True Freedom

What would you do if you were completely free to choose?

When I played this question in my mind recently, I thought of myself lying in a hammock slung between two beachside palm trees. Pina Colada in one hand, I could feel the heat of the tropical sun, tempered by the gentlest of breezes, and I could hear the waves lapping the golden sand.

I realise that this must be my version of escape from a freezing winter’s day in the UK. Yet I have a friend in New Zealand who longs to spend Christmas here. Even though he can easily drive to half a dozen gorgeous beaches, he wants to escape in order to feel the invigorating cold and to experience frost and snow!

When we think about escaping our circumstances, whatever they are, we often confuse two things. We blame our external situation for how we are feeling. It’s an easy mistake to make. It appears that a grey day in London makes me feel low and a sunny day on a tropical beach makes me feel great.

But hang on a minute. Not everyone in winter-grey London is low – what about those that have just had some good news – a promotion perhaps or the birth of a new child? And not everyone on a tropical beach feels great either, such as those who are worried or lonely.

When we see it like this, it seems obvious that our feelings are not caused by our physical surroundings. Looking more closely, we can see that it is our thinking that causes our feelings. Think worried thoughts and you feel worried; think happy thoughts and you feel happy.

So let’s revisit the original question. It would actually make more sense to ask: what feelings would you like if you were completely free to choose?

Typically, people reply with feelings like happiness, peace of mind, hope, contentment, fulfillment and love. In fact, all our dreams and longings spring from the desire for feelings such as these.

When we see that our feelings come from our thinking, we have the key to true freedom. We can see that it is not the external circumstances that create our feelings but rather it is our internal mental landscape.

So if I deliberately think ‘palm tree hammock’ thoughts, will it work for me? Yes, up to a point. If I vividly imagine I’m on the beach, and I work on the sights, sounds, sensations, tastes and smells, I can create quite a realistic experience in my ‘mind’s eye’.

Yet it’s as fragile as an egg shell; it can be cracked by any intrusive thought. New thoughts can materialise at any time and disrupt the tightest mental regime.

But if I know that any thought of freedom creates a feeling of freedom, I don’t have to restrict myself to ‘palm tree hammock’ thoughts. The scope becomes much wider and this is how true freedom is attainable. I can watch out for whenever the thoughts I’m thinking create a feeling of freedom.

There’s no limit on how many ‘freedom thoughts’ I can feed by giving them my attention. By the same token, I can drop imprisoning thoughts by withdrawing my attention from them. I find this simple shift in emphasis works wonders – it is truly liberating. It works for me and it can work for you!


True Freedom — 4 Comments

  1. Like the thought for today Trevor it is a timely reminder that a place can give us something to aim for and look forward to being there or if it is a remote island and we cannot afford the travel we can imagine it inside our psyche and it could even be better than the real thing. I do recall times of looking forward to something a great deal and when it finally arrived it was very disappointing. Here I like Richard Wilkin’s take on life where he is keen on enjoying things before they happen then when they do finally happen and they maybe a bit disappointing he has already enjoyed them and this cannot be taken away.

    Maybe here there is also a degree of the grass looking greener where we are not and so we make the journey only to find looking back where we were looks better now. For me this can be acted out when you arrive at a beach and search for somewhere to set up camp for the day and you wander along and see somewhere in the distance and then get there to find now you are closer you see all the rocks and the cigarette ends sitting on the sand and somewhere else now looks more hopeful. As you get closer you collect more detail and this can colour your decision. So building pictures in our mind and raising our thoughts can help raise our feelings too.

    • Thanks Jon for pointing out the power of anticipation. When we look forward to something, as you say, we use our imagination. We create expectations of the real event which may turn out better or worse than those expectations. Of course, the way we imagine is by the thoughts we think. No one else can think our thoughts for us; they are ours alone. Therefore, if we recognise that our thoughts are leading us into feelings of disappointment, deflation or frustration we have the choice not to take those thoughts seriously. After all, they are only thoughts!

  2. Hi Trevor, a very timely post at this time of the year when we can either experience very grey, dark days or bright clear and frosty ones as I’m experiencing here this morning. While the sun is cheery, there are blessings on the dark days too.

    For some years I thought my dream was to buy a small house by the sea and escape there. Then I woke up to the fact that I could create the same sensation and benefits of the ‘beach house’ right here at home without that extreme weather. It was a case of changing my mindset and some behaviours. Like your ‘palm tree thoughts’ I can create ‘beach house thoughts’!

    So, for example, being willing to switch off from external pressures and claim time and space to relax and reflect during a regular working day. Behaving as if I’m sipping my coffee overlooking the sea can happen in a busy town office as well as in my own kitchen or garden.

    Friends of mine have recently returned from an ex-pat lifestyle which sounded idyllic – exciting work, beautiful home, location, time to travel etc. They realised that the most important thing in their life was to be close to people they loved and a community where they truly belonged. That meant coming home. For me freedom is a kind of homecoming which is really precious.

    • You make it so clear how our thoughts create our experience of life. In the same physical surroundings, we can have different thoughts and therefore a different experience. When we wake up to this, a whole new range of possibilities comes into view.

      I love your idea that freedom is like homecoming. It reminds me of the well-known lines from T. S. Eliot:

      And the end of all our exploring
      Will be to arrive where we started
      And know the place for the first time

      Thank you Kate