Friday, April 30, 2021

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, May 1, 2021 - Ring Them Bells

Today is May Day. The first day of the “lusty month of May.” That winking lyric from the Lerner and Loewe musical Camelot is a hint at the ancient observation of this month in the wheel of the year as a time for sacred recreation and, a bit more specifically, sacred procreation. 

On this night bonfires are lit and children born from tonight’s unions—whether in or out of the marital bed—are tinged with sacredness for their entire lives. It is an annual tradition much older than the invention of the calendar. 

We always feel a certain kind of way at certain times of the year. It is usually a reflection of the amount of sunlight, activity, social interaction, and nourishment we get in the ebb and flow of the seasons. As these individually flourish or fail we are emotionally, and probably energetically, affected by it. 

Our various religious rituals, each in line with their own scriptures, address these intrinsic, annual, human concerns in their own way. The May Day Beltane celebration is one of them. 

Let’s talk about sex. It is certainly an anecdotal understanding that spring is a time of year for the renewal of life; of both flora as well as fauna. For the purposes of this discussion we are in the fauna category. And in the spring, the fauna get horny.

It’s easy to understand why this would be so. After animals have survived the winter, procreating in the spring ensures offspring that will be strong enough by the following winter to survive and mature into adulthood.

We, as humans, feel this same animalian pull. As the production of serotonin in our brains increases with more exposure to the increasing sunlight of spring, we become happier, and therefore typically, hornier. We begin to emerge outside and socialize with potential partners. We shed our bulky winter clothing and reveal our bodies to one another. 

Coming out of hibernation is a process of emergence that includes a subconscious desire to ensure our legacy as humans. We are mammals too, after all. And as such, we feel the same rhythms of nature as all mammals do.

Being non-resistant to this part of our nature, means that we should take a look at the sexual act and test our attitude a bit about it. How do you feel about this column? How do you feel about the fact that a minister is talking about sex? Are you glad? Are you embarrassed? Do you feel shame or elation? Are you mad at me? Or do you think it’s about time?

Analyzing our feelings about sex often reveals a lot about our feelings of self-worth and the health of the environments in which we were raised. Do you feel shame when you think about sex? How’s that going for you?

Because good sex, in my opinion, is a powerful force for change and of prayer. Many people would agree with the idea that great sex is equivalent to a religious experience. We certainly invoke the name of God a fair amount when we do it right. Does God listen to this? If It listens to anything, my guess is that It listens to everything. Including when you’re getting laid. 

Does that embarrass you? Consider rethinking that position. Consider making a faithful assumption that good sex rings a very particular and powerful bell in the universe. And, so long as the sex is consensual and occurring within the scope of our best interest and the best interest of our partner—or partners—God likely approves. 

Let’s let go of some of our preconceived and judgemental understandings about simply enjoying sex for its own sake. And while we are at it, let’s make a leap of faith that we are actually contributing more good energy into the world when we do it right.

There is likely much going on that we cannot perceive or understand when we are bonding with another person. We are energetic beings, after all. We are more than we can tell. We are walking fields of electromagnetic energy. When our fields overlap, something occurs. When they overlap in sexual union, that something is likely magical.

It has occurred to me that the point of orgasm becomes a moment where the veil between ourselves and God is the thinnest. Might we do something with that moment on purpose? 

It’s probably a lot to ask that we ritualize sex and create prayerful moments in the process of good coitus. So let’s not get that complicated or technical. Simply ringing a large metaphorical gong of gratitude is sufficient. Be grateful that you feel so good. Express gratitude at your ecstasy. Be glad that you are capable of experiencing such a miracle. Then let that energy do what it will and go where it is needed most.  

Some people approach the sexual act with deep purpose and before it begins they give an intention that the energy about to be created finds its way into the darker corners of the world where love and intimacy rarely exist in safety. Sometimes they put that energy just toward having a good day. The energy created is yours to do with as you choose. What will you choose to do with it?

As a mentor of teenagers years ago, I was often asked about when it’s OK to lose one’s virginity. Knowing that teenagers will do whatever they darn well wish the moment adult backs are turned, as I very certainly did, I was non-resistant to the fact that they were going to make their own decisions whether I liked it or not.

