The Freedom of Truth

There comes a time in our lives when we want to believe that we have discovered, if not all the answers to the meaning of existence, at least a few of those answers. We may even manage to convince ourselves that we have, at long last, found “what works for us”—our personal truth. It seems inconceivable to many of us that we could have reached a certain point in our lives and still know so little. But is it not when we are willing to acknowledge our ignorance that we begin to learn?

I was asked a few days ago how it is that I “verify” my beliefs. My answer was, “I don’t because I can’t.” What did I mean? Am I admitting that I have many beliefs that I question the validity of? In a way, yes. I have had to develop a willingness to examine each of my beliefs in order to discriminate between those which make sense to me and those which don’t. And while I have not abandoned those beliefs that I consider to be part of my core self, I nevertheless understand that I may not be able to prove the validity of those beliefs to anyone besides myself. Fortunately, it isn’t important to me whether I do or not, for I believe that each of us must find our own truth for ourselves.

It is only those who live in fear and ignorance who believe that trying to push their own views and ideas on someone else is going to achieve any effective result. Even if we think that someone whom we know is making all of the wrong choices in his/her life, it is not up to us to point that person in another direction.

Out of kindness and love, we should always attempt to prevent someone from making a decision that might bring him or her harm or endanger the life or well-being of another person. But aside from that, we should give others the freedom to choose for themselves in every area of their lives (I’m speaking of adults, of course—not children).  Each person’s journey is unique and personal, and, whether we understand the individual choices someone makes or not, we must respect their right to choose for themselves.

Unfortunately, even though our world promotes the idea of individuality and personal freedom, most people are no longer thinking for themselves. The illusion is created, through various persuasive techniques on the part of the media, that we are all free to form our own opinions about everything. However, the criticism, ridicule, and outright contempt that are demonstrated towards those who dare to step away from the masses indicate that freedom is merely a concept—not a reality. We have become a nation of “feelers” rather than thinkers, basing our decisions on intuition and “gut feelings” rather than on solid evidence, facts, and proof.

Intuition does play a role in the life of a thinking person. But the fact that our feelings are so capable of being manipulated makes them much less reliable than our intellect. Socrates once said that he was the wisest man on earth because he realized he knew nothing. He believed that all of us must submit to the authority of reason. For him, the “stamp of truth” is that which remains independent of us and our own subjective realities, including our own needs, wants, and desires. Although indulging in dreams and wishes may not be a bad thing in itself, if doing so prevents us from gaining and sustaining a clear view of reality, then it can be dangerous.

Francis Bacon summed up  our tendency to confuse our own reality with true reality when he said, “The assertion that the human senses are the measure of things is false; to the contrary, all perceptions, both of the sense and the mind, are relative to man, not the universe. The human understanding is like an uneven mirror receiving rays from things and merging its own nature with the nature of things, which thus distorts and corrupts it.”

Perhaps, it sounds as if Bacon was encouraging us not to use our senses at all. But a man as clear-headed as Bacon would never subscribe to such an inclusive philosophy. There is no reason to suppose that we cannot use both our intuition and our intellect. However, we must develop a level of self-awareness that enables us to ascertain when are making a choice based on instinct versus critical thinking.

To know when to use one’s abilities in a certain realm can be even more important than whether or not one possesses those abilities. There is always a time to go forward and a time to hold back, a time to feel and a time to think, a time to let go and a time to hold on. Rarely, is anything ever completely final. And yet, some things are.

Being able to accept that is crucial as a failure to do so can result in living in bondage to the past. I don’t agree with those who say that the past should never be examined for I think that analyzing the choices we have made and understanding the reasons behind those choices can be helpful. But, if we remain trapped in the past because we cannot move on, as opposed to re-visiting the past in order to learn more about ourselves, we will not be able to bring all of ourselves into the future.

Freedom is more a process of detaching than it is of attachment. The more freedom you allow yourself, the less dependent you will be on anyone else. And this lack of dependency will enable you to give others their freedom as well. Because our society is so narcissistic and has a habit of nurturing insecurities in us by promoting unrealistic ideas about romance, beauty, youth, and social status, it is only natural that we develop a tendency to look towards others to build up our self-esteem.

We all want to feel loved, cherished, and appreciated. And because society doesn’t allow us to give ourselves these feelings (how can we when everyone else’s lives seem to be so much more perfect than ours?), we seek these things from other people. The problem with this is that no matter how much praise and admiration another person gives us, if we feel inadequate or worthless deep within ourselves, we’re still going to feel that way regardless of what anyone else tells us.

