Thursday, June 7, 2018

HOW TO MEDITATE—IT'S SIMPLER THAN YOU THINK


'Meditation is not divorced from our daily living. In the very understanding of our daily living meditation is necessary. That is, to attend completely to what we are doing. When you talk to somebody, the way you walk, the way you think, what you think, to give your attention to that. That is part of meditation.'—J. Krishnamurti.

Here are the names of a couple of people of yesteryear. There will be more than a few readers who will have heard of them, but there will ever so many people who will not have heard of them at all, which is a great pity. The names of the two people are Annie Besant and Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. Both were incredible women.

Annie Besant
During her lifetime Annie Besant was many things—minister’s wife, atheist, secularist, reformer, Fabian socialist, advocate of women’s rights and socio-political change, author, Theosophist, Co-Mason, orientalist and leader of the movement for Indian home rule. Madame Blavatsky (‘HPB’) was quite a woman as well. She was a Russian occultist, spiritual philosopher and author who co-founded the Theosophical Society in 1875. Besant met HPB in or around 1890—HPB died the very next year—and in August 1890 HPB moved in to Besant’s house in St John’s Wood, London. Anyway, here’s a little anecdote Mrs Besant would tell. She once asked HPB, ‘How shall I meditate?’ HPB is said to have replied, ‘Stick your stamps on straight, my dear.’

Now, for the benefit of those who haven’t posted a letter—remember them?—in some time, or have never posted a letter, HPB is referring to licking (yes, licking) a postage stamp and then neatly but firmly affixing the stamp to the top right hand corner of an envelope. Hence, ‘Stick your stamps on straight.’ Of course, HPB is using an analogy. What she is saying is that, in order to meditate, you must take care to ensure that you perform your daily tasks, no matter how seemingly unimportant or trivial, with proper attention to detail and the effort to do it right.

H P Blavatsky
Note Mrs Besant’s question—‘How shall I meditate?’ She was asking for a method or technique. I hate the words ‘method’ and ‘technique’ as well as the 'how' word. I really do. My use of the word 'how' in the title to this post, implying the supposed need for a method or technique in order to achieve the sought-after end, is intentionally provocative, not to mention a bit mischievous. 

There’s a Zen story that goes like this. A disciple says to the master, ‘I have been four months with you, and you have still given me no method or technique.’ The master says, ‘A method? What on earth would you want a method for?’ The disciple says, ‘To attain inner freedom.’ The master roars with laughter, and then says, ‘You need great skill indeed to set yourself free by means of the trap called a method.’ Yes, I do have a real aversion to all so-called ‘methods’, ‘systems’ and ‘techniques.’ Don’t ask, ‘how’. Just do it! (I think that's not just a slogan but a trademark as well.) True meditation is a choiceless awareness applied it to one’s whole day, indeed one’s whole life. The philosopher and authority on Zen and all things magical and mystical, Alan Watts wrote that meditation is the discovery that the point of life is always arrived at in the immediate moment’.

Annie Besant 'first day cover'.
Indian Posts & Telegraphs. October 1, 1963.

That, my friends, is what mindfulness is all about—living from moment to moment with awareness and being fully present during each immediate moment. True meditation occurs when there is a directness and an immediacy about your experience of life. All so-called methods, techniques and systems are an artificial construct—a barrier—to your moment-to-moment experience of life. Thousands of people spend a small fortune on courses, lessons and tuition on how to meditate. They recite mantras, affix their eyes upon an object, go into a trance-like state, and so on. The Indian spiritual teacher, international speaker and author Jiddu Krishnamurti was dismissive of all forms of meditation—except one. This is what he had to say about a commonly practised form of concentration meditation known as mantra meditation:

The other method [mantra meditation] gives you a certain word and tells you that if you go on repeating it you will have some extraordinary transcendental experience. This is sheer nonsense. It is a form of self-hypnosis. By repeating Amen or Om or Coca-Cola indefinitely you will obviously have-a certain experience because by repetition the mind becomes quiet. It is a well known phenomenon which has been practised for thousands of years in India---Mantra Yoga it is called. By repetition you can induce the mind to be gentle and soft but it is still a petty, shoddy, little mind. You might as well put a piece of stick you have picked up in the garden on the mantelpiece and give it a flower every day. In a month you will be worshipping it and not to put a flower in front of it will become a sin.

