The Immeasurable Mind

It was Emerson who challenged his readers “ … to live with the privilege of immeasurable mind.” I’ve always loved this statement, and to the extent that I have experienced it, have understood its value.

In my most recent exploration of nonduality, I have discovered that a few teachers who promise instant illumination. A student will ask how one enters the experience of oneness and the teacher will say, “Come, let’s do it now.” So he or she takes the student through an exercise where they experience a flash of pure awareness, a momentary dropping the baggage of the self-image and proclaim, “WOW!!!” It is as if that moment marks the beginning of their new life free of all the body-based distractions and attachments. My sense, however, is that most, if not all, will once again begin collecting the baggage they dropped in that emotional moment. It seems but another version of the intoxicating, hand-raising, born-again revival. All things seem possible with a charismatic speaker and the emotionally stimulating energy of two-thousand believers.

If I accept that the soul is complete and that there are no natural barriers between where I currently stand in my awareness and a full experience of the soul, why would I be skeptical of such claims? Because short of a dramatic shift in values, a brief and emotional moment that may positively stir dormant energies does not carry the power to lift us out of the gravity of the self-image. A speaker can lay out the logic, pose many leading questions that prompt a willing submission to leave the old and strike out for the new. The listener may, for one day, three days, a week, a month or a year, take their steps down this path before they find the shimmer of the new begins to fade. It’s like buying a new pair of shoes that you really love only to find they, like the old pair, eventually take the same form of your foot. Anything we put on is subject to aging. Only the actual and perpetual experience of the soul provides the longevity of newness we crave.

Material science says that even the most brilliant of our species uses approximately ten percent of the brain’s capacity. I believe it would be more accurate to say that the brain and body greatly restrict the soul’s capacity. Imagine the situation where your soul enters a body that has no limbs, is blind, deaf and unable to speak. And then you are told that you must learn to be happy in this situation. Before entering this body, your soul is complete. In time this body will die and your soul will be freed from its physical prison. What would be gained from such an experience? If the soul remains unaffected by taking on such a body, then what’s the point of the experience? The same can be said of taking on a whole and healthy body. It’s not about increasing brain power. It’s about soul recognition.

It is clear that most spiritually-minded people see their earthly tenure either as a test or as an educational opportunity for their soul. But it makes no sense to think something will be learned by anchoring an unlimited soul to a body for eighty-five or so years and then return it to its native state of freedom. The soul is free before entering the body and it is free when it lays down the body. It does not learn this freedom from grappling with the distractions of inhabiting a body.

So, if our soul is not here to learn, what’s the point in taking on a body? To bring this question into perspective, we must first drop the notion that the body and earthly experience are some kind of testing ground for the soul. These in no way shut down the capacity of the soul. The soul already knows more than anything we can learn on earth. The earthly experience triggers a shift in our center of gravity, from the soul to the self-image. This shift in values means that we now measure our perceived spiritual progress by mental, emotional and material standards. Because our quest for happiness becomes an endless attempt to bring the self-image into a state of peace and contentment, we brand ourselves as incomplete and we spend our lives trying to fill this void.

It is the self-image, not the soul, that feels the void. If any one of us could safely drop our body at this very moment, we would be astonished to discover that we already are everything and more that we have been looking for. The soul is in perfect harmony with the music of the spheres. The distortions and distractions of the self-image do not tarnish the soul in any way. Regardless of how far from the soul we stray, we will return, either in the body or out, because the soul is our eternal and essential nature.

Is it possible to bring the fullness of our soul into this bodily experience? This is the real question. The answer depends on our understanding of where we have placed our center of gravity, our core values. It’s important to know that whether or not we make the transition of values from self-image to soul, the soul remains unscathed. Many on the spiritual path act as if they are walking a spiritual tightrope with reincarnation spread beneath them like a safety net into which they will once again likely fall. The only thing that suffers is our present quality of experience. The body does not actually shut down the capacity of the soul. It is only our shift in values that distracts us away from who and what we are at this deepest level. So yes, it is possible to bring the fullness of our soul into the bodily experience. Doing so requires the releasing of a lifetime of body-based values, a process that will likely pit us against the conventions of our cultural and spiritual training. An instantaneous shift can and does happen, but usually as the result of a significant crisis.

