Thursday, March 29, 2007

Freedom, Control and Power

Make yourself free!

I had an interesting conversation today about freedom, control and limits. I was visiting my wonderful muscular therapist, who has been treating me for about two years. In 2004, I hurt my neck very badly. I was in terrible pain and could hardly move. At the worst times, I could not walk, talk, chew food, read or move my head without excruciating pain. Possibly the most difficult was not being able to read – all my life, reading has been a comfort, an anodyne to pain and illness. When I read, it takes me away from myself and my surroundings, so to lose that ability when I needed it most was an awful blow.

Now, after many hours of chiropractic, physical therapy, massage, meditation, acupuncture and muscular therapy, I am finally feeling pain-free for much of the time on most days. I am so glad to feel normal again! I am not out of pain, and am fragile -- I must always be alert lest I re-injure myself. But I feel so much better, that it is like being reborn.

With that sad background, I was very interested when my muscular therapist said, "You can't control what happens to you, but you can control how you respond to it." He was summarizing the message of Jon Kabat-Zinn, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, author and speaker. U Mass link and Wikipedia link. Dr. Kabat-Zinn teaches mindfulness meditation as a way to cope with chronic pain, and has a number of books. If you search his name on Amazon or Google you will find lots of entries. He seems to have done a wonderful job of synthesizing the teachings and practices of yoga and meditation for a western audience.

So, what about freedom, control and limits? We live in one of the freest societies the world has ever known. Education through high school is free for every child. We can choose our career – unlike people in some societies whose job opportunities are defined by their caste, their gender, their father's job. We are free to make our life what we want. You can argue about disadvantaged individuals, but even the worst-off among us is free in ways that many people now and in the past could only dream of. Why do we not choose to live our dreams? Why do we let our lives drift by, without seizing the opportunities that every day brings us?

I believe that we are not awake to the power we have to change and choose. It takes self-awareness, which is sometimes uncomfortable. But if you tell yourself that your pain (or your life!) is outside your control, you give away all your power to change it. By accepting that you cannot change what happens to you, but that you can choose how you respond to those events, you reclaim the power to change your life. You cannot always stop the pain, for instance, but you can change how you think of it, and that changes the meaning and effect of the pain in your life. You limit your choices, your power and your life when you put the control and responsibility for your life outside yourself.

Take responsibility for your life, and take control.

1 comment:

Betsy McKenzie said...

I was tempted to title this "arbeit macht frei," but decided the overtones of using the bitter slogan the Nazis put on their death camps were way too dark. Labor may make us free, as the German slogan translates, but I don't want the associations that go along with its past.