Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Most Important Gift

The idea for today’s post is excerpted from an article by The Miracle Distribution Center, Anaheim, CA, a wonderful organization supporting A Course in Miracles.
“Many of the old Christmas-time movies have wonderful spiritual messages to them. One of our all time favorites is It’s a Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart, but The Bishop’s Wife is another holiday gem. It stars Cary Grant as an angel named Dudley and David Niven as the Bishop. As the plot plays out, the Bishop thinks Dudley is there to help him with his all-consuming task of raising money so that an edifice to God can be built in the form of a new cathedral. But Dudley is really there because of the Bishop’s prayer for help — and real help is what the angel offers!
“We want to offer a little of the “good feeling” from this movie by sharing the poignant Christmas Eve message that the transformed Bishop delivers. We hope you enjoy this reminder of the true message of Christmas. …
Tonight I want to tell you the story of an empty stocking. Once upon a midnight clear there was a child’s cry. A blazing star hung over a stable and wise men came with birthday gifts.
“We haven’t forgotten that night down the centuries. We celebrate it with stars on Christmas trees, with the sound of bells, and with gifts, especially with gifts. You give me a book. I give you a tie. Aunt Martha has always wanted an orange squeezer, and Uncle Henry could do with a new pipe.
“Oh, we forget nobody… adult or child. All the stockings are filled. All that is, except one. And we have even forgotten to hang it up. A stocking for the child born in a manger. It’s his birthday we are celebrating. Don’t let us ever forget that. Let us ask ourselves what he would wish for most and then let each put in his share: loving kindness, warm hearts, and the stretched out hand of tolerance. All the shining gifts that make peace on earth.
These are such beautiful thoughts – Loving kindness, Warm hearts, and the Stretched out hand of tolerance - the shining gifts that make for peace on earth. Why can’t I enjoy these thoughts all the time?
Because I choose not to, that’s why. Huh? Yep! I choose not to enjoy these thoughts of happiness and bliss and helpfulness. I choose to concentrate my thoughts on my perceived problems of the day, the perceived problems I think are facing the world, the perceived problems I think my neighbors must be having, the perceived problems I think my spouse, family or friends must be facing.
Key word? Perceiving!
Lesson 346 of A Course in Miracles (ACIM) states: “Today the peace of God envelops me and I forget all things except His Love.” The lesson consists of a very beautiful prayer that resonates with this Christmas message from The Bishop’s Wife.
1. Father, I wake today with miracles correcting my perception of all things. And so begins the day I share with You, as I will share eternity, for time has stepped aside today. I do not seek the things of time, and so I will not look upon them. What I seek today transcends all laws of time and things perceived in time. I would forget all things except Your Love. I would abide in You, and know no laws except Your law of love. And I would find the peace which You created for Your Son, forgetting all the foolish toys I made as I behold Your glory and my own.
2. And when the evening comes today, we will remember nothing but the peace of God. For we will learn today what peace is ours, when we forget all things except God's Love.
As Alan Watson writes [A Workbook Companion, Volume II, Circle Publishing, 2006. P. 624]: “… I know there is a part of me that resonates in perfect harmony with this lesson, but there is also another part that stands off cynically and says to me, ‘Forget all things except His Love? Hah! More likely you will remember everything except His Love. How long will this high-falutin’ attitude last after you walk out the door?’ And, if this is so, why bother with the lesson at all?”
Unfortunately, that describes me most of the time. But there are instances where I really feel that sense of unity and calm. Watson goes on to say: “…So, as we read this lesson now, let us simply suspend our disbelief for just an instant, and let these words be true for us. Let us believe that what we say represents our true Self, for it does. Let us be in the spirit of these words.”
“Each little gift you offer to your brother lights up the world.” (ACIM, T-22.VI.9:9) Loving kindness, Warm hearts, and the Stretched out hand of tolerance the shining gifts that make for peace on earth.
This is my Christmas message to each of you. We will be leaving for Portland Oregon shortly to spend the holiday with my daughter’s family. I will resume after the New Year.
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.
#3 December, 2013

