East Meets West

Muhammad Ali exemplifies the heart of a champion.  Time and time again in his life he withstood seemingly insurmountable t challenges by relying upon his heart.  Ali once told a group of Harvard students not to  look for miracles from outside of themselves, but instead , he told them that the greatest miracles came from within their  hearts.

He went on to explain to them that the most powerful force in the universe is love.  The love of one’s self allows one to love everyone else.  Once we tap into that source, he told the students anything is possible. Another great quote attributed to Ali was, “If my mind can conceive it and my heart can believe it, I can achieve it.

Ali had innumerable unique gifts from God. He was loquacious, innately intelligent, charming and handsome. He also had an awareness of his connection to God. He learned to call God Allah.  I believe the Universal Source of all there is goes by many names.  It is one of the stated goals of this column to elucidate to all that it does not matter what you call God, just that you are aware of God’s presence and acknowledge it as the source of all that exists. Ali knew that he was connected to God. I heard Ali state in the movie When We Were Kings that he was aware that when he focused upon himself he was limited. He stated that when he focused only upon himself that he was like any other man who felt fear and doubt and could be beaten. However, when he focused upon Allah and realized that he was acting at Allah’s behest for the rest of the world, he was limitless and could accomplish any goal.

If he was acting just for himself, he would have cut a deal with the Federal Government and joined the service and probably would have done USO work similar to Elvis. He probably would have been allowed to box and make money for his family. Instead, he was led by his heart and exercised his right to be a conscientious objector. He did so out of respect for his religion and a feeling that it was not right to fight a war against people who had not harmed him, nor his country.

Most boxing fans would agree that a true champion is known not solely by his ability to knock out his opponents, but also on his ability to take a punch and not give up.   It is commonly called the heart of a champion. Great champions can withstand the attack of others and somehow survive. They survive because they have the heart of a champion. Most people would have gone down when George Foreman hit them, yet Ali summoned the strength within his heart and took Foreman’s powerful blows and kept standing.  Most people would have retired to a life of seclusion after being Parkinson’s disease took away what appeared to be their greatest assets. Ali, after Parkinson’s   could no longer move people with his eloquence or impress people with his physical grace. Most would have been too embarrassed, or too arrogant to allow the world to see them in a diminished state. Ali was not in a diminished state because he knew in his heart that everything that happened to him in his life was the will of God. He knew, from a lifetime of contact with that Universal Source which he gladly called Allah that if one connects with the God within us all, only good things spring forth.

He revealed to millions of people how to stand up for their beliefs.   He manifested to us all how to accept the path that God has given us with dignity.  He accepted his role as a leader when he was a boxer, civil rights activist, and pacifist as well as someone with a debilitating disease. He acted with aplomb in all cases.

Ali was not a perfect man, yet he showed us perfectly how to look within our hearts and to connect to the God that is within. Once we make that connection, great things are possible.  As the song about him says, “Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.”  Once we take that first step and love who we are, our path will unfold before us and it will be a thing of beauty.

Thank you Muhammad Ali for being an exemplar. You revealed for us love, true courage and devotion.  We are all the better for it.

Son, one’s 18th birthday is a milestone in today’s western society. It marks the beginning of your official adulthood. As you have seen already in your brief life and will see more so as you continue forward, perspective and wisdom go hand in hand. You will learn from many people as you journey through this life.  You will receive well intentioned advice from loved ones, including me. Please learn from that advice and learn from your enemies perhaps even more.  Keep them all in the proper perspective.  Ask yourself who is giving you the advice and why. Ask yourself what can you gain from the advice and what can the adviser gain from giving it to you.

Know that you are known by the One About Whom Naught Can Be Said. Many people call this force God or the Universal Force.  As you have learned from Shakespeare, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”  You are not just known by this force you are loved by this force.  This energy is your true father and this earth is your true mother.   Your mother and I are actually physical symbols of that love.  We helped bring you to life and nurture you in the physical realm just as God does on the spiritual realm.   Just as you have respected your physical parents, please respect Father God and Mother Earth. Make choices with that love in mind. Listen to God. God speaks to you every day and answers all of your questions.  Every day I would like you to take a moment to quiet your mind, and to still your thoughts. When you let go of all thoughts your real thinking will begin and you will hear the voice of God. God has always been with you and will always be with you. Know this- You Are Never Alone!!!

Please take time to respect your mother. She loves you and will sacrifice everything for you. This is true of your physical mother and of Mother Earth. Make choices to protect her at all times.  Show her your love every day.  Appreciate her every day. Enjoy the sunrise, the sunset and the stars. Enjoy grass. Enjoy sun, rain, moon and clouds.

I mentioned advice earlier. Listen to it all but filter it through your loving heart. You have been blessed with a compassionate and loving heart. Use that as your filter for all information. I could give you a list of all the qualities one needs to succeed in life. However, I don’t necessarily believe in the concept of a good or bad life. Life is about garnering as many experiences as possible.  Here is where perspective comes in. You may have an experience that some would find deplorable, but with the right perspective, you will realize that it was just a learning opportunity.    Whether you score 5 touchdowns in a game or whether you lose all of your money in a business venture, know that both experiences are just learning opportunities. They don’t define you. You are neither a winner or  a loser – You just are.

In closing, I can’t resist giving you a list of words characteristics or qualities that will help you to just be.

