Monday, February 25, 2019
What is it that really makes a difference in the world? What is it that changes something from an impossible situation to a perfect one? What is it that takes a few small, scattered rainstorms and coheses them together into a perfect storm? Does that one small updraft of air at just the right temperature and just the right amount of moisture in just the right location know that it will be the final ingredient of a super storm of incalculable power of both destruction as well as transformation? How could that little puff of warm moist air know its real destiny? It doesn’t know what it doesn’t know. But it knows that it desires something. It knows that, like everything in the universe, it seeks equilibrium with its surroundings. Equality. Equanimity. Balance.
We love to say that ‘one person can make a difference’ even though we never think we will actually be that one person. Is that something that we choose, or are we chosen? We usually think of that one person who saves the day as being of entirely singular force and presence. A superhero who was so powerful they could stop the speeding train all by themselves. We assume that everything was one way until they showed up and through the sheer power of their own individual ability to change things, transformed lead into gold. But it’s not alchemy we’re talking about. It’s not magic. It’s not superpowers either.
There’s a term used in both meteorology as well as chemistry. The term is: Saturation Point. In chemistry, its definition reads like this: Saturation Point is the stage at which no more of a substance can be absorbed into a vapor or dissolved into a solution.
That sounds a bit technical. Kind of dry and hard to put into context. But let’s think of it like salt and water. We know what salt water is. We know what it tastes like, what it feels like. We know the salty residue it leaves on our skin when we come out of the sea.
But if we were to place a bowl of fresh water on a table and slowly pour salt into it, we know the salt will dissolve. We can watch it happening. The water becomes a tiny bit cloudier as the little cube-shaped salt crystals slowly disappear. The molecules jumping off the salt crystal one layer at a time, shedding themselves from the little cube like peeling back layers from a square onion, until the cubes exist no more. They have become dissolved. Saturated into the solution of the water.
We can keep adding more and more salt until something special happens. Eventually the water in the bowl will not let any more salt dissolve. It starts to collect in the bottom of the bowl and just sits there, not knowing what to do with itself. It just sits there like a wet cat.
What happened? How was the salt able to dissolve at one point but then just stop? Essentially, it’s because the water had had enough. It was up to here with salt and would take no more. It had reached its point of saturation.
This is simple enough to understand, of course. It is not a stretch of our imaginations to picture a moment when the water had become too full. We experience it all the time when we overeat. That one french fry that tips the scales... and then we get heartburn. Or we suddenly feel so full that we are certain we will explode. What was it that made perfect into too much?
Going back to our bowl of salty water, which grain of salt was one french fry too many? Could we point to a particular grain of salt and say, “Ah, yes. That was the culprit!” No. Because even within that one grain of salt there are 1.4 quintillion atoms of sodium chloride. That’s a 1 followed by a 4 with 17 zeros after it.
Which one of those was the “one french fry” too many? Because that’s what did it. That one, single, beyond-microscopic molecule out of 1.4 quintillion changed the entire solution of the water. The water reached its saturation point because of one tiny molecular speck. Not saturated. Then, saturated.
What if that molecule had decided to stay home that day? Didn’t want to attend the protest. Didn’t want to sign the petition. Didn’t feel like voting that year. Didn’t think they mattered because they were so small that they alone could not possibly make a difference to something so large.
Pakistani teen Malala Yousafzai was 15 years old when she was shot in the head on her own school bus by the Taliban who were enraged that she not only attended school, but dared to publicly advocate for girls’ education against their strict version of sharia law. There had been many other women and girls who had already been shot, tortured, beaten, confined or abused for the exact same reasons. Many at the hands of their own loved ones. Dozens upon hundreds of women who wanted to learn, who knew it was their inherent right to be educated, and who were ultimately martyred for it in one way or another had gone before her. And yet Malala’s voice was heard over them all. Following her attack she would not be silenced. Here voice was heard around the world. For her advocacy of women’s education, in spite of the enormous obstacles against her, she won the Nobel Peace Prize two years later. At 17, she was the youngest ever Nobel Prize laureate.
