Sunday, May 12, 2019

How to believe your work matters, even if the world doesn't change.

Every age hath its own problem, and every soul its particular aspiration. The remedy the world needeth in its present-day afflictions, can never be the same as that which a subsequent age may require. Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and center your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements. - Bahá'u'lláh

Does what I say and do, really matter? There are so many oppressive forces about us today, that often we are left feeling that our small work, our daily efforts are really so minuscule in comparison to the battery of no's we face that seem to be working against not only us, but everything we love. How then can our work matter? 

This is a question that has crossed my path numerous times, most often in conversation with others and when engaged in a healing space with people I work with. Immediately my body responds with a tightening in the gut and I know that is what are we afraid of?

This life challenges us in so many ways, but one of the strongest is that in our essence we are made of spirit and yet we live in a material world. Why does this matter? Because spirit energy moves very differently then material energy.

Spirit energy knows no restrictions of time and has no physical bounds! It is why our dreams and visions are so important to our movement. We are able to envision a different reality, we are able to dream up incredible worlds in which we participate in without limitations. Because this is the reality of our spirits, they are energy that is moved by the force of our visions and dreams. These then are animated by what nourishes our spirits and that is the information we feed ourselves through the material we read and digest.

What you feed your spirit matters.

How do we feed our spirits? Divine teachers and sages of all eras have said the same thing: Holy words and prayers. Holy words that uplift your spirit and vision to a true picture of who you are. Prayers that remind you of your true essence and strengthen you to continue on.

But does reading sacred text in the 21st Century even matter anymore?

Luckily for us, Western science is catching up and we are being told that when we are positive and we surround ourselves with positive messages and affirmations, we change for the better! So reading sacred text, poetry that sees through the night, writers that have wrestled with their demons and found light out of darkness...listening to songs that ask us to stretch wider, even through our pain, this all feeds our spirit and helps widen our vision.

So what does this have to do with spirit and material matter? 

Because unlike spirit energy, material energy is stable and solid, it is slow to change and constant - so it can create the illusion of permanence. When we look at the world through a material lens we think things will always be as they are, that change will be slow to come and may never come and if we believe this illusion, then we are in danger of giving up...of not seeing the immense value of our efforts, both in words and actions.

And so we become dependent on the material world and we think if there is to be change we must be fully in charge. I know that if I move a chair change happens. If I wash my clothes I remove the stains. And so I begin to believe that all of life is like this and if I am to be in charge, then I can create the change I want by controlling the outcome of each action I take. This is the illusion of control - that somehow if we are just to be in charge, then we can control outcomes.

When we believe the illusion of control we begin to actually become out of control, by trying to control every aspect of our lives and the lives of others. We direct our children. We subjugate our employees into submission through systems of reviews and write-ups. We manipulate and maneuver every aspect of our lives so that the outcome matches our vision of what is right and true.

So why is this bad?

When we become so consumed by control we lose control, our emotions are left unattended as they are not part of our vision of control and when you leave powerful energy like emotions unattended, they can become destructive. Eventually our control will meet a force that will challenge its ability. When we meet this force it will push us to either submit and learn to listen to our spirit energy as a motivating force or we will degenerate into more inhumane behaviors in an effort to control an outcome we desire. We may rationalize these behaviors as necessary to achieve the outcome we believe to be right and true, when the reality is, we may actually be scared of what does it mean if we do not achieve our outcome. Because dependence on the material world for our personal well-being and worth, sets us up to a very high standard of success that is also measured by the material world. We begin to believe that more money, means more success; a promotion, means more success; a bigger house, means more success. And we lose sight of that which might actually be of greater service to us for all eternity: the strength of our spirit.

The strength of our spirit is the one thing we do get to take with us when we die. 

And how do we strengthen our spirit?

By releasing control. Learning to work with others and their vision. Learning to develop tact and wisdom of when to speak out and when to remain silent. Learning to have patience and faith in the process of growth that all of humanity is moving through. And of supreme importance, learning to have humility...trusting that whatever our spirit aspires to, when guided by the forces of love and unity, will most assuredly contribute to the progress of the world.

In the words of one of the great Luminaries of the East,

"One deed in this Day, is equivalent to deeds performed during a hundred thousand years" (Bahá'u'lláh".

I guess we cannot really say what impact our efforts and work has on the world, but I will trust Bahá'u'lláh and be anxiously concerned with the needs of this age that we live in and make every effort that my deeds reflect the best of my spirit and what I have to offer the world.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Perfectionism and Success: Is it an Illusion?

