The point is… not to build a more just prison…

This paraphrase, taken from the end of Ishmael, continues to reverberate with me.

“I have neglected one small point…” Ishmael begins to say, almost as an afterthought.

“One of my students was an ex-convict…”

“…what is crucial to your survival … is not the redistribution of power and wealth within the prison but rather the destruction of the prison itself.”

Clarity. There is nothing like finding the crux of something and seeing the vast array of futile choices fall away.

Of course, then comes the hard part.

How does this clarity inform what we do next?

The lessons abound in prison lore. The Man has all the advantages. A head-on assault almost never works and never ends well. What is required is patience. What comes eventually is a sense, so well put by one of the Pussy Riot prisoners, when she stated the fact that she was free and her jailors were not.

The prison’s walls are within us.

Projection, disintegration, corruption; all the mechanisms of our conditioning maintain the prison’s own perverse integrity. Remaining within this level of mediated action, caught-up in willful striving, attempting to redistribute the perks of prison life; we take our incipient rebellion and we walk ourselves right back into the prison’s darkest dungeons without the need for its keepers to lift a finger.

Who is the most pathetic inside a prison? It’s never those trapped and forced to be there. It is always those who have a choice and sentence themselves to a life behind bars, the jailors themselves. They are not an “enemy” of freedom, they are the prison’s most pitiable victims. Yet when we insist on fighting them as a projection of our own fears and anger at our own duplicity we only validate their choice to resist our resistance to their illusory power.

The clarity beaming from this passage in Ishmael is the clarity to dispense with actions that are on their face futile and counterproductive. Quinn touches on ground Derrick Jensen has covered also regarding the way our judgement is warped by Enormity so that we begin to think it is reasonable to be a “good doctor” at Auschwitz. That “saving” a child here or there, handing out a forbidden aspirin, a crumb of wormy bread to one in desperate need; makes us somehow worthy. Our displacement activities blind us to the greater horror and bind us to a deeper complicity.

Is it “wrong” to help someone, some creature, some thing, survive the horrors of our prison? No.

Does it do anything, in and of itself, to destroy the prison and give this world back to life? No.

At the heart of our bondage is our habitual discomfort with this sort of situation. We recoil from the double bind. We would rather be delusional than accept that two “opposites” might be equally true. We regress to an infantilized state – not to be confused with the actual life of an infant which can be a state of total integration. In this condition we grasp at straws and ask for leaders to make our discomfort go away.

And they lead us gently, or not so gently, back where we have wandered off from, the depths of our prison ready to take us back in.

It is yet another danger to get caught-up in “What-if?” scenarios. To focus on how bad our conditions are, and to predict and prophesy how things will only get worse in “The Future.”

In effect, this is not better or worse than believing in some fantasy of salvation….

These all just remove us from the dilemma we face by ignoring half of the conflicted truth in favor of the half we are most conditioned to be comfortable with.

A comfortable prison is the most effective. Isn’t it? Just look at the fall of communism and the persistence of the “West.”

Anguish at a tragic state can be authentic and can be healthy. It is a long road from anesthesia to a full understanding of the levels and depths of violence in which we are complicit in every moment of our lives. All this even before we can begin to see that our response does not have to be constrained to further hurting ourselves and others in a perpetual cycle of abusers and abused. Even before we can begin to feel the power of compassion and find some feeble hint of a way to restoring our own strength, there is something to be gained by letting in that horror and feeling the anguish without jumping to conclusions and running back into the prison’s deep enfolding comforts.

This leads us into the house of mirrors Quinn shows us the Book of Genesis to be. The Garden is not a refuge from life’s uncertainty, but a place where we accepted our place within life and found our peace and our joy within this rightful place. The Fall, not the portrayal of an “original sin” we are fated to remain trapped within, but an indictment of those who broke the previous covenant and put their Egos, personified as a Sky God, above life itself.

In practicing Qi Gong I am continually brought back to basics, and how much there is in the simplest action, the smallest movement, the littlest moment of time. And, that here is a way out of the traps we seek to avoid while returning our selves into their thrall.

All we have is our attention.

In a world of contingency and necessity we have a single arena of choice, of free will. It is in where we will focus our attention. Accept this responsibility and use diligence in maintaining an emotional “hygiene;” and we remove ourselves from the prison.

Does this guarantee us salvation? Does it free the world?

No, and no.

But these questions themselves are symptoms of our prison life. When we stop falling for their misplaced urgency we have destroyed the prison in the only place it really takes hold. And in the only place that is open to our efficacy. It destroys the prison we have inside of each of us.

There is no “wholesale” outside the prison’s walls.

Published by Antonio Dias

My work is centered on attending to the intersection of perception and creativity. Complexity cannot be reduced to any given certainty. Learning is Central: Sharing our gifts, Working together, Teaching and learning in reciprocity. Entering into shared Inquiry, Maintaining these practices as a way of life. Let’s work together to build practices, strengthen dialogue, and discover and develop community. Let me know how we might work together.

4 thoughts on “The point is… not to build a more just prison…

  1. Very nice post.
    One of the very deep levels of imprisonment I can see in myself is the idea of needing to work hard. The peasant work-ethic: unless I toil myself in sweat I do not deserve my bread. Although I’ve always liked fruit more, I’ve bought into the idea (and not really bought, but raised, through generations upon generations) of the agricultural model of survival, that comes with an interesting swarm of things related: surplus, war, hierarchy, famine, inheritance and all the nastiness related to rightful offspring and sexual manners. I don’t know what or who the other party of that contract is, but I see I am disentangling myself from that whole deal. It may have been a necessary trip to produce an individual consciousness, but now we have it. No need to keep the scaffolding now that the building can stand. What wll be the practical consequences? It will be interesting to see.


    1. Kristiina,

      Thank you!

      Interesting that you bring up “hard work.” I’ve been dealing with this as well. What I’ve been finding is that the more I’m able to let go of that self-imprisonment imposed by an internalized task-master, the more productive I am, and the better the quality of what I do. This even verges on an experience of effortlessness about what gets done – which, of course, makes sense if we look at the way removing the driving Ego from the equation opens us to quality flowing through our attention.

      For the consequences… It appears to me that the most important aspect to keep in mind is that we are damaged. That our habitual responses are mired in dysfunction and that only through a compassionate and diligent focus on the whispers and hints of what a healthy path might be. This requires patience and the development of a robust sincerity.

      Also – and it’s hard to keep this in mind, or even find useful ways to talk about it – we need to let go of expectations of salvation or security.


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