Setting Free the Captives

Papa Francesco all'incontro presso la sede della Pontificia AccaThere is a movement amongst the religious leaders of the world to end all human slavery by the end of the year 2020. Coming together in an unprecedented collaboration, representatives from all of the world’s major religions have signed a declaration expressing their mutual commitment to end human trafficking. This is a major advance in the life of the world’s spiritual community, not only because of its united effort at these highest levels of religious organization, but also for the opportunity it provides for all of us, both religious and spiritual, to come together to uplift the hearts and minds of all people everywhere.

Earthquake-rescue1There are two ways in which we can respond to this opportunity. One is to say no to slavery in all its forms. It is to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that slavery and human trafficking are wrong. It is to take the existential stance that when confronted with this issue as a force in the collective mind, you would deny its momentum, its influence, and its financial and popular support in all forms. It would be to look it in the eye and say, “You have no place in me or in this world; I reject you utterly; I command you to stop.” The other way is to picture in your mind’s eye what it feels like to emerge from the rubble into the light of day, just as those who survived the collapse of the World Trade Center in 2001 or the people who have been pulled to safety in the aftermath of an earthquake. What indescribable joy they must have felt! Despairing for their lives, hoping against hope, to then be liberated from their captivity and returned to safety, to their loved ones, back to a normal life. To project this feeling into the minds of those caught in the grip of human slavery, held against their will, forced to do things no human being should ever be forced to do—this could be the ray of hope and strengthening of will that they need to empower them to break out of their captivity.

Can you—will you—pray for this guy?

Can you—will you—pray for this guy?

But no living prayer is complete until it embraces both sides of the equation. Imagine those who make their living buying and selling other human beings. What about them? As long as we see them as the enemy, we energize them to keep doing what they are doing. Push against the human will, no matter what its orientation, and it will push back. But, to recognize that the human spirit is the same in all of us, that God is the same in each person, no matter how “evil” that person might seem, this recognition is the beginning of healing. Those who perpetrate crimes against humanity do so against their own spiritual well being. One must be cut off from their own divinity before they can do such things. At some level, they can feel their separation from their own innate spiritual consciousness, and this separation must be a source of great suffering for them, suffering that from behind an opaque wall of ignorance gets distorted into a heartless cruelty and disregard for the suffering of others. What would they feel like if they were released from their captivity, released from the anger that causes them to do extraordinary damage to their own soul?

Harming and being harmed are the gyres that pull us down into the blackness of materiality. Victim and victimizer are the roles we play in this tragedy of Earth life. Each role empowers and perpetuates the other. We trade places , sometimes killing and sometimes being killed, exacting acts of revenge in exchange for preceding acts of revenge, blood feuds that extend so far back in time that no one can remember who actually started the cycle. And it’s believing that others deserve whatever we want to do to them that fuels the slave trade that has grown to epidemic proportions in our world.

What if we were all freed from these delusions?

An idea pictured in mind, combined with a resolved will and fervent feeling, is the most powerful force in the universe. It is more powerful than any nuclear weapon. But pitting that power against another human being diminishes its power exponentially. It is only by including everyone in our prayers that mountains will move. Each of us are at different levels of consciousness and therefore have different levels of responsibility. And just as parents set boundaries for their children, sometimes quite firmly, much to the dismay of the child, so too can we look into the blackness of human depravity and command it to cease and desist its self-destructive behavior.

This is our responsibility to each other. For as surely as night follows day, we too will need, at some point in our soul’s trajectory, a corrective word and guiding hand from those above us. Let us not fail in this. Let us not turn our backs and do nothing when what is required of us is everything. 

human-trafficking

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Devotion

Dear Readers,

If you’ve been wondering why there haven’t been many posts lately, it’s because I’ve been working on my new book, World Priest. Here’s a draft of one of the chapters:

Devotion

Devotion

There are two powerful forces in our lives—desire and fear. We are born with them. It is as though we are an electrically charged particle either attracting to or repelling from the ever-changing circumstances of our lives. Rarely, except in brief moments of clarity, do we experience peace—deep, soul-satisfying peace. And for those of us on the spiritual path, this predicament can be hell.

In fact, every move we make towards God seems to precipitate an encounter with the devil. Like Luke Skywalker in his training with Yoda, in order to become a great Jedi warrior, we must first face our deepest fears. As you may recall, Luke had to enter the cave of initiation where he would face his unknown terror. In order to pass the test, however, he had to do so without reacting. From deep within the cavern, Darth Vader emerged with his sword drawn. Luke was overcome with fear and struck out at the phantasm and thus failed the test. His fears, like ours, can seem so real.

Our desires can undo us just as thoroughly as our fears. When I was a young boy, periodically I would be overcome with an intense longing to connect. My heart seemed to swell out of my body, surrounding me with an aching desire for something I could neither see nor name. All of the beauty in the world would arch itself skyward, pulling me without instructing me towards some promise, some prize of fulfillment, some homecoming that I could not identify. The feeling was simultaneously intense and sad. Of course, my ten or eleven year-old brain could only interpret this as wanting a girlfriend, even though no human person could ever fill such a gaping hole. It was as though my internal magnet had suddenly been dialed all the way up, so high that nothing on Earth could satisfy its longing. More often than not, this unfulfilled desire would leave me feeling depressed and alone.

This feeling eventually became internalized (read: buried) and I began that eternal pursuit for happiness in the world. But it was like looking for an oasis in a desert. My desire led me to extremes in all areas of my life, as though I were trying to crack the world open with the sheer force of my longing, thinking that somewhere within it I would find gold. Fortunately, I found a spiritual teacher, and with the adept hand of an accomplished master, he led me out of the desert and into my heart. He gave me a way to channel my longing, to redirect my searching away from the Earth and into the stratosphere of spiritual attainment. The heavens opened up, and I finally found what I was seeking. What once had seemed like a chasm of unfulfillment now spread itself out before me like a vast, overhead vault of stellar brilliance. He brought me into the light and into direct contact with the face of God.

