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Seeing the Prison Walls

Do you see how you are in a prison created by the beliefs and traditions of your society and culture and by the ideas, prejudices, attachments and fears of your past experiences? Wall upon wall surrounds your prison cell so that it seems almost impossible that you will ever break out and make contact with the richness of life and love and freedom that lies beyond your prison fortress. And yet the task, far from being impossible, is actually easy and delightful. What can you do to break out?  Four things: First, realize that you are surrounded by prison walls, that your mind has gone to sleep. It does not even occur to most people to see this, so they live and die as prison inmates. Most people end up being conformists; they adapt to prison life. A few become reformers; they fight for better living conditions in the prison, better lighting, better ventilation. Hardly anyone becomes a rebel, a revolutionary who breaks down the prison walls. You can only be a revolutionary when you see the prison walls in the first place.

Second, contemplate the walls. Spend hours just observing your ideas,your habits, your attachments and your fears. Without any judgment and condemnation. Look at them and they will crumble. Third, spend some time [observing] the things and people around you. Look but really look as if for the very first time at the face of a friend, a leaf, a tree, a bird in flight,the behavior and mannerisms of the people around you. Really see them. And hopefully you will see them afresh, as they are in themselves without the dulling, stupefying effect of your ideas and habits.

The fourth and most important step, sit down quietly and observe how your mind functions. There is a steady flow of thoughts and feelings and reactions there. Watch the whole of it for long stretch of time. They way you watch a river or a movie. You will soon find it so much more absorbing than any river or movie. And so much more life giving and liberating. After all can you be said to be alive if you are not even conscious [of] your own thoughts and reactions. The unaware life, it is said,is not worth living. It cannot even be called life. It is a mechanical robot existence, a sleep, an unconsciousness, a death. And yet this is what people call human life.

- Anthony de Mello, The Way To Love (Image Books, 1995), pp. 39-40.