Saturday, December 11, 2010

Journey to Bethlehem - the Inside Story

It’s not hard to see what season we are in, is it?. We are surrounded by Christmas decorations, Christmas music – some of it really bad - stores spilling over with potential gifts, craft fairs, streets decorated with lights and stars.

The Christmas story now is about Santa Claus and reindeer and their amazing trip around the planet, visiting the homes of all the children. And that’s what we see in our stores and on the street: reindeer, Santa Claus, and lots of presents.

It’s not even called Christmas anymore. Now it’s called the ‘holiday’ season. But think about that - the word holiday…. means holy day. Where is the holiness in what we see around us right now?

Over the years I have asked myself that question and I have endeavoured to preserve the sacredness of this season – kind of like swimming against the tide – it’s not easy, but rewarding and it can be done.

But why? Why - why bother to try to preserve the original meaning of Christmas? Because, to me, that is all that matters.

Christmas is not a celebration to honor an event that happened a long time ago. In a place far, far away. The Christmas story is not just to be told one day of the year. What is the Christmas story, really?

What does it say in the Bible? In Matthew we read about Mary and Joseph, the Wise Men and the star. In Mark – no mention of the birth. In Luke we hear about Mary and Joseph’s trip to Bethlehem, the inn, the shepherds. In John – no birth story.

Does that matter? What we do know is that these stories have a message for us that is much more profound and deep than the words. And I encourage you to look for this – not to stop at the words, the story, the characters, but at what they represent. If we want the real gift in the Christmas story we will look at it from a metaphysical perspective.

“The metaphysical interpretation of the Bible has been around for a long time. It is nothing new. For millennia, mystics and metaphysically minded people have looked into the scriptures and seen a spiritual dimension and meaning beyond conventional understanding. Their discoveries nourished their souls and encouraged them in their pursuit of God awareness.”
“Wisdom for a Lifetime” by Rev. Alden Studebaker

I love that part: “nourished their souls and encouraged them in their pursuit of God awareness.”

So what is the Christmas story from a metaphysical perspective? You could say it is about the birth of the Christ, but that is already a part of us, already present within us. We cannot be separate from it. It is our true spiritual identity – it can’t be born. What can be born however is our awareness of this Truth. Of our remembering of who and what we are, as spiritual beings.

So metaphysically what we celebrate each year is not the birth of Jesus a man who lived thousands of years ago, or of the Christ, which is already present within us, but the birth of our Christ awareness. And every Christmas is a new birth. A birth to the possibilities of living a life nourished and fed by the divine. An ever deeper willingness to live the truth we know and to express ourselves based on that truth. Of the light that dispels darkness and ignorance. The light that is gentle and changes everything with its presence.

Christmas is a call to nurture that light within us, to find opportunities to be the light in the world, to appreciate that light when we see it in others. To keep that light present in our decisions, our choices, and our everyday activities, our interactions with others. Christmas happens in our mind and heart and soul.

And then we go outside and are bombarded with all the other stuff that our society says is ‘the holiday season’.

We can be disheartened by the emphasis on commercialism or we can turn our attention elsewhere. We have that choice. We are not victims of our surroundings. I invite you to look for the stories of generosity, of service, of love that are taking place all around us – in this community and in our world. They are there. We are surrounded by the Light already being expressed in all forms and in some many ways.

It really is not hard to hold on to the message of the season. Our spiritual nature - the strongest aspect of us – is so easy to share.

Here are four ways to enhance this season:

Give Wisely
What is the most precious thing we can give – time. There is not one moment in our lives that we can buy back. It is the most precious of gifts. Time to make a gift, to write a long overdue letter. Take time to bake some yummy cookies and share them with your neighbours, take time to drive an elderly friend around your neighbourhood and enjoy the lights.

Spend Wisely
Make your gifts mean something. Give to charities, to overseas projects that work towards alleviating poverty and disease, that support healthy and life-giving opportunities for our brothers and sisters around the world. Buying less gives you more time to celebrate the spirit of the season.

Connect Wisely
Do something that nourishes your soul. Go to a concert and immerse yourself in the joy of music, go to a craft fair where you can admire the creativity and imagination all around us, feed your soul. It is no mistake that this season happens in the darkest time of the year. It is the perfect time for a message of Light, of Hope, of Peace, of Love. Find a place where that is being expressed. Places where deep spiritual connection is possible.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Creation, Not Problem Solving

As little children we are taught to act on our behalf – make decisions. If you don’t like the channel – change it. If the big dog on that street scares you on your way home from school – go down a different street. And we take that into adulthood. If you don’t like that doctor – get a different one. If that person annoys you – stop seeing them.

We have been brought up to be problem solvers. Problem solving is taking action to make something go away. Even after having probably spending a good part of our time and energy as problem solvers, we have probably all figured out that if that really worked – if that’s all it took - we would live in a world where no one bothers us, no situations cause us anxiety or concern.

This belief – that changing the things in the outer will bring us peace or fulfillment inside – is one we may still be holding on to, but not really successful in bringing about what we are really yearning for – on the heart or soul level.

We hold onto something long after it has benefitted us, at the price of our happiness and freedom. We know that in order to make room for something better to come into our lives, we need to let go of something.

At some point we all have to let go of how we used to do things. It’s like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward. Otherwise we are stuck. We see this in the natural world and it is the same within us. If we only breathed in and never breathed out – we would die. We are surrounded by evidence of this, and yet we are so reluctant to embrace this truth and work with it. We want to hold on. We don’t want to change.

