Your Best Life Now

Your Best Life Now

The Problem with Faith

posted by smcswain
The Problem with Faith

The Problem with Faith

The Problem with Faith

I wish it were easier. It is not, however.

In many ways, my spiritual walk was easier when it was not so complicated by faith. When I could reduce it to a catalogue of beliefs, which I did most of my religious life, it was infinitely easer than actually having to live by faith. When I could just carry around a list of things in my head I was supposed to believe, the way my wife carries around a daily list of things she wants to do, my life was a hell-of-a-lot simpler.

It was only after I became aware that the things you believe don’t mean squat if the way you live isn’t a moment by moment trust in the Divine.

That’s what it means to live by faith. And, when you live by faith, it does not matter whether you’re a Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist or nothing at all. You are spiritual and, no matter what inside you rails against such a notion, the fact is, that is the truth.

I am a Christian by virtue of my upbringing. If you are, the likelihood is, it is the same for you. You are not a Christian because you have carefully and open-mindedly searched even the major religions of the world and concluded Christianity makes more sense than all the others. No, if you are honest, and much of the Christian world is not, you will have to admit, you were raised in a church somewhere in America and, at some point, you made some kind of decision to believe in some kind of God…the God your religion believed in…plus Jesus, of course…and then, you took whatever actions your Christian tradition dictated you needed to take in order to declare to the world you were a Christian.

What is ultimately more important, however, is that you be a person of faith. Not just a person who believes a bunch of stuff somebody said you had to believe or you’d go to hell.
Or, smell like you did, anyway.

Faith is Hard Work

And, that is what makes all of this faith stuff so difficult.

I wish it were easier. I really do. But faith is hard. Beliefs, on the other hand, are easy. Which I think is the main reason why some religious people resist, even revile, the stuff I write about. It is easier for them to call me a heretic or, worse, a defector from the faith than to ever intelligently think about what I’m trying to say.

They want faith instead to be reduced to a “What We Believe” class.

They don’t want struggle; they want simplicity.
They don’t want questions; they want answers.
They don’t want faith; they want beliefs.
They don’t want diversity of beliefs; they want uniformity of beliefs.
They don’t want interfaith; they want one faith.
They don’t want many religions; they want one religion.

And, depending on which religion they were raised to believe in, then of course, that religion is the one they want. After all, it’s the one that is “right.”

Here is what I’ve observed about religions, however.

1. There is not one single religion that works for everyone.

Christians and Muslims would do well to remember this because, if there is one thing both those religions teach, it is the conversion of everyone to their belief system.

Wave a Bible in the face of unbelievers, or threaten them with eternal hell, and some Christians mistakenly think that should be enough to bring everyone to repentance and conversion.

Muslims make an equal mistake. Man of them mistakenly think all they should have to do is wave an AK-47 in the face of unbelievers, or threaten them with beheading, and they, too, will convert.

Neither will work and both religions are wrong.

There will never be just one religion. I am not sure about many things. But, of this, I am certain.

And, here’s why.

2. Religions by nature divide.

Which is the irony, since the word “religion” means “to bind together.” And, there is a sense in which religions do. At least, initially and, when they do, it is always very personal. But, over time, what at first unites people will ultimately divide them.

Put two religious people in the same room and you will soon have three religions.

Here’s the point I am trying to make.

You can settle for your religion, if you wish.
You can be content to live out the beliefs of your religion.
You can right me off, as some others have done, as some “former believer.”
If that makes all of this easier for you to swallow, then have at it.
But, if you wish to live a spiritual life, regardless of the religious garment you drape around it (or, lack of a religious garment), you will have to get beyond your beliefs. Beliefs are no more faith than coffee beans are a cup of hot brew. Knowing the difference is the difference between living a religious life and living a life of faith.

Spiritual people…people of faith…have recognized…
Beliefs may be part of faith, but believing is living by faith – that’s what’s hard.
They know they’re going to have more questions than they have answers…
More doubts than they have securities…
More struggles than they have days of bliss and peace.
They know that being spiritual does not mean they become more divine; it means they are becoming more human.

And, just in case you need reminding, to be human means…

To know hurt as well as happiness;
To know despair,too,
But despair that is seasoned like a pot of stew on a cold day with just the right amount of hope.

It means, my dear friend, life for you is lived with God…
It is not a life lived “for” God.

There is a difference.

The former is a life of faith.
The latter? Well, it’s a life lived with beliefs. And, when your faith is all about “right” beliefs and the “right” religion, you go through life arguing and defending what deep down you know is as empty as the arguments you are making for it.

Live well, instead. Live by faith. Oh sure, it’s hard. It’s damn hard. But, for me, it’s the difference between being human…and…being anything but.

The Voice Within

posted by smcswain

Several years ago, Christina Aguilera sang a popular song “The Voice Within.” The lyrics go like this:

When there’s no one else, look inside yourself
Like your oldest friend, just trust the voice within
Then you’ll find the strength that will guide your way
If you will learn to begin to trust the voice within

The Voice Within

The Voice Within

There is the one thing that stands between…

You and your happiness in life;
You and your purpose in life;
You and your success in life;
You and your relationships in life;

It isn’t your personality;
It isn’t your popularity;
It isn’t your current position;
It isn’t your next promotion;
It isn’t the amount of your paycheck;
It isn’t the number of your possessions;
It isn’t your performance or status and certainly not the opinion of others.

