This is why Gratitude is not based on “Things”

We like our stuff—no surprises there.

Not only do we enjoy what we ‘‘own,’’ we try to guarantee we will always have everything we own. So we insure them at replacement value, thinking, ‘‘How dare anyone depreciate anything we have!’’

And then, stage right, enters the moth and rust to corrupt.

Things wear out. ‘‘Blue Boy,’’ the L.A. beach T-shirt is so threadbare from hundreds of washings that it can’t even be used as a car rag.

Then there’s the appliance failure of the month. The auto accident—that was the last thing we ever thought would appear on our Outlook-syncing smart phone calendar. (Where are all of our business contacts stored in there going to be eight years from now, anyway? Most of them weren’t around even three years ago.)

The damn car. The roof. The basement leaks. We need more insurance, just in case.

This inventory of stuff—our stuff—is often the object of our gratitude, but also the object of fear.

The problem with seeking gratitude through an inventory management exercise is that Mr. Rogers already taught us that Mr. All-Mine was all wrapped up in himself and made for a pretty small package.
Day after day it keeps coming to us that everything is temporary. We have it, and then we don’t. Our frantic race to keep what we have and acquire even more (in case we do lose something) is a descent into the valley of the shadow of death. It is a march in cadence to the chant, “If you’re not moving ahead, you’re falling behind!”

It is the gilded but unsustainable American Dream that can no longer serve as even a car towel.

Gratitude only occurs in the present moment.

It can’t be based on what we expect to have in the future, because that’s always going to be a maybe. Neither can it be fully based on the past, because if we are living in the past, we are missing the life before us in the present.

Gratitude is now—the Precious Present, if you will. It is an appreciation for the breath that enters our bodies and just as effortlessly leaves. It is an awareness that we are blessed to see what and who is around us now. It’s an appreciation for the birds we see and the sweeping sound of the wind passing through the trees. It is a thankfulness that the person before us now is one whom we love unconditionally. It is a sense that despite all that has transpired, in this moment, this one loves us anyway.

Gratitude is an understanding—an outlook on life. It’s the gradually expanding sense that there is an inner core within us—our soul—that is sacred. Our inner essence is holy, and no person or thing can ever take it away from us.

Gratefulness comes with an expanding awareness that our sacred core is inexorably and mystically connected to that same sacred soul within all others. We know this is true, even though most of the time our surrounding culture seems oblivious to our sacred interconnection.

Thankfulness flourishes when we are mindful of the same sacred connectedness we share with others. The real power of gratitude evokes unconditional love and acceptance. It exudes tolerance. It nurtures unquenchable curiosity and creativity. It engenders genuine love and a passion for equal justice for all.

Gratitude is in the real-time of the now. This is exactly why we live, work, and play. We feel we’ve been given a front row center seat to this vibrant and exciting richness called “life.” We are grateful by being fully alive and responsive in the present moment to all of life around us.

We find that we are rich beyond our wildest dreams because we are blessed to be authentically and meaningfully present with those around us.

With some, our time with them is only in passing moments. With others, we are with them for hours or even years. In a way, in the smallest acts of compassion, each of us are a part of the great reversal of fortunes that has threaded itself through history. We can heal the aching loneliness by being compassionately present with others. Doing so enables us to be contributing to something that is so much larger than ourselves. A compassionate presence is our purpose in life.

This is our mission.

 


Author: Philip Siddons

Image: Abi Porter/Flickr
Editor: Callie Rushton

Elephant Journal Permallink:

This is why Gratitude is not based on “Things.”

About Philip Siddons

Philip Siddons dabbled in serving as a minister for 15 years, but migrated to using his communication skills in marketing, computerized publishing and videography. Along the way, he tried to respond to the people he served, whether they were paying customers seeking technology support, his readers, or parishioners. He thinks any life work requires the same sensitivity and commitment to create a meaningful presence with others. He holds a BA in literature, an MDiv, and then a DMin with his dissertation on feminist studies, and is the author of several books and short stories. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Linda. Visit his website or connect with him on his blog.

 

Take 15

“Like brushing our teeth, we’re supposed to just do it.” Writing for 15 minutes a day, that is. And like coal miners who can’t sit around all day and complain about how hard their work is, whining gets us nowhere. We’re just supposed to write.

The admonishment to do creative writing for a quarter of an hour must to prevent us from wining. Any grossing about writing would chew up most of our 15 minutes. If we spend our time complaining the work never gets done. Good strategy.

But what to write about? We write about what we know. However, there’s a lot I don’t know but I can’t have a page full of lists of things about which I know nothing. That would end up looking like baseball or hockey statistics or population demographics on fleas or South American cockroaches. Oddly, anyone one of those would draw rabid interest of researchers in those fields. But if I had nothing to say about baseball, hockey or cockroaches, nobody would be drawn to lists documenting my ignorance.

Perhaps, though, a researcher studying “The Things People Don’t Know” would be interested. They’d probably make some money on it. Would a compilation of  disinterest help Google save money in steering their search engines away from searches in which there would be less interest?

One of the existences I find mysterious is the cat we just brought home from the shelter. His name was said to be “Cookie” but that sounds like a name a 12 year old would give to a feline whom she dresses up in doll clothes.