So, what, then, is true meditation? Krishnamurti went on to say:

Meditation demands an astonishingly alert mind; meditation is the understanding of the totality of life in which every form of fragmentation has ceased. Meditation is not control of thought, for when thought is controlled it breeds conflict in the mind, but when you understand the structure and origin of thought, which we have already been into, then thought will not interfere. That very understanding of the structure of thinking is its own discipline which is meditation.

Meditation, which Krishnamurti saw as a lifelong inquiry into what it means to be truly present and aware, occurs when you live in the action of the present moment, as opposed to the so-called present moment itself, for as soon as you say 'the present moment' you are in the past, you are involved in memory, and thus not living in the present moment. One more thing. You can only be said to be living in the present when your mind is free from all ideas of ‘self’. When you have the idea of ‘self’ (that is, of ‘I’ and ‘me’) you are living either in the past or in the future. 

‘Stick your stamps on right, my dear.’ Attend to the small, ordinary things of life with an ‘astonishingly alert mind’. Yes, meditation is in the direct and immediate living of your daily life, from one moment to the next.


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Sunday, May 27, 2018

LOVELY LADY DRESSED IN BLUE—A VISIT TO WALSINGHAM

Our Lady of Walsingham, Pray for us.

On a recent trip to England my wife and I visited Walsingham in the northeastern part of the county of Norfolk. It was a most impressive and uplifting place. Indeed, I will never forget the place, for it left a very powerful impression on me. It was a combination of the beautiful countryside, the quaintness, old-fashioned religiosity and piety of the place, and an intangible something-or-other within me crying, 'I believe; help my unbelief' (Mk 9:24)). For the most part, my wife and I walked around the village in noble silence, with the knowledge and in the awareness that we were walking on 'holy ground'. Words are so useless at the best of times, but especially when talking about matters spiritual.

In this post I discuss several different lines of symbolism concerning Our Lady, each of which is devoid of superstition. I claim no originality for the ideas discussed, all of which are firmly grounded in esoteric and metaphysical Christianity. Now, the word 'esoteric' is often misunderstood. When used in the present context it simply refers to the fact that sacred scripture, mythology, folk tales and similar writings and ideas generally have an 'inner' and deeper meaning: cf Gal 4:24 ('Now this is an allegory'); 1 Cor 3:6 ('we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God'). The early Christian theologian Origen wrote that every religion has a body, a soul and a spirit and that scripture can be interpreted in three different ways, the first according to the letter (‘the body’) of the scriptural text, the second according to the allegorical meaning of the text (‘the soul’), and the third according to the esoteric interpretation of the text (‘the spirit’). Of course, there are some texts that can, sensibly, only be interpreted literally. However, some ideas only make sense when interpreted allegorically or symbolically.


Now, Walsingham. In medieval times the village of Walsingham was one of the most important pilgrimage sites in the world and a rival to even Rome. That changed after the Reformation, but a revival during the 19th century put Walsingham back on the pilgrimage map and thousands now visit Walsingham each year, especially at Easter time.

While at Walsingham I got to thinking about ‘Our Lady of Walsingham’. The latter is a title of the Blessed Virgin Mary venerated by Roman Catholics and some Anglicans associated with certain alleged Marian apparitions to one Richeldis de Faverches, a pious English noblewoman who was Lady of the Manor of Walsingham, in Walsingham in 1061. Lady Richeldis is said to have been requested by Our Lady to build at Walsingham a replica of the house of the Holy Family in Nazareth in honour of the Annunciation and as a place of pilgrimage where people could come to honour the Virgin Mary. So, Richeldis had a building structure named ‘The Holy House’ built in Walsingham which later became a shrine and place of pilgrimage. Nearby, in Houghton Saint Giles, there is the Roman Catholic Basilica of Our Lady of Walsingham, also known as the Slipper Chapel or the Chapel of Saint Catherine of Alexandria. The Orthodox Churches also have a presence at Walsingham.

