‘Tis the Season…
Since I saw my first Christmas commercials within the last four weeks, I thought this would be a good time to discuss that most important subject that inspires the emotions that take over at this time of year. I’m not talking about the birth of a great Master, I’m talking about the subject of…money.
Funny subject to bring up around Christmas, you think? Not really. From now until after New Year’s when you are reminded of the huge sales in which you could be participating, you will be bombarded with commercials that push the latest game, toy, clothing, even cars that will make your loved ones happy. Without these gifts you will be a lousy mom or dad or spouse or friend and don’t forget it!
Never mind that you don’t have the money to afford these gifts. Never mind that you will take your charge card and max it out which will end up with payments you can’t make. Never mind that you can layaway these gifts at various stores that will end up costing you more than you would have paid in cash. And never mind that you will be beset with worry and anxiety and fear that what you give or do will never be enough to make life feel better for your family or friends or even yourself. There will never be enough to make you feel better so you buy and buy and buy and give and give and give and hope that somehow that fear and anxiety will go away.
Certainly over-spending is a symptom of fear and anxiety and a need to fill an emptiness inside. But our relationship with the concept of money itself needs examining. We have been taught from childhood on that without money we would be ‘in need.’ A good education was emphasized so we could make more money to ensure that we would never have to feel ‘in need.’ We were told that to have little money or no money at all was bad and we would be ‘in need.’ To have the best and latest car, the biggest house, the newest clothes, the latest gadget – without them, without the money we would need to buy them, filled us with fear and anxiety and we would be ‘in need.’ And this was and is a tragedy.
No, it’s not a tragedy that we would be ‘in need’ if by ‘need’ you mean that we would have the latest car. The tragedy has been that we have never been taught that having ‘just enough’ would be a good thing. Most of us can’t even comprehend what ‘just enough’ is. Just enough? What does that even mean?
Well, it means having enough to fill my needs for today. Being happy with what I have today. Knowing and trusting that my needs are filled tomorrow and for each day after that. To not covet what others have and being content with where I am and what I have now. That’s what ‘just enough’ means.
But how do you do that? You “know” that you only have so much in your paycheck and that your bills exceed that amount. You “know” that the cost of food has gone up and that you haven’t bought fresh fruit or vegetables in months because you can’t afford it. You “know” that your electricity bill is going up and you feel helpless to do anything about it. You “know” that your phone bill is high because you’re stuck with a lousy contract and your teen’s texting is out of control. These are facts, you believe, and you can’t do anything about them.
This isn’t the place to discuss what each person can do to counter the ‘facts’ as stated above. They can all be handled in a completely different way with the use of sales, coupons, unplugging unused electrical components, turning off texting, or horrors!…just doing without. The library and the internet have plenty of advice on how to live within a budget and how to create a budget if you don’t know how. No, here we talk about the beliefs we have about living within a budget and how we feel about that so-called ‘limitations’ of doing so.
Each person can define what is “enough” for her. Each person can choose to see their paycheck as ‘not enough’ or ‘just enough.’ Each person who has exactly what he needs to meet his bills each month while putting money in savings and paying off debt if there is any has the choice to see himself as really needy or as perfectly complete. We all do.
And if we don’t have the latest and greatest of anything, why do we perceive this is a lack in our lives? Why do we see ourselves as ‘less than’ if we have a car that’s five or ten years old and not one purchased this year? Why does it have to be the biggest and most expensive car and not a lower, less costly and less ‘sexy’ car? What do we believe it says about ourselves if our car isn’t what society claims is the ‘best?’ If our beliefs say that we are not the ‘best’ or are even bad without the best, then of course we want to do do whatever it takes to make us feel better. It doesn’t occur to us to change our own beliefs about what being ‘bad’ means. No, we simply aim to change the results of our beliefs by buying more and certainly the ‘best.’
What if we had been taught from birth that we could be happy with what we have, that being rich meant our needs would be met and that today would always be taken care of and to trust that tomorrow would be also? I know this is hard to conceive when all we’ve ever know was poverty or haven’t had a job in months and bills are going unpaid and Christmas is coming and we have no money set aside for gifts. How can we possibly feel happy when so much is missing from our lives?
