The Emperor is Naked – Part 2 – Awakening is Slow

“You are one thing only. You are a Divine Being. An all-powerful Creator. You are a Deity in jeans and a t-shirt, and within you dwells the infinite wisdom of the ages and the sacred creative force of All that is, will be and ever was.”
~ Anthon St. Maarten

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In the last blog, we discussed The Emperor’s New Clothes, Danish story teller Hans Christian Andersen’s well known tale of denial. Now, let’s find out what we’re most afraid of seeing.

The evolution of individuated consciousness, a progressive process into wholeness, is slow. The measure is self-awareness, wakefulness, and the challenge to “making progress” is to mutely go along with the consensus in the collective consciousness, because we can’t see anything different.

It’s something of Catch 22: we can’t see what we can’t see.

Why don’t we easily gain a level of awareness where we are able to see and perceive things from a truthful perspective? Because we are mired in egoic levels of consciousness, lost in illusory separation. Of course, this creates conflict between us because we all inhabit our own customized delusional states.

The primary illusion, one that we all share, is separation. I am the subject … you and everyone else, everything else, is an object. We perceive ourselves and others that way. We are separate. This is not in fact true but we believe it is true. As long as I/we maintain separate identification, there is conflict between me as the subject and all the objects I encounter.

So, how do we change this?

Regardless of our optimism, awakening to the truth beyond separation is a very slow process. In fact, now faced with evidence on every hand that we may be de-evolving as a species, the most important question becomes: who am I choosing to be in relationship to the happenings of life?

In other words, the process of awakening itself has changed from a solitary affair in a meditative cave, perhaps, to something that happens collectively, simply because of the massive changes in our modern world.

Here’s the new acid test: Confronted by mass shootings, climate disasters, political chaos, can I remain a detached witness, maintaining peace and equilibrium and – in that way – demonstrate an alternative to illusory stories about what’s transpiring? Can I connect with my fellow human beings beyond conflict and not add to the suffering?

Here’s a turning point realization: I am the creator of my experience in relationship to what’s happening. I can choose to be loving and forgiving, or I can pile on with blame… pointing a finger at others without realizing that three more fingers are pointing back at me!

Shamans contemplate the current world situation and acknowledge that it takes a crisis, a series of them, big enough to get our attention and catalyze awakening. We can now easily acknowledge the truth of their perspective.

What happens when hurricanes strike, when wild fires rage, when earthquakes shatter our reality? People come together. We leave our isolated caves of individuated separation and fear to recognize that we’re all in this together. Catastrophes force us to help each other and, through that experience, we explode the myth of separation.

It’s the same with guns and mass shooting. The latest horrifying newscast prompts an immediate expansion of awareness. Wait a minute, what are we doing? How can we stop this and deal with our crises? This kind of concern lasts a little while. Some change may actually result, but if it is not a big enough crisis, then everyone quickly returns to complacency. We go back to sleep, content again with status quo.

Until the next disaster strikes.

Awakening is a very personal matter. Some of us simply open our eyes and get out of bed. Most of us linger awhile, perhaps day dreaming about what’s waiting for us. Some of us are difficult to rouse. Teenage boys, especially, might require vigorous shaking to complete the shift from deep sleep into functional wakefulness.

Overall, humanity seems to be a teenager. And, we’re being shaken. Every day brings more news stories of disasters near and far. Of course, it’s academic until they touch us personally but these days that’s happening with increasing frequency.

Fire may not force us to evacuate, but we have relatives and friends who lose everything. We may not be shot in a domestic terrorist attack but we know someone who was. We may not lose our home when the mortgage interest rate skyrockets but our neighbor does. And, sometimes the crisis does land squarely on our own lap. What then?

Plato said that necessity is the mother of invention. Author John Ashcroft expanded on this. He ventured that “if necessity is the mother of invention, it’s the father of cooperation. And we’re cooperating like never before.”

Evolution in consciousness from separation to connection may indeed be slow but it’s accelerated by crises. It’s safe to say that today’s crises aren’t likely to recede. So, it follows that the process of awakening within our human species may accelerate.

Apparently, this is what it takes to awaken us from the self hypnosis that blinds us to the awareness and experience that we are one with God!



The Emperor is Naked – Delusion: It’s a Hard Habit to Break

“Delusion detests focus and romance provides the veil.”
~ Suzanne Finnamore

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The Emperor’s New Clothes, Danish story teller Hans Christian Andersen’s best known story, has become a catch phrase for delusion and the difficulty of speaking truth to power.

In the story, two weavers promise an emperor “a new suit of clothes that they say is invisible to those who are unfit for their positions, stupid, or incompetent. When the emperor parades before his subjects in his new clothes, no one dares to say that they do not see any suit of clothes on him for fear that they will be seen as “unfit for their positions, stupid, or incompetent”. Finally, a child cries out, “But he isn’t wearing anything at all!” 1

Delusion is a hard habit to break. Delusion defies logic and persists, even when confronted by the most revealing facts. After all, in Andersen’s tale the emperor was stark naked. But onlookers enthusiastically denied that, and it took an innocent child to break the spell.

