Sunday, August 30, 2015

How Grace is Given

On Thursday, I went to a focus group in the city. It was supposed to be an hour and 40 minutes in which my brain would be picked and my opinions offered. When I arrived at the destination, I was told the focus group over-recruited and I could leave. However, I was paid for my time all the same. Kaching! It was the best possible outcome I could have asked for. Walking out of the building I laughed to myself and called a friend to proclaim, “God really loves me.”

Now, God loves me all the time, unconditionally, but these extra special instances, these moments of grace, demonstrate that love in a tangible way. Some people might say those moments of grace are proof that I'm living in alignment with God's will for me, that I'm a powerful manifestor, or whatever, but I disagree. I had nothing to do with getting dismissed from the focus group – it didn't even enter into my mind as a possibility. I had absolutely zero part in orchestrating that situation.

Grace is really love from the divine.
Grace is really love from the divine.

A few years ago I wrote a post about grace and exclaimed in delight about all the wonderful and magical things that happened to me during a trip to Italy. One example is I showed up to the museum housing Michelangelo's David and was told admission was free as I'm a woman and it was International Women's Day. I didn't plan that, I didn't even know it was a thing. When I told a friend about it later I worried she would think I was bragging, and her response was something along the lines of, “How could I possibly think you were bragging? As if you had a hand in any of that!”

I bring this up because an issue I have with New Age spirituality, or at least my interpretation of it, is this idea that everything is down to us, for better or for worse. Having a good day? You manifested that! Having a bad day? You manifested that too! Sometimes it's true, and our attitudes make a huge difference in how we experience life, but also there are many things out of our control and grace is one of those things.

My spiritual teacher says, “You know that divine grace does not depend on any logic; it depends only on the whims of [God]. If [God] is satisfied with your intuitional practice, with your sincere zeal then He may bless you … Let human beings perform virtuous deeds, practice meditation, serve the suffering humanity, and in return they will attain His grace.”

I know that makes God sound very “old man in the sky,” which is not how my teacher defines God, but language has its limits you know? The point he's making, as I understand it, is we can't control when we're graced or not. All we can do is keep moving ahead on the spiritual path, performing good deeds for others, and then every now and again when the universe deems it so, we'll get to see Michelangelo's David for free or get dismissed from a focus group. But we don't decide when or if those things happen.

I dream of a world where we all experience grace. A world where we recognize grace is a gift and not a reward. A world where instead of saying, “Yes! I created this moment!” we say, “Thank you,” because we recognize the moments of grace for the expressions of love that they are.

Another world is not only possible, it's probable.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Non-attachment for People Who Attach

I'm having a tough time with the impermanence of things. The good things in my life I want to lock in little glass jars and preserve them for all eternity. What's funny is I have a similar reaction to the bad things. Not that I want to preserve them for all eternity, but rather it feels like they'll be with me for all eternity. There is not a sense that this too shall pass.

I'm experiencing both of those sensations at the moment – wanting to preserve stuff and feeling like other stuff is interminable. A dear friend of mine is moving across the country in about 10 days and I'm really sad about it. I want him to stay here, I want things to keep going like they have been, and at the same time my sadness feels like a constant companion.

Buddhists would say my pain comes from attachment. I agree, I am very attached, but I don't know how not to be. The word people use most often to describe me is “intense.” I love deeply and commit fully. There is no halfway for me. I'm one of those extreme personalities, although I'm working on learning moderation and the middle ground. How am I supposed to learn non-attachment? Well, I'm not.

I'm constantly trying to catch bubbles but when I hold on too tight, they pop. A good metaphor I think,
I'm constantly trying to catch bubbles but when I hold on too tight, they pop. A good metaphor I think.

My spiritual teacher says, “[N]on-attachment does not mean to leave all pleasures and remain in a state of indifference to the world. It does not mean to leave everything and go to the seclusion of a mountain cave. Those who are truly non-attached do not deny the world (or worldly life); they embrace it, for they feel the touch of the eternal hidden within all the changing forms of their lives. They are with everything.”

That to me means non-attachment is seeing things in their true form: as an expression of the divine, which is eternal. Non-attachment means enjoying things while they're around and remembering they are not the source of my enjoyment. I may love a person but love doesn't die when they leave. Non-attachment means I love God in the form of this person, but ultimately I love God. Again, it comes back to ascribing God-hood to everything.

