Your Best Life Now

Your Best Life Now

Walk with God…Mindfulness in Action

posted by smcswain

To walk with God is the goal of human life. What this means to Christians is not so different than what “mindfulness” means to practitioners of eastern traditions.

Many of you know I wrote a book about walking with God. It is entitled The Enoch Factor: The Sacred Art of Knowing God. It’s all about how to walk with God.

Walk with God...Mindfulness in Action

Walk with God…Mindfulness in Action

From my earliest days, I have been fascinated by the mythical Old Testament character whose name is Enoch. He is listed in that cumbersome section of Genesis 5, which most readers gloss over because of its repetitiveness. “So-and-so begat so-and-so, had five hundred children, and died,” and so it goes.

Actually, however, it is a very important passage and its importance is revealed in its repetitiveness. It’s as if the author was saying, “Life was pretty mundane…all too ordinary…people were being born, begetting, growing old, and dying. Nothing particularly different or unusual. But then, quite unanticipated, there was Enoch. Enoch was different. Enoch walked with God. And, it is his walking with God that life’s routine ordinariness was interrupted. Forever.”

I am often asked, “What is the point of human existence?” Which is really just another way of asking, “Why am I here? What’s the purpose of my life?”

Enoch’s life reveals it. You and I are here to walk with God. Period. Yes, it’s just that simple. But, for most people, including yours truly, it takes almost a lifetime to get this. Or, if we happen to have grown up in church, which many of you did – and, I did, too – our faith tradition has made the natural experience of walking with God into a difficulty saddled with all kinds of rules for the journey.

Actually, however, to walk with God is as natural and normal as breathing. It takes no effort whatsoever. In fact, whatever stipulations or expectations with which you or your religion encumbers this natural experience strips it from the realm of grace and makes of it a stuffy religious duty.

I won’t no part of that kind of religion ever again.

How do you walk with God? Here are a few suggestions I hope you find helpful…

1. First, let go of all ideas that there is something you must do to qualify to walk with God. There is not. Besides, what would it be anyway? Going to the “right” church, synagogue or temple? Believing just the “right” belief? Come on. Get real, my friend. There is nothing you can do to qualify to walk with God. You are qualified by virtue of your participation in the human race. This is Jesus’ message. Plain and simple.

This is what it means to walk with God.

2. Second, walking with God is to Christians something very similar to that which practitioners of eastern religions know as “mindfulness.” Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is not a mind…full…of thoughts. It is instead the emptying of your mind of the fullness of thoughts. It is bringing your attention into this very moment.

This is not so easy to do. Try it and you’ll see. In fact, to master this will take practice. Practice, therefore, emptying your mind of thoughts.

For Christians, the teaching Jesus shared related to the Holy Spirit – the inner Presence of God who walks with you moment by moment. The struggle is not in God walking with us or with us walking with God. Both are natural. No matter where you go, God is. Wherever God is, you are.

Why? The indwelling Holy Spirit. Or, for eastern practitioners, “mindfulness.” I love the way Thich Nhat Hanh puts it:

The monk practices mindful breathing while performing his daily tasks…eats…washes…helps the sick and the wounded…and looks deeply at each object he comes into contact with–an orange, a raindrop, or a dying person” (from Living Buddha, Living Christ, p. 176).

This is the point of life lived with an awareness of the indwelling Holy Spirit. It is the same as practicing “mindfulness.” It is bringing your awareness…you attention to what is transpiring, and maybe nothing is transpiring, at this very moment. When nothing is transpiring, you bring your attention into nothing itself.

That may sound strange, but it is not. I practice being aware of nothing. Nothingness comprises most of what is anyway. Be aware of nothing, from time to time. The net result is, you will become more and more aware of the Presence of God. God is no-thing-ness herself. If you still think of God as a big human granddaddy in the sky…well, then, you have much yet to let go. But do not make this into a struggle. Just be aware of the notions of God you have been programmed to think about and in the awareness they will gradually disappear.

Practice bringing your full attention to that which is right in front of you. As you do, you are bringing your full attention into Presence itself. You are learning to walk with God.

3. When you feel far from God, and for some of you that is painfully too often, make it your practice to just let go of the programmed notion you must, again, “DO” something in order to get close to God. There is not. I repeat. There is not. When you feel out-of-sorts-with-God it is just the way it is. But you really are not.

That’s right. You are not “away” from God. Where could you ever go to get away? So, this notion that you’ve done something to disappoint God or that you’re not quite there yet in your spiritual maturation so as to be deserving of God’s continual presence is a lot of bunk.

Recognize it as bunk and let it go.

This is where faith comes in. Even if you do not feel close to God, believe that you are. Behave as if you are. And, if you will, I promise, the feeling of closeness will soon return.

It is really a misnomer to ever say, “Walk with God.”

Why?

Because you do already.

Dr. Steve McSwain is an author, speaker, thought leader and spiritual teacher. His books and blogs inspire spiritual seekers around the world. He is a devoted follower of Christ but an interfaith activist as well. He is frequently heard to say, in the words of Mother Teresa, “I love all religions; but I’m IN LOVE with my own.” Read more from Dr. McSwain on his blog Your Best Life Now.

Faith…It’s Hard and Difficult and Not for the Faint-of-Heart

posted by smcswain

Faith is hard work. Hard won, too.

“Just believe!” say some. After all, didn’t Jesus say, “Become as a little child?” (Matt. 18:3).

If, by faith, you are talking about – and, many Christians are – subscribing to a neatly packaged box of propositional statements, then yes, of course, faith is not so hard and believing is a simple exercise in imaginary make-believe, fairytale kinds of stuff.

