Freedom! A word that conjures up so much for so many, yet what does it mean to you? Do any of us have or have ever really had true freedom? It seems to be a particularly interesting and yet somehow potentially volatile question to pose in today’s world.
When we look at freedom through the lens of mindfulness, it opens up an interesting and somewhat complex situation indeed. So let’s take a look.
We probably should begin at the beginning by consulting the dictionary as at least a good starting point. So in the dictionary, the word freedom is defined as ‘the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants’.
Take a minute to take that in! ‘The power or right to act, speak or think as one wants’. Do you really know what you want?
This is a big statement pandemic or no pandemic. In reality, it is quite possible that many people reading this blog may likely never have experienced true freedom. If this is you, don’t feel alone because you are in good company, with the vast majority of people living on this big blue planet, we call home.
The first time I read that definition with some context of my life, and some understanding about what I was reading, I have to say I was completely flawed and almost overwhelmed with absolute despair. As if I had just discovered the essence of life and lost it all in one breath.
With this in mind, does freedom in the sense of the dictionary definition really exist at all? It is an interesting question to propose, no matter how you choose to slice the pie.
As part of global collective humanity, we live in a world full of rules, regulations, laws, terms, conditions, expectations and obligations, to name but a few. These apply to literally everything in life from the very beginning. In the registration of your birth, through to the home you live in, the car you drive, the education you attained and the life you choose to live, literally every day. Once you start to join the dots, applying context and overlaying it on your life, you can likely see how I felt such a sense of loss.
Do these things really allow us the freedom to choose? Of course they do! It might surprise you to know that you always have the freedom to choose. Many of the people I have helped through mindfulness coaching felt like they often had no choice at all. Now you’ve had the reality slap, the big question that arrives front and centre then is, are you prepared for the consequences that relate to your freedom to choose? Is this what makes people think and feel that they often have no choice at all?
Freedom has always existed, yet things like conscious consequences are then potentially implied through the role you choose to play in humanity. With consequences being the effect your choice for freedom might have on others around you. The others I am referring to here, are everyone including the people you love and those you don’t know.
I have had many people use the word freedom liberally in their life when discussing their problems with me as a mindfulness coach. It is like an elusive dream that they chase down, yet somehow never seem to be able to get their hands on. The ‘if only I was free to do what I wanted’ dream. Often leaving them feeling trapped, without control over their life. Does it happen this way for you?
I have witnessed and experienced freedom myself in many ways. Throughout my life, I have discovered that freedom exists on two planes. There is external freedom and internal freedom. Both come with consequences of understanding, enlightenment and judgement. What these consequences imply for you as an individual are completely within your control. This is probably the most difficult part to accept when it comes to your own freedom. You are in full command. Therefore what you choose to give up, it is yours to bear equally as is what you choose to stand up for. So freedom, it would appear, is a conundrum, where you have to choose between yourself and others. This potentially makes the concept of attaining true personal freedom sound almost impossible.
Now it is fair to say that it is reasonable to consider others in your choice for freedom, whatever that is. Whether they be your loved ones, work colleagues or friends. Yet ultimately, you really only have control in life over the freedom of one, yourself. You can forgo your choice for freedom for the benefit of others. Yet what if their own choice turned out to be for their benefit only? Then the plot thickens indeed. Are you choosing to forgo freedom for others, in the hope that others choose for you? Or are you simply choosing for the collective humanity? It is a very different position to take, with an array of personal consequences physically, intellectually and emotionally and spiritually.
This is the world that we live in every day. Choices and decisions to make that potentially affect others around us. Some we make easily, in fact with strong vigour, standing up for what we believe in. Yet others are taken away from us like magical disappearing acts that are so subtle, in fact, normalised so that they somehow completely go unnoticed.
We are often even enticed unknowingly to choose to surrender our own freedom, with incentives that make the options look too good to miss out on. This often happens in literally a blink of an eye, in everything from buying a new outfit, a car, a meal, a holiday or a home. The view becomes blurred with incentives, making it hard to see the real freedom to choose based on clear comparable options. These rewards and incentives embed you with terms, conditions, rules and regulations, leaving freedom simply blowing in the wind behind you. Then when you get into financial difficulty after something like losing your job, all hope of freedom seems completely lost.
Don’t let the privileges afforded to you for complying and conforming fool you into thinking you are indeed free. For this may be the greatest illusion of the modern era.
It is important to ask yourself that if you have to be persuaded, reminded, pressured, lied to, incentivised, coerced, bullied, socially shamed, guilt-tripped, threatened, punished or criminalised out of necessity to gain your compliance or endorsement to ultimately give up your freedom, then you can be absolutely certain that what is being promoted or asserted is not likely in your best interest.
Where is your awareness when it comes to understanding your own freedom and the implications of your choices?
Through mindfulness practices, I have learned to navigate my way through the minefield of freedom. I have learned to observe when my freedom is under threat so that I can pause. Here I take the time I need to evaluate my position better before I make a decision I might regret later. Sometimes a pause to reflect is one of the most powerful practices in mindfulness that you can adopt in life.
We all want some form of freedom, yet until you understand the nature of freedom, what it means to you, and where you may have lost it in your life, you will never truly be free to decide if you would have preferred not to have surrendered your freedom at all.
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