‘Tis the Season: Christmastime After Firing God by Cheryl Abram

A few Christmases have passed since I fired god, and as I sit here looking at the two Christmas trees in my very quiet living room, it’s the music that I remember most—the music and the meaning behind the words that set the stage for Christmas (and the entire year, for that matter). “White Christmas” is a song that meant so much to me for a very long time. I remember beautiful people singing it on TV every Christmas season. I sang it in every school Christmas concert, and of course my very favorite line was the last: “May your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be white.” A white Christmas meant happiness, joy, and goodness. It was a Christmas where I would get everything I wanted, and everyone I loved would get everything they wanted. It was a Christmas without fights, police, arguments, or tears. A white Christmas was a perfect Christmas. It was a Christmas I had never truly experienced, but it was possible. I’d always believed it was possible.

“Wight” (pronounced “white”) is a word I’ve just recently come across. I’d never seen or heard this word before and I don’t remember how I found it, but I’ve discovered it at the most opportune time. As is the case with many words, “wight” has several meanings, but one definition struck me as particularly interesting: a “wight” is a human being. That’s it—just a plain, old, run-of-the-mill, nothing-special human being. My very first thought was, I’m wight. I and every person I know is wight. Even though I know it’s a homonym, placing the label “wight” on a non-white person feels different than placing the label on a white person. Referring to a white person as wight is like calling water wet. But referring to myself as wight takes more effort, even though it’s true. It takes more effort because I’ve already associated the sound of the word with something that has nothing to do with me.

The similarities between a wight and the idea of white are uncanny.

White is clean, new, innocent, right, fresh, pristine, untainted, and good. This is the essence of whiteness—an inherent quality of superiority in the order of things. Wight is humanity—the ruler of the Earth. The opposite of white is black. Black is dark, dirty, bad, wrong, corrupt, and evil. The essence of blackness is error—an unfinished, inferior work.

Where the opposite of white is black, one who is not wight is simply not human.

As a little girl, a white Christmas was a beautiful idea. When I say “white,” I’m not referring to mounds of snow blanketing the terrain. (In seventeen years, I only experienced snow once and only for about ten minutes, because the Louisiana sun, even in winter, has no mercy. The snow was gone almost before it hit the ground.) For me, a white Christmas was not about frozen water vapor; it was about the whiteness of Christmastime. December brought with it an atmosphere of expectation, kindness, newness, and joy. The story of the birth of Christ was central to this atmosphere and contributed innocence and goodness to the season. With its carols, cocoa, twinkling lights, beautiful smiles, colorfully decorated trees, and crisp clean air, Christmas was clearly white and I loved it. As a non-white person, I was grateful to be allowed in this untainted space. I already understood I didn’t deserve to be in that space, but knowing this only made me that much more grateful, awestruck, and loving. Whatever my issues were, they were buried during Christmas. A white Christmas did not allow the stain of problems, worries, family arguments, or pain. All blackness in any form had to be veiled and kept hidden during Christmas, and I was happy to do what needed to be done to ensure my Christmas was white. And what needed to be done was to hope for something better, to show gratitude for what I had, and to show forgiveness for what had been taken from me.

What I did not know as I sang “Silent Night,” “Jingle Bells,” and “White Christmas,” was that with every ounce of love and gratitude being poured into the idea of Christmas, I was cultivating the same amount of hatred for and fear of this whiteness. The day I fired god was the day I began to reap what I had been sewing and cultivating for years. It’s the day I gave myself permission to ask questions: Why did I celebrate Christmas? Why did I believe in whiteness? Why was I so sure that I was less than the idea of white? Why did I need to keep hoping, forgiving, and being grateful? Who told me that was necessary, and why did I believe it?

These questions led me to research why we celebrate Christmas, which led me to the Black Codes.

The Black Codes were laws put in place by Southern states in the US in 1865 and 1866. They evolved from slave codes and later evolved into Jim Crow laws. Their purpose was to preserve goodness, innocence, and a perpetual atmosphere of Christmastime in the United States. Today, those laws are subtler but the goal is the same—to preserve and protect humanity. One particular Black Code required all Negroes to strictly observe Sundays and holidays. Violation of this code and other Black Codes would result in heavy fines, forfeiture of wages for a year, imprisonment, corporal punishment, branding, immediate confiscation, and worse.