With this huge infusion of cash into my spiritual bank account came all the problems that people who win the lottery encounter when their lives are suddenly upended by good fortune. Many of these people wind up destitute, because they cannot adjust to the increased energy in their life. Their normal inability to manage money gets magnified exponentially, and all of their bad habits come out in force like unwanted relatives demanding their piece of the pie. The exact same thing happens when our consciousness is suddenly expanded by spiritual awakening. Everything left unattended makes itself known with a vengeance. Even when one’s training involves combing out most of the inner tangles, as did mine, a whole new layer of convoluted problems gets exposed. What normally would take lifetimes to emerge into one’s consciousness now surfaces like a whale at speed, spouting fury and mayhem in a crashing roar. Awakening, it turns out, comes with a price.

Spiritual work—the expansion of consciousness into divine realms—is like taking the resistance out of an electrical circuit. When you lower resistance, you increase current. When current is increased, everything is “amped up”—more heat, more light, more energy for all of the surprises which up until now have been safely locked away in Pandora’s Box. In short, all hell breaks loose! Spiritual teachers throughout the millennia have asked themselves, “Do I tell him what he’s in for, or not?” They default in the time-worn way. They dress the experience up in story form, pitting a young hero against insurmountable odds, going through trials and tribulations, even death, only to be resurrected in a glorious victory. Sound familiar?

With every awakening comes a trial, every spiritual advancement necessitates a campaign to clean up what floats to the surface. Immediately following Jesus’ baptism, he is led into the wilderness to confront his demons. After his glorious encounter with the great ones of old on the Mount of Transfiguration, he is led into Jerusalem and Golgotha. When the light within us is turned up, all of the shadows get more intense. This is the blessing and the curse of spiritual awakening. It is why Jesus said, “For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?” and the 19th Century Indian mystic, Ramakrishna, said, “Do not seek illumination unless you seek it as a man whose hair is on fire seeks a pond.” Anything short of this will not provide the momentum for your soul to achieve escape velocity from the cares of this world.

Here’s the kicker, the one thing that has proved the undoing of many a spiritual aspirant: You cannot talk your way out of this dilemma. No amount of intellectualization will defuse the demons that rear up as a result of you being energized by spiritual awakening. It doesn’t matter how many books you read or how many seminars you attend, there are no substitutes for the pick-and-shovel inner work you are going to have to do to clean this up. What you are dealing with is deeply ontological, and it is on that level that you are going to have to engage.

Fortunately, there’s a way out. It is clearly spelled out in the story of Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness—clearly if you know how to read it. First, you have to recognize that there is no external “devil” tempting Jesus. This is strictly an inside job. The temptations arise from within Jesus himself. These are his own unresolved issues that he has to deal with before he can embark on his mission as teacher and messiah. If he didn’t have unresolved issues, he would not have been able to overcome them, and we would not have a “way” to resolve them in ourselves. This is the “sacrifice” made by the Christ Being when It came to Earth in a physical body—to undergo the human experience in order to raise it up to its divine potential.

The temptations, three in number, are roughly this—satisfying physical appetites, succumbing to fear, and arrogance. Turn these stones into bread; throw yourself off of this cliff; use your powers to rule the world. The exact same issues come up for Siddhartha at the time of his enlightenment—the sexual advances of Mara’s daughters; a barrage of arrows flying at his head; the feelings of obligation to rule as his father’s heir to the throne. Understanding this precedent in the life of the Buddha helps us to understand the Three Temptations of Christ.

The important element in both of these accounts is this—neither Buddha nor Jesus resorted to intellectualization to solve their problems. They didn’t try to talk their way out of the situation. Instead, they appealed to a higher power. In all three stages of Jesus’ process, rather than argue with the devil, he quotes Scripture. He doesn’t give his reasons why he won’t give in, instead he lifts his consciousness to God. It was as though he connected one end of a wire to his inner conflicts and the other end to heaven. He equalized the potential through the medium of his own consciousness. Buddha did the same when he “touched the Earth.” This is how we do it. We don’t grapple with our problems. We lift them up to God.

When we find ourselves in the grip of our desires and our fears, it is our devotion that saves us. It is the power of the heart, not the mind, that grounds us in heaven. We need only to look up, to change the direction of our attention, taking it off of the situation and placing on that which is higher. How? Through meditation. This is the workshop of spiritual awakening. We go within. We take each issue as it arises, whether of fear or desire, and lift it up as we would a chalice at the altar. We lift it up and connect it to God’s consciousness, the infinite creative power of the Universe. We lift it up with the same intensity of feeling that a small child has when she strains to reach the cookie jar on the kitchen counter. That’s how badly we want it. We reach with our heart, not with our mind. This is devotion.

Luckily, we’re not always struggling with our fears and desires. But this shouldn’t keep us from reaching up to God with our heart on a regular basis. We stay in shape. We don’t wait until the morning of the race to work out. We train everyday so that when a crisis comes, we’re prepared. Too often, we wait until we are in the soup before we turn to God, and then we wonder why it’s so hard to rise above our problems. We need to make it a consistent practice, not just a port in a storm. We turn our relationship with God into a love affair—God as lover, not as sugar daddy.

It is through our devotion to God that we are “saved,” not the strength of our mind. The brain is fragile; the heart is an indomitable muscle. It’s easy to be loyal when you’re in love. Connect with God—be in love!

 

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What Is Your Life’s Purpose?

millerPeople whose lives are hanging by a thread usually hold on until after the holidays, so that they can be with family one last time. Then they die. People who manage to achieve their goals in the face of crushing setbacks get where they want to go despite overwhelming odds. And, people who are stuck in the most stultifying occupations somehow thrive in their meaningless routines because someone depends on them. Surely, there is a principle at work here. Maybe it’s one that we can use on a daily basis and not just when we find ourselves in dire circumstances.

Speaking of dire circumstances, I watched a video recently of downhill ski racer Bode Miller narrowly escaping a horrendous fall at a race in Kitzbuehel, Austria. He’s known for his ability to recover in situations where most other skiers give up and crash. I analyzed the video to see if I could discover his secret. This is what I found.

Miller’s attention is focused on where he’s going, not on what’s happening. If you pause the video at 1:14, you will see that even though his skis and his body are all over the place, his head remains in the same position that it would have been if his turn had gone smoothly. Where your head is, your body (and your skis) will follow.

