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Your Best Life Now

Your Best Life Now

Do You Have an Inner Guide?

posted by smcswain
Inner Guide

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 are having their annual gathering later this month at the Hyatt Regency in Lexington, Kentucky.

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The Chair of the Department of Communication and Information at the University of Kentucky invited me to give the main talk at their closing banquet on the subject of “LISTENING.” I have prepared a talk I’m calling, “Clear the Wax from Your H-EAR,” a slight play on words, of course. But my basic premise is an adaptation of one of the wise things the late Maya Angelou once said: “When you know better, you do better.” Or, as I’m using it…

When you Hear Better, You LEAD Better
When you Listen Better, You LOVE Better
When you Listen Better, You LIVE Better

When You Hear Better, You ARE Better!

There is one thing I believe that stands between you and your purpose in life or relationships or success in whatever you’re doing, including your personal inner happiness and peace. This one thing has nothing to do with how high a position you hold, what other people think of you, how “successful” you are or how much contentment you know in life.

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No, I believe the one thing that separates people from achieving the life they really want, and maintaining an inner peace in the process, is their capacity to hear and heed their inner voice.

I call it the INNER VOICE or the voice of the heart. It is the V-ital, O-fficial, I-nfallible, C-lear, and E-xpert voice. It is singular, too, and different from the many voices in your head. Those are confusing, frequently contradictory, and always clamoring for attention. I developed this more fully in a previous post on my website. It is often confused with the many voices in the head but, really, it is the main voice…the singular voice of your heart.

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Do you know this voice when you hear it? Jesus referred to it as the “parakletos” who would go with you and serve as your “helper, guide, coach…who will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things I said to you” (John 14:26).

This is the INNER GUIDE.

Regard it as Divine. It is.
Recognize it as the Main Voice. It is.
Take it very seriously. You must.

This inner guide, or voice, is what the author and thinker, Malcolm Gladwell called in his New York Times bestselling book entitled Blink, the “thin slicing” by which he meant there is that in you and me that provides “insight” or “genius” with an innate capacity “to sift through,” as Richard Rohr puts it, any “situation in front of you, throwing out all that is irrelevant, while zeroing in on what really matters.”

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Training yourself in spirituality is simply the conscious discipline you make of learning how to sift through the many voices in your head in order to better hear and heed the main voice of your heart…

You will never go wrong when you master this skill. But it will not happen by accident.

Here’s how to Train Yourself to Follow the Inner Guide

1. Practice bringing yourself into the present. This inner Guide is ever present, but seldom do you hear his voice or feel his impulse when you thinking about the past or lost in imaginary, and often worrisome, thoughts about the future. Instead, what is the immediate situation you face or decision you must make and make immediately? This voice will speak…will provide you the inner intuitive response. Trust that this is true. It is.

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2. Trust not only that this is true, but Trust that this is Divine. Regard this voice as a Divine voice and the situation at hand as a Divinely-infused moment. Both are true. It is Presence unmasking itself, or manifesting herself, right in front of you. Oh sure, I know it’s just a conversation you’re having with your boss or colleague or even a casual encounter with the clerk at Starbucks. But I am suggesting, if you bring your awareness front and center, God is there right smack in the middle of the conversation, the silence that surrounds the exchanged words, the power within those words, and the person with whom you speak is God, too, and…so are you. This is, even in its simplicity, a Divine moment all the way around. In other words, the Inner Guides knows no separation between you and the situation or the other person. Everything, as well as everyone, is one…is in unity.

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The head isn’t, however. Which is why you’re constantly confused when you try to sift through the myriad of conflicting voices in the head, instead of training yourself to know and response to the singular voice of your heart.

If you will make this your spiritual practice, what I am actually saying is, you are practicing your way to greater and greater spiritual consciousness or spiritual enlightenment. Which is simply the awareness of divinity within material and non-material reality…that you are…that others are…that the surroundings are…that this moment is…all Divinely-infused.

3. Now, as this becomes your practice, you will discover that you have at your disposal all Divine resources to know what to do and what to say in any situation. This is why Jesus said, “Do not worry about what you’ll say…(Luke 12:11), by which he meant, “No need to stand in the shower and imagine all that will transpire as the day unfolds…where you will go…what you will do…what you’ll say to those you meet…the conversations you’ll have…how well or how poorly those conversations will go…what you’ll say to them…what they’ll say in return…what you’ll say in response to what they have said, and so forth.

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Why? Because, first of all, those conversations never go as you have imagined them anyway. Have they ever? Not,, of course not. Oh, sure, sometimes you get lucky but, generally, no matter how much you imagine you’ll say and they’ll say in return, neither of you say anything remotely similar to the way you imagined it.

How many of the “arguments” you prepared ahead of time did you ever get around to giving? While it is true, therefore, that we must all make preparations each day, using our DayPlanners and all the rest – I am not suggesting we do away with these tools – I am only saying, let go of all your expectations about how things will go…must go…be prepared but trust the results to God…let go of the imagined or expected outcomes. This is a far more peaceful way to live. It is the way of the heart. It is trusting your Inner Guide…you Indwelling God…to provide you the right words and the right choices at just the right time.

