When I was twelve years old, I dreamed of being abducted by aliens. On a few warm nights that summer, I would lay in my sleeping bag in the backyard, pointing my flashlight up at the stars and planets, in the hope that “they” would see it and home in on my location. I imagined how wonderful it would be: weightless, floating upward in a tractor beam of warm, milky light toward a silver spacecraft. I hadn’t really thought it through too much beyond that. I’m also not sure why it was such an intense fantasy for me at the time. Maybe because I had been watching a lot of Doctor Who and Lost in Space that year. And anything would have seemed better than foster families and social workers. Perhaps, also, it had something to do with an intuitive understanding that the act of escaping, even the act of dreaming about escaping, can be a gesture of mercy toward ourselves, and sometimes the only sane response to an unbearable situation.
I realize that the word “escape” has some pretty negative associations. Fleeing from obligations, from responsibilities, from reality; running away from one’s troubles; escaping through substance abuse and denial; all of these might rightly be called the acts of a coward. I, like many others, have been guilty of them all at times.
But what if you are escaping the grip of something that has been keeping you tied up and stifled your whole life? What if, like some existentialist Houdini, you are ready to slip free from the enervating chains and shackles of your current circumstances? What if your escape takes the form of a grand adventure, a sweeping change in your life? What would this look like for you? Perhaps it would look like finding the courage to leave a bad job or a bad relationship. Perhaps it would involve moving to a new place, learning a new skill, letting go of old ways of thinking, embracing new ways of seeing the world. Perhaps it would look like finally writing that novel or starting that business. Maybe it would look like letting go, or falling in love, or having the courage to begin again. It is, after all, not the act of escape itself that is ignoble, but rather the lies, evasions, selfishness, and cowardice that frequently accompany it. As always, honesty and self-awareness are the antidote. We must make sure we are not “fleeing from,” but “moving toward.”
I am firmly with the romantics and the surrealists on this: the world is exotic, inexhaustible in its potential variety, utterly chimerical, completely unknowable. The potentialities are vast, and we each have such a short opportunity to embrace and explore them. And yet we so often spend the majority of our lifetimes swimming around like ornamental koi in the stagnant pond of our “comfort zone.” We owe it to ourselves, and possibly to the cosmos, to escape the restraints of our own fear of transformation. The prison of our own minds is not an easy one to break free from. The first step, I suppose, is to know who our jailer is. I would humbly suggest that, for each of us, the mirror is a good place to start.