I heard a conversation at a university cafe today which made me that bit more faithful in humanity. Some young students were sitting in a circle, on sofas and comfy chairs, sipping their lattes and capuccinos, when one of them turned to another and asked what his thoughts were on being free to do what you want. More specifically, free to not attend classes which they did not find particularly interesting.
The answer that followed surprised me for its maturity and perspicacity, something that I would not have automatically expected from a young man in his early twenties. But then I guess I was reminded that there are always exceptional people out there with a maturer than average attitude towards life. Here’s what he replied:
“I think that as a student you are free to do whatever you want, but with your acts come consequences.” He went on as everyone listened attentively: “And you need to be ready to accept these, such as failing the class. As long as you are willing to accept the consequences, you’re free to do what you want. With freedom comes responsibility.”
Gravitas and silent reflection followed. There was clear wisdom and truth in that statement.
More often than not we think of freedom as doing whatever comes to mind, following our impulses and satiating our urges. The problem is that we never seem as keen to accept responsibility for the real consequences brought by this so-called freedom. Because we are part of a bigger mechanism, our actions are always bound to trigger reactions. That, by the way, is the precise meaning of the spiritual concept of karma. And as it happens, we are all too prone to giving free rein to our reckless causes, whilst forgetting about and refusing to take responsibility for the reaction part.
That young man’s remarks immediately brought to mind these thoughts about karma, and made me go back to one of the most enlightening books I ever read on the theme of freedom, by a spiritual thinker I deeply admire, Omraam Mikhaël Aïvanhov.
Aïvanhov’s core idea is that there is no such thing as absolute freedom for mankind (that is reserved for the Creator alone), for when one is free from certain circumstances he or she is bound by another. The real issue, then, is to choose wisely which bonds to free yourself from and which ideals to bind yourself to. Here’s how he beautifully puts it:
“You have to free yourself, that is true, but in order to limit yourself. You have to free yourself inwardly from all your lower instincts and tendencies in order to bind yourself to something higher, to working for the collectivity. That, for me, is the true meaning of life and liberty. Happiness and joy consist of freeing oneself, not in shirking one’s obligations, but in freeing oneself inwardly from all one’s weaknesses in order to commit oneself even more wholeheartedly to helping others. Yes, if you want to be inwardly free, you have to begin by limiting yourself and sacrificing certain things in order to commit yourself more fully. “(Aïvanhov, in: Freedom, the Spirit Triumphant)
Freeing ourselves from our weaknesses and egotistical urges in order to commit ourselves more fully to self growth and collective improvement. Here is an astoundingly truthful and generous perspective on what freedom actually is.
Image: Celtic Cross of Commitment, by Wild Goose Studio