Question: What are illusions and how do they impact our lives and our ability to grow into our true nature?
Answer: Illusions are something we believe we see, but they are not real. When it comes to the illusions that limit our lives, they are the product of an unconscious relationship we have with images (of past events) stored away in our own minds and hearts that condition the way in which we experience our lives. These illusions — our unsuspected relationship with them, and the conditions they create in our lives — do not serve us. They serve the interest of the society from which these images (and their illusions) have sprung.
The life of illusion is the story of humankind, and its deception grows stronger every day — causing most people to fall into a deeper and deeper spiritual slumber. As a result, individuals are no longer in command of their own lifelives. They are ruled by their habitual reactions to events that run counter to the images of security, happiness, etc. to which they have become attached and dependent upon. As a result of this resistance to life’s constant changes, life becomes a never-ending struggle where the illusion of security is threatened by the illusion of its loss! Let’s look at a simple example:
Let’s say we see someone we know talking to somebody, and suddenly we’re pretty sure that they’re talking about us. Then, our mind forms an image of this conspiracy based on some (usually) painful experience of a similar past event, and we are gone! We find ourselves the captive of our own idea about what is happening, followed by those negative emotional reactions that then rule us (and wreck the rest of our relationships). Now multiply this simplest of social conditions by six billion people, add the kind of horrific events that cause global conflict and fears, and it isn’t hard to see how our present day world is the unhappy effect of living in illusion. And, when we mechanically fight with these negative effects, we strengthen that which produces those illusions; so that instead of getting to the heart of the illusion, and canceling it at its core — which is the only chance we have to be free — we actually participate in making ourselves prisoners of further illusion. Yet, to be able to see the truth of this negative spiral is a highly positive thing for us. It awakens in us the real need to free ourselves of the false self that is the king of illusions!
Real spiritual work, real spiritual development is not the sense of pleasure that comes when we imagine ourselves being free or new. Real spiritual work is seeing through the need to imagine who we are at all. And as we realize this truth, and do the interior work to give up that image-dependent self, we also let go of its principle illusion: a time to come in which we will be what we imagine is necessary to be whole and happy.
If we can see how positive inner states lead to positive life experiences, then we can also see that negative inner states must attract negative results. Shedding light on this dark cycle will help us bring an end to it as a source of self-compromise.
Suppose someone walks into your office and drops the bomb that your company has unannounced plans to lay off several employees, and that no one knows who these unfortunates are going to be. Without higher principles to meet this unexpected moment, the fear would surely take control of you and the moment. In no time, you would be the victim of your own self-compromising plans for revenge on an insensitive company, or some such enemy.
Of course, at first glance, feeling scared and getting angry in an event like this seems like it makes sense. But a closer look clearly shows how it betrays. We can’t have fear without anxiety. Anxiety can’t exist without unconsciously comparing what we hoped would happen, to our new fears that it won’t. And connected to this spreading fear our expectations won’t be realized is our growing resentment of the situation, or person, we blame for wiping out our hoped-for happiness. So bitterness spreads. And as it does, it whispers to us that since we’ve already lost our future, why should we do anything more, for anyone, in the present? Now defiance has the reins, and in no time, self-righteous anger courses through our veins.
It’s impossible to have one sad or sour state without another. But there’s still much for us to see. Negativity, like all forms of thought, is actually physical in nature. All things physical, all forms of matter, have mass. And any mass in motion has momentum. Now, with these facts in mind, let’s go back into our illustrative story and see what the momentum of this negative state has to ultimately attract.
So now the boss walks into your office — or you see him at lunch — and he asks you to do some extra work. But with the feeling of being betrayed still fresh in your heart, you can’t help but meet him and his request with a full-blown negative state. The impression you make on him is indelible. Later on, at a time unknown to you, this same superior starts to review who he’s going to keep on and who to let go. And he chooses to release you. Why? Because among other items weighted in his decision process, he recalls your barely masked aggression and obvious resistance to his request.
We can turn the tables on these troubles by employing what we understand about the power of attraction. So, let’s start the story over and put ourselves in the place of this formerly self-punishing person. In our new scenario we receive the same bad news. But this time, the first thing we do — instead of falling into fear — is become aware of it as it tries to pull us down. Why this action? Because we know we can’t have one fear without another. We work very hard to stay inwardly awake to its punishing presence in our psychic system.
We mustn’t try to make this negative inner-state — or our situation within it — do anything. We must do nothing but remain right there, aware of our fears and worries, but doing nothing about them. Never mind what rioting thoughts want us to consider as solutions to our sinking situation. Going inwardly alert, but silent, is all that’s really within our power — at the moment. Any other action would be fear’s. And we already know what happens to us when we assume this mistaken psychological position. That’s not the way for us any more. We want something higher. We take ourselves out of the tough spot we’re in by not letting anxiety or worry dictate the terms of our future actions. We take the only step we can that’s clearly not a part of the fear we feel. In a way, it could be said that we take the right step by not taking the wrong one. The real point here, and we must experience the miracle of it for ourselves, is that the next step will come.
Our success in separating ourselves from the forces that compromise us is as much under law as are the ones that have always left us in the lurch. Everything we need for this new inner success must reveal itself if we’ll just wait for its arrival. Truth always fulfills its promise if we cooperate with the wisdom of its ways. Now let’s return once more to our psychological story and see how our new understanding attracts a new and brighter outcome.
So there we are, facing the bad news — but also resolutely facing our fears at the same time. Since we now know there’s really nothing else we can do at the moment that isn’t on fear’s terms, we just go back to our business as usual. We do our work. Only now we’re active outwardly and inwardly.
