What is a Free Spirit? The Truth Behind the Myth

What is a free spirit? When asked this question, most people automatically think of someone who has very little attachment to anything and anyone. They may think of someone who lives the boho style of living, moving from place to place. In even more recent times, the term “Free Spirited” has been used to describe people who like alternative lifestyles or who are promiscuous but prefer the term, for it carries with it less stigma and it also “helps” masquarade the pain that naturally goes hand on hand with any type of self abuse.

Today I would like to expand more on the subject of what it means to be a Free Spirit. Many philosophers and other great thinkers have explained it; however, no one did it better than Friedrich Nietzsche within his book “Beyond Good and Evil”. In it, he explains that being a free spirit is a challenge in the midst of a society that seeks to dilute us in the same patterns and conventions. There is something heroic, and even eccentric about these personalities–these types of people not just preach but struggle to live according to their ideals and heart.  It has very little to do with random acts of false rebellion, and everything to do with the conscious choice to rebel against a system designed to either subjugate or promote self-abuse.

Friedrich Nietzsche summarized the free spirit is the one who consciously chooses to look into the abyss; one’s own darkness and the darkness around; choosing to build his own “Superman”, living intensely but with clear purpose. They are the ones whose inner shadow work has taught them the dangers of living within extremes or within the gray area–they are not careless irresponsible people but the ones who consciously chose to dance with madness and pain in order to discover the real self over the masks imposed by society. **It is important to point out that there is a big difference between “craziness” and “madness”, concepts that sadly have become synonymous yet in reality are very different and quite apart in origin. Understanding this, would tremendously help anyone who seeks to understand the works of Allan Poe, Nietzsche, Carl Jung, Emil Ciaran, Bukowski, Plato and many others. I will expand on this subject on another article, for now just keep what I said in mind in order to get a clear understanding of what a free spirit is.

The worst shackles are the ones we don’t notice–Goethe wrote No one is more a slave than those who falsely believe themselves to be free” Sometimes people are afraid to recognize that despite their claims they really aren’t free, and so they choose to numb the pain of this reality through materialistic amassing, false rebellion, etc.–hoping that by looking at a different direction, the reality won’t consume them. Despite their trying to escape, within self the desire for the “I” remains–some cover it up, others give up on it; as a result, they have very little like for those who are truly free spirited, often naming these as odd, weird, troublemakers, etc.

To be a free spirit is to choose the road less travelled; it means to choose the spirit, the self before false conditioning. Choosing this path can be lonely and maddening at times; for it can be hard to reconcile what one has been taught, what is by society standards, and what should be (life’s way) –the path becomes even harder if the seeker endured abused. However, as Nietzsche pointed out, it is usually the intense pain suffered, which leads to the awakening of the free spirit.

Nietzsche dedicated a lot of his life to thinking about how to free ourselves, how to dive into the magick and wisdom of our madness without being consumed by our fears and pain, and how to release the craziness found within the “herd” mentality promoted by society– for to be a free spirit is to choose to own our own imperfections, choosing not to run away from our own horrors or the horrors of others–this requires monumental strength. To be a free spirit is not to be the result of social engineering, instead free spirits choose to chip away at the walls set in place by programming while revealing the real self…. perfectly imperfect and beautiful.

There are some characteristics worth mentioning which are highlighted by free spirits…

They enjoy solitude: As you can see, unlike what often is modernly depicted for free spirit: life of the party, always socializing, etc.–the free spirit prefers quality over quantity. Free spirits do not fear solitude; solitude isn’t the same as seclusion. To a free spirit, solitude simply means enjoying one’s own company and moments of introspection over crowds. According to the philosopher the chosen solitude is an essential condition for the freethinker. Unlike the herd which fears silence and often finds themselves feeling lonely, the free spirit enjoys the quiet or small crowd as Nietzsche said “it allows us to assume the necessary psychological distance to find our true self”–a self hidden under so many social layers. It is important to once more point out that seclusion is never recommended for it can lead to false spiritual ego (I am too good for the sinners of this world).

They listen with an open mind: A free spirit is not an arrogant person but flees from the presumption of knowing everything and opens his mind to new knowledge and perspectives. With that said, they do not play small, nor do they confuse humbleness with humility–the first is about not being boisterous yet acknowledging one’s worth. The second demands one to play small so as to be considered virtuous.

The free spirit recognizes the true in the following saying “Fools believe they know everything. The wise know there is always more to learn. The wise when they know, they know, and they own it. Fools when they don’t know, they still don’t know that they don’t know”.

Nietzsche wrote: “The lover of knowledge must listen subtly and diligently; he must have his ears in all those places where it is spoken without indignation.” Although one part of the free spirit’s journey takes place on inner paths in the search for self, another part takes place in the shared world; so, these people must be willing to drink from all sources, and from there use knowledge to navigate the illusions of this world. For knowledge is like a puzzle, its pieces scattered everywhere; only a fool sticks to one line of thought and refuses to hear and inspects others.

Nietzsche makes the distinction between a freethinker and a free spirit, since the former runs the risk of becoming attached to his ideas, turning them into something immovable. The free spirit continually seeks since it is immersed in a process of constant growth. The freethinker is exposed to the temptation to exchange one God for another as scientists have done–they sacrificed religion on the altar of science only to build it a new altar in which established dogmas are questioned very little. Nietzsche’s free spirit is a tireless seeker, a tenacious questioner who tries to form his own image of the world without imposing it on others. In this search he frees himself from the bonds and certainties to undertake the most exciting journey of all: the search for his own ideas.

