Freedom is Always Relational

It seems as we look into our experience of living that we are free to adopt various means of looking into our experience of living, each of which may provide a slightly different perspective of and thus experience of living.

That is to say, the way we look at our living affects our living which affects the way we look at our living. It is circular. But it is not a vicious circle – one that traps us, like “I am a liar,” where if it’s true it’s false but if it’s false then it’s true.

Rather, it is – to borrow Francisco Varela’s turn-of-phrase – a creative circle, one that deepens and extends itself by including (rather than excluding or occluding) more and more – eventually all, if such a thing is possible – of the cosmos.

Thus, the self-referential self can learn about Buddhism and socialism, it can adopt veganism or celibacy, it can learn to play cello or run a marathon, it can go to therapy or read R.D. Laing . . . All of these apparent activities enlarge and expand the fundamental self-reference and recursion that is always underway and always underlies – and incorporates and expands – self-experience.

To put this somewhat more abstractly, or perhaps just differently, we are observers and our observation is free. It can assume different forms, pick and choose among a priori assumptions, study and amend itself, treat itself to chemical alteration through drugs, fasting, meditation, ritual. Doing so changes it and its observation.

In this way and for these reasons, a fundamental freedom underlies our experience as human observers. Realization of this freedom evokes an ethics of responsibility. Since we construct our worlds and selves, then the world and the self we construct is our responsibility.

This is less onerous than it seems. Love is natural; what is not love is love-obstructed or love-inhibited or love-denied, at either cultural or individual levels. The work is not to invent love or replace love but rather to undo the blocks which prohibit its natural extension (this reflects a natural understanding of a core principle of A Course in Miracles).

Thus, we are not called to be Buddhists but to allow others to be Buddhists. We are not called to learn to play the cello but to allow others to play the cello. Naturally, this allowance is mutual, which means that if we want to be Buddhist or cellists we can be – but not as an assertion of a personal right. Rather, it happens as a gift or blessing from the collective, the all-of-us. They – the other(s) – allow us to be Buddhists or cellists (or Buddhist cellists).

This is what it means to be free. Freedom is always relational, and what we give to others is what they can and do give to us. This is not complicated. But what obscures it can be – and often appears to be – complicated indeed. One can become obsessed with untangling the various semantic and cultural forms that obstruct love, often without seeming to obstruct it, and often while explicitly declaring they are not obstructing it.

Love is what arises naturally, and what extends itself naturally, and one merely has to notice this. It effectuates itself; it is not our job to do it. Our job, so to speak, is simply to notice it happening and, as much as possible, not get in the way (by insisting that Buddhists are better than Christians, or more spiritually mature than Zoroastrianists, or that cellos are superior to electric guitars, or that Beethoven beats Chopin but nobody beats Mozart et cetera).

This “job” can seem quite abstract. It is tempting to merely talk about love, and to describe love, and to profess one’s love for love, and so forth. It is tempting to do that because it is easier than actually loving! In order to bring love forth, it is helpful to become clear on who and what we are – and who and what the self is, which is also to answer who an what the other is, and the collective, and the many worlds we bring forth, et cetera.

Hence the importance of giving attention to self-reference, and becoming clear on how it functions. This is not a spiritual quest but a human one that can be cast in spiritual terms, if that is helpful.

Regardless of how one frames it, it is the work we have to do if we are going to establish the primacy and maximize or optimize the free expression of love as our fundament. What this means in practice is what Francisco Varela suggested was a possible human Utopia.

If everybody would agree that their current reality is a reality, and that what we essentially share is our capacity for constructing a reality, then perhaps we could agree on a meta-agreement for computing a reality that would mean survival and dignity for everybody on the planet . . .

The center of any such meta-agreement – and the ground of our ability to see that reality is always “a” reality and not “the” reality – is the question of self-reference. Varela called it “the nerve of this logic of paradise.”

I find this characterization – because it hints at spirituality without toppling in headfirst – helpful. The self is an illusion but it’s no good saying so; we have to see it, and then, having seen it, integrate it into our ongoing experience. Doing so is hard to varying degrees but peace and joy – ours and everyone else’s – is contingent on it. Why wait?

Discover more from Sean Reagan

Subscribe to get the latest posts sent to your email.


  1. I love “I allow others to be Buddhist, I am not a Buddhist (by “right” or presumed need)! It’s such a big deal, that infinitesimal existensial reversal. Like *you* need to accept Jesus, versus Jesus was offering salvation because to offer IS salvation – and any i can do likewise (“personally” accept/live from what he was pointing to). And another infinitesimal reversal is, “no difference”. To let orchestrate the “grand” significance of salvation messages equally with not making them separate from not making cellos or guitars better, makes for quite a levity (ease as well as humor). I’m enjoying motion a lot recently, like the branches swaying or people walking. And being “saved” from not having to be consumed by how I don’t love all people “right”, I can allow myself to notice that I love “their” motion. And in that space, I’m not burdening them with my own imagination of burdening them, because this experience of self is burdened also with a presumed accusation from “them” that I’m not loving right. It’s a real (not) big deal, how that infinitesimal difference propogates, only to allow (whenever) for admitting that it’s not there. People come into recovery to adopt the recovery way of looking at living, but it’s overt fear and pain usually still imagined to have “forced” it (still that way of “looking”). If the reversal isn’t made, that you don’t “need” to be sober, yet by willingness to share “how” to get sober, that physcial sobriety will probably be “your” experience – there breeds a lot of suffering within recovery of still being driven by an addict identity (and THAT is “passed on”). There’s also the admonition to “practice these principals in all our affairs”. Being “driven” to by an addict identity makes for mounting suffering and not possible for many. To realize “all our affairs” points to the invitation there are no different affairs (“just” enjoy the motion!), is that non-existent gap that can seem so huge. So I’ll just give to you my dear (br)other that I am willing to drop the imagined space between us (forgive the space between us).

    1. Yes . . . driven by identity of any kind, really . . . which often feels like being at the beach with my eyes closed screaming “where’s the water” and someone saying gently “open your eyes” and me replying “what do my eyes have to do with water?”

      I have to invent the sea, undo darkness, find someone who “gets it” or “gets me” and the whole time the solution is just to open my eyes . . .

      Seeing clearly isn’t difficult unless one insists on difficulty, which is a form of insisting on insisting . . . lots of cycles in which to get caught up, including those that appear healthy and wholesome . . .

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.