Posts

Breakthrough – Part Two

““Breakthrough artists always expand the very concept of freedom.”

~ Talismanist Giebra

Press play to hear an audio enhancement as you read.

 

One reason we admire breakthrough artists of every kind is because they remind us of our own inherent ability to escape self-imposed comfort zones, and one of the most addictive in self-improvement circles is the spiritual bypass.

We’ve all met workshop junkies. They stream from one peak experience event to another, soaring and crashing their way through life. Meanwhile, authentic masters tend to discount phenomena as distracting and champion consistency instead.

In The Leap: The Psychology of Spiritual Awakening, Dr. Steve Taylor identifies what he calls 18 unmistakable signs of spiritual awakening which provide a detailed expose of everyday life on the path. We’ll explore these in our next few blogs. Here’s his list:

1. Intensified Perception
2. Increased Presentness / Timelessness
3. Awareness of “Presence” or an All-Pervading Spiritual Energy
4. Aliveness, Harmony, and Connectedness
5. Inner Quietness
6. Transcendence of Separation / Sense of Connection
7. Empathy and Compassion
8. Well-Being
9. Absence of (or Decreased) Fear of Death
10. Lack of Group Identity
11. Wide Perspective: A Universal Outlook
12. Heightened Sense of Morality
13. Appreciation and Curiosity
14. Altruism and Engagement
15. Enjoyment of Inactivity: The Ability to “Be”
16. Beyond Accumulation and Attachment / Nonmaterialism
17. Autonomy: Living More Authentically
18. Enhanced, More Authentic Relationships



Taylor begins by describing Intensified Perception. “Spiritually awakened people see the world in a very childlike way — struck by the wonder, beauty, and intricacy of phenomena that other people take for granted and don’t pay much attention to. One of the signs of spiritual awakening is that the world is a brighter, more fascinating and beautiful place to them. In particular, they are captivated by nature — the amazing is-ness and beauty of the natural landscape, the sky, and the sea; the strangeness, complexity, and intricacy of animals, plants, and other phenomena.” 1

His nod to nature is noteworthy because one characteristic of those lost on the spiritual bypass is disconnection from the physical world. What’s imagined to be “spiritual” is often “mental,” that is, preoccupation with thoughts. For many, nature has become a mere backdrop for life, something incidental rather than important.

Those having an authentic spiritually awakened experience celebrate every dimension and understand that this earth plane may, in some ways, actually be the highest one… because all the other levels are represented here. One of the people Dr. Taylor interviewed for his book reported “a sense of awe and a new appreciation for simple pleasures and activities like walking, cooking, eating, and simply attending to their surroundings.”

Number two on his list is Increased Presentness / Timelessness and he writes: “In wakefulness, the past and the future become much less important, and the present becomes correspondingly more important. Awakened individuals spend much less time recalling past experiences or ruminating over past events, just as they spend less time looking forward to the future, daydreaming about future events or focusing on future goals. Instead, they focus on their present experience, on the surroundings they’re in, the people they’re with, and the sensations and impressions they’re having.”

Committed meditators enjoy this experience every day. In fact, the true purpose of meditation has always been to deepen and extend this experience of timelessness to the point where it becomes the norm. We learn to be vividly present, no matter what’s going on. This means that we pay attention to events and people, we listen and learn. In other words, we get out of our heads and into our lives!

Awareness of “Presence” or an All-Pervading Spiritual Energy is number three. “In my research, one person described this as ‘a deep sense of a living presence within that is both magnificent and also very ordinary.’ Another person described one of his symptoms of awakening as ‘a vast presence which is just infinite and pretty mind-blowing. Especially in nature.’”

He makes another reference to nature here, which introduces one of the most enjoyable, easily accessed, inexpensive, and effective paths to take for those serious about spiritual enlightenment: a walk in the woods!

Some of us are fortunate to live in nature settings which makes that easy. But all of us can find a nearby park, not to jog for exercise but to stroll for meditative nourishment. As John Muir famously said, “Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.”

The next time you need a break, or a breakthrough, instead of imagining that you need to sign up for the next workshop, just head for the woods!




References:
1. https://www.consciouslifestylemag.com/spiritual-awakening-signs-and-symptoms/

Breakthrough – Part One

“Every challenge you encounter in life is a fork in the road.
You have the choice to choose which way to go – backward,
forward, breakdown or breakthrough.”

