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