I knew nothing of the Black Codes when celebrating Christmas as a child or even when celebrating in my early thirties. What I did know, even before firing god, was that I was not telling the truth. Was I celebrating the birth of Jesus because my ancestors would have been severely punished if they refused to do so? Did I love and anticipate this special holiday out of habit, obligation, and tradition instead of a genuine, uncoerced desire? Yes, I did.

Before firing god, my reaction to the idea of Christmas was simply a Pavlovian response. I was conditioned to salivate as the weather changed, the Christmas music played, the lights twinkled, the manger scene was put on display, and the story of the miraculous birth was told. My reward for celebrating the holiday was no longer escape from physical punishment or heavy fines as it was for my forebears under the Black Codes; my reward was heavenly blessings and Earthly favor from an all-powerful God. My punishment, if I chose not to pay homage to my savior during the Christmas season, would also come from this all-powerful God. Man-made Black Codes were no longer needed. Belief was enough.

Belief in a story that promised to elevate me while holding me down was enough. Belief in a story that guaranteed my salvation while securing my imprisonment was enough. Belief in a story that gave me hope for eternal life as I wallowed, zombie-like, through this imitation of life, was enough. It was all enough until it wasn’t. It was all enough until the day I said, “You’re fired.”

So, what’s different now that I’ve questioned this idea of Christmas? Not much, really. And I think this is because I also realized who I really am, so celebrating or not celebrating doesn’t make that much of a difference. I still set up trees and decorate them with my children. I love Christmas music, but I listen to it all year round, not just during the Christmas season. I buy presents, say “Merry Christmas” to loved ones, and get together with family. The subtle difference is the fact that I’m not afraid nor do I feel subservient to the whiteness of Christmas. I’m no longer salivating and mindlessly responding to twinkling lights. That I no longer believe in the story of a virgin birth is not evidence of my blackness, lack of humanity, or wrongness. I’m not obligated to be grateful, to forgive, or to hope for something better. I can bring darkness to the dinner table and talk about my problems. I can come out of hiding while sipping cocoa and be as black as I want to be.

The idea of “wight”—a human being—is just like Christmas, as is “white,” “black,” and any other labels or standards I’ve used to judge myself. There is no meaning except for the meaning I give them. I see myself as a human being and a black person. I do not see myself as a white person, but I am not more or less than a white person. These ideas are like ceilings—they’re limited, and with them, I can only go so far. Firing god has allowed me to see these ceilings and the fact that I’m the one who placed them there. Ceilings are fine, especially because they come with a floor that’s somewhat stable, solid, and safe. But this, too, is precarious.

I used to dream of a white Christmas, a perfect Christmas where I always got what I wanted and I was just as happy as the children in the TV shows. I still haven’t experienced that kind of Christmas and I no longer have that expectation. While I can identify with the labels I assign myself, I am no longer confined to the spaces between the ceilings and the floors. And that will make this Christmas season something other than just white.

Cheryl Abram is a writer, public speaker, and mother of four. The author of Firing God, she spoke at this year’s Science and Nonduality Conference (SAND 2016) in San Jose, CA. Cheryl lives in Northern Virginia. Learn more at her website: www.cherylabram.com.

Reflections on SAND 2016: On the Edge of the Unknown by Elizabeth Fitzer, Editor of the Non-Duality Press Blog


The Science and Nonduality (SAND) 2016 U.S. Conference happened October 19 through 23 at Dolce Hayes Mansion in San Jose, CA. Here, I share my reflections on the gathering as a first-time attendee and associate of New Harbinger Publications, home of Non-Duality Press.

“The SAND Gatherings create a friendly and dynamic space for openhearted, and open-ended, exploration.”
—Julian Noyce, founder of Non-Duality Press

The Science and Nonduality (SAND) Gathering this fall was a much-anticipated event. This year’s U.S. conference, which took place over five days in San Jose, CA, featured daily workshops, sessions, conversations, meals, movement, and music. The theme, “On the Edge of the (Un)Known,” reflected our essentially human urge to know—that pressing desire to make sense of the world, both through science and spirituality—and also, that the more we seem to know, the more we realize we don’t know. “We all constantly touch the Edge of the Unknown,” the SAND team wrote, inviting us to explore that edge in a multitude of ways, with the acknowledgment that reality is beyond any description in mind. As always, this gathering brought the opportunity to hear a wide range of speakers on a variety of subjects, including Deepak Chopra, Dorothy Hunt, Peter Russell, Larry Dossey, and many others.


