Stop Trying So Hard

A month ago my aquarium was teeming with longtime inhabitants swimming playfully in a vibrant aquatic community. My aquarium was wonderful. Why not make it even better by adding more multi-hued fish? Soon after adding new residents, guppy fry were born. Even greater success!

Then the decline began. I realized I had added too many fish too fast. The ecosystem was overwhelmed with the amount of waste, and the most vulnerable perished.

Every few days I changed out some of the water. I added a bit of baking soda to restore alkalinity and stabilize the ph. The water quality was soon the best in had been in months. And more fish died.

Yes, the water was nearly perfect. But in my haste to get it right, I had not given the fish enough time to acclimate to the improved environment. While their liquid haven was vastly superior, their little bodies were unable to adjust to the radical shift.

I sense the aquarium is echoing the wisdom I sense being offered me by my deceased loved ones when I see their photos on my altar: "Stop trying so hard."

What am I trying so hard to do?

I'm trying to silence my inner critic's proclamations that I'm not enough, haven't fulfilled my potential, and need to try harder and do more. My ego says that I'm special. I came to this life with special gifts, and it is my responsibility to use those gifts to improve the world.

I look around, and the world looks no better than when I arrived five decades ago. What have I done to make it better? What have I truly accomplished? What will finally prove that I've fulfilled my destiny and potential? I don't know, but if I try harder, get one more thing done, fix one more problem, then maybe I'll feel peace and contentment. But trying so hard has made me less peaceful, less content.

What I'm realizing is that peace and contentment are the starting point, not the end goal. When I soften, when I stop trying so hard, a clarity in my spine that is both solid and gentle, warming my heart and ascending upward into my head where it pulsates a spacious presence.

In this space, I'm no longer responsible for saving the world. Instead what's present is a deep knowing of Loving Being that cannot be enhanced or made whole by trying harder.

Wholeness is already given. This is who I am. This is my destiny. This is my potential.

As for the world, and as for the aquarium that is an entire world for my fish, my worth is not dependent on saving them. In fact, proving worth is a silly game. Worth, like our true essence, is a given, and any feeling or message to the contrary is false.

Identifying with that essence is peace and contentment. There never was a world to save. That's the ego talking.  There is only a loving presence from which to respond moment by moment in real time.

Starting from inner contentment and peace, I embody a salvation that will accomplish everything necessary in this lifetime. I lovingly take care of my fish day by day without needing to save them or make them more than they are.

Released from the need to try harder, I love bodily and appreciate the beauty of now. I'm free to respond with grace midst hardship. Without a world to save, I am free to be myself.

Peace and contentment. Love and beauty. There's really nothing more to do or be.

The Real Election

This week was the first presidential debate, and in just a few weeks is the election. This election cycle is like none other in our collective memory.  Regardless of the outcome, what has been revealed during the process will remain: dissatisfaction, distrust, fear, bigotry, anger, and judgment. The election will not resolve these maladies. Which has me thinking that while November 8 is an election, beneath it is another election.

Yes, this election is about who will be president. It's about the balance of power in Congress and in state and local jurisdictions across the land. It's about ballot measures. All are crucial. All require sober thinking, reflection, and the exercise of our sacred right to vote.

Yet, in, with, and under the November election, is a different election, a choice, about what we hold to be real.

Beyond Hillary or Donald, beyond our political affiliations, beyond American citizenship, is a deeper reality. This reality, infinite and beyond form, encompasses everything else we hold to be real. It is within the first inhale of a newborn and the last exhale of a loved one. This reality, beyond mind and emotion, is the Sacred Essence from which we are made, in which we live, and to which we return beyond this life.

This reality is a palpable Love that dissolves our fears and disempowering stories. It is a clarity of soul  that breaks through the twin traps of comfort and discomfort to live more boldly, truly, and graciously. It is a vision that sees both the need for justice and the humanity of those who perpetrate injustice. It is the interweaving of compassion, self-compassion, forgiveness, and self-forgiveness. It is the Ocean rising and falling with each individual wave, yet existing beyond every crest and crash.

And so, we are faced with an election, a choice. Will we root our actions in a centered knowing of our own Being-ness, a Being-ness that also includes opponents?

Will we trust in a Reality so vast and so gracious that we surrender our drive to control everything and everyone? Will we let the Universe move through us and incarnate greater awareness, fairness, understanding, honesty, clarity, and generosity?

As we head toward this fall's vote, will we take responsibility for our state of consciousness, and act in alignment with it, no matter who wins in November?

That is the choice we face. That is THE election.

And Now...Back to this Moment

The other day, on a morning walk, I found myself already contemplating the day ahead, feeling the tonnage of responsibility and those life-sucking habitual thoughts that have no substance outside my mind. And then...the clouds thinned, and my eyes were drawn to a beam of light bursting through the overcast skies.  Suddenly, everything fell away. The sky and I alone existed, here and now. Nothing else was real.

What is real? My mind puts faith in the anxiety it generates. That anxiety pulls me away from the current place and time to fret and fantasize about what is not any more, not yet, and not here.

  • Not Any More: This is the land of guilt, wistfulness, and nostalgia. "If only I had...or had not...or s/he was still here".
  • Not Yet: Like a chess game, always looking three moves ahead. While a good strategy for a board game, life has many more variables. The attempt to control the flow of life stops the flow of joy and contentment in the current moment.
  • Not Here: I worry about other people, about other places, about global chaos, about political insanity, and soon I've drifted away into some phantom zone that is neither here nor there.

When I find myself pulled off into one of these places, the mind spins its intricate webs of projection, conjecture, negativity, self-punishment, etc. I often then try to fix, prevent, or control. Sometimes what I try to fix, prevent or control has nothing to do with what I'm thinking about. It's just a nervous response to mind chatter that I channel into whatever is in front of me.

The reliable cue that I'm caught in such a loop (as opposed to useful life review or planning or blissful daydreaming) is my body. Am I tense, am I drained, is my breathing shallow? Or am I open, breathing deeply and easily, and gently energized?

