Springtime is about embracing new life, renewal, transformation, new growth. It's the perfect opportunity to reflect on what's happening inside us and what wants to emerge in powerful new ways.
I was struck on New Years Eve Day with the rather immediate sense that some clearing away needed to happen as I approached the new year. My wife Shasta and I were sitting in our office doing some work. As I leaned back in my chair to catch my proverbial breath in the midst of my concentrating work, I looked around at my book cases filled with hundreds of books that surround me every day. I glanced at some of the titles this time with a bit more awareness and realized that many of them no longer represented who am I these days. And at the same time, I noticed the high stack of books on my desk that I'm currently reading which have no space in the completely filled bookcases. Almost instantaneously, we both decided that we needed to do a book cleansing. One hour later, we had nine bags of books ready to be donated and all the spaces had been dusted and cleaned and rearranged. The whole office had this clean, visually appealing look and feel. We commented that we both even felt lighter inside (once the shock from the magnitude of what we'd done began to wear off).
Believe it or not, we had just engaged in one of the most significant spiritual practices for healthy spiritual growth that is particularly apropos around the new year.
I realized that all of the energy in those old books was a competing energy with my inner spirit, mind, and heart these days. Not that there's anything wrong with having competing energies. It's healthy to expose ourselves to things that stretch us or force us to reevaluate our beliefs and ideas and thoughts. But if the old energy is taking up all the space so that there's no room for energy that is more in alignment with who we are now, we're inhibiting our growth within the new.
Here's the way Danielle LaPorte (author, speaker, coach) put it in her recent newsletter blog post:
"I think it's a universal law that you have to clear space for newness to enter; let something die for something to be born; cleanse to heal; let go to receive; just like we clear our lungs to take in new air."
I like the way she puts it, especially the example of breathing. Imagine what would happen if we never exhaled; we only inhaled. I've tried it to see. I didn't get very far. My lungs felt like they were going to explode from the pressure of all that air inside. Turns out, lungs have a set capacity. So you have to clear your lungs to take in new air. And you can't live without new air.
All of the wisdom traditions share the belief that there's something extremely powerful and transformational when we let go and clear space. The new has a hard time entering our lives until we do this work of clearing.
Notice similar metaphors Jesus used. He taught that you have to die to self for the new person to emerge; the seed must be placed in the ground and then die in order for the plant to appear; you must be born of water and the spirit to enter the kingdom of God (cleansing, immersion, being buried, before resurrection and new life). Powerful spiritual metaphors about clearing space for the new.
This is the foundational ritual and practice I'll be facilitating in the first retreat weekend (of three total) on January 25-26. The journey of "Igniting the Fire of Your Spiritual Life" retreats will necessarily begin with exploring what space needs to be opened up in your life. What do you need to let go of in order to receive? What space do you need to clear in order for the new to be invited in? What needs to be exhaled before inhaled? How do you need to reframe your beliefs in ways that more deeply serve you and others through you? Spiritual growth and development must begin with this process.
I want to invite you to participate in this retreat cycle this year. There are 5 more spaces open. Here's the link for all the information, logistics, and registration: "Igniting the Fire of Your Spiritual Life." I guarantee you this will be a transformational journey for you in this new year.
On New Years Day, Shasta and I spent a couple of hours journaling our reflections to 20 questions looking back at 2012. Some were more challenging than others; like, "What was the single most difficult event/experience in 2012? What are you still hanging on to from that experience?"
As I journaled, I began to sense a movement inside of me. It felt like an expanding; like space opening up. I realized that I was letting go some of the pain from that experience. I was exhaling the limiting beliefs I had formed around it. I was breathing easier.
Do you need to clear more space in your life in order to let in the new you're longing for? What kind of exhaling do you need to do?
The artist Picasso said,
"Every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction."
In other words, unless you're the God of the Hebrew creation poem who created out of nothing, for you to create you must first replace, take away, deconstruct, destroy, let go, exhale, and then build, innovate, renovate, design, construct, and create. It's about deciding what you can add to and what you need to take away and replace with. It takes boldness, willingness, surrender, focus, and earnest persistence. But it's always worth it!
Are you ready?
The Frog and the Princess Do you remember the fairy tale about the frog and the princess? A beautiful princess loses her favorite play thing, a dazzling golden globe, in a pond. A frog ends up finding it and bringing it back to her. Delighted and grateful, she promises the frog that it can come to her palace (never thinking it will take her up on the offer). The frog shows up later, much to her dismay and disgust. But feeling convicted of her need to be true to her word, she lets him enter, feeds him every day, and puts him to sleep every night in her bed. And then one morning, feeling sorry for it, she plants a gentle kiss on its head. Suddenly, the frog turns into a handsome prince ... and in true fairy tale fashion, they live happily ever after.
This simple story reveals the deep psychological connection between our attitudes toward people and their capacity for transformation. As one author says, "Only what you have not given is lacking in any situation." A counter-intuitive concept, isn't it.
As it turns out in the tale, the frog had once been a prince but had come under the evil spell of a wicked witch. She had turned him into a frog to live in a pond forever or at least until someone kissed him again. Sounds like the story of the Beauty and the Beast. An act you would least think of doing or even want to do is the act that brings transformation.
Our Typical Approach: the Blame Game
The author's statement is unusual to how we typically think. We often look at others (the people in our lives closest to us, especially) and think that the way they're choosing to behave is creating the lack in our relationship. "If she or he would just act this way or that way, we'd have a great relationship." Our focus is on wishing for something different from them. So we'll cajole, criticize, guilt, shame, or "encourage" a change in their behavior. It's the typical blame game.
But the quotation above states a counter-intuitive reality: what is lacking in any situation is what WE are not giving to it. That's not to say that the other person doesn't have responsibility for their behavior and actions in how they are contributing to either pain or joy, peace or conflict. They do have responsibility. But you and I cannot force their responsibility. And our delusion is in thinking we can "help" them change their ways. And as we often discover, unfortunately that only exacerbates the issues, certainly our own personal frustration and pain.
3 Principles for Healthy Relationships
Years ago I read Cecil Osborne's book "The Art of Understanding Your Mate" in which he points out that there are 3 primary principles in developing healthy, fulfilling relationships: 1. I cannot change other people; 2. I can only change myself; 3. But other people tend to change in response to my change.
Sounds like the fairy tale. As much as the princess shrank in disgust from housing the ugly frog, it was only when she softened her heart toward it and then ended up kissing it, that the frog was transformed back into what it had originally been created--a handsome prince. There was no amount of arguing, cajoling, guilting, shaming, forcing, criticizing she could do to change that frog. She had to change her attitude first.
So you and I have to ask ourselves the questions, "What is lacking in this relationship? What am I not giving that I can give to it from a place of authentic heart and soul?"
Loving First Is the Highest Way
Marianne Williamson, in her book "The Return to Love," states this reality: "What this signifies is the miraculous power of love to create a context in which people naturally blossom into their highest potential. Neither nagging, trying to get people to change, criticizing, or fixing can do that. The Course says we think we're going to understand people in order to figure out whether or not they're worthy of our love, but that actually, until we love them, we can never understand them. What is not loved is not understood."
In the fairy tale, the princess doesn't suddenly know the trick for transformation. She isn't aware a handsome prince is hiding inside the skin of an ugly, warty frog. She doesn't therefore simply grit her teeth and force herself to endure the gross act of kissing the ugly thing. She comes to a place where her heart softens to a frog not a prince. And she ends up kissing the frog in an act of gentle acceptance. When her heart was in a place of "pure love" her act brought transformation.
Now let's be honest: I don't think the princess ever really enjoyed having the cold, damp, warty frog sleeping in her bed or eating at the table right beside her in the royal dining room. We don't have to like the difficult characteristics of the people in our lives. And in some cases, their dysfunctions might be so dangerous for us we have to separate from them for safety's sake. We can't hold ourselves responsible for their irresponsible attitudes and behaviors. Sometimes, no amount of personal change can change the other.
But the principle is true: what is not loved is not understood; and accurately understanding the other is the foundation for compassion, empathy, and respect which all combine to reinforce a space of love which is the only environment in which genuine transformation can take place. Without that love and understanding, we hold ourselves separate from people and wait for them to earn our love or we resort to trying to force their change through whatever devious or not so subtle ways we can think up.
Accessing the Divine Miracle
So Marianne continues: "But people deserve our love because of what God created them to be. As long as we're waiting for them to be anything better, we will constantly be disappointed. But when we choose to join with them, through approval and unconditional love, the miracle kicks in for both parties. This is the primary key, the ultimate miracle, in relationships." (p-129-130)
Our attitude toward people powerfully impacts their capacity for transformation. The rub is that they have the ultimate choice (the whole freedom thing) for what they want to do with it. And painfully, sometimes they choose not to respond in kind to our love. But if transformation is going to happen, it will happen through our choice to love first.
But Frogs Are Disgusting!
The whole thought of kissing a frog is pretty disgusting. I grew up in the rice paddies of Japan spearing frogs for entertainment, not kissing them (I'm ashamed to admit ... I'm still not sure where that behavior came from ... the tendency toward violence of little boys is scary). We were told that if you even handled frogs you would get their worts. The whole point is that we were instilled with the attitude that you simply stay away from or certainly don't get close to, much less handle frogs.
No wonder this fairy tale points to such a counter-intuitive experience that we don't have much proclivity toward. We carry this "hold at arm's distance" philosophy into our human relationships. Relating to The Other (those who are different from us, who don't act or believe like us) is extremely difficult. So we tend to insist on the other "changing" first - we want them to change to become more like us in order for us to accept them and love them and embrace them.
