What does freedom mean to you? Does it mean financial freedom, or having more leisure time? Perhaps it means not having to do something specific, like looking after your parents, or children, or not working in a particular job, or perhaps not even having to work at all?

When asked, many of us would say that we could be really free "if only we did not have to ...", or "if only we had .." However, all of these wishes have little to do with real freedom. This is because they leave us hooked to a specific outcome, and so we remain trapped, waiting for that outcome to materialize, which, of course, may never happen.

Freedom, from the Toltec wisdom tradition, is not escaping from your current life, or waiting for life to give you a better break, but is instead an attitude of mind. This attitude of mind instills in you the certainty that whatever your life's circumstances, you can take charge of them. Our social conditioning may tell us that we are victims of our circumstances, but by freeing ourselves from the debilitating effects of social conditioning, we are able to take full responsibility for our life, and so experience true fulfillment. It is never possible to be happy if we believe that we are victims in one way or another.

However, most people look upon their birth as having been beyond their control, and believe that their lives are simply the product of their environment, social status, culture, religion, education, etc. In other words, most people do see themselves as victims of circumstance, and so are never free.

This notion is most prevalent politically today for people everywhere seem to be questioning whether the political establishment of any particular country has at heart the interests of its citizens, or whether its only aim is to serve the interests of a powerful minority. Although it is good to question, for this is indeed the first step towards achieving freedom, we should realize that merely to question is not good enough, unless we are also prepared to take action in terms of bringing about the changes necessary to ensure freedom for everyone. Yet although most people will readily agree that, as individuals, they have the power to change themselves and their own personal circumstances, when it comes to taking larger action, they all too often succumb to a sense powerlessness, and once again submit to the belief that they are the victims of larger institutions. But is this really true?

Powerlessness is never the result of "Big Brother" having become too powerful to be challenged, but rather that people are far too separate and self-centered to work together unless they are forced to do so. Therefore, the key to freedom lies in understanding in what way each of us supports and upholds isolation, and how we can change this into an approach that is inclusive, allowing the individual, as well as the people as a whole, to take charge of their own futures instead of having to conform to the dictates of others.

Below are three basic tools taught as part of the Toltec Path of Freedom. Although they may initially seem very simple, once they are understood and put into practice, they yield ever greater depths of knowledge - knowledge of yourself and your life that you can use to uplift yourself and to help you to stand free and clear.

1. Acknowledge your shortcomings and learn to use them.

Although it is generally accepted that none of us is perfect, the reality is that very few people are willing to own their shortcomings. Most try their best to hide these - even from themselves. However, if you deny your shortcomings, you can never become, whole, fulfilled and happy. This is not only because our shortcomings are an integral part of us, but also because they are in fact our undeveloped potential. Therefore by not owning our shortcomings we do not accept our own potential, and when we fail to develop our potential, it is not surprising that we end up feeling powerless and unhappy.

How does this work in practice? Take the shortcoming of being stubborn. Stubbornness is really undeveloped tenacity and perseverance, which are most valuable assets. The difference between the shortcoming and the potential lies in how we use them. For example, if you feel inferior to others, and your habit is to use your stubbornness to try to prove that you are always right, then this is not an asset, but a very real shortcoming, which will do nothing for your relationships. On the other hand, if you say to yourself, "I don't want to come across as a bigot, so I am going to persevere in overcoming my feelings of inferiority," then you are truly using your stubbornness positively, and to your advantage. If you tenaciously keep holding onto the belief that you do have value, and that you are not inferior to others, you will in time begin to see and to prove this to yourself, simply because you are not prepared to give up on yourself.

2. Break free from destructive habits.

Most of what we think of as responses to events in our lives are really only reactions based upon habitual patterns of thinking and behaving. Many of these habits do not serve us, and so we need to become aware of, and break these habitual patterns, if we wish to find happiness. The technique for breaking destructive patterns is called "not-doing." It is simple and powerful, but like all Toltec techniques, it requires time and application, for shortcuts and quick fixes never work in the long run.

Not-doing involves firstly, being fully alert, so that you can detach from your emotions and observe both them and your resulting behavior patterns objectively. The second part of the process involves consciously choosing not to act out the same old behavior, but choosing to act in an entirely different manner.

For example, if you normally feel fearful of meeting large groups of people, you may observe that you tend to come across as nervous and shy. It is then quite simple to decide to change this and to act instead as if you were totally confident. This seems very simple, and initially it will be very much an act, but if you act your part well enough, those around you will become convinced that you are a very confident person. Once you can see the reactions of your audience, it will be much easier for you to start believing in your ability always to play the role of a confident person.

Over time, and as you enact confidence in every situation in your life, you will find that you will no longer be playing a role, but will be a living example of a confident person.

3. Honor language

Words are powerful tools, for we literally shape our world around the words we use. You are, in fact, the product of your speech. For example, if you say that you are incompetent and clumsy, you will end up proving the truth of this. Through watching your use of words carefully, becoming aware whenever you are limiting or undermining yourself through your speech, speaking purposefully, and saying only what you mean, you can learn to escape being trapped by your use of words.

When you are listening to others, bear in mind too that "words veil the truth." Therefore, if you pay close attention and try to listen with every fiber of your being, you will be able to go beyond the face value of the words others are using, and you will start to discover what they are truly saying or trying to hide.

Freedom means many things, but perhaps the essence of freedom is the knowledge that whatever happens to us, we have a choice. Knowing that we have the ability to choose how to respond in any situation is the heart of freedom.

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