Spiritual Enlightenment Revisited

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 The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Matthew 13:44

A key to understanding Jesus’ use of the word heaven lies in its reference to the vast expanse of the open sky. We get the best feeling for this vastness under a clear night sky filled with stars. If Jesus was referring to the sky, however, he would not also have compared it to a hidden treasure. There is nothing hidden about the sky.

The kingdom of heaven refers to our inner connection with the Infinite. It truly is like a treasure hidden in the field of our inner being. It is within the reach of any who recognize where to look and then become open-minded enough to engage in the process of finding this inner kingdom. When this connection becomes clear to us, we undergo the process of selling our possessions, our pre-conceived notions about God, ourselves, and our place and purpose in life. We eventually begin to experience this kingdom we seek.

As we consider the meaning of the term, spiritual enlightenment, the parable offers two possibilities. The first is when the man finds the treasure, the second when he finally buys the field. Most would probably associate ownership of the field with the enlightened state. This would indicate the permanent condition that we strive for.

The problem is, we’ve been striving for ownership of this field ever since we began our spiritual quest. Many see spiritual enlightenment as a condition that, with enough study and work, they will one day achieve. But let’s switch our focus to the man who discovers the treasure and knows where it is hidden. Is this man not enlightened? He certainly is. He’s enlightened enough to recognize the value of the treasure, to know where it’s located, and to know what to sell in order to acquire the field.

Does this not describe you? You know you’re on a quest for Self-discovery, you know to look within, and you are aware of the things you need to let go when they interfere with your quest.

From Place to Process

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If you want to be a great soul, be a great soul now.” – Emerson

There is much about the concept of spiritual guidance that is a mystery to many. We often seek guidance to a place in life, a certain acquisition or a position that will empower us in our quest for fulfillment. However, what we seek is not in a place. What we seek is found in a process.

In truth, you and I are not empowered by things and positions. These only stir a portion of the power embodied in our spiritual nature. If you think your power comes from things and positions, then you are, as Jesus suggests, laying up for yourself treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume.

There is only one place in your life where you will ever find true empowerment, true and lasting satisfaction. That place is here and now. The point of all spiritual guidance is to bring you to this single place. What you and I are seeking in all our earthly treasures is a deep sense of satisfaction. We do not find it in our earthly treasures because satisfaction is an inner experience.

You do not need to acquire one more possession to begin the process of opening yourself to greater satisfaction. You need only begin giving fully of yourself to your life right where you are. You aren’t happy with your life? Then stop cursing it and start blessing it. Give yourself fully to whatever task is at hand, as if this is the most important task in the universe. This can be everything from doing grocery shopping to taking out the trash to preparing a business proposal. Feel the satisfaction that you are bringing the fullness of your being to bear on whatever you are doing.

Spiritual evolution is a process of waking up to who and what you are at the deepest level. This waking up is achieved by opening the gates of this deeper level in what you are doing right now, at this moment. Initiate this process, and you’ll find every place is the right place.

Prayer Changes You

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“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:7-8).

“Merely to repeat a phrase mechanically as a parrot does is of no use at all. … We do not have to create good, for it already exists eternally in the fact of the Omnipresence of God.” —Emmet Fox

When you pray it is important to remember that prayer changes you, not God. God, the Creative Life Force, is always in full action. Nothing you say will cause God to act more aggressively or more precisely in your life. Prayer is the process of aligning yourself with the action of God.

If you stood on the upper rim of a canyon wall and prayed that gravity would enable you to spread your arms and glide to the canyon floor, you know this would never happen. The law of gravity, which is present, active, and fully complete, would not permit it. You could, however, soar to the bottom using a hang glider. The act of understanding and cooperating with existing laws enables you to behave in ways that put you in harmony with these laws.

When Jesus points out that the Father knows what we need even before we ask, he is indicating that a lavish abundance has been provided for each one of us. We are to go within with the attitude that that which we seek has already been provided and our prayer work is to be a process of opening our mind to this natural abundance. We sense a need and we ask God to fulfill the need according to our understanding. Our real need is a deeper understanding of what God is trying to do through us. To say with understanding, I am open and receptive to God’s perfect will puts you in a receptive state of mind that does not require a constant battery of affirmations. Your needs are met on the spiritual level now. Be open to this truth and your external life will begin to reflect this deeper reality as well.

An Invitation to Credentialed Unity Leaders

Though I am extending this invitation specifically to the Unity community of credentialed leaders, I offer it to any who are in the work of New Thought ministry.

