Meditation and The Right to Freedom

Photo by Larisa Birta on Unsplash

Everyone has a right to freedom.

And everyone has a right to know how to find it.

There’s a discovery lurking on the fringes of mainstream society that is poised to change it forever: humans can free themselves from mental suffering.

Call it what you like: inner peace, inner calm. The point is, the painful old habits of the mind can be pacified. It just takes some practice.

Practices which keep you mentally healthy — alert, positive, calm, peaceful, aware, loving — should be known by all and everyone. These are far more than aids for people with mental health problems but unprecedented tools for the “betterment of well people” everywhere.

The West has rapidly woken up to the need for robust physical health and what we can do to bring it about. The next wave is the mainstreaming of practices to improve mental health, riding on an exponential swell of scientific evidence. Our minds are the epicentre of our lives, so they should be at the epicentre of our notions of flourishing, freedom and wellbeing. It’s time we made a case for the human right to mental freedom, or cognitive liberty, and practices to realise it.

Fortunately, this revolution is already underway. Yoga —which I like to think of as exercise-meets-meditation-and-has-a-blissfully-pleasant-baby — continues its exponential explosion into the modern world. Meditation is next, with “mindfulness” cropping up just about everywhere. But mindfulness is just one faculty of mind that we can train and develop. Compassion is its perfect complement, and can also be actively cultivated with practice. Even perfected. Taken together, mindfulness and compassion can become our two feet on a lifelong path of awakening to life. A path which is different for each and everyone of us.

There are as many paths of meditation as there are people; we can each navigate our own life situation to find peace, stillness, and an unfathomable love within. Not to mention energy, enthusiasm and positivity. A daily meditation practice, with some initial perseverance, can open anyone and everyone up to a life of peace and dignity — good for yourself and good for others. People deserve that; do they not have a right to something that can provide it?

We should do all we can to share this gift with those who don’t have it. It’s not a cure, or solution, to any of life’s problems, but meditation can become a backbone of clarity and inspiration with which to stand up straight and face life’s challenges, free from fear and confusion. It can even work to free us from that primal fear and core motivator of reactive human behaviour: the fear of death. The depth of relief that accompanies this freedom-from-fear is hard to communicate. And the sooner we realise this for ourselves, the sooner we can share it with others.

So long as we don’t understand our minds, or aren’t even aware of them, we’ll remain enslaved by reactive mental habits. Selfish and survival-oriented habits, engineered by evolution. How better to stay alive? We were not evolved to be peaceful or happy. So in one way, we can view meditation as a tool to combat evolution and reprogram our minds. This tool works, in one respect, through cultivating conscious awareness of the content of our minds — that is, of thoughts, emotions, assumptions and beliefs.

Only by spending time with our own minds can we come to understand them, to befriend them, and learn how to live peacefully and generously, naturally and spontaneously and creatively — responding to each situation with immediate presence and care, with a deep love of being alive. That’s what meditation can bring. Not all at once, not quickly, and not as an end-goal. Rather, as a continually unfolding process.

Meditation can help us to open our lives exactly as they are. To accept and embrace our situation, to learn how to give “an appropriate response” to the question of life and to the suffering of those around us. The beauty is that, as we become more natural, this response comes totally effortlessly: we enter a new way of being in the world that is full of calm, inspiration and love — no longer driven by the ego’s reactive habits which are defined by desire and aversion. Learning to be kind to ourselves opens the door to being kind to others. A friend to oneself is a friend to all beings.

Only by finding personal peace, then, can we contribute to world peace. By healing ourselves we learn to heal the world. And by working towards that goal, we heal ourselves even further as we give up the selfish habits that have caused us to become isolated, selfish, and closed off. It’s important to remember, though, that we only have these habits because we’re each working out how to survive in a confusing and confused world. So we’re all forgiven for having these habits — nobody has done anything wrong. We are all just trying to get by and be happy. Everyone is innocent; nobody chose their circumstances.

Helping others on their path to happiness and wellbeing opens up our own. It awakens us to life as a shared mystery. We are all in reality together. Nobody asked to be born. But here we are. And what lights up your world more than other people? This endless stream of unique, creative beings that you could never have dreamed up in your imagination. Smiling at you across the table. Playing music that makes you go damn. Telling stories that make you marvel.

Each one of these beings has a right to practices which help them cope with, awaken to, and ultimately embrace their life. Exactly as it is.

We should wish and work for no less than that.

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Will Franks

Will Franks

freedom artist. magical realist. metamodern beat. i also make funk.