We see this paradigm manifested in attitudes toward people of other religions and belief systems, sexual orientations, political parties, racial profiles, and yes, even in our closest relationships in marriage, romance, and friendships. No wonder our world is in such a mess!
Following the Divine Way
I'm reminded of the divine example for how this works. The disciple always considered closest to Jesus writes about it this way:
"10This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a way to show His divine love in the midst of our waywardness. 11 Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. 12 No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us." 1 John 4
The divine way is "kissing the frog" when it's still a frog. Notice the radical, countercultural dimension of this approach: it's when we love each other in this way that the fullest expression of God is experienced in both the giver and the receiver. It is the only way that the full expression of divine love is grown in us which results in transformation. God knows that. So God acts first. And the frog turns back into the prince. That's the divine miracle we receive and we pass on.
I know I can be such a frog at times! I'm painfully aware of many of my warts--I am awakening to more and more. Thank God my wife keeps kissing me! My princehood is awakening. The miracle continues ... and it empowers a desire for me to do the same with others. Imagine a whole world where love keeps awakening everyone to their true royalty! Now that's a world I want to live in.
The Commercial Have you seen the 30 second TV commercial with actress Betty White and Snickers candy bars? It was introduced during the 2010 Super Bowl. It's an interesting portrayal of personal identity. Watch it:
The Snickers Identity Paradigm
The ad's a great example of how so often we see others by what they're doing on the outside. Their identity is their performance. If you're not playing football very well we see you as a Betty White (although I would have had second thoughts about playing ball against a younger Betty White--she's got the spirit!). "Come on, man, don't be such a wuss! Get it together and start playing like a man!" If you're really good (which is to say, proficient, skillful, aggressive), then we see you as your "real" self. Our culture bases everything about identity on externals. Get that real job! Drive that real car! Make a real salary! Date that real woman or man! Buy a real house! Wear that power suit! Carry that real purse or wear those real shoes! Show your stuff (whatever "stuff" is) and stop wimping around!
And if you're just not "manifesting" it rightly, then eat a Snickers bar and turn yourself back into a real man or woman! Notice the interesting solution to being your "true self": a candy bar (or whatever external things the advertisers are offering).
You and I are tempted every day to buy into this perspective on identity and reality. If we can just manifest the right outside and external world, we can be satisfied that all is right with the world, we are who we're suppose to be. So our identity is held captive to what we can or cannot manifest on the outside.
But here are a couple of big dangers with this paradigm. One, if you base your identity on what you can manifest in your life (the externals like people, things, circumstances), then you never have a solid foundation for your self esteem. Your identity is dependent upon what happens on the outside. And so your self esteem fluctuates based upon circumstances created by either you or others. Your self esteem and personal identity are victimized by the fluctuations of whatever's happening to you or by you. Definitely not a very secure way to live.
And two, it becomes easy to put yourself down or to put others down who aren't manifesting everything you think you or they should. You can guilt people by saying, "If you just would get your thoughts right, you should be able to do it. So if you're not doing it, there's something wrong with you!"
It's so subtle how our attitudes impact our sense of self and our expectations of others.
An Alternative Paradigm: Secure Identity and Inner Peace
There's an alternative way to live that produces far more confidence, assurance, and solid peace. Notice this statement from scripture:
"Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace." (2 Corinthians 4:16)
Now considering the context of this statement, the significance of it increases dramatically. The author is writing to people who have developed the insidious belief that your external world validates who you are. The worldview was that if you were experiencing a life of success, ease, and prosperity that was a sign that you were being blessed by the divine universe. And being blessed by God was always manifested by a life of prosperity. They claimed that the condition of your external world indicated your personal identity and your status with the gods.
But author Paul is trying to counter that popular paradigm by describing his own life. When he talks about looking like things are falling apart, he's painting a pretty graphic picture of his life experience:
"You know for yourselves that we're not much to look at. We've been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we're not demoralized; we're not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we've been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn't left our side; we've been thrown down, but we haven't broken. What they did to Jesus, they do to us—trial and torture, mockery and murder; what Jesus did among them, he does in us—he lives! Our lives are at constant risk for Jesus' sake, which makes Jesus' life all the more evident in us. While we're going through the worst, you're getting in on the best!" (2 Corinthians 4:8-12)
Notice his juxtaposition of external circumstances and internal attitude and identity. Even though his external life would appear to be a complete failure, falling apart at the seams, his sense of identity and security with himself and with God are completely secure. There's an internal sense of peace and certainty that pervades his mind and heart. He is describing himself as possessing true life in its deepest and most meaningful sense, a life that God is continually creating and recreating in him. And the more centered he finds himself in this internal life, the more grounded he finds himself in how he faces his external world.
And he ends that paragraph with a sentence describing another truism (did you notice it?): our internal attitude does impact our external environment with others. As Paul centered himself on inner peace that he allows God to create within him in the midst of external chaos, he blesses others with that environment of peace, too, giving them opportunity to experience inner peace for themselves. It may not still the storms swirling all around, but it does provide inner calm and centeredness which is contagious.
Our True Miracle
That's the true miracle we all are needing. Being able to live life with the continual unfolding of divine grace within us, where God is making a new life every day--not based upon what people think about us or even what we're tempted to think about ourselves based upon what we have or don't have, do or don't do, but based upon what God gives us inside--an nonfluctuating identity as a child of God embued with eternal value because of that stamp of love on our souls. The ability to live in love rather than fear is the greatest miracle of all. That should be our highest manifestation in life. And it certainly has the power to impact others with a spirit of peace and love, too.
By today's standards based upon the Law of Attraction, Paul would be considered a real failure. And yet Paul is completely confident in who he is, what God is doing in his life, and his courageous living of his purpose.
Marianne Williamson, author and spiritual teacher, puts it this way: "We're not asking for something outside us to change, but for something inside us to change. We're looking for a softer orientation to life...Everything we do is infused with the energy with which we do it. If we're frantic, life will be frantic. If we're peaceful, life will be peaceful. And so our goal in any situation becomes inner peace. Our internal state determines our experience of our lives; our experiences do not determine our internal state." (Marianne Williamson, A Return To Love, p. 66)
So build your identity, your sense of self and esteem and worth, on a foundation that remains secure, that outside circumstances and people cannot destroy. So whether you have much in life that you truly want or have very little, you still are rich--you are grounded on the eternal truth of your being as a child of the God of the universe and nothing can take that away.
What are the internal changes and transformations you're experiencing in your life these days? Are you clear of your identity and what it's based upon? Do you possess a centered and grounded sense of who you are and where your value comes from? Do you have that "softer orientation to life" that comes from living with love instead of fear? Do you have a peace and security regardless of what's happening in your external world?
Next time I find myself face down on the muddy football field, and others think I'm playing ball like Betty White, I think I need to stick something more substantial into my soul than a Snickers bar.
My wife and I recently watched the Academy Award-winning "The King's Speech." It was research for the March series we're doing in our spiritual community Second Wind ("Looking at Life Through the Oscar Stories" in which we're using four of the Oscar-winning movies to talk about life, spirituality, and transformation). The King's Speech was one of the most inspiring movies I've seen in a long time. I laughed, cried, cringed, hoped, committed - all in one movie. I was pleased that it won four Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Screenplay. Well deserved! If you haven't seen it yet, by all means do. The implications from the story are profound. "The King's Speech" tells the story of a man compelled to speak to the world when he doesn’t feel like he’s ever found his voice his entire life – when he feels he doesn’t have anything worthwhile to say and whenever he does say something the words choke in his throat and emerge at times with a stammer. To face a radio microphone and know the British Empire is listening must be terrifying. At the time of the speech mentioned in this title, a quarter of the Earth's population is in the Empire, and of course much of North America, Europe, Africa and Asia would be listening — and with particular attention, Germany with its charismatic and powerful speech maker Adolf Hitler.
The king is George VI (Colin Firth). The year is 1939. Britain is finally entering into war with Germany. His subjects long for reassurance and hope. They require firmness, clarity and resolve, not stammers punctuated with tortured silences. This is a man who never wanted to be king. After the death of his father, the throne was to pass to his older brother Edward (Guy Pierce). But Edward ends up renouncing the throne in order to marry the woman he loves. The weight and duty of the royal throne suddenly fall on the lagging shoulders of Prince Albert, Bertie as his family calls him, who has struggled with his self-esteem and speech from an early age.
With England on the brink of war and in desperate need of a leader, the King’s wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), the future Queen Mother, arranges for her husband to see an eccentric speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). After a rough start, the two delve into an unorthodox course of treatment and eventually form an unbreakable bond. With the support of Logue, his family, his government and Winston Churchill (Timothy Spall), the King has to face himself, his insecurities, his lack of confidence, his painful speech impediments, and claim his true voice in order to deliver a radio-address that will need to inspire the people of his empire and unite them in battle.
This is the true story of one man’s quest to find his voice and of those closest to him who help him find it.
As the red light in the King's broadcast room begins blinking to signal the momentous moment for the royal global broadcast, Lional notices how nervous the King is and says to him, "Forget everything else and just say it to me."
Over the next three posts, I'd like to unpack that statement in terms of the process of both finding your individual unique voice and expressing that voice with courage and effectiveness.
