Beyond the Basics…Seeking the Eternal Truth

It’s been awhile since I posted and more than a few years since The Light of Illumination…a Beginner’s Guide to the Eternal Way was released.  I haven’t gotten around to writing the promised sequel, but here is how it would begin.

In dedication, I would offer my gratitude to those who came before me and who opened my spirit to the light and promise of eternity. I offer these pages as a legacy to those who will follow and to honor the memories of those who first set my soul on the path to wisdom.

I look around at the state of the world today and cannot help but be reminded of the description of St John in scripture as a voice crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord. Prepare for His coming.”  The unenlightened might interpret that passage to mean that the Lord needed our assistance to find His way, when it makes more sense to interpret it as “Prepare your hearts for the coming of the Lord.”  For it is we who are in need of His assistance, we who are lost, we who are so convinced of our own righteousness we have abandoned even our most tentative grasp on understanding.  In order to find our way again we must return to our beginnings and unlearn the foolish conceits of this world.

In doing so, we would do well to remind ourselves of a few simple truths:

There is no life without God. There is no light without Him, no happiness, no peace, no serenity, no wisdom. For wisdom based on a lie is foolishness and this world would have us believe that God is a myth, a construct of those unwilling to face the finality of death. When in fact it is those who preach He does not exist who live in constant fear of death, who cannot face the prospect of their own end. They are terrified and unable to escape their fear so they attempt to drag everyone else down into their darkness to provide them with company in their despair. Rather than abandoning their frantic grip on darkness and turning towards the source of all light they vainly attempt to extinguish its source. They attack the innocent. They use His name to foster their own violent, judgmental ends thus ensuring them remain locked in darkness and hatred.

If there is hate in your heart, you do not know Him. If you are consumed with resentment and violence and aggression you cannot know Him. Love is His way. Patience, peace, freedom from the tyranny of oppression and want. He patiently waits, an eternity it must already seem to Him, for man to learn these most basic truths and to abide by them, to wrap our lives around them and build our civilizations around them.

If there is despair in your heart you do not understand Him. For He is the source of all hope and all comfort. Open your pain to His grace and be cleansed.

I look back over what I have written and accept they are merely a collection of words and words are unable to hold His light and His truths.This life is only the beginning, never an end. In light of that singular truth, shouldn’t we be a little more mindful of the eternity we are creating for ourselves? Those who dwell in darkness in this life, and who, by their actions, condemn others to it, serve only to tighten its grip on their own souls.

Death is not a free pass. It is merely a threshold we pass through into the next stage of our lives. We don’t get to leave behind the consequences of all we have done and created for ourselves in this one. For those who have used this life to diligently strive to overcome their limitations and become more than they were at its inception, the eternal nature of life is a great comfort. But for those who have fallen from the spiritual state at which entered this life and have spent this earthly existence in idleness, in violence, and in judging the efforts of others, the continuation of this life into eternity brings fear.

And so it should. Hopefully that fear, that possibility that there is no end, is enough to make us all look back and evaluate our beginnings and the blessings that accompanied them and what we have made of ourselves in light of them. Are we more than we were or less? Will our return to heaven be greeted with delight and congratulations or will we face our passage to eternity weighed down by regret and sorrow at lost opportunities?Each day, each dawn we are given the opportunity to recreate ourselves and the life we are making for ourselves here in this world. Words make it sound easy. All we have to do is wake up one morning and just go out and redefine ourselves. Anyone who has tried understands that carving the life we dream of, making of ourselves the vision we hold in our hearts of our highest self is anything but easy. It requires discipline, dedication and resilience in the face of our inevitable failures and of the mockery of others who are unwilling to do the same.

So as we prepare for a new year, let us all look back and acknowledge our failings, congratulate ourselves on our successes and resolve going forward to have more of the latter than the former. Chart your course for the coming year with faith and the knowledge that this life is merely a stepping stone on your journey to your own eternal self. Don’t waste it. Don’t waste the opportunity given you here. Even if you go through this life avoiding every challenge that confronts you, they won’t go away. Death is not a free pass. Wouldn’t you rather overcome as much as you are able to in this life and be finally free of those weaknesses and addictions and imperfections in the life that follows this one?

Remember as you reach for your dreams and make your plans, that God has His own vision for you. It might be a good idea to check in with Him once in a while to make sure you’re not drifting too far off course.

Happy seeking & Happy New Year

.….Lynn

The Meaning of Life…

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What meaning is there in this passing life except that to be found in seeking the divine will at work in and at work for the benefit of each of us?  How sad for those who deny Him.  How dark the imaginings of those who set man in His place and proclaim there is no God…that man is the ultimate life-form of the universe. Who would want to live in such a world? How limited such a view to think our world, the multitude of galaxies in space, our very existence is the result of some cosmic random accident.  How foolish and presumptuous of man to make himself on par with God, the Creator of all life, of all that is, of all that ever was and all that will ever be.

