Searching for Myself in a Time of Change

To Bob Dylan
All I can do is be me…

Introduction

In 1967 I dropped out of college and was living in the East Village of New York, searching for meaning and a purpose in life. It was a time of protest songs and peace marches to end the war in Viet Nam. My “counterculture” generation was questioning our social programming of how we should live. We were on a quest to discover our own truth and break free of outmoded ways of living.

There are remarkable parallels between the cultural revolution of the 1960’s and the transitional times we are now involved in — pivotal times of social transformation. In 2016, we are asking where humanity is headed and what is the next phase of the human journey that is calling to us as a species. We are experiencing a cultural shift to an innovative mind set where the “ordinary” is obsolete and the “extraordinary” becomes the norm.

I am resurrecting this essay, written in 1968 as a school paper, and offering it to the homeless, home-free youth of today as fodder for reflection and self-examination. I am speaking to everyone who values personal freedom and the choice to be themselves. How much or how little has changed since the 60’s rebellion against a repressive System? “The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.”

This article is an honest description of how I saw the world as a young person growing up in the midst of radical change.

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The winter sun peered over rows of tenement roofs in the Lower East Side of Manhattan and streamed into the windows of our 6th floor walk-up, highlighting Harriet’s straw blonde hair. Drinking tea in the living room, we reflected on our hopes, dreams and fantasies, and compared them to the lives we were now living. Not what we expected. We mourned the demise of the magnificent ambitions of our childhood days as we came face-to-face with a culture opposed to our values. We asked ourselves, and we asked each other: “Where are we going? What is the next step?”

Before and during my college years, I was captivated by the genius of the great thinkers of the existentialist movement and their philosophy of nihilism. They believed that there is no explanation for our very existence. “Nothingness lies coiled at the heart of being like a worm,” wrote Jean-Paul Sartre. “The absurd is the essential concept and the first Truth,” wrote Albert Camus. “God is dead,” cried Frederick Nietzsche. Since at heart I was a philosopher, my search for meaning became the centerpiece of my quest for knowledge. How to find meaning in one’s life when we have been born into an indifferent and absurd universe?

Hence, the sense of Nothingness Harriet and I felt inside. Time made no sense. Anonymous day faded into anonymous day — today into tomorrow into forever. Each tomorrow budded off the now moment and assumed its place as yesterday.

Yesterday is only a memory
and tomorrow is never what it is supposed to be.

Bob Dylan

Our problem was what to do with today. For my friend Liz, each morning ushered in a feeling of confusion and despair. Temperamentally an artist, she resisted being told what to do and being at the beck and call of “superiors.”

Liz wanted work that could be lived and enjoyed, not merely endured. She was seeking work personally meaningful for her, work she could believe in. She made efforts at job hunting, but nothing suited her. At times, she settled for jobs she didn’t want, then quit because she couldn’t face them. It was hard to work for someone else after being responsible only to herself. It was hard to adjust to the working world after being a student for most of her life. But as a college drop-out, she was unqualified for the few good jobs she did find.

Liz refused to compromise her moral values. I understood. Life is short and every moment holy. With so much in the world to discover and experience, how could anyone with a soul pour out his or her life force into work that is useless and demoralizing? I recoiled at the prospect of becoming a slave of “The System,” which broke people’s spirits and undermined their ideals, then bribed them with status, money and power into moral complacency.

My economic philosophy developed as I rebelled against the controlling attitude of my father and his point of view as to what really matters in life. His heart was closed and he was insensitive to the suffering of others. We were polar opposites. My distaste for the corporate world began at home at the dinner table as I felt him venting his anger and frustration from that day at work. Like a Gestapo sergeant, he ruled his department of the company with an iron hand. Bringing home to us children his cold executive power, he was a tyrant who could blow up with anger at any moment. His company manufactured what I deemed as “luxury items.” I was judgmental of his values and appalled by his lack of social conscience. I asked, “Why manufacture things that no one needs when poor children are starving in China?”

As a philosophy major at Antioch College, I pondered over the writings of the great thinkers that changed the world. Included were the Age of Enlightenment thinkers who founded some of the beliefs systems that underpin society today. To my amazement, the genius minds of the ages did not agree. In fact, they differed on many subjects. I could not put my trust in any of them. Since Antioch taught me to become an independent thinker, I would not take other people’s word for anything, nor give away my power. No one had a monopoly on the truth. I realized I needed to seek my own inspiration and formulate my own ideology of how the world should be.

