Inspired by Becker’s Quote

He gave me a present in the shape of a square, not too heavy, and told me to wait for the next morning before I opened it. A thin piece of wrapping paper was keeping my eyes from the true sight of this gift. When the sun rose again, I woke in excitement for the new discovery. It was black and white, but with a soft cover. The book cover had a white comma with a black background and no words. I opened it to read the first word “quotable.” It was a simple coffee table idea, a book of quotes. “Read one page before you begin your day and record your reflections at the end of the day, repeat this exercise every day,” he had instructed. I was touched to realize that he was encouraging my love of writing as a means of growing personally through daily reflections. It was no secret that this man, once my perfect stranger, had become my best friend and lover.

And the reflective writing began…

“If you don’t like someone, the way he holds his spoon will make you furious; if you do like him, he can turn his plate over into your lap and you won’t mind.” – Irving Becker 1993

Who hasn’t been around that one person they cannot stand? You can hardly handle the way they behave, smile, or even breathe. This quote is a wake up call, a reminder that disliking someone changes your entire perspective of them in their every action. Notice how the quote says two separate things, but I focused on the first part? Why is that? Because the first sentence tends to be associated with a defensive reaction when directed to a particular person as advice.

Take for example the last person that you vented about. There must be one person that happens to irritate you so much you confide your frustration in someone else. Now imagine that person did not just listen to you, instead they replied “the way he holds his spoon will make you furious.” Your first reaction would be irritation at this person for trying to enlighten you rather than just listen to you. Perhaps you will deny the truth and follow with a conditional statement “If only he/she would do this or not do this, I wouldn’t have a problem with him/her.”

However, the quote, when first read, does not instigate a defensive reaction because it is not directed at any one particular person. Moreover, the balance of positive and negative perspectives gives the reader a deeper reflection on the words. By “negative” perspective, I mean the first part of the quote that our own negative feelings towards someone clouds our thinking into finding irritation in anything that they may do. By “positive” perspective, I mean the second part of the quote “if you do like him,  he can turn his plate over into your lap and you won’t mind” because this realization is ridiculous yet rings true to many of us. The opposite perspectives make this quote more believable and less likely to be brushed away by the reader.

That said, one cannot take the words literally as even my favorite person in this world can irritate me by turning his plate over into my lap. Becker writes figuratively, yet with great imagery. For those readers who take everything literally, did you picture you’re least favorite person holding a spoon?

Picasso

“I wish I could paint.”
“What do you mean you can’t paint?”
“My hands can’t maneuver a brush to reproduce the images in my mind”
“I wish you believed you could paint. Belief of power is power in itself. You paint images for me all the time, don’t let your mind blind you of your capabilities. Picasso you are.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Your words have colors, your tone has weight, and together you paint every day.”
“Oh! A painting of literature, imagery combined with watercolors. I’m intrigued with this perspective and I shall follow your lead to paint…”

You are naked, bare with your skin as your last resource. A bare woman displays more courage than a man in uniform and shield. The grass grew taller, the wind became wilder and together they stroke against you’re dying skin cells. Liberated, you’re lost in your own thoughts. A mind as a safe haven, you’ll perhaps always live in a parallel world. Your hair flew without direction as you forgot your existence in this world. Utterly lost, you’ve already escaped into the same shell you used as a child, the deep corners of your heart.

The rain drizzled. Not enough to make you want to use the wind shield wiper. The obstruction was there, small rain droplets dropping like bombs in a war zone and sliding into an abyss of the nights darkness. That’s what life is like. In front of your face are people talking, you listen, but the rain distracts you and a wave of emotion takes you to a different place. Your painting is no longer an image of the highway with cars, now it is rain drops mingling. So focused, you lose track of the road and just like that, you swerve out of direction. Surprises come with no warning. Be brave.

Untitled Moments from March Reflections

We are blind to the flow of life because of the force of gravity. Newton’s theory has made us believe that you must always have your feet on earth and your shoulders upright. Planet Earth will show you bruises if you jump and fall unconventionally. Your body will collapse to the ground if you don’t stand on your feet, use your hands to catch your fall. The scabs on our knees from when we first fell off our bikes tell us that we need to live with awareness and “be careful” as our mothers say. Life becomes harder, the pains deeper as we grow up and experience this world of human interaction.

Life is just an ocean of waves with currents always changing. It takes me back to that beach in Tunisia where I stood there watching the sun rise like a beast invading the ocean with its passionate orange tint and burning sensation. I ran carelessly, flapping my arms freely, stomping the sand, and expressing my love for another day. I giggled with the waves that tickled the sun at the horizon. There are places my words cannot take you, sensations my soul experiences that are left unwritten like lost historical records left to your interpretation.

The moments the universe gives you…

Earth rotating, Stars shining

It’s a blank white screen until you hit the keys. The cursor waits patiently to be moved by your thoughts. Your ears wait for the right song to let your emotions bleed through your fingers into audible words. The truth is. Sometimes there are no magic words that can provide clarity. Sometimes your emotions are only meant to be felt and not understood. But we are creatures of logic and we stubbornly seek answers to questions that hardly make sense. Close your eyes and let the breeze caress your face, blow your hair freely into the wind. Take a moment for yourself away from anyone’s thoughts or expectations. We are at the same time limited and motivated by the hopes and desires of others that we lose ourselves into a web of people instead of losing ourselves within the purity of our soul. We are pushed and pulled, left and right, with no clear direction.

I beg that you close your eyes and listen to the beat of your heart, the way I have heard it. Thump… Thump… Thump… Your heart continues to beat with rhythm, the clock hands continue to tick away. Your lungs fill with fresh oxygen and this world gives you yet another moment to use as you choose. Listen to the birds and the bugs making music together like the most beautifully disorganized orchestra. Appreciate every touch, every lady bug that crawls on your hands blessing you with luck. Open your eyes if only to see a sun that rises with the same potential and beauty that you hold within you.

You will remain blind to the shine of the stars if the night’s darkness sways you to close your eyes. Life will lose color and intrigue if you no longer walk barefoot on the grass, run with no purpose, or ask questions that may never be answered. Take the risk. You were born to be free, confident, and spontaneous. You were never expected to understand yourself or others, but only enjoy moments.

Love with arms wide open. Kiss like it’s the last time. Never take the presence of loved ones for granted. Do not let your eyes see nature with less wonder than an environment created for the purpose of giving you answers and peace. The world is your backyard, to roam, fall, and learn. The sky is an ever-changing painting of limitless dreams, to plant questions in your mind and motivate your sense of what once seemed impossible achievements. Limits? Do not exist. Your confidence, once built back up, will prove you that your mind and body can reach beyond man-believed borders. You were created by the best to be the best. Do not be fooled by insecure thoughts. Amazing, yes you are. All capable, yes you are. The only person that hinders you from being YOU is yourself.

Find your peace. Take whichever road you must, seek out the views that will inspire you, find those moments that will make you feel complete. Whatever you do. Never forget that you are nothing less than amazing. I am in love with you because of who you are. Complex, caring, full of questions but also answers, a man that moves to the rhythm of the wind, that knows how to twirl his woman and who inspires her desire to live. You are my best friend and lover. Chin up, open your eyes, the stars are still shining for you and the sun still begs your attention as it rises with confidence and sets with pride. Live everyday with more wisdom and courage as the last. Peace comes with patience, live your dream and follow your happiness, no one else’s.

