I saw beauty and magnificence today, with a side of inspiration. As I walked through my neighborhood, I smelled grass, trees, and flowers. I felt peace, gratitude, and, most significantly, awe. I got an energy infusion from the warm spring sun and air. I heard children laughing and windchimes playing harmonies across backyard fences. I felt God’s presence and my own. My mind slowed long enough for the rest of me to catch up.
During my walk, the usual static was replaced with the quiet certainty of knowing I was exactly where I was supposed to be, doing what I was supposed to do. I was happy without trying to be happy. I felt joy without praying to be joyful or undertaking a self-improvement checklist that promised joy upon completion.
We strive to be rational. We plan our futures. We plan to be happy tomorrow. But, happiness is only possible in what Richard Rohr calls The Naked Now. Buddhists call it the present moment and mindfulness.
We spend so much time trying to get God to love us! But, if we show up for ourselves just for this moment, we can forget trying to be perfect, productive, and accomplished long enough to let God love us and really feel it. That’s a game changer!
Miss me? I fell into the abyss. Hate it when that happens. I started out creating something amazing! But somehow I ended up in . . . . commerce
An artist’s life can be marked in distinct periods of BC and AD (Before Commerce and After Development). In the middle is purgatory.
This is much the same life cycle of an entrepreneur as they create a product, company, or app and then engage in the process of attempting to fund it and bring it to the marketplace.
Creation and commerce couldn’t be more different, and yet, one can deceptively and suddenly become the other. It starts with a crazy dream, becomes real and tangible, and then can become an existential crisis.
At the heart of me, I love to create beauty and move people in some way. That’s what drives me in whatever setting I’m in—contributing something that wasn’t there before. It’s where I find the happiest, fullest, truest version of myself. It’s where I am surest of who I am and that God is here with me. This is because at this phase my ego has disappeared, and I am merged with the thing I am creating. The soul is 100% naked and beautiful.
But, the biggest trick of the ego is to make us think it isn’t there, and that’s when things get capsized.
For example, I just finished my Dream Creation. All of us have one of those in us, I think. I couldn’t leave this earth without doing a collection of the best of my poetry, and the creation of this baby was sheer ecstasy, like nothing else. This, to me is the essence of creating– total freedom to take it wherever the spirit leads me, all while linked to my Creator.
But, after I finished creating this gorgeous, vibrant, personally transformative baby, I entered the production zone. I stopped feeling and doing, and started trying and forcing solutions, timeframes, and deadlines. I necessarily engaged others’ help to assist me into turning it into a beautiful package for others to consume and hopefully enjoy. This is exactly when ego took over and I found myself on the sadistic hamster wheel of others’ choices, others’ deadlines, others’ priorities and schedules—all completely necessary. But the second it became a product, God’s timing went out the window, as I tried to manage and exceed other’s expectations and even my own. When ego entered, so did the idea of competition, which I’d never even considered, and then fear. What if I’m not enough? What if my baby is really ugly, and I just don’t know it?
Coincidentally, I felt progressively tired, overwhelmed, irritated, angry and hopeless, equally in turns. Because commerce is completely outwardly driven, it’s about everyone else and whether they like you or are even paying attention. Paradoxically, my ego had stepped in trying to manage everything and excel, but the rest of me shrunk.
What happened? I had let the spirit ebb out of the work– the very essence and soul of it, in my hurry to for it to be born.
I now realize process is a metaphor that should stay on the assembly line. Creativity isn’t a process used in a factory: it’s a birth.
To be mired in process and mechanics forces the ego to take over and manage, like it’s an assembly line. Ego will always be tied to fear, and fear will always block God. But when I focus on fear I’m focusing on limitations: anathema to the creative spirit, which wants to run like a herd of mustangs.
The answer, at least for me, is to approach the commerce side of the equation with the same creative spirit of adventure I approach the creative phase, and to only allow limitations when it applies to time spent in commerce.
I can’t control who sees my art, who likes it, who buys it. I can reach people; if I do the best I can, while respecting that this new commercial landscape is the Wild, Wild West. I have to do my part, but not all of it is up to me. My creator is bigger than the Wild, Wild West, and he can change the topography as needed.