So I told them that if they decided to go ahead with it, they should insist that the other person know of and respect their boundaries; even if those boundaries change mid-act. At any point that someone says no, even if for days, weeks, or months they’ve been saying yes, no means no. That is not a boundary which should be crossed.

I told them that their body is a temple and that they deserved to be worshiped in their temple. And if their anticipated partner was not capable of such things, then either they were not the right partner, or it is not the right time. I asked them what story they would like to tell their daughter someday when they ask them how they lost their own virginity. More often than not, with these new thoughts in mind, they chose to wait. My hope is that once they finally decided to engage in it, that they had a solid understanding of the type of respect they were entitled to. 

How much respect are you demanding for yourself? The sexual act will ring no bell if you are miserable throughout. It is an opportunity wasted. It is a desecration of your body to be miserable while engaging in sex. You will not grow from it, you will be diminished by it. 

This is not an argument in favor of or against casual sex. Sometimes casual sex can be truly amazing. Sometimes the marital bed is a violation. Only you can know whether or not you are experiencing the ecstasy you deserve and the intimacy we all need. Stand up for yourself and your sexuality. They are a gift of our human experience and quite an illuminating textbook as well. Blessed be.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, April 24, 2021 - The Uncertainty Factor

I got my second covid shot last Thursday. Unfortunately, I had some mild side effects, but had kept my schedule clear for two days in possible anticipation of them, so I just relented and relaxed. It wasn’t so bad. Just a couple days of achiness and fatigue. But when they ended it was like the flipping of a switch. It was just suddenly over rather than gradually improving. Not something I would have expected or have ever experienced from an actual illness. 

I must admit I found my experience of the side effects to be a little emotionally jarring. In a strange way, I wanted it to behave like a regular illness. I wanted to be able to predict how my recovery would occur. The way my side effects unfolded, and then re-folded, did not happen in a way I could predict. And frankly, it annoyed me and made me feel uneasy, if I’m going to be honest.

One of the more fascinating aspects of this pandemic has been the uncertainty factor. Understanding that I’m creating an unnecessary burden on the word fascinating here, I am genuinely fascinated by it, even as I grieve the loss of so many and the devastation of people’s dreams. 

As a person who thinks cosmically, and maintains faith that all things happen for a loving reason, I look upon the past year with a theological eye. If I first make an assumption that there is benevolence here, despite all the sorrow around us, what might I make of the details?

You see, there is virtually nothing more stressful to us than uncertainty. Science has shown that we much prefer the devil we know to the devil whose actions we can’t anticipate. It freaks us out and sends our stress levels is through the roof.

We sip from a bottomless cocktail of stress hormone chemicals like adrenaline and cortisol the longer we fixate on the unknown. We like to prepare and plan. When we can’t do that, we feel tremendous anxiety. Often in forms we can’t directly tie to our concerns. Feeling agitated or uneasy. Picking fights. Losing our concentration or having difficulty sleeping. Sadness.

That’s what so unique about this current experience. Almost every other type of tragic human event has fairly predictable patterns to them. We are more experienced with them. Even the unpredictability of a forest fire has predictable components to it that help us cognize the concept and consequences of a forest fire. 

But with COVID-19, every aspect of it has components which are nearly 100% unpredictable. For instance, while there are certain groups of people who are more prone to suffering mortal consequences, there has proven to be no hard and fast rule. All ages and all levels of health can and do become a victim to it. We can’t seem to predict it one way or the other how it will go for those who do, either.

Those who become sick from it can have a range of experiences from displaying no symptoms at all to organ failure and amputations. So-called “longhaulers“ may yet have health consequences for the rest of their lives. Our prayers go out to all who have been affected by this horrible disease. 

This is obviously no simple flu. That unpredictability factor is the birthplace of many conspiracy theories seeking to present a concrete understanding which ultimately never hardens. 

And then, in consistent fashion, the vaccines, which will bring us out of this experience, themselves display a fully-unpredictable possibility of side effects as well. Regardless of age or health, some people experience side effects and some do not. Neither is an indicator of the vaccine’s effectiveness within them. Among those who experience side effects, they range in seriousness from mild fatigue to the feeling of a full-on flu. 

