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Kindness

img_0487If there is one thing that could define us as “Christian” it could be our kindness.  We believe in a God that says “I love the world.” (John 3:16) We believe that Jesus came to bring everything together, bring peace, acceptance and love. (Phillipians 2) We believe in a God that commands us to take care of anyone and everyone, despite any differences of belief, race, socioeconomic status, sex, sexual identity, or religion. (Luke 10)

What if our message to the world was just that:

We believe in love.

We believe that all people will be loved and brought together through Jesus.

We are going to take care of, love, and be friends with you and you don’t have to believe what I do, we will not force it on you, because God is inclusive.

Would the world take a second look at Jesus? At Christians? At God? When given the choice to join us in loving others to change the world for the better, or the choice to have to believe exactly like “I” do which you think is more attractive?  Join me on this quest to improve the world right here, right now or you must think and believe like me so that sometime in the future you can live forever.  Most people I encounter love the idea of the former.

Christianity has become synonymous with words like:

control

hate

exclusive

conditional

anger

self righteousness

I know that there are communities of Christ that are kind, practice kindness, and give love unconditionally.  These communities need to be bigger, louder, more accessible, and available.  Jesus said “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30).  That sounds like kindness.  That truly sounds like the kind of company most people want to keep.  Unforced, light, and free.  Let’s just be kind……..

Men, emotions, and avoidance

Emotions.  You know those things that only women have and if you are a man and have them then you must be weak, girly, or to “touchy feely.”  I know that this is what most men think about emotions.  It is what society teaches men about emotions.  The two memes above are perfect examples of how most men think about emotions.

It is also used as the “perfect” excuse for most men to avoid how they feel.  Men usually think that there is only one way to feel loved, cared for and significant – sex.  They also think that if they provide for their families financially, they get to opt out of being involved emotionally with the members of their family.

This leads to many problems for a man and for those who are close to him.  When a man is not willing to be aware of his feelings, thoughtful about what is happening within his emotional life he is vulnerable to all the consequnces of not taking care of himself.  He is at risk of addiction, anger, violence, loneliness, and resentment.  This leads to the real life consequences of loss of relationships, job, and family.

His family, most particularly his significant other, is fearful, angry, lost, and resentful of the disconnection that is happening.  A viscous cycle then begins in the relationship.  Men, thinking that sex is the only way to feel valued and needed, wants and desires sex.  His wife, needing and craving emotional intimacy, refuses him.

Men need to learn that emotional intimacy with themselves and with their significant other is vitally important.  Our sexual intimacy is directly connected to our emotional intimacy.  The more men share about their thoughts and feelings, the more connected their partners feel to them.  The more connected emotionally a partner feels, the more physical connection there will be.

Men need to learn the language of an emotionally intimate life.  Men need to learn that they can be vulnerable and someone will listen to them and value them.  This is when men their significant others to listen and make them feel validated, if not, men will only continue to think that talking about feelings is an unproductive, hurtful activity with no benefits.

This is a process for most men.  It takes time to become aware of feelings, learn how to name them and talk about them, and overcome the anxiety of sharing them with those they love the most and not fear rejection.

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We have all heard the term mindfulness by now.  If you haven’t I give you a bit of an explanation.  All it means is being present in this moment.  Your thoughts, your feelings, and your attention are focused on right here and right now.

We find ourselves all too often “getting out ahead of ourselves.”  We attempt to plan for the future, have some kind of power over what will happen, and be present in that moment “out there” so we can make sure it will all go “ok.”

However, this is where most all of our anxiety comes from.  It comes from us attempting to be an all knowing, all powerful, ever present being.  We attempt to play God in our lives.  When we do this, we are attempting to manage and control things that are not within our ability to control.  When we take our emotional, physical, and spiritual energy and give it to things we can’t control it gets wasted.  We then have no energy to mange the things that are actually within our control.  We feel anxious, depressed, scared, and angry.

So mindfulness is simply noticing that we are doing that with our thoughts.  It is noticing that we have all these swirling thoughts going on, like the jar in the picture above.  When all those thoughts and energies are swirling like those we cannot see or think clearly about what we need to do.  However, if we let those thoughts settle, like the glitter in the jar above will when it sits for a minute, we will be able to see and think clearly.  We will be able to take action on the things we truly control and our anxiety, anger, depression, and fear will decrease.

