Your Best Life Now

Your Best Life Now

What More Must God Do to Get Your Attention?

posted by smcswain

PresenceI love these words of Mark Nepo in The Book of Awakening:

“God starts in everything unseeable,

but comes to us plainly in the things of this world.”

And then, he offers this prayer:

“Close your eyes and pray for the one thing you need.

Breathe deeply until the prayer loses its words.

Open your eyes and enter your day listening to the things around you,

for they carry what you need.”

What more could I say?

Maybe just this: The Divine Presence will appear to you today in and through everything. Look. Listen. Everything you need is in the one thing you hear, the one person you meet, the one word you read…

Beginning with these.

Want to Be Free to Be You? Here’s how…

posted by smcswain

Lazy SusanOver the years, I have learned to keep some of myself hidden from others. Do you ever do this?

I’ve been like a “Lazy Susan,” as Mark Nepo describes it, “offering only what others wanted or needed or felt most comfortable with.” (The Book of Awakening, Sept. 17).

Here’s how Nepo puts it:

“What I didn’t realize was that more and more of who I truly am was being hidden, and that showing only the part of me that others found acceptable was not being true to my self.  Over time, I became a spy with my deepest feelings and beliefs. The cost eventually was a subtle, but ever-present spiritual suffocation.”

“Darn, that’s me on the Lazy Susan,” I thought as I read those words. “No wonder I can’t breathe.”

For years, I have duped myself into actually believing that I was hiding me for your sake. That it was for you that I revealed only part of me.

I caught myself doing that just the other day, for example.  I was meeting with a potential client. Because I am good at sizing people up rather quickly – the consequence of years of working with all kinds of people in all kinds of circumstances – I realized that I was speaking with a fundamentalist Christian, one who held deeply religious but, too often, unexamined views of all things spiritual. Views that I, too, tried to hold myself.

As he talked, I was talking to myself: “Be careful what you say. Better hope he doesn’t visit your website, or Google your name, or find all those things you’ve written for the Huffington Post. If he knows you’re “the voice of the spiritual but not religious,” he’ll label you a liberal…a church hater…unChristian…even an heretic.”

I reached up and felt for my unity pendants.

He was still talking.

I was politely listening, nodding where appropriate.

I felt the unity pendants. They were safely hidden from his sight underneath my shirt.

“Whew!” I thought. “If he saw those, he’d really be offended.”

You see? I’m the perfect Lazy Susan, am I not? I can spin myself around and be for you just what you need. I have learned to keep my opinions to myself and, for the longest time, I’ve convinced myself that what I was doing was being more Christian…more benevolent…the more enlightened thing…that, by keeping me from you, I was protecting you from me.

You want to know the real truth, however?

I hid myself from you to protect me.

I have lived with such a heavy fear of rejection…so an overwhelming anxiety that, if I wasn’t careful about how much of me I let you see, I might lose your business. That if I let you see me, you might reject me…judge me…talk about me to others…ruin me.

So I am the perfect Lazy Susan.

Some of you reading this are, too. Which explains why you’re still reading this.

I’ve grown weary of this game. Tired of playing hide-n-seek. Sick of telling myself that I am the benevolent one and that, by spinning around on a spindle top, I am serving you and your needs. Meanwhile, my soul is suffocating.

The real truth is, my spinning — your spinning — is the consequence of fear, the precise opposite of faith, too. I hide — you hide — not because I want to save others, but I do so to save myself. Not because I want to avoid offending another but because I’m scared shitless of being judged by you, rejected by you. Something goes off in my head and warns me, “Better hope this person doesn’t know who you really are, or never finds out, or they won’t like you!”

I am hardly as enlightened as I’d like to think I am.

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been around Christians and I’ve made sure my unity pendants were tucked under my shirt, out of sight.

I hate myself for hiding.

I am more Christian today than ever. But I am also more non-Christian than ever, whenever being Christian is reduced to a label, as it still is today by far too many Christians. I am also a Buddhist, a Muslim, a Hindu, a Jew, and at one-and-the-same-time, I am none of these things, too. When is “I am” enough?

