What Is Spiritual Development?

narcissus

by Michael Maciel

Why should we concern ourselves with “spiritual development”? Isn’t it better to let our spirituality unfold naturally?

I think the word “unfold” implies a natural process, whereas the word “develop” implies taking something natural and changing it into something new, whether through combining it with something it would never otherwise encounter (such as a piece of wood and a nail) or by refining it with unnatural amounts of heat.

To me, there is much about the spiritual path that is unnatural. We do things that produce effects in ourselves that would never unfold by themselves.

Flowers unfold, but they unfold into that which has been determined for them by nature. Humans have the ability to transcend nature (for good or for ill) through processes of development arrived at through trial and error.

Humans have always been at odds with the automatic mind of nature, because we are self-conscious. We have the ability to take what nature has given us and create with it something entirely new.

Nature does that too, through the processes of evolution, but it does so out of adaptation. We do it, not necessarily to adapt, but because we can.

Some of the things we create have no practical use at all in terms of evolutionary adaptation, but we create them nonetheless. Art is a good example.

This is why I think the distinction between unfolding and development is so important. They are two very different things.

When did the term “spiritual development” fall into disfavor? Is it because it implies that some people are more “developed” than others, and that that would lead to abuse of power?

I know that many have been victimized by unscrupulous spiritual teachers, but does this mean that all spiritual teachers are unscrupulous? Or is it because everyone is already spiritual and therefore no “development” is needed? But wouldn’t that be like saying that everyone already has an inner concert pianist and therefore doesn’t need piano lessons?

If that’s the case, then there would be nothing to work towards, nothing to aspire to, and nothing to overcome, which implies that our current state of consciousness is as good as it gets. Such an assumption would not only be narcissistic but nihilistic as well. That might not be the intention, but that’s how it plays out, because if everyone is the same (not just inherently but performatively, too) then no one is anywhere. There would be nowhere to go or grow into.

Advice by pop-spiritual teachers to “just be” can be misleading and even injurious to one’s spiritual health, because it can be misconstrued as meaning that there is nothing you have to “do,” nor is there any such thing as “progress” on the spiritual path. I know of no legitimate guru, shaman, priest, or teacher who says that.

And while it’s true that we all have a “spark of divinity” within us, it’s still just a spark. It hasn’t yet ignited the whole being. Doing that takes work; letting the fire spread takes faith.

There should be no more urgent task to one whose intention is to find God than to devote as much time and willpower as necessary to find the God Self within them.

Concentration, meditation, contemplation – these are the tools. Spiritual development is the goal.

One of the reasons that some people don’t like to use the word “development” and the word “spiritual” together in the same sentence is because of a man named Pelagius. Pelagius was a theologian who believed that Christians by their own efforts without grace could choose the good and be saved or spiritually illumined by their own will or development. Pelagius taught that human beings were not controlled by original sin or weakness but were, by nature, good. The concern in general by Augustine and the Church was narcissism—seekers who believe they can achieve salvation and sanctity without Christ.

But growth of any kind is impossible without grace. I had never heard of Pelagius until recently, so I will take this description of Pelagius as it’s presented above as more or less accurate. If he really said that we don’t need grace, then that, in my experience, is demonstrably false.

There is a lot of misunderstanding around words like “grace” and “works” and “development,” mostly because theology does such a lousy job at explaining what they are and what they mean. If the theologians really want to know, they should ask a dancer, an artist, a boxer, or a writer — they could tell them what these words mean and by what processes they work.

Every athlete knows (just like every musician) that “practice makes perfect.” But they know something else, too. They know that perfection is something that happens; it’s not something you can produce. Perfection (as anyone who has ever experienced a life-changing breakthrough in their art knows) is not the sum of one’s efforts. Practice makes perfection possible; it does not cause it.

A dancer once said, “There was a moment when I wasn’t dancing — I was dance!

