The Bieber, The Sufis, and Fixing Our Deepest Fear

Because it’s early days here, one thing you don’t know about me is that I looove all kinds of music. (There are two exceptions: hard-core rap and Phish.) I listen to Pandora,, alternative stations, random YouTube stuff, and a lot of Top 40.

Forgive me about the Top 40.
(There is no accounting for some people’s taste, I know!)

I believe that music is sacred, in all its forms (I may not like them all, but they are all sacred). And also that music, like a lot of pop culture, offers spaces where sacred ideas can shine through. 

I think this is one of the ways the Divine plays hide-and-seek with us: hiding Her truths in obvious places we would never think to look. Like pop music, or ridiculous TV shows, or lines from movies.

So, I was listening to Justin Beiber’s “All Around the World” (ft. Ludacris) and realized some of his lyrics speak the modern version of an old Sufi teaching.


Roof of the tomb of Hafez, Sufi poet


The Sufis ‘Open Secret’

The Sufi teaching is one of my favorite spiritual ideas. It’s called The Open Secret.
The Sufis understand that all humans have a deep, dark secret: they feel alone.
Sad and alone.

And (insult to injury) they feel ashamed about it.
Because – look! – everyone else seems to be connected. (So why aren’t I?)

And because humans feel alone and ashamed of being alone, they never reach out to anyone.
So they keep feeling alone.

The open secret is: everyone feels this way.
To some extent or another.
And we all know it.

If you pay even the slightest attention inside yourself, you will feel and see this: you feel slightly alone, and you notice that guy two desks away sure looks alone. This ‘secret’ is rather obvious.


Man sitting alone on the beach with his back to the camera


There are other open secrets:

We’re afraid to be all of who we are.

We all want to be happy.

We prefer to get numb instead of getting real.


These are all open secrets in our Western, post-modern world.
But if you say them out loud, people would turn and walk away from you.
They will think you are weird. Or they will think you are obvious- and we don’t pay attention to obvious people.

But ideas like connection, authenticity, happiness, and courage get Hallmarked into unrecognizable states and are given short shrift in most places. Unless you’re on a woo-woo website, or reading a self-help book, or going to a personal coach we’re not allowed to say these things:

  • I am afraid to live fully.
  • I want to be seen and loved.
  • I don’t know what to do.
  • I need connection.
  • I am afraid to take the step I know is right.

Unless you can slip them into a catchy song.

Thank you, Justin Beiber.

He sings:
“Cuz all around the world/
people want to be loved/
All around the world/
they’re no different than us.”

It’s not a new idea or hook, but it’s true.
We all want to be loved.
All of us.

And that idea alone connects us.

When we ‘tell’ the secret of our aloneness, it disappears.


hand reaching out to connect


Telling the Open Secret

How do you ‘tell’ an open secret then?

You sing this song in your car.
And tell people what you like about it.

And maybe, just maybe, you find a connection.
Like, ‘Hey, Joanna, I dig that song, too, even though I detest Justin Beiber.’

You tell the truth, basically.

And you do this about your work.
Or your kids.
Or your hatred of arugula.
Or your quilting bee.
Or your fondness for chipmunks.

One small step at a time, you tell the truth.
And when you are brave enough to do that, other people will be able to tell that same truth, too.
Maybe even other truths.

And in that way, we become connected.
As soon as we admit to feeling alone, we are no longer alone.
Because someone else will say, “me, too.”

There is no need to feel alone. Or to be ashamed of your alone-ness.
Once you say you are alone, you are no longer alone.


picture of a hand, holding a white card, with the words "You Are Not Alone" printed on it.



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