Over the years I have come to believe that life is full of un-chosen circumstances, that being human has to do with the growth of our individual consciousness and with it, responsibilities for choice. Pain and joy both come with life. I believe that how we respond to what happens to us and around us shapes who we become and has to do with the psyche or the soul's growth.
Now that I am in my fifth decade, I can look back and say that the hardest and darkest times in my life led me deeper and farther along my spiritual path. At the same time I am not at all sure that, at least in this life, such is the case for everyone, especially the very young who are abused or who arrive in this world innately handicapped.
It has not been the difficult times, however, that most shaped my spiritual life, but the times that were "sacramental"—situations that were imbued with grace, sacred moments in which I felt the presence of God or felt connected to the universe. Or those times I was in nature or at a sacred site, and felt myself enter a sacred place, or have a sacred meeting, a soul-to-soul communion with another person. These are the experiences that have really mattered, the ones that changed me—the spiritual experiences that led me to what I am doing with my life. I directly felt the presence of divinity, and knew it.
~ Jean Shinoda Bolen
The mind of love brings peace, joy, and happiness to ourselves and others. Sound and light have the ability to penetrate everywhere, and love and compassion can do the same. But if our love is only a kind of imagination, then it is not likely to have any real effect. It is in the midst of our daily life and in our actual contact with others that we can know whether our mind of love is really present and how stable it is. If love is real, it will be evident in our daily life, in the way we relate with people and the world.
The source of love is deep in us, and we can help others realize a lot of happiness. One word, one action, or one thought can reduce another person's suffering and bring him or her joy. One word can give comfort and confidence, destroy doubt, help someone avoid a mistake, reconcile a conflict, or open the door to liberation. One action can save a person's life or help him or her take advantage of a rare opportunity. One thought can do the same, because thoughts always lead to words and actions.
If love is in our heart, every thought, word, and deed can bring about a miracle. Because understanding is the very foundation of love, words and actions that emerge from our love are always helpful.
~ Thich Nhat Hanh
"Day by Day" by Julia Harris May
I heard a voice at evening softly say:
Bear not thy yesterday into tomorrow,
Nor load this week with last week's sorrow;
Lift all thy burdens as they come, nor try
To weight the present with the by and by.
One step and then another, take thy way--
Live day by day.
Though autumn leaves change the season,
Walk in the sunshine. It is all for thee.
Push ahead as long as you can see.
Dread not the winter where mayst go;
But when it comes, be thankful for snow.
Onward and upward. Look and pray--
Live day by day.
The path before thee does not lead astray.
Do the next duty. It must surely be
The Christ is in the one closest to thee.
Onward, still onward, with a smile,
Till step by step shall end in mile by mile.
'I'll do my best,' unto my conscience say--
Live day by day.
Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector (Luke 18:10-11).
By definition, prayer should have God as its focus. But our prayers can easily slip into a mood in which God is peripheral to us. This happens easily when we are asking God for help, for at such a time our mind is likely to be absorbed with our need rather than with the God to whom we pray.
The Pharisee in the above passage fell into the pit of self-centeredness even as he gave thanks. He was not so much impressed with God's goodness as he was with his own achievements. Woven throughout his prayer is a tone that says, "Look at me...see what my own hand has accomplished."
Of course, the deadliest quality in the Pharisee's prayer is its meanness of spirit. Not only did he compare himself generally with "others"; but when he singled out the tax collector and thanked God that he was better than this poor soul, the unkindness in his attitude is repulsive.
The possibility of offering a good prayer when we despise some other human being is almost zilch. To despise another is to show contempt for the One who made that other person and who loves him or her. When we express contempt for another human being, or any living thing of God's making, we are, in effect, being critical of God's creation.
~ J. E. Royle
O Captain! My Captain! by Walt Whitman
O CAPTAIN! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather'd every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up-for you the flag is flung-for you the bugle trills;
For you bouquets and ribbon'd wreaths-for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head;
It is some dream that on the deck,
You've fallen cold and dead.