When I notice the clouds of anxiety enshroud me, what do I do? The anxiety is just a habit. There's usually no substance to it in this moment. So, with my next breath I exhale all thought and drop the story I've been repeating. I let myself feel the habitual, underlying anxiety that gave birth to this fictional yarn. I lean into it. Like bright light parting overcast skies, leaning into the fear dissipates it. Then I return my attention to this place, this moment.

So what to do with those nagging worries, that simply won't let me be? Sometimes a little cognitive restructuring also helps. Here's what I tell my mind that helps it relax:

As to what will happen, Life/God is already there.

As to what has already happened, Life/God is still there connecting you to that loved one. Or Life is connecting me so I can send compassion and forgiveness and healing back in time to old wounds.

As for that person/situation that is going on elsewhere, God/Life is there as well, acting as a conduit for good wishes and love. Some call this prayer. Others might think of it as the interconnectedness of everything.

And even those "could have been" or "if/only" thoughts can be transformed. Quantum physics suggests that any reality that could happen does happen in some dimension. That potential vocation, relationship, or move, or experience that I chose not to do in favor of another choice...all that could well be happening in some realm. So, I take a moment of vicarious satisfaction for that life that another version of me is living in another dimension...and then let it go with gratitude.

Perhaps some other me in another dimension is pining for the life I am living right here, right now.

What It Means To Be An American

Both major political parties have now held their national conventions in advance of the fall election. During those conventions, two divergent views emerged of what it means to be an American. Of course, within each party you'll find those who disagree with the prevailing viewpoint. Nonetheless these are the two visions of America that I observed:

One view: We are a declining, threatened tribe losing our way of life and in danger of actually losing our lives. To become great and safe again, we must expel and eliminate any perceived threat.

The other view: We are an increasingly diverse community, made stronger by our differences. By working together in a spirit of hospitality and generosity, we become safer, healthier, more prosperous, and a more perfect union.

One view defines patriotism by who is excluded.

The other view defines patriotism by the breadth of inclusion.

The former defines oppression as anything that threatens their privileged status. The latter views oppression as the fruit of systemic injustice in which we are all complicit.

The first ideology looks for scapegoats to demonize as the cause of our woes and seeks a savior to deliver us from the evil ones.

The latter perspective looks in the mirror and seeks to take responsibility for selfishness, fear, and bigotry in the hope of awakening millions of saviors, each doing daily acts of justice, courage, and generosity.

An example of the difference is seen in Khizr Khan's speech to the Democratic National Convention and the reaction to it. Khan spoke of his Muslim-immigrant son, a U.S. Army Captain, who was killed when he sacrificed his life to save fellow soldiers from a bulldozing taxi carrying 200 pounds of explosives. He said his son and the sacrifice he made represent the best of what it means to be an American. His take on Mr. Trump was that his view of what it means to be an American is skewed because he has sacrificed nothing and no one.

Monday on CNN's "New Day", Mr. Khan continued his line of thought, "Communities coming together is the solution. We are as concerned as Mr. Trump is about the safety of this country. We need a leader that will unite us, not disrespect, not by derogatory remarks...That's all I wish to convey to him. That a good leader has one trait...empathy."

In response to Mr. Kahn, Mr. Trump enumerated his sacrifices: built structures, created thousands of jobs, and made money.

I have no illusion that either party will fully live up to the best of its values. Both political parties are prone to hypocrisy and pandering. But a core question has emerged from the conventions. Is being American about:

  • Exclusion. Self-obsession. Fear. Looking for scapegoats?


  • Inclusion. Self-sacrifice. Empathy. Looking to collaborate?

Which view of what it means to be an American more closely aligns with your own?

Fear or Love in America

A couple of weeks ago, I joined activists to gauge a local politician's support for a permanent, year-round, emergency shelter for those who live on the streets. The lukewarm response from our local official centered around the fear that more services attract more homeless, which makes prosperous residents feel unsafe and heightens anxiety that their property values will decline. As I left the meeting, a bit discouraged, I headed up the hill back to my office. I noticed an older man mesmerized by his reflection in a mirror-polished black Porsche. He looked up and told me about how he used to restore old cars back to their original condition. He talked about how much he loved cars and how much joy he felt working on them before his accident and head injury.

His speech and thought patterns were jittery, his appearance disheveled, but nothing could dim his infectious smile. I told him that my grandfather had also restored cars in his retirement years. The man reached out his hand, grabbed mine, looked me in the eye, and said, "God loves you. Jesus loves. And I love you. You have a most wonderful day." He turned around and walked downhill.

Joy filled my heart. This man,  most likely homeless, made a home for me in his heart. I also giggled at this "wink from God".  I thought I was doing some good for those living on the streets, but it was someone living on the streets who did me good and uplifted me. I felt encouraged to continue the uphill climb.

The man I met on the street chose to respond to his hardship by embracing love and exuding it. I know this sounds overly simplistic, but isn't that the same essential choice we face?

We have all been shaken by recent violence. Our national reaction to such savagery typically veers toward fear and anger, which is expressed in vicious rhetoric and action.

These immediate feelings of fear and anger are normal and unavoidable. What we do with these feelings, however, is a choice. What if we chose love?

The kind of love I’m talking about is not primarily an emotion. It’s a decision. It’s an act of will.

True love engages in difficult conversations without knowing the outcome in advance, pauses and reflects on our own biases and privileges that harm others, and builds bridges of understanding with those who make us uncomfortable and those living on the margins.

Love sees a stranger, particularly one whose face surfaces our buried fears and bigotries, and looks deep enough to see the face of God.

This is the version of love that Christ lived. It is not soft.  Love stands up against injustice but does so without becoming spiteful. Love resists violence through tenacious non-violence. Love, acknowledging the heart's fear and anger, chooses to be engaged and courageous rather than create scapegoats and hide behind walls of faux-security.

I don't know the answers to the complex global issues we face. But I do know that, whether it's a grieving world or a solitary man living on the streets, choosing the work of love is our best hope.


