Feeling the Spirit

Feeling the Spirit

Pentecost 2

 

It is a common debate, especially in these times.  Similar to the age-old question of “which came first – the chicken or the egg?”, it seems that science and religion are at odds when we discuss the spirit of living.  Albert Einstein is not thought of as a great spiritualist.  He is considered by many to be the consummate scientist.  “My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind.”

 

This series is about the detours life gives us and we all have them.  How we respond to those detours is often determined by the spirit within ourselves which is based upon the spirits we believe to exist.  IN an introduction to a chapter about C. S. Lewis, James Taliaferro wrote the following prayer:  ‘Come, Holy Spirit, fill our hearts.  Kindle in us the fire of your love.”

 

Taliaferro’s prayer is quite simple, just two sentences that are actually quite simple sentences.  Yet, he manages to summarize not only the season of Pentecost but the way we should navigate life’s detours.  We all believe in some great spirit, whether it be the Holy Spirit of the Christian trinity, the spirit of a great healer, the spirit of Mother Nature, or a prophet named Buddha, Mohammed, or any of the other hundreds of spiritual teachers the world has known. 

 

C. S. Lewis, at a point in his early adulthood, identified with those who claimed to be agnostic or atheist.  “I believe in no religion.  There is absolutely no proof for any of them and from a philosophical standpoint Christianity is not even the best.  All religions, that is, all mythologies to give them their proper name, are merely man’s own invention.”  Within the next decade, however, he had become quite impressed with the universal longing in all cultures for a connection with a reality of a greater spirit than mere mortal humans possessed.

 

Taliaferro explains:  “Through his own study of religious experience and the arguments for and against a belief in God, Lewis came to think of the longing for joy as something that echoes and reflects the reality of God.  He sought to uncover the source and richer meaning of the goods of creation.”

 

Isn’t this what detours offer us – a chance to discover new meanings of our own living?  Let’s think about what a detour really is.  Simply put, it is a redirection of our normal path.  For months I went to a particular store following a specific route.  It was not perhaps the quickest route but it was, in my opinion, the safest and the most expedient, given all the factors such as traffic patterns, number of cars on the road, my preferences for driving with street junctions having stoplights or stop signs rather than yield signs, etc.  Then one day, about seven years into my prescribed route, a bridge was replaced.  I needed to find a detour.  There were a number of possible routes I could choose but I took one that was a bit unusual.  In doing so, I discovered a great new restaurant.

 

Would my life have been drastically altered or the quality of my living drastically affected if I had never found that restaurant?  Of course it would not have been and yet, I did find it and enjoy it.  I discovered in my inconvenience a great new place to eat and some new foods to enjoy.  I would not have starved without this experience but it did make the detour more enjoyable.

 

When I was a child we would take Sunday afternoon drives.  We were a busy family and the other days of the week we were all going in different directions.  The Sunday drives, however, were free-driving – we simply headed out in one direction until the road stopped or turned into something else.  We found new picnic areas, saw the runways being built as part of a new airport, enjoyed the sounds of nature and laughed when we had to back up half a mile because there was no room to turn around.  We sought out the detours and reveled in the joy of living.

 

One of the advantages of our Sunday drives was leaning how to tell which direction we were going.  By using the signposts of life available to us such as the position of the sun or the effect of prevailing winds on high tree tops. We discovered an internal sense of self and direction.  Yes we often got lost but somehow, by remaining calm and confident, we always found our way home, even if it meant asking for help.

 

Detours remind us that we are not here to simply follow the end of our nose but to expand our being and share our experiences.  C. Joybell C. explains it this way:  ““I consider myself a stained-glass window. And this is how I live my life. Closing no doors and covering no windows; I am the multi-colored glass with light filtering through me, in many different shades. Allowing light to shed and fall into many, many hues. My job is not to direct anything, but only to filter into many colors. My answer is destiny and my guide is joy. And there you have me.”  The true spirit of life is found in living it.  Once you realize this, you have found your own internal great spirit.

