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.
“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
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