Grace is a brush with the Divine. But the encounter only happens when we have surrendered to that which is greater than ourselves. If the above assessment of Pelagius is correct, then he could never have experienced grace, because in his mind there would have been nothing greater than he. Any kind of flow would have been impossible.

Grace may be free, but perfection is not. Perfection only comes to those who sweat blood for it. Believing otherwise is truly narcissistic. But the perfect know that it’s not THEM. They know that the only reason they breathe pure air is because they slogged their way up the mountain. They didn’t make the air, nor was it “given” to them. They received it because they put in the work to get where the air is.

Those who believe that grace comes without effort are delusional. Even those who were healed by Christ were told, “Go forth and sin no more.” Expecting God to do everything for us is the mentality of a child, not a spiritual adult. Spiritual adults pray, they fast, they meditate, they do good works, not to make themselves perfect, but to put themselves in a position where they can receive the necessary grace to achieve it.

No one “gets” holy. Instead, they work to quiet their minds, they temper their desires so that they can be still enough emotionally to hear the still, small voice within. They pray for those who hate them, not to make those who hate them better, but to cleanse their own hearts of hatred. This is work. This is development. And there is no shortcut for it.

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What Is True?

fragmented man

by Michael Maciel

The word “faith” describes the universal presupposition that there is a truth, overarching and eternal, a single principle that governs the universe with absolute inclusivity and at every level, even though we do not know what it is or if we will ever fully comprehend it. As a principle, faith is the guiding light of all forms of human understanding—science, art, spirituality, philosophy—and the higher we rise in consciousness, the more these separate forms begin to merge, until at last they become one.

Faith is the innate knowing that there is something greater than ourselves, something larger, something whole and complete that knows no separation or conflict, no internal disagreements. And no matter what you call it, what name or -ism you ascribe to it, it is the same for all people and all times, in this universe or any other you can imagine.

The problem comes when we begin to think that we can encompass this One Truth, that we ourselves are large enough to comprehend it, that the truth is a “thing” that we can possess, a noun, an object we can own, a weapon we can use to dominate others, to make them wrong and ourselves right. This is NOT the truth, neither is it what is being pointed to by the word “faith.” When the truth is objectified, turned into a thing that can be possessed, THEN and only then can it be used to dominate others, and this is why we fear it. We fear it because we do not understand it, either its nature or its purpose.

It is out of fear that truth has been relativized, fragmented, and divided up into separate compartments—science, spirituality, philosophy, art. No one wants to be told that the end of truth has finally, once and for all, and for everyone been determined. Why? Because intuitively they know—we ALL know—that that can never happen, that that is NOT the nature of truth nor its purpose. We all know, if only deep within ourselves, that the truth is a living, breathing reality, a PROCESS by which life and living are made possible, not a definition, not a set of laws, not even an ideal, because it is bigger than any ideal we can conceive of.

Faith is an ACTION. It is the action of receiving from the higher mind what IT knows beyond what we are capable of knowing by ourselves. It is based upon the intuitive knowing that such a mind exists, that there is something that actually knows more than we do.

But HERE’S THE RUB: Because we are not perfect in love, we fear that what that mind knows will somehow limit us in what we can experience, what we can explore, and what we can create. It somehow implies that some things might be FORBIDDEN and therefore irresistible and that because of that we will somehow be found GUILTY and be PUNISHED. (I put these words in all-caps to identify them as the NAILS IN THE COFFIN of our potential for happiness and self-fulfillment.)

But all of this is due to our misunderstanding of what faith is, what truth is, and what the will of God is. We see God as a dictator, a strict father, angry, and jealous—all the worst parts of the Bible. Therefore, truth must be a set of laws, commandments, restrictions, speed limits, prohibitions—spiteful, vindictive, ARBITRARY. Who wouldn’t REBEL against that? When truth becomes someone else’s, we go out of our way to become liars.