“I love all religions,” said Mother Teresa, “but I’m IN LOVE with my own.”

There is wisdom in that distinction. Which is why I’ve adopted Mother Teresa’s motto as my mantra.

Why can’t the judging stop?

Maybe it’s because everyone is spinning. We’re all hiding ourselves from ourselves.

How may you be you without being the Lazy Susan to everyone else?

1. Raise your awareness level. Know whenever you are about to step up and onto the Lazy Susan.

2. Do not judge yourself.

3. Just stop the madness and step down.

4. Breathe.

5. Exhale

6. Now, breathe again. This time deeper.

7. Release your fears.

8. Feel trust replacing the fear.

9. Relax, my friend…

10. You are standing inside your real self.

You have just taken one of life’s most important steps…

The step into yourself. Your authentic self.

Which explains why you can breathe.

Finally.

Your Best Life Now!

What about Heaven or Hell?

posted by smcswain

Heaven-or-HellI was re-reading this morning Richard Rohr’s book Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of LifeHaven’t read it? I suggest you do.

On Heaven?

Here are some of his words…

“When you do not know who you are, you push all enlightenment off into a possible future reward and punishment system, within which hardly anyone wins.  Only the True Self knows that heaven is now and that its loss is hell–now. The false self makes religion into the old ‘evacuation plan for the next world,’ as my friend Brian McLaren puts it.

“If you go to heaven alone, wrapped in your private worthiness, it is by definition not heaven. If your notion of heaven is based on exclusion of anybody else, then it is by definition not heaven. The more you exclude, the more hellish and longly your existence always is. How could anyone enjoy the ‘perfect happiness’ of any heaven if she knew her loved ones were not there, or were being tortured for all eternity? It would be impossible. Remember our Christian prayer, ‘on earth as it is in heaven?’ As now, so then; as here, so there.

“If you accept a punitive notion of God, who punishes or even eternally tortures those who do not love him, then you have an absurd universe where most people on this earth end up being more loving than God. God excludes no one from union, but must allow us to exclude ourselves in order for us to maintain our freedom. Our word for that exclusion is hell, and it must be maintained as a logical possibility.

“Jesus touched and healed anybody who desired it and asked for it, and there were no other prerequisites for his healing. Check it out for yourself.  Why would Jesus’ love be so unconditional while he was in this world, and suddenly become totally conditional after death? Is it the same Jesus? Or does Jesus change his policy after his resurrection? The belief in heaven and hell is meant to maintain freedom on all sides, with God being the most free of all, to forgive and include, to heal and to bless even God’s seeming ‘enemies’.” (Fr. Richard Rohr, pp. 102ff)

“Even Pope John Paul II said that heaven and hell were primarily

eternal states of consciousness

more than geographical places of later reward and punishment”

– (Pope John Paul II, June 28, 1999) – p. 104

        I’m at a place in my journey where I’m coming to believe that learning to live most deeply in this present moment is not only the greatest challenge facing human maturation but also the grandest place to experience heaven. The more grounded I am in the present, the more aware I am of the Ground of all Being, as Paul Tillich put it.

If this is not what heaven really is, what is it?  If the opposite is not what hell really is, what is it?

Live in the eternal now. Observe the increasing dis-interest you have in either the past or the future…

And, the joy and inclusiveness you experience in this present moment. This is…

Your Best Life…NOW!

Your Natural Habitat…the Chamber of Stillness

posted by smcswain

Chamber of StillnessI was reminded today that the ocean is a natural habitat for a fish. Just as air is to a bird and the earth is to a tree.

“But what about you and me?” I wondered. “Is there a natural habitat for us? And, if there is, what is it?”

I made that thought the source of my morning meditation. Half way through morning prayers, I found myself right in the the middle of our natural habitat.