Was she alone in her resistance? No more so than the little salt molecule who managed to create a saturation point in an otherwise enormous bowl of water. Malala was not alone, she was not the first. She was the one who tipped the scales. She was the one who was finally tall enough to see above the horizon of oppression because of all the women below her upon whose shoulders she now stood. But she still had to agree to stand up.
Rosa Parks decided against giving up her seat on the bus to a white man one day in Birmingham, Alabama in 1955. She was arrested and fined for it, sparking a bus boycott that served in part to change the segregation laws in this country. But she was not the first woman of color to say no. Rosa was not alone either. She was the one who tipped the scales.
Like Rosa, Malala had already been advocating for change long before the moment which changed here life. She had been preparing for the day when it would be her chance to do something that would change the tide of her culture toward a more equitable and loving society. If every little action they ever took or every new idea they ever learned were a grain of salt in a huge bowl of water, we now know which grains it was that created the saturation point.
What are you doing to prepare for your own saturation point moment? You may already be well into the process just by being yourself, just by following your heart, learning about what interests you, exploring places you intuitively feel you should be, seeing things that will germinate in your heart until their time has come for that one final choice which coheses them all into an action that changes your life, and quite possibly the lives of countless others. What are you doing?
What are you doing to recognize your own worth and power? Perhaps the question is really: What are you doing that prevents you from recognizing it? Because we all doubt ourselves. We all feel as relatively powerless and insignificant as a loving molecule of salt in an enormous and briny sea of fear and hatred. But we don’t know what we don’t know. We don’t know the depth of our courage when presented with a difficult choice. We often don’t know who has already laid the groundwork for us to step in a flip on the switch.
It isn’t just about doing things that hold the capacity to earn a Nobel Prize. Not everyone is called to that. It’s just about you really. About your life. Even a life that you think affects no one or nothing still affects you. Your happiness. Your satisfaction. What are you already doing that you haven’t yet put the pieces together to realize there's a trajectory starting to coalesce in front of you and you just haven’t realized it yet? Ask yourself what course you’re on. Wonder about the answer.
You are so much more powerful than you know. You have potential in you that only the Universe knows about. Believe that.
Both Malala and Rosa had their moment on a bus. A vehicle of transportation upon which many people can travel together at the same time, often to the same destinations. They were not alone. They were among people who wanted to go to the same place, but needed someone to help them chart the destination and guide them. Someone brave. Someone small. But no less powerful than the strongest among them. For strength has nothing whatsoever to do with power. Strength is sometimes just then act of showing up.
Posted by Wil Darcangelo, M.Div. at 8:52 AM
This is a message for the full spectrum of control freaks out there. You know who you are. There are many variations and degrees to the need for control. Some are more healthy than others. We all like to have at least some control over our lives. That’s natural. But do stay on the lookout for when it begins to disrupt your happiness. Even if you’re used to it.
If you begin to observe that your desire to be in control of everything is taking up too much of your time and joy every day, that’s a worthy observation to make. Good for you. Now be careful of how you go about soothing that. Attacking a control fetish head-on will never work. This is a part of our psyche that likes to stay broken. One needs to be a bit crafty.
I had a friend in seminary who used to laugh and say, “God’s got jokes. He sure does got jokes.” He meant that whenever we try to make a plan, only God knows what’s really going to happen. My friend evoked an image of a deity looking down from a porthole in the sky chuckling to himself saying, “Oh, you think so, do you? That’s a good one.” If there’s any truth to that scenario, I bet God is doing far more than just chuckling. Is it possible God could pee Itself laughing?
The point being, why try so hard to control life? Let it go. It shall not be controlled no matter what. Quit building dams of sand and just go with the flow a little. Start by sitting on the shore of a stream, in either reality or visualization, and let the current drag your legs a bit. Let them feel the pull of the water. Just notice it, take a deep breath and reach toward any thought of gratitude. This is a literal suggestion. This is the way―and there is no other―to deliberately program your brain to allow for the realities you want.
