Wednesday, December 30, 2015


People are very busy these days, rushing from one appointment to the next, fulfilling various tasks and commitments, working within a set daily framework mostly dictated by others. We move from event to event, activity to activity, person to person; an unending movement which creates a life continually filled with personal experiences. By bedtime we are barely able to recall what transpired throughout our day; we wonder where our time and energy actually went.

The people and things that take up our time seem important to us. But in truth we typically pass through these events in an endless rote passage, with only minimal actual connection. Consequently, we miss much of the real substance and purpose of these many experiences we claim to be important. Conversations are only half-heard; interactions are only half-engaged; visual sights are only half-seen; people’s lives are only half-noticed. What we think we have seen and done by day’s end reflects only a portion of what these experiences could have been.

We have a longstanding tradition of making resolutions for change for an upcoming year. Fresh commitments about how we will live, what we will newly practice, what redirections we will bring about. All made with good intention; most sadly never fulfilled. Instead of tacking a well-meaning laundry list of additional to-do’s onto our existing commitments, perhaps only one new resolution is truly needed. A resolution to add the practice of Reflection into our daily routine.

In our brief moments of separation between one activity and the next, we can pause to think about what really happened in the immediate previous experience we just had. Rather than thinking about the next upcoming task, we can think about what we potentially missed hearing from the person with whom we just spoke. We can try to determine what that person was feeling, or was really trying to tell us, or how they needed our help to accomplish a personal goal that we were too busy to hear. We can try to determine what else was going on in that place we found ourselves, worthwhile things existing beyond the quick cursory glance we gave it. Did we notice? Did we care? What was there for us to learn about others, about how the world exists and operates, about our place within these things?

We are often lost in the blur of what surrounds us, searching for big answers to large, complicated questions. Yet many of those answers we are seeking are all around us every day, yet we choose to be oblivious to them. It is not enough to just live from experience to experience; they are only a part of our Life’s story. We need to pause and reflect deeply on the large and small events that happen to us, being open to whatever thoughts arise about those experiences – even if those thoughts are unexpected or uncomfortable. We need to see how these events connect together in a multi-directional set of linkages that we have progressively created. It is only through such thoughtful reflection upon our experiences that we find the true meaning of them in our life.

We spend much of our days like a passenger sitting comfortably on a train moving at 60mph, watching as we pass by the distant landscape that is visible but separated from us. Sitting on that moving train, we exist within life, but we are not truly connected to it. Yet each experience we have has a hidden dimension, an extra meaning, contained within it. It is through the quiet act of Reflection that that hidden significance is revealed, that our life becomes fully alive and engaged, that our experiences are transformed into knowledge that can lead us into Wisdom. May commitment to Reflection be our renewed resolution each and every new year.

© 2015   Randy Bell       

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Spiritual Community

Virtually all organized religions include “community” as an important component of their makeup. Historically, the individual spiritual seeker gave way to informal gatherings of like-mined seekers. These loose-knit gatherings in turn gave way to a formalized local church / temple / mosque / sangha / monastery. These individual entities in turn gave rise to a collective institution of similar entities, which became our religious denominations, church hierarchies and structures. At which point the structural evolution turned and reversed itself, with the formal hierarchy taking control of the separate entities and dictating downwards form, ritual, organizational regulation and dogma.

For many, the form and content of their spiritual community fills a particular need in their spiritual pursuit. The fellowship, the resources, the personal support (spiritual and secular), and the sense of connection creates deep attachments and ongoing comfort. For others, the confines and demands of the institution through its understandable emphasis on conformity of belief and practice progressively weighs more heavily on the practitioner. For these seekers, the Church begins to become more of a barrier to spiritual attainment, a less-supportive element in the seeker’s quest for a personal connection with the Source of the greater Universe.

As an “unaffiliated” seeker, I have experienced two different sides of the calling of a spiritual community. There are times when interaction with a community feels very desirable, providing a sense of belonging, a lessening of aloneness and singularity, and a warm connection against the frequent coldness of Life. The community can offer encouragement, suggestions of direction, previously learned insights, and some renewed energy in those times when our spiritual drive falters. Yet in that unaffiliated space is also a great openness, where many paths are open, where many diverse communities can be called “home” in one’s travels, and nothing stands between me and the Divine. It is a place where commonality and orthodoxy ae permissible but not required; both are subservient to the continual personal discovery of one’s own Truth.

Increasingly in America, more and more people of all ages and backgrounds are following their individual journey, having determined that traditional religious institutions are inadequate fellow travelers on their path. Around 1/3rd of Americans do not identify themselves as Christian. In a recent Pew Research study, 23% of adults deny any religious affiliation at all, outnumbering both identified Catholics as well as mainline Protestants. Numerous writings abound about “the graying of the church pews,” as many congregations are failing to attract younger replacement members. Among the young Millennial demographic, 27% say they never attend a religious service, and 25% have “no religion.” Anecdotally, I recently attended a religious service at a small non-mainline church, and observed that out of around 100 people attending, there were no more than a dozen I would estimate to be under the age of 50.

Today, many struggle over their affiliation with their spiritual community, and that community’s teachings and approach. Given the strength and typically long history of that affiliation, the struggle is likely very deep and intensively personal. Some seek to change their community from within; others decide to take their leave and try something new: a different local community of similar form; a new denomination entirely; perhaps a solitary spiritual life.

For many people, the change is driven by a growing realization that too often our religious communities focus on our mind (thoughts, reasoning) and on directing our actions. But seekers looking to know and experience a union with the Divine understand that that union is beyond reasoning and outward actions. It is a calling to reach into a different place within, a free and complete surrender of ourselves to heart, feeling, and openness. It is a place of expression – music, movement, prose as poetry, art, voice, and stillness that touches us and moves our spirit. Out intellect can bring us to the door of our spirituality. Ultimately, though, it is experience, rather than intellect, that brings us into Oneness.

When we start from that place of union, appropriate thoughts and actions flow naturally from within, not requiring instruction from without. It is within us where the Divine Home on the Human Earth can most truly be found – the true community of the sacred.

