PRISON OR PROTECTION?
Dee Chadwick
30 May 2021
The little hut in the picture could well look like a prison to many as the very thought of being in such a small space would feel like a prison. In fact, it is a mountain hut. One of around forty in Iceland, located along mountain pathways as shelter for walkers – so rather than a prison, for many they offer protection, providing shelter and warmth especially if conditions suddenly deteriorate. Our bodies, our minds can do similar – acting as either prison or protector depending on our prevailing circumstances.

YOUR  BODY AS YOUR PROTECTION
I guess the best example of this is any person who looks after their body by eating healthy and nourishing food, exercising, especially out in nature, and has a regular pattern of sleep. Simultaneously, they avoid excesses – of chemicals, sugar, alcohol, sunshine etc. In other words, the person who puts into practise what the majority of us know that we should do to maintain a body that functions at an optimum level. This allows our body’s defence mechanisms to protect us from disease and infection, slow down the ageing process and heal wounds or broken elements within our bodies, all whilst defending us against the pollutants, toxins which surround us. Our immune system does its best to protect us. This system includes our skin; the tiny hairs, know as cilia, lining our respiratory system and clearing inhaled dirt; the mucus lining in such as our eyes, nose and mouth; our white blood cells engulfing  and destroying invading cells as well as any of our own cells already infected. A very brief description of our self-protection mechanisms which we take so much for granted until we have a problem!

YOUR BODY AS YOUR PRISON
At the extreme of this, are conditions such as locked in syndrome (pseudocoma). With this, the mind is seemingly functioning yet the person’s body is unable to communicate with the outside world what it is that they may be thinking, feeling, and so very much wanting to say and share. Other illnesses bring on similar scenarios including motor neurone disease. Stephen Hawking provided a well-known example of the use of computerised communication enabling him to share his amazing thoughts and workings of his mind. He continued to lecture through this medium for many years. His body has become frail, paralysed, yet his mind, his spirit - whilst seemingly trapped - actually remained strong. With the help of modern technology he was able to be independently mobile and communictive.  Then we have a body that really isn’t fit for some of its purposes – one that is overweight, under-fit, not allowing the full range of functioning as a human being; or one that has been adversely affected by illness or disease or ‘simply’ by the process of aging. A loss of bodily functions previously taken for granted.

WHAT ABOUT YOUR MIND?
For some, their mind is their protection, maybe if they are in an abusive relationship, or in a physical prison. Terry Waite leaps to mind. He suffered solitary confinement in horrendous conditions going through four of his five years incarcerated in Beirut in solitary confinement. The conditions he endured were horrendous, with torture thrown in to add to his dire situation. He was devoid not only of human contact but also of books, music etc. How his mind must have been used to take him out of that cell to places and people he loved. He explained, in a newspaper article that ‘Early on during his four years in solitary he realised that he had to remain “mentally and spiritually active”. He “wrote” the book that later became a bestseller,Taken on Trust, entirely in his head. He composed and memorised poetry, and recited the Psalms, relishing the rhythms and language. In spite of being poor at maths as a schoolboy, he worked on maths puzzles in his head.’

I feel that a quote from Edith Eger’s book ‘The Choice: Embrace the Possible’ probably describes Terry Waite’s attitude  “...the biggest prison is in your own mind, and in your pocket you already hold the key: the willingness to risk; the willingness to release yourself from judgment and reclaim your innocence, accepting and loving yourself for who you really are--human, imperfect, and whole.” Terry Waite certainly grabbed that key and made full use of it to enable him to survive his ordeal. Maybe we should have held him up as a shining example to those who complained about being confined to their homes with food, warmth, diversions during lockdown!
Whilst our minds are capable of building a wall around themselves to stop inbound negativity, this can also serve to isolate us from any inbound positivity which could, in fact, help us. So maybe we have to be selective and build that wall as can be seen in some Hong Kong buildings. They include a gap – in theory to allow the dragons to get from the mountains down to the sea.

