"I take responsibility for the power of my mind today."
I read that statement during my wife's and my spiritual growth time this week. My first response was, "Uhuh. Tell me something new. This is pretty obvious."
Do you ever doubt yourself and your ability to live out your purpose successfully? Do you ever compare yourself to other people and come up short in your estimation? Do you ever wonder what difference you can possibly make in the world when there are so many others doing it better than you? Are you ever tempted to simply crawl back in your hole and let life pass you by because you’re not noticed by anyone anyway?
Whom among us has never felt these doubts and feelings? It’s a part of our tender humanity.
The older I get the more I realize how significant it is to learn how to say No to some things in order to say Yes to others. And especially to learn which are the more important things to push back against and push forward toward. Here are two strategies for doing this well.
Distinguishing between all the roles you fill in your life from the personal Calling that you feel compelled toward fulfilling in your life is one of the most strategic discoveries you can make. Here are some ways to make sure you’re making the right distinction.
You and I become the sum total of the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, our personal narratives. Here are four steps to developing the right, most empowering narrative.
I heard of a professor of theology at Harvard Divinity School ending every class with the question, "So what's the cash value?" His point was that theology, any discussion about God, any view of the nature of God and words and descriptions of God, theological ideas have real effects on the world, they must result in something practical and ethical for the good of the world. There must be "cash value" from both the ideas and the conversation. So what's the cash value of faith? How do you define faith and what difference does that faith make in living your life? In truth, how we define faith radically shapes both how we show up in the world and what kind of life experience we enjoy.
Is the Universe Friendly?
Albert Einstein once said, "The most important question you'll ever ask is, Is the universe friendly?" His point was that how a person views the universe impacts the way that person responds to the challenges of life and uses available resources for those challenges. Here's how he put it:
"For if we decide that the universe is an unfriendly place, then we will use our technology, our scientific discoveries and our natural resources to achieve safety and power by creating bigger walls to keep out the unfriendliness and bigger weapons to destroy all that which is unfriendly, and I believe that we are getting to a place where technology is powerful enough that we may either completely isolate or destroy ourselves as well in this process.
"If we decide that the universe is neither friendly nor unfriendly and that God is essentially 'playing dice with the universe', then we are simply victims to the random toss of the dice and our lives have no real purpose or meaning.
"But if we decide that the universe is a friendly place, then we will use our technology, our scientific discoveries and our natural resources to create tools and models for understanding that universe [and cooperating with it]."
His point is that how we see the universe is ultimately an issue of faith. Faith has cash value - it radically impacts the way we react and respond and behave toward ourselves, others, and our world. It takes the form of both attitude and behavior. It impacts how we use all the resources available to us - either in love-based or fear-based ways. Everything we think, feel, and do will follow our faith correspondingly.
God Is Love
Sounds a lot like the biblical perspective emphasized in 1 John 4: "God is love, and all who live in love life in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. Such love has no fear because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of judgment, and this shows that his love has not been perfected in us." (verses 16-18)
Love is the central value and force in the entire universe. Love is the very nature of God. No wonder Jesus made the same claim by saying that all of God's commandments are summarized into two: loving God with all your heart and loving your neighbor as yourself. All of God's totality manifested in words are summed up by love. Love is the operating force in the universe.
Fear is antithetical to love. Fear judges. Fear condemns. Fear criticizes. Fear chooses against the other. Fear coerces. Love and fear cannot operate at the same time. Human life is comprised of making the choice to think, feel, and act in love or in fear. Life works best, the way the Creator of the universe designed it, when it is lived in harmony and alignment and congruency with love. Faith is believing enough to stake your life on the centrality of love, even when it seems counter-intuitive in a situation you're encountering.
What Is Faith?
