Spiritual Living

Articles to help you live life to the fullest, create heart-satisfying relationships, develop your connection with God, explore who you are, and more . . .


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Moving On

Dear readers and fellow bloggers,

After considering together how to best support people with the little time we have, we’ve decided to stop blogging for now, and focus our attention on other projects and areas of outreach.

The Spiritual Living blog will remain on-line so people can continue to read archived posts, even though we won’t be adding new material. If you are interested in more articles about spiritual life, relationships, love, ego, and much more, please visit any of the links on our Spiritual Resources page.

Thanks to all our readers and fellow bloggers for sharing your support, connection, and heart.

With love,

The bloggers of the Spiritual Living blog


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A Realistic Approach to Saving the World

Saving the world

I’m lucky: I’m not struggling for survival. I’m not crying myself to sleep out of loneliness or heartbreak. My most important needs are met. That gives me time to worry about other people’s problems. As well we all should: many of them will affect us all.

You’ve probably noticed: the world is in sad shape. No one would deny it—although the debate rages on about who and what to blame. But while the filibustering drones on, the standard of living for much of the world’s population is going down, and so are people’s expectations. Peace is in jeopardy in many places; resources are ever scarcer and higher in price; the weather is going haywire…. What can a person do? It’s unconscionable not to act, but we can’t afford to act foolishly. With problems so pressing, we need to focus on what will really work.

My friends and I have looked at this very carefully. We’ve considered every approach we’ve heard of, and every approach we could think of, to improve the world’s prospects and reduce the world’s suffering. We could not escape this conclusion: apart from people just plain being unselfish, every other solution we could think of was unsatisfactory.

Most proposals for “saving the world” suggest better ways of doing things, new or improved forms of international cooperation, and the like. Such changes and systems are good—and heaven knows, they are necessary. But heaven knows, too, how much the results of everything depend on people more than systems. As powerful free will creatures, we human beings should never think a good idea or an improved structure can, in and of itself, save us. How disappointed we would be!

Consider the many cases where people have taken a wonderful system and made it unworkable. Here’s a simple but telling example: the “honor system.” Why don’t we rely on that beautiful principle more often? It’s become unreliable, because selfishness has become more popular than honor these days.

Throughout history, narrow self-interest has defeated mankind’s best-laid plans, despite their theoretical promise and merit. One by one, so many great social movements, so many hopeful structures have been brought down by selfishness, laziness, and greed.

Communism and socialism are good, idealistic systems, but they failed because, without strong self-interest incentives, selfish people won’t exert themselves for the common good. Capitalism, too, is now failing, because greed and self-interest have overshadowed the positive values that could have kept it viable: strong human values; healthy self-sacrifice; and intelligent, far-sighted resource-management. Even democracy is failing, because the people have given too much power to their leaders, and participated too little in steering the ship. The examples go on and on: selfishness routinely degrades otherwise positive opportunities.

To be realistic about helping the world, we must realize the extent to which selfishness creates the woes we wish to fix—and even sabotages all our attempts to fix them. For example: When people try to give financial aid to third world countries, selfishness interferes at every turn. Greed, bribery, stealing, and corruption block progress at all levels of government, clear down to the local level. Interpersonal bickering and lack of cooperation among the recipients of aid has undermined water projects, agricultural projects, every kind of charitable benefit project, the world round. It’s maddening… and tragic.

I still actively support many good causes and promising solutions. We need to solve the problems on all levels on which they exist. But I know every solution will eventually hit the wall until selfishness bites the dust. Until we effectively reduce self-orientation itself, both individually and collectively, selfishness will continue to undermine attempts to bring about planetary harmony, or even population stability, here on earth.

Who among us is willing to pay the real cost of a right and beautiful world? The real cost is unselfishness; real caring; true cooperation and self-sacrifice—in short, less ego. If we fool ourselves that our ideals, our values, and our visions could work without effectively reducing our selfishness, we’re cruisin’ for a bruising.

To make the needed difference, we’ve got to be more than humanitarian. It is good to give a penny at the cash register, to contribute to Save the Whales, to pray for victims of famine and war, to meditate for world peace. All these things are good and necessary. But we must know, too, that impersonal forms of giving transcend selfishness to only a very small degree. Charity, unfortunately, is like removing twenty percent of a virulent tumor. To make the needed difference, we need to personally incorporate ongoing ego-transcending practices into all parts of our daily life. For example, to cooperate smoothly instead of insisting on our own way; to listen to someone else’s exciting idea before blurting out our own; to recognize and accommodate another person’s needs. Then, we’ll be helping save the world, whether our lives look conventionally “humanitarian” or not.


