The English Philosopher, Herbert Spencer, coined the well-known phrase “survival of the fittest,” after he read Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. The concept paralleled some of his economic theories with certain of Darwin’s biological ones.
Subsequently, Darwin used it as a synonym for “natural selection,” his theory, which outlines that there is consistent preservation and evolution of organisms that are better adapted to live in a changing environment.
Darwin was readily aware that it is adaptability in the face of change, often under adverse conditions, that leads to the evolution of species. We, as human beings, along with everything else, are riding the wave of the eternal, universal current of evolution.
Not only are we evolving biologically, but we are also continually undergoing spiritual evolution. Whether consciously or not, we inexorably make our way from the darkness and limitations of the illusion of material “reality” into the light and unity of All That Is, often referred to as the I Am Presence, Christ or Buddha Consciousness, or the Tao, among other names.
We continually become involved in the material plane, the realm of polarity or contrast with each incarnation, often facing adversity in the process of restoring balance to the energies we set in motion in other lifetimes.
If we are on a conscious path, we will eventually take stock of what our nets have pulled in, and gradually cull through it, throwing back what will not nourish our souls. When we understand what we reel in is determined by that with which we have baited our hooks; the Law of Cause and Effect or Karma will no longer be a mystery, and will ultimately empower us to live the joyful, abundant, fulfilling lives that are our birthright.
Our spiritual evolutionary process may, at times, strike us as harsh, as we appear to meet obstruction after obstruction on our path toward illumination. Yet, this is all necessary, and as it should be. A diamond, radiant in the Sun’s light, begins as nothing more than a black lump of anthracite, or coal, that has been exposed to tremendous pressure in the darkness of the earth.
It is only through the process of restoring balance that our souls evolve. It may prove at times very challenging, but ultimately what we undergo or endure will bring us closer to an awareness that we are the cause of all we experience, and are not merely at the mercy of forces beyond our control. We eventually come to view what was at first perceived as struggle, pain, or hardship as a form of grace that carries us across the abyss into a new more expansive state of consciousness.
These truths came into clearer focus for me, as I drove east, on a glorious sun drenched afternoon, over the undulating ribbon of Old Seneca Turnpike, in Marcellus, NY. I noticed a tiny chartreuse grasshopper glued to my windshield. I had no idea how long it had been there, but I imagined it had hopped aboard back at the artist’s studio in Skaneateles from which I came a half a dozen or so miles back.
Earlier, I was parked under a canopy of trees, amidst a profusion of color and texture that are my friend’s gardens. This little insect, very likely, was making its way from the shade of the fern bed toward a patch of sun pouring down through the overhang of beech, maple and oak. My car, an interloper in this pastoral haven, was a temporary way station on its journey toward the light.
The grasshopper, emerging from the darkness of the dense ground cover toward the pool of sun to which it was instinctively drawn, took the path that seemed to be the most direct, landing smack dab on my car. Little did it know that it had just signed on for the ride of its life!
As I considered this intrepid traveler perched precariously on the wind-screen of my Toyota, I couldn’t help recall a statement printed on one of my son’s T-shirts, which reads, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” I was immediately flooded with a profound sense of recognition and compassion for this wind blown little bug.
As I observed the tiny creature, I found myself rather conflicted. I was thoroughly intrigued by its display of strength and determination, as it faced the onslaught, like a beautifully carved figurehead on a clipper ship sailing directly into the wind. Yet, at the same time I thought, "I should really pull over and remove the poor thing, before it gets blown off and crushed in the oncoming traffic". But something made me resist.
It might seem like my decision arose from some perverse desire to see the bug suffer, but that is far from the case. I was in awe of this amazing insect. It displayed a humbling and heroic show of courage and nobility, in the midst of such tremendous adversity. I was rooting for it the entire way, wanting to see it surmount the forces beset against it. I wanted it to succeed, to be carried far beyond the limited confines of its point of departure.
I would periodically peel my eyes from the road to peek on the condition of my passenger. During one such stolen glance, something didn’t seem quite right about my miniature stow-away; something was out of balance. On closer inspection, I made a startling discovery; the grasshopper was missing its left hind leg.
Now if you know anything about grasshoppers, you are well aware that it is primarily their powerful back legs that propel them forward, up to distances 20 times their own body length. Without a pair of back legs, this little fellow would be relegated to a rather restricted world-view. It wasn’t likely going to make it very far afield on its own.
Just like this grasshopper, we are often deterred from expanding our own horizons by the physical limitations of our bodies, or the restrictive belief systems and concepts we cling to so tightly. Off balance, we can find ourselves going around in circles, only able to turn left, when what we really want to do is move forward.
Yet, even with its seeming limitation, now plunged into a situation it clearly hadn’t planned for, it was adept at riding the current, able to withstand the force of the oncoming wind, all the while remaining completely poised and unperturbed, in the face of such hardship.
What I found utterly fascinating was watching how this grasshopper behaved under these extraordinary circumstances. It could easily have jumped off at a number of points, during our excursion from Skaneateles to my destination in Fayetteville some 20 miles away. Yet it remained fixed and focused, like a guided missile honing in on its intended target.
Occasionally, I would see the grasshopper attempt to alter its orientation. Several times it began to turn its body so the whole side flank was exposed to the on rush of air. Buffeted more heavily by the crushing current in this position, it quickly readjusted to meet the onslaught head on, its little antennae blowing like pennants in the powerful breeze.
So often, in our own lives, we find ourselves in this same predicament, set on a particular course, only to be redirected by some unforeseen circumstance. We typically view such a disruption as an impediment to our progress, and turn away from it. But if we look with broader perspective, and face the challenge directly, withstanding the urge to bail, bolt or throw ourselves overboard, we will come to the awareness that this perceived obstacle has ultimately propelled us farther along the path in our evolutionary process than had this seemingly undesired event never occurred.
When such incidents arise, we may find ourselves falling into the “Why me?” mode, bemoaning our state and railing at a co-worker, family member, the Universe, or God for having done this to us. This kind of thinking places us in the realm of “Victim Consciousness” and renders us impotent. We, in fact, are the creators and arbiters of our own lives, and therefore responsible for all we experience. As divine sparks of the Eternal One, Light Beings, we are actually always in a position of omnipotence.
If we can look at our situation from a more expansive viewpoint, we will come to understand that this seeming accident of fate, the car wreck, the lay-off from work, or the breakup of a relationship, was not an arbitrary hit from the Universe, or some sick, sadistic punishment from God, but an ingenious creation of our own soul’s design, a means for our own salvation.
When we have become stuck or complacent in our patterns of thought or behavior, our souls get to work, magnetically drawing to us the perfect antidote to our spiritual stupor. We continually manifest a pattern until it is brought into balance, until there is atonement, otherwise pronounced at-one-ment.
These moments of elemental disruption can capsize us, leaving us clutching for something of substance to hold onto. If we struggle, we can quickly be pulled into the undertow. Very often, instead of rising above the currents churning around us, and drifting on the surface toward safety, we thrash about, stretching and straining to free ourselves from the clutches of old outmoded habits and concepts.
Though floating peacefully in the direction we care to go would be an infinitely more pleasant experience, the challenge of trying to keep our heads above water amidst the tempest does have its benefits.
These twists and turns of fate that seem to come out of nowhere are like tidal waves that launch us into a new dimension of consciousness. We are picked up out of our complacency, and deposited somewhere entirely new, our cloak of ignorance torn from us, leaving us raw and bare. Yet through this torrential initiation, everything that keeps us bound to the limited, ego mind is stripped away, until we wake up from the dream of separation, cleansed of all our illusions, and remember we are God.
So you might say I was “playing God,” taking that little bug, against its will, to a place it never intended to go. I say that bug was playing God. It chose to take that ride, consciously or not. I did not lash it to the mast. Undoubtedly, we served each other that day. We became partners in the eternal Cosmic Dance of cause and effect. I piloted it beyond the limitations of it’s own physical form and current experience, and it expanded my spiritual horizons, by bravely enacting lessons I needed to learn for my own evolutionary process.
As I placed my leggy little teacher in the grass, at the base of a gnarly old willow, awash with the afternoon light, I expressed gratitude for the shared experience, and the new insights I had received from this accidental tourist, hoping its hopping would continue to propel it forward on its evolutionary path.
The following day, those lessons became even more clearly defined while I was in yet another studio, modeling for a sculpture of Dr. Mary Walker, a woman who, ironically, faced tremendous adversity in her lifetime, and met it with grace and dignity.
She was born in Oswego NY, in 1832. In 1855, she was the only woman in her graduating class at Syracuse Medical College, embarking on a bold career path for a woman of the 19th century.
She had a clear vision of what she wanted to accomplish and would not be deterred. She might have taken the easy path, but had she done so, she never would have risen to the heights of her own potential.
Subject to ridicule throughout her life, for her views and behavior, Mary was an outspoken proponent of women’s rights and dress reform. She eschewed the corset, wore pants under her knee length skirts, and in her later years, opted for full men’s attire, and cut off her waist length hair, as to better serve her needs as a physician. She had long since stopped adhering to what society had dictated as proper for a woman of her era.
She went on to serve, amidst great opposition, as a physician during the Civil War, and was even held for a time as a prisoner by the Confederacy. She remains the only woman ever to receive the Congressional Metal of Honor for dedicated service to her country. A woman advanced beyond her time, Mary Walker used the adversity she faced as a means to create profound change in the social structure of 19th century society.
While I stood on the platform in my cobalt blue, silk antebellum costume, replete with wool trousers and feathered hat, I heard a furious sound coming from one of the high placed windows in the northwest corner of the sun soaked studio.
I looked up to see an enormous insect hurling itself against the glass pane trying to make its way out into the light. It was hard to discern what kind of bug it was from my vantage point. All I knew was it was big and appeared to be very frustrated.
There would be a frenzy of activity, wings beating frantically against the glass, and then nothing. A moment later the flurry would begin again. The silences soon became more and more frequent, as if the insect was giving up, resigned to its condition, locked away from the light that it so desperately sought. I was relieved when I was able to take a break, as I wanted to ease the creature’s burden, and release it from its invisible cage.
I took the broom I was using to support my arm, which in the final sculpture would eventually be resting on a podium, and held it out to what I discovered was a beautiful electric blue dragonfly.
At first it resisted my offer of assistance. It continued to heave itself against the window, like a ship continually being dashed against the rocks. It finally released, and grabbed hold of the bristles of the makeshift lifeboat I floated in its direction.
It clung there delicately, dazed from its battle to breach the wall of glass. I pivoted around and held the broom toward the vast opening of the garage door on the eastern wall. As soon as it caught a glimpse of the wide expanse of light, it lifted off and flew to its freedom.
Though our challenges in the process of our spiritual evolution are of our own creation, it doesn’t mean we necessarily need to go through them alone. It is especially useful to accept assistance when we are too beaten down by the struggle, or too blinded to our own condition to see the way out.
Just as we attract to us the bitter but necessary antidotes to our spiritual ailments, we also draw forth those angels of mercy who can assist us in our healing. If we continually resist the hand that would pull us to safety, we will eventually drown in the teacup of our own ego.
There is a well-known story that illustrates this point very cleverly.
A state trooper in a Jeep knocks on a man's door and tells him to evacuate due to a pending flood; the man says "God will save me." A few hours later the water is rushing through the man's first story, and the coast guard pulls up to his second floor window in a boat, but he sends them away, saying "God will save me." A little later, the man is on his roof, with floodwaters ravaging his house. A helicopter flies over and dangles a ladder, but the man waves it off. The man is swept away and drowns, and when he gets to heaven, he angrily confronts God with "why didn't you do anything to save me." God says "I didn't do anything? I sent you a jeep, a boat and a helicopter."
When we are faced with adversity, we must remember that our soul is responsible for creating this crucible to burn off the dross and leave the pure metal that may then be fashioned into a ship that will sail us home. Should we find ourselves in troubled waters, we must not be afraid to reach out to the hands that would carry us to safety.
The Grace of God comes in many forms, often appearing as hardship and loss. But during those times of struggle, others come to lift us out of the fray and carry us to dry land, where we again can take up the path that leads us to the higher ground of illumination.
A few years back, I was listening to music while driving. Dido’s “Life for Rent” began playing, and I was struck by the synchronicity. The song came to my attention, during a period when I was thinking a lot about the buying and selling of homes, with all of the attendant implications. Slowly, over the next several days, my inner dialogue and the resonance of Dido’s words began to merge into an allegory for living, and subsequently developed into the focus of this reflection.
"Life For Rent"
I haven't ever really found a place that I call home
I never stick around quite long enough to make it
I apologize once again I'm not in love
But it's not as if I mind
that your heart ain't exactly breaking
It's just a thought, only a thought
But if my life is for rent and I don't learn to buy
Well I deserve nothing more than I get
Cos nothing I have is truly mine
I've always thought
that I would love to live by the sea
To travel the world alone
and live more simply
I have no idea what's happened to that dream
Cos there's really nothing left here to stop me
It's just a thought, only a thought
But if my life is for rent and I don't learn to buy
Well I deserve nothing more than I get
Cos nothing I have is truly mine
If my life is for rent and I don't learn to buy
Well I deserve nothing more than I get
Cos nothing I have is truly mine
While my heart is a shield and I won't let it down
While I am so afraid to fail so I won't even try
Well how can I say I'm alive
If my life is for rent and I don't learn to buy
Well I deserve nothing more than I get
Cos nothing I have is truly mine
If my life is for rent and I don't learn to buy
Well I deserve nothing more than I get
Cos nothing I have is truly mine
During my adult life, I’ve lived in many flats, and owned two homes. A number of years ago, I went from being a homeowner to living in an apartment again. Renting and owning have each held their particular appeal for me, for different reasons.
At times, apartment living can be far more preferable than being a homeowner. As a renter, I am afforded a certain amount of mobility. When I live in an apartment, there is an undeniable sense of freedom. If the landlord turns out to be a jerk, if a live-in relationship falls apart, or a job-offer leads to a new city, I can pick up and go with relative ease; nothing is hindering me from moving on. As a tenant, other than general care and cleaning, there is little or no maintenance required of me, and I can generally rely on the landlord to tend to the grounds and fix what ails my apartment.
These exemplify some of the assets to being a leaseholder, but there are also things about it that I don’t enjoy. Foremost, is that I am required to live by somebody else’s rules. I am beholden to the “establishment”, and there is always a list of thou shalt not’s that comes with signing a rental contract.
Perhaps more important still, there is no equity in renting, no investment made each month when I write my check. I receive the monthly bill, but the landlord receives the major benefit.
Surely, living the life of a homeowner also has its highlights and drawbacks. As with anything, it all depends on your perspective. For example, the initial outlay of a down payment, holding a mortgage, or paying property and school taxes can be daunting prospects for many. For some, the constant upkeep of home and yard is undesirable. There is an endless flow of maintenance required to keep a home in good condition.
So what is it about homeownership that has so many clamoring for it? If the rewards were not great, would it be held as such a strong goal for so many, would it be considered a cornerstone of living the “American Dream’?
