Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

You Are Not a Prisoner

--by Andrew Cohen (Aug 23, 2011)

Q: Why is it important to practice meditation consistently?

A: You meditate to remind yourself that you are not a prisoner.  If there is power in your meditation, if your experience of the Ground of Being is deep and profound, you will discover and discover, over and over and over again, that you are not a prisoner.  You are not held captive by your own mind, nor are you imprisoned by your emotions.  It sounds simple, but its so easy to forget.  If all you're aware of is the endless roller coaster ride of thoughts and feelings, of course you will believe you are trapped.  
The Ground of Being is a deeper, infinitely more subtle dimension of your own consciousness that simply cannot be perceived by gross faculties of the conditioned mind and ego.  You can't see it; you can't taste it; you can't touch it.  So even if you have directly experienced the unconditioned freedom of that empty ground, when you return to the world of conditioned mind and ego, you are likely to doubt it.  The mind simply cannot cognize this ground, and the ego cannot know it.  That's why its very important to meditate as much as you can.  If you meditate regularly, with a strong intention, you will keep rediscovering that you are not a prisoner.  You cannot recognize that enough.  Until your conviction in your own freedom is unwavering, and you're able to prove it through unbroken consistency in the way that you live, you should meditate everyday as if your life depended on it.  You 'need' to keep having that experience.  Each and every time you realize that you're not a prisoner, you gain a deeper confidence in the limitless, inherent freedom of that empty ground that is your own deepest Self.  It builds a conscious conviction in no-limitation, and, as I teach it, this is the most significant purpose of meditation.
--Andrew Cohen

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On Aug 20, 2011 James Marco wrote:

Why is this guy's stuff being posted on here? Even a casual read of and will tell you more than you need to know not to give this self-proclaimed "enlightened a*hole" isn't worth even a minute of your time. I'm writing this here because I've no doubt that all the regular iJourney commenters are going to soon chime in with their "oh wow, what a beautiful answer", "oh, Andrew really understands how it is", bla bla bla, etc. without even considering that the person behind is someone who regularly uses confrontational and abusive tactics against his students, all in the name of "correcting" them onto the right path - that being his path.

Of course, just becaues he's a c*ck doesn't mean everything he says must be de-valued. No indeed, he may have some intelligent and thoughtful messages to convey. Yet I personally must weight whatever positive message I receive with the negative influence of the person's character - specifically, he isn't living what he preaches and thus, how much conviction can he really have in what he's saying? does he even know its truth?

Finally, I'd like to apologise to iJourney folks for writing this. I'll make it easy for you - I'm an unlightened c*ck who can't see through Andrew's abusive nature to see the real beautiful enlightened being underneath. And I'm not anywhere near as "in the moment" as any of you so feel free to verbally bash me over the head if you feel so. As you can tell, I'm very egotistic.

On Aug 20, 2011 Somik Raha wrote:

This is in response to James' comment. Some years back, my professor shared a gem with me. The context of our conversation was Ayn Rand, and someone had praised Rand.

Me: I find it very hard to follow Ayn Rand's philosophy, after learning that she died insane. I was very influenced by her writing, but decided to throw it all out after knowing about her personal life. (I was wrong about her dying insane, don't know how I came to believe that)

Prof: I used to know a Buddhist teacher many years back, who was very high up in this country. He used to give wonderful enlightening sermons. Then one day, he was found to be a pedophile. I found myself questioning whether the knowledge I'd received from him should be thrown away. It was clear to me that whatever he had said about truth, compassion and love was invaluable, and had helped me in my own life. Nothing he did changed the value of his message for me, so it made no sense to throw out what he said because he could not live up to it. The value was for me to keep.

This was an eye-opening conversation for me. Prior to this conversation, I would leave gold behind just because it was offered with dirty hands. The moment I learned of some weakness that someone had, I'd throw out all the value I had received from that source. After this conversation, there was a great sense of freedom. It didn't matter to me what the person had done. We are all human - and we make mistakes all the time. I don't care who is carrying gold in their hands - I will take gold when I see it. I know that my life is so much richer because of this change in my mental operating system. I am happy to learn from all. (Of course, it took some years to format the system, and the work is still in progress).

