The Pursuit of Excellence Practical steps toward happiness


Freedom begins in the mind

A man lives in the woods removed from society. He pays no taxes, has perfect freedom of speech, can practice his religion as he likes, and nobody tells him what he can and cannot do.

sH1y0Is this man free? Despite the liberty in his external life he suffers daily over the thought of his lost loved ones. He’s angry at something his ex-wife said ten years ago. He hates himself for quitting his job.

In the Western world, especially the United States, we place a premium on liberty and freedom. Yet so many people are unhappy. So many people with the OPTION to do literally whatever they can imagine remain in the same deepening groove of a mediocre job, an sexless marriage, dreams unfulfilled for 20 years.

A woman is serving a lifetime prison sentence in a Middle Eastern dungeon for charges we would consider frivolous. She is chained to the wall and whipped daily. She has virtually no freedom in her external world. And yet she remains blissful in most moments because in her mind she is free. Her jailers may eventually take her life, but they cannot take her mind and her forgiveness of her abusers.

Who is free, the man or woman? Freedom is tied more tightly with state of mind than life situation.

The mind can steal your happiness and the mind can liberate you. Every one of us has allowed our mind to limit our freedom despite what is happening with our bodies. The body is of course only a shell, a vehicle for whatever soul/awareness that inhabits it (that’s the real you).

As I’ve argued, your life situation can have great influence over your mood, and often it’s more sane to change your situation than to force your mind to bend. But you will be well off remembering that you have a choice, if not the power, to realize complete freedom.

How do we make ourselves so free that our very existence is an act of rebellion? Above all, watch your thoughts. The solution to all problems begins with identifying the problem. These exist as negative thoughts: you’re pissed at your boss, your partner, your kid. You’re sad that you lost something, broke something, hurt someone. You’re kicking yourself that you didn’t tell someone you were in love with them.

Whatever the heavy thought, recognize it. Don’t judge the emotion or the thought. Just recognize it. Then let it go if you can.

Issue new operating instructions. What works best? Positivity. I can start this new habit, I can talk to that hot barista, I love my life, even though my roommate is a filthy savage.

And the best way to help these new attitudes stick? Get emotional. Use your anger, your excitement, your sadness to tell yourself how it’s going to be from now on.

My grandfather loved to tell the story of how he quit smoking one day long before I was born. He went cold turkey and never touched another cigarette. His method? He told himself, “who is in charge, me or the cigarette?”

That might be overly simplistic, but the principle stands. You are in charge of your freedom. Create it.

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