Change……I’m all for change. When it’s my decision – I love it. When I am in charge of the change – that’s OK too. When I like the change – great.

But I have observed that sometimes change happens like this: Two frogs are stuck in a deep rut in an old hard dirt road. They try and try to get out. One finally succeeds and bids the other one goodbye. Later they meet each other at the pond. “I’m glad to see you but I thought you couldn’t jump out.” said the first frog. The other frog replied, “I couldn’t, but then a truck came along and I had to.”

And isn’t that the truth? Often time we change only when we have to. When life squeezes us so tightly that it grabs our attention and we are forced to look deeply within.

Inner change is transformation, not problem solving. Transformation is taking what we have, letting go of the dross and keeping the gold. It is bringing something new into being.

Charles Fillmore, co-founder of Unity, said, “Involution always precedes evolution”. We must first work on ourselves and then, from that place of wholeness and centeredness we will know what to ‘do’ in the outer.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Why Pray?

Unity principles tell us that
1. There is only one Presence and one Power active as the universe and as my life and it is good.
2. We are individualized expressions of this One Presence and therefore we are inherently good.

One Presence – all Good. And we are One with it. If we really believed that and practiced that – how would we pray?

The activity of prayer is one of the most powerful tools we have for our spiritual journeys. And it is a tool – something real that we can put our hands and minds on. We are not just learning stuff for the sake of learning, so we can say “I know this or that”. All up here, in our heads. No, it has to be applicable in our everyday lives. There is not a test we are studying for – it is our lives – our very existence, we are talking about, so let’s keep it real.

You know – for such a small word ‘one’ is a pretty amazing concept to comprehend. Let’s explore this concept of ‘one’, since it is so intimately linked with the activity of prayer.

In the past I might have said “I am a channel of God’s good. God is connected to me. I am a conduit of the divine”. I have used these analogies to get more of that feeling of my closeness with Spirit.

But if you think very carefully about these terms – they still imply a separation. Not one-ness.

Picture a channel – a conduit – a connecting point. Can you see how there is the ‘that’ and there is ‘us’. These things are separate. One here and the other here.

I love what Eric Butterworth, Unity minister and author, says: “God is not in us like a raisin in a bun.”

Take a bun. What is the relationship of the baking powder and the flour once the bun is mixed up and baked? Well, it’s a little hard to describe because it’s really all ‘one’ thing at that point. When you look at the bun you cannot see the baking powder, the salt, the milk. It’s all one.

If Divine Mind is omniscience – meaning all-knowing – then why would I even need to pray? I do sometimes enjoy my image of pulling on God’s sleeve, saying: “God, didn’t you notice this – over here? – I am sure you would do something about it – you were probably busy looking the other way”.

If we really believed that God is omnipresence – meaning everywhere, all the time - then we would know that Spirit is right here, right now. Why pray?

We pray because we are human beings as well as spiritual beings. Because sometimes there is a part of me that thinks: “God – how could you let that happen – if you are so all-powerful?” When I see the suffering and the pain of the world and in my world, and it is easy to turn to the highest Power I know and shake my fist. It is not wrong for me to think that way.

And in those moments I am aware that I am having a human experience. It’s OK. It’s not wrong. I am acting out of my human-ness.

If we knew that Spirit is only good and we are one with that ‘only good’ then we would understand that in Truth there are no tests, no need to earn anything, no bargaining, no deals, no making us wait.

These ways of looking at prayer (bargaining, asking, begging, waiting) are expressions of the thinking that God is somewhere out there, judging us and doling out the goodies, if we deserve it. Again, it’s not that those thoughts do not at times cross our minds – as long as we are aware that we are giving power to a model that is probably not the most supportive and helpful for us.

So why do we pray?

Prayer is consciousness raising - not problem solving.

We pray to change ourselves. We pray to harmonize our minds with God Mind. We pray to shift our awareness from what we see to what we know. We pray to feel Loving Spirit – right in here, right in this place. We pray to access all the good that is already us.

Prayer is a way of life - an attitude of willingness to align our consciousness to a higher level.It is not thinking about Divine Mind - it is about realizing our oneness with Divine Mind. Prayer is extending our awareness of the Oneness that already is.

And in that light how do we pray? How do we unite our hearts and minds in this context of One-ness with Spirit? Here are five steps you can experiment with.
• Quiet - become still, remembering oneness
• Release your thoughts of anxiety, worry, concern – hard to see the Light when we are putting up a wall around us.
• See others in the same awareness – whole. Our attention is on the highest knowing we have.
• Remain open and receptive – we do not know the best outcome! We are not asking for anything. That is not our job – our job is to feel our one-ness with God.
• Gratitude – thank you for the good we see and the good we know is there, but do not see.

Willingness is the key to beginning. Prayer is a spiritual practice. Like learning to ride a bicycle. That means the more we do it the better results we get.

And this is really important – the ‘better’ is not about the outcome. Better does not mean quicker answers. “Better’ does not mean we are more deserving.

Better is: finding a still place in you, opening your heart and mind to the divine within you, being aware of the activity of the divine – as you. Perhaps some thought or idea will come to you – perhaps not. “Better’ is being able to say thank you even when we do not see anything different.

We can pray any time in any place. We are human beings – we have concerns, we worry about stuff. That’s not wrong. But if we want to shift the energy around what is on our minds and hearts, we can always use prayer for a fuller experience of what is possible.


