BEING OF SERVICE: Compassion in Action

“Reputation is what men and women think of us; character is what God and the angels know of us.”     Thomas Paine


I don’t know about others, but I know what it means to have a “reputation.” That’s what we called it in high school when a girl was thought to be sexually active. Never mind if it was true or not. I was one of those girls and I can tell you, it is really weird dealing with the product of empty gossip, or what was described in law school as arguing facts not in evidence. What people say about us often is the result of idle conversation and gossip. Even people who know nothing about you will talk. Whatever “they” might say, it has nothing to do with what we know of ourselves.

BEING OF SERVICE: Compassion in Action

After the death of Thomas Paine in New York City on June 8, 1809 the newspapers read: “He had lived long, did some good and much harm,” which time judged to be an unworthy epitaph. He left a tremendous philosophical legacy, but in his day he was vilified for a few mistakes.

thomas-paine

When we mean to be of service, whether we get a reputation for helpfulness or for failing to help often has nothing to do with what really happens. This is the legacy of many who are of service. You may not be known for what you do — do it anyway!

Garden Path

While there is no need to hide the nature of what we do, as some people want to do for religious reasons,  if we are looking to become “known” through acts of service, we could well ask ourselves, “What service is there really for those being served?”

In any case, we can’t control what others say about us anyway. Finding the true joy of self-expression in service is it’s own end. When we serve we share the opportunity to express what is divine, or best, within us–and with those with whom we share the experience. Nobody else really needs to know. We can’t prove we are good people. It isn’t our purpose and trying to prove how “good” we are only points to our doubts about ourselves.

Remember, it is your own character that is among your riches, for you are divinely made, and no matter what “reputation” you might enjoy — you know in your heart of hearts  is true of you. Enjoy that knowledge and celebrate it in offering your hand in the equation that service represents in our lives. Service is always some part of what is best about living expressing perfectly through, and as, you!

Perhaps someone reading this can share ways that they have been of service that have contributed to their own sense of self in unexpected ways.

Advertisements

Questions About God: Einstein on Being of Service

“Strange is our situation here upon earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seemingly for a divine purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: That we are here for the sake of others…for the countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy. Many times a day, I realize how much my outer and inner life is built upon the labors of people, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received.”  Albert Einstein

Susanne 2014

Being of service to others takes our focus off of ourselves and looks for how we might be useful where and how we are. When we feel grateful, we naturally want to share ourselves and our good fortune. Being in service only increases our gratitude and joy and our experience of the unity of all life.

When we choose to be of service in the depths of life’s deepest anguish, when we can engage in the deepest alchemy that life has to offer at such times, this is when we know that we have grown in Spirit. “I am alive in Spirit, Spirit is alive in me,” is a chant sung in many New Thought centers written by singer songwriter Melissa Phillippe.  These words point to the same idea that Einstein is pointing out in the quotation above.  We know Grace through these generosities of Spirit that we share.

Times are difficult, and such times are a powerful time to know gratitude for simple things; Love is such a simple thing. Love knows no bounds nor does it require that life or anything within it be different in any way. It allows life’s difficulties to surface to find the divinity hidden within each experience. May we appreciate this divinity in all of life for the hidden gifts within each difficulty.

“Be silent as to services you have rendered, but speak of favors you have received.” Seneca (5 BC – 65 AD)

This modesty of spirit is a matchless empowerment of the heart and a source of deep wisdom.  A single unity underlies all life, now is the best time to explore this unity.

Getting Along

The capacity for getting along with our neighbor depends to a large extent on the capacity for getting along with ourselves. The self-respecting individual will try to be as tolerant of his neighbor’s shortcomings as he is of his own.  Eric Hoffer

shouting match

Sometimes our neighbors look like a shouting beast to us.  I don’t know if we tolerate shortcomings so much as mirror them with one another, revealing something that was hidden and then projecting our understanding on another, to free ourselves from the burden of knowing this uncomfortable truth about ourselves.

Comments

Susanne,

that last paragraph really spoke to me — very nicely worded.

rated

Susanne, I could not agree more. To love others, we must first love ourselves.

Rated
Love the Photo
Greg

Projection is bacially seeing others through the perspective of what we cannot or will not accept about ourselves. Most of the time we are entirely unconscious of the projection and won’t even know what the trait is but “see” it in the “other.” i.e. greedyness, envy, jealosy, self-pity, which we deny in ourselves. One sure test is that you dislike or hate someone who you don’t really know–just “instinctively” reject since our intuitions quickly detect it.

But there are also cases where we can know and see the particular trait in the other person, are not projecting, but still know it is something we have to keep at a distance, since the trait, such as “selfishness” limits the trust we can rightly place in that person.

Also, sometimes, there are cases where there are no projections at all, and we recognize somebody else is a “fraud” or what I call an “emotional felon.” In those cases, it may be necessary to make our distust known so the person is aware that we aren’t going to allow them to take advantage of us. Good fences make good neighbors.

