Monday, December 29, 2014

Through The Eyes Of A Fish

A simple fish is a living creature, a form of life that likely predates humankind.  Consider what existence on Earth looks like through the eyes of a fish.  It is born, grows to maturity, and ultimately dies, either from old age or a fatal event.  During that lifetime, there is food to be gathered and eaten, chores to attend to, and a responsibility to reproduce and sustain the fish community.  Not unlike our human existence.

There are many kinds of fish.  Little ones, big ones, huge ones.  Fish of a variety of colors and shapes.  Surrounded by other fish – different in specific form, but nonetheless still “fish.”  They live in water, the only home they know.  The only home they can survive in.  The water of streams, rivers, lakes, or the great oceans.  Water that comes in various flavors: with or without salt, with varying levels of needed oxygen, with similarly varying levels of unwanted pollution.  Some fish are unique to particular kinds or locations of water; others are found across many parts of the globe.  Most fish stay pretty close to one place in their watery home; others are more nomadic and travel great distances in fulfilling their life.

In water, light is a variable, stratified in layers from the top of the water to the bottom.  But what is “top” or “bottom” to a fish, versus simply “water”?  There is a portion of its home that is less dark.  And at some point it can discover a difference kind of substance that is unlike the usual watery home, a dense material that cannot be swum through.  It is what we call “the bottoms,” filled with mud, rock, and perhaps some kind of plant life.  No swimming through that, just a barrier to avoid.  And, in fact, a fixed boundary to the watery home.

This is the Life that a fish knows, the images a fish sees.  Living perpetually in this liquid substance encompassed by strata of light and a stratum of non-liquid.  Such is the definition of what “life on earth” means – to a fish.  It is a much more limited understanding than we human beings have.  We know of land, of mountains, of trees, of sky, of clouds.  We live in air, not water, though we can experience water for short periods.  We know a fish, but a fish does not know of us.  But do we truly know “us”?

The fish believes that he knows all of Creation based upon its own personal vision and experience.  We know of a bigger Creation based upon our personal vision and experience.  But are we just as blind as the fish, trapped in our own confused Lake of Existence?

We so often fall into the trap of thinking that we are human beings, so we know what “being human” means.  We live somewhere, so we understand all the other “somewheres.”  But while we share some commonalities among ourselves to being human, we share just as many differences which we often neither understand nor acknowledge.

The spiritual challenge is whether we continue to live the limited myopia of the fish, that “what I see is what I know which is all there is.”  Or whether we use our extra human capabilities to not think “I understand it all,” but to acknowledge “how little I truly know of the vastness of what there is to know.”  And then leave our comfortable pond to explore the richness of contrasting worlds, different than our own.

The true spiritualist knows that every door of insight is simply an opening to the next door of insight.  Never truly fully knowing, but always learning.  Like the fish, we are perpetually swimming in the confined waters of our life.  Unlike the fish, we have the potential to see a fuller bigness of Life.  But only if we first admit our true ignorance of it.  It is only when we do not know that we can then know the full majesty of Life.

© 2014   Randy Bell     

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Pride And Arrogance

Most religions teach us that pride is bad for us, one of the great moral sins.  With good reason, because unwarranted pride leads us away from humility.  And humility is one of the fundamental requirements for finding our way with and to God, as well as a primary building-block for interpersonal relationships in this more earthly realm.

Nevertheless, in small doses, applied sparingly, within a proper framework, perhaps a little bit of pride on occasion can be a good thing.  We slog our way through life, moving constantly from one challenge to the next in seemingly endless sequence.  Stopping to recognize what has been achieved, where we have come to, the differences we have made, can be an important step in helping to keep us on spiritual track.  When we have done well in our pursuits, a little breath of pride in our mental lungs can create a refreshing pause in our labors, a reserve of fresh air to energize us for the next inevitable pursuit.  It gives us a moment to reflect on what has been done, a reflection we need to make.  If such a pride better motivates and directs us to our next spiritual sequence, then we can be forgiven for such a moment of self-satisfaction.

But what is that “proper framework” we spoke of for our prideful indulgence?  First, we understand that such pride is very short-lived; we do not seek to unduly extend that moment beyond its natural expiration.  Second, we recognize that whatever it is in which we take pride, whatever outcomes we think we caused, they are only temporary phenomena.  These too will pass away in their own natural time, regardless of whatever we may try to do to prevent it.  The monuments we build to our self-importance are rarely forever-lasting.

Third, we acknowledge all those who helped make possible our outcomes, those who provided the opportunities, education, resources, funding, and encouragement that enable what we do.  However much we may try to believe that “I” did these things, in truth it is all the “we’s” who achieved it together through me.  Fourth, we accept that our accomplishment does not make us better than any other being.  Being “better” causes us to separate our self from others, based upon an external measure of us, thereby forgetting the equal spiritual worth of all humankind.  So we do our work quietly, forgoing bragging.  True pride lives inside of us; it does not require the praise of others.

And fifth, we accept how easily our successful outcome could have been just the opposite.  Fate turns not on a wide curve of circumstances, but on the slightest fissure in the road.  When we study the history of any great endeavor, any large project or military campaign, any great biography, the margin of “error” for any undertaking is miniscule.  Is it luck, is it karma, is it fate, is it Providential handiwork that sends us left instead of right at some precisely critical moment?

It is when we lose sight of these qualifiers that simple human pride becomes arrogance.  When we believe that our current accomplishment was due solely to our own effort, our own solitary achievement, and our road is the only road to be followed, our life begins to be built on a foundation of sand.  A foundation just waiting to be washed away by a future storm of Life.  Will we then blame others for the failure we experience, while we credit ourselves only for our successes and accomplishments?

As we look at our large new house, our current-year automobile, our large paycheck, our college diploma on the wall, our “perfect children” in school, we need to remember where in fact these all came from.  We may have been fortunate enough to be the willing channel for the gifts of many that resulted in a benefit for our self.  We can take some limited pride in being a part of that result.  But when we believe that the result started and ended with our self, then we begin to live in arrogance.  And when we choose to live on that dangerous precipice, sooner or later Life will always find a way to teach arrogance the necessary humility it needs to learn.

© 2014  Randy Bell      

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Listening To The Universe

A previous blog posting (“Thinking Versus Listening,” October 9, 2014) focused on the subtle but significant difference between “thinking” with our mind versus “listening” to that inner voice that exists within each of us.  Once we are skilled at listening to that inner Self, we then open ourselves to listening on a much broader scope.  Listening to God and all of the Universe.

In whatever form we choose to envision and name that greater Spirit, the God/Universe that surrounds us “speaks” to all of us often.  In re-action to our requests and calls to the Universe; in pro-action to help guide us to our greater purpose and benefit – even when we may not realize we need such guidance.  Yet there are many who believe God talks to no one, that those who claim such communication are at best delusional, at worst self-indulgent frauds.  And they can be quite vocal in their condemnation and disdain towards such claims.

