The great paradox of our human existence is that while we yearn for and strive after freedom, in whatever way each of us may seek to define that word, we find that we are no closer to that elusive element than were our ancestors. We are in captivity -- either physically, mentally, emotionally, or socially -- in ways far more exquisite than our forebears could ever have dreamed. It is incredible that over 75 percent of the human race is in some sort of captivity from which they can never escape. The world has become a place of bondage of one sort or another for almost every one of us.
The urge for freedom is an inherent impulse, much like the inner urges of sex and aggression described by Freud, and the need to worship described by me later on.
We can find this impulse being expressed in so many of our everyday actions, but expressed in a distorted and sometimes perverse way. For instance, the taking of drugs and alcohol are really attempts, at base, to find a way out of the constriction, enslavement, and bondage felt by so much of the world's population. I think this fact has been overlooked in the moralizing posturing of those of us passing judgment on drug addicts and alcoholics. The destructiveness created by those people makes them accountable. However, to "declare war" on them serves to further a misconception that those fellow humans are different from us in kind rather than in degree.
It should be understood that all of us are rowing in the same boat in this world. The drug and alcohol addicts are exaggerations of our tendencies. In fact, we all share basic themes that make up the lived experience of the human race, although they are uniquely lived out in our individual stories concerning them.
Even hysteria and suicide, as extreme examples, are instances of attempts to gain freedom, albeit in a distorted and eventually injurious manner. The person who is acting in a schizophrenic way is but an extreme example of our own tendencies. By labeling him we automatically relegate him to another world, alien and removed from ours. The psychiatrist who quickly condemns this tortured individual's soul by pronouncing him insane in this way is actually saying: "Whew! That's not me. He is different in kind from me." In this way we don't have to look at reflections of our own behavior.
In sum: each of us is looking for our release from our shackles. Accordingly, we exercise whatever options seem available to us at the time.
Being born is the monumental act of freedom to which each of us is exposed, and then we surrender it through the errors in living we commit from very early life onwards. In our very existence we have access to the phenomenal world -- the world of experience -- and the noumenal world of inner revelation, intuitive knowledge, and the love.
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The Basic Errors
What are the basic errors? There are two: wanting to be God, and giving away our own authority of what we know to be true. We give away our authority when we surrender to the institutions that govern the world and to the inner allies of these institutions called "false selves." Just like the serpent in the garden lied to Eve, so these outer and inner terrorists inculcate false beliefs and values about life that are fundamentally preposterous.
In the mystical system of the West these battles between the terrorists and our true self, or nature, are described as the battle between the forces of light versus darkness, or in more religiously tinged vernacular, good vs. evil.
The institutions I speak of are: theological, political/military, medical (including psychology), corporate (big business), scientific. Each institution sets standards of behavior and beliefs that we are intimidated, seduced, or hypnotized into accepting as true.
Theological institutions -- organized religions -- set the ideal of who is good and who is bad. The political/military set the standard of who is friend and who is foe. The medical institutions set standards of who is normal (healthy) and who is abnormal. Business sets the standard of what's in and what's out. Science sets standards for what is real and what is not real. The media and educational institutions reinforce these ideologies.
Comparing Ourselves to Others
Each standard involves some elements of competition requiring us to compare ourselves to one another and to ourselves. We are constantly involved in critical value judgments of good-bad, right-wrong in some variant or other of these two. To set ourselves up in such a capacity makes us stand as an arbiter of another person's reality, effectively putting us in the position of playing God, as though we have the capacity to make such assessments. This applies equally to our tendency to judge ourselves as though these standards have any merit, value, or validity for our lives.
At base, these institutions want to maintain their power and suppress any truth that will undermine their control. They maintain such control by constantly suggesting that things are terrible (i.e., not up to standard) and only by following their authority can we gain any measure of security. Further, they seek to block any direct experience of truth we have by labeling it heretical (theological), unpatriotic (political/military), charlatanism (medical), or antiquated (corporate). Hypnotizing us into believing they are the "highest" authorities, we are cut off from our own inner truth regarding our inherent connectedness to each other, to nature, and to God. This inherent connectedness was described by Professor Morris Berman, in his book The Reenchantment of the World, as "participating consciousness."
Institutions achieve this power by taking advantage of our natural, inborn impulse to worship; to search for models for us to venerate and adore. In diverting our attention away from our direct connection to the divine, the institutions admonish us to follow the herd and be "good," support war and political philandering, buy the most recent version of Windows, the list goes on.