To be in possession of a home can provide great satisfaction for those fortunate enough to have made that dream come true. Pride in ownership often out ways the impact of the punch list posted on the fridge. Great fulfillment can be found in creating a cozy nest for one’s family, and an inviting place for gathering friends. There is also the value of stability, having a sense of grounding as one puts down roots, and being a part of a larger community.
These dynamics speak to the idea of commitment, of taking responsibility, and investing not only money, but also time and effort to create a supportive environment that will nurture the growth of self and family.
Now, I find it very interesting that in the symbolic realm of Dreams, a house or home represents one’s self and/or soul, both the physical and the spiritual aspects of one’s existence. In dreams, the rooms of the home refer to various parts of the self. For example, the attic symbolizes the intellect, and the basement, the subconscious.
Not so long ago, we experienced a “Housing Crisis” or what was termed a “Housing Bubble, “ which, is typically characterized by rapid increases in the assessment of homes, until levels are reached that are unsustainable relative to incomes. This is then followed by plummeting home prices that find many owners in a position of having negative equity—which is to say, they have a mortgage debt higher than the value of their property.
So, how do these circumstances reflect our lives in a larger sense? Well, if we examine more closely the relative state of the current housing market, we may begin to see that metaphorically, the macrocosm mirrors the microcosm. It has become increasingly evident that as individuals, and collectively as a society, we too are in a crisis of body and soul.
It is as if we are embroiled in a drama of epic proportions. Like Oedipus Rex, in the Greek Tragedy by Sophocles, we are the cause of our own undoing. In the course of this classic play, the viewer comes to understand how the plague that has infected the city of Thebes is a metaphor for the internal state of the King. His figurative blindness, which, ironically, the blind seer, Tireseas, brings to light, and his inability to “Know Thyself,” along with his hubris, or excessive pride, are, ultimately, what lead to his fall from Grace.
Gnothi Seauton- “Know Thyself” and Maden Agon- “Nothing in Excess” flank the proneos, or forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. The ancient Greeks held these two tenets as paramount to maintaining a balance in self and society.
This metaphor of the “state of the state” is also seen in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. During the medieval period the sovereign was often referred to by the name of the country. So when Marcellus, a sentinel, expresses that, “…something is rotten in the state of Denmark…,” he is insinuating that the state is decaying because the King is corrupt. Analogously, the disintegration of our housing market may be viewed as symbolic of our internal states as individuals.
Practically speaking, we are currently putting out more than we are taking in… In a society where leveraging buyouts and hedging ones bets are the norm, the market value now placed on our homes has far outreached their true worth, because we have fallen into the trap of “living beyond our means.” Individually, we face the same plight, because our moral and spiritual bank accounts are languishing…
Metaphorically, we are all homeowners, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we are being good stewards of what we possess. We’ve all been witness to homes in various states of disrepair, with overgrown lawns and gardens. We see detritus piled high on front porches, and spilling out of garages. Even if the home looks pristine on the outside, and the yard is immaculate, that doesn’t ensure the interior reflects the same, or that there is actually anything of substance on the inside. The same might be said for us. How do we outwardly reflect our internal lives?
This anecdote highlights the insidious problem of living beyond one’s means, and more poignantly, underscores the root cause of our physical and spiritual dilemma.
Family friends have a huge house a couple of blocks away. They drive two late model Mercedes Benz, she has a Cartier watch encrusted with diamonds... yet their house, according to one contractor, is "one snowstorm short of falling apart." It's completely empty inside, devoid of furniture - see as long as the flower planter is the biggest on the street no one realizes you can't afford to furnish the place…. But remember people, life in the Village is all about showing and not telling.
Like this family, so many of us have finally maxed out our resources, and are now in the midst of circumstances that will undoubtedly alter the way we function as a society. Should we choose to, however, we can use this crisis as an opportunity to create significant change within ourselves. It is no wonder we find ourselves in this predicament, as our value as individuals in this culture, according to documentarian, Annie Leonard, “is currently measured and demonstrated by how much we consume.”
She goes on to explain in her short film, The Story of Stuff (see the video attached at the end of this post) that there was a key shift in our attitude toward consumption, after World War II, because Industry wanted to perpetuate the wartime economic boom. Noted retail analyst of the time, Victor Le Beau articulated a notion that has become the standard for how our market functions, and underscores the source of this crisis of self and society.
He said, "Our enormously productive economy...demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption.... We need things consumed, burned up, replaced and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate."
So it could be argued, then, that a major contributing factor to the critical “state of our state” is an inordinate level of dissatisfaction, rooted in our individual egos and spiritual selves. But how have we come to be so dissatisfied, and more importantly, what can we do about it?
Le Beau’s thesis points to the origin of our current condition. Far too many of us have lost our ability to find personal and spiritual satisfaction apart from our ability to acquire stuff. Many of us lack the resources and the tools to find contentment in our daily existence, or to plumb the depths of our spiritual nature.
Our rituals have come to include going to the mall, happy hour, acquiring the latest version of the new “it” item, serial dating, “reality” TV, surfing the net, and curating and posting the content of our lives for all the world to see. These things, in and of themselves, are not necessarily bad. Though, they do become detrimental, when they are used as distraction from the immediacy of our experience, or a substitute meant to fill a deeply felt void. That void, I would venture to say, is a spiritual one.
We feed our bellies, our wallets, and our addictions, because we have forgotten how to feed our souls. We have mortgaged our mega Mc-Mansions on tree-lined streets, in our gated communities, but they are barren, devoid of spirit, on the inside. It seems these outsized fortresses now serve as symbols of our own inner-lives. They function as armor, as shields to protect us, not from the outside world but from ourselves.
In his book “We”, Robert A. Johnson, acclaimed Jungian Analyst, states that “… Westerners don’t really believe that we can experience…our spiritual life … while pursuing our ordinary daily lives on earth. It is hard for us to think of the two worlds, inner and outer, coexisting simultaneously in one human being. This is why we always try to embody the divine world in something or someone else outside ourselves.”
So it is, then, that we now pay homage to the Almighty Dollar, celebrities, and our manufactured mythologies of romantic love. These have become the focus of our adoration. They receive our worship and our reverence. Not our Self, not our soul…
Johnson goes on to say:
“Worse yet, some of us…simply don’t believe in the inner world; therefore, whatever we do with that unlived side of ourselves has to be unconscious, has to be projected out into the physical world…We talk of “soul” and “spirit,” but we don’t really believe in them. Over the centuries we have lost contact with the inner life and with its symbolism, as our culture has turned ever more literal and materialist.”
As a result, many in our Western culture only accept as reality what is tangible, that which can be perceived with our five senses. The rest, we feel, is all illusion. Conversely, many Eastern cultures believe that the physical world that surrounds us is illusory- that only the spiritual realm is real.
In Hindu myth, Maya is the goddess, who choreographs the dance of illusion, weaving an ethereal veil suspended between our human existence and reality, warping our perception of what is. It is often said that the purpose of practicing yoga or meditation is to “see through the veil of maya,” or illusion, to get to the heart of what is.
Jung believed, according to Johnson, that illusion is neither the inner world of the psyche, nor is it outer physical existence, but, rather, illusion is a distorted relationship between the two. We take what belongs in the realm of our psyche or soul self and we project it onto things outside of us. The homage we pay our possessions or to our romantic partners should be returned to its rightful place, to the Divine within us, and to the vessel that holds it.
It is safe to say that most of us readily accept we are physical beings. We are of the earth, made of flesh and bone, with drives, desires, passions and instincts. To our detriment, though, we are afraid of, or worse yet, reject out of hand, our spiritual complement. In so doing, we deny our self and others the benefit of our birthright, the Love, Light and Life Force that imbues us.
As human beings, we have the capacity to exhibit the full spectrum of emotions and actions of which our species is capable. That is not to say it is always appropriate or advantageous to do so. However, should we deny or disown the elements of our inner life, or the parts of our soul self that we construe as negative, should we reject or suppress what Carl Jung called our shadow self, or the unlived parts of our psyche, it will, inevitably, manifest somewhere else in our life. Try as we may, it will not be held down for long, and it will eventually rear its head in far more destructive ways, than had we acknowledged its existence all along with compassion and acceptance.
We may then project these unclaimed aspects of our self onto others, attributing our own fallibility, or worse yet, the greater aspects of our self, to others - friends, family, even our enemies. More often than not, however, we wind up thrusting them on the ones we hold dearest. In doing so, we clearly do our self and our loved ones a grave disservice. We endow and empower them with what we should rightfully claim as our own, both our positive and negative attributes.
We mistakenly confuse our inner life with the outer. We see the physical world refracted through the lens of our own inner distorted impressions. As Saint Paul so keenly observed, “Now we see as through a glass, darkly.” Maya’s veil of illusion is obscuring what is real.
So how do we rectify this distortion of reality? It comes back to taking ownership. Do we want to be mere renters or the owners of our life? We can choose to go through our days living the life of a leasee, living in fear of making commitments, picking up and moving on to the next thing, when we become disenchanted with our current situation, allowing others to be in control of our destiny, unwilling, or unable to make a true investment in our life, or we can make the choice, and take the risk to begin the process of nourishing and tending to both our outer and our inner existence.
We can begin this process simply by be willing to own all of our experience, in all its complexity, accepting it with reverence, excluding nothing. We can make the effort to embrace life utterly, with all its triumphs and tragedies, all its rewards and responsibilities. The great spiritual teacher, Ram Dass, so wisely shares that “we have to enter into life fully, in order to be free”.
Living a full life means not only inhabiting our daily existence. Were we only to focus on the mundane, we would find our self greatly out of harmony. The imbalance many of us are experiencing currently is the result of our neglect of our inner life. In order to be healthy, whole human beings, we must awaken to our spiritual life and inhabit it with equal conviction.
Taking ownership of our own destiny begins by making the effort to truly claim our life, to accept, without judgment, each experience and every aspect of our self with open arms. This requires unabashed courage.
The first rule I ever learned during my improvisational theatre training was to respond to anything that was offered with a resounding “Yes, and…. In essence, what this means is I accept what is given me, and I then work with it in a creative way to move a scene forward. The most challenging thing about saying “yes” is that it means we take everything, without exception, that life hands us.
That doesn’t mean we should accept things blindly, that we need stay in jobs that are demoralizing, or that we should remain in relationships or habits of mind and behavior that are destructive. What it does mean, rather, is that we take responsibility for our situation, and acknowledge that we always have a choice. We can take the wheel and become the master of our destiny, or we can remain in the passenger seat, living a life not of our design.
Taking control can be a difficult challenge for us, because more often than not, our habitual reaction to life is to say “No, but…”, the antithesis of forward motion. The response “No” inevitably stops life in its tracks. It dams up the flow of energy, or creative life force, and everything comes to a screeching halt.
We have the tendency to say no to the things that break with the status quo, that require us to change our current modes of thinking and behaving, and we say yes to those that allow us to continue on our tried and tested paths, even if we are spinning our wheels in ever deepening ruts. Yet, every experience we encounter creates our life. Denying or negating any of them won’t make them go away. They will continue to resurface, until we muster the courage to face them head on.
If we can’t or won’t take the risk to face both our inner and outer fears, or to meet the challenges of the spiritual and physical realms, then we are merely renters of our life; we do not truly own it. Are we worth the risk and commitment it will take to make a lasting change of value?
Moreover, what can we do, in practical terms, to begin to claim full stewardship of our life? I believe we need to start by changing our rituals, by replacing those that are soul suppressing with ones that are soul sustaining.
There are many paths to ownership, and it may be overwhelming to think that we have to change our whole way of doing things. So as not to throw us into shock, we begin with small steps. We pick one aspect of our life we’ve neglected or that has become out of balance and we begin there. Slowly, but deliberately, we start to change the patterns, erase the tapes; clear some space to receive the new.
How can we create some new rituals in our life? Perhaps, we begin by becoming physically active, if our life has become sedentary. We may spend an hour a week cleaning out the clutter in our house, remembering that the outer reflects the inner. We can clean out the clutter in our head, by spending an hour with our therapist, or an hour in Nature, or both. Treating our self regularly to some soul affirming activity, an “Artist’s Date”, as Julia Cameron refers to them, like visiting a museum or going to a concert is a nurturing, soul affirming act. Taking up a contemplative practice, like meditation, qigong or yoga supports our inner awakening to Spirit. We may begin to eat a more holistic diet, or jettison an unhealthy habit of body or mind.
Regardless of what it is, say, “ Yes”! By making an intention to change, we can create a supportive nurturing environment for the growth of our self and our soul. With this first step, we can begin the often arduous, but ever rewarding journey toward wholeness, as we integrate both the physical and spiritual aspects of our being. The Universe will support us, our friends and family, and our colleagues and lovers will support us…
“For, as Robert Johnson quotes in his book “We”, “…deep within each of us rises a “castle of white marble; at each of its thousand windows burns a lighted candle; at each a minstrel plays and sings a melody without end.” To find that wondrous palace we must look neither to things, to another person, nor to the other side of the grave, but within ourselves.”
"The world is a veil; pull it aside. Its comforts are snares; do not be caught. Its sorrows are fires; breathe none of their smoke. Beyond waking and dreaming, there is another intelligence. There is an elusive reality, glorious, overpowering, pervasive, changeless, and incorruptible. Yet we fall to disputing a single beam of light. Through the prism of self, we describe different colors with different words. We assume certainty and finality imagining that red contradicts violet, that green opposes blue. How far this is from the truth of things. From within this dream, you doubt what is real. In the waking world, you put aside your dreams. Yet asleep or awake, the world is false and fleeting. Shake off the sleep that you have called life, and the magic of these words will never diminish, the bowl of their excellence will never be drained."
~ The Trial of Paris by Da'ud ibn Tamam ibn Ibrahim al-Shawni
The week before I traveled to Albany to participate in a spiritual practice called Shiva Nights led by my guru, Her Holiness, Sai Maa, Laksmi Devi, I had a bout of food poisoning, I think. All I know is that something in me needed to be purged, and it was. It took most of that night, but I was rid of it by the next morning, though drained by the experience.
I have grown accustomed to these purgative experiences, as preludes to programs with Sai Maa. Without fail, some aspect of my life, about which I have been in denial, is brought to the surface so it can be washed clean. The transition may be rough, but the transformation is always worth the discomfort.
I have also come to understand that what makes the transition challenging or painful is resistance to the needed expansion. When we get locked into a pattern of thought or behavior, very often it is too close for us to see clearly, like holding a book right up to our face, or standing only inches away from a painting. The words or image become a blur. We know there is some meaning there, but our proximity distorts our view.
Shiva is part of the Trimurti, the triune Hindu God, expressed through Bhrama, the Creator, Vishnu, the Sustainer, and Shiva, the Destroyer. Shiva Nights is an opportunity for us to come face to face with the greatest impediment on our path to enlightenment, the ego. In order to reach attainment, we all must undergo a death and rebirth. We must die to the illusion, and relinquish all of the thoughts, behaviors, beliefs and concepts that perpetuate that unreality, all of the lies we tell ourselves about who we think we are.
My second Shiva Nights event, was truly a lesson in surrender, from performing seva, or selfless service in Sai Maa's room, to remaining present to the experience throughout the long nights of spiritual practice, to yet another purging that was going on in my Throat Chakra (I wound up with laryngitis Sunday morning when I woke up.)
