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Off the Beaten Path

Posted March 29, 2014

stepping stones


As long as I have been on a spiritual path that is, oh, let's call it non-traditional, I have run into others on the same path who are terrified to tell their friends and family they have left the fold.

The fold of God-fearing, Bible-thumping, Jesus praisers.

Or the fold of confession-going, wine-sipping, rosary pray-ers.

Folds that are focused on crucifixion, suffering and atonement.

Folds that are convinced only a certain set of beliefs will get you into heaven.

Telling them you have changed your beliefs about Jesus – and about God, the nature of human beings, and the way the universe works – could cause a permanent rift.

And claiming your own divinity? Blasphemy!

Personally, you might be thrilled to have found a new way to look at Jesus or the Bible, one that doesn't force you to admit you're a wretch who needs to be saved from your sins. Your spiritual-but-not-religious life might, in fact, be deeper now than ever before and your awareness of the divine much brighter.

But telling the people close to you might be interpreted as repudiating their traditions and willfully throwing away your life.

Like declaring you don't want to have children.

Like trying to explain your psychic experiences.

Like admitting you are, OMG a liberal Democrat.

It's easy to say “Live and let live,” but you care about having an ongoing relationship with them. And they care about you. They genuinely fear for the state of your eternal soul, even if their comments come across as a reproach. What you're hearing is fear.

And rejection. Not only are they rejecting your beliefs, but they are feeling rejected by you. How could you step this far away from the family? How could you abandon what you were so carefully taught as a child? How could you leave the fold, like a lost sheep? Which might be exactly the word they apply to you: lost.

This is even more difficult if there's a niggling voice inside you that worries you are lost, that you have gone astray, that all your new beliefs are bunk, and that you might, just might, go to hell. What if there really is a hell after all?

It took me years to silence that voice, even without family condemnation. (My family wasn't shocked by what I believed. My mother only was shocked that I was willing to live on a minister's salary.)

This leads us to a couple of important questions to ask ourselves when we suspect family and friends would condemn new beliefs that we consider to be wonderful, even life-changing.

Question 1. Are your critics reflecting your own fear that you have gone off track? Just because someone thinks you're flaky doesn't mean you're wrong. But you need to be sure that what you believe is right for you, for now.

Question 2. Is there some area of your life where you are just as rigid and judgmental? What could someone do or say or believe that would be anathema to you, that would force you to speak up and warn them of consequences, to try to save them from themselves?

In my family, we were free to believe what we wanted spiritually, but anyone who didn't go to college was considered to be doomed. And probably of low character! How could someone ruin his life that way?

We all have our triggers about other people's decisions and world views. Just know your spiritual shift might trigger someone else.

If it does, here are some talking points:

The idea that each of us is divine is an ancient teaching. The suggestion that Jesus was showing us what is possible for all human beings dates from the time he lived. This is not New Age claptrap. This interpretation of Jesus' life simply was drowned out by the early Christian church as it struggled to settle on a common view.

Your beliefs are becoming more and more mainstream.

  • Oprah talks openly about how her views of God and Jesus have expanded since her childhood. (She credits reading Discover the Power Within You by Eric Butterworth for first opening her eyes to a wider spiritual world.)
  • The Secret sold 19-million books (not counting movie views) and was translated into 46 languages.
  • Since 1976, Wayne Dyer has sold 30-million copies just of his first book, Your Erroneous Zones, plus countless millions of others.

Someone out there believes the same way you do! (If your family argues by using statistics, check out the Pew Research Religion and Public Life Project)

More important than what you believe is that you believe. You learned from your early training that engaging with God throughout your life is important. The particulars might have changed, but the value given to pursuing spiritual growth has not. Thank them for that.

Of course, only you know when, how or even whether to have these conversations, and with whom. Just remember you are addressing their fears for you and their own sense of rejection.

They might even be digging in their heels because they have doubts about their own beliefs. Sometimes an alternative view is exactly what they long to hear.

Ask for the right opportunity. One of my short prayers is: If a door opens, I will walk through it. I'm astonished how swiftly a door usually opens, once I am willing. If it doesn't, don't force it.

Why is this important? Why not just duck the issue?

