Your Best Life Now

Your Best Life Now

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.

What Is Salvation? Enlightenment? Awakening? Learning to Let Go…

posted by smcswain

letting goFr. Thomas Keating, the Trappist monk, said “Discernment is a process of letting go of what we are not.

“Discernment” is yet another word, similar in meaning to enlightenment, awakening, salvation.

All of these words point to the process of “letting go,” as Keating puts it, “of what we are not.”

What are we not?

You are not your thoughts. Which is why you and I must make it our daily practice to be the observer of our thoughts…what is called in the East the “witnessing presence.”

Does this seem hard to understand?

Perhaps this will help. When I speak of observing the mind, the image that comes to my mind is that of a loving adult who is watching the antics of a grandchild as he or she is playing on the family room floor.

Think of your thoughts as that of the little child.  The mind as the family room floor. And, you, the deeper you or, if you prefer, the higher self within you, as the adult observing the dance of thought on the floor of your mind.

Why should you remind yourself that you are not your mind…your thoughts?

So that the mind will not take you over.  Most of life’s happiness, or lack of it, takes place between your two ears.  That is, inside the head.  Which is why President Abraham Lincoln purportedly said, “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

Separating yourself from your thoughts is a process that will take a lifetime to perfect. Which is why Saint Paul said, “Think on these things” (Phil. 4). Which is also why Jesus said, “…out of the mouth, the heart speaks” (Lk 6:45).

I thought about this yesterday when, in response to the Supreme Court’s action of striking down the “Defense of Marriage Act” thus opening the door to the recognition of “same sex” marriage, the Representative from our state of Kentucky, Rand Paul, commented that this action takes us a step closer to the “union of humans and animals.”

What is in someone’s mind who would liken the Supreme Court’s decision to the “union of humans and animals?”

Do you wish to be “saved,” as I was asked often by the religious people in my childhood?  They meant by this, “Do you want to get your sins forgiven and so go to heaven when you die?”

I now gratefully understand that salvation is so much more than this limited view of salvation. Or, enlightenment.  It is, among other things, freedom from the prison of one’s mind. Freedom from the defilement of one’s life by what goes on inside the head, according to Jesus.

You are not your mind.

You are not your body either

When you understand this, you can accept the changes you see as your body ages…and marches…toward death. Until you understand it, you are lost, as is our culture, in trying desperately, but unconsciously, to preserve the body.  You are lost in your love of it…what others think of it…you pamper it, fret over it, think more highly of it than  you ought, even despise it.

Which is the case with so much of the shallow Christianity in our world. The Jimmy Swaggart’s, Kenneth Copeland’s, and a host of other Christians have convinced many that, when the New Testament speaks of “flesh” it is referring to your body and that your body should be despised and rejected, as if there is something sinful or wrong with it.

This is so unfortunate. There is nothing wrong with your body. There is everything wrong, however, with your attachment to it, as well as your attitude of revulsion toward it.  Which is just a back door way of remaining attached to the body.

Pay attention to your body. Listen to your body. It is one of the portals into the Divine Presence. God speaks to you through the intelligence within the human body…through the voice one hears inside the body. And, sometimes, through the body.

Just do not be attached to the body.

Why?

It is not who you are. It is instead your temporary dwelling. It does not survive death. But you do.

My house at 3105 Meadowlark is not my home. The house is the temporary dwelling place wherein I, and my family, experience home.

Separate yourself from your body.  That is, take care of it…listen to it…learn from it…enter into Presence through it but do not despise it…do not worship it.  Do not, as so many mistakenly do, remain so attached to it that  you’ll spend thousands of dollars trying to dress it up, stretch out its wrinkles, pull it, remove fat from it, and all in the ego-driven attempt to hide the reality of death from yourself.

Know, my friend, that your salvation, your enlightenment, your spiritual awakening is, as Thomas Keating reminded us, “the process of letting go.”

Let go today.  Let go of your worries.  Let go of your fears.  Let go of your anxieties…your depressive thoughts…your hurts…even your hopes.

Let go of everything.  Attachments only hinder your progress.

And, oh, by the way, what does it mean to “let go?”

It means to BE a person of faith.  Faith isn’t holding on to “beliefs.”

Your beliefs are just another attachment.

Faith is not holding on. Faith is letting go.

Letting everything go. Even your beliefs.

When you let go of everything, you make the paradoxical discovery, you have everything.

I cannot explain this.  All I can do is invite you to let go yourself.

Then, you’ll see.

Do You Have But One Blessing, Father?…A Father’s Blessing

posted by smcswain

Father's Blessing“Do you have but one blessing, Father? Oh, please, Daddy bless me too.”

And Esau broke down and wept (Gen. 17:38)

One of the most heart-wrenching scenes in all the Old Testament.

Esau, first-born son to Isaac, was looking for his father’s blessing and I’m thinking, What child does not need…

A Father’s Blessing?

Most of the social problems we face today could be fixed by…

A Father’s Blessing.

I’m a Dad. A proud one, too. A step-Dad as well.  And, equally, as proud.

I had a Dad, just as you do.  Or, did.  My Dad unexpectedly died many years ago now and, if he did anything, he gave to my brother’s and me…

A Father’s Blessing.

What does it mean to have the blessing of your father?  It means…

1. To be treated equally…to be treated the same, a lesson Isaac, father to Jacob and Esau, learned too late.  Custom or no custom, first-born or no first-born, father’s make a huge mistake whenever they show favoritism to their children. Children are all different, as any parent knows who has more than one child. But children are smart, too. And, they know whether or not you favor one over the other. Love them all. Love them equally.

