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“There is nothing in the whole universe that represents a threat to who you really are.”
“There is no real happiness for those on the wrong side. The greatest pleasure in life is the security of the true side. You can vainly try to win over the world or you can nicely be over the world. Your task is to change your operating center from strained imagination to relaxed reality.”
Below are spiritual exercises and special lessons taken from classroom lectures by Vernon Howard. They are marvelous tools that can be applied to your life and will help you better understand what these teachings are
all about. Use them and gain the wonderful rewards and benefits which they can give you.
There’s a wrong illogical part in you that just wants to fall asleep and never have to face another crisis, another threat, or another danger. There is a part in all humans that just wants to close the eyes and fade out and never have to see the world anymore, but separate themselves from it through sleep.
You will shake your head — physically, psychologically, mentally, emotionally — any way you can think of. You will shake your head and you will scream at the top of your voice, “No, I’m not going to sleep! NO, NO, NO! I’m not going to sleep! NO!”
That intention to refuse to go along with the power of sleep, the intention is right; it is powerful. All you have to do is intend what is right and God will do the rest.
I want you to know and I’m telling you right now that you can rise up in right rebellion, that you can get rightly emotional. This is the first and only right emotion you’ll ever have. You can have that once and it will be followed by others. Your refusal to fall asleep — now, you will make that refusal. You know what you have done? You’ve said “I am not going along with me anymore because I have betrayed myself and I am not going to fall asleep and dream dreams of self-glory.” There’s no such thing as a person making an aim or goal for himself. It just happened accidentally out in the world but we always say “I” to it.
If you want more motivation outside of the fact that it’s going to save your soul, I want you to look around at the faces of millions of human beings who have surrendered; who’ve put up the white flag and said, “I’m going to escape this horrible, painful, awful world by falling asleep.” And they do, and lots of them become wealthy sometimes — prominent and very, very popular. But you can look at them and not want to be one of them because you understand what has happened to them. They made up their minds for sleep. You have made up your mind to be awake, and to fight for it every step! Right fighting means you’re not going to believe that pain is pleasurable anymore. You are not going to be a split personality anymore — the forced smile and the phony confidence — you’re not going to do it anymore.
The matter of ‘who am I,’ the matter of identity must be pursued until, to your great astonishment and delight, you find out you have no identity and never did have to have one. You’re identifying yourself all day long as this person, good, bad, etc. And God tells you you’re none of these at all and you must see that if you’re ever going to save yourself. God cannot save any human being who has an identity because that prevents Truth from coming in and telling you that not only are you nothing but you don’t need to be anyone.
The thoroughly aggravating way to go through your day is to live from the outer to the inner. Let me tell you now, anything you get through this false process of working from outer to inner, you’re going to live to regret. If you continue to try to find fulfillment, try to find happiness, try to find out who you are, by taking impressions, objects, people, excitements from the outer world, you will continue to fail and I’ve told you how to stop failure.
All right then, the other way is right and it is from the inner to the outer. But the inner has to be corrected. You have to know that there are an awful lot of things wrong inside. But say that you do a lot of hard spiritual work on yourself and you begin to correct yourself inwardly; that is, you’re rising above yourself — you’re on a higher level. Then you have no need to use the outer world — it falls away. You don’t have to go after that man, after that woman. There’s no point in doing that anymore.
Now you’re doing the right thing from the inner to the outer. You make progress in no longer wanting to get something from someone (I’m not talking about doing ordinary business, that continues as before). I’m talking about you no longer trying to get a feeling of stability from anyone. Or from, as you say “If I had ten times as much money, I’d certainly feel stable with that. I’d feel safe, I’d feel all right if I had that.” No, you wouldn’t.
See the problem is alienation from the higher place, from heaven. As long as your real nature is alienated, then you can have the million dollars or you can have all the people and have all the positions and you won’t be any happier. This is very important now — it takes your willingness to be knocked around day and night, a thousand times a month, until the nonsense is knocked out of you. But now you still have hope. You still want your way. So, what I’m going to tell you to do is a tremendous action on your part and if you obey spiritual orders then understanding will come.
