Category Archives: Spirit

Radical Acceptance

I enjoyed reading Tara Brach’s book Radical Compassion so much that I was drawn to an earlier work, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha. Both books serve up sound teaching, real life examples, and context-specific meditations. While neither last week’s post nor this one will capture the richness of the text, I’ll highlight a few concepts that struck home.

Tara defines radical acceptance as a willingness to experience ourselves and our lives just as they are. It’s comprised of two mutually reinforcing elements: the ability to see clearly in the present moment (i.e., awareness), and the ability to hold that experience with kind and loving attention (i.e., compassion). Both elements are essential for acceptance to take flight. Awareness alone feeds our inclination to analyze our experiences and get caught up in stories about them. Compassion alone makes us vulnerable to self-pity.

awareness and compassion
A critic might argue that acceptance diminishes motivation for continuous improvement. If we deem ourselves “OK,” why bother changing? Tara would argue just the opposite. When we bring a kind and clear attention to our humanity with all its limitations and capacity for error, we disrupt reactivity – e.g., fear, shame, anxiety – and the defense mechanisms that go with them. We acknowledge what is. We allow ourselves to feel what we need to feel and then move forward with positive action. Unprocessed pain keeps us stuck, if not miserable. “Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.”

A critic might also argue that acceptance negates responsibility. Again, this critique proves misguided. Having mindful awareness and compassion for our actions does not release us from responsibility for them. Rather, it relieves us of the self-hatred and recriminations that thwart our ability to respond appropriately, make reparations, and restore right relationship with ourselves and others.

Radical acceptance makes space for acknowledging and responding to human desire. The world is full of sensory stimuli that give us pleasure – a beautiful sunset, a delicious meal, the aroma of freshly baked bread, an uplifting song, the touch of a loved one’s hand. We can also take great pleasure in our work and the sense of accomplishment that comes from mastering skills or attaining goals. And we can enjoy the companionship of lovers, family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. Human desire does not make us less righteous or spiritual. Quite the contrary! Desires and their fulfillment confer a profound sense of being alive. That being said, our awareness calls us to the recognition that all such experience proves transient. We must counsel ourselves to be free us from overly identified with them. No matter how gratifying our experiences, we cannot hold tight to circumstances that are by their very nature in a constant state of flux.

On what resources can we draw to provide support for the experience of radical acceptance? Tara names three fundamental refuges that offer sanctuary for our awakening hearts and minds.

An awakened nature enables us to surrender into an experience of boundless compassion with the prayer, “I take refuge in the Beloved,” or, “I take refuge in the awakening heart-mind.” An awakened nature does not promise the absence of fear, but rather a refuge that is vast enough to hold our fear and vulnerability with lovingkindness. It is the promise of freedom and serenity.

The dharma (the path or the way) recognizes that everything within and around us is subject to change. It cautions against the temptation to resist or hold on to the stream of experience. By taking refuge in the dharma, we awaken from the trance of fear and realize our true nature.

The sangha (community of spiritual aspirants) tells us that we belong to all those who desire to awaken. As Tara says:

“Being with good friends helps us relax about our inner weather and stop regarding our painful emotions or confused behaviors as symptoms of spiritual backsliding. As we bring our vulnerability, insight and heart into conscious relationship, we realize we are all waking up together. In this environment of togetherness, deep healing becomes possible… [Moreover] when radical acceptance blossoms in our relationships, it becomes a kind of spiritual reparenting that enables us to trust the goodness and beauty of who we really are.”

Take a Pause and Practice R.A.I.N.

I just finished a 10-day Radical Compassion Challenge with Dr. Tara Brach during which I also read her book, Radical Compassion: Learning to Love Yourself and Your World with the Practice of R.A.I.N. It was a wonderful experience and a very good read.

Merriam-Webster defines compassion as “a sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” This definition suggests that compassion is an emotion directed outward with an implied penchant for action. Tara asks us to take this sensibility and apply it to ourselves. She argues that when we find the courage to love ourselves into healing, we amplify our capacity to exercise care, compassion, and forgiveness in service of others and the world at large.

In today’s world, it’s not easy to be emotionally attuned. Many of us are running our legs off trying to keep up with work and home responsibilities. When we’re not caught up in the busy-ness of life, we can become enthralled with screen-based distractions – binge-watching TV, surfing the web, texting, using social media, checking email, etc. We can place ourselves in a kind of trance where we either don’t notice what we are feeling or get swept away by emotion (e.g., anger, fear, anxiety). I know what it’s like to fall under those spells.

