The Christian Prison

A prarie scene near Rockford, Michigan, on the White Pines Trail

An article by Paul

As I begin writing this piece, I want to start with some guidelines that describe the intent of what I will say and why I am exploring it. First of all, this is not a piece in which I will debate the deeper meanings contained in the many writings of the Christian traditions. Instead, I want to look at the way that how I think and respond to life was and still is a product of a fairly common and widespread (mis)interpretation of the Christian teaching that was planted in me at a very early age.


I will describe how being brainwashed in this manner continues to influence my conscious, and especially unconscious, thought patterns to this day, even though long ago, as a teenager, I turned away from Christian belief concepts as any kind of viable understanding of truth or reality. In addition, I do not claim any level of expertise in child development psychology that might “easily” explain what developmental disorder of which I was a victim. I am simply hoping to share a personal exploration of a process that, with the assistance of my wonderful life partner, Angelika, has allowed me to uncover an amazing network of old conditioned, and ultimately, life draining and destructive thought patterns.

Recently, Angelika and I have been working with some valuable writings by the author, John Welwood. Mr. Welwood has outlined a new model for the role of relationship in our spiritual development and has shown how some practical exercises of careful examination of our inner thoughts and especially the body’s felt reactions to them can point to blockages to the natural flow of the spiritual layer to which many of today’s spiritual teachers, notably Eckhart Tolle, have pointed. Angelika has herself written several pieces here on this blog that describe Welwood’s work in greater detail which I recommend reading.

Being with a partner like Geli, who is so deeply spiritually involved and aligned with these processes already, can easily help me to sense when I am blocked, both intellectually and especially emotionally, by unconscious fearful thought remnants that have their origin deep in the earliest time of my childhood. For someone like me, it has been challenging to come to terms with undergoing a process of uncovering these past shadows that consequently shaped my entire life. I struggled with the notion that these early thoughts, feelings and experiences could still be seen now after so many years, let alone be uncovered and felt again, or “refelt.” As Geli would also point out to me, in an ever so gentle, yet persistent way, was that I was resisting the very idea that doing this would do any good at all.

But the beauty of entering into a true self-exploration with the loving care of another sensitive being is that the ordinary experiences of everyday living can easily bring up matters that point to some of the most core spiritual issues. Such was the case for me.

Here is a simple illustrative example. I am a band director for an urban American high school district in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  A couple days ago, a simple problem came up in the course of my teaching day. An incident arose where there was a student who was not happy about the way we had arranged the band students into groups in order to distribute free school instruments for those who needed them.  This student was unhappy because according to her, the grouping implied that a separation was being made that suggested that there was an elite group of students, a group into which she herself had not been placed. Consequently, this student later reported her unhappiness with this event to her mother, who then proceeded to contact one of the top administrators in the school district. From there, it did not take long for this “problem” to travel from one administrator to the next, and finally to me. I was directed, with a very intense level of concern from my own supervisor, to immediately call the parent and explain what had happened and “get this taken care of.” When speaking with my colleagues, they all agreed that the reason we divided the group made perfect sense from a tactical viewpoint, and that things should clear up once it was explained to the complaining parent.

The surface matter of this issue was readily resolved, but the useful insight that came out of this experience was something that was quite unexpected. I realized later when I looked at what was happening in me as I responded to this incident on the inside was that there was another reverberation, or echo, of a pattern that began in me very long ago. Ultimately, this “inner voice” was a conditioned thought/emotion/fear response in me that goes back to my childhood. Specifically, it stems from the way in which both my mother and grandmother repeatedly planted deep seeds of Christian notions, and most importantly, fears and feelings of guilt that still manage to survive and arise to the surface in me, usually without a conscious awareness that they are still happening.

So, how did I come to realize that my reaction to the recent simple event that took place at school can be traced all the way back to my days as a young child? I see the connection, the pattern, by looking at many other painful life experiences and feeling the quality of fear and almost panic that arises in each and every episode as I remember them now, that I realize that there is always a common denominator at work in me, which is, a very deep unconscious fear of all of the “bad things” that I was taught as a young child would happen to me if I did not give myself to the Christian beliefs and way of living. This way of living ultimately included behaving in a manner that my parents, but especially my mother, instilled in me over and over. No matter what I did, I had an “inner judge” who constantly reminded me of the way that I should behave, and more importantly, think and feel.

