Freedom in Letting Go

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“Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a seed; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” John 12:24

The Easter season is a time when we witness firsthand the miracle of new life. Fruit trees leaf out and blossom. The grass turns from brown to green. Flowers spring up everywhere. It is easy to relate to Jesus’ metaphor of the kernel of wheat transforming into a fruit-bearing plant.

In our hope for new life emerging in our own experience, we may not be quick to grasp the significance of the kernel first having to fall to the ground and dying. Jesus is pointing out that something must die before the new life emerges. In a larger context, his own crucifixion is an illustration of this point. The human was released and the divine emerged.

The kernel of wheat comes in many forms, often as some perceived outcome we anticipate. Letting go would, for us, indicate failure. In her book, Lessons in Truth, Emilie Cady made this wise observation:

Do not fear failure, but call failure good; for it really is. Did not Jesus stand an utter failure, to all appearances, when he stood dumb before Pilate, all his cherished principles come to naught, unwilling to deliver himself, or to demonstrate over the agonizing circumstances of his position?

What we see as failure may simply be the need to let go of the lesser so the greater can emerge. While we associate falling and dying with a failed ending, we need to remind ourselves that the end of the kernel is the beginning of the new, fruit-bearing plant.

If you are going through a time of uncertain change, take time to consider all the new life emerging around you. This is the Spring of your life. The old kernels are dying so new growth can come forth. There is no failure in God, and you are in God.

The Message of Easter

“Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a seed; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” John 12:24

Easter, which focuses on the death and resurrection of Jesus, is considered the most important element of the Christian faith. Humankind was condemned to suffering and death at that moment Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden. Jesus, it is believed, gave his life for those willing to accept and profess this ultimate sacrifice as their only hope for eternal life.

The above passage from John, written approximately twenty years after the death of Jesus, was undoubtedly intended by the author as a literary device intended to foreshadow the coming crucifixion. And yet it is so much more than this. The life of the fruit-bearing plant emerges from the death of the seed. The potential within the seed cannot be unleashed unless the shackles of the seed-self are broken. Only then can the seed submit to the transforming process of becoming something much greater than an individual kernel. One seed cannot fall to the ground, die, and be transformed for another. Each seed must engage in its own death and emergence as something more than it is at present.

The seed represents our self-image and the perception of the world we have created as existing apart from God. Using this seed metaphor, we look at the Easter story as the death of the human self and the emergence of the divine. We are not to merely witness or proclaim as a cornerstone of faith this seemingly miraculous event. We are to engage in the very process itself. Not even a Jesus can eradicate the shackles of the self-image of another. Every person must take up his or her own cross, so to speak, and commit to this transformation.

We are looking for freedom from this earthly bondage. Because we cannot find it here, we have projected the achievement of ultimate freedom into the afterlife. From the Christian perspective, the condition is that we accept Jesus’ death as our only means to this glorious end. True salvation, however, is found neither in the act of another nor in a profession of faith that such an act is true. We must actually die to the seed-self that restricts us so that our fruit-bearing soul may emerge.

The seed is not punished for remaining a seed. It is simply being shown that the seed life it clings to can never deliver the freedom it longs for. The cost of one’s spiritual freedom cannot be paid by another. Each must submit to their own soul-searching process of falling to the ground and dying to their seed-self. And we’re not talking about the great reward in the afterlife. The seed and the plant inhabit the same world, but they experience it quite differently. So it is with us. We do not find our spiritual fulfillment elsewhere. We experience it to the degree that we become willing to let go of our body-based identity and come to know ourselves as the boundless soul that we are in truth.

The message of Easter is an invitation to reconsider what it is we are waiting for. Pluck one seed from a handful and drop it to the ground. Each kernel that remains in the hand witnesses and marvels at the transformation undergone by their fellow seed. They discuss it for generations and it becomes so far removed from their understanding of their seed-based reality that they come to believe that particular seed was something different from themselves. It was obviously a highly evolved, specially chosen seed that had become worthy of being selected.

