imprisoned with an i

June 23rd, 2010

We are enslaved by our understanding of “I”Maezumi Roshi

We are each imprisoned with an I. The I that you think you are, and the I that you think you’re not. The I that you like on good days, and more often the I that you don’t like. The I you interpret, analyze and diagnose. The I you want and wish for; the I that you want to become. The I in obsession, and the I in addiction. And so on and so on, a life sentence of solitary confinement without release. Four dank walls and a hard cot: call it your “comfort zone.”

Imprisonment begins with an I.

We are enslaved by our understanding of who and what we are. By our opinions and preferences. By our ruminations, fantasies, ideas and values. By our knowledge and understanding. Understanding is limited. But our true nature is boundless. How can we understand something without limits? We can’t even come close, but we keep banging our head away at it, like battering a tin cup against jail bars.

What has shot me off in this wretchedly abstract direction is something simple and concrete: our appetite for information, and the habitual way we confuse information with action. Many of us want to change the way we live, and we start by informing ourselves. I can see the point. It’s why, for instance, you might read this blog. Sorry to disappoint you, but other Buddhist bloggers shell out far more information and explanation than I do! Armed with a self-righteous view, they might even yell and fight! Prison riots are exhilarating in their way, but they always end up lengthening your sentence.

The Buddha Way lies outside thinking, analysis, prophesy, introspection, knowledge and wise explanation – Dogen Zenji

It’s tempting to think that the information we assemble will amount to something. But it doesn’t. You have a world of information at your fingertips and see? It hasn’t changed a thing about you or the world. You’re still looking for something more. No, these days we are swimming in an ocean of information and drowning in a neverending stream of goopy slop on top.

To put it another way, immersing yourself in information is like trying to learn to drive by studying the motor vehicle code.

This is the first in a series of posts about information, inspiration and initiative. It’s important to discern the difference between them. Imprisonment begins with an I, and so does independence. For a scent of open air, listen to this conversation recorded on Amy Tiemann’s podcast a few months ago. See if you can catch the drift of an unobstructed breeze. Then make your move through the wide open door.

Subscribe to newsletter • Still room at Mother’s Plunge – LA • Fan me • Follow me.


  1. Interesting perspective, and I think I understand where you are coming from. But I also think that the knowledge we seek sometimes provides the inspiration we need to change our lives. Sometimes we find the right key to unlock our consciousness in a way that is necessary, to allow an awareness to unfold. I feel this right now in a way I never understood before. To be frank, I think it needs to happen at precisely the right moment, otherwise it remains, precisely as you say, information.

    Comment by Christine LaRocque — June 23, 2010 @ 10:25 pm

  2. So true. It is no contradiction to say that information is only useful when it is used, and when it is used it becomes the most profound form of teaching: experience.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — June 23, 2010 @ 11:36 pm

  3. I might have to read this every single day for the rest of my life.

    Comment by Swirly — June 24, 2010 @ 12:09 am

  4. i’m reading this tonight on my computer, sitting in the same spot i do on so many other nights when i could be doing instead of reading. and then i wonder why nothing changes. i sure have read a lot, gathered so much more to babble on about inside my head… maybe i need a blog fast.

    Comment by Lindsay R — June 24, 2010 @ 5:28 am

  5. I’ve been trying to be quieter. It’s so easy to get addicted and dependent on being plugged in all the time. I don’t even really hear most of it — it’s just on and pouring in because I’ve become conditioned to think I need it.

    This morning I saw a leaf at the top of a tree move when the breeze blew by. I want more of that kind of information coming in and less of the other.

    Comment by Slow Panic — June 24, 2010 @ 1:37 pm

  6. I’m looking forward to reading Hand Cold Wash. I read an excerpt of it on Daily OM. Thanks for your blog.

    Comment by walda — June 24, 2010 @ 10:15 pm

  7. Thank you!! This beautiful message comes at the perfect moment. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    Comment by char — June 28, 2010 @ 5:15 am

  8. The part about learning how to drive really “drove it home” for me. Can’t wait to see the other posts you intend on information. Did you see the NYTimes article on “plugged in parenting”? Or on “your brain on computers?”

    Though, I think I just illustrated your point on information addiction perfectly . . .

    Comment by J — June 28, 2010 @ 1:51 pm

  9. i think the i you described is our identity – who we think we are, who we think we should be, and who we think we want to be. unfortunately, most of us identify with those things instead of looking inside and igniting what’s already within.

    Comment by Cybil Smith — July 19, 2010 @ 2:38 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

archives by month