Learning & Practice

The F.R.E.E. Method: An Approach to See Through the Three Natures

“Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything - anger, anxiety, or possessions - we cannot be free.”

— Thich Nhat Hanh

In our last session, we explored the Three Natures and their role in fostering self-awareness, self-cultivation, and personal awakening. We discovered how these different perspectives — the Imaginary, the Dependent, and the Ultimate — allow us to navigate the intricate domains of our experiences more skillfully.

In this lesson, I would like to introduce a practice that was inspired by my contemplation on how to incorporate the Three Natures into daily life: the F.R.E.E. Method. This method is designed to help us better understand and experience the perspectives of the Three Natures. It complements our ongoing exploration of these natures and assists us in mindfully unraveling difficult thoughts, emotions, and states that can hinder our path to awakening.

Understanding the F.R.E.E. Method

The F.R.E.E. method stands for:

F: Find the Construct
R: Reflect in the Present
E: Explore Interdependence
E: Embrace Release

This method provides a practical approach to understand and navigate our mental constructs, those narratives, beliefs, and perceptions we often cling to unconsciously, leading to emotional distress and suffering for ourselves and others. By applying the F.R.E.E. method, we learn to engage with these constructs from the perspectives of the Three Natures, which can pave the way to greater understanding, compassion, and liberation.

Find the Constructs

As strong emotions or reactions arise, our first step is to Find the Constructs at play. We consciously pause and bring mindful awareness to the situation. We identify the dualistic construct that is causing us distress, such as good/bad, self/other, or any other subjective categorization. This step is not about judgment but about non-judgmental recognition and acknowledgment.

From the perspective of the Three Natures, this is akin to recognizing the Imaginary Nature in action. We observe how our personalized interpretation of reality — our "story" — is shaping our giving rise to states of heart and mind and evoking thoughts, emotions, words, and actions.

Reflect in the Present

Next, we Reflect in the Present. Rather than getting lost in the storyline of the constructs, we bring our attention to the here and now. We explore our present thoughts, feelings, and sensations as they arise in response to this construct. This can reveal how the construct may be contributing to our ill-being or discomfort in the present moment.

This reflection is deeply linked with the first two Noble Truths - acknowledging the existence of ill-being and understanding its origins. In doing so, we stay firmly rooted in our lived experience, maintaining an open awareness of the arising and passing of phenomena without getting swept away by them.

Explore Interdependence

We then move on to Explore Interdependence. In this step, we recognize the dependent nature of our constructs. We appreciate that our thoughts, emotions, and perceptions are not arising in isolation, but are a product of a complex interplay of causes and conditions. This realization resonates with the Dependent Nature and the principle of Dependent Origination, where everything is seen as a manifestation of interbeing, interconnected and interdependent.

By examining the relative nature of our constructs, we gain the insight that our views are not fixed or absolute truths, but are shaped by countless factors. This insight fosters a profound sense of openness, humility, and flexibility in our approach to life.

Embrace Release

The final step in the F.R.E.E. method is to Embrace Release. With the insights gained from the previous steps, we're prepared to release our grip on the constructs that have caused suffering. We realize that our constructs are merely interpretations, not fixed realities. We release them and rest in the spaciousness of non-clinging.

This mirrors the insight of the Ultimate Nature. We come to recognize and connect with the unconditioned, luminous nature of mind, free from the confines of dualistic thinking. We experience the peace and freedom of non-attachment, and from this space, compassion naturally arises.

The F.R.E.E. Method in Practice

The power of the F.R.E.E. method lies in its practice. In the heat of emotional distress, it's not easy to remember these steps. However, with persistent practice and patience, it becomes more intuitive.

Consider a situation where you find yourself filled with anger or resentment. Instead of becoming engulfed by these emotions, apply the F.R.E.E. method.

  • Find the Constructs: Identify the construct that's causing distress. Is it an expectation not met, an unjust action, or an unkind word?
  • Reflect in the Present: Bring awareness to your present experience. What emotions are arising? How is your body reacting?
  • Explore Interdependence: Notice how the anger or resentment didn't arise in isolation. It is dependent on various conditions.
  • Embrace Release: Realize the impermanent and dependent nature of your emotions and thoughts, and release your grip on them. Rest in the space of non-clinging and openness.

Embracing Freedom

In practicing the F.R.E.E. method, we cultivate the ability to navigate our internal landscapes with greater skill, understanding, and compassion. We learn to recognize and challenge the constructs that often lead us to emotional distress. In this process, we find greater freedom, well-being, and a deeper connection with the Three Natures.

As we wrap this lesson, I encourage you to bring the F.R.E.E. method into your everyday life. Remember, it's a process, and it's okay to take it one step at a time. As you journey along this path, remember the wise words of Ajahn Chah: "Do not try to become anything… When you sit, let it be. When you walk, let it be. Grasp at nothing. Resist nothing."

May the teachings on the F.R.E.E. method and the Three Natures nourish your journey towards understanding, compassion, and liberation. May it illuminate your path to mindful living and personal awakening. And may it cultivate boundless peace, joy, and love within you and around you.

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