Wanting, Choosing and Getting – The Freedom Conundrum

All of us want freedom. But when something happens to us- good or bad, we can feel out of control. When we think thoughts – good or bad, they are largely out of our control. Our desires come from seemingly nowhere – totally out of our control.

So, who are we then? At the center of us is a space, a silent space that simply watches observes and learns. Go into yourself and you can find this stillness deep inside you.

Now, we want this ‘still’ part of ourselves, the truest part of ourselves to direct our lives, for is that not true freedom? How dare life or circumstances control us? How dare God control us, or indeed tell us how to think, feel or act? We desire freedom.

But what is freedom?

Is freedom about getting whatever we want?

Perhaps we think, if we defeat all our enemies, rise above our humble family backgrounds, show our friends and peers how great we really are, then we are totally free. For only a free man / woman could ever conquer his / her circumstances.

But there are so many events we will never be able to conquer. We will never be able to become the President of Country XYZ (especially if you are born in another country from XYZ). But that barrier has been broken too, and say you become President of XYZ, then you will never be able to simultaneously lead the IMF or the Treasury or any number of institutions that control the President. It is only when you attain a position of power and leadership that you realize how helpless you actually are. You can’t force people to listen to you – you can’t fire everyone under you (for then, you won’t have any supporters left, and we have seen where that has led in the past in the case of certain leaders).

Say you accomplish all of this; you still can’t become President of the World. Even if you accomplish this, you can’t travel and be in 100 places at once – at most you will have to cool your heels in the HQ, issuing commands and doing paperwork, assuming that people live in awe of you. But you will NEVER know. Why? You can’t control people’s thoughts and the way they feel about you, even if you suppress their expression.

You can influence your circumstances, but there is always someone else above, below, or beside you with free will. You can guide the system from one position but not control every point of the system. So, you can’t conquer all your circumstances.

But then, are circumstances merely events? Not all of us are athletes or karate masters who can break down walls. Those are things you really can’t do much about. You can’t control your skin color or race or parents – those are circumstances too. How do you conquer your parents anyway? Replacing them? But if you replaced your parents, you (as you know yourself) would never have been born, and if you hadn’t been born, you would never have felt like deleting your parents and family. Circular logic.

Thus, we are barely capable of getting some of what we want. A lot of what we want goes unfulfilled. Even the richest person in the world has unfulfilled needs – he might want to just enjoy a stroll in the bazaar without getting mugged or kidnapped or photographed, which becomes impossible once people know he is rich and powerful. Getting what you want can destroy your freedom.

Is freedom wanting what you get?

Sometimes we get handed hard lessons – we are forced to go to school and study. We go to school crying and screaming, but ten years later, we are thankful for the experience. We learnt to want what we got. But does that mean if someone abuses us, beats us up, we should want it? Should we go and tell a gangster who is messing around with us to ‘give us more, for that is what I want’? Sure, if you are masochist, but in most cases, wanting what you get is good for some things, and not so good for many other things.

Is freedom following your emotions and choosing things?

Sometimes, we are frustrated and want to give up on learning something new or trying out a new way of life. Sometimes we get too caught up (obsessed) with an activity or person or thing to the exclusion of all else. A parent who is obsessed with a child can end up harming the child’s independence. A husband who is obsessed with his wife can end up driving her to madness and blocking all self-expression (and vice versa for an obsessed wife). A person who is obsessed with doing a job right gets over-attached to the extent he never grows beyond that narrow skillset. Perfection can harm spiritual growth. Choice is good when it helps us try new things, choice is good when it helps us give up things we have grown out of. But choice is not always enough – we do not know when to stop trying or indeed, when to start trying something new.

Triangulating the three forces – True freedom

Who created our choices based on our needs and emotions? Who created our circumstances? Who gets to decide what gifts we receive (talents, body, material possessions) and what we don’t?

Choice Focus: If we think that we only have control over choice, we will suffer by feeling frustrated with our limited gifts and circumstances.

Getting Focus: If we count on life giving us everything (getting), we will suffer because we will stop listening to our emotions and making any kind of choice. We will effectively die inside.

Wanting Focus: If we count on life giving us whatever we want, we may have choice and gifts but no contentment (the getting part). We keep wanting, but the joy of getting comes only when some of our wants are fulfilled. If all our wants are automatically fulfilled, we lose the focus and direction of life – we become too spread out. It is our limitations in getting what we want that give us direction, a compass and at a deeper level, fulfillment. Getting very little of what we want gives us a sense of identity, it helps us define ourselves. Our limitations both shape our lives and give us peace.

If neither wanting, getting or choosing is going to leave us fulfilled, how do we balance the three? The solution is realizing they are three sides of the same triangle:

Once you realize that your freedom has been created by you, through your choices (created by your emotions, which have also been created by you before being born), though your wants (based on your emotions, created by you before you were born) and your luck in getting things (decided before this life began), you achieve true peace. You see others and the world as part of yourself just as you see your emotions as part of yourself.

In this oneness of being, you celebrate your aloneness, for in aloneness, there is no comparison, no competition, no good or bad, just peace and contentment.

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