Interesting question to start my day—and LOVE the photo.
I appreciate your coming by to comment, each of you. I like things pithy and quick that make me think about something worthwhile. That something that seemed so to me is for you, and that you said so, well it strikes me right where I live, in a good way. Thanks.

Ben, is correct about fences, or boundaries. It is sometimes important to let people know that we don’t mean to be taken for fools or marks. The idea that we might be projecting is one to keep in a handy pocket for regular employment so that we don’t confuse our own stuff with the likes of those with whom we interact.

Thanks again.

Couldn’t agree more. Great photo.

Questions About God: Einstein

“I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, whose purposes are modeled after our own — a God, in short, who is but a reflection of human frailty.”  Albert Einstein

albert einsteinThis statement by Einstein shows one of the problems with anthropomorphism, the attribution of human qualities to nonhumans, in this case, God.  When we anthropomorphize God there are consequences we may not have considered, such as, the problem of unbelief—because who wishes to believe in a God who would be so petty as the God Einstein describes above, and yet, that is exactly what many of us are taught.  There are other limitations engendered by this very human habit, all of them limiting our imaginations, our thinking and our ability to know.

“Almost everything said of God is unworthy, for the very reason that it is capable of being said.”  Pope Gregory the Great

Jesus, Hildegard of Bingen & Me.

I am life.  I am Mystic.

  Jesus, Hildegard of Bingen & Me

Hildegard of Bingen (1089 to 1179) was a notable figure in medieval Scholastic thought both because she was a creative and independent thinker & an influential woman in a time and culture we think of as dominated by the male-oriented Latin church.  She devoted considerable thought to understanding the natural world and was reputed to be a gifted healer.  Of special note is the impact of her visions on her own cosmology as well as on later thinkers. Even today, there are popular mystical groups associated with Hildegard, and one can buy current recordings of music she composed.   

Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179)

Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179)

 1. The Source of All Being

“I am that supreme and fiery force that sends forth all the sparks of life. Death hath no part in me, yet do I allot it, wherefore I am girt about with wisdom as with wings.  I am that living and fiery essence of the divine substance that glows in the beauty of the fields.  I shine in the water, I burn in the sun and the moon and the stars.  Mine is that mysterious force of the invisible wind. I sustain the breath of all living. I breathe in the verdure and in the flowers, and when the waters flow like living things, it is I.  I formed those columns that support the whole earth … I am the force that lies hid in the winds, from me they take their source, and as a man may move because he breathes, so doth a fire burn but by my blast. All these live because I am in them and am of their life. I am wisdom. Mine is the blast of the thundered word by which all things were made. I permeate all things that they may not die.  I am life.”

Bust of Hildegard of Bingen

This is a profoundly mystical statement by Hildegard of Bingen.  Mysticism is defined below to get around the common use that the forms of the word ‘mystic’ suffer in our culture.

2.  Mysticism

    •  Mysticism emphasizes a direct, unmediated connection with a loving God and the spiritual equalityand/or unity of all peoples. This is a radical idea for its time:   no priest, shaman or other person is necessary to a direct relationship with the divine, for life is ever present in all.
    • Each of the major religions brought forth a mystical wing or subgroup in the postclassical period (Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, etc.)  For instance, Islam has its Sufis, Hinduism has scores of sects, many of them mystical, Vedanta for one comes to mind as having been much written about in English.
    • Because of its emphasis on non-hierarchical spiritual equality, mysticism offers an avenue to influence and authority to people otherwise excluded from political and religious structures.  This was true in Hildegard of Bingen’s time and it seems to be a consistent attribute of mystical religions through the centuries.

This final point makes mysticism, in its many different forms, attractive to Americans who seek a spiritual way of life, but find traditional religious practice and churches confining and patriarchal.  We’ve all been there.  Some of us became agnostic or atheist in the face of the power mongering and pettiness we have experienced in various traditional American churches.  Some of it has been downright mean and shameful in ways that good people just can’t stomach.

3.  The Challenge of Discussing Faith with the Unchurched

So the problem I always run into when discussing a life of faith with those who live without participation in spiritual community is that they don’t have a clue that there are those of us who don’t think we need anyone else to think for us about religion or to lead us.  It never occurs as a possibility to most people because the only religious people they hear about are the fundamentalist or evangelical Christians or the folks in other religions that can be equally fundamentalist in their point of view.  That is not who I am and I know a lot of people who have come to a similar spiritual path.

So what does a minister who doesn’t believe their role is to come between the individual and a direct experience of the divine essence of life do professionally?  We teach.  We leave practice to the individual.  We do have our experience to share and the benefit of a lifetime of scholarship, but we aren’t telling anyone how to live their lives.  We just don’t.  That doesn’t work anyway.  Look around.   Do you see that kind of leadership as ever having worked for humanity at large?