An important takeaway from near-death research is its demonstration of a person’s instantaneous shift in values. These are cases where the soul is momentarily released from the confines of the body, revealing the true eternal and limitless nature of the individual. Researches say that it takes a person an average of seven years to integrate this incredible revelation into their life. Many suffer extreme depression for being crammed back into the confines and pain-filled experience of a body. Most return to a life made instantly alien from only moments of rising above the gravitational pull of their body-based self-image. They find that the only community that truly shares their rediscovered, soul-centered values are fellow experiencers. Their approach to life in a body is completely changed by the revelation of who and what they truly are.

We do not need the trauma of a near-death experience, but we do likely need some significant shock to our current body-based value system. We won’t get this in an afternoon seminar whose presenter offers to take our hand and lead us into some paradise of pure awareness. They may stir our emotion, but only we have the power to change our values. And we do it to the extent that we recognize the value of doing so. Otherwise, we will likely continue to tread spiritual water till the death of the body.

The habit of trying to raise the quality of our experience using people, places and things is deeply ingrained and so habitual that we scarcely recognize that we are doing it. We’re drawn to those so-called spiritual teachings that promise more prosperity, health and harmony in relationships not realizing that we are simply attempting to pad those abrasive aspects of the body-based self-image. We long to live with privilege of immeasurable mind, and we will, either in the body or out of it. If we want to experience it in the body, then a major shift in values is required. We are not forced to make this shift, but the opportunity is here if we choose to engage the process. I think we’ll find it helpful to remember that it is the quality of our experience, not our soul, that will be the benefactor. The soul is doing just fine.

A Path to Self-Forgiveness

Click for Youtube: A Path to Self-Forgiveness

Click for audio: A Path to Self-Forgiveness

For your enjoyment: Moments of Inspiration

***

Last week I discussed a way to approach forgiveness that treats a challenging person as energy we carry in our consciousness. Forgiveness is less about efforts toward reconciliation and more about the act of releasing the negative energy we harbor toward another. While reconciliation may be a part of our forgiveness process, our primary focus is the activity of our own mind, where our actual quality of life begins.

I was asked to continue the same theme, but with emphasis on self-forgiveness. I’ve started this title with A Path … rather than The Path … because there are various ways to approach this subject. The following are but a few questions we might want to consider:

The first is: What do I accomplish by beating up on myself? On the surface, the answer may be nothing. But at a deeper level I may draw some gratification from the act of self-flagellation. According to an article in Psychology Today, research conducted in the field of social psychology suggests at least three major reasons why people might, at times, choose to punish themselves. They have come to believe that 1) they deserve to suffer, 2) suffering will make them a better person, and 3) they are supposed to suffer.

The second question is this: What is accomplished by caving to another’s accusation that I am responsible for ruining their life? In other words, why can people make me feel guilty for not making them happy? The answer is probably related to one of the three previous items.

The most important question of all is this: Who is this self I cannot forgive?  The answer? It is the self-image, the mask that I have developed from the various roles I have played in my life. It is probably true that, given the chance, I could replay any one of them better than I did the first time around. But then again, maybe not.

The critical understanding here is that I am not the self-image that played these roles. For better or for worse, all of this passes and I, the complete soul, am left standing. It makes as much sense to blame my shadow for not representing my body’s true shape. If, as Jesus suggested, knowing the truth will set us free, then distinguishing between the self-image and the soul provides the primary path to self-forgiveness.

The Grasshopper Element

[From, A Spiritual Journey. Adapted from, A Practical Guide to Prosperous Living, revised edition, J Douglas Bottorff]

[For your enjoyment: Moments of Inspiration]

The Old Testament offers a good illustration of the importance of self-image and the role it plays in determining how our circumstances unfold. Found in the thirteenth chapter of the book of Numbers, the story tells of how the nation of Israel, after having wandered in the wilderness for many years, was led by Moses to the border of the land the Lord had promised Abraham a few generations before. Moses, desiring to measure the strength and numbers of the occupants of this land, sent in twelve spies to gather intelligence. Upon their return, he summoned the twelve to give their assessment of the situation. They returned from their mission with good news and bad news. The good news, and all twelve agreed on this, was that this was indeed a land of abundance, a land flowing with milk and honey. The bad news, of which they did not agree, was whether Israel was capable of overcoming the inhabitants. The majority of spies, eleven to be exact, reported that the people of the land were strong and the cities were large and well fortified. Their conclusion? “We can’t take on these people, for they are stronger than us.”

