond.
Each response will change what I experience next.