Accomplishment

Accomplishment is a good feeling. At any age, accomplishing whatever we set out to do brings immense satisfaction.

Do you remember learning to tie your shoes? Or the first time you mastered a bike? (Too bad kids only have Velcro now!)

Accomplishing a project or goal serves many purposes. It can teach us about persistence, so essential to success. It can bring satisfaction in having achieved something difficult or meaningful like a goal – creating a business, a book, a wonderful song or lyric. For some, it can be a legacy, a way of saying, “I was here.” For others, it can be a measure of productivity or of progress. An accomplishment reveals much about one’s personal motivation and drive.

On a less savory note, accomplishment can also be just another method to “prove” ourselves, or, to prove our worth. Western society puts a lot of pressure on accomplishment as a barometer of success. Add a few letters after your name and the world views you differently. For some people it is just this exterior recognition, the opinion of others that counts and drives them. Accomplishment for its own sake should make us think.

Can the idea of accomplishment nourish our spiritual side, or does it relate at all? Think about what consumes us daily. The focus that striving for accomplishment demands on the here and now can be healthy, but it can also occupy and squeeze out moments that we need to connect with the eternal part of ourselves. Accomplishment for its own sake will diminish the effort we can put into matters of eternal import. Too much focus and effort in that direction is not a route to mindfulness – it only feeds the ego and that is not our goal.

At the monastery, the monks view accomplishment in the context of making the abbey a better place. It is not the personal accomplishments of material life that concern them, but accomplishing the one thing that really matters, the close connection one can make with the Divine. Self-realization in spirit – that is quite an accomplishment…for the ages!

 

Imagination – Who Needs It? We do.

Imagination – Who Needs It? We Do.

It was Einstein who once said that “imagination is more important than knowledge.” At first, that can seem almost absurd. But when we have a closer look, we see that imagination is at the very heart of everything. All things created by man start with it as an idea, encompassed somewhere in the realm of the imagination. It is the seed of all creativity. We would be lost without it.

How do we value imagination as a society? How do we value it in comparison to “hard science?” There is often a bias against something not concrete or measurable. We are practical people, we Westerners. We demand proof before we can believe.

So, how can imagination fit in?  We would be in danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater should we disregard the importance of the “immeasurable”– and its reality. After all, one of the greatest scientists of all time has said it is indispensable. Seeing only the “practical” or “measurable”  handicaps many in experiencing the subtle beauties and energies of life. We must remain open to new possibilities outside the sensual.

Neville Goddard, in his ground-breaking book, The Law and The Promise, illustrates beautifully the idea of the power of imagination. Using techniques known to initiates of every age, he shows us that when properly used, imagination can produce results in our lives that one can only be described as fantastic. How? The universe is energy – how one influences that energy is the key, and it can be influenced.

In my book A Monk’s Way, imagination and its cousin, intuition, become essential features of mindful living for my hero Jean Moreau. Being mindful allows imagination to take its rightful course – fully in the moment powering us to create the moments to come. Imagination is the ultimate creative force.

Perhaps one day our everyday perception of reality will be altered fundamentally. We will not look at things as they appear to be, but as they are in reality, complex and energy driven. One thing is certain – as science catches up with its ever-improving techniques of measurement amidst the astonishing complexity that is our universe, untold vistas will open up to us…and it will be imagination that ushers in the theories that will lead the advance. Once again, to our delight, Einstein will be proven correct.

 

Have You Ever Read This from Lao-Tzu, the 5th Century BCE Philosopher?

46th Verse - Tao Te Ching
46th Verse – Tao Te Ching

We get a lot of “advice” on how to live – our culture, social media, an army of “experts”, religion, television, films … Most of it says more is better, and that gratification needs to be instant. Such advice implies that accumulation of plaudits is the goal. It is what we gather from the outside that counts. Ego and its self-expression are everything.

Here Lao Tzu contradicts it all. Happiness is the result of acting and thinking in ways completely opposed to the usual exterior messaging. He says simply that true happiness comes from the “inside”. It comes from our genuine, or as I like to call it, our authentic self. This is the self that lies beneath the surface of things, the self that brings us harmony within when we touch it.

