It’s one of those terms that sounds really good if you don’t think about it. I have thought about it. I am not a free spirit.
My spirit is limited by my body. I’m a physical entity and biology, physics and other branches of natural science inform my experience on a daily basis. There’s a great deal I cannot do.
My body most assuredly isn’t free. I live with pain, stiffness and limited supplies of energy, all of which is often frustrating to me. I cannot reliably do all the things I want to do. I’m hardly unusual in this. Like all working people I’m also sorely limited by my position in the economic system I am obliged to inhabit. I cannot just go skipping off when I feel like it.
I was hurt by existentialism at a formative time in my life, and this has left me invested in the idea that we can only be free in so far as we are willing to be responsible. If you measure my freedom by my willingness to take responsibility, I am an incredibly free being. I’m actually a lot less responsible than I used to be because my child is an adult now. Many of my responsibilities are things I have chosen to carry.
I’ve encountered the kinds of free spirits who move on in a state of carefree joy, with no concern for the mess they leave in their wake. Freedom is always going to be tempered by your ability to care and your unwillingness to hurt, use, or abandon other people. I’m a profoundly relationship-orientated spirit and I’m in it for the long haul. I find my happiness in deep and long lasting connections with people. Doing that requires collaboration and compromise. I have no interest in being free to dance away as soon as I’m bored, or annoyed or things get difficult. I’ve had that done to me, and I do not like it.
When people describe themselves as free spirits, it can often be with complete unawareness of the privileges they have – especially health, money and leisure. It’s easy to be a free spirit when you can afford to do whatever you feel like. It’s hard to present yourself to the world as a free spirit when you’re working multiple jobs to try and keep your family alive. It’s worth being alert to feelings of superiority around ideas of not being a sheep, not being obliged to go along with the crowd. Most of us have limited options and cannot simply choose to be free.
There are other things I am bound by, as well. A sense of community and of other people being entitled to my care and support, especially. A sense of duty towards the living world that means I cannot go carelessly on my way.
I have no doubt that the majority of people who consider themselves to be free spirits also consider that to be a good and virtuous way of being in the world. It can have everything to do with wanting to create, wander, love and exist lightly. Being a free spirit off grid is really hard work though. Being a self employed free spirit is no kind of easy option. It’s important to ask what we want to be free from, and what we want the freedom to do, and what the price tag is on all of that. If freedom means that someone else pays for it, then it isn’t really freedom at all, its privilege.
I prefer the idea that we can’t be free until all of us are free.