One convincing proof I’ve encountered that confirms our obstinate refusal to acknowledge and state the obvious is the story about how ostriches bury their heads in the sand to avoid danger. On his website, Mark Wenning, reports on the origins of this belief.

“This comes from the supposed habit of ostriches hiding when faced with attack by predators. The story was first recorded by the Roman writer Pliny the Elder, who suggested that ostriches hide their heads in bushes. Ostriches don’t hide, either in bushes or sand, although they do sometimes lie on the ground to make themselves inconspicuous. The ‘burying their head in the sand’ myth is likely to have originated from people observing them lowering their heads when feeding.” 2

The longevity of this myth confirms our willingness to accept authoritative accounts at face value and to perpetuate them for years by failing to examine even the most obvious facts. In this case, what’s obvious is that if ostriches did indeed bury their heads in the sand they would now be extinct… because they would have all asphyxiated.


In Andersen’s story, a child finally blurted out the truth. And, he was censured for his honesty. He spoke truth to power and that wasn’t popular. Of course, that remains true today. But what that child demonstrated is instructive. As Jack Zipes, an author who writes about Andersen, explained: “Sight becomes insight, which, in turn, prompts action.”

A further comment from Wikepedia states, “Scholars have noted that the phrase, “Emperor’s new clothes”, has become a standard metaphor for anything that smacks of pretentiousness, pomposity, social hypocrisy, collective denial, or hollow ostentatiousness.” 3

Do we see any of that today?

We can take our pick from a long list of denials. Here are just three:

– Medical doctors receive less than 25 hours of instruction on nutrition during their many years of rigorous training. We now face epidemics of obesity, cancer, depression, etc. But there’s no official, acknowledged connection between what we eat and our health.
– NOAA confirms that 16 of the last 17 years have been the hottest on record, yet our American president pronounces that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese.
– The financial crash of 2008 occurred because of deceitful lending practices that continue today with increased fervor, and the same financial experts who didn’t see that crash coming assure us there could never be another one.

Delusion, it’s a hard habit to break. But it helps to explore the ramifications of Zipes’s comment further: “Sight becomes insight which, in turn, prompts action.”

All of us have had the experience of seeing something we missed before. Those moments of revelation have the potential to inspire insights which can lead to new action. But the key is that moment between sight and insight. That’s where change can be initiated.
Lightbulb in hand
This story plays out in the climactic scene in the war film Bridge Over the River Kwai. Alec Guinness’s character has an epiphany. He “sees” through his delusion. This leads him to a powerful insight. He says, “Oh my God, what have I done?” Almost immediately, he takes action. He falls on a plunger, blows up the bridge he’s been so proud of, and the train carrying ammunition intended to kill allied soldiers, plunges into the river below.

It took extreme pressure to provoke his awakening. What will it take for you and me? We live in a crisis ridden world yet, so far, the official strategy remains “business as usual.”

Railing against “them” is an avoidance strategy. Awakening to the truth is a very personal matter. We can choose to be vigilant about our own delusions and turn what we see into insights that lead us into new behaviors.

That may or may not inspire others, but it’s the example all true leaders provide.


The Awakening Moment – Do We Really Get the Leadership We Deserve?

“Our chief want is someone who will inspire us
to be what we know we could be.”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

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AAlexis de Toqueville, a French diplomat, political scientist, and historian, wrote that “In a democracy, people get the government they deserve.” Was he right?

According to Toqueville’s premise, the results of the latest U.S. election – which has thrown American into something of a political free fall – is exactly what we deserve. Whether that is entirely true or not, over 60 million Americans voted for President Trump.

Let’s be realistic about something: our current system of democracy is not truly democratic.

As one astute blogger observed, “The public doesn’t get to choose who the nominees are. The powers that be (the two major parties’ leadership and the corporate media) decide who the “legitimate” nominees are going to be. They weed out of serious consideration any other candidates…” 1

But this doesn’t negate the fact that 60 million voters chose to support the values that the successful candidate and his cohorts represented. They agreed with those values. We can complain about this, rail against a rigged system, etc., but that’s just a smokescreen, effectively distracting us from acknowledging what’s really going on.

What’s really going on is that we humans are less evolved than we’ve thought! We still embrace extreme selfishness, we crave attention, we are intoxicated with personal power over others, and we attack those who disagree with us.

We might protest, “Oh no, not me!” but remember, whenever we point a finger at someone else, there are three fingers pointing back at ourselves! Have you ever witnessed such finger pointing, since this election? Forget about “Him” and “Them” for a moment. What about us? What about me?

