Category Archives: 31 days of spiritual growth

Mountains and Valleys and Rivers, Oh My!

I was surfing through YouTube for some background music while writing when I found myself in the mood for the soulful voice of Michael McDonald. I came across his rendition of a famous Motown song, and even though I’ve heard this song many times, I was struck by the simple, yet profound words of the chorus (I’ve linked MM’s version for your listening pleasure): 
 

Ain’t no mountain high enough


Talk about perseverance. 
There is no stopping this person from getting what he wants. He is not focused on the heighth, depth, or width of the obstacles in front of him; his main focus is on what he wants, and nothing — no mountain, no valley, no river — is going to make him quit.
That takes an uncommon strength. 
We all have things we want. We have goals. We have dreams. But if we don’t become practitioners of perseverance, we won’t realize them. 
Perseverance is that spiritual ingredient with oomph. It’s got that extra kick in it that pushes us forward. It’s a combination of endurance and the absolute assurance that what we want is going to happen. 
Let’s take a lesson from these lyrics.
If we are to persevere, we must first know our purpose. We need to have a goal in mind. No goal means no direction, and then we wander aimlessly in the desert of our minds. 
We must also be passionately committed to what we want. Passion fuels us, giving us the strength and courage to power through to the finish. No passion means no purpose, and then when the winds blow, we are tossed about, when all along we could have harnessed that energy to set sail.
Once our purpose is fueled by our passion, we must remain positive. Our positive self-talk assures us of our success. It minimizes the enormity of any obstacles that try to get in our way. No positive self-talk means no passionate or inspired action, and when that happens, we fail even before we try.
Perseverance allows us to see those mountains, valleys, and rivers from a new perspective.
 
Instead of seeing the mountain as something separate, large, and looming over you, see yourself as that mountain. A mountain never wavers despite being shined upon, rained upon, snowed upon, or stuck upon by lightning. Stand tall and strong as the mountain.
Instead of seeing the river as something that you could never swim against or navigate across, see yourself as that river. A river flows continuously; it cuts through rock, not because of its power, but because of its persistence, as Jim Watkins reminds us. Flow with the river.
Instead of seeing the valley as something that is a low point that leaves you wide open and vulnerable, see yourself as that valley. A valley contains some of the most fertile soil; it is rich with nutrients. Harvest your strength from the valley.
Heed the words of Alexander Graham Bell when he says, “What this power is, I cannot say. All I know is that it exists and it becomes available only when you are in that state of mind in which you know exactly what you want and are fully determined not to quit until you get it.”
Spiritwork:

It’s time to finish unfinished business. Think about a project that you have abandoned because the work just got too hard, or you simply got tired of it. Dig it out of the closet or the basement or wherever you left it, and approach it with new eyes. Maybe it’s that novel you’ve always wanted to write. Maybe it’s the renovation you’ve never completed. Maybe it’s the exercise program that you quit because you hit a plateau. 
Revisit it and renew your commitment to it. There is a reason why you started it in the first place. Somehow you got the idea to do this, but this time go back to it with the understanding that your idea came to you as a gift. Now it’s time to honor it by seeing it through to completion. Think of it as your gift back to Spirit since Spirit endowed you with the skills and talent to accomplish it. 
Blessings.
 

From Underdog to Top Dog

Dysfunction.

It is everywhere.

You see it in families. In churches. In corporations. In government. In schools. In laws.

And anyone who dares to be different within these structures is bound to encounter resistance, ridicule, or resentment.

It takes an uncommon courage to break free. Sometimes it requires drastic measures, and not without conflict.

Think about some of the greatest spiritual leaders who have graced our planet.

They did not follow the crowds. Instead, they led them.

They saw the dysfunction of their times and they challenged it. They were willing to break ranks and shake up the status quo.

I always think of the biblical story of David and Goliath. David, a mere teen and shepherd boy, was sent to the battle lines by his father Jesse to bring back news of his brothers.

Instead of reporting the news, David made the news when he volunteered to fight the giant.

Armed with only a slingshot, a weapon he was skilled at using, and a pouch full of stones, David took down the seemingly invincible Philistine, setting his people free from tyranny.