©  2015   Randy Bell      

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Guidance Of Silence

“God answers all prayers.  Sometimes the answer is no.”  Most of us are familiar with that old saying. But we often forget the truth of its words as we work through the frustrations of our daily lives. We spend a significant amount of our time thinking about our future, planning our next steps, and sorting out our priorities and choices. Sometimes the plans and the decisions come easily, with remarkably positive outcomes. Other times our direction is muddled, and we struggle with our next set of decisions.

Should I go this way or that? Which option should I choose? When do I have to decide? What will befall me, or others, if I make the “wrong” decision? The confusion of our decision is often as overwhelming as we feel the decision itself is.

Some choose to make their decisions by constructing a logical decision tree of “this therefore that,” led by intellectual reasoning. Others rely on gut instinct – what feels right – and then plunge full steam ahead. Still others flip the coin and march out to “see what happens.” And at certain points in the lives, some choose to ask for help – for Divine guidance.

Asking for such guidance requires no set format to follow, because the Divine meets us where we are, and when the time is right. But there are some pretty good guidelines worth observing. The request can happen in prayer, in meditation, or in reflection while sitting on a mountain rock, sandy beach, or a church pew. Our choice. It happens in our personal alone time and space that we create for just such times. We approach these moments being honest with ourselves about who we are and why we are requesting such guidance. We act in the humility that we do not have all the answers, and with a willingness to turn over our future to something (someone) other than ourselves. We trust the Guide, and the guidance we will receive, and we will follow the guidance given. All of this is a large commitment to make – the seeking, the listening, the follow-through. Without such commitment, we are wasting our time and the Divine’s efforts.

The Divine does not simply tell us what we would like to hear. The Divine is not our fairy godmother there to grant our wishes. Guidance is simply that: “go this way and follow this path where it takes you.” Where it will take us is where the Divine wants us to go, to a destination we often cannot foresee, to an outcome we may not have selected.  It will likely not be an easy journey. Hence we should consider our request carefully before we ask. Yet we proceed on faith, sustained in trust.

We may be motivated by a specific, particular objective. But the Divine will respond by guiding us to a much greater objective, one that may seemingly bear little resemblance to our original desire. We will likely be shown only the next step from a longer-range plan invisible to our view. And sometimes even that next step may wait for a long period while the Divine is invisibly maneuvering on our behalf. We may feel we are bumping into closed doors one after another. Nothing seems to open up for us; our request for guidance seems to go unanswered.

It is hard for us to accept that no answer is our answer – for now. Answers are not just about good judgments, but also about good timing. The Divine will ultimately give us our full answer, but at the right time when we are ready to truly hear it and the Universe is aligned to respond to us. So there is a need for the virtue of patience – a virtue missing in many of us who want answers now. But the Divine works on its own timetable regardless of our impatience. The job of waiting is on us; the job of hurrying is not on the Divine.

When we seek out the assistance and guidance of the Divine, and hear back only silence, we need to hear the Divine Silence. We hear that silence, and thereby we move slowly and cautiously. It is a Divine Silence I have heard many times. Listening to answers that may not have yet fully arrived, but are on route. So we wait for the Divine clarity. Wait knowing that “God answers all prayers.”

“Clarity is learned by being patient in the presence of chaos. Tolerating disarray, remaining at rest, gradually one learns to allow muddy water to settle and proper responses to reveal themselves.” (Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, #15)

© Randy Bell   2015       

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Three Truths

Truth is a wonderful thing.  When we discover a new truth, it can be exhilarating.  Or it can be alternately devastating.  The Truth is unchanged in either circumstance.  It is only our individual reaction to it that is the variable, different from one of us to another.

Truth is a comfort because it is inherently a Certainty for us.  We can achieve understandings wiithin that Truth, and thereby remove dreaded ambiguity that makes us so uncomfortable and unsure.  We often prefer to arrive at Truth “scientifically”: by logical deduction validated by experience and confirmed by consistent repetition.  Such a process appears to give a weight, a seeming substance, to what is actually a purely intangible idea.  But sometimes we arrive at Truth by intuition, inspiration, an unaccounted-for flash of insight.  Those Truths can yield a Certainty as strong as by any other process.  Certainty is an expectation we have from our Truth.  But Certainty is found to be an illusion.

In actuality, Truth exists in three categories.  There are Absolute Truths: true in all times and in all circumstances.  We like to believe that all of our Truths (beliefs) are in this basket, because it causes less disturbance, confusion and effort in our minds and simplifies going about our daily lives.  But thus far I have encountered only a very few Absolute Truths.  One is that if we are born, we will thereby die.  I have thus far seen no getting out of that causal relationship.  A second is that all life in any form does not live in a vacuum, but exists within an interconnected web of energies, forces and circumstances far beyond the individual being.  We may give many names and descriptions to this web, and the details of it may be maddeningly difficult to define, but that does not negate the larger web within which we exist.  These two truths make up a pretty short list of Absolute Truths.

Then there are the Relative (Circumstantial) Truths.  Given a particular set of circumstances, then this idea is true.  But change the circumstances, then what is true also changes.  A lot of science started out believed to be Absolute Truth, but the more we learned the more we realized that cause/effect were highly dependent on a particular set of circumstances and conditions –  rendering Truth to a very narrow series of statements rarely universally applicable after all.  Space exploration has broken apart many former “laws” of physics.  So too with moral codes.  The absolutism of “thou shall not kill” becomes very relative when family members are threatened.  “An eye for an eye” quickly collides with the admonition to be merciful and forgiving.  As much as we might prefer otherwise, Relative Truth is where most Truths are found.  Such Truths ae hard because they require us to engage in continual qualifying discussions about the impact of Circumstance upon our supposed Truths, to acknowledge the inexactness of our beliefs, and to listen to and explore other perspectives.

Lastly there are Timely Truths.  Those conclusions based upon what was known (and knowable), and seemed appropriate, at a particular point in time.  So it became a religious Truth that the sun revolved around the earth.  A geographic Truth that the world was flat and fell into nothingness at its edge.  A medical Truth that leeches sucking out our diseased blood would cure us.  All were truths believed at a point in time based upon what could then be known, yet were ultimately discarded by new knowledge and experience.  As many of our current beliefs will shock our children a hundred years from now.