4. We think differently about Jesus

Another thing that many mystics believe, and I do believe this too, that whatever powers it is said that Jesus may have had, that those same powers reside in each and every one of us.  That’s one of the reasons that we can actually help one another. Hildegard of Bingen thought so too. It opens the whole wide world for exploration and adoration to us, just as it was opened to Jesus.  What might we do with our lives that matters, what choices might we make,  if all that exists is the body of God?  What indeed.

apse

When we see that God is all there is, there is nothing but what Love we can share with the Divine in the many parts that it plays.

Happy Holy Days

More than anything else, we want to send you our Love, & our wishes for Peace, Prosperity and all the Good Things for Each and Everyone on Earth. — Dan & Susanne

BEING ORDINARY: What’s the Point of Trying to Be So Special?

I keep wondering about that.  I have a fairly ordinary, normal life.  This is my most prized accomplishment.   I make dinner for my husband most nights.  Because I love him so much I cook from scratch.  That involves baking and fresh garden vegetables and cooking with those things I have canned from our garden.   I enjoy planning our garden during the winter and combing over gardening websites for ideas, amassing the seeds, bulbs, corms, peat pots and supplies I need to get a jump on the short growing season we have in the Pacific Northwest.

I am looking forward to seeing roses from here.

I am looking forward to seeing roses from here.

I like living well and my definition of that is fairly simple.  For us, living well means living in a fairly well-organized, clean home that delights the eye with both its beauty and its utility.  Home is a wonderful place to be for us.  The few times that I have been able to travel have been a great joy to me.  I want to travel more than I have.  I look forward to it.

I don’t much care for whiners, I appreciate folks who are solutions oriented and rather than complain, do what they can to improve on any given situation.  When I say that, I have to also say that many really HORRIBLE things happened to me in my life.  I don’t like to be called a victim.  I don’t like to be called exceptional either.  I don’t like to be called a survivor because what happened to me isn’t like being pinned under tons of rubble for ten days before a rescue crew pries the rubble apart well enough to extract someone who when they survive will return to life in a country where they live on $500 or less each year.

I don’t mean to deny or minimize the things that happened to me.  I suffered through my difficult childhood in Southern California.  The weather is pretty good there.  I still got to hike in the hills and go to the beach.  When you’re wearing a bathing suit at the beach, social class and poverty isn’t all that apparent to others.   It is hard to characterize such a childhood as something one survived.   When you live through hellishness sometimes it simply occurs as the way life is.  You don’t know at the time that other folks aren’t going through the same sadness, the same loss of innocence.  Certainly I didn’t know what it was to have a normal, ordinary life.

I was sexually molested, raped, beaten, blamed for the sexual activity by my relatives and the mental abuse was very difficult.  I didn’t have a lot of friends because we kept moving.  I was isolated in a variety of ways.  I spent nearly a year of my teens in juvenile hall or in a receiving home for kids who were waiting for foster care.  I went through five foster homes between ages fifteen and seventeen.  I ran off to Denver with a conscientious objector from Camp Pendleton and waited to turn eighteen so that I wouldn’t have to be bossed around by screwed up, careless adults anymore.  That decision was made after the guidance counselor rather importantly informed me that I was not living up to my potential.  It doesn’t matter if I was right about them.  It was my experience that the responsible adults in my life weren’t paying attention to what was in front of them and what was important to me was not on anyone’s radar.

I have a GED high school equivalency certificate.  I took the test about eight years after that trip to Denver.  Denver came after having changed schools 27 times before I dropped out of high school.  I still did well in every part of the GED test, except math, where the discontinuity of my education reaped its grim reward.  I got only 45% of the math questions right, but I was in the high 90th percentile on every other subject in the exam.  I was always curious and read a lot and I think that accounted for my scoring well otherwise.   I talked my way into University of Maryland as a special student with those scores and no SATs when I was 25 years old.

Symons Hall U of MD

I also have a doctoral degree in religious studies and a Juris doctor degree from a small law school in California in 1995.  I am still paying off educational loans.= (Note: paid off in 2012)  I earned all of these degrees and debts on my own.  No one in my family had the means or any interest in helping me go to college.  It was up to me to make of my life what I saw fit.  Maybe it was up to me a little sooner than that idea occurs to others; but it dawned on me at some time during college that we really are all on our own, and that is a good thing, to learn to make ourselves happy.

My education is one source of great happiness to me.  Education makes me feel rich.  No matter how much money I do or don’t have, the intellectual tools and experiences I have as a result of all of that work cannot be taken from me.  If I owe taxes, the government cannot take from me what I have learned.  They can put a lien on my house, but they can’t take the store of information and skills that I have collected.  Being able to solve problems and figure things out is one of my hard earned skill sets and I’m keeping it.

Wherever I go, having done what it took to educate myself both academically and socially I feel prepared.  No matter who I may meet, whatever the accomplishments of another, they didn’t do it coming from a background like mine and I feel like the challenges I faced and mastered gave me a confidence that puts me beyond commonly used measures.  Folks might be smarter than me, and often are, and they can be more accomplished in some way, but they are never worthy of more respect than I give or demand for myself.  At some point, I no longer felt any need to ‘measure up’ because there is no ‘up’ from where I stand.  And because of a few stellar people who crossed my path I learned the importance of kindness and generosity, in addition to the practice of respect, so I’m good.

