Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Lessons Of The Manger

The Winter Solstice.  A celestial moment of nature that reverses a course into greater darkness and instead begins to move us into an expanding light.  A winter time of intended quiet and rest to prepare us for an energetic awakening in the spring.  A spring awakening when, like the trees, flowers and plants, we blossom into the fruits of our intended purpose.

Christmas Day.  For many people, it is a time set aside to honor the birth of Jesus and the spirituality embodied within him.  A time for many to reflect on, and recommit to, the spiritual part of their life.  It is a date that not coincidentally falls just after the Winter Solstice.  As nature begins its annual renewal to a new flowering, so also our spirituality needs a continual renewal in order to fully flower.  For roots to plant deeper, for stalks and trunks to grow higher, for branches to reach out further.

Most people are fully familiar with the story of Jesus’ birth as told in the New Testament Gospels.  It is told beautifully and inspiringly; the public and religious celebrations enacted for Christmas can be quite moving to mind and heart regardless of one’s particular religious beliefs or affiliation.  But as one focuses attention on the celebratory displays, the religious stagings, or loses oneself in the unbounded gift shopping that has come to so consume Christmas, do we take advantage of the occasion to contemplate the spiritual meaning of all of this?  The lessons being made available to us to ennoble our Spirit?  They are relevant and universal lessons drawn from the symbolism of the manger birth itself, lessons regardless of one’s particular faith, perhaps less obvious and often lost amidst the noise of celebration.

The first lesson of the manger birth is that it required a journey to be made.  A taking leave from the ease of a known home, familiar people, and safe environment.  A long and difficult journey made in order to arrive at a new place where the Spirit could make itself known.  So also are we required to make such a journey away from our familiar environs and connections in order to find our true spiritual place.

The second lesson of the manger birth is that the spiritual self had to be awakened and birthed in order to be made real.  The potential for our spiritual presence may always be within us, but its realization must be enacted, must be born from seeding, a gestation, and nurturing.  As we must give a birthing to our own spiritual life after much preparation and with difficult effort.

The third lesson of the manger birth is that spirituality arrived, and was born into, a world of simplicity.  No riches were required; no exultant setting needed.  Our spiritual life lives in an uncomplicated, unadorned place, surrounded by and grounded to Nature’s essence; a simple manger, a bed of straw, swaddling clothes for warmth, in a barn surrounded by animals of help and sustenance.  We can choose to bring luxury into our lives – our own forms of gold, frankincense and myrrh – but we know that they are not required.  Unbounded love, quiet peace, and simple contentment are the true gifts that come from our spiritual being.

In respect for whatever may be your traditions and beliefs, may such gifts be a part of your spiritual birth at this Christmas time.  Peace be within you always.

©  2013   Randy Bell

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Being Who You Truly Are

“To thine own self be true.”   (Shakespeare)

Such a seemingly simple request made of us.  But like most spiritual ideals, often so very difficult to actually pull off.  Living genuinely in the truth of who we are sounds desirable on its face, but how often do we truly live in such a manner – even when we pretend we are?

The first hurdle is knowing, in fact, who “I” actually is.  Most of us live in an unconscious reaction to our entire life catalog of events, thoughts, experiences, and interpretations-in-the-moment – a catalog that predominately resides hidden and mysterious in our minds.  A catalog which then requires considerable time and effort to uncover, strip away, re-think, and then apply into our current life.  Until then, we spend a majority of our time believing we know what we are about – thoughts, values, ambitions, religious beliefs, etc. – but in fact living out a pre-rationalized path we have made up to conveniently fit our history.

Our second hurdle is knowing what we have truly learned and concluded on our own for ourselves.  As opposed to beliefs which are simply echoes of those who have had significant influence on our life experiences, and their interpretations of our experiences.  Or who taught “the facts and the truths” to us, an unquestioning listener, who rarely directly challenged and analyzed the veracity of those teachings.  In which event we never quite figured out whether those teachings were truly thereby our own, or just the convenient cloning of someone else’s thoughts.

The third hurdle is the dominating weight of the society in which one lives, whether it be a religious, cultural, political, social or geographical group.  Peer pressures to get along can be an overwhelming force on even the strongest of individuals.  “Fitting in” is a natural desire as another way of defeating our fears of being lonely, of being disconnected from our surroundings.  Acceptance of us by many others seems to also quantitatively affirm “I” in spite of our own self-doubts.  But such group approval comes at a severe personal price, for a society can be very unforgiving when its boundaries are crossed.  So we have to continually ask ourselves exactly who it is that our society is approving – our true self that is being reflected into the world, or a disguised self reflecting a portrait spray-painted onto us by society like so much cultural graffiti.

Discovering who the true person is that resides inside of us is a challenging endeavor.  It is a spiritual journey, a personality journey, a journey of discovery about one’s self and Life itself.  We use the discovery tools of differing viewpoints, other religions and cultures, other geographies; we explore the thoughts and experiences held deeply in the recesses of our minds.  Given what we discover, and understanding that we are now called to live radically differently, it is also a journey mainly for the fearlessly committed.  Because it is highly unlikely that the “I” that we discover bears much resemblance to the “I” we have comfortably known.  Once one starts such a journey, and thereby tumbles down the rabbit hole into one’s own true self, one will likely never be the same, never see one’s self the same way, and never able to go back to the old self again.  Old affiliations no longer work, and a different set of people and environments are required to give support to that newly rediscovered self.  It is a long and continuous journey, with occasional companions coming alongside into our life for a period and then leaving again.  But it is essentially a journey that must be walked alone.

The Buddha forewarned us that many will start such a journey, but few will succeed.  And Jesus consistently warned that the spiritual life – being who you are, with God – would always be a difficult one.  But when one’s life ends, who is it that will then be presented to the Universe: the culturally created “I,” or the true “I” of Being?

© 2013   Randy Bell