There Is A Candle In Your Heart
There is a candle in your heart,
ready to be kindled.
There is a void in your soul,
ready to be filled.
You feel it, don’t you?
You feel the separation
from the Beloved.
Invite Him to fill you up,
embrace the fire.
Remind those who tell you otherwise that
comes to you of its own accord,
and the yearning for it
cannot be learned in any school.
If we relied on society and the media as our only source of truth, Rumi’s words would certainly fall flat. In our culture we are raised to believe if we just read the right book, buy the right clothes, or use the right dating app we will be able to attract just the kind of love we want and deserve. The music industry and media would have us believe Love is something we must search for, must fight for, must lie, cheat and steal for. Just listen to an hour of pop radio sometime, if you have any doubt. Love Hurts, Love Stinks, Love is a Battlefield….. The way love and relationships are often depicted on TV and in film, one might wonder, “Why bother?!”
As we approach February 14, greeting card, candy and diamond peddlers are enticing us to express our unending love and devotion with pretty words, sweet morsels, and sparkly baubles. Some would like us to believe that greeting card companies invented Valentine’s Day, but it is said that the holiday is likely named for a St. Valentine who lived in Rome in the early part of the 3rd c. CE.
As the story goes, he was imprisoned for ministering to early Christians who were persecuted by the Romans, and for performing weddings for soldiers who were prohibited from marrying. If he converted to paganism, disavowing his faith, the Emperor Claudius II, who interrogated him, promised to spare his life. Instead Valentinus attempted to convert Claudius to Christianity, and as a result was put to death. He was martyred for his devotion to his flock and to his faith.
While in prison, Valentinus healed his jailor Aterius’ daughter of her blindness. Legend states that before his execution he wrote "from your Valentine" as a farewell to her. He is also said to have cut hearts from parchment, giving them to the soldiers and the persecuted, in order to "remind them of God's love and to encourage them to remain faithful Christians," a possible origin of the widespread use of hearts on Saint Valentine's Day.
Our current association with Valentine’s Day as a paean to love and devotion is rooted in the medieval tradition of “courtly love.” That’s courtly love, not Courtney Love, a chivalrous expression of love and admiration, carried on by the nobility in secret. In essence, courtly love was a union of seeming opposites- erotic desire with spiritual attainment- " a love at once illicit, and morally elevating, passionate and disciplined, humiliating and exalting, human and transcendent."
The word yoga has its root in the word yuj, meaning to yoke. The implication is one of union, of joining two seemingly opposing things together. You might imagine you have two oxen you wish to use to plow your rice field, but each has its own agenda. One wants to bask in the sun munching on grass, enjoying the perfume of flowers, like our beloved Ferdinand, while the other has his sights set on a cow in the other pasture. Unless you introduce the discipline of the yoke, not much plowing will get done.
When we “yoke” our self to the practice of Yoga, we bring our dualistic nature, represented by the two oxen, into a state of union, union with the Supreme Self, the One. In its most pure sense, we practice Yoga to align ourselves with the Divine.
The practice of Yoga is becoming more and more ubiquitous in the West. When it was first formally introduced in the US in the 60’s and 70’s, it was shrouded in mystery and viewed as exotic, even something to be feared, and it was only practiced in a handful of ashrams scattered around the country. In the intervening years, we have seen what might be termed a "yoga explosion." It is hard to walk down any city street these days without coming across a Yoga Studio.
Yoga has become big business in the US. It is slowly being woven into the fabric of society. The fitness industry has co-opted Yoga, incorporating it into every possible regimen: Yogalates, PiYo, Yoganetics, Aqua Yoga, Hip-Hop Yoga, Ariel Yoga. It is more regularly featured in commercials and TV shows. It would seem everyone wants to get a piece of the action.
In the West, we are most familiar with Hatha Yoga. Hatha Yoga is an umbrella term that covers all physical forms of Yoga practice, of which there are many. In the Documentary Film “Enlighten Up”, which I highly recommend, we follow the journey of a man, a total novice, on his 6 mo. immersion into the world of Yoga. Initially, we see him explore various Yoga classes, speak with Yoga students and teachers in New York, Massachusetts, and Hawaii.
As a journalist, he has, shall we say, a healthy dose of skepticism, regarding all the claims he hears people making about the benefits of Yoga. All he knows is he isn’t “getting it.” Through the course of the film we see him begin to transform. First, his body hurts and perhaps his pride, as he struggles to “keep up” with the yogis and yoginis in class. Slowly we begin to see the edges soften, as unwittingly, the practice begins to take effect.
It isn’t until he travels to India that the walls of resistance really begin to crumble. Ironically, what he discovers in India is that there isn’t much Yoga being practiced, at least not the kind of Yoga he had experienced in the US. He does take in a class of Laughing Yoga, however, and visits two of the most venerated Yoga gurus of our time, Pattabhi Jois and B.K.S. Iyengar, both of whom convey that the practice of asana (the physical poses) is only a stepping-stone to something higher.
B.K.S. Iyengar reminds us of the purpose of asana in his book Light on Yoga, when he states, "Their real importance lies in the way they train and discipline the mind...The yogi conquers the body by the practice of asanas and makes it a fit vehicle for the spirit...He does not consider [the body] his property...The yogi realizes that his life and all its activities are part of the divine action in nature.”
In the film, our intrepid yogi’s eyes are further opened when he visits Guru Saran Ananda outside of Gokul, India. It is there that he learns that most people in India are practicing something called Bhakti Yoga. This is the Yoga of Pure Spiritual Devotion to the Divine, a yoga very foreign to this Westerner, indeed.
The Sanskrit word bhakti comes from the root bhaj which means "to adore or worship God." Bhakti yoga has been called "love for love's sake" and "union through love and devotion." Bhakti yoga, like any other form of yoga, is a path to self-realization, to having an experience of Oneness with the All That Is.
With this form of yoga, one cultivates a personal relationship with the Divine, in much the same way as one would cultivate a personal relationship with a partner, child, friend, or master. In this case the relationship being cultivated is that of Soul to Super-Soul or Soul to God.
The path consists entirely of concentrating one's mind, emotions, and senses on the Divine. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna states, that love and innocent pure intention are the most powerful motive forces in a devotee's spiritual life. At the heart of, and the ultimate expression of, bhakti is surrender to the Divine as one's own Inner Self.
The bhakti tradition emphasizes the intense longing to know God, generally referred to as "the Beloved, or “Lord”." In this yearning to touch and know the Divine, we are longing for union with Self. Unlike other relationships we foster, this one is the most intimate, the most precious, the most blissful. But this beloved is one that will never lie, never cheat, and never betray us, because it is the Divine aspect of our own nature.
As one nurtures the relationship with the beloved, there is a level of emotional fulfillment that is unmatched. Let’s just say that God never lets us down. As we deepen our practice of Bhakti Yoga we come to understand that the Divine is always present and committed to our greater wellbeing. Any lack of fulfillment in the relationship fully rests on our shoulders. Any sustenance and satisfaction we derive from this union is totally our responsibility. As with any relationship, we get out of it what we put into it.
I have heard some say they do not believe in God, because they have never had any experience that would prove God’s existence. The Absolute doesn’t need to prove anything. The exquisite intricacy of Creation and the infallibility of Divine Law are proof enough. One only need look, one only need open the door, one only need invite the Lord or beloved into the heart and the “proof” will reveal itself in the flow of Shakti, Grace, and inner peace that are the fruits one reaps with mindful cultivation.
We may choose to devote ourselves to a beloved teacher or guru, a revered saint or an ascended master like Jesus or Buddha, or an aspect of the Divine like Krishna or a deity such as Shiva. The practice may consist of meditation, ritual observance, or chanting, through which we direct our devotion toward something outside of ourselves that serves as a mirror for the Divine within us.
As we open our heart and surrender our ego, we create a space in which a merging of consciousness can occur. The energy or Shakti of the being or deity is invoked in the practice and then ultimately evoked within us. The bhakta opens the flow of her heart’s love and adoration, and shares her deepest thoughts and concerns with the focus of her devotion, until a continual flow of awareness moves between devotee and her or his beloved.
Generally, in bhakti meditation there is awareness of relationship, two-ness, or duality. The devotee is aware of the Lord and of his own being, and of the relationship between them. With continued practice, one loses self-consciousness and is aware only of the beloved. Eventually, the bhakta experiences that the Divine Spirit, or consciousness, moves into, fills and dwells in his or her heart. Our awareness is expanded, and periods of higher consciousness come more frequently. We are transformed as we move from our limited dualistic consciousness toward Unity-Consciousness. With even greater development, the aspirant, who practices bhakti meditation, lives in a sense of permanent intimate relationship with the Divine! How awesome is that!
With whom or what are you in relationship? To what or whom do you give your devotion? We may be devoted to our spouse or partner, to our family or a worthy cause, all of which are noble pursuits. When we look a bit more closely, we may discover that we are devoted to some things or people that are not really serving our greater good.
In our capitalist culture, many are devoted to the “almighty dollar.” In the West one is far more likely to find someone devoted to enhancing their shoe collection or supporting their favorite football team than they are to their relationship with God.
The boom in the Yoga business is a reflection of so many who are devoted to their health and wellbeing. Unfortunately, too many are merely focused on the outer shell, the vessel of the physical form. When we only tend to the material, neglecting the spiritual, there is imbalance. Prashant Iyengar, son of B.K.S Iyengar says, “There is no physical yoga and spiritual yoga. If it is exclusively physical, it won’t be yoga. Yoga is dealing with the entirety; it is a union.”
All Yoga is about union, about cultivating the soil that will foster a dynamic relationship with the Divine. In my own experience of the devotional practice of Aarti to my guru Sai Maa Lakshmi Devi, I have come to understand that this permanent relationship is anything but static. It continually grows and changes, developing into a multi- dimensional experience of love that flows both ways. My relationship with Maa is ever new and always a reflection of what I am offering to it.
Maa is an embodiment of the Divine Mother, the Shakti, the Shekhina. I am not so much cultivating a relationship with her as a physical presence as I am with her as a spiritual and energetic being. Her love is unceasing. Her love is non-judgmental. Should I neglect the relationship, her love does not waver, because she is an expression of Pure Divine Love. There is no ego on her part to be disappointed or let down, if I lapse in my practice. The benefits I receive may lessen, but that is only because I have turned away from the Sun.
What I have found the most challenging in my practice is to surrender, to surrender the ego, the aspect of my being that perceives itself as separate from Maa, separate from the Divine. It rears its head less often, but when it does pop up, and I sense myself resisting Maa, I know that I am actually resisting my relationship with my Higher Self.
The practice is the yoke that is uniting the mind and body, disciplining and transmuting the lower vibrations of my physical and subtle bodies. The yoke is the breath, the chanting, or the ritual observance that pulls me out of my mind and directs my focus away from my ego related desires, and centers me gently in my heart. It is here in the garden that Divine Love emerges like a flower bud that has forced its way up through the darkness of the earth to seek the Source of warmth and Light that nourish its unfolding into the full blossom of fragrant Life.
One of the most well known bhaktas is Mewlana Jalaluddin Rumi, the 13th c. Persian mystic poet.
The Seed Market
Can you find another market like this?
Where, with your one rose
you can buy hundreds of rose gardens?
Where, for one seed get a whole wilderness?
For one weak breath, a divine wind?
You've been fearful of being absorbed in the ground,
or drawn up by the air.
Now, your water bead lets go and drops into the ocean,
where it came from. It no longer has the form it had,
but it's still water. The essence is the same.
This giving up is not a repenting.
It's a deep honoring of yourself.
When the ocean comes to you as a lover,
marry at once, quickly, for God's sake!
Don't postpone it!
Existence has no better gift. No amount of searching will find this.
A perfect falcon, for no reason has landed on your shoulder,
and become yours.
Katrin Naumann, Director of Inner Balance Life Works: Dynamic Self-Transformation, began her journey of self-discovery and healing, through art, theatre, and design. With the guidance of some exceptional healers and teachers, Katrin learned to transmute her own patterns related to trauma, guilt, and toxic shame to become a gifted Trauma Informed Life Coach, and Intuitive Holistic Healing Artist.
A theory, stemming from an experiment by social psychologist Stanley Milgram in the 1960s, claims that each of us is connected to any other through only six friends. According to a recent study, Facebook reduces the figure of six degrees of separation to only four, which means, by all accounts, social networking is making the world even smaller…well, at least figuratively.
In general, these social networking sites were developed to allow individuals to make virtual connections with like-minded others, primarily family, friends, acquaintances, and colleagues. I’ll admit I have accepted a few friend requests from people I have never met before, as we share mutual friends.
It would appear these networks are serving as a replacement for more classic forms of communication like paying a visit, making a phone call, or handwriting a letter. I am always a bit amazed when I notice I have over 1K Facebook friends. Is it really possible to have that many friends?
The Sun recently passed from Capricorn into the sign Aquarius. As we are now progressing further into the Age of Aquarius, I thought it appropriate to focus on one of the cosmic patterns embodying this sign and the New Age, the archetype of Friendship.
So, what is a friend? What is the nature of friendship? How do we choose our friends? Why is it that friendship seems to be essential to the human experience? These questions have been the subject of countless prose and poetry, over the centuries.
We might say, generally, that a friend is a dear one of like-mind with whom we share common interests, for the purpose of enriching our experience. Why we have friends, and how we choose them may be rather more subjective.
