Posts Tagged ‘freedom’

Exploring difficult moments as our path to freedom. A talk by Lyndon at Cenla Meditation Group on 6/11/13.

Exploring the Third Noble Truth of the cessation of suffering and the realization of well-being. A talk by Lyndon Marcotte at Cenla Meditation Group on 3/19/13.

“If you can be lonely, you can be free.” ~ James Taylor

I was listening to Artist Confidential on the Sirius Coffeehouse channel yesterday which featured a one hour Q & A with and live acoustic performance by James Taylor. I’ve always enjoyed the smooth acoustic quality of his voice and his song writing style. It was a very personal interview and performance. The question was asked what advice would James have for new artists trying to make a career as a professional musician. James said that it used to be that there were a million people trying to get into the room, but now there are a million people in the room trying to be heard, due to the changes in recording industry and the internet.

He said that you have to learn to live as simply as you can with as little as possible while you’re trying to get started, specifically 1) avoid developing a major drug habit which consumes your life and talent, 2) put off having children until you’re ready for the responsibility of a parent, and 3) avoid getting yourself overloaded in debt. Then he went on to summarize by saying, “If you can be lonely, you can be free.”

I understand what he meant in the context of what he said, but it has huge implications beyond aspiring artists and to life as a whole.  There have often been times in life when obligations and expectations can be overwhelming and suffocate you. There are times when you just want to run away from them all and lighten the load on your shoulders, if even for a little while. The truth is that relationships carry responsibilities. They require effort, availability, and vulnerability, and when either of those essentials is lacking the relationship suffers. I suppose that statement could well be reversed to say, “You can be free, if you can be lonely.” 

I’ve always immensely enjoyed time alone, solitude and silence are nearly priceless in today’s culture, especially given the noise level, but after awhile silence can become deafening. Being a father, a husband, a son, a brother, and a friend comes with responsibilities, none of which lend themselves to neglect for long. I suppose what I’m getting at is that this quote is as much a warning as a poignant observation. The freedom that you may long for, the grassy hills that look so green in the distance, is a barren lonely place that you get to only after paying a price. Instead, we should learn to cultivate our own space, our own person, and attain a measure of freedom within our circles of responibilities.

Maybe you were one of those snobby rich kids that had everything they ever wanted growing up, or maybe you were the kid who saved up every dollar and bought your own pair of designer jeans twice a year and took exquisite care of them. I was neither. I had nice things but Levi’s were the extent of my brand loyalties. Aside from the trendy things we all focus on as teenagers, there are a myriad of other mundane everyday things in our adolescent lives that we use because they are available to us. Toothpaste, ketchup, shaving cream, etc.

When you leave home for the first time, whether for college, marriage, or the working world, you are suddenly faced with more choices than you ever thought possible. You take for granted all the common utilitarian things your parents provided for you. Do you remember the first time you went out to buy toothpaste for yourself? What do you get? Do you buy what your mom had always bought for you? Do you stretch your rebellious wings in protest and go for something new? As simple and foolish as it sounds, it is a microcosm of the process we go through into adulthood. How much do we cling to? How far do we run away?

I still remember vividly walking into my first dorm room at La Tech and finding a nicely packaged shoe-sized box on my bed. Inside were Edge shaving cream, Coast soap, Crest toothpaste and several other necessities and loads of marketing flyers and coupons. Thirteen years later I’m still using those same brands. I did not consciously choose to try something different. Had I wandered down to Wal-Mart after running out of whatever I brought from home, I very well may have bought Aquafresh toothpaste because I had used it all my life, but I was given the opportunity to consider an alternative.

My trips down to the food court and cafeteria in the student center were just as life-altering. They had Bullseye BBQ sauce and Log Cabin syrup. I never had that before, and I really liked them. We always used Kraft BBQ sauce and Blackburn syrup at home. I don’t know how many kids ask their parents to try a different BBQ sauce. You just use what you have, what you’re comfortable with. To this day I still buy those brand at the grocery store. It was a conscious minute rebellious stand on my part. “This is different. I am on my own.”

The religions we grow up with are not all that different than the foods and everyday items we are comfortable with from our childhood. We all know (and you may have been) one of teens who ran away from the church of your childhood as fast and hard as you could the moment you were out the door. I wasn’t. I went deeper. I changed schools, switched my major to religion, married my high school sweetheart, and began pastoring churches by my sophomore year in college.

