A wild stallion was captured and put in a wood-fenced compound bordering the open country in which he once ran free.
His first week in captivity he showed all the wildness of a once-free creature now penned; but in the weeks that followed, even the dried grasses once refused as food became not only tolerable but even agreeable. After all, no effort was required on his part to eat his fill. Food and water just appeared daily. And there were other benefits, it seemed.
While he was unable to get out of his compound, neither could anything get in; so his formerly restless nights, long disturbed by the fear of his predators, had now become just an old, bad dream. His new situation seemed to him more and more a kind of trade-off, and not that bad of one either.
Some unknown time later, a wild stallion ran across a neighboring hill, near enough to spot his captive cousin. Cautiously he approached the pen. "What are you doing in this strange place?" he asked as he looked around for any sign of trouble.
"I'm trapped," said the captive stallion, between bites of his dry feed.
From outside the gate the stallion impatiently pawed around the gate's wooded posts. "This gate looks flimsy. If we both run into it, you from your side and me from mine, I bet it gives way. You could escape. What do you say?"
"Thanks, but it's not worth trying. We'll just both get hurt," spoke the captive horse as he pawed the worn ground of his pen to make his bed for an afternoon nap. "Besides, I've already tried it and nothing gave."
The wild stallion flared his nostrils and snorted out, "I can see from this side that the wood in this gate has rotted. Let's try!"
"No thanks," the captive stallion sighed as he lay down, considering a roll in the dust but deciding against it because his water trough was too nearby. "Besides," remembering the bruises to his shoulder, "I ran into that gate a dozen times, so if anyone should know what shape it's in, I ought to. Trust me," he added with a last measure of certainty to his neigh, "it's no use."
With this the blood surged through the heart of the wild stallion, who lifted his front feet high above the gated fence and then back down, raking the gate, breaking off pieces of the rotted holds. Then, fighting back his growing longing to run from this desolate place, he spoke once again. "When did you last test the gate's strength? Or your own?"
But the captive stallion could barely hear him. He had already slipped into a deep sleep where he was dreaming, once again, of open plains, grassy fields, and running in any direction his heart wanted...
Whenever we find ourselves in some "unwanted" part of ourselves, perhaps reliving an old heartache or caught in the throws of some irrepressible anger, old fear, or unyielding worry, part of this unwanted moment includes our certainty that we're trapped in this condition. And compounding our confusion over feeling ourselves captive in this way are all of the attending negative inner voices. They tell us not only are we hostages of these disturbing states, but that the pain we now feel will be with us forever.
Perhaps we rally ourselves for a run at the gate, refusing to accept our ache as the only possibility. But the more we charge towards the perceived cause of what holds us captive (the gate in our stallion's story), the more we bounce off it, or worse -- our pain can actually increase, amplified by the mounting frustration of our thwarted wish to be set free.
Bit by bit we come to accept what we see as the inevitability of our unhappy, captive condition. And should we hear from a still, small, free part of ourselves, "Try once more, you don't belong there in that cell of yourself," from within us rise a chorus of negative voices to drown it out -- a choir constructed from our own past experiences that sings out, "There's no use." So we go to sleep within ourselves, preferring to dream of better times or in the imagining of what we will never know outside of our fitful reveries. But we can wake up! We may awaken from not only the unsatisfying dream-life into which we've slipped, but from the unconscious dream-self that would have us remain there as captives of the lies it weaves. Shattering this dream world -- and its hold over us -- begins with bringing real light into it. This needed new light comes to us, first, in the form of new knowledge -- an insight such as the one that follows into the actual nature of these negative states and the self they capture.
Regardless of the assertion of any negative state that seeks to convince you otherwise (using its painful presence within you as "proof" that the prison you're locked within will stand until the end of time), apply this one great truth:
All punishing self-states are "lies." They must break down if they don't succeed in breaking down your willingness to test their reality. How do you conduct such a test? You learn to look at their presence within you with the quiet understanding that, in reality, nothing in life is fixed. All things change. Everything passes. This is truth. Knowing this to be true is power over what holds us captive.
On the other hand, according to another great truth, everything in life tends to become more of what it is, so that the only thing "fixed" in us are those parts of our presently unenlightened nature that convince us to resist life's natural changes. As this fear-filled, downward-trending nature tricks us into accepting its conclusions, they become the same as our captivity. We unconsciously accept the limited and painful life this alliance-in-the-dark produces. We can do better!
Real self-change begins with seeing that Real Life is change itself. This means there is no condition that can hold you captive without your unconscious cooperation. Withdraw it. Wake up. Walk out of yourself by changing how you see what you call your life. Realize that while the contents of your life may come and go, turn dark, or suddenly seem delightful, regardless, these things will pass. Resting in the awareness of this Truth while working to stand upon its higher ground, you come upon the Life within you whose nature is the unchanging witness of these movements. This Self dwells outside of change, even as all that changes moves through It.