I started this blog in January whilst waiting 20 hours at Bahrain airport en route back to the Uk form India. Of course I had no idea at the time what lay ahead in just a couple of months time in the UK and the rest of the world. The original blog is below and I have also now added a couple of new paragraphs at the end.
What is freedom? How does it manifest in your life?. This is the online dictionary definition of freedom: “The power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants”.
I have had the opinion for most of my life that in the UK, although the government preach about freedom we are perhaps not as ‘free’ as we think we are. I have also been thinking about freedom and what that is.
Whilst travelling in India recently I visited Varanasi, a great crazy holy city that I have visited many times before. On arrival it was clear that the people there were not entirely free, there had been protests about a recent government policy and the internet and phone data service in the that whole area had been ‘switched off’ at source. So no one was able to communicate via internet or phone. The idea behind this was that this would help to quash protestors organising and so on. It also affected business and money for everyone, because of course the internet and ATM services as well as card machines are all widely used these days. The protests were reported on the world news, the internet phone blackout was not reported once. It continued the whole three days that I was there and no-one one had any clue when it would return to normal. The phone data resurfaced eventually but still there was no internet when I left. This was a lesson in how much we rely on these avenues of communication but also an insight into how the government can control things if it wishes to.
A few weeks later I was travelling back to the UK via Bahrain. There had been recent unrest in Iran just before I arrived there. Initially I was struck by the silence. In a long queue for immigration no one spoke. It was very detached from the hubbub and general euphoria of India. No initiating of conversation or making of any eye contact. I came through immigration to find I had a 20 hour wait and would not be permitted to go to a hotel but had to wait in the airport, and no, there wasn’t anywhere to sleep or rest. But they did give me a voucher for meals.
Ok so I thought that I would make the best of things whilst I was there and started to do some work online. Then I discovered that the maximum internet time allocated for any one device is 45 minutes. I explained that I had a long wait but no, this is the maximum permitted time and then they ‘cut it off.’ It is not negotiable.
I began to realise how fortunate we are in the west. We may believe that we are restricted or not listened to, and to a large extent maybe that is the case, but we are not as restricted as some. And these are not the most extreme cases by far. Then I began to consider what freedom really is about.
It is interesting that in my freestyle life I travel to India, to where I feel my heart resides. Yes even though there are controls and restrictions, I don’t feel restricted there. Even though there is some need to dress more conservatively, to be more aware of behaviour and conduct, I don’t feel that restriction. So maybe then freedom isn’t about the government or the physical but the psychological. When in that place I feel more understood, more empathised with. I feel like people there ‘get it’. I don’t need to explain anything to anyone, they completely understand. It’s a state of mind. You can be as free as a bird in paradise on a physical level but if your mind is not free then how can you truly know freedom? Take the example of a man released after many year in prison, or of an addict, or of someone who has been homeless for years and sleeping on the streets. It can be simplistic to view these states of being as being free, free from responsibility, from incarceration, from difficult emotional and ‘everyday’ life trappings. yet these souls are more trapped than any of us to some extent. Caught up in the turbulence and wilderness of their own minds, their repeating behaviour, their habitual reliance on ‘the system’ to some extent, albeit in a so called dysfunctional way (according to the rules of our society). Then look at the housewife, the 9-5 worker, the factory worker, anyone doing a job day in day out to pay the bills, to keep a roof over their and their families heads, the burden of that responsibility, working to pay for something they may never be able take time to enjoy or appreciate, because they are continually striving and grasping, to pay for it, in more than just a financial way. Are any of us truly free?
Like a hamster on the wheel, we can all become trapped, incarcerated in our own behaviour pattens and mindstuff. Caught up in other people expectations and not being true to ourselves. What does it take to be true to ourselves, to reach for our own unique versions of freedom? Does it take a life crisis? Sometimes yes but not always. How can we begin to truly appreciate what is important and essential for us to feel freedom, to live freely, in body and mind. How can we find the courage and tenacity to create whatever conditions we need? Because it is not about the government or other people, it is about you, how you view and manage your own wild and precious life. No two people are the same, we all need something different. Sometimes (often) people will say to me ‘I wish that I could live like you, so free and true to yourself.’
As I mentioned at the beginning, since writing this in January, we find ourselves in a different world. A world with the apparent threat of an invisible but highly contagious virus. We have been told that this virus, even if we don’t get symptoms, can be passed onto our loved ones and can kill. This means that the governments of the world (not all admittedly but here in the UK it is is presently the case) have advised and now, enforced by law (so you can be arrested if you disobey), ’social distancing’. There is now no community, no closeness of other people, society is being dismantled. Everyone is isolated in their homes, if they are fortunate enough to have a home of course. Those that don’t have a home (myself included) may be fortunate to have good friends to help or may find themselves even further isolated as a result. We can go out to buy food and, interestingly, alcohol. This will ensure that the majority of the people are kept quiet.
This is the time now to meditate and to think about things, there is a lot of time. Look at our society. Look at how the vast majority of people live. Processed foods, the hamster wheel existence that I described previously, addicted to sugar in foods, fed incorrect nutritional and health information so that their bodies become sluggish and disease ridden and then they turn to the pharmaceutical industry. People are disempowered and disenfranchised. On top of all of this comes the virus. now the people are really fearful. Afraid to die, afraid to live, totally confused and so now, addicted to the relentless rhythm and substance of their lives, afraid of loosing this, they will do anything they are told to do. I am observing with interest, the cables being put up and along the ground, the 5G being advertised on TV for a faster internet connection (now most peoples only means of communication). There is a new app (for which you need to log in and give your location) that shows you if you’ve been near someone at risk of the virus, how do they know who has been at risk or infected with no testing? I am observing with interest how compliant and unquestioning most people seem to be as they allow themselves to be fed information from the TV all day every day. This is all the information a lot of people now have. Today I was queuing (2 meters apart form everyone else) to buy some food. There was a woman at the checkout justifying and explaining why she was buying what she was buying, explaining about her household, family members needs. How the hell did we allow ourselves to get here?
Now we absolutely don’t have have as much freedom as we once had, it may be temporary, it may be more long term, we have no idea. What control can we take for ourselves within these confines? We can eat well, stop the sugar, the alcohol, the dairy consumption the control measures that are used to manipulate us. We can stop buying into the totally corrupt system. We can be aware of our own minds and not get sucked into all of the propaganda. Read widely, look around and beyond what you can obviously see, and please don’t believe everything that we are being told, question things and use your intuition. Meditate, move your body, and breathe. Things will change in time, they always do. Please try not to be fearful, because when we are fearful we are not in control. Just after writing this I found the words below on my laptop. Courage to be yourself
The mundane details of our life eat us up. Therefore it is important to keep asking ourselves again and again: What is the most important thing? Since death is certain and the time of death is uncertain, what is the most important thing? Let that perspective be your guide.
Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself. At the gut level, you might want to go for the most comfortable thing. Always go for the stretch. Sometimes the stretch is to stay, sometimes to go. Sometimes to say Yes, sometimes to say, No. You don’t always know. The key is to be willing to go through the shedding and unmasking process.
Rest in the insecurity. Remember that when we lose ground we habitually panic and look for something solid to hold onto: that’s a description of samsara. Go at your own pace. And don’t push it. But continue to train in resting in insecurity.
Don’t believe everything you think. If you can follow this advice, you will be in good shape.
Take exactly what appears as your path. (Prema Chodron)