Maybe that’s why I miss Prince so much. He could deliver a production but he was never a product; he wouldn’t stand for it. His identity was his art, take him or leave him. He never submitted to the process.
I can’t ignore commerce, or it will ignore me. But maybe I can try to keep it in its rightful place, and limit the amount of time I spend in and on it so it doesn’t creep into my creative space, like the blob, crowding out creation itself, and the joy that goes with it.
Do you ever wonder why you can be so peaceful on vacation but can’t keep that feeling when you get home? Is there a way to take your vacation ” to go?”
Once immersed in the warm ocean water of Florida and sinking my feet in the brilliant white sand, decades of Epic Fail meditation training suddenly kicked in. My mind slowed down and blanked until all I was aware of was my immediate place in the cosmos: spinning on this planet, swimming in jade water and walking on a tiny silken thread of beach.
Is there something I can drag from this experience to my daily quest for and practice of peace? There are 3 elements of every successful vacation that are, in fact portable that we can click and drag with us when we are ” back on the chain gang”.
Doesn’t the view at right make one’s concerns not only seem small, but ridiculous? The problems are still there: what happened?
We focused on something beautiful, instead of something scary or vexing. We also focused on something happening right now, something right in front of our eyes; not a phantom or something we created in the future with our minds.
… And what else happens after a great vacation? We can’t wait to get home. Why is this? Because we remember what we treasure most, and with renewed focus, we return home with new zeal. We can do this without a plane ticket because distance isn’t a physical destination.
2) We step into our proper role. Our thoughts and emotions are like the storms portrayed in these pictures. If we watch them objectively, they simply peter out on their own.
While on vacation, I was able to view these magnificent storms from the proper perspective: that of spectator.
There was nothing about this storm to threaten anything I have or am: it was simply a wonderful and transient piece of performance art, to be watched and enjoyed. This storm brought every person on the island to his or her balcony at the same exact time to revel in what was going on. It wasn’t menacing, It was spectacular!
In a matter of minutes, it was gone.
This is how our crises are most of the time. If we drill right down to it, 8 times out of 10, what we are driving ourselves mad about is something our thoughts have created: there is danger to our precious concept of ourselves: our wealth, our power, our beauty, our youth, our creativity, our freedom: all of which are mental constructs!
Who we are has nothing to do with these things. Life is not the sum total of our challenges, neither are we. Life is an adventure and a teacher, not a sentence to be endured.
We cling to these fears because we think they are part of who we are, but they are just a storm of the mind and the heart.
3) Limited Time Only! Who on earth would waste a perfectly wonderful vacation obsessing for even one minute about what could be going on at home? These storms and life itself only last briefly. Why contaminate one transient event with another?
In his book, the Untethered Soul, Michael Singer uses the example of someone who has always dreamed of hearing a certain piece performed by a certain orchestra live. Then it happens. Transcendental peace occurs in a few notes. The point is made to illustrate that peace isn’t a miraculous set of circumstances all coming into alignment like the planets every eon.
We can do this any time; the key is the same transcendence that occurs on vacation or when hearing this favorite piece played: we become fully engaged in experiencing what is actually happening— life itself, and all that is good in it and, sometimes without our knowing it, peace creeps in.
If we do this, then peace becomes portable… until the next time we need to press the reset button. It’s a practice, like reading the Bible or meditating, not a transitory event. Thank God!
It’s 100 percent optional whether and how often we decide to reset and begin again.
I spent the better part of Easter Weekend digging in the dirt with my kids. It was glorious! We made the spring pilgrimage to Home Depot and Lowes and bought a cart full of vibrant blooms. One child graduated college in December, and the other is a sophomore in nursing school, so it had probably been a decade since we enjoyed this family pastime. Long enough for the soil to go completely fallow, for all of our ” curb appeal” shrubs and potted plants to have gone to the Great Nursery In the Sky. We had all been so busy with our lives; we didn’t notice how dead things were. So we raked, hoed, dug and brought in healthy soil. It came back to us, as if no time had passed. We were really working our bodies hard— quite joyfully we discovered, together. It was, in its way, a very holy celebration. We were ridding ourselves of all remnants of winter, and death, and planting the seeds of spring and summer. The very act of planting the seeds and blooms was an expression of faith in the future.
