Your Best Life Now

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 (

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

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

The Most Important Questions in Life

The Most Important Questions in Life

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

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

What are your most important questions?

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

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

1. Who am I?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. What is my life plan?

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

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

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

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

I think so.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. What will I leave behind?

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

What is the legacy you will live?

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


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

Don’t ever forget this.

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

They were not, however.

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

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

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

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

Dr. Steve McSwain is an author, speaker, and spiritual teacher. His books and blogs inspire spiritual seekers all over the world. He is a devoted follower of Christ but an interfaith activist as well. He is frequently heard to say, in the words of Mother Teresa, “I love all religions; but I’m in love with my own.” Read more from Dr. McSwain on his blog Your Best Life Ever. To contact Steve, go directly to his website and learn more about his public talks, personal counsel, and his books and interfaith pendants – visit

What to Do When a Pet Dies

What to Do When a Pet Dies

When a beloved pet dies, what do you do?

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

I have never cried so much in all my life.

Will I be crying over Oscar twenty years from now?

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

You think that strange?

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

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

Oscar died last Wednesday.

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

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

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

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

When a beloved pet dies, what do you do?

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

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

Weiner did.

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

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

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

I would recommend you do the same.

Death is real.

Separation is painful.

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

That’s how I view it, anyway.

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

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

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

Not any more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I do for two reasons…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is the pathway to inner healing.

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

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

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

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

What kind of stupid statement is that?

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

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

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

Why cannot people do that when humans die?

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

You likely will, too.

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

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

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

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

And, alone.

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

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

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

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

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

Theirs and ours.

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

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

Will I ever see Oscar again?

I don’t know.

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

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

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

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

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


…long time.

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

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

Both Christians and Buddhists frequently misunderstand what these teachers meant.

Jesus and the Buddha (Photo Used by Permission

Jesus and the Buddha (Photo Used by Permission

What Christians Have Been Taught

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Buddhists Have Been Taught

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The big Dude in the sky.

The great GOD of this universe.

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

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

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

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

We are one. That’s it.

And, it’s enough, when you get it.

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

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

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

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

by YOU!

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

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

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

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

Three Biggest Questions of Your Life

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

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

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

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

Take each question and ask it of yourself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The second of the biggest questions of life is this…

2. What is My Life Purpose?

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

Your happiness in life depends on how you answer this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The third of the biggest questions is this:

3. What is My Life Plan?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who am I?

What is My Purpose?

What are My Life Plans?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you walk with God?

Here are a few suggestions I hope you find helpful…

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

This is what it means to walk with God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recognize it as bunk and let it go.

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

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


Because you do already.

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

Faith is hard work. Hard won, too.

“Just believe!” say some. After all, didn’t Jesus say, “Become as a little child?” (Matt. 18:3).

If, by faith, you are talking about – and, many Christians are – subscribing to a neatly packaged box of propositional statements, then yes, of course, faith is not so hard and believing is a simple exercise in imaginary make-believe, fairytale kinds of stuff.

Faith is hard and difficult

Faith is hard and difficult

If, on the other hand, faith is – and, it was for Jesus – trusting yourself to the Eternal Unseen to that point in fact that you are free of anxiety, fear, restlessness…in my case, it’s nervousness…then I suspect you’ll find faith to you the way I find it for me – hard as hell to live out.

It’s easy to “live-in” faith; it’s hard as heck to “live-by” faith. You’ll find the former in many churches; you’ll find the latter, however, only in real life.

For years, I went to church and just about anything I heard from the pulpit I would shout in hearty agreement, “Amen!” Faith was all so very simple in those days…the “good ole days” to which many religious folk wish would return. I told others to do what I found so simple myself, “Just believe!”

But then, just as it happens with children, the day came when the questions appeared. I think they started for me about the same time when Jonathan, my little boy, showed up and today it continues with my grandsons. My son started coming to me and, no matter what I told him, he would respond, “Why?”

My grandsons are doing the same. They ask “why” so often and with such dogged determinism, I sometimes find it annoying.

“Why do you question everything I tell you?” I ask.

At the time, it seldom occurs to me that, if they did not question me, they would never grow up.

And, so it is with most Christians today…with most churchgoers today. They’ve never grown up.

In faith…or, better, in faith-ing.

“Just believe!” they shout. “Become as a little child,” they say. Never realizing, however, that neither is possible, if you want more than some shallow existence…one that uses religion as a crutch to hide the real you from yourself…one that makes believing little more than a trip to DisneyLand where imaginary things occur with dazzling frequency and life is little more than a temporary fairytale to prepare you for the really big HeavenlyLand just above the sky.