Marianne Williamson, a spiritual teacher and author, in her book Return To Love, describes the cash value this way: "To trust in the force that moves the universe is faith. Faith isn't blind, it's visionary. Faith is believing that the universe is on our side, and that the universe knows what it's doing. Faith is a psychological awareness of an unfolding force for good, constantly at work in all dimensions. Our attempts to direct this force only interferes with it. Our willingness to relax into it allows it to work on our behalf. Without faith, we're frantically trying to control what it is not our business to control, and fix what it is not in our power to fix. What we're trying to control is much better off without us, and what we're trying to fix can't be fixed by us anyway. Without faith, we're wasting time ... We learn to trust that the power that holds galaxies together can handle the circumstances of our relatively little lives." (p. 52, 56)
Two Ways Faith Impacts Life
So what's the cash value? Here are several implications I'm learning. One, relax. Have you noticed how much of life is lived with anxiety, uncertainty, chaos, conflict, power struggles? We invest an inordinate amount of personal energy in those negative energy fields. Think of the "fights" you have with your significant other, for example? How much energy is used up in those fights? Over what? Universe-altering issues? Global-impacting concerns? Do or die principles where life will literally come to an end if the situation doesn't resolve according to your idea? So this implication is hugely significant. Relax.
But what does faith have to do with my ability to relax? If I believe that God is working for my greatest good, and I'm willing to surrender the results to God in every situation, allowing only my self to learn what I need to learn as opposed to having to teach everyone else what I think they need to learn, I can relax. I can have a greater inner peace about stuff. Why? Because I'm not obsessing, anxiously trying to control and fix everyone and everything else around me according to what I think everyone needs. I'm not desperately trying to hang on to a specific outcome. I can relax in a trust that the Power holding the galaxies together, the Power behind even our own laws of gravity and photosynthesis and thermodynamics in our world, for example, can and is handling the convoluted and chaotic circumstances of my own inner and outer life. I can relax because I am choosing faith, love, and surrender.
Two, cooperate. My ability to relax is directly related to my willingness to cooperate with the universe's law of love. If I believe that the fundamental nature of the universe is love rather than fear (as both Einstein and 1 John 4:16-18 suggested), then when I make the deliberate decision to love rather than to fear in any specific situation I am intentionally placing myself in harmony with God's universe. I am choosing to come into alignment with God's fundamental nature and operation. And here's what happens:
"When we love, we are automatically placing ourselves within an attitudinal and behavioral context that leads to an unfoldment of events at the highest level of good for everyone involved. We don't always know what that unfoldment would look like, but we don't need to. God will do God's part if we do ours. Our only job in every situation is to merely let go of our resistance to love. What happens then is up to God. We've surrendered control. We're letting God lead. We have faith that God knows how." (Ibid., p. 57)
Here's how this works. Surrender, cooperation, means giving up attachment to results. I realize that most of my personal angst in both my relationships and my life experiences are often because of I grab a hold of a specific outcome (result) and refuse to let it go at any cost. So when it begins to appear that others aren't working for MY results, I get threatened and insecure. I often fight back to try to ensure I get my way. And painful conflict results instead.
But when I surrender to God (cooperate with God), I let go of my attachment to how I think things are suppose to happen on the outside and I become more concerned with what happens on the inside of me.
"The more important it is to us, the more important it is to surrender. That which is surrendered is taken care of best. To place something in the hands of God is to give it over, mentally, to the protection and care of the beneficence of the universe. To keep it ourselves means to constantly grab and clutch and manipulate. We keep opening the oven to see if the bread is baking, which only ensures that it never gets a chance to." (Ibid., p. 58)
What's the Cash Value?
So imagine being able to live life with a more relaxed attitude toward everyone and everything. Imagine seeing all of life, including yours, in the hands of a benevolent, loving God who loves and provides equally for us and everyone else. Imagine experiencing a profound peace from being able to surrender everything in your life to Love and no longer having to control or manipulate or coerce or connive life to conform to your expectations. Imagine the transformation possible from only having to look at your self and aligning your self with God and letting God take are of the rest. Imagine a world where others are doing the same thing, where Love is the reigning, guiding force in all relationships and life experiences. Wouldn't that be Heaven? Not bad for cash value.
[If you like these posts, feel free to share them with others - click on the share button to the right. If you would like to receive each new blog post as an automatic email, please subscribe at the right.] I read an article last week by Stacy Corrigan, a personal and corporate financial health coach, referring to a highly significant spiritual and scientific law of life. Quantum physics has proven that the core building block for all material things, as we know them, is energy. In the scientific world energy is equivalent to light. And then she gave this illustration: "When two beams of light join together they become much more intense than two individual beams. We know this to be true when we look at a satellite image of the earth at night from space. The cities that have many beams of light close together show up more readily on the image than the cities where the same number of light beams are spread far apart. The energy becomes greater the more there is in close proximity to like energy."
