One Year Of Discipline, Day 41: The Freedom to Breathe

One Year Of Discipline

On Day 23, I talked about Solschenizyn’s parable “Bonfire and the Ants” in which ants chose familiar structures over freedom, even if they perish in the process.

I compared that behavior to people that – when similarly faced with the possibility of freedom – continue in the environment they have always been in, even if they dislike it. For example, people often state that they “hate their job”, yet make little effort to change their situation. There are always 1,000 excuses as to why they can’t just quit and do what really brings them fulfillment.

Now, Solschenizyn wrote another parable that complements the “Bonfire and the Ants“:

Freedom to Breathe

A shower fell in the night and now dark clouds drift across the sky, occasionally sprinkling a fine film of rain. 

I stand under an apple tree in blossom and I breathe. Not only the apple tree but the grass round it glistens with moisture; words cannot describe the sweet fragrance that pervades the air. I inhale as deeply as I can, and the aroma invades my whole being; I breathe with my eyes open, I breathe with my eyes closed—I cannot say which gives me the greater pleasure. 

This, I believe, is the single most precious freedom that prison takes away from us: the freedom to breathe freely, as I now can. No food on earth, no wine, not even a woman’s kiss is sweeter to me than this air steeped in the fragrance of flowers, of moisture and freshness. 

No matter that this is only a tiny garden, hemmed in by five-story houses like cages in a zoo. I cease to hear the motorcycles backfiring, radios whining, the burble of loudspeakers. As long as there is fresh air to breathe under an apple tree after a shower, we may survive a little longer. 

Isn’t that interesting? Solschenizyn paints a picture of perfect freedom, explicitly mentions that the “freedom to breathe” can not be had in a prison – only to throw us a curveball one paragraph later: we are not in prison, but hemmed in by houses, “like cages in a zoo”. At least, there is radio and motorcycles around, which appear to me like little escapes built into the story.

In “The Bonfire and the Ants“, the ‘protagonists’ are free, but chose captivity and perish instead. In “Freedom to Breathe”, we are now caged in, but yearn for freedom.



How can these stories apply to us?

I believe we can apply the principles of “prison/perishing” and “freedom” from these two texts to any situation that we want to change. Bad habits and lifestyle choices can be constricting.

If you are dissatisfied with your current situation – relationship, career, health – both these stories give you a good overview of your choices.

If I am unhappy with my current situation, I have three choices.

Choice #1 – I stay exactly where I am and accept my dissatisfaction.

For example:
(a) I keep eating unhealthily and avoid any workout or sports. I feel tired and weighed down – literally! I will likely develop diabetes and maybe even die before I am 65 years old.

(b) I continue my 9-to-5 job working for someone else while never becoming financially independent until the youthful age of 65.

(c) I stay in my basement eating pizza and drinking beer each and every evening, never realizing there is a whole world with other people out there. Never taking steps to finding a partner and starting a family.

Choice #2 – I stay where I am, but implement small changes.

For example:

(a) I supplement my lifestyle with more healthy food alternatives and do a light workout, like 20 minutes of walk every day, and/or only eat snacks on the weekend.

(b) I chose to only work 4 days a week with a 20% pay-cut and use the extra day to slowly start my own business.

(c) I still spend most of my time playing video games, but I am also talking to other people on my way to and from work, go for Happy Hour with my coworkers etc.

Choice #3 – I abandon my current situation and change completely.

For example:

(a) I completely change my diet into carb-free, no snacks whatsoever, and workout 6 times a week 3 hours each.

(b) I quit my job and completely focus on building up my business from scratch.

(c) I sell my video game console and TV, move into a nicer apartment and have friends over every second day, while hitting the clubs every weekend.

Choice #2 could lead to #3 on the long run and may actually be the one solution that leads to sustainable change. Notice how in the parable, while we look at the apple tree, we are still hemmed in, but it’s no prison that contains us. There are buildings, which give the whole scenery a concrete structure. We can paint a picture where we look at the tree and breathe in the fresh air, and we hear radios and motorcycles. We notice that we are connected to the world around us. This points to the existence of a certain trajectory: we can walk out from the “five-story houses” towards the loudspeakers, radios and motorcycles in the environment.

If we go with choice #3, however, and abandon all structure that we had so far in our life, we may end up without any orientation and rather go back to our old life like the ants.

The new freedom is too different from our current situation, we easily get scared and move back into our old ways.

Thus, if we want sustaining change, we may be better off with defining our personal version of the apple tree. What is our desire? What are we yearning to break away from? How does the “freedom to breathe” look for us? Once we have defined that, we can gradually walk out from our old habits (the “five-story houses”, the “zoo”) into the unknown, yet familiar (“motorcycles”, “loudspeakers”, “radio”).

Summary of Day 41

#1 – Career

(a) Lab work

I stopped listening to music or podcasts while I am working. That gives me a bit of “withdrawal symptoms”, but made my work that much more productive. I rather be done earlier with work and can relax with some real entertainment in the evening. Otherwise, we are making progress towards the manuscript.

(b) This blog

I did not finish this post the night before – I rather wanted some more sleep, and thus I am finishing the blog post now.

#2 – Health

(a) Workout

Daily Calisthenics:

22 push-ups in proper form. Afterwards, finished out to 120 reps in one go, albeit I only went halfway down. I realized that I was delaying my calisthenics because I needed so much time to finish out 120 reps all in proper form, I kind of dreaded it.

So by going a bit easier on myself while doing one more proper rep each day (yesterday 21, today 22, tomorrow 23 etc.), I think I’ll get to 120 proper form reps in a more efficient way. Did I mention that “doing one more proper rep per day” conforms to the principles laid out in the “Slight Edge“? Works almost every single time, since it focusses on DOING something, no matter how small, and eliminates the big end goal from my thoughts.

(b) Nutrition

Body Fat Percentage: 21.9%

Morning: eggs, coffee, protein shake

Lunch: Sandwich

Dinner: Steak with Eggs and broccoli

(c) Juicing

Lemon Detox Water, recipe here. Check also Juicing for Power.

(d) Sleep

5 hours, I am getting better. I automatically woke up at 6 am after falling asleep at 1 am.

#3 – Social Life

Not much today, focused a lot on my work.

#4 – Habits

Here is the list from 30 Days of Discipline – and how I fared:

1. Eat three meals or less: check

2. Get up between 5 and 7 am: I got up at 6 am. Ok.

3. Cold showers: check

4. No Porn and Masturbation: Check.

5. 100 push-ups/squats/sit-ups minimum: .120 each, see above

6. Dress to impress, dress for success: done

7. Make a to-do list: done

8. Stand tall and proud: check

9. No excuses/explanations/BS: all fine

10. Keep those ideas written down: Notes for today:

What did I do well?
I withstood the temptation to listen to music/podcast during work.

What do I want to improve?
It still took me too long to get started with various activities, e.g. calisthenics.

How will I improve?
Just focus on the first steps, e.g. getting down onto the yoga mat.

11. My purpose: Blog and work. Did not slack on either.

To check the description of the “One Year of Discipline” challenge, click here.

To see yesterday’s post, see here.

To get back to the homepage, click here.