November has become the unofficial month of Gratitude, no doubt because of Thanksgiving. Thirty-day Gratitude marathons are running their course on all the various social media outlets this very minute. There can never be enough gratitude so this is a good thing.
But what happens on day 31?
More often than not, the euphoria of reaching the finish line is replaced by the ironic reward of not taking another step. The practice of finding and sharing a daily highlight sputters back into the routine of complaining and kvetching. Within two weeks the gratitude karma is crushed beneath the weight of the daily grind...until perhaps the following November.
Of course, it doesn't have to be like that.
When gratitude becomes a daily practice, as in 365 days a year, we truly begin to witness and experience its transformative powers. When we are in constant state of gratitude we....
- See more of what we have. We seem to have an unconscious prediliction for absentia so we tend to devote much of our attention to what's missing. True story: As a senior prank, a few of the high school graduating class members released three goats in the building. They numbered the goats "1", "2", and "4". County sheriffs spent the entire day fruitlessly searching for a goat "3". When we make ourselves itemize the things in our life for which we are grateful, we have no choice but to notice what's there. And when we notice what's there we can...
- Experience more of what we want. If we're in the midst of a 30-day gratitude marathon, we're probably making an effort never to repeat an item. This makes sense since the idea is to see as much as possible in a limited period of time. We're also probably realizing that there are some things (or people) for which we feel more gratitude than others. That's perfectly normal, and without the constraints of time, we can give thanks for them every day for the rest of our lives. Giving thanks is like watering a seed. In water's presence the seed germinates, the seedling sprouting upwards to eventually become a plant. Like an energetic magnet, repeated gratitude draws more of what we're giving thanks for to our lives. And when experience more of what we want in life we...
- Create a more fulfilled life. Whether or not we're conscious of it, fulfullment is what we're truly after in life. When we are fulfilled we experience a life of abundance, greatness, and plentitude; a life where we live our heart’s desires in ways that serve all humanity; a life where our needs are met effortlessly without fear or resistance.
A fulfilled life is true prosperity. It begins, and is sustained, with gratitude. Create a gratitude journal. Share, or don't share; that's not the important part. But it is important that we do it every day, all day.
To live in gratitude, is to live in fulfillment.
Press play to hear about The Expansive Power of Gratitude
By all appearances, it would seem that self-awareness is not our default way of being. The ability to stand back, objectively observe ourselves, then make a different choice, is what separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. It is what arguably makes us the pinnacle of creation. You think we'd do it more often, but a simple glance at the headlines tells us that we don't (check out San Diego's mayor
if you need proof).
Sadly, humanity has always demonstrated a lack of self-awareness. Take the Bible story of David and Bathsheba. We hear a lot about the fearless young hero David slaying the larger-than-life warrior Goliath. But Bathsheba? Not one of David's finest moments. He saw a woman he wanted, and what the king wants, the king gets. David orchestrated the death of Bathsheba's husband, a soldier in his army, then takes her as his wife. Oh yeah...this was all after he slept with her and she became pregnant. David didn't lose any sleep over any of this until the prophet Nathan pointed out the error of his ways through some gifted storytelling
We'd all probably make fewer mistakes in life if we each had a Nathan. Or a Jiminy Cricket. Well, we do. It's called Self-Awareness
, and its disciplined (i.e. continual and committed) practice leads to Self-Mastery
. We put a lot of time and energy to mastering the world around us. Unfortunately, unless we focus more on mastering ourselves, it will be for naught. Without self-mastery we make decisions based on narcissistic whims and instant gratification without taking others into consideration. Through self-mastery we allow our Higher Self to be in control, resulting in choices that are more compassionate, loving, in integrity with our highest values, and of service to the world around us.So how do we get on the path of self-awareness and eventual self-mastery? Here are some questions* to ask yourself:
These are just the first few steps. Read SQ21: The Twenty-One Skills of Spiritual Intelligence by Cindy Wigglesworth for more on how to live a spiritually intelligent life. Remember, to transform the world, we must first transform ourselves.