For those who confidently accept that the Universe speaks to them, the vehicle(s) for such communication can come through different sources.  Some “hear” the words directly in their thoughts, but as a separate and distinguishable “voice.”  That voice may be sensed as from God, from one’s own “guides” or angels, or from known family or associates that have previously passed on.  For some, the words come through the hand, dictated into written form.  Alternately, the words may come through other people, perhaps in a formal “channeling” style of speech.  Or perhaps just a simple sentence or two someone says in seemingly normal conversation.  In those instances, there is just something about the essence of the words, said in that particular moment, that forcefully grabs our attention.  Somehow we just know something important was said, so we listen closely, interpret carefully, and act accordingly.

God speaks to us in the medium, language and style that are unique to us.  Not in some ancient biblical-speak or divine-speak, or in some Hollywood imagined-speak, but in the everyday conversation that is natural to us.  It is all customized to each of us individually.  At times that may cause us doubt its authenticity, or wonder if we are having an imagined conversation with our own Self, and so we are required to learn to distinguish carefully between the two.  But all great spiritual teachers speak in the language of their listeners, and so does God.  God does not speak Hebrew to an Argentinian; God speaks in Spanish.

Absent the spoken/written word, the Universe draws on every imaginable method and opportunity to communicate with us.  Life events; our successes and failures; people moving in and out of our life journey; events of nature.  These forms of communication are subtle and can be easily skipped over.  They require us to “listen” with sensitive eyes/ears/mind, but they are equally valid and powerful aspects of “divine speech.”  They require us to sharpen our instinct of recognition, be constantly alert for such messages, and recognize the patterns of synchronicity that occur in our life.  Things truly do happen for a reason.

To hear God, we must be willing.  Not just desirous, but truly open and willing.  Willing to hear no matter what the message may be.  Because it will often be a message that we do not really want to hear in that moment.  God tells us What we need to hear, When we need to hear it, in the dosage we are able to absorb.  The long-term goals and outcomes may or may not be made clear, but the steps and timing to get there are typically maddingly vague.

There are also times when the conversation ends, for however varyingly long a period.  The Universe does not speak when there is nothing new to say, or when there would only be repetition of what we have already chosen to reject, or when the time for new conversation has not yet arrived.  Or we may hear silence when we are being called upon to make our own decisions and chart our own course in order to demonstrate and experience what we have spiritually learned to date.  God is a guide leading us to our fully realized self, not a dictator specifying exactly what we are to do.

Ultimately, we have to believe we can have a dialog with the Universe in order to actually have such a dialog.  If we do not believe this is possible, then we will only hear the silence we expected in the first place.  God is always having a one-sided chat with us through some forum or media.  The only question is whether we choose to hear and participate in our half of the conversation.  If we do so choose, we open ourselves to an unending wealth of spiritual conversation and connection with a Universe far beyond our daily knowing.

©  2014   by Randy Bell           

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Thinking Versus Listening

“I think, therefore I am.”  (Rene Descartes, philosopher)  It is the classic Western statement about where the Self resides.

It is in the mind that the concept of “I” exists.  At least for most of us, most of the time.  In the mind is where we believe resides the essence of “me” – my memories, imaginings, and beliefs.  It is the storehouse for my accumulated facts, knowledge, and the conclusions that I have drawn.  It is where I “control” my life – my decisions, logic, moral code, ambitions.  From these, my mind then triggers my actions.

To exercise that mind, we “think.”  We “talk” in the quiet of our minds, walking through a story or a lecture to ourselves.  It is a very active and engaged action.  The sense of “I” is present throughout this thinking process; the word “I” itself is often heard.  “I” am very much in control.  Or so we think.

But this form of “thinking” is typically a self-fulfilling, gratuitous activity.  Often, we unwittingly lead ourselves though rationalization to where we had already decided to go.  We edit our personal stories as we choose to remember them.  Many of our beliefs are in fact cloned from the beliefs of various authority figures we have encountered along the way.  We think we are making our own decisions, and believe we are doing something “new.”  Yet we remain decidedly a creature of habit, repeating thoughts and actions in an endless repetition.  We change the surrounding scenery on the stage of our own personal drama; our plot remains unchanged.  We think we are in control of our minds; in reality we are more often the captive of our mind acting on its own.

Knowing this, in our spiritual pursuit we acknowledge the reality of our subservience to the mind instead of our illusionary domination.  And in that recognition itself, we begin our first steps in reasserting the true “I” that we really are.

“If we don’t know who we are, we will never know how to live.”  (Rev. Billy Graham)

We do this by setting aside “thinking” – the proactive activity.  We give up creating thoughts.  In its place, we learn the skillful art of listening to our mind.  We separate ourselves from thinking and become the passive observer of what the mind thinks, a listener to the thoughts we already have.  We picture ourselves as a separate but good friend of our mind.  We listen – as we would with a dear friend – as our mind speaks to us.

As a good listener, we hear our friend’s thoughts and offer no commentary.  We make no judgments about what we hear; all thoughts are acceptable in that moment.  We do not rush our friend’s words; we wait patiently for the next thought to come in its own good time, when it is  ready.  We ask timely and pertinent questions only to obtain clarity for a better understanding – to benefit both our self and our friend.  We offer opinions only when asked, and never try to impose our will or perspective on our friend.  We do not put our own words into our friend’s thoughts.  We do not write and tell our own story; we hear the story that is unfolding before us.  We understand that we are simply an audience of one, facilitating our friend’s desire to be heard.

And what do we then hear?  Maybe a single word.  Perhaps a short phrase.  On a rare occasion, a complete sentence.  Those small fragments open a window of insight to us, a window to which we will patiently but continually return as that view continues to wondrously expand and illuminate.

It takes a lot of work and practice to know how to listen to your Self.  But when we stop to truly LISTEN to our mind, we stop creating more thoughts, more add-ons to the “I” we are constantly creating.  Instead, we get to know the “I” that is already there.  No additional layers are needed.  No new illusions need to be tacked on to my “I.”

It is in talking that we do.  But it is in listening that we learn, understand.  The “I” that is created from one non-stop thought after another is an I that never really grows, never really changes, never finds its own destiny.  The “I” that evolves from informed listening is the knowledgeable I, fully aware of his/her true being.  And that being, freed from the dominating confines of its thoughts, becomes now free to be “thine own true self.”  The soul.

A good friend, who is a deep listener with no personal agenda other than your own, is a friend to treasure.  Can we be such a friend to our Self?

