Your Best Life Now

Your Best Life Now

What Is the Breath of Life?

posted by smcswain

In the Song of Creation, otherwise known as the Book of Genesis, the writer says of the first two mythical representatives of the human race, “And God breathed into their nostrils the breath of life and humans became living souls” (Gen. 2:7)

What is the “breath of life?”

Is it not the life energy, the essence of all living things? Is it not God Herself?

You say, “But it cannot be?”

Why not?

What if it is? Consider this:

What would your life be like if, at every breath you took, you did so with an awareness that in the mystery that is this creation…which IS the mystery of your life and mine…what if you were actually inhaling and exhaling the very Life of God?

What would such a thought do to your perspective toward today? Toward this very moment?

What could you be facing even now that this profound awareness would not enable you to face with confidence…without any worry or fear?

Why not right now, take a deep breath and, as you do, see yourself as receiving the breath and life of God into your innermost being? Then, slowly exhale and, with that exhalation, see yourself releasing all anxiety, concern, worry…whatever it is that preoccupies your thinking this day?

Here is the miracle that is God and God’s creation – that is, YOU – the miracle is, even when you’re not thinking of God…you’re still breathing…you’re still receiving the Life of God.

What more could you ask for today? Any day? This is the secret to happiness.

Giving Your Attention Too Quickly to the Next Thing…

posted by smcswain

“Much of our confusion in life comes from giving our attention too quickly to the next thing…” says Mark Nepo this morning.

Ah, now that touches a nerve in me. It does some of you, too. Which is precisely why, of all the things your eyes might have fallen on this morning, they have fallen on this instead.

Coincidence?

Well, I suppose you could call it that, if you believe in such.

I’m not so inclined. Instead, I prefer to think that you’re here because this is Life’s way of saying to you, “Will you continue to live on the surface of your life? In constant motion? Driven as you are from one status update to the next? From one appointment… assignment…from one project and responsibility to the next?”

Any wonder you so seldom see the wonder of life? Of living? Why would you believe you could live any other way but confused? Uncertain? Or, pulled in a million and one directions?

Why not imagine what’s beneath the surface? Could it be that what you seek lies somewhere within? Closer than you think?

Now, lest you think I’m just pontificating this morning, you should know that I am describing my life. I’m too surface…too shallow…and, so often, confused.

No surprise? Only to those who read what I write and think of me as someone who is where they’d like to be. No, my friend, you read what I write precisely because you know…you know deeply…I’m not there, yet.  And, yet, I am, too. Because, you see, the moment I’m aware of the surface life I live, I have just taken a plunge to the depths.

That’s life’s mystery. When we know we’re not…we ARE.

The uncertainty within which most of us live is therefore directly related to the surface living most of us do. We remain not long enough to know anything with absolute peace…to know anyone with depth.

Except that, even now, we feel a little more at peace…a little deeper than a few moments ago.

And, why is this? Because, if you’ve read this much of this morning’s status report from the surface guru himself, there’s a pretty good chance, you are plunging into the depths of deeper knowing even now!

You, my friend, are beginning to live…

Your Best Life Now!  Your DEEPEST Life Now!

So, You Want to Become a Great Leader?…Live a Successful Life?…or, Know a Meaningful Spiritual Life? Here’s How:

posted by smcswain

I coach professionals, business executives, and religious leaders all across America. There’s a little cliche, the origin of which I do not know, that goes like this:

“You cannot get there from here;
You can only get here from there.”

What does this mean?

It means to start from the end.

In eastern philosophy, you are taught to treat yourself as if you are already that which you’d like to become.

So here’s how you apply this little known law of life…to leadership and to the living of a spiritual life.

In life, act as if you already are that which you’d like to become. Get a clear picture in your mind, for example, as to the person you want to be. As you do, the steps to becoming that person will automatically reveal themselves. The universe – what I call God – will arrange life in such a way so as to cooperate in the fulfillment of your desires. In other words, you will always know what to do today — that is, what steps to take — after you get clear about who you are today.

In leadership, it is the same. If you wish to become a great leader, know that you are inviting the universe to provide the means to help you realize it. I used to laugh, for example, at the absurdity of Saint Paul’s words in Romans 5:3-5, “…for we know that trouble produces patience in us.” Since I have always been a rather impatient person, I used to pray for “patience,” not knowing that, by giving my attention to that virtue, I was inviting the universe to provide the occasions…the experiences…today that would help me take the steps needed to become the person I imagined being.

