What is true freedom?
It is possible to be without the limiting constraints of self-obsession, anxiety, and claustrophobia. It is possible to be free of the feeling of separation that results from reactive identification with a finite personal reference point. Yet this freedom is not a license for reckless abandon. Freedom is not the liberty to do whatever we please. This type of freedom usually coincides with profound suffering; it is, more often than not, motivated by egotism. As much as our over-indulgent culture would have us believe otherwise, immediate and unrestrained gratification of personal desire does not bring lasting joy to the heart. In fact, in the long run, it serves to feed the Cycle of Affliction. So, what is true freedom?
As human beings, the open dimension of our experience allows for a vast range of conduct. This range is significantly more diverse than that of any other living organism we know of. Yet the ability to do anything we want might be more of a liability than an asset when it comes to our own contentment. Ignorant of the repercussions of our choices, we exercise one of the most precarious powers we have: choice. Seemingly limitless are the possibilities of what we can do. We often do things “just because we can.” We can eat too much, drink too much, work too much, and stay up too late. We can clone sheep and grow hamburgers from stem cells. We can make nuclear weapons that can destroy the entire planet. Ego believes itself to be a god.
God or not, each of our actions has its repercussions. The law of cause and effect is undeniable. Ignorance says, “I’ll do what ever I please, I don’t care about the consequences.” Wisdom says, “I will do only what nourishes life and minimizes suffering.”
This is the highest use of choice.
Freedom is a great power that can easily be squandered. Through our practice, we come to realize that we cannot be lax in our relationship to freedom. Direct realization of inner freedom coincides with a firm adherence to upright conduct, routine, and respect for natural law. Quite different from morally imposed religious rules, these are innate expressions of wholesomeness. Centered in basic goodness, our actions accord with what supports life. No outwardly imposed rules are needed. When ignorance, deceit and self-obsession are given up, a good and simple life emerges.
By dwelling in the Center of Being, we know instinctively what virtue is. Behavior that might look like strict discipline from the outside often occurs as spontaneous action for a person practicing mindfulness. When there is ample space within, we feel great joy in simply flowing along with the natural course of things. What, in the beginning, we might call discipline turns out to be more like rhythm. Dynamic. Changing.
Summer follows spring. Night follows day. Exhale follows inhale. An adept follows what is natural.
To move like a river and blend with the changing times -- to set aside our self-serving agenda and ask, "how can I use my unique gifts and talents to serve others?" -- these are expressions of true freedom.