What is Freedom?

People often define freedom in terms of their perceived restrictions. These perceived restrictions can appear in various-different forms; either political, religious, physical, monetary, environmental, legal etc… The list goes on.

The perception of freedom varies from person to person. The individual sitting beside you might appear to have the same notion of freedom as you do, however, I can almost guarantee that if you were to ask him to elaborate on his understanding of freedom; you will quickly discover the inconsistencies which differentiate his vision from yours.

For instance, I grew up in a family of seven. 2 parents, 5 children. Our parents raised us with the same governing idea of freedom. However, as grown up individuals, today in our respective lives, our notions of freedom are very different. Check this, I was born in Connecticut USA, which makes me an American citizen. That gives me the “freedom” to travel to France or to Austria (“for a particular number of days”), without having to get a stamp or VISA in my passport. My youngest brother, on the other hand, was born in Lusaka Zambia, which makes him a Zambian citizen, and that restricts him from traveling to France or to Austria without the proper stamp or VISA in his passport. That’s an example of legal or even political limitations on ones freedom.

Let me give you another one: I am an artist, so essentially, I am “free” to get high and drunk on the job. In Switzerland, I can even grow a certain amount of marijuana at home and smoke it with little to no legal consequences. Heck, as far as you are concerned, I could be stoned out of my mind right now !

My big sister and my younger sister, are lawyers, one lives in Australia and the other in London. They do not have the freedom to grow marihuana at home, or smoke and get high on the job without facing the worst imaginable legal and professional repercussions.

By the way, I should maybe say at this point that my parents notion of freedom that was bestowed upon us had nothing to do with the legalization of controlled substances. Quite the contrary; my dad is a doctor, and my mom is a nurse.

Anyhow, my other brother living in London is married and has two kids. He, like me, is an artist (a graphic artist, a tattooist) and he has had to take on another job in order to provide for his family; whilst I am still “free” to stick to my one job (while I can still afford it)… And also I’m not married so…

Bear with me for a second. Think about this and ask yourself ; are you really free? When you woke up this morning, didn’t your alarm clock remind you of your limitations? Don’t your monthly bills dictate, control and curb your spending habits? Isn’t your agenda the blueprint to your personal prison cell outlined in a little pocket book? Are you at liberty to walk into this conference room in your pajamas or nightgowns? When you vote aren’t you restricted to only a handful of choices?

I think you can understand what I am trying to get at. The notion of freedom is one that is inherently embedded with so many restrictions that are relative to the individual in question. Let me take it even further, the concept of collective freedom is an illusion. Maybe only a fresh new born baby with no notion of freedom is truly free ! But even then, there are physical restrictions.

So then you might ask – where is freedom?

Well ladies and gentlemen, freedom is in the mind.

If you were to strip away all external factors, distractions, morals and ethics; you might achieve freedom.

I read somewhere the other day (on Facebook) that people live 3 lives ; their public life, their private life, and their secret life. The latter is that in which we are interested. The secret life, is where one might achieve ultimate-unrestricted freedom. Probably not absolute freedom, since we are always bound to the experiences that have molded us to be who we are; but like I said, it is probably the closest to actual freedom we can get while on earth and in our human bodies.

Allow me to further elaborate : There is a song from the 90’s R&B group En Vogue called “Free your mind”. The lyrics for the chorus went; “Free your mind and the rest will follow, be color blind, don’t be so shallow” x2.

In the song, they say things like; “if I have straight hair, it doesn’t mean that I want to be white; or if I listen to hip hop, it doesn’t mean that I sell drugs; or if I date a white guy, it doesn’t mean that I don’t love my black brothers.”

They suggest that being free of prejudice and limitations can be achieved by first freeing your mind, then the rest will follow.

En Vogue were suggesting that freedom is defined by breaking down the norms of perception, breaking down those same environmental restrictions and limitations which give us tunnel vision and stifle creativity. I believe they got it right.

