The gentle prison
I existed in a world that never is – the prison of the mind. Gene Tierney
It seems to me that no matter how much we long for freedom we continue to create our own prisons. They are such enticing and seductive prisons as well. Prisons such as the bonds of love and friendship, gaols of goals, cells of comforts.
I’m watching a friend struggle with the end of a relationship, clearly one in which she wasn’t valued and respected as an individual. Her desire to make this relationship work, to finally gain love and warmth reflects my own struggles. A desperate need for belonging and love fetters our emotions and deprives us of autonomy. Even within a good relationship, we lose some levels of freedom. We choose to limit ourselves to the codes of conduct of those relationships.
I have been extraordinarily lucky to have been enriched by many friends. But these people, people I love and care about, also confine me. Their love and companionship warm and delight my soul at the same time as they prevent me from furthering my internal self-exploratory adventures. Our joint activities, our long afternoons and evenings of talking and laughing, limit my ability to meditate, create, write and dream.
My desires to expand and develop also create boundaries. If I am to reach goals I have set for myself, then I have to ignore competing pathways, reject competing interests. How much do these self-imposed bars prevent me from growing? These decisions are usually sensible, logical, well-reasoned – but they mean choosing and rejecting. What if the path fails to take me to the planned destination? What have I lost by creating these limits?
Work, even work we love, creates more cells for incarceration. I enjoy eating, travelling, drinking fine wine, reading and taking photographs. All of these pursuits require money. Work enables me to enjoy them, but confines my days, pushes my thinking in certain directions. I have broken some work chains, but the necessity for at least some money equals the necessity for some level of imprisonment.
The locks we surround ourselves with can be beautiful. Family，friends and dreams are vital, important and so wonderful. But they are still limits that require us to waive some of our freedom.
Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth. John F Kennedy
Conformity is what society requires of us – to conform allows us to fit in, to be accepted, to uphold the norms and mores. We are aprt of it all, and not alone. Work requires conformity, to enhance and make production efficient. Love requires us to conform to make everything peaceful. Our goals require us to conform to the steps to reach them. We want to conform to be accepted seen as valuable and worthwhile.
These bars and cells are our own choices. The biggest difficulty we face in wanting to choose freedom is the idea of hurting others. The idea of being seen as selfish, egotistical, uncaring.
The question then becomes, how many bars are essential? Which bars on this warm and wonderful prison can I remove? How much freedom do I want?
I’ve just finished a really busy semester, with work, coaching, judging, social activities, writing, editing, studying, visitors, friends, family and many other commitments. I love the feeling of being important in people’s lives, just as I want them to know how important they are in my life. I enjoy being involved in making even a small differnce around me.
But this level of commitment also creates a serious lack of alone time, a curtailing of freedom, and a realisation I lose myself in the process.
Creating the freedom I look for means saying no. It means limiting the connections and commitments. Saying no to friends and colleagues is not easy. It makes me feel ungrateful for teh richness of my life.
And the gain in freedom means the loss in relationships. Real freedom, total freedom, no ties, no commitments also means no love, no belonging. This is a fearful prospect. One few humans are destined to survive.
How much freedom is important? This is a question that can only be answered individually, and must be answered almost every day. Each choice we make limits our freedom in one way or another. Each relationship, each commitment creates another link in our chains. I love those links.