Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas is Now - Always

Today I am reminded that Christmas is Now. But, in fact everything is always Now. Easter is now, Lent is now, Kwanza is now, Yom Kippur is now, Ramadan is now.
The fact that everything is always Now is a truism in most spiritual traditions and was (and sometimes still is) a difficult idea for me to comprehend. There is no past nor future. Only Now. My Ego wants me to believe in the past and the future so I will continue to believe I am separate from you, from God, from everything.
It is Christmas morning here in on the Cumberland Plateau in East Tennessee. Merry Christmas Everyone! Happy Channukah for those who celebrate this Jewish festival of light and Happy Kwanza for those celebrating this later in the week. The day here is quite still; a little overcast but quiet; wintry but very pleasant.
I was walking our 2 small dogs just a while ago after they had eaten their breakfast. It is sunny, brisk (upper 30s to low 40s) with a very light breeze. However, I was not enjoying the day. I was thinking of this message I had to finalize before posting it. I was thinking of the phone call we received from my cousin yesterday morning. This is a common error I make – being focused on some future or past event, rather than being focused on what is around me now. My thinking creates a Now that exists in the universe-between-my-ears. To make matters worse, I believe it as being more “real” to me than the Now that is all around me.
Whatever I am thinking about IS the Now for me. If I’m thinking of the past generally I’m not simply remembering a past event, often I’m reliving that event. As I relive it, it becomes my Now. The same is true for future events. By bringing these non-existent thoughts into consciousness I have created an alternate universe (between my ears only) and am responding to it at the expense of everything else around me. Those thoughts are my Now. That’s my choice – that’s the universe I have chosen to perceive in my Now.
What I’m thinking about Now colors what I’m perceiving Now which creates my world Now. That is a very powerful (and for me, often damning) concept.
An example: If I’m living in a Now that consists of my remembrance of times I perceive I’ve been misunderstood or mistreated, it puts me in a Now whose reality is one of victimhood. I’m on a great big pity-pot. All my internal voices are versions of: “Why me?” “Poor me!” “Woe is me.” All these voices/thoughts color my perception which creates my world. Next thing I know, I’m driving into town and someone cuts me off and I perceive, once again, that some jerk is going to cause me to be late (accodingto my self-absorbed expectations). Again I’m back to a form of “Why me?” “Poor me!” “Woe is me.” Once again I’ve created a universe-between-my-ears where I am the ultimate victim. When I choose that universe, I AM a victim – I am the victim of myself and my thoughts – although that doesn’t stop me from blaming someone or something “out there.”
My cousin called yesterday morning about his Mom (my aunt). She has been living with him in Florida. She is almost 97. She is physically healthy but her mind cannot get off the idea that she must live at her home. Normal? Sure. But the “home” she remembers no longer exists. The “home” she wants to return to existed 60-70 years ago – alive with extended family, friends, church, health, food, and a joy of life. Because this remembrance is centered so strongly in her mind, it is her Now. Her son’s intention for her to live with him and be thoughtfully cared for is perceived as being forced to live in a prison against her will. I understand perfectly because I’ve been there. I’ve seen her lash out. I’ve seen her stubborness. I’ve experienced her growing dementia. It’s not severe enough to have her committed, but it is severe enough to make her impossible to live with.
My aunt’s situation is admittedly extreme – but it reinforces my point: What I’m thinking about Now colors what I’m perceiving Now which creates my world Now. This is true for my aunt, for my cousin, and for me. I believe it’s true for you, as well.
Back to Christmas.
Another truism in spiritual circles is the Divine is always present within me, although I am generally deaf to its voice. Whether we are in Christian spiritual traditions, Kaballah, Sufi, Eastern thought, New Thought religion, or A Course in Miracles, the issue is not whether we can conjure up the divine to do our bidding through prayer, supplication, or acts of contrition. The issue is can I eliminate the “noise” of my Ego-Thoughts so the divine can make itself “heard” in my mind, reminding me I am a spirit currently having a human experience and the world I perceive doesn’t really exist – it’s just my perception.
It can always be Christmas if I can learn to listen to the still, small voice of the Divine. When I listen and hear the divine, I know the divine Christ spirit is alive and well within me. Understanding that reality allows me to know it is Christmas morning all over again, and again, and again. I am always Bethlehem.
My Christmas Wish for you? Relish in this knowledge that the miracle in the manger can exist in your heart and mind Now – and Now – and Now.
Thanks for listening and, as always, it's okay to forward or share this, if you choose.
#4 – December 2011