The trajectory of our life is predetermined by the vision we hold in our heart and the willpower we muster to realize it. Our current circumstances must never interfere with or supplant our vision; they must never become anything more than problems to solve as we make our way toward the fulfillment of our life’s purpose.

Ah, but there’s the rub.

What if we don’t have a “life’s purpose”? Now, that is a problem. Without a life’s purpose, all we have left is our current circumstances. That’s no way to live. Before his retirement, Bode Miller’s purpose was to win ski races. It was a somewhat limited purpose, to be sure, given that an athlete’s abilities diminish with age. After he failed to win a gold medal at his last Winter Olympics, he was crestfallen, despite his overall stellar career. But, if we take this one moment in his Kitzbuehel race as a microcosm of the human experience, we can see the larger parallels in our own lives. We can see that “without a vision [a life’s purpose] the people perish.”

So, how do we find our “life’s purpose”? Here’s an easy way. Instead of asking, “What do I want?” ask instead, “What do I love?” What we want can be quite elusive, but what we love is easily summoned. And, what we love is inextricably tied to our life’s purpose. After all, what we love informs everything we do—if not consciously, then surely subconsciously. It is the basis for all of our divine guidance. What we love is what we find exalted on the altar of our heart, and our heart is that part of us that sits in the driver’s seat of our life-energies.

When Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,” he meant that what we value (treasure) will by necessity become what we want. That’s how the brain is wired. It’s the reason that sales gurus tell you to emphasize benefits, benefits, benefits to your prospective clients. You must first establish that your product has value before you can get someone to buy it. No one buys something that has no value.

If you examine your life and find it lacking purpose, perhaps you need to rediscover your first love. What was it that first lit you up? Maybe it’s something from your childhood, or maybe from your high school or college days. Reconnecting with that could get you back on track. It very well could be the one thing that could get you through some current difficulty. At Kitzbuehel, Bode Miller’s head was oriented towards the finish line, and that kept him from crashing. Where is your head oriented? What is your vision? What do you love? Find that and all the rest is downhill.

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Should You Pray?

praying-man

Discussions about prayer tend to deal with it as though prayer were some kind of alternative approach to life, not something that we do all the time anyway. This way of looking at prayer stems from the belief that we are separate from God.

If Saint Paul is right when he says, “In Him we live and move and have our being,” then every action we take, every thought we think, and every word we say is a prayer. We cannot NOT pray.

To put it in New Thought terms, we live in a creative medium. We cannot move a finger without putting a cause into motion. The more conscious we become of this, the more effective we are in life, both in the details and the larger scheme of things. The less conscious we are of this, the more we find ourselves at the effect of external causes. Jesus said, “I am in the world but not OF it.” To be “of” the world means to be at the effect of external causes, like a boat without a rudder, drifting aimlessly at sea.

My teacher once told me that a root extending itself into the soil in search of moisture is identical to us reaching for a glass of water. Identical. We live in a spiritual world. It is driven by intention and runs on connection. Everything we see with our physical eyes is but the effect of larger and deeper forces. These forces live in us; we are not separate from them.

The question, therefore, is not whether to pray, because we’re praying all the time. The question is whether we can become conscious of what we are praying. Our every thought is a prayer.

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Prayer and the Free Throw Shot

free_throw_evolution (1)

I like small prayers. I know, I know…God knows no degree of difficulty. Big prayers are just as easy to answer as little prayers. But still, I like the little ones. They’re fun. And besides, it’s a great way to practice presence of Mind.

One of the best ways to practice praying is by shooting baskets from the free throw line. (In the interests of full disclosure, I really suck at basketball, but I do like to shoot baskets once in awhile.) The fact that I have very little skill at basketball just makes shooting baskets that much more exciting. Here’s how I do it:

There’s the basket, way over there, and the ball is in my hands. I know that in order for the ball to get to the basket, it has to travel a certain path. Given my strength, the weight of the ball, and the distance to the basket, that path falls within a narrow range of possible trajectories. If I were strong enough to throw the ball fifty feet in the air in a perfect parabolic curve, that curve would be one of the possible trajectories. But I’m not that strong, so the right path for me is always pretty simple.

Since my intention is to make the basket, the path my ball has to follow starts to light up like runway lights. I can see it illuminated in the air in front of me—a perfect arc from the ball in my hands to the center of the hoop. All I have to do is follow the arc. I don’t pray for God to make the shot for me, expecting that it will happen as if by magic, ignoring the laws of physics. That only happens in movies; there are no special effects in real life. But because I want to make the shot, and I will myself to make the shot, and I put myself on the line with my whole body and my complete attention, I make the shot. My prayer encompasses my entire being. I am my prayer. And my prayer gets answered.

I like praying at work, too. Sometimes, I have too much to do and too little time to do it. Judging by all past performance, there simply is not enough time. So, I look at the clock, select the time I want to finish, and then see myself finishing at that time. Then I let it happen. Sure, it has to be feasible—I can’t decide to do an hour’s worth of work in five minutes. (Although, isn’t that what Eli Whitney did when he invented the cotton gin?)

I love the feeling when it happens, the complete absence of resistance in my body, the utter simplicity of my movements, the economy and efficiency as each step blends seamlessly into the next. It’s wonderful. All of my limitations melt away. The universe factors me into the equation of the task at hand, and the work gets done!

I like praying for little things, because there’s an unlimited supply of little things to pray for. Big things, almost by definition, are harder to come by. And when you think about it, don’t they say that big tasks are easier to accomplish if you break them down into bite-sized chunks? Isn’t it easier to see a person in traffic back down from his road rage, if only a little, than it is to see the end of all wars? I tell you, I’m an instant gratification kind of guy, and I like seeing my prayers get answered right now! I mean, I can wait if I have to, but if I don’t have to, I’m not going to. When Jesus said to ask as though what we are asking for is already ours, well “already” seems pretty fast to me!

imagesPushing the boundaries of our limitations, whether in work or play, is the mother of our innovations. Like Eli Whitney, we find ways to make the impossible possible. Humanity’s longings to fly like a bird didn’t cause wings to sprout from our backs, but it was only sixty-six years from the plains of Kittyhawk to “The Eagle has landed.” To me, that’s prayer in action. Seeing the path in front of you, whether it’s to the moon or the other side of the room, and then stepping out on that path—that’s the way to pray.