Seva was exquisite. I was part of a team of four women, all of us were totally new to the process, but we collaborated well, worked efficiently, and enjoyed each other greatly. We mostly worked in silence, which amplified this act of reverence and devotion.
I knew this experience would likely provide me many opportunities to recognize the hold ego has on me. Initially, I thought I would be helping to prepare Maa’s wardrobe, as I worked as a Costume Designer for over 20 years, but instead I spent a lot of time washing dishes. The redirection of my efforts might have triggered some sense of indignation, but instead I felt blessed simply to be there and immersed my self in fully in the tasks I was given. Whatever was asked of me, I performed with humility and devotion. My act of service, more than anything, shifted my focus away from myself, and opened me to the grace of the Divine.
Later, I did get to draw on my aesthetic sensibilities and fabric draping experience, when I was asked to cover the hotel chairs and couch in white fabric, to create a sacred space for Mother Divine.
I was also tasked with helping to make up Sai Maa's bed, and arranging flowers throughout the rooms. While vacuuming the suite, I was even reminded of how much fulfillment I got from the job I had cleaning a professor’s home, during my undergraduate years at St. Lawrence University. It’s curious that I have never experienced any of the resistance to cleaning other people’s homes that I do with the prospect of cleaning my own, but that exploration is best left for another day. We fluffed a bit more and then went downstairs to await Sai Maa's arrival. After helping carry her luggage to the suite, I went back to prepare for the program.
The event itself was deeply transforming for me, a profound spiritual initiation. Leading up to the weekend in Albany, I was keenly aware of my intermittent sadhana practice, at times very focused and consistent and at others distracted and periodic, at best. I had asked Maa while in meditation for help with this.
Friday evening began with the administering of bhasma and kum kum, symbolic markings made on the forehead. Vibhuti, or ash collected from sacred fires, is drawn in three horizontal lines across the forehead. This bhasma, which literally means “disintegration,” reminds us of the ephemeral nature of life. Additionally, if we are to reunite with the Supreme Self, the “little-self,” the ego, must first be “burned to ash”. Our physical body, too, will eventually be reduced to the same. The ash that remains, after the disintegration of the false, represents the imperishable truth, that which cannot be destroyed.
The three lines represent the gunas or forces that create everything in the universe, seen and unseen. The lower line represents tamas, a state of inertia and darkness, the middle line symbolizes rajas, dynamic activity, and the top line is sattva, balance and illumination.
A dot of kum kum, made of ground turmeric, which is dried and powdered with a bit of slaked lime (not the fruit) that turns the rich yellow powder into a deep, red color, is placed beneath the bhasma, and is symbolic of Shiva-Shakti, the divine union of energy and matter, the foundation of all creation. The red dot or “tika,” symbolizes the transcendence of the gunas that the shkati, or creative energy can activate through the discipline of sadhana, or practice.
Steeped in meaning, adorned in white, we entered the hall in silence. Maa arrived in silence, as well, greeting us with nods, smile beaming and full of grace. As Maa spoke on the topic of discipline, a slow gradual change occurred. By the time darshan was offered, wherein the guru offers a blessing to each individual, Maa's demeanor was very intense, unlike I have ever experienced, except, perhaps, when Maa transformed into her guru, Sai Baba, before my eyes, during a program I previously attended in Albany.
There was an implacability and aloofness that was uncharacteristic. Once darshan ended, we began rounds of japa or chanting, followed by periods of meditation. At one point during meditation, I heard Maa near me. I felt really compelled to open my eyes. It seemed I could resist no more, and I did, and there was Maa in front of me. Our eyes met, and Maa pierced through me, forcefully saying, "Meditate!"
In that moment, I felt a shift occur, a shift out of my complacency. This lightening bolt of shakti, coupled with Maa's teaching on discipline, and it's critical role in the path toward enlightenment, had a powerful effect on me. The next night, Maa spoke of Baba's "eyeball erections," when Baba would penetrate Maa with laser beam eyes. I now knew what that felt like. It was similar to the shakti blast I received, during my Journey of Profound Healing, when Sai Maa expressed to me that if I wanted Maa to be my guru, I must understand she would not allow my ego to get any bigger.
Saturday night it was clarified for us that, in fact, it was not Maa who offered us darshan, but rather Shiva. This explained the unfamiliar energy Maa was emitting, and the detached air we all noticed, but could not reconcile. Then Sai Maa asked Trilokanad, her personal assistant, to explain that often members of Maa's "gang" will come through, using Maa’s brain and vocal chords to convey messages. Sai Baba, Saint Germaine, Arch Angel Michael, and the rest, evidently, all have very distinct personalities. Maa is completely unaware when this happens, and was not pleased that Shiva stepped in uninvited.
Little did I know Friday night that it would be the destructive force of Shiva that would propel me into a whole new relationship with my sadhana. When it comes to Shiva, it is always trial by fire. I reminded myself, I had asked for this, and I definitely got it. The reward of discipline is discipline, and the fruit of discipline is perfection, more specifically enlightenment. With that as my goal, surrender is critical. Resistance is futile, as the Borg would say.
Another thing I have learned over these last several years is that when I am preparing to write these blog posts, I can expect to receive assistance from unexpected sources.
One morning I was at the studio of renowned artist Jerome Witkin, who was a professor of painting at Syracuse University for decades. He had been working on a series about the Holocaust, and he was making the final painting, completing the opus he had been creating for some 20 years.
He asked me to model for him, calling me just about a week after my earlier mentioned purgation. Ironically, I would be posing as a woman throwing up, after having viewed a movie reel from the liberation of a concentration camp. The denial our country had been in, regarding the devastation and deprivation caused by the Nazi Machine, could no longer be ignored, and it was revolting and retched to behold.
I am very fond of Jerome, and every time I pose for him is a very rich experience. Though he has experienced a great amount of suffering, he seems to live a very charmed life, brimming over with extraordinary people, places and events. That day we talked about Music, Art, Philosophy, Spirituality, Theatre, and Movies. Somehow these topics weave together seamlessly. He ended by telling me I needed to watch a movie called Flight, staring Denzel Washington, directed by Robert Zemeckis. I told him I would.
As I sat down to work on this reflection, I kept being tugged toward the living room, guided to watch Flight. I kept resisting, because I knew the following day would be full of chores and appointments, and I wanted to be sure I had enough time to dedicate to writing. Self, my inner guide, was unrelenting, so I surrendered, leaving the laptop for the big screen.
I was not surprised to discover that thematically the film was right in tune with the focus of my writing. The hero, played by Washington, who might better be described as the “anti-hero” is a former navy pilot, who now flies commercial liners. He is riding high in more ways than one, and goes on a bender the night before he is to pilot a flight. He manages to crash-land his ill-fated plane with minimal loss of life, at once thrusting him into the spotlight as a hero.
Under the scrutiny of the government and the media he enters into a tailspin, fueled by alcoholism and drug use, both of which are supposed by the NTSB to be factors in the plane going down, which comes to light as a result of toxicology tests given all the crew members, evidence that his lawyer manages to get stricken from record. The suppression of this information does not make it go away, however. It only serves to amplify the Captain’s addiction.
What struck me in watching the film is that Whip Whitaker’s experience is characteristic of any mythical hero’s journey. He ventures into the unknown at a time of prominence, where he encounters challenges of various sorts. He then descends into a dark, mysterious place, performs certain rituals and is then called to return. I’ll refrain from getting too detailed here, so as not to spoil it for any of you who wish to view the film on your own.
Needless to say, the descent into darkness is the crux of the journey. Here the hero always must do battle with his shadow self. In the depths of the unconscious, the void, the realm of Shiva, the destruction of the ego begins to occur. In Whitaker’s case, as with most addicts, he had to hit rock bottom, the nadir, before any chance of redemption, but resistance to that expansion was powerful.
In deep denial, he claimed he could stop any time he wanted, that he was in control of his drinking. He was blind to his own bondage. He had surrendered to his addiction. It was only when Whip could not bare to continue perpetuating the illusion, could not stand to tell one more lie, that his salvation became possible. In order to be set free, he had to admit he was bound.
Sai Maa spoke of this bondage to which we are all subject. Alcoholism, drug use, gambling, sex, shopping - all are only symptomatic of a more insidious addiction, one that is at the root of all suffering, our addiction to the ego.
Maa asked, “Why it is so hard for us to surrender to God?” Why do we resist so desperately? Have we not already surrendered to the ego? How is that working? Why not give God a try and see what happens?
If we truly desire enlightenment, we must willingly journey into the unknown, yet the ego stirs up uncertainty, doubt and fear to keep us hostage, or it continually draws our attention to various distractions.
Surrender means to submit, to yield, to crumble, to cave. In the military sense, it means to cease resistance to an enemy or opponent and submit to their authority. Do we not consistently submit to the authority of the ego?
To surrender in the spiritual or religious sense means we completely give up our own will and subject our thoughts, ideas, and actions to the will and teachings of a higher power. To give up our will, we must raise it in vibration, aligning with the Higher Will.
In the 12 Step recovery model, among other things, one must:
As I looked more closely at this model, I realized most of these steps strongly correlate to the hero’s mythic journey of transformation, which always begins with a struggle, leading to the decent into the unconscious. The hero or heroine caves into darkness, resulting in the rediscovery of Self. Along the way, skills are gathered, allies provide guidance or resources, atonement is required, and a reunion with the soul is necessary. Ultimately, the hero must share what he has learned with others.
In answer to my plea for help, the experience of Shiva Nights brought into focus my own ego addiction. I was in denial, thinking I had everything under control. In the dark of these two consecutive nights, I plunged into unfamiliar territory. In this crucible of intense spiritual practice, I struggled with myriad distractions and patterns of thought and behavior, which I am now aware no longer serve me. I battled my shadow self, and brought to the surface what needed to be cleansed, burned up in the sacred fire of Shiva. I was taught skills, provided resources and guided by others, laying a new foundation on which to reestablish my spiritual practice. I acknowledged and accepted my ignorance, and recognition of the Divine within me allowed for a joyous reunion with my soul, and I now have the opportunity to share my experience with others.
Our path toward enlightenment is individual, because no one else has ever walked it before. It uniquely reveals itself to us, and is carved out in each unfolding moment of our experience, manifesting the energies we have taken birth to bring into balance. Others have created their own paths before us and may serve as guides, but ultimately we must find our own way.
Our sadhana, or spiritual practice is like a machete we use to cut away at the thick undergrowth that obstructs the clear way through. Our discipline is the manner in which we wield the knife. If we are lax with our grip, our sadhana will lack focus. If we are too aggressive, there is likelihood we will injure ourselves in our over zealousness. As we remove the impediments, all distraction falls away, and there is nothing left separating us from Self. The ego generates obstacles, clinging vines of thought that string us up, pit falls of past patterning to trap us in emotional quagmires, believing that if we move we will surely drown.
Recognition of our current state of bondage is essential. We must be willing to come out of denial, to stop lying to ourselves that we’ve got it all under control. Surrender. Cease resistance and submit to the authority of our highest aspect, the Self. It is only in giving up that we can rise to the height of our potential. This is our hero’s apotheosis, our crowning glory, when we are exalted, in full possession of our birthright and using our power for the greatest good of all.
Several years ago, as I sat in a darkened theatre with my children at Syracuse Stage, awaiting the start of Looking-glass Alice, a play adapted by David Catlin, I knew that I was in for something very special. What I never anticipated was that the evening’s entertainment would strike such a resounding cord in me.
I was poised to be transported, for the span of an hour and one half, into another world, to be whisked away for a brief time from what we might call “reality” into a world where nothing is as it appears. Game for adventure, I was oh so willing to go along for the ride.
The production, a highly stylized adaptation, traced the arc of Alice’s journeys down the rabbit hole and through the looking glass into Wonderland. Lewis Carroll’s themes and metaphors, adapted by the playwright and expressed in visual terms by the designers and actors, resonated with me deeply, and clearly reflected my own spiritual journey back to me. The experience ultimately inspired me to revisit the books that informed the play and to see Tim Burton’s film, which I also attended with my children, and finally to write about my insights here. This blog will only scratch the surface, though I have intentions of exploring these notions further at some point.
Imagine for a moment a few select scenic elements artfully arranged on a stage that create the impression of a Victorian drawing room. A high winged-backed chair and end table sit to the right of a large marble fireplace, topped by an enormous, ornate gilt framed mirror, which commands center stage. Long, black curtains hang from the grid above, extending to the stage floor, either side of the fireplace, creating the appearance of a wall. Two delicate statuettes, also under glass, flank a domed chime clock, centered on the mantle. A chessboard lies on the floor in front of the chair, the game already underway. Downstage left a tasseled ottoman rounds out the stage picture.
As the house went to black, sweet youthful laughter, underscored by a child’s tinkling piano, punctuated a montage of well-known nursery rhymes. A gentle man’s voice then wove into the soundscape expressing that “Alice, in her later years, would keep the dream of Wonderland alive in her simple and loving heart.”
The lights came up, and there was Alice sitting in the chair, legs flung over the side, scolding a stuffed animal named Kitty, who was all tangled up in a ball of yarn.
In due course, I came to learn that the disembodied voice belonged to Mr. Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, Alice’s friend, to whom she and her siblings played muse for his seemingly nonsensical tales of whimsy. Alice then offered the suggestion to the stuffed cat that they pretend to be queens. Kitty would be the Red Queen and Alice, the White.
As Alice explained to her friend that when pretending “shutting one’s eyes tighter and tighter is always of some use”, the mantle clock began to chime. With 11 o’clock Alice began counting the chimes aloud. Dodgson’s voice joined in at 12. There was a slight pause and then…one final chime. “Thirteen? Curious?”
Struck by the oddity of the extra toll of the bell, Alice proceeded to the mantle to look at the clock, shocked to find Dodgson gazing back at her from the other side of the mirror.
Alice and Dodgson, each needing a closer look, began to climb up onto the mantle, movements perfectly synchronized. Hands outstretched, just shy of touching, they mirrored each other in a choreographed pantomime, until they simultaneously passed through the looking glass to the other side.
At that moment the work lights on stage came up, the curtains were torn asunder by the stage crew, and the stage manager’s voice, giving sound and light cues, came over what we is ironically call the ‘God’- mic. The 4th wall, a theatrical convention, which creates the illusion of time and space, had been completely shattered.
The world of theatre, in which I spent over 20 years working as a designer and actor, is one of imagination and illusion. Through a series of stage conventions we co-create whole worlds that begin with the power of the word.
From those mere words of the script, we theatre artists begin to visualize all of the possible expressions for the author’s intent. We then begin to make choices from the inspiration we have gathered in our research. We weed out the images that don’t support the author’s intent, and we hold onto only those concepts that serve the good of the play. From those visions we formulate pictures, fine tuning as we go, always returning to the source, the word, for our inspiration and guidance, and finally from those pictures the world of the play becomes manifest.
This world is complete, a unified whole, a sensory symphony of component parts, visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, and even sometimes oral. It is the perfect environment, created specifically for a particular cast of characters to unfold their story in space and time.