Stepping it up, this philosophy has big implications. What if someone tells me that Krishna/Rama/Jesus/etc. were mythical characters - never existed! Suppose all of modern science backs up this assertion. The real test of whether I've understood the Gita/Ramayana/Bible at all is if I can say, without batting an eyelid, "Makes no difference! I have read and consumed the Gita/Ramayana/Bible, and it helps me every day of my life. My thanks to whoever concocted it- it is most helpful." This test can be applied to every religion, every sect, every order, and yes, even to science. It should not matter to us if Darwin or Galileo ever existed, or what indiscretions they indulged in. 

What they have left behind is for us to experience in our own lives, and if we find value in that, why should we impoverish our lives by throwing it away?

In this piece, it seems to me that the value lies in reflecting on our "conviction in no-limitation," a grand idea that is entirely worthy of our time and attention. There may be edges - many people don't meditate and are yet convinced about their limitlessness. But the idea of our limitless creativity is an empowering one, notwithstanding our personal failings in living such an idea.


On Aug 20, 2011 Conrad wrote:

Thanks again for the opportunity to respond. Cohen's  ideas are very inspiring and liberating. I am reminded of Lao Tzu's: "The way that can be said is not the way." I am also reminded of Thomas Keating's: "God's first language is silence. All else is a poor translation."   Cohen also reminds me of Einstein's notion of cherishing the mysterious. Freedom is the goal and I am again reminded of the ox herding story and pictures where at the 10th stage of stageless enlightenment, one is even freed somewhat from sitting meditation when living in the world with and among others with great compassion. Everything one does mindfully can be "meditation."

James (below) and I perceive differently. As the Dhammapada says: "We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world."


What does a conscious conviction in the limitless do for me?"

On Aug 20, 2011 Catherine Todd wrote:

Wow. I need to be reminded of this again and again... thank you so much. Just what I needed to hear today. So now I begin. Gracias, amigo...

On Aug 20, 2011 Catherine Todd wrote:

Reading the comments, I am struck by James Marco's comment. I have always agreed with what James is saying. If someone can't or won't "practice what they preach," then I have no use for them and for me, it ruins anything of value they say. I can't believe any of it and don't think it should be repeated.

Then I read Somik's response about "not taking gold because the hands that offered it were dirty." What a difference that made.

I'm still not sure about any of this. But I can say that I stopped even trying to do yoga back in the late sixties and since then - because the "gurus" I met were sexual predators of children and young women (such as myself) so what good did it do to try and lead a "spiritual life" when the people who were espousing it were devils and demons?

I don't see these things as "weakness," although perhaps they are. I see them as wrong. Corrupt.
Therefore their message must also be corrupted in some way.


How do we discern the "gold" from the "dirt?" Does it even matter? Is there even such a thing when we are surrounded with foolishness and negativity? That is the question for me. How do we "wash our hands clean?" How do we really find more than a fleeting and ephermeral peace?

Does any of this really matter? Yes. It matters to me.


I have to say thank you to James. Finally someone has said out loud what I've said for many years... people need to be taken to task for their negative behavior and other people need to be forewarned to know what to watch out for. And I have to thank Somik for telling another side of the tale. So now I have even more to think about.


" it made no sense to throw out what he said because he could not live up to it. The value was for me to keep."

On Aug 20, 2011 Dan Duncan wrote:

From Hymn Of Entry by Archimandrite Vaselios of Iviron Monastery, Mt Athos

''Thou hast taken me captive with longing for thee, O Christ, and hast transformed me with Thy divine love. Burn up my sins with the fire of the Spirit, and count me worthy to take my fill of delight in Thee, that dancing with joy I may magnify both Thy Comings, O Lord who art good.''

