Your Best Life Now

Your Best Life Now

Is Everything that Happens God’s Will?

posted by smcswain
Is Everything that Happens to Me God's Will?

Is Everything that Happens to Me 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 than you can handle…”

It comes in many sizes and shapes, but it is this notion that life for all of us is sort of determined already. As if the script were written already and we are merely players acting out a drama on stage.

This belief has been drilled into the American psyche (and religion) for so long, it is hard to even question it, much less lay it down once-and-for-all.

I am in the process of thinking again about this and, in some instances, even attempting to live by a different sort of belief. Here’s where I am:

I do not think everything happens for a reason.
I do believe there are all kinds of accidents, tragedies, and mistakes.
I do not believe at all that God puts anything on anybody.

There. I said it.
Now, having said this, here’s the flip side of all of this.

While I do not think all things happen for some reason, I give reasons to all things that happen.

I suspect you do, too.

Sometimes, I even project onto God the reasons I’ve given for making purposeful what at first blush, and sometimes second blush, looks completely purposeless. It helps me to give meaning to what feels totally meaningless.

“But what does God have to do with this?” you ask.

Maybe something. Most likely nothing. In either instance, it’s what you make of it that matters.

While I do believe there are accidents, tragedies, and, ultimately, things that occur for which there is no logical explanation, there is at one-and-the-same-time a Mystery in all that happens and it is that Mystery I seek to find.

If I could stop giving credit to God for something he didn’t do (as in helping my team score the winning touchdown) or blaming God for something he didn’t cause (as in a tornado or the sudden and senseless death of a child), am I not then able to look for God’s presence inside the center point of my pain?  Why must God be made the culprit in all that happens? God did not cause these things; but, isn’t it possible, that God is hiding inside each thing that happens just waiting to be found?

Or, maybe God is the one who is seeking?

While I do not believe God puts anything on anybody, God does want us to enjoy unbroken, uninterrupted union with her.

That I believe.

In this respect, therefore, I learn…I grow…I find meaning…I give meaning…I ever seek to walk with God…not by resisting WHAT IS – even the horrible stuff…Oh yes, I probably do at first but that never seems to make the horrible stuff disappear. So, when I gather my wits, I seek to live fully and completely into whatever this moment presents, no matter how pleasant or painful it may be.

Because I know…

When I have learned the lesson this present challenge presents…

       Growth occurs…

               And the challenge disappears.

BTW, this is what it means to advance in spiritual awareness.

Dr. Steve McSwain is an author and speaker, counselor to non-profits and congregations, an advocate in the fields of self-development, interfaith cooperation, and spiritual growth. His blogs at, the Huffington Post, as well as his own website ( inspire people of all faith traditions. Dr. McSwain is an Ambassador to the Council on the Parliament for the World’s Religions. His interfaith pendants are worn by thousands on virtually every continent, sharing 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 or charitable living.

Jesus: The Original “New Age” Thinker

posted by smcswain

You are a “New Age” Christian.

What does this mean? And, why must people constantly label others?

Jesus: The Original New Age Thinker

Jesus: The Original New Age Thinker

My critics sometimes say to me, “You’ve just become too ‘New Age’ for me.” Or, “You’re just another ‘New Ager.”

What is meant by this criticism?

I am not quite sure.

Here are a few guesses, however.

1. I am sometimes labeled a “New Age” Christian because I do not regard the Bible as a magical and infallible book, miraculously dictated by God herself to the Biblical writers themselves.

Plain and simple, the Bible is full of contradictions. I have great regard for the Bible. And, I believe it to be inspired. But many of its teachings are so antiquated that to lump all of Scripture together as if it is either equally infallible or even equally applicable to today’s world is utterly ridiculous. To say anything less is, in my opinion, either to admit to ignorance of the Bible or dishonesty about its content or both.

2. I think a second reason Christians label me as a “New Age” person is because I frequently refer to God as “she” about as often as I do “he.”

Why? It is because God is neither. And, I think it is time that we graduate beyond this elementary image of a big, superhuman-like male granddaddy figure who instantly pops into our minds whenever the name of God is mentioned. God is not a super-duper human male who lives above the sky…who sits on a throne…with angels – more males with wings – all floating around on clouds and singing the Hallelujah Chorus.

Jesus himself said, “God is spirit…”(John 4:24).

3. There is a third reason I am labeled a “New Age” Christian. The fact that I am an Ambassador to the Parliament for the World’s Religions and promote interfaith unity, cooperation, and respect is inconceivable to some Christians.

They view my openness as compromise. They cannot tolerate someone who believes truth might be found beyond that truth which comes in-and-through the Christian tradition.