Merlin seems more fitting. This cat can do magic and create potions, as far as I know. He must be magical because he figured out how to get a pad in Los Angeles for 2 grand a month, all the food and massages he wants and unlimited sleep time. And he doesn’t even have a job. Go figure.

He has also appeared on Instagram, Facebook and has a Medium account, writing under my name.  He said he’d attribute co-authorship with me if he was ever ever able to sell a piece.

Today Merlin told me he reads minds and knows what I’m going to say, even before I speak. This is a little disconcerting. Sometimes I’m thinking about telling him to be a little tidier in his litter box (which I clean out at least once a day). Add that to the list of perks for this being. His waste flushed for him.

I’m minding my own business and he pads up to me and says “What do you expect of an animal who you confine to your puny apartment with no friends or social life?”

I told Merlin that he should unconditionally overlook all of my weaknesses like my impatience and neurotic striving for cleanliness. I say that all of us make our mistakes from fear. That we mostly are afraid of not being accepted. I worry that strangers might come into our living space and judge me as disorderly and unkempt, too unclean and unorganized. I’m afraid I’ll be judged as unworthy of being a rightful member of the middle class in American society. At least some “class” that passes as worthy enough to own an indoor cat.

I asked him if the world of cats has classes.

He said “I knew you were going to ask that!” He had me there.

I said “I knew you were going to say that, even before you meowed it” I shot back quickly.

Merlin said, “OK, if you’re so clairvoyant, how come you worry more than me? I can sit here and nap all day and I don’t worry about anything! So much for you being an authentic, self-actuated life form.”

“Now look, Merlin.” I replied. “Zen out a little here. There’s an ancient oriental proverb that suggests ‘Don’t put down the lifeform that feeds you!'”

Merlin pauses and sits back on his haunch. Next, he intently licks his right paw and thoughtfully washes the fur on his right cheek with his newly slobbered paw. Then he looks me in the eye and says, “you got me on that one.”

“So Merlin,” I say after an equally thought out pause, “would you help me figure out some writing topics for my blog? I’m thinking that with both of us working on it, maybe we can come up with some interesting topics other than Merlin the house-bound cat.”

Merlin asks cautiously, “Are we going to make any money out of it?”

“There’s absolutely no chance!” I say, “but I think you’ll get a lot of ‘likes.’ In fact, I like you. So how’s that?” I say.

Merlin rolls over on his back and says, “Ok, but scratch my tummy a little here” he says pointing with his paw. “I like that a lot.”

“So it’s a deal?” I say.

“Yup” he says. “Let’s go for as many likes as we can get. Maybe I’ll make Pet Fancy Magazine someday.”

 

 

 

Noah & Margo

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was in the days, in the early morning of time, when kids didn’t listen to their parents and generally stayed out with the family horse well past curfew.

In the evenings, after the hummingbird races in heaven, God would look down at the earth and start to get a headache. People were picking too much food and hoarding it. Some went hungry while others watched their stockpiles rot because they hadn’t invented preservatives. And God knew that when humans did get around to inventing preservatives, they’d cause cancer.

By now, most of the politicians and magistrates were on the take. Even when they did get caught, these powerful crooks would retire rich and earn even more money by publishing memoirs commemorating their decadence.

Not much was going right. One gender of humankind was bossing the other around for no rational reason, so God was toying with two ideas.

The first idea was to change all the hormones over night. This would reverse the aggressiveness in one gender and put the shoe on the other foot for a while.

The second idea was to change the languages between the sexes. Instead of bossing each other around, they’d have to work hard at communicating to overcome the loneliness. In the end though, God decided to wipe the slate clean and start a new human race.

On the morning when God was about to open flood gate number five to the big dam to wash the earth clean before starting a new humanity, God saw a black man named Ham walking down the road. An ostrich was strolling along behind him. Black people were God’s favorite color. To God, variety was the spice of life. But along with everything else that humanity had messed up, it had been decided by a small town council, up in Northern Mesopotamia, that yellow people were going to be the preferred color. From then on, the blacks, the reds and the whites were thought of as “inferior.” The more God thought about it, the more angry God became.

Right when God was about to reach for the lever to the dam, this Ham fellow started God laughing. He had on a pair of weird sun glasses with strings looping down and going behind his head (as if it would catch them if they fell). He had a shirt that looked like it had been used as a paint rag and his baggy shorts were made of feathers which perfectly matched the ostrich walking behind him.

God was laughing so much at Ham’s creative apparel that God decided a bit of this craziness must be carried over into the next try at humanity. Some of these humans were really good sports, despite their mistakes, so God stopped Ham and asked a few questions.

In no time, God found out that Ham came from a nice family. His dad was a black man named Noah and his mom, who was red, was named Margo. God remembered having a few walks with this young couple who were in their late five hundreds – the prime of their life. In addition to their son Ham, who had tried out for the priesthood but had flunked the dress code, there was Shem, an accountant and Japheth, a jazz musician.

With the incredible luck that only the Creator could have, Noah and Margo’s three boys and their wives had put off having children until they were in their two hundreds when their mortgages would be paid off. They were the only family clan in the human race without young children. The Almighty knew little ones would not be able to handle what was coming.

