I don't think many people have a sufficient understanding of what true freedom really is. When most people think of freedom they think of a political freedom or the right to do something without any consequencs. However, freedom can involve so much more than this. It's the difference Neill makes in Summerhill between license and freedom. License is the right to do something without consequences, but freedom means not reacting to external influences, not being jerked around by situations you cannot control. This internal freedom, something far greater and far more liberating than simple license, involves being free from the external influences that we have been programmed to react to.
It is one thing to consciously know that something is waste of time, but it's a whole other thing to understand the reasons you want to do something. This is what "sleeping through life" means: you are not aware of the true reasons for your actions, and instead deceive yourself with vague reasons like "it helps me to relax" or "I just feel like doing it". Isn’t the main reason we spend so much time watching sports or listening to music (or whatever it is we waste time doing) to gain the approval of others? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that these are always necessarily a waste of time or that that is the only reason we do these things. We can get genuine enjoyment from these and maybe sometimes learn something about life through the beauty within these things. But so often we don’t see the beauty in these things or the good that we get out of it, and our clinging reliance on these things prevents us form seeing the beauty and good within the rest of life around us.
I have found I often waste time doing something because of my subconscious desire for the approval and respect of others. And the tragedy is I am only deceiving myself, because I tell myself that these things I am doing are the greatest things in the world and convince myself that my happiness comes from the thrill and excitement I get from them. To be more specific, I know I have wasted a lot of time looking at sports on the internet or playing Nintendo because of this subconscious need I had for others’ approval. The truth is my motivation to finish a game or to know about what’s going on in sports comes, not from any sort of desire for happiness, but from my subconscious desire to impress others with my ability or knowledge and thereby get their approval and respect. Isn’t this the real reason so many people are so worried about getting high grades, or get so worked up about politics or their religious affiliations? Don’t we want to show people our ability and gain their approval and respect?
Life should consist of much more than depending on the randomness of circumstances and others’ opinions, and luckily for us, it can. As Anthony De Mello says “What you are aware of you are in control of; what you are not aware of is in control of you. You are always a slave to what you’re not aware of. When you’re aware of it, you’re free from it. It’s there, but you’re not affected by it. You’re not controlled by it; you’re not enslaved by it. That’s the difference."
It can be a good thing to do something because of others' expectations. It's a lot easier to live with people that you can trust to do certain things. The key though is that you are aware of why people expect that action from you and that you do something only when you understand and agree with their reasons. When we are only aware of people's expectations on a subconscious level (as we often are), that is when we are controlled by by those expectations. When we become consciously aware of people's expectations, then we have the choice to fulfill them or not.
We so often base our actions on other people's expectations of us without having any choice in the matter. And when people's expectations of us come into conflict, we grow confused about what we are supposed to be doing in life and we end up accomplishing nothing. True freedom is about giving ourselves a choice in what we do by becoming aware of what is expected of us and why. When we realize what is expected of us and why we then can make a choice whether we want to fulfill those expectations or not. Before we realize these things, the choice is not available to us and we only feel the subconscious pushes of others' expectations.
We do not need to keep being subordinate to these unconscious pushes and basing our happiness on our ability to meet everyone's expectations. When we understand the motivations behind our actions, we will not only know when something is a waste of time, but also subconsciously feel that it is a waste of our time. (In other words our conscious and subconscious thoughts will be the same.) It can be good sometimes to meet others' expectations, but only when you are aware of the full extent of what your doing and are doing it for a purely internal reason because you see and agree with the good that comes from that expectation. You won't care whether you actually succeed in meeting the expectation because you know that you are acting on good reasons and are giving it your best attempt. As De Mello says we already have true happiness and true love within ourselves; it’s only a matter of clearing out all our false perceptions and becoming aware of our subconscious drives. Then love and happiness will come to the surface.