Tragedy Reveals Forgiveness Opportunity

turtleI was driving along the highway the other day and I saw a turtle capsized and off to the shoulder. I always try to stop when I find animals injured or passed away at the side of the road. Turning it over only revealed the helpless fact that the poor animal was still alive, but savagely and mortally wounded.

I gently moved it off to the grass, said I was sorry and gave gratitude for its sacrifice.

Immediately, I began a judgmental rant on how mindless people can be by not watching out for the poor creatures that become senseless victims. Next, I headed to a property where I was to do some gardening.

Karma?

At one point I needed to move a large pot to grab some weeds. I dragged it to the side only to hear the pained cry of a little toad. Mindless me! I know I should lift pots straight up to avoid injuring the frogs and toads that can live under them. Yet, it’s been awhile since I last moved one and I just wasn’t thinking about it.  Nonetheless, the toad was wounded in some concealed way and although it looked ok, its breathing was laboured and it wouldn’t move.

Had I just committed the same crime that I so mercilessly judged the turtle killer for?!

What was the Universe trying to show me?

My behaviour severely distressed me. I didn’t mean to hurt anything…but that didn’t change the fact that I had. And I couldn’t fix it. My mind was flooded with hopelessly flawed questions: Why do innocent animals and people die because of the ignorance of others? Is there a way I can prevent this? What if I become hyper-vigilant of my every move…but what if that doesn’t work and I still kill an innocent animal or bug? Why do we care more about the deaths of ‘big’ beings than small ones?

And then the big one: What if the turtle killer didn’t mean it either? What if we’re all doing the best we can with the hand we were dealt?

I realized that I was going to make myself crazy with questions that have no answers so I decided to hand the whole thing over to Jesus, my guide.

I started wondering about how hospice care workers can be with dying people when they can’t do anything to rescue them. Then the revelation came…

That was it! Sometimes you can’t do anything about things like imminent death except to accept that it will happen and to bless the little (or big) being that has shown you something…a lesson in forgiveness and gratitude. Dying beings rarely hold grudges and if it is an animal, they certainly do not. They aren’t angry or bitter at the person or other being that caused their suffering. They simply accept it and graciously slip out of this world.

So, to all the beings, both tiny and large, that have shown me true grace and forgiveness through their quiet sacrifices, thank you for teaching me to be more wary of my judgements against others and myself and for showing me that the only uplifting thing that can be done with a tragedy is to accept it and walk in love, regardless of the circumstances.

Believe that each person is doing the best they can with the lot they were dealt in life and you’ll find yourself a more compassionate, loving, forgiving human being. Start with yourself first.

P.S. I checked on the toad a few days later and it was not in it’s hidey-hole anymore so I presume it recovered. Phew!

Savage

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50 Shades of Ego

shadesWhen my oldest child was born my mother would look at her and say crazy stuff like, “Babies are just pure selfishness! They’re so sinful; all they can think of is themselves.” It was this mindset, based on her ‘Christian values’, that formed the standard in which she raised me. I know that’s convoluted, and I in no way wish to place blame, but it gives some context for how my formative Christian experience shaped and affirmed the false self in me.

To begin with, my egoic specialness was identified with being sinful and inherently bad. I’m almost certain my mother thought I was the spawn of Satan. As I grew older, my ego discovered that it could also be special in the church if, instead of being pure selfishness, it became outstanding Christian goodness. I became a youth leader and eventually a pastor’s wife. In the Pentecostal circles I inhabited as a young person there could be no higher spiritual achievement for a young woman than to be married to a pastor. I had arrived.

And thus, my false self’s passive need to be special symbiotically joined the church in myriad ways. Oh, the (mis)adventures we’ve had.

Today, I find myself re-entering the context of church after a sabbatical. In my time away I explored other mystical paths and integrated new perspectives into the growing expansiveness of my spiritual repertoire. I’ve spent time in communities with no defined doctrines or sacred agendas, just simple unconditional love and acceptance.

I’d somehow drawn the conclusion that upon re-entering the church I would easily assimilate my fresh understanding into church life and something new and wonderful would just kind of instantly manifest for me.

I could not have been more wrong.

As a matter of fact, had I known before hand what I was getting myself into, I don’t think I would’ve agreed to Jesus’ invitation back into ‘the fold’! That’s not to say I was tricked; I’ve been a willing participant with the freedom to leave at any time.

My biggest challenge has been that my false self or ego is still trying to fill its old role of being special within the context of church. When I attend on Sunday morning or join up with a midweek small group, ego arises in me, nuanced with various shades of judgment, anger, frustration and self-righteousness. Ugly, ugly, ugly. It’s as if a mischievous toddler just walked up to my beautifully crafted masterpiece of ‘enlightened self’ and scribbled all over it with a crayon.

