The Fine Print in Freedom

I saw this dude on the train the other day wearing a white top with a single word printed on it: Freedom. And that basically sparked off this post.

I turned the word “Freedom” over in my head for a bit and got a lot of responses from the far corners of my mind.

What does ‘freedom’ even mean? Why does everyone want freedom? Can we ever really get true and complete, no-strings freedom?

Google “Freedom” and almost every picture you get is like this: person with arms raised and outstretched, sometimes jumping, sometimes winged, set in a beautiful nature landscape. They don’t show you the boundaries in them, no oh~

I guess it’s a pretty no-brainer why everyone wants freedom. “Because then we can do whatever we want!!!”

That was admittedly the first idea of freedom I had: the ability to do whatever it is we want. By that, we would probably have to be let off from the rules that keep as bogged down and grounded on earth, the laws of society and nature that we are constrained to.

Is it possible to get that kind of freedom, to do whatever it is we want? Hmm. I went through a long train of thought that hits quite close to home in my life to say: One, this kind of freedom doesn’t exist. So, two, no it is not possible.

Such a pessimist, you may say. Ok well, here are my thoughts on it anyways.

So when I was little, I had a dream (as all little kids do). Say, for convenience sake, I wanted to be a musician. If freedom were to play in this, I suppose I could set my heart on it and claim the freedom to be a musician. Go for classes, practice, perform. While I’m practising, free to be the musician I wanted to be (since I have lessons and my parents have no objections), I was giving up the other forms of freedom I had. As a kid, maybe, giving up the freedom to play, to watch TV and chill 24/7. But those are kid stuff that I honestly didn’t mind giving up. Still, what if I live in this freedom of being a musician and end up poor and homeless, unable to support myself and my family? I would have traded my freedom of having financial security to gain my freedom of being a musician. What if I pursued this dream but found out I can hardly earn enough to feed myself? The laws of nature dictated that my body required food, sustenance. The freedom to live without food isn’t one I can (or want) to claim.

Or another example. Just going by “the freedom to do whatever I want”, as a kid, I probably wouldn’t go to school as much (or at all) than if I were made to. Sure, I would have the freedom to play all day, but then when I grow up and want a new freedom, the “freedom to own pretty expensive things and live like a princess”, I wouldn’t have the money to do that, because I probably wouldn’t be earning a lot of money being the unschooled employer without a degree and stuff. I wouldn’t be able to claim this freedom because of the other.

I hope you can see where I’m going with this. I think that freedom is kind of a relative term, and there isn’t ‘absolute’ freedom to attain, just freedom in different aspects of life. There isn’t absolute freedom because somehow, somewhere, there will always be boundaries and lines. Once you are freed from one set of boundaries, you inadvertently find yourself already within the constraints of another set of boundaries. Just by crossing the lines to get out of something, you cross the line to get into another.

Some people feel that the other way of not getting into any lines is to remove the lines. Some lines can be removed, I suppose, but some can’t. Some lines shouldn’t be removed. Most lines exist because that’s just the way it is, the natural order of things. It’s just a consequence in life. Plus, it is so darn hard to get rid of lines. I’m the kind of person who prefers adapting to changing things (unless it really really invades my space) so I’d be the one navigating the spaces instead of erasing the lines.

The trick is not to want the unattainable, mythical “freedom” in life. It is to know which freedoms to keep, the ones that are worth giving up the other freedoms for, those that define you and are important to you.

Granted, sometimes we don’t know there’s another kind of better freedom ahead in life so we pick the ones we have at present which may not turn out very well. For what it’s worth, I believe that every decision and turn in life is not for naught. So it may take you a while longer, you may have to make a detour, or you may have worked such a long way and realise it’s not happening, you’ve lost the spark for this freedom and you want another. That’s alright. You’re no worse than other people. There isn’t a single person on the planet who have made all the said ‘right’ decisions in life, no matter how put together they look like to you at this point of time.  I don’t think there are actually ‘right’ decisions, just better ones. And it’s ok if you picked something and decided it wasn’t the ‘better’ one. There will always be the regrettable decisions.

The thing that comforts me even if I made a bad decision is that regardless of what I choose, I get something out of it. I learn something out of it and make the best of my experience. Even if they were crabby experiences, especially because they were crabby experiences, I make sure I milk something out of it to ensure that it wasn’t time or energy wasted and that I have benefited from this.

Just a disclaimer: not to say that being a musician will cause you to be homeless and poor and all that. It was just a hypothetical example. Hoho. Spin off from the proverbial ‘starving artist’.

Now that we’re here, yes, this definitely inspired the My Dreams are on the Moon I wrote a while back.

I do honestly admire the people who go all out for their freedoms, claiming something that society says they couldn’t possibly do and hope to live well, something out of the ordinary. Still, wisdom is required in knowing when to stick to your guts and live in a certain freedom at the expense of other freedoms or to let go of that one freedom and go for others at the expense of your dream. It all depends on your priorities. They vary among people. Freedom also looks different to different people. Freedom to dance may look awful to a kid who wants to learn karate. The kid would only see the bondage of not being able to learn karate and her friend who wants to dance but can’t may scorn her for bemoaning her fate. And that’s just on a small-scale.

I think I want to be the kind of person who is able to live in freedom wherever they are without coveting another kind of freedom. My problem may be that I’m so easily contented and satisfied and comfortable that I’m not inspired to strive higher and for more. That could be a bad thing. Admittedly, wisdom is still required as to when I should content to be content and when I shouldn’t. But I think I’m happier than most high flyers who are so up there but cannot see that they are up there. They reach a certain level and their view changes. What they thought was high is not high anymore, not when they’re next to a taller tower. And there will always be a taller tower. I used to do this comparison thing but it doesn’t work. It’s very self-damaging, it isn’t effective in helping you progress and it takes the fun out of doing what you’re doing. It’s much better to focus on what you’ve set out to do, and just build your tower without looking elsewhere, whether upwards in envy or downwards in pride.

The question you should ask is not “How do I get freedom, the complete freedom of doing anything I want?”, rather, “Which freedoms should I strive for?” What is the kind of freedom you want? The freedom to do something or be someone? Maybe without being judged for it or having the support of my family? Sometimes, it’s out of our hands to not want to be judged etc. Those reactions fall on the shoulders of other people whom we have no control over. In that case, I really think it’s up to you to get past that hurdle, whatever it may be, and look at it differently as far as you can. No one can blame you for trying and if it works in helping you progress, then hey, you benefit.

So this is the (very long) fine print of the beautiful, legendary thing called “Freedom”: I am not whole. I am not something you’re either in or out of. You probably have me in some areas and not in others. I am relative. I only apply to a part of your life. Depending on what you use me for, I can be traded for another. Pick your battles wisely.

Know when to hold me tight, know when to let me go. Know that sometimes, you’re not all in control.

(Woohoo the last line rhymes. Sounds like a spell~)

That’s just for getting freedom. Some of us are so obsessed in trying to get it we may never get to live in it.

I’ll chew on it some more and maybe come up with something on the actual living in freedom sometime.

Till then!

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