I began working as an associate minister in 1979, the year I entered seminary. Ordained in 1981, I have served five different ministries. My overall experience in ministry – church, writing and music – has been extremely rewarding. Knowing that I have presented teachings that help transform lives in positively significant ways is deeply satisfying.

There is, however, a darker side to ministry that often leaves leaders questioning their choice of profession, their faith in God and even their faith in themselves. Spiritual leaders commonly come under attack from people they once considered the greatest supporters of their work. Though some of these attacks are warranted, extensive investigation into my own former organization revealed that many are not. They often grow out of petty power struggles between spiritual leaders and individuals who assert their influence to gain personal control rather than advance the greater good of the ministry itself. Under such conditions, a minister or spiritual leader can feel extremely isolated and unsupported, even by their own parent organization.  

If you are a spiritual leader in such a position, I invite you to reach out to me for confidential support and encouragement. As a way of helping advance the teaching to which we have devoted our lives, I want to assure you that you are not losing your mind and you did not draw this situation because of something in your consciousness. You are likely experiencing it simply because this is an untold aspect of ministry that many would rather not discuss. It’s important that you know you are not alone.  

If you know a minister or spiritual leader who is engaged in this type of challenge, please pass this link to them.

Warmest blessings to you and your ministry,

Rev. J Douglas Bottorff

jdbottorff@gmail.com

The Sanctity of Self

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There is but one presence and one power in the universe, God the good, omnipotent.

This statement is, of course, a simplified version of the foundational statement we use to open every Sunday service. This is the version I was first presented with in my early days of attending a Unity church. We call it a foundational statement because it is the starting point of our thinking. We are each an expression of this one presence and power which means our spiritual empowerment comes, not from without, but from within.

Our focus on the importance of meditation is based on the understanding that every individual can have a direct experience with God. This experience reveals the true nature, the sanctity of Self. Think of God as the endless sea of universal life in which we live and move and have our being. This life energy bubbles forth like a fountain through the countless life forms that we see. The human being is the outlet most capable of expressing the widest range of life, love, power and intelligence that is God. It is to our great advantage to come to know our spiritual Source.

There are current ideologies that seek to marginalize the concept of individuality and focus instead on identifying people by group. It is the group, rather than the individual, that becomes the focus of attention. This view does not align with the notion that the presence of God expresses as each individual, that this expression occurs from center to circumference.

When I read the maxim, Know Thyself, I see it as a call to undertake the work of consciously returning to our spiritual center. Affirming the sanctity of Self is not an egotistical approach intended to build up the body-based self-image. It is the acknowledgement that our spiritual source is limitless, that our very essence is divine, that the one presence and one power underlying all we see is the source of our individual power. As we come to know our indwelling Lord, we also come to know the sanctity of Self.     

Are We Here to Learn?

[Note: this is an article I wrote over a year ago. After reading it again, I felt the need to reprint it. JDB]

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.

The Bedrock of Individuality

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Jesus advised us to love our neighbor as ourselves. We often focus on the first half of this statement yet engage in a rather abusive relationship with our self. I’ve said many times, however, that you can only love your neighbor to the extent that you love your self.

Self love is not the same thing as self-centered egotism. In her book, Lessons In Truth, Emilie Cady draws a very clear distinction between individuality (the spiritual dimension within everyone) and personality (the spiritually disconnected ego). The love we experience—both given and received—is really a welling up of a deeper dimension of our spiritual nature, that deeper foundation of individuality. Love is not a quantity of beautiful emotion that we possess and give out or withhold at will. Love is an integral component of our being, like the color blue is an integral component of white light. The expression of love must include the embracing of one’s Self, not in an egotistical way, but in a way that recognizes our role as a channel through which love is expressed as an aspect of our wholeness.       

Our individuality, our true Self, is that which the Bible refers to as the image and likeness of God. It’s that part that rises up from the Eternal. Many of us have fallen out of touch with this deeper dimension and have lived and thought of ourselves only in terms of the personality level. It’s very important that we reconnect with this foundational aspect of our being, for from it all the good that we seek flows. The true Self is our source of contentment, of power, of peace and of joy. If we are not centered in our spiritual nature, we try to get what we feel we lack from others and our relationships run the risk of becoming needy and manipulative.

To be in integrity with your Self is to express the qualities of God in all the things you do, including your relationships. When you love from this Self, you will have no trouble loving your neighbor.   

