The Late Night Buddhist: Freedom isn’t free. Or is it?

By Scott Taylor
Reader Columnist

I recently went to visit a friend in Port Townsend, via Anacortes, and while sitting in my car in an interminable line waiting for the ferry from Whidbey Island to PT, I texted my friend to tell him it would be a while before I arrived due to the long wait for the ferry. He replied “There’s a saying out here on the peninsula: You’re a slave to the ferry.”

This got me to thinking: To what else are we all slaves? I suppose being a slave to the ferry isn’t the worst thing. But as we examine our lives, we may recognize other masters which are less benign to our freedom and well-being, and therefore our happiness. 

Although we, as Americans, like to laud the freedoms that our Constitution guarantees can’t be taken by the government or others, we often choose to forgo our own, more personal freedom. Some of these choices are fairly harmless, like being a slave to caffeine or sugar (“Oh Great Pepsi God, becalm my nerves”) or “The Walking Dead” or Joel’s tacos. Some come with minor consequences, such as addictions to overeating or shopping, and some impact us more severely. Sometimes these are obvious, as in the case of drug and alcohol addiction, but some can be quite subtle. How many of us are slaves to our house or car? If we ask ourselves, “Why do I go every day to a job I don’t like?” we find that the answer is often, “To pay for my house, my car(s), my boat, etc.,” and there we find where lie our masters. Yes, we’re all slaves to food and shelter to a certain extent, but when our desires and avarice exceed our actual needs it’s our freedom that we begin to give away.

Another aspect of freedom is our sense of inner freedom, which is wholly up to us. Our happiness can have a direct correlation with our sense of personal freedom, and when we let others restrict or invade that freedom, we let them restrict and/or control our happiness. 

When the Chinese invaded and took control of Tibet, they imprisoned many Buddhist monks and nuns who were outspoken critics of the invasion. One such nun, when questioned how she maintained her faith and compassion for all humans – including her captors – during years of torture and abuse, said, “It was precisely my faith and compassion for my torturers that allowed me to keep my sanity and maintain my sense of freedom. It was only when I let anger and hatred dwell in me that I was in danger of letting them take away my freedom and inner peace.” 

We can ask ourselves, “Does anyone or anything besides me hold the key to my sense of freedom?”

To be completely free (or as free as possible), we need to make a decision to never be a slave to anything. Not caffeine or sugar, not TV or internet or a cell phone or video games, not drugs or alcohol, not a job or a bigger house or nicer truck, not fashion or societal acceptance or material goods, not hatred or anger or envy. We can simply say “These are not my masters, I will not let them control my life.” We’ve probably all seen the bumper stickers that proclaim “Freedom Isn’t free,” but (and no offense to those who fought/fight for our Constitutional freedoms) our own personal freedom is free, and it depends on one person: ourselves. 

We can make the decision to be free, and happy. Choose happy!

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