Americans, in particular, like to speak of freedom; especially, that of the individual. Of course, others in the world, i.e., citizens in China, Afganistan, or Saudi Arabia, wonder what they’re talking about. Even Americans look at the question of freedom quizzically, particularly when they are loaded down with responsibilities and bringing in one or more paychecks that don’t equal or exceed the cost of living. In fact, if we really examine the most important aspect of freedom, we might see that it has much to do with “when.” This issue lies within our responses to the three questions Joseph Goldstein refers to in his book, One Dharma, which, if we’re wise, we start answering before we’re lying in our deathbeds.
The first question is, “What are you holding onto most?” Does it have to do with your family, your lovers, your memories, your projects at work, or something else? Usually, we don’t really know what we’re clinging to until we put ourselves in a space where it’s possible to contemplate the issue; otherwise, what we think of offhand may be misleading. We really need to give this question some time. Working in this way we discover the hidden issues we latch onto at a subconscious level, and we soon understand how we’ve besieged and imprisoned ourselves throughout a good deal of our lifetime. Confronting these matters head on via meditation, contemplation, or even talking them through with a trusted confidant allows us the opportunity to view these attachments with equanimity. The result develops into an ever-flowering state of personal freedom that not only has a beneficial effect on oneself but those closest to us.
The second question is, “What would you have wanted to accomplish in your life?” Does it have to do with family, career, or personal endeavors? Do you find that you harbor regrets, deep sorrow, jealousy, envy, or much more? Are hopes and expectations involved? If so, are they yours or have you disappointed someone? Whatever they are, you need to bring them out into the open or peace may never happen. Focus, contemplation, meditative perseverance, and other methods can put these issues in the light of equanimity, giving you a chance for a level of freedom you’ve probably never experienced.
The last question is, “What is of most value to you in these dying moments?” Personally, this enquiry is something I keep coming back to time and time again. The answer continues to be “presence accompanied by feelings of loving kindness and compassion.” If I were to die in this moment, that’s what I’d want to experience, staying conscious without a trace of fear throughout the entire process. I wouldn’t want to let any tinge of that emotion throw me into clinging to anything, such as loved ones or objects that would distract me from having a successful and peaceful death. Finding out what we value most is something we have to experience for ourselves; otherwise, we won’t be sure of what it is and peace may never come, even with our last dying breath.
In conclusion, I’m confident that the answers to these questions are particularly important for leading us into realizing a previously unfound level of personal freedom. Such an experience comes about through equanimity; meeting our attachments head on and through nonattachment letting them go by simply not holding on, not grasping at them. We are still aware of their presence, but we view them in an awareness that no longer distracts us. They simply come up as thoughts, feelings, or images and pass away. They’re impermanent. This is the generosity of compassion and loving kindness in action. It’s surrender. Much easier said than done, isn’t it? Possible? Absolutely! Of course, the real question remains, “Do we want to wait until our deathbed to deal with these issues, or do we wish to set ourselves free now?”