All right, give up your plans on how you’re going to feel secure, how you’re going to be happy. You don’t like what you see in your life and you figure that you can replace that unhappy person with a happy person. All those boys and girls who graduated from high school and college the same time you did and you meet ten years later, you figure they’re on their way, they’re making it and you haven’t. And that makes you feel bad. You want what they have. They’re secretly as miserable as you are, no matter what they have in the way of worldly goods because they are alienated from Truth. But not seeing this you make the mistake again and again when you think that thinking can do it, and then you have to try to find something that is going to work.
Please, please, within each one of you there is a center, which is not part of the world — a little tiny bit inside of you is not part of this world. It’s real, it’s permanent, it is absolutely permanent, but it’s overwhelmed by your foolish desire to always be surrounded by people. That little part of you that could be turned into a giant of spiritual strength is timid and small and can be bluffed and intimidated just now by your wrong nature.
You’re all lonely. It’s awful living with you, every single one of you, because you don’t have God in your life. Right now, you’re to be honest, which is one of the hardest things you have to do. You will know that you can’t live without having a lot of other people around you. You’ve got to go where the crowds are, the party, phoning someone, writing someone. You’ve lied and said, “See, I’m happy.” No, you’ve lied to yourself again. You can’t stand being in the house by yourself. You could have started to change your nature from inner to outer years ago. There’s a line and I’m telling you that most people are over it. No way to call them back. They’re not here. You know where they are — in the bars, the betting places, the foolishness and the filthiness.
I hope that right now you only know one thing, which is that you don’t know anything. You’ve got to start with a mind that works dreadfully, but you can use it in order to grow and go beyond the mind to the spirit. So say all day, “I don’t know what I’m doing with my life. I don’t know where to go, what to do in order to get a feeling of security.” But there is no way you can be spiritually honest; you lie, lie, lie.
Practice this exercise in self-honesty. “I’m just lost altogether. All my life has been one big blunder and I actually don’t know what to do to start living from the inner to the outer, the right way. I don’t know how to uplift my nature.” You’re saying this mechanically. It’s essential not to try to be sincere but to see you have no sincerity at all. Oh, this is tough stuff. Your friends don’t want this. They will continue to lie themselves deeper into hell.
After hard work, not over the hours or days or months but over the years, you’ll say the exercise “I don’t know anything about anything.” But you see you deceived yourself because in the next five minutes you go out and do something in order to try to be happy. After five or six years of this intense exercise in self-honesty, you’ll see that you’ve lied to yourself all your life about wanting to change.
At that point, continue to say it and it won’t be with just your mind, but you will say it with the center inside of you. You will realize that there is no way that you know how to rescue yourself from pain and self-torment. At that point, God Almighty is allowed by your honest confession and sincerity to send his spirit into you to begin to teach you more. You are not taught by God now, you’re taught by yourself; you’re lied to by yourself. When your will is no longer your will, at that point God’s will becomes yours.
A magic message to tell yourself every day which will be the start of the regeneration of your nature: “I don’t belong here. I don’t belong in this world.”
One man worked on his inner condition so faithfully and so long that it took him to a different world, a different state inside, and to abiding happiness in himself, as Vernon explained with a story summarized here.
Once upon a time there was a country called Criminalia. It was inhabited by crooks and crazies and violent thugs. The whole land was lost, but one day one man living in Criminalia woke up with a new feeling. He felt there was something wrong but he didn’t understand it. He did know one thing though. At the very same time he saw something wrong outside with all the violence, he saw there was something wrong with him, too — he saw there was violence inside of him. He said, “That’s why I’m unhappy and so afraid.” He felt trapped, oppressed, and he decided he was going to escape. It wasn’t easy because the obstacles are enormous! In hearing this talk this morning, I want you to become conscious of the obstacles of self-escape for yourself, because that is knowledge for you in how you can be smarter than what has been hurting and harassing you.
