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

In Search of Ourselves

When the word purpose is used in conjunction with existence, people oftentimes assume that one is religious. There is a tendency to assume that unless you view the world as the result of creation as opposed to evolution, you cannot possibly believe that any of us has a specific destiny or reason for being here. We are simply living, oftentimes with no clear-cut sense of direction or meaning. Thus, we drift, like rudderless ships on a vast ocean of nothingness, perpetually in the present or in the past, failing to make adequate or effective plans for our future.

The question is: is this realism or are we trapped in a cycle of self-deception? Is it possible that in ceasing to think we have any purpose for being here, we are actually providing ourselves with an excuse for living exactly as we please? If we define living as we please as freedom, then the answer might be yes. To imagine that we have no obligations to anyone can be alluring for it provides us with a justification for not taking responsibility for anything, not even ourselves.

But how lasting is this type of freedom? And how much happiness does it bring us? When we fail to connect with those around us and develop a capacity to share in their pain and suffering, what have we become?

We see ourselves as beyond personal vulnerability. Yet it is our frailties and inadequacies that make us fully human. In turning our back on the dark side of human existence, we deny the innate courage, resilience, and strength that we possess both to cope and overcome these things.

The human will has infinite power, depth, and tenacity. We were not born to crumble under the tyranny of pain and suffering. And, in order to honor ourselves and humanity, we must be willing to bear the truth of all experiences, whether they be painful or joyous.

Ernest Becker, the noted anthropologist, scientist, thinker, and writer once spoke of the incapability of suffering as “obsessive denial of reality”. A few months ago, I wrote an article that encouraged you to create your own reality. I now perceive how dangerous this advice could have been. In choosing your own subjective reality over the reality that is part of all our lives, you can too easily subscribe to beliefs and opinions about yourself, other people, and the world that have no basis in truth. This does not mean that I do not support the idea of having faith in yourself or in trying to improve your life in every possible way.

What it does mean is that no matter how tempted we are to allow imagination to expand our minds, we must never let illusion substitute for reality. When we refuse to acknowledge that certain experiences are genuine or do not allow ourselves the freedom to express our own frustration about life, we are asking ourselves to live a lie. Children enjoy fairy tales because they enable them to escape into a world of fantasy where they imagine themselves as fanciful figures who have magical powers to overcome the everyday stress and tedium that mere mortals experience.

Trying to escape the monotony of existence is something that we learn to do early in life. Yet, as we grow older, if we continue to attempt to run from reality, what are we accomplishing? To face the truth takes strength. But what is more difficult than acknowledging truth is finding it. We manage to cast our own veils over Truth, much as we might cover the face of a statue that we are afraid to look at.

We fear that Truth will force us to see ourselves as we are, rather than as we wish to be. And that is something that many of us are not prepared for. The logic behind this rationality is difficult to fathom when you begin to understand that until you see yourself as you are you will not be able to take the steps necessary to become what you want to be.

Why it is that seeing ourselves as either less or more than we are is easier than seeing ourselves as we are?  Is it so difficult to accept our true selves? Perhaps, our narcissistic society is somewhat to blame for our inability to see ourselves clearly. We choose the ideal self—the image—over the reality of who we really are.

We may even manage to convince ourselves that we will bring this ideal image into existence by holding it in our minds. But isn’t there something terribly irrational about that concept? If we do not see and embrace our true selves, how can we create genuine change? Can we live authentically and yet see ourselves as being different than we are?

If the answer is no, do we then choose to live without authenticity? And how meaningful would such a life be? As children, we were intoxicated by fairy tales, and, perhaps, many of us still are. There will always be something deeply alluring about entering into a magical land of make-believe where we may have a chance to “live happily ever after”. But would we choose that if we knew that none of it could ever be real?

Would we rather live outside of reality and create wondrous experiences in our minds. Or would we rather enter into the realm of being and accept both the good and the bad that life has to offer us? We cannot have it both ways. Our own reality can be created. But unless it exists within truth (which is not possible as our own reality is, by its very nature, purely subjective), it remains part of an illusion that will only lead us further along the path of self-deception.

For awhile, self-deception can seem harmless enough. It enables us to believe whatever we want to about any given circumstance within our lives. Moreover, we can choose to ignore anything unpleasant, too. We can even deceive ourselves into believing that life is nothing but a series of positive experiences for when we imagine that we can create whatever reality we choose there are no limits. Unfortunately, such thinking tends to promote narcissism. We begin to see others as being here to serve us and our purposes. As a result, we lose sight of the fact that it is actually the other way around—we are here to serve others.

