That’s just another way of saying, “You cannot give away what you do not possess.” Or, “You cannot give to another what you have not given to yourself already.”
If I cannot love my neighbor until I love myself, what then is the secret to self-love?
1. Meditate daily on this thought: Love, self-love, is not something I acquire…Love is who I am. Who you are. Love is not something you become, the consequence of a life of perfection. Love IS who you are now.
For years, I would pray and pray and pray still more for the fullness of God’s Spirit…for the fruit of God’s Spirit manifested in and through my life. When Saint Paul said, for example, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace…” (Gal. 5:22-23) and so forth, I would long for some assurance inside, some evidence outside, that I was finally getting there…finally arriving at the place of the fulness of the Spirit.
Most of the time, however, my basket of fruit came up woefully short.
Then, on day, I woke up. I realized I need not ask for that which I am. I became aware that I would NEVER become what I am already. Meditate instead on this truth: “I AM love…I AM joy…I AM peace…” NOW!
See what happens.
2. Give up trying. Practice letting go. Stop striving. When you finally get this, my friend, that trying to become your imaginary “best self”…that effort and struggle and striving to achieve your imaginary perfect and spiritual self, are all just subtle ways that the ego in you, instead of drawing you closer to the God who is in you…who IS you, the EGO instead is actually “Edging God Out,” as someone has put it. When you finally get this, you will forever let go. You will begin to live. By creating in you the feeling that you haven’t quite made it with God, however, the ego succeeds in making you feel you’ve got one foot in the door of the Kingdom, but still an outsider, too.
It’s endless insanity…to try to be the “good” Christian you believe you’re supposed to be.
Remind yourself instead, “I could NEVER become what I am already.”
Let go of all effort and you will naturally…with no striving whatsoever…begin discovering a greater love for yourself and, as a consequence, an infinite capacity to love others.
To forgive them, too.
When I hear wounded people say, “I could never forgive him for what he’s done to me” I respond, “Of course, you cannot. Not until you have forgiven yourself, first.”
The capacity another possesses to hurt you is the same capacity within you by which you often hurt yourself.
Again, you cannot give what you do not possess.
It is not, however, that you do not have enough love to give another…or, to give to yourself. It is not even that you need a greater capacity to forgive another who has wronged you.
What you and I need, my friend, is an AWARENESS and this comes magically…as an act of Divine grace…this awareness may be coming to you, even as you read this…GRACE…and that awareness is that you ARE the very capacities you feel are missing. You don’t need the fruit of the Spirit. You ARE the fruit.
If you pray and ask for anything, pray for awareness.
But then, why would you do that? You’ve just been given it. Right here. Right now. You ARE the awareness.
Practice reminding yourself…
“I am AWARE. I am Love. I am peace and joy. I am forgiveness.”
Because you ARE my friend.
Once you embark on the spiritual path and begin to practice it regularly, there will come a time – it may be a few months or perhaps even a few years – but there will come a time when you realize nothing is as it once was and there is no going back.
No going back?
Why would you? Once the realization begins to dawn that nothing will ever be quite the same, at one-and-the-same time, you know everything to be infinitely better than it ever was.
You know yourself to be the wonderful creation you are; you know everyone else to be the wonderful creation they are.
When you know this, you could never ever imagine harming another; and, in this sense, you sense the futility of all wars on a large scale, even disagreements and arguments on a smaller scale.
You see beauty in everyone and in everything. A kind of sacredness within all things is observed by you. You are more at peace…more inwardly content…even joyful in ways only those experiencing something similar could ever understand.
Why would you ever go back? The thought is unimaginable.
The spiritual path follows various stages of development. It helps to know what they are so as to recognize them when they unfold. There are four stages of development along the spiritual path…
1. Know what…no, WHO, the desire is…
This is the greatest “proof,” if proof is ever really needed, for divine intelligence, or what I’m inclined to refer to as “God.” But that’s only a title…a name…and, as such, means nothing. It is that toward which it points that is the reality beyond all names, distinctions, and descriptions.
Why would you seek God if that desire were not given to you by God already? In the Bible, “grace” is that which God is to you and me without any qualifying on our part.
Where does thirst come from? Or, the feeling of hunger? These are natural needs and functions within the human body. You only feel them and so respond.
It is the same with grace. With God.
I believe the desire for God is written into your very DNA. In fact, I’ll go one step further. I even believe the “desire” for God IS God. Which, if this is true, renders all human seeking after God rather silly. Why would you seek for that which you are? That’s the proverbial fish in the sea in search of the ocean.