Here’s the HEALTHY understanding of truth. God is creative and we are created in God’s image, which is to say that WE are creative, that creativity is the reason for our being. It is why we are here. It may be true that there is nothing new under the sun, but the possibilities are INFINITE, and God is just as eager as we are to find out what those possibilities are.

Do you get that? We are not here to “behave.” We are not God’s pets. We aren’t here to please or to placate some superior intelligence under threat of being punished if we get out of line. We are here as the EXTENSIONS of the One Intelligence—call it what you will, it doesn’t matter. We are “children” of It—that’s what “extension” means. We are not created “things.” God didn’t “make” us like one would make a loaf of bread. We are AGENCIES, we are the tips of God’s fingers, the retinas of God’s eyes, the love of God’s heart, and the thoughts of God’s mind. There is only one WILL and it is surging through us every moment of every day. Our will is God’s will. It’s only when we forget that that we begin to act out of fear and then hatred and then violence. We forget that God is what we ARE, that we are one with the One. What else could we be?

Faith is an open window, an open skylight, through which pours the infinite intelligence of the ONE THING, Its life, light, and love. The more we humble ourselves and admit that we don’t know…well, anything…that we can truly find out what there is TO know. And there is no end to that. There is no point in our evolution where we will know all there is to know or be all there is to be. Never. Life is continuous and ever-evolving at the point of being. We will know of ourselves AS WE LIVE. And that process never ends. If it had an “end,” it could not have a “beginning.” We were never born, and we will never die. That’s life eternal.

The essence of faith is this: QUESTIONS ARE MORE POWERFUL THAN ANSWERS. Learn to stand in the question without always looking for an answer and you will have mastered faith. The best questions, the ones that create the most possibilities, are the ones that raise more questions and, therefore, more possibilities. What are possibilities? They are FREEDOM. Possibilities are open doors; answers are doors that have slammed shut. For life to exist, its channels of expression must remain OPEN. Have faith. Be open. Keep moving. Movement is the surest sign of life.

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What Is Renunciation?

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by Michael Maciel

We are awash with the world, saturated by it. From the moment we wake up in the morning until we go to bed at night, our cares and concerns fill our consciousness and shape our thoughts. No wonder we feel so powerless in the face of world events and human interactions. The Priesthood is about changing all of that. It’s about carving out a space in the clutter, about creating an eye in the storm of the world’s circumstances, and finding a stillpoint for humanity’s self-awareness.

This is the meaning and purpose of renunciation in the life of a priest. It’s one thing to be engaged with life and all of its normal arrangements—family, job, friendships, entertainments—and quite another to be caught in life’s thrall. Nothing saps our strength like distraction. Renunciation, on the other hand, is the power to say no, not just to this or that, but to everything. It is an intentional clearing of the space around us, both physical space and psychic space. It is what in the Upanishads is called, “neti neti ” (not this, not that), the complete rejection of the contents of the mind as a means of creating a clearing in which reality can show up.

How does renunciation work? Simply stated, “Nature abhors a vacuum.” When we create a space around us, we set up an immediate potential—an empty space. No doubt you have seen this demonstrated many times in your life. Any time you see people who command authority, people who cannot be swayed by popular opinion and who are not easily swept away by the emotions of others, you are seeing people who have mastered this skill. They are renunciates. They have the ability to say no to the world. Consequently, the world tends to move around them, and not the other way around.

Renunciation is a principle—a law—an aspect of the Priesthood. It acts like a filter, a barrier through which only the real can pass. Without it, you will be so infused with the world’s mind that you will be indistinguishable from it.

Knowing God is a process of elimination. As we reject everything that our intellect wants us to believe, we set up a force field in the mind, a force field that destroys all that is not eternal. God cannot be slain; we cannot destroy that which is real. Truth is forever the enemy of falsehood, so we need not fear losing anything of spiritual value. When it comes to emptying our mind, the baby can never be thrown out with the bathwater. The mind cannot throw itself out, only its contents. When the particulate matter (our thoughts) settles to the bottom, the water (our mind) is clear, and sunlight illuminates the whole body.

