Your Best Life Now

Your Best Life Now

Contentment…In Any and All Circumstances

posted by smcswain

The spiritual teacher, Eckhart Tolle, once wrote, “Accept this moment as if you had chosen it.”

That’s not so different, is it, from what the spiritual teacher, Saint Paul, described, when he wrote, “…I have learned how to be content with whatever I have” (Phil. 4:11)?

Contentment

Contentment

Contentment.

How does one learn to be content? Our advertising world…indeed our entire system of economics…would likely morph into something quite different if suddenly advertisers were no longer permitted to promote products without the clever capacity of creating discontent in consumers.

Contentment is not complacency.
Contentment is not laziness.
Contentment is not avoidance. Nor is it an aversion to goal-setting.

Some measure of discontentedness is, therefore, necessary, isn’t it?

I think so.

Presently, for example, I am not content with where I am professionally and, as a consequence, I am evaluating, setting new goals, and moving my professional life forward.

Contented and Discontented

So is this discontent a failure on my part to live contentedly?

Maybe. That is to say, it could be. Certainly, the potential is there for the displeasure I feel to steal from me the peace I should know.

“So, how do I know when the discontent I feel with where I am in life is a dangerous discontentedness I need to avoid?”

The answer might lie in the question itself.

Consider…

“When the ‘discontent’ you feel

becomes a state of ‘discontentedness’

let that be to you a warning sign”

Then, what is contentment?
What is it Saint Paul and Eckhart Tolle are saying?

Contentment is Acceptance

Contentment is acceptance of what is.

I no longer seek to blame God, for example, or the Devil or anyone or anything else for that matter, for showing up in my life. Why would I? What could possibly be the point in seeking to attribute to God something so trivial as my situation? Which is why I shudder every time I see an NFL player, or fans, attribute to God such trivial matters as who wins the Super Bowl.

I seek instead to respond to what shows up as if I had ordered it myself, like ordering a dish from a menu in my favorite restaurant.

Now, do not misunderstand. It is not that I regard what has shown up as the consequence of some unconscious wish on my part. Rather, what I am saying is this: whether I like what has shown up or not, is no longer the first and foremost matter.

The first order of business is accepting the fact that what has shown up has shown up. I have the choice of facing it, therefore…of living into it…of accepting it…

Or, I have a choice of resisting it. And, if I do, and I usually do, then I have just created another problem. Not only do I have the situation at hand which I am resisting, but I have now my resistance with which to wrestle as well.

What Contentment Is…

Whenever, therefore, something unpleasant shows up, and it isn’t long before something usually does, I seek to embrace it as much as I can and as soon as I can. I do this by seeking to know and name what I’m feeling about it, accept that feeling, instead of resisting it, and then move on to the situation I am facing.

If all of this sounds infinitely easier than it really is, then you’re reading between the lines correctly. The fact is, I live with much resistance to what is. I am often discontent to the point it becomes a state of discontentment. Which is what I must learn to avoid, and I am learning it slowly, and it is the one thing each of us, to varying degrees, must learn, too.

Now, I should add that, while contentment is acceptance, it isn’t giving up. Sometimes, people mistakenly think that “acceptance” is rolling over and giving in when everything else inside you cries out to fight back.

Contentment is Making Peace with What Is

For example, I did not think I would have a heart attack at fifty-nine. I resisted, and still slightly resist, the reality that I have heart disease. Even to admit this is not a little rattling to me. But it is a fact that impacts every other area of my life and for the rest of my life.

Now, I can accept this…live into it fully…understand the changes I must make so as to prolong my health and life…

Or, I can live in denial of it, which usually expresses itself in the continuation of those behaviors, lifestyle and habits, etc. that likely were contributing factors in premature heart disease.

If I were to choose the latter course of action, which I am not choosing, the possibility of a repeat performance sometime in the not-too-distant future is probable.

I intend to change that outcome. Discontent with what is the state of my health, I choose to act responsibly, not roll over or live in a state of perpetual discontentedness or depression over it.

I will not say, “This was God’s will,” or worse, “God’s trying to teach me something,” or, worse still, “God is punishing me for something.” What good would any of that do? Besides, the theology behind such statements is primitive, puny, and pathetic.

What I do say, however, is that “I am learning to be content with cardiac issue…” and, for me, that means…

  • I am learning to accept myself, my condition, while, at the same time, doing what I may to improve matters;
  • I am learning to forgive myself for ignoring my inner voice, a voice that warned me on multiple occasions to let go of some lifestyle habits I had been practicing for much too long – your inner voice knows.
  • I am learning to relax more and be more…to be more self-reflective and to ask before I impulsively act on things, “Is this really needed?” “What in me desires this so much?” “Is it something I need or want?” “Is this feeding a deeper need about which I am presently unconscious?” “What might I learn from this to take me deeper into life…my life…and, deeper into contentment?”

This is contentment or the acceptance of “this moment as if you had chosen it.” It is the pathway to peace and Your Best Life Now!

Dr. Steve McSwain is an author and speaker, counselor to non-profits and congregations, an advocate in the fields of self-development, interfaith cooperation, and spiritual growth. His blogs at BeliefNet.com, the Huffington Post, as well as his own website (www.SteveMcSwain.com) inspire people of all faith traditions. Dr. McSwain is an Ambassador to the Council on the Parliament for the World’s Religions. His interfaith pendants are worn by thousands on virtually every continent, sharing his vision of creating a more conscious, compassionate, and charitable world. Visit his website for more information or to book him for an inspirational talk on happiness, inner peace, interfaith respect or charitable living.

The Beliefs I Was Told I Had to Believe to Be a “Good Christian”

posted by smcswain

If you were raised in a Christian faith tradition similar to mine, you will readily recognize the following beliefs, the following worldview. If you were not, however, this will give you an idea of what I was taught to believe and what many Christians believe still. While I mention only a few below, these are some of the more prominent ones.