Since I’ve been in this place myself and have known what that fear feels like, I can tell you that it has taken practice to change this belief but it can be done. The first most important belief I had to change was that I was ‘good’ and that no amount of money would make me any better than what I was now. While it doesn’t have to take as long for you as it had for me, still it took years for me to change this belief and I have relapses now and again but nowhere near as many as before. The concept of money being associated with my being, my self-image as good or bad is just no longer a huge problem in my life.
I live on a fixed income now and while I do have money in savings, I’ve learned contentment with what I have, to not covet what another person has, or to associate my happiness with possessing the latest in anything. My clothes are simple and usually bought used (though I have scored a couple of great stylish outfits from thrift shops). My car is ‘pre-owned’ and functional and totally un-stylish and the functional part is the most important. My apartment is modest and my furniture is either gifts from my sister and brother-in-law or purchased used from Goodwill or Salvation Army with an occasional Walmart sale thrown in. There are a few new pieces but they were on sale and paid for with cash. And I am very happy with what I have and have no doubts that my needs will always be taken care of. I certainly have what I need today and tomorrow will come with its own replenishment.
Does this mean that having or wanting money is a bad thing? Not at all. It is the love of money, not money itself, that is the fruit of all evil. Only when money becomes something to covet and hold on to because of the fear inside us does it become a source of discontent, anxiety, greediness and unhappiness. If you have enough money to buy a nicer house, a better car, the latest electronic gadget or designer clothes, great! But if it takes credit cards and debt to buy these than your so-called ‘needs’ must become only as much as you can truly afford to pay – either in cash on the spot, or if you use a credit card, with the balance paid off each month. And don’t forget the all-important savings that must be set aside each month so a credit card for ’emergencies’ isn’t necessary.
And what about tomorrow? We worry so much about what tomorrow will bring when it is so much healthier and happier to trust that everything will be there for us to have. To live in the moment and for the Now is a far happier place to be! There’s probably not much scientific facts to back up my statements, but I’ve learned that when I have taken what necessary steps that I’ve had to bring about my intent and then have simply trusted in the universe to do so, then it happened. It really happened. It’s as if I stepped aside and just let the universe take over, and once I was out of the way with my worries and fears then it had the space to bring about solutions that I had never imagined. I’ve had this happen to me over and over, including money appearing literally out of the blue to take care of a problem that I’ve had. These have been wonderful events and each time they’ve happened I’ve gained even more trust that my needs would be met no matter what the so-called ‘reality’ around me indicated.
I’m reminded of that lovely discourse by Jesus in the Book of Matthew in which he tells the people that they need not be concerned about their needs for tomorrow.* Here’s the last part which is a good conclusion to this essay:
||¶ Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
||Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?
||Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
||And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
||and yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory 1 Kgs. 10.4-7 · 2 Chr. 9.3-6 was not arrayed like one of these.
||Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?
||Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
||(For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
||But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
||¶ Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
To learn to live within a limited income and happily, to not covet or want more than I have has given me great peace of mind. It has required changing my entire attitude towards wanting, towards discerning between needs and wants, and being happy with what I have. Every morning I sit and meditate and focus on my place in the universe and know that I am well taken care of and loved and satisfied. I hope in this season of giving that you will feel that you are, too.
Just so you don’t think that I live in a state of bliss and joy and happiness all the time, I’ll share with you that for the last week I’ve been coping with a chronic illness that has laid me low. It’s nothing that is better or worse than illnesses endured by many friends and family members but coping with chronic pain, flu-like symptoms and fatigue can get me down. Most of the time I do pretty well with it but there are times it sends me into despair and I forget all about the joy within. In the past I dosed myself with alcohol to help me numb the pain, both physical and emotional. I no longer drink now but I had to figure out some kind of substitute for the alcohol and for me that became my inner spiritual connection.
I had to learn to deal with my emotional pain as well which required plenty of therapy, confronting what I had done in the past and making amends as best as I could, and facing the fears I had hidden from my whole life. It has been a long, long journey but it has left me feeling freer than I’ve been since a very young child. The process was very painful, however, and the alcohol helped me cope with that pain as well. Giving it up was just as hard as facing my fears because then I had to dig down deep for strength to keep on going no matter how desperate I became.
