Saturday, January 31, 2015

Many Paths, One Destination

There is a Hindu proverb that says, “There are hundreds of paths up the mountain, all leading to the same place, so it doesn’t matter which path you take. The only person wasting time is the one who runs around the mountain, telling everyone that his or her path is wrong.”

This is the way I think of all our religions.  There are thousands of religions all over the world, and within those religions, there are other branches and/or denominations.  According to the “World Christian Encyclopedia,” there are 19 major world religions.  These are subdivided into about 270 other groups, with 34,000 separate Christian groups being identified.  And even in these groups, there are many sub-groups with varying beliefs.  So I ask you…which one is right and which one is wrong?  More than likely many will answer that your particular religion / denomination is the one and only way. 

I’ve said this before, but I love the diversity of our world and that includes all the various religions and belief systems.  I learn so much from many of them!  I can only believe and share what I feel is right for me at this time and those beliefs change as I continue to open my awareness and become more enlightened to all of life.  My main motto is Jesus’ words to love one another (no exceptions) and by this you will know who his disciples are…by how much they love one another.  Therefore, I refuse to judge, or even hate, anyone just because they believe something different than me.  (I don’t always succeed, but it’s what I aspire to.)

It’s amazing how many people literally hate the believers of other religions or others who are “different,” wanting to keep them oppressed, making laws against them, and some even want to wipe them off the face of the earth!  We hear it in the media, from the pulpits, in books and articles, and even in letters to the editors!  I recently read a letter against a particular religion and the people in that religion, but what the writer wrote were lies.  (I researched to double check.)  One line s/he wrote was partially true, but if the writer had researched the whole story, s/he would have learned that it wasn’t what s/he thought it was.  The sad part is that people read things like this and automatically believe it without researching the truth.  We need to do our own research rather than just believe what we see / hear / read regardless of what that information is or where it’s coming from, particularly if it’s hate propaganda.  We also have to remember that when we’re speaking hate towards others, it defines our own character and integrity and not the people we’re speaking against.

And it’s not just religions that people spread hate towards.  It’s color of skin, race, politics, sexual preferences, gender, occupations, and so much more.  You would think that religions would be about love and peace and to work towards everyone getting along.  It’s what all the great spiritual masters taught!  How on earth did we get so off base to use our religions to back up and defend our hatred for others?  It’s happened since the beginning of time, but because of today’s social technology, everyone hears about it. We say God is love, but many are using God as an excuse to hurt others and that’s just not cool! 

Gandhi said “God has no religion.”  I totally believe this to be true.  Many religions believe in God, but many believe that if it’s not with their religion, then the God isn’t the same God.  Some people get upset when they hear Muslims use the name Allah, but Allah is used by both Muslims and Christians in the Middle East.  There are thousands of names for what many call God, yet we fight and argue over a deity that made it clear in the Bible that the name to be used was “I am that I am!”

Why can’t we all just get along? We don’t have to agree with each other, but let’s stop the hate! Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined non-conformists who are dedicated to justice, peace, and brotherhood.”  He also said, “We must learn to live together as brothers or we will perish together as fools.”  And lastly he stated, “I have decided to stick with love.  Hate is too great a burden to bear.”   

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper January 30, 2015.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Five Wise Agreements

Numerous years ago, I came across a book that really made a strong impact on me and really helped me in my day-to-day dealings with others as well as with myself.  I first heard about it while reading one of Oprah’s magazines where she interviewed Ellen DeGeneres.  Ellen was talking about this book and how it made such a huge difference in her life.  A day or two later, I received my book club packet and the book was on sale.  Because of that serendipity, I knew I was to read the book.

This wonderful gem of a book is called The Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz.  Later he and his son, don Jose Ruiz, wrote another book titled “The Fifth Agreement.”   When I learned to practice these Five Agreements, I found that they made my life so much easier in the long run.  These are the Agreements:

“Be Impeccable with your Word ~Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the Word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your Word in the direction of truth and love.”

Thoughts have power.  Not only those thoughts we think to ourselves, but those we put into words towards others.  Are we using our words to lift others up, or tear them down?  Those include the thoughts we think towards ourselves.  I can beat myself up worse than anyone put together.   Thoughts can become our reality, so we need to be mindful of the thoughts we think.  I love the saying “You may not be able to stop a bird from landing on your head, but you can stop it from building a nest.”  This is the same with our thoughts.  If a negative thought occurs, it’s up to us what to do with it, and we can turn it around into something positive whether it’s a though in our mind, or something we speak towards others.

When it comes to gossip, anyone who knows me well enough knows that I despise gossip.  If someone starts people bashing, I will immediately stick up for that person or group of people, change the subject, or leave the conversation.  Gossip is poison and it reflects more on the person doing the gossiping than the person or people they are gossiping about or bashing. 

