“Is the life I’m living the life that wants to live in me?”
Parker Palmer

A new acquaintance asked Zorba the Greek if he were married. Zorba roared passionately: “Of course I’m married, I have a wife, kids, bills, problems, the full catastrophe.” Our “full catastrophe” may look different; but, like Zorba, we can embrace all of life and we can be free. A full passionate life embraces the joys and the agonies, the loves and the losses, as well as the sweet and the bitter. When we accept life’s paradoxes with responsibility we are afforded an opportunity to select our path through the uncertainties. Acceptance does not mean we like what we see, just an acknowledgement life’s reality as it is. Acceptance provides a starting point to paint on a larger canvas, if life is to be more than it is presently.

An ancient story by the well-known Spiritual teacher, Osho, tells of a warrior, a freedom fighter, traveling through the mountains. He stopped to spend the night at a caravanserai that housed a beautiful parrot in a golden cage. The parrot repeatedly called out “Freedom! Freedom!” The man felt sorry for the parrot that sounded so desperate to be free. After the owner went to bed, the warrior opened the door of the cage whispering to the parrot “get out! get out!” The parrot however started clinging to the bars of the cage. He said to the parrot, “You can have what you want, freedom, fly into the sky, and be free.” The bird resisted, clinging hard, and did not move. When the warrior attempted to remove the parrot, he fought back, pecking the warrior’s hands all the while shouting “Freedom! Freedom!” Determined, the warrior pulled him out and threw him skyward. He felt relieved, thinking he had set the creature free, and so went to sleep. In the morning when he awoke he heard “Freedom! Freedom!” He went to look expecting to see the bird up in a tree. Alas the bird was sitting in the cage. The door was open.

So in what way are we like the parrot mentioned above? Often we limit ourselves in order to stay in our “safe zone,” ignoring the boundless possibilities of the world around us. The world beckons us to step out of our cage that keeps us secure and comfortable.

Freedom is an inside job. People say they want more freedom; but in order to have more freedom, responsibility must be accepted for everything in your life. When you arrive at this point you can be free, even if your external situation is such that you are imprisoned. Any condition can be a vehicle for freedom, or bondage, depending on your outlook and expectations.

Years ago I taught a Sociology Class at a State prison for male offenders. There were twelve students in my class, all with their various stories of why they were unjustly imprisoned. Most of them refused to take responsibility for their plight. They were truly caged! They spoke intensely of their desire for freedom and the fact that they could not wait until the day came for them to leave the prison walls. Over the course of the semester, three of them were granted parole, with a freedom date. Two of the three, got into violent altercations, which they provoked. The consequences of such behavior not only revoked their parole, and landed them in solitary confinement. The third student made it.

As a psychotherapist by profession, I was curious about the behaviors of the two “trouble-makers”, especially because the consequences of such were known. Wondering if they understood the incongruence of their words versus their behavior, I talked with each of them. They spoke of the lives they left behind when they were imprisoned, as well as what was in store upon their release. There was an indirect acknowledgement that prison life provided stability - a roof over their head and food on their plate. They hated the rules; however, there was a familiarity about the prison life they experienced daily.

“Out there,” according to one of them, “one never knows what will happen from day to day.” Freedom equated terrible unknowns they felt ill equipped to tackle, let alone handle. So, on an unconscious level, they had solved the problem: the fear of the responsibility of freedom. They did not connect the dots, so did not learn from the situation. They stayed in their cage, all the while protesting that they wanted freedom.

You may read about the prisoner’s fear of freedom and ask: “what is the point of such an extreme example?” You say: “that’s not me!” What then are your fetters? How do you cling to your prison bars? Are you enslaved to a company, a product, a boss, the expectations of our family or the security a spouse provides? Do cultural conditioning, faulty beliefs and thinking imprison you? The inmates are more extreme versions of us. We are they. We can reject it; but, as long as we cling to the illusion that someone else will provide for us, we are in a “cage.”

Sometime back, I went to the Elizabeth Kubler Ross Center in Virginia for training in the grief process. Healing music was liberally interspersed throughout the experience. A line in one of the songs has stayed with me through the years. “If you want to paint a rainbow, you have to use orange and red.” The rainbow of our life demands we use the full palette. Often we find ourselves refusing to risk, or push out our frames or the walls and limitations we have built around us for our protection. Staying safe is like doing a small black and white picture. To join in the expansiveness of authentic living, we must use the full palette. So where is your red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and purple? How free are you?

Author's Bio: 

Laura Young is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and a Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist (CCH) devoted to helping people become more of what is possible for them. She draws on almost thirty years of clinical experience, with the last sixteen at Life Resource Center, a Private Practice, she established in 1992.

Over time Laura has specialized in Relationships; Life Transitions: Grief Resolution, Stress Management, and the Healing of Adult and Childhood Trauma .She has lead groups with a special emphasis on Women's Creativity Groups. Laura has given numerous presentations, as well as written many articles for local newspapers and regional magazines.

Laura's most recent venture has been her book, "The Nature Of Change". This book is the beginning of a dialogue to encourage, uplift and inform the reader. In it, she reaches out to others who may never choose to seek professional help, however they may appreciate having some tools and self-understanding to make necessary life changes.

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