Every few days, someone posts a meme from “Into the Wild” on Facebook. Here’s one:
I see why. In our minds, Into the Wild depicts freedom in its most absolute: a man roaming freely in nature, free from the shackles of the urban jungle. Bound to our computers, work hours and endless social obligations, we all lust for the carefree life of Christopher McCandless.
But that’s setting a very high bar for freedom. If living alone in Alaska is freedom, most of us will never be free. Moreover, city dwellers value and love at-least some aspects of their rule-bound lives: a salary, company of their loved ones, a Saturday night drink at their favorite local bar. That leads to the conclusion – “if abandoning all safety and predictability is freedom, most of us do not want to be free.” I believe that’s a harsh judgement, because there’s nothing more people want than to be free. All this confuses and muddles the definition of freedom.
So, what is freedom?
Before discussing freedom from a human context, I want you to think of a lion who lives in a jungle. The lion is a free creature, right? He’s the King too. He lives by his schedule, and is the architect of his daily agenda. But a lion gets hungry, which is when he must hunt. A lion should also protect his lioness and kids, because they are constantly in threat from other lions who see the other lion family as competitors. As free as the lion is, he is bound by the laws of nature: everything that is born must fight to live, and perish when its time comes.
Humans are subject to the exact same laws of nature. Just like the jungle lion, we must fight, survive and protect the ones we love. That is our karma. Anything that is born must do its karma, it’s not even a matter of choice. So it begs the final question: if we are bound by karma, do we even have the choice to be free?
In my mind, the answer is a resounding “Yes”. But to be free, a fantastical vision of freedom with no shackles should be abandoned. Setting the bar that high will only set us up for failure, and eventually cause dissastisfaction with our lives.
Just like happiness, freedom must be sought in the small things. Had a hectic week? You’re free to spend your Sunday soaking some Sun. Noisy meetings gave you a headache? Listen to your favorite romantic album when you hit bed. Make the moments count: how we spend the moments is how we live our lives.
In addition, freedom comes from “exercising” your freedom. “Think freely”: disagree with the popular opinion if you believe in yours. “Act freely”: if you believe you’re right, do it regardless of how others will perceive it. And just as you value your freedom and happiness, “value the freedom and happiness of others”. Spend time doing things you love and the people you love, and do not compromise on your strongest passions for anything.
In the end, I think being free is not in our circumstances, but in our outlook. The mind can be free even when the body is held captive in a small room. Similarly, the mind can be hostage even when the body is on a mountaintop. So being free will take a hell lot of practice. And it will be a constant battle to stay free amidst the chaos: freedom is not a destination you reach and can stay at. All pleasurable things in life take practice (playing the guitar, learning a new dance form). It’s only natural being free will also take a hell lot of practice.