Consider then, how all the peoples of the world are bowing the knee to a fancy of their own contriving, how they have created a creator within their own minds, and they call it the Fashioner of all that is—whereas in truth it is but an illusion. Thus are the people worshipping only an error of perception. - 'Abdu'l-Bahá

Recently I have been reflecting on what is success, what is good, what is getting it right and what does it mean to be doing well. We have all asked and been asked, How are you doing? and we respond, I'm good. I'm doing well. But what does that mean really? Does that mean all things are in order and everyone is marching ahead? Does that mean we are all getting straight As in life and everything we do? We have set up a system of good and bad, of right and wrong, and some of us make it and others fall short. But who set up this standard? How do we know if this standard is valid and what makes it a standard? There are two sources I go to when trying to decide whether something has merit or not: Divine Teachings and Stories.

Image of dream catcher to represent a spiritual blueprint for life

Divine Teachings

What are divine teachings? They are also known as Holy books or Holy words and they come from the Prophets, messengers sent to guide humanity with a spiritual blueprint through this maze of life. One of the continuous strands of these great Teachers and their Texts is they all mirror each other. None of these Prophets deviates from the other in their spiritual concepts. They guide humanity forward with the same stream of guidance for the spirit:

  • Be humble
  • Embrace tests and difficulties
  • Live a life of prayer and supplication

So then why do we think when life is hard or when we're facing mass difficulties that it is a sign that we failed? Why do we cringe back in shame when we don't "get life right"? Why do we think prayer and supplication are for nuns and monks cloistered on a mountain top? 

I think we have strayed so far from our spiritual blueprint that we have created our own measurements and they are based on the world's standards. We believe that there is such a thing as a gifted student that implies others are not. We believe that getting straight As means we have succeeded and when we prepare hard for something and don't get it, we have failed. We have forgotten we are spirit beings first with full access to all the powers of the spirit realm:
    Young man sitting with presence and joy

  • Intuition
  • Presence
  • Love - Love - Love

These are powerful tools that can help us breakaway from this world of illusions where we measure our spirits to material standards. How far does your spirit stretch? Far beyond the canyons of the mountains, but how would you know this if every time you face a test and difficulty you cringe back in shame? If every time your kid does not make the honor roll, does not make the dean's list you hold back and wonder what you did wrong? It is not to say that those who do are getting it wrong either. It is to say that we should not measure ourselves against the false standards of man. Instead, we should look deep within and ask: 

  • What am I learning about patience? about love? about being present?
  • What am I learning about how to love deeply despite my loved one's shortcomings?
  • What am I learning about staying in the conversation when things are not going well?
  • What am I learning about what to do with deep pain and sorrow when I feel I can't seem to get things right? 

And what about stories?


I think beyond being a storyteller, I am also drawn to stories because a good story tells us of a life well-lived. They tell us of how life can try and shape and mold a person, but when led by Spirit, the protagonist in the story instead releases all control and is guided by a much deeper inner knowing, a calling, a truth that will not release them and while on the inside it is pure light and love, on the outside it can look like a mess and a half. 

What are examples of this kind of life? There are many and again, I often turn to those early believers of the great Prophets to see what they did when trying to live a life based on the spiritual blueprint they were given and not this external reality they live in. 

Paul comes to mind. I have not studied the Bible as many of my dear friends have, but when I am faced with great tests and difficulties - and I have been completely flattened out by tests numerous times - many of my dearest friends will ask me to look to the life of Paul. Paul, an early Christian teacher, spent the majority of his life in prison. He often referenced a deep and difficult pain that assailed him continuously and yet he learned to glory in this weakness because the message he got was, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness." And yet, all of us try and get away from weakness. Still, the great teachers of these stories show us that in weakness they are strong, in humility they are powerful. 
Another example for me of this understanding is someone more recent to our lives, South African Freedom Fighter Nelson Mandela. What a fiery power he was his whole life and yet how different this fire showed up at different times of his life! Initially as he worked tirelessly to break Apartheid he used this fire to place a constant strain on this unjust system. After he was imprisoned, he continued to fight and over time this fire bowed to humility and his gentle presence became a testament of faith in the nobility of the soul of all humans, even those who aspired to oppress him. 

  • Humility 
  • True joy in the face of extreme pain
  • A life not of material successes

These are concepts we are not very comfortable with, instead we want demonstrations of material wealth, some outward manifestation of success that the world would applaud - surely this does not include: imprisonment, a C or D student, unemployment, underemployment. And of course, one does not desire these things, nor should one strive towards them. But if they happen to you, wouldn't the real measurement come with how did you walk these tests? Wouldn't the real question be, what can we all learn with you as you learn to walk these difficulties with spirit feet? Because if you are willing to expand, if you are willing to help us all break away from this illusion, you would invite us on this journey of life you are living and you would teach us about what you are learning:

  • How does a soul expand beyond its current limitations?
  • How does pain become a tool for healing and greater joy?
  • How do we walk away from shame and embrace humility and truth-seeking?

I am learning these things and I invite you to walk with me and I will share all I learn. I hope you will do the same. 

