Your Best Life Now

Your Best Life Now

What God, Church-Going, and Casinos Share in Common…

posted by smcswain

Slots“What must I do to experience God?” That’s a little like asking, “How can I win the lottery?” “If I drop more tokens into the Divine Slot Machine, won’t that increase my odds?”

Valid questions. But the methods? Not so valid.

It could just be me but I am inclined to feel more and more that knowing the Divine Presence…experiencing God…requires no effort whatsoever. No tokens. No winning numbers. That there are actually no conditions whatsoever you must meet in order to make it possible to know God.

“I need a job,” you say. So you fill out an application for employment.

“I need God,” you feel. So you go to church and the preacher says, “Here’s what you MUST DO…” and, depending on which church it is, the laundry list, though different, will clearly spell it out – the conditions for employment, that is.  And, the pay…the reward…what you can expect in return.”

I could be wrong but, today, I feel that anything you must “DO” in order to “KNOW” God is questionable.

What do you think?

For example, when I was a young minister, and that was a pretty long time ago now, I was always saying and preaching things that began with a two-letter word “IF…”

….”If you believe…” and then, I would enumerate those things my Christian tradition taught me must be “believed” BEFORE grace would work.

….”If you are sorry for your sins…” and, growing up in our heavily judgmental religious environment, how could anyone not have been “sorry” for their sins?

….”If you will pray, God will __________.”  You fill in the blank.

I think you see where I was going. I was always about placing “conditions” on grace.  Coming to my church was a lot like going to the Casino on the river. People would come, and in great number, with their tokens of hope. They would drop them in the offering plate and I would preach to them, giving them hints as to the winning numbers. Their prayers were like pulling the  one-armed bandit and they would eagerly watch whether their lives would spin into success.

I was thinking about all of this because, just this morning, I was reading what was likely the preamble to a famous preacher’s sermon here in America who will be delivering it this very day. He was describing God’s Presence and whether it would be in each of our homes. A second in a two-part sermon series, his point was, and I quote, “If a family desires the presence of God in their home, then they should have an altar in the house.”

“Really?” I thought.

Are we really still preaching this stuff?

When will we get it?

It reminded me of the nonsense I used to preach. Eager patrons will fill his pews this morning…their pockets filled with tokens…ready to purchase a little Grace.

“If you’ll go to church, God will…”

“…bless you…reward you…be with you…”

Conditions. Tokens. Religious slot-machines into which we drop our tokens called prayers.

Is all of this true?

My friend, I’m inclined to think it’s a lot of religious wagering…spiritual nonsense…

Seems to me instead, the deeper your experience of Grace, the greater your awareness of just how effortless…how mysterious…how conspicuously absent is the struggle to know God. The longer I walk freely with the Divine, the more fortunate I feel to know this Immortal and Divine Other who has taken up my journey, instead of the other way around.

Saint Paul told the Athenians atop the Areopagus: “You men of Athens…I found also an altar…The God that made the world and all things within it dwelleth not in temples (or altars) (or, religious Casinos)…though he is not far from any of us” (Acts 17)?”

“…though he is not far from any of us.”

How far is “not far” from me? From you?

Why, my friend, would there be a reason to seek that which is nearer to you than the air you breathe?

You do not “seek” to breathe, you just breathe.

Why not practice remembering today, or as often as it comes to you, that, with every breath you breathe, you inhale the very Presence?

I gave up my search for God…the one I had been on for a very long time…the precise instant I experienced real Grace. Grace that is simply the realization…the realization itself a grace…that Grace is simply the inner knowing I could never find what had found me already.

When you know this Grace, my friend, you’ll have no need for the tokens, whether you’re under the steeple this morning or sipping a Cappucino in Starbucks.

Faith So Simple…As a Mustard Seed…So Why Does Religion Complicate Faith?

posted by smcswain

MustardSeedFaith is so simple. So very simple. It is religion that complicates it.