Is that why despair is the daily bread of so many?  Is that why our world continues to spiral in a seemingly unending downward arc towards its own destruction?  Is God responsible for the evil at work in our world?  Or is it not more likely the abandonment of God that leads us to stop striving for a better world, a better life for all?

There are those who claim that it is the myth of God that is responsible for the evils in the world today.  “Look at the atrocities committed in His name”, they shout as their evidence. But man’s attempt to deflect the blame to God for mankind’s evil does not in any way diminish man’s culpability.

God holds out his hand to offer loving assistance to those who seek Him, but the faithless mock the faithful’s striving, leading them to doubt, to turn from the path of righteousness and salvation. Not content with the prospect of their own dark and empty eternities, they need to drag everyone else down with them to share in their own personal hells. How dark must be their imaginings. How comfortless their rest.  How empty their accomplishments and purposeless their strivings.

For the faithless, striving is indeed without purpose.  “Live for today, for tomorrow we die and then all is nothingness,” they cry out in their desperation.  Who could blame them for wanting to taste all of life’s pleasures? For neglecting the higher gifts? In their limited view of life there is no such thing as the higher gifts.  There is no spirit.  There is no soul.  There is no God.  There are no angels.  There is no inherent good or inherent evil.  Man is the ultimate judge of what is good and what is evil.  Unfortunately, man has proven a poor and subjective steward of such an office.

So, I think instead of despair, I will choose hope.  Instead of death, I will choose life. Instead of emptiness, I will choose meaning and purpose and the striving and occasional loss that accompanies it.  Instead of man in the place of God, I choose God.  I choose faith.  I choose joy.  I choose the hope of heaven and the promise of our Lord.

For are we not defined by our choices?

Thought for the day…

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Most of the time in our endless pursuit of perfection we look ahead at how far we have to go and are overwhelmed at the challenges still confronting us…

But sometimes it’s all right to pause in our pursuit and look back at how much we’ve accomplished along our way… and to be proud of our efforts and strivings…and take a moment to rest on the fruits of our labors…

Remember, the meaning of life can be better understood by focusing on the journey rather than the destination…

The Court and the Church….

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Two days ago the Supreme Court of the United States issued a landmark ruling making same-sex marriage legal in all fifty states.  To see the jubilation on the faces of those anxiously waiting for the court’s decision to allow them full access to the marital state and the benefits most of us take for granted brought tears to my eyes.  Tears of joy.

Many of you might question how I can reconcile my support for same-sex marriage with the practice of my Catholic faith.

Here is my answer:

I believe the church is greater than its human manifestation.  I believe it possesses a living, breathing, growing soul beyond the measure and the limits of its mortal administrators.  I believe the church’s mission is to act as the steward of the legacy of Christ’s teachings.

Christ declared the two greatest commandments are founded in love:

Love the Lord thy God with all thy might, all thy heart and all thy soul and

Love thy neighbor as thyself.

Christ did not add a footnote defining thy neighbor as those members of a certain race, sex, age, sexual orientation, religion, or economic class.  He did not attempt to define love by our limited human perception of it. Just as God himself is not limited by our current understanding of Him, nor is love.

Love simply is. In all of its wonder, in all of its various forms of expression, in all of its glorious, beautiful gifts.  Love is.  Love is inclusive not exclusive.  Love reaches out.  It does not constrain its reach by drawing in upon itself.  Love is the basis of all life and life by its very nature grows, ascends, refines, accepts new incarnations of itself.  Death denies, death contracts, death draws in upon itself until it withers and is no more.

I love the church.  I have great hope for its future, that it will continue to grow in the direction of a more perfect communion with God, who is the source of all love.

Just as I love this country and cherish the hope that it too will continue to grow and refine itself to a more inclusive, accepting and loving society for all of its citizens.

So thank you Supreme Court Justices.  Thank you for ensuring that the promise of the U.S. Constitution for equal access under the laws of this great land are afforded to all of its citizens.  Thank you for bringing us one step closer to a more equal society for all.

Why is the end never the end?

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This is totally off-topic for the site, but every so often we all need to vent our frustrations in a safe and non-judgmental forum.  Since this is my site I figure it’s my option.  I don’t know how many of you are writers, but I would like to clear up a few misconceptions in regards to the practice.  First, most people seem to believe that the author is in complete control of the story from start to finish.  In my experience, I have found this assumption blatantly false.  Second, most people also assume that the author knows exactly how the story’s going to end.  False.  Most of the time the author is as surprised as anyone of his or her readers as to how the story is going to turn out.  Third, readers assume that the author writes serial novels to generate interest from the reading public and consequently, sell more books.  Such an innocent, misguided conclusion, most of the time.

Let me let you in on a few well-kept secrets about authors…(at least the way it works for me).  I usually have little to no control over the direction the story takes.  I may start out with an idea in my head of a nice little story that will occupy me for a few months and satisfy my creative side.  I have a general plan in my head of a beginning, middle, and end.  It’s all nice and tidy in the beginning.  At this point, the staging, planning, pre-writing stage, I have complete control.  The characters are fictitious musings in my head.  They behave exactly as I imagine they will.  Everything goes along swimmingly in the beginning.  This is the fun part.