A little Halloween fun.........
Two little neighbor girls about the same age, one Christian and one Jewish, were constant companions. After one Easter holiday, the grandfather of the Christian girl asked her what her friend had received for Easter. The girl looked at her grandfather in surprise, and said, “But Grandpa, you should know that Becky is Jewish and she wouldn’t get anything for Easter.” Then she went on to explain patiently, “You see, I’m Easter and she’s Passover. I’m Christian and she’s Hanukkah.” Then with a big smile, she added, “but I’m really glad that both of us are Halloween.”

Saturday, September 11, 2010

50 Things

Go to India. Learn how to play the recorder. Take my kids to visit my hometown. Sing more. Be more creative with my hands. What do these things have in common? Me!

In the early 1990’s I read an article about making a list: 50 things to do before I die. I had never really looked at my life as a journey that was going to end. It really hit me that the length of my lifespan is not a given and perhaps I might spend some time remembering and reconnecting with the things I value and enjoy.

I started writing. The first ten or fifteen came fairly easily. The next bunch took a little longer and the last bunch took some effort. The exercise was revealing. In my effort to come up with 50 things I had to dig deep. I uncovered childhood dreams that I had set aside for more than 30 years. I touched on simple things that were profoundly nourishing to only me. I noticed themes on my list: a love for the outdoors, a drive for creativity, a longing to hear the sound of voices in harmony. I touched upon such deep longings of my soul and for this life experience.

This exercise took time. It took commitment, it took persistence. And it was all worth it for what I found out about myself. If that is where it ended it would have been worth the time and effort, however, I took it step further. Fast forward five years. Now I have a life partner who is also an active List writer.

In January of every year he and I engage in a ritual. Part of it is reviewing what happened in the previous 12 months. It is always enlightening and reassuring that it is not my imagination – we have been up to lots! Then we, without a lot of time or thought, take time and throw the net wide on some things we might be looking at doing in the year to come. But the best part is making our list of 50 Things, and sharing them with each other. We journal the results of this ritual each year and over time we can see how our desires and needs have shifted and evolved. But what jolted us awake was to see that, in the early years, the things we wanted to do in the coming year were not connected in any way to our heart’s desires. If I really wanted to live in India, why wasn’t some part of our planning in the coming year working towards that? We had to reflect deeply. Were the things on this List old dreams that we could cast off without regret? Or were they really embedded in us and an essential part of our soul’s journey?

That self-enquiry led to much self-discovery. It also led to dropping some things from the List that, under closer inspection, were no longer valid. That was a relief! And we began to align our thoughts and actions with our inner most desires.

Since then we have lived in India twice, my grown children and I camped in the same campground I enjoyed for all my childhood years and we walked around my old neighbourhood. My partner and I are teaching ourselves recorder and researching sources of Elizabethan music and I am knitting my famous (at least to my friends and family) socks. Take time – now - to dive deep and bring these dreams up into the light and into your life.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Do I Have to Change?

40 Day Prayer
I Am One with Infinite Source.

Divine Energy flows through me, freeing me from all unhealthy beliefs and thought patterns. I invite Divine Love to heal my body, harmonize my emotions and renew my mind.

I give thanks for abundant provision for every need of body, mind and soul. My good comes to me through all channels, some expected and some a delightful surprise. I affirm that there is plenty to share and plenty to spare.

I affirm I have a divine purpose. With faith, I surrender to Divine Love trusting that this purpose is being revealed to me now.

I open myself now to expressing a brand new magnificence!

We have been affirming this prayer for 40 days and today is the last of this series of lessons. We are
• releasing anything standing in the way of our fully expressing the presence of God.
• affirming our health in body, mind and soul.
• opening ourselves up to the Truth that we are One with God’s abundant universe and that our good comes to us in known and unknown ways.
• willing to discover or uncover our divine purpose

That’s a lot and that is one of the reasons why we give ourselves time with that Prayer. Because it’s interesting to notice what happens when we read powerful affirmative statements over and again. We will hear the ‘voice’ that does not believe a word of it.

All we need to do is state something really magnificent, like: I am one with an abundant universe – what pops up? Right…that’s why you can’t pay off your credit card, how about the holiday you want to take that never comes, what about that you don’t have time to do what you enjoy…____________fill in the blank.

This 'voice', which we may be tempted to disregard, is very, very important. It is not a bad thing – we don’t want to squelch it. We don’t want to ignore it or pretend we didn’t hear it. And particularly we don’t want to criticize ourselves for having those thoughts, “if I were more spiritual I wouldn’t be thinking like that!”

It is the ‘voice’ that reveals to us any underlying beliefs we have that are not aligned with the statements we are reading. It is telling us something about ourselves that we need to know. It is bringing to our attention the parts of us that are out of alignment – when we say one thing and really deep down inside, believe something else.

That is one of the purposes of doing this kind of 40 Day program – to listen and be alert to what comes up. Because as long as we are not aware of this interior talk, it will run us. It’s like the backseat driver – we never see them, but they are always telling us what to do or what we did wrong.

Taking this kind of prayer every day is an invitation, not only to be willing to experience more in our lives – but also to ask that back seat driver up to the front. Where we can look it right in the eye.

Let’s look at the very last statement of the Prayer: I open myself now to expressing a brand new magnificence!

And I wonder if that brought up any beliefs about what you can be. Was there a part of you that says: you know, everything is OK now, why do I have to do anything different? Why can’t I just stay the way I am?

