Saturday, April 17, 2010

Thoughts on Visiting Alcatraz

Chelle and I went into the city today with Flat Mason, based on Flat Stanley, and we took him all over: to the Golden Gate Bridge, to the Walt Disney Museum, to Pier 39/Fisherman's Wharf, and to Alcatraz. The photo on the left is of a cell in Alcatraz, and though I've toured the old penitentiary before, it never fails to strike me how tiny those spaces were. Those guys had to stay cooped up in a small world with constant reminders of their confinement (the sight of San Francisco, the sounds, the smells traveling over the water) vexing them day after endless day. Alcatraz was a place of beauty on the outside--the views of San Francisco Bay and the landscaping on this piece of rock are breathtaking--but sheer hell on the inside.

In turn, this reminded me of the prison of the mind I posted about here a few weeks ago.

What's troubling me lately is the thought of how often our actions (we may think we're doing the right thing, or the sane thing) are based on incorrect preconceptions. Or, we can't bear to look at something about ourselves we may not wish to see, so we "monsterize" other people so we can pin all the blame for something on them and not have to look at ourselves or at our own part in a situation. It's so easy to think we're special because we're the only sensitive one, the only caring one, the only one who "sees" the world and its occupants for who they really are...and unfortunately, they're mostly all assholes who never turn out to be whom they present themselves to be! So we feel victimized. The world has got us caught behind its bars.

But it's not always the world, nor its people. Sometimes it's us. (Pogo had great words of wisdom about this: "We have met the enemy and he is us.") Sitting in meetings, I'm continually seeing how common, and normal, it is for us to project our own crap (our own unacknowledged feelings, or how we might personally react in a situation) onto someone else, and if it happens to be an unpleasant thought or feeling, we start despising someone for feeling a certain way when they might not even feel that way at all. We cut ourselves off from other people unnecessarily; we close our hearts when it's our own hearts that need to be opened.

And that, perhaps, is a bigger prison: being in one and not even knowing it.

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