This week while 60,000 people are at Burning Man celebrating freedom from “the man,” and all the extremes patriarchy represents, I celebrated my own freedom…by having an emotional breakdown. Exactly one week ago I had the truly horrible and amazing experience of have a pretty major meltdown.
It began shortly after my therapy session on Friday, but in actuality had been building for most of life. It was a mismatch of things that inspired the somewhat of a “spiritual emergency”…not being gainfully employed, fear about the future, sadness about the planet, and yes possibly even the fact that my cat bit me really hard that morning and it hurt my feelings. But really it was about feeling powerless. And for the first time in my life I let go and stopped trying to hold it together…and felt free.
My friend who witnessed the beginning of my breakdown named what was happening and reassured me this was a good thing I was feeling. Another friend just hugged me a ton and listened. Fortunately, I have a lots of friends training to be therapists who could hold my pain without being scared or running away. I felt loved and seen. Seen and loved for who and what I am: human.
I wish for all of us the freedom to fall apart. To be so unabashedly and unapologetically human that it’s uncomfortable. To know that freedom isn’t something that you have or want, but something you are when you honor yourself fully. I am clear now that this is what I desire in friends, lovers, and family–to love and see all parts of me (and on the flip side to love and see them). To see and know the mature and immature, the selfless and selfish, the hero and victim. Miraculously all of us hold these paradoxes of self and yet so few of us welcome them.
We often get so wrapped up in what others think and how they perceive us that we become controlled by their reactions and opinions. In this fear I oscillate wildy between the extremes of being overly defensive and completely shutting down. And in all honesty I can’t remember the last time I haven’t lived from that place. Not asking for the things I want out of fear of being disliked, not saying anything when someone hurts my feelings, and worse yet, taking someone else’s opinion of me to be more important than my own.
Somewhere along the way I became stuck as someone who cares too much about what others think and not enough about what I think of myself. In attempting to get approval, and a feeling of control that comes with it, I became controlled. In the words of Kute Blackson:
“As you accept yourself as you are and as you are not. You become powerful. You consolidate your energy and remain rooted in your center. You become free. When you no longer seek other people’s approval you are free. As you unhook yourself from other people’s validation you become truly powerful. ”
So, today goes down in my personal history as the day I finally began to understand the word freedom. Not just as a concept and a word, but to feel it in my bones as truth. The freedom associated with being me in all of my humanness. As a recovering graduate student, the best way for me to understand words is through their etymologies and how their meaning has evolved over time. According to my bible (the Oxford English Dictionary), the word evolved from Old English freodom. More interesting is about its Germanic origin Freiheit with the same root as “Freitag” (meaning “Friday”). Both of these words derive from the Germanic goddess of love, Freyja. Apparently, “free” derives from the Proto-Indo-European root of “pri” meaning “to love.”
This suggests that where there is love that there is freedom. Or in this case love creates freedom and freedom stems from love. In essence, when we love ourselves enough to just be, then we become free (rhyme only somewhat intentional). And conversely, when we love others as they are, we grant them freedom to be themselves. So, this 2013 Burning Man season, I’mtaking back my power as someone who doesn’t need approval from another (although I certainly wouldn’t mind if you like this post) and who finally loves herself enough to be free.
(P.S. Special thanks to A.S. for translation help and N.D. and J.B. for being really great friends.)