Healing while fighting the good fight to be free

  • Sriram Ananth (sriram.writing@gmail.com)
  • Blog: https://loveliberationstruggle.wordpress.com/

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Fighting the good fight to be free. Fighting to free ourselves, our loved ones, our community, indeed, humanity and the earth as a whole. Real freedom. True freedom. Freedom from oppression, fear, poverty, abuse, trauma, hunger, violence, authoritarianism, chauvinism, repression, drudgery, pain, boredom, sterility, loneliness, hopelessness, and more – in short, freedom from all that oppresses humanity at a macro and micro level.

(So, while we’re on this topic, let’s wrench this glorious term from the vile hands and mouths of the powers-that-be, the corporate-state elite, and their armed mercenary puppets. They don’t deserve to utter such a word, leave alone invoke it as they pursue their devilish projects.)

There is no greater task in front of us and, whether we know it or not, we are already engaging in this fight. I’m not just talking about the battles for freedom we fight on the streets and in mass movements against those powers-that-be. I’m also talking about the day-to-day battles, beyond the public eye, the ones only you and possibly your dearest loved ones might know about. The fight to be free is a glorious one, no doubt. But as anyone who has truly engaged in this fight can testify, far too often it is also painful, traumatic, gut-wrenching, back-breaking, and exasperating beyond measure.

We all fight this good fight (at least those of us who have that burning desire for true freedom certainly do so). We fight when we are forced to sell our labor to support ourselves and our loved ones. We fight when we prevent the pain and memories of past traumas from destroying us. We fight when we deal with the daily drudgery of a political-economic system hell bent on destroying humanity and the earth. We fight when we struggle to break free from crippling anxiety and depression. We fight when we try to liberate ourselves from repressive social and cultural moors that suffocate us. We fight when we try to extricate ourselves from abuse and violence in our families and societies. We fight when we attempt to stave off loneliness in this alienated society of ours. We fight when we strive for joy and laughter in a world where that’s increasingly becoming an afterthought. We fight when we care for our loved ones, human and non-human. We fight when we let go of internalized chauvinism, elitism, and bigotry. We fight when we bring artistic beauty into a sterile world of vapid pop culture and consumerism. We fight whenever we hold on to that life-giving force of hope.

In short, we fight this good fight to free ourselves in a myriad different ways, often without even realizing it.

But are we healing as we do so?

Far too often, we fail to heal as we fight this good fight. Far too often, we fight this good fight without realizing that it’s also weakening us when it should be strengthening us, simply because we’re not paying enough attention to healing as we fight. I see so many people, my loved ones included, fighting this good fight with awe-inspiring courage and fortitude. Each and every one of them teach me to be brave and resilient, especially in times when fear and weakness come to visit. Each and every one of them puts a face on humanity for me that tells me in no uncertain terms that it’s worth fighting and dying for.

But I also see too many of us hurting and in pain, because we’re not paying enough attention to healing as we fight this good fight. Let’s change that narrative.

There is a beautiful word in Tamil, a language which has no shortage of beautiful words – Kanna. It means variously darling, dear, sweetheart, friend, comrade, and can be used pretty much with anyone who hasn’t lost their soul to address them in a way that merely states: you mean something to me, you’re important to me, you matter to me, you are cared for by me, indeed (and I mean this in the most universal and humanist way possible) – you are loved by me.

So I say to you, kanna, please heal with me. While running the risk of sappiness, I can’t tell you how gut-wrenching it is to see so many people I care about, including ones I haven’t even met, hurting and in pain as they fight this good fight to free themselves.

What say we try and address that? Let’s fight this good fight with all our might, but let’s heal as we do so. Below are nine points (yeah, I’m not letting go of the whole triples thing) that might help us in that journey. Check them out. Use what you like and adapt as you see fit. Tell others about it too, because we can’t do this alone.

