Each of us is responsible for our own liberation and our own bondage. We have the choice to live in freedom or to be bound by the separation of duality. Simply stated, this means that you yourself are responsible for your own happiness or your own sadness and suffering.
Before we explore why this is so, let’s ask this question: what if it were true that we didn’t have this choice? How would you feel? Probably apathetic, angry, resentful, wilfull, and doubtful.
But wait a minute: This seems a lot like the experience we have even though we do have a choice! So what is wrong with this picture?
Most people don’t really believe that they have a choice, and in some ways, that belief has been reinforced by their own experience. We somehow find that we are the victims of our own life, and we accept that as the only possible reality. And so it’s very understandable that most people go through their entire lifetime failing to recognize that they have a choice and, are in effect, choosing to not choose. The result is that we continue living in self-limitation. We bring to our life the same experience that we’ve been having, which is equivalent to spiritual suicide.
But let’s focus on what we can do right now, in this lifetime. Not only do we have the choice to have a different experience, we have the responsibility to our self—to our highest Self—to reach for, open to, and allow the revealing light of Grace to show us our freedom, to bring us the joy we deserve. The good news is that if you are in any kind of authentic spiritual practice, Grace has already shown Itself to you.
Consciousness has within itself the two aspects of being the substance and the illuminating power of life, and having the capacity to be aware of itself—to be aware that it is illuminating life. That self-referential capacity to be aware is the gift of Grace. For those fortunate enough to be engaged in spiritual practice, some light has already shown forth from within our deepest selves and has cracked the concrete of our own heart. This is the light of Grace.
Grace may come like a bolt of lightning, and then it is our responsibility to accept that Grace and to allow it to free us. To beg Grace to free us. This is how we take responsibility for ourselves and make our choice to live in liberation, in a state of profound joy. Because we have been given the gift of our own self-awareness, we can be conscious of our state at every moment of life and have the ability to choose our own experience. Our responsibility is to exercise that choice.
Understand the gift you have in this ability to choose your life. Probably one of the most difficult and challenging things that we come to understand is that we are absolutely responsible and have this choice about how we experience our life—and this doesn’t relate much to the conditions or circumstances we encounter. We do have choices we can make, but is there anyone who always finds that all circumstances in life are exactly what they’d choose? It doesn’t happen.
We must give up on the idea that the circumstances of our life dictate our experience of our life, although it’s almost impossible for us to separate the two because there is an apparent paradox that we must transcend. We have to penetrate through duality and understand that our manifest life is simply a reflection of our own inner state, painted on the screen of our own resonance. And at the same time—even though our own life is created from within us—this does not have to dictate our experience of life. How can that be, if the outer experience comes from the inner?
The answer lies in the fact that the life that is coming out from within us is being projected and reflected from a place of misunderstanding. It’s only when we want to judge our life as being “good” or “bad” that there’s a problem. In reality, our life is perfect, but wherever we look, we see a recurring story that we don’t accept. This story is tenacious and repeats itself over and over again because of our karma, patterns and contractions. If we don’t choose to open to a difference inner resonance, we should not be surprised to see the same things again and again.
We will have to peel off, layer by layer, whatever veils of misunderstanding we have wrapped round us. Much of this misunderstanding drops off as we learn to accept our lives. We experience the joy of abiding in this acceptance, watching Divine Grace manifest exactly what we need. We know that life is not happening to us, it is happening from within us, and we are profoundly grateful. We recognize the Divine Will that is bringing us to freedom.
If we find ourselves continually caught in a struggle with some person or some dynamic in our life, if we keep feeling, “There’s this thing and I have to open up to it”—then we haven’t truly opened up. When we really open up to a situation, it can no longer penetrate into us, grip us, and pull us from our center. So our barometer is that when we’re still struggling to open to something or someone, we haven’t yet done so with enough depth.
The first step in getting beyond struggle is to avoid getting hooked by the inner voice that says, “Here we go again.” This is the voice of the ego, which is threatened whenever it feels that our attention is going inside and penetrating into a quieter, deeper, stiller place. In response, the ego starts creating a lot of drama to distract us. When we are drawn into that drama, it has succeeded in hooking us. We have to develop the discipline to open and feel our heart, and whenever a three-ring circus starts up in the mind, we must understand that it is just a three-ring circus. Even while it’s going on, we don’t have to engage it.
When we haven’t really opened to something, it means we haven’t yet gotten quiet enough inside and haven’t pulled enough energy inside. In other words, we haven’t pulled enough of our awareness out of that particular level of our mental and emotional self to allow our heart to become the dominant experience.
Once our heart does become our dominant experience, we can relate to turmoil as if we were driving in a car past two people having an argument. How involved do we want or need to get in that? We can keep on going. It’s the same when we’re in an argument with ourselves. We don’t have to engage in it just because it’s happening. In fact, the spiritual discipline is to not engage in it, but to recognize that it arises from a limited aspect of our self. Yet we’re continually arguing within ourselves because that’s what the ego does—and the topics multiply like rabbits to get our attention.