Right then and there, God decided to save Margo, Noah and their sons and daughter-in-laws so that there would be a few people with a little imagination – preventing the next batch of
humans from turning out like the ones before. And God felt good about the decision.

When Noah was told to start building a cargo ship in the middle of the desert, instead of laughing he said, “Why not!”

You see, in Noah’s high school yearbook, most people scribbled things like, “Good luck – you’ll need it.” His class voted him “The person most likely not to succeed.” He barely passed his courses and the only thing he was ever interested in was wood shop.

“Have I got a project for you” God said, but the worst part of it for Noah was telling his wife Margo. So he didn’t. He just started in on it.

“What are you building now, honey, a 450 cubit long wooden patio?” she asked.

Within thirty seconds after Noah’s answer, Margo’s face went pale, then transformed to an absence of color only later to return to red.

Just her luck. Her husband was asking her and the kids to pack up and move again. Another one of his harebrained schemes to go to the new world and seek his fortune. This time, it is supposed to be the end of the world and everyone is doomed.

Margo began to laugh, not at her husband’s latest project nor her son Ham, who was coming up the driveway. She was laughing at the collection of animals trailing behind him. Not only were her husband and sons building a boat in the middle of nowhere, they were collecting animals for the trip. Of course Ham had a great time being in charge of animal gathering. She knew he was all thumbs, when it came to carpentry, but he was taking some pride in meticulously gathering two of every species he could find.

Margo somehow forgot about the circumstances and counted her blessings. She realized that this was probably the funniest thing the earth ever witnessed and it was her privilege to be entertained right in her own back yard. “Thank goodness I didn’t marry that boring fellow who was going to invent collecting postage stamps” she thought.

Margo pitched in with her husband, sons and daughter-in-laws and passed her time trying to make the inside of the boat livable. She figured that if the water never came, they would at least have a nice summer house.

The neighbors had became a problem. They bribed their friends at the courthouse to rezone the neighborhood prohibiting arks. “It’ll lower the value of the property” they argued. It wasn’t long before their friends stopped coming by. All this talk about the end of the world and a flood was getting a little fanatic. And with his obsession with boat building, Noah had really let down his bowling team. His absence made them short-handed so the team came in last in the league.

Early one evening, when Margo and Noah were sitting on their back porch in the shadow of their nearly finished boat, Margo said, “Suppose you’re wrong? Maybe you misunderstood what God said. You know, I can’t even send you to the store to get a simple list of groceries without you coming back with the wrong things. Maybe God said that WE are going to be destroyed and everyone else is going to be saved.”

Noah looked at his wife – she always was a worrier. He paused, with a concerned look on his face but finally said, “Nah! . . . But even so, it sure has been fun building this boat. Did you see the stained glass window I put in on the upper level today? I think it’s a nice touch but I’ve got to figure out what to do about the rest room facilities.”

The days passed quickly and the clan busily prepared dried food for the boat. They gathered grains for the animals that were accumulating in their back yard. Despite all the problems they were having with the neighbors, the animals were the best behaved.

The lambs were napping with the lions. The giraffes didn’t seem to mind the monkeys climbing up their necks. Sure there were some household spats about someone being allowed to take along more than others on the trip. These family arguments were nothing, however, compared to the abuse they had to take from the townspeople.

The police were serving summons daily for disturbing the peace. The family was considered so weird for their boat building and animal gathering that the neighborhood children were prohibited from playing near the property. There were even casual tunics for sale which said: “Vacation on Noah’s Desert Love Boat: No Seasickness Guaranteed!”

On the afternoon they finished piling the sacks of grain into the boat, Charlotte, Japheth’s wife, was up on top of the boat nailing down the last roofing shingle when she felt a few drops of rain. Noah was over in the orchard picking a few limes for dinner.

Suddenly God came up to him and said, “Noah, this is it! Plan on having dinner on the boat tonight and have Ham get all those animals on board. Oh yea, don’t forget the ostriches. I would hate to have to figure out the design on those again.”

That afternoon, everyone got on board and thought Noah was only testing the suitability of the living quarters. At the most, they thought they were having a picnic inside the new house boat. After the storm, they would all go back home and play a few games of pinochle.

The rain kept coming down and the back yard turned to mud. They had to shut the door to keep from getting wet. After they closed themselves in and lit a few candles, Noah said, “This is it!” in his most authoritative voice.

For a minute, everyone almost believed that this funny talk about the end of the world was true. Perhaps Noah had done all this boat building and animal gathering for something other than a summer lark.

An elephant whinnied and one of the parakeets landed on Margo’s shoulder. Shem, who was up on the next level looking out of the partially opened stained glass window, called down and said, “Holy Mackerel! There’s about two hundred people slopping through the mud coming toward the boat. Better lock that door, dad!”

Right after they slipped the bolt tight, the knocking began. Just to have the last laugh, Noah climbed up to the window and yelled out into the rain, “Thought I didn’t know what I was doing, eh? Well the word they’ll invent for my expertise is ‘archeologist.’” Nobody outside laughed, so Noah shut the window.

To try to take their minds off the knocking and the sounds of angry voices, they all went around and checked to see if the pitch was keeping the boat watertight. It sounded like chaos outside. Because of the darkness and the rain coming down in torrents, little could be seen through that upper window.