(These are excerpts from my book, World Priest, available on Amazon.)

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What Is Holiness and How Do We Get It?

dummies

by Michael Maciel

Much of what we call “holy” is based on a belief that the world is not. This is a great tragedy. It isn’t that we should behave as though everything is good and therefore we should get as much of it as we possibly can—to seek only pleasure and always avoid pain. That would be hedonism. Those who have tried that route usually find themselves miserable in the end. But those who hold themselves aloof from life, even as they are caught in its gears, also find themselves left with nothing more than a desperate hope that things will get better when they die. But is that any way to live?

Of all the theories I have heard of why we are here, the best one, in my estimation, is that we are here for one reason and one reason only: soul growth. Put another way, we are here to develop character. We are here to discover who we are, not what we’re not, although finding out what we’re not usually comes with finding out who we are. If there is some other reason why we’re here, I simply cannot imagine what it would be, not in a way that doesn’t sound like an elaborate hoax or a cruel fiction.

Look at it this way. Perfect parents would not only help their children grow up to be strong, capable adults, they would also help them discover their own innate qualities, the gifts they were born with, gifts that might even make them unlike their parents in significant ways. That would be remarkable parenting, would it not?—to help your children find their full self-expression even if who they really are runs counter to your standards and ideals. After all, in a perfect world, children aren’t clones—they eventually become people in their own right. They become evolution’s next step up the spiral of adaptation, not just physically but spiritually, too. And what they become (in a perfect world) will be larger and better adjusted than their forbearers.

But what about us, the children of God? If God is perfect, that doesn’t leave much room for exuberant self-discovery, does it. In fact, anything other than clone-ship would by definition be imperfect or (as religious folks like to put it) sinful. The very idea brings exuberance to a screeching halt. What’s there to look forward to in life if all you can ever be is “just like dear old dad”? And if you’re a woman—well, yours is an impossible task, isn’t it. Most girls don’t even want to grow up to be “just like” their mothers, either. They want (just like their brothers) to grow up to be themselves.

Now, I know we live in extraordinarily narcissistic times, but this is not narcissism. Wanting to be your own person is your soul’s most ardent desire. And as such, what could be more holy? We’re not talking about an infatuation with oneself, but a love affair with spirit. The soul is looking for full-blown self-expression, not a pretty picture of itself. If the soul is a living thing, then growing into its potential is its primary objective, not to get hung up in its own image. It wants to celebrate LIFE, not bask in its own undeveloped state. Children don’t care about being children (unless we teach them to). They care about playing. They care about tearing across the yard as fast as they can, not to get to the other side of the yard, but simply because they CAN. Running is the point, not to reach a goal (unless, to our shame, we teach them that that’s what they should want).

It’s the belief that there’s something wrong with the world that keeps us locked into false notions of holiness. It keeps us from surrendering to the opportunity that life is. Believing that the world is innately contrary to the will of God freezes us in a pathetic, undeveloped spiritual infantilism and unnecessarily drags out whatever difficult lessons we might need to learn. When it comes to suffering, I’m for the short kind. Why, in God’s name, make it worse? Just because there is SOME suffering doesn’t mean that it’s ALL suffering. If that were the case, then we would be forced to become narcissists, because such a dismal state could only lead us into a downward spiral of self-obsessed despair.

We cannot become holy by holding the world at arm’s length. We get holy by engaging with life in whatever form it presents itself. Buddha called it “joyful participation in the sorrows of the world,” which in mom-speak translates as “be grateful for what you’ve got, honey, and try to be nice.” And if that sounds trite, just think of what puffed-up ideas of holiness have done for people other than make them feel superior. If you’re too holy to be nice, then you’re too holy.