My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchor'd safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;
Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
But I, with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
What lifts your spirit and allows you to overcome difficulties? The answer, in part, is very simple: Encouragement. One key element which nurtures encouragement is to stop being judgmental. Watch a baby learn to crawl. Watch a toddler learn to walk. Watch someone learn to play ball again after surgery for a brain tumor, and you will see how important encouragement is.
The important thing isn't the grade your son got; it's the effort he put out. It isn't whether your daughter hit a home run; it's that she went up to the plate and took a swing. The effort is what matters, because as long as we are trying we are fulfilling our mission. "Examine me, O Lord, and try me," the Psalmist wrote. . . .
Our children are much better than they think. What kind of mirror do we hold up to them? Do we point out all their faults and problems, or do we point out their beauty and successes? What do you say to your kids when they walk out the door? Stand up straight? Fix your pants? Did you forget your lunch or your books? Do you ever say, "You're a beautiful person. God and I are proud of you."
Remember: An overdose of love has no recorded adverse side effects.
~ Bernie Siegel
Fear is everywhere—in our culture, in our institutions, in our students, in ourselves—and it cuts us off from everything. Surrounded and invaded by fear, how can we transcend it and reconnect with reality for the sake of teaching and learning? The only path I know that might take us in that direction is the one marked "spiritual."
Fear is so fundamental to the human condition that all the great spiritual traditions originate in an effort to overcome its effects on our lives. With different words, they all proclaim the same core message: "Be not afraid." Though the traditions vary widely in the ways they propose to take us beyond fear, all hold out the same hope: we can escape fear's paralysis and enter a state of grace where encounters with otherness will not threaten us but will enrich our work and our lives.
It is important to note with care what that core teaching does and does not say. "Be not afraid" does not say that we should not have fears—and if it did, we could dismiss it as an impossible counsel of perfection. Instead, it says that we do not need to be our fears, quite a different proposition.
~ Parker J. Palmer
Because I Could not Stop for Death by Emily Dickinson
Because I could not stop for Death
He kindly stopped for me
The Carriage held but just Ourselves
We slowly drove, he knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For his civility.
We passed the School, where Children strove
At recess in the ring
We passed the fields of gazing grain
We passed the setting sun.
Or rather, he passed us
The dews drew quivering and chill
For only Gossamer, my gown
My tippet only tulle.
We paused before a house that seemed
A swelling of the GROUND
The roof was scarcely visible
The cornice in the ground.
Since then 'tis centuries and yet
Feels shorter than the DAY
I first surmised the horses' heads
Were toward eternity.
The Prodigal Son by Rudyard Kipling
Here come I to my own again,
Fed, forgiven and known again,
Claimed by bone of my bone again
And cheered by flesh of my flesh.
The fatted calf is dressed for me,
But the husks have greater zest for me,
I think my pigs will be best for me,
So I'm off to the Yards afresh.
I never was very refined, you see,
(And it weighs on my brother's mind, you see)
But there's no reproach among swine, d'you see,
For being a bit of a swine.
So I'm off with wallet and staff to eat
The bread that is three parts chaff to wheat,
But glory be! - there's a laugh to it,
Which isn't the case when we dine.
My father glooms and advises me,
My brother sulks and despises me,
And Mother catechises me
Till I want to go out and swear.
And, in spite of the butler's gravity,
I know that the servants have it I
Am a monster of moral depravity,
And I'm damned if I think it's fair!
I wasted my substance, I know I did,
On riotous living, so I did,
But there's nothing on record to show I did
Worse than my betters have done.
They talk of the money I spent out there -
They hint at the pace that I went out there -
But they all forget I was sent out there
Alone as a rich man's son.
So I was a mark for plunder at once,
And lost my cash (can you wonder?) at once,
But I didn't give up and knock under at once,
I worked in the Yards, for a spell,
Where I spent my nights and my days with hogs.