The Bible tells us that Mary ‘magnifies the Lord’ (Lk 1: 46) and her spirit ‘rejoices in God [her] Saviour’ (Lk 1: 47). What are we to make of all that—especially those of us who have trouble with talk of the so-called supernatural and even God? Well, one thing I learned from my study of metaphysics is that the words ‘the Lord’ where used in scripture refer not so much to God per se but to our own understanding or concept of God which, for better or for worse, will have a great bearing on what happens to us and how we view it. Take, for example, the verse that says that ‘the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart’ (Ex 9:12). Now, God did not really harden Pharaoh’s heart. If you think that, you have a horrible concept of God. No, the truth is that Pharaoh hardened his own heart, by attaching his ‘I Am’, that is, his consciousness, to hard-heartedness, obstinacy and stubbornness.

So, let’s start with the word ‘God’ itself. Who or what is God? Some theological abstraction? Yes and no. For starters, the Bible tells us that God is love (1 Jn 4:8). Listen to these words: ‘Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love’ (1 Jn 4:7-8). The Bible also tells us that God is Spirit, that is, the very spirit of life (Jn 4:24).  Another way of understanding the spirit of life is as pure Being. All things come from the One Source of all Being. God is pure Be-ing—the self-existence and self-consciousness of life itselfand we have our be-ing-ness in God. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being' (Acts 17:28). 

So, if you think that God is a giant man 'up there' or 'out there', some supra-personal Being with a face, body, arms and legs and genitalia, you are horribly mistaken. In short, God is love, life, truth and power—and the very ground of our being. The English metaphysician and judge Thomas Troward referred to God as undifferentiated Consciousness—that is, the formeless awareness that creates by Itself and becomes that which It images Itself to be. I like that. That makes sense to me. If quantum mechanics has shown us anythingand it has shown us plenty—it has shown that consciousness or mind is fundamental, eternal and all-creative.

If God is love and life then Jesus is God in a form that we can understand. That's more than enough for me. He is Way-Shower, indeed the way to an abundant life (Cf Jn 10:10). Jesus is the embodiment of love and life. Is Jesus God’s ‘only-begotten son’ (cf Jn 3:16)? In a special sense, yes, but listen my friends. We are all begotten of the Only One. There is Only One – that is, the omnipresence and omnipotence of life itself – and everyone and everything is the only-begotten son, that is, the offspring of life itself. The spirit of life is forever taking shape and form as you and me and all other living things. 


Do you think that the Incarnation happened just once, some 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem, when Jesus was born? Think again. The Incarnation is forever happening! Yes, the spirit of life is forever being incarnated into new and fresh manifestations of life. The Roman Catholic archbishop Fulton J Sheen would often make that point in his sermons and writings. Some say that God spoke His final word in Jesus but the truth is that God, the spirit of life, is forever speaking. And God speaks just one word—his son—and God is forever begetting the son. God begot you and me and all other forms of life. Yes, we are all divine, being sons and daughters of the Most High. Even Jesus himself affirmed, ‘Is it not written in your law, “I said, You are gods; you are all sons of the Most High’’’ (Jn 10:34; cf Ps 82:6). So, despite what others may have told you over the years, the ‘only-begotten son’ is every son and daughter begotten of the One Father-Mother God. The son is your real self, the person that in truth you are.