2. Teach them the way. That means, give them boundaries. But don’t be harsh toward them when they push at them. And, they will. They should. How else does one grow without resistance?

3.  Give them room to screw up.  This, they’ll do, too. Plenty of times. Don’t beat them; believe in them instead. Forgive them, too. Show them how. And, remember, you’re one big screw up yourself. Show them how to forgive others by how you forgive others and how you forgive yourself for your own mistakes.

4. Know they’ll catch from you far more than they’ll ever learn from you. Preach at them all you want, but it’s your practice that they’re watching. Don’t tell them all people are created equal and then expect them not to be prejudiced like you when they hear you make racial slurs or ugly, unkind comments about people who are different from you in color, creed, or lifestyle. You’re the hypocrite. Not them.

5.  Fill your home with laughter. Play. Play. And then, play some more. I don’t give a damn how tired or busy you are. You brought those children into the world. Spend time with them. Get into their stuff with joy, spontaneity, laughter, and excitement. They’ll love it. You’ll love it. They’ll grow up happier, healthier children, too.

6. Pass along your faith to them but give them room to forge their own faith experience.  You’re their spiritual guide. You’re not their religious dictator. The surest way to have them reject your faith is for you for force it down their throats.

7. Teach them to question everything, even the stuff you tell them to believe.  You want your children to grow up healthy and internally strong? Independent and strong enough to make their own decisions?  Then, give them room to disagree with you when they think differently.  Give them room to grow. Keep the lines of communication open, instead of using your position or authority to cut off discussion.

8. Make your home a SAFE PLACE for them. You create a security inside your children…the internal feeling of safety, not by arming your home with AK-47’s and hand-guns out the ass, but by loving them…by ending the drama that goes on between you and your spouse…the constant yelling and arguing.  You know what I’m talking about. End the  put-down’s. Calling your children “Losers” or saying things like “You’re a dumb ass!” or “You’re stupid!”  may be some of the most damaging stuff you could ever say to your children. Damaging to them when they hear you say things like this to each other, too. How disrespectful.  You tell them to treat the neighbor kids fairly – so the neighbor’s parents will think you a good parent – meanwhile, you talk to your children’s mother like she’s a piece of shit.  Shame on you.  Never should a day go by but what your children see you and your partner hug each other, say loving and kind things to each other.  And, never should a day go by but what you hug your children and tell them you love them.  You children will grow up feeling secure when you’re there for them through the thick-and-thin of it. No matter what they face, don’t ever let them face it alone.

9. Bless them everyday. Not for the stuff they do but for WHO they are.  They may question many things but they’d better never question whether they have your blessing. Isaac’s stupidity as a father, blessing one child and not the other, set in motion a conflict between these two brothers, Jacob and Esau, the effects of which are still being felt in the present. What you do for your children…what you fail to do for your children…what you say, or do not say…what you do, or do not do…has eternal consequences.  You bet it does.  For the most part, your children will grow up to BE just like you. So, take a hard look at yourself this morning in the mirror. And, remind yourself, just as you needed your father’s blessing, so YOUR children do, too.

10. So, here are the three “BLESSINGS” you should give your children every day:  “I’m here for you.”  “I’m proud of you.”  “I love you.”  Do this. Mean it with all your heart.  And, watch your children grow up, not as the next American Idol or star of the NBA, but human beings who know how to love, to live, to laugh, and so leave this world, as you intend to leave it, better than how you found it.

A Father’s Blessing.

What could be more important?

Want to Grow in Your Faith?

posted by smcswain

growing in faith

A Tribute to My Father…

posted by smcswain

Spirituality

Looking for God Outside Yourself is Like…

posted by smcswain

Gold-Bars-in-Fort-Knox“If God is everywhere,” writes Fr. Richard Rohr, “then God is not anywhere exclusively.”

Hold this thought in your mind this day…no, everyday…and see what happens.

I suspect, among other things,

1. You will begin to honor spiritual truth wherever you find it – not just the truth which may come through your tribe or denomination or group. There is but one spiritual  truth, although it may be known in a myriad of varying ways. Be suspect of anyone who insists, “I hold the truth.” Truth cannot be contained.

2. True, you may hold strong beliefs or convictions for yourself. But, you will cling to none of them. Does that sound a bit like double-talk? That’s because it is. Most truth floats like a leaf on river of contradiction or paradox. It you will maintain a mind that is open to everything and attached to nothing, you will grow continually. If, on the other hand, when you assume you are right and that your beliefs no longer need questioning, you can be certain you have ceased to grow. Worse still, you are most likely living outside the truth you think you know.

3. Most important, “If God is everywhere…,” as of course God is, why would you look outside yourself today for the God who is near to you now…even within you?

Look no further, my friend…

You have all of God there is. God does not come to you in bits and pieces. So, let nothing…you inadequate religious instruction, your background or conditioning…let nothing create in you, the thought, as well as the anxiety such faulty thinking produces, that God must be sought in order to be found. The preacher who said, “Seek God while He may be found…” (Isa. 55:6) meant well. He just did not have all the facts. About this much, however, he IS right. “Now” not tomorrow…not sometime soon…”Now” is the moment to wake up to the realization, God need not be found. Nor must you seek God to find God.

You cannot find Who is not lost.

To look for God outside yourself is like panning for nuggets of gold while holding the keys to Fort Knox.

Live in the joy of Being herself. It IS your natural state of human existence. “Thanks be to God,” said Saint Paul, “who causes us to triumph in Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15).

What more could you want in life? This IS…

Your Best Life Now!

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