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Using Our Powerful Mind In a Way that Brings Joy

A friend of mine once said that one of the most powerful tools everybody has, and wields continuously (whether consciously or unconsciously), is their mind.

I can personally attest to the fact that if I think negatively in some way (blaming, judgmental etc.) it directly impacts how I feel in my being, what ‘vibe’ I put out which also impacts other people around me.  Or if I think something beautiful about somebody, I feel very happy and eager to connect with that person.

I’m sure you’ve been in a situation where you’re talking to a friend, and are touched and uplifted by a beautiful idea that they share with you. A sudden rush of energy, joy and desire to support and manifest this great idea bubbles up and you can’t help but spread that joy around. These are like positive ripples in a pond going out and out, touching other areas and places. But of course, they can also be negative ripples, like what happens when people are irritated with each other and a situation seems to only get worse. So it can go either way, depending on what you focus your mind on.

I realize all this may seem very obvious as in, “Well, what else is new?” But the fact is, there is a lot of negativity going around in the world, and I think everyone could benefit from appreciating the power of our mind more and realizing that we actually have a choice in the matter. We can create better, more positive effects, if we choose to.

For that reason, mental discipline seems a lot more attractive to me now because of the prospect of being able to create a more beautiful and inspiring life for myself and others. Isn’t that what we all desire? It just means giving up some things, like the “freedom” of thinking what you want whenever you want, no matter how random or stupid it is. But hey, who can tell me they are happy with the gibbering monkey in their mind, chattering along all day about trivial stuff, anyway?

So how does any of this apply in practical life? Here are some suggestions that you can try:

  • Rather than being (seemingly) a victim of the effects of negative thinking, take the reins of your mind into your own hands consciously. Start today by adjusting your thinking whenever you catch yourself lingering a little too long on any type of negative thought, and bring a more truthful, heartfelt thought instead.
  • Give your attention to whatever you’re doing, and do it with love and bring a positive vibration.
  • If someone hurts you, it’s easy to linger on thoughts of blame, anger, retribution etc. “They don’t care about me. Nobody cares about me.” But rather, think about the fact that they are not that different from you. Think about what you can do to fix the situation in a way that connects rather than separates.
  • Think about something beautiful and inspiring you can do for one of your friends that will uplift them. Then do it, and see what happens.

I’m sure that as you go, more inspiring ideas will come up, but at least this is a start. Enjoy!


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Why Commit?

I used to be intensely afraid of commitment. I spent my early 20’s running away from all kinds of responsibility out of that fear. I wanted to keep my options open. I thought if I committed to A, I might miss out on B. So I chose nothing as my “choice.”

When I was 26, I was ready for a change. I met some people who ran a family business and they offered me a job opportunity that was too good to pass up. I noticed how much they liked each other and really cared about one another. This was different than anything I’d ever experienced in my life. It inspired my heart to want to be part of it, and quite frankly I found myself just wanting to be around these people. I felt happier when I was with them.

They started teaching me all kinds of things on the job, and at the same time, I was learning how to get along with people…something I’d never really done. All my life, I wanted to belong to something, to someone. I found that sense of belonging when I committed to the business and to friendship with the people in it. Over time, it changed me from being a very dysfunctional person who could barely pay the rent or keep friends into a person who could hold a job and make good friendships.

Because of that, I would never go back to living an uncommitted life and I have never regretted my choice to finally commit. Judging from all the wonderful things it opened up to me, it was the best choice I ever made.

I got to find out that commitment is a beautiful thing. It’s not terrible like I thought it was. It didn’t take my options away…it made a good life possible.


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Commitment in Friendship

I don’t think I ever made a better investment than my decision to be a good friend to my friend Wilson.

I met him in person for the first time last year. I had corresponded with him by e-mail for several years, but we didn’t really start getting to know each other on a deeper level until he came to the United States from Uganda. When we first met in person, we immediately felt comfortable and happy around each other. Just being in his presence, I felt so much simpler inside, less complicated. That felt so good. He spoke to me about how important it is to him to be committed to his friends, and have friends who are committed to him, and that really inspired me to commit to being his friend.

We started eating dinner together once a week about a year ago. It wasn’t easy to talk to each other in the beginning, but we kept talking and trying to understand each other, and kept getting together to do things like gardening on weekends. Another thing we started doing together was English lessons. He needed help with that, and I happen to have really good English skills, so we started working on that together. It’s really furthered our relationship a lot because it’s a very personal thing, and it requires a lot of hard work, so we’ve been getting to know each other through that too.

