Consciousness. What is it?

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“There is an Indian fable of three beings who drank from a river: one was a god, and he drank ambrosia; one was a man, and he drank water; and one was a demon, and he drank filth. What you get is a function of your own consciousness.” 



                     –Joseph Campbell, Myths of Light,  “The Jiva’s Journey,” p. 46

 

Of what do psychologists and philosophers speak when they invoke the word “Consciousness?”

At a rudimentary psychological level some define it as “awareness,” that is further defined as knowledge gained through personal perception, the recognition of something felt—that is ‘sensed.’

In the above quote from Joseph Campbell there seems to be another layer implied e.g. something residing between what is perceived and what is processed. In short, something is acting upon the information coming into the individual that affects the processing of it—a filter if you will.

Filters, we all have them–they are our judgments, biases, expectations, beliefs, philosophies, values, experiences and memories. Whether this material resides in our conscious mind or in the shadows  of our unconscious, these things affect our level of consciousness, self-awareness, and our level of alertness to reality if you will.

At a deeper, and more spiritual, level consciousness has been defined as the “Knower” or the “Observer”–something that observes itself, its feelings and its thoughts, the ground-state of our being. It is, some say, what you experience when you have quieted the mind from its incessant chatter. Others say it is what the chatter is being directed toward e.g. what is listening when you talk to yourself.

At first glance this consciousness, this knower, appears to be located somewhere alongside our mind that is the ego-thing that’s doing all the chattering. But is it? How do we explain the phenomena of distance viewing, or distant communication as when you’re thinking of cousin Harry whom you’ve not heard from in ages and the phone rings?

There’s a great deal of research that’s been done (some funded through DARPA) looking into the reality of distant viewing and finding it to be real under certain conditions. Some people can instantly ‘see’ things that are happening miles away (The Russians just love this stuff!).

Some physicists (e.g. Fred Allan Wolfe and Gary Zukav) have played around with the ground-state, or ‘universal field’, idea of consciousness as well as the concept of remote connectedness that is implied by remote viewing and have made some tentative conclusions that consciousness is independent of the sentient creatures it seems to inhabit–so much so that it exists eternally, or at least since the Big Bang.

It seems that to the degree to which a person can cleanse their perception-filters and thus get a clearer perception of reality this also affects their ability to connect with this level of consciousness. It may even be this consciousness that makes it possible to see things beyond ones temporal and physical location.

Certainly it would at least make it possible to see outside ones bias, the bias that believes there is no bias, so as to transcend the waking fantasy world dream that the vast majority of us humans think of as reality.

Consciousness continued

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When we react to real world stimuli e.g. sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell only a small fraction of what is in our consciousness is recorded into our awareness with the rest going into the unconscious. Even those data that have been perceived consciously have gone into the subconscious mind and thus have become psychic events whose nature may then become unknowable to us.

Generally speaking these unconscious aspects can be revealed through the dream not as rational thoughts, but as symbolic visions.

Because this unconscious information takes up so much room in the psyche it can have enormous effect on our lives if not brought into our awareness, our consciousness. This unconscious can in effect rule us irrationally.

This is precisely what constitutes neuroses. When too much of our mind becomes split there is what psychologists term “dissociation.” Primitives termed this as a “loss of the soul” and often it was what they referred to as the “bush soul”, or the animal soul, that was lost. Many rituals would be performed by the local shaman to help heal, or at least balance the split caused when a person radically dissociated their psyche. For the American society this is the job of the local psychiatrist, psychologist, or sometimes clergy.

I see this split pervading the society as a whole and I wonder if the society has split itself off from the deeper parts of its psyche? There seems to be a societal dissociation that has revealed itself in our severe polarization. It separates nearly everyone from their inner nature and has caused a cultural neurosis the symptoms of which seem to be a frantic effort to fill a non-existent void (I say ‘non-existent void’ because I think we have only misplaced our bush soul and not lost it altogether).

We try to fill what appears to be missing through the neurotic acquisition of things such as clothes, cars, houses, “newageisms”, right religious expression, money, right spouses, the best team, children, and diplomas. It shows up in our lust for the newest thing in technology, or foods, or diets, or husbands, or wives, or sex. It shows up when we follow the political phenomena of, “Throw the bastards out!” as an attempt to correct the perceived wrong done to us by our politicians.

