The Zeal to Heal

Time to dust off and stretch these writing muscles after a long, wonderful summer of inactivity (for them, not me)…

The Zeal to Heal

There was a sign on the wall in my old chiropractic office, right next to the doorway leading back to the adjusting rooms, that read, “No negative thoughts beyond this point.” I used to tell everyone they’d get zapped if they tried it. We suggested that folks dump their stuff before going back to get adjusted by writing it all down on a piece of paper (which we would ceremonially gather and burn each evening—and no, we didn’t read them) and then grab a strip of paper with a positive affirmations written on it. Admittedly, this was wonderful for me because I didn’t have to hear 150-200 tales of woe each and every day. But it was equally wonderful for the folks who came in, because for at least those few moments, they had the opportunity to focus on something positive. They had the opportunity to be as enthusiastic about what was right with them as they generally were about what was wrong with them. They had the opportunity to think good thoughts about their bodies and their lives. What a precious thing and, sadly, what a rare thing those moments are in many lives.

My God, can a group of people my age get together without our prostates, eyes, and assorted sagging parts being the main topic of conversation? When you ask someone how they are doing, assuming you’re really asking because you care and not just as another way of saying hello, do you ever hear things like, “My body is a temple for the unlimited love of Spirit” or “Did you know that my body is capable of doing 600 octillion things simultaneously?” or “Hey, check it out! Those Twinkies I ate for breakfast are now part of my eyeballs and prostate!”? I doubt it. You probably hear what I hear–stuff about bone tired and bad knees and weak bladders and bum hips and sour stomachs—all communicated with great zeal and enthusiasm.

I recently saw a bunch of Jewish haikus, and this one applies beautifully:

Her lips near my ear,
Aunt Sadie whispers the name
of her friend’s disease

What if we applied as much zeal and enthusiasm toward affirming our own greatness and wholeness as we did toward our own frailty and symptoms?

I have made a long-time spiritual study of my own self-talk and, historically, I was just as guilty of badmouthing my body as most people. But not anymore. I’m following the example of Myrtle Fillmore, the co-founder of Unity. Myrtle was essentially an invalid for the first few decades of her life, diagnosed with tuberculosis, which was considered hereditary and incurable. One night she heard a speaker utter the words, “I am a child of God; therefore I do not inherit sickness”, and she proceeded to completely change the way she talked to her body. In addition to much prayer and meditation, Myrtle continually praised her body, she send love to her cells, and she apologized to those parts of her body that she had previously maligned and belittled. After two years of this practice she was healed, and lived and thrived to a ripe, old age. She believed it took two years because that’s how long it took to overcome her own deep-seated doubts.

What would happen if you and I did this?

Here’s a tool I’ve been using to help myself remember how I choose to talk to my body: whenever anyone asks me, “How are you?” I make believe they’ve asked me, “Who are you?” Then it’s easier for me to respond with something at least remotely aligned with the biggest, grandest vision I hold for myself. It’s easier to respond with something like, “Terrific” or “Awesome” or “I am filled with the power of Life” or “Every little cell in my body is happy and well!”

Speaking of Every Little Cell, it’s actually a song that we sing regularly at Unity at the Lake. It’s sung to the tune of “Momma’s Little Baby Loves Shortnin’ Bread”, and there are several versions on YouTube. Check it out! I did some research on it, and apparently it calibrates at 600 on David Hawkins’ consciousness scale (from the book Power Vs. Force, for those of you who are into such things). It was written by a German guy who had fractured his 2nd lumbar vertebrae in the early 80’s and was told he’s be a paraplegic for life. Clemens Kuby wrote this song, sang it to himself, walked out of the hospital in less than a year and is still walking (and speaking about self-healing) today. I’m singing it every day!

Whether we praise, affirm or sing, let’s work up a little zeal to heal!

And if that’s all we remember, that’s more than enough for now…

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June Busted Out All Over

Our country’s 237th birthday party has come and gone and I’m still celebrating June. It was a rather large month in my life.

Hillary and I were ordained as an Interfaith Ministers on June 9th, the highlight of a wonderful weeklong trip to New York. I hadn’t been to the City, where I was born and raised, in over 25 years, and everything exceeded my expectations. Perhaps most amazing to me is that every single thing I craved to eat—a hot dog from an umbrella stand guy, a slice of pizza, a bagel, Italian food and a knish (you might have to google that last one)—was just as good as I remembered.