And, if we are dependent on anyone else to validate us, then we have given up our freedom. Just as happiness must come from within, so also must freedom. This does not mean that you won’t ever end up in situations that in some way inhibit your freedom. What it does mean is that you will always maintain the freedom of your own mind.  Even when you feel tempted to turn your back on reality in order to foster a sensation of certainty, if you choose freedom, you will resist the temptation.  You will doubt rather than trust, and, even when it is easier to believe a lie than to disregard it, you will be willing to seek Truth.

If all of us were able to cast off the shackles of preconceived ideas, assumptions, and erroneous beliefs, the world would look so different to us that we would barely recognize it. Yet, we would have found both Truth and Freedom, both of which oftentimes seem to remain just beyond our grasp. When we speak of the misery of existence, we fail to give ourselves credit for creating much of the misery that exists in our own lives.

Our fear drives us to make choices that are not for our highest good. Oftentimes, rather than accepting responsibility for those choices, we either blame others or allow ourselves to become overwhelmed by guilt. Why? Because it seems to be the easier path to take. And in a society that promotes the easy over the difficult, we are conditioned to make the decision that appears to require the least from us.

It is much harder to admit that we’ve made a grave error than it is to attribute one of our mistakes to someone else or to an outside cause. But what does reason dictate? Does evading the truth alter the truth in any way? No. Truth remains the same, whether we acknowledge it or not. Moreover, it may be more difficult to find the truth if we avoid it persistently and for an extended period of time. Yet, not acknowledging something that exists will never negate its existence.

Similarly, pretending that something is real when it isn’t will not make it so. The True is the Real. We can close our eyes and pretend that we’re living in a fairy tale. But at some point we’ll have to open them again and face the reality of our everyday lives. And when we face this reality is when our authentic lives begin.

The only part of you that will ever encourage you to live outside of truth is your False Self. Your True Self, that self who is capable of creating a life of meaning and purpose, fully understands that fulfillment can only come from within Truth. Only Truth is eternal. And, in the end, nothing else will remain.  When each of us comes to the end of our lives, the lies we have told ourselves and others will no longer matter. We will be faced with the results of a life that was either lived in freedom and in truth or in falsehood and imprisonment.

Does it sound like this is yet another matter in which making a choice is the preeminent factor?  Well, in a way, life does consist of the choices we make. We may think we’re being clever when we make choices that bring us pleasure at the expense of bringing pain to others. But the person who will pay the price of all the choices we make is us. And there is always a price to pay, whether we see it immediately or not. If nothing else, we pay the price of selling our soul and freedom to lies and self-deception. We pay the price of betraying humanity by choosing what we thought was best for us over what was right for others.

It is so easy to forget that we are all as connected as we are separate. And yet, the moment we forget that is when we cease to be fully human. It is also the moment when we think we have more answers than we do. There are many who imagine themselves to be smart enough to live successfully by their own rules. But those who make an impact on the world and who lead lives that are of consummate value will never be the many but rather the few. They may not acquire fame or fortune, yet they will have gained something of far greater merit—the freedom of Truth.

The Stoic philosopher Epictetus once said, “He who knows not who he is, and for what purpose he exists, and what is this world, and with whom he is associated, and what things are the good and the bad, and the beautiful and the ugly, and who neither understands discourse nor demonstration, nor what is true nor what is false, and who is not able to distinguish them, will neither desire according to nature, nor turn away, nor move  upward, nor intend, nor assent, nor dissent, nor suspend his judgment: to say all in a few words, he will go about dumb and blind, thinking that he is somebody but being nobody.”

What will your choice be? Is it better to be a nobody who thinks he is a somebody or a somebody who is humble enough to regard himself as a nobody? There is no reason to underestimate ourselves. Nevertheless, it will always be in humility that we find Truth, for Pride is a veil through which knowledge and wisdom cannot penetrate.

Love and blessings,

Alexis, your SuccessDiva

(for Mark Stephen Levy, with love, happiness, and much respect)

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This page and all written material at the SuccessDiva Pages is written by Alexis Wingate. (C) Copyright 2010 Alexis Wingate, the SuccessDiva. All Rights Reserved

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~Be your own mirror~

mirror1My great uncle once told my mother that he believed there are two types of people in the world: “givers” and “takers”. Although I would never be so quick to stack individuals into two boxed-in categories, I think the point he was trying to make was a valid one. As a diva of success, it would probably be easy for me to become so focused on my own endeavors that I didn’t give much thought to others except in terms of how they could in some way benefit me.

