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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


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prisons of the spirit

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been talk­ing about pris­ons — the pris­ons of the mind, the pris­ons of the body, and today the prison of the spirit.

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:

  1. completely present — awake
  2. free from attach­ments
  3. feee from karma
  4. 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

skating for freedom
Skate to your own music

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?"

Then, step.


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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