Jesus reminds us in Matthew 6 that we cannot add anything to our lives by getting out ahead of ourselves.  This is what he is talking about.  We can only live in this present moment.  We are reminded that the grass and the birds don’t get out ahead of themselves and they are doing well.  So anytime you find yourself thinking “Oh man what am I going to do about that…..,” remember birds and flowers don’t even have the capacity to think like that and they are ok.  If they can’t even think out ahead of themselves we should not be doing it either.

So the next time you find yourself out ahead of yourself, attempting to be God and control it all “out there,” take some deep breaths and practice FOFBOC.  Yes I said FOFBOC.  Sit down in a chair and take a deep breath in and feel your FEET ON THE FLOOR.  Focus your attention on how that feels and how your body feels.  Then take another deep breath and focus on your BUTT ON THE CHAIR. How it feels to sit, to breath, to relax into this moment.  Repeat this process many times. This allows all those other thoughts about “out there” to settle and go away.  Your attention is taken from those to right here, right now.  You begin to see clearly again.  You can then focus on what you can actually do something about.

So catch yourself out ahead of yourself, practice some FOFBOC (feet on floor, butt in chair), and bring yourself back into this moment.  There – you where just mindful.

Understanding

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What do we all want? We all want to be understood.  We want people to see the world from our point of view.  We want others to validate our experience of the world.  This does not mean agree with our view or experience, just see it, hear it and acknowledge that experience.

Understanding means to be aware of other people’s feelings; tolerant and forgiving. To validate means to demonstrate or support the truth or value of a person.  Jesus did this all the time.  He valued people and let them know he valued them by listening, understanding and validating the truth they were living.

Are we? Do we listen to truly understand and validate the value of another person, even if we don’t agree with them? Do we put aside our need to be right so someone else can feel important in that moment? Can we truly value them?

I find that it is easy to start that process and then as soon as we hear or see something that we think is “wrong,” or not true we insert our thoughts, feelings, advice.  We stop listening and caring at that point.  We are only concerned about making sure we are valued, our opinion is heard and our view of the world is validated. We are no longer understanding.

If we call ourselves “Christ followers” and don’t understand and validate others, the world will not listen to us.  The most practical way to love is to practice listening.  Listening to understand.  Listening to validate.  Listening to value another person.

Listening is not listening to judge, to find what is wrong and criticize, and convince them of our opinion.  Jesus just listened to people first. He valued them first. Zacheus, the woman at the well, the woman brought to him in adultery, the prostitute who washed his feet, the leper who called out to him.

People all around us are crying out to be understood and validated.  They desperately want to be understood for who they are, what they have lived through, and how they need to be supported.  Imagine if Christ followers just did that one thing.  Listened and understood.  Who could stop a power like that?!

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Imagine everyone learned and lived what Jesus taught here in John 10:

25 Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. “Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?”

26 He answered, “What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?”

27 He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.”

28 “Good answer!” said Jesus. “Do it and you’ll live.”

29 Looking for a loophole, he asked, “And just how would you define ‘neighbor’?”

30-32 Jesus answered by telling a story. “There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.

33-35 “A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I’ll pay you on my way back.’

36 “What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?”

37 “The one who treated him kindly,” the religion scholar responded.

Jesus said, “Go and do the same.”

I believe Jesus is for everyone.  He is saying to all of us “be kind to anyone and everyone you encounter, even if it is someone you disagree with, think is wrong, bad, and you think you need to avoid them. Don’t avoid them. Help them. Listen to them. Care for them. Imagine if we ALL did that.

Imagine if the people who call themselves “Christ followers” became Good Samaritans to everyone they encountered. If we call ourselves Christ followers, we should be on the frontline of love, care, compassion, listening, and open acceptance of everyone.  Jesus is specifically calling to us.  Jesus is specifically telling us to not be what the world expects.  The world expects us to walk on the other side of the road, avoid them and reject them.

We Christians are missing our highest calling.  We are missing how we can really change the world. We are more worried about how God sees us and judges us. We are worried about our own souls and what God will think of us if we help, listen to, care for, and accept another human being that we judge as “lost.”  We think that we must somehow “do God’s work,” and witness to the sin in someone’s life so they can be saved and we can feel accomplished.

