Friday, January 30, 2015

I'm Not Perfect

“If you get the inside right, the outside will fall into place. Primary reality is within; secondary reality without.”

Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment

I’m not perfect.  I’m not even good sometimes.  I can be rude, fearful, petty, prejudiced, and whiney.  I can be easily provoked and overly sensitive.   I imagine or create problems that aren’t even there.  I can, and often do, let my baser emotions take over.  And the worst of it is that I repeat the same behaviors and have the same thought patterns over and over. What, then, do I do?  What, then, do we all do?  Tonight I found an answer and it started near Wal-Mart.
I had been with my girls a good portion of the day.  I was tired and I was spending more money than I’d wanted to spend.  Obviously I love my children, but there comes a point in my day when I need a break.  I wanted to go home and write.  I wanted the constant noise to stop.  I wanted peace. Then I remembered that while external peace is wonderful, internal peace is far more valuable.  Then I remembered something else.  I remembered The Power of Now.   I’ve read or listened to that book at least a dozen times.  I have it on my phone, on my iPod, and as collection of CD’s.  I have at least two copies of the book.  I once said that if I could only have ten books, I’d want two copies of The Power of Now in case I lost one. 
Every time I listen to it I get something new from it, or I am reminded of something from the book.  Tonight I remembered to focus on the inner body.  This is a wonderful practice that can be done at any time and anywhere.  All one has to do is focus inwardly.  That’s it.  Breathing slowly can help, but it’s not necessary.  It will come naturally.  But that’s what I did.  I focused on my inner body.  Soon I began to feel joy welling up in me, coming out slowly, like a fountain that had been plugged.  Then without being able to help it, by the time we got into Wal-Mart, I started smiling.  I noticed how hilarious and beautiful my children were.  I noticed people were friendly and smiling.  A young couple seemed so content with each other.  If there was anything wrong in that Wal-Mart, if there was anything that wasn’t beautiful, I didn’t notice it.  I felt so much love.  I also felt, without an ounce of self-condemnation, foolish for fears I had had earlier that day.  I just smiled at that person with my name and body who was so afraid.  I told him that his fear wasn’t necessary. 
Most of all, I felt love.  Love for God.  Love for others.  And love for myself.  I felt, as I always do when my fear is gone, a deep love for my Muse.  Just reflecting back on this moment, which was only a couple of hours ago as I write this, I feel more joy.  I feel my longing for my house on the beach without feeling anxiety about not knowing how I will get there.  I feel content.  I want to read and write.  Most of all, I feel gratitude, for God, for those who love me, and for all the goodness in my life.  I also feel, and again without an ounce of self-condemnation, some sadness for all the time I’ve wasted in being negative in any way, especially in complaining in word or thought.
The other day I was at another store and I became aware (after listening to The Power of Now on my iPhone) of all the beauty around me – flowers, trees, the colors of all the fruits and vegetables, even the different patterns in the sidewalk – it was this huge grand tapestry of artwork and beauty…at a grocery store!  Beauty is all around us.  And it’s with us and it’s in us.  God’s presence is available almost instantly.  In fact, He never leaves us.  We just aren’t always aware of His presence.  More accurately, we are rarely aware of His presence.  Peace takes practice.
I’ve been reading or listening to The Power of Now for about seven years.  The first time I read it, reading only the first few pages, I was overcome with this incredible peace, unlike any I had felt in years.  It lasted for a week without stopping. This peace was, I believe, a gift from God He wanted to get my attention, not through suffering, but through joy. He wanted to let me know I was on the right path. 
I’ve been on that path ever since. 
I’ve also strayed from it often. 

But I’m aware of my straying more often, too.  I know how to get back on the path.  Peace takes practice.  In my case, a lot of practice.  But I know how to Get Started and how to Keep Going.  I know I can be an alchemist and transmute the lead of despair and fear into the gold of love and joy.  I can do it.  Anyone can do it.  And knowing that makes me even more peaceful…and maybe perfect.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

It Would Be Easier....

“lest hand or courage be dulled by disuse…”
Augustine – Confessions

There are times when it would be easier to do little or nothing.  There are times when it would seem easier to do just enough to keep from getting in trouble, just enough to pass the class, just enough to keep the job and nothing more.  It would be great to come in exactly at 8:00 and leave exactly at 5:00.  There are times when it would be nice to watch TV or play an online game or surf the Internet instead of working on one’s Purpose.  More specifically, and more personally, there are times when it would seem easier if the Muse hadn’t selected me to do what she asks me to do.
It would seem easier…but it’s not.  It never is.  It’s less effortful, but it’s not easier.  To ignore my Muse makes my life harder.  To ignore her means to ignore the possibilities that life offers.  To ignore her means to ignore – and miss – opportunities for a better, happier, fuller life.
Forget easy.  There’s no such thing.  What there really is, is a choice, to pay now or pay later.  Paying now can be less convenient, take more effort and planning, and force us to stay focused.  But it also creates a sense of joy and enthusiasm.  Tonight, for example, I worked on something for work, that I absolutely did not have to do.  And it’s possible that no one will appreciate what I’ve done.  I worked on it when I didn’t have to do so.  And as I did so, I felt joy, enthusiasm, and an excitement for my work that I haven’t felt in a while.
The principle of paying now is very simple, very basic, not original with me, and stated more effectively elsewhere.   Sir Isaac Newton says that bodies at rest tend to stay at rest.  But too much rest becomes ennui, apathy, and entropy.  Eventually, it becomes a spiritual, emotional, or physical death. 
Here’s a very simple way to look at it.  When I get home at night, I have some choices to make.  I can put my clothes away or drop them on the floor.  I can wash the dishes or leave them in the sink.  I can get the morning coffee ready or I can do it in the morning.  Whatever I delay eventually has to get done.  Otherwise I create stress, more stress than if I just do it now.  I also create a disorderly environment and this wears on me after a while.  I have more tolerance for disorder than some (translation:  I’m a bit of a mess sometimes), but sooner or later my soul requires order.  It’s always better when it’s sooner.
So we write or work or create when we don’t have to, when it’s not always convenient or (initially) easy.  Eventually, our lives revolve around this, because it is the reason we are here, or at least one of the reasons.  The ability to Get Started and to Keep Going is one of the reasons I’m here.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Am I on the Right Path?

