Investigating the ambiguity of freedom with Nina Simone

The wish to be free was substantial quest for Nina Simone. She has written songs about it and talked about freedom in interviews. But what is freedom actually? In one interview[1] Nina speaks about freedom, however she mentions a couple of elements about it:

  1. ‘It [freedom] is just a feeling’
  2. ‘I felt freedom on stage’ [when performing]
  3. ‘Freedom is no fear’

Freedom as the absence of fear is on the level of the emotions: without limiting fears one has the sensation of being free.

Another source where Nina discusses freedom comes from the song ‘I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free’[2].

In this performance at Montreux in 1976, Nina virtuously plays the piano while describing her wish to be free. In this song freedom gets a spiritual dimension: ‘I wish everybody would know what it is to be free, because if we don’t were murderers [of our selfs].

The definition of freedom from this song differs from the interview above. Here, freedom goes one-step further. It becomes a capability than just a feeling. Not just daring to be free, but one step further: being able to be free.

Recently, after watching the touching documentary ‘What happened, Miss Simone’ about her life, I was wondering again what freedom means. Since Nina had such an intriguing and eventful life, one can investigate multiple aspects of freedom to Nina’s life.

Nina had a grand personality and a great sense of justice. When she was just a little child, at one of her first public performances, her (black) parents were not allowed to attend her performance sitting. She would not start with her recital until her parents were allowed to sit on the front row. Nina was always painfully aware about racism in her early childhood.

A personality like Nina typically needs a lot of space in order to feel free. Her thoughts about equality of race and gender were radical at the time. Unfortunately, there were quite some restrictions in her life. Next to being black, as a young talented girl, she would practice many serious hours of piano instead of playing joyfully with order kids. Later, she played long hours at nightclubs in order to sustain her family. Even later yet her husband meticulously planned her career. To be quite fair, these restrictions did give Nina to what she wanted at the time: famous and rich. However, it did not give the freedom she was longing for. Quite the opposite: Nina became a workaholic which made her deeply unhappy and longing for deeper form of freedom (See Work Song[3] ). Later in her life, she took a long overdue vacation from everything and everyone (got a divorce, left her daughter behind, emigrated) for about eight years. Without responsibilities and enjoying life, was Nina free at last?

Sadly, freedom is not so easy. As Nina’s example shows us, there were other, more difficult barriers to freedom: the personal kind. Nina had mental health issues. She suffered from depressions and quite late in her life she got a proper diagnosis of her mental state (manic depressive and bipolar) and medication. In the years before this, she was haunted by fears arising from the depths of her mind. Is freedom to be healthy and happy and not to go mad from time to time? But, on the other hand, would Nina have created the music that she did and would Nina have fought against racism if she was mentally healthy (and perhaps happy)?

We can distinguish between a lower and a higher form of freedom. The lower form of freedom can be likened with happiness. Nina got her share of this lower freedom from sex, drinking, luxury and a long vacation. Only, as Nina’s story shows, these were superficial forms of freedom. Temporary escapes from her inner demons. The higher form of freedom has to do with purpose and sadly often comes with hardship. Nina intuitively fought her whole life against discrimination: her outcry against the racist violence in the song Mississippi Goddam[4] made her infamous. Her protest songs almost cost Nina her career. But Nina was free: on stage she had an audience where she could express her beliefs relatively open. At the time, before mass communication and Internet, this was a great feat. Nina wanted to change the world, which is obviously not possible. Consequently, Nina became angry and frustrated: she could say and shout what she wanted, but nothing would actually change.

For me, when I watch the Montreux performance of ‘I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free’, I see a woman who was born to entertain and inspire. Magically her fingers fly over the piano. The rhythm is ever changing life a mountain river. And always, Nina is completely in control.

It is also how I personally experience freedom: it is passionately doing. Instead of making music, I dance. But when I dance, I can feel completely free. With myself and one with my environment at the same time. Making music, singing or dancing can connect us with higher powers. We are lifted above our daily selves. On stage making music Nina was free, but the freedom came at a cost. Like a Phoenix she would rise above the stage and intoxicate everyone with her presence. Nina inspired her audience to be free. But after the show, Nina would be exhausted and the Phoenix would reduce to ashes. Off stage Nina experienced a completely different kind of freedom: feelings of loneliness and depression.

