Set Your Head On Fire: The Way of the Liberation Artist

the-same-horizon

All interferences to self-actualization can be summed up under one obstruction:

Limitation.

You are being inhibited in some way, but it’s not likely coming from somewhere “out there.” YOU are probably the one that’s holding yourself back. That’s because 99% of limitation is self-imposed.

These limiting beliefs are the enemy of the free mind.

But what’s really important to note is this:

Whatever beliefs you have, whether they define you as a person or define the core of your reality, are not true in and of themselves. They are only true in your mind. Your thinking makes them true.

When I really started to see the impact of this truth, I started becoming more and more aware of all the limitations I’ve placed on myself. Some of them were unintentional, some were created by copying others, and some were habituated by fear.

At first, these limitations were annoying to me. I knew they were holding me back, I could clearly see that. But my knowledge of that limitation didn’t stop it from continuing to limit me. Awareness of limitation is only the first step to uprooting it. It can take a lot of deliberate focus to permanently disarm it. And it can be incredibly frustrating when you desire to act out of a more empowering context, but the previous pattern keeps creeping back in.

That’s when I began devoting myself to the path of the liberation artist.

But really, all my life I’ve had:

Revolutionary tendencies

Much of my life has been spent in the pursuit of breaking down boundaries and eradicating limits. Since a young age, I’ve had a hard time accepting anything prostrated as “one true way.” I’ve always had a strong urge to question anything that is accepted as common sense. (The past two years of my life especially, have been centered around the theme of Liberation.)

When I was younger I would often question my parents, religious leaders and teachers. Basically anyone who would listen to my questions, I would probe. What I eventually came to realize is a lot of people don’t know where their answers come from, and a lot of people have the same answers as everybody else. But when you ask them why they’ve come to the conclusion that they have, they’re at a loss for words. The best you can often get from them is something like “That’s just the way it is,” or “Because this really old book says so,” or ” Because it’s just common sense.”

Well, I never really liked those answers. Other people seemed fine with it, though. It just seemed natural for them to live in a quiet subjugation, abdicating their right to actually understand the beliefs they were expected to live by.

I find it extremely unethical to tell others they need to live a certain way, when you can’t intelligently explain the logic behind your doctrine.

So, yeah, that just didn’t sit right with me. If I’m expected to live my life based on a certain idea, concept, or belief-system, I better damn well understand it.

Because when you have this kind of supercilious administration, what you get is…

Blind leading the blind

When you postulate something as unquestionable and absolute, it becomes an autocracy. And when you claim something as irrefutable, you poison it.

I think this is because when you place yourself within a fixed pattern, you automatically interfere with its usefulness. A fixed pattern is not capable of elasticity. Like a tree that has no bend, it will give way during the first hurricane.

That’s because real, unadulterated truth has no need to be explained or validated by a set of edicts or mandates. Pure truth, by it’s very nature, is true whether you believe in it or not.

What all of this has had let me to is:

The Way of the Liberation Artist

The art of liberation is not something you devote yourself to partially. You either give completely, or not at all. There is either total liberation, or none. Committing your life to the way of liberation is an act of polarization.

When you begin to liberate yourself, you will see at first that you tend to seek liberation in external forms. You search for liberation from a dead end job or boring work. You examine ways to liberate yourself from the physical limitations you’ve placed on yourself, or addictions you may have collected.

You may seek outward liberation from:

  • Work that isn’t meaningful.
  • Living your life on a schedule or routine (self employment helps with this).
  • Being a slave to the clock.
  • A partner that doesn’t fully respect you.
  • A boss that takes you for granted.
  • Addiction to substances: alcohol, tobacco, coffee, food, etc.
  • Addiction to unmeaningful pursuits: obsessive organization, excessive email checking, etc.

But ultimately, as we seek our liberation in these things, we find that what we were looking for wasn’t freedom from things at all. What we were looking for was inner freedom.

So if you take the rabbit hole far enough, you end up following the path of internal liberation.

You seek sovereignty from:

  • Self importance and the need to be right.
  • Being anti-you.
  • Playing the judge and the victim.
  • Human domestication.
  • Social conformity masked as trying to fit in.
  • External validation.
  • Your story.
  • Taking things personally.
  • Thinking you need to be liberated.

Ultimately, the pilgrimage to liberation leads you to question a lot of things. This cannot be done half-assed. If you want to experience true illumination, you must seek it as if your head is on fire.

So this naturally leads you to…

Intentionally setting your head on fire*

They say the cost of freedom is high; that you have to protect and guard it with all you’ve got. They say many corporations, religious groups, the government, and institutions have a vested interest in taking up the precious real estate of your mind. They say that if you don’t have a plan, someone else has one for you.

This may be true, but it’s all secondary.