We might engage a friend for high-minded pursuits like substantive discourse, or for more mundane reasons like enjoying recreation or entertainment. We may seek a friend’s advice or support in challenging times, or gain fulfillment by caring for him or her in an hour of need. We may seek company of another to commiserate or complain. For whatever the reason, we naturally seek community, and connection. We are innately drawn to others.
We begin to forge our first friendships about the time we are developing our sense of individuality, and beginning to gain some independence from our parents. This is during the time when our ego mind is establishing itself. At this stage in our development we are very keyed into our separateness, and exercising this awareness in ways that can be very challenging for others around us, who would sometimes rather we not.
The individuality we are exploring, and the independence we are exercising are, however, in their nascent stage, immature, in that they are so closely tied to the development of the ego, which is that aspect of ourselves that believes we are separate from the whole. This, to be sure, is an essential part of our spiritual evolution. In order to evolve, we must first involve.
In our descent into the physical, we progress from an initial state of unity with the mother, literally dropping into this space-time reality called life. Ideally, we remain intimately connected to that source until we become acclimated to our new vehicle and environment. From birth to age 7, we are in the highly accelerated growth stage of the Vital Body, what we know as our physical form. From 7-14 years, as we transition into puberty, we enter the birth cycle of the Desire or Emotional Body. Between the ages of 14 and 21, the age of majority, we are developing the Mental Body. Until this point, in terms of our spiritual evolution, we are still in the downward trajectory of involution. The period from age 21-35 years is considered the “Beginning of Serious Life.” This is when, more or less, we begin our ascent, our quest again for Unity. We are now, however, seeking union with God.
It is rather curious that in the earliest stages of our development, when we are so engrossed in the process of defining ourselves as separate, we still seek out others for companionship. There is still an innate desire for connection.
What, then, lies at the core of this attraction toward others? Beneath the surface details of physical appearance, social, cultural, and religious conditioning exists a deeper, more primal draw, one that continues, no matter how cleverly we frame it, to penetrate the illusion of separation we have painted for ourselves.
This elemental Force, that seemingly pulls us toward others like a tractor beam, is Love, the essence of our Being. The Light of the Christ or Buddha Consciousness within us is seeking out its complement in others. The essence of our being, the Supreme Self, is Light. Like moths to the flame, we are attracted to that energy within the other.
When we look at another we are gazing into a divine mirror, illuminated from within, which allows us, when there is no distortion, to view the divine within ourselves, and know it is the reflection of the same Divinity within the being of the other.
Is this not clear to witness in the innocence of a small child, who, until taught otherwise, will befriend anyone? Children see with the eyes of the Supreme Self. They love unconditionally. As yet unclouded by the fog of the ego mind, they are untainted by the patterns of fear thrust upon them by those who have lost sight of the Truth of who they really are. Jesus, who embodied the Christ, the archetype of the Divine Spark of Consciousness made manifest, states very plainly “unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Love is a force that radiates from the core of our being. It is an outward moving energy with great power to create and to heal. Just as the Sun gives freely of its energy, and does not choose but a few upon which it will shed its light, Love is not selective. It is unconditional, a generative, primal force of Life, capable of transforming all that lies in potential within the seed of human consciousness into the full manifestation of the Christ Consciousness. We embody this same radiant Sun energy. Each of us is the Son/Sun of God. This consciousness, the eternal flame, resides in the altar of the heart.
As we begin our gradual spiritual ascension, our at-one-ment, somewhere between the ages of 21 and 35, it is usually around this time that our friendships are becoming more critical to our sense of wellbeing, and it is also the time when many of us begin to seek out a partner or mate.
Most of us are also still very rooted in our ego consciousness, at this stage of our development. We are firming up our sense of self, our identity, our profile. One of the ways we do this is through our friendships, and in our relationships with a significant other. During this period, many of us are still believe we are somehow incomplete, and through our relationships with others, be they friends or intimates, we will find the sense completion we perceive as lacking.
Our societal and cultural constructs perpetuate this false premise, as does the media. Certainly advertising and the social networks would have us believe we are less than, or abnormal, if we are not constantly seeking out new connections with friends or lovers.
What drives this engine is the desire for a sense of wholeness, a sense of belonging, a sense of security. But we will never truly find that which we seek, if we only look outside ourselves. We must, rather, turn our focus within. We must make our first priority “friending” the Self. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God…and all these things shall be added unto.”
When we direct our focus toward discovering and befriending the Self, we come to truly understand and embody our independence and individuality. When we understand the Self is the Force that animates us, that sees, hears, smells, touches, and tastes, that thinks our thoughts, and breathes our breath, we can allow ourselves to become dependent on the Divinity within us. We come to understand we are Divinity in duality, God manifesting in physical form within this illusion we call reality.
Until we can recognize the Divinity within ourselves, and know it to be the same spark that animates all other beings, we will always view ourselves as separate. As long as we view ourselves as separate, there will exist judgment and conflict, both within ourselves and with others. For we can only ever see in others what we believe is the truth about ourselves.
Benjamin Disraeli, Prime Minister and confidante to Queen Victoria, spoke these prescient words, “The greatest good you can do for another is not just share your riches, but to reveal to him his own.” Whether or not this was his intended meaning, the riches of which he speaks are those found within. The Master, Jesus, speaks of this when he tells us, “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again, and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.”
When we know the true nature of our being as the Limitless Love, Light and Life of God, this is what we share with others, and it is what we see in all others whom we encounter. Corinne Heline, the 20th century mystic and New Age Pioneer, describes this awareness as “a type of friendship that is destined to expand until it becomes all inclusive and world embracing.” The world becomes our friend. We are no longer selective; we give of our Self unconditionally. We have the technology, now we just need the understanding.
Why then, we may ask, does it seem there are certain individuals to whom we are drawn over others, those with whom we have a connection that runs much deeper than we can explain, those we might consider soul mates?
We are all expressions of the same Self, but through the individual actions we make in the manifest world, what we call karma, we create waves of energy that ultimately must be balanced. This amassed energy, this collection of experiences, is what we call our soul. The process of bringing this energy back into balance is what keeps us on the wheel of reincarnation. This is the Law of the Universe, impartial and just. No judgment, simply balance.
In the effort to balance our karma, the soul draws to itself others whose karmic patterns complement our own, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle fitting perfectly together to help us view the bigger picture of our experience, that our soul patterns may be worked through and harmonized. Ultimately, after countless lifetimes, once this process is complete, the soul is purified, leaving only the Self, which then merges back into the One.
There may be certain souls with whom we conspire, while still in non-physical, to help us work off our karma. There are those whom we love and adore, members of our family and our dearest friends, who seem to really understand us.
Yet, there are those, who seemingly give us the greatest grief in the physical realm, who are also our dearest soul mates. They hold the exact key in their karmic makeup to unlock the chains that bind us to the great Wheel of Cause and Effect. Every soul is our salvation. There is not one, whom we encounter, who does not offer us the means by which we can evolve. They mirror to us what it is that we need to heal.
When we know the Self within us and we only see it in others, when we understand the nature of the soul and the Law of Karma, we are able to release all judgment, all blame, all condemnation, because we understand our soul is magnetically attracting these individuals and all of our related experience to us.
The contrast we feel regarding their behavior, the discord we experience, is only the gap between who we perceive them to be and who they really are. We can only feel this conflict, when we forget who we are, when we forget we are pure Love.
Jesus, the Christ, said, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” The Master confirms here the divinity of God that is within him also abides in us, and here, in this understanding, is where we must dwell. He goes on to say, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” He asks us to give up our sense of separateness, and to enter Unity Consciousness, to wake from the dream of illusion, so that the joy fully expressed in and through his being may manifest in us, and that our joy may, ultimately, be complete.
Joy, the radiant Light that permeates our being, is only fully known through the expression of unconditional Love. We are now called upon to offer to each, no exceptions, no exclusions, only that which we truly are. We must let go the mask of the personality, in order to access the Truth of who we are. As we hold up the untainted mirror of the Self, we can then reveal to all others their own Divinity. After all, it is true that a stranger is only a friend we haven’t yet met.
We are slowly wading into the Age of Aquarius, the Age of the Water Bearer. Many of us are now finally rising up out of the murky depths of the Piscean Age, while others still drown in the stagnant waters of that former Age of Suffering. Water is symbolic of the emotions. As long as we remain mired in our own emotional life, it is very challenging to be fully present to others, to be a true friend. When we have purified our emotional body so all that remains in our cup, all that we bear is the clear, cleansing, enriching, generative draught of unconditional Love, we are able to let it pour forth freely to all, without reservation, for we know the artesian well of the Heart is limitless in capacity. As we give so shall we receive. As we freely radiate Love, so it must be divinely reflected back to us through the mirror of all our relationships.
Katrin Naumann, Director of Inner Balance Life Works: Dynamic Self-Transformation, began her journey of self-discovery and healing, through art, theatre, and design. With the guidance of some exceptional healers and teachers, Katrin learned to transmute her own patterns related to trauma, guilt, and toxic shame to become a gifted Trauma Informed Life Coach, and Intuitive Holistic Healing Artist.
A little over a week ago, we entered into the energies of Capricorn, through the gateway of the Winter Solstice, the point in our annual solar cycle when the Sun begins its journey back north from the Tropic of Capricorn, the Southern most latitude it meets in its volley between the Tropic of Cancer in the Northern Hemisphere. This gradual emergence from darkness, as the light of the Sun returns north, we celebrate in various festivals – the Hindu’s week-long Diwali, the Jew’s eight nights of Hanukkah, and the octave of Christmas in the Catholic tradition.
The zodiacal symbol for Capricorn is the sea-goat, a mythological creature that has the torso, forelegs and head of a goat, and the tail of a fish. The head represents the conscious mind, and the tail the sub-conscious. The goat is able to climb to some of the highest places in the earthly realm. Mountains are the domain of the gods, sages and mystics. Their peaks penetrate the sky, serving as a bridge between heaven and earth. The goat’s ascent up the mountain reminds us of our ever-upward quest for Higher Consciousness.
Conversely, a fish lives in water, and the ocean is the realm of the deepest lying places on earth. Water is symbolic of the emotional life, of the sub-conscious, the home of our intuition, insight and inner knowing.
The energies of Capricorn serve as a bridge then, between the terrestrial and the celestial, between the conscious and the sub-conscious minds, between the masculine and the feminine energies within us. The Sea-goat, then, represents the evolved being who has mastery over the mind and the emotions, who is able to move freely between the material and spiritual planes, and who has sacrificed the ego to the Will of the Higher Consciousness.
The Tarot Key associated with Capricorn, interestingly, is The Devil card, on which we see a creature with the head of a goat. Capricorn is ruled by Saturn, the planet that represents, among other things, the teacher, limitations, and karma. It is under the auspices of Saturn and the energies of Capricorn that we learn our karmic lessons through the experience of limitation.
Very often, we view limitation as a negative thing. We see it as something that restricts our ability to live as we choose. Any experience we perceive as a limitation in the material plane is, however, always self-created, a reflection of our own actions from previous incarnations revisiting us in this one. They are never a punishment, but only ever about reestablishing karmic balance.
In the human body, Capricorn governs the skin and the bones. When we speak of an old home, we often say, “It has good bones.” What this means is that the house’s foundation and structure are solid, in good repair, and perhaps pleasing to the eye. The siding we might view as the “skin” of the house. It is what gives the building its external character. More importantly, however, it is that which contains and protects what lies within. If we had no skin and bones, we would only be a puddle of liquid and tissue.
Limitations are necessary for our growth and development. They provide a structure for our evolution, a crucible within which we burn off all that we are not, all the illusion that the ego has amassed, to reveal the pure perfection in the golden nugget of our Essential Self. The seed must break out of the confines of its hull in order to make its way toward the Sun. The seed coat serves a purpose for a time, but eventually it must fall away, if we are to emerge from the darkness into the light of day.
This reminds me of a film I saw in which a man, who seemingly has everything - wealth, power, privilege - sets up as the head of his family and business another man, who could easily be his identical twin. This theme is not a new one; “The Prince and the Pauper” tale was written by Mark Twain and published in 1882. What made it new for me, in this particular telling, became clear in the film’s title: The Scapegoat.
In ancient Jewish tradition, as depicted in the Old Testament, on the Day of Atonement, two goats were chosen, one to be “The Lord’s Goat,” which was offered as a blood sacrifice, and the other, the “Azezel Goat,” to serve as scapegoat, to be sent into the wilderness, symbolically carrying the burden of the nation’s sins away from the people. La Azezel translates to “for absolute removal.”
In the opening credits of this psychological thriller, the first and last names of the actors, producers, director, and such, glide over each other in red and white type, blending before they separate again to disappear out of view. As I watched, the same finally occurred with the movie title. “The” passed over “Scapegoat” bringing into highlighted view the melded word “Escape,” and it was then that I had an aha moment and the theme of this reflection began to come into focus.
I think it is fitting that we celebrate the birth of Jesus just after the Solstice. With his birth celebrated in the time of Capricorn, He, too, serves as a bridge between the material and the spiritual realms. Jesus was both a fisher of men’s souls, and, he served, ultimately, as the sacrificial goat, cleansing humanity of 2000 years of karma. His teachings all pointed toward the throwing off of limitation and embracing the Light within, as the only salvation from the pain and suffering we create for ourselves, when we cling too tightly to the material plane of existence.
In Jesus’ birth already existed the germ of his death. The effect is always present in the cause. The soul that incarnated as Jesus was prepared over many lifetimes for just this eventuality, with full understanding of the outcome. Had Jesus been ruled by ego, there were many opportunities when he could have chosen a different path, yet he remained, staying true to his Higher Calling.
