Sunday, September 29, 2013

My Ego, Original Sin, and Me

I received the following message from a subscriber after last week’s post (Msg-3-Sep-2013, “My Sense of Attachment/Possessiveness Kills My Spiritual Growth”)
Good Morning Don! Good message! Something everyone can relate to - it is funny, when I read something like this, or feel the same, it seems my very unreligious mind … goes to ‘original sin?’  Is Original Sin really and very simply ‘Ego?’ We are all afflicted with it and it does seem to be very primeval…. We humans sure are a mess!”
These are very relevant questions for all of us. What is Original Sin? What is the Ego? Are the two one and the same? Why does “whatever-we-call-it” seem to afflict all of us – globally?
Before I make my comments I want to refresh some definitions. Each quote will be followed by an A, B, or DLO: A. From the Glossary of Path of Light by Robert Perry, Circle Publishing, 2004; B. From the Glossary of Terms from A Course in Miracles, Robert Perry, Circle Publishing, 2005; DLO. From my personal observations or formal theological training.
Ego – “The belief in being a separate self (‘I am me and you are not’) whose needs are met through attack (‘I am end and you are means’). This belief gives rise to our experience of being a separate entity bounded by a body. This experience is an illusion, since our true Identity is one with the All.” (A).
“The entire self you think you are, the ‘I’ you think you are. This self is false, was made by you, and is actually only a belief: The belief that you are a separate entity – a separate mind living within a separate body – that you have your own personal history and future, your own will and private thoughts, that you create yourself and sustain yourself. [Your ego sustains itself by convincing you to attack all other ‘egos’ to bring yourself pleasure, security and safety.] The ego, however, is merely an idea, and this has no effect on who you really are.” (B).
The Separation: “The event in which we apparently separated from God, which gave birth to …. form, time, space, and perception, and which the mind re-enacts in nearly every instant…. The separation began with the idea that we could make ourselves into separate beings who were both special in the eyes of their Creator and were [simultaneously] self-created. This produced what seemed to be a real event in which we tore ourselves out of God’s Mind, shattered Heaven into countless separate bodies and intervals of time, became isolated entities, and then made a world of separate individuals, forms, and moments. Yet the separation was merely a psychological event in which … we fell asleep to reality and dreamt of separation. In our dream this experience has lasted billions of years, but in reality it lasted only an instant…. The core message of the Course is that ‘the separation never occurred.’ T-6.II.10:7” (B)
Projection Makes Perception: “The Course’s theory of perception reverses the commonsense belief that our perception is caused [outside of us]. External objects seem to be sending information through our senses to our brains, seemingly causing our perception of them. Yet our perceptions are caused internally. Over time we build up beliefs about reality. These beliefs guide our attention, causing our eyes to search for those things that fit our pre-existing categories. Once we find these things, our beliefs guide our interpretation of them, and these interpretations are our perceptions. Our perceptions are thus projections of our beliefs, through the means of selective attention and subjective interpretation. As a result, what we see is simply a mirror or a reflection of our state of mind. “ (B)
[For example, fearful people see fearful things; loving people see acts of love; angry people see threats; accepting people see creative individuality, etc. We’ve all heard the old saw – change your thinking and what you’re thinking about changes.] (DLO)
This is why the whole world seems to reinforce our own perceptions of reality. For hundreds of thousands of years parents have taught us to be afraid of spiders, snakes, or people who look/act differently, to find rainbows beautiful and peaceful, to believe in Lack. We have all been conditioned to preconceived notions that guide our attention and, thus, our perceptions. Often this is referred to as “race consciousness” – “race” as in the human race: things all people of all cultures of virtually all historical eras seem to think. (DLO)
Mind and Split Mind: The mind is the aspect of the self that includes the faculties of awareness, volition, thought, and emotion. Mind is completely nonphysical and should not be confused with the physical brain. The Mind (capitalized) refers to The Mind of God or the Christ Mind.… In lowercase mind refers to the … split mind, the mind we currently use. This is the part of our total mind that has fallen asleep and dreams of a separate existence…. Yet its form – its appearance of being a separate mind with a separate will, private thoughts, and changing emotions – is the ego, an illusion that will disappear when we awaken. The Split Mind is a mind divided against itself, in which the more conscious half of the mind is walled off from its own true nature by denial, fear, and dissociation. This split, which is apparent but not real, is then projected outward and symbolized by a split between the mind and other minds…. The primary split is between the separated mind and its real identity as The Mind. The secondary split is within the separated mind – between the ego and the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Guide out of the split.” (B)
Sin: “The violation of the laws of God or goodness. An attack that attempts to do harm for the sake of selfish gain and that succeeds and results in real harm. [I am end and you are means.] Sin is an illusion, for no one can truly be harmed, since in truth we are all God’s changeless Son. What appears to be a sin is merely a mistake, which calls for help rather than punishment.” (A)
Original Sin: An idea that is simply a theological extrapolation of human minds.  The term “original sin” does not appear in the Bible. It came into being during the development of the early Church and its formation of theological doctrine and dogma – 200-400 C.E. (DLO)
Comments: My initial thoughts are that you, by asking these questions or making these observations, are beginning to feel some sort of disconnect or discomfort – in the general world around you and sometimes within yourself. This process tells me you are beginning to feel a general sense of disillusionment from the “reality” your ego has been presenting to you. Although disconcerting, this is a good thing! All that needs to happen is to acknowledge your willingness to want to see things differently. That’s the only opening the Holy Spirit needs to begin changing your perception, which will change your world.
Be aware, however, that your ego will fight your willingness to see things differently.
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.
#4 September, 2013
Copyright, 2013