When will get get a break? When are we going to get our hands on some nice predictable outcomes? The constant absence of surety is exhausting.

This lack of knowing makes us an easy target for anyone or anything claiming to be supremely confident in their knowledge. Conspiracy theories love the fertile ground of uncertainty. All false prophets take easy root in aggravated soil. 

But as will be true with anyone claiming wisdom, true enlightenment is in finding comfort with knowing nothing, which precludes the need for prognostication and future forecasting in the first place. Put the predictors out of work by becoming more comfortable with a lack of need for prediction. Embrace the tilled earth. Fertile with possibilities. No concrete is wanted or necessary here. 

While he was an incredibly intelligent and wise man, the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates is a particularly good example of one who sought wisdom from a place of knowing nothing. As he quizzed his public questioners, he would tell them that they would need to fully explain themselves since he knew nothing. This position presupposes no particular outcomes and asks questions entirely from the perspective of wanting to understand the things which are. But with effort placed on making no advanced assumptions. 

That Socratic method had a tendency to mine the smallest nugget of truth from even the largest mountains of political spin and flowery debate. It got to the root of it all.

A facet of the secret to life is hidden in that method. The beginner’s mind. The clean slate. It turns our focus toward being more comfortable with unknowing as a platform for truth to enter. It sweeps away not only our expectations but enhances our humility. It gives our opponents a rope with which they always hang themselves if their ideas are not fully in alignment with truth. It lets truth do the heavy lifting on our behalf.

I think the truth we are looking for here is that we have found ourselves in a position where we are compelled by circumstance to look inward. We are being trained to bend at the knees just a little bit so that the shifting earth beneath us doesn’t knock us over. May we become better surfboards than driftwood. 

My faith tells me benevolence is here. And if that’s true, this experience is a gift wrapped in a tragedy. I do not believe we are alone or unloved. I do not believe we are being punished. And so I draw a personal conclusion that while this too shall pass, it will leave behind a residual of love and purpose. It will leave our world changed for the better. This will be a book whose storyline sticks with us.

The indelible imprint upon human society to be left by the pandemic holds the potential to propel it forward in beautiful and remarkable ways. As individuals, every single one of us will be changed by it. In what form shall your change manifest?

I love the game “the floor is lava.” Players pretend that the floor is made of lava and they have to get through an area via furniture or architecture without perishing in the imaginary molten rock by accidentally touching the floor.

That’s our life right now. It’s not fun and games, but the skill set is no different. Nor are the implications for the future rock that lava will become. The lava will harden and cool according to our expectations for it. Have faith that there is benevolence in this process as well. 

Make a point of thinking “all shall be well“ when worrying about the unknown. It tells the lava what to do next. 

Friday, April 16, 2021

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, April 17, 2021 - You’re Praying for What You’re Saying

Whether you believe in it or not, whether you’d use the word ‘prayer’ or some other more secular descriptor, you are praying for what you’re saying. Your words matter. Every single sound that comes out of your mouth, ever, contributes to your reality. Your ears hear all of it. And most of the time other ears are listening to it too. 

The brain is really fast on its feet. It can tell the difference between regular ambient sound and human language in a tenth of a second. The brain isn’t necessarily asking questions as far as who’s doing the talking. But it’s definitely paying very close and reflexive attention. 

It’s listening for survival, really. And for opportunities to thrive. It acts like a bright yellow highlighter filtering out the background white noise, and making prominent all that truly matters. Spoken words are like lightning to the brain. 

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about that old aphorism, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me.” That’s just plain old fake news. Words are the most insidious of all weapons. They’re like nano bombs which penetrate the skin and course through our bloodstream up into our brains where they burst into literal synapses of memories, one upon another, reinforcing the negativity—or positivity—they represent. 

I try not to dwell on my experiences with bullies in the past, though I remember them profoundly. I recall the words they used. I still know the names they called me. I remember their hostility. A knife’s wound of concentrated unfairness that remains not fully healed. 

It’s surprising to me just how indelibly some of the things people have said to me are imprinted upon my understanding of self. Little residual feelings and ideas that percolate through the adult veneer to reveal a child’s still-tender wounds beneath.

