Spiritual Direction

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.

A Bit of Heaven on Earth

We have a rose variety in our backyard called "The Pilgrim". This is a photo of its latest bloom, which graces passersby with a candy-sweet-almost-tastable fragrance. The Pilgrim is named after pilgrims in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, who swapped stories on their long journey. A pilgrim seeks to find a bit of heaven on earth. Certainly this rose fits that description. Where in your life do you sense a sliver of bliss midst the ordinary?

Sometimes we go on pilgrimages in our dreams. I had a dream last night in which my aunt was caring for many children. One was a luminous little girl who received special guidance and encouragement from her older sister, who realized her giftedness.

The children went on a journey. After some travel, the little girl ascended a hill and sat down. She placed a white sheet over her head, which then draped her body. She used mud to make a faux beard for herself. She then gathered her congregation and became their rabbi.

She looked around at her siblings and gave them each a wafer of bread saying, "This wafer is heaven come down to earth to nourish you."

My partner and I were watching the whole scene in my dream, and I heard a voice saying, "This is your something beautiful you have been looking for." I woke up with tears of joy in my eyes.

Whether we go on a long pilgrimage or never leave home, the destination is the same. Our life journey's goal is to find a little bit of heaven here on earth. We can search the world over, but if we don't find it first and last within ourselves, it will always remain elusive.

Eventually, the end of all our wonderings is to realize that the heaven, the beauty, we have been searching for was in us all along. A dream or a fragrant rose can evoke the inner heaven, and we well up with tears of joy and break out in a smile.

But that bliss is present even on the most mundane of days. How do we access it? The better question is: how do we let it access us? Bliss is waiting to explode in us and through us every moment. When we lay down our fixed positions, stories, and strivings, the bliss naturally emerges. Even if we only bloom for a few moments, we will have become a bit of heaven on earth for ourselves and everyone around us.

Meanest Dog I Ever Had

I took Cowboy, our Fox Terrier, to the dog park last week. He outraced all other dogs to the thrown tennis ball time after time. Then Cowboy started to mount other dogs, each of which was two to three times his size...and none of whom welcomed Cowboy's dominant display. As I was apologizing to the other people in the park, an old man looked at me and said, "Don't worry about it. I had a Fox Terrier once...meanest dog I ever had!"

I don't think Cowboy is actually a mean dog. He simply doesn't comprehend why the universe does not organize itself around him. Why would any human give attention to another dog or cat when Cowboy is available? It simply doesn't make sense to him.

Of course, humans and their animal companions often share traits. This morning I picked up an orchid, which was tangled with another orchid. Both dropped to the floor, splattering debris.

After yelling a few choice words, I realized my deeper anger: The universe was not organizing itself around me. Why were these plants, whose lives I'm sustaining, making my life harder when my intention is to care for them? Why had The Universe/God not cooperating? Why am I not getting what I want? I was howling like a Fox Terrier.

Once I realized these self-absorbed expectations, I pondered what to do:

  • Embrace these patterns with compassion, knowing that we all have selfish tendencies that need loving attention.
  • Put the lie to these false expectations. I could say, "Get thee behind me Satan!", or in other words, "You are present within me but not helpful. I choose to move forward and leave you be. Get behind me."

What do you do when self-centered craziness takes hold of you? Which method liberates you? 

After a few minutes, I couldn't help but smile at myself. The simple awareness on this self-centered illusion called its bluff, and it seemed to dissipate as quickly as it arose.

Perhaps the spiritual path looks much the same as becoming a skilled human companion for a Fox Terrier. The wise human learns when to say "no", when to embrace, and when to laugh and simply let things be.

The Question is: "Are You?"

Sometimes a question becomes its own answer and clears up all confusion in an instant. I recently had such an experience with my partner when we sent to visit a wise septuagenerian from India, who teaches non-dualism through provocative questions and art. We sat down to chat, and I wove a story about how childhood experiences still create specters of anxiety, self-doubt and over-functioning. After listening carefully, he explained that most of our conscious energy goes toward modifying our stories or replacing them with better stories.

Our stories, however, are illusions; they are mental constructs without permanent substance. There's nothing wrong with having stories about our lives. We can choose to enter into and enjoy our stories, but unless we realize them for the illusions that they are, we will be trapped in their web.