Coincidentally, my prayers are no longer comprised of a lot of chatter. They used to be, as they still are for most praying people. Prayer was my infrequent recitation of needs, wants, wishes, and, on occasion, even demands. I’d use “In Jesus Name” the way a misguided parent demands obedience from a disobedient child. “I said ‘Eat your green beans’ or else!” “In Jesus’ name, I command…” Well, you’ve heard the rhetoric before.

If you do not know what I’m talking about, however, it’s probably because you haven’t watched much TBN or CBN produced “Christian” television. That sounds like I do, but I don’t, except when I want to look in on what madness is being perpetrated by “Christians” and to “Christians.” I put the word Christian in quotes because you could easily argue that those “Christian” networks or anything but. It is there you will observe the frequent use and, more accurately, the misuse of Jesus’ name as a means of placing demands on God and often disguised as putting Satan in his place. “In Jesus’ name, I command you evil spirit, come out!”

Medieval madness lingers in the modern world no matter how intelligent we think humans have become.

For me, prayer is becoming more and more what I think Jesus intended prayer to be – the stepping into the “closet” as he called it (Matt. 6:6-14).

“And, when you prayer, go into your closet” (Matt.6:6)

Why a closet?

Closet is a metaphor for what you might think of as your inner chamber…your inner world which may be a microcosm of space beyond, equally as endless, equally as empty.

The inner closet is a chamber of stillness…a world of silence…a room filled with immortal contentment, what the writer of Hebrews called “the Sabbath rest” (Hebrews 4).

It is your natural habitat, too.

That’s what occurred to me from inside this place…this morning. Joyous beyond description. Few words spoken there. Words were not needed.  Why would they be? When you and the Eternal Stillness share a oneness that is inseparable, the Presence is there with you. The Presence IS you. In oneness with the Eternal…with yourself. Who would you be speaking to, if you spoke? To ask something of this Other would be tantamount to asking something of yourself. It’s a oneness thing, my friend. When it happens to you, you’ll understand.

Once you experience this oneness just once, you’ll return to this place once more. And, once again. And, then again and again.

It becomes as important to you as sleep is to the body by night…as breakfast is to the body by day.

This place will take precedence over all other places and priorities.

How could it not?

Inside this chamber of stillness…this place of Oneness…you become whole. You become you. More you than you’ve ever been before.

Why is this? Because it is your natural habitat. A place of complete trust…where faith is more than what you believe and what we believe and who’s right and who’s wrong and all that madness that religion becomes far too often. When you enter into this inner world of complete stillness…the Emptiness that is God…the Nothingness that is Everything…all fear…all separation…all distinctions disappear. What you’re wearing is no longer important. What others think of you, even less.  There is no worrying over the stuff that occupies your mind almost all the time. Here, there the feeling of lack leaves. There is only abundance alone, provisions from the hand of that One who cares of the birds of the air, the flowers of the field (Matt. 6). Here, it’s an endless wheat field blowing carefree in the wind. Presence envelopes you. Contentment abounds, too. All grasping, clinging, holding on for fear of losing something you could never hold anyway…well, my friend, that disappears, too. This is that place of perfect “peace that passes all understanding,” as Saint Paul put it (Phil 4:7).

Do not try to understand this mysterious chamber. There is nothing to understand. But everything to enjoy.

“If this inner world is our natural habitat” you ask, “then why is it so darn hard to meditate?”

Everything worthwhile betrays the “instant everything” culture of the west. You cannot microwave your way into a meditative life, my friend. The contemplative life takes a lifetime of con…tem…pla…tion.  It’s just that simple. Just that hard, too.

I’m not saying God is hard to find. Not at all. It’s just that the stuff inside you and me creates an illusion of separation that takes nearly a lifetime to sweep from the chamber floor.

If you want the benefits of your natural habitat, here are four things that might help.

1. Go to the chamber of stillness daily.

2. Better to go there twice daily, once in the morning and once in the evening. Benedictine monks call this twice journey, “morning prayers” and “evening prayers.”

3. Twenty minutes each time you visit.  “But I am too busy,” you object, “to spend twenty minutes in prayer and meditation!”