We all probably have ways of doing things that we have outgrown and yet from habit or inattention we just kept doing them.

Perhaps you have heard about the grown grand-daughter preparing the roast for a meal and cutting off the last 4 inches. Because that is what her mother did – so that’s how she prepared the roast. When she asked her mom why – the answer was, that’s how my mother always did it. And when they finally asked grandma – she said: I had a small roasting pan so I always had to cut off the end. Fifty years of tradition – based on what? The size of a roasting pan!

We often keep doing things and we don’t know why, or they have lost their meaning or usefulness.

Imagine the canary that does not leave its cage when the door is opened. In its reality - change is worse than imprisonment.

When we change what we are doing there is always an ending. And… there is always a beginning. There are always going to be beginnings and endings. This is natural. And if we have not seen or experienced any lately – it may be because we have become too comfortable in our present circumstances.

Have you ever tried to hang on to something when it was trying to go? Or pushed away something new that was trying to come into existence? We may have experienced this - it could be anything - a friendship, an idea, a belief.

When we recognize and accept that things need to change in order to grow we can stop trying to make the world stop. We can work with the natural growth and renewal of our universe and you will find this is effortless. Trying to keep things the same is what really takes effort. Instead of trying to hold on to what is, we can cooperate with the rhythms of life and development and growth.

We often think that ‘change’ means giving something up, losing something. And that is not always the case. Change can be adding more meaning, more enjoyment, more success in your life.

• Are we willing to step out of comfort zone?
• Are we willing to let something old go to make room for something new?
• Are we willing to keep learning and have an inquiring mind?

The world around us is evolving and changing. The natural world is renewed and vitalized by its changing nature. When we cooperate with the natural rhythms and harmony of life, it is not work to change. It is not hard or a struggle, it is actually effortless!

Friday, June 18, 2010

CELEBRATE EVERY STEP

We talked about how lasting change always begins within. About starting from within –setting our intention and using this Intention to guide us as we make decisions and choices about what we are doing. Start with the ‘being’ and then go ahead with the ‘doing’, making sure we are always aligned with our Intention.

Perhaps one of intention words regarding your home is simplicity. Then you look at the paper and see garage sales coming and you want to go and buy some stuff. Hopefully you will pause – because you are making a decision – and ask yourself – does this action match up with my Intention? Oh right –simplicity is one of my words, bringing home more stuff is not aligned what we is my true heart’s desire.

You can match your actions to your intention on a regular basis to ensure you are aligned. And you know what – when you feel the struggle or unease, it is probably a pretty good sign that you are out of alignment with your Intention.

As we do make progress and things get ticked off the ‘to do’ list – we sometimes forget a very important step. Celebration! We forget to stop – and say – hey, I did a pretty good job there!” or whew – that was a big step!

We often don’t stop and appreciate what we have accomplished. We tick one thing off the list and add two more – the list never ends – we just go on and on and on. We often don’t celebrate, sometimes we don’t even pause.

This pause and celebrate - has been one of my biggest learnings – and I still forget at times. To stop and reflect for a moment on what I have just done. For instance, the Serenity service – took hours of preparation and thought. Many people found it enriching and meaningful. When I got home – instead of checking my email and looking at the next thing on my list…I sat down with a cup of tea and savoured the time. Just gave myself a moment to soak up the feeling of fulfillment.

It is important no matter how large or small the project – that we take time to do this.

Here is a little fun way that reminds me to celebrate or at least acknowledge that I have completed a step.

I have 2 jars of these pretty stones………….every time I accomplish something – answered all my emails – drop a stone. Finished my report to the Board – drop a stone. Prepare a Sunday lesson – drop – maybe that one is worth 2 stones!
Doing this makes me stop and consciously appreciate what I have just done. So I don’t end up at the end of the day wondering: where did it go? What did I do? I know…. its right here in front of me.

When the jar is full I will treat myself – to something that I find personally rewarding.

There is another aspect of celebration I would like to explore.

As we go through our daily lives we sometimes encounter ‘bumps’. Some experiences – or people….that seem to hinder us from moving forward. Something that trips us up. Something unexpected.

It could be a situation: building a bookshelf, we order special brackets – we go to pick them up, they are the wrong ones. Taking a plane – its late – we miss the connection. Want to cook a special meal – we go to the store – they are out of a key ingredient. These things – large or small happen all the time.

Or it could be a person: we join a group for fun and one person there talks too much – doesn’t talk enough/is always late, we go out to enjoy a walk and we see someone not pick up after their dog. These things also happen all the time.

What is there to celebrate in that?

Everyone in our lives – everything that happens – is always there for our highest good. I know this is sometimes really hard to swallow. I have had many ‘discussions’ with God about this – I just could not believe it was true! How can this be for my highest good when it looks so bad? How could this be good when it feels so awful?

But if we are one, and we sing about that and talk about that and it’s in our prayers – if we are all one – how can someone/thing be against us? It’s impossible. Every person and situation is for us (not against us).

The good news is we have the power to change how we look at any situation or person.

We could say – I’ll never do that again (fly, join a group, build a bookshelf).
Or we could re-arrange our lives so that we don’t have to encounter that person or situation again. When we do that we are missing a huge opportunity for growth.

