Life Lessons of Shawshank Redemption (Part III)

Shawshank Redemption

By Cathy Eck


Here are the links for Part I and Part II of this series.


Crime is Illusory

Red did commit a crime.  But through his relationship with Andy, he changes.  He starts to accept liberation as possible.  Crimes only exist in the illusion because people hide their beliefs and emotions.  They project their enemies outside of them.

The way to free ourselves from prison is to drop the beliefs that got us into prison.  We liberate the mind, then we go free.  The physical follows the mental.  When the illusion completely disappears, everyone returns to innocence.  Everything is forgiven, which means it went back in time to “before the giving.”

Eventually, Red gets parole.  He gets it when he stops trying.  He admits, in his last parole interview, that he doesn’t even know what rehabilitation is anymore.  Admitting that we just don’t know is powerful because we’re admitting that the false self doesn’t have the answer.  That allows the True Self to take over and do its magic.

Red: I know what you think it means, sonny.  To me it’s just a made up word; a politician’s word.  So young fellas like yourself can wear a suit, and tie, and have a job. What do you really want to know?  Am I sorry for what I did?

Parole official: Well, are you?

Red: There’s not a day goes by I don’t feel regret.  Not because I’m in here, or because you think I should.  I look back on the way I was then, a young, stupid kid who committed that terrible crime.  I want to talk to him.  I want to try and talk some sense to him, tell him the way things are.  But I can’t.  That kid’s long gone and this old man is all that’s left.  I got to live with that. Rehabilitated?  It’s just a bullshit word.  So you go on and stamp your form, sonny, and stop wasting my time.  Because to tell you the truth, I don’t give a shit.


Andy Knows His Strengths

Andy brings his natural strengths into the prison — his insight, his out-of-the-box creativity, and his fearlessness in risk taking.  Often people feel that their gifts are too weird or will be judged  so they put their True Self aside or hide it in the closet.  They become small. But when we bring our True Self’s gifts into the illusion, we see the exits.  Our True Self is our power; it can even dissolve the illusion when we allow it to shine.

Notice that even though Andy’s gifts cause him to rise to the top of the prison food chain.   He doesn’t start thinking he’s someone special.  He keeps his eye focused on the goal — freedom.

Brooks isn’t as wise.  He feels important in his prison role as librarian.  He even tries to harm another so he can stay in Shawshank.  When he does get out, he commits suicide.  He’s no one in the free world.


Andy Gives What He Wants to Others

When Andy succeeds in getting through to the guards on the rooftop, he gives his well-earned beers to the other inmates.  You can see by the smirk on his face that he didn’t do it for their friendship or loyalty.  He did it to plant the seed of freedom.  The library, teaching other inmates to read, and the infamous music broadcast are all ways he created freedom within the illusion.

These actions were slowly liberating Andy’s mind so that when he eventually got outside those concrete walls, he was truly free.  He too is nobody on the outside, and he doesn’t care.  He’s joyful in sanding his boat.


Act IV

The three-act story is normal.  We’re used to it.  Most screenwriters would have ended the movie with Andy standing in the water, a free man.  But Shawshank gives us a gift — a fourth act. I always imagine life having a fourth act.  It seems ridiculous that we work so hard to get free and then we die.  The best part of life is after our rebirth, and it should last a very long time so we can enjoy the fruits of our labor.

Andy and Red have formed a sort of bromance — they have an honest firendship and we want them both to be free.  Now we get to see that unfold.

Andy: [in a letter to Red] Dear Red. If you’re reading this, you’ve gotten out. And if you’ve come this far, maybe you’re willing to come a little further. You remember the name of the town, don’t you?

Red: Zihuatanejo.

Andy: I could use a good man to help me get my project on wheels. I’ll keep an eye out for you and the chessboard ready. Remember, Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies. I will be hoping that this letter finds you, and finds you well. Your friend. Andy.

Red decides to break his parole.  He chooses to join Andy.

Red: I find I’m so excited, I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it’s the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.


I live near the Pacific.  I suspect that they say it has no memory because America was settled from the east.  People came for freedom, but unfortunately they brought their beliefs with them.  They didn’t realize they could just let go.

Andy: You know what the Mexicans say about the Pacific?

Red: No.

Andy: They say it has no memory. That’s where I want to live the rest of my life. A warm place with no memory.

Life Lessons of The Shawshank Redemption (Part II)


By Cathy Eck

For Part I of the Shawshank Redemption posts, click here.



Andy is sent to prison for murdering his wife and her lover, but he’s truly innocent.  His innocence becomes a joke when Red tells him, “Everyone’s innocent in Shawshank.”