Why?

Control, perhaps. Distinction from other religions, maybe. I’m not quite sure.

What I do know is that faith is not about either control or distinction. Instead, it is about release, the turning loose of all attachments.

When Jesus said, “If you have faith no bigger than a mustard seed…” (Lk 17:6) he was not saying faith comes in varying quantities, as in 16 oz. sized faith, or 32 oz. or super-sized. Yet, this is how so many religious people have mistakenly understood his words.

It is a mistake easily made.

I have a friend, for example, who joined the ranks of the “nones” some years ago, even before the press began designating this rapidly-growing segment of our American population – the formerly religious who’ve given up on organized church or religion.  He, like many of us, was raised in a fundamentalist Christian church where they believed in degrees, or sizes, of faith. To be sure, faith the size of a mustard seed was better than no faith at all. And, they reasoned, according to Jesus, even this size faith could accomplish much. The really faithful Christians, however, or believers, were those who possessed a bigger faith than this. As a consequence, they were also the more favored by God and, without question, more spiritual than others, too.

Which is why, when his mother was diagnosed with cancer, the members of his fundamentalist church gathered around her and prayed for her healing. They had big faith. They were certain, if they prayed, believing the cancer will be removed, it would be removed. She would get better. So, they prayed. They believed.

But she got worse.

So, they prayed more and harder. They pleaded God for bigger faith. They believed that some among them may not have had faith even the size of a mustard seed, otherwise her healing would have come sooner. Some pointed fingers. Others continued to pray. All of them kept pleading for God to grant them more faith…greater faith…faith enough to be big enough to result in her healing.

She grew worse instead.

On the night before she died, my friend described the scene this way: “It was as if the whole church family was gathered outside her hospital room in prayer. Some on their knees. Others with raised hands. Everyone was wailing and believing and seeking to turn their mustard seed-sized faith into something bigger…something more deserving of God’s attention…something that would finally get results and  heal Mom of her cancer.”

“We’ve got to have more faith!” our fundamentalist preacher insisted.  ”Everyone join hands,” he directed, “and let’s pray for more faith…let’s pray her through to healing!”

She died at 8AM the following morning.

My friend quit going to church altogether after that religious fiasco. And, only recently, has he begun talking about God at all. For many years, he just lived with his resentment toward the whole matter, offended as he has been toward the minister and church family who regarded him as the culprit…the one not having enough faith or adequate faith to be deserving of God’s compassion and healing for his mother. It is understandable why he has lived with much guilt over this regrettable experience.

In time, however, he realized the futility of their thinking…or believing. His guilt turned him against this church, and every other church, too. I have my doubts that he’ll ever return. Why? Because he had been misled to believe that, if he just had enough faith, she would have been healed. When she died instead, he was left with no other conclusion but that his mother’s death was his fault, the consequence of his little faith.

This is such a perversion of what Jesus was saying through this beautiful mustard seed metaphor of faith.

So, what was Jesus saying? He was saying that…

  • The capacity to believe…or, a better word here is “trust”…the capacity to trust is a Divinely-endowed capacity. I suspect, as do many others, this capacity is written into the genetic code of your DNA.
  • As that capacity is reinforced by caregivers and others, it naturally grows…it expands, just as the mustard seed germinates and grows into a Mulberry tree. Infants and children who come into this world, for example, come endowed with this believing capacity in tact.  Which is why they are not only totally dependent but completely trusting. Undermine that trust, however, and this natural capacity to believe…to trust…is weakened, harmed, or hindered.  In some cases, the damage can be so severe, it may take nearly a lifetime to restore.

Do you see how, for example, the reported incidents of clergy sexual abuse of children can undermine and perhaps even destroy the natural capacity to believe in these who are now adults? The incidents of abuse must number in the thousands…maybe even the millions…and is so unimaginable that you can understand why Jesus would say, “If anyone causes one of these little ones–those who believe in me–to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matt. 18:6).

