Real freedom is the freedom from the demand to feel good all the time.– Adyashanti
Profound freedom is a profound intimacy with life.– Adyashanti, Silent Retreat Vol. 57, Garrison 2017
What is freedom?
At an ordinary and universal human level, it’s the freedom of movement, freedom of access to education, freedom of access to healthcare, freedom of worship and speech, and so on.
At a more psychological level, it’s the freedom from being caught in beliefs, identifications, emotional issues, and trauma. When we are caught in these, they run us. We are caught in their separation consciousness and perceive and act as if the stressful thoughts behind them are true. When we are more free from being caught in these – because our relationship to them has changed and/or they themselves have healed – we have more freedom in how we respond to situations. (It still comes from conditioning but there is room for more flexibility, kindness, and acting from a larger view.)
Adyashanti talks about the freedom to experience our experiences as they are, without being caught in having to change them, avoid them, or transform them.
And there is the freedom that comes from noticing what we are, and from what we are noticing itself as all there is. When we find ourselves as capacity for the world as it appears to us, and as that which all our experiences happen within and as, it’s all revealed as a seamless whole. And in this oneness, there is freedom. It’s freedom since there is no “other” that can impede freedom. All is movements within the one.
How do these freedoms give an intimacy with life?
The first freedom gives us a richer life and a life where we are more free to follow what’s right for us and our heart and inner guidance. The second allows us to respond more intentionally to situations and work with them instead of reacting to them and work against them. The third allows us to be with and find ourselves as whatever our experience is and gives us an intimacy with our experience as it is here and now. And the last one gives us intimacy with the world as it appears to us since it is what we are.
All of these freedoms – and probably many more – are important and valid. They contribute to the richness of life and function at different levels and areas of who and what we are.
Freedom is the realization that everything and everybody gets to be exactly as they are. Unless we’ve come to that point, unless we’ve seen that this is how reality sees things, then we’re actually withholding freedom from the world. We’re seeing it as a possession, and we’re only concerned with ourselves. How good I can feel? How free I can feel? True freedom is a gift to everything and everybody.
– Adyashanti, The End of Your World
If you love somebody set them free.
– Sting from The Dream of the Blue Turtles, 1985
That’s what’s happening when I hold satsang with parts of me – parts of my psyche.
An emotion is here, or physical pain, or fearful images and thoughts, and I notice a contraction around it. There is tension and stress.
You are welcome here. Thank you for protecting me. Thank you for your devotion to me. How would you like me to be with you? What is your deepest desire, what would satisfy you forever? What are you really?
In this, what’s surfacing is allowed it’s freedom. It finds freedom from being related to with a heavy hand. It finds freedom from being pushed away and rejected, or hold onto. It’s allowed its own life. And there is often a sense of it softening and melting. It experiences itself as seen, felt, and loved, as it is. It relaxes. It doesn’t have to change.
As holding satsang in this way becomes more familiar, and a new habit, there is a new atmosphere. One of respect, appreciation, relaxation, even a quiet trust and confidence.
And by setting these parts of me free, and seeing how much better it feels than wrestling with them, I may do the same for people in my life – including those closest to me, and myself.
I can explore this in many other ways as well, for instance through following “the trail of crumbs” (notice densest sensations, breathe, notice images and thoughts, take these to inquiry), The Work, exploring the sense fields, inviting the confused and suffering parts of me into the heart flame, and tonglen. Read More
I sometimes hear people talk about freedom in connection with spirituality.
It makes sense, from one perspective. As long as we take ourselves to be a separate being in the world, it’s easy to also experience a lack of freedom and desire for freedom, and spirituality may seem to offer a hope of that freedom.
And yet, that’s not really how it is, in my experience.
Here are some ways of using the word freedom, and also where the word doesn’t make sense anymore.
There may be a relative freedom as a human being in the world, for instance freedom of speech and religion, political freedom, the freedom that comes from access to opportunities and money, and so on.
