Next week, those of us in the US will celebrate America’s 242nd Independence Day. For us, it is a day in recognition of our national freedom. As individuals, however, there are many other types of freedom—and, subsequently, bondage. In fact, almost everyone I’ve ever met has been in bondage of one kind or another. They may not have been wearing chains, and they may have had all the rights and privileges we associate with freedom, but on a deeper, mental and spiritual level, very few of them are really free. So today, I’d like to talk about a different kind of independence, and how you can experience true freedom in two steps.
1. Find your true desire.
First of all, it’s not much use to talk about freedom unless you have some sense of what you want to do with it. Otherwise, even if your current problem is resolved, or you get the thing you want, you’ll often just fall into some new destructive pattern, or become fixated on the next big thing, and it becomes equally difficult to break free. There’s a question I used to ask people all the time back in counseling and therapy. Imagine that a genie appears in front of you right now, like the one from Aladdin voiced by Robin Williams. It offers to grant you one wish. Anything in the world, like magic. It can be something practical or utterly impossible—doesn’t matter. What’s the catch? You have to answer in the next ten seconds, or lose the chance. Go on, give your answer before you keep reading.
Almost everyone I’ve ever given this test has answered wrong. I don’t mean that there’s only one right answer, or one thing everyone is supposed to want; that’s not it at all. After I explain a little bit, they tell me they chose wrong. If you’re like most people, you wish for money, or a different job, or sex, or adventure. You may have wished that your spouse would be more considerate or that your children would be more respectful. All of these are common, but the key thing they all share is that they are all external circumstances. They are outside of your control.
You may think, “Well of course! If I have a magic wish, it makes sense to change something I normally couldn’t.” But here’s my question. Why do you want those things? What would you get out of them? Invariably, the answer is something like acceptance, peace, or fulfillment. In other words, internal circumstances. Those are what you really want, and most people tell me that’s what they should have wished for.
2. Give the rest up.
So, how do you achieve those ideal internal circumstances, the things you really want? By giving them up. Like most great truths, this is a paradox. If you constantly chase after external circumstances, odds are good that you’ll never find the internal ones you actually desire. But, for some reason, we keep doing it! It’s all we know to do.
I think you see what I’m getting at by now: the things we think we want won’t really bring us acceptance, or peace, or fulfillment anyway. Out of the many, many people I’ve counseled, almost none of them have found something as profound as those things through wealth or achievements in life, even if their achievements seem staggering to us. Many more of them are scared of losing it all, anxious about their future, or regretful of their choices. So if we can’t rely on achievements, on going out and doing things, then what can we put our faith in?
My answer: relationships. It’s simple, really. All of these internal things that we all crave so desperately come back to love, in one form or another, and love only exists within relationships. Whether you want joy, or peace, or love, and whatever you may think you need in order to achieve them, I’d advise you to tend first to the relationships in your life.
So how do you do this? Take it one day, one hour at a time. Focus on living in love right now, without any expectations. This is an incredibly hard thing, and as far as I know there are no shortcuts, but I can give you some practical advice. First, make sure the goals you’re working towards are the right ones. None of us can really control our circumstances, so make sure that your goals are internal. Some people worry that losing that extra “drive” might negatively impact their work, but I’ve found the opposite to be true. When your goals are in the moment, and you’re meeting them in the moment, you’ll tend to love your work and perform all the better.
Try it just for a short time. Surrender the externals, focus on living in love right now, and you might find yourself getting what you really want.