I came across a news story from Las Vegas, Nevada several weeks ago that was quite stunning and sobering. As husband Bill James told authorities this last month, he woke up from a nap back in April and couldn't find his wife anywhere. He assumed that she had wandered away. She had recently had a mini-stroke that left her disoriented, and he worried that she had suffered another. So authorities launched a massive hunt for the woman, using sniffer dogs and even helicopters equipped with infrared to search the desert. Husband Bill even set up a Facebook page to promote the search and offered a $10,000 reward. According to the report, four months later, on August 28 the search came to a terrifying macabre ending when the husband spotted her feet sticking out from the pile of junk that filled the room in their house from floor to ceiling. She had been buried beneath a mountain of garbage and clutter in her own home. The collected clothes, trash and knicknacks in this woman's house was so extensive that the police sniffer dogs had searched the home without finding her corpse.
"For our dogs to go through that house and not find something should be indicative of the tremendous environmental challenges they faced," police spokesman Bill Cassell said.
Apparently, according to family friends, Billie Jean was a compulsive hoarder, with a passion for shopping for trinkets and clothes. One friend said that Billie Jean referred to the room where she was found as "her rabbit hole." Sari Connolly, a friend of' Billie Jean's, said she had become so obsessive in her hoarding that she kept people out of her home, even refusing to let them use the bathroom. The police spokeman told the Associated Press that the house had only small amounts of clear space so that people could get around, and that the home was filled with strong odors from animals, garbage and food. So who would think that her body would be decomposing right in her own home, a victim of her cluttered life.
Apparently, this isn't the first time this kind of terrifying story has taken place. This last May, an aging Chicago couple was trapped for two weeks after being buried in their belongings. When they were rescued, they were found to have rat bites on their bodies. In 1947, police found a body inside a Manhattan row house. Brothers Homer and Langley Collyer had filled the house with possessions, including a Model T chassis, 14 pianos and more than 25,000 books. Both brothers were found dead among the clutter.
Imagine dying underneath your own clutter - losing your life in every possible way, even before physical extinction.
I'm reminded how important it is to regularly evaluate our lives and de-clutter when necessary. Have you ever considered what kind of "clutter" you might have in your life, "junk" you might be hanging on to that is in reality extinguishing your life little by little?
Perhaps it's emotional clutter. Resentment. Guilt. Shame. Insecurity. Anxiety. Lack of confidence. Sense of failure. Anger. Addiction to conflict. The more I go through my own personal journey, and the more I work with people, the more I realize how easy it is for us to hang on to this clutter - to simply let ourselves live with these feelings or self-defeating thoughts and beliefs - to refuse to do the hard work of processing these emotions and resolving them in effective ways.
An assistant professor of psychology at the University of Nevada, who commented on Billie Jean's tragic story, observed that people often hoard because they find it impossible to make decisions, organize themselves or focus on immediate tasks. In other words, they have the inability or lack of internal strength to address the current chaos in their lives. And ironically, all the things they end up accumulating provide a twisted kind of comfort while they're being gradually smothered to death by them.
By hanging on to our emotional clutter, we become "slaves" to our automatic reflexes, those brain functions involving conditioned feelings and thoughts (most of which, according to experts, revolve around fear, our instinctual response to perceived danger, our ego's sense of threat). And we all know that often our instinctual fear reactions are not based on reality - they're only ego survival tactics. Often when we choose to face our emotional fear, we end up discovering that there wasn't any basis to that fear or that we had the necessary strength to push through that fear-producing experience into the light of emotional freedom.
But many of us live our lives on auto-pilot, allowing these emotional clutterings to control us and corral us in self-defeating ways. And unless we de-clutter, we end up losing life bit by bit, suffocating under the load of our junk. And unfortunately, the gradual decomposition of our own lives emits a painful stench to those around us, too.
Decluttering Our Emotional Clutter
So what does it look like to declutter? What are proactive ways to declutter? Here are a few ways experts emphasize.
1. Identify your clutter. What are the negative emotions or thoughts or limiting beliefs that you are hanging on to? Are they serving you well? That is, are they helping you live a life of freedom, moving you forward toward the kind of person you want to be? Are your relationships filled with joy and hope and warmth as much as possible? Be honest with yourself. Is there a more healthy and effective way for you to live?
2. Harness your attention. According to brain experts, our natural, instinctual, first response to life tends to be fear. This is because our brains were designed to instantly activate under threat for our survival - the fight or flight response central to the amygdala, the small front part of the brain. But no longer having to live with the threat of extinction by dinosaurs or bears or lions, that instinctual brain response gets redirected toward less obvious threats - like threats to our ego survival, our sense of esteem and self-confidence - fear of being rejected or ridiculed or failure.
The problem is that we tend to allow our brains (by choosing to simply "float along") to keep stimulating our fear response when we don't need to, causing our whole physiological system to live in a high state of stress. And this constant distress damages both our minds and our bodies. No wonder it's simply easy hoarding stuff - keep everything external to distract us from our internal chaos.
Here's the way Dr. Pillay, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and brain expert, in his latest book Life Unlocked, describes the powerful way out:
"Fixing your attention stops the frontal cortex from randomly provoking the amygdala. The frontal cortex is like an electrode that can buzz the amygdala, but if we occupy it with other thoughts [positive, hopeful, honest thoughts], it will not randomly shoot current toward the amygdala. If your attention is scattered and chaotic, though, the frontal electrode will randomly activate the amygdala and cause fear. Harnessing attention allows the amygdala to react to other high-impact positive and negative emotions, and in the absence of fear, even negative emotions can feel less unpleasant. Similarly, fear can make even positive emotions feel overwrought or too activated, and we often come to regret these states of forced happiness. Thus attentional depth is critical to overcoming fear. One way to develop this depth is by using the power of intention." (p. 66)
What are you giving your attention to? Dr. Pillay is showing us that unless we intentionally direct our attention to dealing with our destructive emotions and limiting beliefs, and unless we work to resolve and let go of those feelings and thoughts, and then apply our attention to the positive outcomes and hoped for states of empowering feelings and being, we will continue to be overcome with fear. We will destroy ourselves from that fear. And we will then do whatever it takes to distract us from that debilitating fear - by hoarding or medicating or dying.
3. Choose to become a minimalist. Once you harness your attention on what needs to change and on what you want to change to, you can summon the courage to let the "clutter" go. And here's the power of it: decluttering inspires more decluttering.
Blogger Joshua Becker described the dynamics of his physical cluttering and decluttering this way:
"Clutter attracts clutter. It just takes one piece of junk mail, one article of clothing left on a chair, or one receipt not filed properly to get the clutter momentum started. What I have found over the last three weeks is that the opposite is also true. When a surface is left clean, that one piece of clutter seems out of place and calls you to put it away. Since I minimalized my office and removed all the clutter, I can’t stand the idea of leaving one piece of paper sitting on my desk – and so I put it away. Since I minimalized my wardrobe, I can’t stand the idea of leaving one shirt laying on the floor – and so I throw it down to the laundry. Since we minimalized the living room, I can’t stand the idea of leaving my shoes in the corner or a book on the table - and so I put them where they go right away."
The power of attention placed on both confronting and changing (decluttering) is exponential and transformative. Our higher brain centers are called into action and stimulated, the amygdala fear center is deactivated, and the nerve pathways toward powerful action are electrified. Positive motor skills kick in. And we begin to live the life of freedom, forward momentum, and transformation we want.
Ambrose Redmoon once wrote: "Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear."
Billie Jean, hoarding stuff in her house, never learned that truth. And finally succumbed to her clutter. A tragic lesson to the rest of us to declutter and learn how to really live life.
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"Death is not the biggest fear we have; our biggest fear is taking the risk to be alive - the risk to be alive and express what we really are." Don Miguel Ruiz I spent some time this morning at the Federal Building for Immigration downtown San Francisco supporting one of my gay friends, a dear colleague in ministry and one of our leaders of Second Wind. He appeared in front of an immigration judge this morning to tell his story in order to apply for legal asylum here in the States. His request is based upon the real dangers of being gay in the religious subculture he lived and worked all of his adult life within in his home country. When he emerged from the court room with his lawyer and we debriefed the experience, I asked him what it felt like to retell his story in great detail. "It was cathartic in many ways but also very painful - remembering all the awful things I encountered when I came out as gay: the ostracization from my church community, the loss of my pastoral occupation and reputation, my marriage, the pain for everyone including my kids who had to put up with ridicule from their friends and others, living with the fear of rejection every day, often experiencing it in painful ways. But I feel good about how clearly and openly I told my story to the judge." His son was there to speak to the judge on behalf of his father, too. "I want for us both to be able to live here in this country and build our lives here," he told me.
Now my friend (along with his long time committed partner) waits for two weeks to hear the immigration judge's verdict. And we wait with them as their friends and spiritual community who love them and are committed to the journey of life together.
And I'm reminded of the great courage and bravery he's manifesting to take the risk to be genuinely alive, the risk to express who he really is in spite of the consequences he's both faced and continues having to put up with even in this country. I admire him for his honesty and his integrity to live with transparency and congruity.
It's not easy choosing to be alive and really live life in alignment and integration. It takes risks. We have to encounter our fears. We have to be willing to fail from time to time but then to pick ourselves up and keep moving forward. It's not easy.
Have you ever asked yourself what your biggest fears are to living the life you feel deep inside you're called to live? What does the cage look like that might tend to keep you from being really alive?
Maybe that's why in my work with people I encounter so many who are simply trying to survive, to make it to death safely, not pushing the edges of their lives, simply maintaining the status quo. It's easier that way - it appears less risky. But notice I say "appears" because in actuality, it's more risky. When you live your life out of alignment, not being who you really, trying to live someone else's life instead of your own, when you're not living your calling and purpose, settling instead for status quo, your inner spirit and physical body pick up on this lack of congruity and create what we call dis-ease - a restlessness inside, a lack of ease. Experts remind us that this condition is a condition of stress. And when you live with this state of stress for a long time it becomes chronic. And chronic stress has been shown to be terribly debilitating to the body, leading to a susceptibility to disease and illness on multiple levels, including depression. Our human systems are designed to experience maximum status when there's complete alignment between our emotions, our feelings, our thoughts, and our behaviors - when we're living within the integrity of our true selves, when we're using how we're wired with boldness and confidence and purpose.