“Don’t Take Anything Personally ~ Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.”

I used to take everything personally.  If someone didn’t react the way I thought they should, I would wonder why they were treating me that way, if they were mad at me, or why they didn’t like me.  In reality, not everyone is going to like us for whatever reasons.  There have been people in my life who were determined not to like me no matter how nice or kind I was to them, and it would make me more determined to make them like me.  I finally had to realize that it had nothing to do with me.  They were only projecting their own life issues onto me, so I blessed them and let them go.  When I worked with these same people every day, I had to learn to just send them love and go about doing my job.

I also learned that it really isn’t any of my business what other people think of me.  If I did something to hurt someone’s feelings or make them mad, then of course I would take responsibility and apologize.  Beyond that, I had to learn to let it go.  Rev. Terry Cole-Whittaker wrote a great book titled “What You Think of Me is None of My Business,” which I would also highly recommend reading. 

Don’t Make Assumptions ~ Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.”

It is so easy for us to make assumptions.  If an assumption crosses our mind, we can ask “Do I know this for a fact?”  Most times, we don’t, and even then facts aren’t always clear.  If I think there was a misunderstanding or if someone might be upset with me, I ask them.  Sometimes I have to work up a lot of courage to ask, but it’s better to find out than to fume over what could be nothing, and most of the time, it is nothing but a misunderstanding.

“Always Do Your Best ~ Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.”

You can only do the best you can with what you know at the time.  That goes for everyone.  Your best is based on your upbringing, beliefs, experiences, etc.  We never know a person’s state of mind.  It also makes it easier not to judge people because you realize they were only doing the best they could with what they knew. We have to remember that everyone has a story, and we don’t always see the bigger picture.

When we’re not feeling well or we’re feeling negative, it’s easy not to do what we think was our best, but we still did the best we could at that time. Once you understand this agreement for yourself and others, you can find compassion and understanding, and not be so judgmental.  As Oprah says, “If you could do better, you would do better.”

“Be Skeptical, but Learn to Listen ~ Don’t believe yourself or anybody else. Use the power of doubt to question everything you hear: Is it really the truth? Listen to the intent behind the words, and you will understand the real message.”

This is the Fifth Agreement.  Relatively speaking, truth is an illusion.  What do I mean by that?  The same truth can be different to different people.  Ask ten witnesses at an accident what happened, and you can get ten different answers.  At one time, it was believed that the earth was flat and that the sun revolved around the earth.  This was their truth at that time.  Today, we know this isn’t so.  There are many things that were known as truth at one time, and that truth changed.  Just think about religion and politics where everyone in those realms believe theirs is the only truth, and yet everyone disagrees with the other.  So, who is right and who is wrong?

I’ve learned to just keep an open mind in all things because I know that my own truth changes as I learn and become more knowledgeable and enlightened.  What I believe now is just my truth at this time in my life.  That’s why I won’t argue with people about anything either.  You can’t argue a person’s truth because to them, they believe theirs is the only truth.

Practicing these Five Agreements have drastically changed my life for the better.  I’ve learned to have so much more love, compassion, and kindness not only for others, but for myself. 

don Migel Ruiz says “You don’t need to change the world; you need to change yourself.”  And Gandhi stated “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”  Practicing these Five Agreements is a good start.  We can only change the world, by changing ourselves first. 

(“The Four Agreements” Copyright ©1997 by Miguel Angel Ruiz, M.D.  “The Fifth Agreement” Copyright ©2010 by Miguel Angel Ruiz, M.D., Jose Luis Ruiz, and Janet Mills.  Both books:  All rights reserved. Published by Amber-Allen Publishing, Inc., San Rafael, CA, U.S.A.)

Published in the Putnam County Visions Magazine January/February 2015 issue.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Awaken Your Heart

“Love is life’s great secret.  It transcends fear and isolation, guiding you beyond the shadows of sentiment, to the shores of boundless being.  Love endures not from words or feelings alone, but from actions that carry you beyond the interests of separate self, beyond reason or motive, to embrace all people, things, and circumstances.  Loving-kindness begins in little ways, in moments of insight and humility, in your soul’s longing for love’s communion, which waits just on the other side of your heart’s doorway.  You are not here to contact your higher self; you are here to become it.” 

The above was from one of my favorite authors, Dan Millman, in his book “Everyday Enlightenment:  The Twelve Gateways to Personal Growth,” which I highly recommend reading.