But it’s not “out there” where the problem lay, it’s in the collective “in here” (point toward your own heads and hearts).

Our consciousness has become fragmented, disrupted if you will, and has left us chasing after ephemera. We have lost our connection with our soul. I think that we can only find our hidden soul by looking into the recesses of our unconscious and reconnecting the disparate parts of the psyche.

Archetypal memes in our stories and our dreams

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For several years now I’ve been slowly adding to my personal encyclopedia of dream images. After a particularly numinous dream the other day I thumbed through my collection to the archetype section and found what I was looking for. It was a comment on the archetypal images that often show up in fictional and fantasy stories.

Stories thrive on archetypal characters. There are the heroes such as Odysseus of Homer’s work, or Hercules in Greek mythology. Characters like Puck and Lady Macbeth, Othello and King Lear along with a whole host of others in the works of Shakespeare are also archetypal memes.

The White Rabbit and the Cheshire cat lead us into our inner realm, as do all animals in our dreams and music such as Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker shows evidence of characters like the trickster and shadow. The psychic archetypes portrayed within this work show up in the form of the Trickster-magician Drosselmeyer, the Shadow creature portrayed by the Mouse King and his minions and the various goddess images envisioned as the Sugar Plum and Snow fairies.

The Nutcracker itself transforms from one state of being to another, becoming human in the process, a nice metaphor for Carl Jung’s Individuation Process and not unlike the transformative performance experienced by Pinocchio who morphed from being a puppet to a real boy. Both represent the magic-like development of the human psyche as it transmutes toward wholeness and realness.

As with anything in the imaginal world of the psychic archetypes, they are more metaphor than actual. We can’t touch them, only point toward their attributes. They represent the patterns of the psychic function.

The Depth Psychologist James Hillman said that they were the root of the soul. He went on to say that because of this imaginal description of archetype we are lead “to envision the basic nature and structure of the soul in an imaginative way and to approach the basic questions of psychology first of all by means of the imagination.” (Hillman, J., A Blue Fire, Harper Perennial, 1989, pg.23)

Imagination is the faculty of imagining, or of forming mental images or concepts of what is not actually present to the senses. A Psychologist might say that it is the power of reproducing images stored in the memory under the suggestion of associated images or of recombining former experiences in the creation of new images that aid in the solution of problems or that are directed at a specific goal.

The archetypal imagination of our soul has the ability to create unreal or whimsical imagery and the decorative detail that we experience in our poetry, dramas, stories and art.

On occasion an archetypal image will visit a dream and deliver a luminous or what has been dubbed a numinous (i.e. holy or sacred) quality to the dream that can stimulate an emotional state that brings transformational meaning and purpose to ones life.

The emotion can be of deep sweetness, ecstasy or of terror and dread but definitely a wholly other experience of astonishment and wonder.

Whether the experience is “real” or not in terms of whether one has been visited by some spirit isn’t all that important because it’s the effect that it has on ones psyche and resulting behavior that is of consequence.

 

Recognizing a holy dream: An interpretation

 

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“Vocatus atque, non vocatus, deus aderit.”

 

This saying is carved above the door of Carl Jung’s house near Zurich and translates as “Bidden or not bidden God is always there”. It was the message that the Oracle at Delphi gave to the Lacedemonians as they were planning their war against ancient Athens. This was also the message to Jacob in his dream of angels descending and ascending a staircase or ladder to heaven.

The spirit is always there whether you are conscious of it or not was the message I got one evening long ago. At that time I was in graduate school and full of all kinds of ideas that were heretical to not only my upbringing but also the prevailing social and culture acceptance of the day. When I felt alone in my growing awareness, when I felt lost and had trouble finding my way because I had allowed myself to walk far outside the boundaries of my culture I discovered that all I had to do was to look within to find my core self– the spirit that was always with me. It got me through a lot of tough times.