Faith is hard and difficult

Faith is hard and difficult

If, on the other hand, faith is – and, it was for Jesus – trusting yourself to the Eternal Unseen to that point in fact that you are free of anxiety, fear, restlessness…in my case, it’s nervousness…then I suspect you’ll find faith to you the way I find it for me – hard as hell to live out.

It’s easy to “live-in” faith; it’s hard as heck to “live-by” faith. You’ll find the former in many churches; you’ll find the latter, however, only in real life.

For years, I went to church and just about anything I heard from the pulpit I would shout in hearty agreement, “Amen!” Faith was all so very simple in those days…the “good ole days” to which many religious folk wish would return. I told others to do what I found so simple myself, “Just believe!”

But then, just as it happens with children, the day came when the questions appeared. I think they started for me about the same time when Jonathan, my little boy, showed up and today it continues with my grandsons. My son started coming to me and, no matter what I told him, he would respond, “Why?”

My grandsons are doing the same. They ask “why” so often and with such dogged determinism, I sometimes find it annoying.

“Why do you question everything I tell you?” I ask.

At the time, it seldom occurs to me that, if they did not question me, they would never grow up.

And, so it is with most Christians today…with most churchgoers today. They’ve never grown up.

In faith…or, better, in faith-ing.

“Just believe!” they shout. “Become as a little child,” they say. Never realizing, however, that neither is possible, if you want more than some shallow existence…one that uses religion as a crutch to hide the real you from yourself…one that makes believing little more than a trip to DisneyLand where imaginary things occur with dazzling frequency and life is little more than a temporary fairytale to prepare you for the really big HeavenlyLand just above the sky.

I don’t want that kind of faith. That kind of eternity.
I don’t want that kind of shallow existence here, either.

Many must want this, however, because I have become an enemy to them. Because I raise questions, express my doubts, try to be honest with myself and the world and, stranger than all, because I’m open to all people…to all faiths…to truth wherever I may find it, they are offended, afraid, and so attack me. Or, worse, they just disappear and have nothing to do with me at all.

I’m not complaining, mind you. I knew this would happen. It was inevitable, albeit regrettable. It is what it is. But I would be dishonest to pretend it doesn’t hurt a little. Sometimes, a lot.

But I go on and I write on, even as I do today. I write for those of you who are still reading this. I write for you who, like me, find faith to be a problem. You cannot live with it; you cannot, however, live without it. You want to believe, not as in “I believe in the virgin birth” or “I believe in the plenary verbal inspiration of the Bible,” kind of believing. But the kind of trust instead that takes you fully into your doubts, questions, fears, worries and tests itself right there in the midst of real life…your real life.

Faith is hard for you. It is for me, too. Faith isn’t for the faint-of-heart.

How might you strengthen your faith? Do you ever ask that? If you’re truly trying to live by faith, you have. Here are three suggestions I have for you today. I cannot promise they’ll work for you but they seem to be working for me. Too damn slowly, however. Nonetheless, I am making progress. Some, anyway. Maybe you will, too.

1. Practice your faith. Practice believing…trusting…resting upon in complete freedom from fear. Yes, just make this a regular practice.

Faith isn’t about reciting propositions. It isn’t about content. It’s about conduct. It’s about how you live. The way you live.

No, I’m not talking about a checklist of things you can say you don’t do and so, as a consequence, you are this perfect little child of faith. I’m talking about living from a place of absolute trust in and complete reliance on something you cannot see, touch, smell, taste or even feel all the time.

That’s right. Sometimes, I feel God or, maybe it’s just a surge of dopamine from the pre-frontal cortex. Hell, I don’t know what it is I’m feeling. I call it God. But I really don’t know. What I know, and all I know, is that there are times I feel really close to what I conclude is God. But that’s about all I can say. Those days are precious.

There are other days, however, I’d have more luck finding a needle in the proverbial haystack than I could ever have finding that feeling for God. I feel lousy instead and not the kind of lousy I feel when I’ve got the flu.

No, it’s actually worse than that. It’s a lousy kind of feeling…the feeling of lostness, as if I am wandering…as if I’m not succeeding at whatever it is I’m doing…as if life is unfair…as if I’m worrying excessively about how to pay bills, or be happy, or stay healthy, or figure out who the hell I am and where I’m going.

On such days, I’m scared of dying and…well…if you’re in touch, even slightly, with your own humanity, you know what I’m talking about. It’s the “existential angst” I’m feeling on those days, I guess, the kind Soren Kierkegaard talked about, as well as Friedrich Nietzsche and Rollo May (“Impressed by my infinite knowledge, are you?” – it’s bull, my friend. I actually know so very little). What is this that I’m experiencing?

It’s faith that’s hard won. I’m feeling what it means to be human. And, that’s not such a bad thing either. We talk about being human as if something were wrong with it.

That’s what church theology has done for us. But, with God, it ain’t so. Humanity is so good God came in Jesus, born just like the rest of us, as a human being. Yes, Jesus had a real mother, too. You can give up the fairytale of a virgin giving birth and still be a Christian. In our world, virgins don’t make babies, not without artificial insemination, anyway.

Practice your faith and cherish those days when you feel close to God. And, on those days you don’t?

Well…that’s the second suggestion for strengthening your faith.

2. Stop Feeling Bad When You Fail at Faith, or Faithfulness.

You are going to fail. You are going to doubt. There will be days that you are overwhelmed with fear and anxiety.

