Shadow Masters

plato-cavePlato, in his allegory of the cave, gives a perfect illustration of how we can become captive by illusions.   As a result of believing the shadows on the wall to be true reality, the world becomes a fabrication, like the old tale of the Emperor’s invisible clothes.   Like the fundamental assumptions that society believes often without question or in many instances fails to even notice, the world’s illusions seem to have snuck up on us slowly, so much so that it appears that we have lost the ability to distinguish between what is real and what is simply a shadow on the wall.  What is most frightening, though, is the level of ferocity (even violence) with which we as individuals and as a society have chosen to hold on to illusions, rather than recognize, grieve, and surrender the deceptions we believed and then move upward and outward into the light.

It may appear to be the greatest of arrogance for me to tell you that you’ve been staring at shadows your whole life.  So I won’t say it.  Of course if your life is not hunky dory then you’ll have to draw your own conclusions as to the reason why, and let me suggest that the list begins with the primary source…yourself.   The only claim of expertise made here will be from what I’ve learned as a fellow observer, one with the added vantage point of standing in the middle.  Not only is there an equidistant view from where I stand, if I’ve been lulled into believing in shadows, the chances are pretty good that others have been lulled into believing them too.  So if you see room for improvement in your life, then take a chance and read on.  I won’t even attempt to tell you what illusions you may be staring at in shadow form.  The starting point is to simply admit that you may have them.  It will be your job to figure out what those shadows are.  And let me tell you that when you do that, the chains dissolve away.  There is no trick to escape, no enormous locks; it all centers on personal choice.  Those first few steps in relative darkness are the hardest because it demands that you have faith in something that isn’t known yet.  It’s after you take those first steps and go outside that you will understand the difference; the light makes it impossible to transfer one shadow for another, they are lost forever.  But take heed to this warning: the process of escape usually really sucks.  The pain is a necessary part, but like a painkiller I’ll try to dull it a bit.  If you were able to accept the challenge and let go of all the rules you live by and live in cosmic anarchy for a while, then you’re already 10 steps ahead of everyone else.

One of the rules that I’ve adopted (post cleaning my own cosmic closet) is that things are not always what they appear to be, so making rigid judgments about any given situation doesn’t even factor into the movie in my head; when I have done so in the past, the result is most often catastrophic.   Most people are aware on some level that what they see is often colored by who they are and what has happened to them thus far in life.  What trips me up most often is not that things are something other than what they appear to be, but that I hold on to the judgments that I create about them (often rigidly) even in the face of knowing better.  A shadow is a shadow, regardless of how articulate or insightful modern commentary is in trying to justify the truth of its existence.  Real change happens in the heart.  Any person can say they believe in something over and over, but if their heart isn’t willing to follow along, especially in terms of their behavior, then the chains will never be let loose making it impossible to move out of the darkness.

As an observer, besides using my native good judgment in determining at any given time when I’m living in the land of illusion, there is also a process I use taken from the rules of Evidence in the American Judicial System.  One of the most basic rules of evidence is that only evidence that is relevant may be permitted, that is only that material which has the tendency to help prove the truth of the issue at hand.  The most obvious relevant evidence would be something like a murder weapon or an eye witness to a crime.  Even when evidence is relevant, though, it may still be excluded if the value of the evidence is outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues or misleading the jury.  Other forms of evidence like hearsay: a statement made outside of the courtroom but is offered in court to prove the truth of the matter asserted; or character evidence: using a person’s character to prove that person acted in conformity to that character, may not be allowed because of the risk of unfair prejudice. The bottom line is that the rules of evidence are very restrictive because those who decide the case whether it be the judge or a jury deserve the kind of evidence that best leads to the truth.

Unfortunately, this kind of filtering isn’t necessarily applied when it comes to dispelling many of the illusions our culture lives by today.  Look at how most of us receive information, especially from television.  It is common to utilize deeply biased and second and third hand information to inform the public about an issue.  It is also more and more common to attack someone’s character as a means of uncovering “the truth,” or to diminish the validity of their perspective.  It appears that the means by which we prove the truth in our lives would never hold muster in a court room.  Is it because the truth by which we live is less important than the truth that will prove us guilty or innocent?

