As I have been thinking about this month’s theme – freedom – an earworm has been running through my mind. Over and over again I come back to the line from Me and Bobby McGee, as sung by Janice Joplin. The line goes like this: “Freedom’s just another name for nothin’ left to lose.” It’s a catchy phrase, but I have to give consideration to whether that’s what I really believe. Is it even possible to reach a point where we have nothing left to lose? If we follow the Zen Buddhist path of non-attachment, I suppose it’s possible to come close. But for most of us, at least here in the Western world, no matter how bleak our circumstances, we still have something in our lives that we would fight to hold onto. Some possession, some person or some ideal—something—is so important to us that we would not willingly let it go. In fact, we experience a feeling of freedom, and security, because of what we possess. We may feel that money gives us freedom—freedom to travel, to live comfortably, to support our family. Or we may feel that money weighs us down—earning it, protecting, preserving it, choosing how and why to spend it. We may feel that knowledge or truth sets us free, although with knowledge comes the expectation of using it wisely.
No one lives completely removed from connections to people, places, possessions, or ideas which are meaningful to them.
So if freedom cannot be define by having nothing left to lose, what is it? I’ve come to think that freedom is the privilege of being able to choose your own chains. We may choose to bond ourselves in covenant to another person. We may choose to accept the responsibility of parenthood. Perhaps we will seek out work that requires us to consider the needs of others, or on the other hand we may gravitate towards a solitary profession. We may choose the freedom of auto ownership, with the chains of licenses, laws, maintenance, and so forth that come along with it; or we may choose to rely on public transportation, with its dependence on vagaries of schedules and availability. Chains of consequence result from every decision we make about our lives.
So, how do we decide which chains we want to accept into our life? How do we choose our own chains? The way we approach those decisions will influence our lives in ways both consequential and determinate.
Courtesy of a friend, I recently came upon an old Reader’s Digest Reader—this one was the 30th anniversary edition, published in 1951. Those of us of a certain age recall that these books were a compendium of memorable articles published in Reader’s Digest magazine. In this particular edition, I found an article entitled, “Obey That Impulse” authored by William Moulton Marston and published originally in the April 1941 issue of the magazine. William Moulton Marston was a psychologist of some repute in the early part of the 20th century, who among other accomplishments, is credited with perfecting the technique that led to the development of the lie detector. In this article, he touts the wisdom of “sudden, warm, impulsive action.” He asserted that persons of “true accomplishment” owe much of the success in their careers from “impulses promptly turned into action.” He believed that each of us stifle enough good impulses during the course of every day to change the very path of our lives. Marston suggested that the consequences of our inaction are likely to be worse than the mistakes of our most genuine impulses. Often our intuition, which originates in a “swift subconscious appraisal of the situation,” is our best guide when considering our options. Acting on a hunch is probably at least as good a way to exercise our freedom to choose our path as any other, I suspect, and often to be preferred to overthinking, leading to paralysis by analysis.
I am one of those who by nature tend to overthink possible courses of action. In recognizing that tendency, I have vowed to myself that if whenever an opportunity arises that seems promising, I have to just “go for it.” For example, do I want to succumb to the temptation to nurture my inner introvert by staying home and cozying up to a good book, or do I want to accept a spur-of-the-minute invitation to join a friend at a play on a cold winter’s night? If the play and the company of my friend sounds at all pleasant, I stop thinking about it right there, and just say sure, count me in! So far, I haven’t regretted any of those decisions. In fact, I’m often surprised and delighted at what ensues!
Marston suggests that we should back over our own experiences and take note of how many of our happiest moments and greatest successes have followed spur-of-the-moment actions and decisions. He closes his article by telling us that such moments are “reminders that only from the depths of your inner self can you hope for an invincible urge toward accomplishment.”
Oh, it’s true that you may have failures when following your hunches or jumping into immediate action, but then again, you are probably just as likely to have failures from inaction, or from analyzing an idea to its eventual slow, neglected, death. Our inner self knows what we want and what we are capable of. At the very least we should allow ourselves the freedom to follow our hunches more than once in a while, and let the excitement and passion of the moment carry us away, possibly to new heights.
What tethers you to your life? What holds you down, or lifts you up? Do you allow yourself the freedom to take action based on your hunches at least as often as you fail to act on an impulse in order to weigh your options? As we move into this New Year of 2016, dear reader, let’s let one of our promises to ourselves be to follow our instincts more often and see what happens! How freeing!
Citation: The Thirtieth Anniversary Reader’s Digest Reader. Reader’s Digest Association, Inc.; (1951)