I am continuously amazed by the mind’s craftiness and ability to create such convincing theatrics and stories. What’s more interesting is how easy it is to get swept into these stories and undoubtedly believe them to be true. Admittedly, it’s easier to be consumed by the mind’s stories because we can justify our reactive behaviors (attacks, gossiping, and judgments), relinquish our responsibility for our own inner peace, and remain the victim. Blaming others is instantly gratifying because we are allowed to cling to our comfort zones and fully convince ourselves that we were wronged.
On the other hand, taking a closer look at the mind’s stories requires taking responsibility and letting go of our justifications and excuses for reactive behaviors. It also requires questioning some of the things we have believed most of our lives, which can be frightening. In a sense, being responsible also means being vulnerable, which is a skill most of us have long forgotten how to do and yet both skills are the very things that set us free. We are bound to the vicious cycle of reactivity as long as we allow false stories to dictate our lives. The good news is that at any point, we can assume responsibility and reclaim our freedom.
“Freedom is not given to us by anyone; we have to cultivate it ourselves. It is a daily practice… No one can prevent you from being aware of each step you take or each breath in and breath out.” -Thich Nhat Hanh
Recently, I took up a part-time job at a women’s prison and was immediately reminded that true freedom can neither be granted nor taken away. We are all free. Some of the inmates of this particular prison seemed more free than people out in the community. The truth is that the only prison that exists is the prison of the mind, when we believe in its illusions and traps. Isn’t it so liberating that the only one who can take our freedom away is ourselves? We are the only one who can truly rob ourselves of being free!
Years ago, I would not have agreed with this post. I would have said that freedom can be taken away, just like it is in slavery and human trafficking. While it certainly does appear that freedom in a physical sense can be taken away, our true freedom cannot be, and how wonderful that is! I reflect on Harriet Tubman and her decision to physically free herself and thousands of others. Because Ancestor Harriet realized that she was inherently free already, she was able to cultivate the strength to physically free herself. And that’s where it begins. When we know that we are free regardless of our circumstances, we make choices and actions that allow us to both endure and go beyond physical restrictions on freedom. This type of knowing allows us to be in physical bondage but still have peace of mind and it also allows us to actualize the inner strength to reclaim our power from anyone who has ever physically enslaved us. We are all free.
“Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything – anger, anxiety, or possessions – we cannot be free.” -Thich Nhat Hanh