The concepts of freedom and choice seem to belong side by side. What is freedom if not freedom to choose? The idea that we could be free, experience freedom, without also having and exercising the ability to choose is difficult to contemplate. But Krishnamurti believed otherwise.
We think that through choice we are free, but choice exists only when the mind is confused. There is no choice when the mind is clear. When you see things very clearly without any distortion, without any illusions, then there is no choice. A mind that is choiceless is a free mind, but a mind that chooses and therefore establishes a series of conflicts and contradictions is never free because it is in itself confused, divided, broken up.
In Stumbling on Happiness, Daniel Gilbert relates the results of a study involving photography students who were put into two groups, the escapable group and the inescapable group. After developing their two best prints, all students were told they could keep one print, but the other print would be kept on file. The students in the escapable group were told they had several days to change their minds about which print they kept. The students in the inescapable group were not allowed to change their minds.
The results showed that students in the escapable group liked their photographs less than did students in the inescapable group…. Apparently, inescapable circumstances trigger the psychological defenses that enable us to achieve positive views of those circumstances, but we do not anticipate that this will happen.
I got a taste of this recently when some blood test results turned a couple of things that had, until then, been desirable to do into things I have to do. When I merely wanted to do them, they were actually a much bigger issue. I was invested in figuring out the best way to do them. When I was presented with this new information, I gave up trying to figure it out and began doing them just like that. It took me a couple of days to come to terms with the situation. I briefly bemoaned my perceived lack of choice in the matter, but I’m no longer struggling with it. My mind isn’t at all confused about the situation. And the truth is that I do feel a much greater sense of freedom than I did when I believed doing or not doing those things was a matter of choice (escapable).
The costs and benefits of freedom are clear–but alas, they are not equally clear: We have no trouble anticipating the advantages that freedom may provide, but we seem blind to the joys it can undermine.