I started thinking about this today as a result of a conversation with... who else? Julian. Why does he always send me into a lucubration on life? Perhaps because he is my life and will always be, but also because he seems to always have something to say about many of the big philosophical questions of existence, in his own words, of course. Tonight it was "Mami, my friend Kenneth thinks we are rich." "Why," I ask, thinking that it might be the big t.v. in the living room (which has never stopped to make me embarrassed after so many months...) or the fact that he always sees both of Julian's parents at home after school. "I think it is because you get to choose a job that you like," said Julian, which sent me into a trip/made up definition of my way of life: "A freedom flight into the wide unknown universe of the imagination." Hmmm, I think that definitely works as my job description, so I decided to write it here.
The sad reality is that most people--and I suppose that Kenneth's mom is one of them--, need to work at something they don't like because there is no other option or at least, they don't know yet how to change this reality. It does not seem like a coincidence that I had just been having a similar conversation about the other extreme, the happiness of doing what one loves, with a social worker who has her own counseling center and who told me with great emotion how much she loves what she does, how she feels at her best when she is talking to people. She did take the leap. She let herself fly into the unknown and held on to he idea of doing what she loves the way she loves to do it. This meant a scary time in between a regular job and the success of her business, like for me it has meant letting go of even my part time job as an art teacher in order to give up the crutches. I just felt so happy talking to her, one of the few people I know who seem to be successfully doing what they love, on their own . Hearing her gave me just the right energy to keep going and believing that I is all worth it.
I am well aware that I am able to do what I do the way I do it because I have a base from which I was able to build up, but that base did not come free or easy. I had to stick to my plan for many years until I was able to breath again, often getting frustrated in the process and even, at one point, almost throwing the whole plan out the window. I had to use all my willpower, patience and even intelligence and coldhearted thought in order to stay put and wait for my reward. And I also needed to be able to become less attached to material things. One thing I do have to say is that I do not accept poverty as an option, and that is because poverty takes away your freedom. I am always balancing and making decisions so that I can maintain a comfortable standard of living for myself and my family while at the same time remaining free and happy in my daily life. this might mean changing plans, sticking to a budget or even doing a project I don't absolutely love, but it never means giving up, getting a full time job or feeling deprived of something I truly want or need. That is not acceptable for me at this time in my life and is part of being free.
Freedom for me has absolutely nothing to do with what surrounds us, with what we can see and touch, but it has everything to do with how we feel at the time of making decisions about how we spend our time. So I do not consider it lack of freedom when I have to cancel something I want to do in order to help my son do his homework or in order to take care of some aspect of my professional or family life. These are the things I consider important, so I want to use my freedom to choose them over other things.
The other aspect of freedom I consider important is being able to recognize the occasions in which we have to use our free will so that this innate aspect of our humanity will guide us in order to direct our lives towards a better version of ourselves. Even though I might want to make a lot of money and increase my prestige in other people's eyes, I have to guide myself into decisions that will preserve my freedom above all other things. If I want freedom, then I need to use my free will in order to decide for it rather than let myself be lured into buying a new big thing or applying for a job that I know will curtail my expansion. Freedom, for me, has a lot to do with choosing correctly in the context of my values and my life as I want to live it.
Freedom is sort of like grace, it is what we truly want and need, but there is always some kind of lure attracting us away from it with every step we take. Freedom is not something on which we decide one day and then relax. Freedom calls us to constant examining of whether something is standing on the way of our growth. That something is often beautiful, delicious or simply invisible, like a sin. The true sin, however, is giving up what we most need in order to survive and endlessly soar into the wide unknown. The true sin is giving up our freedom. Like we say in Puerto Rico, "do not exchange oranges for bottles." The bottles will be empty whether now or in the future, but with the seeds of the oranges we can grow new plants and more oranges. The bottles look shiny, but cut the orange and let your tongue taste the juice. Sweet like freedom, with a bit of sour to keep us moving in the right direction.