Creativity self-expression

The Fear of Freedom

How to recognise it and choose to move on.

John Walter 📣
7 min readJul 21, 2020
Image by Jessica Araujo from Pixabay

Freedom is our greatest desire and our biggest fear. I now realise I have struggled with this paradox for most of my life. Now is the time to learn how to recognise it, how to identify it in whatever guise it presents itself. When we are aware of the fear stalking us, we can choose to take a different path.

“Modern man still is anxious and tempted to surrender his freedom to dictators of all kinds, or to lose it by transforming himself into a small cog in the machine, well fed, and well clothed, yet not a free man but an automaton.”
Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom

I was a struggling jazz musician. I sat at a beautiful Steinway Grand playing a duo concert with a brilliant saxophonist. Just the two of us playing my compositions and improvising together effortlessly as we had for the last few years. One thousand people seemed to be giving us rapt attention, and their warm applause qualified this.

All thoughts of what, or how to play disappeared, my mind became an observer as my body took over, driven by spirit and connection. The saxophonist seemed similarly possessed — his hands, mouth, breath and instrument, suggesting and responding in equal measure. I imagined a thousand threads connecting us both to the audience. I felt their energy prompting us, encouraging us in our flights of freedom.

Afterwards, I floated over to the green room, luxuriating in the joy of this peak experience. We shared the view that it had felt like the audience was playing us. Like it had been a mystical encounter.

My wife, with baby in arms, greeted us with herb teas and a little adoration. The saxophonist left us to find a more exciting after-party.

That was 35 years ago, and it was the last professional jazz gig I ever played.

What happened? Ten years of grafting and learning, paying my dues in function bands two nights a week, building up a reputation and playing the jazz clubs and night clubs in the Bristol area. Here was the absolute dream gig executed beautifully to excellent reviews. What went wrong?

Recognising turning points. Did you choose…



John Walter 📣

Counsellor, jazz musician, AI Art nerd, bereaved father. Writing about my experience. Listening to yours.