Have a mind that is open to all things and attached to nothing.

I was told these were all true…that I was not to question them…and, had it not been for my father and mother who encouraged me to question things nonetheless, I would still be incarcerated in a belief system that is, in my own opinion,  narrow and misguided. I say that, however, knowing many hold these beliefs very passionately. And, for them, they may be sacred, not “narrow” or “misguided.” And, I would not want them to be offended. This has been my conclusion, however. I would only hope others would be discerning, thoughtful, and, just as my parents encouraged me, question everything with an open mind.

As Paul Tillich once said, or some smart person said, “The opposite of faith is not doubt; it is certainty.” Faith, if it is authentic, is made of the stuff of doubt. If you do not doubt and ask questions – hard, honest questions – you aren’t being faithful to anything but a belief system that isn’t even your own. It’s just a collection of opinions you feel obliged to argue about and defend. When you have grappled however with real faith, and it’s fine mixture with doubt, then you come out on the other side with a ring of genuineness in your faith – forged on the anvil of doubt. That kind of certainty is hard won.

And, worth the struggle.

The Beliefs I Was Told I Had to Believe to be a “Good Christian”

• The Christian religion is the correct or “right” religion. That is to say, all other religions
are wrong, and the people who believe in them need to be converted to Christianity or face the dire consequences that await them in eternity (that is, they will go to hell if they cling to their religion and do not renounce their religion and become Christians).

• Jesus is the Savior of the world and the one-and-only-way to God. All other ways may lead to something, but not to God. If you want to go to heaven, therefore, you’ll have to believe in Jesus. Or else.

• God’s word is the Bible. God’s word is found only in the Bible. Be suspect of anything anyone else may call sacred scripture.

Beliefs I Was Told I Had to Believe - Selections Taken from The Enoch Factor

Beliefs I Was Told I Had to Believe – Selections Taken from The Enoch Factor

• The Bible is infallible (without error), at least in its “original manuscripts” — referring to the actual parchments on which the biblical writers wrote their words. (I must add here, however, that no original manuscript has been found. Nada. Not one. Not one even close to the original manuscripts. Furthermore, the earliest ones we have date from the second century and are distinguished by the fact they are filled with innumerable discrepancies between them).

• The family God has ordained is made up of one man and one woman. A few other unions may be permitted, but they are hardly preferred.

• Homosexuality is a sin against nature and an abomination to God. God made them Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.

• Abortion is murder. No exception. No debate.

• If America wishes to remain strong, it had better side with Israel. Israel is God’s chosen nation. Again, no exception and no debate.

• The Second Coming of Jesus could occur at any moment. (I must pause and add here, too, that Jesus said the “second coming” would occur only when people “least expect it” (Matt 24:43-44).
Since many Christians are not only expecting it at any moment but are actually praying for it, they should know they are likely responsible for his delay).

• God is not finished with Israel. Thus, the nation of Israel will play a pivotal role in a pre- or post-tribulation Rapture-of-the-church view of the end of human history.

(Some Christians believe in what’s known as the pre-millennial view of the future, a few believe in what is known as the post-millennial view, and some believe in the a-millennial view of human history, meaning “no millennium.” It isn’t important to go into detail here about the meaning of these different views of “end times.” But if you’re familiar with the Left Behind series of fictional books released over the past fifteen years, you’ve met the most popular of these complicated apocryphal systems of thought. The novels themselves are based on the pre-millennial view of the end, with its special devotion to the futuristic notion known as the “Rapture.” Hal Lindsey first popularized this with the masses of untrained but fascinated followers with his book, The Late Great Planet Earth. If people actually paid the price to study these matters themselves, and of course most Christians have not – they simply get their “theology” on such things for one of these books instead of researching it for themselves. But, if they did, they would know the questionable sources from which these ideas come and most would reject them outright.)

• God is not a Republican, but any God-fearing soul knows there’s no way she would ever be a liberal Democrat. Oops, did I say “she”? That was a Freudian slip of my pen. Christians all know God is neither male nor female but, whenever they think about God, they cannot help but get this picture of a benevolent male, granddaddy who lives above the sky, wears a white robe, has a long beard, a kind face, and a Shepherd’s staff in his right hand. A throne is behind him and two winged creatures stand beside him and he has unlimited power and authority.  (Selections Here taken from The Enoch Factor: The Sacred Art of Knowing God).

Really?

Yes, these are the things I was taught to believe. There are other things but these are some of the more important things. If you’re guessing I’ve given up on most of these, you’ve guessed correctly.

“Then, what do you believe?” I am asked, and asked often.

I have many strongly held beliefs, as anyone knows who takes time to regularly read the things about which I write. My main belief, however, is this:

“God is…I am…We are…And, love and compassion is really all that matters.”

And, in the final analysis, can you tell me anything that matters more? (Matt. 22:36-40).

Divine Consciousness: What “Being Saved” is Really All About

posted by smcswain

Divine Consciousness: What Being Saved is Really All About

Divine Consciousness

Divine Consciousness

What does “being saved” really mean?

I am sometimes asked, “You frequently use the words ‘conscious’ or ‘Divine consciousness’ or ‘higher states of consciousness’ and, sometimes, ‘awake’ or ‘awakening’. What do you mean by these words?”

What I mean by “Divine consciousness,” or any of these other terms, comes closer to what I understand “being saved” or “salvation” is really all about.

Simply stated, I mean this: That God – whatever God is – is manifesting to me in this…yes, this…whatever THIS may be.

I love the way Fr. Richard Rohr puts it: “God is this…Even This!”

Divine Consciousness: Salvation?