Before I was even aware of the old-testament story of Jacob and his dream I had a dream where a woman dressed in blue and hovering above a road beckoned me to follow her into the mountains beyond. As I stood there in the dream debating whether I should go

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Jacob’s Ladder by RJ Cole from The Book of Dreams

I noticed that to my left were a group of angels going up and down a ladder into the sky. The dream was one of those that I knew was important, a sort of special dream aka a ‘holy or sacred dream’ even though I didn’t know what it meant at the time. It wasn’t until years later when I started to write my dreams and try to interpret them that the Jacob’s Ladder image dream came back into my life and took on immense importance.

In dreams this kind of image often represents the symbolic path between heaven and earth– the connection between your physical and spiritual aspects. It can also represent the connection between your conscious and unconscious self. Some envision the spiral of a strand of DNA as a Jacob’s ladder. In my old dream of a ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ the staircase seemed to represent my own struggle with the polarities within me (we all have conflicting aspects and personalities, desires and urges)– those aspects of myself that I either accepted or rejected.

As with the tree with its roots in the physical ground and its branches touching the heavens the staircase in Jacob’s ladder reminds me that we are bound both soul and body and is encouraging us to accept all of ourselves i.e. the dark as well as the light, the intellect and heart, body and spirit.

Also in my dream the “blue lady” who beckoned me turned out to be my feminine aspect, the intuitive wisdom aspect reflecting my soul and was encouraging me to take the road less traveled that would take me into the spiritual heights represented by the mountains in the distance. It was a long road representing a long journey that disappeared into the unknown, perhaps the land of my unconscious mind. She also was implying that I was not to fear the journey for she would be with me all the way. This was of course my first conscious experience of the spirit being at my side i.e. the manifestation of the oracles’ verbal missive, Vocatus atque, non vocatus, deus aderit.

 

Thoughts, where do they come from?

 

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I just had a thought about thoughts*. Many, including myself have wondered where thoughts really come from. Most of us just pass this off as silly because everyone knows they come from our brains. But where in the brain and where do those thoughts that have nothing to do with our experiences or us come from? We don’t really know. Some scientists wonder if they come from somewhere outside of us as though from some field of thought that surrounds us. But even though that idea is powerfully intriguing it has always sounded a bit too far-fetched to resonate with me.

Some neuroscientists have posited that our generation of a thought is affected not only by our own experiences, conscious or unconscious, but the experiential “cloud” from our species i.e. through our evolutionary pre-history that has programmed our bodies to respond to stimuli outside and inside us in certain ways.

Others suggest that we think with our bodies, what is called “embodied cognition”, that our thoughts are linked to our body’s physical experiences. This suggests that an idea or an experience may be affected by the body’s experience of it. For example, in Discover Magazine (June 2013) it was reported that the mere heft or weight or solidity of the clipboard that held a petition gave greater import to the petition. Ultimately these scientists believe that both brain and body generate thoughts.

To Eckhart Tolle there are energy fields that are generated by the collective, or universal, mind that can be picked up by an individual. The awareness arising in an individual affects the collective. He suggests that a thought is not really personal but part of the collective. These thoughts then attach themselves to memories and experiences of the individual thus “taking possession” of the individual. If we identify with thinking we are run by patterns from outside ourselves i.e. the “mind-made self”. Basically, we are not our thoughts. That’s an interesting concept that I’ll explore later but that’s not where I’m headed right now.

What if we don’t have to go outside the brain to find these pesky little cerebrations? What if they arise from that vast hidden reservoir of self called the unconscious mind, the home of our dreams. What if the unconscious that many psychologists suggest makes up 70-80% of our mind is the generator of these thoughts?

I’ve always ‘thought’ of our dreams, or meditations, as the only access to the unconscious. But what if the unconscious mind is constantly talking to us? Most of it seems like gibberish but maybe that’s because we filter the unconscious material through the ego mind, the conscious mind that can bend, bias, and distort the image based on the bent, biased and distorted images from past ego manipulations.

So how can we get a true image of what’s hidden behind the thoughts that are constantly floating to the surface of the great ocean of our minds? Most of the techniques for dealing with dreams even those where we bring them back to life in a therapeutic setting or in our individual meditations seem to be only reworking the material and images that have already been filtered.

