Choosing Real Freedom

by Stephen Mills on August 14, 2010

Cabin in the woods

I’ve had a lifelong passion for freedom; political freedom, financial freedom, and personal freedom.  Over the last couple of years though, I have slowly become aware of another form of freedom that can be more powerful and liberating than all the others.

The Real Freedom

During all these decades in which I have pursued freedom, in reality, I have been a slave to the tyranny of my own mind.  I’ve done it to myself.  I have been missing something that very few people achieve or even know exists – Psychological Freedom.  Psychological freedom is the freedom to choose our own state of minds.  It’s freedom that comes from not reacting to what is external to us with fear, want, worry, stress, frustration, anger, jealousy, depression, or hurt.

How Things Should Be

We all have needs, desires, and expectations of how things should be.  We shouldn’t be burning and logging the rain forests or shooting tigers for their penises.  we shouldn’t have to work at a job we don’t like just to pay the bills.  We should have been promoted by now.  Corporate bureaucracy shouldn’t exist.  The government should do this or that or not do this or that.  Other drivers shouldn’t be such idiots.  My partner should want to spend more time with me.  We shouldn’t have to take care of our helpless family members.  He should love me for my brains instead of her for her body.  People should act the way we think they should act.  I shouldn’t have cancer; it’s not fair.

We want to be more beautiful.  We want to have more money.  We want to live on the beach.  We wish we were famous.  We want to be like him or her.  We want this thing or that thing.  The list is endless and forever changing.

The gap between the way we think things should be or wish them to be and the way they really are is the source of our slavery.  Within this gap lies the tyranny of our own minds; the loss of our psychological freedom.  As soon as you say to yourself that you want or need something more, you have declared that there is something wrong with your current circumstances.  You have brought into focus the gap and in some real way diminished your current self.

The Key To Freedom

“It is our mistaken belief that we must push life in the direction we choose that keeps us in a strained and unhappy relationship with it.  Reality has its own effortless course, and we can either embrace its way or struggle endlessly with our own.”  — Guy Finley

Realizing that within yourself you have the power to be free and happy regardless of your current circumstances is the key to psychological freedom.  It is not the external events or circumstances of your life that have enslaved you; you have enslaved yourself to your thinking about those external events and circumstances.

You have some control over your actions, but you have very little control over the outcomes.  Sometimes things will go your way, but often they will not.  What you do have control over however is how you react to those outcomes.  Detaching yourself emotionally from outcomes which you cannot control is a critical step to freedom from all those negative states.  You do not have to get upset, angry, depressed, irritated, or frustrated by external events.  You do not have to react in any negative way when things don’t turn out the way you think they should turn out or others don’t act the way you think they should act.

I have to admit when I first encountered these ideas, I was skeptical.  They didn’t seem to make sense or to even be possible.  If your passion is to save the rainforest, how can you possible detach yourself from your failure as it burns all around you?  It’s possible.  You can learn to be fulfilled and experience joy in the process, in the actions you take, and to accept with peace whatever may happen.

Detaching yourself from outcomes is a skill and like any other skill the more you practice it the better you get.  However, the rewards are immediate from the first time you put it to use. The more skilled you become, the greater will be the psychological freedom you will achieve.  This is something that is 100% internal to you and cannot be influenced by external events.  Your freedom is entirely yours for the taking.

Another Thought

“Every morning, when we wake up, we have twenty-four brand-new hours to live.  What a precious gift!  We have the capacity to live in a way that these twenty-four hours will bring peace, joy, and happiness to ourselves and others.” — Thich Nhat Hanh

You will be a different person tomorrow than what you are today.  You’ll be a different person the day after that and the week after and the year after.  Things change and despite what we like to believe we have no idea how they will change.  I can have a dream for next year and tomorrow things might change in a way that makes it meaningless.

Shall I then be overwhelmed with grief and disappointment at my loss?  My loss of something I never had in the first place?  By focusing on something you want in the future, on the gap between what you have and what you want, you are missing what life has to offer in the meantime.  Why not experience life as happens to you in the here and now with maximal freedom, joy, and peace?

If you live an urban setting and your dream is a cabin in the woods, by all means pursue your dream.  If you someday live in a cabin in the woods then great.  If you don’t then that’s great too.  In your “failure” you might find that you have met the love of your life and she introduced you to a vibrant urban life which you didn’t know existed; a life of community, cafes, art, and culture.  Your life in the woods may not have been all you dreamed it would be anyway.  Even Thoreau returned from the woods after a couple of years.  To throw away what you have in pursuit of what you don’t is a fool’s game.

