Today outside your prison I stand
and rattle my walking stick: Prisoners, listen;
you have relatives outside. And there are
thousands of ways to escape.
Years ago I bent my skill to keep my
cell locked, had chains smuggled to me in pies,
and shouted my plans to jailers;
but always new plans occured to me,
or the new heavy locks bent hinges off,
or some stupid jailer would forget
and leave the keys.
Inside, I dreamed of constellations—
those feeding creatures outlined by stars,
their skeletons a darkness between jewels,
heroes that exist only where they are not.
Thus freedom always came nibbling my thought,
just as—often, in light, on the open hills—
you can pass an antelope and not know
and look back, and then—even before you see—
there is something wrong about the grass.
And then you see.
That’s the way everything in the world is waiting.
Now—these few more words, and then I’m
gone: Tell everyone just to remember
their names, and remind others, later, when we
find each other. Tell the little ones
to cry and then go to sleep, curled up
where they can. And if any of us get lost,
if any of us cannot come all the way—
remember: there will come a time when
all we have said and all we have hoped
will be all right.
There will be that form in the grass.
A recent Facebook thread on slavery, both of the “chattel and chains” variety and the more modern “wage slave” or “cultural captive” kind, has me pondering how the word “captivity” so well describes my own experience of life on this planet, and serves as a good metaphor for my view of reality.
What if “the game” for me here, as a deep-sea diver of the physical realm, is one of finding my “captivity” at every level so that I can then find my “freedom”? Whether it’s the stories of my family, the confining beliefs of the culture in which I was born and raised, my own ego structures (the family and cultural stories internalized), the seeming “realities” of needing money, jobs, homes, etc, the various dysfunctional, and even insane, systems which purport to “govern our lives” and which comprise this thing we call “civilization,” the current and coming unraveling of these various systems as the larger “realities” of physical laws and limits come back to bite us on the ass, or the even larger and more fundamental “realities” of Reality™ itself, it feels possible to get trapped and held captive in any and all of these levels of “the game.” And much of what I have been up to these past decades, the game I have been playing, is to learn to see the traps, the chains, the cages, so that I can step out of them into some sort of freedom.
This can feel like hard work. And though it feels off to say that, (as, to my mind, even the story that “it’s hard work” can be a prison) it feels important nonetheless to recognize that such psychological forces as “learned helplessness,” “cultural indoctrination,” “emotional and psychological wounding,” “golden handcuffs,” and “the Stockholm Syndrome” are in operation here, working inside of us humans to keep us in our cells. Once I learned that the lock on the cell door is largely one I put there myself (or at least accepted as necessary at the time), finding freedom has come more and more easily. In many cases, it involves simply re-writing a story that I’ve been telling myself.
It feels, to me, like the most essential part of finding freedom is seeing and coming into full acceptance of “what is.” When I spend my energy fighting “what is” with such stories as “this should not be” and “this is not fair” and “this is wrong,” when I do not allow myself to simply come to full acceptance of “what is,” I stay stuck. My energies are distracted. I might find some distance between my “self” and “the problem.” I might convert my self-blame to other-blame. But I never quite find the freedom I am looking for. Because, I think, I am unclear of my goal. The notion of “freedom” immediately raises the question “freedom from what?” I have to know what the “what” is first, before I can “get anywhere.”
All of which explains my life-long quest to see “what is,” whether that be the collapse of civilization, the truth of various “fringe” issues, the effects my family of origin had on my psyche, etc. The more clarity I’ve gained, the more freedom I’ve found. As Brother Ryan said in that Facebook thread, “to see the farm is to leave it.” That’s how it has worked for me.
But the manner of “leaving it” is shaped by the nature of the “farm” itself, I think. Many folks step in, at this point, and argue that, well, that’s all fine and good, Mr. Smarty Pants Pure Research Man, but you’re a Privileged White American Male™. You’ve got options for “leaving the farm” that most do not. And, on top of that, we’re now all standing on the decks of a sinking ship. We’re all riding together on a big ol’ jet airliner that’s plummeting toward the ground. We’re all trapped in a cultural gulag. Climate change is for everybody! The Collapse of the Global Industrial Economy is for everybody! Slavery is for everybody, slaves and slaveholders alike. It’s all “the farm” now. There is no leaving it.
There are facets through which I can view reality in which these are true™ statements. There are facets in which these statements, and their opposites, collapse into one. And yet there are places I can stand, I have found, in which these statements simply describe the nature of whatever captivity, whatever game, I find myself in. And since, as an Otter of the Universe, I try to honor the “dive fully into physical experience” aspect of existence, I need such a place to stand. And it’s there that the “full acceptance” piece comes in. Okay. I’m on a plane that’s going down. The ground is rushing up to greet me with its hard embrace. There is “no way out.” And yet, even then, I can panic and scream, I can storm the cockpit and try to “take control,” I can lash out in anger at the stewardess, or I can turn to the person next to me and say, simply, “I love you very, very much.”
There is always some freedom to be found, I find, even here at “the bottom of the gravity well.” Freedom inside of whatever situation I find myself. Freedom from myself. It’s up to me, I say, “just to remember my name,” as Mr. Stafford says. The key question here, which I posed early on, is “what if…?” For myself, when I step into this metaphor/reality of slaves and prisons and farms and escape, I find far more personal power than when I do not. So I do…
In my experience, Ryan Johnson is right.