Of course, I wanted to know how to break free of my illusions. He mentioned the usual prescription: meditation. Focusing on a candle, the breath, a chant, or a word can break the addictive trance of our thoughts/stories.  We can then take a step back and be the witness of all that comes and goes without becoming identified with what comes and goes.

He hinted, however, that there was something more, something beyond the witness. What was he talking about? I got that I'm not my stories. I understood that there was something more to me than these mental constructs, but in that moment, I couldn't seem to get past the web of my stories. And I admitted that although I meditate daily, the effect doesn't seem to last throughout the day. That's when everything shifted.

He looked at me and said, "I have a question for you: 'Are you?' I'm not asking, 'Who are you?' or 'What are you?' but 'Are you?'"

We let the question linger in the air. Within me I felt this crystal clear, potent answer surface: "Yes, I AM!"

He said, "That which answered your question is The Answer itself. It is Self knowing Self. God knowing God. That which answers the question, 'Are you?' is the pure Essence, Being Itself. It is the creative intensity from which all stories arise and into which they all subside.  This is what drew people to Jesus. He mirrored the divine within people back to them."

In that moment I felt I AM.  I could neither describe nor grasp what was happening, nor did I want to. I was Being!

My stories, once frozen in my mind, seemed fluid, no longer solid. I realized this Presence/Being is who I am. I knew it in a way that was beyond forgetting. This knowing grew in intensity through art he showed us, living canvases which seemed to exist on the border between inanimate and animate.

I left feeling free and grounded. Of course, the stories have come flooding back, but in their liquid state, they tend to flow through me more readily. If they start to solidify, I realize what is happening and ask myself one question, "Am I?" The Answer to that question answers everything else.

Did Jesus Poop?

I was talking to someone who is on the borderline between acquaintance and friend. She mentioned an important personal fact as if I obviously already knew, which I did not. But I pretended that I knew and tried to piece together the the facts from the rest of our conversation. Afterwards the self-analyzing questions: "Why did she think I already knew? Why didn't I just admit that I didn't know and own up to my ignorance? What am I trying to protect by pretending to be so knowledgable?" I decided to take these questions with me on my morning walk. During these meditative walks, I often invite God/Jesus to join me (although at times I listen to the chant "Om Nama Shivaya" for a Hindu-infused jaunt).

As I walked, I pondered how my view of Jesus might affect my response to my earlier behavior.  In popular Christianity, much focus is placed on Jesus' compassion, wisdom, and divine/supernatural abilities. But the Gospels also present a fully human Jesus who gets mad, cries, and has problems with his biological family. Which Jesus was I calling on to gain perspective on my behavior?

This led me to the crucial theological question that dominated the rest of my morning walk: Did Jesus poop? Of course he did, but somehow that thought seems, well, "unChristian". We have sanitized Jesus to the point of being non-human, and in so doing, we have lost any hope of becoming like him. If he's only for veneration, then he's of no use for transformation.

According to the Gospels, God said of Jesus, "This is my beloved with whom I'm well pleased." If the Divine Essence can inhabit that biologically messy, emotional, limited human being known as Jesus...and be well-pleased, then shame, blame, judgement and self-judgement have met their match. That's the heart of Christianity. The Divine Mystery looks at us, loves us, takes up residence in us, as us, in all our humanness, and is well-pleased.

While my walk didn't yield a psychological cure-all that magically erased all my self-protective foibles, I did gain a deeper experience of Jesus that is proving to be just as therapeutic.  To experience Jesus is to experience that we imperfect beings are embraced at such a deep level that we cannot fail at life, cannot be a disappointment, cannot be anything other than loved.

Within such truly unconditional love, our masks and pretenses are acknowledged without push or pull. No need for judgment, angst-ridden self-analysis, or a $10,000 self-help course. We, like God, see the messy, human reality...and smile.

Did Jesus poop? Absolutely. And thank God he did.

Ordinary Miracles

What if what we perceive as ordinary is really a hologram containing the very essence of all that is? What if the Sacred beams just as brightly from below as from above? What will we see if we invert our sense of where light comes from? These are among the questions pondered in "The original light, blazing through your skull", which is an art installation currently on view in San Francisco at the Manresa Gallery. (See the video below.) According to artist Ali Naschke-Messing, her creation:

"...questions the traditional religious trope of light portrayed as descending from the heavens and creates an inverted conic form, inspired from the light that emanates from all life. The floating gold leaf fragments can be seen as coming from above and below, constantly turning and responding to air currents via breath and movement."