At the ordination I got a strong inner message to shave my beard, which had adorned my face for 30 years. We came home and I promptly did. When I showed up at Unity without the beard, nearly everyone (including my mom) asked, “Did you grow a moustache?” So I decided to get rid of the moustache, too, which had been hiding my upper lip for upwards of 42 years.

It was one of the bravest things I’ve ever done. I felt so vulnerable and naked even while I was doing it. And I was worrying the whole time about what I would look like. I wasn’t completely displeased, though my lip has this interesting curve to it…

Then when Hillary, who I met a mere 38 years ago, shed some tears upon seeing me totally clean shaven for the first time ever, doing her best to reassure me that she didn’t think it was ugly, just a huge change, I felt even more vulnerable showing my face in public. I got mixed reviews, and with Hillary obviously reluctant to kiss me because of my ever present stubble, the moustache has quickly made its return.

On the 23rd, at that point still sans moustache, we had a local celebration of our ordination at Unity. I have never felt so loved, so validated, so seen and heard, and so honored. It was quite the community love fest, and undoubtedly one of the highlights of my life.

And now that you’re up to date on my big June, including the current status of my facial hair, I suppose I can get to the point.

I didn’t expect to feel different after the ordination, but I did (I experienced that same thing when I got married). Something somehow feels different: more, bigger, better. I’m still processing all this, and I have no idea how the ordination will play out in my life as far as what I will do differently, but I suddenly have a more expansive vision of who I am. I feel a strong urge to be more, bigger and better. I suppose that’s why I got the message to shave my beard.

I also suppose I didn’t need two years of seminary and an ordination for this expanded vision to emerge, but as long as I did it, I’m grateful I haven’t gotten too wrapped up in worrying about “what do I do now?”. In fact, I think the biggest thing that has changed for is that I’m more convinced than ever that I never have to worry about what to do as long as I’m clear on who I am and what’s important to me.

I no longer hold a shred of belief that I have to first do something or acquire something I don’t already have in order to express and experience my deepest intentions and desires. In fact, I can clearly see how all my past striving to do and have more is precisely what got in the way of me living my dream right in that moment. When I look back at all the things I’ve wanted to do and have, I can also clearly see that I thought I needed those things in order to express and experience love, peace, joy, meaning, fulfillment and connection. But I don’t need to do or have anything to experience all those things; I simply have to stop believing I do and start expressing and experiencing them!

As one of our deans at our NYC ordination said, “When we’re grounded in enough love, the doing takes care of itself.” Amen!

And if that’s all I remember, that’s more than enough for now.

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Remembering the Peaceful Warriors (originally posted 5-28-12)

As Memorial Day looms, I am re-posting my thoughts about it from last year. Once again I have just returned from our Unity Regional Men’s Retreat and re-experienced the peace, oneness and sameness that spontaneously occur whenever men let down their guards and allow their authenticity and vulnerability to shine forth. This year there were 39 men in attendance at the retreat and I’m feeling immensely hopeful for the world. Enjoy!

Remembering the Peaceful Warriors (originally posted 5-28-12)

Memorial Day has held little meaning in my life beyond family picnics, the onset of the “summer vibe” and invariably, in my 33 years here in Lake Tahoe, snowstorms. I’ve always been aware of what the holiday was about, that it used to be called Decoration Day, but perhaps because I had no close relatives who died in battle I was insulated from its true meaning. At least in my early years. Growing up during the Vietnam War, that all changed. There were guys I grew up with in my neighborhood that didn’t come home.

But by then I had become a bit of a hippie and peacenik, and decorating the graves of soldiers just didn’t seem to be part of the program. Though I had grown up marching with my toy gun to John Philip Souza and reveling in multitudinous John Wayne films, by this time in my life anything related to military endeavors had not only lost its luster, but was an anathema, scary, unimaginable and something I didn’t even want to look at, let alone remember.

I see now that I have done a lot of people a tremendous disservice. For all these years, I have equated the warriors with the war. Even worse than that, I have blamed the warriors for the war. I have met a ton of Vietnam vets and so many of them are understandably bitter about the way they were “welcomed” home. In my anti-war stance I’ve managed pretty well to avoid any responsibility or self-recrimination for my part in that. I can’t begin to imagine how that must feel and I now humbly apologize to all of you. I realize it means little at this point, but it means a lot to me. Not only do I intend remembering all the fallen today, but also all those un-fallen who still carry the scars and wounds of war.