What do you do, then, if your natural, God-given capacity to trust…to believe…has been undermined? Damaged? Even if you have not be sexually abused by clergy or a parent or caregiver, you’ve grown up in a family environment where love has been conditional; Or, a religious environment where the things you’ve been taught to believe are just not so, as in the situation with my friend…

…what can you do?

If you’re finding it difficult to live in trust…to live by faith…it is little wonder that life for you is filled with fear, anxiety, and very little inner peace and  happiness. These are the natural consequences of living under the illusion of control – and control is an illusion – instead of living free…instead of living from a place of trust. To live by faith is simple, thought it will take a lifetime to master: it is simply releasing the illusion of your control and the inner permission to allow life to unfold naturally…as of course it will.

So, here’s what I would suggest.

  1. When you feel insecure…suspicious…fearful, or out of control, practice releasing the control of your life to Life itself. See if you can trust, even if that trust lasts but a few seconds, when Jesus says, “Seek first the Kingdom…all these other things will be provided” (Matt 6:33), he means what he says and you need not be overcome with worry about life. Again, even if you are only able to sustain this release unto God’s care for a few seconds or minutes, live into it and feel the joy of release. In the beginning, it will likely be but seconds or minutes before the fear or worry returns. With the return of anxiety, the illusory belief you can control things kicks in, too. Controlling life is an illusion. Yes, of course, you can control a few things…such as, what time you get up…whether you are going to hustle to find a job…what you’re going to eat for lunch…how you’re going to react in a certain situation…or the choices you will make in life. But, there’s much about life you cannot control. Trust is that God-given capacity to step outside the illusion of control and, as a consequence, live peaceably in the ambiguity and awkwardness of uncertainty–the uncertainty that is your life and mine. Practice releasing control and so trust that all will be OK. For, it really will be OK.
  2. Next, you must make this activity of releasing control unto the unseen Father a regular spiritual practice. Which is partly why I write as I do about the spiritual path. I write for others to read and so learn. But I also write to help myself. I need help. The discipline of writing about the spiritual path keeps me between the lines, so to speak. Life is filled with perils. Those who practice the spiritual disciplines that Jesus taught, or the Buddha, or Lao-Tzu or Confucius or any one of scores of other spiritual masters throughout history, discover that their capacity to trust, though small like a mustard seed and temporary at first soon grows into the size or capacity of a Mulberry Tree. This is the process Christians call growth in Christ, or “salvation,” what Saint Paul called “working out your own salvation” (Phil. 2:12). It is what the Buddha referred to as the pathway to “enlightenment.” Stay on your path.
  3. But do not be hard on yourself when you stumble. For, you will stumble and fall. Let’s suppose, for example, you are meditating or, as Christians sometimes call it, praying, and you feel the joy of releasing all illusions of control. As you do, the anxiety…the worry disappear and, in their place, joy and peace fills your inner soul. You feel free. Soon, however, the thoughts return. You slip or stumble. You start thinking again about all the things you must do to make your life more secure. The conversation in your head takes over, incessantly commenting to itself on the conditions of your life and what might happen if you don’t take immediate actions to correct things. With this mental noise-making and scheming on how to be in more control, fear and anxiety stealthily return. And, with their return, the feeling that you’re a spiritual failure, too. Well, my advice is that you STOP feeling like a failure. You’re not. We all stumble. Be done with judging yourself. Instead, recognize that you have succumbed, as we all do, to the little ego in yourself – the one who loves to Edge God Out, so to speak – and, so, sit in the driver’s seat of your soul, pretending to be in control of all the circumstances and conditions of your life.

It is not in control, my friend, and your awareness of the return of the ego is all it takes to remove it to the backseat once again and return God to the driver’s seat. In other words, awareness of your stumble is to automatically restore you to the spiritual path.

That’s all it takes. The challenge is to make this your spiritual practice.

