Emmet Fox was a much-beloved New Thought minister who lectured and held prayer services for thousands of people in some of the largest auditoriums in New York City in the Thirties and Forties. He had a happy knack for stating important truth principles clearly and simply, illustrating them with memorable stories.
Fox occasionally visited Unity School of Christianity, and on one such occasion, he delivered a pair of lectures that were later published as a booklet, The Mental Equivalent. One of my favorite Emmet Fox stories comes from this booklet.
It is the tale of a prisoner incarcerated in a dungeon for twenty years, alone except for the once-a-day entrance of the jailer into his cell to deliver bread and water. Finally, the poor fellow could stand it no longer, and resolved to attack the jailer on his next visit, with the expectation that the jailer would kill him in self-defense, thus ending the prisoner's misery. In preparation, he examined his cell door carefully, and discovered that it was unlocked! He walked down the corridor, past several guards who ignored him, and made his way home, where he lived happily ever after. As Fox points out,
He could have done this any time through those long years if he had known enough, but he did not. He was a captive, not of stone and iron, but of false belief. He was not locked in; he only thought he was. Of course this is only a legend, but it is an extremely instructive one. We are all living in some kind of prison, some of us in one kind, some in another; some in a prison of lack, some in a prison of remorse and resentment, some in a prison of blind, unintelligent fear, some in a prison of sickness. But always the prison is in our thought and not in the nature of things. . . . The Jesus Christ teaching, and the Unity movement in particular, comes to us and says: "You are not locked in a prison of circumstances. You are not chained in a dungeon. In the name of God, turn the handle, walk out, and be free." Build a mental equivalent of freedom, of vibrant physical health, of true prosperity, of increasing understanding and achievement for God. Build it by thinking of it, having faith in it and acting the part, and the old limitation equivalent will gradually fade out, for the door is unlocked and the voice of God in your heart says, "Be free."Author Alan Cohen tells the story of a goldfish owner who hit on the bright idea of putting her piscatory pets in the bathtub while she cleaned their bowl. You might imagine that this was a--well, golden opportunity for them to expand their territory. However, what they did was swim in a small circle exactly the size of their bowl! The whole wide world of the bathtub was available to them, but they were limited by their fishbowl-size thinking.
Freedom is a beautiful word. Just saying it starts me thinking about what it means to be free of whatever binds me, limits me, or holds me back. If I am sitting in a prison cell, freedom means being able to come and go as I please, no longer limited by walls or even chains. But there are other bindings, other limits. Physical or mental illness can limit me. Poverty can limit me. My thinking can limit me just as much as if I were in chains, forged by my thoughts of fear, anger, or lack. Ignorance, or the absence of the right kind of thinking, can limit me. Confined by any of these limitations, I am not free.
Freedom is one of our basic needs, encoded in our genes because it has survival value for us. If I am not free, I am somehow not whole. I must find some way of meeting my basic need for freedom if I am to be a whole person. But how can I do this? Whether I am physically limited by walls or by bodily handicaps, or limited by my own thinking, how can I learn to be free?
Accepting the Freedom That Is Already Here
As simple as it might sound, the key to freedom is to realize that it is already there, and accept it. Like the prisoner whose cell was never really locked, and the goldfish with the entire bathtub available for them to swim in, had they only realized it, freedom awaits our recognition and acceptance. Awareness of our freedom begins in our minds.
We begin to dismantle the walls of lack and limitation when we realize that the basic nature of the universe is mental. Matter, what seems so solid, is really a particular arrangement of mind, and with the electron microscope and the discoveries of quantum physics, this statement seems much less outrageous than it once did. Philosophers tend to use the terms mind and spirit interchangeably, so we can just as well say that the basic nature of the universe is spiritual. We are more than our physical bodies, and we can influence not only our physical bodies, but the rest of the universe as well, at least to some extent, with our steady thoughts.
As we contemplate this spiritual universe, we begin to notice the intelligence that orders it, the love that holds it together, and the mysterious thing called life that comes and goes within it. The name that most of us give to this life and love and intelligence is God, though other names, such as Spirit, are also fine. Those of us who are familiar with the teachings of Jesus have learned to relate to God as to a loving parent. The Lord's Prayer begins not "My father," but "Our father."
