Life and Enthusiasm

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In this four-part series, we are treating Advent as an intuitive awakening. Our focus, therefore, is on the meditative process. Choose a regular time and a place where you will not be disturbed (allow 30 minutes to an hour). Relax your mind and body. Bring your awareness to the area of the solar plexus (abdominal region) and focus your attention with this simple statement: I Am. Slowly repeat these words, letting go of all stress-inducing distractions. After a time, begin speaking quietly the affirmations that follow. Allow yourself to envision and experience the action suggested by each line before you move on to the next:

My soul radiates the pure, unrestricted energy of life.

There are no blockages. There are no restrictions.

I am filled with boundless life and unbridled enthusiasm.

The pure radiance of my soul shines in its fullness now.

In perfect peace, I let this pure energy rise.

As you relax with your awareness at your center, see the radiating energy of your soul as the energizing life that permeates all aspects of your being. It is natural to visualize life as the light that animates and heals every cell of your body and brings a sparkle of enthusiasm to your eye. You need not direct the energy of life, for life knows how to express itself. We see it animating countless forms at a variety of levels everywhere in the world. Life never stagnates. It is only our mundane focus of attention that becomes dull and lifeless. Acknowledge the free reign of life as it radiates its natural expansive movement through and as your being.

Don’t try to pump up your enthusiasm and strive to be the life of the party. Doing this will expend your energy by directing it to that bottomless pit of your unenthusiastic self-image.

Any forced positive attitude you generate will be short-lived and costly. A forced expression of enthusiasm is a performance you’ll have to continually maintain. Those who do this might be entertaining, but they can also be quite wearisome. You don’t have to instruct fire to be hot and you don’t have to inform life that it needs to express as enthusiasm. This is what it does naturally.

Natural enthusiasm manifests as genuine interest in whatever you happen to be doing, from creating a piece of art to taking out the trash. Enthusiasm is as unconditional as the energy of life itself. You need no particular reason to be enthusiastic. It is life’s gift to you. As you affirm life in your meditative experience, quiet enthusiasm will naturally grow.

Spiritual Reality

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 And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”

Mark 9:1

As we study the sayings attributed to Jesus, we quickly see that one of his key themes involved the kingdom of God. What did he mean by this term? We know Jesus did not usher in the classically understood kingdom of God. Those who embrace this model still believe he will return and do it then. So, when he said there were some standing before him that would see the kingdom come in their lifetime, did he get it wrong?

Judging by this and other similar passages, we surmise that he was not talking about an era ushered in with trumpets and clouds full of angels. He was referring to an inner experience, one’s awakening to a spiritual reality. He was saying that some of his audience, not all, would experience a genuine spiritual awakening in their lifetime.

The more I study Jesus’ use of the kingdom of God, the more certain I am that he was referring to omnipresent, spiritual reality, the creative life force that underlies and animates all living forms. This creative process is already in place, fully functioning, and known to those who have the eyes to see and the ears to hear. As the Gospel of Thomas says, “The kingdom of the Father is spread out upon the earth and men do not see it.”

The term, kingdom of God, can trigger misleading preconceptions, stirring images of the old man in the sky finally coming down to take control of a dysfunctional earth. As a teacher, Jesus saw his primary mission as one of bearing witness to the true nature of the omnipresent, spiritual reality. An awareness of this spiritual dimension can heal, can bring order where there is chaos, can manifest as plenty where there is lack. In other words, understanding the true nature of God can establish conditions in one’s earthly experience as they are in this spiritual reality. “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:6).   

The Narrow Gate of Self-Discovery

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Maksim Klasanovic interview: In this interview, Klasanovic talks about why he was arrested, what he experienced in prison, and how one particular consciousness experience shaped his life.

“Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

Matthew 7:13-14

Jesus often used opposing imagery to illustrate the principle of oneness with God. He referred to old and new wineskins, houses built on rock and sand, good and bad fish, wheat and chaff, sheep and goats, and so on. Here he employs the imagery of wide and narrow gates.

