Jonas Urbat: What is freedom?

Wildling would like to put a piece of freedom inside every pair of shoes. But what does being free really mean? The definition of freedom can be as diverse as we ourselves are.

Jonas Urbat leads a life that is somewhat different from what most of us are used to. He lives in a van and is free every day to choose where he wants to spend it. Today he takes us along on his journey and gives us some insight into his lifestyle and what being free means to him.


I live in a self-converted van, I’m a freelance musician (yes, I can make a living from that), I don’t have to provide for anyone, and I get along just as well on my own as I do with other people. Sounds like freedom ...

Or maybe this does: I stand at a cliff with my van, the Atlantic Ocean stretching before me, a steady breeze wafts around my nose, smelling of salt and earth. The sun will soon be setting, it’s still warm, and I have no problems to turn over in my mind; I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

Ah, life in a van, that’s what real freedom is!

But let’s be honest... Having to figure out where I’m going to sleep every day, making sure I still have an adequate water supply and that the solar panels will provide me with enough electricity to be able to work, is that really as free and easy as it’s cracked up to be?


Photo: Jonas Urbat


Maybe my lifestyle is a symbol for freedom of action. Every evening I can decide anew where I want to wake up the next morning, when, how much, and with whom I want to work. I’m also not bound to a particular place in my work, I can produce music anywhere and everywhere from the North Sea to the Alps, from the Atlantic to the Carpathians. As time went by, I even withdrew from all kinds of projects to enjoy even more of this freedom of action. Eventually I even got to the point where I could take a break from “paid work” for several weeks. Total freedom, let’s go!


And then... The bitter realization. If I can decide in every single moment what I am going to do, I don’t feel the freedom anymore. There’s no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. No, having total freedom to do whatever you want can feel really crappy sometimes.


“But travelling, that’s pure freedom!”


Hiking, enjoying a delicious meal or just warming up some ravioli on a gas stove, going to a festival, sitting by the sea, meeting new people in a street café ...

I must admit, I’m feeling some pangs of wanderlust myself. I was deeply surprised when, after three years without an apartment, sitting in my van on a beautiful lake, I felt the urge to travel. In a book, a piece of music, a film or a story, something touched me, something that stirred me deep inside.


These images of freedom that we dream ourselves into, that touch and move us, are often signposts that point to what we need. We yearn for more freedom of choice, community, love, nature, peace, life, pleasure. For things we deny ourselves in our everyday lives. In these images of freedom we recognize the possibility of changing our circumstances to create balance.

But frequently, the key to more inner harmony lies not in another location but deep within ourselves. I try to understand such flashes of longing as clues to much more fundamental basic inner needs. In order to be able to explore them, you need space, and going on a trip or a journey can certainly provide that.

A journey that is not so much an activity as it is a state of being. During my four years without a permanent residence, there’s one thing I’ve learned: The freedom that travelling brings does not come from being on the road, but rather from an inner alignment with what is happening in the world around us.


Photo: Jonas Urbat 


For me, travelling is primarily about having no expectations. Whatever I encounter, it’s simply a part of this undertaking. Whether I meet five new people today or spend the entire day alone, whether I approach people or let them approach me, whether I experience a thousand new things or just sit in a café all day long ... Everything happens the way it happens. A pleasant side effect: When you have no expectations, you won’t be disappointed.

This kind of travelling and this kind of freedom have a lot to do with trust. In a way, trust actually is freedom. Its opponents are fears that we can bring to light step by step, encountering them and releasing them. Then we come very close to the innermost essence of freedom.


So what could the universal definition of freedom be?


For me, freedom is a state of complete acceptance. Every human being, perhaps every being, has to decide for themselves if and when they are free. Circumstances can complicate or facilitate this. But ... can I accept that some things are still just really horrible? Can I accept that there are some things I cannot change? Everything that surrounds me and my relationship to the people and things around me is as it is at this moment.

When my will, my ability, and my agency are synchronized, then I am free. You don’t reach this point from the outside, only from the inside.


Photo: Jonas Urbat


Can you fight for freedom and feel free in the process?


This total freedom is a bit like happiness: It only exists in the moment, always lasting just for a moment. And yet, the pursuit of it can provide a kind of meaning to life. It leads us to the sort of action that is most authentic to us and to our environment. And I am convinced that absolute inner honesty is a form of acting for the good.


I access these moments most frequently through sound. When I listen to what nature is composing at that moment or when I let music take effect on me and travel with it.

You don’t have to be free of thoughts or needs to be in the moment; it’s about accepting everything around and within you for this one brief moment, and maybe for the next, and the next...


And then there we are: Freedom is when I don’t long to be anywhere else.


Acceptance can be achieved in various ways. Sometimes everything just falls perfectly into place; that’s when it’s easiest to say, “Now everything is fine!” Sometimes everything gets to be too much for you and after about the third round of overwhelm, your resistance is worn down, leaving you with nothing but the very last resort: acceptance.

Or, you deliberately engage with everything that surrounds you in this moment, with each of your senses: hearing, seeing, tasting, smelling, thinking, feeling, and touching – maybe there are more...


Our body and mind are actually not that bad at accepting whatever is around us, if we just give them the chance. That’s why I prefer to be in a natural environment that doesn’t even expect me to close myself off. I open myself up to the music of the wind and the scent of the blossoming spruce trees whose pollen makes me sneeze. I like to walk barefoot best of all and to feel my way over lush dandelions and dry grass, even into the forest.


Photo: Jonas Urbat 


But when things get thorny in the undergrowth, I’m glad to have something on my feet that gives me all the freedom I need and offers protection at the same time. And going barefoot when I am out and about in the city means I need strong nerves or the knowledge that I will be taking a shower within the next few hours. But the place where my green Wildlings were most comfortable was on the fluffy carpet of Bellevue Palace among all the black patent leather dress shoes. It’s pretty peachy to find out how many degrees of freedom you can experience, even in the finest circles ;-)


Header: Jonas Urbat




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