05/16/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Sacred Myth of Freedom!

Ed was part of the flower power generation of the 60's, the essence of which was the freedom to be who you are. The explosion of yoga and meditation began then, as Ed and other westerners traveled to Asia to learn with Eastern gurus. It was a time to leave the old ways that no longer seemed to work, and to find new ways, all in the name of freedom.

For some of us who followed this path we learnt a very important lesson: that no one else can save us, tell us what to do, or how to do it. We had to take responsibility for ourselves, and to discover such freedom by our own insights, as the truth is within us.

Ed, among many others, was raised by being shouted at, made to feel insecure, uncertain, and that his feelings were irrelevant. So trusting his own insights and inner truth took some time. This is one reason why so many tend to turn outside of themselves for validation and answers, looking for someone or something to give them meaning and direction. There is a deep yearning for someone to save us, instead of realizing that no one can do this for us. The myth of freedom is this belief that if we give our power away to a higher authority, whether the church, temple, or religious leader, that we will be saved.

We turn to the guru, teacher or scriptures, in the belief that this will take away our problems, will make us better people, and our lives actually worth living. We are told that as long as we practice something enough--whether prayer, mantra recitation, hatha yoga, atonement, confession, meditation--we will be freed from our limitations. The external figure, technique or practice then becomes a symbol for our peace of mind and our freedom.

We pray to God but often without any clear idea of who or what God is, other than as something beyond ourselves that can dissolve our doubts and confusions and tell us what we are meant to do. We make others responsible for our happiness and then blame them for our unhappiness. When things go well we thank God; when they go badly we chastise ourselves, convinced that God has failed us or we are being punished.

As the Christian theologian Matthew Fox says in our book, Be the Change:

If you think of God as a being in the sky, if you think theistically that I am here and God is out there some place and I am talking to this being called God, then I am asking this being called God as some kind of Santa Claus... So what is prayer in that context? It is not about asking for something or projecting onto another being out there someplace. Jesus taught this when he said the kingdom of God is among you and is within you.

It is not as if devotion to a teacher or practice is wrong--there is no doubt that prayer or meditation are essential components of the spiritual path--but they are the means not the end. The belief that freedom lies in someone outside of us means we make this someone very sacred, which means they immediately become bound by our expectations.

For instance, some years ago, when Ed was at a meditation center, he noticed one of the women arranging some beautiful flowers on a table by the chair of the teacher who was due to speak later that day. Ed went to smell the flowers, only to be told, "Oh, no, you cannot smell them until guru smells them first!" A few years later that same woman, who had appeared to be such a devout follower, heard a story about the guru that upset her. Almost immediately she condemned him. She had put him on such a precious and godlike pedestal that she could not reconcile the sacred image she had created with the real one that showed he was simply human.

The myth of freedom is that by believing someone else can act as an intermediary between ourselves and God makes the intermediary sacred. In fact the truth--God, the Universe, the Divine --is already within us. It is simply our own limitations that bind us, the dust on the mirror that prevents us from seeing our true reflection, for are we not God's image in human form? Is the idea not to find God or Reality in each one of us?

Do you look outside or inside yourself for freedom? Do comment below. You can receive notice of our blogs every Tuesday by checking Become a Fan at the top.

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Ed and Deb Shapiro's book, BE THE CHANGE, How Meditation Can Transform You And The World, forewords by the Dalai Lama and Robert Thurman, with contributors Marianne Williamson, astronaut Edgar Mitchell, Byron Katie, Michael Beckwith, Jane Fonda, and others.

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