Get Out of Jail

iStock_000001616955SmallRecently, I had the chance to watch the movie Instinct in which Anthony Hopkins plays a primatologist who “goes native” with a group of mountain gorillas. When humans kill his gorilla family, he goes berserk, kills some of the attackers, ends up in an African prison, and refuses to speak for years. Finally, a psychiatrist played by Cuba Gooding, Jr. breaks through and hears the story of Hopkins’ adventures.

This movie is based on the book Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn, which I think all humans should read. The film has powerful implications about the 20th century, especially the great machine of industry that is our economy. If someone you love (possibly you!) is caught in a stifling system, being torn from their true nature and being forced to act as a cog in the machine, buy this movie and watch it together. The filmmakers’ symbol for society is a prison for the insane known as “Harmony Bay.” In it, you will see every horrible boss, every stupid meeting, every injustice and every suffocating separation from nature that corporate life inflicts on so many people.

Sorry to spoil the surprise, but Anthony Hopkins eventually frees not only himself but Cuba Gooding, Jr. and a lot of the other prisoners. Freedom looks different for each of these people. For some, it is simply the power the say no to a bully. For others, it’s the creation of loving relationships. But for still others, it is almost complete separation from all human structures. Every character is liberated from some sort of cage, and the key to the cage is always the courage to use all one’s available power and freedom to choose what most nourishes the heart.

Today, you can use the same key to unlock any prisons in which you feel confined. Freedom can start as simply as wearing the clothes you really like instead of what your friends will really admire. It can be standing up for a stranger who’s unfairly bumped out of line at the post office. It can be structuring your schedule to suit the wildest part of yourself, instead of the most docile and broken. We all have freedoms we have not yet explored.

Today, break a few bars and venture into territory that initially makes you say, “Oh no, I could never.” That phrase is a sign that you have bumped up against the bars of your cage. Notice if it comes with a nervous laugh instead of genuine revulsion (because of course if you are cruel or unkind, those bars are there for good reason.) Do something today that you think is too delicious, too selfish, too wacky to fit within the rules of your life.

After my family watched Instinct, I told my partner Karen I wished every man in America would watch it. Men in particular are trapped these days in the image of themselves as cogs in the great economic machine. So, Karen began telling people “Have you seen Basic Instinct? It’s amazing! Every man in America should watch it.” People began giving Karen strange looks. Eventually, someone told her why. But Karen did not suffer because she’d been recommending soft core porn rather than a fabulous drama. She did not disintegrate because of the head scratching and raised eyebrows of the people who now think she’s an obsessive Sharon Stone fan. A 55-year-old woman earnestly recommending smut to all her dearest friends is not a problem for her.

When you break your rules, when you act “crazy,” you won’t disintegrate, either. You will just join those of us who like to play outside our cages and respectfully do not care what anybody thinks.

Good luck and bon voyage!

14 replies
  1. Wade
    Wade says:

    Love this. I am so grateful I found your work at a young age. As a first year college student, the ability to respectfully decline peoples’ attempts to take a vote on what they think I should be doing with my life is invaluable. I have conversations with you in my head on a regular basis. My general rule is… “if I would have Martha’s support in this situation, it’s good enough for me.”
    For example, I am majoring in teaching at a two-year college. Just a few blocks away from my college lies MSU- Missouri State University. The vast majority of students who graduate from my school continue on to MSU. Virtually the entire transfer process between the two schools is built around students continuing on to MSU. You can imagine the look of shock and disapproval on my adviser’s face the first time I told her that I will be applying to Brown University next year, and that after I earn my BEd I intend to teach in South Africa.
    She is no longer my adviser. After realizing that her attempts to keep me “on track” with goals of teaching in Missouri were completely futile, she not-so-politely recommended I find another adviser who might better suit me.
    So I did some wayfinding of my own and have cultivated relationships with three faculty members who support my vision and encourage me to dream big. I have become a member of the honors program, was elected as Vice President of Fundraising for the honors student council, and have begun to learn Zulu in my free time.