There are three things that I have found helpful in destroying the illusions that pop up in my life: 1) coming to terms with the judgments of my heart, 2) steering away from that kind of evidence that distracts me from the truth and 3) refusing to engage in “king of the hill” behavior, meaning defending with such vigor those judgments/illusions I have that truth is forced to take the back seat to winning the argument.  Have you ever had an argument with someone and fought to the death even though you knew full well that you were wrong?  Just wanting to be right never got me anywhere, whereas shifting my thinking from a win/lose mentality to an exploration of what new information I may gain, has usually gotten me everywhere.  Take a moment to listen to your innate good judgment and see if there is truth in what others are saying.  Feeling super defensive is a sure sign that it is a crucial time to listen.  Ego thrives on illusion.  I’ve also learned, the hard way, that truth never prevails when the impetus to present an idea is rooted in fear (even if the fear is as simple as not wanting to lose the upper hand).

Although chances are also great that the other person doesn’t know what they are talking about either and are also just trying to win, when you remove the competitive element either the wind will completely blow out of the conversation (being there is nothing left for the other person to conquer) or you will find out the other person is really trying to make a point.  There may even be the not so rare occasion when they weren’t listening to you anyway and just like to hear themselves talk.  Even in these situations discovery may happen.   The focus should not be on the other person, but on what your heart tells you in response to them.  Face it change is hard…in Plato’s allegory, there were plenty of people who wanted to kill the messenger, the one who escaped the chains and wanted to share his expanded frame of reference.  We often shoot down new information if it requires us to shift beyond what we believe at any given point.  Holding onto shadows may be easier, but then one must accept the kind of darkness that will forever shield one from true illumination.  Faith in light beyond the darkness is the only escape.

The Kingdom of Heaven

heavenSo how exactly does one go about discovering the rules by which to live?  Rather than filter through all the outside sources available, I began my journey internally because of something intriguing Jesus once said.  In response to a question regarding when the Kingdom of Heaven would come, Jesus replied, “The Kingdom of Heaven cannot be observed, and no one will announce ‘Look, here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ for behold, the Kingdom of Heaven is within you.”  Clearly, if the Kingdom of Heaven is within us surely it is the inner world that changes how, not what we observe in the outside world.  Later on in the gospel of Mark, Jesus says this about why he spoke so often through parables: “The mystery of the Kingdom has been granted to you.  But to those outside….they may look and see but not perceive, and hear and listen but not understand.” Paradoxically, focusing inward to create a foundation for the rules one chooses to live by seems counter intuitive.  Most instruction and learning comes from the outside in.  Tapping into the Kingdom within is the first and most necessary step in being able to actually see and understand clearly what the outside world stands to teach us.  Think of trying to read in the dark.  A book, no matter how brilliant, is worthless if there is no light to illuminate what is written on the page.  Tapping into my inner resources turned on a light that gave me a different kind of sight, and it has certainly changed how I see the world.

I don’t want to get too hung up on semantics but, the Kingdom within has been described in many different ways: the voice of truth, the cosmic consciousness, intuition, conscience, etc.  Whatever you choose to call it, it is the inner voice which speaks from deep down inside.  Because the concept of intuition is present in many cultures and, for me anyway, doesn’t carry as much theological baggage as and is more feminine than “The Kingdom of Heaven,” it’s the label I’m going to use to describe the melody of the universe.  Intuition, is actually defined as the act of mentally looking into, contemplation, perception; a mental view.  Archetypically, it is associated with all things feminine, especially in many religious traditions.  In Eastern religions, the symbol of the Yin-Yang, or t’ai chi, represents the interaction of opposites such as male/female and light/dark.  It is the combinations of all kinds of opposites that form the world we see.  Culturally, intuition is associated with femininity; it represents darkness, water, instinct and feeling.  Without subscribing to “Emo” culture, we are going to delve into the black side of the yin-yang symbol.  Because it is in basking in the coolness of the yang, that I discovered my own intuition which became a mechanism for accessing the Kingdom within.

