Do you ever long to be free?
Perhaps you can’t put your finger on it, but sometimes a strange pull from within yearns to escape something ungraspable? Isn’t this longing for freedom simply natural, part of being human?
It’s a voice we often silence. We rationalise it as “Freedom isn’t possible” because “I don’t deserve it”, “I have no time”, “I’m too busy” and “That’s just life” – all of which are understandable internal dialogues in the context of the daily pressures of our lives.
But is that really ‘just life’? Isn’t life naturally, wildly free? We just need to look at nature to see that freedom is the origin of the wonder, beauty and aliveness of this world. And isn’t freedom the creative spark that ignites it all? Surely we can’t give up on it that easily?
Just over a year ago, I found myself caught in this restless longing for freedom. I’d been there before but for the first time ever, I gave it all the space it was asking for.
My imaginary projection of this longing had always been that one day, I’d drop everything and return to my favourite wild place in the world, the Lake District region of Southern Chile. Maybe there, I would shake off this restlessness, discover freedom and fulfill my wish to know life?
In August 2018, I left my job, packed my rucksack and set off back to the wilds of Patagonia. I had no plans (aside from leading a couple of retreats), and no idea where life would lead me next. It felt exhilarating. It felt brave. It felt terrifying.
During my travels, I spent weeks immersing myself in the South American wilderness – in stunning landscapes living exciting adventures. However, the longing persisted and my restlessness intensified.
One day, whilst hiking in Huerquehue National Park in Chile, I burst into tears amongst the 1000 year old giant Araucaria trees. There I was, in my favourite place on Earth and yet I felt trapped – a prisoner of the restless longing that had chased me all the way there. I found myself asking the trees to guide me but they remained unsurpringly indifferent to my internal drama. What was wrong with me? If I can’t find freedom in this magical place, how will I ever feel free? How will I ever know life?
In early 2019, I came home and this time, I had no new plan nor dream of another escape. Where could have felt better than the Chilean Lake District? I felt cheated and began to wonder if maybe it was true after all, perhaps I should accept that feeling trapped and restless is “just life”.
It was then that I felt a significant shift within me; it felt akin to what the Buddhist author Pema Chodron calls “the wisdom of no escape”. Peering outwards in search of circumstances where life may be ‘better’ no longer seemed an option.
My only way forward was to turn inwards, to explore the restlessness I’d been running from. There, I began to discover new layers of thoughts and emotions about who I ‘should and shouldn’t be’ and how ‘I should and shouldn’t feel’. Could these be some of the bars of the perceived cage I longed to be free from?
Exploring this restlessness was like shedding a skin, letting go of old ways of being, and a powerful sense of grief began to pour in for a while. But as I allowed the emotions to unfold, I felt the birth of a new, compassionate, voice filtering through again. At times, I felt like a tree, growing new branches, in an empowering homecoming to myself. I felt a renewed connection to my natural strength, fierceness and aliveness.
What if the freedom we long for were actually about daring to truly belong to ourselves and be authentically seen within our daily lives? What if it were about allowing our natural human fears, doubts, strengths and joys to unfold – without judgment? Of course, sometimes we all need an escape and new perspectives and challenges. But maybe if we allowed more freedom into our day-to-day, we wouldn’t feel the need to escape so often?
As we become aware of our inner ‘cage’, of our internal dialogue about how, what and who we are, could freedom actually be available to us in letting go of these narratives, in every moment? Of course, this is the exploration of a lifetime; there is no end-point. But isn’t that what makes this life such a fantastic adventure?
What’s more, what if uncovering our own freedom were the fuel for authentic, compassionate connection with others – for reigniting our sense of belonging and connection with the rest of the world? Indeed, when we feel truly seen and accepted ourselves, we experience less judgment and more acceptance of others.
So how can we practically bring greater freedom into our lives? We can begin by reflecting on what makes us feel alive, at home within ourselves, without constraints? What takes us out of our minds and into the joyful flow of our direct experience? Whether it’s dancing, music, reading, yoga, writing, time in nature, mindfulness meditation or time with loving friends and family – these can all be invitations to feeling our freedom pour back in.
Recently, one of my own most simple practices has been to remind myself that whatever I’m feeling and thinking at any given point in time – however irrational or nonsensical, nothing is wrong with me, I’m OK – naturally and authentically me, just another wonderful, irrational, imperfect and contradictory human being.
I hope that one day I may return to visit Araucaria trees of the Chilean Lake District and thank them for their wise indifference. Once again, the natural world turned out to be the greatest teacher – echoing that I’m already free. We all are. It’s the natural, free, precious spark of aliveness that lives within us. And we just can’t give up on that, can we?