The first five hours of the trip were a lark. Everyone was congratulating Noah for his foresight. Ham fed the animals and talked about their distinguishing marks. The rest of the clan eventually managed to begin a few hands of cards when Ham called out from the animal section, “Oh no! I’ve got two female Amadillians. They’ll become extinct.”

Everyone tried their best to cheer him up. Margo’s joke got their minds back to the cards. She said, with as much seriousness in her voice as she could muster, “And its too bad the snakes can’t multiply.”

“Why can’t the snakes multiply?” Ham said falling for it.

“Because,” Margo continued, “they are only adders.”

All went fine for the first evening but when it was time for bed, things started going down hill. No one had figured out how to assign the chores of the houseboat. It became overwhelmingly obvious that someone had to clean the animal stalls. Later that night, you never saw a more grouchy, tired and unsociable group of relatives in your life. By the next morning, none of the people or animals had managed to get a wink of sleep and everyone was at each other’s throats.

The food wasn’t right. Things were damp and musty. No matter what you put into your mouth, it all tasted like elephant trunk or birds’ wings. Probably the only thing that kept Margo, Noah and their sons and their daughter-in-laws alive was their hatred. As they heard the rain relentlessly pound on the roof over the top deck, each of them secretly planned ways to get even with their in-laws for taking a favorite spot, stealing their dessert or snoring.

After several days of this, they were all so exhausted that they looked at each other through bloodshot eyes. In fact, they all got a little punchy and stayed that way for the next several weeks. They told jokes to pass the time. In no time, they began to laugh at anything. Even comments like “pass the salt” would start a round of laughter. They would tell themselves, if they could survive this, they could make it through anything.

From sitting in their cramped quarters, constantly hearing the complaining neighs, chirps and roars of the animals, they spent a lot of time asking themselves philosophical questions. “What are humans that God is mindful of us?” Noah asked out loud one evening as he was getting nudged by a horse’s hoof while scraping parrot droppings off his toga.

A lot of things transpired during these weeks of deplorable conditions. Poems were composed. The bag pipes were invented. Shem’s wife Rachel came up with the concept of ice cream but unfortunately she forgot it before she wrote it down. Noah discovered that a few mosquitoes had gotten into the boat and everyone was depressed about it except the birds. Everyone experienced transactional analysis, mid-life crisis and self-actualization.

As the weeks went by, everyone had several significant emotional experiences. There was enlightenment. There were petty feuds. Weeks transpired when one refused to talk with another. There were crying jags and laughing fits. Everyone got religion and lost it several times. In the end, though, there was cooperation because there was no choice.
Stories. They all took turns telling stories. Out of their weariness came beautiful tales of ages long ago when unicorns romped on the hills and when the children of Queens and Kings unconsciously played with village folk as a matter of course.

Suddenly, in the dead of the night and after weeks of this, there was a loud scraping sound on the bottom of the boat.

Everyone jumped out of their hammocks. It seemed that the rain had stopped and their craft had rubbed against land.

“Land” someone said.

“October 10th and the rain stopped and it’s my birthday!”

Margo announced from the corner as she looked at the calendar she had drawn on the wall.

“No it’s not” said Wendy, her daughter-in-law. “Don’t you remember? You forgot to mark the weekends and I told you about it but you never listen to me. Your calendar is way off.”

And with that, Margo and Wendy got into one of the most physical fights yet seen in time. It took all four men to pull them away from each other. You see, when they hit land, it riled everyone up and they were not prepared to even hope.

Noah stuck his head out of the window and saw that there was nothing but water, except for one little piece of land. “Must be the top of a mountain” he called down to the others.
After each person had taken their turn looking at the small island of earth, they decided that good times must be coming.

They celebrated by going out on the roof of the boat. Wendy and Margo hugged one another. For the first time in weeks, it was not raining so they all danced like children. They didn’t know what to do with the fresh air and the only animals allowed on the deck were the birds. The doves went through the window and flew around for a while. Finding no place to land, other than the boat, they came back inside.

Life got better for everyone, now that the rain had stopped. There was the outside roof of the boat and a chance for sunbathing. The doves flew away one afternoon and were presumed drowned after a week. To everyone’s surprise, though, they finally came back.

One day, when everyone had slept in, one of the doves, which had been away for several days, flew in the opened hatch and landed on Noah’s face. Most everyone had experienced, one time or another, waking up with difficulty in breathing because an animal was sleeping on their face. To everyone’s amazement, this dove had a branch in its beak.

Everyone rushed to the roof. It was too good to believe. There was land all around them. Most of it was mud, but it was beautiful mud with beautiful muddy trees and muddy bushes and muddy mountains.

On Noah’s six-hundredth and first birthday, and no one dared to dispute Margo’s calendar, everyone jumped off the boat and had the longest and funniest mud war in the history of civilization. Even the animals stumbled out and rolled around and frolicked in the mud. It was quite a sight. For weeks these humans and animals had been cooped up in that wooden crate and you could not tell one from the other. Everyone was covered with mud and stunk to high heaven. Everyone was smiling. “Land ho!”