When everyone else cowered in fear, David ran to the battle. He knew that action needed to be taken, despite the giant’s constant criticisms, discouraging insults, and fearful threats.

He went from underdog to top dog in an instant.

When we find ourselves in seemingly impossible situations, we need to remember the unique skills that Spirit has placed in our hands to use. There’s a reason why we were blessed with those skills in the first place. Because through them, through you, Spirit works its miracles.

There will be times when we will be called to step out of the crowd.

When you hear this call, as Jennifer James says, “[t]hen you must act. If you never hear it, perhaps nothing is lost. If you hear it and ignore it, your life is lost.”

It’s your call. What will you do?

Spiritwork:

It is a proven fact: when we help others, we help ourselves. The world is overwhelmed by oppression of ideas, feelings, and people. Sometimes we become our own oppressors.

Today is the day to speak out for what you believe in. Speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves. Break ranks by making the world a freer, more humane place to live.

Examine your core beliefs. Harness their energy to make a difference in your community. Start a club, volunteer, become an activist, and let Spirit take your skills to the next level.

Blessings.

Related Posts:

Read the introduction of 31 Days of Spiritual Growth here, and find links to all posts in this series.

Dog Day Afternoon

I embraced my inner Henry David Thoreau and took to the woods, away from civilization, where I could commune with nature.

While the coolness of autumn has arrived, her colors are not quite here. It may be a couple of weeks before things peak.

The trail, though well-trodden, showed no other signs of hikers. I had the entire canyon to myself, a personal Eden.

Or so I thought.

As I squatted on a footbridge to angle my camera for a photo of the stream, I heard the pitter-patter of feet coming toward me. And then it licked the side of my face. Yuk.

It was a black lab.

On point, waiting for me to throw a stick.

I looked around for its owner, but saw no one. I waited.

And waited.

No one came to claim this dog.

I crossed the bridge to a shelter, thinking the dog would take his leave. He didn’t. I took mine instead and headed deeper into the canyon. To my surprise, the dog stayed with me, leading the way, always looking back to make sure I was still there, as if saying, “Follow me.”

So, we bonded. He grabbed a stick and dropped it at my feet, staring. He wanted to play. I threw the stick and he fetched. This went on for an hour. When we made it to the second shelter, we played fetch in the stream so he could cool down and drink. I fed him all of my beef jerky and half of my peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Another kiss. Yuk.

The shadows grew long. Time to head back. My dark furry angel remained with me. We spent four hours together, sharing the woods, playing, and bonding, but I knew it would eventually come to an end. We headed back toward the entrance of the preserve, where I gave him more water. I petted him and thanked him for his company; he thanked me yet again with licks to my face. Yuk.

And then off he sauntered to the mystery from which he came. A piece of my heart went with him.

Like Thoreau, I went to the woods to live deliberately, if only for a few hours, and as I did, I found it bursting with the colors of Spirit; Spirit made Itself known in every moment, from the scented breeze that I breathed in, to the falling leaves that baptized me in nature’s cathedral, to a dog’s sense of play and adventure that unleashed my own.

Spiritwork:

If you’ve lived with animals on a daily basis, you know intuitively that they have souls. They live through their senses, are curious about the world, serve as companions, and are great teachers of life. To some a dog is nothing but a carnivorous quadruped, the canis lupus familiaris, of the family Canidae. To others the dog is a study of intelligence, loyalty, unconditional love, obedience, and protection. Examine your view of animals.

If you have a family pet, spend time with it and observe it throughout the day. What can you learn from it? Or, if you don’t have a pet, go someplace where you can observe pet owners interacting with their furry family members. What do you notice?

Another exercise is to choose one way to help animals in need. You can visit a local animal shelter and volunteer for a day. You can walk the dogs, pet or feed the cats, or simply socialize with them. Or, you an volunteer to pet sit for a neighbor. Maybe you can plan a fundraiser for abused animals. Let your heart guide you.

Blessings.

Related Posts:

Read the introduction of 31 Days of Spiritual Growth here, and find links to all posts in this series.

What’s Love Got To Do With It?

All you need is love, love.
Love is all you need.

So sing The Beatles.

