On freedom and fear

The Emerald Lagoon, Quillatoa, Ecuador

We all want freedom, don’t we? And some of us may be we believe we have it. Particularly in the Western World, the lands of privilege where we might believe we are in control of our lives, that we are free to make our own choices, where we can pretty much have what we want – if we work hard enough for it. And where tyranny or poverty are not an every day fact of life.

But is that really freedom? I’m not sure it is.

Because in the Western World, our cultures have some common themes that trap us – we are as nations, primarily obsessed with power and control and burdened by the driving force of economic growth. Material possession, wealth, ownership, and competition are just some of the factors that actually keep us from the real freedoms that might help us enjoy life more.

I recently travelled to South America on an adventure trip with my 19 year old niece Natalie. One of the countries we visited was Ecuador, and its stunning Volcanic landscapes. With the equator running through it and closest to the sun, for me the exceptional and unique nature of the views came from the melding of amazing cloud formations with the land below. It is where the earth meets the sky.  We travelled through the valley of the Volcanoes (there are over 70 volcanoes across Ecuador), trekked down to an exquisite emerald lagoon in the middle of an extinct collapsed volcano called Quilatoa, climbed on snow-capped Cotopaxi, rode horses up into the mountains and zip-lined through exotic cloud forests. Thrilling and mind-blowingly beautiful experiences that most will never have the good fortune to enjoy. We are privileged.

One of the themes that kept coming back to me as we travelled to remote villages at high altitude, was that of freedom. Ecuador, at this point, is relatively undeveloped. Mostly visited by backpackers and adventurers, tourism has not yet taken hold and outside the major cities the sparsely populated land is inhabited by people who still live a very simple life. As we climbed the steep mountainsides in our comfortable air-conditioned mini van, every now and then we would see someone walking on the roadside, literally miles from anywhere, in bright coloured ponchos with hats pulled down of their eyes to keep out the sun’s glare. Or there would be a remote shack in a scratched out piece of farmed land with someone toiling on the earth to raise a crop or two.

At first sight, for many of us snapping away with our mobile devices and sophisticated cameras, this might appear a hard existence. A back breaking way to eek out a life in the harsh climate and climes of the mountains. But in fact this for me, represents real freedom. These people are not burdened by the need for possession. They lead a simple life where they are completely self sufficient. The don’t have cars, TVs, playstations or laptops. They live off the land. They don’t have peer groups pressuring them to earn more, to have more. There’s no media creating a vision of how they should look or be, their homes are a basic roof over their head with the essential comforts they need and no more.

When I was videoing the amazing emerald lake at Quillatoa where one of these small local communities is based in the mountains, I looked down to see two little girls looking up at me (you can see them in the tiny video clip below). After I stopped the video, I reached into my pocket and gave them a dollar. A single dollar. You should have seen the smiles on their faces, I wish I had kept the video going. They were ecstatic and skipped off like they’d won the lottery.

The freedom they have is dependent though. On nature. It is their provider and their existence is reliant on its unpredictability, they can do their best to manage their lives within its whims, but ultimately they must trust that whatever happens, they will survive.  Their certainty and security is limited.

And therein lies a huge dilemma for the majority of us who, given the opportunity for real freedom, are unable to face the fear that such uncertainty inevitably generates.

From my own perspective, I understand this feeling. I recently made a decision to let go of pretty much everything from the past and start again. Circumstances made that a transition feel necessary. It is the freest I have been in my life. I have few ties, I can go anywhere – and given that I have this romantic notion that we are all capable of doing pretty much anything if we really want to, I’m also open to (or maybe lost in) – the opportunity to change what I do for the rest of my time on this planet. So how does it feel? It’s frightening. It feels like jumping of a cliff with no idea where to fly to – or floating in a vast ocean, floating, but with no sense of the direction to swim in because you can’t see any land. There’s a desperate desire to head straight back to some sense of security or safety.  Ultimately, freedom involves uncertainty and that makes us fearful.

So what do you do? Well be grateful that you can you fly, or swim and just do it. It doesn’t matter what the direction is, because you just have to trust that at some point you will find what you need, what you are looking for (whether you have any idea of what that is or not) and that nature, the universe will provide whatever is necessary.

Easier said than done. But when you finally settle into the notion that you are free to do anything and stay open to the possibilities, your opportunities are endless. And your needs are actually very simple. Well that’s the theory 😉

Our conditioning, our experience, means we often overcomplicate it. Make it harder than we need to make it. We want rather than need. We overthink everything and that thinking often succumbs to the pressures of our external world. Thinking often stops us doing. I loved the simplicity of the lives of those people on the mountains of Ecuador. It seemed to me that if we think that our sophisticated way of living is the result of a progressive evolution, then we still have a lot to learn. X.


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