Saturday, July 26, 2014

My Lesson in the Weeds

The last several weeks, after having gotten back from our holiday in Nova Scotia, I’ve been weeding. There’s a lot of weeding to do, believe me. I have wood chip pathways throughout much of the property that’s nestled among the indigenous, natural growth of wildflowers, grasses, blackberries, and other assorted plant life. All this growth is native to the Cumberland Plateau.
I have a wet-weather creek (about 200 feet long) that originates well into the Catoosa Wildlife Management Area that our property abuts. When a heavy rain falls, the creek and its ponds will flow for 10 days or so. The creek, landscaped with natural river rock, houses all sorts of frogs, toads, skinks, a few crayfish, and several large green turtles.
When it’s been raining and the verdant green of the yard is lush and all the critters are happy, it is a beautiful relaxing park-like setting. However the weeds like it, too. To keep them under control is a crawling, knees-on-the-ground, very manual effort. While I’m crawling along, I can almost see the ticks, chiggers, biting flies, and fire ants texting each other: “It’s Party-Time!” Brother, do they all respond! To them I’m a slow-moving buffet with excellent, healthy blood.
Nevertheless, while I’m weeding my mind is generally pretty neutral. I’m in the NOW with the natural universe. I’m not debating anticipated arguments. I’m not reminiscing about my selective memories of my perceived past – neither “good” nor “bad” memories. I just am. I am weeding. I am uncovering a nest of ants. I am watching a black snake or a skink (a form of Gecko) or a sunning frog. I just am. And, while in this neutral state of mind, thoughts come – some of them rather profound. Yesterday, while cleaning the creek banks and bed, I realized my thoughts are like these weeds.
Weeds just pop up. Rain. Pop. Weeds. There’s nothing wrong with weeds – they are natural – unless they are where I don’t want them to be. Unattended, they’ll grow and produce more weeds. If I let them go, my creek begins to be overrun. I need to be a little vigilant and disciplined with them.
I began to think: “It’s the same with my thoughts.” They are always running though my head. They are constant. If I’m awake, my thoughts are there. Awake. Pop. Thoughts.
Where do they come from? I think sometimes they spring forth from some perpetual wellspring of little thought-babies that are created from nothingness and, as they mature, migrate from my unconscious to my conscious mind where they move from one ear to the other then out into ether. The only thing that seems to stop this flow of thoughts is to focus on one for a while. But when I do that, the flow doesn’t seem to abate.  All that seems to happen is I’ve somehow created a new “channel” for other, similar thoughts to show up. Where did all my other thoughts, that had been in the queue, go? Thought-baby heaven? Perhaps. Maybe that’s right next door to the place where all my missing socks have gone. And keys. And lost receipts.
I guess my point is this: I realized I will pull up a weed in order to keep it from crowding out a flowering plant. I am not pulling up a weed because it is a “bad” plant. If I don’t, the weed will multiply and it will become more difficult for me to stay on top of things. It is the same with how I treat my random thoughts. These little thought-babies are not “bad” things. They just are. I am training my higher mind to keep them a little under control so they don’t crowd out my ability to hear the whispers of The Divine.
Things can go “wrong” when I’m weeding. Sometimes I do think weeds are “bad” things. They are ruining the look of “my” yard. What’ll the neighbors think? Without weeding properly the property value of our house will decline. We’ll become poor and be reduced to eating dog food on crackers. The weeds will crowd out my vegetable greens and we’ll be reduced to eating more dog food on even more crackers. Then our pups will starve. Would I then boil their bones to make a broth in which to cook some rice – a welcome relief from the steady diet of dog food?
Of course, I’m being facetious – but, trust me, my thoughts can get out of control at times and lead me to a merry-go-round of insanity. And that’s exactly where my ego likes me to be, so I’ll turn to it and ask it for help. It’ll gladly provide me with “answers” that underscore the ”reality” of lack, the “reality” of vulnerability, and the “protection” of proper vigilance against the dog-eat-dog world it wants me to believe in. All that is equally insane – but that particular form of insanity is hidden from me because it’s such a common perception.
I think I’ll continue to pluck my thoughts like weeds, refusing to pay attention to them, and continue training my higher mind to listen for the whispers of true reality – the whispers of The Divine: “Don, you and I are One. There is nothing we can’t handle.” As the Introduction to A Course in Miracles (ACIM) states: “… This course can therefore be summed up very simply in this manner: Nothing real (which is only Love) can be threatened. Nothing unreal (which is everything else) exists. Therein lies the peace of God.”
Although these messages are mostly for me, thanks for listening. As always – feel free to forward this message to your friends, family, and those accompanying you on your spiritual journey.
Don
#2 July, 2014

