Your Best Life Now

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.

Why Am I Here? The Purpose of Your Life…

posted by smcswain
why am I here?“Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace till the last syllable of recorded time. And all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death. Out, out brief candle! Life is but a 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 idot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”– Shakespeare’s MacBeth

Is that true?

Is life…your life…my life a mere shadow? Just the strutting and fretting upon the stage of some cosmic comedy club? Is it a tale told by a bad comic? Full of noise and nonsense but nothing else? Nothing of value?

What is the point of human existence?

The purpose of your life and mine?

Those are very big questions. But, unfortunately, most people never quite seem to figure it out. It’s not that they fail to try. To the contrary, most people spend the greater part of their lives being told, and so believing, that they must figure out what it is God put them on this earth to do. And, this becomes their greatest aim.

Their greatest disappointment, too.

I was told this time and again myself.

As a consequence, I spent the greater part of my young adult life thinking I had figured it out. I was supposed to be a “preacher.” After all, I had gotten the “call,” as it was called. Consequently, during my teen years, I tried to be a preacher. I was pretty good at it, too. However, like all teenagers, I also wanted to be liked. Not too many of my peers were very interested in cruising on Friday night, drinking underage, and looking for girls with a guy who was also trying, and succeeding, to be a popular evangelist on Sunday.

I always felt like a hypocrite which, of course, I was.

But what was I to do?

I had received the “call.” Unfortunately, it came when I was but a young teen. At a time when the goal of my life was anything but the fulfillment of some grand purpose. Therefore, I lived a rather conflicted life. I wanted girls and I wanted God but, on Friday nights, I wanted more of the former.

Then, I graduated college, and, as every aspiring young preacher, I went off to seminary. For eight years, I immersed myself in the study of Hebrew and Greek and church history and Christian theology and preaching and pastoring and church administration and, as much as I loved…and still love…the study of all these varied disciplines within Christianity, I was conflicted still. The only real difference between my inner aspirations as a young minister and my desires as a teenager is that I exchanged the pursuit of cute girls for career goals.

I wanted to be the best preacher.

I wanted to be a better preacher than other preachers.

I wanted to pastor the fastest growing church (visible proof I was evangelizing and saving the world).

I wanted to earn a doctorate and so impress the theological world.

I wanted to write “bestsellers” and so impress the literary world.

Isn’t it strange when authors will promote themselves, as I have done, too, as “bestselling” authors. If you have to tell others you are, isn’t it more likely you aren’t?

When I put these ambitions of mine on paper, they all sound so insidious…as if I were some kind of manipulative maniac out to serve only my own needs.

Well, there would be some truth to that assessment. Much of my behavior was self-serving and perhaps bordered on a little insane. But I was anything but insincere. To the contrary, I was infinitely sincere.

Just misguided. As is virtually everyone else raised as I was to believe “You are your name, your career, your accomplishments, your body, your mind, and, in this instance, your calling.”

Isn’t this the kind of self-delusion in which most everyone lives?

Not until we awaken out of such delusion – which is, my friend, what salvation really means or enlightenment or whatever you want to call it – it is that moment…no, that instant when you suddenly realize “I am not here to DO anything. I’m not sent here to fulfill some glorious purpose.”

This awareness began to dawn on me when I left the ministry at age thirty-nine, just months after my father’s untimely death about which I have written extensively in The Enoch Factor.

I suddenly found myself in this huge crisis: “If I am no longer my ‘calling’ then who am I?”

It took several years but, slowly, I began to realize…

I am not some “calling.” I’m not a minister either. That isn’t why I showed up. I’m not my name or any of my accomplishments, impressive though they were. Just ask me. I am not my titles, trophies, triumphs, any more than I am any of my tragedies.

I am not the story I tell myself, or tell others, about myself. I am really not even this story I’m telling you.

That IS the delusion.

You and I do not show up on earth because some of us are to be preachers and so save the world, while others are to be doctors to cure the world and still others mechanics to keep the preachers and doctors on the road to do what they’re “called” to do.

Yes, of course, all of these are needed. But none of them could ever possibly be who you really are. Or, why you’re here.

This, and other stuff, the Buddha called “impermanent,” and Jesus described as the temporary and transient “treasures we seek and so cling to on earth” (Matt. 6). But, and this IS their point, what may seem permanent, lasting, even real IS the human illusion and so the cause of immense personal and communal suffering.

Jesus put it like this: “Lay not up treasures on earth where moth and dust doth corrupt and thieves break in and steal” (Matt. 6:19). This was his way of saying what the Buddha described with the word “detachment”…and, what a host of other spiritual teachers have been saying to every generation caught up in the madness of living which is…and always is…the madness of missing the point of human existence. The Buddha told his followers to “detach” from all things that seem permanent…or real…in favor of what Jesus described as “the treasures in heaven.”

