Welcome Every Guest (part 3)

Freedom and Responsibility

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Are we being invited to really consider others, to live in freedom but with responsibility? To take responsibility for what we post on social media. As the American Oliver Wendell Holmes said we are not free to stand up in the cinema and shout ‘fire’. Will politicians and the press start considering the impact of their words on others and more importantly caring about what that impact might be?

Victor Frankl, writer, psychologist and holocaust survivor, suggested that the United States is out of balance. It has the statue of liberty on the East coast but needs the statue of responsibility on the West coast.

An American nurse who was in Hong Kong for the crisis there and then travelled back to the US said she thought Americans found it much harder to adhere to the limitations on their personal freedom. In Hong Kong, she said, people had a greater sense of community and were more willing to forgo their own needs.

A lockdown situation at first recommended and later enforced by governments is a huge restriction on a population used to going where we want, when we want and with whom we want.

Perhaps this points us to a fundamental truth namely that we are never acting in isolation from each other and that everything we do affects others. 

We might say then the pandemic brings us back to reality potentially waking us from a sort of dream state, from the illusion that we are free to do what we like and that the individual ‘rights’ reign supreme.

This freedom extends in our modern world to social media and to the press. The president of the United States thinks he is free to tweet what he likes without regard for the consequences. Reporters from the Sun newspaper thought it was ok to pose as relatives of the victims of the Hillsborough tragedy to gain access to hospitals for a good story. Many people are now hoarding food and supplies even though this deprives others in need.

A virus that can be transmitted very easily if we are not very careful and thoughtful could in this way be a perfect reminder of our responsibility to others. A constant reminder not just when we sit down to put something on Facebook but with everything we touch, with every cough, sneeze and movement towards another human being.


Do we really understand what freedom means? We tend to think freedom is  getting what we want. But what if freedom is wanting what we get? Imagine being free from wanting itself. Being off the treadmill of searching for happiness in the world of things or of comparing ourselves to others’ lives for example on social media. Off this treadmill we are simply free to be true to who we are.

The actor Jim Carey talks about his depression as ‘deep rest’…a peaceful pause in the manic desire for fame and wealth. Is this crisis an opportunity for us all to pause and to stop the manic search for happiness in places that it cannot be found?

How glorious is

The purposeless life.

Events occur in 

Their natural course and

One need not do anything or

Be anything in particular

Can there be

A greater freedom than this? Wu Sin

This is a freedom that does not need to be found or developed. It’s another word for the true self. We’re talking here of the infant spontaneously playing, laughing, crying and loving before the conditioning and expectation starts to restrict and confine. This aspect of our being never leaves and is only obscured by the myriad pressures to be like this or that. 

‘I am a child, I last a while. 

You can’t conceive of the pleasure in my smile’.  

Neil Young

Perhaps at this time of huge restriction and physical confinement we’ll realise that the essential self can never be confined. Was the spirit of Nelson Mandela ever truly imprisoned in those twenty seven years? Eckhart Tolle says he gets many letters from prisoners who say they found freedom whilst locked up.

Here again we might come back to the deeper function of the crisis. We can’t simply say to ourselves ‘you’re free you know - confinement is an illusion’. We need to experience and accept the full intensity of the crisis to also paradoxically know that aspect of our being that can never be confined.

The prisoners found freedom in prison presumably after initially really feeling the frustration and despair that is normal when our liberty is taken away.

If we can truly welcome this guest we could realise that the restriction of freedom points to the freedom itself. We could not know we were locked down (or up) if a part of us was not forever free. As Jean Klein once said we could not taste salt if our mouths were made of salt.

Another aspect of our responsibility or our avoidance of it, is our general passivity in waiting to be told what to do, leading to a lack of response-ability. Rather than using our own wisdom and thoughtfulness we tend to wait for instructions from our political leaders. ‘Am I allowed out? Can I visit my elderly parents… should I go to work?’ Of course we need information and advice but if too passive we relinquish the capacity for wisdom and for doing the right thing in a difficult situation.

If we can notice this tendency we might experience how the passivity often means that we look outside ourselves for answers, dilutes our own innate wisdom and ignores the natural resources we have to live safely and healthily. Birds in cities have learnt to sing up to 40% more loudly than their rural cousins in order to adapt and survive. We rely far too heavily on cognitive processes to solve problems and have almost forgotten our extraordinary natural intelligence and capacity to adapt and evolve. Is this pandemic forcing us to take the next step in human evolution, not organised by the brain but prompted by a deep unconscious need in the human heart?

Martin Wells

Consultant psychotherapist , National Health Service and private practice

I have worked in the NHS in the UK for over 30 years, as a consultant psychotherapist. I teach mindfulness and practice psychotherapy from a non-dual perspective. I have led retreats in England, Scotland, the USA, Goa and Spain My book 'Sitting in the Stillness' was published by Mantra books in February 2020: https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/mantra-books/our-books/sitting-in-stillness