The Company We Keep

The Company We Keep

Easter #32-35

 

We all know those friends who firmly believe that misery loves company.  They are the ones who seem to thrive on drama and simply cannot wait to share their latest event that has occurred in their lives.  Part of being a friend is listening but sometimes friendship is a one-way street with all the sharing being done by the other person.

 

Often a person who is abaitual whiner is someone who is best listened to and ignored.  Sometimes just being there and then giving them some space to work through their latest incident is all that is desired.  A hug or simple hand squeeze can also work wonders.

 

Sharing anxiety is not generally a way for someone to control your own emotions.  However, we need to be certain that we do not, in the guise of being a good friend or coworker, buy someone else’s problems nor fall prey to their panic.  It has become fashionable to use drama to make one seem important and that is sad, in my opinion.  Coping with issues does not improve someone’s esteem; living so that you do have control over issues does.

 

So how do we control our reactions when a friend simply has to “rant” or talk about their latest difficulty?  A mindfulness expert and spiritualist, Thich Nhat Hanh, has some great advice and it uses something as simple as a facial half-smile.

 

Anytime or place you find yourself affected by someone’s expressed anxieties as well as life’s curveballs in your own life, simply make a half-smile with your mouth.  Nhat Hanh advises to look at “anything which is relatively still and smile.”  Maintain the spot of your attention as you own true nature.”

 

Music is a great way to escape and cope with anxiety.  It is especially easy with today’s technology to listen to music for two or three minutes practically anywhere.  If the piece is instrumental, listen to the different instrumentations.  Whether pop or operatic, focusing on the words is another way to zoom in on the mindfulness of the moment.  The tempo, style, and/or rhythms also help convey the sentiment of the music.  Allow your mind to concentrate on that and then focus on your breathing to help discover calmness and peace.

 

When you realize you are becoming anxious or irritated, half-smile; then slowly inhale and exhale quietly, maintaining the half-smile for three breaths.  Relax for a minute or two and then repeat this.   Breathing is a well-known way to pace one’s emotions.  Combine it with walking or slow deliberate arm or hand movements.  Once you have combined your movement with your breathing, you can lengthen you inhalations for twenty to thirty seconds and then return to a normal breathing pattern. 

 

We cannot control life or what people relate to us but we can control our responses.  When we act instead of reacting to the drama of life and those around us, we are able to reduce the anxiety that often seems contagious.  By using mindfulness, we are able to act.

 

If you can, find the time to sit in silence and imagine a leaf drifting slowing through the air as it descends.  Allow yourself to slowly imagine yourself coming to a gentle resting place on the earth (or chair or bed).  Continue meditating on the lead as it gradually comes to eath, allowing your mind and body to also arrive at a place of rest, a place of calm and joy.

 

Being mindful and present in a place of peace and joy is the perfect response when someone disrupts your calm.  We can and should be compassionate with others buy we should not buy their problems.  To offer calm and peace is a gift we give to others and ourselves by being mindful of the joy of living. 

Scavenger Hunt

Scavenger Hunt

Lent 46

 

Debra Wise defines a scavenger hunt as “a party game in which the organizers prepare a list defining specific items, which the participants seek to gather or complete all items on the list, usually without purchasing them.”  This weekend I did my own abbreviated type of scavenger hunt trying to resolve some technical issues; hence, the delayed posting of this post.

 

The word scavenger is an interesting one.  The word “scavenger” is an alteration of  the word “scavager”, which came from the Middle English ”skawager”  which meant “customs collector”.  However, its etymology can also be traced from the Middle English “skawage” meaning “customs”, the  Old North French “escauwage” meaning “inspection” and the Germanic “schauwer” meaning  “inspect”. It is also perhaps closely derived from the Old English “scēawian” and German “schauen” words meaning “to look at”, and modern English “show” (with semantic drift).

 

In olden times a scavenger was someone paid to clean the streets but in more modern usage the word refers to one who searches for and collects discarded items.  In chemistry, though, a scavenger is a substance that reacts with and removes particular molecules, groups, etc.

 

We never hear Lent described as a scavenging season and yet, I am offering the notion that perhaps it is.  Lent is a time to seek out that which we can and should eliminate or reduce in our living as well as a period in which we are encouraged to collect better habits.  We have spent this Lenten series doing just that as life relates to the Beatitudes so in this the last post of the series, let’s scavenge a recap.

