Freedom is a function of responsibility … what?


“My life was at stake, literally, and I lived accordingly,” she said. “Who I was during that time, and what I accomplished, is someone I want to be again.”

The woman was speaking about her experience of cancer some years ago and who she’d been when the stakes were high, and who she’d been recently when the stakes were no longer high. She talked about the impact in the workplace.

Eight years ago, she said, “I used to make sure I had the first appointment of the day at the radiotherapy clinic so I could be at work by the time everyone else arrived at 8:30am.”

“I did this all through winter when it was hard to get out of bed. Not only did I do this, I was so powerful when doing it. I used to get to the clinic and set the mood of the clinic staff for the day. I saw that what I said and how I was during these radiotherapy sessions could dramatically affect the tenor of their moods and their entire day. If I was powerful and peaceful, then I felt their day would be powerful and peaceful. I felt it was my responsibility, and entirely within my capacity, to give them the gift of having a powerful and peaceful day with the patients that would come after me. It felt like a joy that I could do this for them.”

She went on.

“Every morning, after the treatment, I went to work and took my seat by 8:30am. I was determined my colleagues would not be affected by my absence due to a treatment, and I was successful. As with the clinic staff, I wanted to care for my colleagues too … to look after any concerns they may have had about me or about themselves. In each setting, I was being completely responsible for my impact on others. My experience of myself during the period was that I was amazing, powerful beyond measure, full of grace.”


We human beings are generally not too enamoured of this responsibility thing. The word lands with a thud on the ear. And it’s no wonder, because we have it mixed up with blame, and with something terribly onerous. This is responsibility at the level of knowledge or concept.

Responsibility at the level of being – the ontological level – is quite a different matter. As the woman in the story learned, responsibility at the level of being is the pathway to freedom, joy and grace.


Image: Waterfall, 1925 by Arthur Dove, courtesy of O Século Prodigio


22 thoughts on “Freedom is a function of responsibility … what?

  1. “I’m inspired by the capacity of the human spirit – someone who courageusly contributes under even the most trying circumstances; an idividual who acts unselfishly and who demands more from themselves than others would expect; a man or woman who defies adversity by doing what they believe is right in spite of fear; someone who lives by the truth of their convictions. I am deeply inspired by those who have learned the power of sincere and selfless contribution and I believe in turn they experience life’s deepest joy and are a true inspiration to others.”
    Anthony Robbins.

    I could not respond with any better words. What an inspirational soul. Living to help others, to be of a service to others is such an amazing privillage and honor.


  2. My head was nodding up and down (a big yes, not drowsing!) the whole time I read that. Thank you. Exactly what I needed today–an every day. The Tony Robbins quote above is lovely too.


    • I’m so with you, Sherilee. I woke up about 2 hours ago with a familiar feeling of fear, and then I remembered the story. Today I’m going to be looking at where in my life I’m not taking responsibility for my experience, and creating something new in those areas.


    • It is wonderful, isn’t it? When she was telling me, both of us were awed. For the record, she doesn’t feel she’s living this way at the moment in her life. But what I like about that fact, and the story, is that unlike many human beings, she’s experienced it and in her case it lasted for about one year of her life. The mere fact of having experienced living like that, changes things.


  3. You’re so right. Certain words carry with them negative or positive connotations. “Responsibility” is one of those words that has a lot of unpleasant weight to it (culturally), but when we own ourselves and all that comes with this life, we are, as you say, truly free of the burden of living unconsciously.


  4. A tough subject to deal with cancer, on both sides of the equation, looking in or looking out. I can only do the looking in part, and in the process wonder, as I did then without the expectation of an answer to what was happening. My looking in was with the eyes of an eleven year old, watching for three years, one’s father paring down from a full grown man, as he is being eaten away, to end up not much bigger than me his eleven year old boy, as the man becomes a near cripple to finish his life a thirty-nine year old father.

