You Can Be at Peace

Photo by Carla Blazek, owner of Zenamoon.

This post is dedicated to my daughter who graduates from high school today. To your freedom Lilly baby!

There is a Sufi teaching story about a caged bird. The bird was well looked after by her owner, fed and talked to, and her cage was kept by an open window so she could see the wonderful world outside. But still she was caged. She could see other birds flying free. She could see interesting things happening. Her wings twitched because she longed so to join the world.

One day, the owner left both the cage door and the window open, and went to work for the day. The bird quicky hopped out of her cage and onto the window ledge. She could see so much!  She could see mountains and a lake, birds cavorting, humans hugging on the street below.  So much amazing life!

But the bird could not make herself move. She just stayed on the ledge, wondering what to do. She stayed and stayed and stayed. She couldn’t make her wings take flight. The bird was still there when her owner came home from work. So he put the bird back in her cage. And there she stayed.

In the last week::

I sat with a long time client as she denied herself the peace and happiness she already has. I don’t mean that in an abstract way. I mean she has everything she wants and she doesn’t allow herself to trust it’s real, to let it in. Instead, she lacerates herself with self-loathing for opportunities not taken and her failed marriage.


I watched a dear friend refuse to acknowledge she has the money she needs in the bank to leave the work that is killing her. I listened as she told me why she has to stay two and half more years until her pension is fully funded. I honestly don’t know if she can survive another month.

I watch these people I love, as I often watch myself, refuse to walk through the open cage door.

I’m fascinated by this human phenomena!  What is it with us? I give this so much thought – it’s a favorite subject of mine – why we stay caged, when we can instantly be free? Here is my most recent reminder list to myself — I’d love to hear what’s on your get free list::

  • See the cage clearly.  Name your  “cage story.” What is the cage you are in?  If  you can’t see it there is no way out.  Then ask: why do I have to stay in my cage? Be granular. Note: doing this almost always requires help from someone skilled in seeing cages. But beware: not so much help you keep bouncing from expert to expert instead of taking action to get and stay free.
  • Test the reality of your cage story. I have asked my friend for years: How much do you spend? How much do you owe? How much do you need for retirement? How much do you have in the bank now? I always start exactly there with clients who come to me for business help. It never fails to amaze me how we don’t pay attention to the most basic facts of what we have and what we need. It can be so much more fun to take another course or brainstorm about our life purpose (busting myself here). But these very things can keep you in your cage going round and round on the gerbil wheel while the door is open! Facts get you free.
  • Use conditions of enoughness. It’s a term I coined for naming what is enough in very concrete terms – it’s life changing and simple. The bottom line is you have to build a bridge of doable action from inside the cage to outside. Think of it as a ramp to freedom, made from enoughness. Building this ramp is not hard. The reason most people don’t do it? It isn’t sexy or fast. But it works. It gets you free, if you let it.
  • Keep coming into trusting contact with life. The cage lives in your mind. I’m not saying  you don’t have real crappy constraints on your lives but the feeling of being caged is always in your mind.  When you come into your precious body, partake of this very moment, you are free. The weird thing is, no matter how uncomfortable the present moment is, no matter how filled with grief or pain, when you are in it, you are free because it’s real. Reality, present moment, divine oneness, whatever you call it, is freedom. It’s all around you saying “Taste me! Live me! Be here in me now!” The bird didn’t fly because it was thinking about flying rather than actually flying.
  • Love your cage. You get free. Then, a minute or an hour or a month later, you wake up back up in the damn cage. Why am I here again, you moan! Because you got triggered – by your bank balance, your crappy first draft, your kid’s pain, your migraine – and you zipped back into the cage. Do not despair! You are human. Being human is the whole point. Seriously. Please hear me. Being human is the whole point. Don’t beat yourself up for doing what you are here to do – which is learn! Instead, come over to my house and we will polish our cages together until they shine so brightly we and our cages disappear into sparkling ordinary oneness… and then we find new cages and it starts all over again… until it doesn’t.

To cages and freedom and being human. To seeing ourselves in our cages with love and tenderness. To being at peace with it all. To you!



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Tzaddi - June 9, 2012

Oh Jen, this is beautiful, and so valuable.. Thank you.

joychristin - June 9, 2012

I *love* this: “come over to my house and we will polish our cages together
until they shine so brightly we and our cages disappear into sparkling
ordinary oneness’.  To polish together, instead of avoid or ignore, is a beautiful gift…thank you for the wisdom in this reflection!