So the hero of the story decided to run to the border and get out of Criminalia. He was beaten on the way, knocked down and robbed, but he went on and managed to get to the border. It’s important for you to make an inner parallel here. When he got to the border it wasn’t quite that simple to just walk out. You don’t just walk out. Because when he stepped out of his house that special morning, there was a sensing in the evil atmosphere of Criminalia. They knew he wanted to turn his back on them and escape and they tripled their attack on him one hundred times over. No one else in Criminalia wanted to get out, but he did and they sensed it. What he found at the border were brutal guards with fierce dogs who wouldn’t let him out.
You see, evil, sickness, neurosis, darkness doesn’t want anyone to escape. Dark forces always oppose God and goodness and when you make your efforts, the night is going to descend on you and try to discourage you and lie, lie, lie. For example, it will tell you it’s too late. It’s not too late at all!
But at this point he was desperate and utterly dismayed. He staggered back home and the pain and humiliation and total sense of being lost tripled itself. “God,” he said, “I try to be good, to do something right and nothing changes. In fact, it gets worse. I was someone who was trying to do right and instead of God helping me, I’m abandoned!” He sobbed for a week but finally he came to the point where he could stand aside a little bit and see himself as angry and furious and full of rage. He had cried for so long that he’d come to the end of that phase of his spiritual development. He didn’t know at the time that the self-centered sobbing was a stage of his getting to the edge of Criminalia and crossing over, but Truth, God, knew it. Because he had chosen rightly to get out of there, God in Heaven heard that small feeble prayer and sent angels down. And when he decided to study his condition instead of hating it, the 2nd stage came. Instead of boiling over about it, his second prayer was “What’s wrong with me?”
Heaven always listens to a sincere spirit and always answers. He started asking people questions and learned they didn’t know so he stopped asking. He got stronger and tried for the border again, but failed because he still had a big ego and a false front which collapsed again. He was even in darker despair now. But the angels were still watching and helping.
Then one day, he heard something new. He heard that right in the middle of Criminalia, but in a secret place, there was a rock, a big rock, and this rock had a message on it, a secret message sent down from another place. This message had a single sentence on it, which he could know, and when he took the secret message to the border and said it to the guards, they’d let him out. It said, “I don’t belong here.” He pondered this and with growing spiritual insight, it made more and more sense to him. Armed with the secret sentence, he went to the border again but got so terrified he forgot the message. What I’m telling you is that the obstacles you meet with will be ten times more than you think, and ten times as tough as you think, but keep going and the day will come when what happened to him can happen to you.
Our hero eventually matured. He realized how much more inner watchfulness, inner yielding, honesty and humility he had to have. He realized that the spiritual world, Truth, had to be his only life. He worked on it, and finally, because he was now living in the higher world except for the physical body, when he walked up to the guards and said, “I don’t belong here,” the guards wilted and the dogs ran away and he walked easily on over.
You don’t belong in this world! Your physical body inhabits it; your Spirit has nothing to do with it. That’s a magic message for you to tell yourself every day and that will be the start of the regeneration of your nature! There’s a block at every stage because the block is inside of us, not out there. God doesn’t create blockages.
Know that God alone is your life. Make this connection: God has 100% authority over evil. It’s not really a battle between dark and light. Light is all there really is but because of the rebellion of the human mind starting thousands of years ago, the mind fell into the dark trap of wanting to be a God unto itself. That created the split. When you don’t know what to do, you remember that phrase “I don’t belong here” and because this is a fact, it will empower whatever is necessary for you to do living in this world which is Criminalia.
There are two voices in you. One says, ‘I know what I’m doing’ the other says, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing.’ Your work is to make strong the 1% that says ‘I really don’t know what I’m doing.’ Don’t be afraid of not knowing. What you knew — the 99% — was phony, false. One absolute fact you now know: You do not belong here. That’s the right knowing.
“You have been handed a sacred lamp here. Be the keeper of the flame. Know that all you need is God and add to that, “Because of God’s existence, I don’t belong here.”