I’m coaching a very powerful man, by company standards, who oversees an organization of more than 8,000 people. He wants to become a better leader. Once he decided that this was his ambition…his passion…his desire, I have had to remind him lately that the challenges to his leadership that have been recently overwhelming is Life’s way of providing him the pathway to fulfillment.

Start from the end.

It is the same in the spiritual life. But it is not the same either.

How’s that for confusing?

Here’s what I mean. For most of my life, I have desired a feeling of closeness to God…to my Divine Source. Yet, in spite of the steps I would take, the arduous effort I would give to the development of a consistent and rewarding walk of faith, I always felt as if I was coming up short…not quite making it. My religious tradition was little help, too. In fact, it was obsessively concerned with pointing out my failures. But, I needed no help in knowing where I was screwing it up. I knew all too well.

Then, one day I awakened out of that endless cycle of spiritual frustration. I realized that, unlike life and leadership or, for that matter, anything else, whenever I felt the desire to live and walk in the Presence of God, I realized I was at that instant right smack in the middle of that Presence already.

I am already the spiritual person I long to be. You, too.
I am already as close to the Divine as I’ll ever be. The same is true for you.

God is not “out there” somewhere…a spiritual Treasure you’ll only find after digging deep into the soul of your spiritual efforts…spiritual disciplines…spiritual perfection.

At the precise instant you think of God…you feel for God…you desire God…

At that precise instant you and God are one – eternally one.

Your spiritual practice is to remind yourself of this. But, don’t make a problem out of practice. Don’t turn this beautiful spiritual truth into some kind of religious struggle. Instead, know that just the thought of God in you IS the Presence of God. As you give attention to every thought, or to every impulse you feel to know God, then the feeling of God’s nearness will expand.

The reason I pray…I meditate…I discipline myself to life from the place of my higher self is not because I am then finally rewarded by God for my good efforts.

No.

I engage in these spiritual practices because they help me expand my consciousness of God’s immediate Presence.

Only in the spiritual realm does the law above work both ways. While in life and/or in leadership, you get clear about what you wish to become, start treating yourself as if you are already that which you wish, and then know that your daily experiences, encounters, etc will be orchestrated by the Universe to carry you in the direction of your dreams.

In the spiritual realm, however, you get both there from here AND here from there.

In other words…

You LONG TO KNOW GOD; and then, you make the wonderful discovery that…
…the LONGING IS GOD.

Do You Hear the Birds Sing?…

posted by smcswain

Do you hear the birds singing in the quiet hours of dawn?

For years, I have awakened between five and six every morning. It is my favorite time of the day. The world is filled with stillness. My mind is quiet and refreshed. It’s as if all I can hear is the silence around me…my soul silently absorbs the energy of emptiness.

You need this power that comes from Presence – without the emptiness to fill your soul, you’ll live off the energy of an illusory environment – it looks energizing…driven as you will become  by its demands, your own self-created expectations, the expectations and demands of others quotas to meet, a bottom line to protect. It’s all so draining. As all illusions are. It WILL drain you.

So, rise early, my friend. Make it your habit to awaken with the birds who from their branches and nests declare in perfect song the dawn of a new day.

They are singing this morning. And, my heart sings with them.

Do you hear the birds sing?

Feel their song in these words?  If you’re still reading, you are most likely absorbing these words like a Marathoner might water after an exhausting twenty-six miles. You need rest and refreshment, too, my friend. You need a song…the song of the birds. Will you absorb the energy you know you need. It is here and it is free.  Christians call it Grace. Buddhists call it “nirvana.” Receive this Grace. It is inexhaustible. It is perfect bliss.

For just a few moments, let the stream of God’s Eternal Presence gently flow over you this morning…let it flow within you…and envelope you with love…with life…with energy…with joy.

Today, no matter how demanding the day becomes…when you have paused in the early hours of dawn just to listen to the birds sing, you will find their song is your Source.

Do you hear the birds singing?

They’re singing your song. And, isn’t this the song Jesus hinted at when he said, “Look and listen to the birds of the air…listen to and observe the lilies of the field (Matt. 6)…they know and so sing the song my soul…your soul…needs to sing. Must sing.