There is a sense of “freedom” that comes from realizing (more of) the nature of reality and the nature of illusion. A freedom from being blindly caught in certain beliefs. At least, it may be experienced as a form of freedom in the early honeymoon phase.
There may also be a sense of lack of freedom from being bound to God’s will (aligning with reality, what’s here) and God’s guidance (the quiet inner voice, the guidance of the heart, the guidance of the soul). There may be a struggle with this, and it’s also a sweet “lack of freedom”.
There is also, as Adyashanti points out, freedom to. Freedom to welcome what’s here, to be with it, to meet it. A freedom to that comes from noticing that what’s here is already allowed, that it’s already awakeness, presence, love, that it’s what “I” am. And that may be supported by inquiry, prayer, meditation, contemplation etc.
And yet, if all is Spirit the word freedom doesn’t make sense. The me that seeks freedom is the dream that reality wakes up from.
So does spirituality have to do with freedom? In a very limited sense, yes.
And yet, if anything, a process of reality waking up to itself is humbling. It’s a process of this human self aligning with Spirit, with the will of God – as what’s here, and as guidance of the heart and soul. It’s a process of Spirit recognizing itself as all there is, and this human self functioning within that recognition.
World peace depends on you, not ‘them’ acting the way you think they should. Thank goodness I don’t need to wait for the world to live a certain way in order for me to have world peace. Freedom is not needing anyone to change.
– ESG on Facebook
I won’t say much about this, other than that there are obviously different forms of freedom. There are the social and political freedoms – of speech, to vote, from oppression, to marry the person you love etc. There are the psychological freedoms, which really boils down to a freedom from holding stressful thoughts as true, or – more accurately – the freedom of thoughts from being taken as true. And there is the freedom of not needing anyone or anything to change, which comes out of the previous one. The quote above is also a reminder that through inquiry, we all find our own wisdom, kindness and guidance. It’s how a regular woman with children and a regular job can find the freedom of not needing anything to change.
It is a myth that when I’m truly enlightened I can rest in some assuredness that I will never again feel insecure, or feel fear, or feel doubt, or feel those emotions that we don’t want to feel. Forget it, that’s not it. That’s the pipe dream, that’s the opium that’s sold to the masses. And they eat it up and they never get there, and they end up disillusioned.
Freedom is never freedom from. If it’s freedom from anything, it’s not freedom at all. It’s freedom to. Are you free enough to be afraid? Are you free enough to feel insecure? Are you free enough not to know? Are you free enough to know that you can’t know? Are you free enough to be totally comfortable knowing that you can’t know what’s around the next corner? How you will feel about it? How you will respond to it? That you literally can’t know? Are you free enough to be totally at ease and comfort with the way things actually are? That’s freedom. The other thing is the ego’s idea of freedom.
Release of others through self-familiarity.
As I get more familiar with myself, there is a natural release of others from my expectations and shoulds.
There are several ways this happens:
I respond to my own images and beliefs, not to what others do or what life comes up with. I even trigger my beliefs through my stories of what is happening. And that’s how it is for others as well. I trigger my own beliefs. They trigger theirs. I take responsibility for my own choices and actions, aim at acting with as much kindness and wisdom as possible, and can be there for others. But how they respond and relate to it is their responsibility. Again, it’s their process and learning.
I listened to a science podcast with a snippet from a norwegian scientist talking about fruit flies and humans. Fruit flies are driven by biology and instinct and have no free will, in contrast to us humans who have free will since we think and make choices.
It is easy to see this as a little naive. Why draw the line between free will and no free will there?
When I explore free will for myself, where do I find it? I look at thoughts, and find that they happen on their own. I bring attention to choices, and find the same. I notice a thought, a choice and an action, but cannot find causality. I notice a thought, choice and action, and a story that “I” did it, but this “I” (the doer) is just a conglomerate of sensations and images.
I can also take any simple choice or action, explore its causes in a conventional sense, and find that there appears to be infinite causes for any choice or action. Always one more. And one more. Stretching back to the beginning of universe and out to the widest extent of the universe. Can I find room for free will? Is free will neccesary?
