Goldfish and Trout

[Excerpt from forthcoming revision of Native Soul.]

Some, having come to realize that their consciousness is structured around misleading senses-based information, con­clude that the surface identity they show the world, the personality, represents a barrier between where they are in their current spiritual understanding and where they need to be. Because the majority of our perceived restrictions do indeed have their origins at this surface level, we’ve come to regard the personality and the soul almost as polar oppo­sites. The soul is good and in need of development while the personality is a thing to be overcome, perhaps even discarded.

In her classic work What Are You? author Imelda Octavia Shanklin explains why living strictly from the personal level is so unsatisfying:

When you identify yourself solely with the personal you are not satisfied. There is a lack for which you cannot account, but which is very real to you. If you should voice your feeling you perhaps would say, “I want something. I do not know what it is that I want, but when I receive what I want I shall be satisfied.” Knowing the personal, only, you have but superficial knowledge of yourself. Beneath the surface the rich deeps of life summon you with overmastering appeal. Not knowing how to respond, you have a sense of confusion and restless­ness.

The personality does indeed become a restricting factor when we see it as the defining essence of our being. A goldfish raised in a small fishbowl, for example, is perfectly content with its limited envi­ronment, for it knows nothing different. Place a wild trout in that same glass bowl and it will jump out. The trout knows a world beyond that glass boundary and it will not adapt to this confinement.

Our soul is the wild trout that we’re attempting to stuff in the fishbowl of personality. In our quest for finding satisfaction within the artificial confines of this bowl, we adorn it with a pretty ceramic castle, colored pebbles and some plastic greenery. This works for a time, but soon the frustration returns. So we buy a prettier castle, adorn our bowl with designer pebbles and decorate it with living greenery. It’s perfect—if you happen to be a goldfish.

Though we wander far into the distractions of maintaining the surface self-image, we never forget who we are at the soul level. The soul constantly asserts itself as an intuitive whisper of discontent, a still small voice[1] that never fully endorses the artificial trappings of the fishbowl.

Our cultural training suggests this dissatisfaction is a personality or character issue, so we engage in a determined effort for self-improvement. Improving the personality, however, isn’t the answer, as the personality is not the problem. The personality an effect. It simply echoes our own self-definition. The problem is that we carry the self-image of a goldfish when we’re really a trout. We’re trying to stuff our soul into a fishbowl personality that just doesn’t fit.

As we turn our attention to the gentle radiance of the soul, we return to the figurative wild stream, the most fitting personality of our natural being.

[1] 1 Kings 19:12

Higher Ground

Yesterday I posted this announcement on my Facebook page:

Personal Policy
Due to the increasing level of venomous political debate in this country, I have decided to unfriend those of you who consistently use our Facebook connection to espouse your political preferences. There are plenty of politically oriented sites that encourage this type of discourse, and my personal Facebook page does not need to be among them. The typical comment I read does not serve to resolve anything. It only states an opinion that at least half the nation will disagree with. I too have my own political views, but I will not use this platform to share them. I’m not asking you to refrain from sharing your views, political or otherwise, I’m just giving you a head’s up on my own personal policy. Thanks

Though I rarely engage in political commentary, I would like to expand on the above notice with the intention of providing a bit more context.

Emerson wrote, “If you would lift me, you must be on higher ground.” Considering the state of today’s political landscape, the one who looks to politics to lift them to higher ground must certainly inhabit a very deep valley. The political community as a whole does not communicate from the higher ground of ethical or spiritual integrity, but from the valley of moral and ethical depravity.

The average citizen maintains a higher level of civility than our current political dialog reflects. Most people I know do not ask another’s political persuasion before they extend their word of encouragement or their helping hand. Who doesn’t interact daily and harmoniously with people of opposing political views? True character has always been blind to party lines.