Then the actual writing begins and for a while, at least until the characters I’m bringing to life are firmly convinced they’ve got me hooked, everything proceeds just as I imagined it would…

Then all hell breaks loose.  The characters start going off on their own.  They start grandstanding, complaining about their lines, the size of their part in the story.  They want bigger roles.  They think they’re entitled to a larger cut of the action.  They want in on the best scenes.  In short, each and every one of them wants to be the star.  No one wants to play a supporting role. Trying to keep them all corralled and heading in the direction of the story I set out to write is exhausting.  Writing isn’t particular fun at this stage, but by now I’m committed.  A battle of wills has commenced and I’m determined not to let them get the better of me.

But no matter how hard I try to ensure everyone places by the rules, inevitably one of them sneaks one by me.  All of a sudden there’s a new twist in the story.  I  recognize it and think to myself, ‘okay, this isn’t too bad, I can work with this’.  As soon as I capitulate to one little change, the character responsible starts strutting around the setting like he’s God’s gift to the literary world, then the others get their noses out of joint. They gang up on me, complaining about their own parts, how they wanted to be the hero, or the villain, or whatever.  At this point, I’ve completely lost control.  Now comes the hard part; trying to reel everyone back in line and convince them to play nice.  At this point all I’m longing for is the still far-away dream of typing those two magic little words at the bottom of the final page…The End….

But I soldier on, because at this point I’m as caught up in the story as anyone else.  I’m curious about how it’s all going to turn out. They’ve got me hooked.  My role has become less of an all-seeing, all-knowing creator and more of a facilitator for the characters to work out their issues amongst themselves.  I keep going.  Page after page, word after word, avidly following along, delighted with the story’s twists and turns, crushed when one of my favorite characters is devastated by the course of events and cheering enthusiastically from the sidelines when success comes their way.

Finally I begin to see the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.  ‘Oh, so that’s where we’re going with this.  I didn’t see that coming.’  But I’m happy, excited.  The end is in sight.  I brace myself for one final push.  I can almost taste those two magic words on the tip of my tongue.  Maybe, I even get to experience the satisfaction of typing them at the bottom of that final page.  This is it.  This is the realization of my vision.  The story’s finished.  I even like it.  My creation,  my baby and even if technically that might not be completely true, given the input from the characters themselves, I’m okay with the little deception.  Someone’s name has to appear on the cover.  Someone real.  Someone with a verifiable identity.  By default, that just happens to be me.

I begin planning a weekend away somewhere.  Entire hours and days away from my computer…away from the place that served as the setting for the story.  The one I’m already tucking away into some remote corner of my mind.

Then, and this is the really irritating part, one of the characters decides he’d like a final word…just a little wrap up.  I resist the idea, not completely trusting his seemingly innocent request, but reluctantly I accede to his request.  He’s been a decent character for the most part.  He’s actually been helpful at times, keeping the others in line.  He wasn’t the star of the show, but he was a significant supporting character.  I figure he deserves his moment in the sun.  Like the sap I am, I give in.  I turn the page and title it, ‘Epilogue’, and tell myself it’s just a paragraph or two to make him feel better. After a hundred thousand words or so, what’s another two fifty, even five hundred?  It’s nothing.  Just my little expression of gratitude for someone who helped bring my vision to life, who stayed with me through the ups and downs and never stepped out of line. It’s his moment. Let him have it.

I should know by now this has disaster written all over it.  But I let myself get sucked in.  It happens every time and suddenly my sweet, little story grows up and becomes a complicated, rebellious, quarrelsome teenager.  It just happened to me again the other day.  I’m working on a book I never intended to write.  If you’ve been following along on the site, you’re not particularly surprised by this revelation.  I have finally reached that part where I can see the end of the book.  I’m happy, relieved, excited.  I usually like to write down the ending at this point just so I don’t lose sight of it as we wind our way towards it.  This story is complete in and of itself. As I’m writing the ending, I’m relieved there will be no sequel.  When the story’s finished, it’s finished.  The end.  Done.  Back to fantasy land with all of you.  Thanks for the memories.  It was a fun ride.  Then just as I finish happily typing, ‘the end’, (even though the story’s not finished yet and there’s still a ways to go between where things stand now and the part we’re getting to, it’s fun to mark the spot), one of the characters, the old priest, taps me on the shoulder and would like a word with me.  Very politely, you understand.  He is a priest, after all.  He just has a few final words.  Would I mind giving him a few moments of my valuable time?

It seems fitting.  He’s been a good character.  He’s played a significant, but small role in the story and he is a priest and an old one at that.  He can’t possibly be angling for another book.  He barely lived long enough to see the end of this one.  A final blessing on the story…a few words of wisdom…

How can I say no?

