Freedom is Change
When we speak of freedom, the freedom to change and choose and live as we like, what does that mean, and where does it begin?
There is a vague idea of freedom being a right, something American and hard earned by others, something political that happens at the level of the state. But a society is only as free as the individuals within it.
The other idea of freedom, on the individual level, comes with the image of youth, carelessness, and irresponsibility: a freedom that is temporary and paid for later, when age brings the burdens of responsibility.
Freedom is the strength to choose one’s own thoughts, attitude, and life path. It is a responsibility each of us has the potential to work into, to embody. The strength required is real: to choose freely means to not always give into our cravings, which is extraordinarily difficult in our consumer-oriented world. We are constantly targeted by businesses that want for us to want.
When we live in a state of wanting, craving, we do not feel free so much as we feel prisoners of desire.
It could be worse. Of all jailers, desire and pleasure are the sweetest. Still, the mind feels most spacious, liberated, when it is not craving. Not just because the foundational desires are met— we all need to live in love, safety, and vibrant health in order to be free— but also because the mind recognizes the joy of peacefully being engaged with the richness of the present moment.
This is the core knowing that links Buddha’s four Noble Truths: there is craving, and the path away from cravings is the path into enlightenment.
What is the strength needed? To not get what is wanted. To learn to not want. And to be profoundly, deeply, ok with the nature of wanting, and with the nature of not-wanting. Both are welcomed into the flow of life, where we are present, attentive to what is here rather than what is not here, not yet.
The other ways to handle wants, desires, and blocks to freedom are to create self-restraint, self-control, or the more trendy option, to reveal and revere the inner child.
Neither of those are the path to enlightenment. Why?
Self-control implies inner conflict: body versus mind, logic versus intuition, control versus child, nature versus propriety. In all of these options, there is inner conflict and the power lost to it. One aspect of self exerts dominance over another, which will sometimes mutiny and causes one to act “out of character,”. The suppressed aspect of the self will root itself in compulsive and destructive behaviors, addictions, and thought patterns.
That is not freedom.
Why is the inner child not the answer either? Why don’t we just give into everything we ever wanted when we were children? Isn’t that our true selves?
No, revering a past version of ourselves is not the enlightened state. Immaturity is not the answer, neither is resorting to old patterns that we developed in response to our childhood lives, which have changed, and are always changing. As must we, as woken, free acting, big loving, human beings.