We are all seed planters in some way, aren’t we?
In an interview with Meet The Press, Cardinal Timothy Dolan said, “God is The God of Spring, renewal, birth, and growth– not winter and death.” While so much is complicated, that is a theological concept easy for me to focus upon.
So often, we don’t know what our next step should be. There is so much that is difficult, trying and confusing. But, we can help keep it simple.
All we can do is the next task that seems to present itself to our attention, having faith that it is, indeed, where we are supposed to be and what we are supposed to be doing.
Dig, plant, water, and grow. It’s your time to bloom! Winter is over!
The truth of any teaching can never be found in the words. Rather, the truth is found in that which is revealed inside our own selves. By exploring in this way, we make the teachings our own. And by making a teaching our own… we come to awaken to a view of life that is whole and unified…and addresses the deepest yearning and longing of the human heart.
I so want to consider myself a mystic. I’m always looking for that next burning bush, while ignoring that my left foot is on fire. Can’t see the tree, for looking at the forest. I want to have a positive impact on the world. But, the true point of impact is the fundamentals, not the polished product. I have learned this again and again and yet, the lesson is far from over. When I am trying to accomplish a lot, I focus so intently on the finished work that I literally lose myself, and lose these critical benefits in the process:
DIRECTION AND PERSPECTIVE
I can’t accomplish big things, if I can’t even accomplish little things consistently. I must remove all the fluff, drilling down to the most basic level first, before doing anything else.
If I don’t put my spiritual life first, my entire perception of everything and everyone becomes skewed.
I am a person of words, but words can and often do lie. In his wonderful book, Falling Into Grace, Adyashanti posits that the reason for human suffering is that we believe our own thoughts.
My thoughts are just a story I tell myself. If I don’t make my time with God my top priority, I start to live in the story, instead of the truth. I have a story about everything: the past, the future, and my motivations for doing what I am doing. I even tell myself a story about my spiritual time:
“ It’s something I have to do, or God will be mad at me.”
“ I need to master the art of prayer and read scriptures or books about prayer.” Well, that’s just the enemy telling me another story.
It is best to start my day with God, before things get too far afield. Otherwise, I will take off in the wrong direction going 200 miles an hour until l hit the wall and finally collapse. My time with God can be 30 minutes or 3 minutes— it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t have to be fluffy or perfect. My prayer and meditation time is where I find the fount of truth, which becomes, freedom, insight, purpose, direction, energy and inspiration. It starts out being like spiritual broccoli, how I get my antioxidants. But, soon it becomes the most pleasurable part of my day, because it leads me to:
AWAKENING. I get out of my head and my stories, and focus on what is true, and what is happening right in front of my face or even in my own beating heart right now. There is no truth, or happiness or peace or love living in my head. It is happening in this very moment. I even tell myself stories about the truth, wanting it to be bigger, something I can’t miss, like a neon sign. It isn’t.
It is amazing how often the truth for which I search is hiding in my own body. I drive and drive myself, ignoring the evidence. Am I sleeping and eating well, in other words, treating myself like I matter? If not, why? What am I feeling? Is fear or resentment from the past driving me? What is my true motivation for the present course I am charting? Have I been feeling sick or tired for a long time? What is the story I’m telling myself about this? Is it even true? The evidence is not just physical: it is spiritual. Something is off. My life is skewed and out of balance and the cure is not driving myself harder, but drilling down to the Paleo: finding the truth in each and every moment. It is far from easy; it is peeling an enormous onion, but it is the seed from which everything else grows.
I’m bearing witness to how I can trick myself out of miracles by imposing rules or limits on my Higher Power to appear “appropriate “or holy, not being flippant or disrespectful. If I have free will, doesn’t God? Won’t he show up where and when it suits him best?
I spent years in an Old Testament box awaiting punishment, because Iput God in a box, and refused to believe he was big or limber enough to find me outside of that box. I wanted everything about my faith and my relationship to God to be intellectual and complicated. If it is important, it should be complicated and difficult, right?