There was one spy, Caleb, who thought otherwise. His advice to Israel was this: “Let us go up at once and occupy it; for we are well able to overcome it.”

How could it be that Caleb and his eleven companions could see the same people but evaluate them in two completely different ways? The answer is simple. These conflicting evaluations were not based on the actual people they saw. Their evaluations were based on how they saw themselves. This interesting fact is revealed in the report of the eleven when they said, “We seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers and so we seemed to them.”

Naturally, if you see yourself as a grasshopper, it is going to affect the way you interact with your circumstances. A grasshopper mentality affects what you believe you can and cannot do. These grasshopper beliefs influence the decisions you make, your decisions determine actions that are in keeping with your grasshopper beliefs and your actions influence the way your circumstances unfold. In other words, if you see yourself as a grasshopper, you will naturally want to create an environment that is safe for grasshoppers.

Because they saw themselves as grasshoppers, the eleven did not believe they could overcome the inhabitants of the land. They recommended to Moses and the assembly that Israel should take no action against these inhabitants. If the assembly had accepted their recommendation, Israel would never have occupied their land of promise. The circumstances of an entire nation would have been adversely affected by the grasshopper self-image of these eleven spies.

Caleb, on the other hand, did not see himself as a grasshopper. He saw himself as a warrior for the Lord who was simply accepting the land that the Lord had promised Israel through Abraham years before. This divinely sanctioned self-image gave him quite a different perspective of the situation. It caused him to believe Israel, through the strength of this sacred promise, could overcome these inhabitants. Caleb’s recommended action was that they proceed. If they had, they may have avoided the necessity of wandering for decades in the wilderness.

The eleven spies, operating from their grasshopper self-image, their strong sense of personal inadequacy, evaluated the problem from the basis of their inventory of external assets. Because they were physically smaller and probably outnumbered, their inventory appeared to be lacking, which meant they would be unable to defeat these inhabitants.

Caleb considered these obvious facts, but he did not allow them to influence his recommendation to move forward. Because the spiritually grounded individual does not base his or her decisions on appearances, they do not need all the answers to apparent problems before they begin moving forward. Armed with the awareness of their unlimited spiritual capacity, they know that solutions to every problem will present themselves as needed.

The important point of the story is this: Had the Israelites made their decision based on Caleb’s opinion, they wouldn’t have wandered aimlessly through the wilderness for all those years. Since they made their decision based on the majority’s opinion, their circumstances unfolded in quite a different way. The difference can be traced to the quality of the collective self-image held by this group.

The better you understand this dynamic, the less likely you are to call yourself a victim of circumstance. You will more likely take charge of your own destiny. If you measure what you can do in life by what you have in your personal inventory of external assets, you may not experience the life of your dreams. This inventory will never be quite large enough to instill in you the confidence to strike out in your desired direction. You can blame circumstances as the cause for not moving ahead, and you’ll probably get plenty of sympathy.

Remember, Caleb was the only one of the twelve who voted to go forward. The eleven, I’m sure, felt perfectly justified with their decision, even though they drew the strength of their conviction from each other’s opinions rather than from their spiritually sanctioned capabilities.

The problem often is not that a thing can’t be done. The problem is that when the majority agrees that it can’t be done, the chances are good that it won’t even be attempted. Caleb illustrates that the seemingly impossible is often possible, but the power to achieve it comes only when you agree to move forward.

Event Versus Experience

[Excerpt from A Spiritual Journey]

I am sometimes asked how I can say on one hand that the soul is complete, and on the other hand acknowledge the challenges of the human condition. Are not these challenges evidence of a partially evolved soul? And will not the human condition as a whole be vastly improved when we finally reach the tipping point in our evolutionary process, where the lion lays down with the lamb, the hundred and first monkey begins reproducing and a new age marked by world peace finally begins?

If we ask whether Jesus was a highly evolved soul, the vast majority of the New Thought community would likely agree that he was. What this same group may ignore is that the Gospel accounts tell us that from the moment of his birth to his death, Jesus lived in the swirl of controversy that culminated in his crucifixion. As the designated Lamb of God, he left in his wake a string of carnivorous lions that threatened him throughout his life. Would we not expect a highly evolved soul would demonstrate a peaceful and prosperous life free of contention?

