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What's Wrong with Receiving?

Posted August 24, 2013

hands holding gift

I was surprised last year to hear a student in my prosperity class say, “I don't want to give in order to get something back.”

Seriously? That's where most people start with the laws of abundance. They're delighted to learn that giving jump-starts a cycle that includes receiving. What goes around, comes around – it's a spiritual principle.

Eventually, yes, you will give just for the joy of giving. But here's the thing: When you give, you will get something back, whether you want to or not.

If it's any comfort, the law works with bad things, too. Nastiness, ill temper, irritability, rudeness, disengagement, judgment, anger, unforgiveness, being miserly with time, talent or treasure. The energy you send into the universe boomerangs back to you.

“The measure you give will be the measure you get back,” Jesus said. (Luke 6:38)

The student who spoke up seemed reluctant to give anything at all, lest it be seen as a manipulative bid for reward. Since then, the number of people I've seen squirming about receiving has proliferated. Receiving is … what? Selfish? Unspiritual?

I guess I understand their thinking.

  • Most of us were taught it's more blessed to give than to receive.
  • Some of us were taught poverty is holier than wealth, hence vows of poverty for the most devout.
  • On the flip side, the so-called “prosperity gospel” that is being taught in many conservative churches says God rewards good people with wealth. (I think they're wrong on so many levels. But don't get me started.)
  • We've all heard that love of money is the root of all evil, but that's a set-up for lack. It's okay to have money but not to love it? It's okay to scrape by, but not to want more? Condemning money is guaranteed to limit its flow in your life.

This has been on my mind because I'm about to teach another prosperity class, and I don't know how to reassure people – some who are reluctant even to attend – that's it's okay to want.

Wanting is the tip of the iceberg where the spiritual laws of abundance are concerned.

This is the point in a prosperity discussion where I usually complain that the beautiful spiritual law of giving and receiving has been tainted by materialistic representations like The Secret movie. Except I confess how delighted I was to learn, decades ago, exactly what The Secret later taught: My thoughts have creative power, and I can prove it by what shows up in my life. Woo-hoo.

It's a place to start. It's first grade.

Next, I heard that giving is the way to prime the pump for receiving. It starts the flow of abundance. I started giving and, sure enough, it was like turning on a garden hose. I put a kink in the hose only when I fear the flow will stop.

Making a transaction with God in this way is still elementary, but it does teach us the universe is responsive. I suspect the students who are uncomfortable with giving to receive have simply outgrown this level of understanding.

Next, it turned out these principles applied not just to money and things but to intangibles like love and health and a sense of purpose. The beliefs I nurtured – consciously or not – determined how my life unfolded. What I gave, I got back.

I spent years pondering and practicing what it meant to have so much responsibility for my life. I couldn't be a victim anymore. I paid close attention to the beliefs I might be harboring and tried to shift them in a positive direction.

More recently, however, I have realized the power of my thoughts is just one expression of my divinity. It pales against the idea of my being God in human form, just as Jesus was. I still work every day to bend my mind around that notion.

Living in divine consciousness creates the conditions for manifestation. My job is to seek first the kingdom, as Jesus put it, or to focus on my own soul's journey. The rest – giving, receiving, wanting and being provided for – will take care of itself.

And yet… I'm living on a planet where money is the primary medium of exchange. I'm living in a physical body that requires food and shelter and periodic highlights for my hair. Money is necessary to the human experience.

But it's not okay to want it?

Or it's not okay to give, expecting to receive something in return?

I just don't have a problem with receiving. And I want to give you permission to receive, too.

I even want it to be okay to notice that when you give, you receive. (And vice versa. When money gets tight, I check to make sure I'm up-to-date on tithing. I don't know how, but there's a connection.)

You have a drawer full of tools to help merge your spiritual essence with your human existence, and this giving-and-receiving law is one of the handiest.

Wanting is not a good thing if it keeps you focused on what you lack. Or if you are so attached to getting what you want that you neglect the spiritual side of your existence. Avatars have warned against becoming mired in our humanity, being too much in the world.

But as humans, we are driven by desire. Our innate evolutionary impulse pushes us to want more. If we never seem satisfied, it's because wanting more is how we grow.

