Friday, October 29, 2021

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, October 30, 2021 - Ho! What Ghosts!

So, I have a theory about ghosts. But it will take a minute to get there.

In its many and varied ways, the earth is receiving information from us. We humanity. It receives the sound waves of every footstep we make, it tastes the pollution we release upon it. Mingled with the smelling of its own flowers, it smells its own people. 

And just because the earth receives information, doesn’t prove it can process and act upon it like a human brain and body. Yet many cultures have nonetheless attributed the earth with consciousness. They hold that the earth is aware of our presence, and has opinions about it. 

Whether or not it’s true, thinking of it as such helps connect us with it and to resonate with it. It helps us remain accountable to it. And maybe there’s a reason many cultures throughout history have perceived the earth as having consciousness. Whether or not it is literal in the way we think of consciousness is beside the point. To endlessly debate its literalism is a distraction. 

One might wonder if some of these traditional ways of thinking resonate with a truth of some kind. Is the earth listening to us? If it is, might it also be retaining what it feels? Is the earth recording history?

I do not present this as a point of scientific debate. I have science-based notions which happen to resonate with my overall faith-based perspective. Which, by the way, is true for 100% of us. We have nothing to go by but our own religious and scientific opinions. 

I think about crystals. Quartz, specifically. The new age, wellness, and neopagan communities are festooned with them. But while there are those who scoff, or even ridicule, never dismiss something out of hand which millions believe in. That is true regardless of the correctness of their view. It means something is there. And it might not be quite what you think. Or even quite what they think either. But there’s always something worth noting when many are drawn. Look for it. 

Personally, I like crystals. They’re pretty, culturally meaningful, and in my personal experience, physically uplifting. Many years ago, around the age of 21, my first management job was running a natural crystal kiosk in the thoroughfare of the local mall. Just during the holidays.

I worked long hours, almost entirely on my feet. 10, 12, 14 hours straight with no other coverage. But unlike almost every other job I’d ever had before or since, I felt tireless. I never regretted a minute of it and always looked forward to going back the next day.

Of course this is entirely anecdotal. A skeptic could pierce a dozen holes in my story should I claim it as evidence of crystal power. I make no claim, I just state it because it was my personal experience. 

But quartz crystals in particular do have scientifically recognized properties. For one, they have the ability to store information. As well, they regulate energy. They keep it flowing evenly. That’s why we use crystals in wrist watches and throughout the tech industry. It has practical, measurable, provable value. And it’s radically abundant.

Quartz is one of the most abundant minerals on earth. And found nearly everywhere. It does not corrode, and so it is impervious to erosion. When embedded among other types of rock, the other rock eventually erodes away leaving behind amounts of quartz ranging from the microscopic to the size of school buses. 

Quartz dust floats through our ocean currents and is picked up by windstorms. Though we do not physically process or digest it, quartz is often present in our bodies just by the air we breathe, the dirt on our hands, and the food we eat. 

What can our imagination do with looking at the fact that quartz has all of these fascinating properties and is at the same time virtually coating the earth?

Are quartz crystals, and perhaps other minerals, “recording” us in a literal sense? If they can indeed store information, are they? Is it acted upon, or is it just stored there? 

We haven’t the ability to know one way or the other. At least not yet. Nor should anyone have the hubris to definitively claim otherwise. 

But for argument’s sake, let’s say the earth, in its way, does record us. It records our actions and words, it stores an energetic imprint of who we are, or were. Especially, perhaps, when emotions are particularly high. I could imagine the imprint is stronger when we experience profound joy or grave fear.

And so, in honor of Halloween tomorrow, I’ll use this opportunity to give one final theory. Is this what explains ghosts? Are we triggering the stored memories of departed souls that have long moved on, but whose resonance lingers? Is it live or is it memorex?

I’m not claiming this is the answer to all or necessarily any of the recorded supernatural experiences had by humanity throughout the ages. But it does give me pause.

I think ghosts are real. Even though I’ve never seen one. To my mind they’re logical.

And so, let’s remain open minded about these things. They may be the answer to questions we’re not even sophisticated enough yet to ask. 

Superstitions and myths and fairytales surround us. What if every single one of them had a grain of truth within?

Happy Halloween.

Friday, October 22, 2021

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, October 23, 2021 - Eye of the Storm

We might as well face it. Humans love drama. We spend millions to consume dramatic stories on film, television, and myriad other forms of media. We eat it like a last meal every day.

So much so, that we often unconsciously perpetuate drama in our own lives. Many seem to thrive on stirring the pot. 

Pretty much all of us have a hard time not getting sucked into little dramas here and there among our friends, family, and coworkers. We love to put our two cents in. We love to gossip. We love to talk smack about people. It’s like a drug.

It’s almost irresistible. We can all go easily find ourselves in the middle of a drama in which we had no place. That is, until we made one for ourselves by joining in and thus perpetuating it. 