Saturday, September 21, 2013

My Sense of Attachment/Possessiveness Kills My Spiritual Growth

A recent morning, waiting for the dew to burn off the grass so I could mow, I was watching all the activity on a blooming Sedum (or “Lives Forever” as my aunt calls them). I was fascinated because last year the blossoms were a dark, ruddy brown. This summer they are pink. Not only pink, but covered in all sorts of flying insects: bumble bees, honey bees, waspy-looking things, small bugs, larger bugs, and some really strange looking flying ants or flies. All were simply poking around for nectar or pollen and oblivious to what was going on around them. Their concentration reminded me of shoppers at special one-day bargain basement sale. Sort of.
The shoppers I’ve seen will elbow, grab, hide “finds” in other racks, and hoard items in their basket – not wanting to lose them – until they can be sure of a fit. In short, these bargain shoppers seem to operate on their unwavering belief in lack. Other shoppers therefore are viewed as potential “enemies” to be thwarted, stymied, and held-at-bay. Given their belief, their strategy is impeccable.
Unlike our shoppers, these Sedum-visiting insects would simply move over and around each other and keep on keepin’ on.  Yum. Yum. There was no sense of “This is mine!” “Keep away until I’m done.” “I want that – it’s meant for me!” “Look at that BBB (bloated bumble bee, in insect speak)! Why is she hoarding the whole bloom?  She’s never going to be able to fly away with all that pollen stuck to her. I hope a spider gets her. Harumph!”
I try not to think of Lack. Lack is simply another face of attachment or possessiveness. Abundance/Possessiveness/Lack is a facet of dualistic thinking, what my ego calls “reality:” good/bad; positive/negative; light/dark; holy/profane; win/lose; rich/poor; victor/victim; empowered/dependent; success/failure. Unfortunately, I find myself still thinking that way at times and it always disrupts my sense of Grace, which I define as “all is as it should be – right now – for me.
With my spiritual life disrupted, I begin to feel out-of-sorts. I find myself beginning to compare myself or my perceived situation to others or their situations. In AA-Speak: I compare my insides to another’s outsides. In ACIM-Speak: I attack others by judging them (which is all a “comparison” is) when all I’m really judging is myself. “To obtain [the rewards of my ego’s thought system] you are willing to attack the Divinity of your brothers, and thus lose sight of your own.” ACIM T-10: III.5.2.
This comparing process increases my out-of-sortness. Soon I’m beginning to feel a wee bit sorry for myself: “Why don’t I win the lottery? Someone has to. Why can’t it be me?” “If I could only be more like ____, I’d be much happier.” “If I only had ___, my life would be more complete.”
By the time I get to these kinds of places I’m generally miserable and down in the dumps. Then, I’ll start beating myself up: “Don, you know better, stop! Why’d you let your spiritual life get so out of whack? What’s the matter with you? Haven’t you learned anything?”
By now, in my journey to my spiritual backwoods, I’m a mess – a total, confused, self-absorbed mess. All because I began – once again – believing in lack and enjoying my self-pity pot.
So, what now? What do I do to get out of this and get back on my path? It’s rather simple, actually. Simple to say, that is. Not so simple for me to do.
I get through this by going through this. I get through this by remembering that my feelings of inadequacy or lack are just that – feelings. Feelings are indicators, not dictators. I do not have to do anything but acknowledge that I’m frustrated or bored or irritated at my apparent inability to move forward. Unfortunately, however, it always seems to take a 2x4 up against the side of my head to get my attention and force me to look honestly at what is happening inside me. Once that occurs, I can begin moving forward – being honest with myself, sharing my feelings with others (whether it’s in an AA meeting, an ACIM gathering, or sharing myself via in these messages). Being honest gets this “poison” out of my insides and into the open air where I can hear others laugh (with – not at me), acknowledge they have similar feelings, offer their experience, strength and hope. 
Rather than focusing on my perceived answers to my perceived problems – i.e., the lottery, being more like ___, obtaining a ­­­­ - I begin to focus on my frustration. I find I’m never frustrated at what I think I’m frustrated about. I’m frustrated because I’ve relinquished my life to my ego, which only knows frustration, conflict, anxiety, hurt, misery, etc. So, I just stop and acknowledge that. “OK. This is my “now” me: frustrated. Oh! Now this is my “now” me: angry. Aha! This is my “now” me: disappointed.” And I begin interjecting observational thoughts – “This is my “now” me: flitting from feeling to feeling.” Once out in the open, my feelings and spiritual paralysis begins quickly to dissipate, and a small sense of calm begins to grow.
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 September, 2013
Copyright, 2013