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Saturday, December 7, 2013

Consumerism and Spirituality

These are some very interesting Buddhist concepts to ponder this holiday season. This is a portion of an interview by John Elder of Stephanie Kaza. It was sent to me by a friend. I found these thoughts very helpful.
A student of Zen for over thirty years, Stephanie Kaza has been … a professor [since 1991] in the Environmental Program at the University of Vermont. Buddhist environmental thought and the role of activism in social change have been central both to her teaching there and to her writing…. Her most recent book, “Hooked! Buddhist Writings on Greed, Desire, and the Urge to Consume” (2005), is an anthology of provocative essays from dharma teachers and writers that explore Buddhist tools for engaging the challenges of modern consumerism.
I spoke with Kaza last January over tea in my living room in Bristol, Vermont.—JOHN ELDER
How would you define consumerism? In a practical sense, consumerism is a belief system and culture that promotes consuming as the path to self- and social improvement. It’s a complete political and economic ideology, sponsored by sophisticated marketing techniques that generate significant profits while stripping the earth of resources. As a dominant cultural force, consumerism offers products to address every dissatisfaction, while actually creating social conditions that undermine equity and environmental stability….
And do you view this as a new ideology, above and beyond the impulse to buy, sell, and trade goods that has always existed in human society? I won’t say it’s new, it’s just more exaggerated now. It’s much more sophisticated, more technological, more effective, more codified. And it’s much more accepted as an established way of doing business. So that now elections, for example, have a lot of the hallmarks of the consumer society, as evidenced by how candidates sell themselves through sound bytes and advertising. Military recruiting is about selling the army to young men. A lot of fairly complicated ethical dilemmas—public dilemmas that could be discussed in public forums—have been boiled down to what seem like competing consumer products.
If consumerism is indeed on the rise, why is that? Did consumerism as an ideology increase along with the rise of capitalism? For one thing, extraction and production technologies have become extremely efficient at harvesting resources and generating material goods. In early history, most people did not have disposable income. There was not an option to go and buy luxury goods. You were happy if you got some salt and butter, or something like that. But with the acceleration of communication and transportation in the twentieth century, even a small amount of discretionary income could then be spent on things like TVs, autos, trinkets—goods that reduce our discomfort in life, and that are attractive and entertaining. So the scale of consumption, and its acceleration, is more rapid in the last quarter century than any other time before….
How has the increase in consumerism affected the human psyche or consciousness? Kalle Lasn, the author of a book called Culture Jam, speaks of “microjolts of commercial pollution” that flood our brains—about three thousand marketing messages per day. This has a tremendous impact on our consciousness. It’s a mass cultural experiment that may have penetrating effects we can barely imagine. One of the biggest impacts is the widespread disease of greed, status envy, overstimulation, and dissatisfaction. Children are especially vulnerable to brainwashing from commercials. We find them developing a sense of identity based on brands before they can barely read. The Buddhist writer and scholar David Loy suggests that the drive to consume has displaced the psychic space once filled by religion, family, and community. More time spent on personal lifestyle pleasures tends to mean less time spent in civic engagement and public life….
So what unique insights does Buddhism have to offer in critiquing and countering consumerism? … I suggest three fundamental Buddhist critiques…. The first focuses on the process of personal-identity formation. The usual idea of self is seen as a significant delusion in Buddhist thought, yet consumers are constantly urged to build a sense of self around what they buy. Consumer goods become symbols of status, political or religious views, social group, and sexuality—all of which solidify a sense of self….
What are the other two? The second leg of the Buddhist critique of consumerism is that consumerism promotes and condones harming. The foundational principle behind all Buddhist ethics is non-harming or ahimsa, expressed in the first precept as “Do not kill” or “Do no harm.” While consumer goods manufacturers may not intend to cause harm, the extraction and production processes often leave death and injury in their wake—clear-cutting forests, polluting waterways, abusing workers. Producers justify tremendous harm to many forms of life to meet the bottom line of profit and gain.
But any time we consume anything we are harming to a certain extent. We eat animals and plants, cut down trees, mine ore. Does that mean that consuming anything is problematic? Or are we again just talking about a matter of scale? It’s the conundrum of the precepts: A human being cannot survive without causing harm. But you try to cause as little as possible. If your bodhisattva vows are to reduce suffering, then you don’t want to cause excess suffering.
And the third aspect? The third aspect of the Buddhist critique is that consumerism promotes desire and dissatisfaction, the very source of suffering, as explained in the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths. The state of dissatisfaction—clinging, craving, impulse, thirst, attachment, compulsion—is the very opposite of contentment and equanimity. Marketers stimulate desire and dissatisfaction very effectively, offering a plethora of products to relieve almost every form of human suffering. What is unique about the Buddhist approach is that it goes to the very root of the urge for more, the desire, the hook that keeps us constantly searching for what will relieve our dissatisfaction.
What kinds of changes do you suggest that people make in their consuming habits? I did not want this book to be prescriptive. I didn't want people to seize on some standard that any of the authors put out there as the only standard. Because I don't think that's skillful means. I think it's much more skillful just to enter the struggle. Don't just adopt some easy thing like "I'll be a vegetarian," because then you won't look at the source of your plant food. And you won't really think about the ecological impact of shipping your mangoes, say, from South America so you can enjoy them in Seattle. So if there's one recommendation that's consistent throughout the whole book, it's "investigate, go deeper, ask questions about every single thing you consume."
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.
#2 December, 2013