The Christian doctrine, as it was pushed and programmed into me, told me that I had to always maintain the thought, the idea, the belief that Jesus is God. Just that. Jesus is God. Over and over again…

Why? Why did I have to believe this? Because, my caretakers, again my mother and grandmother, both convinced my 4-5 year old mind, that without this belief, I was in REAL trouble, i.e., I would wind up tortured in hell after I died. I became morbidly afraid of this hell, whatever it was.

Therefore, as I got older, I did all I could to be a “good boy,” and please everyone. On the outside, this was not too hard for me especially. I found it easy to usually act in the way that seemed to fit what they wanted. But, on the inside, it was much harder to live with the inner turmoil. This God who was going to decide if I needed to join the population of hell at the end of my life had the unfortunate ability to KNOW whatever I was thinking. I could not lie to him, or trick him or do something I wanted when he was not looking at me. The damned guy knew it all, and in today’s parlance, that really sucked! So, no matter what I did as a child, there was always a sense in me that someone was watching everything I did, and felt and thought!

To my young mind, my parents became the ones that I thought were the closest thing to this god, and to me, they were blurred in my mind with the same emotional and judgmental qualities that the “real” god had. Imagine that as a mother or father that your child thought that you basically are god! I am sure some parents would think that this would be great, since the behavior of the child would be so easy to control. But for me as the child, I was turned into a helpless, fearful prisoner. I was never abused physically to my knowledge, but this manipulation of my entire inner state was a very different, but also very real sort of abuse. I became one who could be easily controlled by others, because in any crisis situation that came up then or in the rest of my life, I have always felt this underlying fear that anything that went wrong in my life was a confirmation of the (Christian) belief that I was ultimately going to be judged and damned by god. I have endlessly rerun the old mental program in me that says that whenever anything does not go how it should in my life, that it is the worthless “me” that is bringing it about. Of course, if I believed in Jesus, I would be “saved” from of this.

Saved? Saved from what? Myself – i.e., the miserable cut-off-being who deserves all of the bad things that happen to him because of what “I am” – namely, a Christian Sinner.

As a teenager, I was lucky enough to realize that something about this myth was just not right. I began to read books about Oriental spirituality with topics like Hinduism, Yoga, Zen and Buddhism. I studied haiku, Alan Watts, Krishnamurti, etc. This was all in addition to studying to become a “serious” musician and music teacher. But the problem was, or shall I say, IS, that intellectual understanding was not enough for me to break free of the core fears and conditionings in myself.

It is easy for someone like me to get lost in “spiritual matters” and bypass looking at these painful experiences of my early and current life situation. There are wonderful spiritual experiences that people report, and some even make wonderful careers out of dealing with them, and I am sure they do much good for others. There are times when I think it would be “nice” to get lost in this spiritual state, but in the end, I realize I must face EVERYTHING that is real in my life in the same spirit that Adyashanti puts it when he suggests considering “I want to see it All.” And this seeing it all is not some lofty state of an elite spiritual reverie. Well, it is not for me anyway. I need to stay with, look at, feel, and relive that moment in my life when my grandmother put me into a near trance and taught me about heaven and hell. But most importantly, I need to re-feel/relive/remember how she and my mother took my precious sense of real life away from me and replaced it with the terrifying view of the Christian doctrine, and most importantly, a life-deprived view of myself. The Christian vision of heaven is what became for me the source of hell throughout my life.

How do I find my way out of this trap?

This is the point I have reached now. It is like surviving a crash landing, but at least being able to step out of the wreckage, thankful to still be in one piece. If there is some truth to the notion that the answer to questions like these lie in the question itself, then this examination will have been quite helpful. John Welwood, Eckhart Tolle, Krishnamurti and so many others advise us to stay right where we are and be with it, that is, be with “What Is.” I must stay with this pain and not turn away. Eckhart says he wants to point out that we already “have” the treasure we seek, we just do not know where to look. For me, it is NOT whether or not I “believe” in Jesus, but rather that I must see the much deeper trap that this doctrine created in me.

What do I continue to tell myself when something “goes wrong?”

