How Bondage Serves Freedom

By Bastian Florian Rohr
January 6, 2023

I discovered a new paradox on my very doorstep today.

As I was rereading the main page of this site, I realized that of the five topics I propose to discuss, three involved bondage (not the sexual kind). Indeed, Japanese flower arrangement, yoga, and intermittent fasting all somehow make you a slave to practice by putting constraints on, respectively, your aesthetic sense, your movements, and your dietary habits.

Yet, all of these life arts also have a way of setting you free. Ergo the title of this article: it looks like bondage may serve freedom. But through what mechanism exactly? French classical poetry, another brand of slavery I practice regularly, gave me an answer.

The key to understanding this bondage/freedom symbiotic relationship lies in the chains bondage lays on its object. In poetry, for instance, creativity is restricted within the bounds of fixed forms, which paradoxically allow it to burn much hotter than if the poet was left to his own devices. Because all the rules of versification, as tedious as they may seem, force the writer to be forever more innovative. On the one hand, the ideas he wishes to express overflow from his soul, but on the other, they must be funneled through the iron collar of the fixed forms. It’s horrible to experience for the artist (that may be why so many go mad), but that discipline forges what would otherwise be a formless lava of words into a coherent piece.

This exact process also works for ikebana, yoga, and intermittent fasting. Moral of the story: explosions alone are nothing; only controlled explosions matter.