He tricked me!!!  On his deathbed no less, he pulls out an ancient artifact of the church.  No, that’s not technically true because the artifact in question precedes the church’s existence.  We’re talking Old Testament here…very old.  What I know about the Old Testament would not fill a book.  It would barely cover a few chapters.  I am not a serious student of the Bible.  I’m familiar with all the relevant parts, I’ve heard the most familiar stories, but those obscure, heavy versus and chapters escape me.  How could he do this to me?  He’s a priest, for God’s sake.

I haven’t decided yet what I’m going to do about him and his secret little key.  The Guardian of the Key.  I think it’s really cheeky of him to offer a title for a book he isn’t even going to live long enough to make it beyond the first chapter.  I might just decide to kill him off before the end of this book thereby thwarting his sneaky little epilogue ploy.

I haven’t decided.  I’m reserving my options.  I’m really pissed at him at the moment…

To Whom Much is Given…

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Ever wonder about the old adage?  Ever think that maybe they got it backwards?  Doesn’t it sometimes feel like we have the least expectation of those who have been given the most?   Don’t they get to spend their days on fancy yachts or lying on white sandy beaches while others see to their every whim?  How is that fair?

Or conversely, doesn’t it sometimes feel like those with the least get off easy?  Don’t they get to lie around all day collecting assistance while you’re breaking your back at some dead-end job just to make ends meet?  How is that fair?

Anyone’s whose lived long enough eventually reaches the inevitable conclusion that life isn’t always fair.  Some people take that as a license to fall into a completely narcissistic lifestyle making everything they do, feel, or converse about center solely around themselves.  If there’s no justice in the world what’s the point about worrying about anyone else?  Why give back?  Give back to whom, anyway?  No one’s ever given them a dime.  They’ve worked for everything that’s come to them and everyone else should do the same.

It’s hard to argue with the latter, but very few of us can claim we’ve never been given anything in life.  Let’s start with life itself.  Maybe everyone isn’t blessed with a sterling set of parents, but no one can argue that life itself was given them by someone else.  And while no one would argue that there is often an imperfect resolution of justice in this world, in the next we are all held accountable for each gift, each talent, each opportunity and every blessing that comes our way.

So rather than bemoaning what everyone else was given it would be a more fruitful use of our time to acknowledge gratefully the blessings that have come our way and examine what we’ve done with them…just as though we will one day be called upon to give an account of ourselves and what we made of our lives in this imperfect world.

It would be a mistake on our part to look around and assume that as long as we’re doing better than the next guy we’re safe from the consequences of our poor choices in the next.  Unlike this world that must necessarily rely on applying a certain set of reasonably uniform standards by which to judge its citizens, in the life beyond this one allowances are made for what advantages or disadvantages we were given at the beginning of our own unique race.  If you started out with twice as much as your neighbor, you might want to think about why a lifetime later you ended up living next door.  He must have either overcome twice as many disadvantages to get to the same level as you, or you must have squandered your own opportunities to have fallen so far.

Although there is an automatic tendency to apply this passage of “to whom much has been given, much will be expected,” to material goods, such an inference is its least consequential application.  There is a far greater impact on your starting place in the life beyond this one when this wisdom is applied to spiritual rather than worldly truths.

Back in approximately 400 A.D. a Christian governor, Aurelius Prudentius, wrote an epic poem called Battle for the Soul that proposed 7 heavenly virtues to offset the evils of the 7 deadly sins.  Surprisingly enough, human nature hasn’t changed all that much in the past sixteen hundred years, so examining these opposing personality traits is not a bad place to start if we’re wondering where we stand in our own struggles to make a place for ourselves in eternity:

7 Heavenly Virtues                      vs.                    7 Deadly Sins

  • Chastity or Purity                                         Lust
  • Temperance or Moderation                        Gluttony
  • Charity                                                           Avarice (Greed)
  • Diligence (Willing to work)                        Sloth (Laziness)
  • Patience                                                         Wrath
  • Kindness                                                         Envy
  • Humility                                                          Pride

Recognize anyone?  Or more likely, don’t we all recognize everyone in the above list, particular our own struggles?  Haven’t we all battled the temptations outlined in the list of sins? Don’t we all pat ourselves on the back when we’ve committed a particularly virtuous deed?

It’s so easy to judge, to jump on the bandwagon and condemn whatever or whoever everyone else is condemning.  It’s much more difficult to refrain from judgment…to recognize that we’re all on our own unique journey to eternity and we’re far better served working on our own weaknesses than in celebrating the struggles of others.

So just as spring is the eternal symbol of new life and of renewal of what already lives, let us spend these precious days renewing our spirits by casting off old habits, old resentments and old judgments that no longer serve any fruitful purpose within us and instead seek the best in others and in ourselves.  Let us devote ourselves to rekindling the circle of life we’ve each been given.  Let us work to heal the effects of violence and hatred and distrust that our world has fallen victim to.  Let us replace cruelty with kindness, mockery with understanding, and our drive to obtain more and more for ourselves with the understanding that the earth’s gifts belong to all.  Let us be less mindful of worldly matters and more open to spiritual truths.  Let us each be a beacon of light in the gathering darkness that threatens all.