Shawshank prison is a metaphor for the false self — the illusion.  We are innocent when we enter the illusion; then we’re tossed in a polluted sea of beliefs and rules perpetuated by people who committed one significant crime — they’re living as if they killed their own True Self.  You can’t kill your True Self, but you can ignore it so well that it appears dead.  You do that by following the authority figures in the illusion.  You make them your false Gods.

Once we embrace the illusory way of thinking, we murder everyone, even if we never pull a trigger.  We do to others what was done to us.  We spiritually and emotionally murder them.  We don’t want to admit it — everyone in Shawshank is innocent.  So we reformat our mind focusing only on what we do or achieve; we ignore what we think.  We suppress and hide our fears, our judgments, and our beliefs behind our good persona.  We all look so innocent.

Warden Norton is a perfect metaphor for Andy’s false God.  The job of authority is to make sure the prisoners don’t escape the illusion.  Authority creates endless rules and punishments (pretending they’re God’s ideas).  Freedom isn’t achievable.  Uniqueness is labeled as nonconformity, insubordination, or stupid risk taking.  If we accept the labels of authority, we get stuck in their world.  Andy is insubordinate, in the Warden’s eyes, but he doesn’t let the Warden have his mind.  He doesn’t try to manage the effects of his situation or keep score.  Andy stays focused; he just keeps carting his wall out to the yard everyday.

The guards of the illusion play a role; their job comes wrapped with authority.  We’re supposed to respect authority, but why?  They didn’t earn it; they just bought some false knowledge or acquired a false title.  They’re imposters.  The power of authority is nothing more than beliefs that we’re forced to accept.  We see that at first.  But over time, we start to believe that authority does have power and that beliefs are more powerful than the truth.  Red calls that becoming institutionalized.

Red: These walls are funny. First you hate ’em, then you get used to ’em. Enough time passes, you get so you depend on them. That’s institutionalized.

Red: Goddamn right. They send you here for life, and that’s exactly what they take. The part that counts, anyway.

Red: Forty years I been asking permission to piss. I can’t squeeze a drop without say-so.


Good Isn’t God

As you watch the Shawshank Redemption, something strange happens within your mind.  The prisoners suddenly look good (they remind us of ourselves), and the lying Bible-thumping Warden is exposed as evil.  Andy explains this to Red in a private conversation about how he’s cooking the Warden’s books.

Andy: If they ever try to trace any of those accounts, they’re gonna end up chasing a figment of my imagination.

Red: Well, I’ll be damned. Did I say you were good? Shit, you’re a Rembrandt!

Andy: Yeah. The funny thing is – on the outside, I was an honest man, straight as an arrow. I had to come to prison to be a crook.


It hard to distinguish good from evil in the illusion.  People can fake a smile, perform good deeds, or quote the right parts of the Bible to support their good facade.  Discrimination isn’t possible if our false self is too strong; our shared beliefs blind us.  But if we let go of the illusory beliefs, chip away at our false mind just as Andy did to his wall, we find that our clear sight returns.  We see the way out.


Who’s Your Warden?

Eventually Andy gets a chance at freedom.  But the warden isn’t about to let his cover guy go.  When the Warden denies Andy’s request for an appeal, Andy finally lets his anger out.  He takes back his power.

Andy:  It’s my life. Don’t you understand? IT’S MY LIFE!


The people who keep us stuck in the illusion aren’t our friends.  They’re our prison guards.  Prison guards want us to stay in prison with them.  They don’t love us.  If you love someone, you give them their freedom.  The prison guards fear that if you escape, you’ll blow their cover.  So they fill you with fear and guilt.  But the truth really does set everyone free.

You either get busy living, or you get busy dying.


Andy chose to get busy living.  He breaks free.  Red gets his parole.  And even the Warden gets freedom in the only way he can — he commits suicide.  The religious fundamentalists see freedom as death since Heaven doesn’t exist on earth.  Their beliefs assure their death although they do their best to project their beliefs in death on nonbelievers at the rapture.

So many people love this movie because each person gets exactly what they deserve, not based on actions or titles, but based on the extent to which each person’s mind has been liberated.  One person breaking free creates a ripple effect that makes everything right.  It’s exactly as it should be.  True justice handles all the details.


Andy Never Forgot his True Self

Andy: That’s the beauty of music. They can’t get that from you… Haven’t you ever felt that way about music?

Red: I played a mean harmonica as a younger man. Lost interest in it though. Didn’t make much sense in here.

Andy: Here’s where it makes the most sense. You need it so you don’t forget.

Red: Forget?

Andy: Forget that… there are places in this world that aren’t made out of stone. That there’s something inside… that they can’t get to, that they can’t touch. That’s yours.