I know I have not offered a lot of practical techniques in this article, but I plan on writing more how-to in future articles.  With this article my goal was to make you consider the possibility that there is a better way.

“Letting go is not giving up; it is going up.” — Guy Finley

What do YOU think?  Leave a comment and join the conversation.


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November 13, 2010 at 10:13 pm

{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

tye187 August 14, 2010 at 7:18 pm

Wow that was very insightful. I cant wait to read more.


Stephen Mills August 16, 2010 at 7:28 am

Thanks tye187, I’m glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for letting me know.


Terry August 15, 2010 at 8:40 pm

Great article. So many times we find ourselves slaves to money, health or work worries. Yet these are just thoughts.
Terry´s last blog post ..How to Maintain Healthy Eating Habits


Stephen Mills August 16, 2010 at 7:32 am

Hello Terry, yes they are just thoughts. Thoughts are not you and they can’t hurt you if you don’t let them. Thanks for stopping in to comment.


Sandra Hendricks August 16, 2010 at 1:10 am

I enjoy articles that offer food for thought, and give me something to consider, BRAVO! You volunteered an idea that is central to becoming less attached. When I stopped thinking about what other people should or shouldn’t do a peacefulness opened up that was incredible. If I do begin thinking in these terms now, I FEEL it strongly. I always felt it that much but was unaware, of the amount of stress and pressure it brought upon me.
Sandra Hendricks´s last blog post ..Can We Succeed Without Positive Thinking


Stephen Mills August 16, 2010 at 7:38 am

Thank you Sandra. When I stopped worrying about what other people did, a huge burden was lifted from my shoulders. It is an incredible freedom, but you must stay constantly vigilant (aware) because it is easy to forget and fall into old habits. Thanks for your thoughts!


Dennis August 16, 2010 at 9:01 am

Excellent, excellent thoughts! You may also enjoy this posting from the Everyday Wonderland site, so many of these thoughts really help us put things in perspective and quiet down all the noise and chatter all around us. Looking forward to reading more Stephen!


Stephen Mills August 17, 2010 at 4:54 pm

Hello Dennis, thank you for that input. And I did go read the article at the link and I thoroughly enjoyed it and thought it was spot on 🙂


Sean Smith August 16, 2010 at 12:36 pm

Big one Stephen. I think it’s another expression of the Ego protecting ourselves against ourselves. We are not what we think we are capable or deserving of. We are not happy. But its not our fault. It’s because of X. If it were not because of X we would be happy and fulfilled. It has to be because if it is not we would have to admit that we are not in control.


Stephen Mills August 17, 2010 at 4:55 pm

Hello Sean. I think you are right that it is our ego thinking it is protecting us from ourselves, but instead in reality it is making us miserable. Thank you for taking the time to comment.


Steve-Personal Success Factors August 16, 2010 at 7:48 pm

I also like what the apostle Paul states in his Biblical letters: “I have learned in all things to be content: whether with plenty, or whether with little.” Like you said, it’s not easy, but it’s better than the alternative state of misery, when life does not line up with my ‘shoulds’. Appreciation, savoring the present moment, gratitude, and an attitude of generosity and love toward God, myself, and others, is the key out of the rat race.
Steve-Personal Success Factors´s last blog post ..Do You Need 10 Success Strategies for 2010


Stephen Mills August 17, 2010 at 4:58 pm

Hi Steve! I love that quote; so much wisdom in it. Thank you for the comment.


Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills August 16, 2010 at 10:06 pm

Excellent core truths Stephen. My personal approach to life hangs on this one powerful statement: “Psychological freedom is the freedom to choose our own state of minds.” In that simple sentence is the secret that empowers us to create our own reality, to be genuinely happy.
Jonathan – Advanced Life Skills´s last blog post ..Can You Allow Appreciation to Change Your Life


Stephen Mills August 17, 2010 at 4:59 pm

Hello Jonathan, you went right to the heart of it with that sentence. I couldn’t agree more. Thanks!


Allison August 17, 2010 at 1:06 am

Hi Stephen
Great post – it made me think about those who constantly change their external circumstances – new job, new partner, new house blah blah but they are never happy because they are trapped by their own thoughts. Change that and you are at peace for the rest of your life.
Allison´s last blog post ..Being made redundant – 9 Steps to Beating Redundancy


Stephen Mills August 17, 2010 at 5:00 pm

Hi Allison and thank you so much for that kind thought. Your internal state creates your external state.