And when we lay aside this earthly vessel, let us look back on these days of struggle and be able to truthfully conclude…”I have fought the good fight and run the race to the finish.”  I did the best I could with what was given me and God forgive me for my failings and remember kindly my successes.

 

The Way Up is Hard…The Way Down?

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Not so much. Have you ever noticed how hard it is to make positive changes in your life? The striving, the discipline, the commitment and dedication to advance, to get ahead takes everything you’ve got, and most of the time, more than you even believed yourself capable of. Why is that? Why is it that each painstaking, tiny step towards progress, towards evolution, towards our goals is agonizing? Especially when we all know the way back to our former, lesser selves is a fast slide down a steep incline with us ending up in a battered heap at the bottom.

Are we predestined to fail then? Are we hard-wired to be content with the status quo? Nature and evolution would dispute that conclusion. Has mankind not evolved over the past few million years or so into a better version of itself? As a race are we not better off now than we were as cavemen? So how did we get here when the getting here was so hard and the falling back was so easy?

Darwin makes a valid point. The strong survive and the species advances by pulling from the best of who we are and pushing us, kicking and screaming more often than not, into our better, future selves. Evolution apparently is not for the weak-willed or faint of heart. I tend to agree with Darwin on this one. Ascension and progress is hard work. Good intentions are not enough…remember the old cliché’ about the way to hell, etc. etc.

So how do we become a better version of ourselves? Well, to be blunt…We work at it! Yes, it’s hard, it’s supposed to be and the higher we go, the harder it gets. Think about a mountain climber. Down at the bottom, things are relaxed and jovial. At the wide base of the mountain, there’s plenty of time and room for error. The focus is still on preparation, on checking to make sure the climber has the right supplies before he attempts the ascent. Likely, this final check is being conducted only after long weeks and months of training, because the dedicated climber knows much better than the weekend warrior that once he sets foot on the mountain the margin for error is reduced and the price of a mistake grows more perilous with every step towards the peak.

The same principles apply when you embark on a spiritual journey. The casual initiate approaches the path to wisdom as a lark, or a curiosity, perhaps at the urging of a more spiritually minded friend. When the going gets tough, when true change and commitment is demanded, the casual participant falls away. Ascension is not a gentle path. It is steep and largely unforgiving. It doesn’t matter if we had a really good excuse, if we were too busy at work, at home, at whatever. When we fall, we fall…hard…harder and more painfully than the indifferent initiate who turned aside because he was not as vested in the journey to begin with. He has no real conception of his loss because he had no clear vision of what he sought. It’s difficult to mourn what you never had and what you never aspired to in the first place.

But for those who glimpsed the summit, for those who for a moment held its potential within their grasp, the slide down the mountain is cruel indeed. The thought of starting over is inconceivable. Impossible. To begin again, to start over, to prepare, to study, to train and then to gather the courage and the determination and the will to take that first step back towards the mountain that defeated them, that humiliated them the last time they attempted it takes an extraordinary act of valor, because this time around they fully understand the potential for loss and what the price of failure will be. Emptiness. Devastation. Pain.

So then do we simply wallow around at the base of the ascent with dreams of what might have been replaying again and again through our thoughts? Or do we gather our courage, collect the remnants of our scattered wills and try again, even knowing it will be more difficult this time around to keep our footing. Even understanding that the closer we get to the top one mindless, stupid moment of inattention will send us plummeting in a dizzying descent back down to earth?

Something to think about. Like I said earlier, evolution is not for the faint of heart.

Down is easy.

Up not so much…

So why does anyone make the attempt in the first place?

The answer is simple. To anyone who’s ever glimpsed the summit, even for a moment, nothing else can compare.

Is This All There Is?

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Most of us who live long enough are eventually confronted with this eternal question. The one that goes along the lines of:  So this is it?  This is what life’s all about?  Not that our lives are necessarily bad, it’s just eventually you reach a point of having been there and done that and you begin to wonder what comes next.  What’s after this?  Is this what eternity is going to be like for me?  Just more of the same old, same old? If so, you might decide that maybe eternity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

When faced with this dilemma we humans tend to follow various approaches in an effort to resolve the conflict it creates within us.  I suspect this conflict is responsible for much of the excesses that have collectively come to be known as “the mid-life crisis”.  It’s not surprisingly that it takes until mid-life for this tension to surface within us.  Most of us are too busy in our younger years to worry overly much about eternity.  Our lives are consumed with just figuring out how to get by in this physical world. In our youths, our time is spent on education and socialization.  Then we’re off to the world of work and paying our bills and keeping a roof over our heads.  Then often children come along and we are consumed by educating and socializing them and keeping a roof over their heads.  Just about the time when most of us begin to feel some relief from those overwhelming responsibilities, we are often faced with a new and heartbreaking reality; that of taking on the role of parents, or at least caregivers, for our own aging parents.  We’re so busy just trying to keep our heads above water; it’s hardly surprising there’s not a lot of time or energy left over for us to contemplate such esoteric conundrums as the eternal nature of our existence.