- Is my Ego or my Higher Self taking the lead right now? A simple way to check is to ask if the thoughts being held, or the words being said, or the actions being taken are good for ME or good for ALL. Note: I'm part of the ALL, no one else is part of ME.
- Am I committed to my Spiritual Growth? And by committed, I mean beyond making a declaration or setting an intention or just going to church on Sunday. Am I actually doing something every day, whether it's meditating, praying, reflecting, journaling, reading a spiritual book, listening to a spiritual guru? Commitment is more practice than proclamation.
- Am I living my Purpose? When we are living our soul's purpose, our thoughts and actions tend to automatically align themselves with that purpose. Our soul's purpose is always good for all.
Rev Ogun-------------------------Also blogging at behindtherant.tumblr.com*Adapted from SQ21: The Twenty-One Skills of Spiritual Intelligence
As I'm making my way through The Wisdom Of Compassion
for Spiritual Book Club
, I find myself moved by the questions posed to the Dalai Lama's as much as, if not more than, his responses. Consider the following asked by a fifteen year old girl: "I wanted to know why we get the angriest at those we are in love with." What a deeply insightful and truthful observation by someone so young.
The Dalai Lama's reply? He told her that we tend to expect too much from the people who are close to us. We develop unrealistc expectations and project nonexistent qualities onto them." It's so true. I have very few, if any, expectations of the people I barely know. But my wife and daughter? Even after years of working to see them for who they are not what I want them to be, I still have a list of expectations. Many of them are unconscious. Some of them I wouldn't even expect of myself.
I'm realizing that my relationships continue to be stressed by the expectations I have placed on others. Naturally, when they don't meet these expectations I'm disappointed. The same goes for me. When I don't meet the unrealistic expectations I've placed on myself, I'm not only disappointed, but I feel unworthy.
So my continuing mission is to dissolve all expectations; those I place on myself, on others, and the world at large. By removing the expectations I eliminate disappointment. When I know I won't be disappointed I can open my heart fully. When I open my heart fully I can love, be loved, and show true compassion.
As always, I start in meditation...
July 4th is upon us. This year we celebrate the 237th anniversary of this country's Declaration of Independence from the tyranny of English rule. I take the time to read the text
of the Declaration every year. It's not that I'm especially patriotic; I was born and raised in Barbados
, a country that gained its independence much later (1966) and much less violently. I read it because it is an inspiring reminder to continually affirm my personal and spiritual freedom from a potential tyrant: My own Story.
I once loved my story so much I never hesitated to tell anyone who would listen, even myself. I wove a touching sympathetic tale of heartbreak, suppression, repression, blame, anger, abandonment, and unforgiveness. My story wasn't all bad. At one point I added a few pages about how great I was; how much better I was than others; how much more spiritual I was; how much more I had it all figured out. For years my story held me back from diving into the fullness of my Spirit with humility and vulnerability, not to mention authentically connection with others.
As I endeavored to rewrite my story, I found the Declaration of Independence helpful. consider the following:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.
As expressions of Divinity itself we are endowed with the right to experience joy, peace, happiness, love, compassion, and connection, just to list a few. What often gets in the way is the story we tell ourselves about ourselves and the rest of the world. Isn't it time to be free of that distortion and institute a new self-governance?
Here's how we get there:
- Make A Declaration. Set the intention to be free from the limiting beliefs in your story. By setting the intention you begin to dissolve the power it has over your life experience.
- Know Your Story. The authors of the Declaration listed 27 grievances against the King of England. What are the elements of your story that are asking to be healed? What labels need to be transcended? Procrastination? Narcissism? Unworthiness?
- Earn Your Freedom. Barbados did not earn its independence from Great Britain through war. It was a mutual and harmonious decision between two nations, however long overdue. For many years I did not know that although the USA declared its independence on July 4th, 1776 it still had to fight for it. How will you fight for independence from your old story? How will you rewrite the script that governs you? What will you do every day to live as Joy or Peace or Compassion?