My stance on Memorial Day has changed as it has suddenly become clear that I am just as much to blame for war as anyone else. Every week in most Unity and Religious Science centers the service ends with The Peace Song, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” Some in our community have wanted to change those words to more affirmative ones, “Yes, there is peace on earth; I know it begins with me.” I’ve been reluctant to change the words because as they stand, they remind me that in every moment I have a choice to allow peace to come into my awareness and into the world. Now, the next time someone asks about changing the words, I’ll be tempted to say, “Fine, as long as we also add the line, ‘Yes, there is war on earth; I know it begins with me.’” In every moment, I also have the choice to create violence, and I’ve become aware recently of how often I do so, in some subtle and not so subtle ways.

I just came back from a Unity men’s retreat. Thirty-three guys and the great majority have served in the military. They were some of the most peaceful men I’ve ever met, and it was perhaps the most peaceful gathering I’ve ever attended. Thirty-three guys and not one mention of football or politics. We laughed and cried and played music together. We shared things with each other that we hadn’t shared with anyone before, with the possible exception of our closest relations. We shared our gifts and also our authentic, screwed up selves and found out we weren’t alone in being gifted and screwed up. We found out that sorrow and joy can coexist in the same moment; that they are in fact inseparable. And we found out that we can each learn volumes about ourselves in community, especially when we can simply be ourselves in that community.

It seems ironic that I learned so much about violence by participating in such a peaceful gathering. The gift was that violence was so glaringly absent I was able to pay attention to what was missing. We weren’t competing! We weren’t doing all those usual man things like trying to fix each other or giving advice or negating others’ experiences (“ah, you think that’s bad? Well listen to this…”) or attempting to shift someone else’s reality (by interposing our own, of course) or sharing words with the sole intention of showing everyone how much we knew. These are common acts of violence! And I’m not sure they’re only man things.

We sat with our judgments and explored their origins within ourselves. We had agreed right off the bat to see and treat each other as whole, perfect and complete. We did a pretty damn good job of honoring that agreement, and peace reigned supreme. All this certainly wasn’t easy for me, but what helped was first honoring, and then tapping into, all the warrior energy in the room and finding it within myself. In letting go of my blind spots around what being a warrior means, I received a much greater awareness of what it means to be a peaceful warrior.

Gandhi said a coward could never be nonviolent. This means that all the qualities we attribute to warriors, such as discipline, decisiveness, preparation, mindfulness, courage and perseverance, are indispensible as we battle the demons and violence and craziness in our own minds and transform them so that love and peace remain.

I had another similar realization at the retreat: being anti-war never brought me to peace. Not once. By choosing to be against war and against warriors and against violence, by choosing to be against anything, I was just as guilty of choosing violence and expressing violence as everyone I judged. I believe we’ll continue to live in a violent world until we all take responsibility for the seeds of violence that we harbor and “put out there”, because only then can we begin to address the cause and use our warrior natures to transform our own consciousnesses.

So now I’m choosing to be for peace, and to be a warrior for peace. I know that begins with me, and for a start I’ll remember all the warriors today with honor, with gratitude and with love. I see a day when we won’t have to decorate graves and instead can focus on decorating the world with our beauty. Peace.

And, if that’s all we remember, that’s more than enough for now.

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It’s a Small World After All

I’ve now been back a week from a short trip to Spain, speaking at a wonderful chiropractic seminar there. Well, my body has been back a week; the rest of me has been returning slowly but surely. Travel is exhausting!

It was well worth the exhaustion on many levels. Perhaps the biggest gift I received is a reminder that we are all the same. When I first got there everything and everyone seemed so different. Indeed, it was a smorgasbord of different languages, accents and cultures (most of them never heard of I Love Lucy, for goodness sake), but as I began to connect with people on a heart level it became clear how superficial all that is. Deeper down, we all have essentially the same issues, fears, challenges, heartaches and frustrations. We also all have essentially the same desires, intentions, dreams, joys and values. Most importantly to me, we are all the same in that we are all beautiful and whole expressions of love. On every conceivable level beyond our usual judgments and senses, we are truly all one.

On this planet for over 3 billion years Spirit, expressing as Nature, has been honing and perfecting an incredible dance of harmony based on oneness on every level of existence. The only place it sometimes doesn’t play out that way is in human minds.

