For much of my life, I’ve always clashed with societal institutions and authority figures. In primary school, I was routinely thrown out of classes by teachers whom I thought were deliberately brainwashing me. And growing up, I had an almost natural distaste for organized religion and government. Somehow (maybe from imprints of past lives?), from a young age, I intuitively sensed that our dominant institutions engaged in widespread corruption and deception.
On into college and beyond, I began challenging the authority of the state through protesting and openly engaging in acts of civil disobedience like underage drinking, smoking cannabis in public, refusing to pay speeding tickets and driving with a suspended license. After being arrested multiple times for petty offenses, as well as suffering two serious beatings by police, I resolved to complete a graduate degree in political science so that I could “learn to overthrow the government from the inside out” and teach my students to resist authority.
My lifelong clash with societal institutions continued into adulthood, when I got tossed out of multiple colleges for delivering controversial campus-wide talks and for calling out school administrations for their abuse of power. Throughout my early years as a professor, I regularly spoke out against organized religion, capitalism and the state, and promoted the use of psychedelics for spiritual insight. One of my talks on the American police state even drew two undercover FBI agents to the event!
In short, for the first 32 years of my life, I fully embraced the identity of a social rebel. And I wore that hat well! However, as I now find myself embroiled in yet another conflict with my present college administration over a freedom of speech issue pertaining to COVID-19 policies, I’ve begun to reflect on the need to transition from being a “social rebel” to a “soul rebel.”
As I deepen my own spiritual journey, I see that the greatest of all rebellions is the one found within, through conquering the seeds of delusion that feeds into the illusion of separateness. To commit oneself through overcoming one’s own egoistic habits of thought and action is to truly go “against the stream,” and is the very essence of what being a “soul rebel” means. One could even say that the soul rebel may do more in terms of impacting change for the world than the “social rebel” could ever dream of.
There is a profound story from the late and great spiritual teacher, Ram Dass, that speaks to this point. On his first trip to India in 1966 to ’67, Ram Dass recalls how he spent a deeply contemplative six-month period in the temple of his beloved guru Neem Karoli Baba (Maharaji). While there, he relates in some of his lectures and writings an incident when he received a letter from his good friend back in America. In the letter, that friend detailed the intense nature of the political protests he’d been attending and the beatings he endured at the hands of police. That friend happened to be the famous beatnik poet Allen Ginsberg.
Ram Dass recalls finishing that letter and wondering, who were the real revolutionaries? Was it those like Ginsberg who were protesting in the streets, or inner revolutionaries like himself who had withdrawn from the “game” to tend to their own being?
Like Ram Dass (whom I regard as a beloved guru), I now find myself reflecting on this same point. Am I doing better for the world by standing up to unjust authority structures at every chance I get? Or am I of greater service to the world through deepening my own spiritual path and polishing my own mirror? I’m strongly coming to believe in the latter.
Now, I don’t want to imply that there is no place in our society for the social rebel. Without a doubt, there is great value in calling truth to power and standing up against injustice — particularly when the victims of that injustice are lacking a voice. After all, even Ram Dass got thrown out of Harvard University for experimenting with psychedelics, and regularly attended political protests. And of course, some of the greatest social reformers of the 20th century, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, the Dalai Lama and the reggae legend Bob Marley, were no doubt considered social rebels of their time.
However, what also separated each of these men from others was the way they spoke truth to power from the soul plane. At the root of their activism was an unwavering commitment to their own spiritual work and the dedication of the fruits of their labour to the service of God. At their core, each of these inspiring beings was, first and foremost, a soul rebel.
It’s easy to rail against all that is wrong with the world and with those acting in positions of power. But it’s harder to conquer those inner demons that prevent you from seeing your own Buddha nature and connection to the indivisible whole of creation.
I’d contend that it’s this illusion of separation that must be overcome within each of us for any real change in the social/political sphere to occur. We should all aspire, then, to make the evolutionary leap in consciousness from being social rebels to soul rebels.
A fun synchronicity occurred as I wrote this reflection. As often happens, I first drew inspiration for this piece while on a long hike in the mountains where I live. While walking that day, I wrote one word in my notebook, “soul rebel.” Well, as soon as I returned to my car after three hours or so of reflecting on the idea, I turned my key in the ignition and Bob Marley’s song “Soul Rebel” randomly came blaring on my car stereo. The Universe is always listening!