For those of us who learned about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in college, (which is likely now being taught as part of grade school curriculums), our lack of interest in the eternal nature of our existence is hardly surprising.  Maslow outlined a pyramid of human evolutionary progress that each individual proceeds through in order to attain what he termed self-actualization. Maslow’s theory states that an individual cannot attain the next level until the needs on the current level are satisfied. At the broad base along the bottom of the pyramid are those needs having to do with physical survival:  air, food, water, shelter, etc.  Hardly surprising that it would be somewhat difficult to focus on the concept of self- actualization when one is starving to death. At the next level from the base are safety needs.  Human beings need to feel secure, safe from predators, safe from being thrown out on the street, safe from all the violence besetting our world.  After that comes the human need to belong, to be loved, to be part of a family, a community, a group of friends, colleagues, etc. From belonging we’re on to esteem needs.  Human beings need to feel respected by others and to respect themselves.  Finally, after all of these needs have been satisfied a person looks to realizing his potential…to being all he can be…to having it all.

We all probably recognize ourselves as being at one of these levels or we can look back and remember ourselves passing through the various life stages leading to where we find ourselves now.  I’m guessing the mid-life crisis stage probably comes about as a result of having satisfied the first levels and being at a point where there’s this urge within us to “be all we can be”.  We look at our lives to date and our confronted with the diminishing number of years left to us, and we think we’re running out of time. Our thought processes resemble something like this: ‘If I’m ever going to be all I can be, I better get on with it now, this instant.’  Hence the desperate plunge into adventure, unhealthy relationships, extreme physical activities, or foolish purchases that implode a life-time of careful savings and planning.

Most of us, after a few (hopefully anyway) regrettable excesses realize that self-actualization, at least in the form outlined above, is not what we were after.  Such behaviors, such seeking outside of ourselves for fulfillment doesn’t work.  In his later years, even Maslow figured out that it’s not all about us.  True happiness is not to be found in self-actualization, though I suspect many of us never reach beyond that stage.  It’s a pity really. Because when we ascend to the stage beyond the one where our overriding focus is on self, on me, on what’s in it for me, that’s when things begin to get interesting.

Beyond self-actualization lies self-transcendence. At this stage we are focused on trying to figure out where we fit into the grand scheme of things. What’s our purpose?  What should we be doing?  Is our current way of life leading us towards it or away from it?  And if life doesn’t have a purpose, then what in the world are we doing here? Is this all just a big waste of time?  What’s the freakin’ point?

When you reach the point when profanity enters the picture at the absurdity of it all, then you know you’re ready to begin.  The funny thing is that while most people spend a life-time just getting to this point, they are inclined to give up their search for answers far too easily.  They read a few books, maybe go back to their childhood church for a month or so, adopt a healthier life-style, dabble in yoga or meditation for a few weeks, but when the answers to their questions about the universe and what lies beyond this physical life do not immediately descend upon their momentarily seeking selves, they grow frustrated and all too often abandon the path of truth before they’ve even taken more than a few steps along it.

Isn’t it ironic that we spend decades learning the truths of this passing world and yet are willing to devote no more than a few hours, weeks, months, or even years to educating ourselves as to the nature of eternal truth. Wisdom does not reveal itself to the unworthy.  She prods and tests and challenges those who seek her gifts.  Faith is not for the faint of heart or will.  Faith is an exercise in 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.  To wander along a winding path with no idea where that path is leading you, getting tangled up in briars and thickets, losing your way not once or twice, but dozens, maybe even hundreds of times, then painstakingly making your way back again, often all in the face of being a source of confusion, if not polite amusement to those around you, is not a journey to be undertaken lightly.

So we delay our hearts’ urging.  We suppress our awakening spirit.  We tell ourselves it will pass, that we’ll go back to being our old selves, happy with who we were and with how we spent the time we’ve been given.  The more we try to suppress our burgeoning spirit the more frustrated we become.  Until eventually we stop fighting the longing of our hearts and our spirits and we begin.

It’s not unusual as is often the case with new beginnings, we find immediate success in our new endeavors and are thrilled with our choices and the new selves we see emerging from the old.  But inevitably the pace of our progress slows.  Rather than making great strides in a single day or week or year, our advancement stalls as the climb becomes steeper. Instead of looking over our shoulder and being pleased with how far we’ve come over a period of time, we’re frustrated to find ourselves still so close to where we were before.  Often times we realize that in order to overcome the challenge ahead of us, we have to backtrack and go around obstacles we’ve already conquered once before.  We become discouraged.  We’re tempted to give up.  We might even try giving up. We tell ourselves we’re through with all of that.  That our new selves were an experiment in some kind of temporary insanity, but we’re better now, we’re back.

For a while we’re comfortable being back, we like the rebound to our old selves and we throw ourselves with great enthusiasm into our former habits.  We are welcomed lovingly by old friends who had secretly wondered what was going on with us.  But such familiarity does not come without price.  Eventually we find ourselves alone and then we’re forced to confront the truth.  We’re really not as happy with our old selves as we thought.  We become aware of a new sadness inside and recognize it as the voice of our spirit we so long suppressed crying out at being once again relegated to the dark, silent cage where it spent most of our earlier years.

