I dedicated a couple of blog posts (such as here and here) on different aspects of freedom in my world (beyond the basic needs of safety, food, shelter). Whilst there’s a whole range of angles I haven’t explored yet, such as financial freedom and political freedom, I’ve come to a preliminary conclusion:
Freedom is primarily an inside attitude, yet creating outer freedom can be helpful to find freedom within. Now what do I mean by that?
As you might know from Buddhist teachings, it is not our outer circumstances that cause feelings of restriction and unhappiness, but rather our attitude towards those circumstances that shape our perception. You might have also experienced this yourself; when you're feeling good and well rested and something 'bad' happens, it doesn't sweep you off your feet and you are able to handle it with a more positive mindset. On the other hand, when you're already feeling down or stressed, even a minor inconvenience can feel overwhelming. The teachings of Buddhism emphasise the power of our minds in shaping our experiences.
Through meditation and mindfulness practices we can become aware of (our attachment to) our thoughts and emotions and realise those are not who we truly are. Beneath the "monkey mind" (the mind that is unsettled, restless and confused), we can find a place of inner calm and peace which is not affected by external circumstances. This does not mean denying or suppressing negative emotions, but rather observing them with mindfulness and compassion, and choosing how to respond. With practice, you can master your experience of reality, which thus brings an impeccable sense of freedom.
Whilst it is true that being emotionally independent from our outer circumstances is indeed the pinnacle of freedom, we are also human. And equally important, I have noticed that many people are too preoccupied with their outer world to fully attend to, let alone heal and master, their inner world. With many of us living hectic lives, having stressful jobs and feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, it can be tricky to find the time to work on our inner attitude towards external circumstances. As we typically address surface-level issues before we can delve into deeper layers of our being, a draining lifestyle leaves little room to work on our sense of freedom from within. In that sense, creating space in our outer reality, by freeing ourselves from draining obligations and responsibilities, can be a significant step into a deeper sense of freedom.
My step away from a 9-5 life essentially came down to this. The more outer freedom I had – by getting rid of everything that did not feel aligned anymore – the more inner freedom I felt. This spaciousness gave me a lot of time for finding fresh perspectives on my life and working through unhelpful thought patterns. For some, after such a period of introspection, they might return to their former lifestyles and face it with a new attitude, whereas others have learned that their former lifestyles were never a great fit in the first place. They embark on the exciting journey of creating a life that does feel aligned.
Here's the tricky part with saying that your feeling of freedom *should* depend on your inner world instead of outer circumstances; it might lead us to stay longer in situations that actually do not align with who we are. In my eyes, finding freedom within does not mean giving up on the quest to live a life that feels true to us. It does mean that while we are on this quest, we can also be present and accepting towards the current situation.
How do you perceive the connection between inner and outer freedom in your life?
In what ways could creating outer freedom, such as simplifying your environment or reducing external pressures, impact your inner sense of freedom?
Have you ever felt restricted or limited externally, and how did it influence your inner emotional state or mental well-being?