Finding Our Way Back to Freedom, Contentment and Joy
A Returning to the Spiritual and so to Meaning and Purpose in our Lives
By: J. Marlando
We all would like to be free and content in our lives. Few people ever obtain either much less both. Plato explained this by comparing our human condition to slaves who are chained inside a cave facing an inner wall. All they can see are the shadows of people and objects passing by who are on the outside of the cave. In time the slaves grow to accept the shadows as reality itself, while the source of the shadows is forgotten or ignored. This was Plato’s way of demonstrating how we ignore the spiritual in the way we construct reality for ourselves. The world after all and so life is what we deem it to be and so, if we see only the shadows and disregard the source we have, in our way, deemed the world as being spiritual-less. As a result we metaphorically remain likened to Plato’s slaves.
In modernism a great many people simply lack meaning and purpose in their lives. This lacking is a direct result of their diminishing knowledge of a God-Presence in life itself. There were really only four major thinkers that influenced the Western mind to (1) become agnostics or (2) atheists and/or (3) devoted materialists.
The first was Rene Descartes (1596-1650) who took God out of Nature and placed “him” as an outside observer in some mysterious place beyond our experience. The second was Charles Darwin (1809-1882) who gave us the theory of evolution taking God out of creation. The third was Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) who announced to the world that, “God is dead” followed by number four, Jean-Paul Sartre (1005-1980) who gave us the concept of “being and nothingness” the root theories of modern day existentialism. And, we’ll name a fifth as long as we are listing those most responsible for taking the spiritual out of Nature. Richard Dawkins (1941-20--) declared that, “We are survival machines—robot vehicles blindly programed to preserve the selfish molecules known to us as genes.”
The above five men became the western world’s heroes amidst many scientists and scholars. Indeed, in many universities atheism became and remains fashionable. In fact, from this crowd of self-anointed intellectuals arrived the reductionists. That is, scientists, researchers and other scholars who see us (and all living things) as merely the totality of our physical parts. This has gone so far that many even deny consciousness at least in the sense that the rest of us understand it. To them, we are mere gene machines following the course of our genetic dictates from cradle to grave.
Just for the record and as a quick aside, one major way that this rather depressing view spread throughout the western world was not because most people ever read any of the written works by those I’ve mentioned in the above but because of basic memetics—college kids arrogantly arguing against traditional beliefs with their parents and significant others, substantiated by coffee house chatter among themselves. Both eventually begin flowing throughout entire cultures as waves of thought soon enough turning into social beliefs such as “bad girls do and good girls don’t. Then too, college kids grow up and enter society themselves taking their ideas and beliefs with them. They pass their beliefs down to their children and quite suddenly new paradigms emerge.
In regard to the above, remember that we human beings live more in concepts than ever anything truly objective. Indeed, if I were to name one essential for a person to becoming truly free it would be to leave his or her concepts by the wayside. All ideologies and dogmas, for example, are floating strategies and grounded only to the level that one is convinced of their validity. Children who believe that how much Santa will bring them on Christmas Eve depends on how well they mind are absolute examples of what I am talking about here. In fact, most so-called civilized societies work on this identical (floating Santa) strategy with their citizenry.
In any case, by the time we were somewhere in the 1700s, the spiritual had been forgotten by most and the religious was taking precedence in the minds of people. I say minds and leave out hearts because the Big-3 religions Christianity, Judaism and Islam are intellectual constructs as opposed to being emotionally experienced. Well, that is, spirituality invariably begins in the heart and makes it way to the brain while religion is just the opposite of this; it begin in the mind and then works its way into the heart…for believers!
What is the difference between spirituality and religion?
Religion most basically separates people from their god creating the church, temple or mosque as the pathway between the two—religions, by and large, project God to be outside of the time/space world; as an observer and final judge that rewards and punishes at will. Spiritualism projects God-presence in all things. Indeed, there is an old Zen story of a student pointing out a cat climbing a pole to a master. He asks the master which is god, the cat or the pole. And the master replies, ask the pole.
In many ways religion limits our ability to know God because it centers itself as God’s interpreter and keeps everything as being separate—God is separate from world, man is separate from the world and the church, by any other name, centers itself somewhere between the two. Earnest Holmes, however, tells us that “If we think of ourselves as being separated from the Universe, we shall be limited by this thought, for it is the belief in separation from God which binds and limits. (Well worth contemplating, I believe).
A lot of people tend to lose enthusiasm in life. They fall into ruts and routines, mustering the energy to go through the process but living in a kind of limbo where nothing and everything mold together into a kind of status quo. The very term “enthusiasm” has interesting roots. It comes from ancient Greek and means, filled with God.
Being “filled with God” doesn’t mean to be like the radicals who mostly preach church doctrine in tones of self-righteousness. When one is truly filled with God there is no holier-than-thou-ness, in fact quite the opposite. Jesus, for example came eating and drinking with sinners such as tax collectors and prostitutes. The prudish of his community complained but Jesus said, if a person has a hundred sheep and one wonders off, doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine and go looking for the lost one? And when he finds it, isn’t he filled with happiness and contentment and doesn’t he rejoice with his friends and neighbors that he had found the sheep that was lost.