Remember, she says, all material things drill down to being just energy. So everything you contribute to life - your specific acts of kindness, caring and compassion; your money; material things like food for those in need; etc. - is also energy. Which means that the more you send out, the more powerful the energy becomes, and the greater opportunity it has to team up with similar energy so that it can grow and flow, contributing to what she calls the "boomerang effect" - what you send out comes back to you multiplied.
This quantum physics concept has a fascinating parallel with some deep spiritual realities. Notice a few sacred scriptures:
“Whatever a person sows, that is what he will reap.” (Galatians 6:7) In other words, the energy that a person puts out through whatever kind of actions, behaviors, or projected thoughts will return in kind. Computereze says, "garbage in, garbage out." We become what we give out because it returns to us and ultimately transforms us into what we're projecting. Kind of the negative version of the boomerang effect.
Here's the way another text articulates this reality: “A farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop.” (2 Corinthians 9:6) Fascinating that even in the agricultural arena the principle is true - and in this saying, the emphasis is on quantity of output determining the quantity of input. Generosity produces generosity. Scarcity produces scarcity.
The context of this last text is intriguing. The author (Paul) is talking to Christian believers in one part of the Middle East, appealing to them to give money to the believers in another part of the region that has gone through a devastating famine. He's trying to raise both consciousness and funding to help with this specific emergency need on behalf of hurting, suffering people.
So he is basically articulating the boomerang effect to motivate their giving by suggesting that their generous giving will come back to them in equally generous ways. Here's how he describes this:
"You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure … God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. As the Scriptures say, 'They share freely and give generously to the poor. Their good deeds will be remembered forever.' For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you. As a result of your generous service to them, they will pray for you with deep affection because of the overflowing grace God has given to you." 2 Corinthians 9:7-13.
Notice the powerful energy that circles around – it goes out (as believers in one region give generously to the needy in another region), combines with other energy (the divine energy of generosity that comes to each person making their giving possible in the first place), and then returns in greater form (as the helped believers return kindness through their prayers and support of those who gave) – and it keeps spiraling around, back and forth, around and around, increasing in energy and impact. The boomerang effect.
I'm convicted about how easy it is to live life with a perspective of scarcity - I don't have enough myself to live very well, so how can I be expected to give generously to others! But as this spiritual principle (and scientific reality) states, my attitude of scarcity only produces more scarcity. And here's where it is all so counter-intuitive - but the more I give, the more I receive. Generosity produces generosity. When energy is combined with more energy (like the city lights seen from orbiting satellites shows), the combination creates even more energy. So when we choose to work with others who also give and share generously, our combined energy creates even more impact. And what returns to us in the form of positive energy is even more powerful and transforming.
This is why giving to and sharing with others is such a profound spiritual experience. Here's how one author puts it: “Those who gladly share with others feel themselves bathed by a constant inner stream of happiness. Sharing is the doorway through which the soul escapes the prison of self-preoccupation. It is one of the clearest paths to God.” (Swami Kriyananda)
What a powerful boomerang effect - as I let go of my preoccupation with self and protecting my ego and hoarding my possessions to have control over my life, and give generously to others, I am actually drawn closer to God - my soul connects with God's soul - and I am liberated in transforming ways. In fact, I become truer to my truest Self - I'm acting out who I really am - a loving and compassionate child of God. And this choice to live in alignment with my true Self results in a life of greater confidence, security, and increased generosity. Generosity produces generosity by connecting me to the heart of God which is pure love and selfless giving to others.
The boomerang effect - it works both ways. So which boomerang do you want circling back to you? Which harvest do you want to reap?
[If you like these posts, feel free to share them with others - click on the share button to the right. If you would like to receive each new blog post as an automatic email, please subscribe at the right.] So what does it take for you to live in the moment - to be truly present in a place of peace?
