I was scared when I left the corporate job for the first time. I was even more scared when I was thrown out of graduate school and had to explain why to my parents. When I was first separated and then divorced I was ashamed to tell people about it. When I lost all my money in just one summer and went totally broke and forced to sell my home I was so embarrassed that I even lied to people who asked why my home was being listed. I would say, “that must be a mistake”, even though I had to have signed a contract and everyone knew that. People would smirk.
I needed to break free from all the prisons I put myself in. Shame, embarrassment, fear, anxiety were the guards and the bars that kept me locked up.
When you are a prison, it’s natural to want to escape. But most people don’t. If they do their daily routine, eat on time, play on time, watch TV between 6 and 9, follow their orders, do their chores, pay their dues, then eventually they think they will be released. Many years in the future.
But when you want to escape from prison RIGHT NOW, your powers of observation become heightened. You become like a superhero. Like a mutant from the X-men.
You observe the schedules of the guards. You look for any holes in the wall. You look for ways to smuggle tools from the kitchen. You look for those fleeting moments when the doors are open for supplies, when the trucks release their goods and for a split second, a hiding place might reveal itself. You observe in yourself if you have the courage to do what it takes. You look at maps of the prison, of the outside, of the grounds that you can hide in. You exercise every day to get yourself ready for “the moment” – the point of no return where you begin your run to freedom and can’t look back.
Your powers of observation become so heightened, so superior to your fellow inmates and the guards that watch over them, that eventually, after diligence, you figure how to wiggle out of the chains, how to take advantage of the tiny oversights that add up, how to turn invisible and slip through the cracks. And when the dogs bark at the morning light, spread out in the forest sniffing at the tiny scraps of your scent left behind, you are long gone, even though your presence is felt everywhere.
It’s the same thing every day. We are trapped in this world of sickness and money lust and failure and striving and craving. I am not being pessimistic. I am optimistic we live in a world of increasing literacy, decreasing sickness, decreasing violence, increasing innovation. And yet, the more I want, the more I crave, the more bound I am, the less chance I have. To find my own meaning in this infinite dictionary. To find my own life.
I need to break free from the prison. Sometimes the craziness adds up to too much. I simply want one moment completely free from bondage, and then carry that moment to the next, treasuring the only thing I can ever have – my own peace of mind this second. Here are the things I feel I need to observe to break out of prison. When I can observe and then conquer these, freedom will come. Not before then.
– when am I angry. Not to suppress it. Just to notice it. Not to act on it. Not to kill someone. Just to notice it. When is it happening? Why? It’s a hot plate that cools under observation rather than if I try to ravish it too quickly.
– when am I worried about the future, in particular money. Do I really need to worry about how I will pay bills a year from now? Will that help me to pay the bills a year from now? Or can I use the time spent worrying (even the nano-seconds, when added up) to read, to further myself, to achieve, so that those worries recede beyond the horizon. Can I become the Ocean instead of just the ripples (the fears) that eventually lap onto a muddy shore.
– when do I sit and regret the past? What I said at the party the other day. How I treated those people ten years ago. Not that I want to excuse any failings or not learn from them. I can learn from them right now. But if I regret, if I play over events, then I am no longer being observant of right now, I am lost in the moment, I am in a time machine, I am in a dream factory, floating in nebula, light years from reality.
– when am I feeling lonely, wondering what the other people are doing? Are they wondering about me? How many times have I been lonely in a crowd, dead eyes all wandering aimlessly in their futures or pasts while we shuffle through the dying light of the current day.
– when am I trying to please someone. When you look into a mirror, you only see a piece of glass, you don’t really see yourself. If anyone else is your mirror, you are stuck in a glass house, instead of a home you can really live. First, I need to please myself. This doesn’t mean kill people. It means focusing on my own situation, how best I can center myself, and in doing so, help the most people. Or not, if they don’t need help.
– Do I work too hard at living my life, rather than just letting it be lived, moment by moment.
– Am I being honest with myself, before superficially trying to be good for others?
– Did I enjoy the last hour? Or did I waste it?
– Am I trying to change negative attitudes in myself, before trying to change the negative conditions I find myself in?
– Am I loving? Or trying too hard to be loved?
– Do I lament about great failures, before trying to make the small incremental improvements that build the base of success?
– Observe the fear of being nobody in a social world. In a social media world. Will one day a hyper-inflated dollar force us to use Klout scores to buy food (so that only the ones with the greatest “contributions” to a Twitter planet will be the ones allowed to eat the most?) Observe the question, “is it ok to be nobody?”
– I need to observe when I am trying to change others. First I need to change myself to not care so much what others think. If I cared what the guards thought, then I would never escape. In all the years I’ve argued with people, in all the years I’ve ever seen two people argue, in all the mindless Internet troll arguments, I have yet to see one person change another person’s mind. If I add up all the moments I tried to change others instead of just observing my own feelings, thoughts, conditions, right now, it adds up to an entirely new dream world, perhaps mildly entertaining, but always imprisoning.
For once I stop, look around my room, look at the pictures on the wall (directly in front of me, a still from the 60s TV show “I Dream of Jeannie”, signed “Barbara Eden”. It’s right in front of me but it’s probably been months since I last noticed it and all the wishes I’ve kept bottled up). The sound of a car going to the train station. The boat moving slowly up the river. The hands typing on the computer. The Tooth, to my right, staring down with intensity I only hope I can have 1/10 of.
Only with the observation of a person who wants to constantly escape can I get out of the prison I’ve spent 44 years erecting around my emotions, my mind, my body. This is not advice for anyone but myself. I have the plans all ready for escape. For the moment when the clock strikes, the guard looks away, the hole is dug to the other side, the door open a crack for a micro-second, the raft waiting for me on the other side, the woman’s eyes reflecting the moon light on the other shore. Freedom.