Copyright, 2014

Friday, July 18, 2014

When I Enter My Drama, I Lose My True Self

It’s good to be home and back in my familiar routine. My body responds well to that. Appetite. Sleep. Rhythm. Actually, it’s kind of magical, isn’t it?
After unpacking, washing clothes, going through the mail and getting settled, I was able to go to my favorite AA meeting where we discussed, among other things, the problem of finding ourselves in a general state of boredom. As we all commented, it became clear we were not really bored, we were simply not used to life without our addiction-manufactured “drama” that had dominated our daily living for so long. We had no experience living in a state of approaching serenity.
As I stopped drinking, went to meetings, shared honestly, and began working the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, I began taking care of myself under the guidance of a sponsor and friends I was meeting in those rooms. As I did that – over the course of 6-8 months – the communications from creditors, lawyers, ex-wives, frustrated bosses, demanding girl friends, and angry neighbors all began to subside. My life was becoming manageable. The drama of constant problems and issues was abating.
Although that all sounds wonderful – and it was! – it soon became clear I didn’t know how to live like that. What I was used to, and therefore defined as “normal,” was a life of utter chaos and constant problems. Without that chaos, I felt I was shriveling up inside. Bored. Stagnant. Lifeless. Dull. Antsy. Tiresome.
What was I supposed to do on a rainy Saturday? Cook something nice for dinner and sit in my favorite chair and read a new-to-me novel? Well, why not? Borrrr-Ring!
Since my life has truly settled down over a quarter century, I have developed an innate sensitivity to those who still are addicted to drama. It certainly doesn’t have to be alcohol/drug-induced drama. In fact, most of the drama-queens/kings I meet today are not addicted to mind-altering substances. They are simply addicted to “drama” (worry, fear, irritation, conspiracies, vengeance, religion, success, or instant gratification). I think they believe it adds “spice” to their life. Without their “drama,” perhaps they don’t feel they even exist.
What all their dramas really do, in my opinion, is keep them “busy” enough so they are able to keep their focus off themselves. One of my wife’s best friends said that specifically to us one day. She was complaining how busy she was. When we mentioned staying at home with a book or going to a seminar about handling issues confronting all of us, her response was, “Why would I want to do that – start thinking about my past and opening up that Pandora’s Box?” Loose translation: I want to stay so busy I don’t have time to think about me.
While on vacation in Nova Scotia it was amazing to me how many (and how often) our travelling companions had to check their cell phones or iPads for messages or to post pictures as the tour unfolded. It was as if they believed they had to keep all their friends and relatives updated on all the goings-on several times daily. Then they had to share text messages and pictures they were receiving – at times when the tour director/guide was explaining the history and culture of whatever it was we were seeing.
Rather that concentrating on what was being said, absorbing the knowledge and enjoying the views, these folks had to take a snapshot of the guide and text a message about what he was saying. I guess that was what made the experience real for them. Rather than simply enjoying being there, they had to communicate that they were, in fact, there and enjoying it.
I didn’t understand. Neither did my wife.
Upon reflection, I think people addicted to drama, as an indicator of a sense of alive-ness, have lost their sense of Self. An event isn’t real unless you’ve taken a picture of it. Enjoyment isn’t real unless you can document it in real time and transmit it into the ether of the Web. Without posting an experience on FaceBook or Twitter, it’s not really happening.
Whenever I really experience an event, it is communicating to me on several different levels at the same time: cerebrally, viscerally, and emotionally. I can picture myself there. I can “feel” myself eating pea soup in the 18th Century at the Fortress of Louisbourg. I can enjoy the smell of wood smoke as if it were a welcoming beacon telling me I was nearing home. This identification with real people of history is not the same, obviously, as experiencing my True Self – my ego-less Self. But I don’t need to complicate things by distracting my ego-self so much that I cannot even relate with other people.
I believe when people remove themselves from that level of involvement and try to “capture” it with photos or texts, it is removing them from the humanity of the experience and reinforcing a sense of separateness. It distracts them from the experience and so they miss it. It is a constant reminder that they are distinct islands of identity – over and against the people, culture, and history of the area – over and against their fellow travellers – over and against their True Selves, their True Humanity.
I believe this behavior reinforces the death of the soul. It was scary. It was a shame. However, as this message attests, it became a wonderful learning experience for me.
Although these messages are mostly for me, thanks for listening. As always – feel free to forward this message to your friends, family, and those accompanying you on your spiritual journey.
Don
#1 Jul, 2014

