Jun 3 2009

Giving Thanks, a New take on an Old Theme

At some point in my spiritual journey I abandoned bowing my head and giving thanks for the meal I was about to consume. The whole process seemed hopelessly out of date. Wasn’t it based on some simplistic version of God as an old benevolent guy with a beard? But somewhere along the same path (it is interesting to note that we can abandon and renew the same processes for different reasons) that I learned that giving thanks need not be directed at a vague concept of an anthropomorphic God. Gratitude is something very basic to our culture, to most cultures. We express gratitude to someone for doing us a service. We teach our children this idea when they are very little.

When I look at the plate before me, I am grateful that I have a full amount of food to eat. Millions of people don’t have that luxury today, and millions won’t tomorrow. I am thankful that I live in a comfortable house, where weather and temperature are not an enemy but an inconvenience.  My gratitude stems from my circumstance. Whether that means I am blessed or lucky is a conversation for another time. That my children are healthy and happy has less to do with a good work ethic and intelligence than circumstances of my birth. But I am still grateful. And ultimately gratitude is a practice. You practice removing yourself as the center of the universe in this practice. It is a reminder that when I eat, and my children eat, that this is not the only option for everyone. I am hoping that with time this gratitude will extend into other areas of my life. That in my gratitude for the very small things that I could easily take for granted, I will learn to appreciate the bigger events and people in my life. The practice of thankfulness will exercise the gratitude muscle.

I don’t practice gratitude every time I sit down to eat. But it wouldn’t be a bad thing if I did.

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May 17 2009

Are you Awake?

I don’t mean awake physically. In many ways we are like the Keanu Reeves character in the film The Matrix . We live our lives, often happily, but still unaware that we are missing something. We might even feel that there is something beyond getting a Starbucks double shot latte or arriving late to work. Waking up is the first important step in a journey of transforming spirituality. Unlike the movie we don’t need to take a blue pill or a red pill. But we need to step outside ourselves for a moment. It is extremely difficult. Often we need a catalyst to accomplish this. Catalysts are important because they can move us past the normal and the comfortable to real insight. What can a catalyst be? A death in the family or traumatic event, great anger or joy might propel us past our usual experience of life.

I am not saying that it is impossible to wake up without a catalyst, just harder. The obvious way is to get outside of your normal environment or engage in activity that is not typical for you. But they have to be of the type that can change your perceptions. A couple of examples are a retreat and fasting. The first separates you from your every day experience, so is in a way like a self induced catalyst. Fasting is an important subject to explore at another time, but it too can focus your attention enough to propel you out your “normal.” When I first felt the moments of clarity, of wakefulness, it was always when I was outside my comfortable environment. In these moments you see with clarity what is important to you, what pursuits spiritual or physical you should follow.

In the case of finding yourself awake because of a catalyst, like a death, you can see your life, perhaps your behavior so differently than you ordinarily see it, that you wonder why you never saw life with such perception before. And in moments of wakefulness you have an opportunity. A powerful opportunity that comes with this clarity: transformation. Transformation is more than changing an activity, it is altering who we are. If change is scary for most people, transformation can be terrifying. It often means moving past things that don’t work in your life, but are extremely comfortable. This is why you need to wake up to transform your spirituality. If we keep wandering down a road where everything is comfortable it can be like walking throught a tunnel that is air conditioned in summer: we are comfortable but we see nothing. Being awake often means stepping out of the tunnel, out of  the air condidtioning and seeing the sunshine fall on flowers. It may be hot, but life is much more beautiful this way.

I will return to the topic of wakefulness another time. The important thing to remember is that when you are awake, you need to act. Do not wait until you are back in your regular enviroment to change. If you wake up and discover that some spiritual practice is amazing. Don’t promise yourself you will start a practice at some date in the future. Begin now. And I mean now.

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Apr 1 2009

What would it be like to be Free?

I think this is the first question we ask ourselves when realize we are trapped. But we are often not bound by physical constraints but mental ones. Often these binds are self imposed. What?

I will use the example in my life that began my real spiritual journey some years ago.

At the time I was a conflicted born again Christian. I was conflicted because my mind was at war with dogma, my heart battled belief.  Despite exploring deeply the depths of the Old and New Testament, I could not reconcile an omnipresent, all powerful loving God with the same figure depicted in church sermons as one who would condemn all unbelievers to an eternity of hell. It was not really the heaven and hell issue I had trouble with at the time (although, these concepts too have passed away), but the concept that God would condemn truly devout persons of other faiths to this fate.

Specifically, I did not believe God would condemn my mother to hell. My mom was a practicing Moslem and a member of a spiritual organization called Subud. And she was, until her passing, the most spiritual person I have ever met. My dilemma was that the Evangelical Christianity I had embraced teaches the idea that an individual must choose to accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Saviour to get a taste of Grace. God’s Grace was the thing that let you past the pearly gates. I will not get into the specifics of my internal dialog now, but it was a difficult time. As I think all spiritual crisis’s are. Ultimately, I realized I could not believe in a God that did not want someone like my Mom in heaven.

I left the church, with a heavy heart. But left it I did. And that was the catalyst for finding my own spiritual path. Catalysts are helpful because they offer us real options. These options are simply not available to us, because we have shut them out or ignored them. And as I stood looking forward to an far more uncertain future, without the comfort of a religion to boltster me, I felt free.

This website is part of my current journey to discover what works and what doesn’t.  This website is a work in progress. I am not a guru or spiritual leader. If you learn from me it probably be as much from my mistakes and success.We all have our own path, but we do have to take the steps ourselves to get to the end.

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