Embrace your inner child
When we were children, the mystical Earth was enough to fill us all with a boundless joy that inspired us like the tallest mountains and moved us like a glorious sunset over a crystal blue ocean. But as we grow older, the societal machine begins to condition us out of our youthful innocence and our natural wonder about the miracle of creation.
“Chase after personal vanity and wealth,” our worldly masters teach us, “And while you’re at it, pursue power at all costs. And don’t even think twice about becoming an artist unless you’re willing to bear the indignities of a life lived on the edges of society.”
Out of a fear of “going without,” most of us conform and settle into unfulfilling careers that only further our sense of alienation from the infinite whole. But the price we pay as we grow into adulthood is a burden to carry. For deep within, we know that our souls — those eternal transmigrating seeds of loving awareness — desire not for worldly riches and pleasures, but rather, seek the attainment of self-realization.
To numb our innate yearning to connect with the divine web of being, we turn to the ego’s thousand vices to distract us from what really is our soul’s burning desire for stillness, truth and wisdom. We turn to the bottle, overly indulge in sex, compulsively gamble and feed our countless consumer addictions.
Deeper and deeper we plunge, down into the depths of our adult lives (or is it lies?) of quiet desperation, until by the grace of God, we find ourselves in the moment of the dark night of our souls. Then we finally see, amid all the suffering, that not only did our inner child never die, but it waited faithfully to be cherished once more like the finest and rarest jewel in the lotus of the heart.
So let us kick off our shoes, liberate ourselves from our boxes and run barefoot through the woods, rejoicing with the spirit we all once knew and fondly remember. Your life is precious. Your life is sacred. Your life is intended to be lived with meaning, love and purpose.
May peace be to you
May peace be to me
May peace be to all beings
Free will and destiny are one
Lately, I’ve spent a lot of time contemplating the notions of free will and destiny. And I’ve come to realize that the deeper I go in meditation, the more my understanding of both continues to evolve. Since my initial glimpse into the world of spirit, nearly a decade ago, I’ve experienced wild swings in embracing each extreme.
For a time, I truly believed that I alone was the creator of my universe, through the “laws of attraction.” Then, I experienced a period when I sincerely thought that all events in our lives are predetermined, and that the idea of personal choice was largely an illusionary by-product of our egos.
Now, I feel that my own attachment to dualistic thinking blinded me from seeing through to the simple truth of the matter: no such dichotomy exists between free will and predestination. It’s only our rational minds that perceive these two notions as unrelated.
Like Yin and Yang, free will and predestination both have shades of the other present within them.
Where there is two, there is the illusion of separateness. Like Yin and Yang, free will and predestination both have shades of the other present within them. Furthermore, the plane you happen to be experiencing reality from, in any given moment, will determine your point of emphasis on either.
For example, from the vantage point of our physical plane reality, I made the decision this morning to eat breakfast, brush my teeth after eating and then write this reflection you’re reading now. In other words, the “I” who believes it’s somebody thinks it made those decisions and asserted free will.
However, deep in the depths of prayer or meditation, when your mind is very still and fully receptive to the world of living spirit, you can intuitively feel that some underlying power is shaping the events and experiences of your life, moment-to-moment. In that rarefied state, you also intuit that if you’d simply cease trying to control everything in your life, you could learn to flow with the sacred rhythms of the Universe as effortlessly as leaves blowing in the wind.
When your mind and heart reach such a one-pointed state, you can also simultaneously detect that somehow the choices you made in prior incarnations, as well as in this life, shaped the direction of your soul being in this moment. Call it the impact of the sum of all your choices’ karma. Call it vibrations of consciousness. Or call it nothing at all but the Great Unfolding. Far more important than what name you ascribe to it is the inescapable understanding that a strong element of free will is sown into the fabric of your destiny.
And of course, the opposite is also true. On the physical plane, the will of that mysterious divine hand is also present as a guiding force in the unfolding events of our lives.
Perhaps, at the start of our incarnations, that divine hand even conspires to provide us with the ideal set of life circumstances that help us spiritually evolve and achieve our personal destiny. From there, it’s up to us to make the choices that best align us with our soul’s purpose.
In the end, what could be more comforting than knowing that on the one hand, we’re always cared for, and on the other, we’re always free to decide the course at which we evolve into fully conscious and loving beings?
Becoming loving awareness is our ultimate destiny.
This content was originally published here.