Monthly Archives: March 2013

Society

Ah, to go against the dictates of society to be one’s true, authentic, and soulful Self. As Jean Shinoda Bolen observes, “You have the need and the right to spend part of your life caring for your soul. It is not easy. You have to resist the demands of the work-oriented, often defensive, element in your psyche that measures life only in terms of output — how much you produce — not in terms of the quality of your life experiences. To be a soulful person means to go against all the pervasive, prove-yourself values of our culture and instead treasure what is unique and internal and valuable in yourself and your own personal evolution.” This is an evolutionary process. The closest some people get to this point may be in their retirement years, and by then most of life will be behind them. Why wait until the autumn of your life to begin to live? Now is your “spiritunity” to begin. You can begin making constructive changes to allow for quality of life.

I once worked in the corporate, dog-eat-dog world. The more corruption that surrounded me, the more it started to consume me. I didn’t like the person I was becoming, and I knew that if I didn’t make some serious changes for my own sanity, safety, health and life, then I would be overtaken by its dark side. I took a drastic measure. I quit. I had no other job lined up. I took a big chance. I walked out into the wilderness of the unknown, one step of faith at a time. And I saved my life. This is not to say that you are to quit your job, your spouse, or anything else that is not feeding your spirit. I did what I had to do for myself. For some it may be a matter of re-examining priorities and making positive decisions to bring about the change that is needed. Will uncertainty lurk around the corner? Yes. Will there be discomfort at times? Most likely. But the sweet scent of freedom will encourage you to keep going. It did for me.

It doesn’t matter what society thinks about you. Society will think what it will think, no matter what. There is no need to defend your actions to those who don’t care about your personal or spiritual growth. When you take a stand against the demands of the pervasive cultural rot, you take a stand for your evolving authentic self. You take a stand for freedom rather than slavery. And that’s more important than anything society can offer.

The Power of Words

We are profoundly affected by the way in which we choose and use words. We’ve grappled with words in our early childhood, and we’ve learned to weave them into sentences in our effort to convey meaning. We’ve used words to get what we wanted, to defend our positions, and to encourage others and ourselves, but we’ve also misused words to hurt and bring about pain. Words are often taken for granted; people don’t always realize the effect words have and how words can contribute or detract from our overall health. We have been given the gift of communication through language, through words. What an awesome responsibility to have.

Have you stopped to examine your own use of words? Are they encouraging or discouraging? Have you used them to lift someone’s spirit, or have you misused them to tear down someone with criticism, judgment, and bitterness? Taking the time to examine your handling or mishandling of words is the first step in making positive changes. Developing alternative phrases with positive connotations and impact will replace those negative speech patterns and thought processes. This change can only begin with you.

As humans, we are emotive beings. We feel a great deal. In the heat of the moment, it’s not always easy to censor ourselves. We sometimes hurl vocal javelins at our targets in our effort to win an argument or to prove others wrong, especially if we feel wronged. Our elevated emotions can make it very difficult to exercise self-restraint. It is easier to tame a wild animal than it is to tame our own tongue. In the words of Dorothy Nevill, “The real art to conversation is not only to say the right thing at the right time, but leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.”

The next time you feel the urge to blurt out something hurtful and damaging, stop. Stop what you are doing, stop what you are thinking, and just breathe. You may want to walk away temporarily to compose yourself. In your mind, recite, “You are a divine being. I want to see the divine in you, and I want you to see the divine in me.” Take another deep breath — or breaths — until the tension passes. Of course, this may not be easy all of the time, but it is a positive step forward.

Our words are powerful. We are responsible for what we say. Let us choose — and use — our words wisely.

Problems? Or, Opportunities?

Hugh Prather, in I Touch the Earth, the Earth Touches Me, touches upon his experience in dealing with problems that surface in life.  “By approaching my problems with ‘What might make things a little better?’ rather than ‘What is the solution?’ I avoid setting myself up for certain frustration. My experience has shown me that I am not going to solve anything in one stroke; at best I am only going to chip away at it.”  How we approach our “problems” will be the deciding factor in the outcome.

We are human. We make mistakes. Mistakes have consequences that cause problems — or opportunities — depending on your approach.  We can be proactive and allow “problems” to teach us new information, or we can be reactive and allow problems to consume us, making us feel incompetent.  When a “problem” arises, it becomes our “spiritunity” to turn it into something that allows for our highest good.

If we ask, “What is the solution?” we are taking a close-minded approach. Here, the focus is on the problem as a problem, rather than the problem as an opportunity. This kind of question asks for a quick fix; it suggests that there is only one answer, and when we don’t find that answer right away, frustration sets in, we begin to doubt ourselves and our abilities, and then we close ourselves off to the creative flow. Asking “What is the solution?” is really asking “How can I fix this problem so it doesn’t happen again?”, which is an ego-based question.