We can recall a dream and diligently journal it without trying to interpret that often brings about the first layer of bias, but then what? We can work with a partner or group to then ferret out different points-of-view but that may only gather a number of ego biases. We can rely on our own intuition to help us find a truer meaning, but how reliable is that i.e. how removed is our intuitive self from our ego-self? Can we even know? Mystics and shaman, gurus, and spiritual guides of all sorts spend a lifetime trying to quiet the ego-mind so as to ‘hear’ the source of their being and some seem to have actually found it even though they don’t seem to have found a way to be with it for very long at a time. And what authority other than their own says that they have attained the ego-less self, the self of true authenticity?

Speaking of thoughts, I’d love to hear yours. I know there are thoughts out there so please send them forward.

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*In the book The Dragon’s Treasure (2009) I began my exploration of thought and consciousness that I am now expanding here. See Books by Author on the column at right.

Sparkles, Lights and Auras oh my!

 

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Auras

Besides insight, to see light in your dream might represent illumination, clear mind, guidance, and plain understanding. Is the light being shed on a once cloudy situation or problem?

Lights often suggest a beacon to follow and are indicators of the divine, the soul, and life itself. You might also consider the color of the light. For example, a light blue light might reflect intuitive awareness or be spiritual in nature. This is also true for violet or indigo. Red light may reflect passion or danger. Yellow light can be about lightness or hopefulness. A rainbow of light can represent an awareness of the beauty of life in the midst of problems and difficulty, be a visible blessing, or represent happiness and hope.

To see a bright light in your dream, might indicate that you need to move toward a higher level of awareness and feeling.

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Rainbow light

Light is often a symbol for the creative point in ones awareness, of bringing new light to consciousness.

Bright light dreams are sometimes common for those who are near death. 
To see soft or shadowy lighting in your dreams, indicates feelings and thoughts from the primal aspects and less developed parts of your unconscious.  To dream that you cannot turn on the light, indicates a lack of insight and perspective on a situation, or a feeling of paralysis with regard to what you need to do in a worrisome situation.

To see a glow in your dream, might symbolize enlightenment, happiness, or that new light has been shed onto a situation. You might have gained a fresh perspective and reached a some measure of understanding. Someone glowing can also suggest that you look at this person in a new light, from a new perspective. They may also represent a spirit guide.

To see an aura around you or someone else, might suggest that some important information is being given to you in the dream and you need to pay close attention to the message, or that you need to draw on this energy for strength.

Some say auras or light hallucinations in dreams can warn of an oncoming migraine. These auras can also indicate an on-coming nightmare.

To dream that you have a halo might signify that you are a perfectionist. It may also represent some significant spiritual development and supernatural energy.

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Sparkling lights

If something is sparkling in your dream perhaps it’s a signal to pay attention. Consider the pun, “all that glitters is not gold” e.g. don’t be fooled by all the glitter of something because beneath it all may be commonness or deceit.

It could be a feeling of joy, or happiness or a desire for the same. It may also symbolize something of value.

 

 

 

 

 

Who are you?

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My name is Bob.

That’s your name, but who are you?

I’m a Psychologist.

That’s what you do, but who are you?

Ahh, I see what you want. I am a constellation of things a son, a, husband, a father, a friend, a soldier, a scholar, a writer, an actor, and a singer.

Yes you have done all those things, but who are you?

And I was silent.

What is life?

Why, it’s a journey!

To where are you going on this journey?

Huh, well I don’t really know.

What’s the point of your life?

It’s to learn things so that you can make a living and take care of yourself and your family and to make a positive difference to others.

Those are all laudable doing of things, but what’s the point of life?

If not that, then I guess I don’t know.

When you dance what is the point of dancing, is it not to just dance, is not the point of dancing, dancing? When you sing, is not the point of singing, singing?

So what is the point of life?

Living.

So who are you?

Quietly I smiled.

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From a dream that kept repeating “Who are You?”, nothing more, just a disembodied voice repeating “who are you?”

 

Animals in dreams: Follow the animal

 

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‘Follow the animal’ is an idea put forth by James Hillman the preeminent founder of Analytical Psychology. Animals in dreams like animals in the waking world reflect what is going on in our deepest selves. In waking life an animal such as your dog will often know that something is wrong with you before you’ve noticed yourself. Animals can sense illness, fear, or desire (like a horse “reading” its rider).

