We are obsessed with freedom.
We view it as an inalienable right.
We are ready to fight, and die, for it.
We think we have it and have to protect it because it is fragile and can be stripped from us.
In our minds, freedom is essential for happiness.
But our thinking about what freedom is and how to get it may be wrong.
And this could be costing us dear in terms of happiness.
Let’s talk about freedom.
As a country and a society we are obsessed with freedom.
We have codified laws that guarantee us freedom of speech and worship and assembly.
We wrangle endlessly about other “freedoms” such as the right to bear arms.
But we define “freedom” too narrowly.
We equate freedom with the elimination of restrictions on our behavior.
In our relentless pursuit of this goal we are reordering society, smashing traditions and taboos alike.
Sexual preoccupation is reaching new highs as is acceptance of its flaunting.
Illegal drugs are more powerful and chemically complex.
Our popular entertainment constantly stretches and snaps boundaries of taste and propriety.
We have become marvelously adept at titillating our jaded senses.
There is another type of “freedom” that we have not achieved and are not even pursuing.
We are still prey to the ruthless harpies of desire that constantly spur us into action, ignite avarice and overweening ambition and goad us into activities that consume all available time and more.
We are driven by our demons, all of us – takeover titan and LBO artist, corporate chieftain and newly minted MBA, serial killer and confidence trickster, presidential candidate and congressional intern.
The talons of our addictions shred our minds and wreck repose.
Some, like cocaine, we declare illegal and expend vast resources to counteract.
Others, like workaholism, we applaud and reward.
Still others, like hypochondria and gambling, we barely acknowledge.
Like it or not, we are all in the fierce grip of our restless minds, being blown hither and thither like a tumbleweed in a hurricane, expending our psychic energies in emotional roller-coasters that we are helpless to stop and unable to leave.
This, too, is a prison and in our saner moments we want out.
I never saw a man who looked
With such a wistful eye
Upon that little tent of blue
Which prisoners call the sky,
And at every wandering cloud that trailed
Its raveled fleeces by.
Oscar Wilde – The Ballad of Reading Goal
The Story Of A Sage & His Student
We give to others the power to determine our happiness and tranquility and do not even recognize that we have done so.
He was a respected sage, a teacher of many generations of students. No one could match him in knowledge of philosophy and the sacred texts.
He lived simply with his family in the remote countryside.
One of his students, who had achieved great fame and renown in the court of the king, came to visit him. As he paid his respects he noted the threadbare clothes of his teacher and the sparse larder.
“Revered Sir,” he said, overcome with emotion, “Please come with me to the capital. The king will shower you with wealth because there is no one to match you in wisdom. All you have to do is praise His Majesty and you will no longer have to subsist on lentils.”
Tears rolled down the old preceptor’s face. “My son,” said the sage, “Is this all you have learnt in the years you spent with me?
Do you not see that if you would learn to subsist on lentils, you would not have to praise His Majesty?”
The Freedom Of A Rich Inner Life
A student in my Creativity and Personal Mastery program grew up in communist Hungary.
He recalled that, when he was a kid, everyone wore similar clothes and they did not have the consumer cornucopia now available.
“But, somehow,” he recalled, “We were all much happier.”
Krista Tippett, the creator of the On Being podcast, told me of her early days with the American Embassy in divided Germany. Her job took her to both sides of the Berlin Wall.
In the West there was consumer plenty. In the East there was drab sameness and persons could not even paint their houses with the color of their choice.
“But the East Germans had a rich, inner life” recalls Tippet. The West Berliners were impoverished in that regard.
Observations like this were partly responsible for her starting her enormously successful podcast.
This is not a case for moving to an autocratic dictatorship. It is a case for you to look at your life.
How free are you, really, if you cannot sit down for a half-hour without the opiate of TV or your small screen?
So, if you want to find true freedom, start cutting the tethers – and many of them are electronic – that bind you.
And then, like the poet Richard Lovelace you may discover
Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage:
Minds innocent and quiet take
That for an hermitage.
If I have freedom in my love,
And in my soul am free,
Angels alone, that soar above,
Enjoy such liberty.