Now, in Christian metaphysics the phrase  ‘only-begotten son’ refers to something else as well, namely, a saving idea, thought or desire in our mind or consciousness, the latter being the ‘father’, metaphysically speaking. Here is a simple illustration of this truth. Let us say that you are ill. In your mind (the ‘father’) you have a desire for health (the desire being your ‘son’). The realization of your desire is your saviour. So, we have mind (the Father), idea, thought or desire (the Son), and expression (the Holy Spirit). A metaphysical Trinity, analogously.

And what of Mary, the mother of Jesus? Is she a real presence in the world today? Well, as I see it, she is truly present in a special sense, namely, as the embodiment of something else that is very real indeed. You see, Mary signifies the ‘virgin soul’, the soul – that is, the mindset (both consciousness and personality) – that is in love with God and that has come to an awareness of things higher than the material. This mindset puts spiritual values and principles (eg the importance of love and family, courage and self-surrender) first and is completely concentrated and focused on those things. With the virgin soul there is a total orientation of thought, affection and will towards love and truth combined with humility, a lack of guile and a radical detachment from all earthly, material things. The virgin state of mind, signified by Mary, is capable of conceiving and producing countless conceptions of itself in the forms of thoughts and desires ('sons').

‘Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us’ (Mt 1:23). The virgin birth occurs by perception. In other words, we are changed, not so much by what we do, but by our willingness to be changed, our willingness to surrender, give up, and let go. This requires a real change in consciousness. In order to grow spiritually, we must be prepared to give up everything in our lives that holds us back and keeps us in bondage to our lower selves. Our lower selves are also known as false selves, being all those ‘I’s’ and ‘me’s’ -- our likes, dislikes, views and opinions – that we wrongly take to be the real person each one of us is. Just as the Virgin Mary said, ‘Let it be to me according to your word’ (Lk 1: 38), so we must open ourselves to the possibility of growth—and to the action of a power-not-oneself. So, let us magnify the presence of the spirit of life (consciousness) in us, for in so doing we will find the solution to all our problems.

According to one great line of symbolism, Mary signifies our subjective self, that is, our subconscious mind. According to another, Mary signifies the great Deep, that is, the great Sea or the waters of space over the surface of which the Holy Spirit brooded and upon which It acted. Our Lady Mary is the Star of the Sea which is why she is almost always depicted in robes of the blue of the sea and the sky. The name Mary in Latin is, of course, Maria. The word maria is the plural of mare, the sea. More directly in origin, the word Mary is derived from the Hebrew mar, 'bitter', or 'the sea'. Water is a common symbol of the soul. There is a metaphorical bitterness in the soul being imprisoned in matter when its destiny lies elsewhere (as does our own), but the soul (the 'higher self') can escape from the bondage of flesh and limitation and give birth to a more exalted existence. Make of that what you will. Suffice to say there are a number of ideas here including the idea of the seas of virgin matter from which the universe was created and the idea of the birth of the Christ Child. Actually, these lines of symbolism are quite interconnected. The womb of the Virgin Mary, in which the as yet unborn Christ Child grows, and the waters of the deep (the sea of virgin matter) at the dawn of creation over the face of which the spirit of God moved are symbolically one and the same. On another level, Mary represents the feminine aspect of the Godhead, something Protestants tend to overlook to their detriment. On yet another level, Mary signifies the Spirit of Wisdom: ‘She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honour’ (Prov 3:15-16).


The Roman Catholic Church and certain other branches of Christianity teach the perpetual virginity and immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary. I am unable to affirm either of these dogmas in a literal sense, but allegorically they reinforce the notion of Mary as a symbol of the ‘virgin soul’. The first dogma – Mary's perpetual virginity – speaks of a lifelong commitment to, and communion with, God and as such symbolises our ongoing commitment to the spiritual life. The second dogma – Mary's immaculate conception – attests to the sacredness of human life as well as purity and innocence. Mary is immaculately conceived from her mother Anne because all life proceeds from one source, which is pure Spirit. Hence, all birth is immaculate for that reason. Mary is often spoken of as the Mother of all, the Virgin Immaculate, crowned with stars and clothed with the sun, for she signifies, among other things, that all manifestations of life proceed from and out of the ether of space. We start as virgin or immaculate matter, so to speak. According to this line of symbolism Mary represents the immaculate, unblemished presence of life (God) in us—indeed, our very I Am-ness. When we awaken to the truth of our be-ing-ness, our I Am-ness, the Christ Child is born in us. 

