The Fortress of Don’ts

Giving yourself permission to go ahead and  be who you really are is no easy task. In fact, I’d guess most people, at least in the culture I live in, never reach the mark. Not for lack of trying. I think all of us, whether we realize it or not, are instinctively trying to set ourselves free. But free of what, you might be asking? Free of all the voices who said, Don’t, when you dared to be you, more often than not when you were growing up. Don’ts are like bricks.  They can add up. Like bricks, they can become huge walls, held together by the mortar of judgment. Next thing you know, if in fact you ever do know, you are trapped in a Fortress of Don’ts held fast by the mortar of judgment and you can’t find your way out. Hell, you might even think there is no way out. But there is.

One thing I have learned in life it is this. The large majority of us in western culture rely on the opinions of others for our sense of worth, without meaning too, without malice, some believe their worth is located in the kind of car they drive, or the neighborhood they live in, or the designer of the clothes they wear. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with liking a particular car or a particular designer or wanting to live in particular neighborhood, but if these things become the foundation of  your self worth, you are standing on a foundation that doesn’t exist. And as long as you stand there, real happiness and real fulfillment is out of reach. Why? Because you can’t stand on a foundation that doesn’t exist and be you at the same time.

I’ve just begun reading a book called, “The Heart of Buddha’s Teaching”, written by Thich Nhat Hanh. Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist Monk who now lives in France. While some of you may not have heard of him, someone you have heard of knew of him and deeply admired him. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In fact, King nominated Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize.

In the book, Hanh writes, The seed of suffering in you may be strong, but don’t wait until you see no more suffering before allowing yourself to be happy. When one tree in your garden is sick, you have to take care of it. But don’t overlook all the healthy trees. One of the phrases I teach is Remember to live. The two are joined, because both let you know that while we all have our struggles and difficulties and sufferings in life, the presence of beautiful things in life are there at the same time and you have a right to experience them. It is the Fortress of Don’ts that stops many of us from realizing this right. Outside the window near my writing table the day is beautiful. There is a breeze coming through the window that feels cleansing as it sweeps over me. If I allow myself to be defined by my current struggles and stresses, I will miss the beauty of the day and the cleansing of the breeze.

Now, you may well be asking (I know I would), how is remembering to live and not overlooking the healthy trees related to giving myself permission to be me? Good question. Because the Fortress of Don’ts begins to crumble when you remember to live. Why is this so? Because when you enjoy life in a truly healthy way you are being who you are. So, when you give yourself permission to see the healthy trees and rejoice in their presence, when you remember to live your life, the days are numbered for the Fortress of Don’ts.


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