Does it ever feel like you're living a life that's not your own?
At first we just want to make our parents happy, avoid punishment, or fit in. We want to get the job, keep the relationship, or make it through the day. Slowly, we hide a little bitwe give away a little bituntil we realize we have been living another person's life. Some crisis, breakdown, depression, anxiety,or bad relationship has led you here.
It's time to meet your Stranger. Your Stranger is who you were before you hid or bargained yourself away. Your Stranger is your truth, your connection to the Divine, and the shared spark with every person you meet.
Through years of study, travel, trial, error, and hard work, I have developed a process to awaken your inner balance, drive, and intuition called the Eight Qualities of the Heart. Each chapter contains a description of the quality, as well as philosophies, stories, poetry, and exercises to help you explore and implement it in your own life. There is no microwavable solution to your problems. You can't just pop in a self-help book and wait until you hear the "ding" of inner contentment. But you can start your journey here.
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Read an Excerpt
He not busy being born is busy dying.
Take me into the Divine Mystery Of Life.
I am in search of my Soul,
Looking for that place Of Wholeness Where healing is at home And we come to be in the One.
I hear tell God resides there,
And the way in is through Love.
Help me to come through my fear And enter into the garden of wonder and awe.
Before we can expect to heal and be whole, and before we can learn to meet our Stranger, we must be fully present. In this chapter, I am calling on you to reclaim your birthright to belong — to yourself, to your fellow human beings, and to the One Source. In this belonging is healing. To "reclaim" is to revisit with new perspective the events, relationships, and stories that brought you to this moment. Raising consciousness, resting, and contemplating are the revolutionary acts of today. Together they constitute the process of reclamation, which is very important because it is the first step toward healing. That's why you're here.
The first part of reclaiming ourselves is to examine how we listen and what we listen to. Each of us is driven by strong personal and societal motives. We move through life as if it were a furnace stoked by ambition. We are constantly moving; it is part of our nature. In proper proportion, this inner drive is a healthy part of who we are. But where is that path taking us? What is its focal point? We take our motivations for granted, but in reality, we build them brick by brick. And amidst the enormous force of the external world to claim and conquer ground, we often forget that the greatest wilderness we are provided exists within.
Who are you? When you plant those flags on the things you conquer in your life, what do those banners stand for? How does this complex, beautiful, and infinite being you are differ from the person you have spent your life being told that you are? What can you learn about yourself, through honest, present reflection, that might represent a shift from false narratives that were pitched long ago to you and are now trapping you in their irrelevance and toxic messages?
The lifelong cycle begins before we're old enough to process and interpret the input we receive, directly and indirectly, from the world around us. Navigating through all of these external voices until you can hear your Stranger's voice is an odyssey, and when you set out to do this, burrowing within to lose all the other voices so that you can listen to your own is the first pivotal moment in reclaiming your own identity.
Before we move further into theory, I'd like to offer you some of my own story, gathered through conscious contemplation, as a way to spark your own reclamation. Among other things, I wish to illustrate a basic truth: many of us view our identities as fixed, rigid, and inherent, but in reality, our identities are malleable. The truest path to ourselves is attained through what I call "directed fluidity." In other words, we must relearn to be open and aware to the lessons life continually offers us.
I struggled to reclaim my own story for many years. I was raised in an American Jewish Modern Orthodox home in Far Rockaway, New York. Each day, after attending public school, I went to Hebrew school. It was a taxing schedule for a child. In addition to the long weekdays, I spent each Saturday and many evenings with the elders. Our elders required a minimum of ten men to hold communal prayer, and so I, a young man in the eyes of our culture, joined them.
Even in the welcoming of the faith and warmth of the community, I had questions. I began to feel my own story begin to form and resonate within my consciousness, but it was stifled. I struggled as the words of the authority figures in my community effortlessly took center stage and dominated my emerging perspective, even though they were supposedly talking about me. When we are young, we are like fledglings seeking direction, and we are at our most vulnerable. That is when we begin to become our own Stranger and start down the long path of estrangement from the natural world. And the voices of others begin to override our own instincts regarding our own nature. For many of us, our youth is also the period when we are the most awake to deeper truths, but of course we don't realize it.
To understand directed fluidity, first we must try to strip away the lenses we have been taught to use to see ourselves. So much of what we view as our identity, and which we take as fundamental reality, is our subjective perception, filtered and manipulated by the lenses through which we view the world and ourselves in relation to it. Our personal stories are thus supplanted by the vicarious experiences of others at the expense of our own growth.