But there is also wisdom in talking about free will since it helps us take responsibility for our chocies in a conventional way. It makes good sense to act as if we have free will, at least until (if) that story falls away on its own through thorough and repeated investigation.
…. and the truth will set you free.
– John 8:32
There are many ways of looking at this. One is to notice that when I take a story as true, perceptions and actions are confined by it. And when it is recognized as a tool only, there is freedom to perceive and act on either side of it – aligned with the story or aligned with its reversals, or independent of them all.
In this, there is a freedom at the level of who I am, as this human self in the world. I can find in myself what the story points to, what its reversals point to, and as someone not confined by either. And releasing identification with those stories also makes it easier for what I am to notice itself.
When I look at freedom through form, I find that it happens in many different ways.
Existence finds freedom to explore itself through taking on various forms. Or more accurately, when I notice what I am (that which content of experience happens within and as), I find that this content of experience is the play of what I am. It is how it explores and experiences itself as and through form. Always new. Fresh. Different. Said yet another way, it is how the infinite can experience itself as finite, or at least an appearance of it which is as good as it gets.
In a growing/waking up context, I also find that there is freedom through form. There is an invitation to grow and wake up within the world of form, a freedom to grow and wake up through the friction of form. For instance, I hold onto a story as true (fixed perspective/role), the rest of the world of form doesn’t agree, there is friction (stress), which in turn invites me to notice and inquire into my belief. Or more immediately, I may notice resistance, allow that resistance and anything else happening, and notice it all as awakeness itself.
In a practice context, there is also freedom through form. I go to retreat, and the form creates a container for practice. I don’t have to think about what to do next, and – again – the friction between the form and my beliefs creates opportunities to grow and wake up. The same is the case for yoga, tai chi, chi gong and other practices that has a set form. There is also a freedom from having the personality run the show here, at least in those few areas. And the form itself may be designed to work on me in specific ways, so I give it that freedom to work on me when I follow the form.
There is also freedom through form in a social context, especially in the forms of roles. For instance, since I am married I don’t have to consider (very seriously) if someone else can be a potential partner. I have the freedom to spend my attention somewhere else.
The first one, the freedom of existence to explore itself as form, just happens. The second, the invitation to grow and wake up through the friction of form, requires some participation. The third and fourth are obviously more optional, and require more of a discernment and conscious decision on our part. Which forms do I chose to follow? What are the practical outcomes of following them?
It is funny how clarity comes with a freedom to dislike, to take the preferences of this personality more seriously.
When there is a release from beliefs through inquiry, I relate to myself and others from more kindness and clarity. And being kind with myself includes taking the preferences of this personality seriously.
When in the grips of beliefs, there is often a sense of lack of freedom to act on likes and dislikes. It feels reactive, compulsive and unpleasant.
Free from beliefs, there is a freedom to act from personal preferences, but now from clarity and kindness to myself and others, instead of from reactivity and compulsiveness. And if I am unable to act from the likes and dislikes of this personality, or choose to not act on them (there are many reasons to not act on them), I am OK with that too.
This shift, taking the personal preferences of this personality more seriously when there is a freedom from beliefs, is one of the many (apparent) ironies of this process.
A few things about choice…
As human beings, we have a range of options available to us. We move along the different spirals of development (cognitive, moral, value memes, etc.), we notice patterns and dynamics of behavior, we can see directly how thought/sense gestalts are created, we can get to know and embrace disowned aspects of ourselves, and so on.
There is a disidentification with one thing, and identification with a new more inclusive pattern. And in each of these cases, the landscape of options available to us is a little larger, so there is a sense of a little more freedom.
At the same time, for all of this there are infinite causes. There is no freedom in that sense. Whatever happens – any sense of choice, decisions being made, any thoughts, actions, reactiveness – it all has infinite causes, stretching back to the beginning of time and out to the extent of the universe.
There is doing but no doer. This human self make decisions, but there is no “I” there. Actions follow thoughts, there is evaluation of options, there are decisions, but no evaluator or decider.
