Saturday, November 25, 2017

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, November 25, 2017 - Revel in Gratitude

Don’t just be thankful. Remember to thank. It means something. It completes the circuit.
At this time on the wheel of the year we honor, recognize and exhibit gratitude for the concept of abundance. We point to it. We sing about it. We thank God for it. We congratulate ourselves for our ingenuity and work ethic. We are glad. We smile. We are relieved. We feel satisfaction. We feel safe, because we now know the harvest is good enough to survive the coming winter. Blessed be.
We actually need this time of recognition. And we are missing something when we forget to do more than merely eat turkey. As humans made from the molecules of this planet we are not separate from it in any way. The atoms of our bodies come from nowhere else. Even if it was the stars before that. What happens to the planet, happens to us. We contract with the soil in the winter and expand with it in the summer.
What sets us apart is our rituals and celebrations. They have purpose. Some are about what we give to the earth. Some are for what we receive from it. They are a response to how the cycles of the earth make us feel. Because there is no line where the earth ends and we begin. The earth doesn't fear these cycles. It doesn't need to be comforted. But humans are a bunch of hot messes and we need each other to get through it. We need occasions and rituals of gathering like Thanksgiving, and Samhain, and apple fairs, and Octoberfests. We need to be reminded of the goodness of the earth every year at this time and spread it out in front of us for a moment. Take stock. Count blessings. Give thanks.
We forget so quickly. Despair is patient. It waits for us to forget. We need Thanksgiving to help us remember goodness and be grateful for it. Along with the December and New Year holidays, and then the February candlelightings, we leapfrog through the winter, one festival at a time, consoling and warming ourselves until spring. Take this first touchstone and be glad for it.
As the ground becomes still and rigid we have a tendency to do the same. As the light disappears we feel the same pull to hide and be quiet. To slip into the primordial fears we earned in the early days of our species. To balance the deep pull of those instincts, we need to sit in the sphere of abundance and gratitude for a while and luxuriate in it. To overeat a bit, to walk the razor’s line between satisfaction and gluttony. And lose.
Remember gratitude. Be grateful for every mouthful of food you eat. Think about where it came from and how good it is for you. Don’t spoil the love it was made with by resenting it before you even put it into your body. Don’t worry about getting fat. That’s not for now. But you can still celebrate abundance even if you’re being moderate about it. Relish life.
You have the ability to bless. Do you know that? And it’s a real thing. Bless everything that enters your body. Every vitamin. Every pill. Every meatball. Every sip of water. Bless it. Say thank you for the goodness of this water. Take a sip.
In your mind, highlight the components in the water that will nourish you, and ignore the rest. That’s not to say be ignorant of them. But don’t let them control your experience. Or your benefit. Or your gratitude.
Does my attitude matter? The water is going into my body one way or the other. Does my attitude affect the way my body welcomes it? The state of the things we consume matters. There are studies which illustrate we have an energetic effect on our environments based on how we feel and what we say. What are you saying to your food as you eat it? Are you giving thanks for its existence? For its ability to strengthen you? For its deliciousness? For the love it was created with?
That is the teaching.
That is what we are asked to do.
We are invited to revel in the emotional state of gratitude. We are encouraged to be glad. We are asked to not only be thankful, but to thank. It completes the circuit.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, November 18, 2017 - The Mechanics of Forgiveness