A Taoist Way to Freedom: An Academic Research Paper

Taoism is not only a religion, but it is also a philosophy and a way of living. Following the text of Zhuangzi, Taoists can attain individual freedom through the implementation of practices and the adoption of beliefs. The importance of freedom lies in its influence within an array of cultures, disciplines, and historical periods. It has been the slogan of revolutions in the twenty-first century and the decades preceding. In the West, the discussion of freedom has primarily revolved around political rights and the state’s guarantee of fundamental rights. However, in Asian culture, and specifically within Taoism, freedom has been a spiritual journey rather than a fight for political liberty. The path that Zhuangzi has paved long precedes the universal human rights and dates back to the 4th century BCE.[1]

Freedom is important within Taoism because it allows for greater harmony and a deeper connection with the Tao. This is clearly the ultimate objective and a central link that Zhuangzi makes. He dictates several forces that can be seen as a blockade from freedom within an individual’s mindset. He aims to lead people to “a way to attain the ultimate liberation of the human spirit.”[2] Zhuangzi identifies that knowledge, language, and morality are causes of “human suffering and alienation because [they] work against our spontaneity and instinct of living with nature.”[3] First, his critique of common knowledge is a step of human liberation from the illusion and manipulation of any humanly constructed knowledge. Secondly, the structure of language and significance placed on words limits people from a sense of freedom that can be experienced in nature due to conceptualization. Thirdly, freedom is achieved through wuwei as individuals act in sync with nature and based on their instinct rather than through human-made manipulation of moral codes. Lastly, further analysis on the relation between Zhuangzi and the Tao, and xiao yao you will be provided.

Zhuangzi, also known as Zhuang Zhou, was a Taoist philosopher from Meng during the Warring States periods, which is marked as the historical period that founded Chinese philosophy.[4] He is believed to have been “a contemporary of King Hui of Liang or Wei (370–319 BCE), King Xuan of Qi (319–301 BCE), and Mencius (371–289 BCE).”[5] There are records that Zhuangzi spent some time as a clerk of low rank with a high reputation and no desire for political fame. When King Wei of Chu State offered him the position of prime minister of Chu, Zhuangzi laughed and responded “Go away, don’t insult me! I shall never be a politician. I just want to enjoy my free spirit.” (Shi Ji, Zhuangzi Liezhuan).[6] This direct quote from Zhuangzi, documented in the Records of the Grand Historian by Sima Qian, evidently demonstrates the importance of freedom in the spiritual sense for Zhuangzi. Indeed, he is primarily recognized for showing the way to “the escape from societal pressure into an individual path of freedom” that is in sync with the Tao.[7] 

In order to guide Taoists, Zhuangzi identifies the forces of control that prevent liberation to shed light on the journey one must take, avoid or alter. First, one must “deconstruct and go beyond common knowledge” in order to achieve this objective and embrace a truly free life. [8] Knowledge is the force that paves the road to freedom. However, Zhuangzi does not advise that practitioners find knowledge to reach freedom, but rather that they move away from it. As different forms of knowledge emerged, human beings have “lost their natural integrity and the harmonious relationship they once had with each other and the world.”[9] Ultimately, it is one’s way of thinking that can make them free and consequentially achieve a sense of harmony with the Tao.

Laozi also discusses this construction of human knowledge as a barrier to spiritual freedom. Arbitrary opinions appeared within humanity, which led to a mindset of a dualistic nature.[10] The appearance of good assumed the existence of its opposite (evil) and human beings began to lead their lives “with opinions they constructed by themselves.”[11] Therefore, Zhuangzi points to the deconstruction of opinions, especially concerning metaphysical claims of the Tao, because “this is the most crucial step toward human freedom and liberation.”[12]

Geling Shang points to Zhuangzi’s second chapter Qi Wu-lun, which he translates as “Equalizing or Identifying Opinions on Things.”[13] The translations of the chapter’s title vary based on different scholars, but the ideas discussed remain the same. In terms of freedom, this is the core of the Inner Chapters because it reveals the most in-depth “understanding of ourselves, our lives, our language, and our understanding itself.”[14] Zhuangzi exposes an image of the mind that demonstrates attachments to things, distractions by fear, and distinction between right and wrong.[15] He aims to find the “root cause of closed-mindedness” to eliminate it and guide humans to an open and free way of life.[16] This section builds the foundation of this first step that one must take. Zhuangzi does not refute any opinions or forms of knowledge, but instead deals “with the common problems of different opinions or knowledge as a whole.”[17] He aims to bring awareness to human beings as they assess Zhuangzi’s conclusion that “every perspective is equally right or equally wrong.”[18]

Zhuangzi claims that knowledge is supported by a subjective foundation, which he deems unreliable due to differentiation.[19] In contrast, nature (ziran) is not made up of categories or conceptions, but instead “it is an undifferentiated one of many and different in which everything becomes and appears in its own way yet without distinction.”[20] To expand on the idea of ziran, Guo Xiang comments that each individual thing has its own nature, its own place, and should therefore be valued for itself.[21] There exist different opinions that “are identical in their limitation and are equally relative.”[22] Moreover, there is no way to judge the truth of one’s knowledge because it is not founded on an endless cycle of arguments with no authority to identify the truth.[23] In comparison, the Tao does not depict any distinctions between right and wrong as neither is true; truth is intrinsic being.[24] Zhuangzi aims to “bring ming, that is, illumination, clarity, or light” to the mind of individuals.[25] He explains that it is imperative to avoid prejudice and adopt the perspective of the Tao in equalizing opinions and viewing things as neither precious nor cheap.[26]

Zhuangzi also states that knowledge in itself is limited by language and logic; therefore, it does not have an absolute value.[27] He views it as the consequence of the human activity of reasoning.[28] In other words, reason does not pave a path to freedom and logic only results in limiting a person’s freedom for Taoists. Interestingly, this is contrary to the claims that other classical philosophers, such as Plato, have made about reason being vital for the attainment of liberty in Western culture.

Taoists must attain true and “intuitive knowledge” of the Tao in order to become completely free.[29] Zhuangzi argues that practitioners can reach this goal if they return to nature and no-knowledge by avoiding common knowledge, differentiation and realize the limitations of partial truths.[30] In other words, one ought to concentrate on the nature of one’s opinions and those of others to free the mind to view different perspectives and contribute to one’s “ultimate transformation and liberation.”[31] According to Shang, Zhuangzi claims that spontaneity and nature is the path “to reach the height of a religious state of spiritual freedom” and therefore, we must surpass “reason and self-consciousness.”[32] Ultimately, this first step results in a mind of xu, which is characterized by emptiness as the thought process is not dominated by common knowledge or limited by dichotomy.[33] The refusal of distinctions between right and wrong also frees the individual from the “sufferings of conventional mortal life.”[34] This is significant to Taoism because Zhuangzi claims that as knowledge evolves itself, the Tao “withdraws itself.”[35] In short, the first step to freedom is moving away from knowledge due to the limits that it creates and the hindrance that it has on one’s connection with the Tao.

