‘STONE WALLS DO NOT A PRISON MAKE, NOR IRON BARS A CAGE’ Richard Lovelace, 1642
A railway line that once carried passengers and freight across The Darling Range in Western Australia was suddenly closed mid-last century.
Today, as an unintended blessing from that distant, questionable decision, the communities living on either side of the ghost of that feat of engineering have a unique recreational resource. Walkers, runners, cyclists, families – many with their dogs – appear daily, rain or shine, plying that five-metre-wide, reasonably graded gravel track. Yes, it can take a lot of traffic.
What a gift to the common good. What a contribution to the health of thousands that past work and taxpayers’ money has turned out to be.
And what a heart-warming sight to see all those people enjoying themselves, keeping fit and engaging with life at its purest – its simplest.
The picture changes every few metres along that trail: eucalypts, some thriving, others dead or dying from our dramatically reduced annual rainfall; dark-green spiny tree-grasses with fire-scarred trunks here and there. Native flora lines the track on both sides, ever-changing with the seasons, drawing the eye of nature lovers and the curious.
How wondrous – and just a short walk from our front door.
What, you may ask, has this preamble got to do with the question: WHAT IS FREEDOM?
I reply to that query with a question of my own: Can we explain the inexplicable?
I suggest not.
Neither, I suggest, can we explain freedom.
Instead, we can create signposts that point to the wellspring of our psychological liberty, The Realm of Possibility.
Which raises another question: Is what follows ‘the truth’?
Of course not; it merely offers these seven signposts:
1) Our prison. 2) Escaping from prison. 3) Recognising we are free. 4) When on parole. 5) Maximum security. 6) Minimum security. 7) Living life in freedom.
1 – WHAT IS OUR PRISON?
In two words: Our Beliefs.
Our beliefs take many forms: our opinions, judgements, knowledge; and our ‘halfway house’ – our faith – which we imagine is more, better, or different than a belief. Beliefs are our culture, our conditioning, our memories (conscious and subconscious) – our reality.
- Our ‘stone walls’: These are our lifelong accumulations from every conceivable source, including our study, training – all outer-worldly experiences – everything we know, think we know, understand, think we understand. Every aspect of our life.
- Our ‘iron bars’: These inner-worldly experiences comprise our reflections, meditations, prayers, and those ‘untouchable’ moments – our precious insights, revelations, and life-transforming epiphanies – our times of seeing into the Realm of Possibility. Yes, they too form our ‘iron bars’ the instant we believe those experiences are ‘the unquestionable truth’.
If I have left out your ‘ball and chain’ – what is it?
2 – WHERE IS THE KEY TO OUR FREEDOM HIDDEN?
We discover freedom beyond belief.
Freedom exists a priori to our ‘stone walls’ and ‘iron bars’ – waiting patiently – imprisoned likewise by those ‘balls and chains’ – the ones you are sure are ‘the unquestionable truth’.
3 – HOW DO WE RECOGNISE WHEN WE ARE FREE?
The experience of freedom comes with a fresh, beautiful feeling.
The first and often overwhelming clue is an intense feeling – a wonderful feeling not induced by any external substance. It is the taste of authentic peace, contentment, and a sense of unconditional love for life – inclusive of all the so-called good, bad, and indifferent aspects of living.
The first time those feelings come to us, they arrive with an understanding never previously experienced. We see our self, our life, our world – previously unseen – through the eyes of wisdom, and an uncommon level of common sense.
Our failings and shortcomings are recognised and acknowledged with kindness, as are those of all others. Our guilt and innocence, and the guilt and innocence of all others, are seen and understood – and forgiven.
Our life focus shifts from ‘me and mine’ to the common good. We see our self and all others as the perfectly flawed human beings we each are.
We have arrived. We are home.
Our search is over. We realise we are already the person for whom we have been searching – our true self, warts and all. We see our ordinariness and are relieved and grateful for that ordinariness. No more pretence.
We feel free, but are we? Or are we merely on parole?
4 – HOW DO WE KNOW WHEN WE ARE ONLY ON PAROLE?
We do not know until we see that we are.
What often happens is that we fail to see that we have attributed our newfound freedom to an external source. We attribute our awakening to our guru, a saint, Jesus, Mohammed, the Buddha and yes, the almighty – God.
Or, on not-so-grand a scale, we might attribute it to a specific practice we believe has delivered us the peace we are experiencing. Mostly, that practice will be associated with a guru – dead or alive.
In our moment of awakening, we may have given up many other ‘beliefs’, only to replace them with a new one – a bigger one, a better one, one that we know with unshakable certainty is ‘the truth of the matter’.