“The quieter you become, the more you can hear.”  (Ram Dass)

© 2014 by Randy Bell  

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Looking Outside, Seeing Inside

For most people, their spirituality is anchored in one particular spiritual home.  A religion, a particular church/congregation, a specific dogma or spiritual philosophy.  In the majority of instances, this home is the one they were born into, passed along by their parents along with the other inherited hand-me-downs.  Later in life, some leave that familial spiritual home and either go into the blank canvass of no spiritual life, or convert to some other spiritual home.  Maybe to a new home just next door, or perhaps to a home far away from the original family homestead.  A conversion perhaps stimulated by a disappointment in one’s current place, a marriage and a new life partner, an intellectual outreach, or a set of enticing spiritual experiences.

In the end, it really does not matter where you end up calling home, as long as it enhances your connection with Spirit and the Universe, and brings out the better person of you.  Having spiritual companions who walk a similar path, however, helps to keep you moving forward when your energy may be lacking.  Having a structured set of spiritual ideas to explore, ideas from one of the Ancient Masters or a contemporary teacher, can help point out the direction to proceed at the many inevitable spiritual intersections we encounter.  Having an established ritual can give us a supportive form within which to express our spiritual self, often comfortably linked back to a tradition thousands of years old.

Companions, teachings, and ritual can provide a powerful tripartite framework for our spiritual pursuit.  On the condition that we truly enter into these by genuinely informed choice, not by an unquestioning default to our past-or-present cultural surroundings.  True spirituality is not fixed.  It is a constant quest for deeper understanding, a continual self-questioning of our truth, a changing view through our spiritual eyes.  And sometimes we have to go outside of our spiritual home and then look back in order to see more fully what is housed inside.

For the spiritually restless, it may be necessary to look back from several vantage points in order to see the full landscape.  To go to the absolutely unfamiliar in order to see where one has truly been.  From such an unfamiliar place, the old neighborhood can be seen afresh.  It is by laying our beliefs open to contrasting views that real Truth can be discovered.  It is by questioning our beliefs, and working through those questions to find answers, that we deepen our faith and understand it more fully, more genuinely.  Questioning our faith, like questioning our understanding of our Self, does not negate our faith.  It affirms it.  Even if our specifics may change as a result.

For me, my spiritual home is a camp tent that picks up and moves with me each day.  That journey has led to some very interesting, challenging, difficult and rewarding places.  A journey to greater themes and messages from God’s blessed Teachers.  Abraham teaches me to know only one God, but an infinite God that encompasses all things.  Jesus teaches me about the love of God, and how to reciprocate that love back to God and to share it with others.  Buddha teaches me how to know myself, and know the world around me, and how to live properly within that knowledge.  Lao-Tzu teaches me that there is a natural flow and rhythm in Life – God, Universe, Nature – and to live in harmony and sync with that flow.  Muhammad teaches me to surrender my will and my being completely to God, and to follow the teachings of the Ancients in fulfillment and commitment to God.  Moses teaches me to live in community, in a society informed by God.  And from all of this, God teaches me Life, Love, Fulfillment and the Understanding of all of Creation – an expansive Creation that is endless and continuous.

Build your spiritual home where you may choose.  But shape that home through the questioning prism of many different angles.  Our life is constantly moving.  Whether we stay on one path or take many different turns, our spirituality must always move alongside in accompaniment to that journey.  We ground our being in our spiritual feet, but they move upon constantly shifting ground.  If our spiritual GPS has always said “turn right,” then we should on occasion try turning Left.  We may be surprised that an unfamiliar route still brings us safely back home again.

©  2014   Randy Bell    

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Keep It Simple Seeker

In business, there is an oft-repeated admonition for the successful design and actualization of new products: “Keep it simple, stupid” (KISS).  It recognizes that success comes from clarity about what you are trying to ultimately accomplish, and then remaining fully true in fulfilling that core intention.  The arch-enemy is the near-inevitable human desire to overreach, over-ornament, and over-complicate that original intention.

KISS is also relevant to our spiritual pursuit.  Our Great Teachers – Moses, Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad – by their words and their lives, have told and shown us that real spirituality is to be found in simplicity and humility.  Yet religious systems always become anything but simple.  Almost inevitably, glorification and complexity rear their heads.  The great cathedrals of Europe, the splendid mosques of the Middle East and the Taj Mahal in India, the grand palaces and monasteries of Tibet, are intended to overwhelm the puny individual by their physical and visual display of Power – ostensibly the power of Spirit, but more often, the power of the church.

Inside these great halls are found the exquisite artifacts – the iconic religious symbols that reference the personas, the history, and the tenets of the religion.  All layered with great beauty intended to enhance the value and meaning of the object, as if the inherent meaning is not enough to stand on its own.  (Jesus’ simple wooden cup at the Last Supper subsequently became a gold and bejeweled chalice used for religious ritual.)

We do the same with our spiritual teachings and dogma.  We take the earliest, simple teachings and mash them into highly complex discussions of theology, interpretation, and etymologies of words derived across translated languages.  Yet it is in those earliest beginning teachings that the real messages can be found, not in the complex renderings of “interpretations and explanations” that we have layered on ever since.  God is an experience of the individual spirit, not a logic lesson for the human mind.

The tendency to overreach and to glorify is understandable, especially as one seeks to express such an inexpressible spiritual feeling living in one’s soul.  The success yearnings of the clergyperson, combined with the creative capacity of a fine artist, can be a powerful temptation.  But as beautiful, expressive and inspirational as these temples and artifacts can be to our senses, we must ask ourselves: is this what our Teachers taught us?  Is this grandness for the benefit of God, and for the spiritual encouragement of the congregant?  Or are they really testaments to Man, the grandeur of the Church itself, the power of the person in the pulpit?  How much energy has been expended for the brick rather than the Spirit?

We are certainly free to admire the output – architecture, art, and sophisticated theological argument – that comes from our human spiritual creativity.  We can appreciate the creative abilities and realization of potential exemplified in these outputs, and use them to encourage our own expression.  But these are human creations.  When we begin to think that our spirituality is dependent upon, or measured by, those human factors, or see them in place of appreciation for God’s simple treasures living all around us, we have lost sight of our true responsibility and connection to God.  When we build our faith on foundations of cash, and try to define our spirituality by the size of the congregation and the complex arguments of our theology, it is at the expense of the richness of our spirit.  We may impress ourselves and each other with our grand physical symbols.  But God will not be so impressed.  Spiritual honesty in a neighbor’s candlelit living room can be far more true than misdirected spiritual expression from the pulpit.

©  2014   Randy Bell                

Friday, August 22, 2014

Alone With My Self

Have you ever spent an entire day spiritually alone, just with your Self?

In the context of this question, “alone” does not mean “taking a day off” and doing just what you would like to do for a rare afternoon.  Running personal errands, treating yourself to a day of long-denied entertainment, non-required shopping, or personal pampering.  Nor does being alone mean simply being absent from the usual family, friends, or colleagues.