We depend on our Truths to help maneuver us through the day.  We cling to our Truths to try to stabilize an unstable world.  We often use our Truths as the very basis and explanation of who we are (“my beliefs”); taking away our Truths is to take away our very Self.  Yet we come to learn that our Truths do not define who we are; who we are defines our Truths.  It takes ethical courage, inner curiosity, and humility – all very spiritual traits – to pursue a genuine search for Truth.  A search that is led by opportunities from Life directed by God’s hand.  Certainty is the looming sinkhole in the road always lurking to defeat that journey.

Truth is always in motion, just like all else in Life, best held with an “expiration date.”  Truth is continually blown apart and reshaped by the curious, questioning mind working together with reflective thinking.  Ultimately we realize that there is no permanent Certainty, only transition.  That Truths held too deeply limit us by becoming a static human being.  Truths held lightly free us to arrive at our next level of understanding, and guide us to find the being we are capable of becoming.

©  2015   Randy Bell      

Friday, September 18, 2015

Living Within Ritual

We human beings love ritual.  A defined form for endless repetition within which we live and express our lives.  Ritual can be personal, secular, patriotic, or spiritual.  Ritual can make us far more efficient, because it eliminates the time and thought process of much decision-making.  We just follow the ritual, the sequential steps already predetermined for us, and our task is thereby completed and our goal is accomplished.

Most of us start our day with a daily ritual.  From the time we crawl out of bed until we begin our workday journey, everything in between is pre-laid out for us.  No think.  This is especially beneficial for those of us who crawl out of bed sleepier than when we crawled into it, whose brain is comatose and tongue is unable to utter a coherent sentence in the bright sunlight.  Neither brain nor tongue is required within the supportive web of our morning ritual.

Much of our workday follows a similar pattern of familiarity due to practiced work habits, the dictates of daily calendars, and the responsibility of recurring duties.  If such do not put us into mental numbness, our creative energy is then reserved for those few moments when we are called out of routine to express something truly “new.”  In which case we create something “new” – and typically then transform that new something into yet another ritual for us to follow.

Efficient?  No question.  But at a price.  Creating an environment with too much ritual creates too much non-thinking.  And non-thinking can become an easy trap to fall into.  In non-thinking, creativity is not created.  And without creativity, connection with our constantly changing and expanding world is lost.

A proper perspective of ritual is particularly needed in our religious practice.  All religions and spiritual practices incorporate ritual into their structure.  Properly so, because ritual can be very supportive in heightening our spiritual expression.  It can give physical expression to our mental thoughts.  It can guide us along a path of pure experience without the “interference” of decision-making: i.e. what do I say or do next?  It can be a vehicle for sharing expression among our spiritual community, invitingly welcoming strangers into that community.  It can honor, and give us a sense of timeless connection to, our ancestors knowing that we are practicing the same ritual as they performed.

But as with all beneficial things, there are cautionary notes and downsides that require our ever-present vigilance.  Ritual can envelop and guide us through a meaningful expression of our spiritual self.  But the valve that shuts off our creativity of personal form can also shut off the flow of real connection to our spirit.  In our mindlessness can also be our soulessness as we go through the steps, recite the words, not only with mind disengaged but with heart disengaged.  It becomes a rote performance of no meaningful substance.  Or we expend more effort on learning ritual than on learning to be spiritual.  Performance of the ritual can become yet another basis for competition and self-criticism.  Did I do it “right”?  Did I execute it “perfectly”?  As if God and our Spirit could really care!

As we follow our ritual, we have to simultaneously find ways to renew our connection and creativity within the ritual, lest it become dead in our hearts.  Every now and then, we need to turn left where heretofore we always turned right, just to reawaken our spiritual energy and awareness.  When the seeker asked Jesus to “tell us how to pray,” The Lord’s Prayer was not offered as THE way to pray.  It was only an example, a fallback if that seeker could not think of anything else to say in a given moment on his/her own.  It was not a mandate.

We follow our ritual most of the time.  But on occasion, we need to go outside of that ritual into the extemporaneous, the unexpected, the intuitive.  And in that moment of careless individuality, just say and do what we feel.  However awkward, however clumsy, however unpolished.  Honest expression of our Self and our Spirit is always polished enough.

©  2015   Randy Bell      

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Loud Quiet

It rained here on the mountain the other day.  Not the usual 10-minute summer downpour that coats the ground but does not filter very far into it.  Rather, this was one of those longer, deliciously sustained rains that goes all day long, interspersed with an occasional short pause to regenerate itself.  The kind that soaks into the ground and provides genuine nourishment to all that inhabits there.

We are fortunate to have guests and retreatants visit here on this remote, rural mountain.  Their question “Aren’t you bored here?” inevitably comes after a few hours of realizing there are no neighbors within sight, and virtually no human-generated sounds to detract from the continuous quiet.  (Even the birds chirp softly here.)  The answer is always No, because there is always something to do and experience here, and many fascinating people to interact with on those occasions when we seek each other out from our respective hideaways.  My life-long complaint about a lack of sufficient hours in the day is unchanged here.  It is just that removing the usual frenetic distractions and “to dos” of the urban “civilized” life allows one to be focused instead on the “worthwhiles to do.”  Worthwhiles that reclaim a more fundamental connection with the real essence of our being and the life we are truly meant to live.

Which brings me back to the rain.  I have always loved the rain.  There is a warmth and  comfort from being enveloped by it, a calmness from both the sight and the sounds of the rainfall.  Or, at other times, a reminder of the unrestrained power of God-through-Nature as the thunder announces its presence and the lightening illuminates the energy of the vast sky.

On this day, the rain fell like a continuous but gentle waterfall cascading down from the clouds.  I sat for hours under the protecting porch roof and watched the clouds gradually envelop all of my surroundings.  Sometimes starting in the valley, working its way up the mountainside before me, coming higher and higher until the tops of the distant multi-tiered ranges gradually disappeared into the arising mist, while simultaneously engulfing the house.  Other times, the clouds would start at the tops of the far ranges, gradually moving closer and dipping downwards to fill that same valley, now masked from view.  Then the clouds would slowly pull back, revealing the mountaintops and the valley floor once again, until the cycle would repeat itself.  