Some religious people mistakenly believe that to describe “salvation” in these ways is really just “New Age” stuff. Many could not explain what they mean when they label it “New Age” except that it is something from which you should run.

Seriously? I think not.

Talk about a word that has lost its meaning over the years. What could be a more misunderstood word than this very good but abused and misused word “salvation?”

I thought for much of my youth and young adult life that salvation was all about eternity. That salvation was about saying something called a “Sinner’s Prayer” so you could be forgiven and go to heaven when you die.

What I believe today, however…what I am experiencing in my own life…is a larger understanding of salvation. It is about Divine consciousness, awareness, transformation, or the “waking up” to a new understanding of myself, others, and the world.

Divine Consciousness: A Self-Awareness

I was raised to think…

…that “being saved” was all about rescuing me from the pits and perils of hell;
…that salvation was all about getting ready for heaven;
…that life now was just a preparation period for the next life to come.

As a consequence, I told others, and I did so for years, that what they needed was “to be saved.”

I grew up in the days of the evangelist Billy Graham. Every young preacher I knew, including yours truly, wanted to be “the next Billy Graham.” I think I even preached a few of his printed sermons, sure I was doing the right thing. And, all because, I mistakenly believed, if I did not, people would be forever lost. And worse, they would burn, but not be consumed, in an inferno called Hell.

I felt guilty if I sat with a stranger on a plane and did not present the “Four Spiritual Laws” and do my best to get him to repeat what we called “The Sinner’s Prayer” and so be saved.

“God I am a filthy, rotten sinner. I deserve to go to hell. Thank you for killing your Son who, though innocent, took my sin upon himself and so paid you off so you could forgive me (it’s all about us, isn’t it?) I am sorry you had to do that to him. But I am grateful you did (it’s all about us, you know). I receive you into my life. Save me from hell (again, you know, it’s really all about us, isn’t it?). Thank you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

Really?

How could grace be grace if I have to do anything, even something as simple as repeat a thoroughly self-centered and utterly self-serving prayer, in order to make it operable?

And, isn’t that the point of the seldom-repeated parable Jesus told of the workers who only worked one hour but got paid as though they had worked all day? (Matt. 20:1-16). Isn’t what hacked off the day-long workers the fact that their employer (God) really wasn’t fair? That grace requires nothing, not even an hour of work, to earn a day’s wage? They had long suspicioned this about their employer (God). And, the truth, THEY couldn’t handle.

Grace isn’t fair, it’s free.

People today, even very religious people, have strange ideas about God. Heck, many of the doctrines of the Church are based on what we know today to be strange ideas about God.

…Grace only bothers those who have not really experienced it.
…Grace is only troublesome to those obsessed with keeping score.
…Grace always gets in the way of those who cannot trust that God has done enough in Jesus already.

Salvation is not about keeping score or saying a Sinner’s Prayer, any more than it is about making a reservation in a hotel called “Heaven.”

Divine Consciousness: What Salvation is Really All About

It seems to me that any honest reading of the words of Jesus would leave any thinking person with an entirely different conclusion than the one embraced by many devout people today.

Wasn’t Jesus far more interested in how people lived today than where they would spend eternity tomorrow? Perhaps not, if you give equal weight to the teachings of Saint Paul or to your Church or to your church’s doctrines and dogmas.

I don’t. Not anymore, anyway.

For me, it is increasingly about Jesus…what he taught, how he lived, and what he asks of those who are serious about following him.

Period.

That’s all. And, for me, that’s enough.

As any Christian historian knows, doctrines, and then dogmas, that have developed over many centuries have actually caused at least as much harm as any good they have ever served. Most doctrines and dogmas designed to describe what is really indescribable have only resulted in almost endless debates and, ultimately, division. Which explains why there are more than 35,000 different religions – yes, you could call them “religions” – inside the Christian religion itself.

BTW, don’t bother to say “Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship.” That’s a smokescreen that cleared decades ago.

By any measure, it is madness. There is simply no other way of describing what happens whenever doctrines and dogmas are declared infallible. Sheer madness.

Divine Consciousness: A New Way of Thinking about Eternity

I now realize, at least this is so for me, salvation is simply an immediate Divine consciousness or a progressive Divine consciousness (or, some combination of the two) that God is within me, beyond me, around me…that God is me, ultimately, as well as you and everyone and everything else. God is this universe experiencing itself.

If this is simply saying too much for you at this point, then say, “I-Thou.” That puts the sacred squarely on equal terms. You as “I” and “thou” as “Us” and God as “We.”

How’s that for mouthful?

You see, God is never definable. That’s the real point here.

Yet, this is, of course, what the Christian mystic and Catholic Father, Meister Eckhart was saying, when he said, “The eye through which God sees me is the eye through which I see God.”

“So, do you not believe in an afterlife?” someone recently pressed. They seemed quite ready for a religious fight. Which of course anyone is who feels their “beliefs” are being threatened.

My own feeling is, the clearest sign I am outside of a progressive Divine consciousness is when I get so caught up in some belief that I feel threatened whenever it is questioned. (And, all beliefs will be questioned – until you question your beliefs, you have no beliefs. At best, you have inherited opinions). I know I only feel threatened when I’m stuck in some belief and so feel the need to protect it. As if, a belief, if it were really true, would ever need ME to protect or defend it.

Divine Consciousness: More than Mere Beliefs

“Beliefs are a cover-up for insecurity,” wrote a wise spiritual advisor. “You only believe in things you really do not know.”

Wow! Think about that for even a few minutes.