I remember both the good as well as the bad, thankfully. I remember simple compliments given in passing that might not have seemed much at the time to those who gave them, but which permanently changed the view of myself for the positive. Small encouraging statements that reinforced my bravery to go out in the world and see what I might discover. These are what handily countered the negative script composed by old schoolmates and the neighborhood kids. Those few positive comments buoyed me through difficult times.

There are those who’ve been abused out of hearing the good at all, however, for the bad is so much more reliable. Good-sounding words had been used against them and were not sincere. Good words can feel untrustworthy after that. These are the scars of verbal abuse. The scar tissue is thick and muffles the sounds of more loving words.

There are studies suggesting that there’s a difference between silent reading of self-help materials and the speaking of positive affirmations out loud. Silently reading positive statements while in a negative mindset, only managed to reinforce the negative mindset of the study participants. They felt worse afterward. The written words fought against the mind’s negative self-perceptions. And typically lost. 

But the acts of listening and reading each use different parts of the brain. They found that spoken affirmations had a different effect than ones which had been only read. Not only did spoken affirmations improve mood, but also immune response, stress hormone production, and even brain functioning. Listening to ideas combined with sound, rather than merely cognizing the ideas from print, changed outcomes for the better.

Vibration is key. Sound affects matter. 

That idea is quite old. Creation itself is said to have begun from a single sound. Some of our most ancient languages carry along this idea as well. Sanskrit, Arabic, Aramaic, and many other ancient languages have an entire sound-related aspect to them that our more modern, western languages do not. Certain tones and vowel shapes have resonance believed to include additional layers of meaning, healing, and connection with the divine. 

The most popular example of this is the “mystical syllable,” the sound Ohm. A sound believed to signify the essence of the Ultimate Reality. Some traditions believe it is the very sound which launched existence into being.

What might we make of such a long and diverse tradition of belief in the implications of sound? Especially as science manages to uphold some of these beliefs rather than debunk them? Does it make it more important than ever to mind our words? Not just mind them, but be mindful of them? Should we be more proactive in our choice of words? Shouldn’t we be thinking of words as medicine, even?

What parts of the Cosmic hear your words as well? What is being accomplished through the act of making constructed sounds like words or phrases? What happens when they leave our lips? We know sound has a physical ripple effect. Are those ripples multi-dimensional as well? 

All of these various thoughts congeal our minds around a central idea that we may very well have powers we don’t realize when it comes to the sounds we utter. 

We’ve been taught that prayer has a value. Is this why? Is it because we hear what we’re praying for as much as Something Else might also be? Is it because our cells respond to what we tell them? Does every part of us have the ability to listen? Might our cells listen to us if we tell them to be well?

Assume yes. Make a leap of faith that what you say has relevance, impact, and can be wielded for good or not, toward yourself or others. Speak your reality into existence. There is far more listening than your ears.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, April 10, 2021 - The Theft of Lies

Lately, I have found myself embroiled in online discussions about politics and racism. This is not typically my way. In fact I usually go to great lengths to avoid that rabbit hole.

I suppose I should get back on the wagon and stop participating in conversations that ultimately get nowhere. But it’s so tempting.

My usual method is to comment on unloving posts for only two reasons. Either I feel that the person is in a position to be persuaded toward a more loving thought, or for the purpose of demonstrating kind responses to unkind words for the sake of others. Both sound fairly arrogant as I see them written here. But I do think it’s important to model loving behavior. So, arrogant or not, my hope is that the principle of inherent worth and dignity of all people is at the center of my actions. 

One thing that struck me though, as I have been dipping my toes into such debates, is that I seem to be battling a tide of misinformation. I feel like I’m constantly counteracting misrepresentations of truth. I’m watching others do the same. It’s taking a lot of time looking at someone’s ridiculous online claim, and then commenting with factual responses and references for why their claim is untrue, only to be battled against, often with hostility or rudeness. And, of course, our ego wishes us to keep on sparring.

How much time does this steal from us? How much of this time will we never get back? Exactly none of it. 

This is how lying represents a theft. Those who begin lies are stealing time from those who must later attempt to reset someone toward truth. 

The sad part is, once convinced, once painted into a corner where all truth has been precast as a lie, it’s almost impossible to dislodge. It’s like escaping from a cult. A cult of lies is very alluring. Until it isn’t. 