Secondly, language is another factor that limits the spiritual freedom of individuals.[36] As it constructs the mind and thought process, Zhuangzi argues that it “suppresses our spontaneity and freedom.”[37] This argument extends beyond the influence of linguistics within knowledge. The basic function of language is differentiation by definition as it is used to identify, categorize, and conceptualize.[38] There is no truth in words because they are also founded on relativity and differentiation.[39] This can be seen from the simple example of this and that.[40] Both words are relative as this to the one person is that to the other and vice versa. Language aims at “fixing a meaning in words and names” in a world that is constantly changing and never fixed.[41] Therefore, the structure of language does not represent with the flow of nature that leads one to the Tao.[42]

Based on the Inner Chapters, he is also recognized for incorporating indirect language “through narratives and poetry” to illustrate the Way.[43] Zhuangzi does not condemn the use of language in relation to the Tao. Instead, he argues that to reach liberation one must recognize that it is an essential instrument of expression with limitations, but it cannot represent an “ultimate reference to Dao.”[44] It is imperative that one uses the types of discourses that the Book of Zhuangzi introduces to overcome these limitations. Zhiyan, also called goblet words, refers to Zhuangzi’s type of language and encompasses both yuyan and chongyan.[45] The former can never be synthesized to a fixed meaning and the latter eliminates “the language of rights and wrongs.”[46] Its purpose is to deconstruct language and open the mind to “the vivid or vital nature of things.”[47] Therefore, Zhuangzi reveals the nature of language, avoids its limitations, and frees the mind from differentiation and argumentation.

Yuyan is an indirect language similar to an allegory that was widely used among Chinese thinkers because it can lead to various interpretations.[48] Zhuangzi applies it to his writing as yuyan does not include personal judgments and mirrors the all-inclusive and undifferentiated nature of the Tao.[49] In this way, his stories “are not prescriptive but suggestive” and he does not bluntly assert any statement.[50] On the other hand, chongyan refers to “dual words or double discourse” and can adapt within the context of the sentence to encompass a word and its opposite, or negation, and avoid the fixed nature of language.[51] Therefore, chongyan does not follow logic in its statements. Instead, it embraces the contradictions in relation to the Tao who is “both right and wrong” and has “no preference concerning an object of reference.”[52] Ultimately, zhiyan reflects the way Zhuangzi communicates and therefore, paves the path to a harmonious relationship with nature as it avoids the limitations of language and opens an avenue to spiritual freedom.

Thirdly, the idea of wuwei, known as non-doing, is essential to achieve the spiritual freedom that Zhuangzi represents.[53] Moreover, it is considered a core concept within Taoism philosophy alone.[54] Wuwei is used in the Inner Chapters in relation to the ideal person and to the connection with the Tao.[55] Scholars have recognized that the state of wuwei is present when “man becomes one with nature… and merges himself with the Tao” as a perfect unity and embrace of the universe.[56] It is connected to the image of wandering discussed earlier in the analysis of the Qi Wu-lun. Due to such relation, it is perceived as a quality that encompasses flexibility and as the attitude of an individual that molds into an approach of this world.[57] Therefore, wuwei also refers to a level of personal harmony “in which actions flow freely and instantly from one’s spontaneous inclinations.”[58] It neatly ties together the objective of spiritual freedom with harmony and the Tao.

Zhuangzi is remembered as a philosopher who refuses to submit to the societal and political pressures, and thus “insulates himself from such harms.”[59] He criticizes moral codes that are implemented in society and demonstrates that forced morality hinders the attainment of human liberation (xiaoyao).[60] Zhuangzi perceived conventional values and standards as spoiling the human spirit with “artificial goals.”[61] Therefore, wuwei frees individuals from the control of the mind by societal principles and teaches them to “listen to their qi and respond with their spirit.”[62]

Zhuangzi rejects the idea that the ethical codes implemented by ancestral emperors are mandated by Heaven. Instead, he views it as another attempt at manipulating the mass to create social roles and “suppress human freedom, which flows from the spontaneity of all things.”[63] Zhuangzi supports the flow and naturalness of life in its intrinsic form without human manipulation or differentiation through knowledge, language, or morality. Absent these forces that hinder individual freedom, people could reach a sense of peace with an undisturbed mind. In relation to the Tao, these rules destroyed the harmony of individual’s lives, which was essential to the deep spiritual connection with the Tao. Furthermore, the unity of the Tao is divided into pieces due to “superficial opinions and moral judgments” that people try to generalize into “universal truth.”[64]

Zhuangzi views individuals following moral codes under the same oppression as slave laborers or horses. For those who aim for moral perfection, the nature of human existence is weakened and comparable to “horses with haltered heads and oxen with strings in pierced noses.”[65] He rejects the idea that gods ought to command existence with such rules and encourages a life of spontaneity and non-action. Human intervention is not necessary for the natural process of transformation (ziran) to take place.[66] Life unfolds with harmony and there is no necessity for righteousness or benevolence to dictate existence.[67]

Zhuangzi introduces daode in the De Chong Fu, Chapter 5 of the Book of Zhuangzi, as an idea that can “cure the illness caused by morality” through the virtue of spontaneous living within nature.[68] Practitioners with the virtue of de are those who have not followed any teaching of morality of knowledge, do not argue between right and wrong, and have no attachments that may disturb their peace of mind.[69] This enables the person of de can live in harmony with nature and with other people.[70]

As the destruction of knowledge, language, and morality leads to spiritual freedom, it is essential to fully understand Zhuangzi’s idea of spiritual freedom. Based on the Book of Zhuangzi, Taoism suggests that the search of liberation works in tandem with unity of the Tao. Thus far, the destination of the path that Zhuangzi suggests has been described as harmonious and natural. However, his analysis of such freedom is expanded within his discussion of xiao yao you.

Fourth, xiao yao you indicates the spiritual destination of the journey that has been outlined in the main three arguments above. It is closely related to the idea of non-action because “the outcome of wuwei is xiaoyao.”[71] Xiao yao you is the first chapter of the Book of Zhuangzi and has been translated as “Free and Easy Wandering,” “Going Rambling Without a Destination” or also “Wandering Beyond.”[72] The title itself is intended to capture the Taoist image of an individual guided by the spontaneity of the natural world and distant from the stresses of social order.[73]

Xiao represents a “carefree mind or detachment” and a life without worries; “yao, means ‘distance’ or beyond’ and here implies going beyond the boundaries of familiarity.”[74] you means “free movement, wandering…amidst the world.”[75] As the concept of self emerged within consciousness, people moved away from spiritual freedom to replace it with rationality and this is the reason individuals do not live in harmony with ziran.[76] The spiritual enslavement of consciousness has led to the “competition for the superiority of self,” therefore, it is incompatible with xiao yao you. The chapter dedicated to this discussion claims that “the Perfect Person has no self; the Holy Person has no merit; the Sage has no name.”[77] Therefore, it is essential to abandon this sense of self that hinders harmony with the Tao in order to achieve individual freedom.