What light do you experience emanating from the various life forms around you? What is the nature of the "light" you emit? How might your movements and your breath be experienced as amazing phenomena? Watch the video. What questions and observations arise for you?

 [vimeography id="18"]

You Cannot Fail!

A little over two years ago I left Austin, Texas for a move out to my current home here in California. Before leaving I stopped by Austin Presbyterian Seminary to say good-bye to the students and staff who had been so supportive of the spiritual direction work I had done there over the years. What I remember most from that last visit was a brief talk with Jackie Saxon, the Vice President of Student Affairs. She asked how I was feeling about the move.

"I feel both excited and scared", I replied.

Jackie said, "Excitement and fear are two sides of the same coin. They go together. That shows your goal has heart and life. If you felt no fear, neither would you feel any excitement."

"You're right. I just don't feel like I know what I'm doing. I don't know if it's going to work out. I'm going where I feel led, but it all seems so uncertain."

Jackie took hold of my shoulders with a firm, yet compassionate grip, looked me in the eyes and said these words that still ring in my ears as prophetic truth: "Hear me. You cannot fail! It may not go as you have planned it, but that is not failure. Whatever happens is the bridge to your next adventure. You cannot fail!"

What would you do if you knew you could not fail? What would you attempt if you knew that even those inevitable missteps and sidesteps were all ok? What if what seems like failure (when things don't turn out as you hope and plan) is actually the bridge to your next adventure?

What if you could not fail? What adventure would you go on? What change would you make? Who might you become?

As we enter 2014, I encourage you to live as if you were enrolled in a school where there is no failure, only learning. The school is life, the curriculum is what is present in your life right now, and the Teacher is Spirit/God/The Universe, who is collaborating with you for your highest good and the well being of all concerned. With that understanding, what would be a wholehearted step forward for you, an adventure worthy of your precious energy? Knowing that you simply cannot fail, what will you do?

Coming Out of the Closet...Again

I have a confession to make. I've been seeing someone. It's been very intimate and private. Yes, my partner knows about it, and it's ok. Where does this happen and who is it? Early mornings in my studio I close my eyes, relax and let myself descend into a sanctuary I've created in my own imagination. In that sanctuary I sense that something other than my conscious mind takes over. There I have met with my grandparents, my parents, Buddha, Mary, and animal guides. But the most frequent visit is with Jesus Christ.

I know that for many of us spending time with Jesus sounds like a fundamentalist's relic, laden with toxic theology. But this is not the stale, suffocating, disconnected-from-real-life Jesus Christ of organized religion. It is a living, fresh encounter with a vibrant Christ. During and after these times together I feel liberated, whole, inspired, encouraged, grounded and washed over with love. I feel as if life is starting over with unlimited potential.

What do we do? Sometimes, we sit in a beautiful garden and admire nature. Sometimes we enter a chapel and soak in the luxurious silence. Sometimes we look out over the ocean and chat. Other times symbols or feelings or colors or other sacred figures appear, each with a message or healing gift. It's as if I'm meeting Jesus for the first time and discovering that he's exactly what I had hoped he would be: warm, welcoming, insightful, funny, mystical...someone who really gets me, meets me where I am and gently leads me to a more authentic expression of myself.

So, what is really happening? Is it all just my subconscious mind creating fantasies in a state of half-sleep? Am I actually on tuning in to the Spirit of Christ, whatever that means? I'm not sure, and I don't think it's relevant. I only know that I am experiencing Life as freer, truer, lighter and more trustworthy. A bit more compassion is flowing for others and for myself.  And it's a result of rekindling a relationship I had almost written off as irreconcilable with my sexuality, intellectual honesty and my affinity for other faith traditions.

I'm not sure what to call myself as I come out of the closet and claim that I regularly meet with Jesus. The only word that comes to mind is "grateful".

P.S. Please join us for classes this spring on Self-Hypnosis and Mindful Photography.

Stratego: A Poor Strategy for Life

My Uncle Frank came to visit my grandparents every summer when I was growing up. He and I would play games and cards hour after hour. I particularly liked Stratego, a board game in which two players pit their armies against each other. I developed a strategy that I employed every time, which almost always resulted in a win. Basically, it was a defensive posture focused on protecting my flag and setting traps in which the parts of my defenses that seemed weakest actually obscured hidden dangers.  I rarely went on the offensive, trusting that the way I set up my army usually guaranteed victory before the first move was even made. By the time my uncle figured out where my flag was, he usually did not have enough resources left to capture it.

