Where your treasure is…

smaug

by Michael Maciel

 
“Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” – Matthew 6:21
 
Jesus is telling us that we want what we value.
 
This is actually a straightforward observation of human nature. Whenever we move towards a goal, whether it’s a career move or a tasty snack, we say—via our actions—that the thing is more valuable than what we have now, that it is preferable to where we are in the present moment.
 
Jesus was using this basic fact of life to get his listeners to use this primary motivating factor of human nature to orient themselves towards spiritual goals. He knew that nothing in this world could be ultimately satisfying because nothing in this world lasts. If your value structure is based on material well-being, you will be continually disappointed, because conditions always change, and they don’t usually change for the better, given that all constructed things tend to decompose over time.
 
So, he was advising people to value things that do not change over time, namely the underlying principles of Being itself, which mostly have to do with higher states of consciousness and the beings who live there. He was saying that the real world is not the world that appears but is of a higher order that is motivated primarily by love, not by domination and exploitation, which seems to be what motivates people, mostly, here in this world.
 
It’s important, therefore, that we choose our values very carefully because they will be the predominant orienting factors in our life. We must have a North Star around which our lives revolve. It’s not enough to say that one value is no better than another, that all truths are merely opinions, and that there are no grand narratives by which we can orient our society in a direction that is both viable and sustainable.
 
If we abandon such narratives, we will drift, and drifting is no way to conduct oneself or one’s society. As the saying goes, “If you stand for nothing, you will fall for anything.” Abandoning our cultural narratives—our mythic tales, the ones that represent our highest spiritual ideals—can only lead to disaster, because those stories exemplify the intrinsic value of the individual, and if we abandon that notion, then all we have left is tribalism—the antithesis of civilization.
 
Jesus’ teachings were not only for the individual but for society as a whole. They pointed to levels of cooperation and harmony that depend on voluntary participation. As such, they are extremely sophisticated in both their scope and their depth. Each person must accept the principle and own it personally. Otherwise, voluntary participation is impossible.
 
“Without a vision, the people perish.”

 

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Another Way to Pray

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by Michael Maciel

There’s one type of prayer that we don’t talk about very much—creative prayer. I’m not talking about asking God for favors or using prayer as a last-ditch effort to solve a problem, but rather as a way to create a condition that at present is still just an ideal—a dream—one that hasn’t yet materialized in your life.
 
This is the kind of prayer where you ask God for inspiration so that you can better see what’s possible for you in this life. At the very least, you can ask God for wisdom, to see what you’re doing wrong so that you can make the appropriate course corrections. That’s always a good place to start because it’s easier to stop doing what you know is wrong than it is to identify your ideal. Usually, we don’t know what we want, but we always know what we need to change.
 
Creative action more often than not requires some form of demolition. We have to dismantle what’s not working in our lives before we can ever hope to know what our true possibilities are. Because, while we’re in the midst of turmoil, the good is impossible to see clearly. This is where creative prayer comes in. We consult with God to find out what to do next. And that almost always entails cleanup work.
 
We may have dreams that we cling to, even when our lives are in utter chaos. But chances are that as we get rid of the habits, the possessions, and maybe even the relationships that are causing the chaos, our dreams will change. The higher up the mountain of clarity we climb, the farther we can see. As our horizon grows wider, so do our dreams. Creative prayer is the process of climbing that mountain.
 
Start by asking God what you’re doing that’s causing you problems. What do you need to stop doing? The answer will come immediately. Why? Because you already know what needs to go. But sometimes, you might be mistaken. That’s why you need to ask God. And don’t be surprised when the answer to your question comes as an outer circumstance. If your question is sincere, a day or two later you might get written up by your boss. This might be an indication that you need to find another job. But it could also mean that you need to clean up your act at work. It’s up to you to figure out which one it is.
 
What’s best for us isn’t always easy to know. It’s far easier to determine what’s bad for us. Once we get that straight, then the good will present itself by default. It will become more and more obvious as we clean up our life.
 
So, stop doing what you know you shouldn’t be doing. If you’re lying, start telling the truth. If you’re stealing time from your job, start giving back by making efficient use of your time while on the clock. And if you’re being mean to people, go out of your way to do something nice for them. You know what you need to do. Start doing it, and then watch as your horizons expand!
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Notes on the Vow of Service

help

by Michael Maciel

The word “vow” seems antiquated, doesn’t it? It sounds so monastic, so religious, so restrictive. In my book, The Five Vows, I tried to develop the idea that vows, unlike the negative baggage they’re burdened with, are really more like states of consciousness. Instead of “taking” the vow of service, why not think of it as entering into the consciousness of service?