To will, to dare, to do, to be silent—these are the four stages of prayer.

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What Happened

drivingYesterday, l almost hit another car in what would have been a head-on collision while coming down the hill from Half Moon Bay. The other guy had lost control on a curve and was fishtailing back and forth between my lane and his. We were both going about 65 miles per hour. As he swung into my lane, I could tell that his oscillation would quickly reverse itself and that he would swing back in the other direction. In that split second, I had to determine whether to steer right or left. I decided to turn right. We passed each other with barely eight feet between us, which at that speed was very close. In the rearview mirror, I could see him slowly recover and gradually make it back into his own lane.

Then, all of a sudden, I was driving into a wall of dust. Apparently, the other driver had veered into the gravel median as he came around the turn and had lost control. He must have gone through the dirt sideways, because there was quite a cloud kicked up. Then I saw a minivan parked in the median just passed the dust cloud. I pulled up behind him to find out if it had been hit. As I walked up to it, I could see that the driver’s door was open, and a guy was sitting there hyperventilating with his hand to his chest. I asked him if he was alright. He told me that the other car had missed him by only a foot. Then he told me that his little girl was in the back seat. I looked, and there she was perched in her carseat, face ashen, her eyes staring at me in shock. I said, “Hi, sweetie, are you okay? That was pretty scary, huh? But, you’re okay, right? Nothing happened, did it.”

I turned my attention back to the driver and again tried to assess his condition. He was definitely out of breath, but he wasn’t having a heart attack. I told him that he should get out of the median and pull off the road onto the shoulder, so he could catch his breath and settle down. But, he said, “No, I’m okay—I’m okay now.” He thanked me and shut his door, making it clear that he was leaving. I said, “Take it easy,” and I walked back to my car. I checked over my shoulder for any traffic coming up behind me and pulled back onto the road and headed for home. His words kept repeating in my head: “My little girl’s in the back seat.”

As I thought about what had just happened, I could see that his distress was not caused by almost being in a head-on collision. It was the thought that his little girl could have been killed. His shock, the hyperventilation, his shaking hands were not because of what had just happened, but because of what might have happened. His mind was raging with visions of tragic outcomes—his and her likely death, his wife’s devastation at hearing the news, the lost future for him and his family. All of these ideas were sweeping over him as though they were realities and not simply what-ifs, and they were drowning him.

The near-miss hadn’t affected me at all, neither during nor after. Growing up, I raced sports cars and was in several crashes and numerous close calls. I more or less knew what to do when I saw the other car coming right at me. But, I also knew what to expect from my own mind, how it would try to pull me into the same dark hole of what might have happened, just as the young dad’s mind was doing to him. Over the years, I have trained myself to keep that from happening. I immediately began to go over the scenario step by step, recounting not what might have happened, but what actually did happen. I visualized the path the other car had taken as the driver struggled to regain control, how it had come across the median and veered into my lane. I could see the back end of his vehicle swing around, leaving skid marks on the pavement and throwing his car in the other direction, and how I could tell that very quickly he would be coming right at me again. I recalled my own trajectory as I adjusted my speed and my angle to compensate for his, and making the decision to go right and not left. I could see him fly past me, missing me by just a few feet. All of these details replayed in my mind. And, as they did, they cut a deep groove in my consciousness that said I was okay and not dead or injured.

I am blessed with a vivid imagination—I can see, hear, feel, and taste just about anything I care to dream up. But, it can also be a curse, if I let it run wild with awful things that might have happened. Whenever I see it start to go down that path, I engage the good ‘ole frontal cortex and force myself to analyze what actually took place. I think about how it happened and the reasons behind why it happened. In this way, I have managed to avoid a great deal of post-traumatic stress in my life. Because, as it turns out, the subconscious mind cannot distinguish between real events and imaginary ones. It sees them both the same. All that Young Dad could see was the tragedy that might have been, which when added to the adrenaline rush he experienced will likely make him a mental wreck for the next couple of weeks. His mind will be stuck in an alternate universe that does not exist, until (perhaps) the demands of daily life wrestle his awareness back to the present moment.

Sometimes I wonder how much we live our lives in the what-ifs, and if we are all, as a result of doing that, in varying degrees of PTSD. After all, from the time we are born, life is a series of near-misses, occasionally punctuated by minor and major collisions. Our minds seem to be hardwired to mess us up in the process, wildly fishtailing from one imaginary extreme to another, never simply focused on what’s actually going on. Instead of raising a glass to having made it through yet another day, we huddle under the storm clouds of our worries, our dashed hopes and shattered dreams, and our fictitious fates. I say screw all that. It’s just so wonderful to be ALIVE, to be alright right now. What’s wrong with that?

Nothing, that’s what.

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The Platitudes—the ego’s own Sermon on the Mount

sermonEvery movement has its jargon. Every great cause has its rallying cries. One way to tell when a new idea has gone past its prime is when its guiding principles have degenerated into platitudes. Some of the West’s best ideas have come from eastern philosophy. But, as these great ideas have become popularized, they have morphed into something other than the reality they point to. Sound bites do not rely on subtle distinction; they depend instead on simplicity, whether the idea is simple or not. Such sound bites include “There is no such thing as evil”; “It’s all good”; “Everything happens for a reason.” And, while these concepts are true, they are not shallow. Taken out of context, they can be misleading. This is where the West finds itself now—to find wisdom in a new context.

The personification of evil IS the evil in the world. “Mistake” (or missing the mark) has been replaced with “sin,” which means we’re all inherently flawed and thus incapable of doing “good.” None of this negates, however, the word “excellence,” or its spiritual equivalents, such as compassion, humility, or human decency. While there may not be such a thing a “evil,” there certainly are a lot of things that are simply screwed up—mistakes, horrendous mistakes—which should not be swept aside under the pretense that “it’s all good” or “everything happens for a reason.” These sayings are merely cop-outs that help us avoid having to DO something.