If we ask, “What might make things a little better?” then we are allowing ourselves to open up to possibilities that help us to place “problems” in their proper perspective, one that allows for creative solutions to emerge and materialize. This kind of question is open-ended, allowing the creative process to flow. The problem becomes an opportunity to learn, to stretch our imagination, and to grow in ways we may never have expected. Asking “What might make things a little better?” is really another way of asking “What will come out of this that will help us and others to be better?”; it leaves ego out of and brings the higher self into the creative process.

If we approach a problem as a problem, we are essentially approaching it from a lower vibration than if we approach it as an opportunity that will raise our vibration, allowing the creative process to flow. When a “problem” arises, rather than react, take a more proactive approach. See it as an opportunity and ask what it has to teach you. Open yourself to the possibilities. The solutions may not present themselves right away, but they will, as we trust in the creative process.

Faith

Let’s face it. Some days it is hard to have faith. It’s easy to say “have faith” to someone who is struggling through life, but it’s a whole different game when we are on the receiving end of those words, especially when we are challenged by the things that make the world uncomfortable — death, fear, loneliness, pain, shame. It’s times like these that we wish we had an Easy Button, but there is no guarantee for a smooth ride.

Faith defined is “complete trust and confidence in someone or something.” This definition makes the process of faith a completely subjective one. How do we know who or what to trust? We don’t. We have to go on faith on that question as well. We may look to others for guidance, but in the end, it is up to us, individually, to determine where we will place our trust, if we place it in anything or anyone at all. When we finally offer our trust and confidence; however, we enter into a relationship with faith and with something much greater than ourselves.

Entering into a relationship with faith is really about entering into a relationship with the Divine. It grows over time just as any relationship we enter does. We must work with it to cultivate it; we must remember that we are not alone, that we have a partner in all of this. Faith is our human response to the Divine. Does that mean there will be certitude in our lives? No. It doesn’t. But our relationship will only grow when we accept the elements of paradox and become content to live with mysteries that may never be solved or explained. Every new experience, each new challenge, becomes a call to faith in which we must act in either love or fear. These are the only two ways in which we can act.

The main challenges to faith are not disbelief and doubt; it’s resistance to Spirit. It’s the heart that has closed and become hardened because of dark times. Faith is not something we are to have; it’s something that we are in. In facing dark times, we must take faithful measures by trusting that such times will pass — they will and they do — and whatever the outcome, we know that it is for our learning and for our highest good. In the end, it’s the relationship that matters.

Photo Credit: www.rodale.com

Devotion

The word “devotion” is derived from the Latin devitio for “allegiance,” “loyalty,” or “vow.” It is total dedication. When we are devoted to someone or something, we pledge our fidelity and love. Spiritual traditions tutor us in many ways to practice our devotion. Buddhists sit in silence or chant. Hindus offer sacrifices in temples. Sufis whirl. Native Americans dance. Catholics pray with rosary beads. Some Christians fold their hands, while others open their arms. Jews bow repeatedly. Muslims bow toward Mecca several times a day. The devotional act becomes a sacred link to the Divine.

No matter what we do as a devotional practice, it must be done on a regular basis. Devotion is not something that is done once a week. Nor is it reserved only for religious holidays. And it’s not just a response to life-altering events in our lives. As a spiritual practice, it takes commitment and self-discipline. It becomes an act that recharges our spiritual batteries as we demonstrate our love for the Divine. The act becomes a prayer, no matter how it is expressed.

When we practice the mindfulness of devotion, we find that everything we see, hear, touch, or taste — everything we do and think — becomes a living prayer, whether done formally or informally. Episcopal priest Matthew Fox tells us that activities such as yoga, tai chi, and making love are all examples of prayer. Any activity to which we devote our time and love — preparing a meal for a sick friend, watching nature’s creatures through the window in the early morning hours, cultivating a garden, losing oneself in a symphony — is prayer in motion. It is these acts that feed the soul and invite the spirit to grow.

Questing

“If we are spiritual beings on a human path rather than human beings who may be on a spiritual path,” Jungian analyst Jean Shinoda Bolen says, “then life is not only a journey but a pilgrimage or quest as well.” Our journey is a quest for meaning. It’s a search for fulfillment and wholeness. Such quests are spiritual treasure maps that we are called to follow.

What is the point of questing? What prompts us to undertake certain journeys? Is it to pay homage at a sacred site? Is it to explore one’s spiritual roots? Is it to find forgiveness? Is it to answer burning questions? Is it something else? Whatever it is, the pilgrimage is an adventure into the unknown, into the spiritual wilderness where we will face and confront difficulties and dangers, temptations and turbulence. Such questing polishes the rough diamond of the soul, bringing out our true brilliance.