It is instead, your capacity to PAY ATTENTIONto LISTENto HEAR.

When You Listen Better…

When you listen better, you live better.
When you listen better, you love better.
When you listen better, you ARE better.

“To whom or to what should I listen?” you ask.

Listen to the voice within.

“But which voice?” you ask. “I hear many within my head.”

So do I. There are many voices inside your head.
There is the voice of others – your parents, significant others, important people throughout your life.
There is the voice of your experiences – things you’ve learned and, sometimes, have not learned from successes and failures throughout your life.
There is the voice of your conscience – largely shaped by your upbringing, what you were taught is right and wrong.
There is the voice of your religion – what it has taught you about God, about yourself, about this world, about others.

What do all these voices share in common?


That’s right. You hear many voices in your head and the confusion you often feel is that these voices are occasionally right, but very often wrong, and almost always in conflict with each other.

There is a better voice – a singular voice – a more perfect voice and one that is seldom, maybe even never wrong. Never conflictual. And, it is the voice you must learn to hear and to follow.

It is the voice of your HEART. Some people call it intuition, impulse, a gut feeling. It goes by many names. I call it the voice of your inner Divine nature.

Here’s an acrostic that underscores the importance of this voice.

Acrostic on the Inner VOICE

V – the inner voice is the VITAL voice; it is indeed the most important voice.
O – the inner voice is an OPTIONAL voice; it will never force you to hear it.
I – the inner voice is an INFALLIBLE voice; scripture is not; this, however, is.
C – the inner voice is a COMPASSIONATE voice; it will never judge you but love you.
E – the inner voice is the EXCELLENT voice; it will call forth from you, your best.

“How do I train myself,” you ask, “to hear and follow my heart…my inner voice?”
Make it your spiritual practice to follow these two simple instructions.

How to Hear Your Inner Voice…

1. Practice distinguishing the voice in your heart from the many voices in your head.

Actually, this is not hard to do. But making it a practice to pay attention to the single voice of your heart over the multiple voices in your head will improve your inner hearing. It’s like clearing the wax from your H-EAR. The many voices will begin diminishing and the main voice will be enhanced.
The consequence will be an enriched life.

2. When your heart voice speaks, do not just hear it, heed it.

If you heed it, you will be helped.
If you ignore it, you will be hurt.
I cannot say it more plainly than this.

Everyone can tell you a story of what happened when they did not heed the voice of their heart. But if you hear and heed the voice of your heart, I am certain you will never be disappointed by the outcomes.

Here’s a closing but personal and current example.

Throughout most of my life, I have been a highly impulsive person. If I have wanted something, I usually set my mind to getting it. I usually succeed, too. Even when I have known better…that is, even when my heart has said otherwise, when I have wanted something, I set out to get it.

My impulsiveness has not come without a price, however. Almost always, when I have ignored my inner heart, I have regretted it later.

Some of you who follow my blogs know that my wife and I recently had to euthanize our beloved dachshund, Oscar. We have deeply grieved his passing. About a month after his death, however, someone brought to our attention the availability of two new dachshund pups in a little town about two hours south of our home.

At first, I was determined to get them. Pam went along with me because she, too, has grieved Oscar’s passing. Besides, the two of us had agreed already that we wanted to get another dachshund some time in the near future.

We made arrangements, therefore, to pick up the two pups.

I knew I did not feel in my heart that the timing was right. But, typical to my style, I ignored the voice of my heart.

On Saturday morning, two weeks ago, Pam and I jumped into the and excitedly began driving to the community down south. We no sooner left Louisville, however, that I pulled the car over. In a rare show of strength, and atypical wisdom, I turned to Pam, and said,

     “Sweetheart, as much as I want to do this, I just do not feel at peace with our decision. I have been ignoring this inner voice. But, you know me well enough to know, when I have ignored my inner voice, which has been too frequently throughout our married life, I have regretted it later. I think we should call the pup’s owners, express our apologies, turn around, and go home. Yes, I want to get a new pup but not now…the timing is just not right.”

She agreed. I am pretty sure her inner voice was telling her the same thing.

Today, two weeks later, I am positive we did the right thing. And, what I have learned and know for sure is this…

When you listen better, you live better.
When you listen better, you love better.
When you hear better, you ARE better.

6 Habits of Highly Successful People: Up Close with Humorist Jeanne Robertson

posted by smcswain

What are the habits of highly successful people?

I asked myself that question as Pam and I left the Brown Theatre in downtown Louisville Friday night. We went there to see the veteran humorist Jeanne Robertson. And, we were not the least bit disappointed. Jeanne was terrific. We laughed non-stop for almost two hours.

Habits of Highly Successful People

Habits of Highly Successful People

The next morning, I went to the local chapter meeting in Kentucky for the National Speakers Association. Again, Jeanne Robertson was making an appearance there before leaving our city, having agreed to give some of her time to the local chapter members of the NSA. This gave us an up-close-and-personal conversation with her, as in the picture here, as well as the opportunity of picking up a few tips to enhance our own speaking careers. After all, who better from whom to pick up a few tips than Jeanne Robertson? Her highly successful speaking career has spanned several decades?