Jesus, the Christ, is called Messiah, the savior. Like any super hero, people look to him to be their champion, to relieve their suffering, to make everything better by ridding their lives of the darkness of evil. He did not come to absolve humanity of its sins; He came to awaken those who are asleep, to rouse from the grave of life the walking dead.
Though Jesus “took on” the sins of the people, and cleansed two millennia worth of karma, He knew his mission was not to give out “loaves and fishes.” He understood that teaching a man to fish is the only true path toward liberation, the only way to lasting salvation. He was here to show us the truth of who we are, Divine Children of God. Jesus came to lead by example, to set an archetypal pattern for us to follow, demonstrating that devotion to God is devotion to Self, and in serving others, God and we are served.
Unfortunately, too many lose sight of this, and focus exclusively on Jesus’ dying on the cross to redeem the sins of only the “true believers.” We then miss the lesson and the greater purpose of incarnation, atonement or at-one-ment, which really means alignment with God. We forget that this can only come about by taking responsibility for ones actions, that redemption only happens when we are willing to make amends, to mend our destructive ways of thinking and being.
Jesus was here to serve as a way-shower, not to do our work for us. When he didn’t live up to the people’s expectations, when he wouldn’t deliver them from their suffering, in the ways they expected him to, they turned away from him.
Many of us are still turning away, still denying and betraying Jesus. Yet, it wasn’t Jesus, the man, who was denied or betrayed some 2000 years ago, it was the Christ, the consciousness or awareness, that we are sparks of Divinity. It is the Christ within each of us whom we continue to reject. We are still clinging too tightly to the ego, and in this state of contraction, we leave no space for the Christ Light to shine forth.
Certainly it is easy to trace through history countless men, women and children who have served as scapegoats, multitudes who were sacrificed at the hands of those who were unwilling or unable to do the work of atonement, to fully align with soul, and, by extension, the Higher Self.
We select and offer up a scapegoat for sacrifice when we want to escape the responsibility of our own creation.Whenever we refuse to take responsibility for our own thoughts, words, emotions and actions, we contribute to perpetuating the archetype of the scapegoat. This is only possible by means of projection. It requires that we thrust upon another all of our own fears, all of our unfulfilled expectations, disguised as judgment, anger, hatred, and disappointment. It is so much easier to place the blame on another than to look closely at our own unresolved issues and imbalances. But herein lies the seed of limitation.
For fear is the source of all limitation. Fear and its offspring doubt are the brick and mortar of our self-made prisons. Our belief in separation from God, ultimately the cause of all of our suffering, produces guilt, from which fear arises. The brainchild of the ego, fear, underlies all the thoughts and actions that move us further away from Self, from God. We then subconsciously feel we must suffer, to appease the God we believe we have betrayed.
If we unconsciously believe we must suffer for turning away from God, we may attempt to amend this through self-sacrifice, casting ourselves as scapegoat. We then punish ourselves unconsciously through personal injury, illness, an inability to earn or retain money, or the destruction or abuse of personal property, for example.
This may also manifest when we take on the role of the martyr, to atone for our own guilt, by suffering for the good of others. We create a scapegoat when we designate another as the reason we are incapable of being in alignment or integrity with ourselves, using the excuse that it might hurt their feelings or offend them, were we to put our own greater good first.
Still at other times, we project our crippling fear and guilt onto another, seeing them as the cause of all of our unhappiness or misfortune, unaware that it is only in facing our own fears that we may truly overcome them.
When we make another our scapegoat we are actually, in essence, sacrificing our own soul. It becomes the Azezal, the goat that is sent off into the wilderness, banished. If our experience of limitation is always a karmic opportunity to grow, and we abdicate our responsibility, by blaming another for our circumstance, then we are only denying and betraying our own soul, who would ultimately be the rightful beneficiary of these evolutionary lessons.
It is interesting that the word sacrifice means to make sacred. Yet, when we condemn ourselves or demand another carry the burden of our unconscious patterning, these are anything but sacred acts, which are meant to bring us closer not further away from God.
There are countless volumes whose focus is on cultivating and sustaining dynamic, functional relationships. It is pretty universally understood that we must be active participants in our partnerships, if we expect them to flourish. Our relationship with God is our most personal and primary. Yet, so many of us give that relationship the least amount of our time, energy and focus. How can we expect to have a relationship with God, when we put so many other things before it?
Yet our relationship with God is not best cultivated like others, through external means. When we want to be close to someone, to develop intimacy, we literally and figuratively go to where they are. So must we go to where God dwells. It is true that God is present in all things, and it is appropriate to acknowledge and honor that presence everywhere. But our most immediate and intimate experience of God is always through an exploration of the inner realms of our being.
When in need, we often turn to our beloved for support and solace. In this space of love and acceptance, all fear falls away, if only for a moment. To truly eradicate fear, we must go to its source. We must acknowledge that the ego’s illusion of separation is the foundation upon which we have built our lives. As it is a false premise, it makes for a very unstable platform to create the structure of our experience.
In the Tarot, the Devil card represents this false foundation, the illusion and limitation inherent in the material plane, and the distractions it poses that come between ourselves and God. In the next card, The Tower, associated with Mars, we see the structure we have erected on this erroneous concept being destroyed. This is our first step in our journey back to God, when we finally acknowledge that everything we ever thought we knew is wrong, that the foundation is all a lie.
We then return to a state of beginners mind, where anything is possible. All of the old concepts have collapsed and we may start again, fresh. It is a Karmic cleansing of great magnitude. When the debris has been cleared, we can then begin the process of rebuilding. In this, we experience a renaissance or rebirth of our consciousness, the return of the Light.
The Piscean Age, beginning during the era of Jesus’ birth, was an expression of this same process, a dismantling of old outmoded ways of thinking and being, so a new foundation might be established. That age was born out, however, in great suffering, as we were too busy still serving the ego rather than the needs of the soul.
We must take responsibility for whatever the foundation on which we find ourselves standing, as we are the ones who constructed it. We need to forgive ourselves for all we thought, felt or did from the vantage point of that imperfect platform. We must direct our energies anew to rectifying our ignorance, through education, awareness and discernment. As we examine and understand our habitual attitudes and behaviors and their consequences, and seek the Truth, we will then be able to reconstruct our lives on the foundation of Higher Consciousness.
This calls for discipline, what some might perceive as limitation. As we purify the body, mind and emotions, we create the “good bones” that will provide solid support for the structure of our life experience.
In the Hindu tradition there are ten pillars found in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. These ethical and spiritual practices, called the Yamas and the Niyamas, serve as foundational underpinnings of the 8 Limbs of Yoga, and support all Buddhist philosophy, and will serve us equally in our daily lives.
First, we will explore the Yamas, which in Sanskrit means bridle or rein. These are a set of five ethically mindful principles, limitations we willingly adopt that concern our energy in relationship to others, and the environment. Though as you will see they easily translate to one’s treatment of self.
AHIMSA: Compassion for all living things
Himsa means “injustice” or “cruelty” in Sanskrit. Ahimsa is then the absence of himsa. Ahimsa is more than just a lack of violence. It also implies kindness, friendliness, and thoughtful consideration of others. We must also note that violence can take many forms, not only physical. An ill intentioned thought, word, feeling or action might be equally destructive. It is not to say that we can eliminate every petty thought or jealousy, or that we all must eat a vegan diet. What it requires is that one adopt a considered attitude, and learn to view the world through compassionate eyes. When we begin to recognize the deeper roots of our feelings, emotions and behavioral patterns, we can begin to alter our negative perceptions of others and ultimately ourselves.
SATYA: Commitment to the truth
The practice of right speech and action is what is meant by satya. If our communications and actions with others are honest and based in truth, our relationships will have integrity. Deliberate deception, exaggeration, and mistruth are harmful to others. Much of our conversations about others are based on hearsay, our imaginations, perceptions, suppositions, or erroneous conclusions. Idle gossip is miscommunication at its finest.
“It’s not necessarily what you say; it’s how you say it.” This was a favorite adage in my house, when I was growing up. In our increasingly virtual world of communication, it can be very challenging to convey our thoughts and feelings or interpret those of others, because the communication is so often being read rather than given or received in person. There is no tone of voice or body language to offer clues or cues as to the intention underlying the communication. That is why clarity and integrity are so important.
We also have a system in place through which information can be disseminated in a nanosecond. As a result, misinformation is spreading like wild fire, because so many choose to accept at face value anything posted, tweeted, instant messaged, etc., without the due diligence of source/fact checking, or we only tune into information from those who are of “like mind,” therefore limiting the scope of the “Truth” to what already supports our concepts and view of the world.
Satya translates to truthfulness, “to speak the truth”. Yet it is not always appropriate to speak the truth, at the expense of someone else’s feelings. Kids have an uncanny knack for blurting out whatever they think about the person ahead in the line at the grocery store. What we try to cultivate in our children is a disciplined tongue. In many cases we, ourselves, don’t practice what we preach. Our “truth” is most often merely our perception, and not necessarily the Truth. Discernment is key. Is this “truth” coming from ego, or is it coming from Self?
Another saying in my home was, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” At times, if speaking the truth has negative consequences for someone else, then it is better to say nothing. One must use considered thought to determine when it is necessary to speak up and when it is better to remain silent. We might remember these words of Shirdi Sai Baba:
“Before you speak ask yourself: Is it kind, is it necessary, it is true, does it improve upon the silence?”
ASTEYA: Not stealing
Steya means “to steal”; asteya is the opposite- to take nothing that does not belong to you. This comes from the understanding that all misappropriation arises from a perception of lack, a feeling that usually arises from the belief that our happiness hinges on external circumstances and material possessions. If we consistently seek satisfaction outside ourselves, we are less able to appreciate the vast abundance that already exists in our lives. If we cultivate an attitude of gratitude and a degree of self-sufficiency, rather than neediness, the Universe and others will bless us with all that we require.
One must also be mindful not to take anything that is not given freely. We must not take advantage of another’s time, patience or generosity. Extorting aid or affection by laying on guilt, or exerting undo pressure is also to be avoided. Additionally, if someone confides in us or entrusts us with something, we must honor that compact, as we would be “stealing” that person’s trust in us, were we to divulge the information they revealed to us.
BRAHMACHARYA: Merging with the one
This word is composed of the root car, which means ‘to move”, and the word brahma, which means “truth” in terms of the One Essential Truth. Therefore, we can understand brahmacharya as movement toward what is essential. It is most often defined as abstinence, continence, or responsibility, particularly with regard to sexual activity. Ideally, we will form and foster relationships that enhance our understanding of the highest truths. Practicing brahmacharya implies that we use our vital life force or sexual energy to regenerate our connection to our spiritual self and ultimately with the One, avoiding relations that might bring harm to ourselves or to others. In practicing restraint, we can utilize our sexual energy to further our journey of self-discovery, by approaching our sexual relationships with mindfulness, or by redirecting that force into other creative pursuits.
Parigraha means “to take” or “to seize”. Aparigraha guides us in our efforts to let go, to release our attachments to things, people or ideas, which causes suffering (klesa) in our lives. If we hold too tightly to something, it hinders our ability to change. If we can clear out the tension, clutter and the baggage that overrun our body, mind and home, we will create space for new, more positive, productive ways of thinking and being. We so often hold on to tension in our body, to perceived wrongdoings on the part of others, to old outmoded ways of thinking and behaving, as well as to individuals. All of existence is impermanent. The idea that we can hold onto anything is an illusion (maya), which also perpetuates our suffering.
The niyamas refer to the attitude we adopt toward ourselves. It is an intimate and personal relationship that is cultivated over time.
SAUCHA: Cleanliness and purity of body, mind and environment. The word purity comes from the Latin, purus, which means clean and unadulterated. Practicing yoga asana and pranayama are two ways to instill the practice of saucha in our lives. A healthy, free functioning body leads to clarity in the mind, and vice versa.
When we eat nutritionally potent foods, focus on expanding our consciousness by reading books and enjoying entertainment that inspires, and associate with people who are kind and compassionate, we are feeding our soul in ways that nourish us and provide peace and equanimity in our lives.
When we create a home environment that is aesthetically pleasing, simple and uncluttered, this translates into our daily lives more readily. When we rid our life of the extraneous “stuff”, there is more space for that which is essential.
Saucha asks us to cleanse our self of things, people and habits that are destructive or inhibit us from living our truth. We create space by purging our life of the excess. We benefit by cleanig out our closets and our mind, by dusting out the cobwebs of old outmoded ways of thinking and being, and ridding our life of negative thinking people who drain us of our energy.
SANTOSHA: Santosha is the practice of modesty and contentment, in essence, being satisfied with what we have. When we can see things as they are without being pulled into suffering by our expectations, there can be acceptance and true contentment. We need to cultivate a sense of peace with whatever stage of growth we are in, and with the circumstances in which we currently find our self, knowing that we are continually evolving, and no experience need be a permanent condition. This mindset can be integrated into our pranayama, asana, and meditation practices, as well as within our daily life.
TAPAS: The disciplined use of energy. Tapas, literally, translates as “fire” or “heat”, a burning enthusiasm. Engaging in tapas is a way of focusing our energy, so we don’t waste our time and energy with extraneous or trivial matters. Discipline is having enough respect for oneself to make choices that truly nurture one’s well being and provide opportunities for spiritual growth.
Pema Chodron tells us, “What we discipline is not our ‘badness’ or our ‘wrongness’. What we discipline is any form of potential escape from reality.”
SVADHYAYA: Sav means “self” or “belonging to me”. Adhyaya means “inquiry” or “examination”. Svadhyaya refers to any activity that fosters self-reflective consciousness.
