In this post I offer two interpretations of the parable by Kafka (below). The first interpretation has to do with the authority of one’s own being; the second concerns self-sabotage.
Authority of One’s Own Being
Consider what your inner being is saying to you. Is there some decision that you must make? Maybe you need to break off a relationship — or again, restore and renew one. You are afraid to take action, in one direction or another. There are no guarantees of success. Yet, you know in your heart that now is the time.
Or perhaps you wish to begin a new project. It is time to decide and act. Or it may be that some new fascination, or responsibility, calls to you. Or you must develop a talent. The law of your inner being pesters you: Go, Do it, Now.
This parable (below) by Kafka communicates that the authority of the law is given to all of us. We must act upon this law and upon our own inner knowing of its freedom.
Yet, when faced by the law of ourselves, often we take flight. We enslave ourselves by handing over our power to self-appointed gatekeepers, from whom we seek permission to act upon our truth.
We keep asking counselors and friends. We talk ourselves out of what we know. Or we seek permission from somebody we admire, who has walked the road we must walk. All of these strategies may have their place. But, at a certain point, it is time to let them go. We delay and worry; we plot and calculate. True freedom is available once we depose the gatekeepers, both external ones and the internalized voices of fear.
These gatekeepers are impotent for the gate is already open to us. We need only to walk through it.
Now, I do not mean to say that all institutions and guides are misleading or illegitimate. However, ultimately, the decision is ours. We must seize our freedom, the freedom of the law, and move with it.
What is the law? The law is the Gospel. We know the Gospel, the law of love, the voice of God, which comes to each of us within the unique circumstances of our lives. Instead of acting upon what we know, and heeding this voice, quite often we give our power over to gatekeepers from whom we ask permission. This seeking permission becomes an endless diversion and even an excuse for our own cowardice and procrastination.
Forgive yourself. Let us take back our power. We shall then walk through the gate of freedom, joy, and light.
The person in Kafka’s parable sits at the gate of the law. Presumably, if he were to walk through the gate, he would find freedom. Instead, he sits and waits.
How often do we sabotage ourselves by waiting for a particular door to be opened for us? For instance, we wait for a specific person to love us or we get caught up waiting for one specific result in our work or in other aspects of our lives.
Maybe that specific door is not opening right now. It could be that we must prepare ourselves and return later. We are not ready to walk through the gate. Later we will be ready. There is no reason to give hope about going through the gate. But, one must prepare oneself for life on the other side.
Or it could be that the gatekeeper of that particular gate will never allow us through. That gatekeeper could be somebody you love, whose forgiveness you are seeking, or it could be a specific opportunity that you are waiting for, which will be decided by a committee or by some other gatekeeper.
It takes wisdom to know whether to keep trying– in order to get through a particular door– or whether to leave the door behind and find a different door, which is more accessible. Self-sabotage happens when we wait in resignation and despair. Finally, life draws to an end. We realize that we could have found freedom if we had not handed our power over to another to decide our freedom instead.
See parable below:
Before the Law
by Franz Kafka
Translation by Ian Johnston
Before the law sits a gatekeeper. To this gatekeeper comes a man from the country who asks to gain entry into the law. But the gatekeeper says that he cannot grant him entry at the moment. The man thinks about it and then asks if he will be allowed to come in later on. “It is possible,” says the gatekeeper, “but not now.” At the moment the gate to the law stands open, as always, and the gatekeeper walks to the side, so the man bends over in order to see through the gate into the inside. When the gatekeeper notices that, he laughs and says: “If it tempts you so much, try it in spite of my prohibition. But take note: I am powerful. And I am only the most lowly gatekeeper. But from room to room stand gatekeepers, each more powerful than the other. I can’t endure even one glimpse of the third.” The man from the country has not expected such difficulties: the law should always be accessible for everyone, he thinks, but as he now looks more closely at the gatekeeper in his fur coat, at his large pointed nose and his long, thin, black Tartar’s beard, he decides that it would be better to wait until he gets permission to go inside. The gatekeeper gives him a stool and allows him to sit down at the side in front of the gate. There he sits for days and years. He makes many attempts to be let in, and he wears the gatekeeper out with his requests. The gatekeeper often interrogates him briefly, questioning him about his homeland and many other things, but they are indifferent questions, the kind great men put, and at the end he always tells him once more that he cannot let him inside yet. The man, who has equipped himself with many things for his journey, spends everything, no matter how valuable, to win over the gatekeeper. The latter takes it all but, as he does so, says, “I am taking this only so that you do not think you have failed to do anything.” During the many years the man observes the gatekeeper almost continuously. He forgets the other gatekeepers, and this one seems to him the only obstacle for entry into the law. He curses the unlucky circumstance, in the first years thoughtlessly and out loud, later, as he grows old, he still mumbles to himself. He becomes childish and, since in the long years studying the gatekeeper he has come to know the fleas in his fur collar, he even asks the fleas to help him persuade the gatekeeper. Finally his eyesight grows weak, and he does not know whether things are really darker around him or whether his eyes are merely deceiving him. But he recognizes now in the darkness an illumination which breaks inextinguishably out of the gateway to the law. Now he no longer has much time to live. Before his death he gathers in his head all his experiences of the entire time up into one question which he has not yet put to the gatekeeper. He waves to him, since he can no longer lift up his stiffening body.
The gatekeeper has to bend way down to him, for the great difference has changed things to the disadvantage of the man. “What do you still want to know, then?” asks the gatekeeper. “You are insatiable.” “Everyone strives after the law,” says the man, “so how is that in these many years no one except me has requested entry?” The gatekeeper sees that the man is already dying and, in order to reach his diminishing sense of hearing, he shouts at him, “Here no one else can gain entry, since this entrance was assigned only to you. I’m going now to close it.
(Thanks to this page for the text: Kafka Parable : Before the Law.)