So many of us today use something outside of ourselves to help us cope with physical, emotional and even spiritual pain. Some, as I have, use alcohol or drugs to numb ourselves. Others use food, gambling, sex, over-working, and over-spending, among others, to hide from our hurts. I know that I also have used alcohol to fill an emptiness within, a sense of no-connection from anything meaningful in my life that has hurt me more than then any physical pain ever has. That lack of one-ness left me drifting and stumbling until my body was slammed into helplessness with illness and I had nowhere else to turn. I was forced to redirect my attention to the God Within and that awareness has been my saving grace, even on days like today when I’m exhausted and the maximum doses of anti-inflammatories and neuropathic drugs I take aren’t enough to keep the pain at bay. It hasn’t been easy to refocus my attention and requires constant attention to maintain it but it soothes me when pain meds and rest just aren’t enough.
I’m aware of the connection between body, mind and spirit, a concept as old as the most ancient fragments found in Egypt and in the area that was then called Babylon. That our thoughts influence our emotions and our bodies is nothing new and doctors today are finally figuring out that they must treat the whole person if they wish to help their patients heal themselves. And I’ve learned that I must take responsibility for my own healing as well as leaning on the doctors for medications.
This means that when I feel an emotion that upsets me, I’ve learned not to stuff it down where I can’t feel it and to bring it out where I can examine the thoughts behind it. Doing so has helped me examine and toss out beliefs that have only led to feelings of shame, fear and unworthiness, all of which have showed up in my body in a variety of unpleasant ways. I’m much better at this and I’ve managed to let go of a variety of past illnesses but I still carry the ones that plague me today. I confess to finding this frustrating, even maddening at times because I’ve worked so hard at examining my beliefs. But perhaps part of the journey I travel is the illness itself and what it teaches me. If so, I wish I wasn’t such a slow learner!
So what have I learned? Because I’ve been disabled I’ve learned patience with others, tolerance for their beliefs, compassion for their own journeys and a connecting love for all for the pain we put ourselves through. I still struggle with this, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve come a long way from the impatient and judgmental person I was even ten years ago. I had to. It was either that or blow up and for awhile I did but that inner connection saved me when nothing else could. I sincerely hope that your own spiritual connection, however it manifests in your life, brings you to a divine resource of love and hope that gives you a peace far greater than anything of this world. Blessed be.
Thou Shalt Not Kill…
One of the side effects, so to speak, of having these transcendent experiences is that when you are in it you know beyond knowing that you are connected with everyone and everything. And that literally what you do unto others is actually done to yourself. That being said, it becomes obvious to someone with this experience that killing anyone is a violation and should not be done for any reason – not out of anger or hate, not out of defense of yourself and certainly not because you were just having a bad day.
Yes, I can hear all of you who say that if we didn’t defend ourselves from ‘them’ that we would be killed instead. Well, that’s possibly true but I’m going to suggest that someone has to put down his or her gun first and refuse to kill anymore. Utter nonsense to those who don’t understand their connection with all that exist and for them the fear of others and the need to defend themselves will continue.
I’m well aware that both the Old and New Testaments supported killing for punishment of ‘bloodguilt’ and in defense of one’s self and one’s city. And while Jesus did exhort his followers to buy a sword, he also told them to put their swords up because “he who lived by the sword would die by the sword.”☼ Why the contradiction? Well, I’m not a Hebrew scriptural expert but the earliest fragments we have were written by St. Paul about 30 years after Jesus died around 52 AD (or what is now called the Common Era).◊ Paul (aka Saul of Tarsus) never met Jesus but underwent a conversion while on horseback and traveling to Damascus to wipe out the members of the new Christian religion. So what he heard about Jesus and how he translated his own conversion experience might have been a combination of oral traditions he had heard and his own understanding of his present world and the need for defense against those who might attack him. His writings focused on his interpretation of Jesus’ teachings which were taken in the context of that time which included lots of chaos, violence, and persecution of the Christians as well as a contempt for the sanctity of any life who wasn’t wealthy and Roman.
It is my humble theory that what Jesus said was interpreted from a limited and very human viewpoint, one that didn’t understand his saying that the Kingdom of God was within and that from that awareness would come a knowing that killing someone else would be as if they had killed themselves. The violation of another being was taboo in Jesus’ mind because he could clearly see the connection of all that existed. Very few at the time understood what he was saying and from that misunderstanding came the human concept of killing becoming acceptable under certain conditions. That all life was sanctified, no matter what the situation, was apparently left off the table. Hence we now legally kill the intruder who breaks into our home, we legally kill the ‘enemy’ as we define him in far off lands, we legally use the death penalty to exact what we believe is justice for a murderer’s actions and we legally kill the most fragile of lives, the babies that have not yet been born.