Robin Easton August 17, 2010 at 12:23 pm

Hi dear Stephen, I really like this because it speaks of choice and freedom. Both the freedom of choice, and the choice of freedom. 🙂 🙂

I love this part: “Realizing that within yourself you have the power to be free and happy regardless of your current circumstances is the key to psychological freedom.”

If we wait for happiness, joy and love to occur when everything is exactly as WE want it, when everything is perfect, we could have a very long wait. We, quite literally, could end up wasting our entire lives.

The more we proactively “create” happiness and joy no matter where we are or what is going on, then the more chance we have of drawing happiness and joy into our lives. So it’s a win/win situation. We get to feel better while we draw more happiness to us.

Good going my friend!!
Hugs to you,


Stephen Mills August 17, 2010 at 5:04 pm

Hi Robin and hugs back 🙂

When I was young I thought I could control things, but the wisdom of age has changed my opinion on that one! A reader sent me this saying:

“Don’t push the river, it flows by itself.”

I think that is a great way to look at life.


Becky August 17, 2010 at 10:57 pm

I think that I have found true freedom. I sold my house and business and bought an RV. I gave away my stuff to my children and what they did not want, the people who bought the house got it. I travel any place that I want to go and I do not have the lawns to mow. It is the best life that I could ever want to have. Oh yea…I work on the computer so, I am always at work.


Cindy1128 August 18, 2010 at 9:45 pm

This is a great article. Something I struggle with alot lately. I’ll keep this one around for reminders of what we should think about.


Ben September 8, 2010 at 2:42 am

Hey Stephen,

Stumbled across this and i agree with a lot of what you are saying, i do disagree on one point though and that is that you must separate from the emotion attached to an outcome, i personally feel that is a very dangerous thing to say. If you are talking about attaching an emotion to a desired outcome then i agree but to distance yourself emotionally from an outcome that has happened i believe is not a healthy way to grow, it almost seems like a head in the sand approach. Personally i believe that acceptance and understanding is the real key here, acceptance of what is beyond your control and understanding where and why your reaction is the way it is BUT most importantly not letting the emotion overtake you. Just feel it, understand it, accept it and let it go then you will soon start to realize what is actually effecting the true you and what is only effecting the ego you. This is what i have found from my personal experience though and worked for me in daily life.



Rusty September 7, 2011 at 3:37 pm

Good article. Tough to build community, though, when everyone is only thinking about themselves. Fine line.


Tom July 22, 2012 at 9:45 am

As a small child while playing with toy soldier in the dirt, I looked up at the clear summer sky inwardly something occurred to me, I felt this truth, over time I exclaimed this truth to many deaf ears, “there is only one reality, and thus I gathered that in all things, there is only one truth.” In other words, In all things, there is only one true path. Though I have never doubted this inner truth. It seemed to have no force or power in the world. Entonces, “then” for many years I strayed from the path, and return then strayed again. One day I encountered the words, “Right belief” or was it “Right understanding” or “Right concentration” (they have a similar connotation) but it took me back to that day as a small child looking up at the sky. In a way I felt vindicated. As one walks the path towards, “Right belief, or Right understanding”. I only know that within that small corner inner awareness which I call “my perfect mind”; I must continue to place true pieces of wisdom in their proper place.
“Don’t push the river, it flows by itself.” That is one beautiful phrase. “Real Freedom” cuts through the muck to the true nature of freedom. I think it is only important to be emotionally attached to things which truly matter. The wisdom is in recognizing the difference.
Thanks Stephen so much for the article and all the insightful comments.


petar July 29, 2012 at 6:10 pm

my question is, does this not take away from what humanity is supposed to be? it’s human nature to be emotional and to react external events. that’s what sets us apart from animals. this is coming from someone who’s emotionally dead and looking for a way to get reconnected; i wish i had a natural reaction to the external and got emotionally attached. i miss that, and i don’t understand why the new thing is to detach yourself. that isn’t living


Miguel October 9, 2012 at 12:50 pm

This article reflects what I am working on within myself. Acceptance seems to be the key idea. What I like to say to myself when things get hard is the following. Acknowledge the need to relax and accept what is in this moment. This sentence is very powerful for me


nelson October 16, 2012 at 11:02 am

great post. but i hope you will agree with me that there is never complete freedom, unless you work according to Gods will. I am afraid,but man will never get complete freedom until he is perfected by God. Only Him can give you complete peace even in the mist of trouble. it is not by our power or might but by his spirit.


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