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The biology of freedom

In Insight and Experience by LivingNow1 Comment

Many people are not as free as they desire and freedom remains a noble concept, not a living experience. How can we create a useful map from where we are to where we can experience greater freedom and joy? The answer is actually quite simple, but knowing it for real presents a challenge.

Have you ever come across a fly buzzing up against a window? Has any reader not had that experience? Do you remember if you were irritated by the noise? Perhaps you were in a hurry to reclaim a quiet contemplative inner peace and terminated its pathetic life with extreme prejudice using household chemistry or physics? Perhaps you were inclined towards compassion and opened up a nearby door or window and waited for the thing to figure the way out. Maybe, you didn’t want to wait so long and sought to usher it towards the available exit. “Go on, be gone.”

The fly is in a bind. Freedom is apparent, but it can’t get there. The glass is transparent and admits light but not flight. So the fly buzzes. There could be an open door or window close by. All the fly would have to do to get free is to stop trying to get out that one way, recognise that that its current way isn’t working, take wing and re-examine its environment. But it doesn’t. Instead, it bangs and buzzes up against the window.

Have you ever considered that fly and wondered if you yourself could also be trapped on the wrong side of freedom, signalling distress in one way or another? It seems to be part of human experience. In the Osho Zen Tarot, there’s a card with a picture of a child standing with his back to us, gazing out at the world through the bars of a prison. Next to where he’s standing, is the door with a heavy padlocked chain wound through the bars. When you look close you can see that the padlock is not locked. But the child does not perceive the opportunity.

It’s been said that ‘the opportunity of a lifetime’ actually comes around at least three to four times a year, but most people miss it and keep missing it. We seem to desire freedom in one form or another; to do what we want when we want with whom we want. But for how many of us and for how long does freedom remain just another idea rather than an actual living experience?

In the Wachowski brothers’ film ‘The Matrix Reloaded’, Agent Smith confronts Neo with: “We’re not here because we’re free; we’re here because we’re not free”. If right now we’re not as free as we can imagine, we might use this time to consider and perhaps discover freedom more deeply.

There’ a story told about how elephants, captured from the wild, learn to become helpless. The trainer shackles the young calf with a heavy chain around one leg. Struggle as it might, the elephant cannot break the chain. After enough pain and rage and suffering, the elephant recognises a limit. The animal settles into a slow rhythmical swaying or rocking behaviour. The animal now associates the perception of a bind around its leg with being trapped, with being helpless. Thus, as the elephant matures in captivity and although it gets stronger and bigger, the trainer can use lighter chain or even a rope to keep it in place. The animal could actually break the rope, but it doesn’t.

The same self-stimulation behaviour is observed in institutionalised people (orphans and prisoners, for example). A child or adult might sit curled up in a ball and just rock. Other people can be observed rapidly jiggling up and down on the balls of one or both feet while seated on a tram or at a desk. There is a biological need for stimulation, for the freedom to grow. If the need can’t be met, we try, often quite unconsciously, to substitute for it in some impoverished way. The external environment that our biology requires for growth is denied to us and in our internal environment we seem to have become ineffective and helpless to create effective change.

How come with all our intelligence, so many of us end up banging our heads against a wall, substituting impoverished and destructive behaviours for our real growth needs and so creatively screwing up with ourselves, each other and the planet?

The root of the word ‘education’ comes from the Latin educere ‘to bring out’. Education means a bringing out of what is within, not a stuffing in of data without meaningful context. Robert Kiyosaki writes in ‘Rich Kid, Smart Kid’ that the word kindergarten comes from the Prussian language and means garden of the children. The Prussian empire needed obedient soldiers and workers so they devised a system for removing children from the traditional learning environment of community, culture and connection with natural developmental cycles, incorporating them into age-segregated groups and conditioning them to obey bureaucratic authority, the ringing of bells and the clock.