If you don’t get this, you simply cannot understand what Jesus was either doing or experiencing, either in the wilderness before his public ministry began (Matthew 4:1-12) or in the Garden on the eve of his death (Matthew 26:36-56). In both places, an eternal struggle ensued. And, he failed. Which explains why he kept saying the same prayer over and over again in the Garden.

He knew the right words to say, “Not my will but yours be done!” He just didn’t have the feelings to accompany the words.

I know that kind of Jesus. I know how to live by faith. I just have the hardest time doing it. So, lately, I’ve been learning how to forgive myself and to just keep returning to the Garden with the same prayer.

If he did, so will I.

3. And, that’s the third suggestion for strengthening your faith. Practice. Practice. Practice. It’s all about expanding your consciousness, training your mind in awareness…in trust…in unity…in surrender…and, as you do, you are set free.

The Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, puts it like this, in his wonderful book, Living Buddha, Living Christ,

“If farmers use farming tools to cultivate their land, practitioners use prayer and meditation to cultivate their consciousness. The fruits and flowers of the practice spring forth from the soil of the mind.”

If Jesus needed forty days in the wilderness…

Well…there’s a pretty good chance, you’ll need some wilderness practice, too.

Unless you’re content with a childish faith.

Because I’m Happy…Clap Along If You Feel Like…

posted by smcswain

“Because I’m happy…clap along…” Pharrel Williams sings it.

“Because I’m happy…clap along…” Miss America sings it.

“Because I’m happy…clap along…” We all sing it.

Frankly, I’ve heard the popular song so much on the radio and television, I’m ready for a new song. Which IS the problem with this kind of happy. Even the song gets a bit annoying after you’ve heard it a million times.

“Because I’m Happy…Clap Along If You Feel Like…

It’s the message, however, I’m thinking about this morning. The message of happiness.  Have you paid attention to the lyrics? Oh, I know the tune is rhythmic and it’s hard not to “clap along” as it plays. But how true are these words?

Because I'm Happy...Clap Along

Because I’m Happy…Clap Along

Happy, bring me down
Can’t nothing, bring me down
Love is too happy to bring me down
Can’t nothing, bring me down
I said bring me down
Can’t nothing, bring me down
Love is too happy to bring me down
Can’t nothing, bring me down
I said

Really? Nothing can bring you down? I beg to differ.

In spite of how much you clap along and pretend all is well, you don’t live very long before you discover, sometimes painfully so, there are lots of things that can bring you down…steal your happiness…end the clap along feeling you felt for a while.

Everything we feel, including the happy, clap along kind of joy, is “for a while.”

Which is what the Buddha was trying to tell us, when he spoke of “suffering.” He wasn’t just being a realist, a party pooper, a depressed, negative “rain on your parade person.” There are those kind of people around. He was simply reminding you of the nature of reality. Everything is temporal. Happiness…the kind Pharrell sings about…the only kind most of us know about…is transitory. Like the proverbial butterfly. It shows up. We feel good. And, just about as quickly, it flitters away and the search for it starts over again.

Which is why Jesus, my spiritual teacher, said also, “I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). But, for centuries now, we Christians have mistakenly thought what Jesus was saying is “I am that abundance…that life.” So, we bow down before him and pretend that what he wanted then and now is our worship, knowing that what I’m really saying is, “I am the way of happiness…just as you are…that goes beyond the shallow, temporary pleasure-making ‘Because I’m happy…clap along…’ kind of pursuit…even religious pursuit today. Just bow down to me and presto you’ll be truly happy.”

You really think that’s what Jesus wanted?

Really?

Then, why was he always pointing beyond himself? You cannot find what you want…happiness…in any person, place, or thing. That was Jesus’ real message, wasn’t it? And, the message of virtually every spiritual teacher in history. But then, if you knew that history, you would know this.

People are looking still for what cannot be found. Many will say in hopeful innocence, and sometimes blind arrogance, “I have found it!” That was even an evangelistic campaign when I was a young Christian. We ran around shouting, “I’ve found it!” and not a one of us had a clue what it was we had found.

Jesus! Happiness! You cannot find either.What you find is at best a temporary, fleeting feeling you have to prop up every so often with all kinds of religious fervor to maintain the illusion you’ve actually found something.

Well, you can continue to play this game if you’d like. But, if you’re willing to listen…and I know many of you are…I would suggest that happiness – the kind that does not come and go with worship or anything else – isn’t something tangible…it is who you are already. You actually cannot even talk about this kind of happiness, which is why I hesitate to say much here. When you experience this happiness, for example, almost all the talk about it ends. It has to end. Anything you say about it diminishes it.

What I’m saying is that happiness is a little like trying to talk about God. Once you do, you’ve just diminished the subject. The Subject.

Why?

How do you talk about that which no word, however lovely, could ever describe? It’s like trying to describe to a blind person what the pedals of a red rose look like. Or, a fall sunset. Or, the stars that blanket the heavens on a cool, clear night.

Jesus did not want people walking around bowing down before him as if they were supposed to think of him as some god or even that he thought of himself in this way. And yet, this is precisely what we’ve done to him.

Why?

Isn’t it because we all want something we think we can sink our proverbial teeth into and satisfy the inner longing…the inner illusion…that we’ve actually got it now?  We’ve found it! The emphasis being on we have found it?

This is what causes religious divisions…even the religious wars. We’re so happy about the happiness we’ve found, we’ll argue and fight about it…hell, we’ll even kill if necessary to prove to others just how much joy we’ve found…just how much truth we possess…just how right we are and wrong you are…just to prove the much happiness our version of happiness has brought to us.