In a few hours, they all settled down on top of a hill about a thousand cubits from their boat. The animals tottered off in different directions, wandering just far enough to graze. Most of the animals were sick of the junk food the people had been feeding them. Everyone was too grateful to speak. It was a profound moment.

It was also a sad moment. All they had was each other and that rotting, dilapidated boat. Nothing remained in their former houseboat that didn’t smell like the elephant house at the zoo.

This was the moment that God picked to show up and greet the disembarked passengers. As God came up the hill to where they all were sitting, Noah called out, “Nice to see You, . . . and by the way, thanks! We’re glad You didn’t leave us behind.”

God smiled and started to talk about how this sort of thing was never going to happen again. About how they are all going to have children – which was no surprise to them. And God talked about how they were to start over being vegetarians because the earth needed every living being to reproduce – not to mention eating meat was bad for them.

And just to do something really special, God pointed up at the sky. In doing so, God waved a hand across and created this bright colored cloth or ribbon up in the air. It was beautiful. Here they were, sopping wet with mud and gray and surrounded by earth tones and God was painting colors in the sky.

“Wow!” Margo said. “How did You do that?”

God said, “It’s called a rainbow. I’m going to hang one of those out in the sky after every rain storm as a reminder that this won’t happen again.”

In a way, it gave Noah a nice warm feeling to see the rainbow up there. In another way, it made him a little uneasy. If God needed that rainbow as a reminder, suppose God didn’t happen to look in the right direction or had something else in mind and forgot. What if everyone would be finished off again? But from the look on God’s face, Noah knew he was wrong to worry.

That evening after the stickball game that God had organized, God sat with them around the campfire and gave them a whole list of suggestions on how to start their new society.

“You’re going to have to skip the rule, for a while, about not marrying your cousins. You haven’t got any choice about that” God pointed out. “You’re charged with a new beginning of humanity.

Learn from the wrongs of the past. Do the best you can. Make life fun. Make life fair.”

“And oh yea,” God continued, “happy birthday Noah . . . six hundred and one, I believe.” And with that, God started everybody singing happy birthday to Noah.

In a few minutes, things settled down and became even more reflective. Noah looked at God and said: “How are we going to start over? We’ve lost everything.”

God looked at him and said, “No you haven’t. You still have everything you need.”

Noah was about to start an argument with God about that one, and so was everyone else, but God just stood there and smiled with God’s unique knowing look. And because God was so beautiful and so mighty and wonderful all at the same time, they decided they shouldn’t get into a tiff about that one. After all, they were standing on land.

A little later, God was going for a walk down on the plain with the animals but Noah kept thin king about their situation. “Everything we need?” Noah mumbled to himself. “God calls this everything? I’d like to know how God thinks I can make a go at things without any hardware stores. And I’d like to know how we’re supposed to have vacations if we don’t even have careers. And the pension plan – what’s going to happen to us when we are in our 900s?”

But then Noah looked over at Margo, sitting nearby. She had a smile on her face because she was watching her boy Shem rolling down the hill, with his wife Rachel, like a couple of kids. She was thinking about children. Noah saw the sparkle in her eyes and delight in her smile. He saw the pink tones of the far off sunset were reflected in the softness of her face.

Noah remembered that just before the flood, they had celebrated their 586th wedding anniversary. He still remembered his awkward proposal for marriage when he was fifteen – or was it Margo who had proposed? It had been some life, so far. They had a lot of history with each other. The kids were only one hundred years old but they’d grow up one of these days. And somehow reading her husband’s mind, Margo scooted over next to him and settled back into his arms. They watched the sun go down, knowing that it would return on the next morning. It probably would never rain that much again.

“I think God is right about that” Noah said almost unconsciously.

“Right about what, Noah?” asked Margo as she continued to watch the kids from within Noah’s arms.

“About having everything we need” he answered as he slowly stroked her hair. She relaxed against him as he continued. “It took me six hundred years but I’ve finally realized what’s most important in life.

It’s not the job or the bowling team (but never tell anyone I said that). It’s not the flood or the ark. It’s not even about surviving.” And with gentleness, he looked in Margo’s eyes and slowly said, “It’s about making life more fun and fair for you. Being with you is all that matters.”

God happened to be walking near – just below the hill where they sat. God smiled. For once, at least some of them, had finally gotten the point of it all.

And it was evening. And it was morning. And life started up again.

Merry-go-round

He was alone. Last year, he wouldn’t have guessed that things would turn out as they had. And here it was again, the holidays. The calendar told him it was 2012 and his life had dramatically changed.

The change went deeper than a turn in the seasons or aging another year. It went under his skin and pervaded soul.

Life was like that, he thought. Everything could be stripped away in the blink of an eye. Yet everything could be restored. Things change.

He knew that now as he remembered his wife handing him the ticket.

For Michael, his life had hit bottom. His relationship with a colleague at work had violated his relationship with Michelle, his wife and his professional boundaries. He knew it was wrong and things went from bad to worse. Had he been in any other career than clergy, he might have been able to work it out.

The denominational officials thoroughly investigated and found no predatory behavior on his part. Just a brief and stupid consensual interoffice affair. Michael took full responsibility for what he did, resigning from the church and the denomination.

