Yesterday I wrote about love, as the most powerful activity of being human. But today I’ve been thinking about freedom, the most powerful quality of being human. Are we capable of freedom because we can love? Or could it be that only truly free creatures are capable of love? The older I get, the more deeply I love and the more free I feel. Seems like it must somehow be related.
When I was young, I loved in an intensely possessive way, so fiercely attached to the object of my love that I couldn’t separate myself from it. Those were the loves I felt for my parents, for my brother and my sister, for the people in my life every day. There was no self-awareness, no ability to experience myself as separate from those people or from the emotion of loving them. And I was not free. While the bonds that wove my life to theirs kept me safe and secure, I was also unable to imagine anything beyond them; my youth was not a time for freedom, but for nurturing and growth.
When I grew a little more, the jungles of romantic love opened before me and I plunged in. These are the loves that shaped my heart and, more importantly, opened my mind, because these are the ones where I learned to recognize myself as the lover, a separate vessel from the beloved, full of an emotion as bewildering as it was intense, hinting at a depth I was unable to fathom. As I grew older I began to see that all loves are related to each other, that they fed and informed each other and me as I experienced them. And I began to feel free. I began to realize that the love is what matters, that loss doesn’t end it or turn it to something else. I love my children like that, without any boundary or self-protection. That’s where the freedom begins. Love without reserve breeds freedom of thought, which in turn breeds freedom of action. And as the capacity for love grows, it becomes less and less dependent on the beloved and more and more self-fulfilling, which breeds more and more freedom…see where this is going?
So now I’m a lot older, though not as much wiser as the years might suggest. I have made quite a hash of the traditional forms of love, but somehow I find myself loving and being loved by people who are okay with that. I find the act of loving other people translates seamlessly into a kind of mental fluidity, a dance of awareness and intellectual inquiry that connects us to one another while at the same time framing us each in our particular splendor. Loving people morphs by degrees into loving ideas and back again, and with each step towards a larger love, the freedom blossoms.
I have met people both older and wiser than myself who have allowed loving to shape and refine them to a level of freedom that I can only hope for. These are the people who make no distinction between giving and taking, who lead and follow in the dance with equal grace. These are the people whose freedom is limited only by their imagination, and for whom the line between loving and knowing is stretched infinitely thin. One day I hope to be one of these people, able to love without possession and to live freely in spite of fear. On that day I fancy that I will be most fully awake and myself, most completely free to act authentically and without constraint. If there is more to being human in this world, I don’t think I’ll need it.
©Mary Braden 2013