A couple of weeks ago, someone who has been my friend for several months suggested that self-promotion was at the heart of my Success Diva activities although he has never actually taken the time to read the articles at my blog.  Obviously, to be successful in any area of your life, you do have to take personal initiative. You must make the most of opportunities and, to loosely paraphrase a quote by author Francis Bacon, you sometimes have to create more opportunities than you find.

But, does this mean that suddenly you are the only important person in your world and everyone else is a background player?? Are you the only star in your sky? If so, isn’t it getting a little lonely up there in the heavens?? I have known plenty of people over the course of my life who seemed to concentrate exclusively on themselves and their own needs and desires. There are even those who would say that such behavior is “natural” and “normal”. Yet, is it? Or is that just an attempt on a person’s part to validate the fact that they are always putting themselves first?

Our society nourishes and promotes a philosophy that is immensely ego-driven. We are brainwashed into believing that if we accomplish enough and acquire enough, we will find happiness and fulfillment. When we turn on the television set, we see add after add telling us what perfume we should wear, what shaving cream we should use, where we should shop for clothes, and what sort of lifestyle we should crave. We can think that we aren’t being influenced by the messages that we’re hearing on television or reading in magazines and books, but, after awhile, the thoughts behind the words begin to seep into our consciouness. We imagine that we will always remain consistently devoted to our own personal goals and dreams, but aren’t we kidding ourselves? How can we not be affected by all that we see, hear, and experience?

If, for instance, our society was more inclined to encourage everyone to think first of others and then of themselves, how would things be different than they are now? Many people think that  “looking out for number one” is the strategy that drives achievement.  But what sort of achievement does it bring? We all reside on this earth together, don’t we? The only way that focusing exclusively on ourselves and our needs would be an ideal situation is if each of us were residing on our own planet. We are dependent upon other people, whether we want to be or not.

Zig Ziglar, one of my favorite motivational speakers is noted for saying, “You can have everything in life you want, if you just help enough people get what they want.” What I think Zig’s trying to point out is that you we must embrace the spirit of harmony that pervades our universe, rather than trying to fight it. Instead of looking at each relationship as being something that could benefit us, we should be thinking of ways in which each connection we make can be mutually beneficial. When it comes to the people you love, don’t you usually think of their wishes, in addition to your own? Of course, you do. So, you know what it’s like to experience that feeling of connection with another person. Why not enjoy it in all of your relationships?

It’s only our ego that makes us think that giving too much attention or affection to others will in some way cause us to be depleted. When we allow ourselves to lapse into what I call a “scarcity mentality”, we truly fear that if we let someone else take center stage in our world instead of us, we’ll somehow end up as the understudy in our own life.  And yet, the examples that have been shown in books and films of those whose lives have been lived solely to benefit themselves demonstrate that happiness is not generally found in mere self-gratification.

The film “Sunset Boulevard” comes to mind when I think of a story in which the leading figure was completely at the command of her own ego. Norma Desmond had become so fixated on her status as a “star”, that she lives in an imaginary gothic fairy tale of her own making.  Her world was a spider’s web spun from threads of lies, delusions, and memories.  She existed in the past because facing the future would have meant that she would have had to fly out of her gilded cage and face the woman she really was when she looked in the mirror. A looking glass doesn’t lie to us, but we can lie to it if we choose to see a reflection other than our own when we peer into it.

If, for instance, we see ourselves as a generous, caring, and benevolent person, but we are actually selfish, jealous, and resentful, we will never be looking at our reflection in a mirror no matter how many times we gaze into it. When you take a few moments to think about it, it’s amazing how much time many of us have taken to try to erase a small blemish on our complexions. And, yet, how much time have we spent trying to rectify the blemishes in our soul? How often have we contemplated whether or not we were exhibiting compassion and caring to the people in our lives? How frequently have we stopped and engaged in a full self-assessment of ourselves and our inner natures? It’s so much easier to ignore what we don’t like about ourselves. “Nobody knows I’m really this way,” we whisper to our souls, and maybe some part of us really buys into that theory.

