What really is “freedom”, and can we ever attain it?
Some years back, my frustration with and in life slowly began to dissipate after an industry productivity consultant inadvertently convinced me that there were two simple rules of life that trump all others:
- “What is, is.” (And, therefore, what isn’t, isn’t).
- “Nobody cares.”
On rule #2, he went on to say that perhaps your mother really does care, and maybe your spouse does too, on occasion; but it is best to conduct your life as if not one other soul really cares about how you feel, how your day has gone, whether you are successful, or how unjust the world has been to you. I think you get the idea.
He suggested that if we were having trouble understanding these rules and their implications, then to purchase “The Tao of Pooh” (Benjamin Hoff) in the airport newsstand and read it on the flight home. He offered to refund the cost of the book to anyone who, after doing this, felt that they had wasted the 2 hours it would take to read the book. I “bit” and finished the book for the first time before the plane pulled up to the destination gate.
Mr. Hoff’s purpose in the book is to introduce westerners to the ancient Chinese philosophy of Taoism, using the characters from the children’s book “Winnie-the-Pooh.” (If you research Taoism (or Daoism), you will find an endless amount of information, all of which becomes overwhelming in short order, and most of which seems to be pulled into a religious or metaphysical direction that I do not wish to pursue).
Pooh knows who he is, he doesn’t complicate things by attempting to do things as others might try to have him do. He keeps it quite simple: he is a bear, bears like honey; therefore, seeking honey is his overriding purpose in life. Everything else is just a footnote. The other characters all demonstrate the traits that tend to hold us back in life – Piglet is indecisive, Eeyore is a pessimistic fretter, Rabbit is too clever for his own good and never accomplishes simple tasks, Owl is pompously and uselessly over-educated or “wise”, and Tigger doesn’t know his own limitations. Pooh? Well, he just wakes up, considers his options and generally just looks for his honey.
So what in the hell do Taoism or Winnie-the-Pooh have to do with prepping, preparedness, modern-survivalism or whatever term one wishes to use?
Consider Jack Spirko’s primary tenet:
“Everything You Do Should Improve Your Position in Life Even If Nothing Goes Wrong”
This is a simple statement that supports the fact that preparedness is a process and not an endgame. Here is the deal: “Complete” preparedness and our ultimate survival is an illusion and unattainable, as we are all going to die no matter what we do to try and delay or prevent it. Funny thing, the literal translation of Tao is “path”, and most definitely NOT “destination.” Are you following me now?
OK, so we cannot survive forever and we cannot possibly prepare for everything. Why bother?
Recall the rule I referenced earlier, “What is, is.” Accept it. As a prepper, you can’t fall into the trap of focusing on the destination as there is no destination. (Anyone remember Y2K ?) Instead, you have to focus on the “path” or “journey.” Recognizing this is what makes life’s experiences always seem to work in your favor, i.e. “improves your position in life, even if nothing goes wrong.” Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Back to Hoff’s Pooh & Tao. From Benjamin Hoff, “The Tao of Pooh”
“The Christmas presents once opened are Not So Much Fun as they were while we were in the process of examining, lifting, shaking, thinking about, and opening them. Three hundred sixty-five days later, we try again and find that the same thing has happened. Each time the goal is reached, it becomes Not So Much Fun, and we’re off to reach the next one, then the next one, then the next.
That doesn’t mean that the goals we have don’t count. They do, mostly because they cause us to go through the process and it’s the process that makes us wise, happy, or whatever. If we do things in the wrong sort of way, it makes us miserable, angry, confused, and things like that. The goal has to be right for us, and it has to be beneficial, in order to ensure a beneficial process. But aside from that, it’s really the process that’s important.”
A closing thought to follow on that last sentence:
You will find a virtually unlimited amount of advice on how to be a successful “survivalist” or how to be prepared for anything and everything. It is overwhelming at the very least and mostly useless, although bits and pieces can be useful to YOU after you grasp that it is about YOU, not about THEM, or what THEY say YOU should do. Consider more from Mr Hoff,
“We don’t need to shift our responsibilities onto the shoulders of some deified Spiritual Superman, or sit around and wait for Fate to come knocking at the door. We simply need to believe in the power that’s within us, and use it. When we do that, and stop imitating others and competing against them, things begin to work for us.”
Don’t procrastinate or be indecisive. (Piglet)
Don’t be a pessimist worry-wart. (Eeyore)
Keep it simple, i.e. don’t be too clever. (Rabbit)
Don’t overthink it or believe you have to know everything before you start. (Owl)
Don’t ignore your limitations. (Tigger)
Keep it simple, move forward, get on the path. (Pooh)
It seems that today the world is a mess, as messy as it ever has been, and scores of potentially catastrophic trends appear to be firmly in place. While I will agree that the world is a mess, I’m not buying into the “things are so much worse than they ever have been” mentality. Perhaps humanity’s bus is actually driving over the cliff this time, once and for all; but so what? You and I can’t stop it. (I doubt that this is the end of times. Every generation thinks they have challenges far greater than any previous; let’s not forget that every generation has tools and opportunities not seen by any previous. Perhaps it balances out more so that we give credit?)
It all goes back to the first rule of life referenced in the beginning of this article: “What is, is.” What is going to happen is what is going to happen. It is the nature of the world, the most complex of systems in which, ironically, we try and come up with simplistic reasons for everything that happens. Usually there is no reason, it is just the may nature is. When we stop falling into this trap, our ability to control the direction of our life becomes much clearer. We can begin to live our lives on our own terms and not through the cattle chute of a life that society funnels us into. I would maintain that this is as close to true freedom as we can come.
Yet this is an elusive and difficult path to stay on because it is so easy to be pulled back in by the Eeyores, Rabbits, and Owls of the world. At virtually every moment of every day, we are sucked back towards the distractions that suck the freedom from us; besides people and institutions with substantial agendas (politicians and commercial enterprises come to mind), the culprits more often are well-meaning people in our lives who just don’t know otherwise. This is what is so powerful about Pooh’s Tao; he interacts with world, yet still manages to keeps things simple and always moving back to the center of the path he has chosen. He flows with nature and takes it as it comes, and the more he does this, the more things seem to work out for him.
I guess this is my point. Freedom is a mindset, a philosophy of independence that starts inside of us, that eventually manifests itself in our actions and eventually is present both consciously and subconsciously in every decision we make. We live our lives freely, we take care of ourselves according to our priorities (and not those of the “system” or society), and it seems that eventually the less we worry about things, the less we have to worry about.
Well, at least it seems to work this way for me (and Pooh, of course); freedom is my journey, not my destination.