What we may not consider is that our Gospel accounts represent an evangelical interpretation of a series of events that, strung together like beads, present a snapshot of the life of Jesus. Virtually nothing is known of how Jesus actually experienced these events. Unlike Paul, we have no letters expressing feelings and viewpoints that would have been important to him. Considering some of his sayings, it would appear that Jesus did not equate the character of events with the quality of internal experience. The tribulation that occurred in his external world did not seem to be the yardstick by which he measured his own inner experience of peace. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you” (John 14:27).

Failure to discern the difference between events and experience is, I believe, a significant contributor to the conscious disconnect we have with our own wholeness. Our “eye” is indeed single, but it is turned on events. We are like a person with a telescope pointed to the ground and asking, Where are the stars?

Few of us in New Thought have trouble with the idea of a spiritual body that we conceive as maintaining its wholeness even when the physical body displays episodes of illness. One healing technique is to mentally and emotionally lay hold of this spiritual body and see it manifesting throughout our physical body. In the best way we know, we take our attention away from the event of physical illness and place it on the wholeness of the spiritual body until we experience this wholeness shining forth through the physical. We may be distracted by pain and other significant inconveniences, but we slowly move the telescope of our attention from this terrestrial event of physical limitation to the heavenly experience of the vast universe.

Spiritual teachers of all time have warned against determining what is true by looking to appearances and events. To look at the turmoil in one’s life and determine that its presence is the result of spiritual inadequacy is a false judgment that forever keeps us locked into an event-oriented measure of spiritual progress. This is like looking out the window on a rainy day and thinking we are in some way responsible for the sun not shining. Despite the presence of clouds, the sun still shines. The event of rain has nothing to do with the behavior of the sun. Nor does it have anything to do with the constitution of our consciousness. The rain falls on the just and the unjust. It’s how we choose to experience the rain that makes the difference for us. If we see the clouds and the rain as effects of our inadequate understanding, then inclement weather will always serve to remind us that we have some evolving to do. If, on the other hand, we know the sun shines regardless of whether or not it rains, and that we have absolutely nothing to do with how weather systems play out, then we are free of this impossible burden. Even when we turn our telescope to the stars and see nothing but clouds, we still know the stars have not gone away. The event of a cloud cover does nothing to alter our conviction that the star-studded sky remains.

It is the dominating belief in the power of events that keeps us from experiencing the completeness of our soul. It is easier to believe in the advanced state of a Jesus, or the advanced soul of one of our favorite authors than it is to believe in ourselves. We turn our attention to these people, strip them of their life’s events and imagine that their superior understanding has allowed them to navigate through this life in ways of which we can only dream. Our experience may seem anything but divine, so we look to others with the hope of learning how they did it so we may do it as well. Regardless of how pristine an experience another may have had, looking to them for spiritual help is looking in the wrong direction. We have turned our telescope to the earth. Not a single spiritual teacher worth his or her salt ever said, Turn your telescope toward me. To the contrary, all have said, that which you are seeking is within you. Do not judge your spiritual status by the events transpiring around you. Do not compare yourself with me. Connect with your own completeness, your advocate, your comforter, your Christ. Love the lord your God.

In this way alone, you find the peace for your restless soul that longs to step forward into the full field of your vision, your understanding of yourself. Events are things that happen. Experience is the way you choose to relate to events. You do not change your experience by changing events. You change your experience by knowing the truth of your completeness.

The Body is a Choice

[excerpt from The Complete Soul]

I want to close this chapter by sharing a few thoughts on the idea that we incarnated by choice, that we did so with the full understanding of the limitations and drawbacks involved. By this, I do not mean we knew we would have abusive parents, or that we would suffer some handicap, or that we chose these or other issues for the lessons our soul needed. I realize some people draw comfort, even closure from this idea. Like many in my profession, I once embraced this theory as a way of helping others make sense of difficult experiences. Now I see this as an unnecessary spinoff of the evolutionary model. The idea of the complete soul offers a more spiritually productive, logical, and fulfilling perspective. From this starting point, logic dictates that further incarnations, with whatever experiences they hold, will not make the soul more complete. A full pail, after all, can hold no more water.

Someone will ask, if our soul did not come for the lessons life has to offer, then why would we go to the trouble of incarnating? I’ve given this question a lot of thought over the years, and I believe the answer is a lot less complicated than the evolving soul model allows. For reasons of our choosing, we came simply because we wanted to be here. Getting here meant we needed a vehicle, a way to bring our soul from the spiritual to the material plane. The most efficient way of doing this is through a body.