In that case, spend one hour in the morning; one hour in the evening. The busier you are…the noisier your mind, the longer it’ll take you. This universe of stillness…of peace…of contentment is only for the serious-minded.

4. In order to get inside the chamber, practice quieting your mind.

Ah, that will be the most difficult part for most of you.

All your life you’ve been taught to think…to reason…to solve problems…to map equations…to judge. Which explains why in our culture we know how to think. Hardly anyone, however, knows how to stop thinking. What Eckhart Tolle describes as “the incessant stream of thinking.”

To halt the stream takes practice. It will be hard at first. It may remain difficult for many for months, too. But, if you stay with it…slowly, but certainly, your mind will give way to the infinity of stillness. One day on your journey inward, you’ll find yourself standing at the door to the chamber. Instead of the door being closed, however, it will be wide open. Perhaps even removed from the hinges. Once open, the door to the chamber never closes again.

At first, you’ll step slowly into the chamber and, if your experience is like my first visit, it will likely last but a few seconds, and the noise will come blasting through the hallways of your mind like a toddler running into the room calling for the attention of a busy parent.

Once you’ve been there, however, even for a few fleeting seconds…just once, my friend, that’s all it takes…

Once you’ve tasted vintage wine, cheaper stuff all tastes the same;

Once you’ve been to the coast of Spain, all other beaches are just too plain.

Once you’ve stepped inside the Chamber…

You have entered into bliss…

And, nothing is ever the same.

You Are By Nature Spiritual…

posted by smcswain

sunrise

My Mind! My Worries! My Madness! Who Will Deliver Me?

posted by smcswain

Troubled_mindWorry is the conversation in your head that fear has with itself.

Really?

Maybe that’s why…

I tell myself not to worry, but I worry still.

I tell myself I do not worry; but then, that I should worry more.

I tell myself to stop talking to myself, too; but the talk in my head goes on.

Who am I talking to? I am talking to me.

So, how nuts is that?

Who just asked that question. Was it I, myself, or me?

Don’t be so smug, reader?

It’s no different with you.

And, neither of us is nuts.

Not yet.

Or, are we?

Maybe we are.

Could talking to ourselves just be an earlier stage of crazy?

Of course not, I say. Or, was that what you said?

Who said it?

I’m in my head still.

See what I mean?

I talk to myself incessantly.

What if…

Oh, stop it!

But I can’t.

Or, can I?

Can you?

Is this what Saint Paul meant when he lamented, “Oh wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me?” (Rom. 7:24-25).

I need some deliverance today.

But how?

The Buddha was once asked, “What do you and your disciples gain from stillness and meditation?”

“Nothing,” he responded.

“Then why do you do it?” asked the frustrated inquirer.

“We gain little,” explained the Buddha, “but we lose much…anxiety, worry, anger, fear of old age, even the fear of death.”

It is your spiritual practices, my friend, like meditation that enables you to lose what you don’t need – the madness of a mind that won’t stop worrying…fearing…refusing to let go and say, with Saint Paul, “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory in Jesus Christ” (Rom. 7:25).

Practice going within.

See what you lose.

The Plan or the Path…

posted by smcswain

spiritual pathFor much of my life, I have lived with a plan…

I planned when I would wake up…

I planned what I would do each and every day…

I planned how I planned to implement my plan…

I planned, too, how my implemented plan would unfold.

This is what distinguishes humans from all other animals, isn’t it? The capacity to imagine what isn’t?

So, while showering and shaving, I would plan the conversation I was planning to have that day with one of the many persons I planned to see…

I would imagine him saying this…

…and me saying that…

…him doing this…

…and me doing that.

At fifty-eight, you’d think I would know by now that none of my conversations, as well as all my plans, ever materialized the way I had planned them…imagined them.

Life is changing little by little for me, however. The older I become, the less interested I am in plans. I’m finding instead that it’s really more about the path…that life is really more about the journey, not the destination.

