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Internal freedom

Curiously enough, there are actually two diametrically opposed types of freedom. What we usually mean when we talk about freedom is external freedom, which is the freedom to obtain our goals. External freedom is an ‘unreflective’ type of freedom because we do not want to examine why we want what we want, we just want it. Thinking about it too much would spoil the whole thing. So, for example, external freedom might mean that I am able to get the perfect partner, a fabulous car, a great job, wonderful holidays in some exotic country, and so on. External freedom means that whatever my goals are, nothing will stand in the way of me obtaining them.



Straightaway, we can see that this looks very good – external freedom is a seductive dream that leads us onwards and onwards. When things don’t pan out for us we figure that we will have better luck next time, and so we keep at it. We keep hold of our agenda, and persist in our attempts to meet that agenda.  From this we can see that external freedom means staying the same in our outlook, in our way of understanding the world. All my attention is directed towards trying to effect change on the outside, and the result of this is that I stay the same on the inside.



Of course, I don’t really care about this (in fact, when it comes down to it I don’t want to change inside); as long as I can get what I want then I will be happy – I am not looking any further than this. However, even in this external freedom will let me down because, when it comes right down to it, I will never be able to be completely successful in realizing my goals. Two things can happen to spoil this dream: [1] is that I discover the goal in question is impossible, which introduces anxiety into the picture, and [2] is that when I do obtain my goals, I discover that they do not make me happy like I thought they would. Instead, they turn into dust in my hands, and my very success turns into my undoing. When my highly prized goals become meaningless (or valueless) to me in this way, this is called depression.



If external freedom is the freedom to meet my agenda, then clearly internal freedom must be the freedom to drop my agenda. This is not how we usually see freedom at all, but a moment’s thought will show that the freedom to drop my agenda can turn out to be a very valuable thing. We can see just how valuable an ability this is by considering what might happen when I am unable to drop my agenda. For example, if I have an agenda for things to happen a certain way and they don’t I could get anxious, or angry. Or then again, if things don’t work out the way I want I might react by throwing a huge sulk, which as everyone knows is a particularly unpleasant and unrewarding experience. Envy and jealousy are another two highly unpleasant states of mind, and both of these are due to an inability to let go, and inability to drop our agendas. In the first case, I cannot drop my agenda to have something that someone else has got, and in the second case I cannot drop my agenda to be with someone who I suspect may not want to be with me. All of these negative emotions basically come to a drastic lack of internal freedom. I can’t ‘let go’.



A lack of internal freedom means that we are brittle, rigid, and more-or-less permanently out of synch with the world around us. Anxiety becomes a constant companion. We are all the time preoccupied with our goals, constantly fretting and worrying that things will not happen the way we want them to. And if by chance some big deviation from our plans does occur, then this is a disaster of the highest order – it is the ‘end of the world’, a catastrophe, and we react badly as a consequence. We go to pieces, and give both ourselves and those around us a far harder time than would otherwise be necessary. And what is even worse, our short-sighted preoccupation with our goals means that when a chance for happiness or self-discovery comes our way, we miss it. We are too busy fighting the unknown to let the unknown come to our rescue. We are too caught up chasing the illusion of external freedom to realize that true freedom lies in completely the opposite direction.



I might want to ask the question, “But what exactly is this so-called internal freedom? The answer to this question is not straightforward, because it cannot be related to anything we actually know about. One answer would be that internal freedom equals radical uncertainty. It could also be said that internal freedom is what we do not know, what we do not suspect. Internal freedom is the great mystery that lies within each one of us – internal freedom is the secret behind the Mona Lisa’s smile! These indirect answers might seem annoying, but they are the best we can do, given the nature of what we are talking about. On the other hand, it is good to remember knowing what internal freedom ‘is’ is not important, it is the fact that it is there which is the important thing.



I might feel (with good reason) that I am all washed up, I might feel that I am finished, that my situation is hopeless, but even so internal freedom still exists, untouched and unimpaired by my predicament. It is always there no matter what – in fact, it is when it comes right down to it the only real thing about me (even though this sounds like a very strange thing to say). This leads us to ask another question – “How do I find this inner freedom – how do I go about being free in this most profound of senses?” Here lies the snag because, as Krishnamurti says, asking “how?” is making a goal out of freedom, which straightaway delivers me back into the deception-realm that is external freedom. External freedom, it will be remembered, is ‘the freedom to obtain an outcome that I already know about (or think that I know about)’. It has nothing to do with learning stuff that I don’t know about, and genuine freedom (which is to say internal freedom) is as we have said not something that I already know about, it is not part of my known world at all. In actual fact, internal freedom is freedom from this known world, because there is no real freedom to be found in it.  For this reason, when I ask the question “How do I find inner freedom?” I am (without knowing it) exchanging internal freedom for external freedom, and external freedom is simply slavery by another name.