Resignation, by Natasha Shulte

Resignation, by Natasha Shulte

I’m in favor of the word “mistake” over the word “sin,” because mistakes can be corrected whereas sins must be paid for in blood. One acknowledges human proneness to error, while the other condemns us before we even make it out of the gate. But, we must not for a moment in all of our thoughts of “Oneness” put aside our responsibility to rise up out of the whirlpool of moral entropy and to do what’s right.

There is a “right” vs. a “wrong.” We are faced with it every second of our lives. It is, in fact, why we are here—to learn the difference. Just as there is a right and a wrong way to bake a cake, there are right and wrong ways to govern a society, right and wrong ways to administer justice, right and wrong ways teach children, right and wrong ways to meditate and pray. The universe is replete with choices, some good and some bad.

hermitSo, while it is absurd to personify evil and pit it against the good, it is equally as absurd to say that there are no problems to solve. (We can at least be smart enough to come in out of the rain.) The ego revels in the idea that somehow the rules don’t apply to it, that it is indeed “special.” It rejects the notion that humility is a spiritual reality, erroneously equating it with being subservient. It ignores the fact that acting in accordance with Divine Will is a source of great power, not slavery.

The ego questions the very existence of “divine will,” bolstering its arguments with cartoon-like images of white male kings—despots—sitting in absolute authority over humanity, judging it relentlessly and ruthlessly, never giving us a break. We blame the most mechanical and predictable natural phenomena on this paper god, such as the weather and the cycle of mortality, using that as an excuse to do whatever the hell we want, as though rebellion against nature gives us…dignity.

But, all it does is to allow the ego to strut across the stage a few moments longer, eliciting applause and then basking in its fifteen minutes of fame, bemoaning all the while the tragedy of the final curtain. And, in the wake of the ego’s self-indulgence is washed up all the suffering of the world.

So, don’t let the notions of Oneness, it’s all good, and everything happens for a reason cause you to abdicate your spiritual responsibility to pursue excellence. If you believe in these sayings, use them to strengthen your notions of justice and equality before the law. Use them to obliterate notions of racial superiority and ethnic dominance, perverse nationalism, and sectarian arrogance. Use them to underscore the principles of all people are created equal and that the laws of the land apply to everyone and not just the poor. Use them to enforce the reality that this planet is an ecosystem and not an open-pit mine, using the atmosphere as though it were a sewer. Use them to shine light on the oneness of human society, how every person has the right to live and, at the same time, to act responsibly for the good of the whole.

sacred-heart-tattoo-on-man-chestAbove all, use them to open your heart, knowing that as you do a great ache will rip your chest open and cause rivers of tears, both of sorrow and of joy, to flow from your eyes. This is the cost of “Oneness.” It’s not all bliss, unless, of course, bliss for you is wholeness, the all and everything from the heights to the depths. That kind of bliss carves you out and scrapes you clean of egotism. It doesn’t set you on a pillow and strew flowers at your feet, as much as the ego would have it so.

He who dies with the most JOYS (not toys) wins. If you believe that your lot in life is pre-ordained, that you are exactly where you are supposed to be, then take pride in your work, regardless of what you do. Find joy in the simple things as well as the grand occasions. Be grateful in spite of what’s going on, not just when things are going your way. Adopt the Buddhist principle of “joyful participation in the sorrows of the world.” Live life fully and not merely by preference. Refuse to bow down to the ego’s demands. Don’t base your worth on your appearance or by the amount of money in your bank account. Make service your reason for being. Forget about YOU! Learn the (he)art of caring. You will find that caring leads to courage, and courage leads to action. If there’s anything at all that the world needs now, it is action. As Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Don’t do nothing!

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Sympathy for the Devil—the metaphysics of the root chakra

ouroboros

by Michael Maciel

This is a discussion about the Muladhara (moo-lud-HAR-uh) chakra and its activities. It includes an explanation of the natural interaction between the Muladhara (first) and the Sahasrara (seventh) chakras, which is the completion of the circle represented by the snake (the worm Orobouros) with its tail in its mouth.

According to Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, the Muladhara is the area of the mind where memory functions reside. It is the primary intelligence at work in the first seven years of a child’s life. It is the first of the three chakras located below the heart, which are used by the astral body. Dr. Carolyn Myss, author of The Anatomy of the Spirit, says that the first chakra or “root” is the seat of tribal consciousness. Issues of belonging, family life, tradition, and knowing one’s place in the social order are first chakra activities. It is located at the base of the spine. When asked where the first chakra is located in the body, she says, “You’re sitting on it.”

chakrasThe chakras can be thought of as the “operating platforms” of awareness. They are the mechanisms in the spiritual body of man and woman that facilitate the expression of the seven modes of consciousness of universal mind on the physical plane of action. According to Subramuniya, they are always fully developed, “awakening” as awareness flows through them. In this sense, we can understand the chakras as being universally present, or as he says, “…vast areas of the [universal] mind”. They are reflected in the individual consciousness for its own use. As the Self uses these ever-present areas of the universal mind in its interaction with the physical world, pranic energies form patterns of reaction around the Self, and a soul is gradually built up. (Dr. E.W. Blighton describes “Self” as a cell in the mind of the Father. It, along with the soul, is what we are.)

The Self naturally uses all seven of the “vast areas of the mind”, but individual experiences cause some aspects to be developed more than others, resulting in the differentiation which we call “soul-personality.” The possible combinations of these aspects are infinite, which allows for individuality—the distinct or unique expression of Spirit through individual souls.

The Muladhara has its mechanism of expression in us in the first or “root” chakra. It has its corresponding anatomical location at the base of the trunk at the perineum—the area between the urethra and rectum. To understand the function of the Root chakra, we have to look at memory. Memory functions much like the directory or folder system used in the hard drive of a computer. In order to be useful, items placed in memory (either in a computer or in the brain) must be arranged hierarchically and categorized according to association. Items are sorted according to the way they were first introduced and in their order of importance as they relate to other items. A well structured directory tree will process information more rapidly and efficiently than one that is poorly organized .

