As we study the wisdom of teachers and sages through the centuries, we see that many caution against the same very common misstep many of us make. That trap involves confusing illusion with reality, appearances with truth. We all do it, individually and collectively.
Why does this matter? Because illusion leads us to pain and suffering, while the truth leads to peace. Can you tell the difference? It’s not easy.
A Course in Miracles begins with the following phrase:
“Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists. Herein lies the peace of God.”
For those unfamiliar with the Course, it is what Marianne Williamson calls “an invitation to peace.” It is a series of mind exercises, observations and truths designed to teach us that we give meaning to all we see and do, and that our highest wisdom and joy lies in rejecting the illusion of fear in favor of the truth of love. If we persist, we can do just that.
This is ancient wisdom. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna teaches Arjuna the same enduring truth when he says “that which is not, shall never be. That which is, shall never cease to be.”
The truth endures, the false never existed. Let’s not give illusion our energy and focus.
But we spend so much time focused on the illusions we create and believe. Let’s start with the stories we tell ourselves, about ourselves. There are so many. That we are separate, that we are not enough, that we cannot do it, that we are not worthy or deserving of any breaks or good fortune in life. Our illusions include assumptions about ourselves and our world that we are taught, often so young we are not even aware that we are internalizing a burden that will weigh us down for years. Life is a struggle. People are always out to get you. Nothing is fair.
Eric Butterworth draws a useful distinction here. In his work In the Flow of Life, he writes that we live as though we are living from the outside in. Our happiness and security are determined by what happens around us, to us. We go through our days as though we are simply recipients of whatever life deals us.
However, the truth is that, for all of us, life is lived from the inside out. We give our own meaning to the events of our lives, even when we are unaware that we are doing so. It is for this reason that we must remain aware of the assumptions we bring with us.
Let me illustrate this with a well known story, The Axe Thief.
A farmer had a well-made axe, which he prized. One day, he could not find his axe in his house. He suspected that his neighbor’s son had stolen it, and so began to observe him. He believed that, judging from all the evidence, the boy was the thief. His facial expression was that of a thief, his way of talking was exactly that of a thief. When he spoke to the boy, his eyes were shifty and he seemed uncomfortable. All his movements, all the signs confirmed to the farmer that this boy had stolen his axe.
The farmer had to bring him to justice, and so he set off to talk to the boy’s father. On the way, a glint of something in the woods caught his eye and, looking, he saw his axe leaning against a tree. He remembered that he had been cutting wood the day before and had neglected to bring it home. No one had taken it – he had simply mislaid it.
He went home. When he saw the boy again, nothing about his behavior or his appearance gave any impression that he was an axe thief.
The fact was that the man could not find his axe. His assumptions and preconceptions filled in the rest – he even saw the boy differently because he assumed that the boy was the thief. After he found the axe, suddenly the boy looked very different – his eyes were no longer shifty, he no longer walked as one having something to hide.
When the farmer realized the truth, he saw the picture entirely differently.
Have you ever found yourself doing the same? Someone is late, or doesn’t call back, or doesn’t call at all, and your assumptions take off.
Our assumptions feed our perceptions. A Course In Miracles teaches that “your mind is the means by which you determine your own condition, because mind is the mechanism of decision. You must learn to change your mind about your mind….”
Then it says “the world is nothing in itself. Your mind must give it meaning.” That is a mindbending thought – who would think the world is nothing in itself? But think about it – it is really true. What in your life has meaning absent the meaning you have given it?
Think about the farmer in our story. The fact that his axe was missing had no meaning other than the meaning he gave it.
As an exercise, look at the elements in your life – your job, your environment, your relationships, and examine the way in which you have given them the meaning they have for you.
Peace comes when we are able to discipline our minds to see truly, to discern what meaning we are giving the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Are we looking at them through a lens of limitation, or fear, or are we seeing more clearly? Can we see what’s there with no assumptions or judgments? This is the goal of our spiritual practices.
We need to unpack all the stories we have told ourselves about our inability to measure up, to be worthy. We can stop bringing these assumptions with us as we face new challenges or opportunities. We need to stop getting in our own way.
The power to stop is entirely our own.
So when we unpack the falsehood, move past the illusions, what do we see? What is left?
Removing the layers of illusion is not a destination, but a lifelong journey. We never stop unpacking the illusion and attempting to see clearly. But sometimes we can glimpse the truth of our being, in moments of clarity and wonder.
You have heard it said that we are spiritual beings having a human experience. We are the universal consciousness, spirit, God, Allah, Brahman, whatever name you use, expressing as us, as each of us. Rabbi Rami Shapiro teaches that this divine spirit is flowing, dynamic, always creative and creating. Recognizing that this energy cannot be static, he likes to express the divine in dynamic, active terms. Instead of saying that I am God expressing as Melanie, he would say that I am God “Melanie-ing.” Put your own name in there and see where that energy takes you.
Do you see how comprehensive that is? Everything about you is universal creation expressing as and through you. Amazing!
In his book The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success , Deepak Chopra writes that we are pure consciousness, pure potentiality. We are expressions of the ultimate expressive and creative power.
So what does this mean as we seek to act, to achieve, to make a difference in this physical realm? As the Stoics teach us, if wisdom doesn’t make a difference in how you live your life, don’t waste your time with it.
It makes all the difference. For one, it means that we do nothing alone and nothing under our own power. We can stop fighting, stop struggling, stop believing the world is against us. The creative universe is manifestly for you. We live in the flow of this creative energy, and if we do it with awareness, understanding and gratitude our lives become easier and more abundant. We live with power when we live in this natural flow.
Eric Butterworth wrote “if you can just get into the flow of the Universe within you, you will experience an immediacy of the Presence of God…The profoundest knowledge that you can attain is that your whole existence flows forth inexorably from a Universal process, which is always from inside-out.” By aligning ourselves with source, we open up the channels in us for abundance, joy, ease, beauty, and life.
This is not a new idea. It’s the teaching of the Tao, or the Way – thousands of years ago Lao Tsu taught that the universe flows as a creative fountain, and our strength comes from flowing with it.
Finding the sweet spot, living in the flow, brings an abundance in all areas of life you don’t find when you continue to focus on the struggle, the climb, the fight.
So what does this mean on a practical level? I think the first thing it means is that we trust the process. It’s a scary thing, no doubt, to believe that the divine energy that created us continues to be a force in our lives for growth and healing even when we sometimes cannot see it.
So we step out. We take action. The creative power of the universe, of spirit, is awaiting our input, our first step.
There is power in simply starting, even if we are not sure where the path leads. Don’t wait for the perfect moment or the perfect opportunity. Myrtle Fillmore taught that we “must harmonize our thinking and prayers with actual living experiences.”
Does the path always look as we expect it will? No, it doesn’t. Our lives are not a race to a known finish, but rather an unfolding of possibilities as we journey. As Eric Butterworth taught, each of us is “a flowering of the Universal creative process.” When we move forward in that truth, we claim our creative power.
Author: Rev. Melanie Eyre, Interfaith Minister
Spiritual Leader of One World Spiritual Center
Founder of North Fulton Interfaith Alliance