The Door of Imagination

The Door of Imagination

“Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.” Matthew 8:20

At first glance, this passage appears to be a reference to Jesus as the Son of man, whose followers should be prepared to give up even the creature comforts of home for the sake of advancing the message of the kingdom. The New Testament usage of the Son of man is usually a reference to Jesus. However, in the Old Testament, the term simply referred to a human being, as in this familiar Psalm:

“What is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou dost care for him? Yet thou hast made him little less than God, and dost crown him with glory and honor” (Psalms 8:4-5).

If Jesus used this term, it is more likely that he used it in the way his listeners would have understood it. The New Testament, after all, did not exist in his day.

What do we make of this passage? Unlike animals that are governed by instinct, the human faculty of imagination allows us to move beyond the restriction of mere instinct. For example, even before a robin egg hatches, we know the type of nest it will build. The same is true with the den of the fox. To say the human being has nowhere to lay his head is a way of pointing out that the faculty of human imagination has given us the ability to move beyond mere instinct to a level of creativity that is unprecedented in nature. The Psalmist points this out:

Thou hast given him dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the sea” (Psalms 8:6-8).

It is my belief that the message of Jesus was to remind his followers of their divine inheritance, to turn the power of our imagination away from self-defeating imagery, and focus instead on the possibilities that await our God-awakened awareness. His message, it seems, was a revival of the great truth expressed through the prophet Jeremiah:

“I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each man teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord” (Jeremiah 31:33-34).

The Way of the Wayshower

For all the good that formal religion does in the world, there is one element common to them all that takes a significant toll on the potential quality of the individual’s spiritual life. Nearly all depict their founders in a way that forever transcends the capabilities of their followers. Though Jesus shares the insight that “he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do” (John 14:12), few of us are ready to call in the press as we walk across a lake.

In the case of both mainstream and alternative Christianity, the focus of our spiritual aspiration has been directed to the personality and assumed accomplishments of Jesus rather than on what he taught. The more secular biblical scholars, those who are not trying to prove the merits of Christian dogma, understand there is a vast difference between the Jesus of history and Jesus the Christian icon. Unity author and minister, Eric Butterworth, accurately made the distinction between the religion about Jesus and the religion of Jesus. The religion about Jesus depicts him as a unique species, eternally placing the works he did out of our reach. The religion of Jesus presents us with a whole new set of possibilities that I like to think are more in line with his intentions as a teacher. We call him our wayshower, but did he intend that we follow his footsteps on his path, or was he showing us how to find our own?

There are indications that he tried to direct attention away from his own personality. When a man addressed him as “good teacher” he asked, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone” (Mark 10:18). Of course, we can draw countless examples and engage in endless debate on who and what Jesus was and what he intended to teach. Ultimately, each person is left to decide what he or she will do with this matter. For me, his role as wayshower was to point to my path, not draw attention to his.

I realize many will consider such a statement arrogant, perhaps even blasphemous. But I reached the point in my life where the relevance of a teacher of any sort has to be measured, not so much by their own accomplishments, but by the potential they tap in their students. If a teaching does not in some way empower the one who studies it, of what value is it? I have to agree with Meister Eckhart when he wrote:

“We may well all rejoice over this, that Christ our brother has through his own power gone up above all the choirs of angels and sits at the right hand of the Father. This authority has said well, but really I am not much concerned about this. How would it help me if I had a brother who was a rich man, if I still remained poor? How would it help me if I had a brother who was a wise man, if I still remain a fool?”   

The life I live, the earth and the universe I inhabit are mine. Am I to stand here as a bewildered product of evolution or as the unique cutting edge of a cosmically creative process that only I can fulfill? Am I to follow the millions who are turning the path of another into an ever-deepening rut, or am I to blaze my own path? Though I have long ago abandoned the religion about Jesus, I continue to mine the gems of truth, that mystical thread that I find scattered throughout his teachings. I do not find among this treasure the admonition to compare my path to his. I find instead the urging, even the obligation to love the lord my God with all my heart, mind, and soul. The fruit of his direction, I have discovered, takes me from standing in awe of my brother’s wealth and wisdom to tapping into my own.   

The finger of a true wayshower never points to themselves. It points to that very spot in front of us where our next step will likely land. “Are you here to follow a path,” they ask, “or are you here to blaze a trail?” They are not asking if we are ready to walk on water, raise the dead or feed the hungry through a miraculous multiplication of loaves and fishes. They ask only if we have come to that place in our quest for truth where we accept that an unborn facet of the universe stands at the door of our being and knocks. Are we prepared to open that door?