Finding ourselves as Big Mind, we are already and always free from all of this. We are this field of awakeness and its content which goes beyond and includes anything in the world of form. The human self and its wider world is all awakeness, inherently absent of an I with an Other. There is only doing and no doer. There is of course still relative freedom and choice for our human self, and it will still work on finding more of it (or not), but the substance has gone out of it.
So there is a range of options for our human self, which widens as it heals, matures and develops. There is no freedom of choice since every decision has infinite causes. And we are already free from it, as awakeness and what happens within, to and as it.
There are many ways to define or talk about wisdom, each one revealing our own personal bias on what is important in our human life.
One way to define it is that wisdom happens when head (view, insight), belly (felt-sensed nurturing fullness), heart (love), and action (skillful means) come together.
Or said another way, it happens when there is receptivity and engagement at each center.
At the head center, there is receptivity to the truth in the reversals of any view and perspective, there is engagement in actively exploring these, and the freedom to use any one of these more actively in a situation.
At the belly center, there is a receptivity which allows for a sense of nurturing fullness. The emotional level goes from reactivity to a stable sense of nurturing fullness, and of trust.
At the heart center, there is receptivity to all of existence, however it shows up. Our heart stays open, or at least can be invited to open.
And our actions reflect skillful means, from experience and brought forth by the receptivity at the three centers, engagement in situations, and the freedom to stay engaged without getting blindly caught up in whatever happens.
Of course, this all gets hopelessly abstract to the point of being pretty useless. But there is a real experience behind all of it, and each of these points can be explored in more detail so they come more alive for us. We can find it in our own life, even if it is only a tendency and not caricatured and full-blown as described here.
When I look at my view, I can find many times there were rigidity there, and with a rigidity of view – attaching to one particular view as true and denying the truth in its reversals – there is not much wisdom. If my view is more fluid, and I actively explore the grain of truth in each reversal, there is sometimes a sense of wisdom, especially if the heart is included, and even more so if there is a sense of nurturing fullness, and it all is reflected in actions.
Looking at my heart, again I see that when my heart is closed, there is not much wisdom available to me. I act from habits at best, and more likely also from reactivity. But if my heart is open to life – to myself and others involved – there is sometimes a sense of wisdom there, especially if the view is included, and even more so if the nurturing fullness and actions are there as well.
In terms of the emotions, I find that when there is reactivity there, there is most often reactivity in view as well, and my heart is closed off. None of those allows much wisdom to be present. But if there is a stable nurturing fullness there, this fullness and the sense of trust that comes with it allows for receptivity at the other centers. My view can be more fluid, my heart more open, my actions more receptive to and engaged with the situation.
The same with my actions as these reflect what is going on at the three centers. If my view is receptive and fluid, my heart open, my emotions nurturing, and this comes out through actions informed by experience and whatever skillful means available to me, there may be some wisdom reflected there as well.
Of course, wisdom is relative to where we are at in terms of insight, receptivity of heart, nurturing fullness, and experience. It reflects how healed, mature, and developed this human self is. Sometimes, we act from less wisdom than what is available to us, and other times – when these centers are more receptive and engaged – we can act more from whatever wisdom is available to us, wherever we are in terms of healing, maturing and development.
We can always go further. Whatever we do, there is always room for improvement. And I guess that is another aspect of wisdom: acknowledging that we are acting from a limited insight and set of experiences, and looking out for feedback to learn from. Here too, in terms of learning from our actions, there is receptivity, engagement and freedom of the three centers.
Meanings of freedom…
- Freedom to do whatever the personality wants to do (follow likes/dislikes etc.) This one is usually moderated by limitations in our circumstances, and these limitations are resisted to the extent there is identification with the likes and dislikes of the personality. In its extreme, when there is a strong identification with the likes and dislikes of the personality, and not many limitations in our circumstances preventing us in acting on them, it becomes the Paris Hilton type freedom which can get us into trouble at our everyday human level. This freedom is dependent on circumstances in the wider world.