My understanding of God, however, is much larger than the little God I grew up being taught to believe in – a God who was tribal…”our God”…a God who favored “us” over “them”…and, a God who could not be known any other way than by “our way.”

People ask me all the time, for example, “Is Jesus the only way to God?”

I answer by saying, “He is my way to God.”

Is he the only way? I do not think so. And, that is not the teaching of John 14:6.

John 14:6 may be the most misunderstood verse of Scripture in the 21st century. Jesus was not starting a new religion. Nor was he singling himself out as the one-and-only-way to that new religion which he, further, was arguing was the “one-and-only-way” anyone could know God.

BTW, Christianity is a religion, but it was not a religion started by Jesus. I think the greatest disservice Christians do to the Bible that they regard as infallible is to misinterpret Scripture, as they almost universally do with John 14:6.

Now, this may not be true of you but what many who ask me whether Jesus is the only way to God are really asking has nothing to do with my personal faith in Jesus. My personal faith is of no interest or concern to them. What they are vastly more concerned about is their beliefs and my willingness to join them in saying, “Jesus is the ONLY way to God.” It is not, however, truth seek. Confirmation that what they believe is “right” is what they really seek. What they do not know, however, is this: the only way you ever know you are “right” is to make others “wrong.” So this is what they do. They make any other way to know God wrong by insisting their way of knowing God is right.

There are likely other reasons I am labeled a “New Age” Christian. Maybe you can think of one and add it in the comment section below.

4. I will mention one other possibility here. Some label me a “New Age” person because I frequently use terms like “awaken” and “enlightenment” to refer to spiritual transformation.

In other words, I am not bound to the more traditional words like “salvation,” or “repentance,” or “the saved,” and “the lost.”

In this respect, however, I like to remind traditionalists that, if they would read the New Testament, they would discover Jesus was the first “New Age” thinker. He used the word “awaken,” for example, long before I did or anyone else has done.

Consider his words here:

Jesus said to his disciples, “Be awake. Be alert. You do not know when the time will come. It is like a man travelling abroad. He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his own work. And he orders the gatekeeper to be on watch. So I tell you, watch. You do not know when the Lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cock crow, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you asleep. What I say to you, I say to all: stay awake.” –Mark 13:33-37

While I was taught so as a child, this passage has nothing to do with the second coming of Jesus.

He is referring instead to the need to stay alert…to awaken…to be aware that each moment is a Divine moment.

If there is any place in my life where I need “saving” (to use the more traditional word), it is in this area of my life. Most of the time, I go through the motions of living my life with little or no alertness to the Eternal Christ who may be making herself known to me in everyone and through everything that occurs.

In fact, there are times when I actually stand in resistance to what is happening at this moment in my life because, instead of seeing the moment and what is happening as a Divine moment, I see it instead, and so respond to it, as if it is a burdening moment…an unwanted moment…or something that is happening that should not be happening.

This is your “New Age” thought for today. As Fr. Richard Rohr, whose devotional thoughts today inspired my own musings this morning, “Christ is always coming; God is always present. It’s we who aren’t.”

Consequently, make it your spiritual practice to live INTO everything that occurs. Resist nothing. Be alert. Watchful. Awake. Aware. Conscious even that the Eternal Christ is inside everyone you meet, as well as everything that occurs.

If you will make this your practice, your life will transform. This is cause for rejoicing (how’s that for a good traditional word?). Rejoice that, like Jesus, you are becoming a New Age person, or what Saint Paul called, “a new creation in Christ” (2 Cor. 5:17).

Dr. Steve McSwain is an author and speaker, counselor to non-profits and congregations, an advocate in the fields of self-development, interfaith cooperation, and spiritual growth. His blogs at, the Huffington Post, as well as his own website ( inspire countless followers. Dr. McSwain’s 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 (

Meeting Almighty, Mopping Floors

posted by smcswain

So much of what I do…I do…even while I am thinking of something else. Frequently, for example, I’ll rush through a warm shower at dawn because I am thinking about all those things I must do, as well as the conversations I must have later that day…so I’m thinking about the things that I will say…the things the other will say in return, and then, what I’ll say to what they’ve said…and, so forth.

Meeting Almighty

Meeting Almighty, Mopping Floors

Meeting Almighty, Mopping Floors

I know better than any of this. No conversation ever unfolds the way I imagine it beforehand. What these means, therefore, is this: As I am doing one thing and anxiously thinking about something else, I am actually only succeeding in living mind-less-ly, not mindfully.

There is a difference.


Mindfulness is a discipline – and, anyone who thinks it does not take practice is thoroughly mindless – for mindfulness is the bringing of one’s MIND – into the – FULLNESS, hence, “mind-fullness” of whatever it is you are doing right now, not what you are going to do later.

