Dancing Through Eternity

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“When you are tempted to think a life has been cut short, remember that every soul is dancing through eternity.”

Memorial Day is a holiday for remembering men and women who died while serving our country’s armed forces. Many use this time to remember all loved ones who have passed. It is certainly a good time to reflect on perspectives we hold on matters of life and death. In ways we may not even be aware of, our view of death impacts the way we live our life.

Recently, a woman was telling me of a family who lost their three-year-old daughter to leukemia. “I don’t understand why some lives are cut so short,” she said. “It just doesn’t seem fair.” While we are empathetic toward those who experience such a loss, we do well to consider the grander picture. We always feel the time we shared with a loved one now passed was too short. But whatever its duration, the earthly experience is temporary. The soul, momentarily tethered to a body, is not the sum of the loved one we knew in bodily form. They are experiencing life free of the blinders imposed by the physical senses. Their stay on earth may have been brief, but their life has not been cut short.

In our consideration of death, the disadvantage most of us have is that we only have memories of events connected to this incarnation. Life, as we understand it, is what happens between the bookends of birth and death. Everything beyond is unknown. Yet the one who sails over the horizon of visibility gains an insight those who remain on the shore rarely grasp. Whether they were killed in the heat of battle or silently slipped away from the quiet of their hospice bed, they would long for us to know that there is no death. They would know that if we do not grasp it now, we will discover it soon enough.

We are all dancing through eternity. The day will come when we step from this plane, but we will never step from life. Jesus reminded us that in the Father’s house there are many rooms. Earth is but one of these rooms. Hold your loved ones in the light and beauty of life and know they are doing the same with you.

The God Perspective

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In the New Testament letter of James, we find this reference to God as the, “Father of lights with whom there is no shadow or variation due to change” (James 1:17). Presenting God as changeless is a significant departure from the traditional view of a moody Deity. We so routinely ask for God’s special favors that we may not be aware our perception of the behavior of the Divine as subject to change. Could James’ changeless Father of lights bless and not bless or pass out serpents and stones when we ask for fish and bread?

It is certainly easiest to think of God in terms of our human relationships. At times, we feel close to those around us and other times it seems there is not enough distance. For some we would grant favors without question while for others, our favors come with conditions.

There is a similar dynamic in our relationship to the sun. We have sunny days, cloudy days, daylight and darkness, sunrise and sunset. Depending on how near or far earth is from the sun, we have skin-burning summer and icy cold winter. The sun, it appears, has many moods. These variations, however, have less to do with the nature of the sun and more to do with our relationship to it.

When you think from the perspective of the sun itself, you see a different picture. How many days has the sun seen? We say this closest star is roughly 4.6 billion years old. But how do we measure a year? Multiply 365 sunrises by 4.6 billion and you have more days than most of us can wrap our minds around. The sun itself has seen but a single day, and that day has stretched throughout the duration of its existence. The sun has never risen, never set, never known the cold of winter or the blackness of night. It has never seen a shadow or shivered in the dark corner of a dank cellar. There is no variation due to change.

We cannot understand God from our ever-changing human perception. We must think of God from God’s perspective. From the sun’s point of view, we can understand how there is only one condition and that condition is light. It is only as we think of God from God’s perspective that we begin to grasp the truth that there is but one Presence and one Power. There is not good and evil, not light and shadows. There is only absolute good, as in absolute light.

The light that you and I seek is here now, has always been here, and will always be here. As we commit to opening our minds and hearts to the God perspective, every shadow dissolves into the nothingness from which it came.

Down by the Riverside

[From A Spiritual Journey]

[View: A Path to Self-Forgiveness] 

In my book, Native Soul, I point out the importance of meditation and I comment on one of the most commonly expressed issues I’ve heard from people on this subject. How do you get past the incessant flow of thought when you are trying to be still and experience your spiritual center? I compare this flow to a rushing river. If someone asked you to cross that river but you could see no benefit in doing so, you may wade in, feel the power of the current and then step back out with the feeling that crossing it is not worth the risk. If that same person pointed to a tree on the far bank and explained there was a winning lottery ticket worth millions with your name on it, do you not suppose you would figure out how to cross that river?

In the first scenario, you see little value in the risk or effort of crossing the river. In the second scenario, the ambiguities of value disappear. When you understand the value of crossing that river, you will figure out how to do it, no matter how long it takes or how difficult it is.