I'm not saying I'm no longer sad about my friend moving, because I am, but I do feel a little better because I'm reminded of what's constant, of what's eternal. I'm also reminded of my source for everything. My higher power will always bring me who and what I need. In fact, a few weeks ago I rode the bus home from a meeting when normally I hitch a ride, and I ran into someone I knew, who I just met a few days before. It felt like a message from my higher power saying, “Your friend may be leaving, but that doesn't mean you won't make new friends and that your community will disintegrate. I am your source for everything; remember this all comes from me.”

I dream of a world where we remember for better or for worse, everything is impermanent. A world where we take comfort in knowing what's eternal. A world where we enjoy what's in front of us but also practice non-attachment because we catch a glimpse of the true form underneath.

Another world is not only possible, it's probable.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Life is Not an Illusion: Or is it?

I hear quite often that life is an illusion, or a dream. People say that only heaven is real and what we're experiencing is a very realistic movie.

I sort of understand this perspective, because as I've written about before, I have a practice whereby I ascribe God-hood to everything, even inanimate objects. I do that to remind myself the keys I'm typing on are not keys, they are God in the form of keys. So if people are saying life is an illusion because everything is really an expression of God, then I can get behind this “life is an illusion” business.

Some people say life is a dream. I'm not buying it.
Some people say life is a dream. I'm not buying it.

However, what I often see is people use the concept of life as an illusion to be apathetic and not do anything. If life is really an illusion, does it matter that there are wildfires raging in California? Does it matter that some people live in squalor while others live in opulence? If life is a realistic movie, then what's the point of intervening? Instead, all we're experiencing is a temporary projection, a way to pass the time until we get to the good stuff, until we get to heaven.

Friends, this is not an attitude I can abide by. I mean, I get it. It's very appealing to think life is an illusion because then all the horrible stuff that goes on in the world doesn't really matter and we don't have to get upset about it. We can soothe ourselves like kids waking from a nightmare by saying, “It was just a dream.” However, even if we are living in a dream or a realistic movie, we all have a part to play. We were assigned roles and those roles must be fulfilled, otherwise the movie would be very boring. All good stories have conflict and resolution. If we take the attitude life is an illusion and rest on our laurels, life is all conflict and no resolution.

I honestly don't see how saying, “life is an illusion” is helpful. However, I'm about to get all contradictory here because in yogic philosophy there is a concept called Máyá, who is the Supreme Creative Principle. Máyá is responsible for all of creation and is often translated as illusion precisely because the yogis are encouraging us to see the world as it really is: an expression of the divine.

My spiritual teacher says, “When people attain supremacy over Máyá through their ... [spiritual efforts or meditation], the veil of darkness moves aside from their minds and then there remains no difference between their own self-effulgence and the Brahmic effulgence – both are fused into one.”

I guess what I'm saying here is why wait for heaven? Why postpone happiness and the good stuff for a time that may never come? As someone who believes in reincarnation, I'm going to keep cycling through a human life over and over again. If I don't believe in heaven, does that mean I'll never experience reality? That I'll live in an endless illusion? That sounds pretty horrible to me. I'd rather bring enlightenment, bliss, and freedom to the present day by recognizing life is sort of an illusion. The illusion is not life itself, but rather that physical objects are all that exist, that material goods are all that matter. The illusion is believing we and everything around us are anything less than bright, shining lights of divinity.

I dream of a world where instead of viewing life as an illusion we view it as a projection of divinity. A world where we bring enlightenment, bliss, and freedom into the present moment. A world where we do what we can to uplift all of humanity and make heaven a real place that exists on Earth.

Another world is not only possible, it's probable.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

How to Stay in the Flow

I've been hearing a lot about “being in the flow” or returning to the flow. The way being in the flow is presented is when you hit every green light and run into a friend unexpectedly on the street and everything is going your way. In other words, a really good day. Not being in the flow then, means hitting every red light, just missing the person you wanted to see, and nothing is going your way. In other words, a really bad day.

Maybe this is just my interpretation, but it seems to me people say when we're not in the flow, it's our fault. It's because I'm not thinking the right thoughts, I'm not aligning with the divine, I'm not grateful enough, or whatever. The reason though always has something to do with me.

Life is like a river and constantly flowing.
Life is like a river and we're all flowing back to the sea.

When I start to think about being in the flow from that perspective, it doesn't make sense. How can everything be my fault? I don't control the universe. For every action there is a reaction – that's a law of nature. How could I possibly be the cause of whether or not some guy gets drunk and runs a red light? Therefore, how could I possibly be the one to cause all of my good days and bad days? Even if we all were little islands, even islands are subjected to storms and wave currents. We aren't in control of everything and when I try to be, I only succeed in making myself crazy.

