This morning, while taking a sip of tea, I could see out of the corner of my eye, a friend came to visit. He’s quick, colourful and free. His visits are always delightful. When the time is just right, he takes off, flapping his wings – always when the time is just right. I always wish he’d stay longer, but I remind myself that his sense of timing is better than mine. As he makes his way towards the ocean flying free, I am filled with joy as I take another sip.
The birdsong brings with it a message of freedom, which makes its way to my stomach. A feeling that perhaps freedom is within reach.
The birdsong brings questions as well. What does it mean to be free? Who are freedom’s friends along the way?
Understanding something conceptually is totally different from experiencing it physically. My attempt to write about freedom here is twofold. It is to bring understanding for myself and for us. Hopefully it also nudges us to the point of experience too.
What does it mean to be free? I define it as owning your ability to choose.
Deeper understanding of this will show you the way towards experiencing it. Imagine it this way; understanding will show you the way to the rock pool. Experiencing freedom is the moment you jump, floating through mid-air, and then – water. You’re in it, you can feel it, you can see it, you can taste it – freedom.
‘Pain and joy’, ‘responsibility and choice’, and ‘control and surrender’. These are freedom’s friends. Below I’ll explore them further and the question’s they challenge us with.
There can be confusion right at the start of the road to understanding freedom. What is the difference between freedom and restriction? In what instances in our lives do we escape either pain or joy and with it our ability to experience freedom?
There are many instances in life where we have external restrictions placed upon us. They are often out of our control and can come from people, institutions or life itself. They come from ‘outside’ of ourselves and bring forth a challenge. Whatever restrictions we might be faced with now, or in our future, freedom is always accessible. For freedom comes from ‘inside’ of ourselves therefore we own our ability to choose in how we respond.
This means we can experience external restrictions and experience freedom all at once.
You own your freedom.
This realization is most often met with a sense of empowerment and fear at the same time. Empowerment and fear can bring feelings of excitement and anxiety. These two feelings share a similar sensation in your body. This can easily result in confusion between the two. Because of this confusion, I believe it is important to elaborate somewhat on each.
Fear and anxiety associated with freedom come from the responsibility to choose. With choice comes the pain of the consequences of making choices with full awareness.
Take an example of a leader in a large organization who must retrench some employees to ensure the survival of the organization as a whole. The leader with only partial awareness will experience less pain, simply because he or she will only experience the pain associated with retrenching those employees. The leader with full awareness will not only experience the pain associated with retrenching those employees. He or she will also experience the pain of the impact on their families, their spouse, their children and those dependent upon their salaries.
The leader with full awareness will therefore experience more pain associated with making the same decision. When striving for awareness and personal growth, we invite more pain into our lives in some way.
Our escape from pain, is an escape from freedom. To walk on the road with freedom requires an acceptance of pain.
For when we are unable to accept pain, we revert to blaming. When we blame, we lose our ability to choose. When we lose our ability to choose, we lose our freedom.
Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist and holocaust survivor said it brilliantly: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space we find the power to choose our response. Our growth and freedom are found in our response.”
You can be free, regardless of the external restrictions placed upon you. This is empowering, as walking this road with freedom is within reach. It is not out there, it is within you. It is the courage to walk a road less travelled. It is the courage to accept the pain associated with making choices in full awareness.
Why would one choose to walk on a road knowing that one will encounter pain? Because this road is walked with freedom, and with freedom comes joy.
In fact, when walking with freedom, you realize that pain and joy are two sides of the same coin. By experiencing temporary pain on this road, you invite joy to join in for the long run.
This brings us then to your ability to respond – responsibility.
Sometimes we take on too much responsibility, and sometimes we take on too little. When we take on too much, we attempt to control others, results, and life itself. We play the role of the controller. We are driven by a fear of not wanting to fail. More often than not, we sacrifice our own health and family relationships for the accumulation of ‘success’ – and we pay the highest price. This is the road to burnout. Many of us, when assuming the role of controller, are travelling on this road at a rapid pace.
When we take on too little responsibility, we revert to blaming others, events and life for our circumstances. Life is happening to me, and I am taking on the role of the victim. This road leads to a dead end, leaving us feeling stuck and helpless. Most of us can relate to either taking too much or too little responsibility, and probably default towards one more than the other. It impacts how you lead your team and organisation, how you parent your children, how you interact with your partner and how you relate to life itself. Both leave us in a state of insanity. When we respond within our ability, there is sanity. We can control our own response. How much control is the right amount then? The question about control brings with it a question about surrender.
I am reminded of my friend the bird and his beautiful song.
I can recall, as he left that morning, how he vigorously flapped his wings while taking off.
Then at some point the flapping stopped and he started gliding.
He simply glided through the air towards the ocean until he and the ocean became one to me.
Freedom is within reach after all…
Bookshelf suggestions for a Curious Reader:
Viktor Frankl – Man’s Search for Meaning.
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