It is not that I have given up believing in eternity. I just don’t think as much about it as I did at one time. The less I fear where I go when I die, the less concerned I am about tomorrow. You only worry about tomorrow because you are afraid of what it holds. You are only afraid to die, for example, because it feels too much like the end – which, of course, it is. If you cannot accept that, it could only ever mean that you are still attached to thoughts about yourself…your body…your notion that you are just too important to suddenly disappear. This is the little ego in you, and in me,… and it is this little self inside us that loves the imaginary notion it deserves to be eternal.

Not so! Not for me, any longer. For me, eternity is a mere illusion of the mind.

How could there be anything real about tomorrow or next year, much less eternity? Are not these mere imaginations of your mind? If or when any of these show up, they will only ever show up as this moment? Even the instant you die, and the imaginary eternity begins, it is really just another instance of now, isn’t it?

Time is the great illusion of our time. What if we had a divine consciousness about this?

Don’t you find it somewhat silly that we all wear wrist watches as if we could “keep time” or control it? That IS the illusion. Unconsciousness incarnate. Which is why everyone gets so bothered whenever they look at a ten-year-old picture of themselves. Suddenly, it becomes painfully real – and that pain is only ever felt NOW – that time is doing a number on them. Which, of course, it is. Time is killing them.

Eternity is only ever now! And, this is part of what I mean by “Divine consciousness.” This is a new way of thinking about eternity.

William Blake was hinting at this when he poetically said:

“To see the world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower;
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour.”

Divine consciousness, therefore, is just a new way I express my participation in the transformation of my awareness…my presence…my inner and outer life. It is simply the emerging awareness that God is manifesting in this. Yes, EVEN THIS!”

Even these words.

Divine Consciousness: A New Way of Thinking about Everything

You feel it don’t you? Yes, there is something in you resonating with these words. Oh, sure, it may not be in some. A few persons may be resisting these words. If this is you, maybe you should know why. Maybe you should explore what in you feels afraid by these words. What feels threatening to you. “Direct your attention within,” said Rumi, the Sufi Muslim poet. “It is the force within that gives life: Seek that.” You will discover what in you needs attention, if you will.

Meanwhile, divine consciousness is simply transformation. It is to know a salvation that is real…that is now…that is connected to the very real, and sometimes, very harsh realities of your life. Like your past you can’t forgive or the future you worry about almost constantly. And, the present which you miss too frequently.

Now, isn’t THIS salvation, a divine consciousness, a transformation to a higher state of divine consciousness, or awareness, within which you could wrap yourself, as well as occupy yourself, for the rest of this life?

And, maybe even into an imaginary Eternity?

Dr. Steve McSwain is an author and speaker, counselor to non-profits and congregations, an advocate in the fields of self-development, interfaith cooperation, and spiritual growth. His blogs at BeliefNet.com, the Huffington Post, as well as his own website (www.SteveMcSwain.com) inspire people of all faith traditions. Dr. McSwain is an Ambassador to the Council on the Parliament for the World’s Religions. His interfaith pendants are worn by thousands on virtually every continent, sharing his vision of creating a more conscious, compassionate, and charitable world. Visit his website for more information or to book him for an inspirational talk on happiness, inner peace, interfaith respect or charitable living.

This blog first appeared on Dr. McSwain’s website blog.

Do You Have an Inner Guide?

posted by smcswain
Inner Guide

Inner Guide

Inner Guide?

Do you have an inner guide? Yes, of course. In a few days, I will be giving the keynote talk to the Chairpersons of Departments of Communication from colleges and universities across the country. They are having their annual gathering later this month at the Hyatt Regency in Lexington, Kentucky.

The Chair of the Department of Communication and Information at the University of Kentucky invited me to give the main talk at their closing banquet on the subject of “LISTENING.” I have prepared a talk I’m calling, “Clear the Wax from Your H-EAR,” a slight play on words, of course. But my basic premise is an adaptation of one of the wise things the late Maya Angelou once said: “When you know better, you do better.” Or, as I’m using it…

When you Hear Better, You LEAD Better
When you Listen Better, You LOVE Better
When you Listen Better, You LIVE Better

When You Hear Better, You ARE Better!

There is one thing I believe that stands between you and your purpose in life or relationships or success in whatever you’re doing, including your personal inner happiness and peace. This one thing has nothing to do with how high a position you hold, what other people think of you, how “successful” you are or how much contentment you know in life.

No, I believe the one thing that separates people from achieving the life they really want, and maintaining an inner peace in the process, is their capacity to hear and heed their inner voice.

I call it the INNER VOICE or the voice of the heart. It is the V-ital, O-fficial, I-nfallible, C-lear, and E-xpert voice. It is singular, too, and different from the many voices in your head. Those are confusing, frequently contradictory, and always clamoring for attention. I developed this more fully in a previous post on my website. It is often confused with the many voices in the head but, really, it is the main voice…the singular voice of your heart.

Do you know this voice when you hear it? Jesus referred to it as the “parakletos” who would go with you and serve as your “helper, guide, coach…who will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things I said to you” (John 14:26).

This is the INNER GUIDE.

Regard it as Divine. It is.
Recognize it as the Main Voice. It is.
Take it very seriously. You must.

This inner guide, or voice, is what the author and thinker, Malcolm Gladwell called in his New York Times bestselling book entitled Blink, the “thin slicing” by which he meant there is that in you and me that provides “insight” or “genius” with an innate capacity “to sift through,” as Richard Rohr puts it, any “situation in front of you, throwing out all that is irrelevant, while zeroing in on what really matters.”

Training yourself in spirituality is simply the conscious discipline you make of learning how to sift through the many voices in your head in order to better hear and heed the main voice of your heart…

You will never go wrong when you master this skill. But it will not happen by accident.

