Prisons of the Spirit — we are bound both by the pull of our individual vocation and by how we stop ourselves. A word about letting go
In This Moment
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One of the places we can get stuck here is by thinking of the spirit or the soul is being some otherworldly gift.
Being a Zen guy, I don’t actually believe in such a thing as a soul. I’m not sure what to call the “centre of self,” and really, such language is quite weighted.
I do, however, think that there is some inherent , innate capability in human beings – something that brings out the best in us. Perhaps we could describe this as our “better natures.”
In Zen, we would call this Buddha nature
This unpacks as the core abilty of every human — to recognise his / her Buddha nature. This nature is:
- completely present — awake
- free from attachments
- feee from karma
- free from samsara (the cycle of life, death, rebirth)
I think this basically means that being fully alive is possible for everyone, and being alive looks like a calm, centered state of walking one’s path, without drama or complaint.
My sense is that there is an internal, strong, sometimes overwhelming pull in a “positive” direction. Of course, what I mean by “positive” and what you mean by “positive” is likely two different things.
The thing I don’t want to get into any kind of discussion about is whether this pull comes from some celestial being, or is just hardwired into our DNA. Needless to say, I vote for the latter option, but whatever you think is fine by me.
Toward the end of last year, I wrote a series of articles on vocation.
I’ve often described vocation as a pull, a force somewhere between a nudge and a drag. Once you start thinking vocationally, it becomes pretty obvious to you what you are pulled to be or to do. This sense, this pull, is intensely personal.
Spirits in chains
It seems to me that there are several spiritual prisons — and they all seem to have to do with whether we are willing to let go of our need to pick at, resist, or get agreement (permission) for whatever we are being nudged to do.
We get spiritually locked up when we, rather than simply dealing with the urge, beat it to death either through inattention, overemphasis, or through wacky demands for proof or assurance of success.
This creates a dissonance — we can feel the pull, and get caught in mind games. We refuse to unlock ourselves to live our passion — to live out of what Taoists call the heart-mind. This dissonance is “fighting against our better natures.”
What does “better” mean?
I started putting the word in quotes simply because I have no sense of what “better” means. When people use qualifiers like that, I will often ask, “Better compared to what?” I do this knowing that sometimes I’ve opened the door for quite the conversation.
One direction this can go is for the person to point to a list supposedly created or written down by someone outside of themselves — a religious text,” God,” their guru, or some mythical figure. Fundamentalists of all stripes have amazingly long lists of “goods and bads.” Great are the number of religious wars that continue to be fought over differing lists.
The reason that this is a prison is that an argument about “good, better, best” has nothing at all to do with actually doing something. It’s a diversion. So long as I can point my finger at another and declare him wrong, I am off the hook, and get to be self-righteous.
Skipping this — by taking responsibility for living out your voacation, is the mark of wisdom.
Trusting your “better nature” takes immense courage. You’re basically letting it all hang out, without any reference to any external permission. You’re the source of your own permission. This irks the hell out of judgemental people, it is really annoying to people who are stuck in inactivity. They know they ought to be getting on with their own lives, they see you getting on with yours, and they try to get you to cut it out.
Opening the prison of the spirit means standing on your own 2 feet
As we said over the last two articles, there is no question that your mind and your body might just get involved in slowing you down.
- Your mind has been conditioned to seek approval, to be on the “right” side, and doing what you are drawn to do, others will tell you, is just plain selfish. Your mind fears such criticism.
- Your body will initially tighten down, your breathing will get funny, and you’re just going to feel uncomfortable. Again, this conditioning goes back to our childhood. We learned to make ourselves uncomfortable when others around us were uncomfortable.
So, ever again, you get practice watching yourself — watching your mind, watching your body — as you attempt to shut yourself down. Then you have a breath, take a step, and do what needs to be done.
You have to trust yourself enough to believe that if it makes sense to you, it makes sense.
The easiest way to do this is to keep your eyes, ears, and mind focused on the here and now. Right here, right now, all there is, is the next step. There’s no,” I wonder how this will play in Cincinnati?” And because your focus is on the next step, corrections are easy. There’s no way to get ahead of yourself.
Go back and reread the vocation section. Really work hard at getting a sense of what pulls you. Recognize that you are going to resist what pulls you, human nature being what it is. Recognize that there’s no way to determine in advance the “good, better, best-ness” of what pulls you. You can’t really get a consensus, and even if you did, it’s still going to come down to you doing your thing and getting it done.
So, rather than making a song and dance out of it, calm your mind, relax your body, and ask yourself, “What is the next step in the direction I’m choosing to go?”