I grew up in a small farm town in rural western New York State. As a boy, I often wandered out into the woods, hills, and fields. There was a peace and solitude I loved about the wild places. I suppose that’s why I live in Wyoming today.

I spent many happy hours wondering in those wild places, usually alone, and sometimes with my brother and cousins. Many warm memories of those childhood days remain with me today.

But there was one place we were afraid of — a dark, dense woods. It was haunted by a dark spirit. At least that’s how we saw him.

The dark spirit was what, in those days, we described as a “bum” or hobo. A homeless person, we would call him today.

If we strayed too close to his little hut in the dark woods, he would chase us off with wild threats and curses.

We were scared to death of him.

Then one day, we heard he had died.

His dark, lonely hut crumbled and fell in the severe winters of the next few years. Finally, there were only dirt and dust where a sad, hurting human being once lived.

It was only later we learned who he was.

He came from one of the wealthiest and best known families in the history of American business. If I told you their name, you would recognize it.

He was the “black sheep” of his family, choosing to live an isolated, lonely life. No one in my little town knew who he was until he died. Why he chose such a life we did not know.

But we did judge him.

Yes, he came from a wealthy, powerful family. If we had known that, would it have changed the harsh view our town had of him while he was alive?

I don’t know.

But I do know we did not look beyond the outer, seemingly sad circumstances of his life. We saw only appearances, not the real person — our sad and lonely brother living his life the best way he could.

Here’s Spirit.

Spirit

Friends, your entire world operates, for the most part, on appearances — on the illusion of what you see “out there.”

But what you see “out there” really is an illusion. It’s not an illusion in the sense it does not exist. It’s an illusion because it does not exist “out there” — it exists only “in here.”

By “in here,” we mean within you. What you see “out there” is only what you project outward from within you, “in here.”

Another way of saying that — as you’ve heard us say so many times over the years — is you create your own reality.

Everything and everyone you see and experience in your life is your creation. You project the appearances, if you will, from within yourself outward into your world, the world you experience every day of your life.

And so if you encounter someone like John’s “dark spirit,” you often simply, and all too easily, judge that one as, well, dark. Or evil or wrong or screwed up or — you fill in the blanks.

Do you see where we’re going with this? You judge and criticize and condemn others based solely on appearances.

And yet those appearances are always projections from within you to the outer world you see around you.

But, in fact, the world within you is the world around you. They are one and they are the same. You cannot judge or criticize, or condemn another without judging, criticizing, and condemning yourself.

So this “bum” John speaks of appeared to him, and to his brother and cousins, as a frightful apparition, someone to be feared and avoided.

They had no compassion for this man. They saw him as a threat, a danger, an evil presence.

But what they saw “out there” came from “in here.”

You are all one — all humans, all animals, all plants, all the earth, all that is — you are all one.

Appearances are just that. They mask the true reality of the oneness and connectedness of all that is.

Once you acknowledge that, and live your life with a deep sense of compassion and connectedness, appearances will not matter.