We are surrounded by our teachers. We don’t have to sign up for a course or attend a seminar. We don’t have to pay big bucks to learn this amazing life-transforming lesson. No book to read, no studying – it is in front of us all the time. And it’s free! When we look for the good around us - we will find it!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Conscious Creation

I sometimes wonder about the world my grandchildren will be inheriting. What natural resources will they have, how will they live, what will be the state of world economics etc. I can easily slide into a state of anxiety about this, however I realized that this feeling is based on the assumption that nothing new is going to be discovered or invented. That is the same kind of thinking that caused Charles Duell, Director of the US Patent office in 1899 to say: “Everything that can be invented has been invented.”

Everything that can be invented has not been invented. It didn’t stop in 1899, why would it stop now?

Creative imaginative people are working on their ideas right now – in all areas of life: medicine, the environment, resources, communication. Fortunately we are not dependent on a few being the only creative ones.

If we want to watch creativity in action – just watch small children with finger-paint. They don’t have any hesitation, they do not stop to think – I hope I do a good job. They cover paper after paper. We put their creations on the fridge and praise them. And they keep creating until somewhere that confidence is lost. Perhaps as children we had experiences with creating something that either did not look the way we wanted, or that others made fun of, or that we were not happy with. And we decided – I can’t do this and we set our creativity aside.

However, the truth is, creativity is not something we can put aside. It’s not like saying – I am not a good driver, so I am going to take the bus, or I am not good at baking, so I’ll buy goodies at the bakery.

We cannot give up our creativity, because the fact is - we are all creative beings and we are all creating all the time. Every moment of the day. And the scary part is that most of the time we are unaware that we are doing this. So our creations are unconscious, haphazard and not always producing the results we desire.

Right now, at this moment and each day, we are living the results of our past creative efforts. Because we create not only with our hands and bodies – we also create with our minds and with our thoughts. Our thoughts have power beyond our imagination. The power of thought linked with the power of the word is a mighty tool to change our experience of the world and to bring into manifestation what we desire. We affect our environment all the time with our thoughts and our actions.

So wouldn’t it be a good thing to recognize that we are creating all the time and to be more conscious of what we are doing, certainly be more careful with the power that we wield every moment of the day. We can use our power of creativity consciously and constructively, instead of absent mindedly or carelessly.

Conscious creation involves all aspects of our being, not just our minds. It is easy to fall into old patterns of creation and not really create anything new. Connecting first with our inner wisdom or higher self allows new insights and ideas to come to us. Every time we begin a new endeavour we can spend time in the Silence first. Align ourselves with the Source and then, in partnership, move forward. What happens when we connect ourselves with the source of infinite possibilities first? We transcend limitations, people, and current possibilities.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Spiritual Lent

The pastor of our tiny church ended his annual give-something-up-for-Lent sermon: “As an example of penitence to the rest of the community, this congregation will worship in an unheated church for the whole of Lent.” As we made our way out into the chill February Sunday, the pastor addressed my elderly neighbor. “Ah, Mrs. James, and what have you decided to give up for Lent?” “Church,” she replied firmly.

Enforced change is rarely successful. If anything it is often met with a move in the opposite direction. Someone tells us we can’t go into that shop – that makes us want to go even more. We sign up for a diet and find out we can’t eat potato chips – we immediately crave potato chips. Someone says “don’t look out the window” and it’s like a magnet – only with the strongest can resist the urge to do just that.

Enforced change outside ourselves does not create change inside ourselves. Lasting, fulfilling change always flows from the inside to the outside. When we decide to transform part of us, then there is the possibility of real change.

We know that in order to make room for something new to come into our lives, we need to release something. That is what the fasting part of Lent is about. Release. The feasting is – what do we want to put in its place. And that is Lent – on a deep, spiritual level of understanding. Fasting and Feasting.

“When we withdraw our attention, interest, and support from the false and the unworthy, this is true fasting. When we give that same attention, interest, and support to the enduring good, we are feasting on the things of the Spirit, and this is true prayer”. (Georgiana Tree West)

Charles Fillmore, co-founder of Unity, gave us some beautiful fasting and feasting statements:

TRUE LENTEN DISCIPLINES

Fast from judging others.
Feast on Christ dwelling within them.

Fast from fear of illness.
Feast on the healing power of God.

Fast from words that pollute.
Feast on speech that purifies.

Fast from discontent.
Feast on patience.

Fast from pessimism.
Feast on optimism.

Fast from negative.
Feast on alternatives.

Fast from bitterness.
Feast on forgiveness.

Fast from self-concern.
Feast on compassion.

Fast from suspicion.
Feast on truth.

Fast from gossip.
Feast on purposeful silence.

Fast from problems that overwhelm.
Feast on prayer that sustains.

Fast from worry.
Feast on faith.

Let’s look at the fasting aspect first. Fasting is about cleansing, emptying, cleaning out, removing old stuff.

I think that is what can happen in our minds, we keep stuff – old thoughts, ideas, fears, concerns, old ‘tapes’. What old attitudes, ideas, beliefs are sitting there, that no longer enhance our lives.

When we are cleaning anything – including our minds, we want to practice softness, tenderness, gentleness. We all carry thoughts and ideas that have been with us for a long time. Be rough with ourselves through the process is not necessary.

Have you even torn through a dirty room with a dustcloth and when you look around, you can see you have stirred up and actually spread the dirt around – not much cleaning really happened. Keep that in mind as we look at fasting – gently and easily.

So what could we fast from? Let’s take: Fast from worry, feast on faith.

What is worry? Worrying is praying for what we don’t want. Worry is giving the things outside ourselves power. Worry is thinking that outer appearances are greater than God.