"My efforts now turn from trying to outrun suffering to accepting love wherever I can find it." Mark Nepo

Flash, our beloved Airedale, left this world two weeks ago.

Flash noticed that humans show affection by petting dogs. So, Flash showed his warmth by rubbing his head up against humans, "petting" them. Up until his last minute, he nuzzled and petted us, radiating the same unconditional love he exuded his entire life.

I felt my own love expand exponentially as we helped him transition. Even now, after his death, I am able to dip into that amazing reservoir of limitless affection he showered on me and everyone else. It's my meditation and intention throughout the day to live that love.

For his transition, we set up a vigil. We moved the furniture to the edges of the living room and placed his bed in the center. The other animals gathered with us to form a semi-circle around Flash. We held vigil and loved on him, while he loved on us.

As soon as he took his last breath, our other pets knew. Immediately, our cats left the room, and Cowboy, our other dog, walked away and hopped on his favorite chair. They have a deeper knowing than we do.

Our friend Susan, an animal chaplain, also joined us for the vigil. A long-practicing Buddhist, she called Flash a "Doggie-Satva". In the Buddhist tradition, a Bodhisattva is an enlightened being who has transcended this level of reality but nonetheless remains or returns to help others wake up.

Flash, was our "Doggie-Satva", awakening us to a truly unconditional love. Even now, he somehow nudges us to love more, more, more. Thank you Flash. I will. And I love you too.

Who is your "Doggie-Satva" or "Kitty-Satva"?

What Donald Trump and I Have in Common

“Before you criticize a man, walk a mile in his shoes. That way, when you do criticize him, you'll be a mile away and have his shoes.” Steve Martin

This year's presidential nomination process is like a reality TV show populated with messy, overly-dramatic, self-entitled caricatures. The spectacle, while revolting, is also mesmerizing.

Yet I feel an inner tug pulling me away from the spectacle. In particular, I'm weary of investing energy in the Donald Trump melodrama.

I loathe his attacks on immigrants, women, Muslims. He is a vile, egotistical demagogue. Thank God I'm not like that!

Then this morning during my meditation I had a realization: I am like Donald Trump!

The truth is, I too:

  • Hate losing and don't handle failure well
  • Tend to be self-absorbed and self-entitled
  • Have racist thoughts lurking in my heart
  • Often feel I'm right, superior, and have all the answers
  • Try to preserve my perfect image and become defensive when my faults are mirrored back to me
  • Can be smug, patronizing, arrogant, and condescending
  • Vilify those whose political positions are the polar opposite of mine
  • Overstate, understate, or sometimes flat out lie if it will make me look better

Everything I despise in Donald Trump, I can find somewhere in myself, either as something I do, have done, or have the potential to do.

I may be more aware of and put more effort into mitigating my flaws than Donald Trump, and my imperfections probably won't have the same global impact as Donald Trump's, but I cannot self-righteously claim that we have nothing in common.

Empathy is to put on someone else's shoes. It is to imagine that, given certain circumstances, we could also behave as they do. Donald Trump and I are walking in different directions, but the same shoes fit us both.

Empathy does not acquiesce to abominable behavior. It firmly opposes it, while affirming the humanity, however deeply flawed, of the offender. It sees, in fact, it looks for a spark of divine Essence within those we oppose. That Sacred Essence within, which is the core of who we really are, expands our capacity to face and hold faults without demonizing, repressing, or fleeing.

When we face our shortcomings that others mirror back to us, we have a choice: self-judgment or self-compassion. If we choose judgment, we will project our inner demons on to others and find villains everywhere. We create more of what we loathe.

Or we can choose to have compassion for our flaws. Grounded in that Sacred Essence, we see our demons clearly and can choose to change the direction we are headed. We might even start to have an energetic shift toward compassion for our enemies.

Empathy and compassion are scarce in our public discourse. Without them, however, it is impossible to find common ground or birth innovative, unexpected solutions. Polarization and gridlock worsen, and there is no way forward.

Empathy is the way forward. It is not the entire solution. Indeed it's only a first step. But it's headed in the right direction.

Kittens and People Seek A Home

A few months ago, my partner Herb and I went to a rescue foundation to look at a few kittens. We had chatted about getting a kitten in the next year or so, but had no intention of bringing one home...yet. We went to get a better feel for what we wanted. I’m sure you can already see where this is headed. We were allowed to visit, hold, and play with three cats. The first one was named Paco. Paco had been found roaming the streets of Sacramento. He was sick and was taken from the street to a shelter to a foster home to this rescue center, where he was recovering. A six-month-old Abyssinian mix, he was playful, affectionate and had chutzpah, which we knew any cat would need in order to hold his own with our two older cats and our two dogs.

We left Paco behind and met two other kittens, both adorable but rather shy. We went back to play with Paco and were mesmerized by his cuteness.

Just as we started to ask, "Are we ready to...", the door flung open. Our staff guide, who had been showing us around, returned with a camera.  She said, “There’s no need for you to look at any more cats. It’s obvious he’s coming home with you. Stay there for a moment while I take your photo with your new kitten.” And in an instant, we went from cat window-shopping to kitten parents. Beware cat window-shopping!

We got him home and renamed him "Cougar" because, well, he looks like a Cougar and acts like a wild animal. While he was a bit reserved at first, after a few weeks he began to trust that we had made a permanent commitment to him. No more shelters. No more foster parents. He understood that we are his forever home and family.

We are promising Cougar that he has a forever home that is not dependent on how well he behaves, but rather is based on our unconditional love for him. And his behavior is sometimes challenging.

  • Cougar wakes us up at 5:30 every day meowing for the first of at least two breakfasts.
  • So far Cougar has demolished four dining room chairs, two orchids, and an avocado tree in our sunroom that I had grown from a pit. Cougar decided that it was the perfect spot to curl up for a nap.
  • We have given him the nickname "Destructo".

Yet, we adore him, and he is family.