The immediate impression we get is that Jesus is issuing a warning about simply following the crowd. Mainstream religion is indeed a wide gate that opens to a clearly marked, superhighway of beliefs that much of the world follows. In contrast, the individual pursuit of a direct relationship with God is a narrow gate that opens to a footpath that is often only vaguely discernable to the one who takes it. 

The wide and narrow gates are our intellectual and intuitive faculties. Mainstream religion, forged out of centuries-old statements of faith, rituals, and a tenacious hold on tradition, is by and large an intellectual pursuit. Yet at the beginning of each of these canonized systems of belief we find the lone, intuitively awakened mystic who took the superhighway offramp and traveled instead their own unique footpath of direct revelation.

Jesus spoke in parables to provide his own intellectually based society mental handles on principles that can only be discerned intuitively. The intellect builds its reality based on material appearances. He said, “Do not judge by appearances.” He pointed out that “God is spirit.” Like the wind you cannot see it, but you see its effects. To worship in spirit is to go alone into your inner room, to be still, and come to know God as your living source.  

It was the towering intellectual, Albert Einstein, who came to know, “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind (the intellect) is a faithful servant.” While today’s academic standards reverse these values, it is through our intuitive faculty that we experience direct exposure to the spiritual reality that opens the narrow gate to true self-discovery.

The Myth of Divine Favoritism

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Does God do special favors for those who please Him?

This is the essence of a question that was raised as a possible subject for a Sunday message. Because it involves our understanding of the nature of God, it is a topic well worth exploring.

We can start with this question: Does a spiritual practice such as prayer or tithing influence the behavior of God, or does it influence the way we relate to God? Those who think of God in anthropomorphic terms will likely believe their practices influence the behavior of God. Those who think of God as Spirit will see their spiritually-related practices as a way of aligning with the nature of God.

There are numerous places where Jesus indicated that human behavior had no influence over the behavior of God. Addressing the subject of unconditional love, he said “… 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). Elsewhere he reminds his listeners of, “… those eighteen upon whom the tower in Silo′am fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who dwelt in Jerusalem?I tell you, No” (Luke 13:4-5).

In both cases, these responses sound like something a mystic would say. First, they run against mainstream thinking that insists divine retribution is the fate of the sinner. Second, he is pointing to the changeless nature of God, a key feature of the mystical tradition.

And of course, we have the parable of the prodigal son where neither the bad behavior of the youngest son nor the good behavior of the oldest son influences the love of the father. James also describes God as, “The Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17).

It is good to question our own approach to God. Are we still trying to appease the man upstairs or are we seeking to align with the Creative Life Force whose sole intention for each of us is that we “… may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

The Prospering Principle

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“This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head.”

Mark 4:26-28

It is not difficult to see that a central New Testament theme involves the kingdom of God. As to the nature of this so-called kingdom, however, we find conflicting views. Consistent with the principles of oneness, it is on the one hand presented as a subjective spiritual process. On the other hand, consistent with the mainstream narrative, the kingdom is presented as an objective, coming event.

This parable from Mark portrays the relationship between an individual’s consciousness and the way their life unfolds. The type seed sown determines what sprouts and grows. How it sprouts and grows is a mystery. It is sufficient to know it happens.

I can easily see this passage as something a mystic like Jesus would teach. We are told that his main audience was comprised of the common people, most struggling with poverty. The gospel, the good news that he brought is that you can alter your life’s conditions by changing the focus of your belief system. “Consider how the wild lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these” (Luke 12:27).

People had made the connection between a person’s actions and their life’s condition, but only in a negative way. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). Jesus was presenting the positive counterpart to this idea. If you focus on the good, the good will manifest. If you ask for a fish, you will not get a serpent. If you ask for bread, you will not get a stone (Lk 11:11).

The mainstream version of the kingdom of God is an ambiguous future event. Seeing God as a present reality gives us the ability to align with the natural prospering principle that opens our life in beautiful ways.