There seems to be this notion, again, maybe of my own perception, that when a person becomes really spiritual, when they're “thinking the right thoughts,” that all of sudden life is peachy keen and they never have another trouble again. And if they have any sort of troubles, it's because they attracted it to themselves. When I think about one of the most famous spiritual teachers, Jesus Christ, his life was not sunshine and roses. What's so amazing about Jesus was his ability to forgive, to continue preaching peace and love despite all the horrible things he went through. That to me is real spirituality, not living a trouble-free life.

My spiritual teacher says every human being willingly or unwillingly dances in harmony with the rise and fall of the cosmic waves. That there is a ceaseless and eternal cosmic flow. That to me means I stay in the flow by remembering I'm never out of the flow, even when I'm late for all my appointments, lose my luggage, and have a day I'd rather not experience again.

When people talk about getting back in the flow, it's a good reminder to touch base with the divine, to feel the love that's all around me, but it's also important to remember just because I'm letting the universal energy move through me, doesn't mean life will always be a pleasure cruise.

Almost exactly two years ago I wrote a post called, “Love is the Container,” about how even when I'm sad, angry, scared, etc. love is there, love is holding all of those emotions. In the same way, when nothing goes right, I'm still in the cosmic flow. But maybe instead of cresting the wave, I'm down in the trough. Life is a constant flow with ups and downs and I'll never be able to tell the waves to quit moving, so instead, it's better for me to enjoy the ride whether I'm surfing or crashing.

I dream of a world where we realize we are always in the flow, whether we're having a good day or a bad one. A world where instead of striving for ceaseless pleasure, we work on adjusting ourselves and our attitudes. A world where we realize to stay in the flow we don't have to do anything because we never left.

Another world is not only possible, it's probable.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

You Plus Me Equals We

Last week, I watched an inspirational movie about kids who utilized their talents to win scholarships to college and pull themselves out of poverty. All of the kids were the first in their families to go to college, and by doing so they become teachers, writers, policemen, etc. They weren't forced to work in low-wage jobs like their parents were.

I teared up watching the flick – I love that they improved their lives – but then I got to thinking, “What about everyone else?” What about the kids who don't have an exceptional talent that wins them a scholarship? These kids escaped the cycle of poverty, but someone else is waiting in the wings to take their place. Just because one person no longer has to pick oranges for a living doesn't mean oranges stop getting picked. It doesn't mean all the other orange pickers no longer have to endure poor working conditions and low wages.

If you think about it, all society consists of is you and me. "You" being plural here.
If you think about it, all society consist of is you and me. "You" being plural here. . .

The cycle of exploitation continues and our capitalistic economy feeds off it. In the case of food production, almost literally. Why is this? Because we continue to emphasis the rights of individuals (or corporations, who are now considered people) over the collective.

I've seen the individual versus the collective show up in a big way this week with the killing of Cecil the Lion. Minnesotan dentist Walter Palmer paid $50,000 to hunt Cecil the Lion, who was a big tourist attraction in Zimbabwe. Did Palmer think about anyone other than himself when he set out to kill Cecil? No he did not. He was prioritizing his own selfish interests.

Another way that the individual versus the collective is prioritized is the public's reaction to the killing of Cecil. We're directing so much ire against Palmer, but not talking as much about poaching laws in general. Outrage has reached such a fever pitch that Zimbabwe is calling for Palmer's extradition and many people in the U.S. agree. I think part of the reason we're seeing so much outrage over Cecil is it's easy to excoriate an individual.

A few of my friends who are more focused on the collective have exclaimed they wish society would be as outraged over the killing of black people in our country as people are over the killing of Cecil. It's harder to evoke as much outrage against a system, which is also harder to dismantle, than it is to get pissed off an at individual. Racism is so rampant, it's seeped into many aspects of life, and how do you go about changing something like that?

I think it starts with prioritizing the collective. There is an African proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” We are not going to go far if we keep focusing on ourselves alone. We are not going to solve any of our serious societal problems if we're thinking, “How can I benefit?” instead of “How can we benefit?” Life can be better for all of us but that starts with striking a balance between the individual and the collective.

My spiritual teacher says, “One must not forget that collective welfare lies in individuals and individual welfare lies in collectivity. Without ensuring individual comforts through the proper provision of food, light, air, accommodation, and medical treatment, the welfare of the collective body can never be achieved. One will have to promote individual welfare motivated by the spirit of promoting collective welfare.”

I dream of a world where we go far, together. A world where we prioritize taking care of each other. A world where we understand what's good for the collective is also good for the individual. A world where we work to raise each other up, and improve life for us all, because after all, you plus me equals we.

Another world is not only possible, it's probable.