There are times I look at birds flying in the sky, carefree and brave, and wish I was them. I am not particularly fond of heights, but it is their freedom that I envy them.
I used to think of freedom as freedom of expression, of speech and of religion. To be free was to be able to vote for the political party you liked, and also to wear leather jackets and piercings. When Nelson Mandela was released from his prison cell after so many years, he was given his freedom. So I thought.
Recently I have been thinking that freedom is not a legal status, but a state of our hearts. And I have been desiring it more than anything. I am free, of course. I can wear what I want when I get up in the mornings. I can choose what I eat for breakfast. I can even choose when to wake up on some days. I can choose my friends, the color of my walls and which books to read. I have more freedom than most people in the world. And, yet, there are days when I feel that I am anything but free. The demands on my time, the expectations of the world, the pull of the peers, the fear of not being good enough, pretty enough, strong enough and smart enough do at times hold me with chains needing stronger tools than a wire cutter to break.
Why do I do the things I do, I ask myself. And whose voices do I listen to as I spend my days doing activities that makes me wonder: Is this my life?
Why do I do the things I do, I ask myself. And whose voices do I listen to as I spend my days doing activities that makes me wonder: Is this my life? Is this what I want to remember when I look back on my years here on earth? The piles of stuff I own that I need to care for or it will wither and collect dust have robbed me of year of my life. The people I have wanted to please and, even more, impress, are long gone and did in the end care nothing about me. To them I gave my life. Why? Because I wanted them to like me. Or love me. To see me. When they did neither I am left with an empty heart and an aching soul. I can hardly blame them. I am the one who go looking for significance all the wrong places. I am the one who think that if only I have all the stuff, and all the approval of the people I look up to, then I will be free. And with such freedom comes happiness. I think I am wrong.
“People are as free as they want to be,” said James Boldwin. I think he is right. We choose freedom. We can even choose freedom while being in prison. We can choose freedom when we are penniless, and friendless. I can choose freedom whilst folding laundry in my home, thinking that some people are better off.
Another one of my heroes, who knows what he is talking about, is Viktor Frankl. He says: “Everything can be taken from man, but one thing: the last of human freedoms—to choose one’s own attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” I thought of this today as I pondered my own choices recently. What are my motives for my actions, I asked. Do I do the things I do, or avoid doing the things I do because fear causes me to? Do I act because people’s opinion of me matter more than doing what I know is right in my heart? If I know I have chosen right, then, when circumstances turn heaven to hell, I must still choose to act rightly. When the pillars I thought would last forever crumble and turn into dust, my attitude is tested. And it often fails the test. What I am learning, however, is that I am free. I am free to choose my own way, as Frankl said. He learned that in a concentration camp. It is safe to say my circumstances don’t come close to his. I can live free. And when I do, I can also love better. I must love in such a way that every person I love feels free. (Thich Nhat Hanh)
That will be the lesson for next week.