Tag Archives: freedom

Reflections on Freedom on a Contemplative Day

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Yesterday was a night of great festivities, today was a day of bodily recuperation. After a four hour lunch and coffee with two friends who also experienced the fun, I went walking on roads wet with fresh rain that had flooded the streets a few hours prior. There was a damp smell in the air and the sky was steadily darkening. A pallid greyblue from the sky was ubiquitously waterpainted on the buildings and the roads and the pedestrians. A contemplative mood was awash, perhaps influenced by the caffeine, a steady fatigue and last night’s experience, in which excess waves of liquid poison repeatedly “smashed” into my stubborn ego and broke it into tiny recovering pieces. Walking in the middle of the main road of National Taiwan University, aptly named Palm Tree Boulevard for a row of evenly spaced palm trees on either side, I looked far into the distance to the direction of the main library. I felt as if I was experiencing a movie, and a thin film of nothingness separated me from reality, as passing groups whose voices came to me in murmurs, the slight rhythmic sound of bicycles and the contenting sights of a lazy Saturday quietly reflected and were absorbed into me from beyond the veil of unreality. I felt like the observant protagonist in a Murakami novel.

At that moment, I felt a strong desire to be free, a feeling which came like a flash storm on a summer afternoon, and rapidly flooded my being.

I wanted to be free from parental pressure, the obligations coming from human relationships. I wanted to be free from societal norms, human expectations. I wanted to be free from monetary limitations, free from the limitations of my current living conditions. I wanted to break free from myself. I wanted to be free of earthly desire, bodily responsibility. I wanted to be free from my own habits, my own solidifying personality. I wanted to be free from acquired philosophies, my own selfconceptions. I wanted to be free of irrational fears, free of anxieties and indecision. I wanted to be as free as the moment of my birth, in which virginal newness purifies all perceived reality, and allows reality to be seen as reality, and lived with an honest and true intention, without the fog of developed personal subjectivities.

I wanted to be free from earthly logic. I wanted to be free from Newton, free from Einstein. I wanted to be free from the limits of my puny, weak, unreliable, worthless body so as to express the feeling of freedom with a dance oblivious of physical practicalities. I wanted to be free and let my spirit fly out of my bodily prison and soar past clouds, planets, stars, galaxies, and let my presence envelop the whole universe with an indescribable oneness; and experience an escalating liberation from subjectivity to objectivity, from perception to truth, from experience, from feelings, from concepts, from rationality, from life, from death, from time, from space, from God; to a truly incomprehensible and unfettered state of being, being an emptiness, nothingness, wholeness complete.

Such an idealistic version of reality cannot exist anywhere in physical form on the earthly plane, where ideas touched by the rockhard solid world shatter instantaneously, fragile as it is pure. However, I believe to some extent, freedom is a treasure coveted by all, and one everyone already possesses in different amounts. Unlike perfect freedom, the freedom on the physical plane has a different exterior and form.

I think the latter definition of freedom is close to what Viktor Frankl described in his book Man’s Search for Meaning. He wrote: “that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast should be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.” Furthermore: “Freedom, however, is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness.”

To speak truthfully, I do not understand perfectly the wisdom of his words. I cannot grasp the sturdy bond that connects the concepts of freedom and responsibility together in an unbreakable chain. Perhaps more life experience will be the teacher that will teach me this rope as greater age will bind me closer and closer to freedom and responsibility. For now I can only elaborate on his words from a lower level, although living life may give me opportunities to climb higher and higher to let me see further into new insights from the taller vantage point.

To me, freedom fundamentally means the power of choice. Whether it is freedom of speech or economic freedom, more freedom will mean more power to choose how to let loose one’s spirit in thought or in action and allow it flight to any desired destination. When there is no freedom, the case is the opposite and there is no power of choice. All one’s actions and thoughts are fettered like a bird in a cage. In this way, responsibility is inextricably tied to freedom. The phenomenon of cause and effect will follow a freely chosen action or thought, and the effect will undeniably require a responsibilitytaker. A caged bird will not be free, but it will be fed and cared for. It will not be able to spread its wings in homage to its Godgiven or Darwingiven form, but it will be sheltered from dangers leading to inexistence. The uncaged bird will float at a lofty level across miniature terrains with the honest expression of its soul’s impetus. With such freedom will come the price of risk to its unbroken existence.