Let me also say that getting in tune with intuition isn’t just for women, although we may be given a predilection for knowing how to use it (fodder for another huge debate, but again I have plenty of tales to back this one up).  This is not to be taken as advocating that all you men who are reading this to embrace your feminine side and get all emotional and sensitive (although it wouldn’t be a bad thing).  You men out there should think about being taught by a woman, she may come in a variety of forms but for each and every one of you out there, like a guardian angel, some woman is ready to offer her perspective and it would behoove you to listen.  So let go of the baggage of Eve, the apple and original sin for a moment and look inward to find the prize…and just breathe….and listen for the melody within.

Why did Eve Eat that Damn Apple Anyway?

even and the appleOne of my own first experiences of following my sensibilities occurred early on in grade school.  One day, when my teacher made an innocent mistake in pronouncing a classmate’s name, I raised my hand and corrected her.  Much to my complete amazement she was furious and made me put my head in the desk to “suffer the humiliation of Eve.”   The point of this little story is that my behavior was labeled “bad” for a reason that was rooted in one of the most pervasive assumptions (and one I was constantly plagued with) of all time—women are responsible for original sin, and as part of the punishment we should know our place.

The concept of Original Sin continues to slap women in the face in one form or another constantly.  For the most part, my time in Catholic school was a testimony of penance for that very belief.  For example, a priest once wrote my address on the board when I demanded to know where hell was.  Please save the explanations.  There is no parallel universe anywhere where treating a child like this would ever be acceptable.

So let’s take a look at the story that describes humanities’ fall from grace.  Did Eve’s choice to eat the apple from the tree of knowledge warrant plaguing womankind with that kind of burden?  Yes, she was disobedient, and yes, she convinced her mate to follow suit.  What about Adam’s culpability, though?   Eve had to contend with the serpent, pure evil; Adam just did what Eve asked him to do—how weak is that? (Remember that old maternal adage: if your friend jumped off a bridge would you as well? Well, Adam did.)

Eve suffered for her curiosity and then some, and Adam suffered for his weakness.  There is no inference that Adam was charged with dominating Eve, the two of them were considered one body. According to the first Genesis story, man and woman were created at the same time and God gave dominion over the earth to both of them.  It’s curious that most people only pay attention to the second creation story, where Adam is king of the world and Eve is made just to keep him company.  It is clear that part of Eve’s punishment was that she would  have an “urge” for her husband and be mastered by it—that appears to be an independent struggle for woman to contend with, not an excuse for gender subjugation.  If anything, Adam’s punishment is the clearer representation of slavery; he is destined to toil and sweat until he returns to dust.

Perhaps Eve and Adam knew intuitively that it was time to move on to a place of individual choice, and with that choice they lost their innocence.  Isn’t that the whole point of growing up though?  In order to mature in wisdom we have to leave our childhood behind and take what we’ve been taught and try it on for size.  So rather than getting too wrapped up in original sin and having woman bear the greater portion of it, perhaps it would be more productive to admit that both Eve and Adam made a choice that we have been living with ever since.  Even from the church’s perspective that may not be such a bad thing.  The Catholic Mass at the Easter Vigil has this to say about original sin: “Oh happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, which gained for us so great a Redeemer!”   It is curious though: when the “sin” becomes a good thing, Adam gets credit for it and Eve isn’t even mentioned?

Focusing so much on the sin detracts from the great responsibility that humans were given: to subdue and cultivate the earth.  The direction of the game of life had been set down.  In order for humanity to be successful, it appears to me anyway, that men and women would have to use their inherently unique talents together: the power of dominion coupled with the grace to nurture the ordinary things that God made.  The formula for this cosmic union is contingent upon male and female rising above fighting over which perspective is right, to embrace both perspectives as necessary to fulfill, successfully, the charge of God.

