Foregoing the Fear of Death

I was recently on a road bike peddling up one of the tremendous hills that abound and surround Santa Fe, when suddenly the air in my lungs was caught short. On several occasions in the past, due to allergic reactions, my windpipe was constricted to the degree that I was in actual danger and my immediate thought was that this was occurring again for some unforeseen reason. As I sucked down a couple of labored breaths I thought with a feeling of curiosity that I could die unexpectedly (for death comes unexpectedly to most) and this could even be the moment where physical life ends for me. I closed my eyes and had the conscious thought, If I go now, I go into light.   Moments later my breathing normalized and I continued on my ride, now meditating on the mystery, thrill, and inevitability of death and transfiguration.

Death is not something that we need fear and the alleviation of the fear of death is one of the most notable and beneficial side effects of healthy and useful spirituality. As we experience the world as a unified field of Beauty with a driving undercurrent of Love, we correspondingly experience our self as a secure and integral part of the whole. There was no fear in my heart in the moment I described above, no wondering as to whether I would be welcomed into a celestial city or condemned to a heathenous hell. I am safe, have been saved, not through correct faith or doctrinal adherence (God knows neither of these would rescue me), but by a deeply seeded knowledge that I am loved and am an inseparable expression of the river that is Love and that is the ground and current of all reality.

You came forth from Love. One idea prevalent in Christendom that I wholeheartedly agree with is that God is Love. This is not to imply that I believe there is a man in the sky governing over creation who is loving, for the truth in the “God is Love” statement must be much more glorious and mysterious than that. Those words speak to me of a quietly coursing river of life and benevolence that is flowing through all that is. They indicate that the foundation of all that is material or immaterial is a substance and power that we all experience and have named “Love”. If this is true, if Love is the substrate and sustenance of all reality then it is impossible that we, that you and I and everything, sprang forth from anything but Love. The writer of Genesis stated that God created man and woman in their image; love is the causational force resulting in expressions of Love, us, to manifest. Why is this important?

When one realizes that the entire ground of being is love and that they came forth from love, the logical and very real conclusion that follows is that they will continue to be in and of this love for the remainder of forever. That is eternal security. As we exist in our physical state we are enveloped in an atmosphere of Love, and when we transition from this state to the next we continue in a space which is Love, for Love is the transcendent pool of all reality, not just of the temporal and physical. This is not to imply that there is no evil, no darkness, or no pain. These obviously exist and are as irremovable from life as up is from down, but there is room in our notions of Love to include pain and hurt; anyone who has ever been part of a deep and committed relationship can attest to this. I am also not saying that everyone who transitions from this reality into the next is going to experience never ending bliss and light and joy, for who can say they know such things. It seems to me that if one pursues darkness in this life they will correspondingly find themselves in darkness to one degree or another beyond this life as well. That being said, I firmly believe that Light is drawing all things to herself and that eventually reality will be, for all, that Light is all that is. In fact, this may already be the case.

The fear of death is wrapped up in our not knowing and in the feeling of separateness. Humans have largely in the past and even now continue now to think of themselves as separate somehow. Separate from nature, separate from each other, separate from God. As our eyes are opened to greater degrees we begin to see more clearly that there is no such thing as actual separation, but all is one. To exist in a reality and to see from a vantage point of unity is to live without fear, for if it is impossible that you are separate from love and life now then it is impossible you will ever be separated from the Glorious Life that has been limitedly termed God. It is the impossibility of separateness, or in other words our inherent belonging, that is our security.

We can see life everywhere if we will look for it. In every person we encounter, in every plant and creature there is life which is essentially and fundamentally good. As we take time to recognize this life and goodness in all that surrounds us we will gradually recognize that all creation is manifesting and existing as the same life and goodness that we have hopefully discovered within ourselves. Life is good and everlasting, and whether it is in this life or some state you have yet to experience, you can be assured that the same river of Goodness that has caused you to be and has sustained you to this point will continue to do so faithfully and without ceasing. When this idea becomes experiential knowledge to us the fear of death becomes yet another fear that has been cast out, eradicated, by Perfect Love.

The Simplest of Pursuits

  I wanted to discuss today what the spiritual journey is in my eyes, and a little bit about what the spiritual journey is not. As I address topics like this it’s important to keep in mind, and I hope that you will, that any time I am speaking in the negative, such as this instance when I am incorporating several statements about what isn’t, I am in no way trying to diminish anyone’s current state of believing, thinking, or even unbelief for that matter. I am simply trying to describe, the best I can, what I have discovered along this journey of life and seeking and learning thus far.

                For many of us who have undertaken a spiritual journey or consider ourselves to be quote “Spiritual” we would be lying if we said that the journey hasn’t been rather wearisome at times. Most people on a path toward enlightenment have been taught that spirituality and spiritual practice is something that you add to your life, but not that the path of spiritual transformation is life itself. This is a major difference. We are looking to integrate spiritual practice not realizing that the entire act of living is, not only practice in and of itself, but is the main event. Our life is the spiritual journey, whether we recognize it or not. We are in the midst of the production of life which is completely spiritual and so incorporating spiritual practice into our lives isn’t so much a thing we do during our day but is the activity of becoming more conscious, more aware, and more personally integrated.

                When I was traveling and speaking often several years back, I would talk about hearing God speak to me, about The Voice, which would lead me in nearly every decision I make. Even yesterday while I was out to a meal with my family I was ordering food, a salad since I’m in the middle of a training cycle and am sticking to a specific diet, and I was going to order a side of fries since I have been stuck on eating French fries since Liz and I’s last trip to France, but as I was about to order The Voice spoke within me and said, “No fries tonight”. So I didn’t order French fries. I try listen to this voice as often as possible. I’ve have found it steers me in the right direction when I’ll make the choice to listen and to respond. This is a minor example, and that is the point of using this as an example, that there is nothing so small that, if I am listening, I cannot receive guidance about. This inner voice is what I would describe as the voice of God or of Jesus, but I should add that I don’t distinguish this from my own inner voice, or from my true self. My true self is in perfect union with God… and so is yours.  When I traveled I would tell stories like this (although usually they were more exciting stories with more dramatic outcomes or results from listening to The Voice) and inevitably people would approach me afterward and want to know, in detail, what it’s like to hear the voice. The big concern for them would be, “So how do I know what is the voice of God or if what I am hearing are just my own thoughts?” Or they’d ask, “How do you know the difference?”’

                When I would answer you could see that my response would almost frustrate them at times, I’d say, “I just believe that every thought that goes through my head is God.” I would usually qualify  that by saying that every thought the lined up with the realities of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, patience, gentleness, self-control and generosity, were the ones I felt were from God… but even this now seems to fall short of truth for me. Every thought and action, even those that people would consider evil, self-centered, or malicious, I would now say is to some degree or another Divine. Although God or Divinity is Good, and is even goodness Herself, that doesn’t mean that Divinity, or God, or whatever you want to call it, is confined strictly to goodness or light, but also incorporates evil, darkness, pain, and the like. This is why Paul, when he wrote a letter to the Romans in Christian scriptures, makes the statement that all things work together for the good of those who love God. All things meaning the good and the evil, the light and the darkness. All things. Because to have one without the other is not to have heaven or hell but is to not have life at all. Pain works alongside pleasure in our lives, accentuating pleasure and somehow even defining it, that without pain there is no pleasure. So instead of trying to eradicate pain throughout the course of our lives we can somehow embrace it within ourselves, this doesn’t mean we have to enjoy it as if we were all masochists, but we can acknowledge and even appreciate pain for the marvelous job it does at revealing pleasure in our lives. We have made things so difficult and have even heaped shame upon ourselves at times because we’re always trying to be good and not bad, always trying to do what’s right and not wrong and have forgotten that beyond and above all this trying is our true call which is simply to be! To be light. To be love. To be peace. To be joy. Even to be passion, or to be anger. By being whatever we are in each given moment, we are adding flavor to the world but more importantly, we are being honest. And this sort of honesty, a conscious honesty, is largely what it means to be in tune with our deeper, or what some would call our spiritual, essence. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t cultivate kindness in our lives, but it does mean that we aren’t false about it. We’ve all experienced that bland trait of “niceness” that so many people are living out around us. Doing everything they can to appear nice when actually in the back of their mind they are wishing they weren’t talking with you, or even worse despising you as they smile and nod and play at niceness. This sort of behavior does nothing for those who are participating in it or to those being exposed to it. It’s much better to be honest with someone than to be nice. I’m not encouraging rudeness but sincerity about how we actually feel. If you don’t enjoy someone’s presence there’s no need to fake it, really. Behaving according to how you are actually feeling will be refreshing for you, even if it may be potentially not well received by others. Living in an honest way with ourselves is freeing and I believe that this kind of transparency is generally appreciated by the people around us, even if it’s hard for them to experience sometimes.  Certainly Jesus wasn’t worried about stepping on toes  when he lamented saying, “You faithless generation… how long do I have to put up with you?” or when he told the parable about feeding children’s food to dogs, clearly referencing the person in front of him as the dog in the story. Jesus lived from a place of honesty with himself and with the people around him, and that’s why I follow him as my teacher.

