Leo Tolstoy on God

LEO TOLSTOY ON GOD: "When you look inside yourself, you see what is called 'your own self' or your soul. You cannot touch it or see it or understand it, but you know it is there. And this part of yourself--that which you cannot understand--is what is called God. God is both around us and inside of us--in our souls.

The more you understand that you are at one with God, the more you will understand that you are at one with all His worldly manifestations."

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Bloom Where You're Planted

I read with great interest Business Insider's Jeff Bezos story (Jeff Bezos' Early Life and Rise To Wealth) on his rise to becoming the second richest man in the technology world. Despite his seemingly unattractive temperament, and like him or not: the guy was honestly made for great things. What comes clearly through is that he took no safe roads and mostly traveled along those much less traveled.

In short, the guy is brilliant and whatever he focused on, even early in life, he's turned into gold. 

Wish we were all made that way. 

The thing is...many of us would want to think that we can duplicate Bezos' path and get the same results. This would be so wrong.

I strongly believe in destiny. 

Some people are born to achieve great things, despite whatever they may have lacked in the circumstances surrounding their early lives.

Steve Jobs of Apple, inc., also was similarly destined for a great life. Jobs, like Bezos, had a biological parent (s) who disappeared early in his life. Yet, he rose.

Circumstances are just that: conditions which we can maintain, transcend or sink below. It's all about what's on the inside and no one, nor condition, can take that away from you. Believe that. 

Oprah Winfrey, certainly, will always come to mind
 when we look for examples of people
who have transcended the circumstances
of their birth.
Some people may try to bury your light through disparagement, hostility and just pure evil acts. But they won't be able to stop you from achieving your goals, and letting your light shine, unless you buy into their garbage, 
You must allow the force that is within you to lead you through every obstacle other people place in your way, every hateful act or word they direct at you. What is important is that you must be running your own race and not looking over your shoulder to see what another person, who is set up to run a different race, is doing.
That's obviously the key to winning in both Bezos' and Jobs' trajectory. They blazed their own path! They created their standards for excellence and allowed those to lead them into the highest levels of achievement.

As I become more focused on observing my and other people's walk through life, I see far too many people trying to compare and contrast their success with those of others and always seeking an advantage by wanting to know "how."

Sometimes, the other person is not even capable of explaining how they arrived where they did...they just followed the road. 

They followed their destiny!

Creating a well laid out path for many may be their way of achieving success. But it also may stifle their ability to create, especially outside the box they have so carefully built for themselves. Then, they look over at the other person and see the JOY in their hearts and souls and wonder why they have not been similarly blessed.

We know at a certain point in life that our fortunes can rise or fall based on the steps we take in each moment, at every cross road. The best we can do when we have to make a choice, then, is to follow our heart.

That's where we will be rewarded with JOY, instead of emptiness: by following our heart...which leads to our fulfilling our destiny!
And following our hearts will not always be an easy thing to do. There are many who followed their hearts and were led into failure after failure. The key here is to know whose dream it is that you're following.
(See this: "Successful People Who Failed At First." 

"Do what you love and the money will follow," is an adage we often hear.
I was reminded of this when a few months ago I encountered the brilliance of a truly dynamic and joyous young woman coming into her stride at Accenture. Without a doubt I see the trajectory of light shining above her, and based on the little I know of her, I know she will continue to follow it. This young woman truly loves Math and figuring things out. (I believe she holds a degree in Systems Engineering.) What impressed me even more than her brilliance is the loveliness of the spirit that also shines through her. 
Go Alexandria! 

Even if we're a tree of a different color and are not similarly blessed with brilliance, we should get to know own skills, abilities and talents.

Once we ascertain those, I urge you to bloom where you're planted. 

Your light, your joy of life, will always shine through, leading you to a path of good. 

All images of the lit tree were taken
at a recent "Roars & Pours" event at the
Phoenix Zoo.
And if at the end of your days that light is all you could contribute to the world, then ...
"so mote it be."

That was your destiny!


Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Art of Storytelling: It's Spiritual!

Credit: Geology Page. Check it out on Facebook. 
In the art of storytelling, we've simply got to forget ourselves! You may wonder, quite appropriately, what does storytelling have to do with a spiritual blog. Follow me to the end. 

I recently listened to five great storytellers at a night of storytelling, hosted by my local city's public library.* It was a wonderful night of listening. 

