Resistance Is Freedom

There’s nothing enjoyable about the sound of an alarm on a January morning when the hour hand is still flirting with the number four. 

This is no time for human consciousness. This is no time for physical exertion. This is a time for burrowing deep into memory foam and cotton sheets.

But downstairs a pair of lonely running shoes is waiting. Waiting for feet. My feet. And the only way my feet are going to make it down there is if I drag them out of bed and make my creaky joints start moving.

Life is full of these little moments. They’re often mundane and unremarkable, largely hidden from public view. But in these moments, we face an opportunity. It’s the opportunity to resist. To fight back against what’s natural. To refuse to acquiesce to what’s easy.

From an outsider’s perspective, these moments may seem inconsequential in the overall course of our lives. The world won’t end if I hit the snooze button. Nobody will care if I choose to stay in bed. But by doing what I don’t want to do, by choosing the path of greatest resistance, I’m giving myself an invaluable gift that I wouldn’t otherwise experience: the gift of freedom.

Away from the indulgence of a warm and cozy bed, I’m free to explore my local streets and trails. Free to spend time in the blissful solitude of my own thoughts. Free to push my physical limits. Free to watch a sunrise from a wide-open country road, or to talk to the deer that’s cautiously watching me from the trees, or to plod through a layer of fresh snow glistening beneath the streetlights.

We all have our own ideas of freedom, and running is one expression of mine. But regardless of how we define freedom, the universal truth is that it’s rarely achieved without a regular practice of resistance. It’s only by saying “no” to what we think we want that we can say “yes” to what we know we need.

In turning the page to a new year, we’re naturally inclined to focus on the possibilities and opportunities ahead of us. The next 365 days feel like a blank canvas awaiting our beautiful brush strokes, and we dream of the masterpiece we’ll create. But our in our optimism about the future, it’s easy to overlook the grit that it will take to get us there. That body isn’t going to lose 10 pounds on its own. Those books aren’t going to read themselves. The quality family time we’re wanting to have isn’t going to just happen. If the new year is going to bring the freedom we want, it’s going to happen by intentionally resisting the many forces that keep us confined to our old ways of living.

In many ways, this goes against our default mode of operation. As Americans, freedom is something we feel entitled to. It’s woven into the fabric of our society, hard-wired into our national consciousness. After all, this is the land of opportunity, free market capitalism, and soaring bald eagles. If anyone’s free, it’s us.

But even while we entertain lofty ideals about the liberties we think we enjoy, many of us are living a depressingly enslaved existence.

We think we have technological freedom, carrying magical devices in our pockets that promise to be tools of self-actualization, self-expression, and interpersonal connection. Yet when we hear a chirp or feel a buzz, we thoughtlessly jump to attention every single time. When we have four seconds of boredom at a stoplight or in a line or on the toilet, we instinctively start to scroll. When we wake up in the morning with a new day to embrace, the familiar glow of that Liquid Retina HD display is the first thing to greet us.

We think we have political freedom, voicing our opinions and casting our vote in whatever way we choose. Yet the political beliefs we hold so dearly are in fact just the standard talking points of our preferred cable news outlet. The same politicians that have been in office for decades will inevitably win the next election, their pockets lined with the greasy cash of lobbyists and corporate interests. Our public discourse is not a transformational exchange of good-faith ideas, but instead it’s a performative screaming match carefully orchestrated to appeal to the most extreme fringes of the tribe.

We think we have economic freedom, enjoying the unimpeded pursuit of a comfortable, fulfilled, and secure existence. Yet hundreds of billions of advertising dollars each year ensure that we keep spending our money on worthless crap that brings no observable increase to our overall happiness levels. We’re locked into habits of production and consumption that increasingly endanger the health of the very planet we call home. The majority of us toil day after day just to have enough to pay our bills by the end of the month, while an elite class of billionaires uses our labor to amass unthinkable wealth and take joy rides into space. 

These are just three examples of many. But they raise the uncomfortable question that few of us want to ask: How free are we, really?

Time and time again, we settle for the status quo. We opt for what’s convenient. We chug along in the same old ruts that lead absolutely nowhere. As much as we want to claim autonomy in every aspect of our modern, liberated lives, we’re surprisingly willing to let ourselves remain boxed into patterns that keep us limited and confined.

But we don’t have to. By making a commitment to resist the gravitational pull of what comes easily, we can discover the road that leads to a more thriving lifestyle. We can have minds that are more opens, hearts that are more loving, and experiences that are more profound.

Resistance, by its very nature, is unpleasant and uncomfortable. That’s why so many of us practice it so rarely. But on the other side of resistance is a reward that makes the discomfort more than worth it. That’s where we discover everything we never would have experienced had we resigned ourselves to simply floating along with the listless current.

So how do we cultivate patterns of resistance in our lives? Well, it probably starts with lowering our expectations.

For most of us, our resistance won’t seem particularly valiant or transformative to anyone who happens to be watching. We probably won’t get arrested on a bus in Montgomery or stare down a tank in Tiananmen Square.

But that’s okay. Because any act of courageous defiance – no matter how small and insignificant – is an exercise that genuinely matters. It does something to us. It does something for us. When we leave the phone in the other room. When we take the time to understand why someone voted differently than us. When we learn how to reduce our carbon footbprint. When we plant a tree, take a walk, pick up trash, go to the library, ask a question, commute by bike, support a minority-owned business, log off social media. Whenever we perform even a tiny act of resistance, we take one step closer to the life of freedom that we desire.

So as we make our list of resolutions for the new year, maybe it’s worth making a list of resistances to go along with it. What are we going to confront? What are we going to turn away from? What are we going to say “no” to? If we’re not prepared to plug our ears when we hear the siren song of old and easy habits, we’ll inevitably find even our most ambitious plans shipwrecked alongside the remains of so many others.

Anyone who wants freedom must first choose resistance. Because it doesn’t matter how much you love the idea of going for a run, when the alarm goes off annoyingly early, you’ve still got to get your ass out of bed.

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