We are indoctrinated to believe that natural science holds the answer to solving the ills of life; political avenues can solve the social ills of our world; and that current medical practice can really prevent and cure illness (note that every epidemic illness supposedly eradicated by vaccines and antibiotics is back). These beliefs are reinforced and ingrained in most of us in our early schooling. However,
OUR FREEDOM CAN NEVER COME
THROUGH THE AGENCY OF ANY INSTITUTION
CREATED BY THE HAND OF MAN.
As for the media, TV has, for the most part, made us into "spectators," not "participators," separating us from experiencing the natural world and our own creativity.
Over the centuries, we have permitted these institutions to subjugate and enslave us, by believing the nonsense doled out to us by them. We have even ardently sought to join forces with them to secure a piece of the power pie temptingly offered.
On the face of it, it seems that these institutions are providing a safety net of security for so many of us either by coaxing us to join forces with them, or by our aligning ourselves with their value systems, that we are not aware of the mirage they create, or of the mirage we create for ourselves about what is necessary, important, and true about this life. By hooking into the mirages, we functionally keep ourselves in a state of torpor, a vegetative state of self-hypnosis, which prevails in the world now.
The World is Becoming Smaller
Paradoxically, as the world is becoming smaller through the means of telecommunications, and the ease of travel, we are getting a less distorted picture of what is going on in the world. We are now able to see by the evidence of our own senses the pain and suffering going on everywhere: Rwanda, Bosnia, Tibet, amongst others. Consequently, we are beginning to wake up to the atrocities happening everywhere, and to ourselves. With this awakening -- an unintended byproduct of the technological age -- comes the real possibility for freedom.
We can achieve real liberation from the tyranny of all those institutions, and from the tyranny of these inner terrorists, those agents of the institutions, which we call the "false selves" (this wonderful denotation plus the nature of institutions was brought to my attention through the teaching of the late Dr. Bob Gibson, a true teacher of spiritual freedom).
These false selves want us dead and act as parasites of our being, draining us of our life force and keeping us asleep. They are in mortal combat with our true self, that aspect of our being that is the witness or observer who does not accept the lies of the false selves, nor the false standards propagated by the manmade institutions. When it is awake, the true self is fully aware of the differences between what is true and what is false.
Influence of the False Selves or Ego
It is that awareness that serves to keep us in attunement with God's truth. It is often lulled to sleep by the hypnotic influence of the false selves who are mounting a constant assault against it. They are constantly working to drain our energy by supporting the false belief systems to which I have alluded.
Every time we act on a false belief, we are harming ourselves. The injuries are reflected in physical and/or emotional malaise, often accompanied by social difficulties. Once the errors are made, we have to expend energy to make corrections, thus siphoning our life force. The natural pathway from here is aging, decaying, diseasing, dying. There is no other alternative. The false selves have triumphed again!
THE FALSE SELVES ARE THE MAIN OBSTACLES
BLOCKING OUR WAY UP THE LADDER TO GOD.
False selves is another way of saying "ego." They have insinuated themselves into our personalities during the course of our early childhood development as/like little Pinocchios, whose job it is to lie and hypnotize us into a state of sleepwalking and sleep-talking while we are awake doing our everyday activity.
These inner espionage agents are divided into two camps: the defiant and compliant. The former seek to control the world through intimidation and threats so as to get those around them to do their bidding. The latter group act by seduction and flattery to gain just what the defiant group seeks. Both groups are looking for power and pleasure, while avoiding pain, and are thoroughly dependent on the outer world to give it to them.
The defiant ones intimidate by complaining, blaming, and claiming to have rights that when scrutinized more closely are not rights at all, but are really privileges. Privileges refer to something that can be bestowed on you or taken from you by someone else. When you examine what you "have" in life, you will see that nearly 100 percent are privileges, which we have misidentified as rights. Becoming aware of this fact is a humbling experience.
The compliant seduce and flatter us by trying to please, by doing what the authorities tell us is right for us (because the authorities supposedly know more about us than we do about ourselves), or by trying to be different, i.e., being unique to win some reward from the world.
Simply listen to your inner dialogue, and you will hear yourself blaming others, complaining about one thing or another, or how unfairly you have been treated. Or, you'll inwardly hear how you have to please, or placate someone, look to someone else to tell you what to do, or how you have to change yourself to become special and be noticed. In our overall personality strategy we tend to align ourselves with being more compliant or more defiant.