I frequently watch TV when I don’t have anything else to do. Even when I choose a decent show, I can find myself getting restless. Rather than tap into the feeling and explore it, I head on over to the kitchen to fix myself a snack. I can be well into my second or third handful of mixed nuts before I wake up and go, “What a minute! What are you doing?”

I also know what it’s like to be in the grip of a strong emotion. Just this week, a planned 2-hour webcast was delayed 30 minutes due to technical difficulties and another 10 minutes due to user error. Given that I’d paid a pretty penny for the class, I was really steamed by the presenter’s lack of preparation. I allowed my irritation to get the upper hand, thereby diminishing my enthusiasm for the material once the class got up and running.

What’s the remedy?

Tara invites us to pause, take a breath, and connect to our moment-to-moment experience. Rather than focus on what’s happening on the outside, take a genuine interest in the real, living experience in our minds and body. We can learn to respond (and not simply react) by practicing R.A.I.N. (Recognize – Allow – Investigate – Nurture). Here’s an explanation and a case in point.

recognize, allow, investigate, nurture

Recognize: Pay attention to thoughts, emotions, and sensations as they arise. So, before getting out of my comfortable chair in front of the TV and heading into the kitchen, I could pause and ask myself what I’m feeling. I’d probably admit that I’m less-than-captivated by the on-screen entertainment. I’m restless and bored; I’m not hungry.

Allow: Let the thoughts, emotions, and sensations just be. Don’t try to control or judge them. Don’t label them right or wrong, good or bad, appropriate or inappropriate. Just say “YES” to them and invite them to sit with you. In particular, I could simply acknowledge that I’m not stimulated by television. I don’t need to pass judgment on the content of the show or berate myself for choosing to watch TV instead of doing something else. I’ll just allow boredom and restlessness be boredom and restlessness.

Investigate: Bring an interested and kind attention to the experience. Notice what assumptions and beliefs undergird your current feelings. What sensations do they evoke in the body, and where are they located? What do they seem to be telling you? As a chronic thinker, I’d be tempted to stay up in my head and analyze my feelings and figure out what they mean. But Tara invites us to notice where these feelings show up in the body. Oh, I’m feeling tingly and fidgety in my arms and legs. There’s an aliveness within me that seems to be pushing against being sedentary.

Nurture: Call for a response from the wisest and most compassionate part of your being. Allow yourself to feel loved, supported, and worthy. Trust in your essential goodness. Take action to further your highest good. Mmm, maybe I should take a walk and enjoy nature. Or find a really good book to read. Or call a friend and have a wonderful conversation. Or maybe change the channel… haha!

It just might be a good idea to write PAUSE on post-it notes and place them strategically around the house. They’ll remind me to take a breath, practice R.A.I.N., and help me be more present.

Thanksgiving

candles

When my husband and I gather for our holiday meal tomorrow, we will be guided by the Haudensaunee Thanksgiving Address, provided in edited form below.

Today we have gathered and we see that the cycles of life continue. We have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now, we bring our minds together as one as we give greetings and thanks to each other as people.

We are all thankful to our Mother, the Earth, for she gives us all that we need for life. She supports our feet as we walk about upon her. It gives us joy that she continues to care for us as she has from the beginning of time

We give thanks to all the Waters of the world for quenching our thirst and providing us with strength. Water is life. We know its power in many forms – waterfalls and rain, mists and streams, rivers and oceans.

We turn our minds to the all the Fish life in the water. They were instructed to cleanse and purify the water. They also give themselves to us as food. We send our greetings and thanks.

Now we turn toward the vast fields of Plant life. As far as the eye can see, the Plants grow, working many wonders. Since the beginning of time, the grains, vegetables, beans, and berries have helped the people survive. Many other living things draw strength from them, too. We gather all the Plants together as one and send them a greeting of thanks.

Now we turn to all the Medicine Herbs of the world. From the beginning they were instructed to take away sickness. They are always waiting and ready to heal us. We are happy there are those who remember how to use these plants for healing. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to the Medicines and to the keepers of the Medicines.