This is prayer, too. Real prayer. It is the ceaseless kind of praying St. Paul said we are to seek. He wrote in his letter to the Thessalonians, “Never stop praying” (1 Thess. 5:17).

How does anyone do this? Even a monk in a monastery does not spend all day and night in prayer.

Who does this, too? Just monks? Well, some monks do devote their lives to this. But Paul is writing to all followers, not simply to a gathering of monks at the Abbey of St. Francis.

Maybe this is the way Jesus did things. Like the time he went up into the mountains. It was, interestingly, after another feast time, and one not entirely unlike the one we just enjoyed with family and friends yesterday.

The Gospel of Matthew records the story. “And after Jesus had sent them home, he went up into the mountains by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone. (Matt. 14:23).

You will notice we are not told what he prayed. Nor how he prayed although, for most of my life, I have imagined him in some kind of kneeling position. I pictured him offering up his prayers like we sometimes do in church with bended knee resting on kneelers, bulletin in hand with our written prayers and…well…you know the drill.

Meeting the Almighty on the Mountaintop

I don’t think this anymore. I imagine Jesus instead walking alone through the hills, observing nature, entering the dusk and then the darkness. I can only imagine how dark it must have been – there were no street lights, especially in the mountains. I picture him strolling along…strolling alone…and reflecting, and perhaps on occasion even voicing a few words in prayer; or, better, reclining, maybe even sleeping a little, much like I did last night, off-and-on. But not too well. I’m still scared of the dark. I’d fall asleep through the night and then wake up, walk about the house, pee, and think a while, and then recline back in bed, quietly so as not to wake Pam, and, somewhere in the thinking…in the darkness and in the aloneness, I would go back to sleep…

But my suspicion is, when Jesus took this particular journey into the dark night of his should, he practiced being completely there…completely alone but inside his alone-ness…aware of his dark side. Present, though, and not thinking about what he was going to do later.

Know what this is like? To be alone, I mean,  instead of rushing toward the crowd to avoid being alone or racing about like we do on Black Friday, bitching about the crowd but glad there’s one around…anybody to avoid being with nobody…

No, maybe you don’t know what this is like.

I don’t. I am frightened at being “alone.” The thought of getting inside my alone…stepping into my own darkness? Well, frankly, I prefer crowds.

But not this Jesus whom I’d like to think I follow.  I see him strolling about the mountain and into the darkness, and he’s with anyone but a crowd. No, his is alone. So alone Matthew had to tell readers twice to make sure they didn’t miss it.

I’m pretty sure, therefore, what I’m getting ready to tell you is going to sound a little weird to some of you. But here goes.

I tried something this morning I have not tried in a long while. Pam had to go off to work. Some people do have to work on Black Friday – which is why you should always be nice to the clerks. I told Pam as she walked out the door that I’d clean up the house and the residue of Thanksgiving you could see here and there and especially on the hardwoods. Yes…yes…laugh, if you’d like. But there are times I do clean and I know how to mop floors. So I said I’d mop the hardwoods and hang the Christmas lights outside.

In other words, after sending the crowds away last night and kissing Pam good-bye this morning, I took a mop and made a little journey of my own to the mountains. I have been all alone all morning.

As I filled the bucket with hot water and poured in a little vinegar, I decided I would practice doing the mopping, but not like I do most other mundane chores. Instead of rushing about here and there, like Black Friday shoppers from store to store…or like I do most mornings while showering and shaving…I decided instead to enter as fully as I could into each push of the mop across the hardwoods.

Guess what?

I cannot remember whether it was in the dining rooming or somewhere in the hallway between where we gather to eat and where we prepare the “eats”…but, somewhere, in the middle of the mopping, I met God.

Meeting Almighty, Mopping Floors

I gave him a new name, too. I called him, “Alone.”

Oh, yes, I know it has been daylight all morning. But I thought of the darkness…and I tried to feel it, along with the loneliness in my soul…the scary parts, too, while hanging and testing the holiday lights. They worked. This worked.

Now, did I not say this would all sound a little weird? Well, don’t act so surprised.

Besides, I made a wonderful discovery this morning. I’d like to keep it to myself, however. As much as I can anyway. If Pam reads this, as she likely will, I can hear her now, “Well, since mopping is taking you to the mountaintop of spiritual bliss, try doing it more often!”

Ha, Ha.
Ho, Ho.

Strange and weird.  It is, isn’t it? The places, I mean, where we meet God.  Where we meet Alone.  Where we meet and greet ourselves…and our darkness.