Follow the feeling. Give your attention to the desire. But give up the belief there is anything you must do in order to know God. This is where religion has failed many. Even in Christianity or, more accurately, the thirty thousand-plus versions of Christianity that have developed throughout the centuries, there has been, and continues to be, a gross failure. Go into almost any church, for example, express your “desire” to know God and see if there are not a catalogue of things you must do, expectations you must meet.
“God helps those who help themselves.” If you’ll pray, God will hear you.” “Be obedient and God will…”
God will do what, if I do what?
Shall I say more? Give me a break. It’s blasphemy. It’s unbiblical. And, it is anything but grace.
Depending on the denomination, I assure you there is in most churches a step by step process you must follow in order to know God.
It’s not so, however, my friend. Desire is enough. Desire IS…
Follow the desire. See what happens.
2. Find a spiritual mentor…
This is what I do, actually even for a living. I mentor people on the spiritual path. Oh, sure, I coach people who come to me seeking balance in life, or help sorting through a monumental decision they have to make, or to think through strategies for becoming more successful in their lives and in their living.
What many of these do not know, however, is that there really is a spiritual solution to almost every problem. I did not say a religion to solve their challenges. But a spiritual solution. There is a difference. The balanced life, for example, is not a compartmentalized life. Which IS the way most people live. It is instead a life where mind, body and spirit – the three entities that make up who you are – are in sync or harmony with each other. When they are not, your life feels out of balance. Your capacity to make decisions becomes clouded and more difficult.
So we seek a mentor. And, we should.
Everyone needs a mentor. Even the mentor needs a mentor.
When you get serious about your sacred journey, this is one of the first felt needs you will have – the feeling of resourcelessness when it comes to the journey. The need for a mentor. Without it, you’ll feel like a seeker in a forest with no flashlight.
For the last two weeks, for example, I’ve been trying to fulfill my civic duty and serve as a juror. I’m fifty-seven years old and, until recently, have never been summoned to appear. I came to this service grumbling the first day for its interruption of my routine. As it has turned out, however, I was not here long before I became intrigued by how our justice system works. I discovered, too, that most of my time here has been free…just sitting…and waiting to be called. Consequently, it has turned out to be quite productive. In fact, I was asked by a fellow juror, “Well, what do you think?”
“I’ve gotten so much work done while waiting,” I responded, “I’m thinking about moving my office to the jury pool.”
About forty of us were called today from the pool of jurors to be interviewed by both the prosecuting attorneys and the defense attorneys in an effort to select a twelve-person jury. In the course of their questioning, the judge, attorneys and the other jurors learned I was once a minister. In fact, in response to one of the prosecuting attorney’s questions, I responded, “I’m a recovering Baptist preacher.”
The room erupted into laughter. I really wasn’t trying to be funny as I almost always answer the question of what I do in that way. I’m not sure if that’s what disqualified me from serving, but I was not selected to serve as one of the twelve jurors.
During our lunch break, however, and before any of us knew who would be called, I walked down the street to a pizza stand and ordered a slice of pepperoni pizza. I sat down when a man approached me and said, “May I join you?”
“Sure,” I said, not recognizing him as one of those from the pool of potential jurors. I really had planned to do a little work and, frankly, didn’t want him there. But, as the same moment I had that feeling, I also had the thought, “Be present…be engaged…be kind.”
I quickly discovered he sought me out on purpose. He had heard me make the comment about being a “recovering Baptist minister” and wanted to know more.
Because he was looking for a mentor. He didn’t know to call it that. But, deep within, he felt drawn to talk to someone about the desire he’d been feeling to take up the spiritual path. Since he wasn’t interested in “organized religion,” as he called it, perhaps a “recovering minister,” or so he thought, “would have some unbiased advice to give him.”
We spent the hour talking together and getting to know each other. It really was wonderful. I enjoyed the pizza far more than I would have, too.
I offered him few suggestions along with the promise of a complimentary copy of my book on spirituality: The Enoch Factor: The Sacred Art of Knowing God. “This book has guided thousands of readers,” I told him. “It’ll guide you, too.”
He talked and laughed and shared some more and later returned to the jury pool.
Everyone needs a mentor.
Why would you make this all-important journey alone, especially when it isn’t necessary? Many have traveled this path before you. Their wisdom will guide you. Write me, if you need some good recommended reading, some good lights to illumine your path.
3. Question everything you’ve been taught to believe…
Just before we returned to the jury pool, my new friend asked, “What’s the most important thing for me to remember as I take up this sacred journey?”