Characteristics of the False Selves
Let me describe some characteristics of these false selves. They always speak in the future or past tense. Neither exist now, and are thus false. This tendency makes them easily recognizable. There is no one who doesn't know those tenses when listening to the inner dialogue that is constantly going on, or is listening to the outer voices endlessly bombarding us. Refuse to support these voices. Have faith. Don't give in to them. They are all speaking untruths. Don't converse with them. The future hasn't happened, the past is finished.
The false selves are quite clever. They appear to ally themselves with the True Self and be in agreement with your very good intentions. Take the example of the false self of a problem drinker: "You are perfectly right. My drinking has created a problem for everyone around me. I am definitely going to stop right away." Notice the good intention couched in the future tense. A clever false self just spoke to us. Don't believe him for a moment. That drinking is definitely not stopping.
There is no end to the vigilance required to root out false selves. It is a full-time job, maybe the most important job we are given on earth. It is not a thankless job, even though there is no vacation time, no retirement benefits. It is actually the most rewarding job we can assume. For to put false selves (which include institutions) to rout places us squarely on the path to God. To be vigilant is not to become a vigilante. Don't think of this process as going into battle. We are merely declaring truth, not war.
One of the most insidious activities of false selves is their tendency to proclaim their rights. Standing up for rights in an American institution. We are, perhaps, one of the few places on earth were injustices can be corrected by social action on a regular basis; witness the governmental response to antiwar protests during the Vietnam War era. Wrongs can, and certainly need to be, righted. In the main, though, most clamoring after personal, as opposed to political, "rights" is a false-self speaking. The overwhelming majority of rights that we think we deserve are in fact privileges.
Over the years I have seen this error played out innumerable times as patients lamented how they were not loved as children, holding on to this complaint in adult life to justify the present emotional pain they are suffering. They were supported in those complaints by a point of view in psychology that would tend to lay blame for our troubles in early childhood and corroborate the right to be loved as a child by one's parents.
To be loved in childhood is a privilege, not a right, simply because it can be given or taken away by the parent(s). I suggest that we begin taking stock of what are really our inalienable rights earned by our merit and irremovable versus what are privileges. We may discover that we have the right to weed out the inner and outer terrorists. Seeing how we are mistaking privileges for rights is one of the great humbling experiences, which makes us also realize just how life is sacred.
Wanting Everything Our Own Way
We can reduce false-self behavior to one fundamental theme: wanting everything our own way. This attitude is egocentered and self-serving, and has the effect of draining our energy. It isn't surprising, though, since all errors in living involve enormous energy waste and depletion; while living in attunement with the laws of Spirit is energy conserving and energizing.
Wanting our own way is lived out in the world by our false needs to be important, get approval, gain acceptance, get attention, and have pleasure without pain. They are false because they are manmade standards. We will do anything in the world to satisfy these urges, and in doing so will violate every commandment.
The commandments are indeed a hedge and a protection against these urges. The satisfaction of these urges is at the behest of the will to power and is at the expense of our integrity and freedom. Each of them requires that we be a slave, since the satisfaction of them makes us utterly dependent on the outside world, i.e., others, for their fulfillment.
The false self's existence is entirely dependent on receiving some attention or reward from the outer world. Such living in a dependent mode makes it virtually impossible to become autonomously self-authoritative. To follow the Second Commandment (You Shall Not Make for Yourself Graven Images) and become our own authority is a necessary rung on the ladder to God. The pressures on us to abdicate self-authority are tremendous. Within the stream of ordinary societal life and the herd mentality, the messages support our depending on, listening to, and obeying outer authorities.
Without becoming self-authorities, there is no chance for becoming free. This assertion cannot be repeated often enough, because we will readily forget if we are not constantly reminded. The forces of darkness operate by hypnotic suggestion to make us forget who we really are and why we are really here.
Fear of Living Freely
I have been struck in my own experience by just how frightened most everyone is of discovering and living freely. When that door has opened to reveal that light, I have seen so many people recoil and retreat to the familiarity of the accustomed, habitually enslaved life. In my clinical practice, I have noticed that some individuals would say they felt like they were in prison. In our imaginal work I took that as a cue to offer them the opportunity to leave this prison via a mental imagery exercise where they imagined themselves in a cell. They would search for the key, find it, and open the door, then go out and explore their surroundings. Interestingly, they would find the key, open the door, but would not leave.