    I can but wonder if he might have had a like thought process experience as this wonderful lady. Mind you that is a lot of years ago, when chemotherapy and the like only came into being in the early 1940’s some time after the carving method of the day. I still have the old “Mon Docteur” medical books written and published in Paris in the late 1920 by a great uncle, with marginal notes in father’s hand writing searching for help and or solutions, showing he was aware of his lost cause, even before and after the operational journey.

    Today in comparison, thankfully there is a chance, and with slow and steady progress maybe less torture, and more hope. JJ


    • How frightened your younger self and your valiant father must have been, JJ. My heart is pierced at the image of his books with his questions and seeking. I wonder too how he must have shielded you and done his best to take care of your concerns and those of your family. Thank you for sharing yourself and your father with us.xx

      The woman in the story is a friend of mine. A year or two after her cancer treatment, she took care of her mother during her mother’s cancer treatment, and at present, about six or seven years later, her mother is going through a second cancer treatment. My friend has noticed there are several things that have changed in those six or seven years, aspects of the treatment that have been made easier and more comfortable for the patient. It is a long way from the carving method, and still a very great challenge for everyone.


  5. I tried to post a portion of my comment as crafted words on watermark cello. The link to my Dropbox, apparently, has not worked or been used; so, I try again.

    Before posting the crafted words, some might call it poetry, the use of “power” has produced some concerns I’ll share. The word generates the negative applications characteristic of contemporary life: hyper-horsepowered cars, fawning appreciation of home runs, big hits (in football), slam dunks (in basketball), “shock and awe” tactics in place of diplomacy, and the effects of large-capacity magazines and assault rifles.

    “Power is not meant to denote or connote any of these unfortunate daily experiences of day-to-day events. Rather, I’d prefer to substitute “energy,” “confidence,” “individual’s value,” and societal values.” More simply, consciousness of opportunities to interact for the benefit of all and courage to do so.

    And now …

    Just-risen Sun sends bands of light through stands of pine.
    Beneath water-lily pads hover koi-sized goldfish. Mosquito fish
    nip surface of still dark pond sending circles to expand every which way.

    Jiggling atoms, vibrating strings ripple cosmic fabric entire,
    determine smaller than microscopic to beyond macrocosmic.

    If fish choose when to snatch larvae,
    and I, when to toss a pebble, perhaps
    we are strings waiting to be tuned,
    and we wield bows to draw across ours
    and those of others.

    As Yo-Yo Ma vibrates the ambient air
    with beauty, love and courage, humor and promise,
    so we may sound our selves and others,
    eliciting symphonies from the stuff of our lives.

    — Leroy S, September 2012


    • Hello Leroy. Yes, I sent your previous to spam because I thought it that’s what it was. I get you want to share your work, and it doesn’t work to embed a link to your dropbox. Have you considered starting a blog?

      I understand your issues with the word power. It has become debased and corrupted. I am reclaiming it here on my blog, and I use it often. I distinguish it from force or coercion which is a more accurate term for the examples you speak about. “Powerful” is also the word the woman used.

      Your poem is a fine one. I particularly admire the final two lines and the image of sounding our selves.


  6. What lesson in grace under hardship. My dearest friend is such a person, while experiencing a multitude of life-threatening ills over a 15 year period, she has never wavered, and is an inspiration. My son-in-law is now struggling with stage 4 lung ancer, and sadly has not yet reached that level of “right intent”.


    • I’m sorry to hear your son-in-law and your daughter are dealing with that. Could you give him a copy of this darling of a book, “Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior” by Chogyam Trungpa? I can’t think of any finer for his situation. It is description, instruction, inspiration about living with courage, written in clear and sensuous prose.


      • Thanks you for the book suggestion. I will order one for them. Everyone handles this catastrophic change in life differently. I would hope I could gain insight from the stories of others who completed their journey with courage. My mother was one of the admirable ones.


      • It’s never too late for us to live with courage. He can still be the most extraordinary kind of leader there is: one who leads their family through his own passing. In doing so, his experience of himself will be very different. I’m batting for him and your daughter, Kayti xx


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