Let’s first specify what is freedom and what is not. We have certain freedoms in our society. We don’t live in tyranny and we can talk freely. However, we are not talking about the surface, we want to go deeper. Let’s find out in our life whether there are some forces from society, but also within ourselves that push us into doing things.
Are we free? Am I free to do the things I want to do, to think what I want to think, to go the way I want to go? In society, there are certain norms I have to follow. For instance, if I belong to the Hindu religion, I am expected to behave in a certain manner and I am being judged if I do not act accordingly. If I am a Christian, it is the same. My neighbours are observing: is this person going to church? Is this person doing this or that? We have that social pressure on us. Of course, I can always claim to be free and try to live a life which I call freedom not doing what I am expected to do. Does this bring peace in me? No. It does not because now I have to face people who are surrounding me and I can feel their rejection. I am expected to follow a certain line and “I” decide that “I” want to be free so “I” don’t follow this line and this creates tensions within myself. Generally, this state does not last very long and little by little we start doing some things, some even that we do not want to do. We have to do things for our parents. There are things we have to do, some duties such as meeting with our parents at least once a year, and then on that Christmas or whatever meeting, there is fear. What are they going to tell me? I have been told that at Christmas there is often a fear of explosion; everyone will express all the things they are unhappy about and “I” have to take that shower. Have you faced something like this? If not from your family, from your friends or neighbours? Therefore, what do we do? We say that it is better to follow than to create conflicting feelings within ourselves. Hence society’s expectations on us, on every one of us is not allowing us to be who we are.
But who are we? I am myself and I learned of all the things I want and I may pretend that I know my way in life but who is this “I” that is pretending to know its way? It is not as if we were running full speed towards what we want on a clear path. Why and where are we running? Most of the time, I don’t even know where I am running, it has simply become a habit. Sounds terrible, isn’t it? We think we know what we want but a lot of the time we are in a jumble about what we really want; most of the time my wishes are conflicting with each other. One part of me wants this and another part of me wants that and those desires or wishes are opposites: should I go here or there, should I do this or that? Our wishes are contradictory. We are confused. We are all pulled by our own desires, hatred, confusions and fears. We are fearful. I am scared about so many things, about not being recognized, I am scared that my friends will make fun of me, I am scared not to be good enough etc. I am fearful, even if there is nothing to fear about. The mind finds all sorts of reasons and I live in it. A lot of the time, I am divided between my desires or between what I am supposed to do and what I feel inside me. Religious books are telling me that I should love everyone but I don’t! It is a fact! So, I am also split into what I should feel and this impelling strong force within me. My own forces that are causing this chaos, my own forces that are causing these pulls, a lot of the time opposing; my forces and society’s forces.
If I am pulled by all these desires, wishes, fears within myself, am I free? If that is freedom, then yes, I am free to be afraid, to be greedy, but am I free from deep inside? I am not free: I am impelled, I am pulled. Everyone around is a cluster of all the things they want, of all the things that they are afraid of, all the things that they don’t like, like little islands walking around. So naturally, what is created is another person expecting the neighbour or the person walking in the street to behave in a certain way so that “I” don’t get disturbed. All these people together are what we call society.
Is it possible for me to be free of my own conflicts and free of society’s constraints?
Let’s face it, we are here to examine something to be able to look at it in our life and to change this non-functioning process. We can see it is not functioning but for this to be changed we need to see it truly. We cannot only do it because it is a philosophy, this does not work; we need to realize it first before we can do something about it. I am not free until I understand how to be free.
For now, I am only a puppet dancing to the tune of my own wishes, my own fears, hatred and confusions. What is pulling the string to make me run around? Deep things within me. I am unable to see the fact that I think this is life! And I continue to be operated. I need to see the puppet in operation, I need to see it as an experience, it is not enough to know about it.
Observe yourself with no judgments. For instance, I notice this hatred is arising within and then, a lot of the time, what happens? I start judging myself: “I am like this or like that”. This is going to lead to depression! If you beat yourself up, you cannot live! Watch it, observe it, see it and don’t react. Not to react means being equanimous. I see it as a phenomenon within me. It is me but it is a phenomenon; I am being pulled like this, I see it and all I am doing is striving to be present. This is it: learn how to be in the present moment. I am not saying it is an easy path. This is why we undergo some spiritual practices like yoga or meditation. To find freedom within ourselves and live the present moment without judgments.
Himalayan Iyengar Yoga Centre
Yoga Master Teacher Sharat Arora