Saturday, September 14, 2013

How Do I Know I Know Grace?

I’ve had a lot of responses to my several messages about the tension between my personal growth, while on my solitary spiritual path, and living my life within combinations of group or pluralistic settings, which is where I personally receive my spiritual sustenance. Comments like:
  • ·      “Can’t I just go out and sit in the woods where I feel at one with Nature?”
  • ·      “I get this feeling of the Truth of the Spirit while I’m in church on Sunday – the services are always so uplifting.”
  • ·      Or my 98-year old aunt who went to a church where the only music was a cappella congregational singing: “It wasn’t a real church service, Donnie. There was no music. Church without music isn’t church.”

I think people are looking for a spiritual experience - positive, familiar, uplifting – and they associate those feelings with the concepts of Salvation and Grace.
Some things I just know. And I know I know. How? I just do. It’s the difference between the two Greek words for “know.” One is oida, as in Mary “knows” arithmetic. The other is ginosko (from which we get gnosis), as in Mary “knows” me.
Gnosis: It’s not a rational knowing. It’s a visceral knowledge. I know (oida) I’m trying to discuss what I cannot explain and it’s hard. I’m trying to put into words a Truth I have experienced and a Reality that has transformed me. But, for me, this Truth is the essence of Grace.
Many comments I received described how religious or church experiences are the “spiritual community” of choice. I truly understand where these subscribers are coming from and I am also very wary of the “emotions of apparent grace” that many were trying to describe: feelings of euphoria; feelings of confidence; assurance from their “knowing” (oida) the truth of the Pauline Gospel – Jesus died for me, I believe in Him as my Lord, I have nothing to fear for I am saved from eternal damnation.
Underneath this discussion is the tension between Love (Grace) and Fear (Egoistic Thinking).
Let me explain.
My experiences have led me to trust the quiet small-group-sense of grace I enjoy (at least most of the time). As I stated last week: The Holy Spirit touches me through the words of honest sharers within discussions of accepting groups– be they formal or informal. That’s where I come to grips with me. It is where I hear compassionate honesty. It is where I feel safe to share myself honestly. Hearing honesty and sharing honestly – I desperately need both.
Small groups. Honesty – sometimes rather brutal. Quiet. Non-Judgmental and Accepting. Safe enough for me to honestly reveal the real me. That is where I often experience Grace.
However, Grace is not some kind of intellectual knowledge that dispels fear.  That description of “grace” is dogma and its fear-dispensing quality is very temporary. Grace is not a temporary emotional euphoria. It is a quiet, confident knowing that “all is as it should be – right now for me.
There are groups that excel and thrive on their ability to create a manufactured emotional high. Two that often come to mind for me are pre-game pep rallies and political conventions. I think I could also make the same case for mega-church productions with 100-voice choirs and choreographed big-screen videos. The aim – produce an intense emotional response from the audience, and people get addicted to these short-term emotional highs. Watching these professional productions is like watching a Broadway production of Les Miserables – when it’s over, you’re ready to grab a pitchfork or musket and march forth into battle for freedom, truth and justice. It’s a truly wonderful, but very short-lived emotion.
This kind of manufactured emotional high does not dispel fear. It only temporarily covers it up with a flood of emotion.
But my experience has shown that’s not how spiritual growth really works. I may be mistaken, but I cannot recall any instance in the Bible where true growth or insight came from emotional, orchestrated, mass-produced tugs at our heart-strings. From Moses (alone on the mountain) to the prophets (alone in the wilderness), to John the Baptist (living alone in the wild eating locusts and honey), to Jesus (fighting his demons during his solitary 40-day fast) to Paul and his private “revelation” on the road to Damascus – all these were where the spirit of the Lord came to them. The only exceptions I can think of are Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem (on Palm Sunday) where the crowd’s euphoria lasted about 4 days before the fear of Roman authority took over and everyone dissolved into the shadows. Or the reputed experience of Pentecost as reported by Luke in the Book of Acts (Chapters 1-2) – a highly stylized and very dubious historical event, since virtually no other New Testament writer mentioned it.
Spiritual growth, Grace and Truth – all this comes to me where I hear compassionate honesty and where I feel safe enough for me to share myself honestly.
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 September, 2013
Copyright, 2013