And shared their milk and maize with hogs,
Till, I guess, I have learned what pays with hogs
And - I have that knowledge to sell!
So back I go to my job again,
Not so easy to rob again,
Or quite so ready to sob again
On any neck that's around.
I'm leaving, Pater. Good-bye to you!
God bless you, Mater! I'll write to you!
I wouldn't be impolite to you,
But, Brother, you are a hound!
Kindness does not stop with us; we can extend it outward from ourselves, like the ripples on a pond, toward our family, friends, and loved ones. This is relatively natural and effortless. But for loving kindness to be genuine, it cannot just end with the people we know and like; it has to go further, toward those we do not know and even do not like. This includes people we may be having a hard time with, someone with whom communication is difficult, where negative issues have arisen that are pulling the relationship apart, where there is anger, resentment, or dislike.
When we are affected by someone being hostile, dismissive, critical, or hurtful, then it is often because there is a hook in us for that negativity to grab hold of, a place where it can land that triggers all our hidden feelings of unworthiness, insecurity, doubt, even self-hate. However, when we extend kindness toward such a person, as we can in meditation, an extraordinary thing happens: The landing place, or the hook within, begins to dissolve. There is no place for the negativity to take hold.
The negative reactions that arise within us during moments of discord or disagreement cause continued conflict. Extending kindness toward the adversary is, therefore, really extending it toward ourselves, as it releases the inner pain and puts us into a more balanced place.
~ Ed and Deb Shapiro
It's fine to work toward future goals, but don't forget that today will never come again. You have only twenty-four hours to enjoy it. Some people put life on hold while striving for their dreams. At first their theme song is, "After I attain this, or that, then I'll be happy." Then, later, after ambition pales, the regrets are felt. "Why didn't I make time to _____________?"
Instead of waiting for retirement to live in a beautiful place, consider finding a way to get there now. When we live our lives in accordance with our dreams, it becomes easy to cheer for other people doing so. When we don't, it's easy to be sour grapes, unsupportive, or jealous when others break free and follow their heart's desire. If you feel as if your life is somewhere out there as opposed to right here, stop and ask yourself:
What is missing in my life?
What have I put on hold?
What am I waiting for?
What would really fill my heart and make me happy?
What would I regret if I died tomorrow?
Though you may not die tomorrow, the saddest death is walking through life like a robot, cut off from the beauty of enjoying today.
~ Charlotte Sophia Kasl
We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep. I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of people to elevate their lives by conscious endeavor. It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.
Every person is tasked to make his or her life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of their most elevated and critical hour. I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb-nail. In the midst of this chopping sea of civilized life, such are the clouds and storms and quick sands and thousand-and-one items to be allowed for, that people have to live, if we would not founder and go to the bottom and not make our port at all, by dead reckoning, and they must be great calculators indeed who succeed. Simplify, simplify. Instead of three meals a day, if it be necessary eat but one; instead of a hundred dishes, five; and reduce other things in proportion. . . .
Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life? We are determined to be starved before we are hungry. People say that a stitch in time saves nine, and so they take a thousand stitches today to save nine tomorrow. Let us spend one day as deliberately as Nature, and not be thrown off the track by every nutshell and mosquito's wing that falls on the rails. Let us rise early and fast, or break fast, gently and without perturbation; let company come and let company go, let the bells ring and the children cry—determined to make a day of it.
Why should we knock under and go with the stream? Let us not be upset and overwhelmed in that terrible rapid and whirlpool called a dinner, situated in the meridian shallows. Weather this danger and you are safe, for the rest of the way is downhill. With unrelaxed nerves, with morning vigor, sail by it, looking another way, tied to the mast like Ulysses. If the engine whistles, let it whistle till it is hoarse for its pains. If the bell rings, why should we run? We will consider what kind of music they are like. Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains.