Looking back now, I realize that I also began to employ this same strategy with life. Prepare thoroughly in advance, survey the board and plan for every possibility, control everything you can, and then trust that things will go your way because they should go your way. For the most part, this strategy worked well in school. (Isn't school essentially a prolonged board game?)

When entering the world of work, relationships and adult problems, however, this strategy simply did not work anymore. There were too many variables. No matter how hard I prepared and planned, the unexpected happened. Life turned out to be a Mystery that could be neither controlled nor understood.

Somehow this didn't seem fair. Why shouldn't life function like Stratego? If I did my part, shouldn't the world do its part and cooperate? Through all my hard work, have I not proved my worth and earned some sort of reward?

My resentful attitude reminds me of a character in a story Jesus told, which is commonly known as "The Prodigal Son". Both sons in the story are actually lost. The younger son wasted his inheritance on partying. The older son stayed behind on the farm as he thought a good boy should, yet he resented how his life was turning out. He worked hard every day, followed the rules, and was the poster child for responsibility, yet no one seemed to notice. No one even gave him a "like" on his Facebook page. Yet, his irresponsible partying brother comes home, and his father throws him a ginormous party. And the kicker: the older son stays out in the field all day working while the party is underway. No one even bothers to tell him about his brother's return and the shindig.

The father's words to him as he sulks in the unfairness of it all still resonate for me today: "All I have is yours already." This is the message the older son and I both need to hear:

By all this hard work, you are trying to earn what is already yours. You are innately worthy and beloved. No amount of strategy or work can earn what must be received as a given. Receiving your "belovedness" as a given, life starts to feel more like a gift and less like an imposition. A joyful balance of responsibility and freedom emerges. Yes, your brother needs to learn responsibility, and you need to learn freedom. Wholeness is the balance of both. And the balancing point is compassionate self-acceptance.

Life is far more mysterious, complicated and glorious than a board game. Perhaps the greatest mystery is that I am already worthy and forever ok without doing anything! Living from a sense of being irrevocably loved, that resentful sinkhole of compensating for the feeling that I'm never enough...that sinkhole starts to fill from the inside out.

I'm learning a new approach to this board game of life, and living from my "belovedness" may turn out to be the riskiest yet most rewarding strategy of all.

P.S. Beginning in mid-April, a new group will meet every Tuesday night to experience and explore together this mysterious freedom and "belovedness". For more information, go to: Tuesday Night Live.

Lord of the Dance

My prayer time and meditation practice has felt rather stale and empty lately. The emptiness I'm ok with because I want to be emptied of all my silly stories and ego patterns. Yet, even in this necessary spaciousness, I've sensed that something essential has been missing, though I could not put my finger on it. Well, they say that when the student is ready, the teacher arrives. My partner Herb recently gave me a lovely miniature bronze statue of Shiva Nataraja. Nataraja means "Lord of the Dance". This figure symbolizes the heart of both Hinduism and of our human experience.

The statue depicts the contradictions that define our lives. In Shiva's upper right hand is a drum that beats the sound from which the universe was born. In his upper left hand is fire, which destroys creation, reminding us of the constant cycle of birth and death, creation and destruction. The ring of fire represents everywhere that this dance occurs, which is the whole of the universe. And the statue sits on a lotus flower, symbolizing that the whole of the universe rests in the human heart or consciousness.

What Herb and I find most intriguing is the only moving part: Shiva's hair. The hair strands winging out to the side of his head look like a halo and are reminiscent of the Biblical character Samson, whose locks gave him great strength. The tradition is that Shiva's hair, usually wrapped up in a pyramid atop his head, starts to unravel and flails with reckless abandon as the dance becomes wild and ecstatic. He is fully embodied, sensuous, and on fire with life.

Oddly, Shiva's face is impassive. His expression represents that tranquil nothingness out of which all creation springs, reminding me of the emptiness I've been experiencing in meditation. It identifies neither with the joy of creation nor the pain of destruction, but rather holds it all with an accepting perspective. His gaze is eternity; his dance is the temporary, fully-engaged rhumba of the here and now.