As I listened to my friend's lawyer giving a thumbnail sketch of the process this morning and where it goes from here, I felt deep admiration for her as a professional who is so committed to helping people enjoy the opportunity to live life deeply and freely in this country. I was reminded of the profound statement of mission and purpose Jesus stated when he began his ministry. He quoted from Isaiah 61, applying the mission of God to himself: "God's Spirit has anointed me and chosen me to bring freedom and liberation to the captives, to proclaim this as the year of God's redemption and favor for all."
In my opinion, this powerful and professional lawyer who is helping our friend and all her other clients has stepped into the legacy of the great prophets of old and Jesus himself who came to give all people the joy of freedom and liberation to be alive, really alive.
Filming the event this morning was another of my friends here in the City. He and his wife (both leaders in our Second Wind spiritual community) are producing a documentary about gays who are trying to reconcile their sexual identity with their religious and spiritual orientation. These two courageous people are sacrificing everything they have to travel the country (carrying their 20 month old daughter along) filming stories to highlight this tremendous need. They, too, have stepped into the legacy of Jesus' mission of announcing the freedom and liberation to be alive, really alive, for all people. I admire their persistent passion and boldness.
It takes courage to take the risk to be alive no matter what your orientation - "the risk to be alive and express what we really are." This isn't about sexuality. It's about being human on every level. We all face it. And it's risky business. We have to take intentional steps forward every day, choosing to live deeply and purposefully instead of letting the days go by without any thought or awareness or momentum. It's about choosing to live our God-given life, not someone else's.
But in the end, for those who are willing to take that risk for themselves and on behalf of others, the reward of living in alignment, of living with purpose and mission, of choosing courage and boldness instead of fear and intimidation will far outweigh the risks. There's certainly stress in taking risks. But this kind of stress - eustress - always trumps distress! It's actually good for you.
I love the way George Bernard Shaw describes this kind of life. This is the way I want to live. This kind of life is the highest level of spirituality and it produces the most profound kind of transformation possible (Jesus' life showed this to be true). Here it is:
"This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a might one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.
"I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.
"I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me; it is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations."
So here's to taking the risk of being alive and expressing what we really are, for our sakes and for others and for Life itself!
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I live in San Francisco which is a city primarily accessible from the north and east by bridges (the Golden Gate and the Bay Bridge). You can reach the City from the south by land. Only boats reach us from the west emerging from the Pacific Ocean into our Bay. Bridges are quite fascinating spiritual metaphors. Take our Golden Gate bridge, for instance. It's the ninth longest suspension span in the world (1.7 miles). And believe me, my body has felt the pain of every inch of that span, having run in the SF marathon which crosses the bridge and back along the total route (about 8-9 miles in), with the bridge curving uphill from both ends to the center of the span! It was brutal, especially with heavy fog and light mist in our typical July weather!
The bridge clearance is 220 feet from the high water. It weighs 887,000 tons total. And the two cables that span the bridge's suspension are each composed of 27,572 strands of wire. There are 80,000 miles (129,000 km) of wire in the two main cables, and it took over six months to spin them.
Construction on the bridge began on January 5, 1933, and the first cars drove across on May 28, 1937. The toll was 50 cents one way, $1 round trip and 5 cents surcharge if there were more than 3 passengers. Those were definitely the good 'ole days because the toll now is $6 per vehicle (charged only for southbound traffic). Gotta love inflation! The bridge traffic now averages about 41 million vehicles a year.
One of the most interesting Golden Gate Bridge facts is that only eleven workers died during construction, a new safety record for the time. In the 1930s, bridge builders expected 1 fatality per $1 million in construction costs, and builders expected 35 people to die while building the Golden Gate Bridge. One of the bridge's safety innovations was a net suspended under the floor. This net saved the lives of 19 men during construction, and they are often called the members of the "Half Way to Hell Club."
So why go to all the expensive, difficult, dangerous work to build this bridge? Before the bridge was built, the only practical short route between San Francisco and what is now Marin County to the north was by boat across a section of San Francisco Bay. Ferry service began as early as 1820, with regularly scheduled service beginning in the 1840s for purposes of transporting water to San Francisco. San Francisco was the largest American city still served primarily by ferry boats. Because it didn't have a permanent link with communities around the bay, the city's growth rate was below the national average.
But in spite of the need, the obstacles from opposition were strong. Many experts said that a bridge couldn’t be built across the 6,700 ft (2,042 m) strait. It had strong, swirling tides and currents, with water 500 ft (150 m) in depth at the center of the channel, and frequent strong winds. Experts said that ferocious winds and blinding fogs would prevent construction and operation. It was too costly on every level!
The Department of War was concerned that the bridge would interfere with ship traffic; the navy feared that a ship collision or sabotage to the bridge could block the entrance to one of its main harbors. Unions demanded guarantees that local workers would be favored for construction jobs. Southern Pacific Railroad, one of the most powerful business interests in California, opposed the bridge as competition to its ferry fleet and filed a lawsuit against the project, leading to a mass boycott of the ferry service.
But thankfully, strong vision, lots of courage, and collaboration between many dedicated experts, along with the investment of massive human and financial resources, produced a bridge that today is unarguably one of the most iconic structures in the world.
So what are some of the spiritual applications to this particular bridge metaphor? Notice several. First, the Golden Gate bridge looks like it's simply straight across and level from one side to the other - until you get on it and start traveling across, especially on foot at which time you realize it's actually uphill both directions. A lot like the spiritual journey. There's no such thing as a straight, flat distance. Spirituality is about life and life has ups and downs even though you can't see them at first. So don't get discouraged. Keep running or walking, keep moving forward - you'll eventually get to the downhill side. To get where you want to go, you need to cross the bridge.
Second, to build a strong bridge like the Golden Gate, every task is done with great care and persistence. Look at the two main cables - 80,000 miles of wire, taking over six months to spin. Imagine that - 6 months to do one spinning-the-wires task. But without that attention to that specific project, the finished bridge wouldn't be still standing strong today.
Spirituality involves engaging in sometimes menial tasks - routine - repetitive - over and over and over again. It's easy to take short cuts for the sake of brevity or expediting the process. But healthy and deep spirituality is like a good wine - it takes time, careful and loving attention. And some times you simply have to "sit with" it - let is simmer, percolate, age. Spirituality takes patience and persistence. Spinning the wires again and again. Sometimes it doesn't feel very productive. Our hearts aren't in it. But we still do it. It's a sacred routine that ultimately builds a strong spirituality - a holy bridge from here to there.
That's why the enduring religious traditions of the world have developed what they call spiritual practices - behaviors, activities, that you engage in over and over again - like spinning those wire cables around and around and around, each spin producing a stronger wire. We pray, we meditate, we read, we serve others, we attend services, we practice healthy behaviors, we work on healthy thought patterns - over and over and over again - with each new practice, we're building a stronger, deeper receptivity to the Spirit, and transformation increases.
Look at how long it took to build the Golden Gate bridge - January 1933 to May 1937 - four years. But because the builders took this strategic time and attention to the process 73 years ago, over 40 million vehicles today make it to their destinations safely every year.
Stay tuned to my next post - we'll look at two more ways I see the Golden Gate Bridge as a spiritual metaphor. I'm reminded of these every time I walk or drive where I can see the bridge. It truly is inspiring to me from every angle.
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I took today's perceptive title from a blog post I read recently written by Dr. Mariana Caplan, an internationally acclaimed author and teacher on Western Spirituality, and a psychotherapist specializing in spiritual issues and somatic and body-centered approaches to transformation. She has an active practice in San Francisco and Marin County. You can read her whole post here. Dr. Caplan provides what I think is a helpful description of the some of the dangers inherent in the spiritual life. These are dangers that we often don't want to think about or simply don't see, especially in relation to ourselves. In the midst of our genuine desire to grow spiritually, to commit ourselves to experiencing transformation and positive change in our lives, regardless of the specific religious environment we're a part of, there are certain blind spots that have the potential of derailing our spiritual growth.
Blind spots are those places that we simply don't see but by not seeing them, we are susceptible to crashing. Remember taking driver's ed training and the teacher talking about being careful of the blind spot between what you see in your rearview mirror and what you see in your driver's side mirror. There could be a vehicle in that blind spot and if you make a lane change too quickly, you could hit that vehicle. So what are you suppose to do? You're suppose to check your mirrors first, and then look over your left shoulder to take a specific visual cue of what's actually there. And if there is in fact no vehicle there, you turn on your signal blinker and slowly make the turn. You've checked your blind spot in order to navigate safely.
The title also suggests another spiritual reality. If we aren't aware of our spiritual blind spots, not only will we hurt ourselves, we'll hurt others, too. Dr. Caplan describes these spiritual diseases as transmittable - we can infect others with our spiritual deformities. Our sneezes pass on our diseases. How significant, then, for us to be aware of our own issues and work hard to deal with them effectively. It's good for everyone in our lives! The health of a spiritual community is only as good as the health of each individual's personal spirituality.
So here are Dr. Caplan's 10 spiritually transmitted diseases. Ask yourself which one(s) you tend to suffer from.