Whatever the practice, as long as there is an intention to know oneself by means of it, and the commitment to see the process through, almost any activity can become an opportunity for learning about our self.
Certainly, the practice of pranayama, asana and meditation are essential ways to explore one’s inner life, but we are not limited there. Reading sacred texts, writing, going on retreats, walks in the woods, washing dishes, looking into the eyes of a loved one, from the profound to the mundane, all these activities can enrich our understanding of our self.
This practice uncovers both our strengths and our weaknesses, what brings us joy and stirs our fears, our addictions and negative patterning. We come face to face with our demons, when we are willing to dig deeply enough. Only by doing so can we cleanse our self of that which would keep us from our Higher Self, the spark of divinity that lies within. When we learn to acknowledge and embrace the “shit”, it can then become the fertilizer for the growth of the seeds of our new awareness.
ISHVARAPRANIDHANA: This literally translates “to lay all your actions at the feet of God.” Yoga teaches us that the spiritual infuses everything. When we put aside some time each day to express gratitude for the miracle we call our life, we begin to see the divinity in all things.
This practice requires that we recognize and acknowledge there is some force greater than our self that is divinely guiding and directing the course of our life. It may be hard to see the big picture, when we think we are the great controller of our life, the puppeteer holding the strings.
When we don’t have the recognition that there’s a bigger story going on, we get caught up in our personal drama, and a frustrating cycle of resistance to change, which ultimately causes suffering. We must surrender our personal will, so we can fulfill our true destiny.
So it is through these disciplined observances that we exemplify the energies of Capricorn and become an evolved being, like Jesus the Christ, one who has mastery over the mind, the emotions, and the physical form, who is able to move freely between the material and spiritual planes, and who has sacrificed the ego to the Will of the Higher Consciousness.
When we understand we are not separate from anything, that we are all a part of the One, all fear falls away, and we can freely let go of our attachments and finally develop the sense of peace and equanimity in our life that we truly desire.
As we approach the solstice and winter holiday season, I am reminded of an experience I had some years ago, as I took a walk Christmas day with my son and daughter. We traveled our usual path over a footbridge that crosses a brook behind our house, a little meandering stream that plays host to a multitude of minnows and frogs, visible in fairer weather, bubbling happily in spring and slowing to a trickle at the height of summer.
That day, the water moved briskly with melt-off, gushing and gurgling around stubborn ice floes clinging to river rocks in the shallows, unperturbed by the unseasonably warm temperatures for late December.
My daughter, Kate, remarked at how high the water level was, as we crossed the rough-hewn bridge our elderly neighbor erected years ago for his wife, just so she could ford the stream on her Arctic Cat snowmobile during winter months.
We made our way into the woods. As we walked, I listened to the sound of the snow under my feet. There was a thin crust over the surface, my big boots crunched through it, as I trudged up the hill, noting with sadness how somebody dismantled the tree branch fort where my kids and I would sit on fall afternoons, looking at spiderwebs draping the rustic lean-to, hoping to catch a glimpse of the fairy folk we imagined might use it for their nightly revels.
I offered a challenge for the hike as we climbed further. “Whoever finds a crow feather gets a prize,” I said.
“What’s the prize?” they both chimed.
“I haven’t decided that yet,” I replied.
My son inquired, “What if I find some other type of feather?”
“What kind did you have in mind?” I asked.
“What if it’s an owl feather?”
“Well, that might just outrank a crow.”
“How about an eagle feather?” he countered.
“Ahh … I think that would top the owl for sure, though I’m not sure that this is eagle country,” I said.
My daughter, who trailed behind a few paces, dove off into a cluster of bushes, emitting a sound of excitement, then came back empty handed. She said she’d seen an eagle feather, but it had mysteriously vanished.
Two crows barked their benediction, as we entered their sanctuary, and my son stopped to point out some deer tracks, while my eyes scanned the earth’s cloudy surface for the highly-sought prize to add to my own feather collection, but only pine boughs and cones were left for the taking. It seemed as though our feathered friends were conserving their downy insulation, wisely waiting for warmer weather to shed their winter cloaks.
We made our way through the evergreen giants to the abandoned farm, with its quirky graveyard of rusted machinery and musty, broken-down outbuildings, a veritable museum of a bygone era.
As the kids began hunting for treasures in the dilapidated barn, I reminded them that this was someone else’s property, and besides, we were looking for Nature’s bounty, so the old tricycle wheel and the unidentifiable metal farm implements were left behind.
We wound our way back through the tall pines where the crows roost at night, sheltered from the piercing and predatory eyes of the owl, to emerge in the bones of a meadow that once hosted wildflowers and milkweed, now blanketed in a shimmering mantle of white.
The final leg of our walk took us down hill, which Coe and Kate descended in somersaults, while I navigated on foot. I walked slowly along the ridge running high above the same stream we crossed just an hour before, recalling to myself how, during previous treks, I had the good fortune to happen upon crow feathers by the handful, like so many black bouquets. This day, sadly, offered not a single quill.
I eventually came upon my son and daughter, lying on the ground, looking up through the trees at the passing clouds, taking a little siesta. It was then that I paused to take in the sound of the flowing water. The gentle rhythmic pulse was such a welcome contrast to the more insistent sounds of the holiday season that I sat happily and heavily, the snow giving way under my weight to create the perfect seat, a zabuton to cradle me on my turning inward.
I closed my eyes and inhaled, breathing deeply. That first inflow of breath was invigorating, the cold air penetrating my lungs, clearing my head, igniting the senses anew. I felt a vibrant awakening within me. My skin was now alive with the cold. I could smell damp wood and evergreens, and my ears were attuned to the sounds of the water down below and the birds up above.
There was this intense vibratory dance going on inside of me, but beneath that was a profound stillness that penetrated to my core. Within this feeling of aliveness, there began to emerge a sense of deep, abiding serenity. It felt vast, eternal … all encompassing. It acted as a soothing salve to my senses, a tonic for my soul.
Every wisdom tradition holds some concept of the soul, in one form or another. Of course, there are as many interpretations of what the soul may be as there are traditions, and it is referred to by just as many names: Still Small Voice, Inner Place of Knowing, Higher Self , Christ Consciousness. Buddhists name it Dharma; Jung called it the Seat of the Unconscious.
When we take the time to consider the soul, in silent contemplation, prayer or meditation, we often ponder its “essential nature.” According to my copy of The Reader’s Digest Encyclopedic Dictionary, a relic I found at a library book sale years ago, the word “essential” is defined as, among other things, absolute, complete, perfect, and also the fundamental nature of something.
The word “Nature” is defined as the inherent tendencies, innate disposition, or intrinsic qualities of something, and of course, Nature also means the sum total of all things in time and space, the entire physical universe and the powers, forces, and principles that regulate it.
So, the nature of the Soul, then, as I understand it, or what is essential to it, has a direct relationship – and an intimate connection with – everything in the Universe.
In the Yogic tradition, we call this awareness atman, which translates in the ancient Sanskrit as the supreme soul or Brahman, the all-pervading Spirit of the Universe. It is the Hindu belief that the atman, or soul dwells in something larger, it is a part of the Divine, the great “I Am” or Parusha, and therefore Eternal.
If we accept this, then we would naturally see our soul-selves as limitless, vast, and unbounded as the Universe itself. This we would understand as our natural state of being, our true essence at our core. We are indeed made of the same stuff as the planets, the stars, the oceans, the earth itself. Yet most of us are unaware of or disbelieve this, or if we ever did believe, we have forgotten this Truth. We forget what we once knew so intuitively.
If you have ever observed a baby or young child for any length of time you know this to be true. They are fully open, trusting implicitly, blissfully unaware of boundaries. They are fearless. Children do not censor or discern. Anything and everything goes into their mouths, their ears, and their noses.
And, of course, they are just as free with what comes out of their mouths. The saying goes, “Out of the mouths of babes …” Children understand the world by experiencing it directly, no filters. Like sponges, they soak in their surroundings, extracting all they can from each individual moment, and experiencing each one exhaustively. It’s no wonder they sleep so much! You would too, if you were in a constant state of sensory overload. Do you remember what that was like? Well … it is possible to return to that state, though it may seem well beyond our present grasp.
You see, over time, most often through cultural experience and social conditioning, we begin to shut down. We lose sight of that level of openness and trust we once had in our lives, especially as children. The slings and arrows of our everyday existence buffet and pierce our original awareness of the deep interconnectedness we hold with the Universe, the unlimited potential of our soul selves.
As human beings, we too often view ourselves as defined merely by the parameters of our physical bodies; the limited envelope of skin encasing muscle, bone, organs, and a multitude of complex physiological systems. In Yoga, we refer to this as “Prakrti,” or the basic matter of our selves … which also includes our minds, thoughts and feelings.
It is our way of seeing, our perception of ourselves as separate from, rather than connected to, the Universe, or Cosmos, and the Earth, with all her life forms, human and otherwise, that throws us out of balance, that knocks us off our center. This disassociation with the Divine contributes greatly to our suffering.
In the book Job’s Body, Deane Juhan offers us a passage which suggests another, more holistic way of considering ourselves, in which he likens us to forces of nature, embodying the power and grace found in the elements of Fire, Water, Air and Earth. He says:
"Indeed, since we have left the water and have become terrestrial creatures, subject now to special forces of gravity, we have become miniature earths, in the same way we first became miniature seas: we have added more and more solid features to support our containers of fluid on the ground. We have river channels and reservoirs in our circulatory systems, meadows and forests in our hair: we are mountains of flesh riddled with the caves and fissures of our pores and orifices: like enclosed valleys, we shelter our ancestral cultures, and like open hillsides and plains, we teem with a microbial bustle of new citizens and migrants. We have become an ecology of earth and air, as well as one of water."
When we view ourselves as one with, or as a mirror of Nature, intimately connected to the Universe, our perceptions begin to shift and broaden. We begin to remember. We begin to reclaim our power, our primal creative selves who formed in the void of Parusha, emerged from the vast abyss of pure potential to find our place here, having an experience of Space -Time.
Still, it may not only be our concept of our physical selves that causes this disconnect from our essential nature, our soul. We may also be limiting ourselves by thought and behavioral patterns, by the stories we tell about ourselves, the tapes we play endlessly in our minds that continually reinforce false or negative beliefs about who we are.
Granted, these ways of thinking may be useful for us at times in this life. Yet, just as the Universe is continually expanding and contracting and evolving into something new, so are we. Like the snake that sheds its skin, or the tree that splits and sheds its bark, or the crow that casts off its old feathers, we too must change, if we wish to grow.
When we cling to these old, outmoded ways of perceiving ourselves, we stagnate; we inhibit the primal call of our soul to evolve, to progress toward a more enlightened way of being in the world. When we do that, we’ve forgotten how truly cosmic we are, how we have the same immeasurable potential as stars. Similarly, when we cease to grow out of fear, or by conscious choice, we find ourselves mired in either inertia or fast-approaching entropy. One of the surest ways for us to remember our link to the Infinite and extricate ourselves from this dull torpor is to immerse our self in Nature.
It is here, in the profound majesty of Earth, within Creation itself, we can re-connect, we can remember. That Christmas day my daughter provided me with just such an opportunity, one that served not just as a wakeup call, but as an enlightening glimpse into the very depths of my soul self.
No sooner had I sat in the snow and begun my inward journey, I was stirred from my reverie by a call from Kate, who got up just as I sat down.
From down the hill I hear Kate say, “Mom, come look at this!”
I opened my eyes. My son had already bolted on ahead, eager to get back to his Christmas gifts. Kate, on the other hand, had made her way down the hill to the stream. She was kneeling before an enormous root cluster of a fallen tree now spanning the fast-moving stream below it.
With swiftness and agility, she wiggled her self through the knotty tangle and out onto the large trunk, where she plunked herself down, straddled its circumference, and began to inch her way over it. I stood there, momentarily paralyzed. I could feel fear welling up within me.
Kate turned around and, with a big toothy grin shouted: “Hey Mom, aren’t you coming?’
Then she rose to her feet and glided the rest of the way across. I stood for a moment longer, not knowing what to say or do.
I had just watched my young daughter – nimble as an equilibrist on a tightrope – effortlessly and instinctively sashay across this natural bridge, barely a foot and a half wide. I was humbled by the effortlessness with which she bounded across the brook with no hesitation. How was it she could do it with no compunction?
Suddenly a flurry of thoughts began to rush through my own mind. All of the stories of self doubt, all the limiting beliefs about myself flooded my consciousness: “What if I lose my balance? What if I slip and fall in? I’m too old for this, for God’s sake! I can’t do that!”
Then, this softer voice emerged from somewhere deeper, just whispering, beneath the din of my ego rantings, and I strained to hear it.Why are you hesitating? What is stopping you? Why are you resisting this? What is really holding you back?
In that moment, everything stopped. I stood there, stock-still, and simply began to breathe. I closed my eyes, dropped beneath all the chatter, all the static, and I envisioned myself, as only a few moments before, sitting at the top of the hill. With each deep inhalation, I rediscovered that feeling of expansiveness and the deeply felt sense of peace, the true essence of my being that exists there eternally. When I quieted myself long enough, I could sense it.
I could remember.
I smiled to myself. How interesting that my daughter could access that part of herself so readily. At the same time, how had I forgotten that I display similar balance and grace in my everyday life, in my yoga and qigong practice? That I had dance training, and was also a gymnast as a child?
As I continued to breathe, the Still Small Voice began to gain strength. I think I can do this.