The problem, then, is that everything I know (all my tried and trusted techniques, methods and skills) can only ever lead me back into the known, and there is no freedom in the known, not even the slightest trace of it. What we call ‘the known’ is in fact the state of being enslaved by my own ideas and beliefs, by my own thinking. I am enslaved by my thinking because I am not free to see that my thinking is not reality, I am not free to see that the way I am thinking about things is not the way to think about things – it is only a way.  Internal freedom, therefore, is freedom from thinking; it is ‘freedom from ideas, beliefs and from goals’. This does not mean that I never think anything, or that I never have goals, it just means that I am not trapped in my ideas, trapped in my goals – I am able to see beyond the limitations of my thinking. Another way of putting this is to say that I no longer assume that my beliefs are ‘the whole story’, and so I am free from the false certainty that was preventing me from seeing the bigger picture.




This is of course much the same thing as saying that internal freedom equals freedom from agendas. This turns out to be the key to everything: If we examine what exactly agendas are all about, we are able to get to the very heart of the matter. Basically, an agenda equals personal will, it is the way in which the thought-created (or ‘little’) self asserts itself. An agenda is ‘let my will be done’ and it is this stubborn self-assertion that stands in the way of internal freedom. The idea that it is ‘the self’ that obstructs our inner freedom is very simple, but it is at the same time so radical that we find it hard to see things this way. When we say “I want to be free…” it is obviously the ‘me’ that wants this freedom and so how can we say that it is the ‘me’ that prevents us from being free?



The answer to this perplexing question becomes clear once we see that the ‘me’ which is who I think I am isn’t actually who I am at all. Who I think I am is (obviously enough!) no more than a construct of my thinking – it is made up of my beliefs, my ideas, my accidentally acquired prejudices. Straightaway, therefore, we can see that this self (which is the ‘known self’) must be just as arbitrary and limited as anything else that my thinking has created. I can say that I am this, or I am that, but I could equally well have identified myself with something completely different and I would still have felt the same sense of ‘self’. Who we think we are is very much like a fixed position that we choose to defend – once we dig in and start defending it doesn’t seem as if we have any choice, but the truth is that the position I am defending only seems so important to me because I have chosen that it should matter in the first place. This is ‘the double-manoeuvre of psychological unconsciousness’: first I choose for it to matter, and then I choose to forget that I chose for it to matter.



Another way of explaining this point is to say that the everyday sense of self that each one of us has is a gameit is only real to us because we have secretly chosen that it should be real. It is like an act that we put on, and then forget that it is an act. But if my everyday sense of myself is only a mask that has (as Jung says) got stuck and grown onto my face, then who am I really? What is my true face? There is no direct way to answer this question, other than saying that the ‘true self’ is essentially connected with what we have been calling internal freedom, whilst the ‘false self’ can be related to external freedom, which is as we have been saying the exact opposite of freedom. The true self is the mystery that is within us, whilst the false self is purely ‘appearances’ (i.e. it is a ‘non-mysterious façade’) and nothing else.




We cannot say anything about the true self, because it cannot be the object of our knowledge as if it were a bus timetable or a recipe for brown bread.  What we can say, though, is that there are things that we do that strengthen the hold the false self has over us. This is important to know because it means that when we don’t act in this way, the false self is weakened, which increases our internal freedom. What we are talking about here is action that arises out of external motivation. In other words, when I act on the basis of fear or greed – which are the two faces of external (or compulsive) motivation – then I am affirming the false self which automatically sets itself up against the whole world.



I cannot do anything about the compulsive force of fear/desire (i.e. negative and positive goal-orientation) but I do not have to react to it – it only feels as if I have to react. If I am provoked to react, what is really going on is that I am defending (or benefiting) the false self – the self that I think I am, which Krishnamurti calls the ‘self image’. Every time I do react then this self-image becomes more real to me, it becomes more tyrannical, more despotic, more destructive of my freedom. If I do not react (or if I do not believe so ‘automatically’, or so ‘wholeheartedly’ in my reacting, which is itself a reaction) then as we have said it is weakened – every time I feel the fear (or the desire) without fully reacting to it, without fully obeying the force of the compulsion, then the false self becomes less and less ‘the boss’. It loses its ‘Number 1’ position in the hierarchy of things.