 

One of the weakest links and most dangerous threats to our living successfully is our own ego.  It is when we feel depressed or worried that we lose that false image and allow others and our spirituality to help us.  Being poor in our ego or spirit often gives us to learn from others and live a fuller life.  The same is true for when we grieve.  Most of us would prefer to offer compassion than receive it because we feel in control when we offer it.  Being on the receiving end sometimes makes us feel weak but it should not because then we become stronger by fully being part of humanity.

 

The humble and meek are usually much more content with their daily lives than those trying to pretend they have everything… or should have everything.  When we are content, we are better able to help others and live more productively and efficiently.  Those who want justice and righteousness, who work for it daily are the people who make a difference in this world.  They are also the people who not only give care to others, they receive it.  These are the people whose inside voice matches their outside actions and that brings about personal and external peace.  “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete and fight.  That’s when you discover who you really are and your place.”  I really like that quote from the Message Bible.  As I have said before, life is a pace, not a race.

 

While the Beatitudes are from the New Testament, they do not only apply to Christians.  They offer us all good advice on how to find the pearls of wisdom that life offers us each and every day.  All we have to do is go on a scavenger hunt for life!

The Long Walk Home

The Long Walk Home

Lent 44-45

 

Lent is traditionally thought of as a period of forty days and forty nights.  This year, because the date for Easter is the Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Vernal Equinox, we have six extra days.  It is as if Mother Nature decided we needed some extra time.  Most of us go through life begging for more time, wishing a day had a few extra hours.  Thus this Lenten season begs the question:  Did you use your extra time wisely this year?

 

This Lenten series has been about how we respond to life and I used the eight verses of the Beatitudes as both prompts and lessons for doing so.  In deciding how to spend one’s time and in retrospect, if our time was used wisely and efficiently, productive not only for the present but as a prelude to the future, we need to really consider the words of the Beatitudes.  They offer truth as well as encouragement.

 

I have also used the analogy that our life is something like a treasure hunt, an adventure in which we seek the best we can obtain – happiness and joy.  If we are authentic about our reasons for our actions and our purposes, we must admit that the ultimate quest is one for contentment and delight.  In our careers, our hobbies, and even our mates, we seek that which brings us pleasure and amusement, giving reason to the humdrum necessities of life.

 

Google executive Mo Gawdat seemed to have it all and yet, he was not happy.  He set about to find real happiness and recently gave an interview about his search.  He used the common analogy we have all heard:  Is the glass half full or half empty?  Gawdat believes “Happiness is looking at the glass and seeing the truth of the glass.”  He goes on to explain that we need to recognize that glass as being half full and be grateful for that.  Then, he continues, we need to see the half empty portion and ask what we can do about it.  “True happiness is not about what the world gives you.  It is about what you think about what the world gives you.” 

 

Happiness is equal to or greater than the expectations of one’s life and the reality of it.  We sometimes believe life should behave a certain way and if it doesn’t, then we become unhappy.  Life is not always fun, Gawdat believes.  Fun is when we accept our life and are happy.  We achieve happiness when we accept the life we have at that moment and feel at peace about it.

 

Many people reading this are going to say “Well, yeah, easy for an executive to talk about accepting life.”  Mo Gawdat came to this realization the day he went from having a delightful family vacation to his son dying, a time span of four hours.  He went from fun to the harshest life had to offer in four brief hours, one-sixth of a day’s span.  How was he ever going make that long journey home and find normalcy ever again?

 

The Beatitudes do not offer us a perfect life.  They offer us a way to find the peace and happiness Mo Gawdat spoke about and encouraged us to seek.  For Christians, today is Maundy Thursday and tomorrow is Good Friday, a day in which their hero was tortured and left to die, crucified in front of his mother and followers, one who had betrayed him and another who had denied knowing him.  There is no joy in the events of this Thursday and Friday remembered and yet, without them, the rest of the living of this hero’s purpose would not have been possible.

