Freedom and restraint

It’s funny how a conversation or a music lyric can trigger us to self-reflect. I recently saw Winter’s Bone, one of the early Jennifer Lawrence movies, and I just can’t get out of my head the last line in the movie. Having a conversation with her younger brother and sister, a 17 year old adolescent ends the movie saying this: [I won’t go anywhere] I’d be lost without the weight of you two on my back. Such a fascinating metaphor!

The moment I heard that line, all sorts of ideas about freedom, burdens, responsibilities, and life direction flooded my mind. And, somehow, my entire life passed before my eyes. I love freedom. For me, this life is about experiences and growth. I want the freedom to learn whatever sparkles my interest at a given time, to try new things, to move, to travel, to continuously evolve, to decide upon my schedule, to choose how to contribute. However, as much as I love freedom, I also have an innate talent for taking over a lot of responsibilities. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’m in some sort of uncontrolled cycle in which people place their responsibilities on me and I just can’t refuse. I simply (and consciously!) get involved in all kinds of activities just because I have the ability for it or I find it an interesting learning experience. The thing is my learning curve is very fast and after a while the exciting learning experience starts feeling like a restraint.

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I’ve been pondering upon the freedom-restraint polarity and the quest for balance for some time now. I discovered that the expectation of reaching that absolute balance (the middle point between the two extremes) created a lot of pressure in myself. And the fact that I never felt that I reached it made me doubt myself a lot. “I am not disciplined enough”, “I haven’t figured out yet a system that works for me”, “Will I ever be happy?” were some of my thoughts. The breakthrough came when I realised I had it all wrong. I was looking at balance from a result-oriented perspective, instead of a process-oriented one. I was targeting an ideal fixed point between the two extremes, instead of the back and forth dance. Truth is there will always be times of restraint, and times of freedom. The trick for me was to adjust (balance) the total amount of time I spend in each of them in a way that best fits my personality. Because I am rather an enthusiastic and intense person, I tend to overdo things. I can be very fascinated about a new subject for two days and read incessantly, I can watch movies for an entire day, or I can get extremely focused for multiple days in a row when I am in the process of creating something. Sometimes, cycles like these can last longer. I might be interested in a particular field of study or activity for multiple years. I am capable of sustained effort for a long period of time, but also eager to trek for an entire month.

As you can imagine, reaching a daily (often weekly) freedom-restraint balance is not the best strategy for me. I need time to dive in and a few hours a day might not be enough. Instead, I strive for reaching this balance on a monthly or yearly basis. I do enjoy having responsibilities, they provide me with a sense of contribution to this world. But I am consciously balancing the intense work periods with intense rest and entertaining ones. I do have a daily routine set in place to get me aligned physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually for reaching my objectives, but I am also aware of my internal natural flow and decide to follow it. I will never stop being a responsible person. Nevertheless, I will always strive for the freedom to choose the responsibilities I take on. And that’s the system that works amazingly for me. Have you found yours? What do you do to maintain the freedom-restraint balance in your life? 🙂

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