Animals are often analysts of our unconscious mind, they can read our moods and our rhythms and even our bodily health that’s why they’re often used clinically for both psychological and physical therapeutics.

Basically, animals in dreams represent our instinctual feelings or behaviors. Some therapists have suggested that animals will attack us in our dreams as a means of bringing our attention to those instincts we’ve ignored or neglected.

So is it so strange when animals show up in our dreams, when the unconscious is trying to speak to the conscious through the dream image of an animal? Animals can be our guides to not only our inner realms, but to our souls as well.

Alice didn’t even hesitate to follow her rabbit into the tunnel that led her metaphorically into the depths of her inner psyche–down into the Earth where the soul of the world dwells, what Carl Jung referred to as the Anima Mundi, the world soul.

When next an animal visits in a dream, be curious and follow it. I’d say whenever curiosity beckons, follow it and do or be available to the extraordinary in your life. Take the shamanic journey of Alice into that “curiouser and curiouser” wonderland world of your soul.

The White Rabbit in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland lived between two worlds–the upper or conscious world and that world at the bottom of the tunnel–the world of the unconscious, the realm of the dream. The rabbit represented a guide to both. And as Virgil in the Aeneid pointed out the hero needs a guide within the underworld. Several centuries before Virgil, Homer in the Odyssey also required help within the underworld in order to find his way home e.g. back to the soul.

Alice as the youngest child in her family represented the child in all of us, not the childish, but the child-like wonderment that is required to explore our inner selves. Jesus knew of this: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14 NIV)

Buddha talked of the child mind, the beginner’s mind that was open to everything. Within the context of Hindu yoga mindfulness a practitioner needed to free the mind of all notions and thoughts.

Following your animal down the metaphorical hole into your inner self can be symbolic of creating something new, letting go of old ways, exploring new ideas, transformation, and of new potentials.

As with Alice your animals can show you many aspects of yourself that will amaze and enchant you. So follow your animal self and learn more of what you are.

 

“The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down a very deep well. 

Either the well was very deep, or she fell very slowly, for she had plenty of time as she went down to look about her and to wonder what was going to happen next.”

–Lewis Carroll Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

 

Though Alice entered her psychic realm through the rabbit hole, in the Archipelago of Dreams Robert found his way into the unconscious psyche by crossing a darkened lake whose depths suggested many unknowns. Both Alice’s world and that of Robert’s were curious representations of what lay beneath the realm of the consciousness in all of us.

Now, I know that this so-called dark “underworld” of which I speak is a scary place to most people. But perhaps that’s because you aren’t yet familiar with it, you have yet to bring it to consciousness. As Alice discovered the fearsomeness does not lay in the unconscious at the bottom of the tunnel, but in the unenlightened consciousness at its entrance. It wasn’t as though her enlightenment was without pain for she had to confront the absurdities of her life that she had been trained to lean on. But the nonsensical soul rejoices in what seems the impossible:

 

There is no use trying, said Alice; one can’t believe impossible things.

I dare say you haven’t had much practice, said the Queen. When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

 

 It is possible to think the impossible and to follow its unreality into reality. Where do you think all the world’s great ideas, great accomplishments, and great stories come from?

Love

 

200.gifAhh, it’s that time of year again when the mind turns toward love, something that’s always in the heart, but most often missing in the mind.

Eros (love), not as a god, or as a thing, or a behavior, or something that engenders pleasure, is an act of being. It’s a meditation of the soul that softens our ego boundaries and allows us for a time to become a part of another person. It gives us a chance to be in the moment, and as such, to touch the eternal.

But it’s not very long-lasting is it? That’s because it’s mostly an act channeled through the ego and therefore subject to all biological and social conditioning.

You’ve heard me speak of the Animus–the male aspect within the female, and the Anima–the female aspect in the male? We all have these dual and somewhat conflicting aspects, but we usually, through conditioning conscious and unconscious, learn to suppress the influences of our opposite gender nature. This suppression makes it difficult to communicate well with the opposite sex that of course leads to misunderstandings.

But the problems don’t stop there because fundamentally we are all solipsistic e.g. mostly self-absorbed and self-interested. In short, the ego-us loves itself and the love for an “other” is often limited by the belief that the “other” is not us.

