Main menu


Elements of Freedom

There is ever in the human mind a longing and desire to transcend the limits of the known—to break bounds and away. It is this desire that has led to great discoveries; it drew certain frail barks across the then unknown expanse of sea and brought a Columbus to the shores of a new world; it pushes men into the heart of Africa and carries them over barren grounds and ice-floes toward the Pole, or leads them to traverse the arid and desolate plateaus of Central Asia. But it is in the realm of ideas that it leads us furthest and reveals the grandest continents; carries us to the more sublime elevations, and lays before us the more majestic panoramas—for it is in the sphere of ideas alone that we may be said to pass all bounds and be free of limitations. It shall yet take us to the Mecca of our faith to behold the Kaaba, to the Lhassa of our ideal to stand before the Buddha-La. It goes not by the chart but would go where there are no charts; it goes not by the beaten road but follows rivers and mountain chains and the shores of continents, like migrating storks and swans—for to follow a traveled road is to see what is already seen of all men; but to make your own road under the guidance of the Inner Light is to see and report what no other has seen. But though we traverse the Asian deserts, crawling at last feebly on hands and knees through burning sands—in delirium seeking water—where shall we find so awful a desolation as exists within a human heart that has lost its hope and become devoid of sympathy? And though we cross the ice-floes, though we endure the arctic rigor, plodding onward through the polar night, creeping painfully over the interminable hummocks of the ice-cap, ever northward into the unknown dominion of cold, wresting mile by mile from the icy grip of winter, subsisting on blubber, oil—the leather of our boots—until at last the Pole; lo, one shall be there to greet us, even the image of our mistaken selves whom we thought to leave in New York or London.

But, ah! what a sunny land lies in this same mind to be revealed when we turn our steps within! There, too, must we cross burning deserts and laboriously ascend the rugged cliffs, scale precipices and take our way over seracs and among crevasses; when we shall pass over even into a vale of Cashmere, smiling, verdant always—where sparkle limpid streams, where bloom the rose and jasmine, where sings the bulbul. What if we find the Pole; what if we map the Polar Regions—nay, build a road thither, who wishes to go? For we have here an arctic rigor, here perhaps in our own hearts, and we are awaiting a genial thaw. But to explore the unknown regions of the mind, to seek that shining land where dwells the Soul, serene—here is a work worthy the true explorer's mettle. Let him explore this world of thought; let him blaze a path and wear a trail up over the mountains; let him recount his escape from the wilderness, and leave a record of his journey from bondage to freedom.

It is the royal privilege of every man to so live that his life and example shall be an inspiration; to so walk erect and free that men shall be constrained to inquire as to the means of his freedom. When we have tried the various motives of life in the crucible of experience, there is left the precious residuum of unselfishness; and it is this shining spherule which shall be the talisman of our freedom. When we act with a selfish motive we descend to a certain lower plane of existence and are instantly beset by all the conditions of that plane; we have opened the mind to the free ingress of all that is incident to selfishness, and to the thought of whoever is so inclined; we have unsuspectingly become allied to the rabble, and whether we will or no, must march with the crowd. We have fallen through the floor of our heaven and the heavenly sojourn is now but a memory. Egotism grows on a man, must be carried about like the Old Man of the Mountain, and weighs heavy upon the shoulders. Difficult it is to cross certain streams, but if we must support likewise the burden of our egotism it becomes well nigh impossible. But in our unselfish deeds we act divinely, and every man's altruism comes forth to welcome us. It is a profound truth that in our thoughts we join hands with all who are of the same trend of mind and become one of a brotherhood of like thinkers. When we have resolved to be free we are welcomed by the brotherhood of the free and made aware of their sympathy. New friends bring us nuggets of truth; it would appear that they had awaited our coming, gift in hand, and we are hardly surprised that at the right moment certain men appeared who set us thinking, or indicated for us the right trail. But we shall yet discover laws to account for all that we now dismiss as coincidence.