On a personal level, I can relate to freedom and responsibility. As I age, I desire more freedom and autonomy. I do not want to be kept on a leash, no matter how comfortable life on a leash may bring me. Confucius driven traditional Korean values serve as the philosophy behind my parental leash, while money brings about its physical form. My parents are always behind me with support and I feel their concerned gaze on my back, like the limelight onto a stage actor. These lights are sometimes suffocating. I suppose that it is unavoidable, the cutting of the umbilical cord in birth and the later metaphorical cutting of the umbilical cord with adulthood. At least for now, I have severed monetary ties to bring a similar severing of the physical leash. Perhaps later on I will look back on leashed days with nostalgic longing, and futilely attempt to reattached the umbilical cord of my youth, as life as a pampered domestic dog becomes preferable to that of a stray. Perhaps I am being immature and not taking responsibility for correct relations with my relations.

Freedom is an oft mentioned word as recent history has brought unprecedented levels of freedom to the lives of the majority. What is the nature of this freedom? Is it the immature and idealistic freedom of the former or the freedom which is justly connected with responsibility? If it is the former, then where does unwanted and untaken responsibility go to? Maybe responsibility piles up like bags full of garbage. If no one accepts responsibility, the stacks will grow higher and will eventually lead to an inescapable stink, an odorous and insufferable reminder of unmet obligations, brought by one individual to be smelt by all.

 

Note: Picture is of Palm Tree Blvd, although it was taken on another day.

Stoic Acceptance

IMG943  This past week and a half has been difficult; a fever for two days, a stubborn cold, all with bad sleep throughout. A sudden change in the temperature had me accidentally giving improper care to my body, and I slept under one blanket, not two. The next morning I woke up with hints of fever which later developed into its mature form. Taking two hour long naps in the afternoon, not being able to sleep at night has me in disarray both physically and mentally. Weather quickly changes in Taipei, as humid and cool has quickly turned to humid and hot. Last night had me tossing and turning for hours as heat and incessant coughing kept me up to hear the birds chirping for the start of their day, which was soon followed by sounds of morning from my neighbours’ rooms. I am hoping that tonight won’t be as bad of an experience, but the signs do not look positive so I am writing for good use of time.

This has me dreaming of Toronto, where it is the time for the wonderful springtime weather. By this time, Toronto would be past its long winter cold, and spring would be in full blossom, with sunshine and growing greenery warmly welcoming Torontonians towards the outdoors under a lengthening sun. Instead of the 4 by 3 metre prison I am in, with a miserable foot by foot window in the bathroom for ventilation and cockroaches and spiders for company, I could be at home, going from spacious room to spacious room at my fancy, sleeping on the sofa or in the basement room if my own bed shows signs of hostility, sitting and enjoying a natural sunlight smiling in from wide windows on the black leather sofa, while reading a book or admiring the scenery before me gradually opening up with life.

As I sit in front of the computer with a less than fully functioning mind, a sticky body due to the warmth and humidity and with the formation of a slight plea towards an otherworldly force for a quick recovery, I start thinking of Stoicism. Cultivated by the Greeks, adopted and nurtured by the Romans, its existence has been a source of reassurance and acceptance when the chaos of the world confounds me. Due to limited scholarship on the subject, there is not much that I can expertly write about, but from my understanding it is about ‘living in accordance with nature,’ through acceptance of nature’s will, fate. I particularly find it useful for its practicality in dealing with worldly matters. To give you a direct experience of Stoicism, here is an excerpt that I found particularly moving and profound. This is from Letters from a Stoic, Letter LXV.

“I am too great, was born to too great a destiny to be my body’s slave. So far as I am concerned that body is nothing more or less than a fetter on my freedom. I place it squarely in the path of fortune, letting her expend her onslaught on it, not allowing any blow to get through it to my actual self. For that body is all that is vulnerable about me: within this dwelling so liable to injury there lives a spirit that is free.”

Reading writings of Stoicism remind me that inside of the body which bears the changing currents of nature’s temperaments, there exists an entity that is able to freely decide how to respond. There is always this choice: I can either choose to be beaten down by my current misfortunes or accept nature’s will and be forever content. Although it is paradoxical, it is only with wholehearted acceptance of fate that we are able to control it. With my current situation I have these options as well. I can either curse the series of events that have led to this situation, and feed a growing anxiety and irritation, or just accept circumstances for what they are and nourish contentment.

In life, it is invariable that there will be times of distress and disaster. Life is a personal journey with an undeterminable end. There will be times of infinite happiness but also times with uncertain paths, bad weather and accidents. When the path is nice with sunny weather and the irrepressible desire for a song to be sung, nothing can go wrong. However, the opposite can manifest as suddenly as the coming of a tempest. Through these seemingly terrible times we can choose to preserve our indomitable spirit by unreservedly offering our physical shell to the whims of nature, and continue traversing towards our destination with a great humour.

 

 

Picture: Budapest