We listen neither to the clamoring of those around us — about the impending doom — nor do we heed the shouts from our own mind hammering our inner ears. If we do this, to the best of our ability, one of two things has to occur. And both results are excellent. Both are success.
Now when we run into the boss or he asks us to do some work — above and beyond our usual job — we just do it. No complaints. No resentment. We’re not going to do that to ourselves anymore. We know better than to be bitter! And the boss notices our effort to be the right kind of person. It’s natural that he’s attracted to the rightness in our attitude. And when that crucial time arrives for personnel evaluation, to see who stays and who goes, we get the nod to stay. Why? Because our new attitude won for us what we had feared to lose.
And even if this part of the story doesn’t happen in quite the way it’s been written, we’ve still won a major victory. Why? Because any time we turn our backs on what frightens us, we also turn our backs on the self-compromising acts those fear-filled conditions attract. Instead, in the absence of fear and self-compromise, we attract what is fearless, which is the same as saying we attract the next higher level of life.
Do you ever feel that you don’t have the spiritual strength to face the difficulties in your path through life? Here’s a small story meant to act as a reminder and an encouragement along the way:
Rebecca had decided that her best chance of getting hired by a company doing geological survey work in the Alaskan wilderness was to earn a private license to fly twin-engine planes. A few days later she began taking lessons from a wise old bush pilot, highly respected throughout the region for his cool and collected ways of dealing with the worst possible situations.
After the mandatory ground schooling, at which she excelled, and during her fourth lesson in the sky, the flight instructor gave her what she thought was a special treat: Taking his hands off the yoke, he turned the flight controls over to her. There she was, just as she had dreamed, sitting tall in the co-pilot’s seat with the flight stick firmly in her hands.
Rebecca felt as though she was literally on “cloud 9”; that is to say, until a scant moment later when she found herself rudely awakened from her dream. She tried shaking her head to get rid of what was before her eyes, but that did not work. In the distance, through the windshield, she could see something rushing toward her faster than what she knew to do about it!
Right in the path of the plane, and seeming to have appeared as if out of nowhere, a huge snow-capped mountain lay dead ahead. Transfixed by its sheer mass, she found herself as frozen at the stick as were the iced and craggy peaks stretched out before her. And she was headed straight for them! A deep chill came into the cabin.
All along the wise old instructor was watching her closely, studying her reactions. Of course, she didn’t know it, but he had turned the controls over to her for just this test now taking place. He waited until the last moment he could, and was just about to take over again, when she snapped out of her fear-induced trance. She looked away from the mountain and turned to face him.
Then, in a voice so trembling and timid that it even scared her, she broke the tense silence of the moment: “Sir,” she said, “please take over the controls. I’m afraid we are about to crash!” His reply stunned her. “No,” he spoke quietly, “I don’t think I will. After all, it’s your flight.”
It was getting harder for her to take in a whole breath, as if she were standing in the oxygen-thin air atop the great white mountain before them. Struggling to control her voice, she dug down into herself and managed to ask one more question of her teacher: “Then what should I do? Please, tell me what to do!”
She looked over at him again, and was surprised to see virtually no worry at all upon his face. His calm demeanor helped to steady her nerves. She took a deep breath and relaxed her hands that had just about choked the life out of the control yoke. The next moment he gave her a short three-word instruction, and she knew everything would soon be all right. He simply said: “Change your altitude.”
“Of course,” her own mind echoed back to his command, and a split second later she pulled firmly back on the yoke; the craft responded by rising, and mere moments later the icy peak passed beneath her and out of sight.
As Rebecca sat there relieved by the results of her actions, she was struck by two things at once: how could she have forgotten that the controls were in her hands, and at least as important, why had she been unable to remember this on her own? At that moment, soaring at ten thousand feet above the ground, she made a silent vow to never again forget the lesson of this day: She could choose her own altitude.
Doesn’t this short truth tale remind you of a certain kind of spiritual strength that you know belongs to you, but that you have somehow forgotten or misplaced? It ought to; after all, how many of us look out ahead of ourselves at some unwanted event that looms too large, and find ourselves feeling out of control… headed for what seems an unavoidable collision?
Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to reach down inside of ourselves, grab hold of the controls of our own consciousness, and pull ourselves up? To quietly watch that would-be mountain of a problem, whatever it is, just pass by harmlessly below us, even as we reach ever-higher and happier skies?
We can learn to do this. Such a power is not just a pipe dream; ours is the ability to take conscious control of our spiritual altitude. But this greatest of “gifts” is given to us only in proportion to our willingness to awaken from those unconscious parts of ourselves that not only become transfixed before challenging events, but that are the secret creators of the very things into which we then crash! This is why we must work in every moment to remain inwardly awake—to be aware of our attitude towards our life as it unfolds before and around us: so that whenever we find a negative attitude in ourselves—some form of dark thought or feeling trying to drag us down—we don’t say “I” to it. In a manner of speaking, we pull up and away from that part of ourselves by withdrawing our consent to be confined by how it would define us. This kind of conscious action on our part changes not only what we perceive as being possible in the moment, but it also empowers us—in the same moment—to see and make new and higher choices.
Seen or not, our attitude determines our altitude in life. The “low” life comes by default. Gravity guarantees we will reach the bottom. To go higher begins with choosing to be higher. Realizing the power to leave dark states beneath and behind us begins with recognizing that who we really are—our True Nature—has as much in common with self-limiting thoughts and feelings as does a shark with a star!
Remember this one great lesson: do the moment-to-moment work of dropping anything that wants to drag you down, and Truth itself will see to it that you rise.