Love is not something that we fall into; it is a spiritual practice.

Love is an art.

Love is action.

Love requires mastery.  We can get better at it over time.

We are instructed by the world’s religions and wisdom traditions to love self, to love our neighbors, and to love God. Love is the foundation.

Sometimes loving is easy, and sometimes it’s the hardest thing in the world to do.

I once had a seminary professor who said, “Some of you are going to be pissed off at who God lets into heaven.”

Wow.

That’s how much God loves.

And we are challenged to love as greatly. Buddha said to revere our enemies as our parents. Jesus said to love our enemies.

Yikes!

What does that mean?

It means that what God creates, God loves, and loves unconditionally. It means that even though we feel it is our right to hate a person for his or her wrongful, “evil” actions, it is our duty to honor that person with love because the Divine that is within us also resides within that person. That person’s deepest self is as much the image of God as ours is.

Buddha nature. Jesushood. God-Self. Divine Essence. It’s all there inside of us. We are God’s love letters to ourselves and to each other.

It’s time to move beyond lip service and back up our convictions with the actions of love. What will you do to be a sign of love in the world?

Love Park, Philadelphia, PA…a favorite place to relax
when I worked in the city.

Spiritwork:

Think of someone in your life who gets on your last nerve. You know who it is…he or she may be impossible to please, constantly complains, or just exasperates you. Yeah, that one.

Now, instead of seeing this person as negative or impossible, hold him or her in the light, visualizing that person engulfed by Spirit’s love and presence. Repeat the mantra: Love, love, love. Breathe in love, exhale prayer. Continue this loving act until you begin to see the divine within him or her. Give gratitude for this transformation.

Blessings.

Related Posts:

Read the introduction of 31 Days of Spiritual Growth here, and find links to all posts in this series.

Be A Prophet of Play

It takes courage to be a clown.

The greatest criticism of spiritual or religious people is that they take themselves too seriously.

Think Pharisees. What an uptight group of men. No sense of humor whatsoever.

Clowning around is a pathway to laughter. Look at all the spiritual traditions…they all have their jesters, their jokers, their holy fools.

These playful prophets encourage us not to take ourselves too seriously.

Without humor, life becomes oppressive and difficult. It is an essential element in spiritual health.

Did you know that children laugh as much as 100 to 200 times a day? Adults go from zero to only a few in a day. There’s something wrong with that equation.  It’s time we adults lighten up and get in touch with the playful child within.

Humor is holy. It is healing. And it is downright fun.

Check out some of the benefits:

  • lowers blood pressure
  • conditions the abdominal muscles
  • reduces the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline
  • increases the response of tumor- and disease-killing cells such as Gamma-interferon and T-cells
  • increases antibodies in saliva that combats upper respiratory infections
  • helps move nutrients and oxygen to body tissues
  • and much more!
With benefits like these, we can’t go wrong.
When I was a kid, being asked to say the blessing in front of many others at special meals like Thanksgiving was terrifying. My dad, sensing my hesitancy and always the jokester, jumped in with, “Bless the meat. Bless the skin. Open your mouth, and cram it in!” His humor lit up the room and added the levity I needed. 
Thank God for humor.
Spiritwork:

Be a clown today. Make people laugh and bring out the child in them. You’ll find that when you act like a clown, you’ll meet and encourage the clown in others. 
Whenever I go out to eat, my server inevitably asks, “Can I get you anything else?,” to which I respond, “A million dollars?” 
Heh, heh. Works like a charm. 
Or, here’s another easy exercise. Take time to read the comics. Read them and laugh. You’ll find that they contain great wisdom about the nature of life. I like to cut out cartoons that make me laugh. They hold a special place on my refrigerator as “Laugh of the Week.” 
Blessings!
Related Posts:

Scratching That Spiritual Itch

Purpose.

The reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists.

