Rat Gets Off Wheel

“Since this summer, I keep coming back to soak in this far-reaching post (‘To Set Free’) and all of the multiverses, implications and doorways embedded within it. These realms have been part of quite a constant moving meditation this year. The exploration of this subject is both so expansive and microscopic that admittedly it’s been a bit intimidating to approach this rich canvas with a worthy brushstroke to contribute.

This process often involves finally surfacing areas where I’ve been identifying as a victim and viciously clinging to that identity. In avoiding engaging in an authentic process of forgiveness, and clutching onto some kind of righteousness, there is an illusion of control, comfort and safety, even superiority and empowerment that camouflages a terror of the idea of letting it all go.

But…to be up against such challenges, and to find one’s way to the other side, daily, moment to moment with seemingly smaller things, or to navigate one’s way through some of the heavier more intense ones… That freedom… Can literally open the gates to a new world. And even heaven.”

Thank you, Karen, for taking on that blog post in the spirit in which it was originally intended – not as “food for thought” but as a process to explore in the quest for greater wellbeing and freedom. (You can read the entire comment here.) I especially appreciate your gesture in responding as fully and openly as you have at the start of the new year, which feels like not just a resolution for 2022 but an actual leap forward in stronger conviction.

We all have our personal wars that we feel need to be attended to, but often those seem to be old stories and patterns not yet recognized as no longer having relevance in our lives. As you say, there’s often a glitch in the letting go part, as if we haven’t yet updated to the new version of the program. Your comment on letting go immediately reminded me of something Abraham Maslow put forth in his list of what makes for a fully actualized human being, what he considered to be the highest state of being that a person can achieve. (Maslow was a humanistic psychologist and one of the founders of the human potential movement back in the 1960s.) At the top of his list:

Maintaining the enthusiastic curiosity, unselfconscious attention and wonder one had as a child.

I can’t help but feel that the primary obstacle to this kind of childlike wonderment is this very “clutching onto” you mention, particularly to forms of angst-ridden, unforgiving animosity. It’s as if we give away our playful wonderment as we age, often for a sense of identification and power in various wars of our choosing (or creation). You can probably see how that spreads out in all directions, including grudge-mongering and polarized, hostile opinionating we find everywhere these days. (“Facebook internal documents show a struggle with misinformation, hate speech and celebrations of violence in the country, the company’s biggest market.” – New York Times.)

But you’ve described a personal process for moving beyond that, and although that may very well be of little interest to those who prefer wars, I do appreciate you doing all that homework to get it here in this forum. Maybe you could put it up on Facebook as a guide to resolving wars along with a mention that if one gets lost along the way to just remember “rat gets off wheel,” an easy-to-memorize phrase that encapsulates the entire body of work of Lao Tsu, Ram Das, Eckhart Tolle, and Joe Montana.

On your comment about this subject as presented on this blog being “a bit intimidating”: yes, I’m aware of the intimidation factor in responding to these posts. I applaud you for breaking through that intimidation. As for any substantial conversation or challenge we face, there is going to be an element of resistance, like in strength training in physical exercise. That very resistance, the quantity and quality of force that one needs to push against or into, is what creates the potential for something exceptional to happen.

Almost all of the posts in this blog are meant to be skills to practice or processes to actualize. That is, this is not a collection of abstract philosophical or behavioral betterment theories to consider from a distance. One may, of course, read them as “food for thought,” but that is not what they were created for. Just as in reading an article about strength training and one then feels that they understand, nothing has really happened – we still have to actually perform the exercises for something to occur.

Perspectives (and quality of life) don’t really change from understanding as much as through realization, and realizations come through active practice. There’s an alchemy in the leap from understanding information to actual application – moving through the natural sequence of awareness – choice – action into realized accomplishment. Anxieties are released, self-trust is regenerated, and new possibilities open very quickly.

You’ve phrased that process nicely as “to find one’s way to the other side.” Maybe that doesn’t lead to “even heaven,” but yes, it certainly opens gates to a new world.

For example – and definitely related to maintaining the enthusiastic curiosity, unselfconscious attention and wonder one had as a child – has anyone tried to apply the list of suggestions in my last post within a single day? That is, consciously set aside the time and space, make specific plans for each suggestion, and then carry them out. And hey, maybe take along a loved one with you who could use it! That’s about as easy as that can be, with minimal resistance. That list of activities also gives some ideas for what people do (or can do, anyway) when not making war.

May we all aspire to more childlike wonderment, and to less time on the wheel, as we move into this new year.


