I had an email from a friend who's in a great deal of turmoil, who seems to be frustrated, angry and depressed much of the time. She talked about wanting freedom and not having it. In her complaints, she seemed to define freedom along the lines of doing whatever she wants to do, whenever she wants to do it, without regard for the impact on anyone or anything around her. No wonder she's unhappy!
Her message caused me to reflect on a seminar I took years ago in which we spent an entire weekend discerning our purpose in life. Mine was simple and easy to find: being free. It didn't have to do with individualism or narcissism, or controlling or being controlled. It had to do with a sense, a feeling I longed for, that I only knew to label as "being free." In the process of exploring what it would mean to be free, I looked for goals I could set that I hoped would give me that experience. I discovered that being free had many meanings and forms of manifestation.
One form, for me, was the experience of sailing in tropical waters, an almost clichéd ideal of freedom for many folks. So I created my business Captains Courageous, which combined my work as a personal growth facilitator with my dream of sailing in tropical waters. Hey, live your dream and get paid for it too? Not bad!
Another way I imagined being free was flying, so I went hot air ballooning, skydiving, and rode on a zipline harnessed at my back so I could soar like a bird. What fun and fabulous experiences they were! I knew I wanted to experience Being Free in less-physical ways too, so I set about upgrading my meditation and spiritual practices and got great results. But a far more important outcome was that I learned to use my yearning to be free as my litmus test for all decision making, asking if what was in front of me was consistent with being free. And even more important than that, I learned that the experience of being free was less about doing and more about being.
With a few notable exceptions, much of what is written and said about freedom is primarily focused on outer experiences, such as the freedom to go where I want, freedom from paying taxes, freedom to speak my mind, freedom from washing dishes, freedom to fool around. What's rarely discussed is that having outer freedom, the freedom to do or not do some outer experience, does not guarantee the inner experience of being free. I discovered that truly being free actually has very little to do with WHAT I do outwardly, but it has a lot to do with HOW I do it inwardly.
For example, while putting together a Captains Courageous adventure, if I'm stressed and resentful over details of logistics or finances or enrollment issues, I'm not being free. In sailing, if I'm resisting the changing weather or wave patterns, I'm not being free. If I'm forcing my meditation practice, I'm not being free. If I'm doing service out of a sense of obligation, I'm not being free. I may have the freedom to do those things, but inwardly I'm not free even while doing them.
I also discovered that the quest for outer freedom may itself be a bar to being free, so long as I think I have to have freedom in some outer form, I'm held captive by it inwardly. The feeling of "have to" is one of compulsion, of force, of being driven. It's the very opposite of being free. And what happens if someone or something stops my progress toward that outer target of freedom? I'm not being free if I've made that outer objective a prerequisite to my inner sense of freedom. So long as my focus is on the drive for outer forms of freedom, there is likely to be an endless loop of disappointment and restriction, whether I achieve my outer goals or not. I came to realize that the more attached I am to outer experiences, the less free I am inside.
I'm sure you, like I, have experienced wanting something badly, say a fast new car, because you thought it would give you the experience of freedom. But perhaps when you got the car, it turned out to be a very expensive and time-consuming lemon -- providing not the freedom you wanted, but rather limitation and obligation. I've found that whatever I seek on the outside is likely to be but a poor stand in for what I'm wanting on the inside, and it may even turn out to bring me just the opposite. However, if I focus on the inner experience of being free, then I would be free whether the outer objective showed up, or showed up differently, or didn't show up at all. Being free, as it turns out, is an inside job.
All that said, however, in recent years I had come to forget a lot of what I've just written about. I had gradually left behind my litmus paper and started getting caught up in dreaming and doing without really checking inside if and how it would serve my greater purpose of being free. Certainly I found and used other measuring sticks, but I forgot about being free. I started doing big things in an unconscious quest for freedom and then became imprisoned by the very experiences I'd set up. I am now in a process of relearning about being free in some very challenging situations that would otherwise be confining, terrifying and painful. It is a profound learning experience that I'll be writing more about in future blogs.
So with gratitude for my unhappy friend's message that revived my focus on being free inwardly, I invite you to join in the journey and share what you're learning about being free.
For more by Martha Boston, click here.
For more on mindfulness, click here.