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The Door Between Control and Freedom

Life, we come to believe, is a straitjacket. As the years go by, we learn to think thoughts someone else produced. We do the things someone else tells us are good for us. We see the world the way everybody else does. We call good what the world calls good, and bad what the world calls bad. We live in prisons of our own making.

The very thought of being myself in the midst of a standard brand collection of social automatons is terrifying. We would be shunned, we fear. We would be ridiculed, we’re sure. The unwritten rule, we know, is that we must “go along to get along.” And we do. As Jean-Paul Sartre says in his most famous Theater of the Absurd work, there is “No Exit.” There is, the play tells us, no way out once we set the pattern of it all. Once we subject ourselves to the eternal struggle of having to fit in to everyone else’s expectations. Once we take on the morality of the world and call good bad and bad good. But there is a way out of such false judgments.

The door between control and freedom is in the mind. My mind. What I think about life determines the way I will live it. How I view the world around me is the world I will find around me. The way I interact with others is the way others will treat me, too. I can be happy, in other words, if being happy is enough for me. The task is to begin to trust my own decisions, my own ideas, my own judgments until I know better not to.

It is the willingness to be someone I do not want to be, a carbon copy of the people around me, that denies me the chance to grow and flower, to become and believe, to pursue and produce the best of me. Whether what I care about is what everybody else around me cares about or not.

I know a woman who got up one morning and started one of the most beautiful gardens in town right in the middle of the inner city.

I know an eye doctor who simply closed his office one summer and went to Central America to open up eye clinics for children who could hardly see.

I know a woman who mobilized the population to make sure that over 2000 families a year get Christmas gifts in their small homes, too.

It’s all about being willing to think differently, to live differently, to follow the brash new ideas within us to build the world around us all over again. No matter how foolish anyone else thinks it is.

Rumi was right when he wrote, “Forget safety. Live where you fear to live. Destroy your reputation. Be notorious.” To be happy, free yourself from what’s blocking you from being able to be the rest of yourself. Eventually it will be a gift to all of us.

                    ––excerpted from The Monastic Way by Joan Chittister