~ Ifeanyi Enoch Onuoha

Press play to hear an audio enhancement as you read.

 

Exploring the spiritual path is fraught with challenges, especially when we realize that there is no destination.

I often make the distinction between enlightenment as a hoped-for destination vs enlightenment as a state of experience that can be known right now. I actually prefer to use the term “enlightening” rather than “enlightenment,” to further emphasize that there actually is no final spiritual destination. We will continue expanding our awareness forever, because that is the nature of the life force we are.

This process is a world apart from what’s commonly known as “self-improvement. We’ve just turned the calendar and find ourselves in a new year, which means that millions of people are now busy following through on their New Year’s resolutions, in order to improve themselves. But, “according to U.S. News, approximately 80% of resolutions fail by the second week of February.” 1

Why? Beyond the usual reasons relating to motivation and discipline, let’s consider an out-of-the-box possibility: self-improvement programs fail because we’re trying to improve the wrong self.

This is the same self that desires enlightenment. Ironically, it’s that very desire that prevents one from having the experience. That self, with a small “s” can never replace Self, with a big “e.” That Self, who you really are, is already enlightened… because it’s part of the light.

This realization doesn’t mean that we immediately cease meditating to reflect on our perfection! Spiritual practice remains essential, but not to gain an unknown experience. We deepen a known one. But there’s an odd challenge to this. Yes, we inherently know who we are (and always have), but that knowing is hidden from us. So, there is a process of learning, growing, improvement, not to acquire something, but to remember. And success comes, not through accumulating knowledge but from shedding limiting concepts.



It’s often said that breakdown precedes breakthrough. Using a computer analogy, faulty programming must be uninstalled before a new, clean program can run. Fortunately, we aren’t required to seek out breakdown opportunities. Life brings us all we can handle! But we do have a say in how we respond to those challenges. That’s what makes the difference.

A friend told me about someone who felt they were going through a nervous breakdown. Whoever they were commiserating with said, “You mean a nervous breakthrough?” Apparently, that comment changed her perspective and she began to view her breakdown as a breakthrough. What was falling apart in her life was making room for what was coming together, and it was all happening in the same moments.

It’s easy to witness breakdown in the world around us; we read, see, and hear about it every day in the news. But what if this was not the full truth? What if breakdown was also breakthrough? What if that “crap” the media serves up all day was actually compost and that something alive is now breaking through the surface of consciousness, fed by nutrients arising from that decay?

We can complain about compost or witness new life forms growing out of it. That’s a choice, a choice to see from a different vantage point. This relates to the truth of enlightenment. When we learn how to have a consistently enlightening experience, we are always shining light on our circumstances. Light dispels darkness, that’s it’s nature. So, when we identify with the light, we harness our capacity to dispel darkness. This is what a true spiritual experience becomes. Not basking in a glorious state of perfection but exerting an impact in the world.

That enlightening impact travels in many dimensions, from the obvious – what we say and do – to the subtle, our thoughts and our feeling states. We even broadcast through time, whenever we visit memories or project into the future. This is the work of the Self, with a capital “S,” to transmit the qualitative reality of “heaven,” that invisible state of being where we eternally dwell, into the “earth,” this 3D experience in a human body on a material planet.

With this understanding, we can relax from our striving to become better. Relaxing from that pursuit, we can simultaneously open to the emergence of wisdom and blessing, from within our Self. As we express our Selves, then we experience what we are expressing. Here’s the simple formula for a fulfilled spiritual life: embrace your identity in life, then shine your unique qualities without reservation.

Challenges will come. Breakdowns will occur. Turning them into breakthroughs is the best resolution we can make, and it’s one we can keep.




References:
1. https://www.businessinsider.com/new-years-resolutions-courses-2016-12

Priorities – Part Three

“Refrain to-night;
And that shall lend a kind of easiness
To the next abstinence, the next more easy;
For use almost can change the stamp of nature,
And either master the devil or throw him out
With wondrous potency.”

~ William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Press play to hear an audio enhancement as you read.

 

They say that practice makes perfect … and permanent. If we’re interested to shift our priorities away from meaningless distractions and towards a fulfilled life, then it’s a simple matter of choosing differently and repeating the new behaviors that result. It’s especially vital to change our belief about who we are.

