F for Freedom
Free of guilt.
Free of shame.
Free of hurt.
Free of fear.
Free of comparison.
Free of self-doubt.
Free of anxiety.
For most of my life I defined personal freedom as the absence of the above mentioned things. But “to get free from” often felt like a struggle. At times I was stuck and wondering: Is there ever a chance to find total inner freedom? It seemed like a battle almost impossible to win. The more I tried to get free from something, the harder became its grip on me (smokers will probably know what I mean …).
In the past years my mind has shifted to a totally new perspective. I learned that finding freedom is not (only) a battle, but also a choice I can make each day. I started to write a new list, knowing that the old one would still exist alongside.
Free to choose.
Free to say Yes (or No).
Free to be who I am.
Free to speak my mind.
Free to decide.
Free to go my way.
Free to turn away.
Free to let go.
I came to realize that I can’t possibly win the battle against my inner demons. But I can let the light in so they eventually have to vanish. By defining this new list I suddenly saw a new way to find my freedom.
It's a challenge to write about freedom in times full of restrictions. But then maybe now is the best time to give this concept a fresh thought.
In my last reading club I asked the other participants to share their definition of freedom. The answers came hesitantly – the reply was: it’s not such an easy thing to define.
I agree. We might be able to give an instant answer, but if we think about it more deeply, we’ll realize how wide and complex the idea of freedom actually is. It is also a shifting concept – depending on the circumstances. A friend said: Freedom exists when I can think, read and say what I want. Another friend said: My freedom is limited because there are so many restrictions imposed on me. Many of us don’t feel free at the moment.
I think human rights are a vital aspect of social and personal freedom. But then again: I’ve come across testimonies of people all over the world who were deprived of those very rights but found the kind of freedom that exceeds everything most of us have ever experienced.
Edith Eger’s book “The Choice” has reshaped my thinking deeply in the past months. Freedom is a key concept in her writing. As a survivor of the holocaust and one who was afterwards gone through (possibly) all stages of healing and reconciliation, she knows a lot about “breaking free”. Edith had a close relationship with Viktor Frankl, another prominent survivor and author of the Holocaust. She cites him (Victor Frankl, in The Choice, p. 204):
"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.
I’ve come to believe that truee freedom lies in the “choice to dismantle the prison in your mind, brick by brick. You can’t change what you did or what was done to you. But you can choose how you live now. (…) You can choose to be free.” (The Choice, 360)
Often we feel like slaves to our past, to a partner, to a hostile job environment we think we can’t escape, to people who have biased opinions on us, and more currently: to restrictions imposed on our daily lives, to choices made by others that influence us, to turns of life that we can’t control, like the loss of a loved one or a sickness, to personal limitations be it financially, physically or emotionally.
Personal freedom is closely connected with shame. We all have shame-triggers in our lives. Things we'd rather hide nor not talk about because they would show a vulnerable part of us. But everything we have to hide is a brick in the wall that keeps us away from breaking free.
Many of us felt relieved when restrictions were lifted when concerts were allowed again, when lockdown was over. All of this is so essential to leading a normal life. But it’s not the key or the solution. In the end these things are not what constitutes true freedom. I can choose to be free, even when restricted on all sides. If I focus on the things I’ve lost, life becomes narrow and dark.
My goal has become to focus on the things I still have and I can still cherish. Things I can be grateful for. Whenever I choose to do this, I feel a new kind of freedom starting to grow and expand. The kind of freedom that will truly set me free.