Concluding, we can say that Nina in her quest for freedom did manage to overcome her fears. Although she was plagued by depressions, she did speak up, went on stage and did what she deeply felt she had to do. However, she was only partly capable to be free. With her talent and hard work, she was able to become free on stage. In daily life, however, she was troubled and caught by her worries and thoughts. Nina was both blessed and cursed in her life. Her talent and music was her golden ticket towards freedom, but tragically Nina was tragically not able to integrate this freedom into her daily life. The quest for freedom seems to be an arduous one. Yes, it can give you moments of great fulfillment, but it is also a lonely burden. However, her honest, daring and passionate quest for freedom have inspired many people on their journey for freedom to this day.

 

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ySYRI4wXUpo

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-sEP0-8VAow

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yfQNdwgvJMw&list=RDyfQNdwgvJMw

[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJ25-U3jNWM

The importance of remembrance and freedom for the Self

On the 4th and 5th of May in The Netherlands we commemorate the 2nd World War. On the 4th of May we remember and honor the casualties of the war and on the 5th of May we celebrate our freedom. Do not get me wrong: I believe that it is important to honor those who fell for our freedom and to celebrate our freedom. But in this article I investigate what remembrance and freedom means to me as an individual.

As we live in a first world country and the war is over 70 years ago, honoring those who fell to free us and celebrating our freedom is a bit of an artificial act. Many people in The Netherlands have never encountered anything which is remotely similar to a war.

And of course, when we watch the news, we see war everywhere. Terrible things are happening all the time and as a result we should be grateful that we can live in peace. But, what else than being silent for 2 minutes can I do? I could donate money to relevant charities. I could vote in such a way that I support institutions which promote peace (the UN) or that I generously receive war victims in our country? Or I could change my bank from ING to Triodos in order to cut down investments in the weapon industry.

But to be honest, I do really believe in doing any of those things. Rather than believing that I can influence the outside world (call me what you like: disillusioned, harsh or realistic), I try to translate what remembrance and freedom means to me as an individual. Because the outside world easily becomes political or socially correct.

Jihad or holy war within your self

I am intrigued by the concept of Jihad. Jihad is not a holy war outside of yourself (of which we see so much on the news from many religions), but Jihad is a holy war inside your self. Within ourselves we can see a continuous war between our vices and virtues. Or practically for myself the Sebastiaan who is easy, sloppy, not concentrated, not interested, not emphatic, etc. etc. fighting with the Sebastiaan who is diligent, respectful, caring, attentive, etc. etc.. Nobody is perfect and we all have these ‘fights’ within ourselves from time to time (especially when we are tired!). And we are not always as ‘good’ or ‘perfect’ as we think we can be.

Remembrance of Jihad

With the above in mind: what could Jihad mean with regard to remembrance and being silent for 2 minutes? The holy war of our personal journey has many victims from both sides. Sometimes the ‘good’ win and sometimes the ‘bad’. But the sum of your Jihad is who you are. One might ask: ‘Are you still fighting the same enemies as you did last year? Or have you overcome some of your vices and are you fighting stronger inner enemies?’ One might also feel grateful: nobody is born perfect and we are all learning. The wars we have waged within (and without!) ourselves have been necessary to grow. From this perspective, we might honor the victims from both sides of our inner war. The process of self-remembrance is often a painful process as there are often there are hurtful memories which we not readily like to see. However, after re-member-ing your Self in such a way, you might feel whole, rejuvenated, respectful and grateful. It is time to celebrate your freedom!

Freedom To Be

What does freedom mean? The tendency is again to make a political correct statement. Of course it is important to be free, but who of us have the experience of being truly repressed? On the other hand, we live in a society which tries to influence us as never before (Facebook). And then again, I can celebrate my freedom at the many festivals in Holland. I hedonistically can drink, do drugs, eat and enjoy life until I can no longer walk. But is endless enjoying and consuming freedom? This outer definition of freedom is not very meaningful. So I need to go within my self and try to define what freedom means to me. As Shakespeare famously wrote ‘to be or not to be’, freedom for me is To Be.  To Be is to, via spiritual development, realize my Self. It is a conscious and continuous act. Not To Be is when I live on my  auto pilot. When I am not conscious, readily things will happen, but it is no longer my choice. The quality of my Presence declines and passion disappears. No longer do I do things which truly my Self wants to do. Another example of Not To Be is the illusion of not being free. It is thinking within limitations, like a horse tied to a plastic chair or the couple in the Devil tarot card. From the above comes that freedom is not some status quo, but that it is the consequence continuously being conscious. It is the conscious choice To Be. From this perspective the will To Be can be seen as a process to re-member- your Self.