The problem most of us face with the incessant mind is that we do not understand the value of what we might find on the other side. We have opinions given to us by others of what it means to be spiritually enlightened. We read of the ecstasy and boundless stores of wisdom tapped by those who have crossed the river. We read of great spiritual power awaiting those who have made this crossing. Yet we encounter this river, feel the force of its current and conclude that it must not be our time to cross. Perhaps if we read more about it or gather and speak affirmations that are more powerful we’ll build up the strength to take this plunge.

None of this is true. Every person alive is fully equipped to cross the river of the busy mind, no soul evolution or further learning required. The only thing that has to happen is that a shift in values must occur. Each person has to grasp the true value of crossing that river, and each person must stay with this process until he or she experiences the breakthrough.

There have always been those who promise that they can get us across. Join a special group, pay the fees, jump in their boat and they’ll take you to the other side. Or, with the touch of our specially trained hands, and a small fee, we will get you to the other side, instantly or very soon. This is all pure nonsense at best, spiritual charlatanism at its worst. The reason? Neither approach requires a genuine shift in values. The belief that people or money can get you to the other side of the river changes your focus from actually crossing the river to seeking the right people and enough money to get you across. Your values, no longer placed in the end you seek, are now placed in the means to the end. The means to the end of the spiritual breakthrough, however, is not found in people, in study or in expensive courses of spiritual instruction. It is found within you.

As a teacher of meditative technique, Jesus was what I consider a minimalist. He pointed to the other side of the river (the kingdom of God is within you) and said, go there.

But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him (Matthew 6:6-8).

He was undoubtedly approached by those who went into their room, shut the door and prayed to their Father in secret but found they could think of nothing more than their health issue, their failing business, their unscrupulous neighbor with the barking dog or gathering the needed ingredients for the evening meal. To these he offered this simple instruction:

Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened (Matthew 7:7-8).

I have to think that if he had discovered a better, faster way to spiritual enlightenment, he would have offered it. If it were truly possible for one human being to pass enlightenment to another with the simple touch of a hand, I seriously doubt he would have offered such bland instructions that obviously put the ball of enlightenment in the court of each individual.

Socrates responded to a student’s question about obtaining wisdom by plunging the student’s head into water until he nearly drowned. Pulling him from the water, Socrates asked the student what he wanted most in that moment. Air, of course, was the answer. Socrates explained that when the student wanted wisdom as much as he wanted air, he would obtain it. A shift of values was the only requirement.

The spiritual path does not require an abandonment of material pursuits. If anything is abandoned, it is because, like the man who discovered the buried treasure, we joyously let go of those possessions that wrangle our attention from a first-hand experience with God. As this experience begins to emerge in our committed quiet times, the value we place on moving deeper naturally arises. We are guided by the greater freedom we experience.

We have to have enough faith to take the plunge, even if it is blind faith the size of a grain of mustard seed. The fact is we do have the required faith. Why else do you think we keep showing up at this particular riverbank?

Paper Pulp or Flour?

[From A Spiritual Journey]

Someone raised the question of how we can consider God as being personal and universal at the same time. If we continue to assign human attributes to God, this is a difficult question to answer. If we think of God as the creative life force expressing through all, then it becomes much easier to grasp.

Let’s step back in time a bit and imagine diverting water from a river into a small channel (millrace) that turns the water wheel of a mill. The mill may be designed for any number of purposes, like grinding flour or making paper. In this simple but ingenious machine, we see a clear illustration of how the universal and personal can be understood.

The river and the water diverted into the race are universal. The water, indifferent to where it goes or how it is used, creates a current by forever seeking the lowest level. The mill is designed to utilize this current. What the mill produces is a personal choice of its builder. The mill (the personal), taps into the river (the universal), in a way that utilizes the river’s current.

In a very real sense, every individual is a kind of mill through which the creative life force (life, love, power and intelligence) is diverted. What we produce as our personal experience is not the effect of this universal source, but the effect of what we have set up to mill.

Our milling mechanism consists of our executive faculties of imagination, faith, judgment, will and elimination. Through the interactive combination of these faculties, we churn out the experience we see as our life. When we don’t like what we see, our normal reaction is to ask God to give us different results. This would be like the miller saying to the river, “I want to produce flour but all I’m getting is paper pulp.” What goes on between God and the individual is not the issue; it’s what goes on inside the mill that matters. The wheel of manifestation is always turning.

What do we do when we’re making paper pulp and we would rather be grinding flour? Although I list elimination as the fifth of our executive faculties, this may be a case where we bring it to the forefront. We may need to focus on letting go of our habit of making paper pulp when we really want flour.

