Saturday, April 25, 2015

Freedom to be who I am


Freedom has two sides. Freedom from and freedom to.
I have to be free from any situations and attachments that bring me down or hold me back. I also have to be free to be able to express my true potential.
As a child, I loved going to deserted beaches. I would sit for hours watching the seagulls happily playing and gliding around. I would ask myself, why the adults around me were so complicated and weighed down by their own decisions. Even at that young age, I was also bound by many things I didn’t want to do. Much later, I understood that the sense of freedom of the seagulls was probably connected to their closeness to being as natural as possible. In other words, they were just being themselves. In the same way, grass grows without any effort. Clouds form, rain comes, the sun shines. Nature unfolds in an inexorable symphony of what it is.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau was the likely inventor of the cliché, back to nature. Though he himself really didn´t get back to it as he so eloquently argued, he expressed this state in these words: "Man is born free but is everywhere in chains". Generations of people have sought peace and quiet away from the urban sprawls in their attempts to get back to nature, at least for the weekends. It is as if that nature calls to our inner nature to meet and better understand each other.
One of the greatest paradoxes is that freedom is part of the original nature of the soul itself. Before we come to this physical dimension, we have no thoughts and even no relationships with anyone or anything. In that sense, we are free originally. That is why there is such a yearning for a sense of spiritual freedom when we don’t have it any more.
One of the tenets of Buddhism is that this world is a place of suffering and that we have to become free from the clutches of the endless wheel of rebirth. We do this through leading a morally correct life, being mindful, wise and aware in the use of our thoughts, words and actions.
Jesus said that truth sets us free. Even though this may sound naïve to some, it is profound. It is not freedom itself that is our most precious possession but it is the understanding of it. If we put a wild bird in a cage, or restrain a frisky dog with a leash, we will observe them trying to get out or away immediately. In the same way, being true to myself, to my deep inner qualities and to my relationship with the Divine, will automatically show me how to remain free while doing things and interacting with others.
There is a story about a wealthy man who had an extremely lucrative business that kept him occupied seven days a week. He was so busy that it had started to affect his health. He had come from a poor family and his brother was still a simple fisherman. One day he asked why his brother couldn’t work more to earn more money. The exchange was like this:
– Why would I want to work more? I already have everything I need.
– If you work more, you would be able to buy another boat and maybe hire it out. Then you can have other people working for you.
– Why would I do that?
– So you can earn more money.
– Why would I need more money. What I earn is enough to pay all of my expenses.
– But if you had more money you could be much freer economically. Maybe you could buy another house somewhere where you could go and relax.
– But I am already relaxed. My life is simple, easy and free.

The meaning of this story is not that we all have to become simple fishermen. We have to organize our lives according to our real needs and not our imagined ones.
Once with a group of executives in Sri Lanka, I asked them to go into the jungle around where we were camped, just observe what was going on in the present, and write it into their journal. Since they would all be sitting alone, I asked them to talk aloud with nature – with the trees, rocks, leaves, insects, clouds, streams or whatever was in front of them – and see what they could learn. One of them came back with an incredible insight about trees – how they all grow towards the light, yet they don't hog the space. As new trees appear, the older ones just move slightly aside to let them also enjoy the light.
All of this brings us back to the basic question of ‘who am I?’ – the eternal teaser for questing minds. In the Koran it says that God gave intelligence to angels and appetites to animals. To human beings He gave both, intelligence and appetites. This is probably exactly where we get stuck. We develop what we think is intelligence and get into all sorts of bondages. We obey our appetites and become prisoners of the objects of our senses. Like birds holding onto the branches of trees we pray to God to free us from whatever mess we have succeeded in creating for ourselves. The Divine looks back at us and says the branches are not holding onto us, we are holding onto them.