Jesus wanted us to understand that we are all God's offspring, all heirs to rich divinity. He wanted us to realize that we all have access to infinite life, love, and intelligence, to all the abundance of the universe. We have incredible creative power, if we will only accept and use it to cocreate with God. We don't have to sit in chains, especially when they are of our own making.
"He Has Sent Me to Proclaim Release to the Captives"
The fourth chapter of St. Luke's gospel tells of the time that Jesus returned to his home town, visited the synagogue, read a text from the Old Testament, and then preached on it. His text was mostly from Isaiah 61. As recorded in Luke 4:18, it reads, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free." The word poor is translated meek in the King James version of the Bible. Webster's New World Dictionary defines meek as "patient and mild; not inclined to anger or resentment." So the good news and the freedom come to those who have the mental discipline of patience, who have let go of anger or resentment.
Jesus gave us another key to freedom: "Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment" (Jn. 7:24). It may appear that we are in prison, but the door may be unlocked. We need to remain patient and calm, and investigate. Jesus also said, "You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free" (Jn. 8:32). The truth about us is that we too, like Jesus, have the mind of Christ, that initial aim that God gives us every moment, always available to us if we will accept it. There is no spot where God is not, there is no circumstance in which God is not offering perfect possibilities for us in that circumstance.
We all have free will and are free to choose. Sometimes those choices bring us into conflict with other choices that we have made or with choices that others have made. This is what we sometimes refer to as evil. God does not send it, and God is always at work mitigating it, helping us to escape from it, if we will accept God's help. God sees farther than we do. God knows that the door is unlocked, that the bathtub is full of water, and God will let us know, if we turn to God in the silence and listen for guidance.
No matter what our current circumstances seem to be, freedom begins by accepting the truth that the divine Power is working in us. Perhaps we are physically free but bound in mind. We may be bound by memories of past failure. We may see ourselves as victims of some past event, imprisoning ourselves with our "poor- me" thoughts. We may be struggling with what appears to be an addiction. In all these circumstances, we can affirm with New Thought author Florence Scovel Shinn, "I cast this burden on the Christ within, and I go free." She explains, "The superconscious mind (or Christ within) is the department which fights man's battle and relieves him of burdens." The truth about me is that I am not a victim or an addict or a failure. I am the offspring of God, with all the power of God when I choose to accept it. As I learn to value freedom, I can learn to make choices that free me by empowering me to overcome "victim-hood" or addiction, building health and independence instead. At first, the change will only appear in my mind, but if I continue to keep my thoughts changed, changes will appear in my body and in my life. Illusory Limits
Sometimes we can be physically bound, but free in mind. There are countless examples of people with physical limitations who have cast the burden on the Christ within, and thereby embraced the free mind. One wonderful current example is actor Christopher Reeve. Despite enormous physical challenges, he has revealed through numerous television interviews that he refuses to see himself as a victim, but continues to explore ways to regain perfect health. Meanwhile, he is wonderfully productive. He is a powerful example for the rest of us: if he, with his limitations, can continue to earn a living, what might those who are able-bodied accomplish?
Sometimes, capacities are permanently lost. A limb is missing, or paralysis cannot be overcome. Then, there is a grieving process to go through, grief for one's loss of capacity. But even there, God is present in every moment, mitigating damage, healing hurts, offering new possibilities tailor-made for current conditions. What abilities are left, undamaged? What new skills and capabilities might we develop, once the grieving is completed, skills and capabilities that we might never have discovered, had we not experienced this seeming loss? Having grieved, we are free to press forward with new possibilities.
No matter what our current circumstances seem to be, however limiting, the truth is that we are always free in our minds, if we are willing to accept our freedom and be whole. As Alan Cohen said it:
Each of us must ultimately conquer our own shadows. Until then, our Divine Self remains penned in a little corner of a frightening world . . . Once we begin to see that we can be anything we want to be, our limits reveal themselves to be as illusory as the glass of a fishbowl that doesn't exist.With simplicity and power, Jesus made it clear, "Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Lk. 12:32).
Entered June 8, 1998, by Alan Anderson
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