The topic of freedom has come up a couple of times recently in conversations. Perhaps the plight of the worlds' refugees has raised our consciousness about it. In Australia we have many freedoms that people in other countries could only dream about. The freedom to speak openly, the freedom to go where we want, when we want, the freedom to make our own choices and decisions.
Hang on for a moment though: are we entirely free to do those things? Are there risks to us if we do those things? Are some people more at risk than others? Women for example have been told to curb their freedom in order to keep safe. We can't say absolutely anything without some consequences. There are laws and community norms that, often for good reason, block or at least shape our freedom.
Listening to Tim Cope speaking about his extraordinary journey from Mongolia to Hungary with horses and a dog over three years, he sometimes spoke of a freedom he felt. Yet he was reliant on others along the way and this became an incredible positive part of his experience. He was subject to border checks which held him up for weeks at a time. Despite those constraints, he spoke of the boundless plains, called steppe, and the ability to lose track of time and place, to not rush and to be patient.
Freedom might not be able to be absolute but it might mean the ability to shake off the shackles of time and expectations we have in western culture, to be more influenced by nature and seasons. To accept what comes and embrace the day's events as they occur, taking their lessons and experiences with grace.
Perhaps freedom is about the ability to think outside of the square. To find what has most meaning to us and live our lives in a way that is true to that. This may bring us a freedom of mind while living within the constraints of a life with others.
Freedom and safety can get entangled in the conversation and perhaps this is more the case for women. As parents we might want our daughters to embrace life and have freedom in what they do and think, but we will always add the warning about being safe while chasing freedom. Don't walk alone, don't trust people too quickly, don't dress suggestively, don't go out without your mobile phone, don't forget to keep in touch... All messages well intended but likely to put a dampener on the dreams of freedom and adventure.
We are lucky in Australia to have freedoms to make choices to a large extent. We can talk freely on social media, we can criticise the government and public figures, sign petitions, rally in the streets. We can usually decide to change our careers, re- train and start over if we want to. We mostly have the freedom to spend our money in ways we choose. Sometimes we can become burdened by our expectations and those of others so feel a lack of freedom when in fact it may be there.
So perhaps the search for freedom begins with a check on our expectations, the internal rules we live by and having conversations with people around us about what we really want. Then setting up a plan to do it. Getting their support might help us feel more able to be free. There's a fair bit of irony in this but valuing relationships means taking them into account when making decisions for ourselves. Through these conversations we might all become more free.