QUESTION: I am in a quandary about two paradoxical spiritual teachings that I am constantly faced with and I am not sure if it is either/or or both.

Like you, I am not into the New Age-y stuff, and realize how the work needs to be done, how people avoid it and want a quick fix, how the shadow sides need to be faced and looked at. So, I am not talking about The Secret stuff here. But, there does seem, on the one hand, to be something to this law of attraction thing and to intent and to creating your own reality and the outer reflecting the inner and all that, your state of mind and emotions and thoughts, I see it in my own life to a great degree.

However, whenever I either listen to an interview or read something from someone who seems to have genuinely woken up, it seems that what they say is that there really is no one there, or here, meaning: the little me has pretty much died in the sense that you realize that you are really THAT and that, whereas you thought before you were in control, you are not, since everything that is manifest really is happening in life or the unmanifested or the emptiness which contains it all. They say that you still continue life, it all happens as it should, but is seems like the suffering, the planning, the controlling, the anxiety drops away. Not that challenges and pain cease to exist, but since the attachment and belief is not there, there is no real suffering. They don’t seem to be interested in creating their own reality and expanding the universe, if you know what I mean!

Since this is all intellectual to me at this point, instead of experiential, I find the quandary lies in trying to use my small self to fulfill my desires, to guide my life, granted with the power of the universe on my side, or if I should be trying to surrender totally to this small self and really see that I am not who I am think I am, but instead give it all up for something much more real? I am confused, I am not meaning crazy fundamental Advaita nondualism thinking either, about no self and everything being an illusion, but whether one can and ultimately not be best off if one can live in the world but not be of the world, as the famous saying goes. How do I try to teach my children, for example?

ANSWER: What you describe here is a landscape we all face at some point in our journey. The place where the ways of the world do not have the attraction they once did, and we have not fully realized our true self. A bit of a yo-yo between craving matter and wanting to release it all. At this juncture, it is easy to start talking hyperbole (what enlightened people say, etc.) instead of dealing with where we are at. Dangerous business, since it uproots us from ourselves, and hence not an authentic experience.

You made an important distinction that many people tend to miss. Your statement that this is all intellectual to you at this point, instead of experiential, must be adhered to. The Advaitaists (nondual teaching) are a great example. All they say is true; we know that in our bones. Yet something is amiss, since the ones saying are most always not speaking from direct experience. To live one’s life from theory, instead of being engaged, is dangerous business. It is the ego’s protection from the certainty of its mortality by wrapping itself up in a theory based on the truth that the ego is in fact an illusion. Deliciously ironic! As the Chinese saying goes, "A master carpenter’s sharp tool in the hand of a layman leads to disaster."

Yes, we do and can create our own reality: by rolling our sleeves up and working hard. Really hard. Whether we are talking about clearing up internal belief systems that are self-limiting or making material abundance a reality, there is hard work involved. The question that most fail to ask is serenity and its role in our lives. Most of us are running around because we do not spend the time to nurture this crucial aspect. No amount of abundance can fill an overanxious heart.

As for children, we teach by example. By showing vulnerability, letting them know that it is all a work in progress. Not by demanding perfection from them, nor giving them a free run on everything around them. Respect, love, and boundaries in balanced measure while remembering that they have their own blueprint for their journey. We are temporary stewards in their travel.