Here’s how to Train Yourself to Follow the Inner Guide

1. Practice bringing yourself into the present. This inner Guide is ever present, but seldom do you hear his voice or feel his impulse when you thinking about the past or lost in imaginary, and often worrisome, thoughts about the future. Instead, what is the immediate situation you face or decision you must make and make immediately? This voice will speak…will provide you the inner intuitive response. Trust that this is true. It is.

2. Trust not only that this is true, but Trust that this is Divine. Regard this voice as a Divine voice and the situation at hand as a Divinely-infused moment. Both are true. It is Presence unmasking itself, or manifesting herself, right in front of you. Oh sure, I know it’s just a conversation you’re having with your boss or colleague or even a casual encounter with the clerk at Starbucks. But I am suggesting, if you bring your awareness front and center, God is there right smack in the middle of the conversation, the silence that surrounds the exchanged words, the power within those words, and the person with whom you speak is God, too, and…so are you. This is, even in its simplicity, a Divine moment all the way around. In other words, the Inner Guides knows no separation between you and the situation or the other person. Everything, as well as everyone, is one…is in unity.

The head isn’t, however. Which is why you’re constantly confused when you try to sift through the myriad of conflicting voices in the head, instead of training yourself to know and response to the singular voice of your heart.

If you will make this your spiritual practice, what I am actually saying is, you are practicing your way to greater and greater spiritual consciousness or spiritual enlightenment. Which is simply the awareness of divinity within material and non-material reality…that you are…that others are…that the surroundings are…that this moment is…all Divinely-infused.

3. Now, as this becomes your practice, you will discover that you have at your disposal all Divine resources to know what to do and what to say in any situation. This is why Jesus said, “Do not worry about what you’ll say…(Luke 12:11), by which he meant, “No need to stand in the shower and imagine all that will transpire as the day unfolds…where you will go…what you will do…what you’ll say to those you meet…the conversations you’ll have…how well or how poorly those conversations will go…what you’ll say to them…what they’ll say in return…what you’ll say in response to what they have said, and so forth.

Why? Because, first of all, those conversations never go as you have imagined them anyway. Have they ever? Not,, of course not. Oh, sure, sometimes you get lucky but, generally, no matter how much you imagine you’ll say and they’ll say in return, neither of you say anything remotely similar to the way you imagined it.

How many of the “arguments” you prepared ahead of time did you ever get around to giving? While it is true, therefore, that we must all make preparations each day, using our DayPlanners and all the rest – I am not suggesting we do away with these tools – I am only saying, let go of all your expectations about how things will go…must go…be prepared but trust the results to God…let go of the imagined or expected outcomes. This is a far more peaceful way to live. It is the way of the heart. It is trusting your Inner Guide…you Indwelling God…to provide you the right words and the right choices at just the right time.

Now, isn’t this a better way to live? Isn’t this fulfilling what Jesus meant when he said, “Seek first the Kingdom…” the kingdom within you where you nurture your Inner Guide who then helps you make your outer life worth living.

Nothing is more important than being grounded in this deeper inner, yet present-moment awareness.

No story more powerfully illustrates this either.

The late Jewish philosopher and mystic, Martin Buber told once of having a transforming mystical experience one morning. It was rapturous and more meaningful to him than any spiritual experience he had ever had before.

Later that morning, but while still relishing in his rapturous moment of blissfulness, he enter the university where he taught. A student stopped him in the hallway. They talked for a few moments and, all the while, he was conscious of this blissful, mystical experience.

When the conversation with the student ended, he went to his university office and began his work for the day. The student returned to his dorm room and hung himself. In the suicide note he left behind, the student wrote these haunting words…

“I spoke to Dr. Buber in the hallway today.

I needed to talk to him.

But I could see he was preoccupied.”

I need say no more. You’re hearing and feeling that voice right now. Give that your attention. Always.

For more good reading on “inner guide” check out what Jenni Young says.

Dr. Steve McSwain is an author and speaker, counselor to non-profits and congregations, an advocate in the fields of self-development, interfaith cooperation, and spiritual growth. His blogs at BeliefNet.com, the Huffington Post, as well as his own website (www.SteveMcSwain.com) inspire people of all faith traditions. Dr. McSwain is an Ambassador to the Council on the Parliament for the World’s Religions. His interfaith pendants are worn by thousands on virtually every continent, sharing his vision of creating a more conscious, compassionate, and charitable world. Visit his website for more information or to book him for an inspirational talk on happiness, inner peace, interfaith respect or charitable living.

The Real Miracle of Christmas

posted by smcswain
The Miracle of Christmas

The Miracle of Christmas

The miracle of Christmas…the incarnation…is not that the Eternal Christ fully or exclusively indwelled Jesus but that the Eternal Christ fully and completely indwells you and me.

The miracle of grace…salvation…is not that there is anything you must do in order to be but just be, the doing will take care of itself.

The Miracle of Christmas

Anything you “do” only indicates a misunderstanding of what Jesus Christ has done in his death for you. His death…the giving of his life…has forever underscored the eternal reality that between God and you…between you and God…there is no separation.

In fact, the “rending of the veil of the temple in two” (Matthew 27:51-52) – which was the symbol of division and separateness. Jesus’ self-giving life, which just happened to be death by Roman crucifixion, revealed a reality that has existed for all time – namely, there is NO separation between you and God…between God and you. His life and death has made that eternally clear, even if the Church in some of its expressions is still erecting barriers and additional veils.

That’s the point. Not that God could not get close to you and me until he had somehow satisfied his own delusional need to whip ass on something or someone in order to feel better about you and your screw-ups, as well as mine. That is the heresy of the Church.

And, it IS a heresy, even if your favorite preacher (or, priest, televangelist, or Church) is still proclaiming it.

No, my friend, Jesus’ death, and the validation of his self-giving life in the resurrection, unequivocally proclaims that “neither death nor life, nor principalities, nor powers, nor your screw-ups nor mine…nothing separates us from God. Thanks be to GOD for this victory we see and have in Jesus: (Romans 8:37-39).

