What is True Freedom?

Here’s a question: What is true freedom? There is no easy answer, as my friends and I discovered when it was brought up at our weekly meditation sharing meeting.

My immediate response was to imagine myself somewhere remote, such as the wilds of Scotland but, on reflection, that would be a temporary sort of respite, made possible only by having the time and money to plan and execute such an adventure. Others talked of escaping to the countryside as well but, when someone spoke of achieving freedom by listening to music, a different thread started to emerge, based on the notion that profound freedom is in the mind, not the physical world. This is the sort of concept explored by thinkers such as Victor Frankl, who spent years in Nazi concentration camps.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Victor Frankl.

Discussion within the group was lively and inconclusive but, we did agree on at least one thing: that whatever freedom is, we all felt it our duty to help others achieve it too.

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” Nelson Mandela

There was something else we agreed upon: it seems that most people equate freedom with choice – the words are often put together, as in you are free to choose – and freedom of choice seems a great thing. But this presupposes that the options on offer are desirable in the first place. It also runs into the ground when you consider that choosing between a host of options requires investment of energy, attention and time spent decision-making. Reducing choice – two sets of clothes instead of a walk-in wardrobe – leaves more time to think, dream, learn and be creative. This is why some people prefer to eliminate choice by adopting set schedules in order to streamline their lives.

So, we’re back at having the freedom to think as being the ultimate definition. But even though we may consider ourselves fortunate enough to possess that ability, we now have to be wary of modern surveillance technology. Susie Alegre’s new book Freedom to Think suggests that our freedom to think (a human right) is under assault.  As we scroll, shop, chat and share online our dreams are stolen and sold.

Yet another threat to be wary of is allowing your mind to be governed by emotions. Suzuki Roshi addresses this with his concept of the “way-seeking mind”, stepping back to see things more clearly and opening up alternative choices of action.

During our sharing session, my dear friend, Peter - always honest and always reflective - said he didn’t know what freedom meant, but he emailed me later to say that, for him, it was probably ‘experience without thought’, which is aka ‘being in the moment’.

What would your answer be?