I believed in economic justice. Every person deserved to have a decent standard of living. Each one of us had unique gifts and talents that were meant to be shared for the betterment of society. Each individual’s contribution enhanced the well-being of the whole. When the nations of the world learned to co-operate, with a just distribution of wealth and resources, the basic survival needs of all people would be met.

The capitalist tenet of competition was abrasive to my moral values. It fostered a me against them attitude, whereas I wanted we together. I did not want to live in a dog-eat-dog world, nor become a cog in the social machine. Polish your ego and join the Rat Race. Me! Me! Me!

In my estimation, capitalism was the economic correlate of the Darwinian doctrine of survival of the fittest. Since by conscience I was an altruist, I wanted to help the poor and oppressed rise up and meet their destiny. I believed the strong should protect the weak and lend them a hand. The Biblical phrase, We are our brother’s keeper, resonated deeply within me. Even though I was born Jewish, the teachings of Jesus Christ rang true to my heart.

The System wanted me to believe in a reality that contradicted my inner sense of rightness. In this topsy-turvy world, the truth was suppressed and lies were tools to press the masses into conformity. I wanted to live the lifestyle I chose and felt it was my right to do so.

This is the story of America.
Everybody’s doing what they think they are supposed to do.

Jack Kerouac, On the Road

We young people were not seeking to achieve but rather to be ourselves. Somehow, everything we once wanted to be or do had been poisoned. There was nothing left to want to be a success in. I've got nothin', Ma, to live up to, sang Bob Dylan. Perhaps it was the hypocrisy of a country that talked peace but killed children in Viet Nam, or the corporate establishment that exploited the poor and turned people into machines. The neurotic state of American society was the price of its own “progress.” We looked for the great American democracy that we were taught about in grade school and instead found an oligarchy of the rich and powerful. Thus we refused to join this society at the expense of our idealism. Some dropped out. Others formed the New Left and planned for change and revolution.

It was hard to be born into a world you didn’t choose and then be forced to grow up in it, to be told you’d better like it or at least compromise yourself and adjust. My parents and their generation sweated their youths away to realize their dreams of split-level paradises bursting with mass produced gadgets and TV sets making a wasteland of their minds. Contemporary America was largely the creation of their lifetimes and thus must be good and beautiful because they made it and it belonged to them. Not to us. We couldn’t appreciate the comfortable American life because we neither suffered through the Depression nor endured economic hardship. They told us they built this world for us, their children, so we could live better than they ever had a chance to. Naturally, they couldn’t understand why we wanted to sleep on mattresses on the floor in the East Village. We didn’t want their America. We wanted to re-make the face of the Earth according to our own dreams.

Our middle class parents didn’t realize how much the world had changed in the prior twenty years. They assumed we should be like them because we were their children, that we should want what they wanted. Many still believed in the communist conspiracy, that our country must sponsor outmoded crusades to save the world for the right and true. We saw and felt the 1960’s in a different way. Unshackled to cultural mores, we were making it all up as we went along.

Rather than grow up in an adult world they could not accept, some of my friends retreated into an extended adolescence marked by irresponsibility and self-indulgence. The typical complacent American was hardly a model for them to look up to. They saw the qualities of children as the ideal norm for everyone. Drawing on their child-like spirits, they became uninhibited, sensitive, curious, and unafraid to question things adults became inured to.

The Puritan Ethic called for sacrificing the present for the future. But we had neither the goals, nor the energy to pursue them. Notwithstanding countless hours of soul searching, it was hard to find anything we wanted enough to get up and go after. The world was in bad shape; one person’s piddling efforts wouldn’t make a difference. It was easier – less painful – to do nothing.

Hence, the timelessness Harriet and I felt on sunny winter mornings. We didn’t know what to do with ourselves. There was no dearth of people and institutions that made it their business to tell everybody what to do, but we wouldn’t have listened anyway. We lost respect for them. They didn’t understand our needs. Law and custom, rewards and punishment, no longer awed us into obedience as they had when we were children.

After rejecting the normal reasons for doing things, we sadly found that satisfactory reasons were hard to come by. We knew what we didn’t want, but we didn’t know what we did want. We felt empty inside. We wanted to believe there was a world we would want to have a future in.

Without some external authority to push us into the appropriate goal chasing behavior (and discipline us into proper adjustment to society), we had only ourselves to fall back on. So we searched within and found our feelings, allowing them be our guides. Feelings became accepted as a legitimate reason for doing things.

Our minds were closed to reason at the outset. We didn’t want to be realistic; we wanted to be happy. No matter how logical or rational any proposal promised to be, we couldn’t follow it unless our hearts were in it, too. We sensed that inner truth could be accessed through feelings. We already had enough unhappy experiences in doing what we THOUGHT was best; now we wanted to do what we FELT was best. Some people thought the war in Viet Nam was right, but how many honestly felt it was right? Swayed by strong feelings, some youths relinquished their ability to be objective and impersonal.