I am realizing that this symbol speaks directly to my own spiritual path. I have focused so much on the gaze of eternity, that I've been missing the dance of life. Both are essential experiences. So, I'm starting to experiment. My morning devotional time still features quiet, but I'm also incorporating movement, vibrations of a singing bowl, images from my dreams that lead to inner dialogs, St. Francis' prayer spoken aloud while standing, and the warming beams of the sun's early rays. The silence and the sensuous are starting to spill over into the rest of my day, enabling me to experience that tango between the infinite and the finite.

While I don't have any hair to fling wildly in ecstatic dance, I am sensing the drumbeat of the universe in my own heart...and in my spontaneously tapping toe.

Reflections of the Divine

Last week I attended an early morning contemplative service with hypnotic Taize-style chants. Just as mesmerizing, however, was the rainbow of reflected light emanating through the stained glass windows. As the sun rose, its rays painted an increasingly vivid palette of Monet-esque colors across its canvas of plastered walls. I feel like those walls. I see reflections of the divine scattered across my life. My partner's smile. Our cat "making biscuits" on my lap. My feet spontaneously tapping to the rhythm of a catchy new tune. A walk on the ridge near our house where I catch sight of a darting jackrabbit. I see these reflections of the divine, but I can't see the Source of those reflections.

What is that Source? A being? A presence? An energy? An evolutionary process?  I can't see through the window to know.

For many, of course, these questions are irrelevant. They savor the reflections with little thought given to their Source. While I honor and appreciate that straightforward approach to living, I've yearned for intimacy with that Source Itself. I've craved more. I've longed for more felt connection, more clarity about who/what the divine is, more of a deep sense of knowing, and, yes, more mountaintop ecstasy.

Instead what I experience are these reflections, disparate rays catching my attention, if only I am paying attention. And I'm wondering if that might be what's needed after all. Much like a committed human relationship, maybe it's not about grasping for that honeymoon or first kiss experience. Maybe it's about paying attention to and savoring the "blessed normalcy" of life together. Yes, there are peaks and valleys, but most of the relationship is marked by ordinariness that only nourishes when noticed and treasured. And in that noticing and treasuring is the connection, the intimacy and the seeing.

So, I am going to try an experiment. When I notice "reflections", I'm going to stay with them just a tad longer to appreciate them and let their sacred ordinariness be enough. I'm also going to honor my longing for more and notice if in that longing itself, I feel more connected to Source. The longing is sacred; it's the addiction to its fulfillment feeling or looking a certain way that causes me such angst.

And, if and when I catch a glimpse of Source Itself, of the divine, of God, I'll value that experience as no more sacred than moments spent admiring the violet-blossomed, amazingly fragrant orchid on the mantle above our fireplace. For in any moment of openness and awe, the seer and the Light and the reflections are all intimately one.

Have You Outgrown Your Image of God?

I once did a year-long internship in New York on Long Island. On days off I would take the Long Island Railroad into the city. Years after the internship was over I still pined for New York, particularly the energy of Manhattan. I returned about once a year to visit the wonderful people I had met and to immerse myself in familiar favorites (MOMA, Broadway shows, Central Park, and The Cloisters) as well as seeking out new experiences. Several years ago I decided to explore moving to New York. Rather than live as a tourist, I decided to live like a resident. What would it be like to bring groceries home on foot from the nearest store, which was four blocks away? What would it be like to walk through the snow to and from the laundromat in February?   How would I thrive week after week, month after month in weather that was far too cold for my comfort level? How would I feel living in a fifth-floor, 350 square foot, walkup flat?

I quickly realized that I was not so much in love with the idea of living in New York City. I was in love with the idea of being on a permanent vacation in Manhattan. What seemed like magical perfection in my 20's now seemed like far too much discomfort, frenzy, noise and effort with not nearly enough connection to nature. I had outgrown my image of the perfect place for me to live.

Just as I had outgrown that image of where to live, I realized I had also outgrown my image of God. The God who sent all non-Christians to hell or who condemned homosexuals or who wanted women to keep their mouths shut in deference to men, that God no longer resonated with me. I could no longer relate to a God more petty than I knew myself to be. My image of God was too small.

Have you outgrown your image of God? Is even the term "God" insufficient for your experience of the Divine, of the Essence of Life? One way to tell is by the fruits of your divine image. If your experience of the divine makes you more open-minded, open-hearted, fully alive and willing to serve your neighbors and even have compassion for your enemies, then that image is congruent for you. If, however, your image of the divine leads to judgment, fear, self-loathing, restricted living, and spiritual highs with no genuine concern or action for those at the bottom of life's barrel, then that image of the divine is too small.