Sometimes, being holy means getting up and going to work. It means showing up when other people are expecting you. It means being thrilled to come home at night, to be ecstatic in the company of friends, to let somebody with only one item go ahead of you in the checkout line. Holiness finds its fullest expression in the simple things of life more easily than it does in lofty notions of the nature of reality. Chop wood, carry water. First the ecstasy, then the laundry. Suffer the little children to come unto me. Consider the lilies of the field. Smell the roses. And, most importantly, get off your high horse.

Being poor isn’t the way to go, either, but then neither is being wealthy. The soul wants only to be in the present moment. It hungers for the now. And it doesn’t much care about the contents of that moment, only that it be present to it when it happens. Be present. Be awake. Be IN your life and give thanks for it, even if it’s hard. It’s the fool who chases after things and manufactured ideals. The wise seek out what’s right in front of them, and they don’t move on until they have squeezed the last bit of nutrition from it.

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What Is Sacrifice?

pele

by Michael Maciel

It is customary to bring a bottle of wine, or some other gift, when you go to someone’s house for dinner. It’s not a law but it’s a nice gesture.

It says a couple of things:
1) You appreciate the invitation.
2) You “bring something to the table,” in every sense.

You wouldn’t call your bottle of wine a sacrifice, even though you are giving up something of value. Instead, it’s more of an offering, a gift.

Traditionally, offerings to the gods have been made as payment for a request—I give you this; you give me that. Quid pro quo. But Jesus showed us a different way. A sacrifice or offering doesn’t have to be in expectation of getting a return. It can be made simply out of love, out of appreciation. It makes one’s interaction with the gods a relationship, not a business transaction.

Remember, Jesus called God “Abba,” which is Aramaic for a child’s term of endearment for “father,” which in English translates as “daddy.” Jesus showed us that God is not a powerful ruler who enforces laws with strict and fiery judgment, but rather God is the One with whom we are most closely related. We are children of God, not God’s subjects.

We are like the boss’ son or daughter, not just another employee. That makes us part of the family business. Our job security is one hundred percent. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Nothing.

The words “sacrifice,” “offering,” and “tithe” are all closely related.

When we tithe, we give the top ten percent of our income, which means before taxes or other expenses. (Not many people do this anymore, but that’s the tradition.)

“Sacrifice” was similar, in that only the firstfruits or best of the herd were considered suitable for the temple altar. This idea shows up in the story of Abraham and Isaac, as well as in Exodus where only the firstborn sons (the heirs and therefore most valuable) of the Egyptians were killed. The first Passover prefigured the coming of the Messiah who would make animal sacrifice obsolete and no longer a part of Temple worship.

One Native-American tradition says that you cut a piece of the best part of the meat and throw it into the fire before the meal as a way of saying thanks to the Great Spirit for providing you with food.

“Offering” connotes respect, love, and endearment. It is more of an acknowledgment than a bribe. When tourists visit Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano, they are supposed to bring a bottle of gin, flowers, fruits, or a song with which to honor the Goddess Pele. Anything of personal value is acceptable, even money, which is why we toss coins into a wishing well. But in that case, you would have to imagine doing it without the wish.

The keyword is “honor,” which changes the intention around the act of sacrifice or offering. “I acknowledge You, O Creator, as the source of all.”

This puts a positive spin on the act of “giving something up” for Lent. This is the time of year when life seems to “return.” We offer something of value to God as a way of acknowledging the Source of all life. It’s not penance. It’s not sacrificing for something in return. It’s a gift, a gift of love. It’s like a standing ovation, as in “Give it up!” for a performer. It’s us saying, “Way to go, God! You did it again!”

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Lent—What Are Voluntary Hardships?

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by Michael Maciel

If you give up something for Lent, it should be something meaningful. Like candy to a kid. Sweet pleasures, lackadaisical attitudes, indulgent binges – these are good places to start. You know the saying: No Pain, No Gain. It’s the law of every gym, whether it’s written on the wall of not. Every muscle fiber screams it, even as it submits itself to being torn apart.