And yet, all this post childhood educational work made me happy to be sort of ordinary.  Being ordinary is also an accomplishment when the life you were born to is one that asks you to suppress your gifts and become invisible.  Learning to write so that others could get on the same page with me, that was an accomplishment.  Perhaps I don’t write like a published literary genius, but being capable of being understood by a wide variety of people, that is an accomplishment that brings me tremendous joy.

I don’t think anything that I have done is particularly extraordinary, even though I have done lots of things no one would have expected.  I was not trying to be better than anyone else, I was, and continue to try to be better than myself, to expand my understanding and experience.  Sometimes I have done things faster than some of my peers, but it was because I had some goal in mind for myself.   I took more classes than I was required to in law school out of curiosity.  When I was about to graduate I realized I had taken about one extra class per semester.  I took more classes than anyone who graduated with me.  Even then I had a garden and I cooked for my family because I was in my forties when I did my graduate studies, and families need to know that you appreciate them.  Food is a wonderful source for the demonstration of love.   And sometimes, just lolling around without any purpose with someone you love is the best tonic on earth.

Every life has its challenges.  My life started out with more of them than most Americans.  Even so, most of the time I find that I forget everything I surmounted in the past and my life is merely about what I am going to make for dinner tonight and that feels like having a tremendously privileged life.  I am free of worry about having enough money or food.  I can think about things I never knew existed or had time to consider as a girl from a family who got food stamps.

I read Heidegger, Hölderlin, Nietzsche, Sartre, W.E.B. DuBois, Shulamith Firestone and so much more.  None of which I could discuss with anyone in my family to this day.

I read poetry endlessly for a few years and fell in love with both Frank O’Hara and Sam Hamill.  I learned to meditate and to teach meditation and spiritual practices.  I learned to share the stillness I had found within.  If I had followed the expectations of my family I probably would have been a waitress for a long, long time.  And certainly, it helped me pay my tuition to be a good waitress who could remember a lot of disparate information.  But that would have been it:  I would have missed the opportunities of my life.  I would have struggled with poverty and would have missed all the things that I love the most:  All the ordinary pleasures, all the normal day to day things that come of being who I am.

I would have missed my ordinary life.  In the same way that the low expectations of my family would have held me back, I feel that so much striving to be special is an equally and tremendously crafty thief of our day to day lives.  For a long time I struggled to excel at things that other folks simply did with greater ease than I can.  Other people were intrinsically more interested in the law than I was.  I wasn’t fascinated.  Other people were more interested in being heroic than I was.   And I tried to find work that was centered on my greatest skills, but there really wasn’t anything that required that skill set but me.

And so I found work that took advantage of my best skills, not all of them, but enough that at the end of the day I had time to use those other parts of me to amuse myself and benefit my family.  And the stress of striving for some acknowledgement of my specialness began to die away and I was left here living in this wonderful home with this wonderful man who appreciates my intelligence and creativity and who could listen to every awful thing that happened to me without awe or false sentimentality so that I could have an ordinary life and put away the burden of being special.   It’s nearly impossible to relax when you’re busy trying to be or avoiding being special.

My husband, Dan McMullen, has been more transformative in my life than anyone else I know. The way that he stuck with me through thick and thin helped me understand myself in ways that nothing else could.

I’ve done all kinds of spiritual, psychological and ontological work and he has done some of it with me, including even being an excellent student in classes that I have taught as a minister myself.

There is no substitute for being loved from the hair on your head to the soles of your feet, inside and outside and even when there is stormy weather in the relationship. Dan has never, ever made me feel that I should doubt his dedication and love. That kind of love leaves me free to develop myself as fully as I am able.

Dan the Man

This song is for him…



Ray LaMontagne

SHELTER

I guess you don’t need it
I guess you don’t want me to repeat it
But everything I have to give I’ll give to you
It’s not like we planned it
You tried to stay, but you could not stand it
To see me shut down slow
As though it was an easy thing to do
Listen when
All of this around us’ll fall over
I tell you what we’re gonna do
You will shelter me my love
And I will shelter you
I will shelter you
I left you heartbroken, but not until those very words were spoken
Has anybody ever made such a fool out of you
It’s hard to believe it
Even as my eyes do see it
The very things that make you live are killing you
Listen when all of this around us’ll fall over
I tell you what we’re gonna do
You will shelter me my love
I will shelter you
Listen when
All of this around us’ll fall over
I tell you what we’re gonnado
You will shelter me my love
I will shelter you
If you shelter me too
I will shelter you
I will shelter you

NEW THOUGHT: Forgiveness Is Always a Good Place to Begin

Readings

“Love points the way and Law makes the way possible.”[1]

The Person Who Is Awake

She is awake.

The victory is hers.