We have all heard the phrase, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players…” The beginning words of a much longer monologue from William Shakespeare’s As You Like It. Essentially, these words point to the fact that like the world of the theatre, what we consider the “reality” of our lives is, in effect, an illusion. It is just as ephemeral, transitory, and impermanent, a fabrication born in the mind of the creator. And each of us is that creator.
The English poet and aesthetic philosopher, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, coined the term “willing suspension of disbelief.” In the context of the theatre, it refers to the willingness of the audience member to overlook the limitations of the form, and agree, for the duration of the play, to accept what he or she is viewing as truth or “real.”
Is this not exactly what we do in every moment of our existence in this physical form we call a body? Are we not all authors and artists, each creating in every moment the reality of our experience? I say, “Yes!” emphatically. However, most of us just aren’t doing it consciously. As I watched the play and film, and reread these Lewis Carroll stories, it became clear to me that Alice represents us, or more specifically, our souls.
Before incarnation we are one with Source, or God, until that Divine essence decided it wanted to know itself more fully, at which time it scattered itself into myriad forms, the un-manifest became manifest in the act of creation, and our souls were “born.” Something within our souls stirs us to go forth into the realm of duality, and we enter into a world of time and space, cause and effect. Thus we begin the cycle. We step onto the Wheel of Fortune, the wheel of karma, the circle of life.
As sparks of divinity wanting to experience ourselves through creation, we choose to separate from Source, the One, to descend, or lower our vibration, and enter into this world of infinite contrast, into a world that we create in every moment through our sense perceptions. Why, you might ask, would we do such a thing? Curiosity. We are just like Alice.
Sitting in her garden, rather bored with her idyllic, ordered life, she takes the fall. “Burning with curiosity” upon spying a waistcoat wearing white rabbit carrying a pocket watch, (a metaphor for space and time), she, like the Fool of the Tarot, takes the leap, willingly plunging down the rabbit hole after him, “never once considering how in the world she was going to get out again.”
Thump, she hits bottom and finds herself in a darkened room, or is it a womb? Before her are a number of doors, all of which are locked. There is seemingly no way out. Then she spies a curtain, behind which is a tiny little door. It too is locked, but there is a key resting on a glass table. At her size, how will she ever get through?
Beneath the table she sees a little bottle, with the words “Drink Me.” written on it. Without question Alice quaffs it down, and the transformation begins… Expansion and contraction, evolution, first too big, so we try the little cake, then too small, until finally we find the right size and shape.
As Source Energy, we are too vast, infinite in fact, to enter into this world, so we lower our vibration and come into a state of being, the human form, which evolved over millennia, a body perfectly fit for our entry into our lives on planet Earth.
All that life force contained in such a tiny package makes the passage out a rough one. Key in hand, we make our way to the door, unlock it, and squeeze our way through into the light of day, into a world of duality, a world of opposites, where nothing is what it seems, where everything is upside down and backwards.
Only, in all the activity and commotion of our entry into this strange and magical world, we leave the key behind. This golden key is the knowledge that we are Source Energy, we are God, and that we chose to come forth to co-create our own experience.
Throughout these fantastical Alice stories, our young heroine holds several specific intentions. In each story she is trying desperately to make her way to a garden she sees off in the distance. She also wishes to be a queen, and in the end to make her way home.
When we begin to wake up and to walk the spiritual path we come to realize that this is what each of us is attempting to do. But like Alice we encounter various obstacles we need to overcome, in order to become the sovereign of our own lives, and find our way home to the garden. The biggest one of these is our own mind. For it is from here that all our impediments emanate.
These seemingly nonsensical tales hold great wisdom. Quite often truth is shown to us through unconventional means. The language of the soul is very often not heard by the rational mind. Generally, it comes to us in dreams, in visions, in “out of the way” experiences, as Alice would say, and through a curious cast of unlikely characters, just like those she encounters in her Adventures in Wonderland.
There's a story in which a professor visited a Japanese master to inquire about the nature of Zen. While the master quietly prepared and served tea, the professor spoke about his understanding of Zen. The master began to pour tea for his guest. Though the visitor's cup became full, still the master kept pouring. Tea spilled out of the cup, and onto the table.
The professor watched the overflowing cup until he could no longer contain himself. "Master,” he cried, “the cup is full!" "It will hold no more!", he blurted. "You are like this cup," said the master, “full of your own opinions, concepts, and perceptions. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?"
For Alice the journey through Wonderland is a process of unlearning, of letting go of her attachment to everything she ever believed about herself and the world around her, in order to finally embrace a world of unlimited possibility. She must step through the looking glass, leaving behind her firmly rooted concepts of reality, so she can ultimately claim her full power and crown herself creator of her own dream.
Not long after Alice arrives in Wonderland, she is mistaken for somebody else. The White Rabbit takes her for his maid. And not being one to question his authority, and fearful of what might happen should she contradict him, she accepts the role that is thrust upon her. In no time, she is expanding and contracting again, trying to conform to the wishes and desires of someone else. She becomes so misshapen that she gets stuck inside the rabbit’s house.
Most of us, at some point in our lives have fallen into this same trap. Not firm in our own sense of who we really are, we accept other’s opinions about us, thus giving away our power. Like Alice, we are made prisoners of our own fear, afraid to be our true selves. Real authority, which comes from the root word, author, means we take control and responsibility for writing the scripts of our lives. When we consciously begin to create our destiny, authority will come.
Alice is repeatedly asked a series of questions. The most critical comes by way of a hookah-smoking caterpillar. This peculiar little guru asks of Alice“ Who are you?” She responds rather shyly, “I~ I hardly know, Sir, just at present~ at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have changed several times since then.” The caterpillar replies rather sternly, “Explain yourself!” “ I can’t explain myself, I’m afraid, Sir” says Alice, “because I’m not myself, you see.”
You see, when we get into a pattern of changing ourselves, morphing and adapting to meet the needs and wishes of others, we lose sight of who we really are, until we don’t even recognize ourselves anymore.
As she makes her way onward, Alice next encounters a friendly, toothy grinned feline, whom she asks, “Would you tell me please, which way I ought to go from here?” “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” the Cheshire Cat replies. “I don’t much care where,” says Alice. “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” is the reply.
The truth is, when we are unspecific or confused about our intentions, we cannot claim the help the universe and our Higher Self are continually and consistently offering us. We only get back what we put out. So, if we are ambivalent, our experience will lack focus and be filled with confusion. We must know our intentions, stand firm in them, and only then will the path unfold to lead us in the direction we want to go.
Alice then meets up with the Mad Hatter, March Hare and the Door Mouse. They only serve to unravel her sense of reality even more, challenging her concepts of language, time and space, and ultimately of her self. The Mad Hatter says of Time, “If you only kept on good terms with him, he’d do almost anything you like with the clock.”
We continually speak of wasting time, losing time, and being out of time. Is it any wonder we never seem to have enough of it? The truth is that time is an illusion too. When we begin to understand this we realize there is enough time for everything we could possibly need or desire to do. It is malleable like clay, we can mold it to our needs and no longer be a slave to it.
In Through The Looking Glass, Alice happens upon Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee and is presented with probably the most confounding and troubling information yet from this dynamic duo. The peculiar pair directs her attention toward the Red King, who is sleeping under a tree. Tweedle-dee asks, “What do you think he is dreaming about?” When Alice says she couldn’t possible know, he goes on to tell her, the King is dreaming about her. “And if he left off dreaming, Tweedle-dee continues, where do you suppose you’d be?” “Where I am now of course.” says Alice. “Not you! You’d be nowhere.” he replies. “Why you’re only a sort of thing in his dream! If that thing were to wake, you’d go out – bang- just like a candle!”
In the Hindu tradition, the God Vishnu is pictured as the divine dreamer of the world dream. Vishnu sleeps on a great, coiled serpent named Ananta, which means "Endless." The serpent floats on the cosmic ocean, called the Milky Ocean. The ocean, the serpent and the sleeping god: these are all aspects of the same thing, Mind. It is from the One Mind that all creation is born.
The God Vishnu sleeps and the activity of his mind stuff creates dreams, and we, and everything in the material plane, are components of that dream. Just as all the images that we perceive and all the people who appear in our dreams are really manifestations of our own sub-conscious mind, so are we all manifestations of Vishnu or God’s dreaming power. We and everything in our environment are no more “real” than the characters in our own dreams.
Tweedle-dee really begins to strike a raw nerve with Alice. She becomes mightily defensive, because now he is threatening her concept of her very existence. Not her physical existence, mind you, but that of her ego. It is the ego-mind that resists the notion that we all thoughts in the mind of God, cells in the body of God. It is the ego that clings to the illusion that we are unique, separate individuals with limited means and a finite shelf life.
One of the most memorable characters in these tales, and certainly the loudest, is the Queen of Hearts, also referred to as The Red Queen, who is oft-times heard screaming, “Off with their heads!”
The Red Queen in all her brazen bluster is the representation of the ego mind, or the false self. Alice, in both tales, comes up against, and firmly butts heads with this mad Queen, whose reaction to anyone who threatens her authority is to relieve them of their crown. Neither does Alice escape her ire.
It is only by facing her head on, pun intended, and challenging her authority that Alice comes into her full power and finally sees how insignificant and puny the Red Queen really is.
This is our ticket home. Only when we let go the strangle hold our ego minds have on us, can our souls begin to regain their strength and sing. When the voice of the ego is finally subdued and brought into balance, we will hear the still small voice within that tells us we need not look outside ourselves for directions to the garden.
Paradoxically, the Queen of Hearts actually had something there. We, in fact, must lose our heads in order to regain awareness of our souls and our true nature. The costume design in Tim Burton’s movie, depicting the Red Queen with an outsized head is brilliant, indeed.
I love the message on my Uncle Paul’s voice mailbox. He is a Jesuit and a brilliant, profoundly funny man. When I call, and he is unable to answer, I hear his rich baritone voice say, “I’m either out of my room, out of the country, or out of my mind.”
It is ironic that the character in these stories that is the least kind, the most selfish, and un-evolved, is the Queen of Hearts. The irony is not lost here, the message is very clear; in order to rediscover who we really are we need to “lose our minds;” we need to move out of our heads and into our hearts.
The heart is the gateway to our creative, intuitive and spiritual centers, the home of the sub-conscious mind, fertile ground from which springs our imagination, and all that we ultimately create. This is where our souls reside. When we turn inward, and turn off the Jabberwocky in our conscious minds we can begin to open our hearts and hear the inner word, our true song that will sing us home.
We are often told we need to follow or chase after our dreams. However, this implies that they are somewhere out ahead of us or beyond our reach. This is why Alice was having so much difficulty making her way to the garden. The fact is our dreams and the garden dwell within us. We do not need to look without for the answers. They already exist right where we are. All we need do is turn our focus inwardly… return to the home of the Word, the Source. Only then will the garden, and our dreams reveal themselves to us. We too, like Alice, must “keep them alive in our simple and loving hearts.”
What is life? Simply defined, we might say life is movement. It is the Vital Life Force pulsating through us, the vibration of the Universe stirring creation into being. In the Yogic tradition, this Life Force is referred to as prana; for the Chinese, it is called chi or qi, and the Japanese name it ki. Prana, in Sanskrit, also translates to breath. The Greek word for breath is pneuma, which also means “soul” or “spirit,” and is referred to as spiritus in Latin.
One day, while peddling away on a bike at the gym, I was reading an interview with the actor Bradley Cooper, in a copy of Details Magazine. In the piece, he was discussing how his father’s death had impacted him, responding to the question had it made him more religious. I was struck by his answer. After paying homage to his father for planting the seeds of faith in him through his Catholic upbringing, he concluded by saying, “Am I a spiritual person today? Yes. I don't know how I could not be. It's like saying, "Do you breathe?"
We are all spiritual. Whether or not we know it or believe it, because we breathe, we are spiritual beings. The breath that fills our lungs, that nourishes our bodies is the breath of the Cosmos. You might say our inhalation is God’s exhalation. Through the breath we comingle with the Divine. Breath is sound vibration, the music or underlying soundtrack that accompanies the dance of life.
I’ll repeat Cooper’s question, “Do you breathe?” “Well, of course I breathe,” you would say. But, really, do you breathe? Do you breathe? What is it that breathes? Do you consciously say to yourself, “I am inhaling; now, I am exhaling.” That would be ridiculous and debilitating. Fortunately, the breathing, along with all the other functions of the body, is governed by the subconscious mind, one aspect of the Higher Self or Super-Conscious Mind. If we consciously had to think about breathing, we would not be able to do anything else. More importantly, if breathing were ruled by the conscious mind, when we went to sleep or lost consciousness, we would stop breathing and die in mere moments.
In essence, the breath breathes us; the Universe or God is breathing us. This Divine Life Force animates, supports and sustains us. We are, or rather this body is, simply a vessel, a container, the vital energy may flow through, for the purpose of experience in the material plane.
Now, this vessel must be in a condition suitable to house the Life Force, or prana. When there is contraction or constriction in the body, emotions or mind, the Life Force becomes obstructed. When this occurs chronically, the body moves into a state of imbalance, or disrepair. Should this continue unresolved, the Life Force can no longer be properly supported and will, eventually, leave. Once gone, it is not long before the body begins to decay. We refer to this process as death.
There is a Vedic story about prana found in the Upanishads. The five main faculties of our physical nature - mind, breath, speech, the ear and the eye - were all arguing over which was the best and most important. (This illustrates how these faculties, when not well integrated, compete for dominance of our attention.) To resolve their conflict, it was decided that each would leave the body and then it would be determined whose absence was most critical to the wellbeing of the whole.
First speech left, and the body continued to function, though mute. Then the eye left, and the body continued on blind. The ear left next, and the body kept on, though deaf. Subsequently, mind left, and the body carried on in unconsciousness. Finally, prana began to depart, and the body quickly began to die, so all of the other faculties started to lose their energy. Immediately, they all rushed to prana and begged it to stay, hailing it as supreme among them. Prana/Life Force provides the energy for all our physical, emotional, and mental faculties, without which they could not function. If we do not honor prana first, there is no energy with which to do anything else. Thus, Breath is Life.
Contrary to what many believe, it is not the lungs that breathe, but rather the cells. Every cell of the body breathes. Every cell requires food to function optimally. Oxygen is the primary food that nourishes every cell. Each cell cries out for oxygen. Like Audrey ii from Little Shop of Horrors, they shout, “Feed me! Feed me!”
Our ability to breathe is affected by the functionality and effort of every cell in the body. Generally speaking, we only allow a fraction of the cells in the body the oxygen they require; most are sorely neglected. For cells to function properly, they must be able to access their food, the oxygen, from the breath.
If the cells are not working, they are not hungry, and therefore do not draw in the requisite food or oxygen necessary for their vital function. If the cells do not eat or take in oxygen and then release their waste, such as carbon dioxide, they die. When the cells die, we die.
If we do not work, we are not hungry. Consider what happens when someone is depressed. They are likely, before long, to become lethargic, and very soon may follow a loss of appetite. If our cells are inactive, they too lose their appetite.
How do we encourage the cells to eat? We must encourage their appetite for oxygen, which means we must get them moving. Certainly exercise is one primary way to get all of the cells in the body moving - that is, functioning to their full capacity - firing on all pistons, you might say.
