‘The Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog’ (part) – Caspar David Friedrich, 1818 – WikiArt
“Without freedom there is no self-knowing
and without self-knowing there is no meditation.”
~ J. Krishnamurti
Few sensations are as boisterously exhilarating as freedom is. Freedom is something that we all love to feel. To be freed! Freed from all weights and limitations. Freed from everything that bullies us and pins us down. But most of the time, this feeling is experienced from the vantage point of the little thought in our head that thinks it runs the show. This entity thinks that its freedom comes from being separate, and from its capacity to do what it wants. This is what being free means to most people. But is this really what freedom is, where freedom lies? In expressing all that comes from the lack and desperation of a limited, vindicative little self? If that is so, then this freedom takes us nowhere but in the already known boundaries of our self. How could that account for the power and magnitude of this feeling? Freedom cannot be so small and contrived. What is it then? Where is true freedom to be found?
Freedom can never be fully felt within the conglomerate of our thoughts, feelings and perceptions, between the four walls of our prison cell. We may feel some occasional bursts of pleasure but this is not the real deal. If you search for freedom through that portion of yourself that is fleeting, fragile, untrue, you will by definition prevent the advent of any meaningful freedom. You will have limited freedom, something to be achieved, something to be added that becomes just another object, another aim in view. And don’t forget that this limited freedom can never be achieved anyway, for we in truth can never do what we want. And of what advantage would it be to follow the clumsy, limited, fanciful ideas of a mind that stands on false premises. Because of this impossible claim, we feel bitter, sad, violent, jealous, regretful. Let’s move away from such dangerous idea.
Freedom is not in doing what we want, for this ‘wanting’ is already a constrained position. For we are obeying, being prey to our inner limited voices, opinions, beliefs, and our desperate search for happiness. May we arrive at, or perform what we want, our sense of fulfilment is only short-lived for our desires change, evolve, and what fulfils us one day may be an intolerable constraint another day. Do not derive happiness from such achievement. Freedom can never be obtained through objective experience, any more that happiness can. Freedom is not even meant to be achieved. Freedom is not to be sought outside of ourself, but rather within. Actually, it is more than that: freedom is not to be sought after, period. It is not to be acquired, or proved. Freedom is only to be seen, recognised. How could we ever acquire something that we already have? By trying to achieve something that is already here, we prevent it to come into our awareness. We prevent it to be realised. We relegate it into the foggy landscape of our unconsciousness or ignorance. Freedom is here notwithstanding, as our natural gift and right when we only know how to uncover it. Freedom comes naturally as we rest in our home, that part of ourself that is unconstrained, infinite, not time bound, complete. That part of ourself that is already free, independent, boundless, and ultimately joyful of just being.
Freedom doesn’t belong to the separate self, to this bundle of thoughts and feelings that we have mistakenly taken to be ourself. It is not the job of a thought or a feeling to be free. On the contrary, these — and the limited self that they give rise to — are what constrains us, binds us, and ultimately limits us and blinds us. When identifying with this apparent self, we become the agent of our own limitations. We are in bondage. Freedom comes naturally when we let go of that voice in our head, of that weighty collection of memories that assumes the position of a ‘me’, a ’person’, and find behind it this inner presence that alone is the owner of that feeling of being free, unconstrained. Freedom is the inherent nature of our essential self.
‘Wheatfield’ – Vincent van Gogh, 1890 – WikiArt
“Freedom is at the beginning and not at the end.”
~ J. Krishnamurti
There is tyranny in the separate self. You can never be free by following its injunctions. Rather follow the injunctions born of freedom itself. Freedom has a double life. It can be used to generate the inborn qualities contained in true being, but it can also serve the desires of a crooked and fallacious sense of self. We can be allowed to act wrongly, insensitively, by privileging our separate sense of self over the deep presence that is underneath. So the safest thing we can do is to recognise our freedom first. As Krishnamurti said, “Freedom is the first and last step.” Then we can express it in any ways that will please us, unhindered by the conditioning of our belief and thought system. As St. Augustine once said: “Love and do what you will.” Free yourself first and then express that freedom as you will.
Don’t expect to find freedom between the walls of your limited self. It doesn’t live there. Of course, you can take advantage of your apparent freedom from wherever you are, but it will not be fully satisfying, and will not repay you as you had expected. It will withdraw, telling you: ‘Find me in my natural abode, which is pure consciousness’. So there is a difference here, as is suggested by Francis Lucille, between the ‘freedom from’, which expresses the inherent fact of our being essentially and already free from beliefs, conditionings, ideas, preferences, and the ‘freedom to’, which refers to the expression of our inner beauty, love, and intelligence in the world. So we should be very cautious of exercising our ‘freedom to’ without first understanding and recognising our inner ‘freedom from’, which is — let’s be honest here — what most of us do all the time. The plain and limitless freedom contained in just being, before the arising of objective experience, is our one and only freedom for which we need not strive. This is from where we should exercise our freedom.
So freedom is before everything else. This is where it must be discovered. That can only be done through recognising its utter independence from objective experience. Freedom is not a means to act according to our limited self — that would render it dependent, therefore not free. It is rather the means to act in ways that are the direct emanation of the qualities inherent in our true nature. This is how truth is shared and celebrated. And this is ultimately an act of love. So let’s choose our freedom well. Either succumb to the one partial, momentary freedom that is found between the walls of your limited prison-like self; or to the one that abides eternally in the natural, ever-flowing, and spacious expanse of your true being.
