The Prison System

We build our own prisons and serve as our own jail keepers, but I’ve concluded that our parents and the society at large have a hand in building our prisons. They create roles for us – and self-images – that hold us captive for a long time. The individual who is intent on self-renewal will have to deal with ghosts of the past – the memory of earlier failures, the remnants of childhood dramas and rebellions, accumulated grievances and resentments that have long outlived their cause. Sometimes people cling to the ghosts with something almost approaching pleasure, but the hampering effect on growth is inescapable. As Jim Whitaker, who climbed Mount Everest, said, “You never conquer the mountain. You only conquer yourself.”

The Road to Self-Renewal, a speech by John W. Gardner

This is an excerpt from a speech I received a long time ago. It has stayed with me through the years unlike anything else I’ve ever read. And at different parts of my life, it has meant different things to me. When I read it again today, this paragraph hit me over the head.

This isn’t a samurai passage or quote. With the rigid class system of feudal Japan, this probably would have been looked down on by the samurai. But in times of need, the samurai opened the doors to the lower classes to join their ranks. I think of right now as one of those times. 

Self renewal, as mentioned in this passage, is like a personal makeover. It’s changing yourself in any way you see fit. You are becoming new again. It puts that fire back in your belly about life. It’s reinvigorating. Because everything is new and fresh, and you want to soak every little bit of it up, exploring, discovering, learning, like when you were a child.

People wonder why the beginning of an intimate relationship is so great…it’s because you are learning again. Your mind is no longer stagnant. You have knowledge to pursue about someone. What they like, what they love, what they hate. It’s when our minds lay at rest for so long that problems occur. People always blame the nature of relationships for lulls. Relationships don’t get stale, people do. One or both of the people have just stopped growing, and that forces everything in your relationship to come to a halt.

With self renewal, you have the power to make everything in your life new again. To get inspired by anything that moves you, this is in the way of career, in the way of hobbies, in the way of friendships…anything. You can change who you are by your pursuits and passions.

My favorite sentence here is the end, “Sometimes people cling to the ghosts with something almost approaching pleasure, but the hampering effect on growth is inescapable.” Then the Everest quote, which is awesome. It is very easy to remain the people we always were. It takes no effort. No drive. Nothing. Even if we know it’s worse for us and debilitating, we continue to fall into the same patterns because it’s easy, and we’re lazy, or people might look at us funny for doing something we don’t normally do.  

Not everyone thinks what I’m doing with the Urban Samurai is amazing. And that’s OK. I’m OK with it. I laugh at myself for doing this sometimes. 

And I do think about quitting. This is a total change. And it takes a lot of effort. A total prison break from the person I locked myself into being, to the person I want to become. And the mountain I have left to climb in order to do that is tall, and steep, and rocky. Clinging to my ghosts is the easy way out.

But it’s amazing the effect off even one email, or one post, or one phone call like I got yesterday from a friend…and how they help me move forward. I need to conquer myself for myself. So why would I harp on anything negative, when I can draw from so much positive support?

Seeing all the people on this Facebook page is an overwhelming feeling of strength and support, pushing me forward. Lifting me up. I suspect it’s going to have to carry me at my worst times, and I have little doubt that it will be able to do so.

I hope you feel that same support underneath you too. Because it’s here for you as well. This is not just mine…it’s ours.

I’ve never seen a prison break movie where the guy breaks out alone. Get up. Let’s go. We can break out of this together.