Like many things in life, it is a paradox. His message tells us less is more. Yet, it reveals an even greater truth. Happiness comes from living authentically, from touching the inside. We call it forth to blossom when we follow his advice – sage advice – that has survived to come through to us twenty-five centuries later.

The Joy of Receiving

It sounds funny at first – the thought that we don’t “receive” things well. What do I mean?

I have known lots of people whose first reaction to receiving a gift is “You shouldn’t have.” And they mean it. It is a wonderful action, the act of giving, no one could argue that. But, many of us have decided at some level that only giving is the measure of our love and regard for another. We may even sense somehow it is wrong not to reciprocate with a material gift of our own, thinking in the back of our minds that it is we who should be doing the giving.

To fully receive the gift of another in appreciation and love is our gift back to the giver. To fuss over a gift in any fashion is to rob others of the joy of giving. To receive graciously is just another form of generosity.

This Christmas, let’s practice the joy and generosity of receiving and not deny someone else the joy of giving. Let’s accept fully and graciously. It’s a lot more fun, too!

Celtic New Year

Yes, The Celtic New Year is well begun. It was ushered in at Halloween. There is something dark and mysterious about this end of the old year, especially in the northern hemisphere. I write imbued with the sunlight of the southern hemisphere now, but I am easily transported when I take a few quiet moments outside near sunset or later in the gathering darkness as the Celtic winter season progresses.

What is it about this time of year that inspires these thoughts of the unknown, of Mystery? Is it the light? Is it some unrecognized force, something preternatural, an energetic collective nod to the existence of a hereafter or another dimension? Perhaps. Still, I find that we so often focus on only its dark side? Why?

The season brings along with it recognition of something distant and mysterious, yet also palpable. This force or energy activates our fears with its mysterious nature, as unknowns have always tended to do in our short human history. We commonly react to something out of our comfort zone with not just reticence, but with fearfulness. My theory is that this time of the year, bringing the unfamiliar, energizes this emotion for many, giving it a consequent dark and disquieting feel.

To me, I see it is our innate, spiritual person instinctively connecting with the essences of those who have passed previously, here at the commencement of the season of death in nature; perhaps this is why in the Celtic view there is the notion that the “veil is thin” between the world’s at All Hallow’s Eve. The Celts mastered the encapsulation of a year into its constituent parts – eight to be exact. They are beautiful reminders of life – and death – and offer us a chance these eight times to ponder our relation to each.

November is a good time to reflect. It is an opportunity to enshrine mystery in our hearts and gain access to our most essential part – our soul.

Are You Anxious?

Living with chronic unease – living with an unconscious and continuous sense of worry or fear – assaults the minds of so many in our day. It can be a ruthless enemy – day and night. A restful night’s sleep can be a rare event for those who feel its presence.

An intriguing idea concerning this malaise is the possible role of the collective unconscious in it. Carl Jung, the eminent psychiatrist, theorized that human beings unconsciously share memories, archetypes and patterns. If so, it would be very possible that at least a portion of our unease has been preprogrammed, perhaps to keep us alert to dangers that our ancestors particularly had to confront. If so, it would have a substantial effect on our state of mind.

Is there relief in the knowledge that there is a pretty good chance that we are not totally responsible for some of our anxieties? Perhaps, but relief will be short-lived, whether the source be collective or individual, unless we address them. The good news is that as we get to know ourselves better and become more aware, we can learn consciously to separate ourselves from our negative conscious and unconscious patterns of thought and thus our anxieties. As we learn to stay out of the vortex of anxiety at all levels, through such awareness, we are much less affected by any negativity. Awareness that we are not our anxieties, but separate if we choose to be, enables us to face and heal them. Learning to live this way – healthily in the present moment – is one of the most valuable lessons that we can learn in life.

