When was the last time you engaged with a little bondage?
Personally, I really value my freedom. I live in a culture that would appear to value freedom, particularly the freedom of the individual, above almost everything else. The freedom to carry a gun, the freedom to marry whom I choose and freedom of speech are just a few that pop easily to mind. And watch the public outcry if a ‘civil liberty’ is even perceived as being curtailed.
How is it then, with all our appetite for freedom, that we can find ourselves in bondage?
As I engaged in my own little bondage routine at the gym recently, (not to the treadmill, but those other pesky machines), I became aware of Taylor Swift’s song “Mean” playing in the background:
“You have pointed out my flaws again.
As if I don't already see them.
I walk with my head down,
Trying to block you out, ‘cause I'll never impress you…
Someday, I'll be, living in a big ol' city,
And all you're ever gonna be is mean…”
The lament conveyed here is not new to many of us, and is possibly why the song is so popular. The cry for vindication, for justice and for freedom from the opinions (real or perceived) of others is one that many of us can relate to.
“One day I am going to show you just how wrong you were about me!”
Unfortunately, though, instead of being set free by “showing” others their error we are actually held in bondage by this desire for exoneration. If my goal is to prove anything to anyone else, I will always be bound by my need for validation from them.
And so, in all our desire for freedom, we can actually live in so many bondages. Bondage to the opinions, desires and expectations of others; bondage to acquiring the next gadget, refurb, experience, holiday; bondage to creating or maintaining an image that we believe will make us acceptable to or belong with others; bondage to the ladder of success in our career and relationships.
In my experience, the desire for acceptance manifested itself in me as an extreme difficulty in saying ‘no’ to others. Even when I didn’t want to say yes, I would find myself agreeing to something and then feeling trapped. I had constant battles with rehashing conversations and situations, beating myself up for a variety of failings I perceived in myself.
However, this is only one illustration of a variety of bondages I found myself in trying to get my needs for value, acceptance and belonging met. I also tied myself in knots trying NOT to need value, acceptance and belonging from anyone. I lived in a vicious cycle of trying to maintain feeling good about myself and failing dismally.
So what does true freedom look like? And how do we live in it?
As long as we look to others, to material goods or to achievement to meet our deeper needs of acceptance, value or belonging we will continue to live in the cycle of unmet need. Although some of these work for short periods, like the proverbial addict, we keep coming back for the next and bigger fix.
While it is true that just like food, there are areas of our lives where we do need fairly consistent input, what we put in has a great impact on the output. When we use things that were never meant to bring fulfilment or value to our lives, it is like only ever eating junk food. We are left feeling empty and dissatisfied.