If you know Robertson, you also know we did a lot of laughing Friday evening and again Saturday morning. Jeanne is funny. She may be seventy-one but she looks twenty years younger. Although she has been a favorite entertainer and storyteller of seniors and boomers for years, the Millennial generation is discovering her, too, and with an equal degree of enjoyment. Many of them are being introduced to her on Sirius radio.

At a time when many would be settling back to coast through their retirement years, Jeanne Robertson is going strong. She may be three score and eleven, but age will slow neither her drive nor her ambitions. She travels twenty-five days a month crisscrossing America, always refining her craft, looking for the humorous, finding it, and then sharing it in her clever way to audiences on stages and corporate events across the U.S.

So I’ve been thinking. What makes highly successful people so enduringly successful? What are their habits? Practices? Disciplines? They must have some.

I think they do. I found myself thinking about this as Jeanne spoke to those of us gathered Saturday morning to listen and talk to her. Here are some of the habits I identified as she talked. I am pretty sure these six  habits would be shared by other highly successful people.

1. Successful people have the habit of staying focused.

If you have ever heard Jeanne speak, you know she is funny. What you may not know however, is just how focused she is as well. Jeanne knows who she is and has developed the habit of knowing herself better and better over the years. While most of her invitations today are from people such as event planners who know who she is and what she does, it was not always like this earlier in her career. For example, some of those who initially invited her did not know exactly what she did.  Consequently, they might ask her to lead a seminar or give a talk to a group of leaders on leadership.

Her response was always the same. “I don’t do ‘leadership.’ However, I’ll gladly talk about the importance of humor in leadership. I’ll gladly make your leaders laugh. And, if your leaders need to know why it is important they develop a sense of humor or they want to know how they might develop a sense of humor,  I can do that and would be happy to do so, too.”

This has been Jeanne’s habitual practice for decades. She stays clear and focused on who she is and what she does. By never straying from that, she has developed a reputation, as well as achieved a level of success, unparalleled.  Highly successful people know who they are and they habitually work at staying focused on their own uniqueness.

You cannot be everything to everybody.

2. Successful people are habitually disciplined, too.

Early in Jeanne Robertson’s career as a humorist and public speaker, she decided that, not only did she see humor everywhere, but she was naturally gifted at telling the story of the humor she witnessed. Consequently, she began training herself to look for humor everyday. In fact, she so disciplined herself in looking for at least one funny thing every day, she would not go to bed at night until she had recapitulated her entire day finding that one humorous encounter.

That methodical, disciplined practice Jeanne Robertson has not changed for decades. And, the payoffs have been enormous. This explains why, even at seventy-one, she is regularly recording new material so her stories remain fresh and funny. Of course, there are some stories she has become widely known for and one character in particular is her husband, to whom she affectionately calls “LB.” That’s short for “Left Brain.” In spite of her funny stories and even the very familiar ones, by maintaining the habitual discipline of finding at least one humorous thing each day, Jeanne Robertson has managed to keep her material fresh and funny.

3. Highly successful people have developed the habit of staying current.

Jeanne Robertson appears strong, a blessing for which anyone at seventy-one is likely to be grateful. That much is obvious, as I sit only a few feet from her at the Saturday morning chapter meeting.

What may not be so obvious is that Jeanne, instead of allowing the times to pass her by, has made it her habit to stay current. In her presentations, for example, as well as in her interactions with fans who follow her, she uses social media, Facebook, Sirius radio, just as effectively as he has the older but more typical mediums of communication, such as tapes, DVD’s CD’s, print, television and radio. Jeanne Robertson not only is learning and utilizing the advancing technology but, because of this, she is enjoying a success today as great or equal to any other time in her career.

Staying current is an absolute for any highly successful person who wishes to remain so.

4. Successful people laugh at themselves and with others.

The ability to laugh at herself is one of Jeanne’s signature skills. She has mastered the habit of observing her own screw-ups and, by not taking any of them too seriously, she has found ways to endear herself to audiences who identify with her sense of humor and her candid humanness. She works her personal failures into her routines, making herself all the more accessible to audiences and endearing herself to them in the process.

Highly successful people do not take themselves too seriously. They have left long ago the need for ego gratification and recognition and are able to admit their own failures and to do so with a smile.

Highly successful practice the art of self-awareness and do not mind self-deprecating admissions. Do this, as Jeanne Robertson has done and continues to do, and make it your practice to observe your own thoughts and actions, as well as your successes and failures, and then learn from those experiences what you need to learn. Find the humor in all of it, too. It is waiting to be discovered and shared.

5. Highly successful people make it their habit to nurture and care for themselves.

I have done a lot of traveling myself. But, frankly, I was amazed to hear that Jeanne, even today, travels about twenty-five days a month. That is an incredible schedule for a young adult.

I did not ask Jeanne Robertson whether she had developed a habitual routine of exercise because I’m pretty sure she must do something in order to stay healthy, fit and attractive. Had I asked her, however, I suspect I would have heard something like this: “I stay active; I watch my weight; I try to eat right; I regularly exercise and do my best to practice good habits of healthy living, even and especially when I’m on the road.

I wish I could make a similar claim.

As a frequent traveler myself, I know first hand how hard it is to stay mindful about the nurture and care of one’s soul and physical condition. But I’m pretty sure that successful people do not wait until a health crisis to listen to their inner voice and practice proper habits to maintain health and vigor.