Here goes…

(1) This good fight needs you alive: There is an inviolable truth to all this freedom stuff, and that is that in order to be free in this life you have to be alive. I have heard some say that death is, in and of itself, a form of freedom, a release from a potentially horrible life, and I’m one of those controversial people who believes that people have the inalienable right to take their own lives should they have that overwhelming desire to do so, harsh and horrible though it may be to the people around them. I say this with great fear and unease, because it’s such a difficult topic and, to be honest, I’m not completely sure about how I feel about it. However, it is one the last bastions of control we have as human beings, often in lives where systems of oppression take any semblance of agency or control away from us, so who the hell am I to say that it should be taken away from anybody? More importantly, the vast majority of suicide attempts are often cries for love more than anything else, so it’s important to understand that those desires for ending one’s life emerge out of an uncaring and callous system and an alienated social universe, things we are all responsible for as part of the human family.

Having said that, I also do believe that it’s a form of escape, perhaps into another life of freedom and bliss, but in this life it is nevertheless a form of escape. In order to be free in this life one actually has to be alive. And this is not just about you. Freedom doesn’t mean shit if our loved ones aren’t free, if our fellow human and non-human souls aren’t free.  The pain and hurt I feel when I see my loved ones struggling to be free is infinitely sharper and more cutting than the pain and hurt I feel with my own struggles for freedom. I also know that I am in a position to fight for their freedom in this life just as strongly as I fight for my own only when I’m actually alive. I’ll worry about how to fight this good fight after my death when I actually cross that point. For now, this life is pretty fucking awesome and there’s a lot of fighting to be done. So stay alive and fight this good fight.

But is it enough to just be alive? Just the mere breath of life is inadequate. It’s an extremely important first step, mind you, kind of like how raw, whole wheat is a good first step to freshly baked bread, or how well-composted soil is a good first step towards planting rose bushes. But as anyone who has ever gnawed on stalks of wheat will tell you, bread is way tastier, not to mention easier to digest. And manure smells even better when it’s employed in growing roses. You see…

(2) This good fight needs you happy and healthy: Barring the parasitic elites of the world, one of the biggest struggles for freedom the overwhelming majority of us engage in on a daily basis is freedom from economic marginalization and poverty, with vast disparities across the world of course (the working classes in Western society are fabulously wealthy compared to the working classes in most of the rest of the world, but we’re all still engaged in this struggle to free ourselves from economic marginalization). Most of us think that our economic freedom will automatically result in our happiness and health, along with a white picket fence, one and half kids, a golden lab, and, one or two of those infernal automobiles. No doubt, there is great truth to the fact that economic marginalization and material insecurity are huge factors in our quality of life. But if you’re waiting to be free of economic and material worries before working on your health and happiness you’re in for a long and miserable wait. And you really do need to work on your health and happiness; they don’t just happen like Hollywood would like you to believe. It takes time and effort. It takes friends and loved ones. It takes activities you’re passionate about. It takes joy and laughter. All possible without money. Indeed, predicating love, passions, joy, and laughter solely on money is almost a sure fire way to ensure you will only get their false substitutes.

Furthermore, focusing solely on economic and material worries only results in a whole host of other things we then need to struggle to be free from such as drudgery, boredom, sterility, and feeling stuck – all normal feelings to have with the overwhelming majority of ways in which capitalism gets us to sell our precious labor. Capitalism wants you to sell every bit of you, your body, your heart, your mind, and your soul. In the poorer parts of the world, it’s forced on people through brute poverty and marginalization. In the richer parts of the world, it’s forced on people through elitist aspirations and entitlement.

It all results in misery.

Now, changing the system such that we’re all partaking in a communitarian way of living with true freedom and sustainable sustenance for all is not happening any time soon. We should still fight for it as much as we can and always strive to extricate ourselves and our fellow humans from this oppressive system, whether it be duking it out with the powers-that-be on the streets, or building loving sustainable communities, or any other liberatory activity. But it’s also likely that as we do so, we’re still going to have to engage with this system by selling our labor for a good while to come. None of us can afford to be utopian here. So let’s ensure that we’re wrenching whatever happiness and health we can while we’re engaging in this good fight. Because, let me tell you…