What are we to do? We often unthinkingly participate in the theft by giving our time to it. What fuels us? What gives us the energy to continue the fight? Are we served by it? Or are we sacrificing part of ourselves?

It should be that we need not sacrifice ourselves in order to bring more love into the world. Love barely needs help at all. Love is more in need of gatekeepers who are simply willing to open them and allow love to do its own work. We try too hard. 

Working smarter not harder, we find that love requires nowhere near the same amount of energy as we had to exert to support our fear. Fear takes a lot of work. Love requires only letting go of the rope. It’s not a tug-of-war that needs to be won. 

The point is to be mindful about how much we participate in the cycle of lies. That’s not to say we shouldn’t battle against untruth. But we should be very careful where we draw the line. We should only give it so much of our time and space. And it should be time given knowingly and purposefully.

Our time should not be taken from us, it should be given by us. Someone else’s lies have no right to steal anything from you.

Sadly, the lies which still carefully hide beneath the surface of our awareness, lies behind the scenes occurring within power structures beyond our vision, closed in boardrooms and consultants’ offices, plotting for profit, will not be stopped from stealing from us. 

They will, however, suffer a slow attrition as one generation of leadership fades away and another takes its place. Another generation who has grown up in an awareness of such things and from the earliest ages intends to be in a position to change it.

Stop the steal. Waste as little time as possible on doing battle with lies. Save your energy for the ones which truly cause harm and not just battling the opinions of people online whose minds will never change. 

Be a wind at the back of progress by turning your cheek from fear and toward the healing of others wherever possible. If they will not accept your love, love them from afar and wish them well. Put your attention on the generation which will supplant them. Put your love on all that which makes the old ways a dinosaur; doomed to extinction for lack of an environment that will support them.

Use your time on this earth for supporting unity and uniqueness. It’s so much more fun. And it is a gift of our time as well as a gift to it. It is the opposite of theft or sorrow.

Pray for those who cannot see truth. They are victims of the machinations of others. It is like any addiction. It’s a choice until it isn’t. Addictions always perpetuate lies as a method for their survival, not yours. Lies are the only language they speak. And they are extremely convincing.

But we are more in control of our experience than we realize. We don’t realize how much time lies steal from us. Some of it we will never realize, so far behind the green curtain it is. But even chipping away at the theft of our time we know about will improve the quality of our lives.

All we have to do is remember that love is infinitely more powerful than fear and takes far less effort to see it realized in this world. Concentrate on togetherness and unity and uniqueness. It will lighten the burden on your heart and put a little extra time back on your clock. You deserve it.

Friday, April 2, 2021

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, April 3, 2021 - The Pop-Up Prophet

 Most of us have heard of the term “hermetically sealed.” It’s a reference to a scientific procedure which seals a vessel’s contents from the outside environment. Beyond that, most of us non-academics rarely hear any reference to the person with whom that scientific procedure is associated. Mainly because we’re not one hundred percent certain that that person is actually a person.

And yet, an individual most commonly referred to as Hermes Trismagistus is credited by some to be the single most important influencer in human history. Even though there was no one single person named Hermes Trismagistus, he is identified throughout human civilization by many different names ranging from the Prophet Idris in Islam to the Egyptian god Thoth. 

I’m not sure what conclusions it is safe to draw from this. There are theories ranging from ancient aliens to archangels as to what this through-line of a personage might be. I am the farthest thing from an academic on the subject. But it’s worth spending a little time digging through the weeds if you’re curious to look into it for yourself. It’s quite fascinating how far reaching this “individual’s” influence has been on human civilization. 

Of course there are many conclusions we can draw as to why so many different civilizations have identified a specific individual with cross references to how he is named by other cultures built into their own scriptures about him. It’s almost like the different cultures together draw a map of this “person’s” travels through history. Dispensing wisdom and knowledge to each culture as he goes like an epochal Johnny Appleseed.

Is it necessary to believe it or not? I don’t think whether it’s true really matters. We could argue ad infinitum about whether or not a person, or being, now referred to as Hermes Trismagistus could actually exist, or we could look at what’s attributed to him. That’s actually where the value is anyway. And if he existed, he wouldn’t want you to be arguing about who he was as much as he’d want you to just learn from what has been shared.