By the way did you notice that when you are happy, you feel free. And when you are free, happiness is also felt. Freedom always comes packaged with happiness and love, for this is what freedom is, deep down. Actually this profoundly intimate relationship between love and freedom is shown in the etymological meaning of the word ‘free’ which, in its Indo-European root, means ‘to love’. ‘Prī-‘ in Sanskrit, means ‘to please, gladden, delight, gratify, cheer, comfort, soothe, propitiate, and by extension to like, to love, be kind to’. It makes the point very clearly, doesn’t it? To be free is to love. And the beloved, from ‘priy-a’, is the one that is already free, liberated. This is why enlightenment is often called liberation. For it is truly a liberation. The Latin root ‘liber’ means ‘to be free, unfettered, independent, not belonging or being bound to any authority, without constraint’.
The exaltation of freedom comes at the exact moment when we break the wall or pass through the door of our limited self — this prison of our self — to find ourself resting in the presence that is sustaining it, or rather that is it. For our limited self is actually this pure presence, but which could not be recognised as such because of our previous engagement with our belief in being a separate entity. This separate entity is our gaoler, our prison guard. It will make sure that we cannot escape. It will achieve that in a sweet way, giving us the feeling that we, as a limited and separate person, are the owner of this feeling of freedom, when in fact we are not and could never be. The presence of this separate sense of self is in truth the absence of freedom. For it limits us, gives us pain, makes us the prey of time and the prisoner of space, and ultimately prevents us to experience happiness, which is directly correlated with freedom. So this self, although our prison guard, has not the keys for our prison break. So who has? Presence is the prison breaker, and is the one and only entity that holds wide open the doors towards absolute freedom. This presence is simply the resting in our own being, prior to everything objective including the illusory sense of being a separate, independent entity.
‘The Entrance Hall of Saint-Paul Hospital’ – Vincent van Gogh, 1889 – WikiArt
“All true intimacy or love
is always combined with freedom.”
~ Rupert Spira
Let’s now try to explore three different possibilities of freedom. The first one is the apparent freedom to act wrongly. In absolute freedom, we are prevented to do so. For it has laws, and a gentle form of automaticity. At the practical level, it is felt as a subtle absence of freedom — as we had been accustomed to. It is paradoxical. But this is only a ghost feeling, a remnant of our lost sense of being separate. As Nisargadatta remarked, “You agree to be guided from within and life becomes a journey into the unknown.” Our actions become informed by a freedom that envelops us, guides us without our interfering. We will not choose to hurt, deceive, etc. Its absoluteness is not in its scope but in its truthfulness. As for the apparent freedom to perform evil acts, this freedom was never one. It is constraint, ignorance, conditioning, compulsion that are at the origin of such acts. Why is god allowing this? Well, if god had not been a truly allowing god, it would have lost its qualities of love and openness. It would not have been god. Just another tyrant. Freedom has to be absolute.
The second possibility is one that I would call the freedom of the Caribbean beach. We can all experience an acute sense of freedom while travelling to a remote and exotic country. You know, this clear, unburdened horizon for which we are willing to pay a fortune. The impression created is that it is brought about through objective experience. But in reality, the freedom and happiness experienced there is not caused by something that we do, but because of what we are. This sense of well-being is not something provoked or added on ourself but is the revelation of our own nature. Being challenged at home by family pressures and working situations, we give rise to a whole set of protective or defensive patterns that inflates our latent belief in being separate. Conversely, spending some time on a Caribbean beach will temporarily deflate our sense of separation. Being unchallenged, the clouds of separation are temporarily dispersed and reveal the infinite sky of our ultimate being. So the experienced sense of freedom is not due to our being away from home, but rather because we are at home, in the home of our true self. Home, like freedom, is always found in the delightful expanse of our true self. This revelation is not conditioned to particularly favourable circumstances. It can be lived in any situation, including our most habitual environment.
The third possibility is one of particular importance and signification. It is about the inherent generosity contained in freedom. We should never see freedom only as something to be received. Freedom is not something passive. Don’t keep freedom to yourself. It doesn’t belong to you. Expose it everywhere. Give it around. Give the freedom to everything and everyone to be exactly what they are. You can act on things that seem unjust to you, but do it from a position of freedom. Give also the freedom to your circumstances to be exactly what they are. Who knows, they might bow to you in a gesture of thankfulness. There is a joy in giving freedom. Don’t constrain it to yourself, for you will limit it in no time. Don’t make it become a stagnant pool. Understand its limitless, generous nature, and celebrate it. Make it into an ocean. You have this power. And the possible implication of this could be, as Rupert Spira beautifully put it: “Don’t align what you have with what you want. Align what you want with what you have.“ This is where love and freedom intersect.
Don’t forget that the prison guard — which is you as a separate entity — is also the one owning the keys. Awareness — the prison breaker — could not be recognised because it assumed the identity and clothing of the guard. But they are in truth one being. And this is good news. It means that you can use the keys in both ways: either to lock yourself down, therefore limiting and concealing your freedom, or to unlock and open wide the doors to your bountiful, natural sense of being. As for your feeling of being separate, let it be free too. Give it some air. It will joyfully surrender itself without your intervening.
Text by Alain Joly
Main painting by Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840)
Other paintings by Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890)
Read Bob O’Hearn’s essay on the subject: The Mystique of Freedom…
– ‘Being Aware of Being Aware’ – by Rupert Spira – (Sahaja Publications)
– ‘The First and Last Freedom’ – by J. krishnamurti – (Rider Book)
– ‘The Perfume of Silence’ – by Francis Lucille – (Truespeech Productions)
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