However, would  you think a diamond that looked magnificent on the surface was nearly as lovely if you held it under a microscope and saw it was full of black carbon spots? It would lose a lot of its allure, would it not? Well, if our outsides don’t match up with our insides, we’re no different than that deeply flawed diamond. So, no matter how radiant we think we are when we’re under the spotlight, sooner or later people are going to notice those telltale blemishes. It’s never comfortable to acknowledge that we’re not the person we want to be and/or that we’re pretending to be, but, in order to find true contentment within our souls and spirits, it’s much better to admit even that which is unpleasant as opposed to allowing an illusion to become our reality.

After all, no matter how many people come into our lives or how many significant others or children or relatives or friends we have over the course of our lifetime, the person we will end up spending the most time with is still ourselves. Would you choose to spend the largest amount of your time with someone who was pretending to be someone besides themselves? If you had a friend who told you that they were hiding their true nature from you and everyone else, would you continue wanting to spend lots of time around them? Well, if you haven’t been honest with yourself and others about the person you are, is it really any different?

Actually, it is different because whether or not you lie to yourself is something you have control over. On the other hand, you have no power over whether or not others are manipulating or lying to you about who they are. If someone whom you love and trust is presenting you with a fake mirror image of their true nature, there isn’t anything you can do to change that. It’s because people do deceive others and convey a false impression of themselves that many of us are quick to imagine there is a hidden agenda behind someone’s friendliness or kindness. “What do they want from me?”, we sometimes asks ourselves. And, who can blame us for wondering that? Since our culture teaches people that self-gratifaction is of the utmost importance, why would we not look for hidden motives?

What we need to make sure of is that we are not guilty of having hidden motives ourselves. It’s easy to engage in behavior that appears to be benefiting others, but if all we’re thinking about is how what we’re doing will benefit us, there will come a time when someone will start to question our authenticity. At the very least, we’ll know that our seemingly altruistic gestures are being guided by personal motives. If, for example, the only reason we take someone out to lunch is because we think that they’ll invest in a project we’re trying to get up and running, we may accomplish what we’re setting out to do, but we’ll be left with a feeling of dissatisfication because we’ll know that we had a private agenda that was intended to only benefit us.

Anthony Robbins, another of my favorite motivational speakers and authors, has ensured that his children learn the value of giving to other people. I have always remembered the story of how one of his children was given a huge bunch of balloons on a special occasion. Rather than encouraging his son to bask in the feeling of overwhelming gratification that being the recipient of so many balloons could have given him, Tony suggested that he go to a nursing home and give some the balloons away to the people staying there. At first, Tony’s young son wasn’t overly enthusiastic at the prospect of letting go of his highly prized balloons. However, after he did give them away and saw the looks of appreciation and affection on the faces of the elderly residents, his sensation of happiness far exceeded what it had been when the balloons belonged to him.  

I think what is true of the balloons is true of love, generosity, kindness, and compassion. We can allow all these emotions to reside within us. . .we can hold onto them frantically, fearing that sharing them will be too great a risk. . .or we can let go of our fears and allow ourselves to embrace the spirit of harmony that is inherent in the universe. I am tremendously fond of saying that Love is Queen of all. I imagine Love as a magnificent queen, dressed in opulent robes and sitting on a jewel-encrusted throne. I think of her ruling over an kingdom in which goblins and ghouls of hate, anger, malice, and envy roam with wild abandon on nights when she sleeps soundly. I envision her engaging in battle with these nefarious beings and conquering them not with the blade of a sword, but rather with magical words of persuasion and gestures of grace. For Love is a Queen whose power comes from stillness and calm rather than bluster, brashness, and brutality. Like those rulers who have been sagacious enough to realize that psychological combat can be more effective than sword play or fist fights, Love plays her game with chess pieces that are pure, genuine, and will not harm anyone. For she knows that truth and kindness will ultimately win, since the universe would not maintain its spirit of harmony otherwise. 

Our world may be full of those who hate and hurt those around them, but the path to happiness and fulfillment is only walked upon by those who are devoted to nourishing themselves and those around them with love, honesty, affection, generosity, and empathy. If you’re thriving on anger, envy, greed, and hatred, you may make enough money to purchase a fancy sports car to drive around in, but sooner or later you’re going to either run off the road or end up on a dead-end street. 

So, unless what you’re pursuing is short-term satisfaction or success that gives you plenty of material possessions but no feeling of inner contentment, look at yourself in the mirror and make sure that the person you think you are matches up with the reflection. And if you prefer the reflection, start making the changes today that will transform that image into your reality.

As always, make every moment matter. . .and life with passion, courage, faith, and enthusiasm!

Until soon,

Your Success Diva

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