Every day I see evidence that we’re embracing oneness individually and globally; people remembering that they were created to love and to bring heaven to earth, people reawakening to those higher values and qualities that we all share, the values and qualities that can help us overcome our tendency to separate from each other based on appearance, culture, ideology, belief or religion. Compassion is the natural outflow of an awareness of oneness, and I see compassion rearing its beautiful head more and more in this world.

On the other hand, every day I also see evidence of us forgetting all that. As one of the other speakers at the seminar in Spain shared, “Our survival mechanisms are killing us.” It’s clear to me now that where there is hate, prejudice and violence, there is separation from the truth of oneness. Our survival mechanisms cause us to separate from each other, which is ironic since our survival really depends on each other. It depends on our ability to remember the truth of oneness and the gift of compassion.

Survival isn’t at all a bad thing, but often what we strive to have survive are only our egos, our agendas, our ways, our religions, our bank accounts, our opinions. And these survival mechanisms are indeed killing us. Individually, they’re killing our dreams. They’re killing our ability to access our own greatness, our own wholeness and our own divine resources. And globally, our survival mechanisms are killing each other and killing the planet.

So the next time we feel attacked or judged or judgmental or envious, here’s a wonderful tool (given to me years ago by the late Richard J. Santo, D.C.): let’s say, “Just like me.” Instead of shutting down and flowing down Survival Creek without a paddle, let’s affirm that this person is just like me. We can embellish this: “Just like me, this person is looking for love. Just like me, this person is doing the best they can. Just like me, this person has had terrible sadness and despair in their lives. Just like me, this person has made choices and has had influences that have made them who they are.”

How many times have you judged someone for doing something that you’ve done a million times? Even if we’re judging someone who has done something horrendous, haven’t we all had moments of extreme anger? Haven’t we all said or done something hurtful? Saying, “Just like me” is the first step toward compassion and forgiveness. And compassion and forgiveness don’t mean we condone unacceptable behavior, but they do allow us to keep our own light shining. Compassion and forgiveness don’t mean we shouldn’t take action, but they do allow us to take effective, grounded and loving action. That’s hard to do when we’re in judgment, blame, despair or overwhelm.

Conversely, when we feel envious or are inclined to compare ourselves unfavorably to someone, let’s say, “Just like me.” “Just like me, this person is a child of God. Just like me, this person is inherently good, beautiful and whole. Just like me, this person has ‘extraordinary’ built right into their essence. Just like me, this person is a unique face of the divine.” As Marianne Williamson wrote, playing small doesn’t serve anyone. We are each the one that we have been looking for.

You are just like me. And together, we can ride that sameness and oneness to its natural conclusion—the kind of world we all choose to live in.

And if that’s all we remember, that’s more than enough for now.

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Changing the Past Part 2

(This is an excerpt from the book I am writing about the 12 Powers, the fundamental cornerstone of Unity metaphysics)

© 2013 Stew Bittman | All Rights Reserved

Our subconscious mind continually pumps out thoughts, something like 65,000 per day, according to scientists. Those same scientists also say that 95% or more of those 65,000 thoughts are exactly the same as the ones we had yesterday. With the same old input, no wonder we find it difficult to change!

I think of the subconscious mind as a thought factory, and its assembly line runs 24/7. It rains thoughts down upon the conscious mind without any distinction or consideration about their quality. Some of them are truly treasures and some are most definitely rejects. Some of them seem to come straight from the Source, others from less empowering places. Some reflect our current level of understanding and awareness; others are echoes of old tapes that were recorded before we had the tools to discern. Some of them serve our highest unfolding, many do not.

Unfortunately, most of us are probably used to paying more attention to the rejects than to the treasures. One my all-time favorite examples of a reject thought comes from Charlie Brown and the Peanuts comic strip: “Sometimes I lie awake at night, and ask, ‘Where have I gone wrong?’ Then a voice says to me, ‘This is going to take more than one night’.”

This kind of thinking is merely a habit! We’ve practiced it and gotten quite expert at it. We all know people who are accident-prone. Through entertaining those thoughts that don’t serve, over and over and over again, many of us have become anger-prone or guilt-prone or worry-prone or self-abuse-prone. Those thought patterns have become deeply etched, like Mississippi Rivers in our mind, and they make it difficult to even hear the treasures when they come. Once something launches that pattern of thinking (and often, it doesn’t take much), the pattern also tends to take us directly to New Orleans, even if had no intention or desire to go there.