6. Finally, highly successful people have mastered the habit of making others feel more important.

I think this was one of the most impressive things I observed about Jeanne Robertson. She demonstrated interest in each person with whom she spoke.

Highly successful people are free of ego. As my leadership mentor, John Maxwell, loves to say, “Real leaders instinctively follow a three-fold path – they listen, they learn, and then they lead.”

Jeanne Robertson was asked many questions in the two hours we spent with her. Sometimes, a question would lead to a story, one always filled with humor. But, respectfully, Jeanne always returned to each questioner and gave them her undivided attention and the best response she could.

I was impressed.

But then, all great leaders do this, just as all highly successful people do. And, as a leader, trainer, humorist, and now I can say, new friend, Jeanne Robertson was a delight to meet and observe. I’m so glad Pam and I got to see her perform on stage at the Brown Theatre. I am equally glad to get to meet her up close and observe for myself six of the habits of highly successful people lived out through one funny lady, Jeanne Robertson.

Dr. Steve McSwain is an author, speaker, counsel to non-profits, faith-based organizations and congregations, and a spiritual teacher. As a leadership guru, interfaith activist, and popular author, Steve is an expert in the fields of self-development, human happiness, and spirituality. His blogs at, the Huffington Post, as well as his own website ( inspire countless followers, as well as hundreds of leaders in the business, non-profit, and religious world. Dr. McSwain is a professor of Communication at the University of Kentucky and an interfaith activist as well. His interfaith pendants are widely sought and worn by those who share his vision of creating a more conscious, compassionate, and charitable world. Visit his website for more information or to book him for an inspirational talk on happiness, inner peace, interfaith and diversity respect, or charitable living (

The Most Important Questions You’ll Ever Ask Yourself

posted by smcswain

“What are the most important questions you’ll ever ask of yourself?”

Following a keynote I gave recently at an annual gathering of seasoned aviators meeting at a casino (a first for me), one of the pilots approached me with that very question.

The Most Important Questions in Life

The Most Important Questions in Life

I thought to myself, “Good question.” I have been thinking about it for a while too.

Here is my list of the most important questions. Yet, these are not all of them. I have thought of other questions, too, that could be included in any list of the most important questions you will ever ask yourself. for the sake of brevity, however, here is my list of the most important questions.

What are your most important questions?

Until you ask yourself these questions, I think it’s safe to say you are not living your dream. You’re living someone else’s.

Live your own life. Pursue your own dreams. If you are not clear about either your life or your dreams, maybe these most important questions will help point you in the right direction.

1. Who am I?

You are not your thoughts…
Not your body…
Not your name…
Not your occupation, career…
And, you are certainly not what anyone else thinks you are.

For years, whenever I looked at myself in a mirror, I thought the image staring back at me was me. I now know that what I was really viewing was what Albert Einstein called, “an optical illusion in consciousness.”

Who are you really? I think I have come to the conclusion, after much thought regarding this, you and I are at best the awareness that is aware we are not any of these things, including the thought inside your head that your not any of these things.

As I understand it, this is that nature of reality the Buddha said, if we did not understand this, we would go through life too attached to that which is disappearing.

And, when you think about it, anything you see – which includes everything in the list above – is disappearing, dissolving, and will ultimately even die. Name one thing that is not disappearing.

You cannot. But, until you realize this, you will mistakenly think you are the thoughts you think, the body into which the real you resides, and so forth.

“Well,” you say, “if I am not my name, occupation, my thoughts, the body I see in a mirror, and so on, then who the heck am I?”

As odd as it sounds, when you ask just such a question out of sheer confusion, you are likely closer to realizing who you really are. The most I can say about myself is that I am aware. I am the awareness that is aware I am none of the things mentioned above.

In the east, they teach people to be the consciousness within – the observer who is watching. Make this your practice and, rather than feeling the need through life to attach labels to yourself, you’ll discover a self-less self.

Double-talk, I know. But I do not know of any other way of putting it. I know only that it is important to recognize that all self-definitions will disappear. What remains is you. Cultivate this awareness. It’s one of the keys to human fulfillment and happiness, albeit in a strange sort of way.

2. Why am I here? Or, what is my life purpose?

To ask this is to ask about your life purpose. Why did you show up? I’ve written a blog about this previously so I will say only a little more here. If you’d like to read more about this question, however, follow this link.

Shakespeare, in Macbeth, framed this most important question, with these words:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Is this true? Are we just cosmic dust whirling around at the speed of life inside a universe of infinite meaninglessness? Are we just finite fools strutting across an empty stage of meaninglessness, making temporary noise that means absolutely nothing?

This is a very big and most important question and nobody can answer this one for you but you. But answering it is a must, if you are ever going to know inner peace, purpose, and joy.

Your life purpose is your inner GPS. It is that which guides your life.

Some years ago, I heard my leadership guru, John Maxwell, say, “You cannot get there from here; you can only get here from there.” I am not recall now just how he was applying those words but I remember the statement. I also know how I have applied these words over the years.

Until you are clear about where you are headed – your “there” – the “here” or how to get there will always be unclear. What you must get clear first is the “there” and the “here” will manifest itself.

3. What is my life plan?

Your life plan will change from time to time, depending on what you’re doing and the goals you set for yourself in the unfolding of your life purpose. In other words, your life purpose – why you have decided you are here – is the foundation upon which you build a life plan – the way you live out your life purpose.