So, today, look with me for the birds…listen for their songs…they are our reminders that we are our interconnected…we are all connected to God…we are…

UNIVERSE – the “uni” (ONE) “verse” (SONG).

Blessed singing, my friend.

Why Do I Meditate…Pray…and Write about the Spiritual Path?

posted by smcswain

I am frequently asked, “Why do you meditate…pray…or, for that matter, write so much about spiritual things?”

It’s who I am. How could I be otherwise? I’ve tried for years to be what others have wanted and, frankly, I’ve grown weary of it. I’m not here to entertain you…or please you…or dance around some ring in an effort to get you to like me…or, agree with you just so you’ll feel better about you. I didn’t show up to be someone I am not.

Nor did you.

I have exhausted much of life trying, too. And, I’m done with it.

If my beliefs offend you, then I suppose you’ll just have to be offended.  If my beliefs are too frightening for you, then you’ll just have to shiver.  I will not squeeze myself into your tiny box of “truth.” If you want to go through the rest of your life suffocating in some belief box of narrow thinking, then have at it.

Not for me.

Instead?  I will live free. I will be me. I’m going to be the person God has created me to be.

And, that person isn’t you! So, get over YOU!

You say, “But I don’t agree with half the stuff you write.  In fact, sometimes, you just plain suck!”

Then “UNFRIEND ME, my friend!”

Like Dah!

I do not WRITE for you any more than you LIVE for me.

No longer will I say I believe things just so you’re comfortable. If you do not know that Jesus meant what he said, when he said, we are to love God with all our heart and with all our MINDS (Luke 10:27), then you’ll just have to figure it out the hard way.

The mind part is just as important as the heart part. The mind involves everything rational and true and sometimes that means we have to let go of the primitive, limited understanding of people in the Bible who thought things we know better than to think today.  So, my friend…it’s OK to have questions. It’s OK to have doubts. You do not disrespect the Bible by admitting it’s limited understanding of many things. You only disrespect it by when you pretend otherwise. The questions you don’t want to ask or your friends do not want you asking either – that’s gotta go. Don’t buy the lie disguised as truth in the nauseating cliche’  “The Bible says it; we just believe it; so that settles it!”

Settles what?

Settles absolutely nothing. All it is…is an avoidance tactic they’ve cleverly confused for faith.

It has nothing to do with faith, however. Instead, it has everything to do with fear.  Their fear. That’s really how they’re living – in fear dressed up as faith and singing to the top of it voice…so loudly, in fact, they can’t think.

The charade won’t last my friend. The party is coming to a close on this kind of shallow religion. If you don’t believe it, you’ve been living with your head in the sand. Just go pick up this morning’s paper.  Or read it on your device. People, in record numbers, are realizing there’s been infinite good in religion and equally infinite evil. And I, and you, have a choice. The madness of so much religion is daily being replaced by the discipline of spiritual living. People are giving up knowledge about Jesus and in exchange are knowing the life-transforming Jesus.

So, if you must…if you’re just too frightened to do otherwise…go ahead, and pretend you don’t have a mind…just pretend to love God without it…pretend that you believe things that, secretly, you and I both know, you really do not believe.

The curtain will drop soon enough. One day you’ll know you can neither love God only with your heart but without your mind than you can eat pizza without a crust. (Oh, I just met someone who can! LOL!).

You will know that you could never know a God you’ve crammed into the box of your tiny thinking.

When you’re ready…and that may take a lifetime…but, when you’re ready, you’ll step out of your own box of pretension. And, my friend, when you do, you’ll make discoveries beyond imagine.

Rumi, the Sufi poet, asked the all important question, “The prison door is open! So, why would you stay inside?”

Step out of everyone else’s expectations and INTO…

YOUR BEST LIFE NOW!

 

What Is Faith?…

posted by smcswain

I’m looking out the window on a flight from Louisville to Atlanta where I’m helping a congregation redefine its understanding of mission and then recast a vision for their future.

I’ve been reflecting on the meaning of faith. What is faith?

What I realize today is that, more than at any other time, the confusion between faith and beliefs is widespread and perhaps is even pandemic. I understand the confusion well for I, too, have lived much of my life confused about the two.