I’m pretty sure that corruption within the world’s political machinery is at an all-time high. Then maybe it’s just the advent of social media that brings more of it to light. Politics has become a cesspool of people willing to sell their souls for the pottage of money, influence and power. And we look to this cesspool for our happiness? For affirmation? Does our strength, our peace of mind, our sense of identity depend on our party winning? Are we really blind to the fact that what our party wins, our party must fight to keep? And do we not see that what our party loses, our party will need to fight to regain? Winners and losers are the ebb and flow, but the perpetual fight is the eternal sea itself. And the fight has sunken into a vile contest to see who can most effectively erase the humanity of the opposition. In the name of winning, it seems that all rules of common decency have been set aside.

Is it possible to get a diversified group of people on the same page to resolve common issues? Of course it is. Imagine ten people, political affiliation unknown, standing on the shore of a frozen lake. Another person is walking on the ice and falls through. These ten people will drop everything, no questions asked, and work together to rescue this person. They do not care if the rope they throw is red or blue. They will tie them all together to achieve the goal. We see stories like this when hurricanes, earthquakes and other natural disasters hit.

In contrast, take any issue, place it in the political context, and you will see grandstanding politicians let the issue thrash in the broken ice and drown because a given solution does not align with their political agenda. If we consider the politics we see practiced today as our higher ground, then there is no cure. Politics is not founded on a unifying principle but is, by its very nature, adversarial. We seem to be too willing to sacrifice the strength and integrity of our nation for the false security of clinging to party ideology.

A colleague of mine recently retired from ministry and began making political commentary. After maintaining political silence for many years, I’m sure it felt good to finally be able to speak his mind. While I appreciated his spiritual work, however, I have absolutely no interest in his political views. I’m sure his intention is to elevate the political discussion, and though I suspect he suffers from a mild case of messiah complex, I wish him the best. The cure for this complex, I’m sure he’ll discover, will be a healthy dose of reality. He stepped from the higher ground where his audience was both politically right and left to a position where his audience is right or left. In other words, he just cut his audience in half.

The spiritual is universal. The political, as I’ve indicated, is divisive, adversarial, functioning, as Emma Curtis Hopkins might have said, within the realm of the pairs of opposites. How can our clergy claim to bring a universal message of truth when it is tainted by the color of political bias?

As I see it, the job of the clergy is not to influence the vote of our people, but to encourage them above all to know and be guided by God. I am not advocating political inaction. To the contrary, I encourage you to join your campaign, vote your conscience, and for God’s sake be civil about it. But while you do this, understand that your source of power, self-confidence, and inner strength bubble up, not from your political victory, but from your spiritual core.

The Challenge of Oneness

[From A Spiritual Journey]

While people often agree with the idea that they are one with God, many will admit to feeling separate most of the time. The experience of oneness, they acknowledge, requires much effort and intention, a letting go and seeking to bridge the gap between their senses-based ego and their soul’s oneness with God. Although this conscious unity with God is our natural heritage, it requires steady mindfulness to make it a practical part of our daily experience. With most of us, our quest for conscious unity with God takes on a kind of ebb and flow. Our awareness constantly shifts between God and worldly concerns, with the bulk of our focus on those concerns.

I relate this to the man who found the treasure in the field. Knowing the treasure is there even as we’re busy “selling” our possessions to buy that field is a great comfort. I used to fear that I was digressing in these spiritually distracted times, but now I know this is not true. The soul’s light is steadfast even if our focus on spiritual matters is not. When our attention is wandering out in some far country, we’re still aware of our true home. Despite our feelings of separation, we never lose the memory of our oneness.

The feeling of separation is not an issue to one who has never experienced some level of oneness with their spiritual Source. This feeling of inner lack is, for them, a material issue addressed through the further pursuit of material things. Though they may not yet walk on water, the spiritually advanced grapple with this feeling of separation as a spiritual rather than a material problem.

For me, it is clarifying to draw a distinction between consciousness evolution and a perceived soul development. Our self-image is out of alignment with that which is true at the soul level. This understanding eliminates all perceived degrees of soul development and places our progress squarely on our system of values rather than on the erroneously conceived fluctuation of the soul.

The more value we place on experiencing our soul, the more attention we give to reasons such an experience might seem so elusive. Even if we give it no attention, our soul’s wholeness remains intact. We cannot damage our spiritual heritage through negligence. Our wandering in the far country neither offends God nor sparks any kind of need for divine forgiveness.