Lay the foundation first – that’s most important question number 2 above – why am I here?
Once the foundation is laid, then your life plan – which is always secondary to your life purpose – will emerge almost on its own.

In our culture, we have it backwards. We teach our children, for example, that what’s important is that they figure out first what they want to do in life. That is, pick a career and then work toward it.

Before picking a plan for life, however, should we not encourage our children to determine what their purpose for life is? To figure out why they believe they showed up?

I think so.

Why? Because your life plan will change; your life purpose, however, will remain the same.

Usually. It is true that sometimes your life purpose changes. It did so for Saint Paul, you might recall. Luke, author of the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament, tells of the time when Saint Paul, who then was Saul, had as his ultimate ambition the removal of Christians and the end of this emerging and rapidly-growing religious movement (Acts 9). When, however, Saul had a vision of Christ on the Damascus Road, his life purpose changed. Dramatically. So much so, history remembers a change in his name, too. Saul became Paul, the credited author of much of the New Testament.

You life purpose can change, too. But, more often than not, it will remain the rudder guiding the ship of your life and your life plans as they unfold.

Life Purpose is the destination.
Life Plan is the getting there.

Get as clear about this distinction as you can. Once you do, you will not likely confuse the two and life will more likely work more favorably with you. In other words, you will flow with life instead of feeling as if you’re always swimming upstream and getting nowhere.

When the destination is clear, the route for getting there is more easily discernible.

Recently, for example, I drove to Chicago. That was my destination. When, however, I put that destination (purpose) into my GPS system, I was shown three different routes (plans) I could take for getting there. Each was about the same in distance and predicted arrival time. So, I investigated more closely, which is what goal-setting, life planning, is all about. As I did, I discovered that, while all possible routes would lead me to Chicago, one of three was actually the better route for me to take. Why? There was some construction on the other two and very likely long delays. The best route emerged. I arrived safely at Chicago.

In many respects, this is how life works, too.

Several years ago, I wrote down my life purpose: It is “to create a more conscious, compassionate, and charitable world.” In many respects this purpose has not changed for me in forty or so years. My plans have certainly changed, however, and very often. In other words, my purpose has been lived out through a variety of life plans.

For years, for example, I was a professional minister. Then, my plans changed and I became a consultant to congregations. In the last few years, my plans have changed further still. Today, I frequently consult with religious leaders and provide consultation and guidance to congregations, but I’m also an inspirational speaker and an avid writer.

While my plans frequently changing, and my goals are constantly being reviewed and revised in any and all of those changes, my life purpose remains fixed.

4. What will I leave behind?

An estate over which the family might fight? That seems to be the aim of many a rich fool.

What is the legacy you will live?

I think one of the most sobering things to do is to write your own obituary.


Because it is not what others will say about you at your funeral that will be your legacy.

Don’t ever forget this.

For example, for many years, I was a professional minister. Consequently, I have conducted hundreds of funerals. Naturally, I was always concerned about what I said regarding the deceased. I chose my words carefully…intentionally, believing what I said about the deceased was important – which of course it was – but words that would also be remembered.

They were not, however.

Why? Because a deceased person’s real legacy was written already. In the hearts of those gathered to pay their last respects. What people will ultimately remember about you is not what the minister says about you at the funeral but the relationship, or lack of it, you genuinely had with the survivors throughout your life.

In the final analysis, the most important question is “How do I wish to be remembered?”

The answer is, as someone wisely put it, “The life you live today is the legacy you’ll leave tomorrow.”

What could be more important today than to answer these four most important questions?

Dr. Steve McSwain is an author, speaker, and spiritual teacher. His books and blogs inspire spiritual seekers all over 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. To contact Steve, go directly to his website and learn more about his public talks, personal counsel, and his books and interfaith pendants – visit

What to Do When a Pet Dies

posted by smcswain
What to Do When a Pet Dies

What to Do When a Pet Dies

When a beloved pet dies, what do you do?

Last Wednesday, we said “Good-bye” to our beloved Oscar, a mini-Dachshund, who brought to Pam and me more joy, laughter, and companionship than I can describe here.

I have never cried so much in all my life.

Will I be crying over Oscar twenty years from now?

I don’t know. What I do know is that this has been one of the most painful things I have ever felt. It has been so painful, in fact, I have a new appreciation for the depth of pain and grief so bottomless that the famous trainer himself, Cesar Millan, once contemplated suicide after both a divorce and the death of a beloved pit bull.

You think that strange?

Then, I suspect it is only because you have not had a beloved pet die. If you had, you, too, would agree it can be one of the most painful experiences in life.

It is my hope that what I am experiencing and what I share here is helpful to those of you who have had a pet die. I hope my words will be an antidote to your pain.

Oscar died last Wednesday.

On Thursday, the house was so quiet and empty I could hardly stand it.

On Friday, Pam and I left for the mountains of Georgia on a trip we had been planning for several months. As it turned out, the timing was perfect because, frankly, I’m not sure I could have survived the weekend. Getting away was helpful to both of us, a bit of grace at a time when we needed it most.

It’s been a week now since Oscar died. One week exactly. And, the pain is still raw.

I am ready, however, to share a few of my thoughts with you. At least, I think I am.

When a beloved pet dies, what do you do?