Our relationship with Cougar is a metaphor for our relationship with The Sacred. Even when we bite and scratch like a "Destructo", the Source of All Life has made an unconditional commitment to us. We are forever family.

I prefer the metaphor of family/adoption over the metaphors of transaction or atonement. Much religion feels like a business transaction with The Divine: “I’ll do my part if you do yours.” The focus is on appeasing a deity and then determining who's in and who's out; who's good enough and who's not good enough; who's accepted and who's damned; who's in relationship and who's "other" and "outsider".

Much Christian religion orbits around Atonement Theory. This view, which gained prominence through Augustine, holds that a just God cannot abide our sinfulness, but takes out wrath on Jesus instead of us, thus fulfilling the need for punishment yet saving us from everlasting torment. For many of us, this was the only Christian metaphor to which we were exposed. It is, however, just one of many perspectives that co-existed from the earliest days of Christianity. Like any metaphor it was originally crafted as a symbol, that is, something which was not to be taken literally and which pointed to one aspect of the Infinity Mystery, which is beyond words.

What if "sin" is primarily the forgetting that we are family with God and with each other? Then the central metaphor is not a wrathful God pardoning undeserving, miserable beings, but a God incessantly taking in strays, reminding us of who we are and where we belong, what our place is in the Universe.  We are made in the image of God, made of God stuff. That makes us family with Sacred Mystery, with each other, and with all life.

The spiritual life is about awakening to that Sacred Mystery within us and all around us.  As we remember who we are and whose we are, we find family everywhere. We allow ourselves to be taken in by Love, and we take each other in as we embody Ultimate Love.

  • How deep will you let Love penetrate and permeate you?
  • And receiving that Love, what is your response?
  • How will you respond to a Cosmos that adores you?
  • What is the next action your soul calls you to take on behalf of your family?

Through us The Sacred closes the gap between current reality and a potential future of justice and thriving for the whole human family, our family. We join with The Sacred to close that gap in tiny increments.

That's the paradox. The Love of The Holy is unconditional, yet it calls us to wake up and step up. The more we attune ourselves to Unconditional Love, the more we recognize the Universe as kin and can't help but respond. When we awaken to Who We Are, we expand the definition of family until there are no strays left out in the cold

Herb and I adopted a kitten named Cougar. We call him to act like a more mature cat, and he is improving. However well he meets expectations, when he curls up next to my head, and purrs as he nuzzles my cheek, and I rub his chin and scratch between his ears, we both experience the promise of home fulfilled. In those moments I start to understand how God feels about us.

Spirituality vs. Religion: When God Becomes a Weapon

Paris. Colorado Springs. Myanmar. San Bernardino. Beirut. Egypt. Uganda. Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Different religions used in different locations as justification for mass killing. How can anyone commit acts of terror in the name of God?

The answer is not simple. It seems that each incident involves factors in addition to religion:

  • Mental illness
  • Occupation of a homeland by foreigners
  • Loss of hope/opportunity
  • Workplace discord
  • Retaliation for military strikes
  • Racism
  • No confidence in Western democracies
  • Homophobia

While these factors contribute to the violence, religion is also in the mix of motivations to slaughter. How is this possible?

One reality is that the world's religions are a reflection of humanity. Since humans have a shadowy penchant for violence, it is not surprising that religious texts and the history of religious communities are rife with violence.

Religion is a reflection of the human psyche and its ongoing struggle to evolve and awaken. At its best, religion transforms humanity's violent tendencies into compassion and right action for the common good. At its worst, religion foments unrest, hatred, and vengeance.

Perhaps more telling is the dichotomy between religion and spirituality. Spirituality is tending one's inner life, which includes observing, accepting and seeking to transform one's violent proclivities, rather than projecting them on to some other group of people. Religion is the container and communal support for doing this inner work.

The primary reason so many in this country now identify as "spiritual but not religious" is that, by and large, religion has failed to nurture the inner life. [There are notable exceptions. For instance, the Civil Rights Movement was largely fueled by religious institutions.]

Religion has failed to be an agent of personal and societal transformation. It has been hijacked by institutional, economic, and political agendas that reflect the smallness of the human heart. These violent acts are being committed by those who got some religion but lost spirituality.

As we look across the globe and witness political instability, climate change, economic and racial injustice, it is up to each of us to tend our inner world. Where do we find hatred and fear of "the other"? How are we grasping the status quo to the detriment of those less privileged? Where do we find our own hearts shrinking and harboring "against-ness", judgment and vengeance?

There, in the violence of our own hearts, is where we need the Spirit behind, beyond and within all True Religion. No matter our religion or lack thereof, the work is to notice, accept, and transcend the ego's grasping, selfish, fearful programming.

As we tend our own inner demons, we cultivate understanding, and then a compassion for our flawed humanity, which cant's help but spill over into our relations with others. That's the Spirit, the God Essence to catch, and it's at the heart of all True Religion. Anything else is neither spiritual nor truly religious.

The origin of the word "religion" is most likely from the Latin religare, which means to fasten or bind. The sense was the religion is that which binds and connects us with the divine and each other. Such a binding requires spiritual work of self-reflection, compassion, and right action. Without spirituality, religion degenerates into the vilest tendencies of the ego.

In the wake of violence inspired by religion, we need to re-bind religion and spirituality. In such a reunion, religion is an agent of transformation rather than a weapon. During this Season of Light, tending to our darkness and our light, our violence and our compassion, our religions and our spirituality, is our best hope for peace.

Can You Trust a Burning Bush?

How do we know what path in life to take? When the road splits, which fork do we take and why? The story of Moses provides some insights that still have relevance for us today. As the tory goes in the book of Exodus in the Hebrew scriptures...One day Moses is tending some sheep when he notices a bush on fire. Oddly, the fire rages without burning up the bush. From the bush comes a Voice claiming to be God, and The Voice commands Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.

Moses balks at his assignment. "They'll never believe me. They'll think I'm making up the whole thing."

