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Free the Mohini!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


A man will be imprisoned in a room with a door that’s unlocked and opens inwards; as long as it does not occur to him to pull rather than push. - Ludwig Wttgenstein, Philosopher

Hard to believe that it’s almost Thanksgiving! Reno is resplendent in its fall cool splendor. We are still in the editing process for the public television special that is due to air in March of ‘09, and I’m finishing up my second book, Back in Charge! Time flies when you’re having fun!

Recent events reminded me of the story I often tell in speeches and workshops: In the 1960’s, President Eisenhower was given a rare white tiger as a gift. This tiger, Mohini, was sent to live in the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. and put in a 12 by 12 cage as was common in those times. For years, she spent her days in this cage, pacing back and forth in a continuous figure eight. Finally, a sympathetic benefactor gave enough money to the zoo to build Mohini a more natural habitat, several acres of trees, hills, a pond, grassy areas. And do you know what happened the moment they put Mohini in her new beautiful habitat? She immediately ran to a far corner by the wall, marked off a 12 by 12 square for herself, and stayed in that square for the rest of her days, pacing until the area was worn bare. This magnificent creature was held captive by the invisible bars of her conditioning.

I usually tell this story to illustrate the invisible cages we as individuals build around ourselves. But cultures and countries can become imprisoned by false walls as well. For over 200 years, our own country has been held back by the invisible bars of racism. Despite our conscious beliefs, the emphasis on politically correct language, celebrations of holidays such as Martin Luther King Day, and decades of equal opportunity laws on the books, the unconscious underlying conditioning of many Americans continued to view – and treat — non-Caucasians as lesser.

But earlier this month, our country took a historic step out of that invisible cage of conditioned racism when we elected our first African-American President, Barack Obama. People of all political persuasions felt the excitement of bursting through these barriers. Many, especially within the African American community, reported feeling stunned, unable to grasp that these bars had indeed fallen. The cage of racism may have been invisible, but its power had been palpable.

Will this historic election erase racism completely? No. Those underlying conditioned beliefs still reside in many of us. And unless they are acknowledged and dealt with, those conditioned beliefs will continue to affect our actions and judgments.

Conditioned beliefs that have broad cultural agreement, like racism, sexism, or ageism, can be difficult to pinpoint. We are surrounded by subtle and not-so-subtle messages that support these cultural beliefs, making them implicitly “true.” Our conscious thoughts may be politically correct, but our feelings reveal the stronger conditioned belief underneath. For instance, we may be very clear that not all Muslims are terrorists, yet get nervous when we get on an airplane with several men in turbans. Often we can monitor ourselves and make sure that our actions reflect our conscious choices, not our knee-jerk reactions or feelings. Unearthing those unconscious conditioned beliefs and working to change them is always more reliable.

This election was a huge step. And today’s young children will never question whether a person of color could be elected to our country’s highest office. For them, it will be a given. They may very well wonder why all the hoopla about this election!

There is a magnificent Mohini — powerful, good, vibrant — waiting to be set free in each of us, in our country, and in our world. Let’s celebrate every step through those invisible barriers, and know that there are more to come!

Wishing you focus, fitness and flexibility in mind and body.

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