Freedom has always fascinated me. I love the smell of the word. I like its sense of possibility. I taste freedom when I listen to the music of Aaron Copland – music that could only have been written in a country which once had vast prairies and seemingly infinite wilderness. I feel it in my body when I run along cliffs in the rain.
I rejoice in the sense of it that comes when, after hours of shifting dead words and sentences, something suddenly comes alive and beauty spills out all over the page.
In an outer way, to be free means to enjoy liberty of action under a government which is not despotic and does not encroach on individual human rights. In an inner way to be free means becoming liberated from the relentless forces of doubt, self-criticism and fear which we all inherit growing up in emotional and educational environments which split our mind from our body and teach us not to trust ourselves. They teach us to put our faith in “experts”. They teach us neither to honor the splendor of the individual human soul,
nor do they tell us that the universe is filled with compassion which we can draw on whenever we need support and power which we can direct to create whatever we want.
It makes me laugh to see the way our commercial world tries to sell the experience of freedom: Freedom? It means wearing a top of the range pair of Levi’s doesn’t it? Sipping white rum on a tropical beach with a sexy lover. Taking a 100 miles an hour ride on a Harley across the desert at sunset. Or surfing that seventh wave. On film these things carry the freedom buzz. For a little while they let us imagine the real thing, even though they are only a pale facsimile of it.
These days we get offered freedom in all sorts of ‘packages’. They range from TV ads offering telephone sex, to weekend seminars promising instant enlightenment.
Some people, in their search for freedom, end up sniffing cocaine. Others dance all weekend at a festival. A few turn to philosophy or look for freedom in ancient religious practices. They head off to India or to California to sit at the foot of the guru and hope that somehow he will hand it to them. All of these things—from rum and cocaine to raves and yoga—offer a taste of freedom. Some—like drugs and alcohol—are more transitory than others. When they wear off, so does the sense of liberation they once promised, to be replaced by a post-freedom hangover. Others, like transpersonal psychology, or Mahayana Buddhism run deeper. The freedom they offer is slower in the making but it lasts longer. Every experience of freedom brings with it a sense of being released from imprisonment – of being able, even for a short time, to respond to life spontaneously with the whole of your being.
Look up the verb to free in the dictionary. It will tell you it means to release from bondage or constraint, to deliver, to disentangle from obstruction or encumbrance. And quite right. When we talk of freedom we often speak of it as freedom from. Money worries for instance, or responsibility. Sometimes we tell ourselves, ‘If only I had this or didn’t have that, then I’d be free’. Other times we indulge in dreams of freedom—sailing across great expanses of sea with the wind in our hair, or crossing the Sahara on a camel, or building a wooden hut in the woods and living there,
or partying until dawn every night. Yet how many times have we gone on vacation to be ‘free of our worries’ only to find we packed them in the suitcase under the new underpants?
FREE FROM WITHIN
Like the proverbial iceberg, most of us live with the lion’s share of our potential for freedom, joy, creativity and power submerged beneath a sea of unknowing. We go about our day-to-day duties and pleasures conscious only of what comes to us through our five senses. How does it taste and feel? What does it sound like? What do we see in front of our eyes? Meanwhile beneath the vast ocean of consciousness that constitutes what it is to be fully human, our greater selves hibernate waiting to be awakened.
Sometimes, when we fall in love perhaps, or when we are faced with an event of life-shattering proportions like a critical illness or the death of a close friend, the submerged area of our being erupts in magic or horror, in surges of passion, energy and beauty. Then for a time the mundane quality of our everyday life is replaced with a sense of expanded being. We not only feel more alive, we wake up to find that familiar things—the tree that stands outside a bedroom window, a cat that greets us when we come home each day, the simple shell we picked up and slipped into our pocket while walking on the beach, have taken on a luminosity that we can’t explain. Other times without warning, while listening to music or walking down a city street, we are suddenly hit with a feeling that the world is far greater than we ever imagined it to be, or a sense that all we see around us somehow is us – we are all part of the same stuff. While the experience lasts everything seems right in the world. Then, like the sun at the point of setting, it all fades beneath the mundane horizon leaving only the faintest wisp of color to remind us that we once stood in its glory,
felt the rays of the sun upon our bodies and knew that sense of being at one with the universe which makes every struggle seem to have a meaning.
SET OURSELVES FREE
In the next few months I intend to explore in this blog the nature of authentic freedom, where it comes from, how we access it within ourselves and help foster it in others. Never in recorded human history have there been greater forces attempting to undermine individual human values and crush human freedom. I choose to look upon the forces that want to limit our lives, drain us of our health and our self-esteem and turn us into sheep, as worthy opponents.
The burgeoning Orwellian world in which we now live can become the worthy opponent which awakens us to our deepest values and spurs us to access the strength to fulfill them. Together I believe we find our way through all this to greater freedom than we have ever known and the birth of new life. Let’s do it. Watch this space...