In this case, “Practice makes perfect,” as my mother used to counsel. Practice will make your current but limited capacity to trust to grow, and so your inner peace and joy to grow, too.  It may be slow but that’s OK. You are making progress. Like the beautiful tree my wife and I planted in our front yard just three years ago, you will rise one morning, as I did this morning, look out the front window and marvel at how much the mustard seed of faith has grown…or, how your capacity to trust and believe looks very much like a Mulberry Tree.

You, my friend, are living…believing…trusting…

and so discovering the peace and joy of living…

Your Best Life Now!

The Single Greatest Spiritual Truth

posted by smcswain

Seek

What Is the Single Greatest Spiritual Truth You Have Ever Learned?

I got asked that question today and, after thinking for a moment, I suppose I would have to answer like this:

“As soon as you are disposed to being alone with God you are…no matter where you are: in the city, in the monastery, in the country, in the woods. At the precise moment it would seem you are in the middle of your journey, you have actually arrived at your destination already.”

I’m not smart enough to have stated it so eloquently, or so clearly, so  what I have quoted above is something I memorized years ago. It was Fr. Thomas Merton who first spoke those words.

They have become my mantra – my “instrument of the mind” – words that I use as an instrument to train my mind and so warm my heart. I repeat these memorized words to myself, and have done so almost daily, for as long as I can remember.

And, why do I?

Because, in my opinion and experience, there are no more important words for me or for any person of faith…any person who would seek to live a spiritually-connected, Divinely-rooted life of profound consciousness.

The moment you feel a longing for God, my friend…

No, the instant you are inclined to seek after the Divine…

Know this: At that precise instant of longing…that momentary impulse…that deep desire – at that instant, you could not be closer to God – you are, in fact, ONE with the fullness of God.

What could you possibly ever know…or long for…or ever, ever need that could surpass this inner knowing? This inner confidence? This inner reassurance?

You, my friend, are the NEW incarnation…God in human flesh.

If you know THIS…you will not only live your best life, but you will know a joy unspeakable and a humility as unto Christ himself.

In fact, I think it is safe to say: You will have discovered the greatest Mystery of life.

Near Death Experiences…Heaven? Hell?

posted by smcswain

HeavenNDE – Near Death Experiences.

Heaven.

Hell.

Questions about whether there is actually life beyond the grave invite such debate.  Immense emotion, too.

Express doubt about whether there is a heaven and you’d better be prepared for the barrage of negativity that will come your way.

Raise question about whether there is a hell and you’ll get a mixed response.

But, in either instance, you should be ready for an immediate response and, generally speaking, the response will often show up drenched with emotion.

Frankly, I have little interest in either one, anymore.

And, why should I?

Why should you?

Jesus said, “Take no thought for tomorrow” (Matt. 6:34).

I take that pretty seriously.

I am infinitely more interested in learning how to live in this life now.

That might be the right thing to do. Or, some may think a reckless and naive approach.

This is what I have chosen – and it is a choice I have made, just as you must make the choice about your own life. As for me, I have chosen to give my attention to the only life that is…the only life I know…the only life I’ve ever known…and, as far as I can tell, the only life I can know for certain that I have…

…and that life is THIS LIFE NOW.

In other words, I make it my daily practice to make heavenly my earthly life right now – this very instant.

And, as much as it is within my power, I wish to so live as to create a heavenly environment around me, too…an environment that would make it more heavenly for those who know me and interact with me.

I do not succeed at either of these ambitions perfectly.

By living this way, however, I am able to better fulfill what I understand Jesus expects of me when he taught followers to pray and, so, by implication, to seek to live, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).

My friend, I invite you to give sincere and thoughtful consideration to what I am suggesting.  When Jesus described his mission on earth with these words, “I have come to seek and to save the lost,” (Luke 19:10) from what was he seeking to save people? From some imaginary tomorrow? Eternity?

Many think so. Many preach this regularly. And, for those who know me, when I was a minister, I used to do the same.