We must recognize that this is just the activity of the mind trying to sustain control over us. We can live in freedom without having to change any of our life’s circumstances, without having to change any of the people we encounter, and certainly without having to fix their problems for them.
This kind of non-attachment is not necessarily easy; it requires strength and discipline. But understand that if we lose our center by getting engaged in struggle, we have chosen to do so. We do participate fully in life, we engage our friends and co-workers, but if we lose ourselves in the process, we’ve lost. If you really want to serve others, let them be. We can simply acknowledge them without engaging on their level, even if they want to pull us into their drama. We can do this without negating or disrespecting the place others are functioning from, but if we decide to walk into that quicksand, it’s our choice.
This is part of the test of our life. The problem is that we have this expectation that our life is going to stop demanding that we be open. That at some point, we will be in a Utopian situation where everything is wonderful and everyone loves each other. This is nonsense. If you look back through history, you’ll never find a time or place where that happened for more than a day! It’s the nature of the human level of consciousness.
Instead of focusing on human consciousness, focus on the Divine consciousness within. Our problem is our expectation that our life is going to be different, that it will become problem-free—and then that expectation creates a need in us for it to be different. What happens then? When the need isn’t met we’re thrown off balance or get angry. In reality, all the situations we get involved in are perfect for us. They are a projection from the wholeness within us. It’s only the mind that can’t understand the perfection that life offers at every moment. And no matter how many sledgehammers we take to life, it will not conform to what we think it should be. So stop trying to change the dynamics of your life to suit your expectation of it.
At some point, we will wake up and a formerly-troublesome situation will have disappeared. We have freed ourselves from that particular dynamic, even if the outward appearance of life has not changed. The struggle will just fall away, because the level of tension in that dynamic was just a reflection of some level of tension within us. It’s never about the specifics of a situation or the tensions of others. The lesson is to understand that everything we encounter is a reflection of our inner state—and we do not have to change anything in life in order to free ourselves of our own tension.
When we are able to contact the deepest place inside us, happiness is not dependent on anything external. Yet we have to go through life to be free of it. We have to go through the duality of life to understand the unity of it. When we rest in God and find stillness inside, we can engage in difficult situations without being pulled out of our center. We are able to keep our attention inside and experience the world as a flow of energy, rather than getting caught in our mind and emotions.
Freedom is not gained by retreating from the world, but by engaging the world and understanding it as the expression of our own consciousness and energy. In fact, the whole foundation of Tantric practices is this non-dualistic understanding that there is no separation between consciousness and energy. In other words, there is no separation between consciousness and the manifestation that is created from the power of that consciousness—and that means that our life is not separate from its source. Understanding and experiencing this unity is how we truly free ourselves from duality.
Tantric philosophy describes what are called The Five Acts of Shiva, and they are taking place with every pulsation of consciousness from God’s heart. There is an ongoing process of creation, maintenance and dissolution—and, in terms of our lives, that means we are born, live for a while, and then die. But it is the other two acts that determine our experience of the first three, and those are the acts of concealment and revelation.
We exist in individuated form because Shiva concealed Himself. When he chose to manifest as the entirety of creation, he valued the experience of his inherent state so much that he imagined that it would be wonderful to forget Himself in that creation, for the sheer joy of remembering again.
Because we are not separate from that infinite radiant source, we also perform those same Five Acts with every breath of our life. We can get lost in the endless cycle of creation, maintenance, and dissolution, thereby concealing the higher awareness available within that manifestation. Or, we can choose to use our capacity for self-awareness to tune in to that which will reveal the Source of our life. The choice is whether we live in the pain of the concealment of our highest Self, or in the joy of remembering.
The true sadhaka, the person who deeply wants spiritual freedom, seeks to have everything he knows disproved, because everything he knows up to this point is structured in duality, in separation. But we have to be aware that the tendency, as soon as we have one thing disproved, is to latch on to the next level of understanding and get attached again. So we need to let go and apply the same strategy at every level of spiritual growth.
The challenge is to be open and deeply centered in ourselves, every moment of the day and when we’re not, we re-center ourselves by taking a conscious breath—and in this way we draw the energy of our mind back inside. We do this while we’re engaged in social intercourse with the world. This takes discipline and diligence. And it takes depth over time, because we must cultivate the ability to stay focused on internalizing our energy. We make a conscious choice day by day, moment by moment to do this inner work.
Our Source is always present within us. It is like a current of light that is always available, just waiting for us to remember to turn on the switch. It really doesn’t matter how dark the darkness is, how deep the layers of concealment, if you take responsibility for finding your own light. The switch is in your own heart. This is the gift of revelation: that we can discover in ourselves the highest truth. That we have this choice, and we have this responsibility. Isn’t that amazing?