The body is the key to the connection to the conditioned unconscious mind patterns that endlessly come back to me, especially in stressful conditions and situations. Inwardly, I become the child over and over again, but use my adult mind as a weapon while continuing to function from this child-like view and fear of the world. When the pain, fear and withdrawal from the world wishes to take over in me, I can now sense in the body that this is what is happening. When I return to face this fear, I return to the true intelligent self that is there, and has always been there all along.

In my relationship with a truly wonderful woman, Angelika, I see that life is something real, and not just the result of an ancient belief pattern. Life and love is what arises between us when fear melts in the light of conscious attention and awareness. Living begins when thoughts and doctrines cease to be. I cannot push these thoughts and fears out of me, because that would simply be another manifestation of them, and the ego that produces them. Rather, in the seeing and especially feeling of these painful responses to life lies the path to freedom.

And this freedom is a freedom to live and love.

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5 Responses to The Christian Prison

  1. Pete says:

    Thank you very much Paul I relate very much to your experience but great to know darkness can’t remain when the light comes. Easy words, harder to live but worth it.
    This song ‘The War is Over” means a lot to me on this journey. Let me know what you thought. Regards Peter (Australia)
    http://www.johnfarnham.com.au/ Australian singer John Farnham is performing a…
    clickherephotography | December 20, 2008
    http://www.johnfarnham.com.au/ Australian singer John Farnham is performing an emotional song about the conflict of War. This song was originally written by Steve Prestwich from Cold Chisel (http://www.coldchisel.com.au/ ) an iconic Australian Band of the 1970s 1980s

  2. Paul Schroeder says:

    Hi Pete, thank you for your response. I found the song “When the War is Over” that you mentioned. I am afraid I never knew John Farnum, but I like this song. Yes, there is something in me that relates to it. Leaving the child in us behind means moving in new directions and no longer living as they would have us live and act. We can certainly honor our parents, but we and they must remember that we will change in many way as we go about our lives and discover new ways of being.

  3. Sheila says:

    Lovely to read, Paul. Your story brought up memories of my Catholic upbringing and stories of hell and fear of dying. I could relate to how you experienced this as a child……….I had this ‘idea’ that I am through with looking at the past but I realize, by your words, that I may have been confusing ‘dwelling’ on the past with ‘avoidance’ of going into the feeling and the past arising in me with Presence. Hmmmm, very interesting. Thank you so much! xo

    • Paul Schroeder says:

      Hi Sheila, Yes, it seems that going back and feeling it fully is the way to finally come to terms with the way that the conditioning continues to hold us. I realized that the way I feel problems of today always go back to this original “programming.” By facing it fully, I can see how to not be in a reactive state now when challenges arise.

      Another benefit from writing this piece yesterday, was I slept very soundly last night, and there was a sense of a heavy weight removed.

      I wish you well in your dealing with this. Face the pain now, and begin to become free.

      Paul

  4. moreconnections says:

    Hello Paul,

    Some recent thoughts I had are of a similar nature. In my understandings all “prisons” are of our own creation. Piece by piece we build them over our life time. With each attachment we add another bar. Even after the cell is complete further attachments serve to strengthen those bars.

    As I mention in my essay below the cell door is always open. It’s the knowing and finding out of that which is the process of seeking.

    Living Life without Parole

    It does seem many feel their lives are prison like, all the duties and obligations with only what seems like momentary breaks. Sometimes it seems as if it really never gets any better. Different day, same shit……

    How often do you feel this way? Day in and day out there never seems to be an end to the rut we find ourselves in.

    This figurative cell we think we are in seems virtually escape proof. The really funny thing is that the door is not locked. We just think it is. There have been animal studies which have shown that when a creature has been locked up for some time and then the cage door is opened, in some cases they refuse to leave. Are we really unlike that creature?

    What are the similarities? Could it simply be our states of mind? When we believe something to be true it is. When we tell ourselves that life is a bitch and then you die, well it is. If we tell ourselves that struggle, pain, drama, fear and confusion are parts of life then they are.

    Many tell themselves that in order to move past this rut like existence we must die. We can’t be free here and Now. If we were to believe such a thing it would be simply unrealistic for we must accept life on this level is to be experienced in certain ways. There are rules to this relative level of life and we must play by those rules.

    Accepting these rules is in many ways like self imprisonment. Often too is a feeling that there is no parole from it. Many of our religions teach that our only possible respite will be at the time of our deaths. Ah but many also include a caveat. There could be more of the same at death if we don’t live life in the ways they prescribe that we should. So another part of our lives is about learning and then following these prescribed rules. If you are a model prisoner (sinner) then it’s possible you’ll gain parole. But you must die to get it…….