For me, this idea helps me to understanding the concept of karma in Hinduism and Buddhism. It isn’t some cosmic scoreboard or ledger sheet to which I am doomed. It’s more a pattern of thinking from the past that begins to frame my experience of life and makes it more likely I will respond or see things a certain way in the present moment. The same old way. I interpret my experiences based on my past programming, which makes it seem as if things happen to me based on past actions.

We often hear the expression, “It is what it is.” And though it’s often used in resignation, there’s a ton of truth to be found in it. It can teach us acceptance and remind us to stay grounded in what’s happening in the moment. Our karma, however, makes us prone to more accurately and honestly say, “It is what it was.” But you and I can overcome our karma, and we can do it in this lifetime!

Our power of Wisdom can be thought of as quality control for the thought factory. As we establish more quality control through gaining awareness into the workings of the factory, we learn to focus more on the treasures. We learn to choose which thoughts on which to base our choices and responses. We learn to interpret our experiences based on what’s alive and true in our hearts, right now. And in the process, we become more abundance-prone and love-prone and joy-prone and peace-prone.

© 2013 Stew Bittman | All Rights Reserved

And if that’s all we remember, that’s more than enough for now…

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Changing the Past

It’s funny how my perspective on things can change so much, especially on things I was once absolutely convinced about. If only I can remember that when I become so convinced about an opinion or perspective that I make someone else wrong!

For instance, I used to ridicule the idea of changing the past. In fact, whenever I taught a workshop or class on forgiveness, I’d invariably say something like, “When we choose not to forgive someone, what we’re really doing is attempting to change our past.” The idea was, since the past couldn’t be changed, it was important to forgive so we could move on in the present. That’s a good idea, yet what I didn’t realize then was that not only is it possible to change the past, it is almost impossible to forgive until I do.

Before I talk about how, wouldn’t it be nice if it was possible and it really did make forgiveness easier? I realize that the wounds I carry from the past are probably the major impediment to my enjoyment of life right now. But somehow I continue to not only carry them, but also to replay them over and over in my mind. In a book I’m currently reading, A Spiritual Renegade’s Guide to the Good Life, by Lama Marut, the author equates this behavior with running with scissors. We know it’s not a good idea, it hurts, and yet not only do we refuse to drop the scissors, we stab ourselves with them again and again.

In no way am I intending to minimize or negate the horrible things that happened in your life and mine. When I work to change my past, I endeavor to start with the “small stuff.” I run with scissors of every conceivable size and sharpness, and it makes sense to start working with the smaller and duller ones. As I practice and my forgiveness muscles get stronger, I can work more and more with the nastier ones. But before I can do any of that, it’s important that I actually believe it is possible to change the past.

Certainly it is impossible to change the events, the circumstances or the hard data from the past. But it is equally certain that I can change my perspective on what happened, the meaning I assign to it, and my understanding of it. When I do these things, in a very real way I am indeed changing the past, because the past only exists in the form of how I think about it now. The past isn’t really “what happened”, but “what I think happened” in this moment. I tend to think of my memories as solid and etched in stone, but that’s just what I tend to think!

Hey, history books change the past all the time. Hollywood, too. When was the last time you saw or read about Native Americans being ignorant God-less savages, who only served to provide target practice for John Wayne? Did the events from that era change, or did our perspective and understanding change? History books even have a name for this—they call it “revisionist history.” What I’m suggesting is that we wrote our own history book, and have every right to revise it.

Have you ever been absolutely convinced of something, only to find out you were wrong? This happens to me quite often. I wonder how many times I was wrong and didn’t find out! A perspective is simply a perspective, and it doesn’t necessarily reflect reality. Can you and I look at the same thing and have a different perspective? Can I look at the same thing I looked at yesterday and have a different perspective? Of course. So, can I look at something in the past and have a perspective that’s different than the one I’ve always held? Of course. And when I do, the past is revised.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not the same person I was in the past. I’ve grown. I’ve evolved. I have more tools, more faith, more gratitude, more understanding, more awareness, a greater capacity for love and compassion. When I look at the past from my current viewpoint, it looks different. And that’s my major tool for changing the past and forgiving—looking at it from my current viewpoint. So I’m not talking about turning my back on the past, rather, I’m working on “turning the other cheek” to it, meaning I can look at it more and more as the spiritual being I am. I can look at it more and more from a place of wholeness, of love, of my innate divinity. When I do that, it changes.