Who are we to thwart the flow of abundance in the universe? To say, Just bypass me because I don't want to be selfish. Or to say, very quietly, I don't deserve more than I have now.

The flow of abundance is a spiritual law that works like everything else. As soon as you exhale (give), you inhale again (receive). It's not selfish to expect it. That's why the air is there – to support us in our human journey.

If you're sick, wanting to get better is not selfish, and you can't greedily amass too much health. If you're lonely, you want to find love, and the more love, the better.

Abundance is already flowing and can take any form you need – money, things, love, health, ideas (oh, the abundant ideas!), meaning, purpose, scenery, flowers, sunsets and on and on and on.

Do you really want to tell God, “No, thank you?”


Are You Suffering from Spiritual Stress?

Posted August 18, 2013

picasso of woman’s face

You've probably seen the studies that say regularly attending religious services extends your lifespan by two or three years. I wonder why?

  • Maybe churchgoers are less likely to smoke, drink or behave in risky ways. (Depends on the church!)
  • Maybe the sense of belonging in a community boosts their immune system.
  • Maybe the relaxation response in prayer or meditation restores their flow of energy.
  • Heck, maybe God doesn't smite people who go to church.

We already know our lifespan and health are governed not just by genes or habits but, to a large extent, by attitude. Thoughts. Feelings. Consciousness. Affirming we are healthy, believing life is good. If we're happy to be on the planet, our physical earth-suits evidently keep working longer.

There's an interesting new book, Mind Over Medicine, by Lissa Rankin, a young MD who left medical practice in favor of healing. Her book compiles research from the past 50 years — studies that were published in legitimate, peer-reviewed, prestigious medical journals — showing time and again our thoughts have the power to heal.

As it turns out, the single overriding determiner of your health is not diet or exercise but whether you live in stress or peace. Which got me thinking about spiritual stress.

My church attracts refugees from the extremes of religion, people who often grew up with continuous stress about pleasing God, pleasing strict parents and pleasing their religious community. They worked hard to get it right, conform, obey. They obsessed on violent Bible images. They remember, as children, lying awake in bed at night, afraid of going to hell.

That's child abuse, in my opinion. But the point is that living in fear — fear of judgment from God, family and church — is stressful. And stress is not healthy!

I've known adults, too, who were stressed by religion. Their church told them they were sinners, no matter how wholesomely they lived. Or some pastor insisted their gay children were an abomination. Or they were assured that suicide condemned a loved one forever.

I've even met adults near death who were tormented by their religious beliefs. They feared they hadn't done enough good works. They couldn't be sure of heaven.

If your beliefs about God don't comfort you in the most difficult periods of your life, what good are they?

Jesus didn't tell us to shape up or go to hell. He told us to relax! “Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” (Mt 6:27) Even 2,000 years ago, he knew stress was unhealthy.

Jesus did his best to let us know we are loved unconditionally, but it's broader than Christianity. Moses led the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Nobody knows more about happiness than the Buddhists. Just listen to the Dalai Lama giggle.

That's what religion is supposed to be. It was intended to enrich life, not stifle it with fear or disapproval.

If you attend a church every week where someone thunders at you about sin, or hands you a list of what you shouldn't read or watch, or tells you whom to blame and hate for all the world's troubles, you are literally taking years off your life. Get out!

Or if your stress is an inside job, and you routinely beat yourself up for not being good enough in the eyes of God, or worry about being seen as imperfect by the church community, stop it. Just stop it.

Even in my spiritual-but-not-religious bubble, I find people wringing their hands about whether they meditate deeply enough or worrying how they might have attracted a problem into their lives.

We miss the whole point of being on a spiritual path if we try to practice it perfectly.

Find what brings you peace. Find a system of belief that supports your life and family, in whatever way you have composed your life and family. Find a community where you are nurtured and not criticized.

If you start to feel stressed about anything in your spiritual life -- from church politics to what God thinks of you to whether you pray often enough — step back and take a breath. A deep breath.

The ultimate benefit of any spiritual or religious practice is inner peace. Ideally, it provides comfort and guidance. It allows you to breathe and be your authentic self. You become convinced you are worthy of this life, and all is well.

That's the kind of lifespan worth extending.