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Y Si el Sufrimiento nos Lleva al Amor?

"La mente y el espíritu del hombre avanzan cuando es probado por el sufrimiento. Cuanto más se arada la tierra, mejor crecerá la semilla, mejor será la cosecha. Así como el arado surca la tierra profundamente, purificándola de malezas y cardos, por lo tanto, el sufrimiento y la tribulación liberan al hombre de los pequeños asuntos de esta vida mundana hasta que llega a un estado de completo desapego". - 'Abdul-Bahá

Parece que vivimos en una sociedad que está profundamente convencida de que si podemos vivir una vida sin preocupaciones y sin estrés, lo estamos haciendo bien. Cada vez más, he empezado a cuestionar esta idea y me pregunto si hay un significado mucho más profundo del sufrimiento y la incomodidad que perderemos si intentamos mantenernos alejados del sufrimiento. No estoy abogando que nos preocupemos, la preocupación se debe al temor que puede llevar a un deseo de control. No estoy diciendo que debamos enfatizar tampoco el estrés; el estrés es un síntoma de un intento de controlar algo que puede no estar bajo nuestra capacidad de controlar. Y, finalmente, definitivamente no estoy diciendo que debamos buscar el sufrimiento o, peor, infligirlo a los demás. Lo que estoy diciendo es que al tratar de evitar el sufrimiento que naturalmente viene con la vida, también podemos estar evitando la oportunidad de amar profundamente.

Entonces, ¿cómo debemos tratar con el sufrimiento?

Foto de whoislimos en Unsplash.
Cuando se piensa en el sufrimiento, surge la pregunta: ¿cuál es la causa? A menudo la causa es una interacción con alguien o algo. Cuando esta interacción es dolorosa o triste y nos sentimos incómodos, intentamos alejarnos del dolor o del miedo. Nos alejamos no solo porque es incómodo, sino que lo más probable es que no sepamos qué hacer con el dolor o el miedo cuando aparecen, nunca nos han enseñado qué hacer con las emociones que no nos gustan, excepto reprimirlos. Las emociones son energía y, de acuerdo con las leyes de la energía, no puedes destruir la energía, no puedes hacer más de ella, solo puedes transformarla. Entonces, cuando reprimimos la tristeza y el miedo, puede transformarse en sufrimiento.

Debido a que no hemos liberado el dolor y el miedo, se convierte en un sentimiento constante de dolor y el temor de no ser digno de nada bueno. El sufrimiento por sí solo es inútil, pero si puede ser como una herramienta para el crecimiento, solo requiere movimiento para que cumpla su propósito. Cuando se ve como una herramienta para el crecimiento espiritual, el sufrimiento tiene una gran capacidad.

Río corriendo entre árboles

Lo que he aprendido sobre el sufrimiento es que requiere movimiento para que pueda liberar sus poderes espirituales. Este movimiento puede venir en forma de liberar el dolor y los miedos. Puede venir en la renuncia al control, reconociendo cuando uno ha hecho todo lo que puede y luego las cosas que aún estamos sufriendo, libérelas para que una fuerza superior en la naturaleza pueda tomarlas. Este movimiento extiende el espacio dentro de nosotros, espacio que crea más capacidad para que podamos amar. Cuanto mayor es el sufrimiento, mayor es la capacidad construida dentro de nosotros para amar.

Este movimiento de sufrimiento a través de nosotros es una fuerza tal que, cuando se sostiene, le permite a uno liberar todas las creencias falsas que tienen en su interior. El sufrimiento nos obstruye y este encofrado hace que nos liberemos con gran fuerza. El sufrimiento nos dobla y al doblar en dolor hace que eliminemos todas aquellas cosas que sosteníamos dentro que creíamos que son verdad ... ¿y si no soy lo suficientemente bueno? ¿Qué pasa si me falla? ¿Y si nadie me quiere? ¿Y si siempre estaré solo? ... y de esta purga viene la oportunidad, la oportunidad de decirnos la verdad.

Pienso en purgar como en vomitar. Cuando vomitamos nos sentimos muy mal. Nuestro estómago se aprieta fuertemente, nuestra garganta nos duele, nuestra boca saliva con un sabor horrible, y luego lo peor nos sale en pedazos, trozos y jugos, todo sale con un olor horrible. ¡Esto es purgar emociones! Puede ser horrible en el proceso, pero una vez que ha comenzado a vomitar, no puede detenerse repentinamente. Lo mismo ocurre con la purga de emociones: una vez que permites que la presa se libere, no puedes intentar detenerla, debe fluir y dejar salir. ¿Y qué pasa cuando terminamos? Nos sentimos adoloridos, pero mejor. Al igual que después de vomitar, nos sentimos un poco temblorosos y crudos por dentro, ¡pero luego nos sentimos mejor! Poco después de vomitar, queremos algo suave y calmante, y queremos que nos abrazen y nos amen. Lo mismo es cierto después de que hayamos liberado muchas emociones y creencias falsas, queremos ser sostenidos, nutridos y amados profundamente y queremos ser llenos de la verdad.