1. Fast-Food Spirituality: "Mix spirituality with a culture that celebrates speed, multitasking and instant gratification and the result is likely to be fast-food spirituality. Fast-food spirituality is a product of the common and understandable fantasy that relief from the suffering of our human condition can be quick and easy. One thing is clear, however: spiritual transformation cannot be had in a quick fix."
And I would even add this caution for Christians: though belief in the grace of Jesus is hugely significant to building confidence and security (we can't work our way to God's favor and the Next Life - it's a gift), grace is no substitute for the intentional discipline of applying that grace to every aspect of our lives. Transformation doesn't happen in us spontaneously or magically. It takes effort, determination, and practice. Healthy, transformational spirituality cannot be purchased in a drive-through, fast-food delivery system.
2. Faux Spirituality: "Faux spirituality is the tendency to talk, dress and act as we imagine a spiritual person would. It is a kind of imitation spirituality that mimics spiritual realization in the way that leopard-skin fabric imitates the genuine skin of a leopard."
This is true because deep spirituality works from the inside out. It deals with motives and values, feelings and thoughts, not just behaviors. Even Jesus, in commenting on many of the religious professionals of his day, called them "white-washed tombs; cups that were clean on the outside but dirty on the inside." Their kind of spirituality was external only - what you see on the outside is what matters most, not who you are on the inside. That kind of spirituality was not acceptable to Jesus.
3. Confused Motivations: "Although our desire to grow is genuine and pure, it often gets mixed with lesser motivations, including the wish to be loved, the desire to belong, the need to fill our internal emptiness, the belief that the spiritual path will remove our suffering and spiritual ambition, the wish to be special, to be better than, to be 'the one.'"
Have you ever asked yourself, what tends to motivate my actions when I'm around other people? Is my spirituality being driven by healthy motivations?
4. Identifying with Spiritual Experiences: "In this disease, the ego identifies with our spiritual experience and takes it as its own, and we begin to believe that we are embodying insights that have arisen within us at certain times. In most cases, it does not last indefinitely, although it tends to endure for longer periods of time in those who believe themselves to be enlightened and/or who function as spiritual teachers."
5. The Spiritualized Ego: "This disease occurs when the very structure of the egoic personality becomes deeply embedded with spiritual concepts and ideas. The result is an egoic structure that is 'bullet-proof.' When the ego becomes spiritualized, we are invulnerable to help, new input, or constructive feedback. We become impenetrable human beings and are stunted in our spiritual growth, all in the name of spirituality."
Perhaps this explains why oftentimes it's spiritual or religious people who simply can't be argued with. They know "the truth" and they believe they're embodying it, which makes them right and everyone else wrong. They're already on "the way" so what can anyone else teach them, especially those who don't have "the truth" like they do? They've allowed their identities to become completely enmeshed with their spirituality - so if their spirituality is threatened in any way, their identity feels threatened. So they cannot allow their spirituality to be questioned. And they will fight to keep their "rightness" and certainty.
6. Mass Production of Spiritual Teachers: "There are a number of current trendy spiritual traditions that produce people who believe themselves to be at a level of spiritual enlightenment, or mastery, that is far beyond their actual level. This disease functions like a spiritual conveyor belt: put on this glow, get that insight, and -- bam! -- you're enlightened and ready to enlighten others in similar fashion. The problem is not that such teachers instruct but that they represent themselves as having achieved spiritual mastery."
Contrary to many church's religious zeal and methodology, you cannot mass produce spirituality through attempts at mass movements or mass conversions. And genuine spirituality is not a "cookie-cutter" life where everyone looks and acts and believes the same or where everyone only has to utter the same words in a simplified formula. Authentic spirituality looks different in different people. It's achieved differently because everyone is unique. Embodied spirituality
7. Spiritual Pride: "Spiritual pride arises when the practitioner, through years of labored effort, has actually attained a certain level of wisdom and uses that attainment to justify shutting down to further experience. A feeling of 'spiritual superiority' is another symptom of this spiritually transmitted disease. It manifests as a subtle feeling that 'I am better, more wise and above others because I am spiritual.'"
I find it significant that the primary spiritual teachers and leaders from the major spiritual traditions (people like Jesus, Abraham, Buddha, Confucius, Mohammad) were people of great humility. Jesus commented about his spiritual life by saying, "I assure you, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing." No wonder, on the eve of his death, in an upper room where he and his disciples had gathered to celebrate the Passover meal, when it became clear that there was no servant to wash their dusty feet, he took off his outer robe, picked up a towel, and began to wash his disciples' feet. Genuine spirituality is not driven by pride but by authentic humility.
8. Group Mind: "Also described as groupthink, cultic mentality or ashram disease, group mind is an insidious virus that contains many elements of traditional co-dependence. A spiritual group makes subtle and unconscious agreements regarding the correct ways to think, talk, dress, and act. Individuals and groups infected with 'group mind' reject individuals, attitudes, and circumstances that do not conform to the often unwritten rules of the group."
Every authentic spiritual tradition encourages inclusivity and compassion as core to the spiritual life. Ironic, then, that so many religious groups develop an "insider" vs. "outside" mentality - an "us" vs. "them" worldview. "You can only be here if you become like us!"
9. The Chosen-People Complex: "The chosen people complex is not limited to Jews. It is the belief that 'Our group is more spiritually evolved, powerful, enlightened and, simply put, better than any other group.' There is an important distinction between the recognition that one has found the right path, teacher or community for themselves, and having found The One."
This deadly spiritual disease has been the motivator of countless persecutions, executions, and shunnings in the name of God. The paradigm is, "If we have been chosen, then you can't have been chosen, too. For you to be equally chosen like us, you have to join us, believe what we believe, live like us." So the whole mission of the "chosen people" is to bring everyone else into alignment with them. And if they resist, they are resisting God. So we either have to "fix" them, or walk away from them lest we get contaminated by them. This is a deeply destructive spiritual disease that can often be terminal for both parties.
10. The Deadly Virus: "I Have Arrived": "This disease is so potent that it has the capacity to be terminal and deadly to our spiritual evolution. This is the belief that 'I have arrived' at the final goal of the spiritual path. Our spiritual progress ends at the point where this belief becomes crystallized in our psyche, for the moment we begin to believe that we have reached the end of the path, further growth ceases."
I'm reminded of the super-disciple of Jesus, Paul, who once wrote about himself that he had not arrived. He was still on the journey. And so he kept his gaze on the one he was following, Jesus, in order to stay focused and remain moving forward. Spirituality is not about arriving, it's about traveling; it's about a transformational process and journey that continues one's whole life. That reality should produce great humility in us.
So which of these 10 spiritually transmitted diseases do you struggle with the most? Is there one you tend to be infected with more than the others? How does the disease manifest itself in you? What are your primary symptoms?
Dr. Caplan's partner, Marc Gafni (an author and teacher), makes this statement: "The essence of love is perception. Therefore the essence of self love is self perception. You can only fall in love with someone you can see clearly--including yourself. To love is to have eyes to see. It is only when you see yourself clearly that you can begin to love yourself."
And when you and I begin to truly love ourselves, we are empowered to love others in healthy, meaningful, and compassionate ways.
So are there any spiritual vaccinations we can take to prevent and/or heal ourselves from these spiritually transmitted diseases? In my next blog, we'll take a look at some powerful antidotes that have the potential of effecting profound, honest, authentic spiritual growth and transformation. Stay tuned!
Have you ever said or done something that the moment you let it out you wished you could take it back? A lot of us live with a lot of regret along this line ... because you simply can't take back things you've said or done that might have been hurtful or disrespectful to others. And our human tendency is to react quickly when our egos are threatened. So many of us do it regularly, in fact, that Google has added a feature to Gmail called "Undo Send." Once you hit "Send" Gmail holds the email for five seconds, during which time you can stop the email from going out.
Wouldn't it be great if in the rest of our lives we had the option to simply hit an "Undo Send" button? Unfortunately, once we've spoken the word or committed the act, it can't be retrieved. Our words or actions hang out there creating consequences that can't be erased or undone.
But perhaps there's another 5 Second option that might prevent the words or behaviors in the first place. The key, in real time, is to avoid the unproductive "Send" in the first place. What would happen if we tried using the 5 second option before we hit Send?
Effective and healthy spirituality is about paying more attention to the way we are present in the world, learning how to live with greater awareness and compassion. Which makes this 5 Second Option a potentially deeply spiritual practice.
Here's how it works. Peter Bregman, the CEO of Bregman Partners, Inc., a global management consulting firm, spoke to a friend of his (Joshua Gordon, a Neuroscientist and Assistant Professor at Columbia University) about this issue of why it's so natural for us to react negatively to a person or circumstance that threatens our egos. And is there anything we can do about it?
Dr Gordon pointed out : "There are direct pathways from sensory stimuli into the amygdala. The amygdala is the emotional response center of the brain," he explained. "When something unsettling happens in the outside world, it immediately evokes an emotion. But pure raw unadulterated emotion is not the source of your best decisions. So, how do you get beyond the emotion to rational thought? It turns out while there's a war going on between you and someone else, there's another war going on, in your brain, between you and yourself. And that quiet little battle is your prefrontal cortex trying to subdue your amygdala. Think of the amygdala as the little red person in your head with the pitchfork saying 'I say we clobber the guy!' and think of the prefrontal cortex as the little person dressed in white saying 'Uhm, maybe it's not such a great idea to yell back. I mean, he is your client after all.' The key is cognitive control of the amygdyla by the prefrontal cortex."
So Bregman asked him how we could help our prefrontal cortex win the war. Dr. Gordon paused for a minute and then answered, "If you take a breath and delay your action, you give the prefrontal cortex time to control the emotional response. Slowing down your breath has a direct calming affect on your brain."