Vernon Howard gave this delightful illustration and exercise: Once upon a time a poem was written. A marvelous poem called “Recessional” written by British author Rudyard Kipling. It became immensely popular because it had a spiritual message.
In addition, the poetry and writing are excellent. For example, there is one line that says, “God gave us dominion over palm and pine.” The British Empire was mighty in those days, and had conquered a good part of the world from palm to pine — “palm” representing the warm countries and “pine” the cold.
The poem told of man’s conquest of other men. And it has this beautiful and marvelous lesson:
Lord God of Hosts,
be with us yet.
Lest we forget,
lest we forget.
That’s the theme of the poem. We come into the world and make our petty little conquests. We set ourselves up as the conqueror of our own little home, our family, our business. This is parallel to Rudyard Kipling’s reference to the British Empire conquering and having dominion over palm and pine.
The lesson is we’ve forgotten where we belong. The naming became the power in our lives instead of the power of remembering. Remember God? Remember who you’re supposed to be? And remember that you didn’t create yourself; therefore, you do not have and must not have responsibility for what happens to you. Wouldn’t you think that the Creator of the universe would be more qualified to take care of you than you? Then why don’t you let God do it?
Here is an exercise to help you remember where you really belong. You’re going to have a determination to remember something you’ve forgotten. You’re going to look out at the world and you’re going to remember how many and how varied are the negative and corrupt influences that are pointed toward you and taking you over. You are to remember how negative everything is in this world. Take advertising. It’s quite appealing at times with pretty girls and apt phrases. Of course, the motive is to get your money.
Listen to people talk. Do you hear anyone conversing on something that is of authentic value to them?
No, they have forgotten. What we’re doing here in class is remembering that we forgot.
We’ve forgotten what is true, what is kingly and truly permanent.
Don’t settle another second for any impermanent life, which is all society has to offer.
To be who you really are in essence is the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. You can come home right now. Do it.
Vernon gave us this beautiful exercise because it’s for our true health and happiness.
This is an exercise to increase our awareness of something that is not a part of the old mechanical life. Ask yourself, “What was I about to say?”
Be determined to give yourself little jolts, and one you can give yourself is to be without your usual reaction to a situation. For instance, always saying the same things. Catch yourself saying, “Well, that’s the way the cookie crumbles,” and when you realize it’s just a mechanical habit, that’s the impetus to be more aware when saying it. Now, you can dare what all your life you called darkness, which is the unknown, and now you can go right into it and not have anything to say. You will then know for yourself when you don’t say “That’s the way the cookie crumbles” that there’s the empty space, which means there will be the non-re-creation of you.
If you endure it, you hear the darkness lie to you and say, “You’re coming to an end, fill up the space with a remark, anything, say anything.” Stay awake and try to see what you are just about to say, and remember do not try to stop it. If you try to stop it, you are trying to stop it. Now you have inserted a you who is going to stop an old you, and they’re both you and they’re both wrong.
Thought has no place in this operation. Notice the arising thoughts for you to say, “That’s the way the cookie crumbles,” and then eliminate the phrase forever.
When you go home, take a piece of paper and at the top write Shock List, then write your favorite phrases you use when speaking to other people. Now, you may have two hundred of them, but just get the most frequent ones.
The catching of the mechanical is the changing.
Here is an exercise on how to be saved. Write down, “Bear your own burdens.”
Here’s what it means to bear your own burdens. When you have a suffering emotion or thought, when you hear some news that you call bad, when you feel threatened by someone or something, you make no mental movement whatever to push it away. When you feel afraid, you are to bear your own burdens by being one hundred percent afraid. You are to permit the fear to course through you with all its so-called ferocity, with the full flood of it.
If you will do that so that only you are involved and no one else in the world is; if you will permit the flood of terror, of self-doubt, of anxiety, any hellish feeling, if you will permit this hellish feeling to enter you, you’d become conscious of it. It’s the consciousness of it that allows it to come to its full force so that you don’t dilute the suffering. Then at a certain point where the flood is one hundred percent pressure inside of you, it breaks apart. This means it passes through your mind and goes out of your mind and emotions and goes away from you, leaving you with a conscious recollection of what happened to you. That by the way is what makes you eager for the next experience.