~ Henry David Thoreau, Walden
When we were born, we were programmed perfect. We had a natural tendency to focus on love. Our imaginations were creative and flourishing, and we knew how to use them. We were connected to a world much richer than the one we connect to now, a world full of fascination and a sense of the miraculous. So what happened? Why is it that we reached a certain age, looked around, and the charm was gone?
Because we were taught to focus elsewhere. We were taught to focus elsewhere. We were taught to think unnaturally. We were taught a very bad philosophy, a way of looking at the world that contradicts who we are.
We were taught to think thoughts like competition, struggle, sickness, finite resources, limitation, guilt, bad, death, scarcity, and loss. We began to think these things, and so we began to know them. We were taught that things like grades, being good enough, money, and doing things the right way, are more important than love. We were taught that we're separate from other people, that we have to compete to get ahead, that we're not quite good enough the way we are. We were taught to see the world the way that others had come to see it. It's as though, as soon as we got here, we were given a sleeping pill.
The thinking of the world, which is not based on love, began pounding in our ears the moment we hit shore. Love is what we were born with. Fear is what we learned here. The spiritual journey is the relinquishment, or unlearning, of fear and the acceptance of love back into our hearts. Love is the essential existential fact. It is our ultimate reality and our purpose on earth. To be consciously aware of it, to experience love in ourselves and others, is the meaning of life.
~ Marianne Williamson
Some people do things completely differently from the way you would do them. It does not mean that they are one hundred percent right or that you are one hundred percent wrong. It means that people are different. There are things that people say which you would probably say in a different way, at a different time. It does not mean that people are wrong to speak up, to speak out, or to speak their minds. Nor does it mean that you are totally wrong for choosing not to do so. It means that people are different. Different is a reality. Differences become problems only when we choose to measure ourselves by our difference in an effort to determine who is good and who is bad; who is totally right and who is totally wrong.
It is not loving, healthy or necessary to make people wrong for what they do, what they say, or the way in which they do it or say it. Nor is it self-affirming to feel wrong when you see things differently, do things in a different way or express a difference of opinion. Our different points of view shape our vantage point and our vision. Where we sit is a function of where we have sat. What we can see is a function of what we have seen. Our differences can sometimes make agreement difficult to achieve, but they should never make us feel bad. Nor should they lead us to believe that what others believe is totally wrong.
Until today, you may have questioned, opposed, resisted or even detested differences. Just for today, open your heart. Be willing to embrace different points of view, different points of view, different habits, different responses, different opinions and the differences that exist between yourself and others.
~ Iyanla Vanzant
There is an important factor that causes us to be obsessed with our limitations—the tendency to compare ourselves with others. There is probably no other habit that chips away at our self-confidence so effectively as the habit of scanning the people around us to see how we compare. It is as if we have a radar dish on our foreheads, constantly searching to see if someone else is quicker, tanner, or brighter. And when we find that at times someone is, we are devastated.
The folly of basing our value on comparisons is that it puts us on a roller coaster. For example, perhaps we know we have above-average intelligence, but we happen to be at lunch with people who are even smarter. Suddenly we believe every word that comes out of our mouths sounds like intellectual sludge. Some of us grew up with older brothers and sisters who we desperately wanted to emulate, but of course we were doomed from the start. For no matter how hard we tried to catch up, we found ourselves smaller, clumsier, and dumber than they were. And when they ridiculed us (as many older siblings do) we learned to criticize ourselves. And, in a lot of cases, this became a life-long habit.
But God did not make us to be like our siblings or anyone else. We are absolutely unique. We are God's unique creation (a one-of-a-kind by a master artist). Our core value is not diminished when we happen to be with people who are better musicians or more athletic or wealthier. Scripture teaches us we have worth apart from everyone else. We have worth because we are God's masterpiece.
