Vanity thought #1527. Free as a what?

We all want to be “free as a bird”, implying that birds, due to their ability to fly, enjoy degree of freedom unavailable to men. They can just up and leave at any moment and be miles away in minutes. We have airplanes to achieve the same but then you need to book tickets, pay for them, have your body scanned, shoes examined, wait for boarding – it’s not the same thing, never mind that you can’t change plane’s destination at will. Birds rule, right?

Another way to appreciate their freedom is that they have no social constraints whatsoever. Well, they might have some obligations to their families and mother birds are known to sacrifice their lives for their children but what we usually see is that they can leave bad company without any second thoughts. We get stuck in uncomfortable meetings, we get stuck with annoying neighbors and our own families aren’t always a pleasant bunch. We are social animals and societies live by rules, which we think is the opposite of freedom.

As I discussed yesterday, these are all illusions. Birds might appear free in some respects that are important to us but this understanding of freedom is fundamentally wrong in itself.

Take the first “advantage” – freedom of movement. We have some, we got cars that we can drive and legs we can walk on. Not as much as birds, of course, but pint is that this kind of freedom is relative. Only God, and maybe Nārada Muni, have absolute freedom of movement and we can never achieve that, no matter what animal body we wish to possess. What actually bothers us here is not the lack of absolute freedom but insufficient amount of relative one. We think that if we had just a little more we’d be happy.

This depends not on freedom of movement per se but on our perception of it, which is a function of the mind. It’s the mind that gets to decide whether we feel free or not so fixing this problem should be done in the mind. Extra legs or wings won’t solve it. At first the mind would be pleasantly surprised, of course, but managing the mind can be done in a variety of ways. Giving it what it wants is just one of them and probably not the best one in the long term.

Our ability to satisfy mind demands will always be limited and at the end of our lives we all will run out of options anyway. If we can’t train our mind it will one day become our greatest enemy. Other methods include reasoning with ourselves or directing the mind towards other things, or avoiding temptations, they all work to varying degree.

Fundamentally, though, negotiating with the mind is not freedom in any sense. It wants something and we can’t ignore it just as we can’t ignore the government, our bosses or our families. They all, including the mind, demand things and we have to oblige, there’s no principal difference between them.

We can predict what our wives will want, what our bosses will ask, what our governments will expect, and we can similarly predict how our mind will react to each particular situation. There really is no difference. Sometimes we might think that taking time off our duties elsewhere will give us freedom but then we’ll get trapped with our mind. It’s no different from running home from office to enjoy the company of our family or running from home to the office to forget our family problems. When we are “alone” we just swap them all for the company of our mind.

Sometimes these changes bring us relief, sometimes we walk into a perfect storm where everyone seems to be out to get us, but even when things are “normal” switching between our obligations in constant search of a relief doesn’t look like a long term solution and this escapism has its limits, too. Our stress will eventually catch up with us no matter where we run. It’s the stress that’s the problem, swapping our environments is only dealing with symptoms.

If we think about it a little we should realize that our work and family are products of our mind, too. We got these things because our minds wanted them. It took a lot of time and a lot of effort but these are the things that we wanted, they are not external, and so running away from them is running away from ourselves. It’s the same thing as getting ourselves busy to avoid facing inconvenient thoughts.

People have figured it out and invented shrinks to find the “root” of our problems and finally deal with the disease, not with symptoms, but how far do these roots go? For one thing, we still live in denial of our spiritual nature and on the material platform no solution is possible. Another thing is that the root of our problem is always our mind and its unreasonable and uncontrolled wants that do not commensurate with our karma. The mind always wants more than is allotted to us, that’s what keeps the world rolling, but it’s also the cause of frustration.

So, when we want freedom and we think that we’ll get it from the company of our minds we are being delusional. Sure, dreaming feels good in the beginning and it feels promising when one puts efforts in achieving one’s dreams but in the end it will always be frustration and a desperate need to dream of something else, because our mind never sleeps.

There’s also no such thing as freedom of mind, or, as we usually say, “freedom of thought”. The mind isn’t free to think whatever it wants, it reacts to the environment and feeds on memories, and we are not in control of those. It’s the environment that gets to decide what our mind will be thinking about. It’s Hollywood producers and marketers who plant ideas into our minds. It’s the media, it’s the government, it’s people on the internet – they control our thoughts, not us.

I remember reading Noam Chomsky a long long time ago, how he said that western freedom of speech is an illusion because they learned to control what you think first. When they control your thoughts they can let you say whatever you want, it will only advance their agenda. He was talking about politics but it’s true of our everyday lives as well. Our minds aren’t free.

Mind is a prison, sometimes it feels good, and it’s always around, it will never leave us, but it’s still a prison. We can accept it and declare that life in prison is actually good, and it’s a form of coping, but an intelligent man should try to find the way our of the prison and try to remember the taste of real freedom, which starts with freedom from one’s mind.

It’s a fascinating topic, isn’t it?

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