We gather our minds together to send greetings and thanks to all the Animal life in the world. They have many things to teach us as people. We are honored by them when they give up their lives so we may use their bodies as food for our people. We are glad they are still here and we hope that it will always be so.

We now turn our thoughts to the Trees. The Earth has many families of Trees who have their own instructions and uses. Some provide us with shelter and shade, others with fruit, beauty and other useful things. Many people of the world use a Tree as a symbol of peace and strength. With one mind, we greet and thank the Tree life.

We put our minds together as one and thank all the birds who move and fly about over our heads. The Creator gave them beautiful songs. Each day they remind us to enjoy and appreciate life.

We are all thankful to the powers we know as the Four Winds. We hear their voices in the moving air as they refresh us and purify the air we breathe. They help us to bring the change of seasons. From the four directions they come, bringing us messages and giving us strength.

We now send greetings and thanks to our eldest brother, the Sun. Each day without fail he travels the sky from east to west, bringing the light of a new day. He is the source of all the fires of life.

We put our minds together to give thanks to our oldest grandmother, the Moon, who lights the night-time sky. She is the leader of woman all over the world, and she governs the movement of the ocean tides. By her changing face we measure time, and it is the Moon who watches over the arrival of children here on Earth.

We give thanks to the Stars who are spread across the sky like jewelry. We see them in the night, helping the Moon to light the darkness and bringing dew to the gardens and growing things. When we travel at night, they guide us home.

We gather our minds to greet and thank the enlightened Teachers who have come to help throughout the ages. When we forget how to live in harmony, they remind us of the way we were instructed to live as people.

Now we turn our thoughts to the Creator, or Great Spirit, and send greetings and thanks for all the gifts of Creation. Everything we need to live a good life is here on this Mother Earth. For all the love that is still around us, we gather our minds together as one and send our choicest words of greetings and thanks to the Creator.

We have now arrived at the place where we end our words. Of all the things we have named, it was not our intention to leave anything out. If something was forgotten, we leave it to each individual to send such greetings and thanks in their own way.

Restore Relationship with the Land

mountain lakeIn nineteenth century America, Native Americans in the Eastern United States were forcibly relocated from their ancestral homes to lands west of the Mississippi River. Those who remained were forced to abandon their languages, customs, and beliefs and adopt Western European sensibilities. In the process, we quashed their deep reverence for the land and the way of life that kept it healthy and whole.

In Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer calls for a return to Native American sensibilities in response to sustained assaults on the delicate ecosystem on which all life depends. As a botanist, she leverages the scientific method to assess the environmental cost of our inattention to the environment. As a member of the Potawatomi Nation, she brings her people’s stories, traditions, and practices to bear on reorienting our thinking and finding a path toward restoration. The book is a delightful and evocative read.

She begins with the story of Skywoman who fell to the earth and worked collaboratively with all of the creatures who preceded her to co-create the world. Each contributed gifts to benefit the common good; some made sacrifices to benefit the greater whole. The story tells us that nothing comes into being without cost. We are admonished to respond with gratitude and a sense of responsibility for what has been given.

While origin stories may vary across tribes, the central tenet of connection to the land and all of its creature remains. Native Americans belong to the land in a way that sustains them physically and spiritually. It provides them with the bounty of its harvest; it is the great teacher that counsels them on how to live in harmony with creation and with one another. Here are some of its admonitions.

Create a home where all life can flourish. All things have a purpose. Individuals, animals, sea creatures, plants, insects, waterways, and elements of nature bestow distinctive gifts that contribute to the well-being of the whole. Never interfere with the sacred purpose of another being. Never imperil any part of this intricate web lest you jeopardize your own survival. Practice kindness and compassion.

See the world as a gift. Live in acknowledgement of an earth that feeds you, quenches your thirst, and provides warmth and shelter. Stop and take note of these rich endowments. Give thanks. When you abandon gratitude, the gifts abandon you.

Pair gratitude with the practice of reciprocity and responsibility. While the earth’s gifts are given freely, they require attentive caregiving to sustain their bounty. Just about everything we use or consume comes at the expense of another life. Reciprocity resolves the moral tension of taking life by returning something of value to restore the balance of nature. Responsibility encourages life-sustaining practices that ensure a healthy ecosystem across the generations.

Reconnect with the landscape by planting a garden. Be mindful of the ways in which food production results from a partnership between the land and its nutrients, the sun, the rain, and the human caregiver who sows the seeds and watches over their development. Consider what it takes to keep this garden healthy and productive year after year. As you work in the garden, let it feed you in body as well as spirit.