I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened. Mark Twain

And then comes the ‘feasting’ part. And this is very very important – when we let go of an old idea, we want to replace it with something sustaining and enriching. The second half of that statement: feast on faith.

Faith is one of our 12 Powers. It was the first candle we lit on Christmas eve. It is the power for the first month of the year. I use the analogy of Faith being like a flashlight. We all have it – we just need to be careful where we shine it. We can put our faith in appearances, in outer circumstances, in what we read in the paper, what we hear on the news. We can put our faith in things outside ourselves.

Or we can use our power of faith to see God in expression. To see Spirit at work. To know there is a power greater than ourselves at work, that there is always more than what we see with our eyes.

Charles Fillmore says our faith is like a wandering child – we need to keep it close to us and not let it go too long without reminding it of its highest expression, bringing it back to center.

We probably don’t have to look far to find ways to use our faith wisely. Life usually provides us with many opportunities to strengthen our faith and make sure it is aligned with God. To look beyond what seems is real and see the bigger real.

Fast and Feast!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

CELEBRATE EVERY STEP

As human ‘doings’ we can often race from one appointment to another, one task to the next, always adding more things to the ‘to do’ list. As we do make progress and things get ticked off the ‘to do’ list – we sometimes forget a very important step. Celebration! We forget to stop – and say – hey, I did a pretty good job there!” or whew – that was a big step.

We don’t stop and appreciate what we have accomplished. We tick one thing off the list and add two more – the list never ends – we just go on and on and on.

We often don’t celebrate, sometimes we don’t even pause! This pause and celebrate - has been one of my biggest learnings. To stop and reflect for a moment on what I have just done. For instance, the Sunday service – took hours of preparation and thought. Many people found it enriching and meaningful. When I got home – instead of checking my email and looking at the next thing on my list…I sat down with a cup of tea and savoured the time. Just gave myself a moment to soak up the feeling of fulfillment.

It is important no matter how large or small the project – that we take time to do this.

Here is a little fun way that reminds me to celebrate or at least acknowledge that I have completed a step.

I have a pottery bowl with those glass stones/blobs you can get at a craft shop. I have a beautiful glass container. Every time I accomplish something – answered all my emails – I take a stone from the pot and drop it into the glass. Finished my report to the Board – drop a stone. Prepare a Sunday lesson – maybe that one is worth 2 stones!

Doing this makes me stop and consciously appreciate what I have just done. I don’t end up at the end of the day wondering: where did it go? What did I do? I know…. its right here in front of me!

When the glass is full I will treat myself – to something that I find personally rewarding.

There is another aspect of celebration I would like to explore.

As we go through our daily lives we sometimes encounter ‘bumps’. Some experiences – or people….that seem to hinder us moving forward. Something that trips us up. Something unexpected that happens.

It could be a situation: building a bookshelf, we order special brackets – we go to pick them up, they are the wrong ones. Taking a trip – the first plane is late – we miss our connection. Want to cook a special meal – we go to the store – they are out of a key ingredient. These things – large or small happen all the time.

Or it could be a person: perhaps we join a group for fun and one person there talks too much or doesn’t talk enough or is always late. We go out to enjoy a walk and we see someone not pick up after their dog. These things also happen all the time.

What is there to celebrate in that?

Everyone in our lives – everything that happens – is always for our highest good. I know this is sometimes really hard to accept. I have had many ‘discussions’ with God about this – I just could not believe it was true! How can this be for my highest good when it looks so bad? How could this be good when it feels so awful?

But if we are one – how can someone/thing be against us? It’s impossible. Every person and situation is for us (not against us).

In reaction we might say – I’ll never do that again (fly, join a group, build a bookshelf). Or we could re-arrange our lives so that we don’t have to encounter that person or situation again. When we do that we are missing a huge opportunity for growth.

Every person and situation is an opportunity for us to learn something – if we don’t shy away or run away. Some of the most annoying people in my life have been my greatest teachers – as soon as I was willing to see them that way. I began to ask myself: How is this person being a teacher for me? What can I learn from this person?

And the best part is: I didn’t have to sign up for a course or attend a seminar. I didn’t have to pay big bucks to learn this amazing life-transforming lesson. I got my teacher – for free! No book to read, no studying – it was in front of me all the time.

We are surrounded by our teachers – look around at the people and situations in your life. And celebrate that!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Being Before Doing

Desire is the fuel that moves us to action. Desire is at work when we plant bulbs in the fall – we desire to experience beauty in the spring time. When a farmer plants tomatoes – he or she is desiring …tomatoes.

You may have heard or read that we want to avoid desire, that it causes suffering. Desire itself is not the cause of suffering. Where we stumble is in our wanting to know when the tomatoes will appear, how many, how big. And when they do not appear in the shape, form or numbers that we want, we are disappointed or unhappy. The desire itself did not cause these feelings. The desire was an honest one – to grow food. Our attachment to the results and outcome is what trips us up.

Where does our desire end and our attachment begin? The answer lies within, if we are paying attention. Check in with your heart. Keep in touch with how you are feeling. Rarely does pure desire cause us unhappiness. Struggling or disappointment is a clue that we have ventured into the territory of attachment.

What do we do when we have a desire that is longing for expression? How do we bring it into manifestation? We are an action oriented culture. We hurry into projects, we run around, busily doing, doing, doing. Upon reflection we may remember some of our actions brought us no lasting results at all and at other times the results were productive and fulfilling.

