I have been pondering the word “freedom” , and the wide range of images it conjures. Most of us at least believe that we would like to be free. However, the existential philosopher Jean Paul Sartre claimed we are all terrified of our freedom, for if we recognize our freedom we must then recognize the responsibility we garner for our lives.

I was born and raised in a country that nearly deifies freedom, at least in thought, yet, was built on the backs of slaves. This country also  rounded up the indigenous peoples that occupied the land and forced them into small patches of land called reservations; that is, the few that were left alive. Does freedom mean to be able to do whatever we want? Without some limits on freedom we end up with the tyranny of the mob.

This is the Miriam Webster dictionary definition of freedom:

1:  the quality or state of being free: as

a :  the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action

b :  liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another :  independence

c :  the quality or state of being exempt or released usually from something onerous <freedom from care>

d :  ease, facility <spoke the language with freedom>

e :  the quality of being frank, open, or outspoken <answered with freedom>

f :  improper familiarity

g :  boldness of conception or execution

h :  unrestricted use <gave him the freedom of their home>

The first part of this definition,1a, points to an interesting aspect and perhaps, a source of much of the confusion around the word freedom. Freedom exists only in context, and within that context, we are totally free. As Camus suggests in “The Myth Of Sisyphus”, we are all faced with Hamlet’s dilemma, Once we realize this. we are choosing to be in the situation we are in. For example, I may want to be totally free and fly like a bird, and I am faced with the facticity of a body existing in gravity. I can claim that I am being “oppressed” by gravity and prevented from the freedom to soar through the air. This would be a false claim. I can jump off a high cliff and soar through the air for the time it takes me to reach the ground. Then I am faced with the combined phenomena of physics and biology.

This may seem like a ridiculous example, but it makes an important point; that we are always totally free and always totally responsible. Every choice I make, I make freely. however, every free choice is made within the context I find myself at any given moment. I am choosing to not fly because of the consequences of flying. I can live with that choice.

This suggest that if one does not feel free it is because we are choosing to not be free in order to avoid the responsibility of our choices. Of course, this is a fools game because we are always choosing.

One can surmise from the above definition of freedom how one’s relationship to, or understanding of freedom influences psychological well being. Thus the statement in Sartre’s play  “No Exit, “Hell is other people.” In the presence of the other we feel their objectification of us. We then attempt to manipulate that objectification by giving up the freedom of self in order to become what we believe is a more favorable object in the eyes of the other. This is what the founder of Gestalt Therapy, Fritz Pearls, calls “Giving our eyes away.” We, in essence, become our own disciple Peter , and deny ourselves before the world at the moment of truth, which is, each moment our consciousness faces the other. We are always free to choose. We can give up ourself to the eyes of the other, or not. If we give up ourselves in order to manipulate their objectification of us, we feel, what we believe to be, their oppression of us. In truth, what we are experiencing, is our own self-denial. In any given moment we are faced with Peter’s decision, which is psychically related to Hamlet’s decision. We can choose to deny the truth of who we are, or enter naked into the world. Remember what Peter had just witnessed. By entering naked into the world we all face some form of annihilation. In keeping with this metaphor, what we fail to recognize while blinded with the fear of annihilation, is that this annihilation leads to resurrection, at least until the day of our physical demise.

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