A rock, or a human being, falling from a cliff is said to be in free fall. But they are not free, because they have no choice. Similarly, those dominated by instinctive impulses often claim to be freely enjoying them, but in fact they are no more free than a falling rock. They are not free to check themselves.
Freedom can be a sort of verbal trick. When Henry Ford first introduced mass production, his famous Model T was always painted black. A reporter from abroad asked him whether customers could choose other colours. “They are free to choose any colour they like,” replied Ford, “as long as they like black.”
Another instance which provided a good deal of entertainment in its own way, came about when a successful English abstract painter was being interviewed (of course through an interpreter) on the French radio. The interviewer asked: “Would you explain to our listeners why you found it necessary to break free of traditional representational painting?”
“Couldn’t do it,” was the brief reply, and the interpreter had a job restraining his own laughter so that he could pass this on. A French abstract artist who heard this interview is said to have remarked thoughtfully afterwards,
“Only an Englishman would come out with it like that.” It is in instances like these that the meaning of the word freedom becomes hazy and can even mask its opposite.
One way to test one’s freedom from anger, any kind of greed, or lust-desire, is to rule out any expression of the one chosen for three weeks in the year, and every five years to pass one year completely abstaining from it, and fill the gap with something spiritually constructive.
A disciple of one teacher used to smoke heavily. Though his teacher had not asked him to stop, the disciple recognised that he had to prove to himself that he was free. He decided to stop smoking completely each year for three weeks. He had strong will power and although not having a cigarette was rather annoying, he held to his resolve in the first few years. Then one day while reviewing his diary (his teacher had recommended that a private daily spiritual diary was kept) he noticed that the date for the three week period had slipped each year. He was now hard pressed to complete it by the end of the year – Christmas, when everyone was offering cigarettes. He realised that next year he might not manage it. His supposed freedom was no freedom. If one examines one’s available energy, inner calm and creativity during the time of self-control, it becomes clear which is better: freedom or free fall.