Do We Choose Our Parents?

I once had a conversation with a woman who attributed much of her childhood trauma to a pair of obviously dysfunctional parents. After recounting a litany of well-rehearsed abuses, she added, “Why would I choose parents like this?” With an air of resignation she added, “I guess my soul needed this, Right?”

There was a time when I would have answered her question with an affirmative nod. I now meet such statements with a smile knowing that she, and others like her, are simply parroting an assumption that has become popular in many spiritual circles, especially those of an alternative nature.

Why, with no way of really proving this to be true, would the concept of choosing our parents appeal to so many? Probably because it follows the logic that we are spiritual beings, that our parents gave birth to our body, not to our soul. This certainly invites some interesting and spiritually productive new ways of thinking of our earthly tenure.

Let’s assume that we, not our parents, were responsible for our earthly debut. From a strictly logistical, non-emotional point of view, the choice to experience earth as a human being obviously requires a body, which also requires a set of parents. Do we choose specific individuals— warts and all—to provide this service?

If we assume that our ability to choose extends to this level, the issue is complicated with the introduction of practices like in vitro fertilization (IVF). Here, a sperm and egg can be extracted from donors, fertilized in a laboratory culture, and placed in the female body of an unrelated third party. If you happen to be the offspring of such a procedure, did you choose the donors, the third-party host, or the laboratory where the formation of your body actually started? While most of us entered through conventional doors, science has provided this interesting patch of weeds to add for our consideration.

Sticking with conventional doors, let’s focus on parents. What problems would choosing our parents solve? From my observation, people who find this concept most appealing are those who’ve had a difficult childhood. The idea of choice allows them to move from a lifetime of thinking of themselves as a victim to the much stronger, empowering position of having been the choice-maker. I’m empowered if I see myself as one having come to help others. Or, I chose them because I knew my soul had something important to learn from their dysfunctional behavior.

Both are reasonable arguments that most of us have applied to certain relationships. Who hasn’t played the role of attempted rescuer? And who hasn’t had the experience of escaping a completely dysfunctional relationship with the sworn declaration that you would never again be deceived by another wolf in sheep’s clothing?

What’s reasonable from one perspective may not be so from another. From the soul’s point of view, both arguments are problematic, primarily because they’re made from a body-based point of view. A commonly reported element of near-death research, for example, is that a person’s feeling of “coming home” supersedes even the strongest of family ties. We speak of a mother’s love for her children as the strongest in the human experience. Yet we have mothers who report their NDE confessing they would rather continue their body-free journey than return to their earthly children. This doesn’t mean they don’t love their children. Nearly all recount this experience with the remorse of admitting they even had such feelings. What these reluctant admissions tell us is that the experience they had was so vast, so beautiful that everything on earth, including these strongest bonds of love, paled in comparison. Perhaps it’s the sentiment Isaiah was attempting to capture in these verses:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

In other words, I assume this lofty vision that I believe we gain with the loss of the body is one we also possessed before we took on the body. It’s the soul’s natural mode of seeing and being. We would have viewed all souls, even those struggling with a body-related crisis (the genesis of every crisis) as having little to do with the eternal experience of the soul. With a body, we think like people. Without a body, we think like God.

So, how would God think if God were making the decision to incarnate? Laying aside the whole Jesus narrative for the moment, I’ll be bold and say, The thoughts of God would be the same as those of our boundless, eternal soul. Would we see our incarnation as a mission to fix people and save the world? Would we see it as our soul’s purpose to learn something of value from people who need fixing?

At the soul level, people are not broken. They are spiritually asleep. All so-called spiritual problems stem from having lost conscious contact with the soul. This contact is not re-established through either correcting or exposing ourselves to dysfunctional human behavior. It is established only through a concerted effort to know the truth of our being. We make this effort to the degree that we awaken to ourselves, not as the senses-based, body-oriented self-image we have believed we are, but as the eternal soul that we actually are. Most human beings will not make this shift while occupying a body. The belief that humanity is on the verge of doing so is job security to those who make their living as the self-proclaimed saviours of the human race.