Which begs the very practical question, how long do we have to stall? How much time does our prefrontal cortex need to overcome our amygdala?
Dr. Gordon's response: "Not long. A second or two."
Sounds like Google is onto something with its 5 second "Undo Send" option. Apparently there's significant biological / physiological / psychological (and dare I add, spiritual) reality to actually being able to overcome our immediate urge to react negatively and aggressively toward someone or something that is threatening our ego and beginning to make us want to attack back. Imagine in the moment choosing to press "pause," taking a few deep breaths for 5 seconds, and allowing the immediate emotion to drain away even just a bit, so that you can then at least begin the process of trying to respond positively and with no regret later.
Peter Bregman applied the strategy to his recent situation: "When Bob yelled at me in the hall, I took a deep breath and gave my prefrontal cortex a little time to win. I knew there was a misunderstanding and I also knew my relationship with Bob was important. So instead of yelling back, I walked over to him. It only took a few seconds. But that gave us both enough time to become reasonable. Pause. Breathe. Then act."
I don't know about you, but for me this 5 Second Option isn't as easy as it sounds! I find it extremely difficult in practice when I'm facing some deep emotional feelings being stirred up and my buttons are being pushed left and right. Maybe that's why the great spiritual traditions of the world have developed rituals and disciplines they call spiritual practices. These disciplines and behaviors that are designed to produce greater peace and calm and centeredness in the midst of life's turmoil take intense practice. Change doesn't happen over night. Transformation comes as the result of determined discipline to engage in new thinking and new behaviors.
Which also (and most importantly) means you and I need to be patient with ourselves and with others. We need to hold ourselves, including all of our mixed up and all-over-the-board reactions to life, gently. We must give ourselves compassion, too - to honor ourselves as we are with the goodness we have in us that we ultimately want to express and let out more often than we do. Maybe this self-gentleness and self-kindness would empower us to more readily hit the Undo Send button.
What would it look like in your life for you to use the 5 Second Undo Send button? How much practice do you need to make this strategy more of a natural response, your more automatic default mode? Pause. Breathe. Act. I'm going to keep practicing this one. I need it. And living with regret isn't worth it.
[If you enjoy this blog, please SHARE it with your friends and others who might be interested. You can click in the column to the right and choose how you want to share this.] As we talked about in last week's post, the butterfly's metamorphosis process is quite a profound metaphor for spiritual transformation and life development. At the end of the post, I listed several lessons we can learn from those stages. Let me comment on one of them that is particularly challenging for many of us. I hear from people I work with all the time about this issue. And having gone through a major transition in my own life, I can relate to this stage quite well.
One of the staggering things that takes place in stage three of the caterpillar's metamorphosis to becoming a butterfly is that once a caterpillar goes into its cocoon, it literally liquifies—completely changing itself all the way to the molecular level before it can recreate itself into a butterfly. It basically loses everything, not just shedding its outer layer but a profound internal transformation - a complete disintegration of the old in order to take on the new original design for its ultimate purpose, a butterfly.
Dr. Martha Beck, a monthly columnist for O Magazine and the author of several international bestsellers, recently at a large women's conference, talked about this life transformation process and put it this way, "In a very real sense, when we begin a cycle of transformation, we have to experience the disintegration of our old self before real change can take place. The meltdown can take many forms, but often it has to be cataclysmic—break up of a marriage, loss of a job, or a deep physical crisis like a diagnosis of cancer or a very sick child. For many of us personal shock sends us into the cocoon."
We end up forming a cocoon in order to feel safe during these crisis or difficult times. The cocoon experience often is like circling the wagons - trying to construct a safe place against the threatening forces around us and sometimes even in us. We need to come to some clarity about what all this chaos means to our lives. We need to figure out what our next steps are.
But there's a simultaneous danger from a huge temptation within. Dr. Astrid Sheil, who blogged about Martha Beck's presentation at the women's conference, commented, “Here in square one, we have a tendency to want to become bigger caterpillars. In other words, we try to hold onto the status quo as long as possible. Maybe if we just work 80 hours a week instead of 75, we won’t get fired. Maybe if we subsume our needs, we can keep a failing marriage from coming apart at the seams. But of course, we are just fooling ourselves. When it is time to begin the transformation process, there is no capitulation or compromise that can divert the process. However, transformation can be delayed if we are unwilling to accept ourselves the way we are. The key to beginning the process is to 'totally' accept ourselves and the reality of our situation. We must surrender to the truth—the old way doesn’t work anymore, we can’t go back, and the future is unclear and unknown."
I can relate to that temptation to simply want to become a bigger caterpillar. The radical metamorphosis into the butterfly, which involves the complete disintegration of our selves, is too painful, too risky, to uncertain of the ultimate outcome. Status quo is so much safer, or so we try to deceive ourselves into believing. But the reality is, if the caterpillar remained inside the cocoon without its meltdown (its internal transformation), it would never end up fulfilling its ultimate destiny - flying and soaring as an adult butterfly.
My personal struggle of trying to figure out who I was as a professional outside the religious organization I had spent 25 years serving within was painful and challenging. I had dreams regularly of being back leading spiritual communities where I had been before. I would wake up and be tempted to think, "That must be a message to me that I need to go back somehow. I need to simply be a bigger caterpillar. Stay inside the cocoon where I was so safe all my life." I would wake up from those dreams with feelings of fear, forboding, insecurity, uncertainty, a sense of doom. In that paradigm, growth and transformation were simply within the cocoon rather than from cocoon to the outside world. The emerging was too scary a thought. But ironically and counter-intuitively, that paradigm was not in harmony with my ultimate purpose.
Dr. Sheil described it this way: "We have all experienced these dreaded feelings. Limbo is scary. Not knowing is exhausting. Loss of identity can lead to depression. Why would anyone choose to go through the process of transformation? According to Beck, we have no choice. This is a cyclical process and we all go through it at different times and for different reasons. But like the caterpillar, when we get through the four stages of (1) crash and burn, (2) expansive imagining, (3) this is harder than I thought, and (4) the promise land—we are forever changed and expanded."
On a spiritual note, I'm reminded of how Jesus referred to the radical nature of this transformation experience. Talking to a religious leader who came in the darkness of night to interview him, Jesus said to this man who of all people would have been considered to be living the "butterfly" life (surely he had already "emerged" to occupy the top of the religious-social totem pole, the pinnacle of the significance pyramid): "Unless you are born again, you cannot enter the kingdom of God." (John 3:3)
Now that's a shocking message to a person who thought he'd already arrived. But in essence, Jesus was informing him that he was simply still a caterpillar who was trying to be a bigger, more fancy caterpillar - he thought being a caterpillar was enough - and that of all the caterpillars, he certainly was the biggest and best.
But being a caterpillar isn't enough. Because the caterpillar is suppose to become a butterfly. But if it wants to become a butterfly, it has to allow itself a radical, complete transformation inside its cocoon. It has to let go completely of itself, allow whatever needs to disintegrate to disintegrate, in order to finally re-form and emerge as the intended butterfly.
You must be reborn, Jesus said. You have to allow yourself to let go and become a new person - be re-formed inside the spiritual womb in order to be reborn into the person you've been designed all along to become. There's certainly nothing wrong with being a caterpillar. After all, that's one of the important stages of the metamorphosis process. But we can't stay caterpillars because it's not in alignment with our ultimate destiny. And the caterpillar that stays inside the cocoon ultimately dies, turning into a shriveled up, petrified skeleton.
We have to allow ourselves to go through the painful ordeal and struggle of letting go of whatever it is that might keep us from transitioning adequately to the next stage. Often times these are limiting beliefs that if held onto disempower us from forward movement. Some times they are relationships that are dragging us down or disempowering us spiritually or personally or emotionally and unless those relationships themselves are transformed or ultimately let go of, they continue holding us like heavy weights from running the race. Most of the time, they are self-identities that are false or limiting or not accurate - we have become accustomed to connecting our sense of self with our productivity, or our accomplishments, or our connection to an organization, or our reputation with others, or our status in society - so that when those external circumstances change, we lose our sense of self and get side-lined and side-tracked and disillusioned.
Jesus said to that religious leader, if you want to enjoy life in the kingdom of God, you have to go through a radical transformation process that involves developing a whole new identity - a rediscovery of your true identity as a child of God who has inherent value, not based on your associations or accomplishments or reputations, but based upon who you truly are as that divine child. Only then will you emerge from the cocoon, not as a bigger caterpillar, but as a beautiful, unique butterfly ready to lift off and soar into the skies of your ultimate God-given, God-designed purpose and destiny. So maybe one of the most significant steps of being a caterpillar inside the cocoon is to learn how to embrace ourselves with love and compassion and acceptance for who we really are!
Our choice in life is to liquify or petrify. Pretty starkly stated. But clear. It's okay to feel lost in the cocoon stage, to feel disoriented, to lose a sense of direction and purpose, to feel afraid and uncertain. I certainly have in my times of radical transition and change. But the good news is, that's all in preparation for the next stage. As long as we don't let ourselves stay in status quo inside the cocoon - as long as we end up using that time to rethink, replan, reassess, refocus, restore, and embrace ourselves in the process - we'll be ready to emerge, not as bigger or different caterpillars, but as magnificent flying butterflies. I'm all for that!
[If you enjoy this blog, please SHARE it with your friends and others who might be interested. You can click in the column to the right and choose how you want to share this.] This last Saturday, the topic at my spiritual community's service was how Springtime is considered by almost every major religious tradition as a sacred portal to experiencing God and opening one's self up to deep personal and spiritual growth. Spring is a time of year that many consider a "thin place" - an opportunity to have the curtains of our hearts and minds pulled back a bit to provide us meaningful glimpses of and encounters with the Sacred.