Habits can be difficult to break. We’re approaching the season of New Year’s Resolutions, that annual ritual of doomed expectations, repeating our intentions for change but, for many of us, failing to carry through after about two or three weeks of noble trying.

Gandhi had an intelligent perspective on what’s going on here. He said, “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.” Following that train of logic, it makes sense that if we only focus on changing negative habits – like eating too much, forgetting to exercise, gossiping, etc. – we’re probably going to struggle and fail.

Short-handing Gandhi’s formula: Beliefs become thoughts become words become habits become values become destiny. For change to happen, then, we would be wise to start with beliefs. What do we believe? All of us have our own beliefs and positions but, since our topic is personal change, let’s focus on beliefs about ourselves.

Misty Mountain

Many of us don’t think all that much of ourselves. Even boastful people harbor secret self-judgments. And we all deal with self-talk, much of which is negative. “Why did I do that? Oh no, I messed up again. Will I ever get this right? Why don’t they see my value… maybe I’m not really all that?” Those are just some of the thoughts that may arise, summed up in these words: “I’m not good enough.”

Of course, those aren’t likely the words we speak aloud. Instead, we might use words to inflate ourselves and/or belittle others. Why? It could be because we are suffering from what’s known as “imposter syndrome.”



Imposter syndrome is defined as “a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud.” 1 While this applies to con men and those with low self-esteem, it’s also an affliction that can infect those on the spiritual path.

Despite centuries of wisdom and tons of sacred writings, all pointing to the innate truth of being, most humans feel disconnected from their true selves. So, when we hear the advice to “be yourself” or to “be authentic” that may not actually be an appealing idea. In fact, I remember a cartoon where someone said, “What if I expressed my true self and no-one liked me?”

Sacred Text

Indeed, the low self-esteem we inevitably feel when we are fragmented in disconnection from the wholeness of human consciousness has a nasty habit of feeding back on itself, like a self-fulfilling prophecy. We feel we are inadequate (and tell ourselves internally, in one way or another) and then we gather proof in our relationships and activities. “It’s true!” we may then declare, “I am an imposter. If only people know what I was really like?”

The Wiki definition elaborates: “Despite external evidence of their competence, those experiencing this phenomenon (imposter syndrome) remain convinced that they are frauds, and do not deserve all they have achieved.”

There’s a simple solution to this problem: make it our every-moment priority to be the truth of ourselves. How exactly do we do that? First, by acknowledging that there are two aspects to us. We are “human beings.” The human is this bundle of body, mind, and emotions. The being is an eternal spirit, the one who is One with all. The imposter syndrome activates when we attempt to replace the eternal One with our humanness.

I am not my body, my mind, or my feelings. I am not my career, my accomplishments, my skills and experiences. I am a being of eternal majesty and beauty… as is every one within the One.

Knowing and honoring this distinction is the key. By the way, no human can become divine, although that is the struggle for many on the spiritual path. This human form has its limitations and always will. Enlightenment, so-called, is not about finally achieving some sort of human perfection to become a flawless expression of God, but rather gaining and sustaining the full conscious awareness of true identity and, through the actual (not theoretical) experience of Oneness, being able to flow spirit through our limited human forms, as accurately as they will allow.

So, the next time that inner voice tempts you into self-flagellation, remember Shakespeare’s instruction and “either master the devil or throw him out with wondrous potency.”




References:
1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impostor_syndrome

Robot Heart Love

Priorities – Part Two

“Physics isn’t the most important thing. Love is.”

~ Richard P. Feynman

Press play to hear an audio enhancement as you read.

 

It’s encouraging to note how many scientists, like Feynman – quoted above – come to realize through their research that the universe has a beating heart.

Science and religion used to be at war with each other. Even a cursory review of human history exposes the dark divide between the two. But, times change and there’s a reason why the two camps have moved steadily closer to each other. “Scientists and theologians are discovering that their shared conviction to pursue truth has the potential to make them more allies than enemies. The result has been a greater willingness to engage each other.” 1

What is truth? For both science and religion, the answer is often theoretical and far removed from the pragmatic realities of daily life. Philosophers are often said to live in ivory towers, isolated above and beyond the drama of everyday life. Scientists labor in laboratories and offices; gurus may sequester themselves away in monasteries, caves, or ashrams.

