The dilemma of freedom

Starry Song, the shaman who had the gift of transmitting the ancestral wisdom of his people through the stories he told, lit the unfailing pipe with a red stone furnace, puffed it a few times and narrated: “When the Great Spirit created the world, he was careful to distribute the attributes of each species so that each one, within its own capabilities, could survive and collaborate in the balance of life and in planetary evolution. To the bear he granted strength; the gazelle received speed; to the snake that crawls, poison; the birds were endowed with wings; the chameleon was given the power to protect itself through disguise. There is a subtle balance. If we observe carefully, nature will show us all the creativity and intelligence of the Infinite Mystery.” He puffed his pipe again, watched the dance of the smoke dissipating in front of him, and continued: “No animal is born as defenceless as the human being. We remain incapable and dependent for so long, needing the total support of others of our species until we grow up and become able to defend ourselves. At first glance, it may seem that we have been relegated and forgotten. However, the gift we have been given is the most powerful, yet the most dangerous. Not only for those around us, but mainly for ourselves. We are the only species with the power of consciousness. Therefore, of choices. This allows us to modify reality.” 

I interrupted to talk about how the different philosophical traditions, from the most distant people, in different times, usually contain the same wisdom. I remembered that, in Ancient Greece, Plato narrated the myth of Prometheus and Epimetheus, about the creation of the world, in a very similar story. The condemnation of Prometheus occurred because he stole the fire from the gods and offered it as a gift to men and women, after Epimetheus distributed the attributes to each of the other species. Within the various possible readings of mythology, fire represents the typical heat provoked by choices. Fire also brings clarity to the eye, provided by the ever-expanding light of consciousness, just as Prometheus’ condemnation to suffering for daring to disobey the gods and hand over a divine attribute to human beings was eternal.

Among other things, the mythological fire referred to human freedom. The lion that roams free on the savannahs or the eagle that soars in flight, although they are images used as metaphors for freedom, live that way by mere biological determinism. They do not have the capacity to live differently. Freedom lies in the unthinkable possibilities to decide and transform. Thus, the possibilities become infinite because of the intangibility that men and women have in creating. I recalled that the Elder, the oldest monk in the monastery, used to use the term demiurge, very common in the Scriptures, when referring to the human being. Demi means half; urgo, work. A word which originally states that we are co-authors in the creation of life and of the universe. Freedom, so often sung in prose and verse, besides being a privilege, brings with it an inevitable counterpart: responsibility. Something so great that the Greeks claimed that freedom to choose was more stressful than its possible disastrous consequences. In the 20th century, a famous French thinker, Jean Paul Sartre, stated that humanity was condemned to freedom. Yes, no matter what condition one is in, the individual will always have a choice to make. Even when he refuses to choose, the choice is made. That is its superpower; it is transformative. However, as happened in the Platonic myth with Prometheus, it has been the cause of much suffering. Starry Song, who was listening attentively, corrected me: “Only when misused. Otherwise, freedom grants you the strength of the lion and takes you to the heights attained by the eagle”.

That conversation happened a long time ago.

The reason I remembered it was the dilemma in which I found myself. I had met Maria, a charming woman, owner of a striking personality and an unforgettable smile. It had been a great encounter. We got on very well. Our conversations seemed endless, we laughed all the time, we liked similar things, we learned from each other. It was very good to live next to her. Yes, I loved her. Maria had a solid career built inside a multinational company, since the time she was a trainee. The time had come for her to be transferred to the company’s headquarters in Stockholm. The long-dreamed-of chance to occupy a position on the board of directors had been offered to her. She was jumping in joy when she told me. She had led her professional life, from the beginning, with this objective. Overjoyed, we opened a bottle of wine to celebrate. Everything was going well until the time came to execute the ideas; theory and practice don’t always seem to go hand in hand.

I asked her if she had thought about how we would go about dating; she in Sweden, I in Rio de Janeiro. With her irresistible smile, Maria revealed that she had an invitation for me: a proposal of marriage. Afterwards, we would go to live together in Stockholm. She added that she had already thought of everything. The advertising agency would be sold; the money would be put into a savings account, since the main expenses of our house would be covered by the multinational. I could work freelance, taking advantage of the experience I had in the advertising market, allowing myself the luxury of only accepting projects that were interesting from the point of view of innovation and creativity. I would have time to further my studies. There were excellent Philosophy colleges there, she said excitedly. She also said of the advantages of living in Europe. The organization, the civility, the greater access to cultural centres and without the problem of public insecurity that exists in Brazil. Maria presented an enormous list of advantages. However, a bitter feeling invaded me.