At the heart of yao, one can understand that there is a need to move beyond limits. In defining the self, individuals confine themselves with their “social roles, expectations, and values.”[78] This sense of familiarity results in preconceptions, which hamper the individual’s ability to gain a “deeper appreciation of the natures of things.”[79] In Zhuangzi’s definition of freedom, a wandering imagination that leaves room for different ideas and a close connection to the Tao is central. A truly liberated individual wanders the world and opens their mind to new experiences and ideas. Zhuangzi sees this detachment and surpassing of familiar boundaries as necessary to embrace the Tao and to explore outside of a spiritually tamed environment.[80] The idea of self separates the individual from nature by setting clear distinctions that conceptualize man as different from other natural things. However, the core of Taoism is the intersection and unity of all existence to create Oneness. People must seek freedom in the unity of humanity, ziran, and the changes that life brings. In other words, the concept of self is incompatible with the practices and beliefs of Taoism.

Xiao yao you leads the individual to the state of wudai, which refers to “nondependence or nonduality of one’s mind.”[81] The individual can finally live a natural, spontaneous life, without discrimination, limits, or attachments, and ultimately “transcends the artificial surface of the world and human life.”[82] Zhuangzi affirms a life of ziran where the Tao and the wholeness of things are in harmony, but also characterized by “the nature of impermanence, change, chaos, uncertainty, openness, and diversity.”[83] Therefore, it is most important to live based on the flow of life and accept changes with flexibility in order to reach this freedom internally.

In conclusion, Zhuangzi argues that human beings must abandon control through the structures of knowledge, language, and moral codes to become truly free. They must seek liberation from narrow perspectives and avoid closed-mindedness in order to free the spirit. The mind must not be founded on logic because it is an erroneous representation of the world and nature. The essence of the Tao is contradictory in itself according to reason, but it must still be embraced to find harmony, peace, and freedom.

In the end, the achievement of spiritual freedom is a “plunge into the depth of the dao, the way of reality.”[84] The destination of the path that he has paved is boundless, yet interconnected as the individual’s spirit becomes undistinguishable and spontaneous to join the forces of Heaven and earth. With this liberation, the individual returns to the “beginning of all existence” and experiences a spiritual infinity of life.[85] After one has overcome the limitations of knowledge, language, and morality, the practitioner must cross the “boundaries of time and place” and find a deep connection with the Tao.[86]

In the Book of Zhuangzi, the philosopher attempts to enlighten human beings and free them from their own mind. He seeks liberation by deconstructing any structure that limits perception, ideas, and narrowly guides a person’s way of life. Zhuangzi determines that following social norms, even the belief that moral codes are enforced by Heaven, suffocates the spirit and strips a being from freedom. Such liberation is crucial to the Taoist way of living because it directly impedes on the harmony and closeness between a person and the Tao. Although he points to the importance of spirit, Zhuangzi rejects the idea of self as it creates further differentiation and distance among existence. Based on the road that he builds for Taoists, humans must move away from common knowledge, language, and morality. People ought to treat life as a river stream and accept the flow of nature without intervening to achieve a state of wuwei and ultimately of xiao yao you.

 

 

Works cited

Brackenridge, J. Scot. 2007. ‘Xiang, Guo’. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. http://www.iep.utm.edu/guoxiang/#SH2b.

Coutinho, Steve. 2004. ‘Zhuangzi’. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. http://www.iep.utm.edu/zhuangzi/#SH3a.

Fox, Alan. 1996. ‘Reflex and Reflectivity: Wuwei in the Zhuangzi’. Asian Philosophy 6 (1): 59–72.

Goodman, Russell B. 1985. ‘Skepticism and Realism in the Chuang Tzu’. Philosophy East and West, 231–237.

Hochsmann, Hyun. 2004. ‘The Starry Heavens above—Freedom in Zhuangzi and Kant’. Journal of Chinese Philosophy 31 (2): 235–252.

Ivanhoe, Philip J. 1993. ‘Zhuangzi on Skepticism, Skill, and the Ineffable Dao’. Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 639–654.

Li, Puqun, and Arthur K Ling. 2012. A Guide to Asian Philosophy Classics. 1st ed. Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview Press.

Møllgaard, Eske. 2007. An Introduction to Daoist Thought. 1st ed. London: Routledge.

Roth, Harold. 2001. ‘Zhuangzi’. Plato.Stanford.Edu. Accessed May 1 2014. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/zhuangzi/.

Shang, Geling. 2006. Liberation as Affirmation. 1st ed. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Slingerland. 2000. ‘Effortless Actions the Chinese Spiritual Ideal Of Wui-Wei’. Journal cf The American Academy Of Religion 68 (2): 293–328.

Waston, Burton. The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1968).

Williams, George Willis. 2013. ‘Free And Easy Wandering Among Upbuilding Discourses: A Reading Of Fables In Zhuangzi And Kierkegaard’. Journal of Chinese Philosophy 40 (1): 106-122. doi:10.1111/1540-6253.12022. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1540-6253.12022/full.

Yearley, Lee H. 2005. ‘Daoist Presentation and Persuasion Wandering Among Zhuangzi’s Kinds of Language’. Journal of Religious Ethics 33 (3): 503–535.

 

 

[1] George Willis Williams, “Free and Easy Wandering Among Upbuilding Discourses,” Journal of Chinese Philosophy 40, no. 1 (2013): 2.

[2] Geling Shang, Liberation as Affirmation (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2006), 17.

[3] Shang, Liberation as Affirmation, 46.

[4] Williams, “Free and Easy Wandering Among Upbuilding Discourses,” 2.

[5] Shang, Liberation as Affirmation, 9.

[6] Shang, Liberation as Affirmation, 9.

[7] Harold Roth, “Zhuangzi,” http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/zhuangzi/, (May 1, 2014)

[8] Shang, Liberation as Affirmation, 30.

[9] Shang, Liberation as Affirmation, 30.

[10] Puqun Li and Arthur K. Ling, A Guide to Asian Philosophy Classics (Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview Press, 2012), 279.

[11] Shang, Liberation as Affirmation, 30.

[12] Shang, Liberation as Affirmation, 31.

[13] Shang, Liberation as Affirmation, 31.

[14]Steve Coutinho, “Zhuangzi,” http://www.iep.utm.edu/zhuangzi/#SH3a.

[15] Li and Ling, A Guide to Asian Philosophy Classics, 205.

[16] Li and Ling, A Guide to Asian Philosophy Classics, 205.

[17] Shang, Liberation as Affirmation, 31.

[18] Shang, Liberation as Affirmation, 31.

[19] Shang, Liberation as Affirmation, 32.

[20] Shang, Liberation as Affirmation, 32.

[21] Steve Coutinho, “Zhuangzi,” http://www.iep.utm.edu/zhuangzi/#SH3a.

[22] Shang, Liberation as Affirmation, 34.

[23] Shang, Liberation as Affirmation, 33.

[24] Williams, “Free and Easy Wandering Among Upbuilding Discourses,” 2.

[25] Li and Ling, A Guide to Asian Philosophy Classics, 210.

[26] Burton Watson, The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu.  (New York: Columbia University

Press, 1968),  179.