Yes, I can do this. Just like “The Little Engine That Could,” I know I can do this.
I walked to the fallen tree. I squeezed through the snarl of roots and gingerly crept out onto the trunk. I supported the weight of my body with my arms, slowly lifting myself off the log, then maneuvered out over the brook. About halfway across, I could reach a branch, which I grabbed to hoist myself up. I found my footing and, with arms out stretched, I confidently walked the last few feet.
When I caught up with Kate, by the neighbor’s outbuilding, I scooped her up in my arms and shouted, joy ringing out through my words, as I shared my exhilaration with her. “Thank you!” I cried. “Thank you for challenging me to go beyond what I thought I was capable of! Thank you for helping me to remember!”
The reason why it’s such a joy to remember is often because it’s so easy to forget. It is so easy to forget that we, like forces of Nature, have the stability of the Earth, the fluidity of Water, the limitlessness of Air, and the light of Fire within each of us.
In the Yogic tradition, it is said that the Divine or Parusha, of which we are a part and that resides within each of us, is symbolized by a mountain, and we, as physical, mental and spiritual beings, are a lake in whose reflection we can often see the majesty of its peak.
Yet, if there are ripples in the lake, representing the disturbances we create in our minds, the water will be too turbulent to view the mountain’s majesty clearly. We need to dive deeply, down where the water is still, and center ourselves in our breath. When we rise back to the surface, the waves will have ceased and we will once again be able to see the reflection of the Eternal in ourselves.
So, while my children and I didn’t have much luck scouting for feathers, during that Christmas Day, I did discover something else, a treasure equally valuable and precious. When we are in need of reconnecting with our deeper place of knowing, that same valuable remedy can be found in the natural world. Spending time in solitude within Nature's stillness, we can reconnect with our soul, the see of the Self. We may not feel compelled to do so on rainy days, or those offering sub-zero wind chill, but we may just surprise ourselves with what we find, even if we take a brief turn immersed in the elements.
And if the Earth does not offer up her riches for the taking, we will at least have the opportunity to unearth an even more precious prize, away from the cacophony and distractions of our daily existence. There, we can fall back into the grace of the original awareness of our vast, unlimited, essential soul.
The greatest prize awaits us there, and we hold the map within our self.
So, be still. Breathe.
Reclaim the treasure.
Daily we are witness to the global effects of humanity’s production and consumption, reflected through changing weather patterns, impacted by the CO2 emissions that trap heat in the earth’s atmosphere, deeply, perhaps irrevocably, affecting the Earth’s balance.
New Delhi’s air quality has reached a critical state in recent days. Train and plane travel has halted, due to poor visibility, and is reported that breathing the air in the city is like smoking 44 cigarettes a day.
You may have seen the startling image of a colossal LED screen set up in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, showing the sunrise, which is no longer visible, due to rising levels of atmospheric pollution, exacerbated by increased carbon emissions and stagnant air conditions in the city. What I find so interesting, and what makes the image terribly ironic, is the solution to the problem is plainly evident, blazing forth from the screen for all to behold.
There is mass consensus that the primary contributing factor associated with what we have come to call “Climate Change” is our use of fossil fuels to drive the world economy. These sources of energy, so inextricably tied to energy production, transportation and industry, are those we extract from the earth itself. We are fortunately learning there are other sources of fuel that are safer and renewable to be harnessed in wind, water, and the “Big Daddy” of them all, the Sun.
As we consider global warming, not only should we be looking at the atmospheric conditions and climate changes affecting the external environment of the earth, and their causes, we must also focus on the nature of the climate within, and the atmosphere surrounding each of us. For the two are inextricably linked, succinctly expressed in the ancient Hermetic teaching, “As above, so below.”
First let’s consider the Earth for a moment. Like the Earth that has many layers of matter, beginning with the inner core, surrounded by the outer core, covered by the mantle, then finally the crust, we too have layers of our being, the physical body being the densest. And just as the Earth has many layers that make up its atmosphere: the Troposphere, Stratosphere, Mesosphere, and Thermosphere, we have more subtle layers enveloping us, which we call the subtle bodies.
Beyond our Physical Body we have the Etheric, the Emotional, Mental, Astral, the Etheric Template, the Celestial, and the Causal Bodies. These create an electro-magnetic energy field called the aura, which encapsulates us and interpenetrates each “layer.” We see how our energy consumption and the sources from which we extract it have affected the wellbeing of the Earth, from its dense body to its subtlest layers of atmosphere. We are affected in just the same way. The health of our physical bodies and the clarity of our auric field are inextricably impacted by what we choose as the energy source that fuels our being.
Though the tide is beginning to turn, currently, humanity still obtains its greatest supplies of energy from fossil fuels. These energy sources have their origin in the death and decay of the distant past. Even early humans looked to the earth for means to create light and heat. Oil, wood, and peat have been utilized for millennia. Then and now, oil is rendered from dead plants and animals, and dry, dead wood is collected to burn in fire pits and hearths. Peat, an accumulation of partially decayed vegetation or organic matter, is a precursor to fossil fuels such as coal.
Petroleum is derived from fossilized organic plant and animal matter, buried deep in sedimentary rock. These reserves of decay that we mine from the earth are clearly the most debilitating to our health and detrimental to all life forms in the environment, creating pollution that poisons our natural resources, causing enormous upheaval in weather patterns that manifest in greater extremes of temperature, moisture and aridity. To one degree or another, everything is impacted.
“So what does this have to do with me?” you might ask. Well, metaphysically, the element earth is symbolic of the physical or material plane, our awareness and understanding of which are transmitted through the five senses.
So many of us are convinced that what we take in through the senses and perceive with the brain is the source and fuel of our experience. The material realm is the densest plane of existence. It is a cumulative, sedimentary expression of the eons of cause and effect chains our souls have forged in the crucible of time and experience. When we look out into the world, what seems like our reality is really the residue of our collective karmic history. What we might call the smog and soot of our limiting past actions that has created a film, a residue, which manifests as a barrier between us and our true “Source” of Energy - the I AM Presence.
More specifically, the element Earth also represents the physical body, the physical manifestation of the ego mind. Many believe that the body is what fuels existence. Certainly, this is what the ego would have us believe, so that it can maintain its own existence. When the body is hungry and thirsty, we eat and drink. When the body is cold, we seek warmth and shelter. When the body feels pain, we seek remedy for the discomfort. When the body is aroused we find fulfillment and release in sexual relations. So many only work to provide for the necessities of the body: food, clothing, shelter, recreation, all unwittingly in service of the ego. When we are driven by our physical needs, we are firmly bound to the material plane and imprisoned by the past, and to a form that will ultimately decay and die.
The body is a product of our parent’s union, who were the product of their parents’, back, and back to the dawn of humankind. Through our bodies, we have a biological link to the past. This is why so many people are deeply attached to their physical form. There is a sense of belonging, of community, that brings comfort. The past provides the setting and the characters of a story that we recount again and again and again. For many the family or clan is their main source of support and protection.
When we continually identify with the past, we become mired in the history of what came before. When we are attached to the body and allow it to be the motivation behind our actions, we continue to amass karma, which keeps us ever bound to the wheel of life. Our entrenched connection to our bodies and the past creates a haze that distorts our clarity of vision and keeps us from being fully present with others, and more critically, it perpetuates the illusion that we are separate from our true Source, God.
Hydro-power is another means by which we derive energy and is considered renewable. It has been in use since ancient days, as seen in early irrigation systems and the powering of mechanical devices such as water wheels and pumps. It is cleaner than fossil fuels, but also has its drawbacks. It has become evident that our consumption of fossil fuels is affecting the earth’s ambient temperature. As heat is trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere, stores of water are being affected. Drought in many regions of the world is making water harder to come by. Uncontaminated sources are dwindling. As we need water to survive, diverting fresh water sources to create energy is becoming more unreasonable. Obstructing the natural flow of water also creates imbalance in all the surrounding eco-systems.
Esoterically, the element Water is associated with the emotions. Many of us are driven by our emotions. We act because we “feel” a certain way. We are forever using our emotional states to justifying our behavior. “I was angry, so I lashed out at you.” Still we may attempt to blame the other for our emotional state to justify our reaction. “You made me feel angry, so I lashed out at you.”
What we call emotion is simply energy vibrating at a particular frequency moving through our auric field that we then label as anger, frustration, or joy. Feelings are actually another thing entirely. We experience a feeling, a physical sensation in the body, triggered by a particular energetic impulse transmitted through our electro-magnetic field.
Water is malleable, it takes the shape of any vessel into which it is poured. It is changeable, as it can manifest as a solid, a liquid, or a gas. It is tidal, ebbing and flowing due to the magnetic pull from the Moon. When we consider our emotions, we discover they have the same qualities. Depending on our surrounding environment, the state of our emotions can adeptly morph and change. We observe that our emotional lives may be constricted, fluid, or all over the place, easily impacted by external conditions. We can also observe how changeable are our emotions, as one day we are “in love” and the next we despise.
The fundamental lack of stability inherent in our emotions makes them an unreliable source or impulse of motivation to drive our experience of life. Emotions can be quite viscous and murky. Fear can rise as quickly as an unexpected storm, or, like a tidal wave, engulf and drown us. So often, our emotions cloud our vision and obscure from our view the radiance of who we truly are.
As society continues to incorporate cleaner and more dependable sources of energy, many are harnessing the wind. Again, this is an ancient practice. Windmills and turbines have been used to exploit the air to mill grain and pump water for thousands of years. Wind has carried ships to the far reaches of the globe, making possible exploration of previously unknown lands and transportation of people and goods throughout the world.
Similarly to water, the wind is variable; if there is any major fluctuation in its velocity or consistency, its function as a reliable source of power is affected. Wind turbines generate a great amount of noise, and may be considered unsightly, many preferring they live in someone else’s back yard.
Wind current is a property of air, which metaphysically relates to the mind. Most of us are plagued by an undisciplined mind, populated by innumerable thoughts that constantly blow through, shaking us from our true foundation of peace. Many find it very difficult to separate their thoughts from their emotions. We may experience a hurricane of thoughts stirring up our emotions that inevitably come crashing down, capsizing or dashing us on the rocks.
In the Vedantic teachings of India, the mind is described as a lake that when calm and clear reflects the true nature of the Self, represented by a majestic mountain. When there is restlessness in the mind, our undisciplined thoughts create turbulence and stir up the lake; white caps fracture the mirror of the consciousness, distorting our perception of who we are.
The deafening sound of the thoughts that occupy the mind creates agitation and places a great amount of stress on our nervous and other operating systems. This static makes it impossible for us to tune into the frequency of the I AM Presence, which can only be accessed in the space between thoughts.
We may be frightened or repulsed by our thoughts, and instead of embracing them as our own and transmuting them through compassion and love, we project them onto others, not wanting to take responsibility for the state of our own mind. Still, we may be so unconscious of the thought forms blustering through, we are completely unaware of the impact they have on every aspect of our lives.
When we get too caught up in the mind, spiraling around in cyclones of thought, we may lose our connection to the Heart. Thoughts will stir up negative emotion, which is always fueled by fear, doubt, and uncertainty, the loyal servants of the ego. These energies inevitably propel us into a state of contraction, closing us off from the expansiveness of the Heart Light.
This powerful image from Bejing clearly illuminates the original source of renewable energy. Without the Sun, nothing on this planet would exist in its current physical form. The Sun is the Source of Light, and, therefore Life, as we know it, on Earth. Those who only consider the short term would have us believe that the upfront cost of implementing Solar Power makes other less efficient sources more viable and desirable, but the long-range benefits make it well worth the investment. As an energy resource, the Sun provides a clean, inexhaustible supply, with relatively little negative impact on the environment.
It is well known that without sunlight, living things quickly begin to decline. Research proves that exposure to the Sun, in reasonable doses, positively affects us physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Our whole body is a photovoltaic cell that captures, converts and distributes solar energy to each specialized cell. The light and heat we absorb from the sun keeps the physical body’s temperature at a level that will allow blood to circulate, carrying oxygen throughout, nourishing cells that also keep organ systems functioning optimally.
It is well documented that sunlight is critical to our mental and emotional wellbeing. We indirectly convert sunlight into chemical energy through the production of hormones, which regulate various functions in the body, such as growth, metabolism and mood. Sunlight is essential for the production of vitamin D, which helps to maintain serotonin levels that help keep us emotionally balanced.
Sunlight also affects the pineal gland, which links nervous system signals with endocrine system signals, and produces the hormone melatonin that regulates sexual development and sleep cycles.
The Sun relates to the last of the four elements - Fire, which represents Spirit or Life Force. Astrologically, the Sun is at home in Leo, which governs the Heart. Leo also represents the ego. When our focus is wrapped up in perpetuating the needs of the ego, lower, or human self, our identity is one that is bound by the laws of mortality and limitation.
We are inextricably linked to God, Source, the One, through the Life Stream, which emanates from the I AM Presence, manifesting in the Threefold Flame, anchored in the Heart Chakra. When allied with the ego and the four lower bodies, physical, etheric, emotional, and mental, and through the misuse of freewill, we misapply God’s Energy, fostering darkness, instead of Light, fear instead of Love.
When the body, mind and emotions are polluted, this clouds and inhibits the proper function of the aura, creating a barrier between God and us. The Aura is a force field of energy that surrounds the four lower bodies that serve as vessel for the soul. Just as the soul is the amalgamation of all the experiences we have had through all of our lifetimes, the aura registers and reflects every thought, word, emotional impression, feeling, and action we have created.