But then, maybe this only seems weird to those who are like I am most of the time…always in a hurry to get to the mall across town…or, you know, to the really important things…things more important than mundane mopping.

Dr. Steve McSwain is an author and speaker, counselor to non-profits and congregations, an advocate in the fields of self-development, interfaith cooperation, and spiritual growth. His blogs at, the Huffington Post, as well as his own website ( inspire countless followers. Dr. McSwain’s 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 (

Holy Spirit and Mindfulness…Here West Meets East

posted by smcswain

Lately, Vietnamese Buddhist Monk and Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh, has been on my mind. As you may know, he is still in a coma. We hope and pray for his recovery.

Whenever I think of him, however, I am reminded of the beautiful story he tells in his book Living Buddha, Living Christ about the time when the Buddha was asked, “Sir, what it is you and your monks practice?”

Holy Spirit and Mindfulness: Thich-Nhat-Hanh Photo Courtesy of Paul Davis

Holy Spirit and Mindfulness: Thich-Nhat-Hanh Photo Courtesy of Paul Davis

He replied, “We sit, we walk, we eat.”

“But sir,” objected the inquirer, “everyone sits, walks, and eats.”

The Buddha explained, “When we sit, we know we are sitting. When we walk, we know we know we are walking. When we eat, we know we are eating.”

We Sit, We Walk, We Eat

Frankly, I often do not. I catch myself eating and thinking about anything but eating. I am more conscious, however, ever since that time a few years ago when I nearly choked to death on a piece of food. Fortunately, the friend I was with knew how to engage in the maneuver that saved my life.

Such an experience will make you more conscious of what’s in your mouth. But, frankly, I still find myself thinking about other things than what it is I’m doing now.

This is my spiritual practice. Staying connected to what I am doing now. This is “mindfulness” spoken of so much in the east.

Is it the same thing Jesus meant by living in the conscious awareness of the Holy Spirit?

I think so.

When Jesus spoke of the day when the Holy Spirit would come I think he was referring to the same thing the Buddha highlights in the story above.

Living mindfully is living into this present moment. Completely. Utterly. Totally. That was the point the Buddha was making – giving your consciousness or full attention to what is happening now – engage your total presence in the “here and now,” as Ram Dass loves to put it.

You think this is easy?
Only if you don’t try to do it.

Now, I’m suggesting for my Christian readers that what the Buddha advocated, Jesus did, too. In other words, the two spiritual masters were after the same essential consequence – totally connectedness to now.

Jesus framed it like this: The Holy Spirit would come to “walk beside you” – that’s the literal translation of the Greek word “parakletos” in John’s Gospel, although it is often translated in our English Bibles as “Comforter” or “Guide.” (see John 15:26-16:4).

The Holy Spirit did not come so you could speak in tongues, as some misinformed souls in Christianity have assumed. “Glossolalia,” as it is called, or the “heavenly” language enables the practitioner, not to enter now, but to escape it. Just the opposite of the Holy Spirit’s real purpose. Jesus said the Holy Spirt would come…the Comforter would appear…and walk with you. But the Spirit does not lead you out of life. He leads you into life.

The Comforter, the Holy Spirit, and Mindfulness

Isn’t this what you and I need to learn more and more?
Of course it is. I need to learn, not how to escape life, but live it and live into it. Distractions abound in every culture for those looking for a means of escaping.

Some escape through drugs.
Others escape through entertainment.
Still others use religion as a means of escaping life.

Not those, however, who truly understand what the Buddha…what Jesus was saying.

Most of your life and mine is spent “lost in the past,” as Thich Nhat Hanh puts it, “or carried away by future projects and concerns” (from Living Buddha, Living Christ, p.199).

Mindfulness is entering fully into this present moment.
Being fully in the Spirit, or aware and conscious of the Comforter’s presence with you as you journey through life, accomplishes precisely the same thing. His presence brings you into NOW!

If you will allow your mindful practices to bring you into now, you are everything you need.
If you will allow the Holy Spirit to walk with you into now, you will have everything needed for life.

Again, here west meets east. Rather than playing religious games, as if religions are in competition with one another and the winner comes out on top, recognize that all point to the same spiritual realities. They just do so through different cultural contexts and with different words and ideas.

Get this and your life will be the richer. You will be much more mindful…more more aware of the Holy Presence…much more at peace.

This is the nature of real spirituality.
And, your best life now.

Dr. Steve McSwain is an author and speaker, counselor to non-profits and congregations, an advocate in the fields of self-development, interfaith cooperation, and spiritual growth. His blogs at, the Huffington Post, as well as his own website ( inspire countless followers. Dr. McSwain’s 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 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

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