The Voice gives Moses some street cred and tells him to:

  • Throw his staff on the ground. It becomes a snake. When Moses grabs it by the tail, the snake becomes a staff again.
  • Put his hand in his cloak and take it out again. Moses does and his hand is riddled with leprosy. Moses puts his hand in the cloak again and pulls it back out. His hand returns to normal.
  • Be ready for Plan C. If people don't believe him, Moses is instructed to go to the Nile, put some water in a container, and then pour it out on dry ground. It will become blood.

Of course, in Cecile B. DeMille's cinematic telling, The Ten Commandments, Pharaoh's court magicians perform similar feats to diminish Moses' credibility. (To me, the greater stretch of credibility is actor Edward G. Robinson as an Israelite naysayer with a New York gangster accent..."Where's your Messiah now?")

So what's the point of all this? On one level, we have the promise of divine accompaniment for our journeys.

From another angle, I see clues in Moses' story that help with discerning a path in life. This is particularly helpful since most of us don't encounter burning bushes housing divine oracles. The story has three symbols which we can look for as we discern whether or not to take a particular path:

  • The Staff/Snake - Consciousness. In many traditions, the snake is not evil but rather represents the life force energy spiraling up the human spine. When Moses grabs the snake by the tail, it becomes a rigid staff again that can hold him upright. Our life energies can be salutary or venomous. The difference is in how we take hold of them, that is, how conscious we are of how we hold our thoughts and emotions (or how they hold us). We can transform venom into blessing by cultivating our conscious attention. Does this direction I'm heading grow my awareness of That Which is Aware of my thoughts, feelings and actions, yet is beyond them all? Am I becoming more aware of That Which is Aware? Am I waking up to the Sacred all around and within me? 
  • The Leprous Hand - Wholeness. Lepers are outcasts. Yet that which is cast out drains energy and prevents wholeness. Whether the outcast is a person on the fringe of society or a part of our inner life shunned to the fringes of the psyche, wholeness requires integration. Does this direction bring greater wholeness to my own being and to my community?
  • Water/Blood - Solidarity with Humanity. Hummus, human, humble are all from the same root etymology, meaning earthy. Our spiritual awakening does not preclude being down to earth. In fact, earthiness is required. As long as we are in this body, water and blood are the two essential fluids for our survival. We thirst. We bleed. We are human. Compassion is when our common thirst leads us to act in service of others, especially when that requires some sacrifice, some blood. A genuine spiritual path with have a concern beyond itself for the common good. Does this path I'm on keep me humble, that is, am I in touch with my own humanity and in service to humanity? How am I being poured out of the common good? 

A credible, life-giving path will promote awareness, consciousness, wholeness, humility, and service to humanity. Yet, even when we know a path is right for us, we resist, make excuses and procrastinate. Even with these signs, Moses still refuses to go. "God, send someone else. I'm a lousy public speaker."

God is done haggling. "Moses, enough! Take your brother Aaron with you. He has the gift of gab and will speak for you. Now get moving!"

Every authentic path is scary, exciting, and requires that first step, which is a leap of faith. That's when the miracles start happening.

Where Are Your Wounds?

"Where are your wounds?" This was the question posed by Rev. Allan Boesak, a South African Dutch Reformed cleric and anti-apartheid activist, at the Parliament of World Religions. He said that at the end of our lives we will meet our Creator, and our Creator will ask, "Where are your wounds?" If we have no wounds, we will be asked, "Why? Was there nothing worth fighting for?"

"Where are my wounds?" That question sticks to me.

I have psychological wounds, some of my own making and some perpetrated by others. One particular wound I am addressing is the storyline that I am responsible for the emotions and reactions of others. Obviously false, yet the storyline tentacles run deep.

I am learning to take responsibility for my own responses and only my own responses, my emotions and only my emotions. When I sense disapproval coming my way, I stay with my own discomfort and hold my ground until the discomfort dissipates. I send oodles of compassion and self-forgiveness to myself, releasing the layers of over-responsiblity.

In spite of my penchant for taking on too much responsibility for others' emotional state, I also wonder if I am taking too little responsibility.

I make donations, click to sign petitions, and repost incisive paragraphs that cut to the heart of injustice.

But where are my wounds?

What am I sacrificing to bend the arc toward justice?

Does one click on my keyboard absolve me of all further responsibility?

I cannot end violence, income inequality, discrimination, and human-caused climate disruption.  But I can let myself feel more of their emotional weight. I can invite others to do the same and hold space for us to feel the heaviness of what we are doing to each other.

To do so feels like grief work, like a hospice, in which we hold a dying vigil for a familiar way of life that is neither just nor sustainable.

We need rituals, ceremonies and other creative outlets to acknowledge and untangle ourselves from the deep tentacles of what is no longer working.

We need to take action. Sometimes that might be "a click" to support an international effort. More often it is something local, where our work can make a small but immediate difference.

I'm becoming clearer about the nature of responsibility.

I am not responsible for other's reactions when I take a stand. I am not even responsible for the results. My job is not to save the world or even one individual.

  • I am responsible for acting in alignment with the truth of my heart as my heart responds to the woundedness I encounter.
  • I am responsible for continuing to grow as a human being, leading with my strengths and owning up to my shadowy shortcomings.
  • I am responsible for taking care of myself, which includes saying "no" to important work that is not mine to do.
  • I am responsible for using my wounds in service of the common good as I collaborate with my Creator to transmute my pain into compassionate action.

Where are your wounds? What is worth fighting for?

Listen to Grandma

I just returned from attending The Parliament of World Religions in Salt Lake City. I am still metabolizing the experience. On the last morning I attended a Healing Service for the World led by women indigenous leaders from around the globe. One leader, Grandmother Mary Lyons, an Ojibwe Elder from Minnesota, shared the following for our consideration:

At night we adults gather around a table for conversation. Often a child will come running up to us, crying, out of breath, with a story accusing some other child of wrongdoing.

First, I check to make sure there's no injury. My next impulse is to embrace the child and hug away the tears. But instead, I tell the child to sit in the corner, still with us, but a few feet away in the corner.

