Born Into Captivity

I recently read that it’s not what we don’t know that is the problem. The problem is what we think we do know—the embedded, unrecognized, unquestioned assumptions that color our perception of our lives and our world. These foundational beliefs were garnered throughout our childhoods. Until we realize that we are living one limited version of life, to the exclusion of an infinite number of equally available versions, we continue to blame the world for our troubles. 

One of my early wakeup calls came when I took a Caribbean cruise in my 20’s. It was my first trip out of the country, and the passengers came from many different cultures. The first night in the dining room I was startled to observe the many different techniques of using knife, fork and spoon--such a simple thing. Knife in right hand, fork in left—cut your meat—put knife down and switch fork (turning other side up) to right hand to put the bite into your mouth. Correct? Well, correct enough—but it is certainly not the only way, and perhaps is not the best way, to accomplish this simple daily task. 

It was strangely confounding to realize that this style of using utensils, one that I’d never questioned, is but one of many different approaches. This small change woke me up to the awareness that my way of life was built on an assortment of assumptions that are truly optional. 

Much like elephants that are born into captivity, our assumptions are created by our early training and circumstances. Young elephants are chained to a stake that prevents them from escaping. As they grow, they become strong enough to break the chain, but they never try because it never worked before. It became a part of their world that was “just the way it was.” Other aspects of their circumstances became part of “just the way it was,” including walls and bars, when and what they ate, and how they pleased their handlers to avoid pain and displeasure. 

When we are children, our parents and other societal influences present a framework for defining the world. We are rarely given true choices for standards of success, expected ways of behaving, or how to create a really big, paradigm-shattering life for ourselves. We are taught how to fit in, how to be resigned to the limited options we have, and we no longer notice the chain of assumptions that we drag around and use to evaluate our circumstances. 

Our lifestyle, where we live, what work we do or do not do, what we wear, how we define a true family, and the things we consider necessary for happiness, are all based on our assumptions about how life works. Are we truly happy and fulfilled? Where are we investing our time and energy? In what ways do we still live in captivity? Is this really just the way it is? 

At the heart of Unity’s teachings is the Law of Mind Action—often stated as “Thoughts held in mind produce after their kind.” But what are the near-invisible thoughts, the embedded beliefs that we hold because we never question them? Because we don’t realize that questioning our beliefs reveals the path to joy? 

We, too, were born into captivity. We arrived on Earth and were presented with a particular framework, a limited set of alternatives, and very little acknowledgement that most of our working assumptions are truly optional. And when we realize that there are other possibilities, and exercise our conscious choices, everything looks different. We discover that there are doors in the walls, gates in the bars, and many, many ways of creating a spectacularly free lifestyle. 

It can begin as simply as not moving your fork to the other hand, and lead you to a whole new world. 

Yours in peace, 

Rev. Carla