Free as a bird?

This guy landed next to us a few months ago.

We all know this popular turn of phrase. It seems to come so naturally. Is there anything freer than a bird? How amazing must it be not to have these challenges, obligations, emotions? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could just spread our wings and fly away, our earthly tethers removed?

Here is the thing though: It’s a lie. Okay, that was harsh; let’s call it a misconception. Birds can fly, yes, but being able to fly does nothing to save them from a life dictated by their basic needs – finding food, evading predators, and procreating.

What we see as happy-go-lucky, lighthearted buzzing is really the bird’s way of playing the cold, hard and unforgiving game of survival, every day. Their wings may have made them better at playing that game, but they did nothing to help them escape it. In this sense, birds are the same as every other animal on earth (maybe except for cats).

But the reason why I’m going on about this is not that I take pleasure in destroying the romantic notions of other people. Or at least, not entirely for that reason. What I want to point out is that all the qualities that we ascribe to birds really only exist in one animal on earth: Us.

We humans are the only species so far that has found ways to escape the daily grind of finding food, evading predators, and procreating. Because as it turns out, being “free as a bird” doesn’t require wings. It requires awareness. Awareness of life, the world, and our place in it. Awareness of what we really want and need. With this awareness, we can make choices that are not dictated by our basic instincts – or at least to a lesser extent.

This is especially true for those everyday challenges, obligations, and emotions. The fact that we are aware of them is exactly what gives us a choice and empowers us to make a change.

That doesn’t mean it’s a done deal. Humans can change the rules of the game of life. Some of us do. Many of us, for a myriad of reasons, don’t. Others simply can’t, because while having our basic needs met is probably not strictly required to create such awareness, it certainly helps.

Collectively, though, we certainly have both the theoretical capacity, as well as the actual capability to be free. Whether or not we take action is a different story. But I think the moral of the story is that we shouldn’t look at birds and wish we could be free like them. Instead, maybe we should look at birds and wonder what being free actually means. And how we can use our power to achieve true freedom for ourselves.

38 thoughts on “Free as a bird?

  1. Great thoughts as always! I completely agree with you. I think what makes flying so appealing is the ability to move freely in all the directions (as weird as this sounds), and probably also the fact that by doing so we can escape… our responsibilities, our sadness, our thoughts, etc.
    Something I have been pondering lately is actually related to that I think, and it is the fact that we are more free when we set boundaries, especially towards other people. 😊 Thanks for sharing your thoughts, freedom is a very interesting topic to think about!


    1. Those are also some great thoughts! I agree healthy boundaries are essential to our own freedom – otherwise, we are tethered in ways we’d rather not be.

      You are right about that desire to escape. The thing is, even if we physically flee from a place it doesn’t do much if our minds still remain there.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Loved the way you twisted the saying “free as a bird”. I am not really a bird fan apart from my pidgeons in my garden – i called them “bonking birds” (i hope i dont have to explain why). well one collapsed in my garden, and i saw the other one mourn for weeks on end. we are actually more alike then we like to think. I no longer see the other one now.


  3. Yes, I think freedom is possible for us humans. But the pathless path is narrow…and we keep getting distracted by what we think separates us from this freedom. But may it be so! May we discover the freedom that we are.


  4. You are right, we — humans, are indeed the only ones given the freedom to do anything we decide and it’s all about USING that freedom.
    I’ve always feared for the lives of birds eversince our cat attacked our Myna back when I was seven years old.


      1. Yes, just like what you said on your previous blog about poverty… It’s amazing to see people from the lowest of low who managed to become billionaires… I just wish people from developing nations can thrive collectively.


  5. Interesting perspective. The human capacity of awareness and adaptability is quite amazing (when used). I am in awe of our gifts and potential, but I would not mind having the ability to fly… even for a day. 😄


  6. Hmmm I wouldn’t want to build my own house, fend of predators and search for my own food every day. Being free in the human sense is more liberating when done right.


  7. Wow! I never thought about that saying “free as a bird.” I love how you made me think deeper and explained that it requires awareness and not wings. Very intriguing!


  8. Your point is well made, Markus. It is just and idea we have that birds are able to fly away from danger and unwanted circumstances. It is true that we often can too, depending on what drives us. We often think we can’t, but really we could if we wanted it badly enough and were prepared to make the necessary sacrifices.


  9. 1. Beautiful bird in the picture! 2. I never thought about being “free as a bird” as a misconception but I see your point. The ability to fly away has nothing to do with freedom. “Free as a bird” is really a mindset that we have the ability to choose.


  10. “maybe we should look at birds and wonder what being free actually means”

    That’s a profound thought. Truth be told I’ve never been a fan of birds per se but I agree with your assessment of what it means to be a bird. I’ll be thinking on this today when I see any birds in the trees around here.


    1. Thank you for the link, Ashley. Before watching, I can already say that I agree with the title 100%. I don’t doubt that many things are already moving in the right direction – from all perspectives, including governance, technology and individual awareness. But it is concerning that this movement may be too slow and that by the time we get there it will already be too late.

      Liked by 1 person

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