If there is one thing on which those of us who believe in a Higher Power can agree it is this: whatever we choose to call this divine being, it is omnipotent, infinite, omniscient, and omnipresent. For grammatical simplicity, I choose to use the pronoun, “he”.
His holy presence is everywhere and cannot be labeled or limited in any way. A host of amazing things follow from this:
Miracles are possible anywhere, anytime.
Sanctuary is too, because it isn’t a building. It is the presence of grace.
Spiritual community can happen anywhere, because true community is about joy and the freedom from fear and shame.
I used to think that thinking was the highest function of humanity. Now I know that loving is our supreme function, because it can transform both those who receive it and those who give it.
Through love, my faith has become about freedom, not labels and limits. Through the eyes of freedom, life becomes a simple adventure: I ask for help, blessings, and even miracles, and then just let them fall on me like summer rain. They happen when and how God wants them too. They don’t and can’t look the way I forecast them in my head, because my imagination is too small.
Lift up your eyes all around, and see;
they all gather together, they come to you…
Then you shall see and be radiant;
your heart shall thrill and exult,
because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you.
So, why wouldn’t I be able to find my God at the Jewish Community Center, regardless of whether or not I am Jewish? There is such warm and loving acceptance of individual beauty there, such a beautiful spiritual atmosphere that is spacious and has room for me; I am immediately receptive to divine guidance, love and presence.
I swim laps outside, and, more often than not this winter, I have literally been swimming through clouds. Tell me, that isn’t 3 steps from Heaven! The warm water carries me and I don’t have to struggle or fight or try. It’s literally a communion between nature, spirit and body. That sounds like sanctuary and spiritual community to me.
Don’t I believe that God loves me enough to reveal himself to me in a way that I can see and understand? You bet I do! I’m not going to cheat myself out of another miracle.
God speaks to me in metaphors because it is the only thing I understand. Every year, I go to a retreat at Laity Lodge to get closer to the Creator and his creations and foster the creative process in myself. Usually, I am presented with a lesson or several on the last day. I offer this, for what it may be worth to you.
I had been feeling severely depleted and removed from my Higher Power due to some serious and ongoing personal crises, aka life. I just wanted to hunker down somewhere and hide and try to find my center again.
I found a cool spot on the footbridge facing some waterfalls and situated myself where no one could see me. I tried to get still and quiet, but the beauty of it all was too much. I tried to catch the 4 big waterfalls with my iPad camera from every angle, but they didn’t show up. I got up and changed position, but it didn’t work. I resorted to my phone, because it had a zoom, and I figured I could capture the beauty and crop it after the fact.
Finally, I gave up and sat back down. I resumed staring at the falls. As soon as I did, a 5th big waterfall came into view. I don’t know how I missed it, but I did. This sent me into a new tailspin. I began to try to capture the 5th fall with my cameras; it was the biggest one! This effort to capture a moment was even more fruitless and frustrating than the last.
Slowly, I realized the sound of tumbling water was coming from more than 5 places. My eye was drawn, each in turn; to 3 other small falls spewing from the rocks.
The lesson just kept coming. I tried to capture these new, hidden sources of flow with my camera, but they didn’t materialize either.
I looked around again at my surroundings, paying attention and noticing two additional falls staring me in the face. This was getting ridiculous!
All of these sources had been there all along, biding their time. Not waiting to be revealed, but waiting to be noticed.
I ‘m always trying to capture the infinite and reduce it to a sound bite. But, then it disappears. This is complete insanity on my part, but we all have those moments of craziness, when what we are trying to accomplish for ourselves, for others, or even for God completely takes over our thoughts and makes us completely lose perspective. What is required at this moment of lunacy is to sit there and do nothing, reconnecting with our Source of infinite peace, intelligence, wisdom, love.
The Infinite Source is magnificent, but not necessarily glamorous. It is like the support girders that keep our national highways humming without falling down. We are supposed to keep driving: not stop and take pictures of them as we make our way down the road. Imagine what would happen if we did! Well, that is exactly what does happen in each individual instance of mini-crazy. We go off- course and can stay there until we can stop long enough to check our direction. I can veer dramatically off course before my feet even hit the floor in the morning.