Sunday, September 8, 2013

My Individualism Thrives Within The Plural

It’s good to be back home.
While I was out of town I received quite a few messages from subscribers about a previous post (Msg-4-July-2013: “The Life Of The Spirit Is Solitary, Although I Experience My Existence In The Plural”). It concerned the role of community vis-à-vis personal spiritual growth. While on our trip, serendipitously, I was also loaned a book called “The Case of the Missing Person: How Finding Jesus of Nazareth Can Transform Communities and Individuals Today,” R. Earle Rabb, Wipf & Stock, 2010.
In the book Rabb uncovers the message and mission of the historical Jesus during his short ministry. Rabb believes the data is “hidden in plain sight” in the Synoptic Gospels of the New Testament. Rabb also approaches this in a manner similar to a detective searching for a missing person. The real Jesus has been overlooked as a result of the dogma and theology developed by the apostle Paul who paid virtually no attention to the life and teachings of Jesus and whose point of view influenced so many of later NT authors. I also cover the virtual disregard Paul has for the person, mission, and teachings of Jesus in my book (How the Bible became the Bible, Chapters 7-8, From Jesus of Nazareth to the Christ of Faith – Parts 1&2, pp. 129-175).
While reading Rabb’s book I began to see my spiritual transformation, as a grateful member of Alcoholics Anonymous, exactly as Rabb describes the communal nature of the Kingdom of God – proclaimed, organized and encouraged by Jesus in the small villages throughout Galilee. I saw my experience with AA as an experience within the Kingdom of God (or the Beloved Community, as Rabb calls it). I had sensed, before studying ACIM, my experience in getting sober within AA was much more than just stopping my drinking. I couldn’t define it any more than that. Knowing about ACIM now, I can see that AA was a Holy Encounter or a Holy Instant as described by A Course in Miracles – the kind of Truth and Oneness that overwhelms and transforms.
I have often stated in these messages how my absolute acceptance by members in the AA fellowship totally, quickly, and permanently turned my life and perspectives upside down. I had never been so absolutely accepted in my life and it transformed me. Without the nurturing support of the Fellowship, I never would have gotten sober – never would have begun the journey that is, essentially, still developing a new me.
AA members did not simply give me a copy of The Big Book, tell me to go read, memorize and believe parts of it, do the suggested steps, and – voilà – my life would change. Had they done that nothing would have occurred. I would have been dead within six months. I was able to change because I became a willing and hungry member of the community. My personal journey, struggles, and decisions were all couched within the framework of this community of other recovering alcoholics.
Without the AA community I would have no spiritual life – nor physical life either. I simply wouldn’t have made it. But without my (and millions of others) visceral belongingness to the AA community there would be no community. At first glance, it seems to be a perfect example of mutual symbiosis. However, that’s not the case. The community ALWAYS takes precedence over the individual. Without AA I would have died. Without me AA would trundle along just fine. The same thing is true among Native American tribes. The singular cornerstone of life is the tribe, not the individual. Progeny depends not on parents but on the tribe. These tribal/communal/sharing communities of impoverished and disheartened Galileans were what Jesus of Nazareth created and fostered. A communal structure, grounded in the oldest of the Hebrew traditions and in the core traditions of Mosaic Law. Take care of the community and you take care of you and yours.
When I look at A Course in Miracles (ACIM) group – especially the one I attend – I find the same dynamic. I cannot read the ACIM book all by myself and derive the guidance I need to keep me on course. The Holy Spirit touches me through the words of honest sharers within the context of accepting group discussions – be they formal or informal. That’s where I come to grips with me. It is where I hear compassionate honesty. It is where I feel safe to share myself honestly. Hearing honesty and sharing honestly – I desperately need both.  That’s how my ideas are tempered, altered, morphed and tested until they become my reality – at least for this week. Sharing is not about hearing dogma explained. It is not about hearing or speaking the correct words: AA words; ACIM words; Bible words; Conservative words; Progressive words. I can certainly do that with the best of you. But, that’s the easiest way for me to hide myself from you and from me, which is deadly. That will kill my spiritual growth faster than any poison.
And, yes, that process is not always pretty.
My spiritual growth is mine. My behavior and actions are mine. I am responsible for me. I am an already-loved spirit currently having a human experience. But I exist and grow within the plural – a family, an AA home group, an ACIM group, progressive political groups, Tennessee, the USA. If I need an accepting, honest group that shares their real selves – through which my Higher Power seems to speak to me – then I need to be there and share honestly – in case your Higher Power needs me in order to speak to you. That’s my reality now. An individual within the plural.
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 September, 2013
Copyright, 2013