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The Spiritual
Booby Prize

Episode 22: Spiritual wisdom and practices are designed to bring us to the experience of our truest, Divine Selves. Sadly, so many of us stop short of that most precious of gifts owing to an invisible force that lies only in our minds. Thankfully, it's one that can be easily conquered.

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"If you experience it, it's the truth. The same thing believed is a lie."


Welcome to Real Yoga, a podcast dedicated to helping you use yoga's ancient wisdom to unlock your life of radical happiness, connection, and meaning. Right here, right now. I'm your host, Eric Walrabenstein, and I'm glad you're here. ­­­­­­­


When it comes to spirituality belief is, well, it's the booby prize.


That is to say, believing that you are connected to source or spirit or God is light years away from experiencing that very same thing.


It's the worst consolation prize on the planet.


Even so, belief seems to be where so many of us pitch our tents in this business of spiritual realization.


And it’s exactly what Warner Earhart was pointing to when he said, “If you experience it, it's the truth. And the same thing believed is a lie.”


Belief really is the booby prize.


But to be clear, this is in no way to suggest that belief is not an important component in the spiritual journey.


I mean, in the same way that if I didn't believe my car would make it to San Diego, I'd likely never start to drive…


If I didn't believe that I could experience oneness or source or God, I'd likely never start my spiritual journey, either.


But – and this is a big one – confusing the necessary intermediate step of belief with the intended destination of experience, well, let's just say it carries some very unpleasant consequences.


20 years ago or so, I was teaching at a monastery in New England. It was a spiritual retreat, as you may have guessed, and we were there to explore our fundamental divine identity – our true selves.


If I'm remembering it right, it was a morning session and I was speaking about the experience of freedom and ease and spontaneous love. That is – the very nature of our true selves.


And I asked rhetorically, who among us really knew ourselves?

And I was surprised to see a hand shoot up near the back of the lecture hall. And it was one of the students – we'll call him Ethan – and Ethan stood up and spouted enthusiastically, “I know who I am. I'm pure divine consciousness”, and I smiled, nodded, and did my best to say something supportive, and then continued with the lecture.


But here's my point. Good old Ethan here, Mr. Pure Divine Consciousness, is the very same guy who, just that morning, was berating the volunteer staff because his accommodations weren't to his liking.


He's the same guy who was complaining about the food.

The same guy who was bragging about how deep his meditations were,

and how many so-called world teachers he'd studied with.


Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not judging Ethan or anyone else for that matter. I have great compassion for the suffering that laid beneath his gruff mannerisms and behaviors, and I fully, fully applaud him for the spiritual effort he's making by joining us at retreat.


But the thing that we can't ignore is how Ethan's words and actions didn't quite match up to those we might expect from someone with the experience of divine consciousness and the freedom, ease, and spontaneous love that comes right along with that.


And while it's true – it's possible that such harmony in oneness was Ethan's internal experience – it's more likely than not that good old Ethan had fallen into that most common of spiritual thistles: Pitching his tent in the camp of belief.


Believing he is pure divine consciousness without continuing with the work to experience himself as pure divine consciousness.


And when that happens, whether it's Ethan or whether it's you, or whether it's me, we can be guaranteed that our suffering will persist.


Here's the difficulty. We've all been imprisoned in a false idea of who we are – a false conception of self.


It's a tiny prison cell constructed of imagined limitations and lack, of elusory separateness and powerless that we ourselves have made. Though admittedly it's not our fault, it's a perspective that's been foisted upon us by our parents and our teachers and society as a whole.


But the real trouble here is not that we have a false conception of self, it's that we don't even realize that this is what we've done.


For most of us, our entire lives have been spent within the cramped and dreary confines of so many walls of manufactured limitation. Mental limitation.


The belief in our identity as the body mind is one wall

Your mind's lie about your inadequacy is another wall.

Your worry and self-doubt about what the future holds - another wall,

and on and on it goes.


And of course there's the belief that tells you that all the walls are real.


This leaves most of us never truly experiencing our truest essence.


I'm talking about the warm nourishment of our radiant divine beingness,

the expansive horizon of truly unlimited possibility,

breathing in the fresh, clean air of real freedom.


So here we sit, most of us are entire lives, inside our prison cells of limitation, inside our false conceptions of ourselves. And to be perfectly clear, we are trapped. Not because it's difficult to escape, it's only because we have no idea that we could even be free. So we end up accepting our shriveled identities with their limitations and anxieties to be the truth.


Back when I was a kid, I don't know, maybe third grade, I joined this group called the Indian Guides. It was some sort of YMCA knockoff of the Cub Scouts where we'd go on camping trips and earn badges for learning things and making crafts and all of that. In any event, whenever we'd have a new boy join us, we had a devious little initiation ceremony.