As we move into days of bitter cold, we may need to clean our car windshield, from time to time, as slush from the road is kicked up, by surrounding vehicles, obscuring our view. At times the blue juice may not flow, because it is just too cold. At other times, it only trickles. Still, it may not be the cold at all that keeps the juice from flowing. Instead, it is simply that our well has finally run dry, if we neglect to replenish the source. The windshield of our car is like the aura; it needs cleansing from time to time, so we can receive the light of the sun to see the way ahead more clearly.
The aura, when purified, is clear and vivid, a radiant reflection of the Seven Rays that shine through the prism of the Christ Consciousness, surrounding the body, like a Cosmic Egg. As we misuse God’s Energy, or Life Force, in service of the ego, the aura becomes muddied. It displays grayed out versions of the solar colors red, orange, and yellow, showing the distortion of negative energy patterns.
The aura is an outer indication of the state of the chakras operating at the etheric level of our being. When distorted the chakras and aura no longer serve as an open energetic interface connecting us with our Source. Instead, they create a veil that inhibits our ability to receive the eternal flow of Divine Love, Light and Life, essential to our physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing, as well as the soul’s evolution.
When we allow the fire of the Christ or Buddha Consciousness to blaze within us, the ego is divinized. When this comes to pass we shift our awareness from the lower self (ego) to the Higher Self (Ego), or Christ Self. The Christ Light dwells within the Heart Center of the 4th Chakra. This Triple, or Three-fold, Flame is the manifestation of the archetypal energies of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, energies expressing the God-qualities of Power, Love and Wisdom.
As we release our reliance on the lower energetic forms of body, emotion, and mind that pollute and destabilize our energetic field, we purify the channel linking us to our original Source. This energetic umbilical cord, called the antahkarana, flows from the Heart of the I AM Presence, through the Christ Self, into our spiritual and physical hearts, fueling the Triple Flame of the 4th Chakra and our very own heartbeat. The essence of this energy is Love, unconditional, generative, the elixir of Life that nurtures and sustains our being.
So how do we let go of our attachment to the lower aspects of our self? How do we cleanse the aura? How do we align more fully with the Christ Consciousness, the I AM Presence, and ultimately God? It is quite simple; we place our focus on the Light. If we wish to enhance an area of our life, what must we do? We direct the focus of our energy toward that which we intend to grow. If we intend to grow our relationship with the Light or God we must focus on the Light of God.
There are those who would have us believe the cost is too great. In surrendering to God, we must surrender the ego. For many this initial investment is too steep. The path of initiation diverges too far from the course most are traveling. It can be a lonely road, “for strait is the gate and narrow way that leadeth to life.” It is the way out of bondage that leads to freedom, the only escape from limitation, the bridge to liberation that reunites us with our Source.
Katrin, in her holistic healing practice, Inner Balance Life Works, offers 75 and 90 minute Vibrational Healing sessions, to cleanse the individual chakras and balance the entire energetic system. She utilizes the vibrations of sound, crystals, and Young Living essential oils, all of which assist in the purification of each chakra and the aura. She also receives and shares intuitive guidance from Spirit that brings to Light the underlying roots of the imbalances that manifest in the physical, mental, emotional and energy bodies. Contact Katrin to schedule an appointment at email@example.com or 315-289-3831. For more information select the Vibrational Healing tab on the Home Page.
THE MASK I WEAR by Charles C. Finn
Don't be fooled by me.
Don't be fooled by the face I wear
For I wear a mask. I wear a thousand masks-
masks that I'm afraid to take off
and none of them are me.
Pretending is an art that's second nature to me
but don't be fooled,
for God's sake, don't be fooled.
I give you the impression that I'm secure
That all is sunny with me, unruffled
within as well as without,
that confidence is my name
and coolness my game,
that the water's calm
and I'm in command,
and that I need no one.
But don't believe me. Please!
My surface may be smooth, but my surface is my mask,
My ever-varying and ever-concealing mask.
Beneath lies no smugness, no complacence.
Beneath dwells the real me
in confusion, in fear, in aloneness.
But I hide this.
I don't want anybody to know it.
I panic at the thought of my
weaknesses and fear exposing them.
That's why I frantically create my masks
to hide behind.
They're nonchalant, sophisticated facades
to help me pretend,
To shield me from the glance that
But such a glance is precisely my salvation,
my only salvation,
and I know it.
That is, if it's followed by acceptance,
and if it's followed by love.
It's the only thing that can liberate me from myself
from my own self-built prison walls
I dislike hiding, honestly
I dislike the superficial game I'm playing,
the superficial phony game.
I'd really like to be genuine and me.
But I need your help, your hand to hold
Even though my masks would tell you otherwise
That glance from you is the only thing that assures me
of what I can't assure myself,
really worth something.
But I don't tell you this.
I don't dare.
I'm afraid to.
I'm afraid you'll think less of me, that you'll laugh,
and your laugh would kill me.
I'm afraid that deep-down I'm nothing,
that I'm just no good
and you will see this and reject me.
So I play my game, my desperate, pretending game
With a facade of assurance without,
And a trembling child within.
So begins the parade of masks,
The glittering but empty parade of masks,
and my life becomes a front.
I idly chatter to you in suave tones of surface talk.
I tell you everything that's nothing
and nothing of what's everything,
of what's crying within me.
So when I'm going through my routine
do not be fooled by what I'm saying
Please listen carefully and try to hear
what I'm not saying
Hear what I'd like to say
but what I cannot.
It will not be easy for you,
long felt inadequacies make my defenses strong.
The nearer you approach me
the blinder I may strike back.
Despite what books say of men, I am irrational;
I fight against the very thing that I cry out for.
You wonder who I am
for I am everyman
who wears a mask.
Don't be fooled.
I came across this poem, while I was in college, a time in my life when its sentiments resonated very deeply within me. It was featured in the textbook of a friend, who was taking a psychology class.
Though I have moved through and healed the underlying issues that gave rise to the affinity I felt when I first read it all those years ago, there is, in spite of that work, an undercurrent of recognition. It was not all that long ago I was grappling with these very same feelings.
My experience with my guru, Sai Maa, in the Journey of Profound Healing, provided me with the opportunity to begin to remove my own masks, in a safe and sacred space. In an atmosphere of unconditional Love and non-judgment, I was able to get to the roots of my own feelings of unworthiness. Not only was I able to understand them intellectually, and the function they served in my life, but with Maa’s guidance and Grace, I was able to transmute them energetically, to release what was holding me in my self-made prison.
As we enter the season of Halloween, masks of all sorts creep into our consciousness. Originally called All Hallows Eve, it is a holiday that has its roots in ancient tradition. Our current mode of celebrating Halloween evolved over hundreds of years, beginning with the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sah-win). In early Gaelic culture, late fall was the time of year to take stock of the harvest and make ready for the shorter days and longer nights.
The ancient pagans also believed that, during this season, the boundaries between the physical and spiritual planes were more fluid, and the dead would come back to life, causing mischief, or worse havoc, like sickness, or perhaps the destruction of the harvest stores that would carry them through the long winter. Bonfires were lit to ward off these evil spirits, and traditionally masks were worn, in an attempt to mimic or appease them.
Our current tradition of dressing up in costume can be traced back to the Middle- Ages, when people would don disguises and go begging from door to door. This is similar in purpose to the tradition of Christmas wassailing. “Trick or Treating” evolved out of the late medieval practice known as “souling,” when the poor would pass through town, receiving food in return for prayers for the dead on Hallowmas, Novemeber 1, what we now call All Souls Day.
The sentiments in Finn's poem, point to the fact that we wear masks all the time. Some are more obvious than others, like moustaches, beards, glasses, colored contacts, and makeup.
Many are now going to more extreme measures to change their features permanently, through implants, tattooing, plastic surgery, and the like. The name, plastic surgery, itself, indicates it is artificial, synthetic. Clearly, some procedures have more practical functions, but they all serve the same purpose, to alter our appearance in some way.
Halloween masks typically represent our worst nightmares - monsters, ghouls, ghosts, and various political figures. These terrifying creatures are, however, only reflections of our own fears, all of which are manufactured in the mind. They don’t exist anywhere but in the mind. So, too, is the need for a mask a construct of the mind, the false, or ego mind.
A mask, therefore, is a cover, a false face. One derivation of the word, according to etymology.com, is from mas que la cara, which in Spanish means “more than the face,” or “added face.”
The word disguise has its root in guise, first used in common parlance in the 13th c. It meant “style or fashion of attire”, from the old French guise, meaning “manner, fashion, or way,” which evolved from the Frankish or German wise, or weid, meaning “to see,” or “to know.”
Dis-guise has its roots in 14th c. French, deriving from desguiser: “to change or to put out of one’s usual manner or appearance.” In 15th century French, it referred to a “strange style of dress.” The Italian travestire, means “dressed in diguise,” from the Latin roots tran + vestir, meaning “over dress.” This is where the English word travesty has its source, which means “a false, absurd, or distorted representation of something.” So the purpose of a mask or disguise is to dis-allow others to see or know who we are.
The author of the poem speaks of his calm, cool, collected exterior as a façade that hides inner states of confusion, fear and aloneness. Yet he knows this is a game, and dislikes perpetuating the pretense. The narrator believes, however, that salvation will only come in the form of someone else’s reassurance that he is worth anything. The real confusion lies in the belief that the deliverance this everyman (everywoman) seeks can only be found through external means.
I have a friend, who was struggling with an alcohol addiction some years back. I asked him once why he drank. He said he felt like when he drank he could be more “himself.” The drink made him feel more confident, outgoing and funny. He felt that the booze was serving to open him up. I was hard pressed to convince him his thinking was convoluted, and the alcohol wasn’t his liberation, but his ball and chain. He wasn’t yet ready to acknowledge he had an addiction, or to address the years of patterning and conditioning that were at the root of his inability to access those innate aspects of himself. He was convinced he was his personality, that he was the mask. He didn’t want to remove the mask; he just wanted a better one.
Any addiction is a mask, a travesty, a distorted representation of our true selves. It may free up the personality to a degree, it may appease the ego that is fearful and seemingly in need of protection, but ultimately it entraps us, and adds, yet, another layer of separation between us and our true nature. I’ll repeat here what my guru, Sai Maa, teaches regarding maya. She tells us she is not interested in “making the illusion better”. She wants us to wake up and step out of the illusion.
In Shakespeare’s comedies, he often uses the theatrical device of disguise. In “As You Like It” and “Twelfth Night,” Rosalind and Viola, the lead characters in each, respectively, disguise themselves as boys, as they journey into new, perhaps dangerous environments. A mask or disguise creates an air of anonymity, a clever veneer that provides a means of protection. It also affords a way to let go of one’s inhibitions, to lose all self-consciousness.
The disguise becomes a form of liberation for these characters, through which they experience a certain level of self-discovery. But many of the problems Rosalind and Viola encounter are, in fact, due to their disguises. Rosalind, instead of telling the man she loves who she really is, decides to use her disguise to get Orlando to prove his love for her, and in the process, another woman falls in love with Rosalind, believing she is a man.
Viola’s disguise keeps her from revealing her feelings for Orsino, and Olivia, Orsino’s love interest, falls in love with her, thinking she is a man. Though these disguises serve to create two brilliant comedies of error, which are eventually resolved, it is still undeniable that what first served as a means of liberation for these women, ultimately becomes their trap, a self-imposed prison for both.
The usefulness of the mask is ultimately limited. It can only serve each of these women to a point. It does, indeed, afford them a means to move beyond the bonds of their era’s limiting gender roles, and their station in life, even to express sentiments to the men they love that custom would likely have forbid them reveal. They do, in their duplicitous schemes, grow exponentially. They learn things about themselves they might never have know otherwise. Yet in the end, each discovers the ultimate cost of perpetuating the disguise: the loss of authenticity, of integrity, of true freedom.
The brilliance of Master Shakespeare’s works is their universality. He displays before us the depth and breadth of the human experience, so we may detect a bit of ourselves in each of the characters, and perhaps experience a catharsis that brings us to a new state of awareness. Through these men and women, we can easily appreciate our humanity. Still, if we look more closely, he also allows us to recognize our Divinity.
We may easily acknowledge, at one time or another, we too have behaved like one of these characters, donning a mask or disguise of some sort, to protect our fragile ego. We may even be able to see how, after a fashion, it no longer served us. But let’s now move beyond the world of appearances and delve a little deeper into what lies at the core.
In the poem, this soul, who is hurting profoundly, says, “Do not be fooled by me.” It is, precisely, to the Fool we must look to help us resolve the dilemma of the disguise. The Fools in Shakespeare’s plays, who may dress in motley costume, a disguise of sorts, represent true freedom and liberation. Though it may appear they are bound, in servitude to a duke or a king; they are the only ones who are actually free. They act as counselors and guides for their masters, they are the sole characters who freely speak their minds, and they always function as the voice of Reason or Truth. For the Fool, in these classic plays, the role of servant is never seen as a detriment, because for them, freedom is always a state of mind.
King Lear’s Fool, for example, looks to no one for acceptance, for assurance of his worth, not even the king. He knows his inherent value, because he truly knows his mind. He has control over it and his emotions, so he can be the voice of reason, even in the midst of chaos. It is this aspect of ourselves we too must access. This facet, what we might call pure consciousness or super consciousness, is what is hidden behind the façade. We must peel off, layer by layer, all that stands between us and our true selves, to reveal the Higher Self, that which we are inherently, that which is perfect, that which is Divine.
