"There Is A Way Out"
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This book contains excerpts from classes Vernon Howard conducted. The quotes are from Question and Answer sessions, and the student’s words are shown in italics. Like many teachers, Mr. Howard speaks in parables sometimes, but his answers will quickly reach into you and strike a cord you have been longing to hear.
Is there a way out of confusion and a way into life-prosperity? Of course there is. You are about to discover the ways with a fascinating journey which begins right now. In these pages you will hear questions and comments from all kinds of people -- from the sincere and the anxious, from those who yearn for the way out and from those who have found it. Open it anywhere and find answers which you will sense as being wonderfully friendly and helpful.
What are these teachings all about?
Imagine yourself standing in your home at night while gazing out the window through slightly parted curtains. You see a brilliant star. If you lean to either left or right of your position you cut off sight of the star. We are teaching ourselves to stand in just the right cosmic position to see something higher than ourselves. Can you think of a more fascinating adventure?
I don’t know the way out.
You are the way out.
I don’t know what that means.
Know yourself and you will know.
I wish to be whole, but am not sure what this means.
Wholeness is the harmonious working of all the natural parts of a man. This includes thoughts, feelings, physical movements, sexual urges, action, speech, and so on. An obsession is the domination of one wild part over the other parts, as when sex dominates the mind or when impulsive emotions dictate violent action. Knowledge of all this is the beginning of self-wholeness and thus self-command.
What is human life like?
Like a gigantic stage performance, which a story will illustrate. A group of children often played a game of dramatics in which each portrayed a stage character. One played the role of an important person, another of a profound thinker, and so on. Then they grew up. Incredibly, they continued to play their roles, which they now took as realities. They went around acting as if they were important or profound. They felt depressed and angry when other people did not accept their roles as real. They sensed that something was wrong, but did not know what it was.
We all agree on the necessity of persistent self-honesty. Where might a beginner help himself?
He can ask whether he really enjoys his life, or whether he painfully endures it because he knows not what else to do.
I hope my spirit is not too dark to learn.
How you underestimate yourself! You always forget that while you are your own darkness you are also your own sunshine for ending the darkness.
It is true that we scorn that which we do not understand.
A wind carried a man’s hat deep into the woods where man had never visited. Gathering around the hat, the wild creatures tried to discover its use. A dove thought it was a nest, while a bear declared it to be a strange and huge berry. Every animal but one connected the hat his own personal needs and experiences. The exception was a wise owl who immediately identified the strange object as a hat. The owl explained that he had been in another part of the woods where creatures called men wore hats all the time. Never having heard of a man before, the creatures derided the owl and continued to be puzzled over the hat.
I wish to enter your school of cosmic wisdom.
Come back in three weeks.
Here I am, three weeks later.
Come back in six weeks.
Here I am, six weeks later.
You may now receive your second lesson.
But what was my first?
The ability to take rejection.
I am caught between loyalty to my traditional beliefs and my urge to break out.
Do not feel guilty about leaving the old. You owe nothing to illusions. Do not permit other slaves to keep you in chains. Your life belongs to you and you alone.
But what should I accept and what should be rejected?
You are never required to accept anything you have not seen or experienced for yourself.
I do not fully understand what it means to be spiritually asleep or awake.
To be asleep means to be the slave of anger and envy, to demand that events turn out according to personal desire, to deceive oneself and others, to suffer from guilt and shame, to take secret delight in hurting others, to live in fear. To be awake means to possess self understanding, to have only one person within yourself, to see through the folly of worldly ambitions, to live from your real nature, to be free of all negative feelings, to be genuinely compassionate.
You seem to say we must leave our own intelligence behind when coming to these classes.
Do not confuse intelligence with conditioning.
Why can’t we bring our acquired ideas?
Can fire and water mix?
What should we do with an offered truth?
Four men walked through the Forest of Truth together. A leaf bearing a sublime message fluttered down at their feet. The scholar said he would write a long book describing the shape and color of the leaf. The man who considered himself religious claimed that this was heaven’s sign for him to go forth and save others. The angry man shouted his intention to fight the truth. But the fourth man merely read the message, nodded, and silently walked on. Nothing in him wanted to use the truth for personal profit.
Society has thousands of plans for helping the helpless, but not much changes.
Picture a shopkeeper standing in front of his shop and shouting to passers-by about his delicious fruits and vegetables. But the shop is empty. That is society. Only the individual who has found himself has anything to give.
I have a certain fear that I might lose my own individuality by accepting these higher truths.
Do you have individuality or do you merely have a fixed pattern of behavior which keeps you in conflict?
I see what you mean. Sheep in a flock may have different characteristics, but they are still sheep.
If you could only see it, what you will lose is what a certain part of you yearns to lose.
I wish to be inspired.
Then realize that inspiration is not the same as stimulation. Stimulation is temporary excitement, usually caused by exterior events. It always swings over to depression.
And what is true inspiration?
A glimpse of truth hidden within you. It comes at first in a brief revelation, just as a flash of lightning illuminates the scene for a split second.
I don’t know how to find the higher life.
To win the higher give up the lower. The home of a man stood near a beautiful lake. Also on his property was an old and unused cabin which blocked the view of the lake from the home. The man took great pride in boasting to visitors about several famous men who had possibly spent a night in the cabin. At the same time he was saddened by his inability to see the rippling waters. He finally sacrificed his boasting by tearing down the cabin, which gave him a new view.
