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What is freedom?

Freedom is not the power of choosing what I want. There is no such a power. First, because it’s not up to me to decide what I can want (I need a world in order to have choices, and I don’t make the world). Second, because even if I want something, it’s not up to me to carry this want over (I need circumstances, tools, support, and I don’t control much of them). 

How does it feel to be free? There is a sense of expansive relaxation, a buoyancy of being and creativity, a tinge of love and friendliness, some humor. What is the condition for this feeling? Support, grounding. Being grounded and supported means to be upheld, facilitated to tap into another’s energy and strength. It means to be accepted and embraced in one’s fragility and given access to a much larger reservoir of power.

When one is fully supported and grounded, then one is fully free. The result or manifestation of this freedom is not a determinate action elicited by a specific agent, but a natural, spontaneous unfolding that flows through many bodies, many hearths, many limbs. Thinking freedom as a form of self-sufficiency or independency is precisely what prevents us to be really free. Freedom is the opposite, is the surrendering to the sense of dependency on some-thing/one else. Is being together, being-in-touch, then be supported, grounded. Because of this grounding one is enabled to operate freely, not as a self-standing agent but as a living part of something larger.

Now, insofar as we are not supported and grounded, we have to make up for this lack by using our own strength. But our strength is limited, and hence the less supported we are the more we must force ourselves. This is a paradox. We use force to compensate the lack of grounding. Using force means pushing through things, pursuing a schematic anticipation of what I imagine as needed—this anticipation we call “desire”. Lacking support and grounding we compensate for this lack by pretending that we can obtain what we think would be helpful to ground ourselves more. The result is the whirlpooling up of stories, dramas, illusions. 

We think that freedom is realizing our desires, but that’s the precise opposite of it. The movement of compensation pretends to make us more autonomous and independent. But we are not autonomous and independent beings, so the more we pretend to be otherwise the more ungrounded and unsupported we become, hence the less free. 

The way to freedom is a way towards the recovery of the sense of support and grounding that enables us to be part of a free transindividual unfolding. The method is simple: lean and relax. Leaning means to entrust our weight to another (the ground, another being, many more), asking for support and allowing ourselves to use that support. Relaxing means to let go of the force we used to compensate the lack of support. We no longer need to push through and to follow our petty schemas (desires). 

When (and insofar as) this happens, action (movement) arises naturally, not as a foreseen and well-planned design, but more as the spontaneous flow of water through the ground and rocks, searching for its path, finding one, but exploring all. This is another paradox. A truly free action arises not from the exercise of force or power, but from release and letting go. By releasing effort, by leaning and relaxing into another (ground), gesture and action and movement naturally happen. And that’s all (for) free.

This account of freedom has two pivotal implications. The first is that freedom is a deeply embodied experience. No matter how much one thinks to be free, and no matter how much freedom one can experience mentally, this is still incomplete if the body is left behind, frozen and wrapped in the cobweb of tensions that ordinarily keep us in their grip. In this sense, freedom has to be conquered and learned cell be cell, tissue by tissue. Of course it’s a process, with no a priori limit (how can you set a limit to freedom?). Yet, there is no way around it. It’s humbling and painful at times, but also beautiful and meaningful, deep and true.

The second implication is that freedom comes in degrees, and so does support and grounding. Sometimes we can find a perfect ground or a perfect support and everything is much easier. But what about the less ideal circumstances? After all, we start to compensate precisely because we encounter situations in which we can’t find support, and thus we need to use our own force to make up for that. So, do we have a better option? 

Instead of reacting to what is missing, it’s always possible to see what’s present. Something is always necessarily present. And what is present can always be a ground and a support. The very reflex of looking immediately for what’s missing and trying to get a replacement for it comes from the ingrained habit of automatically compensating. But if we could refrain from following this reflex and better look at what’s present, we can probably see that in any circumstance, event, situation there are always elements of grounding and support. Maybe partial and incomplete in absolute terms, yet sufficient to a degree for providing some basis.

Partial support and grounding mean partial freedom. Yet, partial freedom means some actual freedom nonetheless. The half empty glass is still half full. And if we could use and build on these imperfect offerings instead of dismissing them, we would eventually feel much fuller, without having to thirst to death while waiting for the one perfect full glass that will quench us (yet always too late). Hence, the first step towards greater freedom is to become sensitive to how we can find, in any situation, those elements we can use as support and ground, and then lean and relax into them.

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