As the fog removed itself and revealed its hidden contents, linear strands of clouds would work their way in and out of the various ranges.  Sunlight would occasionally break through for brief moments, seemingly to remind us that there is always a brightness hidden behind the opaque veil typically in front of us, only to quickly disappear yet again.  Large solid clouds in the upper sky passed in review in changing light dark hues.  These clouds formed a parade of shapes and images, perfect representations of animals of every kind.  A side glance into the landscape of the endless trees below reveal a face, a person unknown, yet a spirit waiting to be acknowledged.  The fact that no one else looking at this scene sees these images does not diminish their very realness.

People travel distances and pay money to visit museums in order to see masterful landscape works of art.  And so they should, for they represent inspiring artistic forms.  Here on this mountain, I have the very good fortune to see in-person an ever-present gallery of landscapes.  And unlike a museum’s static display, Nature’s display is a constantly moving montage of visual imagery. A still life illuminated in movement.

When we remove the noise and distractions around us, and replace them with the natural sounds and visuals that come from Original Creation, then we are able to reconnect, however briefly, with our own Creation.  And ultimately to our own destiny.  Taking time and opportunity to lose our Self within such excursions into a larger Oneness creates the special moments that remind us of the truth of our spiritual existence, even in the reality of this human time.  Moments that nourish us, teach us deep meanings, direct us to our future.  And that is never boring.

©   2015   Randy Bell     

Thursday, August 6, 2015

God Speaks

God speaks.  To each of us.  Regularly.  Do we hear God speaking?

God speaks to us in a manner tailored for each of us so that we have the best opportunity to receive God’s personal messages.  God speaks in our own vernacular, even at the risk of not sounding “holy” enough to our ears.  (God does not speak in Hebrew in a 2000 year old dialect and cultural context to a person native to Japan.)

It is a somewhat tricky business, this God-speaking thing.  Many doubt that such a thing is even possible, except perhaps to a select few supra-divine mystics.  Yet many of us long for such conversations.  The challenge is separating ourselves from our doubts and accepting those divine conversations when they occur, while discerning those many ego moments when we invent such a pretend dialog out of our own imagination.  It is a subtle yet hugely significant distinction.

To some small number of people, God speaks directly.  Perhaps audibly to the ears, heard quietly in the mind.  Or perhaps in written narrative, 1:1 between God and the pen in hand, bypassing the filter of our mind in favor of the expressed Word.  These forms of direct communication with God work only if our heart and mind are open and ready to hear.

For some others, the conversation must come more indirectly through the voices of other intermediaries.  In the midst of an otherwise everyday normal conversation, with a person in a close relationship or even just a casual stranger, “something” is casually, almost offhandedly, said to us that inexplicably jumps out at us and grabs our attention.  Likely a single sentence within an otherwise unremarkable conversational paragraph.  Something of no noticeable significance to the speaker, but which is heard deep in an unknown place within us, leaving our path slightly but deliberately altered in that brief moment.  Hearing God in this way requires us to be alertly listening, to recognize those unexpected momentary but critical instances when they occur.  We do not hear God if we are the one doing all the talking.

Such moments as these are a more informal version of “channeling,” which is a three-party conversation between two participants.  God, through a speaker, comes into our ears; the middle party is not really part of the dialog.  The speaker’s mind is set aside for that briefest of time, out of the way of the conversation between God and us, simply providing a voice to God’s words which are flowing through them.

If our mind or hand or ears are not good media for conversation, then God speaks to us through circumstances.  Events happen to us, whether tragic or exhilarating.  Opportunities open up to us or are shut down.  Our life flow – career, job, family role, relationships – changes.  Changes we typically judge as being in a positive or negative direction.  These events are God’s way of effectively saying, “Go this way.”  “Do not go this way.”  “It is time to move in another direction, to yet another place.”  “You need to rethink what you have previously believed, and give thought to a new idea.”  This way of God speaking to us can often be very troubling or upsetting depending upon the circumstance we encounter.  The message will not likely be seen in the immediate moment; the event itself first serves to simply get our attention.  God’s actual message will only be heard by us in a calm, quiet period of reflection we must give to it thereafter.  We will rarely hear God’s words within that circumstance in the heat of the moment.

If none of these methods work, then we must hear God through our eyes.  God leads us to walk in the embrace of the solitude of nature’s forests and deserts.  We walk on a beach and lose ourselves in the protective blanket of the regular cadence of the waves.  We sit on the solid rocks of a mountaintop and take in the vast visual expanse of other mountains and valleys in front of us.  We look at the sky, clouds, stars and planets and see the unbounded miracle of a never-ending Creation.  We stand in the cities and see majestic architecture, or sit in museums and devour creative expression in art.  We lie in a farm field on a late summer evening with renewed appreciation for the rural simplicity of a way of life that nourishes our body.  In the doing of any of these things, we rediscover the full power and expansiveness of God’s Creation.  In that rediscovery, we find a sense of place and connection with every thing, once again become part of an indivisible whole.  We hear a different kind of voice, out of which in some inexplicable way comes clarity: an answer to our question, a new direction to follow, a new understanding of What Is.

God speaks softly to us.  In our own personal way.  Sometimes speaking silence, thereby encouraging us to find our own answers out of our growing spiritual maturity.   Likely giving us a message we do not really want to hear, challenging us to move from where we now are to a new and more fulfilling place.  Are we willing to hear God?

©  2015   Randy Bell      

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Appreciating Where We Are

By nature, I am a “doer.”  A typical Type A personality, always ready to go on to the next big thing.  Such a trait has allowed me to do and accomplish many things over the course of my life, for which I am grateful.  Even if not all ventures were successful, I still managed to take away something worthwhile and insightful from the experience.  It also usefully served to give me a career and an income to get through life reasonably responsibly.  The downside, though, is that often I was so busy moving from one project to the next that there was no real time spent appreciating and enjoying what had just been done.

I spent ten years building the spiritual sanctuary in the mountains where I now live.  It was a constant progression from one building going up to starting the next one – planning for the next while the prior was still being completed.  Clearing one meadow in order to clear the next one.  One walking path leading into the next path.  All while concurrently maintaining a fulltime primary career.  It was not until a person finally said to me, “Stop, and look at what has been created here!” that I truly had any real sense of what had been done.  And only then began taking advantage of it and personally enjoying it.  It is a reminder that continues to echo in my mind in the midst of all the continuing ongoing maintenance that is forever to be needed.

