The Prison of Imagination – our sense of being trapped, caught, is almost always just us, trap­ping ourselves

In This Moment

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Many, many moons ago, Darbella shared a story with me.

She was describing her life, and the short version was that she imagined herself alone in a castle’s tower room. Nicely appointed, door to one side, window, 20 feet up, on the other.


She said she could see the sky through the window, and hear the sounds of people, and a parade, out the window.

Dar was comfort­able, but unable to actu­ally partic­i­pate in what she could hear and assume was happen­ing outside the tower.

I read the story, got a sense of how frus­trated she was, given that the story was "the story of her life." I asked her, "Can you go inside and imag­ine the room?"

Dar’s good at visu­al­iz­ing, so she did that easily. I said, "Would you mind going over and check­ing the door?"

She did… and it was unlocked!

As are almost all the doors in our our lives.

We are prisoners of our own imagination

If you go to, you’ll find a series of arti­cles Dar wrote, after she attended Come Alive, and then the month long Phase 1 programme at the Haven. Those events had "door open­ers" connected to them — learn­ing to speak in small group, open­ing to new ways of relat­ing, etc.

For me, a major "unlocked door" I needed to open was leaving the ministry

I knew, back then, that as the years went by, I was more and more dissat­is­fied. I stayed, I admit with embar­rass­ment, because I liked speak­ing in public, liked the adula­tion, and liked the money.

Three really bad reasons for doing stuff

It all "went South" in a couple of weeks back in 1996, and here I am, 17 years later, and none the worse for wear. There was no down­side (other than a bunch of people who likely are still mad at me… I’m used to that) — the things I imag­ined happen­ing if I left that prison never happened.

I’m not being Pollyanna-ish about this — the clear truth is this:

Bad stuff happens to all of us, but almost always, the conse­quences are not as bad as imag­ined. And no matter how bad it gets, there are ways "out and through."

Sitting in the locked jail cell, concocting horror stories, on the other hand, means a relentless flow of day after day, all the same.

Back in my coun­sel­lor train­ing days, the Profs taught you fall­back ques­tions — what to say if you got stuck. I seldom do, but remem­ber the ques­tions. I even pulled three out the other day. They are:

  1. do you have permis­sion to be happier than your parents?
  2. do you have permis­sion to have a better rela­tion­ship than your parents?
  3. do you have permis­sion to be a better parent than your parents?

and I’d add:

1) do you have permis­sion to be more success­ful than your father or mother?

Odd, eh?

And not very self responsible language, I know. Maybe better: "Do you allow yourself to…"

But it is sort of like permis­sion. I need to let myself exceed the stan­dard I grew up under, and then I need to exceed my own stan­dards, again and again. (The point of last week’s arti­cle, on comfort zones.)

  • I remem­ber, for exam­ple, that my dad was a ping pong champ. He taught me to play, and by High School I was pretty good (not by today’s stan­dards.) I played him once, and was winning. I distinctly remem­ber a little voice, telling me "You can’t beat your dad." I lost 3 games straight on the last point.
  • More crucially, when I decided to end my prior two marriages, in each case, one of the first calls I made was to mom and dad, to see how they would react. They’d been married 56 years when my mom died, so my piddly 2 and 8 years seemed a betrayal.

I knew I was thinking that way, had been making clear choices for myself for a decade, and still wanted their approval.

Knowing myself, I wouldn’t have changed anything if they’d have freaked out, but I also breathed a sigh of relief when they didn’t.

This is how nuts we all are.

closedWhat do you mean I seem blocked?

There’s all kinds of brakes and limi­ta­tions going on, right under the surface of our conscious­ness. Without effort, it’s hard to see through them. So, you have to look.

They will seem like hard limits

Look for stop words — things like "always" and "never." Or "every­one knows." Look for how often you are cran­ing your head around, look­ing for permis­sion, or wonder­ing what others think of you and what you’re doing.

Ask your­self, "Who am I giving permis­sion to — who gets a say about what I do, think, decide?"

You might just be surprised.

I’m still amazed when 40 or 50 year olds are still asking "mommy" for permis­sion. One woman I know has heard a vari­a­tion of "No, dummy" since she was grow­ing up. She still tells mom every­thing, and always gets the same response. My latest favourite: mom is going through a messy divorce. My client is in a bad marriage, and went to mom for support.

Mom said, "You made your bed, now lie in it! Divorce is wrong!" Yeah. Right.

Explore how you keep your­self contained — what univer­sals you declare to keep from having to think for your­self.

What things you want to do, try, do you declare off limits, based upon fear of fail­ure or fear of judge­ment.

Is doing what some­one else tells you to do, for fear of ruffling feath­ers, really how you want to spend your life?

That door, in your locked tower… is it locked?

Make Contact!

So, how does this week’s arti­cle sit with you? What ques­tions do you have? Leave a comment or ques­tion!

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