Personality vs. individuality
personalityWhile there is a generic plan for the placement of elements within the soul’s hierarchy of memory, it is the meaning we ascribe to each experience that determines the quality of our personality overall. At the level of the root chakra, the importance of each memory’s meaning is based on how well it enhances our ability to hang onto the physical plane (thus the term “root”). Meaning acts like the magnifying lens one uses to examine a photograph, the kind you have to place directly on the photograph and bend down to put your eye to it. The photograph itself does not change, but our perception of it changes dramatically. If our soul were laid out on a table like a photograph, the meaning we have ascribed to certain experiences would act like magnifying lenses of various sizes placed over them, distorting their actual “size” and therefore their importance in our lives.

This is the difference between individuality and personality. Personality is the generic structure filled in with personal experiences. Individuality is that same structure highlighted by the enhanced meaning we have ascribed to only some of those experiences. Psychology calls these magnified distortions and their interrelationships “complexes.” Cynics play off of this and call romantic love a mere interaction between one person’s neuroses with those of another. A Course in Miracles also endorses this as the “special relationship,” two self-identities complementing each other’s distorted view of themselves. Dr. Carolyn Myss humorously calls such a partnership “woundmates,” the relationship based on shared hurts, masquerading itself as “empathy.”

As described above, the universal mind’s memory mode of consciousness, which finds its expression in us through the Muladhara chakra, shows up in everyday life as first chakra activities. Any time we organize, categorize, or storehouse things or ideas, we are using the energies of the Muladhara area of the universal mind.

Let’s look at some of these activities.

Organization:
organizingThe purpose of organization is simplification, which always involves elimination. It is impossible to organize a closet, a workbench, or your kitchen cupboards without also having a trash can nearby. Although it’s nice to have duplicates of certain essential items, redundancies in the system can sometimes be inefficient. So, we decide which things are important and which are not, and we get rid of the latter.

This allows us to move freely in the rest of our activities. A well-organized kitchen, for example, lets us get down to the business of cooking. A well-organized closet, one from which all the unused or outdated clothing items have been eliminated, allows us to better see and manage our wardrobe. In the workshop, the right tools for the job that are close at hand and easy to find will save hours of frustrated searching.

The best image of organized, personal activity is the work station where an operator, whether an office worker or factory worker, sits in one spot where he or she can move and pivot to reach and implement the needed tools for the task. Remember when Carolyn Myss said that we are sitting on our first chakra? Whenever we “saddle up” to do a job, we are positioning ourselves for maximum productivity. This is power, power based on positioning that enables us to perform work quickly and efficiently. Our organization supports our activity, just as a chair supports our body. Organization is our “base of operations.”

It’s interesting to note that the famous mythologist, Joseph Campbell, says that the person who functions predominantly through first chakra consciousness is called a “stuffed-shirt,” an organization-man who can’t see beyond the rules and lacks imagination.

The organizational principle of Muladhara shows up everywhere. Anatomically, it is expressed conceptually any place we have a ball and socket structure, such as the hip and shoulder joints, which permit skeletal articulation. Again, conceptually (which means in terms of actual function) the pituitary or “master” gland of the body sits in a perfectly carved out niche almost exactly in the middle of the head, the place from which it organizes and regulates all the other glands.

Categorizing:
pinsCategorizing is sorting objects or ideas according to type. As an activity, it precedes organization, because things must first be separated into like categories before they can be organized. The key word here is “separate”. Any time you separate one thing from another, as in the elimination processes of the body, or children from their state of dependency (as in adolescent rites of passage), volumes of an encyclopedia, one social class from another, you are using first chakra energies. These are all tribal issues based in memory or tradition. An Alzheimer’s patient, the mother of a friend of mine, once said in a brief moment of clarity, “This is this, that is that, and that’s all!” This seems to me to capture the essence of the Muladhara intention.

Storehousing:
StorehouseHolding things in place is what the physical plane is all about, and the Muladhara chakra is the chakra of the world. This area of the mind not only separates and organizes, it also holds these things in memory, and at this level memory has substance. The obvious example of this is the literal storehouse, which if well managed will strictly control the locations of its inventory. A not so obvious example is Church canon law and the literary canon. Here ideas are fixed and stored in their own kind of inventory. Nothing can be changed without overwhelming consensus and lots of time.

The keyword is “hold,” as in “hold in place” or to control the relative position of things. Wherever this kind of activity can be found, the Muladhara intention predominates.

The Orobouros Principle
It is perhaps not so easy to see that controlling the relative position of things can have within it the action of elimination, but this is in fact the case, for anything that does not fit must be gotten rid of. The memory of the world, if we can call it that, is a matrix of energies resembling, in principle, a net. This net is designed to hold those frequencies that are like itself. It acts very much like a filter which eliminates everything that does not match its inherent criteria. It’s this inherent criteria that makes up the foundation upon which the rest of the personality is built. The more information that it starts with, the more it can obtain. The ultimate quality of the personality will depend on the overall quality (which includes the proper sequencing) of that information.

worm-ouroborosThe worm Orobouros, or the snake with its tail in its mouth, represents how the world maintains a static image of itself while at the same time participating in the endless cycle of change. The serpent is self-renewing—it sheds its old skin to make room for the new, which duplicates the characteristics of the old.

Present-day physicists and ancient seers alike tell us that the world “occurs” in a rapid series of blinks too small for our consciousness to perceive. This pulsating flow of reality is discontinuous—each blink is a separate entity, so to speak, and yet each of these entities somehow passes on the image of itself the way a serpent’s new skin looks just like the old.

The circular formation of the snake symbol tells us that the Ancients understood this fundamental law of the New Physics. Reality replicates itself in a series of cycles that appears seamless, but is in fact renewing itself in an incredibly fast barrage of pulsing packets of energy. A picture is worth a thousand words, and the image of Orobouros contains within itself millennia of philosophical and scientific thought.

Orobouros also describes the feedback loop, the self-learning principle of systems with memory. The serpent’s tail is its “past”—where it’s been. It processes (eats) this information and uses it to inform the next cycle in its evolution. This tells us that the metaphysical concept of “substance” (Hindu akasha) operates in and through memory.

the-holy-trinitySubstance is organized in two ways, sequential and holistic. Sequential or hierarchical organization is dependent upon order. Holistic organization depends upon completeness—all elements must be present in order for the system to function. The equilateral triangle, for example, is the primary symbol for holistic organization. It describes cause, medium, and effect, or as the Religious Science people put it, “The Thing Itself, how It works, and what It does.” Traditional Christianity calls it the Holy Trinity. You cannot eliminate any one of the elements without negating the whole system. And while all of the aspects must be present in order for the system to work, the energy within the system must move in the right sequence. Cause cannot move immediately to effect without first going through medium. The spoken word cannot motivate action without first being heard.