We lift a huge weight from our shoulders when we make peace with the fact that we can never negatively affect the condition of our soul or of our relationship of oneness with God. We can suffer, we can experience spiritual deprivation, we can feel alone and desperate in our far country, but our soul remains one with God. We can, at any moment, come to ourselves, turn with the understanding that we will be welcomed with open arms back into our eternal home with our loving Father.

A Change of Plan

Dear friends,

Today I experienced a change of plan, and was unable to present my weekly talk. For our local congregation, I instead presented a segment of a video series I am working on for my book, The Complete Soul. Because this series is not yet ready for release, I would rather not make it available to the general public at this point. My plan is to present Run To, Not From – a talk based on the writings of Emilie Cady  this coming Sunday.

Some of you have told me you are playing catch-up on the week’s videos, so maybe this pause on my part will give you that opportunity. I apologize for any inconvenience, but I’ll resume regular audio/video programming next Sunday.

Thanks for your ongoing support, and thank you for any topical suggestions you may have for future presentations. Beginning with Easter, I will start a series on the spiritual principles taught by Jesus. Blessings, JDB



Question on Meditation

Question: I try to meditate but I just can’t seem to get anywhere. I know you’ve written a book on this subject but could you share some thoughts that might help someone like me?

As we consider spiritual ideas, it’s important to remember that there are two types of learning: intellectual and intuitive. Intellectual learning involves the accumulation of spiritual facts. We do this through study and exposure to teachers. Intuitive learning is based on direct exposure to the soul. This experience is then transmitted to the intellect. Because the experience is subjective in nature, it cannot be taught. But don’t make a mystery of this. Someone can explain what orange juice tastes like, but you don’t really know until you actually take a sip and experience it for yourself. Then you learn in an instant.

Taste, of course, is not an intuitive function, but we can use it as an example of things that can only be known through experience. Touch is another example. You look at a bowl of water that may be warm or cool. The instant you place your fingers in the water you learn its temperature through direct experience.

The intuitive faculty is capable of sensing and experiencing the subtle spiritual energy that is your being. The Bible refers to this energy as “living water” that wells up from within. This metaphor provides a way to think of our spiritual connection that cannot otherwise be defined or imparted by another.

The intuitive experience is not emotional. Nor should it be confused with those “hunches” that a thing is true or false, or that we should make a certain decision. This type of knowing is important and very useful. But we’re talking about something of a deeper nature. The intuition open to the soul does indeed stir the emotion and instills peace and the feeling that something greater than our own consciousness is at work. This revelation we seek involves knowing the true nature of Being, and this is imparted only through direct experience. Jesus compared it to the wind that you feel and hear but do not see. It is invisible but very real. You know it when it seeps into your awareness. You experience the joy of freedom knowing you are much more, and something much different than you thought.

This is an important observation. As you seek to open your intuition to the soul, you do so with the willingness to let go of who and what you think you are. Most of us maintain a running internal dialog that creates an endless loop of definition and response: I am this, so that is what I need. It is best to release all preconceived expectations, all definitions of God, the soul, and the self. As much as possible, make yourself an empty vessel receptive to inner energies that are totally familiar and natural but have likely gone unnoticed beneath the constant drumming of a perpetually busy mind. I assume this is the problem you are having.

It is not possible to force results. If you find yourself struggling, open your eyes and move about if you need to. You want to break yourself of all attempts to create an experience. If you stay with it, you will likely begin to have brief, nearly imperceptible movements of spirit. If you can recapture and pursue these, fine. Just don’t chase after them. During the day, you may find such experiences rise naturally on their own, without any effort on your part. You suddenly feel good and lifted without knowing why. You experience an unprovoked sense of joy and well-being. Take these as a sign that you are cracking the shell, that more is being done than you realize.

The spiritual breakthrough will come if you stay with it. Our externally driven western culture contributes to most of the mental and emotional distractions we encounter. From very early in life, we are taught to look to the world for the peace, joy, and well-being that we seek. For most of us, going within and seeking an experience with the unadulterated core of our being is a foreign endeavor. We are taught to pray looking to the heavens rather than to the kingdom of heaven within.