I don’t want that kind of faith. That kind of eternity.
I don’t want that kind of shallow existence here, either.

Many must want this, however, because I have become an enemy to them. Because I raise questions, express my doubts, try to be honest with myself and the world and, stranger than all, because I’m open to all people…to all faiths…to truth wherever I may find it, they are offended, afraid, and so attack me. Or, worse, they just disappear and have nothing to do with me at all.

I’m not complaining, mind you. I knew this would happen. It was inevitable, albeit regrettable. It is what it is. But I would be dishonest to pretend it doesn’t hurt a little. Sometimes, a lot.

But I go on and I write on, even as I do today. I write for those of you who are still reading this. I write for you who, like me, find faith to be a problem. You cannot live with it; you cannot, however, live without it. You want to believe, not as in “I believe in the virgin birth” or “I believe in the plenary verbal inspiration of the Bible,” kind of believing. But the kind of trust instead that takes you fully into your doubts, questions, fears, worries and tests itself right there in the midst of real life…your real life.

Faith is hard for you. It is for me, too. Faith isn’t for the faint-of-heart.

How might you strengthen your faith? Do you ever ask that? If you’re truly trying to live by faith, you have. Here are three suggestions I have for you today. I cannot promise they’ll work for you but they seem to be working for me. Too damn slowly, however. Nonetheless, I am making progress. Some, anyway. Maybe you will, too.

1. Practice your faith. Practice believing…trusting…resting upon in complete freedom from fear. Yes, just make this a regular practice.

Faith isn’t about reciting propositions. It isn’t about content. It’s about conduct. It’s about how you live. The way you live.

No, I’m not talking about a checklist of things you can say you don’t do and so, as a consequence, you are this perfect little child of faith. I’m talking about living from a place of absolute trust in and complete reliance on something you cannot see, touch, smell, taste or even feel all the time.

That’s right. Sometimes, I feel God or, maybe it’s just a surge of dopamine from the pre-frontal cortex. Hell, I don’t know what it is I’m feeling. I call it God. But I really don’t know. What I know, and all I know, is that there are times I feel really close to what I conclude is God. But that’s about all I can say. Those days are precious.

There are other days, however, I’d have more luck finding a needle in the proverbial haystack than I could ever have finding that feeling for God. I feel lousy instead and not the kind of lousy I feel when I’ve got the flu.

No, it’s actually worse than that. It’s a lousy kind of feeling…the feeling of lostness, as if I am wandering…as if I’m not succeeding at whatever it is I’m doing…as if life is unfair…as if I’m worrying excessively about how to pay bills, or be happy, or stay healthy, or figure out who the hell I am and where I’m going.

On such days, I’m scared of dying and…well…if you’re in touch, even slightly, with your own humanity, you know what I’m talking about. It’s the “existential angst” I’m feeling on those days, I guess, the kind Soren Kierkegaard talked about, as well as Friedrich Nietzsche and Rollo May (“Impressed by my infinite knowledge, are you?” – it’s bull, my friend. I actually know so very little). What is this that I’m experiencing?

It’s faith that’s hard won. I’m feeling what it means to be human. And, that’s not such a bad thing either. We talk about being human as if something were wrong with it.

That’s what church theology has done for us. But, with God, it ain’t so. Humanity is so good God came in Jesus, born just like the rest of us, as a human being. Yes, Jesus had a real mother, too. You can give up the fairytale of a virgin giving birth and still be a Christian. In our world, virgins don’t make babies, not without artificial insemination, anyway.

Practice your faith and cherish those days when you feel close to God. And, on those days you don’t?

Well…that’s the second suggestion for strengthening your faith.

2. Stop Feeling Bad When You Fail at Faith, or Faithfulness.

You are going to fail. You are going to doubt. There will be days that you are overwhelmed with fear and anxiety.

If you don’t get this, you simply cannot understand what Jesus was either doing or experiencing, either in the wilderness before his public ministry began (Matthew 4:1-12) or in the Garden on the eve of his death (Matthew 26:36-56). In both places, an eternal struggle ensued. And, he failed. Which explains why he kept saying the same prayer over and over again in the Garden.

He knew the right words to say, “Not my will but yours be done!” He just didn’t have the feelings to accompany the words.

I know that kind of Jesus. I know how to live by faith. I just have the hardest time doing it. So, lately, I’ve been learning how to forgive myself and to just keep returning to the Garden with the same prayer.