  2. Lorrie Jones
    Lorrie Jones says:

    I love this article! Today I shall do something that, until now, appeared to be outside my “I can do this” realm. I feel energized and invigorated! Thank you, Martha, for your inspiration and constant example of living life with honesty, courage and great adventure. I am grateful to you!

  3. Cathy
    Cathy says:

    Lovely, Martha.
    I have to check out “Instinct” now! I can relate.

    The whole paragraph about Karen and “Basic Instinct”….made me totally
    L O L!!!
    That was great! Can totally see me doing that, ha!!

  4. Ann
    Ann says:

    I got to your post via your Tweet yesterday. I left an after-work party early, went home, wrote a poem to express pent-up feelings of loss. Then I played the guitar for an hour. This is only important because I haven’t played the guitar for 7 years, due to a health problem that affected my ability to play as I could before. The instrument has been in the attic all this time because seeing it would upset me about my health problem. I decided to get it out and try to play it the best I can. It felt great. This time I cried happy. I deserve to have music back in my life. Thank you!

  5. Bunny
    Bunny says:

    Ok, so I’ve been dying to run thru the sprinklers on the golf course behind my new house when they come on at dusk…it’s 98 degrees here…I haven’t run thru a sprinkler since I was a kid…gonna do it tonight…if I am to be known as the crazy new neighbor then so be it 🙂

  6. Jude
    Jude says:

    I enjoyed this post. I’ve always been the one who has been a little “off center”. I divorced after 28 years of a dysfunctional marriage. Reinvented myself and remarried briefly for 18 months when I was 50. When I was 54, I took up surfing in Hawaii and the same year took and early retirement and moved to Costa Rica to surf the longest left break in the world and live in the rain forest. I married a surfer in a ceremony in Hawaii and was married for 2 years before I realized I’m actually happier living alone. Now that I’m 60, I’ve dropped ALL labels as I find them confining and sets one up to be judged rightly or wrongly. It’s liberating NOT to belong to a Tribe, be it conservative, liberal, political, religious, sexual, sports related or whatever so many things prople want to be identified with. It’s easier to be objective and non judgemental when one is not on one side or the other. It doesn’t mean that I’m not informed or have opinions, it just means I not telling someone else their belief is wrong and I’m right. Everyday is an adventure.

  7. Judy M
    Judy M says:

    Dear Martha:
    I have been such a good student of this “snuff-out-your-wild-side-ignore-FUN” (I’m 69 years young & still learning).
    Martha has the key to open my thinking to a life of JOY. A big part of that is the “gut-laugh” reactions I have to her story telling, which is incredibly healing,
    THANK YOU MARTHA for the courage to speak your truth & share it with us.

  8. Heather
    Heather says:

    Wow, Martha. Your sending this link as a Daily Inspiration is perfect today. I am experiencing major “shackles off” this week. Unhinged a large and heavy from my neck one this morning.

  9. Nancy
    Nancy says:

    Thank you for this. I have been straddling the fence to freedom from square peg in a round hole job.. I just finished watching the movie and it is calling me to make big changes. I was sobbing and screaming when they family of gorillas was massacred. It cut to my core. This was a brilliant movie and post from you today. Stepping through our fear into freedom is what each and everyone of us needs to do to find our way home together into what is real and true.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] horribly about how this job of ‘mother’ was going for me. For three very long years, I was a prisoner of sorts. As Dr. Martha Beck describes, I was a prisoner to my thoughts about motherhood, which […]

  2. […] How would you structure your schedule “to suit the wildest part of yourself, instead of the most docile and broken”?  (Martha Beck from Get Out of Jail) […]

  3. […] is fun. Fun, because I’m learning to be who I am no matter what people think. As my mentor Martha Beck says, “I respectfully do not care.” […]

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