Whenever we name the points of the triangle, and by so doing ascribe to them different attributes, we name the entire system. We are taking the general principle and applying it to a specific dynamic.

Simple_Electric_CircuitAll systems work according to one basic law, the Law of the Triangle. But don’t make the mistake of confusing the three-sided symbol with its principle. It’s the principle that’s real; the symbol is merely decsriptive, or at least that’s what the mind would have us believe. In reality, and this is where the title “Beyond Metaphysics” comes in, the symbol has actual power – not power in the magical sense, which would imply a suspension of Law, but power in terms of pattern, the way a computer derives its power from patterns in its circuitry. Patterns are the media through which power manifests. Power is “the ability to perform work”—the potential for work. The battery cables in your car are the pattern through which the electrical potential created by the chemicals in the battery can be brought into manifestation. But you can’t simply hook the battery up directly to the starter motor without a circuit. This is the sequence aspect of the Law of the Triangle—battery, circuit, motor—and it cannot be violated.

All life depends upon the holism of its parts and the sequence in which they are hooked up—integrity, wholeness, holiness.

Perseus

That Other Worm
Medieval Western mythology sometimes refers to dragons as “worms.” Orobouros is much older, so it’s likely that dragons are its updated version. Everything around the myth of the dragon seems to corroborate the principles of the Muladhara intention.

Joseph Campbell describes dragons as hoarders of the world’s riches, namely gold and virgins, but they don’t know what to do with either. Of course, the symbols are not to be taken literally—the dragon is the Orobouros Principle, the gold is vital energy (vitality), and the virgin represents the memory of the soul, the energy matrix that contains the data that will inform the next cycle. Nature, as sustainer of the world’s patterns, is automatic and machine-like. It is the “machine world” in the movie The Matrix. It is the world of cause and effect—intelligence without the ability to transcend itself. Nature can only be nature.

The knight who conquers the dragon, freeing both gold and virgin, is the properly prepared conscious mind armed with the tools of Spirit. Typically, when a dragon is slain, it is dismembered. This is the “breaking open” of the cosmic storehouse of memory, the way the official seals on grain storehouses in ancient cultures would be broken in order to distribute their supplies. It is the hatching of an egg, where the containment aspect of the Muladhara is struck by the rod of spirit, and the contents of the new life are spilled out.

This idea of dismembering, or breaking apart, shows up recurrently in the mythologies of ancient agricultural societies, according to Campbell. In one Native American myth, the god commands the human to slay him and then to dismember his body and plant the pieces in the ground. In the Spring, corn grows from the sacrificial body of the god. Myths like this describe the “life from death” motif inherent in the Muladhara dynamic. That which is kept in a holding pattern (the food) must be broken apart (digested) before it can be used to inform the new cycle of growth.

Similarly, muscle memory—the way disciplined, repetitive practice, as in learning to play a musical instrument or training one’s body to react automatically in athletics—goes through a “dismemberment” process. The athlete goes through her moves over and over again; the pianist does his scales until he can’t stand to do them one more time. The practice starts to feel like a wall, a barrier, forming a kind of carapace in the mind, a husk or shell, which like any other gestational vessel resists up to the very last. When it finally gives way, a “breakthrough” occurs, and the seemingly endless cycle of stale, repetitous activity is transformed into an easy gracefulness. This is the Orobouros Principle. The past is eaten, broken up into its constituent parts, digested, and then incorporated into the new life wave. This is the conjunction of the first and seventh chakras, the endless cycle of the activity of growth and development.

Let the sparks fly
The first and seventh chakras, the Sahasrara and the Muladhara, are like the two poles of a battery. When they touch each other, current flows and work is performed. The current is the universal Life Spirit; the work performed is the building of patterns on the soul.

Unless we incorporate Spirit’s influence on matter (turn it into a body), it does not become part of the earth, or our body (same thing). This is why it is so important to act in accordance with our best understanding. It also implies that we work with what we have and not wait until we’re “perfect,” because perfection can only come about by using what we have as it is given to us.

Personal, spiritual , and political freedoms are absolutely essential to this graduated unfolding, the never-ending dance between Heaven and Earth. Unless we are free to act upon our understanding as we understand it, true soul-growth is impossible. Anytime an individual or a society, whether in their personal or social life, is constrained to think and act according to a strict model artificially established by other people, a kind of spiritual voltage builds up, until a catastrophic discharge breaks out and damages the entire structure.

Pandora-s-box

The consciousness of prohibition
In one of his letters, St. Paul says, “There was no sin before there was law.” I believe he was speaking to this point. He goes on to explain that he’s not advocating libertinism, but rather, as I am saying here, that excessive restraint makes sinners of us all. “Excessive” means the attempt to censor or control the thoughts of others—to make certain thoughts and beliefs illegal—instead of drawing the line at the threshold of the manifest world, that point where thoughts are acted out.

It does not matter, so to speak, what we think or believe, but it matters a lot what we do. Thoughts and beliefs must never be subjected to civil law, nor should they be grounds for social ostracization. It is in the fires of our conscience that our actions are forged. Unless those fires are allowed to burn hot, unless a person is allowed to think and believe as he or she chooses, and be free to take the risk of slowly but surely implementing those thoughts and beliefs on the material plane, no soul-growth is possible.

Simply said, we must be free to make mistakes in order to discover for ourselves what works. The universe waits upon each of us to see what we will choose, and it unerringly provides feedback in the form of consequences. It is impersonal and precise, and it is infinitely supportive of our soul-growth and development. This is the “justice” and the “love” of God respectively, and it is the only model for a bona fide legal system.