Not any longer.

Why?

Because I think I missed his point entirely.

Today, I’m pretty sure Jesus was infinitely more interested in saving people from how they were living, or, in many cases, failing to live, life NOW!  That is, more precisely, in THIS present moment.

Consider this:  If there is a tomorrow…if there is a place called heaven…and, I’m inclined to believe there is, although there is no PROOF OF HEAVEN, not even when a surgeon writes about it, so do not waste your time reading books about those who’ve been “beyond and back,” so to speak because their experience will do little to eradicate your own fear…but, if there is a tomorrow…if there is a place called heaven…

…heaven

…tomorrow

…will ONLY EVER…

I repeat…

Tomorrow only ever shows up…

as…

another…

TODAY.

Get your living of life RIGHT TODAY…

and, as Jesus said…

“…tomorrow will take care of itself” (Matt. 6:34).

This is…

YOUR BEST LIFE NOW!

THERE and HERE…

posted by smcswain

here and thereWhy am I so seldom satisfied with where I am?

Why does over there always appear more enchanting than right here?

Why is it that I look forward to vacation…make plans…detailed plans…imagine the fun, the relaxation I’m going to have…the stuff I’m going to do or not do and the consequential rejuvenation I’m going to feel getting away. Then, after months of planning, nights of dreaming, the vacation comes…and…

…it is anything but what I imagined?

I think I’ve lived a good portion of my life – and, you probably have, too – looking for something beyond that could only ever be found beneath.

I have long suspected the real reason religious people look for heaven out there is because they’ve given up hope of ever knowing one here. In fact, I’m pretty sure the more you wish for something to come, the more you’ve lost of what’s arrived already.

You don’t have to agree with my thoughts. You can keep looking, longing, and living for something that isn’t. Good luck with that.

Or, you can begin living instead…living INTO what is.

Mark Nepo puts it like this: “Here is always beneath there.”

What you “believe” matters. And, a lot of the stuff you and I were taught to “believe” is just plain wrong.

So I’ve been trying to question everything in the last few years. For example, whenever I feel discontented, I take pause and remind myself that what I’m looking for out there is the contentment I could know right here.

Here’s another example: whenever I feel disconnected from God, I know what I’m really missing is a deep connection to myself.

Why?

Because God lives in me, my friend…she lives in you, too. So, get this: you can’t get much closer than that.

If you cannot feel God here…

…there’s a pretty good chance you’re looking there.

The Authentic Search for God

posted by smcswain

imagesIn an authentic search for God, the cosmos of inclusiveness just keeps widening and expanding, not unlike the ever-expanding universe in which we live.

That’s a bit of a paraphrase of something Fr. Richard Rohr says in his book Immortal Diamond.    It has been my experience, too. It seems the more aware I become of the Immortal Presence, the wider my heart stretches to include all persons…all faiths…all traditions.

Without judgment.  With love.

It also seems the more threatened some religious people become toward me, especially regarding some of the conclusions to which I’ve come and comments I make on Facebook, as well as through both my Huffpo blog and BeliefNet blog.

You should read some of the emails I get. Especially from threatened Christians…the very persons whose leader was the most inclusive, ever-expanding person when it came to others, especially those the rest of the world distanced from themselves.

It could all be very discouraging to me were it not for the equally expanding compassion I feel toward those whose faith is so weak, misplaced, and confused. Instead of it strengthening them, they mistake a catalogue of beliefs for the context of authentic faith. So, rather than their faith broadening and becoming more inclusive, their beliefs and belief systems seem only to narrow more and more into that which is stifling and stuffy even to them.

Know this, my friend…

Whenever you attempt to put your God into a straight jacket, it is you, and only you who will feel its insufferable effects.  God will not be incarcerated by your beliefs, no matter how hard the little ego in you tries to cling to them and vigorously argues for their correctness and their rightness over the beliefs of others.