—9th Ode—Transfiguration Canon

''You are not isolated and separated from other people and things. You are not stifled by the condemnation of living in time. Your life is not a glass of water which does not quench your thirst if you drink it, and goes bad if you do not. You are not a mechanically operating section of a limitless whole, not an individual in an anonymous multitude. The Author of life has shattered the bonds of purely mechanical existence. You are an organic part of a theanthropic mystery. You have a specific task, a small, minute task, which makes you a partaker in the whole. The mystery of life is summed up and worked out in your being, in your character. You are an image of God. You are of value not for what you have but for what you are and even more for what you are not; and you are a brother of the Son of God, of the Son of the Unknown and Unknowable, by Whom you are known. Thus we all enter into the feast of the firstborn. God, who is above all, may be recognized in the very texture of your person, in the structure of your being. You see Him dwelling within you. And you discern traces of Him in your insatiable thirst thirst for life and in your love. The fruit of the struggle to reach Him is the very vision of His face. The search for that vision is the fundamental principle of your being.

"The Liturgy is not just a sermon. It is not something to be listened to or watched. The Liturgy never grows old. No one can say he has got to know it or got used to it because he has understood it once or once been carried away by the attraction of it. The faithful are not like spectators or an audience following something that makes a greater or lesser emotioal impression on them. The faithful partake in the divine mystery. The mystery is celebrated in each of the faithful, in the whole of the liturgical community. We do not see Christ externally, we meet Him within us. Christ takes shape in us. The faithful become Christs by grace.

"What happens is a miraculous interpenetration by grace and an identification without confusion. The whole man, in body and in spirit, enters the unalloyed world of the uncreated grace of the Trinity. And at the same time he receives into himself Christ, with the Father and the Holy Spirit. The whole of God is offered to man. "He makes His home with Him." (John 14:23) and the whole man is offered to God: "Let us commend ourselves and each other and all our life unto Christ our God "

Archimandrite  Vasilios

On Aug 20, 2011 Kate wrote:

 This reminds me of commitment to life and living.  It's easy to slip and doubt the miracle of being alive - of living - of having the opportunity to keep living.  Having commitment, having practice, dedication to truth - so that the other side of doubt is see-able, and the return to a place of recommitting is possible....this is the stuff.  :)  I think friendships do this, truth does this, meditation does this, family can do this, and fortunately sometimes even life does it when we're fighting against or running away from it.

On Aug 20, 2011 Catherine Todd wrote:

Thank you Dan for this wonderful reflection. I have never heard it. Changes everything, doesn't it?

From Hymn Of Entry by Archimandrite Vaselios of Iviron Monastery, Mt Athos

''Thou hast taken me captive with longing for th

ee, O Christ, and hast transformed me with Thy divine love. Burn up my sins with the fire of the Spirit, and count me worthy to take my fill of delight in Thee, that dancing with joy I may magnify both Thy Comings, O Lord who art good.''

—9th Ode—Transfiguration Canon

On Aug 20, 2011 PK wrote:

 experience your freedom again and again is related to a concept called 'Anusandhanam' in Vedanta. For example, the Maha Vakya in Upanishads called 'Ayamatma Brahma' is said to be one such sentence that allows you to stay free. Anusandhanam means -- staying joined or connected. it is not just sufficient that we become aware of our true nature but we have to stay connected to it for us to be liberated from the self-doubts and ego struggles.

Think of a small baby. As long as it knows that mother is around, baby happily plays without hanging onto the mother in the same room. the baby is aware that the mother will be there if she needs her. But she keeps looking at her mother once in a while and gets reassured and then engages with her play. The moment the baby notices that the mother is not in the room, she starts crying and will stop as soon as the mother is seen again. This is 'anusandhana Bandham' between mother and the child.

Same is true for us. we are like little children who is unable to stay aware of the fact that we not our body, our mind, our emotions and our ego. When we are aware of our freedom and deeper connection to the larger consciousness, we experience freedom and choice. Meditation is one of the effective ways to stay connected with our deeper self.

Andrew Cohen wrote it much simply and I chose to help you understand it with my complex language. Kapitz! :-)

On Aug 21, 2011 Ricky wrote:

When we begin the practice of meditation, of allowing quiet into our lives, the conditioned mind has some hurdles to leap.  Hurdles for imagery here represent current culturalization, current thought, current activity, current belief system, etc.  These hurdles can be viewed as set in stone, foundational, impenetrable, a force to be resisted.  The conditioned experience we find ourselves in 2011 helps erect these hurdles, these walls of societal construct.  The hurdles are created and influenced by strong and deep patterns of embedded thought, and provide a sense of security with which the ego, the little ‘s’ self, can identify.