                So what does it look like to be on a spiritual path then? First of all, it looks much like I have been describing already, like accepting ourselves and others… the perceived good and the perceived bad. But in terms of practice, as far as nurturing and permitting our essential selves to be matured, there is much that we can do. It’s important to note though, before we go further into this topic of what we can do, that most everything that is happening in regards to our actual development spiritually is being done to us. Our “doing” is really just a shifting of focus and positioning ourselves in a way that is conducive to being transformed. For example, if we try too hard to be light everyone will see we are trying too hard. Jesus said that we are, that you and I are, the light of the world… already. He didn’t say that we should try to be light. Trying too hard, we become the unpalatable “nice person” that I mentioned a minute ago. The trick to being light is to shift our minds to a place where we are looking for light, looking for goodness, everywhere and in everything. The things we fix our gaze upon have been given permission to transform us. They cause us to evolve. Just as someone who always focuses on what is negative can be almost unbearable to be around, because they themselves become and exude the negativity they’re fixated on, so can a person who is focused on love and peace and joy actually become these powers themselves. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they act more loving or joyful (though this is often the case) but their essential nature is transformed and aligned with being love or being joy. This kind of person is always adding beauty to the world. For a person who’s cultivated and yielded to such a state of love and union and honesty, even their anger adds beauty to the world because it contributes and adds diversity. Even violence, when it’s rooted in love, can be beautiful.

                There is much to be said for some of the spiritual disciplines, such as meditation, or silence or prayer. These can all be useful when they’re applied to the spiritual path as long as they are seen as tools that can be utilized and not confused with the end goal. We will go into more depth on these topics in the future, because incorporating meditation into your life can be transformative, but because my intention today was to discuss the simplicity of the spiritual journey I am going to keep it simple. If you don’t have silence in your life, a time during the day of physical and mental peace, it would benefit you greatly to get some. Spend a few minutes in quiet every day. You don’t have to be thinking about anything and you don’t have to not be thinking about anything either. The goal is to be at rest. If you find yourself feeling anxious about work or the kids or school or whatever it might be, if your mind is wandering, try just focusing on your breath instead. Be aware as your breath enters your lungs and leaves them. How many seconds does it take to inhale, how many to exhale? Fixing your attention this way will help to calm and center you. You might only be able to start with a few minutes of this sort of practice but eventually you’ll learn to rest more easily and can spend more and more time in this space. As you build on this practice, you’ll naturally find over time that you end up in this place of inner rest throughout your day even when you’re not trying to or thinking about it. I don’t want to go on too much about this now, but even this small practice can get you started.

                In closing, what I really wanted to touch on in regards to the simplicity of the spiritual path is the conscious pursuit of joy. In my own life I have come to view joy as a compass; a sort of guide that I can continually reference in order to see if my life is on the right track or not. If I’m not resting in or experiencing joy then I know there is something wrong. I’m not referring to some fleeting feeling of gitty happiness when I say joy. I’m speaking of a deep seated contentment or feeling of affection. My family brings me joy. Rock climbing and interacting with and participating in the infinitude of nature brings me joy. Being creative facilitates joy. Air and sun on my skin brings me joy; a secret knowledge of my belonging. Want another practical step to take?

                 An easy way to do this is to evaluate your life, determine which areas of your life produce the greatest joy, and focus your energy and intentions in those directions. We also need to be willing to lay aside those things that don’t produce joy and to make changes and allow more room for those things that do. Earlier I mentioned that the things we shift our focus on are given the power to transform us. Again, Christian scripture even states that as we fix our eyes upon God that we are transformed from glory to glory. The thing we are seeking we actually become, or more accurately maybe, that which we are, fundamentally and essentially, can be called forth and nurtured by us learning to orient our attention onto those things which are cultivating beauty, love, and truth in our lives.

                If you remember nothing else, at least don’t forget that the spiritual journey is not something difficult or for only a select few people to pursue and enjoy. It is for every man and woman to participate in. It’s not a list a things you can or can’t do. There are no fixed rules to the game. It’s not about acquiring or possessing intellectual knowledge. Being on a spiritual path is all about allowing ourselves to be transformed into that which we’re seeking, and we participate by being present, grateful, and by being honest. Divinity is already your essential nature and the whole journey of life, both spiritual and otherwise, is really about being that which you already are, on the most foundational level.

A Crisis of Faith

Seeing more clearly or being more spiritually healthy, open or secure, does not necessarily correlate to “believing” with increased certitude. Believing actually corresponds directly to not-knowing. You’re at work and talk to your son over your lunch break and ask him if he finished his chores that morning before heading to school, he says yes and you believe him. If you had seen him finish doing the dishes and taking out the trash belief would be unnecessary, you would know. The definition of the word belief is as follows: the acceptance that a statement is true or that something exists. The word has nothing to do with whether or not something is actually truth or existent.

                In order to include unicorns or Noah’s ark in your construct of reality you need to believe that they are true (both are believable to me). This is in stark contrast with the experience of the devotees of Jesus who saw him after he was dead. They didn’t believe in the resurrection, they simply shared their story so that others might believe. They didn’t need faith in this regard… they knew.

                 Nine years ago was the first time I met Jesus. I don’t mean that I started believing in him, I sat with him as he taught. Years after that I was speaking to him as we walked here in New Mexico and he told me that he wished that I would just admit that I didn’t have any faith. I was offended.  He said again, “I wish you would admit that you don’t have any faith, then we would have a place to start.”  I sarcastically confessed that I didn’t have any faith… and my whole structure and system of belief began to collapse. All this faithlessness spearheaded by Jesus himself.  My newfound unbelief didn’t injure my relationship with my teacher, Jesus, as he was someone I knew, not something I believed in. But, nearly everything else that I had adhered to in regard to my spiritual upbringing, creeds, doctrines, rules and the like, slowly crumbled into a state of what I can only describe as unreality.

                I am not writing this account to encourage faithlessness or doubt, but because I know that many of you who will read these words have experienced or are in the midst of a crisis of faith. Where things you once believed to be true have entered the realm of untruth; where once a house of faith stood, now there is only smoke and smoldering ash. I am writing today to encourage you that those things that are actually true will stand and are a foundation on which you can rebuild a beautiful and secure life and reality.

                For me Love became my anchor. Foundational to all I now hold to be true is my personal knowledge that the entire cosmos is composed of and held together by a glorious power, energy or life that we have diminishingly termed “love”.  Anytime you ascribe a word or a name to an unspeakable, unfathomable Wonder you diminish her. From a Christian or biblical perspective, this love is what or whom Jesus instructed his followers to call “Father”. The point was not to create a an image of a bearded man in the sky who makes stuff and runs the universe, but to establish a point a reference, a way for thinking men to begin to connect with a beyond-thought Divinity or Power. To build our spiritual home and reality upon the knowledge that we are inseparable from Divine Love, that we are expressions of this power, that we are “Children of God”, is to build upon a firm foundation. It is important to note that this is, as stated, only a foundation or beginning. When we begin to connect with Source the journey has only begun; we have in no way “arrived” by ascertaining such a truth.  

