Monday, March 28, 2022

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, March 26, 2022 - Being in the Flow

In 1975, a man by the name of Mihály Csíkszentmihályi coined the term “flow” for observation in the field of psychology. It began for him as a curiosity years before. He noticed that artists had a tendency to become completely engrossed in their work. Painting or creating for hours, even days, on end. Sometimes not sleeping, rarely eating, or bathing. Not just disregarding, but ignorant of the mundane entirely. They somehow had an ability to achieve a near-trancelike state while performing a task which they felt called to do.

Many of us, probably all of us, at one time or another have experienced a bit of flow. A feeling of being so engrossed, so attuned with your task that even time has no real meaning. That’s flow. That’s being “in the zone.”

This sweet spot occurs when a particular balance is achieved. We are more engrossed by tasks that are just challenging enough to keep things interesting. An engrossing challenge doesn’t exceed our skills, it matures them. 

It’s like surfing a wave. Too far forward or back on the board and the wave exceeds our skill at riding it. We are thrown off and forced to take the time to swim back toward our confidence. Get back on the surfboard again. 

But when in the perfect position on the board, all things understand what to do, how to act, how to expand. We forget ourselves entirely. We are beyond the reach of any negative idea about ourselves. We are utterly in the present moment. We are at optimum. Tapping into a deeper portion of ourselves past the drama, past the mundane, and into who we truly are. ‘Who-we-truly-are’ is the one at the wheel. Just what the masters ask of us to accomplish through the practices they have been teaching us for thousands of years. It’s time to listen to them.

The truth is, historically, while spiritual masters have designed practices meant to attune us to the sweet spot, religion has nudged us away from this experience except when as an extension of our service or devotion to God. Only one type of ecstasy is allowed. 

But it’s easy to see why they fear your ecstasy. Being in the flowwhether in the moment during a particular task or throughout the entire landscape of your lifefacilitates an understanding of yourself as an independent connection to Source. No middleman required. There is no gatekeeper in the flow. If you figure that out, they’ve lost all their power.

It’s the reason why a message of unworthiness found so much value in medieval church doctrine. If you knew your worth, if you found the sweet spot on your own, you wouldn’t need them. They positioned themselves to be worthy on your behalf. That is a false teaching.

That is not what the teachings spoke. And that is why they burned and crucified those who spoke inconvenient truths. A dangerous thing to be a prophet.

But they are not the authority of our reality anymore. They never were. The flow is available to us in direct proportion to the throwing off of old ideas about our so-called unworthiness. It is a lie that was destined to self-expose. A light under a bushel is still a light.

Choose to place yourself firmly in the path of self-awareness. Know what it is you want from life. Recognize your talents and deliberately expand upon them. Cultivate opportunities and spaces in which to achieve flow. You are not only serving your own personal interests. You are ringing a bell into the heart of the Universe Itself.

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, March 19, 2022 - The Spring Within Us

Spring is the great overcoming. The acknowledgement of truth both within us and within the world. It is the awakening of things once dormant or seemingly lost. There are parts of ourselves which have been folded away, like sacred origami, preserved, ready for the day when enough light and warmth has reached into the tightened bud to call it out into being. 

This arrangement of leaves within a bud is called its ‘vernation’ from the latin vernal for spring. Vernal equinox. Veritas aequi. The unfolding truth of balance and equality. The reality of its own future, neatly folded inside. The flower, the leaf, the tree, even we humans, all begin this way. We feel as if we are unformed when truly we are simply yet unfolded.

I saw a documentary on origami recently and its technical applications. Things like going out into space, collapsible robots, and a fair amount on the art of contemporary origami itself. One point that was made is that the structure of the leaf already exists in the bud, but it’s folded so tightly, so precisely by nature that it gives the impression it’s not even there. But it was all there. Waiting for the Spring. The architecture of our success is already there. Does the leaf know the light will come? Does it worry until it does?

How much of that can be said about history? About the history we are living in right now? How we feel about the earth shifting beneath our feet composes the folds of our future selves. Don’t forget this feeling, as uncomfortable as it is. It is our sacred right to be here now. Our world is not failing. It is suffering the pains of growth. The times demand new thinking and new approaches. 