As most of us need some prodding in discovering our freedom, we may have enlisted a guide, a group, a church, or an organisation dedicated to helping others find their inner peace or ‘salvation’. If we focus on listening to that human signpost (aka our parole officer), and if they have experienced true freedom and not become lost in ‘smoking their own dope’, we will hear their clear message. That simple message will keep pointing us beyond our new belief – looking to see that our freedom has nothing to do with anyone or anything external to our mind.
They will point unerringly to the energy powering our life – commonly called Thought – with a capital ‘T’.
They will point to our thinking – with a small ‘t’ – the form that Thought takes in creating our reality – our personal experience of living our life in each moment – and what inevitably becomes our unrecognised, do-it-your-self prison.
They will point to the fact that whatever we are thinking in each moving moment is our reality. And is the only reality we know until we think anew and experience another reality – and so on – endlessly – creating our reality, moment to moment – till we leave this mortal coil.
Unfortunately, too often, that does not occur. Our guide or guides themselves become trapped and imprisoned in their new set of beliefs, even in an approach that holds the potential to set us free.
We are (often unintentionally) encouraged to attribute our sense of freedom to our guide or set of directives that guide represents.
If we are fortunate, our parole officer – having found their freedom and not attributed it to some external source – will remind us, and keep on telling us for as long as it takes, that they are no more, no less than a signpost.
They make it clear they are not a saint, a holy man or woman, just an ordinary human being who has seen beyond the cloak of illusion, through the veil of yesterday, that each of us creates, and into The Realm of Possibility – the unformed energy of original Thought.
It is there, within their mind, they discovered their freedom. Our guide found the distinction between the source of our reality, Thought, and ‘the illusion of truth’: our thinking.
They will continue to remind us (if they see we need reminding) that all our beliefs exist only within our mind as a deficient reconstruction of the past. Distorted memories that no longer exist, other than a fractal of our lifetime accumulation.
They make clear that our memories do not represent ‘the truth’ – but instead represent our realm of impossibility, our self-created prison. And beyond that, if we can but see, lies our freedom from all confinement.
5 – HOW DO WE KNOW WHEN WE ARE IN MAXIMUM SECURITY?
We do not – we cannot know. Our prison appears as reality to us, not as a figment of our imagination. We have yet to see that our freedom lies beyond our beliefs – beyond the known.
The evidence of whether we are in maximum security or not lies in our answer to this question: Do I believe in what I think – no matter what it is I am thinking? If we equivocate, if there are any exceptions, we are in maximum security.
6 – HOW DO WE KNOW WHEN WE ARE IN MINIMUM SECURITY?
The evidence of whether we are in minimum security or not lies in our answer to the same question: Do I believe in what I think – no matter what it is I am thinking? If we embrace the idea that we do not, we are in minimum security.
7 – HOW DO WE KNOW WHEN WE ARE LIVING A LIFE OF FREEDOM?
If we are truly free, we would not ask ourselves the question posed in 5 and 6 above.
We experience freedom the instant we stop believing or disbelieving that we know ‘the truth’ of anything, including anything written in this essay.
My freedom, your freedom resides in not knowing one way or the other.
Our beliefs, opinions and judgements have gone, first in a rush with that beautiful feeling and then one by one as the remnants of hitherto subconscious dogmas surface and disappear.
Our knowledge still exists but no longer as ‘the truth’. It remains on tap to support our seeing beyond what we have learned or discovered to date.
We see division, separation, wars, and strife of all types for what they are: the results of conflicting beliefs and the resultant needs, wants, desires and expectations in play – the ‘stone walls, iron bars and balls and chains’ of our prison – our conditioned mind.
We are fearless. We act rather than second-guessing ourselves.
We serve from kindness, understanding, wisdom and common sense.
Our fear of death is no more. We have realised we cannot fear something we do not know – and anyway, it was only the story we made up about it that had us frightened.
We have stopped attributing meaning to anything. We look to see what is – not what we remember ‘it’, ‘that’ or ‘those’ to be.
Self-consciousness has left us, along with our ‘conservative’, ‘progressive’, ‘centrist’ or whatever other perspectives we hold so tight. We now see the convergence of what matters with what works.
Attribution of status, position and power to others is a thing of the past. As we see our self as ordinary, so we see others in the same way: with respect and equally ordinary. Celebrity, fame, wealth, talent, intellect or lack thereof are all part of the ordinariness we respect, understand, and perhaps admire.
We are at peace in our ordinariness. Comparison between our self and others has ended.
We recognise and acknowledge the abilities and capabilities of others and appreciate how they complement our own.
That is it! That is freedom 101.
Warmly … John
The Realm of Possibility Foundation
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