The Fool, the first card in the Major Arcana of the Tarot, gives us the initial key to unlocking our true essence (see image below). The vibrant youth walking off the cliff represents the super consciousness, and is a symbolic representation of who we are before incarnation. We are pure vibration, pure consciousness, pure Spirit.
Behind the Fool’s head is the Great Central Sun, the Limitless Light, the Source of our Being, and of everything in the universe. The Fool holds in his left hand a white rose, which represents pure desire. It is God’s desire to know itself that is the cause of our being, God’s Will that brings us, as vibratory beings, extensions of the Divine, into creation. At this point, our own will is passive, signified by the black staff; there is no personal volition at work here.
Personal desire and will constitute the seeds of polarity, the essence of duality. It is only once we incarnate that our own desire and will are put into play. When we enter physical form, we begin the cycle of cause and effect, action and reaction. We step onto the carnival ride called the Wheel of Karma, and the fun begins!
Were our desire and will to remain pure, our turn on the wheel would be very short, but the choices we inevitably make in our quest for experience move us into a state of imbalance. Through a series of life-lessons, each incarnation offers us an opportunity to reestablish our original state of being, to balance the energies we set in motion in other lifetimes.
So, time and again, we step off the cliff into the world of duality, symbolized by the two mountains below, depicted in the contrasting colors red and green. Each time we take birth, we, like Rosalind and Viola, journey to a new environment, and we take on a disguise. We put on this costume, this mask of flesh and bone, and we forget who we are, for the purposes of our own soul evolution. Limitless Light cloaks itself in the human body. For this reason, the black tunic the Fool wears is described as the “cloak of ignorance.”
The soul, then, is an amalgamation of all the experiences we have ever had, accumulated lifetime upon lifetime. This is represented by the Fool’s “bag of tricks,” the satchel on the staff he carries over his shoulder. Just to be clear, I say he, but, in actuality, the soul is genderless.
The bag is red, representing the soul in action. Once on the wheel, it is our own desire and will that keep us there. When we surrender to the Will of God, the path back home is much clearer and shorter. The eagle and the eye, depicted on the pouch’s flap, show us we must rise above our lower nature, raise our vibration and use the creative, Life Force Energy, or the kundalini, to ignite our spiritual sight. Once we have done so, we may access what is contained within the bag sealed with ten stitches. It remains sealed until we have control over the body, mind, and emotions. Then, in an elevated state of consciousness, we will have the discipline to use the information of our past life experience to further our evolution, rather than squandering it, lost in the illusion of the physical senses and material distraction.
The Old Testament story of Adam and Eve is symbolic of these very teachings. Once they ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, meaning they passed from a state of Oneness with The All That Is into one of polarity, it is said they covered their “nakedness” with fig leaves. Their nakedness was their purity of consciousness, unblemished by dualistic thinking. Mistaken by the world of appearances, unable to recognize their true selves any longer, they donned these disguises in shame for their “transgression”. This word transgression means to "step across" or "go beyond". Adam and Eve, symbolize the conscious and subconscious minds. It is only in the mind that we ever go beyond our state of Oneness with God. Our "own" mind is a mask or veil that disallows our unlimited access to the One Mind, or Cosmic Consciousness.
When we wear a mask or put on a disguise, we lose the ability to truly see, to really know ourselves. A mask may, at first, appear to serve us, but like any crutch, it can ultimately hinder our healing and growth, particularly if we hold onto it well past its usefulness. Our salvation is our own willingness to look below the surface, first at our habits of thought and behavior, our karmic patterns that keep us bound, and then to go even deeper. We must remember who we are, beneath the mask of personality, beneath the disguise of our physical body.
We have spent too many years, too many lifetimes, being Masters of Disguise. We now have the capacity to become Masters of Transparency, with nothing to hide, nothing to fear. We may now choose to reinvent the ancient tradition of “souling.” Let us not go from house to house begging in exchange for prayers for the departed. Instead, may we knock at the door of our own heart. When we unlock this energetic gateway, we are not offering up some tasty throbbing meal for a zombie, but opening the portal to the soul. We can then invite the soul to take up residence in our body, and take control of our life, putting the ego in its rightful place as its servant. In this season of Scorpio, alive with the energy of soul transformation, instead of dressing up in costume, dare to be your Self, your true Self. Instead of reenacting The Night of the Living Dead, let this simply be the Dawn of the Living.
With the surge in climate change related extreme weather events like Hurricane Harvey, that devastated the costal regions of the Gulf of Mexico, and Irma that pummeled the Caribbean and now bears down on Florida, we might feel helpless and confused as to what to do in the wake of Nature’s seeming fury.
As we fast approach the 5th year anniversary of “Super Storm” Sandy, I am reminded of my decision to walk into the Syracuse Chapter of the American Red Cross several days after that devastating storm. I had read on Facebook that they were collecting blankets for the survivors in NY and New Jersey, the states hardest hit by the storm. At the time, I had a fairly large stock of blankets that I used as props in my Yoga classes. I had plenty to spare, and there was a need. I didn’t hesitate. I heeded the call.
When I walked into the lobby there was a wonderful woman at the reception desk. She said, “Oh bless your heart, but we can’t accept those here.” I was a bit confused. I told her what I had read, and she said she would ask her supervisor for clarification, who happened to be standing next to her fielding a call.
While I waited for this young man to complete his business, I looked around the lobby. I saw the prominently displayed logo on the wall behind the counter alongside an image of Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross.
When he finished his call, I explained my intention to donate the blankets for the Sandy Relief. He said that The Red Cross was dispatching crews of volunteers who were providing their standard issue blankets with their Red Cross logo to areas in the storm’s wake.
He said he couldn’t use my blankets for that relief effort, but they would take them for use for local disaster or fire relief. He asked if that was acceptable to me. I said, “Of course, I came to offer the blankets, I don’t care to whom they go. I just want to be of service. Well that lit up his face and he said, “Would you be interested in volunteering?” I didn’t hesitate. I said, yes.
Clara Barton brought aid and solace to union soldiers during the Civil War. With no concern for her own safety, she charged into the front lines to bring succor to the wounded. For this, she received the title “Angel of the Battlefield.”
The symbol of the American Red Cross is iconic. It is the Equal-Armed Cross, sometimes referred to as the “Geneva Cross.” It was adopted by Switzerland, during the Geneva Convention of 1864, as a symbol of neutrality to be worn by those providing humanitarian-aid during armed conflict, who were entitled to protected status.
This symbol is one that is found cross culturally. Esoterically, the equal-armed cross embodies the concept of unification between the material and the ethereal realms of existence.
It symbolizes a perfect balance of these seeming opposites. Yet, when we examine them more closely, it becomes clear that they are two sides of the same coin, two expressions of the Divine Life Force Energy.
This representation of “The Complete Truth” is the foundation of all Creation. The Chinese taiji, or yin/yang symbol, depicting the white and black paisley shapes with a small circle of the opposite color contained within each, speaks to the same Truth.
In the equal armed cross, we have the vertical axis, which represents the activity of the “masculine” energy principle in creation, while the horizontal axis represents that of the “feminine” energy principle. The vertical axis is associated with the spiritual plane; the horizontal refers to the material plane. Both are essential for the embodiment of Divine Spirit in the physical for the purpose of growth and expansion of the soul. The crux, where these two planes meet is the Heart Center, the gateway that allows us to ultimately transcend the material realm and move into the higher planes of consciousness.
The symbol shows a red cross on a white field, which esoterically exemplifies action arising out of purity of intent. Clara Barton lived a life of service to those in distress, continually called to respond to humanity in need.
Her life was an expression of action in the material realm that was in service to a higher calling. In this case, the impulse to action has its roots in the seed of compassion. One is acting out of compassion, with no ulterior motives, no expectation of reward or recognition. We call this humanitarian aid, but it is truly an expression of our Divinity.
We call these people first responders. The word responsibility means, “the ability to respond.” Clara Barton, and those like her, are just ordinary people, or are they? Clearly their acts rise to the level extraordinary.
These individuals rise out of a life focused primarily on the material, fueled by the fire of Spirit, to be of service. The verb to serve means “to render habitual obedience to.” In this case, the obedience is to our Higher Self. When we choose to be of service, we certainly provide something worthy to those in need, but the greater offering is made to God. With each act, when offered from a place of compassion, we evolve as a soul, and this serves the greater glory of the Divine Whole.
I was privileged, humbled and inspired to witness my friend Ed Vassallo, a NYC actor, reveal his divine humanity in action. Ed was diagnosed with a rare form of Leukemia in 2010. He was in the midst of intense treatment for the disease, but in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, he got in his SUV and drove to the front line with no concern for his own safety to be of service to people in need.
The life-changing event of his grave illness was a wake up call to action. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, he directed his focus away from his own struggle outward to those whose need was greater than his own. He was alive, and mobile and he heeded the call. With such acts of kindness and compassion we heal ourselves.
Though “Fast Eddie” Vassallo has since made his transition, in the weeks following the storm, my regard for him grew, as I watched the recordings he made and posted on Facebook of his experience as a first responder.
Along with a merry band of like-minded souls, he brought food and water to those whose lives were so greatly affected. He delivered generators, contacted people’s banks, who could not make timely payments because they had no power or transport. I even witnessed him escort a woman, who was eight months pregnant, assisting her down nine flights of stairs, because her building had no power, and then drive her to the safe shelter of a friend’s home. Not only were Ed and his crew delivering humanitarian aid, they were delivering Light and Hope.
This same level of compassionate care we witnessed again and again in Houston and other towns in Texas and Louisiana, following Hurricane Harvey. I saw a group of people make a human chain to rescue an elderly man from his truck that was inundated with rushing water. Citizens with boats trawled through flooded neighborhoods looking for those still trapped in their homes. There were patrols rescuing pets and livestock left behind to fend for themselves as their people fled for their own lives.
Not merely after major catastrophies do we witness individuals transcend their seeming ordinary lives to do the extraordinary. There are people are going above and beyond at the frontlines of daily existence every day of their lives. I know a Case Worker for a county agency, who provides counseling and support to people in transition, who are currently dealing with drug and alcohol addiction.
She shared with me that she is conflicted and confused by her situation at work. You see; she has a gift, the gift of spiritual sight. A portal opened for her about two years ago through which she has been receiving messages from Spirit that she has been guided to share with her clients.
Her conflict stems from the fact that this is not “standard operating procedure,” and she is concerned she may be fired, if anyone finds out and reports her to the administration. If her spiritual sight is needed anywhere, it is exactly in this environment. We are told to “grow where we are planted”. She offers daily support and guidance to individuals, many of whom would not be able to afford such service otherwise. She is truly an “Angel of the Battlefield.”
We may not be in a position to offer our SUV to transport people and supplies in the wake of a disaster, or have the spiritual sight to transmit messages from beyond the veil, but each of us has something to offer of ourselves in service of others.
John F. Kennedy once said, "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." I would rephrase it this way, “ Ask not what others can do for you; ask what you can do for others. When we shift our focus from ourselves and direct it toward others, we begin to move toward the center point of the cross.
Master Jesus, an embodiment of the Christ Consciousness, did not teach that salvation would come through his death on the cross. His mission and his message have only ever been to bring us to an awareness of our own Divinity.
We, ourselves, are the only means of our salvation.
We are the creators of our own experience. If we are living in hell, it is of our own making. We are to take up the cross of this body, and follow the example of the Christ, opening our hearts to become the perfect balance of humanity and Divinity.
When this is our mission, we will experience the second coming of the Christ. He will not return in the flesh to again lead the way. The Christ Consciousness will be present and active in our own hearts, so we may continue the mission of bringing Light and Hope. We will serve as beacons, guiding those who are navigating through the darkness, offering safe passage to peaceful and brighter shores.
In these times of great upheaval in the world, when weather is more extreme and we are seeing a rise in more extremist views, we are being called upon to serve those who are in need.
We are all individual cells in the body of a greater whole, the Universe, God, whatever you choose to call it. Cells come to each other’s aid, because the health of the whole is crucial to each one’s ability to thrive. As long as we continue to operate on the false assumption that there is no connection between us as humans, or between us and the rest of this planet and beyond, we will continue to make short sighted, self serving, separatist choices that will ultimately be the undoing of our species, and perhaps the Earth as we know it.
Consider these closing words from JFK’s Inaugural address. “Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own.”
We are all called to serve. The question is: have we heeded the call? Perhaps a deeper question is, “Have we paused long enough in the midst of our own concerns and the pursuit of our own goals to have heard it?
What are you called to do? How can you be of service? How can you express the perfect balance of your Divine Humanity in action?
It was a rare radiant afternoon, when I had the good fortune to sit for a few undisturbed hours in Burnet Park and read. I was grateful for the warm clear day, as the summer had been displaying resolute recalcitrance in her arrival. The few clouds that dusted the sky were the sort from which my kids and I conjured mermaids and dolphins dancing in the sea.
I sat on the grass, my back gently supported by a fortuitously placed rock, well worn by wind and rain. Birds shared their spirited songs from the shade of the maples above, as bees hovered low, scouting the clover patches at my feet.
As I drank in the warmth of the sun, I was inspired by the diligence with which one lone honeybee was collecting pollen. I thought what a wonder is this tiny creature. Her ability to fly defies the laws of physics. At just over a centimeter long, weighing only sixty milligrams, she should not be able to fly, let alone carry a load weighing more than she, supported on such gossamer wings. Yet, by beating her wings so rapidly, the vibration allows her to move aloft and journey out into the world to gather the raw materials that fuel her and her colony.
