"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."
-Martin Luther King Jr.
If it is awakening or spiritual elevation we wish to attain, we must stop living only for ourselves and start living for others, work not only for our own pleasure, comfort, security, and self-image, but work for the liberation of all people from slavery and oppression.
There is no other work to be done, and all "spiritual work" done without this intention is inherently selfish and ultimately self-defeating.
All effort toward our own awakening and spiritual elevation is exerted in vain, in vanity, if not aimed at working for the benefit of others. It is easy for us to rationalize our vain concepts of our spiritual work on ourselves as “work for others,” though, if we truly examine our motives, we may see we are actually more concerned with things such as financial prosperity, fame and prestige, and simple personal comfort. We may also see that we are not actually working to improve our own spiritual condition, but merely rearranging our concepts of who and what we are, in order to suit our emotional disposition, focusing on “our wounds” (and our entitlements) without understanding the context in which these wounds are created, a context which affects and wounds every living being on this planet. Believing ourselves to be spiritual, we couch our personal pursuits in spiritual language and give them the appearance of being selflessly aimed.
“We know that one of the most unpleasant aspects of human behavior is the fact that sapiens lies to himself with astounding frequency. His lies are so astute, subtle, and perfect, that he may waste many years of his life, only to discover that he was being cheated and he himself was the charlatan. The object of this self-deception has been very precisely identified by psychology, and generally refers to the individual's need for a high level of self-esteem.
There are many techniques for self-deception and these are grouped under the general category of "rationalization." Professor Gordon Allport gives this definition: "Reason fits one's impulses and beliefs to the world of reality; rationalization fits one's concept of reality to one's impulses and beliefs. Reasoning reveals the real causes of our actions, and rationalization finds good reasons, to justify them."
-John Baines, "The Stellar Man"
In order for any work for others, toward their liberation, to be effective, rightly aimed and concentrated, we must understand that we ourselves are not free or fully awake. Though, this is an unpopular concept, the denial of which is precisely what keeps us from waking up and becoming free.
“None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.”
-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
We are told by those who wish to justify their apathy toward the human condition and, in many cases, who wish to take our money, that everything is perfect as it is, that we are perfect in our imperfection. We are then permitted to believe that awakening implies no necessity for us to work on ourselves or change. Many of us, whose consciences are sporadically active, will attempt to “help others,” but this “help” tends to be tainted by our own vanity, attempting to mold the world into our own deluded self-image. As we are now, we see no real reason to work on ourselves, except to avoid our own current emotional suffering.
We don’t realize that working only to resolve our own emotional suffering will not deliver us to any more spiritually or morally elevated state than we currently occupy. So instead of working on ourselves sincerely, doing the hard work of impartial introspection and self-correction, we take “medicines” (drugs) of the mind, be they even as apparently innocuous as meditation. Understanding the critical role cognitive dissonance plays in our self-perpetuating delusion and oppression, we also come to understand that beliefs, themselves, are usually drugs, tools of rationalization. We do everything in our feeble power not to look at objective reality. We spend decades of our lives completely detached from reality. An example of the reality I’m speaking of is that the computer you’re reading this on was produced by slave labor - and the usual definition of slavery has only to be broadened marginally to make my statement precise. If you look, you will see, and you will be horrified. At this point, many will tune out, taking comfort in their belief that all that is required to be spiritual is to avoid anything unpleasant, to remain constantly blissful. How calloused our hearts are, how pathetically meek and insecure we are in the face of reality.
The necessity for any human being to work on their self is only realized through sharp and inescapably painful contact with the reality of our fellow people – to whom we are each spiritually connected, if we know at all what love is – who endure tortures and degradation we can not even imagine.
Notice that “the Buddha” did not start working on himself, seeking truth, redeeming his own ignorance and apathy, until he saw what common people endured. Had he been influenced by the types of pseudo-spirituality we are, he would have thought it perfectly sufficient and even superior for himself to remain a prince, sheltered in an ivory tower, with every pleasure a human being could imagine. How many of us mistake ourselves for royalty, living in imaginary castles, or work toward placing ourselves in one, in some fantastic future in which all negativity is magically resolved?
If we want to awaken, we must actually work on ourselves, and in order for us to recognize the necessity for this work, not just in theory, we must see how our personal suffering, as well as our luxury, is tied directly (remember your computer) to the inhuman conditions faced by a majority of human beings on our planet.
What is required is for something, some event, to break through our layer of egoistic indifference, our heavily programmed personality bubble that, if we are honest with ourselves, doesn’t really care that much about people suffering in the world. If we are further honest with ourselves, we will recognize that our personality is not actually who we are. Understanding this, being able to distinguish between our personality and our essence, is essential to awakening. To awaken, our character structure must split open and begin to dissolve, to reveal that which is essential in us – that which doesn’t even want to identify with the nonsense we usually take to be who we are. We must be willing to witness ourselves, to witness and feel the pain of our human family, recognizing our intrinsic connection to all human beings, and therefore all human suffering.
What we tend to ignore is that the relationship between our conveniently neurotic lives to the suffering of the slave class is reciprocal - though it would require too many words to explain this fully right now. In a relatively obvious way, being of a privileged class, we reflect the cause of the suffering of the laborers. Though, taking a slightly wider view, we are all suffering from a common malady, a common infectious and parasitic culture. Understanding this, beyond shallow intellectual agreement or disagreement, requires looking and studying; studying ourselves (rather than pacifying ourselves), and studying the nature of the world.