These are your words:

Be perspicacious

Be poised

Be prescient

Be present

Be perspicuous

Be placid

Be peaceful

Be prolific and

Be passionate!!!!

So….. On we go facing the challenge of life,
It’s hard we know, watching your dreams fall through.
When we laugh, when we play, oh it makes the brighter part of our day
Just a smile, is all we need to send us on our way
So on we go, we must go on……
Davis Import 1981

My brothers and I wrote those lyrics almost 25 years ago. We did not write them because we were overwhelmed by life but because we looked forward to life’s challenges undauntedly. We knew that there would be times that would test our resolve. Times where loved ones passed away, where our dreams seemed beyond our reach, where we had physical, mental and spiritual challenges. We knew that as long as we stuck together we could surmount those challenges.
We knew that so long as we could laugh at our mistakes, foibles and mishaps and as long as we did not take our successes too seriously, we would be fine. You see, life is never static and rarely perfect. Even in those sublime perfect moments, when we have achieved our goals, we too often look ahead to the next challenge or our enjoyment of that moment is tinged by the fact that a relative, friend or neighbor is going through hard times. I don’t say this to depress you. Life is a wonderful gift. However, our focus should not be upon the end result but upon the process.
We are familiar with the Zen phrase that it is the journey and not the destination which runs counter to the Machiavellian “ends justifies the means” concept. When one does take time to enjoy the journey and do things the right way, we see that the results are far better than when we focus solely upon the end result.

Let us strive to enjoy this life and all of its experiences. They are designed to enrich our souls. Let us appreciate this gift called life and the gift of going through this experience with our loved ones for exactly what it is. The One who is known as God or the Spirit of the universe has given us a unique opportunity in this particular space and time. Don’t label these experiences as good or bad, happy or sad – they are just part of the Great Adventure that never stops…..On we go!!!!

While perusing social media this morning, I was greeted with a pleasant surprise. I was directed to an article and a concept that inspired me. It resonated with me. Marcus Strickland is a musician who recently released new music that was produced by Meshell Ndegeocello. Her music has inspired me and countless others for quite some time. The name of Mr. Strickland’s CD is Nihil Novi Sub Sole. The afflatus for the title came from his father who quoted Ecclesiates 1-9 to him when he was a child.

The thing that has been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun
Ecclesiastes 1:9

Strickland is an erudite person, thus he quoted the concept in its purest form which is the Latin, “Nihil Novi Sub Sole,” – there is nothing new under the sun. I watched the trailer for his album ( I know, I am old school no one calls them albums any more) and he explained that his interpretation of the passage was that there is nothing new under the sun and that we are who we are. We are all repeating lives and doing things that have been done before. Yet we are also all unique. While we may be living the same lives over and over again, we are unique individuals. He postulates that, if we are unique, then we can do things differently. Ah ha! Here is where East meets West.

Strickland is referring to the what eastern religious adherents call Samsara or the repeating cycle of birth, life, death and reincarnation. The Buddhist, Jainist, Hindus and many other religions believe that we are caught in this cycle until we realize our true nature and move beyond it through self-realization. Christian religious scholars agree with Strickland’s supposition as well. Alexander Maclaren, a Scottish minister who was famous for his biblical explications addressed Ecclesiastes 1:9 as follows:

“If you will look at these two passages carefully you will, I think, see that they imply two different, and in some respects contradictory, thoughts about the future in its relation to the past. The first of them is the somewhat exaggerated utterance of a dreary and depressing philosophy, which tells us that, as in the outer world, so in regard to man’s life, there is an enormous activity and no advance, that it is all moving round like the scenes in some circular panorama, that after it has gone the round back it comes again, that it is the same thing over and over again, that life is a treadmill, so to speak, with an immense deal of working of muscles; but it all comes to nothing over again. ‘The rivers run into the sea and the sea is not full, and where the rivers come from they go back to; and the wind goes to the south, turns to the north, and whirls about continually. Everything is full of labour, and it has all been done before, and there is nothing fresh; everything is flat, stale, and unprofitable.’

And let us hold firmly to the far deeper truth that the future will be the same as the past, because God is the same. God’s yesterday is God’s to-morrow-the same love, the same resources, the same wisdom, the same power, the same sustaining Hand, the same encompassing Presence. ‘A thousand years are as one day, and one day as a thousand years’; and when we say there is no new thing under the sun let us feel that the deepest way of expressing that thought is, ‘Thou art the same, and Thy steadfast purposes know no alteration.’”

I agree with Strickland and with Maclaren and the eastern masters. Immanent within us is the seed of God. We are manifestations of God here on this earthen physical plane of existence. This immutable fact does not change and in that sense we are the same and nothing is new under the sun. We are God inspired and God created sentient beings and will always be. Once we awaken to our true reality, we can escape the mundane. We can break the shackles of Samsara and go onto new heights, dimensions and realities. The fantastical tales spun by artist have always drawn our fascination because somewhere deep within us is the knowledge that this reality is only one among many, many more. This mundane workshop is just that – a place for us to experiment learn and allow our spirits to grow. Once we discover our true nature, we can soar.

Thank you Marcus Strickland for sharing your concept with us in your work entitled, Nihil Novi Sub Sole. The music is as enthralling as your concept. Thank you for reminding us that while nothing is new under the sun, our possibilities are infinite once we take the time to discover who and what we really are – God created, God inspired infinite beings simply having a human experience!!!

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