II. The Difference Between Imprisonment and Freedom, P 5
5 We have said that the Holy Spirit teaches you the difference between pain and joy. That is the same as saying He teaches you the difference between imprisonment and freedom. You cannot make this distinction without Him because you have taught yourself that imprisonment is freedom. Believing them to be the same, how can you tell them apart? Can you ask the part of your mind that taught you to believe they are the same, to teach you how they are different?
Ego taught me that winning is joy. I learned the lesson well. I was very competitive and I worked hard at winning. I didn’t think about how I made the other person feel as I crowed over my victory. It just seemed perfectly normal to be this way. I justified my behavior as I reasoned that I deserved my win because I worked hard for it.
I reasoned that someone had to win and someone had to lose. Better it was me that won. I believed that if I didn’t win I was not as worthy as the winner. I believed I achieved worthiness according to how well I did in comparison to how poorly others did. When I won, I would feel that adrenalin rush and this is what I called joy. The rush would fade all too quickly and then I would feel let down and so I would go looking for the next victory.
I saw the victories as freedom. If I won often enough and if the stakes were high enough I would be free of this unsettling feeling that I was missing something important. I tried for more money to buy more and better things than my neighbor. I tried for being the best at my job so I looked better than other employees. I tried for the better husband; I took credit when my children won, proving I must be the better parent. I thought that these wins freed me from the nagging feeling that I was unworthy.
Actually, what I discovered is that I can’t win enough, or be better than others often enough, or make enough money or buy enough stuff, to prove my worthiness. I wound up making my own prison of frantic striving and never arriving. I made the prison, stepped into it, and pretended it was my grand achievement. I had to work constantly to keep the whole thing in place, but all that work kept me from questioning my choices, and questioning my plan for happiness and freedom.
Once questioned though, it became apparent that I was failing to accomplish my goals. Yes I won often, but it never made me happy and it never convinced me of my worthiness. All the time, the joke was on me. I was already worthy and joy is my natural state. I don’t have to do anything to acquire freedom and joy, because it was given to me in my creation, never to be lost no matter how confused I became about it.
In fact, all that striving just convinced me I was unworthy. Why would I need to try so hard if I was already worthy? All that winning actually made me feel more separate and alone than ever. And of course, if I think that I must prove my worthiness and strive for my freedom in every moment, I exhaust myself. I am the hamster running on the wheel and getting nowhere, because there is nowhere to go.
Here is what I have discovered about being free and being joyful. I have remembered the truth as I have joined with my brother rather than competing against him. I am free of the constant struggle and the inevitable let-down. I am free of the belief that I need to earn what was given me by my creator. I am free of the crash that comes after the adrenal wears off. I am free of the suffering that is inevitable as I further separate myself from my brother and so separate myself from God.
I have discovered that I am joyful as I take my brother’s hand in mine and share in each victory over ego. I am joyful in each moment, actually, as I accept the truth that we are all innocent and brilliant and perfect, and because this is how we are created, nothing can change this. I am free from change and I am free in my joy. This is true until I slip back into ego again, but now I can’t stand to be there for long, and I know the way out. Oh, freedom! Oh, joy!