All the body’s cells engage in cellular respiration. They use oxygen and glucose, a sugar found in many foods we eat, and convert them to ATP (adenosine triphosphate), or cellular energy, and carbon dioxide. ATP transports chemical energy within cells to support the metabolic function.
This is how a cell eats and then excretes its waste. If that is not happening in a balanced way, the cell becomes poisoned and dies. Imagine what would happen if we ate but were unable to properly eliminate the waste. Our body would toxify and we would become very ill and ultimately expire.
The cells receive their nutrients through a continuous interplay between the blood and lymph, which is a salty liquid that bathes the cells. The lymph carries toxins and waste away from the cells and transports infection fighting white blood cells through the body. In addition to the rhythmic contraction of the lymph cells, the abdominal muscles serve as a pump that helps move the lymph and blood into and out of the chest cavity to other parts of the body.
Cells are microscopic, tiny little living beings. We must feed them oxygen in increments they can handle. If we were to eat without chewing our food, we would choke, and if we were able to get the huge pieces down, the body would not be able to effectively absorb all the vital nutrients contained in it.
Similarly, if we were to drive a car, alternately flooring the accelerator and then jamming on the breaks, not only would we get really car-sick, but pretty soon the car would revolt and stop functioning.
This, in essence, is what occurs with our breathing when we are consumed by our emotions, stuck in a pattern of what might be called “negative” emotions, such as hate, anger, fear, anxiety, depression, or grief, to name a few. When in these states we are caught in a pattern of choking or interrupted breathing. Remember that poor car from a moment ago.
When we stop and start the breath in an arrhythmic pattern, we can vacillate between high and low blood pressure. Sometimes we hold the breath and the carbon dioxide too long in the body, causing an overly acidic environment, creating inflammation, which leads to dis-ease. And very often, the body is too tired to work, incapable of taking in the required oxygen. Regardless, one or all of these scenarios will eventually kill us. So, in order for our body to remain in optimal working order, we must move the body regularly, encouraging the cells to work, and we must breath mindfully, slowly and rhythmically, so the cells can readily absorb the oxygen that nourishes them.
An article in Time Magazine written by Clare Grodon posits, “when choir members sing together, it’s not just their voices that join in harmony.”According to a study published in the journal Frontiers of Neuroscience, when choir members sing together, their heart rates tend to synchronize and beat as one. A team of Swedish researchers discovered this synchronicity induces a sense of calm, consistent with the effects of the practice of yoga.
This is how it works: A long nerve called the vagus nerve — Latin for “wandering” — trails down from the brain stem into the body, where it enervates the heart along with other visceral organs. Exhaling activates the vagus nerve, which slows the heart’s pulse. So, if a group’s breathing is in sync, then it makes sense that the beating of their hearts will be too.
According to the study, the unified heart rate isn’t just a nice warm fuzzy — it has real, emotional effects. The vagus nerve conveys sensory information about the state of the body’s organs to the central nervous system. So this primary nerve that affects the heart plays a major role in a person’s sense of arousal or calmness.
The more slowly and rhythmically we breathe, the more easily it is for the cells to take in oxygen, so they can function maximally. The slower the heart rate, the easier it is to initiate the relaxation response, the opposite of the fight, flight or freeze reaction. It is a “physical state of deep rest that changes the physical and emotional responses to stress.”
In the Yogic Tradition, we have a practice known as pranayama. Prana, as previously stated, is the Vital Energy in the body. It is also the breath or the vehicle via which the Life Force circulates through the body. Yama means to control or to direct, in this case. Through many of these breath practices, we can initiate the relaxation response, which raises our quality of life immensely.
Practice the following simple breath pattern, to awaken your awareness of the Life Force, to amplify the Vital Energy, and then to begin to direct it through the body for purification and healing.
Allow the breath to fill the torso from the bottom up, moving through the pelvis into the abdominal region, and finally up into the chest cavity. Let the belly be soft, as you inhale richly and deeply, and then gently contract the abdominal muscles throughout the exhalation. Inhale smoothly and fluidly for a count of 4. Then hold the breath for 4 beats (less if you find you are straining). Finally, release the breath gradually and completely for 4 counts, or until you can exhale no further. Repeat for 4 cycles. Observe how you feel physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, after you complete the practice. Gradually, with more practice, lengthen the number of cycles and the duration you inhale/hold/exhale. Eventually, you will find the ease of breath to exhale about 1/3 longer than you inhale. This particular ratio really serves the relaxation response.
BREATHE. LIVE. BE.
“When we are living as our unique selves, we find we have a rich creativity available to us…. We love into existence that which we wish to create. I believe that what we create also contains the love that brought us into existence." ~Ruth Schweitzer-Mordecai
When my son Coe was 10 or 11, he had a t-shirt that read, “I’ve decided to put myself in charge.” It was always interesting to see how people reacted to it. Inevitably, some adult would make a remark like, “You better watch out, Mom. Are you sure you want him running the show?”
I have to admit, the first time I saw him wearing it, I was a little taken aback by the implications. But then I began to question why those words had elicited such an emotionally charged response from me. Is there really something inherently wrong with a child being in charge of his or her own being? Would that we, as adults, really subscribed to such an intention.
As I am fascinated with language and its intricacies, I began to ponder this word, charge. I was intrigued by the slogan emblazoned across my son’s chest, as well as my reaction to it. Where was my resistance coming from, when I know conceptually that this is an essential spiritual truth? Each of us is fully in charge of our own experience, our own destiny.
The more I considered this, the clearer it became I was balking because of my own experience as a child. I kept coming back to a particular meaning of the word charge that was nagging me. It relates to one, usually a child, who is commended to the custody of another. Such a child would, most often, have very little control over his or her own destiny, because the child would essentially be the responsibility of a caretaker or guardian, and anything but “in charge.”
As I pondered this, it was clear most children fall into this category. In my case, my parents “knew” what was best for me, and were the arbiters of my life, while I lived “under their roof,” leaving me with very little say in the matter, and even less control.
I was often shuffled off to events for which I had no interest, or required to participate in sports for which I had no passion, because that was what the Naumanns “did”. I was rarely consulted about my wishes or desires, and many times simply ignored, when I asked to be allowed to do what I knew was more in alignment with who I know myself to be. I learned very quickly to suppress my own vision and silence my voice. I learned to simply do as I was told.
As a result, I grew up, to a certain degree, relying on others for guidance to determine what was best for me, deferring to others beliefs about what would make me happy or feel fulfilled. In many ways, I no longer knew what it was that I really wanted, or even how to determine it for myself.
When this is the case, as I believe it is with so many of us, we lose sight of our own ability to create. We forget the fact that each of us is in charge, that we are all ultimately responsible for ourselves, for every thought we conjure, every emotion we elicit, or action we take, and thus for the entirety of our experience.
We might like to think or believe otherwise, but that false premise only serves to dis-empower us. Whatever our belief, we are in full control, whether consciously or not, and we are the creators of our own reality, by virtue of our thoughts, and on what we continually place our focus.
Ultimately it comes down to this: Are we going to create our lives consciously and deliberately, or by default?
The truth is, we began as pure potential, as Source Energy, one single Vibration, united with the One, with God. Through Divine Impulse, we chose to come into this time-space reality, into this body, with all of the given circumstances of our birth environment, and we arrived perfectly well equipped to run our own show.
Imagine for just a moment you are 11 years old. It’s a hot summer evening after dinner, and you’re hanging out with a group of kids from the neighborhood. You’ve finished the popsicles your mom has doled out, when someone says, “Let’s play hide and seek!” You’re the last to yell “Not it!” so you walk over to the big old maple tree in your front yard, lean up against it, cover your eyes tightly with both hands, and begin counting to ten, very slowly. One, two, three…
Now, consider for a moment how you would feel, if after counting ten, and calling out “Apples, peaches, pumpkin pie, who’s not ready holler I,” you turned around, opened your eyes, and all your pals were still standing there in front of you?
It wouldn’t be very much fun, would it? The point of the game- to have fun and take pleasure from playing- is impossible. The primary purpose, that experience of happiness, can only be achieved if all of the kids scatter and hide. And the better the hiding spot, the greater the challenge, and the more fun it is!
This little story, paraphrased from Rabbi Yehuda Berg’s book on the Kabbalah, called The 72 Names of God: Technology for the Soul, is an analogy of what happened prior to the creation of the physical world, human beings included.
The teachings of the Kabbalah, as with many other wisdom traditions, explain that before the birth of the Universe, all that existed was infinite, non-physical energy that expanded endlessly.
The Kabbalah calls this vastness Limitless Light. In the Chinese philosophy, it is known as Tao, and to the Hindu practitioner, or yogi, like myself, it is called Parusha. Abraham-Hicks calls it Source. Still many more refer to it as God.
Regardless of the name, every possible form of pleasure was included in this Light, in this pulsating, vibrating, highly charged, pure, positive energy. Everything a person could possibly conceive of, yearn for, need, or desire was included in this Light of happiness. This was Reality, the domain of the Creator. There was no concept of time, no sense of space, no awareness of separateness, or duality.
According to Berg, the Kabbalah teaches that this Infinite Source Energy then created all the souls of humanity for one express purpose: to further know Itself. By endowing us with this Infinite Light of happiness, and bestowing upon us our birthright, the Creator would expand, and we, as sparks of that divinity, would experience bliss, the grace of immeasurable Joy.
This Limitless Light was handed to us freely, unconditionally. But, just as in the story with the game of hide and seek, it wasn’t much fun, because everything was offered up so easily. In other words, we were created, we opened our eyes, in a manner of speaking, and all that happiness was just sitting there right in front of us.
Berg goes on to say there was still something missing: the thrill of the hunt, the quest, the game.
It quickly became clear, that our newly created existence would have been even more fulfilling and enjoyable if we, ourselves, could create this Light of happiness, this joy, instead of just being handed it on a silver platter.
So we said to God, “Let’s play hide and seek! You hide your Light and we will find it.”
Picture this Light, if you will, as a vast mirror containing All and reflecting All, and in one cataclysmic event, the Big Bang, one might say, this mirror was shattered into an infinite number of pieces. Our Universe in its present incarnation was born.
Each of us is one of those mirrored pieces, like a hologram, containing the entirety of the original Source within us. How ingenious! God found the best hiding place of all. Who would have ever thought that the light would be found right where we stand? Who would have suspected it would be hidden within each of us? Let the game begin…
Unfortunately, many of us have simply forgotten we came here to play, to enjoy the experience of sifting through all of the contrast that exists in our world, to uncover our inner essence of Light, and to let it radiate through the infinite expressions of our creation.
That’s not entirely true, we haven’t so much forgotten our original intention, as we have been conditioned into believing we do not possess this power to create. We believe, many of us, that it only exists outside of us, that we are at the mercy of forces beyond our control. We so very often hand our power over to others, to our parents, our teachers, our lovers, our clergy, politicians, and institutions to dictate what it is we should want to be, do and have.
It didn’t happen all at once either. In fact, as infants and in the early years of childhood, before we had been too terribly tainted by those around us, who had lost sight of this original awareness, we were as close as we could get to our Creator.
Infants have no awareness of separation; they are perfect and whole, completely in tune and connected with the All That Is. Young children still see through the eyes of Source. They experience the world openly and honestly. They have not yet learned to disbelieve, to doubt, to judge or to fear. Poet Kurtis Lamkin expresses this so eloquently. He says, “Believing is all a child does for a living.”
A child’s imagination is a glorious thing to behold; it knows no bounds. It is full of all possibility. Children are blessed with the ability to create worlds that conjure wonder and delight. They divine stories that defy reality, and immerse themselves in scenarios completely unaware and unruffled by our notions of time and space.
Why is it that we relegate this world of the imagination only to children? And why do we allow them to be trained away from it so easily? All too quickly we begin to impose the strictures of “reality” upon them, conditioning them to mistrust the innate impulse to create.
Pablo Picasso once said, “Each second we live is a new and unique moment of the universe, a moment that will never be again. And what do we teach our children? We teach them that two and two make four, and that Paris is the capital of France. When will we also teach them what they are? We should say to each of them: Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. In all the years that have passed, there has never been another child like you. Your legs, your arms, your clever fingers, the way you move. You may become a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo, a Beethoven. You have the capacity for anything. Yes, you are a marvel....” He passionately believed that “Every child is an artist. He said, “The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”
And yet, when we look around us in our daily lives, do we not often marvel at the wonders of creation that are in our midst? I am not speaking of the creations of the natural world, which emanated from Source, but rather of the dynamic feats of engineering, the intricacies of computer technology, the beauty of Art and Architecture, just to name a few.
Who is responsible for these? From whence did they come? They sprang from the imagination of individuals like you and me.
This concept dawned on me one misty evening when I was driving through the damp streets of downtown Syracuse. As I looked around me I had this flash of insight. Every building, every lamppost, every vehicle, all of it began in the mind of an individual.
We were able to send a man to the moon, because one man believed it possible. And a belief is just a thought we keep thinking. We bring into being that which we believe. Consider the power in that statement. Thought, then, is the source of all creation. The imagination is the fount of all manifestation. The conscious mind plants a seed in the subconscious, where it takes root and grows, ultimately breaking forth into physical form. Conceive it, Believe it, Achieve it.
When we have grasped the “CBA” process, it is easier to work with another, more powerful, means of manifesting that is based on our knowing. Most people would say they know something to be true because they have experienced it. They work from the “I’ll believe it, when I see it” mentality. However, at its most basic level, the process of creation works in reverse. “I’ll see it, when I believe it”. More to the point, when I know it, I’ll experience it. There is one very important caveat in this equation. There can be no doubt. No doubt.
Without being aware of it, many people work with this principle when they pray. Prayer is an act of creation, or it can be. We have heard of people being cured “miraculously” by means of prayer. When faith in the vehicle of prayer is so strong, it is the very knowing it works that empowers the prayer for a friend or loved one’s recovery. Still, just as many of us have lost that friend or beloved.
So, as Picasso said, each of us began our lives as an artist. How then, if we have lost this understanding, do we reclaim our birthright? How do we recover our innate desire for play and our ability to mold and sculpt the clay of our lives into all that we desire? How do we return to our childlike state of innocence that believes anything is possible?
First, it is important to remember that our connection to Source, that fluid, undiluted, stream of pure potential has always been there at our disposal. We have never been cut off from it. We have only hardened the walls, and clogged this “arterial” pathway with the plaque of our negative beliefs, habits of thought, and behavior. We have obstructed the free flow of Divine Inspiration from consistently and continually coming through us.
This Light of Awareness, this Source Energy has always been there, it has merely been hidden from our view, hidden inside us. Our challenge, in this game we call life, is to seek it out, to uncover it, and to let it shine. This illumination of our awareness will, then, allow us to tap the pure potential of the creative impulse from which all things in the Universe are born. From this vantage point, we can manifest the deepest stirrings of our souls, brought forth in the imagery of our imaginations.
Yet, as we are these mirrors, we are not able to see our own reflections. As we look out from this place of wholeness, unaware of our perfection, we see ourselves reflected back to us only in relation to others, and always in reverse. We carry within ourselves all that we ascribe to others.