She ventured from home on this crystalline day to forage for nectar. I watched her move methodically from flower to flower. Periodically, she would light on a cluster of white and pink petals into which she dipped her dainty front legs to retrieve the golden prize. At times she would remain only a brief moment, and at others she lingered longer, as it seemed there in lay more treasure.
I noticed, however, that sometimes she would near a flower and then abruptly pull away, as though she knew instinctively that this particular blossom held nothing for her. It seemed as though she had received an invisible message, some signal that this flower was futile, thus she was able to move on, no time wasted in unfruitful territory.
As it turns out, a honeybee can discern from a distance that there is no nectar to be had of a particular flower and will depart immediately, as she senses that it has already been visited. It is clear because the bee that made the first foray leaves a drop of its essence behind. The next bee detects the scent, understands that the flower is spent, and continues on to another. Amazingly, it takes honeybee workers ten million foraging trips to gather enough nectar to make one pound of honey. So effective transmission of information is critical.
By performing a particular figure eight pattern, called the waggle dance, successful foragers share with their hive mates specific information about the direction and distance to sources of abundant nectar and pollen, to water supplies, as well as to potential hive locations.
I find it interesting that the horizontal figure eight, or lemniscate, demonstrated in the bees’ communiqué is also the symbol for infinity. As each bee extends itself to the whole, through it’s messages, it insures the survival of the entire population, endlessly.
Similar to ants, these insects are social beings that cannot function on their own. On the contrary, they flourish as members of a group, and each individual’s function is essential to the survival of the collective. The colony cannot succeed without each bee’s distinct contribution.
The ability of bees to communicate effectively allows these industrious creatures to create the divine substance we know as honey. This sticky, sweet concoction is created in a comb, a series of interconnected cells formed in the shape of the hexagon, notably an ancient symbol of balance, union, interfacing, and community.
To ancient cultures bees signified eloquence, speech, and intelligence.in Hebrew, the word for bee, Dbure, has its origins in the root word Dbr, meaning speech. And so it is not unusual that honey, the gift of their creation, symbolizes learning, knowledge, wisdom, and the riches and sweetness of life.
It occurred to me, while watching this small wonder of Nature that we have much in common. We too are social beings. As humans we function best in cooperation and communion with each other, and through our interactions we are capable of creating extraordinary things.
We, like bees, can suffer greatly if we are separated too long from others of our kind. As research shows, there is a direct relationship between the degree to which a person is separated socially and their level of anxiety. The adverse effects of prolonged isolation can range from a general lack of wellbeing, to extreme morbidity, and even death.
Our purpose, as human beings, in this lifetime is twofold: to communicate and to create, and these functions cannot be carried out in isolation. We need each other in this journey, just as bees depend on each member of the hive for survival. James L. Gould in his book, The Honey Bee, states that the whole fabric of honeybee society depends on communication- on an innate ability to send and receive messages, to encode and decode information.
It is their ability to communicate with such a high level of accuracy that allows them to serve out their functions. Not only do they create honey, but they also aid in the propagation of other life forms. The level to which we communicate successfully also impacts our ability to create, and directly affects the well being of everything else around us.
As form inevitably follows function, we need only observe our physical makeup to understand for what it is we were made. As one can easily detect, we are all created with virtually identical attributes that serve the very same purpose.
We each have two eyes, two ears and one mouth centered on the front of the head, which conveniently pivots from side to side giving us the ability to direct our focus where we like. These features come standard on every model, and are the primary means by which we carry out our functions in this life. My children tell me we were designed this way because we are meant to observe and listen more than we are meant to speak. Yet so often we, literally or figuratively, close our eyes to what it is we would not see, shut our ears to what we care not to hear, and run our mouths for fear of the silence.
To serve our greater mission, our bodies are formed with two arms, each with a hand that is uniquely designed to create. With these arms we are able to help selflessly and to hold gently, and with these hands we can touch and form, both objects as well as ideas. Yet very often we use them counter to their intended purpose. We pull others close only to push them away, when we perceive our needs are no longer being met, or we grasp and hoard, only to discard what we’ve claimed once we determine that thing or person no longer serves its intended purpose.
We also have two legs and feet. Their function is to carry us places, to move us into the world, and bring us closer to others. Yet these ingeniously designed features are falling into disrepair for lack of use, as we turn more often to other means of connection like the telephone and computer, rather than walking down the hall to our colleague’s office to ask a question, or over to a friend’s home to seek much needed advice.
It is no wonder that so many of our relationships are in crisis. More and more we live in isolation, as we move through the world in plastic, metal and glass pods, plugged into devises that distract and cut us off from our fellow human beings. We don’t know our neighbors’ names and we have no idea about our partner’s needs. We have ceased to, or have forgotten how to effectively use the tools that have been given us to carry out our primary tasks in this life.
It is virtually impossible to engage in effective, substantive communication, if we are unwilling or able to extend ourselves to others. So often we assume that those in our lives know, or we feel they should know what it is we need. But how can they? They do not live inside our heads. Their lack of understanding is no fault of their own. It is we who are the cause, because so often we fail to express what it is we truly want, either because we ourselves don’t even know, or we are afraid of the reaction asking might produce.
When we don’t know what it is we want, how can we expect anyone to give it to us? In order to have our needs met, it is our responsibility first to determine what those needs are, and then to communicate them clearly.
Yet, even when we do know what we want, we are often afraid that we will be rejected if we ask. It is unreasonable to believe that by communicating we will be abandoned, and yet many of us do. We believe our minds must be kept private, or we will lose control of them, and of the relationship. Even when we are intimate with someone, we may withhold what is really on our minds for fear of giving too much away, or of pushing the other away. But can such forms of interaction be considered real communication or true intimacy, or are they just hollow shells, illusions of real connection?
It is important to understand, that these fears we hold of rejection, or of a negative response, are simply projections, constructs of our own ego mind. They are the result of a need to disassociate from aspects of ourselves we perceive as objectionable or inappropriate, and so we place them on another.
When we engage in the act of projection, which inevitably hinders communication, it is because we are not willing or able to accept responsibility for the situations in which we find ourselves, all of them ultimately of our own creation. It seems to be far easier to place blame elsewhere than it is to turn the mirror around and be confronted with those things about ourselves that we believe to be unacceptable.
But this is where our true work lies. We need to bring what remains in shadow into the light. When we can finally embrace all of our self, even those aspects we deem undesirable, and absolve our own perceived imperfections, we will begin to release the judgments we place on others, and we will finally taste the rich sweetness of forgiveness.
The Poet Antonio Machado expresses it this way:
Last night, as I was sleeping,
I dreamt - marvelous error! –
That I had a beehive
Here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
Were making white combs,
And sweet honey
From my old failures.
Yet many of us are not willing, or able yet to do this demanding work, and so we hide. We hide in our homes and offices, in our computers and televisions, in our Androids and iPods, in our addictions of every kind. These are the physical barriers we create that keep us isolated.
More critically however, we hide inside our own heads. We remain locked inside fortresses of our own devising, peering out through tiny slits in the stone slab walls we have erected. We sit within these self-made prisons, afraid of connection, afraid of intimacy, and wonder why we feel so terribly misunderstood and so desperately alone, when ultimately, what we fear is ourselves. Our colleagues, friends, parents, siblings, partners, and children are merely mirrors of our own inner lives.
Consequently, what we need to heal and become whole is to engage, to communicate with others in order to understand ourselves, and to realize our essential connection to the Universe. The work cannot be done alone. We need one another, as we are all One. This is key to our spiritual awakening, critical to our salvation, both individually and collectively.
This anonymous quote speaks to this point most eloquently:
I sought my soul, but my soul I could not see.
I sought my God, but my God eluded me.
I sought my brother and I found all three.
Essentially, it is our failure to communicate that keeps us separated. This is at the core of our impressions that we are alone. When we feel alone we are not at peace. So it is only through communication that we can bring about inner peace, and, ultimately, peace in the world around us.
A Course In Miracles reminds us that we never lose what we communicate. So, if I am afraid to express my love for you, because I fear that love won’t be reciprocated, what I am going to get in return is the fear, not the love, which is what I actually want.
When I communicate love, that is what is returned to me, and, in the end, is a gift I offer to myself. I am not losing it by giving it away. When I give truly, unconditionally, love will always be given back in equal measure. What we sow, we will reap.
Similarly, when we communicate anger, jealousy, or revenge, all basic expressions of fear, we convey those feelings, believing we rid ourselves of them. The truth is quite the opposite, however. When we express fear, that is exactly what we receive back, and ultimately what we retain. Moreover, when we express our fear, we are actually engaging in attack, and this act, as we know, is antithetical to communication, making it utterly impossible.
Not only do we attack the one on whom we project our fear, but, more critically, we attack ourselves. When threatened, a bee will sting, and this act leads to it’s own death, for the stinger, along with part of the abdomen and poison sac is pulled away from the bee. When we lash out at others, in essence we, like the bee, are only harming ourselves.
Communication is simply defined as the transactional process of creating meaning. We are forever asking ourselves, “What does it all mean?” So in every encounter we have with another, each of us is constantly creating meaning. Yet, our individual perceptions of a specific encounter, a first date for example, are drawn from our own past experiences, and those experiences form the basis of our beliefs. And we can be sure that what we believe we do see.
So if I believe I am unworthy of love, everything I experience, during our first date, will serve to reinforce that belief structure. Every subsequent interaction I have with you I will interpret as support of my belief that I am undeserving of your love. The impact of this cannot be underestimated. Our beliefs, which are simply constructs of the ego, ultimately determine our perception of every situation in which we find ourselves, however misguided those beliefs may be.
Perception always involves interpretation, and this means that it is not whole or consistent. And as all meaning is based on perception, it is ultimately subjective in nature, and therefore highly prone to misinterpretation.
It seems Gorgias, an ancient Greek philosopher was aware of this when he stated:
“It is impossible for an idea to be the same in two different minds. Therefore, nothing can be truly known by all humans, and nothing can be communicated.”
Now it all may seem futile, or appear that the nature of our innate mode of communication is inherently flawed. Yet this is not so. We have merely lost sight of a critical element that can rectify our errors of interpretation.
Many ancient sources of spiritual wisdom, such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and the Yogic traditions, as well as more contemporary spiritual movements like Unity, hold an awareness of this fundamental principle. Current spiritual teachers like Ram Dass and Eckhart Tolle, are also reminding us to Be Here Now and to tune in to The Power of Now.
A Course in Miracles refers to this principle as the holy instant, a moment when we are in full awareness of the interconnection among all beings and with the Divine. In this moment, now, we are whole and therefore holy.
With the holy instant we are called upon to release one another from any guilt we would lay, for guilt only serves to disrupt communication. The ego tries to convince us that loneliness can be solved by guilt. Who among us has not been on the giving or receiving end of a guilt trip? “What do you mean you’re going out with your friends again tonight?”
The purpose of the holy instant is to suspend judgment entirely, which always rests on the past, as past experience is the basis on which we judge. “Well you have gone out with your friends for the past four consecutive Friday’s! Why don’t you want to spend time with me?”
In the holy instant it is understood that the past no longer exists, and with its release the drive for guilt or vengeance is gone. Everything is gone except the Truth, which lies here in the present. We are here, now, together in this moment. This moment is all there is, and in the present exists perfection.
Years ago, my daughter Kate shared some words of wisdom with me she had heard in school when she asked “Mom, why do we call this moment the present?” As I took in her question, she quickly chimed, “Because every moment is a gift!”
When we release the past, we give the gift of forgiveness. To forgive is merely to remember only the loving thoughts you gave in the past, and those that were given you, and to release everything else, and so the gift of forgiveness is passed on to the future in the form of Freedom.
The holy instant is a time in which we give and receive perfect communication. It is experienced now, in the present. This moment is one in which the mind is fully open to give and to receive. In this moment of awareness there is the recognition that all minds are in communion with one another and the Divine.
Thoughts of the past are simply noise. They are like static that keeps us from receiving a clear signal from the person with whom we are trying to connect. Projecting into the future can be equally disruptive to the clarity and truth of now. Both are inhibitors.
When we can quiet the noise, what in Yoga we call the vrittis, or the fluctuations of the mind, we can open ourselves to more authentic communication with one another and with the Divine. This is what we attempt in the practices of Yoga and Meditation.
So often our communications with others are disrupted by this noise, this cling and clatter ringing in our heads. It is deafening, and deadening to our relationships. These distractions come from within and also from without.
The practice of pratyahara or drawing the senses inward is the 5th of the eight limbs of Yoga. This practice, in combination with pranayama, or breath awareness, the 4th limb, is key to quieting the mind and tuning in to the present moment, which allows for the cultivation of dhyana, or the practice of meditation.
In this instance, shutting the eyes and closing the ears to external stimuli is very beneficial. But it is not done in an effort to shut off the outside world, as much as it is to open to the realms of the world within. It is from this place, in stillness, that we can begin to make a deeper connection with our Higher Self and with the Divine, which will ultimately translate to our relations with others.
When our interactions with others stem from center, the place of calm clarity within us, then real communication can begin, and when communication is open and unencumbered, our creations will then be nothing but inspired, for the Divine in you will be communing with the Divine in me, and we will be one.
And then, like the bees, we will come to understand the power of communication; we will learn that each of us must give of our own unique gifts, unselfishly, in the pursuit of the common goals of wholeness and healing, so that all of humanity will benefit from the richness of those sweet rewards.
We will once again know the meaning of this powerful Hindustani greeting:
I honor the place in you of Love, of Life, of Truth, of Peace. I honor the place in you where the entirety of the Universe resides. And if you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me, we are One.
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.”
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.