If he did, so will I.

3. And, that’s the third suggestion for strengthening your faith. Practice. Practice. Practice. It’s all about expanding your consciousness, training your mind in awareness…in trust…in unity…in surrender…and, as you do, you are set free.

The Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, puts it like this, in his wonderful book, Living Buddha, Living Christ,

“If farmers use farming tools to cultivate their land, practitioners use prayer and meditation to cultivate their consciousness. The fruits and flowers of the practice spring forth from the soil of the mind.”

If Jesus needed forty days in the wilderness…

Well…there’s a pretty good chance, you’ll need some wilderness practice, too.

Unless you’re content with a childish faith.

“Because I’m happy…clap along…” Pharrel Williams sings it.

“Because I’m happy…clap along…” Miss America sings it.

“Because I’m happy…clap along…” We all sing it.

Frankly, I’ve heard the popular song so much on the radio and television, I’m ready for a new song. Which IS the problem with this kind of happy. Even the song gets a bit annoying after you’ve heard it a million times.

“Because I’m Happy…Clap Along If You Feel Like…

It’s the message, however, I’m thinking about this morning. The message of happiness.  Have you paid attention to the lyrics? Oh, I know the tune is rhythmic and it’s hard not to “clap along” as it plays. But how true are these words?

Because I'm Happy...Clap Along

Because I’m Happy…Clap Along

Happy, bring me down
Can’t nothing, bring me down
Love is too happy to bring me down
Can’t nothing, bring me down
I said bring me down
Can’t nothing, bring me down
Love is too happy to bring me down
Can’t nothing, bring me down
I said

Really? Nothing can bring you down? I beg to differ.

In spite of how much you clap along and pretend all is well, you don’t live very long before you discover, sometimes painfully so, there are lots of things that can bring you down…steal your happiness…end the clap along feeling you felt for a while.

Everything we feel, including the happy, clap along kind of joy, is “for a while.”

Which is what the Buddha was trying to tell us, when he spoke of “suffering.” He wasn’t just being a realist, a party pooper, a depressed, negative “rain on your parade person.” There are those kind of people around. He was simply reminding you of the nature of reality. Everything is temporal. Happiness…the kind Pharrell sings about…the only kind most of us know about…is transitory. Like the proverbial butterfly. It shows up. We feel good. And, just about as quickly, it flitters away and the search for it starts over again.

Which is why Jesus, my spiritual teacher, said also, “I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). But, for centuries now, we Christians have mistakenly thought what Jesus was saying is “I am that abundance…that life.” So, we bow down before him and pretend that what he wanted then and now is our worship, knowing that what I’m really saying is, “I am the way of happiness…just as you are…that goes beyond the shallow, temporary pleasure-making ‘Because I’m happy…clap along…’ kind of pursuit…even religious pursuit today. Just bow down to me and presto you’ll be truly happy.”

You really think that’s what Jesus wanted?


Then, why was he always pointing beyond himself? You cannot find what you want…happiness…in any person, place, or thing. That was Jesus’ real message, wasn’t it? And, the message of virtually every spiritual teacher in history. But then, if you knew that history, you would know this.

People are looking still for what cannot be found. Many will say in hopeful innocence, and sometimes blind arrogance, “I have found it!” That was even an evangelistic campaign when I was a young Christian. We ran around shouting, “I’ve found it!” and not a one of us had a clue what it was we had found.

Jesus! Happiness! You cannot find either.What you find is at best a temporary, fleeting feeling you have to prop up every so often with all kinds of religious fervor to maintain the illusion you’ve actually found something.

Well, you can continue to play this game if you’d like. But, if you’re willing to listen…and I know many of you are…I would suggest that happiness – the kind that does not come and go with worship or anything else – isn’t something tangible…it is who you are already. You actually cannot even talk about this kind of happiness, which is why I hesitate to say much here. When you experience this happiness, for example, almost all the talk about it ends. It has to end. Anything you say about it diminishes it.

What I’m saying is that happiness is a little like trying to talk about God. Once you do, you’ve just diminished the subject. The Subject.


How do you talk about that which no word, however lovely, could ever describe? It’s like trying to describe to a blind person what the pedals of a red rose look like. Or, a fall sunset. Or, the stars that blanket the heavens on a cool, clear night.

Jesus did not want people walking around bowing down before him as if they were supposed to think of him as some god or even that he thought of himself in this way. And yet, this is precisely what we’ve done to him.


Isn’t it because we all want something we think we can sink our proverbial teeth into and satisfy the inner longing…the inner illusion…that we’ve actually got it now?  We’ve found it! The emphasis being on we have found it?