Sometimes we feel so powerless. But it is an illusion. We feel that we must take action, but we don’t know how, or we are afraid, or we fear that our actions are pointless. Be at peace. Let it be that we remember from time to time to just take a deep breath and push light into the corners. We don’t have to know what to do next. Let that action be enough. Don’t worry about what will happen next. If you just concern yourself with pushing light into the darkness, light will always know what to do next.

Close your eyes if you will, and imagine for a moment light as a type of substance which you can affect. Make it physical. A blob or a beam or a dot. Put it in front of you. Poke it. Affect it. Make it spin. Make it change colors. Make it move. Get brighter or softer. Imagine pushing it with your mind right into something you wish to bless. A problem, a person, a building, a group. Watch the light disappear into it and see what change takes place.

As we enter a new and beautiful season, let’s take advantage of the good feelings it creates in us and expand upon them. If you wish to program your brain to be attuned to abundance, for instance, pay more attention to the abundance unfolding all around you. The synapses which recognize patterns of abundance in our brains begin to form. When we pay attention to abundance as a concept we tend to attract it because in the process we also become more open to opportunities. If you believe that there is also an energetic layer which influences our ability to manifest, be it God or the Universe, this is how you connect with It. By thoughts and physical objects to assist our brains into reforming on the cellular level. Preparing ourselves for transformation in ways we cannot predict. Theist or atheist, it’s all the same. Thinking changes reality.

The spring is more than a moment when life renews itself. It is the physical object of our prayer for new realities. The spring is an opportunity to renew more than just the earth. It is our talisman for transfigurative change within us. An awakening of the deepest order.

We breathe the new air and we feel better after a dark winter with too little light. But what if we were more mindfully inhaling? What if, when we feel our most powerless, we choose to see the new air as more than simply oxygen and nitrogen with a bit of water vapor and a dash of pollution to remind us of our responsibilities to the earth. What if the air we breathe acts as a restorative symbol of a wider renewal? What if our very breath began to represent the renewal of the world and acts as a prayer unto itself? We have power we don’t use. We despair, but then our breath is in vain.

Dig deeply into the earth with your mind. Draw upon her for your own renewal, your own courage. There is no atom in your body which did not come to you from the earth. And before that, it came from the stars.

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, March 12, 2021 - Tell It to the Wellspring

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve evolved in my way of imagining That which we most often call “God.” I don’t say that as a declaration of increasing maturity. Rather, the various visualizations I’ve used, and the framework in which I’ve described God to myself, has become less anthropomorphic and human-like over time.

In fact, the way I view God now is not as a being at all. Even thinking of It as an entity doesn’t quite do the feeling justice. The feeling I have inside about God is that, primarily, none of us have it right. Not a single one of us can imagine the true nature, existence, purpose, and will, of God.

I am respectful of those who believe there is no God at all. I certainly can’t argue with them. For I have no more proof of It than they do. All of us have only religious opinions, no facts. Atheism is another way of questioning the nature of God. A pursuit which I highly regard. 

It has occurred to me recently, while pondering for the thousandth time the way to answer the question of God’s existence as it pertains to the suffering of children and the trauma of war, that we must not be framing the question correctly in the first place. 

Perhaps, if there is truly a benevolent God in, around, and above us, the benevolence would not be in the suffering, so much as in the withholding of interference. 

Personally, I believe in the concept of free will. To my mind, the argument that we are able to have an argument about it at all is proof of its existence. If free will did not exist, how could we have the freedom to debate its existence?

And there’s a very long learning curve to the gift of free will. Eons long.

I think the most we can hope to expect from God is accompaniment on our journey through the learning curve of it. It is less about allowing suffering then it is being witness to it. Our hands are held, not stayed, as we stumble toward the ultimate goal of using free will with genuine wisdom.

Free yourself enough to believe that bad things do not happen because of God, but often because of us. And because sometimes we must allow our child to fall, that they may one day run, unfettered. 