Could it be that the Divine is gently proposing I rework my sanctimonious showpiece, starting with a thick coat of primer? Seems so.

Jesus, give me the courage to walk in the humility you so graciously demonstrated, to be open to the reshaping of your Spirit in me, not clinging to what I’ve created myself to be, but in the openness and vulnerability of my True Self in you. Let me be a freshly primed canvass. This time, you be the paintbrush.

“Love does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

Nuance

Fearless Authenticity

basejumpWe were talking about Sunday school experiences in our childhood. One person contributed that he didn’t spend much time in Sunday school because he was often kicked out. There’s nothing like somebody else’s story to help trigger memories of your own…

As a child, I was kicked out of everything: school, music groups, kids clubs, Sunday school. You name it. The reason? I lived out of my truth regardless the cost. In Christian school we were awarded a ‘character trait’ poster at the end of every year. I got ones like ‘fearless’ and ‘thorough’. I can still remember the sound of the entire audience laughing when they called mine out. I guess you could say I had a reputation.  Nonetheless, the price was high in the 80’s when corporeal punishment still existed in schools and churches. A much worse fate awaited me at home. (trigger warning)

I grew up in a family where babies were beaten for crying or waking up at the wrong times and children were dragged out of their beds in the middle of the night for violent reasons. For me the solution was simple, learn to dissociate from the body and live my truth anyway. The result was a lot of hiding under the basement stairs and spending time in the forest. It was in those places where I would meet Jesus and experience Holy Spirit in ways that were more real than anything I encountered in the physical world.

As the years progressed, I learned to live with the incongruency of outer compliance because I finally caught on that my chances of survival were greater if I kept my soul hidden. I’ve never disconnected from Holy Spirit. Jesus has always been a faithful companion and guide. The pure, unconditional love and intimacy I’ve experienced with the Father is not worthy of words.

My biggest challenge in adulthood has been returning back to that place of complete and wild abandon in my spirit. It’s there. I feel it in the forest, on my mountain bike or with people I trust deeply. But much of the time I withhold. A lot. I don’t want to be perceived as rebellious or a heretic or worse. I am not fearless like I once was.

The western world, with all its controlling institutions, has not made space for people like myself…and perhaps you also. Maybe you’ve felt it though; a growing dissatisfaction amongst the intuitive masses. Many of us are no longer content with just wandering in the forests or hiding behind our blogs.

It’s not easy going into the places that make me feel uncomfortable, the places where I’m constantly confronted by the battle between my ego and my spirit. While I’m fairly good at helping others with their issues, I really don’t know how to share my true self with people that live out of a different paradigm than I do.

The path I’m on is certainly not easy, but the way for my children is somewhat easier. My kids have always had the freedom to live from their truth in my home. It might seem unconventional and it’s definitely anti-institutional, but we’ve made it a priority that they always lead with their human spirits and tune into Holy Spirit. Their egos come up with some pretty interesting stuff too, but how can you learn to distinguish between the two if you aren’t given the freedom to make mistakes in a safe environment?

Holy Spirit works in weird ways that I’m quick to judge as ‘wrong’, especially in other people’s lives. Keeping my mouth shut and allowing Spirit to do its thing in others, and even more so in myself, is a lesson I’m doomed to repeat. God grant us grace to love and forgive ourselves that we might be empowered to do the same for others.

Sound

Emptying: the Path to Fulfilment

refiners-fireMost mystical traditions teach an ascension path to oneness with God. The premise is to conserve the universal life force (prana, chi etc.) within oneself and engage in practices that enhance awareness of the Divine.

On the contrary, Jesus demonstrated a very counter-intuitive way of transcending the egoic trappings of this world. Rather than focusing on protecting and preserving his spiritual life force, he gave it away. Throughout the gospels we see him extravagantly pouring himself out. He loved. And he loved. And he loved.

Jesus consistently taught that the way to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven is through the letting go of earthly attachments and living in the Spirit. This approach to spiritual formation takes the flesh and spirit through different types of ’emptying’ experiences.

Accepting the Path

I once belonged to a community where everyone had their tidy little lives set up for plenty of peace, rest and an abundance of alone time to ensure that they were engaging in proper self-care. Most of them didn’t have kids.

After a while I began to seriously feel like I didn’t fit in. I meditated in my bedroom with the walls rattling as droves of children ran by, read enlightening books in the tub to ensure a valid excuse for non-response and practised deep breathing exercises in the 5 minutes of ‘alone time’ between dropping a kid off for an activity and arriving back at home.