Participate in honorable harvests by taking only what you need and using everything you take. Engage in practices that bring forth long term benefits for people and plants. Never take more than half; leave the rest to maintain the health and vigor of wild life. Celebrate and give thanks for every mouthful.

Live in community. Keep one another accountable for your commitments to honor the whole of life. Use ceremony to codify what matters and bind the community together.

In all things, be vigilant against greed. Do not be fooled into thinking that belongings are more meaningful than belonging. Restraint, sharing, and stewardship are essential for survival. Stand against an economy that destroys the earth to profit the greedy; demand one that aligns with life.

Leave the world better than when you found it.

Read the book… or, better yet, check out the audiobook and listen while Dr. Kimmerer shares her wonderful stories and words of wisdom.

Twelve Practices for Spiritual Insight

I had occasion recently to reacquaint myself with Carolyn Myss’ Anatomy of the Spirit: The Seven Stages of Power and Healing, one of her 5 New York Times best-selling books. She’s a self-described subject matter expert in the fields of human consciousness, spirituality and mysticism, health, energy medicine, and the science of medical intuition. The book explores “energy anatomy,” a line of inquiry that correlates emotional, psychological, and spiritual stress with disease.

As one who has been interested in the mind-body connection and its impact on well-being, I found her work intriguing. It ties the 7 chakras, bodily organs, and related mental/emotional issues to specific physical dysfunctions. (See attached.) While I would pursue conventional medical treatment should I experience any of the indicated maladies, I’d certainly give due consideration to the indicated mental/emotional issues and their influence on recovery. Read the book for a detailed exposition of her work.

For today’s post, I thought I’d paraphrase her twelve practices to attain symbolic sight and increase one’s ability to mirror divine reasoning. They’re good advice and may very well contribute favorably to a healthy lifestyle. They are:

  1. Practice introspection. Notice what you do and what you believe; explore the roots of your behaviors and worldviews.
  2. Be open-minded. Be an attentive observer to your thoughts and take notice when your mind “shuts down.”
  3. Be on the alert for defensiveness. It’s a clear indication that your mind is working to keep new insights from entering and influencing your consciousness.
  4. Recognize that all situations and relationships are “teachers,” even if you cannot recognize the messages or lessons in the moment.
  5. Pay attention to your dreams; they may provide valuable guidance and insight.
  6. Process and release thoughts that promote self-pity or anger; stop blaming others for things that happen to you. Such thoughts keep you stuck in unhealthy places and forestall growth.
  7. Practice detachment. Gather relevant data dispassionately to make the best possible decisions in the moment. Don’t constrain yourself to work toward a specific outcome.
  8. Refrain from judgments about people, situations, and the size and importance of tasks. The narrow window of the present does not provide a complete view of all the facts or details of any situation nor the long-term consequences of your actions.
  9. Recognize when you have been overtaken by fear and allowing its influence to govern your behavior. Identify the source and its impact on your mind and emotions. Make choices that diminish its influence.
  10. Distance yourself from value systems that argue for achieving certain goals as the precursor for success. Visualize success as an energy force through which you achieve enlightenment, self-control, and the wherewithal to navigate the challenges and opportunities that life presents.
  11. Act on your inner guidance; don’t wait for external validation of your intuition. The more you cling to a need for “proof,” the less likely you’ll receive it or recognize it when it comes.
  12. Focus your attention on the present moment. Don’t linger on the past or worry about the future. Learn to trust what you cannot see.

A Healing Balm for the Holidays

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, the day on which the holidays officially begin. (Yep – I ignored the Christmas decorations that were already going up in October!) We’ll spend time with my mother at her Memory Care facility and enjoy a (small) bite to eat while we watch a DVD together. Then we’ll share a meal with friends who were gracious enough to include us in their family gathering.

I’ll confess that I’m having trouble putting myself in an appropriately thankful spirit. On a conscious level, I am well aware of the many blessings in my life, not the least of which are family, friends, purposeful work, and the good health and resources to enjoy them. However, I’m overbooked for the umpteenth time in my life and wonder how I’ll get myself through the next few months. I can’t scan the headlines without getting a knot in my stomach.

