Kenny Rogers said that Freedom's just a word for nothing left to lose. Freedom, then, is death, for that is to true state of having nothing left to lose. But what is death? The existential therapist Irvin Yalom, said that while the physicality of death destroys us, but the idea of death saves us. Death terrifies people, sometimes consciously, and often unconsciously, but when we face the fact of it, and when we do a good job of that, it can set us free. It can wake us up and energise us to create life and experience it more fully. How? In death we lose everything. This turns life into a one-shot affair. And it means that no matter what, any suffering will come to an end. So awareness of death can lead to courageous living. To awake, and even joyful, living.
Nobody said that life would be easy. The conditions can be unfair and stacked against us. We are only partially free. On the basis of insufficient knowledge and limited ability we must make all important decisions. And yet we are responsible for the outcome, which is ours to bear. But if we avoid the costs that come with taking a leap - the anxiety before, the many challenges during, the risk of pain and regret afterwards - then we retreat to a narrowed life, like T.S.Eliot's J Alfred Prufrock:
And indeed there will be time
To wonder, "Do I dare?" and, "Do I dare?"
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
Do I dare Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
For I have known them all already, known them all -
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
So how should I presume?
Prufrock might receive a slap in the face for his gamble. Well, he might have received one, except that in order to avoid that possibility, he chooses never to act. He will never know what might have happened, had he ascended the stair. He will probably spend his days, thereafter, fantasising about what could have happened. To my mind that is a worse kind of regret.
To dare to act in risky conditions requires that we learn to let go of judgments about ourselves. Only that which is really true and helpful counts. Yet, people constantly punish themselves for lacking the wisdom of hindsight. Such madness is hardly true or helpful. A famous psychoanalyst once said, "The Christian injunction to love thy neighbour as thyself must be ironic...because people hate themselves!" Again, this is neither true nor helpful. In fact it is the madness of egotism. We think that, If I am not very good, then I must be very bad. If not very clever, then very stupid. But imagine accepting the truth that I am neither so amazing nor so terrible, but that I am simply a normal human being? Powerful and weak, skilled and incompetent, good and evil, perfect in my own way, but very flawed. And that I can nonetheless create something worthwhile, significant, and even wonderful.
Humility is the beginning of wisdom. Humility will set you free. Your achievements are not about you, they are about the things you love. If you leap and fall, get back up again. Who cares? It takes humility to stop punishing ourselves and instead to live some real life in the short time we have. That's wisdom. "Humility is the beginning of wisdom." This is to see life as a gift, instead of a source of achievement or shame. And thereby to let ourselves discover that mysterious feeling, like a pure gift, that regardless of death, somehow it is all worthwhile.