“How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” is a term that dates back to the 16th century and was postulated to be a question debated by scholars in ancient Constantinople… while Turks besieged the city. It’s thus considered to be “a metaphor for wasting time debating topics of no practical value, or questions whose answers hold no intellectual consequence, while more urgent concerns pile up.” 2

Scientist vs. Robot

But both science and spirituality have major contributions to make in addressing the urgent concerns of this 21st century. Science, especially the field of quantum physics – which is the domain where Dr. Feynman does his work – is revealing the magical nature of creation. Feynman said, “Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars – mere globs of gas atoms. I, too, can see the stars on a desert night, and feel them. But do I see less or more? 3

In other words, “knowledge about” needn’t diminish emotional impact. Seeking to understand the mysteries of the universe does not inevitably lead to skepticism about its innately spiritual nature (although scientists would immediately argue with that descriptor).



As we burrow our way into the details of our lives, we can both understand more and be increasingly awed by the deepening mystery of it all. And, again from quantum explorations, it’s becoming obvious that we will never succeed in fathoming all the mysteries and understanding everything. The human mind is simply incapable of containing the vast complexity of that which created it.

It is encouraging to witness a rapidly converging alignment of scientific and spiritual viewpoints, well expressed in a recent book that pitted a new age spiritualist, Deepak Chopra, against a scientist, Leonard Mlodinow. In War of the Worldviews, they wrote: “Our best hope for a better future, then, is through the development of values that encourage caring for one another, cherishing knowledge and learning, preserving natural resources, and minimizing harm to our environment. It is only this kind of evolution, which is cultural rather than biological in nature that can save us.” 4

Such a statement can indeed give us hope, because its coming from the heart, not just the head. It’s a perspective that looks forward, not towards modernizing theory but to improving the human condition. It’s wonderful to know that certain scientists and some of those more spiritually inclined are making this a priority and further proving what Feynman said in our opening quote, that “love” is the real priority.

When we share that personal priority, we are less inclined to assume positions that provoke competition and argument. In fact, we can respect our different viewpoints and seek to learn from each other, acknowledging that all of us are seeking truth, while exercising our personal preferences for navigating that journey.

And, as scientists have demonstrated and articulated through such theories as The Observer Effect, we always influence whatever we observe. That’s what makes it so vitally important to look through the eyes of love. When we do, we tend to see a universe of love… and that makes all the difference in how we treat each other.




References:
1. http://depts.washington.edu/hssexec/newsletter/1998/gregory.html
2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/How_many_angels_can_dance_on_the_head_of_a_pin%3F
3. https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/richard_p_feynman_140591
4. War of the Worldviews, by Deepak Chopra M.D. and Leonard Mlodinow

Praying Catholic

Priorities – Part One

“When men choose not to believe in God, they do not
thereafter believe in nothing, they then become
capable of believing in anything.”

~ G.K. Chesterton

Press play to hear an audio enhancement as you read.

 

Faith in God has nothing to do with religion. We crave certainty, it’s in our nature. And when we lose faith, because we cease to believe in something certain, then the world becomes for us a shopping mall stocked with pale substitutes.

People can be convinced of just about anything because, absent the certainty that a firm spiritual foundation provides, they become susceptible to the con men of this world. For instance, New York born investment rock star Bernie Madoff managed to keep every one of his clients deluded for decades.

Wiki reports: “The Madoff investment scandal defrauded thousands of investors of billions of dollars. Madoff said he began the Ponzi scheme in the early 1990s. However, federal investigators believe the fraud began as early as the mid-1980s and may have begun as far back as the 1970s. Those charged with recovering the missing money believe the investment operation may never have been legitimate. The amount missing from client accounts, including fabricated gains, was almost $65 billion.” 1

Mr. Madoff is in prison now, sentenced to 150 years, the maximum allowable for his type of criminal activity. His real crime? He was an individual. If he had been operating out of a large bank, he’d likely still be sipping martinis in his pent house apartment. Case in point, HSBC (Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corporation) has 85,000 employees in 7,500 offices in 80 countries. “HSBC is paying a total of $101.5 million to end a criminal case in the United States in which the bank stood accused of using currency trades to swindle its own customers out of tens of millions of dollars.” 2

Dirty Money

This is just the latest scandal for the bank, which is featured in one chapter of the Netflix documentary Dirty Money. That program exposes how HSBC laundered billions of dollars in drug money. They were indicted and found guilty. They admitted their crime, on paper and in extreme detail. And, they were fined. No one went to jail, even though their fraudulent activities made Bernie Madoff look like a shop lifter.