This is a big one. It hits us below the belt, forgiveness. It feels like giving in, sometimes even like losing. We preach forgiveness because we don’t know how to practice it. If a smoker tells you not to smoke, are they still right?
We don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the mechanics of forgiveness. How does it function? How is it achieved? What is its purpose? Is it a goal, or a state of being? Why are we taught about it?
Much of western spiritual practice hinges around the idea of forgiveness, of letting go, being at peace. We think the act is limited to forgiving other people for things they have done to us or our loved ones. If I asked you–are you a forgiving person?–your first thought would likely be of someone who has wronged you and how you responded to it. So, are you forgiving of other people? Is that all we are expected to forgive? Others? How do we learn to do that?
In Christian, Jewish and Islamic scripture we are taught that God forgives us our sins. We are also taught that God knows us deeply enough to already understand exactly why we do the things we do. It knows our hearts. Is there a line where God ends and we begin? How can that be?
We are taught to ask God for forgiveness. Is that really the end of it? We are being encouraged to participate in an act of verbally expressing our remorse and acknowledging our wrongdoing as well as its consequences. It takes practice for a civilization to learn how to acknowledge wrongdoing. Rituals assist us in developing relational practices. God says to us: Look to me first so you can develop the practice of learning how to truly see others. Learn to see others as I see them. Learn to love each other as I love you. Learn to forgive yourself as I already forgive you. Nothing you ever do could make me stop loving you.
If there is a God, is It trying to teach us how to recognize harm and heal it? Is this part of the practice of saving us from ourselves? Is this part of the practice that eventually disrupts the cycles of violence in our world? Is the real reason we are taught to ask God for Its forgiveness of our transgressions so that we can learn to forgive one another's?
Now that we’ve been surfing the cosmos, let’s come back down. How do you feel in traffic? How do you feel about your health? How do you feel about your boss? How do you feel about commercials? How do you feel about the news? How do you feel about not flossing?
These are the real classrooms of forgiveness. These are the micro-aggressions we maintain against ourselves and others and things which silently erode our sense of peace as well as our ability to transmit it. It is in the minutiae of our lives that we best understand. We are our own best parable.
Forgiveness is a life practice. It is something meant to be practiced all day, every day. Yet do not be tempted to connect it with forgetting. We are not at all being encouraged to forget. That is a lie repeated by those for whom it is much more convenient when you don't remember their wrongdoing. Forgiveness is about growth from knowledge and experience. Forgiveness is the practice of wisdom. We either forget or we forgive. There is no and.
Notice how you feel. All the time. Wonder about it. Use your imagination to reach for a higher thought. That person tailgating you might really have to pee. What happens if you pull over rather than slow down? Have you lost something or gained something? Wonder about it. What does it feel like to not get angry in the first place? From what have you just saved yourself?

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, November 11, 2017 - What Is Prayer, Anyway?

    Why are we encouraged to pray? I know why religion says we should do it, but what’s the deeper reason? The reason that informs the doctrine. What’s the reason underneath religion’s advice? What is the intrinsic human need, or capacity, being addressed here?
    Not long ago I saw someone requesting prayer on social media for the victims of a recent tragedy. I see it often of course, especially lately. But on this one occasion, several people reacted angrily. They said prayer doesn’t help, God doesn’t exist, if prayer worked so well we wouldn’t need it now, etc. I understand where they’re coming from. Prayer often feels like talking to a wall. And it’s easy to blame God, or claim It doesn’t exist, because why would a so-called loving God allow for harm or illness or tragedy in the first place? Suffering is viewed as proof that God either doesn’t care or doesn’t exist.
    It’s worth noting that some of us have a very hard time with the loaded word, prayer. For some it has deep connections with an abusive experience of religion. Of being coerced into performing a religious act with which we have no understanding or connection. Or with the apparent futility of ritualized prayer we have struggled to memorize. Some are reminded of their anger with God for ignoring them. They have been led to conclude by the culture of praying itself that they didn’t believe hard enough. That they’ve failed. It’s implied that it is their own fault their prayers weren’t answered.
    A famous quote from scripture is “Ask and you shall receive.” But on what levels of our consciousness are we asking and receiving? I would think all of them. If scripture is hinting at a truth here, what is it? It can’t be as cut and dry as ‘ask and you shall receive’ or else I’d be a millionaire right now and my best friend would still be alive. Am I a failure at prayer?
    That’s where the flaw in the thinking comes. It must be that prayer doesn't work like that. We must be thinking of it too literally. Or following advice about it which is now outdated.
    In the metaphysical world the act of prayer is described through the philosophy of the law of attraction. Simply put, we tend to attract what we are putting out. It has a fairly logical ring to it. Scripture might look at this also as ‘you reap what you sow.’ Business would say ‘you get out of it what you put into it.’ Essentially, the mindset we maintain informs the view of our surroundings as well as what comes to us. Or what we allow to come to us.
    What happens when you decide something? When you decide you are going to have a job that makes you happy, or when you decide to get out of debt. What happens? I do not despair at the seed below the surface simply because I cannot yet see a green shoot. Still, I water. I do not give up. We spend so much time in a state of lacking confidence that we don’t even realize how often we sabotage our desires by giving up on them too soon. In my experience, when I’ve made a definitive decision about something and remain steadfast, I begin to notice slight changes in not only my attitude, but the attitudes of the people around me. I notice little coincidences and synergies that appear to align with the decision I’ve made.
Is this the act and answering of prayer? Perhaps.
Prayer may have nothing to do in particular with the existence of a deity. It may be that the belief in a deity gets us out of the way of our own self-doubt because we don’t realize how powerful and magnificent we have been created to be. We give credit to “something higher” than we are. As part of a learning curve, that’s fine. But we are sophisticated enough to realize now that we are a part of the great “I Am.” Not separate from It. As such, we should frame our desires accordingly. And believe one thing, if nothing else: We have been created to thrive, and given the power to accomplish it.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Hopeful Thinking- Saturday, November 4, 2017 - Recalibrating the Protest Movement