In this day when most of us have not seen ourselves as intimately connected to all around us, these excuses for killing another are perfectly acceptable if not completely necessary to preserve our life and country. What I suggest is that one by one we each consider putting down our arms and refusing to kill anyone else, no matter who and no matter why. I served 14 years in the Navy as a hospital corpsman and a reporter yet as peaceful as these positions appeared to be, I was completely ready to defend my country and my loved ones if someone threatened them. I was trained to shoot weapons and I would have pulled a trigger if necessary. I no longer believe in this necessity at all. I will no longer kill for any reason, including in defense of myself or those I love. Death is a little thing, a goodness to me since our physical lives are fleeting and only one day in an eternal curriculum where we continue to learn to manipulate the incredible reality around us. But I put forth that if I believe that killing is not necessary and refuse to do so, than death in a violent way will not come to me unless I choose it to. If I have learned one thing in this lifetime it is that we attract the events in our lives with our intent and if mine is peaceful, than peace will be with me no matter what is happening around me. That has been my life for several years now and I see no reason for this to end.
Of course I am seen as a fool for believing this with all of the violence going on around me and that is quite alright with me. I can think of worse things than being thought a fool. Being thought of as a killer is far more serious to me and one I want no part of. Think of me as you will, but I will consider myself a part of you and all I see around me and I will cherish every bit of it.
Just think of what would happen if all of us recognized our connections with each other and refused to kill any more no matter what. If all of our sons and daughters refused to join the military, if the death penalty was revoked in all states, if the social illness that resulted in murders ended, if the need for abortions no longer existed… Just think. One by one we could accomplish this if we as a group of people, as a city, as a state, as a country came to the conclusion that violence would only beget more violence. Just think that if we understood that the fear that lay beneath the supposed need for violence was relieved that we could exist as a people in joy and safe-ness. Just think. The old hippie statement that “Fighting for peace is like f***ing for chastity” is true after all.
For those who believe that Christ is coming again, I tell you that he is already here. Underlying this entire shift of beliefs that is taking place beneath the surface of perceived events is a new awareness that is growing, a new understanding of our relationship with each other and a knowing that will bring about a world that is more just and safe. The Christ Entity has already begun the work required to bring about this change and all you have to do is be open to it and look within. The Kingdom of God is within you. He said that then and he says it now. And once you understand that you are a blessed part of God, of All That Is, of the Universe, you will also come to see that killing another is just killing yourself and you will never be a part of that again.
I suppose I should describe what I think a mystic is and why I think I’m one in training. And why anyone should care about any of this, if any do. It’s important to me and perhaps fellow mystics-in-training out there will recognize themselves and learn that they aren’t alone.
Wikipedia is always a fun place to go for definitions and sometimes they’re even true. According to them, mysticism, “(from the Greek mystikos, meaning ‘an initiate’) is the knowledge of, and especially the personal experience of, states of consciousness, or levels of being, or aspects of reality, beyond normal human perception, including experience of and even communion with a supreme being.” And according to Merriam Webster, a mystic is “a follower of a mystical way of life.” Well, that’s really helpful. Not. A better one from the American Heritage Dictionary describes ‘mysticism’ as “immediate consciousness of the transcendent or ultimate reality of God.” Perhaps you’re getting the drift here.
So what does this have to do with me? Although I’d been deeply connected with nature and God throughout childhood, nothing prepared me for what happened when I was 14. It was Christmas Eve and I had stayed up late to just experience the peace of the night. I was standing by the dining room window and looking at the stars when “IT” happened. Whammo! Suddenly I was in God, of God, and all around me was God. I was God and God was me. I felt an ecstasy flow through me because for the first time I felt one with all and that the universe was safe and I was blessed within it. I was connected with God and everyone and everything in it. And that these words were and still are completely inadequate to express the exquisite joy I felt while in this focus.
This experience had a curious effect on me. Being deeply depressed at the time and incredibly angry with my parents and lashing out violently at anyone around me, I desperately needed some kind of help. I’d like to say that I was turned around by this and life became blissful and all was well, but that’s not what happened.