                Storms and trials will come. If we are seeking truth, it is inevitable that those things which are less-than Truth will fall away. This will hurt. But in the midst of pain and after the seas are stilled, those things which are true, which are eternal, will remain. Know that your faith or faithlessness have no effect on whether or not you are eternally accepted or loved. You already do and always have belonged. As Christian scriptures put it, even if you become faithless God will remain faithful to you for He cannot deny himself. You can know that you are loved. You can experience the Love that exists for you, surrounds you and even is you. You can take comfort and rest in this state of union with Love, for “perfect love casts out fear”. Peace and joy to you on your journey of transformation, faith, hope, and most of all, love.

Salvation Through Giving Up

                Two nights ago I was in a dream. There was a small piece of paper in my hand, on which I was scrawling a list of my sins and shortcomings. The paper was only the size of a matchbox or so, which is no indication or representation of the number or severity of the sins written on it, since I was writing very small and sins, even if you write them in small letters, remain sins. After finishing I handed the list a priest who was seated in a chair in front of me. I had the sense that I was participating in confession, actually that’s exactly what I was doing, although the two of us present weren’t independently concealed in the customary partitioned booths (or so I’ve heard are customary, though I’ve never been in a confessional booth personally). At some point in the exchange and in the dream I found myself in a nearly prostrate position before the priest, bowed low to the ground with my hands folded in a sort of prayer-like posture. It appeared humble, though I don’t remember feeling any true remorse or humility in my heart. Isn’t it interesting how often and how skillfully we feign humility, generosity, kindness, patience, or love? Sometimes we pretend these things so well that we actually believe them to be true ourselves.

                As I sat waiting for my absolution to be delivered I heard the priest laugh and I looked up wonderingly. There he sat reading through my sins one by one and after each he would smile a slight smile and chuckle. I remember thinking this was odd. After a minute, still holding the little paper in his hands, he looked in my direction with eyes full of kindness and wisdom and said, “Colt… the next step in your spiritual growth is going to come as you realize that there is nothing you can change about yourself or your life that can ever make you more loved.” Then I woke up.

                Isn’t this what we have all done? Throughout the course of our “growing up” we have molded ourselves, sometimes involuntarily but also of our own will, into the image that we have decided to call “me” (though it is most often the image that we secretly believe will please others). You did not decide who you were when you 12. You were told who you were when you were young and have continued to be given feedback like this for the rest of your life; constantly micro-shaping your image of ‘self’ in order to try to answer the introspective inquiry of “who am I?” but also to meet the perceived expectations of those around you. This self that we build in response to our needs, environment, and the expectations of others is what Thomas Merton and others have termed, “False Self”. It’s not bad, it’s just not entirely true.

                We create this false self out of a very real need to be loved and appreciated and accepted. This is where the message of salvation comes in. I don’t mean salvation in the sense that if you believe like me you’ll be saved from hell, forgiven by a previously angry God; I’m talking about realizing that you are loved, lovable, and even an expression of Love Herself, and that all that is expected of you in this life is to be that. I think this is the salvation that Jesus actually tried to offer people. The realization that you and I are loved, “as we are and not as we should be” as Brennan Manning put it, and that there’s nothing that can separate us from or bring us closer to God. This is important because when we recognize that we are continually and eternally enveloped in a Reality of Goodness, then moment by moment trials lose their sting and we slowly gain the ability to rest in the Love and peace that surrounds and inherently fills us.

                All you have to do is give up. By definition when we stop trying to fix ourselves we are accepting ourselves. I’m not saying that we should just yield into all our desires and shortcomings and stop caring or trying to grow. I’m just saying we can lean into The Light and let ourselves be gently carried along the path of transformation or enlightenment. We stop fighting against the current; not thrashing, kicking and wailing to try to be heard or seen, but resting in the quiet security and joy of realizing that we’re already seen, already included, already loved. This doesn’t require any major immediate changes. You don’t have to delete Facebook, buy a new self-help book and up your meditation time to three hours a day. Simply take a moment in the morning when you wake up to be still and whisper to yourself the eternal truth, “I’m already loved exactly as I am”.

               

The Ground of Being

It has felt difficult when I sit down to write, this past year especially, to know where to begin. Nothing that I have been learning as of late regarding spiritual matters has been easy to talk about, which is quite alright since actual spiritual realities can’t actually be spoken of in any actualizing way, only hinted and pointed at from different directions in the hope that someone will have the curiosity to look into the thing for themselves. Words are only metaphors and are never the thing they are attempting to communicate. This is the danger of creeds and “beliefs”, they often claim to be the “thing” you’re looking for. That to consent to particular idea could get you “saved” or make you “chosen” as if the idea itself were the reality of union with God or enlightenment. This is also why Jesus spoke in parables. He was allowing individuals to arrive at their own conclusions; his words were and still are invitations, not doctrines. Words have no option but to forever minimize that which is Infinite.

There is one ocean. Fish may reside in different corners of the sea and the life within may have very independent experiences, yet the ocean is one and the collective of the experiences had within her are the essence of the ocean herself. To see the ocean as separate animals, plants, currents, water and substrates is to have a small view of her. Take a step back and view the ocean in its entirety and it will be clear that the Ocean is One.

A man plants a garden on his land. In it he places vegetables and fruits of various types. When they all mature he can walk you through the middle of them and point and say, “That one is a squash, these are tomatoes, and those are basil.” If you stand with him from a distance and your view is enlarged to take it all in at once he will simply point and say, “There is the garden.”

Jesus once said that if you build a house upon a rock it will stand, will endure through trials and storms; build it upon sand it will all come crashing down eventually. To construct a system of beliefs divorced from an underlying, experiential knowledge of the unity of all peoples, creation, and reality is to build a rickety structure. Though it may provide temporary shelter, comfort or security it cannot be depended on to endure the tests of storms and time. To see only a single fish or plant is not the same as experiencing the ocean or enjoying the garden. The ocean is vast and wondrous and the beauty of a garden lies not only in the independent plants and parts, but in the created space as a whole.

Freedom in No

Maybe you’re a person who always speaks and acts according to what you really feel, in alignment with who you really are. You are willing to say no when you don’t want to do something, you assertively confront any situation that feels like it is drawing you away from your truest self or from the type of life you have decided to live and pursue. You might be the kind of person who says what they mean; just as ready to say yes and follow through as you are to confidently say no. If you are this kind of person great, if not then know that you are part of the vast majority, the 97.6% of the population who is driven, influenced, and often enslaved by, the opinions, actions, and expectations of others.

 I have been one who says “yes” a lot in life even though I’m not a “yes man” per se. I enjoy being helpful to others and I am especially prone to say yes to requests related to things that I am good at or gifted in. Yes to teaching, yes to helping someone move, yes to brainstorming or helping out with a new project someone is launching, yes to… I could keep filling in the blank. There is nothing wrong with saying yes, this is of course, unless you really wanted to say no. I made a New Year’s resolution to myself this year to say no more often and to be more assertive (I’m already a fairly assertive fellow so stepping it up without seeming rude can be a challenge!). There is freedom in saying no.

We have been trained from an early age to say yes. While obedience, saying yes without questioning, is a desirable trait in young children who are being guided and taught the ways of life and the world, it is a stifling reality to adults who haven’t unlearned the practice. In order to keep from going crazy and avoid living under the burdens of external expectations we must learn to say no, as or more often then we say yes. When we say no to something we don’t want to do we are being consistent with our truest self. This doesn’t extend only to saying yes or no either. If someone plays music I don’t enjoy and I tell them, “No thanks, I’d rather listen to something else”, I am being honest with them and myself and there is liberation in honesty! Someone asks if I can help with their event in the park, “No”, I respond. They inquire about why not… do I have something else going on that weekend? “No, I just don’t want to do that.” It might seem a bit offensive, but being direct and honest with others is a trait that everyone can appreciate, even if it’s not what they wanted to hear in the moment.

