Authenticity, Beauty, Being True To Yourself, Creativity, Enlightenment, Free Spirit, Human Nature, Quality of Life, Self, Self-determination, Society, Spirituality, Teresums, Values

The Free Spirit: Myth and Reality

(About a 5 minute read)

Within a few minutes, she had come back from her bedroom, had crossed the kitchen floor, climbed onto the table near me, sat herself down facing me, and drawn her knees up to her chin — all the while freshly nude: Angela, a stranger of no more than a few hours acquaintance, had just unnerved me, a middle-aged man, who had never once in his life conceived of such free spirited familiarity before.

I was about 40 years old,  and Angela was the first free spirit I had ever known.  Or rather let me say she was the first free spirit who I ever allowed myself to know well enough that I recognized her as one.

How often do we instinctively shy away from people almost the moment we meet them — the moment we see them as “not our types”?  Before Angela, that had been me when it came to relatively free spirited people.  Like so many of us still do, I had my skittish reservations about such people.

For one thing, I did not see them as so much being authentic to themselves, as I saw them as putting on a false face of all-too-pointed (and pointless) non-conformity.  As it turned out, I had no actual evidence of that — I was just conforming my opinions to the opinions of other people that I had now and then heard.  Go figure!

In truth I believe I have discovered that authenticity — the act of being true to oneself — is more characteristic and key to what makes someone a “free spirit” than any other single thing.

And authenticity can be found in anyone from society’s homeless to society’s most honored individuals.  Yet, to any great degree, authenticity is rare.  Always rarer than conformity.  As Oscar Wilde put it:

“Most people are other people.  Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.”

I think most of us ironically find authenticity more attractive in other people than in ourselves.  To be around a unusually authentic person can be for some us the first time in our lives we really appreciate — really grasp the reality of — “inner human beauty”.

Certainly, it can be the first time inner beauty strikes us with the force of something physical.

Perhaps somehow related to that sense or feeling of beauty is the fact that to be around a unusually authentic person is often to be energized,  perhaps even to feel like a fully charged battery aching to be plugged into something — just aching to make something happen.  And yet — that feeling doesn’t usually carry over past the next sleep.  At least not in my experience, nor in my observations of others.

For some reason, most of us seem to reject being “too” authentic ourselves.  And that might explain why a common regret of people who are near death is that they have not been true enough to themselves.  In fact it was the number one regret of the people who Bonnie Ware nursed in the last weeks of their lives.

Yet perhaps more of us would work to be authentic if we knew how beautiful that could make us seem to many other folks — albeit not to the current president, nor apparently to his sort of people.

Is it possible to be free spirited in an unhealthy way?  Well I think it could be argued that our president sets quite an example of that.  At least he seems pathologically unburdened of most sensible restraints.

Let’s turn now to four myths about free spirited people.

First, the myth that free spirits are simply relatively unrestrained people.  I hope I have already made clear my belief that is not true.  The sin qua non of a free spirit in my opinion is authenticity — being true to themselves — rather than simply being unrestrained.  In fact, I believe — for example — one can see our president as more unrestrained than authentic, as less a free spirit than someone who bounces like a loose cannon off the opinions of other people.

Second, the myth that free spirits are always especially creative. As it happens, some of the most free spirited people are only of average creativity.  I suppose creativity might help, but it seems non-essential.

Next, the notion that free spirits are less rational than the rest of us.  Without attempting any flattery here — but solely for the sake of illustration — I think if you were to study my “About You” page on this blog you would be impressed both by how free spirited and rational are several — maybe most — of the respondents.  At least I fancy the better liars among my readers are such, for what a peculiar thing it would be if someone as deeply twisted as to frequent Café Philos also genuinely possessed a virtue or two?

Last, the notion that free spirits are necessarily enlightened.  Sadly, I do not think that is true, although I am near certain the converse is true — genuinely enlightened people are free spirited people.

So I have now insufferably inflicted upon you, my beloved readers, my admittedly alarming notions about the myths and realities of being free spirited.  But what have I left out? What further realities are there?  And what further myths?  Beyond that, why do you suppose so few of us are free spirited?

Your turn now.  All comments appreciated, even from appalling free spirtis, such as Teresums.

8 thoughts on “The Free Spirit: Myth and Reality”

  1. Pondering your post, Paul, I come to a tentative conclusion that ‘free spiritedness’ is not an “either/or” thing. Thinking of all the people in my life, I see sparks of free spirit in every single one of them.

    Some people stand out to me as genuine and total Free Spirits, and a few stand out as genuine and total constrained spirits (or whatever the opposite of free spirit is), but most are somewhere in the middle.

    I think fear constrains spirits more than anything else. On second thought, most of the constrained spirit females that I know are constrained by fear, and most of the male constrained spirits are constrained by ‘stick-in-the-mud’ mentalities.

    Personally, I (and, I think, many working stiffs like me) tend to be constrained by exhaustion.

    1. Gods! Carla, what a bunch of fresh and exciting insights you offer here!

      Not an either/or thing — totally agree. Thought I kind of hinted at that in my post, but you remind me I should do better than hint at such important things.

      Women are constrained by fear, men by stick in the mud mentalities. That is either genuinely brilliant — as brilliant as any real insight into human nature — or you and I both are full of it (because I believe you here). Either way, it’s an exciting, stimulating thought.

      Exhaustion from work leads to constraint. You know I didn’t think about that, but you are so right. Not to mention how the demands of our employer can cause us to be constrained, too.

      Thank you so much, Carla. I’m going to ask the bank for a loan so I can start paying you to write my posts for me.

  2. I tend to think of your president as a psychopath. I guess you could argue that psychopaths are free spirited because they don’t give a f### about anyone else or their feelings. It gets down to the definition of ‘free spirited’. Are there in fact fifty shades of free spiritedness and people fall along the continuum with the 2 extremes being psychpathic and enlightened. I wonder – are pirates free spirited?

    1. Genuinely free spirited people — so far as I have known — are not pathological, SG. I think that rules out psychopaths, but I could be wrong about that.

      As for the president being a psychopath? I wonder. Surely he is a narcissist, but a psychopath? Would a real psychopath care so much about what people thought of him that he would become obsessed with their opinions of him? A narcissist would, but a psychopath? I don’t know.

  3. “Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” What a quote! You’ve really extrapolated the contents of your thoughts here, and tied it together well with the quotation. Well done.

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words!

      I should confess I’m not as well organized as it might seem. I began by writing out my thoughts, then in the midst of that, I recalled Wilde’s quote. So that’s when I stuck it in there.

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