- Celebrate Your Freedom. What we focus on multiplies. Every choice we make for our Independence is worthy of celebration. At the end of the day, or week, or month, look back and find the moments you lived from Spirit and celebrate them.
The Declaration of Independence ends with the following statement:
And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.
When it comes to our own story, we can affirm that through the Divinity of who we are we can together support each other in our freedom. What will you pledge or affirm for yourself and others? Perhaps the following affirmation may prove useful:
As I discover and bring my Divine potential into being, I create an existence of my choosing. I choose an existence of love, compassion, and connection. I choose Heaven.
No, it's not Fire Safety Week. It's the realization that sometimes we want...no need this spiritual path to be simple. Life is complicated enough as it is, then the unthinkable happens and we don't know what to do with ourselves.
Tornadoes, bombings, another month without a job, the final week of life. Our spiritual teachings suddenly seem to be out of context since the context is nothing we might have experienced before. Our emotions are raw and we are exhausted. In moments like these the simplest messages are all we can handle.
And it doesn't get any more simple than STOP, DROP, and ROLL.
STOP...and Breathe. Our reptilian brain is hard-wired for a flight or fight response. It was early human's survival mechanism. Freeze was not an option. To freeze meant certain death by claw or tooth or spear. Times have changed. Our brains have evolved; our options have expanded. Freeze is a viable, even preferred response. It gives our higher brain functions time to override the impulse to act without thinking. It gives us space and permission to remember that we have access to another source beyond out intellect. When we take the time to breathe, we give ourselves the opportunity to...
DROP...into our Heart. And by "Heart" I mean however we understand our spiritual self; the part of us beyond intellect; our deeper wisdom; our God within; our Consciousness. Not that our intellect isn't important. We learn much from experience and history and research and trial and error. But it's not the totality of who we are. We are also Spirit. We transcend time and space through our limitless connection with the Universe. We often feel and intuit before the rational mind kicks in. It goes against our evolution but we have to be stop and listen to the still small voice...our heart...through prayer, meditation, whatever leads us deep into the Silence. Then comes the "fun" part: we get to...
ROLL...with Spirit. And by "Roll" I really mean surrender; letting go the need to make it anything other than it is; realizing the perfection of the moment; embracing the change, the unknown, the unpredictable, knowing we will open more of ourselves to the fullness and glory of our own Divinity in the process. Surrendering will guide us to a place beyond fear; beyond pain; beyond the need to protect ourselves; beyond expectations; beyond judgment. What and where we're guided to might defy logic. Good. It might even be uncomfortable. Even better. This is how we grow.
STOP, DROP & ROLL. This is simple spirituality.
Note: No ducks were harmed (or kicked) in the making of this post. No writers were harmed either in case you were wondering. I sincerely hope you were wondering.I'm a runner with good intentions and not-so-good executions. I run three or four times a week, as long as it's not raining...or cold...or early...or dark...or there's too much pollen in the air. So with the perfect conditions presenting themselves one morning this week, I went for a run in the park adjacent to my neighborhood. About five minutes into the run I noticed two ducks on the path ahead of me. I pressed ahead, assuming they would take off as I got closer. These ducks, however, were braver than I gave them credit for. I must have been within kicking distance and about to veer off the path when they lifted off with a flapping so loud I could hear it over the hip-hop pumping through my sound isolation headphones. I felt the rush of air from their wings as they flew away, only to land about 20 yards ahead on the path ahead. How odd, I thought, considering how much open space (both land and water) there was on either side of the path. And those ducks were just as brave the second time round. Again they barely escaped my sneakers. And yet again they landed 20 yards ahead of me. Rinse and repeat. The fourth time they finally headed to the lake and our curious interaction was over.