There is a slavery to the dollar and a slavery to the clock, and so ridden is the mind with the mania of possession that houses, bric-a-brac, clothes, jewels fill the horizon, and things usurp the place of substance. But things are merely the foci of our desires and aversions, and have but that value with which we endow them. An astute man knows his superiority to all externals—uses them or tosses them aside, and they serve his convenience; but little minds begin at once to revolve about the thing itself, and Tweedledum and Tweedledee must quarrel over some new rattle. It is well that we have such a business, so many dollars, such a house; but what if the business has us; what if the dollars have us? When Phaeton takes the reins, the sun goes out of his course. This cry of "me and mine" is but a declaration of servitude. What can he be said to possess who does not possess himself? The difference between comfort and luxury, home and house, carriage and equipage, may be just the price of freedom. There is no elegance comparable with the refinement of simplicity. The soul suffices to whomsoever perceives it; and this perception clothes one with the purple, surrounds him with elegance, and admits him to the true inmost circle of society, the patriarchs of true perception, before whom Colonna and Orsini are upstarts. In the difference between love and fear, trust and worry, work and toil, we again pay the price of freedom. It is the dead weight of worry plus the straw which breaks a man's back. Worry never dug a well nor shingled a house, never built a bridge nor ran a bank. Men pass as substantial and important if they are sufficiently burdened with cares; but one is truly wise and reliable in proportion to the work and good accomplished without care. Worry is a leak, a dissipation; it is a mortgage on power that takes all our spare energy to pay the interest, and keeps us with nose to the grindstone. The mind can entertain but one wise and happy concept of the body and that is the consciousness of that perfection which is health. Abnormal consideration for the body is the pillory in which many minds must fret and fume. It is not enough that we have health but we would have terrapin and truffles. Man himself elects what office the senses shall fill. He bids the eye behold virtue and it does so; vice, and it sees vice; so does the ear feed his desire and bring him companions to his thought. Not to know of the stomach, to be unaware of the existence of organs, to be conscious only of bodily perfection—this is health, and this is also a measure of freedom. It suffices that we hear well, see well, eat and sleep well; we should have no concern with eyes, ears and organs. He is not the slave whose body is in bondage, but he who is in bondage to his body. Many a life sentence is served out under the blue sky; many a galley slave walks the streets. Health is essential to freedom, but a free mind is first necessary to health. A sound body implies a mind free from fear and anger, from all negation and weakness. "Plain living and high thinking"—be this our motto.

It is a good sign when conversation holds aloof from bodily ills and complaints. There are persons whose minds are infected and who carry with them a certain mental and moral contagion; whose thoughts pollute the mental atmosphere, and whose conversation breeds disease. Deliver us from those pathologic minds ever on the alert for symptoms, and anxious to proclaim their ailments. Is there to be no quarantine for these disease mongers? It is a false sympathy that would condole with our aches and pains; a wise regard ignores externals and addresses itself to the real man dwelling composed and tranquil beyond all appearances. It is a habit of certain persons to observe that one looks pale or lean and forthwith to settle upon him after the manner of house sparrows upon a sick bird, and to pick him to pieces so to speak. His paleness or his leanness becomes a reproach to him, and he is victimized by this false sympathy at every turn.

We owe it to the genius of health that we should look for its manifestation in every countenance; and if we fail to see therein a good color or an exuberant vitality, we may nevertheless find a clear eye or a calm expression, and it were wise and kind to comment on that rather than on any apparent lack. We owe it to truth that we no longer discredit man's high estate by addressing ourselves always to the body, and that we cultivate a spiritual considerateness rather than this overweening material solicitude. In your well wishes for men, wish them peace and let your concern be for their sanity and serenity rather than for their rheumatism.

What is it to be free but freedom from our false impressions? To be fearless is to be godlike. It requires an ordinary and savage courage to face a cannon, but it takes a refined and gracious courage to face our impressions and dispel them. Our delusions, these are our enemies; our idle thoughts, these our insidious foes. To live true to the Soul requires the finer courage. We go into battle with colors flying and drums beating; we meet our delusions in silence, hearing no plaudits, spurred by no music. To come forth superior to all delusions, that the fear of death, of disease and poverty shall be swallowed in the victory of love—this is indeed to be a victor and wear the laurel. To fear work or idleness, ridicule or praise, opinion or indifference, society or solitude is to be a slave to one or all of these.

