I doubt that I’m the only one who has felt like the mouse in Kafka’s “A Little Fable”:
“ALAS”, said the mouse, “the world is growing smaller every day. At the beginning it was so big that I was afraid, I kept running and running, and I was glad when at last I saw walls far away to the right and left, but these long walls have narrowed so quickly that I am in the last chamber already, and there in the corner stands the trap that I must run into. “You only need to change direction,” said the cat, and ate it up.
Apparently, like many of us, the mouse never learned how to change direction.
A few mornings ago I read a phrase that asked this question directly: “Could we be free to walk away? Could we create something new?” Keys of Knowledge”, Tarthang Tulku, Dharma Publishing, 2016. P81.
And this morning, also from “Keys of Knowledge”, P86: “Whatever we do, we need never venture from our real home—the beauty of the mind that is free.”
Yet if we don’t feel like we are at home in a mind blessed with freedom but, instead, feel like a puppy chained outside in the cold, what are we to do?
Pondering this question, I recalled two moments when I believe I touched this natural freedom.
MY BRIEF CAREER AS AN ACTOR.
It was the dead of winter and I was part of an ensemble performing holiday pieces in the Albuquerque Experimental Little Theater. I played a grandfather whose memory and awareness were getting fuzzy. Then, at the moment when my character starts his longest speech—in which he drifts off from the present reality he shares with his family–I forgot my next line.
I sat there in a make-believe bed, blinded by the stage lights, and I suspect I must have looked rather like that grandfather–not knowing where or when or who he was. And in those few moments, from the other side of the lights, I heard a woman sob. I imagined later that she had a parent who was living the reality of the part I was playing.
Then the lines came back, and I felt myself sinking more deeply into another phase of this human journey.
A DOOR I NEVER SAW UNTIL IT OPENED.
A mouse fleeing from his past ran aground in a YMCA motel room in Calgary, Alberta. Instead of a trap ahead, he saw that the new life he thought he might have initiated had run out, and he would surely have to return to Montreal to more of those programming jobs he had felt trapped in for the previous ten years. Trembling in despair, because a summer of tossing bales of hay, driving a tractor pulling a cultivator around gigantic fields, and once, atop a quarter horse, chasing bulls out of a pasture, had closed down for an unskilled farm laborer such as himself.
Wait. That was me in that YMCA room, seeing no way forward and dreading a return to the life that had run aground back in Montreal.
Then a strange thing happened. It started with recognition that I was exactly where I had dreamed of being all those years in Montreal, when I had felt unqualified to do anything but write computer code in the cubicles of one multinational corporation after another. This recognition was then joined with another. I realized that I was just like all those other people who had lined up for day jobs that morning and had also come up empty. I saw that just to be looking, and sometimes finding, fresh options was a great step forward on a new journey I had started.
A warm acceptance of that moment washed through me and I was on the other side of a wall without having to take a step. (Getting three small jobs in the next 24 hours was a welcome confirmation that my world had opened to a new light.)
CAN WE LEARN TO BE MORE OPEN NOW, WHATEVER MAY BE HAPPENING?
Are we free to return to this natural home without having to be driven into a corner from which we can see no tolerable exit? Can we simply learn to prefer the more open landscape we have tasted at such extreme moments and then seek them out, as we might choose fresh food over chemically preserved fast food?
Are we free to step into a world not defined by our fears or wall-papered over with certainties we have learned to treat as real—even though we may no longer even remember how they were placed in our minds and for what purpose?
As a friend of mine said recently, we have been deposited here by time and space.
I like that. It takes the pressure off having to fit all the pieces together in a puzzle that is only puzzling because we think we have to solve it.
And this morning this insight was echoed once more in a passage from “Keys of Knowledge” Page 94:
“I’ve appeared on this planet. My life is precious; my time affords me the unique opportunity to manifest freedom creatively.
Time itself might be different than I think; it may be that I am not actually forced to accept the instructions of the feedback loops that have so far shaped my existence.
Freedom might be here, at the heart of time.”