Of course, I still make plans. I am just not thinking about them as much anymore.

The problem in much of my religious upbringing has been the preoccupation I was taught to give to a future that isn’t instead of the present that is.

I was taught that I needed to get saved, for example, so as to avoid hell and acquire heaven.  Salvation was all about planning to avoid a scary tomorrow with its flames of fire in the company of red-colored fellows with horns and pitch forks. My religious fathers even called this plan “The Plan of Salvation.” They printed the plan in little booklets and told us we should plan on sharing the plan with those who needed a better plan than the one that awaited them.

I see now the madness in all such planning…imagining…worrying…fearing…

Such a life leads nowhere my friend, except to an exhaustion of mind. To an arrogance of spirit, which is much of religion still today, a gross spirit that presumes your plan is the only plan…your path is the only path…all other paths are no plans at all.

The longer I walk the spiritual path, the less I want, or need, a life plan. Or, any other plan.

Why would you need plans if life is really about the path?

I have discovered there really is an Unseen Guide. That I CAN trust the path to unfold just as it is supposed to unfold. That I do not have to occupy my life or preoccupy myself with lots of unnecessary planning.  That I need not attempt to control what cannot be controlled…or, plan what cannot be planned.

Sure, I know how hard it is in today’s world to survive without making plans. So, plan if you must. But give your attention to the path, too.

Start today.

Start Now.

When the Buddha was asked “What do you and your disciples do?” he responded: “We sit…we walk…we eat.”

The questioner pressed, “So, how is that so different from what the rest of us do?”

“The difference,” he answered, “is this: When we sit, we know we’re sitting; when we walk, we know w’re walking; when we eat, we know we’re eating.”

The path.

Your awareness.

My friend, this is the secret to happiness. It’s what Jesus meant when he asked, “What does it profit you to gain the whole world but lose your soul?” Or, “to make plans but miss the pathway to them?”

Give up the need for plans…for destinations.

Discover the joy in the pathway itself.

Remember…

There is no destination; there is only your journey to it.

Sabbath

posted by smcswain

CathedralA Hebrew word which, in its root form, means “to stop,” “to cease.” A strong word and every time I say it, I get this mental image of a huge, red sign with the word STOP on it.

Not a bad reminder.

So what needs to STOP in your life?

Your work? The founder of Chick-Fil-A got this much right, even if they have gotten many other things wrong. You won’t find their stores open on Sunday. I’m not arguing here for a throwback to the days of the old “blue” laws, as they were known. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, rest assured that’s not where we need to return. But returning to “rest”…well, that’s a “horse-of-a-different-color.” The day is not what’s important. It’s what the day was meant to provide you – a day of rest from work.

What needs to STOP for you?

Your worship? When I was a minister, Sunday was the hardest day of my week. What I did not realize at the time, it was equally as hard…maybe harder…for the worshipers I expected to be there. And, if they were not, I would remind them they were failing in their Christian duty. Instead of Sunday being a day of rest, it was, and still is in most churches, a carnival of madness.The actors are clowns looking to perform on a stage that draws higher ratings than the show across town. In those days, Most people came to church tired and worn out, and I suspect they still do, not only from a insane work week, but from trying to fulfill their religious duties on Sunday. They seemed sleepy and so I tried all the harder to keep them awake. It did not occur to me that they actually needed sleep more than they needed a sermon.

If I were to go back into the pastoral ministry…which of course I will not…but I think I would just leave the church house open 24/7…kind of like the Catholics used to do and a few still do…and people could drop in and out any time they wished or felt the need or the urge and, when they entered…

Instead of all the busy-ness…instead of all the crowds pushing and shoving and seeking the best seat in the house in full view of the performers on stage…

Instead of all the loud music and incessant mind-occupying, emotionally-arousing noise that goes on almost without stopping…

I think it might be nice to just walk in…smell the aroma of candles burning and residues of incense and lots and lots and lots of nothing…just pure silence…quietness…Presence…now that to me would be…

Sabbath.

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