John Taylor Gatto, New York State Teacher of The Year in 1990 and author of ‘Dumbing Us Down: the Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling’, writes that modern schools are ‘sychopathic’ institutions. Gatto had been educated to believe that intelligence and other talents existed in a ‘bell-curve’ distribution across the population. His actual experience of teaching led him to reconsider. “The trouble was that the unlikeliest kids kept demonstrating to me at random moments so many of the hallmarks of human excellence – insight, wisdom, justice, resourcefulness, courage, originality – that I became confused…was it possible I had been hired not to enlarge children’s power, but to diminish it? That seemed crazy on the face of it, but slowly I began to realise that the bells and confinement, the crazy sequences, the age-segregation, the lack of privacy, the constant surveillance, and all the rest of the national curriculum of schooling were designed exactly as if someone had set out to prevent children from learning how to think, and act, to coax them into addiction and dependent behaviour.”

We know now that human development continues throughout life. In a very real sense we never stop growing. Our bone, muscle and brain matter and all our interconnected systems continually reorganise and remodel in relation to our experience. Now, an increasing body of evidence is indicating that, consciously and unconsciously, we are creating the reality we experience.

In 1986, The Headache Study Group of the University of Western Ontario published a landmark study of 272 people, presenting to their family physician with headache (including migraine). According to Headache Australia, (www.headacheaustralia.org.au), the direct and indirect costs of migraine alone are estimated at $1billion per annum. The researchers wanted to investigate what the physician did that was effective and what they did that was not effective, assessed by patient outcomes followed up over a one-year period. The researchers found that the single biggest predictor of whether the headache resolved was the person reporting that they had fully discussed their problem with the doctor; simply, that they felt they’d been listened to. Importantly, neither the type of tests the doctor did, nor the type of medication prescribed, further specialist investigation nor whether the person had other psychosocial problems, had any significant impact on whether the headaches resolved. Researchers have produced similar results investigating other common conditions such as sore throat.

This is the body-mind in action, communicating, co-ordinating and becoming coherent. As that happens, real change, real transforming happens. It is not merely a ‘placebo’ effect meaning ‘a medicine given more to please than to benefit’.

It’s time to get curious, to wise up to why things are the way they seem to be. It seems that a principal effect, intentional or not, of institutional education, medication and governance is the systematic violating, disabling and dumbing down of our ability to directly connect in this moment now to our higher being, to our sovereignty and to our ability to create and sustain new desired realities. People in an arrested state of development tend to make disempowering life-choices, attract what they don’t want into their lives. We are effectively governed by the politics and strategies of fear because we have not been taught how to attend to the real centre of our being. Until we discover and claim that inner infinite treasure, we will be as beggars for what no-one can give us.

The actual answer is simple. Knowing it for real is the interesting bit. A good beginning is to remember and explore your ability to imagine. I’m not speaking of fantasising about your rescue from the drudgery of wage-time slavery. Let’s get real. Wellbeing and wholeness are not products of nutritional supplements, meditation, exercise or therapy. We become whole and well as we develop our natural ability to generate ideas and create and sustain new realities. Be the change that you desire. Your imagination is a power and a force and if you develop it, it will serve you. Everything in this world that people created began as ideas. You either use your imagination or it gets used against you. When we learn how to use imagination constructively and creatively our body and mind come together in new ways. New neural networks, new patterns of information-peptide and cellular-receptor interactions are created in direct relationship with our conscious activity. It is our ability to imagine which creates the internal experience of freedom, sensitises us to options and opportunity and propels us to behave differently and to change the world by our actions.

The body and the mind are a unity, expressing the power that creates life in this moment. Tune into your body and you attune to that power, develop your imagination and you wield that power. It’s perhaps the most attractive force for change in the world. What do you want to create today?

Dr. Dihan Wijewickrama practises Network Spinal Analysis, an innovative and wholistic chiropractic modality which addresses the innate physiological ability to recognise, reorder and transform the energy of stress into the energy of growth. He is the developer of Foundations for Wellness, a framework for advancing personal, social and transpersonal consciousness.

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  1. A message for Dihan Wijewickrama. It’s your old friend Mark Berry. I’ve been trying to contact you.

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