"Spring naturally makes us see the renewal of life," writes the Rev. Jerry Hirano whose Buddhist tradition celebrates the festival Ohigan during the spring and fall equinoxes. "It makes us appreciate the circle of life, so to speak. We see that even in the harshest of winter, there is rebirth, renewal. One naturally follows the other."
I'm especially thankful for this reality. It reminds me that life has seasons to it - that's a natural part of life for every living thing. So when my life feels like it's in a deep dark winter, where nothing significant seems to be happening, where it doesn't feel like my life is growing or that I'm making a difference in any tangible or visible ways, spring will come! The Creator God has structured life to be that way - the cycle includes both times of apparent desolation when things seem to go into hibernation, as well as times of new life, new birth, growth and transformation and productive activity.
One of the profound illustrations of this in nature is the butterfly's cycle of life. It's called metamorphosis. That's a Greek compound word, meta - change, plus morph - form, literally meaning change in form or transformation. When you take a look at the butterfly's metamorphosis, you can't help but notice not only how intentional but also how important every step of the journey is. Transformation involves every phase of the cycle. Here's a short trip back to your high school biology class (remember those good 'ole days? Look how much has "metemorphed" since then - thankfully!).
The butterfly's metamorphosis involves four stages:
Stage one: Egg
One thing worth mentioning here is that, female butterflies are very choosy about the plants they would want to lay their eggs on. The reason is that the caterpillar has to survive by munching away the leaves of this plant. For instance, the female Monarch butterfly would prefer to lay eggs only on milkweed plants. This is because the caterpillars of this variety of butterflies can feed only on this plant. Similarly, each variety of butterflies has its preference when it comes to laying it egg. Laying of eggs commences the first phase of butterfly metamorphosis. The underside of the leaves is where you find the butterfly eggs. These are white in color and are very small. It takes almost a week for the eggs to hatch. The larva develops inside the egg and nourishes on the yolk of the egg. Finally, they make a small hole in the egg and emerge on the leaf. Here the second stage begins.
Stage two: Larva
The larva of the butterfly is called caterpillar. This is the second phase of the metamorphosis. Initially the caterpillars are very small and hardly weigh 0.55milligrams. The length of the caterpillar is merely 0.1 inch. However, the caterpillar grows fast feeding on the leaves. In two weeks they become an adult caterpillar. Now the size of the caterpillar is around 2 inches. This is a very interesting stage. The adult caterpillar has eight pairs of legs. As the caterpillar grows longer it outgrows its skin. It sheds the skin. This process is called as molting. In this stage of butterfly metamorphosis, caterpillar molts its skin around five to six times. The fully-grown adult caterpillar, starts crawling away from the plant it was feeding on and keeps crawling till it finds a safe haven to pupate. Once the caterpillar finds a place to pupate, it makes a silk-like mat on the surface and hangs upside down. The last pair of legs is attached to the silk-like mat. It hangs for one whole day like this and takes the shape of the alphabet "J". Caterpillar sheds its skin for the last time before it moves into the next stage of butterfly metamorphosis.
Stage three: Pupa
When the larva enters the third phase, it has already shed its eight pairs of legs and the head capsule, which had housed six eye lenses. The skin of the caterpillar is shed for the final time and the casing takes the color of jade. This casing is called chrysalis. Though initially chrysalis is soft gradually within an hour it hardens to form a protective shell. Within the chrysalis the caterpillar slowly turns into a butterfly. There is a transformation taking place within the pupa. The body parts of the caterpillar disintegrate to form the body parts of the butterfly. The transformation period of chrysalis to butterfly takes around 10 to 15 days.
Stage four: Adult
The hardened chrysalis cracks and the butterfly emerges from it. The wings of the butterfly are small and wet. It clings onto the shell of the chrysalis. At this juncture, a life-saving fluid known as hemolymph is pumped into the body of the butterfly. Hemolymph spreads slowly throughout the body and the wings. This crucial spreading is assisted by the struggle of the butterfly to emerge from its small cocoon opening. This helps in enlarging the wings and the body of the butterfly. Remember that the wings are wet and the butterfly is unable to fly. However, within an hour the wings become dry and the butterfly is ready to fly and ultimately to mate and start the cycle all over again.
Did you notice not only how intentional but also how important every step of the butterfly's journey is? Metamorphosis / transformation involves every phase of the cycle not just the final stage of adulthood. Here are a few lessons:
- Everything has its place, its reasons and purpose, its timing.
- Everything is provided for the butterfly in each stage to experience optimum health and growth for that stage - whether from its own DNA code written into its make-up or from external support systems.
- Nothing is wasted (notice the effective recycling that takes place).
- In order for growth and transformation to take place, multiple "sheddings" (or molting) have to happen. It's amazing how difficult this step is to humans - we have a tough time letting go of something we've clung to at certain stages. But if the caterpillar never molted, it would never continue transforming. In fact, did you notice that it even drops its 8 pairs of legs and its head capsule with its six eye lens? Does that mean it will never walk or see again? No. Its final body will be for a different purpose - it won't be crawling anymore, it will be flying. So it will need 6 legs and 2 wings and 2 antennae. And eyes? The adult butterfly has 2 eyes with 6000 eyelets or ommatidia in each eye. An ommatidia is like an eye within an eye. It actually divides the eyes in the shape of a disco ball which helps the butterfly to locate things easier. They work like the pixels of a camera.
- So with each new stage, new systems and structures are needed for the newly developed form because each form has a new purpose with new needs. And before the new structures and systems are in place, the old ones have to be shed and let go of.
- Crisis, difficulty is an inherent part of the transformational cycle. The emerging butterfly with its new wings has to go through the small opening in order for the hemolymph to get spread to all parts of its body and wings. Cut the opening wider so the butterfly doesn't have to work as hard to emerge and it is damaged irreparably, never able to fly, its death hastened.
In my next post, I'll talk about how this metamorphosis process applies to our spirituality and personal development. Stay tuned!
A man once asked God for one thing – something to add beauty to his small potted garden. So God presented him with an ugly, prickly cactus plant and a wrinkled up, alien-looking caterpillar. The man was surprised, because he had asked for one thing and God gave him something else. After many days, the cactus bloomed with spectacular flowers and in the place of the caterpillar, there was a beautiful and stunning butterfly.
God seems to know what metamorphosis and genuine transformation are all about. I'm discovering that the process of life for me is more and more about learning how to trust God's wisdom for life, and how to trust the process and the journey. This Spring is a good time to embrace this kind of Life.
[If you enjoy this blog, please SHARE it with your friends and others who might be interested. You can click in the column to the right and choose how you want to share this.] A RECAP FROM MY LAST POST: Remember Walt Kowalski (from the movie Gran Torino)? Walt is living a lonely, isolated life in a world that looks so different from his past. He's turned himself into a gruff, crude, angry old man who pushes everyone away. His defense mechanisms (his ego defenses) are so strong that he's placed himself on a trajectory toward a lonely, painful ending. His only legacy will be the perfectly kept, spotless car from his past - a Gran Torino - which has come to symbolize the way he wished life still was - something good from the past he religiously hangs on to.
Is there any hope for a man like Walt Kowalski? Is the Gran Torino all there is? Here-in lies the power of this contemporary story, especially in light of this Season's theme of death and resurrection. There are two spiritual traditions centering on two powerful stories that both Jews and Christians celebrate this time of year. Both stories have a lot to say about the important dynamics of spiritual growth and transformation. Both center around the experiences of death and resurrection.
Notice THE STORY OF THE JEWISH PASSOVER. There’s an existence of bondage and slavery in the foreign land of Egypt (with an accompanying loss of a sense of true identity and purpose) – there’s weeping and wailing and death and status quo and survival. The people have gotten use to living with a certain frame of mind (with strongly developed defense mechanisms) and a corresponding way of life – victims, hopelessness, death – as the chart in my last post shows, fear-anger-shame. Then there’s an appeal by Moses on behalf of their God to exit this life of slavery and bondage and enter their true Life (a life promised by God that will be lived out in the Promised Land). And God will provide a way of escape. How? They must choose to trust in this Life-giving, Nourishing God by spreading the blood of a killed lamb over the doorposts so the angel of judgment on the Egyptian slave empire will “pass over” their homes; then they must leave their homes and follow Moses out of the country; then they must willingly escape across the Red Sea (once God divides it) in the face of the enemy army to “pass over” to the other side away from their land of bondage and into their resurrected new life.
Notice the process: God promises – they choose to trust – they follow specific directions – they walk away from their old life – they go into the unknown, face pain and danger – and they finally choose to keep going, all the while learning about their reclaimed Identity, until they arrive at their New Life (the Promised Land) where they can finally live in complete alignment with their God-given identity. Cross – Resurrection. All along the way, their egos are dying on the cross as they follow God and God provides what they need to make intentional choices. And the result is a resurrection to their New Life. The point is, you can't have a resurrection to a new life without also choosing to leave something else behind.
NOTICE THE STORY OF THE CHRISTIAN EASTER. In this Christian story, the Way of Jesus is all about the confidence with which he lived his life all the way to the end. In spite of all the voices trying to tell him who he was, who he should be, whom he shouldn’t be, he developed a powerful security in his identity as God’s beloved son. Only a really secure person can serve so unselfishly and compassionately and courageously. Right? That’s why the Gospel of John (chapter 13), when it describes Jesus in the upper room the night of his betrayal celebrating the Jewish Passover service, says about Jesus, “And Jesus, knowing who he was, where he had come from, and where he was going, took off his outer garment, took the servant’s pitcher of water and a towel, and washed his disciples’ feet.”