“Am I on the right path?”
            This is a difficult, if not impossible, question to answer.  Whether one is looking at faith, career choices, education, or personal choices, there always seems to be room for doubt.   Have we made the right choice or choices?  Are we doing the right thing?  I don’t mean morally right, but the most correct and most direct way to reach our goal or goals.  For that matter, have we even chosen the correct goal?  In Eat That Frog, Brian Tracy says we are drowning in a sea of good choices.  And even if we do choose the correct way, have we chosen the correct way of reaching it?  Here are some other questions to make things more complicated.
Why do I want this?
Is the reason for wanting what I want valid?
Why is this taking so long?
Are there signs that tell me if I’m doing the right or wrong thing?
What do I do when two people I trust have different opinions about my goals?
Why do some people seem to be immediately successful while others struggle for months and years and some never seem to find success at all?
Why is it so hard sometimes?
I don’t have the answers to all these questions, but I have some guidelines that have helped me.   These are guidelines not rules.
First, how does it feel to have that goal?  Does it feel good?  Does it create enthusiasm, a sense of direction, and peace all at the same time?  For example, when I think about my house on the beach and what I want in it, I feel all of those things.  It’s not just the house itself, but what it represents to me – the culmination of all my current goals and the beginning of new goals.  
I have often used my initial feelings to help me clarify what I want and don’t want.  If, without thinking, I feel excitement for something, it’s probably worth pursuing.  On the other hand, if the idea makes me cringe then, though I might try to talk myself into trying to feel otherwise, it’s probably not a good idea.
Another indicator is the ability to deal with difficulties that arise on the way to reaching a goal.  Difficulties can be indicators that we have chosen the wrong path.  Or they may be tests of our resolve.  What am I willing to endure in order to reach my goal?  How long am I willing to wait?  How much time will I put in?  What am I willing to give up? 
In the book of Job, after the title character was hit with more troubles in one day than most of us will experience in a lifetime, including financial ruin, health problems, and the death of all his adult children, Job’s “comforters” said his troubles were a sign of God’s displeasure.  God was indeed displeased – with the simplistic thinking of Job’s friends, but not with Job himself.
On the other hand, troubles can be a way to cause us to seek God and the right path.  After 9/11 church attendance went up significantly…for a while anyway.  I knew a man who had trouble finding work for several months.  One day he went to his pastor and his pastor told him that he had strayed from God and needed to start walking in faith again.  This rang true for the man and he started reading his Bible again.  Three days later he got a job. 
Normally a story like that would drive me crazy, because it’s too pat and too simplistic, but sometimes the answers really are very simple.  Sometimes.
Even good events aren’t always signs of being on the right path.   Once, when I thought I was supposed to go to China to teach English as a missionary, I got a postcard from a student in China saying they needed American teachers.  This card came the very next day after making the decision to go.  This was, to me, a sure sign that God wanted me to go.  How could it be otherwise?  Things turned out differently.  The missions group that was pursuing me so enthusiastically suddenly stopped calling.  I finally had to call them to find out that they didn’t want me after all, and I never really knew why.  I know now that this rejection may have been best, but it was confusing and painful at the time, especially because the signs seemed so clear.
Other people aren’t always helpful either.  A decision to move forward in life can create different responses from those we love. We assume that our closest friends want the best for us, but when two close friends have opposite responses, it can be confusing at best and painful at worst. 
In the end, my final decision comes down to just that – a decision.  I decide that to take a certain path and to not deviate from it, no matter what.  So, despite fear, doubt, less support than I’d like (but the right support from the right people), despite waiting, despite a busy schedule, troubles, or fatigue, I Get Started and I Keep Going.  I still want my house on the beach.  I still want to spend my life with my Muse.  This is what feels right, and though I have had troubles, they haven’t felt like signs of God’s disapproval.  They have felt like tests of character and resolve.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Requirements of Purpose

If you have chosen a goal, to be an artist, a writer, to get a promotion, to buy a house on the beach, to be a better parent, or anything that will make life better for you and for those around you, the following is required:
A clear, concrete, and developing visualization of goals
Written goals
The ability to choose what is necessary in order to reach your goals
The ability to eliminate or reduce what is not
Daily attention
A schedule
Attention to detail
Supportive relationships
The ability to be alone
More studying
Control of your emotions
An ordered outer world
An even more ordered inner world
The ability to politely, yet firmly say “no” to just about everything that doesn’t align to stated goals
The ability to take anything and make it part of your work
The ability to discipline your thought life
Still more studying
Dealing with distractions as quickly, kindly, and as effectively as possible
A sense of fellowship for others who are doing their work
Compassion for those who aren’t
Reliance on God
Love for your work
And yet more studying
Peace, outer when possible, inner as much as possible
A mentor or mentors
The ability to accept or ignore criticism
The ability to accept or ignore being ignored
Still a little more studying
The determination to do your work even if you don’t have all of the above
The ability to Get Started and to Keep Going.