Upon further meditative practice, of gentle compassion toward the ego and its insecurities, these same hurdles can be viewed as temporary, movable, fluid, transparent, even illusionary.  As we begin to put down and let go of the security blanket of the conditioned mind and examine the true construction of these hurdles before us, we realize that fear of self-examination, of apparent unknown, is what holds us within the impenetrable walls.  We are fearful of peeling back the layers of embedded and thus familiar patterned thought.  Prisoners of personal construct. 


Frankly, it is the practice of giving ourselves permission to slow down in this hectic global time, to just be instead of always doing.  When we slow down, we provide an opportunity for this finite vessel to connect with its most expansive and enlightened inhabitant…Divinity within.  Here we break out and arrive home.  Herein lies our freedom.  And when we continue this practice of meditation, the peace and ease with which we can move about in our daily lives helps others see possibilities within their own experiences.  This is what happens when we let go of fear and ego identity, and we intrinsically connect with limitlessness.  We trust deep gut intuition-unlimited knowing.  Hawaiians have a word Palena ‘ole-without boundaries-the act of realizing spaciousness, authentic abundance, unlimited capacity.  An expansive heart that is no longer confined within a prison of personal construct can love and be loved unconditionally.     


On Aug 21, 2011 Navin sata wrote:

We live in world of duality with foundation of false ego , and as long as this ego exist prison exist when our mine and yours transeforms in to pure unconditional love for all we remain in riches of finite mind material world plus all we think and percive experience will be illusion .to transform our concious in no limitation . to experience reality we must be sincear and totally devoted to  our prectice of  meditation in all inner and outer aspect  of our daily life,shri patanjali sage in yoga sutra all saints of all cultures life are guiding light to remove prisoners mental and physical walls if you ever lisent to bhajans by Meerabai or prayers of saint francis of assisi,or Mahatma Gandhijis favorite bhajan Waisnav Jan, all this great souls guide us to free ourselves and experience limitless love when we understand and apply in every present moment at this moment Medation is the soul of spiritual life, the method is more important than the end ultimate reality is beyond matirialistic egostic mind our I journey lies in our faith, patience,and steadiness.In spiritual life ,its Avarchniya [beyond words] yet scripture saints points rightous journey [remember to journey path and not the point keep open mind means no walls, truth my dear satsangi is infinite limitless. use your pure vivek ---- even as fire without fuel becomes extinct in its own resting place.when thoughts becomes silent the mind becomes quiet in its own source.duality ends ANANDA ANANDA ANANDA-----------always love Navin


On Aug 21, 2011 deepak wrote:

intellectual games is not meditation.

getting rid of the known is freedom. habits embedded into beings are not trown out by imagination. we are slaves of our body sensations. if you meditate by making the alamban of your body sensations . the observation of their impermanence. impermanent nature of all sensations on body. the contineous changing nature. is really breakng the walls of your prison.

reactions to these body sensations is the bondage. get rid by just observation. do nothing. not to do any thing is the most difficult thing inthe world. just observe the body sensations, deeper and deeper. and dont react

On Aug 23, 2011 dr abhay chheda wrote:

But dont you think Earth is a designated prison itself, till we exit from it we will be in prison.

Dr. Abhay Chheda 

On Aug 23, 2011 Mr Lips wrote:

What an interesting discussion here.  Can you trust the message if you can't trust the messenger?  The answer is that you can't trust any messages, no matter the source.  This isn't sad, this is liberating.  Please read on.

iJourney, The Daily Good, etc., these are all candy for the mind.  You are in pain.  Your life is painful.  The details for each of us is different, but it is the same pain.  And then a message appears on your screen and for a few moments, the pain subsides.  You see that there is a method, a process, a paradigm or structure that will lead you out of the pain.  The person you are can change, be better, more whole, "enlightened" if you will. 