Copyright, 2014

Friday, June 20, 2014

Atonement, Forgiveness and Peace

A friend asked: “Hi Don. You refer a lot about asking for another way of looking at things. What specifically do you mean? What am I supposed to look for as another way of seeing things?
This is another good question. I’ll do my best to explain. How we look at things starts with our belief in our Separation from God. The Bible uses common (in its time) mythology to convey this in the Garden of Eden stories: we sinned and thus were separated. ACIM states that we are only in error. The most common form of belief in separation is the simple statement: I am me and you are not. Everything we perceive from this egoic viewpoint is illusionary. We are not separated from God and never have been.
Being provided with another perception – another way of looking at things, events, and people, rather than seeing through our egoic filters – is the primary purpose of our life according to A Course in Miracles (ACIM). When the Holy Spirit is willingly asked for help, He (the Voice for God) will provide us with true vision, rather than physical sight. It is most often referred to a change of perception or a holy instant and will always lead to Forgiveness.
This change of perception from our “normal” egoic point of view is altered to one of seeing the Christ in others, including ourselves. This change of perception is what the Course means by the Atonement. It is not something we can do by ourselves. When we try to change our perception by acts of our own volition, our egos will simply hijack the process to serve our perceived needs. In short, our ego can wrap its fear-based / guilt-laced perceptions in the whitest robes of religious purity and altruism.
We have to train our minds to become aware of the instances where our egos are in absolute control of us. We have to become aware that our feelings of pain, suffering, anger, and fear are symptomatic of our egoic perception. We have to understand that these feelings are not “thrust” upon us from outside. Things, events or people do not make us feel afraid, hurt, or angry. Our perceptions do that all by themselves.
How we perceive, or interpret, the world we see determines what we think we see. To effectively change what I see, I need to change my perception of the world, of people, and of events.  We’ve all been to movies. When we walk out after it’s over, we do not believe the world we walk into is the world we left behind on the screen. Now, pretend you are in a special movie theater – in a special seat, hooked up to electrodes so that what you think and feel is projected on the screen. You are watching a movie that replicates what you’re thinking. The characters you see on the screen, including you, are a projection of your perception. That’s precisely the way ACIM says we truly are. We are seeing our projections when we look at people. We are not capable of seeing the real person. We are seeing our own perceptions based on our own illusionary past experiences instead of seeing the real person in front of us – NOW. Old-timers in AA will simply state: “If you spot it, you got it.” As I began to comprehend the Course, I used this movie imagery to help me see what I was doing. I wouldn’t be angry at the characters in a movie, so why would I be angry at my skewed perceptions of “real” people?
Forgiveness, according to ACIM consists of three steps. We have to participate in the first two. The Holy Spirit performs the third step. Step One: I forgive the images I've made or projected, and I forgive the people in these images, including me; Step Two: I forgive myself for making these projected images; and Step Three: I ask the Holy Spirit to help me see another way of looking at this situation/person – and then I still my mind and listen for the Holy Spirit's whispers and guidance. And I remember: Step 3 is not my job. It will just happen!
We need to perceive our world in another way. The Holy Spirit will provide that way when honestly requested to do so. That new way of looking at things will be with a different perception (Atonement) that allows us to see all anger and fear as a Call for Love. Responding to that call with Forgiveness is our true function while we are here on Earth, and it will give us the peace and serenity we truly desire.
Kenneth Wapnick, PhD, wrote about this very well in his book: Forgiveness and Jesus – the meeting place of A Course in Miracles and Christianity, Foundation for a Course in Miracles, 1998. From pages 79-80: “The belief in separation constitutes a decision we make to hear the voice of the ego, rather than the Voice for God. From this decision arise two distinct ways of looking at the world. The ego’s eyes see problems…. Central to this perception is the belief in injustice, seeing the world as divided into victims and victimizers, the former being the innocent objects of the sinful actions or thoughts of the latter. All beliefs in anger, sickness, and suffering are beliefs that justify this perception.
“The vision of the Holy Spirit, on the other hand, transforms our problems into learning opportunities, the special function through which we practice our lessons of forgiveness. Expressions of anger – towards others or ourselves – become transformed through His loving perception into calls for help, which His love gently answers through our forgiveness, healing the injustice that once seemed so real. Thus do … unholy relationships become holy.”
We put our egoic blinders on and we can begin removing these blinders by practicing the three step of forgiveness – honestly and willingly asking for the Holy Spirit’s help. I hope this helps.
Although these messages are mostly for me, thanks for listening. As always – feel free to forward this message to your friends, family, and those accompanying you on your spiritual journey.
Don
PS: I will be away for a while – so there will be no messages until mid-to-late July. So enjoy a happy Summer Solstice and a great 4th of July!
 #4 Jun, 2014

