Thursday, January 25, 2018

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, January 27, 2018 - A Pinstreak of Light

    Humanity’s relationship with and understanding of God is based on a limitless supply of limited information. All we know of God is what we can see through the keyhole. It seems impossibly dark in here. A bright light is definitely on in the other room. All we can see of it, however, is the narrow band of photons which miraculously hits the impossibly small target of our eye.
     It’s not much information to begin with. But worse, we’re all trying to see through the same keyhole at once. Crowding around it. The sides of our faces pressing hard against one another. So many trying to see. To verify. Each of us gets so little. Just a thin pinstreak of light. But our slender beam is entirely our own. No other eye can see through the opening at the exact angle we can. Just like no two views of a rainbow are exactly the same. What each looks like depends upon where you’re standing. In fact, each rainbow is in reality a series of individual rainbows in an amount exactly matching the number of eyes looking at it.
    Will you criticize your neighbor for not standing where you are, or seeing exactly what you see? Would you criticize them for nothing more than simply not being you? Your pinstreak of light is yours alone. So is theirs. Humility is remembering the fact that none of us holds all the truth. Confidence, a.k.a. peace, is being okay with that fact.
    Sometimes we have to learn the same lesson over and over before we really get it. We are ignorant. But we strive. How do you feel about your own ignorance? The limitations of your own pinstreak. Can you be at peace with it? Spiritual logic suggests as we become nonresistant to our ignorance we become receptive to wisdom. Let go.
    Don’t resist your ignorance. Better to make good use of it with the attitude of a beginner’s mind. It’s easier than trying so hard to have all the answers. Philosophy tells us peaceful minds have a tendency to attract peaceful environments. But what’s really happening is that a peaceful mind sees the peace which was always there. A peaceful mind sees through the darkness, sees beyond it, rather than looks at it.
    It might be useful to imagine that on some level you already know everything’ but just can’t remember it all. If we have deduced that we are eternal spiritual beings having a finite human experience, is it so much more of a stretch to imagine that our eternal selves have been around the block a few times? Might know a thing or two? How much wisdom do we really possess?
    Maybe life is like a corn maze. On the ground all we see is corn in all directions. We feel lost, but it’s an illusion. For when we look from above, we understand. Is the full knowledge of our souls truly lost to us, or merely veiled while human for a purpose we don’t understand? A corn maze we think is not of our own making, but we would be wrong.
    The best way to perhaps connect with that eternal knowledge — at least a bit more of it — is to simply acknowledge it’s there, and that it’s yours. Perhaps that collective unified body of knowledge, inside of which we somehow maintain both individuality and unity at the same time, is what we have chosen to call God. Heretical or not, the thought is fair. If true, even partly, we have only to tap into our unknowingness to access It.
    We know more of the solar system than we do of the sea. And yet we swim. We are driven to the water because we are made in its image. We do better when we respect and honor the sea than fear it. We feel encouraged when we acknowledge that it sustains us, ignorant though we may be fully as to how. We give thanks for its continuing abundance and the light which reflects from its surface.
    There is so much more that we do not know. Since it’s impossible for one person to know all things, we are compelled to work together. We are designed to both teach and learn. Our pinstreak of light may be our own and it’s all we get. But perhaps there is more than meets the eye.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, January 20, 2018 - Uniform Perfection