When we view someone through the eyes of love, through the eyes of our inner being, with the innocence of a child, we are actually seeing the best of ourselves, our God-Self. We then only see reflected in the other those attributes that we admire, or to which we aspire. Conversely, when we look through the eyes of hate, fear, and separation, from the perception of the ego or false self, we see those aspects of ourselves we deem less than worthy also reflected in the other.
In order to become the deliberate creators we chose to incarnate as, we must realign with our God Self, the Inner Being that emanates a vibration of pure positive energy. When we are open channels, receiving the flow of Source Energy, we can then finally take responsibility for our lives and our own happiness.
So how do we do this?
We are aware that many cars, these days, come with guidance systems hard wired into the main frame. We have been given a similar means of moving swiftly and easily in our desired direction, which allows us to gain control of our experience, ultimately to achieve the joy that is our purpose for being here. It is our intuition.
This ingenious system comes standard on every make and model. When in proper working order, it will never steer us wrong. When we are tapped into it, we will consistently make choices that without doubt will serve our greater good.
In the Disney version of the story Pinocchio, the diminutive cricket, Jiminy, cautioned the wooden boy to “let your conscience be your guide.” This conscience of which he speaks is not the guilt inducing angel and devil on our shoulder. It is an amalgam of emotion and feeling, a visceral response, or “gut reaction.”
We can know what is serving our greater good, what is bringing us closer to that which we truly are and desire, by becoming aware of how we feel. Our emotions are the best indicators of where we stand in relationship to our highest Self at any given moment.
Yet many of us, like Pinocchio, can get confused and easily led astray by the allure of the ego, drawn toward those things that seem to be of benefit or pleasurable at first glance, but that often wind up entrapping us in the end.
Pinocchio knew when he was lying to himself because his nose began to grow. We are not so fortunate. We don’t have such an obvious indicator. We must quiet ourselves long enough to feel our way to the truth of what is best for us. The better we feel, the more in line we are with our Source. The worse we feel, the farther we have strayed from the path.
If we lack awareness of this guidance system, then we will allow marketing and media moguls, pundits and politicians to tell us what they feel is best for us, what it is we really want and need. We can find ourselves following the masses, just as Pinocchio trails behind the other little boys straight to the Isle of Pleasure. Then we wind up feeling like an ass, when we realize we have been swindled and duped. Just like these sorry little donkeys, we can frequently lose sight of our intuition, our Inner Being, and get caught in the trap of ego mind. And so, our perfect mirror that reflects the Wholeness of our Creator becomes fractured.
Zen Master, Osho, teaches, “Man is Split. Schizophrenia is a normal condition of man – at least now. It may not have been so in the primitive world, but centuries of conditioning, civilization, culture and religion have made man a crowd – divided, split, contradictory… But because the soul of man is one, all the conditionings, at most, destroy the periphery of man. But the center remains untouched – that’s how man continues to live. But life has become a hell.”
He goes on to offer, “The way that you are, you cannot say that you are. You don’t have a being. You are a marketplace – many voices. If you want to say ‘yes’, immediately the ‘no’ is there. You cannot even utter the simple word ‘yes’ with totality…. In this way happiness is not possible; unhappiness is a natural consequence of a split personality.”
How then do we cure this schizophrenia, how do we become undivided, integrated, centered, crystallized? Jesus said, “When you make the two one, when you make the inner as outer and the outer as inner---then shall you enter the kingdom.”
So we begin by cleaning up our vibration, in order to realign ourselves. We start stripping away that which no longer serves us. We release the resistances we have accumulated in our bodies, hearts and minds, we shed the outmoded beliefs, the false premises, the chronic habits of thinking and being that limit our ability to create the lives we so deeply desire to live.
And then again, with this Divine Light, we ignite the spark of our imagination, we dream; we fantasize; we tell the story, with all the embellishments, of what we desire to create. We move from powerlessness toward a place of hope, of expectation, and belief that what it is we intend to manifest is within our power. Remember, all beliefs are merely chronic or habitual patterns of thought. As we progress from belief to knowing, we will begin to witness the manifestation of our desires, which will reinforce our knowing. Ultimately, our knowing will evolve into being, and we will have reclaimed our birthright as genius creators.
From this place of expansion, liberation and clarity, we will then consistently take inspired action. We will know when something feels right, and we will do it. We must let our conscience be our guide. As we do, we begin again to take charge of our lives, and we become the artist who crafts the masterpiece we call life.
In our quest to understand the nature of the universe and our place in it, we direct vast amounts of attention and energy toward things outside of ourselves. NASA, a program, which focuses prodigious sums on exploration, sending probes to the far reaches of space, seeking to map the infinite, is a prime example.
In an attempt to comprehend the inner workings of the human body and mind, the mainstream medical community directs the vast majority of its resources toward research and development of new technologies and drugs to “cure” an ever-widening array of disease, rather than attempting to discover the source of the illness.
This is not to say that such work does not have its merits or is unworthy of exploration. It is to suggest, however, that the answers to these profound and perplexing questions are ultimately not to be found in the external world.
The “final frontier” is not space, but the inner life. When we direct the focus of our inquiries as to the nature of life and the universe inwardly, the vast complexities of the cosmos and our own bodies are revealed to us in all their simplicity.
The Ancients were well aware that all we perceive as our external environment, including our physical bodies, are merely mirrors, reflections of the infinite, inner landscape. So many wise ones have journeyed before and returned to tell the tale, illuminating, what may more aptly be called, the “Lightscape” of our in-most Self.
Their discoveries were written in the research journals of their times, scribed in the scriptures and sacred texts of every Wisdom Tradition, by saints and sages, whose methods of exploration were as exacting as those of contemporary men and women of Science. As we forge ahead into the unfolding Age of Aquarius, we will see the great minds of the Age coming more often to consensus, understanding that there are many paths to the same destination.
There is an Hermetic maxim that states: As above, so below. This phrase expresses the fundamental spiritual truth that the macrocosm is the microcosm, and so its corollary. The answers we seek and see revealed in the external always have their source within.
There was a time when the general belief was that the Earth was the center of the universe. This was known as geocentricism, and espoused by the expansive thinkers of the earliest civilizations. The theory was later replaced by heliocentric cosmology, as our awareness broadened to encompass a different model. This theory held that the Sun was the center of the universe.
We have since evolved to the understanding that the Sun is merely the center of our solar system, part of a larger galaxy, one of myriad galaxies in an infinitely expanding universe. As we come to experience the limitlessness of our consciousness, we will see that reflected in our concept of the Cosmos.
This progression of awareness mirrors our own spiritual path of awakening. Whether this unfolding occurs in one lifetime, or over billions of incarnations, it is the path we all travel, consciously or not. It is only through incarnation that we can come to understand and experience our full potential as co-creative forces in the universe.
In what we might consider the “geocentric” phase of our spiritual evolution, we first must awaken into matter, through the development of the ego. The ego mind is limited, however, and should we not seek to rise any higher, we become bound to the 3-dimensional world, to the material plane. The ego, a tool of the mind, is fueled by our desire body, which becomes stimulated by our perceptions, causing us to believe that the impulses we receive, via the physical sense organs, projected onto the movie screen of the mind is reality.
Our vision becomes clouded by the mists of maya, an illusion created by ego mind that what we perceive is static, stable, real, when truly it is all vibration, all Light. Many of us are so enmeshed in the material we begin to believe it is the cause of our state of being, rather than the effect.
As a child, we may have been told, on occasion, when behaving in ways our parents perceived as selfish, “You know… you’re not the center of the universe.” Perhaps we have repeated this to others, our own children even, in an effort to get them to consider the needs or feelings of others.
In our early development, when we begin to establish our sense of autonomy and identity, it is believed that the ego limits us from seeing the bigger picture, as we are caught up in our own little world, attempting to satisfy our immediate desires. This is considered self-centered, and therefore frowned upon.
Yet, ironically, we adults are the ones whose view is limited. Most of us have forgotten what we as young children instinctively knew: that we are Genius Source Creators, individualized aspects of the One Mind, sparks of the Divine Flame, perpetually incarnating to expand our Soul awareness, and balance our Karma.
We are taught from a very young age, if we want to get along well in the world, we need to sublimate our own needs to those of others. If we are to be rewarded and not punished, we must give up our own will, in order to please our parents, our teachers, our religious leaders, our God. We cannot give up something we have not yet established.
What those around us have forgotten is that our Soul comes in with a master plan. It knows what it needs to accomplish and what it needs to learn. The ego or personality, in its balanced state, is the vehicle through which the soul enacts the human drama we call life.
Though we may not consciously be aware of this contract, our Higher Self has guided us to incarnate within the exact conditions that will allow us to play out this script. We, like a director for a play, select the cast of characters, our family. We, as a soul, choose the environment in which the plot line of our experience will unfold. All the given circumstances, of gender, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, socio-economic condition, etc., are choices we authored before birth in conjunction with our guides, those beings who have progressed further in their evolutionary process.
We are the true architects of our destiny. Yet, those around us, who have lost sight of their own original contracts, are forever pulling us off course. They believe they “know what is best for us.” We are made to perform in ways designed to make them happy or to make their lives easier, and if we don’t, well watch out! And they call us selfish!? A dear friend of mine was wont to say when she observed someone being overly selfish, “I’m on fire! I’m on fire! No, put me out, put me out.”
This truly isn’t far off the mark. When we forget our master plan, it’s because the fire of our desires has gotten out of control. We become caught up in the trappings of our material existence, lured by the siren call of the senses. So we reach for the tantalizing temptation before us, believing that if we get our hands on the focus of our desire, the fire will be quenched. Too late, we discover it was all an illusion, a fantasy; the mermaid is really a monster. We are pulled under by the weight of disillusionment. Caught in the murky depths of our emotions, we get disoriented and cannot tell which way is up. We struggle and we drown.
We are an acquisitive race of beings. We like our “gear”. We started out as hunter-gatherers, and have progressed over the millennia into a race of hoarders. We Americans are particularly pathological when it comes to acquisition. We like to regard ourselves as “collectors” and “connoisseurs”, but really we are just packrats, no better than crows and ferrets, intrigued and delighted by bright, shiny baubles.
When we become overrun with stuff, mired down by our excess baggage, whether material, emotional or mental, there is no possibility for higher aspiration. Why would we want to seek something more elevated? We’ve got everything we need right here! If it’s not in the house, it’s in the garage, if not in the garage, then the shed out back, if not there, then the self-storage unit on the other side of town.
What do we do with all this stuff? What purpose does it serve? Our material possessions, our thoughts and concepts merely serve as the brick and mortar we use to erect the walls of our self-made prisons. Locked within the walls of our homes, or in the cages of our minds and bodies, we separate ourselves from our brothers and sisters, and ultimately from God, our Source and Sustainer, the essence of all we truly are.
When we begin to let go of our attachments to what we perceive as our outer reality, taking control of the ego mind and the emotions, we can begin to direct our focus inwardly. When we relinquish our grasp on the material, we open our hands and hearts to receive the outpouring of Divine Love that is flowing to us in all ways, surrounding us in its nurturing embrace.
This Divine Grace, like the sun’s rays, is continually flowing to us. Love is Energy, Vibration, Light. It moves out in waves from the Heart of the Divine, unconditionally, to all its creation. Yet we cannot sense it, we cannot know the enormity of this Infinite Blessing, while hunkered down in our mental and physical fortresses, braced for the onslaught of our lives.
Energy must move in a circuit, between two poles, the positive and the negative, the outgo and the inflow, the inhalation and the exhalation. In order to feel God’s Love, we must be willing to accept it, and then return it with the same force.
The Master, Jesus, taught us to Love God with all our heart, mind and soul. In order to practice this teaching, the heart must be free of hate, the mind of fear, and the soul of doubt…and the garage? Well… let’s not go there. It’s time to do some spring-cleaning!
If an honored guest were coming over for a meal, wouldn’t we spend some time and energy tiding up a bit? Let’s just say President Obama wanted to stop by to discuss how we could reshape the consciousness of the nation toward greater human rights, or the Dalai Lama wanted to hear our thoughts on the nature of silence. Would we make an effort to clear the dining room table of the 4 loads of laundry and the unpaid bills? I rather think so.
When we begin to make space for God to enter our lives, an interesting thing happens. We begin to realize that the Divine has been there all along. The Supreme Self has been waiting patiently, beneath all the clutter, secure in the knowledge that we will eventually come to this realization ourselves. This is Self-Consciousness, that moment when we awaken to the Presence of God within us. When we are fully conscious of the limitlessness of our being, we might say we have progressed into our heliocentric phase.
The Self is the Christ Light, which dwells within our hearts. This is the Son/Sun of God. We are all a part of this Sonship, each with the seed of the Christ Light sown in our hearts, forever striving toward the surface, making it’s way back to its Source. This upward trajectory we make may not be conscious, but; never the less, it is the path we all are on.
Just as not every bud blossoms at the same time on the dogwood tree, each of us opens to the fullness of our potential at a different time. This is why we must not judge others, for we were once at that very same stage of unfoldment. We are asked to help our brothers and sisters along with encouragement, offering compassionate support and guidance. When we point our fingers and criticize another’s behavior, we only bring all of humanity down. When we lift up our brother or sister, we all are lifted. We must see the good in all; give our energy and focus to the positive aspects of ourselves, and others.
Each of us is making the upward climb in search of truth. When we stop trying to beat the other guy to the top, when we let go of the illusion that our limited view of the truth is right and the other’s must be eradicated, we begin to see beyond the illusion, to grasp the bigger picture: that we all emanate from the same Source. We are all cells in the body of the One.
When we can rise above the illusion, we begin to see that the entire universe is merely a projection, a reflection of our fears and desires, our beliefs and our concepts, and it changes and evolves in direct proportion to our expanding consciousness. Just as we are all thoughts in the One Mind, all that we perceive and experience emanates from our consciousness.
We are the One manifesting as the many. Each of us is an individualized center of expression of the Cosmic Consciousness. As such, we are all centers of the Universe. That Vortex of Creation, the Supreme Self, is the I AM Presence. God is the Cosmic Center. The All is present in that singularity. There is no separation. No me, no you, no us, no them. No here, no there. All that ever was, is, or will be, is here now. Regardless of where I am on the face of the Earth, the center remains the same. So when we say, “ I AM the center of the Universe,” we speak truth.
When I was young, I discovered something about my father; he never drove the same way twice, or at least that’s what it seemed to me. Whether driving with him to Tully or Vermont to go skiing, or through the city to one hospital or another, accompanying him on his “rounds,” he was always seeking a new route.
I think my father would chalk this propensity up to his right-brained tendencies for adventurousness, spontaneity and curiosity. As a result, I learned a lot about how to get around Central New York, and in the process developed a pretty dependable sense of direction that has served well to get me where I want to go.
Keenly observing the lay of the land, and committing landmarks to memory as my dad drove, and noting that his awareness of the bigger picture aided him in creative problem solving when an accident or road construction would block our path, I learned there are multiple routes to the same destination.
However, sometimes we meet with an obstacle on our path, a lane closure due to construction, or a car wreck that has yet to be cleared, and there is only one way through. There are no exit ramps, no backcountry roads to detour onto, we simply must move straight toward what is in our path.