It’s hard in a hedonistic, narcissistic society to brook the notion of giving something up when you don’t have to. Something about it just seems wrong (unless you grew up Catholic, of course). After all, isn’t life meant to be enjoyed, taken full advantage of, every good thing maximized in the face of one’s imminent demise? Life is short, is it not? Why do things that make it harder? Isn’t this Vale of Tears difficult enough as it is?

Here’s what the mythologist, Joseph Campbell, had to say about Buddha’s “All life is sorrowful”:

“All life is sorrowful. There is, however, an escape from sorrow. The escape is Nirvana, which is a state of mind or consciousness, not a place somewhere like heaven. It is right here in the midst of the turmoil of life. It is the state you find when you are no longer driven to live by compelling desires, fears, and social commitments when you have found your center of freedom and can act by choice out of that. Voluntary action out of this center is the action of the bodhisattvas – joyful participation in the sorrows of the world.”

Cosmologically, Lent is the time when the life forces begin to surge. If you’ve ever been on a farm in the Spring, you know what I’m talking about. The days are getting longer (in the Northern Hemisphere) and everything that lives is firing up its engines. In just a few weeks, they’ll be in full roar. You’ll be revving up shortly, too. The only question is which direction will you be heading when you pop the clutch?

The problem with modern religions is that they have lost touch with their cosmic underpinnings. Lent is real, not just in a theological sense, but in a literal, scientific sense. Life is surging – everywhere! Are you going to take the bull by the horns, or are going to be skewered by them? Because, let’s face it, nothing EVER goes wrong when you just let it all hang out, right? Spring is when “letting it all hang out” gets injected with a full dose of steroids. The habits you form now will be supercharged, whether they’re good ones or otherwise. As they say in Alaska when you’re about to set out on a dirt road with frozen tire tracks: “Pick your rut wisely. You will be in it for the next fifty miles.”

All processes are at their purest and most powerful in their beginnings. In astrology, it’s called “applying.” When an aspect first comes into play, that’s when it’s forming the patterns through which it will function. Once the arc of development has hit its zenith, it’s almost too late to direct it. Its trajectory is already set. We live in a yearly cycle, both physically and spiritually. And the Power of Life is at the center of our Solar System directing it all. Growth is painful. Birth is painful. Crowbarring yourself out of your fifty-mile rut is painful. But oh the joy when you discover that you are finally working WITH the cycles and not against them!

Happy Lent!

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The Limits of Love

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by Michael Maciel

Okay, so here’s an extreme example. Say you’re on a boat and it starts to sink. Your companion (whom you love) has his arm trapped in the wreckage and he will most certainly drown unless you chop it off and free him. If he could do it himself, he might, but there’s no time, and he’s too weak even if there was. He’s delirious with pain, completely out of his mind with panic and fatigue. As he sees you raise the ax, he pleads with you not to do it.

What do you do?

Water is sometimes a symbol for emotion. How many people do you know who are going down with a sinking ship because they cannot let go? Perhaps it’s an addiction, maybe it’s a codependency or depression. At what point do you intervene? Is it logical to assume that they have free will when they are in the throes of their agony and clearly insane? Do you ask permission when your inaction will mean their certain death?

 But life doesn’t always present us with such unambiguous situations, does it. Sometimes big decisions are made up of a myriad of small ones. Some of the most pivotal moments of my life have come when a friend (someone whose opinion I respected) simply refused to accept my “truth.” He would say, “You can go there if you want, but leave me out of it.” How many small ways are there to say just that? It can be done with a look, a stiffening of the shoulders, or simply the word “no.”
The real question is do we have the strength to love? Do we care enough to inflict necessary pain? Can we endure the confrontation or a possible rejection? How closely tied to our backbone is our heart? Sometimes love is tender mercies, and sometimes it’s the brutal exigencies of real life. Our love is measured by our willingness to be where we need to be and to do what we need to do. Otherwise, we’re just loving ourselves.
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Chaos—when being an individual really counts

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by Michael Maciel

There’s a downside to being connected. Being one with others can be powerful when everyone works together, but when panic strikes, or when there is widespread confusion, being connected can be your worst enemy. That’s when you need to disconnect and become centered.

