My truth, your truth?

Candles
Candles (Photo credit: magnuscanis)

In Don Juan, the Sorcerer, Carlos Castaneda said,  “To seek freedom is the only driving force I know. Freedom to fly off into that infinity out there. Freedom to dissolve; to lift off; to be like the flame of a candle, which, in spite of being up against the light of a billion stars, remains intact, because it never pretended to be more than what it is: a mere candle.”

In the spiritual path, we sometimes have this illusion that we can reach or we have already reached “the” truth. We talk about things like “keeping inner peace” and “putting aside the ego” and “we’re all one.”

The problem is we have trouble recognizing that we are a “mere candle” in the infinite number of existing stars in the universe. I think that “The truth” would be beyond the summation of all the possible lights that all the possibly existing candles can shine.

When we separate from the whole, we stop contributing to the big light and still, we go around shouting “I have the light, I have the light, I have the light.” We want to show it to everyone else, we preach our truth, force our light unto others.

Holding to our beliefs as a supreme truth discovered leads us into trouble, big trouble. If we’re right and someone differs from us, then they must be wrong, uh? What follows is separation.

We fight for what we believe, which is understandable if we identify ourselves with our beliefs. But we’re not our beliefs.

Disagreements get us upset, and we snap out of balance. Her or his opinion becomes a threat for me…

What if instead, we seriously, honestly, work for integration, acceptance, union? Are we afraid to integrate a new idea or perspective into our existing beliefs? Being afraid would mean that our ego is disconnected from the soul. I bet the soul, which is adventurous, would always take on the challenge of exploring unknown territories.

I say, let’s us practice addition and multiplication instead of subtraction and division!

Let’s take what the other says, even when we disagree or feel challenged, as an opportunity to move forward, learn and integrate new perspectives.

“The basic difference between an ordinary man and a warrior is that a warrior takes everything as a challenge while an ordinary man takes everything as a blessing or a curse.”
― Carlos Castaneda

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Is selflessness possible?

One of the most compelling challenges in my spiritual life has been to really understand the motives underlying any feelings and actions. One of my teachers said a long time ago that a healer needs to achieve what he called “pure intentions.” However, since subconscious forces drive us, how do we know?DSC00559

For example, the most generous gestures could be driven by the need to please others or be loved. An action could give us stature to the eyes of others but only our inner core would know how many pints of selfishness our generosity hid.

But this is not a new dilemma for me.

At 15, I was already a snob philosopher who could swear with no shame that she understood Socrates pretty well. Plato’s writings got me thinking about the essence of life, about beauty and goodness and I pondered what would be the best way for me to achieve some kind of utter kindness, selflessness, integrity… only to come to the conclusion that achieving this utopic perfection would on itself be tremendously selfish because I’d be striving for it basically to feel good with myself.

Is selflessness really possible?

I follow the great egalitarian philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau in that man is naturally good but becomes corrupted by the pernicious influence of human society and institutions.

I also believe with Daoists that we are born with wisdom, trust, faith, love, peace and joy and life experiences makes us learn anger, grief, fear, mistrust, resentment.

But be what it may be, we’re still black and white and all the shades in between: ego and soul, yin and yang, opposite forces characteristic of duality, struggle inside.

Maybe our life is about bringing light into our darkest places. Maybe it’s about increasing our awareness of our true essence.

Maybe enlightenment is this consciousness of the whole made of contradictions, about keeping a constant awareness of our oneness in the midst of our perception of division and differences.

The third person is essential for emotional health

A dad is trying to playfully connect with his 9 year old at a restaurant. The boy is standing to Imagehis left side and the father has his arm around him. Both seem a little uncomfortable. The dad starts throwing what feels like a math quiz at the child.

What’s the 40% of 50? the dad asks and the boy can’t easily find the answer.

The dad gives him clues, takes him to “what’s the 40% of a hundred?” to which the boy easily replies 40 and then the dad insists with the former question.

Even though this time the boy easily says 20, he is frustrated and concludes, “I’m not smart, dad.”

This simple anecdote of an interaction between father and son makes me think of a hundred things.

For one, how difficult it is to respond sometimes to the emotional needs of another person!

The father’s intention seems to be to communicate with his son, to play with him, to stimulate the child’s brain. However, he doesn’t seem to realize he’s making the child feel incompetent and stupid. Not a good foundation for a parent-child relationship, but unfortunately this interaction is not uncommon between adult and young males.

There was an implicit “leave me alone” plead from the boy that the father never got. I am pretty sure the child will remember this one as a humiliating moment where he perceived his father was more intelligent. He will probably also feel that his father sees him as a failure and therefore won’t feel proud of him. Not unlikely, the father-son memory will be recorded with some resentment that will mark even the son’s choice of career (not good for math, I will choose art).

The saddest thing though is not only that the father didn’t pay attention to the child’s discomfort (the father kept insisting) but that the dad’s good intention was not recognized either.

I believe in these cases a third person is essential. Was this a divorced father sharing weekend time with his child? The mother was not there. Would she have stopped the father from going on with the quiz to protect the child? Would she have interpreted and explained to the child what his father’s intention was?

I’ve seen how important it is for single parents to have a third person reinforce their authority, share responsibilities, explain their intentions to the child.

I’ve also seen how important it is for a child who is verbally mistreated in public to have a third person intervene and stop the abuse. It takes the blame out of him/her (“It is not something I did what explains my parent’s behavior”).

I am certain that in many occasions our perception of the world is tinted and biased because we lack the third person in our lives who can explain and interpret the facts for us. For example, a grandfather who provides a different perspective; the stranger who defends the child; the wife who explains the father’s intention; the therapist who allows for a space where emotions are acknowledged and things can be seen from a new perspective.

Let’s look for opportunities where our children can see the two sides of a coin. That will help them integrate lightness and darkness and grow emotionally healthy.