What holds us down? What is it in our lives that seems to limit us? In the last few days a video and a journal article have come together for me that raise these questions. We could point to many things: a boss or a job, lack of money, a sense that we don’t have the right skills, know the right people or have the right opportunities. Sometimes life situations beyond our control seem to impose deeply on us, and we feel trapped. Whatever chain seems to hold us back in life is real to us when it’s our chain.
Recently, I watched a short video of a dog rescuer with a German Shepherd that had spent its entire life chained to a tree in the yard. No one was able to approach the dog. In its chained existence, the dog had become fiercely protective of the small perimeter of space that the chain allowed, and from the first minute of the video, it appeared that the dog would fight anyone who entered it to the death.
Isn’t that what our own sense of limitation does to us sometimes? If I perceive that I am stuck in this small space called my life by any number of real conditions it becomes easy for me to grow small, mean and defensive about that little space that I can control. In his insightful and practical essay, David Bederman talks about his own experience with depression and what he learned about the limitations that our thoughts place on us. He documents how the mind, which is always generating thoughts, can begin to convince us to listen to negative messages about ourselves. And then, we begin to believe them. We become what we think. Our thoughts become the chain that holds us in a tiny space, and that space becomes our only way of seeing our lives. Bederman’s solution is to practice noticing our thoughts and asking a most important question: Does this thought serve me right now? A thought that is not serving me is one I can notice and let go. This practice begins to remove the chain that has held me in a small place that I have collapsed into, a small life about which I have perhaps become mean, defensive and destructive.
Remember the German Shepherd that was chained to the tree? Watch what happens when the dog’s chain is removed. It is a beautiful story in itself. It also serves to remind me that I can have my own chains, my own thoughts, that imprison me. Bederman’s story suggests that we can work with our thoughts so that we begin to create a life that becomes our sanctuary.