Because each of needs to live authentically. Nothing expresses the core of who we are more than our spiritual beliefs. Heck, the United States was founded on the freedom to believe differently.

There ya go! Tell them it's your patriotic duty to question authority and religious dogma!

Most of all, tell them you love them and you don't want to be separated by different points of view. You are both doing your best to understand something that is unfathomable: the divine. You have far more in common than not, just by virtue of living as human beings on this planet for a while.

I predict we will laugh about these silly disagreements when we meet on the Other Side.

PS – Thanks to all who took time to write very honest and thoughtful comments on the last couple of blogs. If you haven't had a chance to read what the others wrote, scroll down to read comments from the blogs on March 15 and 22. You-all ask some deep questions! I'm still thinking how to answer some of them.

   

Resentment in Reverse

Posted March 22, 2014

resentful girl

Drawing by Tim Elias


Have you ever done this?

You interact with someone, and it's pleasant at the time. You part amicably.

Then later you think: Wait a minute! What did he mean by that?

Or: How could she have done that?

Or: Why did I believe such a blatant lie?

This kind of slow-motion anger is typical of romantic break-ups, when we might pore over every little thing that was ever said or done. But it happens even in the course of ordinary days.

I call it resentment in reverse.

Maybe it was a comment someone made at a party or at work. Maybe it was an encounter with a doctor, minister or mechanic. Maybe it was the critique of someone who was trying to be helpful but who, in hindsight, was downright insulting. Maybe it was a spouse or child.

You didn't get mad in the moment but took great offense when you thought about it later.

For myself, I blame it on people-pleasing. I'm working so hard to be NICE to everyone that I don't stay alert for sideways comments or gauntlets being thrown at my feet. I'm not really present in the moment.

Of course, most people aren't spoiling for a fight, and I don't comb back through every transaction to look for slights.

But in some cases, I can recount in detail what someone did or said ages ago and still work up a case of hurt and irritation, plus the frustration of having been so blind or cowardly at the time. I can keep a good snit going for a couple of years.

What do you do if you have a resentment about something that happened in the past that you never addressed?

Shrug it off and promise to know better next time?

Go back and confront the people involved?

Is there a statute of limitations on how much later you can challenge someone's actions? When does it become an ambush?

In AA, they call this obsession letting someone “live rent-free in your head.” I do recognize the conflict is raging entirely within me. The other person probably isn't even aware of a problem. So it's a double-secret resentment!

Then the doubt sets in. What if I'm just being paranoid? They probably didn't mean anything by it. I'll just let it slide.

Is that healthy?

I'm really not seething with resentment most of the time, but I did catch myself the other day thinking again about the department store clerk who snapped, “We're out of that,” when I asked for a particular shade of lipstick.

Period. Silence.

Not, “I'm so sorry, we're out of that right now! It's our most popular shade.”

Not, “Could I take your number and call you when it comes in?”

Not, “Would you like me to check our other stores in town?”

Nope. Just, Tough lady. Now get out.

I didn't say anything at the time. I was NICE. But I stewed about it and made up speeches with what I should have said and wrote mental letters to the corporate office and created mental training seminars about customer service … well, I'm embarrassed even to describe it.

Except I think everyone does it sometimes, about episodes small and large.

Does anyone have the presence of mind to address difficult issues the moment they surface?

What do we do with old anger besides carry it around?

This is where I'm supposed to introduce the spiritual solution, isn't it?

Except, um, I don't have the answer today.

I could give you the usual run-down: Prayer, forgiveness, let go and let God. Meditate. Punch a pillow or take a run.

But I'm gonna have to ask for your ideas on this one. I suspect a few other readers would appreciate your insights, too.

What old slight or insult has kept you angry for the longest time?

What did you do about it?

Please share your thoughts below. I love hearing from you!

   

Awareness Is Cheap

Posted March 15, 2014

cactus flower


Know thyself might sound like a profound adage, but knowing thyself is not necessarily useful.

How many years have you spent learning to know yourself? And how's your life working now?

I move in spiritual circles, surrounded by spiritual seekers, and we consider ourselves to be on a spiritual path that is different – and, we think, better – than we knew earlier in our lives.