Believing this as I do, the way I have begun to “view“ the notion of a Great Central Spirit has altered away from a more humanized version to the way one might view the existence of parallel dimensions. Parallel, in this instance, does not mean side-by-side. It means existing in the exact same space but is yet distinct. 

Distinct, yet consubstantial with us. Of the same substance, yet unique. There is no line where we end and God begins, yet we are not the same. It compels my mind to remain unlimited. 

If one chooses to pray as a personal ritual, to What does one now direct those prayers? How do we think about That to whom or what we pray? Does questioning It bring us closer, farther, or perhaps more deeply entangled with It, just through the act of wondering?

This morning, I found myself praying to the wellspring. It was the first time I’d ever had that thought. But I found it incredibly useful.

The term wellspring shows up three times in scripture. Yet never as a descriptor of the divine. Only as heart, understanding, and wisdom. Certainly things which we ascribe to the divine, though. 

A wellspring is both a source and a portal. A transition point for the gathering of waters from various and minute sources, congealed into the beginning point of a spring. 

A wellspring is an energetic entry point into the vast network of underground rivulets and condensed moisture beyond our view or comprehension. 

Perhaps this way of thinking of It is useful to you. I deeply hope it is. But even more, I hope it serves as a framework for deciding your own image and visualization of what “God” might actually be. It’s more likely, however, that it is  the freedom to decide which is what will serve us best. We are free to construct an imagining that will not prevent us from growing alongside our notion of God. A good imagining avoids the pitfalls of concretizing God; of making it into a statue that represents only the heart of the artist who sculpted it, and only at the time of its sculpting. That is the secret caution within the concept of idolatry. 

This morning, as I prayed, I imagined my thoughts being directed toward the wellspring as a symbol of an entry point into a system which is beyond my comprehension, yet is always there for me, for my heart, for my understanding, and in hope of my increasing wisdom. The wellspring is the source of my own divine spark. The divining rod which finds the hidden waters. 

Friday, March 4, 2022

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, March 5, 2022 - Your Special Is Showing

We have arrived at an age when the specificity of our words is important. Now more than ever, it matters what we say. We get frustrated with having to say the right thing all the time. Political-correctness fatigue is real. We can forget to remember that the person we are speaking to is a human being with feelings and history and complicated reasons why they do the things they do. We are faced with so much when we face our neighbor.

It’s a challenge to see the sacred in another person when they smell bad or when they act strange or when they hurt us. It’s nearly impossible to commit to the idea that our worst enemies are equal to us in divinity. Because if there is divinity in the universe then there is divinity for all things equally. If there is none, then there is equally none. 

Namaskar is a Sanskrit word that describes a traditional act of bowing to show respect. It’s when we put our hands together in front of our third eye or heart and bow towards someone. Namasté is a typical verbal greeting when performing the act of namaskar. So, the word namaskar means to bow, but namasté means I bow to you. All the world falls away and there is only you and I. And you are special. It’s showing. In this single moment, I revere all that you are and will be.

In church we sometimes exchange the word amen for namasté at the end of a prayer. But they are not interchangeable. Think of what namasté implies which is different from the word amen. Our current use of the word amen means ‘so be it’ or ‘may it be so.’ It’s an agreement with what the prayer has just said. It’s a wish that all which has been uttered before it either come true or already is true. But when we say namasté at the end of a prayer or a thought we are declaring something incredibly powerful.

Namasté and amen are actually related. First century Greek historian Plutarch tells us that ancient Egyptians used the expression ‘ammon’ when they would greet each other, as well as when they addressed the supreme god. The word ammon means ‘that which is concealed.’ And because they used it for both people as well as the divine, it indicates they were addressing that divinity which is concealed in us. 

When we namasté at the end of a spoken thought in the place of amen we are declaring something about the speaker and listeners themselves, not just the words spoken or heard. When we say namasté at these moments we are saying thank you for existing. The divine spark in me honors and hears the divine spark in you. Amen. 

Namasté says, I honor your existence. I honor your intellect. I do not have to agree with you to know that you are as special and as sacred as I am.

When we perform namaskar it is an act meant to be done with deep feeling and a surrendering of the mind. It is a meditation unto itself. 

