It’s a widely sought after and frequently self proclaimed quality — there are even entire countries that use it as a slogan, claiming to be “the land of the free”.
Without getting into determinism — the idea that, since we have had "no say" as to, not only the particular conditions upon which we were brought into existence, but the ongoing motion of absolutely every single particle in the universe, therefore our actions, thoughts and emotions are, in a way, determined — let’s talk about “practical freedom”, shall we?
So, you wanna be free? Don’t we all?
Can we actually be truly free? If so, how? And, what do we even mean by “free”?
We usually associate/equate freedom to “doing what we please”;
“I do what I want!” –– But here’s another question; why do you want what you want? Do you choose to want what you want? And if you “choose” to want what you want, why do you choose to choose to want what you want?
“It’s my freedom to stay up all night watching Netflix” or “it’s my freedom to eat whatever I crave and eat junk food”, or “It’s my freedom to open instagram first thing in the morn and spend around 40 minutes scrolling” –– “It's my freedom to do or not to do X or Y!!!
Yet we then complain about how we look/feel and wish it’d be different, that we were somewhere else, falling into cycles of regret.
Is that really freedom, then? Or are we just rationalizing and justifying our subconscious/impulsive reactions to stimuli (because we need to feel a sense of control due to our deep-rooted fear of chaos and death anxiety)?
Unless you have the premium subscription of life;
We can’t control the weather.
We don’t control who we become infatuated with (otherwise there would be no such thing as toxic relationships)
We don’t control traffic
We certainly don’t control how others think or act
We don’t control the fact that we need nutrients and hydration for proper bodily functioning
Honestly, the list could go on and on and on...
Just cause we feel we’re in control of who we are doesn’t mean that we actually are –– of course, there’s a confusion here in thinking of there being a separate “I” that has a chance at “controlling” a separate “me” (which is why the question of “free will” is somewhat meaningless because of its inherently dualistic assumption of there being a separate “will” which is or isn’t “free”).
There are countless aspects of us that we have no idea of –– and by “we” I’m referring to the self-narrative aspect of us. There’s an unfathomable depth to our being. Layers upon layers of physical, chemical, biological, cultural, psychological, etc. We don’t even come close to understanding the tippiest of tips of the titanic iceberg-onion that is our entire being –– considering that, by extension, we are literally and inextricably entangled with the rest of the entire cosmos and are affected by all its processes.
We don’t know how it is that we breathe, or how our body transforms bread/breakfast/sushi into a human being. Our hearts pump without our explicit permission. Not to mention the vast, mysterious and densely populated pantheon of archetypes that live in the furthest reaches of our psychology that compel and shape our narratives.
Okay, so what the hell can we do?! Well, there are two general “aspects” or ”keys” I can think of as good starting points towards our journey to “practical freedom”;
The first is Observation.
Viktor Frankle summed it up excellently when he said “Between stimulus and response there is a space, and in that space lies our freedom”
The first step to “freedom” is in being able to observe ourselves. After all, how can we have any chance of changing/affecting/addressing anything if we are completely blind to it? First we must become aware. And this comes about by becoming good observers, which takes practice and dedication. Overall it takes a real, genuine sense of curiosity.
Observation garners a quality of which I can’t stress enough it’s cathartic importance; Understanding. Which in turn gives us a greater chance at responding more skillfully to whatever life throws at us.
Speaking of responding, the second key to unlocking practical freedom is; “Responsibility”.
People also often equate freedom to absolving responsibility. Yet in doing so, we effectively relinquish any trace of freedom, and rather become slaves to our impulses, desires, and aversions. Endlessly reacting to the twists and turns of fate like a battered ping-pong ball smacked about by a nunchuck wielding Bruice Lee.
My favorite explanation/definition/understanding of responsibility is to think of it as “response-ability”. Meaning, to have the ability to respond, as opposed to react.
We won’t stop being hungry or having to go to the bathroom or feeling feelings, and it’s very, very likely we’ll keep running into difficult situations. However, if we “choose” how we respond, in that responsibility lies our freedom.
To obtain any semblance of “real freedom” takes a heavy dose of unadulterated courage, it takes wisdom and a real sense of curiosity. It takes the ability to evaluate our beliefs and values and to consciously align ourselves to them or to bravely change our stance. To be an active participant in life.
It’s a tricky subject. And as is often the case, words are most misleading. The question and concept of freedom is itself very abstract...
All I can say is that whatever Freedom is, it ain't about control. It’s about understanding.