If you’re thinking only radical fundamentalist Muslims are willing to kill to prove they’ve found it and we haven’t, then you don’t know much about Christian history…our violence, our bloodshed, our Inquisitions, and often in our history against the very people who today make war against us in the name of the happiness they’ve found in their religion.

Need I say more? Only to those who don’t know history. Or, are too lazy to learn it.

You miss the point of Jesus’ life if you’re still lost in the thought…in the illusory belief system that makes of him and his message some kind of god you’re supposed to lift up instead of follow after. Jesus pointed to the heavens and people have made a shrine of his finger. I’ve written about this elsewhere if you’re interested.

Then, they spend their lives worshiping the finger and secretly wondering why all this religious stuff we talk about in church really hasn’t done for them what they had hoped.

Organized Religion: Why People are Leaving the Church

Which is just another explanation for why so many are walking away from organized religion. They’ve wanted to walk away for a long time. Fear…pressure…the thought of being alone if they did…the desire to avoid judgment from others…or, maybe just because they’ve wanted to maintain the illusion that they’ve “found it” – whatever the reason, they’ve stayed.

But no longer.

Now that others are leaving, they’ve found the courage to take their happiness pursuit somewhere else.

Wherever you are, I have a message for you…a word to the wise, I hope. I can only hope. But there is a mystery here and in it is a liberating truth too mysterious for me to either understand or explain.

But I’ll try my best.

Jesus once said, “The Kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden for years in a field. One day, a trespasser stumbled upon it. He was ecstatic – who wouldn’t be? – what he found could not be taken from him…

It was more than he had ever found in his churchgoing.
It was more than he had ever discovered by believing in his religion’s beliefs.
It was more than he had ever unearthed on his own.
And, it was infinitely more than anyone else had ever been able to give to him.

So what was this “Kingdom of God?”

The Kingdom of God

Oh, the church wants you to believe it was the Church itself.

Yea, right! You want to believe that nonsense? Have at it! Go ahead and sing, “Because I’m happy…clap along” to hymn number…but then, if you’ve not found that traditional worship makes you very happy, why not try our contemporary worship service? That’ll do it for you. After all, even Jesus thought hymns sucked.

Enjoy the search.

Others will tell you the “kingdom” is where we’re going! Ah! That’s a nice illusion. Since we cannot find it here, maybe it’s there! So we build fantasy kingdoms in our illusions of the after life. We make authors into millionaires reading their fantasies of Heaven Is For Real! in hopes maybe it really is.

When you’ve finally exhausted yourself in the search for what is NOT searchable or findable, I have some good news for you. There is really no need to search. You cannot find what is not lost. Give up the fanciful looking, hoping, seeking, desiring, or worse, stop the “I’m certain we’ve found it” charade – that’s the worst sort of delusion, isn’t it?

People only shout and sing “I’ve found it” to silence the inner fear they haven’t! I’ve written about this, too, in The Enoch Factor: The Sacred Art of Knowing God.

When you’re ready to end the pursuit, in that release, a new kind of faith is born in you. Not another belief system. No, for that, you’ll have to enroll in a religious instruction class to find out what you’re supposed to believe in order to be happy. What I’m talking about is surrender instead. But not “Surrender to the Lordship of Christ!”

Amen! That’ll do it. Whatever in heaven THAT means.

Nope, I’m pretty sure that’s just another illusion of control to gain what cannot be found, to claim what cannot be contained.

I’m talking about giving it all up instead. When you have decided there is no need to search any longer…to try harder and harder still…then, and only then, you’ll find yourself doing just as the man did in the parable Jesus told: He just quickly, but quietly, “proceeded to sell everything he owned to buy that field” (Matt. 13:44-46).

If you’re still looking for this field…well, you’re still looking for the field. You’ll settle for “because I’m happy…clap along if you feel…” kind of transitory happy, which you and I both know is like sitting before a nice, satisfying meal. It taste good for now, satisfies me now…but, dammit, I know I’m gonna be hungry again tomorrow. And, again, the next day. And, so goes the never-ending madness.

I suppose you’ll just have to wait until you stumble.

But the good news is…you will stumble.

I promise.

Today’s Religious Rant…from a Professional Ranter

posted by smcswain

TODAY’s RELIGIOUS RANT

Some very conservative Christian friends of mine (and they seem to be growing fewer and fewer in number these days, which saddens me) are so very offended by me and, very often, justifiably so. I can be very cutting and crass and, as a consequence, come across very insensitive to where other people are in their own pilgrimage. I regret this. Indeed, I am sorry about this. Everyone should be respected for where they are in their own spiritual journey. Wouldn’t you agree? Just because you think (and I confess I sometimes think) others are not as “enlightened” as you are, does not give you (or, me) permission to act like an ass.

Today's Religious Rant by Dr. Steve McSwain

Today’s Religious Rant by Dr. Steve McSwain

Yet, closed-mindedness is so easily threatened, isn’t it? I wish my conservative acquaintances felt more secure in their faith so they’d be less angered by the things I write and just accept me for the weird, quirky little thinker that I am – who is sometimes right or, maybe it would be more accurate to say, seldom right, frequently wrong, but, yes, I am committed to pursuing truth to the best of my ability, however imperfect that gets expressed from time to time.

