The Power of Love Trumps Belief

I watched a very interesting documentary last night – Going Clear. It lays out a rather spooky story of madness and manipulation at work in the church of Scientology. Many of you will have already heard of the film. It was aired on HBO just last week, garnering favourable reviews and a good amount of press. I recommend giving it a peek.

The film got me thinking about how powerful belief can be, and how frightening it can be to stand free of structures of thought that had once surrounded us. Belief structures can act as both safety net and prison. It is certainly understandable how people are pulled into cults. There is a great craving for security in humanity. But living in a feedback loop of relentless reinforcement (whether positive or negative), it seems impossible to allow original thoughts to blossom. Even without overt ‘brainwashing’, most people are quick to dismiss and ‘explain away’ anything that doesn’t seem to fit well with their own story of life. But what about these worldviews of ours? How original are they? Did we consciously develop these views or were they mostly harvested in us?

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Yesterday morning I attended an Easter service at a nearby church here in Montreal. I had passed by the church numerous times and even stopped to appreciate its beautiful architecture but yesterday was my first time going in to a service. I tend to enjoy seeing how all people celebrate life and faith in our various ways. Partaking has proven the best way for me to learn. I suppose the church would be called Evangelical, if we are concerned about labels.

As I walked in I noticed there was a relaxed vibe – comfortable chairs and casual dress. There was a lot of expensive-looking technical gear hanging around and big projection screens at the front. I admired the drum-set perched at the back of the stage. It felt more like a rock show than a church setting. Service kicked off with a big praise band. Plenty of people hollered out from the congregation as we sang. There was definitely a good mood in the room. Throughout the service, however, what stood out to me the most – from the music through the sermon – was the feeling that ‘our’ beliefs somehow set us apart from others. This was put forward as a positive. How wide is this ‘us’? I wondered. Why are any excluded? I could see it all came from a good place, these songs and spoken words, but they seemed more likely to divide than unite, at least on the surface level. Why not invest in our common ground? I thought.

As the service came to a close I got chatting with a couple who had been sitting behind me. They were members who attended regularly. The gentleman spoke about a lot of ‘spiritual darkness’ he saw outside of the church. I nodded my head and listened as he carried on, getting the feeling that I might be cast into the same shadow of ‘spiritual darkness’ if I expressed a belief which didn’t match his. Unconcerned about his opinion of me, I didn’t feel inclined to do so, but it got me thinking nevertheless about how we as people so often pool together in little pockets of shared beliefs, collectively sheltering and justifying one another. I am not claiming this to be necessarily good or bad, I am simply observing it. I wonder, though, if we can look at ourselves with the same critical eye we so easily cast on others. Jesus did say, after all, to avoid judgement, lest we be judged. Have we ever truly explored our own bias?

This is difficult work, admittedly, perhaps even impossible if we expect to arrive at any concrete result. But it just might be worthwhile work. We might come to see the ways we limit ourselves, avoiding real connection with others. We might even come to see how we try to impose our worldview on others, in both subtle and obvious ways. But by seeing these things we can become free of them. These patterns will fall away on their own, once recognized.

I sense that there is a way to meet people in total honesty, free of ideas of any kind – a way to connect without any fear or any agenda. It may just be my idealism at work here, but having tasted these precious interactions, I feel we can foster them and see them flower, even allowing them to overpower all the walls we may have imagined into existence.

What an opportunity. But we may have to be willing to stand free of belief, if only for a moment. Can we do this? Is there not a shared ground without these ideas cluttering us? Without judging anyone’s story, I wonder if we can find a reality we are all an equal part of. I sense that if we can step outside of our stories for long enough, all we will see in anyone’s eyes is the reality of love reflected. Do any of us have a claim more legitimate than anyone else? Does it matter? Does love care about any of our distinctions?

I think not. I feel it too.

the-power-of-love

Have a happy week.  Much love all.

🙂

Becoming a Cleaner

This morning I went for an informal interview for a job as a cleaner. The company is Zenith Cleaning. A friend recently recommended it to me as an organization befitting my ideals. The man who started Zenith is a most fascinating person. He goes by Tolu. We sat in the upstairs kitchen of Zenith’s office and talked about life. The mood was casual from the get-go. It was unlike any job interview I have ever had (not that I have had all that many…). We talked a lot about forgiveness and gratitude. We talked about presence. We talked about ideals and truly embodying the act of cleaning, treating it as a foundation for any other kind of work or play. Tolu smilingly referred to Zenith as “a metaphorical enterprise”. Clearly, for him, being in tune with the people he works with is far more important than any sort of ‘relevant work experience’. We got on quite well and ended up chatting for about an hour (likely a bit more), punctuated by a few phone calls he had to take.

Our visit ignited a lot of thoughts and feelings about cleaning, especially about how our world sees cleaners. It seems that many in our society consider cleaning a very ‘low’ position. I can see how this idea has spread, having long been drilled with notions of social standing. But the ‘social ladder’ we live with is not nearly as important, nor even as real, as many of us take it to be. The more I think about cleaning the more confounded I am that so many look down upon the work (and worse, upon the workers) as beneath them. It seems crazy. I see it as an honourable job. Cleaning is making things better. It’s very simple.

We spoke this morning of how cleaning is basically removing obstacles, revealing the inherent beauty of a given object, or space. In this way, it aligns nicely with the meditative frame that I have come to appreciate over the past few years. I see many ways this sort of work might better equip one for deeper service. The idea of developing one’s humility and capacity for service feels honourable. Thinking back over my life, picturing many ‘cleaners’ I have come in contact with – whether in schools, churches, homes or elsewhere – I see the quiet dignity of the work. Doing jobs that some have come to see as ‘dirty’ and ‘undesirable’ may in fact be of deep value. They may well be sources of enrichment. Tolu spoke at length about ‘cleaning the cleaner’, describing some of the spontaneous and surprising ways in which this work often benefits the worker. We talked also about the value of deep cleaning, distinguishing it from organizing or merely ‘staging’ a space. We acknowledged that we, as people, still do an awful lot of ‘staging’.

