The Citadelle Laferrière or simply the Citadelle (in English, spelled Citadel), is a large mountaintop fortress in northern Haiti, approximately 17 miles (27 km) south of the city of Cap-Haïtien and five miles (8 km) uphill from the town of Milot. It is the largest fortress in the Americas and was designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a World Heritage Site in 1982. The mountaintop fortress has itself become an icon of Haiti.

Interestingly enough this grand edifice (covers an area of 108,000 square feet/ 10,000 m2) was built by a group of freed slaves as part of a system of fortifications designed to keep the newly-independent nation of Haiti safe from French incursions. The incursions never occurred.

We humans love to build fortresses; they are our inner citadels that keep us safe from a seemingly cruel world. However, when we attempt to live a conscious life, we notice that the citadels we erect to protect ourselves can be the very edifice that keeps us locked up from the realities that we need to face.

In the same citadel where we hide our fears is also where we keep our most private and fragile hopes and dreams. In a strange twist, these hopes and dreams are at times more difficult to talk about than the fears. No matter how old we are we have hopes and dreams. At times talking about them and then failing to achieve them, we give up some of our private fantasies into which we can retreat when things are not going well.

Citadels are typically built to keep the enemy out. So what if we become our worst enemy and still insist on keeping our citadel locked up? Once in a while like a lightning bolt in the middle of the night, there comes a moment of clarity when an existential interruption blows open one of the windows of the citadel. In that instant the light shines on our fears and they are not what they seemed to be in the dark. Consciousness takes over and we decide to step out perhaps for a moment into the open, even in the midst of a temporal storm. That’s when we realize we’ve been holding our breath way too long; it’s time to exhale.

I’ve had the privilege of visiting the Citadelle Laferrière more than once; I even took some American friends up there with me. One cannot ignore the grandiosity of the place with its large cisterns and storehouses designed to store enough food and water for 5,000 defenders for up to one year. The fortress includes palace quarters for the king and his family, in the event that they needed to take refuge within its walls. Other facilities included dungeons, bathing quarters, and bakery ovens.

This massive stone structure that was built by up to 20,000 workers between 1805 and 1820 outfitted with 365 cannon of varying size. Enormous stockpiles of cannonballs still sit in pyramidal stacks at the base of the fortress walls. Since its construction, the fortress has withstood numerous earthquakes, yet a French attack never came. The fortress was never used.

What’s in your fortress? What’s so great about your citadel? What are the cannonballs are you hiding behind those walls? It might be time to open a window or two and inhale the fresh air of reality entering the world of conscious living. Your fears are not as bad they appear in the dark. Just let a little light in and you’ll see the difference.

Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. Gen 1:3-4

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