This is what causes religious divisions…even the religious wars. We’re so happy about the happiness we’ve found, we’ll argue and fight about it…hell, we’ll even kill if necessary to prove to others just how much joy we’ve found…just how much truth we possess…just how right we are and wrong you are…just to prove the much happiness our version of happiness has brought to us.

If you’re thinking only radical fundamentalist Muslims are willing to kill to prove they’ve found it and we haven’t, then you don’t know much about Christian history…our violence, our bloodshed, our Inquisitions, and often in our history against the very people who today make war against us in the name of the happiness they’ve found in their religion.

Need I say more? Only to those who don’t know history. Or, are too lazy to learn it.

You miss the point of Jesus’ life if you’re still lost in the thought…in the illusory belief system that makes of him and his message some kind of god you’re supposed to lift up instead of follow after. Jesus pointed to the heavens and people have made a shrine of his finger. I’ve written about this elsewhere if you’re interested.

Then, they spend their lives worshiping the finger and secretly wondering why all this religious stuff we talk about in church really hasn’t done for them what they had hoped.

Organized Religion: Why People are Leaving the Church

Which is just another explanation for why so many are walking away from organized religion. They’ve wanted to walk away for a long time. Fear…pressure…the thought of being alone if they did…the desire to avoid judgment from others…or, maybe just because they’ve wanted to maintain the illusion that they’ve “found it” – whatever the reason, they’ve stayed.

But no longer.

Now that others are leaving, they’ve found the courage to take their happiness pursuit somewhere else.

Wherever you are, I have a message for you…a word to the wise, I hope. I can only hope. But there is a mystery here and in it is a liberating truth too mysterious for me to either understand or explain.

But I’ll try my best.

Jesus once said, “The Kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden for years in a field. One day, a trespasser stumbled upon it. He was ecstatic – who wouldn’t be? – what he found could not be taken from him…

It was more than he had ever found in his churchgoing.
It was more than he had ever discovered by believing in his religion’s beliefs.
It was more than he had ever unearthed on his own.
And, it was infinitely more than anyone else had ever been able to give to him.

So what was this “Kingdom of God?”

The Kingdom of God

Oh, the church wants you to believe it was the Church itself.

Yea, right! You want to believe that nonsense? Have at it! Go ahead and sing, “Because I’m happy…clap along” to hymn number…but then, if you’ve not found that traditional worship makes you very happy, why not try our contemporary worship service? That’ll do it for you. After all, even Jesus thought hymns sucked.

Enjoy the search.

Others will tell you the “kingdom” is where we’re going! Ah! That’s a nice illusion. Since we cannot find it here, maybe it’s there! So we build fantasy kingdoms in our illusions of the after life. We make authors into millionaires reading their fantasies of Heaven Is For Real! in hopes maybe it really is.

When you’ve finally exhausted yourself in the search for what is NOT searchable or findable, I have some good news for you. There is really no need to search. You cannot find what is not lost. Give up the fanciful looking, hoping, seeking, desiring, or worse, stop the “I’m certain we’ve found it” charade – that’s the worst sort of delusion, isn’t it?

People only shout and sing “I’ve found it” to silence the inner fear they haven’t! I’ve written about this, too, in The Enoch Factor: The Sacred Art of Knowing God.

When you’re ready to end the pursuit, in that release, a new kind of faith is born in you. Not another belief system. No, for that, you’ll have to enroll in a religious instruction class to find out what you’re supposed to believe in order to be happy. What I’m talking about is surrender instead. But not “Surrender to the Lordship of Christ!”

Amen! That’ll do it. Whatever in heaven THAT means.

Nope, I’m pretty sure that’s just another illusion of control to gain what cannot be found, to claim what cannot be contained.

I’m talking about giving it all up instead. When you have decided there is no need to search any longer…to try harder and harder still…then, and only then, you’ll find yourself doing just as the man did in the parable Jesus told: He just quickly, but quietly, “proceeded to sell everything he owned to buy that field” (Matt. 13:44-46).

If you’re still looking for this field…well, you’re still looking for the field. You’ll settle for “because I’m happy…clap along if you feel…” kind of transitory happy, which you and I both know is like sitting before a nice, satisfying meal. It taste good for now, satisfies me now…but, dammit, I know I’m gonna be hungry again tomorrow. And, again, the next day. And, so goes the never-ending madness.

I suppose you’ll just have to wait until you stumble.

But the good news is…you will stumble.

I promise.