“And, furthermore,” he continued before I could answer, “I have two children…what should I do to help them on their journey?”
“In both instances,” I replied, “question all that you’ve heard and most of what you think.”
“Most of what you and I think is wrong. Further, until you question your faith, you have no faith. At best, you hold someone else’s beliefs and, when you do, you almost always will confuse those beliefs for authentic faith. But it’s not the same.”
Faith not forged in the crucible of your own questions isn’t faith at all…it’s just a collection of beliefs you carry around, like school kids carry backpacks. Those beliefs will become about as burdensome, too.
Because they’re not your own. You must examine all the things you’ve been taught to believe…and, remember, the greatest gift you could give to your children is permission to question the belief system you’re following.”
Your responsibility as a parent isn’t to walk a spiritual path for your children but to walk your own path, allowing them to observe you…to question you…but, ultimately, they must walk their own path. Just dragging your kids to church every Sunday in hopes that, by osmosis, they’ll pick up what their “supposed” to believe is nonsense. There is nothing they’re “supposed” to believe. Instead, they’re supposed to be given permission to believe as their heart dictates.
You concern yourself with your own journey. Let them observe the transformation they see taking place in you. They’ll learn by observation…contemplation…questions…and the like which path to undertake.
4. Cultivate the art of meditating
You can call it prayer if you’re a Christian. I choose not to because the word prayer, although popularly used by my fellow Christians, is too laden with words. And, most praying is empty of words.
How do I know this?
Consider the prayer life of Jesus. He was frequently withdrawing from the crowd in order to pray. Meditate more likely. I doubt he said many things. In fact, the most enriching experience of prayer is when you reach that place where words are not necessary…that place where your mind is empty of noise-making, which is just the stringing together of words, ideas, concepts, memories and anticipations.
This is not easy. In fact, because we’ve been taught in this western culture that value is found in busyness and that “an idle mind is the devil’s playground,” we think it smart…even wise…to fill our minds, as well as our lives, with a lot of busyness.
It’s silly. It’s not right. And, it is just the opposite of what virtually every spiritual tradition teaches. An idle mind is not the devil’s playground. The devil’s real playground, which soon turns into a battleground, is the busy mind.
So, you have much practice to do…much discipline you’ll likely have to bring to this field in order to master the art of meditation. If you will stay with it, however, the day will come, just as in everything related to the sacred journey, when you will experience the sheer bliss associated with the freedom from thought…the quieting of the mind…the interruption, even if only briefly, in the incessant stream of thinking that is your mind and mine.
When you have begun experiencing even slightly the joy of meditation, you will begin to see real changes in how you live.
You will be less bothered by those things that used to irritate you endlessly.
You’ll feel much more at peace…inwardly…much more content, too.
You’ll recognize the presence of stress more quickly and take mental steps to slow down the body and the mind.
You’ll be kinder to others, and to yourself, more in tune with those you love, and they, too, will see the positive changes in you.
You’ll be more aware of your surroundings, more present with what is – more connected to now, not the past or future.
You’ll be happier, too. Infinitely happier, more content, and aware of a sacred…even Divine presence in everything.
You won’t be perfect, however. Just more forgiving…of yourself. And, when you’ve forgiven yourself, you are able to forgive others. Of everything.
Are you beginning to see the value in the sacred journey?
Of course you do. You would not have read this much of the article if the sacred journey had not started in you already?
You, my friend, have chosen…
Dr. Steve McSwain is an author, speaker, thought leader and spiritual teacher. His books and blogs inspire spiritual seekers around the world. He is a devoted follower of Christ but an interfaith activist as well. He is frequently heard to say, in the words of Mother Teresa, “I love all religions; but I’m IN LOVE with my own.” Read more from Dr. McSwain on his blog Your Best Life Ever.
But here’s another consideration.
In Falling Upward, Father Richard Rohr writes…
“When you do not know who you are, you push all enlightenment off into a possible future reward and punishment system, within which hardly anyone wins. Only the True Self knows that heaven is now and that its loss is hell–now. The false self makes religion into the old ‘evacuation plan for the next world,’ ” (p. 100-101 Fr. R. Rohr, Falling Upward).
For me, Rohr has stated it well…quite well, in fact.
“Heaven is now…”
“Hell is now…”
We create these realities now. Very likely, we have experienced both in varying degrees.
“The true self knows this.”
“The false self does not.”
What Rohr calls the “false self” is the ego. But do not think that by “false self” he means a “bad self.” Think instead, not the best self. Or, “true self,” “higher self,” or even the “soul,” as religious folks typically refer to it.