Being the metaphysician that I am, I naturally looked for a deeper meaning to the encounter. I soon realized it was the perfect metaphor for any spiritual process. Like forgiveness. Just the day before I was in a board meeting where we discussed a certain organization that had caused me great angst in the past. I had done lots of internal forgiveness work around this organization and thought I was at peace with it. Apparently not. Feelings of anger and resentment started to bubble up during the meeting. Then I started to feel frustrated with myself for being angry. With a sigh of resignation I thought, "Back to the drawing board."
But the ducks taught me otherwise. In any transformation process there are periods of smooth sailing, and there are moments of extreme discomfort as we move from one level of understanding or healing or enlightenment to another. Some call this the Dark Night of the Soul...and I don't run in the dark! For some it might seem like we're right back where we started, like we've been spinning our wheels or kicking the can down the road with nothing to show for it. The truth is that we have been making progress. And like running, the key is to keep moving. Stay on the path. Keep forgiving meditating, praying. When you approach the ducks know that you don't have to kick them out of the way, also know you will probably see them again. One day, however (and thank God), you'll realize that the ducks aren't landing on the path, and the anger and resentment has been replaced by peace and love and forgiveness.This is Spiritual Practice. This is the journey to wholeness. This is
Rev Ogun.----------------Also blogging at BehindTheRant.tumblr.com
Sometimes we search far and wide for the spiritual guru to follow. The one who we consider that much more spiritual and filled with wisdom to impart to us. Sometimes that guru is already an international celebrity, or a 'new discovery' in some far off land, or a author of profound works that has passed on. Sometimes, however, if we open our hearts and take the time to notice, we can find our guru as close as our own circle of friends.
Take my friend Sam (not her real name). She's been battling ovarian cancer for quite sometime. She experienced victories and setbacks over the years. Throughout it all she always took the time to send her friends an update. Her latest one was so filled with wisdom, inspiration, and hope that I asked to share parts of it. She has decided to stop chemotherapy treatments because she felt that "the few additional months of life it might offer might simply add to and prolong misery rather than afford quality living." What a model of acceptance and surrender and claiming her power!
Here are some other gems from Sam:
After going through this process of release, forgiveness, and emotional cleansing, it occurred to me that Dying Consciously is really no different than Living Consciously! Think about this: From the moment we take our first breath we are progressing toward that moment when we will take our last. None of us knows when that moment will be! Does it not behoove us, then, to live our lives as consciously as possible? To spend each day joyfully, with integrity, appreciating each and every breath, each and every heartbeat? Forgiving self and others without being asked to forgive?
One of the things I have learned throughout my life, and through this illness in particular, is that our attitude about what takes place in our lives informs the quality of our experiences, and whether we suffer, or how much we suffer.
Though my body is in distress, I am not suffering. During these last several years – and the last 10 months in particular – I have done some very deep spiritual work. So many things that previously caused suffering in my life have dropped away, leaving me more clear and whole and open and honest than I have ever been before.
Certainly, if given a choice, I would prefer that my body return to a state of complete health and wholeness, and that I would be able to live out a normal life span. But, and I say this with all sincerity, if that meant that I would lose the spiritual center that I have gained through this process, I would prefer things to be just as they are right here and right now.
It is so easy to look upon death as the great enemy, especially in our death-denying western culture. If we shift the lens of our perspective ever so slightly, we are able to glimpse that death is an opening into a continued life into the spiritual realm from whence we came, and where we truly live, move, and have our being.
When I read Sam's letters I'm reminded about the stories of Jesus appearing to his disciples after the Resurrection. They had returned to their pre-ministry jobs (like fishermen) and it took a few post-mortem visits from their leader to remind them about their mission and ministry. Sam's insights are a Christ consciousness reminder about what's important in life...and death. Towards the end of her life she is living fully. In the last year she has traveled across the country, met her teenage grand-daughter for the first time, and now she's even found love!
As far as I'm concerned Sam ranks right up there with the great gurus of all time. We who know her have been blessed beyond measure.