A group stretches outside the “Welcome” dome, as Peter Russell walks by.

Scott Kiloby has held many titles, including speaker, teacher, and author, but his calling is helping the millions of people who are struggling with addiction. His pre-conference workshop, “Tools of Insight and Realization from the Kiloby Center for Recovery, Inc.,” addressed addiction and trauma from the perspective of non-dual awareness, guiding us to investigate that which has not been observed in our consciousness—to explore the words, pictures, memories, and stories that keep us feeling separate and deficient; to feel the feelings, and experience the space around them. Later in the conference, Kiloby also appeared on a panel: “How Generational and Early Life Trauma Shape Our Lives,” with Richard Miller, Mark Wolynn, and Ajaya Sommers, facilitated by Julie Brown Yau.


Scott Kiloby, Richard Miller, Julie Brown Yau, Ajaya Sommers, and Mary Wolynn.

Non-duality teacher Rupert Spira, who has spoken at the SAND gatherings for several years, offered a pre-conference workshop (“The Essence of Non-Duality”), morning meditations, an evening plenary session (“The Nature of Consciousness”), and more. Spira’s approach is clear, direct, and provocative, a stream of wisdom distilled into crystalline pointers that illuminate a basic truth—that awareness is the common element of all experience—and inspire us to check this in our own lives. He compared the knowing of experience—the unchanging awareness through which all experience is known—to a dreamer’s mind: just as a dream takes no space or time in the dreamer’s mind, our thoughts, feelings, and perceptions—our experience of ourselves and the world—arise within consciousness, but do not affect it. Both Spira and his teacher Francis Lucille (who held a Q&A and several sessions later in the conference) spoke of the understanding that awareness is the only aspect of experience that does not come and go.


Rupert Spira in Hayes Ballroom, presenting “The Nature of Consciousness.”

Each day of the conference featured an abundance of offerings, from morning til night. On Friday, Amoda Maa Jeevan’s “Surfing the Heart of Darkness: Suffering as a Doorway to Liberation” ended with a discussion of suffering as an invitation, an opportunity to open to our experience and stay open, without trying to fix or change it; and to find liberation through letting go of agenda and expectation—to stop trying to make things happen in order to feel worthy. In John Prendergast’s “Closing the Gap Between Our Deepest Knowing and Our Daily Lives,” he posited that we’re already whole, just as we are, and through no effort at all. Then he led a guided meditation in which we scanned our bodies for constrictions, let them go, and felt ourselves be held. Jac O’Keeffe’s “Freedom Framework” invited us to be pioneers, to step out of time, and to question all of the teachings, since there’s no need to rest our identity on any of them.


Rafe Pearlman of the shamanic duo MIM: Music is Medicine (with Zia Suneri).

The explorations and dialogues continued on Saturday, with sessions including author Deborah Rozman’s “Heart Intelligence: Connecting with the Intuitive Guidance of the Heart,” Loch Kelly’s “The Unfolding After Initial Wakening,” Scott Kiloby’s “Addiction and Trauma,” and an evening plenary session that began with Francis Lucille’s “Innocence and Spontaneity of Not Knowing.” That night’s program featured the entertaining “Panel of Three Gurus,” with JP Sears, Swami Beyondananda, and David Ellzey, facilitated by SAND founder Maurizio Benazzo. These four took a lighthearted approach to the subject matter of science, non-duality, and spiritual enlightenment, emphasizing the playful side of the gathering with jokes about “mindfullessness” (“It’s basically mindless,” said JP Sears) and “the universal oneness” (“If I’m one, then you’re one, too,” said Swami Beyondananda). This was followed by a theatrical performance by MIM: Music is Medicine, and the “On the Edge of the Unknown” dance party, with music from DJ Dragonfly.


DJ Dragonfly, at the “On the Edge of the Unknown” dance party in Hayes Ballroom.

Sunday’s presenters included author Cheryl Abram, whose session “Firing God” began with an early memory of being a girl in the South, driving by a lodge with her family, and seeing a sign that read “KKK Meeting”—how the atmosphere in the car changed then, and how that’s still happening today. She went on to describe how awakening can occur, even in the midst of personal and social injustice.