What are the treasures of heaven?

It isn’t the “tithe” you give to the church.

It isn’t the “souls” you’ve rescued from hell by leading them to recite the “Sinner’s Prayer.”

The treasure of heaven is the gift…the awareness that nothing material is real or lasting. That what’s seen, acquired, saved in a deposit box or 401-k plan, or what is carried around in your head as the story of your life…even your “calling”…that all of this is transitory…temporary…really unreal. They represent the myriad of attachments of the “false self” – that part of you that finds its purpose, its reason for existence…its significance in all the wrong places…the illusions…the attachments…or, as Jesus put it “the treasures on earth” that will be destroyed.

To put it as simply as I know how…

My friend, you did not show up to be a pastor or a lawyer, journalist, or missionary, or a mechanic or server at Waffle House.

You are here instead to awaken out of all illusions. The illusions cause the suffering.

The illusion of separateness that puts you in competition with everyone else;

The illusion of godlessness that leaves you eternally doomed until rescued from original sin;

The illusion of “rightness” that makes you feel smug and secure in what you believe and to look down on those who hold, according to your enlightened view, inferior beliefs;

The illusion of your own importance that justifies your material opulence while others barely exist.

There are a myriad of illusions.

You think detaching from any of these is easy?

Well, you could only ever think that because you are attached still. Which is why following a spiritual path isn’t for the faint of heart.

It is a lifelong journey toward the point of human existence.

Which is to learn the art of letting go…

Of everything.

Even heaven. Why would you need it when letting go IS IT?

When you get this, my friend, you’ll understand why they ask, “What are the two most important days of your life? The day you were born and the day you figure out why.”

Until then, you and Macbeth have little more reason than to sing the same refrain…

“Life is a tale told by an idot, full of sound and fury…”

But not much else.

How Do I Love Myself?

posted by smcswain

loveJesus said, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” (Mark 12:31).

That’s just another way of saying, “You cannot give away what you do not possess.” Or, “You cannot give to another what you have not given to yourself already.”

If I cannot love my neighbor until I love myself, what then is the secret to self-love?

1.  Meditate daily on this thought: Love, self-love, is not something I acquire…Love is who I am.  Who you are.  Love is not something you become, the consequence of a life of perfection. Love IS who you are now.

For years, I would pray and pray and pray still more for the fullness of God’s Spirit…for the fruit of God’s Spirit manifested in and through my life.  When Saint Paul said, for example, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace…” (Gal. 5:22-23) and so forth, I would long for some assurance inside, some evidence outside, that I was finally getting there…finally arriving at the place of the fulness of the Spirit.

Most of the time, however, my basket of fruit came up woefully short.

Then, on day, I woke up. I realized I need not ask for that which I am. I became aware that I would NEVER become what I am already. Meditate instead on this truth: “I AM love…I AM joy…I AM peace…” NOW!

See what happens.

2. Give up trying. Practice letting go. Stop striving. When you finally get this, my friend, that trying to become your imaginary “best self”…that effort and struggle and striving to achieve your imaginary perfect and spiritual self, are all just subtle ways that the ego in you, instead of drawing you closer to the God who is in you…who IS you, the EGO instead is actually “Edging God Out,” as someone has put it. When you finally get this, you will forever let go. You will begin to live. By creating in you the feeling that you haven’t quite made it with God, however, the ego succeeds in making you feel you’ve got one foot in the door of the Kingdom, but still an outsider, too.

It’s endless insanity…to try to be the “good” Christian you believe you’re supposed to be.

Remind yourself instead, “I could NEVER become what I am already.”

Let go of all effort and you will naturally…with no striving whatsoever…begin discovering a greater love for yourself and, as a consequence, an infinite capacity to love others.

To forgive them, too.

When I hear wounded people say, “I could never forgive him for what he’s done to me” I respond, “Of course, you cannot. Not until you have forgiven yourself, first.”

The capacity another possesses to hurt you is the same capacity within you by which you often hurt yourself.

Again, you cannot give what you do not possess.

It is not, however, that you do not have enough love to give another…or, to give to yourself. It is not even that you need a greater capacity to forgive another who has wronged you.

What you and I need, my friend, is an AWARENESS and this comes magically…as an act of Divine grace…this awareness may be coming to you, even as you read this…GRACE…and that awareness is that you ARE the very capacities you feel are missing. You don’t need the fruit of the Spirit. You ARE the fruit.

If you pray and ask for anything, pray for awareness.

But then, why would you do that? You’ve just been given it.  Right here. Right now. You ARE the awareness.

Practice reminding yourself…

“I am AWARE. I am Love.  I am peace and joy.  I am forgiveness.”

Why?

Because you ARE my friend.

Already.

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