Something about my life just didn’t mirror what my friends were experiencing in their tranquil, self-focused journeys. Instead of preserving my life force, I was constantly giving it away by caring for my family and others. My teachers criticized what I was doing, saying it was misguided.

Here’s the deal: you cannot be the sole support caregiver of 4 children plus attend to the needs of a sick parent and not give yourself away. God doesn’t put us on a path and then make it impossible to follow. No. I knew I was doing what was right for me, I just didn’t understand how it all fit together.

Letting Go

Often, I don’t realise how much I pour into others or how much they pour into me. It’s a lifestyle I embrace and most of the time it’s pure joy to love and serve. In giving,  I also receive. But sometimes my flesh gets caught in a downdraft and I crash.

For instance, lately I’ve been feeling increasingly weary and worn out. I thought I’d be real smart and responsible around that and finally book a weekend off for myself, a retreat where people would minister and pour into me a lot. The retreat I was to attend would be free, which was perfect. I made my plans. Got all my ducks in a row.

Just as I finally let my mind begin to anticipate what I perceived as much needed time away, I was sent an email that said, “sorry, we actually don’t have room for you this time.” And that was it…my flesh had a tantrum.

Letting go of egoic attachments has got to be the most agonising experience of emptying in this temporal existence. There always seems to be a reason why I’ll die or go insane without the person or thing I think I need. Nevertheless, it’s essential for the ego to feel abandoned before it will acquiesce to Holy Spirit.  It must be allowed to cry and argue and bargain and feel completely forsaken if healing is to occur. David demonstrated this masterfully throughout the Psalms.

Refining

Here’s where it gets good.

The scriptures talk about the Refiner’s Fire, a process where gold is repeatedly melted down to dispel its impurities. Modern processes use heat, acid and a variety of other harsh chemicals to achieve the same end. It apparently smells real bad too. The resultant product is pure, with enormous value and function.

My fleshly meltdowns are like that; ridiculously intense, ugly processes that unhinge me from my earthly attachments so that I can be free to enter into unity with the Father. When I let go of the illusion of egoic fulfilment, Abba opens his arms so wide that He swallows my little world up whole and for a transcendent holy instant there is nothing but pure Love. Its absolutely indescribable.

If you’ve experienced this, you’ll know it’s worth the existential crisis. If not, I dare you to let go…to allow your soul to purge itself in the sacred safety of Divine love.

It’s impossible to stay in a funk after an experience like that.

Criticize

Should My Ego Educate Yours?

arguingThe question was asked in church the other day, “If someone doesn’t believe in sin, how can you help them see its reality?” My stomach turned. I could feel something in me push back at that this, but I wasn’t quite sure what. As I took time to unravel it, this is what I discovered…

I’m a mediator. It’s not just my job, it’s who I am. Not that I do it perfectly, but it’s my role and my personality in this fleshly existence. I do make judgements, because it’s my egoic nature to do so, but many times I sense a check in my spirit when I have. That check is an invitation back into neutrality and openness with Holy Spirit.

One of my biggest hang-ups with church and Christians in general is this idea that it’s our moral duty to educate others on what the truth is. I’ll address that duty in a moment. First, let’s talk about what usually happens when my ego decides it should tell someone else’s ego that their perspective is wrong and mine is right. Naturally, people get defensive. As soon as you put someone on the defensive, you’ve lost the argument no matter how good or valid your points are. You might’ve proven your rightness to yourself and other like-minded individuals, but you’ve most certainly pushed the other person further away from seeing your take on the truth.

Truth is not revealed to others by egos educating egos, because our flesh-nature is completely out of touch with God and doesn’t know God. Therefore, truth isn’t revealed through opinions, arguments and apologetics. Truth can only be revealed through the Holy Spirit or that part of me that’s deeply in tune with the Spirit called my human spirit.

Here’s the paradox: your human spirit will never feel the need to educate someone on truth. It will only serve to point them to the Divine for revelation. When we walk in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control, people will naturally be guided to the Spirit when they’re around us and they’ll find their answers there. They’ll also own these revelations because they received them directly from the Source.

When I’m coaching someone or working with parties in dispute, it’s never my place to tell them why I might perceive that their ways are flawed. Trust me, I wouldn’t be very successful with that approach! My job is simply to ask questions and share positive insights that’ll help them understand themselves more deeply and that lead them to God for answers.

I Am Not the Holy Spirit (And Neither Are You)

Do you know how many times my ego has secretly thought it knew exactly what someone needed to hear from God (moral base and apologetics included) only to find out later I was completely off track?! I’m embarrassed to say. Think about how many biblical characters made what seemed like bad choices to begin with, only to have it revealed later that they were on the paths that were right for them? Jonah, David and Paul come to mind…just to name about 1% of them.

