Progress – The Reason for Being

“Whatever you think the world is withholding from you,
you are withholding from the world.”

~ Eckhart Tolle


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What can assist us along our journey of awakening? Everything the world gives us… plus everything we give the world.

“It is better to give than to receive” is a well-known phrase attributed to Jesus and it champions the natural generosity of spirit. If we want a tangible example, just look in the sky. The sun gives its light and warmth regardless of anything it receives. Another Biblical quote says that the “rain falls on the just and the unjust alike.” It’s comical to imagine these forces of nature negotiating!

What’s being illuminated is no-strings-attached kind of giving, giving without thought of reward. Most of us have experienced how enjoyable this is. In fact, it’s said that if you are feeling badly, the best way to make yourself feel better is to help someone else.

In fact, human beings are designed to give and receive freely. We all know it, we have memories of those kinds of exchanges, where our motivation was simply to share. Exchanges that involve money and things often engage other motivations, like greed and fear. A sentiment creeps in: “How can I get the most for myself while spending the least?” Everyone likes a deal.

In these last few blogs we’ve been exploring themes related to the direct experience of spirit in our lives. We can avoid the debate about what to call “it” and focus on the experience. What helps and what interferes with our growing experience of spirit?

A primary obstacle is our belief that spirit is disconnected from form, that “this is not it.” It’s easy to take issue with what’s going on right now, imagining that something is wrong and wishing things were different, wishing they were more “spiritual.” On that basis, we distance ourselves from the unconditional giving and receiving that reconnects us with the natural way of life.

A stream does not complain when a hiker walking by shifts a few rocks. It flows around or over them. Imagine the stream saying: “I preferred the way those rocks were before… I was flowing perfectly. I wish it was the way it was before. In fact, I refuse to flow now. Until that thoughtless person rearranges the rocks exactly as they were… I quit!”

Similarly, imagine the sun refusing to shine because it’s cloudy. “Forget it. I’m not shining when no-one can see me. I’ll wait until those clouds dissipate.”

Withholding love as a kind of punishment is often used to motivate people, a kind of emotional blackmail. Of course, we do it to ourselves as well. In a prior blog we considered the quality of our thoughts. That inner critic has a lot to say about how inadequate we are. We withhold love from ourselves for any number of reasons but, again, it all comes down to one primary judgement: “This is not it.” What I said or did, what she said or did, what they are doing… it doesn’t match personal judgments about merit.

What if we were to reverse our position and assume that whatever is happening is happening for good reason? That nothing of value is ever being withheld from us and that there is never any reason to withhold love from ourselves and others?

This describes unconditional love, which includes both giving and receiving. Love flows both ways. So, we might take a moment to examine our personal habits around this. How able are we to welcome the gifts of the moment – the warmth of the sun (seen or unseen), the rain as it falls, circumstances complete with challenges, people who do and say things we disagree with – and how able are we to give back freely, unconditionally?

Seeking enlightenment is a high path but where does that path exist? Have we conceptualized it as some kind of inner journey best aided by meditation and peak spiritual experiences? If so, we’re probably excluding 95% or more of the possibilities for making true spiritual progress. Or does it exist in the real world where we live, complete with daily details?

What if we re-framed this journey as a deepening of capacity to appreciate (and to freely give and receive) the gifts of the world? Imagine calibrating our fulfillment, neither in terms of what we’ve acquired nor the inner state we attain? How about a spirituality that included everything and everyone 24/7, that made no distinctions between what had value and what didn’t?

As Eckhart Tolle said in the opening quote, “Whatever you think the world is withholding from you, you are withholding from the world.” How the world changes when we take this piece of wisdom personally and commit to giving and receiving unconditionally. Suddenly, this is it! All of it.

Ironically, that’s the destination we’ve always aimed for, what some call enlightenment. Could it really be this simple?


American Indian

Progress – Why is the Still Small Voice Still Small?

“Then a Voice said: “Behold this day, for it is yours to make.”

~ Black Elk, Oglala Lakota (Sioux) Medicine Man


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History abounds with stories from those who have heard voices guiding them in life. Many of us can tell our own modest tales. What does this phenomenon mean?

In the Biblical story of Elijah besting the prophets of Baal in a dramatic contest, God speaks to Elijah afterwards in a “still small voice.” A scriptural website explains: “The point of God speaking in the still small voice was to show Elijah that the work of God need not always be accompanied by dramatic revelation or manifestations.” 1

While we’d all probably love to hear heavenly pronouncements regularly and receive wisdom to direct our lives, most often we’re given advice like, “turn off the oven before you leave,” or “I-5 is probably jammed right now; exit here to take the 405.”

In terms of our progress along the path of awakening, these intuitive messages are worth respecting. They may not be dramatic but they are imminently practical. We can all attest to the value of listening and, at least as often, to the damage that occurs when we ignore those directives or never even hear them in the first place.

There’s another reason that voice, however it may manifest for each of us personally, remains small: we’re barely paying attention. The world is noisy and insistent voices assail us from every direction on multiple frequencies, 24/7, so that voice can easily get lost in the midst.

Here is the primary reason why regular meditation is so essential for any genuine seeker. What we seek is what we find when the noise fades, when thoughts flee, and when we are left with a deepening awareness of awareness itself. In that exquisite silence, Spirit speaks.

We can pay attention, not just in meditation but throughout the day. While most people claim extreme busyness here in the 21st century, when we examine the content of an average day, it’s likely we will discover countless interludes.

Our lives are not really the non-stop action dramas we may think they are. In fact, we often find ourselves waiting. We wait for software to load, for red lights to turn green, for lunch to arrive. The tendency is to automatically fill those available moments with more busyness, the favorite tactic being to play with our Smart Phones.

