What freedom we have these days! Our shops are full to the ceilings with billions of alluring products waiting our selection. We can treat our bodies how we want – even if that means eating ourselves into an early grave or spending thousands of pounds under a scalpel for self ‘improvement’ through surgery. Anything we want to buy that we can’t afford we can put on credit or take out a loan from the many quick money companies springing up. We can say what we want to whomever we want without responsibility for the consequences because that is how we feel. We can believe what we want and do what we want to impose those beliefs on the people around us no matter what harm it causes them or us.
Is this really freedom?
When we make choices that take us into debt, ill-health, pain, worry, unhappiness and conflict are we really acting from our own free will? The astronomical rise in obesity, life style related cancers and diabetes, depression and anxiety is clear evidence that we do not always act and think in a way that will lead to greater health and fulfilment. Why would we voluntarily do something that leads to unhappiness and insecurity? Why would we treat our bodies and minds in any way that increases our risk of illness, makes us miserable and ultimately shortens our lives?
In The Sane Society, psychologist Erich Fromm put forward his view that entire societies, not just individuals may be “lacking in sanity”.
“It is naively assumed that the fact that the majority of people share certain ideas or feelings proves the validity of these ideas and feelings. Nothing is further from the truth… Just as there is a folie à deux there is a folie à millions. The fact that millions of people share the same vices does not make these vices virtues, the fact that they share so many errors does not make the errors to be truths, and the fact that millions of people share the same form of mental pathology does not make these people sane.”
The ubiquity of mass communication and its influence can create a cultural consensus that viewed objectively must surely be classified as insanity. What would an alien visiting earth think about some of these behaviours?
- Paying huge sums of money to undergo potentially life threatening operations to carve ourselves into someone’s idea of what a human being should look like.
- Getting into debt and all the related stress, to buy things that we don’t need, that have harmed the environment in their production, to show how successful we are.
- Being miserable about ourselves and our bodies and our lives because they are not how we are told they should be.
- Drinking or smoking toxins in order to fit in, feel more at ease with other people, to ‘be ourselves’
- Working at a job we don’t like to buy food that will create serious disease and shorten our lives.
Its crazy. Its absolute madness. But it is a reality that we are living in. It is a cultural trance reinforced by every oscar ceremony, every celebrity magazine, every luxury goods advert, every supermarket. And if you don’t flourish in this madness then don’t worry you can take some pills until you are quite happy about it all.
Freedom is a hard earned state and it is getting harder. The competition among companies, the need for them to demonstrate ‘recruitment’, the power of the media, the obsession with celebrity: all of this creates false images for us to live up to and emulate. The more we look outside ourselves for happiness and fulfillment, the further away we get from where it can actually be found.
How do we meet the challenge of living in society, functioning and thriving while still being our own person? It is a very real challenge. The fear of ostracism and exclusion is a powerful deterrent to behaving in any way that differs from the norm. It might help to remember the words of Mark Twain “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect”.
We can begin simply with awareness of the influences we are subjected to and what they make us feel inside. Without that awareness we are part of the cultural trance.
The next step can then be cutting through the hype, false claims and marketing tricks to discover what is genuinely good for us – physically and mentally. Finding accurate, scientific information about the best way to maintain and improve our all round health will lead to greater strength, more vitality and more resilience to the many influences all around us.
Then looking in at ourselves. What are we telling ourselves? What is the constant commentary that are minds are providing to our lives? Not good/successful/happy/rich enough? Need this or that in order to be accepted? Don’t look right? There is immense freedom in seeing this voice for what it is – the build up of years and years of being told by every advertising medium under the sun that you are not enough exactly as you are. As Dr Joe Dispenza says, “Feeling a sense of love and awe without needing anything from outside of us is freedom.”
And then instead of consuming we can begin to create. Instead of worrying about our self, our identity and what we have, we can lose ourself in the flow of what we can offer. We can begin our lives again with all possibilities before us. We can relate to others as one human to another with no armour protecting us, no fear of not being adequate. We can live in genuine choice, expression and joy. That is freedom.