I went running late yesterday afternoon, only because I had been wearing my running gear all day and had not run. Work kept me at my desk longer than planned early in the morning; and then, other distractions came in: calls, virtual meetings, my son emerging early afternoon… So by 5 pm, I realised that I hadn’t eaten much, and had not run. That’s when I decided to feel the air outside and sit in the sun for ten minutes in the garden. The air was cool, yet it was lovely and warm in the sun. I enjoyed nature’s silence, the immediate calm that replaced the continuous activity my brain had been swimming in. I felt and smiled at the tickling freedom of the air on my skin.
When we are busy, there are many choices that present themselves to us. I had suddenly chosen to stop, breathe and enjoy a sunny moment in the garden. And that’s when I started wondering to what extent we are truly free in the choices that we make daily. Yeah, I know, this sounds like heavy conversation so early on a Friday morning.
And a fly keeps zooming across my screen and hitting the window of my office next to me, whilst I am writing this.
I knew today’s theme was about freedom. And, as always, I got off my seat, found the window lock key and opened the window to free the fly. Sadly, I was too late. In its longing for air and light, and maybe, “freedom”, the fly had clearly underestimated the power of her flying speed and the resulting impact on its body, when hitting the window pane. As I lowered my eyes, I discovered it lying on its back. It was still flying a moment ago and there it was now, completely still. And I thought, well, maybe it is also free now. Whether inside or outside.
This week has been filled with meaningful and challenging conversations with loved ones, friends, colleagues and clients. The conversations were meaningful because they were open and honest. They expressed both strength and vulnerability in each of us and contained the good seeds of an open mind and an open heart: tolerance, curiosity, kindness, compassion, love… They were also challenging because they revealed the questions, doubts and well, confusion that many of us face on a daily basis.
Everyone longs to thrive. And thriving means many different things to each of us. And in order to thrive, we often have to make deliberate choices. And choosing frees us. It allows us to be who we need to be. Yeah, to do or to be. The choice is always ours. To continue to live according to others’s perceived preferences or to live in response to our own, core needs. Yeah, I will say it again: the choice is always ours.
And it’s often difficult to choose against the wish of others.
As I started running up the little hill on my first round – I always systematically run around the block four times -, I noticed a piece of paper lying on the ground. I immediately stopped, bent down and flipped it over, as it clearly had something written on it. There was only one word, neatly and seemingly deliberately written on it: “Free”. The synchronous sight and random presence of that word first stunned me. Then, immediately followed the realisation that no matter what questions, doubts, and confusion my mind was bathing with, I was free.
I was free to run, even if it required much effort from me and well, even if it hurt.
I was free to imagine and create, even if life was asking me to plan, check and negotiate.
I was free to appreciate and be grateful, smile and be positive, take notice and be kind. Even if I really didn’t feel like it to start with.
I picked myself up and carried on running. And that is when I remembered a conversation I had had with one of the men at the prison the previous day, during my monthly visit. Joe had been in prison for 21 years, he told me. He didn’t mind the barbed wires, he said, because he had grown up on a military base before ending in prison. He liked to be “inside” now. Prison was familiar to him, it was where he knew how to be free.
So, yeah, freedom, like much in life, is “complicated”. You can be free outside and feel imprisoned inside, and feel free inside and be imprisoned outside.
Or be and feel free both inside and outside.
And of course, the initial question always remains.
Are you free?