Sunday, April 13, 2014

When Have You Felt the Most Free?

On the eve of Passover, I turn my thoughts to questions of freedom.

This year we will discuss this:  "What does it mean to be free?  Given the influence of family, culture, and society, are we free to make our own decisions?"

I'm beginning to see freedom as more of a spectrum.  It is not difficult to imagine slavery and oppression at one end of the spectrum.  But the other end?  What would it mean to be the most free?

We still live in bodies.  We are always a slave to oxygen and food and the many needs of the body.

Since we are social animals, we prefer to live in the company of other humans.  In order to keep them around, we must be pleasant and attentive - we lose our freedom to be unaccommodating.  (If you want to keep people around you without being pleasant and attentive, you either have to pay them, enslave them, or in some places, marry them.)

Asking "What is freedom?" or "What does it mean to be free?" leaves me swirling in definitions and interpretations from philosophy, psychology, and politics.  It seems more concrete to look at some moments when I have felt free:

Every day in July 2012, my back hurt.  I treated myself with hot showers and yoga, but the pain continued.   During a visit to Dale Alexander, a massage therapist, he readjusted something quite dramatically, and in an instant, the chronic pain was gone.  I felt free of pain.  I am always aware and appreciative of the times I am free of pain.

In 2003, I moved to Toronto.  I was busy with work and family, but I was a stranger in a strange land and felt out of place and unsettled; however, I had a bicycle.  When little kids get their first bikes, the entire neighbourhood and beyond opens up to them.  Perhaps they have their first taste of freedom.  Maybe I was re-experiencing my childhood joy, or maybe it was the connection to the wind, sun, and street that a bicycle provides.  I only know that whenever I was on my bike, I felt free and happy.

I bought Co-Dependent No More on a whim one day in the 1980s, but never read it.  However, during one period when I left a violent and substance-using spouse, I picked up the book again.  Every word I read spoke to me.  My situation was not unique.  The slavery I felt, the inability to break free, was not unique.  Ultimately, the book said, staying in the situation was not even helpful to the abusive spouse.  To be really helpful to him, he needed to face the consequences of his unpleasantness.  The heavy weight of my own beliefs lifted.  I felt light and free and able to make changes in my life.

Perhaps the Israelites of Exodus felt something like that after crossing the Red Sea.  Standing on the far shore, they looked back and saw the sea close behind them, crashing down on their oppressors.

There were many problems ahead, but maybe for that moment, they felt the most free.

When have you felt the most free?

1 comment:

  1. Hmmmm, it's hard for me to answer your question. But this question makes me reason that freedom is definitely quantifiable. Probably this is the reason why I NEVER cycled in Salvador, a city where I didn't feel free enough to venture on. Freedom has to do with the pact of collective respect for every individual of a society. This entails that all Fundamentalisms are oppressive in that they inescapably look down on otherness. These days I feel free to pick out bits from several spiritual paths and weave them together into my own personal story: mantras, chants, songs, prayers, shabbats, seders, meditations, oracle consultations, and Wisdoms (definitely countable). God loves atheists and hodgepodgists!

    Dr. Sergio Nunes Melo
    Professor Adjunto II - Curso de Artes Cênicas da UFSC, Brazil