We really need to just love.  If we are worried about God judging us, then pay attention to this passage and just become a Good Samaritan.  Just find ways to be that to everyone. If God is watching and judging, we are being judge about how we treat everyone, not by how we judge them.

Imagine if the just the people who say they believe in Jesus actually became Good Samaritans everyday, in every way, to everyone.  No conditions. No intentions to be rewarded because of the kindness. How many people would we truly “save?” How many people would want to find out more about this Jesus? How many would want to then go help someone because they were helped themselves? Who could stop a power like that?

 

 

Go and Do Likewise…..

imageI count myself as a Christian. However, I have grown weary of how the Christ I serve is being portrayed and lived out (or not lived out) around me today. There is so much hate, fear, bigotry, xenophobia, racism, and homophobia going around. Christians should be the antidote to these types of things. However, I am finding that many Christians are the supporters of, if not the starters of these things.

Looking at the “religious freedom” bills that have been passed by North Carolina, and thankfully vetoed in Georgia, Christians are actually trying to pass laws that keep them from practicing kindness by baking a cake, making a flower arrangement, or going to the bathroom with someone who may be LGBT. How ridiculous is it that Christians are actually attempting to enshrine into law ways to keep them from fulfilling the greatest commandment! I see this all as coming from a great amount of fear and ignorance.

I grew up in the world of conservative Christian. I went to Liberty University, home of the religious right’s founder Jerry Falwell and current home of the lawyers for Kentucky, Rowan County clerk Kim Davis. I know what is taught there. I know the language that the religious right speaks. I know that they are afraid of being judged by God. I know the excuse they give for standing up to the LGBT community is love. They like to say that if you love someone and they are doing something to hurt themselves, something dangerous, something sinful, you warn them. If you don’t warn them, then you do not love them. So we can’t bake a cake or do a flower arrangement because that would be an “endorsement” of that lifestyle, and we need to stand against this and tell them how wrong their lifestyle is.

However, what I think they are really scared of is God judging them. They want to be able to stand in front of God one day and be able to say, “I told them Jesus.” “I didn’t bake that cake or make that flower arrangement.” They do not really care for the soul, the person, and the humanity of another person. They care about their own soul. It is born out of the selfish desire to be “right with God” themselves. They are not thinking of the consequences that others may have to endure. They are only thinking of the fear they may have to endure from God one day, or from their own social and religious circle of friends. They have become the ultimate Pharisee. They walk along the side of the road like those in the story of the Good Samaritan, and pass by on the other side. Scared to try to understand, show compassion, or help. They walk by with disdain, anger, and judgment. Really covering their fear and ignorance.

Growing up surrounded by the religious right, I also know that place of ignorance. We were always taught about this “gay lifestyle” (whatever that is) and how dangerous it was to those living it. We never encountered or talked to any LGBT people, but we certainly knew how they lived, how they were hurting themselves and how they were going to hurt our children and us. Ignorance leads to fear, and the thinking that my LGBT brothers and sisters are going to attempt to turn your child gay, confuse them about their sexual identity, or molest them in the bathroom is born out of pure ignorance. Here is a link to just one scholarly article and research pointing out that the belief that our brothers and sisters in the LGBT community are at a higher risk to hurt children is an ignorant belief, born out of myth not fact. http://psc.dss.ucdavis.edu/rainbow/HTML/facts_molestation.html
Ignorance about our brothers and sisters being transsexual is also wide spread. People tend to equate your physical sex with your gender. These are two separate things. Here is an article for you to read about this issue. It is very basic, but will get you started: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/232363.php

Your physical/biological sex can be quite different from your gender. Sex refers to the biological differences; chromosomes, hormones, internal and external sex organs. Gender describes the characteristics that a society or culture delineates as masculine or feminine. Even these definitions are on a continuum. This is very difficult to understand for most people because we do not experience this kind of cognitive dissonance between our actual physical sex and our social or emotional roles as that sex. Imagine living in a world that people treated you as something you don’t feel like you are and having to play this role even though it felt completely uncomfortable.