~ Alan Loy McGinnis
Often one of the stumbling blocks to living a simpler life is our inability or unwillingness to change how we play some of the games that got us into these complicated lives in the first place. If you've spent a lot of years not knowing what you really want to do, either in terms of your career or in terms of your personal, social, civic, or family life, it can seem like an impossible task to stop what you've been doing—or at least slow down for a bit—and figure it out. It often seems easier to keep on doing things we don't want to do. We continue doing things we almost want to do, or we continue doing things the way they have always been done simply because it is convenient.
So our lives get dissipated away by a social engagement here, a luncheon there, an evening of television here, or the habit of working evenings or weekends or both on projects that we don't have all that much interest in. And the things we really want to do, in our heart of hearts, get put on the back burner. One of the things simplifying your life will do is free up time for you to figure out what really matters to you, and then enable you to arrange your time so you can do it.
~ Elaine St. James
Gratitude can be transformative. When we offer thanks to God or to another human being, gratitude gifts us with renewal, reflection, reconnection. Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life (is it abundant or is it lacking?) and the world (is it friendly or is it hostile?). Once we accept that abundance and lack are parallel realities and that each day we choose--consciously or unconsciously--which world we will inhabit, a deep inner shift in our reality occurs. We discover the sacred in the ordinary and we realize that every day is literally a gift. How we conduct our daily round, how we celebrate it, cherish it, and consecrate it is how we express our thankfulness to the Giver of all good.
Gratitude holds us together even as we're falling apart. Ironically, gratitude's most powerful mysteries are often revealed when we are struggling in the midst of personal turmoil. When we stumble in the darkness, rage in anger, hurl faith across the room, abandon all hope. While we cry ourselves to sleep, gratitude waits patiently to console and reassure us; there is a landscape larger than the one we can see.
~ Sarah Ban Breathnach
In the 1964 movie Zorba the Greek, Alexis Zorba describes himself as "the full catastrophe." The truth is, we are all the full catastrophe, only we wish that we weren't. We deny the parts of ourselves that we deem unacceptable rather than accepting the fact that we're all less than perfect.
One of the reasons it's important to accept all aspects of yourself is that it allows you to be easier on yourself, more compassionate. When you act or feel insecure, rather than pretending to be "together," you can open to the truth and say to yourself, "I'm feeling a little frightened and that's okay." If you're feeling a little jealous, greedy, or angry, rather than deny or bury your feelings, you can open up to them, which helps you move through them quickly and grow beyond them. When you no longer think of your negative feelings as a big deal, or as something to fear, you will no longer be as frightened by them. When you open to the totality of your being you no longer have to pretend that your life is perfect, or even hope that it will be. Instead you can accept yourself as you are, right now.
Rather than judging and evaluating yourself harshly, see if you can treat yourself with loving-kindness and acceptance. You may indeed be "the full catastrophe," but you can relax about it. So are the rest of us.
~ Richard Carlson
Familiar as the voice of the mind is to each, the highest merit we ascribe to Moses, Plato, and Milton is, that they set at naught books and traditions, and spoke not what men but what they thought. A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the luster of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.
Great works of art have no more affecting lesson for us than this. They teach us to abide by our spontaneous impression with good-humored inflexibility then most when the whole cry of voices is on the other side. Else, to-morrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another.
There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The sacred begins with the integrity of your own mind.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance
The moment we recognize the degree to which our difficulties are self-imposed, we begin to heal them. We end self-sabotage only by taking responsibility for the choices and actions that created it. Only when we stop blaming our boss or government or parents or spouse or partner or children or circumstances or fate or God can we change our lives and say with conviction, "I chose where I am now, and I can choose something better." Of course, not every misadventure, injury, or problem is created by your subconscious owing to low self-worth.
For all we know, certain difficulties or challenges are gifts from God or arranged by our souls in order to test and temper our spirit. As the old proverb says, "Take it as a blessing or take it as a test; whatever happens, happens for the best." And as it happens, adversities may sometimes contain their own blessings.
~ Dan Millman
Jason E. Royle
Welcome to my blog. I'm an open-minded theologian committed to Christ-like compassion & understanding.