Copyright, 2013

Saturday, November 30, 2013

I am Sorry. Please Forgive Me. I Love You. Thank You

I received the following question several weeks ago, and I read something this week that supplied me with an answer. The question?  What is a reasonable thing I can do to change the hate and fear we find ourselves in? Besides trying to pray for things to get better? I mean conservative politicians scare me to death. I don’t trust big companies anymore. People still are saying rotten things to me or giving me dirty looks when they see my 5-year old Obama sticker on my car. Some still flip me the finger when I’m driving. Praying doesn’t seem to be enough, but I can’t think of much else to do.
This is the kind of question I believe is very common to all of us who are on a spiritual journey.
I was reminded earlier this week, reading a missive from Suzanne Ward, about the practice of ho’oponopono. It’s a Hawaiian mantra that means, “I am sorry. Please forgive me. I love you. Thank you.” It was explained to us that we are all connected and this is how we are to respond to all life and all life’s situations. We were told to do this when we picked up some trash along our street or in the parking lot or while we try to accept an angry person or aggravating situation. I hadn’t thought about it for a while. I think it’s an appropriate suggestion for all of us. It is also very similar to the concept of gratitude from A Course in Miracles (ACIM) that was in my special Thanksgiving message: sincere gratitude is based on the realization of the connectedness of all things.
I first heard of ho’oponopono from a friend in St. Augustine during an “Intender’s” meeting. We would meet once a week to state our intentions. [] We would go around in a circle and, when it was our turn, we would state our gratitudes and then our intentions. We wouldn’t say, “I intend that I will start exercising.” Rather, “I intend I am exercising.” We would say this with the positive emotion we would feel from accomplishing an exercise regimen. We state our intentions in the PRESENT and with the accompanying emotions. At our intenders meeting we practiced ho’oponopono as well. “I am sorry. Please forgive me. I love you. Thank you.” It added so much to my statement of gratitude as well as to the quality of my weekly intentions.
I remember when we were selling our house in St Augustine in order to move to East Tennessee. We had no buyers or prospects. Real Estate was slow. We were in the middle of the housing bust. I had been intending for our house to sell. As we had visited the area where we wanted to move, almost all the homes had outdoor decks off the kitchen or family room. It was January and cold. I began intending I was walking out on my deck in chilly weather to have my morning coffee and smoke my pipe. I could feel the cold and see my breath in the chilly air. That became my intention: I intend to have my morning coffee in Tennessee while it is still cold enough to see my breath. Three weeks later our house sold. We moved into our new house in East Tennessee in the middle of March, while the temperature was still low enough to see my breath as I sipped my morning coffee. Intentions. Ho’oponopono. It works.
From Suzanne Ward’s Message From Matthew just last week (11/24/2013): []
“… In previous messages we have said that everything in existence is energy. We have spoken about the power of thoughts, feelings, and written and spoken words, and we have stressed how crucial it is to focus on what you want, not on what you don’t want. Also, we have explained why forgiveness and gratitude are so important. Evidence of these universal truths is in the ancient practice of ho’oponopono, which ties them all together into an ‘elixir’ of divine grace’ you might say.
“The accomplishment of Dr. Hew Len, formerly a psychologist at a hospital for the criminally insane in Hawaii, is a stunning example of ho’oponopono’s efficacy. Instead of seeing patients during the couple of years he was there, he stayed in his office, sometimes looking at their files, and repeating over and over and over “I’m sorry.  Please forgive me.  I love you. Thank you.” By his accepting responsibility for the patients’ status—in essence, acknowledging the inseparable connection of all souls and that whatever one does affects all others—they started improving and continued until they were healed and released.
“This remarkable proof of the power of thoughts and feelings can be enlightening and inspiring to everyone. Sharing that story along with feeling grateful for our universal family’s diligence, assistance and unconditional love will speed the day when life in your world is peaceful and harmonious.”
Gratitude. The connectedness of all living things. Forgiveness. Ho’oponopono.
I trust you find this message helpful. “I am sorry. Please forgive me. I love you. Thank you.”  Do this while you are watching the news. Think of this and say it to yourself, while looking someone in the eye, as they are griping about the President. Do it and mean it. “I am sorry. Please forgive me. I love you. Thank you.”
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.
#1 December, 2013

