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?

*   *   *

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.

🙂

The Beauty and Wonder of Being

It’s quite a gift just to be here. I am blessed to frequently find myself ‘stunned by wonder’. I have surely shared that before and I trust I will do it again. But it’s pretty wild just to be alive. In the midst of whatever the world may hurl at us there remains this incredibly calm centre – a spot to set up shop and just watch it all, even while apparently partaking.

It’s a party, this life. We’re all invited. None are judged. Nobody will be turned away from this door. It’s inside, so to speak. But all such distinctions fall apart here. Inside or outside, up and down, far and near – all of these words will be seen for what they are – just words. They are symbols. They attempt to express feelings. But we can easily become encaged by these words. Even enraged. When we take them too seriously, definitions will wrap us up. We choke ourselves for nothing. But I digress.

Though who doesn’t? Maybe I’ll carry on. Couldn’t life itself be seen as a great digression? So many of us get distracted from the simple truth in our hearts to chase trails of memories and expectations, reaching out for approval and acceptance, instead of just enjoying what we already have – everything! That feels like a digression.

But we can always come back. To where we never left. To where we already are. Though so many don’t see it. It takes time, it seems, for some of us to step out of our stories to see how free we have always been. And it can be an enjoyable journey, for sure, this life. But when we start pressing and squeezing it – scratching at the very heart of life itself – asking it to be something else, we are wrestling with what simply is. How can we fight reality? It seems ridiculous to even ask. It’s been said that the ultimate truth of life can neither be courted nor shunned. We can’t pursue it any more than we can avoid it. Consider that. How might this understanding lead us to live?

It’s all so simple that most kids already get it, only because they have yet to be convinced otherwise. It’s not to be figured out in our heads. It’s so natural. It pours out of our hearts. It’s just life – play – lila, some say. Yet so many of us are running around wildly bumping into ourselves, or walls we have imagined into existence, you would never know how fun it is. Just being here is a gift. Existence is inherently positive. Yet so many of us live in hiding, waiting and wondering why. It’s as though we’re hoping to break through to somewhere else.

It’s already all here. Patience and process is a part of that, too, mind you. So we can be very forgiving with ourselves as reality becomes clearer and clearer to us. A tree doesn’t struggle as it grows. It may lean and creak in the breeze, but it lets life unfold. A river rolls along as it is allowed, as it is able, demanding nothing. Whether growing wider or deeper, or once in a while running dry, it goes with the flow.

Our intellect, seen as such a gift (which it is), comes with a flip-side; it is an unruly master. Much better to let it serve. Come back to the centre – our heart-centre – and let everything stored up pour out. Then the silence can guide us forward. It may be wise to stop once in a while and check in. But know that life is supportive. Trust it and you will be shown the way. Humility is unavoidable on this path. Walking without it leads to a fall. From there we can dust ourselves off again and carry on.

Walking toward the light, we can set everything else down. Love is tending itself.

Light

Guess Who’s Back?

This has been quite a cold season. I hear a lot of people have been hit hard. Apparently I’m not the only one who was laid up for more than a week. And word on the street is that it can pop up again even after it’s gone. I had a few days of bronchitis in the wake of my cold. I figured that was the final wave. And it seemed to be the case for a week or more. I was back to full strength and more or less normal activity, eating what I usually do, and then BAM! Guess who’s back? The pesky old cold. I thought it was completely gone. I don’t know if it’s a different bug or just one more wave of the same. Does it really matter?

I must say I am taking it well. I don’t have an intense fever as I did before. I am not achy. But my throat is swollen and it hurts to swallow. I even wonder if tonsillitis may have been triggered this time around. I am still producing a lot of that thick yellow stuff every morning as I cough wildly upon waking. (Too much information?) At least I am getting it out of me. I feel like I am taking it all in stride.

I hope this isn’t taken as a complaint. I’m just rambling away here, getting whatever this is out of me, not unlike a cold expels whatever it needs to. I’m not wrestling with much. I accept the process as it is, and I even stop to appreciate the body’s natural healing intelligence. I am doing what I can. I am resting more than normal, gargling hot salt water several times a day, drinking honey-lemon-ginger tea, chewing garlic once in a while and eating a lot of soup.

Today, however, I opted to make a juice. It had been a while since I had done so and I felt like having some concentrated nutrients. I juiced a bunch of kale and spinach, one cucumber, twenty carrots, one bunch of celery, six apples, one lemon, one grapefruit, some ginger, and added a healthy spoonful of turmeric after it was all done. It was quite a project. It took nearly three hours altogether.

