Do you got to?
Enjoy the freedom not to.
We're pulled and prodded by financial pressures, commuter traffic, corporate policies, technology, advertising, politics, and the people we work with and live with. As well, internal forces yank the proverbial chains, including emotional reactions, compelling desires, "shoulds," and internalized "voices" from parents and other authority figures.
Sometimes these pressures are necessary, like a flashing light on your car's dashboard telling you to get gas. Even a broken clock is right two times a day.
But on the whole these pressures are stressful and breed a sense of helplessness. Plus, a lot of the internal forces come from childhood, irrational fears, unfair self-criticism, ancient tendencies in the brain (e.g., its negativity bias), or the darker corners of human nature; acting out these forces is bad for us and others.
Giving oneself over to these pressures is un-free, like being a puppet tugged by many strings. It's the opposite of well-being to be "hijacked," "obsessed," "addicted," "plugged in," or "compelled" — which all imply mental servitude if not slavery.
On the other hand, a sense of inner freedom is a hallmark of emotional healing, mental health, self-actualization, and the upper reaches of human potential. For example, a common term for enlightenment is "liberation." In plain English, we all know what it feels like to be pushed around . . . and what it feels like to have choices and be autonomous.
So, lately I've been softly saying this phrase in my mind — the freedom not to — and seeing what happens. And what's been happening is great. A feeling of ease, of room to breathe, of not needing to jump to some task or to agree or disagree immediately with someone. A sense of shock absorbers between me and my emotional reactions, of not making a mess that I've got to clean up later, of not embarrassing myself, of not swapping a minute of pleasure for an hour of pain.
Being intimate with life while feeling free within it.
For one or more of the items just below, imagine what it would feel like for you to have the freedom not to:
For one or more of the items just above, imagine how your greater freedom would help others. Also, let others be freer themselves with you; give them room to breathe, time to think and feel.
Faced with things that grab you in daily life, play with phrases like these in your mind: I'm free not to . . . I'm free not to __________ . . . I'm free . . . there is choice . . . Slow things down, pause, buy yourself some time, that space of freedom between stimulus and response. If others are getting intense, try gently talking to yourself, reminding yourself: You are free . . . you can choose your response . . . they are over there and you are over here . . . there is a freedom . . .
Notice what it's like to feel freer. Enjoy it. Let this experience sink in.
Be at peace.
Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is a psychologist, Senior Fellow of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, and New York Times best-selling author. His books are available in 26 languages and include Hardwiring Happiness, Buddha’s Brain, Just One Thing, and Mother Nurture. He edits the Wise Brain Bulletin and has numerous audio programs. A summa cum laude graduate of UCLA and founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom, he’s been an invited speaker at NASA, Oxford, Stanford, Harvard, and other major universities, and taught in meditation centers worldwide. His work has been featured on the BBC, CBS, and NPR, and he offers the free Just One Thing newsletter with over 120,000 subscribers, plus the online Foundations of Well-Being program in positive neuroplasticity that anyone with financial need can do for free.