So, again, what is faith? Here are the things to remember:

First, there is a difference between “beliefs” and “faith.” Many people mistakenly think their “beliefs” – that is, the things they say about the spiritual experience they’ve had is what constitutes faith. Well — and this may be the source of confusion — your beliefs do express your faith…your experience…but your faith is infinitely more than your beliefs.

Beliefs, no matter how carefully crafted and no matter how “orthodox” they might be, could never capture the essence of either the person of God or our experience of God.  As a consequence, the danger is that the things we say about God will become, as they often do, more important than the experience toward which they point.  As a spiritual teacher once reminded us, “The finger that points to the moon is not the moon.” In this regard, beliefs, instead of the faith experience toward which they point, can become the finger that points toward the moon.

Second, you cling to beliefs but you live by faith.  Here, too, there is a huge difference. Whenever people confuse beliefs for faith, they tenaciously, even argumentatively, cling to those beliefs and they do so precisely because they seek to feel spiritually secure.

It seldom works, however.

Why? Because faith, unlike your beliefs, cannot be gathered up and held in one’s hand, anymore than you can hold water in your hands.

Third, faith is best understood as the capacity to let go of certainty and to live at peace in the midst of uncertainty. Faith is the willingness…yes, even the risky business of letting go of one’s natural inclination to cling to a belief; a doctrine; a concept or idea; or even a belief system.

So, how do you know when you’re attached to a belief masquerading as faith?

What does it feel like inside you when your belief(s) is questioned? Do you feel threatened? Under attack? Do you feel the need to defend the belief? If so, there is a strong likelihood you are confusing faith for a belief. Otherwise, why would you feel this way?

Of faith, the writer of Hebrews says, “Now, faith means being certain of things we cannot see…” (Hebrews 11:1f, Phillips trans.). In other words, even your collection of beliefs, are things you can see. They are words on a page. But, essentially, little more. They may have great meaning to you…to your faith tradition…and even the weight of your faith tradition’s religious history. But still just words. You do not live by words. Instead, you live, when you live by faith, by an unseen capacity within you so utterly amazing, so completely Divine, that even cleverly crafted words could never capture the Mystery inherent in your believing.

And yet, the danger inherent in all religions, Christianity notwithstanding, is that our beliefs about God will become more important, institutionalized, even unquestionable, that whenever someone comes along and questions those beliefs, you feel attacked and so are compelled to respond accordingly.

So, you want to live by faith?

Perhaps this illustration will help?

On my flight this morning from Louisville to Atlanta, I was watching the sunrise through the airplane window. Across the horizon were rolling hills, as it were, of cascading clouds, white like mounds of freshly fallen snow.

I said to myself, “We’ll be arriving soon in Atlanta.”

But then, I thought, “But how do I know we will? I mean, for certain, that is?”

In truth, I did not know. And yet, I knew we would, too.

This is faith at work. We know what really cannot be known with certainty. And, so, we live in peace…in trust…in confidence.

I am often asked, for example, “But how do you know there is a God?”

And, my answer is: “I do not. And, yet, I do, too.”

“That’s contradictory,” you say. Admittedly, for those who need more, it is a problem.

For me, and I suspect for you – otherwise, why would you be reading this – except, of course, to find something with which to disagree.  I know, and you likely know, too, what really cannot be known. I see, and you see, what really cannot be seen. I feel, and you likely feel, what cannot be empirically proven only subjectively enjoyed.

Faith is…

…Knowing what cannot be known…

…Faith is releasing the control of your life and destiny…

…Faith is laughter in the face of paradox and contradiction..the big bellied Buddha-kind of laughter.

…Faith is trust in the presence of uncertainty…

…Faith is peace in the midst of chaos and misunderstanding…

…Faith is life lived with beliefs but beyond those beliefs, too…

Faith is…

God in you believing in Herself.

When you live from this place of knowing, you, my friend, are living…

YOUR BEST LIFE NOW!

Vanity…Vanity…(another word for “ego”) – Everyone’s Problem but MINE…

posted by smcswain
Vanity…Vanity…(another word for “ego”) – Everyone’s problem but MINE!

Have you ever noticed how vain we are?

You, of course. Not me.

What about the author who advertises he or she is a “Bestselling Author.”

If you were really a “bestselling” author, wouldn’t we know that already? If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.

As for me, I’m an “Author, Speaker, Life Coach, Spiritual Teacher.”