  1. R. says:

    It felt really nice to revisit the “Set Free” blog with this new one you have nicely assembled here. At first, it wasn’t that clear to me the connection you made between our ability to stay close to childlike wonderment and the different ways with which we get stuck or obsess about the negative past, especially unforgiven animosity. But thinking about it more made me realize that much more clearly. I find it really interesting (and scary in its implications) this angle you bring on the nature of war and where it is coming from, which reminds me of the quote you mentioned one day (sorry I don’t remember who said it) that “all wars are unmetabolized grief”.

    There is also a link to be made between our inability to let go of the past and surrender and our inability to move on and (re)create a more authentic, sane and whole self.

    If a rat can get off a wheel so can we!
    If we could all spend a bit more time regularly doing our body/mind cleaning/ cleansing like Karen did, there would be much more space for real enjoyable connections and harmony, but who is truly interested in or prioritising that?

    Thank you also for helping me update the new version of my program and your call for action!

    Speaking of Lao Tsu…from the Tao ( S. Mitchell’s translation):

    Fill your bowl to the brim
    And it will spill.
    Keep sharpening your knife
    and it will blunt.
    Chase after money and security
    and your heart will never unclench.
    Care about people’s approval
    And you will be their prisoner.

    Do your work, then step back.
    The only path to serenity.

  2. J.R. says:

    “We all have our personal wars that we feel need to be attended to, but often those seem to be old stories and patterns not yet recognized as no longer having relevance in our lives.” This quote particularly struck me – the idea that our personal wars may remain because we haven’t realized they are irrelevant, as if we haven’t recognized our home is dirty and simply needs cleaning. How much of us lives in the past, obsessed or simply fooled by bad stories we tell to entertain or busy ourselves? Wars and war-fueled stories are in no short supply, and the data from the New York Times suggests our social media patterns are helping us make more, in fact.

    Your comments about childlike wonderment cause me to think about how children, when given freedom of time together, seem to regenerate themselves quicker and more skillfully than adults…which is encouraging in the sense that this suggests we are hardwired to be successful.

    Thank you for another nuanced, meaningful and rare handhold to help regenerate and play/work with.

    (For the readers, don’t forget to click on the underlined words. “one gets lost along the way” leads to something brilliantly hilarious, but not only…)

  3. SmokyRose says:

    It’s a help to have this active principle re-emphasized – “awareness – choice – action” – which feels to me like stop reading cookbooks and start making some recipes.
    I want to thank Karen, too, for her courage in sharing her own personal process in strength training. It reminds me of Jung’s outline for deep personal change: “confession, elucidation, education and transformation.” I know you highlighted some of his observations recently in your ‘Cultivating Great Character’ post. And I can see how these all fit together.
    Now on to the actual recipes…

  4. R. says:

    Darrell I do like this reminder of connecting to the childlike wonderment, enthusiastic curiosity, unselfconscious attention a lot. I have been thinking/ experimenting how I can reconnect to those things while creating some music or simply teaching my students (also allowing more space to follow their wonderments rather than imposing a too rigid way of teaching). I find it refreshing and gently encouraging.
    To me it represents the key to still have some enthusiasm to stay connected to what I love most about life (and find real happiness) and share that with others.
    Yes to strength training and actual recipes!

  5. Mihai says:

    As Jung’s name has been already mentioned in this blog, I would add a quote from “Modern Man in Search of a Soul”:

    “I hold the truth of my own views to be equally relative, [like those of Freud and Adler] and regard myself also as the exponent of a certain predisposition. It is in applied psychology, if anywhere, that today we should be modest and grant validity to a number of apparently contradictory opinions; for we are still far from having anything like a thorough knowledge of the human psyche”

    I see Jung as a man deeply dedicated to the nuanced, experiential study of the psyche, recognized worldwide and writer of numerous, thought-provoking works. His humble position in the field of his expertise puts in perspective my sometimes tight hanging onto some convenient piece of information as final truth.

    Karen’s beautifully revealing comment – “superiority and empowerment that camouflages a terror of the idea of letting it all go” – is easily recognizable. With the camouflage held in place, unwanted darker tones remain hidden, at any cost, and an image of purity is projected out to a society that rewards such superficial displays. An internal war with these ignored, unwanted parts become a reason for war when noticed in others. I see this, for instance, as my unacknowledged withdrawal from certain more difficult situations, which becomes anger at the lack of engagement of others, followed by a desire to punish such weak individuals for it. In the process, the lively part in me that cares about being engaged becomes entrapped.