    I am fascinated by the concept of holiness. First, I have to say that I do believe some things, places, even people, can accurately be referred to as “holy.” Still, I expect the concept to hold up to scrutiny. What does the word holy actually mean? Who, or what, confers holiness? Do we correctly infer God’s favor? Do we assume God more deeply approves of this person or that? Upon what criteria? What’s the checklist of “holy person?” What about holy spaces? Who or what decides these things? The answer can only be: People.
    People declare holiness. They deem it to be on the authority of an outside higher power, but how can anyone confirm that? If God is as mysterious as tradition tells us there is literally no way we should maintain certainty. Divinely inspired or otherwise, holiness is a human construct. Yet that doesn’t mean it’s less special, sacred, or even less divine.
    Why do we try so hard to read God’s mind? Why do we insist upon delving into circular logic around ideas by which we can only ultimately become frustrated? We must know it’s impossible to determine God’s definition of holiness. And while some may feel comfortable in believing that information has already been given, there is no widespread consensus. All think they are correct. Most disagree with each other. The debate is perpetual; to the point that some might consider the debate itself to be the divine purpose. That we may first talk to, and then with, one another. Wouldn’t an all-knowing God recognize that things have been left vague enough to argue about it? The religious paradigm claims we are fully known and loved. The vagueness is there on purpose.
    The fact may be, in contemplating holiness we can’t see the forest through the trees. We are so close to the argument it’s nearly impossible to see the truth. Perhaps it would be gentler to assume holiness from a different angle. That of uniform perfection.
    Most world scripture, and science as well, claims that all of existence is connected on some level. Together, all reality makes a single, unified whole. The definition of holiness is actually whole-ness. Completeness. Togetherness turns out to be the single defining characteristic and intent of holiness.
    While we may struggle with declaring any one person or idea to be “perfect,” we should attempt to make the leap of faith necessary to conclude the whole-ness of existence to be holy, perfect. Complete. Warts and all. Especially perhaps the warts. Each component contributing to that overall perfection in its way. The push and pull of humanity, an engine of forward motion, perfect in its overall design, proving generation by generation that the arc of history does indeed bend toward justice. We might faithfully imagine that the definition of perfection exists deeper than our actions, deeper even than our thoughts. It exists in our participation with the divine intent.
   From here we may now conclude any number of things. I personally have one, overarching belief that the center of all things is love. Thus, at the risk of sounding over-poetic, my personal worldview is through love-colored glasses. That’s how I determine my conclusions. I ask, ‘What does love say about this?’
    Love says that you are loved exactly as you are. Love says you are forgiven before you even ask. Love says if you don’t think you’re perfect, you don’t know the meaning of perfection. Love says when you look in the mirror, “Objects are holier than they appear.”
    Our inherent perfection is in the fact that we as humans, and all living things, are self-correcting. From the cellular level to the emotional, we orient ourselves toward improvement. Satisfaction. Adaptation. Happiness. The pursuit of which we have even written into law.
    This is the intelligence in our design. Whatever it’s origin, the biggest hint of the divine in all life is that it seeks to perpetually evolve. To raise itself up. I don’t have to know the origins of divinity to be grateful for the miraculous. Nor must I subscribe to the belief that God considers me insufficient. The very meaning of the word namasté is an acknowledgment of the divine in everyone. Uniformly. Those who say we are made in God’s image while at the same time devaluing Its creation, are doing the description of God a disservice.
    Togetherness is what makes it all work. Religious traditions always ask us to gather together in order to experience the holy. Why might that be? Because we only really see it when we are together.
    Make no mistake, you are whole. You are holy. You also happen to be perfect. That’s why humans are able—and authorized—to recognize holiness in the first place. It takes one to know one.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, January 13, 2017 - Go Through the Doors