Not so. The relevance and power of the accomplishment of one is found in the truth that it is just like the others. The difference is not in ability. The difference is in the power of choice based on a broader understanding of what a seed actually is.

The invitation of Easter stands for all. We can struggle within the confines of the self-image and hope that a savior passes by. We can bide our time and anticipate salvation in the afterlife, doing our best in the meantime to stay on the straight and narrow. Or, we can embrace the message of Easter as our story, our opportunity to rethink our presence here as something much more than a seed cursed with the unquenchable desire to bear much fruit. We can engage in our own Easter process in a way that fulfills our deepest longing for the truth that actually sets us free.

The Fullness of Emptiness

Many who teach the philosophy of nonduality encourage the practice of self-inquiry. This involves the process of letting go of all roles connected with title, gender, the act of spiritual seeking, long-held spiritual perceptions, concerns around age, all ambition, goals and intentions, personal history, marital and parental status, education, place in family, regrets of the past, anticipation of the future, today’s to-do list … everything. The idea is to bring your awareness to that part of you–the I–that requires no effort to sustain, that very essence that you are. For those who struggle with meditation, this practice may provide a more concrete approach to reaching a profound point of stillness.

In letting go of all these things, you are emptying the vessel that is the self-image. Jesus referenced such a practice when he said,

And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life (Matthew 19:29).

To leave these things does not necessarily mean we are to literally divest ourselves of them. In the safety of our own quiet time, we let everything go so we may experience that part that needs no propping up, that needs no further achievement of anything to make us more than we already are in truth. Jesus’ phrase, “for my sake,” is not a personal reference to himself. It is, rather, a way of saying, for the sake of the truth I am teaching. Spend periods mentally and emotionally letting go of all these pursuits and relationships and delve down into the very core of your being, that part of you that needs none of them to simply be. Here you find your complete soul.

The self-image has tricked us into believing that we are not enough, that something more needs to be added to become whole. We need to find our other half, or make enough money to gain power and control, or get that degree to prove to the world that we are capable of handling anything that comes our way, at least in our chosen field.

I was thinking about all of this as my wife and I undertook the project of stripping old wax from the kitchen floor. Over the years, as the floor appeared to need something more to make it look better, layer after layer of wax was applied. As we stripped the floor to its original condition, we were totally amazed how good the floor looked. We had considered replacing it only to discover that removing all those layers of wax was what was really needed.

The self-image is layers of accumulated buildup of things we’ve added, often to compensate for feelings of inadequacy. This is not to say that everything we have achieved or acquired is our attempt to fill some empty space. A loving relationship, for example, is a good thing as long as we’re not trying to use another person to make us feel whole. The best relationship is not two half-people trying to make a whole. It’s two whole people coming together to share from their strengths. Likewise, the best relationship you can have with your work is one where you are giving to it as much as it is giving to you. Those who work only for a paycheck or benefits are not usually interested in giving more than they have to.

I’m sure most of us have been in both kinds of situations. You may be in one now. In all cases, the practice of self-inquiry will provide some enlightening benefits. You and I are not lacking power, peace or the inspiration to engage life at an exciting level. The weight of the baggage we carry has no value, as it provides the illusion that this weight is actually a signal that something more needs to be added. In truth, much needs to be released. Nothing is needed to compensate for the wholeness of the soul, for the soul needs no compensation. Think of this kind of releasing as self-denial, or self-image denial. Denial is not the art of pretending a thing does not exist; it is a letting go of all those pieces of baggage that blur our spiritual vision.

Spend quality time stripping yourself down to your original “floor” and you’ll quickly see that you already have what you’ve been trying to get from people, places, and things. When Jesus said that by letting go you will gain a hundred times as much, he was pointing to the fact that your world will look like a very different place when you are free of this taskmaster that is your self-image. You will never acquire what it is telling you that you need for happiness. Nor do you need to. But you will never know this for sure until you free yourself from the task of trying to fill this bottomless pit and make a conscious connection with the truth of your present, spiritual completeness.