That’s because when you devote yourself to the path of the Liberation Artist, what you realize is that you’re defending your mind against your own internal division. As they say, you are often your own worst enemy. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

You can be your greatest ally. This is called owning your own mind.

Embracing the path of the Liberation Artist is the practical and radical pursuit of living on your own terms. It’s a way of galvanizing and defining what you and I have been pursuing all along: Freedom.

Maybe you’re reading this blog because you’re already living the life of the Liberation Artist. That’s because if you’re anything like me, you’ve found that freedom is addictive.

—-

PS: I realize that I talk a lot on this blog about living on your own terms, authenticity, and not rebelling against yourself. I know some of what I’ve said in this article I’ve repeated many times in other articles, so I hope you’ll forgive the redundancy. My purpose here was to give form and put into words a way of life I’ve been living and have been trying to define for some time. The Liberation Artist is that clarity.

It should also be noted that I didn’t make this word up, I stole it (with permission) from Carl, who writes the incredibly awesome blog, Slacker Reform. I recommend that you go subscribe to his blog now and talk to him, before he gets too famous to consort with little peons like us.

*I do not endorse literally setting your head on fire. That would just be dumb.

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Comment & Add Your Voice

Karol Gajda July 9, 2009 at 10:20 am

Hey Jonathan,

One thing I’ve noticed when you start questioning others’ reasoning for doing what they do is that you develop a stronger sense for why you do what you do.

Once you can clearly explain your reasoning behind living the way you live (i.e. once you’re congruent down to the core) you begin to attract others who either believe the same as you or have a strong respect for you.

You hit on this with “I find it extremely unethical to tell others they need to live a certain way, when you can’t intelligently explain the logic behind your doctrine.”

Well put.

Karol

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Ryan July 9, 2009 at 10:25 am

At the beginning of this article it seems like you’re saying there is no truth or pattern that we can safely follow. Then toward the end you tell us how to live a certain life in order to gain certain outcomes. It sounds like you are trying to figure things out youself and that’s fine. That’s better than fine because we are all trying to do the same. Someone much like you once said to me, “Ryan, trust me, don’t believe a word I say.” he was trying to say, I think, that I should figure it out myself but it sounded more like the blind leading the blind–that if ALL you know is that you don’t know then how is that supposed to help me? It just sounds good, but I haven’t seen as of yet, a productive life lived under such loose terms. No matter how much these people do, they never learn to know themselves.

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Nathalie Lussier July 9, 2009 at 10:44 am

Freedom really is addictive! I love the term, and I like Carl’s writing at Slacker Reform too. :)

I think you really hit the spot by requesting we stop playing judge and victim. It’s something that I see all the time, especially in the media (victim stories are fun right?!), and slip into myself sometimes.

I first learned about “not judging” from my Martial Arts teacher when I was 14. I thought she was a little weird to be so focused on “non-judgement”, but I totally get it now. :)

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ChristiaanH July 9, 2009 at 10:49 am

WHat you talk about is a dangerous thing Jonathan. As soon aspeople start to ask questions and think for themselves all hell will break loose. This is exactly why religion is trying to stop science whenever it can. “Blind faith” isn’t called blind for nothing. It’s believing what’s in those old dusty books without thinking for yourself and as long as you’re not thinking and asking qustions you can easily be controlled by those who DO think.

Thinking is dangerous, you just might find yourself with nothing else but reality on yoru hands. No God, no Allah, no Buddha (although he’s a guy, not a god)… Can you stand being alone like that?

Then by all means, start thinking for yourself and liberate yourself from all the doctrine, hearsay and all the other lies you’ve been told and were gullable enough to believe at one time.

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Vincent July 9, 2009 at 11:51 am

Hi Jonathan,

Redundancy is not an issue as we know that it is the point that you are driving at and it is such an important one. Sometimes we may forget others teaching and constant reminder is needed ensure that we stay on track.

Cheers,
Vincent

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Tess The Bold Life July 9, 2009 at 11:51 am

Hey, I don’t think anyone who writes regularly for Zen habits is a little person! I’ll check it out anyway because I like what you borrowed.

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Armen Shirvanian July 9, 2009 at 11:57 am

That point about something being poisoned when it is labeled or thought of as irrefutable has much validity. It is a step in the wrong direction, where future discussion becomes based on something thought to be concrete, but which could not be accurate all of the time.

Each added “certainty” cuts out more options from our thinking.

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mr-crash July 9, 2009 at 8:57 pm

I like this article, but I sort of wonder if maybe mentioning freedom from certain physical contexts/situations is even worth mentioning at all. Plenty of the little things that impinge on our freedom are the result of government or whoever else dictating something is wrong, simply by virtue of social mores (mala prohibita if you like). Stuff like driving on one side of the road, speed limits, stop signs. I think, we’ve got to ask ourselves, what are the proverbially big things? Almost universally, I think we’re able to find significance, meaning and happiness in any sort of context and that the big obstacles aren’t impassable due to any physical bondage we’re suffering, but they may well require a change in how we think. It may well be more difficult in some contexts, but it is certainly possible.

