The Free Spirit
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The world loves a free spirit - that elusive personality who possesses the courage to follow his/her dream and fly in the face of convention. The free spirit, who remains untamed and untrammelled and who treks along the path less travelled. We admire the free spirit and secretly long to emulate that spiritual will o’ the wisp, dreaming of a bohemian life - the stuff of novels’ heroes and heroines.
Our daydream might suffer upon discovering that most of history’s ‘free spirits’ met untimely deaths, ran afoul of society and the law, and often languished in sanitariums and asylums. One famous non-conformist artist, (Van Gogh) cut off his ear. Another rather disobedient preacher, (Martin Luther King) was assassinated. The greatest middle-east leader of all time, Moses, was denied his life-dream of entry into the Promised Land.
Groucho Marx found himself at the end of his days bereft of his several wives through divorce. And Abel was unmercifully Cained.
Is the free spirit all that free and spirited? Freedom of spirit does not mean doing whatever you want, with whomever you want, whenever you want, and however you want. Such undisciplined expression is truer of slavery than freedom – slavery to ego, selfishness, desire, and self-satisfaction. True freedom of spirit seeks to be masterful and to demonstrate excellence despite limits and boundaries. For an aspiring pianist it means to train the dexterity of fingers through disciplined daily practice till the piano becomes an exquisite tool in the hands of a master. Even the maestro Vladimir Horowitz practiced two hours a day till the day of his death.
A truly free spirit is a proficient exponent of self-mastery, maintaining inner composure, while marching to the beat of a distant wisdom-drum. To become a free spirit, sit at the feet of a master, observe the seemingly mundane acts of sitting, eating, speaking, thinking, studying, meditating, and even sleeping. (There is a wonderful tale in Jewish literature about the student who hid under the bed of his master to observe how he slept).
Freedom means mastery of life’s tools – mastery of mind, emotions, body and ego. Spirited means hewing of an optimal pathway for the soul, so that it can flow gracefully and freely. The free-spirited practitioner of life is a masterful individual whose soul soars on high while the feet walk the earth.
Interestingly, the Torah code teaches the ethics of warfare – how to approach the enemy by first suing for peace before waging of war, protecting the rights of prisoners, rights to self-defense when subject to attack, and even conditions for legitimate pre-emptive wars. The Kabbalistic teachings translate these ethical imperatives into spiritual contexts. It provides a spiritual manual on how to successfully wage war against one’s ego-self (Nefesh Behamit), exhorting the spiritual warrior to protect this ‘enemy’s integrity by seeking to tame it rather than to destroy it. Ascetism (destroying the body) is antithetical to our tradition. Rather, the need to learn the inner mind of ego and to transform it into selflessness (Nefesh Elokit) and compassion (Hessed). In other words, harness this ‘enemy’s energy, cleverness and drive, but redirect it to a life of kindness and goodness. Achieving this goal liberates the spirit. This is what free-spirited really means.
So rather than wearing rings in every anatomical part and orifice of the body; rather than turning up your amplifier to rock concert capacity of 119 dB SPL; rather than stringing together as many four letter epithets and expletives for shock value (and for successful attention-seeking), try helping one person a day. Doing so may not propel you to the centre of attraction, but it certainly gets G-d’s attention.
The pathway of true free-spiritedness employs mindfulness, scrutiny, compassion, positive outlook, empathy, and time. Sounds decidedly individualistic, independently minded, and yes, free spirited - an unchained melody of the soul.
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