My life was changed somewhat and thank heavens for that because I was heading down into a clinical depression and I would eventually drop out of high school and become decidedly suicidal. This mystical event occurred before my depression became really deep so it didn’t exactly save me. Instead it reminded me that my physical reality was a far cry from that incredible peace that I had felt and only demonstrated to me how far my existence was from living in that special place. I felt bereaved and heartsick over not feeling this joy all the time and wondering what I had done to make it go away.
I would eventually work my way out of that depression and on into adulthood where the memory of that experience would never vanish completely. Instead it ran like an ongoing newsreel in the back of my mind, always there but faded and shopworn as I tried to replay it and get the same joyful results. I could feel a tiny bit of that inexpressible joy but never in the fullness of the original experience. It didn’t come back in completely at all during that time but the experience was sometimes repeated in my dreams and that kept it from fading from my consciousness completely.
There it stayed until a traumatic series of emotional and medical events forced me to go inward for help and in doing so I was able to open the door to the fullness of that joy once again. It was either that or go crazy and personally, I preferred joy over crazy any day. Since that day I have been able to recapture that experience again and again while in meditation, in standing outside at night or day with nature around me, and in the faces of people I see around me. I see and feel God in everything and in everyone though it’s not a focus I can keep all the time. I’m only human and it slips and slides around as I try to hold it in my grasp. Sometimes I can only get a glimmer but even that is a wonder. I think the secret to submerging myself within the experience is to not try so hard all the time to hold it still and to just let it be and it will come and stay naturally. That’s my theory, anyway.
I have an overwhelming desire to be of service to others because I feel God and incredible joy flowing through me when I am helping. I have no desire to let folks know of my service to others, a curious humility that has only emerged in the past couple of years. Before that I would have tooted my horn over every single good thing I did, no matter how small or insignificant. Even now I feel abashed about writing this but I do so because it is part of the message that I feel compelled to tell the world. I am completely at one with the Prayer of St. Francis in which he writes “Oh, Great Master, grant that I might seek to console as to be consoled, to understand as to be understood, and to love as to be loved, for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are reborn to a new and everlasting life.” And, I might add, that we are one with God when we allow the loving joy of which we are part to flow through us to another in need.
By the way, when I speak of “God,” I’m not speaking of a Christian Jesus, or of a Buddha, or Allah or Krishna or of any of the other manifestations of God throughout the world. I have no religion, no adherence to any particular liturgy or dogma. The God of whom I speak is the One who is all of us, All That Is, if you wish. I have no words to express this energy that created us yet It is a part of the smallest particle of my body and yours and the world I see around me. To me all paths lead to God (how could they not?), including those who walk the paths of atheism or agnosticism. It matters not to me if you believe in God or not. It certainly makes life more interesting, in my humble opinion, if you do, but it’s not necessary. That you don’t feel a part of anything, that you believe only in science, that you want “…just the facts, ma’am, just the facts,” that you believe that when we die we simply go poof and we are gone – that is your path and none of my business. God believes in you and that’s all that’s necessary for me.
No, I don’t feel compelled to write of the mystical life so I can proselytize my beliefs on the innocent victims who might read this. You don’t have to believe a single thing I say. Instead, I write because I want you to know that what I experience you can experience if you wish. I’m not some great philosopher, some revered sage or a saint in any way shape or form. I’m just another human, one more schmoe who is trying to stagger my way from birth to death without stomping on the foot of anyone else I encounter. I’m not Rumi or Meister Eckhart or St. John of the Cross. I am ‘only an egg,’ in the immortal words of Valentine Michael Smith.i I’m just a mystic in training and trying to make sense of my place in the world.
If you’re interested at all in reading about other ordinary schmoes like me who have had similar experiences and how it changed their lives, two good books are “The Ecstatic Journey” by Sophy Burnham and “Ordinary People as Monks and Mystics,” by Marsha Sinetar. In fact, the latter book is my favorite and when I see used copies in bookstores I buy them and give them away to others I think might be interested. We’re all mystics in training and it’s good to have help and conversations with those all around us on a similar path.
This is the first of many blogs I will write on how this experience has impacted my life and if you are interested how it can impact yours. God bless you on your journey, whichever God you worship, and may your path be filled with joy and love.
iStranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein.