What is freedom? Is it the life of Christopher McCandless as portrayed in “Into the Wild”, defined by solitude, travel, simplicity & detachment? Or more the life of Jordan Belfort as the “Wolf of Wall Street”, defined by sex, drugs, thrills & fortune? Is it everything in between, and everything far beyond? It’s a massive question, and one without a universal answer, because we are all so profoundly different and therefore hold different meanings in our souls about what freedom is.
Briefly and not at all exclusively, freedom can be defined as “the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved, holding the power to act, think, and speak as one wants.” What leads to this state of freedom, I believe, begins with self-acceptance.
Self-acceptance is “the satisfaction or contentment with oneself and ones position.” It involves a realistic understanding and appreciation of one’s strengths and weaknesses. Different to confidence or lack of consideration for others, but rather a deep sense of comfort and certainty in oneself. When one acquires this acceptance, sometimes naturally but more often as a result of practice, one is by modern definition, free.
Free from the need to be validated by others, free from the fear of being alone, free to accept what is and free to accept what is not.
Without self-acceptance, we are but a passenger in this vehicle we’ve been given to do life with, riding shotgun beside an empty drivers seat against the road blocks to our inner truth. In it, but not really in it. Freedom is taking control of that vehicle, two hands on the wheel and full speed ahead. Riding with the tides, not against them.
When we self-accept, our life becomes one of autonomy instead of mass consciousness. It is authentic rather than conventional, and it is chosen by us rather than a mere acceptance of societal norms. Until then, we are free in body but not in mind, sacrificing exhilarating happiness for simple contentedness. Flying, never soaring.
Years ago during a theology lecture when my friend was studying the subject, a question was put forward to the class –
“What does it mean to be free?”
The tutor told the class that in order to answer the question and discover what freedom means to them, they must notice who first comes to mind when they think of someone they consider to be “free”. My friend screenshotted the question and sent it to me with the description, “I thought of you”. This was before I ever consciously thought about the quest for freedom as anything more than a guaranteed right of youth, but to be considered free, even without understanding what that truly meant, was a compliment of character in my eyes. I didn’t know why she thought of me then, and I still don’t now, but I’m happy she did.
In seeing me as free, she sent me on a quest for freedom, and on my quest for freedom, I learned to self-accept.
In seeing me as free, she set me free.