I cleaned everything up once I finished and poured myself a pint of powerful immune-boosting juice. I sat cross-legged in a large comfortable chair to enjoy it. I rested my whole body, which had been up and active for several hours in grocery shopping and juice preparation, and I immediately felt the juice doing its work. It was as if I could feel the juice spreading throughout my veins. It was a rush. I sat in a semi-meditative state and let my entire body fall into rest. I could see so clearly – my awareness was incredibly broad, and yet single-pointed. It swallowed everything – thoughts, my body, every sensation. It was quite a reboot.

Sitting here writing (having taken a break mid-stream for another hot water salt gargle) my throat is still sore, but I don’t mind. It’s doing what it needs to do, and I will help it as best it can, largely by staying out of its way. I don’t feel contagious. I feel like things are just in process. So I will let it work. And I might drop in to a doctor if this persists much longer.

I’m off to Toronto this week and I am happy to be checking in with my family and friends there. It will be Family Day holiday in Ontario next Monday, so it will be nice to share it with family. I will be writing to you from there next week. And then we’re off to a family wedding later in the week. Should be a fun one.

Well, there is another off-the-cuff blog post. Nothing profound to share today. Just what’s what.

For the moment, though, I am going to enjoy a nice healthy glass of juice. Why don’t you join me? I wish I could share some of mine through the computer…

Juice

(That’s just a stock image… 🙂 My juice is green…)

 

Expectations

DANGER-expectations

I have likely spoken of the dangers of expectations before. It is something I am well aware of, having learned time and again (often the hard way). And yet I continue to catch myself building expectations fairly regularly. Fortunately, I tend to choose gratitude over guilt or anger these days, glad to at least catch and discard them. But I still get side-tracked now and again.

Even with the best of intentions, I find I can build up a subtle narrative and then watch myself slip back to reality with a hint of disappointment. Last week, for instance, I wrote what I felt to be my best blog post in months. Having followed my blog’s recent traffic trends (encouraged by steady growth), I was excited that several new readers would get to enjoy the wonderful piece I had put together. Excitedly, I imagined the wave of peace and love that might spread out from my inspiring message. Instead, readership dipped down to the lowest I had seen in a LONG time – many months. I couldn’t help but laugh at myself as my expectations were exposed. The high I had felt came crashing down to the ground. I didn’t feel discouraged or anything, but just humbled again. Back to reality.

All I was trying to share was a bit of wonder at the mystery of life, encouraging others to honour life’s balance and beauty, accepting little miracles and big obstacles alike, growing in spite of uncertainty. I figured that would be something to spread. I hadn’t been particularly proud of my recent posts, having rattled them off the cuff rather quickly and without much thought. But this one came out with a feeling of purpose and clarity, expressing my feelings and ideas in what I felt to be a beautiful way. So it seemed natural that others would engage with it also.

I don’t pretend to know why the post went largely unnoticed (generally speaking, I don’t invest energy in assumptions), but I immediately saw an opportunity to practice what I preach and simply let it be. I could accept it and move on. A couple of days later it occurred to me that I might use it as an example for my next blog post – THE DANGERS OF EXPECTATION. So here we are. I admit that a hint of my bringing it up today is a hope that some may be curious enough to look back and read what I am referring to. HERE’S ANOTHER LINK TO IT! 😉

But whatever it may affect on the surface – enabling some to trust their lives more deeply, empowering others to step up to face a challenge – I know that the real value of life, the quiet space we share in the depth of our hearts, remains untouched. This is a good thing. Honouring this pure, untouched part of ourselves can free us to be who we are and to express our hearts more deeply. Granted, it can be tricky to lean back on the ineffable, but in time we may come to see that it actually holds us up, along with everything else. By exercising courage in the face of doubt we can create habits of faith and bravery, paving a way to living lives of substance. Paradoxically, this substance often enters our lives via a realization of life’s impermanence. What is there to hold on to?

We are here. It is now. This we know without ‘needing to know’. This is too true to break down. This is where to invest our attention. No need of endless cycles of expectation and disappointment. Of course we can continue to learn and grow, letting mistakes inform our continuing attempts to connect, create and express, but we can become freer to lean out and make mistakes in the first place. This is a sign of a healthy heart.

So that’s it for today, I think. I’m ready to rest.

Happy Monday all! 🙂

Catch you next week…  Any topic suggestions?