And what of the dogma of the Assumption? The Assumption of Mary into heaven, according to the beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and parts of Anglicanism, refers to the bodily taking up of the Virgin Mary into heaven at the end of her earthly life. Once again, I cannot affirm the truth of that proposition in a literal sense. Indeed, I have a real problem with the whole idea of there being higher planes of consciousness and angelic hierarchies with Mary being the 'Queen of the Angels', but I am able to accept the idea of a completely purified personality symbolicially 'rising' in its nobility and beauty. 

However, I generally interpret the idea of the Assumption as follows. The Bible says: ‘Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it’ (Ecc 12:7). We come from God, we belong to God, and ultimately we shall return to God. Life is indestructible. There is only life and there is no place where life is not. We are life. Life is energy. Life is expression. Life is in all, through all and around all. It cannot cease because it is ceaselessness itself. Yes, we will change form and ultimately vanish from view but we cannot cease to be. We never cease to be—not for a moment. We cannot be separated from life. We cannot be less than life. And life cannot other than be.

Here is a truth—perhaps the most important truth of all. The One—that is, the One Source of all Beingbecomes the many so that the many may know themselves to be one. There will be a universal restitution or restoration of all things and people—that is, all things and people will eventually be restored to their source and original essence. This is referred to in the Bible, in Acts 3:21, as the ‘restitution of all things’ or the ‘restoration of all’ (apokatastasis panton). In Greek astronomical and philosophical literature apokatastasis refers to the actual re-establishment of the order of the universe. By what means? Another Big Bang or a series of Big Bangs? At some point, an ever-expanding universe will come to an end—unless there be another Big Bang to keep things in motion.

I will finish with the following poem-prayer by Mary Dixon Thayer (1889-1989) which has always been a favourite of mine. Fulton Sheen loved it as well and popularised it on his TV show and in his talks. The poem is very sentimental but I love it all the same:

To Our Lady

Lovely Lady dressed in blue—
Teach me how to pray!
God was just your little boy,
Tell me what to say!

Did you lift Him up, sometimes,
Gently on your knee?
Did you sing to Him the way
Mother does to me?

Did you hold His hand at night?
Did you ever try
Telling stories of the world?
O! And did He cry?

Do you really think He cares
If I tell Him things
Little things that happen? And
Do the Angels' wings

Make a noise? And can He hear
Me if I speak low?
Does He understand me now?
Tell me—for you know.

Lovely Lady dressed in blue—
Teach me how to pray!
God was just your little boy,
And you know the way.


Note. The photos in this post were taken by the author. The poem ‘To Our Lady’ is included in Mary Dixon Thayer's The Child on His Knees (New York: Macmillan, 1926). All rights reserved.




Tuesday, May 22, 2018

MINDFULNESS MAY STAVE OFF DEMENTIA


Mindfulness and meditation may stave off dementia.

Researchers from University College London examined studies looking at the association between mid-life anxietydepression, and the development of dementia. The findings, published in BMJ Open, point to an association between moderate to severe anxiety or depression and future dementia, with a gap of at least 10 years in between diagnoses. In other words, those who suffered clinically significant – that is, moderate to severe – anxiety or depression in mid-life were more likely to develop dementia years later.



It seems that responses to stress may speed up brain cell ageing and degenerative changes in the central nervous system, increasing vulnerability to dementia. Mindfulness and meditation, which have been found to reduce anxiety, have the potential to reduce the risk of later dementia.

The research involved 30,000 people.