Namasté is a lifestyle choice. Because to exist in the state of it excludes criticism, judgement and pity. It gives permission for our better imagination to act on behalf of our usual tendency to assume the worst in people. 

How many times have you reacted harshly to something someone did only to find out more of the story later and realize that had the shoe been on the other foot you might have behaved the same? What becomes of your judgement then? What might have become of it had you first remembered that they are special? 

Sometimes we see people flying off the handle, freaking out, behaving disproportionately. There is no such thing as a disproportionate reaction, for the record. It is always proportional to something. We never know the history of what has brought someone to this moment. Allow compassion to fill in the blanks.

Namasté is a choice to read between the lines. To listen honestly. To engage with another human on the basis of an assumption that they are remarkable and utterly divine before they even open their mouth. And then holding on to that belief once they have. It’s a faith that everything they say is pure divinity, filtered through the difficulty of being human. But still very much divine. Allow even error and a lack of humility speak of the sacred to you.

Recognize your own specialness. Recognize the specialness of others. It will alter not only how you feel about the world, but along the human network through which we are all one, it will change how the network feels about you, too.

Friday, February 25, 2022

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, February 26, 2022 - The Physics of Saying Grace

I admit, I’m terrible at remembering to ‘say grace’ before a meal. Of course, that statement, in and of itself, is quite self-judgemental. For, after all, who says we need to say grace in the first place? 

Remember that, despite those who’d prefer we obey without question, questioning has value too, so long as it is done with an open mind. I’ve always been curious about the physics behind religious obligations. I approach them with an assumption that there’s some potentially intrinsic human benefit to be discovered.

Often, when exploring various rituals, traditions, and ceremonies, I remember the things I’ve learned about quantum physics. Granted, I’m no expert, but some of it is quite rudimentary and accessible to even a non-scientist such as myself. 

In particular is the evidence that an observer’s expectations influence the outcomes of atomic particles. That seems hard to believe, but it’s proven to be the case. Atomic particles behave differently when observed, and when the observer (typically a scientist of some kind) has an expectation about the behavior of the particles.

This has implications much larger than most of us have the capacity to perceive. But at its most basic level, we know for a fact that the building blocks of our physical reality are vulnerable to our desires. That’s huge.

It brings to mind the work of scientists like Masaru Emoto and his experiments with water. His scientific methodologies have been brought into serious question, so it’s important to take it with a grain of salt. However, his work does configure into what quantum physics already proves to be true.

Essentially, Masaru Emoto’s work focuses on the formation of ice crystals in water samples that have been exposed to various thoughts, music, and other non-physical experiences. The ice crystals, frozen after their exposure to the above, appear to form in line with what one might expect. That is, water exposed to ideas like “you make me sick” created ice crystals that actually looked like a virus; asymmetrical and unattractive. Water exposed to beautiful music or ideas like “I love you” formed beautiful and intricate symmetry in their crystals.

What’s interesting to me is the possibility that the experiments showed something perhaps different from the scientist’s intent, yet quite relevant nonetheless. I suspect that the samples conformed to his expectations rather than to the environmental stimuli he presented to them.

In other words, he expected the crystals to show elegant symmetry when exposed to love and music, and so, because these things begin at the atomic level, they did. 

Granted, this is only my theory, and I have no way to prove it. But the implications of what we do know scientifically about an observer’s expectations support the idea.

So, how does this connect with saying grace before a meal? It’s about two things. One is the physical benefit of appreciation and gratitude, and the other is utilizing the physics of our expectations. 

If we conclude that the process of stilling our minds for a moment and choosing to experience a brief period of appreciation and gratitude before we eat might soften our emotional state, perhaps align even the physical reality of the food itself to our benefit, is that worth the effort? Does that attitude literally change things?

I believe it does.

I believe that there is enough evidence regarding the effects that appreciation has upon our physiology and that our expectations have upon matter to conclude that the act of saying grace, through whatever tradition you choose to say it, indeed does have a literal, physical benefit.