Entering into the consciousness of something presupposes a couple of things. One, the thing you’re entering into exists somehow independently of you and in some sense outside of you. This idea of an externality doesn’t sit well with most people, because we like to think that all things spiritual already reside within us and all we have to do is realize their presence and let them do their transformative work. But, while that might be technically true, it doesn’t really motivate us to move in that direction, whether inward or outward.

Two, it presupposes that the state of consciousness we’re aspiring to is larger than we are, that it is transcendent to our current state of being. This is very helpful because we all like something good and noble to shoot for, preferably something that is slightly out of our reach. It’s how we’re built—we naturally want to aim high. So, if we think we already have what we’re seeking, we don’t really try very hard. Plus, if we have any ambivalent feelings towards ourselves to begin with (and many people do), then why would we want something that’s part of us, flawed as we are?

No, there are very good reasons why we want to reach up and go for that which is truly greater—in every way—than we are. After all, if we were satisfied with ourselves just the way we are, why would we aspire to anything at all?

Entering into the consciousness of service has broader implications than you might think. Normally, we think of it as doing certain acts, such as volunteer work or giving money to the needy. But there are simpler, more integrative ways to live a life of service. Let’s look at one of them:

The consciousness of service is like a check valve in a pressurized water system. A check valve has a spring-loaded gate that only allows the water in a pipe to flow in one direction. Now, we all know that giving everything of ourselves all the time can’t be good for us, because we have needs, too, right? We have to take care of ourselves while we’re taking care of others, because if we don’t, we will burn out. Then no one is served.

But…WHILE we are giving to others, we want our energy to be a hundred percent giving with no thought of getting something in return. This is actually what Jesus meant when he said, “Don’t let the left hand know what the right hand is doing.” The ancient religion of Hinduism was already three thousand years old when Jesus came on the scene, and you can bet that he knew their teachings, including the one that says that the right hand is the hand of giving and the left hand is the hand of receiving. There are mudras (ritual hand gestures) that were well-known in that part of the world in Jesus’ day and they found their way into his teachings, as in “Sit, thou, at my right hand.”

So, the consciousness of service is a pure state of consciousness WHEN you are in the act of serving other people. It is an unconflicted state. There are no misgivings, no doubts on your part. You’re all in, not trying to take something out. The way you can tell if you’re capable of such purity in the act of giving is to observe whether you resist having others give to you. An experiment once showed that when strangers on the sidewalk were randomly offered a five dollar bill, most refused to take it. Why? Who knows. Maybe they were afraid there were strings attached. How many ways are people trying to hand you something of value and you turn them down? It’s worth thinking about.

Here’s the broader sense of entering into the consciousness of service. We all know the feeling of having to get up and go to work at the crack of dawn. It’s not good, not usually. We feel enslaved to our job and we feel crushed by our culture. Conformity, not money, can feel like the root of all evil. We are oppressed by it. People have expectations, and unless we live up to them, at least a little, they will make our lives a living hell.

But that’s what cultures do, isn’t it? They always have, regardless of when or where. What we don’t realize is that while our culture is hammering us into plowshares, it is also supporting us in ways that we inevitably take for granted. Life may be hard, but it is nowhere near as hard as it has been historically for humanity as a whole. Historically speaking, we live better than royalty did just two hundred years ago. By a LONG shot. We live longer, eat better, have more entertainment, more options for education, better health care, AND we have NOVOCAINE! Let us never forget that! It used to be that people tried to get rid of their teeth as soon as possible because they were nothing but a curse. The sooner they were gone, the better.

So, one of the easiest ways we can enter into the consciousness of service is to simply show up. Be a good person. Be a reliable person. Pay your bills. Pay your taxes. Drive safely. Obey the laws. Don’t steal. Don’t lie. Be responsible. Contribute to the civility of the society in which you live. Develop a skill and use it to be a productive, contributing member of your culture. It has so much to offer you.

Sure, it may act like a judgmental father, it might feel like it’s watching every move you make, it might even penalize you when you make a mistake, but by and large, it WILL help you survive. And if you go along with its program (the parts that work), it will help you survive quite well, better than you could ever manage on your own out in the wilderness struggling to stay warm while you fend off wild animals.

The consciousness of service can simply be letting go of resisting contributing to your society in ways that make it better. Because when YOU are better, society is better. But when you get pathological—when you start to lie, to cheat, and steal—you not only take yourself down, you take everyone else down with you. Instead, be a good person. Show up. The world depends on it.

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