What does it mean to live freely, to live an authentic life? What are the obstacles that prevent living authentically and freely?
In any language, each of us has particular, often personal meanings for the words we collectively use, so I want to be very clear about what I mean by freedom and authenticity. As strong as these words are, I use them merely to point to the essential core of ourselves as conscious beings. We know ourselves to be human beings, and when we recognize ourselves as conscious, we are closer to our true identity.
Finally the essential spiritual question is the question of our true identity. Until we discover what it means to be free, we don't recognise that identity. To explore what it means to live freely is a way into that discovery; but really I could just have easily have said, “Living in peace,” or “Living in love,” or “Living in truth,” or “Living as yourself.” To be all of that, to live all of that, is to live an authentic life. An authentic life is natural when you know freedom (or peace, or love, or truth) as the core of yourself.
When I speak of freedom I am always speaking of inner freedom, and no one can judge another's degree of inner freedom. Usually in our culture and naturally in our lives we define freedom relatively. There are relative freedoms that are important and precious that we should strive to keep. There are our political freedoms: the freedom to vote, the freedom to have fresh air, the freedom to be with the one you love. These are all essential freedoms, but if absolute freedom had to do with those, then people who couldn’t vote couldn’t discover inner freedom; people who had diseases couldn’t discover inner freedom; people who were in prison couldn’t discover inner freedom. In all circumstances, inner freedom can be discovered.
You can be totally bound by any number of circumstances—by your health, by the state of the government that you are under, by your relationship, by the commitments you have made, by the contracts you have signed, by incarceration, or by your internal states. You are a human being and as a human being you are bound in a deep sense to your body. Since your body needs things for its freedom, it is never absolutely free.
I am inviting you to investigate the possibility to discover complete and absolute freedom. When you are ready, you have full capacity to recognise that absolute freedom is here, and you can actually live your life from that discovery.
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When I say that one person can never judge another's degree of inner freedom, it is really to release you from a common convention of mental bondage. In human culture, one of our most basic activities is ranking each other. As a survival instinct and for ceremonial respect, it is quite useful; but in deeply discovering the truth of oneself, it is insidious. When Confucius warns that comparison is odious, he is referring to the pollution such comparison adds to our mental states. He is right. What is odious stinks. By identifying ourselves through the lens of rank, we stink of either false inflation or false deflation. When we refuse to feed our need to rank each other, we are free to actually see each other.
What I am speaking of really has no outward sign, and it has nothing that actually can obstruct it. It is equally discovered in those who are strong and those who are weak. It is equally available to those who have status and to those who have none. It is always here and is always untouched by whatever else is here. It is free. The "it" I speak of is conscious awareness.
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When I was first drawn to this thing that we call enlightenment, I did not think of it in terms of freedom. It was only years later that I started hearing the word freedom. To my mind freedom meant being able to do whatever I wanted to do. I realised that freedom was all I had ever wanted all my life! Ever since I was a child I wanted to do whatever I wanted to do! I wanted to be free to do that. Didn't you?
The deeper investigation demanded by a spiritual life revealed the limits of my idea of freedom. I came to recognize that the desire, "to do whatever I want to do'" is an infantile or at best an adolescent view of freedom: to be free to do what I want to do is not reliable freedom at all. What one simply wants to do is dictated by impulses, instincts, desires, and other people’s opinions. It is dictated by memories and by thoughts about what may come next. This is the opposite of freedom!
If you have experienced trying to live freely by following all your desires, you can recognise the bondage of addiction. There is never enough. There is always more, or better, or different calling for your life force and attention.
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But to be freedom – nothing can stop that. Freedom is the essence of your core. This deeper, reliable freedom is the core of what and who you are. Absolute freedom is always here, regardless of fulfilment of desire or blockage of desire. Absolute freedom is not divorced from any particular state, yet remains free regardless of state. You may find yourself in difficult situations, and yet if you are willing to live authentically as yourself, you will discover yourself to be free in the midst of it all.
The invitation is to grow up (wake up) to yourself. It begins with discovering how you experience being bound and where you think freedom is. It ends in discovering yourself to be free peace. You can discover yourself not to need anything, not even to need to be relatively free, for the truth of yourself.