We'd start by filling a room with a complex maze of chairs and tables and books and plants, and then we tell the boy that he'd have to memorize where all the obstacles were – which to go around, which to go over, which to crawl under – and then blindfolded, he'd have to navigate from one side of the room to the other without touching any of the obstacles.


If he so much as nicked anything we told him he'd be out.


We'd give the new boy five minutes to memorize it all, and then we'd take him to another room where he was blindfolded.


At the same time, some of the other boys would remove all the obstacles from the room, and then the fun would begin.


The new boy, now blindfolded, was brought back into that now empty room where he was let loose to try to avoid all of the obstacles. Now, of course, we'd all stand watching and laughing hysterically as this blindfolded kid weaved this way and that he crouched down and walked on his hands and he stepped up and over a complex series of obstacles that no longer existed.


In most cases, it would take the kid a full five agonizing minutes to cover the 20 feet across this now empty room. All because his efforts were completely constrained and controlled by the obstacles that existed only in his imagination.


And you and I are a lot like that.


 Because just like the boys contorted effort were constrained by his false conception of the obstacles in the room, for us, too, our efforts to live our best and happiest lives are constrained by our false conceptions of ourselves.


And I'm afraid to say this is where it gets worse, because as we live our lives, needlessly limited and confined by the imagined prison cells within our minds, we have come to believe that the only way to feel better, to find happiness, to find ease, to find joy, is to spruce up our prison cell.


In the very same way that the boy made no effort to walk straight across the room as he surely could have, we make no effort to escape from the confines of our self-constructed walls, because escape to real freedom, well, it doesn't even seem like it's a thing.


It doesn't seem like it's a possibility.


Instead, we go to work painting the walls of our cell.

Sewing new curtains,

hanging new artwork,

recarpeting the floors,


all in the hopes that we'll be able to become comfortable and at home in our mental prison cells of limitation.


But here's what you need to know. You're not supposed to be comfortable in your prison cell because it's a denial. A denial of who you really are, of your divine majesty.


And the fact is, there's a penalty to be paid for living in this constricted sense of self, disconnected from our truest essence.


And that penalty? It's called pain and suffering.

And mental and emotional dis-ease of virtually every kind.


Sent not to punish you, but to prompt you to escape.


That's right – your suffering is a messenger, like any other symptom. It's simply trying to get your attention and invite you to come home to who you are.


Just like the symptom of indigestion is inviting you to stop eating those gosh darn chili dogs.


The symptom of your anxiety or doubt or worry is inviting you to break free from your self-constructed prison cell – your false conception of self – and relax into the expansiveness that you really are.


And this is where so many of us go wrong.


It's here that we find ourselves right back at the inadequacy of belief.


For as we wither away sitting in our prison cells of limitation, our false conception of self.

If all we do is believe ourselves to be free and merely imagine ourselves to be pure divine consciousness, we remain stuck, mired in the imagined limitations of mind, complete with the attendant frustrations, and fears, and doubts, and anxieties, and all the rest.


The very things that Ethan was battling with on that retreat.


But this is not to suggest that belief is not important.

In fact, it is a critical step to freedom, if for no other reason, then to inspire us to actually make the effort to break free.


Then it's here that we want to come back to our initial point…


Believing that we are free from our prison cell of limitation – while still sitting huddled in the corner of its cold confines – is a very, very long way from the ever-free majesty and radiant joy that is the experience of freedom.


And it is this experience of freedom, not the mere belief in it, that is the ultimate goal of our yoga practices, and to be honest, the practices and rituals from all spiritual and religious traditions.


But once again, belief is the Booby prize. So this leaves us with this weeks' invitation.


Don't let yourself stop short of the experience of Divine Majesty that is your birthright.

Don't pitch your tent in the camp of belief and use your yoga merely to spruce up your prison cell – the prison cell that is the limited body and mind.


And instead, be bold, and move beyond belief to the experience of the truth of who you are

with all of the freedom and the joy and the love that comes with that.


And please remember, when it comes to your imagined prison cell of limitation, you are not supposed to be comfortable there, so don't settle for anything less than the real experience of true freedom.


Well, that brings us to the end of today's discussion. I hope our conversation here has inspired you to move beyond the self-constructed confines of the prison cell of your false conception of self.


As always, thanks for listening and please remember this podcast and so much of my work is made possible only by the generosity of listeners like you.


So please, if you can, support me over on my Patreon page and when you do, I'll gift you with some of my most powerful yoga practices and guided meditations as my personal thank you. You can check it out now at


Finally, if these kinds of teachings are something you want more of in your life, consider joining us inside the online Bright Life Yoga Collective where each week you'll join me to go even deeper with this ancient wisdom. Plus, you'll get weekly yoga and meditation practices to transform not only your yoga practice, but your entire life.


You can learn more on my website,


Thanks again, and remember, I'm here to help, so let me know how I can serve.


Wishing you all the best and I can't wait to see you next time.


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