She has conquered the world.

How can she lose the way

Who is beyond the way?

Her eye is open.

Her foot is free.

Who can follow after Her?

The world cannot reclaim Her

Or lead Her astray,

nor can the poisoned net of desire hold Her.

She is awake!

The gods watch over Her.

She is awake

And finds joy in the stillness of meditation

and in the sweetness of surrender.

Hard it is to be born,

Hard it is to live,

harder still to hear of the way,

And hard to rise, follow and awake.

Yet the teaching is simple.

Do what is right.

Be pure.

At the end of the way is freedom.

Till then, patience.

If you wound or grieve another,

you have not learned detachment.

Offend in neither word nor deed.

Eat with moderation.

Live in your heart.

Seek the highest consciousness.

Master yourself according to the law

This is the simple teaching of the awakened.

The rain could turn to gold

And still your thirst would not be slaked.

Desire is unquenchable

Or it ends in tears, even in heaven.

She who wishes to awake

Consumes her desires

Joyfully.

In Her fear a person may shelter

In mountains or in forests,

In groves of sacred trees or in shrines.

But how can She hide there from Her sorrow?

She who shelters in the way

And travels with those who follow it

comes to see the four great truths.

Concerning sorrow,

The beginning of sorrow,

The eightfold way,

And the end of sorrow.

Then at last She is safe.

She has shaken off sorrow.

She is free.

The awakened are few and hard to find.

Happy is the house where a person awakes.

Blessed is their birth.

Blessed is the teaching of the way.

Blessed is the understanding among those who follow it,

And blessed is their determination.

And blessed are they who revere

the person who awakes and follows the way.

They are free from fear.

They are free.

They have crossed over the river of sorrow.”

The Dhammapada

How God Forgives

“Spiritual wisdom says that God manifests through everything and is incarnated in all men; that all is Divinity and that Nature herself is the body of God.  The mechanical laws of nature are set and immutable, but the spontaneous recognition of these laws gives us the power to bring them into practical use in everyday life and experience.”[2]

THE ANSWER IS IN WO/MAN

The answer to every question is within wo/man, because wo/man is within Spirit and Spirit is an Indivisible Whole. The solution to every problem is within wo/man; the healing of all disease is within wo/man; the forgiveness of all sin is within wo/man; the raising of the dead is within wo/man; Heaven is within wo/man. That is why Jesus prayed to this indwelling “I am” and said: “Our Father Which art in Heaven.” He also said: “The Kingdom of God is within you.”

Each of us, then, represents the Whole. How should we feel toward the Whole? In the old order, we thought of the Whole as a sort of mandatory power, an autocratic government, an arbitrary God, sending some to Heaven and some to Hell; and “all for His glory.” Now we are much more enlightened and we realize that there can be no such a Divine Being. We have meditated upon the vastness of the Universe of Law, and we have said: “God is Law; there is a Divine Principle Which is God.” In the new order, we are liable to fall into as great an error as the old thought fell into, unless we go much deeper than thinking of God simply as Principle. God is more than Law or Principle. God is the Infinite Spirit, the Limitless, Conscious Life of the Universe; the One Infinite Person within Whom all people live. The Law is simply a Force.[3]

Forgiveness Is Always a Good Place to Begin 

Most of us have heard plenty about forgiveness. Personally, when the topic of forgiveness comes up in the common everyday sense, to be completely honest, I feel impatient with the way it is handled. I suppose I feel that the very deep power of forgiveness is as much misunderstood as is Love and I really don’t want to hear much more said unless it will make a difference in our expression of Love, which I consider to be the primary activity and nature of living. There is this idea that forgiveness need only be about as deep as a puddle that we ought to be able to do it in the snap of our fingers. While that level of ease may be possible, it is not the way forgiveness works for most of us.  There is also the misimpression that forgiveness implies condoning the acts of a perpetrator.  It doesn’t.  I try to remind myself that everyone is doing the best that they can, and I include myself in that category.

With recent events looming, there are many who are deeply angry and the idea of forgiveness is very difficult for them to accept, particularly when the basis for forgiveness and the concepts in the common understanding of the nature of forgiveness have been handled so tritely.  So let’s try today to see if we can do something to clear up what is meant by forgiveness and what is its power for returning us to peace and joy within ourselves.

I read that, if we would spend at least half the time that we spend complaining, finding fault, fussing over our dissatisfactions, being sad and sorry for ourselves, and holding things against others; if we would spend just half as much time in affirming that which we truly want, that would be the time in which we would be healed and living in the circumstances which we truly desire.  So I suppose this points to our being empowered first off, to quit wasting our time on what we don’t want, and to begin with moving on to that which we most deeply desire.

In New Thought we believe that the wisdom that is within God is also within the individual.  I like to think the phrase “Infinite Wisdom within me“; and then stop and think what this means.  It means that the Intelligence that operates through everything, visible and invisible, is operating within us. Let’s see how we can use this power of infinite wisdom as a place to begin, and then we shall use it to empower our process of forgiveness as a foundation, for our spiritual life.