With an anxious world so weary of violence and anger, often precipitated by the anxiety of others, it is we who can be proactive in altering any negative collective unconscious patterns of unease with our own conscious intentions for peace and compassion. Without the aid of mindful awareness our fears and anxieties will continue to haunt us – as nations and as individuals. With awareness, we can avoid this tragedy. After all, it’s time to move on.

Wake Up…Peacefully!

We exist on so many levels – our complexity is amazing as a species. Nothing is more complex than our thought patterns, influenced as they are by our emotions.

Awaking in the morning, our minds direct our thoughts in certain patterns. In the typical pattern, most of us look to the events of the coming day as we awake. Each event carries with it an emotional charge. We might be excited about the event, perhaps fearful, perhaps relieved, or sometimes angry…no matter, we are detoured in our thoughts and planning by these powerful emotions. When we wander off down those emotional paths, we normally lose our peace. The emotions limit us, blind us.

The trick to learn is to recognize the less useful patterns and to reform them. For the person on the path of self-knowledge, this becomes a necessity. No longer do we want to be buffeted and blinded by the capricious winds of emotion and feeling. We want to be “above” that whenever we can be – literally.

How does that work? Using the example of waking in the morning, we don’t concentrate on the events of the day ahead. Instead, we look to relax, remain open in silence, and receive from the superconscious aspect of ourselves, our intuition, the guidance available there. We simply listen.

In that space, we are not touched by emotion but engage with our genuine self, eager to connect to the source of its being. Through the connection with this level “above” the everyday, that is, with our intuition and its source, we are freeing ourselves from any damaging emotional thought as we open up to see the truth of who and what we are. We start our day “from the top down” and not “from the bottom up,” and we’ll know what to do. By reforming our patterns, we find within ourselves the peace of the present moment; and after all, that is where all things are formed and experienced.

 

Having Money Means Freedom…or Does It?

Growing up in America in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s I learned one thing. Money matters. One had to go no further than the television or newspaper or lottery to see how one’s dreams could be realized by accumulating it. The idea was, and remains solidified in our culture, that money was practical, powerful, and promising. Less tangible things like emotional satisfaction or spiritual fulfillment, both good in theory, were hardly the stuff that could bring one the real and palpable things that money could.

My feelings about it reflected the times, but with one corollary – Money means Freedom. I worked very hard to make money and to gain my freedom. For the most part I have succeeded, thanks to the thoughtful tutelage of parents, my education, my creativity and daring, and some very hard work. I watched many others who were successful in their pursuit of money. Some were yet very young; others, much older, successful after a life-long struggle.

But there was often a problem. Some became ruthless people in their pursuit. A few others never knew how to quit, always needing more. A great many others feared losing all that they had garnered. They lived like paupers. What I came to see was that the having of money too often imprisons both those who cannot quit hoarding it or pursuing it, or who are terrified by the prospect of its loss. Both find what they had dreamt about eventually ties them to a ball and chain – of fear. They are ever conscious of never having enough of their precious possession. They build a wall around themselves. They are not the happy, carefree people they ought to be. It is a tendency that I, too, have had to fight.
Handled correctly, money can bring freedom, though it is hardly a slam/dunk. Each of us must ask ourselves what role it plays for us personally – whether we are freed or imprisoned by it or by its pursuit. A society, or person, that judges success only by the latest pay raise, earnings report, or stupendous contract-signing is in trouble.

Money is one measure of success, but it is only one on the achievement list of human endeavor and potential. There is so much more. We must not learn to neglect the deeper parts of ourselves and concern for others in our mad rush to gain. And one more thing: The more I have worried about money in my life, the less I seemed to have. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

It bears thinking about.

The Open Heart

The Open Heart

The heart as the seat of emotion – what could be more telling? The heart as the seat of love – what could be more fabled? Songs, love stories, poetry all have sung its richness… and carnage. Depending on one’s point of view, one’s experience in dealing both with its nuance and its blatant power, its influence can bring one to the epitome of happiness, or conversely, into the trough of despair – and everywhere in between.