That’s a tidy definition.
And it’s a loaded one.
There is a reason why we want what we want.
But how many of us actually take the time to actually investigate it?
We all long to make a difference. Some of us actually do go out and make a difference. But many of us don’t. 
Sadly, those who don’t have been lured into thinking that the purpose of life equals holding power, acquiring status, accumulation of wealth, and possessing as many material things as possible. 
And when they finally achieve those things, they still feel that something is missing. There’s that little void inside that just can’t seem to be filled.
It’s the itch that’s in that hard-to-scratch spot…close enough to be just out of the way.
Our purpose has nothing to do with our outward life. It has everything to do with our inward life.
It’s about discovering who we really are and living authentically, not by society’s or someone else’s definition of who we should be.
As Jack Canfield, author of the Chicken Soup For The Soul series, says, “All we have to do is step up and do it,” when it comes to claiming and living our purpose.
Success is not limited to the list of boxes that society expects us to check: education, marriage, kids, career, retirement.
That’s conformity, not purpose.
To live with purpose means to be connected to purpose. It means living from the inside out, not the outside in. 
It means living a spiritually-based life, rather than an ego-centered one. 
It means letting your life speak to you, rather than forcing it in the direction the ego demands. It’s about listening to an inner calling, not an outer one.
Your purpose is seeking you as much as you are seeking it. Only when we remove ourselves from the distractions of the world do we hear it. Embracing and valuing silence will allow you to connect. Without silence, you will fall prey to your ego, believing that it (and all that it wants) is your purpose. Silence creates the space for authenticity to bubble to the surface.
To discover your purpose, be open to the non-logical. Purpose lies beyond all logic and reason. Get comfortable with emotion, intuition, sensitivities, and impulses. Get accustomed to not having all the answers, but trust that the universe will provide them when you are ready to hear them. 
Your purpose is not static. It is as fluid and dynamic as the Spirit that created you. Your purpose may change over time; it evolves as you evolve, as you grow and learn. 
Your purpose is yours for the taking. Discover it. Claim it. Value it. Do it. 
Spiritwork:
Ready to scratch that itch? Remove yourself from the day’s distractions. Turn off the TV, the radio, your phone and anything else that makes noise. Take the day off. Send your spouse or partner to work with a kiss. Hugs the kids as they head out to school or to their favorite aunt or uncle for the day. 
Ask for spiritual direction either through prayer or meditation, then begin a self-inventory. What are your likes and dislikes? When you were a child, what did you want to be when your grew up? Why? Ask, Am I happy and fulfilled? If you could be doing something else, what would it be? Why? What do you love to do? What steps can you take to begin the process of change? Let the silence speak to you. Your heart knows what it wants. Your answers will be revealed by how your heart feels, not what your mind thinks. 
When you’re finished, create a new “business card” for yourself. Instead of a job title, write your purpose in 3 to 4 words only. Mine says Director for Spiritual Living. 
On the back, write out an affirmation, draw a special or personal symbol, or a short prayer about your purpose. Mine says, “My purpose is to help others grow spiritually.”
Next, craft a spiritual resumé based on your self-inventory. Be sure to include your objective and the life experiences that “qualify” you for your new purpose in life. 
Blessings.
Related posts:

Victim or Victor?

Spirituality is not for wimps.

There is no room for victims.

If you’re feeling like the spiritual equivalent of a 90 pound weakling while others throw copies of Dyer, Chopra, and Tolle in your face, then life will appear to be an endless string of crimes against you.

Life happens to you rather than for you.

In other words, life is either working for you, or it is working against you.

Sure, some events happen that seem like they are out of your control. They seem to come out of left field unexpectedly, and you suddenly find yourself in the position of fight, flight, or freeze. You can choose to let the events affect your life in the ways that you allow, or you can use them as a learning tools to improve your spiritual IQ.

Caroline Myss, an American author, says, “We are never being punished, only being taught. Everything is a teaching.”

It’s a matter of perspective.

We can choose to be victims, or we can choose to be victors.

As a victim, life happens to you in ways that kick you around like an abused dog chained to a tree. You live your life fearing what will happen, and you continuously growl at anything that comes your way. You blame everything and everyone else for your misfortune, and you feel that the Universe is punishing you.

As a victor, though, life happens as you make it happen. If flows effortlessly, and if obstacles come your way, you embrace them and turn them into learning experiences for your highest good. Rather than let life steamroll over you, you jump into the driver’s seat and direct your course. You feel connected to the Universe in a loving and positive way. There is no blame, only gratitude.