You would be much better off not being fooled by your own fragile self who confuses authentic faith for beliefs and then hides behind oft-quoted, but dismissive clichés, as in, “Oh well, I (we) just believe the Bible and accept by faith.”

What the fragile little ego in you really means is that you and your tribe believe “your version” of the Bible. What it cannot admit is that equally sincere people of faith do not accept your version of the Bible but believe instead a dramatically different interpretation of the same Bible.

All of us should be a bit more humble in what we say and how we say it when it comes to our faith and beliefs. Otherwise, the religious world just becomes a war between collective egos.  This is, in fact, much of what the religious world has become.

Furthermore, when people say, “I just accept things by faith,” what they often mean by that…too often, in fact…is this – “I can’t handle ambiguity…the contradictions in my own faith…I feel unnervingly uncertain when I’m forced to face indisputable discrepancies in the Bible…in my own faith…So, there is something I find comforting   in hiding behind a pillar of my faith.”

All structures…all pillars of faith….in other words, all beliefs are uncertain, temporary, and they are not…I repeat…they are not the source of authentic faith…

…if authentic faith is what you seek.

Faith is authentic…genuine…most real…when it has nothing upon which to stand. Which is why I’ve always liked the picture at the top of this page.  It is neither what you say nor what you claim that determines the genuineness of faith. It is instead your willingness to let go of everything…even every one of your closely held beliefs…and take a step into the oblivion…

…the Oblivion that IS God.

When you can do this, my friend, you will no longer need anything to hold you up. No belief, no confession, no creed. For you will have made the grandest discovery of life – the Eternal in yourself.  It is THAT who takes hold of you.

The step you fear taking IS the step you need to take into authentic faith.

So, let go of all attachments. Fall INTO the authenticity of your own inner doubts. You will not go wrong. You will not lose your faith.  You will, paradoxically, find it.

So said Jesus. “He who would lose his life will find it” (Matt. 16:25).

I know. I’ve been there.

I took that step, not certain where it would go, unsure of what would happen to me.

What I discovered, however, is that the very thing I thought I’d lose, I actually found.

This, my friend, is the REAL good news.

Even Your Best Life Now!

Eternity in an Hour…On the Meaning of ‘Mindfulness’

posted by smcswain

conversation“To see a world in a grain of sand,

And a heaven in a wildflower;

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,

And eternity in an hour.”

– Auguries of Innocence, William Blake

You are the nearest to eternity when you’re in…fully in…this present moment.

That’s the point Blake is making; it’s the conclusion to which I’ve come after spending the last several years training myself to enter the “eternity in an hour.”

Here’s the conclusion to which I’ve come…

When we show up, whatever you may believe about life beyond…God…or, spiritual matters…when you and I show up, we enter through the timeless now – our birth – and, then, spend the rest of our lives trying to figure out how to return to it.

We eventually do. It’s called death. Death, if it is anything at all, it is that single moment in life when we have successfully re-entered the timeless now. I am aware that you have not ever viewed your death in this way.  Neither have I. But these are the thoughts I’m having about “death” and “life” and “this present moment” today.

As odd as it may sound, death is actually your birth or, you might say, re-birth into the timeless now.

By saying this, I am not suggesting life beyond death. I happen to believe there is. I cannot prove it. No one else can either, although some of the most popular books are always about those who’ve gone “beyond and back.” We only seek proof because we’re scared and uncertain.

I no longer even feel the need to argue in defense of an eternity. You only ever argue about those things you don’t really know and fear may not be true. You might remember this the next time someone questions why you believe in life after death and, when they do, why you find yourself getting defensive and/or argumentative.  There’s a reason you do and it has nothing to do with your questioner. Which is why, people…and, I’m talking about religious people, too, who are always defending or trying to prove the existence of God using all kinds of theories of “intelligent design,” are no more “proving” the existence of God than those who believe in life on other planets prove anything by showing you some hazy picture of a UFO captured on film in the Mojave desert.