Only a really centered person, who has learned to move from a small-s “self” to capital-S Self, who has learned who he truly is, who God has called him to be, can face the powerful religious and political systems of his day and oppose them for all the right reasons – in spite of their vigorous persecution and vitriolic aggression against him. Only a truly centered and secure person can deliberately break the unjust rules and boundaries of his time and proclaim a message about the Kingdom of God being a world of justice and compassion for everyone, knowing that this message, along with all of his courageous acts of love, will be dangerous and potentially life-threatening.
Here’s the way one author puts it: “The way of Jesus involves not just any kind of death, but specifically ‘taking up the cross,’ the path of confrontation with the domination system and its injustice and violence. His passion was the kingdom of God, what life would be like on earth if God were king and the rulers and systems of this world were not. It is the world that the [Hebrew] prophets dreamed of – a world of distributive justice in which everybody has enough, in which war is no more, and in which nobody need be afraid … Jesus’ passion got him killed. But God has vindicated Jesus. This is the message of Good Friday and Easter … The way of the cross leads to life in God and participation in the passion of God as known in Jesus.” Marcus Borg, Jesus, pp 291-292.
The Way of Jesus shows what can happen when a person is so centered on God and God’s passion, is so centered on God’s calling and one’s true Identity, that they are empowered to let go of every image and defense mechanism that isn’t the truth about themselves, and then live with courage and boldness to love and give no matter what and no matter who they’re confronted by.
The power of the Jesus story is how it illustrates the Way to New Life, the abundant and joyful life, the divine life that we’re designed to enjoy. Two powerful symbols that describe this Way: the Cross, and the Empty Tomb; death and resurrection; the laying down of the ego, in order to find, to reclaim the Essential Self.
It’s interesting how so many of us want the new life without the pain of the cross. We expect there to be a “silver bullet” that suddenly launches us into our true Selves without having to go through the “grave” of the ego. We are constantly tempted to project a certain image of ourselves in order to protect ourselves – so we make choices to protect that image at all costs. Instead of living out of our core truth, instead of having the courage to be who we really are, to live in alignment with who God has created and called us to be.
BACK TO “GRAN TORINO”
So how does this way of the cross and resurrection, this sacred portal and thin place, get lived out by Walt Kowalski in the movie “Gran Torino?” What happens with the central metaphor of his prized and perfect Gran Torino, that symbol of escape from the real world into his safe, secure, predictable fantasy world?
Walt has spent multiple decades shining and polishing and nurturing his Gran Torino – he has invested himself in this car because it has come to represent the way he wished life still were. That car has become his ego defense mechanism and he continues massaging it, hoping for a better world.
But haven’t you noticed that often the very things we do to get what we’re really looking for are the very things that keep us from getting it? Walt’s anger, shame, and fear – and the ways he lives those feelings out – are not helping him get what he’s really seeking – autonomy, security, and positive attention. His Gran Torino is a powerful symbol of misguided focus.
Until that prized Gran Torino one night almost gets stolen by who Walt thinks is one of the local gang members – and then finds out that it’s his next door neighbor’s teenage son. Which then catapults Walt kicking and screaming into the whole life of this Asian family who has been to him up to now a foreign enemy. As they respond in humility and kindness and graciousness, mortified over the shame from their boy’s actions, Walt begins to get to know them. In ever so slight ways, he lets his guard down and his heart opens up to this new world around him. He ultimately begins trying to mentor this boy who has no father at home, bringing him into his world as well as going into the boy’s and his sister’s world. Walt begins to see that there’s another way to look at and experience life in this new reality – that there are people who can see him for who he really is – who accept his grumpiness and crudeness as just an exterior he’s gotten use to using that in truth masks a gentle and kind heart, a grandfather’s heart.
Their love and kindness pursue him in spite of his angry attempts to deflect them. Love wears him down. And what he begins to feel, he begins to like. What he sees of himself when he looks through their eyes, he begins to like. He finally finds his true Self evidenced by his final act of selfless giving. True to what Jesus once said, "The one who gives up his life for my sake will find it."
In the end, Walt’s Gran Torino, the very symbol of his insecurity, becomes a symbol of his resurrected life. He gives this prized car to this Laotian boy – the very boy who tried to steal it now gets to use it and then ultimately own it. Walt has gone through the cross of letting his ego be transcended by his truer Self and has experienced a resurrection of love, compassion and kindness. The very Gran Torino he hung on to as his old way of survival and security becomes transformed into a symbol of his expanded life – a sacred portal, a thin place.
QUESTIONS: So where might you see yourself in Walt Kowalski’s story? What are your ego defenses – how do you tend to respond when you don’t get your way or when you feel threatened? What is your Gran Torino that you’re using to protect your ego? What do you tend to hang on to that symbolizes your desire for security, autonomy, attention? Where in your life do you need the resurrection of your true Self? What does the cross look like for you – where does your ego need to die so that your truest Self can be resurrected?
[Please SHARE this blog with people who might be interested! Hit the button on the right to subscribe or to share the post] The word "faith," especially to Westernized Christians, has come to be seen as a primarily notional experience - having to do with what you think about God. It tends to mean holding a certain set of "beliefs," believing a set of statements to be true, whether cast as biblical teachings or doctrines or dogma. Your faith is judged by how much you believe and how accurate your beliefs are. If you possess this "right" kind of faith, you're called a "believer."
As a result, this concept of faith as primarily an intellectual exercise has turned faith almost exclusively into a matter of the head, too often with disastrous results by heartless, nonloving "believers."
But significantly, that was not the central meaning and usage of the word "faith" in the history of human religion (including early Christianity). As Karen Armstrong, in her powerful book The Case For God, states, "Religion was not primarily something that people thought but something they did ... Religion [from its very inception in human history] was always a practical discipline that teaches us to discover new capacities of mind and heart."
It was a way of being and living, not simply a way of thinking. The stories and sacred scriptures of every religion emphasized the journey of heart and spirit in learning the sacred art of self-forgetfulness and compassion. As a result, religions developed powerful rituals and practices that, if followed and wholeheartedly engaged in, would enable adherents to step "outside" their egos and experience the Sacred and Divine, empowering them to live more compassionately and unselfishly toward others.
For example, as Armstrong points out, the early Chinese Daoists (over 300 years before Jesus and the early Christian followers) saw religion as a "knack" primarily acquired by constant practice. They, like the earlier Buddha and even Confucius, refused to spend lots of time speculating about the many metaphysical conundrums concerning the divine (as Buddha once said to a follower who constantly pestered with those kind of questions: "You are like a man who has been shot with a poisoned arrow and refuses medical treatment until you have discovered the name of your assailant and what village he came from. You would die before you got this perfectly useless information!").
Zhuangzi (c. 370-311 BCE), one of the most important figures in the spiritual history of China, explained that it was no good trying to analyze religious teachings logically. He then cited the carpenter Bian: "When I work on a wheel, if I hit too softly, pleasant as this is, it doesn't make for a good wheel. If I hit it furiously, I get tired and the thing doesn't work! So not too soft, not too vigorous. I grasp it in my hand and hold it in my heart. I cannot express this by word of mouth, I just know it."
Like the Chinese hunchback who trapped cicadas in the forest with a sticky pole and never missed a single one. He had so perfected his powers of concentration that he lost himself in the task, and his hands seemed to move by themselves. He had no idea how he did it exactly, but he knew only that he had acquired the knack after months of practice. This "self-forgetfulness," Zhuangzi explained, was a "stepping outside" the prism of ego and experience of the sacred. (from Armstrong, The Case For God, pp. xii-xiii, 23.)
No wonder Jesus, centuries later, reiterated this paradigm of spirituality and religious experience when he called his followers to "take up your cross and follow me." He's not simply talking about believing in your head the right doctrines and the core truths. He's talking about a "way" of living. Referring to his own experience as the example for his followers, he said, "I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who is willing to give up his life in this world will keep it forever." John 12:24-25
Genuine faith is not just about your head, it's about your heart, it's about your journey, it's about life transformation that comes from self-forgetfulness and an experience with God the Sacred and the Divine.
SO IN THIS SERIES, we're taking a look at the four words that are translated as "faith." We're unpacking each word and exploring what it means and what the differing nuances suggest about developing a faith that works in real life, a faith that transforms life, a faith that defines ourselves and produces a rich and deeper experience of both God and Life. It's a return to the core of what religion was always meant to facilitate but has too often lost along the way: a transformation of the heart. In my last blog, we explored the 1st word for faith, “fiducia,” from which we get our English word "fiduciary" (a person in whom we place our trust to protect our finances and estate). So “trust," is the central definition, which in the realm of faith then conveys a profound kind of relaxed, solid, worry-free confidence in God as a power that can be trusted and relied upon to have our best interests in mind.
Today's word for faith is "fidelitas," which is the Latin word for "fidelity." It literally means loyalty, faithfulness – originally referring to a vassal's loyalty to his Lord; a steadfast and devoted attachment that is not easily turned aside; constancy, steadfastness. Faith as fidelity means loyalty, allegiance, the commitment of the self at its deepest level, the commitment of the “heart” to the experience of God not simply to statements about God. A radical centering in God from your heart and soul not just your mind. So what does that look like in real life terms?
There are two metaphors that the sacred scriptures use in describing our faith relationship with God that I'll unpack in my next blog post. These metaphors describe what "fidelity" is NOT and so help to increase our understanding of what genuine faith as fidelity and loyalty is. Stay tuned!