The desire for freedom – from what? to what?

A strong human desire that is expressed, as far as I can see, in all places and at all times of our history, is the desire for freedom.  That is not to say that everyone prioritises this desire.  Some people place their desire for safety and security before their desire for freedom.  But is this just prioritising the “freedom from” (hunger, uncertainty, pain, fear etc.) over the “freedom to” (move, express themselves, explore, question, develop etc.)?  And then, of course, there is the desire for freedom from desire, as in the Buddhist sense.

When I ponder deeply about the desire for freedom, I go down into my body and feel into a sense of not being free.  It feels immediately tight – constricted.  If I go with this further into the place of oppression, the images are of being bound, closed in, behind a barrier that I can see through but cannot open and go out – no access to the unlimited possibilities of being alive.  A feeling of anger arises at being unfree.  This is an anger that can lead to violence, revolt and war.  It feels powerfully energetic.  I want to burst the chains that bind, break open the gates – and push aside, even hurt, anyone that I feel is linked to my oppression or might try to block my movement to freedom.

When oppression is there – one person or group denying the freedom of another person or group – something needs to change.  How to bring about that change for all those involved – maximise both the freedom from and the freedom to – is a complex social issue that is essential to continue to address.  But it is not what I want to explore here.  I am more interested in inner freedom and, if you like, self-oppression.  The desire is the same, but the solutions are, perhaps, particular to the individual.

I think, for me, the desire for freedom is a deep desire.  It resonates through my body and my heart.  I recognise the feeling of constriction from my meditation practice – and I know that it is a sign of what in Buddhism is called “craving”, something I have already written about in my post “Desire arises from contact – a Buddhist perspective”.  Craving is a particular kind of desire to grasp at, cling to or push away whatever is seen as desirable or undesirable contact.  It is associated with the sense that things are not as they should be, a feeling of dissatisfaction, that in Buddhism is called dukkha.  How to free oneself from this craving is one of the main thrusts of Buddhist teachings.

I have learned, from Buddhist meditation practices and from Qigong, a way of following my desire for freedom that is not about engaging with the constriction through anger and effort.  Both anger and effort bring even more sense of constriction.  Freedom, instead, comes through relaxing more and opening more – becoming more soft and vulnerable, but without collapsing.

Initially, this feels counter-intuitive.  For instance, fear triggers the desire to escape what is seen as frightening and find safety.  In a survival situation, this is essential.  But, if it is not a real, here-and-now survival situation, the desire to escape becomes craving.  The mind and body feel constricted – insisting that you escape in whatever way you have learned to in your life.  I withdraw behind my inner gates and become, by so doing, less free.   I may believe myself to be more free from the source of the fear – but my “freedom to” has been seriously compromised.

An interesting reflection I have had about my desire for freedom is that I don’t want to be free of everything.  I want to be free within a sense of also being held – contained.  There needs to be a balance of some kind.  I can feel more free to move, to create, to express myself, if I feel held.  I think this is just because I am a human being, and we humans always need to feel we are in some way connected to others, or at least another.  This takes me back to what I wrote in the post, Why do I want to be witnessed.  I desire a sense of inner and outer freedom and feel it most when I am also held in open, warm, relaxed connection.  I want both, so there is a need for balance.

Within Buddhism, attachment is seen as a cause of dukkha.  But, to my surprise, I found when I married my husband, 25 years after we first got together, that a sense of great freedom and release came from giving in to, acknowledging and opening to my real attachment to him!  Before we got married, there was always a sense that we could break free from each other, and committing to a marriage has, in that sense, made us less free.  But I feel more free.  Is this just more free from the danger of losing him?  I know that by becoming attached I open myself to the pain of eventually losing him through death, my own or his.  Is the balance in freedom a balance between freedom from and freedom to?

Author: MaryAB

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