From a Professional Ranter

I’m a thinker outside the box and, what so many people do not realize is that I am not even sure if I believe all the things I write. I do so nonetheless as a means of forging a real world faith – one that is my own – because I will not live my life carrying around a bunch of inherited beliefs from those whose good opinions I’m not secure enough to live without. So, my readers, whoever you are…please know that, while I do not expect you to agree with me or to even like me, know that I am who I am – whether you like it or not, and you are who you are – whether I like it or not, and, in the end, isn’t all that really matters is that we respect and receive each other in a spirit of Christ-like love? What could be more important than this? One more thing. I know that I am frequently way off base, as many of you so eloquently remind me – and I am sure remind each other about me. And, that’s OK. I welcome your challenges. But there is one thing you must know about me…and never ever question please. I love Jesus more passionately today than at any other time in my life. And, just because I no longer subscribe to one peculiar way of believing – which for little threatened people is “THEIR” way of believing – does not mean even slightly, that I am not serious about the life I live and the Lord I serve.

End of Today’s Little RANT! Can I get an AMEN? Or, better, a Hallelujah?

Hi, my name is Steve McSwain. I’m a christian thinker, blogger, writer, and rabble-rouser. I invite you to let me challenge you with the provocative, sometimes controversial, things I think about…write about. I do not ask you to agree. I ask you only to consider…to think for yourself…to forge a real-world faith for yourself. Stop being a pansy and grow up in Christ. You are not doing yourself, or the Kingdom, any favors by believing God has appointed you guardian of the truth – no matter what you think the truth is – or the gatekeeper to keep out those who threaten you. Stand on your own two feet. God doesn’t need defending. The Bible doesn’t need your worship. Both have been around a lot longer than you have and will be here long after you’re forgotten. So, grow up and live well. You don’t have long here, my friend. The life you live TODAY is the legacy you leave tomorrow. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and, most importantly, go to my website and to my “Inspirational Talks” page and book me to speak at your next gathering. I’ll speak in almost any setting…business gatherings or religious gatherings, with talks appropriate for both. See for yourself.

Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality without Religion – What I’ve Learned about Spirituality

posted by smcswain

Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality without Religion. That’s the title to Sam Harris’ new book.

Waking Up (Amazon Books)

Waking Up (Amazon Books)

Now, this should be interesting. For those curious, as I am, about spirituality but who have abandoned organized religion (and, according to the 2012 Pew Forum the number has grown to 20% of the adults in the US – the fastest growing religiously-unaffiliated group in the US), self-proclaimed atheist Sam Harris has written a new book, already a bestseller and the book is not scheduled for release until later this month.

Spirituality and What I’ve Learned

Here are a few things I’ve learned about religious experience…about spirituality…

1. The experience of spirituality goes by many names.

The longer I live, the more convinced I become that there is a religious experience which, if you have yet to figure this out, goes by many names…salvation, enlightenment, transformation, awakening, expanded consciousness, or, as Sam Harris describes it, “waking up.” It appears that the descriptions used are tied more to one’s cultural milieu than anything else. I cannot say this, however, with certainty, but it does seem to be the case.

2. Though spirituality goes by many names, the experience itself is quite similar.

One of the most enlightening books I’ve read in recent years was written by the French philosopher Andre’ Comte Sponville.  Interestingly, he, too, is a self-proclaimed atheist and his book is entitled, The Little Book of Atheistic Spirituality. If you have not read it, you should.

Spirituality, or spiritual experiences, share something in common and that commonality goes something like this:

“I cannot explain what it was that happened to me but, for a moment, maybe many moments, I felt something, experienced something, so transcendent, so amazing, so joyful and unifying, I felt completely free, unburdened, and in unity with everything..at one with all that is. The whole thing defies explanation, but the consequence of it, has changed me forever. Now, I see things, even life itself, so differently…so fresh.  I feel toward all people differently, too. I feel a sense of oneness with everyone, the likes of which I’ve never ever felt before. I doubt if I will ever be the same.”

Speaking of “I doubt I will ever be the same…” that, too, appears similar.

3. This experience of spirituality, or whatever you wish to call it, does seem to change people for the better.

They become more self-aware, self-accepting, self-forgiving. They seem to be more at peace with themselves, with the world, and, equally as important, more at peace with others. They seem more committed to living and leaving a legacy that changes the world, too.

Spirituality…the Most Important Lesson I’ve Learned

The most important lesson I’ve learned is this…

4. Whenever you seek to limit spirituality to your group and then demonize anyone else and their experience, you only limit yourself.

How do you know if you are limiting spirituality to your kind…to your group…to only those who follow your rules for a genuine experience of spirituality?

How do find yourself reacting to this analysis of the spiritual experience?

My name is Dr. Steve McSwain, visit my website for more information: www.SteveMcSwain.com

Decisions! Decisions! Decisions! What Should I Do?

posted by smcswain

Decisions! Decisions! Decisions!

“What should I do?”

I get this question often. I’ve asked this question of myself equally as often.

“What should I do?”

Decisions

Decisions (Photo Used by Permission: www.MichelleMcSwain.com)

I sometimes know the answer immediately. Usually, however, I never get beyond the question. Frustration just mounts and mounts and indecision escalates. The decision I must make seems never to get made.

Some of you are going off for the holiday weekend and you are carrying with you the burden of a big decision you are running out of time to make.

Back and forth you go between competing alternatives and, just as soon as you think you know what decision to make, then a dozen other reasons as to why that decision won’t work cloud your judgment. Before long, you are back at the drawing board, so to speak, and asking…

“What should I do?”
“What should I do?”

I know what you’re experiencing. I’ve been in the place of indecision in the face of important decisions more times than I have space here to detail. As a consequence, I have learned a few things that might help you make the decision you must make, once and for all.

What is it about which you must make a decision?

1. Should I call off the engagement? Postpone the wedding plans? End the marriage?
2. Should I leave this job? Take that new position? Leave this job with no other position?
3. Should I have the surgery? Take chemo or radiation?

