True freedom is not for the faint of heart.
Most of us want to be free. At least that's what we think we want.
We claim we want to be free from pain, free from suffering, free from any kind of inner turmoil. And of course free to be, do, and have everything we want.
Sounds good, doesn't it?
Almost too good…
Well, I'm not saying that this is impossible but have you noticed something?
Everything I have mentioned above involves freedom from the “bad stuff.” The stuff no one likes. It implies that freedom is an act of subtracting all the negative so that we have only positive left.
That used to be my idea of freedom. I wanted to get rid of all the icky negative emotions and swim in a sea of bliss and peace and joy for the rest of my life. After trying to get there for a while, it dawned on me. I was not trying to get free, I was trying to polarize myself at the good, positive, beautiful side of things.
But true freedom is not just freedom from the bad stuff. True freedom is beyond good and bad. True freedom is ditching the pain and the pleasure.
If you truly want to be free, get ready to strip naked to the bones because that's what it's about.
What is True Freedom?
Most of us when we get on a spiritual or let's call it inner journey are initially motivated by suffering. No one thinks “My life is so fabulous, let's see how I can turn it inside out.”
You need some discontent, why else would you want freedom? If you don't know you're in prison, you're not desiring freedom.
Ironically, true freedom is also free of the desire for freedom. Nonetheless, you can't just skip the part of desiring it. You can't cheat your way to freedom.
So the thing we want to free ourselves from is the thing that first implanted the desire for freedom.
And now we want to depict pain and suffering as the bad guy?
It's easy to assume that all the uncomfortable and painful stuff is what is standing in our way to freedom. But don't be fooled, the comfortable and pleasurable stuff is an equally devious yet more subtle obstacle.
The obvious gatekeeper to true freedom might be a 3-meter 9-headed fire-spewing demon. No doubt you want to slay this guy. But right behind it is the insidiously cute little bunny offering you all the treasures of the world. Are you ready to skewer it as well?
This is the real litmus test. How far would you go for true freedom?
Would you be willing to forgo all your goals and desires? Would you be willing to never get a word of approval and praise again? Would you be willing to leave all your relationships behind?
What about your life? Would you burn it all down for freedom?
It sounds like I'm exaggerating and in a literal sense, I am. In a metaphorical sense, however, I'm being absolutely honest here.
True freedom is an unshakable imperturbability, the world cannot touch you in the slightest, ideas about right or wrong are artifacts of the past, people cannot bring you up or down, no one and no thing can cause you suffering anymore.
But I don't mean this in a 'you're going to end up as an emotionless machine' kind of way. I mean this in a 'being in the world but not of it' kind of way.
The Only Thing Standing in Your Way to True Freedom
“You can never be free as long as you have an ego to defend.”
– Anthony De Mello
The good news is there is only one thing standing in our way to true freedom. The bad news is this one thing is one helluva thing.
The thing I'm talking about is attachment.
It's obvious that we all have a bunch of attachments to things, experiences, people, and so on. But what is less obvious is that the obvious is actually inaccurate.
We don't have attachments, we are attachments. Our identities are bundles of attachment.
So I guess the one thing standing in your way to true freedom can also be called your identity. Here are a few more synonyms for good measure: personality, mind, ego, beliefs.
Before you say that these are different things, closely examine them. Are they really different things?
In the final analysis, they're all the same. But I suggest you do the math yourself and if you have disproven my theory please let me know.
Anyway, now that we know the one gatekeeper masquerading as many, let's examine how to wage the battle against him.
How to Know True Freedom
Honesty, Intention, and Desire
You have to be willing to look at yourself with open eyes. This means to see how you're deceiving yourself.
Where have you bought into beliefs, stories, and ideologies? Do you think you're someone special who should be treated with special care? Where have you projected an excessive amount of importance on things, people, experiences, etc?
These are some questions you can ask yourself to cut through delusion.
The next step is pure intention.
Your desire for freedom shouldn't be imposed upon you by someone else or by beliefs you have adopted or a sense of I should want freedom.
Wanting true freedom seems like a no-brainer but where did this idea come from? Who told you freedom is where it's at?
Pure intention is characterized by genuineness, and a willingness to forget everything you think you know and find your own solution if need be.
And finally, you need a strong desire, which is kind of similar to pure intention.
What do I mean by strong desire?
Imagine someone is keeping your head underwater. After a minute or two, how strong is your desire for air?
If your desire is that strong, you'll be free in no time.
But if you're not really in for the trophy, you're not going to keep going when the going gets tough. And when the going gets tough, even tough ones can get deluded.
All of the above combined will result in laser-like focus, which will cut out the path to freedom.
Now the real work is seeing all your attachments and scraping them all of you. You have to get all the areas, you can't leave any blind spots.
Be aware of all your emotional reactions, of all the tension, anxiety, worry, and desire. Shine the light and dare to look.
When you look, you'll see that what you suspected to be a ghost is just a shadow, which disappears when you shine the light of awareness on it.
Again, you can prove this for yourself. Can you find one thing or person that made you feel happy but not pain?
My bet is you can't.
Because what we call happiness is really pleasure. And pleasure and pain are two sides of the same coin, you can't have one without the other.
Take a moment and look at everything important in your life. Now see how the most important things in your life are full of pain and pleasure.
Kind of strange, isn't it?
The things and people we apparently like so much cause us the most pain.
This may be good and bad news for you.
Bad because you'll realize that chasing happiness in people and things and experiences your whole life was absolutely futile. Good because you'll realize you no longer have to waste energy by chasing happiness in people and things and experiences.
Severing The Emotional Tendrils
For this step, you need to get out your favorite sword, knife, macheté, or if you feel really naughty, an old rusty saw. Because now you have to sever the attachments to all of it.
By no longer feeding your emotional energy into them.
To do this you need, again, a whole lot of awareness. You need to recognize how attachments are puppeteering your decisions and actions.
Generally, there are different ways you can go about this.
You can, for instance, imagine all the people and things you hold dear in your life and then one by one, in your mind, tell them that your freedom and happiness are more important than them.
If the idea of doing this is making you uncomfortable, don't worry, that's normal.
But it also shows how thoroughly we have been brainwashed.
For some reason, we have decided that a life full of misery in company is better than a life of freedom in solitude. I'm not saying you need to live in solitude to be free but you need to know what you really want.
Would you choose happiness and freedom or, for instance, your spouse? This is a tough one, I know. But here is something that will make your decision easier. The only way to truly enjoy the company of others on a non-clinging basis is without attachments.
You have to choose yourself first. Otherwise, you'll be at the mercy of others for your whole life.
We have been made to believe that being able to be emotionally pushed around by others is normal and healthy. And although we can see this happening, we're still craving approval from others. We're all addicts of approval and praise, and the scope of this addiction dwarfs all others.
If someone says we're smart, we're happy. If someone says we're dumb, we're sad.
That's considered normal?
I'm talking about people here but this applies to everything else as well.
Stop feeding your emotional energy into egoic attractions and aversions and your freedom is assured. Eventually, you'll recognize that you don't have to waste energy on keeping a self-image alive that had no substance in the first place.
When you allow yourself to lose the ego game you'll see that every problem and all the drama you experience in your life is just because you think you're an ego and you have to defend it.