Monthly Archives: April 2012

God and Prayer

I remember my beloved grandmother teaching me how to say my bedtime prayers when I was little. I liked saying them. They made me feel secure. And for many years, I felt that something was missing and incomplete if I forgot.

Perhaps a certain spiritual longing was always there. Because I also remember relishing the opportunity to go to church with a very religious friend, during my adolescent years.

But then, as a college student — especially as a philosophy student — I encountered all of the arguments against God and later even lectured on Aquinas’ notoriously flawed five proofs for the existence of God, in my own classes. I pointed out all of the irrefutable logical fallacies in those five proofs, to my own students.

During those years, I wondered about the absurdity of it all. God, that is. And by extension, the whole idea of praying to a God. In my logically trained young mind, I wondered about the idea of a God that would proceed with his plans for annihilation and devastation, only to suddenly cancel them at the request of a petitioner. After all, I reasoned, that’s why people pray, to convince God to alter some undesirable course of events. I wondered about the idea that he might change his mind so whimsically.

But then one day, I realized how differently things can look when you flip them around. One day, I flipped around my own viewpoint about it all. Or, it was flipped around for me.

I came to see that God is within, not without.

Additionally, praying isn’t about loving a God out there, somewhere. And changing the course of events is secondary to the understanding of prayer as connection, rather than petition. It is about connecting with that which may be called, infinity, for there is no adequate way to convey the sense of going beyond the confines of what you thought of as your finite self. (Nor is there any adequate way to convey that which is beyond the confines of reason.)

And it isn’t about fear, as in the idea of fearing God, for, there’s no room for fear where divinity lives.

And about the business of changing some course of events; coming to divine consciousness – becoming conscious of our own divine nature – reveals our role in creating that very shift we seek. And that makes it nonetheless incredible, but all the more awe-inspiring and wonderful.

As Zen says, “you create your own universe.” And as Yoga says, “you control the universal consciousness.”

But alas, it isn’t really about personal pleas, petitions and procurement, at all. It is really just the personal expression of gratitude and completeness. Praying, that is. For no other purpose. Like a flower reaching up toward the light, leaning over permanently to one side with time, devotion expresses this feeling of affection and longing, but with no object of desire.

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How to Turn Anger into Forgiveness (Four Tools)

Lists are cute, but…they can only take you so far. The reason is usually because they tell you the “what” at the expense of the “how,” rendering them entertaining, and perhaps inspirational, but simplistic.

For example, I saw this piece of advice, in a list, just last week:

Give up the need to always be right.

 

A good pointer, for sure. After all, the need to be right is not worth the price of your inner peace. But, alone, it’s a bit like that pair of shoes that looks really good, but won’t help you much when it rains. First, we need to understand where this need comes from. Yes, it’s the ego’s obsession. But for practical purposes, the need to be right arises, all too often, in the midst of conflict, and in the nub of an argument. And it comes with anger (the deeper problem), which is escorted by the inability, or unwillingness, to let go, which, in its turn, comes with the inability, or unwillingness, to forgive.

So, what do you do when your mind is spinning, your composure is slipping and your heart is raging? Here are four tools to use, either alone, or in any order you choose:

1. Affirmations. To diffuse anger.

And you thought a Zen person would only tell you to stop talking to yourself! It all depends on what you say. Talking to yourself can either be a help or a hindrance. We talk ourselves into things and out of things all the time and can skillfully talk ourselves out of being angry if we commit to the task. We can start by reminding ourselves that it is our choice to refuse anger and turmoil and instead choose peace and tranquility. It’s also a choice to be offended and if we’re not offended, there’s nothing left to “prove.”

Anger starts out as a feeling and can quickly turn into words, or even worse, violence. And as both the Yogis and the behavioral therapists say, you are not your feelings. Meaning, that bit of anger that starts out as a nudge can be nipped before escalating into a coercive shove.  It’s a kid, talking out of turn. “Thank you for sharing,” you might say, and move on.

But, what about those television shows that tell us to punch things and get it all out? Anger is not something that needs to be nurtured or “practiced.” Which is why, “venting” doesn’t work. Venting is destructive, rather than constructive. Anger is a habit, like everything else. By venting, you are nurturing the combustible mixture of blame and resentment, clinging to the short-lived illusion of relief due only to the effect of exhaustion.

So, how do we talk to ourselves effectively? A positive affirmation is a bit like a mantra, which, when used properly, results in healing and restoration of the mood and emotions. By repeating a mantra, you are enabling your mind to focus on what you want it to focus on, rather than on the continued negative self-talk that only spins the anger. An affirmation can create a powerful shift in your attitude, resulting in peace of mind. An example would be something simple, such as, “I Am Love,” or, “I Am Forgiveness,” or, “I Am Light.” Notice these are all grounded in presence, as opposed to the past or the future realms, which keep us grounded, in turn.