Concluding it can be argued that, remembering and freedom are not necessarily external static cliché’s, but can be seen as relevant internal dynamic concepts essential towards self-realization.

remembrance and freedom.JPG

RIP George Michael

George Michael is heen gegaan. Voor mij was hij lange tijd een guilty pleasure, tot het moment dat ik mij realiseerde dat ik hem hiermee tekort deed. Nee, aan de muziek van George Michael was niets guilties aan. Hij deed iets heel bijzonders met zijn muziek. Want ook al was zijn muziek zeer gelikt en soms mierzoet: de zoetheid werd altijd overtroffen door een bijna ondefinieerbare echtheid. Je voelde dat hij meende wat hij zei. Dat maakte George een van de beste zangers. George ging daarin verder dan andere zangers. George was op een queeste naar de heilige graal genaamd liefde. En de enige manier om de graal te bereiken is door jezelf onvoorwaardelijk te geven. In zijn liefdesliedjes zie je hem dit doen op een naïeve, bijna domme manier. Want hoe kun je nu een nummer lang zingen en inzien dat iemand niet goed voor je is (One More Try), maar in de  laatste zin je nog afvragen of je het misschien toch nog een keer zal proberen? Maar daarmee slaat George de spijker op zijn kop: liefde is niet verstandelijk, maar een zaak van het hart. En dit (zoete) lijden is een hoeksteen van het geloof en de mystiek die door veel van zijn muziek heen klinkt. Liefde en geloof waren een voor George.

 

George was zeker geen eendimensionaal mens: hij was alles. Hij was heilig en zondig. Goed en stout. Hield van rustige romantische muziek en up tempo dansmuziek. (op de plaat Older wordt Jesus to a Child gevolgd  door het nummer Fastlove). En die zelfacceptatie is ook vrijheid. George kon vele (ogenschijnlijke) tegenstellingen met elkaar verenigen. Liefde en vrijheid waren voor George een rode draad door zijn oeuvre. In verschillende nummers lijk hij daar op verschillende manieren mee om te zijn gegaan.

Wham!’s Freedom (http://bit.ly/1gsRHGu )

Wham! – Freedom

bit.ly

Lyrics♥ Everyday I hear a different story People say that you’re no good for me So you love another And she’s making a fool of you Oh If you love me baby Don…

Dit is een geweldig voorbeeld van George’s vakmanschap. Muzikaal is het een up tempo nummer en muzikaal jam packed met verschillende stukken en melodieën. Het lijkt wel alsof hij drie nummers ineen probeert te proppen. En wanneer je niet naar de tekst luistert, zou je denken dat het heel vrolijk is. Echter, schijn bedriegt. Want wanneer je de tekst goed beluisterd, hoor je de typerende George met liefdesverdriet die hoopt op liefde in plaats van vrijheid (i dont want your freedom). Dit nummer gaat gepaard met veel zelfinzicht: ‘but you know that I’ll forgive you. Just this once, twice, forever.’ En ook al lijdt hij, hij wil niet vrij zijn. ‘Like a prisoner who has his own key, but I can’t escape until you love me.’ Ondanks alle smart, kiest hij er toch voor om de ander niet te laten gaan.  Het is pikant dat hij in 1990 een andere versie van dit nummer heeft opgenomen waarbij hij juist wel pleit voor vrijheid. Kennelijk had hij toen wel geleerd hoe hij zichzelf kon bevrijden.

