The Art of Conflict

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Question: “You brought up personal conflict with others. Do you have a solution to offer that accommodates distance and difference?”

On one occasion, a lawyer approached Jesus and, as a test, asked him to name the greatest commandment. According to Matthew, Jesus responded in this way: “And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matt. 22:37-39).

In light of our treatment of love in this series, this is a brilliant response. To love the “Lord your God” is to embrace the truth that love is drawing to you that which is for your highest good and dissolving that which is not. To “love your neighbor as yourself” is to acknowledge this same truth for others.

The Gospels depict Jesus in perpetual conflict with the religious professionals of his day. Because he threatened their ideological narrative, the lawyers of spiritual law were doing everything in their power to destroy his credibility. Jesus had enemies. It’s also pretty obvious that he held them accountable for using their scriptural skills to keep people in spiritual darkness.

The lesson here is that we do not have to like a person to love them. If you hold resentment toward another, then that resentment binds you. The answer is to release them in love. As you think of this person, you see love drawing to them that which is for their highest good and dissolving that which is not. It’s not your job to determine what needs to happen to them. Your highest good involves pulling your negative emotion out of the situation and letting love do its perfect work. The more you want to see them pay for what they did, the more of an emotional burden you heap upon yourself. They may indeed deserve all the payback you envision. The question is, do you deserve it?  Knowing that love is doing its perfect work offers a way out from beneath this stifling burden.

The Forgotten Son

Question: You often refer to the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) but you don’t say much about the elder brother who stayed at home. What about this part of the story?

In my opinion, this parable embodies the entire scope of Jesus’ teaching concerning the state of the soul. I refer most to the younger son who squandered his inheritance on riotous living in the far country because most of us can easily relate to this character. We’ve all felt alone and far from home. We know fear and we know suffering and I think we instinctively know these conditions are the result of poor choices attributed to spiritual ignorance.

The figure of the elder son does indeed have much to tell us. In the parable, we see the unwavering constant is the father and his household. If we think of this figure as the soul and its divine environment, the very different roles of the two sons comes into focus. Both sons suffered, but for completely different reasons. The younger, the prodigal, suffered deprivation and fear. The elder suffered self-righteous anger and self-pity. The younger suffered for breaking all the rules. The elder suffered because he felt unrewarded for keeping all the rules.

The father, addressing his elder son, pointed out that there is but one rule: “All that is mine is yours” (Luke 15:31). This rule is not changed because we stray. Nor does it change because we do all the right things. We do not harm or enhance the condition of the soul based on merit. Our understanding fluctuates, but the soul’s condition of completeness does not. We suffer from the false perceptions triggered by these fluctuations in understanding.

The two sons represent two kinds of attitudes. The elder son is the belief that if we walk the straight and narrow and learn all the lessons the soul needs to learn, we will be rewarded. Those who embrace the concept of reincarnation usually do so as another chance to get it right. What are we supposed to get right? To follow the rules perfectly and experience full illumination. But as Jesus has his father character point out, all that is mine is yours already. You don’t have to earn what is already yours.

Both mainstream and alternative Christianity place us in the far country. Those who embrace scriptural literalism insist Adam and Eve’s transgression put us there. We’re born in sin and we have to earn the right to get back into Heaven’s garden. The alternative approach essentially blames soul immaturity. Our return to the garden depends on lessons learned. With this parable, Jesus clearly contradicts both narratives. The prodigal did not have to earn the right to return home. He did not have to earn his father’s love and acceptance. Nor was the elder brother’s rule-abiding behavior a key factor in keeping him in his father’s good graces. This brother’s good behavior had no bearing whatsoever on the father’s unconditional love for him.

Those who teach that their way, their interpretation of the rules of salvation is the only way could learn much from both points. In one sense, our soul’s taking on a physical body has placed us in a far country. Our daily operating consciousness has shifted from a soul-based understanding of who we are to a body-based self-image that believes we are separate from God. The hardships brought on by this forgetting in no way diminish the condition of the soul. If we do not realize this while in the body, we see it the moment we drop it. The trick is to come to remember it while in the body.

I believe we never intended to forget our spiritual identity while in this physical incarnation. But with the bulk of our attention focused on the needs of the body, how could we not forget? This is a universal problem shared by all cultures throughout the ages. At its best, religion reminds us of this spiritual core we have forgotten. At its worst, religion reinforces and capitalizes on the problem of perceived separation by erecting a theological toll booth through which we must pass to regain our oneness. This is the elder son. Abide by the rules and you’ll be rewarded. Jesus, I believe, is debunking this myth.

I have forsaken the belief that we are required to return until we live a full human lifespan without losing our spiritual anchor. For me, the message of Jesus’ parable is this: Your self-righteous piety won’t earn you points that you already have. And even if you totally blow it in this life, you are still an expression of God, and all that God has is and will always be yours. 

