What Freedom Is


Freedom is misunderstood.

There’s a focus on being able to do, or to choose. Think about your local supermarket, and the freedom you have to pick any sort of cereal. Any sort! So much freedom to do what you want, on the major and minor levels.

But what about freedom from?

Don’t get me wrong. I love freedom to do whatever I want; but how often do I use it? How often am I prevented by subtle, invisible walls inside me that prevent me from boarding flights, finding new restaurants, or breaking my routines? I don’t blame myself, you know. That’s human. Routine is often quite nice. But not always. And it’s worth examining when we limit our own freedoms.

That’s because freedom to, while rightly celebrated, has an oft-ignored sister. And that’s the freedom from.

Freedom from includes freedom from internal limits. It involves freedom from desires that lead you by the nose into unthinking patterns. If you want to be rich, that’s fine. That’s a choice you’re free to take. But freedom from that requirement might bring you peace as well.

Freedom to is about the ability to do whatever. Freedom from is about the internal peace to be nothing at all.

That’s paradoxical, and something I don’t fully understand myself. But to me freedom from reflects the quieter but no less powerful side of the equation.


There’s a theory that nothing isn’t nothing.

We think of nothing as an absence, but what if that were to reflect a perfect balance, the same way, as it was recently described to me, that California in Winter has no weather. It’s just perfect. And it’s perfect not because of what it is but because of what it isn’t. It isn’t hot or cold or cloudy or sunny or snowy or windy. It just is. It’s meditative outside and it makes it easier to understand the concept of “nothing” as something in and of itself.

Let’s work with that idea of a perfect; not an empty nothing, but a nothing you can fill with your passions and peacable joys.

First, how do we empty it?

Be free from fear, from anxiety, from being anxious of imagined future anxiety. Where do your ambitions turn into traps? When do your hopes bind you to an outmoded, forced way of living?

Seek fluidity. Stop trying to make things happen when they don’t truly fit. Believe in yourself enough to give up; not because you’re not good enough but because you know, when the time is right, you’ll be back up in it.

Living well is art enough. Validation comes from peace and acceptance, not chasing. Do not say that when “this” happens you’ll be fulfilled, because then the chase is what fills you, not the accomplishment.

Do not see the present as an obstacle to an imagined future. Accept it, live in it, decorate it and make it yours.

That’s all well and good for emptying the life of the bad, but how do we fill it again?

Simple! We pluck the things that we want. Not the destructive, but the constructive. I’ve learned, over time, that you only do the things you want, not the ones you think you should. That means it’s important to follow your rhythm. Pick the thing you like to do, the things you want to do. You know, the things you both like to do and the ones that you’re happy you did. Those are the win/wins, the things that balance a freedom to choose and a freedom from stresses they impose.

Reading, going to the gym, seeing friends, watching good movies and working on the things that make you passionate at parties are all good examples of things to do. You’re always feeling good to have done them, and, in a perfect world, those are the things you’d naturally want to be doing anyway. Freedom from doesn’t mean an empty life, after all; it just means a simplified, freer one.

There are other things you like to do, of course: eating bacon-cheeseburgers, smacking the haters in the mouth, hustle your way to a high-paying job because it’s a high-paying job…but do you really want those? Or do they impose silent rules that remove your freedom from, like anxiety, stomach aches, internal anger or stress?

You need all those things above. Hustle, cheeseburgers. and smacking haters are all parts of the human condition, sure, and you should enjoy them when the time is right. But maybe those aren’t the things to endlessly glorify. They’re the things we apply our freedom to, but they often limit our freedom from their side effects.

Consider, in your life, the balancing secret. Because everyone talks about freedom like it should spiral up forever, like more is better and excess impossible, and that peace is somehow boring. But it isn’t. Like California in the Winter, there are pleasures in absence.

Empty your life of the quiet restrictions that bind you, and be mindful of the balance between choosing what you want and being bound and limited by those same desires.

See what happens when you’re free from yourself. You may find yourself free to do more than ever. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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