When we think of freedom our minds normally think of some blissful state.
But to be truly free, our freedom must include wisdom and fearlessness. But not the type of fearlessness that we see in the movies. The freedom that I am speaking about comes from wisdom, fearlessness and knowing who we are directly. Too often we think of fearlessness as not having fear, but I am not talking about the naivety of an 18-year-old. I am speaking about being fearless in relation to our own ignorance, passion, aggression, and in relation to the movement of life.
It is wise to allow for healthy fear. If we are on a ladder, we hold on. If someone is chasing us in a dark alley, we run. If someone is abusive, we leave. Being fearless does not mean we give up wisdom. To be fearless is often about not believing in the movement of our restless minds, or our ever changing emotions. Much of what we think is simply, not true and constantly changing. Wisdom teaches us that if we give ourselves to the movement of our minds and emotions, then we will experience suffering.
Mindfulness invites us to see clearly, and reminds us that our thoughts and emotions will lead us astray. Mindfulness allows us to examine our thoughts and emotions and see where they are rooted in us. This type of inquiry will help us to see through the layers of mind and emotion, which will lead to a greater fearlessness and freedom. In fact, we become fearless from knowing that much of what arises in the mind never happens and is not the truth or in any way connected to reality.
While reflecting on my own emotions, I discovered that somewhere as we were evolving, our emotions and our survival instincts were inseparable. This was important during archaic times. But at this point in our evolution, emotions and our survival instinct need not have the same response. When someone tells us that they disagree with our political views, we tend to resist and fight back like it is a life or death situation. And we all know the classic example of looking at someone wrong in the bar and the person is ready to take our head off. In these examples, there is no difference between emotion and survival. However, as we evolve our differentiation between emotion and the survival instinct becomes greater and so does our fearlessness.
And this leads to us becoming freer in relation to emotion; because we see clearly that we are not going to die. When I say die, I am talking about the unconscious clenching in our gut, which is what our instinct does as we face death or a very painful situation. We see clearly, that it does not really matter if someone disagrees, or how someone looks at us. It does matter if they come after us; we still run. But after we are physically safe again, we let go of the fear as quick as it came into us because we see clearly that we are safe. Fearlessness and wisdom go hand and hand.
Our ego, on the other hand, creates itself out of repetition and holding on. The ego repeats the past over and over again, to create an identity. But this identity is not the truth of us. One of the ways egos continually recreate themselves is from holding onto fear. And then we have an identity as the one who needs to protect itself from that one over there. But if we want to be free, once we are safe, which is 99 percent of the time, we let go. Our freedom comes from having no identity, no walls—which is opposite of ego, which is constantly recreating more identity and more walls.
To be free it is helpful to see clearly what the fear is. This may mean that we are willing to look at reality to see if there is actually something dangerous here. And next, to honestly look at our emotions, and our instincts and still be able and willing to separate the two.
Awareness invites us to be greater than the movement of our emotions and instincts; this does not mean we become emotionless like some obscure spiritual myth. To be free, means we become big enough to allow for our own emotions and the emotions of others. If a child cries, we are big enough to listen to the needs of the child; if we cry, we are big enough to listen to our needs. Yet, at the same time, we don’t get involved in the story and see that even our needs are not necessarily the most important things in the world. Our ego’s job is to assert itself as the most important thing in the world. This keeps us alive. But it is not the truth; the wants and needs of the ego is not the most important thing in the world. There are far more, greater realities than our needs and desires.
To be fearless in this way means that we are willing to face our own death—not just our physical death, but more practically, the disillusionment of our tightly held beliefs and desires. To be fearless means we allow ourselves to be undefended. We allow this, because we see there is nothing here to defend. If we look at what the ego is actually doing; we see that throughout our lives, our egos defend a random mix of psychological forces, memories and conditioning. And our ego defends itself, like it is defending a bank from looters. But when we awaken to our true nature, which is spacious, luminous awareness, we realize that we actually don’t need to be defended. There is no money in the bank, just some very thick walls and defenses. We see that ego is just a movement of mind, a movement of empty psychological forces, with no inherent solidity or truth.
So we open up the doors and allow the presence of who we are to fill the walls, to fill the space. We realize that what is in the inside, is the same that is on the outside; a spacious Presence. As we realize this, a natural equanimity and fearlessness arises, not because we cultivated it, but because it is our natural state.
Today I found myself in a hospital bed, enjoying the spaciousness of the room and myself. When the doctor entered and brought with her an 18 gauge needle, I watched my belly tighten. I did my best to relax and remind myself that it was going to be quite alright. The doctor told me that if it was too much we could stop. I had the option of running, even if I was on crutches. I took a deep breath; I felt the sharpness of the pain and noticed the spaciousness everywhere. It was over in a few minutes, and I came home and laughed at my reaction, at my survival instinct; I laughed because I knew it was doing its best to protect me, but that it really, it didn’t have to.
As we grow in this fearlessness, we see this instinct for what it is—sometimes quite helpful, especially if we live in a rough neighborhood or are a soldier. Other times, it is not so helpful—when we sit down to dinner with someone with different views on religion or politics. In this case, we do not need to clench our gut when they tell us we are wrong; we can relax and be wrong, be attacked and see that we don’t die. We know we can’t die, because we know that we are awake, aware, luminous spaciousness, which cannot be harmed (but we certainly know that our bodies can).
So this becomes our invitation, to become fearless, by knowing that we are greater than what our minds think we are, and yet, we have a body that can be harmed. We do our best to take care of this vehicle, and at the same time, know we are not it, but in fact, something quite greater.
Editor: Brianna Bemel