[27] Shang, Liberation as Affirmation, 32.

[28] Shang, Liberation as Affirmation, 32.

[29] Philip Ivanhoe, “Zhuangzi on Skepticism, Skill, and the Ineffable Dao,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion (1993), 11.

[30] Shang, Liberation as Affirmation, 35-36.

[31] Shang, Liberation as Affirmation, 34.

[32] Shang, Liberation as Affirmation, 36.

[33] Shang, Liberation as Affirmation, 36.

[34] Williams, “Free and Easy Wandering Among Upbuilding Discourses,” 7.

[35] Shang, Liberation as Affirmation, 32.

[36] Ivanhoe, “Zhuangzi on Skepticism, Skill, and the Ineffable Dao,” 3.

[37] Shang, Liberation as Affirmation, 37.

[38] Shang, Liberation as Affirmation, 38.

[39] Shang, Liberation as Affirmation, 38.

[40] Russell B. Goodman, “Skepticism and Realism in the Chuang Tzu,” Philosophy East and West, 7.

[41] Shang, Liberation as Affirmation, 38.

[42] Shang, Liberation as Affirmation, 38.

[43] Roth, “Zhuangzi,” http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/zhuangzi/.

[44] Shang, Liberation as Affirmation, 39.

[45] Lee H. Yearley, “Daoist Presentation and Persuasion: Wandering Among Zhuangzi’s Kinds of Language,” Journal of Religious Ethics, 7.

[46] Shang, Liberation as Affirmation, 43.

[47] Shang, Liberation as Affirmation, 41.

[48]Eske Mollgaard, An Introduction to Daoist Thought, (London: Routledge 2007), 80.

[49] Shang, Liberation as Affirmation, 40.

[50] Shang, Liberation as Affirmation, 40.

[51] Shang, Liberation as Affirmation, 42.

[52] Shang, Liberation as Affirmation, 42.

[53] Williams, “Free and Easy Wandering Among Upbuilding Discourses,” 10.

[54] Alan Fox, “Reflex and Reflectivity: Wuwei in the Zhuangzi,” Asian Philosophy 6, no. 1:  59-72.

[55]Fox, “Reflex and Reflectivity: Wuwei in the Zhuangzi.”

[56] Watson, Burton, The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu, 6.

[57] Fox, “Reflex and Reflectivity: Wuwei in the Zhuangzi.”

[58] Edward Slingerland, “Effortless Actions: The Chinese Spiritual Ideal of Wui-Wei,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 68, no. 2 (2000): 8.

[59] Williams, “Free and Easy Wandering Among Upbuilding Discourses,” 10.

[60] Shang, Liberation as Affirmation, 46.

[61] Slingerland, “Effortless Actions: The Chinese Spiritual Ideal of Wui-Wei,” 16.

[62] Slingerland, “Effortless Actions: The Chinese Spiritual Ideal of Wui-Wei,” 18.

[63] Shang, Liberation as Affirmation, 47.

[64] Shang, Liberation as Affirmation, 48-49.

[65] Zhou, Zhuang, Zhuangzi (17/1)

[66] Shang, Liberation as Affirmation, 50.

[67] Shang, Liberation as Affirmation, 50.

[68] Shang, Liberation as Affirmation, 50.

[69] Shang, Liberation as Affirmation, 51.

[70] Shang, Liberation as Affirmation, 51.

[71] Fox, “Reflex and Reflectivity: Wuwei in the Zhuangzi.”

[72] Steve Coutinho, “Zhuangzi,” http://www.iep.utm.edu/zhuangzi/#SH3a.

[73] Steve Coutinho, “Zhuangzi,” http://www.iep.utm.edu/zhuangzi/#SH3a.

[74] Steve Coutinho, “Zhuangzi,” http://www.iep.utm.edu/zhuangzi/#SH3a.

[75] Steve Coutinho, “Zhuangzi,” http://www.iep.utm.edu/zhuangzi/#SH3a.

[76] Shang, Liberation as Affirmation, 53.

[77] Zhou, Zhuang, Zhuangzi (17/1), Watson, The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu, 32.

[78] Steve Coutinho, “Zhuangzi,” http://www.iep.utm.edu/zhuangzi/#SH3a.

[79] Steve Coutinho, “Zhuangzi,” http://www.iep.utm.edu/zhuangzi/#SH3a.

[80] Steve Coutinho, “Zhuangzi,” http://www.iep.utm.edu/zhuangzi/#SH3a.

[81] Shang, Liberation as Affirmation, 55.

[82] Shang, Liberation as Affirmation, 55.

[83] Shang, Liberation as Affirmation, 55.

[84] Hyun Hochsmann, “The Starry Heavens Above—Freedom in Zhuangzi and Kant,” Journal of Chinese Philosophy 31, no. 2 (2004): 3.

[85] Hochsmann, “The Starry Heavens Above—Freedom in Zhuangzi and Kant,” 4.

[86] Hochsmann, “The Starry Heavens Above—Freedom in Zhuangzi and Kant,” 4.

Redefining Freedom: An Academic Research Paper

           Individual freedom has been defined and redefined by philosophers throughout centuries, cultures, and continents. An analysis of five texts reveals an encompassing and inclusive definition. Man cannot control everything, but that which can be controlled can serve as an avenue to attain spiritual freedom. Don Miguel Ruiz bases his argument on the Toltec Culture and prescribes five agreements to which one should internally commit through the recognition of the dream world, controlled by the belief system. Epictetus in the Discourses takes a stoic perspective in supporting that individuals can find freedom by understanding the things in their control and letting go of those that are not.  Descartes argues in the Discourses on Method that medicine can preserve the body, which can guarantee the existence of the mind, and through reason one can become free. Sartre seems to claim in the Nausea that freedom is a matter of time and understanding how to interact with past, present, and future.  Although there are other definitions within the discipline of philosophy, a common thread is the idea that a person must let go of things not in their control in order to become free.

            Ruiz examines a philosophy that reflects the Toltec culture and synthesizes it to five agreements. He divides his argument into two books: The Four Agreements and The Fifth Agreement.  The domestication of humans and the dream are the backbone of his argument as he views that “what you are seeing and hearing right now is nothing but a dream” (The Four Agreements 1). Human beings are trapped by their own perceptions, assumptions, and create a dream in which every person is part of their story, but only as secondary characters. Therefore, absolute objectivity is not possible because there is always a force that influences a bias in a person’s view.

            The “domestication of humans” results in a foundation of, and commitment to, agreements with oneself (6). It is seen as a tool used by those of authority, especially parents, to influence norms on children during the development of the mind and beyond. It entails the use of rewarding acceptable behavior and punishing inappropriate conduct. In this way, a belief system, known as the “Book of Law,” begins to rule the mind to where domestication and the act of judging become mechanisms ingrained in the individual (9). Evidently, this traps the mind into believing a dream that does not objectively exist and becomes the root of a life stripped of freedom. The five agreements aim at liberating the individual from “a dream of hell” that involves negative emotions (fear, guilt, anger, envy, jealousy, among others) and punishments that we repeatedly impose on ourselves for the same mistake (14).

