Do you think you are free? Why do you think this? Does this title anger you? Bother you? Not concern you at all? My contention is, as inflammatory as it may sound, the vast majority of us are not free.
We have rationalizations for why we disagree with this statement. Of course we’re free, of course I can move and think and say what I wish to, I have perfect freedom. Depending on the country in which we live, we might feel more or less of this type of freedom. In extreme situations, we may feel we only have freedom of thought. However, most persons from North America and Europe fall into the “I have freedom” category.
Let’s put these convictions to the test. How do you answer these questions, yes or no?
While not everyone has all of these float to their consciousness, I am guessing that at least one of these statements brought a rebuttal to your mind, if not lips. It’s easy to dismiss these statements in our own minds. I have children, and I can’t possibly make time for a hobby ahead of my children. I can’t change my manufacturing job into a tech job because I don’t know the first thing about computers. I am always afraid of water because I never learned to swim. I am nervous about flying because of airplane crashes. I have no money, so I cannot leave this town/home/relationship.
We move through our daily life wrapped in chains. These chains are mental, physical, and emotional chains; visible and invisible, they are equal in their grasp. This is one of the tenants of Freemasonry – that the applicant must be free of mind, body, and soul. But, really, who is free? It is because we can deceive ourselves that we might even apply to an organization that requires freedom. We believe ourselves to be totally and utterly free. However, if you rebutted any of the statements above, with a “well, but….” you are not free.
This might seem very black and white to some; I do not mean it to be so. I believe Freedom is a journey, and not too far off of the journey of our lifetimes. The search for that which is greater than ourselves is a journey of Freedom, is it not? Most of us live with those chains, in fear, without even thinking about it. We worry so much about the oppressor that we fail to see that the oppressor is ourselves, the things that truly hold us back. Perhaps we can look at the “oppressor” in another way.
I began doing Crossfit (a type of very intense physical weight, endurance, and cardio training) about thirteen years ago. I was not very active before that but I also prided myself on being able to ensure pain, push myself, and move forward through tough exercise and enjoy the success. I began doing the circuits and our trainer continued to increase the intensity. On one particularly gruelling day, we did a circuit of five activities, the last of which was rowing for 1500 meters. We did the circuit three times. Last circuit, last activity, rowing, I was exhausted. I kept telling myself in my head that I couldn’t do it, that I couldn’t make the time. I remember gasping for air, pushing myself to the point of feeling like I was going to throw up right there all over the machine. About 2/3 of the way through, I realized that I had been telling myself that I couldn’t do it. I changed the dialogue, revised the message, telling myself that of course I could do it, that the pain was temporary, and that there wasn’t anything stopping me except my mind. I shifted gears in my brain. It felt almost like a literal shift of gears, as I pushed on to the end. I never threw up. I sweated like a pig, but I made it. I had achieved the goal.
I realized then and there that I was in chains. I was not free and that my own mind had created the illusion that chained me. I could choose differently, if I learned a different way. If I expanded my mind. If I opened to experience.
Choice. That is the activity which binds us. It is also an illusion.
We choose every day. We choose to get up, to go to work, to feed ourselves, to shower, to help our children, to educate ourselves: we choose to do everything we do. We choose to eat cereal when we know that an egg is better for us, because we chose an easier path. We didn’t want to dirty a pan. We didn’t want to take the time. This cereal is good enough. It will be fine. We humans are master rationalizers. We rationalize that we have a choice in the matter when, in fact, we’re really moving to the universal law of entropy. In 1803, Lazare Carnot said, “in any natural process there exists an inherent tendency towards the dissipation of useful energy.” Humans fit nicely into this category.
What we once call choice falls, eventually, to what we deem binding. I have heard the argument time and again that children preclude certain activities. Focusing on education precludes certain activities. “I can’t” is either the response of the enslaved individual or one who has forgotten that he or she has made the choice that put them on their path. What we put first in our lives is that which we deem important. Let’s face it – when you choose to be with one person and shun another, you deem the first person more important to you than the second. Choices involve priorities. There isn’t shame in it. Yet don’t deny it, either. Should your choices be to the exclusion of all else that makes up our lives? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Do you believe you have the freedom to decide? Can you make that choice? Can you live with it and embrace it, without shame or fear of judgment? Priorities change. Can you understand where the chains are, and free them?
I think humans believe that freedom and choice are linked, and that freedom equates to having a choice. Maybe this is true, and maybe it is not. Here I will contradict myself. I believe that in the paths of our lives, we choose different roads because of who we are at that time. That experience in and of itself forms our destiny. In this, when we choose, we really have no freedom because we are not free from ourselves. We are who we are. If we could do something differently, we would have. We would have chosen differently. We blame parents for not treating us a certain way or teaching us to be different in the world. Yet, they did what they were able to do. If they could have chosen differently, they would have. They are who they are because of their choices.
We are who we are, and when we come to the door of Freemasonry, at the porch with pillars and high, lofty virtues, we think we have made the choice to be there. We believe that when presented with the option of Freemasonry, we have decided to apply. I say that somewhere, the authors of the application process laugh. They know that the applicant is not truly free but that he has some inking and spark of what it means to be free, and perhaps the knowledge that he is not free but seeking. We are bound by who we are and who we are is a result of the choices we make. When you choose the path of your destiny, you’re all in. There is no turning back, no do-overs. As Joseph Campbell said, “Refusal of the summons converts the adventure into its negative.” Freemasonry is an initiatory, life-changing path. When you arrive at the door, either you are ready or you’re not. The person that shows up is presented a new destiny, if they are ready to take it.
We humans get very stressed over the “right” path to take. Do we step forward? Do we step sideways? The core of the decision lies within who we are. Do we know that person? Do I understand what motivates, inspires, and enlivens the inner me? Do I truly know myself? Most of us say yes, when the answer is really no. We do not have the courage to embrace our life path and shake off what isn’t us. We circle back, again, to small choices. Rationalizations. The truth that we are truly not free. Freedom really isn’t about choices, I think, but about knowing yourself and being honest with yourself. It is about allowing your choices to be sometimes incorrect, learning, adjusting, and succeeding in whatever you do. Freedom is knowing what you are, owning what you are, and knowing that you cannot be any different than you are. As Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”
Is the Freemason free? Yes, because he knows that he is not.