It’s helpful when learning to say no or becoming more frank or assertive, to realize that obedience or compulsively saying yes is not love. Our deepest potential for love corresponds directly to living in accordance with our truest self. Expressing our actual thoughts, intentions or desires (even if they seem off-putting or self-centered) is more loving than veiling our actual internal reality in order to please others. Saying no or being direct with others is not unkind in any way; kindness and honesty are sisters.

I don’t know how much or how well I have communicated my thoughts on this subject in this brief writing. Hopefully at least one person who reading this who is feeling a bit overwhelmed by life will summon the courage to say no, realizing that their value and self-worth should not be and are not wrapped up in pleasing others. You can say no as freely as yes. You can confidently speak your mind when the moment calls for words knowing that variety, not conformity, facilitates beauty most effectively. Be true to yourself, don’t wear out under the weight of the expectations of others; say yes when you mean yes, and be willing to say no when you mean no.   

Peace, joy and boldness to you today.

The Beauty of Suffering

There is no doubt that each of us will suffer in this life. This reality is as inevitable as the experiences of love, joy, peace, elation…and death that we will all partake of. The severity of our suffering is determined in large part by our chosen perspective of our particular circumstance. The state that I, along with many others, have chosen to cultivate is one of presence, of remaining present, for it is only in this present moment that we exist, experience, or grow in any way that can be considered “real” or that leads us into deeper realms of enlightenment or union with God.  

There is no yesterday and there is no tomorrow. As beings traveling the road of linear time, yesterday is gone and tomorrow, or even a moment 10 seconds from now, is purely a figment of our imagination. There is only one place that we dwell and that is right here, right now. Especially in times of pain (physical or emotional) it is easy to want to flee from the present but to do so is to miss the lessons and beauty that originate only from these necessary and unique moments of existence. As long as we are fleeing from the moment (our minds dwelling, usually involuntarily, in the past or future), fleeing from pain, then we are unable to meet and experience God in the midst of it. It is through, and only through, these times of darkness that we come to know the indwelling Spirit of God as “Comforter”. There is no healing without pain; no need or experience of comfort without suffering or distress.

It’s critical that we are present in suffering, not looking for the easiest way out, but experiencing God in the midst of suffering as our comfort and strength. When Jesus was in Gethsemane it’s recorded that he repeatedly requested for “this cup to pass” from him, to be excused from going to his cross. He didn’t pray these words out of fear or avoidance of his destiny in any way. He prayed thus because he needed God’s Voice in that moment to speak the life and strength into him that he would need to walk with grace through whatever circumstance life was about to thrust upon him. Each of us hears this Voice, albeit in different forms and modes of receiving. It may be a gentle leading or comfort you feel, the audible encouragement of a friend, or simply a whisper in your heart that you have termed your conscience or maybe think of demeaningly of as “just your own thoughts”.  So many times others have questioned me about hearing The Voice and when I told them it sounds just like your own thoughts they have been discouraged and said, “Well how do I know if it’s my own thoughts or the voice of God?!” My answer is, what’s the difference? If you’re thoughts are ones of beauty or love, patience or goodness, rest assured they are the thoughts of God. It is only if my thoughts are of bitterness, hatred, or especially fear, that I become suspicious and do not relate them directly to the light, love and flow of beauty that I call God.

All this pontificating on the benefit of suffering is not to suggest that we should seek after suffering; for seeking pain, (penance, fasting, self-deprecating thoughts, etc.) in order to “get ahead spiritually” does not incite the same quality of experience of the goodness of God. I am suggesting only that we may simply and gently embrace pain when it inevitably comes, knowing that while patiently enduring and remaining present we are being further transformed into the likeness of God, and that our suffering is not in vain.

God is and is equally present everywhere and in every circumstance; in light and darkness, life and loss, joy and pain. If we cannot recognize God (beauty) in ourselves, another person or group, place or circumstance, this is indicates an area of blindness on our part, not a godless void. For the Love I call God is all, and is in all, and is holding all things together.

The Inevitability of Divinity

Divinity (/dəˈvinədē/): The state or quality of being divine

 

We are used to thinking of everything as separate; we are separate from each other, from the birds and the trees, and the trees are separate, distinctly other-than the soil, water, air and stars. We compartmentalize reality into little “its”, “us’”, and “thems”, to the extent that the underlying unity of all creation is most often overlooked or not acknowledged at all. On the spiritual journey, as we begin to accept Divinity residing in and as our self, we must correspondingly see Divinity in and as all that surrounds us if we desire to, as Jesus invited us, become One with God.

Dealing with illusion is necessary on the path to recognizing inherent and omnipresent Divinity. By separating ourselves into people groups, tribes and nations, and creation into phylum, genus and species, we are unwittingly conditioning ourselves and our children to see the universe as a disjointed, hierarchical hodgepodge instead of the glorious unified tapestry that is God and that includes each of us (a tapestry that, in fact, excludes no one and nothing). The essential nature of all Divinity is “Life”, and all life is correspondingly and essentially Divine. This isn’t something that can be taught, it must be experienced. Until you experience and appreciate Goodness (God-ness) residing in your innermost being, it will be an abstract idea or impossibility to experience God in and through others and creation. Once you have truly touched this Glory in yourself it is impossible to not experience God everywhere else as well.

We live on a planet, residing in a galaxy, nestled in a universe, each of which is fully alive! This life that is propelling all things into greater and deeper levels of being and consciousness is Divinity, is the flow of Beauty and Majesty that we came forth from and which Jesus instructed us to call “Father”. As this Life fills all, fills you and fills me, it is inevitable that we are inherently divine; Divinity is the foundation and even totality of all creation. Divinity is not something to attain to but to recognize; enlightenment is like waking up, not like getting an “A” on a test.

My encouragement and challenge to you today is to acknowledge beauty in yourself, in creation and in every person you meet (just do your best!). Look inside yourself and see that which is good, which desires to add beauty to the world, that which is kind and loving. We can condition ourselves to see God instead of brokenness and division; to see beauty instead of destruction. As our eyes are opened more and more to truth we realize that no matter where we look or who we meet, it is inevitable… Divinity is dwelling there.

Relaxing Your Perspective

                It’s an interesting phenomena, the more focused you become on a single point the harder it is to see anything else clearly. (For a quick example; hold your thumb up arms-length from your body and focus on your nail. As you do this, take note of how everything in your visual field surrounding your thumb is blurred) This is not solely an optical effect either; in the same way our entire perspective of the world, the things we choose to focus on, can cause much else to be “blurred”.

                The problems that arise from our constricted focus generally go unnoticed. This is the very nature of the problem; being so narrowly fixated that we can’t see beyond our point of fixation and, being so caught up in our own view, neither can we see clearly the potential negative impact of our own thinking. This is easily demonstrated in our religious and political adherences. I will use Christianity as an example, not because I see the greatest fault there, but because this is the group I have been most connected with over the years and can share insight based on personal knowledge and experience (all belonging groups, whether other religious systems or even local committees function, essentially, in the same way). If our perspective of Christianity causes us to see Christians as “saved” and everyone as “lost”, our view has become too narrow, hindered by our holding too tightly to our interpretation of established doctrine and overlooking the larger panoramic of humanity and her infinitude of potential happenings and circumstances that lead to each individual’s ideas of the world. Even within the walls of Christendom, Islam, Buddhism or Hinduism, there are separate denominations and sects who can’t agree or see beauty in one another because of ideological divisions; in these cases even those within our own belonging system aren’t likened to us quite enough to belong. In contrast, Jesus held a “whole world” perspective, whereby his affiliation with a specific religious group didn’t stop him from loving and being love to those he encountered; “Friend of Sinners” is one of the most wonderful titles he carries.