First, let’s agree that forgiveness is an act of flushing out the lethal, repetitious thoughts that devastate our happiness and cause havoc in our lives. Forgiveness is an act that restores our minds to wholeness. Forgiveness is very clearly something powerful we do for ourselves, not something nice we do for someone else. Through forgiveness, we take responsibility for our thoughts and mental state, for our own integrity, and yet, no particular action is implied beyond the change of our thinking. 

Since forgiveness is one way of taking responsibility, it is accomplished by first acknow-ledging the nature of our own thoughts, and secondly, seeing clearly the conflicted beliefs that our mind holds. This is a powerful choice.  It is a natural expression of Love.  Forgiveness is not accomplished by merely denying our thoughts, arguing against them, or by trying to replace them with “good thoughts.”  This is what happens when we mistakenly blur the distinctions of “denial” as it is commonly meant in modern day psycho-babble.  We don’t really know what people mean by denial who are not engaged in Affirmative Prayer, but let’s just agree that this kind of denial is a kind of pretending that some condition or circumstance, some feeling or behavior is not really happening even though we are clearly living with the outcome of its existence.  You know what I mean, it would be as if I were to sit here and say “There is not a piano in this room.”  So what is that object to my left?  (points to the baby grand piano) Perhaps someone would come and take my piano if I kept saying this with sufficient feeling, but you can presently see the piano has not moved and can infer that I don’t mean it.

This common definition of denial is clearly not the same meaning for denial that is used in Affirmative Prayer, which is to look beyond the appearances to the perfection that exists within.  Affirmative Prayer requires more of us than simply saying that something isn’t so.  It is to combine our faith in the wholeness of all that exists with the deepest feeling and the knowledge that this wholeness exists within the situation at hand, knowing that God hears these prayers and acts upon them.  This is a consciously chosen communication with God within the One Universal Mind that is common to all humankind. This is the kind of prayer we practice.  We don’t beg God for anything.  Within our recent national experience, it has become a very challenging thing to ask of oneself to look beyond the circumstances to celebrate the good.  This requires so much of us, more than most of us have ever been called upon to do.

When we are on the road to forgiveness, and have admitted to ourselves that we have certain shadowy impulses, once we know what those impulses and ideas are and how they operate in us, then and only then, can we turn to the place of stillness and wholeness within ourselves. This is the moment when what it is that we are seeking to express within ourselves IS accessible and ready for realization.  AND, if we take this second step before the first step is completed, if we don’t honestly face the troublesome lines of thought we have been engaging in, they will soon return and repossess our mind.  Did you see the movie “Repo Man?”  Picture the wraithlike Harry Dean Stanton character coming to claim your peace of mind like a car that is about to be stealthily repossessed.  Whatever we do not honestly face within our thinking will continue to come and repossess our peace until we consciously set each thought in its appropriate place, state its truth and affirm our own wholeness.

We can and do get such mixed feelings about ourselves for having had endless scores of awful negative feelings, it can become downright difficult to let go of the harmful thoughts we may still carry about whatever it is that we have left unaddressed.  Whatever awful things we have been willing to say, and have done to another human being, these things cut through our consciousness like razor blades, even when it seems that they “deserve it.” Consider this: By dwelling on these thoughts, it is like we are gossiping about ourselves, and anyone else involved, to our selves, and if that is not enough, then we throw the same net over anyone else we may have engaged in listening to our painful ideas.  What a thing to do to a compassionate listener!  Zen teacher Robert Aitken says “More people get hurt by gossip than by guns.”  The Dalai Lama counsels “If you find yourself slandering anybody, first imagine that your mouth is filled with excrement. It will break you of the habit quickly enough.”  When we keep carrying around the opinions we formed when we were angry, disappointed, surprised, hurt, unfulfilled in some way, the less than generous things we had to say about anyone at all, we have to face that we have committed a kind of interior slander on another and even upon ourselves.

Can you see how that works?  Can you see the cost to our vitality and self-expression?  Whenever you experience someone glowering and stewing, that is a person who is in need of the practice of forgiveness.  Forgiveness begins with understanding and releasing the hold of self-righteous judgments.

Forgiveness is taking responsibility. It is the acknowledgement that the incident that gave rise to our suffering is over and that we alone reenact the damage. Confusion and discouragement can mask our unwillingness to take responsibility. We have to stop getting bogged down in either of these emotions and move on to what we need to do to restore ourselves in relationship to whomever we say is the source of our disappointment within ourselves.  This is all happening within us, no matter what happened before.  Whomever we thought of as the source of our sorrows lives on within us controlling our lives so long as we do not forgive them.

You may recall my telling you about forgiving my mother, so please grant me some little forbearance for repeating this, but it is one of my life’s greatest lessons.  For me, this began to take place around the age of 28, however, it took years to complete the process.  I don’t know if it took so long because of how stubborn I am or how difficult my childhood, but it did take me nearly ten years to complete the forgiveness process with my mother.  So if it takes you a little while, I suggest you extend some forgiveness to yourself!  Forgiveness is one of those qualities like love that seems to expand much like the loaves and fishes upon our need for it.