“But I’ve always made paper pulp,” someone will argue. “I don’t know what else to do.” There is a bit of good news here. You don’t have to let go of your paper pulp business to begin the process of releasing it. You start exploring and releasing within yourself all the reasons you believe you are trapped making paper pulp. For example, you may be saying, I want to make a change but it’s going to cost money, so I can’t make the change until I get the money. Because you’ll probably never get enough money to feel comfortable about making the change, you’ll just keep pumping out the paper pulp and maybe hoping the river will rise, turn your wheel a bit faster and make enough pulp to sell out and move on.

Rather than list and rehearse all the many reasons you can’t make the change, simply say to yourself, it’s okay to go. This is your faculty of elimination at its best. It’s okay to go. This simple statement stirs the imagination. It awakens your faculty of faith to new possibilities. You willingly agree that it’s okay to go. Your faculty of judgment comes alive discerning the many ways you have been telling yourself it’s not okay to go.

The problems of the personal are not the effects of the universal. Don’t pray to the river to change the mill. You and I are not grinding away in our paper pulp mills because the river is forcing us to. We’re doing what we do because we’ve set up our mill to do it. The river is no happier when we’re making flour than when we’re churning out paper pulp. Nor is it forcing us to make paper pulp to pay off some karmic debt or because we happened to have a couple of dysfunctional parents or we married the wrong person. The river happily flows along letting us make whatever we want – paper pulp or flour.

A Path to Self-Forgiveness

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Last week I discussed a way to approach forgiveness that treats a challenging person as energy we carry in our consciousness. Forgiveness is less about efforts toward reconciliation and more about the act of releasing the negative energy we harbor toward another. While reconciliation may be a part of our forgiveness process, our primary focus is the activity of our own mind, where our actual quality of life begins.

I was asked to continue the same theme, but with emphasis on self-forgiveness. I’ve started this title with A Path … rather than The Path … because there are various ways to approach this subject. The following are but a few questions we might want to consider:

The first is: What do I accomplish by beating up on myself? On the surface, the answer may be nothing. But at a deeper level I may draw some gratification from the act of self-flagellation. According to an article in Psychology Today, research conducted in the field of social psychology suggests at least three major reasons why people might, at times, choose to punish themselves. They have come to believe that 1) they deserve to suffer, 2) suffering will make them a better person, and 3) they are supposed to suffer.

The second question is this: What is accomplished by caving to another’s accusation that I am responsible for ruining their life? In other words, why can people make me feel guilty for not making them happy? The answer is probably related to one of the three previous items.

The most important question of all is this: Who is this self I cannot forgive?  The answer? It is the self-image, the mask that I have developed from the various roles I have played in my life. It is probably true that, given the chance, I could replay any one of them better than I did the first time around. But then again, maybe not.

The critical understanding here is that I am not the self-image that played these roles. For better or for worse, all of this passes and I, the complete soul, am left standing. It makes as much sense to blame my shadow for not representing my body’s true shape. If, as Jesus suggested, knowing the truth will set us free, then distinguishing between the self-image and the soul provides the primary path to self-forgiveness.

The Grasshopper Element

[From, A Spiritual Journey. Adapted from, A Practical Guide to Prosperous Living, revised edition, J Douglas Bottorff]

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The Old Testament offers a good illustration of the importance of self-image and the role it plays in determining how our circumstances unfold. Found in the thirteenth chapter of the book of Numbers, the story tells of how the nation of Israel, after having wandered in the wilderness for many years, was led by Moses to the border of the land the Lord had promised Abraham a few generations before. Moses, desiring to measure the strength and numbers of the occupants of this land, sent in twelve spies to gather intelligence. Upon their return, he summoned the twelve to give their assessment of the situation. They returned from their mission with good news and bad news. The good news, and all twelve agreed on this, was that this was indeed a land of abundance, a land flowing with milk and honey. The bad news, of which they did not agree, was whether Israel was capable of overcoming the inhabitants. The majority of spies, eleven to be exact, reported that the people of the land were strong and the cities were large and well fortified. Their conclusion? “We can’t take on these people, for they are stronger than us.”

There was one spy, Caleb, who thought otherwise. His advice to Israel was this: “Let us go up at once and occupy it; for we are well able to overcome it.”

How could it be that Caleb and his eleven companions could see the same people but evaluate them in two completely different ways? The answer is simple. These conflicting evaluations were not based on the actual people they saw. Their evaluations were based on how they saw themselves. This interesting fact is revealed in the report of the eleven when they said, “We seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers and so we seemed to them.”

