What is the point?

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Have you ever been on a vacation, or engaged in a sporting activity for your kids or loved ones and realized that the thing you are doing, which is supposed to be so fun and exciting, is actually so full of obstacles, steps of preparation, unseen expense, or undue hardship? Jim Gaffigan has a comedy sketch where he jokes about the angry, stressed-out dad who is supposed be vacationing to the happiest place on earth.

It seems everything in life is like this. An amazing recipe requires tons of ingredients and preparation. Restoration projects require expensive tools and expertise. Enjoying a powder  day means fighting the worst traffic. Our children’s sporting events require untold amounts of effort, time and expense.

All for what?

Let’s not skim over our answers here. It’s far too easy to let ourselves off the hook by saying, “We love doing this.”  Yes, we engage in all of these things because we enjoy them or we think we will enjoy them, but a careful assessment reveals we don’t enjoy it all. Those stressed out in traffic on the way to the slopes do not love it. We don’t love the three hour lines at our favorite amusement parks. We’ve all got to take the good with the bad. But it’s more than this.

I think we have two motivations behind all this: a lower motivation and a higher one.

The lower motivation is ego, pride, or self promotion in some form or another. We tend to over appraise our abilities or those of our kids and pride transforms our friendly competitions into status benchmarks and one-upsmanship. To quote C.S. Lewis, “The reason we get so annoyed with the big noise at the party is because we wanted to be the big noise at the party.” We’ve all engaged in this at some level and it takes spiritual awareness to recognize when we are trying to raise our flag of self importance. This is the part that hurts everyone involved.

The higher motivation is that of ultimate beauty. Each sport, endeavor, pursuit or passion is a world of its own. As we go deeper with each thing we gain nuances that get us into greater proximity to the elusive “moment.” We are trying to find this moment or our little piece of it. It’s sticking the perfect landing after years of practice. It’s setting a new record or reaching a new benchmark, or carving the perfect line. These moments don’t last long, but somehow they make all the struggle worth it.

This is only possible if this moment touches something very deep and very personal within us. This is the moment where what we hoped would be true actually becomes true for us. Our potential is incrementally realized, thus this moment has a cosmic scale to it. If we fail to recognize this as spiritual satisfaction, then our moment will be about our endeavor and ourself and we end up back in our lower motivation. But if we have eyes to see, then the moment can be seen as presence. It’s a transcendent connection between our own mortality and our immortality, this is why we so easily convert these into win/lose, do or die paradigms.  Presence is where we experience true life.

There is something within each of us that recognizes and is curious about our capacities and we endeavor to explore them. This pursuit is either the chasing of the presence that is beyond all things but which beautifully manifests within them, or it is a chasing after the wind (Ecclesiastes 1).

It all comes down to whether our pursuits are a means to an end or an end in themselves. Only a spiritual awareness can tell the difference.

 

Duty is deficient.

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Our world values duty. Duty is defined as a moral or legal obligation or a required action. Our culture honors those who have a strong sense of duty in the military, first responders, teachers and so on. We may find ourselves doing a lot of things out of a sense of duty and it may even make us feel good about ourselves.

Many years ago, I decided I would strive to no longer do anything out of a sense of duty. For me, duty was settling for the lesser. Duty was not tapping into the same motivation as love. I wanted my motivations to be exposed and subject to the law of love in everything I did. Some of you may say, “Doesn’t love obligate you to do things?”  To which I answer, “No. I’m never obligated by love, I’m compelled by it or it isn’t love.”

The precipice of this spiritual discipline is found the moment we are asked to do something that we don’t want to do. This is a crucial moment of spiritual awareness. If we pause in this brief moment, we can uncover our motives for our actions. If we act begrudgingly, we have already lost. However, we can also find a loving motivation to proceed with what presents as unpleasant work. Focusing on the people rather than the task is a good place to start if you are just learning this practice.

