Freedom is one of those big words that can mean many different things to different people. It is very similar to liberty. Both imply being free from oppression, restrictions and external control, whilst being able to make and act upon our own choices, including being open, with freedom of expression.
The aspects of freedom I would like to explore are, our self imposed restrictions or lack of them. These largely take place in our own minds. Our minds are the one place we potentially have incredible freedom. What restricts us and why?
A list might include addictions, habits, associations, fear, attachments, upbringing and limiting beliefs. Do any of these restrict you? What would you add to this list? Any of these can trap us in patterns of thought that exclude other possibilities. In effect we can become imprisoned in our own minds, trapped into limited views and perceptions that ultimately confine us to a restricted set of choices. We risk losing our mental flexibility and being blind to the possibilities around us.
What leads us to this state of mind? My current feeling is that trust in ourselves and life in general, releases us from the fear that can trap us within a familiar, safe set of thoughts. Thinking outside our box becomes dangerous and conjures up that fear of the unknown. Of course, we are also faced with the paradox that self discipline can sometimes lead to greater freedom.
One of the fears that can prevent us from exploring greater freedom is that life will break down. If we are free, the assumption may be that we would do nothing, become self indulgent or irresponsible. Even worse, that society will break down and people will turn into hedonistic savages. A look around the world and through history does not show any great correlation between helping others, community spirit and lack of freedom. Can we trust ourselves to be loving, caring and considerate, whilst also giving ourselves greater freedom of thought?
Addictions can enslave us to substances that, unchecked exert control over us. Typical examples would be alcohol, drugs and cigarettes. However, we can become addicted to coffee, sugar, chocolate, fats and salt. We could feel addicted to sex, getting attention, running, facebook and shopping among many other potential addictions. Even these activities allegedly release potentially addictive chemical into our blood. Freeing ourselves from addictions that have a certain biological and chemical component does require motivation, desire to change and will power. Perhaps the starting point is the awareness and honesty that they exist, followed by the feeling that ultimately we do have the choice and ability to resist them long enough to be free of the chemical addiction.
Habits can be a powerful way to support and instil desired changes within us. They may also hold us in patterns of behaviour that no longer support the life we want. Have we become trapped in the habits and routines of life? What would happen if we just acted out of our desires and natural impulses, some days? To what extent can we also give ourselves the option to be spontaneous, impulsive and carefree?
We naturally associate emotions with experiences. Over a lifetime we might build up very strong associations. For example I enjoyed many positive associations with ice cream. It has been a treat as a child, I enjoyed it on many holidays and been a part of lots of fun social interactions. My previous associations may create strong desires for ice cream when I want to relive the associated emotions. I could create new associations with foods I now prefer to eat, or try to escape them all together.
FEAR AND ANXIETY
Fear and anxieties are wonderful emotions for survival, protection and caution; however, they can also prevent us from fully expressing ourselves and acting on our natural impulses. They may inhibit us from being our true authentic self. Fears and anxieties often come from remembering something from the past and projecting that experience forward, into the future in a way that explores the most fear inducing outcomes.
The antidote is probably trust. Can we build trust by reminding ourselves we are still alive, met life’s challenges and in the process of working it all out? What happens if we soften our distinctions of failure, mistakes and disaster? What is the worst that can happen and if we can rise to that challenge what is there left to fear?
ATTACHMENTS AND LIMITING BELIEFS
When we become attached to ideas and beliefs we tend to eliminate other possibilities, as we do not find it easy to commit to contradictory thoughts. The more beliefs we have the more possibilities we eliminate. How much freer would we feel if we could let go of some of our beliefs?
Does an all or nothing mentality inhibit freedom? What happens to our state of mind when we perceive life in terms of changing cycles, ebb and flow, and constant evolution?
UPBRINGING, EDUCATION AND CULTURE
Do we create an identity out of our upbringing, taking on our parents’ perceptions of life? How much influence has school, friends and partners had on us? To what extent do the cultures and communities we grow up in define us? Has all this boxed us into a certain way of living? How would life be different if we could break through these limitations?
RESENTMENTS, COMPETITION AND STATUS
How much is our life altered by other people? To what extent do we react in ways that limit our lives? How would we be different if we could be more forgiving, accepting and kind?
What would be practical steps to increasing mental freedom?
- Spend more time living life as it happens through our senses and less time thinking.
- Try regular short meditations.
- Live life out of question rather than answers.
- Be open to our own insights, discoveries and revelations.
- Embrace change and our own evolution.
- Thinking for ourselves.
- Trusting our intuition.
- Encouraging free spontaneous expression.
- Being creative and imaginative.
- Exploring writing, art, music, dance
- Appreciating life as it is.
- Accepting people’s ideas as no more than their current opinions and views.
- Saying ‘yes’ or ‘yes and….’ more often.
- Letting go of absolutes.
- Shedding our self constructed identities.
- Trust in yourself and life.