That day I realized the obvious: making a choice means following one path and, at the same time, giving up others. This is sometimes the dilemma of freedom.

I loved Maria and I was happy at the idea of marrying her. However, it meant giving up many things that were important to me. I had enormous affection for the agency; our trajectories blended together. I still didn’t consider retiring, because my enthusiasm to work was still great. Despite the problems, Rio de Janeiro was my city; I loved it for the references that marked my life. It was where my daughters travelled to on holidays to meet me. We would go to the same places, tell old and new stories. Among other reasons, I liked living here. Most importantly, I didn’t want to move.

I pondered that we could get married and live in different cities. Whenever possible, I would fly to Stockholm; on holidays, she would come to Rio de Janeiro. Longing is a wonderful spice to romances. Love does not vanish in the space-time relationship. Maria disagreed and said that poetry did not always apply to reality. She argued that she knew several couples who tried this formula and all their marriages were shipwrecked. I talked about how other people’s experiences do not always apply to our personal lives, whether in success or failure. People with different levels of consciousness have different perceptions, expectations and views on similar situations.

Maria found it strange. Me, of all people, so fond of the new, with a speech of exaltation to the constant changes on the tip of my tongue, now I recoiled before the real possibility of living a great transformation. She reminded me that perhaps I lacked the determination of the past; I had already made more radical changes than that. She said I was afraid to make a choice. Afraid of the new and of freedom. Even, perhaps, afraid of living a love story with all the intensity possible. So I would propose a middle choice that, in truth, was no choice at all. Worse, I turned my back on freedom and love.

I spent days in agony. I could say yes, and set off on an unforgettable adventure; I could say no, and go on with the rhythm of the life I loved. Until I decided to get married and live with Maria in Stockholm. I told her that I would leave a power of attorney for the agency’s employees to manage it, while I would follow everything through the modern means of distance communication, with daily exchanges of e-mails and video-conferences. Maria again disagreed. She claimed that by not getting rid of the company, I was leaving a solid bridge to fall back on after the slightest dispute or dissatisfaction. A clear sign of insecurity. It was necessary for me to be completely where I was. The argument was irrefutable.

However, the most important thing was necessary: I had to listen to my conscience which, between reason and feelings, would tell me the best decision. It happens that the answer of conscience, although the wisest, is not always the most comfortable.

Not infrequently we deceive ourselves and park ourselves at the crossroads of existence. We only pretend to take a position. We give up deciding, then life chooses for us. When this happens, it opts for the educational bias. Without noticing, by denying our own essence, we are led to the painful way by the denial of the gift that differentiates us and gives us power. Freedom.

Not to contradict Maria, and without the courage to admit my will, I lied. As I did not want to sell the agency, I planned to run it without Maria’s knowledge. Without realising, or even admitting, living in Stockholm was not my choice. It was hers. I felt incapable of rebutting the arguments that accosted me, of following the voice of my conscience. I felt afraid to express my will. So I lied. We lie for two basic reasons. When we feel ashamed to show who we are or every time we lack the courage to manifest our own truth.

I wanted to be free; we all do. But at that moment I was going in the opposite direction to freedom.

Maria had no responsibility for this. She was living her own truth and had every right to do so. I was the one who was not living mine. By not being honest with me, I could never be honest with Maria.

Life always brings two distinct aspects that are apparently contradictory but, in essence, should not be: survival and transcendence. Aligning them on the same axis paves the road to happiness. It is not enough to live, there should always be an impulse to evolve in life.

Life in Stockholm proved to be pleasant. It was a quiet, modern city with excellent entertainment options. We met interesting people and had fun. Maria was excited about her professional moment, while I struggled to believe she was happy. I would wait for her to leave for work and connect with the advertising agency. I would coordinate campaigns and participate in the creation of ads. Maria thought I was working hard on my Master’s thesis in Philosophy.

