80% of Freedom is Internal

Nelson Mandela’s cell

I believe the natural state of all humans is freedom. Anything less than freedom is on the spectrum of tyranny. I also have come to learn that 80% of freedom is internal. Whether it be a person, a family, a business, a community, a state, a nation, a global movement. Which leaves 20% as external conditions or circumstances.

While there are certainly more free societies, the government does not extend freedom. Because it can’t give what’s not its to give. It can protect the structure of freedom but is far more inclined to restrict freedom.

Religious doctrine also doesn’t extend freedom. It too is far more likely to restrict freedom. The freedom that Jesus (and others) spoke of was not a dispensation. It was a re-awakening of understanding the freedom we already contain within us.

A career rarely leads to freedom. The term “wage slaves” is painfully true. Consumerism and comparison also saddle us with soul crushing obligations and attachments. Which makes sense … you can’t purchase freedom.

I arrive at this 80/20 ratio through my own experiences but also studying the lives of others — especially those that have endured great suffering. Many survivors of suffering report a deep sense of freedom. A sense of meaning that extends far beyond the mind’s coping mechanisms. Noted psychiatrist, author and Nazi concentration camp survivor Viktor Frankl said, “In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.”

In any situation, no matter how dire, we control our behavior, our language (inner and outer) and our responses. The level of sovereignty in these three areas is essential to re-claim inner freedom. To achieve inner freedom (which is actually re-discovering what’s already there) takes a series of courageous and often sacrificial acts.

  • Re-claim your identity. Our ego’s need for identity and form creates deeply unhealthy attachments. Most common is an attachment to the identity of “victim”. As I shared recently, victimhood is the easiest cult to join and the most difficult to want to leave. Martyrdom is also an identity that our egos love to attach to. But you are not your circumstances, your conditions, your experiences. You are you. You are the you in you that infinitely powerful.
  • Change your narrative. Our words form our realities. If we are using negative language, then our reality will become bleak. This doesn’t mean to be delusional or naive. It means that we must measure every word we use — first in our heads, then out of our mouths. When you begin to speak encouraging, positive, affirming words, the narrative changes. This may have zero impact on outside conditions, but you will still re-awaken freedom within.
  • Listen to the right voices. The voice of the soul is never wrong. It can’t be killed, squelched, muted. But it can be drowned out by darker voices. Our ego contains a dark shadow of self-loathing, blame, self-accusation. This same voice also breeds resentment. Which inevitably leads to violence. Nelson Mandela on his long awaited release from prison: “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
  • Practice radical acceptance. There is a freedom and clarity that comes from fully accepting current circumstances or conditions. Without this acceptance, we remain in a comparative, should/shouldn’t mindset that creates false hope, expectations and assumptions. Freedom and truth go hand in hand. So lying to yourself about the reality of the circumstances actually contributes to your suffering. It’s also important to radically accept our feelings about a negative situation. It’s a fine line. We want to acknowledge these feelings as a form of truth — but we don’t want the negative ones to define our mindset and behavior. A common phrase in the military is “embrace the suck”. This exemplifies the radical acceptance of both conditions and the feelings we have about them.

I will close with this thought …

The best and highest another person can do for you is to change the 20% — liberate you from circumstances. No other human can give you the 80% of freedom that is inward. Only you can do that.

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