America is an ideal, an ideal of freedom, and a feeble attempt at it I might say. Why do I say this? Well from the way I see it Americans don't necessarily experience a true sense of freedom. There are two ways to approach freedom. One way is to actualize "the freedom to", the other "the freedom from".
In the west we strive for the first, "the freedom to". We live in "The land of the free". Why can we say this? Well our constitution states it clearly, we have our civil rights and freedoms. We have as Americans freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of movement, freedom of association, right to assemble, right to petition, right to vote, basically the right to our individuality. This nation was built on "the freedom to".
A democracies attempt at equal rights is an attempt to protect their peoples freedom, to realize their desires, as far as this is possible. It is amazing to me that in most if not all democratic countries people don't feel very free.
"Freedom from" is a freedom from that very attempt. Freedom from...Freedom to! Freedom from being an individual with all its views, ideals, religious beliefs, personal history, the story of ME and what I want to have, be, and do. True freedom is much like true love in that both are unconditional. To actualize the "freedom to" there must first be the right conditions, then the "freedom to" can be found from and within these ideal conditions (theoretically speaking). So "freedom from" is the freedom from the futile attempt at finding true freedom in that which true freedom can never be found.
This leads us to a pivotal moment in our search for freedom, and if you haven't figured it out yet this search is exactly what your life has been from the very beginning. All your efforts have been nothing more than your relentless search for freedom. If you look at all you have done no matter how small or large, significant or petty, it all boils down to your search for freedom. Getting a job or quitting your job, going to school to get educated or dropping out of school, getting married or getting divorced, renting an apartment or buying a house, getting high or getting sober. It dose not matter what we think the reasons are for making these moves in our lives, for at the core the real reason is for freedom.
So the pivotal moment in our search is when we ask ourselves, if true freedom cannot be found in ideal conditions, through exercising the freedom to, where then does one look? This moment in which this question of where to look arises most often marks the first awareness that there was even a search to begin with. Well at this point we may come to the blunt reality that in all our efforts at actualizing the "freedom to" we still have not found a lasting sense of freedom. At best we might be able to say we have had short lived experiences of what seemed to be freedom, until the newness of the circumstance or condition which fostered this false sense of freedom wore off.
At this point many become "spiritual seekers". Some may go down the path of western psychology, some eastern philosophy, and others some form of orthodox religion. For me it marked my ever deepening practice of Vipassana, Zen Buddhism, and Advaita Vedanta. Being that my personal disposition is one of an extremist, within eight months after starting my Buddhist practice I found myself living in a Soto Zen Temple. Its interesting to me to reflect on those times, what was my motive? I was still pursuing freedom by exercising "freedom to". If I had the freedom to meditate for hours (at least 4-6 a day) and not have all the responsibility of the worldly life (job, personal relationships, ext), then I could find the answers that would lead to enlightenment. Upon reflection of those times I can also say that the first one and a half years at the temple where the most discouraging times of my life.
After a tortuous year and a half I decided the reason for my failed attempt at" waking up" was my insufficient environment. I needed to be in the right conditions, around the right people, and the right teacher. The temple was too loose. They only meditate once a day and no one there takes their practice serious enough. So off I went to the real deal (The Thai Forest Monastery) where real monks lived a life of renunciation, celibacy, and discipline. I was ready to do whatever it took, if the monastery would accept me I would easily leave it all behind. While at the monastery I lived in a small hut called a "kuti". I would work, eat, and meditate with the monks during the day, and contemplate my life as a monk at night in my kuti. How refreshing it was to be there, I knew I had found the right place, the place needed to finally wake up.
I was scheduled to be at the monastery for ten days where at the end of my stay I would decide whether or not to put in my application for resident monk. Though I would not complete my full ten day stay at the monastery. It was on the 5th night that I woke up to true freedom. I was in my kuti sitting in meditation before I was to go to sleep when it happened. The best way I can describe it is, surrender happened or letting go happened. There was all of the sudden this knowing, this deep intellectual understanding that I would never find the right conditions, I would struggle endlessly trying to create the right conditions. Then all of the sudden "I" stopped. I very naturally just "stopped". In this moment of stopping everything fell away, and what was left was complete. There was just this sense of being alive, silent, still, boundless aliveness.
This sense of aliveness is what I am at the core, before I am Abijah and all that that includes I am just alive. For that moment Abijah fell away, and it was from this falling away that I found freedom. I found freedom from my self. What a great relief! Some call this aliveness pure consciousness, just being, spirit, Buddha nature, or my favorite intuitive awareness. I like this way of explaining it "intuitive awareness". Its an all inclusive awareness, it includes Abijah, his thoughts, the world, and all that the human experience is.
This brings me to a very important point in this talk. There are two aspects to our experience of who and what we are. "Being" and "Becoming". Who we are is constantly becoming, constantly changing, evolving. What we are is just being, already complete, never changing, always just alive. Its not that it is necessary or beneficial to suppress ones natural human experience of becoming. The problem is not that who we are as a person exists. The problem is that we miss identify who we are for what we are. If we are always trying to find true freedom, true love, true anything in that which is constantly changing we will fail miserably.
When we look for freedom or truth we look for something permanent, sure, something that always offers the same concrete answer. The key then of where to look is right here in your present experience, for both who you are and what you are, being and becoming are nowhere else but right here right now. If we can use the technique of "being close and doing nothing" we can become intimate with our present experience and give the space that is needed for insight into the root issue at hand.
"Being close and doing nothing" is resting in awareness, open, receptive, all inclusive, intuitive awareness. This very awareness is itself "the freedom from". Before the body and mind, before the sense of "ME" and who "I" am there is this awareness. Who we are arises within this awareness. This awareness is what we are at the most fundamental level. We could call this awareness "just being" before being this or that, before during and after the who that we most often identify with.
Being close and doing nothing dose not mean that nothing gets done or that we sit back and take a passive role in our own life. It means we stop blindly reacting to our life and start becoming aware of what is really happening in each moment.
So try it out, give some time to explore intuitive awareness. The more acquainted you become with this ever present intuitive awareness you will come to realize this as a refuge, your true freedom. I hope this helps. My upcoming workshop "Finding Freedom" will be an exploration of becoming=the freedom to, and being=the freedom from.
Enjoy your life;-) Abijah