Here’s more from that post. “The candidates who are left… are then “democratically” elected by the people. This process is like a child who is told by his/her parents that they can either have the peas or the carrots, but they must eat one of them. If the child chooses the carrots does that mean that the child is in charge of what s/he eats?” 2

I wanted to include this statement before offering an alternative, just to ensure that we do understand how impossible our political choices are. Given that, and the realistic assumption that nothing much will change any time soon, what’s left for us, for any of us who feel urged to make a difference? Because, clearly, voting doesn’t accomplish much.

There’s always a third candidate.


You can vote for yourself. Not in a voting booth, but in your assumption of personal responsibility to live your values. In the opening quote, Emerson wrote, “Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.” What if we saw that person when we looked in the mirror?

That would be an awakening moment.

Imagine giving up on the hope that someone else, anyone else, could represent that for us and becoming 100% responsible, totally self-empowered to provide what was needed in the reality of the moment, and to be fully accountable for the results. Yes, we can still vote and choose the best candidate in our eyes. But we can also stop hoping they will save us. No, they will represent the values of the voters… until they get into office. Then we get to find out what values they really represent, based on who funded their victory! If those values are radically at odds with our own, we can relapse into judgment… or, we can produce our own “third party alternative.”

You know I’m not talking about an alternative political party.

Here’s the catch: that alternative would need to be inspiring and no-one gets inspired by complaint. What inspires is kindness and the kind of strength that lifts others up rather than putting them down. Confidence, teamwork, compassion. And, as I wrote about in the last blog, Love with a capital “L.”

At this moment in our human history we are confronted by a crisis of leadership, because we have projected what’s truly needed onto others. Yes, we will always elevate men and women to positions of power where they can help (hopefully) mediate the affairs of a town, state, nation, and the world. We do need those who are skilled at management.

Meanwhile, here we are, with the opportunity to fulfil Gandhi’s injunction, to “be the change we wish to see in the world.” What might this accomplish? Who knows? But we’ll never find out unless we try. And that begins by separating inspiration from management.

It’s unfair to demand that every superstar athlete or celebrity be a paragon of personal virtue and it’s the same insanity to demand that every elected “manager” will provide enlightened inspiration. BTW, those truly inspiring leaders that have come along periodically always pointed their finger at us and said, as Gandhi did: “be the change.”

If the power of Love can, as I like to say, “beat our hearts and steer the stars,” imagine what else it could accomplish, if it was more widely expressed. That’s what we are here for in these wild days on planet earth. Despite our insanity, we humans are uniquely designed to express Love. I wonder what might happen if we took that responsibility seriously?

2. Ibid

The Awakening Moment – Learning How to Love

“The most important thing in this world is to
learn to give out love,and let it come in.”

~ Morrie Schwartz

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The Beatles sang, “All You Need is Love.” Were they right?

Khalil Gibran wrote that “Life without love is like a tree without blossoms or fruit.”

That’s a poetic reminder of how important love is. But, realistically, we need more than a fruiting tree and loving sentiments to survive and thrive. Don’t we?

Perhaps what we really need is an expanded understanding of what love is. For any of us who’ve enjoyed pop music over the years, it’s difficult to hear or read the words “the power of love” without recalling that song by Huey Lewis and the News. Surprisingly, his lyrics actually illuminate our topic.

Lewis sang, “Change a hawk to a little white dove… more than a feeling, that’s the power of love.”

In other words, love is transformative. Love is alchemical. Love changes us.

If you google “love,” 99% of what shows up relates to romantic love. Some acknowledge there is more to love than that… but they don’t elaborate. So let’s do that here.

First, here’s a comment that confirms my point about traditional definitions of love. This comes from a blog credited to South University.

“According to the triangular theory of love developed by psychologist Robert Sternberg, the three components of love are intimacy, passion, and commitment. Intimacy encompasses feelings of attachment, closeness, connectedness, and bondedness. Passion encompasses drives connected to both limerance and sexual attraction. Commitment encompasses, in the short term, the decision to remain with another, and in the long term, the shared achievements and plans made with that other person.” 1

This seems to be a clear and thorough articulation of key components in romantic love. It’s interesting to apply Sternberg’s triangular theory to an expanded definition that I propose, namely, that love is the power that runs creation. That’s just a bit of an upgrade in our understanding!

Love is the power that beats our hearts and steers the stars, as I like to say. You can use a different word if you prefer, like God or spirit or life force. I like love. By whatever name, “it” connects us all and when I say “all” I mean everyone and everything. So, if we embrace this expanded definition, then Sternberg’s “intimacy, passion, and commitment” model also seems to apply to our relationship with Love, capital L.

I wrote a book last year about learning how to love. I believe this is our “major” here in the University of Earth. So, how would we grade ourselves in this subject?