Saying the body is the most efficient way of bringing the soul into expression doesn’t mean that our experience of incarnating has been perfect. Stepping into the body vehicle made us susceptible to rough roads and all kinds of foul weather, so much so that the bulk of our attention has gone to the maintenance needs of the body vehicle and its journey, while the soul, in a sense, remains nearly unnoticed in the cargo hold.

A major pitfall of the evolving soul model is that it makes the spiritual experience about the vehicle, its journey, and the belief that we will one day arrive at some special destination on this earthly sojourn. The truth is we have arrived. We’ve been so busy looking for specific conditions on this planet that we have forgotten that earth itself is our destination. We didn’t come to experience life from the cab of this delivery truck, driving endlessly from one place to another, looking for the right location to offload and unpack our cargo. We came here to experience life from our soul, right here and right now, using this body vehicle as our means of being here.

I said earlier that we are here for reasons of our choosing. We may doubt this because, unlike picking last year’s vacation spot, we have no clear memory of making such a decision. This memory is there, however, embedded in those things that truly interest and come most natural to us. These things do not boost our egos, advance our positions, or make us feel powerful. These are the things we quietly and reverently give our time and attention to without pay, persuasion, or recognition.

I see in the process of writing books some useful parallels that may help shed light on our reasons for incarnating. People write books for all kinds of reasons. Some write for sheer entertainment, others for educational purposes. Still others combine education with entertainment. I write because I want to share ideas that I think are important and will be of value to my readers. Sharing these ideas requires a way of doing that and the book is my vehicle of choice. Writing a book is fraught with challenges. It involves embodying inspired ideas in words, sentences, paragraphs, and chapters that create a cohesive presentation one can read on a bus.

In the beginning of this section, I said we incarnated by choice, and that we did so with the full understanding of the limitations and drawbacks involved. I say this in the context similar to that of writing a book. When I made the decision to undertake this project, I knew from previous experience the nature of the challenges involved. Ideas often come in a flash and I can jot them down with relative ease. Including them in the context of a book is another matter. This can take hours, days, weeks, even months to accomplish. I have spent days working on a single paragraph only to delete it later. What comes quite easy on one level, is not so easy to express on another.

If we think of the soul as a set of ideas and the body as the book (our means of literally publishing the soul to the world), then we see the challenges we encounter in this incarnating/publishing process have little if anything to do with the soul itself. The ideas I want to convey through a book are largely unaffected by my struggle to convey them.

It is our associations of soul with body (our body-based self-image) that make our body-oriented challenges feel so personal. We mistakenly associate these challenges with the condition of our soul, but a clear understanding of the difference spares us this unneeded stress. Having great ideas is not the same as having the ability to put them in writing. This is where the work comes in.

If, as I have suggested, you were unfortunate enough to have had the experience of abusive parents, you may have made the mistake of interpreting this situation as something your soul needed to learn from these people. Dysfunctional, abusive people have little or nothing to teach our soul. Assigning them the role of teacher is often an attempt to put a positive spin on destructive behavior we struggle to forgive, a willingness to blame ourselves so we can let them off the hook and move on. Genuine forgiveness, however, has nothing to do with making peace with the actions of another. Forgiveness occurs when we touch our own wholeness and realize that the power and soul integrity we thought they took from us has remained with us all along. They may indeed provide the catalyst that causes us to look deeper into our soul, but what we find is nothing they brought. Nor does their negative influence have the power to detract from our real purpose for incarnating. We did not need their negativity to enrich or advance our soul. If we are giving people and various conditions this kind of power, we ourselves are obscuring our purpose for incarnating. We’re experiencing writer’s block, so to speak, staring blankly out the window, hung up on some writing issue, while our book goes unpublished.

The specific issues we encountered by taking on a body were, in all likelihood, unknown to us. Our soul did not choose them for the growth opportunities they might offer. On the other hand, fully aware of our soul’s completeness, we understood there would indeed be challenges associated with temporarily tethering this vast, nonlocalized essence we call our soul to a vehicle subject to the restrictive laws of time, space, and gravity. We are not here to work our way through the school of soul development, or to pay some karmic debt. We have incarnated for reasons similar to those I have agreed to take on when writing books: I do it because I want to.

You and I are here because we made the choice to be here.