1. Be grateful for the little preparatory signs of death the universe provides you along the way. With Oscar, or Weiner as we called him, we had many preparatory signs.

For example, I’ve had two or three Dachshunds throughout the years and I know of their propensity to suffer from back problems, particularly as they age. They typically carry a lot of weight on their spine. As a result, it is not uncommon for them to suffer from degenerative diseases associated with it.

Weiner did.

I saw these as signs this past year. So, I knew he was aging.

I could see it in his face, too. You can, too, in the picture above. As a consequence, I have suspected many times this past year that our time with Oscar was likely limited. On more than one occasion, in fact, I had this feeling that Oscar was going to die. None of this made his sudden departure last Wednesday any easier. But what it did do was soften the shock of his death.

When I had these preparatory signs, as I’m calling them, over the course of this past year, I have tried to allow myself to feel what his passing would be like, instead of quickly dismissing the signs so as to protect myself from the pain of his passing.

I would recommend you do the same.

Death is real.

Separation is painful.

And, little signs that remind us of the reality of death are like little gifts from beyond given to prepare us for the inevitable.

That’s how I view it, anyway.

2. I have tried not to edit, hide, or judge any of my grief, no matter where I am when I feel it and no matter how overwhelming it feels when I feel it.

This would be my second word of advice to you, too.

Grief and sadness come at the oddest times. But, when the flood of emotion begins to rush over me, I have found it helpful to give it permission to roll all over me like a wave of the sea you cannot control. This has been a new experience for me because, for much of my life, I’ve tried to guard my public display of emotions.

Not any more.

It has helped me greatly to live into the pain and sadness I feel about Oscar, not run from it or try to replace it with a better feeling.

I admit, my first impulse was to rush out and find another dog. I fantasized visiting the local pound for dogs or looking online for a breeder and another dog, even another Dachshund.

I’m glad I have not succumbed to these natural impulses.

Yes, Pam and I might get another pet one day. And, we have both agreed, if we do, we are going to get two. Dogs need friends, too, don’t they? Of their own kind, that is?

Nevertheless, Pam and I have agreed we would not buy another dog to pay the wage of grief we feel for Oscar, we owe to Oscar. We have  resolved instead to grieve Weiner’s passing before we ever consider welcoming another pet into our household.

Why do I think it is important to let yourself freely and fully grieve when a beloved pet dies?

I do for two reasons…

1) For one thing, the death of a beloved pet may serve to help you express the pent up and often unresolved grief you felt but edited, dismissed, or buried when a loved one died.

For example, I think the heaviness and sadness I’ve felt with Oscar’s passing has been, in part, the unfinished grieving I didn’t do when my Dad died.

I preached my Dad’s funeral almost twenty years ago now. Back then, I had to be strong for Mom and everyone else and I don’t think I felt free to experience the pain I needed to experience when my beloved father unexpectedly and suddenly died.

So, when Oscar died last Wednesday, I decided I was going to feel and express my grief, no matter when it chose to make an appearance. So, while standing in the grocery line earlier today, I saw something that made me think of Weiner and I broke down. I don’t know if anyone saw me but, frankly, it really didn’t matter. What did matter is that I felt the sadness completely. Thoroughly. Deeply. That’s all that mattered to me.

Do this for yourself. Maybe you’ll find it helpful, too.

In fact, this is 2) the second reason you should allow yourself to freely and fully grieve when a pet dies. It is the only path to inner healing. It’s the only path I can see, anyway.

Do not expect your emotions, however, to all be the same. I have found myself experiencing many emotions and some feelings I do not know how to describe.

Do not expect the emotional pain to dissipate any time soon either.

Sometimes, it is deep sadness I feel. At other times, it is just a profound feeling of emptiness. I don’t know what emotion to call “emptiness” or what feeling to associate with it. All I do know is that it is like a big hole I feel in the bottom of my gut and it robs me of everything, even my appetite.

Which explains why I have not eaten much this past week.

A few times, my grief has expressed itself as anger. Whatever it is I feel, however, even laughter, I try to feel it. As I do, it is as if for a brief period the pain subsides.

This is the pathway to inner healing.

Pam and I have done some laughing this week, too, as we’ve recalled funny things our loving companion used to do.

I’m pretty certain that laughter is the hand of God on the shoulder of a broken heart. Or, so said someone. I don’t remember. What I feel, however, is that hand on my shoulder and, when I do, I laugh or cry – whatever it is I feel like doing – at all the wonderful memories I carry with me of Oscar and will likely carry with me for the rest of my life.

3. There is one other thing I hope you will find helpful. I would advise you to follow the advice you’ll likely receive from those who have experienced both pain and loss when a pet dies. Like even the little advice I have here. I know it isn’t much. But maybe it helps you a little.

I am finding the advice of others is actually quite helpful. Not like it was, however, when my Dad died and thought-less, but well-intentioned church people tried to explain his death with empty cliches’ like, “God took him because he needed another angel in heaven.”

What kind of stupid statement is that?

Or, worse, “God took him because it was his time to go.”

That one I hear still by thoughtless religious people who are so afraid of death they hide it behind cliches’ they call “faith.”

With Oscar’s passing, people have offered sympathy and understanding. That has been helpful to me. They have not felt the need to theologically explain Oscar’s passing or offer their unexamined theology of death and the hereafter.

