Saturday, September 30, 2017

Who or what is your God?

At one level I think it is easy to understand that what we all are looking for is love. And yet we are confused about what love is. I was taught that there are at least 5 kinds of love: agape, charitable love; philia, brotherly love; platonic love; eros, romantic love; and storge, parental love. It seems that these distinctions, while meaningful, still hide the deeper understanding that these different kinds of love are just parts of a larger, grander, more abiding love which is the ground of our being, what some people have called the godhead. Some people, like Jesus, simply say that God is love.

A woman asked me in a pointed way one time whether I believed in God. I answered, "It depends on what God you are asking about?" She was a fundamentalist Christian whose God was very judgmental and consigning people to either heaven or hell. If this is the God she is talking about, her God, no I don't believe in it.

Some people say, "I don't believe in God," and I ask them, "What God is it that you don't believe in?"

Some people's gods are more mature than others. In considering the concept of spiritual development an indicator of the stage of spiritual development might be the kind of God the person does or doesn't believe in.

An indicator of a higher stage of spiritual development is the understanding that God is a verb not a noun. God might be thought of as "the force" which Luke Skywalker in Star Wars described.

"Becoming one with the all" gets mocked as New Age psychobabble and yet this desire of going home, joining the cosmic consciousness is a higher level stage of spiritual development.

If we considered the stages of spiritual development on a continuum from thinking of God like Santa Claus who rewards or punishes good and bad boys and girls to becoming one with the all as in each person being a drop in the ocean who is stressed by being separated from the source of its being until it can meld back into the whole from whence it came, where are you in your spiritual development?

Friday, September 29, 2017

What is it you are looking for?

It is written in A Course In Miracles in lesson 182, "This world you seem to live in is not home to you. And somewhere in your mind you know that this is true. A memory of home keeps haunting you, as if there were a place that called you to return, although you do not recognize the voice, nor what it is the voice reminds you of."

We all are on a mythic journey, a quest, to find the holy grail. And until we look within we never really find it. We make the mistake of looking out there when we should be looking within our own hearts.

Having married at 20 my wife and I moved 16 times in the first 11 years of our marriage. Half of these moves were for practical reasons and the other half I never understood, she just was restless and wanted to move because some sort of novelty attracted her. Then we stayed in one place for 12 years, and then moved 7 more times in the remaining 12 years before our divorce after 35 years of marriage. And did she ever find what she was looking for?

Thursday, September 28, 2017

We seek for innocence and nothing else

As a professional Social Worker I was taught to take the client where they're at. Further, one of the primary values of the profession is to approach and accept the client with a nonjudgmental attitude. Carl Rogers, the famous psychologist who pioneered client centered therapy, taught that one of the therapeutic ingredients in a therapeutic relationship is unconditional positive regard. In my professional life of 49 years I still work on this. It is much easier in my professional life than in my personal life because professional relationships are short lived and developed for a therapeutic purpose. In my personal life, relationships have a history and a future and I have a personal investment and stake. However, it is suggested in A Course In Miracles that I apply the same approach, attitude, and focus on my personal relationships that I do on my professional ones. I should approach all my relationships with a nonjudgmental attitude and unconditional positive regard.

Lesson 181 in A Course In Miracles reads "I trust my brothers, who are one with me." It reads further, "We seek for innocence and nothing else. We seek for it with no concern but now." " For the past is gone; the future but imagined."

It takes a spiritually mature person to rise above the drama of people's past lives (which we sometimes call baggage) and to set aside imagined future threats based on fears of hurt, and just be present in the moment focused on the divine spark which is within each person sometimes buried quite deep but there none the less.

Joe told me he couldn't get over his wife's affair, not only that she had engaged in it, but that she had kept it hidden from him for 10 years. Joe said that he just couldn't get over it, nothing would ever be the same again. She was not the person he thought she was. I pointed out that disillusionment is a powerful emotion and seems to make him angry not only at the fact that she had had the affair, and kept it secret (lied to him) all these years, but that he felt himself a fool for not knowing. I wondered with him if the most upsetting thing to him was his pride not what she had done.

