Freedom and Inner Work

- 6 mins

I’ve been thinking a lot about freedom lately. My summer was a complete state of freedom. I was able to do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I went on road trips, camped in the desert, took long naps, went to coffee shops, read books that grew me as a person, ran under beautiful skies, moved my body, spent time with my favorite people, made and contemplated art, let loose, lived life. The days and weeks blended together, and time felt relative. My favorite feeling in the world was having nothing on my to-do list, nowhere to be. It felt like true freedom.

Somehow, I hadn’t felt free during school. One of the things I hated most about school was the constant pressure to do something meaningful with the time I had. This was mostly self-inflicted, but I didn’t let myself go to the gym or make art as often as I would have liked because there was always something “more important” to do. But without spending time on those things, I didn’t feel fully like myself. Even though I liked everything I was doing, I was so high-strung—and for what? Maybe I was just burnt out and craved time to grow naturally and deepen my hobbies, but this summer felt heavenly. And now that I’m starting work and living life as a “real adult”, how can I hold on to the same feeling of freedom? How can I set boundaries and give myself what I need? I crave freedom—it’s why I fantasize about buying a van and just driving, living on the road.

What is true freedom? I still feel so mentally held down to the past and the expectations of the people I care about. My overthinking and anxious brain makes me feel that I am not in control—that I am not free, even from myself. I feel trapped in my being, in the confines of society. Does freedom come from within—is it a mental state? Is freedom even something we should strive for? What is the price of freedom, and when is it worth to give up your freedom for other values? Are people ever truly free, or is freedom an illusion? I suppose that depends on one’s definition of freedom, which seems to be different for everyone. Even if we think about homesteading or living off the land/off the grid, it’s impossible to be truly free. As long as we live in our worldly form with physical and emotional needs, we can never truly be free.

The Choice by Edith Eger, a memoir about a woman’s time in Auschwitz, was gifted to me during quarantine when I felt the most mentally trapped. It completely changed my perspective on life and has made me see that true freedom is internal. What she and so many have gone through is truly horrible, but she was somehow able to heal from it many years later through forgiveness and owning the feeling of pain.

“Work has set me free. I survived so that I could do my work. Not the work the Nazis meant—the hard labor of sacrifice and hunger, of exhaustion and enslavement. It was the inner work. Of learning to survive and thrive, of learning to forgive myself, of helping others to do the same. And when I do this work, then I am no longer the hostage or the prisoner of anything. I am free” (233) — The Choice

As I’m growing older, I’m realizing that life continually messes people up, and we have to continually do the inner work to heal and grow consciously in order to have a healthy unconscious. The inner work never stops, but it is the only path towards freedom. While internal freedom is present in its purest form as a child and in old age, the process of growing up is of gaining external freedom as you grow up and losing it as you age. I felt free as a child, but somehow I have lost that feeling internally even as I have gained more freedom externally.

What does freedom means politically? I recently listened to a podcast from a woman who escaped North Korea. She said most people in the West don’t even know the true meaning of oppressed. How can I even be contemplating freedom, while millions of people (potentially billions) are truly trapped? How are my ideals of freedom construed by Western culture? There is immense privilege even in being aware or in control of one’s freedom, but it also comes with the burden of choice and responsibility.

This year, I’ve been working on my spiritual healing: dismantling societal thoughts and pressures, recognizing thought patterns from being raised in a capitalist and individualized society, understanding an Eastern upbringing in a Western world, breaking free from roles and healing fantasies that no longer serve me, becoming more aware of the ego. I’ve also been thinking a lot about what freedom means to me as a woman. How so many woman struggle with their freedom because of financial limitations or difficult family situations. How women have been subjugated for centuries, and still are to this day, and we are finally starting to awaken and become aware of the feminine power. Does freedom as a woman mean doing all of the things men can do? Will we ever be free, if we must always fear for our safety and the safety of those we love? Is the Western notion of female freedom and empowerment a guise for male pleasure?

My favorite YouTuber/spiritual guide, Hitomi Mochizuki (and more famously, Jocko Willink), said something that has stayed with me: discipline is freedom. What this means to me is that in order to have freedom, you need to do hard things in life. Because discipline is hard work. Not just the outer work (like working out, eating well, making money, etc.), but also the inner, shadow work of confronting the worst parts of yourself that make you truly whole (like healing trauma, forgiving others/the self, dismantling limiting beliefs, etc). Ultimate freedom comes from hard work and discipline. It’s ironic: to have freedom, you have to restrict (in a way that is sustainable and pleasurable).

Freedom is radical acceptance. It is letting go of all expectations. True freedom is something I have felt very rarely in my life, if at all. But it is a feeling I will continually strive for—because once you see a glimmer of it, you can never let it go.

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