Freedom – Living The Intentional Life

There is a great paradox in this country. We are the freest nation on earth.  We can travel wherever we want, we can choose to pursue any career path we want, and we have religious freedom.  Yet, why is it so many of us feel unfree – we feel trapped?  We feel trapped by a relationship, or by a job or by some circumstance?

More than 150 years ago Henry David Thoreau said, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” I believe that is as true today as it was back then.  I know all of you are familiar with Thoreau.  He lived from 1845 – 1847 at Walden Pond near Boston, MA.  He wasn’t the first to live an intentional life — but he was certainly the first to write about it so eloquently.  Thoreau wrote, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to (confront) only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

But what is “freedom?”  When you think of freedom do you think of physical freedom? Freedom from work? Freedom from restrictions? Freedom from obligations? Freedom from law? Freedom from duty? Is freedom just free of such restrictions? Or is it something more?

For example I work with inmates some of whom feel very free. It was Mahatma Ghandi who said, “They can imprison my body but not my mind.”

Now I want you to think of a time that you didn’t feel free. A time you felt stuck in a relationship? Or a time you felt stuck in a job? Or a time you felt stuck in situation? In those situations did you feel you had no or few choices?

I believe there are some universal laws of what we call “reality”

1.  Reality is created in the moment.
2.  In each moment there are multiple realities.
3.  What you “choose” to focus upon becomes your reality.

So, what reality do you choose? Do you choose to feel stuck, to feel trapped? The first step to becoming truly free is to recognize how we “create” our own reality.

We have all known angry, nasty people who go through life and seem mad at the world. We can see they are in a hell of their own creation. Obviously these people are trapped and not very free.

In Buddhism we talk about freedom from the kleshas. Kleshas are that which muddies the stream of enlightenment’ The kleshas are emotions and/or habitual patterns that defile or confuse the mind, such as anger, fear, and resentment. The kleshas are what bind us to the cycle of re-birth. Attainment of enlightenment signifies the extinction of all kleshas.

So I think of freedom as along a continuum. At one far end are those who are so stuck in suffering that are unaware that they even have choices. They simply respond to the world and events in a “knee jerk” sort of way.

And then as you move along the continuum – you increase your awareness or insight. Maybe you become aware of feeling trapped in a situation — as if you don’t have choices.

As you continue along the continuum – and increase your insight even further – you begin to see the world more spaciousness – you begin to see a range of possibilities. You come eventually to the realization that in every situation there is endless potential for change. That everything is workable. And of course when you finally reach the other end of the continuum — of enlightenment you arrive at place of non-duality – so it transcends even choices — it is a choiceless state.

The point is if you want to feel more free, if you want to feel you have more choices – then you need to increase your awareness – or your insight. This is accomplished through the meditation practice. It is through meditation that we cut through the kleshas.

Meditation can be helpful in helping us to gain insight into to some of the reasons, or patterns, that cause us to keep making some of the same mistakes over and over again. This is true especially when we feel “stuck” and feel not free. The 10th century Tibetan master, Tilopa said,

“Let go of what has passed.
Let go of what may come.
Let go of what is happening now.
Don’t try to figure anything out.
Don’t try to make anything happen.
Relax, right now, and rest.”

When you are truly free, you are free of the kleshas of desires, attachments, and aversions. Then you reside in a completely non-dualistic state – that transcends choices all together. It transcends also hope and fear — it is what is called the choiceless state. Why? Because it is free of even choices. So if you really want to experience freedom you must train your mind — to be free of the self or the ego

So, I believe the degree to which you feel free is a good indication of your progress along the spiritual path.

If you would like to feel more free, then do more spiritual practice — because it is through the meditation practice that you free yourself of ego driven by the kleshas.