Why cannot people do that when humans die?

In spite of all the support I have received, however, I still have moments when I feel all alone.

You likely will, too.

When Oscar passed last Wednesday, for example, even though I was with Pam and our daughter Allison and one of her friends, all of whom elected to be together during Oscar’s euthanasia, I felt unspeakably alone, especially the next day.

As I mentioned earlier, the house was so quiet on the day following his death I could hardly stand it.

Life goes on, yes.  But it stops, too.

Pam had to go to work but, since I was not traveling last week during the week, I was home.

And, alone.

And, more than once, I felt like life had just ended.

So the talk by phone with friends and even colleagues, none of whom knew of Oscar’s death until I told them, was helpful. One by one, each had a similar story of pain when their pet died and, what they shared of their experience, I found and am finding immensely helpful.

What I found online was helpful, too. For example, I read a wonderful article on BuddhaNet entitled “Helping Your Family Cope When a Pet Dies,” by Dr. Alan Wolfelt. Among other things, he advises, “Children need to be involved.”

I think our first impulse is to shield our children from the painful realities of death, even when a pet dies. I’m so glad, therefore, Pam thought to call Allison and give her the opportunity – which she grabbed – to join us in Oscar’s passing.

Had all our children been available, I would have invited all of them to share in his death. Not that all of them were that close to Oscar, but all of them are very close to Pam and me. Allowing them to share in our grief in the face of loss and death, I realize now more than ever before is an important part of spiritual and emotional growth.

Theirs and ours.

When a pet dies, you die, too. It’s a little death, to be sure. But it is a death, nonetheless. I now realize that Life helps us prepare for the big passing by giving us opportunities along the way to experience little passings.

Oscar’s passing was a little one…big to us…but a little one and his last gift to us was a gift to help us in the face of our own dying and death.

Will I ever see Oscar again?

I don’t know.

It would be wishful thinking disguised as faith to say that I will.

The most I can say,  and with utter honesty, is that I hope I will see him again.

This much I know with certain, however. My life…our lives…are the richer for having loved Oscar and for having been loved by him.

In many ways, Oscar was an odd little dog. Just ask any one of our kids.

Few people understood Oscar and some of his odd behaviors. But Pam and I understood him and to us, he was not only utterly and completely loyal, he was and is a blessing we will miss and miss for a very…


…long time.

Jesus and the Buddha

posted by smcswain

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

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

Both Christians and Buddhists frequently misunderstand what these teachers meant.

Jesus and the Buddha (Photo Used by Permission

Jesus and the Buddha (Photo Used by Permission

What Christians Have Been Taught

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Buddhists Have Been Taught

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The big Dude in the sky.

The great GOD of this universe.

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

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

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

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

We are one. That’s it.

And, it’s enough, when you get it.

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

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

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

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

by YOU!

Dr. Steve McSwain is an author, speaker, thought leader and spiritual teacher. His books and blogs inspire spiritual seekers around the world. He is a devoted follower of Christ but an interfaith activist as well. He is frequently heard to say, in the words of Mother Teresa, “I love all religions; but I’m IN LOVE with my own.” Read more from Dr. McSwain on his blog Your Best Life Now.

The Three Biggest Questions of Your Life

posted by smcswain

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

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

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

Three Biggest Questions of Your Life

Three Biggest Questions of Your Life
(Photo Used by Permission from

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

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

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

Take each question and ask it of yourself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The second of the biggest questions of life is this…

2. What is My Life Purpose?

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

Your happiness in life depends on how you answer this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The third of the biggest questions is this:

3. What is My Life Plan?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who am I?

What is My Purpose?

What are My Life Plans?

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

Dr. Steve McSwain is an author, speaker, thought leader and spiritual teacher. His books and blogs inspire spiritual seekers around the world. He is a devoted follower of Christ but an interfaith activist as well. He is frequently heard to say, in the words of Mother Teresa, “I love all religions; but I’m IN LOVE with my own.” Read more from Dr. McSwain on his blog Your Best Life Now.

Walk with God…Mindfulness in Action

posted by smcswain

To walk with God is the goal of human life. What this means to Christians is not so different than what “mindfulness” means to practitioners of eastern traditions.

Many of you know I wrote a book about walking with God. It is entitled The Enoch Factor: The Sacred Art of Knowing God. It’s all about how to walk with God.

Walk with God...Mindfulness in Action (Photo Used by Permission

Walk with God…Mindfulness in Action – (Photo Used by Permission

From my earliest days, I have been fascinated by the mythical Old Testament character whose name is Enoch. He is listed in that cumbersome section of Genesis 5, which most readers gloss over because of its repetitiveness. “So-and-so begat so-and-so, had five hundred children, and died,” and so it goes.

Actually, however, it is a very important passage and its importance is revealed in its repetitiveness. It’s as if the author was saying, “Life was pretty mundane…all too ordinary…people were being born, begetting, growing old, and dying. Nothing particularly different or unusual. But then, quite unanticipated, there was Enoch. Enoch was different. Enoch walked with God. And, it is his walking with God that life’s routine ordinariness was interrupted. Forever.”

I am often asked, “What is the point of human existence?” Which is really just another way of asking, “Why am I here? What’s the purpose of my life?”