The Yes and No of Love

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“Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil” (Matthew 5:37).

Drawing upon a wide range of sources, I have summarized characteristics of Being that I refer to as the four fundamentals of God. God is life, love, power, and intelligence. I’ve suggested that we think of these characteristics as we would think of white light that breaks down into a rainbow of colors.

God as love draws to us that which is for our highest good and dissolves that which is not. Absolute freedom from the mental and emotional chains of fear and regret is the natural condition of our soul. As we acknowledge the working of divine love in any troubling situation, we are affirming this attracting and dissolving action at all levels. We are open to it in our circumstances, our attitudes, and our feelings toward the situation.

To help with this understanding, imagine taking your concern and placing it in the hands of the wisest, most loving being you can imagine. You do this with the full assurance that your issue is being resolved in a way that works best for you and for all concerned. Imagine how freeing this is, to know your problem is being resolved at this very moment.

There is a simple practice that can help with this letting go. Set aside a container like a coffee can, a sugar bowl, a coffee mug. Give it the name of your choice with the understanding that this container is the action of love. Write out a brief description of the issue you want to resolve and place it in your container. Each time you think of this issue, remember that you have turned it over to love, that love is attracting that which is highest and best and dissolving that which needs to go.

This is a hands-on reminder of the yes and no of love in action.

Good Questions

Questions: You say that evolution is environmentally driven. Wouldn’t learning more about our spiritual nature be considered an evolution in understanding? Are you trying to say that the human race is not moving toward a more spiritually enlightened state?

Response: When we think of spiritual issues, we have to think in terms of two realms: The spiritual and the biological or material. The spiritual is the unseen, first-cause and the material is the visible vehicle that carries it. The spiritual realm is not subject to the material environment. If the spiritual is to continue to express through material form, however, then the material form must be in sync with the environment. If, due to significant environmental changes, a material form goes extinct, the spiritual realm continues unaffected and will express as a different form suited to the new environment. Scientists tell us that 99.9% of all species that have ever existed have gone extinct. Yet this energy we know as life persists as strong as ever.

When science says that life evolves, they are referring to the biological forms that life takes. This is because science is dominated by materialistic thinking. It is assumed that life is generated by the physical forms that express it. Unfortunately, many in the spiritual community have done the same thing. The state of humanity is associated with environmental values which include the state of the physical body and the current state of social conditions. At a certain level, we accept that life cannot die and the source of all peace and harmony must be found at the spiritual level. Because disease, aging, death and discord are still mingled in the human experience, we mistakenly interpret these conditions as evidence of spiritual immaturity. In defining the core and condition of man, we take our eye off the soul (the changeless) and focus on the body and social environment (the ever-changing). We place the soul in an evolutionary framework that simply does not apply.

Is the desire to learn more about our spiritual nature evidence of an evolving soul? Not necessarily. The accumulation of facts, even spiritual facts, has nothing whatsoever to do with the state of the soul. It’s the difference between looking at a beautiful photograph of a mountain and actually experiencing the mountain. One can accumulate a library of books full of mountain photography, but this is not the same as actually experiencing mountains. We can argue that an interest in collecting mountain photography is a sign that the collector is moving toward a mountain experience, but this is not necessarily true. In addition, a person who does not have even a single photograph of a mountain can have a mountain experience. Photos are not required.

In our quest for spiritual understanding, we naturally pick up books and look to teachers to guide us on our way. While these prove to be inspirational and helpful in many ways, these sources of information serve to shape our opinion of our spiritual state. Drawing inspiration from another is not the same as a direct experience of one’s own soul. Yet we’re not aware of this distinction. We actually mistake inspiration for a spiritual experience. Because of this, inspiration becomes a kind of drug that we inject first thing in the morning and hope it gets us through the day. We probably require several injections to keep us positively upbeat. The whole notion of soul evolution is tied to the belief that we must acquire so much spiritual information that we stay spiritually high forever.

As seen in this paraphrase, Jesus debunked this false notion: You say four months to harvest, but I’m telling you to lift your spiritual eyes and see the fields ready for harvest now. The “four months to harvest” is tied to the false belief of soul evolution which, in turn, is tied directly to the evolutionary process we see at work in the material domain. In this regard, the spiritual and the material realms are absolutely unrelated. The material, not the spiritual, is subject to evolution.