Many spiritual practices appear to emphasize a need to dispense with drama in our lives. It’s interpreted by some as a need to dispense with any unlikable people and live a de facto socially monastic existence. 

It is not the point of the human experience to attempt to create walls and barriers around us, emotional or otherwise. It is the point of the human experience to be an instrument of peace within it.

It’s not about running away from drama either. Often it’s in our own household, workplace, church, or school and we can’t so easily escape it. But you don’t have to escape it entirely. In fact, standing near enough to it has its potential value. But the first rule of engagement in this regard is: Don’t take it upon yourself, and don’t add to it. That method is a surprisingly effective tool of dispelling drama. Simply do not engage with it. Someone else can play tennis with you only insofar as you are willing to hit the ball back. 

But you may take it even one step further as well. Your proximity to drama is a vantage point. You can actually insert peace and ease into the drama around you by simply loving those involved. Think to yourself how you can empathize with their feelings, even if you don’t understand it all. See their humanity and fear and send love to both. 

This mindset creates a slight alteration in the way we engage with the people around us. That slight alteration can tip the scales over whether a conflict will escalate any further. Just by being a little bit more at peace than those around you can change the outcome. 

This is not a cure-all, it’s a balm. It does not prevent us from making mistakes, or from making new drama while attempting to get rid of the old. It’s purpose is to soothe, to whatever degree possible, the tension and mistrust people have among one another. In the first place, by demonstrating trust, and in the second, by remaining calm. By being a non-anxious presence. 

When the source of the drama is you, see it. End it. Take the higher road. Follow good rules of fighting: 1. No touching. 2. No name-calling. 3. Take a breath. 4. It will be okay. We would all be surprised to realize the small but significant opportunities we have to move forward with conflict in a productive and effective way. 

Picture yourself as the eye of a hurricane. A place of stillness and calm, even as all rages around you. Hold that space. Remain neutral. The presence of your ease will affect the edges of the drama around you. And you won’t have to lift a finger fir much of it. Though you will likely often have to bite your tongue. Popsicles help. 

Remaining neutral to drama is the lightest of all possible lifts to perform, as difficult as it may be to pick up. It requires nothing of us other than to let the Tasmanian devil spin. All you have to do is step out of the way of harm while sending love to the core of it. Only our attraction to drama stands in the way. 

But the best of all benefits actually is yours. It’s just easier to live that way. It’s less work to just stay out of people's business. 

Which includes not judging them for it, by the way. Secretly harboring a side-eye for all the drama around you only gives off a condescending energy. You can’t be a balm to drama when aloof or judgemental. 

But if you can manage to remain calm, assume that everyone involved has a reason for behaving as they do (even if not a particularly acceptable reason, though at least a human one), and only give advice when asked, your life will be far easier and far more manageable. And we could all use a bit more of that. 

Now, of course, there are those for whom these tactics will never work. They are legitimately toxic to us and our well being and no amount of positive energy or hopeful thinking will make us safe in their presence. Leave them. Get away. Plan it out if you have to and prepare, or grab a bag and run. 

And then take stock of whatever sense of peace you have. Expand upon it in little ways. Take some time to understand yourself and why you think the way you do. Wonder to yourself about the types of people who are drawn toward you and why.

We love to blame ourselves for attracting the wrong people. But we also are attracted to them. When we are not at peace, we attract and are attracted to things which are not peaceful. It is involuntary. Like instinctively searches for like.

It’s time to like something else. It’s time to want more for ourselves. It’s time to claim the peace and ease that should rightfully be ours. Because with it, we shall do remarkable things.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, October 16, 2021 - Ask and You Shall See

 I’ve been dieting lately. Of a sort. I lost a few pounds, but I haven’t really gotten very far. And then an old prayer idea popped into my head. I don’t remember where I heard it, though I immediately resonated with the idea. 

The prayer is: Please help me see what you would have me see. Please make me attracted to the directions I should journey. Please make me hunger for the food that will make me well. Please make your light sparkle for me. Amen.

The theology behind this prayer is twofold because part of it is an investment in faith and the other is the physics of asking. 

To make good use of this prayer, we must be open to assuming that what we want/need is always hovering around us in the periphery. It’s just a matter of connecting with it. This belief is an investment. For some it’s a risky one. It implies that God provides all the time, and that we are somehow doing it wrong. 

But remember that learning is not shameful. Growing is a process. Thinking of our lack of ability or knowledge in that judgemental way only slows down our naturally forward momentum. 

What if there actually is a God who loves us? What if It knows us intrinsically, and foresees our needs as well as our failures? What if It puts benevolence in our pathway all the time?

That idea is the investment of faith I’m describing. Risking a belief that we are loved. Attached to that is faith that this love comes with benefits. 