Recovery

Recovery

What a week.  I’ve been in bed for days.  It’s no way to live.  Not in the long run, anyhow.  I’ve watched an awful lot of movies and slept a lot.  It’s a luxury.  I know many don’t have the time to be as sick as I’ve been.  But this bug just wouldn’t quit.  Even now that it’s done, it hasn’t quit, exactly.  It left bronchitis in its wake.  It feels like I have butter in my lungs.  When I breathe deeply you’d swear someone was shaking maracas.  When this cold got going, I thought being sick might be kind of nice for a couple of days.  Cuddling up in bed with a few movies and some soup seemed a relaxing recipe.  But here I am more than a week later – my energy back, the fever gone – and I am still in recovery.

Maybe it never ends?  Recovery.  Is that such a bad prospect?  Never-ending recovery.  I suppose it all depends on context.  If we’re in it together, helping one another along, I think I could get behind it.  We could have a few laughs along the way.  It reminds me of a quote by Ram Dass, “We’re all just walking each other home.”  That image comes to mind quite regularly.  There is something very true in it.  And this process of healing, like life, is often a few sloppy steps forward followed by one or two back, or maybe even stopping for a rest on a bench.  As long as we’re walking together, trusting the path, does it really matter where we’re going?  Whether we’re guided by some distant star, or simply the hand we’re holding as we walk along, isn’t the moving forward what matters?  I don’t really know.  Just musing.

Does the road to recovery go somewhere?  It sounds silly, I know, but is recovery a place?  Was there some past state where no illness tread?  What are we trying to recover?  What are we trying to recover from?  I really don’t know.

Recovery.  Now I am sitting here wondering about the word.  Recovery.  To RE-cover.  I don’t know about it.  It feels too much like covering something up – hiding.  To re-cover our wounds.  I much prefer DIS-covery.  Let’s break down all the walls and see what’s ticking inside.  That sounds more fun.  And honest, even if a bit reckless.

*   *   *

This blogging is a funny thing.  Here we are, talking to ourselves, many of us begging for attention.  If you pull the frame back and look at the big picture, it’s what we’re doing – chattering away to ourselves, hoping we notice.  So many of us live such isolated lives that we need to reach through these machines to have contact with life.  I’m not judging the internet.  It is neither good nor bad.  It is merely a tool.  But perhaps looking at it will help us make sense of it.

Some people make a living blogging.  Good for them.  Many offer content of real substance.  But many are out there just making noise.  Anybody who does a bit of blogging, however casually, has likely had their page ‘Followed’ or ‘Liked’ by various ‘professional bloggers’ looking to share their empowered lifestyle and offer opportunities to cash in on website clicks.  We look at their pages and wonder about the legitimacy of their claims.  But what are they actually saying?  Are they simply generating buzz and traffic so their sites will make more money?  This seems to be the case with many of them.

I guess I got thinking about this because I noticed a blog I “follow” asking for money.  It was one of the first blogs I ever followed.  I followed him because he was following me.  He found my page and liked it.  I thought he must have appreciated the content.  Now I realize he was likely just drumming up more traffic for his own page.  He has more than 100,000 ‘Followers’, and in his current campaign he has had only 8 donations (in over three weeks), totalling just over $100.  What does that say?  These ‘Likes’ and ‘Follows’ feel rather flimsy in this light, don’t they?

Why are we running around chasing our tails?  We so easily get caught in the trap of seeking attention, forgetting first to check if we have something to say.  I’m not claiming to be any better than anyone else.  We’re all in this together.  But I know that no amount of ‘Likes’ or ‘Follows’ will bring any lasting satisfaction or happiness.  It’s an inside out job.  So let’s stop accumulating and chasing things outside of ourselves.  Take a minute.  Take a breath.  Feel your heart.  See what’s already here.  (I’m reminding myself…)

As for this entry, I’m not looking for attention, or happiness.  I just started typing and this is what happened.  I wanted to honour my commitment to write a Monday blog.  Here it is, in all its raw, rambling glory.  It was supposed to be about recovery.  Maybe it is.  I’m still working on it.

🙂

Here’s a nice little song about recovery.  I highly recommend it: New Buffalo – Recovery.

It’s January Fifth!

The home of the J-5 Crew!

January 5

It turns out I have a whole bunch of friends born on this day. Two of my best friends share this birthday (and incidentally, they also share the names of my parents). We are going to head out to celebrate it tonight. It seems there are a few other cool cats who share birthdays today. A couple of my favourite random traveller buddies from my years on the road share this birthday, too. One of my current roommates is a fellow J-5 Crew member, as well as my Aunt, which I only recently learned about.  My cousin is due to give birth any moment, as today is her due date, so we may well be adding one more groovy soul to the J-5 Crew!

And that’s where my head has been at today. I thought about today’s full moon and wondered if it might give a wee boost to the baby waiting to jump out and join the world. Many suggest that the heightened energy of a full moon can offer a nudge to mothers-in-the-making. I just hope that everything goes well, whenever the young one joins us.