Sunday, December 18, 2011

We Are One – But We Can't Find the Words To Talk About It

We are all one. We hear it often from Eastern religions or philosophies. We hear it, as well, in New Thought congregations or groups. We hear it from students in the Course in Miracles. We hear it in explanations of the intertwined fabric of Native American tribal life, thoughts, and spiritual concepts. We hear it in various 12-Step groups – each group united by the great leveler of its common addiction. We are all one.
In a recent issue of Miller-McCune magazine (September/October 2011 – there is an article entitled "Moral Injury" by Diane Silver. She writes:
Since Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder was added to the diagnosis manual in 1980 by the American Psychiatric Association "… the diagnosis has most often focused on trauma associated with threats to a soldier's life…. [Since then respected therapists have argued that the definition is too limited.] What sometimes happens in war may be more accurately called a moral injury – a deep soul wound that pierces a person's identity, sense of morality, and relationship to society. In short, a threat in a soldier's life." (p. 26, bold/italics are mine) The author goes on to quote Vietnam veteran John Fisher who vividly remembered the first time he shot an enemy soldier. "'I realized I had taken his soul away from him,’ Fisher says. 'In the process, my soul was gone.'" (p.28)
Fisher eventually went to Greece with Edward Tick, Director of Soldier's Heart, to visit the Kerameikos cemetery.  "Fisher sat on a knoll as Tick read an oration for the war dead that had been delivered on the same spot 2,500 years before. Fisher says he felt like he was floating, and he realized that his soul, his sense of self, had fled his body while he was in Vietnam. 'My heart felt like it was dark inside before. Now, it felt like someone had turned on the light.'" (p. 29).
Humankind is, in essence, one Spirit of which we are all little "parts" similar to the concept of a hologram. Each piece or "part" of a hologram contains the whole. We will truly understand that our spirits are all conjoined, when we develop the faculties to see with vision, rather than with anatomical eyes. It is the difference between defining ourselves as a spirit having a human experience, rather than a human being who – somewhere inside – has a spirit or soul.
Fisher’s is a description of the very visceral and experiential transformation that also happened to me, to others, and to those who had known Jesus 2,000 years ago. Although my personal experiences were entirely different from Fisher's and those earliest Christians, the reality of that experiential transformation is overwhelming. All of us had our lives changed. How can I explain that? How can I describe that kind of experience? The Course in Miracles simply says that kind of "Holy Instant" is beyond words and will transform your perception of life.
As an example, the cut and dried formulae for success in AA consists of working the Steps, getting a sponsor, honestly sharing in meetings, and praying. Some seem to “get it” pretty quickly and some don’t. Why? There is no definitive answer, but there are some pretty compelling observations. One is the difference between “comparing in” and “comparing out.” When members of the fellowship are comparing in, regardless of the specific details of someone’s story, they identify. They spot all the similarities between the speaker and themselves. When comparing out, listeners maintain their separateness and spot all the dissimilarities between the speaker and themselves. Sounds trivial. But it is a HUGE distinction. It is the difference between a developing abstinance with serenity, compassion, a sense of oneness, and understanding – called sobriety – and an abstinance without the development of an honest sense of oneness or spirituality – called being dry.
Why do some “get it” and some don’t? There is no answer to that. It simply occurs. I believe that those that seem to “get it” have had some form of spiritual transformation in the form of the removal of their sense of uniqueness. This allows them to truly be Honest, Open, and Willing – HOW. No one can really explain why person A readily compares in and person B does not. It is a miracle, itself, to be blessed with the ability to see yourself in virtually all stories. True sobriety does not happen without this kind of spiritual experience, which, when pressed for an explanation, will be met with a shrug, or a story, or an anecdote. In short, it is a sense of oneness beyond words. AA’s Big Book simply states, in Chapter 6, that if you are diligent in working the Steps, by the time you get to Steps Eight and Nine you will discover you have had a spiritual experience.
The authors of much of the New Testament were folks just like me and you who were trying their damnedest to explain the reality of this “oneness beyond words.” In Chapter Nine of my book – reiterated in my audio CD, The Gospel of Transformation – I tell the story of how a young man in an AA Eleventh Step meeting stormed out because we didn’t refer to our Higher Power as Jesus Christ. We had each told our stories of the reality of God, as we understood God, being the key to our sobriety. The spirit of the Almighty was looking the young man right in the face through the stories each of us told. He simpy refused to see because we were defining God as HP, Divine Love, or Ultimate Reality. The young man desperately wanted us to define our Higher Power as Jesus Christ as he had. The young man’s words, which made perfect sense to his Ego, absolutley blocked his ability to sense the presence of the Almighty.
So I try not to get too hung up on words. When I hear or read someone’s description of being transformed, I remember they are desperately trying to find a voice – albeit beyond words – to explain a reality that has transformed them.
I try not to get get too hung up on words. My words are of my Ego, which is warped, self-serving, and holds on to its perception of reality as Ultimate Truth. It disallows me to recognize someone else’s Truth. It keeps me believing I am separate or unique.
This whole discussion also reminds me of the adage: “I don’t have to believe everything I think.”
Thanks for listening and, as always, it's okay to forward or share this, if you choose.
#3 – December 2011

