Aug 17, 2009
There’s a book called The Myth of Freedom by Chogyam Trungpa. It’s message is fairly straightforward: Everyone thinks of “freedom” in terms of “doing what you want to do.” What this formulation represses is the fact that we cannot free ourselves from wanting. At the core of our concept of freedom dwells an intractable kernel of compulsion. (In line with his Buddhist inclinations, Trungpa Rinpoche offers meditation as the diamond-hard hammer fit to crack this nut.)
When I was younger, I idolized people who were “doing what they wanted to do,” and perpetually lamented my own failure to join their ranks (somehow imagining that, in spite of the fact that I was doing many things, I was never quite doing what I wanted to do). I didn’t feel free.
Laugh if you want, but for a while Jerry Garcia represented this ideal of freedom – “doing what you want to do” – in part because he seemed to be living the life I thought I wanted to live. But then I read something he said on the subject and it caught me up.
In his view, doing what you want to do is easy. First, do what you want to do. Then, don’t do what you don’t want to do. [Note: I’ve not been able to locate the source for this last bit. Will keep looking – Matt.]
While the stoned simplicity of this credo has its appeal, it rings false to me. “Don’t do what you don’t want to do” doesn’t sound like freedom so much as an avoidance of accountability and a refusal of responsibility. I understand that it can feel pretty free to be on the road playing gigs and taking drugs, but how free are you if you leave behind a trail of unfilled obligations, broken relationships and quasi-fatherless children? Are you “running free” or just “running away”?
Separating the moments of free action in our lives from those of mindless determinism is, on the one hand, a step towards maturity and self-awareness, and, on the other, utterly fruitless (as pointed out by Immanuel Kant). The important question isn’t, “Am I doing what I want to do?” The important question is, “Am I dealing with my shit?”
Image Courtesy of Damien.