Een voorbeeld van George’s ultieme kwaliteiten als vertolker is in het nummer I Can’t Make You Love Me (http://bit.ly/2hmmX0q

George Michael – I Can’t Make You Love Me

bit.ly

George Michael – I Can’t Make You Love Me (MTV Unplugged 1996)

). Dit nummer gaat over iemand die zich realiseert dat zijn liefde niet beantwoordt wordt. Maar nu is hij wel in staat om los te laten, hoe moeilijk dat ook is. De volgende ochtend zal hij zijn verliest toegeven. De muzikale uithaal bij ‘And I will give up this fight’ gaat door merg en been.

 

Maar het magnum opus van George is voor mij Jesus to a child (http://tinyurl.com/78doe9h

George Michael – Jesus To A Child – Vìdeo Dailymotion

tinyurl.com

George Michael – Jesus To A Child Album: Older (1996)


). Dit nummer gaat over het verlies van een geliefde, het rouwproces en hoe hij uiteindelijk hier uit is gekomen door de realisatie dat liefde niet vergaat. Liefde en vrijheid zijn een.

So the words you could not say
I’ll sing them for you
And the love we would have made
I’ll make it for two

For every single memory
Has become a part of me
You will always be
My love

Persoonlijk heeft dit nummer zeer veel voor mij betekend. De clip is van een prachtige schoonheid gevuld met mystieke geheimen. Dit is geen popmuziek meer. Dit nummer kan opgenomen worden in de Christelijke liedbundels.

Nee, George Michael was geen guilty pleasure, maar een hidden treasure. Dat hij op 1e kerstdag komt te overlijden zou zijn grootste kersthit Last Christmas wel een hele cheesy lading kunnen geven. Bij ieder ander, want bij George Michael ligt er onder die hele grote hoop zoetigheid, wel degelijk een diepe waarheid. Op de dag dat het Licht geboren werd, ging een ander Licht terug naar huis. Ik wens dat hij met open armen is ontvangen.

De woorden die hij zou zeggen, zullen we zingen. En de liefde die hij zou bedrijven, maken we voor twee.

13th – About how a loophole in the abolishment of American slavery blackfired

The 13th amendment to the American constitution forbids slavery. But it has one exception: criminals are allowed to be taken away their freedom. This documentary shows how the treatment of black people in the American history basically did not change. It merely moved from slavery, KKK lynchings, segregations to 2nd class citizens to mass incarcerations after the civil rights act. Where in 1970 there were 357 thousand people imprisoned, this figure grew to 513K in 1980, 759K in 1985, 1.179K in 1990, 2.000 K in 2000 and finally exploded to 2.306K in 2014. The documentary further shows how through different laws the prison population exploded: first the war on drugs in 1982. Then Bill Clinton introduced laws such as ‘3 strikes you’re out’, mandatory minimums and loss of parole in 1992. Next, this documentary sheds light on how the inmate prison system has become a billion dollar business. CCA, a private prison company, once made a 1.7 billion $ profit. The documentary discussed how the plea bargain system has effectively removed the basic right to go to court. The bail is effectively too high to pay for poor (black) Americans and without pleading bargain and with minimum sentencing a 3 year plea bargain can become 30 years in court. As a result 97% of all court cases never see trial.

‘The criminal system is a beast. It eats blacks and Hispanics for breakfast, lunch and dinner.’

The criminalization extends outside the prisons into daily life by means of so-called SB1070: a law which allows that everyone can be stopped and searched without any reason. Guess which group is mostly affected by this measure? It is heartbreaking to see the footages of how police brutality kill unarmed black men. Their families gave permission to show these painful images because the message needs to go out. But for what?

Although black culture has become mainstream and we have had a black president, effectively the lower class black people are segregated and criminalized today more than ever. Instead of addressing the issues of why black people have higher crime rates and drug abuse (bad social circumstances, low education, broken families?), they are treated as 2nd class people. First they were demonized, today they are criminalized.

USA needs to take a good look into the mirror and clean up its act and make up to its claim that it truly is the land of the free.

In the end this is a sobering and depressing documentary which sickened me. It required me to take a beer in order to drain the disgusting taste of the reality of the American Dream.

About why I am a free dancing Hermetist

Recently, in a discussion, I compared my spirituality with my profession as a business analyst. I wrote: ‘There are many ways to Rome, but some are faster than others. The Hermetic tradition studies the Laws of the Universe. And as such it explains the above and the below. In my work as a business analyst, I also study processes: business processes. In this role I am able to find root causes much faster than others who look at events. In the end our time and resources are limited and I like to be as efficient as possible.’