In relation to creativity, this is the type of freedom you wish to achieve. Mental freedom. Here you can achieve anything and everything (be it positive or negative); and in doing so, you will not be arrested, judged or ostracized.

We might live in a 1984 George “Owellesque” type of Big Brother society, but thankfully, we cannot – yet - be prosecuted for thought crime… so long as you keep it a secret.

If you can imagine it, it can be achieved (William Arthur Ward); but when you process those thoughts, and want to bring them to life, remember that you will be once again forced to adapt that mental freedom to fit into the limitations of your immediate environment.

Did you watch “The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty” with Ben Stiller? Well that film is filled with a whole lot of unrealistic stuff that was going on in his head. The protagonist spent the majority of his time in his mind; but ironically, his constant and unrestricted day dreaming eventually lead to him achieving his most unfathomable goals.

This brings me to my third and final question : How can we achieve and apply this mental freedom in a practical way in our day to day lives?

Well, like any living thing of value, you have to nature it by giving it time and space to grow.

I remember when I was in school, my 4th grade teacher would say, “Hey! Stop daydreaming” ! Ha ! What better way to keep my freedom in check ! I guess I wouldn’t have been caught if I was paying attention ! Ha !

Essentially, there is a time and place for everything. We must dedicate some of our day to day lives to experiencing and exercising mental freedom. It is meditation; training the mind to induce a particular mode of consciousness. Time for reflection, composure and mental stimulation. For at least 30 minutes a day (to maybe even an hour for those of us who are “lazy”), you should be free. Free from your telephone, free from the internet, free from the news, free from your nagging husband or wife, free from your worries, your job, your occupations etc.

Ones consciousness needs to be explored, wherein you might discover absolute freedom.

That is how I work. I meditate to retain a stable mind-state, and elevate to plane governed by no state. That is where I choose to entertain my thoughts and where I find my inspiration.

I’m a day dreamer, people are always asking me – what are you looking at? Are you lost? Come back to us Julio ! Your sclera is jet black ! I get that every time I step in a zone. That creative mind-state is my home – where I am all alone.

It is a place of infinite possibilities. It is Alice in Wonderland. It is stepping outside of the matrix. It is a place where I am not confined to any man-made guidelines. Where my sensory organs are operating at peak condition. Where there are no limitations. Where I am a rocket scientist. Up here I can travel the world, the universe and beyond. Where I am invincible. And when I come back down to earth, I know the answers.

Society teaches us as individuals to stay in line and to conform. What it cannot teach us is how to be free. That you have to learn for yourself, by deconstructing everything that you have been taught. Lauren Hill calls it Miseducation. I interpreted that as her definition of freedom.

In conclusion, I would like to finish off with a verse I wrote about five years ago when I was in London. The song was called freedom, and in it I explored the fact that even though times have changed, and as a black person I am apparently more free than ever; when I am actually not.

This is how it went :

“Third verse from freedom”

Thank you for listening.


About the speaker

Rootwords was born in the United States (of Zambian origin) and grew up in Switzerland, where within the last decade he has become an undeniable talent in the international hip hop scene, to keep an eye on. Since the age of 16, he cultivated his love for hip hop, the underground scene and explosive beats. “A world citizen rapper” is a good way to define the aesthetics of this artist who, through his texts and music, expresses his attachment to multiculturalism, diversity, and the world in general.

Rootwords had already seduced the critics with his first projects (Press Rewind to Begin and All Good), particularly in Switzerland where he was elected “Best Underground Artist” at the RepreZent Awards in 2010, won the “Demotape Clinic Urban” prize at M4Music in Zurich in 2013 and took home the first “Urban Award” at Swiss Live Talents in Bern at the end of 2013. He has shared the stage with high profile artists, such as IAM, Cypress Hill, Public Enemy, Dead Prez, Method Man and Redman, at festivals such as Montreux Jazz Festival.

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