Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Bottle Cap

I found this bottle cap on the sidewalk as I walked back from the grocery store on Saturday, the day after we put Ruby and Ernie to sleep. It's just a brand of beer, but it also got me thinking. Ruby and Ernie are free from the ailments that were slowly sapping their strength; I am free from the need to be a nurse in a canine hospice.

We usually perceive freedom as a positive thing. But it can also have a negative side, as some musicians have pointed out. In "Cactus Tree," Joni Mitchell writes about a woman who's "so busy being free" that she can't commit to a relationship with any one of several suitors, though "she thinks she loves them all." In a line that seems to suggest both fulfillment and longing, Mitchell writes, "her heart is full and hollow, like a cactus tree."

And of course, as Janis Joplin sang, "freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose."

Buddhism, on the other hand, teaches unattachment. Being attached too tightly brings misery and delusion. That doesn't mean we can't love, but we love with the knowledge that all things continually change. Everyone and everything shifts, evolves, dies. There is no permanent state of being, and even as those we love change, so are we changing. I didn't cry at all yesterday; I'm not the same person I was the day before.

So now I have more freedom, with all that it entails -- the sorrow and the relief, the loss and the gain, the heart that's both full and hollow.


  1. I like to think of embracing responsible freedom. I struggle with the Buddhist concepts although they make so much sense when I read them. It's hard to wrap my Western mind around such Eastern thoughts.

    You are just finding a new equilibrium and that takes a while. Savor your freedom but give it some structure.

  2. Yes to all of this. I've been thinking a lot about impermanence, freedom, and "what's next" in terms of work: because of budget cuts, I've been cut to part-time at my face-to-face teaching job, so I probably (?) won't be teaching there after this summer. (Ironically enough, in the summer I'm teaching a lit course on "Buddhism, the Beats, and Beyond": what better swan song, eh?)

    The question that keeps arising as I plan my courses for this next term is "How would I teach if I wasn't afraid of losing my job?" I'm realizing that for the entire time I've been teaching at this institution, I've been trying to preserve my job by doing all the right things--all the things I "should" do to keep in my department's good graces--but now that I'm being pushed out the door, how and what do I want to teach? It's an interesting question, because that Janis Joplin lyric is exactly right. When you no longer have anything left to lose, you're free to do anything.

  3. this is so beautiful, the very message i need. everything changes. we are full and hollow at the same time. loving detachment. that is my lesson for the new year. thank you.

  4. Freedom also requires a darkening, a suffering, a taking in of knowledge and more responsibility. You're going through a changing now and you will be different, even if it is just a small bit. You grow and keep going.

    You will carry them with you all your life and they are now a part of you and Dave.

    Ms. M

  5. I always have this love/hate relationship with "freedom." For example - I always say I won't join another church because I'm not sure what I really believe & I want to be free from those responsibilities. Then the next thing you know I'm neck deep in them. Perhaps some balance would be good?

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