Those of us in the audience laughed, wiped away tears, pondered and wondered in awe as the stories were told. Each storyteller had a very different story to tell. Each storyteller fascinated us, coming from different walks of life: one was a newspaper reporter; one was an activist; another, an archivist; and yet another, a retired school teacher. Then there was also an attorney and school board member making up the fifth in the group. 

The topics of the stories ranged from: an angelfish; a son named "Ethan;" a special woman, Patti, with her even more special doll-child, "Grace," and a zebra, "Iris;" a disabled sister; and a day rallying for the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday in Arizona. 
After hearing their stories and as left I the meeting room, I reflected out loud to my companion: every person has a story to tell.

Yes. We all do. We each have a story to tell. 

The reason most of us can't tell our stories is that we don't know how to get ourselves out of the way!

Our ego blocks us.

Seeking to tell the "perfect" story, yet wanting to cover up any flaws we believe our honesty would convey: we often can get tangled up in ourselves, and the story gets lost. 

At the heart of any good story is honesty. At the heart of any good story, too, is a willingness to laugh at ourselves. At the heart of any good story is our ability to put aside our own vulnerabilities. At the heart of any good story is a deep caring for our audience to get what we're sharing. Those requirements come from the heart...and also the spirit. 

By putting aside ego, we can reach out to communicate directly and heart to heart with our audience. 

I learned early on in the field of communications that the reader, i.e. the audience, is the key concern we should have when communicating information. The reason a story doesn't get clearly written or received with the response we intended is that we sometimes forget that our story must also draw in our audience.

When we become cluttered in our own minds about all that we must say to be perceived as articulate and wise, we can lose sight of communicating the story in a real and touching way.   

Obviously, adult storytelling is not like telling stories to children. The stories we tell to adults must touch listeners' inner core, and in order to do so, we must forget ourselves in the storytelling. We must get lost in the telling so we can draw our listeners in with us. To do so, we must: 

1. Set the scene. 
2. Have a theme. 
There are several recommendations for telling the best stories. Here's an example of one pyramid.
3. Have a strong, core message. 
4. Leave the audience with something to think about. 
5. Leave the audience with a feeling that they could have been you.
6. Share from your heart.
7. Get downright personal. 
Heart listening is important in all communication
By the last point, I mean that literally. Tell the story in a way that people can see themselves in your shoes. By getting "personal," I mean share how you were feeling as the events in the story were unfolding, i.e. nervous, excited, ashamed, anxious, fearful? Sharing these emotions puts the storyteller at the same level as the audience; not above or beneath them. By sharing in this way, the storyteller is bringing our humanity together and saying, "it's happened to me, but it could have been you."
Listening with the heart is
important in story telling to
receive important feedback 

It's interesting that just before I was heading out to the storytelling session, I was chatting with a close friend. I was sharing a situation with her that she simply kept missing. We had to abruptly leave the conversation at one point, resuming after a 10-minute interval.

During that interval, I thought of why my friend was "not getting" what I was saying. As a trained spiritual director, I knew I had to practice "holy listening"  and understand what I could do to communicate my message better to her 
So, I totally disentangled myself, and thought of a new, more personable approach to communicate what I was saying. She easily got it then. I didn't say anything different, but I took more care by slowing down. 

Instead of talking assuming that she would pick up missing points, I began again with: "I know that my activities may be confusing to you. Here are the details."

I went point by point and took care to communicate, rather than assume she knew certain things. By caring enough for my friend that I communicate each point I would normally take for granted, she got what I was saying. I knew she appreciated me taking the time with her, as she basically said, "Thank you for explaining that" in the end.

Isn't it interesting that when I stepped into the audience at the library, the storytellers did not make the assumptions I did?

They did not assume that we would know any of the circumstances, details or emotions they were experiencing and feeling.

Step by step they took us through their story.

 Step by step they told their tales. 
Step by step we became engrossed in their stories. 
Step by step we felt what they were feeling.

Step by step they spoke, and step by step we heard what they needed us to hear.

Step by step...that's the Art of Storytelling.

Stained Glass Cabin in the Woods
created by Neile Cooper, stained glass artist
and jeweler
A night time view of the
Stained Glass Cabin
by Neile Cooper. 

Step by step... is how the heart embraces another. 

Step by step...we can forget ourselves.

Many artists, architects, sculptors, singers, dancers and others who build and/or create things in their work are natural story tellers. Look at the brilliant work of Neile Cooper, photographed on both sides. Tell me she does not have a wonderful story to tell with this "Stained Glass Cabin In the Woods" that she had built to celebrate her artwork?!  (See the full story here: "A Stained Glass Cabin Hidden In The Woods."  