    Almost seems like you just can’t win. That everything is risky and nothing is ever certain. I’ve often heard the question, “why do bad things happen to good people?” When a person is immersed in the relative, often experiencing it through duality, it is quite normal to think in terms of bad and good. Some point to these “bad” things as necessary for a person to grow. Another rule…. We have told ourselves we need such things if we are to advance or evolve, needing to experience the opposite of ourselves and then overcome that in order to know who we really are. Some believe that for God to know Itself fully it needs us to reflect who and what it is not. I’ve never bought into that idea. Sounds too excuse laden…and a relative mind construction. So both we and God need to be reminded of who we are not. By innuendo God is evolving too and we are helping.

    I consider such thinking to be figuratively like constructing a cell. When we finish this construction we enter the cell. However the blueprints for the cell never had a lock mechanism in them. We just shut the door behind us and wait. We think of this waiting as enduring. Hoping someone will eventually come by and open the door for us. Until they do we busy ourselves with what we believe life asks of us. This is the period when we experience the various rules of life we believe to be real.

    One of those rules/beliefs is that we are separate and alone. The longer we are in this cell of our own creation the more real these become. Now some get to a point of simply being tired of feeling imprisoned. They then begin to explore alternatives to how they have been feeling and thinking. Wondering if what they have accepted to be true is only a very small part of what’s possible. They start testing the strength of their cell bars. Eventually they get to the cell door. To their amazement when they push, it opens. Then they, for a moment, feel very foolish thinking here I’ve been in this cell for a long time and the door was open the whole time. So they push the door wide open and stop. Do they dare step out of their cell? It’s been home for most of their life. Some will not step out just like the creatures in the animal studies. Most creatures including humans like sameness. We often think sameness offers security and stability. So why change? I mean if there is not immediate reason to change why do it. Though even if the person’s life isn’t really happy and meaningful they tell themselves it’s all they can really expect and probably what they deserve.

    For those who decide it’s worth the risk to step out of their cell many have what amounts to a tether to their cell. They’ll entertain new thoughts but only to a point. Their foundation of who they believe themselves to be is still cell related. They are just testing the waters so to speak.

    Over the years, both by observing myself and others, I see an increased willingness to test the waters we have unconsciously accepted as Truth. No longer is everything as blindly accepted as true as it once was. We are starting to understand that many of our feelings and thoughts have worked to imprison us.

    There are many spiritually directed people who feel what they think they know is all there really is to Know. That’s just fine of course, as it seems to work for them. However when they attempt to say to others that their Truth should be theirs too, I wonder if that person is aware of helping a person create a different kind of cell. Though the offerings of many and/or most spiritual teachers is altruistic, if one embraces any of those as a complete answer to their questions they remain in their cell.

    For some years I involved myself with a metaphysical approach to inmates and the prison system. I found out how free some inmates became once they understood freedom has nothing to do with the external. Every day these men, some for many years, lived within solid bars. Their lives regimented by externals. The inmates I connected with humbled me. Here I am living as I do and still occasionally think I should have more. They taught me to choose Peace and Love first and to not limit myself by my thoughts. Those guys gave me a real lesson about ego.

    In many ways it is easier for a person behind physical bars to acknowledge what their choices resulted in. For those of us not incarcerated our choices are often not immediately apparent.

    I have said for sometime that the prison environment is ideal for a person to move into Mastery. It is quite possible that some former inmates will become teachers of the reconnection process. We listened to and learned from Nelson Mandela who was in prison for 27 years. We listened to and learned from Gandhi who was incarcerated at least 4 times over his life.

    Imprisonment has nothing really to do with your physical surroundings; it is all to do with your state of mind. Both Mandela and Gandhi used their physical situations to continue to reconnect with Self.

    Persons like Gandhi and Mandela Knew the power of thought and chose to not think physical bars and restraints diminished who they were.

    I have a feeling if I had been able to visit either one of them in prison their energies would have been no different than when they were physically free. They had no self created cell.

    So if your life sometimes feels prison like think about testing its bars, you may find they are not solid or real. You had just imagined them to be.

    Peace with Love,

    Michael

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