Here’s a 21st century reality check:
– There’s no intimacy to hiding within gated communities, separated and afraid of the village around us – full of people different than us.
– There’s no passion when religion replaces spirituality with rules instead of authentic worship.
– Where’s commitment when our allegiance swings from one addictive intoxicant to another?

Love, the expanded love we’re describing, gets so easily forgotten. So, how can we develop that relationship?

Think of a romantic relationship you’ve enjoyed or are enjoying right now. That feeling of love, flowing back and forth, it’s wonderful! In fact, we can reference another song to remind us again of our expanded definition: “Love makes the world go round.”

Here’s some practical guidance from the same post I quoted from above, a comment attributed to “Elizabeth Kane, a South University adjunct faculty member who teaches clinical psychology and behavioral science. ‘To be romantic is to make a choice to wake up each day and ask yourself what you can do today to let your lover know they are adored,’ Kane says.

“’Have fun in your romance and remember that the more effort you put into your romantic relationship, the more love you will receive in return. Be the partner that you seek and live a life filled with passion and romance.’” 2

Imagine applying that same strategy to our connection with Big Love. “… what you can do today to let your lover know they are adored?” Prayer comes to mind, meditation, and mindfulness, living in this relationship with Love as our primary one.

This doesn’t require us to downgrade our human relationships. In fact, personal connections infused with Big Love are stronger. There’s a stability inherent in them that helps us navigate the inevitable personality wars.

What if we lived in adoration then, with intimacy, passion, and commitment as the key components of our operating system? Imagine a world where we loved each other from that high place, loving not just personal qualities but also the innate presence of Love, the universal power of love, translated so uniquely within each individual human being.

If we were able to learn to love that way, then the Beatles would be right. Love is all you need … when we’ve awakened to the real thing.


The Awakening Moment – Horses Will Drink

“You cannot train a horse with shouts
and expect it to obey a whisper.”

~ Dagobert D. Runes

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They say that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. But, some horses do drink. What makes the difference?

There’s a funny story about a boy scout returning to headquarters, his lip bleeding and his uniform in disarray. “What happened?” asked the scout master.

“I just helped an old lady cross the street,” the youngster replied.

“But what happened to you?”

“She didn’t want to go!”

If we could pinpoint one frustration that interferes with our personal evolution and enjoyment of a meaningful life it would be our insistence on trying to change others.

This reminds me of an Ashley Brilliant cartoon of many years ago: “The fact that I have accepted you as you are doesn’t mean that I’ve given up hope you might still change.” That’s funny but also true for many people who tacitly accept each other but secretly wish they would behave differently (and believe more like they do).

In the last post, I introduced the idea of “the awakening moment” and emphasized how suffering can only be relieved by examining the cause: the experience of illusory separation that produces conflict.

So, how can we accept our differences? It’s natural to provide guidance for children as they mature into being able to take responsibility for themselves, but how do we treat other adults? Do we assume that we know how they should be?

Of course, common sense tells us that we shouldn’t give a flame thrower to a pyromaniac! And some rules and regulations are essential. In this country, we agree to drive on the right side of the road. That’s not an imposition on personal freedom, it’s simply a necessary rule.

But what do we do when someone fails to follow the rules, especially when they hurt others? We punish them. Is that working?

Writing for Psychology Today, Michael Karson, Ph.D., says: “Punishment does not change the tendency to engage in the behavior that was punished. Instead, it makes the person want to avoid the source of punishment.” 1

He goes on to describe how a punished child will continue their errant behavior… they’ll just do it when their parents aren’t around. This breeds a false assumption that our actions don’t have consequences unless others are aware of them. A husband can cheat on his wife, an accountant can fudge the numbers, a government can mis-report war casualties, etc.

“What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” may be a successful market term but it’s patently false. Everything we do creates consequences, whether anyone else knows about it or not.

If secrecy is an illusion and punishment doesn’t work, where does that leave us relative to positive change? After all, “personal improvement” has become a billion dollar industry. We want to change! Some horses do drink. Some people do change. What works this miracle? In a word, education.

I wrote about my experience in a 2008 terrorist attack. The murderers who attacked me and my friends had been trained, indoctrinated, educated in a hateful paradigm from early age, and then compelled to carry out their deadly mission. All but one was killed by the Indian SWAT teams. The lone survivor was executed years later. By then, he had come to his senses and expressed regret for his actions. He realized that he’d been manipulated by faceless puppet masters behind the scenes.

Since then, terrorist acts have exploded all over the world. Could we ever manage the courage to step back, examine this trend, and honestly address the failure of our response, which focuses on punishment?

So, what might one do about terrorists, then? Education. Until there’s an alternative to what is being taught, what choice does a person have? If there’s only one source of water… they will drink there.

If we pull our heads out of the sand for a few minutes and look at the world around us we can witness catastrophes of all kinds happening at an escalating rate. We can point to war, climate change, etc. but what is really happening?

