Escaping from the Want/Should jail cell of your own making…
your “Get Out of Jail Free Card, Part I
Many of us spend a great deal of our life caught in the want/should jail. It’s a simple cell…on one side beckoning to you is what you want to do. Your expectation: you’ll feel relieved or happy or pleasured. On the other side of your cell there’s what you think you should do, or even more demanding and hateful, is what you believe you have to do. “If I don’t do that, then I will experience the opposite of being relieved, happy or pleasured. I will be visited by pain or loss…and quite possibly…piss someone off. (That angry some one or some thing will likely let you know it in a way that won’t be fun to remind you that you can’t just do what you want. You may even take on the role of that pissed off someone…it’s called “guilt.”)
Examples: the things we don’t want to do to make money, to survive. The things we do for others that we don’t want to do to mollify them, keep the peace, etc.
You may find yourself trying to negotiate this antagonism a great deal of your time…Some times you do what you want and pay the consequences, while other times you do what you believe you’re supposed to do to avoid the pain and loss and hopefully achieve at least some degree of relief, pleasure, or comfort while paying the price of the pain of self-betrayal.
Inevitably life demands some of this negotiation, but too often it reaches a point where your will feels imprisoned. You have entered the want/should jail cell. This pulling from one side of the cell to another can escalate to such a speed that it upgrades to…spasm. (Indeed…why Thomas Merton calls the ego a “spasm.) So there you are, caught somewhere in between, madly screaming inside yourself, “Who am I in this mess?! “Am I this spasm? This torment?! Is there a way “out?”
You may feel compelled to resist the spasm. “This is awful! What can I do? How do I get relief?” So you may either seek respite through escaping addictions, which never work, or you will try to resist the spasm, which just adds to the pain of the spasm.
If you’ve reached the point that living in your want/should cell is intolerable and are looking to get out of this jail, here’s a get-out-of-jail strategy.
Step one…Give yourself permission to relax…
Now, if something is in spasm, what does it need? Certainly not to pursue the futility of escape or to be resisted. You need to find a way to..relax.
Of course, it’s one thing to give yourself the message, “It’s okay to relax,” but it’s quite several other things to get your spasmodic self to stop long enough to even hear the message, let alone start practicing it…and it will take practice.
A simple place to start: Take three of the deepest and longest breaths possible for you to take. (Not to worry…they’re still free…but hurry)
Or if that is even too aggressive a treatment, next time you take any kind of a break… go to the bathroom, go from one place to another, lie down, sit down, wait at a stop light, etc.…take these three deep vital breaths. That will stop you long enough to go to step two of this process:
Imagine yourself picking up the message that someone just put in your cell in an envelope with your name on it…Open it and read these lines… “It’s okay to relax…at least for…” (and then you pick an amount of time that you’re willing to give yourself permission to relax. Two seconds, maybe four…if you’re adventurous, you can try six seconds or more. You do this as often as you can for as long as you can, and that becomes your beginning practice. You keep doing this more and more often and for longer periods of time every day until…you actually…relax. You cannot be in spasm and be relaxed at the same time.
People might actually come up to you and ask you, to your surprise, “How do you stay so relaxed? When were you released?” And that will even feel better than if they asked you, “How do you stay so thin? Or young? Or beautiful?” Imagine!
Next Blog: Part II: Avoiding recidivism. What you need to know to say out of the want/should jail and start having some chronic fun.