The longer we try to pretend we really are who we once were, the more we become separated from the truth until finally something gives.   We are confronted with a most unwelcome truth:  We’re stuck. We can’t go back to who we were but we’re afraid to move forward.  We don’t know how.  It’s too hard.  We don’t know what we’re doing.  We have no idea who we’re supposed to be and there’s no one around to follow, to show us the way.  The spiritual journey is by its very nature a very personal and intimate one.  You can’t find anyone to show you your way because you’re going to different destinations.  Hence the fear.  Hence the uncertainty.  Hence the enormity of just how much you don’t know,  how much you don’t understand.

If you are familiar with this feeling than you are already much further along than perhaps you realize.  As hard as it is to celebrate your confusion, be grateful for it, because it is a sign that you have begun your journey along the eternal way.  For you at least the question Is this all there is? has already been asked and you have begun your journey to discovering its answer.

Namaste.  I wish you good fortune along your way…

A Saving Grace…

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There’s a lot of talk in religious circles about salvation, or being saved, presumably from an eternity spent surrounded by the fires of hell.  Each religion has its own recommended path to avoid such an unpleasant fate.  Considering the stakes involved, (after all eternity is a really long time), it’s hardly surprising the topic warrants so much attention.

So is salvation merely the result of stumbling upon the ‘right’ religion? Does a merciful God consign the rest of His children to eternal damnation simply because they were raised in a household that did not practice the right religion, or any religion at all for that matter?  Are we not all His children regardless of our race, sex, country of origin, or the way we choose to worship Him?  Is God’s love so limited that He does not make allowances for our varying life circumstances? Is it not more likely that it is our understanding of God that is limited rather than the other way around?

With this is mind let us return to the topic of salvation.  Where does one begin the search for God? What if you’ve never been shown how to connect with Him?  Or maybe the way you were shown doesn’t work for you.  Does God simply write you off?  Look around you.  Look at the beauty and the variety of life.  Look how much care and attention He gives to even the smallest creature, or the tiniest plant.  Then look up at the skies, at the seemingly infinite and ever expanding number of stars and planets.  Is this evidence of a God of limited love who dictates His children must pass through a single door in order to return home to His loving embrace?  Does it not make more sense that God has laid out many paths for His children to stumble upon in the chaos of this physical life so they might find their way home to Him?

If there are so many ways to find communion with Him, does that mean organized religion is of limited value?  Of course not.  Just as in the experience of their physical lives, some souls are determined to do things the hard way in pursuit of spiritual enlightenment.  They feel compelled to scale the steepest heights, to fight their way through clinging, prickly branches that block their path and stumble over pitted, rocky ground even when a perfectly smooth and less challenging path is available to them that leads to the same destination.  An individual soul’s choice to take the long way home isn’t wrong even if it seems inexplicable to the rest of us.

As to the place of organized religion in your personal search for a more meaningful connection with God, to my way of thinking it’s not a bad place to start.  History tells us that in times of crisis, (and in this I’m referring to the kind of crisis that threatens a civilization’s very existence), the accumulated wisdom of those whose way of life is in danger of extinction is often entrusted to the guardianship of a very few.  The world’s organized religions are frequently called upon to act as the stewards of such knowledge, a knowledge that extends across the very length and breadth of man’s recorded history.  Given the purpose they have served in preserving the hard-won spiritual knowledge mankind has managed to painstakingly accumulate over the millennia of our existence, an exploration and even devotion to an organized religion seems a perfectly reasonable place to begin one’s search for God.

For many their search ends in the comforting arms of a religion that speaks to them.  For others, the way is not so easy.  They must carve out their own way.  Even those who are devoutly religious at some point recognize that all organized religions are at heart, human institutions that are run by imperfect humans.  These same humans sometimes make poor decisions in their zeal to convince others of the rightness of their singular way to God, or sometimes just to further their own ends in order to preserve their standing in the world and among their followers.

But while we traverse the path of our human journey, each of us seeking salvation in our own stumbling way, we must remember that salvation is not available to institutions, regardless of their religious origins.  Nor is salvation available to the plural ‘we’ or ‘they’.  Salvation by its very nature is an individual pursuit.  A soul is saved.  The process is a personal one between the individual and the Almighty. Each of us will stand before God, (or preferably kneel before Him) and give an accounting of ourselves and of our lives. We do not go before Him in groups. We don’t get to let another speak for us.  Nor can we point an accusing finger in another’s direction thinking to shift the blame for our own failings to another.  There’s no such thing as pulling one over on God.  We cannot get away with anything in His sight.  There’s no possibility of Him never finding out something we’d prefer not to share.

Given again the stakes involved it seems that even the non-believer would want to hedge their bets just a little, maybe find out a little more. Not necessarily about a religion they’ve turned their backs on, or one perhaps that has turned its back on the individual, but to seek instead the inspiration behind all religion.  God.

