Some time back, during a semester away from college, I spent some time working in a farm community. It was not my idea. My fragile mental state (the reason for my unplanned sabbatical) led me to go along with the recommendations of others. I was still at an age in which I believed the answers were just around the corner, hence, I deferred heavily to the opinions and judgments of others.
I never had any problems academically, but I rarely impressed. I was a fringe top 15% student in high school, and ended up with a 3.0 average in college. I got a few A’s, a few C’s, one D, and mostly B’s and B+’s. In the whole time I never failed a class. You’d think that my attitude towards school would be a sort of blasé indifference, but in the times of most stress (papers, exams, final projects, etc.), I felt strong hostility. I always got it done, usually at the last minute, but it never got easier. If anything, it became more difficult, as my mind slowly morphed into a free-thinking entity.
I was led to believe, as almost everyone is at some point, that my performance in school would determine the extent of my success in life. A lot of people come to accept the rhetoric, and end up living their adult lives out of fear of breaking the foundations on which their worlds are built. And in a lot of ways, they get exactly what they want, thus extending the shelf life of the idea introduced in the first sentence of this paragraph. Fear of failure is a powerful motivator and deterrent. No one wants to end up a homeless junkie begging for money on the city streets.
In any event, I was experiencing growing pains in my second semester of college, so I had to take a break. I would have the first fall season in over 15 years outside school’s maddening and comforting walls. The idea of working at a farm was thrust upon me as a way to regain my footing by the miraculous magic of work, community, and routine. Needless to say, the month I spent there was one of the worst of my entire life. For the first week I slept about 2 hours a night, and aside from playing songs for the others on my guitar, it was a tortuous, imposing structure, and any free moment was quickly tainted by the realization of a brutal, impending five-hour stretches of gathering logs, tilling soil, and shoveling hay. Instead of being able to wake up on my own time, I was to wake up earlier in the day than ever before. It was the most imprisoned I’d ever felt in my life, and my decision to not stay was utterly absolute by the end of the first week. I’d agreed to stay a month, though.
In that time, one moment sticks above all the others. It was a cold, windy morning, we were in winter jackets, and a fellow worker said plainly “I’m cold and tired.” I finally saw my opportunity to say what I’d been thinking all along: “We’re not free.” To which one of the community leaders replied, “Your mind is free.” In my momentary state of extreme tiredness, and general state of disarray, I was too foggy to question or argue with them. If I were the person I am now, I’d probably get myself thrown out within a few days due to insubordination.
I think I would be right on one thing, though, which is that our mind isn’t free just because we happen to be doing mindless physical labor. If you were a Buddhist monk, you might be able to feel free no matter what circumstance you are in. For those of us that aren’t sufficiently practiced in the art of meditation, though, having rules imposed without consent tends to induce feelings of internal suffocation. I guess that was my problem all along – that I was too insecure in my own beliefs, opinions, etc. to actually follow them. I tried out other people’s advice, and to no one’s surprise, it didn’t work for me.
Eventually, I would start to give my inner voice more control, since I was well into my 20s, and clearly the sole guidance of others wasn’t going to take me anywhere. And if my inner voice led me to dark places, I decided, so be it. Life is too short to let other people decide what you should be. And no one, anywhere, ever, can tell you your mind is free. As the only thing we will own for a lifetime, the mind is the apprehended best from within.