So what does saying grace look like? What form should it take? Must one believe in God or some other higher power to enact it? To the latter, I’d say no. We do not have to believe in God to say grace. As to what form it should take, it depends upon what puts you at ease. Being uncomfortable likely works against the process.

An old friend of mine used to simply hold hands with those present, regardless of their belief or tradition, close his eyes and contemplate all that went into creating the food that was in front of him. The processes of the sun and the earth upon it, the farmers who grew it, the people who sold it, the hands that made it. He felt gratitude and appreciation for it all.

He then mentally blessed the food itself. He imagined it doing wonderful things inside him. Making him heal, making him glow, making him happy, making the molecules line up and click into place. All in silence. He’d then give a little squeeze to the hands he was holding to signify it was time to eat. The whole process occurred in less than a minute.

Add the saying of grace to your personal set of daily rituals. I’m going to try to do it more as well. It might just live up to my expectations, after all. 

Friday, February 18, 2022

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, February 19, 2022 - A Bone to Pick

 A long-held pet peeve of mine has been rearing its prickled head a bit more than usual lately. I’ve gotten into a few religious debates with people, both online and in person, about the problems with making concrete interpretations. 

To assert that something is true and factual, and that others must also believe it, despite that it cannot be proven, for instance, to a court of law, or by repeatable scientific processes, is both irresponsible and dangerous. Great harm has occurred through the misuse of scripture in this way. 

Now, this is not to say that some things people hold to be factual yet remain unprovable aren’t true. There are many likely true but unprovable facts out there. How does one prove love, for instance?

One could say we prove our love through our actions. But is that definitive proof that love exists? How does one point to love? Or measure it? We could point to actions which we deem loving and declare that to be proof of love itself. But is it?

To say “I love you“ is not proving the existence of love either. In fact, it doesn’t even prove the existence of my own love. My declaring it to be so does not prove it’s true. It is just my testimony. 

Yet practically all of us factually believe in the existence of love. And that’s a good thing, of course. The problem arises, however, when we declare something which we personally believe to be true as an indisputable fact; sometimes to the point that one should even be willing to risk their life to defend it. 

Does that sound reasonable?

Now we jump to the question on the existence of God. I personally believe in what people call God. I believe in a higher power, larger than myself, who/which is the central unifying force in the universe. I also believe that love is not only at the core of It, but is all of It. 

And what if I told you that you had to believe in my version of God because I said it was factual and because I could find various scripture which supports my claim? Potentially, I could locate dozens or maybe even hundreds or more people in the world who would join me in declaring it to be a fact. I could start a church based on that idea, couldn’t I?

But have I presented any facts? Would my claim be valid simply because I hold it to be true?  

This is where the lesson of humility comes in. If we can first acknowledge that there’s no way we as humans could know everything there is to know in the physical universe, or beyond, we might conclude that we rarely have any basis for making a definitive statement about virtually anything. Certainly not about God.

Some people have a hard time with that. Some people require fundamentally concrete ideas which they can personally hold to be true. And because of a lack of humility, they then need that truth to be co-validated by other people. Sometimes at great cost. 

But a more humble approach to faith would recognize that others don’t need to believe what you believe, in exactly the way you believe it, in order for it to be okay. Because the truth is, it is never true that any two people believe exactly the same thing. We often come close to others; close enough that we may find ourselves to be part of the same general community. But like a fingerprint, my belief will never be exactly the same as another’s.

That’s probably the only provable thing about faith. I’m certain that there’s a way of scientifically demonstrating that no two people think exactly alike about the Ultimate Reality. I can’t conceive of the scope, creativity, expense, and oversight that would be required to undertake such a scientific survey, however. 

So when we are looking at scriptural passages, for instance we would do well to remember that a thousand years from now people might look upon our printed words of today without realizing that the words sick, wicked, dope, lit, and chronic can all be used as the highest of compliments in today’s vernacular.

Whether you personally would use them in that way, is beside the point. They exist in print, and therefore could be interpreted many years from now, out of their historical context, out of the realm of understanding of what is meant by them in their use, but interpret them literally, nonetheless. 

That’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to making definitive statements. We should add a bit of humility to our language. We should add the words “I believe“ or “it is my hope that” to our ideas when speaking about them to others. 