It has been said before that the love you give away is the only love you really get to keep. Then, might it not also be said that the life that is spent in service to others is the only life that is truly meaningful? Or do we dare to imagine that giving could be more important than getting?

Our consumer-oriented culture wants us to believe that the more things we have, the happier we’ll be. But what is the truth? How many of  us will come to the end of our lives wishing that we had more clothes or a more expensive car? Will it matter how many trips around the world we took or how much jewelry we own?

Perhaps, I have it wrong. Maybe it is more important how much we have than who we are as people. But, if so, why is it that so many people who have everything they could ever ask for remain so unfulfilled? If getting and having do not bring us satisfaction, is it possible that the more we have and get, the more dissatisfied we become? In our attempts to diminish our inner thirst with that which will never quench it, it would seem that it’s possible we may actually be making ourselves thirstier. It is akin to trying to nourish our body with food that has no nutritive value. Eventually, we will starve.

This is why pulling ourselves out of our own reality and into the light of Truth is so crucial to having a life of purpose. In the words of philosopher Harry Frankfurt, “Our success or failure in whatever we undertake, and therefore in life altogether, depends on whether we are guided by truth or whether we proceed in ignorance or on the basis of falsehood.”

Frankfurt believes that we need truth not only to understand how to live effectively but even in order to survive. When we look at the state of the world we live in, we have to wonder whether or not the fact that the search for Truth has been replaced by a desire to believe whatever we want to hasn’t contributed to the collapse of humanity. We may talk of creating our own beliefs, but stepping too far outside the truth can affect not merely us but society, as a whole.  

Even though we may not want to acknowledge it, we have responsibility in this world for more than just our own lives. We have an obligation to humanity. It’s not really all about you anymore, nor is it about me or any other single person. It is about us. Our journey is both personal and part of a collective journey that all of us are on. It is the experience of being human, and each of us can has the ability to make of this experience anything we choose. We can either accept the pain and the joy and make the best of each, or we can allow ourselves to lose sight of our collective purpose as we get immersed in ourselves and our narcissistic realities.

Whether you are religious or not, imagine, if you will, the impact that Christianity would have had on the world if we had been told that Jesus came only to save a few select individuals who were in some way set apart as being “special”. Rather than being seen as a figure of eternal selflessness and self-sacrifice, we would perceive Jesus as the ultimate elitist. Yet, much of the time we set ourselves apart as being exempt from the human experience—as having a purpose that is somehow more unique or exceptional than anyone else’s.

Then, we wonder why it seems as if we are unable to establish relationships of any true significance. How can we when we are so absorbed by ourselves and our own lives? The irony is that in spite of our all-encompassing self-absorption, we have not necessarily ever really “found” ourselves. Often, we are absorbed by the false image of ourselves that we hold within our minds and the things we feel that others should be doing for us and/or that the world should be giving to us.

However, beneath all of the superficiality, we still want something deeper . . .  something more, whether we admit it to ourselves or not. We are seeking the purpose that we say we don’t believe in—the reason for living that we say doesn’t exist. For, we are oftentimes so out of touch with our authentic selves that we cannot discriminate between that which we think we want and that which we truly need.

Perhaps the brilliant and contemplative philosopher, Jacob Needleman, sums it up perfectly when he says, “We human beings are in search of meaning, in search of our selves. Very little of what we already are and already have brings us deeper meaning or happiness. We are  born for meaning, not pleasure, unless it is pleasure that is steeped in meaning. And we are born as well for sufferings, not the suffering that leads to madness but the suffering that leads to joy: the struggle with ourselves and our illusions. We are born to overcome ourselves, and through that overcoming to find great harmony and being. We are born for that . . . We are searchers: that is the essence of our present humanness.”

Maybe we have failed to learn one basic truth that would have illuminated our paths from the beginning had we been cognizant of it. We find true meaning not in lives of pleasure and contentment but rather in overcoming, in struggling, in surviving, and not merely in living. For in order to be part of the collective journey—the journey that is not just about us but rather about humanity—we must experience these things.

When we do not expand our minds to see beyond the now, the pursuit of pleasure may remain a permanent quest. In turning our backs upon Truth, we can convince ourselves that our own gratification is all that really matters. Why should we work harder for that which is evanescent, and, in many ways, seemingly indefinable? Unlike money, sex, food, and material possessions, Truth remains elusive . . . always slightly outside our  grasp. And yet, until we are courageous enough to let go of the superficial, the only self we will ever discover will be rooted in subjective reality instead of truth and freedom. 

What will you choose? The fairy tale that will never be anything more than a dream or a reality that is rich with meaning, purpose, and significance?

Love and blessings,

Alexis, your SuccessDiva

(dedicated to Armina Evangelista, with much love)

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