(3) This good fight is a long, daily one, traversing the entirety of our lives (and beyond): Real freedom isn’t a flash-in-the-pan kind of thing. The chains and shackles around us are broken link by bloody link over a lifetime. Simultaneously the freedom we seek is built layer by beautiful layer over that same lifetime. Remember, I said we need to be alive, healthy, and happy? That’s because we’re going to be fighting this good fight for the rest of our lives and beyond. There’s no end point. There’s no destination. There’s no permanent victory. We might have brief moments of triumph, fists pumped, placards and flags held high, voices hoarse from shouting those cries of freedom, backslapping compliments and joy-filled hugs. No doubt, those victories are important and should be savored to the fullest. And I’m not just talking about mass movements for freedom such as what we’re seeing with the new, awe-inspiring black liberation struggles in the US today, but also the day-to-day victories such as gaining a sense of mastery in some activity we’re passionate about, or accomplishing something that took a lot of dedication and hard work, or fighting the odds and finding a way to make a living that actually makes you happy.

But it never, ever ends with those moments does it? Indeed, I would argue that real freedom is rarely about those moments, important though they may be. Real freedom is in the lifelong and daily fights. The ones we all live through and experience. All too often we privilege that moment of victory and triumph, whether it’s on the streets or in our day-to-day lives, but we forget that the overwhelming majority of the time the fight for freedom is lifelong and daily. Movies and television don’t help in this regard. We’re fed trope after trope goading us to privilege that one moment of triumph we think will make it all better, that one occurrence in life which makes everything alright. This is not a problem in and of itself, but it does become one when we privilege that moment and neglect enjoying the day-to-day fights. It becomes a problem when we seek that moment almost to the point of obsession, and forget that life, filled with love and joy, awaits in between those moments.

Yeah, clichéd though it may sound, it really is about the journey. But don’t you worry, because…

(4) This good fight cannot be waged alone: I would be nothing without my loved ones. Literally, nothing. I would be a shell of a human being, a mere shadow of a person, a zombie-like creature without  the joy and happiness that comes from knowing that I have the most amazing loved ones on earth. A punk like me should count his lucky stars every fucking day, kneel down and thank the divine feminine for all that she’s given me, and not a day goes by when I don’t. Because it can all end tomorrow, and you need to cherish the people you have in your life today.

I have always maintained that I will not trade my life with anyone else’s, and the single biggest reason is because of the loved ones in my life. My soul mate, my family, my friends, my community, human and non-human. I will gladly, without hyperbole or exaggeration, undergo any amount of suffering or tribulation that I humanly can for them, to protect them, to fight for their freedom just as vigorously as I fight for my own. I say this not to be dramatic, but because it’s a really beautiful thing to have in one’s life. To know that you are connected to other souls on this earth for whom you would face death with a smile is a gorgeous fact, let me tell you. They become your safety net when you fall. They piece you back together when you’re broken. They will provide that sense of security when the darkness descends upon you. No amount of money, fame, or status can even compare in the slightest to that feeling. It makes my daily fight for freedom so much easier. It actually makes the fight enjoyable and, equally importantly, inter-connected with the rest of the universe. I am free only when my loved ones, and by logic of extension, all human and non-human souls, are free. My loved ones prove to me every day that, despite multiple suggestions to the contrary, humanity really is worth fighting for.

And that’s why I say that the best thing you can do for yourself is ensure you have loved ones in your life. Genuine loved ones. Not the false ones who abuse you or try to manipulate you. Not the fake ones who’re there just to party with you or fuck (with) you. Not the fair-weather ones who will run the moment you actually need them or make excuses when it’s time to step up. No, my dear. Kick those people out of your life. Spit on the stain they leave behind and wipe it clean. Purify your soul of their stench with the incense of freedom. Find your loved ones. Find the people in your life whose freedom, happiness, and good health is simply inconceivable without your own, and vice versa.

It has no substitute. It’s needs oodles of patience. It takes time. It’s trial and error. It requires real, honest communication. It’s painful at times.

And it’s bloody worth it.

Because we cannot be alienated and lonely all the time, and we should never settle for anything lesser than the real thing out of fear. We will never be free that way. Please don’t forget that…

 (5) This good fight needs to be loving and nurturing: I see a lot of people in my life engaged in rather inspiring fights for freedom, whether it be in their own day-to-day lives or in collectivity with others via mass movements and grassroots struggles. And for this sub-section I’m going to focus on the latter, i.e. about movements comprising folks who, like me, see themselves as activists or organizers engaged in a larger struggle for freedom via grassroots struggles. But it’s just as relevant for the day-to-day individual battles as well.

