What it Means to Be Free

A letter in August

Originally shared in Letters of Consolation, on August 13, 2023.


I’ve been thinking about this portion of Eloghosa Osunde’s essay, Walk Worthy:


I’m my longest-standing witness, the keeper of all my archives, the one who knows all the roads inside me—which leads to shame, which leads to rage, which leads to peace; I am the town planner of my internal landscape. Where have you been? I ask myself sometimes, And where are you going now? Ultimately, I’m interested in moving away from right or wrong, and toward responsibility and freedom.


It’s a mantra. A confession. Words of truth powerful enough to glide over one’s mind when it’s running off course. When it’s still. When it needs a pipe of fresh air. I’ve been thinking about the meaning of freedom and responsibility, and what it means to move toward them.


For the longest time, I believed in the rosy relationship between freedom and security; that freedom is the ability to live life on one’s terms, and safety opens the door to freedom..


It’s a belief to which we’re biologically attached and incentivized—by our economic and social structures—to hold. The promise that staying away from a lion’s den, putting locks on our doors, existing within a community, pursuing the tides of intimacy, or having enough money to our name will cloak us from the messiness of life and shower us with feathers of freedom to define how we live.


Granted, each format of security gives us a degree of control over life’s randomness. More money offers us the ability to recover from unexpected events like ill health or job loss. Faith in a higher power decorates our hearts with courage to brave new storms. Living outside the wild disconnects us from the thick appetite of carnivores, almost uprooting their existence from our knowledge. But control is a false sense of freedom because it traps us in dependency. And you cannot truly be free when you make something or someone your lifeline.


Detaching freedom from security was my first step toward understanding and defining it for myself. Looking closer, I found that the principle of freedom is in conflict with that of security. Because freedom is fluidity. Flow. A state that demands losing our hunger for stability and unplugging from our attachments.


For me, moving toward freedom has meant moving in the likeness of the universe (flow), not from a place of apathy but from that of responsibility. Because freedom, true freedom, cannot exist without responsibility. When we welcome fluidity but forget that we don’t exist in isolation—that we’re all connected and our actions offer outcomes that travel beyond the i, affecting everything and everyone on this planet—, we end up becoming complacent. And complacency is but a false sense of stability a false sense of freedom.


To choose freedom is to choose flow, but also duty and accountability. I’m placing the elements in my life (people, material items, activities) on marble and asking: What are you? Why are you a part of my existence? Has my love for you turned into dependency? Have I turned your love for me into a narcotic? And if I choose to have you in my life, how do I keep my hands in yours without losing me?


I’m returning myself to what I was when I first entered this world: an unknowing child. Because to be a child is to look through the lens of wonder, and wonder is a way of being free. A curious lens reveals life as is, removes the speck in our eyes.


I’m asking the air to teach me how it shifts from a howling wind to a tender breeze. The earth, how it varies in thickness but remains itself. The birds, how they embrace the unknown as they migrate. The mountains, how they host different ecosystems without losing their identity. Because elements in nature are faithful bearers of what we are, mirrors showcasing a truth about us we seem to have altogether forgotten: we are part of the universe, and the universe is in a constant state of flux.


We seem to be the only species that guns for control as a means of freedom. But every time we think we’ve found it, life pokes us with the reminder that freedom is an alertness to what we are and acceptance of being offsprings of the universe. It is a letting go. It is being.


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The rabbit hole

Follow with the questions: Should we redefine free will? and why is everything so uncertain? and what is the meaning of life?