It is the ego, or the “false self,” in you and me that “makes religion into the old evacuation plan for the next world.” The “false self” pushes away both heaven and hell into some imaginary, make-believe future. It takes Jesus’ words, “I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14) too literally and misapplies it to some fictitious place somewhere in the universe and of course sometime in the future.
When Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you…that where I am, you will be” (John 14:1-3) that “place” he has prepared is the Eternal Timeless Presence Now. You are never nearer to Jesus than when you are present now. In fact, you might say that yet another name for God is “Now!”
For me, now is heaven. Anything less is just some degree of hell.
“Heaven,” or “Enlightenment,” or “Salvation” or, if you prefer, “life lived at its optimal level”…is not a reward you receive in some future world anymore than hell is the “bad place” people are sent who deserve punishment.
Heaven and hell are realities people know, or do not know, NOW.
Permit me to put it this way: there is NO such thing as “tomorrow.” The future is a figment of the imagination. Certainly, the likelihood that tomorrow will come is pretty certain. Your experience has taught you, just as my life has taught me, tomorrow is a pretty certain uncertainty.
Not surprisingly, however, and this is the point, when tomorrow shows up, guess how it does?
If the ego in you is attached to a belief system that includes a literal hell or heaven as actual places somewhere in space and time, when they show up, you can be pretty certain they’ll show up as yet another today.
Believe in heaven or hell if you wish.
For me, however, it make much more sense to practice making heaven a reality in my life today; it makes infinitely more sense to see what heaven I can make of someone else’s hell…today.
In other words, the goal of my life has little to do with my plans for tomorrow; everything instead with my presence today.
So, you ask, “How do I know if I’m living in the present?”
When you ask the question.
What IS this?
A bit bothersome to me, frankly.
No, I think I would have to say, a “lot” bothersome. Like God actually has someone picked out just for you? No doubt, your perfect opposite, right?
You really believe this? Like God expects you to date only another person who is racially and religiously just like you?
So, Christians marry only Christians – your perfect “match” will only be found there?
And, Jews only other Jews and Muslims only other Muslims and Buddhists only other Buddhists and atheists only…
Don’t bother to quote Saint Paul on this one. I know what he said, too. He’s also the fellow who provided instructions on how slaves should treat their masters and vice versa. The same “inspired” guide who instructed the Corinthian Church on what to do with the sexually promiscuous persons in the pew. They were to gather at Wednesday Prayer Service, turn his flesh over to Satan so that the Devil was free to kill his body in order that his soul might make Paradise and not the other place. If your church needs the specifics on how to do this, read 1 Corinthians 5.
Not one of Saint Paul’s saintlier moments.
Wonder what Christians would think if suddenly the ad went something like this:
“Muslim Mingle Dot Com Find Allah’s Match for You”
I think I hear the saints howling already.
When, my friend, are we going to end this madness?
People are people. All are created in the Divine image.
Rumi said, “Your task is NOT to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within your yourself that you have built against it.”
Maybe Christian prejudice is the first of those barriers.
“I seek God, but not because I think it is what I’m supposed to do;
I do it instead because I need to…
because of a longing that is not of my own creation.”
I suspect that explains it as well as I could ever express it.
“I seek God.” I might say it like this: I am both the seeker and the sought.
Meister Eckhart put it like this: “The eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me.” My eye or your eye and God’s eye is as one eye…one seeing…one knowing.
The goal of your spiritual life is to see as God sees (1 Samuel 16:7)…in other words, to step up and out of the illusion of separateness. “Man does not see as God sees,” said the prophet Samuel.
Like we did not know this already?
That reality does not mean, however, that seeing as God sees is outside the realm of possibility.
What IS God, anyway?
When I say the word “God,” for example, what do you see in your “minds eye?”
I think I know.
It’s still the same with me, although after some years of practice, not quite as automatic or fixed. I see this big, benevolent fellow sitting in an even bigger chair and miraculously floating around on a white cloud, somewhere up in the sky. Versions of this common mental seeing vary from person to person but, that’s about it, isn’t it?
It’s also very limiting. Indicative of the limited conditioning…the inadequate religious instruction that most of us received in Catholic, Evangelical, and Protestant schools of religious teaching…narrow, misinformed but sincerely taught nonsense…hasn’t that been the experience of many a follower of God? My experience? Yes. Maybe yours, too.