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Living IN the world without being OF the world

Several weeks ago I ended my weekly message (Penn State, The Church, and my Ego – Part 2) with the following:
In short, what I learned is the critical importance of always trying to use 2 little words: "…for me." I came to understand that my thoughts of "right, normal, accepted, and Christian" were influenced more by my cultural/racial/educational/economic sense of identity than by dogma or some form of religiosity. I found if I could simply add the prepositional phrase "for me" to the end of most sentences, truth would begin to penetrate all the way to my True Self.  For example, rather than saying, "The Bible is the source of truth in spiritual issues," I began saying the Bible is my source of truth in spiritual issues because that makes sense for me."
Those 2 little words, “for me,” began opening the door for me to accept someone else's different perception of the rightness of things – cultural or spiritual – as being just as valid for them as my perception was for me.
That was the beginning of my spiritual journey. That's how it all started for me.
By adding the words “for me” or “to me” (depending on the context) I began to be more open to significant spiritual realities. I didn’t understand most of this while it was occurring to/in me. What I’m writing right now is from the benefit of almost 25 years of hindsight. However, when I am open to accept someone else’s different perception of the world and what is good, moral, and right, little miracles of spiritual reality begin to “pop” in my consciousness. During these little moments, time seems to stop, my worries fade into nothingness, my concentration isn’t distracted by random thoughts from my monkey mind, my focus is in the immediate Now. When I’m there, I am at peace. For a brief moment all the pieces of life’s seeming puzzle fit together and I am content. The Course in Miracles refers to these small moments as a “Holy Instant.”
All this, in effect, was what I was describing in last week’s message about my clump of creek muck.
[Some of you may not have seen all of my earlier messages. If you choose, you can go to my message archive to retrieve earlier messages. [ ] Simply click on Blog Archive.]
I heard a recent report on NPR about the use of mice in laboratories all over the world. My first thought: Who would have ever thought to do a study about this? Who cares? Then the gentleman proceeded to explain that it really does have an impact on the process of scientific exploration. If every lab in the world uses only mice, then the results of experimental drugs can be skewed. This made sense and it made me think: Don't we have to pay attention to this 3-dimensional world? The world of scientific discovery and validation? The world of our ego-perceptions? The world of power, prestige, money, wealth, and winning? Isn't it important?
How do we pay attention and maintain our focus on the cornerstone of our spiritual journey – that we are not humans with a spirit, but are loved, eternal spirits currently having a human experience?
Good questions. Really, really good questions.  Part of me right now simply wants to write: “If you have the answer, write me. I'll post it.” [LOL]
Think of a spectrum or scale. Living In the World is on the left side and Not Being Of the World is on the right side.
Where I try to draw the line between living in the world and not being of the world is a personal distinction I make for me. I must make that distinction constantly. My “distinction” will be different for you. It is different for my wife than for me. The line we draw as a couple is different from our individual lines and from other couples.
However, for me, the key issue is: The line is always moving.
A good indicator for me that my “line” needs adjusting is the reality of my serenity. My serenity is upset by my attachments – attachments to people, issues, expectations, ideas, or objects. The stronger my attachments the more my “line” moves toward the In-The-World end of the spectrum. The less serenity I feel, the more I know I am being buffeted by my Ego thought system. I will desperately try to fix the blame for my lack of serenity on people or events “out there” somewhere. But I know it’s all in how I am perceiving this world of mine. The more I perceive my Self as a human having a soul the more prone I am to a lack of serenity – the more fragile I am. The more I perceive my Self to be an already loved eternal spirit currently having a human experience, the more solid and dependable is my serenity.
I wish I could tell you my line never moves and that I have it all figured out and that I spend each day tip-toeing through the tulips as happy as can be. Alas, that ain’t the way it is! There are some days my line needs to be redrawn hourly. But there are more and more days where my line and me are on the same page and my serenity is palpable. Obviously, I like those days best – like the day when I really connected to my clump of creek muck [The Unity of Life – 12-04-2011].
Thanks for listening and, as always, it's okay to forward or share this, if you choose.
#2 – December 2011