As I was flipping through an old notebook in search of inspiration for this week’s post, I came across a poem that I first read in high school. It is timeless and good medicine for what ails me… and perhaps you, too.

Desiderata
by Max Ehrmann

peaceful gardenGo placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

The Road to Character

New York Times columnist David Brooks has made his living observing and commenting on the political and cultural developments of the day. In The Road to Character, he turns his attention to the annuls of history to explore a moral ecology that stands in sharp relief to the prevailing focus on the self. He writes:

the road to character“My general belief is that we’ve accidentally left this moral tradition behind… We’re not more selfish or venal that people in other times, but we’ve lost the understanding of how character is built. The ‘crooked timber’ moral tradition – based on an awareness of sin and the confrontation of with sin – was an inheritance passed down from generation to generation. It gave people a clearer sense of how to cultivate the eulogy virtues, how to develop the [better] side of their nature. Without it, there is a certain superficiality to modern culture, especially in the moral sphere.”

Brooks explores this terrain by providing real-life examples of how the shaping of a human soul worked. His intent was to allow his readers to glean important lessons and insights by bearing witness to these extraordinary lives. I found each of these biographies riveting – well worth the time it took to engage them.

While Brooks is loath to suggest that there is a twelve-step program to lead interested parties to a moral life, he identified a number of “threads” that seemed to run through the lives of the individuals that he highlighted in his book. The associated prescriptive for righteous living might read something like this:

  • Lead a life of purpose, righteousness, and virtue, not just one of pleasure.
  • Recognize our innate tendency toward selfishness and overconfidence as well as our propensity to see ourselves as the center of the universe; use this awareness as the starting point for moral and spiritual development.
  • Engage earnestly in the struggle to overcome our baser instincts and grow in moral strength through a lifetime of effort. Sacrifice worldly success for the sake of inner excellence.
  • Practice humility, recognizing that we are underdogs in the struggle against our weaknesses.
  • Be vigilant over prideful tendencies that ignore our failings and deceive us into believing that we are better than others.
  • Be more attuned to the internal struggle against our deficiencies than the external journey up the ladder of success.
  • Become more disciplined, considerate, and loving through a thousand small acts of self-control, sharing, service, friendship, and refined enjoyment.
  • Build enduring character traits – e.g., courage, honesty, humility – through sustained attachments to worthy people, causes, callings, and convictions. Be faithful through thick and thin.
  • Leverage redemptive assistance from the outside – faith, family, friends, ancestors, exemplars, traditions, institutions – to achieve self-mastery.
  • Recognize and surrender to the saving power of grace – from love of family and friends, from the assistance of a stranger, and from God.
  • Be a grateful recipient of the endowment of practical wisdom, traditions, habits, manners, moral sentiments, and practices from our forebearers, recognizing that experience is a better teacher than abstract reason.
  • Serve work that is intrinsically compelling and commit to its pursuit, ever mindful of what life is asking of us.
  • Be good stewards of organizations over which we are called to be leaders, passing them along to others in better condition that when we found them.
  • Attain maturity by being dependable in times of testing, straight in times of temptation, sure-footed in pursuit of noble purpose, and clear-headed amid reactions from admirers and detractors.

For those who might find the narrow path to righteousness stringent, Brooks provides a comforting and salutary observation:

“There is joy in a life filled with interdependence with others, in a life filled with gratitude, reverence, and admiration. There’s joy in freely chosen obedience to people, ideas, and commitments greater than oneself… There’s an aesthetic joy we feel in morally good action, which makes all other joys seem paltry and easy to forsake.”

Read the book and have a vibrant discussion with friends about it. It just may change your life.

True Community

I dusted off another of M. Scott Peck’s books this week to continue pursuing the theme of spiritual wellness. It’s called The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace.

Peck defines spiritual healing as the process of becoming “whole” or “holy.” In part, it is a call to individuate – to take responsibility for our lives and actions, to deal with others in integrity, and to make full use of our gifts and talents. Yet we are social creatures who need one another to survive. So “wholeness” also carries an expectation of living harmoniously in community and serving the common good. In fact, Peck argues that we cannot fully become ourselves without sharing the commonality of the human experience with others – e.g., our strengths, weaknesses, triumphs, failures, our self-sufficiency, incompleteness, etc.

true communityA spiritually enriching community isn’t just any old collective of people. According to Peck, it has very specific characteristics.