Then I listen. I listen to the breath as the child heaves and sobs. Soon a surrender comes and breathing returns to normal. Then I invite the child to come sit by my side and tell me the whole story.

Afterward the story is done I say, "You are amazing! Look how you solved this all on your own."

In our efforts to soothe others, we disempower them and repress their natural ability to heal their own wounds.

While at the parliament I also heard a new term: "vicious empathy". Vicious empathy is when we take the time to understand another person's pain but then foist on them assistance that is uninvited or unhelpful. Instead of collaborating or supporting them to heal themselves, we soothe our own discomfort by trying to eradicate the other person's pain.

When we impose our preferred solutions on others, whether they be individuals or whole groups of people, we magnify misery. When we stand with the hurting, we make space for their own healing power to arise.

At the end of the service I approached Grandmother Lyons and thanked her. She hugged me and said, "No need to thank me. Be grateful to yourself. I just brought forward the good that was already within you."

Skilled leaders and grandmas work their magic leaving the impression that you've done it all yourself.

Are You Leaking Light?

I haven't felt well that past two weeks. Exhausted. Grumpy. Headaches. Sore Throat. Low Energy. What's going on? I realized how over-committed and under-rested I am. I'm like a fire running low on fuel. There's no space between the logs for the fire to breath, and I'm running on smoldering embers.

My spiritual director observed that I'm "leaking light". My life energy, the light within me, is leaking out. It is my responsibility to decide when to shine my light, and when to reserve it. My habit has been to shine my light whenever and wherever it's been requested and to feel guilty/selfish/"not enough" when I choose to withhold my light.

How do I become a better steward of my light? My spiritual director recommended that I say "no" to others, so that I can say "yes" to the God dwelling within me, so that my light shines undiminished. 

My invitation is to notice which opportunities expand my aliveness and move me to say "yes" from a place of freedom. When I notice that response within, that is where I focus my light.

On the flip side, some opportunities, even good ones, are accompanied by heaviness, obligation, guilt. or an attempt to ease my own discomfort when others are disappointed in me. Those opportunities merit a firm, loving "no".

Those opportunities that are in-between, a nebulous "maybe" in which I feel a mix of excitement and heaviness, those merit a "no".  A compulsive, immediate reply of "yes" or a wishy-washy "maybe" keeps the pressure on me to avoid disappointing someone. Upon further reflection, I can always change my "no" to a "yes" and see if the opportunity is still available. Not every important cause or urgent matter requires my life energy. I can leave some needs to God and the other 7 billion people on the planet.

What about you? Are you leaking light? What lovely but non-essential commitments are draining you? How are you not being true to your Inner Light? To whom or what do you need to say "no" in order to say "yes" to the Sacred Light within you?

When we make peace with the discomfort we feel in not being everything to everyone, everywhere, we make space for a wholehearted "yes" to what is most truly our work. We experience a reconciliation as our Inner Light and the external sharing of our light merge into one sustaining radiance. Another word for that way of being is enlightenment.

Stumbling into Grace

Author and speaker Wayne Dyer passed away a few days ago. I remember watching him on PBS years ago. He spoke about a much-anticipated meeting with a guru from the East. He had to wait quite some time for his audience with this spiritual teacher. As he waited his mind raced through questions to ask:

  • What could he learn about God?
  • About life?
  • About the mysteries of the universe?
  • How could he make the most of this rare meeting?

Finally, he was invited into the room and was seated a few feet away from the guru, just the two of them, alone at last. And every pre-meditated question went right of Wayne Dyer’s head.

The guru looked at him and held silence. The guru’s gaze emanated compassion that seemed to fill the room. Wayne felt embraced by a tangible, unconditional acceptance. Tears began to flow down his face as he soaked in divine love radiating from the guru.

No words were said.

After about an hour of sitting silently together in tears of loving joy, the guru said, “My son, do you have any questions for me?”

Wayne responded, “No. They’ve all been answered.”

There's a place, a consciousness, within each of us, where all questions are fact, where no questions need be asked. In that open space, possibility, love, expansion, and pure bliss dwell. It's not a pollyanna denial of reality, but it puts reality in a different context. It unveils a Deeper Reality that is our core identify midst the mutating clouds of external turmoil.

Centered in that Deeper Reality, we know more than our spinning mind knows. We understand beyond our preconceptions. We love beyond our normal capacity. Cherished illusions dissolve, and truth emerges.We act cleanly.  We are aligned with the God (Life Essence) Within.

How do we get there? We create space to notice what wants to emerge from within. We let our striving questions fall right out of our heads. In that moment, we are likely to stumble into grace.

"Within you is an infinite, passionate soul that wishes to express itself. It’s the God within you, urging you to fulfill a deep sense of what you were meant to be." Wayne Dyer

Belong and Prosper

I had tears in my eyes a few months ago when I learned Leonard Nimoy had died. He and his Star Trek character Mr. Spock felt like close, lifelong friends. I grew up watching endless hours of Star Trek. I had a Mr. Spock action figure, Star Trek posters. Star Trek comic books. On Halloween I dressed up as Mr. Spock with pointed rubber ears. What I particularly loved about Spock was the paradox he lived. He was half Vulcan and half human. He had Vulcan logic, yet also had human compassion. He was one Vulcan on a ship of over 400 hundred humans.  He was an important member of the crew, yet he didn’t quite fit in.

I imagine many of us have lived a similar paradox. Like Spock, we can be an insider, yet also feel like we don’t quite belong. Age. Sexual Orientation. Race. Gender. Ethnicity. Economic status...aspects of our identity can make us feel like an outsider even in the most welcoming of communities.

For most of my life, I’ve felt like an outsider. In high school I floated between cliques: geeks, jocks, stoners, musicians. I had friends in every group but never belonged to any group. Later, as a closeted ordained minister, I had intimate spiritual moments with parishioners, yet had to hide my sexuality and lie when asked personal questions. As a gay man just coming out of the closet, I went to bars searching for community but found loneliness and isolation. I had a toe in many communities, but never fully belonged.