Forgiving isn’t forgetting. It isn’t condoning or losing and it isn’t a sign of weakness. It has nothing to do with whether or not the person I’m working to forgive deserves it. I choose to change the past and forgive for ME, because as soon as I change the past I’ve improved my present. As soon as I stop running with any of the scissors I’ve carried around, I experience less pain. I am freer to unfold my deepest desires and intentions. I am freer to suffer less. I am freer to experience joy. It’s as simple as that.

I will continue this discussion in my next post, but in the meantime…if that’s all I remember, that’s more than enough for now.

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This is the preliminary text for a TED talk I’m doing next month…so I’d love your feedback…

There are really only 2 things I know for sure about clarity, and the first is that it’s elusive! It often seems as if I am swimming in a sea of confusion, misperception and miscommunication, and that’s just MY life. There appears to be a lot of that going around in the world as well. Sometimes I think I spend half my life dealing with the after effects of not being clear, especially with all the communication I do via email and text messages. Hey, it’s hard enough to be clear using complete words and sentences, let alone with acronyms and abbreviations! It’s gotten to the point where my wife and I always check each other’s emails for clarity before we send anything out, but no matter how clear we think we are, we are often are misunderstood anyway.

Once again, when I consider how much of this miscommunication and misunderstanding happens on a global level, it’s easy for me to see why we have a lot of the problems we have and therefore how important clarity really is.

The other thing I’m clear on about clarity is that it’s an inside job. In other words, the clearer I am within my own being, the more clarity I tend to experience around me. I can’t rationally expect to have clarity in my communication and relationships with others if I’m fragmented within myself. Gandhi said that his power to affect change flowed from the fact that his thoughts, feelings, words and actions were all the same. WOW! That’s clarity. And when I first heard that quote and thought about myself, I realized that oftentimes I think one thing, feel another, say a third and do a fourth! No wonder my wife has to check my emails!

For me, another way of saying what Gandhi proposed is that clarity emerges much more often when my head and my heart are working together. When my head is left to run the show alone, clarity is a rarity. I don’t know about your head, but mine loves to question and doubt and judge and stew over things ad nauseum. Clarity doesn’t seem to be a high priority for it; it’s much more interested in being right and making others wrong, or in doing things the same way it’s always done them in the past, whether or not that way has ever worked.

And this idea of head and heart working together isn’t just poetry or metaphor or New Age mumbo jumbo. It’s science. Organizations such as the HeartMath Institute have conclusively shown that the heart has a tremendously positive influence on the head, even more than the head has on the heart. They’ve shown that when the heart is engaged, especially when we’re in a state of love or gratitude or compassion or joy, it informs the head and the head instantly becomes much smarter, much more creative, much more aware of the big picture, and generally much clearer. Without the heart informing the head, we tend to react to life based on our emotions and our memories, not necessarily based on what’s important or on what’s going on in the moment, which seem to be 2 pretty important ingredients for clarity.

In the times when I need clarity the most, as in when I get triggered emotionally, my historical pattern is to go directly to the worst place imaginable to find it–my head. Once I’m there, it is virtually impossible to rise above my own emotional reactions and patterns based on the past. But when I remember to engage my heart, simply by placing my attention on it and by taking a deep breath into it, I am instantly rewarded. I become aware of my inner resources, I remember that it’s possible for everyone’s needs to be met, and I often even remember that it’s far more important to me to be clear and to foster a connection than it is to be right. All of this makes it much more likely that I will be able to take the clearest, most grounded, and most centered action that is based on my deepest values and intentions. Engaging my heart allows me to keep my attention on my intention to be clear.

The word “clarity” shares the same root of origin as the word “claim.” And that’s what I’m suggesting. In order to experience more clarity, I have to claim it for myself by engaging my heart. That may seem too simple but my question is how often do we do it? How often do we take a moment or 3 to fully appreciate our life or to fully appreciate those we love or those that love us? How often do stop to take a deep and conscious breath, instead of breathing just enough to survive? How often do we decide to commune with nature when we have a spare hour instead of answering emails or catching up with our friends on FaceBook?

Especially in this day and age of so much mental stimulation and overload, how often do we take the time to stop and engage our hearts in order to give our minds a rest and a glimpse of clarity? Clarity is something the world can most certainly use more of, and while we’re sitting around hoping and waiting for it, let’s remember another of Gandhi’s quotes…the one about being the change we wish to see in the world. We have to claim clarity for ourselves before we’ll ever see it in the world. I can’t think of a greater gift we can give to ourselves OR to the world.