What’s the decision you must make? And, is there any help in making it?

Decisions! And, More Decisions!

Here are a few things that might help.

1. Stop asking “What SHOULD I do?” That’s the advice a team of Harvard Business School professors offer. Asking “What COULD I do?” rather than “What SHOULD I do?” can often lead you to a better, more decisive answer. Asking what you should do tacitly implies there is a wrong decision and a right decision inside the decision you must make when, in fact, either decision might just be fine.

2. Asking “What COULD I do?” taps the creative side of you. Meditate on this question. Jot down all the possibilities that come to your mind. Do not judge any of the options, at least at first. Just write them down or type them into your notes on an electronic device. As other options come to you over the weekend, make note of those, too. If there is someone with you over the holiday weekend whose advice and wisdom you respect, find a few moments to share with them your pressing decision and the options you are considering. If you have not thought of all the options, this trusted friend might actually help you see what you have not seen thus far.

3. Note what your heart is telling you. I’m a firm believer in following your heart…the gut instinct you have within. Your heart…instinct…is seldom wrong. What is it telling you? Yes, it is hard, if you’re not accustomed to listening to your inner GPS system. But my best advice to you is this: you must begin sometime learning how to listen to this inner voice. Trust it. Act on it. See what happens. This is about as close to the voice of God as you’ll ever likely hear. So, what have you got to lose? Trust the impulse within – it’s the Holy Spirit, for Christians. If you’re a Buddhist, and many of my readers are, it’s your Buddha nature. It CAN be trusted. You know this already, don’t you?

4. Now, once you have followed the suggestions above, you are ready to ask the question: “What WILL I do?” Once you have narrowed the options and listened to your heart, you will know what you must do. Now, you must do it. Make the decision. Act on it and do not look back. When you follow these suggestions, you will seldom regret the decision you make and actions you take.

One wise soul put it like this: “You don’t usually regret the things you do; it’s the things you didn’t do that you regret.”

Go for it, my friend. Let me know how this has helped you. And, know that, over the holiday weekend, I’ll be thinking about all of those across this land who have…like you…important decisions to make.

Write me at Steve@SteveMcSwain.com. Friend me at Facebook.com/DrSteveMcSwainPublicFigure. Follow me on Twitter. I’d like to be your friend. Go to SteveMcSwain.com for my books and unity pendants. Thank you much, too.

Prayer…Does God Answer Prayer? Ebola Survivor Thinks So…

posted by smcswain

Prayer…Does God answer prayer?

Apparently so, according to the Ebola Doctor, Dr. Kent Brantly, who was himself an Ebola survivor. You can view his full remarks in a recent press conference he held soon after leaving the hospital.

Prayer: Does God Answer Prayer?

Prayer: Does God Answer Prayer? Picture Used by Permission – www.MichelleMcSwain.com

I am not so certain, however. There was a time I, too, said God answers prayers. I wanted as badly as anyone to believe God did. As a consequence, I looked everywhere for answered prayers. I deemed these as indisputable proof God did answer prayer.  I gave my attention to every “miraculous” story I could find, such as the one experienced directly by Brantly  himself. Such stories gave me temporary reassurance that God did indeed answer prayer.

Does God Answer Prayer?”

But then, and this has been the case throughout my life, reality set in.

I began thinking about my logic, imperfect as it is, and I would find holes all through it, then and again now.

Maybe it’s just me but I could not help but ask questions like this:  “Well, Dr. Brantly, I’m sure you are certain God answered your prayer to be spared the deadly Ebola virus, but what of those 1200 others in Africa who died from it?”

Did any of them pray to get well?
Why didn’t God answer their prayer?
And, apparently, he didn’t, so why not? Furthermore, why was yours answered but not theirs?
Did they not have, as you had, enough other prayers being offered on their behalf?
Do “more prayers” better the odds of getting heard? If so, how many more prayers does it take?
Did their prayer go unanswered because they were not all believers? Is being a believer a pre-requisite?
Or, could it be that they just did not believe strongly enough? You know, have enough faith?

Ever asked questions like these? If so, you know how I’m feeling about now.

In fact, you probably know how I feel any time I see…

…a professional athlete genuflect and make a sign of the cross immediately after scoring the winning touchdown…

…Or, a tornado survivor give thanks to God and a million others in a news report for the fact that his home was spared in a neighborhood that looks like a war zone from the Middle East;

…Or, when a doctor gives his personal thanks to God for prayers answered and a second chance at life that was given to him. Aka, Dr. Brantly.

I truly hesitate to say anything here because I know how defensive I used to be whenever anyone questioned my beliefs…which was often. I am especially hesitant, however, under these particular circumstances. It is truly impressive to see such a benevolent and giving person like Dr. Brantly whose selfless love of Christ and service to others would lead him to risk his own life to give life to others. Or, at the least, relieve the suffering of others. Frankly, and I’ll be plainly honest here, I am not sure I could do what he has done. So, I have the deepest respect for him and give thanks to God for such benevolent and generous people…people whose example I hope to better emulate in my own life.

Furthermore, I understand the natural inclination he and other survivors feel whenever the odds are against them and, for whatever the reasons – God, prayer, the miraculous – they are spared and given another opportunity at life. How can you not be thankful at such a time? And, if you don’t thank God, who DO you thank?

Heart Attack and My Prayer

I recently survived a mild heart attack. Mild or otherwise, it was a heart attack and such things get your attention. In my case, it was a brush with the Grim Reaper and, while I required only one stent in my heart for one blockage, the risk of dying was nonetheless real.

Very real.

