All of us live sub-ideal lives.

The human capacity to dream, imagine, and conjecture makes us creatures prone to seeking, forming, shaping, and longing for ideals,ideal states, ideal ways.

There is somewhere in the flotus of our minds, an ideal life, filled with ideal persons who don’t give us grief.

Something is us creates, reinforces, even insists on these ideals.

We speak of broken dreams and devastation and of the need to hunker down and suffer when our ideals are delayed, debated or worse, disdained.

We are often caught envying, comparing, complaining because we feel so far from attaining the ideals we hold dear.

Those darn ideals.

Today, as I read Solnit’s words on Virginia Woolf; I find another kind of idealisation: the freedom not to have some fixed outcome, but to explore, evolve and see what turns up.

This latter form of idealisation is too often seen as a recent socio-psychological phenomenon, fuelled by the rise of individualism. There is merit in this, seen from historical developments. Woolf of course is a woman beyond her time.

Both forms of idealisations: a better version of our current lives, and a whole new possibility of exploring an alternative way about life; I suspect, spring from the same soil.

What is it?

Is it the need for freedom? In the first, to be free from labouring, having finally attaining one’s cherished dreams; to have arrived, reach a terminus, cease striving; while in the latter, to be free from one’s present realities so to be able to explore. The latter form of freedom is particularly intoxicating today as the ideal is to be unfettered, brave, authentic.

Freedom is the axial point.

This first screen grab when I typed in “why don’t we feel free” reveals how this existential crisis is real for all of us.

In Jonathan Franzen’s insightful novel, Freedom — the female lead Patty would lead what all of us would consider a charmed life, yet -

“… all she ever seemed to get for all her choices and all her freedom was more miserable. “
He reveals how fragile and unstable our notions of freedom are. The persons we envy and consider to be free, may well be struggling deeply and about to come unhinge.

Still, most of us would gladly trade our lives in for one we believe to be better.

In most other articles one reads, including several from life coaches; the issue of our longing for freedom finds no answers. Instead; we are taught to focus on removing what limits us. Stacey Curnow, for example, urges her readers to seek freedom from ‘circulating thoughts’ that hamstring us, releasing the energy being expended for feeling vexed for more productive use.

Of course, all the released energy is to be channelled towards activities that contribute to a greater sense of self-fulfilment.
But, what constitutes a fuliflling life for one of these gurus may not be what makes us tick.

Perhaps, in the end, while we long for that which beckons beyond the horizon; we aren’t actually equipped to see what lies there. It remains in the realm of ideals which either enliven us or make us feel miserable about our present circumstances.

The latter, from all observable, seems to happen more frequently. Our ideals make us sad, restless and whiny.

So perhaps it’s needful to put the question another way: why do we feel un-free?

In the face of the reality that wealth, geography, opportunity and life circumstances do not determine our sense of freedom and well-being in a direct correlation, the place to really explore the question may well lie within our hearts.

What do our hearts need to feel free?

What are we afraid of?

Rebbeca Solnit, Men Tell Me Things.
Jonathan Franzen, Freedom

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