“Freedom is from within.” ~Frank Lloyd Wright
One of the perks of staying in our rental condo in Baja, Mx is being able to enjoy a lovely infinity swimming pool and hot tub overlooking some cliffs on the Pacific Ocean. Last night as the sun was setting, Thom and I put our suits on and walked the short distance to enjoy a soak. After settling in we were soon joined by three young men and a woman. (Did I mention it’s a big hot tub?) Over the next hour or so we talked about many things, but a big part of the conversation was about freedom. And because the U.S. is celebrating our independence day this week, I am naturally reminded that freedom is one of the greatest gifts available. But just because most Americans have many advantages related to freedom, that doesn’t always mean that we are all free to experience them equally or fully. What then does freedom really mean if we aren’t free to express, experience and enjoy our lives in happy and meaningful ways on a regular basis?
I think most of us from the U.S. are pretty proud (I know I am) to be Americans. We are aware that many people around the world do not have the advantages that we routinely enjoy. We see other countries in the Middle East struggling to create a country where women are free to dress as they like, study what they like, worship as they like, and speak up as they like. We see other countries where fathers and mothers spend every waking minute in search of food and fresh water for their children. Yet, even though most American’s can speak up and post whatever they want on Facebook without fear of being arrested, and most of us don’t have to worry about finding food to eat for dinner—there are a large number of Americans grinding it out at work every day for just enough to keep their head above water, numbing their minds with hours of television every night, and hoping they will stay healthy and active long enough to see their kids grow up and do exactly the same thing. Is that really freedom?
Okay, so is it really that bad? A couple of weeks ago a survey was published the financial state of our fellow Americans. According to Bankrate.com in June of 2013, three out of four American’s are living paycheck to paycheck. Only 24% of us have enough in savings to exist for six months without steady work, while 50% might be able to squeak by for about 3 months. Sadly, 25% of us have absolutely no savings at all in case of an emergency. “It’s disappointing,” said Greg McBride, Bankrate.com’s senior financial analyst. “Nothing helps you sleep better at night than knowing you have money tucked away for unplanned expenses.”
Naturally, banks are worried that more people aren’t saving which seems pretty silly when you think about it. People aren’t saving, because they aren’t making that much to begin with and are spending everything they make. And I’m guessing that rather than think about how close to the edge they are and how hard they are working just to stay ahead, they numb the pain by watching lots of TV, drinking a little too much, and going on shopping sprees the minute they get a little change in their pocket. How can that be the freedom that our founding fathers wished for us all?
The big problem is that freedom is very difficult to describe and even more tricky to recognize. I know that as an American that a lot of people have dedicated their lives and many fought and died so that I could enjoy the freedom and privileges that I have—but I am also aware that some of those freedoms and privileges are not equally available to everyone based upon race, sex and economic favor. Specifically, if you are locked into a job you dislike, or blindly living out a life without hope or opportunity for the future, then your freedom is limited. So does that mean that the words of the song that says, sometimes “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose,” is true?
Two of the young men we met in the hot tub last night are from the U.S. and are “professional internet gamblers.” They too are renting a condo here in the same complex and plan to be here for the next two or three months. At first glance their lifestyle seems unusual, interesting and exciting. But the more we talked with these two guys, the more it was obvious that while their job description might sound intriguing, they too were stuck in a grind. While they seemed proud of their six-figure salary, the cost (or trade-off) is ten hours a day staring at a computer screen and trying to stay ahead. When I asked if they enjoyed the work they did—the answer was fairly obvious, “Not so much.” While they might appear to be free to work from anywhere they chose at an unusual occupation, if they are stuck in the money rat race like many Americans, they don’t appear to be any more free than many others.
So when it’s said and done I think freedom is much more than that—and not something any of us can ever take for granted. Maybe in the long run freedom shouldn’t be considered to be something that we have—but should instead be something that we do, something that we practice, something that we are. And let’s face it, much as some of the political parties in our country would like us to believe, true freedom comes from within us and is not dependent upon anyone else.
Besides that, a number of very wise people have suggested that real freedom is something that happens within our hearts, minds, and souls. Remember Viktor Frankl who spent three years in a Nazi Concentration camp and then later said, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” And then there’s Helen Keller who although blind and deaf managed to earn the esteemed Presidential Medal of Freedom. Or what about Nelson Mandela who after 27 years in prison said, “There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires.”
Okay, so assuming that most of you reading this have at least an average amount of freedom in your life from outside sources to begin with—what is it that can help us really feel free from within? Here are a few things I think are most important:
- Appreciate and love yourself exactly as you are—your imperfections as well as your talents. That doesn’t mean you won’t work toward improvement, only that today you are doing the best you can with what you have.
- Find work you enjoy that makes you feel creative and purposeful most of the time.
- Scale back your spending and debt so you live financially stress-free.
- Surround yourself with positive and inspiring friends, family and co-workers. Stay away from anyone who doesn’t encourage your spirit.
- Take care of your health as best you can. If you can’t move or are in deep pain then freedom looses its luster.
- Refuse to compare your life, your body, your work your “anything” to other people or the “norm” of your culture.
- Never stop growing and learning. Once anyone stops growing they’ve created their own prison cell and thrown away the key.
- Keep your conscious awareness “open at the top.” I think of consciousness as a non-religious way of identifying my soul. When consciousness stays open and expanding we are always free no matter what.
Like most things I can probably only arrive at a definition of freedom that works for me and let others do the same. Clearly, depending upon your circumstances of birth, your relationship with the experience is uniquely your own. But just the fact that our founding fathers attempted to define it and create a government that regulated it in concept is a testimony to their vision and hope. For that reason I will celebrate this July 4th once again, and practice freedom to the best of my abilities.