True community is, and must be, inclusive. It is always reaching out to extend itself and accepts individual and cultural diversity. To that end, the members must be willing to empty themselves of bias, prejudice, and expectations to make room for the other. They must be willing to co-exist in peace, surrendering themselves to the shared journey.

True community is realistic. It encourages many different viewpoints; it does not force conformity or smooth over its rough edges. It doesn’t expect easy answers to challenging questions or circumstances.

True community is contemplative. It is attentive to its health and growth. It acknowledges its fallibility and takes action to affect remediation. It is also keenly aware of the world outside, the world within, and the relationship between the two.

True community creates safety. It creates the space for members to explore their vulnerabilities and brokenness. It provides the breathing room for genuine healing to occur. It is accepting of one another’s limitations. And it supports members as they experiment with new kinds of behavior.

In true community, there are no sides. Alliances interfere with the group’s functioning. When conflict arises, a core of mutual respect and concern governs resolution. (I call it “disagreeing without becoming disagreeable.”) The members are committed to struggling together, not against each other.

True community decentralizes authority. Ideally, decisions are reached by consensus. Leadership flows freely among different individuals as the need arises. In fact, the so-called “natural leaders” refuse to take charge and tell people what to do. They want to avoid creating unhealthy dependencies.

Community-building takes time, intentional effort, and commitment. It takes time to empty ourselves of all the prejudices that impede our ability to be attentive and compassionate listeners. It takes conscious effort to communicate effectively while resisting the temptation to “fix” everyone. Rather, we’re called to be present to their experience while fostering individual and collective learning. It also takes effort to establish mutually agreeable “rules” and governance. Finally, it takes a commitment to hang in there through thick and thin, even when things get chaotic.

Peck warns against the formation of “pseudocommunity.” It’s a place characterized by forced politeness and a pressure to conform. In such communities, niceness crushes individuality, intimacy, and honesty. It fosters a quick retreat to organization as a vehicle for minimizing chaos and uncertainty. It is akin to building a house on a foundation made of sand. It won’t withstand stress and strain.

Community is always something more than the sum of the parts. It is never painless. It does not avoid conflict but rather reconciles it. In so doing, community lowers walls and creates pathways for growth and understanding. It exists for the purpose of inculcating love and harmony among us.

We are ultimately interdependent. Why not find ways to live together in peace?

The Power of NOW

Once dubbed by the New York Times as “the most popular spiritual author in the United States,” Eckhart Tolle helps people awaken to lives of purpose and presence through books, television appearances, membership in his on-line community, and face-to-face gatherings. One of my good friends counts herself among an international cohort that has embarked on a six-month training program jointly delivered by Tolle and Kim Eng, creator of Presence Through Movement. Given her enthusiasm, I went to the library and checked out a copy of The Power of NOW: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment to see how it might speak to me.

It’s safe to say that Tolle’s book is not designed to be a quick read. In fact, he inserts “pauses” in each chapter to encourage readers to stop and digest the content. While I couldn’t begin to capture the richness of the material, I’ll share a few concepts that I found especially meaningful.

live in the nowTolle defines true wealth as “the radiant joy of Being and the deep, unshakeable peace that comes with it.” Enlightenment is a state of felt oneness with Being.

Our minds prevent us from attaining enlightenment when we’re inundated by our internal chatter – i.e., commenting, speculating, worrying, judging, comparing, complaining, pondering. We may be stuck reliving and acting from old pain that still live within us (a.k.a., “pain bodies”). We may be steeped in anxiety about future events. We may escape reality by daydreaming.

When we are caught up in our internal chatter, we give our power over to our thoughts. They’re driving us. We aren’t free.

As an antidote, become identified as an Observer of thoughts, not a Thinker of them. In that state, we notice when moodiness, anger, resentment, unease, fear, and other emotions well up, but we aren’t driven to act on them. We make conscious choices that benefit ourselves and those around us. We aren’t feeding our “pain bodies” or calling others’ “pain bodies” into action. We make room for love, joy, and peace. So long as we are invested in emotional anguish, we will resist or sabotage attempts to help it.

Focus on the present moment. On the NOW. Let the mind be what it is without getting entangled in it. As Tolle says, “In the now, you leave behind the deadening world of mental distraction… You feel a presence, a stillness, a peace.” The NOW is all any of us really have.