 

The long way home for Mo Gawdat was not an easy one but he says that each day gets a little bit better.  The secret to happiness, he believes, is to accept where we are at the moment and move forward at peace.  “I can either chose to suffer, or I can choose to sort of accept life as harsh as it has become and reset, make that the zero-point and try to make that slightly better than it is today, and slightly better tomorrow…  “Happiness is not about what the world gives you – happiness is what you think about what the world gives you.”

 

As we make that long walk home from whatever we have encountered today, we can choose what to think about what life has given us.  We can reset for tomorrow and vow to make it better or we can crawl in a hole and let the tides of life drown us.  Make whatever thorns came your way today a crown of success for tomorrow or at least, a first step towards a better future.  You alone are the only one that can take that step for yourself.  Sometimes smiling and being nice is the best way to run the race of life.  And then, to quote the Moody Blues, “When all the stars have fallen down into the sea and onto the ground, and angry voices carry on the wind, a beam of light will fill your head and you’ll remember what’s been said by all the good men this world has ever known.”

 

 

Come to the Party!

Come to the Party

Lent 41-43

 

Our lives are like a puzzle.  Each day, each event, each sorrow, each joy – all are pieces of this puzzle we call our life.  Sorting out the pieces would be an impossible task if we encountered them all at once.  Fortunately, each piece is revealed much like a treasure map or the clues on a scavenger hunt.

 

During this series we have been discussing life from the viewpoint of the Beatitudes.  Someone asked me to summarize this series in one sentence.  My answer is a quote from Marty Rubin:  “Drink freely the wine life offers you and don’t worry how much you spill.”

 

We need to celebrate being alive.  All too often we find ourselves competing with others.  Life is not a race; it is a pace.  We should spend our time realizing that our being is a gift and celebrate the party that is our life.  So if we are going to consider our lives a party, how do we live that?

 

Every good party planner will tell you that the first step in having a successful party is the invitation list.  Most of us do not have the ability to control everyone who enters our life.  We can and should make sure that we ourselves come to the party that is our life.  We need to be present in our living.  Kevyn Aucoin explains how to do this.  “Today I choose life. Every morning when I wake up I can choose joy, happiness, negativity, pain… To feel the freedom that comes from being able to continue to make mistakes and choices – today I choose to feel life, not to deny my humanity but embrace it.”

 

Next in party planning comes the actual planning.  We need to awaken and give thanks for having done so.  Then we need to proceed with a purpose, a plan if you will on our living.  This might include some religious or spiritual aspects but it certainly must involve respect and compassion as well as courtesy toward others.  Essential to every good party is lining up any needed help.  No one goes through life without some help from another.  We need to be confident and reach out to others for assistance.  There is no shame and everything to gain when we recognize this.

 

Crucial to a celebration is having the space to celebrate.  Whether the party is at home or at a rented venue, clearing out space to gather and be merry.  The same is true for our lives.  We need to take the time to declutter, both literally and figuratively.  Next on my to-do list for a successful party is the item “set the stage”.  All too often we forget to set ourselves up for success.  Whether it is by getting the proper education and training or simply putting on a happy face and having a positive attitude, we need to prepare to be the best we possibly can.

 

This week is celebrated by Christians as the last big party and the sentencing and crucifixion of the man known as Jesus.  This year, Jewish people are also celebrating Passover this week, a time of great meaning for them.   In their own way, both holidays celebrate freedom and atonement.  They remind us to forgive ourselves and to forgive others.  To fail to do so is to deny one the joy of living.

 

One of my favorite life quotes is one said by Auliq Ice:  “Laughter is like a windshield wiper, it doesn’t stop the rain but allows us to keep going.”  I think in their own way, the Beatitudes tell us the same thing.  We will encounter negativity in our lives.  That is inevitable.  However, with faith and determination as our windshield wipers, we can use them as lessons to keep going and celebrate the living our life is.  When we decide to come to the party of life, great things are bound to happen and we will truly be free to find joy in our being.

 

 

 

Reflections

Reflections

Lent 38-39

 

Last year during Lent we discussed self-worth and then morphed into self-love.  For many there is no difference between the two.  In reality, unless we first love ourselves, we have no true self-worth.  Yesterday I gave you a quote from Harper Lee about the value of reading:  “Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read.  One does not love breathing.”

