I’ve blogged before about my belief that a key aspect of my healing journey is the incorporation of an aspect of myself which is childlike. Sometimes it seems as though this journey has required me to go back and re-experience and renegotiate all of the natural development stages of childhood and adolescence, where parts of myself became stuck. The process can feel like one of going back and freeing these stuck parts.
Over the last couple of years the image of a crossroads has been one to which my mind has returned again and again. The image was inspired by the movie Cast Away. Having been marooned for many years on a tiny island and finally rescued and returned to civilisation, the final scene sees the hero, Chuck, standing with a wry smile on his face in the baking sun at an empty crossroads in the middle of a desert, contemplating which direction to take, knowing that he is completely free to choose, his future a blank canvas, full of potential and possibility.
This image resonated so strongly with me that I had decided it was one of my favourite moments in cinema, of which I have been an avid fan since childhood. Not only one of my favourite cinematic moments but also one of my favourite experiences in life, those rare moments when I’ve stood at a metaphorical crossroads, one chapter of my life having ended, another waiting to begin, feeling completely free to choose what to do next.
I’ve spent many hours reflecting on the image of the crossroads and the feelings it brings up for me, and while I’ve partly been content to accept it’s resonance and bask in the warm feelings it engenders without questioning it too deeply, another part of me has wanted to dig deeper, feeling somehow that the questions it raises with regard to how I live my life are fundamentally important to my future.
Some answers to these questions are elaborated in the delightful YouTube documentary short “Who is Wilson?”, which explores the meaning of the significant relationship Chuck memorably strikes up in the movie with a Wilson volley ball during his long incarceration on the island, and demonstrates the profundity of the existential themes the movie explores. The rest fell into place in flash of realisation of something so simple and obvious and yet so deeply entrenched in my way of being, it rocked me to my core.
Freedom without responsibility
This is what the image of the crossroads means to me, the idea that I can only be truly free if I am free of obligation and responsibility. The relief I feel in those moments I have experienced this feeling is so profound that I can see how I may have become unconsciously directed towards pursuit of it at all costs. When I reflect on what this feeling actually is, the answer is clear: the absolute absence of anxiety.
Why is this feeling so important to me? It’s simple really. As a child and adolescent I felt trapped, suffocated, alone. I was the archetypal person who could stand in the middle of a crowded room and feel completely alone. Like Chuck, marooned on his island with only Wilson for company, I cultivated a relationship with myself which enabled me to become completely self contained and completely “free” to do whatever I wanted to do without having to take anyone else’s needs into account. This was the truth I enacted until well into my thirties. On the surface this began to change when I met my wife, but deep down, outside of my awareness, this worldview still held true.
Jordan Peterson talks a lot about freedom and responsibility. It’s no coincidence that, despite the fact that he is deeply critical of the radical left which for quite a few years has been my stable, I have been attracted to his way of seeing things at a point in my life when I’m reevaluating what freedom and responsibility means to me. As he would say, it is self-evident that greater responsibility brings with it greater freedom, but this is a truth which the aspect of myself which has been stuck in an adolescent way of seeing the world has stubbornly rejected. It seems that this part of me is now in the process of being integrated into the whole.
The free child
As part of this process of welcoming my “free child” (the part of myself I associate with wildness and creativity, as well as rebelliousness) in from the cold, I have recently given myself permission to indulge my love of mixing music, which became a bit of an unhealthy obsession in my twenties, when I compulsively spent thousands of pounds on records, many of which I never really played. I have just completed a mix called The Crossroads, which contains music from Cast Away and a sample of the moment when Chuck, in a long monologue, shares his philosophy on life, developed over many painful years alone and without hope on his desert island.
It’s significant that the creative process of producing this mix, a process which afforded me hours of distraction and pleasure, led me to an insight about myself which has caused me to take a step back and reflect on some of my unexamined beliefs about the meaning of life. For a long time I have not given myself permission to engage in such a self-indulgent pursuit as mixing other people’s music. There’s still a part of me that believes I’m wasting my time, that I should be doing something more productive. I should be outside exercising, gardening, whittling spoons, learning carpentry, doing yoga, meditating, sitting in nature… the list goes on and on. But by choosing to ignore this critical voice and indulge my “childish” desire to stick my headphones on and immerse myself in music for a while, I choose instead to accept myself just as I am in this moment and simply do what I want to do, not what I think I should do.
Having given myself this all important permission, in the space which then opened up for me, I gradually discovered something about myself which I had been blind to for a very long time. In a moment of quiet reflection, an afternoon or an entire weekend spent alone doing exactly what I want to be doing, the feeling of freedom without responsibility is to be treasured, but it is not a particularly helpful thing for me to strive for as the foundation of my life.