Perhaps, for me personally, the best thing I can do every morning before I bounce out of bed is to simply ask ” God, what are you going to show me today? What’s my lesson? Please help me to see it and receive it.
This is when being a storyteller can be a less than good thing, because I’m so excited about relating the miracle, the blessing or the lesson, that I don’t give it time to sink in. Hopefully, next time I’ll just sit there for a while and take it all in.
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.
What else would I talk about this week, but love? As the quote would indicate, love is a practice, not a gooey feeling. But, what kind of love are we practicing? What is excellence in love?
Love can be a super- power, because it can erase fear, and not much else can.
Love can be freedom, because it can create an expansion in our spirit and open us to a whole new perspective on the world and a host of unexplored possibilities.
Love and intelligence combined can result in wisdom.
But love without detachment, can be quicksand for the giver and the recipient. Love that is not detached from judgment is entirely conditional, and can make the giver a puppeteer and the recipient resentful. Love not detached from the fact that we are not anyone’s saviors can ruin our health, take us off of our own path and ultimately take our loved one off of theirs. We can’t save anyone from all pain or consequences, even our children. Any and all efforts to do so only result in the erasure of us.
Love with detachment, gives us the ability to be compassionate and forgive. It allows us to love from the appropriate distance, so we don’t get stepped on for putting ourselves between someone else and their destiny.
Love is an attitude, an intention practiced daily, or even more often, to see others as a gift, a blessing, and a lesson for who they are right now at this instant.
I like to live life in the cracks, because that’s where the light comes in.
On this day in 2015, do we have more or less freedom to speak than 10 years ago, or even 2 years ago? This Monday was Martin Luther King Day. Dr. King was a living example of the power of speech, particularly, the power and the right to use speech to protest injustices and inequality.
I can’t help but wonder if there is still freedom of speech when the thing spoken about happens to be religion. Do we still have the right to speak in protest of religious inequality or other practices? With Charlie Hedbo, we saw the dangers of freedom of speech about someone else’s religious beliefs. But, what about Christianity? Right here, today in America, a land that ridicules theocracies, do Christians really have free speech? Are Christians really allowed to speak honestly or even critically about their own religion without losing the moniker of “devout” or “faithful?”
The most common observation my non-Christian friends make about we Christians is that we don’t seem to practice tolerance or grace to each other or even like each other very much. Case in point: the YouTube uproar resulting from a Victoria Osteen sermon. A video clip from a sermon preached by Victoria Osteen seemingly saying, “ come to church for you and your own happiness” was played with a predictably vehement series of responses. She was called a heretic. I’m not surprised that some people vehemently disagreed with her. I even disagreed with some of what she was saying. But, what really caused me concern as a Christian was the vitriolic claims of heresy not because of what she said, but because she was a woman saying it. One YouTube commentator said she was a heretic because the Bible does not allow women to speak with authority over men. So, she was a heretic because she was a woman speaking in a church?
Another case in point: Rob Bell. The Huffington Post recently ran a great article recounting what happened to him as a result of writing the best-selling book, Love Wins. It recounted how Mr. Bell fell from grace, lost his flock and had to completely re-invent himself after publishing the book. Fellow Christians labeled him a heretic. Heretic? Apparently, Christian commentators did not know what to label him; was he a Christian Universalist or something else? I’m wondering why that is important in a theology that stresses grace?
These two events happened before the cyber- attack pending the release of The Interview, and the subsequent attack on Charlie Hebdo. Where at first, I was concerned, now my blood is running cold.
I have a question or two. Do wefind wonder, authenticity, or miracles in rigid dogma? I haven’t. I haven’t found compassion or tolerance resting there either. What about grace, the hallmark of Christianity? Doesn’t grace only occur when we fall short of the absolute rules and someone loves us, anyway? I have been unsuccessfully trying to be as perfect as Jesus all these years, and found these spiritual prizes in the cracks between the dicta, the dogma, the all or nothing commands.
When we decry any work or statement we don’t’ agree with as heresy, aren’t we limiting our own ability to speak out in the future?
Owe no one anything except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. Romans 13:8