Nikos Kazantzakis was a Greek writer and philosopher who penned the fabled book, “Zorba the Greek,” which would later become a treasured film starring Anthony Quinn. A second book of his was also adapted by Hollywood: “The Last Temptation of Christ,” a Scorsese flick that got Christians all over North America up in arms (Not to mention that the original book got poor Nikos excommunicated from his beloved Greek Orthodox Church).
The controversy surrounding Kazantzakis has more than ostracized him in faith circles, and that is tragic, for he was an incredibly astute, wise man with much to offer, even in death. You’ll find his grave on the island of Crete in his ancestral village. It’s a simple, plain site with a wooden cross and a capstone with ten Greek words. Translated into English it reads, “I want nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.”
This is timeless wisdom, for the things we desire, the things we want, the things we think we need, and the things we chase imprison us. The pursuit, the game of acquisition – and we’re usually chasing emotional rather than material things – actually steals our happiness. The pursuit is a dead-end, and only when we have given up, given out, and given over, can we ever be happy and free.
Now, if a Greek philosopher’s epitaph is too highbrow for your tastes, then maybe you will be better served by the words of Kris Kristofferson as sung by Janice Joplin: “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.” And usually the last thing we lose is our wretched insecurity that has us forever chasing after fool’s gold, playing for the fickle crowd’s applause, or trying to climb some unsurmountable mountain to showcase our strength.
No, there’s nothing wrong with ambition, for it has its place. There’s no shame in having God-given abilities; be thankful for them. The problem is when we go scrambling for accolades and approval, when we become something of stage actors trying to obtain that elusive appreciation, recognition, and validation. The problem is when we feel we have something to prove to others – that we are capable or lovable. Then, we have imprisoned ourselves.
The imprisoned soul may appear to be a person of great drive and focus. He or she may be sacrificial and benevolent, but as Helen Shucman said, this person is “affected by everything.” There is so sense of identity or grounding, no internal peace, no satisfaction. They are shaky, hungry, feel inadequate, insecure, and afraid.
Thus, they go hustling for love and try to shake down approval from every person and situation they encounter; here and there, trying this and trying that, reaching high and reaching low, straining for everything. They are trapped. Only when the striving ends will such poor souls be free.
The good news is, this can happen. We can quit doing and saying things we don’t mean, clutching to approval we don’t need, wasting time and energy we don’t have. We can be free from the merciless crowd, free from our own pride and insecurities, free to become people who no longer need the flattery of others; others who are as fractured as we are, others who give their approval which lasts for about five minutes, and then the exhausting, self-caging exercise must begin again.
Simply, you can’t kiss every pretty girl or boy. You can’t win every game. You can’t make every person love you (or even like you). You can’t react to every sound in the cacophony of voices that call to you. You can’t prove to every person you meet how lovable, capable, smart, sexy, accomplished, and worthy you are.
Try to do all of this, and you will be an ego-driven, self-centered maniac; or you will be as fragile as glass, a needy little imp that never experiences a single moment of rest. Either way, you will never be free. It’s only when you have let everything go, when you have nothing left to prove, that you will have something truly to live for.