Being spiritually alone means surrounding yourself in true absence.  No distracting TV/radio/cell phones/computers.  No people at all, except for perhaps an occasional person necessary to help negotiate your way through the day.  No distractions.  No chores to perform.  No conversations with others.  Just you.  Perhaps in a quiet room, or on a comfortable bench in the quiet woods or garden.  Perhaps sitting in a meditation posture; perhaps at a table with pen in hand to jot down a few thoughts.  An occasional slow walk through your surroundings to refresh your quiet time.  Just you.  And your Self.  Your real Self.  The Self you rarely get to talk to, to know better.

For many people, such an undistracted day, in such quiet, in such an aloneness, is a frightening prospect.  The very idea of a silent day creates a sense of high anxiety, if not panic.  We think, “how will I get through these many hours, passing the time alone, and what am I likely to experience?”  It is a time and situation completely foreign to our training and experience, being separated from the task list and human interactions that typically fill our day.  So why would we want to do it?

It is in silence that one encounters one’s Self.  The true Self that lives quietly within us, lost to the conscious mind, crowded from our thoughts.  The truth is, many of us have little desire to meet that Self, even though it is our spiritual essence.  Perhaps we fear seeing an unpleasant person, or frightening thoughts, or scary experiences residing in that Self, a Self normally kept out of view.  Perhaps we resist some negative judgments being directed at us by that Self.  Perhaps we will find too many unfulfilled dreams, failed initiatives, or lost opportunities tucked away into that Self.  Or maybe too many regrets, too many unchangeable shortcomings, too many “I wish I hadn’t done that’s” being lugged around in a heavy bag marked “Failures.”

Or, after we slog through some of this initial dense swamp, perhaps we will find someone else.  A joyful, confident, and happy self we have been missing, albeit a Self bruised and battered around by Life.  A Self that has been waiting a long time to finally meet us.  A Self that would be nice to be acquainted with now.  Of all the Friends on our Facebook page or holiday mailing list, this could be the best friend of all.

Our first encounters alone with our Self may prove very difficult.  It is likely a Self very different from the one we normally see in the mirror.  But it gets easier, and more rewarding, with each repetition.  It takes a while to get to know fully the Self that awaits us.  We will have to take both the “good” and the “bad” of the Self together, just as with any other good friend.  But it is an acquaintance worth making.  It is an acquaintance we can only make within external silence.  Because that Self can only speak very softly, so we have to listen hard to hear it.  And if we keep listening hard enough, and long enough, and often enough, behind our Self we sometimes might hear an even softer Voice reaching out to us.

“Nothing in all creation is so like God as stillness” (Meister Eckhart).  Stillness with Self is worth eight hours of our time.

©  2014   Randy Bell    

Friday, July 25, 2014

God As Project Planner

Creativity.  It is taking a speck of “nothing” and transforming it into a “something.”  Sometimes creativity arrives in an instinctive flash.  But in most instances, creative endeavors require “a plan” in order to arrive at that creative end point and avoid disaster.  God is all about creativity.  God’s creativity shows in the physical world within which we live, the human form we inhabit, the spiritual being that we truly are.  All of which required their own project plan from the excellent project planner that God is.

Recently, I was feeling highly frustrated by seemingly having hit yet another brick wall in my spiritual path.  The questions of what spiritual direction(s) I should be going, what actions I should be taking, what decisions I should be making, led me to wonder: am I trying to follow a path solely of my own making, or am I allowing myself to be guided by God’s path for me?  I asked myself: If I were God, who wanted to take me spiritually from a beginning point “A” to some end point “Z” (“Z” being known only to God), how would I do that?  What would a smart project plan (i.e. spiritual path) look like?

Putting on my 40-years project planner hat, I opted to play God for a moment.  Over a period of quiet reflection, I retroactively extracted what God’s project plan for my spiritual development has appeared to be thus far.  The Plan for God’s intended purpose and role for me.  The Plan to fulfill the contract we made together when I was born.  I wrote down the spiritual chronology of my current journey begun twenty years ago.  Not in great detail or exhaustive text, but just simply the bullet points of the major phases, turning points and significant milestones in this journey.  When I was finished, the logical flow and appropriate steps that have been taken – i.e. my spiritual path – were laid out in front of me.  Seeing the overall sensibility underpinning the seeming chaos of where I have been does not tell me where this path is to end.  But it does remind me that my life is not just a series of random events, as it often feels day-to-day.  That God does have a general plan, a framework, for me to act within, with a lot of options for adjustment, and a lot of blanks for me to fill in.

It is when I start to think I am all alone in this journey, and my direction and outcomes are totally on me to make happen, that my life usually gets into upheaval and frustration.  But seeing these individual links that connect the chain that is my life brings me back into synchronicity with the Universe’s co-role in guiding my life.  I have much spiritual work yet to do, but The Plan tells me, in gradual increments, what work is to be done and where to find it.  Which rocks in the stream are solid and will support my feet as I move across the dangerous rushing water to the other shore, versus which are the deceptive, unstable rocks that that will toss me into that water.  As Lao-Tsu teaches us, the challenge is to know when to act on our own, when to react to the Universe’s guidance, and when to just sit quietly and wait patiently for clarity.  In the end, the result of our life is still our series of choices.

I invite you to pursue a similar exercise of retroactive planning for yourself.  From whatever starting point is appropriate, to examine the major phases of your spiritual and/or secular journey and their milestones.  Perhaps the phases will stand alone as independent links scattered about the landscape, without the cohesion or connection that forms a strong, secure chain.  If so, we might surmise that one has been only on his/her own plan, without that larger cohesion that comes from God’s planning.

But if we see an overall orderliness of our life within broad, connected linkages, even the most difficult moments of our daily chaos can settle quietly into their proper perspective.  Thereby, we relearn Trust.  Trust that our life will proceed within Purpose if we are humble and willing enough to live within God’s Plan that envelops us.  By seeing the connectedness of how we have lived, we can then walk into our future with the confident understanding that only some of our life is about what we plan to do.  Some of it is about what God is planning on our behalf.  Working together.  That is The Plan.  Whether we are willing to give over some of our ego and illusion of sole control, and instead partner with The Plan, is our only real choice.

©  2014   Randy Bell    

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Guilt And Sin

Guilt.  The very word itself hangs over us like a suffocating blanket, blocking out our ability to see the light that is around us.  “Guilty as charged” – whether for violation of the prevailing social code or a heinous crime – may be a necessary owning up to our actions, a necessary step in learning and contrition, a prerequisite to necessary punishment and retribution.  But the fact of being proclaimed “guilty” is only intended to then give way to moving beyond that moment and into a new future.  More often, the judgment of guilty becomes an ongoing, perhaps never-ending drama of repetition.  The original act is continually reimagined; the verdict is re-pronounced by a series of mental juries; the judgment is reiterated from the faces of new stand-in judges that come into our life; punishment is inflicted without end.  The punishment that society deems appropriate may be levied over a long duration.  But the weight of culpability that should be momentary is transformed into a life-long burden we call “guilt.”