The reality is that you have probably already shared a bathroom with a LGBT person and NEVER KNEW IT! There was a gay man or woman in the stall/urinal next to you, a person who had already transitioned from one sex to the other, or a person in the middle of that transition. You did not get hurt. Your children did not get hurt. They did what you did in the bathroom. They used it to eliminate some type of waste and (hopefully) washed their hands and left. To think that something else was going to happen to you as a result of sharing a bathroom with someone different than you, can only be born out of fear and ignorance. It cannot be born out of the spiritual tradition of Jesus Christ.

Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan to define who our neighbor should be. He also was answering the question asked of him, “how do I get eternal life?” You can find it at Luke 10:25-37. (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+10%3A25-37). The end of the story Jesus ask the man “which of these three became the neighbor to the man that was attacked?” The man answered, “the one that treated him kindly.” Jesus’ response to that was “Go and do the same.” Jesus did not say, “I am so glad you did not help him because he was living wrong.” Can you really hear Jesus telling you, “I am so glad that you did not bake that cake for them,” in the light of the truth of this passage? This story is not about I will help only if they are like me, only if I can get something out of it, only if I can tell them what they are doing wrong. The person who helped did not say to the one attacked, “why did you walk this way,” or “don’t you know better,” or “of course you deserved your beating.” The Story is not about someone was endorsing this mans decisions or lifestyle because he decided to stop and help. He was just practicing the simple act of kindness. No this story is about treating people as we treat ourselves. This story is about fulfilling Great Commandment to loves others as we love ourselves. This story is about a person who was shunned by the people around him, yet he still helped the very person he was not supposed to come into contact with. This story is about being and showing love in real day to day actions with all those we cross paths with, every second of every day.

Too many Christians today know this story. They can quote it, read it, tell you where it is in the Bible. However, they do not know the story at all. They treat others with disdain, hatred, bigotry, and racism. They walk on the other side of the path looking at those that are “different” than them with judgment on something they know nothing or have any experience with, just fear of what they think could happen if they just loved. “God would judge me,” they think. “I am supposed to tell them how wrong they are,” they think. “They are evil and bad. If they just would not live like that we could help them.”

To know the story is to live the story! It is to love without ceasing! To care for all those around us! To know that we all need each other and one day that will be me injured on the side of the road needing someone, anyone, to help me. To know this story is to live a life where kindness and compassion help you make the decision about how you will interact with those around you. To know this story is to live a life where fear and ignorance do not rule you, but grace and understanding of “the other” does.

To know this story is to treat everyone you encounter as your brother or sister. To live this story we do not break people down into stereotypes, labels, or assumptions based on our ignorance. To live and know this story is to understand that we are all doing our best in this life, choosing the path that is best for us, and even if we are LGBT we are no different on that respect. We all want the best life we can live unencumbered by hate, bigotry, racism, homophobia, and xenophobia. My brothers and sisters who are LGBT want to go to the bathroom, get a cake for their wedding, buy some flowers to celebrate, take their kids to school, work and worship at their place of choice without fear and bigotry. Acceptance and love of each other will go much farther than walking on the other side of the street looking at the one on the opposite side as “different” or “wrong.”

So if you claim the name of Christ, stop. Stop with the fear and the ignorance. It is wrong, embarrassing, and does not represent our highest ideals as human beings or those of Christ. Start loving those around you. No matter how you may disagree, pick them up, care for them, help them dust themselves off and heal, and then allow them to continue on the path they have chosen. Get to know everyone as a person! Not a label. As a counselor, I have the privilege of getting to know people. Their inner-most workings. And guess what. They are just like me and you. So bake the cake with kindness and joy. Make the flower arrangement with kindness and joy. Hold the bathroom door open for the person behind you to leave or go in with kindness. Live the story of the Good Samaritan. As Jesus said’ “go and do likewise.” This is how you will win the approval of God and gain eternal life……for God IS love!

The Practical Living of a None

imageThe last post here established that I consider myself a “none” and discussed what I believe constitues a “none.”  This has been a passion of mine for a very long time.  Most of my life I have always thought to myself, “there has got to be a better way to change your life.”  Many times sitting in a religious church service I would be thinking, “there has got to be better answers than this.” “Is this really the way to change your life?”