Why the difference? What happens is we often skip a fundamental step in the process and we think that the first step is to make a ‘to do’ list. We get out paper, write down our ideas, our questions. Perhaps we want to build a garden shed. Do we need a permit? How big will it be? What materials are we going to use? Who will build it? How much will it cost? And on and on and on.

There is nothing wrong with a ‘to do’ list – go ahead and make it. It does fulfill a purpose. The purpose is to empty the mind of all the stuff that’s running around in there. And an empty mind is perfect for the step that comes before we do any of the things on our ‘to do’ list.

Begin with the ‘being’ instead of the ‘doing’. How is it we wish to ‘be’ as we undertake this project? What is the inner guiding light that is going to shine on our path? What are the qualities we want to be holding in our hearts as we begin this journey? What in my heart wants to express? What state of ‘being’ are we going to embody as we move through the ‘doing’.

Starting with the ‘being’ is an invitation to Divine Wisdom to participate in the creation process. It is setting an inner intention that is going to be our compass and companion as we proceed.

It makes no difference if we are building a tool shed or starting a business. When we have our intention in place we will always have the compass that will swing us around and point us in the direction of fulfillment. When we are in touch with our heart we will be able to easily discern the next step. We will know what to leave behind. When we run into bumps along the way our foundation will hold us steady.

For success and fulfillment, empty your mind, get in touch your heart-wisdom, set your intention and then take action.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Let There BE

How many of you, in the past, made New Year’s resolutions? How many times have you heard others tell you about their New Year’s resolutions? Have you ever noticed that in the later months of the year we rarely hear people exclaming about how they fulfilled the resolutions. Or how making that resolution changed their lives.

I think the statistics say that most resolutions last about 6 weeks.

If we do continue past the average 6 weeks it is often due to our forcing ourselves even after our desire has disappeared. We press on even after we have no energy for it. It can bring about results but you may have noticed they are rarely lasting or satisfying. Forcing ourselves means we are overriding our natural inclination. We are ignoring how we are really feeling. This, over time, is counter-productive. Damaging even. We train ourselves not to listen to or honour our feelings. If we do succeed - the victory is flat. There is little sense of accomplishment – only relief that it is finished.

You would think that we would just give up on New Year’s resolutions – and I think quite a few people have. Why? Because they do not produce results we are looking for. And what it can actually do is build in us is a sense of failure, lack of self discipline, unwillingness to commit to something. It leads to self recrimination and condemnation. Wow. It is actually better for us if we don’t enter into that kind of activity at all, if those are the results.

Does this mean we don’t have goals – look forward? Does this mean we stand still and not take action?

We live in an evolving changing world. If we are not evolving and changing, we are moving backwards. Bob Dylan has this great line in one of his songs: if you’re not busy livin’, you're busy dyin’”.

Yes, of course we can look forward, we can desire to make changes in our lives – but there are different approaches – and the way – how - we enter into ‘change’ will make all the difference in the results.

Often our New Year’s resolutions are looking for what is wrong in our lives and deciding how we are going to ‘fix’ it. If we think we are alone too much we resolve to get out three times a week and see someone. If we think we are out of shape, we resolve to go to the gym and work out. If we think we need more income we resolve to go out and get a part-time job. All of these resolutions start with the idea that there is something missing or wrong. That something needs to be fixed – there is a problem. That we need to make do something to have a better life.

Listen to these two statements: I don’t have enough so I need to get more. I am grateful for the good I have and I invite more into my life.

There is a big difference in the feeling of those two statements, isn’t there?

Think of our thoughts as being like those big heavy gym balls. If you think one is going in the wrong direction and want to turn it around and get it to roll in the opposite direction – it will take a lot of energy. However, if you think of the ball is rolling – even slowly, even slightly – in the right direction, and you want to get it to change it even slightly – this is much easier.

Making a ball – or our lives – roll in a different direction can be a big task when we are coming from a place of questions like these: how did I get here? Who can I blame for this situation I am in? Why does this always happen to me? I hate this.

This is a huge energy to overcome – first this energy has to be brought into a place of neutrality before it can be used to move us forward in a new direction. Like driving – if we think our lives are going backwards – first we have to shift into neutral before we can shift into first and go in the direction we wish.

It’s all how we look at it. Someone else in the exact same situation can ask these questions: what can I give thanks for right now? What part of this situation is working well? What are the things that have helped me along the way? What is the next step to move forward?

The same situation. But can you see the difference in the perspective?

As human beings we can only focus on one thing at a time. This is scientifically proven. We can be looking out the window – our eyes are directed outside – but we don’t really see anything because our focus is somewhere else. Perhaps we are thinking about what we are going to have for dinner tonight. Or about an argument with a friend. We don’t really notice the trees and sky. Our attention in elsewhere.

This is the same when we think about ourselves. When we are focused on what went wrong, how did I get here, if only that person didn’t do that – that’s what we will get more of. Energy flows where attention goes.

We cannot make a change in our lives when we are looking backwards. It’s like walking down a path backwards. We are looking at where we have been – and guess what? Chances are we will trip and fall again and again.

Yes we have learned from the past. We will not forget those experiences. And …we do not need to keep re-living and remembering them. We do not need to keep blaming and judging.

Have you ever told your story of something unfair or hurtful? Pay attention to your energy. We usually end up feeling bad all over again, even getting angry again, blaming others for what they did, being critical. Feeling hurt or undeserving. We have the ability to re-create that same situation and all its feelings, over and over and over. As much as we like. It doesn’t matter if it happened 20 years ago, we can feel it all over again.