Freedom is the foundation of life, and is therefore the basis of the Muladhara intention. It is the grease that allows the wheel to spin. If we try to sit on Pandora’s Box, it will eventually explode. If we throw it open willy-nilly, the tide of its contents will sweep us into the nearest looney bin. We cannot deny the expression of what is, nor can we simply lay down and let it roll over us. Instead, we have to “eat” it—we have to take bite-sized chunks of it and incorporate its energy into our daily lives. The tumultuous forces that surge and swim in the cauldron of the Muladhara constitute the fuel of our lives. Inner peace comes when we organize its expression in constructive and creative activity. All hell breaks loose anytime we deny that they exist.

And when you meet me have some courtesy
Have some sympathy and some taste
Use all your well-learned politesse
Or I’ll lay your soul to waste

–Mick Jagger, Sympathy for the Devil

Postscript
Of course, our thoughts are important. If they weren’t, the Law of Mind would be meaningless. But, unless thoughts are mixed with feeling, the Law will not work. There is a difference between reasoned discussion and trying to incite a riot, and our civil law makes this distinction. Similarly, it is the intention behind the thought, not the thought itself, that is the precursor to action and, therefore, the only part subject to judgement (this is what Jesus was referring to when he spoke of the unpardonable “sin against the spirit”). Besides, you can never tell what a person is thinking, but, with a little careful observation, you can almost always tell what his intentions are.

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What Is a Terrorist?

HamasIt’s hard to kill a human being. That’s why you have to label him as something other than human. Take the word “terrorist” for example. Easy to hate, right? By labeling an entire group of people terrorists, you no longer have to bother with understanding their grievances. They become a lot easier to kill.

Jesus said, “Love your enemies.” Too often, this has been interpreted as throwing down your weapon and offering your chest as a target. Stupid, right? No one in their right mind would do such a thing, which means that Jesus was either stupid or, worse yet, delusional. Or…there could be a deeper, wiser understanding of this principle.

Let’s go with the deeper and wiser.

targetWhat does it mean to love your enemy? It means do not dehumanize him. Do not demonize him or in any way disregard his concerns. RESPECT him. You can hate him all you want, but do not for an instant see him as a thing.

As a species, we are still a long way off from beating our swords into plowshares. We are going to fight. The question is whether we are going to fight as animals (and I don’t mean this as disrespect towards animals) or as human beings.

bodegaThere are three major business enterprises on Earth. They are so huge that all other enterprises fade into insignificance by comparison. These three enterprises are prostitution, drugs, and war. Prostitution manifests at the extreme end as human trafficking, pornography, and the sex trade. Its less obvious forms involve sexualizing everything from cars to clothing. Drugs cover the entire spectrum from narcotics to pharmaceuticals, including such things we don’t usually think of as drugs, such as coffee, tea, cigarettes, and chocolate.

F-35But, of the three, war is by far and away the most profitable. The new Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jet has an estimated cost of $223 million. That’s not the cost of the program; that’s the cost of each airplane! Knowing what you know about human nature, what do you suppose the chances are of war going away anytime soon? If you need help answering this question, try to imagine what the profit-margin is on a $223 million airplane. Then multiply that by the thousands of these airplanes that will be sold over the next decade. That kind of money is almost beyond imagination.

In order to sustain this kind of profit center, war has to be sold. And, the first step in selling war is to dehumanize the enemy. They are the other. In reality, they are no such thing. They are human beings just like we are, with the same values, the same concerns, and the same desire to love and be loved.

At the same time, they have the same propensity to see us as the other, to demonize us, so that they too can find it easier to kill. So, we’re gonna fight. The real question is whether we will let fighting destroy our souls. Jesus said not to fear those who can kill our body, but to fear those who have the ability to cast our souls into hell.

media

Who might that be?

Real power comes with the ability to create the context of a given situation. Create the context, and it doesn’t matter what the issues are. The tide of opinions can vacillate all they want and it won’t change a thing, as long as they vacillate within the context you put in place. Understand the context, and you understand the issues. Create the context, and you can re-create the world into whatever form you want it to take.

Pinocchio-classic-disney-5435119-1280-960Are you a spiritually free person? Let me ask this a different way: are you conscious of the contexts within which you live? If not, you are a puppet— a marionette that dances to the tunes of others. You haven’t yet become a “real boy” or a real girl.

A Course in Miracles says that the purpose of the world is to teach you that it is not real. The “not real” part is the context you have bought into, not the physical world. When you realize that the context through which you perceive the world determines how you will perceive the world, then you are on the path to spiritual freedom. The politics of the world then become your daily lesson in detecting bullshit.

Enemies are a fact of life. There is always going to be someone who wants what you have and is willing to take it by force. So what. That’s not likely to change anytime soon. Don’t let others talk you into dehumanizing him. If you do, you only dehumanize yourself. Jesus knew this. That’s why he said, “Love your enemy.” Ask anyone who has killed another person. They will tell you (if they have a shred of humanity left in them) that it is something you never ever want to do. A part of you dies with them.

Stop using the word “terrorist.” Stop buying war. Stop it.

 

 

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A word about inner guidance and spiritual gifts

8A611BCC51F545F29CB49DD8EFCF109FWe are each born with certain spiritual gifts—some with more, some with less, some unique and specific, some quite general and broad. Some have the ability to heal, others the ability to teach, and some have the ability to be a friend to all of humanity.

Inner guidance comes in many forms. Some people hear a distinct message, some have visions, some find themselves caught up in the spirit of the moment, and the right thing to do spreads itself out before them like a roadmap.

Have you ever considered that your spiritual gift IS your guidance? In the parable of the Ten Talents, the lord gives each person a different amount of money and tells them to go out and earn some more. He doesn’t take them by the hand and tell them what to do at every turn in the road. He just says to go out and put it to work.

If your talent is healing, heal. If it’s teaching, teach. If your talent is love, go out and spread love. Doesn’t it make sense that THAT is your guidance? The particulars of your “mission” don’t really matter. That’s the human mind talking. The overall plan, however, matters a lot! Because, at some point, when all is said and done, someone’s going to ask you, “Whadaya got?”

We don’t have to wait for “a message,” necessarily. The message is written all over us. All we have to do is be true to who and what we are. If we wait to be taken by the hand and told exactly what to do, we could be waiting for a long, long time.

You know the saying: “Be yourself.” This word, “be,” is an action verb in this case. You have to put ALL of yourself into whatever you do. BE a presence in the world, and you will know what to do.

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