The results of our choices are showing up and we seem to be nearing the experience of “instant karma,” which refers to the immediate awareness of repercussions arising from those choices.

If our choices are delusional, born out of the chronic condition of separation I wrote about in the last post, we will continue to take sides against each other and maintain the suffering that results. But we could make different choices. We could model something different.

Imagine, if we personally demonstrated appreciation for each other, differences and all, if we let go of our addiction to trying to change others… what might that affect in our immediate relationships? What education would that provide, especially if we made it obvious that this sort freedom from coercion is enjoyable!

Life is sending us powerful messages right now. If we’re getting them, then we’re awakening to a new world of personal responsibility. Whether others know our thoughts and deeds is less important than the fact that we know them. That’s motivation enough for any person of integrity.

As the old saying goes, “To thine own self be true.” Perhaps that’s the real answer to constructive change, to simply be true to oneself and respect that others will do the same.


The Awakening Moment – Choosing Freedom

“As long as you think that the cause of your problem is “out there”
—as long as you think that anyone or anything is responsible for your suffering—
the situation is hopeless. It means that you are forever in the role of victim,
that you’re suffering in paradise.”

~ Byron Katie

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The most popular game in the world is the Blame Game, where you choose between three roles: victim, persecutor, and rescuer. But there’s another option.

That’s our necessary starting point for discussing how to choose freedom. As Byron Katie said in the above quote, “As long as you think that anyone or anything is responsible for your suffering, the situation is hopeless.”

So, is your situation hopeless or hopeful? An honest answer to that question will immediately alert you to your degree of personal investment in the Blame Game. Read on if you’re interested in playing a different game.

Anyone who identifies as a victim – and they can usually prove why they truly are a victim – is living in an illusion of separation. That illusion generates this formulaic result: separation = conflict = suffering.

Let’s take them one at a time but first establish the inconvenient truth that to relieve suffering one must address this chronic problem of separation. Working on conflict resolution is not enough, if the source problem remains unaddressed.

Separation from what? We can start a list with separation from God. Ironically, one technique we’ve perfected for that is called religion. Religion separates us from God by inserting a priest, rabbi, or guru between “me and Him.” Apparently we need that middleman.

Of course, religions are separate from another as well. In fact, true believers routinely go to war with each other, each claiming that God is on their side. That’s separation!

Nature. What about our separation from nature? For many millions of people, nature is no more than a vague backdrop. Consider the successful business man who rides an elevator to underground parking, drives to work, takes an elevator up to his office, goes to a restaurant for lunch, has cocktails after work, drives to the theater or home… day after day separated from nature. Of course, he or she may jog… but that’s about fitness, not simply enjoying a connection with the natural world.

Separation means that conflict is inevitable. The “other” is a problem. Wherever we have built a conceptual wall between ourselves and other people, other beliefs, other customs and practices, etc., conflict will follow and turf wars are not primarily geographical. Sports fans routinely fight each other, based on allegiance to their teams.

There’s no simple remedy for a chronic malady like the disease of separation and the conflict it produces, but nature can sure help. “Forest bathing is the practice of taking a short, leisurely visit to a forest for health benefits. The practice originated in Japan where it is called shinrin-yoku.” 1

The Wikipedia entry goes on to state: “Studies in Japan have measured changes in immune markers and stress hormones in people who regularly walked in specific forests in Japan. In addition, people with diabetes but not taking insulin found substantial benefits by lowering blood glucose levels.”

Of course, nature provides more than physical health benefits. Being in nature, where everything is so obviously connected, can restore our sense of being included, of belonging. And that’s what so much suffering is about. Regardless of our exploding global population, loneliness has become epidemic and, as a recent New York Times article stated, “Researchers have found mounting evidence linking loneliness to physical illness and to functional and cognitive decline. As a predictor of early death, loneliness eclipses obesity.” 2

Separation = conflict = suffering. Inevitably.

But there is another option. We can choose freedom. We can embrace what I call “the awakening moment.” When is that moment? Right now.

This awakening is not necessarily about content. That is, we don’t need to have some sort of remarkable epiphany to experience waking up. Think about your experience this morning. You probably just… woke up!

The spiritual corollary is similar. It just happens, and it’s not usually that dramatic. It’s also easy to describe. The choice for freedom, embracing the awakening moment, exiting the Blame Game, happens when we take responsibility for authoring our own experience. Victims don’t do that.

BTW, we are where we are. It’s easy to judge ourselves and others but this is it… this moment is either the moment to be a victim or the moment to be free, including all our judgments, concepts, etc. Nothing needs to change in this moment except our choice. Everything else follows.

Either we will suffer in paradise, as Byron Katie warned, or we can enjoy this moment. Some choice!

That’s true freedom.



Freedom 2 – When Would Now Be a Good Time to Feel Free?

“The secret to happiness is freedom…
And the secret to freedom is courage.”