This approach is useful elsewhere as well. We don’t always have to argue about the origin stories in order to take value from something. Good advice is good advice, regardless of its source. There’s no point in debating origins. Turn your attention to the advice itself. 

One of the more prominent documents attributed to Hermes Trismagistus is called the Corpus Heremeticum. It was written over a 1,500 year period of time. Definitely not the work of a single human being, obviously, but rather a compendium of aggregate knowledge which found itself collected into a manila folder tabbed “Hermes.” Again, however, the true source of that knowledge is pointless to debate, a curiosity though it may be. Even tabbing the folder “Hermes” is a misrepresentation of the many names given for him.

In my lane as a minister of a multi-faith tradition, I have perused the Corpus Heremeticum. It’s a heavy lift. 

I am not a scholar of this work. I advise that my mostly-uneducated viewpoint should be taken with a grain of salt. I present it nonetheless as food for thought. But the second line of the Corpus Hermeticum struck me most prominently. Everything else I did manage to read afterward seemed to reside on the shoulders of that short preamble. 

“For there can be no religion more true or just, than to know the things that are; and to acknowledge thanks for all things, to him that made them, which thing I shall not cease continually to do.”

The rest can get a little mucky to understand. But it’s still worth reading as it has become an informant to mainstream culture in so many ways. That’s an exploration for another time.

Returning to the quote, the most fascinating part to me is the phrase, “to know the things that are.” The word “are” is particularly definitive here because it is stating a belief that there is indeed an objective reality out there worth pursuing, a universal truth which exists with or without our belief. For example, black holes and other anomalies in space are whatever they truly are whether we are accurately seeing, perceiving or reporting them. A black hole’s nature is a thing which is. 

Hermes' second sentence of the Corpus Hermeticum affirms the existence of truth, aka “the things that are.” It places importance on seeking the truth and living in pursuit of it. It is humble in the sense that it’s not claiming it knows exactly what the Ultimate Reality is, but that It exists as an objective truth whether we’ve figured It out or not. Whatever is real is real, whether we believe in it or not, or whether we even have the capacity to perceive it or not. If there is a God then It likely does not need our belief in It to exist.

It’s the pursuit of knowing which Hermes is saying we should never cease. He believed it should be like a religion to us, this relentless pursuit of understanding. And when we look at the world’s religions, that’s exactly what we see. Thousands of different attempts to cognize and understand the things that are.

That thought encompasses an entire life practice, really. Its foundation is a belief in the pursuit of truth, and to be constantly grateful for the beauty of this earth. If we do nothing more than those, only good shall come of it.

Eons of wisdom from multiple cultures in fields ranging from astrology to philosophy, alchemy, and the divine sciences, emanating from a single two-pronged practice: the pursuit of truth and gratitude. 

In our fast food, short-attention span culture, these are very useful bits of advice, well packaged, cleanly branded, and with a marketing plan so ingenious it has wormed its way into the very fibers of our civilization. 

Now we just have to follow the advice to benefit from it.

Look for truth in your life. It’s very difficult to find lies, despite their prevalence. Lies are very good at hiding themselves with smoke screens, distractions, and deflections. Truth never hides itself or tries to dissemble its rationale for existing. It waits for you to notice it. Or to notice its absence and then look for it. 

When we make it our mission to look for truth, it’s easier to find that than it is to protect ourselves from lies. Looking for truth expands upon our ability to perceive it over time. It takes some of the burden off of our worry over the misinformation which exists everywhere, be it intentional or accidental. Worry less about lies, and celebrate truth wherever you find it. That will become your predominant experience over time.

Find reliable fact checkers. Question the factual authenticity of various news outlets and gravitate toward those that go farther than you yourself might do to verify information. Subscribe to media outlets that perform rigorous fact checking. They are not unicorns. They do exist, and we should place more of our trust (and subscription dollars) in them.

In a very real sense, that activity becomes a prayer for truth. It acts as a signal to the universe that truth shall be your experience, and a promise to maintain humility in the face of unknowing. 

It’s interesting that a quote about objective truth would be attributed to an individual whose existence we might question. But where have we heard that before?