But isn’t it true that one’s sense of compassion for other creatures and certainly one’s feelings of  longing for another human being seem to emanate from this part of our body – that the “heart-warming” experiences attached to moments of giving or affection are just that? Continue reading The Open Heart

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Feeling Like A Hero

Feeling Like A Hero

There is a great feeling we all get once in awhile. It’s the feeling of doing a good thing when we don’t have to. Simple really. When we were kids, we learned about what the right thing to do might be in a particular circumstance – return the five dollar bill you see that has fallen from the lady’s purse; shovel the walk of an infirm person; shake hands with the other team that you wanted to beat so badly. Small examples, but real ones – lessons for the bigger things in life – and it felt good.

Everybody knows about it when a great heroic act grabs the headlines. For most of us the opportunities for that kind of thing are few and far between. But the small opportunities, like listening to someone explain his or her problems when we don’t have the time, or going to a friend’s child’s band concert one free evening, or giving bus fare to someone struggling, they continue all our lives. Those are heroic, too.

In another context, we could say being a hero is making the choice to do something difficult, but correct, or, choosing not to do something beneath our dignity, something we’d be ashamed to have be made public. These are heroic moments.

Most of us judge ourselves very harshly. Not a lot of credit is taken, or given, for the often generous or thoughtful acts in which we take part. Circumstances for most people are difficult in the everyday – even for those with worldly success. Joy can be hard to find, much less cultivate. Yet, there is always goodness – and heroic acts.

“Goodness is its own reward.” I think I know what that means. It is the feeling that we get when we help, noticed or unnoticed, someone who needs it. You know the feeling that you get after something like that. It is a glow that comes from somewhere within, a smile then that can’t be repressed.

It’s feeling like a hero.

“Is It More Spiritual? Or, More Religion?”

“Is It More Spiritual? Or, More Religion?”

Last week, I was a guest on The Kim Pagano Show, via 1590 KVTA in Santa Barbara, California.

Kim and I had a great conversation about the motivation behind creating my book A Monk’s Way. We spoke about the differences, and similarities, between spirituality and religion, the necessity of quiet time on a daily basis, and the importance of mindfulness.

Listen to the segment by pressing the “Play” button below:

Must We Always Reach for More?

Must We Always Reach for More?

Part of the joy of travel, of course, is to see people and places and places new and different.  But another part of that joy for me is learning to see things in a new light. In my experience this past year and a half in South America, opportunities for seeing things in a new light are almost routine.

I live in a country that that has a very large and prosperous middle class, Uruguay. This fact makes the contrast between it and my home country, the USA, and my wife’s home country, France, especially stark. Why the contrast? It took me a little while to get through the novelty and curiosity associated with a “Latin” lifestyle to realize the source of that contrast, but eventually it became apparent to me how to define it. It simply is this:  people in this part of the world enjoy what they have – without the incessant push to have more that I have seen in the northern hemisphere.

This does not mean the people here are indolent or unsophisticated. Not at all. What it does mean is that they embody a more “mindful” lifestyle, though I am not sure they would think it out of the ordinary or see it as something striking. To enjoy family, friends, a passing conversation or watching their children at play is as natural to them as breathing. Their stress level compared to we “northerners” who have a higher GDP and a slightly larger per capita income is nil.

I seem to remember that feeling when a kid growing up. Now, even in the state of South Dakota, my rural American home, the powerful impulse to “have” still affects people in a detrimental way. It is not so much a keep up with the Joneses…no, it is an unconscious drumbeat embedded in American culture – a knee jerk reaction for more, part and parcel of an overwrought consumer driven economy. We often don’t think about it, trained as we are to have or possess the next thing. It takes its toll.

Travel has given me a chance to think about it – and it has given me pause. Whoever said “less is more” was wise beyond words. Jean Moreau in A Monk’s Way both demonstrates it and talks about it when quoting Lao Tsu, who came to see it 2,500 years ago. Isn’t it time we relearn the lesson by becoming conscious of, and letting go of, the incessant craving? Isn’t it time we give ourselves the chance to find joy again in the little things?