I have organized in so many different mass movements and grassroots struggles over the last dozen years or so, that I have lost count. In India, in the US, and most recently in Canada, specifically Toronto. I’m not going into details because that’s unimportant save to say that those movements, as you probably have already guessed, tend to be of a progressive, liberatory bent aimed at dismantling the oppressive system surrounding us.

But it never failed to amaze me to see just how few were actually loving, nurturing spaces, you know, spaces where one actually felt loved and nurtured while fighting this good fight (what a concept!). Don’t get me wrong. Most of the people I met, barring a few assholes who exist anywhere, were lovely, wonderful people. They were also often alienated and miserable, existing in their own bubbles, scared to build any real, deep-rooted bonds. Very few people actually felt the need to be loving and nurturing to each other. The supposed “cause” took precedence with egos and insecurities holding sway rather than solidarity and mutual care. It’s a manifestation of the larger society we live in. Even folks who want to change the more oppressive tendencies within our society fall prey to those very tendencies without realizing it.

Don’t fall prey to that shit. Being loving and nurturing is the fight. You and I alone aren’t going to change the oppressiveness of this system by ourselves. Even in collectivity with tons of others, we’re going to fail much more than succeed. That’s part and parcel of this glorious fight. But if we can actually give a shit about each other, love one another, nurture one another, then regardless of how “successful” we are in this good fight, we would have won. Don’t ever let people relegate love, care, and solidarity between one another to an afterthought under the spurious rationalization of the greater fight for freedom. Those people have issues, partly stemming from the lack of those beautiful entities, and they sadly tend to often be at the helm of affairs because the movement itself becomes an entity they develop an unhealthy co-dependent relationship with. Indeed, love, care, and solidarity is what the fight’s all about. I do believe one way in which this can happen is by acknowledging and ensuring that…

(6) This good fight must have joy and laughter: I don’t know exactly how or why we have come to this point in our societies where joy and laughter are seen as luxuries, things we only deserve if we have suffered enough drudgery and boredom so as to warrant it. I blame capitalism (and its allies of nationalism, religious fundamentalism, and patriarchy), which is a pretty safe thing to do considering capitalism sucks organic joy and laughter out of our beings and then commercializes it by selling it back to us in the form of vapid cultural garbage and commercial nothingness. We are then told those plastic substitutes for joy and laughter are luxuries, and that we need to pay top dollar for them.

Joy and laughter are not luxuries. They are basic needs for all of us, and they shouldn’t cost a dime. Imagine a life without joy and laughter, and you imagine a life that is all but dead inside. Real joy and laughter, the kind that lifts your spirits and fills your souls can be realized only with loved ones and is true only if it’s not dependent on money, fame, or status. If you are dependent on those things to find joy and laughter in your life, something is really, really wrong my friend.

The fight for freedom is a just as much a fight to have organic joy and laughter in our lives in the company of our loved ones, as it is about anything else. Don’t ever let joy and laughter be sucked out of your life by any person or system. Don’t ever let joy and laughter become afterthoughts in your life. Don’t ever let joy and laughter be relegated to a wishful wish list. It’s important. It’s also not that hard. Just have fun with your loved ones, fun where you are engaging with each other as human and non-human beings, laughing and experiencing organic joy with one another. You see, the reason why joy and laughter is so important is because…

(7) This good fight has to be waged in all walks of life: When we think of freedom, it’s easy to think of freedom as one particular thing, one aspect to freedom that is particularly important given the current conditions of our life. Maybe it’s personal freedom that comes from extricating oneself from abusive or suffocating social lives. Maybe it’s political freedom that comes from dismantling authoritarian state and corporate entities. Or maybe it’s economic freedom that comes from struggling to free oneself from poverty and marginalization. It’s easy to get mired in one particular struggle for freedom. And no doubt, depending on whatever life situations we find ourselves mired in, it’s quite possible that one particular contour of freedom holds greater importance in our thinking than others. It’s just as important to realize that we shouldn’t neglect those other contours of precious freedom. For one thing, freedom can never be fully realized unless it is whole. Take the kind of personal freedom being strived for by so many people across the globe who live with various degrees of violence in their lives, such as those who live in abusive or chauvinistic families. One of the primary hurdles, among many others, that they find toughest to get over is that of their own sustenance, the ability to live independently and sustain themselves without their families. Thus their economic freedom, their ability to be reasonably free from a financial standpoint, becomes a major bridge to cross in order to achieve personal social freedom. Many still leave, and struggle. If they don’t have networks of support, they end up in other abusive situations, perhaps on the street, or with some other abusive person whom they thought would be their ticket to happiness.