Want to improve your spiritual IQ? See yourself as living victoriously. Take responsibility. Educate yourself. And give gratitude.

No more wimping around.

Spiritwork:

If you could invite one spiritual leader (alive or no longer on our physical plane) to your home for dinner, who would you invite?

Write down a list of questions you would ask this person.

After “speaking” with this person during dinner, how do you think he or she would answer your questions?

For the next week, emulate, as much as possible, this spiritual leader whose actions and attributes you admire.

Ask how s/he would act if faced with the situations in your daily life. Play the part. How would that spiritual leader respond to a situation that requires a decision, or to someone who feels confused and lost?

Research shows that an attitude change follows a behavior change. We do, then we feel. As you emulate your spiritual leader of choice, notice how it affects your interactions with others. More than likely, you will find them improving.

Blessings.

Related Posts:

Read the introduction to 31 Days of Spiritual Growth here, and find links to each post in this series.

Your Chariot Awaits

Plato, in his dialogue Phaedrus, draws on the analogy of a charioteer to explain the soul. He eloquently paints a picture of a charioteer driving a chariot being pulled by two winged horses, one white, the other black.

The charioteer must direct the chariot, trying to stop the horses from going in different directions, so he can reach enlightenment.

We are the charioteers of our lives. We are in the driver’s seat, directing our chariots to go where we want them to go.

We are in control.

However, as human beings, we have divided natures.

We have the proverbial angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other, each whispering into our spiritual ears, trying to lure us away from the other.

If we do not know who we are, we will continue to be divided within ourselves, where we will be pulled in different directions. It’s a constant tug-o-war. Talk about insanity!

Let me throw in a football analogy. Here in Alabama, you pledge allegiance to either The Crimson Tide (Roll Tide!) or The Auburn Tigers (War Eagle!) when it comes to college football. Both are Alabama universities, yet they are rivals, even though they’ve originated from the same state.

Many times you will see flags, signs, or license plates displaying the emblems of both teams, divided by a lightning bolt, surrounded by the words, “A House Divided,” meaning some members in the home are Tide fans while others are Tiger fans. You can imagine the excitement and the insanity on game day when these two teams meet. There’s no peace.

A house divided against itself cannot stand. And if you are divided against yourself, you will not stand, unless you take control of your life by taking a stand. 

This means getting in your chariot and taking the reins.

You’ve got two horses rearing to go in front of your chariot: your Higher Self and your lower self. Your Higher Self is the authentic, realized, ultimate you — your God-Self. Your lower self is the base, unrealized, egoic you — your ego-self.

You’ll know which horse is your God-Self because it will lead you forward into curiosity and adventure. You’ll find yourself ready to break free from your comfort zone and eager to try new experiences. You’ll be intrinsically motivated. You’ll speak your own truth, not someone else’s version of it. And you will feel connected to a Higher Purpose.

Likewise, you’ll recognize which horse is your ego-self. It will not look out for anyone else but itself because of its insecurity. It is addicted to greed and will always measure itself by the accumulation of external rewards such as money, status, and the like. It serves self-interest as its god.

Which horse will you encourage?

Spiritwork:

Break out of your comfort zone today and do something that you’ve never done before, or have never considered doing until now. Take the reins of your life and direct it where you want it to go. Just thinking about it will activate the spiritual horsepower within you.

Blessings.

Related Posts:

Read the introduction to 31 Days of Spiritual Growth here, and find links to each post in the series.

Avoid Spiritual Suicide

And on the seventh day, God rested.

Hmm.

How often do we take time out of our busy lives to simply rest?

The world can be pretty darn demanding of us at times.

If we are not careful, it will leave us feeling frazzled, fragmented, frustrated, fragile, and just flat out fried.

We end up meeting the needs of the world rather than meeting our own.

And when this happens, the world owns us. Say buh-bye to freedom. This is the path to spiritual suicide.

The best and safest thing to do is to create and keep balance in your life. We must absolutely take time out to rest.

To do this, we need to discover what our own needs and limits are. Once we do, we can make decisions, say no when we need to, and schedule our “me” time without guilt, blame, or shame. When we do these things, we start to take our lives back into our own hands, and we begin creating our lives by defining our priorities.