If “guilt” is the secular statement laid upon our errors, “sin” is the parallel language of the cleric.  Certainly when we turn away from God, forget the calling out of our best self, and lapse in our judgment of doing the highest good for the most beings, such forgetfulness needs to be identified, acknowledged  and accepted.  It is only from identifying-acknowledging-accepting that we learn what better choices were possible for us, what is the clearer path to God.  Making good choices usually gives us a valuable confirmation of what we have learned, but rarely teaches us new things.  Errors more easily demand our attention and our reflection due to the significance of their consequences.  If we are open to it, our errors are our greatest teachers of Life.  In the context of our true Purpose, our errors are to be welcomed and treasured even though they may cause us (and others) pain in the moment and thereafter.

Unfortunately, guilt manipulated in the hands of some secular authorities (parents, teachers, bosses), or sin in the hands of some religious authorities (priests, ministers, rabbis, imams), simply becomes another tool of control and domination over the mind.  For these “authorities,” a continual emphasis on avoiding guilt and sin seems more of a priority than living positively in truth within the actual experience of God.  Administered with a heavy hand, continually reinforced, guilt is used to equate our actions with the very worth of us as a human being.  “Guilt and sin” swallows up our soul like an anaconda wraps itself around the body of its prey, choking the life out of its victim.  No good lessons are learned, only the diminution of our soul results.  Error of judgment is made into an error of self; a moment of bad action is made into badness itself.  Learning is lost to punishment; a potential teacher instead becomes an executioner of a soul.

Guilt is one of the least productive emotions that live in our minds.  Sin-based guilt is even more damaging and ill-productive, because it comes between us and God, and God’s overall design for our life.  God cares less about what we have done, or where we have been, versus who we have become and what we are doing now.  The “holy ledger” of our good and bad deeds is less important than the diploma that acknowledges what we have learned from those deeds.  God starts and ends with us in love, forgiveness and acceptance.  God understands that – IF we do not lock ourselves in a prison of the past – error is a prime tool for finding our way forward.

So we need to resist our conditioning towards guilt and sin.  We need to use whatever secular therapy and/or spiritual discovery tools can purge ourselves of past guilt, and disconnect ourselves from the anchor of regret.  We need to reject those who would lead us into the spiritual abyss that lies behind the twin doors labeled GUILT and SIN.  Only then can we lighten our load so as to be able to live freely, and thereby walk into the future that God is providing to us each day.

©  2014   Randy Bell    

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Death Of A Friend

I lost a dear friend the other day.  Another casualty to the unrelenting ravages of cancer.  It was a spiritual friendship of much depth, even if our chronology was only of a few years – unlike his high school sweetheart and beloved spouse of 50 years.  Longevity can be enviable, but sometimes depth can partially make up for a short calendar.

For some, death is only vaguely foreseen, and strikes suddenly with little preparation or advance notice.  Such a death affects little of one’s daily life up to that moment – hence always “tomorrow.”  For others, death is predictable if not scheduled, and that predictability drives the schedule of their lives – hence never “tomorrow.”  In either case, death ultimately comes to each of us.  And more often than not, it comes about consistent with how we have lived our entire life.  Yet on occasion some follow the path of their death into a U-turn, going in mind and heart to places they never dared venture before.

My friend and I spent many an hour over coffee and bagels exploring the subject of Life, Life’s meaning, and our relationship to God.  And what it means to truly “live with God.”  There were always so many questions to explore, answers to be sought.  But they were never questions about whether God, doubts about God; rather, there were only questions about how to know God.  What God is truly about, and thereby, what we are truly about.

And so this dear friend’s impending death emerged to be just one more question, one more exploration, one more opportunity for understanding.   That his death was certain, and on a short timeline, was never denied.  That many human experiences and special relationships would be lost was also  understood and expected.  But the inevitability that we all face – yet continually deny – was accepted; yes, with sadness, but with little regret.

By embracing his reality, even as he sought to extend it by the drugs and the radiation, greater clarity came.  When death finally does come over that distant hill, parks itself on your front stoop and rings the doorbell, it brings in its briefcase a full serving of clarity.  Clarity about what is truly important in our human life rises to the top, and all the false importances that we have chased for so long settle to the bottom like dirt separating in a water glass.  So we can sip from the clear water on top, and leave the extraneous behind.  In that clarity, time becomes precious, personal interactions become primary, needed words finally get said.

I will miss my friend.  I will miss our conversations.  I will miss the stimulation of thinking, the camaraderie of our shared ongoing search.  All pursued within that Irish passion, smile and good humor.  He will be missed by many others in their own way, from their own experience.  Be well and at peace, my good friend.  Yours was a life worth remembering.  Enjoy all the new answers you are now finding to your so many questions.  Know that in another time and place you will have new questions to be answered; your journey will continue.  But for this moment, be now with God.  In the place where we will all ultimately arrive.

In my memory of Dennis Murphy.  June 19, 2014.
© 2014   Randy Bell

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Other Civilizations

Recently, I opted to sit on my lawn enjoying the expansive view overlooking the valley below, intent on allowing myself a rare moment in quiet contemplation.  It was one of those early summer days of warm sun yet cooling breeze that are delightful to enjoy in this special mountain setting.

Sitting in my chair, lost in my scattered thoughts, I was distracted by small movement at my feet.  Looking down, I noticed some kind of bug moving through the grass, working its way determinedly around my feet.  Given my complete lack of knowledge about the insect world, I had no idea of the scientific label of this small creature.  Hence the generic “bug” would have to do.  As I continued to watch, it became clear that this bug had a very purposeful objective in its mind, a task to be done, a mission to complete.  This was not just a bug’s time off for a recreational stroll.

Then I noticed other movements out of the corner of my eye.  A grasshopper now jumping through the grass, pausing, followed by another quick jump.  An ant crawling through the increasingly busy terrain, crossing paths with a good-sized spider – but not one so good-sized as to send me scrambling to safety in the face of a dime-sized potential assassin.

Similarly others continued to come, the territory below me becoming a bustling traffic intersection of many species.  A miniature society normally invisible to our eyes, but today teeming with the busy doing of Life, all in harmony with, and unthreatening to, each other.  An organized, complex society we pay little attention to – except to squash when it invades “our” territory.

Yet noticing all that movement below me, and thinking about the bird building its nest on our porch to hold its reproductive eggs, and the bees and hummingbirds drinking from the well of our brightly-colored flowers, served to remind me of how little we think about the full scope of God’s creative output.  Most of our time, we look around and see, and think only about, human beings – ourselves and others.  As if we are the only thing of importance on the earth, the center of all attention, the only “life” going on here.  But if we ever indulge the luxury of time spent truly looking at what all surrounds us, we create a fresh opportunity for our humility to arise.