I was puzzled by this phenomenon until one day a then student and now friend of mine named Judy Besserman said she had been doing this exercise with patients and said to them to take the key with them when leaving the cell, knowing they could return whenever they wished, whereupon they would invariably go. I tried this in my practice and it worked! Enslavement has to always exist as a possibility to entertain should freedom prove too frightening.
Inner Terrorists: Our Greatest Challenge
The inner terrorists are our greatest challenge, making us more afraid than can any outer enemy. The fundamental aim of spiritual practice is to battle fears and anxieties arising from the inner realms of consciousness. When we take care of the inner terrorists, the outer world takes care of itself for us. Our emphasis is to control the inner circumstances, not the outer ones. Don't believe for one moment that controlling external matters would relieve us of our inner tensions, a propaganda story fed to us for millennia.
Now that we have looked at the terrorists, how might we begin to define freedom? One definition of freedom might be: the absence of being defined in life by what we do or have. It is being alive to the present moment without making up stories about the future or the past, and being able in that context to perceive the facts of the circumstances you encounter.
Freedom means being able to stand up to the inner terrorists that paralyze our actions and force us to march along with/in the herd mentality. It means not being open to suggestion and freeing ourselves from the hypnotic spell created by the institutions that govern our lives.
A truly free person might be defined as one who is not caught up in having vanity or pride. He/she is detached and selfless at the same time, participating in the welfare of others, while not sacrificing him/herself on the altar of other people's ego-centered needs. S/he is nobody's master and is nobody's slave. S/he is the master of him/herself.
Pursuing Fulfillment Through Love
It seems that free persons pursue fulfillment through love, not power. Is there an essential difference between the one who seeks the path of power and the one who seeks the path of law and love? Do they have anything in common? The answer to both question is "yes." Both are seeking freedom -- as we all want liberation. The person on the path of power, however, is seeking it in a dependent, hopelessly enslaved way. Even a king is dependent on his vassals to extol and revere him. In power relationships, there is always a mutual dependency established which has the effect of curtailing our individual freedom.
The person on the path to God becomes autonomous and develops mutually interdependent relationships existing in a community of like-minded people, all of whom are searching for authentic meaning to/in life.
It is in the manner of searching -- through power or through love -- that the essential difference lies between the thief, drunkard, murderer on the one hand, and the moderate, chaste, obedient soul on the other. The latter's life is not counterfeit, in that it is not predicated on what anyone else has to furnish it. There are no contingent dependencies, no conditions that have to be met to bring it to fulfillment. It is this unconditional state that is the basis of true love, the only authentic love there is. Truth and authenticity are synonymous.
In the dependent behaviors I have mentioned, love is absent. Without love, life does not perpetuate itself in a constructive manner, for it is only by giving instead of getting that the force of love can overcome the force of death, a possibility stated by King Solomon nearly three thousand years ago when he said in Song of Songs (8:6) "Love is strong as death."
Reprinted with permission of the publisher, ACMI Press. ©1999.
Climbing Jacob's Ladder: Finding Spiritual Freedom Through the Stories of the Bible
by Gerald Epstein M.D.
"By climbing our own ladder of self-mastery (Jacob's Ladder), we can become a light to the nations. To become this light is the highest spiritual attainment for Western monotheism; the end of evil; the defeat of death; union with God." With this bold statement in this extraordinary book, Dr. Gerald Epstein pulls together a recounting of 16 biblical stories. These stories are explored on four levels, as they were meant to be understood from the mystical perspective. These levels include the literal, the moral, the anological/allegorical, and the esoteric or secret. This unique book provides the first comprehensive and practical application of Western spiritual practice for everyone, the first book to link all this with the ancient document of living truth -- the Bible.
About the Author
Dr. Gerald Epstein received his M.D. in 1961, psychiatric certification in 1965, and psychoanalytic certification in 1972. In 1974, he became an initiate of the Kabbalah of Light, a spiritual Monotheistic tradition at the root of the major religious doctrines of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. In 1974, he also began his study of the techniques of healing through imagery. He has published books, articles, and research on this subject. He has appeared on national TV, radio, at major conferences, and internationally. He lives with his wife and two children in New York City where he teaches and practices this work. Visit his website at www.drjerryepstein.org.