Although there are many similarities between a Hermetist and a business analyst, it led me to ask the following question to myself: why is dancing so important for me as a Hermetist?

Again, I will make an analogy with my work as a business analyst. Dance for me as Hermetist has the same importance as the accounting journal and recorded data as business analyst. I can have beautiful spiritual visions, but the devil lies in the details and the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Only when I am able to fully integrate my visions, thoughts and emotions all the way through into my body, my spiritual growth is complete. Only when my body recognizes energy intuitively, then it becomes real for me. In this sense my body is the grail who receives and integrates spiritual impulses by means of a ritual.

As a business analyst, when implementing a new project (which can be compared to a ritual), I encounter all the relevant existing data at the lowest level. This is organizational Know Thyself. I become aware of what actually is and often it is less pretty as what I initially thought! This data was previously not structured, misused or not used at all. I ‘dance’ through the data and restructure it for the correct purpose. Only when the data on the lowest level is correct, the goal of a project (ritual) can be fulfilled and the project is successful.

Dance is activating a ritual similar as implementing a project and it has similar characteristics. When I want to connect to a high energy, I need to integrate it into my body. In the dance all existing energies which reside within me and which are linked to the ritual become activated and must be structured. This structuring occurs in the dance: by connecting intensely with the flow, gradually the energies in my body become aligned with the energy of the spiritual impulse.
There is one more thing which is interesting: my dancing consists of both structured and free dance. Over the years I realized that free dance is very important for me as well. Why would a Hermetist also use free dancing?

As a business analyst, I test if implementations are successful in two ways: positive testing (processes according to the design) and negative testing (processes against the design). With positive testing I follow steps and procedures to see if the design works according to plan. With negative testing I try to break the system and find any loopholes around the new development.

With hermetic flow dance, I follow the same pattern. First, I connect with the energy, integrate it and raise the energy as much as possible in a stable form. But then I let go of the structure and form changes into chaos (free dance). When I am able to dance in all directions on a high level of energy, then I know that I have successfully integrated this energy in my body and the ritual has succeeded.

This is the mission of Hermetic Flow Dance: to truly integrate Hermetism with the body and to connect flow with the soul.

My dance journey – exploring structure and freedom

I started with dancing when I was having a fixed office job as a business analyst. Although I have always liked to dance, I only started with dance lessons in November 2009: salsa. Dancing salsa taught me to have a posture, to lead, timing and how to have lots of fun! Three years later, I reached my limits in salsa. The movements became more and more difficult and for me I lost the freedom in the dance. I realized that there was something very interesting when you dance off the beat, but this led to difficulties on the salsa dance floor.

In the end of 2012 my journey took a different turn: I stumbled upon a barefoot free dance party. Here I found the freedom what I was looking for! All movements were allowed. I learned how to dance by myself. The dance became a personal journey within myself: whatever I was dealing with at that moment, I would dance with it. This was a complete different way of handling my stress and emotions than that I was used to. Later, I found Ecstatic Dance in Amsterdam and up to this day I still go to Ecstatic Dance about twice a week. Ecstatic Dance further reinforced the personal journey by introducing the rule that you are not allowed to speak during the dance.

In September 2014, I started with Gurdjieff Movements. These Movements are sacred temple dances which the mystic Gurdjieff collected during his journeys throughout Eastern Europe and Asia. This dance is highly structured and repetitive and it aims to integrate the different parts of our being: body, heart, and mind. It is a dance in group formation, but you dance alone. Here, I learned what Hermetic dance is: dancing while containing energy. I learned that there is great freedom in discipline. The Movements are magical as they thought me that this type of dance is prayer and invocation. But, after two intensive years, the disciplined Movements, made me feel caged again and I was yearning for freedom. 

Returning to Ecstatic Dance, I found that although I did perform the Gurdjieff Movements, I still was applying their principles. I contained my energy, body parts were able to move at different rhythms and shapes at the same time. But with Ecstatic Dance I was able to spontaneously move as I would see fit. 