We are busy each day doing what is expected of us.  Many of those expectations are ones we have put onto our selves, even though we often attribute them to other people’s demands on us.  A large part of our life is taken up with thinking about tomorrow’s project list, tomorrow’s job assignments, what remains undone for us to complete.

We spend most of our time with eyes pointed to the front of us.  Hikers are focused on the next steps on the trail, leading ahead to the next mountain to be climbed.   Builders are reviewing the next blueprints even as their crew is finishing up work on the current building.  The runner is looking at shaving yet another fraction of a second off her last run time.  And the artist hears the incessant voice in his head constantly nagging, “so what have you done lately?”

We are unceasingly on the go.  We think that that “going” is inherently moving us forward.  But when do we just sit and sink fully into that which we have already done?  Turn off the “I will …” voice and simply hear the words “I did”?

It may be important for us to know where we are going – or at least where we think we are trying to go.  But it is equally important to know where we have already been, and to take proper stock of that “been.”  Because much of where we are going is the result of that been.  We may be enjoying our life journey, or fighting with that journey.  Regardless, taking time to remind ourselves of, and to appreciate, our outcomes along the way is an important part of our journey.  It is not about living in the past or trying to recreate a past long gone.  It is that sometimes the rear view mirror is the true forward view.

©   2015   Randy Bell     

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Growing Up

In a recent conversation, a mid-30s woman posed the question: “When do parents stop thinking of their children as ‘children’?”  My reply was, “Never.  But the nature of the relationship continually changes.”  In retrospect, I am unclear as to whether her question was a generic philosophical one about all parents and their children, or a personal one underlying her particular relationship with her specific parents.  But in thinking about the conversation later, I realized tha appropriate follow-up question could have been: “When do children stop thinking about their parents as a ‘parent’?”   The answer, of course, is the same: “Never.  But the nature of the relationship continually changes.”  The parent loves the child; the child honors the parent.  But the tie that binds” is designed to unravel over time.

We have all seen examples of parent/child relationships that are virtually unchanged in spite of the ages and years of continuous relationship.  The pet names, the disparaging judgment, the unsolicited opinions, the critical judgment by a parent that ignores the age and maturity of his/her child, never stops.  Likewise, the quest for approval, the deference if not subjugation to the parent, the disappointed feelings of inadequacy, and the conflict over when/if to “rebel” lingers through the lifetime of the child.  Even the terminology – “parent” and “child” – remains unchanged for one’s lifetime, seemingly freezing each from moving into a new status with each other.  Ae there different terms that we could use instead?

The relationship between child and each parent is the strongest relationship we will have in the course of our lifetime.  Regardless of the nature and “quality” of that relationship.  Because it comes from such a basic premise – our birth and first years of life – and it is our first relationship with another human being.  For better or for worse, the parent defines for us what human being-ness is, what a human “relationship” is, and how interactions are conducted.  All subsequent relationships and interactions are molded and measured by these parental models.

The models can be “good” or “bad” ones, interpretations likely unique in the eyes of each parent and child, and not likely to be the same.   These interpretations stay with us, and guide or direct us the remainder of our life.  Yet though death may remove the physical stimulus of the continuing parent/child experience, the nature and effects of the relationship go on unabated long after the parent’s death.  The deceased parent and the stories live on fully in the child’s memory, even as they move from vivid consciousness to a vaguer subconsciousness.  And the interactions repeat as a result of the deep habits we formed (our “personality”); those interactions are now simply redirected to our contemporaries.  For ill or good, the parent/child relationship goes on intact, now cast on a wider scale.  The force of that relationship grows even stronger by its incessant replay in our mind, combined with our inability to confront and create a new relationship with the deceased parent to replace our past image – an image now frozen in time in our mind.

We experience a similar phenomenon with God.  We had some form of relationship with God before our birth; it was our first relationship, a spiritual one.  From some source – our parents, our community, our personal experience – we were guided into a form of ongoing relationship with God after our birth.  That form may have been based upon a perception of a judgmental, wrathful God with an ever-present rule book in hand.  It may have been a forgiving God, but forgiveness presumes that a judgment has first been made that requires forgiveness.  It may have been an always loving God, who recognizes our shortcomings but whose feelings and benevolence toward us are unaffected.

Whatever presumption we make about the essence of God, the same question still arises: does God, our spiritual parent, continue to treat us as a spiritual child, and we in turn choose to willingly remain as that child?   Or does God grow with us, stepping back a short distance as we both flounder and flower in pursuit of our own spiritual maturity?

Sometimes our parent holds us in childhood, both in their presence and in their absence.  Sometimes we choose to cling to our childhood.  Sometimes, with effort, we each find our path to growing up.

© 2015   Randy Bell       

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Living Within Spirit


Regardless of our spiritual faith and religious beliefs, “being spiritual” ultimately requires us to live spiritually.  Regardless of how we conceptualize “God,” or “the Universe,” living spiritually ultimately requires us to think, speak, and act from a perspective greater than just our self.  Greater than the individual.  Greater than the normal human experience.  Letting go of being the all-important center of everything.
But how do we transform “living spiritually” from just words, an ideal, a goal, into an everyday way of truly being?  A being such that living spiritually does not just happen in special moments set aside for that purpose (e.g. weekly church or temple), but infuses in some manner everything we think/say/do.  Such that the line of separation between secular life and spiritual life blurs to become virtually indistinguishable, without separation.
It is not about continually screaming our spirituality at the top of our lungs for all within earshot to hear.  It is the opposite: a secure quietness that knows one’s spirituality in one’s own heart; there is no need for speech-making.  It is in the doing itself; there is no need for recognition and approbation for that doing.
Living spiritually means knowing and accepting many things.  It means “God” – whether “Spirit, Universe, Allah, Nature, Tao” or any other of the many names we may use or forms we may envision – is a constant and interactive presence in our life.
It means understanding that we are here in human form and existence to fulfill a mutual understanding we have with God for this life.  That we will live our life within the framework of God’s thinking and expectations.  That though we have “free will” to make our own choices about our actions, we always choose to make our thoughts and actions consistent with God’s thoughts and actions.
It means acknowledging that the outcome of our life is not solely the result of our own singular activity, but the collective actions of many brought to bear on our life.  That all that comes into our life reflects both the actions of others fulfilling their own life’s agreement with God, as well as God’s use of them for our greater benefit.  That remaining humble towards the limitations of our accomplishments is as important as celebrating the achievement of our accomplishments.
It means God, and Life, can be trusted, so we do not live intimidated by fear.  That God will provide what we need, which may or may not be what we perceive is needed; when we need it, which may or may not fit our timeline; in the form we truly need, which may or may not be the form we desire.  That we therefore give God time and space to contribute God’s part of what happens to us.
It means we have faith that all that happens to us carries a benefit inside of it, even if that benefit is not always obvious or disclosed at the time.  That we trust that – IF we are living within God –  regardless of the short-term effect, all things will be right for our highest good in the long-term.
It means when we are truly connected with God, then what we are doing now is exactly what we are supposed to be doing in this moment.
It means God honors us as we honor God.  That God and I are spiritually One.  Living spiritually means living as that One.
©  2015   Randy Bell      

