07/06/2010 02:43 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Dare We Exercise Our Freedom?

Let me begin by defining how I am using the word "freedom" in this post. It is less of a sacred privilege and more like something into which we can grow, something that needs practice, something not always easy. For me, freedom is actually about clearing out the spaces within us so we can listen to ourselves and to each other. And lately, well why not? It has seemed pertinent to connect the physical world to the psychological one; the need for physical exercise to the need to also stretch emotionally and interpersonally.

For some time, I have been championing the notion that emotions are more powerful than factual information because belief systems can cancel our willingness to see and hear new information. Belief systems also tend to make us resistant to looking in any direction which conflicts with our preconceptions. When our emotions are congested, we are so tense, so consumed by anxiety that most of us will admit to not being able to think straight. When our adrenalin is stronger than our curiosity, our need to flee or fight or win at any cost outweighs our wish for reason to prevail. And, when there is danger to our physical being or to our neighbors or even to our sense of emotional safety, sometimes we need a respite.

The tricky part about "freedom" is that too often it is positioned as something that can be won or lost, such as in time-outs for children or as something externally given or taken away such as the object of wars. Freedom doesn't seem to export well.

The truth about freedom is that it brings new ideas that require the space to be digested and understood and evaluated. In fact, unless we can evaluate what is being fed us, we simply drink the proverbial Kool-aid without ever knowing the ingredients. And of course, we can refuse certain ingredients. Freedom can only exist if we have options, and that stands even when we like the ingredients. If we cannot stretch to learn from our children, ourselves, or from any inventors that can help us, then we aren't free; we are paralyzed.

Metaphorically speaking, let's consider exercise, nutrition and emotion. Since I'm big on aqua aerobics and also a psychologist, I'm all for thinking and feeling sessions in the water. Flex and flow and stability and working new muscles, taking a break and knowing our limits. Playing and being silly without insisting one person has to win. This particular kind of play reduces us to the nakedness of being vulnerable and covered to the extent we need. Floating on a noodle in the water may just be the best place for the next important conference of our lives. Jump in! The water is fine.

But first, one more point pertaining in distant ways to meditation and transformation from our insides. We don't have to be an Einstein to learn from his love of curiosity, play and imagination--the latter of which he said was more important than knowledge. Knowledge can be a knowing of what is, and imagination can lead us to the next step of what we want or need to know. Our dreams can lead us to play with ideas and with each other. And neither imagination nor knowledge have to give us simply facts without ways of coping better.

One of my favorite activities is imagining ways in which we can tell our stories and empathize with other. And, perhaps more importantly, ways in which we might create the supports we need if we start to stretch and flow and let new ideas and feelings come to the surface or go to the depth they need. (I'm obviously thinking of the deeper end of the pool.)

So, in the quest for freedom, I leave you with this challenge: Have you stretched today? Have you stretched your mind and heart and play muscles? Imagine if this took the place of homework for every family with working parents. My strong suspicion is that it would increase the quality and quantity of work that gets done, let alone the love of knowledge and stretching to enjoy it.

Happy Freedom Weekend!

Carol Smaldino, CSW