“People who try to prove God exists do so, not because they know God does, but because they’re secretly afraid She doesn’t” (taken from my book The Enoch Factor: The Sacred Art of Knowing God).

Sorry for that brief excursion.

What is it like when you and I experience the timeless now?

It’s rare.

It’s blissful, magical, full of joy and mystery.

It’s the place of peace. Perfect peace. The peace the apostle said is “beyond all human understanding” (Phil. 4:7).

It’s timeless. It is “eternity in an hour.”

You’ve had such moments, rare though they are.  They usually surprise you. They’re hard to plan for but they are the moments that you remember most. And, seek over and over again.

The conversation with a friend in a coffee shop that becomes, unexpectedly, timeless. Before you know it, they’re placing the chairs on top of the table, mopping the floors, and preparing to close. You lost all consciousness of time. And yet…and this is the mystery…you were more conscious than at almost any other time.

Most of us spend the greater part of our lives living in life’s two polar opposites – either the past with its memories or the future with its endless anticipations.  But, when you think about it, neither the past nor the future is really real.  They are illusory. You can only think about the past in the now. The future, whatever it is, will only ever appear in the now. The only thing that is really real…even eternal…is now.

This is perhaps life’s greatest mystery; it is also life’s greatest challenge: To get out of one’s head and into one’s heart…out of the past and the future and into the present.

In the East, they speak of “mindfulness.”  It is the same thing Jesus pointed toward when he said, “Take no thought for tomorrow…” (Matt. 6:33-35) which was his way of saying, “Stay present…remain mindful…live in the now!”

Your task in life…you might even say, your actual “salvation” is to learn how to get back to your eternal, timeless connection to ‘now’ – this is, in case you’re interested, the place where you meet Presence – the Presence I call God.  But, even if you are not a religious person, and many of my readers are not, this IS still your ‘life’ task…your life objective.  If you are a religious person, this is what it means to be “saved.” Salvation is not for the purpose of saving you from a horrible future but to reconnect you to the eternal now. Many religious people are still lost as they look for a place in some imaginary, future heaven. Salvation is to enable you to enter heaven now.

This is what Jesus meant when he explained, “I have come that you might have life…and, life abundant” (Jn 10:10). By “abundant” he did not mean, “I’ve come that you might have the ‘American Dream’,” a three thousand square foot home in suburbia America…children growing up in the best schools with the best opportunities…and you driving around in a BMW while vacationing annually in the Bahamas.

Somebody should tell that to Benny Hinn and a host of other charlatans who don the contemporary religious landscape.

Jesus was talking about ‘mindful’ living in the timeless now. This is life abundant. When you have this, it doesn’t take the Bahamas to award you with life’s grandest blessings.

So, what does it mean to be ‘mindful’?  To be in the timeless now?

Here’s the answer and, ironically, not from where you might expect.

Martin Seligman is the father of what is now regarded as the science of positive psychology.  In his bestselling book, Authentic Happiness, he tells of a novice monk who arrives at the home of his teacher. He enters the house, bursting with ideas about metaphysics and Buddhism and all he’s learned.

In other words, he is certain he is ready…he is positive he has attained to enlightenment and is ready to prove himself to his master teacher.

“I have but one question for you,” his instructor intones.

“I am ready, master,” he replies. “Sincerely ready.”

“In the doorway, as you entered,” continued his master, “were the flowers to the left or to the right of the umbrella?”

The novice was noticeably speechless. He had not noticed.

The novice, knowing he had much yet to learn, got up, walked out of the house and returned for three more years of study.

Get this, my friend, and you are beginning to understand life’s greatest mystery…the mystery hidden in every moment.

It is your happiness.

It is your salvation.

It is “eternity in an hour.”

Your Best Life Now!

A Fish with Arms? What the…?

posted by smcswain

fish with arms

“The instant fish accept that they will never have arms, they grow fins.”