My children have probably taught me this lesson most deeply. That’s because I judge them more than anyone else, poor dears. Most people jump to the conclusion that kids can’t adequately hear from the Holy Spirit in order to make good choices for themselves. Christian parents tend to take on the fear-based role of being some sort of replacement or interpreter for the Divine in their kids’ lives, telling them how they should behave or think according to God. (Hint: anything you do out of fear is not of God.) In many cases, kids are more in tune than we are. We just don’t give them a chance to demonstrate this.

These days I try to teach my children through imparting principles and concepts, not should’s and shouldn’ts. I try not to interfere with how Spirit is leading them. This lends itself to a lot of judgement from nearly everybody because it’s not a popular child rearing method in the Western World. Fortunately, I don’t mind what people think much anymore.

The bottom line is this:  I am not the Holy Spirit. You are not the Holy Spirit. But when we are in sync with the Spirit and living out of the fruit that this life-style yields, we will always be helpful to others in the best way. You’ll know when you’re walking in righteousness because you won’t feel angry, fearful or like you have to prove a point, you’ll just feel awesome and full of unconditional love!

Replacement

Why Judging Others Hurts You and How to Stop

illusionPerceptions are predicated on judgements. I judge all the time. It’s an automatic thing.

When I came into the world, having the ability to judge kept me alive because it helped my little infant body to discern pain, hunger and appropriate body temperature. As I got older, adults taught me that doing things that made them feel uncomfortable, fearful or reactive was called ‘bad’. I expertly learned to transfer this concept onto everything around me and before I even started school I lived in a world that had been clearly delineated by good and bad.

Challenging Perceptions

Every once in a while I would have profoundly questioning moments in my childhood. Was my hand really called a ‘hand’ or was a word actually irrelevant to the object it represented? If I called it something else, would it still be what it was? Do words really  mean anything and if yes, who decided what they should mean? What if I decide to change their meanings or give things gibberish names?

Sometimes this idea of perception would lead me into seeing a completely different world around me. Even my body didn’t feel like I belonged to it. I’d look at my arm and experience it like something disconnected from myself. If I tried to share my mystical musings with a friend I was sure to get a weird look. I wouldn’t have dreamed of disclosing my thoughts to the adults in my life.

Humor me for moment and give this some consideration: What if some people were time transported from 700 years ago into the present day? Let’s say we did a social experiment and nobody gave them any information about the new and strange things they were seeing. What would they name objects and places and what would they think the functions of these things are? Would they eventually start to see things the way we do or would they come up with completely innovative uses for them?

This little experiment would expose something very interesting about how we judge and perceive. You see, we can only judge something when we have past experience with it. In essence, we are projecting suppositions we formed in the past onto what we see before us now. For example, we judge someone as being ‘fat’ because we know what this is from past experience. And then we take it a step further and judge their character based on how we’ve perceived overweight people before. I use this example because I think nearly everyone can relate to it (just being painfully honest here).

Now let me challenge you…

Changing Perceptions

In the gospels Jesus clearly admonishes people to ‘judge not’. This used to make me feel like a chastised child. I finally realised that Jesus was trying to communicate something much deeper than a simple warning. Let’s explore this a bit.

What if we asked Holy Spirit to guide us in seeing our world  with the eyes of our heart rather than the ones in our skull? In particular, what if we could see people in a fresh new way with no past attached and a clean new slate every time we were with them? How would that change our experience?! No judgements, just pure unconditional love. Impossible you say? Not so. I’ve tried this. With people who’ve hurt me deeply. Guess what? It’s transformed my relationships with them.

When we hold people to their past through judgement and unforgiveness we don’t give them the opportunity to heal and change. This is because we keep treating them in ways that elicit the same unsavoury behaviors from them. We literally reinforce the neuronal connections in their physical brain that cause them to act the way we hate. Basically, we’re part of the problem we think they have.

On a physical level, our bodies completely regenerate themselves every 2 years except for our brain cells. Even though brain cells don’t regenerate, current scientific research has proven that the brain is highly plastic, that means easily changeable! The way you judge and perceive actually follows patterns in your brain and you have the power to change them by choosing (forming a habit) to think differently. These changes, in turn, actually cause the brain to direct changes in the body on a molecular and cellular level. Transformation. This is how mental and physical healing occurs.

Jesus knew that the way we think and judge affects not only our social and emotional well-being, but our individual and collective physical health too. 2000 years ago he gave us a formula to create better lives, but most people never implement it. Will you choose differently? Judge Not.

Automatic