Issue With the Self-Image

Question: If the self-image is the problem that you say it is, why is it so difficult to get rid of? Why isn’t the soul more assertive?

I have pointed out that I prefer to use the term self-image over ego because it encompasses more than we’ve been programmed to think. I think we could all agree that an inflated ego is a spiritual hindrance worthy of letting go. Few would agree that a shining self-image is as much a hindrance to the soul as the inflated ego. The reason for this is that everybody loves the shining self-image, the effervescent personality. Couple this with an attractive body and a pretty face and you have a winning combination, a magnet for success.

The self-image, in whatever form it comes, is our interpretation of a version of the self we think the world wants to see. It may be totally free of the characteristics we associate with an aggressive ego. It may be sweet, completely docile and give the impression that it thinks only of others. What the world cannot see is that this type self-image can be just as hungry for the approval of others as can the flamboyant egotist. Sweet or brash, neither self-image rests in the soul. Both are seeking compensation for the feeling that something essential is missing. They just go about it in different ways.

It is probably a mistake to set out to “get rid” of the self-image. We will more likely end up exchanging one version for another. The self-improvement industry is loaded with techniques designed to boost the self-image into a more polished look. It has, for example, become wildly popular to teach self-love as a healthy place to begin. Granted, loving your created self feels better than loathing it, but it does not free you of the need to continually try to escape it. Self-love, you hope, will somehow manifest as better conditions that will make you a happier person. Women in particular are targeted with this type of propaganda, encouraged to roar shamelessly to somehow prove their worth. It looks like an inside-out approach, but it’s really not. It’s just more noise from the inadequate self-image.

The ability to discern the difference between the soul and the self-image is critical to moving the I to its proper spiritual foundation. If you’re trying to change yourself to a more spiritual version, you are probably acting amiss. Your soul resides at the purest, easiest most natural level of your being. You don’t create it. You don’t enhance it. You find it. Until you find it, your value system will be grounded in this surface self forever in need of something more to make it feel okay.

If you were abused as a child or as a spouse, you may struggle with issues of worthiness. Trying to build worthiness into your self-image takes you away from the very source of power and self-worth that has always been yours. The soul is in no need of improvement or reinventing. The more you open your mind to its presence, the more you experience a natural shift in values. You will spend less time propping up an eternally inadequate self-image and more time practicing what it really means to let your genuine light shine.

Making Sense of the Senses

Question: When you talk about the senses-based self-image, it sounds as if you are saying the five senses pose the greatest obstacle to our spiritual growth. Would you mind elaborating on this?

This question touches on a very important point that is well worth further exploration. I have said on several occasions that there are no natural barriers to our spiritual growth. This will include the senses-based self-image or, using the terminology of nonduality, the body mind. Regardless of how spiritually incompatible the self-image becomes, it does not alter the condition of the soul. It does, however, alter the condition of our experience. So what does this mean?

The entire notion of soul evolution has grown out of a mediocre human experience. Because it feels as if something essential to our happiness and well-being is missing, we assume something more needs to be added. At first we try to compensate for this feeling of lack with accomplishments and possessions. Over time, we begin to notice that new acquisitions only temporarily mask this feeling that something is missing. This leads some to the conclusion that conditions of lack can only be eliminated by renouncing the senses and the personal ambition they generate. Others find it counter-intuitive to assume we stepped into this plane only to discover that our most spiritually elevated act is to renounce it. These may seek the more moderate balance between their material and spiritual needs by treating material challenges as lessons, opportunities to identify and rectify issues that originate at the soul level. Earth, from this perspective, becomes a school for the soul.

From the standpoint of the complete soul, we start with a different premise. Our earthly incarnation is a choice rather than a condition into which we were thrust, either against our will or as a means to the end of further soul development. If we accept that freedom of choice plays a significant role, then it isn’t a stretch to assume we took on a body simply for the earthly experience itself. Did we have clear knowledge of the many unforeseen issues we’ve encountered in this body? This would be like saying we chose the road trip and that unexpected engine failure.