Naturally, if you see yourself as a grasshopper, it is going to affect the way you interact with your circumstances. A grasshopper mentality affects what you believe you can and cannot do. These grasshopper beliefs influence the decisions you make, your decisions determine actions that are in keeping with your grasshopper beliefs and your actions influence the way your circumstances unfold. In other words, if you see yourself as a grasshopper, you will naturally want to create an environment that is safe for grasshoppers.

Because they saw themselves as grasshoppers, the eleven did not believe they could overcome the inhabitants of the land. They recommended to Moses and the assembly that Israel should take no action against these inhabitants. If the assembly had accepted their recommendation, Israel would never have occupied their land of promise. The circumstances of an entire nation would have been adversely affected by the grasshopper self-image of these eleven spies.

Caleb, on the other hand, did not see himself as a grasshopper. He saw himself as a warrior for the Lord who was simply accepting the land that the Lord had promised Israel through Abraham years before. This divinely sanctioned self-image gave him quite a different perspective of the situation. It caused him to believe Israel, through the strength of this sacred promise, could overcome these inhabitants. Caleb’s recommended action was that they proceed. If they had, they may have avoided the necessity of wandering for decades in the wilderness.

The eleven spies, operating from their grasshopper self-image, their strong sense of personal inadequacy, evaluated the problem from the basis of their inventory of external assets. Because they were physically smaller and probably outnumbered, their inventory appeared to be lacking, which meant they would be unable to defeat these inhabitants.

Caleb considered these obvious facts, but he did not allow them to influence his recommendation to move forward. Because the spiritually grounded individual does not base his or her decisions on appearances, they do not need all the answers to apparent problems before they begin moving forward. Armed with the awareness of their unlimited spiritual capacity, they know that solutions to every problem will present themselves as needed.

The important point of the story is this: Had the Israelites made their decision based on Caleb’s opinion, they wouldn’t have wandered aimlessly through the wilderness for all those years. Since they made their decision based on the majority’s opinion, their circumstances unfolded in quite a different way. The difference can be traced to the quality of the collective self-image held by this group.

The better you understand this dynamic, the less likely you are to call yourself a victim of circumstance. You will more likely take charge of your own destiny. If you measure what you can do in life by what you have in your personal inventory of external assets, you may not experience the life of your dreams. This inventory will never be quite large enough to instill in you the confidence to strike out in your desired direction. You can blame circumstances as the cause for not moving ahead, and you’ll probably get plenty of sympathy.

Remember, Caleb was the only one of the twelve who voted to go forward. The eleven, I’m sure, felt perfectly justified with their decision, even though they drew the strength of their conviction from each other’s opinions rather than from their spiritually sanctioned capabilities.

The problem often is not that a thing can’t be done. The problem is that when the majority agrees that it can’t be done, the chances are good that it won’t even be attempted. Caleb illustrates that the seemingly impossible is often possible, but the power to achieve it comes only when you agree to move forward.

A Different View of Meditation

[excerpt from, A Spiritual Journey]

All of us have undoubtedly filled our conscious and subconscious files full of information about the various approaches to the practice of meditation. Our actual attempts at being still and knowing, therefore, may look very much like a search on our computer’s hard drive for an abstract notion that we deem an experience with God.

Setting aside our preconceptions of what it means to experience God, I suggest turning attention instead to our actual objective. Assuming that your soul is complete and accessible, your single interest is that of moving your awareness from your self-image to your soul. This transition can occur during your busy moments throughout the day and during those times you set aside specifically for this purpose.

It is important to understand that your soul is now and has always been instructing you on how to return. The spiritual homesickness you feel is your soul calling you home. It is also important to understand that you are responding to this call. Your dissatisfaction with your existing state of affairs and with that information you were given concerning spiritual matters can and should be taken as an indicator that something in you already inhabits the spiritual home for which you long. That something, of course, is your soul.

Most of us will interpret our dissatisfaction and spiritual restlessness as some form of lack that is ours to fill. Like the prodigal son in the far country, we come to ourselves and decide to return home, but we take it upon ourselves to begin devising the conditions that we believe are necessary for our successful return. The prodigal worked out the scheme of returning home as a servant in his father’s household, not only questioning his worthiness as a son, but also reasoning that life even as a servant would be better than the life he was leading now.