We think we know and have a need to be right. To find out we are wrong is very difficult to recognize, admit, and incorporate into our sense of self without losing confidence, self esteem, and self worth. What is this pride that we feel we have lost for having been wrong and been a fool? It is a sense of shame which stems from feelings of inadequacy and defectiveness about who we are afraid we really are. Yet spiritually, we are children of God, loved and perfect in every way. Our fears stem from the drama on the ego plane not based on spiritual reality.

I suggested to Joe gently that he needed to get over himself and quit playing the victim. His wife's affair probably had nothing to do with him. Why is he taking this personally? Why is he making this all about himself? This occurred in the past and he seems afraid she could hurt him again in the future so he doesn't trust her even though this was a one night stand 10 years ago. Joe's feelings of disillusionment seem appropriate and I suggested he doesn't really know the person he is married to but he is now getting to know her better, for real,  and he must decide how he wants manage his emotions and thoughts about the relationship. I am reminded again of the ACIM lesson, "I trust my brothers, who are one with me." "We seek for innocence and nothing else. We seek for it with no concern but now." This is a very difficult lesson similar to Jesus' injunction to love our enemies.

At the end of the day, when we are dying, will all the mistakes we have made and others have made really make any difference? In the Christian prayer, the "Our Father," we pray, "forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who have trespassed against us."

Amen. And so it goes............

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

If you would have a great and abiding peace you must learn to love your enemies as well as your friends.

One of the biggest challenges on our spiritual path and spiritual development is to love all of our brothers and sisters. Jesus tells us we must love not only our friends but also our enemies. In Matthew 5:43-48 Jesus tells us, 

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[a] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

This is a very hard teaching. Our human brains are not wired this way. Our amygdala's spark the fight or flight response when we perceive a threat. To override our amygdalas and engage our pre-frontal cortex takes intention, self discipline and effort. In A Course In Miracles the following advice is given: "When you feel the holiness of your relationship is threatened by anything, stop instantly and offer the Holy Spirit you willingness, in spite of fear, to let Him exchange this instant for the holy one that you would rather have. He will not fail in this." T-18.V.6:1-2 This prayerful, mindful approach can be miraculous in lowering one's anxiety and allowing us to lean into the relationship rather than attack.

Loving our enemies requires us to look for the divine spark in people we fear and focus on that. This willingness is a sign of spiritual maturity. When we see all our brothers and sisters as parts of our shared humanity deserving of respect, compassion, and love, we experience a great and abiding peace.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Humility a most important gift.

One of the most important qualities for spiritual development is humility. Humility comes from the recognition that our lives are unmanageable and that we have to turn them over to our Higher Power whatever we conceive our Higher Power to be. All we need for spiritual growth is willingness and to give up our willfulness. Willingness and willfulness sound alike, look alike, and yet are diametrically opposed. Willingness is to turn our life over to God and then get out of the way.

Some people don't feel worthy to allow God to come into their lives. Their sense of unworthiness makes them think that they have to purify themselves, atone for their sins, clear their desires and motivations, and yet this way of thinking denies God's power in their lives. We just need to turn our will over to God's will for us. That's all. If we try to do more, it is coming from our arrogance and desire to control.

Letting go requires trust and faith. Jesus complained all the time, "Oh you of little faith! If you only knew how much your father in heaven loves you."

When we are making choices with existential import, we can ask ourselves, "What would Love have me do?" and then allow things to take that direction.

Friday, September 22, 2017

The way out of this veil of tears is forgiveness

Carl was so full of shame for what he had done in his past that he thought he was unlovable. "What should I do?" he pleaded not so much to me but to life in general. He seemed inconsolable. My providing a shoulder to cry on seemed to make him feel better because he calmed down as he expressed his anguish. What does one do when one feels lost, when what has happened seems unrepairable, when the harm is so great nothing, it seems, can ever make things right again?