In Christian Mysticism, we understand that the area around the altar is a sanctuary, a refuge, a place set apart from the world. In some churches, the sanctuary has a physical barrier, such as a partition or fence that separates it from the rest of the chapel. This is an outer symbol for an inner reality.

Where is your inner sanctuary?

If you were a devout Catholic, you would be going to church every morning and receiving Communion. You would walk up to the border between this world and the heaven world (the sanctuary), kneel down, and receive the body and blood of Christ.

This is the symbolic equivalent of going within to your own inner sanctuary and receiving your spiritual food from above, from that part of you that is in direct contact with the spiritual cosmos. It is your cosmic reset button. You, and ONLY you, can do this. God is always a one-on-one experience. God doesn’t do groups.

Sin is confusion. Sin is the inability to discern truth—even simple truths. Sin is being so separated from your inner connection with God that you cannot tell when someone is lying to you. Sin is not knowing how you feel.

When the world seems out of control, withdraw from it. Don’t withdraw from it permanently; withdraw from it REGULARLY. At least once a day. Fifteen minutes, twenty minutes, five minutes—just DO it.

The control buttons for a merry-go-round are not on the merry-go-round. They are on a separate console that’s mounted somewhere STATIONARY. That console is inside you. Find it. Use it. Refuse to let the world spin you around. You cannot help the world if you are caught up in its confusion.

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Polarized Thinking Destroys Visions

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by Michael Maciel
Adam’s first task, according to the account in Genesis, was to name things. And by naming them, he (we) give them their identity. It’s what we do.

But when we name something (or someone), we not only say who they “are,” we also say who they “are not.” Names, by their very nature, are polarizing. They differentiate. They set apart.

Visions, on the other hand, unite. They bring people together. When our language speaks vision, when our words define goals, not “positions,” we start pulling together instead of pulling apart.

In this highly divisive political environment, we need a well-defined vision, not a stronger position. Names like “Democrat” and “Republican” divide us, whereas the name “American” unites us.

torchThe name “America,” however, lost its power when it became a country, not a vision. Make it a country, and we cannot avoid seeing ourselves separate from the rest of the world. But make it a vision, and the whole world will aspire to it.

Gay rights (as an example of a position) loses its power of inclusion when it defines itself different from straight. What is the vision? If you make “relationship” the vision, everyone—gay or straight—can identify with it.

Instead of saying, “We should spend more money on schools,” why not say, “Let’s help our kids become smarter.” One is a political position, the other is a common goal, one that everyone can agree with. Best of all, it promotes the idea that education happens EVERYWHERE, not just in school. So it lifts the entire culture, not just one institution. “Smarter kids,” not “better schools.”

This isn’t simply a matter of linguistics. It’s not even a matter of “political correctness.” It is a spiritual matter. Ask yourself, “What am I for?” not “What am I against.” Name your vision, not your position. Visions move people; positions stop them in their tracks.

“If I paint a wild horse, you might not see the horse… but surely you will see the wildness!”
― Pablo Picasso

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The Usual Suspects

usual-suspects

by Michael Maciel

The following words, through no fault of their own, have been FRAMED!

1) POWER
It’s hard not to think of this word without evoking the frame of “power over,” as in power over other people. The word “empowerment,” ironically, is okay, because it has been framed rather innocuously as the power to express oneself, like the kids in high school in the drama department—quirky but basically harmless. But whenever power is brought up as a stand-alone plug-in, for some reason it suddenly becomes ominous and threatening, and everyone immediately positions themselves to protect against it. T. S. Eliot got it right: “The power that, through the green fuse drives the flower, drives my green age.”