"Every new beginning comes from comes from some other beginnings end." - Seneca the Younger
Many of us might know this as one of the more memorable one-hit-wonder lyrics from Semisonic in the late 90's. Its originator, however, was Seneca the Younger, a 1st century Roman philosopher and advisor to Emperor Nero. Seneca also said, "A happy life is one which is in accordance with its own nature."
These two quotes compliment each other well since we often have to undergo change in order to get to place where our life reflects our authentic nature.
In our last post
we wrote about standing at the precipice of change, and that Holy Week was a metaphor for the subsequent journey that unfolds. Now it's Easter, the day earmarked in the Christian calendar for celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus. Since I (nor anyone who wrote the Gospels) wasn't an eyewitness to the event, I can't say whether or not it really happened. I suppose I could choose to believe it did but given the Pagan origins of the Resurrection Myth, I'm going to lean towards not (read more about that here
But because something didn't happen doesn't mean it's not true. Given my own life experience and the inspiring Easter story, here's what I've learned about making big changes towards new beginnings:
- It always seems like a good idea at first. It was. And it continues to be in the midst of turmoil. The trick is to remember that.
- It will probably get worse before it gets better. The events in Jesus' life during Holy Week are a testament to that. Between the betrayal, the trial, the torture, and the crucifixion, there was no good news in sight.
- The reward will be immeasurable. There is nothing greater than living a life where the outside resonates with the inside; where our relationships, jobs, hobbies, everything, is in harmony with our authentic self. This is true fulfillment.
- It's unavoidable. There will always be a divine nudge towards fulfillment. You can choose to ignore it but it will grow into angst, discontentment, resentment, and misery. It might seem easier not to change, but that is a hollow and near-sighted reaction.
- Only you can do it. You may not be alone through out the process but only you can make the inevitable choices. You may have the support of close friends and family, or you may not. What you do have, however, are divine inner resources including Power, Strength, Love, Understanding, Will, Zeal, and Renunciation (the ability to release the old)
- Trust and have Patience. This might be the hardest part. But as the really old saying goes (and to bring the post full circle), Rome wasn't built in a day. The city that literally started as a town on a hill would eventually rule Europe and beyond (Northern Africa, Middle East, Western Asia). If your authentic self is leading you, you will succeed. It will take time, and ask you to dig deeper, but you will succeed.
Tomorrow starts the most important week in Christendom: Holy Week. From his celebratory entrance into Jerusalem, to the simple Passover meal forever re-branded as The Last Supper, to his gruesome execution, to his reported Resurrection, this was the culmination of Jesus' three year ministry that would change the world's religious landscape for millennia to come. Yes, we can argue indefinitely about the historicity of the Jesus story, but for the next few minutes I'd like to invite you to suspend both doubt and belief and allow me an indulgence.
I want to draw our attention to today. The day before it all began. The day before the day of no return. On this day centuries ago, I imagine him standing alone on a hill gazing pensively in the direction of Jerusalem, perhaps biting his nails in worried anticipation (I always thought of Jesus as a nail-biter; don't know why). Jesus must have know the rules. He must have known that from the moment he would tell his disciples to go get the colt, an irreversible chain of events would be set in motion. He had to have known he would further stoke the ire of the religious authorities, but even worse, the impatience of the Roman occupiers who pretty much left their vassals be as long as they paid their taxes and didn't stir up trouble.