The second part of the prayer is the mechanics behind the function of asking. All kinds of things happen to us when we ask questions. The more questions we ask the better our questions become, for one. 

But the practice of asking also increases emotional resiliency and open mindedness. It helps soothe our egos because as we get better at asking questions, we become more confident in our willingness to admit that we don’t know everything. 

It seems the brightest swath of world faith maintains a belief that God knows all. But then we drop the ball when it comes to wondering about the implications of “knowing all.” Our traditions also often hold that God exists in a timeless space. And that God will forgive us if we ask. 

I don’t think God actually needs us to ask for forgiveness of our mistakes for Its own sake. Rather, I think God wants us to hear ourselves ask for it. Knowing what science is out there regarding the physics of asking (and of being asked, for that matter) it appears to be a tool of our creation. Something we’re supposed to use. Like a little gadget in our junk drawer that’s been there for years but we’ve never really used it and we’re not sure exactly how. But it doesn’t take up very much space so we just leave it there. 

Together, these ideas imply that our needs are anticipated, our mistakes are understood before we even make them, and that we are given an endless supply of opportunities to make more of ourselves than we already are; no matter how many times we turn those opportunities away. But we must go through the hoop of asking. There’s a point to it.

“Please help me see what you would have me see.” I know that what I need is out there. I just need a little help opening my eyes to it. 

“Please make me attracted to the directions I should journey.” Make the directions seem brighter to my eyes, or help me feel a pull from my heart in the direction I should take. Give me the courage to actually go there without always understanding why. 

This line’s a big one: “Please make me hunger for the food that will make me well.” I would love it if the part of me that desired fast food that could just be flipped off like a switch. Maybe that sounds too simple. But what if stating it like a desire, and asking to see the ways in which it might be possible, works? 

Basic psychology would suggest that even saying it out loud when you want to be on the lookout for certain things, helps bring our attention to them. Why not food? If there’s an energetic force that connects us, or even gives the appearance of knowing us, might aligning our brains with that idea perhaps resonate with a new field of vision? In other words, couldn’t we ask God for help in tricking our brain to like broccoli better than potato chips?

And the last line: “Please make your light sparkle for me. Amen.” Whatever is true is true with or without our belief. I cannot prove to you that there is a God, or that It loves us, or that It puts in our path the tools for our success. These are just traditional ways of thinking about ideas which are too large for us to comprehend. 

But it’s OK. Maybe they represent larger, more rational physics that we just can’t understand yet. Maybe prayer is a way of tapping into something that we don’t have to understand in order to benefit from. There’s only one way to find out. And who knows? I might even lose a few more pounds. 

Friday, October 8, 2021

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, October 9, 2021 - What Type of Light Are You?

What type of light are you? Are you a lighthouse? I tend to be a cross between a spotlight and a candle, I think. Are you a blacklight? Are are you laser? Or perhaps you are moonlight. 

The type of light that best represents each of us is derived from a combination of who we are naturally, and what we hope to be. 

In my case, when I was a performing arts youth mentor, I loved creating a space to shine a spotlight on other people. I loved to find out what people were good at, and give them their best shot at doing it well. I really wanted to give them opportunities for appreciation. Not just appreciation of themselves, or of the opportunity. But to receive appreciation from others for their efforts.

As a Minister, I take great pleasure in continuing that practice. I love it when I’m given an opportunity to showcase someone’s gifts in a way that encourages a sense of belonging and fulfillment. That to me is a spotlight. Something that, in its own ephemeral way, draws all of the focus for a moment and directs it. It is meant to be a light that shines on others. 

The candle represents my intent. It is who and what I wish to be in the world. Something that provides a more inspirational kind of light. Something that transforms darkness, but with simplicity and humility, and with a limitless supply of light for being such a small thing. For candlelight is never diminished by sharing its light with another. It can act as a catalyst for other candles around them. 

A candle provides warmth. It’s just enough light to read by, but not so much that it would attract attention. A candle can be a catalyst, or a symbol of a faith. Flame represents both chemistry as well as hope. 

So I think of a candle as a job description. Something that I look toward when I’m not 100% certain what direction to take, or if I’m aware of the directions at all. 

Being a spotlight might sound like a mission statement as well. But it’s something I can remember feeling since childhood and is often felt like a force which drives me rather than the other way around. I think that one is part of my nature. And perhaps the candle is as well.

So then what kind of lights are you?

I’d first think about what kind of light you’d like to be. Did one of the types I mentioned jump out at you? Did you think of something different? What was the first kind of light that came into your mind at the thought of one representing you? What kind of light do you want to be when you grow up? Because that’s the path you’re already on.

I’ve known a few lasers in my life. Hyper-focused and driven. Some are overachievers by dint of their upbringing, good or bad. Some just naturally achieve a lot. Some are gentle enough to illuminate a diagram on the wall. Others would burn a hole through it. 