Not long ago, I told my partner about this feeling that I never quite fit in. He said, “Of course you don’t.  You’re weird and different. That’s exactly why I love you so much.”

That kind of love heals. My partner is calling me one of his people.

You are one of God's people, a God whose healing love treasures what makes you different, adores what makes you not fit in.

In fact, not fitting in can be positive. Those of us locked out of “normalcy” are forced to look beyond the typical external answers: work harder, make more money, get a new partner, try a new addiction.

And that’s where being an outsider offers a potential gift. In our emptiness and brokenness, we despair of all external balms. The only place left to look is within, where we find a belonging that makes us an insider with the Divine, no matter how outside the mainstream we may be.

We discover a place of Inner Wholeness that weaves together all our disparate pieces.  Like Spock, we live the paradox of not fitting in, yet belonging to what matters most...a Love that even death cannot sever.

In the first episode of Star Trek’s second season, Spock travels home to the planet Vulcan. Leonard Nimoy wanted to give his character a greeting that would impart peace and blessing to his own people. He created the Vulcan salute and along with it a benediction: “Live long and prosper”.

Leonard Nimoy got the idea from attending synagogue as a child. On high holy days, the Kohanim, the descendants of the high priests of Israel, would pronounce the blessing of God on the people. All the people turned their backs to the priest, honoring the tradition that the Spirit of God was too beautiful to look upon and live.

Of course, being a curious boy, little Leonard turned around to peek at what was happening. He saw the priest hold up two hands with thumbs touching, creating the Hebrew letter shin, which represented the first letter of two divine names: Shaddai, the Almighty, and Shekinah, the feminine presence of God. Jewish tradition is that the Divine presence shines through the priest’s fingers to bless the people.

That same light of Divine blessing shines on you today. In that Light, there are no insiders or outsiders. Everyone is included. Belong and prosper.


(Note: This blog entry contains excerpts from a sermon I preached at Companions on the Inner Way. Click here to read the whole sermon in context.)

Throwing Control Out the Window

At a recent staff meeting, I said it was time to "throw control out the window". We paused to chuckle and ponder that possibility before returning to our meeting agenda. What would it look like for us to throw control out the window? Is that wise?

Throwing control out the window is particularly challenging for those of us who are addicted to figuring out the "right answer" and for those of us whose egos ride on the ebb and flow of getting things done and doing them perfectly.

The problem with control is that it is an illusion. Of course, we all know this, but like any addiction, we keep groping for its illusive satiation.

So how do we tend to what's in front of us without being controlled by control?

First, we have to realize that we've been seized by control. Are we holding tension in the body? (For me, it's usually tightness is my chest.) Are we snippy, reactive or defensive? Another sign is that a beautiful moment is occurring, but we have no capacity to embrace it. These are my clues that control is in control. What are your warning signs?

Once we are aware that we have become controlling, what can we do about it?

Many years ago I dated someone who was a manager of the men's clothing section of a department store. Every time there was a sale, customers wreaked havoc on the neatly folded apparel, rummaging through assorted colors and sizes to find the perfect bargain. The flummoxed salespeople griped about the hurricane of disorder that had befallen their department as they frenetically tried to restore order each morning. As their manager, he would say: "Get a grip people! This isn't the hospital emergency room. We're just selling shirts."

Everyone once in a while when surrounded by my own maelstrom, I'll remind myself to get a grip...or perhaps to loosen my grip on control and thus control's grip on me. The truth is that most of what I am trying to control is temporary, ephemeral, and nowhere near "emergency room" importance. I remind myself that this is all "just stuff".

I bring my attention back to who I am and how I am. I Am a manifestation of the Infinite Essence that precedes and endures beyond all that I'm trying to control. (Some refer to this as "made in the image of God.") That Essence includes yet exceeds all that my controlling little ego is trying to prove itself to be: right, smart, competent, lovable, worthy, important, better than, and...well, likable.

When I relax into that spacious awareness, my ego needs are mysteriously met in a way I can neither explain nor control. I have a sense that all is well on the deepest level possible.

Recalling who I am shapes how I am. Living from inner spaciousness frees me to be how I want to be: gracious, open, patient, creative, surprising, flexible, happy, present, grounded, and adventurous.

What I've been trying to control shrinks to the size of its actual importance.

Elusive solutions often reveal themselves to be already present.

How I treat others and myself is less Scrooge-like and more Christ-like/Buddha-like.

The situation hasn't changed, but how I am with myself and others midst the situation changes. And that changes everything.

My controlling efforts will likely have little import to anyone fifty years from now. But how I am today midst my efforts will send waves of loving energy beyond my tasks, myself, my imagination...far beyond anything I can control.

Are You In or Out of This World?

"They are not of the world, any more than I am of the world." John 17:14

"Be in the world but not of it." For many, this means attuning their lives to a higher purpose than self-indulgence.

Unfortunately, this can also create an unhealthy duality in which people try to escape the world through meditation and other spiritual practices. In effect, they seek to be neither in the world nor of it. Such a separation yields a disconnected, stunted spirituality that appears vibrant in churches and on meditation cushions but doesn't seep into the way we treat each other, much less transform the often-unjust social structures in which we function.

I have often yearned for some sort of monastic-like existence and have fancied myself as St. Francis, walking midst chirping birds and kaleidoscopic flowers, praying, meditating and communing with God without that cares of daily life to disturb my tranquility.

But as my friend Hannah reminded me recently: "People who live in monasteries complain too about how busy they are with prayer schedules and endless chores. A monastery is no escape."

Rather than escape, I intend to bridge the gap between my spiritual practice and the rest of my day. I intend to bridge the gap between the pew and the computer, between the meditation cushion and the staff meeting.