PS – My telesummit debut is tomorrow – Monday, Aug. 19, at 7 pm Central. It's one of 21 interviews on Fear-Less Writing: Empower Your Creative Genius and Unleash It on the World. It was pre-recorded, and I wish I could remember what I said! I probably told way too much about my own fears. We also talked about my upcoming book, Hell in the Hallway, and how to move through change.


The Destroyer Is Your Friend

Posted August 14, 2013

I never planned to spend the summer thinking about fear and destruction, but they came to get me.

You know how ideas start showing up everywhere when it's time for you to consider them? You hear them, read them, you're asked about them, and finally you give in and pay attention?

For me, it started when I co-hosted a radio series about the Book of Revelation with all its beasts and locusts and visions of horror. Then I was interviewed for a telesummit about overcoming fear and had to think deeply about my own fears.

Plus I've been writing up a storm on my next book, Hell in the Hallway, which is about those times when one door has closed and the next has not yet opened. Life as you know it has ended forever, and you can't see what's next. You're in the hallway.

So endings, destruction, loss and fear have been on my mind.

At its base, fear is nothing but the dread of endings and destruction, of change and discomfort.

Which is ironic. Most of us are longing for something better in our lives, which, by definition, requires ending what we have and changing to something new. But still, we're often anxious when doors are closing.

But what if -- instead of resisting life's pitfalls and hurts, or battling the illnesses, heartbreak and losses that are part of nearly every life -- we saw them as steps on the road to enlightenment? Not even as obstacles but as catalysts for our forward progress. Not tests but gifts.


The Hindus seem to have a better handle on this. Their god Shiva is destroyer of the world, part of a trinity that includes Brahma the creator and Vishnu the preserver.

Why would a god devote himself to wreaking havoc? Because Shiva is responsible for change in the form of death and destruction and also in the positive sense of destroying the ego, false identification with form, or shedding old habits and attachments.

What Shiva destroys, Brahma recreates.

Now, you may be like me, uncomfortable with the idea that anything painful comes from the divine. God is good all the time. God is Absolute Good. Evil? Destruction? Those are just human foibles.

But what if we understood the unwanted events in our lives to be Shiva making way for something better? Destruction opens the path for a new creation of the universe, new opportunities.

Shiva also has a colorful and popular son named Ganesha, whose elephant trunk sweeps our paths clear of obstacles. His name is invoked at the beginning of any new undertaking. Interesting note: Ganesha sometimes sweeps obstacles into the path to slow us down.

In our myopic self-interest, we're likely to label Ganesha's work as something bad. Ganesha's sweep can be mistaken for failure or fiasco. Something has been lost or has come along to thwart us.

But what if we changed our thinking, so that our first reaction to any event was to name it good, to believe it was clearing the way for exactly what we want? Like imploding an old building to construct something new.

Even death and destruction would be assumed to be a necessary cleansing. Not “God's will” being imposed on us, but the universe answering our deepest desires.


When I read about Shiva and Ganesha, I'm struck by the parallels to the Book of Revelation. There, too, death and destruction have a divine purpose, a purifying process that does not punish but clears the way for us to create the kingdom of heaven.

The end of the world will come – not the end of planet Earth, but an end to our way of living -- when we can sustain a consciousness of love and oneness. We are the Second Coming whenever we live from our divine nature. It's the next step in human evolution.

Revelation's beasts, locusts and dragons represent the difficult human events required to get us there. But read Revelation carefully: The monsters never destroy the whole earth, only a part, maybe the part that no longer serves us. Their power is time-limited. Even the Lake of Fire does not kill; it purifies with the energy of the divine.

At the end of Revelation, the world has not been destroyed at all. Instead, every imperfect expression has been replaced with its divine counterpart. “I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…” (Rev. 21:1)

What if you could know immediately that any awful, painful event in your life – the losses, the failures, the death and destruction – were the passing away of the old, making way for the new? What if the game-changers were evidence of the enormous love in which we all live?

It's a challenging concept when you're hurting, I know. But pain is not caused by events. It results from our thoughts about the events, the labels we give them, the resistance we feel as we insist things should not be the way they are.

Could you think about them differently?

The 10-day festival to celebrate Ganesha's birth, called Ganesh Chaturthi, starts on Sept. 9. I might create my own little ceremony to review his work in my life, and I invite you to join me.