I know he will always be there and that means the world to me. It’s a wonderful feeling when you have a friend who is there for the long haul and when you’re willing to be there for the long haul too. We talk together, laugh together a lot, and even blunder through things together sometimes, because we’re still getting to know each other in a lot of ways, but we always get through it. I really feel blessed to know him and to be walking through life together.

Because we committed to our friendship, I feel like I have somewhere to stand. I think that’s really what’s missing in a lot of people’s lives, somewhere to stand, a place to belong. I mean, we’ve all had beautiful experiences, falling in love or meeting a new friend, and having our lives completely changed by that. It’s great when that happens, but so many of those experiences fade in time. It’s a whole different thing when you sincerely commit to another person and be there for them and walk through life together. Nothing really compares to that. A brief interaction, no matter how great it is, is like people sharing a good meal together one night, but tomorrow they’re hungry again, and wondering where the next meal is going to come from. That’s the difference between the thrill of a new relationship, and the soul satisfaction you find in a steady, committed friendship.

So if there’s a friend in your life who you really want to be closer friends with, there’s no need to wait. Everyone needs a place to stand and a place to belong. Why not be it?

Effects on others


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Taking responsibility is in those little choices

I’d like to share an experience I recently had in which I learned about the social importance of responsibility, and how seemingly insignificant choices affect our friendships in ways we do not expect.

On July the 4th I had a full day of doing various chores around the house, running a bunch of errands, and later that day some friends and I went to a 4th of July party. By the time we got back I was quite tired and I felt I needed to just relax and take it easy. I thought it would be great to wind down by watching a movie, but after that I didn’t want to go to sleep yet and decided to watch youtube videos into the wee hours. Even though I was very tired, I just wanted to do what I wanted to do and didn’t think about the consequences. “I’ll be fine, I’ll get over it.”

I had agreed to make breakfast for my roommates the next day, so I got up quite energized around 5 AM with a good “Bring it on!” mentality. But by the time breakfast was over, I realized that, even though I had a lot of enthusiasm and energy, my body was quite tired and this was slowing me down mentally as well. That was a problem, because a buddy and I were planning to operate some heavy machinery after breakfast, chipping up a pile of tree branches.

I told my friends that I needed a nap instead of doing the group meditation we normally do before doing the various other types of work. I felt it was justified, because for the safety of myself and others, I needed to rest more before operating machinery. While I thought it wouldn’t have much impact to miss the meditation, one of my friends was quite disappointed (thank God for honesty!) and she rightfully pointed out that by staying up too late  I wasn’t considering the impact my physical state was having on my friends. The fact is, by having neglected my needs and just doing what I wanted the night before, I had created a situation where I interrupted the various plans my friends and I had made.

It seemed little at the time, but it had emotional impacts that I had not taken into account. And it’s the small things that chip away from the feeling of closeness and togetherness in friendship that we all crave for and need from each other. So that choice I made when I thought, “Oh I’ll just do this—it doesn’t affect anything,” was selfish because in reality everybody was affected by it. Everything has an effect. Like throwing a stone into a pond, the ripples go around 360 degrees and this affects everything around it. I and everyone would have been much happier if I had gone to bed when I needed to, and skipped my little short-sighted endeavor to do what I wanted when I wanted, and given my body the rest it needed. Then I would have been fully energetic the next day and ready to do all the things my friends and I needed with a happy heart and full energy. Way better choice!

So next time I’ll make farther sighted choices that I know in my heart will make me and my friends happy, even if sometimes in the moment it’s not my preference!


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Attachment and detachment in relationship

Holding On and Letting Go

Image-attachment-detachment

I, like most people, have done both.

But what is common on both extremes is one thing: selfishness. Whenever I put what I want for myself in higher priority than what the other person needs, we’re both in trouble. Without love, and with selfishness, all parties lose.

It’s a challenge to let go in order to make the necessary moral choices when you are very attracted to someone and there is a strong desire to be close to that person. It’s also challenging not to run away when you find yourself getting attached to someone while being very afraid of being hurt and becoming vulnerable. But if we want to have lasting love in our life, we have to face those challenges head on.

During my teenage years I avoided girls like the plague; I was terrified! I had low self-esteem and basically did what I could to be off-putting to them. But even though I tried to convince myself that I was okay without relationship, in my heart and soul I DEEPLY craved that kind of togetherness with another person.

So it was not surprising that, when any girl showed interested in me, my world would turn upside down and I would become ecstatic, and panicking at the same time.