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

Well Intentioned

Much is made of the “power” of intention. Intention that does not rise from the authenticity of the soul is the hamster who gets off the exercise wheel in the same cage.

I think most would agree that the motivation behind the bulk of our desires is to change for the better the quality of our experience. Where we will find disagreement is in our definition of the word experience. 

Experience is usually associated with what happens to us. I experienced a road trip. I experienced an hour at the supermarket. I experienced a visit to the dentist. A day consists of many such events, some pleasant, some not. From this perspective, the secret of improving the quality of my life is to have more good experiences than bad. If the interview was successful and I get the job, the increase in pay will allow me to have more good experiences than bad. So I set my power of intention on getting that job.

All of us have changed a circumstance that made us feel better. This feeling is common enough to dub it the honeymoon phase, a reference to that carefree period spent by newlyweds before they get down to the business of living their lives together. We also know what it means when someone announces, the honeymoon is over. This is that stark realization that there is actually a marriage attached to the wedding. Ask someone how their wedding went and they might say, It was fantastic! If you ask that same person how their marriage is going, they may say, Do you have a few hours?

There are many who set their intention on finding their soul mate, getting married and living happily ever after. There are also many who end up saying, I took you for better or for worse, but you’re a lot worse than I took you for. This can be translated into just about everything we do. There’s the wedding and then there’s the marriage that follows. Much of the rhetoric around intention is focused on the wedding rather than on the implications of what it means to be married.

I have observed that while much is made of the “power” of intention, intention that does not rise from the authenticity of the soul is the hamster who gets off the exercise wheel in the same cage. Because we are under the impression that we are really getting someplace, we set our sights on running a bit further every day. If we regularly run 1 mile, we set our intention on doing 5. Yet we still get off in the same cage. Free of this cage, our exercise routine becomes something much different.

The Complete Soul points to the way out of this cage. Our experience has less to do with events and more to do with what we believe to be true of the self engaging them. If you intend to seek out only those events that make your self-image happy, you’ll do well to remember the marriage attached to the wedding. I’m not throwing cold water on weddings or marriage. I’m calling our attention to the truth that the soul is the happiness we seek. The attempt to draw it from anything less is always temporal and usually fraught with disappointment.

The most productive focus of our intention is toward the understanding that the soul is already complete, that no external accomplishment will bring us closer to this universally desired realization. This does not mean that we purge ourselves of all desires and shun goals that would ease the difficulties associated with feeding, clothing, sheltering and transporting the body. It means that we examine the motive behind our intention. Are we seeking to protect a weakness of the self-image, or are we seeking to express the strength of the soul? If we conclude that it is the former, then what can we do now to release the unnatural barrier that is negatively impacting our experience?

In his book, From Science to God, physicist Peter Russell makes this interesting observation: “The ancient Greek word for forgiveness is aphesis, meaning “to let go”. If we apply this meaning to our spiritual quest, we can see the act of forgiveness as coming down to a single point: Forgiveness is a letting go of our attempts to satisfy the endless demands of an inadequate self-image and turn our intention instead on experiencing the soul’s completeness. I believe this is what the writer of Proverbs had in mind when he wrote:  “With all thy getting, get understanding” (Proverbs 4:7).

Understanding the motive behind our intentions will answer the question of whether we are attempting to protect a weakness of the self-image or seeking to express the strength of the soul. The first will forever go unfilled. The second is the actual fulfillment we crave.

 

The Changeless Soul

[Note: the following is my response to a question raised yesterday on this blog.]

You say the soul does not change. What then, is the purpose served by the changing self image? Say one begins believing themself to be a lowly worm of the dust. Through a series of experiences (both good and bad) and helpful teachers their self image changes and they come to accept they are essentially good, indeed, a child of God, made in God’s image and likeness. Correspondingly, their countenance changes, their whole persona changes and they exude a positive, loving, helpful spirit.

There are many advantages to improving the self-image. In our interactions with the world, a buoyant, effervescent self-image will obviously open doors that a dreary, self-loathing attitude will not. A flashlight with fresh batteries is preferred over one with very low batteries. The light produced by the first is more useful than the dim, yellow circle of light put out by the weaker batteries.

One who believes him or herself to be a lowly worm of the dust will feel undeserving. What, after all, does a worm have to offer the world? The light of their self-image will be dim and yellow and only others with the same dim, yellow light will find them attractive. Misery loves company, as we say.