Study
Gimson A, Schlosser M, Huntley JD, et al. ‘Support for midlife anxiety diagnosis as an independent risk factor for dementia: a systematic review.’ BMJ Open 2018;8:e019399. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2017-019399


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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

SNOW-WHITE AND ROSE-RED—OR HOW TO BECOME THE REAL PERSON THAT YOU ARE


Fairy tales are rarely about fairies and generally have an inner meaning. I have looked at several famous fairy tales in the past including Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs by the Brothers Grimm. Here’s another fairy tale—from Germany—involving a character called Snow White: ‘Snow-White and Rose-Red’.

The tale goes something like this. A poor widow lives in a small cottage by the woods with her two young children, Snow-White and Rose-Red, whom she adores. There is a garden in front of the cottage in which there are two rose bushes. One of the roses bears white roses, and the other red roses. The symbolism of that is revealing. The rose represents the individual's unfolding consciousness although, depending on the context, it has a myriad assortment of additional meanings associated with it, such as purity, passion, heavenly perfection, virginity, fertility, suffering and sacrifice, death and life. 

In the context of this fairy tale, the white and red roses represent the thinking and feeling aspects of our consciousness respectively. Now, the two young children, who play together and love each other dearly, are just like the above mentioned roses. Rose-Red is outspoken and cheerful and loves to play outside whereas her sister Snow-White is quiet and shy and prefers doing housework and reading. The two girls love to go out into the forest where they like to sleep. On one occasion, whilst sleeping unknowingly on the edge of a precipice, they are awakened by a figure in shining white apparel (apparently, a ‘guardian angel’, variously a symbol of power, guardianship, inner guidance and personal transformation).

One winter night, there is a knock at the door. Rose-Red opens the door to find a bear. At first, she is terrified, but the bear tells her not to be afraid. ‘I'm half frozen and I merely want to warm up a little at your place,’ he says. They let the bear in, and he lies down in front of the fire. The girls beat the snow off the bear, and they quickly become quite friendly with him. They play with the bear and roll him around playfully. They let the bear spend the night in front of the fire. In the morning the bear leaves, trotting out into the woods. The bear comes back every night for the rest of that winter and the family grows used to him.

When summer comes, the bear tells the family that he must go away for a while to guard his treasure from a wicked dwarf. On parting, the bear catches his fur on the door-hook, and it seems to Snow-White that she sees gold glittering underneath.

During the summer, when the girls are walking through the forest, they find a dwarf whose beard is stuck in a tree. The girls rescue him by cutting his beard free, but the dwarf is ungrateful and yells at them for cutting his beautiful beard. He seizes a bag of gold which lies behind him and hurries off angrily. The girls encounter the dwarf several times that summer, each time rescuing him from some peril each time, but the dwarf is always ungrateful. On the second occasion the dwarf runs off with a bag of pearls. On another occasion he hurries off with a bag of precious stones. Then, one day, they meet the dwarf once again and he is seen counting his treasures. This time, the bear rushes out of the forest and strikes the dwarf dead.

Instantly, the bear’s skin falls from him, revealing a handsome prince. You see, the dwarf had put a spell on the prince by stealing his precious stones and turning him into a bear, but the curse is broken with the death of the dwarf. Snow-White marries the prince, and Rose-Red marries his brother. And yes, as in all fairy tales, they all live happily ever after.

Have you ever noticed how many fairy tales involve a widow? A widow represents those who are cut off, so to speak, from their true being as a person among persons. They are people who have lost connection with their inner potentiality. In this tale, however, there is still some contact with the elemental world represented by the garden and the rose bushes.

Snow-White and Rose-Red represent two different aspects or sides of human experience. Snow-White (cf the white roses), who likes to stay indoors, represents the thinking part of us that is introspective, introverted contemplative and meditative. Rose-Red (cf the red roses), who likes being outdoors, symbolises the perceiving, more extroverted part of us that is more interested in the outer world of sense impressions. The fact that the two girls play together and love each other is highly symbolic. It means, among other things, that these two sides of our nature are equally important. Both are needed and belong together. In other words, they are complementary. Never forget that.