Maybe we need to include such gaps in the walls around our minds to allow in that positivity and allow for us to communicate the hurt, anxiety, negativity and general ‘blah’ that we feel. This, rather than imprisoning it in our mind where we tend to ruminate on these feelings, feeding them and allowing them to dominate our thoughts, our way of being.
Sometimes that wall is built as we have concerns about what friends, colleagues would think of us if they knew what was going on in with our minds, our emotions. Eleanor Roosevelt said ‘Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.” In fact, most people are so taken up with their own thoughts about their lives, their concerns, that chances are they (unless a caring nearest and dearest) spend little time wondering about you. So don’t hand over that consent.

Whatever the reason, our mind can be worse than an actual prison. For far too many of us, anxiety, fear, worry can make our mind a scary place and the world beyond even scarier. Asad Meah tells us in his article entitled ‘Imprisonment Of The Mind’  that ‘The mind is the jailor for many who confine their life to their current reality because of the self-imposed limitations that they hold within themselves, the key is to banish those limitations so that you can elevate your life to a whole new level. Your outer reality is influenced by the internal beliefs that you have about yourself, once those limiting beliefs are eliminated from your life you will become more motivated to take action on what you truly want to achieve.’
 
Far too many of us set our minds into a ‘can’t do’ way of thinking, thereby limiting any goals that we set and the concept of what we may actually be capable of achieving. Neuroscientists tell us that we can change this mind set by quitting the negative self-messaging and replacing with ‘can do’ ones. Those positive affirmations can really pay dividends.  
 
We speak of that prison within ourselves, our minds, shutting us in. It prevents us making any changes we say that we want to make. It prevents us reaching those targets that have never been tied down. Targets that therefore keep on drifting beyond our reach, or floating off into the ether to be completely abandoned. This floating being supported by thoughts – thoughts rather than facts – thoughts that could well not be a realistic representation of this truth, rather twisted and painted darker shades by the worry and anxiety they cause. Sadly, too often these thoughts become our current reality. Acceptance of this becomes perceived as an easier task than challenging our negative thoughts, so the prison of our mind seemingly closes in even more.

 An article in Soul Analyse tells us ‘Be mindful of your thoughts, and take notice of when you enter into the prison of negative thought. Once you learn how to keep an eye on your thoughts – it does take practice – you will then have a choice over what to do when negative thoughts arise. The trick is to not give the thoughts much attention – it is only when we focus on them that they become all-consuming. Simply allow negative thoughts to pass through your mind as quickly as they entered. This will help bring your attention back to the here and now, and away from the mind, and will help put things back into perspective.’ ..... A good way to apply of Mindfulness to thoughts that tend to want to stray down that negative road. A skill that can certainly help in many situations in which thoughts endeavour to take on a life of their own. Not trying to wipe out and stop the thoughts; rather ignore them, thereby downgrading their importance. Divert yourself and your mind – maybe by looking around, listening, taking in scents, touching surfaces – all so much better if you can do this outdoors with Mother Nature offering her support. Alternatively use the 5-1 technique. 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, 1 thing you can taste. Another useful tool to switch your mind on to actual things in the here and now.


WHAT OF FACTORS EXTERNAL TO US?
There is our culture, the society which surrounds us, our familial or economic situation. They can all act as limitations on our advancement – a prison preventing us from progressing. Or, our thoughts can lead us to think this is so and give us an excuse to keep our foot on that brake! OK, we all have commitments of one variety of another that constrain us no matter what our personal circumstances. But it remains important that amidst these constraints that we don’t lose sight of our self – and we can do this by allowing our mind the gift of that freedom to wander, to escape. This is certainly a strategy that I employed throughout lockdown! I used meditation or guided relaxation through hypnosis to allow my mind and my body to relax by taking me away from the restrictions that bound me to my home. Do check out the links to a couple of guided relaxation recordings in the downloads section of my website – come and join me for a walk along a beach or through a garden.

Whether you feel that you are prevented from progressing by external constraints, or by the constraints, that prison of your own mind, take action. Give yourself a proverbial kick in the pants, get up and get on with that positive self-talk. Remember you have that key to enable your escape. Stop making excuses to yourself - use it. Go chase some of those dreams of yours. If you feel that you would benefit from support with this - do contact me.

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