Making the choice to have an overall experience is not the same as saying our soul chose specific negative events. This kind of rationale sends us on an endless tail-chasing quest trying to make spiritual sense of every unanticipated situation.

To the original question of whether the senses pose an obstacle to the spiritual experience, we need to first see the senses for what they are, and for what they are not. The body and its five senses provide the interface that allows us to interact with our environment. Without it, our soul could not enjoy a cup of coffee, communicate with our loved ones or pet our purring cat. Because the senses allow us to communicate and interact with our material environment, we obviously want them to operate at their full capacity. Our problem is not with the senses themselves, but with our interpretation of the information they provide. The self-image treats this ever-changing collection of information as reality. When our affairs are running smoothly, we are happy. When things go awry, we panic. Because of this, throughout any given day our state of mind can fluctuate as dramatically as the stock market. If our chart ends on a low point, we had a bad day. If it ends on a high, we had a good day.

Anchored in the self-image, we tie our quality of life to the condition of external affairs, an action that forces us to place a high premium on keeping our affairs positive. From this point of view we assume the highest use of mental and spiritual principles is to influence the course of our affairs. If we think positive, things will go our way. If we invoke affirmative prayer, God will provide.

The critical point that this outside-in approach misses is that it equates our state of affairs with our state of being, our quality of life. Our motive for spiritual inquiry, then, is prompted by the need to solve the problems generated by the restricted views of the self-image. Solving material problems, by any means, does not accomplish the balancing shift in awareness from the self-image to the soul. As soon as a given problem is solved, the spiritual inquiry ceases and the self-image returns to business as usual. Our so-called spiritual journey, then, becomes little more than an exercise in shoring up the many weaknesses of the self-image.

Your soul is 100% maintenance free. It has no need for food, shelter, transportation or money. In contrast, the body and the self-image we have constructed around it take the bulk of our attention. We become so entangled in addressing these needs that our universe centers on the body while the soul is pushed to the back burner. A practical teaching is measured by its ability to resolve body-based issues.

Consider this simple example of meeting a friend for lunch. To make this happen, you factor in things like weather, what you’ll wear, how you’ll get to the restaurant, the time the entire event will take, where you will sit when you get there, what you will eat, and so on. Even if everything goes as planned, the amount of body-oriented thought you put into this relatively simple outing is impressive. Your maintenance-free soul, on the other hand, requires no attention whatsoever. You can orchestrate this entire event, and a thousand just like it, without devoting a single thought to your soul. Has your lack of attention harmed the soul? Has your failure to acknowledge all those soul-enhancing opportunities for growth caused some sort of spiritual setback? No. The only thing that suffers from neglecting the soul is your quality of experience.

What do we mean by experience? Suppose you are sitting at your computer reading this post and some of the ideas inspire you to think of yourself and your life a bit differently. Suddenly you get an email from the friend with whom you had lunch. They are very upset over a comment you made in passing. Though your physical position remains the same (you are still sitting at your computer), in the matter of a few seconds, the quality of your life has changed. You have moved from inspired contemplation to the negative fallout from an unfortunate misunderstanding. Because you are deeply troubled by your friend’s email, the quality of your experience is instantly diminished.

Most of us will measure the quality of our experience by the external events that prompted the email. We’ll repeat the entire scene, reliving the details trying to figure out how our friend could have so misunderstood us. To calm this subjective storm, we decide we must talk with our friend and resolve the misunderstanding. We call with apologies and an explanation of why the conversation went as it did. In other words, we take objective steps to resolve a subjective disturbance.

While we do not want to discount the input of the senses, we want to remember that the identity and the perceptions we have built using the information they provide is but a thin atmospheric region surrounding the soul. The condition of the soul does not fluctuate with passing phenomena. Yes, we want to take responsible action toward the improvement of our conditions, and the starting place of all such action is the same.

