During a cold spell in my first NYC winter, I was working from home, leaving only for errands. One day, while readying myself to face the cold, I had an epiphany. Like most epiphanies, it came when my mind was quiet and it was about something obvious I'd somehow failed to notice up to that point.
The epiphany came in the form of this question:
Why am I putting on a bra right now?
It made no sense. I'd also be wearing a bulky sweater, a huge winter coat, and a scarf. I had no plans to remove any of those items until I was back in our sweltering apartment. (We don't control our heat, so our apartment is Caribbean-level hot all winter.)
And yet, though I'd been running errands in my coat for weeks, I'd never considered not first putting on a proper bra.
I realized, a bit angrily, that I'd been programmed. I'd been playing out an engrained societal belief ("Before leaving the house, you must put on a bra") that's arguably excessive in summer, but in winter, for me, it's idiotic.
To me, bras are uncomfortable. As is being cold. So, why was I choosing to subject myself to an unnecessary layer of non-comfort?
In short, I wasn't choosing: I was acting subconsciously. My definition of the opposite of freedom is this: operating at a level of subconscious decision making which results in thinking and acting in ways that don't serve you.
This is a simple example of me self-sabotaging my own personal freedom.That day, I went forth onto the frigid Brooklyn sidewalks braless and never looked back. Running winter errands sans bra: 10/10. Will do again next year.
The Fourth of July had me contemplating freedom. I reject the notion America is a "free country" when millions of Americans consistently operate in this "opposite of freedom" zone: making subconscious decision after subconscious decision that are often unnecessary and/or personally (and globally) damaging.
Maybe wearing a bra doesn't strike you as damaging, so let's take things up a notch:
Is someone addicted to pain killers or money or binging and purging or alcohol or social status—regardless of citizenship—truly free? I don't think so. I think freedom has more to do with how you live than where you live. If you're ensnared in "uncontrollable" damaging self-made routines, then, in my opinion, you aren't free; you're metaphorically imprisoned.
Even if you aren't addicted to a substance, it's worth investigating if you're addicted to compulsive thinking. Do you ever stop thinking while you're awake?
I first heard of the idea of being addicted to thoughts from philosopher Alan Watts. Eckhart Tolle expands upon it in The Power of Now (which I'm re-recommending and re-reading!) where he says:
"Not being able to stop thinking is a dreadful affliction, but we don't realize this because almost everybody is suffering from it, so it is considered normal. This incessant mental noise prevents you from finding that realm of inner stillness that is inseparable from Being."
If you think constantly—thought after thought after thought—you aren't listening. It's like you're talking nonstop, all day, to yourself. You inevitably swirl.
It can be difficult to imagine your mind free from thoughts, so start here: Can you imagine your mind free from worry?
We all know worrying is wholly pointless; still, many of us do it constantly. This upsets us, so we worry about worrying. The inevitable swirl. So: why are we thinking in a way that doesn't serve us?
Because we are not free from our minds. Allowing your mind to worry is operating at a level of subconscious decision making which results in in thinking and acting in ways that don't serve you. The opposite of freedom.
Worrying never serves you. Jesus said [Luke 12:25-26 NIV]:
"Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?"
Nevertheless, worrying persists. My modern spin on Jesus' message:
"Who of you, by worrying, can make this airplane depart a single minute sooner?"
Airports breed worry. I spent hours last week at JFK thinking over and over: "I hope our flight doesn't get canceled, I hope our flight doesn't get canceled." A total waste of my mental energy. [It did not get canceled; I had nothing to do with it.]
I mentioned when my bra "epiphany" came my mind was quiet. I've had some big epiphanies in the past six months—about my past, about mental patterns I've been stuck in for years, even about my future.
Once you notice an unnecessary or damaging subconscious pattern, you interrupt it because you make it conscious. Only when you see a damaging pattern can you break free from it. However—you need a quiet mind to see. I do not get clarity through thinking, I get clarity through listening.
"In order to have something to think about, there are times when you simply must stop thinking. Well, how do you do that? The first rule is don't try to because if you do you will be like someone trying to make rough water smooth with a flat iron and all that will do is stir it up.
So, in the same way as a muddy, turbulent pool quiets itself when left alone, you have to know how to leave your mind alone. It will quiet itself."
For me, daily meditation has been an incredibly helpful tool in allowing my mind to quiet itself.
"Let the waters settle and you will see the moon and the stars mirrored in your own being."
On the other side of constant thinking is more than just freedom from the mind—there's starlight, too. Or, maybe, they're the same thing.
with Love and with Light,
p.s. It's worth noting half of the population almost never deals with bras. Oppression is often inversely correlated with freedom. I.e. The more oppressed a group of people is, the less free they feel. How are women less free than men? The most undeniable example is women are forced to cover two regions of their bodies in public and men are only forced to cover one. (Of course, neither are free by this metric compared to every other animal species—which covers zero.)
p.p.s. I believe a free country is possible, just like I believe world peace is possible. I also believe freedom starts at the individual level—as does peace. Inner peace precedes world peace. Inner freedom precedes world freedom.