You know the feeling: the noose slowly tightening around your neck, or that heavy ball and chain around your ankle, which you drag through the day.
Or, perhaps for you, it is the windowless room of your mind with that mean interrogator under the bare bulb, harping all day long and into the night: “You will never . . . You will always . . . You can’t … Who do you think you are?”
When I first heard the phrase, “areas of unfreedom,” I didn’t understand my teachers. (My spell checker doesn’t understand either.) I was just beginning to learn about the dynamics of spiritual growth, what in a simpler time we used to call discipleship or sanctification. “Huh? I’m free,” I thought. “This is the USA.” The Spirit had yet to show my inner prison.
My jailors were the assumptions, unexamined beliefs, and negative thoughts which operated below my awareness. This gang of ignorant, fear mongers, and liars had formed a portion of my self identity, that is, who I thought I was, and what I could, or could not do with my life.
The other day one of these creepy little sadists gave me a swift kick in my solar plexus. Our teacher asked us to put our hands on the floor and kick our legs up into the air against a wall and balance on our arms. “Just try it,” she said, urging us on, “like when you were a kid. Your arms are strong enough to hold you.”
“Oh, yes. I can do this!” I thought. I have done many head stands and arm balances in my life. “Now just bend over, straighten your arms, and kick yourself up against the wall. No problem.”
As I took a few steps toward the wall, a dark, choking fear suddenly rose up in me and stopped me in my tracks. I was stunned. It had been over twenty years since my last hand stand, but I had stayed in shape and my arms were stronger now than ever. Where had this fear come from? I was safe here. There were people to catch me, if I fell or stumbled. I was dumbfounded. How did this happen in me?
“You’re too old,” my jailor sneered. “You can’t do things like this anymore. Pay attention to me or you will hurt yourself.”
Most of us have places of impasse in our interior world, where we feel stuck, fated, or chained to a particular understanding of ourselves, which limits our future unnecessarily. Sometimes these aspects of how we see ourselves are unconscious. Though not apparent to us, such beliefs may deeply affect our lives.
I have a little pile of quotations and scripture verses above my desk. The other day I pulled this one out and put it on top.
And the day came when the risk
to remain tight in a bud was more painful than to bloom.
This is a poem by Anais Nin, a woman whose life I do not entirely recommend, but certainly demonstrates that wisdom is not the property of only the straight-laced and conventional.
The path of spiritual growth calls us to break out of the constraints of our tight little buds. There is a point where the risk of opening to an unknown possibility is less than the pain of remaining bent over in the tight room of a constraining self conception.
Nin’s words remind me of Jesus’ urgency to break the boundaries of his ministry and his own chosen human mortality with his words:
I’ve come to start a fire on this earth—how I wish it were blazing right now! I’ve come to change everything, turn everything right side up—how I long for it to be finished! (Luke 12:50 Message)