Sunday, May 3, 2015

God And I Are One


Have you ever watched a devoted couple speak such that either can complementarily complete the sentences of the other?  Where one can seemingly read the thoughts of the other?  Have you ever worked for a boss so closely, in such lockstep, on such a shared wavelength of goals and purpose, that other employees or customers readily accept your word as though coming directly from your boss (“my right-hand assistant”)?  Have you ever been part of a group, working on a shared endeavor, in which everyone worked in perfect synchronicity, each knowing what needed to be done and effortlessly moving together toward perfect completion – “the team” transcending the individual?

In each of these scenarios, each person is operating at a level far different from his/her normal functioning.  In tune.  Connected.  Multiple individuals extending and merging into one greater whole.  As all of the thousands of individual parts come together to create the single thing we call an automobile.  The many both separate and distinct now unified into one greater whole.

So it is with God.  Jesus famously said, “I and the Father are One.”  (John 10:30)  For many in the Christian faith, these words led to the idea of the Trinity: an attempt to clarify the relationship among God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  Three distinct entities, three separate roles, each equal to the other, all combined into – yet individual manifestations of – One.  This Trinitarian belief became central to the early Catholic faith, adopted as official Church dogma in the 4th Century CE.  A belief that later became a key litmus test of religious fidelity (and a basis for declaring one a heretic and invoking the persecution thereof).

Continuing into some later Protestant religions, “the Trinity” to this day gives explanation and comfort to many, anchoring their religious faith and understanding.  For non-Christian religions, some non-Trinitarian Christian denominations, and for some individuals, it brings more confusion than understanding, a discomfort with the concept and where its implications lead.  For these, is there an alternative way that Jesus’ words might be understood?

Perhaps by recognizing that the human being Jesus was One with God in a spiritual unification.  One in the melding of thinking, feeling, words and actions.  One in the understanding of the Universe and its higher workings and unique forms.  One whose vision was universal, seeing the big picture of Life and Humanity.  One who knows no separation from other beings, or from life that exists in any other forms.  One who knows their human Self, but is willing – and desirous – to lose that Self in spiritual union with God.  And so “The Father is in me, and I in the Father.”  (John 10:38)

As Jesus was in God, God was in Jesus.  A partnership going both ways, not in Being, but in Spirit.  A non-Trinitarian Jesus shows us that such a union with God is not reserved only to god-forms, but to human beings themselves.  Such union is available to each of us if we so desire it, if that desire is willing to sacrifice our ego of separation to our spirit of unification.  It is a desire we all have within us, but a desire to which few are willing to fully open and commit themselves.

And so my personal daily mantra: “God and I are One.  In all that I Think.  In all that I Say.  In all that I Do.”  Said over and over again, I remind myself of my true spiritual being, my true spiritual path.  These moments of divine sharing give peace and quiet confidence to life.  All in One.  God and I Are One.  Not God, but As God.  In perfect, unified Spirit.

©  2015   Randy Bell                  

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Surender Unto God


“Surrender Unto God.”  Giving ourselves over to God, and God’s Will for us, is an oft-repeated call in the Jewish and Christian heritages.  It is a core tenet of Islam (“surrender unto God” being the literal translation of “Islam”).  A central concept of Buddhism is to extinguish our sense of being a “separate, independent self” and to instead devolve into “no-self” – an interconnected and interdependent being with all things in the Universe.  And the Taoists remind us that there is a larger life force (the Tao) that drives through all of Life and Nature.  Our job is to surrender to, and align ourselves with, the direction and pacing of this force.

Our Spiritual Self is attracted to the beauty of this idea, the giving over of our Self to the unifying Oneness of God and the Universal Reality.  The Human Self – especially in its Western orientation – recoils at this prospect.  We protest, “What about my individuality, my uniqueness, my separate Being?  What about living my own life as I choose?  Isn’t that what my Free Will is all about?”

All things start with Creation.  And all Creation comes with Purpose.  We see this truth every time we focus on any object, and see that object in its fullest meaning.  Every thing is formed, evolves and changes, and then expires.  Within that cycle, every thing has a function, a role to play, a point to accomplish, interconnected with other things.  The food chain; the workings of animal and human societies; the village that feeds, clothes, and raises a child.  This Purpose, these functions, are inherently in the very being of our existence.  Our Purpose from God from the act of our Creation.

It is to this Purpose of God that we are called to surrender.  It is not an option; we committed to it when we agreed to our birth.  Our ability to choose, our Free Will, is in the HOW through which we fulfill our Purpose, not the Whether.  God works at the Purpose and Outcomes level; we work at the detail, mechanics level.  Our Free Will is in how we realize (or not) our agreement with our Creation.  We have the human ability to go pretty far afield, to wander down paths that take us far away from Purpose.  Take us deeply into Self and into temporary gratifications and the pursuit of human success, forgetting the Spiritual Person that we also are.  Forgetting that our Free Will bumps up against the Free Will of others, all of whom also work within God’s Universal Truths.  And so when we finally discover that our human Victories won for our Self are in fact fleeting and hollow, and ultimately un-nourishing, then we finally turn to Surrender.  Surrender of Human Self to our greater Spiritual Self.  Surrender of our blinding ego to the clear vision of our Spirit.  Surrender of our lonely separated Self into the awaiting fullness and connection of all of Life.  In surrendering the small things of our ego, we realize the truer large victory of our Soul.

