Your Best Life Now

Your Best Life Now

Jesus and the Buddha

posted by smcswain

Jesus said, “Deny thyself” (Luke 9:23).

The Buddha spoke of “Non-self” or “No self.”

Both Christians and Buddhists frequently misunderstand what these teachers meant.

Jesus and the Buddha (Photo Used by Permission www.MichelleMcSwain.com)

Jesus and the Buddha (Photo Used by Permission www.MichelleMcSwain.com)

What Christians Have Been Taught

Christians, for example, mistakenly think Jesus was suggesting his followers had to deny, denigrate, dissolve, or disregard themselves. As a consequence, throughout Christian history, Christ followers have viewed the body as something evil, mistakenly equating it with what Saint Paul called “flesh.” Consequently, Christians have viewed the body as if there was something evil about it, or tainted, even nasty about the body – which explains the strange views Christians still hold toward sexuality.

When Christians deny women their equal status, as many still do…or, when Christians draw distinctions between people’s natural sexual orientation, these Christians are still living in this illusion that something is fundamentally wrong with the body and, consequently, with sex. It is evil. It is to be denigrated, dissolved, disregarded, and all such notions miss the point altogether.

This is not what Jesus meant by “denying yourself.” Why would Jesus want you to deny who you really are – in body, mind, or soul? The problem Christians still have is they have been misled by well-meaning but misguided teachers in their churches and seminaries. Even the term “human” has become in their thinking something less than divine. Yet, strangely, human was so highly regard by the Divine herself that she chose to become human – that IS the story of Jesus, is it not?

Being a Christian is NOT about denying your humanity and striving to be more divine. Being Christian is the recognition you are divine already and you express that in becoming more and more human.

As a human, you live INTO the full range of emotions, denying none as if they are wrong or evil.

There are times, for example, I am angry. There is no sin in being angry. The sin is when, in the moment of feeling angry, I deny it, pretend I’m not angry, or allow that anger to lead me to behave in ways destructive, either toward myself or, more likely, toward someone else.

But there is nothing wrong with feeling angry. It IS to be human. Jesus was angry. So, if there is no sin in anger, why do you feel as if you are a failure when you do feel angry from time to time? It is because you have been, just as I have been, misled to believe that to feel anger is wrong. What is really wrong is this mis-programming in our internal hard drive. Salvation for Christians, therefore, is unlearning, or better, re-programming the internal hard drive with truth, instead of the lies masquerading as truth taught to many of us.

What Buddhists Have Been Taught

Buddhists make a similar mistake, just as did the Buddha himself. During the seven years he sought the meaning of human existence, he pommeled his body, abused and neglected it, and all in a misguided attempt to bring it into submission. He, too, was misled to believe, only by denying his humanity, could he free himself of self. (For more on this, I would recommend reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, Living Buddha, Living Christ).

What, then, did these two spiritual masters, Jesus and the Buddha, really mean by “denying self” and “non-self?”

1.  First, they meant essentially the same thing. This may surprise many readers but it need not. There has only ever been one spiritual truth. That truth, however, has been, and still is, experienced and explained in countless different cultures and contexts.

2. Second, to deny self is simply to recognize there is no self to deny. You are not a separate self. This IS the illusion. In other words, there is no distinction between you and me, any more than there is a distinction between “Jew or Gentile, bond or free, male or female,” to borrow Saint Paul’s more enlightened moment of expression (Gal. 3:28). If he were living today, the Apostle Paul, for our modern sakes, might add to his list, “And, furthermore, there is no distinction, as in gay or straight, or marriage between same sex persons or opposite sex persons – there is only married love…”

As long as you and I try to carve things up…draw distinctions…live in classifications and separation from each other, all we are really doing is revealing to the world just how un-Christlike we really are, how out-of-touch we are with what Buddhists call our “Buddha-nature”…just how much we miss the point of what Jesus and the Buddha were really teaching.

There are no distinctions…no separations. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “Deny self.” Whenever the self sees its-self as separate and views another as the “other,” then what Jesus taught is being overlooked. There are only ever the illusory distinctions we create in our heads and so live out in this world that harm us and others.

3. So, to “deny self” is simply to recognize that we are one.

That’s what Jesus asked the One Father with whom he shared oneness to grant to his followers – a similar awareness of their “oneness” with each other and, of course, with God (John 17). This “oneness” is not everybody becoming Catholic or Baptist or any such “distinction.” That again is separation. And, there is no real separation, only that which exists in our misguided understanding of salvation, enlightenment, etc.  Oneness is the profoundly deep awareness that humanity – you and me and everybody – are all the same or one-and-the-same.

You and I create distinction and separation whenever we attach our oneness to the illusory ideas we create inside our heads.