[Can we take an aside for just a moment and address something here? Who the hell lets a 19 year old kid pastor a church? For crying out loud, I don’t care how mature or intelligent you are. It borders on child abuse. I know now that I was no where near mentally and emotionally mature enough to be in that situation. There is a lot to be said for the Methodist system that requires training, accountability, and assignment. This Baptist free-for-all independent streak can be detremental to the emotional well being of all concerned. Okay, just had to get that off my chest.]

It was later after several years of pastoral ministry, graduating college, and lots of life experiences that I began to move away from the comfortable religion of my childhood and seriously question the tenets and methods intensively. Once I stopped going to church every Sunday, it became easier to think clearly. While we may enjoy the fellowship and worship, there is an enormous amount of direct and indirect conditioning taking place. Whenever you remove yourself from that environment and begin to think independently, you may come up with different answers than those you were taught in Sunday School.

I don’t know which label is most appropriate to describe my theological quandry. It’s like trying to hit a moving target because I’m in a constant state of evolution. Maybe I’m a very liberal Christian, but there’s more that I disagree with in the church than I agree with, so it seems disingenuous to consider myself a Christian. I personally feel somewhere in the middle of agnosticism and atheism. My simple understanding of those terms is that one says we can’t know whether or not God is and the other says he is not.

I don’t really know whether God exists or not. If there is a God, he cannot possibly be anything like the Judeo-Christian version we’ve all been brought up to believe in. I’m much more inclined to believe in a unifying field or consciousness than a divine deity. Science and theoretical physics have given me answers to who we are, how we came to be, and what we’re doing here more than any sermon I’ve ever heard. It’s not really important to me which label fits me best, but I’ve felt more and more pressure to have a “coming out.”

I have no desire to diminish the faith of others or make a spectacle of myself. I just don’t believe the same way anymore. There are reasons why I turn down invitations to preach, why I don’t read the Bible the same way as others expect me to, why I don’t care about going to church, etc. I think it’s only a matter of time before family members, friends, or peers force the issue. I’d rather avoid the shock waves and the fallout, because I know that people get angry, they get hurt, they feel the need to put your name on the prayer list. I’m not interested. I may be called an atheist, an agnostic, or a liberal, but I’m happiest just being me. In fact I’m happier being me than I have ever been in my entire life, and for the first time in my entire life I chose to be me.

The highest form of human intelligence is to observe yourself without judgement.
~ J. Krishnamurti

This quote resonated strongly with me when I read it recently. I realize that it is a very Buddhist statement that can apply to ’emptying your mind,’ enlightenment, higher states of consciousness, etc., but it says something more to me. Much of my life has been consumed by judgement from the church, my family, my peers, but mostly myself. I have been my own worst critic without a doubt, and it was only made worse by neurotic guilt over ‘sin’ and the desire to be accepted by God. For a time I found a tremendous source of release in embracing the grace of God, discovering that I was already accepted based upon the sacrificial atoning death of Christ on the cross. While that brought more peace than I had known up to that point, all of my failures and shortcomings continued to plague me because although they were forgiven, they remained a disappointment to God and ultimately myself. I could not live up to the ridiculous standard I set for myself, a standard I never expected of anyone else.

 Only in these later years when I took the blasphemous step of concluding that hell and sin are the constructs of a religious system and not reality, did I begin to find the kind of freedom that the church had been selling for years. (see To Sin or Not to Sin, Is It Even Possible?) Ironically, I was listening to a Michael Tolcher song this morning, “Sooner or Later,” which talks about all of the rules we are given as kids. We grow up only to discover that the grown ups didn’t know what they were talking about anymore than we do now.

Somethings you have to learn them all on your own
You can’t rely on anybody else
Or the point of view of a source unknown
If it feels good and sounds nice
Then it’s your choice don’t doubt yourself
Don’t even think twice

I know that the Christians reading this would say it sounds like hedonism, a “if it feels good, do it” mentality, but I’ve come to believe that each of us have an internal compass pointing us in the direction that we were meant to go. No amount of religious browbeating can deter you from who you are. In the end it is more important to be accepted by yourself than by others. Again, many Christians I know would say that my conscience has been “seared by a hot iron,” that I’ve lost spiritual sensitivity to conviction and to God Himself. Honestly, I disagree. I’ve never felt more connected to the divine source than I do right now.

There is something to be said for clearing your mind, living in the present moment, and just being, especially in this crazy rat race we live in, but there is even more to be said for clearing your soul of a lifetime of religious clutter. While it may be impossible to observe yourself with absolutely no judgement, I know that I have much less of it now. While it may be regarded as the “highest form of human intelligence,” I believe it is the highest form of human freedom to live at peace with yourself and with others.