How do we go forward with this issue of parental choice? Let’s say your parents, now dead, were indeed the culprit. They left you with all this damage, but you can’t tell them what you think so you’re left with the task of somehow resolving the whole thing within yourself. Becoming the choice-maker helps, but it doesn’t remove the scars. You may even find yourself duplicating the very dysfunctions you despise. What can you do?

Imagine the offending parent or parents standing before you now, free of their bodies and all the body-oriented dysfunction that defined your relationship with them. They no longer see themselves or you in the way you remember. They now see from the lofty context of the completely unfettered soul. You can see in their eyes that they deeply and sincerely apologize for the pain and suffering they may have caused. They admit that they were in a foolish, self-centered struggle for survival, with much to protect and much to hide. You were in a relationship with them when they believed cheating, stealing, lying, predation, manipulation, and creating false pretenses were necessary for survival and social acceptance. They admit that the self-image they perpetuated was the short-sighted product of a consciousness void of understanding of who and what they were at the deepest level. If they had known then what they know now, everything would have been very different.

Is this an exercise of letting irresponsible parents off the hook? No. It’s a way of saying, if you insist on holding the belief that you choose your parents, then these are the parents you might consider choosing.

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.

A Path to Self-Forgiveness

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For your enjoyment: Moments of Inspiration

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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.

Revisiting Forgiveness

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There is much written about forgiveness and how important it is in relation to our spiritual advancement. And yet I think so much is written about it because we find it difficult to put into practice. Because it involves personal feelings of being wronged by another, it’s usually easier to advise a friend or family member of the need to forgive while overlooking our own reluctance to do so.

In his book, From Science to God, Peter Russell makes this very helpful observation:

The conventional understanding of forgiveness is of an absolution or pardon: “I know you did wrong, but I’ll overlook it this time.” But the original meaning of forgiveness is very different. The ancient Greek word for forgiveness is aphesis, meaning “to let go.

In this sense, letting it go carries a very different feel than merely letting it pass. While we may be completely justified in our anger toward one who has wronged us, the impact of clinging to a falling-out has the effect of binding us to that negating energy we abhor. It was with this idea in mind that I shared this thought with our Facebook audience:

Forgiveness is the choice to leave behind a bit of baggage that no longer serves your highest good.

Probably one of the most common issues I have faced in ministry is the challenge of letting go of people who, in their moment of anger, have been moved to inflict harm on myself or my ministry. Even now, our church is rising from the ashes of one such incident. There are those who are quick to suggest reconciliation as the right and spiritual thing to do. I have found, however, that letting go is the better way. Those who have sought to inflict harm once are usually repeat offenders. There is no principle that says you must demonstrate your spiritual strength by again placing yourself in the path of an oncoming train. It’s much better to let it go by stepping off the tracks and letting the train pass.

If you are dealing with the question of forgiveness, try thinking of it as the act of leaving behind a bit of baggage that no longer serves your highest good. This simple shift in attitude could be the very change you are looking for.

The Body is a Choice

[excerpt from The Complete Soul]

I want to close this chapter by sharing a few thoughts on the idea that we incarnated by choice, that we did so with the full understanding of the limitations and drawbacks involved. By this, I do not mean we knew we would have abusive parents, or that we would suffer some handicap, or that we chose these or other issues for the lessons our soul needed. I realize some people draw comfort, even closure from this idea. Like many in my profession, I once embraced this theory as a way of helping others make sense of difficult experiences. Now I see this as an unnecessary spinoff of the evolutionary model. The idea of the complete soul offers a more spiritually productive, logical, and fulfilling perspective. From this starting point, logic dictates that further incarnations, with whatever experiences they hold, will not make the soul more complete. A full pail, after all, can hold no more water.

Someone will ask, if our soul did not come for the lessons life has to offer, then why would we go to the trouble of incarnating? I’ve given this question a lot of thought over the years, and I believe the answer is a lot less complicated than the evolving soul model allows. For reasons of our choosing, we came simply because we wanted to be here. Getting here meant we needed a vehicle, a way to bring our soul from the spiritual to the material plane. The most efficient way of doing this is through a body.