- Freedom from blindly being in the grips of habitual patterns. This comes in degrees, and is experienced as a choice between following or not following our impulses, patterns and so on. An impulse comes up, and there is less of a compulsiveness to fuel, act on, or resist it. This comes from a release of identification with, and belief in, the stories associated with these patterns. This is an early taste of a freedom from being dependent on circumstances in the wider world for our contentment and happiness.
- Freedom from taking stories as real, even when there is still a belief there somewhere. We recognize a belief as a belief from its symptoms of a sense of contraction, something to protect, and so on, so there is some release right there, even in the midst of believing in it on some level. By recognizing the symptoms coming from taking a story as real, and being somewhat familiar with the dynamics around it, there is already some release of identification with it.
- Freedom from believing in stories, in a thorough way. This allows Ground to notice itself and brings a freedom from identification with content of awareness, which is also a freedom to allow any content.
The first freedom, the one of the personality, is a freedom to seek some things in the world of form, and avoid – at least in the short term – other things and situations. It is a freedom dependent on circumstances in the wider world. The following two gives an early taste of a freedom from circumstances for our contentment and happiness. The final one, the one of freedom from stories in general, is a freedom from needing anything to be different from how it is.
As there is a release attachment to stories, we become both more and less radical. We can maybe say that we become more radical at the depth, in a freedom from beliefs, and less radical at the surface, in an ability to meet people where they are and play with and use any story.
And, of course, that ability to meet people where they are, and use and play with any story as the situation calls for, is maybe the most radical.
It is the most radical, yet typically appears not radical at all. It just appears as deeply human and somewhat mature.
I see more and more how a thorough relativism opens for a guidance by the heart.
When there is a thorough relativism at the levels of views and stories, a sincere investigation of each story and the truth in its reversals, there is a release from attachment to any of them. There is a freedom in how we relate to them and use them in our daily life. They become only tools of temporary and practical value. An aid for this human self to navigate and operate in the world.
And when there is a release from stories, it allows the heart to reveal itself.
An attachment to stories closes the heart. It creates beliefs and identities to be protected, it creates a sense of absolute truth and false at the level of thoughts, it creates a sense of contraction and constriction, it creates rigidity, it closes our heart down towards people and situations that do not conform with what our stories tells us are desirable. It splits the world down the middle, and closes our heart to one half of it.
So when there is a release from this attachment, the heart naturally opens to include what was previously left out.
There is a natural guidance from the heart, and the views – now liberated from beliefs – are in its service.
Far from nihilism, a true relativism leads to actions that are likely to be seen as wise and compassionate, especially if combined with some worldly maturity and wisdom.
The fluidity of views rests on the steady heart.
In real life, it is usually not as clear cut of course, but this is at least a pattern we can glimpse every time a belief bites the dust, and one that is revealed in its fullness when Ground noticed itself more clearly.
When beliefs are gone, the inherent neutrality in any situation is revealed.
From the emptiness side, we see that it is just emptiness dancing, the play of God.
From the form side, we see that any story about it, and all its reversals, all have a grain of truth in them.
Both reveal the inherent neutrality in the situation.
But what happens when all situations are revealed as inherently neutral?
What happens, at least in my experience, is a deep appreciation for life, for existence, for the world of form, for the play of God, and for this particular life. A deep gratitude and appreciation for it, as it is, independent of its particulars.
Beyond appreciation, there is also a quiet and deep joy in the freedom of the play of life and God, as revealed here and now. And beyond this, a joy in the freedom of the play of stories and their reversals, all revealing some relative truth.
When we are used to live with and from beliefs, and we hear about allowing beliefs to fall away, then the natural question comes up: if beliefs are gone, what is left?
First, what is a belief?
It is taking any idea, which only has relative truth, as an absolute truth. More precisely, it is adding a story onto another saying that it is absolutely true. And right away, we see that there has to be a dissonance here. We cannot know that any story is absolutely true, yet we try to make it so for ourselves. We make it appear true at a surface level, yet know at the same time that we cannot know if it is or not. Also, any belief creates boundaries for life, for what can and should happen. So when life shows up outside of these boundaries, or even when we fear/hope that life may show up outside of these boundaries, there is also stress. When there are beliefs, we get stress from two sources.
