wizard-of-oz1Several years ago, I spent six months providing psychotherapy for inmates at the local county jail. Most were drug addicts; all of them had a heart. I had a close relationship with one wise felon, whom I will call Chris. I could see through Chris’s orange prison suit that he had a huge stiff back from too much working out at the prison gym. He had been in and out jail 20 times in the last 20 years. He had warm, open hands and feeling eyes. He was known for his religion and giving guidance to the younger prisoners. My breath caught when he showed me the picture on his prison card, taken when he had just been brought in, still strung out on junk, with wild, violent eyes. I wouldn’t want to meet that guy on the outside.

We would sit in a public space next to the nurse’s station. We faced each other across a table that was clamped to the floor. A sickly green light leaked through the dirty windows that were behind bars. An old milk carton never moved from the floor next to us. It was noisy and an unsympathetic guard hovered nearby.

In spite of the inhibiting conditions, we were getting into heavy work. During one session, in order to illuminate a point, I asked if he had any interest in fairy tales. And he, surprised, said that, in fact, he did.

He told me that whenever he was out of jail, his girlfriend would laugh at him, because he had to watch The Wizard of Oz every time it was on TV. He had an interpretation of the story. And I, equally surprised, asked him to tell me what it was.

He said that we are all on a quest. We’re all on the yellow brick road because we don’t believe that we have a brain, or courage, or heart. We’re all looking for the wizard, for something outside of us that will give us the thing that we believe is missing. Toto is there to pull back the curtain, to reveal that there is no thing out there that will save you, nobody who is going to give you that thing that you believe you don’t have. But what the wizard does do, when he is revealed, is show you that everything you need is already within you. The scarecrow is brilliant, the tin-man compassionate and the lion brave. And all Dorothy needs to do to get home is click her heels. They just don’t realize the reality. The heart is lost to us but is within us all the time.

I was captivated by Chris’s interpretation. I told him that he knew the secret truth that the wise Chinese Sage, Mencius, captured thousands of years ago when he said,

“The principle of self-cultivation consists in nothing but trying to find the lost heart.”

When we say that we have a lost heart, it does not mean that it is gone forever. The lost heart can be found. It is kept, as the tales tell “in the bottom of a well, where no one can come.” When we put our heart in hiding it means that we hide essential aspects of ourselves. In The Frog-Prince, the prince was enchanted by a spiteful fairy and turned into a frog. We, too, are the prince but appear the frog. When the princess took the frog out of the spring he turned back into the prince and so we are taught in the tales that what we actually are is merely trapped in an enchanted body. The prince is not gone, and we do not need to search outside of ourselves for him. He is always within us, simply out of reach.

We have lost contact with our vital center, the home of our wisdom, courage, and faith in ourselves. As Dorothy said, we can’t lose our heart’s desire unless it has always been within us.

“If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard.  Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with!  Is that right?”

Chris’s smile disappeared and the rigid block of his monolithic chest heaved. From across the table, he looked into my eyes and past them. I could see them well with tears. I sat, waiting.

He said, “The thing I don’t understand, Glenn, is why Dorothy had to go through all that — shit – only to figure out that all she needed to do to get home was click her heels.”

I didn’t have an answer then, but I promised Chris that together, we would figure it out.

Advertisements