The truth is, however, you and I are simply varied expressions of the Eternal I am. When you add something to “I am,” then you are living in the illusion still. You are not “I am…this…or I am that…” You simply ARE. This is the point God was trying to make to Moses. Moses didn’t get it, however. He wanted a name…a distinction…a separate Being he could declare to the Jews had called him to come and rescue them.

Isn’t this the sort of thing we all want? Which is why it is disturbing to people whenever I suggest God is “no-thing.” They want God to be “SOME – THING.” So, they create an image of God – get it – an “image” of God in their heads and what is the most common image people carry about inside their heads about God? It’s the image of God as an old benevolent granddaddy-type who wears a white robe and floats around on a cloud.

The big Dude in the sky.

The great GOD of this universe.

The Divine Santa Claus who sits above the sky observing and recording the behavior of the little selves running about on the planet, mostly misbehaving, and so making themselves undeserving of the little gifts he delivers when they pray correctly and “do” as they’re supposed to do.

And, so, go the illusions on and on and on.  We do anything within our power to make of God something we can grasp, control, and seek to become more like.

But all such notions are illusions. All such actions are inside the illusory little me’s who secretly long to be big Me’s!

You are not your name, your body, or even the thoughts in your head. You’re not your titles, tragedies, triumphs, or trophies. You are not any of these things. You simply are and I simply am and together we are…as Jesus put i…as the expressed it…

We are one. That’s it.

And, it’s enough, when you get it.

You need not BECOME anything. You ARE everything already. You only ever need to become something else when you have denied your essential self. Deny instead the illusions of who you are that you carry around in your head. Let go of all such attachments. Let go of all little “selves” little “me’s” – these are those to deny. But not who you are.

When you get this, you are on your way toward “enlightenment,” as the Buddha called it.

You are on your way toward “salvation,” as Jesus taught it.

Until then, you’re a religious person with ideas and beliefs that need to be examined…

by YOU!

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.

The Three Biggest Questions of Your Life

posted by smcswain

What are the “3″ biggest questions of your life?

1. Who am I?
2. What Is My Life Purpose?
3. What is My Life Plan?

I’ve been thinking about these three questions a great deal lately. I’m giving the keynote week after next at the Indiana Aviation Association’s annual conference at the Belterra Casino and Resort. I thought it would be clever to wear a Captain’s hat and, as I approach the podium to speak, I plan on tossing little packages of pretzels to the hundreds of aviators gathered there to hear my talk.

Three Biggest Questions of Your Life

Three Biggest Questions of Your Life
(Photo Used by Permission from www.MichelleMcSwain.com

Yes, I actually ordered a pilots hat and a box of individually-wrapped pretzels, just like the kind you get on a commercial flight today. Just enough pretzels in each package to make you crave more.

I’m calling my keynote address: “Successful People Fly First Class: Upgrade to a Happier, Healthier YOU!” Among the things I’ll be saying is that, in order to live happier…to live healthier…you must get around to asking and answering the three biggest questions of life.

Nobody can answer these questions for you. Not your parents, your spouse, and, nope, not even your religion. Especially not your religion. These questions must be probed in the one-and-only-place they can be answered – deep within your soul.

Take each question and ask it of yourself.

1. Who am I? One of the biggest mistakes each of us makes throughout much of our lives is to confuse who we are with who we aren’t. Here’s who you are not.

You are not your name.
You are not your occupation.
You are not your accomplishments.
The way I put it often is, you are not your trials, tragedies, triumphs or titles.
You are not your body or your thoughts either.

When you look into the mirror each morning, the image you see you may think is you. But it is not. What you are seeing is what Albert Einstein called “an optical illusion in consciousness.”

You could not be your body, however, because that would beg the question: “Which body?” Your body is constantly dying and rising, changing every few minutes. That’s right. When we began understanding molecular modification, we discovered that the cells in your body – and there are trillions of them – are constantly changing.

Which is why, among other things, you are aging. Which is a nice way of saying, you’re dying.

You say, “Well, if I am not my body, my mind, my titles, trials, trophies or tragedies, then who the heck am I?”

You are the awareness that is aware you are none of these things.

Why is this question important? And, how does this answering this questions contribute to my personal happiness and health?

Unless you constantly remind yourself that you are none of these things, you’ll discover you get attached to these illusory images of yourself. Which explains why people in our culture resist aging and growing old with as much aversion as you do the Ebola virus. People work out in gyms in excessive fashions, eat and diet excessively, and seek magical products and potions that promise to reverse the aging process and, the truth is, we get caught up in such excessive madness because aging and death scare the hell out of us. As a consequence, we cling to almost anything that perpetuates the illusion of permanence.

Become the observer and notice when you’re getting too attached to anything external to your inner, invisible you. Make this your spiritual practice. You’ll discover the difference it makes to live detached, as the Buddha put it, to anything that is material and transitory.