During these times of great transformation, the obstacles, or what we perceive as obstacles, acting as hindrances to our progress, become more amplified. We may feel as though everything and everyone is plotting to thwart our dreams and desires.
What appear to be the evil plots and machinations of others to deter us from reaching our goals, are simply the lessons we have chosen to learn in this incarnation, surfacing with more urgency and intensity. Again and again we are given the opportunity to expand.
They are not arising as punishment. The Universal Justice is only balancing itself, without judgment. These impediments are always and only based on our karma, or the Law of Cosmic Retribution, which we incurred as a result of our previous actions in past lives. Retribution simply means repayment. As we sow, so shall we reap.
We are now being summoned, called by our Souls to look squarely at what is in front of us. We are being challenged to drop all judgment, accusation, and blame of others, and to take sole responsibility for our own actions. From this place of awareness and acknowledgement we have the ability to respond and transform our circumstance.
“An action continuing through time and space, performed by human beings and perceived by human beings, all of whom are in the same space.” It sounds like a definition for “Life,” right? Well, according to David Ball, in his book A Sense of Direction, I am describing a Play.
Now, it is a given, in the world of Theatre, that conflict creates drama, or more specifically, dramatic action. It is a necessity in the structure of most genres of dramatic literature.
In the world of life, we can certainly see this same convention at work, or should I say, “play?” Shakespeare truly knew from whence he spoke, when he wrote, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players….”
Dramatic conflict, in a play, is created when a character is prevented from getting something he or she wants. “The specific, limited thing the character is trying to accomplish, at this moment in the play, what the character wants right now, is referred to as his or her objective. And the specific, limited, thing, at this moment in the play that prevents the character getting what he or she wants is the obstacle.”
Dramatic Action is “the result of conflict: I want, I cannot have; therefore, I act. All action is rooted in desire. I try to remove the obstacle, so I can get what I want.”
“A play’s arc traces the resolution of a central conflict; that is, the conflicting desires of two or more characters. Each character’s desire prevents the other(s) from accomplishing his or her desire. The play is over when the conflict is resolved.” Are we still talking about a play, or does this sound remarkably like a description of life?
Action, in a play, is described as “the tactic the character takes, or the strategy the character uses to overcome his or her obstacle.”
Most often, as we can see, it is the means by which “one character tries to manipulate other characters into removing the obstacle to his or her objective.” Doesn’t this sound exhausting? But this is how many of us are living our lives.
In the theatre there are four types of dramatic conflict where a character is at cross-purposes with something or someone, which poses as an obstacle to his/her objective:
Now, you might say these categories could be applied to any of our lives, as well. I would say that is as much an illusion as any play you would see in the theatre. We are under the illusion that life is happening to us, and people and events are often serving as deterrents to our achieving what we want. But only one of these forces is at play in the “real” world. The only obstacle we ever face, and the cause of all the drama and conflict in our lives, emanates from within.
Anything that we perceive as an obstacle to our goals is just a mirror reflecting back to us our own handiwork. From my limited ego perspective, it may very well appear that my husband is impeding my desire to go back to school, because he hasn’t tried hard enough to find work after his lay-off, so I have to work two jobs to support the family.
It all appears very cut and dry on the surface, doesn’t it? He’s a lazy, good for nothing…while I’m working my tail off to support this family…. It’s not an unreasonable complaint is it? Not if we are only looking at appearances. But what may be hidden deeper under the surface?
Fear is always at the root of anything that appears to be an obstacle in our lives. If I look at my hypothetical husband’s situation a bit more closely, or, better yet, ask him to speak plainly about his reticence, I might learn that he is afraid to get back out in the job market for fear of rejection. He feels he’s been out too long and the tide has moved on without him. Younger applicants have far more knowledge of what’s new in the field, etc., etc.
From this vantage point, I may view his seeming resistance with a bit more compassion. Now, if I am brave enough to delve a little deeper, I may be willing to see that my husband’s predicament is a mirror for my own stuff.
As I meditate on what appears to be in my way, with greater self-awareness arises the honest acknowledgment that I am feeling nervous about going back to school. It’s been so long since I cracked a book, I’m not even sure I would know how to study again. I’ll be the oldest one in the class. It’s going to be so hard… etc., etc.
Focusing on his “laziness” is a very convenient way for me to avoid looking at my own fears. It appears he is the cause of my suffering, but he is only a reflection of a more deeply rooted current of fear in me.
The teachings of Abraham-Hicks tell us that it is never true to say those around us have got a lot of “stuff” going on that we do not. You cannot say, “My co-workers are such a bunch of complainers!” We always attract to us others who are vibrating at the same frequency, though what they manifest may appear somewhat different, a slightly different melody, the underlying chord, however, is always the same. “If they’ve got it goin’ on, you’ve got it goin’ on.”
So, why do we judge and blame and complain? These are tactics (our actions) that we use to deflect the focus away from our own stuff, the issues that we have not yet resolved. Quite simply, we project our own unconscious patterns onto others, because it is so much easier than cleaning up our own mess.
There is a wonderful parable floating around cyberspace that goes like this:
A young couple moves into a new neighborhood. The next morning while they are eating breakfast, the young woman sees her neighbor hanging the wash outside. "That laundry is not very clean; she doesn't know how to wash correctly. Perhaps she needs better laundry soap." Her husband looks on, remaining silent. Every time her neighbor hangs her wash to dry, the young woman makes the same comments. A month later, the woman is surprised to see a nice clean wash on the line and says to her husband: "Look, she's finally learned how to wash correctly. I wonder who taught her this?" The husband replies, "I got up early this morning and cleaned our windows."
And so it is with life... What we perceive, when observing others, depends on the clarity of the window through which we look. Our own eyes may be clouded with misapprehension, convoluted thinking, concepts and patterns of thought that have no basis in truth. We lose sight of what is happening, because we are distorting the lens with our own emotional baggage or misconception, and this fuels a thought that brings with it another emotion, and before we know it we have fabricated a very convincing story as to why we are not getting what we want.
More important to understand is that what seems to be in our way is always self-constructed. We are constantly creating karma, the by-product of our continual action. What we are experiencing is either the effect of a cause initiated in this life or a previous one, and we always, either consciously or not, choose these challenges as an opportunity for soul growth, or spiritual evolution.
It is always necessary for us to acknowledge the impediment, accept it, and welcome it fully into our lives, for resisting it will only magnify it.
Newton’s Third Law of Motion states:
When one body exerts a force on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction to that of the first body.
Our resistance only feeds the obstruction.
According to the I-Ching, “when flowing water, the quintessence of the Tao, meets with an obstacle in its path, a blockage on its journey, it pauses. It increases in volume and strength, filling up in front of the obstacle and eventually flowing past it. The obstacles do not spring suddenly in the way of the rushing water but are, in fact, inherent in the chosen path.”
The path that we tread, we chose at a soul level. Our soul, which has a far broader perspective, unlimited by the physical body or ego mind, is drawing to us exactly what we need to balance our karma. Also, what our soul is drawing to us we are.
At a purely physical level, everything is merely energy. As such, so are we, and all that we perceive as physical has its source in the Spiritual. So, whenever we judge or blame or resist, we are actually only directing that energy back at ourselves.
Recall Newton’s 3rd Law again, for a moment. Our thoughts, which are energy, exert force, just like any physical body. When we direct them at another, there is an equal and opposite force pushing right back at us. It’s no wonder we get stuck. We will never get past what we think is in our way, until we acknowledge, and lovingly accept that we are its source.
Each time we incarnate we take on a new role so that we may move through the “human drama” of life to gain more experience and greater understanding. We, in collaboration with our guides, choose the ideal setting, cast of characters and plotlines to follow, in order that we may raise our consciousness to new levels of awareness, and thus our soul to a more expanded state of evolution.
These life lessons are the ones our parents may have told us “build character.” They are hard, they challenge us, and they always force us to surpass our current definition of who we think we are, but they are always offered to us with the greatest love and purest devotion to our greater good, and we are never given anything that is beyond our ability to endure.
If we want to limit the “drama” in our life, we must limit the conflict. The easiest way is to cease all self-serving desire, which removes our need to act. When we are not acting, we are not creating karma, and we become pure channels for the flow of the Divine Life Force. When we are conduits for Spirit, there is nothing that can hinder our creation.
But for many, this may seem a lofty endeavor and far beyond our current capabilities. So what other option is there, as we learn non-attachment, when we come up against an obstacle in our path?
The key, just as with the water meeting an obstruction, is to pause. In doing so, we no longer empower or perpetuate the life of what seems an obstacle through our resistance; here we are simply able to be.
This pause is like the space between thoughts that we cultivate through meditation, or the pause between the inhalation and exhalation. The space is where all striving ceases, where all resistance subsides. In the space, we discover the opening that becomes the way through. This gap, this void, this pause is the gateway to our Higher Self, that aspect of ourselves that already knows the answer to our questions before we even pose them, and knows that this seeming obstacle is an illusion we have created to encourage our growth and move us further along the path toward home.
As Albert Einstein says, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it,” so we must be willing, when we come upon something that appears to block our way, to raise our consciousness by raising our vibration, moving from a state of solidity to a fluid state and become non-resistant like water. We pause, build in power and strength, by entering the God Space, and gracefully move through.
And if our movement still remains blocked, as mystical poet, Mark Nepo, tells us, “Perhaps we are meant to be still.”
Before the inception of our universe, the All That Is existed as eternal, pure, positive, Source Energy - Infinite Light. Our universe as we know it, lay in potential, in a state of profound contraction, like a seed containing the unending cycle of birth, growth, death and decay. With the “Big Bang,” the cosmos is born, its never-ending cycle of expansion and contraction continuing, as it transforms into its next incarnation.
This Infinite Light, what some might call God- a self–contained whole- in order to know itself, had to expand, splintering off in myriad directions, like shards of a great cosmic mirror rent asunder. Evolving over countless millennia, as inseparably connected extensions of that Divine Self, we, and everything else in the universe, eventually contracted again to come into form. All that we can perceive with our five senses, and all that exists beyond the limited awareness of those faculties, every atom, every cloud, every rock, tree, whale, and human being is this God-Source Energy.
With each incarnation, through the process of involution, the Supreme Self lowers its vibration, condensing down to come into innumerable physical forms, our human bodies only one satellite in an infinite constellation.
From the moment of our conception, we begin to expand again, perpetuating the evolution of our species and our soul. The fetus grows exponentially in the mother’s womb, from a single cell to a multi-dimensional, dynamic, living, breathing bundle of Life Force Energy. Our entire birthing process is carried out in the same primordial dance of the universe. The uterus contracts to expel what has reached fruition, and the cervix expands to allow for the passage from inner to outer.
Just as we are connected to and nourished by our mothers through the life sustaining umbilical cord at our navel, we are linked to the Infinite Light through the Antahkarana, at the crown of the head. Though we are separated from our mothers at birth in the cutting of this tie, we are never severed from our Source. That cosmic connection is inextricably present.
As our bodies develop further they are in a constant state of growth and decay, as new cells replace those we cast off, with each inhalation we take, and each exhalation we release. The cycle continues, as we “shuffle off this mortal coil,” and merge back into non-physical, at the moment of our transition, or death, only to cycle back again, in the infinite cosmic rhythm of expansion and contraction.
As a practitioner and Instructor of Hatha Yoga, I am well acquainted with these terms, as they embody the external expression of the asana or poses that make up the physical component to the practice. In pranayama, we train our focus on the breath, riding the waves of the inhalation and exhalation. In dhyana or meditation we concentrate our awareness on a single point of focus, in order to transcend the physical form and the mind, expanding beyond them to ultimately merge into the Infinite Bliss of samadhi.
In the practice we cultivate a balance between these polarities. They play and work together, each containing the other by degrees. Hatha Yoga is yang and yin in motion. Ha, meaning Sun, is the active, outward or expansive principle, and Tha, which means Moon, represents the receptive, inward or contractive component. It is when we lose this equilibrium, through our habits of thought and behavior, throwing off the balance of nature, that disharmony results.
Very often I hear people say, “Oh, I can’t do yoga, I’m not flexible.” Or a student will say, “You’ve got to be kidding me! I can’t do that pose.” My usual response to statements like those is, “If you believe you can’t, then you never will.”
In my work as a Yoga teacher, I am introducing my students to new experiences, new ways of engaging with their body, mind, breath, and soul. They are called upon to expand the boundaries of what they think they are capable, physically, mentally and spiritually, the ultimate goal being Self or God-Realization, simply put, coming to the awareness that we are, in fact, God.
Ironically, what is most critical to progress in the discipline is one’s willingness to unlearn. Yes, I instruct my students in various physical postures, forms of breath control, as well as philosophy, but more importantly, I assist them in recognizing where they are harboring blocks and resistances, and I offer them tools to begin to release them.
These blocks and resistances, what one might call contractions are built up over many years, and very often over many lifetimes. They are patterns of thought and behavior that have been laid over our true nature, this pure positive Source Energy, becoming veils that obscure our essential God Self, which is limitless. The most insidious and powerful cause of contraction is fear. When we operate from a place of fear it adversely affects us on multiple levels.
Psychologists describe fear as an emotional response to a known or definite threat, a basic survival mechanism occurring in response to a specific stimulus, or imminent danger that is perceived to be uncontrollable or unavoidable.
The most common physiological responses associated with fear include: increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, contraction of the muscles, sharpened or redirected senses, dilation of the pupils (to let in more light), increased sweating, and constricted breathing. All of these effects throw off the normal balance of expansion and contraction in the body.
It is believed that these bodily changes are an inborn reaction, born out in the fight, flight or freeze response, necessary for our survival. These signals alert us to a potential or perceived danger and allow us to choose to stay and face the threat, flee to safety, or even freeze in fear induced paralysis.
Interestingly, we also experience similar physiological shifts during moments of anxiety, often erroneously labeled “fear,” which is more accurately described by authors Kaplan and Sadock, as “a diffuse, unpleasant, vague sense of apprehension…” often a response to an imprecise or unknown threat. These physical changes still occur even when we believe there is merely the possibility of a threat, as the mind conjures a vision of some unspecified danger that might potentially result in an imagined undesirable outcome.
Whether as a result of imminent danger or simply a perceived threat, at these times various parts of the body go into a state of extreme contraction on a cellular level; major muscle groups in the body tense, and the breathing becomes constricted, resulting in shortness of breath. While others expand beyond normal limits.
Now, these physical responses developed early in our evolution as a species, as we were faced with many conditions that threatened our very survival, like being eaten by a large predator, for example. Over the millennia, those circumstances have lessened considerably, unless of course you live in a war zone of one sort or other. Yet, even in the most benign of conditions, we continue to create phantom threats based on what we think might possibly happen to us. We have conditioned ourselves into a constant state of “red alert,” what is now generally termed “stress.” Continually operating at this level negatively impacts us in many ways. We are ravaging our bodies, and wreaking havoc on our minds. The pharmaceutical companies and medical industry are the only ones benefiting!
The Greek, Stoic Philosopher, Epictetus eloquently and succinctly described our condition as follows:
Men are not worried by things,
but by their idea about things.
When we meet with difficulties,
become anxious or troubled,
let us not blame others,
but rather ourselves,
that is: our ideas about things.