Papel de pergamino en blanco abiertoY poco después de vomitar, no tiene nada dentro de usted ... y su apetito se abrirá.

¡Así es como el sufrimiento nos abre! Finalmente lo dejamos ir, empujamos y liberamos todo dentro de nosotros y un espacio más amplio se ha abierto dentro de nosotros, listo para ser llenado ... ¡así que debemos estar atentos de que nos llenamos!

Entonces, ¿con qué nos llenamos?

Yo digo amor Amor por nosotros mismos, por el camino de la vida que se nos dio para aprender, amor por los más cercanos a nosotros, por el camino de la vida que se nos dio para aprender, amor por este Ser Divino que cree tanto en nuestra capacidad para movernos y crecer.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

And What if Suffering Leads to Love?

"The mind and spirit of man advance when he is tried by suffering. The more the ground is ploughed the better the seed will grow, the better the harvest will be. Just as the plough furrows the earth deeply, purifying it of weeds and thistles, so suffering and tribulation free man from the petty affairs of this worldly life until he arrives at a state of complete detachment." - 'Abdul-Bahá

It seems we live in a society that is deeply convinced that if we can just live a worry-free, stress-free life we are doing it right. Increasingly I have begun to question this idea and wonder if there is a much deeper significance to suffering and discomfort that we will lose if we try and stay away from suffering. I am not advocating that we worry, worry stems from fear that can lead to a desire to control. I am not saying that we should stress either, stress is a symptom of an attempt to control something that may not be under our ability to control. And finally, I am definitely not saying we should seek suffering or worse, inflict it on others. What I am saying, is that in trying to avoid the suffering that naturally comes with life, we may also be avoiding an opportunity to love deeply.

So then how should we deal with suffering?

Photo by whoislimos on UnsplashWhen thinking about suffering, the question arises what is the cause? Often the cause is an interaction with someone or something. When this interaction is painful or sad and we become uncomfortable, we try and pull away from the pain or the fear. We pull away not only because it is uncomfortable, but most likely we don't know what to do with pain or fear when they show up, as a people we have never really been taught what to do with emotions we don't like except repress them. Emotions are energy and according to the laws of energy, you cannot destroy energy, you cannot make more of it, you can only transform it. So when we repress sadness and fear, it can be transformed into suffering.
Because we have not released the pain and fear, it becomes a constant feeling of pain and a fear of being undeserving of anything good. Suffering by itself is useless as a tool for growth, it requires movement in order for it serve its purpose. When seen as a tool for spiritual growth, suffering has great capacity.

River rushing between trees

What I have learned about suffering is that it requires movement in order for it to release its spiritual powers. This movement can come in the form of releasing pain and fears. It can come in the relinquishment of control, recognizing when one has done all they can and then those things that we are still suffering over, release them so that a higher force in nature can take hold of them. This movement stretches out space within us, space that creates more capacity for us to love. The bigger the suffering, the greater the capacity built within us to love.

This movement of suffering through us is such a force that when sustained, allows one to release all the false beliefs they held within. Suffering shutters us and this shuttering causes us to release with great force. Suffering doubles us over and this doubling over causes us to purge out all those things we held within that we thought were true...what if I'm not good enough? what if I failed? what if nobody wants me? what if I'll always be alone?...and from this purging comes opportunity, opportunity to tell ourselves the truth.

I think of purging like throwing up. When throwing up we feel awful. Our stomach wretches, our throat aches, our mouth salivates a horrible taste, and then the worst stuff comes out of us in bits and pieces, chunks and juices, all of it comes out and with a horrible smell. This is purging emotions! It can be awful in the process, but once you have begun throwing up, you cannot suddenly stop. Same with purging of emotions - once you allow the dam to release, you cannot try and stop it, it must flow and be allowed out. And what happens when we are done? We feel sore, but better. Just like after throwing up - we feel a little shaky and raw inside for a bit, but then we feel better! Soon after throwing up we want something gentle and soothing and we want to be held and loved. The same is true after we have released a great deal of emotions and false beliefs, we want to be held and nurtured and loved deeply and we want to be filled with the truth.

Open blank parchment paperAnd soon after you throw up, you have nothing left inside of you...and your appetite will open up.
This is how suffering opens us up! We finally let go, we contract and release everything within us and a wider space has opened up inside of us, ready to be we must be mindful of what we fill it with!

So what do we fill ourselves with?

I say love. Love for ourselves, for the life walk we were given to learn from, love for those closest to us, for the life walk they were given to learn from, love for this Divine Being that believes so much in our capacity to move through this life and all of its tests and difficulties and still land in love.