Category Archives: 31 Days

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.

Getting Your Emotional House In Order

Sufi poet Jelaluddin Rumi, in his poem, “The Guest House,” compares being human to a dwelling, in which emotions come and go, not only as unexpected visitors, but as potent teachers and guides from beyond.

We are a Bed and Breakfast for our emotions.

They come unannounced, at all hours, with different agendas, and they want to be fed our attention.

Rumi tells us to meet them at the door laughing, to invite them in, and to entertain them all. They will leave when their time is up. Some will be frequent guests. Others may visit every so often. Sometimes they may come all at once, while we scramble to get them settled. And at other times, we find ourselves standing quietly at the door in their absence, but knowing full well that they will return as events unfold throughout our lives.

Running our inward Bed and Breakfast takes some skill. It takes emotional intelligence — the ability to identify, use, understand, and manage our emotions in positive, effective ways. When we are aware of our emotions, we can be proactive in relieving stress, communicating effectively and empathizing with others, facing and overcoming challenges, and defusing the bomb of conflict.

Upon meeting our emotions at the door, we find that some can be very intense, demanding, and quite petulant, while others are more low-key, quiet, and peaceful. Some throw tantrums; others remain calm. Hosting some of them can be quite the challenge. But the gracious host or hostess knows how best to serve each guest.

Hosting our emotions starts with knowing our attitudes and knowing our emotional comings and goings. If you find yourself feeling unexpectedly strongly about something, ask yourself why. Put a label on it, admit what you are feeling, identify why you are feeling it, and then take the steps to rectify it. This is an exercise in self-honesty. Many times, you’ll find that what you are feeling is ego-centered, rather than spirit-centered. Controlling your emotions isn’t about pretending they are not there; on the contrary, it’s about acknowledging them so that you can move forward without the extra baggage.

Some emotions require a serious time-out. They come in like a storm, blowing the doors wide open, nearly knocking us out of our place. Emotions are physical responses. Our heart rate increases. Our blood pressure skyrockets. Our immune system becomes compromised. These physical changes are led by the way we breathe. We literally have to catch our breath. We can deal with these changes by resetting our breath. Stop. Inhale slowly. Exhale even more slowly. Know that your out-breath will calm everything before heading into a discussion with these emotions.

Our emotions need our guidance and direction as much as we need theirs. They show up at our doorstep because we are a place where they feel safe.  When we acknowledge them by offering our hospitality, we can learn a great deal about ourselves. But, if we cater to them too much, we enable them to overstay their welcome, causing us to react blindly, often with unintended or unwanted consequences. As we come to know them and ourselves, we can channel their energy into constructive productivity for our highest good.

Getting our emotional house in order will ensure that we are not strangers in our own house whenever our emotions come for a visit. Prepare to meet them. Give them the attention they deserve. Learn from them. Channel their energy. Be grateful for their gifts.

Jesus said to love our neighbors as ourselves. Our emotions are some of our closest neighbors. Treat them with the love and respect they deserve.

Spiritwork:

Denying our feelings and emotions leads to a host of physical issues and health problems. Now is the time to voice your unexpressed emotions.

Think of a challenging event or relationship in your life. It could be something you have done that incurred much guilt. Or, it could be someone you have not been able to forgive.

Take a piece of paper and write down all the negative things you’ve felt, done, said, and thought.

Now, shred it into pieces. You can either bury them in the yard, or build a fire and watch them burn. Notice how you feel as you let go.

In your mind, surround the situation or person with the white light of healing and transformation, love, forgiveness, and acceptance. Repeat this ritual until you feel a shift. You will feel lighter as a result because you are making a difference with your efforts.

Be sure to forgive yourself, too.

Blessings.

Related Posts:

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

Thank you to my spiritual mentor and friend Merv for inspiring this post.

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.

Yes Yes YES

YES!

That’s my response to the Universe every morning.
I leap out of bed, throw my arms into the air, look up at the sky, and yawp a YES that would make Walt Whitman proud.
The word YES is more than an affirmative reply to a question. It is more than the opposite of NO.
Saying YES to the Universe is a metaphysical practice that parts seas and moves mountains.
It is the stuff of miracles. 
Activating the power of YES means that we are putting ourselves behind the highest intentions we have for ourselves, for others, and for the world. 
It doesn’t matter what’s in front of us. Whatever it is, when we say YES to it, whatever we think, say, and do becomes a prayer to the Universe. We say YES to life.
The energy of NO is resistance. It’s a block. However, there are times when saying NO is appropriate, especially when it comes to your health and safety. 
Ever consider why NO is such a common response from people? Because most people have been hammered with NO thousands of times (try 50,000!) during their formative years. No wonder it is such an automatic response! How many of those NO’s still echo in your mind?
Get up and YAWP your YES to the Universe! If you’re not sure what a YAWP is, it’s a loud, barbaric cry or yell (thanks to Uncle Walt in his poem “Song of Myself”).  
YAWP your YES with enthusiasm; put some bass in your voice when you say it, and mean it!
Say YES to the Universe no matter what’s in front of you. It will power you through it.

Spiritwork:
Make YES your mantra. Breathe in and repeat YES YES YES. Breathe out and repeat YES YES YES. Try this for five minutes and see how you feel. No doubt you will be energized and ready to take on the world.
Blessings!
Related Posts:

Put On Your Wonderwear!

I learned a new word today.

Wonderosity.

Coined by Sam Keen, a noted American author, professor, and philosopher, wonderosity is the marriage of wonder and curiosity that resides inside all of us.

We perceive our world through our five senses. But if we rush through life without connecting with our senses, life becomes blasé.  We detach from the sensuousness of it. And when that happens, we miss the wonders and beauty of life.

Wonder begins in our senses. It bubbles forth from our natural curiosity about life. It is a spiritual practice designed to awaken, or reawaken, us to the sense of Mystery that animates all beings. When we lose the capacity for wonder, when we curb our curiosity, we may as well be dead.

This morning on my patio, I stood in awe of the fog that had crept in on little cat’s feet over night, to borrow Carl Sandburg’s apt metaphor. The fog had enveloped everything in sight and lent a stillness and peace that touched me deeply; now it remains with me.

While scientifically I know how fog is created, the wonder of it is something that can not be communicated in words…it must be sensed and felt to get the full experience. I’ve always found fog to be mystical and magical. And today it made me stop in my tracks and take notice. I sat with the fog until it loosened its embrace on all that it held so closely, like lovers parting from a kiss. What romance!

Spirit fills our beings with wonder. It sets our senses tingling. The things that spark our curiosity and awaken our wonder are endless. Let the practice of wonderosity yield new insights and sensations.

Spiritwork:

Put on your wonderwear and go on a wonder hunt to wake up your sense of wonder. You don’t have to travel far to do this, but you can if you so choose. Find a place you’ve never frequented and acquaint yourself with its surroundings. Botanical gardens, forests, and zoos are wonderful places known to evoke wonder.

Now get your senses involved. What draws each one? Do any sensations evoke memories or emotions? At different times, concentrate on a different sense and see what opens up within you. Let your senses tour everything around you. Sit still. Read the signs. Feel the energy penetrate your core. Let wonder work its way into your soul. Turn life into something wonderlicious.

Blessings.

Related Posts:

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