I think I believe that internal freedom is possible regardless of context. And, beyond this, someone who feels a sense of purpose to their life is usually quite happy to meaningfully impinge upon their own physical situation in order to continue along the path they’re most happy with. Not necessarily the one that might leave them most “free” – at least in the eyes of other people. But hey, we’re not here to judge I guess.

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Zac July 9, 2009 at 9:11 pm

Hi Jonathon,

These are inspiring words. I’ve often thought that, while it is easier, common sense is rarely sensible. The liberation we seek requires us to question everything we know or assume – it’s a great way to break down those barriers in our minds…

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Keshava Murthy July 9, 2009 at 10:10 pm

Hi,

I think you are on right path/way.

“Whatever beliefs you have, whether they define you as a person or define the core of your reality, are not true in and of themselves. They are only true in your mind. Your thinking makes them true.”

You CAN SUM UP in Descartes “I THINK THEREFORE I ‘AM”

Yes 99% of our life is imposed from without? (from outside)

You have to be carefully when you liberate your “self” it need not be at the cost of others ‘Self’.

Find harmony in your thought and outer world. It is the same realizing it is self liberation.

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hustler July 10, 2009 at 3:29 am

Several years ago I came to the realization that I was self-sabatoging. You are right that the knowledge of this does not do anything to help, really. I am still trying to not be my own worst enemy. Your words are very helpful and inspiring. I would like to set my head on fire about this!!!

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devagar July 10, 2009 at 5:07 am

I been following your posts since some time. Your ideas are interesting and for me you make part of some people that in is process of self-discovering document their journeys, pitfalls and achievements in a form of a blog and in this way inspire others. And that’s your clay to build the pot [bow]. One day when you post without mentioning your life experience on it as a way of making things understandable or give examples and instead you ‘just write’ and this is enough and clear, then things will be really interesting and juicy. Looking forward to that day. A small long term challenge “write about life without talking about your life.”

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devagar July 10, 2009 at 5:10 am

Rephrasing…. :) A small long term challenge “write about revolution without talking about your revolution.”

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zencontrol.net July 10, 2009 at 6:42 am

good article… Around 5 yrs back, I identified a lot of traits which were just handed over to me and everyone else by the elders and society. Once identified I used creative visualization and meditation to get rid of the same. Here is a link on creative visualization technique that I used:
http://zencontrol.net/2009/06/creative-visualization-basics/

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rob July 10, 2009 at 7:37 am

I like this article but wonder whether it is for the right reason. I get a rush from reading it then buy into the ‘idea’. But is it right for me at this present moment. Only I can answer that. Just a thought.

Rgds Rob.

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Sue July 10, 2009 at 9:10 am

Hi Jonathon,

This is a great article and very good reminder (whether our egos like it or not) that ultimately most of the barbed wire/electric fences keeping us locked down and limited are in fact in our own beliefs. Those patterns of self-limiting–and usually self-sabotaging!–behaviors based on our beliefs (which are often so deeply entrenched and cleverly hidden under other stuff that it can take a while to clearly identify them) can often be quite resistant to being disarmed even when we are fully conscious of them and know they are hindering rather than helping us to achieve what we want out of life.

It’s a bit ironic that when we first start rebelling and seeking freedom we look to external factors first and seek to change or release those limitations when the real limitations in fact reside in the one sphere of our lives over which we do have the complete authority and power to manage–our minds. (I’ve avoided using the word “control” here as I sometimes wonder if that doesn’t just set up more resistance. I agree with you that it takes an all out commitment to liberate one’s self from both internal and external limitations. I’d add that it’s probably also important to extend a healthy dose of compassion to oneself along the way when some back-sliding occurs. Maybe the first logical step is to be liberated from the anti-self tendencies.

I find myself wondering if perhaps the external events/things serve as a useful trigger for starting down the liberationist/rebellious path of life in the sense that they may show us where we are out of integrity with ourselves–or have allowed ourselves to get out of integrity with ourselves. We are certainly not free in any sense of the word if we are not being true to our selves. It’s also just as true that focusing on the externals can be a great distraction from realizing where the true limitations reside.

I’ve waxed (or maybe waned) philosophical for long enough, so I’ll sign off for now. Feel free to repeat your ideas and views on liberation frequently and passionately. Sometimes when it seems as though the “head on fire” is in danger of being smothered, it’s good to keep hearing the same messages as a way of reigniting the pilot light.

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Jared July 10, 2009 at 9:58 am

I have found much value in your posts. You have helped me get out of some ruts. But this one presents liberation very broadly and I can see the slippery slope coming up ahead. Your “all or nothing” direction for liberation is starting to put off the alarms in my head. Where are you going?

