“The meaning of freedom can never be grasped by the divided mind. If I feel separate from my experience, and from the world, freedom will seem to be the extent to which I can push the world around, and fate the extent to which the world pushes me around. But to the whole mind there is no contrast of “I” and the world. There is just one process acting, and does everything that happens. It raises my little finger and it creates earthquakes.”
- Alan Watts
Freedom is a much abused and misunderstood concept, and a person’s perspective on it tends to come with considerable bias and baggage, and there are people who talk a lot about freedom who seem to have very little understanding of it. These are people who usually mean that they seek freedom to do what they want, to “push the world around,” and this is often at the expense of someone else or at the expense of the natural world. Some people want the freedom to amass as much wealth, and privilege as they can and they seem to not care if this places others in the position of lack and want. Some people want the freedom to exploit nature’s resources not caring about the damage to the environment, other species and future generations that will be the cost of their indulgence.
Some people want the freedom to say, write, broadcast whatever they want, no matter how incendiary or hurtful to others and the general comity of society. Some people want the freedom to carry guns, and the freedom to hunt and kill whatever wildlife is legal to kill with those guns, and to even kill other humans in the name of self-defense, or even in defense of freedom as they define it. This point of view places many guns in the world, instruments whose purpose is death, and it opens the way for these guns to be used for illegal killing, but these people see this as just an unfortunate byproduct of protecting their freedom.
Some people want the freedom to take away the freedoms of others through enforcing bigoted or dogmatic ideas onto others, and these people believe any restriction of this is an infringement of their “freedom.” Many people have their minds divided into me and mine against what is not me and mine. They use the word freedom in these ways, but there is no freedom here, only enslavement to closed-mindedness. Only the mind that is open is free.
This mistaken notion of freedom fosters anger and anxiety; it creates the tension of separateness from others and from life that leaves those pursuing this kind of freedom as chronically unhappy and dissatisfied no matter how much of what they want they manage to acquire. Happiness is always around the bend of “more.” It is bound to getting and keeping what is believed as entitled, and there is never enough and the supposed happiness that is the goal of this militant assertion of freedom is as short-lived as the moments of ego-victory that come from their fleeting triumphs, dominance and acquisitions.
Freedom is in fact the path to happiness, but it is not the kind of freedom people usually associate with the word. We could just as easily reverse the order of words and have a better idea of what real freedom is. Happiness is, in fact, the path to freedom. This is happiness that is not fleeting but rather a character virtue and it is not in getting something or avoiding some undesired circumstance. True happiness is a state of mind free of circumstance for its well-being, and freedom is in being one with what is – “to the whole mind there is no contrast of “I” and the world.” Following this path to happiness is the path to freedom and this path to freedom is the path to happiness.
Obviously, we are not talking about the giddy kind of happiness or the adrenaline rush of victory or getting what we want. We are talking about happiness as equanimity, peace, deep well-being. This, as Watts noted, is the result of an undivided mind, a mind that sees that it is an expression of the universe in its wholeness experienced through the separateness of a human form. It is not a human being believing it is the source of consciousness separate from all other consciousness; rather, that consciousness is the source of this human being experienced as “me” also giving rise to the human being experienced as “you,” and giving rise to the tree and the squirrel and the earth and the sky and the rivers and the sun and the stars. All are expressions of the universe – uni-verse – that story that is one thing appearing as many.
All these forms are seemingly separate when experienced from the separateness of “me,” and this separateness is like a prison causing isolation, and with isolation comes anxiety, fear, anger, pride, greed, jealousy, mistrust, the desire to possess, to make more of “me.” This brings neither happiness nor freedom. Enduring happiness and freedom as traits of character occur only when all these forms are experienced as united in the field of consciousness, and “me” is recognized as that field of consciousness, and thus the mind is undivided. “Me” becomes “I” – not separate and insecure, rather, as in “I am,” an expression of the universe, of God, if that is the language that has meaning for you – who identified as “I am that I am” when Moses asked the name of the Infinite. This “I” has no insecurity for this one knows itself as an expression of The One. “I am” needs nothing more to fulfill or justify itself. This is freedom.
Happiness and freedom come not from killing a deer with one good shot so that its head can grace your den; it comes from loving the living grace and beauty of the deer and feeling that grace and beauty within ourselves as the sight of the deer fills our consciousness. It doesn’t come from the political party you identify with winning an election or a revolution so that your ideas about what society ought to be can be imposed, it comes from transcending differences to stand together as a human society where everyone’s perspective is honored and no one is trampled, where peace and security are assured. It comes not from chain-sawing a tree, but from planting one and watching it grow. It comes from the inner strength that allows you to face physical illness, even death with equanimity because you feel your existence does not begin with birth or end with death, but rather is, always has been, and always will be the universe expressing itself as an individual, just as the ocean expresses itself through the forms of waves or the sky through the forms of clouds. The forms come and go but the source is infinite and always, and just like the waves and the clouds, every living form is connected in and an expression of its infinite source. We are all the one universe expressing itself through many forms, and the many forms expressing the one universe.
To feel at one with life in all its expressions, the balmy breeze and the ferocious hurricane, sunny and rainy days, easy and difficult times; in all expressions of life – in the plants, animals and fellow human beings, the rivers, the woods, the mountains and deserts, the furry kitten and the dangerous spider. To be OK, to not be in rejection of any aspect of life, is freedom, and this requires a sense of connection with the sacredness of all life. That’s what sacredness means – connectedness. Freedom of religion is not in holding to or imposing any dogmatic belief on another. Freedom of religion is the freedom to worship life, the Creation that is the Creator, the miracle that “raises my little finger and… creates earthquakes,” and this felt sense cannot be taken away by any despot or political tyranny. “There is no contrast of ‘I’ and the world. There is just one process acting.” In this is peace, and in this peace is happiness and freedom, not as something given or taken, but as who you are.