We surrender our singularity to the Universal plurality.  We surrender our fear into love.  We surrender our lost-ness to the compass of our Spirit.  Surrendering in this way does not diminish us, it expands us.  It does not lessen us, it fulfills us.  This is the true basis of the Free Will we have – to choose a life of fear and aloneness, or a life of confidence and connection.  We have the choice of going our own way in a false sense of our “independence.”  Or we can freely choose to assert our will to live connected with that greater whole that is God and the Universe.  To surrender into spiritual victory.

©  2015   Randy Bell      

Monday, March 16, 2015

Free Will


Free Will.  It is one of the fundamental components of being human.  The ability to make our own choices about our actions, the directions we will pursue, the life we will lead.  It is one of those key elements that allows us to define who we will be in this existence, to differentiate our Self from all others.

It is also one of the biggest challenges to being human.  Our days are filled with decision-making, one after another.  Small decisions needed to get us through the daily functions of our life.  What will I eat for breakfast?  What will I wear today?  What route will I take to work?  It can all become exhausting, sometimes leading us to wish that someone would just swoop in and make all the decisions for us so as to give us some relief.  But not really.

Then there are the larger decisions which weigh more heavily upon us.  For example decisions about Authority – how will I respond to one who has some measure of control over me?  How will I exercise the authority I have over others?  Decisions about Ethics – how will I respond to someone or some situation pushing me into unethical conduct?  But what are my standards of ethics anyway?  Decisions about career and life role – what will I do with my life?  What talents do I have and wish to explore?  What is my Life Purpose?  Decisions about my Spiritual Self – what do I believe about God and the Universe?  How will I demonstrate and actualize those beliefs?  Who shall I associate with (or not) in following that spiritual path?

Even so, the hardest part about our Free Will is not all the decisions we have to make.  It is taking personal ownership of these decisions, and responsibility for their outcomes and consequences.  We enjoy (for the most part) having the right of Free Will for the decisions that affect us, and not having our life dictated to by others.  But the outcomes of our Free Will are not always so enjoyable.  The desired goal falls short; “unintended consequences” arise that we did not foresee; expected allies become unexpected enemies.  Sometimes we may accept some of that responsibility.  But often we are prone to deflect responsibility for negative outcomes on to others.  It was their fault; they did not understand; they did not do their expected part.  Yet in fact we all have some role in the negative consequences that affect us.  Acknowledging and taking ownership of our part is not only our ethical responsibility.  It is also the first step in the complicated and difficult process of Forgiveness and Reconciliation.

Free Will is the ultimate plaything of the ego.  Which makes it so difficult to give it away even in those times when it needs to be given away.  When we are part of a team.  When no decision is actually needed from us at all.  When we need to respect other people’s exercise of their own Free Will.  When we need to mind our own business.  When the Universe exercises its own will.

Free Will also allows us to decide not to exercise our Free Will .  To suspend our ego, and give ourselves over to something larger, more important.  To the Cause.  To the Higher Good – of our Self, of others.  To God.  To give up our Free Will, to align our Self with God’s Will for us, with God’s ideal Perfection, does not diminish the essence of our Self.  It does not negate the independence of our Self.  Rather, it guides us into selecting the best of our choices in the free, un-coerced judgment of our own perfected Free Will.

©  2015   Randy Bell       

Saturday, February 21, 2015

In His Own Image


Genesis 1:26-27: “And God said, Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness.  And God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”  (Torah)

Thusly provides one explanation for the Creation of human beings.  And possibly also an explanation of the physical form of human beings – “in our image, after our likeness.”  For many people, this leads to the belief that we look like God, and thereby God looks like us.  Hence God represented as the grandfatherly human being in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel.  Yes, there are three billion individual versions of human beings on this planet, so the detail can vary considerably.  But the essence of “human form” is common between us and God.  Or is it?

An “image” can also be a conceptualization in one’s mind.  In one’s “imagination.”  A visual artist imagines a painting; a musician creates a song; an architect designs a building.  Not as a “likeness” but as a realization of an image conceived in thought.  There is an intention, an intuitive mental fragment, which gives way to something real and substantial.  It moves from the hidden obscurity of the creator’s mind into a substance interpretable by one or more of our senses.

And so it may be that God’s image for us was not a reproduction of form, but an actualization of God’s imagination (image) for what we would be.  In that image was some physical form, but also Purpose, Context, and Setting for our humanness.  And part of that human context is imagination itself.  The capacity for imagination is its own gift passed on from God as part of the creation of us, our own ability to be “a creator” just as God is “the Creator.”

Why is this question of “image” even important?  Unless and until we come to see God “face-to-face,” the question is truly unanswerable  in our human lifetime.  Yet the question of whether God is of human form, a circulating electronic energy field, or is no definable form at all, can influence our expectations of, and relationship to, God.

Envisioning God as Michelangelo’s grandfatherly presence – a human God – risks seeing and understanding God as limited to the constraints of human capabilities, yet God is surely beyond the scope of human capabilities.  Conversely, God in human form can suggest that we are equivalent to God, exalting us far beyond what is warranted when it is humility that is always expected of us.  God is in each of us, and each of us is in God.  But we are not God.  We simply strive “to be as God.”

Yet if we accept the unknowable ambiguity of God’s form, and any resemblance of us to it, then that void of mystery keeps us open to, and accepting of, the infinite reality that God truly is.  “God” is a transcendent scope far beyond our imagination, part of a Universe our human minds cannot begin to understand, existing in a reality so different from the human world that we can never fully comprehend it in our human lifetime.  And so an “imageless God” keeps us always searching, never complacent, ever humble, always expansive in our search for the Truth that is God.  In Truth, we are more likely to find God when we accept God’s vast ambiguity than when we seek God’s specificity.