To be continued…



Life Lessons of The Shawshank Redemption

Shawshank Redemption

By Cathy Eck


I’m Not Obsessed With Much, But…

This is my 100th post, and so it had to be special — it had to be about Shawshank Redemption.  You don’t have to read my blog for very long before you find a Shawshank Redemption quote.  My Leadership Coaching program is based on lessons found in Shawshank.  Shawshank Redemption is a near perfect story; I love it.

Today I had an opportunity to attend a screenwriting webinar analyzing the Shawshank Redemption.  How’s that for perfect timing?

Without knowing it, screenwriters often see through the illusion because the illusion is also based on the three-act story.  Almost every good story follows this blueprint or arc.  We unconsciously identify with it when we see it on the big screen or in the pages of a novel.

Every human starts in Eden or the realm of the True Self.  Then we fall into the hypnotic illusion of the material realm, and finally we work our way back out to freedom.  We become our True Selves again.

It seems like a stupid trip to take since you end up where you started.  But the person who arrives at the end of this three-act journey is not the same person who began it.  They now have vision, knowing, and stability that they didn’t have when their journey began.

 Red: “It takes a strong man to save himself, and a great man to save another.”


We All Have a Fall Story

Everyone has a True Self that doesn’t fall.  The false self takes root pretty quickly; our parents usually make sure of that.  It’s our false self that has the storyline that causes us to forget who we really are.  Stories were originally invented by astrologers based on our date and place of birth; now they come from Hollywood and religion.

Andy Dufresne had the perfect life, or so it seemed — hot wife, great job, nice house, club membership. It looks like he’s living in paradise; but he’s not.  He doesn’t have freedom or love; he’s stuck in his myopic fallen illusion.  He’s winning, but winners are often more stuck in the illusion than losers.  They have to give up their winnings to get free; that often seems like too high of a price to pay.

None of this is conscious to Andy, so his wife reflects it for him by seeking freedom and love in another man. Like most women (or children) who reflect the men in their life, she’s just being his mirror and probably doesn’t even know why she’s doing what she’s doing.

So like most men (or people in the masculine role); Andy thinks he’s a victim of his wife and her lover.  He believes that his anger is because of their actions.  He wants to get revenge and break his own mirror; but fortunately, he doesn’t.

Later on in the story, Andy takes a big step toward freedom when he realizes that he caused his wife to cheat, in a way he killed her.

Andy: She was beautiful. God I loved her. I just didn’t know how to show it, that’s all. I killed her, Red. I didn’t pull the trigger, but I pushed her away. And that’s why she died, because of me.


Like Andy, we must all realize that we are the writer, director and producer of our three-act illusory play.  We can’t change it until we take responsibility.  It’s taking responsibility that puts the letting go eraser in our hand. Responsibility gives us the power to rewrite our story.


Beautiful Women

To most people, putting up posters of beautiful women sounds kind of like male lust.  But metaphorically; it’s perfect.  Andy hides his secret tunnel to freedom behind pictures of beautiful women.

Initiates knew that the way out of the illusion was through the feminine.  Initiates followed their own feminine emotions to show them what to let go — to point to the causal beliefs within their own mind.  You can’t find freedom by denying what you feel. Thus Andy hides his secret tunnel to freedom behind pictures of beautiful women.  Each night Andy chips away at the cell wall (his false beliefs) that lies beneath his feminine (emotions).

The Greeks put Athena in the Parthenon. The Egyptians dedicated temples to Isis.  Babylonians had Ishtar. America’s Congressional building is topped with Freedom (female). The female Statue of Liberty greets immigrants to America.  The path to freedom is feminine.


The Rebirth

Andy eventually escapes by crawling through a sewage pipe, a damn good metaphor for the small, dark birth canal; he pops out looking like a newborn.  He’s free, but he’s really dirty.

Red: Andy Dufresne – who crawled through a river of shit and came out clean on the other side.

The story demonstrates that if we want to free our body, we must first liberate our mind.  It’s an old teaching that most have completely forgotten.

Most people use their minds to keep themselves in prison — a life sentence without parole.  They put art deco on the cell walls and flowers in the urinal and call it Home, Sweet Home.  It looks like acceptance of their destiny; but it’s really apathy.

Andy didn’t have apathy.  Regardless of what happened on the outside, Andy knew he was innocent.  Apathy occurs because someone else has convinced us that we deserve punishment because we broke their bullshit rules.  We wait patiently for them to give us back our innocence.   They never do.

Andy knew he was innocent. Therefore, Andy had real hope that redemption was possible, even when it looks improbable.

Red: I have to remind myself that some birds aren’t meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright. And when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up DOES rejoice. Still, the place you live in is that much more drab and empty that they’re gone. I guess I just miss my friend.


To be continued…