We live in the age of instant gratification. With a click or tap we can have almost anything we want, if we have the resources. But even with the ready availability of all sorts of things to satisfy our desires, many people are deeply unhappy. Because although we can buy almost anything these days, the most important things in life are beyond currency.

After food, shelter, loving family, and purposeful work, the most important thing for humans is freedom. It could be argued that after basic survival needs are covered, everything is meaningless if we are not free. But how do we understand true freedom, and create it within our world?

What Is Freedom?

While the idea means different things to different people, everyone has a concept of freedom. It is usually defined as the ability to make decisions and choices without hindrance or restraint and to not be enslaved, nor under the control of a despotic government. The challenge with most of our definitions of freedom is that they describe what freedom is not. It is nearly impossible to come up with a universal definition for what freedom actually is, because its true meaning is so personal.

The Marxists come pretty close, defining freedom as the right and capacity of people to determine their own actions, in a community which is able to provide for the full development of human potentiality. It is this blend of individual sovereignty within a supportive environment that seems to be what most of us truly want.

Loneliness Is Not Freedom

In this quest for freedom, many people isolate themselves. Some actually live by themselves with only limited social interaction. Others may be in the midst of people but sequester themselves into smartphones and other distraction devices to keep from having to really engage. This type of aloneness is not freedom. These people may have the power of choice, but without the support of a community their growth is stunted and their options limited.

Codependence Is Not Freedom

Relationships fulfill a basic human need for love, and sometimes they can be a primary catalyst for our evolution. But sometimes we come to relationship looking for the other person to fill some hole so that we can feel complete. If we come to depend on other people for our wholeness, we lose ourselves. If we are unable to live without another persons emotional or psychological dependence, or sacrifice ourselves for our partners wellbeing, everyone loses.

Codependence is one of the primary ways that people give up their freedom. It causes people to need others to like them in order to feel good about themselves. Codependents look to partners to merge with, weaving their needs, desires, and emotions with their partners. This leads to all sorts of detrimental behavior, including trying to fix or control people, people pleasing, and other ways of actually avoiding freedom.

Alone Together

It seems that we seek a way of being that fosters and celebrates freedom within a supportive collective. This is neither isolation or rebellion, but trying to be free in spite of ones surroundings. Neither is it the fetters of a codependent relationship, when we believe our freedom is contingent on how our partners interact with us. This freedom is interdependence.

In the legal definition of a free society, all people have the same legal rights. Each persons autonomy is honored, and the rights of one person or group never supersede anothers. But a truly free culture goes beyond that. To get that thing we all want, each person must be encouraged to find and express ones authentic truth. Uniqueness needs to be honored and celebrated. Personal inquiry and self-reflection woven into the fabric of daily life.

Interdependence is the understanding that all living beings are part of a coherent web. The plants need the rain to live, and the moisture collection of living plants is what creates precipitation. In order to feel truly free, we need to be coherently interdependent. In an interdependent culture, people honor and even encourage each others autonomy and individuality, and yet always hold an open space for collaboration and connection. The human needs for both sovereignty and intimacy are respected. We recognize that most people need to feel alone together, free to do what feels good to their spirits (without violating another persons freedom), and free to come into union.

Once our basic survival needs are met, the most precious desire of humans is freedom. This contains the obvious freedom from slavery, economic oppression, discrimination, and unjust laws. And beyond that is freedom of spirit. A way of being in which individuality and autonomy are cherished, as are connection and co-creation. All of nature is interdependent, and by extension so is all of life. If we are to be truly happy, we would be served by creating societies in which the supportive container of interdependence is the norm.