The early Hebrews had it right.  The God beyond naming (Yahweh) is the God beyond knowing.  It is all right if God is beyond our imagination to visualize.  It is sufficient that we are within God’s imagination of us.  And that God created us as the realized image from that imagination.

©  2015   Randy Bell      

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Spiritual Parent


Parenting is hard work.  That statement is certainly no surprise to someone who is, or has been, an active, connected parent.  Or has been an engaged member of the collective community with some partial responsibility for the raising of a child.

It is hard because every child is a unique human being, and therefore requires a teaching approach that corresponds to that uniqueness.  Even if certain common outcomes across such diversity are deemed desirable by society.

It is hard because parent and child, teacher and student, are both moving targets.  The child is continually growing, changing, maturing, moving through new experiences – all of which require continually modified interactions.  But the parent, in spite of the appearance of being the knowing and experienced one, is also continually growing, changing, maturing, moving through new experiences –  requiring decisions to be continually made from an ever-changing knowledge base.  Both parent and child are seeing life anew every day.  So the parent must constantly adapt from being a changing teacher to also being a changing student.  Lessons are re-formed each day.  Yesterday’s Lesson is not today’s Lesson.

It is hard because the quantity and content of interaction between parent and child diminishes over the lifetimes of each.  Starting from total, all-consuming interaction with an infant, each year that interplay is reduced as the child becomes more independent and self-sufficient.  The words from the parent become more muted as the child finds its own voice.  The responsibility for that gradual disengagement lies with the parent, both in quantity and the content chosen for discussion.  The pacing of disengagement is crucial, yet the measurement of a parent’s effectiveness in this can only be determined well after the fact.

It is hard because the child needs guidance from the parent.  But simply telling the child to “do this” is not guidance; that only creates a rote human being unable to think and decide on its own.  It is hard because the child needs honest assessment, but constant judgment and criticism neuters the child’s sense of worth and self-assuredness.  How easily good intentions can get lost in the forest of a parent’s many thoughts and actions.

It is hard because we are tempted by reflex to think and act from our own belief system and our own vision for the child’s eventual outcomes.  Yet our true parental Charge is to help the child discover its own belief system and reach his/her own outcomes, regardless of how much or little it may parallel our life.  We are entrusted to assist a brand new standalone life, not to have a second chance at reliving our own life.

It is hard because it requires infinite patience and unshakable love, regardless of the child’s outcomes.  Yet it also requires unclouded objectivity to see those outcomes clearly and unadorned through unblinded lenses.  “Support” and “concurrence” remain two distinctly different interactions between parent and child.

This is the parent we ideally seek to model.  But it is the parent God already is.  Not the parent of our bodies teaching us life survival skills; that is the job of our human parents.  God is the parent of our spirit, that true essence of our genuine and transcendent Self.  To that Self, God brings tailored teachings as we transition to different phases of our life; gradually withdraws engagement with us as we grow, though never fully leaving us; continually guides us and does not dictate to us, while expecting us to draw our own conclusions and then to test and act upon those.  God does so for each of us individually in our lifetime; for us as a collective, maturing humanity of civilization over centuries.  God does all of this with unbreakable love and patience, while being always available and alongside of us.  It is a spiritual relationship, a union, such that as we each exist independently, so we also exist interdependently.  The line that separates us with God and among each other is infinitesimally minute.

The relationship between God and the spiritual child never ends.  It is a relationship that we are obligated to continually explore, perfect, nurture and draw upon.  For our life, our very existence, are inseparable from God.  To fulfill that relationship obligates both God and us to perform our respective roles in that mutual connection.  For in the end, it is this relationship that transcends all of our daily human endeavors.  It is this relationship that matters most of all.

© 2015   Randy Bell       

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Being Connected


Have you ever had that moment, that experience, when all that surrounds you feels like it simply envelops you?  When you disappear into your surroundings and all becomes one and the same?  Not each thing a separate part, a separate existence, but everything – including you – are one larger whole.  Perhaps for just a split second; perhaps longer.  It may even be hard to know, because in such instances time seems almost forgotten, irrelevant.

I had that experience often in my younger days as a musician.  Mind, body, fingers, keyboard and piano would seemingly dissolve and feel instead as one musical instrument.  The music would seem to play itself, I just an observer watching.  Such were moments to be treasured.

Such also can be the experience of the fisherman sitting alone in the quiet of the boat; rod, water, sky and fish all becoming one still-life portrait.  Or the artist, whose block of stone or canvas comes alive through one’s fingertips.  The moment when a computer techie’s program goes “live”; the hiker’s walk through the dense, majestic forest; the cyclist or runner pushing down the track at top speed; the actor and the role melding into an indistinguishable one.

It is when the liturgy moves beyond just words and becomes mind, body and heart.  When both persons in a conversation seem to – for the first time really – speak as one voice, one thought.  Each truly understand the other in a deeper, more complete way than before.  It is the moment on the mountain when the expansive view of the mountains and neighboring valley all become simply one true landscape.  It is the moment when the sense of one family, one team, transcends the sense of Self.

The spiritual seeker knows such an experience.  Those flashes when the surroundings meld into the person.  It is “connection.”  A moment of no separation, in contrast to the separateness we normally feel in our daily interactions with life.  A separateness we often think we want as a way to define and highlight our individuality and uniqueness.  But that individuality comes at the price of separation, of being spiritually alone in the world, oblivious to the larger story within which we actually live.  It is only when we finally burn out in our quest to stand apart from all else that the desire for connection begins to grow.  A small seed, then a crack in our hard shell, followed by a gradual broadening of our “logical” mind, until finally a brilliant flowering of thought and heart.

So we begin to seek a personal connection beyond just the physical environment that we can see and feel, but to that which is beyond our vision and touch.  A connection to what we may call the Universe, Spirit, Creator, God, or any of a hundred different names.  They are the moments when we simply know what the Universe is, know what being a part of God means, know what our life and priorities are truly about.  We no longer just seek to know; we simply do know.  As the 14th -century mystic described, it is through the veiled cloud of unknowing that knowing occurs.  Without any needed explanation.  We are simply there.  Not separated.  Connected.

"When we try to take out one thing, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe."  (John Muir, American Conservationist)

© 2015   Randy Bell