To know this is to be Christ conscious, or aware of the real message of Christmas…of the Gospel. This awareness transforms everything. Even you.

Let go of the old scripts that have falsely led sincere people for eons. God did not punish Jesus so He could forgive you. What kind of God does that make him? Give up this old script. There isn’t a thimble’s worth of truth to any of it. It will not live and survive in the 21st century either.

No, it is not unorthodox to let go of what ain’t so. It is liberating instead. It is to enter into the full rest of God, as the writer of Hebrews so eloquently put it. I know this, for I and scores of others are discovering a new way to understand the “old, old story.”

Discover it for yourself and be free.

Be “more than a conqueror through Jesus” whose life shows you the way. That’s what Jesus means by, “I am the way…” (John 14:6). His way IS the way of freedom beyond ANY VEIL, even one the Church has erroneously constructed, that would lead you to believe that Jesus’ finished work on the cross wasn’t enough to destroy all “illusions of separation.” Even the illusions of separation that grip still many who sit in pews week after week.

Now, step up, and out of this outworn way of believing, and then step boldly into this New Year, and end the mindless groveling before a God who can never seem to be happy about much of anything, this neurotic deity that requires praise to feel better about himself.

Instead, celebrate the destruction, the eradication of all veils of illusion and separateness. Know that you are ONE with God.

If THAT is not the Good News, then there is nothing good about any of it.

Dr. Steve McSwain is an author and speaker, counselor to non-profits and congregations, an advocate in the fields of self-development, interfaith cooperation, and spiritual growth. His blogs at BeliefNet.com, the Huffington Post, as well as his own website (www.SteveMcSwain.com) inspire people of all faith traditions. Dr. McSwain is an Ambassador to the Council on the Parliament for the World’s Religions. His interfaith pendants are worn by thousands on virtually every continent, sharing his vision of creating a more conscious, compassionate, and charitable world. Visit his website for more information or to book him for an inspirational talk on happiness, inner peace, interfaith respect or charitable living.

Is Everything that Happens God’s Will?

posted by smcswain
Is Everything that Happens to Me God's Will?

Is Everything that Happens to Me God’s Will?

I often hear people say…heck, the truth is, I have said these things before myself…

“Everything happens for a reason”

“There are no mistakes”

“God never puts more on you than you can handle…”

It comes in many sizes and shapes, but it is this notion that life for all of us is sort of determined already. As if the script were written already and we are merely players acting out a drama on stage.

This belief has been drilled into the American psyche (and religion) for so long, it is hard to even question it, much less lay it down once-and-for-all.

I am in the process of thinking again about this and, in some instances, even attempting to live by a different sort of belief. Here’s where I am:

I do not think everything happens for a reason.
I do believe there are all kinds of accidents, tragedies, and mistakes.
I do not believe at all that God puts anything on anybody.

There. I said it.
Now, having said this, here’s the flip side of all of this.

While I do not think all things happen for some reason, I give reasons to all things that happen.

I suspect you do, too.

Sometimes, I even project onto God the reasons I’ve given for making purposeful what at first blush, and sometimes second blush, looks completely purposeless. It helps me to give meaning to what feels totally meaningless.

“But what does God have to do with this?” you ask.

Maybe something. Most likely nothing. In either instance, it’s what you make of it that matters.

While I do believe there are accidents, tragedies, and, ultimately, things that occur for which there is no logical explanation, there is at one-and-the-same-time a Mystery in all that happens and it is that Mystery I seek to find.

If I could stop giving credit to God for something he didn’t do (as in helping my team score the winning touchdown) or blaming God for something he didn’t cause (as in a tornado or the sudden and senseless death of a child), am I not then able to look for God’s presence inside the center point of my pain?  Why must God be made the culprit in all that happens? God did not cause these things; but, isn’t it possible, that God is hiding inside each thing that happens just waiting to be found?

Or, maybe God is the one who is seeking?

While I do not believe God puts anything on anybody, God does want us to enjoy unbroken, uninterrupted union with her.

That I believe.

In this respect, therefore, I learn…I grow…I find meaning…I give meaning…I ever seek to walk with God…not by resisting WHAT IS – even the horrible stuff…Oh yes, I probably do at first but that never seems to make the horrible stuff disappear. So, when I gather my wits, I seek to live fully and completely into whatever this moment presents, no matter how pleasant or painful it may be.

Because I know…

When I have learned the lesson this present challenge presents…

       Growth occurs…

               And the challenge disappears.

BTW, this is what it means to advance in spiritual awareness.

Dr. Steve McSwain is an author and speaker, counselor to non-profits and congregations, an advocate in the fields of self-development, interfaith cooperation, and spiritual growth. His blogs at BeliefNet.com, the Huffington Post, as well as his own website (www.SteveMcSwain.com) inspire people of all faith traditions. Dr. McSwain is an Ambassador to the Council on the Parliament for the World’s Religions. His interfaith pendants are worn by thousands on virtually every continent, sharing his vision of creating a more conscious, compassionate, and charitable world. Visit his website for more information or to book him for an inspirational talk on happiness, inner peace, interfaith or charitable living.

Jesus: The Original “New Age” Thinker

posted by smcswain

You are a “New Age” Christian.

What does this mean? And, why must people constantly label others?

Jesus: The Original New Age Thinker

Jesus: The Original New Age Thinker

My critics sometimes say to me, “You’ve just become too ‘New Age’ for me.” Or, “You’re just another ‘New Ager.”

What is meant by this criticism?

I am not quite sure.

Here are a few guesses, however.

1. I am sometimes labeled a “New Age” Christian because I do not regard the Bible as a magical and infallible book, miraculously dictated by God herself to the Biblical writers themselves.

