The Inner Prison – Responsibility brings Freedom
Interview with Veeresh
Osho once told a very beautiful story. There was a special temple in India, on top of a mountain. The only way to get to the temple was to walk, and that was part of the trip of reaching this temple: you had to struggle. Everybody would go there once a year.
There was an elderly English couple who decided to go up to the temple. They started to walk, and whenever they got tired, they would stop and take a break. In one of their breaks they saw from far away a teenage girl coming, very young and very small. She was walking the same path they were walking, and she appeared to be carrying a bundle. Finally she was in front of them, and they realized she was carrying a little boy. The girl stopped and They asked, ‘Aren’t you tired? We have been walking the same path and we are exhausted. Isn’t that boy a burden?’ She looked at them and smiled. She said, ‘No, he’s not a burden. He is my brother.’
That’s a natural responsibility. It’s not something that you have to do; it’s something that you want to do. Responsibility is natural.
If I see a problem and I complain about it, that’s not doing anything. If I see a problem, I naturally have to do something about it. I don’t expect anybody in the world to do it for me. It’s not a law; it’s natural. If you have a child, you naturally take care.
When I grew up, I learned to associate responsibility with guilt. If there was something wrong, the word responsibility seemed to be involved, and the guilt factor of ‘who is going to confess for doing the wrong thing’, like breaking the neighbor’s window with a ball. The response was always to lie and never to admit and take responsibility for anything. You would always blame the other kids.
I grew up with the idea that responsibility was a very heavy term. My parents would say, ‘You have to take responsibility for yourself and your life when you grow up.’ Growing up sounded like a drag. I remember thinking, ‘My father has to work, my mother has to work, I have to work… it is quite a challenge to grow up.’ As a little kid I wasn’t so enthusiastic about growing up; I didn’t want the ‘responsibility-word’ laid on me. Somewhere deep down I felt like, ‘I don’t want to do anything. Let’s let it all happen, let’s party and not think about tomorrow.’
I remember the word responsibility from religious instruction class. Being responsible was always associated with not doing it right, upsetting God and having to go to confession to get rid of your sins.
I also remember the term ‘you are legally responsible’. That was another heavy one. It was associated with violating the laws of New York, for selling dope. Legal responsibility meant you could go to jail for one to three years, so it was always associated with crime and punishment.
Responsibility was not a very popular word for me. Then I got to Phoenix House, where I got involved with Dr Ramirez and his work. He was the first Commissioner of Narcotics of the City of New York, and he created the theoretical framework for the Phoenix House program. He said that responsibility was your ability to respond in a positive constructive way to all life situations. Before that I never wanted to accept responsibility for anything, but now he was showing me that it could work for me in a positive way – not only for me, but for everyone else.
In Phoenix House my attitude changed, with all my friends around me, confronting me, forcing me to look at myself. It was always, ‘Change your behavior here and now and if you want to go through your history, you can do that later, in re-entry.’ I had a chance to do that, to go to a counselor in re-entry and talk about deeper emotional things.
The emphasis in the program was on behavioral change. My awareness wasn’t enough to say, ‘Oh, I understand’. I had to actually demonstrate it. It was called ‘you can talk the talk, but you have to walk the walk’ If you don’t walk the walk, then your talk doesn’t mean anything. You can preach about what you’re supposed to do, but if you’re not following it yourself, it doesn’t work.
* * *
We work with a positive concept of responsibility with teenagers. We are challenging them, who are they at any given moment, under pressure, under stress. They do the exercises, and they start appreciating what responsibility is. It’s not something that they have to feel guilty about; it’s something that they assume in their lives in order to be better human beings. Freedom comes with that, but they need to practice.
Freedom is an awareness process. You can feel free in jail; you can feel free outside of jail. The fact is, you can take the prisoner out of jail, but you can’t take the jail out of the prisoner…
To become free, you need to assume the right to choose, to be, and trust that you have the right to make mistakes. That sense of existence, that awareness is important.
Opposed to freedom is license. License is when you give yourself so-called permission to react, to act out, and to give a big NO to the world, and to yourself.
I remember I was living in a house with my son when he was about 3 years old. I was responsible for taking him outside and play with him, and make sure he was all right. He was on his tricycle. I opened the door and he had to go through a level of stairs, turn on a landing and then another level of stairs and then he could go out of the house. I said, ‘Get off your bike so I can pick it up and take it downstairs.’ He said, ‘No.’ I insisted and he kept saying no. Then I asked, ‘So, what do you want?’ He said he wanted to go downstairs with his bike. I said, ‘You can’t.’ He said, ‘Yes, I want it!’ Then I said, Go ahead , then do it!’
That was irresponsible. I gave myself license. He fell down the stairs, turned completely around and miraculously landed on the bicycle. He started to cry, and then it occurred to me that he could have died. I realized that I didn’t care.
That’s when license comes. It comes with “To hell with it!” It is what addicts do to find an excuse to use dope. They summarize it with, “To hell with it, I don’t care.” That’s license. You give yourself the rational consent to say no, and even though you know it’s all wrong, you buy it and you do it.
* * *
I would like to think that there is always a chance for a person to change at any age in their life. So far hasn’t been that way. If you look at how it really goes, people are pretty much set in their ways. That’s it. They don’t want to change; they don’t want to look; they don’t want to be aware; they don’t want to meditate. They think going in and looking at their inner world is a waste of time. Maintaining their life and arranging their valuables is more important than spacing inside yourself.
These people suddenly start to believe in God when they had a near death experience or something extreme like that. Heavy stress, shock, seems to create change. You suddenly realize, ‘Oh man, there is something wrong. I’m going to die; I’d better hurry up and live!’
* * *
The existential dilemma of living in the moment is becoming aware that you have the ability to respond in an unlimited way to all your life situations. All your creativity and godliness can come out and you have at the same time the other side of the coin, the ability to impinge, stop, hinder and destroy.
There are the people in the middle who don’t do anything. They are indifferent. As long as it doesn’t affect them directly, they don’t get involved. They only get involved when it’s something personal or something happening around them.
The existential dilemma is broken when you take responsibility and make a choice. You decide, and sometimes you need to be helped to decide because most people find it difficult. They would rather just be in this morass of inability, of not really trying, of giving up. They are not really reacting, not really saying yes, not really saying no. They maintain an ‘it doesn’t really matter’ attitude. They are in between, not knowing what to do and not living in the moment, but living in the past or future.
The job of the therapist is not so much to go into the history and create patients out of people, but to change their basic attitudes about themselves, to turn it around and reinforce them so that they can do behavioral change, taking responsibility, so that eventually maturation happens.
The existential dilemma is the question of what to do. How to live my life in this moment? What are my choices? What are my responsibilities? If you answer these questions over and over in a positive way, hopefully there is an upper spiral, instead of a downward spiral, which is the way of the addict.
When something is going on, I want to deal with it as soon as possible. I don’t want to delay it, and that comes from this existential position. Everything that I can change is here and now in this moment – everything else is just speculation. I operate that way.
Osho said that meditation is the solution for all world problems. You have to get to the core of each individual so that they can realize themselves and that would be the way to create world peace. It sounds so simple, getting everybody to meditate. Meditate by what he was saying means becoming who you are and seeing what you want in your life. Eventually people have to see that there are good things to pursue – searching for the truth, family, love, whatever it is. Meditation is the key to world peace.
That’s why I see Social Meditations as a valuable contribution to create world peace. It’s bringing people together, taking responsibility for their feelings in the here and now, being involved with each other. They are projecting all their madness on to each other, and they are finding solutions to come together.