As one of the congressional investigators noted during the film, any individual found guilty of possessing even a small amount of a controlled substance will go to jail. They can’t buy themselves out of it. Big banks can and do. Fines are just the cost of doing (dirty) business.



The greed for obscene amounts of money acts like a virus. Once infected, a person succumbs to an insatiable desire for more, just like any addict substituting the effect of something – money, drugs, sex, etc. – for the natural experience of joy in life.

Addicts who succeed in conquering their addictions and reclaiming their lives always need help. Some brave and rare souls do recover on their own but most need support. And, they need to go cold turkey, as the saying goes, that is, quit absolutely and totally and never take another sip, snort, etc.

Sangha

This highlights the purpose of the “sangha,” the spiritual community that serves to support members in remaining true to what is referred to in the Bible as our “first love.” Our first love is God, not a religious concept but the reality of God, of which we are a part. The sangha – whether it’s in India or Indiana – is comprised of individuals who have made that commitment and hold each other accountable to remain steadfast in their faith.

Someone once told a friend of mine that the problem with abstinence was that how you felt when you woke up was the best you’d feel all day. In other words, they believed that without alcohol things would invariably go downhill. Obviously, this person had lost their connection with spirit because, as those on the path well know, a day can and often does swell with enjoyment as we deepen our practice through meditation and mindfulness, in work and play and rest and even while resolving conflicts.

We may pity those who are lost in delusional addictions – even if they have millions of dollars – but the sobering lesson for us is to keep our own commitment fresh. We might recall that when you love someone, you yearn to be with them. When we love our God, however we conceive Him, Her, or It to be, then we likewise long to be with them and will seize every opportunity that presents itself to deepen our relationship, to enjoy that unique intimacy with spirit which renders every temptation powerless to bewitch us. Ironically, this gives us the best chance to enjoy everything, without changing our priority.




References:
1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernard_Madoff
2. https://money.cnn.com/2018/01/19/investing/hsbc-us-currency-fraud-fine/index.html

Clock concept

Good News / Bad News – Part Four

“The good news is, you don’t have to worry, you can’t change the past.
The bad news is, you don’t have to worry… you can’t change the past.”

~ Charles Yu

Press play to hear an audio enhancement as you read.

 

Time heals all wounds, some say. But, like many other popular phrases, the truth of this one withers under thoughtful analysis.

Time doesn’t do anything but pass, or, in some special instances, seem to stand still. Einstein described his Theory of Relativity in layman’s terms this way: “When a pretty girl sits on your lap for an hour, it seems like a minute. When you sit on a hot stove for a minute it seems like an hour.” In other words, depending on what’s happening (and your reaction to it) time can slow or speed up.

As far as healing properties, there’s actually more evidence that time doesn’t heal. From a website on grief recovery: “Time is not a healer. The passage of time may take the edge off of acute pain, but it does not heal pain. On the other hand, time can be used well for healing purposes. When time is used well, in terms of healing wounds, then it is because we do something specific with and within it. We take time and shape it in order to do inner work. It is inner work coupled with courage and honesty that heals all wounds.”1

All of us carry traumatic memories around with us. It’s impossible to avoid damage in this world. Ironically, some of our greatest humans have survived the worst traumas. They have been imprisoned, tortured, ridiculed, bankrupted, jailed… yet they persevered. We write about them and make movies about their heroism. We champion their ability to heal their wounds enough to overcome the damage and blossom.

So, it’s not the passage of time that heals wounds but the inner work we do on them. Sadly, modern civilization is increasingly frantic, leaving us less and less time for introspection and, hence, less healing is happening at deep levels for many people, who seem to need more dramatic distractions every day, simply to stay functional. If those avoiding what’s really going on inside them turned away from their screens and into their hearts, they might discover just how wounded they are.