T.V. Smith gave a lecture back in  1955 at the Social Welfare Forum conference called, "Solve, resolve, absolve." He pointed out that some problems are solvable, some are resolvable, and some there is no solution for or any resolution for, only absolution. And how is absolution obtained? Confession and forgiveness. The balm for our souls is forgiveness and from whence does forgiveness come? Forgiveness
comes from a change in our minds, a change from the ego plane to the spiritual plane. Forgiveness comes from the recognition, acknowledgement, and awareness that the drama on the ego plane has no effect on the spiritual well being of God and God's creations. This insight, this joining with the Love of God, disregards the drama of the ego plane and rises above it.

Our anguish often brings us to the point of break through where we realize that our lives our unmanageable and we have to surrender to our Higher Power whatever we conceive our Higher Power to be. We move from darkness to light and we are filled with the hope that not only is salvation is possible but it is here right now and we can know it when we clear away the blocks and obstacles to our awareness of Love's presence which has never left us. We just got too caught up in our own ego drama to become aware of it. We realize we have been dreaming a really bad dream and we need to have awoken to a new reality which is God's love for us and our love for each other.

Carl, in his desperation, finally admitted that all the judgmentalism he had been taught about himself and other people was not true. He, with great sadness, said that the game he had been taught to play in his church where he was told he was a sinner and going to hell unless he did this or that or the other thing not only wasn't true but nothing that Jesus actually taught. Jesus, rather, told us that His Father in heaven loves us abundantly, that is unconditionally. Jesus, taught, in so many words, that there is no drama in heaven. Heaven is a place of love wherein, as Jesus said, "love as I have loved." And so Carl had a growing sense of peace. Maybe the things he had been taught and thought were not true. Carl said to me, "I think I am losing my faith." I said, "It sounds like you are and you are sensing everlasting life."

Here is what T.V. Smith said in his lecture about absolution:

"How, therefore, to absolve oneself from this excessive sense of guilt? I do not say from a mere sense of guilt, that is being too romantic; but how to contain this sense of guilt within its proper compass. We have on the one side the pathway worn by centuries of religious pilgrims who have undertaken through rites and creeds to load onto shoulders stronger than theirs burdens which they could no longer carry. We have in modern times the psychoanalytic couch. Neither of these is available to all men and women in our generation who must carry the weight of the world's causation upon their own shoulders. What are we to do? Is there a philosophy of life that when one has contained it will give him a curative sense of perspectives? I do not doubt but that there is. While this is not the occasion to present the remedial philosophy of life, let me call your attention to two attitudes, either one of which can enormously lighten the load of sensitive men and women whose chronic pablum is to feed upon the woes of other men and women. In the first place, this philosophy of life of which I speak would be characterized by a very robust sense of humor; and second, this philosophy of life would be characterized by what I may call "piety," in the old Roman sense of the term; identity with the world in which one lives, with the natural world and with the social world, in such fashion that one has perspective upon the world and does not feel himself to be alone. As a matter of fact, humor and piety are much closer together than most people think. Both of them are effective ways of getting perspective in terms of which we can recover our balance when the world or its tasks prove too much for us."

To summarize T.V. Smith's suggestions:
1. You can either laugh or cry
2. Keep the faith in God's unconditional love for God's creation.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

What is your interior spiritual life like?

The question arises when people say they are spiritual but nor religious what is meant by this phrase, "spiritual but not religious?"

It seems to mean for most people that they recognize that there is a Higher Power and that they are not alone or even the most important creation in the universe. However, organized religions, churches, do not facilitate and expand this awareness in a way that the cost of membership provides resources for spiritual growth in sufficient benefits to be worth those costs.

A further question could be asked about whether this response is flippant or said in an intentional and sincere way. Assuming that it is a sincere statement, then the person saying they are spiritual and not religious might be asked to explain what (s)he means by this and how does he/she pursue his/her spiritual growth?

