The feeling of freedom

I saw some kid sitting against a fence by the bus stop waiting for his bus.

Seeing him there alone and waiting, somewhere to go but no hurry to be there, reminded me of a feeling I used to have.

The feeling of freedom. The freedom of no cares and no worries, walking out into the world and feeling existence surround me.

Feeling my own solitude against the world. The isolation and potential of nothing I need to be doing.

Having kids, a home, a wife; people and things to come back to. Yes, they tether me. But they don’t have to.

Freedom is a mental condition. Driving a car can feel like freedom, or it can be a tense, white-knuckle experience.

You can relax behind the wheel and hit some kind of zen-like trance where everything feels connected and flowy.

So why not relax behind life? Loosen your grip on the reins or the wheel, take your foot off the brake. Trust your instincts, trust the journey, trust the flow.

The world is still completely free. It never changed from when I was young and solitary.

I’m still alone, but I also have people I care about, and do you think that’s not part of the flow too?

It’s not my efforts or worry that keep the world going. My heart won’t stop beating if I let go nor will I forget to take my next breath.

If I’m tied down, let the ties do their work! Relax and know that nothing I want will drift away or be lost.

I’m just another ingredient in this beautiful medley. Counting heart beats or following my breath, I’m free to be just a piece of this grand composition that is living me.

That’s what freedom means. Life is loving me and not an atom of my whole experience needs my work to hold it in place.

And on the contrary there are many many wonderful things waiting to join in if I just give them the space to enter, and my willingness to appreciate what they bring.

The garden within you

There’s a place of peace and clarity within us. You can go there if you retreat just a little from all your worries and cares.

Don’t go outside your house to see the flowers.
My friend, don’t bother with that excursion.
Inside your body there are flowers.
One flower has a thousand petals.
That will do for a place to sit.
Sitting there you will have a glimpse of beauty
inside the body and out of it,
before gardens and after gardens.
– Kabir

Getting there is easy. Staying there is harder, because we’ve spent all our lives investing in stories of “out there”.

Stories of how important it is to worry, strive, prove yourself, accomplish something.

Stories that began with us accepting there was something wrong or broken or inadequate about our own existence.

Stories where it’s a mean world out there and your success is a measure of your worthiness and your happiness is a reflection of your success.

Guard your heart

Guarding your heart means not allowing your thoughts about life to force you out of the peace and happiness within you.

After all, we have God’s own assurance that nothing can go wrong for us.

Christ didn’t let himself be killed to pay a price required of us by his own Father. His was a sacrifice to end all sacrifice, not because God requires or demands sacrifice but because we humans had got it into our heads that sacrifice was necessary.

Sacrifice was never necessary.

But Samuel replied: “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.

To obey originally meant “to listen”. The Hebrew for “obey” likewise means “to hear”.

We tend to interpret this verse as saying “enough with the sacrifices, just do as you’re told!”

Because obedience conjures images of dutifully following commandments. Listening and hearing God’s guidance is conflated with following orders.

Yet the whole point of the Bible is that God desires a genuine relationship with us.

Or rather, God has never ceased pouring out His love and blessings upon us. We are the ones hiding, refusing, and rejecting the grace available to us.

The garden within

It’s easy to find the quiet place within you where God dwells. But to carry that peace and love out into life requires us to let go of the worries and cares that have accrued around our external circumstances.

I can close my eyes and feel close to God, but open them and feel the tie of thoughts about everything I see before me: house, belongings, family, YouTube, chores, plans, worries and fears and hopes and wishes.

The work before us is to let our thoughts be changed by the peace and love we find within.

Bit by bit, soothe and soften and ease the story of our lives until we can remain in this love always.

The Way is like an empty vessel
That yet may be drawn from
Without ever needing to be filled.
It is bottomless; the very progenitor of all things in the world.
In it all sharpness is blunted,
All tangles untied,
All glare tempered,
All dust soothed.

It is like a deep pool that never dries.
Was it too the child of something else? We cannot tell.
But as a substanceless image it existed before the Ancestor.

– DDJ 4. Waley

Happiness Day 16

Happiness flow chart (sorta).

I had the idea just now to make a flow chart about feeling good that covers all the general possibilities.

How do I feel right now?

Good! -> appreciate it!

Not good.

Can I find a better feeling?

Yes! -> appreciate it!

No.

Can I accept/make peace with where I am right now?

Yes. -> appreciate it.

No.

Can I soothe myself?

Yes. -> keep soothing.

No. -> go have a nap, find a simple distraction, change the subject, get your mind off what is bothering you.

A more positive approach?

But this flow chart feels like it could be more positive. I mean, it’s good to demonstrate what to do when you feel bad, but it doesn’t really develop a good feeling.

For all intents and purposes, good feeling is the grace, spirit, divine presence, whatever you want to call it, that we seek to cultivate by prayer or meditation.