 

Breathing is an essential part of our living.  Without it, we have no life.  Harper Lee was correct, though, because we often overlook it.  It is so much a part of our living that we forget its importance.  Self-worth is much the same way.  Until we love ourselves, we do not allow ourselves value.

 

C. Joybell C. is an author, writer, and community developer.  She also sits on the board of the Scientific Journal editorial board.  A native of Baltimore, Maryland, she also is excellent at keeping the focus off of herself and very much on her work.  She is, I believe, a great example of someone who values herself and her work and knows the difference between the two.  “Life is too short to waste any amount of time on wondering what other people think about you. In the first place, if they had better things going on in their lives, they wouldn’t have the time to sit around and talk about you.  What’s important to me is not others’ opinions of me, but what’s important to me is my opinion of myself.”

 

This coming week we are going back to our roots, so to speak.  This series is about cultivating a better self, growing a better being.  In the coming week we are going to focus on our self-worth and how we implement the self-love we hopefully planted this past week.  One of the best writers on this subject is Shannon Adler.

 

Shannon Adler is not some great scholar or a cosmopolitan literaturist from a distant continent.  She is a regular woman with the same challenges in life we all face.  What is so great about her is her ability to make lemonade from life’s lemons.  She knows her self-worth and that gives her the courage to see beyond the hurdle and stay on track.

 

What I have described as self-worth, Adler would probably call dignity.  She has quite a few definitions for this:  “1. The moment you realize that the person you cared for has nothing intellectually or spiritually to offer you, but a headache.  2. The moment you realize God had greater plans for you that don’t involve crying at night or sad Pinterest quotes.  3. The moment you stop comparing yourself to others because it undermines your worth, education and your parent’s wisdom.  4. The moment you live your dreams, not because of what it will prove or get you, but because that is all you want to do. People’s opinions don’t matter.   5. The moment you realize that no one is your enemy, except yourself. 
6. The moment you realize that you can have everything you want in life. However, it takes timing, the right heart, the right actions, the right passion and a willingness to risk it all. If it is not yours, it is because you really didn’t want it, need it or God prevented it.   7. The moment you realize the ghost of your ancestors stood between you and the person you loved. They really don’t want you mucking up the family line with someone that acts anything less than honorable.  8. The moment you realize that happiness was never about getting a person. They are only a helpmate towards achieving your life mission.  9. The moment you believe that love is not about losing or winning. It is just a few moments in time, followed by an eternity of situations to grow from.  10. The moment you realize that you were always the right person. Only ignorant people walk away from greatness.”

 

Self-worth is not something we can purchase, no matter how many times we try.  It is not the latest fashion or snazziest vehicle.  It is neither the biggest house nor the most friends on Facebook.  It is not even guaranteed if you repost that blurb on Facebook or Twitter or share your latest and best snaps on Instagram.  It is, as Adler says, “the moment you realize that you were always the right person”, that “happiness was never about getting a person”, and that “no one is your enemy, except yourself”.

 

What do you see when you look in the mirror?  I did not ask what do you think you should see but what DO you see?  I think selfies are so popular because we are striving to see ourselves from the eyes of another.  We seek to see what the objective eye of the camera sees.  Of course, we are interpreting that vision through our own eyes so it still is blurred but we continue to try, taking picture after picture.

 

I recently came across a picture of our family pet when said pet was just a tiny baby.  It was his first day with our family and the picture was taken at the pet store as we purchased the necessary items to become his caregivers.  “Goodness!” I thought.  “If I had known I looked like that, I never would have walked out of the house!”  Needless to say, I thought I looked less than desirable.  Yet, we had been approached by an animal rescue group, an international group, to adopt said pet.  Clearly, regardless how horrible I thought I looked, someone thought I looked caring and responsible.

 

Perception is everything when we view a reflection of ourselves.  “You can be the most beautiful person in the world and everybody sees light and rainbows when they look at you, but if you yourself don’t know it, all of that doesn’t even matter. Every second that you spend on doubting your worth, every moment that you use to criticize yourself; is a second of your life wasted, is a moment of your life thrown away.”  C. Joybell C. speaks a great truth in these statements.  “It’s not like you have forever, so don’t waste any of your seconds, don’t throw even one of your moments away.”