The Bishop, however, wanted to make him and his behavior an example and prepared to bring the whole matter to a public ecclesiastical trial. To save Michelle from further public humiliation, Michael defrocked himself from the ministry.

It also didn’t help that the denomination fired the Bishop. Somehow there must have been clerical consensus that though clergy screw up, they can find the redemption they proclaim but now two clergy were unemployed.

Some fitting career ending for the owner of a Doctorate of Ministry degree who had once gone on a book signing tour with his new work on the equality of women and men. Michael even had to quit his adjunct lecturer position at the university. No more feminist lectures there. “You want fries with that?” Michael was guessing to be included in his next career communication.

It did help, though, that he knew his way around computers and networks and was able to land a job. What really needed help, though, was Michael’s remorse. He had made himself and Michelle victims of nothing other than his own mindlessness. As often as he had tried to figure out his insular mindset that irrationally separated his life from his wife and the community – there he was – himself, the hypocritical Elf.

Through the months, Michelle had forgiven him. That was miraculous in itself. But nothing could get rid of the remorse that lived within Michael. Nothing could exorcise this dark visitor inhabiting his soul. Michael knew he had committed the unpardonable sin – to violate the quiet, sacred, loving trust of his soul mate. He knew too much to rationalize otherwise.

When Michelle handed him the ticket to the merry-go-round ride at the local Zoo, he laughed, a little confused.

“Here,” she said, “you need to take this ride. You’ve always been a merry-go-round freak!”

The next day, Michael stood in line at the merry-go-round. As parents corralled their excited children, he saw the unabashed joy on the parents’ faces as they watched their children fly through their air on their painted horses. They looked like cherubs.

Their joy, though, contrasted with the despair Michael felt. He was not standing next to his wife now, as they once had done in watching their daughter years ago. He was alone, in line, waiting to get on a merry-go-round like some kind of homeless outpatient looking like he was in between prescription refills.

The carney, boarding riders on this circle of brightly painted horses, looked a little rough. His beer-sculpted gut and missing tooth suggested he had experienced hard times of his own. Yet he cheerfully boarded the cherubs, their parents and Michael as the calliope music began.

Michael stood beside one of the stationary horses, choosing to stand and not sit as it began to move. He had always loved carousels. The movement. The colors and antiquated steam-driven calliope music from another time and land.

The carney was now standing in the unmoving inner circle of the carousel. As Michael looked ahead in the counterclockwise moving platform, the calliope music sounded like an old Public Television Masterpiece Theater song.

When the tune suddenly changed to the old Rolling Stones Song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” Michael thought something was wrong. Yet the parents and children in front of him didn’t seem to notice. He saw no one reacting to the shift in the music.

Michael turned around and looked behind him and then when it hit him. Seeing the fronts of their faces, . . . they all looked familiar. He somehow knew these people. He was looking back in time.

The one closest to him, riding on the next horse behind, was MaryJo. MaryJoe from high school. The first love of his life. Michael remembered how he dated her for months, only for her to declare she was interested in someone else. It broke his heart and he drove home, that night, crying and feeling utterly alone.

He walked over to her and saw the joy on her face as she looked ahead past him, as if he wasn’t there. He could see scenes into her life beyond high school. She had married a football star who became a business owner and politician. He saw scenes of her collecting her children from the private schools. How she helped her husband on his campaign trail of conservative values and fiscal integrity.

Michael was glad she had found happiness for herself and he understood. He was happy for her.

Michael was wondering if he was dreaming this magic ability to see people of his past and how their lives unfolded.

“No” the carney said, instantly appearing next to him, answering his thoughts. “You’re on this ride and I need your ticket. But keep looking behind for a while” he said as he took the ticket from Michael’s hand. He quickly stepped back into the carousel’s inner circle and disappeared in the arc of the moving ride.

Michael looked further back and saw his parents. They were in one of those brightly colored fixed benches.

Michael remembered when he was five, they had left him behind at his grandparents’ house, driving off and leaving him crying in the driveway. He remembered feeling abandoned, crying outside on his grandparent’s steps. When they soon came back to retrieve him, they were laughing, saying they were trying to teach him to be more prompt when they said it was time to leave.

As Michael moved closer to his parents, who couldn’t see him either, he saw snapshots of their lives. The distance between them. Their preoccupation with their jobs and he felt sorry to see their futile attempts to control so as to appear good enough by those around them. Michael forgave them.

Michel was just starting to grasp the magic of this dream-like ride. As he looked to the center of carousel’s hub, he saw the carney laughing as he looked over at him.

The carnival music tune changed to the Sam Cooke’s tune of “Wonderful World.” He moved further back and found a tall European-looking man he remembered to be Chris. He was the vice principle of his high school who had violently slapped him in his face for running down the hall into class.

This administrator never knew that Michael would feel the reverberations of his slap as it woke him from dreams decades later. But Michael also saw Principal Chris’s suffering from traumas of his own military experiences. He felt compassion and forgave him.

One after another, figures from Michael’s past appeared on the ride.

The calliope played on with the tune of the national anthem. This time it was the college Army ROTC sergeant teaching the class. He was explaining how the Army was placing artificial animal dung bombs along the Viet Nam trails to blow off the legs of hapless villagers. Women, children, hard-working and honest farmers. The sergeant said, “War is a nasty business and we’ve found this to damage their spirits so that we would gain a psychological advantage in the conflict.”