Perhaps maturity is the moment when we begin to realize that we don’t have to continue thinking ungenerously and cruelly about our parents, that whatever it was that led us to have the ideas and opinions we held against them, and whatever was going on with them at the time, is all in the past and is best left there.  Our relationships with parents are an excellent model for all other opportunities for forgiveness. So what can we do?

Before “leaving it there” we can first, reinterpret events in light of a larger understanding available to us now, “My parents were the way they were, and this is simply what happened.” We can take the spin off!  Telling yourself that it shouldn’t have happened, engaging in “what if” this part had been different, is a form of denying that it did happen, so try to concentrate on honesty rather than resentment.  Be with the truth of what happened without embellishment.

The second step is to add God back into each scene. God was there when it happened, and God’s love protected your heart, your spirit, your soul, as well as anyone else involved. Clearly, Love does not micromanage events.  Each party to any event is using Love and Law at the level of their awareness.  We are not protected from our experience, the way that life is leaves the door open to our choices and this is true for all involved. The Divine protects and blesses us but on the level of the material, we reap the consequences of our thinking.  If we are thinking that whomever we are thinking perpetrated against us is the incarnation of Satan or the resurrection of a World War II despot,  then what else could we experience?

A third step you can take is to begin noticing how resentment and other emotional patterns connected to withholding forgiveness cost you your vitality.  What kind of moods do you get yourself into when you continue to hold things against another?  How many opportunities for happiness go sailing down the river of sorrow and regret so that you can be self-righteous about what somebody should have done another way so long ago?  Or last week!  It doesn’t take long for resentment to begin eating up your life.

How do we defuse this challenge?  Once we have been honest with ourselves, we can effectively take the matter into prayer.  If we can’t find a way to be completely honest with ourselves, we can affirm and seek support for our ability to be honest.  And we can keep in mind that we are doing the best that we can.  Once we have been honest with ourselves, in prayer we can release what happened.  We can release our need to see things the way that we once did.  We can begin to look upon the events of our lives and our parents lives with some compassion.  God remained in and through you and could never reject you, nor could God reject your family.  Remember this.  As you begin having some compassion and forgiveness for yourself, and for whomever the perpetrators are, you will begin exhausting these old “mental horror movies” of the source of their pain.

While you are working this out through telling the truth, correcting your thoughts as you go along, and by taking the matter into affirmative prayer, you can refuse to act out the damage this negative thinking causes whenever possible. In this way, you will no longer put others on the defensive and make the situation more complicated. Once you have refused to make things worse, and have found some forgiveness for yourself and the persons you once viewed as perpetrators of your suffering, you must then open your heart to the grace of God. God will return you to the experience of your Divinely inspired and sacred feelings, not one of which was ever touched by this experience of difficulty, suffering and sorrow. Silently repeat: “I choose now to see as God sees and feel as God feels. I express Love as God expresses Love. I want nothing more than to be as God created me.”

In the beginning of this talk I quoted Holmes saying, “Love points the way and Law makes the way possible.” And the Bible For if you forgive men their faults, your Father in heaven will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive even your faults.  Since we believe that God is in all that exists, including you and I, this Biblical quotation has an interesting meaning.  If we are to be forgiven by God we have to begin with ourselves!  Even this forgiveness thing is an inside job. This is another one of those things where having faith the size of a mustard seed is a sufficient beginning. Just seeing the possibility that what we had once thought of as the truth about someone else is no longer a useful idea for us, just the inkling that there could be another deeper interpretation of events, that idea “blows the doors off” and lets the fresh air back into our lives.

As I said before, it took me years to work this all out with my mother.  During that time, I had to learn to keep my mouth shut about when I wanted to blurt out some horrible stuff about my mother in order to absolve myself of responsibility for some condition in my life.  I think my rather tart-tongued grandmother told me “If you can’t find something good to say, then don’t say anything at all.”  This is a difficult practice, one I am sure the Buddha would recommend, as would Confucius and Lao Tzu, who wrote in Verse 56 of the Tao te Ching:

Those who know don’t talk.
Those who talk, don’t know.

It is said in the Dhammapada that Buddha said:

If you speak or act with a corrupted heart, then suffering follows you like the cart’s wheel follows the foot of the ox. If you speak or act with a calm, bright heart, then happiness follows you, like a never-departing shadow.

Sometimes, when we are looking for that calm, bright heart within ourselves it takes us awhile to find it under the dirty laundry of our past, and if we can keep our mouth shut at those moments when we would gossip about those whom we have judged, before we know it, our prayers will be answered and we will no longer think the thoughts that led to that struggle.  We will be returned to our original state.  In the book of Proverbs it is said:   “For lack of wood the fire goes out; and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases.”