Being present means that wherever you are, be there totally. Complaint suggests non-acceptance of what is. It may well be that we find ourselves in persistently difficult relationships and/or circumstances. We are not called to simply surrender to them. We have three choices in the NOW: accept what is without complaint, take action to effect change, or leave. Persistent grumbling should not be an option!

There’s nothing wrong with thinking about the future and setting goals to move toward a desired outcome. Focus on the immediate steps to be taken, not the hundreds or thousands of steps in the journey ahead. Don’t get attached to outcomes. Ask: Is there joy, ease, and lightness in what I am doing right now? Be open to course correction if it seems right to do so. Don’t fall into the trap of attaching self-worth to outcomes.

Finally, nothing “out there” will ever provide deep, lasting satisfaction. There is no salvation in anything that we do, attain, or possess. Rather:

“True salvation is fulfillment, peace, life in all its fullness. It is to be who you are, to feel within you the good that has no opposite, the joy of Being that depends on nothing outside itself. It is felt not as a passing experience but as an abiding presence.”

Life, Truth, Love, and Grace

I’ve written a lot of posts covering our physical, mental, and emotional well-being since starting this blog nearly 2 years ago. I suppose it’s time that I cover some thought leaders in the spiritual realm.

spiritual journeyI read M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth years ago and decided to reacquaint myself with his words of wisdom. The following captures some of his ideas, recognizing full well that I can’t do his work justice in this post.

Peck begins with a sobering reality: Life is difficult. We all face a steady stream of problems to be solved. We may be tempted to avoid these challenges because it’s painful to confront them head-on. Yet meeting and solving problems gives life meaning. It creates opportunities for physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and social growth. Besides, it’s better to solve smaller problems before they snowball into bigger ones!

We must accept responsibility for problems before we can solve them. That acceptance presupposes accurate perceptions of the world and our places in it. Peck says that our views of reality are like maps for which we are the map-makers. We use them to navigate the terrain of life. The most useful maps are those forged with considered effort, dedication to the truth, and a willingness to make revisions as we gather new information and accept constructive feedback from others.

We must be dedicated to the truth. Peck admonishes us to never speak falsehood. Of course, occasions may arise where we might choose to withhold information rather than cause needless harm to others. Thoughtful disclosure presumes an accurate assessment of another person’s capacity to make use of information for his or her spiritual growth. We can only make such assessments from a place of genuine love, and then only imperfectly. Should we opt to maintain silence, our decision should never be rooted in personal gain – e.g., a quest for power, a concern for popularity, or a need to protect our views of reality.

Love provide a compass for right action and serves as a powerful engine for spiritual growth. Peck defines genuine love as the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth. This definition packs a lot of punch:

  • It presumes a level of individuation and emotional maturity sufficient to manifest selfless action and attention. Love based on neediness (e.g., loneliness, insecurity) has little to do with spiritual development and rests upon a shaky foundation.
  • Genuine love maintains the distinction between myself and the other.
  • Love is an act of will. It is not dependency; it’s an exercise of free choice. Two people can be said to experience genuine love when they are fully capable of living apart but choose to be together.
  • Love takes attention. For example, listening well takes focused concentration and a sincere effort to experience the world from the speaker’s point of view. It also takes regular investment of time and effort.
  • Genuine love implies commitment and the exercise of wisdom. Growth is fostered through a relationship of constancy.
  • Love is not a feeling; it is an action. It demands that we order our behavior to contribute optimally to our beloved’s spiritual growth.

Real love is a permanently enlarging experience. In order to truly understand others, we must make room for them within ourselves. As they take up residence, we also experience growth by stretching and thinning our ego boundaries. Genuine love is self-replenishing.

With an awareness of the limits of our time, we want to live and love well. Loving always carries the risk of heartbreak. But if we shy away from love, we shy away from life. While there are no guarantees, the most successful strategy for finding genuine love is being a person worthy of love.

Peck allows for the presence of grace which delivers life-producing or growth-enhancing experiences in our lives. He believes grace is accessible to everyone; however, most of us fail to acknowledge its presence or appreciate the value it brings. We cannot will grace into our lives, but we can prepare ourselves to be fertile ground.

He closes with these thought-provoking words:

“The journey of spiritual growth requires courage and initiative and independence of thought and action. While the words of the prophets and the assistance of grace are available, the journey must still be traveled alone. No teacher can carry you there.”