            The first agreement states that you should “be impeccable with your word” (25). It serves as the first agreement because the word is in the control of human beings. One must use their resources and power to actively seek freedom, instead of focusing on the restraining forces. In moments of despair and perceived lack of autonomy, people tend to lose sight of the influence that they hold over their mind to liberate themselves. The Toltec culture and Ruiz’s five agreements aim to give men the wisdom necessary to change their perceptions and attitudes in situations that are beyond their control.

The first agreement is recognized as being the most important of all five because it relates to the creation of the universe and the beginning of human existence. Given this link to sin, the word itself has an inherent connection to Christianity as the first sentence in the Gospel of John in the Bible says, “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word is God” (26, John 1:1-18). Ruiz directly states that “impeccability of the word can lead to personal freedom” (45). Impeccable derives from the Latin word peccare meaning sin; therefore, the Toltec culture supports that human beings should speak without sin. Words contain the power to “change a life or destroy the lives of millions of people,” which can be, but should not be, abused by human beings (27). In The Fifth Agreement, Ruiz also points out that the first agreement “means to never use the power of the word against yourself” (38).In the search of freedom, there is a sense of self-respect for the Toltec culture that encourages a character of integrity towards oneself and others. Impeccability is imperative due to the impact of the word and man is utterly able to control it.

The second agreement is “don’t take anything personally” (47). “Personal importance”is the act of believing “that everything is about ‘me’” and an egotistical focus on the self (48). The agreement holds true even when a comment is directed towards a person, such as “you are so stupid” (47). Although the impeccability of the communication of others is beyond one’s influence, individuals can control their psychological reaction to such words. As people live in their own dream, they will form opinions based on their world and the domestication they have experienced (51). In other words, anyone’s action is a result of their perception and own world; therefore, the people surrounding such individual should never take anything personally, whether as an insult or praise (50). This agreement relates to Stoicism as Ruiz suggests an emotional separation from the actions of others.

People can find freedom through this agreement because it will shield them from emotional garbage and it will end the cycle (49). The transfer of emotional poison, as people take things personally, creates a chain reaction that could be avoided if one makes the agreement and commitment to avoid passing on this poison. Should everyone implement this wisdom, individuals will no longer be misled into believing that the actions and words of another person are driven by an accurate representation of their own character. Ruiz warns readers, “do not expect people to tell the truth because they also lie to themselves” (57). This liberates the individual from all emotions, of praise or insult, which others attempt to impose.

When a person takes something personally, they make the assumption that the words or actions of another person are directly related to themselves. Moreover, individuals believe that their perception of actions and thoughts of others are accurate and then proceed to “react by sending emotional poison with [their] word” (63-64). In order to avoid assumptions all together, we must abide by the third agreement: “don’t make any assumptions” (63). Linked with the second agreement, the Toltec culture emphasizes that individuals cannot control others, but they have the power to change their reactions. This is the core of their freedom.

Circumstances are not a constraint of freedom or responsible for ones emotions. No one can make a person feel an emotion without their permission. In other words, when someone suffers, it is only because they have allowed their mind to be overwhelmed with a feeling (67). They justify that it was caused by someone else rather than recognized the power they have over their own consciousness (67). Communicating effectively and asking question avoids the confusion and misunderstandings that can arise through assumptions. Individuals should express themselves freely, without sin, in order to pacify relations with others.

The fourth is “always do your best” (75). This is particularly important because the first three agreements focus on a change of mindset and perception. However, the last one involves both action and thought processes. One ought to do their best in implementing these agreements and making them “deeply ingrained habits” to liberate the spirit (75). Doing one’s best is about action and balance. One must understand themselves well enough to realize that one’s best changes based on circumstances. Furthermore, one’s best relates to all aspects of one’s life and effort should be fairly divided. The Toltec culture prescribes that people avoid working only to get a reward, as that remains unfulfilling and leads to suffering. Instead, individuals ought to enjoy their actions as well as responsibilities, and do their best while remaining satisfied and happy (79).

The Fifth Agreement is “be skeptical, but learn to listen” (The Fifth Agreement 97). Skeptical derives from Latin scepticus, which means inquirer or refers to a person that doubts accepted beliefs. Therefore, it is vital that one question the beliefs that are already deeply rooted in the mind and perceived as truth in order to truly find freedom. Ruiz specifies that being skeptical does not suggest that one ought to not believe in anything because of the lack of truth. More precisely, he argues that individuals ought to “be aware that the entire humanity believes in lies… that humans distort truth because we are dreaming and our dream is just a reflection of the truth” (99). These misrepresentations of reality through symbols are caused by the assumptions that language is impeccable and truthful. For this reason, Ruiz encourages individuals to find spiritual freedom in adopting a skeptical mind and being aware of the dream that characterizes each individual’s life.

However, the doubt that is planted in seeking the truth of accepted beliefs and agreements must not hinder one’s ability to attentively listen to the opinions or shared wisdom of others. Symbols are only significant insofar as one believes in them (111). Strikingly, Ruiz claims that “truth doesn’t come with words” and that instead it is found in silence (110). Nonetheless, there is some truth in every lie and false symbols do bare a meaning. Therefore, attentive listening skills are a necessary component of reaching personal freedom.

In short, the Toltec path to freedom involves breaking old agreements and ingraining the five that are outlined. Ruiz argues that the most important freedom is of a spiritual kind, which is attainable, and independent of circumstances and people (The Four Agreements 94). Children are recognized as being spiritually free because they have not yet been domesticated to fear and instead they play, explore the world, and love wholeheartedly. The Book of Law becomes an obstacle or a barrier to the path of freedom, but one may still attain a free spirit with awareness and the integration of the agreements (99). Each individual must reclaim control of their mind from the belief system that currently commands in order to escape the dream of misrepresentations.

The goal of the Toltec culture is to alter this dream with agreements that change the perception of individuals as they recognized that their views only mirror a truth that they share with themselves and no one else. The transformation that leads from ridding the self of assumptions and their word of sin enables “the spirit to move freely” (74). Ruiz strongly aims at increasing the awareness of human beings to make people recognize that they have control of their mind. It is through the power and transformation of one’s mind that freedom can be found. Ultimately, Ruiz argues that “the result you want is the freedom to live your own life instead of the life of a belief system” (The Fifth Agreement 91). 

The Toltec culture shares similarities with the Stoics, which are reflected in The Discourses of Epictetus. The idea of control reappears as “The Manual of Epictetus” begins with “of all existing things some are in our power, and others are not in our power” (468). The achievement of freedom is dependent on the individual’s acceptance that spiritual freedom can be attained, but only through the management of that which is in our power to change. The tools available to human beings are “thought, impulse, will to get and will to avoid, and, in a word, everything which is our own doing” (468). By nature, these are free and cannot be taken from an individual (468). On the other hand, we do not control “the body, property, reputation, office,” which makes these things servile by nature (468). Therefore, one should not concern themselves with the things that are not “in man’s power” (469). If individuals do not focus their efforts only in “what lies in [their] power,” freedom will continue to seem unattainable and only as an abstract principle (471).