                This problem of perspectival smallness extends to nearly every area of life. If we drive fast, slow drivers annoy us. We like the food we like. Americans watch “American Football” and the entire rest of the world doesn’t care. We hang out with people who look like us, think like us, talk and behave like us, not because these are the people we “happen” to meet in life but because on some level we have chosen to meet them; using our social group to solidify our already firmly established sense of self. Every preference we hold is a perspective to which we have ascribed value and, in many cases, are the unconscious slave of.

                The good news is that we can break free of the bonds of preconceived notions and long-held biases. It’s as easy as relaxing!! When we loosen up our focus on the thumb from the previous exercise, the rest of our surroundings become correspondingly clearer. The same can happen for our mental space, opinions, and ideologies... even our food preferences! This doesn’t mean we don’t value those things we once did, but we permit our perspective the freedom of broadening to the end that we are able to appreciate (or at least not criticize) the opinions and perspectives of others. It is possible to exist in a place of divine tension, where we simultaneously hold to our truths but don’t consider others wrong for possessing different ideas of truth. Fast drivers can be okay with others wanting to drive slowly. Adventure is an excellent way of growing our “field of vision” as well. Try different foods, wines, and activities. Travel to different places, talk with people from different cultures, and read books that you would normally turn your nose up at. Variety they say is “the spice of life”, and a food (or life) that isn’t spiced sufficiently is…well… not that great.

                It is inevitable that we will continue in some level of attachment to our own views and personal bents, but it is possible for us to continually grow by seeing the world in a larger, more inclusive way. We can stop seeing people who are different from us as “wrong” and even appreciate the beauty resulting from the vast variation that is inherent in the human race. We don’t have much of a choice as to where we are born, how we are raised, and the biases resulting from these circumstances, but we do have the option to view others as essentially good and worthy of love and to demonstrate that love through our lives.

The Problem of Immersion

                When you are totally and completely immersed in a reality or environment you are rarely aware of it. Take for instance a fish suspended within and moving about in water. The fish doesn’t think about being in water, it just is (as far as we can speculate a fish’s ponderings I suppose). Or the fact that you are regularly filled up with, surrounded and sustained by air. Our awareness doesn’t generally extend to the air, unless there is a change in its quality or quantity we tend to take it for granted all-the-while surviving from its very presence. This is much the reality of being in God. In the same way that we are inseparable from nature and the elements as the building blocks of the material realm, so are we inalienable from God, who and which is the power and life that sustains our beyond-physical self and consciousness. And even this stops short of expressing the fullness of our dilemma.

                                Matter too consists fully of the Reality and Divinity I am using the word “God” to describe. There is no other that is not God. If you gaze upon a fish (maybe the one mentioned in the paragraph above) while snorkeling; viewing her in all her radiance, colors, and incredible physiological abilities and do not see God, it is not because God isn’t there in and as the fish, but because your eyes have not been conditioned to see God in her. Often, even as we sit and breathe with life coursing through our body, we question the nature or even existence of God. So immersed and filled up with life and consciousness that it never dawns on us that the life and consciousness we are is God! When Jesus spoke of us as the “children of God” he was pointing us in the direction of recognizing unity. Not with some far off person in the sky who wants to be our friend, but with the spirit and power and beauty that is literally embodied in and by each of us.

                Divinity is Life. Life is Divine. As the proverbial scales are removed from our eyes (eyes which on their best day can only see “as through a glass dimly”) we begin to see more clearly as opposed to believing more firmly. It’s possible in our spiritual journey that doctrinal adherence may lose its hold and ideas that once sustained us are no longer satisfactory, but this will never and could “never separate us from the love of God that is in Christ”.

                There is a scripture that states, “If you become faithless, God will remain faithful, for he cannot deny himself.” These words are worth meditating on. To paraphrase, “If you lose your faith, you don’t need to worry or be afraid for God could never lose faith in you. How could she? The very life that is in is you, full of faith or not, is God.”

Visualize Success

20190121_153114-01.jpeg

       This is a writing about perception, expectation, and reaching beyond yourself. We are very often limited, no by our actual potential and abilities, but rather by having wrong thoughts and views of ourselves and thus shooting for goals that are only a few meters away instead of reaching for stars.

                 You are more capable than you imagine. The human body, through obvious and radical design, can undertake extraordinary feats; unwaveringly able to ascend the tallest peaks in the world, run at speeds in excess of 25 mph… or create a baby. In spite of being gifted these incredible machines we call “bodies”, many of us have underestimated our potential to the degree that even basic levels of physical health and strength elude us. The first step forward in physical endeavors is realizing they are 75% mental (although an arbitrary statistic, you get the point). Changing our minds and/or faith in ourselves and our potentialities is a process and it often occurs as we commit in our hearts to “try hard” and stick with goals until we see progress. A paradigm shift can also come as easily as reading these paragraphs. Nearly every major breakthrough I’ve experienced athletically (and in almost any area of my life) can be traced back to someone speaking a word into me, “You can do this!” Simultaneously encouraging and adjusting my self-perception. Let me encourage you today in whatever your personal aims are, “You can do it! You’re stronger and more capable than you think you are.”  I truly believe that.

                It is important when altering our perception that our expectations change too. Quite often this will happen automatically. As we view ourselves as more able our expectations of success increase correspondingly. Additionally, there are ways we can take a deliberate role in shaping our expectations. One way is through self talk; engaging our minds in positive reinforcement regarding a task can be the difference between success and failure. When you’re thinking about goals, allow your mind to be filled with words of encouragement. When I’m climbing a difficult boulder I don’t sit and meditate on how hard it is, I consciously recite positivities to myself such as, “You can totally make that move. Pull hard, stay tight and don’t let go!” It’s amazing how often I succeed after this brief mantra. If you ever catch yourself in negative self talk get rid of it immediately! You are the one person you need believing in you! One other tactic you can utilize is visualization; playing movies of you succeeding on the silver screen of your mind. Imagine yourself achieving your goals and really experience it! There is little difference whether we experience ourselves succeeding in our minds or in the physical, both create the desired neurological effects and pathway developments, so doing these exercises programs you for progress.

                Lastly, if you want to see advancement in your personal abilities, fitness or life in general, be ready and willing to reach beyond your perceived limits. It’s not wrong to be honest with ourselves about our limitations but the vast majority of people (99%... myself included) have never touched the boundaries of what they are capable of and therefore must not set up limits where none have been actually established. Set big goals, ones that are beyond you right now, permit setbacks along the path to attaining them, and realize that when you are pushing yourself toward the reaches of your potential, even temporary failures are likely far beyond where you would be if you weren’t giving it your all! Small, attainable goals have been proven to be effective in causing growth, but don’t forget to dream big and to see these short term successes as stepping stones to long term accomplishment.

                Wherever you happen to be on the path regarding your personal health, well-being or fitness, you’re in a good place. Everyone is inevitably moving forward from where they are, right now, and there is no wrong way or point to begin from. Just remember as you proceed to perceive yourself and abilities in a positive light, allow your expectations to be shaped by words and visions of success, and be willing to reach beyond your current place of being, knowing that those who aim big and fall short are still likely to achieve far more than they initially thought possible!

There’s a Place for Everyone

“And when you pray… pray then like this, “Our Father…” -Jesus of Nazareth

 

                We can scarcely dream or conceive of the infinitude that is God. With every image we create of God, whether in words, on canvas, or in our minds, we diminish God; for to create an image of one who is invisible is to represent them not as they are. When we imagine God as a person we anthropomorphize not only in regards to physical features but also temperament, thoughts, emotions and preferences. And when this anthropomorphization causes the Divine to be too small to encompass and embrace all of creation, then God has become… well, too small.

