Ram Dass wrote about visiting death row inmates in San Quentin. He recalled those visits to be equal to visiting the holiest of monasteries. As they meditated together, he described light pouring out of their hearts and how the whole experience was immeasurably profound. Those on death row, he said, “had been pushed into a situation that cut through their melodramas”. It was as if they had discovered the truest form of freedom. When moving to the cell blocks of those given life sentencing, the result, he said, “was nowhere near the same”. These prisoners showed cynicism and doubt, offering putdowns and sarcasm.
He wondered, in the most bizarre paradox of examination, if those in death row would lose that inner freedom if transferred to the life sentence cellblock.
I’m always moved and fascinated by this story for I see my own behavior in those of the prisoners. I often examine the relationship between surrendering and freedom. For me, it seems I’ve lived a large quantity of my years needing to be pushed into an inescapable corner to finally surrender to the higher wisdom of freedom. I think I’ve got to manage it (whatever it is) and have everything figured out through strategy and planning. Now, my practice leans towards acceptance and freedom rather than waiting to be pushed to my knees by a crisis. It’s my aim. But I still can miss the target. Sometimes entirely.
This global quarantine offers distinctions similar to Ram Dass’ observations of the prisoners in San Quentin. For some, this time will consist of counting the days till the stay-at-home orders are lifted. To use an Easter analogy, this tomb time will result in someone rolling away the quarantine stone, yet resurrection will be replaced with reburial in their obligatory tombs of behavior. And for what – to return to the same caves of division, preservation and competitive accrual because it’s familiar?
For others, this virus will push us into situations that once and for all dissolve our melodramas, our angst and fears. We’ll see that the plates we have deemed necessary to spin for survival can, in the pausing, fall and break. If they do….what is left? Who among us knows for certain but might we uncover peace with the dissolution of our old identities? Could we surrender primitive impressions – fears of death, reputation, and worldly security, in order to sit at the feet of freedom and listen to its direction?
It can be hard to fathom freedom as a state of conscious choosing when we’ve been indoctrinated most of our lives that it must be pursued. Yet what if freedom is? What if solution already exists? Yes, the crescendo of noise, opinion and scarcity will tell us otherwise. It reverberates in every molecule of thought and matter but so does the quiet signals of freedom. Begin to train your hearing through the practice of gratitude. Be willing to honor it all.
Thank you crashing plates. Thank you uncertainty. Thank you virus. Thank you to anyone or anything that pushes us into the corner of surrender.
Perhaps then we will open our heart’s door to the ever present, consistent knocking of freedom.