Preached at Trinity’s 12-Step Worship
The Prison of Light and Dark
Excerpt from Sheldon B. Kopp’s, “If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him!”
“There is the image of the man who imagines himself to be a prisoner in a cell. He stands at one end of this small, dark, barren room, on his toes, with arms stretched upward, hands grasping for support onto a small, barred window, the room’s only apparent source of light. If he holds on tight, straining toward the window, turning his head just so, he can see a bit of bright sunlight barely visible between the uppermost bars. This light is his only hope. He will not risk losing it. And so he continues to staring toward that bit of light, holding tightly to the bars. So committed is his effort not to lose sight of that glimmer of life-giving light, that it never occurs to him to let go and explore the darkness of the rest of the cell. So it is that he never discovers that the door at the other end of the cell is open, that he is free. He has always been free to walk out into the brightness of the day, if only he would let go.”
I have a secret…
Your cell is unlocked.
Often, that which helped us survive the past,
creates a prison for us today,
and the thing equipping us to deal with today’s problems
is sowing the seeds for tomorrows failures.
The classic historical example of this,
is the Roman Empire’s huge innovation and success
at building roads.
The Roman Empire built incredible roads
across Europe and the Middle East,
many of which still exist today –
thousands of years later.
But those roads
eventually became the pathway of its destruction.
The roads the led them out to conquer the world,
led the world back to conquer it.
Here is a personal example of the same thing.
I learned to depend upon my size and strength.
Every obstacle was something to be overcome
with greater force,
When I was younger,
just out of college,
I worked in a mental health unit
and detox center.
One night, passing by a room,
I caught a glimpse,
through the crack in the door,
of a woman who had hanged herself.
I stormed into the room
and instinctively resorted to my size and strength.
She had hanged herself
from the sprinkler pipe with a nylon jacket.
She was still alive
and I desperately tried to rip her jacket in two
with my bare hands.
The foolishness of my effort
did not dawn on me right away,
because strength and power
were my default settings.
Fortunately, I soon realized I needed to lift her up
and call for help
so someone could cut her down.
She lived by the way,
at least that day.
We all have capacities, talents,
and patterns of behavior that have been set as defaults.
We keep using them even in the face of failure
and many forms of self-destruction.
The question is,
will we leave the window under which
we can see light and smell fresh air,
and enter the darkness of the unknown
where the sources of those patterns
will enable us to break them
and discover new behavior
and become free?
While you were sniffing the air
underneath that one lone window,
and desperately trying to feel the light
fading through the bars on the window,
there, across the darkness of your cell,
the door was unlocked.
If you remember nothing else from tonight,
remember, the punch line of that story:
explore the darkness.
The word for today:
It comes from two Greek words:
Homoios = “similar”
and, stasis = “standing still”.
Now don’t let your eyes glaze over,
this is not biology class.
This is the secret.
This is why we sniff the air from our prison
instead of entering the darkness toward our freedom.
In biology, Homeostasis is the term
that describes the body’s ability
to regulate itself.
when a snake is cold
it has to sun itself on a rock
to warm up its blood
so that it can hunt and function.
A snake depends upon external warmth
to regulate its blood.
We have internal capacities that do the same thing.
Our blood pressure,
levels of salt,
and carbon dioxide
all need to be regulated in our bodies.
So, the kidney
regulates our salt and water balance,
and the pancreas
regulates our sugar balance, and on and on.
The point being,
that the body seeks and requires balance for health.
We are a complicated matrix
of different organs all seeking balance
so that the whole body stays healthy.
We talk about it all the time these days,
because everything seems out of balance.
The mind takes its cue from the body.
We think that the mind controls the body,
but the body
leads the mind
around by the nose.
we have learned to seek balance.
When we feel we have a need,
we seek to fill it.
When we feel a discomfort,
we seek to get comfortable.
When we have a pain,
we seek to numb it.
Mentally, the mind seeks balance
the way the body is always seeking balance:
seeking to land and live in that comfortable place
where it is neither too hot nor too cold.
But that place of mental balance
is actually harmful to human beings.
When the mind seeks balance,
it seeks comfort;
it seeks a lack of stress,
it seeks a peaceful easy feeling,
it seeks to be safe and sound without worries.
But if the mind can find that kind of a place,
and stay there,
it is terribly hazardous.
We develop patterns of behavior as children
that we continue as adults,
even though as adults,
those patterns are horribly self-destructive.
We do that
because the patterns are comfortable
even if they wreak havoc.
We would rather sniff at the window of our cell
than explore the darkness and discover an exit.
Victims of childhood abuse, for example,
learn how to disassociate in order to survive
the horrors of their childhood.
At an early age,
they learn to detach from the pain of the moment
and mentally flee to a better place.
It is an amazing human capacity
that allows people to survive incredible cruelty.
Later, however, as adults,
when the inevitable emotional pain
of relationships is evoked,
that now instinctive disassociation
causes utter dysfunction.
It is a pattern that has been established,
and because we human beings like patterns,
we seek the comfort of the pattern
rather than endure the discomfort
of discovering a new and better response.
A simpler, less traumatic example
is one that all of us have had with food.
Something in childhood was a big “Yuck”
and we turned up our noses at it
ever since we were little kids.
Then, probably by accident,
we discovered, that as adults,
we like the formerly hated food.
From the ordinary to the traumatic,
we establish patterns in our lives
and once the pattern has become our default setting,
we automatically try to return to it
whether or not it is good for us.
We will do it over and over and over again
because it has become part of our homeostasis –
our drive to maintain balance.
But discomfort and pain
are not necessarily something to be avoided.
They are messengers.
While the old patterns of behavior
create the illusion of comfort,
they may in fact,
be the sources of self-destruction.
But in order to find out
if our pain or discomfort
points to a problem or a solution,
we have to leave the window
and explore the darkness.
Our instinct is to self-medicate
so we do not feel pain.
Our knee-jerk reaction is to avoid discomfort
and grab whatever we can in order to soften the nest.
Our desire is to be pain-free
and riding on the breeze of tranquility
and so, we do whatever offers us the promise of it.
It is understandable behavior
because the mind has been taught by the body
to seek a balance –
to find a place that is neither too hot nor too cold.
And yet, if that is where we stay,
we will not
see the dangers coming,
and we will not discover the exit for our freedom.
It is just the opposite of
that our mind wants to maintain.
It is counter-intuitive
and pushing us up against
defaults that have been set for a very long time.
That is why recovery groups can be so incredibly helpful.
We go and hear things we do not want to hear,
often from people
we do not want to hear them from.
We simply have to have people
in our lives,
that challenge us and make us uncomfortable
and usher us away from the window
into our darkened corners.
counseling or therapy,
small groups of soul-friends sharing a book study,
that pokes us
and challenges us
and reminds us
it is not about being comfortable.
That is the secret:
while the body needs and seeks balance,
we need the mind
to explore the darkness,
move through discomfort,
and explore the unknown
in order to keep us moving toward freedom.
In order to do that, we need one another,
and we need to be loving one another all along the way.
©R Cameron Miller