Jesus’ prayer in John 17, whatever you may wish to say about it, was a prayer…a hope…a longing he expressed that the day would come when “they would be one as we are one” (Jn 17:21). I used to mistakenly think his prayer was for unity among his followers. That they all learn how to get along. If that was his prayer, however,…his real hope…then his prayer was a dismal failure. Followers of Jesus have never been united. Today, they are more divided than ever. In fact, the history of Christianity is the history of disagreement and division. Try to spin it differently, my friend, and you’re just ignoring the facts. Kidding no one but yourself.
No, what Jesus prayed is that his followers would know unity with God…oneness with the Father…singularity with the Eternal – no separation. No God and Us. No Judge in the sky and the rest of us on earth. Know this oneness, this kind of unity with God and it does change your perspective toward others, as well as your view of them…experience of them…respect toward them. Not because you’ve managed to convert everybody to YOUR way of believing but because you no longer have to have conformity of belief to enjoy a unity with humanity.
Unity beyond beliefs. When you know this kind of unity with God, differences between humans can actually be celebrated.
Do not try to understand this mystery of unity, however…this oneness with God…or with yourself. Oh sure, perhaps when you’re able to explain the mystery of quantum mechanics, you will be qualified to talk about God. But, until then, stop pretending that you and your tribe know more than you could ever possibly know. Enjoy the Mystery instead.
The next preacher you hear telling you he knows who God is…what God thinks…even what God believes because, after all he’s speaking from God’s book…know this, my friend…know this…well, never mind. I’m not going to say anymore. You know how to fill in the blank.
It’s why you were given a mind. Use it. Follow your gut, too. Ninety-nine per cent of the time it isn’t wrong. Treat the inner voice as if it were the Holy Spirit in you talking to you. Pretty good chance it is.
I could say more but you get the point, don’t you? My own experience has taught me that those persons who know God…who actually live from this place knowing…of seeing…of unity about which Jesus spoke – unity with God, the Father, the Mother, the I Mm – such persons, I’ve discovered, typically have very little to say about this Mystery. The more you know God, the less you have to say. The less you need to say. Think about that.
St. John had more to say…
“I seek God, but not because I think it is what I am supposed to do.” But isn’t that exactly how you have lived your spiritual life? It has been for me. I’ve lived driven by religious duty, obligation. I have been trying to make it with God for as long as I can remember.
And, frankly, I grew tired of trying. Which is precisely where scores of you are who follow my work…who read my books…who follow my HuffPo blogs…I put into words what you’re feeling, or not feeling, in your heart. I’m hardly a gifted writer. But it takes no special writing ability. I simply talk from my heart, as best as I am able. With as much transparency as I can muster.
Like you, I was tired.
This is so acute for some of you that you are not sure where to turn. About all you do know is what you want no part of organized religion ever again. I regret that for you, but I DO understand…the madness you had to believe in order to be…the stuff you had to do in or to be deserving…the burdens you had to bear to be worthy of divine favor.
Good for you, my friend. I mean it. Rise up. Walk away, if it takes that to secure your sanity. Know that you are one step closer to spiritual sanity. To your own healing. Ah, just the knowing your one step away means the step has been taken already.
Stop doing anything else. Just live into your essence instead. All of your religious “doings” – all of your performances…your religious practices…they were too often done just to secure forgiveness for the past…to get it “covered by the blood,” I think we used to put it…to get it all cleaned up. Or, your religious duty was done in a some futile attempt to take the bite out of the fear associated with your imaginary uncertainties of tomorrow.
You’re not alone. You never have been. You only feel alone because you’ve forgotten who’s in the desert with you.
Just BE. Enter into whatever it is you are feeling right now. That will plant you in the present…which, my friend who has forgotten, is the PRESENCE herself. In other words, stop seeking a God who sits on thrones and floats around on imaginary clouds…stop searching for God as if He were playing some cosmic game of “hide ‘n seek.”
“I seek God,” said St. John of the Cross, “because of a longing that is not of my own creation.”
Ah! That’s the secret, isn’t it?
Just give your attention to the impulse you feel for God. Yes, I’ve said it before. Many times before. So why do you keep complicating it?
I’ll say it again: The impulse…the thought of God…the desire you have in you to know God…
My friend…THAT IS GOD!
Why else would you desire her? Long for her?
The Divine is the seeker in you seeking herself.
Dare I take it further?
The Presence in you seeking you in this present moment.
Dare I say it one more way?
Even more mysterious? Inexplicable? Unacceptable to most?
The God in you is seeking the God you are.
What else could Jesus have meant? “That they may be ONE”…no separation…the eye through which I see is the eye that sees me…”even as we are” (John 17:20).
If this is NOT what Jesus meant, then please do explain what he DID mean?
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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…
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.