Monday, July 6, 2015

Freedom's Just Another Word

This weekend, as a nation, we celebrated Independence Day. This got me thinking about the notion of freedom, which was the theme of my meditation class last night.

Ordinarily when we talk about freedom we’re talking about something that comes from outside. It’s given to us, or we fight for it, or we earn it somehow. We often think of freedom as the right to do whatever we want (within reasonable limits imposed by law and society).

But the kind of freedom we talk about on the spiritual path doesn’t come from outside. It isn’t given to us by anyone else, and it doesn’t even really depend all that much on external circumstances. Freedom in a spiritual sense is an inside job. It’s less about being free to do what we want and more about setting ourselves free from all the forms of internal conditioning that keep us imprisoned in psychological and emotional suffering.

The spiritual teacher Adyashanti writes:

“Human beings have a drive for security and safety, which is often what fuels the spiritual search. This very drive for security and safety is what causes so much misery and confusion. Freedom is a state of complete and absolute insecurity and not knowing. So, in seeking security and safety, you actually distance yourself from the freedom you want. There is no security in freedom, at least not in the sense that we normally think of security. This is, of course, why it is so free: there's nothing there to grab hold of.

The Unknown is more vast, more open, more peaceful, and more freeing than you ever imagined it would be. If you don't experience it that way, it means you're not resting there; you're still trying to know. That will cause you to suffer because you're choosing security over Freedom. When you rest deeply in the Unknown without trying to escape, your experience becomes very vast.”

What happens when we drop down beneath our habitual drive for security and safety? We touch in with the vast, open Mystery that was always there, and in that Mystery there is a freedom that surpasses understanding. Imagine what this very moment would feel like if we could suddenly drop beneath our protective shell and taste that freedom right here, right now.

Imagine experiencing this very moment free from the mind’s obsessive thinking. What if we could drop into a natural stillness and silence in which the mind is aware and relaxed, without chatter, without commentary?

What about freedom from troubling emotions — greed, anger, jealousy, hatred, and so on? What would this moment feel like if the waters of the mind were not whipped into a frenzy of emotion?

Freedom from judgment — that’s a big one. Look at how we constantly judge and evaluate ourselves and others. What if, for one moment, we could just drop our compulsive need to be the judge of everything?

And can we even imagine being free from caring what other people think? How much time do we spend trapped in worrying about other people’s opinions of us, and trying to manipulate perceptions to make a good impression? We don’t have to let ourselves go to seed and become the Crazy Cat Lady, but wouldn’t it be sort of glorious to experience, if only for this moment, the freedom of not being quite so concerned with everyone else’s opinions of us?

And our own opinions! How heavy are they? We seem to have opinions about everything under the sun, and we take our opinions so seriously, as if each one is the gospel truth. When we relate openly to the Mystery that underlies our experience, we start to see our own cloud of opinions as a cloud of biting insects, an irritating drain on our attention and a veil that obscures reality.

Imagine the freedom of just being here, in the present moment, without worry or anxiety about the future and without regret or resentment about the past. How much time do we spend imprisoned in mental scenarios of past and future that take us out of a lived awareness of what’s actually happening in the present moment?

Freedom from bad habits — and from good habits, for that matter — freedom from all forms of habit energy. Imagine the freedom of being spontaneously, freshly present for our experience without the enslavement of our own conditioning.

Freedom from attachment to the idea of being a certain kind of person — a good person, a spiritual person, an enlightened person. What if we could be free, just for this moment, from all the trips we lay on ourselves about who we think we are supposed to be.

What about freedom from our need to be in control? Freedom from the illusion that we were ever in control in the first place, or that control is really even possible? How profoundly does it threaten our ego to even entertain that possibility? Let us count the ways in which we are we trying to control our experience in this very moment.

Freedom from the need to be right, from the need to know the answers. That’s the kicker. Right here, standing at the edge of the Mystery that’s unfolding in our experience in this and every moment, can we swallow our pride and admit to ourselves how little we actually know? And can we experience not-knowing as the freedom it actually is?

As Kris Kristofferson and Janis Joplin sang, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”

The tragicomedy of being human is that most of the things we ordinarily think will give us freedom really only entrap us more deeply in the prison of our own conditioning. The real victory that’s available to us is when we peel away all the layers of conditioning so that we have nothing left to lose.

That’s freedom. But to the ego, it looks like surrender.

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