Constructing a Life

Originally posted on The Mystical Christ:

Our creations tend to take on a life of their own, so beginnings are most important. One thing is certain: if our primary concern is success or security in the world, we will experience the ups and downs of the world. But if we seek a higher consciousness, a greater ability to respond to the promptings of Spirit, and a greater capacity for caring, then this is how we must build our lives.

The natural force of entropy will try to convince us that it is too late to start over, but our soul tells us that every moment is an opportunity to begin again. In fact, growth and perfection can occur in no other way. Evolution is indeed a spiral, but progression up the spiral is as fast as we let go of our apparent position on it. Each time we begin again, we move up a rung, regardless…

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Lent – Rebooting Reality

lent_desktop

by Michael Maciel

The human brain interprets and coordinates the signals it gets from the senses. This is its primary function. Every wi-fi device is a also a “brain,” interpreting and coordinating the signals it gets from its wireless environment. It sees the invisible information that we cannot.

The question you must ask yourself (if you are a truth-seeker) is this: “What information is invisible to my brain in its current state?”

This is dangerous. Because what you will come to realize is that the world you hear, taste, touch, smell, and see is but the tip of the iceberg in terms of reality, in terms of “truth.” Such a realization is unsettling, to say the least. Unless something more complete replaces it, this new perception will leave you in the void.

In mystical language, this is descending into hell, into hades, or the underworld. This is the initiatory step that Jesus went through when he cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

If the world of the senses, that set of data for which the brain is best suited to interpret, is but a thin veneer laid over a much more complete set of data, one that is far more vast than the one we deal with every day, then what is that greater reality? And by what mechanism, what device, do we perceive it?

The answer is your brain. But not as it exists in its current state. To see deeper into reality, you must use the deeper parts of your brain. And that requires looking past the evidence of your senses. It requires a kind of “fasting” from the ordinary way in which you live your life.

It will require a kind of “death,” a descent into the void, and the willingness to go there without fear and without expectation. Because as the greater spectrum of reality begins to reveal itself, it will render this one unreal.

If you’re willing to make the journey, you will rise from the dead, just like Jesus did. But don’t expect the process to be comfortable. Our eyes are never opened without some degree of pain. The truth will set you free, but first it’s going to hurt you real bad. This is the “travail” of the spiritual rebirth. The real world, the one you’re not seeing, will resurrect in your brain, and your world, the one you’re used to, will begin to shake itself apart.

What I’m describing here is a step in the process of spiritual evolution. It is natural and ongoing. Every year we come around to this season, the season of Lent, and this is what it’s all about. And every year we have the opportunity to take advantage of the energy surge that Lent provides.

Will you take advantage of it?

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Shoulder to Shoulder vs. Head to Head

high-noon

by Michael Maciel

Men can get nervous around other men, especially when standing in line at the checkout counter in Home Depot. Lots of “can do” types. Alphas in t-shirts and bluejeans. The thought (you know the one) seems to hover overhead, waiting, just waiting, for the first male to reach up and snag it out of the air, the thought that one man often thinks when looking at another man, especially a stranger—”Can I take him?”

Now this doesn’t happen all the time. Some days, everyone’s in a good mood—lots of fresh air and smiling and friendly banter. But it’s there, hovering. The Thought. Like a succubus sniffing out testosterone. All it needs is for some of it to collide with someone else’s, and the inner evaluation begins. Muscle size: check. Body language: check. Hands (the hands tell it all): check—the instantaneous sizing-up of the other guy that either causes your confidence to swell or makes you tense and wary.

This is what men do. And it doesn’t matter if it’s at Home Depot or the floor of the Senate. The dynamic is the same. Can I take him? Can I outsmart, outfight, outwit, out-finesse this guy? Is it overt? Not usually. It might not even be front-and-center in one’s mind, but it’s always an option. Like a gun on the hip.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

If you’re a man, and you have sometimes felt this way around other men (and what man hasn’t?), there is a way to turn this around. In an instant. Instead of looking at the other man as a potential threat, try seeing him as a potential ally. Look at him and think, “This guy would be great to work with. With our combined strength, we could really get a lot done!” You will be surprised at how quickly the atmosphere changes. Testosterone doesn’t always have to be about fighting, you know. Sometimes it can just be strength. And that’s the beauty of it. There’s nothing more manly than a group of men working together in unison, their efforts fitting together like well-hewn blocks of stone. Each stroke of the hammer gets more precise with each swing; each element of the overall plan works as though it were being laced together with sinew.

But when testosterone gets the better of us, it’s too easy to assume that the other man’s actions are directed against us, and we get offended. And when he sees that we are offended, he gets offended. The cycle deepens and intensifies, and soon it takes on a life of its own, and no one knows (or cares) how it got started.

It’s not that aggression itself is the problem. It’s not. Aggression can be a fabulous tool, if it’s used properly. When channeled, it can focus a man’s efforts like no other emotion. Combine it with altruism, and you get genius. No force in the universe can rival a mind with a purpose, especially and particularly when that purpose is constructive.

Goodness and strength go together like hammer and nail, joining the world together instead of breaking it apart. When men come together in focused cooperation, pursuing a common goal, nothing can stop them. And there is no coalition so diverse in its constituency that it cannot find a goal that serves everyone’s interests. No task, when performed for the good of all, can fail to bring joy to everyone involved. The only time men find satisfaction in killing other men is when they believe it to be in the name of a higher good. But the reality always sinks in. It seeps through the most carefully thought out justifications and sickens the soul. Because no one is that different in their humanity that they cannot recognize themselves in the other. Thus killing another person is killing oneself. A piece of you dies when the other dies.

This is the task laid before us now, to find a way to work together instead of fighting each other. Never before in history has the world been smaller or more inter-dependent. The forces of competition can easily be turned into cooperation. It all depends on how men see each other. The more we cooperate, the more we care about each other’s interests, and the more willing we are to work towards a goal that raises everyone’s standard of living, not just our own. Because when we gain at the expense of others, something inside of us groans. We know that we have harmed ourselves. Strength without goodness will kill us. And goodness without strength goes nowhere.

So find the goodness and drive it home!

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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 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. 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 could 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 divinity before they can do such things. At some level, they can feel their separation from their 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 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

sermon

Every 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—it needs 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 as “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. 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 to pray. The history of the world is full of 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 thinks that to be humble is to be 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 them 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, or the atmosphere 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 your ideas of oneness and goodness 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 like it to.

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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