B&W silhouette of a prison grill

How Do We Escape From The Prison of Our Minds?

Mike Mather

Go Directly To Jail

Prison is typically where Society sends people who have not followed the arbitrary rules that It has set down as proper. And we all know that Justice systems rarely get it right all the time.

We are all unnecessarily imprisoned also, by our own rules and subject to random punishments. I used to think that I had to be a good Catholic, a dutiful son, and a loving husband. “Nothing wrong with that?”

The main problem is that the rules had been made up by a lunatic and administered by a drunk.

I suffered long periods of solitary confinement and much flagellation. I still do, after many years of sobriety, therapy, and meditation. The forces that set our patterns of thinking, and precipitate the behaviours that we adapt to survive, are malicious and magnificent.

I got to AA just in time, as do most alcoholics that survive it. Even though I didn’t stay dry from the first meeting, I was on the path to recovery from that first day—there was more pain and suffering that I had to endure before the end.

A Man In a Hot Balloon

A man in a hot air balloon realised he was lost. He saw a person on the ground and yelled down to him, “Can you help me? I don’t know where I am.” The man replied, “Sure, I’ll help you. You are in a hot air balloon hovering 30 feet above the ground…between 40 and 41 degrees North latitude and between 59 & 60 degrees West longitude.”
“Wow, you must be an AA sponsor”, said the man in the balloon. “I am”, said the man, “but what gave me away?”  “Well”, answered the balloonist, “everything you told me is technically right, but I am still lost. Frankly, you’re not much help at all, and you might even have delayed my trip.”
“You must be an AA sponsee”, replied the man. The man in the balloon was amazed and said, “I am, but how did you know?”  The man on the ground said, “Well, you don’t know where you are or where you’re going. You have risen to where you are due to a lot of hot air. You are expecting other people to solve your problems and the fact is that you are in exactly the same position you were in before we met, but, somehow now, IT’S MY FAULT”!

The Mirror of Dharma

In the book “The Mirror of Dharma” it is said that Dharma is the teachings of enlightened beings. It gives us practical advice on how we can solve our daily problems of uncontrolled desire, anger and ignorance, and how to make our human life meaningful.

I gather from this definition that,

  1. I am not alone, and
  2. that the problems that I face (or run from) are the same as people have faced since the earliest times.

As the teachings of Buddha have survived and flourished for millennia, they can be relied upon. If I don’t succeed at the practical administration of the advice, then I need to try again. The advice is not wrong, just the application or timing of it. As with all skills, practise makes perfect.

Buddhist emblem "Wheel of Life'

Image by 103924 from Pixabay

The Six Perfections and Addiction

The Dharma suggests six things that we can reliably practice—that will lead us to enlightenment. The Six Perfections are, giving, patience, ethics, concentration, effort, and wisdom.

If we find ourselves temporarily imprisoned in the real world, there are plenty of things that can be done to bide the time.

So, What To Do?

As addicts, we are told that the malady is of a physical, spiritual, and mental nature. There are things we can do no matter what our domestic arrangements are.

Don’t take intoxicants — this is one of the five Pratimoksha Vows that lay people can take to improve their mind whilst traversing the path.

Pray and meditate — talking to a Higher Power and listening for advice

Read — The Big Book and Dharma texts always have more to offer as we mature and get further away from our last drink or drug.

A Caucasian man with back to camera talking to a brown man

Photo by LinkedIn Sales Solutions on Unsplash

Good Advice

“We used to have no reasonable conception whatever. We used to amuse ourselves by cynically dissecting spiritual beliefs and practices when we might have observed that many spiritually-minded persons of all races, colours, and creeds were demonstrating a degree of stability, happiness, and usefulness which we should have sought ourselves”. Big Book, p49.

Listening to our HP, we may come up with a plan. For me, the simpler the better was key. My first tip for newcomers is to Breathe, Smile, and Go Slowly. After that, I advise lots of water, fresh air and mild exercise.

These days we have so much access to media, so why not make a media plan that includes daily reading, listening, and watching. If this is possible, it will stop that monkey-mind that addicts get when left alone.

The next thing to do is 'stop taking yourself too fucking seriously'.

The chatter in our head has got us to where we are, so, we must begin to rely upon an HP and the advice of others who have succeeded where we have not.

Taking the first step and being accountable

Step One of AA, says that we are powerless over alcoholism and our lives are unmanageable. So, what do we do?

We accept that, and we make a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of HP. Most of us have to do that every day. There is plenty of work to be done, outlined in the Big Book. With the help of others, we can begin at once.

To have someone that you are accountable to is a great thing. Not only will this motivate us, but it gives us the companionship and ‘we-too’ that is often missed.

Even Dr Frankenstein had assistants.

In my tradition, we say six times a day,

“I and all sentient being, go for refuge to Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha”.

In this way I am reminded that I have the master doctor, Buddha, prescribing my medicine. The Dharma is my medicine and the Sangha are like nurses — the brothers and sisters around me that help me take the medicine.

Sun shines from left to right across a green field covered in butterflies

Photo by Nick Brunner on Unsplash

Bottom Line — One Step At A Time

We can recover from alcoholism anywhere and any time. If you believe, as I do, that it is a spiritual malady with mental and physical symptoms, then the Big Book of AA and the Dharma of Buddha Shakyamuni will work in the quietude of a prison cell, or in a sunny, butterfly drenched field.

It takes one step, in the right direction, followed by another. That is all that is asked of anyone.

Blue book cover "Modern Buddhism"

Free download of 'Modern Buddhism' by Ven. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso available here

About the Author Mike Mather

Mike was born in 1963 which technically makes him one of the youngest of the Baby Boomers. An Australian with Indigenous and European heritage, he has been an avid and required student of Buddhism and alcoholism since 2008.

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