Also similar to The Four Agreements, Epictetus argues that circumstances are not responsible for the disturbed minds of men, but instead it is “their judgements on events” (469). Other people are also not to be blamed for such situations. The individual remains solely responsible for, and in control of, all perceptions and emotional responses. He further warns that “when any one makes you angry, know it is your own thought that has angered you” (472). Differently from Ruiz, Epictetus focuses to the individual’s will rather than to their perceptions. For example, “sickness is a hindrance to the body, but not to the will… it will not hinder you” (470). The body is not in our control, but we have power in our will and judgment, where we find the freedom of the spirit and mind.

The Stoics support that an emotional separation among human beings is necessary for the attainment of a free spirit. In other words, man should attempt to loosen attachments from other existing beings. For example, Epictetus argues that it is most important to focus on the nature of any attractive thing or “object of affection” by saying “to yourself that you are kissing a human being” when kissing “your child or your wife” (469). This distance is also portrayed, to an extent, in the Toltec culture as a strategy to avoid emotional turmoil that comes with assumptions and taking things personally. However, it seems that Epictetus does not suggest this distance to also improve relations and communication among human beings, as Ruiz does, but instead to only free the person’s spirit from emotional attachment altogether. This perspective is more extreme, and therefore, it is difficult to imagine the widespread implementation of such emotional distance in the name of freedom. It begs the question of whether people involved in relationships founded on love can ever attain freedom and whether love conflicts with freedom.

Again mirroring the Toltec culture, Epictetus argues that “when a man speaks evil or does evil to you, remember that he does or says it because he thinks it is fitting for him” (480). This relates back to the second agreement and the idea that every individual lives in a dream as “it is not possible for him to follow what seems good to you, but only what seems good to him” (480). Epictetus adds that if the man’s opinion is wrong, it is he who “suffers, in that he is the victim of deception” and not the one that was insulted (480).

Coupled with a path to liberation, Epictetus introduces the concept of harmony. Once people have understood that some things can be controlled and others cannot, they must cease to attempt changing the things that are not in their power in order to live freely. This realization results in keeping their “will in harmony with nature,” by enabling the flow of life to unravel as it plans (469). For this reason, he claims that one ought to not request “that events should happen as [they] will, but let [their] will be that events should happen as they do” and this will lead to peace (470). A free spirit is one that can flow in harmony without friction against uncontrollable variables. Much of freedom is reached by being able to follow the rhythm of life and accept circumstances that cannot be changed. However, it is easier to make the argument than to implement such a stoic lifestyle. Similarly, the Toltec culture relates peace to those individuals that reach freedom through enlightenment because their realization leads to achieving a combined sense of peace and harmony (The Four Agreements xviii).

            Although the Stoics are primarily known for being unemotional, Epictetus’s arguments pave a path to freedom that mirrors many aspects from Ruiz’s five agreements. Epictetus is vital to the definition of freedom because he sheds light on the distinction between the things that can be controlled and those that cannot. Moreover, the addition of harmony is crucial as it works in tandem with the things that are not in one’s control. Accepting the lack of influence over something brings much peace to the mind as the individual no longer aims to alter that which cannot be changed. Human relations within freedom remain unclear as Epictetus originally encourages men to view their wives and children just as humans without emotional attachment. However, Ruiz aims to create agreements that also improve the interaction between humans as a total emotional separation from society does not seem necessary to the Toltec culture.

             The Discourses on Method by Descartes can be divided into six part and offers, yet a different definition of freedom, but again similarities do appear. In Part 1, Descartes focuses on the proper use of one’s mind and the search for truth through science. Mind, defined as “rational power to lay hold of indubitable truths,” can also be identified as the soul, but it is separate from the body (82). “Good sense,” which refers to reason and “the power of judging well,” distinguishes “the true from the false” (16). In search for truth, Descartes claims that the “mathematical sciences” led to arguments supported by “certitude and evidence” and solid foundations, and rejects poetry or philosophy (19). Therefore, reason seems to be the force that can lead an individual to truth, and therefore, freedom of deception.

            In Part 2, Descartes reveals a separation from society as the winter traps him in a region, where he encounters no disturbances, “remained all day long shut up alone in a heated room” and had “complete leisure to converse with [his] thoughts” (21). This idea of being removed totally from society also appears in Sartre’s Nausea and also mirrors Epictetus’s emotional distance from others. Although the Toltec culture does not suggest a removal from society, a constant pattern of such distance demonstrates that freedom is achievable only insofar as the individual establishes at least an emotional distance from other human beings. Among the philosophers discussed, it is unclear how a person would free themselves, while being in a relationship founded on love, or if that even seems possible to the Ruiz, Epictetus, Descartes, or Sartre.

            Descartes recognizes that state reform could not be accomplished through the tearing of every foundation. However, he could free himself from illusion individually by destroying the opinions, that he had previously “accepted as credible” without skepticism, to rebuild better ones using the “standard of reason” (22). This strategy is similar to the one that the Ruiz suggests in recommending that one rid themselves of previous agreements and replace them with new ones, except Descartes replaces previous views with four parts of his method. First, one should “never accept anything as true” without first doubting (25). This appears parallel to the fifth agreement, encouraging the power of doubt. Second, one should “divide each other difficulties… into as many parts as possible” in order to solve it (25). Third, one ought to place their thoughts in a particular order within a hierarchy of complexity (25). Last, one must evaluate the enumeration and ensure that nothing was omitted (25). Given this method, the demonstrations from mathematics would fit well with into this reasoning, which would doubt everything except the existence of God.

            In Part 3, Descartes proposed his famous four maxims. First, one must “obey the laws and customs,” especially of religion (27). Second, one must “be as firm and resolute in [his] actions” (28). Third, one must “try to always conquer [oneself] rather than fortune, and to change [one’s] desires rather than the order of the world, and… to believe that there is nothing entirely in our power except our thoughts” (29). The last part of the third maxim relates back to Epictetus’s argument that there are things one can control and others that one cannot, thoughts are among those things that one can control and use to attain freedom. The third maxim also dictates that one ought to try their best “regarding the things that are external to us,” which aligns with the fourth agreement from Ruiz of “always do your best” (29). Last, one ought to pursue the search for truth and knowledge to the limit that he can use his method. 

            In Part 4, Descartes dedicated to the search of truth, which based on Ruiz’s first agreement seems to be the stepping stone of the path to freedom, and he rejects math as it proves inadequate (32). He proposes ontological arguments with the famous quote “I think, therefore I am,” which separates the mind from the body (33). As Epictetus argues that the body is out of our control, Descartes does not view the body as part of the essence of an individual because it is not tied to the soul or spirit (33). He views that his essence “is only to think” separate from any material thing, include the body (33). Ultimately, he concludes that the mind is free and “of a nature entirely independent of the body,” meaning that it does not die along with the body and making spiritual freedom achievable (47). However, the mind is also trapped by the body and it is “so dependent on the temperament and on the arrangement of the organs,” that the “conversation of health” is essential to preserve the mind. Therefore, medicine is the advised method instead of mathematics due to this deep connection between mind and body. 