We no longer believed thinking alone could solve anything. There were no absolute answers to hope for, only situational compromises. So we pondered away the boredom of our days, exaggerating old problems and creating new ones. Each person must work out his own destiny and solve his own doubt.

Feeling became the demigod of an anti-intellectual sub-culture. Seeking to enjoy life and relieve the oppressing boredom of inactivity, my friends turned to temporary pleasures such as sex, drugs, wine, and music, almost to the point of hedonism. Attempting to escape from themselves and from a hopeless world, at least for a while they forgot about having to decide what to do this day, every day, and for the rest of their lives. Enjoy today, repress yesterday, and avoid thinking about tomorrow until tomorrow comes.

The nature of life is problematic, and merely being alive necessitates certain choices and decisions. I think Sartre meant this when he said, “We are condemned to freedom.” A minimum of structure and routine is needed to maintain sanity. With no one to help organize our lives into a semblance of order, we need the inner strength or self-disciple to do it ourselves.

This was the predicament of my friend Liz: she had neither the strength nor the discipline to create a life for herself. Cultural standards had limited her choices to “acceptable” alternatives, approved of by the mainstream, and approved of by her parents. When she broke free from the prison of convention, Liz was overwhelmed with innumerable choices and possibilities. She had to face them on her own, with neither faith nor reason to rely on. Her feelings, too, were undependable; they couldn’t make up their minds either. Her life lost all direction. She floundered around, fearing she might end up living on the streets.

Years later, I saw her after I returned home to the East Coast. She was still as confused as ever regarding how to live her life. She told me what had happened: her parents committed her to a mental hospital called Belleview where she was subjected to electric shock treatments. Liz continued to be uncertain and ungrounded, not knowing which way to go.

Simple answers for confused thinkers assaulted our minds via television advertising and programs inculcating social values. I grew up watching lots of television and was shocked to later realize that I had been brainwashed. My innocent child–mind had been programmed to believe in a world that did not exist. I had been deceived. That feeling of betrayal fed my anger at “The System.” My inborn sense of morality valued the truth above all else. I was outraged by the revelation that society was based on lies. Hence the advice of Tim Leary to drop out:

Turn on
       Tune in
              Drop out

My rejection of the working world engendered a kind of voluntary poverty. Preferred is the simple life. Poverty is freedom from the demands unneeded possessions incessantly make upon one’s time and pocketbook. Poverty is the freedom to be oneself.

Poverty was a choice, and an expression of defiance among young people. “You can’t tell us what’s good for us. We have to find out for ourselves. Nobody can teach us how to live.”

Everything has been figured out, except how to live.
       Jean-Paul Sartre

We would rather make our own mistakes and suffer the consequences than take someone else’s word for it. Our lives are our own business, even if we decide to do something supposedly harmful to ourselves. We don’t tell the rest of society how to behave, so why don’t they stop criticizing us and leave us alone?”

Non-conformity became a way of life. We wanted to be individually human.

Well, I try my best to be just like I am,
But everybody wants you to be just like them.

       Bob Dylan

And then there are those who don’t fit into the schema of non-conformity – the mad ones. What matter one’s own insanity if the world itself is absurd? Madness is equated with being turned on. It is the way to be alive.

The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones
who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved,
desirous of everything at the same time,
the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing,
but burn, burn like fabulous roman candles exploding like
spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue
centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”

       Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Perhaps the mad ones are the hope of the future, along with the radicals, the dropouts, the exiles and the runaways, all the alienated and disaffected segments of society. They are the new waves of immigrants that have swept into the slums of the Lower East Side, infiltrating the old community of Hasidic Jews, Rumanians, Ukrainians, Puerto Ricans, and Blacks. They are forming the new East Village, a haven for all seeking the whole-hearted freedom to be themselves.

Afterword

I let go of nihilism after I graduated from college and fell in love with a man who inspired me. We lived out in nature, which healed my disillusionment. I was awed by the beauty of Creation and recognized there was a Higher Power behind all things. My search for meaning transformed into a quest to discover the Truth of God. I found that ultimate answers lie beyond the mind and are discovered in the innate intelligence of the Heart.

My academic education developed many powers of the mind, but I needed to experience life directly to know and feel the magnitude of my heart’s capacity. I believe life is a testing ground to teach us to keep our hearts open.