How could I not be thankful when I walked out of the hospital? I was. I am. And, had this happened many years ago, I would have prayed for healing.

I would have given thanks for surviving it.
I would have given God the credit for answering my prayers.
I would have given God the credit for answering the prayers of my family and friends.
Frankly, I would have given everyone a big high “5″ as it were, since the whole experience proved once again that God answers prayer.

But that’s just the point. He didn’t. Not directly, anyway.

The truth is, I did not pray for healing.
I did not ask God to grant me another chance at life.

Why? Because praying such a prayer made no sense to me.

How could I ask God to heal me when there is no telling how many other people across the planet were dying of heart attacks at that very instant?

I no longer pray such prayers. And, even if I did, I wouldn’t be going on national television in a press conference or standing behind some pulpit and declaring to others that God answers prayer.

Why? Because God doesn’t answer prayer. It is this kind of belief that gives rise, not to faith, but to disappointment. The fact remains, no matter how many times you might ask in prayer to be healed of whatever is threatening your existence today, something is going to get you tomorrow. In other words, you are going to die. And, the sooner you can make peace with that reality, the happier and healthier you’ll be.

God Does Not Answer Prayer

It is this kind of nonsensical belief that gives rise, not to faith, but to disbelief itself.

Here’s what I believe…
God has created the human body with a natural instinct at survival. It permeates the entire created order, as Darwin so eloquently reminded us. He called it “survival of the fittest.”

Furthermore, God has allowed science and scientists – who gratefully are among those who actually use their minds given to them – to work in concert with this survivalist instinct inside every cell of the human body – to bring technologies to bear on bodily weaknesses and, as a consequence, the natural healing process is helped along by science and medicine.

What then did I pray for during my heart attack?

I prayed that these technologies would work together with my body’s natural desire to survive (and that of my own, too). I prayed for the doctor performing the heart stent, that he would be alert and bring all of his skill to bear on the procedure. I prayed for the nurses who cared for me. I prayed especially for the young ladies, mostly, who came into my room from time to time to empty the trash and clean my toilet. I prayed more for them than for all the others, including myself. What a thankless job. Wonder if they ever pray? Wonder what they ask of God?

All went well for me.

How could I not give thanks?

I’m still giving thanks, now eight weeks later.
I will always give thanks.
And, one day, when I do die, and I will die, I’m still going to be giving thanks.

Why? Because my faith is not in a God who answers prayer.
My faith is in a God who does not answer prayer.
My faith is in a God who does not heal one and ignore another.
My faith is in a God who has given to humans not only a miraculous body but the minds and technology to help people live long and live well.

No other God exists.
No other God has ever existed.

And, it is time, believing people stop believing in a make-believe SuperDoctor who lives above the sky and who rescues the sick and infirm…

Provided, of course, they pray…
…have enough faith…
…and, yes, have enough other prayers offered for them.

Such things make great tales of survival.
But they do not inspire faith.
If anything, they temporarily only confirm the delusions of the believing…until that day when their prayers don’t work. And, that day is coming.
Furthermore, there is not one ounce of truth to any of it. And, it’s time that Christians – me included – stop believing fairytales that have no truth in them whatsoever.

 

Meditation: The Key to Living a Sacred Life

posted by smcswain
Meditation: The Key to a Sacred Life

Meditation: The Key to a Sacred Life

Meditation is the key to living a sacred life.

It is the key that unlocks the chamber to an inner life of tranquility. Meditation is also the indispensable discipline you must practice in order to know a sacred, spiritual life.

If meditation is the indispensable link, therefore, even the key to living a sacred life, what is meditation and how may I learn to practice it?

What Is Meditation?

Meditation is easier to define than it is to practice. As a definition, meditation is the progressive quieting of the mind.

It is just that simple.

And, it is just that difficult.

I have always loved Sir Edward Dyer’s poem, “My Mind to Me a Kingdom Is”

My mind to me a kingdom is, such present joys therein I find
That it excels all other bliss, that world affords or grows by kind.
Though much I want, which most would have, yet still my mind forbids to crave
They get with toil, they keep with fear; such cares my mind could never bear.

Content I live, this is my stay;
I seek no more than may suffice; I press to bear no haughty sway;
Look! What I lack my mind supplies.
Lo! Thus I triumph like a king, content with that my mind doth bring.

Some have too much, yet still do crave; I little have and seek no more.
They are but poor, though much they have, And, I am rich with little store.
They poor, I rich; they beg I give.  They lack, I leave, they pine, I live.
But all the pleasures that I find, It is to maintain a quiet mind.

How then, do you “quiet the mind” through meditation? That’s the first question that must be answered before asking how to “maintain” a quiet mind.

1. A specific time and place is important when learning the art of meditation.

In the early days of my spiritual practice, I would try to engage in the practice of meditation at about the same time every day and certainly the same location. For me, it was getting up at five o’clock in the morning and meditating in the front room of our house, while sitting on a coach. Some people get into the lotus position, as it is called. But that never seemed to work for me. I chose sit up instead on a couch but in a position where I would not as likely fall asleep. Sometimes, however, I fell asleep anyway.

Although I no longer use that same place to meditate today, I still regard it as a sacred place. Places become sacred with practice. The manner in which I meditate, however, has remained the same. More often than not, I use the same posture whenever and wherever I meditate. If there is a couch or a reclining chair available, that’s what I typically use.

You will have to find the method that works for you. If you are serious about meditation, try the lotus position first. You may just find it works for you. It has millions of others for hundreds of years.