It is quite impossible for one to find the God-presence in himself and not in all others. When we return to the spiritual we become the lost sheep come home and the lost sheep come home is both free and content and we give witness to the possibility of freedom and contentment in all others. He no longer judges since to judge is to be separate and being separate one is always more lost than found.
When we think about Jesus we recall that one his most vital messages was that the Kingdom of God was within. The church changed this to suit their purposes later but originally this is what Jesus is known to have said. But how does one enter that Kingdom?
Jesus answers this question in the Gospel of Thomas. It tells us that Jesus saw little ones receiving milk and he said:
These little ones receiving milk
are like those who enter into the kingdom.
They said to him:
If we are little ones,
Will we enter the kingdom?
Jesus said to them:
When you make the two one
And make the inside like the outside
and the outside like the inside,
and the upper side like the underside,
and (in such a way) that you make the man
(with) the woman a single one,
In order that that the man is not man and the
woman is not woman;
when you make eyes in place of an eye
and a hand in place of a hand,
and a foot in place of a foot,
an image in place of an image:
then you will go into [the kingdom].
What was being taught here?
The first lesson is to simply be non-judgmental, to grasp our oneness with others; to leave our sexism and racism by the wayside and be like the child, both open minded and open hearted. When we recall the “the kingdom” is within, we easily grasp why it is important to make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside. One cannot live in the freedom, contentment and joy of the kingdom but at the same time, walk a worldly path of discontent, and in the reflections of one’s own value judgments. That is, we have all heard someone say something like, I am a good person on the inside I just don’t always live that goodness.
While this describes most everyone to one extent or another it is acknowledging the exact opposite of the above teaching—as human beings we have become more and more detached from each other in both private and public life. As *Martin Buber would remind us, we live in an “I” and “it” world…and “I” and “thou” world. We have even created God someplace far out of sight from the walled cities of our minds but after all, we have created a Pulpit god in the image of a priest or preacher who stands between “us” and a “God-presence” in our lives. The general Sunday consensus is love thy neighbor as yourself as long as he reflects you and your beliefs.
This prejudice is not restricted to Christians but belongs to Judaism and the Islamic personality as well; more to the Muslim perhaps because he is indoctrinated to exist with an “us” and “them” worldview….to him he is “here” and everyone who is not in his sameness is “over there.” This was the mentality of the old crusades.
This is extreme centralism and this too is at the root of the problems we’re pointing toward here—we all tend to live our lives as if our beliefs, customs and totems are the beliefs, customs ad totems and all those who are different or do not agree or dance to our tunes are placed outside the center where we imagine ourselves being. This in fact is the very rock that so-called civilization was built on; the “us” and “them” reality!
What Jesus, Buddha and so many other wise teachers have taught throughout the millenniums is that there is no center. The concept of centers is illusion! This illusion, however, has separated person from person, group from group, religion from religion and nation from nation since the first walled city was built some ten thousand to fifteen thousand years ago. Nearly all the bloodshed and unnecessary pain and suffering in our world (past and present) has arisen out of the belief in centers. This is result of separating ourselves from the aspects of the spiritual, the creating God into our own image and then naming that image deity.
As long as we dwell in centers we will continue to be likened to Plato’s slaves in a cave. The difference is that we are not shackled, we can turn and, so to speak, abandon the shadows for the sunlight; we can walk away in God-presence by simply deciding to. We can find our ways back to freedom, contentment and joy.
But how, some readers may be asking.
We will attempt to answer that question next.
Be receptive to God-presence in all things—not only other people but in birds and animals, the trees and stones, the very grass beneath your feet. As a modern human being you will probably find this difficult at first, a bit weird or silly but this is the sowing of the spirit, the permitting the inner-kingdom to manifest into the outside world of others.
All this is really saying is walk in love today. By walking in love you walk in God-ness, and walking in God-ness you will be in the spirit of compassion and kindness.
Refuse to walk in judgment today. Follow the teaching of **Carolyn Hobbs who says:
When you notice a judgment, any judgment, say yes inside. Let yes ride the in and out of your breath. Label it, “judging, judging” and let it go. Bringing your awareness back into the present moment to what your eyes are seeing, your hands are touching. Notice how the judgment feels in your body. Notice which thoughts and stories it triggers. Ask, “What am I getting out of judging myself (or others) right now?
Practice experiencing Nature that is permeated by consciousness; of God-presence! In regard to this, there is an old Arapaho proverb that tells us this: All plants are our brothers and sisters. They talk to us and if we listen, we can hear them.
Practice loving yourself today because you cannot give what you do not have and anyway, if you have no self-love, love for others is impossible. You can only love yourself and your world to the extent that you love you.
By doing only this much you will begin expanding your center to encompass the entire Universe. And in the doing you will have returned to freedom, contentment and…joy. Once this occurs, both meaning and purpose will naturally unfold in the rest of your life.
*SEE Martin Buber, “I and Thou,” book of the month club
**Hobbs, Carolyn * joy No Matter What *Conari Press