The Freedom of Restraint

Freedom, in the meditation traditions, is often referred to as the freedom of restraint, a freedom not to do what one desires. This is a paradox – and it is certainly counterintuitive in a culture that fights against restrictions and limitations of any type. Many people would say that freedom means freedom to do anything in any way at any time. I am free, one might think, if I can do whatever I want.

The vastly different perspectives come from how one understands what might limit one’s freedom. We live in a world where our freedom is seen as limited by external factors – repressive powers, rules, or conditions. And indeed, our struggles to insure basic rights and freedoms is a part of our movement toward true humanity and sane co-existence.
Yet with mindfulness we can see that there may be a deeper level of freedom, and unexpected sources of limitation. We can begin to explore how much of our time is ruled by aggression and desire, and how easily we are captivated by moment to moment changes in our minds. At the mercy of aggression and desire, we are not free. Lost in our stories, we are not free. Endless amount of material fulfillments will not free us.

Freedom is experienced when we are free not to follow the infinite and exhausting demands that mind presents to us. Freedom reveals itself when we discover that we are not our minds and we are not our desires. This is the freedom of restraint. Some mindfulness teachers compare this to coming out of the scorching sun into the cool shade of a tree. In the cool clarity of wisdom and restraint, we find a peace and joy that is the true mark of freedom.