While country living has its benefits, finding rat droppings in the kitchen is not one of them. After this gnarly discovery, I went out and purchased a humane rat trap, and set it out before I went to sleep. In the morning, sure enough I found a gray intruder in the trap, pacing back and forth. I took the cage out to a field and opened the door to let the critter escape.
To my surprise, the rat didn’t jump out of the cage and scamper to freedom. Instead he crawled to the back of the cage and clung to the bars. The cage seemed safer to him than the outside world. I tilted the cage and shook it harder. He clung more tightly. Finally I gave the cage a strong shake, and the rat fell out into the grass. After a dazed moment, he realized he was free and he ran off into the field.
As I watched the rodent disappear into the weeds, it occurred to me that we humans often act like that rat. We get trapped in deadening habits and lifestyles that make our life smaller and far less rewarding. (“A rut is a grave with the ends knocked out.”) We stay in ruts because they offer us the illusion of safety. To the ego, the known is always preferable to the unknown, even if the known sucks. Then our life force diminishes with each passing year, along with our emotional and physical health. We have traded radiant aliveness for a false sense of security.
Then an event comes along that rattles our cage. A divorce, financial setback, or health issue gets in our face and we must confront the situation or lifestyle we have chosen, and admit that while it seemed to be working materially, it is not working spiritually. First we complain and shake our fist at God, asking “Why did you do this to me?” Then God answers, “I couldn’t stand to see you dying a little bit every day. Your shaking cage offers a door to freedom. Please quit clinging to what was, so you can enjoy what could be.”
Then we look back on our challenge and realize it was an invitation to heal. The event had to happen in order to get our attention. Then we quit cursing God and start thanking God. We realize the truth of the affirmation, “all things are working together for good.”
As we move into the fall and winter seasons, we observe apparent death. The leaves fall, trees grow bare, and the lush greenery of nature goes brown. Yet the spiritually mature person is not fooled by appearances. Behind the appearance of death, life goes on. While bodies live and die, real life has no opposite. Life just keeps going on, evolving into new forms.
I was visiting a magnificent vista point on the island of Kauai with a spiritual teacher. As we gazed in awe at the striking mountains and waterfalls overlooking a lush green valley and idyllic beach, he said, “This is as close as earth gets to heaven.” He paused and went on, “If you live in this state of consciousness during your life, when you die you won’t perceive any change at all.”
The scene served as metaphor. If you are immersed in love while you walk the earth, when you leave your body you won’t even notice a change. There won’t be any difference between here and there. You just moved from one heavenly room to another. My mentor Hilda Charlton taught classes in a rough section of Manhattan where murders, drug addiction, and prostitution were rampant. Yet she was not daunted by appearances. Hilda found God wherever she looked, and healed the people she touched simply by inviting them to share her consciousness.
A Course in Miracles asks us, “Why wait for heaven?” A Course student told me, “I have learned that I don’t have to die to rest in peace.” We give undue power to death as a release. We can release ourselves even while we walk in a body, and experience peace without leaving the world. When Jesus asked us to pray, “on earth as it is in heaven,” he was giving us a hint that we don’t have to go anywhere to claim the kingdom we carry within us.
While the ego complains that our cage is being rattled, our spirit rejoices that we are being invited to step into a bigger world. One of my students was suffering in a painful marriage and oppressive job. His 11-year-old daughter told him, “Dad, you’re a ghost.” Suddenly he realized he wasn’t fooling anyone except himself. He left his marriage and job, and came back to life.
Sometimes you have to change your situation, but always you have to change your mind. Oppression is a choice of consciousness. So is liberation. We can make the cage our home or scamper to freedom. Smart rats find the door.
Alan Cohen, M.A., is the author of 30 popular inspirational books, including the bestselling A Course in Miracles Made Easy, the award-winning A Deep Breath of Life, and the classic Are You as Happy as Your Dog? He is a contributing writer for the New York Times #1 bestselling series Chicken Soup for the Soul, and his books have been translated into 32 foreign languages. His work has been featured on CNN, Oprah.com, USA Today, The Washington Post, and Huffpost. He is included in the book, 101 Top Experts Who Make Our Live Better. He is a featured presenter in the award-winning documentary Finding Joe, celebrating the teaching of mythologist Joseph Campbell. Alan is the founder and director of the Foundation for Holistic Life Coaching. In his passion for passing along healing wisdom and skills, Alan has been called a teacher of teachers, training many holistic life coaches, educators, traditional and alternative medicine professionals, psychologists, corporate executives, and teachers of A Course in Miracles.