If we as humanity made a shift from the mind to the heart, everything would change. A whole new world would begin. People would make choices based on love, a unifying force, rather than Me first! Peace on Earth is possible when humanity comes from the heart.

I believe each person is capable of discovering truth within themselves. It is our true nature to do so. When we discover the truth within ourselves, we cannot be victims of the mind games of “The Controllers.” We are free.

Tarra Light
Summer Solstice
June 20, 2016
Ashland, Oregon

 


 

Freedom to Choose

Growing up in the suburbs in the culture of the 1950’s, I believed what I was taught. I respected the authority of my family, school, and the TV set in the center of our living room.  I assumed that I was a free person making my own choices. When I moved out and began living on my own, I saw a different picture of reality than what was painted by my elders. The television programs I watched as a child portrayed a distorted view of the world.  My teachers wanted me to obey, and my parents tried to force me to conform.

When it dawned on me that I had been deceived, I felt betrayed by The System I had been taught to have faith in.  The values of society did not line up with the guidance of my heart. What I was hearing from the outside didn’t jive with my inner knowing. I wanted to discover the truth, and not be conned or manipulated. I needed to do the inner work of examining my subconscious to discern my judgments, blind spots, and errors in thinking. I didn’t want any obscurations in the way of clear seeing.

I realized we are programmed to fight, to win, to get ahead and be successful.  We believe we need to be right, to be smart, and be better. Who we are is not enough. The future is the promised land.

Once I learned to recognize the signs of being misguided by my programming, I was determined to be free. My will became stronger by resisting the pressure to think and act contrary to my inner knowing.  It was a test of my power.  It was my freedom of choice.

As I saw the value of sorting out the contents of my mind, I began to identify and release what no longer served me. I set my intention to unlearn false beliefs, and to shed the skins of the past.
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These are critical times we are living in. We hold the keys to the future with the choices we are making now. In this pivotal moment, our collective choices will tip the scale one way or the other. Do we bring in more Light, or are we overtaken by darkness? Are we choosing from the mind, or are we guided by the wisdom of the heart?

It is time to take off our blinders and expand our vision. The challenges of the world today cannot be solved from a limited perspective. If we refuse to look at what we do not like, or do not believe in, we are restricting the range of possible outcomes. When we are not willing to open our minds and hearts, we are not seeing clearly where we are, and where we want to go. We are hampering our ability to make wise choices and responsibly exercise our free will.

We have powers within us that we have yet to master. As expressions of our Creator, we have a mind, a heart, and a will. We have the powers of the mind to think, to believe, and to imagine. We have the powers of the heart to love, to forgive, and to extend compassion to others. We have the powers of the will to choose, to intend, and to persevere despite obstacles.

It is the nature of mind to define and discriminate this from that. The mind creates war when we fear the other. Us against them is fodder for the mind. Our social fabric is tearing apart. Consensus reality is breaking down. We are fragmenting into camps of group identity believing alternative realities.

When we live a heart-centered life, we can love people we don’t agree with. The healing power of love is the antidote for the divisive nature of the mind. Love unites us and transcends our differences. Love can save the future when we open our hearts.

Sometimes unrecognized, and little understood, is the power of the will. The collective will of large numbers of people can move mountains. We can harness the power of the will to create a new world. But our ability to use our will is being sabotaged in ways we are not aware of. We have programs running in the background, in our subconscious mind, that undermine our self-determination and personal sovereignty.

Even though it seems that we are choosing consciously, many of our choices are made below the level of our awareness. The subconscious mind is the doorway in for programming that influences us without our realizing it is happening. In the womb, we absorb the molecules of emotion from our mother that can shape our attitude toward life. Until the age of seven, we operate in theta frequency, the realm of imagination, dreams, and trance induction. In theta, it is easy to imprint beliefs and indoctrinate the unwary. Our beliefs and values are molded in our early years before our conscious mind is sufficiently developed to assume control and stand guard at the door.

When our choices are influenced by our programming, our will is not free. I am not just referring to parental and cultural conditioning. I am speaking about institutions of our society intent on programming us to think and act in ways compliant with their prescribed mind-sets. Examples are government propaganda, corporate advertising, the pharmaceutical industry, and media syndicates that espouse belief systems entwined with the facts, attempting to sway our thinking in their direction. The line between opinion and objectivity has become blurred. The truth has become a casualty of our times.

Freedom of choice is necessary to create what we want and fulfill our dreams and ambitions. We can take back our power and assert sovereignty over our minds and lives. We can investigate our subconscious and ferret out false beliefs. We can learn to practice discernment to know what is true and what is not. As we assume responsibility, we can become masters of our destiny rather than victims of our ignorance. Ignorance means to ignore. Ask yourself: What am I ignoring? What am I afraid of?  What is it that I don’t want to see?