Fresh Air

Those who have the time and money for therapy can benefit from professional support to discover, understand, and seek to heal trauma. Leslie Becker-Phelps Ph.D., writing in Psychology Today, says: “After feeling your emotions and treating them with compassion, it is time to refocus on other things – preferably situations, activities, or interactions that feel good. If, like many other people, you need to return to the painful feelings again (even repeatedly), be patient with yourself. Working through your feelings takes time.”2

This presents a balanced approach somewhere between denial and obsession. Feel the pain and move on, seems to be the formula. Those of us who have undertaken such inner work can report both the benefits and the challenges. It takes courage to face our wounds because this often requires reliving an experience that can feel almost as traumatic as it did when it originally happened. But we can witness the memory, remaining identified with our mature self and, as we become comfortable with the process, even learn how to transmit healing energy into the memory, effectively changing-not the memory itself, but the impact it has on us.



In some ways, this does change the past. At least a memory can cease to have such an influence in our lives today. As valuable, is the experience of empowerment that comes from addressing our memories this way because a central feature of most trauma is the residual feeling of powerlessness. Now, many years later, we can take our power back, as we observe, feel, and offer what was missing back then. In this way, we can become our own best healer.

Desert

The long-standing tradition of spiritual masters floating above the travails of human suffering is fading. Today’s masters are more human. They have their failings. They suffer. They fail and learn and grow… just like everyone else. Sterile wisdom is being replaced by fertile compassion and, for all of us who have benefited from such soulful guidance, the best reward we can return to our teachers is to do likewise. Every one of us are surrounded by people who need reassurance and comfort and the silent entrainment that emanates from those of us doing our inner work, healing our wounds, and can say – teaching without words the way true masters do – “Don’t give up.”




References:
1. http://griefcounselor.org/does-time-heal-all-wounds/
2. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/making-change/201301/escaping-the-grip-emotional-pain

Pilot

Good News / Bad News – Part Three

“The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.”

~ Michael Altshuler

Press play to hear an audio enhancement as you read.

 

There are tangible physiological reasons why the years seem to roll by faster as we get older but everyone – regardless of their age – can agree that life has accelerated dramatically in the 21st Century. So, just where are we going?

A renowned personal development teacher likes to say that humans have two primary needs: certainty and uncertainty. These two co-exist in a paradox that we live with from the day we’re miraculously born until the day we die into the mystery beyond this life. Certainty – we’re here; uncertainty – we don’t know where we’re going.

Carpe diem translates as “seize the day” and is often used as advice for being present and enjoying ourselves right now. The phrase also champions an attitude of personal ownership. When we “seize the day” we own it, we declare our commitment to make the most of things. We’re the pilot, not a passenger.



Those with hedonistic tendencies might interpret this to mean “Go for it!” as in that immortal wisdom from the film “Wayne’s World: “Party on dude.” Those of us more spiritually inclined might prefer what Christ said: “For this reason came I to this hour.”

There’s a profound difference between accepting things the way they are and seizing the day in order to enjoy ourselves, vs expressing our full selves in the moment to moment fulfilment of our destiny.
Some say that fate is the cards we’re dealt while destiny is how we play our cards. It’s beyond argument that some of us are born to hardship while others enjoy comfort. We’re rich, we’re poor, we’re sick, we’re healthy, we’re educated, we’re ignorant… But, regardless of our differences, we all have the same moment to deal with. The content will be unique but the real difference is what we do with it.

Playing Cards

We arrive with our fate. The game of life begins and we start to play our cards. Time flies, the days flow into years, and we are finally delivered to this moment of contemplation right now – you reading and me writing – and this powerful question: “Why am I really here?”

Regardless of what the calendar says, it’s the same moment. Time is flying and we’re flying with it right now, high above the detailed landscape of our lives. That’s because we’ve chosen these moments for thoughtful contemplation. We’ve excused ourselves from the busyness of our lives to write and to read, in order to expand our awareness of what this thing called life is and what exactly we might do with it.

Millions of lives have been dedicated to the pursuit of this understanding. Millions of volumes have been written. Scores of philosophies and religions have been created. Ironically, with every belief, principle, and tradition, the question gathers more complexity, obscuring a simple, enduring truth.

Occam’s Razor is a well-known philosophical principle that advocates for the simplest explanation. For instance: “Two trees have fallen down during a windy night. Think about these two possible explanations: 1. The wind has blown them down. 2. Two meteorites have each taken one tree down and, after striking the trees, hit each other removing any trace of themselves.” 1



Think about these possible explanations for our lives: 1. We’re meant to be here, to enjoy ourselves, to learn and evolve, and to share our unique gifts. 2. We’ve had many lifetimes and will keep returning until we behave perfectly. This life is a punishment; we’re here to atone for our sins and, if we do, we’ll be excused from further incarnations and ascend to a heaven of mythical beauty and glory. If not, we’ll go to hell and burn forever. 3. Life is meaningless, we are just a weird, isolated accident (with 37 trillions cells in our bodies, somehow co-existing in relative harmony), and it will never happen again.