Copyright, 2014

Saturday, June 14, 2014

My Attachments and My Frame of Reference

I recently read a great little book by Don Miguel Ruiz, Jr. It is called The Five Levels of Attachment – Toltec Wisdom for the Modern World [Hierophant Publishing, 2013].
Writing in the Foreword to his son’s book, don Miguel Ruiz [acclaimed author of The Four Agreements] stated: “My son has spent a great portion of his life silently rebelling against the way other people live, creating many judgments and opinions. He did not realize that in doing so, he was becoming attached to those judgments and opinions, and his emotional reactions were becoming increasingly intense.” [Page ix]
“…Although we live in the present, our attachment makes us dream of a past that no longer exists, a past that is full of regret and drama. Our attachments also take us to an uncertain future full of fears that do not yet exist, making us feel unsafe.” The book goes on to explain “… how your belief system has been making all the decisions in the story of your life. … how you create your identity based on the opinions and judgments of others around you…. how our beliefs become intimately connected to our identity; or who we think we are. This belief of what the truth is in turn creates all our attachments and all our emotional responses.” The Five Levels of Attachment, pp x,xi
A Course in Miracles (ACIM) states throughout that we interpret our past in ways that support our life story. If we think of ourselves as a victim, we interpret our past that way – it supports our life-view. If we think of the world as dangerous and we must always be on the defensive and ready to attack any suspected aggressor – be they store clerks, county officials, salespersons or business owners – we will base that frame of reference on our interpreted past. By so doing we are continuing to live in our illusionary past. ACIM goes on to say that this selective interpretation of past events controls how we perceive things, events and people now. However, we believe to live this way is to “learn from our mistakes,” is normal, and is the right thing to do. ACIM reminds us, however: “The one wholly true thought one can hold about the past is that it is not here.” [W-1: 8: 2,1] If I cannot let go of my past, that’s where I will continue to live – over and over and over again.
In AA I learned a very similar message: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” Although primarily on a superficial or behavioral level, I began doing different things and began getting different results. I have since learned that this truism is applicable on far deeper levels. Rather than using this axiom for behavioral changes, I’ve used this on emotional levels, as well. When a strong emotion occurs in me I look for the “trigger” that also occurred. My emotion is real (e.g., as they are in a nightmare) but often the “trigger” is based on a selected memory of my past, which is as illusionary as my nightmare dream. If I can do something differently – deal with my trigger and not my emotion – I will begin getting different results.
The ACIM Text, in many places, puts it this way: “God knows you now.  He remembers nothing, having always known you exactly as He knows you now. The holy instant reflects His knowing by bringing all perception out of the past, thus removing the frame of reference you have built by which to judge your brothers.” [T-15: V, 9, 1-3] (emphasis mine)