Like the others, Michael saw the Sergeant had eventually liberated himself from his career. Michael forgave the ROTC instructor.

When the music tune changed once again, it was now playing the tune to Tracy Chapman’s “The Promise.” This time, Michael saw a dejected figure sitting on a bench. Unlike the others in his past life, this figure was sitting sideways with his feet on up on the bench with his head turned away, held by his hand.

“There’s one more person to forgive, Michael” said the carney’s voice beside him. To his surprise, it wasn’t the carney standing next to him but was his Michelle. She put her arm on Michael’s shoulder as they both walked closer to the seated figure. “It’s why I gave you the ticket” she said.

The calliope organ softened and changed to the violin in the original Chapman song. Michael could hear the some of the words. “I’ll find my way back to you” were gently sung as they moved closer to the figure. Michael leaned over to see the face of the figure. It was himself. . . . “Please say you’ll be waiting . . . ”

Michael stood, looking at himself. He realized that he could forgive all of the people in his own past but he couldn’t come to terms with himself.

Michael sat down next to his own image. Scenes from his own life were already within him. He felt a gentle hand on his shoulder and then his wife’s warm embrace. She encircled his head with her arms. He felt the place where his own remorse had lived so many months had been vacated. Through her forgiveness, he had been released and could forgive himself. The waiting for forgiveness was over.

The music ended and the ride slowly came to a stop. As Michael and Michelle turned to exit, the carney said “Come through here” leading them both to the inner circle of the ride.

“But how do we leave?” Michael asked, looking at the carney and Michelle.

The carney had now changed in appearance, looking more like a kindly uncle. He said, “It’s not a matter of how you leave but how you return. You can come here whenever you want.”

Suddenly, Michael and his Michelle were surrounded by all the others who had been on the ride. As if participating in a centuries-old laying on of hands ordination ritual – each one reached out their hand and touched Michael. As the calliope started again, the carney said to them, “What is sacred in this dimension is how we are connected. It’s forgiveness that heals us and makes us whole.”

Immediately Michael found he was standing off to the side of the merry-go-round, watching parents and their children enveloped by the joy. He knew Michelle was back at home, waiting for his return.

As Michael drove home, he couldn’t wait to thank her for the carousel ride and for everything else she had done.

TTL

Moonset

Back at the end of the 20th century when the human genome was sequenced and mapped, genetic and biological scientists had made amazing gains in understanding human life. They came to master elements of human growth and death through the DNA sequencing. This enabled us to dramatically increase our knowledge of the human longevity.

By 2030, medical science could implant a small biometric device that counts down how much time remains for a person to live. The device was composed of miniature DNA biofeedback transducers that are attached to the skin’s surface but connected to the subdural cellular DNA material of the body’s central nervous system. These plasma diodes provided a tiny digital readout on a skin-like mesh, showing the date when the individual will expire.

The medical research teams, that first configured them, called them “TTLs.” They derived the name from the computer term TTL meaning “Time To Live.” It was the hop limit on our computer mechanisms that measured the lifespan of data on our devices. The inventors initially thought the term would soon change but for some reason, it stuck.

Today, with TTLs, no fortune tellers or spiritual guides are needed. The embedded biometric chip indicates the exact date we will expire. You’ve got, say, exactly 17 years and 14 days left to live. For your sibling, it might be only 8 years and 27 days. Your time remaining shows on the digital readout on your skin’s surface at your clavicle (hidden just under your neckline).

~

By 2035, a TTL marketing plan rolled out and with it came an enormous uproar. The influential people from organized religious circles decried it a fraud. They did so until several of them, in their dying moments, created death-bed videos, admitting they were wrong.

At this point, a few entrepreneurs begin marketing software which was said to hack past the human biological countdown mechanism. In their product launch, they “guaranteed” an extended warranty on the lifespan limits, amounting to an additional five or more years of life. While these surgical implants initially cost above 3.2 million dollars for insertion, these life-extenders, when added to the TTL implants, would add years to life and modify the digital end dates. But these biological extender implants were cost prohibitive and were kept from the public knowledge. Most people could only watch and wait out the count-down on their TTL digital readings.

Within several months of the introduction of the TTL life-extender devices, the FTC exposed the fraud. These “life-extension” add-ons were only a programming modification of the logarithm of the TTL biometers, temporarily replacing the true expiration date for a later one.

After all the hoaxes and con artists were prosecuted, most people slowly began to adjust to the reality of knowing the true brevity of their lives.

~

Initially TTLs were a boom for the life insurance industry. Their sales soared or dipped according to the number of years remaining on people’s TTLs. Eventually, though, people stopped purchasing life insurance altogether and the industry collapsed.

Yet people are reluctant in accepting the inevitability of their death. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance as Elisabeth Kübler-Ross correctly suggested in her 1969 landmark book On Death and Dying.

Most people tend to avoid looking at their TTL readout. It is only when their TTL date enters the last decade of their life span that they actively make some changes their lives.

