The psychological wounds we acquire in the early part of our life have a tendency to impose a restrictive conceptual framework on our way of experiencing the world. We draw from our experiences a story in which the world is characterised in some way – a dangerous place, a place where you have to please others to get what you want, a place in which you have to exercise control over others to get what you want, etc. We may have been a victim of someone or something and continue to view ourselves in that role. Or we may have experienced some victory and view ourselves as essentially a winner, something which can also be a hindrance if it shuts us off from acknowledging our weaknesses and appreciating the importance of the contribution of others to our life.
The beauty of religious concepts is that they are often powerful symbols of aspects of life which can illuminate our experience even if we don’t share some of the metaphysical beliefs normally associated with them. Jesus talked about the importance of being “born again”. We are born free, our consciousness engaged with the world of which we find ourselves a part in a way which is hungry to learn, to find meaning in the apparent chaos. We need to start building a conceptual framework from what we observe. But if we end up with a framework which lacks the responsiveness and flexibility needed to have a spontaneous relationship to others and to the world at large, if we lose our freedom to a straight jacket of the mind – what William Blake called “the mind-forg’d manacles”, then it becomes a hindrance rather than a help.
To view this restrictive conceptual framework as a new womb rather than a prison may make all the difference. Why are we in it? Because we felt the need for the comfort of certainty. Our hope lies in taking advantage of that temporary peace to grow the strength we need to come out of its protective embrace and launch back into the chaos the way we did when we were born the first time.
Perhaps we will need to be born again many times. Life is a process of exploration and retreat. The key is that we continue to learn. The first time we were born we were born in ignorance. If we can bring the benefits of our experience to the flexibility of a free mind we have the best chance to thrive in the face of the challenges life presents us with and to be a centre of sanity for others.