Questioning – especially of important topics – should be a multi-step, intimate process. I don’t rely on people to give me a logical answer. Especially one that fits into my often narrow definition of “logical.” Instead, be open and do much research.

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Tim | Inspiration Central July 10, 2009 at 1:53 pm

This is the best post I’ve read by you. You explained this subject much better than most people would.

There is a plague of circular reasoning in the world that can only be cured by opening one’s mind to ideas different from what we’re used to.

When someone closes their mind to something, they cease to grow in that area. A closed mind is synonymous with a stale pond that stagnates; while an open mind is constantly rejuvenated with a constant flow of new ideas.

It’s a sign of bigotry to claim that one is always right while others with different beliefs are always wrong. You’re right that no one in the world has all the answers; especially those who profit by claiming so.

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Jesse Meijers July 11, 2009 at 3:40 am

The difference between excitement and a dull life seems to be in looking for excitement. People you refer to in your post who say ‘thats just the way it is’ are people who clearly have settled for just accepting things the way they are. While what you encourage is to seek different answers, seek excitement. Interesting flow of thought… thanks for sharing.

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Diggy - Upgradereality.com July 11, 2009 at 5:41 am

Really cool post!
I find though with most things, a person will only really revolt or liberate themselves when they hit rock bottom. When things have gone so far that in an act of desperation for change that a new way of life is born.

With good observation and courage we can begin those revolts when they are neccesary and before some external event or rock bottom happens.

Until next post:)
Diggy
upgradereality.com

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Andrew - Success Questions July 11, 2009 at 8:54 am

Love this!

Seems like it all comes down to whether someone TRULY wants to be liberated or gets more excitement/energy around thinking it would be cool to be liberated.

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kelly July 11, 2009 at 9:00 am

An amazing post at just the right time in my life. It’s time “to set my head on fire”

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Nadia - Happy Lotus July 14, 2009 at 10:00 am

Hi Jonathan,

My experience is similar to yours. I always wanted to know the reasons behind everything. I was often surprised to see that people did things because they thought it was the right thing to do since that is what everyone else was doing. That never made sense to me.

Life is so full of opportunities but yet people bind themselves with these limitations which are all an illusion. The funny part is that people who live according to a limited view often criticize those who break free from the chains.

There is no sense in playing life small. Time is precious and there is no need to waste it by living in fear and illusion.

Great job! :)

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alex - unleash reality July 17, 2009 at 9:40 am

Hey Jonathan!!

Really liked the overall tone and vibe of this article. that in itself was liberating – liberating from the monotous dead tone of most personal development out there.

“there is either total liberation, or none” – so. true.

liberation is definitely binary. man. been thinking about this for a while. there’s no such thing as being kinda liberated. the kinda is just another limitation. if there is something holding you back from being fully liberated, then there is limitation. which means you’re not liberated at all.

interesting to see things that people seek liberating from as a list… because sure, you can seek liberation from those things. the outward limitations and the inward ones. you do seek sovereignty from everything on the list. then…

then you seek sovereignty from seeking sovereignty.

as long as there is seeking, there is still liberation.

seeking “as if your head is on fire” is only one part. it’s a piece but it’s not the whole thing. kinda like your awareness of the limitations is the catalyst to setting your head on fire (love the way you put that), so too does setting your head on fire the catalyse pure liberation oneness with life.

where there is no you. or your mind. there is only pure connectedness.

the idea of liberation falls away. and so does the idea of freedom. you are liberation. and you are freedom.

awwwwsome article all round.

stumbled.

keep well and in touch
alex – unleash reality

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Laurie July 22, 2009 at 1:04 am

Wow, Jonathan, you are writing about my life! Thanks for a fantastic, utterly true article.

I’d like to add that our culture conspires to keep us ignorant and obedient through religions, government, school systems, corporations, etc. I have been breaking all the societal “rules” by not finishing college, quitting a high-paying job, selling my house and getting rid of many of my possessions, fulltime RVing around our beautiful country for three years, homeschooling my child, and not living on a schedule. The cultural “rules” are so ingrained in almost everyone I know that, while most have been envious, most also disapprove because I’m not “allowed” to deviate from the “norm”. So sad that most people have no idea how limited they are by their culture’s beliefs and thus their own beliefs. People feel like they want a better life but that they have to accomplish their goals within society’s framework because they’re too afraid to take the harder path of thinking for themselves and not blindly accepting what they’re told. Liberation is the harder path and many people don’t like change and risk, especially when it’s hard.

And, like you said, once you start down that liberation path, there is no turning back to the old ways. You just continue to learn and relax and examine all areas of your life to bring everything into alignment with this wonderful freedom you’ve found! The matrix loses its grip.

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Mark May 12, 2010 at 10:40 am

Nature of freedom
That which can not be confined
By definition

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