We talk a lot about love, but do we really know what love is?  I’m talking about the pure, unconditional, perfect love of God / Spirit / Universe / Life itself!  Many people will say they love certain people, but do they really?  Yes, we do to a certain extent.  But many of those times, we put conditions on that love.  “I will love you if….”  Those “if’s” usually mean getting something in return even if it is just that person loving us back.  Unconditional love is loving someone without expecting anything in return.  Easy?  It should be, but we humans make it very difficult. 

Many of those conditions we put on our love include needing the person to think like we do, look like we do, believe the way we do, and fit our expectations of the way we think they should be, do, and act.  If any of these don’t meet our expectations, then that love becomes conditional.  Loving unconditionally, the way God loves us, means loving and accepting someone just as they are. 

Most important of all, we do not love ourselves unconditionally.  I know that’s a tough one for me, though I’ve been learning more and more just how extremely important that is because until we can love ourselves unconditionally, we cannot love others unconditionally.

There are times when I feel so much unconditional love for everyone and everything in the world that I feel I could just burst wide open in a state of loving bliss!  And then there are other times that feel like I could turn my back on all of humanity because of all the human nonsense I see and hear.  At least I know that feeling of loving bliss and it gives me something to strive for more and more.

One thing that helps me is to do random acts of kindness for anyone and everyone I encounter.  For it is when I am giving that love that I feel that I am the most loving, not only towards others, but towards myself.  We feel good when we help others to feel good.  When we lift others up, we lift up ourselves.  And that is a wonderful feeling!

It’s time that we awaken our hearts to know that we are loved by God beyond measure!  We are the best there is and it has nothing to do with anyone else!  We were created to be magnificent, beautiful, fabulous, and miraculous beings!  Genesis 1:26 says “Let us make mankind in our image and in our likeness.”  Not in a physical sense, but in the essence of the All-That-Is.  Do you know how glorious and extraordinary that makes us?  Now if we could just believe it and live it! 

I’ve shared with you one of my favorite quotes by Marianne Williamson before, but I’d like to share it with you again, and if you will, really take the words into your heart.  “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” 

Again, as it says in the quote by Dan Millman, “You are not here to contact your higher self; you are here to become it.”  All we need to do is awaken our hearts, believe it, and it is so.

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper January 16, 2015.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Which Energy Are You Feeding?

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life.  “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil.  He is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good.  He is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. This same fight is going on inside you - and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.” 

There has been a great spiritual awakening occurring, not only within ourselves, but in the world, and it seems that two forces are fighting against each other.  These two forces may have the appearance of light/good/right vs. dark/bad/wrong.  This is sometimes called a dichotomy meaning a division or contrast between two things that are represented as being opposed or entirely different.

Life is full of dichotomies but these are actually good things.  If we didn’t know dark/bad/wrong, then we wouldn’t know light/good/right and vise versa.  As human beings, we have to know or experience one in order to know or experience the other. 

Spiritually, let’s look at these energies as just light and darkness.  The light is filled with joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.  The darkness is filled with anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.  We all have a little bit of all this within us at one time or another.  But we have choices.  As in the story of the two wolves, we can choose which one we are going to feed.

If you look at America and world events, it seems that it’s just been in recent years that we are seeing so much more negativity everywhere:  politics, religion, education, government, healthcare, and so on.  Everything that isn’t working in our lives and in our world is coming to light so that we can see it and do something to make it better.  Like a cut finger that gets infected, we have to see the pus come to the surface before we can cleanse and heal it.

The good news is that there is so much more light occurring in the world!  The sad thing is that we’re just not hearing about it in the media.  Remember, most of the media loves the darkness and feeds off the negative energies because that’s how they make their money, and many of them will even add fuel to the fire with lies and exaggerations to keep it going and maybe even make it worse all for the sake of news.

But please know that the light is actually expanding so much brighter because so many people are starting to get it.  They know that love, compassion, hope, truth, and kindness are the answer and they’re doing what they can to make a wonderful difference in our world.  People are changing the world for the better, and I totally believe that it is going to get better.  Each of us, as individuals and our world as a whole, are diamonds in the rough and we’re feeling the chipping, sanding, and polishing to make us the diamonds we really are. 

Those who feed the darkness are fighting harder to keep that energy alive and that’s one reason it seems we’re seeing so much more chaos.  The darkness is fighting to stay dark, but the light is always greater than the darkness.  Remember, darkness is only the absence of light so as our light expands, the darkness disappears.

The Bible says that we are the light of the world.  We all have that light within us, yet so many have had that light dimmed or seemingly covered up completely because of what they were taught and what they experienced in life.  But it’s still there waiting to shine forth. 

Marianne Williamson said, “As we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”  So as we go into the New Year, let’s try to make a conscious effort to feed the energy of love and all that is good.  By doing so, we will create the world we wish to see and maybe, just maybe, we can create world peace.

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper January 9, 2015.