“Freedom is not given to us by anyone; we have to cultivate it ourselves. It is a daily practice… No one can prevent you from being aware of each step you take or each breath in and breath out.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
There are times when we feel inspired to behave in what is what we consider to be the right way, and other times this inspiration doesn’t come no matter how much we grasp at it. Is there a way to break out of the ebb and flow of life? There are two primary “opponents” that seem to prevent this. The imaginary one is the outside world. What people think of us, what they say about us, if a situation seems fair or unfair. The second is our inner world. The thoughts like “I am not good enough” or “I don’t deserve to be happy if others are suffering.” Let’s look at each obstacle individually.
The Outside World
The Stoic philosophers spoke a lot about knowing what you can and can’t control and not surprisingly, to not worry so much about what is outside of your control. Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emperor and follower of Stoic philosophies wrote in his journal “You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” The outside world is subject to countless influences that we could not possibly control with all of the effort in the world. Friends or family may become ill, companies lose business, anything which seems convincingly predictable, can change at a moment’s notice.
In some regard that may make the world seem like a chaotic and unpredictable place which forces you to always be on the lookout for what tragedy might strike next. That’s certainly a valid way to see the world if you so choose, but it may not get you the peace of mind you so desire. There is actually no need to fight this opponent at all because there is nothing to fight. You recreate the outside world in your own psyche whenever you interpret something, and then color the experience based off your own expectations and interpretations. This outside world is a straw-man for the real culprit, which is your inner world.
Your Inner World
The good news is that since the interpretation of outside events matter more then outside events, you have far more control then you could have ever imagined to your personal state of mind and enjoyment. As the quote from Thich Nhat Hanh mentions in the opening of this article, freedom from these ebbs and flows of life can be cultivated through daily practice. Have you ever noticed when you’re terribly sick or upset, that a part of you notices that something is off balance? That a part of you is unmoved by the experience but continues to observe it as it occurs? If not, see this for yourself next time you are in such a situation. The only reason frustration gets out of hand, is because it is fully accepted and takes the driver seat of your entire being.
A simple shift of realizing this place from which you notice your frustration, allows you to much more easily return to a natural state of being. This is not done with effort, but with realizing, and allowing yourself to return to your natural state. This idea of effort is another delusion of the mind. We try to be somebody in the outside world by changing ourselves, but then you are trying to be somebody in the world that appears to be so chaotic and ever-changing. You are already somebody, you cannot not be somebody. Who are you when you aren’t somebody? How can you tell when you’ve become “somebody”? You cannot, this is a conflict with no end.
The Way Out is Through
The act of struggling and constant conscious effort to alter or control things is the very thing that prevents your success. You may believe that the moment you stop trying so hard everything will fall apart and you’ll lose whatever progress you’ve worked so hard towards. Yet too much conscious effort is exactly what prevents our natural spontaneous self from being expressed. Have you noticed how when one tries to do well at an interview or a date, they seem to have the exact opposite happen? Always trying to think of what to say or do next prevents your ability to be present and spontaneous. Have you noticed when an interview or date did go well, it came off as effortless? You weren’t concerned with the outcome, you simply enjoyed the process and kept a relaxed state.
The freedom which comes from trusting ourselves must be cultivated only because we have spent so long believing otherwise. Yet this practice is worth more then anything else, it is your ticket to be able to celebrate each moment of life, simply because you are present to it and trust you will be able to handle whatever comes up. It is to see the difficult parts of life as an obstacle to be overcome, not a tragedy which has happened to you. It is to see the world the way it really is, instead of through a filter of your personal biases based off past ineffective beliefs. Take great joy in this practice, as the more you see it through on a day to day basis, the more you can enjoy life in that way you’ve always wanted, not subject to each passing wind pulling you in every imaginable direction. It is to be still and centered even in the wildest of storms.
The way out is through daily practice. Through a daily awareness of what is actually happening and what is colored by your past experiences. It is to return to the present moment instead of fighting past or future demons in some attempt to deal with something that isn’t actually happening right now. The result is the ability to celebrate each moment of life, because each moment is worth celebration.