I Am The Way (part 2)

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There are a number of versions of the so-called 4 M’s of development of a religious movement. The sequence I learned was this: the man, the message, the movement, and the monument.

Christianity, like all world religions, has long ago reached the monument stage. The man Jesus and his message are obscured beneath the veil of antiquity. Scholars today often refer to the loosely organized group of followers that formed after his crucifixion as the Jesus movement. It was during this movement stage that the articles of faith that would become mainstream Christianity began to take shape. The teachings of Jesus became teachings about Jesus.  

In the case of Jesus, the man’s message bore witness to the truth, focusing on the spiritual awakening of his individual followers.  “… when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen” (Matt. 6:6). In other words, Jesus taught “… the art of establishing a conscious relation with the Absolute” (Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism).

In contrast, the movement phase represents a shift in focus from the individual’s awakening to the movement itself. Followers exchange spiritual autonomy for a list of articles of faith, the profession of which keeps them in good standing within the fold. To become a leader within the movement does not require that one establish a conscious relation with the Absolute. It only requires an acceptance of the articles of faith and a commitment to the advancement of the movement.  

More and more people are abandoning formal religion in favor of the autonomy of their own spiritual path. While Jesus never abandoned his Judaism, he did place its rote teachings and dogmatic practices second to his conscious relationship to the Absolute, the Father. By all appearances, the Way that he taught was intended to place his audience in harmony with the natural laws of manifestation. He taught through the simple yet brilliant use of parable, but most importantly, he taught by example. The truth that he bore witness to in word and deed is the very truth that will set us free.   

I Am The Way

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“For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth.”

John 18:37

 This passage represents one of the clearest statements Jesus made concerning his perceived purpose. He came to bear witness to the truth. This is something a mystic would say. The operative word of course is truth. Pilate asked, what is truth, and Jesus didn’t answer, perhaps because he sensed a great chasm of spiritual understanding between himself and a career politician such as Pilate.  

We may not be able to know with certainty how Jesus understood truth, but we can know how the mystic understands it. Evelyn Underhill, who produced one of the most definitive works about mysticism, defined it as “… the art of establishing a conscious relation with the Absolute.” To the mystic, truth would reference the changeless and eternal nature of God (the Father) centered in every individual.

Those who have awakened to this profound reality often consider it their single purpose to share with others this truth that has the potential to free people from the burdens of mundane life. It is clear that Jesus considered passing this message to others the cornerstone of his life’s purpose. “Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14).

  When the mystic says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life…” he or she is not referring to their personal self but to their body of teachings. Unlike many mystics who were prolific writers, Jesus did not leave his teachings in a body of literature. These essentially died with him on the cross. He was literally the single resource, the way that he taught.

Apparently this label, the Way, stuck (Acts 9:1-2). It did not take long after his death for the Way to be transformed from teachings of Jesus to teachings about Jesus. In part 2, we’ll explore this transformation.

Your God Self

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This week I was asked if I would address the subject of Spirit and soul and explain what we mean by these terms.

In the broadest sense of the word, Spirit is the universal and omnipresent life, love, power, and intelligence that permeates every nook and cranny of the universe. I refer to it as the Creative Life Force because it expresses as all the countless forms of creation that we see, including ourselves. John referred to the creative aspect of God as the Word: “…all things were made through him (the Word), and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” That which we think of as our soul, the light of men, is an individualized expression of this universal Spirit.

I think one of the best analogies for explaining this relationship is that of the sponge immersed in the ocean. The water that permeates the sponge, let’s call it the soul, is the same as the water of the entire ocean. The difference is that the water in the sponge is localized. This localization, however, does not affect the relationship of oneness between the localized water and the ocean.

The challenge we have is that we identify ourselves as the water-filled sponge rather than as the ocean water that is presently localized within the sponge. When we say I, are we referring to the water or the sponge? The popular saying that I am a spiritual being going through a human experience is equivalent to saying I am ocean water presently localized in the sponge.