We have to be gentle with the control freaks inside us. They can too easily take charge of our inner-narrative if we tempt them into action. When engaged, they can control our perception of reality. Don’t give them an opportunity to put up any defenses. Let that part of your mind think it’s in control of the switch while you stealthily make your way toward the plug.
Begin with small symbolic actions and praise yourself for your level of comfort, whatever it may be. Take a small risk, no matter how inconsequential, and pat yourself on the back for it. That type of action goes below the radar of our excessive desire for control and calms it from within.
Two years ago, Jamie and I made a pilgrimage to Uluru rock in central Australia. We were given “buddy tickets” from a family member who works at an airline. The conditions of the tickets were that we’d have to wait standby and take the risk of not getting on the flights we wanted. We chose not to pre-book our hotels just in case. This made it necessary to become comfortable with traveling halfway around the world without an itinerary of any kind. Notice your reaction to that thought.
We took a lot of deep breaths. We relied on the friendship within our marriage to get us through the more challenging parts of our complicated and multi-legged journey. We did our best to laugh alongside God whenever possible. Jamie makes excellent silly faces.
What happened as a result of our leap was the difference between having an nice, safe itinerary and a real adventure. We discovered things we didn’t expect to see and places we definitely didn’t expect to go. We chose a mindset that allowed for course-correction. We made a game of it. The trip altered our lives in miraculous ways impossible to predict.
Change your mindset about the expectations you have for your time here on earth. Make plans, have dreams, but don’t be over-attached to them. Remain nimble. Try to engage with life on the terms of an adventure rather than an itinerary. It just may well end up that there was an even better plan in store for you all along.
Posted by Wil Darcangelo, M.Div. at 8:39 AM
Saturday, February 16, 2019
Something special happens in our brains when we face the light. Among other things, we get happier. When we give ourselves twenty minutes of sunlight in the morning it resets our body clocks, it improves our mood and increases our activity levels. It produces vitamin D as well.
Many know these things already. What do we do with that knowledge? Typically nothing. But let’s say your psychiatrist has told you that you need a slight mood stabilizer. The prescription she offers you is a choice between either a pill or a practice. You can either take a chemical with side effects and a co-payment, or you can get into the daily habit of twenty minutes of sunlight and short walk. Which would you choose?
Even a few seconds every now and then of just turning your face toward any light source at all will incrementally change you from within. Whether it’s the sun, a light bulb, or even a candle. There’s a prayer in this. It’s a prayer to feel better.
There is another, more metaphorical source of light as well which greatly deserves our attention. It’s progress. Think of progress as its own light source. Turn toward it. Notice it. Point it out to others when you see it. Recognize every achievement. There’s a prayer in this as well. It’s a prayer for the whole world to feel better, including you.
When we notice good things happening they tend to happen around us more often. Perhaps it’s only in our imagination, but isn’t that enough? The goal here is to feel better, after all. It’s helpful to others as well. Many of us are so busy being anxious we forget to notice the good. Let’s help one another see the light that’s already around us by pointing it out and honoring it.
We love to wallow in doom, but statistics prove that homicide rates worldwide have fallen dramatically over the past two hundred years. Violent crime is way down, too. And despite our society’s move to pull our children indoors—when most adults of a certain age remember being free-range until the streetlights came on—kids are much safer now than they were a few decades ago. Yet, paradoxically, we are more afraid for them now. Why? Because we have we been manipulated into believing we are in greater danger so that we are willing to purchase (and vote for) a greater sense of security. Alarm companies don’t make a habit of producing commercials that tell you violent crime is down. They need you to be alarmed. Politicians get more votes when we’re afraid of what might happen if we don’t vote for them. We fall for it all the time.
Facing toward the light, both literally and figuratively, gives your brain chemistry an opportunity to rebalance itself and allow for equilibrium. Feeling good is meant to be our natural state. That’s good news. Because it means we don’t have to start doing something as much as we have to stop doing something. We have to stop giving bad news so much power over our lives.
Of course we must remain aware of what’s going on around us. This is not an invitation to stick your head in the sand. It’s an opportunity to recreate how you perceive the world so that you are a better friend to it.
