By Nkechi Njaka. Photography by Nile Vu.
1. The act of liberating or the state of being liberated
2. the gaining of equal rights or full social or economic opportunities for a particular group
3. the gaining of protection from abuse or exploitation
Opening my arms wide in yoga. A swim in the open water. Sitting on hot sand at the beach. That moment before boarding a plane to an exciting destination. Dancing until 2 a.m. Eating a delicious plant-based meal. Removing my bra. Taking my hair down. Floating. Meditation. Breath without restriction. Being love. Sometimes spending money. Walking in the woods and getting lost. Eating chocolate and not feel guilty. Running. Laughter. These are simple moments where I feel liberated. Alive. Free.
It is surprisingly very easy for me to find experiences where I feel free. My list above is an example of the few things that are top of mind where freedom is found in just small moments in my life. Finding freedom in the simplest moments...but the fact that freedom must be found suggests that freedom exists somewhere else, on the other side of captivity. Instead, I know that freedom comes from discovery. And choice.
Crossing my arms. Fearing the ocean. Not taking time to do what I love. Choosing not to take a vacation. Not self expressing. Eating food that gives me stomach aches and lacks nourishment. Wearing a bra. Wearing my hair tied up. Sinking. Stress. Shallow breathing and holding my breath. Doing human things. Feeling scarce. Having too much of a plan. Eating chocolate and feeling guilty. Not going for that run. Embarrassment.
For several years, I chose this second list above, over and over again until I couldn’t see what my choices were anymore. My mind suffered. My heart suffered. And my soul suffered. I needed a radical change — my life depended on it. I was drowning in my fears and my sadness; the combination created so much suffering and it became necessary for me to seek treatment for my mental health and my personal wellness.
The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion. — Albert Camus
Just as we can find freedom in the tiny moments of our lives, we can also choose to be restricted, confined, restrained and in captivity. Before we have an awareness of our choice in the matter, we can chalk up some of our lack of freedom to society, meddling parents, controlling partners, institutions, the “man.” I didn’t really live in an unfree world, I just thought I did. I was unaware that I was making unfree choices and paying a hefty price.
For me, freedom comes from the mind, the heart and the soul. It starts with the desire of the heart and then the courage to choose it over and over again. For example, I have a dream to love and to build something from that love in order to have a global impact. I am fortunate enough to live in a country and in a state and in a city where I experience the freedom to dream, speak, create in abundance. I do not take this for granted, and I feel a personal responsibility to share that with the world and inspire others to live similarly no matter how slow the process is. I believe this is true for all of us; our journey starts with small steps.
There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires. — Nelson Mandela
I know this freedom I have comes with a cost. For me, I had to choose freedom against several years of battling anxiety and depression. I had to very specifically and strategically work out how to undo years and years of limited thinking, self-doubt and self-sabotage to create new patterns of healthy freedom-choosing. And that struggle was real. I have learned over the years that choosing freedom is a choice that benefits me and my immediate community, supports my ultimate life goals and therefore my health. I would even go so far to say that my choices for personal freedom are what gives others permission to be free as well.
We can all be free
Maybe not in words
Maybe not with a look
But with your mind
Cat Power, Maybe Not
Several years ago, I discovered Cat Power and always dreamed of covering one of her songs, which resulted in guitar lessons while I was in high school. Twelve years ago I fell in love with her album You Are Free for obvious reasons. This was and still is one of my all time favorite songs. I haven’t played my guitar consistently since then, but wanted to share this song with you in my voice. I hope you enjoy my very lo-fi/ produced-in-my-apartment recording:
Nkechi Njaka is the founder of NDN Integrated Lifestyle Studio where she curates lifestyle and wellness content for brands and individuals. She is a woman of color, deeply concerned about personal and global well-being. Nkechi holistically approaches her wellness with mindfulness, movement, nutrition and style. She attended Scripps College in Claremont, CA where she majored in neuroscience and dance and went on to complete an MSc. in Neuroscience at the University of Edinburgh. She attended the Institute of Integrated Nutrition and holds a certification in Holistic Health and Nutritional Counseling. When not involved in NDN projects, you can find Nkechi teaching Mindful Movement or Mindful Style classes + workshops, taking a yoga or modern dance class or choreographing independent work. She creates, curates, coaches and collaborates in San Francisco, California.