    Or, in the lighter voice already expressed here above: “as if we haven’t recognized our home is dirty and simply needs cleaning”.

    Before finding that perceived outside aggressor and deciding, with big bewildered eyes, to take another lap on the wheel, the more dignified thing seems to be to do some cleaning at home.

  6. S.M.R. says:

    I’m glad you came back to your emotional skillfulness list that you had laid out in your previous ‘Above all, being real, being sincere’ post, encouraging active experimentation. That motivated me to return to and explore it more carefully, when at first I felt that I already knew the techniques you’d listed.
    I then noticed that these10 techniques seem to be what you build on in your workshops that I’d attended – each of them carefully, precisely designed – which do in fact lead exactly to the experience in your highlighted phrase: “The enthusiastic curiosity, unselfconscious attention and wonder one had as a child.”
    I’ve not been able to reproduce that state on my own, even though I do try to practice many of your suggestions. I do though find a lightening, more willing and inspired energy, which has been key to me avoiding wars of all kinds, internal and external. As you say, “Perspectives (and quality of life) don’t really change from understanding as much as through realization, and realizations come through active practice.”

  7. Karen says:

    Darrell and Friends,

    Thank you for your generous reception of my raw toss, and the continued exploration and deepening of these micro and macro verses. The scene between Galdrial and Frodo really resonated amidst all this…

    “I know what I must do.. it’s just… I’m afraid to do it..”

    Which pretty much encapsulates so much of our human experience… (and also reverberates potently with the newest blog Darrell posted in March – “The Intensity of Aliveness.”)

    There’s so much more that can be delved into and said and thought and explored in these worlds and shared conversations.., but stepping away from the limitations of words, I’d like to offer this piece here.

    I have personal fascination with the life of Hildegarde von Bingen. If you ever get to read about her a little… the intense challenges she was confronted with starting in very early childhood and the constant oppositions she encountered along with the threat of persecution and death that she faced on a daily basis, and yet what she accomplished in spite of it all, and perhaps even thanks to or “in grace of” it all… is really astounding. Her own constant muscle of moment-to-moment forgiveness (to set herself and everything else free) within the world she inhabited, her enduring patience, passionate work ethic and ever evolving childlike curiosity and wonder was clearly what propelled her above the grasp of her own small self or ego or our alluring three dimensional cage here on earth…

    When I listen to this piece, it is a real invitation for me to step outside of that impatient, grumbling smaller self and attempt to meet some of the qualities she embodied as she stepped into the intensely alive and graceful world of her heart, soul and experience here and beyond, to attempt to share it with us. A handy palpable reminder and “how to” get that inner rat off the wheel and rise to another dimension, summoning a true intensity of aliveness…
    I know it’s a bit long… but if one had an hour or two to sit under a tree with bare feet and some headphones it might be worth the journey…

    1. Thank you for your additional reflections here. Hildegarde von Bingen is certainly a worthy individual to add to the list of great persons quoted and highlighted on this blog, and an excellent example of both getting off the wheel and intense aliveness. Ms Hilda predated by almost a thousand years the idea of modern feminism and did so with stylish grace and a bold, independent spirit that would make Camille Paglia proud. Beyond that, she was in many ways a precursor to the Renaissance, and to the Transcendentalist-Naturalist philosophies of John Muir, Raplh Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.

      As you suggest, it’s not only what she did (Christian mystic, Benedictine abbess, philosopher, musical composer, herbologist, playwright, poet and writer, cosmologist, biologist, theologist and naturalist) but how she went about all of that while juggling intense migraine episodes and other extended illnesses, uncontrollable visions, and consistent opposition from the Christian church and society in general. She even wrote and spoke on lecture tours about female sexuality and the hypocrisy of the Church at a time when that was unheard of and very dangerous. Still, she consistently upheld and promoted personal optimism and a deeply-felt attitude of “No blame.”

      I gave a presentation on Ms Hilda at a seminar some years ago but I can’t find my notes now. But here’s a decent, coherent introduction:

      Her musical piece, Ave Generosa, produced by Jordi Savall, is about halfway down the article and is something I’ve played for years at my events.

      I leave you with a couple of my favorite quotes from Ms Hilda:

      “Part of the terror is to take back our own listening, to use our own voice, to see our own light.”

      “Humanity, take a good look at yourself. Inside, you’ve got heaven and earth, and all of creation. You’re a world—everything is hidden in you.”

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