I visited the Julian Alps in Slovenia recently. I looked out over white peaks that were so enormous that it gave me a sense of awe. A sensation of deep respect for something bigger than myself. That my problems were very small compared to an infinite world. That moment grabbed me, a peaceful feeling took hold of me. I stared ahead thoughtless for minutes.
That feeling, that core, means a lot to me. It happens spontaneously. I have no control over it. It is an intense moment that is present for just a short time. An inexplicable explanation of the feeling of being part of a larger universe.
I was thinking after that moment, I want more of this. Can I control this?
Tom Allen, he was my great hero. My inspiration for a free life. He cycled to the Middle East with his friends. Came to Iran, met his wife, but continued cycling alone. In his film Janapar, he explains how he finds himself in a mental confrontation between choosing to stay with his wife or continue his adventure. He chooses the adventure and I praise him for it. He committed himself to the ultimate free life. Going where you want. Learning about countries you’ve never been to before.
He inspired me that traveling by bike, alone, is the purest form of freedom. Through him I also started to travel by bike.
Now, four years later, I reflect on the journey not only as freedom. Another process of awareness has also started to take form. It is somewhat contradictory to everything I have ever dreamed of.
Was this journey not a shocking run of a life in the Netherlands? A distraction from this reality. A run from the accumulated pressure of all responsibilities that awaited me?
This question creates a doubt. Should I not take responsibility for my life in the Netherlands, instead of literally cycling away from it?
When I started cycling, I was not aware of what I traded in for this new adventurous world. The will for a free life was a strong feeling. I couldn’t help it. I wanted to fill this in my own way. My own quest for happiness. For freedom. For meaning.
I recently asked a good friend of mine from Iran if she believes in God. The answer she gave was “I believe in harmony with nature.”
That made me think. To be honest, I also have a strong feeling for this. I am fairly pragmatic myself. In nature I often feel one with the transience of existence. And that oddly enough brings me to rest and gives me a sense of peace. That moment then in Slovenia, that feeling of being part of a larger universe.
Our lives and how we give meaning to our lives are expressed in hope. Hope from believing in something bigger than ourselves. The answer to the questions that we will never be able to answer. A spiritual hope. A pragmatic hope. Hope for tomorrow, for our future. The way out of negativity or even depression is a desire for a hopeful future. Hope comes from having control of our own lives, self-control, personal values and a community to share these values with.
The reason that you can get out of bed with the right energy in the morning.
Self-control determines freedom. This is important. Values and a community to share those values strengthen you in this. My double feeling comes from exploiting self-control versus taking responsibility for my community, whether it’s my girlfriend, family, friends or work.
It then returns to values. What is important to me?
My definition of freedom in the most purest form is being able to choose what you want. Shaping your life on your own terms. In the Netherlands it comes back as one of the most important core values of our society.
Act according to your own will.
Being able to act according to your own will, the understanding of acting according to your own will is complex. I’m going to try to explain it to you.
To get to the core of the definition of freedom, I have to go into the depths. I think that in principle it is about a moral emptiness that we all deal with. An emptiness that we carry with us as human beings. It is lways there. Whether we are happy, rich, poor, healthy, unhealthy, always. Whatever we do in life, we always return to a state of slight dissatisfaction. And that is a good thing, it ensures that we can survive.
That you can act according to your own will is contradictory. You are, after all, always on the lookout for filling in that slight dissatisfaction. Try it. Don’t do anything for a day. Think about it. Sit and stare ahead of you. The feeling of slight dissatisfaction drives you into action in your head. You become uncomfortable. Your brain takes over from you. You search for distracting thoughts. Fortunately, we got Netflix. It takes you into the wonderful world of drama. At the end you often think that it was shit that you watched for hours. But you were distracted from your own drama.
Hope, what I was talking about, fills in that slight dissatisfaction. Your identity, your values and the world in which you share these values is your hope. It fills in a moral void. God is an answer to questions about ourselves and the world in which we live that transcend ourselves and this world.
Faith gives hope.
It ensures that the complete madness of distractions that we have in our free society, TV, Netflix, alcohol, etc, is not needed. In my opinion, that is the reason that the more conservative communities can live in a bubble like they do. I respect that, no better said, I even think this is healthy. It provides self-control, strong values to live by and a close-knit community that you are part of.
But unfortunately, I pragmatically started looking for the harsh reality. I asked myself so many questions and googled them in such a way that my search led me to the insight that I am no more than a super animal. A super animal that is always looking for distraction from the harsh reality of a dissatisfied feeling.
Hope, filling in the moral emptiness, is fulfilled within a belief in something greater than ourselves, namely God. Something incomprehensible that we cannot reach with our minds is in God’s hands. It is spiritual. Believing in something greater than ourselves is extremely important for our experience of happiness and freedom.
There is no freedom. Acting according to your own will is choosing what is available. Choosing what you can and want to understand as a person. In our society, this availability primarily translates into a materialistic offer of distraction from a harsh reality. It deals with our uncertainty. In my experience, commerce is driven by giving a distraction from that dissatisfied reality. The dissatisfaction in ourselves is even stimulated. It is the formula for success of capitalism.
Get rich or die trying.
Our society is at a tipping point. More distraction encourages us to avoid pain and that makes us increasingly weaker and more vulnerable. The comfort we have eliminate real problems out of our lives. And then our brain will ensure that tiny problems become very big. Because this is how our brain works, we are never completely satisfied. If we have everything, we want more.
The paradox of a free life.
To confront ourselves over and over again and thereby strengthen our values and self-control requires courage. It is not easy. Meaning arises when I flee from the distractions into my own distraction. To better understand life and our world outside the framework of our society. To be confronted with other values. Understand them better, learn from them and thereby challenge the norm.
Getting rid of the norm to be able to act according to your own will is a struggle. You are always confronted and challenged by the norm. Yet I believe that this fight is worth fighting for.