In November 2014 I came across Sufi whirling in Amsterdam. Sufi whirling is also a contained dance as the Movements, but there is only one movement: circling. Luckily, the Sufi whirling group in Amsterdam is not dogmatic, so I could whirl and still be free. The centrifuge movement of whirling brings to rise a feeling of ecstasy and devotion. Dance as a way to connect with God. 

Looking back at this dance journey, I see that for me the Dance is within the polarity of structure and freedom, form and force. You need the form and structure in order to hold your energy, and at a certain moment you need to let go and feel the ecstasy. The dance as a way to transmute lower energies such as stress and sadness into higher energies such as joy and pleasure. 

FullSizeRender (11).jpg

“Without self knowledge, without understanding the working and functions of his machine, man cannot be free, he cannot govern himself and he will always remain a slave.”
― G.I. Gurdjieff

Spiritual fusion and confusion

Vandaag naar boekpresentatie geweest over Flexibele geesten. Erg interessant. Dit gaat over een nieuwe trend dat mensen steeds vaker meedere spirituele basis kiezen. Dus christen en moslim, ect. Dit zien we overal al in meer of mindere mate om ons heen: wie heeft er geen Buddha in zijn huis?! Hiervoor is een nieuwe term bedacht: MBR – multiple religious belongings. In het boek delen 11 mensen hoe dit voor ze is en welke afwegingen ze hebben gemaakt. Het was een mooie dag met veel openhartige gesprekken. Ikzelf had liever meer discussie over dit fenomeen gezien. Ontstaat er daadwerkelijk spirituele meerstemmigheid of zijn mensen spiritueel aan het shoppen? Of raken mensen misschien wel de weg kwijt? Kun je zelf een nieuw spiritueel pad bewandelen of dient dit onder begeleiding van een mentor / goeroe? Kun je concepten uit het Westen energetisch zomaar combineren met de uit het Oosten? Ik vind het fantastisch dat we nu de ruimte hebben om zelf onze spirituele keuzes te maken. Iets wat gevierd mag worden. Toch weet ik uit ervaring dat men hiermee moet oppassen: zonder een solide basis kun je in chaos vervallen.

Een mooi voorbeeld van problematiek rondom combineren spirituele stromingen is het concept hoop. In het Christendom is hoop een belangrijke waarde. Hoop op verlossing. Hoop sleept je ergens doorheen. In het Boeddhisme staat hoop minder positief bekend. Je hoopt op iets wat er niet is en je stapt uit het nu. In dat opzicht is hoop de wortel van het lijden. Door tegengestelde definities van hetzelfde concept, kom je in een spirituele spagaat waar alleen heel flexibele geesten uit kunnen komen 🙂

I have a dream

On Facebook I put a lot of my thoughts. More than by my friends, these thoughts are ‘read’ by Facebook and other companies to find relevant information about my interests and to sell me stuff via advertising.

On one side, I am OK with this: I think (perhaps in vain) that I am strong enough to withstand these kind of sales tactics. But on the other end I am not. They take my personal confersations and thoughts, and this they disect into small data pieces. Nothing of my origional story they will receive. Also, it is not possible for me to have a conversation. My personal thoughts disected into data are returned to me with other data (buy this and you will become much happier!).

But somewhere I have a dream that the essence of my (and many other people with me!) origional message will come through. That we are longing for a different way of thinking. That we want to become free instead of slaves of a consumption society.

It reminds me of the final scene of the Matrix. Agent Smith has finally completely taken over Neo, but by doing this, he also integrated the essential light that Neo is.

This is what I hope for digital marketing as well. That they eventually know what we really want and will ‘sell’ us this. Freedom. Hope. Love.

At 2.30 below you see how agen Smith takes over Neo, only to find that he himself has become the light.

How rules give freedom

Many people think that without rules you are free to do what you want. You can choose what you want to do. The truth is: every action we take is based on rules: on subconscious processes in different levels of our being. Without consciousness you live on autopilot mode. Rules are great because they give boundaries of which you can become conscious (If you don’t follow rules blindly without thinking). You learn nothing in complete freedom. It is like going from A to B into space: you have nothing to hold on to or to push away from. Personally, I like to break the rules as often as possible. Rules are often absurd and therefore a great source of humor. But the boundaries of rules allow us to choose what we want (agree with them or not). And without rules we remain clueless and float around in space without direction.