The Daily Stoic for March 4th. “Awareness is freedom”:
“The person is free who lives as they wish, neither compelled, nor hindered, nor limited—whose choices aren’t hampered, whose desires succeed, and who don’t fall into what repels them. Who wishes to live in deception—tripped up, mistaken, undisciplined, complaining, in a rut? No one. These are base people who don’t live as they wish; and so, no base person is free.”
—EPICTETUS, DISCOURSES, 4.1.1–3a
“Are you as free as you think?” is the question that closes today’s stoic passage. I think it’s a very interesting question.
When we are asked “are you free?”, our answers usually err on the most superficial definition of the term. We tend to reply based on our jobs, our family obligations, and such. That’s just scratching the surface of the question.
However, there’s a more subtle freedom which we rarely measure. It’s the freedom from all our self-imposed burdens.
The need of posting everyday on Instagram, of micromanaging our employees, of being smarter than the rest, of knowing more than our colleagues, of showing the rest how sad and disgraceful our lives are to get their attention…
All these little things sum up to lock ourselves in a self-enforced slavery we are not even aware of.
My Story About The Apple Watch
Think of this: when they give you a watch as a present, they are giving you with a tiny flowering hell, a chain of roses, a dungeon of air. […]
They give you the job of needing to wind it every day, the obligation to wind it, so that it keeps on being a watch, they give you the obsession of looking into jewelry-shop windows to check the exact time. […]
They aren’t giving you a watch, you are the gift, they are offering you for the watch’s birthday.
— Julio Cortazar, Preamble To The Instructions On How To Wind a Watch
Julio Cortazar brilliantly described how something as simple as a luxury watch can become a prison. I remember reading that passage when I was in college. As soon as I finished it, I took off my watch and threw it through the window. Seriously.
However, some years ago, I fell into the same trap again. When Apple released the Apple Watch, I bought one.
As you may know, it has a fitness functionality based on three rings that measure how healthy you are conducting your day. They record your movement, calories consumption and exercise.
At first, I thought it was a cool idea, and an extra motivation to help me exercise every day. However, it has this social aspect too, where you can compete with friends or share your rings to show your progress to your friends.
Awareness Is Freedom
As time passed, the watch increasingly dictated my routine every day.
Eventually, the clock became a burden for me. Apart from having to satisfy its constant hunger for fitness progress, I needed to charge it every day, carry the charger with me on my travels and yes, I had yet another source of distractions and notifications attached to my wrist.
As soon as I realized it, I sold the Apple Watch.
It was not bringing anything valuable to my life. Instead, it was just a vanity object that added a series of obligations I didn’t need. Apart from helping to declutter my life, selling it made me a little bit more free.
Today’s Daily Stoic, “Awareness is freedom”, discusses the term not from the “external” point of view (job, family, chores…), but from the internal one.
This freedom refers to how all our self-imposed burdens enslave us. Things like the need to have a social presence, to know more than the rest so we can show how smart we are, or our need to control everything.
That’s the most difficult freedom to achieve.