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Two Ways to Find Freedom: Inside and Outside

seagull in flight
Freedom of a bird in flight means it can move in any direction without resistance.

Two Ways to Find Freedom: Inside and Outside

Freedom means the ability to move in any direction. Normally, we think of this in terms of external freedoms. Governments try to guarantee for us the freedom of the “pursuit of happiness”—basically the freedom to do what we want to do.

The opposite of that would be life in prison where you are not free to move where you want or do what you want to do. You can’t even choose what you want to eat. 

We Experience Degrees of Freedom

You may not be in an actual prison wearing orange clothes, but you may still feel a lack of freedom. You may feel imprisoned by a job, a relationship, a duty of some kind, lack of money, a handicap, etc. 

We all have different areas of our lives that feel freer than others. Those are the areas where we can soar and play and be ourselves. It is very empowering to experience this kind of freedom.

But the areas where we don’t feel the same freedom can drag us down and make us feel like victims of the world we live in. For most of us, it is a constant evolution moving from less freedom towards more freedom.

But External Freedom Only Goes So Far

External Freedom is not enough. Just ask anyone wealthy enough not to have to work. Are they glad they have the freedom not to work? Sure. But how free are they really feeling? When you ask, you often find that they are struggling too. 

In other words, external freedom is just one side of freedom. It is one dimension. Freedom in that dimension is genuine freedom, but it is a very difficult dimension to control. Controlling the external world to feel free only works, at best, some of the time.

There Is Another Dimension for Exercising Freedom

No matter what is going on in the external world, there is also an internal dimension where freedom can be experienced. In fact, it is much easier to experience freedom in this realm because it is not dependent on anything external at all. 

All it depends on is how you see things. If your mind can open to see an external restriction as not being a problem, then it can experience freedom even in a prison. Many have done this. I would guess that all of us have done this at times. 

By looking at the same situation differently, the imprisoning feeling can often evaporate without the outside situation changing. 

This Is What The Work of Byron Katie Can Open

If you run out of options on the outside and see no way to freedom, look instead on the inside. You may find, when you look for it, that there is more than enough freedom to float your heart even when you can’t change your circumstances. 

The Work starts by identifying the stressful story of how you can’t move, how your freedom is restricted. And it invites the stuck mind to experience how the story itself is the cause of the suffering. This is huge! When the mind gets this, it becomes willing to question and turn around its story, which was causing so much suffering. 

A little inquiry can change the whole experience. That’s what The Work is all about. It’s a way to open the inner dimension and find freedom there no matter what is going on in the outside world. 

Freedom Can Be Pursued in Both Worlds Simultaneously

When people are new to The Work, they often get so excited about the fact that freedom can be found internally in any situation that they become a little fanatical about it. They think all problems should be solved by going inward only. 

But life has two dimensions, and just because I do The Work and can find inner freedom in any situation, it doesn’t mean I can’t work in the external world to expand my freedom there as well. The ideal for me is doing both. 

If money is the problem, I question the thought, “I need more money” and I find the freedom that comes from knowing that I’m okay. But I also explore ways to earn more money. That way I increase my freedom externally even while finding inner freedom.

If freedom is your interest, why limit your exploration to just one side of things? I like to explore both how I see things (inner world) and how I do things (outer world). 

Join Us for Open Sessions Each Week

Want to start exploring this process of The Work and how to open to the freedom that can be found inside? Join us weekly for my free Open Sessions where I facilitate participants to do The Work and answer questions about it.

Have a great week,

“The same kind of freedom can happen to people who have lost their husbands or wives or children. An unquestioned mind is the only world of suffering. I was once doing The Work with some maximum-security prisoners in San Quentin, men who had been given life sentences for murder, rape, and other violent crimes. I asked them to begin by writing down their angry or resentful thoughts: “I am angry at ________ because ________.” And then I asked each of them in turn to read the first sentence he had written. One man was shaking with rage so uncontrollably that he couldn’t finish reading his sentence, which was “I am angry at my wife because she set fire to our apartment and my little girl was burned to death.” For years he had been living in the hell of his anger, loss, and despair. But he was an unusual man, who really wanted to know the truth. Later in the session, after he read another statement he had written—“I need my daughter to be alive”—I asked him The Work’s second question: “Can you absolutely know that that’s true?” He went inside himself for the answer, and[…]” Byron Katie, A Thousand Names for Joy

Further reading: How I Confuse Freedom and Control

Todd Smith has been doing The Work of Byron Katie on an almost daily basis since 2007. He is just as excited about this simple process of self-inquiry today as he was when he first came across it. He also enjoys writing about The Work, and training others in the subtleties of this meditative process. Join Todd for The Work 101 online course, private sessions, virtual retreats, and his ongoing Inquiry Circle group.