In 1993, a study was conducted. In it a large group of people all meditated on the thought of the crime rate going down in Washington DC. Over the course of the six week experiment crime went down 23%. The odds of that happening on its own were calculated to be less than 2 in 1,000,000,000. What does this mean? Something powerful happens when we deliberately orient ourselves toward what we want.
We each emit a frequency at all times. We literally broadcast vibration. Of course we don’t know much about it all, but we see the effects of our poking at it. Technology has given us glimpse enough to tell there’s more there than meets the eye. So let’s make an assumption that we can broadcast whatever vibration we choose.
If we’re facing the light, what might we be broadcasting at that exact moment? If we’re looking for every bit of forward movement in the world, what frequency are we emitting as we watch? What becomes of that transmission when it bounces off someone else? Use your imagination to wonder about it.
This is what faith really is when you come down to it. It is an assumption we were made so perfectly that how we feel is what we project, as well as what we tend to attract. This theory is of course without direct proof, yet many observations point to it being true. Is that enough to make you curious? To be a lightbearer for others, one must first be willing to see light for themselves.
Posted by Wil Darcangelo, M.Div. at 1:11 PM
Saturday, February 9, 2019
The “Ultimate Reality” is my favorite term for, among other things, the force which many refer to as “God.” To me, these two words together are a statement which says, “Whatever God really is (or isn’t), that’s It. I accept reality for whatever it ultimately is.” The term also acknowledges the possibility there is no God as well. Any truly unifying thought should have room for everyone on it.
There are many who feel that their beliefs about the Ultimate Reality are the correct ones. Some are curious about the beliefs of others, some utterly reject all opposing thought and its thinkers wholesale. But everyone has their own opinion about how reality truly functions. Who is to say for certain we don’t just become dust in the end with no purpose? Who is to say that we don’t participate in an eternal cycle of reincarnation? Who is to say that either Heaven or Hell exists? Many of us believe. None of us knows. And once we find out, it’s pretty difficult to report back in a way that allows for any real consensus.
What do you believe about the Ultimate Reality? Who told you what to believe about it? A person, a book? A vision? An inner voice? This is not a test. It’s an inner survey. There is no wrong answer. Only knowledge. Whatever it is that you have ended up believing as your truth, what was it that convinced you it was true when you first heard it?
Where do your beliefs come from? Have you ever given it any thought? Sometimes an examination of our sources is also in order. From what stores did we end up buying our favorite ideas? Do you remember? What ideas have you just accepted because you grew up in them? Deeply ask yourself the question: What do I really think happens to us when we die?
This is not a ten minute quiz. This is an inventory of what you believe on a deep, exploratory level. It takes some time. It takes making a choice to listen to yourself, a lot. Listen to what you’re saying when you talk to others and how you respond to them. Not just about what you believe regarding faith, but anything. Your inner views on the Ultimate Reality seep into the fabric of your everyday life in ways you’ll never pick up on unless you pay very close attention. Be radically curious about everything you say or feel or believe for a little while and see what you learn.
Measure what you find out against one rule. Is it loving? How? In what ways am I living up to the life practice of being loving and ridding myself of judgement? In what ways am I not?
There is no religious belief that cautions against being compassionate and welcoming. There is no rule of enlightened society, spiritually minded or not, which encourages us to exclude others. So notice first the parts of your belief and behavior which do. Subject them to inquisition. They will not hold up. Thank them for their lessons and let them go.
After cleaning house, believe what you will. Decide for yourself how, or if, a loving God exists and what It encourages us to do. Even if agnostic or atheist, recognize the social benefit of treating your neighbor with respect or empowering those who have lost their own. Don’t judge people for what they do, just love them right where they are. Jesus didn’t rebuke and scold sinners, he simply had dinner with them. Emulate no Christian who isn’t willing to do the same.
Whatever is true is true with or without your belief. All any of us can do is our best with the fragments of distorted information we have. It’s impossible to see correctly through the wrong end of the binoculars. Be okay with that. Remain humble. Take a deep breath and allow others the freedom to exist just as they are. You’ll find we all pretty much believe the same things in the end. Just in different ways.