 

Writer Elizabeth Gilbert makes an important point that we often forget:  “never forget that, once upon a time, in an unguarded moment, you saw yourself as a friend.”  For most of us that time was when we were children.  Children have this undoubting talent for embracing life, embracing passion, and finding joy.  We need to tap into that part of ourselves we think we have outgrown and embrace it, reflecting a zest for life and ourselves.

 

“Let’s tell the truth to people. When people ask, ‘How are you?’ have the nerve sometimes to answer truthfully. You must know, however, that people will start avoiding you because, they, too, have knees that pain them and heads that hurt and they don’t want to know about yours. But think of it this way: If people avoid you, you will have more time to meditate and do fine research on a cure for whatever truly afflicts you.”  This advice, written by Maya Angelou in her “Letter to My Daughter”, is right on track but very hard to do. 

 

The Beatitudes help us look at ourselves from not only the past and present standpoint but also give us a line of vision into the future.  We can recognize and accept where we came from and where we are in the present moment and be assured that the future will be better because of everything we have experienced.

 

Value yourself to live honestly and realize that if someone doesn’t share the value you bring to the world, you probably do not need them in your orbit.  Be yourself – honestly and joyously.  You have value.  You are worth having value.  Most importantly, in the words of Malcolm X, “We cannot think of being acceptable to others until we have first proven acceptable to ourselves.”

 

Mindful

Mindful

Lent 34

 

Every so often a new word seems to capture our attention.  Recently the term “mindfulness” has become trendy.  It is, however, an integral part of our growing and always has been ever since the first time we fell as babies trying to walk.  During the fifty days of Easter we will discuss this topic more thoroughly but today, the Beatitudes are calling us to be mindful and aware of the events in our own lives and how our response determines the chart we course in our being.

 

Throughout this series we have discussed cause and effect and attitude.  We have compared our living to following a treasure map.  We all are truly adventures on a quest for a better life, hopefully not only for ourselves but for all humanity.  The paths we walk are not always the path we anticipated. 

 

Born Deirdre Blomfield and later adding Brown to her name, the American Buddhist nun Ani Pema Chodron practices the Tibetan tradition through the Kagyu school and Shambhala tradition.  She grew up in Connecticut and graduated from college at UC Berkley.  She became a mother(and grandmother) and taught elementary school in California and New Mexico.  On a trip in her later thirtie’s to France, she encountered

 

While in her mid-thirties, Deirdre traveled to the French Alps and encountered Lama Chime Rinpoche, with whom she studied for several years.   Soon her path led to her becoming a novice nun and then receiving full ordination with the name Ani Pema Chodron.  Ani Pema served as the director of the Karma Dzong, in Boulder, CO, until moving in 1984 to rural Cape Breton, Nova Scotia to be the director of Gampo Abbey.

 

I think this Western nun’s philosophy towards finding mindfulness in our own living is best summed up in her book titles:  “Start Where You Are”; “Comfortable with Uncertainty”; “The Wisdom of No Escape – How to Love Yourself and Your World”; “Living Beautifully”.  Her philosophy is simple, direct, and true:  “The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.”

 

To be mindful is simply, quite simply, to be aware.  I referenced a baby learning to walk.  The child will fall several times and yet, the wisdom in getting up and trying again is the key.  We learn to walk not because of any first time success but because when we fall, we get back up and try again.  With each unsuccessful attempt, we gain knowledge.  We become aware.  We learn to be mindful of how to balance and then take that first successful step.  Blessed are the children who fall because they learn to get back up.

 

Nun and spiritual teacher Pema Chodron encourages us to view our world, being mindful of the lessons found in it.  “The only reason we don’t open our hearts and minds to other people is that they trigger confusion in us that we don’t feel brave enough or sane enough to deal with. To the degree that we look clearly and compassionately at ourselves, we feel confident and fearless about looking into someone else’s eyes. … If we learn to open our hearts, anyone, including the people who drive us crazy, can be our teacher.”  Then and truly then, will we become mindful in our own living.