How often has Man, to whom was given “dominion over the fish … the fowl … the cattle … all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps upon it,” interpreted that dominion to mean “ownership,” seemingly bordering on the unrestricted master/slave plantation mentality of so long ago where living “possessions” were used however one pleased.  Rather than accept the responsibility of “stewardship” to protect and help manage all of these more humble gifts of God’s total creation entrusted to us.  By scriptural tradition, human beings were the last item on God’s creation checklist; other outputs were more important to do first, and were necessary to allow for the creation and sustaining of human beings.

We ignore the very real existence of dirt, rocks, trees, plants, and yes, the bugs, all nourished by the sunlight, oxygen and rain that gives them life.  We presume our superiority as humans as though we are the only meaningful creation, the center around which the Universe revolves – as erroneous as those ancestors who believed that the life-giving sun revolved around its child Earth.  Every creation of God breathes, feels, knows fear and safety, and lives and dies.  Because every creation of God is just one of infinite transformations of cell forms that breathes, feels, knows fear and safety, and lives and dies.

The deer and the mosquito remind us of the importance of our relative unimportance.  That Life is not just about us.  Life is about knowing the unknowable, incomprehensible vastness of the Universe, into which we are inescapably interdependent and connected.

© 2014   Randy Bell

Friday, May 16, 2014

Love Our Neighbor

There are several of the Great Spiritual Teachers of centuries past from whom I draw my spiritual inspiration and guidance.  They take me down paths I wish to travel in my life, paths of personal discovery as well as greater understandings beyond just my own self.  Most often these paths are anything but simple or tranquil; challenges, upheavals, and loss of fancied illusions are the litter along my spiritual roadside.  But I recognize that it is in this instability and change that my true discoveries are to be found – if I but openly look for them.  And so my walk continues on, always knowing that the next challenge is still to come.

Each of my Teachers offers me a somewhat different spiritual perspective and topical focus.  To be able to draw from that breadth enriches the journey all the more.  Yet there is one common teaching that invariably transcends these individual teachings: the expectation to love, and be kind to, all other beings.  It perhaps seems on surface that love and kindness are the easiest things to do; it proves to be one of the supreme challenges to living in God’s image.

It is fairly easy to love those who love you, treat you well, are always supportive, and who are never a hurdle to our ambitions and well-being.  But we are continually reminded, and called to task, that such a selective subset for our love is not enough.  For Jesus, it is to love our neighbor as we would be loved, and for that love to be as boundless and continually forgiving as God’s own deep love for each of us.  For Buddha, it is the call for compassion and empathy towards all sentient beings, with appreciation and sympathy for the circumstances of their suffering.  For Muhammad, it is the gift, the obligation, of welcoming hospitality shown towards all strangers who come to our house.  There are no “except for’s …” here, no nuances, no picking and choosing.  At times we may be called upon to necessarily resist someone’s inappropriate actions.  But we are never excused from sustaining our love, compassion, and hospitality for them.

In this time and place of so much diverse lifestyles, opinions and perspectives, it can be easy to step into judgment and denigration towards our neighbors.  In a lifetime of victimization from verbal assaults, ill-treatment and deception, it can be easy to hold onto and nurture deep-seated angers at past experiences with some individuals.  Even having the desire to love these neighbors who do not think as we do, act as we do, or have been a specific cause of our unhappiness, can seem an impossible task to achieve.  Until we remind ourselves that none of us really knows our own truth and story, much less other people’s full truth and complete story, in spite of our arrogance in thinking that we do.  All of us know what we know, believe what we believe, see what we see, conditioned and limited by our own individual experiences.  And our experiences are miniscule in proportion to the breadth of experiences of all of humanity.

In truth, hatred is easy; extending forgiving and accepting love is hard.  Anger is easy; extending embracing compassion is hard.  Our Great Teachers of the past understood this, and nevertheless chose to follow the hard path.  There are some such good souls even today who also follow the hard path with success, and make themselves available to lead us all by their example – if we choose to follow.  They lead us not into the dark tent of separation, judgment and condemnation, but into the welcoming embrace of unity, openness and acceptance.  They remind us of the universal lesson that arrogance leads not to our spiritual realization, but that humility is the walking stick that supports us in our journey.

We are often frustrated that others do not see what we see and think as we think, why they “don’t get it.”  God observes us fighting so with each other, and wonders, “Why don’t they see all that I see?  Why don’t they all get it – together?”

©  2014   Randy Bell

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Good And Bad

Most organized religions expend extensive words and effort towards defining what is good and what is bad (“evil”) in this human world.  By extension, secular societies built upon those religious forms and likewise develop extensive rules and laws designed to distinguish between these two conducts.  At first glance, such rules read quite simply and clearly.  The Ten Commandments seem easy enough to understand and absorb, yet they led to over 600 detailed rules of practice under Mosaic Law.  Similarly, Christian Catholic canons, Islamic Shari’ah laws and Buddhist precepts are spelled out in page after page.  Nevertheless, whether we are any more clear about “good” versus “bad” after all of this “explanation” is highly questionable.

So we also see in the secular side of societies.  U.S. and state criminal codes fill a bookcase; the same for our tax codes.  Our religions say “Thou shall not kill,” echoed in the secular laws of our society.  Yet those laws go on to subdivide and rank killing by the degree of badness and scale of punishments.  Murder in the first, second, and third degrees; voluntary versus involuntary manslaughter; suicide and assisted suicide/mercy-killing; accidental death; killing in self-defense; state-prescribed execution; killing as a patriotic duty in wartime – unless you are on the losing side and charged with committing “war crimes.”  So what do we really believe about killing?  Thou shall not kill?  Or Thou shall not kill EXCEPT …”?

In our minds, we can tie ourselves into knots as we run in circles trying to decide whether the violent act of killing is good or bad.  In the end, to answer the question case by case in each individual occurrence and set of circumstances, we usually turn to twelve everyday peers of the accused rather than the greatest religious and civil minds of our society.

The same discussion can hold true for most all of the great spiritual truths and moral laws.  Are our moral truths absolute, or are they relative to people, place and circumstance?  And if they are in fact relative, then how are we to conclude what is right versus what is wrong, what is good versus what is bad?

We will never properly answer that question solely in our minds, by our rational thoughts.  We are all too capable of rationalizing any desired irrationalization to our predisposed conclusion.  Rather, our true moral compass is in our body, our heart, our feelings.  “Good” is that place, that action, those words that create true Joy – in ourselves and in others.  This is not the same as the short-term joy we may experience in the moment; our destructive impulses are all too capable of instant gratification driven by our mind: the sweetness of revenge, the satisfaction from speaking back to power, the thrill of defending the defenseless, the pleasure of a sharply worded retort.  These kinds of joy evaporate soon enough, and later our supposed joy inevitably turns to regret at our impulsiveness, the hurts we generated, the pettiness and thoughtlessness of our action.