I, as a psychotherapist, sometimes ask my client's "What is your interior spiritual life like?" I have never had any client object to this question. The usual response is for the person to become pensive, quiet, and then attempt to formulate an articulate statement which is usually meaningful and somewhat difficult to put into words.

Luke was 17 and a senior in high school. Luke was very bright, came from a middle class family who were pillars of the community, who his parents said, "is going down the wrong road." Luke, college bound, was not abiding by his curfew, drinking and drugging, having promiscuous sex, and being disruptive in school. His parents brought him to see me when he was arrested for shop lifting.

Luke acknowledged his parents' concerns but stated they were over reacting and "boys will be boys." It was his senior year in high school and he was doing what he thought he was supposed to be doing which was "sowing my wild oats" and "having fun." Luke was willing to see me  in counseling to placate his parents and make a good impression on the legal authorities as he was dealing with his legal charges.

I had met with Luke three times and we had gotten to the bottom of his situation, and we had developed some rapport in our relationship, and at the end of our third meeting not knowing where to go next, I was prompted my an inner intuitive voice (which I call the Holy Spirit) to ask him, "Luke, what is your interior spiritual life like?" He looked at me solemnly for a change and paused. Instead of his usual glib and ironic response he said to me, "Interesting question. I'm not sure. I like nature." There was a palpable change in his demeanor and there was a deepening of the rapport I liked but didn't understand. I said to Luke, "Well that sounds good. Can we talk more about it next time?" He agreed and left as thoughtfully and at peace as I had ever experienced him.

When Luke returned for our fourth meeting he said to me, "I really liked your question. I have been thinking a lot about it." We talked further about his inner yearnings, meaning making, hopes, dreams, and aspirations. I only saw him one more time. I have learned subsequently that Luke graduated from college, went to law school, and now is a practicing attorney living for the time being with his parents.

There is a deep spiritual yearning in our society which is not being addressed adequately by our mainstream religious institutions. They are failing while the interest in Buddhism, Yoga, humanism, mindfulness, and the Perennial Philosophy is on the rise. We all have an interior spiritual life if we pay attention to it. Perhaps the two most important questions we can ask ourselves, and people we care about, are "What is your interior spiritual life like?" and "How do you nurture it?"

Monday, September 18, 2017

Love would have us do the right thing.

Dear Heather:

In some ways the spiritual life is very simple. God is not fear, but love. The idea that God is love and not fear is very simple.

Of course, you can ask, "Well, what is love?" Great question, and the answer is that love is beyond definition and yet it is our natural inheritance and whether we recognize it or not is within us all all the time. The task of the spiritual life is to remove the obstacles and blocks to our awareness of Love's presence. The other important point is that Love is not out there in the ego world, but within where we bring our will into alignment with what we believe is God's will for us.

You can ask, Heather, whether you should take this job or that, hang out with these friends or those, get married to this partner or not, and you can reflect on any choices you have to make in your life. The answer is which choice will best help you become the person that you believe God has created you become, and to do with your life what it is that God is calling you to do with it? It short, will the choice help you do God's will or distract you from it?

If God is with you, Heather, who can be against you? Spiritually, your choices can create miracles.

The challenge is to discern God's will for you. (If you don't like the word "God" substitute "Universe" or "Life.")

You told me the decision you made at one point to marry Rob made you uneasy and filled you with anxiety. When I asked what you were afraid of you told me you cared deeply for him, but the drama in his life seemed more than you wanted to handle. A life long commitment to help him with the drama and to expect help from him with yours was just not loving for either one of you. You said it took more courage than you thought you had to break up the engagement because of the disappointment that Rob and your families and friends would feel. You told me that you realized that sometimes the truth hurts and that in order to live with integrity rather than the ego a person has to be brave. Long term goodness on the spiritual plane sometimes requires short term pain on the ego plane. Love overcomes fear.

The wisdom you have manifested leaves me with the impression that you are an "old soul." I am inspired and in awe of your choices to listen to the spirit moving in you and do the right thing.