When we pluck the sponge from the water and give it a squeeze, the water continues to be. Some fear that the loss of the body means our spiritual essence merges with the ocean, ending our existence as individuals. This is where our analogy breaks down. Those who momentarily step from the body (NDE) insist that they are the same person but without the confines of the body. Documented cases of reincarnation support this idea as well.

The bottom line is that our soul, our God self is eternal. The most productive spiritual endeavor is to bring this perspective from the realm of conjecture and make it our reality. This, I believe, is what Jesus was referring to when he spoke of the need to be born again.

A Cosmic Balance

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This week I ran across a 6th century painting of Jesus that is located in St. Catherine’s Monastery at Mt. Sinai. An interesting feature of the painting is that each side of the face is different enough to make a viewer think of two people rather than one. According to commentary, the illusion was intentional. The artist was depicting both the humanity and the divinity of Jesus.

The discussion concerning Jesus’ humanity and divinity has gone on for centuries. Some think he was God; others think he was a man with God-like powers. There is one very important thing that is always left out of this discussion/debate. That is, the rest of us.

What theologians are debating is the nature of an image of Jesus put forward in the Gospels. Jesus, however, is no more represented in this contrived image than he is in the painting. In all cases, the literary and artistic imagery put forward is intended to set Jesus apart from common people. There is sufficient evidence to indicate Jesus himself would not have approved.

All people are spiritual beings expressing through a human body. A man like Jesus, apparently fully aware of his spiritual nature, expressed this understanding when he said, “The things I do you can do as well, and greater things” (John 14:12). Jesus struck the cosmic balance between his human and divine natures. Helping others do the same was the heart and soul of his ministry.

Hands down, near-death research provides the very best window currently available into our true nature. People who experience direct exposure to their soul are profoundly affected. P.H.M. Atwater, a foremost researcher in this field, carries this message around the world:

Those who have had a near death experience must process and integrate this life changing event into what usually becomes a new and unexpected path. It is not uncommon for this to take 7-10 years to fully embrace and become comfortable with a reality shift of this spiritual magnitude.

Imagine this. It takes 7-10 years for a person to process a minutes-long glimpse into their true being. I do not believe the thrust of Jesus’ ministry was to call attention to himself. I believe he was trying to help the common people strike their own cosmic balance.   

Fate of the Wicked

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The question was raised about the fate of people who cause great pain and suffering for others while on this earth. The name of Adolf Hitler comes to mind, though there are countless examples of such people on a greater and lesser scale. Shouldn’t there be some kind of divine punishment for those who obviously do so much harm to others?

I think most of us would agree that in a just universe there should be divine retribution for those who intentionally inflict pain and suffering on others. And yet, with the exception of relatively few cases, the majority who momentarily die and return report that there is no punishment of any kind, even when they have lived a less-than-moral life. They say that a life review, which can be severely painful, is the extent of their punishment. Yet they feel no judgment from the Being of Light or other entity that may have brought them to the review.

I recall a case where a person was murdered by a gang but recovered later to tell of their incredible near-death experience. This person said they thanked their attackers for giving them this opportunity. While such an attitude is nearly impossible for most of us to fathom, it is a common response in such cases. The experience they have is so far beyond our average human perceptions that we struggle to reconcile their reports.

Such stories remind me of Paul’s statement: “For now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood (1 Cor. 12). I think it is true that our soul’s natural condition is so far beyond our normal human thinking, that only a direct experience can show us the vastness of this reality we inhabit. With a body, we purchase real estate, build fences, and make clear legal distinctions between what is mine and thine. Outside the body, none of this is needed. The thinking we use to gain leverage in this world are not necessary to the soul who experiences its own completeness to the degree that it needs no leverage, that it has no need to take from another that which it already possesses.

This question is one that we all must take into our own heart. I too see the world through a glass darkly, but I strive to come face to face with the true nature of reality. I cannot help but think that it looks much different face to face than it does through the darkened glass through which I so often see.