Jesus told religious leaders to “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.‘”(Matt 9:13). Jesus was telling the most devout people to go back and read the Hebrew scripture of Hosea 6 which said “I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”  In other words, our motives are primary to our actions. Externals mean little without aligned internals. We can do the right thing the wrong way and it is still wrong, and conversely we can do the wrong thing the right way and it is right. This is why Jesus could break the ten Commandments and not sin while doing so. Pure motives. If we grasp this spiritual principal we will possess the single greatest principal of all religion, the law of love (Mark 12:28)

When we are called upon for action that we don’t want to do, we need only access love, compassion, or mercy and instantly our wanters change their tune. Our obligations transform into pleasures. By acknowledging that “This is what love does” we are able to partake in the transcendent motive that transforms our reluctant and stingy hearts. If we are engaged in an action and it is not what love does, then we shall expect and endure the callouses that form and the resident hell that emerges when acting on lesser motives. We all hate how it feels to be forced by either external or internal powers. Try waiting for love instead. If we cannot find love as a motive, perhaps we need not act at all.

There was a time in my life when my job was to clean portable toilets. It was in this job that I learned how to find love as my motivation. It was a job that most would never do, but I found a humble place in my heart to love those who would use this facility. I desired to give dignity and humanity back to those whose livelihoods require the use of portable toilets. Love compelled me to ensure their experience was not stereotypical. It was ok that it was a thankless job.

Love is the purest and best motivation for anything. Duty is only just slightly above, fear, guilt, greed, ego or revenge as a motivator. Duty obligates us, love compels us. If our life is a list of obligations, then it has great capacity for the motivation of love. Don’t let duty trap you into a loveless life. God is not pleased with diligent ongoing duty when freedom and pleasure are available to ignite the same tasks. If we can’t find love in our tasks, then we probably shouldn’t be doing those tasks. Let’s check our motivations and watch our life transform in turn.

 

 

Logic and Double Talk

There are concepts which are so vital that if missed, we will never possess a full understanding of life. These are known as watersheds. They are life ingredients without which we are left with many questions, much confusion, and a lot of pain and suffering.  This post will examine such a vital concept.

The rise of our advanced civilization stems from our predominant scientific worldview. Our adherence and attraction to science has, for many, relegated spirituality to the sidelines of personal preference. This is because the scientific worldview came after the institutionalized tribal worldview that dominated our world prior to the renaissance and it mistakenly sees spirituality as going backwards.

Western scientific logic bases reality on that which is empirically provable. This is great as far as it goes, but it fails to address or even denies reality that falls outside of empiricism. For example, logic itself cannot be empirically measured. Mathematics is not manmade, but discovered, and it is used to calculate scientific reality, yet even mathematics is not empirically based. If we cannot weigh, smell, or measure the number three, then what is “threeness” based upon? Even scientists use a worldview beyond science to make science make sense. That worldview is non-empirically based reality, or spiritual reality.

Logic tells us that “A cannot equal non-A” without being arbitrary. We are told objects cannot be in two places at the same time. We are essentially given a description of the world as understood through the scientific lens and for most of us, that is good enough. Logic tells us that non-scientific/ abstract ideas are not reality because they are seen as double-talk. This leaves far more questions than answers.

Quantum physics is now challenging the scientific lens and thus opening up new ways to understand our world. The same has always been true for spirituality. Throughout all spirituality there has been a reoccurring theme of “Both-And” that has disrupted the “Either-Or” of the scientific worldview. Both-And is also known as a unitive perspective, non-duality, or singularity. Even the Higgs-Boson particle separator landed half way between super symmetry and chaos theory.

In Judaism, the very beginning of understanding anything is known as the Shama, or to realize that the Lord is one. This goes beyond mono-theism into helping the student realize that everything is connected by, from and to a single Source. Jesus himself corroborates this in Mark 12:28-29.

Buddhism teaches that all suffering comes from our gravitating to one side or the other in all categories, and instructs people to learn the middle way where the two are not opposites but one and the same.

Solomon’s wisdom teaches us:

“Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself? Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time? It is good that you should take hold of this, and from that withhold not your hand, for the one who fears God shall come out from both of them.” (Ecclesiastes 7:16-18 ESV)

Here is a great example of one of Jesus’ teachings on this.