I was out for a swim this morning with my Godson James and his twin sister Josie (as well as their mother, my good friend Michelle).  They are just over a year old now and they were loving the swim in the shallow (and slightly warmer) waters of the nearby kiddie pool. I love being around learning. I love learning myself, of course, but in general it is a great energy to be around. Discovery. It can also be scary, which is why so many of us grow up and shut ourselves off from the raw power and potential of the unknown. We would rather be ‘safe’ and ‘stable’ than expanding and exploring. This is understandable. But I think we would all benefit from a deep dive into the murky waters of mystery once in a while.

It looks like this will be another quick Monday blog…and wholly off the cuff, as my holiday ramblings have tended to be. It’s dinnertime now and I am soon heading out to help a friend move some furniture. Then off for some J-5 birthday celebrations (and perhaps a Gold Medal celebration for the young Canadian hockey players…) I am heading back to Montreal in the morning and getting back into my work routine. It’s been a lovely break spending time with my family but it’s time to return to work.

I hope you all embrace the opportunity to grow into this New Year and dive into the unknown. Let it challenge and change you. You will only be stronger for it.

Happy Monday, Happy Full Moon and Happy Birthday to all the J-5 Crew out there!!!

🙂

Leisure of the Season!

Well. Here we are. In the thick of the season. December 22nd. I finished my 10-Day Vipassana meditation retreat yesterday morning and caught a ride with my roommate back to Toronto. It was strange to finally speak to these people I had been sitting beside, living and eating with for the past ten days, and I felt a lot of energy light up in my body, having become so sensitive to my insides throughout the process of intensive meditation. Ten hours a day for ten straight days. It can really put you through the ringer. But it feels great to come out the other side. Everyone is all smiles as ‘noble silence’ gives way to ‘noble chatter’. I would highly recommend anyone check out Vipassana for themselves.

I don’t think I will go on too long today. I just finished writing a long letter to a friend, having felt urged to do so during the silence of meditation. While there we are not permitted any distractions from the work at hand, so without pen and paper I found myself composing this letter to my old friend in my mind and I feel much better having put it all down. I told my Mom yesterday that Vipassana is almost like popping zits in your mind. I have also described it as bloodletting for the unconscious. Either description will do, as far as descriptions go, but only direct experience can really teach you anything.

Some might imagine one would emerge from such intensive introspection with grand insights on life, but I don’t feel like rattling off any of that today. I’ve been through enough of that for a few lifetimes, I suspect. It will surely still stir and surface from time to time, but right now I am just happy to be home with my family and eager to meet up with my friends. I came out of my 10-day sit with a deep sense of gratitude and simplicity, and further strength to monitor the vicissitudes of my mind with calm, detached clarity. We don’t need to take our own narratives too seriously.

After these day of quiet meditation (based upon the Buddha’s meditation technique) I didn’t even think it strange to head straight to church. Love knows no walls. I feel no contradiction between any religious tradition with love at its core. It’s all the same song. So after rising at 4 AM and meditating, the transition was surprisingly smooth as I found myself in the familiar pews of my home church buzzing with the wondrous music of the fourth and final Sunday of Advent. I grew up attending Islington United Church (my father being the Senior Minister there for 22 years now) and felt a renewed sense of blessing yesterday at the great gift of community and music we share there. I felt as if I was a tuning fork just vibrating in that pew. I sensed great communion with those around me. But it wasn’t in any magical or mystical way. Life is already magical and mystical enough without me trying to build it up with fancy language. We were just sitting there sharing the beautiful experience together very deeply, in complete simplicity.

This is a wonderful time of year for reconnecting with friends and family as everyone comes ‘back home’ for the holidays. Tonight I will head back out to the east end for some more soulful, groovy organ jazz at Sauce, just as I did two weeks ago before my retreat. Funky Monday is a strong draw whenever I am in Toronto. It will surely be a fine night.

So I think I will keep it simple, short and sweet today. I just want to wish everyone a lovely Christmas season, no matter what tradition you may come from, or what you may believe or celebrate. I don’t have trouble taking any excuse to pause and reflect on my blessings, no matter what the cue may be. Love has no story to sell us. It isn’t trying to convince anyone. It just shines like the sun, for one and all. Any chance will do to stop and receive the rays seems wise to me. I hope you let them in.

As I say to my friends this time of year, encouraging everyone to lean back and enjoy the calm at the ‘centre of the storm’, a hearty LEISURE OF THE SEASON!

Leisure

🙂