                God does not prefer one group over another or one individual over the next. In fact, God may not prefer at all. How could Love… perfect, unending, unwavering, radiant Love have a preference? All life stems from the Life that is the concept we call God. If you have three children which is your favorite? This is a minute example comparatively but, alas, when pondering a never ending ocean of life and power (God) all we have to work with is metaphor and insufficient similitudes. The answer to the question above is, “You don’t prefer one to another,” and this must be kept firmly in our minds, and more especially in our hearts, when we dare to conjure up any image of God.

                If you have life that is coursing through your physical and beyond-physical-self right now, rest assured that life came from and even is God. This life is often called “The Spirit”, and rightly so, for Spirit denotes personality, perspective and independence and truly these are experiences we all enjoy. The trick is to not forget that every other creature and creation enjoys and exhibits these attributes as well and must never be thought of as “apart from God”. For God is all and to be separate from God is to not be; consequently anything that is is of God… did I lose you yet?!

                The point is, when Jesus instructed us to pray to “Our Father” he was speaking to everyone… he was speaking to you. Anyone who heard him say those words or who would ever read them after they were penned was intended to feel free to call the Invisible Divine “Father” and to feel included in and loved by God. There is a place for everyone in this Glory, Mystery and Life. There is no need to fear being separated or estranged from God for how could God ever separate God’s Self from God’s Self in you? Why do you think it is that Jesus raising from the dead was a sign? What was this miracle a sign of? Through bodily resurrection Jesus demonstrated that our concept of death as an end, as a period on the sentence of life, is wrong and that nothing every actually snatches life away from us… including death. If our life is eternal, never-ending, then our place in God is as well. There is no life separate from The Life.

                Take great joy today knowing that the fact that you are breathing is proof of your inherent belonging in the mystery and power and life we have termed God. Realize that as you add love, peace and joy to the world, you are participating in the perpetuation of Beauty that Jesus called “The Kingdom of God.” As you experience love in and for yourself, don’t forget to patiently recognize this Life in everyone and everything you encounter throughout your day. The more we realize God in others the more joy we exist in and the more we see that “there is a place for everyone.” Peace to you.

The Mystery of Christmas

                There is little room allowed in our culture for mystery. The ocean, once a crashing metaphor of divinity, has been reduced to a body of water mapped out with graphs and charts and diagrams of currents. The mountains have all been explored and hiked, the atom split and thoroughly investigated, outer space plotted and photographed. Who needs mystery, we have science. Even religion and spirituality has been largely and practically discarded by the masses; who has time for these fanciful tales? We have money to make and things to do! The reality is that without mystery there is no adventure. Without adventure there little joy to be experienced. Where there is no joy, there is no Real Life; only a shadow of what was once vibrant, colorful and actually worth Living.

                Christmas has traditionally been a time to meditate on mystery. In its truest and most enrapturing moments it is an invitation to contemplation on the mind blowing reality of incarnation. (Phew, that was a mouth-full!) The story begins with a young virgin, “overshadowed” and impregnated by God, who bears a child that is to be the Messiah, the Anointed One, The Son of God. This is a crazy story! an incredible mystery! The birth of Jesus is, as they say, “The reason for the season,” but this should not be viewed as an opportunity to assert dogmatic ideas or to recount things we “already know about” (use of quotes because I sincerely doubt that we understand with much depth the reality or even point of Jesus’ birth and life). The real mystery of Jesus was not a virgin birth but his “Christedness”, the power of the Life within and upon him that caused him to be known as Christ; the mystery is that his life was painting a picture for all of us, of all of us, of our Christedness, of the power that dwells within us.

                If any is desiring a life of mystery and adventure leading to joy everlasting, they need look no further than the intimate recesses of their own soul and being. Contained within you, within me, is an infinitude of Life and Power that, though we have realized and even worshipped it in others, we have rarely explored this Glory where it is most accessible… inside. The wonder of the life and teachings of Jesus is that he was attempting to teach us about ourselves. He called God “Father” and then told us we should all do this too! Do we realize that in that moment he invited us all to know ourselves as “The son (or daughter) of God”? That speaking those words he made Divinity of us all, of any who could receive it, and beckoned us in the direction of exploring and understanding the fantastic mystery of “Christ in you”?! The real mystery of the story explodes on the scene when Jesus demonstrates and states, “I and the Father are one.” He spoke these words of himself, he spoke them of you, he spoke them of me.

                When we speak or sing or think of the mystery of the incarnation this Christmas we must, maybe for the first time, extend the potentiality of this mystery to its furthest reaches; to ourselves and to all those around us. This is not to diminish Jesus in any way. Jesus is my teacher and I seek to honor and learn from him as best I can, always. As his devotee I can assure you that his concern this Christmas is not that you worship and sing songs to him, but that you allow yourself to believe and taste that his life and message were an invitation to you, into God. That your eyes and my eyes might be opened to know that the same spirit that lived in and through him lives in us.

                This Christmas may each of us have a revelation of the Beauty and Goodness that indwells us. May we take some time, at least a moment of silence, in order to allow our hearts to hear the words, “You are my beloved son, you are my beloved daughter, in whom I am well pleased.”

Merry Christmas and extravagant joy to you all!

Faith, Hope and Love: Foundations of Relationship 

                There is a longing in every human heart for relationship that is sure, stable, and maybe even eternal? In a quick-fix, fast love and get-ahead society, the closest many come to meaningful relationship is a heart shaped emoji and a surprisingly satisfying “Lookin’ Good!” posted in the comments section of their latest selfie. We want others to believe in us, encourage and affirm us, even while we whisper secretly about their latest life troubles (which are all too easily discerned given that they were inevitably smeared across every occupiable social media platform). There are foundational attributes of real relationship that need be embraced and embodied if we desire to move beyond superficial and unfulfilling encounters with others. Faith, Hope and Love are not words or feelings, they are substance, action, and power. Experiencing these for yourself and offering them to others creates a cycle of Life and an inner security that can sustain us even beyond death. As Paul the apostle once penned, “There are three things that will remain, Faith, Hope and Love, and the greatest of these is Love.”

                Faith is not blind belief and it does not apply only to spiritual pursuits or an invisible God. Faith has been touted in the past as acknowledgement or consent to ideas or beings that you cannot see so you just need to “have faith.” In reality and practice, Faith is one of the three pillars of relationship that apply both to the seen and unseen realms. Faith is Trust. Trust is critical to healthy relationship primarily because of its cyclical nature. As we trust others it demonstrates that we value them, honor them, and acknowledge that they are worthy of our trust. Offering this faith to and in another invites them to have faith in us in return; people are willing to place trust in others who they are trusted by. If one harbors a lack of faith in us, we probably won’t be quick to place our trust in them. It doesn’t feel good to know someone doesn’t believe in you.

                Hope is the sister of faith. Hope looks forward and with joyful expectation! Hope doesn’t need someone else to prove they are good or worthy of our kindness and love, hope already sees beauty in others. Our hope in others calls into being the best parts of them, their truest and most wonderful self. It is often a life changing moment for those on the spiritual path when they realize that God hopes in them. To feel goodness being urged out of your depths by an invisible force that you can only call Love is a glorious and transformative experience! This Goodness hoping in you can cause you to place hope in The Great Goodness as well. At the point of maturity this Hope causes us to know ourselves as “One with God.”

                Love is the great trump card of the universe. Hate, evil, bitterness, or darkness; none of these hold any power over Love. Love trusts and hopes in all things and in every circumstance. Love is not bitter or envious, nor is She ever arrogant or rude. When we love we look past the faults of others, not because we are blind to them but because we have decided to focus on the Beauty in them, on their truest self. Love is not ignorant. Love simply makes the choice to honor in spite of short comings and to not hold the faults of others against them. Here is a really practical way we can all amp up our practice in love: Love does not gossip. I believe the entire spiritual journey can be summarized in a single phrase, “Experiencing and learning to Love”.  To experience Love is to experience God, and to offer Love is to participate in God.