So, if you get an email from me and it’s not clear, I give you permission to reply and remind me to breathe into my heart and try again. In the meantime, have a clear day!

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Love Wins

I’m pretty sure I can’t write it any better than I said it this past Sunday, so here’s a link to my talk from December 16th “Love Wins“.  Enjoy!

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Thankful for Leftovers

I apologize in advance for the unusual length of this post. I guess playing hooky from this blog has allowed a bunch of thoughts to ferment for a while…

Years ago I heard or read somewhere that the average American family eats Thanksgiving leftovers for 6 days. I haven’t been able to confirm that, but it’s a staggering thought, especially when you figure that quite a few people only have them for 2 or 3 days, meaning some families are annually pushing the limits of safe refrigerator hygiene. More to the point, regardless of how many turkey sandwiches I might endure, my intention this year has been for the thanksgiving in my heart to last at least as long as the leftovers.

Without a doubt, of all the spiritual and life-enhancing practices I’ve engaged in, cultivating a practice of thanksgiving has been the most valuable in terms of my day-to-day happiness level. Indeed, to this point anyway, according to the scientists who actually study happiness (I wonder if they’re happy studying it?) the only practice that has been objectively measured to increase prolonged happiness is doing a daily gratitude list. Wow, and such a simple thing, too. Gratitude opens my heart, brings me right smack dab into the present moment, has me focusing on what I want (rather than what I don’t want), and instantly raises my consciousness; all the things most of us are looking for in a daily spiritual practice. Your grandmother and mine knew what they were talking about when they told us to count our blessings!

But wait; there’s more! Eric Butterworth, a famous Unity Minister and author, wrote, “Thanksgiving is not just a reactionary emotion; it is a causative energy.” Gratitude isn’t just something I feel only when I get what I want; it’s a state of consciousness that allows me to create my experience of life based on my core values and intentions. It’s an attitude of mind I can develop that allows me to see the good in myself and in life. It’s a causative energy that has contributed greatly to the realization of many of my dreams.

When I first started developing a thanksgiving practice, I began with the “small” stuff—those everyday blessings and gifts that I was taking for granted. Immediately I discovered, to paraphrase A Course in Miracles, that there’s no order of magnitude among blessings when I notice and acknowledge them. It was hard at first to list what I was grateful for, but forcing myself to do it seemed to grease the whole mechanism to the point where I could soon take a 15-minute walk in the morning and rattle off things I was grateful for the whole time.

The next step was developing gratitude in the face of things it was harder to be grateful for. In the Bible, Paul writes, “Give thanks in all things.” No small feat. Thankfully, he doesn’t say, “Give thanks FOR all things.” For me Paul is suggesting something possible and extremely powerful, namely, when the schmootz hits the fan, I don’t necessarily have to be grateful FOR it, but IN the situation, I can still keep at least one toe firmly ensconced in gratitude. Again, this will allow me to stay grounded, present, hopeful and connected to my inner resources—those things that will help me through the schmootz and possibly even see a blessing in it.

This, finally—thanks for hanging in there—brings me back to leftovers. I’m working on being thankful for my leftovers, which in this case I’ll define as those issues I’ve worked on/with, ad nauseum, for eons. You know; the negative labels I’ve stitched deeply into the collar of my self-image? The ones that still, after all these years, show up and spoil the fun like red ants at a picnic? Do you have any of those? Can I really be thankful for those leftovers when they emerge from the fridge and show up in my awareness?

In many ways I believe that until I do develop gratitude for those leftovers, they continue to return like relatives I don’t like. Once again to quote the Bible, after Jacob wrestles all night with an angel who finally asks Jacob to let him go, Jacob responds, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” What a beautiful metaphor for those issues I’ve wrestled with for years. In the past I tried denying them, hating them, resisting them, feeling victimized by them, cajoling them, inquiring into them and generally focusing on them so hard and so long in an attempt to get rid of them that I was able to expound on them backwards and forwards in several different languages. When I started to simply be OK with them, to notice them and accept them, they started to let go of me a bit. They lost some power over me because I stopped giving them so much power. When I actually started blessing them, they let go of me even more.