Plain and simple, the Bible is full of contradictions. I have great regard for the Bible. And, I believe it to be inspired. But many of its teachings are so antiquated that to lump all of Scripture together as if it is either equally infallible or even equally applicable to today’s world is utterly ridiculous. To say anything less is, in my opinion, either to admit to ignorance of the Bible or dishonesty about its content or both.

2. I think a second reason Christians label me as a “New Age” person is because I frequently refer to God as “she” about as often as I do “he.”

Why? It is because God is neither. And, I think it is time that we graduate beyond this elementary image of a big, superhuman-like male granddaddy figure who instantly pops into our minds whenever the name of God is mentioned. God is not a super-duper human male who lives above the sky…who sits on a throne…with angels – more males with wings – all floating around on clouds and singing the Hallelujah Chorus.

Jesus himself said, “God is spirit…”(John 4:24).

3. There is a third reason I am labeled a “New Age” Christian. The fact that I am an Ambassador to the Parliament for the World’s Religions and promote interfaith unity, cooperation, and respect is inconceivable to some Christians.

They view my openness as compromise. They cannot tolerate someone who believes truth might be found beyond that truth which comes in-and-through the Christian tradition.

My understanding of God, however, is much larger than the little God I grew up being taught to believe in – a God who was tribal…”our God”…a God who favored “us” over “them”…and, a God who could not be known any other way than by “our way.”

People ask me all the time, for example, “Is Jesus the only way to God?”

I answer by saying, “He is my way to God.”

Is he the only way? I do not think so. And, that is not the teaching of John 14:6.

John 14:6 may be the most misunderstood verse of Scripture in the 21st century. Jesus was not starting a new religion. Nor was he singling himself out as the one-and-only-way to that new religion which he, further, was arguing was the “one-and-only-way” anyone could know God.

BTW, Christianity is a religion, but it was not a religion started by Jesus. I think the greatest disservice Christians do to the Bible that they regard as infallible is to misinterpret Scripture, as they almost universally do with John 14:6.

Now, this may not be true of you but what many who ask me whether Jesus is the only way to God are really asking has nothing to do with my personal faith in Jesus. My personal faith is of no interest or concern to them. What they are vastly more concerned about is their beliefs and my willingness to join them in saying, “Jesus is the ONLY way to God.” It is not, however, truth seek. Confirmation that what they believe is “right” is what they really seek. What they do not know, however, is this: the only way you ever know you are “right” is to make others “wrong.” So this is what they do. They make any other way to know God wrong by insisting their way of knowing God is right.

There are likely other reasons I am labeled a “New Age” Christian. Maybe you can think of one and add it in the comment section below.

4. I will mention one other possibility here. Some label me a “New Age” person because I frequently use terms like “awaken” and “enlightenment” to refer to spiritual transformation.

In other words, I am not bound to the more traditional words like “salvation,” or “repentance,” or “the saved,” and “the lost.”

In this respect, however, I like to remind traditionalists that, if they would read the New Testament, they would discover Jesus was the first “New Age” thinker. He used the word “awaken,” for example, long before I did or anyone else has done.

Consider his words here:

Jesus said to his disciples, “Be awake. Be alert. You do not know when the time will come. It is like a man travelling abroad. He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his own work. And he orders the gatekeeper to be on watch. So I tell you, watch. You do not know when the Lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cock crow, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you asleep. What I say to you, I say to all: stay awake.” –Mark 13:33-37

While I was taught so as a child, this passage has nothing to do with the second coming of Jesus.

He is referring instead to the need to stay alert…to awaken…to be aware that each moment is a Divine moment.

If there is any place in my life where I need “saving” (to use the more traditional word), it is in this area of my life. Most of the time, I go through the motions of living my life with little or no alertness to the Eternal Christ who may be making herself known to me in everyone and through everything that occurs.

In fact, there are times when I actually stand in resistance to what is happening at this moment in my life because, instead of seeing the moment and what is happening as a Divine moment, I see it instead, and so respond to it, as if it is a burdening moment…an unwanted moment…or something that is happening that should not be happening.

This is your “New Age” thought for today. As Fr. Richard Rohr, whose devotional thoughts today inspired my own musings this morning, “Christ is always coming; God is always present. It’s we who aren’t.”

Consequently, make it your spiritual practice to live INTO everything that occurs. Resist nothing. Be alert. Watchful. Awake. Aware. Conscious even that the Eternal Christ is inside everyone you meet, as well as everything that occurs.

If you will make this your practice, your life will transform. This is cause for rejoicing (how’s that for a good traditional word?). Rejoice that, like Jesus, you are becoming a New Age person, or what Saint Paul called, “a new creation in Christ” (2 Cor. 5:17).

Dr. Steve McSwain is an author and speaker, counselor to non-profits and congregations, an advocate in the fields of self-development, interfaith cooperation, and spiritual growth. His blogs at BeliefNet.com, the Huffington Post, as well as his own website (www.SteveMcSwain.com) inspire countless followers. Dr. McSwain’s interfaith pendants are widely sought and worn by those who share his vision of creating a more conscious, compassionate, and charitable world. Visit his website for more information or to book him for an inspirational talk on happiness, inner peace, interfaith and diversity respect, or charitable living (www.SteveMcSwain.com).

Meeting Almighty, Mopping Floors

posted by smcswain

So much of what I do…I do…even while I am thinking of something else. Frequently, for example, I’ll rush through a warm shower at dawn because I am thinking about all those things I must do, as well as the conversations I must have later that day…so I’m thinking about the things that I will say…the things the other will say in return, and then, what I’ll say to what they’ve said…and, so forth.