You bear the inner burden fully, which you have to do because your burden is your burden. No one else can carry it for you. Then you will get your reward for yourself from God. This means you won’t want any reward from society, which means you’re free of its sick false rewards, and you’re never going to be wrongly involved with anyone. You’ll be rightly involved with everyone else on earth because you’re rightly involved with yourself, and sickness can’t touch you because you’re healthy.
Vernon Howard gave us the following practical exercise:
Ads are everywhere. They’re in magazines, newspapers, on radio and television. This project is for you to see how all advertising appeals to ego interest. If you see even that, it would begin to cut off its power to control and influence you to spend your money wrongly.
On the highway when you see an ad, at the same time you look at it, see how you reacted to it. If you hate the ad or love it, you are reacting to it instead of seeing it clearly. Intelligence can see the ad without any agitation, either pleasurable or adverse, because there is no message coming from you to the ad back and forth. You know it has nothing to do with your true values in life.
Now you can look at ads and see how you used to fall for them. Because a part of you was so desperate you said to the world, “Give me something to fulfill me, give me something to excite me, give me something to take away my loneliness.” But you saw that it didn’t work.
Make a practical experiment by making up your own ads about the Higher Life and place them in conspicuous places around your home. For example one could read “End self-deception,” and another “Know your own mind.”
Now you see everything in the world and in yourself too in an utterly different way. You're not at all who you thought you were, and aren’t you glad? You’re not at all this person who had to go around straining to have people accept you and like you. You lived that way so long and got utterly tired of it.
The Truth is available to you right now and at any time you can honestly and sincerely ask for its help.
We all want to have more energy, so here’s an exercise from Vernon that will help us not to waste it and thus have more:
Just think, all that energy we’ve been wasting can go into two legitimate areas, one in our further inner development, more light, and the other into practical affairs of the world.
Take paper and pencil and write down, don’t try to be too exact because you’re still thinking and comparing and working things out, write down a number of tasks, duties that you are now doing that you suspect you may be doing them compulsively because you think you have to, or it’s simply a habit. See which one of these activities you can delete.
Don’t leave anything out, write it down because maybe you have a certain bad habit of wasting your time, for example talking with neighbors, and such like. If you put that down, the false part of you which gets pleasure in escape may object, so write everything down. Then go over your list periodically. Make as long a list as you possibly can, fifty, a hundred of them, and you can do it, with the simplest ones being your daily physical habits, “Maybe I can even walk from the parking lot to my office a shorter way.”
Try ways to be efficient, to be direct. Now this is going to go against your habit of wanting to do things the hard way because there’s a certain value in being confused. “If I’m confused I won’t have to face what I don’t want to face.” This means, as I said before, that you’re going to have to get a long list, go over it very carefully, and then dare to cut things out. At first it will fight you, and then after you finally see the uselessness of the activity, you’ll say, “Thank Heaven I began using right ideas to build a right life.” You can do that endlessly.
You may have a little habit or a big one that you have been practicing for thirty, forty, sixty years, and be prepared for this shock, “Have I been wasting my time all those years in making that telephone call, which I thought made me a nice person and I thought was my duty?” Oh, what relief you’re going to have when you eliminate all these foolish unnecessary things.
You are under invisible tyranny that you know not of. Now you just received an exercise for exposing it. Take this list over months, years, and gradually reduce it. Also be prepared for the displeasure on the part of many people who are using you, and you are using them. You are no longer going to be able to do that.
This is called learning to live your own life.
This is called getting your own world back.
This is called doing in the right way what you really want to do, not what your neurosis demands that you
This list will free you of yourself.
Vernon Howard gave us this exercise as follows:
Never Cooperate With Anyone Who Angrily Judges You
When you cooperate with someone who angrily judges you, it means that you believe that you are a rascal, a hypocrite, lazy, unkind, cruel. It means that you are on the same level as the angry accusation. Therefore, you are doing nothing more than keeping your false position in place. This means that you are going to needlessly defend and protect yourself against accusations and judgments.