As we sat and spoke it suddenly struck me how vital the world’s custodians are. ‘Custodian’ is a title full of honour, even if many today have come to see it as something less than dignified. Custodians have been given custody. To be a custodian is to guard and protect, even to usher others safely through a given space. I can think of several custodians I know who embody their work and their role, embracing being a cleaner and showing the honour and dignity of service. I find it inspiring.

As the ‘interview’ went on, wandering off on various philosophical and spiritual tangents, we always brought it back to the simplicity of cleaning. With all that lofty talk, Tolu mentioned, some may forget to scrub the floor with sufficient vigour. We must stay in touch with the work itself. Other practical matters like money and schedules emerged only peripherally in our conversation, popping up long after we had already covered everything from scripture to physics. We agreed that we would work well together. Without setting any firm timeline we agreed to be in touch soon to see how I may be of service. Tolu had not necessarily been looking to hire anyone at the moment but he mentioned that new jobs and projects are popping up regularly. An opportunity is likely to open up just around the corner.

In the meantime, I am being more forthcoming with my gratitude for the wonderful cleaners in my life. I encourage you to do the same. They are all over our towns and cities – found in every building, most parks, and on our streets and sidewalks – and it is easy enough to thank them in passing. Try it out! I trust you will be glad you did. After making a few of these human connections, we may even feel like cleaning up after ourselves a bit more. Imagine if this idea spread… What a world we could be sharing… Custodians working together.

Cleaners

🙂

On Forgiveness

What if I told you there was a way to be free of all suffering, lifted from the heaviness of life’s drama? What if I told you that it was completely free? What if I told you that you already hold the key to this freedom in your own heart? Fortunately, it’s just that simple.

forgiveness

I won’t lie and tell you that it’s easy, but it is simple. It’s not complicated.

Forgiveness is perhaps the most valuable key to our inner freedom. And we are 100% in charge of the work of forgiveness. Nobody other than ourselves can dictate who or how to forgive. Despite what we may think, there is no pain too great to let go of. None of us is given more than we can handle. If, however, we allow ourselves to believe that some past hurt is too big for us to forgive (which remains our right), we can no longer justifiably blame any ‘offender’ for our ongoing pain. The offence is long gone, and it is we who are choosing to keep it alive in our minds (often unconsciously), refusing to face the raw freedom of forgiveness. And this is ok. We need not get further tangled in guilt over this. We can simply face the pain as we are able to and release it.

Forgiveness is an open door, an opportunity. We are completely free to take it on or pass it up, as we see fit. It can be tough work. Many of us become so identified with our particular pains and burdens of hurt that we cannot imagine living without them. The very prospect can seem downright frightening. We feel as though a part of us may die if we forgive fully, or are fully forgiven. The anger, guilt or resentment we hold becomes a wall that defines us, and we mistakenly perceive this wall as a sense of security, when it is actually a severe limitation.

These limitations dam up our energy and attract further negativity. Trapped inside, we play out our painful narratives over and over, digging deeper trenches of pain. By flooding these walls with self-identification we make ourselves vulnerable to attack. We choose to give these limitations their reality and we bring about our own suffering. Whether a rude comment in passing, a perceived slight, or much worse, anything we take personally is bound to hurt us. But even in extreme cases of pain, imposed upon us unjustly, we are STILL in complete control of our forgiveness. We can choose freedom, however painful a journey it may be, or we can remain prisoners of our past.

When we hold a grudge, or bottle up our hurt feelings, we are allowing a person or an event to hold great power over us. We are blindly scattering our force outward and pointing the blame the same way. This will never lead to reconciliation. But once we take complete responsibility for ourselves, no matter how serious the hurt we have endured, we see that it is actually impossible to blame anyone else for our suffering.

Even Jesus (from most accounts a pretty righteous dude) said, as he was dying, to forgive his tormentors, “for they know not what they do.” This is some real wisdom. It seems Jesus could see that those persecuting him were acting from ignorance. They were acting out of the blindness of heavily-conditioned egos. They were not to blame. Their minds just happened to be muddled and cluttered, full of ideas imposed on them by others, which they had accepted and invested in. This model of forgiveness brings to mind a quote from ‘The Peaceful Warrior’; “Those who are the hardest to love [or forgive] need it the most.”

At its very core, unconditional forgiveness is love.  This wisdom can radically change how we interact with life and one another. We can examine the folly of our former ways and shift into a new perspective, realizing that we need not take anything personally. We can help one another find the courage to forgive, and we can take responsibility for our own behaviour, both past and present, forgiving ourselves for whatever wrongs we may have committed. We come to see that by moving through these hurts and these ‘wrongs’ we can learn and grow, gaining deeper insight into our own hearts.

The further we anchor ourselves in the freedom of our forgiveness, the less likely we are to encounter further ‘offences’ needing forgiving. Our forgiveness enables us to boldly hold out our hearts, and our wisdom becomes a shield keeping us from feeling wronged by anyone or anything. We come to see that we are all just doing what we can with what we were given. Of course we can do better, continuing to learn and grow from our mistakes, but there is no great rush, and quick forgiveness is the best way to move forward.

So now we can ask ourselves, is there someone I need to forgive?  Is there forgiveness I need to receive?  The silence which follows these questions holds the answers. Once fully received, this forgiveness gives us permission to live our lives fully.