A physical prison is a place where we are physically restricted, cannot move freely when and where we want to, are bound by the rules of others, where we are forced to be subservient at least outwardly. One generally finds oneself here because of a lack of personal capacity of some form, or through the prejudice and power of others. Neither Victor Frankl nor Nelson Mandela, both having suffered physical captivity, imprisonment, allowed themselves to become spiritual captives. Frankl discovered in his fight for survival and understanding while in a WWII concentration camp, that individual people always had the choice of whether to own their own attitude at each point in their lives or not. Mandela during his time in prison learned to forgive and recognise the humanity in each warder that he had contact with. He recognised this approach within himself and communicated this in a supportive manner via letters to people outside his prison environment. One could say that while both of these great people were physically imprisoned, with all the physical consequences, they remained spiritually free. They were both able to be where they wanted to be inwardly.
What then are spiritual prisons?
Based on the above examples of Frankl and Mandela, physical imprisonment does not necessarily lead to spiritual imprisonment. It could, but it need not. It is probably mostly the intent of the imprisoners and the politically empowered, with regards to prisoners of war and political prisoners, to firstly hold them physically under control, but the ultimate objective would be to imprison their ideas and ideals. They don’t want them to have ideas or ideals. They would rather that they were dead spiritually, changed, altered, made into morons. If they were, they would surely be released from physical imprisonment. It is not the body of these prisoners that the authorities want control of, it is their ideas and ideals. A spiritual prison then becomes a state of mind where people are either too weak to manage the challenge to their spiritual freedom, don’t recognise it – spiritual freedom – within themselves, or are damaged emotionally or physically via their brain. In essence one could say that stronger people, inwardly strong people further distanced from their animal nature through self-mastery, are less likely to find themselves in spiritual or physical prisons.
Spiritual prisons come about quite subtly and start becoming our own reality early in life when our parents start saying yes and no to the world around us and we take this all in through mimicking their value system. What they say is right and this can become who ‘I’ am. Of course, as a child, we have no means to deal with these issues as we simply don’t have all our spiritual capacities then. However, with a healthy upbringing, physically, emotionally, intellectual brought with love, we can become ‘adults’ by the time we are in our early twenties.
Let’s assume that this was the case. We are now in a position to choose and this choice includes our ideas and ideals in more and more situations that we find ourselves in during life. Life experience obviously assists us but this is limited by the degree of openness, courage, patience, ownership of self and so on (Human Qualities), with which we allow our life experience to be internalised and made our own. It remains a real problem to rid ourselves of our past, both childhood and longer-term past. These ‘inherited’ or unconscious experiences as children can remain our prison or we can go about identifying them and transforming them into our owned consciousness. We identify them and put them before our own ‘I’ judgement. We decide whether we want to be like this or not. This process becomes our spiritual prison’s key. Many modern speakers on the topic talk about ‘you can be who you want to be’, or ‘just dream it and it becomes possible’. While these are not always very ‘scientific’ approaches, they reflect the fact that within society today there is a growing awareness of spiritual imprisonment.
Spiritual prisons are loved by anyone wanting to influence or dominate others from a personal freedom perspective, not their physical freedom, but their spiritual freedom. They are quite happy to have others depend on them. Real modern people, and by this is meant people that know what and where their own spiritual key is to be found and formed, simply know that we all, each and every one of us, need to do this for ourselves. They know that they are not big enough to be above others and that this desire is in fact evil and bad for their own spiritual future. Politicians, companies, and in fact many structures outside of real and sincere schools and religious movements are still falsely and ignorantly leaning on spiritual imprisonment principles. There are many examples around the world where these prisons are desired and encouraged. They include the politics of Populism, of Capitalism, of Communism, of Racism and more. There are some religious movements that see themselves above others and promote their beliefs with forceful ideological intent.
Organisations formed with the very highest of ideals find themselves becoming spiritual imprisoners as individuals within them are not of the ‘competence’ of the originator or originators. Some examples are the ANC in South Africa and, well, we thought the two Bush presidents were bad in the United States of America, but now we have Trump. We also have the WHO, the World Bank and more. They all love the ignorant that vote for them. Behind these examples are a self-righteous belief that they are the only ones competent to rule or, put another way, that individuals don’t need their own freedom as is the clarion call of the spiritual world to Mankind, ‘know yourself’. The examples above are so bombastic in nature that it is easy to see.
There are subtler examples taking hold of the most respect-worthy initiatives on earth. What happens here is that individuals have a deep inner desire to be identified with the Good and the True pursued by these organisations. This is in itself a worthy objective provided that it does not fall to people who claim to ‘have it’ but don’t, people that are subtler versions of Jacob Zuma and Donald Trump. Because they don’t have it, they start to build personal brands, promote people and ideas that will keep them at the top, revert to nepotism and more. While the membership might be largely sincere about the original idea and ideal of the organisation, individual ‘leaders’, through their own inner ‘incompetence’, a far cry from servitude/servanthood, bring their own diluted understanding to things that others then follow, not having the inner strength to identify or deal with this opaqueness of conceptual life. These are the truly sad situations. The conscious freedom of people gets sacrificed for the personal needs of a few.
While a physical prison is a place where we are physically restricted, cannot move freely when and where we want to, are bound by the rules of others, where we are forced to be subservient at least outwardly, a spiritual prison is similar. Both physical and spiritual prisons open their doors to the ‘weak’. However, the moment there are boundaries to thought placed on others whether by social pressure, keeping them ignorant, or feeding them concepts that are suitable to others and not to their own understanding of the world, they become imprisoned in a net of ignorance and subservience, and this with consequences. The weak can easily become human trash as opposed to human capacity and dignity, useful to others, able to serve and participate. It seems clear that individually we need to be conscious of whether we are part of the problem or part of the solution with regards to ourselves and others being in either form of prison. Based on the above, surely we should be considering our leaders with much more piercing clarity? Are we ourselves allowing spiritual walls to be built around us by them whether they are political, religious or NGOs? Am I interested in my own freedom?
I personally am very concerned about the messages and thought walls coming from my own very dear Anthroposophical Society. I could not have written what I have above without the content of Anthroposophy.