What exists beyond those walls we have built? Is it freedom? Is it peace? Is it just a more real version of ourselves? You'll never know until you learn how to look beyond the walls. How do we look past this programming and learn to see ourselves with clarity? We may never know how many colors exist in the world because we only know the limits of what our own eyes can perceive, and by the terms others have given them. Science gives us tools to realize there is a much broader spectrum. Soul gives us the ability to see ourselves with new depth. We need tools to see in a new way.
Each culture and time has its own perspective and put its own stamp on divine revelation, and indoctrination starts early. What makes some words holy and others subjective? Are holy words the ones written in a special book, sung by an ordained cantor or choir, or spoken by teachers and friends? What about the words, thoughts, and inclinations percolating, in sincerity, within each of us? How do they face off against the stone-carved creeds of dogma? Do we need them all? Do we need them at all?
As I grew in my relation to the world, I sometimes felt the words and voices of others were surrounding me and binding me far too tightly. When I left Far Rockaway for college in Washington, DC, the Vietnam War was raging, and the draft was in full swing. Being in college during the sixties and seventies was, in general, exhilarating and tumultuous. I struggled, with little self-awareness, because development of a deeper sense of self was given little encouragement at home. I fumbled and flailed awkwardly, and my soft, vulnerable side made an appearance only when wrapped around emotional outbursts of identity confusion.
"Business" was a dirty word to a sensitive, politically correct, antiwar activist, so I ran past the Business School building every day and pushed down my natural entrepreneurial skills. There were so many ghosts haunting my inner story of self, because I wanted to be the good boy, microcosmically pleasing to my immediate family, my culture, and the communities and cultures I was fashioned by, during a period when so many of the conventional definitions of previous generations had become fluid and were being radically shaken up, giving birth to the sensitive male and the politically correct young man.
Where was I to find my teachers and guides? With my draft lottery number coming due, I went to my rabbi, who had been my family's guide and spiritual leader for a lifetime. He had been the well of wisdom in my life up to that point. I asked him to write a letter in support of my application for conscientious objector status. He refused. And, in short order, my father also refused to draft a letter on my behalf.
This signaled the beginning of a conflict of paradigms within me. As the venerable monk Thich Nhat Hanh said, "At any moment, you have a choice that either leads you closer to your spirit or further away from it." These men, and my own inner voice, had long cultivated what I thought were my deepest values. Now those voices were at odds, and the two most important men in my life up to that point would not hear what my heart wanted to say.
To me, my opposition to the actions in Vietnam was not in spite of my Jewish faith, but due to it. I asked my father to write a letter even if he disagreed with me, but he refused. He was telling me to be quiet, to silence my own voice and defer to his. I understood his perspective. He felt that the United States was a great country to fit into — if we were quiet. The past had punished the Jewish people for our voices. Dad suggested joining the National Guard to avoid combat. That wasn't me. I wasn't running from a fight; I was pursuing my own path toward integrity in this life. There would be no National Guard. No medical deferment, nor self-injury; no flight to Canada. I was a Jew. I was an American. I was a student of the prophet Micah. I would not be quiet. I would stand my ground and speak my truth: war isn't the way to solve conflict!
Ultimately, because of the refusal of the rabbi and my father, and because of my own decision not to stand down, I began my search for authenticity outside Judaism. I knew I needed new voices that didn't require me to suppress my own. I sought the support of draft counselors and was introduced to the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker peace and justice group organized by folks in the peace community. In their practice, they honed themselves and their relation to the Divine through hours upon hours of Zen-like silence, openness, and contemplation in an almost surgically sterile environment. It was initially both overwhelming and culturally shocking. For the first time, I stepped out of the constant kinetic verbiage of a synagogue that had ultimately sought to silence me. And in the quiet of the Quaker message, I better learned how to listen to a voice within. Finally, through exploring this new tradition of silence, I was finding myself heard.
So, I had been presented with an opportunity to choose. It's important to learn how to see choice in reclaiming your life. For me, the stakes were high. If I clung exclusively to the comfort of the hierarchical views of my own culture, I would have had to sacrifice integral elements of my own truth. So, I chose to attempt to grow beyond those walls.
In reclaiming ourselves, it's important to find a community that supports us in aligning ourselves with our own story. The Quakers made space for me to be a conscientious objector, to honor myself, and to accept my own voice — acts essential to healing.
It was a busy, confusing time to be finding oneself, especially considering that the American marketplace ideals of "self" possibly didn't exist anyway. Eastern spiritual teachings were extolling the death of the self as they proclaimed that we are one and that the individual self is an illusion. In the times of personal searching, I continued to misplace my "self" often, only to glimpse it again on the path, a little farther down.