Karen Armstrong is a former nun and now one of the world's foremost authorities on comparative religions with her latest book A Case For God topping the best-seller list. She is also the recent creator of the "Charter for Compassion," whose signatories (like Prince Hassan of Jordan and the Dalai Lama) fight extremism, hatred, and exploitation throughout the world. She was recently asked by Oprah's O Magazine what it takes to live in the moment, to seize the day. She replied:
"Sometimes you wake up at 3 A.M. when everything seems dark, and you think, 'Life isn't fair. I've got too much to do. I'm too put-upon.' It's a rat run of self-pity! But when you feel compassion, you dethrone yourself from the center of the world. Doing that has made me a more peaceful person."
It's amazing how much stress we put ourselves under when we sit on the throne of our lives, trying to be in control of everything. Rather than producing peace, this worldview contributes to anxiety and distress instead. It's kind of like trying to spin multiple plates on sticks. The first few plates we seem to handle pretty well. But as the plates get added, we're running around trying to keep them all from falling and breaking into pieces. It isn't long before the task is simply too much for us, no matter how gifted or full of energy we might be. So much for ruling our kingdoms with ease.
I like Karen Armstrong's perspective - what helps to dethrone us from the center of the world is compassion - having an outward focus of empathy and caring toward others. Counter-intuitively, including more people in our lives that we give love to actually decreases our dis-stress and anxiety and centers us more in a peaceful frame of heart, mind, and spirit. It's almost like we were designed to live with compassion.
And actually, we were! Neuroscience research in fact reveals that compassion, helping others, triggers activity in the portions of the brain that turn on when people receive rewards or experience pleasure. Every compassionate act causes a pleasurable physiological response. In addition, behaviors associated with compassionate love—warm smiles, friendly hand gestures, affirmative forward leans—actually produce more oxytocin in the body which is the hormone that promotes feelings of warmth and connection to others and enhances feelings of trust.
And the compassionate act doesn't have to fancy or extreme or complicated at all. Dr. Lorne Ladner, a clinical psychologist in private practice in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., wrote: “I just recently read one research study that found that people who pray for others tend to live longer than those who do not. The point is that when we develop feelings of love or compassion, we may not always be able to actually benefit others in a direct way, but we ourselves do always benefit from such feelings. They serve as causes for our own happiness.” When's the last time you chose to actually pray a blessing for someone else? How difficult is that?
So Karen Armstrong seems to be on to something when she talks about her personal experience of how compassion actually helps her live more peacefully. The act of dethroning self with our obsessive need to control life by giving authentic love and compassion to others is a eustress rather than a distress - the positive, energy-producing kind of stress rather than the debilitating kind. And the long term affects of this are truly transformative.
Compassionate acts as simple as loving, sympathetic touch are powerful, too. According to experts in a study about emotion and touch, sympathetic touches are processed by receptors under the surface of the skin, and set in motion a cascade of beneficial physiological responses:
"Female participants waiting anxiously for an electric shock showed activation in threat-related regions of the brain, a response quickly turned off when their hands were held by loved ones nearby. Friendly touch stimulates activation in the vagus nerve, a bundle of nerves in the chest that calms fight-or-flight cardiovascular response and triggers the release of oxytocin, which enables feelings of trust. Research by Darlene Francis and Michael Meaney reveals that sympathetic environments — those filled with warm touch — create individuals better suited to survival and reproduction, as Darwin long ago surmised. Rat pups who receive high levels of tactile contact from their mothers — in the form of licking, grooming, and close bodily contact — later as mature rats show reduced levels of stress hormones in response to being restrained, explore novel environments with greater gusto, show fewer stress-related neurons in the brain, and have more robust immune systems."
The practice of compassion has the potential of radically transforming the life of the giver as well as the lives of the receivers. No wonder Jesus, in concluding his public discourse about the values of God's kingdom, connected the giving of compassion, living a life of unconditional love and care for all others (including even our enemies) with a life characterized by freedom from worry, anxiety, and distress (Matthew 5-6). Compassion, one of the most godly things we can do in life, puts us in place of inner peace and tranquility, a state of trust and unselfishness in the very heart of the Divine Life.
So what empowers you to be able to live in the moment, to seize the day, even in the midst of stress? Have you tried compassion lately? As the spiritual and scientific experts reminds us, it just might help transform your heart, mind, spirit, and body.