Freedom from choice

Freedom is a confusing thing. Take a step back a couple of hundred years and most of what we call freedom today would be gone.

“From Samurai father come Samurai son”.

Whether you were born into Feudal Japan or just outside Northampton your chances of employment were very limited and most likely you’d end up following in Daddy’s footsteps. Ditto with your chances of travel – though some did see the world, it took years and the chances of death on the high seas through malnutrition and disease were staggering. You’d probably grow up, live and die in the town or village you were born in.

Today we in the developed world have such freedom it is almost beyond belief. We can travel the world, we have access to education and health services, and we can read the words of wisdom gathered over thousands of years of human history. Sure there is vast inequality, as much or more than ever, but even those nearer the bottom of the pile than the top have access to far more than our forebears could have imagined possible.

I have a theory… No doubt others have had similar thoughts.

The choices we are presented with today are so numerous that, in general, they are more than the conscious mind can handle. The result is stress and paralysis. We have too much to choose between and all our choices either become arbitrary or like confused sheep we follow the herd. And yet, and yet….the world today is such an incredible place, with so much variety and opportunity. By rights it should be wonderful.

So what if our choices were removed or reduced in number to something manageable?

Say by the discipline of a trained mind…

It occurred to me many years ago that I was always very relaxed when having a hair cut. Soon I realised this was because there was nothing else I could be doing: No shopping, no cleaning, and no paying of bills: None of the mundane shit than can fill our lives if we’re not careful. Without them there was nothing to do but sit back, breathe and wait for my hair to be cut. I had the sudden realisation that I was free.

Let me use another example. I am a long standing student of the martial arts. Many times I have tried, with varying success, to create spontaneous, real time katas (patterns). On the occasions where I was successful I noted that the common factor was that I had restricted my choice of moves or the range of permitted motion. In this way suddenly less became more, as I found new ways of moving and striking using only basic techniques.

I realised that my past failures were not because I knew too little, but that I knew too much. I had to impose rules in order to free creativity.

There are many explanations for why this might be effective. My favourite at the moment is that in occupying the conscious mind with a task, we are freeing our unconscious to do its job. Why it works is not important. But the fact it does shows that to get the maximum enjoyment out of life we must have rules. Only then can we experience freedom.


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