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Now, isn’t this a better way to live? Isn’t this fulfilling what Jesus meant when he said, “Seek first the Kingdom…” the kingdom within you where you nurture your Inner Guide who then helps you make your outer life worth living.

Nothing is more important than being grounded in this deeper inner, yet present-moment awareness.

No story more powerfully illustrates this either.

The late Jewish philosopher and mystic, Martin Buber told once of having a transforming mystical experience one morning. It was rapturous and more meaningful to him than any spiritual experience he had ever had before.

Later that morning, but while still relishing in his rapturous moment of blissfulness, he enter the university where he taught. A student stopped him in the hallway. They talked for a few moments and, all the while, he was conscious of this blissful, mystical experience.

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When the conversation with the student ended, he went to his university office and began his work for the day. The student returned to his dorm room and hung himself. In the suicide note he left behind, the student wrote these haunting words…

“I spoke to Dr. Buber in the hallway today.

I needed to talk to him.

But I could see he was preoccupied.”

I need say no more. You’re hearing and feeling that voice right now. Give that your attention. Always.

For more good reading on “inner guide” check out what Jenni Young says.

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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 BeliefNet.com, the Huffington Post, as well as his own website (www.SteveMcSwain.com) 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 respect or charitable living.

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The Real Miracle of Christmas

posted by smcswain
The Miracle of Christmas

The Miracle of Christmas

The miracle of Christmas…the incarnation…is not that the Eternal Christ fully or exclusively indwelled Jesus but that the Eternal Christ fully and completely indwells you and me.

The miracle of grace…salvation…is not that there is anything you must do in order to be but just be, the doing will take care of itself.

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The Miracle of Christmas

Anything you “do” only indicates a misunderstanding of what Jesus Christ has done in his death for you. His death…the giving of his life…has forever underscored the eternal reality that between God and you…between you and God…there is no separation.

In fact, the “rending of the veil of the temple in two” (Matthew 27:51-52) – which was the symbol of division and separateness. Jesus’ self-giving life, which just happened to be death by Roman crucifixion, revealed a reality that has existed for all time – namely, there is NO separation between you and God…between God and you. His life and death has made that eternally clear, even if the Church in some of its expressions is still erecting barriers and additional veils.

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That’s the point. Not that God could not get close to you and me until he had somehow satisfied his own delusional need to whip ass on something or someone in order to feel better about you and your screw-ups, as well as mine. That is the heresy of the Church.

And, it IS a heresy, even if your favorite preacher (or, priest, televangelist, or Church) is still proclaiming it.

No, my friend, Jesus’ death, and the validation of his self-giving life in the resurrection, unequivocally proclaims that “neither death nor life, nor principalities, nor powers, nor your screw-ups nor mine…nothing separates us from God. Thanks be to GOD for this victory we see and have in Jesus: (Romans 8:37-39).

To know this is to be Christ conscious, or aware of the real message of Christmas…of the Gospel. This awareness transforms everything. Even you.

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Let go of the old scripts that have falsely led sincere people for eons. God did not punish Jesus so He could forgive you. What kind of God does that make him? Give up this old script. There isn’t a thimble’s worth of truth to any of it. It will not live and survive in the 21st century either.

No, it is not unorthodox to let go of what ain’t so. It is liberating instead. It is to enter into the full rest of God, as the writer of Hebrews so eloquently put it. I know this, for I and scores of others are discovering a new way to understand the “old, old story.”

Discover it for yourself and be free.

Be “more than a conqueror through Jesus” whose life shows you the way. That’s what Jesus means by, “I am the way…” (John 14:6). His way IS the way of freedom beyond ANY VEIL, even one the Church has erroneously constructed, that would lead you to believe that Jesus’ finished work on the cross wasn’t enough to destroy all “illusions of separation.” Even the illusions of separation that grip still many who sit in pews week after week.

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Now, step up, and out of this outworn way of believing, and then step boldly into this New Year, and end the mindless groveling before a God who can never seem to be happy about much of anything, this neurotic deity that requires praise to feel better about himself.

Instead, celebrate the destruction, the eradication of all veils of illusion and separateness. Know that you are ONE with God.

If THAT is not the Good News, then there is nothing good about any of it.

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 BeliefNet.com, the Huffington Post, as well as his own website (www.SteveMcSwain.com) 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 respect or charitable living.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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 BeliefNet.com, the Huffington Post, as well as his own website (www.SteveMcSwain.com) 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.

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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?

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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 BeliefNet.com, the Huffington Post, as well as his own website (www.SteveMcSwain.com) 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 (www.SteveMcSwain.com).

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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

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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

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).

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!”

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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 BeliefNet.com, the Huffington Post, as well as his own website (www.SteveMcSwain.com) 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 (www.SteveMcSwain.com).

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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 BeliefNet.com, the Huffington Post, as well as his own website (www.SteveMcSwain.com) 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 (www.SteveMcSwain.com).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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“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.

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What do all these voices share in common?

Confusion

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.

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“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.

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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.

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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,

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     “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.

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