    What are you afraid of? Think about it for a minute. Sort through the obvious ones like losing a loved one or of dying ourselves. Get to the weird ones. Or the unexplainable ones. I personally know someone who is afraid of red nail polish. Get to the fears you don’t really mention to anyone because you hardly notice them yourself. I still flinch when driving through intersections and it’s been many years since my very minor accident.
    I wonder about these fears. I wonder what they can tell us about ourselves. I think of them like symbolic dreams, but worse. We often know exactly what our fears mean. And yet feel so powerless against them. I’m sure scientists have come up with multiple categories for different types of fear. I deliberately chose not to look them up.
    Many years ago I decided to have a little ceremony on the bow of a cruise ship I was singing on as it headed east from the island of Ibiza where we had spent the day. It was a new moon. A good day for new ideas and new beginnings. The celestial equivalent of the beginner’s mind in Buddhism. I had something on my mind.
    I bought a cheap ring in a tourist stand that afternoon. I bought it for the purpose. It was rose quartz, carved into a plain, smooth band. I could have bought the same anywhere back in the states, but that wasn’t the point. I wanted a symbol. Rose quartz seemed an inexpensive but still authentic option. The heart stone.
    Late that night, after the show, I stepped out onto the deck and walked around toward the bow of the ship. Just a level below the bridge, I held the ring in my hand and said a prayer into the warm wind of the Mediterranean. It was really more of a promise. I made a commitment to face my fears. No matter how small.
    Until writing this it had never occurred to me how I had spent that earlier day in Ibiza. I spent it taking pictures of doors in the old city. I was fascinated by them. I imagined I should continue to photograph doors around the world and make a coffee table book. Ibiza’s were inspiring. Heavy wooden doors held with elaborate iron fasteners. Sometimes ornate, sometimes plain. Always fully functional.
    They were each different colors and styles and yet they somehow made a cohesive whole. Looking at the photographs side by side they would be easily recognizable as siblings. But perhaps the doors are like old married couples. The longer they spend together, the more they begin to resemble one another.
    It makes me wonder what was going on in my mind that day. I know I was contemplating fear. A subconscious awareness that something was holding me back. I already knew I was going to say my prayer that night. I shopped for the ring on purpose. Yet now, looking back, I find it curious that I should have been so absorbed by the doors.
    I’m going to venture to say that my subconscious was recognizing symbols of something I had already decided to do. Open doors and look inside them. It’s fascinating now to look back and see how my mind was preparing itself. I never realized until this very minute.
    I can say for a fact that after that night on April 15, 1999 my entire life changed. In ways too numerous to say here. I can also say for a fact that I directly owe that night to the life I have today. And I encourage you to do as I did. In your own way.
    Look for closed doors and imagine opening them. It’s perfectly okay to be afraid. Just don’t let that stop you. Separate the big fears from the small ones and start there. The fears themselves will create the order, but that’s okay. They end up giving themselves away in the process. Fear has no intelligence of its own.
    Don’t just look at the doors, go through them. All shall be well. In fact, better than well.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, January 6 2018 - Living By the Sword on Social Media

    Spoiler alert. Life is what you make of it.
    I have to admit, my experience on social media is almost entirely positive. I am aware of what else is out there besides positivity, but I spend my energy on letting that pass through and around me rather than battling it. Here’s a hint: If you’re angry, you’re battling it.
    I have developed a rule about my participation online over the years. Every time I break it, it bites me in the butt. I guess that’s what ethical standards are all about, however. We draw lines in the sand that we sometimes fail to remain behind, but from which we always learn. Even if rubbing our sore backsides while we’re doing it.
   The rule is Be Kind. Perhaps that degree of simplicity sounds cliché or contrite. Naïve, even ignorant. Many have accused me of being decidedly unrealistic about life. They are welcome to their opinion. But like I said before, I have a positive experience on the Internet. Why might that be?
It’s pretty simple. And yet so difficult to follow. Simply say only kind things. And even when you disagree with someone do it with kindness. If they can’t return your civility, just don’t comment any further. Exit the conversation. Pride and ego are the only thing preventing you from it.
   But also be an advocate for kindness. When two people online are disagreeing but at least one of them is using kind words, step in and complement them for their kindness. You don’t have to comment on the subject they’re debating itself. Comment on their good online etiquette. Do it without criticizing others who are hostile. Solely put your energy and words and fingertips toward what you want more of. Thank you for civility. Everyone else will see, and they'll learn at the same time. Part of being kind is teaching kindness. We all have the capacity to be kind, but we don’t all have the tools.
   Likewise, don’t name call. Don’t ridicule. Don’t harass. Don’t troll. If you see something you don’t like it’s better to turn the other cheek rather than simply give it more energy. Because that’s all it really does. Your anger only empowers the negativity which bothers you. Empower something else.
There’s a line from scripture which cautions us that those who live by the sword also die by the sword. It makes good logical sense. And we know it is a truism because it works in nearly every facet of life. It’s a metaphor. And it isn’t simply about those who murder get murdered.
   We may also notice that the sword is both a symbol of death and of strength. Except they who live by their strengths do not literally die by them. But they are changed forever nonetheless. One of my favorite symbols in world spirituality is that of the death card in the tarot. It does not mean physical death. Just the death of the old you.
   Do something different online today. Spend your energy on the things you want more of, not less. Seek out positivity and turn your back on negativity. Don’t engage it. Let the island of discontent get smaller, at least by one.