 Another reason I bring up Original Sin as a fundamental assumption that desperately needs critiquing is that it still fuels one of the most pervasive myths that plague culture: that women are weaker and thus inferior to men.  There are those of you who may think that statement is inaccurate, but really, look around you; there is evidence everywhere of that belief regardless of what level of consciousness you’re coming from.  How many women are in “high places,” positions of power?  Even if you really believe that the place of women in the world isn’t inferior just different, you need only look at the way the law has treated woman in this country.  One need only recall what some of the great jurists (even the fathers of our country) did to women legally, especially in terms of rights.  Rather than assume that the subjugation of women is the natural order of things, I choose to believe it is not.  But if not, how were masses of people led to believe that it was?

While studying theology as an undergraduate, I was aghast at some of the opinions the church’s greatest teachers had about women.  Thomas Aquinas (the guy who pondered the number of angels that could fit on the head of a pin) said in his Summa Theologica, that every woman should have a man as her personal master, because her intellect is no better than that of a child or an imbecile.  What is up with that?  History has demonstrated that statement to be inaccurate.  In all honesty, there have been more than a few men who’ve crossed my path that have defied accepted boundaries of stupidity.  St. Augustine, one of the most influential of Latin Church Fathers and whose work created the foundation for western Christendom, had this to say about women (and it’s a gem): “women should not be enlightened or educated in any way.  They should, in fact, be segregated as they are the cause of hideous and involuntary erections in holy men.”  My response is the same one given to my sons when they point the finger at each other: “Don’t blame someone else because you can’t control yourself.”  My utmost favorite though, is a church writer named Tertullian who said this about women: “You are the devil’s gateway, you are the unsealer of that (forbidden) tree, you are the first deserter of the divine law, you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack, you destroyed so easily God’s image, man. On account of your desert—that is, death—even the Son of God had to die”.  Methinks there was a bit of sexual repression going on there.  Even Martin Luther, a great reformer, believed that women were made by God to be wives or prostitutes.  And don’t even get me started on the Puritans.

But what does a young, female theology student feel when she finds out that many of the founding fathers of western Christendom had pretty skewed views of womankind?  Well, indignation at first, but there was also conflict because much of what these great men had to say was also brilliant.  It was at this point when using common sense, my innate sensibility, regarding the truth of the matter was essential: 1) there are plenty of men who are less intelligent than me; 2) it certainly is not my fault that men cannot control their sexual appetites; and 3) an entire gender, who, by the way was also created in the image of God, isn’t the gateway to hell.  These church fathers had great minds and were brilliant, yes, but like me were creatures of culture and human experience which made them most undeniably—fallible.

Herein lies the problem with our concept of great leaders and rule-makes: a majority of folk take every word, hook, line and sinker of what they say without using any discretion at all.  Generally speaking, their edicts for their supporters are sacrosanct, and those who oppose them are often vilified.   It’s black or white, with no amount of grey in between.  There seems to be a certain amount of infallible mysticism that surrounds the rules they create.  If they are brilliant and/or holy, then everything they say must be right and we must never disagree or criticize them.   Later, when we’ve evolved beyond them, or we tire of them and a flaw or two is exposed, we chew them up and spit them out, or, if they die before we tire of them, we make them saints.  Given that kind of attitude, how can the voice of a common student compare to the voice of the Church Fathers?  Well, if David could defeat Goliath, why not?  Seriously, if the names of the men who said those horrible things about women had been left out, wouldn’t it have been easy to write them off?  There have been plenty of times when I thought the men in my house were demons sent straight from hell, but that is my problem and no reason to make it a sweeping generalization for the rest of mankind.  We often vilify what we don’t understand, agree with, or are afraid of, because somehow on a deep level we do want to subscribe to the “there is only one true perspective” rule.   I, however, find it necessary to dispel this fundamental assumption when ever the spirit moves me—needless to say, the humiliation of Eve never quite stuck.