Meeting Almighty

Meeting Almighty, Mopping Floors

Meeting Almighty, Mopping Floors

I know better than any of this. No conversation ever unfolds the way I imagine it beforehand. What these means, therefore, is this: As I am doing one thing and anxiously thinking about something else, I am actually only succeeding in living mind-less-ly, not mindfully.

There is a difference.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a discipline – and, anyone who thinks it does not take practice is thoroughly mindless – for mindfulness is the bringing of one’s MIND – into the – FULLNESS, hence, “mind-fullness” of whatever it is you are doing right now, not what you are going to do later.

This is prayer, too. Real prayer. It is the ceaseless kind of praying St. Paul said we are to seek. He wrote in his letter to the Thessalonians, “Never stop praying” (1 Thess. 5:17).

How does anyone do this? Even a monk in a monastery does not spend all day and night in prayer.

Who does this, too? Just monks? Well, some monks do devote their lives to this. But Paul is writing to all followers, not simply to a gathering of monks at the Abbey of St. Francis.

Maybe this is the way Jesus did things. Like the time he went up into the mountains. It was, interestingly, after another feast time, and one not entirely unlike the one we just enjoyed with family and friends yesterday.

The Gospel of Matthew records the story. “And after Jesus had sent them home, he went up into the mountains by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone. (Matt. 14:23).

You will notice we are not told what he prayed. Nor how he prayed although, for most of my life, I have imagined him in some kind of kneeling position. I pictured him offering up his prayers like we sometimes do in church with bended knee resting on kneelers, bulletin in hand with our written prayers and…well…you know the drill.

Meeting the Almighty on the Mountaintop

I don’t think this anymore. I imagine Jesus instead walking alone through the hills, observing nature, entering the dusk and then the darkness. I can only imagine how dark it must have been – there were no street lights, especially in the mountains. I picture him strolling along…strolling alone…and reflecting, and perhaps on occasion even voicing a few words in prayer; or, better, reclining, maybe even sleeping a little, much like I did last night, off-and-on. But not too well. I’m still scared of the dark. I’d fall asleep through the night and then wake up, walk about the house, pee, and think a while, and then recline back in bed, quietly so as not to wake Pam, and, somewhere in the thinking…in the darkness and in the aloneness, I would go back to sleep…

But my suspicion is, when Jesus took this particular journey into the dark night of his should, he practiced being completely there…completely alone but inside his alone-ness…aware of his dark side. Present, though, and not thinking about what he was going to do later.

Know what this is like? To be alone, I mean,  instead of rushing toward the crowd to avoid being alone or racing about like we do on Black Friday, bitching about the crowd but glad there’s one around…anybody to avoid being with nobody…

No, maybe you don’t know what this is like.

I don’t. I am frightened at being “alone.” The thought of getting inside my alone…stepping into my own darkness? Well, frankly, I prefer crowds.

But not this Jesus whom I’d like to think I follow.  I see him strolling about the mountain and into the darkness, and he’s with anyone but a crowd. No, his is alone. So alone Matthew had to tell readers twice to make sure they didn’t miss it.

I’m pretty sure, therefore, what I’m getting ready to tell you is going to sound a little weird to some of you. But here goes.

I tried something this morning I have not tried in a long while. Pam had to go off to work. Some people do have to work on Black Friday – which is why you should always be nice to the clerks. I told Pam as she walked out the door that I’d clean up the house and the residue of Thanksgiving you could see here and there and especially on the hardwoods. Yes…yes…laugh, if you’d like. But there are times I do clean and I know how to mop floors. So I said I’d mop the hardwoods and hang the Christmas lights outside.

In other words, after sending the crowds away last night and kissing Pam good-bye this morning, I took a mop and made a little journey of my own to the mountains. I have been all alone all morning.

As I filled the bucket with hot water and poured in a little vinegar, I decided I would practice doing the mopping, but not like I do most other mundane chores. Instead of rushing about here and there, like Black Friday shoppers from store to store…or like I do most mornings while showering and shaving…I decided instead to enter as fully as I could into each push of the mop across the hardwoods.

Guess what?

I cannot remember whether it was in the dining rooming or somewhere in the hallway between where we gather to eat and where we prepare the “eats”…but, somewhere, in the middle of the mopping, I met God.

Meeting Almighty, Mopping Floors

I gave him a new name, too. I called him, “Alone.”

Oh, yes, I know it has been daylight all morning. But I thought of the darkness…and I tried to feel it, along with the loneliness in my soul…the scary parts, too, while hanging and testing the holiday lights. They worked. This worked.

Now, did I not say this would all sound a little weird? Well, don’t act so surprised.

Besides, I made a wonderful discovery this morning. I’d like to keep it to myself, however. As much as I can anyway. If Pam reads this, as she likely will, I can hear her now, “Well, since mopping is taking you to the mountaintop of spiritual bliss, try doing it more often!”

Ha, Ha.
Ho, Ho.

Strange and weird.  It is, isn’t it? The places, I mean, where we meet God.  Where we meet Alone.  Where we meet and greet ourselves…and our darkness.

But then, maybe this only seems weird to those who are like I am most of the time…always in a hurry to get to the mall across town…or, you know, to the really important things…things more important than mundane mopping.

Dr. Steve McSwain is an author and speaker, counselor to non-profits and congregations, an advocate in the fields of self-development, interfaith cooperation, and spiritual growth. His blogs at BeliefNet.com, the Huffington Post, as well as his own website (www.SteveMcSwain.com) inspire countless followers. Dr. McSwain’s interfaith pendants are widely sought and worn by those who share his vision of creating a more conscious, compassionate, and charitable world. Visit his website for more information or to book him for an inspirational talk on happiness, inner peace, interfaith and diversity respect, or charitable living (www.SteveMcSwain.com).

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