Saturday, April 21, 2012

Freedom: Living Outside Your Cage

Space Travel
It's funny how shards of truth can show up on the shore of your life, glinting like pieces of beach glass. If you've got your eyes trained on the distant horizon, you're likely to miss the shining bits at your feet. During my qi gong class as we went through our movements the instructor travelled around the room to demonstrate. When she stood by me, an old song started playing in my head "oh, oh, what if I do it wrong." I could feel muscles tense. And then the voice of wisdom interrupted the currently playing program with an important message sponsored by the Dharma, "you know it isn't about how you look, it's about keeping your eye on what you're doing." And somehow this simple observation washed over the edges of qi gong practice and poured into the river of my life. This is the thief, the furtive figure of ego that separates me from what I am doing. Whenever I lose touch with the task at hand and do the big shoulder check or look into the mirror of other people's eyes to see how I'm doing, I enter a cage of my own making.  It was an instant lesson in how not  to be free.

Rock Climbing
For many of us (could I say all of us??), this desire for approval is imprinted early in life, feeding behaviour that has us scanning the terrain to see how we're doing, how we're measuring up. Perhaps it is simply a perversion of the human need to be part of the tribe that causes us to check and see if we've been voted off the island for some infraction, some display of foolishness.  But for some reason as I stood in my wu-ji posture I could see how this thought "of not wanting to be wrong" was like a cage. To become free I simply had to turn my focus to what really mattered, pay attention to what I was doing, not imagining what others were thinking. In a lot of ways it's the simple practice of awareness that we learn in meditation.  We simply need to carry it into every crevice of our life to be free.

This is not to encourage myopic vision and discourage an outward orientation to the world. It is not about focusing on the self and not caring about the needs of others. It's simply about paying attention with care to what needs to be done at the moment, not trailing off into stories on the imaginary horizon and dividing our energies. The ability to give up the worry and stories finds its origins in fearlessness and bravery. This is the tradition of the spiritual warrior that Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche talked about.

My use of the image of a cage reminds me of  a Zen story about a golden bird locked in a cage. The bird struggles to get out but the door is closed. Turns out in, amidst all the struggling and flapping about, the bird neglects to look down and see that the cage has no bottom.

What cages do you live in? What ones have you set yourself free from, dear lovely birds of the great virtual sky?


  1. Your paintings are beautiful! I hope you share them on tumblr! Cages of our own making...I think I fly in and out of my cage all the is part of the flow that is life.

  2. Thanks Leslie, for your kind words and wise words! I agree, lots of ins and outs of the cage.

  3. What a wonderful Zen story.. I will have to remember that one.. my brain tells me not to look for outside approval but...I do think that is the one cage most of us artists deal with and try to overcome.

    1. I do love Zen stories too. It's such a wonderful way to teach, to show us, to let us see the truth.

      I agree, in putting our tender selves out there in our art, we do feel vulnerable and all those old habits kick in. But it is in our awareness of those reactions that we begin to glimpse freedom.

  4. I have long been aware of the fact that the cages i think i am in are of my own making. but i forget to see that the cage has no bottom. or that the door is unlocked.

    it is not just (for me) important to know i have the ability to give up worry and stories, but i sort of feel i must dedicate myself to doing this. when the stories and worries arise, to remember my dedication to let go of them.

  5. Suki, I agree, the challenge is the remembering. When I get myself all double locked up, somehow the remembering is lost in the delusion. It's a tricky business and I think as Leslie mentions, a work of coming and going from the cage. The hope being for me that I will eventually spend more time out of the cage as the light brightens!

    Hope you are enjoying some wonderful Spring in your home turf!

  6. beautiful pieces you've shared.
    and a powerful true story.
    the cage is always
    of our own making.
    (any other trap
    is easy to escape)
    built with fear
    and meant to protect
    our fragile egos.
    mine most often
    has to do with
    unreasonable burdains
    i place on myself.

    1. hi anca "built with fear", yes this is it! I guess the good news is if we build it, we can disassemble it!

  7. Oh my yes - rings a bell here - the need for approval, affirmation that we are okay, loved - if we perform well enough, use the right language, say the right thing, get enough comments :) and above all - don't rattle the cage! :) Such a deep groove. Fearing that someone will see our weaknesses and vulnerabilities and reject us. And then having to unlearn all that and get out from under the cage of "the tribe"; to really *want* our freedom; to really *know* who we are - our Buddha Nature.

    Wonderful insight about our self-made cage of the mind, thoughts, self-image. And I love the phrase about looking into another's eyes to see how we're doing, or listening to their tone of voice etc. Then discovering that we are free all along! Interesting how we are always surprised by that...

    I was listening to Nina Wise today and she said something that seemed fitting here: "Joy (freedom?) is when we deeply relax and rest in the Buddha Nature, recognizing it as our Natural State, our innate Being." That seems to be the "antidote" for our self-made cages - seeing the brilliance that we already are, no matter how it manifests. Wabi-sabi wu-ji :) LOL

  8. I think a lot of us have spent a lot of time building and maintaining the cage! So many of these stories tell us that what we are looking for is right under our noses but somehow in our confusion we miss it.

    Glad you had a chance to check out Nina Wise. Yes she talks about how enlightenment is the ultimate relaxation.

    1. Oh yes,I agree, it is in all of our conditioning to build cages. My "we" was meant as the collective "we" - not you and me "we." :)

    2. yes, I did get "the royal we" as we us commonwealthers refer to it! not to worry about such things. always know that your comments are meant in the finest spirit! hope you are having the wonderful Spring day that has landed here!

  9. Oh, this is big... I found so much of myself in this too. Those cages, soul cages, how the keep us bound for so long. My cages are/were, of course, of my own making. A big cage I'm finding freedom from is self-worth and creative worth. I've been a creator all my life, but only in the last two years have I dared to claim "artist." :o) I used to be such a "perfectionist," and that's something I've been working on the past couple years and letting go of. I always found it so easy to praise others, and not myself. It's a big thing, and big thing to learn. Once we fully, truly realize the value of all we offer, we can just let things be in a beautiful way. We all have something very value to offer. Your rich insights are so much appreciate, Carol. :o) We're going to Vienna later this week and be away a few days. See you soon in blogland. :o) ((HUGS))

  10. Thanks, Tracy. I think we are work with these things to one degree or another and I get the sense of it really settling in to your "blood and bones" from your blog.

    Yes read about your upcoming trip to Vienna! Lucky you. Take lots of pics for us. I've been enjoying your other art blog with TJ too!

  11. Thank you for this thoughtful piece. We often create cages in our own minds through the stories we tell ourselves - and never take the time to question. We can also create wide open vistas in our minds and fly even if we remain earthbound!

  12. Thanks Alex for filling in the other side of this corollary! Our mind is a powerful place. Practicing the Dharma is about learning to use it in a wholesome way!