September 10, 2011

What does it mean to be free?

Photo: Jesse Therrien

I have been asking myself this question for the past 20 years.

That’s a long time to sit with one question, but a question like this takes some time. And a question like this needs to be deeply investigated and lived.

Most of us start off thinking that freedom means we get what we want. From the perspective of the ego this is freedom. We have all had the experience of trying to get everything we want. The basic stance of the ego is, give me what I want and then I will be happy or at least I will stop shouting. This sounds a lot like a five-year-old boy. And we find somewhere along the way that even when we get what we want, we really aren’t that happy. Or that our happiness only lasts for a short period of time.

So we try chasing something else.

This is what is referred to as samsara in the East. And if we have been through life long enough, we realize it does not work. The funny thing is most of us still continue to chase the insatiable desires of our mind, even though we know that it won’t ever really make us content. The human mind has this beautiful forgetful program running in it which keeps us running in circles. The Buddhists refer to this as the wheel of samsara.

It goes round and round, like a merry go round, most of us hop on and never hop off.

But eventually if we are wise enough or if it gets too painful, we hop off. This is what I call awakening. We all know so much about being on the wheel, we know what that is like. We chase something and then it eventually doesn’t work or we get bored of it and then we chase something else, until we realize that it is the same thing.

But after we get off the wheel, how do we live?

What is it like?

We all know how to live from the mind, but what does it mean to live from Freedom or the Awakened state?

The great Zen Master Dogen described Enlightenment as intimacy with all things. I love this explanation the most, because it brings forth the direct experience or the feeling of awakening. But awakening is not a feeling or an experience; both feelings and experiences come and go.

Awakening or Enlightenment must be greater than things that come and go, or it just becomes another experience. And Freedom is not a feeling, if it were, how powerful would it be and what happens to our freedom when the feeling is gone?  Freedom, Enlightenment, Awakening which I am using synonymously here, must be bigger than a feeling.

It must be bigger than a perspective.

As my teacher once, said to me “have no perspective.”  To get a sense of this one must step out of the limited view point of oneself. And when we step out of this, the self imposed barriers of the mind collapse and the direct experience is this wonderful and beautiful intimacy with all things, with Life Itself. We are intimate because we are not choosing to put mind and thought, which is essentially division, between us and the world. This is often referred to as oneness.

Intimacy is the direct experience of oneness.

Most individuals want to stay here as long as they can, but eventually choose to leave this intimacy by believing in a thought, which means a perspective.  So to be Free, we must know what is True.  If we take our thoughts to be True, then, eventually we will not be living in the Truth, because our minds are full of foolishness or ignorance, belief systems and patterns etc. Our minds are home to our egos, and when we start believing in our own nonsense, then we take a perspective as this person or that person and give up our Freedom.

What actually happens is that we choose our thoughts over choosing intimacy with Life. And it would be wrong to say that if there are thoughts there is no Freedom, but more correctly if we believe the foolishness or the seductive nature of our thinking, then there is no Freedom.

Thoughts, thinking, feelings, pain all can be present, and all are welcome in the Spacious nature of Freedom. Too many spiritual seekers falsely believe that one must stop all thoughts in order to be Free. But the mind doesn’t stop after Awakening. It is just that we stop believing in the mind as the Truth and we stop identifying 100% with the contents of our minds.

And what we begin to rest in is beyond words, beyond feeling, beyond point of view and this is quite powerful for our world.

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