Then, what is left when they are gone?
It is simple. It is the same stories, without beliefs. The stories are there, as before, but not believed in as true. They are seen as only relative truths with limited, temporary and purely utilitarian purposes… nothing more. If we go one step further, we see that all the reversals of any story also contains a grain of truth, revealing the inherent neutrality of the situation.
We can still use the stories in daily life, and really, we have to. Otherwise we wouldn’t be able to function. But now they are revealed as only stories, added onto the inherent neutrality of any situation. They are revealed as tools of limited and temporary value only.
There is a tremendous freedom here. A freedom to play with any story and its reversals. A freedom to not get stuck on the inside of the boundaries of any story, because it is only a relative truth.
Writing the previous post on ideas about mass awakenings, I realize that it was slightly one-sided (as usual)…
A more inclusive way to look at it is to see that we have, at least, three ways of relating to stories.
First, as a belief. We take the relative truth in them as absolute, and the grain of truth in their reversals is denied or overlooked. They fall into the shadow of the belief, and as any belief also creates an identity, they fall into the shadow of our identity as well.
Then, as freedom from beliefs, and abandoning stories for the most part, resting in the wide open space of not-knowing mind. Stories may surface, as essential for the daily life of this human self, but they are seen as only stories and not engaged in much.
Finally, there is a freedom to play with the stories again, much as before the awakening, but now in a completely free way. We can engage in, explore, develop, use, play around with them, in great detail, yet knowing full well that they are only stories. Only surface ripples on the vastness of awake emptiness, and – at best – with only temporary, limited, and purely practical (instrumental) use.
Here, the stories are often used as pointers to not-knowing mind and that which is inherently free from (belief in) any stories. And if they are used to describe something in the form realm in addition to that, there is usually an emphasis of the purely relative truths in the stories and the grain of truth in all their reversals, inviting others to see the inherent neutrality of the situation and not get too caught up in any stories.
In a Ground awakening, awakening to ourselves as emptiness, there is complete freedom to allow the play of any and all forms. And this also includes a complete freedom to temporarily misidentify with, and take itself as, one or some of these forms.
The irony is that when there is misidentification, there is also a desire to escape the suffering, which is ultimately a desire to wake up to what we already are. And when what we already are awakens to itself, there is a complete freedom to allow even misidentification, to allow the cycle to start all over again.
Inherent in the awakening is the allowing of misidentification over there, in other human selves and sentient beings. There is the allowing of the process of the world of form to take its course, wherever it may go, including misidentification here.
After all, it is all the play of emptiness.
That is how it looks from the emptiness side.
The form side: a natural impulse to relieve suffering, and also appreciating the gifts of suffering
From the form side, it is a little different. There is still the freedom from taking any story as absolute, as anything else as a relative truth with all its reversals having relative truths as well.
Yet, there is also compassion coming up when there is suffering, anywhere. And there is acting to relieve this suffering, either in a temporary way or in a more complete way through aiding awakening.
So within the context of a complete freedom to allow it all, there is also the natural and effortless impulse to relieve suffering. And within the context of wanting to relieve suffering, there is also the appreciation of the richness and explorations that happens in the midst of suffering and delusion.
There is nothing wrong with temporary misidentification, delusion, and even suffering. That too is the play of emptiness, or put in another way, it is God manifesting, exploring and experiencing itself.
When there is a Ground awakening, there is a complete freedom to allow what is.
Of course, Ground always allows what is. The only difference is that sometimes, it is identified with its content, and tries to resist other content, which creates a sense of struggle. When it awakens to itself, it sees that it always and already allows any and all content. It is effortless. It is what already is.
It is a no-thing allowing any thing. A void allowing any content. Space, not resisting anything happening within it.
Ultimately, it allows it all because “it all” is no other than itself. It is awake emptiness allowing content, because this content is no other than awake emptiness itself.