An example of when the false self is totally Number 1 is when I fall into a sulk or get really angry. What happens here is that the self-image swells up and takes up all the available space; there is no room for anything else. The sense of self that I have then is inflated but at the same time it is not really related to who I actually am – it is misrepresentative. This misrepresentative sense of self is highly sensitive about itself, it is in fact big and sore and all it can think about is getting some nice ointment to sooth its soreness. But trying to ‘placate’ the self-image in this way doesn’t work because it just gets more and more demanding. Thus, we can see that the self-image represents an obstacle to our peace of mind, our dignity and our freedom. There is absolutely no way to find happiness by satisfying the demands of the perennially insecure self-image.



To be free means to be free from this self, to not be in the position where we always have to give into its ceaseless and preposterous demands (and not only ‘give in’ but wholeheartedly believe in their validity the whole time. The self-image is essentially a sort of over-ruling ‘prejudice’ – its concerns are all-important and everything else is unimportant.



This observation gives us a clue about what freedom from the self involves – it involves a change in the direction of increasing equanimity, which is where all things are equally important, equally interesting. This does not mean ‘denial of the self’, as we tend very much to think it does, because when we deny the self we are actually affirming it.



If I say “Oh don’t bother about me, I’ll just stay in the back-ground” this is actually a way of drawing attention to myself, it is a sneaky way of pushing myself into the foreground. Freedom from the self doesn’t mean denying the self, it means being just as interested in the self as anything else; internal freedom means even-mindedness, in other words.




What happens when I move in the direction of ‘increased even-mindedness’ is that instead of serving the false self in everything I do, instead of being endlessly preoccupied with its never-ending ‘wants’, I am free to notice the big wide world around me. Strangely enough, the big wide world is something that the false self has no interest in at all – unless the thing in question is related to the mind-created self and its agendas, then it simply doesn’t have any time for it.



Therefore, the world opens up for me and becomes a bigger and brighter place when I no longer devote all my time and energy to serving the false self – the theatrical or posing self which wants everything to happen for its benefit. Anxiety and depression are no longer the issues that they used to be because when the false self takes a back seat in things then its petty (but utterly tyrannical) concerns are no longer absolute needs – they are no longer compulsions.



This means that instead of the compulsive extrinsic motivation that drives us relentlessly around the pointless wheel of mechanical (i.e. unfree) existence, I find myself moved by the intrinsic motivation which is curiosity. Curiosity is totally different to the compulsive force of greed and fear – I am not compelled to be curious, I am free to be curious. I am not trying to gain anything as a result of being curious and neither am I trying to escape anything.



Even though I am not trying to escape anything as a result of being curious I do escape something – I escape the narrow box of my own compulsive self-concern! I escape myself in fact and when I escape myself I leave behind the cramped claustrophobic confines of the small picture which is made up of my fears and hopes, and I emerge into the freedom and spaciousness of what lies ‘beyond the box’.  The box ceases at this point to be so overwhelmingly important; it becomes delightfully irrelevant.



The box is where we usually are and we are so used to being here that we don’t actually realize that we are artificially confined. We don’t actually realize that we are in a box. We assume that the box which is made up of our thinking, our beliefs and our goals is the whole world, and it is this assumption that makes us prey to the twin demons of anxiety and depression.



In the wider picture which is revealed when the false self stops hogging all the attention (i.e. when we are allowed to have a sense of perspective about things so that the world we live in is no longer so appallingly claustrophobic, closed-in and compulsive) there is no more neurotic suffering.



There is no more neurotic suffering because neurotic suffering is due to a painful lack of perspective – it is due to problems getting blown up out of all proportion. Or even more to the point – problems being created where there aren’t any at all.



Lack of perspective breeds demons: we are terrorized by shadows the whole time, we are intimidated by paper tigers that can’t really bite us, we are oppressed by molehills that look like mountains, and so on. In the Big Picture there is a tremendous amount of perspective – an astonishing amount of perspective, a limitless amount of perspective – and perspective is really the same thing as freedom.







Author: Nick Williams

Nick Williams works and writes in the field of mental health and is particularly interested in non-equilibrium states of consciousness, which are states of mind that cannot be validated by standardized experiments or by reference to any formal theoretical perspective.

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