Freedom, Gratitude and Mindfulness
At the start of every July in America, fireworks resound through the night as people across the nation celebrate the anniversary of the Founding Fathers signing the Declaration of Independence.
Not only did this document declare that the Thirteen Colonies were no longer subjects of the British Empire, but it also affirmed that all are endowed with certain unalienable rights with which you are likely familiar.
However, I think the word that most people associate with this day is actually not stated in that historic document, but a word that nonetheless has seemingly become intertwined with the DNA of America. Freedom.
And while this month is a beautiful time to express gratitude for the freedoms that living in this country offers, that is not the subject of this blog post. Rather, I am hoping this post will serve as an invitation for us to explore this idea on a much more personal level. This begins by asking ourselves the following questions: What is freedom of mind and have we experienced it?
What is Freedom?
I’m going to provide some common definitions of freedom and I want you to feel how true each of them is for you as it relates to your own inner experience.
the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint. / the state of not being subject to or affected by (a particular undesirable thing).
Another definition to consider is from Victor Frankl’s famous statement in A Man’s Search For Meaning: “The last of the human freedoms: to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. And there were always choices to make.”
The proper exploration of these definitions of freedom will require many of the tools we are learning as mindfulness practitioners. So let’s do a brief mindfulness exercise. I am going to list out some emotional states and I want you to make note of any that you’ve experienced over the last week. Happy, Angry, Relaxed, Tense, Frustrated, Thankful, Annoyed, Elated.
Reflecting on How We Experience Freedom
Did you experience only happiness, relaxation, thankfulness, and elation over the past week? Or did some degree of those somewhat more uncomfortable states make an appearance? If they did, did you choose to feel them, and did they influence any of your actions?
If we always experiencing complete freedom of mind over the past week, we would very rarely choose to become frustrated, annoyed, or experience any uncomfortable state of mind.
Returning to those definitions, we have both forfeited our power to act, speak, and think as we want and have become affected by something undesirable.
Letting Go Gives Us Freedom
So then the question becomes, why did we become frustrated and annoyed? And this is where the beauty of mindfulness can be seen.
If we are able to bring a sense of mindfulness to our minds when we are experiencing those emotions, there is the potential for a few things to happen.
One is the possibility of gaining insight into what caused us to experience it. Oftentimes, this might be a belief that we are clinging very tightly to which is preventing us from seeing a situation from a different perspective. In other words, we are sacrificing our freedom to choose happiness as a result of our clinging. Mindfulness gives us the chance to let go.
Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh put it like this: “Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything – anger, anxiety, or possessions – we cannot be free.”
The gift of mindfulness also provides us a chance to not get as swept away in the emotion, perhaps instead bringing our attention to the sensation of our breath and offering loving-kindness to ourselves and others feeling the same emotion.
So when it comes to dealing with our minds, mindfulness is freedom as it restores our ability to choose our next action and thus consistent practice becomes our own pursuit of happiness.
“Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything – anger, anxiety, or possessions – we cannot be free.”
— Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh
Awaken Can Help You Get Started
Awaken Pittsburgh offers mindfulness training for all skill levels, including beginners just like you. Our introductory program introduces a spectrum of practices that can benefit all levels. Once you’re on your way, we offer programs to build your mindfulness practice into long-term habits.
Through our proprietary approach, Mindful Connections™, we offer essential, evidence-based mindfulness trainings designed to meet many needs—from individuals looking to deepen their practice, to educators, to public safety teams and others working in high-stress professions.