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Unity of Life

Not too long ago I was out cleaning up the wet-weather creek that flows from the Catoosa Wildlife Management Area through our property. Our lots back up to this 80,000-acre preserve owned by the State of Tennessee. I was cleaning out sticks, wild water grasses and weeds. As I would pull a clump of vegetation the roots, all mired in creek muck, contained all sorts of bugs, beetles, and other tiny critters. Each clump of muck was its own little universe. It was a remarkable moment, as I tried to imagine life in that clump of muck from the perspective of the inhabitants.

In a short while I knew the muck would dry, the critters would either die or scatter, and the water vegetation would die. One day the creek muck is alive as its own little world and the next it is apparently dead. What happened? What's missing? What the heck is Life, anyway?

The Native American Indians – and, as far as I know, many other indigenous cultures e.g., Amazonian, Alaskan Inuit, Polynesian – have had an intrinsic reverence for this thing called Life. Attributed to their Great Spirit, Life was Life – whether in stones, deer, themselves, frogs, birds, plants, rain, or snow. Life was a mystery and was revered. Not some of life was revered some of the time. All life all the time. There was no hierarchy in Life. Human life was not more valuable than animal or plant life. Life was Life. It was a mystery. It was honored.

The Indians didn't consider their form of Life to be superior to another. They had no more right to be alive than a stone or a maize (corn) plant. This was not an intellectual deduction from repeated observations. This was embedded in their hunting, defending, family life, crafting, ceremonies. In short, it was their culture; it was who they were. They were at one with their world. Just a piece. Not superior. Not a user. Simply an interactive part of the whole system of Life.  They didn't see God's creation as something beneath them to be used. They simply saw themselves as one part of God's creation.

They were not above the environment; they were not users of the environment; they were an integral part of the environment. As I was sensing this unity I felt very, very peaceful and content. It was a ONEderful moment.

It's difficult for me to see this unity if I am not living in the Now. If I am obsessing on the future [I remember an AA definition of fear: Future Events Appearing Real] or if I am reliving a positive or negative past event, then my monkey mind is concentrating on my own self-created non-events. I will not notice those miniature revelations of the unity of life embedded in a universe of creek muck.

The following quote is from the novel, Crescent by Diana Abu-Jaber, W.W. Norton & Company, 2003:

“Sirine is almost asleep as [her uncle] tells a story. ‘Not everyone knows this, but in addition to the real mountains there are purplish ghostly mountains that sleep behind them. And you should never look too closely for too long at just about anything unless you’re willing to let yourself perceive this other world, the world behind the senses, the world not of things but of immutable, unknowing being.’”

When I’m focused on the Now, I am open to the “…world not of things but of immutable, unknowing being.” I know that I’m very peaceful there. Maybe this is the Peace that passes all understanding – the peace that comes from experiencing “…the world behind the senses.” Maybe this is where we encounter and experience the Kingdom of Heaven, which is in you and all around you. (cf. Luke 17:20-21 (where the Greek can also be translated “…the kingdom of God is within you.”); Gospel of Thomas 3, 113).

Regardless, I find it amazing that somewhere deep inside me I found a calm, a peace, a serenity from an inside-me identity with a small clump of wet-weather creek muck.

Thanks for listening and, as always, it's okay to forward this, if you choose.


#1 – December 2011