When people visualise a pure white light surrounding and infusing them, the whole point is that this visualisation feels good.

If it doesn’t feel good, it isn’t working for you.

I can visualise all sorts of things and have no effect whatsoever.

That’s where I went wrong in the past: not by visualising per se but by thinking the point of all the different spiritual practices was something other than feeling good.

Meditation should feel good. Prayer should feel good. Sometimes it’s difficult, sure. But it mostly should feel good.

If you’re accustomed to feeling bad and distrusting ordinary good feelings, you might make the mistake of thinking spiritual practices should not feel good.

You might overemphasise stories of struggle and effort and how “different” spiritual practice is from everything else in life.

But the bottom line is that it should feel good. And for my purposes I should treat good feeling as a direct sign of the spiritual substance I’m seeking to connect with.

The presence of God feels good. Divine love feels good. Our hearts’ desire is to feel good.

Feeling good is the path and the destination. Accept it, embrace it, and be changed by it until everything feels good for you.

Happiness Challenge Day 10

Feeling good is your magic power.

I used to love fantasy stories as a kid, and even as I grew up I longed to find magic in the real world.

Eventually I grew disenchanted, and sought my magic in spiritual teachings instead.

But I’ve found my magic power after all. It’s called feeling good, and though I’m only a novice at it I can already see the effects of this magic in myself and in my world.

If I could go back in time I would teach my younger self exactly what I’m learning now.

Feeling good is the key; practice reaching for thoughts that feel good, no matter what the circumstances.

My favourite thing to do right now is to sit and simply feel good.

Well I say “simply” but I’m also aware that by feeling good I’m allowing this magic to spread within myself and through the farthest reaches of my reality.

In untold and mysterious ways, my feeling good benefits and improves everything and everyone around me.

My feeling good works magic on the whole of life, because in fact it is “life” itself that causes the good feeling in me.

It might make more sense to some readers if instead of “feeling good” I called it meditation or contemplative prayer.

All those monks and nuns and hermits and spiritual people around the world, sitting daily or on their knees communing with God or drawing on the great reserve of love and compassion and radiating it out to the entire world: they know what they’re doing is magical. They feel their part in the deep wellspring of peace and joy that flows to all of us, even if we are not ready to receive it.

Do you know that what we call God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and exists outside of time and space? So when we pray or meditate on this pure Being we participate in something totally transcendent.

And at the same time we allow that totally transcendent Being of pure love to participate in us and in our reality.

That is why this practice feels so good that it might as well be magic.

Sin and Feeling

One of the things that bothered me about the typical definition of sin in Christianity is the focus on actions and eternal law.

“Law” is a metaphor. God doesn’t have laws any more than our legal system has a “spirit”.

But it’s a strong metaphor because what we call “law” stands like a guide and a container for our actions and choices.

Perhaps you could say that human law, justice, judgement and punishment are a reflection of this divine thing that is properly nameless and wordless but must be translated into human terms if we are to talk about it.

Sin as action

Sometimes we do things that we know (or come to learn) are wrong, and we struggle with our own conscience over them. In fact moral theology has many caveats to this basic dynamic that include the formation or malformation of the conscience, the broader context of culpability, and so on.

A good judge takes into account all kinds of extenuating and aggravating circumstances.

But sin itself never really spoke to me in this context of action and law and judgement.

Sin as state

I’ve been thinking about it lately because someone asked me a question regarding sin, confession, and the problem of psychogenic illness and temperament.

I suspect the problem is that long-term anxiety and depression, and the temperament that predisposes me to these states, deny me any clear sense of the path before me, or that the root cause of my problems is ultimately my own transgressive actions.

If you can see the path, then yes you will know when you’ve deviated from it.

But if you can’t see the path, then being told that your actions are the root cause of your suffering is about as helpful as being blamed for being lost in a fog.

That’s not to say that I lack a sense of actions that are transgressive or immoral. Rather, the root cause of my suffering in life was not obviously related to any particular action or disposition.

It’s as if everyone was saying “just stay on the path and you’ll be fine. And even if you step off the path, you can return because God is forgiving”. Meanwhile I’m nodding politely while wondering where this path is exactly.

Finding the path

I think my temperament, and my Feeling function in particular, conceives of the world in a different way.

That’s probably why I was drawn to Eastern religions in my youth. Dharma is basically the same as Eternal Law, and the Dao is basically the way, but each has a richer, more substantial context in relation to the divine. Not that Christianity is really any different, it’s just a question of emphasis:

Do you emphasise God as judge and divine legislator? Or do you emphasise God as the path, the “way” itself, the outer boundaries of which are roughly marked with moral warnings?