It is crucial to understand this good fight to free ourselves from a holistic standpoint. The freedom we all seek and deserve is in every walk of life. It is freedom in our personal lives, to be who we are, to be free of hurt and abuse, to feel safe without the fear of violence. It is freedom in the political sphere, to have real freedom of association, speech, and belief, and not that nationalist crap shoved down our throats by authoritarian governments which guarantees power to the elites and bigoted paranoia for everyone else. It is freedom in the social sphere, to love and be loved without shackles, to live free social lives without the vile fog of conservative puritanism. It is freedom in the economic sphere, to be free of poverty and marginalization, to be safe and secure in our personal sustenance without having to sell our souls. It is freedom in the spiritual sphere, to explore different spiritualities and philosophies, to be free of religious fundamentalism and chauvinism.

And, darlings, it is also freedom in the cultural, or what I would like to call the soulful, sphere because there is one sure fire way to bring joy and laughter in our lives, it’s when we realize that…

(8) This good fight needs music, dance, art, and good food: To be truly free is to be free to nourish our souls, and not just our bodies, hearts, and minds. A liberated spirituality can go a long way in providing that (and I plan on writing about that in due course in a separate piece), but spirituality is not for everyone. However music, dance, art, and good food is. (To that I personally would add a robust red wine and some good quality cannabis, in moderation of course – wink, wink etc. – but that again might not be for everyone).

Like joy and laughter with loved ones, I cannot imagine a world without music, dance, art, and food. Doing so sends a shudder down my spine as I imagine utter lifelessness, not death, but lifelessness. Because one can theoretically keep living without activities that fill your soul, just as one can theoretically live without joy and laughter with one’s loved ones, but that’s a lifeless life.

Never let the music die. Never let the dancing stop. Never let the fire of creativity be extinguished. Never stop enjoying the bounty of natural goodness that can fill our bellies. Sing, pick up an instrument, go dancing with friends, cook healthy food with loved ones, eat together, let your hair down once in a while, be safe and healthy, but share some good fucking times with people who love you. You’ll find yourself feeling free without even trying. And in conclusion…

(9) Know that this good fight will be won by you (in this life or next): This final point boils down to one thing we all need to keep going at times – hope. I plan on dedicating an entire article soon just on the topic of hope, but for now let’s just stick to a paragraph or two. It is important to never lose hope, no matter how difficult it might be at times to hold on to that beautiful, life-giving force. As already mentioned, this good fight for freedom is a lifelong one and thus has no shortage of frustration, sadness, and despair. I have seen people in refugee camps and under military occupations survive, indeed blossom, alongside their loved ones, on little more than hope. This hope manifests in all kinds of ways: hope that our next generation of loved ones will have it better than us, hope that tomorrow will bring better times, hope in hope itself. Hope doesn’t exist in a vacuum however, and is still only one part of the many parts that construct a full circle of life. It tends to get snuffed out if we don’t have love and joy in our lives, but those beautiful life forces can also get snuffed out if we fail to hold onto hope. Sometimes, hope is all there is, and when you find it during those times, it has the power to give you everything.

Because no matter what forces are out there oppressing you, wrenching away your freedom, crushing your mind and body, remember this – your soul is indestructible, your soul is always free, and the fire that is lit from the spark of a free soul, is the fire of hope and it can never be extinguished.

Stay free, stay happy, stay healthy, my friend – you are not alone.

[Visit Sriram’s blog here and check out his recently published autobiographical novel about the 2002 Gujarat pogrom:Across the Sabarmati]

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