Of Ideals and Freedom, and our restless hearts

a woman wearing a mask with flowers sticking out
Hadi Hosseini, Unsplash

All of us live sub-ideal lives.

The human capacity to dream, imagine, and conjecture makes us creatures prone to seeking, forming, shaping, and longing for ideals, ideal states, and ideal ways.

There is somewhere in the flotsam of our minds, an ideal life, filled with ideal persons who don’t give us grief. Something in us creates, reinforces, and even insists on these ideals. We speak of broken dreams and devastations, of hunkering down and suffering; when our ideals are delayed, debated, or worse, disdained. We are often caught envying, comparing, and complaining because we feel so far from attaining the ideals that we hold dear.

When I read Solnit’s words on Virginia Woolf; I find another idealization: the freedom not to have some fixed outcome, but to explore, evolve, and see what turns up. This latter form of idealization is too often seen as a recent socio-psychological phenomenon, fuelled by the rise of individualism. There is merit in this, seen from historical developments. But Woolf of course is a woman beyond her time.

Both forms of idealizations: a better version of our current lives, and a whole new possibility of exploring an alternative way yo go about life; I suspect, spring from the same soil.

I believe it is our need for freedom.

In the first, to be free from labouring, having finally attained one’s cherished dreams; to have arrived, reach a terminus, and cease striving. It is also to be free from one’s present realities so as to be able to explore. The latter form of freedom is particularly intoxicating today as the ideal is to be unfettered, brave, and authentic.

Freedom is the axial point.

From Quora to Reddit, the question “why don’t we feel free” is posed in multiple ways, revealing how this existential crisis is real for all of us. In

In Jonathan Franzen’s insightful novel, Freedom — the female lead Patty would lead what all of us would consider a charmed life, yet — “… all she ever seemed to get for all her choices and all her freedom was more miserable. “.

He reveals how fragile and unstable our notions of freedom are. The persons we envy and consider to be free may well be struggling deeply and about to come unhinged. Still, most of us would gladly trade our lives for one we believe to be better.

In most other articles one reads, including several from life coaches; the issue of our longing for freedom finds no answers. Instead, we are taught to focus on removing what limits us. Stacey Curnow, for example, urges her readers to seek freedom from ‘circulating thoughts’ that hamstring us, releasing the energy being expended for feeling vexed for more productive use. Of course, all the released energy is to be channeled towards activities that contribute to a greater sense of self-fulfillment. But what constitutes a fulfilling life for one of these gurus may not be what makes us tick.

It remains in the realm of Ideals that can both enliven us and make us feel miserable about our present circumstances. The latter, from all observables, seems to happen more frequently. Our ideals make us sad, restless, and whiny.

So perhaps it’s needful to put the question another way: why do we feel un-free?

In the face of the reality that wealth, geography, opportunity, and life circumstances do not determine our sense of freedom and well-being in a direct correlation, the place to really explore may well lie within our hearts.

What do our hearts need to feel free?


  1. http://staceycurnow.com/2011/01/why-i-dont-feel-free/

2) Rebbeca Solnit, Men Tell Me Things.

3) Jonathan Franzen, Freedom

4) Jane Tyson Clement’s poems speak of this longing for freedom, and the poem Faith shines a light:


You who have watched the wings of darkness lifting
and heard the misted whisper of the sea,
shelter your heart with patience now, with patience,
and keep it free.

Let not the voiced destruction and the tumult
urge to a lesser prize your turning mind;
keep faith with beauty now, and in the ending
stars you may find.



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