            In Part 4 and 5, He argues that God necessarily exists as an innate idea that God “imprinted such notions on our souls” of his existence (37). However, Descartes claims that using imagination to find truth is effective, comparable to using senses of smell, taste, touch or sight and ultimately, one cannot depend on that which relies on the senses (35).Therefore, individuals must steer away from imagination and senses in order attain spiritual freedom. Both Descartes and Ruiz philosophy involves the destruction of knowledge and opinion. This suggests that the quest to freedom is liberation from illusion and deception combined with the preservation of the body through medicine that can enable the mind to reason.

            Lastly, Sartre’s existential story about Monsieur Roquentin reveals a different definition of freedom with a focus on time. In this diary, Monsieur Roquentin narrates the unfolding of his days, the thoughts that cross his mind and the sensations he feels in great detail. At the beginning, he confesses that he is not at peace, perhaps because he does not feel the kind of freedom for which his mind longs (8). He struggles to pick up a piece of paper off the ground, and he admits that he no longer feels free (9). Therefore, this analysis of freedom ends with the story of a man’s journey as he searches for a sense of peace and a free mind.

            As Epictetus argues, freedom revolves around the control of one’s will. Interestingly, Monsieur Roquentin states, “I am no longer free, I can no longer do what I will” (10). This demonstrates that spiritual freedom may be generally defined as following one’s will. He struggles to understand time and this becomes his trap as he cannot distinguish if he is in the past, present, or future (31). He compares his memories to “coins in the devil’s purse: when you open it you would find dead leaves” (32). This could symbolize that he has not overcome his past. The leaves represent the memories of Annie that he has not discarded; therefore, they have dried and been left like a fallen leaf in autumn. If he had let go of his past, he would have kept memories alive and such would not have been as dead leaves. It does not seem that he has moved on, as it is evident that his memory of Annie is still present.

            Roquentin expresses a desire for “real beginnings” and relates it to the flow of a jazz tune (37). It could be argued that he wanted a real ending because such a tune also has an end and perhaps the end of the song may give him the closure he did not receive from Annie. He claims that one must choose to live or narrate life, yet he tells his story and it seems as if he is living. He could have decided to ‘tell’ rather than ‘live’ because “you seem to start from the beginning” in a story (39). However, in life “there are no beginnings” time is expensed, “the scenery changes” (39). In the midst of these beginnings, the concept of adventure and events emerged. Roquentin explains that “this feeling of adventure definition does not come from events… It’s rather the way in which the moments are linked together” (56). The feeling of adventure is the flow of time overlapping: “you see a woman, you think that one day she’ll be old, only you don’t see her grow old. But there are moments when you think you see her grow old and feel yourself growing old with her” (57).

            Through his story, Sartre seems to argue that a disconnection from the past is what frees individuals. In fact, it is not until after Roquentin sees Annie again that the novel ends. However, the present makes him anxious as “the true present revealed itself: it was what exists, and all that was not present did not exist. The past did not exist. Not at all. Not in thing, not even in my thought” (96). This emphasis shows that Roquentin was used to thinking about the past quiet often. The main character was freed from purpose, as M. de Rollebon no longer remains his reason from existing (94).

            Sartre’s definition of freedom is the image of Annie. She is free, with no passion, no past, or purpose. When Roquentin explains that he is free, the statement is followed by “there is absolutely no more reason for living, all the ones I have tried have give away and I can’t imagine anymore of them” (156). In the end, he is alone and free, but he considers, death (157). Finally Roquentin accepts his past as “his whole life is behind [him]” (157).

            In conclusion, freedom encompasses many variables. The path to freedom is found in the impeccability of one’s word, as the individual refrains from refrains from letting their perceptions lead to assumptions. People can finally be liberated by recognizing the things they can control and to only concern themselves with those. Moreover, freedom has a strong connection with harmony, peace, and time. As human beings let go of trying to control the future or change the past, they find themselves in both peace and harmony, and can let go of a past to no longer be emotionally restrained by dead memories. Ultimately, spiritual freedom is our control as one uses their mind to reason and conserves the body to guarantee survival.

A Return and a Reflection

The past is only a whisper when you return home being a different person. The joy you have spread mindlessly is only an echo of who you used to be. I read once that when one awakes for a couple seconds they are always the same person, independent of their life circumstances, experiences, age. For a very brief moment they can feel the essence of their being.

Laying in the same bed that cocooned me five years ago, I can’t help but smile at the realization that I’ve survived what once seemed impossible. This mattress has seen my tears and felt my heart tear open. It has supported two bodies, my mother’s and my own, and heard me laugh as she complained that I had elbowed or kicked her in my sleep. This old rustic cabin has witnessed a bond so unusual and invincible through the jokes, arguments, wisdom shared and love given. A mother in her mother’s home with her own daughter felt a mixture of sensations from humiliation for living at home in her 50s to relief for the support received.

My sister was right when she said that over the years I would change. Oh how many times have I admitted that she had been correct with every bit of wisdom and advice she carefully placed in my hands? Perhaps I did not quite understand the meaning of growing and the moments that life would give me. Nothing makes much sense until you plant your feet in the experience of life. My personality has not drastically changed, my perspectives and attitude have. I will refrain from pretending I am the queen of humility but such quality I have slowly learned to incorporate into a life of peace and appreciation. My ambition has survived the years of failures and successes to only leak into my romantic desires. My soul would not surrender to him if the man that owns my heart was not a king and a dreamer.

I return to a place so common yet foreign. I am home, aware of flooding past memories and the contrasting present, which then only seemed like a far future that was bound to follow my five year plan, but did not. As 2014 begins, my pensive state reminds me to never forget the things that I accomplished and learned.

2013 gave me moments full of emotions (good and bad), opened my mind to foreign ideas, and pushed me passed what I once considered my intellectual limits. A rewind of those twelve months would show the back cover of several books as chapters of my life were written, people were forgiven, forgotten, and let go. However, it hardly feels like the beginning of a year as the book placed on my lap has already many pages stained with ink, a story that has begun, a person that I love, a journey that I can only hope continues.

Should 365 days be summarized into only a few words I would say that I learned to let go of people and the past, I loved (and continue to) to greater levels previously undiscovered, and I dedicated my time to exploring my mind and growing. I have observed in myself and others that relationships can create a learning curve with perspective. As we let go, refrain for pitying ourselves, and take distance from situations, we learn the type of person we would like to stand beside and avoid wasting time on insignificant relationships. A wounded heart does not often love to the same depth and certainly not deeper. It takes someone utterly special, admirable, and a chemistry so strong you physically feel the pull from your soul to theirs. It is one thing to spark the interest of such being, so rare, another to found a committed relationship with them and yet another to survive the mountains that rise up as these two people learn to trust, love, and communicate with one another.

Lastly, I cannot end such post without declaring that trust in myself was significant this past year. At times, one ought to avoid telling others stories that do not concern them and with time trust the unspoken words of your soul, it has your best interest at heart and will only guide you to what is meant for you, with honesty and harmony.

I only wish one thing for 2014 and that is not much success, luck or happiness, but rather to discover in 365 days that I have explored further pockets of my heart, unknown to me before, and, with such, that I have loved greater those that I cherish deeply.