Wake up, my dear, and leave behind your dreams of struggle, drama, and conflict. I listened to my inner voice and got out of bed, knowing the message had more to do with my life as a whole. I do my best to live and make decisions based on my inner voice, God’s guidance, and an awareness of the oneness and sacredness of all beings. Because of this, I steer clear of religious or philosophical approaches to life which dictate guidelines to follow, and I avoid using such labels to describe myself, even labels such as yogi, activist, or vegetarian. I may attend climate change rallies or study yogic philosophy in India, but still I veer away from such affiliations, labels, and sets of prescribed dictates. Thus am I free to go within for guidance and decide in any given moment how to act.

Yet, there is a more important reason I steer away from such identifications and affiliations. They separate. They often lead to the racism, sexism, and nationalism we see so much in the headlines lately. The labels themselves are just words. What I try to avoid is how we attach ourselves to them and use them to define who we are and how we should live. In my experience this kind of identification typically leads to adverse judgment of those with opposing views or those who do not follow our particular path. These judgments frequently lead to intolerance, which in turn breeds bigotry, hatred, and condemnation, which ultimately result in separation and in the worst case scenario cause war.

I’ll share this story from my life. In 2003, I began what has become my long term practice of weeding out judgments I am holding, often subconscious and usually stemming from my identifications. At first, I couldn’t believe I had a strong over-identification as vegetarian, although I had considered myself one for over 25 years. I definitely couldn’t admit I held judgments of others who were not vegetarian. Yet, my family and friends would speak about or otherwise indicate their discomfort with what they sensed was my disapproval for their lifestyle choices. Some said they saw in me arrogance, superiority, and belief my way was the better way to live.

It hurt to hear this, and I felt regret and shame when I saw how I was judging others, making them wrong, and pushing away my loved ones, even my husband. I had a hard time accepting I was prejudiced, self-righteous, and intolerant, even subconsciously. I came around, however, to see just how critical and unaccepting I was being. I was even obnoxious at times. Yet I was determined to be honest with myself and to grow. I believe this has been the biggest lesson for me: to be willing to look honestly at myself.

Over the years, I’ve addressed many such subconscious identifications, from healer and ecovillage member to more common “good friend” and “good wife.” Each label came with its own list of “shoulds” and “should-nots.” By letting go of my false identifications, I have felt more free to be me. By letting go of the related “shoulds,” judgments, and biases, I have developed more tolerance, compassion, and respect for all life and for all diverse paths. You could say this practice has assisted me to remove the barriers to the realization of my true nature, which is love. My growth in this area isn’t complete, by far, but the observable progress I’ve made compels me to continue on this path.

The path requires not only a willingness to look at oneself honestly, but also a commitment to become one’s own authority. Many people search outside themselves for the answers to life’s questions. They want someone to tell them what guidelines to follow, and if not told directly they strive to emulate those whose help they are seeking. They believe they need an authority figure to assist them to awaken or to relate to God. It is usually from this perceived need that they adopt a religious or philosophical approach to life. They readily trade their inner authority for a set of rules to live by and to define right and wrong for them, and these rules are used as a basis to judge oneself and others.

Here’s the key: each of us has God within us. This means underneath our differences, we are all the same. It also means the answers we seek are inside us, along with our innate goodness, wisdom, and healing abilities. It makes sense the best teachers are those who direct us to our inner authority and empower us to make our own decisions and to follow our own guidance. When little by little I stopped judging myself, started seeing myself as worthy, and began listening to my inner authority, I was surprised to sense my fears falling away. The less fear and anxiety I felt, the more strongly I could feel connection to all life.

The work has proven fruitful, as I have released a lot of my judgments and prejudices, healed my relationships, and fallen in love with myself and with all beings. This love is a feeling of profound communion with the beings of the world, including animals, plants, minerals, humans, and spiritual beings. By sharing my personal story, I hope to inspire others to look at themselves honestly, let go of blockages to living as compassionate loving beings, and open to a direct experience of oneness. We are all made of love, all deserving of God’s love, and all interconnected and sacred. I believe we are being called to wake up and leave behind our dreams of struggle, drama, and conflict. We are being called to return to a state of wholeness, heal the separation in our world, and live this truth on a daily basis.