Release From Self-Made Prisons

I was shocked to discover that the United States of America has over 2.12 million people in prison, the most of any nation on earth. This is even more astounding when you consider the US has a population of less than 24% of China or India, the two largest countries in the world.

This got me to thinking about prisons in general.

I admit, being sent to prison is one of my greatest irrational fears. The idea that I would not see all of those I love and have my freedom restricted for an extensive amount of time, is an intense and upsetting feeling. Knowing I haven’t done anything to deserve going to prison plays no part in this equation.

And yet, I wonder, am I not in a prison of my own making? Aren’t we all?

I listen to my own words and the words of others and what I often hear is self judgement and recrimination for actions we have taken or for actions we feel we should have taken.

What we tell ourselves can create some pretty high walls and some very strong doors. And the light that gets in may be too dim for us to see well.

The words we use to describe our lives are extremely important. They can provide us freedom or send us to our own internal prison.

According to the dictionary, prison is a place where inmates are confined and denied a variety of freedoms under some ruling authority. If a crime has been committed, the result may very well be incarceration in a prison with a loss of freedom until the sentence has been served.

But what about when we commit ourselves to a self-made prison?

When we deem our actions to be worthy of judgement, we may lock ourselves away, convinced we deserve to be isolated from the world.

Our mistakes might be minor or major, but they result in the same action, a prison sentence of our own making. We can be so hard on ourselves and may tend to focus on our infractions, rather than on their resolution.

So many things could be made ‘right’ by expressing sorrow for our actions and apologizing, then taking some action to make things better. When we fail to do this, we strengthen and extend our internal prison sentence. Our inaction holds us in place and our suffering continues.

There are ways out prison.

One is parole, where a prisoner receives an early release after agreeing to abide by certain conditions. And, the other way is a pardon, which is an act of being forgiven for an offense or error that has been committed. The proverbial ‘get out of jail free card’.

In both of these cases, it is the ruling authority which has granted the action of release, one with conditions, the other without.

What about us and our release from our own prisons? Can we open ourselves to the realization that we can be forgiven for our actions or inactions? Can we allow ourselves some latitude to live a free life, seeing our mistakes and yet letting ourselves off the hook? Can we find ways to make amends and clear the way forward?

How wonderful it would be to accept our own pardon and free up space inside of our self. Imagine what you could do if you released all of your guilt and shame and fear. What an enormous sense of freedom it would bring. Who knows what could be done with all of that beautiful open space? I hope you accept your own pardon and live a wonderful life.

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Do What Calls To You

I am a huge advocate of doing what calls to me.

It took time for this idea to seep completely into me. It had to get past a lot of worldly notions that I had better things to do with my life, like concentrating on getting through school, finding a job, climbing the corporate ladder and all the other milestones we reach for.

I’m not saying that these things are not important, they are. But, what I discovered along the way is that they are not the only things that are important. And, that finding my own sense of balance between the ‘necessary’ and the ‘desirable’, was very important to me.

When I was a kid, playing was the ultimate for me. It topped all my other activities and I found ways to incorporate it into everything I did. When I had to pick up my room, I’d set aside a basket and toss everything into it, keeping score during the process.

As time went on, life became more demanding and I occasionally lost sight of doing some of the things that called to me.

When I went college, I struggled with all of the typical freshman dilemmas; homesickness, trying to make new friends, adapting to a more rigorous course schedule, being on my own while being surrounded by so many others. I felt overwhelmed by it all.

Then I remembered how important it was for me to do what called to me. So, out the door I headed. I walked everywhere as if I was an adventurer in the wildness. I searched out creeks, investigated the massive train yards west of the town, spelunked my way through an underground viaduct that run under the city, and whatever else popped into my mind. I even hopped a few freight trains and learned how important it was to get off before they picked up too much speed. Doing a face-plant into railroad bed cinders is absolutely no fun. It is, however, one of my favorite stories to tell.

At one point in my life I began a special journal. It doesn’t have a title, which is peculiar for me. I could never figure out anything that seemed the right fit. I’ll just call it my ‘life ambitions’ journal for now.

At this moment in time it has 277 items listed. They have one strong commonality…they all called to me…and I accepted.

I split my listing into three categories; those I’ve actually experienced, those I plan to experience and those I will experience virtually. My wife is primarily responsible for the third category, because they are the more outlandish or dangerous items. Okay, you could call them foolhardy.

Actually, there is a fourth category, which are items I have allowed myself to release. This one is very important, so that I don’t become fixated and feel like I’m failing if I don’t do them all. That’s not what this is about. Some ‘calls’ are more a suggestion, than a desire.

I’ll give you a sampling from each of the categories, so you can see what I’m talking about. FYI- hopping a freight train was #10.

Have done: #119 laid on a bed of nails, #59 blown an alphorn, #42 seen the Grand Canyon, #76 done the bobsled run at Lake Placid, #265 built a Lego Taj Mahal (5900 pieces) <shown on the banner above>, #210 built a treehouse with my dad for our children, #149 slid into 500 gallons of Jello to support a good cause, #156 sponsored a child through Compassion International

Plan to do: #49 ride a Segway, #67 ‘glean’ produce (pick surplus crops for donation to a food pantry), #73 visit a Blackfoot Native American reservation, #100 take the Polar Bear plunge, #136 rent a houseboat on Lake Powell, #252 participate in a flashmob

Virtual plans: #46 hangglide, #77 skydive (see what I mean)

Released: #4 climb 10 of the high peaks in the Adirondacks (knees will not cooperate any longer), #26 create my own style of self-defense

That probably gives you a pretty good idea.

One of the most important things I’ve discovered about this practice is that I am always enriched by listening to my inner callings. I’ve come to believe the calls are guiding me toward the things I came here to experience. They are not meaningless or senseless recommendations. They are ‘the stuff of life’.

I hope that you hear the calls in your life and answer the ones that most appeal to you. I believe they are here to open you up to a richer, more exciting life.

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