I have been asking myself lately: What does freedom look like in my life? How would I know if I were free? And, Why is freedom so important to me? In the past, I associated freedom with the physical, through my body. Running has always felt like freedom to me, however there have been few times in my life that my body actually felt the ease of running. What does physical freedom really feel like then? But what about emotional freedom or spiritual freedom? Have I ever experienced these freedoms?
As Above, So Below. My soul is Ready to Break Free!
I have been confronted recently with the implications of continuing to live day-to-day from my very limited self-imposed slave mentality. I look back and see it’s prevalence, to the point of believing now that my soul’s mission is to understand and experience true freedom. It feels like I have been fighting inside a paper bag trying to get free for lifetimes. I also believe “guilt” has been my jailer, guilt from believing I am a failure. There is no way I could ever be free with that going on. The side effect of such a mentality also ensures a consistent dose of self-punishment.
Freedom from pain, suffering and inner violence
Somewhere in my unconsciousness lives a slave (someone who is not free) and this slave part wants to be acknowledged and healed. From what I can tell, my slave part has wanted to do a good job and get lost in a task, be a hard worker, keep it’s head down and be invisible. It doesn’t like confrontation and is content to “stay within the lines.” It also want to be left alone . . . to lick it’s wounds, sort-of-speak. Pain, suffering and inner violence (self-punishment) have been my friends and comfort through my darkest times.
It’s backwards, finding comfort and pleasure in pain and suffering . . . it’s also safe.
In a strange way, I have been able to feel content (and possibly free) within my self-imposed jail. I know what to expect. I am “in control” as a follower, a hard worker, and do as I’m told. There is a lot of safety in that! I know what to expect. I was really good at this and received lots of praise and recognition as being a capable, able, dependable worker and person in general. I remember that my second grade report card said I was conscientious. I had no idea what that meant at the time, but everyone else thought it was good. So back then, in second grade (7 years old) I already had a well-developed slave on board, keep your head down, be a good-girl, and do as your told.
Rebel? Not even in my consciousness, or if it was, it was buried really deep. The words “learned helplessness” come to mind.
From Wikipedia: Learned helplessness is behavior typical of a human or non-human animal and occurs where an animal endures repeatedly painful or otherwise aversive stimuli which it is unable to escape or avoid. After such experience, the organism often fails to learn or accept “escape” or “avoidance” in new situations where such behavior would likely be effective. In other words, the organism learned that it is helpless in situations where there is a presence of aversive stimuli and has accepted that it has lost control, and thus gives up trying. Such an organism is said to have acquired learned helplessness.
Learned helplessness is a very real thing and I believe it has stopped me from recognizing who I am and from realizing I am in a self-imposed prison. There is a huge payoff to stay small. I have total control and can manage. The cost? Not living a life I love, and not having freedom. If I were to “step out” my life may get a little out of control and I may have to take responsibility for who I am. I may have to be impulsive, spontaneous and take risks. I may even have self-worth and self-love as a matter of course.
My suffering would end.
My contentment at being a slave is being tested, it is no longer working since my soul is demanding I grow. It must be really important to me.
I usually cry when the Olympics are on. I cry when people overcome great adversity in order to rise to be champions! It’s because this is what my soul wants for me. Somewhere inside me is a champion that has been stuffed down, stamped on and told to be quiet. Time to brush it off, get to know this champion and empower it.
Survival in China Jail: One American’s Saga
(by Takashi Oka, Staff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor APRIL 1, 1980)
I have included below a story about a prisoner who overcame “imprisonment” and found freedom in jail. I read it about 25 years ago and it really struck a cord in me. It showed me that if one can be free in a prison, one can be free anywhere!
Sydney Rittenberg is an American who lived in China since 1945 with his Chinese wife and four children. He stayed in China after the communist takeover to maintain some link between China and the US. Everything went well enough until one night, at the height of the cultural revolution, a carload of soldiers came to his home and dragged him away to prison. He was in solitary confinement for 10 years. He left prison in good health and spirits and without bitterness.
How could he have survived such an experience? Mr. Rittenberg had to get back to fundamentals. What made life worth living? Wife, children, friends, books, music, food? All these he loved. But what really counted, he decided, was the sense of having made some contribution, however small, to the long river of human progress, to the cause of human happiness. Even enclosed within four walls, he could make his contribution. It was the quality of the contribution that counted, not its scale.
He defined freedom to himself as “the ability to develop a rational course of action based on facts and aimed at human happiness,” and decided in line with this interpretation that “whether I was free or not depended on me,” not on his jailers.
So Mr. Rittenberg talked to his guards about anything and everything including his boyhood in Charleston, South Carolina, methods of treating hiccups, and all sorts of facets of life in the United States. I’m making a contribution, he kept telling himself as he did so. I’m making a contribution.
Mr. Rittenberg also decided to keep his cell spotlessly clean. Whatever scraps of rags he had, he used to scrub and scrub until he could literally eat off the floor. When the keepers came around with their mops, he could truthfully tell them that there was no work for them to do.
He could see that his actions, as well as his speech, had an effect on his guards. He was proving to himself that even in prison one human being could communicate effectively with another.
All this is not to say that Rittenberg had an easy time of it. He reports that every morning he came slowly awake with the crushing realization that he was still in prison Every morning for 10 years, he had to recontextualize his situation.
“I’m not passive. I’m learning something, doing something, thinking about something. I’m going to live on, I’m not going to die.” As thus he disciplined his thinking, he found that his entire prison experience was “not a subtraction from life, but an addition, not a black hole but part of my ongoing education.”
Mr. Ritttenberg stayed active and refused to let his circumstances drag him down. He triumphed and lived without focusing on suffering. He maintained his priorities and in that, he was free.
It’s time for me to stop using the “service” industry to feed my inclination of being a slave. It’s time for me to become of service out in the world. Time to find the key and leave my jail cell. (It really is only an illusion that it’s locked.) Time to meet the champion inside me, one step at a time.
Click here if you would like to read the entire China Prisoner article.
Mr. Rittenberg’s book is called The Man Who Stayed Behind and is available on Amazon.
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