We are both prisoner and guard…
So I have an 84 pound dog named Jack… He is pretty laid back, except when it comes to his walks. At around eleven a.m. he is overtaken by excitement, and begins to dance around the living room. As you might imagine, an 84 pound dancing dog parading across my living room earns my immediate attention. So I get off of the computer, grab the leash, and take Jack to graffiti the park with urine.
The park is conveniently located about a block away from my house. It is a large park with tons of trees, and a huge clearing that allows for plenty of sunlight. The track around the park is about a half a mile, and we both enjoy the walk. At eleven a.m. everyone is at work or school. So we usually have the park to ourselves. He runs around, and I listen as nature reminds me of the beauty and simplicity that underlies life. The birds provide a nice backdrop of “audible silence,” and every breath points to the freshness of the present moment. Having circumambulated the park we return home…
I get back on my computer. I receive friend requests, questions, and status updates. I have e-mails that read, “Hello for you Mr. Riggs. Greg Smith am I from the Ivory Coast. Dear brother in Christ, my uncle has died. For me he has left $807,354,074. The certificate of my birth can not be located; will you sign the name of your father to receive it?” My phone rings, I get text messages, and notifications’ telling me it is now my move in Words with Friends. I try to respond to the e-mails, answer the calls, and play a fifty point word, but in the process the silence and simplicity that pervaded the park seems to be lost…
The park is literally two hundred yards away from my house! Are these two worlds really that different from one another? It is like there are two realms my life passes through. One is the world of peace and serenity. A basic sort of sanity that is easily found in meditation or mindful walks in the park. The other realm seems to just pluck me right from the world of silence, and place me at the center of a world that is bogged down in details, times, dates, and locations. I know that the answer to my question, “Are these two worlds really that different from one another,” is no. They are the exact same world perceived differently.
At the park or in meditation I am free. I am not being pulled one way or the other. When my phone rings my mind floods with thoughts. Instead of allowing these thoughts to pass by, as in meditation practice, I obsess over them, and completely ignore the invitation to act spontaneously… I wonder what he want? I bet he wants to go hang out. No, I think I would rather relax… I will ignore his call! I wonder if he will know I didn’t answer his call on purpose? I hope he doesn’t get mad at me about that… I better answer. “Hey man what’s up,” I ask. The conversation continues, “Do you want to go hang out?” I am thinking, no I would really just like like to sit down and have some me-time, but I say, “Yeah sure. Where at?”
The difference between the contemplative and active dimensions of my life has nothing to do with what others say or do. In reality, their voices are no different than the “audible silence” the birds supply at the park. The difference rests with my insistence upon establishing and maintaining a self-image that is dependent upon the validation of others. In other words, I get hung up on what I think others think about me, and what I can do to manipulate their thinking so that it reflects or validates the image that I am projecting… What an ugly, awkward, and clumsy way to live!
In order to identify with an image that is dependent upon the information received from interactions with others, I must prostitute every ounce of freedom I ever had. I wander around like a self-conscious automaton trying to figure out who I am, by figuring out what other people think about me. I get bogged down in details, because these details serve as the variables that I use to calculate my own self worth. I am like a politician who will say or do anything to gain re-election. For fear of upsetting the electorate, I keep my heartfelt opinions to myself, and be as I think they would have me be.
This is the imprisonment of freedom, my true nature. The truth is no one does it to me so, blame is pointless. I cannot look back and say it is the fault of society. I can’t blame it on my up bringing. Solving my problems is not the responsibility of politicians or reformers. Placing blame elsewhere is just a way of ignoring the most frightening proposition; namely that I am responsible for the most atrocious act imaginable- the enslavement of myself. The most violent act ever carried out is man’s subjugation of himself. All other forms of evil arise from this one act.
The saddest thing about the whole situation is that we seem to suffer from Stockholm’s Syndrome, or the fear of freedom. We are so enslaved, so bound to this self-conscious image that we cling to the ignorance that sustains it. Before we can ever hope to make any real progress toward freedom we must be willing to accept ourselves completely; even the part of us that holds us hostage. That is the curious twist; we are both prisoner and guard! Once we realize this, we can pick up the phone and say, “No… I just want to relax.”