You leave the house for the day and smile as the stranger cuts you off in traffic or the boss criticizes your work.  But by the end of the day, you kill an ant walking across your plate.  You are gruff with your mate for using the wrong dishrag.  You are frustrated about what your boss said at work.

Keep meditating.  Keep doing yoga.  It will calm you.  This is not a bad thing, this is not unproductive.  It will help.  But you will not change.  You will not hold onto the thought or paradigm or method or whatever it is that you bought in the book or lecture or retreat.  These are all structures of the mind, and the mind cannot cure itself of being a mind.

I once interviewed a somewhat famous Buddhist scholar.  This man had travelled with the Dalai Lama for 20 years.  He had dedicated a life to Tibettan Buddhism, and leads expensive retreats all over the world.  While we set up the lights and cameras, he became visibly irritated that we were not moving fast enough.  He repeatedly interrupted the interview to check email in another room.  He was curt and unfriendly and never offered us even a drink of water.  I consider him one of the most difficult interviews I had ever done.  We were doing him a great service, yet were treated like a bother.

For the same project, we tried to interview several "famous" self-help authors and gurus.  These are household brand-names in the self-help market.  I can honestly tell you that dealing with their PR people is no different than dealing with any other celebrity.  They want to know what will be asked, where it will be aired or printed, and most of all they want control of the message.   They allow very limited access and only agree to interviews with the largest self-help promotional vehicles.  Self-help is a business like any other and the iconic figues at the center of these organizations are celebrity-brands.  Eckhart Tolle's brand has earned over $100,000,000 in the last two years.  How much has gone to charity?  Do you have any idea what Eckhart Tolle charges for personal counselling?

Don't forget that you are a consumer.  The guru or the minister preaches, and you pay in some way for the service.  Does the fact that your favorite singer is a jerk change whether you like the music?  That your favorite actor has a cocaine problem change your love if his work?  It shouldn't; it is entertainment.

Now why is knowing this liberating?  Because you, dear reader are indeed the root of all being.  This entire existance does in absolute truth emmenate from you.  The eyes that you read this message with are not a window into a world outside.  You do in all reality create this world at all times.  You do in fact create the idols that you pray to, be they Jesus or Eckhart Tolle.  You are the one who bestows meaning on them and their messages.

You don't need any of it.

Enlightenment came to the Buddha after he stopped trying to become enlightened if the story is to be believed.

If you truly want relief from your pain, retreat from all of these messages.  Stop reading the books written for profit, attending the lectures, or staying at ashrams.  They are entertainment.  Instead, focus only on your self.  Hold the "I" that you are steadily in your mind.  Be cusious, watch it, and let go of everything else.  The You that you think you are will not change, but you will find truth and you'll quit wasting your time and money.

Unfortunately, I can't charge you for this advice.  And that is how you know it to be truth.

On Aug 23, 2011 stuart wrote:

as an image, we see darkly? but in the light of fate we answer. our hopes inspire, our dreams unfold and we answer. instructing to be wise we tell the matter as though we are the only one with the answers. but what makes us teach? is first, that we listen. here! in oppertunity we find that we belong. friends? let us be sensical!  where ever the road turns do we journey. reproof gives light and the soul aspires. here, in time, we find our purpose. we are here together  to make peace with what we all hold in our struggle. the matter, is to listen! and you will hear the wind blow. if it is at your door? open! and you will find the treasure at the step looking to come in.

On Aug 24, 2011 Ganoba wrote:

 It may be useful to know hat Meditation.

Let me share my take on it.

In meditation we disengage with the outside world. To do this we become still and silent.

we just observe whatever is happening(going on ) inside and outside. We stop performing all actions that we can consciously control. Eyes are closed, mouth is closed and the limbs are not moved. This is all we can do or rather not do.

The rest happens. we just watch it happen. all the aches and pains in the body surface and move out. All the concepts, prejudices, traumas packed in the mind come up and are released. In time the soul/atman begins to shine forth in its full splendour.

We just watch and enjoy. Once we are freed of all bondages, we go forth and live our life. No more discussions and debates. just blissful living.

On Aug 25, 2011 Dinesh wrote:

Few audio clips for our limitless circle :) ...