Is the human race evolving toward a more spiritually enlightened state? No. If anything, the human race is moving away from its true source of enlightenment. An individual does not discover his or her soul in a community of like-minded believers. The individual must go alone to actually experience the inner fountain of the soul. This is how we are designed. I have pointed out that our faculty of imagination has an intuitive side that opens directly to the soul and a visualizing side that opens to the world of externals. Collectively, we have closed the intuitive side and relied only on the visualizing side. We visualize images given to us by the get-rich-quick prophets posing as spiritual teachers (who are usually the only ones who get rich), while ignoring that gnawing question of the value of gaining the world at the expense of losing sight of the soul. As long as we follow the pied pipers of materialism — those who assure us we’ll find our missing core in the accumulation of things — we will never be free of the feeling that something essential to our being is missing.

The senses-based self-image – the mask, the personality – is a herding animal. It needs to be surrounded by a group from which it may draw its strength and identity. In contrast, the soul is self-existent, self-sustaining, drawing its strength and identity directly from the creative life force we call God. It does not matter that the bulk of humanity is engaged in an endless splashing through the shallows of popular culture (especially spiritual popular culture) chasing that eternally elusive brass ring of spiritual enlightenment.

Every individual has direct access to their fully developed soul. The soul is what we seek. Find this and all else is added.

Are We Here To Learn?

Earth is a school and we are here to learn.

Of all the arguments I’ve heard attempting to counter the notion that our soul is now complete, this is by far the most common. As a recovering soul evolutionist, I understand the argument. I believed for years that our struggles — from accidents to serious illnesses — came with a lesson we needed to learn and advance our soul’s evolutionary process.

I think most rational people agree that we can learn from our mistakes. But suppose someone blindfolds you and sends you into a field full of pits, bogs, fences, fires, spikes, and other hazardous obstacles. After experiencing a series of unpleasant encounters, they lift your blindfold and ask what you learned from all this hardship. Fire burns, spikes hurt, pits are frightening, and bogs cause tremendous struggle. Okay. So they blindfold you again and send you back into the field to apply your new understanding. Does this knowledge keep you from repeating the same, pain-inflicting mistakes? No. You will continue to repeat them until you take off the blindfold.

What is this blindfold? Simply stated, it’s the belief that some day in the future we will be more spiritually complete than we are right now. If we lift this blindfold, we walk through the field unharmed. The knowledge we gain while blindfolded has no value to those who reject the belief that spiritual fulfillment is a hope of the future.

Another consideration that raises doubts about the schoolhouse theory is the question so often posed: What about the Hitlers of the world? Are we to imagine they chose such destructive, hateful, and harmful paths because their soul’s had certain lessons to learn, and this learning required millions of victims? And what of these millions of victims, each with family, a circle of friends, dreams, interests, curiosities, a love of beautiful music, and a list of favorite foods? Did their souls require the terror, the torture, the loss of homeland, dignity, family, and freedom because they could only advance under such horrific conditions? Certainly there are stories of unbelievable heroism, perseverance, and endurance that emerge from these dark periods of the human experience. But are such horrors required so their soul they may take a further step? I think not.

We can, of course, sidestep these questions by saying we can never really know what another soul needs to advance. We can keep our schoolhouse open with a shrug of acceptance that there are simply spiritual mysteries we can never resolve. In other words, there are many ways to justify wearing the blindfold.

In examining near-death research, it would be easy to conclude that the body itself is the blindfold. Many experiencers report that, momentarily free of the body, their ability to see and hear far exceeds normal ranges of sight and sound detected by our physical senses. Likewise, we could easily surmise that the brain, as a transmitter of consciousness, imposes major restrictions on our ability to know.

It’s important to understand, however, that taking on a body does not mean we lose our intuitive ability to “live with the privilege of immeasurable mind,” as Emerson put it. It only means that we have the additional possibility of succumbing to a falsely perceived world fabricated by the senses. In such a world, the soul is reduced to a conceptualization that, like all things appearing in the realm of the senses, has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The soul is assigned a potential flowering culmination when in truth it is and has always been in full blossom.

So the blindfold is not actually the body, but a collectively agreed upon version of reality constructed from senses-based facts. The Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, pointed out that “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” The focus here is on that ever-changing river of circumstance and the endless gathering of new facts that produce universities and drive all aspects of our developing technology.

Heraclitus does not take into account that the man, wherever he is standing, can only be in one place at a time. He can only be here, never there. Intellectually, he can learn more facts and he can acquire more things, but at the soul level he can never be more than he is right now. Why? Because he can never step from this now moment. The blindfold is not an inability to know this freeing truth. The blindfold is his fixation on using this ever-changing river of material appearances as his basis for reality.

When we think of evolution, we tend to think of it as occurring over time and moving toward a goal. The fossil record provides the best support for this view. But is it true? The energy we know as life does not struggle to be something more than it is right now. Each of the many forms life takes, on the other hand, engage in perpetual adaptation to their ever-changing environment. The point we often miss is that this process completes within each moment. Evolution has no goal. If a change in the environment requires a response, the response is made. It’s like putting on a coat when you go outside because there are icicles hanging from the roof. You adapt. The purpose of every facet of the natural world is to bring itself, at full capacity, to this now moment. There never has been and never can be one moment when this purpose is not fully realized.