We don’t do this, primarily because we are "on drugs." It has been said that “religion is the opiate of the masses.” Opiates are pain killers, which cause euphoric apathy and morbid dependence. The new religion of “positive thinking” and “self-love” is the most advanced religion yet invented, as it burdens nobody with moral doctrine or responsibility toward others. Of course, it preaches “love” toward others, but this love is a passive and symbolic love, a convenient love that need not be acted upon, that need not disturb our inertia and comfort.
The new religion is built upon self-affirmation, and therefore generates high levels of self-esteem, which is perhaps the greatest opiate of all. As suffering in the world is “negative,” new religion advises against giving one’s attention to it. To acknowledge negativity is taken as being “non-spiritual.” Instead, one is instructed to focus on their own happiness, excluding from awareness anything that might bring down their emotional high. This is exactly why people are not going to wake up or “ascend.” Religion is the most insidious means of social control, as it disallows exactly what it promises to provide - liberation. New Age doctrines of self-comforting belief are the most insidious of all historical belief systems, as they promise something for nothing. We must all have the maturity to recognize that nothing worth having is gained without effort, or without a price to pay.
People who argue that they are already fully awake, who are satisfied with shallow promises of automatic ascension, or who imagine in their naive arrogance they have the solutions to the world’s problems, though they actually have little understanding of themselves or the world, are “free” to live in their own imagination lands – where they will function just as intended, as cogs in the machine. Though, for the sake of all humanity, it is advised and requested that they stop making any effort to help people or to change the world. I know this sounds extreme, but is it extreme to question our every intention and merit when we presume ourselves to be altering reality for other people? Deluded people with 'good intentions' can do really stupid and damaging things. Trust me, I have, myself. We all buy our own lies, and try to sell them to others, till we realize they are empty.
Awakening, rather than meaning 'to transcend,' means precisely to be AWARE, aware of the entire condition of things, progressively more, until one reaches the level of absolute awareness. Absolute awareness is a goal beyond any of our purview, in our current incarnations, despite what certain New Age “thought leaders” (need I name names?) currently claim for themselves. Though, however far from our reach absolute awareness is, there is no reason not to make effort toward it, starting from exactly where we are, which is essentially a somnambulistic (sleep-walking) state. We operate almost entirely mechanically (without volition), and if you look, you will see this.
Our efforts, currently, should be realistic. In reality, the vast majority of us are unable to sustain momentary self-awareness, undiluted by reflective thoughts, analysis and self-comforting rationalization (or self-abusive degradation), for more than a few seconds. Recognizing the difficulty of clear, impartial sight, and our constant state of self-deception is the first step - a step most people will never make. Our first effort should be toward practicing self-awareness, as frequently as possible. This skill is not automatic, but gained through practice. In order to look, we must first learn to look, to develop the “muscle,” which has atrophied in us since birth. The most effective way I have discovered to do this is the dual practice of “self-observing” and “self-remembering,” as taught by Gurdjieff. Those with the will and awareness required will investigate this practice for themselves. Others will take the convenient path of believing they already know what is meant by these terms and will therefore never actually know. (Belief often precludes knowledge.) “Self-observing” and “self-remembering” inherently involve “non-identification,” a term which provides one of the greatest clues for awakening I am aware of.
Equally important to awakening is the necessity of learning to look at the world, to look at the things we fear looking at, objectively and impartially. This task is as difficult and as necessary as looking at oneself objectively. Again, it requires learning to look, to maintain focus without looking away. Seeing oneself and seeing the world objectively is the beginning of the work of awakening and, truly, the beginning of “beingness.” Without being consciously connected to a reality greater than ourselves, we are living only in delusion, and therefore one could say that, rather than “being,” we “are not.”
But nobody recognizes the need to do this kind of work without first being unmistakable and painfully struck by the horror of the world, the horror of human suffering, and equally the horror of one’s own self-delusion.
“When a man begins to know himself a little he will see in himself many things that are bound to horrify him. So long as man is not horrified at himself, he knows nothing about himself.”
The same could be said for knowing the world. If we choose to look away from one aspect of reality, we are, in truth, denying all of reality.
Seeing and feeling the terror and pain of the world, if we keep our eyes and hearts open long enough, we are able to recognize that we feel the world’s pain because we are the world. This is the reality of “oneness” in our terrestrial incarnations. To even catch a glimpse of this larger reality, as it applies to our physical, material lives, is horrifying and painful. Sometimes, a person will first be horrified with their self, finding out that they are not at all who or what they thought they were. This is just as terrifying as realizing that expendable child sex slaves are a common commodity of the elite and that somebody may have died from the glue they applied to the back of your iPhone screen (this is information I gathered from an inside source, close to a Foxconn executive. Foxconn infamously manufactures iPads and iPhones at slave-like labor camps). Only those with strength and potential for awakening will not look away. The rest will continue sleeping.
Objectively, while the aforementioned horrors of reality are indeed negative in the context of human life, you recognizing them and feeling something about them is actually quite positive. Many of us feel actually quite hopeful when you get sick to your stomach for the first time, when you fall to the floor in grief that isn’t about YOU. The day you recognize, viscerally, something larger than yourself, is a happy day for humanity. It is the day your spiritual work, working on yourself and working for the world, can begin. So, being positive isn’t just about generating positive emotional states or getting what YOU want (what your personality wants). Nor is it just about pointing out everything negative in the world. Being positive is about doing positive work for the world, not just for yourself. And in order to do this work effectively, one must be able to see and feel the world, in all its ugliness and in its beauty; see and feel oneself, in all one’s ugliness and all one's beauty; and not look away.