As we see in many wisdom traditions, if not all, the pilgrimage is a strong theme, especially for those seeking spiritual renewal or healing. Moses’s people, in the Bible, wandered in the desert on the way to the Promised Land, and Saul converted to Paul on the road to Damascus. Muslims must journey to Mecca at least once in their lifetime, and Hindus travel to the holy river Ganges for absolution. These sacred journeys are journeys of transformation.

While the outward quest to sacred sites is important to many, the inward quest is equally important to others. This interior journey becomes a matter of growth and of surrendering to something much greater than ourselves. Here, we ask questions that incubate, spurring us to connect with the creative source of love. As social activist Fran Peavey observes, “A very powerful question may not have an answer at the moment it is asked. It will sit rattling in the mind for day or weeks as the person works on an answer. If the seed is planted, the answer will grow. Questions are alive.” Our questions become our guides, sparkling gems along the path, encouraging us to keep going and growing.

Whatever the reason for questing, we know the journey will lead us to spiritual treasures that will transform our minds and lives. The journey is one that takes discipline, perseverance, and courage, whether inward or outward. It stretches our minds, our bodies, and our souls in the process. As we embrace the path, we partner with Spirit to open our hearts, to take risks, to overcome fears, and to find refuge. Spirit leads us to uncover — and discover — the sacred jewels that we are. Such finds are priceless.

The Unknown

The “unknown.” The word itself evokes a sense of mystery and uncertainty. It even strikes fear in some. What is it about not knowing what lies ahead that scares us? We cannot always see the path ahead, especially when doubt overshadows our view. Remaining optimistic in the face of uncertainty is a difficult art. In times when our sight is limited, we must practice the discipline of keeping a positive attitude by consciously choosing to expect a future in which our highest good will shine despite our shaken faith.

There are only two ways to embrace the unknown: with fear or with faith. And the beauty of this is that we have the freedom to choose how we will approach what lies ahead. We can cling to our known, safe life, or we can say “YES” to opportunities for new adventures when we act in alignment with our coming good.

Life will alter and expand as we allow it. But it begins with us. Stepping out in faith is not easy at times, but as Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” The alchemy begins with that first step. When it comes to taking that step, I often think about the Indiana Jones film The Final Crusade in which he must find his way to the Holy Grail to save his father from a life-threatening bullet wound inflicted by villains who want the grail for selfish purposes. He is tested in the long, booby-trapped passageway, nearly losing his life. When he comes to the ledge of a chasm, he sees that there is no way to cross over to the other side. At that moment, as he leafs through his father’s notebook for some kind of answer, he spies an illustration of a man walking on air between two cliffs. In this moment of realization, he says, “It’s a leap of faith.” So, he takes a deep breath to calm himself and closes his eyes.  He places his hand over his heart, steps off the ledge, and to his surprise, Indiana finds himself on an “invisible” bridge…it was there the whole time; he just couldn’t “see” it until he believed.

No matter what we may be facing, when we choose to embrace our inner Indiana Jones to take that positive leap, our “bridge” will be there. We will always face unknowns in our lives. Embracing them with faith rather than with fear will allow for possibilities to unfold in ways we would never expect. Have faith. Your future depends on it.

Embracing Mystery

I saw a status on Facebook that read, “Please grab a book you are reading off the back of your toilet or nightstand. Turn to page 23 and type the third sentence from that page as a comment below.” I was intrigued.

I am a voracious reader. Books live everywhere in my house, so I grabbed the nearest one from my bedroom dresser and opened up to page 23. The line read, “There is no knowing where you are headed.” And I thought, how uncanny. How absolutely true. None of us know where we are headed. As much as we try to divine our way, we will never know where our path is taking us in life. This can be quite exhilarating for some and terribly frightening for others. Mystery can be our constant companion and friend, or it can haunt us to no end.

In an age where information is literally at our fingertips, its immediate accessibility has spoiled us. We forget to pause and enjoy the process of discovery. All the mystery is taken out of the equation. Then we wonder why we feel so disconnected from things that matter. What we need to do is to celebrate the unknown and what is has to offer. We need to reclaim our reverence for mystery. We need to be able to live with our questions, letting them incubate within us, so that we can someday live our way into the answers as our inner readiness allows. Making peace with unanswered or unanswerable questions allows us to embrace that which we do not understand with the inner knowing that the answers will come in their own time. This is our “gap insurance” between the known and the unknowns. Sometimes we just aren’t ready for the answers; we must trust and accept the process in all of its mystery.