I am convinced that the greatest cause for misunderstanding Jesus, both in his day and ours, is that he was speaking of a kingdom of God that is presently spread over the earth but men do not see it. Then as now, they wait for the kingdom to come. The birds of the air and the lilies of the field are not waiting for a coming kingdom. They are not storing up knowledge so they may live a better life in the future. They apply their full being to the present. This is the fulfillment of Jesus’ seek first the kingdom and all else will be added. Come into the conscious awareness of your spiritual wholeness and live your success within each moment of the day.

There is but one lesson to learn: Your soul and its spiritual environment is now complete. Quietly dwell in this understanding and carry it through your day. Jesus did not suggest that the lessons we learn from problems in life will help brighten our light. He simply said, let your light shine. This light rises from your very core, from the center to the circumference of your being. Become willing to remove your blindfold of preconceived notions about your spiritual inadequacies, and surrender to the radiance of this healing, balancing light that is your soul.

[Watch Spiritual Adaptation on YouTube]

Spiritual Adaptation

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It is common to associate our ongoing spiritual interest with a quest, a journey, or an evolutionary process of development. We think of ourselves as being at one place in understanding and we’re slowly moving to another. This perspective is strengthened by observing our typical method of learning. Acquiring knowledge on any subject involves the acquisition of information we do not currently have. The more information we gather, the more informed we obviously become.

When we think of someone we consider a spiritual giant, Jesus, for example, we assume he applied the same information-gathering process to his own spiritual development. The people of his day were certainly baffled. “How did this man get such learning without having been taught?” (John 7:15). Today, still applying the evolutionary model, we speculate that during the so-called missing years – that 18-year gap between ages of 12 and 30 – he may have retired to the desert to study with the Essenes, or traveled to India to study with Hindu mystics. Some speculate that he was a very old soul. Still others hold that he was sent by God, that his great wisdom is explained by his unique spiritual pedigree.

Let’s look at this with fresh eyes. All of creation is constantly tuning itself to its present environment. Any living form that does not do this successfully goes extinct. What we are calling a progression – moving from a lesser to a greater, more complex state – is really a perpetual adaptation to the present. This is a very different process that suggests all the pertinent forces of this universe are active and fully engaged now.

This is how we must think of the spiritual dimension and our relationship to it. We, like all of nature, are designed to interface with this omnipresent reality we call God. We won’t eventually evolve to this capacity, we have it now. To think something so essential to our spiritual well-being is somehow withheld, or that we have to earn it through lifetimes of searching is spiritually illogical. Who would withhold information critical to the well-being of their own children? If we as parents would not do this, why would we think it’s happening to us?

Man has the greatest capacity for creative expression. That natural hurdles would be thrown in front of us to hinder us is ludicrous. We are blinded by our own ignorance.

 

Our Spiritual Core

Audio: Our Spiritual Core

YouTube: Friends, we had a technical issue with the video this morning, so I’m running one I did earlier: The Undamaged Soul

Today’s talk is in audio format only. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Question: “What, in your way of thinking, is the difference between the term “Soul” and Unity’s use of the “Christ within?”

Answer: “The soul is eternal, unaffected by our ever-changing beliefs, moods, and the perpetually shifting sands of daily thinking. The soul is the spiritual core that we associate with the Christ, that image and likeness of God that is already complete, no evolution required. It is that deeper essence that survives when there is no more need for a hat and boots.” Excerpt from The Complete Soul.

From this, you can see that I consider the soul and the Christ as two separate terms that refer to the same thing. The public’s general understanding of these terms is that they are different. If you Google ‘soul definition’ and ‘Christ definition’ here’s what you come up with: soulthe spiritual or immaterial part of a human being or animal, regarded as immortal. Christthe title, also treated as a name, given to Jesus of Nazareth. Though Unity treats the Christ as our spiritual core, the term has such historical and religious significance many may find it a barrier rather than a help to advancing their spiritual understanding.

It is important that each person find his or her own direct experience with God. Nothing cuts quicker through the maze of terminology and dogmatic formulas than a genuine spiritual awakening. This is the beauty of Moses’ face-to-face with the Lord. “Tell them I Am sent you,” Moses was told. This is not a name but an eternal state of being, universally shared by all. It’s a confusing response only as long as we are trying to place God in time and space, or worse, inside someone’s skin.

You have a spiritual core that responds to any name you are comfortable giving it. Tennyson described it as “Closer is He than breathing, and nearer than hands and feet.” The location of your spiritual core is fixed. The name you choose is yours to decide.