Life followed its course, always with the veiled sensation that a piece of the love that united us was being erased each day. However, existence is a master that always corrects our route towards the encounter with truth. That which inhabits us, expands and transforms us.

Life breathes the air of freedom. It was I who was suffocating myself.

I lived like a fugitive. I ran away from my true choice. Freedom is not an escape but an encounter.

Little by little, we fought more, laughed less. Every day, a little of the lightness we had was leaving us. When we were one year married, we travelled to Prague to commemorate the date. We strolled through that beautiful city hand in hand, like two lovers. However, the joy was not the same as before. Unconsciously, we tried to be what we no longer were. A part of me had annulled itself, so I could no longer be whole in our relationship. When this happens, we lack everything. Lying triggers this emptiness. Especially the lie that you tell yourself. It’s as if an invisible grid closes around you; you don’t see it, but you know it’s there.

Somehow, Maria also felt something wrong, although she could not understand because she did not know my motives. At a certain moment, we were getting ready to catch a boat that would take us for a ride along a beautiful river that cuts through the city. At the moment of boarding, not by chance, I saw that an important client of the agency was on the boat with his wife for the same trip. We had just finished a campaign for his company. It was inevitable that he would bring up the subject, revealing the lie I was hiding. Stunned, I said I was not feeling well and refused to get on the boat.

We went to a cafeteria. Sitting at a table in the corner, I drank the whole cup of coffee in silence. Maria had a lost look in her eyes, like someone trying to understand the unspoken word. That morning I had realized what I felt because of the lie I was living: shame. I realized how the lie is a cruel foreman of freedom. Nobody is free while deceiving himself. In constant daily thefts, I had become the thief of my dreams.

I told Maria the whole truth, without hiding any letter. Then I explained: “Because I wanted to show myself bold, so that you wouldn’t think I feared the new, so as not to disappoint you, I denied the truth. At the time of the marriage proposal, the greatest transformation was to let each one go their own way. Love is never against freedom”.

“I gave up the greatest freedom, the one that allows me to be authentic, by trying to be the man of your desires. By not wanting to lose it, I lost myself. By wanting to imprison love, love fled. By trying to be close to you in the wrong way, I distanced myself from the essence that animates me”.

Maria said that all these words already existed in my previous speeches. She questioned why I had let this situation happen. I confessed that it served to show me all that I knew but I wasn’t yet. However, it is never too late to take back the reins of existence.

Yes, I had made a choice. However, there are always new choices available. We give up freedom; however, it never leaves us.

Every day is a good day to die and to be born again.

Finally I said I would take the first flight to Rio. I would not even return to Stockholm to pick up my things. Maria and I broke up in Prague. That was where I met up again.

Maria was very disappointed. But it would be a superficial disappointment, typical of when something doesn’t happen according to our wishes. When the confusion of emotions gave way to the wisdom of reasons and serene feelings, she would understand that I had finally made the right choice. If I was a coward before, I was courageous afterwards. In time, the truth would prove to be the best decision, both for me and for her. As the fruit of the meeting of ignorance and fear, lies never protect, they only deceive and delay the journey to the plenitudes.

We never met again. We got a divorce by proxy. Some time later, I learned that she had remarried, this time to a director of the same company. I saw in a photograph how happy she was. Maria deserved all the happiness in the world. An immeasurable joy invaded my heart. I was aware that our relationship had not ended in Europe, but still in Rio de Janeiro, when I went to live her dreams. Not because of Maria’s fault, but because of my irresponsibility in abandoning my own dreams. By distancing myself from me, I distanced myself from her. Love does not survive in the abyss of essence nor in the emptiness of freedom.

Starry Song was right, freedom carries no dilemma in itself. Nothing is lost by choosing with the light of consciousness. The problem arises when we insist on denying our own truth.

I remember that morning in Prague, I went to the hotel and took only what I could fit in a small backpack. I brought nothing else to Rio de Janeiro; I needed nothing else. When I landed at Galeão I brought with me an old and unmistakable companion, from which I had been away: lightness.

A sensation of being at peace with myself; of the dignity of rescuing the truth that was again guiding my existence; of the happiness of living my dreams and gifts fully. Of living with love the lessons of each crossroad in the Way. Then, to move forward. Only freedom grants that power.

That day, I felt again a joy that I had forgotten existed.

Translated by Cazmilian Zórdic.

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