Celtic New Year Wishes

Celtic New Year Wishes

Yes, there is something dark and mysterious about the end of the old year. The Celtic New Year is with us. Halloween, with all of its hype and cliché, is a special time if we take a few quiet moments outside near sunset or later in the gathering darkness, as the Celtic winter season progresses.

What is it about this time of year that inspires these thoughts of the unknown, of Mystery? Is it the light? Maybe. Is it some unrecognized force, something preternatural, an energetic collective nod to the existence of a hereafter or another dimension? Perhaps. Still, why do we so often focus on only its dark side?

My theory is that this force or energy that we do sense is, by its mysterious nature, a source for fear – as unknowns have tended to be in our short human history. We commonly react first to something out of our comfort zone or indecipherable with not just a reticence, but with fear and trembling. Sensing as we do not just the change that the season of the year now brings, but something more distant, yet palpable, something we sense has to do with connection – our innate, spiritual self with the essences of those who have passed, for example – can give us these notions not only of the “veil being thin” but unfamiliarity and disquietude.

The Celts had the idea that this date, this end of harvest time, would mark also the end of an epoch of time, a year, via its seasons. They mastered the encapsulation of a year into its constituent parts – eight to be exact.  They are beautiful reminders of life –and death – and offer us a chance these eight times to ponder our relation to each.

Take time this November to reflect.  It is a beautiful opportunity to enshrine the mystery in our hearts and helps us gain access to our most essential part  – our soul.

Is Happiness Really a Pursuit?

Is Happiness Really A Pursuit?

A little while ago I read something a friend had sent about being happy.  What struck me was how it was worded – it talked about “chasing” happiness, as if it were something that could be caught or surrounded or trapped.

For an American audience, this is par for the course. Anything, including happiness, can be “acquired” – if not by money, as many would attempt, then by reading the right book or with sufficient tenacity. Of course, it is even better yet for the American audience if it can be shown to be based on “science,” society’s alternative god. Tenacity and teachers are important in our lives. That is not to be doubted. But to treat happiness like a commodity, as something to be acquired objectively, or acquired rather like one would master a degree, is simply doomed to failure. When approached this way, happiness is elusive.

How are we defining happiness, when we examine it? That is key. If our happiness is attached to things of the earth, then it is attached to the transitory, the temporary. Attaching ourselves in this life to the temporal to generate happiness, such as attaching ourselves to a specific outcome, is a common mistake. Like all things of this earth, situations and outcomes, even people, are temporary and it is important to avoid the emotional roller coaster that a temporal, earth-attached view promises. We must remain open to what opportunities we are given, many quite unexpected.  They are often better than what we ourselves have concocted as best. All of us can let go and appreciate what is around us (or not around us) every minute. It requires just a tiny percentage of the energy that acquiring does, and none of the cost. Faith in an All Loving Creator can help us in this but is not a sine qua non.

As Lao Tzu, one of the wisest men of all time reminds us, “If you realize that all things change, there is nothing you will try to hold on to. If you are not afraid of dying, there is nothing you cannot achieve.”

Happiness is of the moment and without attachment.  There is nothing to lose, nothing to fear.

Once again, Lao Tzu sums it up perfectly.  Here a passage written by him that I love, taken from  my book,  A Monk’s Way:

“Simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and thoughts,
You return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
You accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
You reconcile all beings in the world.”

 

The Universe as a Giant GPS

The Universe as a Giant GPS

In my book A Monk’s Way, I make many references to the universe and its role in “organizing” the outcomes of our decisions.   We are very limited in our ability to visualize possible outcomes, but fortunately, no matter what we decide, the universe will give us a result that works to bring us our highest good.   Many times we make decisions intending them to be for the highest good; but, we often do not know all of the facts.  We sometimes pre-judge.  We sometimes meddle.  We sometimes have an unconscious agenda.   Some decisions (we might call them “bad” or “misguided” after the fact) leave us as victims of unintended consequences – we all have stories of how that phenomenon has affected us.

How should we view outcomes from a spiritual point of view?

The universe has a plan.  Continue reading The Universe as a Giant GPS