Enoch’s life reveals it. You and I are here to walk with God. Period. Yes, it’s just that simple. But, for most people, including yours truly, it takes almost a lifetime to get this. Or, if we happen to have grown up in church, which many of you did – and, I did, too – our faith tradition has made the natural experience of walking with God into a difficulty saddled with all kinds of rules for the journey.

Actually, however, to walk with God is as natural and normal as breathing. It takes no effort whatsoever. In fact, whatever stipulations or expectations with which you or your religion encumbers this natural experience strips it from the realm of grace and makes of it a stuffy religious duty.

I want no part of that kind of religion ever again.

How do you walk with God?

Here are a few suggestions I hope you find helpful…

1. First, let go of all ideas that there is something you must do to qualify to walk with God. There is not. Besides, what would it be anyway? Going to the “right” church, synagogue or temple? Believing just the “right” belief? Come on. Get real, my friend. There is nothing you can do to qualify to walk with God. You are qualified by virtue of your participation in the human race. This is Jesus’ message. Plain and simple.

This is what it means to walk with God.

2. Second, walking with God is to Christians something very similar to that which practitioners of eastern religions know as “mindfulness.” Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is not a mind…full…of thoughts. It is instead the emptying of your mind of the fullness of thoughts. It is bringing your attention into this very moment.

This is not so easy to do. Try it and you’ll see. In fact, to master this will take practice. Practice, therefore, emptying your mind of thoughts.

For Christians, the teaching Jesus shared related to the Holy Spirit – the inner Presence of God who walks with you moment by moment. The struggle is not in God walking with us or with us walking with God. Both are natural. No matter where you go, God is. Wherever God is, you are.

Why? The indwelling Holy Spirit. Or, for eastern practitioners, “mindfulness.” I love the way Thich Nhat Hanh puts it:

The monk practices mindful breathing while performing his daily tasks…eats…washes…helps the sick and the wounded…and looks deeply at each object he comes into contact with–an orange, a raindrop, or a dying person” (from Living Buddha, Living Christ, p. 176).

This is the point of life lived with an awareness of the indwelling Holy Spirit. It is the same as practicing “mindfulness.” It is bringing your awareness…you attention to what is transpiring, and maybe nothing is transpiring, at this very moment. When nothing is transpiring, you bring your attention into nothing itself.

That may sound strange, but it is not. I practice being aware of nothing. Nothingness comprises most of what is anyway. Be aware of nothing, from time to time. The net result is, you will become more and more aware of the Presence of God. God is no-thing-ness herself. If you still think of God as a big human granddaddy in the sky…well, then, you have much yet to let go. But do not make this into a struggle. Just be aware of the notions of God you have been programmed to think about and in the awareness they will gradually disappear.

Practice bringing your full attention to that which is right in front of you. As you do, you are bringing your full attention into Presence itself. You are learning to walk with God.

3. When you feel far from God, and for some of you that is painfully too often, make it your practice to just let go of the programmed notion you must, again, “DO” something in order to get close to God. There is not. I repeat. There is not. When you feel out-of-sorts-with-God it is just the way it is. But you really are not.

That’s right. You are not “away” from God. Where could you ever go to get away? So, this notion that you’ve done something to disappoint God or that you’re not quite there yet in your spiritual maturation so as to be deserving of God’s continual presence is a lot of bunk.

Recognize it as bunk and let it go.

This is where faith comes in. Even if you do not feel close to God, believe that you are. Behave as if you are. And, if you will, I promise, the feeling of closeness will soon return.

It is really a misnomer to ever say, “Walk with God.”


Because you do already.

Dr. Steve McSwain is an author, speaker, thought leader and spiritual teacher. His books and blogs inspire spiritual seekers around the world. He is a devoted follower of Christ but an interfaith activist as well. He is frequently heard to say, in the words of Mother Teresa, “I love all religions; but I’m IN LOVE with my own.” Read more from Dr. McSwain on his blog Your Best Life Now.

Previous Posts

The Beliefs I Was Told I Had to Believe to Be a "Good Christian"
If you were raised in a Christian faith tradition similar to mine, you will readily recognize the following beliefs, the following worldview. If you were not, however, this will give you an idea of what I was taught to believe and what many Christians believe still. While I mention only a few below,

posted 4:22:47pm Jan. 20, 2015 | read full post »

Divine Consciousness: What "Being Saved" is Really All About
Divine Consciousness: What Being Saved is Really All About What does "being saved" really mean? I am sometimes asked, "You frequently use the words 'conscious' or 'Divine consciousness' or 'higher sta

posted 10:29:44am Jan. 16, 2015 | read full post »

Do You Have an Inner Guide?
Inner Guide? Do you have an inner guide? Yes, of course. In a few days, I will be giving the keynote talk to the Chairpersons of Departments of Communication from colleges and universities across the country. They

posted 7:50:24am Jan. 07, 2015 | read full post »

The Real Miracle of Christmas
The miracle of Christmas...the not that the Eternal Christ fully or exclusively indwelled Jesus but that the Eternal Christ fully and completely indwells you and me. The miracle o

posted 11:18:07am Dec. 26, 2014 | read full post »

Is Everything that Happens God's Will?
I often hear people say...heck, the truth is, I have said these things before myself... "Everything happens for a reason" "There are no mistakes" "God never puts more on you

posted 8:46:32am Dec. 22, 2014 | read full post »

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