Jesus said to them, “When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male nor the female be female, when you make eyes in place of an eye, a hand in place of a hand, a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image, then you will enter [the kingdom].”  ~Gospel of Thomas, v.22

So this universal principle goes beyond teaching us about moderation and avoiding polarities. It is guiding us to begin looking at everything as connected, as one big thing, even if we only grasp a part of it. The puritans and reformers get there via their grasp of sovereignty, the mystics get there via contemplation, the eastern mind through meditation, and now the scientific mind through quantum mechanics. The trend line is proving that we are all heading the same direction as our consciousness rises.

Scientific logic separates us from our enemies. Spiritual reality shows us our enemy is our brother.

There are too many examples to put them all here. Just know that when we split the world (or any aspect of the world) into small categories, we diminish some aspect of this major watershed concept. To the degree that we are able to see things as one and connected, to the same degree we are able to take hold of God.  The unavoidable by-product of this transcendent experience is a dramatically different humanity and trajectory for our world.

Pay attention to the things you divide, then open your eyes to see how they are connected.

What is Freedom?

Everyone has his or her idea of freedom. Each of us possesses a unique and very personal notion of freedom be it something we have or something we yearn to have. When people align with each others ideas of freedom, this creates tribes or communities.

Our political landscape uses freedom to promote a parties agenda, but ultimately, but agenda is motivated by some form of freedom. The fighting is always about freedom: financial freedom, national or sovereign freedom, the freedom of a nation’s people to pursue their hopes and dreams with minimal limitations, inner freedom, religious freedom, or the freedom to live in peace, not under threat, tyranny, or oppression. Freedom is directly related to the collective and thus to government.

Each example represents a form of freedom, and yet freedom stretches beyond any one of them. This is proven when people obtain one form of freedom, they often begin seeking another form. The professional who finally obtains financial freedom, now seeks freedom of time. The freedom from leaving a war zone or oppression gives rise to the freedom of expression.  This is our clue about the bigger story of freedom.

Freedom is the cry of the human soul. Beginning as toddlers, we want what we want. Nationally, our freedom is based on the ability to want and pursue what makes us happy. This is actually pretty good, but we all see the problem in execution, because we all want to pursue something different. Religious and institutional freedom tries to control personal freedoms. Personal freedoms can disrupt or derail the freedoms of others. Corporate freedoms impact the freedom of societies. Governmental freedom has the power to empower and diminish all freedoms. Isn’t this the climate that frustrates us so much?

Summing up: we all innately desire  aspects of freedom. We all possess some bits of freedom while we lack others. If we don’t get the freedom we want, we experience some form of oppressionAND THAT IS THE KEY.

We’re not pursuing freedom as much as we’re fleeing oppression. Most people see the avoidance of suffering and making the world a better place as two endeavors. Most squander their freedom on themselves, plundering the world rather than transforming it. This kind of living is the negation of life; and is a base form of existence known as survival.

Only the very fortunate can possess a level of freedom beyond existence. To pursue ideals indicates that a person has experienced some measure of inner freedom. Those without external freedoms are often the first to develop inner freedom; it’s the path of deep spirituality. Those with external freedoms tend to diminish inner freedoms. This is why the young rich leader was so disheartened after meeting Jesus (Luke 18:23). Power easily corrupts us without this internal counterbalance.

Freedom then, is something we can possess, but for most is narrowly missed. Instead we mistakenly get entangled in the scrimmages for freedom because we have been converted to the notion that we have to fight for it or defend it. If life is a zero sum game then war is inevitable. If life and freedom are generative, then living them out is their course of expansion. Wisdom tells us that forgoing a measure of personal freedom, actually enlarges our capacity for greater freedoms. Every parent knows this: freedom potentiates through sacrifice and shrinks in selfishness. Thus the only fight for freedom is the one within each of us and whether we will sacrificially extend freedom to another.

Let’s test this in our cars. Will you extend freedom to a merging car into your lane? Or will you close the gap and defend your right to freely be in front? We must access the heart level or we miss freedom entirely. Giving up a car length takes much more than we think because it requires us to see others as ourselves. The moment we do this, we are as free as any person can ever be. If we can transform our commute, we can transform our world. Freedom starts within us.