Limit your definition of God to an experience of mystery, wonder and gratitude. Refuse to define It any further. Once you concretize God into a fixed and immovable form you have made for yourself an idol. It will be a god of nothing more than a blurry photograph we hold too long of someone we no longer know.
Fix your attention on what the ancient stories really teach us. Not just Christianity’s, of course, but those of every faith, belief, philosophy and doctrine. Let nothing be off limits. You may be surprised to find they have certain categories where they all agree. Even the ones you never imagined. Discover them.
This isn’t an encouragement to disbelieve in God or even change your faith. It’s an empowerment to comfort yourself with unknowing. Be okay with others who think differently than you do. Assume that we were not created to think the same on purpose. Perhaps that secret purpose is the very cheese in this labyrinth. Sniff it out.
Saturday, February 2, 2019
It seems nearly every social group has a way of marginalizing each other. People are made to feel as if they don’t have a right to exist, much less belong. There is so much fear of one another in the world. We are forever glancing over our shoulders.
Yet we must acknowledge we have been manipulated to feel this way. It is not natural to us. It is natural to recognize difference, of course, but not fear it. The system of all life is designed to flourish in the presence of diversity. Just ask a gene pool.
Some are told where to stand on an issue, some are told where to sit on the bus. We are all told whom to fear, and why. There is no group immune to this experience. The elite, too, fall victim to their own propaganda even when they know they wrote the narrative themselves. To them, the lie becomes more real each time it is told.
The trick to standing up to this oppression is to recognize it for what it is. And then calmly not stand for it.
A peaceful protest is not fought on its feet. It sits. It remains steadfast and calm. Strategic. It does not recognize the authority which tries to bait it into a standing fight. It calmly walks across the bridge it has been told is forbidden. It does not engage the beast. That makes it only stronger.
There is an important lesson in this. Look to history for yourself. Note the success of human rights champions when they choose to sit down as a way of fighting back. When they have decided not to stand for it anymore, the truest leaders sit.
Spiritual practices agree with this method of deliberate transformation. When we spend all of our energy pushing against something, we fall over the minute it stops pushing back. Stop pushing. Sit down. Seek a state of calm resplendence. Behave as if they know that you know that they know you are in the right. They will fall over from the sudden withdrawal of your resistance.
Black American civil rights icon Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white man on December 1, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama. She was not the first person of color to resist segregation in this way, but her arrest struck a chord and launched a bus boycott which lasted for over a year. Almost immediately she became an international icon of civil rights.
Behind this moment stood a particular history with buses for Rosa. As a child she was forced to walk to school because the buses were only for white children. Black children had to walk. She said that seeing the bus go by everyday was one of the things which first brought her to realize there were two different worlds, one white, one black. It is perhaps no surprise her stand would eventually be taken while sitting on a bus.
She did not fight. She did not commence battle. She simply refused to stand for it anymore and behaved as though it was her right to sit exactly where she was. Gandhi fought imperialism in India by simply making salt. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. chose to walk across a bridge rather than burn it, even when those he most respected told him he was mad.
The face of nonresistance is not a passive one. It is defiant, but calm. Afraid, of course, but fear is not in charge. Nonresistance is resolute and principled in its determination to manifest real and lasting transformation in the world. It sees what is real and moves to align its surroundings with that truth. It does not need to do battle because it has already won.
Remember this when it comes time to choose between fighting fire with fire or remaining calm and focused on the goal. A ideological foe has few weapons effective against a calm and determined opponent. They need your rage to function. Deny them the fuel of your anger. If you are truly in the right, the truth will be revealed with time and tenacity. If you are wrong, remaining calm will help you discover it sooner. It happens to us all. Don’t be afraid to learn you’ve been wrong. It’s the only thing which has ever nudged humanity forward. Truth is freedom for all of us.
If we maintain the grace to allow our opponents their dignity, the reconciliation process runs more smoothly. Give them no ammunition to keep fighting you back. This is as true for civil rights as everything else. Even a frightened animal will more likely come to you if you calmly sit on the ground and patiently wait for them to realize you’re not as scary as they were once very carefully taught.