Freedom, Do You Really Want It?
by James Flaherty
Freedom and liberty are not the same thing (at least in this article).
Liberty is the political/economic/legal structures that allow us to associate as we like, make a living as suits us, say what we want, etc.
Freedom is when we act consistently with what is essential for us even in the face of uncertainty, disagreement, fear. It’s when we fully meet current circumstances and respond to them rather than enact a pattern of reaction from our past.
When I say, “what is essential for us,” I mean—that which flows from the core of who we are as unique people. Yes, it’s our values (that have become ours only after we have refined them from the dross that is served up by popular culture, from the guilt that would have us bow to childhood notions of morality, and from our own inner-critic-enforced perfectionism), but it’s also the way we express: the tone, color, emphasis, flavor of how we bring our values to life.
Being true to ourselves means saying it, writing it, singing it, dancing it—in the manner that fits just us. Not “being different” for its own sake (which often is what everyone is trying to do, in the States, at least), but rather, generating our expression and truing it by a coherence of feeling with ourself.
For me, doing this clarifying work and then expressing/acting/relating from a place of deep contact with ourselves is at the heart of being a person. It’s an essential task, one that we neglect to our detriment, but one that we can neglect and still survive—but we will not know ourselves, our loved ones, and the world itself will not receive our gifts; and we will not be free.
You’re onto that no one can make you do this. Love and kindness can encourage you. Others can inspire you; but you alone can free yourself.
Being free as described here may sound inviting, but it’s in no way easy and there is zero assurance of success. We are embedded, as you know, in deep habits of thought and action. We have, through long practice, built a body that is most comfortable with reacting in the same ways again and again, often regardless of outcome or consequence. The folks around us expect us to act within a certain range of familiar behaviors and our salary/income seems based upon the same pile of anticipated actions. Only our deepest self longs to be free, and the cries and sighs of longing are drowned out in our endless rounds of busyness and worry.
Can you stop just now for 15 seconds and quiet yourself enough to hear the longing cry for freedom deep in your heart?
To free ourselves, usually the first step is to learn to hear and feel the longing—which is so poignant and plaintive that being with it for even a few moments can defeat the strongest of us.
But the wisdom and strength we need to free ourselves is down the path that is marked by the longing—which speaks the special language of our own heart and can teach us to stand in aloneness and terror and not give way.
We mostly have no idea of our real strength; we long ago became convinced that we are wimpy or have misunderstood rigidity and forcefulness for authentic strength. We can find our way back to the strong person who learned to walk and talk and who asked questions from curiosity (by the way, this person, whom we all once were, was free). The way back begins when we feel the longing to be free and stay with it. At once we are powerful and all the world holds us.
Being free, as an actual lived experience, not as an idea, requires us to take free action—doing things for a prolonged period just because they are consistent with our deep selves and for no gain of money or prestige. Yet we will gain much, or rather, we will find ourselves after a while no longer trying to gain, no longer lusting for things/people/experiences, because we will have found ourselves and seen that that was our real heart’s desire.
The path of freedom, to freedom, will take all we have: all our courage and resourcefulness and re¬silience. We will have to face all the myriad ways we have deceived ourselves, betrayed ourselves, abandoned ourselves. These are all searing experi¬ences and we will often want to flee—sometimes we will—but by returning again and again we will find and establish our freedom.
Do you want this?