Apparently about half of us check our phones every five to ten minutes. More than 1 in 10 GenExers admit that they probably couldn’t last an hour without their phones and 16% of Americans take their phones to bed with them. 2

We are addicted to the connection we make via technology with a world beyond our senses and intuition. As we become more and more tuned in to that virtual world, we lose touch with both the material realm and the domain of spirit.

Still, that small voice speaks. And we make our own choices as to what we listen to. We could decide to not automatically fill those spaces with texting or surfing or any of the countless other activities that drown out the subtler messages that are also being broadcast moment by moment.


Indian Girl


Black Elk, the Sioux Medicine Man I quoted at the beginning of this blog, advised: “Perhaps you have noticed that even in the slightest breeze you can hear the voice of the cottonwood tree; this we understand is its prayer to the Great Spirit, for not only men, but all things and all beings pray to Him continually in different ways.”

This comment illuminates another possibility: what we “hear” may be more than the “voice of God,” if we were to phrase it that way. Perhaps we are hearing the prayers of all living things. Perhaps there’s a conversation in progress, all the time, one that we can participate in.

It’s interesting to consider that our consciousness may be alive with another level of communication entirely, beyond FaceBook and YouTube and Instagram and beyond even our own incessant thinking. The term “innernet” has been used to describe this invisible domain and some have even suggested that the Internet is meant to provide training wheels, helpful to develop our own inherent extraordinary perception, an aspect of what I call E.S.P. (Elementary Spiritual Powers) so that, eventually, we can progress beyond the technology..

If you can recall dining with friends in a noisy restaurant you’ll remember how your hearing improved when you focused your listening. That’s also a good technique for improving our ability to hear this still small voice.

We can pay attention where it counts and progress our ability to tune in and remain intimately connected with this inner world, while engaging in the material world to make of each day what we choose.



sprout between hands

Progress – Choosing Our Thoughts

“There are two types of seeds in the mind: those that create anger,
fear, frustration, jealousy, hatred and those that create love, compassion,
equanimity and joy. Spirituality is germination and sprouting of
the second group and transforming the first group.”

~ Amrit Ray


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We can choose our thoughts, just as we choose what channel to select on the remote control for our television.

In one of my recent books I told the story of a disciple asking his master how long it would take him to reach enlightenment if he meditated two hours every day.

“Five years,” his teacher replied.

“And if I meditated four hours every day?” pressed the eager student.

His master chuckled and replied, “In that case it would take you twenty years.”

Spiritual progress does not accelerate with extra effort. You can’t strive to let go! Instead, you can relax from the deeply ingrained habit of efforting, you can unlearn and deprogram… ultimately, you can shift to an entirely different operating system.

The old OS equates work over time with results. More work plus more time, equals more results. The new OS is not linear. More is not necessarily better. What matters is quality, not quantity.

As Amrit Ray wrote in the opening quote, we do have different kinds of seed thoughts and what we choose to focus on will grow. Seeds, of course, always become what they inherently are. A carrot seed has never become a watermelon! And a hateful thought cannot be changed into a loving one. It’s a choice: think the hateful thought or think a loving one.

Our thoughts do influence our progress, if we want to call it that. They also influence other people. In his book, The Shape of Thought,” H. Clark Barrett writes: “Investors’ beliefs about the state of the economy influence stock prices, which in turn, influence others’ beliefs, goals, and behaviors.” 1

They say that birds of a feather flock together (and fools seldom differ!). Our thoughts birth the words and behaviors that attract/repel others. In this way, all of us create a personal world of relationships based on which thought seeds we nurture. We end up with our own mutual support network.

There are pivotal moments in every life where a person takes stock and realizes some sort of deep change is necessary. This could be, and often is, stimulated by an emergency, like a dire health diagnosis or an ultimatum from a partner: “Change that behavior or else!” Confronted with an urgent crisis like this, we often try to change that behavior in order to get different results.

It seems to make sense and this is known as first order change. It can work, temporarily. But there’s a more effective long-term strategy, known as second order change which focuses on shifting our mind set. Athletes know very well that changing their mindset is what changes behavior to develop improved results. “Fake it ‘til you make it” is a popular success strategy.

This works in many aspects of life but not relative to our spiritual life. We can’t fake experiencing the truth of ourselves! We can choose which thoughts to entertain. And, like seeds, they grow… if they are nurtured by our attention.

The most effective mindset for making progress in the truly important aspects of our lives – experiencing meaning, growing loving relationships, etc. – is to embrace our inherent worthiness. Self-esteem problems routinely sabotage even the most concerted efforts to grow and change.

But self-esteem issues can’t be solved with proclamations to the contrary. For instance, manipulating thoughts into affirmations like “I am worthy, who I am is perfect,” is a mental imposition based on judgment. Who would repeat such words to themselves? Certainly not someone with high self-esteem! Likewise, trying to solve financial problems by repeating words like, “I am wealthy; money is pouring in from the universe,” is not a strategy a wealthy person would adopt!

Toiling in the jungle of ego ambition is futile and it’s the virtual opposite of what we’re discussing relative to choosing our thoughts. No, we choose from those thoughts that present themselves, understanding that we are not required to manufacture thoughts but rather to select from the momentary thought menu, just as we choose where we go, what we do, and who we engage as friends.

Our thoughts are emerging, not just because of influences from the physical environment that our senses detect but also in response to our inner connection with Source, in relationship to our own unfolding destiny.

The Bible refers to “the still, small voice.” In this series of blogs we will explore how to culture that inner knowing in order to change our thoughts at that deep level and generate real progress in life.

1. The Shape of Thought: How Mental Adaptations Evolve (Evolution and Cognition) by H. Clark Barrett, page 128