Who knows?

The bad news? There can never be an adequate theoretical answer to that question, not one that everyone would ever agree to. The good news? Life is this experience right now, beyond concepts, and we can seize this day fully if we choose to and enjoy discovering what the truth of these deep mysteries turns out to be. We can be certain that we are here, alive in this moment. We can be simultaneously uncertain of what comes next, especially at the conclusion of this life. That sounds like an adventure, one we might call “being alive!”




References:
1. https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occam%27s_razor

Sunshine through cracked doors

Good News / Bad News – Part Two

“She is like a newborn sun, fresh with promise, the just beginning moments
before the day fills like a bucket with good and bad, sweat and longing.”

~ Katherine Applegate

Press play to hear an audio enhancement as you read.

 

Quantum explorers now assure us what spiritual pioneers have taught for years: time as we know it is a human invention; we actually live in an emergent reality, born fresh in the eternally new present moment.

The good news is simple: be here now. The bad news? Easier said than done.

What obstructs our experience of what we know in theory? For instance, many spiritually minded people espouse the principle of unconditional love, believing that the ability to give and receive love without conditions is a measurement of enlightenment. But how many of us are able to do that consistently? And when we fail, what happens?

What if that idea, just to use this as an example, is fundamentally flawed? Do we dare question such an enshrined belief? Unconditional love, what does that actually mean? It sounds right, it seems to set the bar where it belongs, establishing a state of being to aim for, to do the best we can to emulate a God of Love. So, imagine if all of us were able to give and receive love without conditions.



Would this mean that we treat a waiter the same way we relate to our husband? If our child asks for more ice cream would we just give it to him (because to withhold it would be a condition)? If someone gave us something and we wanted to give something back, why wouldn’t we give them everything we had?

Even a cursory examination reveals that we always have conditions on what we give and receive and that there’s no inherent problem with this. We (hopefully) feed our children a balanced diet and we drink one glass of wine, not five. A historian chooses from a life-time of learning to share one hour of material in a college lecture. The electrical current transmitting to your home from the utility company stepped down to a useful voltage so it doesn’t destroy your appliances.

Judgement spelled out

In other words, there are conditions in every aspect of our day to day lives. And we are always making choices. We determine what exactly to receive and give and doing this with intelligence is not a human fault to overcome! There’s a difference between judgment and discernment. And what the term “unconditional love” illuminates is our human habit of withholding love because of judgment.

Judgment says: “You don’t deserve my love. I will punish you by withholding from you until you change. Here are my conditions.” Discernment says: “I love you. You’re my wife. I vowed to be faithful. I am, I will, no matter who else I’m attracted to. They will not receive the same love I give to you. That’s my condition.”

God made decisions during creation, perhaps even mistakes. If you ever watched Oh God!, the 1977 film where George Burns played God, you may remember a quote or two about this: “Tobacco was one of my big mistakes. Ostriches were a mistake. Silly looking things. Avocados… made the pit too big.” 1



At one point during that movie, “God” mused: “You know, Voltaire may have had me pegged right. He said I was a comedian playing to an audience who was afraid to laugh.”

Life is fundamentally joyful. We can learn to take everything in stride, using discernment to make wise decisions while avoiding judgment. The good, the bad… it’s all just the content of the moment, emerging fresh exactly as it is (before we condition it). Of course, what’s “good” sometimes turns into “bad” and vice versa.

Man meditating on a beach

There are jokes about that. Like this one: A meditation student confesses to his teacher that he has been sleeping in and missing morning meditation. “That’s bad, isn’t it?” he inquires.

“No, that’s good,” his teacher replies, “because this has forced you to be honest about your lack of commitment.”

“Well, I guess that is good, then,” the student agrees.

“No,” his teacher responds, “that’s bad because it’s revealing that you may not have what it takes to become a good monk.”

“You’re right,” the student sighs, “that is bad.”