Copyright, 2013

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Thanksgiving Message

Love Is The Way I Walk In Gratitude

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the United States. I could think of no better message than the Lesson on gratitude in A Course In Miracles (ACIM). This Lesson [195] tells me there are two kinds of gratitude. The first is an ego-based thankfulness, which often is simply veiled hostility. When I pray “Thank You, God, for You have blessed me with all this bounty…” am I really implying that those who don’t have the kind of bounty I have are not blessed, or not blessed as fully as I? The second is sincere gratitude for the connectedness of all living things. As Allen Watson says, “Today I am joyful that the gifts I have received belong to everyone. I am grateful for every living thing, every person I meet…. I recognize that if anyone is diminished, I am diminished, and I thank God that ‘…everything has earned the right to love by being loving,’ for all is part of my [True] Self.” [A Workbook Companion, Volume II, Circle Publishing, 2006, p. 63]
From ACIM, A Workbook for Students, Part II, Lesson 195:
“Gratitude is a lesson hard to learn for those who look upon the world amiss. The most that they can do is see themselves as better off than others. And they try to be content because another seems to suffer more than they. How pitiful and deprecating are such thoughts! For who has cause for thanks while others have less cause? And who could suffer less because he sees another suffer more? Your gratitude is due to Him alone Who made all cause of sorrow disappear throughout the world.
“It is insane to offer thanks because of suffering. But it is equally insane to fail in gratitude to One Who offers you the certain means whereby all pain is healed, and suffering replaced with laughter and with happiness. Nor could the even partly sane refuse to take the steps which He directs, and follow in the way He sets before them, to escape a prison that they thought contained no door to the deliverance they now perceive.
“Your brother is your ‘enemy’ because you see in him the rival for your peace; a plunderer who takes his joy from you, and leaves you nothing but a black despair so bitter and relentless that there is no hope remaining. Now is vengeance all there is to wish for. Now can you but try to bring him down to lie in death with you, as useless as yourself; as little left within his grasping fingers as in yours.
“You do not offer God your gratitude because your brother is more slave than you, nor could you sanely be enraged if he seems freer. Love makes no comparisons. And gratitude can only be sincere if it be joined to love. We offer thanks to God our Father that in us all things will find their freedom. It will never be that some are loosed while others still are bound. For who can bargain in the name of love?
“Therefore give thanks, but in sincerity. And let your gratitude make room for all who will escape with you; the sick, the weak, the needy and afraid, and those who mourn a seeming loss or feel apparent pain, who suffer cold or hunger, or who walk the way of hatred and the path of death. All these go with you. Let us not compare ourselves with them, for thus we split them off from our awareness of the unity we share with them, as they must share with us.
“We thank our Father for one thing alone; that we are separate from no living thing, and therefore one with Him. And we rejoice that no exceptions ever can be made which would reduce our wholeness, nor impair or change our function to complete the One Who is Himself completion. We give thanks for every living thing, for otherwise we offer thanks for nothing, and we fail to recognize the gifts of God to us.
Then let our brothers lean their tired heads against our shoulders as they rest a while. We offer thanks for them. For if we can direct them to the peace that we would find, the way is opening at last to us. An ancient door is swinging free again; a long forgotten Word re-echoes in our memory, and gathers clarity, as we are willing once again to hear.
“Walk, then, in gratitude the way of love. For hatred is forgotten when we lay comparisons aside. What more remains as obstacles to peace? The fear of God is now undone at last, and we forgive without comparing. Thus we cannot choose to overlook some things, and yet retain some other things still locked away as ‘sins.’ When your forgiveness is complete you will have total gratitude, for you will see that everything has earned the right to love by being loving, even as your Self.
“Today we learn to think of gratitude in place of anger, malice and revenge. We have been given everything. If we refuse to recognize it, we are not entitled therefore to our bitterness, and to a self-perception which regards us in a place of merciless pursuit, where we are badgered ceaselessly, and pushed about without a thought or care for us or for our future. Gratitude becomes the single thought we substitute for these insane perceptions. God has cared for us, and calls us Son. Can there be more than this?
“Our gratitude will pave the way to Him, and shorten our learning time by more than you could ever dream of. Gratitude goes hand in hand with love, and where one is the other must be found. For gratitude is but an aspect of the Love, which is the Source of all creation. God gives thanks to you, His Son, for being what you are: His Own completion and the Source of love, along with Him. Your gratitude to Him is one with His to you. For love can walk no road except the way of gratitude, and thus we go who walk the way to God.”  [The Workbook for Students, Lesson 195]
Happy Thanksgiving!
#5 November, 2013

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