Among other things, this parable illustrates that our return home is unconditional. There are no natural barriers between where your self-awareness may be now and where it can be in its rightful home. One of the greatest unnatural barriers that we erect is the belief that our spiritual ignorance and immaturity are things we must overcome before we can return home. This false belief is generated by the self-image. The prodigal obviously believed his riotous living had compromised his right to return home at any level of heir privilege. It had not dawned on him that the sun shone just as brightly through his moments of ignorance and starvation as it had when he lived his relatively carefree life at home. “… for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45).

In building our understanding of meditation, the architectural concept of form following function may serve us well. When we understand that the function of every spiritual practice is the realignment of our self-awareness (I, ego) with the soul, then these practices take the forms that best address our understanding of this function (see Chapter 11 of The Complete Soul – Meditation Exercises). Most importantly, the practices become our forms, not those passed on by other people. When you look at a problem that you know you can solve, you will eventually find the solution. If you are struggling with meditation, it is probably because you are working from another’s definition of both the problem and the solution.

 

The Importance of Context

In these presentations, I am suggesting that you are a complete soul who has, for whatever reason, taken on the consciousness forming equipment and a physical body that allow you to interact with the material environment. That you have done this successfully is a more important acknowledgment than trying to figure out why you may have done it. Your reason for doing so, after all, may no longer be relevant.

Our primary motive behind our quest for spiritual understanding is that we are seeking a sense of context, an understanding of ourselves as an unlimited soul that has taken on the proper equipment to interface and interact with the material plane. We may clarify our motive with a statement like this:

I am a complete soul that has taken on a body and the consciousness forming equipment that allows me to interact with the material plane.

The problem is we have so identified with the virtual reality we have created that we have moved our self-awareness from our soul to this interfacing equipment. This would not be unlike the person who has become so addicted to the virtual reality of social media that they disconnect from the reality of their actual life.

Our first approach to meditation may be the simple contemplation of the idea that our soul is now complete, that the restlessness we feel is our soul calling us home. This, of course, does not fit the meditation model of sitting still, eyes closed, attention turned away from senses input, seeking an experience of some inner light that eludes us. At some point, we need to come to grips with the fact that our attempts at this approach have been frustratingly unsuccessful, and that doing more of the same will only produce more of the same results.

The reason this does not work for us is that it is not our method. We’re attempting to apply ideas that are still foreign to us, trying to understand the problem as someone else has explained it. We have not grasped its simplicity, or associated the concept of meditation with known feelings that allow us to work out our own solution.

While this suggestion may make some a bit uncomfortable, it will be to our advantage to lay aside all preconceived forms of meditation and develop our own method. We place our mind in the correct position by first getting a firm grasp on the function of meditation. What needs to happen? We want to move our self-awareness (the I) from our senses-based self-image to our soul. To do this, we need to experience the soul at some level. If we do not have some measure of experience with our soul, we will not know where we are going with any meditative practice. We’ll close our eyes and continue to grope in the dark.

To experience your soul, you first have to believe it is present and fully accessible. The simple statement, my soul is present and fully accessible, spoken frequently through the activities of your day, will begin to open the intuitive portal of your imagination. The opening of this intuitive aspect will begin utilizing the visualizing counterpart of your imagination without direction or any prompting on your part. In biblical terms, this is the Immaculate Conception, the emergence of the soul into the awareness without the aid of the intellect (Joseph). New inspiration and imagery will follow. These provide the type of experience that will ignite and direct your faculty of faith to your complete soul, and send you into productive bouts of active stillness. You may come to the same practices taught by the mystics of the ages, but you’ll do it on your own terms. This is your soul, after all.

When your self-image says to your busy mind, peace be still, the storm rages on. When your soul speaks these same words, the storm subsides. You gladly turn away from these internal distractions at the authenticity of the soul’s voice. From this point on, you will call no man on earth your father, your teacher or your guide. The training wheels come off.

To reach this point, four conditions are necessary:

  1. First, you accept the truth that your soul is complete and fully accessible.
  2. Understand that you are not your self-image. You are your soul.
  3. The only problem you face is that your self-awareness is attached to your self-image.
  4. The single purpose of all your spiritual endeavors is to move your self-awareness from your self-image to your soul.

Keep your eye single. Your motive for moving your self-awareness from your self-image to your soul has to be narrowed to the single purpose of knowing yourself as the soul that you are. If your motive is grounded in any other purpose than this –- i.e., the attainment of wealth, health, etc. – your eye is on some form of mammon and you will not be successful.