The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.—Albert Camus
To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.—Thich Nhat Hanh
If only it were easy to just be yourself, but in an age of conformity being yourself is a courageous act. I wish it wasn’t the case. Living authentically should be the norm. Being true to yourself should be the standard by which we live. Sadly, it is not. Conforming to what others believe we should be is the easy way out, especially when there is reluctance to struggle to be at ease in one’s own skin. I am amazed at how many would rather toil to live up to externally imposed expectations than toil to live an authentic life. Neither is easy, but the former leads to a crisis of identity, while the latter leads to self-discovery.
The courageous are fueled by a deep desire to live in the fullness of authenticity. The courageous live boldly and freely in a realm fashioned by their imagination—an imagination that can be stifled and suffocated in an effort to conform to what and who others believe we should be.
Being courageous in an age of conformity is difficult. It is hard work. This is why many would rather suspend imagination in order to find a resting place in spaces carved out by those who are too fearful and too uninspired to live authentically themselves. This is tragic. Imagine having to lessen yourself so that others feel comfortable. Imagine having to dumb yourself down to standards of acceptability that have been created by those who resist living in the realm of unlimited possibilities. It is sad when we restrain our ambitions so that we can fit into prescribed definitions of who and what we should be.
The awkwardness of our age—an age of mixed signals and confounding voices—is that on one hand, we are encouraged to be the best version of ourselves, and on the other hand, we are expected to conform and fall in line with what everyone else is doing. We are cautioned not to be followers, but then we are chastised for wanting to march to our own drumbeat.
Those who do not conform—who do not give in to fear—are called rebels, radicals, or maladjusted by those who do not live lives shaped by their imagination. They insult the courageous to hide their own fear of being courageous. Tragically, those fearful to live an authentic life have become the standard-bearers for living. They have become the ones we have exalted while minimizing ourselves.
Everywhere we look, from media to social media to television commercials, we are being bombarded with messages that we need to be everything other than who we truly are in order to be seen, admired, valued. Look like this. Act like this. Dress like this. All so that we can be liked—not loved, but liked. We contort ourselves physically, emotionally, and psychologically so that we can be validated and affirmed, unaware that we are slowly losing our freedom to be authentically ourselves. How easy it is to slip into the land of the unfree and become blind to our imprisonment.
The unfree long to be free, but that assumption may only hold true when the unfree know they are bound. That might seem strange. How would the unfree not know they are unfree? But this is what happens when the unfree are so attached to their captivity that they have lost the ability to discern what bondage even looks like. The unfree normalize their bondage to the extent that they no longer recognize the nature and depth of their captivity. What keeps the unfree bound are the blinding bindings on the unfree that make captivity alluring, beautiful, sweet.
Many years ago, in my youth, when I first read the words attributed to Harriet Tubman, “I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves,” I cringed at the thought of someone not being aware that they were a slave. I could not imagine someone being so content with their captivity that the possibility of escape feels offensive. But now, many decades later, I better understand the work of enslavement. It strangles aspirations, suffocates possibility, destroys identity, shatters dreams, and convinces you there is no world beyond enslavement. And when enslavement has done its work, the unfree are not aware that they are unfree.
In spite of the inability of the unfree to fully see the nature of their captivity, I believe that somewhere deep within, in places untouched and untainted by their captivity, the unfree long to be free. Somewhere deep within there are unspoken desires for an unbound life. In fact, we all harbor deep longings for freedom to be our authentic selves. We long to sing a song of freedom. There are lyrics that languish within the unfathomable corridors of the imagination, lyrics that our souls long to release. Deep within all of us, there is music shaped by the rhythms of our lives. And that music and those lyrics often remain hidden, unknown and untouched. Some call it soul music. It is the music and songs of freedom—the freedom to be your authentic self. It is the music whose harmonies make us whole. That music can only be played and the songs can only be sung if you are willing to accept yourself, embrace yourself, love yourself. You must be willing to bask in the glow, glory and grandeur of your authenticity. You must be at ease in the magnitude of your uniqueness. Freedom feels like and looks like you!
Imagine the you who no longer needs to pretend to be what you are not. Imagine the you who refuses to suffer from a crisis of identity because others tell you who and what you should be. That you is the free you, the liberated you, the rebellious you, the authentic you.
This is an excerpt from Searching for Agabus chapter 1, “Deep Longings for Freedom.”