Author Cheryl Abram, presenting “Firing God: Remember the Sign Announcing the KKK Meeting?”

Author Joan Tollifson’s “The Freedom of Nothing to Grasp” covered the idea that not knowing is at the heart of science and spirituality, and that everything boils down to what is right here, right now. Stephan Bodian, an author, spiritual teacher, and licensed psychotherapist, presented “Beyond Mindfulness: The Paradox of Practice in the Direct Approach.” He advised that while meditation and practice can be helpful, especially as tools to deal with difficult thoughts and emotions, it’s best if we “don’t make a habit of it,” as his teacher Jean Klein would say. Rather than marking our progress and developing a spiritual ego, Bodian suggests the practice of resting as awareness—becoming aware of that which is aware, and welcoming what is.


Inside the beautifully illuminated dome.

Overall, SAND 2016: On the Edge of the Unknown was an awesome experience, and a welcome opportunity to learn more about the Science and Nonduality community. Throughout, the common themes of searching (for ourselves, peace, truth, divinity, or an understanding of the universe), suffering (especially when we’re trying to control the circumstances of life), and the relief that’s possible through allowing ourselves and our experiences to simply be as they are, made the conference relatable to an audience of diverse background. Most notably for me, whether through workshops and sessions, conversations over lunch or dinner, or simply in passing, the gathering offered amazing chances to meet and engage with the authors, teachers, speakers, and “ordinary” people who have taken up these explorations on the edge of the unknown and are working to share them with the world, including Julian Noyce, founder of Non-Duality Press. “I always come away from these gatherings refreshed and inspired by listening to perspectives that seem very different—from Francis Bennett’s Christian mysticism to the valuable psychotherapeutic insights of Mark Wolynn. The SAND Gatherings create a friendly and dynamic space for openhearted, and open-ended, exploration,” said Noyce.

The Art of Finding Yourself: Introducing the Living Inquiries by Fiona Robertson

The call to “know thyself” seems to reside deep in the human psyche—this maxim was inscribed in the ancient Temple of Apollo in Delphi, and we have been experimenting with ways to gain self-knowledge for thousands of years. Many of us engage in practices—mindfulness, meditation, yoga, contemplation, and an array of therapies—that have grown out of this collective search for self.

What is it that ignites the attempt to find ourselves? For many of us, psychological or physical suffering propels the search for self as well as the wider spiritual search for peace and meaning. For others, a feeling of dissatisfaction with life or a sense of being a fake or a fraud, despite external appearances, may lead us to seek. We begin to ask life’s deeper questions: Who am I really? What’s the point? Is there any meaning to existence?

As we search, we eventually encounter a conundrum. We know ourselves as a solid, separate self. We define ourselves (consciously or unconsciously) as a particular someone, our identities hinged around a set of ideas about ourselves that appear to be true. We may see ourselves as the one who is unloved, unwanted, wrong, not good enough, anxious, worse off or better than others. Unsurprisingly, we view the world through that same lens, experiencing life as though we are unworthy, lacking, or unsafe. But what if the self we think we know isn’t who we actually are? What if we are fundamentally mistaken about our identity?

We grow up believing that we are who we think we are. Thoughts, memories, feelings, and circumstances all seem to point to an inescapable conclusion, whatever that conclusion may be. One of the conclusions I came to early in life was that it was all my fault—whatever it was, I was to blame. While I came to understand intellectually that this was a typical belief for the child of divorced parents, a deep inner conviction that it was indeed my fault remained.

Why is it that our beliefs about ourselves feel so compellingly true, even when we know that they are not logical or rational? Scott Kiloby, author and originator of the Living Inquiries, suggests that it is because both mind and body are involved in belief in a very specific way. Thoughts and mental images come together with feelings, sensations, emotions, contractions, or other bodily energies. Scott calls this the Velcro Effect, because it feels as if the thoughts and images are stuck to or welded onto the bodily feelings and vice versa.