If you have reached the stage of nonconformity, not to one institution in particular, but to all things external to you—to all but the divine pattern within you—so may you hope to be transformed. If you have come to esteem free thought as the birthright and heritage of humanity, so may you confidently hope to be free; for the thought precedes the state—freedom in thought before freedom in action and life. The Spirit bids us cast off the shackles of tradition and forego our musty creeds. We must have the living Word; the truth shall make us free. Nurture your free thought, cherish it; it shall be a jewel in your crown. Free thought or slavish thought, which will you? Once resolved to think for ourselves and we shall become men; let others think for us and we remain puppets.

We are not to confound freedom with license nor to suppose that the one through any transition may lead to the other, for freedom is the guerdon of a perfect apprehension of divine law and a conformity to the Will of God; it is in fact the realization of the Soul's identity with the Infinite and the recognition of the Divine Presence. We may ask with the Stoics—who shall compel us more than Zeus? If God be for me, who can be against me? It is from ignorance, from mistaken impressions, from the tyranny of supposed laws that we would be free. License, on the other hand, is a lack of realization and a failure to apprehend the divine laws and relationship; and the greater the license the more complete the slavery.

Freedom is not a name in the sky; it is a condition to be actualized within. We shall not be free until we know ourselves. The true life is distinct from the senses, and when we awake from our dream we shall stand forth in the majesty of the Soul. Open the oak gall and within lies the larva of the gall-fly: it dwells within a tiny sphere, nor dreams of earth, nor sky, nor sunshine. One day visions of freedom—of a larger life—possess the maturing insect and forthwith he breaks his prison wall and beholds the glory of the day. The grossly feeding caterpillar no sooner views his world than he proceeds to devour it; but anon he becomes a free child of the air and sips only a drop of nectar.

There is in man a higher Self, which partakes of Divinity and transcends the illusions of sense. To seek this Self and to become one with it is the dictate of wisdom and the path of freedom. Self-union through spiritual unfoldment—this is the esoteric teaching of all great religions—a teaching that in all ages has influenced the few and eluded the many. We may trace it from the Upanishad to the Vedanta; read it in the Bhagavad-Gita and in the Psalms of David. "Seeking for freedom, I go for refuge to that God who is the light of his own thoughts": thus sang the Aryan poet, and the sacred literature of the world echoes his thought.

It is commonly remarked that there is that quality in the tone of an instrument that takes one "out of one's self." There is, indeed, that which tends to bring one to one's self, which leads us back to the Self; and it is the mission, we may say, rather than the function of music, that it should take us out of the seeming, should lift us from the muddy everyday consciousness up into the clear and limpid atmosphere of the real. Music is a kind of wordless thought, a vibration too subtle for sense appreciation, but capable of instituting another and coarser vibration; it is, as it were, the thought essence itself made manifest through sound. So may the Soul resolve its message into a current form of expression, and hence the thrill we feel. Music offers a possible medium for the expression of ideas too subtle for spoken language. When we listen—when a great ear listens to great music—it uses no code, it translates nothing, it feels, it receives the spiritual impress of an idea—the man comes to himself.

But these are but transitory and evanescent gleams that come through prelude and nocturne and rhapsody, and the vibrations of vast harmonies—little glimmers and flashes in the prevailing murkiness. It is through concentration and meditation upon the sublime principles of being which give rise to wisdom and truth; it is through contemplation of the ineffable relationship of the human and the divine that the individual is merged and liberated in the universal; it is in that silence profound that the eternal identity is perceived whereby the bolts are drawn, the portals opened and we go forth unshackled, free. The Alone returns to the Vast Alone; the limitless and unconditioned Soul mingles with the Spirit—for it is only in thought that we have strayed from the precincts of the real; it is only in consciousness that we have departed from the presence of God.

More in this category:

« Preface   |   The Ideal of Culture »

More Articles by This Author Stanton Davis Kirkham

Rate This Article
(0 votes)

Stanton Davis Kirkham

  • Born on December 7th, 1868 in Nice, Alpes-Maritimes, France and died on January 6th, 1944 in New York City.
  • Graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
  • Quoted in As a Man Thinketh by James Allen
back to top

Get Social