When you think about it, to declare anything religious or spiritual to be an undeniable fact is a form of idolatry. And you are the God you’re falsely worshiping. 

Friday, February 11, 2022

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, February 12, 2022 - The Function of Ecstasy

It’s funny the words we see all the time and use regularly, yet when called upon to spell them, we blank. 

When I decided to write about ecstasy I misspelled it. I could have sworn it had an X in it. 

Which made me laugh to myself at the irony of it because we do often equate ecstasy with X-rated things. Perhaps it revealed a bias in me. 

Conversely, when one describes having an “ecstatic experience,” many first think of religion and spirituality, or a view from the mountaintop. 

I would argue that, at some level, they might all be the same thing.

I say this by way of making a belated New Year’s resolution for myself. And perhaps suggesting one to you as well. Have more ecstasy this year. A lot more of it.

The word ecstasy comes from the Greek ekstasis meaning to stand outside oneself; to leave one’s body. I also read that it was a removal from one’s “proper place.” Ouch. That almost seems like religious judgment against potentially religious experiences when put that way.

Ecstasy is also described as a rapturous experience where one leaves one’s body to experience epiphany, enhanced connection to Spirit, and insight into the oneness of all existence. Is that improper? Hardly.

One might say we have a complicated relationship with the subject of ecstasy. But what is our real actual relationship with ecstatic experiences? How do they affect us physically and emotionally? Is there a difference between different types of ecstasy? Does the brain register a difference between sexual, environmental, and spiritual ecstatic experiences? Science says it does not. 

There is actually a field of study on the effect that religious and spiritual experiences have on our brains. It’s called neurotheology. During intensely religious or spiritual experiences, generated by meditation, speaking in tongues, or trance-mediumship, the brain undergoes a transformation that shifts its focus from the frontal lobes, which regulate attention, language, and behavior, to the thalamus, which regulates the flow of incoming information. 

One could argue this to be evidence of something outside of ourselves engaging with us more fully. And while there’s room for that perspective, there isn’t enough definitive evidence to confirm it.

Suffice it to say, that we experience ecstasy quite differently than our normal walking life. We temporarily forget ourselves, and all of our attention is given to the experience itself. 

What might we conclude from the available facts? While it’s hard to say with any definity, we do know that biologically, our body and brain chemistry is altered to the point where new perspectives often become possible. That, in and of itself, makes it worthy of consideration as a potential pathway toward making a change for the better in our lives. 

Many of us feel that we need to make a change now. Our recent global challenges make existential reevaluation an inevitability. We don’t exactly know who we are anymore. Many of us have thought we knew ourselves and our desires quite well. Only to find that as the earth shifts beneath us we are suddenly wanting different things, or feeling depressed, unfulfilled, underappreciated.

What role might ecstasy have in guiding us toward whatever it is that will help us to resolve these new discrepancies of identity?

These are all fancy words and terms that often confuse us when it comes to the practice of just feeling better. Mainly because the process of feeling better is a confusing one to begin with. The ambiguity of our language to describe it belies the inner confusion we feel. 

But that is the brilliance of seeking ecstatic experience. It is beyond words or understanding, yet it is accessible to us. It has the capacity to create change within us that we cannot predict or understand, or even foresee the need. We often don’t know what we need when we feel depressed or unfulfilled, or anxious, in order to feel better. 

Ecstasy is a temporary removal from that which frustrates us. And in the process, the soil of our emotional state is tilled and replanted with something we might never have thought to deliberately ask for. 

Ecstasy is a surrendering to something outside of ourselves. It may not be religious, or even as profound as the words we read from great poets. But each of us have opportunities to experience it and make profound use of it in the process.

So the advice here is to deliberately seek ecstasy. As well, to take whatever ecstatic experiences we might already enjoy, such as sex or nature, and lean into them more fully. Mindfully. With an expectation that something within us is being altered and can be made anew. 

Even the simple act of joyfulness is an opportunity to be remade. We might not understand the mechanics of it, but we don’t need to. Lean into it. Foster new opportunities for it to exist in your life. That act alone will transform you.