More than 35,000 take to the streets in Burma to march

One monk said: “The protest is not merely for the wellbeing of people, but also for monks struggling for democracy and for people to have an opportunity to determine their own future.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about sin lately. No, I don’t have a guilty conscience. Quite the opposite. My conscience has never been clearer, although I think my fundy friends would say that it’s been “seared with a hot iron.” I consider it liberated from guilt theology. The big question of the day: is it even possible to sin? My short answer: no.

At a recent Interfaith Dialogue I was struck by how Judaism, Islam, and Christianity are so dominated by sin consciousness. The primary thrust of each religion appeared to be an attempt to find atonement for sin and be reconciled to God. My favorite college professor delievered the guest sermon at church yesterday. His teaching, along with Brennan Manning’s books, helped me to overcome the narcissistic guilt I inherited in the church growing up. True to form he preached about God’s forgiveness and willful forgetfulness of our sins. That is a very necessary message to help people come out of the trap that is fundamentalism. It’s like opening the prison doors and setting people free. I don’t want to play off the Matrix too much, but at this stage of the journey I’ve come to realize that there is no prison to begin with. We are imprisoned only by the smallness of our minds.

To tell guilt-ridden believers that there is no sin would probably do more harm than good. If they didn’t write you off as blasphemous but actually considered the possibility, it might well throw them into a theological tailspin. I read yesterday in Deepak Chopra’s book Quantum Healing that researchers proved that if newborn kittens are blindfolded within the first few days before their eyes are opened that they will be blind for life. Although they have perfectly healthy eyes, something gets crosswired in their brains permanently blinding them. Conditioning, especially in our formative years, is so powerful that it can cripple a person for life.

One of the statements that resonated with me so strongly months ago regarding the reality of sinfulness was made by Micael Ledwith in What the Bleep Do We Know!?:

The single greatest obstacle to our evolution is the way our culture often views God – as a God sitting up somewhere “registering the scores on his laptop as to whether we perform according to his designs or whether we’re offending him, as it’s put, an absolutely outrageous idea. How could we offend God? How could it matter so much to him? How could it, above all, matter that he would find it so serious a situation that he could conform us to an eternity of suffering? These are bizarre ideas.And they are bizarre ideas: that in this vast universe, where there are more galaxies than grains of sand in all the oceans, that in that vastness, a group of people – well, men actually – on a small planet got the exclusive franchise for the pearly gate arches of heaven. And every other being in the universe will spend an eternity of suffering in hell. It’s hard to imagine a more bizarre idea. And if that’s the sort of God you believe in, you just have to wonder: How does that affect your view of the world?

The more you think about it sin appears to be nothing more than a means of control. We’ve seen repeatedly in history how the dangers of hellfire can be a useful tool for the church to keep even Kings in line. It was just such a mockery that prompted Martin Luther to nail the 95 Thesis to the Wittenburg door, “As the coin in the coffer rings, another soul from pergatory springs.”

Is sin real? Is it possible to sin? Does our sinfulness really offend God? You couldn’t tell by looking around. If God is offended by our sinfulness or brokenhearted over our suffering, He doesn’t seem to do a hell of a lot about it. Does He? You cannot convince me that God or the Supreme Being or the Unified Field or the Force is offended by you lusting after a girl, failing to pay your tithes, or skipping out on church. So what is sin?

I think the word “sin” is damaged goods and loaded with baggage. I don’t think you can sin against God, but you can “sin” against your neighbor. As humans we have enormous potential for cruelty, as well as for good. Our pain and anger over the imbalance of justice in the world feeds the need for religions of atonement and damnation. We have this innate need to have our consciences cleared and believe that those who do evil will be punished in the next life to make the scales balance out again. When injury is done to another, the real consequence is that the whole of life is somehow diminished and robbed of joy, not that someone will burn in hellfire for all time.

It is a cold hard fact to grasp that the rich and poor, the kind and the cruel alike, will all die and turn to dust. There is evil and suffering in the world, and much of it has never been made right. I’ve learned that it is a common misconception that many people believe that one of the basic tenets of Buddhism is that “life is suffering.” That is not true. Apparently the appropriate translation reads that “life contains suffering.” No amount of labeling and fear-mongering is going to change that. It’s been tried for the last few thousand years and look where it’s gotten us. Why not try a radically different approach? Instead of telling people how worthless, how no good, and how sinful they are, why don’t we try showing people the incredible potential they have as persons and as a collective whole? Now there’s a novel idea.

Maybe enlightenment is as elusive as chasing after the wind, but if we spent our energies pursuing nobler ideals, we would not waste so much time hurting each other and seeking to have control over anyone or anything else. Just my opinion.