We are adversely affected by our over identification with fear, not only physically and mentally, but spiritually, as well. I see my students come up against their fears and anxieties frequently in Yoga class, when faced with the prospect of trying a challenging new pose. Inversions like head and handstands can bring up some pretty heavy stuff.
The same sorts of reactions arise in us multiple times a day when we get caught in the “what if’s” of our lives. We send ourselves into tizzies, imagining a variety of unpleasant outcomes that might befall us should we attempt something new. We are afraid of failing, afraid of embarrassing ourselves, afraid of being judged, or ridiculed. So, very often, we say, “I can’t,” “I won’t,” or “I shouldn’t.” Instead of boldly treading into the unknown, we stay firmly rooted, or stuck in our present condition, whether it is of benefit to us or not.
Consider the words can’t, won’t, and shouldn’t for a moment. What do we call these words grammatically? Contractions. When we use any of these words we contract, effectively cutting ourselves off from any possibility of growth, restricting our essential nature, which is one of eternal expansion or evolution.
When we say “I can’t,” we are saying “ I cannot.” In these moments, we place a strangle hold on the cosmic umbilical cord, tieing a metaphoric knot in the Antahkarana, that radiant Light connection to our Infinite Source. The stream of Inspiration and Energy that is continually flowing to us is pinched off. Every time we utter “I wont’” or “I shouldn’t” we block the Divine conduit, like plaque clogging an artery.
So how do we remedy this? We are in need of a Cosmic Roto-Rooter, something to flush the system, to open the gate allowing the free flow of the Divine to flood us, to embolden us into expanding into the greater potential we hold captive in our fear.
We might call fear a negative emotion, for lack of a better term. It isn’t really good or bad, but it does serve a useful purpose. It let’s us know that we have created a state in our minds that is counter to who we truly are. It is a signal that we are presently placing false limitations on our capabilities, based on our beliefs about ourselves, our belief that we are “only human,” that we are “mortal”, and “fallible,” or, perhaps, that we are “sinners.”
Signals are beneficial. They serve to get our attention and help us to recognize that something needs addressing. It is only when we get caught in an habitual mode of fear that it becomes debilitating. When we become stuck in these patterns of thought and behavior, they lead to stagnation, further contraction, and ultimately to decay and death. This is only our fate if we choose it to be. There is another way…
If everything is God, then nothing is imperfect. What is perhaps imperfect or at least distorted is our concept of who we are, a misrepresentation of the mind. When we understand that we are the Limitless Light, that we are God, the Eternal, I Am Presence, we let go of our false self, the ego self, the little “I am” that holds the limited vision of separation from Source and everything else firmly in its clutches, “afraid” of being “annihilated.”
There is no need to eradicate the ego; more accurately, we only need to rein it in. We do this by releasing the resistance and the blockages, the false concepts and impressions we cling to of who we think we are. Developing a practice that clears out the static, that quiets the cling and clatter in our heads is the first step toward Self-Realization - Hatha Yoga, Pranayama, Meditation, Qi Gong and Tai Chi are but a few.
When we become the masters of our minds, we become the masters of our own realities. When we release the fear and limitations we place on ourselves, and divinize the mind, by expanding the consciousness to encompass the All That Is that we are, we finally come to know the deep peace we are all seeking, and the joy of bringing into form all we wish to create. When we still the turbulence in the sea of our minds, we can once again see our true reflection, the Infinite Face of God.
We have become a society of “multi-taskers.” As technology continues to evolve, we are being given tools and actively encouraged to split our focus even more, in order to be productive and remain on the leading edge of whatever we are told is the next hot trend.
Innovations in technology have offered us many advantages, no doubt, but we are also seeing all sorts of issues arise affecting our physical, emotion and mental health. At the root of these woes is our neglect of our spiritual well-being.
Is it possible to be the “Servant of Two Masters”? The media would have us believe that it is essential to our social and fiscal wellbeing. In the 16th c. Carlo Goldoni play of the same name, a comedy of errors, in which the quirky Truffaldino, servant to the miserly Pantalone, aligns himself with yet another master, in order to further satisfy his insatiable hunger.
The Italian Commedia D’ellarte grew out of the Medieval Morality plays. In Jesus the Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, we find the inspiration for this classic tale.
One of the central themes of the play is Truffaldino’s all-consuming appetite. This hunger, like a ravenous wolf that can never be satisfied, is almost his undoing. His main intention or action in the play is to fill his belly. Dividing his attention between two masters ensures that this hunger will never be sated, as the web of lies and deceit he weaves, in trying to satisfy both, becomes his greatest obstacle.
Yet Truffaldino’s hunger is a metaphor for a deeper yearning, which, in the play, is represented by his beloved, Smeraldina. On the larger stage of our lives, the empty void we continually seek to fill can only be satisfied by Divine Love.
There is an underlying and insidious pattern of belief in the mass consciousness of humanity that life is hard. We are brought up to believe we are meant to suffer, that nothing good ever comes without sacrifice and hard work, and we need every “trick in the book” in order to get ahead. Most of us accept this, because it is what we have been taught, and all we have ever experienced.
The only reason our experience of life is hard is because we are operating under a series of false premises. Life is only hard, because we make it so.
The first of the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths states that Life means suffering. If we just stop here, this could be a rather daunting concept. It seems to support the mindset from which most of us approach our lives. We have all heard the pessimist proclaim, “Life’s a bitch, and then you die.“
If we explore a bit further, we discover that Buddha doesn’t leave us hanging there. In the second Noble Truth he expresses that the origin of suffering is attachment.
What is meant by attachment? The earliest use of the word attach in the west derives from the 11th century French, atachier, which means to fix; stake up, or support, to fasten, or connect. Later, it appeared in Anglo-Latin use, meaning to take or seize by law.
Attachment, arising from this root word, means to arrest a person on judicial warrant. It’s more contemporary meaning of a show of devotion or sympathy was not in use until the early 18th c., and of course the word is now ubiquitous in this day of email and texting.
We can see the earliest uses of the root word implied connection, and attachment itself, meaning a seizure of person, property or wages, was actually not something to be desired.
An attachment, quite unromantically, was an experience of bondage or imprisonment. It is this bondage and imprisonment to which the Buddha refers, as the cause of all suffering.
We continually witness the impermanence of life, in the cycles of nature. The shoot springs forth from the earth; blossoms explode, wilt and decay. Pods drop their seeds, which are buried in the earth and then rise again to continue the rhythmic dance of expansion and contraction.
We so willingly accept the evanescence of nature, sure in the knowledge that the passage from day to night will yet again reveal the rising sun, the snow will recede to usher in the new growth of spring. Yet, when a loved one dies or leaves, the security of a job dissolves, or the physical body no longer functions at peak performance, our sense of security is shaken. The seemingly solid foundation, on which we stood, has shifted, and we may feel a sense of powerlessness or fear.
We might ask, “How could what had seemed so sure, so secure, have fallen away so quickly and without warning?” Why are we so unwilling to view the ebb and flow of our personal seasons as being any different from the greater cycles of nature?
It is because we are often confused by what we perceive as the nature of our reality, and in our confusion we become attached to it, believing that what we perceive is real, and essential to our greater wellbeing.
We engage with the world, and make sense of it, by the use of our 5 senses. By all appearances, what we perceive seems quite permanent, solid, and “real.” In actuality, the solid platform on which we seem to stand so firmly, and everything that surrounds us, is not at all static. It is moving, morphing, changing in the ever-shifting cosmic dance of transformation.
The scientists are finally confirming what the sages have been communicating all along: everything in the Universe is energy in vibration. Research shows what adepts have known intuitively. Energy can be neither created nor destroyed, it can only change form.
All that we ever perceive is an interpretation of energy in vibration. The 5 senses are receptors, the central nervous system is the means of transmission that carries the vibrational signal to the brain, which then interprets that vibration into a particular visual picture, a sound, a smell, a taste or a feeling.
We become attached to the material plane through the 5 senses. The senses don’t deceive us, but our interpretation of what is perceived can very often be flawed as a result of our chronic habits of thought or belief structures. It is never the thing or person that causes suffering, but misinterpretation of it and our subsequent attachment to it.
We can find some relief in the third Noble Truth, which expresses that the cessation of suffering is attainable, through the practice of the Eightfold Path. Buddha then goes on to lay it out for us, revealing that through mental development and ethical conduct, we can illuminate our higher consciousness. In so doing we allow for the blossoming of wisdom, which points us toward understanding and acceptance of the impermanence of existence.
The Buddhist Eightfold Path begins with Right View. Our view of the world shapes our thoughts, and our actions, and vice versa. Therefore, it is essential that we see things as they really are, in order to view the world correctly. We can begin this process by releasing all of our expectations. Expectation is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Life can never be anything but what we expect. When we expect someone or something to be a particular way, we can only view it through the lens of our expectation and therefore will never see what truly is.
Expectations are always based on past experience. They are a reflection of our own hopes and fears, and closely linked to our samskaras, deep-seated mental and emotional habits of thought and behavior regarding particular people and events that have occurred in our present or past lives that distort our observations.
As we are always creating our own reality, if we want to create the reality we truly desire, we need the self-discipline to purify our samskaras. This requires discovering and uprooting the underlying emotions and thought patterns that color our ability to see what really is.
Right Intention quite naturally follows Right View. When our view is no longer distorted, and we see the world as it really is, we can let go of any need to change others, or what is occurring around us.
Our intention is the foundation of the creative process. This places us in complete control of what we experience, as no one else has the power to create in our reality. Right Intention is a volitional act of will. It requires the disciplined focus of our mental energy toward that which we want to create. It is only ever our intent that shapes the reality we experience, and only ever our doubt that keeps us from realizing it.
Right Intention, as described by the Buddha, is the commitment to ethical and mental self-improvement. Buddha distinguishes three types of right intentions. The first is the intention of renunciation, which means resistance to the pull of desire. The second is the intention of good will, meaning resistance to feelings of anger and aversion. Finally, he guides us toward the intention of harmlessness, to avoid thinking or acting cruelly, violently or aggressively, and to develop compassion.
Right Speech is the first of these ethical principles to which we must commit. Our words have the power to create or destroy. Words are made up of letters. Letters are symbols that represent sounds. Sounds are merely vibration. When a bomb explodes a building, it is the vibration that brings it down. It is also vibration that brings all things into manifestation. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
Our words are our thoughts made manifest, which are seeds we plant in the fertile soil of the subconscious, where they germinate, eventually to spring forth as our experience. Therefore it is essential we be mindful of what we say. Be careful what you wish for, you will always get it.
Right Speech, as explained by Buddha, encourages abstention from slanderous speech and using words maliciously to offend or hurt others, and to avoid idle chatter that lacks purpose or depth. We are simply asked to tell the truth, to speak with kindness, and to speak only when necessary. Shirdi Sai Baba once said, "Before you speak, ask yourself: Is it kind, is it true, is it necessary, does it improve upon the silence?"
The ethical principle of Right Action is the 4th step on the Eight Fold Path. It is expressed in deeds through the physical the body. Quite simply, unwholesome actions lead to unsound states of mind, while wholesome actions lead to sound states of mind.
Again, the principle is explained in terms of renunciation. Through Right Action we are asked to abstain from doing harm intentionally or delinquently to all sentient beings. We are guided to refrain from taking what is not given freely, and to abstain from sexual misconduct. Living simply, life becomes less complicated.
Our society is such that most of us are required to work for our livelihood. Right Livelihood is the 5th stepping-stone in the Eightfold Path. It suggests we earn our living in a righteous way, and that wealth should be gained by legal and peaceful means.
The Buddha mentions four specific activities that harm other beings and should avoid for this reason. They are dealing in weapons, dealing in living beings, including raising animals for slaughter, as well as the more obvious, human trafficking, and prostitution. We are encouraged to avoid work in meat production and butchery, and selling intoxicants and poisons, such as alcohol and drugs.
Furthermore, any other occupation that would violate the principles of Right Speech and Right Action should be avoided. Joseph Campbell expressed that we should follow our bliss, but how many of us are living lives of “ quiet desperation” chained to jobs we dread?
The sixth tenet is Right Effort, which can be seen as the foundation for the other principles on the path. Without effort, or an act of will, nothing is achieved. When our effort is misguided it distracts the mind from its task, the consequence is confusion and chaos. Focused mental energy is the force behind all effort; it can be used for either productive or destructive ends. The energy that fuels hatred, envy, and deceit is the same as that which fuels compassion, self-discipline, and honesty, only the focus is different.
Right Effort is focused in four ways: preventing dormant or latent unwholesome states from emerging, abandoning negative states that have already arisen, stimulating beneficial states that have not yet surfaced, and preserving and perfecting positive states that have already appeared.
The 7th principle, Right Mindfulness, is the mental ability to see things as they are, in a consciousness of clarity. The cognitive process begins with a sensory impression or a thought. Rarely does it stop there. Rather, we almost always immediately conceptualize sense impressions and thoughts, interweaving them with a complex of other thoughts, emotions and experiences from our past, which naturally go way beyond the truth of the original impression. This all happens unconsciously, and as a result we view our world “as through a glass darkly.”
The foundation of Right Mindfulness is clarity of perception, enabling us to be aware of the tendency toward conceptualization, so we can actively observe, and consciously control the direction of our thoughts.
The final principle on the Eightfold Path, Right Concentration, refers to the development of the mental force of concentration. In this context, concentration is described as single pointed focus, a state in which all our mental faculties are unified and directed toward one particular object.
The disciplined practice of Meditation is viewed as the best method to develop Right Concentration. The mind in meditation first focuses on a selected object, sustains that focus in full absorption, until one finally merges with the object of meditation. Through this practice it becomes natural to apply heightened levels of concentration in our everyday lives.
In our attempt to be free of a life of suffering we must move from sense to non-sense. The bondage that attachment creates stems from the belief that what we are interpreting through the senses is “real.” The suffering comes from our belief that the world is the cause, the foundation from which all our experiences arise.
The harder we cling to the temporal the more elusive is the eternal. We must choose which master we want to serve, the one that will eternally bind us to the wheel of Karma, or the One who will set us free. We must decide where our “treasure is,” in the things of the earth that are illusive and pass away, or do we fix our hearts and minds on God, seeking first the Kingdom of the soul? When we deposit the gems of our thoughts, words and actions in the safety vaults of heaven, we are released from the chains of the 3rd dimension. It is then we transcend the corporeal, the temporal, and attain eternal life.
In order to experience eternal life, we must be willing to live fully in the now. This is the realm of heaven, not some distant place we pass onto after we die. It is a state of consciousness that resides within the gap between the past and the future. It is within this gap we align with the All That Is. It is within this gap we “Let Go and Let God.”
Katrin Naumann worked for 20 years as a Theatre Artist, both behind the scenes as a Costume and Scenic Designer, and on stage, film and TV, as an Actor. She has been a lifelong adventurer on the path of Self discovery, which has led to her current role as Director of Inner Balance Life Works. Her holistic healing practice focuses on offering pathways toward (R)evolutionary Self Transformation. Katrin serves the community as an Energy Healer, Intuitive Spiritual Guide, Qigong & Yoga Instructor, Author, Public Speaker, and Workshop Creatrix.