A helpful attitude to hold while meditating is this: “Before they call, I will answer. While they are still speaking I will hear” (Isaiah 65:24). I have said often that we desire more because we are more. It is the fullness of your soul that beckons you to come up higher. You are not creating this desire; you are responding to it. The fact that you have come to believe there is value in seeking an inner awakening says that you are on your way to a broader experience. Everyone gets discouraged, but don’t give up on it. You will eventually find that meditation is very natural and a thing you already know how to do.

I hope this is helpful.

A Guiding Principle in Relationships

[From, A Spiritual Journey]

A question I hear often has to do with relationships. What is the best way to deal with, or interact with a negative person? There are, of course, many kinds of relationships. Some are close and long-term while others are casual and short-term. Because of the wide variety of relationship types, there are no pat answers to prescribed actions. There is, however, a guiding principle in relationships that you will eventually discover, if you have not already.

We are trained to think it is our religious duty, or the mark of a spiritually enlightened soul, to love everyone in spite of his or her immature, manipulative or needy behavior. Love, however, is not something we do for others. Love is a word that describes the true nature of our being, and being true to our spiritual nature is our first responsibility, our guiding principle.

If a loved one decides to sit waist deep in a pit of mud and asks you to join them, and they express clearly that if you do not grant their wish, they will be very hurt; would you feel it is your duty to appease them? Of course, you wouldn’t. You can offer your hand and help them out, but if they don’t want to come out, you will do the most for them by staying out of the pit.

There are many who desire to control others with the goal of building or maintaining their not-so-grandiose empires. If you allow yourself to be a pawn in their scheme, you become resentful. You will resent them for using guilt, shame, and pity to get their way, and you will resent yourself for confusing your compliance with love.

To love is to be a giver, but not necessarily at the level the requester is making. I give most when I believe in others, when I see that they are the inlet and may become the outlet to all there is in God. If I only give at the level they request, then I encourage them to stay at that level. This is not a very loving act when you think about it.

The best way to deal with a negative person is to continue to act from the highest that is in you. Either you’ll inspire them to follow your example or you’ll pry their fingers from your arm and move on. Either way, things will ultimately improve for you both.

Life’s Single Lesson

YouTube: Life’s Single Lesson

Audio: Life’s Single Lesson

“You say the earth is a school and we’ve come here to learn

If we don’t get it now then we’ll have to return

Another lifetime – O how many more?

But what if we came because we’re already free

We want to share our light so that others can see

They have a purpose – a cause to live for”

(I Can’t Hide – JDB)


I think it’s fair to say that most who have embraced the spiritual alternative to the mainstream concepts of heaven and hell are comfortable with the notion that earth is a school and we’ve come to learn. The lessons we’re here to learn are not necessarily directed toward enhancing the intellect, but in advancing the soul. I think it’s a good idea to question this premise.

If you own a cat or a dog, would you say the same is true of them? Do you assume they have much to learn in terms of soul advancement? Don’t we respond to our pets because of the unconditional love and devotion they give to us? We may not like that they threaten the UPS man, chase cars, intentionally knock trinkets off the mantel, or shred the couch as part of their routine workout, but we see in them an irresistible purity that would be difficult to improve upon. Would it even cross our mind that they have come to earth to correct some soul deficit? We’re more likely to think they’ve come to help us with ours.

From a spiritual perspective, I suggest there is but a single lesson to learn: I am a soul who has taken on this body as the interfacing vehicle that allows me to experience the material plane. So-called spiritual learning is simply soul recollection –the act of reawakening to what I am at the deepest level. The lessons to learn have less to do with soul development and more to do with conducting life successfully through this temporary physical interface of the body. I believe we are here because we want to be, not because our perceived undeveloped soul needs more schooling.

Focus on this single truth: My soul is complete, and I have taken on a body to experience this earthly plane. Don’t get lost in why you may have made this choice. Focus only on the truth that you are a soul that is already complete, already free. As you get a solid understanding of this, you begin directing your body and your environment to conform to your reason for coming.