So, how to do that? I'm experimenting with three approaches:

  1. I start each day with a prayer of intention: "I am the I AM presence everywhere, every moment, with everyone, with everything." Different people call that Presence different names: God, awareness, gratitude, Buddha-mind, Christ-consciousness, etc. Whatever the name, it's a simple acknowledgment of our root identity, which I call "I AM Presence". (For a reflection on the "I AM presence", see this previous blog entry.)
  2. I send ahead the positive energy generated in my morning meditation/devotion time to all the activities and people I'll encounter in the day ahead...and to whomever or wherever else that energy is most needed.
  3. I placed a sticky note on my laptop with the reminder: "5%   /   I AM". This reminds me to slow down 5% throughout the day in order to reconnect with my root identity (the "I AM Presence"). I focus that energy on my next activity and commit myself to embody that identity in how I treat others (and myself).  I imagine everyone who might benefit from my next task, no matter how small, and pray/intend that my actions would bless them. Sending that positive intention forward can even transmute an Excel spreadsheet into a spiritual practice!

This is still a work in progress for me. Yet on occasion, it all comes together. When my inner awareness of the Sacred beyond the world merges with my outer awareness of the Sacred as the world I live in, then I am integrated. Whether I am in or out of this world is then no longer a question because my world has expanded to include everything.

On a Foggy Day You Can See Forever

Each morning, the gentle breeze of meditation clears my foggy mind.

For a moment, the haze of what I thought I knew


I remember Who I Am.

Freed from plans, expectations and my

house-of-cards identity,

a clarity emerges up my spine,

and I know eternity in my body.


Then my eternity collapses into an angst-ridden

list of to-do's, the end of which,

like a highway mirage,

is always two miles ahead.


Eternity doesn't abandon me when minutia becomes my idol.

Through hints and invitations,

I AM calls me to remember

That I Am.

No predicate. Simply I Am.


Then the dense cloud of my momentary concerns

vaporizes in the way that

all passing weather systems must.


Today's reminder comes as

as I cross the Golden Gate Bridge

into mystery.

A cotton candy blanket of fog envelops

the bridge with its velvety precipitation.

The road ahead, a soup of uncertainty,

offers no answers.


I surrender to the Unknowing.


In that surrender of

grasping for answers

and striving for perfection,

I am left with one thing I know:




The infinitude of possibility

opens before me me me.

Child-like is the New Grown Up

While attending this year's Pride Parade in San Francisco, I was particularly amazed at the number of rainbow-flag waving teens, children and toddlers. They seemed to outnumber adults, and their enthusiasm was electric. Looking in their faces, I saw openness, joy, and wonder. In the wake of the Supreme Court's decision to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide, I've been pondering why this youngest generation displays such acceptance. What makes these youth so open to embrace differences?

Jesus told his followers that their only hope of catching a glimpse of God was to become like little children. Unfortunately, many become childish rather than child-like in their search for God.

A childish approach fixes on one idea, one structure, and one perspective with inflexible rigidity.  Positions and personas calcify, and we confuse them for Absolute Truth. We shrink to the size of our prejudices, as does our understanding of whatever God is. God degenerates into a brittle icon in need of a defense that usually becomes offensive.

A child-like approach deals in curiosity, awe, and the fluidity of not-knowing. The boundaries of God and our understanding of who is included in "We the People" keep expanding. Such a Divine Essence needs no defense because everything and everyone is included in ever-widening circles of grace.

Such a God is neither gay nor straight, neither male nor female, neither Christian nor agnostic, neither Democrat or Republican, yet is all these and infinitely more. The Divine is both totally inclusive yet transcends every category that is included. Tuning in to that inclusive yet transcendent wavelength, identity and perspectives broaden. We are free to move and evolve. Our positions and personas are held more lightly. This is that path toward personal maturity.

What is true for an individual is also true for a group, a community, a nation, and a world. Will we see each other as interconnected and sharing the same Sacred Essence? Will we allow our hearts and minds to remain truly open? If so, we will have become more child-like, and in doing so, we may finally grow up.

Taking a Space Rocket to God

This is a Space Rocket Epiphyllum that lives on our front porch. The diner-plate-sized blossoms explode in shades of fuchsia and crimson and then dissolve after a couple of days. The blooms, though short-lived, transport me in my imagination to another world where magnificent, over-the-top flora abound. I've been thinking that the Space Rocket Epiphyllum is an apt metaphor for the spiritual journey. Our awakenings and "aha's" burst into consciousness with mind-altering vivacity. Then they fade as the the "normal world" recaptures our attention.

At that moment of inevitable fading, we have a choice. We can cling to the outer form of our experience, or we can integrate the Essence (the "aha") to which the form was pointing and from which it came.

The deeper one goes into devotion...the more that the form [of the Divine] which he has visualized fades into formlessness...Paramhansa Yogananda gave further advice on the subject: "Whenever God comes to you in form - as, let's say, the Divine Mother - try to see in those eyes, not a human personality, but the consciousness of infinity." The Essence of the Bhagavad Gita, p. 168

Herein lies a difference between beneficial spirituality and ineffectual religion. When the Holy bursts into consciousness, healthy spirituality integrates the experience into body, mind, and heart without holding on to the form it came in. The integrated experience transforms our habitual behaviors and tightly held views. Ineffectual religion clings to the outer form without integration or transformation.

Maturity is to relish those blossoming moments when they occur...and remember them as touchstones...but to look through those moments to the Pure Essence. That's the content, the message, the insight, which is to be integrated.

You can recall the form anytime as a way to re-enter the experience, but then release the form and pivot attention to the bodily sensations that arise. Do you feel open, free, connected? What do you sense? Where in your body do you sense it and what is the sensation? Observe  insights emerging in the spaciousness. Notice the different perspective from which you are experiencing life.

Let these gifts permeate your body, unsettle your ego, center you in your heart, and liberate your thinking.

Whether it's a Space Rocket Epiphyllum, a delicious meal, a kiss, or a panoramic vista, the form soon disappears. But what it evokes within us can endure if we integrate it. And what are we integrating? An Infinite Consciousness that holds the humdrum of our daily lives in a broader perspective of compassion, bliss, and equanimity. The reminders of this Consciousness quickly fade. The Consciousness itself is eternal.