We are told that God will forgive us after we have forgiven others. This is a direct statement and one that we should ponder deeply. Can God forgive until we have forgiven? If God can work for us only by working through us, then this statement of Jesus stands true, and is really a statement of the law of cause and effect. We cannot afford to hold personal animosities or enmities against the world or individual members of society. All such thoughts are outside the law and cannot be taken into the heav­enly consciousness. Love alone can beget love. People do not gather roses from thistles.

The Father who seest in secret will reward us openly. Shall we not learn to enter the “secret place of the Most High,” within our own soul, in gladness? We are to fast without outward sign, but with the inner mind open and receptive to the Good alone. Our treasure is already in heaven, and our thought can take us to this treasure only when it is in accord with divine harmony and perfect love. [4]

Mom as a girlThis is a picture of my Mother when she was in third grade. It came to me when I was struggling with the memory of some painful childhood experience, that if I ever wished to hold anything against her, that I would get out this picture and think of this Peppermint Patty face, of this tender adventurous girl with the thick coppery hair and full-bodied set of freckles.  This is a girl who saved her brother from Polio. I think of the great difficulty of her life.  I remember that no matter how tall she grew to be–and she was very tall, and no matter how she towered over me all my life–that inside the heart of her was still that wonderfully devilish girl who would try anything, who was terribly generous, and not particularly fearful of the consequences of the choices she made.  And I cannot be angry with her.

I choose to remember this as the Spirit of my mother, and just as I would forgive any adventurous girl her mistakes, I can still forgive my mother, as I did many many times on the way to complete forgiveness. It is easy to be angry with the 5’10” threatening God that she was to me when I was the shortest child in my class at school.  But as an adult I can see the perfect and playful child of God within my Mother.

In learning this with my Mother I found that I could forgive anyone for just about anything, and that includes myself.  Maybe you don’t have a picture of the person you wish to forgive, but I am sure that you can imagine them as a child, or you could picture their vulnerability,  their tenderness, with a loving heart you can find a way to understand how they might have come to do the things that they have done.

Recently, we have spent nearly a decade  of time thinking of terrorists and I wondered in the beginning, how can I include them in my forgiveness practice?  Terrorists who have killed innumerable people.  Being able to do this is probably the supreme act of forgiveness, the capstone of forgiveness in our lives.  I know there are those who say that forgiveness ought to be easy.  I don’t know that I can agree with that now.  If you had asked me before September 11 happened if forgiveness was easy I would have told you that sometimes forgiveness is a repetitive practice that has the power that water has upon stone.

I know this because in my family of origin I had so much that I had to forgive:  Rape, incestuous molestation, great physical abuse, neglect and failure to protect and nurture the possibility of my life.  This is why I say that the number of occasions that I forgave my mother number somewhere above half of a million times.  It took a lot of work to get my life back.  It took a lot of work to be returned to Love. The last words I said to my mother were I love you.  Had I not engaged in this practice I would have been left with something the nature of which I would not want for myself. These things that happened to me occurred within a family that loved one another.  I know that, I was there.

Underneath all suffering and all acts that cause suffering lies a commitment to Love.  Perhaps the commitment is not fully realized, but it is there, and in finding it we find our way back into the recognition within ourselves of the grace of God.  Forgiveness can certainly be challenging, though it does not have to be.  It is the passage back to the center of our being.  It is the note upon which life begins to balance, achieves harmony and it is the passageway into the life of Spirit.  Forgiveness is the key to our own complete spiritual freedom.

Yes others really do benefit from our forgiveness, even when they don’t know about it.  In that sense, forgiveness works like prayer, it doesn’t matter who knows or how far away they might be from the person doing the acts of forgiveness.  It is truly the light of freedom that ignites within ones own heart.  Forgiveness clears away all the stuff that is between us and a mystical union with God.

Forgiveness is a worthy use of the Law. It changes us from hard, ungenerous, unsympathetic and self-righteous angry people into thinkers capable of Divine thought.  Forgiveness rebuilds our capacity for compassion and understanding.   It clears away the debris from the portals of our Spirit and unifies it with the Divine.  Forgiveness is a mystical act that uses the Law to create this experience of divinity within ourselves. You have the keys to the kingdom and you are free right now to use them.  Who might you begin forgiving today?

Forgiveness does not change the past, but it truly does enlarge the possibility of the future.  Gandhi said it best when he said “The weak can never forgive.  Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”  Just by beginning to forgive, we begin to experience our own innate strength. Kahlil Gibran reminds us of how horribly we injure ourselves when he says:  “If the other person injures you, you may forget the injury, but if you injure him you will always remember.”

By forgiving and giving up the gossip against those who we need to forgive, we reclaim our souls from any further self-inflicted damage, and we create for ourselves a powerful place to begin our lives again.  This is the wisdom of the ages: that there is a power for good in the universe greater than we are, and we can use it!


[1] Dr. Ernest Holmes, The Science of Mind, 1938 Ed.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.