It is by questioning assumptions that we often have to contend with many conflicting perspectives, some of which seem to fit and others that do not.  It is during the process of questioning, though, that we can begin to recognize that inner voice, one rooted in being a completely unique person whose perspective is of no greater or lesser value than anyone else in the universe.  What I share with others doesn’t have to be right or better than anybody else’s perspective, it just has to be mine.  Have you ever been in conversation with someone and they pull out a masterful source from the Bible or the Constitution just to prove how right they are and how wrong you are?  Ultimately, both of the sources mentioned have always been subject to interpretation.  It is a rarity to hear someone say, “I believe this way because it serves me personally” and just leaves it at that.  Even though my inner voice may be inspired by my faith, it doesn’t mean that I have a better handle than anybody else on the mind of God or what God says to them.  It is the process of sharing our ideas that keeps us moving forward.  Sharing different ideas, regardless of who you are, should be encouraged rather than discouraged because you never know when another person’s perspective may be the needed ingredient for germinating an idea in someone else.  When personal truths are shared, the world becomes a better place.

Let me tell you something else I learned about some of our rule-makers out there: that many of them are completely and utterly crazy.  Throughout my life I’ve witnessed the amazing power crazy people have in establishing rules by which they demand others to follow.  Most often people, (including myself) side step around them to avoid the scenes they create when we don’t follow the rules they set down.  They come in many shapes and sizes, from some of the priests and nuns I had in school to people with substance abuse, or people who are generally miserable people and want to make sure the rest of us are made miserable too.  None of us are on this planet long enough to abdicate our person freedom and follow the rules of crazy people who sap away sanity like syrup from a tree.  Curiously, though, there is an upside to having crossed paths with all you sap suckers out there, because you gave me the opportunity to use and thereby hone my native good judgment.

So, back to the rules in respect to men and women, why can’t there be two equally respected perspectives?  Why can’t we simply appreciate that reality is divided into two equal parts, like two sides of a coin?  Well, besides equality and balance being absolutely no fun at all, with balance there is also no difference, no discord, and without difference there is no perceptual universe.  If there were never any conflicts what reason would there be for any of us go beyond our limitations?   If there were no darkness, could we truly know light?  It’s the same dilemma with good and evil.  Although the rules that I choose to follow may not be the same as yours, and many people in other parts of the world live according to a different rhythm, it doesn’t give me license to “live in my own private Idaho.” My own growth depends on bumping up against other rules and ideas that often run contrary to mine.  That may sound a bit like I am contradicting myself, but just bear with me.

While studying Constitutional Law in law school, I was aghast at the lack of discussion that was encouraged about controversial issues, and in Con Law, there was a new one every day, from abortion to affirmative action.  What saddened me most was that many class mates had their minds made up about an issue already and refused to even entertain the possibility that in actually listening to the “other side” they may be gaining a greater truth.  The atmosphere became not one of  learning, but of debating who was right.  Inside the walls of a law school should be a forum for good intelligent discussion, a place to exercise the skills we were learning: to conflict with each other and in doing so achieve a greater understanding.  Sadly enough, there may be a legitimate reason for societies’ mistrust of lawyers.  The one thing I regret most about law school is that I didn’t take enough time to tell those students and teachers who had thought provoking things to say that I appreciated their insights because it challenged me to look at issues a little more broadly.

So although inequity exists and may be the natural order of things, it doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be my goal to abolish it anyway and actively engage in conflict with the intent to create harmony, even if the harmony is only internal.  Because it was during my biggest struggles that truth often exposed itself and led me to seek an ever greater truth—inevitably leading to another conflict.  Again, it all turns on perspective.  One person may want to win and have their perspective prevail and happily remain ruler of their own little hill; another person may want to clash just to see what there is to learn in the process.   It makes the most sense to me to choose the latter.  The most important reason not to be too concerned about any controlling perspective is not only are they fleeting, regardless of who claims to be right at any given time, truth has a way of eventually prevailing anyway, like a phoenix rising out of the ashes.  There is so much more out there that we, as human beings, have yet to discover that no one person can ever claim to have any complete answers.  I believe that God has them, but the rest of us are a far cry from being “in the know” like God is.  We simply have to get over the fear to engage in conflict.