~ Thucydides

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It’s said by some that freedom isn’t free. That’s both true and misleading. Yes, we must pay attention to maintain our freedoms but we are all born free, without needing to do anything at all to earn it.

There’s an effective Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) motivational technique of inserting “now” into a statement, as I did in the subtitle of this blog. “When would now be a good time to feel free?” This is a perfect example of the technique and it raises an interesting question:

If we’re pursuing something, doesn’t it mean we don’t have it? The U.S. constitution guarantees us the right to “the pursuit of happiness.” This suggests that happiness is something to chase, something that we don’t already have. Similarly, the quest for freedom suggests the same limitation.

There is no doubt that slavery exists. Things may have changed legally but recent eruptions of racism have sadly revealed that many Americans do feel prejudiced against certain “others.” Ironically, this means that they are enslaved by their own beliefs, restricted to “us and them” conflict where security becomes an every day worry and gated communities become a symbol of what’s going on inside people.

What conditions would need to be put in place for you and I to feel free? It’s easy to think of the obvious. Having more money frees us to purchase what we need to keep ourselves and our families fed and sheltered. Good weather, loving friends, a friendly community… there are countless aspects of our lifestyle that can contribute to feeling free, and happy.

But let’s consider this on a deeper level. Without negating the necessity of developing those lifestyle components that ease the survival burdens of 21st century life, what gets in the way of feeling free? Because we all know that some people make the most of a lousy circumstance while others can feel enslaved midst enviable circumstances. A line from the Eagles song, Lying Eyes, comes to mind: “Late at night, the big old house gets lonely.”

In other words, having wealth does not guarantee happiness, freedom, or anything else. As I said in the last blog, freedom is an inside job. But it takes courage to be truly free, as Thucydides wrote hundreds of years ago.

So, what about that turn of phrase: “When would now be a good time to feel free?” Let’s get serious about answering that question. How about it? What’s limiting you from feeling free right now. Generate a list. See how many obstacles you can name.

Here’s some examples: I need a better job, want a different government, more money please, if only my husband would change, wait until my kids get through college, I’ve got to lose another ten pounds, etc.

And then, of course, there’s the big issues like climate change.

When we link our experience of freedom to external factors over which we have limited control we doom ourselves to slavery; it’s that simple. However, when we realize that freedom is an inside job and decide to bring freedom into our circumstances – rather than trying to extract freedom, or happiness, from our circumstances, things change instantly.


Breaking Chains

I call this self-empowerment. You make that choice to contribute. You choose to flip 180 degrees, from a taker to a giver and it happens in a split second. Of course, you need to keep doing it, over and over again, especially in situations where you have felt disempowered or overpowered by forces that seem to oppress you.

Some of them may. But what’s your reaction? What’s your habitual reaction? As I mentioned in the last blog, Nelson Mandela emerged from over twenty years of imprisonment with an attitude of forgiveness. He developed that while in prison!

What’s your prison? How long have you been in there? When would now be a good time to break out?

When we take this attitude, we learn that the door to whatever prison we have been languishing in, sometimes for years, was never locked. It was always up to us to claim freedom for ourselves. Isn’t that amazing?

I encourage you to take inventory of where you feel free and where you don’t. Certainly, there are environmental factors that play a large part in this and you can apply yourself to creating improvements there. But you can also work on the inside to examine your attitude and empower yourself, simply by deciding to follow Gandhi’s sage advice, to “be the change you wish to see in the world.”

That’s true freedom.


Freedom 1 – Freedom is an Inside Job

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains,
but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

~ Nelson Mandela


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True freedom is an inside job. Regardless of circumstance, we can feel enslaved or liberated. It’s a personal choice.

Freedom is one of those values that means something different to everyone. Rather than staking out my own position on this, I’d rather explore aspects of freedom we can all easily agree with.

For starters, Mandela’s quote emphasizes that freedom is more than a value to enjoy for oneself. It must include others. He should know, having been imprisoned for over twenty years. What’s remarkable about his story is that, among many marvels, he developed a loving friendship with his personal guard. And when he was released, he expressed no bitterness towards those who had imprisoned him. He went on to become President of South Africa on a platform of forgiveness.

He demonstrated that it’s possible to feel free even in jail. Now, that puts our own challenges into perspective!

One online definition of freedom is “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.” That’s true but limited. True freedom includes enjoying life as part of the whole. Typically, we humans have excluded ourselves through our concept of exceptionalism, resulting in the epidemic of loneliness that has skyrocketed suicide rates in recent years.

Even with expensive toys to play with and conveniences to make life easier, thousands of people every year end their lives because they simply don’t want to live any more. They may or may not feel free to “act, speak, or think as (they) want without hindrance or restraint” but they are obviously not free within themselves. A friend just told me about an acquaintances daughter who was recently released from a rehab center where she paid $95,000 a month for treatment of her alcoholism. Not only did the treatments fail, she’s become psychotic.

