“It comes down to a simple choice really, get busy living or get busy dying”
– Andy Dufresne, The Shawshank Redemption
When Andy Dufresne offered the choice “get busy living or get busy dying,” he was stuck in a physical prison. All too often however, we live in our own spiritual and emotional prisons. There’s a story that illustrates this from Tara Brach. It tells us a beautiful white tiger Mohini, in the D.C. Zoo in the 1960s. At the time, most animals in the zoo occupied a small 12 by 12 foot cell with a hard concrete floor and little natural environment.
Mohini paced back and forth in this small cell, day after day, as visitors looked on. A new approach called immersive design brought changes for Mohini as they built him a vast new habitat fulls of vegetation, trees and many acres to frolic. Onlookers waited to see how Mohini would make a new home. Brach writes, “But it was too late. The tiger immediately sought refuge in a corner of the compound, where she lived for the remainder of her life. Mohini paced and paced in that corner until an area 12 by 12 feet was worn bare of grass.”
Several years ago, I found myself frustrated in my job, unable to run due to an injury and generally feeling like I was “past my prime“. My poor wife had to hear me complain about this incessantly. If success in that job and in running were going to be the yardstick, I was probably going to come up short. It wasn’t until I let go a little bit, started volunteering in a different field of work and walking (instead of running) with an organization named Back on My Feet, that I got out of my 12 by 12 cell of habitual behaviors and responses. I stopped trying to accomplish goals from my past and started living in the present with a bit less expectation. This was a true awakening.
We can create a own prisons in our minds. Prisons that may have protected and supported us in the past but prevent authentic living in the present. We all have these patches of worn grass in our experience. What is yours?
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In a busy, over-stimulated world, it is all too easy to switch into an automatic pilot mode, mechanically going through our to-do lists and obligations, denying the humanity of our mortality. Or we may wear a mask to cover our real identity, conforming to social and cultural norms at the expense of our well-being. With mindfulness, we can transform our habitual reactions into thoughtful responses and choices. We may endure a frustrating job, stay engaged in a challenging relationship or stay present with our mistakes and failures instead of trying to run away from them or avoid risk-taking. I see it as a choice to live authentically despite voices calling on you to escape and consume to avoid the inevitability of change, loss, and death. As we choose life, we remain aware of how easy it is to come back to the 12 by 12 space in Mohini’s new home. Through our habits, we break free of that well-worn patch, expanding our possibilities for meaning and purpose.
Enjoy the podcast below or stayed tuned for Part 2 of this post in late August.
“Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become the next moment. By the same token, every human being has the freedom to change at any instant.” – Victor Frankl, Man’s Search For Meaning