I'm pretty sure Jesus knew he was going to stir up trouble. He didn't know this because of some uniquely divine foresight. He knew it because he had been doing it throughout his ministry. He was at the height of his popularity and increasingly drawing attention to himself. He probably had a feeling something was up. He might have been thinking that this wasn't going to end well. He might have been considering calling the whole thing off. Maybe today was a prelude to his night of anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane. Or he might have been the eternal optimist and thought it would be okay after all. Maybe he ended his silent hilltop reprieve with a shrug, a half-confident smile, and a let's-roll-the-dice swagger. We'll never know. Opinions regarding the truth and meaning behind the events to follow notwithstanding, we know the next line in his story: he made a decision to go forward. And so it goes with us. We often find ourselves at the crossroads of life altering choices. Yogi Berra counselled us to take the fork when we get to it; not
particular helpful advice, especially when our fork might more resemble an Afro pick. How do we handle it? Do we go boldly (or timidly) forward in the direction of our dreams, or do we run in the other direction? Do we make the hard or the easy choice? Do we sacrifice ourselves or throw another under the bus? Do we risk ridicule and scorn, or do we keep up appearances? Do we stand paralyzed with indecision, or do we roll the dice with a shrug?As someone who does not take a literal view of the Bible, but rather an allegorical and metaphysical one, I'm often asked to explain Holy Week. My response? It's a metaphor for following our heart, knowing full well it may lead us to something much bigger and vastly more important than ourselves. There will be some high points along the way, some times when we will be abandoned and have to stand alone in our conviction, periods of despair, perhaps even what looks like failure by everyone else's standards, or even our own. Yet if we are brave, relying on a faith and strength beyond what we can imagine for ourselves, our actions just might change the world around us, and our story lives on, inspiring others around us.Each and every day someone somewhere is standing on a hill looking towards their Jerusalem. Each and every day someone somewhere is at the crossroads of a choice that will affect them, their family, their friends, their neighborhood, their city, their country, the world. Each and every day someone somewhere is abandoned and crucified. Each and every day they live on as their message and their life redeem and inspire others. Each and every day someone somewhere is having their Holy Week. To them I say, "Peace, be unto you."
We're about 1/3 way through Lent and I've yet to mention it. As far as I can tell I didn't blog about it last year either. I devoted a whole chapter to it in Rants to Revelations
, so there's that, but looking back over the last few weeks I really didn't notice Lent for the very reason Lent was perhaps designed: spiritual mindfulness and devotion.
Let me back up. For those uninitiated to the Christian liturgical calendar, Lent is generally the period of time between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday, about 40 days. Traditionally it is a time set aside for believers to prepare themselves for the most important event in all Christendom, the commemoration of Jesus' death and resurrection. Preparation occurs through prayer, fasting, giving of alms, repentance, and self-denial.
For many of us, our relationship to Christianity has, shall we say, expanded
beyond the traditional beliefs. This, however, does not take away from the power of the intention behind the practices associated with he beliefs. Jesus reportedly began his ministry with 40 days of isolation in the desert to meet his inner demons face-to-face. There is great value in taking time to focus inwardly for an extended period of time; to be mindful of how we may or may not allow our spirituality to manifest in our actions; to devote ourselves to an intense spiritual practice and reap its transformative benefits; to resist our normal cravings or impulses and gain deeper personal insights or begin to heal the pain we've been covering up with distractions.
Lent happened to begin this year on February 13. My Anniversary. Not really the best time to embark on a deep self-reflective journey. Then I (and the wife) flew across the country to attend Wisdom 2.0
, a conference designed to raise awareness about living with greater presence, meaning, and mindfulness in the technology age. I'm still coming down off the high of that experience (and will blog about it soon at my new stream-of-consciousness blog Behind The Rant), but the message was clear: Be Mindful. It's the only way we won't fly off the rails in a world where technology and all it's perks and distractions are evolving at break neck speed.
We can learn from technology though. Sometimes we need a Reset
, which is what Lent can be... a time to step away from the routine business (or boredom) of daily life, and dive into ourselves. Shut down and Reboot. Admittedly, I won't do it for 40 days. I don't think the exact number of days is as important as the act itself and the intention behind it. But I will be taking a silent retreat in a couple weeks when I visit Wimberley, Texas. Yes, another Spirit in the Wilderness facing his inner demons. Or being inspired. Or both.
My hope is that you find some time, any time, to Reset. It might be an hour, it might be a month. Give yourself this gift of renewal, or in more traditional parlance, prepare for the Resurrection of a new you!
Namaste - Ogun[Image from www.adamlegg.com]