Every time you get angry over an angry accusation, you reward your accuser. That’s what he wants. He knows how to get you, how to make you bristle in a small or large way, and he will go as far as he can to get a sense of power over you. You are not going to harm yourself or anyone else and you will not explain yourself anymore.
Let’s see what it means not to cooperate. You are accused of something and either it is true or it is untrue … it makes no difference which. The important thing is that you don’t remain on the level of the angry accusation, the slander, the judgment and that you don’t reply in kind. Even though you don’t reply in kind verbally, you will do it internally … you will get emotional when accused. You are not to cooperate, mostly because you want to be free of him or her.
While working on yourself, watch his or her discomfort waiting to see your typical reaction. He wants you to get mad and he keeps nagging at you. For example, he keeps slamming the door. You notice his state, which is frustration. But it is most important for you to watch your own discomfort. Before, when you talked back, you had false comfort. That false comfort covered up the fact that you are always uncomfortable. You have been uncomfortable all your life with others. So your awareness of your uneasiness is very important.
When you are accused you have to go to work and do this exercise. That one little incident will give you a faint feeling of how you can handle all of life.
You should know that the accuser is in you as well as in that other person. You will begin to feel that there is a part of you that is truly independent of all accusation. Your refusal to cooperate consists of one thing — silence.
As a start you will have to practice using one center at a time. The first one is not using the mouth center to talk back. You are doing this consciously and not mechanically because you want to understand and be free of accusation and slander. You can even press your lips together as a sign to your physical center.
You will find that, while that center cooperates, your feelings and intellect won’t. They will go on. But you can begin to see that one center can stop and the others can’t because it has been so habitual with you. You will see that if you can stop one center from its harmful reaction, you can stop another.
Never cooperate with anyone who angrily judges you, otherwise you are simply cooperating with his or her insanity or your own insanity. No longer cooperate with the other person’s neurosis and the time will come when you no longer cooperate with your own.
Vernon Howard told a story about a man who every day had to walk through a dark valley where he was always attacked by monsters. The pain and misery from these attacks was almost unbearable. Then one day he decided he would study the monsters and himself at the time he was being attacked. In the evening he would reflect on these experiences and see why they happened. For a long time he did that and he eventually became a wiser and happier man.
Just as the man in the story studied himself, we have also to do that. I call this extremely helpful exercise “Review Your Day.” Here’s how it goes:
We have many experiences daily. Some of these we grab onto and can’t let them go. It’s those experiences in particular that come to mind when we review our day.
When a troublesome event happens and we become identified with it, we don’t see it clearly. We are apt to blame outer conditions, other people and so on for what happened. But in the evening when we’re quiet and reflective we see this event was troublesome only because we were identified with it.
Because of the way human nature is, very minor events can take on major proportions in our minds. For example, I say something I think is very humorous but the person to whom it is said glares at me in anger. Although I apologize, the other person is very hurt. Not only does it create resentment in the other person but it consumes my thoughts. Try as I may to forget about it, the hurt and anger on the other person’s face keep coming to mind. It torments me. Upon reflecting on this in the evening, I make an aim to think before I speak in the future.
All our discoveries about ourselves are valuable, but some more so than others. For example, images that have been with us almost all of our lives are extremely difficult to see. Let’s say I hear a lighthearted comment about me such as, “Oh, there’s the do-gooder at it again.” This really burns me up and I can’t think straight. But on pondering it that evening, I see I was playing the role of a “do-gooder” and it was indeed only an image. By not playing out this role, I can become a more real person.
There are so many marvelous enlightening things to see in ourselves, which will make us lighter as we walk through life. The “Review Your Day” exercise is one tool to do just that.
“I have been waiting all my life for the information contained in his teachings.”
— Solomon B. via e-mail
All of the above exercises were transcribed by Sally Forrest or Regina Netherton from a class lecture.