Just a few minutes into the excellent documentary, “What Happened, Miss Simone?” an interviewer asks Nina Simone “What’s free to you?” She’s uncertain at first.
“It’s just a feeling. It’s just a feeling…”
Then she smiles her big, beautiful smile.
“I’ve had a couple of times on stage when I really felt free. And that’s something else. That’s REALLY something else!”
After thinking about it, she looks directly into his eyes, becomes more animated and intense, and loudly proclaims,
“I’ll tell you what freedom is to me. No fear! I mean, really, NO FEAR!“
Finally she looks away, puts her head in her hand, and quietly muses, as if to herself,
“If I could have that half of my life. No fear…”
The prisons we build ourselves
Those of us who are fortunate enough not to fear physical violence or illness can still find ways not to be free. We worry about the past and about the future. It’s sounds almost trivial until you realize how your own thoughts can rob you of that feeling of freedom and joy.
Just the other day, someone at work asked to meet me and I was sure I was in trouble of some kind. There was no evidence. It was a simple email. Yet I created a story that made me anxious. A few hours later, it turned out she was simply asking my advice.
The same day I was meeting with two friends who I think highly of. We had agreed to form a group to apply the ideas in my book. Rather than being excited, I was worried my friends - smart and accomplished - would be disappointed in me or my ideas. But there was no judgment. We simply met and talked and helped each other. I enjoyed their company and conversation.
These small fears prevent can prevent you from enjoying each day. The bigger ones can paralyze you.
Be free where you are
The heading "be free where you are" comes from a lecture given by a Buddhist monk inside a prison. It helped me understand that, for the prisons we build ourselves, we all have the keys.
The keys generally include being aware of the cognitive distortions we create. Being compassionate towards ourself and others. Being mindful and enjoying the present moment. For me, reading books like these and putting the ideas into practice is gradually making a difference.
It’s July 4th today and we’re celebrating Independence Day in the US. I'm not free yet, but I’m working toward making every day my own Independence Day.