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.

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.)

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.

Falls' Crimson Angels

Our Japanese Maple has reached its peak glow. Its crimson foliage embraces our statue of Kwan Yin, the Buddhist personification of compassion, who returns to earth to spread mercy. Below is a haiku inspired by the photo. Please share a haiku that comes to you as you view the photo. (A traditional haiku is 3 lines: 5 syllables, 7 syllables and 5 syllables.)

 Fall's crimson angels

Dance around compassion's face

And then fall earthward.

Fly Versus Spider

Recently I recorded the video below of a pitched battle in the window sill of my studio. Do you feel sadness for the fly during its last flailing moments or relief for the spider securing a needed meal? Below is a haiku I wrote based on the video. Please take a moment to share your own haiku.

Fly versus spider:

Don't take death personally. 

It's the way of things. 

[vimeography id="16"]

'Tis a Bliss to Be Simple

"Our countries don't like each other", I think as I stare at the photo of a

Middle Eastern woman, head covered in royal blue,

standing outside her one-hundred-square-foot mansion.


"Blessed are the poor." Blessed indeed! For

such a look of unadulterated bliss I have

never seen - certainly not on the face of

anyone in a top tax bracket.


What reason has she to be so deliriously happy?

What reason has she not to be so deliriously happy?

As she holds a fragrant leaf to her nose, her brain

sends waves of pleasure throughout her being. As the

sun massages her epidermis, a lilting breeze

mothers her aching bones. Beyond words

she senses the Universe loves her because she is

able to register this moment of pure, simple bliss.


Why does happiness have to be complicated?


The Buddha was asked, "Are you a god?

A reincarnation of a god? A wizard?"

He said, "No."

"What are you then?"

The Buddha replied, "Awake."


In the unlikely event I am ever asked similar questions,

I hope to simply reply: "Happy."

Everybody Wants to Rule the World: A Haiku

Here is a photo I took of our fox terrier, Cowboy, reigning as top pet in the house. Below is a haiku inspired by the photo. Please share a haiku that comes to you as you view the photo. (A traditional haiku is 3 lines: 5 syllables, 7 syllables and 5 syllables.)

I rule this house. Snarl

At dogs; bite cats; it's hard work!

You can pet me now.

P.S. If you or someone you know has lost a pet, please join us for a night to remember and celebrate the lives of our animal companions this Wednesday, April 3 in San Rafael, California. For more details, go to the Classes webpage.

The Body Mantra

I've been noticing a number of bad equations circulating in my head. These formulas equate two things which are, in truth, not the same. But I often act and feel like these formulas are valid. Here are a few of my untrue equations:

Someone is disappointed = I've done something wrong.

Someone is pleased = I've done something right.

GLEE still = good television worth watching.

Everything got completed and was done correctly = I'm a good person.

Things did not go as planned = I screwed up.

The script of any Twilight movie = ...Wait a minute, they had scripts?!?

What untrue equations still operate in you? Often I don't even realize that I'm being run by one of these faulty formulas until I've made myself, and most likely those around me, miserable.

I have, however, found a reliable way to change my operating system so that I'm running on a truer equation that yields better results. In last week's post, I wrote about living from a place of "belovedness", from the sense that I am already and irrevocably loved, and I am eternally ok.

I'm discovering that the key to living from this belovedness is physical, not mental. I can't think my way into belovedness. Instead I rely on my body. When I have felt in my bones, down to my core, that I really am all those moments I sensed a warm, vibrating, open peace. Rather than try to reason my way back there, I get still and focus on returning to that same felt sense. It's not so much the feeling that I'm going for, but the shift in perception because everything looks much different from a felt sense of "all is well".

It's much like meditating with a mantra. A mantra is a word or phrase chosen before meditation begins. When the chatty-Cathy mind inevitably starts to wander, focus returns to the mantra as a way to re-center. When I drift off into a Sea of Bad Equations, my body feels tense, closed, cold and agitated. By shifting my focus back to that space of "all is well" within me, I use my body as a mantra that resets my entire way of interacting with life. My body becomes the sacred path back to reality.

Those false equations still float around within me, but I don't have to be run by them anymore. My body tells me so.

P.S. If you'd like to practice creative ways of resetting your old equations, join us on Tuesday nights, starting April 16, for a weekly gathering called Tuesday Night Live.

Lose Your Mind and Come to Your Senses

When you see the word "freedom", what comes to mind? Weekends? The Fourth of July? Never hearing a Michael Bolton song again? Freedom always has at least two aspects. We get free from something: old habits, an overbearing boss, pain, or a lousy cell phone contract. We also get free to do or be something: be happy, start a new business, or speak the truth fully.  Unless we channel our "freedom from" into a "freedom to become or do", our freedom is likely to be short-lived, either because our new found energy is taken captive by another draining situation or because we squander it on self-absorbed gratification, which becomes its own prison.

How do we get free and stay free? A good place to start is to take the advice of Fritz Perls, the founder of Gestalt Therapy:  "Lose your mind and come to your senses."  The controlling, critical aspect of the mind keeps us trapped in old patterns that rarely serve anyone, yet we continue to justify the status quo with any number of irrational rationalizations. What's needed is a trip back into our senses, our subconscious, our deep spirit, our inner light and our deep joy.

Whether we do this through nature, meditation, prayer, creating art, singing, yoga, or playing with dogs, the form is not as important as the benefit, which is liberation from our habitual thought patterns. When the old mental chatter simmers down, clarity emerges in which we see things as they really are and respond appropriately with grace and ease. We become fully alive.  Our hearts and minds open.  We freely give back all that we are, all that we have, and all that we do to Life, to God, to the common and highest good of all. We finally come to our senses.

Coming to our senses is more likely, fun, and enduring when we collaborate with others who share a common intention, supportive energy and wise feedback. If you would like to take a deeper dive into freedom, come join us for a series of day retreats this fall. The theme of the three retreat days is "Path to Freedom: Using Challenges to Revitalize Your Life". For more information, check out the page on Classes.


The Pecking Order: A Brief Followup to Chik-fil-A

In reading the flurry of online activity about Chik-fil-A's financial support of anti-gay marriage groups, I finally realized what's actually going on here beneath the veneer of Bible quotes and the first amendment. The voices of privilege, in this case evangelical straight folks, feel threatened when a group that does not have the same rights insists on equality. Fuming evangelicals say they are the ones who are being persecuted because of their beliefs. It dawned on me that the angry voice of privilege is really a voice of fear, fear because those not privileged are challenging the established pecking order and the sense of identity derived from it. Whether the oppressed are women, people of color, immigrants, the poor, people of other faiths, or the LGBT community, the response is fear disguised as anger.

I also realized that my role is not to fix or change anyone. My path is to keep my heart open and reflect the truth of my experience as given the Light to do so. In effect, I become a mirror.

Privilege when seeing its own prejudice in the mirror, complains that the mirror itself is a bigot.