2) MILITANT
This is a biggie. Who can resist the urge to equate “militant” with violence? It evokes the frame “military” (obviously) and all that goes along with it, including aggression, murder, war, and the failure of diplomacy. But, and again ironically, bring up “martial arts,” and even the most pacifistic spiritual types will think of discipline, poise, strength, and balance. The same goes for the word…

3) VICTORY
This one escapes the frame of violence because it’s on the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. (Hard to pick a fight with THAT!) But, there it is. No matter how hard you try, you can’t separate “victory” from “battle,” can you. And battle is just so…militant. If victory is so terribly awful, why is it on the Tree of Life? Sure, you can say that it means victory over oneself, but you shouldn’t then say that we’re all one. No matter how you slice it, victory is a zero-sum game. There’s a winner and a loser. Darn.

4) SWORD
I suppose if you used modern terminology, you’d have to say “gun.” That’s just…not right. It would be like updating the cross of Christ to a hangman’s noose or a lethal injection table. Can you imagine that? You walk into a church and there above the altar is a scaffold with someone hanging dead. Ugh! But crucifixion was just another form of capital punishment in Jesus’ day, so why not? But the sword is undeniably a weapon. No getting around that. Just like a gun. So what can we glean from “sword” as symbol? Is there something about guns that might help us understand? It just so happens that there is, and it comes in the form of a bit of conventional wisdom regarding firearms: “Never draw your weapon unless you are prepared to use it.” Now, if you’re a linear kind of thinker, this will drive you bonkers, because you won’t have any way to see it in terms other than literal. But…if you’re capable of thinking symbolically, you will see how it relates to willpower. Jesus said, “Therefore, whosoever heareth these sayings of mine and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock. And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house, and it fell not, for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand. And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” Hmmm. And as Ramakrishna said, “Do not seek illumination unless you seek it as a man whose hair is on fire seeks a pond.” The sword, therefore, means RESOLVE. And what spiritual seeker can succeed without that?

5) NEGATE
This one has been overplayed. Use this word and the framing immediately brings to mind the admonition “What you resist persists.” And that’s true. Focusing on what you don’t like just feeds it energy. But does this mean that you can ignore the negativity in the world? Can you get rid of it by affirming the good only? Good question, right? At what point is it appropriate to just say NO? Is that okay? Ever? There’s a part of the HOOM ordination ceremony that gives the new priest the “power over the life and death of creation.” What does that mean? The “life” part is easy, but “death”? Whoa. That, all of a sudden, gets a little heavy. But isn’t this a case of succumbing to the typical framing of “death,” as in “to kill”? Can we negate something without going to battle with it, without feeding it life? I know in my own experience that the most powerful course-corrections I ever received weren’t a thunderous “NO,” but a quiet, very simple “no.” (Thank you, Master Timothy.) But still, don’t say it unless you mean it. A woman mystic I know puts it very simply: “You are either a yes or a no. That’s ALL you are.” Your yes can’t be very powerful if your no isn’t well-developed. How well can you say, “NO”?

It’s not enough to be good. Good is good. But you also have to be strong. And strength by itself is meaningless unless you can put it into action. Action is what counts. And I don’t mean outer action, necessarily. Action can be prayer. Action can be your Word. Action can be your NO. But unless you can be a warrior in your spirit, a warrior in your attitude towards the world, you’re not really spiritual. Not in this age. Because this is the Age of Activity, and in order to be spiritual, you have to stand up and declare how it’s going to go. This takes guts. It takes a resolve that is equal to if not greater than the resolve of those who are trying to ruin the planet. Don’t be a wimp. Take your sword and plant firmly into the Earth. Tell the collective mind what it’s going to do. That’s your right. Don’t abdicate the power that God gave you. Because the other guy isn’t. He’s using it to his benefit, and he doesn’t give a damn if it helps you or not.

“God is no respecter of persons.”

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