            We need a new approach to protesting. The word protest comes from two Latin words meaning public witness. It originally meant to make a public declaration, a solemn vow. But over time the word eventually took on a new meaning as a label of discontent. To protest came to mean a declaration against something, rather than for.
How did this happen? It would appear to be the polar opposite of its original intent. Even the prefix pro- implies to be in favor of. Some online sources say that the change occurred around the mid 1750s. But Martin Luther and others launched the protestant reformation in 1517. He was definitely protesting the Catholic Church in the way we currently define the word. Did they themselves refer to what they were doing as protesting, or did that come later? At what point in history did the word change from declaring something positive to resisting something negative?
Mother Teresa is famously quoted as saying that she would never attend an anti-war demonstration, but would accept an invitation to a pro-peace rally anyday. On the surface they appear to want the same thing. But they aren’t asking for the same thing. One is a declaration in favor of peace and frames its desires along those lines. The other is an unwitting cosmic request to perpetuate the systems that need more war to exist. It appears Teresa understood the true origins of the word protest, but more likely she religiously understood what Star Trek fans also know: resistance is futile.
As hard as it is to accept, to change something you must put it on your lap and love it right where it is. Love is what transforms, not hate. Not resistance. It seems I’m inviting white supremacists and tyrannical dictators for a good, long hug. Not exactly, but close. We need to rewire our thinking regarding the transformation of our world into the state of peace we expect from it. Excluding people and silencing voices—especially the ones we don’t like hearing—is the reason we are here in this uncomfortable, even painful, moment of history. We have resisted people along with their ideas and have painted ourselves into a corner with flawed methodology.
Of course our culture is built on a history of resistance. We have succeeded to a degree in displacing old ways by so-called protesting them. We have thrown tea into Boston Harbor and we have painted signs upon signs blaring our resistance. But our relative success has been in spite of our methods, not because of them. How much more peace is available to us if we could only recalibrate our thinking?
There is a church group I shall not name which publicly demonstrates nationwide God’s so-called hate. The communities in which they demonstrate react in a variety of ways. Sometimes with violence. But sometimes they do what world scripture actually teaches, they love their enemy. They surround hate with love. Literally. Protesters—in the original sense of the word—publicly declare their love and project it toward those who fester in hate by encircling the church group with signs and flags and songs of praise and love. They pray for those who are blinded by their fear of others and who twist scripture to justify their acts of hate. They love them right where they are.
Does this work? Maybe. Probably. But surely it prevents hate from expanding on that particular streetcorner any further. And for those who pro-actively test-ify in this way, how might they feel at the end of a pro-test such as this? Are their spirits lifted or are they bandaging their wounds? Because we all, those who love and those who hate, testify as an act of personal salvation always. We speak to save ourselves, to unburden ourselves, to be heard. This need is universal, remember that. But which thinking brings more love into the world?
We must listen honestly to those we would rather silence. They are always telling us a truth of some kind. The hateful few of our age are angry and afraid because they have been silenced. Their education has been cut, their jobs have disappeared, their healthcare has been used as a political pawn. And they have been manipulated by their own history. How else are they expected to react? What other tools do they have but their hate? Pray for them. But more importantly talk to one. Listen to one. You don’t have to validate their positions to validate their humanity. Listen to them. Not because they are correct in their hate, but because hate is only a symptom of deeper wounds. Read between the lines. Heal them where they are.
Send love to those who hate you. They just might get it.