From cradle to grave, much of who we are is dictated to us, as well who we should be, what we should believe, and what path we should take. Culture is a valuable and, of course, inextricable part of who we are. But we remain responsible for staying behind the wheel of our own lives. And we are each blessed with our own unique voice, compass, and choices. If you are always being the "good boy" or "good girl," putting on the face of who society deems you should be, are you wearing your true face or a mask designed by others? Would you even recognize yourself outside of the context of your life? Ultimately, that is the key question when identifying your own soul. The risk in strictly adhering to the path laid out by others is that you may become lost in the process. You begin to split, and part of you becomes a Stranger. If we have faith only in the knowledge offered by others, we miss the wisdom forged by the experiences leading to that knowledge, and we miss the potential that we may come to different conclusions.
Don't live life on autopilot as I did in my youth. Nor would it be wise to bite at every hook that shimmers before you. We waste a lot of time batting ourselves back and forth between the logical fallacy of alternating extremes. Things like a war, in my case Vietnam, are polarizing moments. While I wanted to protest the conflict itself, I wanted to do so with love in my heart. So many marches for peace were filled with the same vitriol and anger I stood against, rather than with the heart I sought. I am reminded of a story told by Thich Nhat Hanh about the American peace community. He observed that they were skillful at marching and fighting against war, but they struggled with knowing how to love and be gentle with one another or, as I would put it, befriending the Stranger. This comes from balance — and I still hadn't found it.
My journey continued, both in the college classroom and far beyond it. As I journeyed, I sought balance. With the spiritual support of the Quaker community, I continued to pursue depth, cultivate the light within me, and act according to my evolving sense of community. However, this pursuit was not at the expense of my cultural identity of being Jewish or my father's son. In reality, this choice enabled me to live up to the promise of the greater values of faith and courage instilled in me. While in college, I founded an organization devoted to social change and activism that also promoted a student-run business model, and I started to home in on my path.
Immediately after graduation, a consulting firm recruited me, but the innovative idea I had for a cluster college model was lost to in-fighting in the firm. For me, this became a very real experience in the world of subtle betrayal — a theme that would be repeated a number of times in my lifetime of learning and growing. More to the point, I once again felt muted. Ultimately, I pointed my wagon toward West Virginia, where I became involved with a community college. This gave me the opportunity to listen deeply to what a community needed. But when I tried to offer programs that fulfilled those needs, I was shut down by the institution and local government that wanted to keep things how they already were. They weren't hearing the voice of the new generation, and that wasn't a good strategy in such radical times.
As my chapter in West Virginia ended, new possibilities were born. I met and fell in love with my first wife and accepted a doctoral fellowship in higher education at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. They provided funds, an office, and support to design integrative learning models for one of the first programs in holistic health care in a major university. I also met Werner, a retired surgeon and a student of theosophy. Remaining fluid yet committed to my path was serving me vocationally and bolstering my inner growth. It was also making me more critical of arbitrary acceptance of the system, and I was able to see the higher potential of what that system could become. The next chapters of my life, in the seventies, were brisk and galvanizing, like an ocean journey of exploration.
I started work with Werner in the lab he'd been given at the university, and I studied and experimented with various modalities of healing, including acupuncture. I pursued this development in innovative medicine and health care with great enthusiasm. Through acupuncture, I learned about the power inherent in a health care system that looks at the entire human living within a complex environment.
This insight, in turn, extended into my family life. My wife wasn't able to conceive — at least, that was the view shared by Western practitioners. Yet we experimented with acupuncture, and she became pregnant! Hearing a deeper voice, we had wanted to try something outside of the traditional system. I became so impressed with a health care system that engaged all the elements of life, I became a student of Eastern philosophy and medicine while still working on my doctorate.
From 1973 to 1975, I worked with Dr. Tin Yau So to open the New England School of Acupuncture, the first licensed school of acupuncture in the United States. I became so involved with Chinese medicine that I finally dropped the doctoral program and accepted a master's degree in education. I had found some peace within my turbulent sea and was enthusiastic about delving deeply into the ancient and esoteric truths of other cultures and beyond the institutions that had previously framed my path.
In 1979 we went west and migrated to Northern California, where I furthered my studies in natural medicine and philosophy. I was inspired and spent two years working feverishly to open the Pacific College of Naturopathic Medicine in the Russian River area. It was a heady battle. One thing we must always keep in mind is that our truths are not always shared by all. The school was a challenge to bring to fruition and even more difficult to operate. Securing licensure was another battle I fought, yet the faculty and students paid little attention. The opposition was deflating. Personality conflicts and ego among the diverse students, faculty, and administration of the school were so severe that I was forced to leave. The school didn't last much longer, even with the foundational support in place.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Befriending Your Stranger"
Copyright © 2019 Arnie Freiman.
Excerpted by permission of Sophus Press.
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