                If we desire meaningful relationship; for others to have faith and hope in us and love toward us, then we must be willing to offer the same to those around us. We can share our hearts and lives with others (Faith), choose to assume the best about people (hope), and be willing to believe them without keeping record of their wrongs (Love). These pillars, these realities, are not selfish. We can offer them even before experiencing them, trusting that whatever we give will be given back to us. Such is the cycle of Love and Blessing that is, as Jesus proclaimed it, “The Kingdom of God.”

Transience

                An old truck lay alongside a seldom traveled road; left behind, not cast aside. Time had finally caught up to him one day while tiredly chugging along and he’d felt compression leave his engine, life leave his heart. On that lonely two-track he’d died. Now grass grows through holes in the floorboards, and sun and rain and rust are slowly eating away, along with time, at his bones; as the old saying goes, “From dust to dust.” If only he’d been able to speak of the amount and manner of life he’d witnessed.

                He belonged to a young couple in his early days. He’d felt and smelled and looked young; shiny and blue, like clear morning sky after a night of rain. Oh the power that coursed through his body in those days and what glory could be experienced in exerting himself! The couple was so happy to have him. Carrying them around for hours through summer evenings had been the greatest of joys, coasting with windows down and the warm breeze rolling gently over them all. Other times with the windows up the couple had sat tensely upon his long bench seat, a world apart, quietly stewing over the reckless words they’d spoken to each other. One autumn afternoon they had made love in that very same place while the radio crackled, barely unnoticed, in the background. In any case the old truck was happy to be spent offering himself as a vehicle of joy, sanctuary, and Life.

                Some years were admittedly more difficult than others. After suffering several physical setbacks and being restored, as much as was possible, to new, Truck had become friend and carrier of a woman advanced in her years. They seemed an unlikely pair and enjoyed one another’s company immensely. She’d hum quietly as they rolled over hills and under bridges and would rarely turn on the radio as she had “no time for the nonsense they all kept on about”. The span they were together was better measured in months than years. One day her son had steered in a panic to the hospital while she lay motionless in the seat to his right. Carrying him back home the next day, Truck learned that she hadn’t made it; they lost her in the night. As they drove the son cried and muttered to himself in a muffled voice that he wished he’d seen her more often… that he should’ve called and found it in his heart to forgive and be kind. Racing to the hospital was the first time Truck had ever met him.

                                They gradually came to know each other well, the young man and the truck. He was attentive and patient which Truck appreciated greatly as he was now the one slowing down. His roar often changed unexpectedly to a sputter those days and the joints and springs that had once supported him over rough roads now creaked precariously, especially on winter mornings when he was called upon before even the sun had risen and neither he nor the air had yet warmed up.  There were so many memories stored, scenes witnessed and words heard throughout his life to this point. He thought often of the young couple from the days when he too was in his prime; undoubtedly much had changed in their life. He hoped they were happy and still together. Often they’d quarreled but companionship and friendship, not to mention Love, are hard to find and should never be carelessly discarded. He remembered also the old woman from time to time but not as often as he might have preferred. Even the memories of those who pass away seem to fade, dimmed by new experiences and the fresh life that inevitably takes their place. In his younger days this forgetting and changing had seemed cruel somehow, as though winter had some right to be remembered after spring arrives. The old truck now realized that this was simply the pattern of things; seasons as well as people pass and this shouldn’t be mourned too long, for lamenting over the loss of summer can cause one to miss out on the beauty of fall.

                The day came gently, expectedly, when he discovered his final resting place. The baby blue paint that once gleamed proudly had grown dull and scarred and told of the life, both quality and quantity, that the truck had enjoyed. They were hauling wood, he and the son, on a beaten country path when the time for rest came upon him. There was no long goodbye, they’d both seen this moment coming. The old truck didn’t even hear the kind words spoken over him as the man patted his hood softly before continuing on foot down the two-track.  Solomon, a wise man, once said, “There is a time for everything; a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to be born and a time to die. There is nothing better than to be happy and to do good while you live.”

“A Conversation Between Despair and Hope”

   “I didn’t think this would ever happen to me,” murmured Despair weakly, face buried in hands. “My whole life I’ve labored for the sake of Love. Now I’m sick and tired, wearied in my soul by the continual battering of life. I used to believe that all things work for good but it seems nowadays that everywhere I look I see only darkness. Maybe trusting in Goodness and Light was a mistake.”

                Hope listened gently his plea; it was genuine. She had witnessed the difficulties that had plagued her counterpart for the past years. He had persevered quietly, if not smiling, and she’d seen the darkness building inside him, slowly engulfing his usual shine; like smoke suffocating a flame.

                “Trusting Light, seeing Light everywhere you look is never a mistake. This is one of your greatest qualities.” she warmly affirmed. Hope possessed enough wisdom to see her role in the moment as a friend to lean on, to not weary him with further with quick-fix solutions or recuperative prodding. “It’s okay for you to be experiencing darkness right now. I wouldn’t hurry from the pain. What a shame it would be to miss out on what the darkness is growing in you.”

                “What possible growth could be coming from the pain!?” Despair spat angrily. He immediately felt shame for the thoughtless retort, Hope had never been anything but kind to him. “Sorry,” he back-stepped, “It’s just, I don’t understand why suffering should be viewed as some key to personal growth. I’ve always hated that sentiment.” Hope sat pensive for a moment, looking almost blankly through the window across the room. Snow still rested on the sill from a month before showing little sign of melting, no inkling of spring. The sky outside felt heavy, the clouds hung oppressively low.

                “I don’t think suffering is a ‘key to growth’,” she said, shifting her gaze upon him. She found him looking desperately into her eyes, silently begging for some slice of truth that could satiate the dull pain, the hunger for joy he’d been living with day to day. “I mean, pain isn’t necessary as much as it is inevitable. Being resolutely present is the ‘key to growth’, regardless of the season of life you are in.” With these words, and without either of them noticing, a solitary ray of sunlight penetrated the glass on the window. A bead of water began to roll down the pane, cutting the frost as it went.  

She continued, “There are different angles from which you can examine a thing and from each the object will appear slightly, if not entirely, different. Even the pain you are experiencing can be of use if you will be present in it, not flee from it prematurely. I, Hope, am a friend to you in darkness, not forcing you to see light, but here to offer comfort in your time of need. People have been taught that darkness and pain should be avoided at any cost, or that they are ‘less-than’ somehow. This isn’t true. These times of trouble are creating perseverance and character within you. You mustn’t be surprised that you’re experiencing trials, they come to everyone, and don’t numb your pain; this winter you are living through is birthing something wonderful in you.” As she spoke she placed her hand on his and the tenderness of her touch brought him a feeling of rest, like sitting down after walking too many miles.

“How could that possibly be true?” Despair asked incredulously. But in his question and in his heart was a glimmer of peace that came with knowing Hope would never betray him. They both realized simultaneously that the room was now full of sunlight, warming the floor, their skin and the air.

“Spring is preceded by winter. Darkness is the revealer of Light. Pain underscores pleasure. Death makes life worth living.” With that, Despair and Hope sat silently together, appreciative of each other’s company.

Mountains, Holiness, and Healing

Mountains do not strive to be majestic. They don’t struggle to be larger, more terrible or more serene; majesty is built in, innate to the ranges that have up-heaved and streaked the landscape of the earth. A mountain, simply through existing, causes any who are conscious to be in awe of her splendor, power and potential. Just as a mountain stands silent and confident, never laboring to be or appear majestic, so can men live in holiness, in a quiet grace and simple knowledge of being holy.

                Holiness is essential to who you are and to who I am. Life, the Perfect Life that fills all and causes all is by definition and substance, holy. If you are reading this, you are filled with this Life. People from nearly every background who are bent toward spiritual thoughts and pursuits view and have viewed holiness as a highest aim; to attain to a certain level of outward holiness is often recognized as proof of union with God or enlightenment. While this may be a useful gauge to some degree, we would be amiss to believe that holiness is the result of hard work, good deeds and penance. True holiness begins (and possibly ends) with an experience of Love which opens our eyes.