For me, most religous thinking is about only one thing – making sure you make it to heaven.  Are you saved?  Are you going to make sure those around you are saved?  This is all that seems to matter.  If this is all that matters, it appears to lead most religious people to be blind about their own behavior.  We become “blind people leading blind people,” as Jesus talks about in Matthew 15.  We don’t worry about our actions, unless they will get us “out of fellowship” with God.  We don’t worry about what we are thinking, unless it can be percieved as “unholy” in some way.  We don’t worry about how we really need to bring about change, until we have to because some consequence that hits our life.  Then we may look at our responsiblity in what happened.  However, what we usually do is say, “God why are you doing this to me, why did you let this happen?” We actually think that because we got “saved”  God will keep us from the consequnces of our choices. So many of us live unaware of how, why and the reasons we make the choices and take the actions that we do.  We live asleep.  We are not alive and awake.

I always wanted a practical, real way to make change happen in my life.  I always wondered about there being practical actions I have to take so I don’t worry anymore for example.  There has got to be more than just following the scripture and listening to the preacher say “don’t worry,” and then not telling me how to do that.  It made me curious.  It lead me to my career as a therapist and a counselor.  I found many ways through the science of psychology and counseling.  I also found it in many other spritual tradions.

It is how I fell in love with Buddhism.  As I read the teachings of this philosophy, I found the practical actions to take to change my life. It is the pratical advice of the Dalai Lama here.  I found different ways to think, to notice, and to practice on a moment by moment basis to change my life.  As I read Buddhist authors I began to say to myself “oh this is what Jesus was talking about when he said….. I also would have great moments of insight where I would say “oh this is what the Bible means when it says to do…….”  This did not lead me to disown my religious belief in Jesus.  Rather, it enhance that belief and brought it to life for me in everyday, moment to moment expereicnes.  Jesus’ teachings all of the sudden became living, breathing, practical lessons for the moment I was living in and it changed my life.

This, for me, is the essence of being a “none.”  I get to learn from the breadth and depth of all spiritual traditions because God’s turth is God’s truth wherever you find it.

It is my passion to bring this knowledge andd expereince to those around me that are struggling with life.  We all struggle in some way with relationships, anxiety, fear, anger, depression, hopelessness, self esteem, boundaries, limits, and a myriad of other issues.  I have a vision of a community of spiritually minded people who want to raise their level of living in the here and now.  I know that there are many of us out there that have found “religion” lacking in helping us find practical ways of living and finding contentment in life.  We are spiritual people who understand that our spirituality needs to have more of an impact than just knowing where we are going when we die.  Spiritual life needs to impact us day to day and moment to moment.

If this is you, let me know by commenting on this blog, liking it on Facebook or twitter, following my podcast here, and sharing this blog with others who may be feeling alone being a “none.” You are not alone! There are many of us.  Let’s come together. Coming at the first of the year I want us to gather together and begin a discussion of how we change ourselves, our families, our community, and lift everyone up around us.  Thank you!

Namaste’

imageAre you “spiritual but not religious.” (SBNR) What does this even mean?  Recently, many surveys and reports have come out talking about how more and more people are no longer identifying with a certian religion.  They see themselves as spiritual, but do not want to identify themselves with a particular denomination or religion.  They have called these people “nones,” meaning they do not have a religion.  When asked what religion they are if they are spiritual they answer by saying “none.”   For me it means that religion has become something that is much more about a social gathering, a place where you are expected to “follow the crowd,” a place that you are not allowed to have thoughts of your own, a place that you cannot challenge the traditions or ideology of the faith, and finally a place that you must be “orthodox” in your view your will not be accepted.  At the very least you will not be allowed to fully participate in that particular religous community fully because you think differently, challenge the thinking of the group, and have experience and information from outside of this religous group that is truth for you and contradicts the orthodoxy of the religion.