So many aspects of life are mysteries even with all the information available to us. Both science and religion have offered explanations, yet answers continue to elude us. I am reminded of a story from Eduardo Galeano’s book Walking Words. In an effort to impart the value of mystery, a young couple baptized their son on the coast. In it, he writes: “The baptism taught him what was sacred. They gave him a seashell: ‘So you will learn to love the water.’ They opened a cage and let a bird go free: ‘So you’ll learn to love the air.’ They gave him a geranium: ‘So you’ll learn to love the earth.’ And they gave him a little bottle sealed up tight: ‘Don’t ever, ever open it. So you’ll learn to love mystery.’” The more we learn to relish mystery, the more meaning we can draw into our lives. May we approach it with the reverence it deserves, and may we find peace despite the absence of clarity. We may never know where we are headed, but rest assured, we will get there.

Inspiration

The sage Patanjali, the compiler of the Yoga Sutras, once said, “When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bounds: Your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction and you find yourself in a new, great and wonderful world…and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be.”

As we reach toward and grow into our authentic selves, we sometimes have to remind ourselves that just as we need nourishment physically, we also need to supplement ourselves spiritually. We need a divine diet of enthusiasm to inspire us along the way. The root word of “enthusiasm” in the ancient Greek is “entheos,” literally “in God.” Interestingly, the word “inspiration” means literally “to breathe in and be filled with the spirit of God.” So, when we are inspired and enthused, we are breathing in Spirit that motivates us to begin anew in life, especially if we are to be productive, thriving, authentic, spiritual beings. 


We all depend on inspiration in our lives, that flow of energy that moves through us when we tune into our higher selves. We find ourselves creating without effort, be it writing, painting, singing, dancing, crafting, folding laundry, or cleaning. What an amazing gift to us. Because of this gift, each day becomes enhanced and enriched; our days and our existence takes on deeper meaning.

If you are feeling blocked, ask yourself what generates enthusiasm in your life. Sometimes we have to do some soul-searching and inner questioning to discover this answer. We can also look to other sources like books, people, music, art, and nature for inspiration. Usually, when we get out of our own way, inspiration and enthusiasm step in, breathing life into us once again.

Ego as Captor

Stockholm Syndrome, according to Merriam-Webster, is “the psychological tendency of a hostage to bond with, identify with, or sympathize with his or her captor.” This occurs when people are held against their will. In this situation, hostages feel intense fear and believe escape is impossible. They often suffer isolation, threats, and abuse. In an effort to survive, the hostages begin to bond with their captors. The name is derived from the 1973 bank robbery that took place in Stockholm, Sweden, when four hostages were held captive for six days. Months after their release, the victims continued to show loyalty to their captors by refusing to testify against them. Some even helped raise money for their captors’ defense. Without any intervention or deprogramming, victims of such psychological weaponry will remain enslaved and are doomed to relive the nightmare they suffered. The mind becomes a prison.

Let’s take this a step further. What happens when the ego takes the mind hostage? Is this not a form of Stockholm Syndrome? The ego is a highly skilled, stealthy captor. It can seize our minds with lightning speed, and if we are not prepared, it can cause irreparable harm. Once it takes the mind captive, it begins to feed us its gospel of lies cleverly disguised as truth. In our isolation, it makes us feel that escape is impossible, that we are not worthy or deserving, and as a result of ego’s constant barrage of negative messaging, we succumb to its power. We become enslaved by our own thinking.

Ego can be very charming at first. If it can’t trap us outright, it can trap us subtly by fooling us into believing things about ourselves that make us think we are larger than life. It falsely builds us up only to tear us down later, like Macbeth when he visits the three witches, demanding to know his future as King. In the witches’ equivocation, they conjure visions — apparitions — that provide him with a false sense of security and assuredness. Macbeth interprets the messages as ones of his invincibility, only to realize later the truth of their lies, as his world falls apart. In his darkness, his ego devours him.

I liken the ego to the serpent in the biblical story of the Garden of Eden. It sold lies as truths to two unsuspecting people, like us, who were then thrown out of Paradise to suffer the consequences. When we believe the lies spawned by ego, we exile ourselves from our own personal Gardens of Eden within, severing our connection with our divine source. God didn’t exile Adam and Eve; they exiled themselves by following the voice of ego rather than listening to their Inner Source.

Breaking the ego is not easy. For some, it may require intense professional help, depending on the extremity of the situation. For others, it requires an understanding of how the ego works and learning strategies to keep it under control. For every negative seed that ego implants in the garden of the mind, it will take at least two positive seeds to cancel out the original seed. Knowing how the ego works, we can reconnect with our divine source (which never left) by taking part in activities such as meditation or prayer, or by involving ourselves in other creative or spiritual endeavors that empower and edify us, lifting us out the victim mentality into one of victory.  We shatter the illusion, thus releasing ourselves into freedom.  We shall be hostages no more.