Freedom With

For the past three days I’ve had two different songs stuck in my head, alternating. When I grasp a piece of music that excites me, I tend to overdo it, and I heard these two songs together for the first time and then listened to them both repeatedly. Apparently whatever within me responded to these songs and has opted to keep them going, ad nauseam. My head feels very noisy, which is nothing new. I’ve always tended toward the head and have had to work to feel and understand my heart and body, work that continues. Though I prized my intellect, I also hated what my active brain cost me. Sometimes I feel like going to a concert is a waste of money because my mind takes me on a journey and out of listening. I envied friends who seemed wholly immersed by the moment, riding the waves of emotion evoked by the music.

What I most longed for, for much of my life, was some way to escape this mental prison that kept me out of my experience. I turned to meditation and discovered that the key to freedom is accepting that there is no escape. Trying to escape the experience of the present moment causes suffering. The quickest shortcuts to numbing the heart and shutting down the brain are the substances that cause problems when abused—drugs, alcohol, media, food, sex—in truth, any substance abused will create problems. None of them make problems go away. They might take your mind off your issues for a moment, at great cost: the cost of your innate ability to be with pain and still live in integrity, and the myriad costs that such patterns of self-abuse inevitably create.

“A wretched man with an approaching depression; represented by encroaching little devils.” Wellcome Images.

Instead of getting out, we find freedom when we learn to be with the difficulty, which starts by going in. We cannot become free with anger, for example, without letting ourselves experience and work with anger. It would be like trying to learn how to ride a horse by reading books about horses, watching movies about horses, watching other people ride horses, but doing everything in your power to avoid actually touching a horse.

The language of becoming “free of” or “free from” something implies that eventually we can get rid of it, which further chains us to suffering. I would rather be “free with” something. The more I try to get rid of these songs in my head, the louder they seem to get. The more I fight with these songs, the more irritated I feel about the situation. I try listening to the recorded song and get a moment’s relief, but then they’re back. It’s like having mental hiccups.

This is a minor example but not irrelevant to other “sticky” feelings. If I wait until I am “free of” these songs before I can go out and live, I’ll be waiting for a long time. I’ll have given the prison keys over to these random neurons in my brain that are wholly out of my control. I would rather be free with the songs. I hear the songs, I feel irritated, and I am typing this blog post. I hear the songs, and I am breathing. I hear the songs, and I am listening. I notice that I get caught by distraction, and bring my attention back. I forgive myself, and I return my attention. The song continues. The practice does not end.