Saying the body is the most efficient way of bringing the soul into expression doesn’t mean that our experience of incarnating has been perfect. Stepping into the body vehicle made us susceptible to rough roads and all kinds of foul weather, so much so that the bulk of our attention has gone to the maintenance needs of the body vehicle and its journey, while the soul, in a sense, remains nearly unnoticed in the cargo hold.

A major pitfall of the evolving soul model is that it makes the spiritual experience about the vehicle, its journey, and the belief that we will one day arrive at some special destination on this earthly sojourn. The truth is we have arrived. We’ve been so busy looking for specific conditions on this planet that we have forgotten that earth itself is our destination. We didn’t come to experience life from the cab of this delivery truck, driving endlessly from one place to another, looking for the right location to offload and unpack our cargo. We came here to experience life from our soul, right here and right now, using this body vehicle as our means of being here.

I said earlier that we are here for reasons of our choosing. We may doubt this because, unlike picking last year’s vacation spot, we have no clear memory of making such a decision. This memory is there, however, embedded in those things that truly interest and come most natural to us. These things do not boost our egos, advance our positions, or make us feel powerful. These are the things we quietly and reverently give our time and attention to without pay, persuasion, or recognition.

I see in the process of writing books some useful parallels that may help shed light on our reasons for incarnating. People write books for all kinds of reasons. Some write for sheer entertainment, others for educational purposes. Still others combine education with entertainment. I write because I want to share ideas that I think are important and will be of value to my readers. Sharing these ideas requires a way of doing that and the book is my vehicle of choice. Writing a book is fraught with challenges. It involves embodying inspired ideas in words, sentences, paragraphs, and chapters that create a cohesive presentation one can read on a bus.

In the beginning of this section, I said we incarnated by choice, and that we did so with the full understanding of the limitations and drawbacks involved. I say this in the context similar to that of writing a book. When I made the decision to undertake this project, I knew from previous experience the nature of the challenges involved. Ideas often come in a flash and I can jot them down with relative ease. Including them in the context of a book is another matter. This can take hours, days, weeks, even months to accomplish. I have spent days working on a single paragraph only to delete it later. What comes quite easy on one level, is not so easy to express on another.

If we think of the soul as a set of ideas and the body as the book (our means of literally publishing the soul to the world), then we see the challenges we encounter in this incarnating/publishing process have little if anything to do with the soul itself. The ideas I want to convey through a book are largely unaffected by my struggle to convey them.

It is our associations of soul with body (our body-based self-image) that make our body-oriented challenges feel so personal. We mistakenly associate these challenges with the condition of our soul, but a clear understanding of the difference spares us this unneeded stress. Having great ideas is not the same as having the ability to put them in writing. This is where the work comes in.

If, as I have suggested, you were unfortunate enough to have had the experience of abusive parents, you may have made the mistake of interpreting this situation as something your soul needed to learn from these people. Dysfunctional, abusive people have little or nothing to teach our soul. Assigning them the role of teacher is often an attempt to put a positive spin on destructive behavior we struggle to forgive, a willingness to blame ourselves so we can let them off the hook and move on. Genuine forgiveness, however, has nothing to do with making peace with the actions of another. Forgiveness occurs when we touch our own wholeness and realize that the power and soul integrity we thought they took from us has remained with us all along. They may indeed provide the catalyst that causes us to look deeper into our soul, but what we find is nothing they brought. Nor does their negative influence have the power to detract from our real purpose for incarnating. We did not need their negativity to enrich or advance our soul. If we are giving people and various conditions this kind of power, we ourselves are obscuring our purpose for incarnating. We’re experiencing writer’s block, so to speak, staring blankly out the window, hung up on some writing issue, while our book goes unpublished.

The specific issues we encountered by taking on a body were, in all likelihood, unknown to us. Our soul did not choose them for the growth opportunities they might offer. On the other hand, fully aware of our soul’s completeness, we understood there would indeed be challenges associated with temporarily tethering this vast, nonlocalized essence we call our soul to a vehicle subject to the restrictive laws of time, space, and gravity. We are not here to work our way through the school of soul development, or to pay some karmic debt. We have incarnated for reasons similar to those I have agreed to take on when writing books: I do it because I want to.

You and I are here because we made the choice to be here.