The Inner, the Outer and Five Steps to Freedom. (Part One)
Introduction: The Inner and the Outer
We live in a society that emphasizes the surface.
Focusing on the apparent foreground of our lives, we become fairly oblivious and numb to the infinite background that is always present—the vast wilderness within the mind as well as the universe that gave us life holding us moment after moment. A collective lack of reverence and recognition of the ultimate reality behind the undulations of what is before us is an essential faux pas within modern culture.
There is much more to life than what meets the eyes and the ears and even further, the mental formations streaming through the mind. And if this is the case, then there’s much more to happiness and contentment than fulfilling some preconceived notions stemming from a ceaseless desire.
This series offers a cultural paradigm shift: experience life, but first, make it a priority to deeply examine your inner self, diving below the waves to become the master of your inner realms.
To straighten the crooked you must first do a harder thing— straighten yourself. You are the only master. Who else? Subdue yourself, and discover your master.
Before we embark, let’s look at a present example of someone who may serve as an instrument to deepen our initial contemplation. A woman who runs an important department store has risen to the level of store manager. She has helped put her kids through school and she’s very proud of her achievements. She’s beautiful, in shape, and is invited to most of the neighborhood Christmas parties. She’s a very hard worker and it shows.
Her outer world is a success. Good, but is this it? Is her outer existence—her appearance, her credentials, her paycheck—all that matter? In our society the answer is an emphatic yes, she’s a success and certainly one to be emulated. This is her outer world.
When we peel back the layers, when we go beneath the surface, the façade, into the intimacy of her inner world—her soul and spirit, her happiness, her presence, her openness, her “at oneness”—we find another story that goes untold. Like so many, her public life and her private life are incongruent.
She neglects any form of introspection and it shows in her relationship with herself. The successful woman is married to a physically abusive husband and she copes with it through alcohol and screaming. She neglects herself—she’s depressed, internally leaderless and consumed by a constant narrative of rushing thoughts.
Her happiness and her laugh are well-worn masks that cover up demons that plague her mind on a consistent basis. She is undercover and most importantly she believes it to be the only way to live out her time on earth: She has completely bought into this way of living. This is her inner world. I ask you now, success or failure? Master or slave?
Seeing below the surface, cutting through the superficial, and recognizing the depth of the inner regions, one is able to begin to live more openly. Unsheathing the diamond cutter sword of mindfulness that is free from the constraints of subjective, personal ideas, or the shackles of suppressed internal wounds, allows one to step into the life that is here and to live each moment freely.
In this series, I’ll provide five steps that push us toward freedom. All that is required of us is our undivided attention and our willingness to remain mindful of what’s happening in the now while we’re reading, taking out the trash, or looking up into the vastness of the night sky.
Here’s step one:
See this World as a Stage & Leap into the Background (Cultivation of Big Mind)
See this world as a stage from which the stars and galaxies coolly witness the small show of earth—its growth, its evolution, and its shifting physical appearances—from the comfortable red velvet seats of the theater above. The audience is fully engaged, yet utterly unattached from the illusory events happening among the masked characters appearing, acting, dancing and disappearing behind the curtain below—the apparitions and ghouls of manifestation.
Stromatolites, dinosaurs, monkeys, Pangaea, Asia, extinction, blossoming, all make up a rich tapestry of moments and events that continuously moves and vibrates without interruption. Even when humans emerge from the forms of apes, the stars watch unmoved and burn, placing the transformation within the context of all that has happened and all that will be: countless moments, yet none more important than this one.
A Buddha comes and goes, Nero torches the almighty city, Genghis Kahn savagely conquers, and Mother Teresa is born while a Nazi leader is subsequently defeated—blink.
All is a rhythmic dance beyond conceptualization and yet so simple, vast to the point of laughter. Through all the apparent ups and downs, being with the flow of the current seems to be the one true gift.
What is the earth but a product of the universe, the theater? What is a human being but a product or creation of the earth? Wrapped within this empirical observation lies the essence of truth. The ultimate truth that we (everything), at our core, our base, stand as innumerable reflections of the universe—mirrors of mirrors—clear, translucent, thusly present.
When an earth-bound actor becomes conscious of the show and the theater in which it honorably takes place, darkness falls away and the indiscriminate light comes forth to shatter the notion, the ego, and the logic.
A monk asked: “How does one get emancipated?”
The master replied: “Who has ever put you in bondage?”
Monk: “What is the Pure Land?”
Master: “Who has ever defiled you?”
Monk: “What is Nirvana?”
Master: “Who has ever subjected you to birth—and-death?”[i]
Who has? Who comes up with the explanations and the rhetoric?
Actors caught in their own thoughts and opinions who lose themselves within the drama of the scene and the masks that bind them to the concepts, eaving them to stare through narrow slits. Point of view, perception, judgment and thought, cloud an ultimate reality that, due to its infinite nature, is indivisible. Though we create and examine the parts—right, left, up and down—within the intimate understanding of the background, all the elements and compass bearings comprise an overarching oneness.
The show must go on and we come to play our part, but we have a choice to be conscious instruments that hum a cosmic tune. It is within this music that one comes to appreciate this life fully for what it is: a beautiful articulation of emptiness, a brilliant flash of lightning across the Sonoran desert sky.
During the night, Te-shan entered Master Lung-t’an’s room and stood in attendance till late at night.
Lung-t’an said, “Why don’t you go?”
Te-shan bade farewell and went out; he saw that it was dark outside, so he turned around and said, “It’s dark outside.”
Lung-t’an lit a paper lantern and handed it to Te-shan; as soon as Te-shan took it, Lung-t’an blew it out.
Te-shan was vastly and greatly enlightened.
Stepping into our discomforts as well as the incalculable and uncontrollable reality we are a part of, is what makes us grow. It is the alchemy of realization, of going into the darkness without the comforting flashlight of our thoughts, beliefs and rigid opinions.
Master Lung-t’an’s kind and creative teaching struck down Te-shan’s beliefs. He took Te-shan’s small mind—the lantern, or the surface—and gave him the entire universe in return through the simple extinguishment of his expectations and his thoughts. It was within the all-encompassing darkness that Te-shan awakened, and this is key. When we open this example up, sit with it intimately, and bring it into our lives, we find that our own growth will come from stepping into the darkness and cultivating a relationship with the inner and outer infinite.
Read the whole 5 Steps to Freedom series so far:
Part Two: The Trap of the Small Mind
Part Three: Greeting Our Demons Through Meditation
Part Four: Taking Space
Editor: Lynn Hasselberger