                Moralism is not holiness. Deciding what you think is good and abstaining from what you think is bad is not holiness (although abstinence in some respects could certainly be a fruit in the life of one who discovers holiness).  Holiness is simpler, more pure, than erecting static laws and rules of governance for oneself. Holiness is a conscious sense and reality of belonging. Holiness is realized rather than attained. After truly experiencing our essential place in God and thus in the world, we are inwardly-governed, naturally led according to the way that is Light, and Love and Truth. Responding and walking in accordance with this Light, after you have become aware of your inseparable union with God, is how each one can actively participate in holiness.

                To understand that we embody holiness and that this attribute is innate to us is healing. We realize that we are not children estranged from a Father but that we have and will always belong. To grasp this truth is life-changing, not just for religious folks who have felt like “poor sinners” for too long, but for anyone who drags around a burden of shame, guilt or unworthiness. You are essentially good. You are essentially valuable, of incredible worth. You are, at the core of your being, holy.

                Christian scripture states that God commanded, “Be holy as I Am holy.” This is not an impossible requirement, it’s an invitation to contemplation, hopefully leading to the revelation that the only way to achieve the holiness of God is to, as those ancient words reveal, “Be”.    

Fear of Love

It’s sometimes easier to look down upon yourself than to bear the burden of Joy that is the result of believing, even knowing, that you are loved and worthy of love. There is responsibility that comes with the knowledge that you’re perfectly and eternally loved; that you are essentially good and loveable.

Everything changes when we discover we are loved. In natural terms, when we taste romantic love for the first time, we feel uplifted. The sun shines a little brighter, the air seems fresher, and we are consumed with desire for the moments when the object of our affection reciprocates our love; when we are loved back. But what happens when you are that object of affection and unrelenting love? As in the natural, so it is in our spiritual and inner reality.

Love by its very nature requires reciprocation for it to reach its most full and wonderful expression. Love is not needy but is a system and cycle of loving which makes Love complete. When we recognize that Love is a movement, flow, and interaction, the thought of being beautifully loved can be intimidating for many due to the simple fact that the receiving of such love requires a response. We must love back. For instance (and in relationship with the point I am trying to make), when one realizes that the Divine, God, The Great Beyond, The Father (or Mother if you’re more comfortable with that) is in love with them, the only proper response is to return this love for, “What you freely receive, you need freely give.” Since God indwells and even manifests as all creation; every being, creature, plant, stone, etc. we are forced to extend unwavering love to all simply because we are acting in response to the love we have received without cost or measure.  Does this make sense? Let me sum it.

In short, the cost of knowing you are loved is loving in return. And, in case you are unsure about this, let me be the one to announce that you are forever and perfectly loved! This is to a large degree the entire spiritual journey: as you discover more deeply that you are loved without condition, you increasing love others and all without condition until the day you are transformed into the image of the one you are being loved by! You become the very image of Love and of God. As far as I can understand it, this is what it means to, “Be conformed to the image of Christ.”

Take a moment right now, as you finish reading this, to acknowledge the truth; that you are loved and even worthy of this love. If you haven’t believed this in the past then just allow yourself, for a moment, to trust me when I tell you that it’s true! Then, in response to your being loved, love someone more deeply today. Release love to another and complete the flow! Be Love. Realizing that you and everyone else is worthy of love is the sort of Truth that, when internalized, sets men free.

SHARE


Onward and Upward

Last night as I laid awake listening to the sound of ocean waves crashing, and oversized, jungle racoons rummaging through cans and other throwaway items outside our room, I couldn't get the words, "Onward and Upward", out of my head. I think they were the closing remarks of an email my dad sent me recently. I can't place the exact origin, when and where the phrase entered my life, but it was a stimulus of thought until the wee hours of this morning.


Onward and upward. What does it look like to move on? To move up? Am I doing either? The enquiring last night filled me briefly with questions regarding my self worth that I've grappled with before; questions like, "Am I really making any difference or being of benefit to anyone at all?" or, "what are some initiatives I could implement when I get home to be more productive and focused?" Although I, like anyone else, can get stuck in a rut of despair or doubt, Im grateful that I am usually not stranded there long. Last night was no exception. 


"Kindness," a gentle voice nudged inside my heart as I began feeling anxious about the contribution (or lack thereof) that I'm making to the world. This simple word is what ended up keeping me mentally active when I should have been asleep. Kindness was the answer to my questions surrounding onward and upward. Growing in kindness, rooted in love... onward... upward. 


My personal aim is to immitate Jesus. Not through some sort of behavioural requirements, but to have a heart and life conformed to love. More than once, Jesus has earged me to be like God, who is kind, both to those who are ungrateful and even evil. His quiet reminder last night served to set my heart and mind at ease as well as to reinvigorate me toward love. 
For those consciously on the spiritual path (everyone is on the journey, whether consciously or unconsciously), how we are growing in genuine kindness is an accurate measure of how we are developing, transforming. Onward. Are we moving forward? Are our words, actions, and lives demonstrating kindness, streaming forth from hearts of love? Hearts like God's? Upward. Are we transcending? Moving beyond and above circumstance and situation to a place of existing in peace, joy, hope and courage? Onward. Upward. 


Too often we gauge our small lives by the wrong measure and when we do this, we are sure to not "measure up". Life isn't about outward achievements or accolades. All these things will perish and return to the dust of delusion, of which they are made. The love we cultivate, eminate, draw from and become is the real rule by which we can evaluate our progress, growth and accomplishment. 


Let's keep our eyes focused today on what is good, beautiful and, most importantly, true. What if today we encouraged our hearts to being kind, quick to mercy and awake with joy. This is no easy task, but it is essential. If we lay our heads down tonight knowing that our heart is a little softer than it was when the day began, we can sleep well knowing that we have truely moved Onward and Upward.

Peace, Kindness, and deepest Joy to you today.

The Liberation of Belonging

        A deepening realization and revelation of relationship describes nearly the entirety of the spiritual journey; salvation or enlightenment are bi-products of realizing you belong.

                Nothing is independent of anything else. There is no “thing” standing apart or distant from other “things”. This can be practically understood as you are not separate from the earth, from the trees, the birds or the sea, but all are interconnected and function as one cohesive physical Reality. Slightly more abstract (or at least spiritualized) is the idea that you cannot be separate from God for God “is in all and is holding all things together” (Col. 1:17) so any idea of yourself as a separate entity from God is simply unclear sight or understanding. In essence these nature and God statements are exactly the same.  

                Meaning of life makes sense as we see ourselves as part of the whole, for if we are indeed part of the whole then how could the whole be whole without us? We belong. Every life, breath, flower, star, rock, cloud, and particle is functioning together to create the sum of all the parts; this “sum” we call Life, Reality and even God. This is precisely what the life and teaching of Jesus was to demonstrate and why he continually insisted on calling God “Father”; his words were not suggesting we should think of God as some man in the sky, but in calling him thus he was demonstrating that he came out of God, that he and God “were one”. The profundity of this teaching lies in the truth that if he, a man, was one with God then all humans are one with God. And if humans who are essentially life are one with God then all life is one with God… and so on and so forth until all creation is included in God, ascribing belonging and purpose to all that is.

                Gratefulness is one of the most effective gateways into deeper revelations of this understanding and freedom. As we become grateful for creation, people, plants, air, rocks, the heavens, the earth, truly and consciously grateful, we stop seeing ourselves as separate from them. We naturally desire deeper relationship with those things we are most grateful for. In my life, it may be my family, my wife, a painting I’m making, our home or the mountains that surround us; my deep appreciation for these things causes me to participate more intimately with them. The spiritual journey is one of ever increasing desire and actualized relationship until one day or for one moment the veil is lifted, our hearts desire is fulfilled, and we realize that we were never separate from these “others” that we have loved so much and our belonging is made complete in them. To live with such freedom to love and belong is most accurately described as salvation and is surely the aim and end of enlightenment.