That’s the wisdom with which Mark Nepo begins his thought for today in The Book of Awakening. And, it is a thought that captures my imagination.

It is true, isn’t it, that you and I cannot become until we accept what we are not?

And this accepting I have found to be one hell-a-shish thing to do.

“What do you mean?” you ask.

You know what I mean.

Just consider how it’s been with me. For the greater part of my life, too. I suspect you’ll agree it’s been much the same with you.

For most of my life…

I’ve wanted to get ahead of others, instead of walking beside them.

I’ve wanted to be smart, instead of wise.

I’ve wanted to be known, instead of knowing.

I’ve wanted to be handsome, instead of wholesome.

I’ve wanted to be a “Christian,” instead of Christ-like.

I’ve wanted to be first, instead of last.

I’ve wanted to be liked, instead of loving.

I’ve wanted to have sex, instead of create intimacy.

I’ve wanted to be perfect, instead of human.

I’ve wanted to make money, instead of make a life.

I’ve wanted to impress others, instead of bless others.

I’ve wanted to build a church, instead of be the church.

I’ve wanted to go to heaven, instead of live it now.

It is little wonder, is it, that I have spent the greater part of my life in what John Steinbeck called “the winter of our discontents?” Mine was a bit more year-round than that.

And, I suppose that’s what has been so confusing to me, too. And, perhaps why I continued to miss the message…the message in the madness, the real truth in the  temporary triumphs that all too quickly turned dark gray like the plans you make on a weather report that it’ll be “Sunny today!” And then, the clouds appear before noon.

Whatever accomplishments I made would reward me with the temporary feeling of satisfaction…just enough salt to make you want more and the salt shaker is empty.  Just enough of a pat on my back…just enough “That-a-boy!” to make me believe I was pursuing the right path. One that would take me toward the illusion of the imagined “ME.” I never seemed to get it, however.  That part about why the path leads nowhere but to the next discontent…about why the satisfaction never lasted more than a season.

The winter of discontent would appear again…and again…and then, again and again, and, before I knew what was happening, the cycle of madness was in full swing again.

But then, one day, amazingly, I just woke up and out of this madness.

Grace greeted me.

A new day dawned.

A new way of living was born.

Winter turned to spring.

The awakening was more like a realization, I suppose. Or, a new way of thinking…and living…and very much like wings to a bird or fins to a fish.

I realized that life is not about getting ahead but about becoming still…not about doing…or, accomplishing…or, achieving…or, impressing…not about anything but being fully and completely myself.  With all of its ordinariness. Its simplicity. Its beauty. Its freedom.

I realized that life is not really about the fantasies of who I might be, but the realness of who I am.  It isn’t about all this striving, struggling, seeking, and searching but never quite finding who I am. Who I really am.  I cannot be who I am not. Nor can you.

Oh, sure, you can try. Welcome to the madness.

I realized that life is not about getting ahead of myself, but living in harmony with Life itself.

The message I had been hearing all my life…at least, until that morning when everything changed, the message I had been hearing was one I think you’ve probably heard, too.

“You can be whatever you want!”

But that’s just it, isn’t it? Why would you ever wish to be the person you are not? Why would you want to be someone other than yourself?

You see, the problem with so much in religion today is that it’s always all about becoming something other than who we are…all about getting somewhere other than where we are.

For this, and a lot other reasons, people have given up on religion.

What Jesus came to teach you instead…what the Buddha tried to get his followers to understand…what Lao-Tzu and a host of others are always saying – and, isn’t it interesting that the stuff they said, as opposed to the likes of Donald Trump and Rush Limbaugh and Steve McSwain will be forgotten tomorrow – but their words never seem to die?  These wise souls were always reminding us that, when fish accept they will never have arms, they grow fins.

When you get this truth, my friend, your life will begin.

Until you get it…

…well…

…you’re just a fish trying to grow arms.

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