There’s all kinds of Love; Altruistic service ala Mother Teresa that requires the sacrifice of the ego demands; friendship, also requiring self-sacrifice; erotic love, that for brief moments gives insight into another’s psyche by allowing us to let go of our vulnerabilities and protected self and thus giving us insight into true intimacy; and the mother-child relationship, also requiring sacrifice, service, and vulnerability. When Love comes to the forefront of our lives, compassion–the act of being in another’s shoes–blossoms.

Note that all forms of love require that we give up ego-dominance and that we be willing to let go of self-interest. Actually, it may be in our self-interest to let go of self-interest if we ever want to truly feel that we belong and are loved. This includes giving up the idea of separation between each of us and the separation between our masculine and feminine aspects, as well as our shadows and lights, within us. Love may be the purpose for our existence e.g. to learn to let go of that which reinforces separation in order to experience true wholeness.

Now I know it looks like I’m ego bashing, as though I’m advocating getting rid of the ego, but I’m not. What I am suggesting is that we let go of the dominance of the ego both as it is expressed in the individual and in the world. Perhaps it is the soul and the world that also need to unite for us to experience what we are in order to lift ourselves out of the despair of our human predicaments?

Love I believe is always in us, someone doesn’t put it there, but we can experience it through the opening to another being. I believe that we are here to teach each other the meaning of love. We may be here to open each other up and release our spirits.

 

“Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere. They’re in each other all along.” ~Rumi

 

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To share or not to share

 

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Authenticity: To be real without pretentions. It’s hard to be authentic when you’re doing what you do for acceptance or trying to meet someone else’s expectations. The ego has to be right, look good, be acceptable, and avoid rejection all of which are barriers to authenticity. This need for acceptance might breed pretentiousness and create masks that are worn to give the impression of authenticity.

We have to dare to be our real selves no matter how scary that may be.

When we allow ourselves to be defined by our past it becomes a barrier to being in the present that I believe is the only place that authenticity can happen.

Some believe it’s all about nonconformity but I believe it’s about choice, the choice to conform or not to conform based on what is necessary in the moment. Choice can only happen authentically if one can accept either the positive or negative and then “choose” what is best for the moment and situation.

It’s about allowing our true selves to be seen. But what is your true self? Is it someone who bullies to get his or her way? Is it someone who bends over backwards to please in order to be accepted by others? Is it someone who uses their charm to get his or her way? I believe that these behaviors are of the ego-self and not the deeper self, the spirit that motivates.

True belonging, one of the basic human needs, I believe requires being yourself ego warts and all. To present a fraudulent self separates others from you and affects the real sense of belonging. Should you be accepted as a person with a mask of acceptability, it’s only the mask they love, not you.

To be real means to be vulnerable. This is the birthplace for belonging and for love, courage and creativity. When my goal becomes about safety I can’t be vulnerable and miss out on most of the joy that’s available in truly belonging. When my goal is about seeking approval it is forever empty for seeking outside oneself is an insatiable quest. This is because people give or withhold approval based on their own mood and not as a reflection of who you’re being or who you are.

Every year at our church around New Year’s there’s a basket full of stars with a word printed on each and each of us is encouraged to dip into this basket and take a star and it’s word to contemplate for the rest of the year. My word for the year is “Share”. Try as I might I couldn’t really get excited about this word, after all I already share my butt off. For six weeks I’ve been staring at this word with nothing but emptiness or some contrivance or another so that I could claim some meaningful contemplation. Only none of it has been meaningful. Then a reading group that I belong to came up against the word “Authenticity”. The discussion led to what did this word actually mean for each of us and this lead me to see my word for the year in a whole new light. Perhaps I need to “share” my true self even the self who is pretentious, self-righteous, biased, sometimes prejudiced, sometimes needy, and often self-critical. Perhaps I need to share my struggle to overcome these barriers to expressing who I really am. Perhaps I need to share in order to be real.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting you share all your opinions, chances are you’ll be liked by no one after that. What I’m suggesting is that you share who you are and believe it or not you are not your opinions, you have them, but you are much more than them.

 

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