The other day I was descending from the 14th floor in my family ‘s santa monica apartment building when the elevators came to a sudden halt. I was alone,which was scary, but given the coffin- sized space of this elevator it was definitely better than being packed in like a sardine with eight other people. I had no cell service and I had 45 minutes until I needed to teach my next yoga class. With no way to reach my boss or the students, I was thinking more “ Oh, fuck,” rather than “ Namaste”.
So, I sat down on the floor. I was pissed. I meditated and contemplated. I’ve certainly been trapped in worse situations, I thought. Maybe this was the quiet time I really needed after all? In my profession, I often hear how people feel “trapped” in their lives. As much as I am empathetic for their circumstance, the truth is they really aren’t.
As a teacher I often wonder how (outside of a trauma) you can encourage people to live from a place of freedom and choice rather than fear and confinement. The fear of getting ourselves unstuck can be brutal and paralyzing, but we’re not trapped. I often remind my students that they aren’t chained to their yoga mat. They are in complete control at that moment no matter what story they tell themselves.
There are two kinds of being trapped. And my elevator experience is small potatoes compared to what people have gone through. Real trapped is when your physical freedom is taken from you by an outside force beyond your control. Whether it’s because of illness, accidents or forced confinement , this type of “trapped” is life changing. This type of trapped in its extremes is like Viktor Frankel in a Nazi concentration camp, Christopher Reeves or Stephen Hawkins in a wheel chair or Nelson Mandela in prison.
Whether young or old, if you experience this kind of trapped where your personal power is ripped from your core, your life and the way you perceive it is irrevocably changed. In the cases mentioned above , these individuals took their fearful situation and turned it into mental freedom and compassion. We all have a youthful arrogance that comes with the grace of always having the freedom to choose. The person who loses this freedom has to adjust their mental outlook in order to survive or the hopelessness of being trapped will literally destroy them.
The feeling of being trapped, however, is really just an excuse to stay stuck in a situation you’ve outgrown. It’s a blanket for the fear of change the temporary upheaval will undoubtedly cause. Change is never easy and most of us will never opt to make changes unless we are forced to. A self-generated sense of trapped creates very different qualities in a person, one of stagnation, protection and fear. A false sense of personal power remains intact. We can feel safe in our confinement of habits and beliefs as we rationalize intellectually the unrealistic emotions of… ” it’s beyond my control .”
A self imposed trapped retards our self growth. It keeps us from our deepest desires and the trade off is safety(whether the situation is healthy or not) and a life unlived. But, when you have been really trapped safety is not an option. Change is the only way to survive and live a meaningful life.
So, the next time you tell yourself that you’re stuck, you’re trapped, or something is beyond your control let’s take a ride in an elevator together and hope it gets jammed. Outside of some cute firemen coming to the rescue, we can really do some serious contemplating together! In all seriousness, hopefully you won’t need to have a life-altering situation to give you the gusto to grow, become the person you are deep inside and live the life you’ve always dreamed.
” Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” -Mahatma Gandhi