Defining Freedom

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A lot of people throw around the word freedom.

Especially being raised in the United States where the concept of freedom is ingrained into our minds from an early age, we are taught to value freedom.

It’s not a bad thing, because freedom truly is the greatest gift anyone can have.

That’s only if we are talking about true freedom. 

Have you ever stopped to think about what freedom actually is? 

Is it just a concept we believe in, a political and economic system, a lot of money in the bank account, or living in a place where you are free to choose the life you live?

Or is it much more?

In this post, I’m going to define my definition of freedom and my thoughts on this topic.

What is Freedom

I think there are different degrees of freedom. 

On one end there is true freedom which is independent of all outside circumstances and makes everything else irrelevant. 

On the other end, there are the physical and societal freedoms that enable you to live free in a modern economic system.  

True Freedom

To me, true freedom is an internal state of mental, emotional, spiritual, and energetic being. 

A consistent state of peace and equanimity with life. Being able to roll with and completely experience all life has to offer no matter the circumstances you find yourself in.

It doesn’t mean that you will be happy all the time, I think that emotions are signals that constantly change, it’s the ability to flow with this life force and maintain your peace and equanimity throughout the change.

Some wisdom traditions call this enlightenment, nirvana, being with God, liberation, or being free of suffering.

Call it what you want, I usually prefer not to use these labels because it doesn’t matter what you believe or how you get to this point in life.

The only real measure of true freedom is if you can have equanimity and peace despite changing circumstances and emotions.

  • If you become paralyzed, break your leg, or develop an illness and are truly free you should experience the same state of being
  • If you go broke and your company fails you should still experience the same state of being
  • If you’re traveling the world and find yourself locked up in jail and held hostage you should still experience the same state of being

In reality, we can’t control the way life unfolds, but we can control how we are in response to it.

This state of freedom opens us up to experience life to the fullest degree possible through all changing circumstances both “positive” and “negative”. 

If someone has true freedom then I think all of the other layers of freedom become irrelevant and probably take care of themselves.

As of now, I believe that this level of freedom is possible for everyone to experience no matter the circumstance, although I also think that most people won’t experience it.

Physical & Societal Freedom

Besides true freedom which is independent of societal circumstance and physical predisposition, I see freedom consisting of a few different layers that are relevant to living free in a modern economy.

Layers of Societal Freedom:

Physical Freedom: Having a healthy body that allows you to partake in outdoor activities, sports, exercise, meaningful work, play with kids, and more.

Social Freedom: Living in a country or place that allows you the ability to make your own choices and which provides a base level of security and living standards.

Intellectual Freedom: Having a base level of education and intellectual knowledge to participate in a modern economy including basic math, language skills, developing skills, and the ability to think and reason.

Financial Freedom: Having enough income-producing assets to fund your lifestyle without needing to work on things that aren’t meaningful.

If you want to experience all that modern life has to offer it’s definitely important to have a few of these freedoms. 

At the same time, these freedoms are much more reliant on the circumstances you found yourself in when coming into the world and are more out of your control. 

  • For example, if you want to travel a bit and experience the world you have to have some amount of financial & time freedom
  • If you want to participate in community sports, play with your kids, and be able to work productively you have to be in decent physical condition
  • If you want to have the opportunity to learn about new things, raise a family, or acquire some amount of wealth in life you have to have a base level of intellect and live in a place that allows you the opportunity to choose this

The reason I mentioned these freedoms are more out of our control is that when we enter this world we are given certain genetic predispositions, family upbringings, and socioeconomic opportunities.

I do think that most people living in a free country have the opportunity to fulfill a basic level of societal freedom as long as they are able and motivated to work.

This is disregarding those who have genetic and health issues that prevent them from doing so which are out of our control.

True Freedom vs Physical & Societal Freedom

To live in the modern world and have the ability to create an enjoyable life I do think it’s important to have some amount of societal freedom. 

But the reality is, you can be financially free, intellectually smart, live in a country where you can choose your life, be in decent shape, and still be miserable.

There are rich smart people who are miserable and less educated lower-income people who are happy. 

There are also quadriplegic and handicapped people who absolutely love life.

What does that say about true freedom vs physical and societal freedom?

At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter if you have societal and physical freedom if you hate living with yourself.

This is how I personally rank the levels of freedom in order of importance:

  1. True freedom (mental, emotional, energetic, spiritual)
  2. Physical health freedom 
  3. Social freedom
  4. Intellectual freedom
  5. Financial freedom

I think all of these aspects of freedom are important to a fulfilling life but at the same time, I think paradoxically if you have true freedom then all of the other levels will fall into place automatically or won’t matter as much anymore. 

Balancing Freedom

The way I like to think of it is unless you decide to become a monk and leave modern society altogether you’re going to partake in the day-to-day economy in some way or another.

Also, if you’re already financially free you probably will still want to do meaningful work in the world.

So the question is, how do we go about finding freedom in our lives and cultivating a healthy balance of the different types of freedom I discussed above?

I see two ways of going about this:

  1. Live a normal life and partake in meaningful work where you can use your abilities to serve other people while also setting aside time to work on yourself 
  2. Take a certain time period away to live as a monk, nun, yogi, or similar lifestyle where you are focused on contemplation, self-realization, and practice before integrating into normal life 

I think that the best way for most people to go about finding a healthy balance of freedom is through our normal everyday lives in productive work and relationships with other people. 

The key is to remember what really matters despite all the persuasion, societal pressure, and modern marketing tactics that try to make you believe what they are telling you. 

Concluding Thoughts

So, what do you really want?

And how do you attain this freedom living in a modern economy?

Do you want the outside experience that makes you feel good inside for a short period of time that you have to constantly protect and maintain?

Or do you want a constant state of inner joy that lasts independently of the outside circumstance and enables everything else to fall into place?

Personally, I want to see if I can find true freedom in this life as well as having the physical health and financial resources to do meaningful work.

At the same time, I also acknowledge the fact that there are elements of this that are out of our control, but I think it’s important to have a target to work towards and let the rest shake out.

Determining if and what type of freedom is important to you is a good exercise for a fulfilling life.

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Josh is a writer and entrepreneur who runs a small digital content publishing business. His main interests are in topics related to developing personal and financial freedom. When not working he enjoys reading, yoga, surfing, being outdoors, meditating, exploring, and hanging with friends.