But how much good has it done, really? Life is more interesting, I suppose, but speaking for myself, I still wrestle with many of the same traits I've wanted to change since childhood.

With everything we've learned, shouldn't we be sailing along blissfully? Yet there's no end to the spiritual people who are sick, broke or living in relationship hell.

I've come to the conclusion that awareness is cheap. It doesn't change anything!

Most of the people I know are aware. They have explored their family of origin issues and know exactly how they are affected by them. (One 75-year-old acquaintance is perfectly aware the critical voice in her head is the voice of her mother -- who is still alive and criticizing, by the way -- but she can't seem to disobey it.)

Many of us can pinpoint the old, mistaken beliefs that are blocking our good, and we know exactly what needs to be shifted in our thinking. But the same patterns repeat year after year.

We've tried it all. On our various journeys, we have been Buddhist, Unitarian and Druid; carnivorous and vegan; ascetic and self-indulgent.

We have talked for hours in therapists' offices, beaten pillows with foam bats in group therapy, and kept silent for days on retreat.

We have prayed, meditated and affirmed.

We have surrendered and forgiven.

We have made treasure maps and gratitude lists.

We have reframed, cleared our energy and fluffed our auras.

Some even have walked on hot coals or risked suffocation in sweat lodges.

All for – well, for what? The hope of transformation? Incremental enlightenment?

I know sometimes a spiritual idea, practice or teacher can be life-saving, literally. But for most of us, most of the time, it seems we're no better off than anyone else, still subject to being sick, broke or in relationship hell.

Truth be told, I'm increasingly frustrated by this.

As one who purports to be a teacher and sometimes counselor, I struggle to offer any words of wisdom. The people who ask for my help have read all the same books, heard the same speakers and been to the same workshops that I have. We can conduct a conversation in spiritual shorthand.

  1. Reach for the thought feels better. (Abraham-Hicks)
  2. Live by design not default. (Mary Morrissey)
  3. It's our light, not our darkness, that scares us. (Marianne Williamson)

We KNOW this stuff. I believe a lot of us came to earth this time around to teach this stuff.

So why is there still so much struggle and suffering?

Is pain just part of the human experience?

I think maybe it is. I think we volunteered for the challenge. But I hope we can move through it more gracefully with some spiritual skills.

Grace might be the operative word. Grace is the universe biased in our favor. Grace is well-being – the fact that most of us, most of the time, are doing fine. Life generally goes smoothly, and most problems work themselves out. Or at least become live-with-able.

So how do we get to grace?

You have a drawer full of spiritual tools. Use them, of course, and keep trying new ones.

But mostly I think we allow grace. Ever available, grace is bestowed.

Not because we deserve it or even because we need it but because we ask for it. All those spiritual disciplines – prayer, affirmations, surrender – are methods of asking for grace.

You already might know one of my favorite prayers: Reveal what needs to be revealed, and heal what needs to be healed.

Maybe we've had enough revealing for now. We've acquired all this insight and awareness about ourselves, but awareness alone doesn't bring about fundamental changes.

Maybe the next step is to ask for healing. Maybe we can step off the self-improvement treadmill and let the divine within do the work for a while.

You don't have to know how the healing takes place, and you don't have to know what life will look like afterwards. You can just invite it to happen.

I will warn you that when you declare you are open to healing, it's open season on your life. Anything can happen!

But that's what we want, isn't it? To see all our awareness and insights transmuted it into love and enlightenment. That is grace.

   

Spring and Fall

Posted March 8, 2014

spiral clock


I'm always amused this time of year by the admonition to Spring Forward!

It's a clever play on words – Spring Forward and Fall Back – probably devised by a marketer somewhere to accustom the public to changing millions of clocks twice a year.

It's also not bad advice for living. Sometimes you spring forward, take action and seize the day. Other times it's better to fall back, regroup, take a breather.

Which is calling in your life right now?

   

Accepting the Hallway

Posted March 1, 2014

We've all been through profound changes, including some that were decidedly unwelcome. I'd like to hear how you accepted the fact that life would never be the same.


How did you surrender?

What helped you through that period of uncertainty until the next door opened?

Take a look at this four-minute video, then I hope you'll share a few words in the comment section about how you have accepted the changes in your life.



   




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