There’ve been other gifts in giving thanks for my leftovers. I’ve noticed that I’ve been able to reframe some of my negative labels into things that serve me. For instance, instead of calling myself lazy, I now enjoy and understand the value of rest and recharging. Instead of thinking of myself as a “good little boy” or “people pleaser”, I’ve become a compassionate being who touches people with my kindness and love. And instead of stressing over my tendency to obsess over things that never happened and never will happen, I now have one-pointed focus and attention on my intention. Is that cool or what?

I’m turning my issues into allies. Just like Gandhi did with his alleged greediness, I can use my leftovers as compost for growing what I really want for myself and for the world. I’ll need them as allies in my journey. When Jesus was tempted by Satan he repeated several times, “Get thee behind me, Satan.” Perhaps Jesus was tempted by the leftovers in his own consciousness and not necessarily banishing them, but telling them to get behind him, to support him, to get on his team. He undoubtedly knew he’d need every aspect of his wholeness to do what he needed to do in this world, and I can do the same. I’m thankful for my leftovers, and I’m thankful the Thanksgiving leftovers are gone!

And if that’s all I remember, that’s more than enough for now.

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Is-ness as Usual

Strong coffee is my weakness, as my father used to say. Once in a while I get tired of my automatic coffeemaker’s version (never quite strong enough) and pull out the heavy artillery: the French press. Then after a few months I get tired of the cleaning and the grinding and the plunging and the fact that I have to leave the last sip in the cup because it’s always full of grounds and slink back to good ol’ Mr. Coffee.

The interesting thing about all this is that the first time I went through this cycle and went back to the automatic coffemaker, it took months before I realized I was still leaving the last sip sitting in the cup, even though it was blissfully free of grounds! Besides being a tragic waste of coffee, it made it very clear how good my mind is at automatic pilot. If I could go months missing out on strong coffee without choosing to, what else was I missing?

Indeed, “business as usual” seems to be my conscious mind’s mantra, as if any moment was usual. It seems to enjoy believing that nothing ever changes or even should change. So what if every moment is a brand new ballgame? Who cares if every moment is potentially life and/or world changing? To my mind, they’re all alike. You’ve seen one moment, you’ve seen them all. Same schmootz; different moment. You get the idea (hopefully).

Business as usual is so diametrically opposed to the truth I hold in my heart that it’s almost funny. My heart (as well as my spleen, my big toe, my uvula…every cell, tissue and organ in my being except for my brain) knows that in every moment, the real truth is “is-ness as usual.” No matter where I am or what is going on, regardless of the appearance of things or my perception of them, God IS, which for me means that love is, compassion is, harmony is, peace is, wholeness is, oneness is, joy is, abundance is. These things simply are. They have a life and a reality in and of themselves. Schmootz, on the other hand, requires my consent, my cooperation, my perceptions.

This is-ness is always present and active, and it’s all good. Because of this is-ness, every moment contains unlimited possibilities for good. Every moment is extraordinary and unique and each one represents an opportunity to tap into the is-ness and mold it and shape it in order to create our lives according to our highest values and desires. How exciting! Perhaps that’s why we are naturally enthusiastic, passionate, curious and creative beings who crave awe and wonder and beauty in our lives. Those things, sadly, tend to get lost in business as usual.

Is-ness as usual” is a beautiful reminder to stay centered in the present moment so I can be aware of the unlimited possibilities therein and to be aware that life-changing moments usually arrive unannounced. It’s a beautiful reminder that life isn’t a problem to be solved but an is-ness to be experienced and expressed. It’s a beautiful reminder that this is-ness can become my default location as it becomes more “usual” in my consciousness.

We often hear the phrase “it is what it is” and perhaps even use it to describe resignation (“oh well”). Now when I hear it I’ll say, “Yahoo!” Indeed, it is what it is, and in each moment, what it is is love! Allness! Spirit! AND I AM THAT!

Business as usual also refers to “the normal conduct of business especially in difficult events which pose a potential negative impact” (=schmootz!). When the schmootz hits the fan heavily, business as usual is about the best I can do, and that’s OK. At the same time, I can remember the is-ness that is still present, that healing is always possible because of that is-ness, that everyone involved in the situation, including me, has all the strength, love and wisdom of that is-ness within them. In doing so, I can remain open to creative ideas and opportunities as they arise, I can remain an inlet and outlet of all there is in God, and I become a source of peace and love within the schmootz.

Is-ness is usual because it is what I am. And the more I embrace it, affirm it, feed it, acknowledge and appreciate it, the more beautiful and rich my life becomes.

And if that’s all I remember, that’s more than enough for now.

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