Breaking Out of Your Inner Jail
"In the sixth century of the sixth millennium, the gates of supernal [heavenly] wisdom will be opened, as will the wellsprings of earthly wisdom, preparing the world to be elevated in the seventh millennium." The Zohar (a source text of Kabbalah)
The true value of a human being is determined primarily by the measure and the sense in which he has attained liberation from the self.
Who are you? Are you a mother, father, child, friend, spiritual seeker, doctor, lawyer, teacher, business person? A husband or wife?
And what kind of person are you? A good person, a not-so-good person? Smart or stupid, graceful or clumsy? Are you talented, bold, wimpy, fearless, fearful, articulate, shy? Do you enjoy taking risks, or are you afraid to try new things? Do you like to let it all hang out, or are you shut up like a clam? Whatever your answers, you will almost certainly have a fair number of pretty definite beliefs and opinions about yourself. And those beliefs and opinions, whether expressed or not, will limit and define you as certainly as if they were made out of concrete and steel.
Several years ago a magnificent young tiger was imported from India and shipped to a local zoo in the States. A beautiful and expansive habitat was built for him, complete with waterfall, trees, rocks, valleys and caves. While the building was going on, the tiger was housed in a small temporary cage, approximately 30 by 30 feet. It spent its days continuously pacing the cage from one end to the other. This cage was originally intended to house the tiger on a very temporary basis Ė for only a couple of weeks- but the building took longer than expected and the tiger actually remained in the cage for several months. When the habitat was finally complete, the cage was lowered into it, opened, and removed. The tiger almost immediately resumed pacing Ė 30 feet forward and 30 feet back. It no longer needed the small cage to limit and confine it; this cage, which once surrounded the tiger, had been transplanted into the tigerís mind.
A similar mechansim is familiar to the people who train elephants. When the elephant is young and small, it is strongly tethered to something large and heavy; a strong stake or a tree. The elephant pulls and tugs, but cannot free itself, and eventually gives up, confining its movements to the length of the rope. As soon as this happens, the tree can be replaced by a small stake that the now much larger elephant could pull up in an instant. Only it doesnít. Stake, rope, and confinement have become indelibly associated in the elephant mind.
Does this ring any bells for you?
Do you ever say to yourself: ďI canít, Iím just not that typeĒ? If you answer Ďnoí, look harder, because in one arena or another we all do. Some people canít parachute out of planes. Some of us just canít keep our houses organized. Some of us canít stop overeating or overdrinking. Some canít talk about our feelings. Some canít get ourselves to work, and others canít stop working. And we almost always think we know, in any given area, whether we have what it takes, or not.
Just like our zoological friends, the ties that bind us are almost always thicker, stronger and more real as they exist inside our heads than they are in the actual physical world. The way we react to our beliefs about ourselves, life, other people, and what we can and canít do is no different than the tigerís reaction to his months in the cage or the elephantís to his rope.
We donít start out life with fixed ideas about who we are and what we can and canít do, but we begin to develop them pretty quickly, and continue to reinforce them as we go along. If you decide as a small child that your ideas are not important, chances are that throughout life you will continue to act on that belief, avoiding sharing your ideas with others and thus having little influence on the people around you. This pattern of behavior, of course, will continue to ensure that very few people will seek out your opinions or advice, continuously providing more evidence for your original belief. This is one definition of a vicious cycle. However, remember that this doesnít make you unusual. Virtually every human being, no matter how functional his upbringing, has some fixed ideas about who he is Ė and who he isnít.
But Kabbalah explains this phenomenon in a deeper way.
Since caught in the act of eating from the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden and exiled into a world of hardship, pain, death and the struggle for survival, we human beings have been imbued with feelings of fear, insecurity, shame, guilt, self-consciousness, failure, and the pervasive sense of being exiled from home. A good portion of our lives consists of trying to deny, overcome or compensate for these feelings. At first glance this seems like an enormous problem. It takes a massive amount of time and effort to constantly be fighting to overcome our inner flaws and fears. But in fact, this seminal event, with all of its challenging consequences, is neither a problem nor a mistake and actually has a Divine purpose.
Kabbalah explains that G-d first looked into the Torah (the Bible) and only then created the world. That means before G-d even created the world, He foresaw the entire scenario in the Garden of Eden, including the eating of the forbidden fruit and the exile that would follow. As paradoxical as it seems at first glance, this scenario is actually fundamental to creation itself.
Let me explain.
Part of the intent in Creation is that we should not remain passive recipients of G-dís largesse. Rather, G-d gave us the greatest gift of all Ė the potential to become true partners in creation. This is a gift that was not given to even the most holy angels, but was reserved for us, specifically because we are souls in very physical bodies, and trapped within our fixed and limited sense of who we are and whatís possible for us. Only because we are finite and disconnected from the truth do we have the ability to exercise free choice. And only those who are gifted with free choice have the power to create something new; to transform darkness into light.
Childhood is intentionally designed to reactivate and give a personal flavor to the limiting emotional states that were imprinted in human psyche during the exile from the Garden. Your particular experience and predispositions combine to create your ego-based identity, your persona. This part of you tells stories, gives opinions, makes judgments, has reactions, and is programmed to reinforce and defend itself in exactly these ways. It is on the one hand part of what defines you uniquely as you, but on the other a highly restrictive, limiting structure, like a piece of very dark, even opaque glass superimposed over a clear window. It is the most external, surface layer of who you are, which conceals all of the more internal layers. Because itís the most visible, it appears to be the most real.
But there is a truer you. And the purpose of each and every obstacle in your life and all of your reactions to those obstacles is to allow that truer you to shine through.
And at this time, when, as prophesied, the Divine wisdom of Kabbalah has become accessible to the average person, the time has come for just that to happen.
Every Olympic athlete has spent thousands upon thousands of hours testing and expanding his limits; jumping hurdles - or the equivalent - in order to access a latent power that would otherwise never be expressed and to break through the barriers of what is assumed to be possible, over and over again.
Whether or not you are an Olympic athlete, you have the same power to break through barriers in your own life. In the game of life, we face hurdles almost constantly. Often these hurdles seem just too high. Each time you run across a hurdle that seems just too high, you have a choice to make. You can stick with your familiar old story about who you are, back away from the hurdle and resign yourself to a smaller life. Or you can reach beneath and beyond the concealing glass into the unbounded potential of your truer self. There, you already have the untapped power to jump higher and farther than ever before, and in doing so expand the very boundaries of the person youíve assumed yourself to be.
Any time you do this, youíve taken a piece of darkness Ė whether your own limiting stories, the obstacle in your way, your fear, resignation or self-doubt Ė and used it as the impetus to draw more light, power and aliveness from the essence of who you are. Thatís one of the reasons that youíre here.
Next time you hear yourself saying or thinking something like: ďIím just not the typeĒ, ďI canítĒ, or ďIím afraidĒ, think of the tiger and the elephant. Knowing that youíre creating your own cage is the first step in breaking free. Then, just as an experiment, ask yourself what you would do if you were the type, if you could do it, or if you werenít afraid. If you ask yourself this question, you may be surprised at how clear and available the answers are.
Then, as a bonus, even though it Ďjust isnít youí, even though youíre scared, try taking action based on these answers and see what happens.
Itís time to turn some darkness into light.