The work of Spanish Architect Ricardo Bofill also celebrates his storytelling. (Architect Transforms Old, Abandoned  Cement Factory Into a Home. 
By getting lost to ourselves and going within our hearts...we can open up a whole new world to others, even as we open ourselves to the world.

Think about this. Start telling your story. 


*EDITOR'S NOTE: A special note of thanks to Liz Warren, faculty director of the South Mountain Community College Storytelling Institute, Phoenix, Ariz., and her team for putting together a wonderful evening of storytelling.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

It's All About Faith: Choose An Anchor, Not a Cross

Around this time each year, Christians reflect on the message of Jesus' life and ultimate death on the cross. This 40-day period of reflection, known as Lent, offers us a chance to do more than reflect. It offers us a chance to fast, i.e. to give up habits, behaviors and practices that do not benefit us. The intent of a fast also is to get closer to the Spirit of The Christ within us all.

Christians believe and know that Christ died on the cross. Many Christians then see any burdens or troubles they encounter as crosses they must bear.

 I have another idea: instead of carrying your cross when a challenge arises, look at it as a messenger of some aspect of yourself that needs to be healed, then set your anchor of faith down to lift you up to a higher level of being.
All religions Catholicism, Episcopalism, Muslim, Hinduism, Judaism or any other...help us deepen our Faith in a power greater than ourselves. These teachings help us to go beyond our limited views on life and about life to a greater understanding of dynamic force at work.

Without religion as a base, and Faith as an anchor we become steeped in our own ego-centered interpretation of things.
"Trust me"...most of the time we are wrong.
Ultimately, if we believe nothing else:  we must believe in a power...an energy...a spirit...greater than we are in our essence! 
Please forget those spiritual folks that tell you that YOU are God. Please. 
Believing that we are God can lead to lots of egocentric behaviors, as we've witnessed in many current world leaders....believing in their own innate powers to do and be whatever they choose to be with full violation of human decency and compassion. While it is true that we must believe that we have the power within us to do all that we need to do,  we should not  become steeped in this egotistical view. Eventually, we'd run into a wall.
Get this: we are... NOT... God!
As powerful as a wave in the ocean may be:
it is NOT the ocean 
Many beings love the presence of this Source within them and become confused and delusional enough to believe "It is I." Yes, it's "you," but it's not YOU. The presence and power of God that lies within each of us is greater than who we can ever be. The thing is we cannot separate from it and still be living. So, the truth of our being-ness becomes complicated.
Like a wave in the ocean: we are a one tiny manifestation of God, i.e. his presence and power in the world. Then...we are a mere one of "zillions," or a word that has not yet been conceived. 
Not one of us has God's full power even in the best manifestations of his essence. Become humble and like a little child and know that it's his presence within us that doeth any of the mighty works we claim to do.
"Believest thou not that I am in the Father, ad the Father in me? The words that I speak unto you, I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works." John 14:10
A wave in the ocean contains all the key ingredients of the ocean...
but...it's still a WAVE. 
Then we must anchor ourselves in the faith that this presence and power will never, ever leave us. Growing in our spiritual studies does not exclude us from trying to build our faith through the confines of some religion. In this case, I'm saying we should not  throw out religion because we've seen the extremes. Each religion offers some framework for decency, and they can help guide us into being "decent" human beings.
Indeed I'm seeing spiritual teachers who previously focused only on the spiritual now offering some new perspectives on Spirituality and being grounded in our physical selves as being "good people."
Deepak Chopra is author of "The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success,"
one of many of best selling books by this prolific author and spiritual teacher

Deepak Chopra, who wrote the recent book, "You are The Universe," writes in a recent piece: "How To Keep Your Faith Everyday"

"In other words, God is embedded in existence itself, including your existence. So you are to keep faith with consciousness containing divine qualities, and the place these qualities appear are the following:
in ourselves; in others if you see them n the light of awareness; in everyday events and in life itself.

"The qualities to look for are the following: love; compassion; truth; beauty; forgiveness; charity; wisdom and presence."   