In our mind, we will dwell on such false joys, continually replaying the scene, trying to rewrite the script to a better end, while looking for reaffirming confirmation from others.  But in the joy of truly doing good, we are able to take our satisfaction and then easily move on.  There is no need to dwell, to replay, to create alternative endings, to seek affirmation from others.  There is a sustaining calm in our moments of reflection, nothing more to do or say.  Our minds work in the present and look toward the future rather than obsessing and second-judging about the past.  “Bad” things trap us in the past.  “Good” is known throughout our body, settled comfortably in the heart.  That is where we find it.  And there it frees us.

In the end, we are forced to ponder the vexing question: are “good” and “bad” two opposites locked into perpetual conflict for dominance?  Or are they two partners embraced in a dance of perpetual unity, two unique parts of one greater whole?  For undeniably, where one travels, the other is often an ever-present companion, one giving birth to the other.

©  2014   Randy Bell

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Maturing Of God

When my children were born, like most new parents I was pretty clueless about what being a parent really meant.  Much less how to actually do it.  I read books, I asked questions.  My own parents were a tangible example, both for better and for worse.  There were no qualifying exams to become a parent; such permission was easier than getting my first driver’s license.

Ultimately, I learned parenting simply by being a parent.  Basic trial and error.  More reactive to circumstances and events that presented themselves, rather than being proactive in determining “this is how I will parent.”  As a result, some things were done well, some things not so well.  In truth, trying to fulfill the perfection your children think you are is pretty futile.  And no doubt vice versa.

In retrospect, there were three very important things I did learn.  The first was that each child you have is different from one another, and different from every other child.  So we have to individualize our parenting to fit the individuation of each child.  Especially if you hope your child will become an independent-thinking , self-sufficient adult.  That is where the true parental difficulty and creativity come into play.

Secondly, I learned was that my parenting job had to change over time.  What was needed from me for my 1-year-old was vastly different when he became an 8-year-old, further when he became a 15-year-old.  I needed to be very directive to my infant child; I had to give my teenager a lot of slack to learn who he is and how he would sustain himself as an adult.  As a child, she needed to hold my hand crossing a busy street.  As a teenager, she had to cross it alone.  As an adult, she has had to hold the hands of others.  The parent role is an evolving one.

Thirdly, I learned that I had to learn.  The questions my children would ask me, the choices that they made, the personalities that they developed, the knowledge that I gained, all required me to question myself.  Question my own thinking, my own values, the appropriateness of my own upbringing.  The old adage is very true: the good teacher (parent) listens to, and learns from, his student (child).

This understanding of parenting is also applicable to God’s spiritual parenting of us.  We want to think of God as perfect, as all-knowing, as omnipotent – all of which God is.  Just as we thought our own human parents to be.  In that idealization, we typically see God as somehow fixed in time and place, constant and unchanging.  Not true.  God is always learning, growing, maturing, changing.  Growing by self-initiative; growing in reaction to human maturing.  God just happens to be way ahead of us.

We err in thinking about God, and relating to God, when we fall into the trap of a “static parent” perspective.  When we were a child – both individually as well as the collective whole of humanity and civilization – our singular and collective immaturity required God to be very directive with us.  Do this.  Do that.  Follow my rules (commandments).  But now, singularly and collectively, we are somewhere in spiritual adulthood.  God has long since moved to more of a guidance role, cutting us slack, giving us room to exercise our own judgments – for better or worse.  Like a good parent, God is always right there for us, available to counsel us if and when we seek it, but relying upon us to make good decisions reflective of our increasing maturity.  God is no longer directive, but consultative, reflective of our own and God’s increasing maturity.

God is not static.  God has changed, has grown, has learned about spiritual parenting from – in Western religious terms – Genesis through Revelations and to this day.  Change is inherent in all creation, including with God.  What we hear for our spiritual history should not confuse us, but inspire us with confidence.  We are no longer the child Adam or the child Eve.  Neither are we yet the spiritual adult we will ultimately become.  God has been smart enough to learn over time, and to adapt as we have changed.  We should be smart enough to follow God’s model for our own growth, and act more as the spiritual adults we are becoming.

© 2014   Randy Bell

Friday, March 14, 2014

One Mystery Of Life

There are many things in life that remain a mystery to me.  Even after all my chronological years of learning and observation.  One thing that has interested me throughout my years is the human mind: the patterns of its thinking; the decisions it chooses for action.  Foremost in my curiosity is the phenomena of why and how human beings hate.  I accept that hate is derived from that most basic of emotions, anger.  But what kind of thinking from anger would lead us to such a strong result as hate?  And thereby to the actions people are capable of taking from the power of hate?

Part of the mystery is that hate seems so counterintuitive.  In many situations, hate takes us to the exact opposite conclusion than that we would pursue from a non-hatred motivation.  Who we choose to lash out at, and upon what provocation, makes no sense in the quiet reflection of the afterward.

We often choose to be on our best behavior with strangers, and reserve our wrath for the friends and family dearest to us.  We spew hate and disdain onto whole groups of people for the transgressions of the few.  We choose to hate people who look and act differently than we, based upon race, gender, economic status, or any other imaginable grouping; yet we make little effort to know any of them personally.  (It is a lot easier to hate someone from a distance than when you know their name, see their face, and share a meal together.)  When such hate grows and accumulates in numbers, then whole nations hate other nations.  We fight wars among people who, at their core, have the same aspirations and goals as we have.  The differences are only on the surface of style, culture, geography and heritage.

There are two forms of hatred that are the most baffling to me.  One is religious hatred.  Every major religion I know rebukes violence and hatred in an expectation to love and respect one another.  Yet religious persecution, torture and violence have been with us for at least 2000 years ever since the Romans went after the Christians (though I suspect they really saw the Christians as more of a political threat than religious adversary).  The wars that have been fought “in the name of God and our one true religion,” and the designation (in the eye of the beholder) and torture of “heretics,” has kept us in a continuing state of separation.   It is a hatred from human frailties and ego that has little to do with God’s expectations.  What mankind has done “for the glory of God” over the millennia and still to this day is frightening.  It is the stupidest hatred in which we indulge.

The second most baffling hatred is when one discriminated group chooses to then discriminate against another.  We might think that any group that itself has been a victim of unjust hatred and discrimination would thereby be the most tolerant of others.  They who personally know the sting of injustice should be the most just to others, their pained hearts being the least willing to inflict pain upon others.  Yet more often than not hatred overrules the heart.  Those that feel hate often become the most hateful and discriminatory in a perverse form of revenge.  When we do not have power over our life, in compensation we seize power over the even less powerful.

