Spending This Life

It’s one way to answer Mary Oliver’s question. “Spending this life getting free” was the tagline on my old blog (years defunct now). In reality it’s been more “spending this life trying to figure out how to get free and what do I mean by that anyway?” 

I’ve spent my life well, I think, though from most outward signs it might not seem so. I’ve not accumulated much at all, neither goods nor funds nor connections nor acclaim of any kind. Some systems of thought would consider that a life well spent by those measures alone. Unpack as you go, leave no trace, carry no baggage. “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”

Well. As to that last, I have to note that I have not yet managed to put down all the baggage. That’s a work in progress, and I guess turns out to be what I think “getting free” actually means. I did come very close to officially becoming a Buddhist at several points but always turned away at the doorstep, because becoming anything was not in my idea of freedom. Very possibly that was simply youthful arrogance, of which I had an abundance.

Freedom’s just another word, and hoo boy such baggage is attached to that word!  Just looking in the direction of various political claims on freedom’s territory causes my eyes to instinctually squint. It becomes almost an embarrassment to use the word. Too many flags planted in it.

It’s a large territory, though, all the way from big outward prisons with guards and guns, through prisons of custom and conditions, into the prisons of habit and fear and the deeper internal prisons of survival and blood. So much territory to liberate! A measure of how large is the space we occupy as beings, and how much stake various forces have in our choices and actions and movements through the world and through our own minds. For possibly too long I focused more on the outward prisons, and finally wore down my own arrogance enough to begin to notice that it is the inward prisons, ultimately, that give the outward ones their power. Ultimately. It’s a real power that’s been given over, it’s a collective power, and it has accumulated for eons, so this is not a little New Age, fluff-it-away message. There’s an aspect of freedom in acknowledging the very real heft of what we’re up against. Denial isn’t freedom though it can pretend to be for a while.

Inner prisons are extremely subtle. But there are keys everywhere, free for the noticing of them and taking them to hand. Learning to see the keys is the practice of freedom that occupies me now. Here’s a poem about one flavor of freedom, from Tuned:


old two storey brick building
white paint peeling off
weeds growing out the roof
move in.

dirty spillway creek
tiny fishes swim
back and forth under
small patches of waterweeds
rail broken off

walk down to the creekside
right there
traffic noise gets quieter
they can't kick me out
if they can't find me.