Across the globe, the sentiment of goodwill toward others is the highest at Christmastime. At this time of year, our hearts open wider to our family, friends, work associates and to people less fortunate. Collectively, we express more compassion, understanding, appreciation and gratitude towards ourselves and others during the holidays.
Unfortunately, once the holiday season is over our goodwill often wanes. Even before the decorations are stowed we find ourselves back in the throws of a turbulent world. Stories of war, suicides, bullying, theft and violence once again dominate the nightly news.
We each have the capacity for peace and love. In fact, it is our true nature. If we can express such goodwill at Christmas, why can't we hold on to it all year long?
If we are not experiencing love and peace, then something must be in the way. Metaphorically, some clouds have blocked the sun. This "something" is the result of one simple yet widespread misunderstanding that is the source of many of the world's problems. Collectively, if we all corrected this misunderstanding, our world would be transformed. And, if it were fueled by an authentic shift of perspective, this transformation would come about with relative ease.
How is that possible? To date, peace has eluded us.
Have you noticed in your own life how new understandings naturally bring about new choices? Once you deeply realize the truth about something, you can't go on living the lie. The penny drops. The buck stops here.
Here is an example: consider cigarettes. In the 1950's, people were not aware of the dangers of cigarette smoke. Now, the dangers of smoking and second-hand smoke are well understood. Although some individuals continue to smoke, our social norms have changed. Smoking has been stigmatized.
You might wonder, with all the information about the dangers of smoking, why is it that some people continue to smoke? There is a difference between having the information and truly knowing it. Individuals who continue to smoke, have not allowed the truth about smoking to be known by them. Once the truth is known, new choices are made.
This example demonstrates how a shift in our understanding can create widespread transformations in a relatively short period of time.
So, what then is this "something" that causes us to forgo peace? What is this misunderstanding that can result in the behaviors of war, addiction, violence and crime?
The answer is identification with words.
We commonly use labeling words like male, female, young, old, Caucasian, Asian, Canadian, American, Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, healthy, sick, rich, poor, brother, sister, mother, father, slim, fat, short, tall, good, bad, etc. In and of themselves, these words are not the problem. They are useful and necessary tools. The problem arises when we identify ourselves and others with them and then believe these labels to be true. In the labeling, we have forgotten that the words are concepts and not our direct experience.
In our human evolution we developed words so we can communicate with one another. But what are words? Words are conceptual representations of perceived experiences. For example, the word "tree" is used to convey our direct experience of a tree. The problem is, over time, we have mistaken the concept for the direct experience. We have mistaken a conceptual label for our experience of it.
Direct experience exists prior to thought. Words form in response to it. When we experience directly, there is no separation. Instead, there are only thoughts, sensations and perceptions arising in our undivided, loving, peaceful presence. This is the "oneness" that many spiritual traditions speak of. Separation is an illusion that is created when we portion oneness into parts by identifying with words.
Separation brings about a need to protect and defend. Extreme expressions of separation result in acts of violence, crime and war. All this occurs because of our learned, habitual and unconscious identification with words.
So, if we let go of our identification with words, what happens?
Here is an experiment to try. Make a list of words that you use to identify yourself. Imagine that each identifying word is like a layer of clothing that you wear. Now, begin to remove each layer of clothing. As you peel away each layer, you feel yourself getting lighter and more transparent. You'll notice that you have collected many layers of identifying words. The first layer often describes physical attributes such as gender, race, height, weight and age. As you continue the process, deeper levels of identifications are revealed. These may include labels that describe your family role, nationality, career, community roles. Even subtler identifications may include beliefs, skills and associations.
After dropping identifications with all concepts, the false boundaries that were created by the words naturally dissolve. The feeling of separation dissolves as well. This inquiry reveals the pervading presence that you are.
If you want to take the experiment a step deeper, you can let go of the words that you use to create identifications with others. When you do this, your relationships in the world will be renewed.
The pervading presence that is revealed by this process has no need to defend, control, harm or judge. Here, in this presence, the lion and the lamb may lay down together.
There is a saying that goes, "Be the change that you want to see in the world".
Just as a cloud can block the ever-present radiance of the sun, separation blocks the love, peace, beauty and understanding that we are. When you are clear of all identifications, love, peace, beauty and understanding naturally shine through.
You can make a difference. The journey into peace begins with you.
In the fall of 2011, Passia Pandora had an experience that resulted in a paradigm shift around the nature of consciousness. We are taught that consciousness is local to our bodies. However, after her experience Passia realized that her body and the entire universe arose in consciousness. Since then, she has been studying and sharing the teachings of non-dual awareness. This is her first article on the subject of awareness. Passia lives in a seaside town in British Columbia, on the west coast of Canada.