It’s our choice. Is this how we want to live – re-living the disappointments or pain of the past – and thereby bringing them back to life in this ‘now’ moment? Or choosing to put our attention on something better, healthier for ourselves?

It’s our choice. We can live our lives as problem fixers – focused on the problems. I would hazard a guess that when we stay focused on the problems that we will always have problems to solve.

Or, for another approach, we can look at the life of Jesus. If you read the stories of the healings that Jesus was involved in (not ‘did’) you will notice something. Listen to how he approaches the person or situation.

John 5:7 Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “stand up, take your mat and walk."
Matthew 12:13 Jesus said to the man with the withered hand, “Stretch out your hand.”
Mark 5:31 Jesus came to the child and said, “little girl, get up”.
Mark 7:32 They bought him a deaf man and Jesus said, “Be opened.”
Mark 1:41 A leper came to him, Jesus said, “Be made clean”.
Do you notice something? He never asked the person – what disease do you have? How long have you had it? Where did you get it? Never.

He always directs their attention to their faith, to their intention to create wholeness in themselves. “be made clean” “stretch our your hand” “get up and walk”.

Jesus is not solving problems – he is not fixing things. Perhaps there is another way. Instead of being a fixer – we could be a creator .

We have a powerful example of how to be a creator in Genesis. Chapter 1, Verse 3 “let there be light…” verse 6 “let there be a dome in the midst of the waters…” Verse 9 “let the waters under the sky be gathered…” verse 11 “let the earth put forth vegetation…” Every step of creation starts with ‘let there be…’

God didn’t say – gosh – it’s awfully dark – I better make some Light. Or - hmmm there is a problem here - no land, I better make some land”, or there is no life, better fix that’. Each step of creation starts with ‘let there be…’

And each step of creation finishes with the words……. “and it was good”.

God does not create from what’s wrong or missing. God is always starting with good and creating more good. It’s always already good.

We, as creations of this Creator, have the same ability. To see what is good and invite more good. Let’s use our God-given powers in the highest and best way we can imagine.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Self Value - Self Care

When I was first had a place where I could have houseplants - I was very excited and bought a lot of them. All different kinds - and I placed them all over the apartment. And it took a while to learn how to take care of them - how much water they needed, when how much light etc. A lot of them died. Oftentimes I would notice - oh my gosh this plant is looking droopy - I bet it is dry and I would water it. Or I would see the leaves were brown and burned from being too close to a hot window. So I would move it. Only when there was a noticeable problem would I remember to do something for them. I brought them back from the brink of death over and over again.

At some point I started being more attuned to them - and noticed the subtle signs of needing a drink, or food or light. I would take steps to strengthen them and help them grow strong -instead of waiting until they were on death’s door.

I wonder sometimes if we do the same thing to ourselves. How many of us only notice our physical needs when we are hurting? When we are in pain or discomfort. Then we think - oh I should do something about this. And as soon as we feel ok again we totally ignore our physical needs. What about our emotional needs? Do we only notice when we are in emotional stress to look at and reflect what we might do.

We may take our bodies, minds and souls for granted - never giving them a thought until there is a problem. Until something draws our attention to what is missing.

What if we were to shift our perspective and instead of reacting to the pain and discomfort - to do something pro-active - to become attuned and sensitive - to our needs? We could nurture and feed ourselves - instead of rescuing and taking extreme measures to bring us back to health or wholeness.

This life - this precious human life - is what we have right now.

Do we really know and understand the value of our ‘precious human life”?

If we did, could we treat it as we do?

Self care is linked to self worth. We don’t care for things we do not value - including ourselves.

We take care of what we really value. Perhaps we have some special belonging - a teacup from a special friend, a painting of a special place, a gift that we have kept for many years because of the joy it brings us. We take care of them - when we move, we pack them carefully to protect them.

We value our belongings - how would we rate the value of ourselves on a scale of 1 – 10?

I remember watching a little boy finger paint and I said wow - you’re doing a great job - and he looked at me and said - “I know!” with a big smile. “And I am a good singer too!”

Totally unself conscious - not bragging - just reveling in his own goodness.

What happened to that self worth we were born with?

There was a time in our lives when we did know that we were great. And somewhere along the way that self concept of our greatness - of our worthiness, started to erode.

We probably picked up messages from our upbringing, our culture, our churches. To not think of ourselves - but to think of others first. To not be selfish. Anybody heard any of these messages? We start looking at ourselves in a different light - that our needs are not important - that to look after ourselves is selfish.

Over time we too may start telling ourselves the same thing. We notice our shortcomings instead of our successes. We remember all the mistakes - the times we goofed up.

AND - this is really important -we start to mix up what we do with who we are.

We forget that there are things we did or said and then there is who we are - and these are 2 different things.

We have experiences - and we are not our experiences. The same way we have hands and feet - they are ours - but they are not who we are.

Our experiences are important - this is not to diminish that. Those experiences that we see as mistakes or failures might be the very stuff that gives us strength or compassion that we will use in the future. There is no shame in failure.

In the confusion about what we have done and who we are - we may lose touch with our sense of self worth.

We may think we are what we have done and said.

We may lose that deep knowing that as a divine creation we are worthy of care and love and attention.

We cannot be separate from our divine nature, from wholeness. And everything that God is - love, strength, wisdom, energy - is ours. God does not dole it out. God does not wait until we are ready - we are ready right now.

All that I have is yours - this is God’s promise to us. Let’s care for what we have been given - this precious life and all its promise.