One of the biggest problems with reading the Bible is that so much of it was written a bit cryptically. The language is simple, but laced with mystical terminology that doesn't have a clear meaning. Most likely, those more mystical words were defined in the context of a community, with a particular culture of terminology. The intent of the writing was not to convey meaning, but to provide a framework on which meaning could be placed. So, the language of the writing is subject to interpretation, especially by people who aren't part of the community in which the original words were written. Lots of scholars, preachers, and everyday believers have their own opinions about what the biblical text means, but since no one is a part of the ancient community in which all the biblical terminology was given meaning, it becomes a matter of whose opinion is most convincing.
Just as a reminder, in John 3, Jesus and Nicodemus are characters in a story written by someone in the late first century or early second century. This is not a transcription of a historical conversation. No one can legitimately claim, "Jesus really said that," or "Jesus never said that," because no one has any clue what Jesus said, or even if he said anything at all. Our goal is not to prove anything about Jesus; our goal is to find some value for our own lives. I'm not going to pretend that I know what the original authors intended by their words. I suspect that I probably wouldn't agree with their worldview, since people two thousand years ago they believed an awful lot about the world that we now know just isn't true. So, instead of pretending to express the authors' meaning, I'm going to translate the terminology of John 3 into something that I think is more useful.
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Now, there was an important spiritual teacher named Nicodemus. He came to Jesus at night in secret and said to him, "Teacher, we know that you are an authentically good person; for no one can do the good things you do without being empowered by goodness."
Jesus answered him, "Listen carefully, no one can be aware of the significant action of good in the world without being awake. No one can see the full potential for well-being without being conscious."
Nicodemus said to him, "Are we not awake now? Are we not conscious? Does a person get out of bed and go through the day and yet remain asleep?"
Jesus said, "Some do. Listen carefully, no one can experience abundance of life without being awake to the self. Physical wakefulness is only partial wakefulness. Those who are aware of their deepest, most noble selves are more fully awake. Doing those things that reflect intentionality and integrity with one's deepest self has greater power and impact in the world than merely satisfying physical needs.
"Do not be astonished that I am telling you to wake up! Once you are fully conscious, a whole new process of growth begins. The wind blows all around, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. The wind isn't concerned about end results; it is simply wind. So it is with those who have awareness and integrity to their guiding principles and their deepest, most noble self."
For our deepest, most noble selves do not lead us to harm, but lead us out of our habit of being consumed by fear and into a deeper, more fulfilling experience. This is possible for everyone. Indeed, our deepest, most noble selves lead us toward greater well-being for everyone, even those who are still asleep.
Awareness is not a weapon. Belief in the freedom to exhibit intentionality and integrity based on your guiding principles without being limited by irrational fear "saves" you from your default future -- changes the course of your life from reactive to responsive. Those who emulate the awakened and trust in their own ability to be more conscious have hope; but those who accept their default future remained trapped in their fearfulness and reactivity. This is the real tragedy, that their deepest, most noble selves are available to them to open the way toward a more fulfilling experience of life, yet they are so accustomed to fear that they ignore the opportunity. For those who see the world as a threatening place do not want to be left vulnerable, and yet some part of them feels shame and guilt over the harm they cause because of their fear.
But those who practice truth recognize that the true character of every person desires well-being for all, and their action gives meaning to their belief in themselves and in others, so that it may be clearly seen that people are capable of being guided by a sense of well-being and creativity that runs deeper than their fear -- that another way is possible for human beings.
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A Little Experiment: Wake up. What is one little thing you can do to be more aware of your own vision for yourself and for the world? Try spending 10 minutes in silence and solitude every day for a week. Don't judge what comes up for you, just be aware of it. This is the beginning of connection with yourself. 10 minutes not long enough for you? Give yourself permission to spend more time in introspection.
Another Little Experiment: Know thyself. Write down your guiding principles -- the things that matter most to you in life. These are not the ways that you think you need to protect yourself from a hostile world. These are the things that you believe would make the world better for everyone. How do you most want to show up? What do you want to contribute to a better world? Write down your guiding principles, even if you aren't living by them very well right now, and read over them a few times this week.
One More Little Experiment: Be the wind. How often do you not do something you think is right because you are afraid of what other people will think of you? Try pushing through that fear and acting with integrity. This is not about being impulsive or letting yourself react out of anxiety. This is about acting with integrity to your deep values or guiding principles. If you haven't clarified your deep values yet, don't try this experiment.