Consider – in writing, in meditation or with a friend:

What has been swept away the past year?

What did it make way for?

Are any current obstacles slowing me down?

What are they forcing me to reconsider?

Could whatever is happening in my life now be necessary for re-creation? Part of a magnificent manifestation?


Are You a Divine Doormat?

Posted August 3, 2013

angry monk

Is there a difference between unconditional love and unconditional acceptance?

I think so. A big difference.

Unconditional love is just that – loving someone no matter what.

Unconditional acceptance is acquiescing to anything the other person says or does.

When we confuse the two, we become divine doormats.

In the name of being spiritual, too often we let ourselves be flummoxed by people who aren't the least bit interested in living from their divine core. We refuse to set boundaries for fear of being a seen as judgmental.

When I say “we,” of course, I mean some of us, some of the time, including me.

But you might want to check in with yourself. Are you trying so hard to be divine that you accept whatever people dish out and say “Namaste?”

I often hear these justifications for inaction:

This difficult person is my teacher.

There's a lesson in this for me.

I'm projecting my shadow onto this person. Whatever I don't like in her, I don't like in myself.

What is there in me that attracted this person or behavior?

Maybe I'm being a victim.

Maybe I'm being judgmental.

I just need to shift my consciousness and this won't bother me.

Between psychobabble and spiri-babble, we can talk ourselves into lying flat while we're run over roughshod. Trying to be nice. Forgiving. Understanding.

I will grant you, other people's bad behavior might have deep-rooted causes.

If I knew this person's story, I would have more compassion. True. Does that mean I have no rights?

Every action is an expression of love or a cry for love. This person is crying for love in unskilled ways. True. Do I just put up with it?

We can tie ourselves in knots trying never, never, never to be seen as judgmental, critical or demanding, never to be considered unloving.

Because that would be BAD and WRONG.

And someone would be happy to point out: “You're not walking your talk!”

Sheesh, doesn't it just make you tired?

This really isn't so hard. Any parent knows the difference between unconditional love and acceptance. You can love a child and still refuse to accept certain behaviors. You don't let a child run into the street or eat nothing but candy. Setting limits is an expression of love.

But when the other person is an adult, we sometimes cave in the name of spirituality.

I'd like to suggest that spiritual is not the same as nice. Spiritual is not soft and sweet, or meek and mild.

Jesus was pretty spiritual, and he took some people's heads off, including his mother's.

Woman … my hour has not yet come. (John 2:4)

Don't you know I must be about my Father's business? (Luke 2:49)

He snapped at others:

Why do you call me good? (Mark 10:18)

Let the dead bury their own dead. (Luke 9:60)

He called the Pharisees a “brood of vipers.” He berated the disciples for not understanding his teachings, for failing to heal people, for being afraid in a storm. “Ye of little faith!”

And of course he turned over tables in the temple.

If Jesus is our role model for living in divine consciousness, maybe anger is part of our divinity. Not suffering fools might be Christlike, too. We don't have to roll over and play dead to qualify as spiritual. We have the power of God within us, for crying out loud!

So how does the divine show up through us and as us, if it's not by being nicey-nice? What does it mean to salute the divine in someone else, to love them just the way they are, without giving away our power?

Well, can you love your teenagers and still ground them for breaking curfew?

Can you love a family member who is mentally ill and still take steps to protect yourself?

Can you see the good in an employee and still fire her?

If someone commits a crime, can we know his divinity and still remove him from society for the good of all?

Can we see the Christ in terrorists and still kill them?

What would love do?


I've written myself into a corner here. I can't entirely answer my own questions!

I do believe on our really good days, we can elevate our consciousness to a state of love and oneness and know that all is well, no matter how others behave. We don't turn into doormats, because we have nothing to fear. We're not afraid of conflict, not afraid of judging or being judged, not worried about our level of spirituality.

We don't try to be spiritual, because we are spiritual beings having a human experience. We can't not be spiritual. We are made of Spirit.

Maybe we don't have to worry about setting boundaries with each challenging person. Maybe we just need to remember who we are.

Have you ever been a divine doormat? How do you keep from it? (That little blue number will open the comment section.)


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