Lianne Raymond - June 9, 2012

Beautiful, Jen.  As I was reading the image came to me of a bird dismantling all the pieces of it’s cage and reconstructing them into a nest. 

    Michelle Barry Franco - June 9, 2012

     What a delightfully inspiring image! I love it.

      Sue - June 9, 2012

       I agree! Very delightful, very inspiring!

    jenniferlouden - June 11, 2012

    I love that!!

Jodi Chapman - June 9, 2012

What a beautiful post, Jen! It really spoke to me on a deep level.

My word for the year is “soar,” and I am so ready to fly. It’s just like you said – I’ll go out and fly around for a bit, freak myself out, and hurry back to my cage – the known.

What I’m realizing is that each part of this journey is just right. It’s all part of a beautiful journey that is leading me exactly where I need to be led.

Thank you for reminding me of this today. Hugs to you!

Sherold - June 9, 2012

Jen this is such a wonderful post.  You are such a wise woman.  I too love come on over to my house and we’ll polish our cages together.  Love the Sufi wisdom too.

Karen Wan - June 9, 2012

I tend to be the type who dreams about purpose and fails to face reality.  For the last four years I was working on finding my purpose and one day a few weeks ago, I did an online quiz about priorities in life, blah, blah, blah.  My number one priority came out being spending as much time with my kids while they were growing up. 

I realized that I’d already changed my life to do that — albeit completely ungracefully!  I’m not sure that I’ll ever be a great novelist, but I keep working on it. 

So, now I’ve started working on facing reality and reading books like Retire on Less Than You Think by Fred Brock and downshifting my needs in life.  There are many ways to save the world, and feeling content and peaceful and grateful is mine.  My cage was feeling that I had to do something BIG in the eyes of the world.

Love this story, thank you for sharing it!


    jenniferlouden - June 11, 2012

     I hear you! Love that you saw that and are acting on it, so  so so important!

Sue Kearney - June 9, 2012

Ahh, Jen! I saw this just after I posted a plea in the Shero’s Journey. A plea for support around my shame and fear that’s stopping me from asking for help. 

And here you are speaking, singing, warbling the tune that’s a big part of what I need to hear.

In fact, I am in a critical situation, and I am having a really hard time poking my head out of my cage.

Thanks for helping me see this, helping me see some layers to peel so I can to the place where I can ask for the help I need.

Love and light, and thanks,

Sue - June 9, 2012

What gets me free is watching my dogs in the back yard. The yard is fenced in and it’s the limit of where they can run around without leashes. But they look so happy “patrolling” the perimeter, basking in the sun, egging each other on to play, coming to me for pets while I sit on the porch and read a little here and there, mostly watching them, the breeze in the trees…

    jenniferlouden - June 11, 2012

     i feel the same way watching my dogs cavort in the woods

Claire P - June 9, 2012

So important to come to know, bone-deep, that the cages we cling to, construct, return to again and again are built and valued by parts of ourselves that are deeply invested in our well-being.

It helps to be able to give ourselves that spaciousness to let our inner critics/ anxious mom/ self-sabotaging voices exist, have their say. After all they come from our evolved-to-help-us-stay-alive lizard brains, the amygdala, we can’t ever get away from them.

But at least if we can understand them as coming from a place of good intention (cage! no sabre-toothed tigers! safe! good! STAY!) then it is easier to approach them with a sense of agency, power and freedom. (Thankyou lizard brain for your unswerving devotion to my survival. I know more than you though so I’m going to fly now, I promise we won’t crash. Mwah!)

No war-inside-the-head. Yay.

    jenniferlouden - June 11, 2012

     brilliant! truth

Kristin Noelle - June 11, 2012

That last bullet point has me all teared up. It’s been a cagey day around here and I needed to hear that. Thank you!

    jenniferlouden - June 15, 2012

    hope today is less cagey darling!

Judi - June 11, 2012

I really loved the story and your post. We really do put ourselves in cages and then stay and get bitter. And it is easier to see other people’s cages than my own. I think mine needs polishing.

Something Good « A Thousand Shades of Gray - June 11, 2012

[…] You Can Be at Peace from Jennifer Louden. Oh how I adore […]

Jean - June 12, 2012

Also depends on who is in the cage with you!

AnnGMorrone - June 13, 2012

Katherine Carey - June 22, 2012

Currently constructing My Ramp to Freedom!!!  I am thinking a water slide of sorts…now to just maneuver the water bowl…a little to the left…little more…if I tilt it just a bit then it will..OK!  Let’s Build The Slide!!!!

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