All of this is the human mystery to me.  There is much hatred in our country and in our world today, surrounding us in much anger.  There is no good argument to be for hate, even when we try to cover over and disguise our hate by spouting all kinds of noble-sounding intentions.  Even as we disclaim the outcomes from our hateful actions.  And even as we proclaim, “not me.”  Indifference and denial from hate is no less harmful than violence born from hate.  Thereby, the first step in eliminating hate is to recognize and acknowledge how it lives within each of us.

©  2014  Randy Bell

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Look Homeward Anger

Anger.  The very word carries within it a sense of strong power.  A negative power which we feel rarely results in positive outcomes.  Even when we may think that anger propels us into a necessary action, we nevertheless feel we have to re-label it as a “righteous anger” – as if needing the full weight and permission of the Universe to justify it.

We are always very sure about the “cause” of our anger.  We have the person who provoked our anger clear in our telescopic sights, pinpointed with laser accuracy.  The person, the time, the place, the incident.  Though sometimes that picture blurs; it is not an individual, but an institution that precipitated our ire.  These institutional perpetrators sometimes seem worse than the individual ones, because there is no single person that can be targeted, no one individual with whom to work through the problem.

But as we look through the telescope at our “enemy,” what happens when that lens suddenly encounters a mirror instead?  What happens when we see ourselves in that reflection, looking back at us with a fixed glaze?  Do we turn away, not believing our eyes?  Or do we ask ourselves, “why am I seeing this person in my sights?”

The reflection is important.  Because that is where our true anger lives.  Because what we are mad AT is merely a reflection of what we are mad about IN ourselves.  And that is the really important anger we need to get to know more fully.

The fact of what was said to us, done to us, is what it was and remains unchanged.  That fact causes us to make a secular/temporal judgment as to whether the action was hurtful or helpful, motivated by ill-will or good-will.  But our emotional response is our spiritual choice.  Consider Pope John Paul II: the would-be assassin seeking to kill him was wrong to do so; yet instead of calling in anger for his trial and execution for that deed, John Paul sat in the jail cell with his attacker joined in prayer.

Anger is not an absolute emotion; it is a relative one.  Your triggers are not necessarily my triggers; the depth of your reaction may well exceed mine; the reaction you chose to take could very likely be different from mine.  And while our anger likely continued well beyond the incident in question, our perpetrator has probably long since forgotten about it.  Even though we clearly have not.

People and institutions will always continue to “do things” to us.  That is an ongoing reality of Life.  But “they” do not “make us angry.”  We CHOOSE if we will be angry.  A choice we make from a broad range of other possible choices.  The figure that is looking back at us in that mirror is asking us WHY we chose anger.  What are the experiences and thinking patterns in us that drove us to that option.  Why was the degree of our response so furious.  These are the enlightening lessons waiting to be learned.  And such learning is the better use of our time and energy.

When we recognize that anger is a valuable pointing tool for understanding our own self and our inner conflicts, from which we can draw great personal growth, that is how we can transform the negativity of anger into the positivity of a guide.  It is insight that can come in moments of reflection after our anger subsides; with practice it can ideally come even before it gets out of our mouths.  It is not about blocking, stifling our anger.  It is about transforming it before it leaves our body and attacks another.  It is about transforming the sourness of our potential words into a sweetness of personal discovery.  For there is so very much to be learned in that spiritual classroom of our anger.  Look homeward, anger.  Look homeward to find the angel inside.

“You are responsible for everything you experience.  You can no longer say, ‘He made me angry.’  How could he make you angry?  Only you can make you angry.  That understanding changes your way of relating to the world and your way of looking at stress.”
(John Daido Loori, Zen teacher)
©  Randy Bell   2014

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Finding Your Spirituality

It is not easy to get through most of our days, given the many demands on our time, tasks to be done, places to be and people to be with.  Yet even as we pass through these daily events, we often have this inner sense that we are “doing” without “engaging.”  That what we are doing is just continual repetition, rote functioning, perhaps with some momentary but fleeting pleasure.  Or the day is spent in draining controversies, feeling upset in response to difficult conflicts.  All the while, some small thought in our mind knows that something in our life is missing, something is being shut out and not attended to.  A thought ignored, because we feel we have no room left for anything else on our very full plate.

What is being ignored is our spirit, that little piece of creativity and connection that lives within us, that usually sits on the periphery of our daily calendar.  It is continually calling for its turn for our attention, its place on that calendar, its chance to breathe and infuse the quality of our lives.  Finding that spirit, prioritizing it over all other demands, and giving life to it is what the pursuit of spirituality is about.

Spirituality gives true life to our existence.  It is in spirituality that we actually taste the meal on our plate rather than hurriedly push it into our mouths while we drive our cars, or stare distractedly at our technology screens.  It is actually watching the movie or play, listening to the music, truly listening to the words that others are speaking to us, instead of pushing it all into our background noise while we send out our latest text messages.

Spirituality is simply disengaging for a moment, and spending that time in the company of our real self.  Getting to know our self in a deeper and connected way – and from this process discovering how little we actually know our self even after all these years.  Once we find our self, spirituality is then finding connection with a universe much larger than we have previously known.  Not just a world of family, close friends, our neighborhood, our workplace, but to a vastly greater Universe that transcends all we currently know or can imagine.

There are many ways to express our spirituality.  For some, it is within a formal religious structure of church / temple / mosque / meditation room, with all its attendant rules, dogma and ritual.  But as helpful as it may be, religion is not required, nor is any specific set of beliefs.  Religion is about the mind, seeking to direct the body in thoughts and actions.  Spirituality is about the heart, living within participatory experience.  Spirituality is not in the thinking; it is in the doing.

What is important is not THE form; it is finding the appropriate form that works for you.  Sometimes, with similar people and right intention and appropriate circumstance, our church gathering can be about spiritual experience.  But experiencing spirituality can also be a walk in the woods or on the beach, sitting on a boulder on a mountaintop, serving others in a homeless food kitchen, running a marathon, or losing one’s self “in the zone” of performing music, crafting woodworking, or creating an art form.

Spirituality is simply experiencing that which takes us out of our everyday, helping us understand that beyond us lies a far bigger existence than we have seen – God, the Universe, Spirit, Nature, or by whatever name – and finding the connection of our small existence within that greater welcoming tent.  We are, but we are part of.  Until we see, and become, that “part of,” we remain incomplete.

Spirituality may be as though a tough hike over high mountain trails, likely through harsh and foreboding weather.  It is a hike that we have to walk alone, even when in the company of strangers that we call friends.  But it is a great view from the summit.  It is the sky-filled sunset enveloping that mountaintop that infuses our spirit; yet when we see the universe clearly, it is a simple blade of grass that encapsulates all of life held in our hands.  We have the time for this hike, if we seek it.  Do we have the commitment?

©  2014   Randy Bell