2. Perspectives. To diffuse anger and enable forgiveness.

The need to be right is a poorly covered power struggle, with you vying to maintain control. The palpable tension it creates is driven on by your belief that there is a price the offender must pay, for their wrongful words or actions.

Remember back, for a moment, to a time when you acted rudely to someone you loved, when you unintentionally hurt someone either because you were distracted by your own troubles or because you let your emotions take you for a ride. Sometimes we don’t even know why we do certain things. We can hardly understand, let alone control, our own moods and behaviors—how much more difficult to fathom someone else’s? It’s seldom even about us, at all. Remembering our own slips and blunders brings us quickly into a state of equanimity and calm compassion. It lets us remember that we too, have been there, done that.

3. Visualizations. To Forgive and let go. 

This is a powerful Buddhist meditation I learned many years ago from one of my teachers. It is both startling and highly effective—if done with concentration. Here is the shortened version:

Imagine the dead body of the person who angered you. Visualize their body as distant, pale and lifeless. See, in your mind’s eye, the lifeless body beginning to rot. Imagine worms crawling in and out of the eye sockets and the mouth, and all of the crevices, eating away at the putrefying flesh. Finally, see nothing left, at all, but a strewn pile of dried-up bones. 

This ancient meditation will remind you of the fleeting nature of existence. It will remind you of how silly it is to get hung up on what usually turns out to be nothing at all. It will remind you, most powerfully, of the precious, short time we have to spend with our loved ones and to cherish that time, rather than waste it on nonsense.

5. Breathe.  To diffuse anger and quickly switch gears.
Truth: Most people breathe unconsciously. Which means, too shallow and too fast. We don’t fill up our lungs, which means, we’re not getting enough oxygen and we’re not expelling carbon dioxide. Aside from the health problems that would likely be ameliorated through deep breathing, what it means for our purposes here, is that we’re irritable. The Yogis have long known that shallow breathing is associated with anger and ill temper. And to make things worse, stress uses up even more oxygen. To turn things around, take three big, long breaths—but really do it! With one hand on your belly to act as a guide, bring that breath down toward your belly, expanding your diaphragm until you look like you’re pregnant! This activates the parasympathetic nervous system and effectively kick-starts the relaxation response, immediately bringing you into a different state of mind.

“The art of deep breathing is also the art of real living.” ~Yogi Bhajan

What’s Wrong with Distractions?

Can you just sit, without the need to go shopping, have a drink, play some slots, meet some girls…or guys,  place a bet, see the game, look at magazines, call people, surf the net or have a smoke?

But what’s wrong with those things? You might ask.

In philosophers’ patter, let’s presuppose three things: (1) That the highest purpose of human existence is to awaken our consciousness (2) That by ethically wrong, we mean the deliberate causing of harm to a sentient being (3) That there is a difference between ethical wrongness and and spiritual wrongness.

With that in mind, we first have to understand what is meant by “wrong.” We can rule out the idea that anything is ethically wrong with those things mentioned (presumption #2)—because in doing them you’re not causing direct harm to yourself or others and you probably have no intention to. But, those kinds of attractions may be considered wrong in the sense that they fail to support us in our longing for true inner contentment. Moreover, they don’t serve in bringing us nearer to the most exquisite goal of spiritual awakening (presumptions #1 and #3).

We’re talking more about what an activity doesn’t do for us than what it does do. And it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t ever engage in amusements for the sake of amusement. It just means that we shouldn’t expect them to deliver what they are incapable of delivering.

Joy and happiness never derived from the external world. It is only the ego that looks habitually and incessantly for the next new thing—attached as it is, to the illusion of fulfillment by these things, as well as to the illusion that fulfillment happens at some other time. So, we are deceiving ourselves, from the beginning, by looking for happiness from anything, amusements, novelties, fantasies, experiences, in short, from things—things external to ourselves, things whose novelty quickly wears off, whose initial thrill wears away and whose very fabric wears out. All external things have a shadow side. The addict crashes every time and every time goes looking for another fix. The shopper needs the current issue, the gamer needs the latest version.

We even look to other people as potential sources of happiness, thus converting them into possessions and approaching them in the spirit of ownership, with negative emotions, like jealousy, suspicion and resentment the inevitable result of such an arrangement.

Meanwhile, we become prey to our own never-ending search for fulfillment out there. By doing so, we are essentially giving up our power to the world. And when we disempower ourselves, we become further distanced from the ultimate goal of awakening and further entrenched in illusion.

In Zen terminology, true joy comes from waking up to this moment. In Yogic language…from the realization of your own divine, abiding Self.

Nothing is more empowering than our liberation from the chains that bind us to the mistaken belief that joy is external to us. Distractions, by definition, keep us from this realization, thus leading us astray from our spiritual goal, wasting our time and disparaging our sacred purpose as humans.

And this, we may call spiritual wrongness (presumption #3).