I’ve known my fair share of moonbeams and they are among my favorites. Gentle and easy-going. Sometimes flaky, sometimes serene. 

I imagine some people are a bit like plant lights, doing their best to make things grow, in spite of the absence of the sun. Plant lights are noble and useful. And they’re satisfied by things succeeding around them. 

If I had to add a light type to my illumination bio I think it would have to be starlight. I’d like to be starlight when I grow up. I thought for a minute about what the answer to that question might be. At first I hesitated because I thought how dare I aspire to be starlight? But why not?

I’m not even sure who I would be if I were like starlight, though. Would that make me cold and distant? 

Perhaps the starlight to which I aspire is an acceptance that my molecules are part of the soup of all things and have been every type of light imaginable. And that one day, in a long distant future, my molecules will again be a part of a star. A part of the sacred cycle of life.

Which means it’s all in me. And therefore must be all in you as well. It means that on some level it is our decision what type of our light we wish to put forward. We may follow our nature, we may follow our intent. But that we are light is unmistakable. And may we never forget just what we are able to achieve with it.

Friday, October 1, 2021

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, October 2, 2021 - The Vertical and the Horizontal

I’ve always been fascinated by symbolism. It’s my observation, backed up with some considerable evidence, that symbols evolve over time. The shapes change a little, their meanings adapt to the needs of the times in which they are used. 

These symbols find their ways into other cultures and become other things. What was once solely a symbol of well-being in the ancient east gained a dubious fame in the 20th century as the Nazi swastika. Clearly not all symbols mean the same things to all people. 

One of the things I like about the Jewish Star of David, for instance, is that it’s an overlay of two triangles. One pointing above and one pointing below. Superimposed upon one another to signify that they both exist in the same time and space. That symbol is far older than Judaism, however. It is an ancient symbol of protection.

And then we look at the Christian cross. Though it has many variations, the predominant version we see today is that of a T with a vertical protrusion. Known as the Crux Immissa, this version of the cross is generally accepted as the instrument upon which Jesus was crucified. 

But again, the cross symbol is much older than Christianity. It was a pagan one prior to the 4th century. And there were several other configurations of wood upon which people were crucified during Jesus’s time. Some were crucified on a simple vertical pole, some were impaled with them rather than nailed. Some were placed upon an X rather than a T. 

Why did Christians, specifically Emperor Constantine in the early 4th century, choose the Crux Immissa version as the symbol for Christianity, when Jesus might have met his end upon any number of different shapes? It might’ve been upon the X of St. Andrews cross. Or the vertical pole, as the Jehovah’s Witnesses believe. Or another shape altogether. No one actually knows. A choice was made among the various options. Why that one?

Part of what I find fascinating about that symbol, at least in its Christian context, is the fact that it is the symbol of someone’s torture and death. I acknowledge it is also a symbol of sacrifice, and I don’t mean to disrespect its use. But it makes me wonder if the symbol isn’t also pointing to something far more intrinsic to humanity. Especially since the intersection of two directions is the thing which all of the previously mentioned symbols have in common. All of them represent two different realities converging. 

Legend has it that Emperor Constantine saw a cross shape in the sky and that’s how we arrive at the use of it as a symbol. But that we have a legend at all is part of the story itself, as well. We tell stories because we like them. We repeat them to others because they resonate with the human experience in some way. So why did we spread the legend of the Crux Immissa version instead of the others, when there’s plenty of evidence it could have in reality been another shape entirely?

I don’t know. I wasn’t there. But I have a theory.

I think it’s the shape we use because we have gravitated toward it. I think there’s something intrinsically human in the intersection of two different planes. That much is evident by how often that characteristic is featured in religious symbolism. And I think the reason Christianity gravitated toward it is because it also resembles the figure of a human. 

Some could conclude that the symbol was forced upon us by power structures; but remember, we are the ones who ultimately choose, over time, the symbols of our faith. We demonstrate preferences, to which church leadership responds over generations in their efforts to attract us. 

I think the shape of the cross, the star of David, the swastika (at least in its older eastern meaning), and others each give us a hint at the overall picture of our human experience—if well lived. They draw our attention to life practices and exist as symbolic mission statements unto themselves.

The symbols are a description of spiritual beings having a human experience. They are the intersection of the vertical and horizontal. Moreover, these symbols encourage us with the promise of well-being and protection if we choose to abide by their advice.

The symbols reveal that deep down inside of ourselves we have a message, as if in a bottle. A note-to-self that says, “Don’t ignore that you are both spirit and biology. Lean into it. Don’t resist it. Be at ease with your humanity and learn from it. It is a great strength to be both spirit and body. There is a treasure trove of wisdom within you that will keep you safe and well on this remarkable journey. Look to it.” 

Sounds like great advice to me.