All that to say, a “none” for me is someone who is willing to be open to alternative ideas, experiences, and practices that will bring personal change and thereby bring change to all those we encounter.  I believe that I am a “none.” I am SBNR.  I believe that my expereince, both personal and sitting with in sessions for literally thousands of hours with many hundred to thousands people – individuals, families, couples, teenagers, children – over the past 23 years, has led me to a place of understanding that we are all people in search of something that will bring peace, certainty, love, significance, and value to our lives.  We have searched for it through religion and most of us find this leaves us wanting, confused, and asking ourselves “is that really all there is,” “is this really how this works?”  We want easy answers.  We want quick solutions, We want to be accepted, loved, and know for sure that we will be “ok” in the end.  Religion attempts to offer this to us.  We like the answers it gives us in the beginning.  Religion seems to quickly heal those wounds, give us a quick solution to feel good for a moment, and promises us that if we just have enough faith and do all the right things, we will never have to worry about those things that have caused us pain again.

We soon realize that religion lies to us.  We come every week, struggling with the same issue.  Looking for the “high” of forgiveness that will offer the certainty this week that even though I messed it all up this week (again) I will be ok in the end if I just ask for forgiveness (again).  The cycle continues.  We become disillusioned.  We know that we are spiritual beings and there is a spiritual answer.  However, following religion that only offers us a few solutions that must be packaged in the orthodoxy of that religion so we can participate actually liimits us.

Jesus did not come to give us religion.  Jesus came to free us. Jesus came to expand our awareness outside the orthodoxy of religion.  He challenged the religion of his day and asked people to follow a path of spirituality that was inclusive, open, aware, and willing to learn.  I was taught that “God’s turth is God’s truth whereever you may find it.”  God’s truth is found in many places.  That truth that is found outside “religion” has worked for me and many other people.  It is not a rejection of Jesus, but a expanding of Jesus and what he taught.  I see a none as someone who is willing to be open to this idea, expand their understanding of themselves, their relationship with others, and the world to a new place.  Religion limits this expansion because it requires us to remain true to the beliefs of itself and not step outside of the religion to learn from other traditions, ideas, or expereinces.

Other traditions, ideas, and forms of spirituality have not led me to a rejection of Jesus, but to a greater apprecation of what he taught, what he lived, and how he called us to live.  Being SBNR calls me to a more accountable level of change within myself. Being spiritual causes me to be more aware of my impact on others, the feelings, thoughts, and actions within myself that cause pain for me and those I interact with everyday.  Spirituality calls me to be focused on the here and now. To be aware of this present moment, mindful of how I can make things better for myself and others bring peace and contentment.  Spiritualty seeks peace and contentment within our pain.  Religion tends to call  people to look outside themselves and change others.  Religion tends to look beyond today to the life after this one for contentment.  That “someday” you will find peace and contentment, but it will not be here on this Earth, at this time.  Religion says that contentment and peace can only come when we oversome all our sin.

I have come to a place in my life where I have learned from my experience, experiences of my own and experiences of the hundrends and people and thousands of hours I have sat with them.  I have study and read the words of the Buddha, the words of Hindu in the Bhagavad Gita, the words of Buddhist monks, Dr. Wayne Dyer, Deepka Chohpra, Thomas Merton, Rob Bell, an various other writers, philosophers, psychologist and theologians.  The more I read, study, pray, meditate, and experience on my own the more I come to believe that God’s truth is God’s truth where we may find it.  The Bible holds truth, but it does not contain all of God’s truth.  God’s truth can be found everywhere! Especially if God is the creator of the universe and all living things.  God’s fingerprints have to be found everywhere, not just exclusively in the Bible.

The practical application of all of this for me in being a “none” is religion asked me to be deeply concerned about my afterlife and eternity (and yours) not being to concerned with my daily behavior, my thoughts, my attitudes, and how they effect me and those around me.  Religion allows most of those who follow it to “put off” thinking about these things and offers rationalization as to why my current behavior does not matter too much, because I am “saved,” you need to get “saved,” and that is the whole point.  There is not to much concern on really changing my behavior in the here and now, to worry about how it impacts my family, my friends, and the community at large.  So I see “religious” people continue to perpetuate the same hurts and pains for generations, in communities, and they wonder why the world continues to “get worse,” and “go to hell in a handbasket.”  They are completely unaware of the part they are playing in that downfall.