They are themselves: Being open to hearing, inspecting, learning to all concepts, doesn’t equate to agreeing with everyone, much less playing the diplomatic role. Diplomacy is a tool of war, politics and economics, it has no place within genuine relationships and social interactions. Nietzsche emphasized “We have to get rid of the bad habit of wanting to agree with everyone and call that class. Class is to have the intelligence and maturity to openly and politely agree to disagree”.

The need to seek approval and acceptance can lead us away from ourselves, causing us to silence our true desires and aspirations. That is why the free spirit frees itself from the mentality of the masses and from that private laziness that consists of subordinating itself to public opinion. A free spirit listens but then values and decides autonomously; on many occasions this can mean others will not agree with our ideas and decisions, which will earn us a lot of criticism, but free spirits are prepared to deal with opposition. There are times, a free spirit may make choices others may not necessarily consider “free”, but rest assured the free spirit has taken all outcomes into account and has made a choice; one thing a free spirit refuses to be labeled as is “sacrificial lamb”–any choices they make, are above all based on their essence and their love for it, not based on subordination.

They are strong and can take on criticism: Being a free spirit in a society that does everything to force people to fit into pre-established molds; a society determined to make someone rigid or to promote self-abuse as freedom; takes a lot of strength and courage. It requires a lot of mental and spiritual maturity to recognize the difference between playing virtuos vs being one without being rigid–virtuosity lies in the spirit and the choices we make when things are less than pleasant, not on acting pleasing, playing to the crowd or covering from head to toe. Likewise, it takes strength and resilience to be uninhibited, embracing freedom and sensuality in a clean pure way in a world which seeks to force one to act as a basic animal.

Nietzsche said, “it is a matter for very few to be free spirited, for to be one is to be mentally independent: it is a privilege of the strong.” He thought whoever chooses the path of the free spirit “enters a labyrinth, where the dangers that already entail life, multiply themselves a thousandfold”. It can be a harsh world, where one gets labeled and punished by either extreme (puritans/false rebels) — most people do not understand the free spirit, so they qualify their ideas and decisions as nonsense or heresies; depending on the level of alarm they cause and the extent to which they clash with established social norms (dogma). On the other hand, those who embrace self-abuse, may label the free spirit as stuck up and judgmental. Nietzsche had foreseen it: “Our supreme intellects necessarily seem – and must seem! – nonsense, and in certain circumstances as crimes, when they unduly reach the ears of those who are not made or predestined for them.”

They go beyond social stereotypes: The free spirit that Nietzsche describes must be able to go beyond good and evil in order to avoid that “dangerous formula” of the so called moral. He considers the morality of society to be superficial, making us only “brave advocates of ideas meant to chain us'”; in other words, defenders of the system of the day.

For the philosopher, being a truly free spirit is tantamount to getting rid of moral and social conditioning to determine our life for ourselves, beyond what we are supposed to or not to supposed to do. Therefore, his is a call to subvert the old value structure, that according to him enslaves the human spirit. A structure of values based on superficial good and bad, labels that prevent us from seeing things in their vast complexity and overlooking the entire range of colors that exists between black and white. More importantly, he explained why he saw such concepts as superficial “the one who has never looked at the abyss nor face his own darkness cannot phantom what is truly good or bad”.

They develop detachment: For Nietzsche, the free spirit “cannot remain attached“–with that said, detachment was never to mean zero attachment, as so many other philosophies have eagerly tried to teach. Many of these philosophies or dogmas, claim one needs no attachment while demanding the self as prize–in other words, “no attachment except to the dogma”.

The concept of detachment was meant to promote objectivity and the possibility of continuing to advance on the path of discovery with passion; for no attachment is the killer of passion. Who do you think would work for self-development harder: the person with no attachment or the person who is passionate yet detached? –the answer is quite obvious. Anything worth doing, requires passion. The practice of detachment is about embracing uncertainty and having the flexibility to change our minds if we realize we were wrong, or that those ideas were hurting us because they had lost their raison d’être.

I hope by now you have a better outline as to what being a free spirit really means; it is not a path for the faint of heart nor for those with delusions perfection. If there’s one thing these personalities hate is superficial behaviors, if you have a conversation with someone who is free spirited, you will touch on philosophical, existential and deeply psychological and emotional topics. As beautiful and enchanting as these people can be, they can be difficult to understand, for they have very little interest in people who have no desire to look deeper within or those who imitate others, those who do not like to think for themselves or like to hide behind “diplomacy” in order to avoid being put on the spot.

Free spirits exist because of their ability not to conform to ordinary social structures. They are aware that they do not fit into today’s society and that “being yourself”, following their own ideals, sometimes brings them more problems than benefits. Despite this, they do not give up being who they want to be. Their ideals are their home, and their freedom of self is their daily fuel.


By Sofia Falcone

I passionately believe one person can make a difference. I write from my own experiences and interests. It is my greatest hope that by writing about my own challenges, victories, hopes and learnings, others may feel inspired to believe more in their inner power and to fully embrace themselves!


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