As a result of not being in the know, here is another fundamental assumption about the game of life that proved to be inaccurate: that the rules should never change.  The fact is that the rules change constantly, whether we want them to or not, as they should.  As long as humanity keeps moving, discovering, inventing, loving, and hopefully evolving, the one thing we can be sure of is change.  The ending of the game I play isn’t etched in stone; that is the great thing about free will.  The rules I live my life by now are not the same as those that guided my life in my teens, twenties, thirties, forties and yes even my fifties.  There may be a consistent theme in the rules I follow, but I’ve learned not to rigidly hold on to rules that no longer fit my life.

Let me stress that although there are certain fundamental rules that are necessary they aren’t always obvious.  I’ve usually discovered what they were the hard way but at times there were a few people who were older and wiser that held my attention.  And although there are lines drawn for the kinds of rules that help our world vs. destroy it, I can’t say, unequivocally, what they are.  Throughout my life though, (usually by running smack dab right into a brick wall) I have picked up on some universal themes which are laid out at the end of this chapter.  I am also aware that I can’t change another’s perspective any more than I can make pigs fly—with any level of concentration.  For example, the men in my house won’t be transformed into clean freaks simply because I choose to believe that dirty underwear doesn’t belong on the kitchen floor.  And although my opinions are made known to the men in my house, picking up underwear, laughing about bodily functions, and carrying the burden that it will always be my job to replace the toilet paper are things I’ve simply accepted, one, as a means to preserve my sanity and second, that men and women will always exist together and it would behoove us to try and get along.

So before you continue reading, let me offer a challenge: if you want to free yourself from the chains that bind you then suspend all your beliefs for a moment and try living by the seat of your pants for a bit. The Upanishads (Hindu scripture) says, “Whether we know it or not, all things take on their existence from that which perceives them”.  When you’re done reading, go for it.  Put on your old beliefs if they fit, but in order to see if the rules you are following fit the movie in your head, you should be willing to, at the very least, entertain the possibility that everything you think you know for sure right now maybe nothing more than a shadow created by someone else.  Only you can bring to life the movie that is in your head.  Then it becomes life as you see it, not how it has been told to you.  Oh and one more thing, once I chose which rules I was going to follow, the responsibility of achieving my dreams was on me.  Like the parable of the talents, God has given me a treasure, and it was up to me to go and make something out of it.  That may sound like a big responsibility, but I try to think of it more as a golden opportunity.

Things that I know are true:

1)  Things are not always what they appear to be, so pay attention and don’t judge too quickly—and by all means, have a sense of humor, especially when you’ve judged incorrectly.

2) Shit happens—and that can be a good thing.

3)  One need not be perceived as an influential person to be a powerful influence.

4)  What goes around comes around, or a slight variation: what ever you put out there comes back to you tenfold.

5)  Love (or God) is a constant (like in math) and is greater than and is never changed by our perception—love is separate from and not defined by our expression of it.

6)  The opposite of love is not hate, but fear

7)  What is essential is invisible to the eye; it is only with the heart that one can see rightly.

8)  Fame is not necessary for me to shape the world in a powerful way…no one, not even me need be conscious of it.

9)  Real power has nothing to do with control.

10)  Having faith demands that I let go (not give up) of an outcome; and doing that will almost guarantee things will work out.

11)  Just because I cannot understand “why” now, doesn’t mean that I will never understand, sometimes I have to be open to looking at an issue from a multi-dimensional perspective.

12)  Unexplained phenomenon is simply proof that I am continuing to evolve and that I don’t have all the answers yet.

13)  Vengeance never brings peace.

14)  Money is never a reason to do, or not do anything.

15)  I may not control all that happens in my life, but I do control how I respond to it.

16)  Destruction and death are essential elements in growth and life.

17)  Things gained without lessons learned are empty successes.

18)  Without God (love), I am nothing.