I got SO attached that she was my main object of attention 24/7, to the exclusion of just about everything and everyone else. In my usual mode of fear-inspired detachment I had starved myself emotionally, and I was totally unprepared to handle the relationship responsibly and morally. Demandingness, and hyper-fussiness, and other selfish things started to creep into my intentions and soon the relationship was bogged down by all of it. In a nutshell, my pendulum swung straight from too much detachment to too much attachment.

I’ve made progress since those days, but I’m finding this balance is still challenging. I believe that in all relationships, whether it be intimate or a friendship, what’s most important is to NOT be all about what I want get, and to be a giver in all my relationships. And I’m working on it every day.

The only solution is to be in equanimity—to learn to be attached AND be detached at the same time. People need to feel desired by me, but also not put off by too much grabbiness. That takes discipline and true love—to put what the other person truly needs as the highest priority. That’s what I’m practicing now, with everyone. Only when we can be attached and detached at the same time can we enjoy the true wonderful things that can be shared in relationship.

“We crush ‘the sweetest rose’ by holding on too tight. Fine to enjoy a rose, its scent, its beauty—but one needs to hold it with sensitivity, so as not to destroy it. That’s why, when we love someone deeply, passionately, truly, we need to learn to hold on and let go at the same time.” — a quote from “The Art of Holding on and Letting Go” by David Truman


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The Necklace

Necklace

A story about a father’s undying love  for his son.


One day I noticed that my friend Don was wearing a beautiful necklace his estranged son Joe had made for him many years prior. It was the second day in a row that he had worn this same necklace, and he seemed to be quite aware of it as it hung around his neck. He played with the large bone bead at the end while we were visiting.

I wondered about this because it’s not usual to see Don wearing jewelry at all. I said, “Don, you’re wearing Joe’s necklace and I noticed that you wore it yesterday too.”

Don looked at the necklace, holding up the large bone bead and responded softly, with tenderness, “Yes, I’m inclined to wear this necklace every day.”

I teared up. “To hold a candle for Joe?”

He answered, “To hold the candle for Joe to see. I hope, if I wear this necklace for many, many days, maybe everyday, then perhaps one day someone will remember that and mention it to Joe. They’ll say, ‘You know that necklace you made for Don? Well, he wears that necklace every day.’”


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Will love work? It depends on what you believe

Love works

Think of a person who believes love can work for them. Surely you know at least one such person. If so, you know that person will create beauty with their love-positive belief. They’re already creating the emotional, psychological, and spiritual conditions that practically guarantee love will work for them. Their faith in love allows love and love relationships to work properly in their lives. And their faith also supports the essential step of actually, effectively doing—participating positively in love.

Clearly, if we sit around focusing on the fact that love won’t work, we won’t do much for love’s sake—or even if we do things, we won’t do them wholeheartedly. Not when we’re pretty sure it won’t work. That’s exactly what happens if we’re focusing on a negative notion—that love won’t work for us, that the statistics are against us, or any other negative thought. We just won’t do, or wholeheartedly do, what it takes to create the conditions in which love would succeed for us.

And as you know, wholehearted action might be exactly what it takes for some things to work right. Think about it: Would you marry someone who didn’t wholeheartedly want to marry you? You’d sure be a fool if you did. Would you hire someone for an important job who didn’t wholeheartedly want to work? That would jeopardize your success.

Everyone knows that if you don’t wholeheartedly believe in what you’re doing, you’re likely to undermine your effectiveness. When you’re not wholehearted, your commitment is weak—and therefore, you’re not persistent in your positive efforts. Your resolve is weak, too, and therefore you’re unlikely to do your best—consistently, or even ever. And because of ambivalence, you’re liable to sometimes do things that work against your goal.

BeliefSo, when it comes to love—or for that matter, any cherished goal in life—bear this in mind: It’s a seminal, important, pivotal, creative stroke to establish our fundamental belief about the goal. Whatever we believe will determine what we can wholeheartedly do. And negative beliefs, if we hold on to them, will make it impossible for us to wholeheartedly do the things that success absolutely requires (like, for example, to generously and trustingly love).

Friends, belief is the headwaters of what happens in life. So, seriously, we ought to ask ourselves about every important belief we hold, “What is this belief going to allow and disallow in my life?” If the officials turn off the power over at a substation, they should be aware that the lights are going to go out in a lot of homes. Just so, if we believe certain negative things, there will be things that can’t and won’t happen in our lives because of that.

This is an excerpt from an article called “How the Power of Belief really Works” from soulprogress.com.