My attachments or my frame of reference limit and constrict. As an illustration, Christianity, as lived by Jesus of Nazareth, can instill in us a wonderful sense of gratitude for a visceral experience of God’s love for ALL of humanity – including me. In gratitude we embrace the Golden Rule (Do Unto Others…) – the second of Jesus’ three commandments to His followers. In gratitude we live, day-by-day in the Now, in a faith that has banished our fears.
Or ….
Christianity can be a terrible fear-producer. It can reinforce my perception of myself (and all humanity) as an unworthy sinner, falling short of the glory of God. It can reinforce the concept that “evil” is real, independent, a force against God, that lives outside and independent of me. As such, evil is beyond my control and is a force I must always fear and protect myself from. Consequently, if I don’t understand you, I can feel threatened and frightened. In my selective interpretation of past events I have learned to associate that feeling of fear as an indication of the presence of evil. As a result I become convinced that I fear you because you are evil. Even though I say the “correct” words – “I love the sinner but hate the sin” – my actions betray my faith in the power of Love that God has shown me.
For example, if we’re talking about homosexuality, which many (not I) believe is a sin, how can we say we only hate the sin, when we’re working so hard to banish the sin as expressed by the sinner? Oh, yes we love the gay guy, but hate his gayness. In the meantime, we will keep our kids from him, support efforts to get him fired from his job, and continue to castigate him and all he does. But we say we really love him – we just hate his sin. What mental gymnastics we go through!
Instead of homosexuality, I could have said the same about general religious tolerance or intolerance. I could have said the same about Right-to-Life or Freedom of Choice. I could have said the same about supporting the less fortunate or punishing them for making poor life choices.
The following two quotes are among my favorites and say much the same thing in very different words – words that may resonate better with you:
From Mahatma Gandhi:
Your beliefs become your thoughts;
Your thoughts become your words;
Your words become your actions;
Your actions become your habits;
Your habits become your values;
Your values become your destiny.
From Earnie Larson, Stage II Recovery – Life Beyond Addiction, Harper & Row, 1985, p. 30:
What you live with you learn;
What you learn you practice;
What you practice you become;
What you become has consequences.
All this judgment, analysis, comparison, condemnation – of ourselves and of others – is based on our selective interpretation of past events. We have put these blinders on all by ourselves, as we were “socialized” by our parents, friends, teachers, ministers, relatives, movies, television, politicians and employers. Toltec wisdom calls this socialization process “domestication.”
We put the blinders on and we can begin removing these blinders, as well. We just have to be willing and not be afraid to ask for a different way of looking at life.
Although these messages are mostly for me, thanks for listening. As always – feel free to forward this message to your friends, family, and those accompanying you on your spiritual journey.
Don
#3 Jun, 2014

Copyright, 2014