Another friend told me a story about a doctor who was called to the hospital bedside of a patient who had tried suicide unsuccessfully. When he arrived, he found her surrounded by sympathetic family members. He took a different approach.

“What a loser,” he said. “You couldn’t even do this right.” Of course, family members were shocked and offended. But before they could protest, he added: “If you really feel you’re so worthless, then you should end your life. But all of us here love you. We know your value and we wish you did too. Why don’t you start loving yourself as much as we love you and get a real life?”

Apparently, this application of tough love worked. His patient was jolted to her senses and went on to recover and live a long life. Others in her situation are not as fortunate to have someone to help break the spell of disempowerment that propelled them to such a desperate precipice.

This case illustrates a phenomenon that some researchers are exploring, that many people are actually in a trance-like state much of the time. And, that identifying and understanding that state might be a step towards liberating them from their traumatic wounding. As one blog on hypnosis states, “Identifying the deep trance phenomena behind a problem points the way to a solution, as that trance state can be changed or broken. This raises the interesting possibility that hypnosis works by bringing people out of unhelpful trance states – unhypnotizing them, in effect!” 1

It’s illuminating to ponder our own condition of freedom or lack of freedom from this perspective. How free am I, how free are you, moment to moment, from trance-like conditions that limit a full experience of life?

Prejudice certainly comes to mind. We all have them but may not realize their influence on our day to day experience. For instance, presented with an unusual opportunity might provoke an unconscious defense. If it took shape as words we might say, “Sorry, I don’t do that.”

Why not?

Perhaps this is where the phrase, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” originated. For instance, some people might feel it’s too late to begin meditating. Why? Meditation has been proven effective in reducing stress and increasing enjoyment of the simple things in life. When would it ever be too late to do that? It certainly doesn’t require special skills, it doesn’t take much time, and it’s free!

We all want freedom in our lifestyle and liberation inside our minds. And we can easily achieve both: just treat every moment as an opportunity to express an attitude summed up by the words, “I’m free to be myself in this moment!” and learn mindfulness techniques like meditation to free yourself from the bombardment of negative thoughts, one of which might be “I’m not free.”


Progress – Crossing the Finish Line… Never

“The real meaning of enlightenment
is to gaze with undimmed eyes on darkness.”

~ Nikos Kazantzakis

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We can be drawn to the light and ever remain a planet, or we can become the sun for our world.

There’s a story about a man in a mental institution who spent all night every night beside his window with a bucket, frantically scooping at the air and finally collapsing at sunrise with a relieved sigh: “I finally got all the darkness out of this room.”

Are we any less crazy? How much faith do we have in sunrise? So many of us object to the darkness – in whatever form it comes – and feel we must act to get rid of it. We can take issue with other’s sexual orientation, their politics, their lifestyles. And we can champion alternatives, sure that we know what’s best for them. Do we?

This reminds me of the story about a boy scout who retuned to headquarters battered and bruised, with his clothes torn. “What happened to you?” asked his scout master?

“I helped an old lady across the street,” he replied.

“But what happened?”

“She didn’t want to go!”

That’s what happens when we impose our will on others, even with the best of intentions. And why do we do that? Because we decide that something is wrong and we know how to fix it. In other words, the way things are right now needs to change. For spiritual seekers, it means that this could never be enlightenment.

Author and blogger Roy Biancalana writes, “… any practice, method or teacher that promises some future result, some future realization should be avoided. By holding out the “carrot of promise,” that one day you’ll go to heaven, they actually keep you from it. You are turned into a Greyhound dog chasing the rabbit at the dog track. You keep chasing the damn thing and you can never catch it. But if you stop chasing, if you stop seeking, the rabbit will come all the way around and hit you right in the ass! “It” finds you when you stop seeking “It.” 1

There is no finish line for enlightenment, regardless of what any religious program may promise. To conceive of enlightenment as a result is to fundamentally misunderstand what it is. True enlightenment is well described in the opening quote: “The real meaning of enlightenment is to gaze with undimmed eyes on darkness.”

One is enlightened when one is shining. “Be the light!” could be the best spiritual advice available. Of course, to be the light we need to be lit up and no one can do that disconnected from the source of light. We are transmitters of light but the transmission doesn’t start with ourselves. Something gives us life, moment by moment, and that is what we can transmit.

Something is beating your heart. Something is steering the stars. Something is ensuring that billions of simultaneous activities everywhere in the cosmos somehow coordinate together to give us the stability we depend on to simply function. We can call it what we want to and disagree on words and beliefs but the reality remains. And we have faith in “it.” We don’t worry that we’ll wake up one morning and fall off the earth.

