“Stone walls do not a prison make, Nor iron bars a cage; Minds innocent and quiet take That for an hermitage; If I have freedom in my love And in my soul am free, Angels alone, that soar above, Enjoy such liberty.” –Richard Lovelace , To Althea, from Prison
I’ve always loved this quote and have used it often when times have warranted a new perspective on how to view my life and circumstances. Lovelace, (pronounced /lʌvlɪs/, homophone of “loveless”), was born into a family of old wealth and prestige. This is the final stanza of a poem written while he was imprisoned in 1642 for protesting the Bishops Exclusion Bill being presented to the English Parliament. As a staunch supporter of the King, he was chosen to present a Royalist petition to a hostile House of Commons. Basically, they threw his ass in jail.
Long story short, he was imprisoned for only a few months when he wrote this poem. He’s 25 years old and has already been matriculated as “Gentleman Wayter Extraordinary” to the King, written comedies and tragedies, earned a M.A. degree, entered Cambridge, been a published poet, become a senior ensign in the First Scottish Expedition, become a commissioned captain in the Second Scottish Expedition, and inherited the family property at 21. This guy was riding the wave, he’s smart, educated, wealthy, charming, a Cavalier poet who as a group were known for writing love letters or about the glory and honor found in war. By some accounts, his devotion to the royalist cause eventually led to a life of poverty and obscurity though many historians view this as an exaggeration of his actual circumstances. He was 39 when he passed.
When we feel trapped by life’s circumstances, we have the ability to make our own hell. Sometimes it is so damn difficult to see that we have choices and also to admit to ourselves that our choices are what have led to these feelings of conflict and claustrophobia. We may feel trapped by our jobs, our relationships, or our finances. Our body may react with the same response as if we’re trapped in an elevator, an airplane or the place we live. And for some, even the feeling of being trapped in the very minds and bodies they inhabit. Though we long to be free, we may become chained to the familiarity of isolation, restriction or boredom which in turn can lead to anxiety and depression. Peter Michalson, author of The Phantom of the Psyche, states: “Inner passivity is responsible for much of our self-doubt, self-criticism, indecision, procrastination, defensiveness, confusion, loneliness, depression, emptiness, and addictions, as well as feelings of being unworthy and trapped.”
Inner passivity puts you in a space of feeling what you are doing is being done to you. This negates the choice and free will factor. It also activates that lovely inner critic who is more than willing to blast you with negativity, self doubt and recriminations for past actions. Staying emotionally paralyzed prevents you from stepping into your power and living more authentically. Fear of the unknown perpetuates self-doubt and helplessness.
Our inner critic processes life through the emotions of the child we were when these patterns were established. It may be family of origin issues, difficulties in the education system, not feeling like you fit in socially, being bullied, or not seeing the physical description of what was deemed beautiful and attractive reflected back to you in the mirror. If you want to shatter your self-confidence, block your creativity, or keep feeling trapped in a situation or relationship, just keep listening to that mean little sonofabitch in your head!
So how the hell do we break free and live this authenic, awe inspiring life of creativity, freedom and self adoration? Feel free to read that with a twinge of sarcasm with which it was intended. Art Therapist Lucia Capacchione, suggests the following exercise to silence your own inner bully:
- Get out some paper, a pen or set of colored markers. If you keep a journal, use it for this process.
- With your dominant hand, write down, in the second person, all the critical things you say to yourself. These are the put downs and judgments you make about yourself, your body, or any aspect of yourself (i.e you’re so stupid, you’re so fat, you’ll never go anywhere in life).
- Next, read the put downs back to yourself. Let yourself feel the reaction in your gut that comes up when your inner bully puts you down.
- Put the pen in your non-dominant hand (the one you don’t normally write with) and answer your inner critic back. Tell it off in no uncertain terms. Don’t concern yourself with spelling, grammar or penmanship. Just let the words fly onto the page. It may feel awkward and slow (even foolish), but hang in there — keep writing!
- After you feel finished, read aloud the “answer back” you wrote with your non-dominant hand.
This is usually the type of thing that I read and think oh, I’ll have to try that sometime but not right now. I made myself do it. Instead of telling off my inner critic, I labored trying to write with my left hand. The process of slowly needing to form each letter connected me to that small girl who was so very sensitive. I cried and felt shame with the ‘you’ statements. I cried and felt empathy and compassion for that little girl within when I answered. I would never say such cruel things to a small child yet I’ll say them to myself. This may not help you break free from whatever you feel is holding you hostage but it may help you to be gentler with that little person within who knows that life is about kindness, love, and being happy. It’s also a beautiful reminder that no matter what we accomplish or become, it’s never going to be enough if we listen to the old tapes rather than smiling back at our younger self.
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