Before I learned any Christian philosophy or theology, it seemed obvious to me that the moral law was the outermost perimeter of a deeper spiritual reality. Clinging to the moral law was like going to a beautiful mansion in the hills, and then stopping just inside the fence.

Yes, if you want to live in God’s house you can’t go outside the fence, but why on earth would you? Do you sit comfortably in a friend’s living room, loving their company, yet continually fretting that you might any moment fall off the edge of their property?

Private prayer

I think a lot of this goes unsaid in people’s personal relationship with God. People yearn to feel connected to God somehow, and that’s what is really important.

And some types or temperaments are completely fine with the idea that their actions help or hinder this relationship, and that confession or asking for and receiving forgiveness is the best way to remedy that relationship.

For these people, it makes sense to promote concepts of sinful action, eternal law, and forgiveness as the core dynamic of God’s interaction with the world.

But if you’re lost and living in a fog, it might be due to a number of factors that don’t necessarily fall under the standard definition of sin.

It might be the result of other people’s sins. Or it could be a kind of sin that isn’t commonly known or understood.

From a melancholic/introverted-Feeling perspective, there’s not much point trying to confess a Feeling. Yet this strong Feeling function so overshadows everything else that it not only blots out our sense of the divine, not to mention happiness, but it also obscures our own role in giving rise to this obstacle.

That’s what gave me this intense thirst for understanding. The hope of understanding my condition brought knowledge, insight, wisdom, to the fore rather than moral uprightness, sin, or forgiveness.

A person lost in a fog doesn’t need forgiveness, they need clarity. They need to know the lay of the land so they can stop falling into holes. They need a light, and in that light they can find the path.

Perfect love and complete joy

What’s your emotional baseline?

As a melancholic my inner life has been characterised by anxiety, hypervigilance, doubt, struggle, and frequent dismay or despair.

Being an introvert, my inner life is essentially my entire life.

But I’ve been looking to change my life or my experience of it, and taking a cue from some familiar religious sources, I’ve set upon some emotional goals or ideals: perfect love, and complete joy.

Perfect love comes from 1 John:

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

Anxiety is a form of fear. It is triggered (however unconsciously) by beliefs about the world, myself, and the intersection of the two. I’ve spent many years analysing my fears and their source, arriving finally at a point where there is nothing more to learn from them.

There is no fear in love, therefore, wherever possible, I’m replacing fear with love. Where it isn’t possible, I try to dig a little deeper and understand what’s going on, what lies behind the fear.

Complete joy comes from John’s Gospel:

Truly, truly, I tell you, whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you. Until now you have not asked for anything in My name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.

Joy is the opposite of sorrow. We feel joy in response to good things, sorrow in response to bad. Complete joy implies complete goodness in life – a life so full of good things that our joy is complete.

That’s a pretty high bar to set.

Joy and love are different. We can experience love because God Himself is love, and love is the fundamental nature of reality. As children we experience love naturally. Love is, as it were, our default setting, but for various reasons it is drowned out or obscured by fear and sorrow.

We can experience joy because God is love, and love entails a desire for the good of the one loved. Put simply, when you love someone you want them to be happy.

Hence the reference to prayer, to asking God to give us things, and the assurance that He will do so. The omnipotent deity, the divine being behind and within all existence will shape that existence to our complete joy.

But why has He not already done so? Why do we have to even ask? If the ‘default’ setting is love, why is there so much evil and misery and hatred in the world?

Honestly I don’t know about “the world”, I only know my world. And with deep introspection I’ve found that every misery and hurt and fear in my life has been chosen by me.

That might sound strange or implausible, but it is true. Going back, I can recall key moments where I was threatened or terrified by some external event, and at that moment I assented to fear or anger or hurt and did not assent to love or faith or hope.

Ever since, I’ve maintained those fears and sorrows in my own inner world.

The great commandment is to love God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind, and Jesus implores us to remain in His love.

Anxiety means I am not remaining in that love, and while this shouldn’t be a cause for feeling guilty or blameworthy in an emotional sense, it does mean we are responsible. It is up to us to choose love instead of fear, though it may take a lot of time and effort to discover the moment where the wrong choice was made.

That is why life is not full of joy. We made choices in favour of sorrow and fear instead of love, and we have inwardly maintained those sorrows and fears ever since.

We actively reject love, though we may not be entirely conscious of it. I guess that’s why the commandment refers to all our heart, soul, and mind. All of it. Not just “a lot”.

Jesus said in terms of prayer that:

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

But we don’t believe, because we don’t have love. And while we might pray for things we feel we really want, I’ve found deep down that I’m divided. Praying for success when parts of you don’t really want to succeed, because they’re enmeshed in fears and sorrows. Praying for healing when parts of you are content with your disease.

The bottom line is that perfect love and complete joy are immanent, though they may not be imminent. But the more I examine myself and my own experience, the more it seems the resistance is all on my side.