The Phases of Insight

Charting a Way Toward Radical Freedom

By: Vince Horn

When you take up the practice of mindfulness meditation it kicks off a journey. And while there are many possible aims of mindfulness practice, from improved health, to enhanced performance, to spiritual enlightenment, what we’ll be focusing on here is using the practice of mindfulness to help us make a journey to radical freedom. This journey can include the aims above, as well as many others, but at a deeper level it’s about discovering a radical capacity to bring presence into every aspect of our lives.

Often, we start our journey looking to gain freedom from something. This can be freedom from suffering & stress. Or freedom from some sort of heart ache or hardship that we can’t seem to shake. These difficult experiences & challenging life situations seem to be preventing us from feeling a deeper sense of calm, peace, or ease that we know should be possible.

Perhaps we even remember a time when it was easy, a period from our childhood or a peak experience that we once had, and we want to go back to being more like that. The challenge is, there’s no way to go back in time, we can only spiral forward, falling into the unknown.

Journaling Practice: What do you most want to gain freedom from?

To go deeper with your answer, write a response and then ask the question again, contemplating it deeply, and then write your next response. Continue this recursive inquiry until you feel like you’ve landed at something deeply meaningful.

Stress into Wisdom

What the mindful path offers is an opportunity to work with the suffering and stress of our lives and transmute it into a wiser understanding. This wiser understanding may, and often does, lead to greater peace, clarity, & calm. But here’s the thing: those are by-products of and temporary states along the path, not the goal of the path.

One of the key insights along the mindful path is that everything changes. Nothing stays the same, not even for an instant! And so even as we find freedom from one set of challenges, we find we are already beginning to live into a new set of challenges.

It’s often our expectation that it be otherwise that prevents us from walking the path with more grace and ease. But that’s also part of the mindful path! We become better and better at being free in our experience, however it is. Paradoxically, this includes being free while struggling and not feeling free.

Radically Free To

At some point, we may be lucky enough to turn a corner, and get that the mindful path isn’t just about our personal freedom. Sure, when we’re in pain, our initial response is to alleviate that pain, and that makes sense! But this life isn’t just about us, or our pain, and never has been. We are who we are because of others, because of the systems of the world, because of context we’re embedded within.

If we grow beyond seeking freedom from, then we find our way toward freedom to... The freedom to respond in novel and creative ways to our situation. The freedom to expand the scope of our identity and include more inside the story of me. The freedom to transmute suffering, not just because we can’t stand it, but because it’s preventing the birth of something greater for us all.

This freedom to is a radical freedom. It’s a freedom grounded in grand potentiality and tremendous courage of heart. It’s a freedom linked to an understanding of the deep layers of interconnection & interdependence that make us up. It’s born out of the capacity to make space for and work skillfully with our own experience, but then is radically extended to include more and more of life itself.

Journaling Practice: If you were totally free what would you do then?

To go deeper with your answer, write a response and then ask the question again, contemplating it deeply, and then write your next response. Continue this recursive inquiry until you feel like you’ve landed at something deeply meaningful.