“No, it’s actually good because you could have wasted years here. Now you could choose to get on with your life and do something else.”

“Oh, OK, that’s good then.”

“No, that’s bad. Because I’ve grown very fond of you and would ask that you reconsider your commitment. With the honesty and humility you’ve just shown, I think you can become a great teacher.”

Each moment dawns, fresh in the moment. and we determine what to do with it. That’s an unconditional condition!




References:
1. From the 1977 film, Oh God!, directed by Rob Reiner.

Mansion

Good News / Bad News – Part One

“As countries get richer, many of the people living
in them seem to be getting unhappier.”

~ Laura Paddison

Press play to hear an audio enhancement as you read.

 

Do we really agree that money can’t buy happiness? Or, are we secretly sure that we could defy the odds and disprove the saying?

There’s an old joke about a pilot addressing his passengers: “Ladies and gentlemen, I have some good news and some bad news. First, the good news – we are well ahead of schedule. Now, the bad news: we are hopelessly lost.”

Yes, we’ve created more wealth and comfort for ourselves here in the United States than at any time in our brief history. Simultaneously, nearly 40 million people (one in eight) live below the poverty line, including one in six of our children (13 million children). And nearly 1.3 million school children were officially homeless in 2015.1



How can this be? Here’s a clue: “A report released by the World Economic Forum on Wednesday found that, while the U.S. economy is the most competitive in the world, it has come at the expense of a “weakening social fabric.” Life expectancy is falling, driven in part by increases in “deaths of despair” ― people dying from suicide and substance abuse. This particularly affects white men without a college education who are falling between the cracks and dropping out of the workforce ― about 15 percent of men ages 25 to 54 are not working.

“It’s not just an American issue, either. China’s economic growth has been phenomenal. Between 1990 and 2009, its gross domestic product increased by at least four times and life expectancy increased from 67 to 74 years, yet life satisfaction has tumbled. India too, another economic success story, has seen life satisfaction levels drop by 10 percent between 2006 and 2017.” 2

Anxiety

So, wealth is increasing while life satisfaction is dropping. This means that not only does more money fail to make us more happy, it actually seems to be making us less happy. For anyone struggling to pay the bills, such a statement will seem preposterous and there is a caveat. Money does improve life satisfaction, but only up to a point. Experts have pegged that point at $75,000 annually in the United States.

“No matter how much more than $75,000 people make, they don’t report any greater degree of happiness.” This revelation appeared in a 2010 edition of Time magazine, based on a Princeton University study conducted by economist Angus Deaton and psychologist Daniel Kahneman. 3

So, what do people do with all that extra money and the leisure time it buys them? Many watch porn. The porn industry is valued at almost $100 billion annually, enough money to feed about 5 billion people a day. You think Hollywood is big? It is. Hollywood releases 600 movies a year which generate $10 billion in profit. Meanwhile, 13,000 porn films are produced every year, generating $15 billion in profit. That’s more money than Major League Baseball, The NFL, and The NBA… combined! 4



So, people ruin their health and families making big bucks to spend on artificial love… when they could experience the real thing for free. Could there possibly be any better example of the insanity that riddles modern society?

If that’s the bad news, what’s the good news? Well, at the same time, we are witnessing (and some of us are participating in it) an unprecedented values transformation. Millions of people are going for the real thing (Love with a capital L) and spurning the substitutes. How do we do that? Not by watching a screen, that’s for sure. We connect. In meditation, in conversations, walking in nature, in love-making (as we ironically call it)… there’s no limit to the ways we can experience Love.

That’s because Love permeates creation. Call it God or life force if you choose (“It” doesn’t care what you call it). “Money can’t buy me love,” the Beatles sang and they were right… because we already have Love. If we’re alive, if our hearts are beating, if we’re breathing, that’s proof that we’re swimming in an oceanic universe of Love. Money can’t make us happy because we’re already happy, if we’re connected.

Fish can’t live without water and we can’t live without Love.




References:
1. https://familypromise.org/homelessness-fact-sheet/
2. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/wellbeing-metrics-happiness-us_us_5bc858d3e4b0a8f17ee98811
3. https://www.cnbc.com/2017/11/20/how-much-money-you-need-to-be-happy-according-to-wealth-experts.html
4. https://medium.com/@Strange_bt_True/how-big-is-the-porn-industry-fbc1ac78091b