2. A specific method or practice of meditation is important.

I used a method one of my spiritual teachers taught to me – the Japa Method of Meditation. This is an Eastern practice, but a Lectio Divina practiced by many Benedictine monks and practitioners of the Roman Catholic faith is based on this method.

I found the Japa method to be the most helpful. For an introduction into the mechanics of this method and its specific practice, I would suggest you read the layperson’s take on it and, among those, few would be better than Wayne Dyer’s book, Getting in the Gap: Making Conscious Contact with God through Meditation. While not the most comprehensive book on Japa meditation, it is a good introduction with specific guidance in its actual practice.

There are many different practices of meditation, however, You may need to try several before finding one that works best for  you. In recent months, for example, I have enjoyed a meditation series produced by Deepak Chopra and Oprah. Now, after several offerings, they have a wonderful collection of meditations that will help you get started. Check out the link and see for yourself.

3. Have few expectations of meditation.

That may sound like a strange suggestion but it is important to be mindful of what you’re expecting meditation to do for you. And, most of your expectations should probably be discarded.

It might be better in fact to have no expectations at all. With practice, the benefits of meditation will become obvious enough. Most likely, however, you will not notice the benefits until the practice becomes as essential and as habitual as your morning coffee.

People who stay with diets eventually lose weight. People who consistently exercise as a means of getting in shape do not depend on any of their expectations for their primary motivation. Hence, they are able to stay with those practices, especially during the difficult times when the benefits of their efforts are barely noticeable. Which is most of the time.

To help you identify unconscious expectations you may have about meditation, ask yourself the question: “Why am I beginning this practice? What am I expecting from meditation?”

Now, do not misunderstand.

I can almost hear someone saying, “Are you suggesting, if my expectation for practicing meditation is to enhance my sacred life, I should give up that expectation?”

Well, as strange as it may sound, that is precisely what I’m suggesting.

Maybe this clarification will suffice.  What I am suggesting is that you simply be aware of your motivations and expectations regarding this or any spiritual practice. Awareness is all that is necessary. There is no need whatsoever to purge your desires. Just be aware of them. That is enough.

This way, when meditation does not feel as if it is enhancing your sacred self – which will sometimes be the case – you will nevertheless stay with the practice, knowing the benefits will be forthcoming. In time, you will discover that you feel spiritually-renewed, even when your meditation is interrupted by someone or something or does not produce the same feelings of peace or tranquility every time.

4. Remember the primary purpose of meditation: It is to awaken in you a deeper awareness of this present moment.

When you are present, you are in Presence. You’re in Presence whether you are aware or not. Meditation trains you to be more alert, more aware, more in touch with this present moment. Hence, you are never more spiritually-connected than when you are grounded in Being itself, to borrow Paul Tillich’s famous phrase.  Meditation is by design the means by which you enter into a deeper connection to with the present moment or Presence herself.

People may practice meditation for different reasons. Some for health or relaxation; others for happiness; and, still others meditate in hopes of altering their brain chemistry.

That is correct.

Recent brain research, for example, now tells us that frequent meditators seem capable of changing the genetic make-up or chemistry functions within their brains. In other words, meditation seems to stimulate the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter within the brain associated with positive, happy or tranquil feelings.

While all of these are positive benefits of meditation, the real purpose, however, is far more altruistic. It is to bring you into the present more completely. While that may seem just as self-motivated as the other reasons for meditating, the fact is, when you meditate, you become more and more free of yourself. Altruism is the consequence of a meditative practice. Which is why some people define meditation as the key to transformation.

The former Catholic nun turned Buddhist, Pema Chodron puts it like this: “We do not meditate to become good meditators. We meditate in order to be more awake.”

Two spiritual teachers spoke of the same reality although they used two different metaphors.

The Buddha and His Disciples

What enlightenment is to a Buddhist, salvation is to a Christian. Both are designed to awaken the spiritual practitioner to the eternal – which is only ever this present moment. There is no past or future, except as memory or anticipation. There is only ever now. The present may be filled with thoughts about the past but thoughts about the past are only ever thought about this present moment.

The same is true of the future. Thoughts about the future…even the future itself…if and when it ever appears, it does so only as this present moment.

When you understand that this is the nature of reality, you will begin to understand the longing you feel inside to be free. Therefore, all spiritual traditions offer a pathway to salvation…enlightenment…nirvana. What you call the spiritual goal is secondary. What you experience is universal. And, that experience is the joy…the focus…the freedom…the peace and tranquility of living completely and fully into this moment.

It is here you meet the deepest needs in yourself and in the lives of those around you.
bi
When the Buddha was asked, “What do you and your disciples do?” he answered, “We eat, we walk, we sleep.”

“But,” pressed his inquirer, “how is that enlightenment? Don’t we all eat, walk and sleep?”

“Indeed, we do,” replied the Buddha. “But when my followers eat, they know they are eating. When they walk, they know they are walking. When they sleep, they are aware they are sleeping. That is the difference.”

Jesus and His Disciples

One day, Jesus and his disciples saw a man born blind. “Rabbi,” he was asked, “Who sinned? This man or his parents that he was born blind?” (John 9:2).
The clever way in which we avoid the immediate is by focusing on the insignificant. Which is precisely what those around Jesus had done and were doing with the blind man. Instead of entering into the moment at hand, they gave their attention to the man’s past and what either he or his parents had done that resulted in his blind condition.

What each of us need “saving” from is both the past and the future. Which is the point of Christian salvation. Those who think Jesus came to be God’s scapegoat for sin or simply the means by which you can have a future in heaven miss the point of salvation entirely. Jesus, like Buddha before him, came to save you from yourself.

Meditate on this and see what happens.

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