It begins with rest.

Rest allows us to reflect and to get in touch with our Deepest Self.

Rest allows us to acknowledge and access the great powers around us and in us.

Rest allows us to develop a well-rounded life.

Rest allows us to create harmony.

Rest allows us to make much-needed changes now.

Rest allows us to create and follow our own path, not the world’s.

Rest allows us to break out of old, tired, unthinking, and counterproductive routines.

Rest is a divine gift. It is holy time, designed for us to embrace, where we can wholly develop ourselves so that we can live productive, fulfilling, joy-filled lives…on our terms.

Spiritwork:

Give yourself permission to take the day off.

Many faith traditions offer insights about the importance of rest. For example, in Judaism, the Sabbath begins at sundown Friday and ends at sundown Saturday. No work is allowed during that time. Followers begin with a Friday night meal that has enough leftovers so that no cooking is to be done on Saturday.  This is a time to rest from all obligations (with the exception of attendance in synagogue). Why not designate one day a week, your choice, where there is no cooking? Instead, go out to dinner, or simply enjoy leftovers. You may also choose to fast if you are so inclined.

Photo Courtesy Google Images

In Buddhism, the Uposatha is a day of observance that has been around since 500 B.C. It is a day designed to “cleanse the defiled mind,” resulting in inner calm and joy. Generally, the Uposatha is observed about once a week, in accordance with the four phases of the moon (new moon, full moon, and the two quarters in between). Why not create a rituals of your choosing around the phases of the moon? During the new moon, you could reflect on your goals for the new you. Set your intentions and write them down. Save this for the last quarter moon. Invite an exciting new view of yourself. During the first quarter of the moon, you could observe what in your life is challenging you to take new action. Embrace your warrior self. Do one thing that scares you. Use the full moon to open the gates of your mind to illumination. Pray or meditate at moonrise. During the coming week, look for significant new understandings. At the last quarter moon, weed your inner garden of old growth. Discard something you no longer need, and burn your list that you wrote during the new moon in a little fire ceremony, giving gratitude for all that you have.

Of course, the point is for you to define what rest means to you. Decide how you want to take your rest. Let this inspire you to think of taking rest in new and life-giving ways.

Blessings.

Related Posts:

Read the introduction of 31 Days of Spiritual Growth here, and find links to all the posts in this series.

Mountaintop Message Up Yonder

The Universe intends me good.

That was the thought that came to me this morning as I stood atop Monte Sano Mountain outside of Huntsville, Alabama, as the sun began to rise.

The morning sky had broken, bursting with fingers of pink and orange, while fog blanketed the valley, leaving only the peaks exposed. I stood with those peaks, above the fog, feeling on top of the world. I took a few minutes to give gratitude and to reflect quietly on all that had brought me to this point. The 15K that I entered wouldn’t start for another hour and a half or so, and I wanted to get my head in a good place before the race.

I stretched.

I breathed the autumn air slowly and deeply.

I quieted my mind as I watched the sun lift the darkness away to reveal the natural beauty around me.

As I did, I saw my faith as the mountain. And I saw the events of life as the fog that hid most of its face.

We never really know what’s going to happen in life.

That thought can fill some people with trepidation and make them feel quite vulnerable.

But I like not knowing. It’s okay not to know. It makes life the adventure that it is. And I know because of my faith that no matter what happens in life, all will be fine because the Universe intends me good.

It intends you good, too.

The fog of life eventually dissipates in the sun’s spiritual light.

The view from Monte Sano State Park this morning.

Einstein once remarked, “The most important question a person can ask is, ‘Is the Universe a friendly place?’

This is a fundamental question to ask ourselves because the answer to that question will determine the outcomes in our lives.

I believe the Universe is a friendly place. I believe it has my back at all times. It told me so on the mountain.

How do you see the Universe?

Spiritwork:

Take a walk in nature and bring the Universe with you. Hold hands with it. Talk to it. Ask it to reveal it’s message to you that you feel you need the most in your life right now. Trust that it has your back.


Related Posts:

Read the introduction to 31 Days of Spiritual Growth here, and find links to each post in this series.