We can’t deny it. Our fantasy is to be undeniably raw and free.
I’m not talking about running around with no clothes on, shirking all responsibility. I’m referring to the freedom that comes from knowing who you are, so at any given moment, you can do what you know you must do for your highest development.
We tend to get so caught up in the details of our lives, we sometimes unknowingly compromise ourselves along the way - and as you may have already discovered, the further you trek from your truest path, the more difficult your journey becomes.
If you’re feeling constrained, restricted, or stagnant in your life…read on. I’d love to share some tips and insights - and a little story, too - to help you remember this simple truth: Freedom is your birthright! It’s your necessity.
A few weeks ago, I received a phone call from my good friend who I’ll call Ryan. Ryan is a successful doctor with a beautiful wife and an adorable baby girl. He and I have been friends for decades; we shared our wilder and more impressionable years together, so because our friendship is tried, tested, and true, we sometimes act as compasses for each other when one of us feels we’ve gone astray. Most recently, it was my turn to do the calibrating.
“I’ve been drinking,” Ryan said. “Not a lot, but I’m worried. I feel like I want to spin out of orbit, and drinking is the only way to slow that feeling down. I think I’m craving the mania from my younger days. That excitement and constant change. I don’t want to alienate my family by running off to do my own thing, but still, I miss that other guy. I haven’t seen him in years.”
That ‘other guy’ to whom Ryan is referring is the poetic, liberated, spontaneous version of himself who would call me at 2 a.m. from the walk-in refrigerator at the restaurant where he worked nights while attending med school. “I’m in the tomatoes,” he’d whisper. “I’m operating on a zucchini.”
Ryan once arrived on my doorstep on a Sunday afternoon in April wearing a Halloween costume and asking me questions about centrifugal forces that we could only answer by taking my car 120 miles per hour down the highway with one of us sticking half her body out the window. Ryan spent years in Europe writing plays. He took elderly men from their nursing homes to dance at popular night clubs. He had the guts to introduce himself to actors, senators, beautiful girls. He was always alive, pulsating.
But at some point, Ryan decided he needed to ‘buckle down’ and focus on pursuing the more stable pleasures in life - so he finished his residency, began a family, and paid off all his speeding tickets.
Ryan made the same choice many of us do when we come to a certain age and begin to more fully value comfort, long-term companionship, family, and the maturity that develops from creating clear goals and committing to them in order to grow. There is nothing wrong with this choice; let me make that clear. However, the mistake so many of us make is in thinking we need to retire our freedom in exchange for a more structured and steady routine.
Just as you may have once neglected the idea of ‘stability’ as anything other than stifling, it’s easy to forget how exhilarating and necessary change can be. As with most things in life, a balance is needed between the two extremes.
“Can’t you find a way to integrate ‘the other guy’ into your everyday life?” I asked Ryan. “Your family will love him. I know they will. And maybe it’s not the mania you crave, but that raw, creative freedom.”
“That’s what it is,” Ryan said.
It is in our nature to be free. It’s our deepest, truest way of being. But what does freedom mean?
If you want to be free, scrap your ideologies. Scrap any preconceived notions of how you think things ought to be. Don’t start with a conclusion, otherwise you’ve started wrongly. If you want to find the truth - go open and empty.
Five Obstacles Between You and Freedom
There’s a big difference between consciousness and self-consciousness. Being conscious is healthy. We should all strive to be wakeful and aware. Self-consciousness, however, is a block that sensors our ability to live freely. This is because when you’re self-conscious you pollute yourself with harsh self-judgments and doubts: I’m not smart enough. Do they like me? She’s too good for me. I’m not worthy of making that salary. How can I start my own business when I’m already 40? These are limiting beliefs that create barriers between you and your ability to move unhindered, creatively.
Think of the way that children dance - completely in a world of their own. They feel the music’s beat and groove the best they can, not thinking about anything. They don’t care how they appear, if they look cool or sexy enough. They are simply enjoying the music. If only we could all move that fluidly.
2) Imposing an Agenda (Manipulation, control, forcing a situation to fit your needs)
I’ve never liked the word agenda. I much prefer surrender. No matter what you desire an outcome to be, if you are not moving naturally with the forces around you, it will be near impossible for you to succeed. I’m not suggesting you drop ambition. Ambition and goals are necessary to help you reach your dreams, but do also try to embrace the Taoist principle Wu wei - action through inaction. Allow things to happen through you - be like a hollow bamboo, allowing free, unadulterated moments between you and existence is essential to creativity.
In fact, all of real creativity happens un-self-consciously. Athletes, artists, writers, scientists, and musicians talk about being ‘in the zone’, ‘in the flow’, detached from a sense of space and time. This is because something more than themselves is operating though them, causing them to perform at their peak.
If that’s too airy for you, think of it like this: in your everyday actions, try to move from reaction to response. Behave according to each unique situation that presents itself to you, as if it is entirely unique and new - rather than simply reacting based upon the ready-made answers stored in your mind from previous experiences. When you behave according only to memory, you are not responding mindfully to life - you’re reacting based upon your conditioning. Which brings me to number three…
From the moment we’re born, we begin to be conditioned by our parents, our educators, our peers, workgroup, media, society, nation, law…
Someone once told me I looked the happiest when I was traveling with a backpack, sitting in front of random doors in foreign countries. I laughed at the statement, then looked through some of my photos and realized it was true.
“I look homeless!” I said.
“That’s right,” my friend agreed. “You weren’t on auto-pilot. Every day was an adventure. You didn’t know where you were going to eat, where you were going to sleep, or what incredible people you were going to meet along the way.”
That was freedom to me.
But remember: to free ourselves from conditioning doesn’t mean you must rebel against all norms and regulations - nor must you shed your most beloved comforts and traditions in exchange for a life of nomadic wandering. However you do need to take yourself out of ‘auto-pilot’ and begin to approach each moment in your everyday life fresh and new - without prejudice, stubbornness, or any pre-conceived ideas of how the moment is supposed to be.
Humans love to hang onto things, but we must learn to let go!
This includes letting go of the need to:
possess someone or something
find reasons for everything
win at all costs
be viewed by others as superior know how everything will turn out before we follow our intuition expect things to work out exactly as we plan hold on to grudges, ideologies, beliefs, anger - or any emotion
And the final Obstacle Standing Between You and Freedom…
5) Fear of Change
One way or another, you must be willing to accept and embrace change. Remaining the same, or seeking to do so, moves against the laws of nature - and attempting to move against the laws of nature is a foolish thing to do. In that struggle, no matter what, nature will always win.
Remember: it is in your nature to evolve. And evolution requires change.
How To Be Free
Remember Ryan? He didn’t quit his career or abandon his loved ones to feel alive again. He began by more openly accepting his spontaneous surges of creativity and integrating them into his life in a healthy, balanced way.
The first thing he did was make a list of the things he wanted to welcome more of in his life - the things he believed would add richness, fullness, and freedom:
Take the long drive home, the one past the lake with the flocks of ducks & geese.
Eat more intuitively - based on what my body needs.
Let myself take naps (beside my baby girl preferably.)
Train for a marathon.
Take a surprise weekend trip out of town with my family.
Write more poetry.
Walk through nature alone to clear my mind.
Find an on-call babysitter so my wife and I can share more time together during the week.
Buy my wife more dresses.
Burn the candles that have been sitting on our nightstand for over a year - then buy new, more expensive candles, and burn those too.