We can make a commitment to our own freedom. That includes the willingness for self-exploration and attuning to the voice of conscience. When we feel the impetus to speak or act in a certain way, we can ask ourselves: Will my words and actions align with my heart?

If we can recognize our programming and how it operates, we can make a conscious choice not to submit to it or be compelled by it. We can develop our will power by resisting the pull of our programming. As our will becomes strong, we will struggle less. When it becomes clear what we are saying yes to, it becomes easier to say no.

There are many qualified healers and therapists who can help us see into our subconscious mind. Sometimes outside support in necessary to break through psychological barriers that limit our potential.

We are continually bombarded by electromagnetic frequencies that alter our brain function. Our minds are vulnerable because thoughts are electrical. The seductive trance of technology is subverting freedom of the will. The thrill of electronic stimulation can trigger a dopamine high, which can lead to addiction. The lure of technology is bait to program young people to meld their minds with electronic devices. Let us not forfeit the essence our human nature by becoming akin to robots and androids that obey commands.

Control of perception—that is the key to public obedience. The powers-that-be suppress information that does not conform to the authorized worldview. Societal engineering programs trick people into agreeing on a reality that does not exist.

The test of our time is to know what is true. The truth has a vibration we can learn to recognize as we fine-tune our senses.  We can search our hearts and ask for answers. Admit we don’t know and be patient.  

A subject under scrutiny today is censorship and control of information. By what authority does a person or institution assume the right to determine what we see or hear?  Our right of free speech is being violated when access to information is denied, classified, redacted, deleted, covered up, or called “fake news.” It is critical we are exposed to a full spectrum of information before exercising our power of choice in the voting booth. When people are manipulated by the media, they may make choices contrary to their best interest.

What is the foundation on which we are building the future? We can’t create something new when we are running away from what is here. We can’t create something new unless we let go of the past.  If we cannot overcome our fear and denial, we will repeat our mistakes and hold back humanity’s progress.

Some people are afraid to acknowledge the dark side of life, what we call negative, because they fear it will gain power over them. But the opposite is true. When we open to the shadow, we are less vulnerable to being possessed by it. If we want to see clearly, and to choose wisely, we need to accept the totality of life, the Light and the dark.

Healing ourselves and healing the world go hand in hand. The world is a reflection of our beliefs and awareness. There is no separation between us and the world. When we deny our pain, we cannot create with integrity. When we are motivated by fear or anger, we are contributing to unconsciousness. When we become unconscious, we can destroy ourselves. The more aware we become, the less we can be controlled. Societal transformation is predicated on individual transformation. What do we need to change in ourselves to become more open and willing to see?

We live in pivotal times. The choices we make now will steer the course of humanity for years to come. The potential to create a sane, just and loving world for everyone lies in the heart and mind of each individual. To create a world of peace and compassion, we need to live in integrity and keep our minds open. That entails the courage to venture into the unknown and give up what we think we know. We need to see without the filter of our conditioned beliefs and attitudes.

Living in integrity requires our willingness to overcome our fear of seeing the truth. Let us let go of beliefs that foster a culture of denial. When we turn away and avoid, we are allowing the hidden agenda to flourish in plain sight. What is our level of commitment to seeing the world as it actually is?  Are we willing to look at what we do not like, and to expand our horizons of what we believe can be possible? Do we tune out information that doesn’t line up with our cherished beliefs about what is real and what can be? The culture of denial is preventing humanity from bringing in more Light.

Let us hold dear our divine right of free will, and not allow it to be undermined by covert influences seeking to limit and control us. It is imperative we make choices as sovereign individuals who have examined the contents of our minds. For peace to prevail on Earth, let us assume responsibility for our state of mind and consciousness. *

Cultivating a compassionate heart will help humanity rise above the fear-based agendas. Centering in the heart, we can transcend our differences and come together as one humanity. The heart is a bridge over the gulfs that separate and divide us. The power of love is expansive and all encompassing.

Living in the heart frees us from the confines of mental programming. The heart has a natural intelligence that connects us to all things. The heart can see and know things that the mind does not. It can access knowledge in a deeper and more felt way than the mind.

We can go within and listen to the wisdom of the heart. Through practice, we learn to trust our hearts and allow our lives to be guided by our hearts. When our decisions are based on love, we will restore our faith in the future. We must not underestimate the power of the heart to change everything.


*  Quotation from my book, Cats, Ghosts and Gremlets, EarthLight Enterprises, June 2018.