Why is it that we often imprison ourselves in the pain of the past and the pain of the future? What if the door was open all along but we just hadn’t seen it, we could choose to walk out at any time? Would this be so hard? Perhaps it would and perhaps it is?
After all, it is scary to look outside that familiar cell? It scary to leave the known? That known yet unhappy prison cell. The thoughts perhaps go like this: ‘This is the cell that is mine, my cell, my prison, its me. And besides, if I leave the cell, where will I go? What will I be? How will I live? Surely its better to stay here, just a while longer, perhaps I’ll stay a while and try to figure it out, I’ll buy some flowers, make the cell a bit more pretty… but I want to leave, I hate this cell, this cell is a torture, why can’t I leave?’ Dejected scared but familiar, we stay in our prison.
What I am talking about here are people, like myself, that have had traumas, that hold onto those traumas and cannot seem to shed them. I am talking about people whose minds create a prison such that we are a hostage to the past. But we don’t just do this with the past, we can also do this with our future too. Those future aspirations, our carefully planned path, ‘When I have done this, this, this and this then maybe [if I am lucky] everything will be okay, won’t it?’ This is the prison of the future, the prison that takes us from being fully alive and locks us into another prison of suffering. Like the ancient Greek myth of Sisyphus, a man who was doomed to perpetually push a boulder to the top of the hill only to watch it fall down again; not surprisingly Sisyphus was in hell. Our personal boulder can be the mission for self improvement; it has no end; its a path I know very well from my own experience. The path is never ending because ultimately we don’t want the path to end. Its ending promotes the same fears as the prison cell of the past, ‘Where would I go when its over? What would I be? But most importantly – and just like the prison of the past – I don’t feel ready to leave?’
But as the Buddhists masters know, when we stop trying to get somewhere we arrive.
‘If not now, when?’
‘Wherever you are, enter Zen from there.’
So try this, say to yourself, ‘It’s okay, everything is okay.’ But not like a parent telling a child to push away the hurt, this is not about rejection or repression, the traumas were truly awful and that is acknowledged and their being is also accepted. Did you suffer as a child? If so, ‘that’s okay.’ You got angry and shouted this morning, ‘that’s okay too.’ You feel lost and scared, ‘that’s okay.’ Be gentle with yourself, ‘its okay.’ Feel angry at me for suggesting this, ‘that’s okay’.
We can put aside the past and future, perhaps only for a brief while, but it can be done. We step out of our prison, we arrive, we come alive, we smell the roses, taste our food, see the richness of life, we experience love, love of ourself, love of another and love of life. But be gentle, please don’t turn the goal of leaving prison into yet another prison; another opportunity to swing the whip at ourselves for not meeting our expectations. Perhaps we begin by leaving just briefly, or perhaps we just entertain the thought that we could leave, we don’t expect too much, we are gentle, after all we have been in prison for a very long time.
So we begin with the notion of gentleness to ourselves, we allow ourselves to feel that we are ‘okay’ and that life is ‘okay’; it hurts at times, but that’s okay, its good enough. We become comfortable with not knowing or paradoxically knowing that ‘the answer is the there is no answer.’ We cease the unending searching, the unending ‘Why? Why? Why?’ We lay the mind aside and we find peace or rather, when we surrender, the peace that was all around us finds us.