God stands alone.  Unchallenged.  Separate from every religion, theologian, sacred scripture or prophet that seeks to explain Him.  He is, was, and always will be, regardless of our belief or disbelief in Him, of our fervent devotion or indifference towards Him, of our reverence or lack of it before Him.  There is no escape from God’s love just as there is no escape from life. Death offers only an escape from this life, but life itself is unaffected by our passage to a new expression of our eternal selves.

Eventually we are going to run out of excuses. Eventually, like a rebellious teen, we are going to have to go home and face the music.  Or at least there will come a time when we desperately wish we had the courage to do so.

Why not now?  Why not today?  Isn’t it easier to begin the long journey home when we still have time on our sides, to plan, to weigh, to think about what we’re going to say when we’re called upon to account for the gifts of this life and our stewardship over them?  Time to maybe even make a few changes in our lives so the conversation isn’t quite so painful when we’re confronted with it? Isn’t it easier to have such a discussion with someone we already know well?  With someone we’ve already had numerous conversations with?  Someone we love and who we know loves us and is eager for us to return home to Him?

So let us resolve not to waste the opportunity given us in each moment to draw closer to our source.  If looking for God in every moment is too intimidating to consider (and how could it not be), let us strive to make a little more effort to open the window to our souls in the coming year… maybe a single prayer at the beginning of each new season, each new month, each new week…new day…new hour…new minute…new moment…

All great endeavors begin in a single, tiny moment of resolve.  So simply begin….somewhere….somehow…draw a deep breath and begin….

 

Is Your Body Working Against You?

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It seems like that sometimes.  What’s especially grating is when you realize your body fights most against your efforts when you’re doing something good for it.  Shouldn’t its objections ring out the loudest when you’re taking it down a path leading to its destruction?  But no, it’s only when you begin eating right, trying to build a consistent exercise routine, avoid addictive habits, and get a decent night’s sleep that your body starts acting like a spoiled toddler deprived of his Halloween candy. Why is that? Does your body harbor a secret death wish?

Not necessarily.  Well, not a secret wish anyway.  It’s just that death is all your body knows.  At the moment of your birth, your body did the math and recognized death was its ultimate destiny.  From your body’s point of view, since it’s going to die anyway, it doesn’t see much point in prolonging the inevitable.

Therein lies the inherent conflict going on within you.  Because life is all your spirit knows.  Your spirit finds your body’s pre-occupation with death inexplicable.  Your spirit knows it will never die.  From the moment of its birth, life is all it has known and will ever know.  It tries to convince your body that there is no death, only eternal renewal and transformation, but your body covers its ears with your hands and refuses to listen.  The truth is your body is really not all that opposed to the idea of just going to sleep one day and never waking up.  Life is hard sometimes.  It requires effort and dedication and commitment. The idea of eternity scares the hell out of it.  Especially when it considers the possibility it might be stuck with itself for all eternity.  If it really believed that, your body would probably be a little more open to your attempts to whip it back into shape.

So your body looks around you with unseeing eyes and attempts to persuade you of its depressing view of the world.  So much more comfortable for it if you play along and buy into its anxious urgings.  Why bother eating right?  Exercising?  Beginning a new, more fulfilling career, going back to school, taking up a new interest, or even simply getting off the couch?  ‘Indulge yourself’, it pleads with you, ‘For tomorrow we both die.’

Only you don’t.  Even it doesn’t.  It is merely transformed into a new version of its life, while you, the real you, continues along your own eternal journey…except this particular journey has no end.

From your spirit’s point of you, the question isn’t why bother.  It’s why not? There’s no deadline here.  You’ll never run out of time.  So what if you’re eighty years old and you only have a limited number of years left in this life.  We all only have a limited number of years in this life.  Are you going to spend an eternity pulling that excuse out of your back pocket to avoid reaching for more than your current experience of life?  Are you planning to spend an eternity settling, accepting, drawing your spirit back into your body’s limited view of life until death would be a preferable alternative to the existence you choose for yourself?

Now is the moment we have.  Now is all we are given to work with and so it will ever be.  You have this moment, this tiny fragment of eternity to begin, to do, to choose, to create, to live.  And then in the next moment you have that one to begin, to do, to choose, to create, to live all over again.

That’s the answer to your body’s demand of why bother.  That’s the response to your mind’s questioning of your intent to invest in yourself.  It is impossible to evade life.  You might as well make the most of what it has to offer rather than settle for the least of its offerings.

So the next time you’re tempted to give into your body’s destructive or whiny impulses, ask yourself which choice is going to lead you in the direction of the person you want to be, or the one you are trying to become. Which of those visions of yourself do you want to spend an eternity with?  There’s no getting around the fact that the one thing, the one choice you’re going to be stuck with forever is you and what you’ve made of yourself. If you’re not one hundred percent enthralled with the current version, now would be a good time to begin work on the new and improved model. Sure you can put it off.  There’s no rule against procrastination.  You’re the one who has to live with yourself.  Forever.