Spirituality ask us to look at ourselves from the inside out.  It is the power to change the world.  It starts with us.  It is the truth of Ghandi saying that you must “be the change you want to see in the world.” It is Buddha telling us that all of reality lies in what events of our lives mean to us.  It is Jesus saying to us it is not what you put in your body that is important, it is what comes out of your mouth because that comes from your heart.  This is what spirituality concerns itself with.  How can I be aware of what my anger, frustration, sadness, happiness, excitement is about?  How does this shape how I treat myself and others?  How does this bring change into the world?  It is a focus on our flaws and weaknesses and finding real practical ways to work on those and improve.  All the while, accepting that we are flawed, the world is flawed, and we need to accept that nothing will ever be as we want it.  It is in this acceptance that we find peace.  Jesus said in this world we will have trouble, be he had come that we can overcome the world. Buddha told us of the 5 Remembrances and the need to accept life on life terms and this is how we no longer suffer and find peace.  Spirituality calls us all to come together and accept this about ourselves and each other, to work towards a better self, family, community, society and world.  Spirituality ask us to be here now, aware, ever changing, ever accepting, ever compassionate with ourselves and others.

At the beginning of the year, I will be asking anyone who is interested in learning more about how to change their lives, and the lives of others, to join me in some talks and discussions.  I want to give practical ways that we can use our spiritual and psychological lives to find more peace, joy, and contentment.  I will be using ideas from the disciplines of psychology, sociology, and different spiritual traditions.  I don’t know where or when yet, but as The New Year approaches I will have more information available through this blog, facebook, twitter and my podcast: you can listen to it here!  Follow me at all these places and lets take a journey together to not only find peace and contentment for ourselves, but to bring it to others that are searching for it in places outside of traditional religion.  We are out there looking for a place to connect, be heard, feel safe, and be loved.

Namaste’

We all worry.  We all get out ahead of ourselves in an attempt to make sure we will somehow be able to avoid some tradegy or event that is in the future.  We think.  And we think.  And we think.  We come up with all the what ifs.  We are so certain that the negative scenes we have will come true and we need to keep this from happening.  So we take ourselves out of the moment we are in, and jump ahead to the next moment, or the next week, in hopes that will keep us comfortable.  All the while we are completely uncomfotable in the present moment we are in because we are filled with anxiety, panic, and fear.  So what are we to do?

1) Become aware that you are “out ahead of yourself” and worrying.

This is the first mistake we all make.  We are not even aware that we are worrying.  We see it as planning, goal setting, being safe, etc.  You know it is worry if you ask yourself this question: “Can I do anything about what I am worrying about right now?”  If the answer comes back “no,” then you are worrying and you need to visualize setting that thought or thoughts on the self like a book that you are not reading.  if there is nothing you can do right now, then you need to move on to something you can do right now and actually have control over.  If the answer comes back “yes,” then go take care of it.  Plan, talk to someone, set the goal, go for the walk, pray, etc.  Then it is not worry it is living in the moment and taking action.

2) Acknowledge that you are not all-knowing, all-powerful, or all-present.  

You cannot be everywhere at once. You cannot control the weather, other people’s thoughts or actions, and events that will happen that you have not even encountered yet.  You are not God and their is no way for you to know everything that is going on at all times with everyone or every event that you may have to face.  We have given our minds the impossible task of trying to control and be knowledgable about things it will never be able to control or have knowledge about.  So stop trying to do the impossible.  Jesus told us that the flower of the field do not worry.  They have no capacity to think “man I hope the sun comes out tomorrow it has been raining for 5 days, one more day and I will drown.”  They cannot even think like this, but they are beautiful.  So remember when you catch yourself thinking about the future, you are not there – you can’t control it – and you really don’t know what will happen.  You have been in that place before and guess what? You are OK!!  You are sitting reading this and just fine.  Maybe things did not work out exactly like you wanted, but you are ok.

3) Focus on something you can do right now that will have an impact on your life. 

When faced with worry, notice it, remember that you cannot solve it all, place it on the shelf and turn your attention to something you can do to move your life forward.  You can go for a walk, meditate, talk to a friend, help someone, catch up on your paperwork, make that phone call you keep putting off, put some money in your savings, ask for help, take a nap, take a shower, etc.  The list of things we can do in a moment that will move us forward is endless.  Yet sometime we choose to focus our attention on what we don’t control and don’t have power over.