When Jesus advised to seek first the kingdom and all other things would be added, he wasn’t suggesting that we turn to the great provider in the sky to solve the mental and emotional storms sparked by external conditions. He was pointing to a shift in awareness back to our center of power.

The soul remains eternally unperturbed. When the senses report chaos, we take note, but we remember the issue is occurring at the level of our physical interface. The quality of experience we seek remains within our reach, for it is our very essence. Nothing has the power to diminish or block the expression of the soul. Consciously connecting with your center of power provides you with a fresh interpretation of the information the senses report. We don’t want to shoot the messenger. We want to take into account the information the senses provide and utilize it from the strength of our soul.

See Rev. Doug’s Palm Sunday Talk on Youtube: View From the Threshold

View From the Threshold

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When Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last time, the Gospel account tells us that he rode the colt of a donkey and was greeted by crowds who threw their cloaks and palm branches on the ground before him. This is known as the Triumphal Entry and is commemorated on Palm Sunday.

Many interpretations are put forward concerning the significance of the crowd’s gesture. If we look at the three main elements of this story, we can form an interpretation that has significance to our own spiritual understanding. The three elements are earth, cloaks/palm branches, and Jesus. We have the earthly (road) and the divine (Jesus), and we have a point in between (cloaks and palms). While we might think of the cloaks and palms as a dividing point between two worlds, let’s think of them instead as a connecting point.

Let’s explore this idea with a simple illustration. Imagine opening the front door of your home and standing on the threshold. You can turn one way and face the inside then turn the other way and face the great outdoors. When you’re facing the interior, you are turned toward your personal habitation. When you face the outdoors, you are turned toward the habitation of many. You are gazing into the universal. You are, in this sense, the cloak and palm that stands between the two worlds of the personal and the universal.

Our tendency is to close ourselves inside the personal house of our self-image and view the world only from that perspective. We peer out our windows and get some sense of that world, but most of what we think we know about it we glean from the opinions of others. When we step outside our home, we see something very interesting. Ours is not the only house on the block. Ours is not the only block in town. Our town is not the only town in the state, and so on up to the very galaxy we inhabit and claim as our own. In other words, there is a vast world that begins right outside our door. We are the connecting point between the personal and the universal.

If you are going through a challenge, remember that you are looking only inside your house. You can turn and see that life is much greater than this defined space you call yourself.

Why Half?

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The perspective we hold has much to do with the way we approach the challenges in life. A way to get in touch with our perspective is to ask: Do I see this glass as half full or do I see it as half empty? In other words, am I approaching this issue from the standpoint of lack or from the standpoint of possibility? Let’s further challenge ourselves by asking, Why half? Why do we have to assume the glass is either half full or half empty? Why can’t we start with the assumption that the glass is already full?

We do not start with a full glass because, by all appearances, something in our situation is missing. The glass appears to be anything but full. From this point of view, we only have two options. Either we don the mantle of optimism and approach the issue as an opportunity to fill the glass, or we fall into the pessimism of resignation, accepting it as a sign of failure. The first perspective is a call to roll up our sleeves and get to work. The second is giving in to this failed cause.

What about this third option of seeing the glass as full? Isn’t this unrealistic, wishful thinking? The Psalmist apparently didn’t think so. In one of the most oft quoted biblical passages, he penned this powerful affirmation:

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows (Psalms 23:5).

The power of this passage is found in the fact that it is framed in present tense. He doesn’t say, You will eventually prepare a table, or You will anoint my head in the future, or you will one day fill my cup. He treats these things as if they are done now. The glass is full.

What does this mean? It means that the resolution you seek is now present. Because this is true, you may stop struggling to find it. This resolution may look entirely different from the one you are expecting. But why should this matter? The willingness to release your preconceived notions of both success and failure opens your mind to an entirely new set of possibilities. Rather than spend your time contemplating the half-full or half-empty question, you declare your glass is not only full but overflowing. Move through your day with this attitude and see what peace it brings.