The Buddha called it detachment; Jesus called it denial. In fact, he instructed that followers should “deny self”(Matt. 16:24). Not your inner self – your soul – but all of these “substitute” self’s we might call them. Little ego attachments – titles, trophies, tragedies, and even time. We can get attached to “time” too. And, time is really just an illusion. There is only this moment. Right now. This second. That’s it. Whether it’s 4:30PM today or 8:00AM tomorrow – when either actually shows up, it does so as now.

Do you know who you are? Don’t make the mistake of thinking you are who you really aren’t.

The second of the biggest questions of life is this…

2. What is My Life Purpose?

Here’s what each of us needs to remember about life: the position you hold will never be as important as the purpose that holds you. What is your life purpose? The overarching reason for your being here?

Your happiness in life depends on how you answer this.

When I was a young minister I was misled to believe that the purpose of life is to get prepared for the life to come. So I went about telling everybody I met that they needed “to get right with God.” Otherwise, they would miss heaven, wind up in hell, and so thwart God’s purpose for their lives.

I was just misguided in this thinking, however. That’s NOT why any of us show up. But, unfortunately, it took me nearly a lifetime to figure that out.

God did not create the world so the world could get ready for another world, anymore than God created you to live this life just so you could get ready for the next life.

The whole notion is pretty silly and does little to answer this big question. Nope, you’re here, either by some random accident or by divine design but, in either instance, you’ve got to figure out why you did show up.

And, if you ask this question, and refuse what many religious folk do and that is cop out and take the easy road of avoiding this hard question while hiding behind religious rhetoric like, “I just believe the Bible,” you will be much better off.

It’s OK to “believe the Bible” on this question of why you showed up. But just make sure your believing has been forged in the crucible of question asking and seeking. If you’re just using your religion to avoid asking the question for yourself, then your faith is phony. Period. And, the only person being fooled is you.

Mark Twain used to say, “The two most important days of your life are these: the day you are born and the day you figure out why.”

Have you figured it out? When you do, this purpose will serve as your internal GPS system. It will guide you in every decision of life you face.

Which is, of course, the real reason you must ask this hard question: “What is My Purpose?”

The third of the biggest questions is this:

3. What is My Life Plan?

For those of you who follow my posts regularly, you’ll likely remember the story/post I wrote last spring on the return flight from a speaking gig in Los Angeles, CA.

Remember the story of the baggage handler I, and other travelers, met on our short ride from the Airport Hilton to the LA airport? The middle aged man all of us marveled over because of his incredible work ethic, attitude, and ingenious method he had developed for loading everyone’s luggage on board the bus, driving us to the airport, and remembering whose luggage belonged to whom, as he helped every passenger disembark from the bus?

I’ve included the link here to that original post for those of you who never saw it.

I was the last one, you might remember, that he dropped off in front of the Delta terminal. As I got off the bus, I handed him a twenty dollar bill and my business card.

Remember what he told me when I asked him for the secret to his remarkable, as well as successful attitude, work ethic, and method for managing so many passengers?

He said, “Sir, I just try to live by something my daddy taught me when I was just a young man. He would say to me,

‘Son, you can’t get there from here; you can only get here from there.’”

“Wait, wait,” I said. “I’ve got to write that down. Wow, that’s really good.”

He repeated it so I could write it down. But I ask you, “What did he mean? What was he saying, ‘You cannot get there from here; you can only get here from there?’”

He was saying that everybody needs a life plan – a goal to shoot for…so you’ll know where you’re going.

If clarity about your life purpose is what keeps you between the lines, so to speak,…keeps you grounded…helps you stay rooted to life and guides you in your daily decision-making, a LIFE PLAN is the goal or goals you establish for your life.

Everyone needs a goal or goals in life. Once you get clarity on where you’re going…where you’re headed, then you will begin to see clearly the steps you must take in order to get there.

Now, this is how to live a healthier, happier life.

Ultimately, its not what you do in life that matters all that much – the world must have baggage handlers just as it must have CEO’s. We can’t have all of both. If you know your purpose, however, the position is secondary. The position is never as important as the purpose.

That’s my point in the second of these questions.

If you know what your goals are, then, and only then, will you get clarity on how to reach those goals – the steps you must take.

That’s my point in this third question. And, it’s what the baggage handler – whose name I unfortunately never got – was trying to say to me. “You cannot get there from here; only here from there.”

Whatever your position in life, set life goals, attitudinal goals, work goals, etc. When you set goals for yourself, you make life happen. You’ll achieve infinitely more than you ever would by simply letting life happen to you.

Who am I?

What is My Purpose?

What are My Life Plans?

Answer these three questions and I think I can promise that life for you will be lived at a much happier, healthier level.

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.

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 (Photo Used by Permission www.MichelleMcSwain.com)

Walk with God…Mindfulness in Action – (Photo Used by Permission www.MichelleMcSwain.com)

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 want 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.

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