I want my life to be fun.
Don’t these studies tend to take away fun?
Is your present life fun?
Has it ever been fun?
These studies are the only real fun on earth.
I have seven keys in my hand, but do not know which one opens the door.
But what if none of them work?
That is the whole story of apprehensive man. He fears that nothing exists beyond his petty ways. Courageously experiment until identifying the six wrong keys. The remaining key will work but you cannot know this until eliminating the wrong keys.
Why do some events make me feel happy, while others bring sadness?
Because some events seem to confirm false ideas you have about life, while others seem to deny them.
Is it really as simple as that?
As simple as that. However, you must prove this for yourself through daily experience. For instance, notice your disturbance when other people do not agree with your claims of being a successful person. This leads to a state which is above all events.
What prevents simple and natural living?
Unconscious imitation. A nervous businessman was part of the madness of a large city. Wishing a calmer environment, he moved to an unspoiled island in the tropics, inhabited by a few natives. But the businessman brought his nervous mind and manners with him. Believing that his agitation was a sign of normality, the natives eagerly imitated his jumpiness. After awhile, anyone who was not nervous was considered abnormal.
Who are these teachings for?
For whoever knows that he does not know, for whoever is secretly tired and perplexed, for whoever wants to be who he really is.
Your various summaries of the human situation have been very enlightening to us. May we have another one?
Whether you are aware of it or not, you have chosen a certain way of life for yourself. You must therefore reap the results of that choice. If you wish to choose another way, you are free to do so, after which different results will appear.
Please tell us something about a man who is truly awakened.
Outwardly he may appear quite usual, but inwardly he is a sun for a dark world. He is a man who has dared to plunge all the way into himself until seeing things as they are in reality. He knows much more about everyone than he can tell, for few people are able to take it. He exists only to those who can recognize him, to those who really want what he has to give.
How does it go?
A sincere student of the higher life came across a book of truth. His first reading aroused apprehension, for the book challenged his false assumptions. The second reading aroused interest, for something hard in him was beginning to melt. The third reading aroused inspiration, for he knew he had found a pure guide. The fourth reading aroused self-transformation, for printed truth blended with inner truth. That is how it goes.
I wish to get to the point.
There exists another state of life for you which is totally different from your present state. That is the whole point.
Religion stresses the need for obedience, which has always bothered me. Maybe it associates with my past in which I had to obey tyrannical authorities.
Be cheerful about it. The problem will vanish once you grasp a certain fact. You must be obedient only to yourself, to your true and fundamental nature. That is the same as obedience to God and truth.
I am confused. Can you help me?
Then please give me what I want.
I cannot supply what you want.
But you said you could help.
Ask me to supply what you need.
We are caught in our own trap!
Of course. Imagine yourself compelled to play a new kind of football game having numerous and complicated rules. The rules are so vague and contradictory you can not even begin to understand and follow them. But in spite of that you are ordered to play the game, and when failing to play properly, you are punished! So man is caught in his own game, a game he neither comprehends nor controls. The game can never be anything but maddening, for its rules are based on illusions and on concealed self-interest. Liberty dawns for the man who finally sees that he himself contributes to the riotous game.
Something holds me back from seeking the way out, but I have no idea what it is.
Two friends were disappointed with their lives. Also, they feared additional disappointment. They became interested in searching for gold in a nearby mountain, so they read many books and studied maps. But on the day they were to head for the mountain, only one of them departed from home. This adventurous man had won a fine inner victory. He had determined to not let fear of disappointment block his search for gold.
All this seems to call for more energy than we may have.
Pour every ounce of energy you have into your learning. Have no fear of spending it lavishly. That does not diminish energy, in fact, spending creates more. Picking a plum from a tree does not decrease the plum producing power of that tree.
Quite often we fail to benefit from the truth. Why?
A cosmic fact offered to a man can be turned into one of two directions. It can be turned by the man himself into a gain or a loss. It is like tossing an apple to a hungry but confused man. Unless he recognizes the object as an apple he is likely to let it drop to the ground.
I am trying to reach Happy Hills.
But you are on the road to the Valley of Despair.
But my map says this is the road to Happy Hills.
You need a thousand times more courage than you have.
To do what?
To tear up the map.
We are told to abandon self-reference. I am not sure what it means.
The false self imagines it is the center of the universe. A man lost a small coin in the street, which he mentioned to a passing policeman. A short time later some workers arrived with their heavy equipment and began tearing up the street to make room for new water pipes. Looking pleased, the man thanked the policeman for his all out assistance. That is self-reference.
How did we get into this mess in the first place?
A child was told by several adults to be good. Observing the behavior of the adults, he concluded that goodness consisted of envy, sarcasm, and trickery. Years later, as an adult himself, he was resentful and greatly perplexed. He wondered why a person as good as himself should attract so much unhappiness.
Why is this way better than my usual way?
Why is freedom better than imprisonment?
I don’t know the next step toward the way out.
There is always a next step. Remember that. Switch from self-condemnation to self-understanding. Do not put up with a wandering mind. Become aware of mechanical reactions. Never enjoy self-pity. Do not be deceived by society’s lofty but empty speeches. See that self-insight and self-change are the same thing. These are superb next steps. Find more for yourself.
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