Freedom IS a constant struggle not against the external but against the INTERNAL. I can’t recall the correct attribution, since I ran across the quote in some link-rabbit hole surf day. Even so, the idea resonates with me, especially as one just beginning to practice Stoic philosophy.
After all, one of the big keys of Stoicism I’ve found so far is the idea that it is impossible to free ourselves from our circumstances. However, we CAN free ourselves from the influence of those circumstances.
We do this by freeing ourselves internally. By disallowing ourselves to get sucked into just how terrible others might believe our circumstances are. See, more than we like to admit, life cuffs us upside the head, body slams us into a wall, and laughs in our face. Or in my case kicks you in the teeth as your down, and keeps laughing anyway.
Does it ever stop?
No, not completely.
Reminds me of a movie. Mild Dr. Strange spoilers ahead.
Dr. Stephen Strange, best and brightest surgeon of his age. Until all hell broke loose, and his life got upended. Guess what? He allowed himself to crumble into an obsession.
He needed a cure.
Out of money, out of options, he wandered into a foreign country seeking a cure.
Enter the Ancient One.
In their meeting, he’s shown in a quite powerful way just how limiting his beliefs have been in his search for healing. If you want to see how, go watch the movie.
That scene illustrates just how much BELIEF can show us. Such belief takes many forms. Polytheism, monotheism, Christianity, paganism, Islam, Judaism, non-religious philosophies such as Stoicism or Buddhism. I don’t have the space to list them all.
Beliefs vary as much as the individuals who hold them.
In the scene I’m referring to, the Ancient One explains that Strange is like a man looking through a keyhole, trying to understand what’s on the other side. I’d argue that makes him just like the rest of us. We’ve all got our version of…
Dr. Strange’s Keyhole
Back in the day, 1800s or so, when skeleton keys were all the rage, you could see through a keyhole. You may not see much though. Perhaps a blur of color here or there. A hint of shape. The whisper of reality beyond the door.
Once you open the door, you can actually see what’s going on.
Despite our external circumstances, our inner physical and mental realities are a lot like that glimpse through the keyhole. We think we know what we’re looking at. We’re certain we understand what’s happening!
I don’t know about you, but I keep learning enough to show me that I don’t. Not really. Reality and my perception of reality often disagree. Vehemently.
It’s like the old tale of the three blind men and the elephant. One claimed the elephant was like a tree. Another spoke of how like a serpent it was. The third man spoke of its hairy hide. They all had pieces, the leg, the trunk, and the end of the tail. All were right…and not.
So I can stare at that door all I want, but until I turn the key and open it…Well, I won’t have a clue.
Opening The Door
First, it helps to understand all your mental doors are made the same stuff. Perceptions. Opening the door means challenging that perception.
That’s the scary part.
The master key to these doors is curiosity. Curiosity about yourself and the world you live and move in.
Trouble comes when the key rusts, because we decide the answer we have is already enough. To polish the key, we choose to learn more, even when it hurts. Or the door itself is rusted shut.
My question to you: are you willing to polish that key? Open those doors? Accept what’s behind them?
I promise, your pride may take a beating, but it’s worth it. Last time my key turned up rusted, I believed that doctors would know what to do to help my pain levels and daily chronic migraines.
No luck. Instead, I’ve done my own research, and spent the last several months, with more ahead, testing a variety of other methods to gain relief. Some work, some were discarded.
All have been lessons.
I don’t know just how many doors exist in my mind. I do a little every day to keep the master key polished. I want to see more than just the piece of the room behind the keyhole.
What about you? What perception door have you been staring down, afraid to open? Tell me about it in the comments.
And go on. Turn that key. Set yourself free.