Why Do You Seek Freedom?
Colin Bondi, Contributor
There are an endless number of things to want in this world. Desires are endless because when one desire is satisfied soon another rises to take its place, continuing the cycle of wanting. Human life is usually characterized by movement (desire) either towards some object whether that object be money, power, relationship, enlightenment, sex, pleasure or whatever or away from something we don’t want. Desire can be seen as movement of mind energy building up to a point of climax when the object of desire is obtained and pleasure is felt (or we are rid of something). We tend to seek one object after another ceaselessly trying to get back to a state of pleasure, relief or fulfillment. Yet no one can maintain states of pleasure even spiritual feelings of bliss and peace seem to come and go.
At some point one begins to see this never ending cycle of wanting for what it is. This allows the question to arise – What is lasting in this world? Is lasting peace and fulfillment possible? Sri Ramana Maharshi said that the objects of desire do not really give us any pleasure it just seems that way. He said that desires build up stirring the mind and when we obtain the desired object what we call pleasure is really a sense of relief at the dissipation of the intense desire energy. We attribute that sense of relief to the object of desire and call it pleasure. However he also points out that when the energy of desire is temporarily dissipated we actually are closer to the heart of our being and feel some of the natural fulfillment of our true nature. The true source of pleasure then is really being close to our true nature or stillness which desire tends to obscure.
No matter how long you have been on the spiritual path or what spiritual path you follow you likely have developed some idea of what your goal is, what you are seeking. You have also probably engaged in one or more practices to work toward that goal. I myself have engaged in a number of different practices on my spiritual journey. At some point after many years of these practices I felt a need to pause and really look at the question of what my goal is and what ideas and conceptions I had about that goal. If your goal is enlightenment, do you have an image or concept in your mind as to what enlightenment is or what it means? If it’s love, what is love to you? If you seek freedom, do you have an idea of what freedom looks like? If it’s peace you seek, what kind of peace is it? These are good things to reflect on not necessarily to answer the questions but to illuminate what we are truly seeking and what ideas and expectations we may have about it.
I have had lots of ideas about enlightenment and they have changed over the years of walking my path. I’ve imagined it to be an all powerful state of infinite wisdom, a state of extreme bliss joy and happiness, a feeling of expansion of my mind into the entire cosmos and possibly even a state of immortality where I would live forever as some exalted being in a realm of supreme beauty. However I’ve come to realize this is all nothing but concepts generated by my mind, some with temporary experiences and feeling states to support them. Somehow I realized none of this was really it. But then, what is it? Well, what I was finally left with in all honesty is the simple yet burning desire to be free. Truly completely absolutely free. To be what I truly am and end the exhausting cycle of continual seeking for something I imagine I don’t have.
The teachings I’ve had the good fortune to come into contact with in recent years acknowledged my frustration and desire for freedom. But they pointed out a very important question. For those of us who are tired of chasing after desires and who truly want freedom, do we consider freedom or peace as something we must create or obtain or is it already here now and we just don’t realize it. This is a critical question because if we are not free now we must seek freedom, we must find it or create it somehow. If on the other hand freedom is already present at some level then it would make no sense to try and create it or to seek it, we would only need to discover it. It’s hard to discover something if you have preconceived notions about it because they tend to obscure clear seeing.
To be truly free, is there something we need to create, become or practice? The answer that came to me from my heart was no. All the spiritual longings and goals and practices were really just more seeking after objects of desire even though they might be more refined and subtle. Something seemed to be whispering from a deep level that what I sought was, and always has been, closer than anything I have ever experienced. Right in my own heart. Indeed my spiritual teachers would say the best thing to do is keep quiet. That is the most profound spiritual instruction I have ever received. Keeping quiet means to pay attention to the silence within, the silence between thoughts. Way too simple for most to accept, but what would I have to lose by keeping quiet. Well, I had everything to lose because it seems that the last thing the mind wants to do is keep quiet. I learned this in meditation practice. My mind loved to weave complex mental patterns of the most elaborate and spectacular kind when I wanted it to be still. Eventually it would relent and keep somewhat quiet but as soon as meditation was over it was back in action. This makes sense if we consider mind to be nothing more than thought. We identify with thought as being who we are and so build identities out of complex thought patterns we call beliefs. If the mind were to truly be still, what would happen to our identity, who would we be?
As long as we identity with it, the mind can’t afford to keep quiet and so when one enters the spiritual path we find plenty of food for the mind to keep it going. We exchange a worldly identity for a spiritual one. We exchange worldly pursuits for spiritual practices. We exchange negative ideas about ourselves for positive ones (if we can manage that). However it can be as if we have simply allowed the mind to change clothes, it looks more beautiful and appealing but the identity with thought is still going as strong as ever. This may be fine for some but it never felt like freedom to me and having been in several spiritual communities I always saw the same dramas playing out among disciples and spiritual teachers alike (myself included). The people in these communities did not appear anymore free than I felt.
In his book, The Truth Is, Sri H. W. L Poonja points out the obstacle of being a spiritual seeker. He comes from a point of view that sees our fundamental nature as already eternally free and at peace. So when we seek freedom or enlightenment, we actually separate ourselves from it. How so? Well, first, we create an identity of being a seeker and all the beliefs that go with that identity. We also create a path to freedom, which implies that we are not free now and freedom is something we must find. Freedom is something for the future, meaning we imagine our immediate experience to be bound, and this is what gets attention. Finally we create an object to be found. A seeker searches for what is sought. What is sought is whatever our idea of enlightenment or freedom is, which is nothing more than a concept our mind creates. The seeker, the search and the object of the search is the same process of desire we see when we want anything whether it is money, sex or a new job. This is a state of duality or separation that involves movement (mind).
If we consider freedom to be what we already are at the heart level then it’s easy to see how this distracts us from seeing it and serves to keep the mind busy upholding its imagined existence. If consciousness were considered to be a still lake, which is perfectly clear and reflective, we can see that any movement immediately creates ripples and disturbs the water. Consciousness can be considered like this still lake, and any activity we make creates ripples, which can obscure the clear reflective quality making it opaque. If you agitate the water and stir up mud from the bottom, the water is no longer clear, but as soon as the agitation ceases, it settles back to clarity and stillness again reflecting perfectly whatever is before it. Similarly, if we cease activity of mind and pay attention to what is behind thought or what is aware of thought, we see the still silent eternal beingness which is always there.
So what about spiritual practice, of which there are thousands of varieties, some very elaborate and others quite simple? If you wish to be a marathon runner, a basketball player, a pianist or a yoga teacher, obviously you must practice. Practice is the process of becoming something, of getting good or better at it. But how do we practice to become what we already are? How do we become better at consciousness? Practice is activity, which disturbs the still clarity of pure consciousness. You can’t practice Being because you Are Being. Practice is play for the mind. This isn’t to say practice is wrong because it can be very beautiful, and if this life is a dream of consciousness, then spiritual practice is a wonderful tool or even an art-form for creating a very beautiful dream. In the end, though, it’s still just a dream. Reality is not beautiful or ugly; it’s not positive or negative; it’s not kind or unkind; it’s not in the past or the future; it’s not anything we can conceptualize, imagine, become or attain. It is the absolute nature of who and what we truly are and have always been. This is only available when we can put down identity, put down practice, put down the mind and surrender to what is right here, right now.
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