Since humans began to think we’ve wondered about our place in all this. Of course, the search for answers, the quest for personal meaning and a more understanding of the purpose of life will never end. The path is endless and it doesn’t proceed in a straight line. We can acknowledge our human birth and death as beginning and ending points for this human experience, but the deeper we explore the path of awakening the less constrained we feel between those two book ends. As we sense more of a kinship with life itself, the life that informs our bodies, we begin to transcend those limitations.

Our basic understanding of self begins to transform and it leads to this liberating realization: “I will never be enlightened.”

You may become “enlightening,” that is, you may develop into someone who brings light into the circumstances of your life. You may evolve your understanding and experience in ways that mark you as an advanced human but not through what you believe or think or say or even do, but because of the bright revelation of who you are, moment by moment.

And, darkness wouldn’t scare you. Think about it: where is light needed most? Where there’s lots of light already present or where there’s darkness to dispel? Not with a bucket, struggling to right a wrong, but with the natural rising of the sun, the arrival of one’s own shining presence.

During this series of blogs we’ve explored what is and what isn’t spiritual progress. Now, here in the last one, we can expose the big lie about enlightenment. Yes, there will be more “progress” to make – for the rest of our lives! But this is the moment to shine.

You are already “it.”


Progress – The Reason for Being

“Whatever you think the world is withholding from you,
you are withholding from the world.”

~ Eckhart Tolle


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What can assist us along our journey of awakening? Everything the world gives us… plus everything we give the world.

“It is better to give than to receive” is a well-known phrase attributed to Jesus and it champions the natural generosity of spirit. If we want a tangible example, just look in the sky. The sun gives its light and warmth regardless of anything it receives. Another Biblical quote says that the “rain falls on the just and the unjust alike.” It’s comical to imagine these forces of nature negotiating!

What’s being illuminated is no-strings-attached kind of giving, giving without thought of reward. Most of us have experienced how enjoyable this is. In fact, it’s said that if you are feeling badly, the best way to make yourself feel better is to help someone else.

In fact, human beings are designed to give and receive freely. We all know it, we have memories of those kinds of exchanges, where our motivation was simply to share. Exchanges that involve money and things often engage other motivations, like greed and fear. A sentiment creeps in: “How can I get the most for myself while spending the least?” Everyone likes a deal.

In these last few blogs we’ve been exploring themes related to the direct experience of spirit in our lives. We can avoid the debate about what to call “it” and focus on the experience. What helps and what interferes with our growing experience of spirit?

A primary obstacle is our belief that spirit is disconnected from form, that “this is not it.” It’s easy to take issue with what’s going on right now, imagining that something is wrong and wishing things were different, wishing they were more “spiritual.” On that basis, we distance ourselves from the unconditional giving and receiving that reconnects us with the natural way of life.

A stream does not complain when a hiker walking by shifts a few rocks. It flows around or over them. Imagine the stream saying: “I preferred the way those rocks were before… I was flowing perfectly. I wish it was the way it was before. In fact, I refuse to flow now. Until that thoughtless person rearranges the rocks exactly as they were… I quit!”

Similarly, imagine the sun refusing to shine because it’s cloudy. “Forget it. I’m not shining when no-one can see me. I’ll wait until those clouds dissipate.”

Withholding love as a kind of punishment is often used to motivate people, a kind of emotional blackmail. Of course, we do it to ourselves as well. In a prior blog we considered the quality of our thoughts. That inner critic has a lot to say about how inadequate we are. We withhold love from ourselves for any number of reasons but, again, it all comes down to one primary judgement: “This is not it.” What I said or did, what she said or did, what they are doing… it doesn’t match personal judgments about merit.

What if we were to reverse our position and assume that whatever is happening is happening for good reason? That nothing of value is ever being withheld from us and that there is never any reason to withhold love from ourselves and others?

This describes unconditional love, which includes both giving and receiving. Love flows both ways. So, we might take a moment to examine our personal habits around this. How able are we to welcome the gifts of the moment – the warmth of the sun (seen or unseen), the rain as it falls, circumstances complete with challenges, people who do and say things we disagree with – and how able are we to give back freely, unconditionally?

Seeking enlightenment is a high path but where does that path exist? Have we conceptualized it as some kind of inner journey best aided by meditation and peak spiritual experiences? If so, we’re probably excluding 95% or more of the possibilities for making true spiritual progress. Or does it exist in the real world where we live, complete with daily details?

What if we re-framed this journey as a deepening of capacity to appreciate (and to freely give and receive) the gifts of the world? Imagine calibrating our fulfillment, neither in terms of what we’ve acquired nor the inner state we attain? How about a spirituality that included everything and everyone 24/7, that made no distinctions between what had value and what didn’t?

As Eckhart Tolle said in the opening quote, “Whatever you think the world is withholding from you, you are withholding from the world.” How the world changes when we take this piece of wisdom personally and commit to giving and receiving unconditionally. Suddenly, this is it! All of it.

Ironically, that’s the destination we’ve always aimed for, what some call enlightenment. Could it really be this simple?