That’s different! LOL!

A little Saturday afternoon satire, garnished with a slice of truth.

Living in the Rhythm of NOW…

posted by smcswain

I teach on Mondays at the University of Kentucky. The students today I find to be engaging, open-minded, and visionary. They keep me young, too. They call me, “Professor.” What they do not know is that, when I’m with them, I am really their student.

Yesterday, as I waited outside a classroom where another course of instruction in Communication was winding down, one of the department heads approached me.

“Steve,” she said. “I’ve read your books and I have one question for you. So how do you live in the now? I mean, this present moment. It’s the hardest thing for me to do. I have so many demands I’m thinking about almost continually.”

I thought, “Gosh, you’ve just described me.”

I didn’t say that to her. In fact, I did not answer her. Instead, I agreed that staying rooted in Now is next to impossible.

But it CAN be done. And, those who are…are increasingly conscious, compassionate, charitable – even enlightened.

As yet, however, who of us has mastered the art of living at the rhythm of NOW?

Here is my practice. But, make no mistake, I’m hardly a guru. Certainly, no master teacher of wisdom. My problem is, instead of present, I’m too often absent. I’m here but usually “there.” Just ask Pam. Which means, I seldom hear what’s happening around me or what’s being said to me, much less what’s going on within me, because I’m too busy talking or thinking thoughts or thinking about the thoughts I’m thinking.

Living at the rhythm of now takes practice. Which is why the 17th century Carmelite monk, Brother Lawrence, called the spiritual disciplines of the soul, “practicing the presence of God.”

1. First, meditate more often than you medicate. The latter is easy. The former tougher. Generally, the spiritual practice of meditation is not as difficult to do for right-brain “intuitives” like myself. Left-brainers, however, will find it a bit more challenging.

Meditation was a frequent spiritual practice of Jesus. You can call it “prayer” if that helps you feel more “Christian” but, if you read the New Testament, Jesus described it as entering the “closet” (Matt 5) a metaphor for your world within. I’ll have a whole chapter devoted to this topic in the newest book I’m writing, Why Are So Many People Unhappy?

2. Second, as soon as you are aware you’re going in circles at the pace of a Daytona 500 driver, stop. Just turn off the engine, even for a few seconds. As you do, be aware of your own “driven-ness.”  Turn your thoughts to something like the word, “Sabbath,” a English transliteration of a Hebrew word meaning, literally, “Stop!” Or, in colloquial usage, you could say its meaning is, “Shut up!”

Not bad advice for some of us. Especially me.

3. “But,” you ask, “how do I stop thinking?”

This will be your greatest challenge.

In the east, a teacher once put it like this: “Stop talking, stop thinking; and there is nothing you will not understand.” If you’re one of those who has a hard time making decisions or you so seldom seem to know what you’re supposed to do in any given situation, it’s very likely because you are too seldom still enough…or, silent enough…to feel the pull of your soul or to hear the voice of your spirit.

No judgment here, my friend. Just the way you are. I am. So, can we change?

Of course.

The “pull of your soul” and “the voice of your spirit” are both there within you. Jesus promised as much, when he said, “And when I go, the Comforter will come and guide you” (Jn 14).

If what you need are answers, stop thinking long enough to hear them. I know that sounds contradictory. But it is true. It is the way of silent guidance.  It  is aligning yourself to the rhythm of now…your soul.

So, how do you stop thinking or, at a minimum, create some space of stillness between the thoughts that are like endless mind traffic on the Los Angeles 405? Here are the steps to stillness…at least as I practice them.

1) When you are aware that you are thinking, you are but one step from stopping the incessant stream of thinking.

2) So, when you are aware that you’re thinking, see if you can just let go of that thought. Let it pass through your mind as effortlessly as water passes through your hands.

3) Letting the thought go will create a momentary pause in the mind stream.

4) As it does, give your attention to the pause. Even if it lasts only a second or two before another thought appears.

5) Repeat the practice. See what happens.

You my friend are practicing the Presence. As you make this your spiritual practice, the “pauses” will become more frequent and longer lasting. For here’s the spiritual truth you’ve probably never thought about before: You are never closer to God than when you’re not thinking of him.

But don’t think about this too long. Just practice being still…being silent. You’ll understand the other…when you need to understand it.

This is Your Best Life Now!

 

 

 

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