We experience the Velcro Effect frequently, sometimes many times a day. For example, you think about the friend you had an argument with and your stomach tenses up as you begin (again) to mentally list the reasons why it was or wasn’t your fault. You daydream about the presentation you are giving at work next week and your chest tightens up as the word “failure” comes to mind. A memory of your grandfather comes into your mind’s eye and tears well up. You wake up with an anxious feeling in the solar plexus and start to think about how you have always been a loser. A mental picture of a bottle of the beer you drink arises along with the familiar craving deep in your belly. A mildly critical e-mail from your boss feels like an all-out attack and your body goes into fight-or-flight mode. It can feel as if we have to constantly manage or contain our experience, trying to modify it and ourselves as best we can.

There is another way. The Living Inquiries take us beyond trying to manage, deal with, fix, or contain these perceptions. They take us right into the heart of our experience, exactly as it is, and undo the Velcro. Once the Velcro is loosened, the identification drops away. We no longer assume that we are a loser, even if the anxious feeling in the solar plexus arises. A picture of the beer bottle comes and goes with no bodily response, the craving gone. Our fight-or-flight mechanism begins to relax and we find ourselves responding calmly to our boss or coworkers.

How do we undo the Velcro? By taking the time to notice each element of our experience and asking the inquiry questions. We look at (or listen to) the words that make up our thoughts: It’s my fault. I’m broken. I feel terrified. I want chocolate. We look at the pictures or images that appear in the mind’s eye. We feel the sensations and feelings that arise in the body, and we let all of it be as it is. No changing, substituting, fixing, analyzing, rationalizing, or any other activity beyond staying with it all, just as it is. We simply look and feel and ask the relevant question.

When we inquire, we try to find the self we think we are in that moment. We may be looking for a self of which we’ve long been aware, like the self I named earlier, the one whose fault it is. In the course of inquiring, we may also discover selves that have been out of sight and out of the conscious mind since childhood, hidden or suppressed because they were too painful to be fully aware of, even as they have colored our perceptions and behavior at every turn. The inquiry questions—answered by the body rather than the rational mind—take us deeper and deeper into our experience, allowing all that has remained unconscious or unspoken to come to light as we try to find the particular self.

A deep paradox lies at the heart of inquiry. As we find the self that we’re looking for—in the words, images, and feelings that emerge as the process continues—we simultaneously see that we’re not that, whatever that is. At some point during the session, the whole construct of that self begins to fall apart—sometimes almost imperceptibly, a kind of slipping away or dissolving, and sometimes with the fanfare of insight and profound realization. Either way, we experience what Scott describes as “unfindability”; when we really look, the self that we have assumed ourselves to be cannot be found. In its stead, there is something else—spaciousness, peace, awareness, a sense of presence—which cannot be easily conveyed in words.

The Living Inquiries are not a quick fix or a way to perfect or improve ourselves. Rather, they are a profound exploration of the self. It takes a deep willingness and courage to explore in this way; we inevitably encounter all that we have avoided, denied, or bypassed, and that is frequently painful. Those who are willing to look, however, often describe a deep relief as all that has been rejected, projected, or resisted can finally be felt and seen. Our capacity to be with whatever is here increases, and we begin to welcome feelings, thoughts, and images rather than trying to get rid of them. We come to know ourselves in an honest and compassionate way.

As we continue to inquire, the sense of being a separate, deficient self unravels. We are freed from erroneous beliefs about ourselves, like believing that it is our fault or that we’re unworthy. We rediscover aspects of ourselves lost since childhood; we no longer identify ourselves as flawed or lacking and are able to receive all that arises with greater equanimity. We find ourselves more contented, our relationships more harmonious. We discover that the beliefs we hold are innocently mistaken, and that life does not require us to be a certain way. We feel more like our true selves, rather than feeling we’re hiding behind a mask. We find a self that is so much more and less than we believed it to be, a self that is both gloriously unique and a part of the majestic whole.

If you would like to learn more about the Living Inquiries, please visit www.livinginquiries.com. We offer individual sessions, group inquiry, and a wide range of other resources designed to support you in your explorations.

Fiona Robertson is author of The Art of Finding Yourself: Live Bravely and Awaken to Your True Nature—coming this December from Non-Duality Press. She is a senior facilitator and trainer of the Living Inquiries, and cocreator of the Anxiety Inquiry. She is also the editor of Scott Kiloby’s books Living Realization: A Simple, Plain-English Guide to Non-Duality and The Unfindable Inquiry: One Simple Tool to Overcome Feelings of Unworthiness and Find Inner Peace (coming January 2017). Fiona lives in the UK and also writes poetry.