Earlier in the piece, "How To Keep Your Faith Everyday." Chopra had written:

James Redfield is author of one of the most
popular spiritual books of our time:
"The Celestine Prophecy."
"All the world's wisdom traditions each that each seeker must find a path to the divine, and most of these traditions echo Jesus' words that the Kingdom of God is within, along with the Old Testament dictum, "Be still and know that I am God." These are clues to the action you can take, which is to go within every day, through meditation or other contemplative practices, and to experience the divine in stillness. Ths stillness is your silent mind. Your divine nature is the presence of awareness. According to this strategy, God becomes real as you come closer to your own source, pure consciousness."
And from James Redfield, we see this recent, important piece: "Has Your Spirituality Become Part of Your Ego?"

These authors and teachers, Chopra and Redfield, are and have been powerful leaders for many, including me, as I picked my way along the wide pastures of spiritual studies. But, if  you're like me and you've become saturated with spiritual reading and studies, the only place to go is within the silence of your Soul to be led. Then, through your very breath and your struggle to make sense of life in each of those breaths and the moment, you'll understand that life is only about the quality of interactions each moment of every day. The way to having a higher quality of interactions is by having some foundation, through the teachings of those who went before, in becoming a decent person.
This Lent, try to make things less complicated. Begin to see the roots of your Essence. See if you do not have something greater than yourself present within you each and every moment how you could have... would have... navigated some of the tricky passages you've taken in life...from babyhood to adulthood.
Once you find that core, tie a knot ...a BIG KNOT... in your center, so you never lose your place in life. And so that you know, without a doubt, that it is to this place within to which you can always return.
Have you got the anchor in place yet? No worries. Just keep reaching in...you'll begin to find that place.

Meanwhile, if you're still spinning around searching for that center by going to workshop after workshop, retreat after retreat, do something simple. Really simple.
Go to a church. Get to know and interact with the community. You may find that many of these church-going, seemingly simple folks, have more holiness than those looking within and seemingly journeying on a "spiritual path."
Some people got turned off of religion because of the politics surrounding some religions. If you are a true seeker, you would leave the politics alone. Ignore them and go to the core of the teachings. There are so many pearls in religious teachings. So many! While I do not espouse that you go too deep into far-fetched ad unrealistic teachings that don't offer any real solace but dictum: Do not throw out the baby with the bathwater! You will know if a teaching works for you, as it will because the practices should and will bring you peace.

Although I'm a Christian and celebrate the Holy Eucharist with gusto each week at my local church,  I respect every religion. Indeed, so much so that I was thrilled to be introduced to a book that serves as a mainstay in Hinduism: The Ramayana.

The book may seem like a far-fetched tale, but, oh, should you get beyond the fantasy of the tale being told, you will find priceless pearls.
This is a powerful book: I was introduced to The Ramayana
by a Hindu friend. It offered new perspective and deep insights
into the way we walk in life. 
It's been weeks since I finished The Ramayana, and often on many days, one of the lessons I learned from Rama, the main character in the book, or Sita, or ...come back to me teaching me about friendships, loyalty, truth, compassion, forgiveness and love, duty and honor. And whether the Hindus have different names, such as Dharma and Paativratya, for these attributes matter little. The teachings are beneficial for our Soul.

Rama and Sita are pictured here.
With spiritual teachings, we get much from learning about our spiritual selves. But if we do not couple this learning with some sort of religious teaching, we can get lost as we try to navigate our way through life.

Almost all religions are centuries ...centuries...old. (You can read about many of these religions on this blog by typing in the search bar.) The reason they have survived is because they are time-tested and offer truth. We should not turn our backs on our religion for "spirituality." We will end up getting lost.

It's wise to always keep a certain level of skepticism, but it's just as prudent to open ourselves up to other teachings beyond our own. Many religions are centuries old and the teachings and wisdom of each has been proven and time tested over and over and over again throughout many generations.
Don't be tossed around by the storms of life.
Hold on to your faith.
We know "for sure" that the winds of life will keep blowing around us, but once we stay anchored in our center...nothing i.e. no-thing...can toss us into the water to drown...unless we let go of holding onto our anchor and allowing ourselves to be tossed around. That's how church helps: by providing solid values and offering on to centuries-old teachings that have worked for many others before us.  

Hold on. Find your center. Tie a knot and hold on.
Tie a knot to your Faith.
Peace be with you during this period of fasting...this Lent.
Stay anchored in your Faith.


EDITOR'S NOTE: As a special gift to yourself, I recommend you reading...if you have not already done so..."The Shack." Then, go see the movie, now in theaters everywhere. ("The Shack"). You'll be glad that you did. 

Personal Authenticity: "To Thine Own Self Be True"...

"To Thine Own Self Be True and it must follow as the night, the day, Thou canst not then be false to ANY man."
William Shakespeare.