The spiritual path is one of surrender, embrace and surrender. We surrender and release an old image of the divine with gratitude for how it served us to this point. We embrace the new life-giving experience of the divine that is emerging for us, knowing that it too must be surrendered some day if we are to keep evolving.

The journey never ends. You can never experience the fullness of the divine. The Mystery is inexhaustible. Therefore, our images of the sacred are always incomplete. That is not meant to discourage but to excite us. Whatever our experience, emotion, dream, woe, latent potential or growing edge, the divine is already there ready to meet us with more life-giving possibility than we can imagine.

I read once that if you started at one tip of Manhattan and ate breakfast, lunch and dinner at a different place for every meal, it would take over 80 years to reach the other end of Manhattan. And, of course, by then new restaurants would have arisen, not to mention all of the non-eating stops along the way that are worth savoring. If it is impossible to experience all that a 3-mile strip of land has to offer, then how limitless are the adventures within the entire sacred universe. That exploration is one thing we can never outgrow.

P.S. Join us for a day retreat on Saturday, December 1 and explore what the divine is for you now and update how you relate to the sacred so that it is meaningful and life-giving for you today. For more information and to register, visit the Classes page.

A Bridge to Somewhere

The late Senator Ted (the Internet is a "series of tubes") Stevens once tried to push a bill through Congress that would have built a $398 million bridge in his home state of Alaska between the towns of Ketchikan (population 14,000) and Gravina Island (population 50) because the existing ferry service was considered inadequate. It became known as "The Bridge to Nowhere". Recently I listened to an Easter sermon by Dr. Jim Rigby in which he said that the Easter resurrection story only makes sense when we see ourselves as an evolutionary bridge between the life that came before us and the life that will come after and through us. In other words, the deeper message of Easter is that we are an evolutionary "bridge to somewhere".

A bridge is not the destination. My life goes into a tailspin faster than Herman Cain's presidential campaign when I forget this truth: The unfolding story of the universe is not about me. It is about the universe, about Life itself. If my molecules, my kindness, my work, my relationships in this brief lifetime bless some form of life beyond myself, then my body is, in a very real sense, resurrected.

A central failing of American Christianity (and of most spiritual practice in this country) is that we don't care very deeply about anyone or anything beyond ourselves. We talk about heaven and the afterlife but show little concern for those going through hell here and now. We get our inner bliss on by meditating, aligning chakras, and pretzeling our bodies like yogis until we become oblivious to the pain in dilapidated apartment complexes across town. We worship superstar spiritual teachers but lack the humility to learn from a wise African-American cleaning woman we see every day. Such a religion/spirituality will always be characterized by fearful, narcissistic grasping. It is a self-centered bridge to nowhere.

Whatever our beliefs are about the afterlife, we can experience a bridge of connection that spans our differences and links us with life everywhere. Such a universal connection would include:

  • Placing our individual lives in the context of the ongoing story of Life itself. Otherwise, talk of the afterlife is simply a glorified ego trip.
  • Revolutionary, evolutionary practices done individually and in supportive communities where we break the trance of myopic navel-gazing and get real with each other.
  • A mindful awareness about how our daily choices affect the people we live and work with, cashiers and waiters that serve us, impoverished women in Latin America who make our clothes, children yet unborn in Asia, and species in the Pacific Ocean yet to emerge.

In this kind of spirituality, anxious grasping for the afterlife transforms into a conscious connection with the Spirit of LIfe here and now. The isolating hell of "me, myself and I" becomes a resurrection in which I find myself by losing myself in something grander than myself.  The tragedy of my finite existence becomes a celebration of my unique chapter in life's everlasting story. A bridge to nowhere becomes a bridge to somewhere.

Thank you for reading this post. If you would like to explore together (either online or in person) what a down to earth, LIfe-serving spirituality will look like in the 21st century, please provide your feedback and also sign up below for email notification of future posts. Let's get the conversation started. Thank you!

Spiritual Direction in Healthcare

How can space be created for genuine human connection in a healthcare setting? What might self-care look like for caregivers? The December 2011 issue of Presence: an International Journal of Spiritual Direction explores these questions in an article my friend Hannah O'Donoghue and I co-wrote. Below is a PDF of the article. Please share your thoughts on the article and your own experiences with healthcare and as a caregiver.

Click here to download the article.