When i began to practice these three things something very interesting happened!  I was able to notice, put it on the shelf and do something productive.  Sometimes that meant i stopped worrying for five seconds.  Then I would have to do that process all over again.  Five seconds, turned into thirty seconds, which turned into a minute, which turned into hours and days before I would get out ahead of myself and “pick my worry back up.”  When this happens I start that whole process over again.  It is practice.  This practice has lead me to notice that all those things I once worried about, eventually worked out.  They worked themselves out or I finally acquired the skills or tools to take on the problem and find a solution.  My whole life those things had always worked out, but I never noticed it because I had been given my attention to my worry and never noticed that I was ok.  I never added anything to my life, ever.

4) Be thankful.

Finally, whenever you find yourself worrying and out ahead of the present moment, just stop and be thankful.  From a psychological perspective, being thankful takes us out of what we are worried about an puts us back into the present moment.  Even if you don’t “feel” thankful, be thankful.  Do it anyway.  Make a mental list. Write down a list. Focus on what you currently have to be thankful.  This is a spiritual and psychological exercise that literally takes your brain from “out there” to “her now!”  it reminds you that whatever you are worried about is probably something you have faced before and guess what you are “ok.”  Probably better than ok.  You came out the other side last time and never thought about it again because there was nothing to worry about in the first place.

Practice these four steps and see what happens to your worry.  Watch it fade into the background of your life.

Namaste’

The Places that Scare Us

I have been on a journey for the last year.  I should say that I am always on a journey, but the last year has been a intentional one of spirituality, self discovery, compassion, and self care.  I have been visiting my therapist on a very regular basis, setting limits with my time, and boundaries with others around me.  I have had to confront the very anxiety that I would like to avoid.  I have found that in this confrontation is the place of my freedom.

We all want to run from the things that scare us – anger, anxiety, negative events, others judgements about us, negative comments, sadness – anything that we think should not be the way it ought to be.  We become angry, depressed, scared.  We complain.  We beg God to help us.  We ask God why this is happening to us. We hope that if we just do the right things in the right ways we will be able to avoid the difficulties of life.  Those places and difficulties scare us.  Really we need to allow them to happen and stop fighting them.

I decided I had to push into those places.  I could no longer avoid them.  What did I find?  I found powerful emotions, fear, worry, anxiety, sadness, grief and loss, happiness, joy, excitement, peace, calmness, transcedence, ultimately I learned not to be afraid of my “self.”  This took time, support, courage, patience and compassion for myself.  I had to learn to sit with my worry, allowing it to be there, setting it on the shelf and intentionally choosing not to give it any attention.  This may have lasted for a brief few seconds when I started out.  But as I practiced, stayed patient with myself, and allowed myself to continue to give my attention to the things I could actually impact, the time I could go without worry went from seconds to minutes to hours to days.

Soon I found a truth that I had heard about but never expereinced.  When I told my therapist about my insight he laughed in recognition that this is happening to all of us.  The truth I found was simple.  When I stopped focusing on my worries, what I could not control, and focused on only what I could have power over in the moment I was in I noticed that the things I once worried about would be taken care of.  Those things and events would just work themselves out, or I would have the skills, tools, and resources to solve them later.  My statement to my therapist was “I have noticed that all the things I used to worry about work out and it has probably always happended that way I just never noticed it because I was giving so much attention to my worried thoughts.”  He laughed in recognition.

I had to actually face the things that scare me to overcome them.  I had to not worry and see what would really happen.  That was scary. I had to stop running from it.  I was supposed to plan and make sure that I could make life work like I thought is should.  It was actually fear producing to not give my worried thoughts attention.  It felt like I was going to be out of control, helpless, alone, and it would not get messed up.  However, in pushing into it, allowing myself to notice my worry, but not give it any attention, I was able to overcome it. I was able to say “yes there is my worry, it always shows up, but it does not solve anything.  I wonder what I can do right now that is going to be productive and helpful?”  In the end I was ok.  Ok meaning that it did not always workout the way I thought it should, but I was ok even though it didn’t.  I learned to accept that rather than fight that.  My world has changed.  I will speaking about this in the coming month and writing more about it here.  I hope you join me!