I asked on Facebook “what is freedom?” The answers came in abundance and what I found to be most intriguing was the variety of definitions for one conceptual term. To summarize the comments, the discussion group said freedom is; controlling your ultimate destiny, peace of mind, overcoming fear, actualizing potential, freedom to make good choices, freedom to make bad choices, freedom from physicality, not having anyone make you do anything…
I find that the dictionary is always an unexpected (ha ha) but reasonable place to start when looking for definitions. The first definition listed for freedom is “the state of being free or at liberty rather than in confinement or under physical restraint: He won his freedom after a retrial.” The variety of definitions that we saw on Facebook were a result of how the concept of leaving restraints applies to each one of us individually. So the definitions aren’t so varied, it’s our experiences, of what keeps each of us confined, that vary.
I would like to break down our definitions into two distinct categories of freedom; physical freedom and spiritual or mental/emotional freedom. When we define freedom as leaving physical confines, as does the dictionary, it seems to be lacking a complete picture that many of us internally understand. We realize that while the prisoner may be freed from prison, if he is still living without the ability to make proactive decisions we will not truly call him free. On the other hand, someone who can find joy in simply existing without the aid of any physical comfort could be called free even in a prison cell. We will call spiritual freedom a more real sense of freedom than physical freedom, because physical freedom only lasts as long as you are physically free, but once someone is truly spiritually free there is nothing that can confine them.
For those who defined freedom as being able to do what you want when you want. The issue is, who are you and what do you really want? If you can say in one breath that you want to quit smoking and then a moment later say that you want a cigarette, then which you is you? Obviously there are two yous. A higher more spiritual self that wants to quit and a lower more physical self that wants a cigarette. Having what you want when you want it essentially means being rich. Jewish wisdom asks in the Ethics of the Fathers, “who is the wealthy person? One who is happy with their portion.” Knowing that every concept has a physical and also a spiritual definition, the sages flipped the word wealthy on its side revealing that true wealth is spiritual wealth i.e. being happy with and making the best of your personal circumstances, even if it means that you are not monetarily wealthy. One added addendum to physical freedom is that being able to do what you want when you want physically is not truly freeing either. Proper boundaries are necessary for true enjoyment. For example, a society cannot function without a system of justice.
Yet, spiritual freedom still requires a concrete definition. In the Facebook discussion, Benami drummer Graham Tugetman defined freedom as actualizing your potential. This really hits the nail on the head, because the purpose of our being created is to learn to express our spiritual potential in the physical world. When we can’t achieve that we remain trapped in a state of confinement. In the classic sci-fi movie The Matrix the main character Neo is offered a red pill or a blue pill. One will allow him to forget the hard reality of a conquered alien world and continue to live an average life in an illusionary world, while the other pill will awaken him to a troubling reality where he must take responsibility for the fate of humanity. If he has the choice stay in an illusionary world and forget the harsh reality why would it be freeing to awaken himself to the truth and battle to the death? Yet somehow we want to say that the only true freedom is in facing the hard reality. The reason for this is that we are created to never feel satisfied as long as we are not actualizing our potential. Therefore we would never truly forget the reality. Deep inside we would not be happy living in illusionary world as “average” people. This is the slavery that we all suffer as we struggle to actualize our true selves.
Michael Frising explained on Facebook, that it is fear that holds us back from achieving freedom. Behind the surface we all have subconscious fears that are automating our decision making process. Whether it is fear of rejection, or fear of failure, or fear of the unknown etc. we are all at some level afraid that beneath the surface there is no great spiritual potential to be expressed. In short answer to that fearful voice, we should all strengthen ourselves with the truth. That we are all created with deep love and true purpose. Deep inside we have great spiritual strengths that are unique to each of us and with effort and proper guidance from a place of authentic wisdom we can all actualize our true potential and experience lasting freedom.