On the other hand, the self-image that is built upon the belief that its owner is a child of God made in God’s image and likeness, enjoys a level of confidence that will brighten the room when they enter. Their batteries are new, fresh and cast a strong white light of confidence. Without saying a word about their spiritual beliefs, this person will be most attractive to others. As misery loves company, so does self-confidence. This person will get the jobs, get the promotions and generally find their path through life much easier.

So we think of the self-image as a flashlight with varying levels of battery power. One suffering from a very low self-image can indeed have their batteries recharged. They too can learn, through a positive lifting of self-esteem, that the job, the promotion and the easier path of life may be theirs as well. The entire multi-billion-dollar industry of self-improvement is based on this fact. And it is a good thing. Or at least it is until something higher begins knocking at one’s inner door.

If we compare a bright flashlight to a dim one, it is not difficult to see which is better and actually more useful. But let’s make another comparison. Let’s compare the sun to the brightest flashlight. The sun is so brilliant that even the strongest beam from the best flashlight pales in its radiance. And the batteries of the sun are never depleted. The earth moves in relation to the sun and we have day and night, winter and summer, but the sun itself does not change. The sun and its light are far superior to the best of flashlights.

The self-image is the flashlight. The sun is the soul. A bright flashlight is preferred over a dim one, but the sun is preferable to both. It is an entirely different thing. If I were born and raised in a room lighted only by the flashlight, my preference would be to have the best batteries I could afford. If someone told me about this abstract notion of sunlight, I would do my best to imagine it. It would be something like the greatest flashlight in the world.

If the day came, however, when someone would show me a door leading into the sunlight, and I stepped out into it, the experience would be so overwhelmingly powerful I would have to go back into the darkness. My eyes could not stand that much light. From that day forward, a strange thing would happen. My brightest flashlight would not seem so bright. Why? Because I moved from holding a concept of the sun to having an actual experience with it.

When Jesus referred to the seed that is dropped into the soil and dies before it can become the fruit-bearing plant, he was stating what must happen to the self-image. The self-image is the world of flashlights, which is good until we experience the soul. Then we understand that the self-image, no matter how bright it is, is still a bushel that covers the radiance of the soul. We do not willingly die to it if we still value our world of flashlights. But the moment that even a slim shaft of sunlight breaks into our awareness, our values instantly shift. I realize I have been making my light, but there is a greater light that is self-existent, self-sustaining. Yes I can brighten my world with my flashlight, but the flood of sunlight that streams in when I throw open my windows and doors changes my world. It changes my world because it changes me. I move from a self-creation to a divine expression that is not dim one day and bright the next.

Why do we study, scouring our books for truth and greater wisdom? Is it not because we intuitively know there is something better than the best we have yet experienced? Is not our quest for enlightenment the quest for greater peace and freedom? That which we seek is not found in even the brightest self-image. It is found only in the soul.

Those gifted to see auras attest to some auras being dark and of a low, repelling vibration. Other auras are light, pleasing, and vibrate at a higher frequency. As one’s self image improves, it stands to reason that the attending aura likewise improves, becoming lighter. If the aura is connected with, and shows the ‘state’ of the soul (as some clairvoyants claim,), it would seem that the soul can, and DOES change in correspondence to the changing self image. If it changes it is, logically speaking, not complete. Your thoughts, and thanks.

I do not have the gift for seeing auras, but like most people, I have the ability to discern a light countenance from a dark one. Same thing though less refined. In addition, most of us read more about a person than what they say in words. We see things in their body language, in the inflection of their tone, in the glance of an eye or many other signals. Sometimes we will not buy what they are trying to sell even when it sounds wonderful. Other times we trust them for no apparent reason.

Yes, a brighter self-image produces a brighter countenance. But let’s return to our dark room for a moment. Does the fact that our blinds are drawn have anything to do with the sun shining outside? If we decide to open the blinds and let the sunlight stream in, are we making the sun do something it was not doing moments earlier? Does the sun change because we open the blinds? No.

In this case, the blind is like the self-image. Some people keep their blinds drawn, some crack them open a bit and others open them all the way. The fully enlightened individual leaves the room altogether and goes outside.

The soul, like the sun, is complete. It is our level of experience with the sun that changes. The time comes when I see greater value in the sun than I see in maintaining and fortifying the self-image. In that day I can truthfully say, If you have seen me, you have seen the sun.