The bear is an out-picturing of us—body, mind and soul. There is the outer, physical part of us and the inner mental and spiritual ‘parts’ of us. The dwarf represents negative, evil forces, both within and outside of ourselves, that make for separation, division and strife. These forces or tendencies within us must be overcome if we are to grow into the persons we are capable of being and which, in truth, we really are. The gold, pearls, and precious stones referred to in the tale represent spiritual riches and wisdom—the non-physical things ‘not made with human handseternal in the heavens’ (cf 2 Cor 5:1). The dwarf is seen seizing, appropriating and running of with these gifts, not realizing that they are not yet his by right of consciousness. There are things that we must give up in order for these gifts to be rightfully ours. That is an important lesson we all must learn. Our false selves (the little ‘I’s’ and ‘me’s’), in the form of our various likes, dislikes, views, opinions, biases and prejudices, seek to appropriate these treasures even though they are not yet ours by right of consciousness.

Now, the bear is not what it appears to be. Inside of it is a prince, that is, a higher self—our true self. Here’s a famous Zen story on the point. A distraught man approaches a Zen master and says, ‘Please, Master, I feel lost, desperate. I don't know who I am. Please, show me my true self!’ The master just looks away without responding. The man begins to plead and beg, but still the master gives no reply. Finally giving up in frustration, the man turns to leave. At that moment the master calls out to him by name. ‘Yes!’ the man says as he turns around toward the master. ‘There it is!’ exclaims the master.

Our true self is the person that each one of us is. However, when we see and experience ourselves we do not ordinarily see and experience the person that in truth each one of us is. Instead, we tend to see and experience any one or more of a number of self-images (those ‘I’s’ and ‘me’s’ held in our mind). At one point in time we may see and experience the ‘little me’, or the ‘frightened me’, or the ‘inferior me’. At another point in time we may see and experience the ‘confident me’. 

These ‘I’s’ and ‘me’s’ are nothing more than self-images in our mind. They are images felt and experienced as real, that is, as the real person that we think we are. Jointly and severally, these ‘I’s’ and ‘me’s’ constitute in varying degrees our sense of who we think we are, and whichever image is most dominant in your mind at any point in time will constitute your sense of ‘me’—that is, what to you, in you, is you—at least at that particular point in time. There is a feeling component to these mental self-images, with the result that many of the images can be quite strong and persistent over time and their persistency over time only reinforces the mistaken belief that these images are really us. This also makes change seem very difficult indeed. However, none—I repeat none—of these felt self-images are real. They are not the real person that in truth you are.

Fulton J Sheen wrote, ‘Death to the lower self is the condition of resurrection to the higher self.’ That is what this fairy tale is all about. We must die to our false selves so that we might become the real person that we are. Some call that the ‘higher self’, but please don’t confuse that with those little, false selves of which I spoke. The ‘higher self’ is the real person that in truth you are. I am referring to a power and presence ‘not-oneself’. You see, we are much more than just those pesky false selves—all those waxing and waning ‘I’s’ and ‘me’s’—with which we tend to identify, in the mistaken belief that they constitute the ‘real me’.

Freedom from the bondage to self comes when we get real, that is, when we start to live from our true being as a person among persons. We come to know our higher or real self—symbolised in the fairy tale ‘Snow-White and Rose-Red’ by each of the marriages that take place—as a result of thinking (Snow-White), perceiving (Rose-Red), and overcoming the evil spirit of separateness (symbolised by the destruction of the dwarf by the bear).

When this happens, you become what the American psychologist Carl Rogers, pictured left, referred to as a ‘fully functioning person’. The mystics refer to this as coming to ‘know the Self as One’. Yes, we are one with all Life, even though few know or understand what that truly means.


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