As expected, many quit their careers and ventured into entirely new fields. Currently, on all corporate resignation forms there are check boxes to indicate “Approaching TTL Date” under the reason for quitting.

In their final decade, some divest themselves of unneeded wealth while others gamble their life’s savings away, just to see how much they can accumulate.

Some abuse drugs and alcohol and venture into dangerous experimental nihilistic lifestyles. Many self-medicate and prematurely die of liver failure. To whatever extent that people shorten their lives through neglect, their TTL is a constant and fixed date.

Many flock to religious institutions and groups, seeking meaning for their lives as they near life’s end. After all, NOW is the only meaningful event or tangible commodity that seems to matter. Most of the population is exclusively focused on who they are with and the quality of their relationships. Medical offices frequently have Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle” as part of their standard office Mosaic® playlist.

In the last TTL decades, some engage in risk-taking. Some try skydiving, scuba diving or mountain climbing while others try to brave public speaking. Comedy clubs find that their ‘Open Mike’ sessions have hundreds signed up well in advance. One club in San Diego calls itself “I’m Dying Up Here” and broadcasts live performances.

With the deployment of TTLs, the travel industry has skyrocketed. Thousands seem to be fulfilling their ‘bucket list’ as they travel around the world. There is considerably less worry about traveling to suspected terrorist-affiliated countries. If your TTL still shows a number of years remaining, you book your travel, knowing that it won’t be during this coming trip that you expire.

~

TTL specialists typically give Ted talks about achieving excellence in focusing on the present moment. They’ll frequently admonish their audiences to direct compassion toward people in need – particularly those who struggle in coping with their coming endpoint.

News reports have turned from what a particular national leader is threatening other to more positive stories. The focus is more on the things the TTL people are doing in society to make a difference for the better. Awards and honorariums change to TTL behavior which brings society new methodologies of physical, social or spiritual healing. Award nominations are no longer based on box office revenues or the numbers of previous popular nominations.

For recent years, “TTL Specialists” have appeared on talk shows explaining their theories about overcoming the drawbacks of death. Doctoral theses, accompanying books and programs have proliferated on the subjects like “Managing Our Endpoint.” New social science fields teach why we should no longer be anxious or striving. Doing so, it is said, robs us of energy and focus on the being present with the remaining life that is before us. Those who used to say “have a blessed day” more commonly say “have a precious present.”

Faith-based organizations have migrated to new leadership of the laity. Almost as if they are ad-hoc gatherings of passengers on a sinking ship, organized religion has become characterized by open sharing sessions instead of liturgy and fixed readings. Life stories and philosophical learnings are regularly shared, giving speaking priority to those with quickly approaching TTL dates.

Out of those faith-based gatherings have emerged groups who called themselves “Visitors.” These are TTL-mindful people who simply visit people. They come to be with those in prison or they eat their lunches at the soup kitchens with the homeless and indigent. Members of “Visitor” groups share how they have divested themselves of their excess resources, sharing with the needy and compassionately treat others like brothers and sisters.

Young adults, with several decades remaining until their TTL date, stop aggressively competing in the office for the manager positions. Instead, they personally try to become the technical support and customer service center for all of their colleagues as well as their clients. They intentionally try to empower their colleagues around them by sharing their own talents and knowledge to help them excel in what they do. They display marvelous levels of creativity and innovation – just for the joy of it.

~

The TTL readout on our clavicle bone has been the start of new social consciousness that is transforming our society. The social change has begun because it is unmistakably clear that we can’t take things, money or power with us beyond our own TTL date.

For the most part, those within the final decade of their end date, tend to be uninterested in how much money or power or social influence they have. Instead, they tend to use their energy and resources in trying to make life somehow better for those who suffer. They spontaneously grab a hammer and nails and join the neighborhood kids in building a treehouse. They create a website for the folks in Brentwood who are trying to save the Coral Trees. They transport some wheelchair-bound seniors across the street from their rest home on Ocean Boulevard so they can see the exquisite Palisades Park view of the ocean. They buy them an ice cream cone when taking them to the Prominade.

~

In time, societies benefitting from the TTL readouts will continue to evolve. Segments of society will become known as the ‘Places of Paradise.’ They will be countries and cultures known by the current generations as the most favorable places in which to dwell. That is because no matter what is going on in the world, the people who are most conscious of their time to live will be more fully living in the present. They, and the communities they create, will be considered the most elevated humans ever to inhabit the earth.

Near large shopping centers, unneeded automobiles and previews of the available homes are on display. Anyone needing transportation or shelter is able to access these regional auction centers which distribute homes and cars donated by those with expiring TTLs. Homelessness has largely disappeared. Automobile and home prices have plunged.

In proximity to the auction centers are also so-called “Final Word Studios.” The studios are be staffed by volunteer camera crews and set designers to help people record their final parting words before their death. One franchise calling itself “Finally” has as many locations as McDonalds or Starbucks. These studios work with soon-to-expire people who want to create a final last-words video for their family, friends and posterity.

A person nearing their TTL date are able to sit down and work with the studio crew on creating their final video. People can say their last words from their favorite mountain top view, in the comfort of their own home or with almost any background set of props they can imagine.

They can write and choreograph the scene as they imagine but producers and writers are available to help with them with their script. Volunteer actors and actresses are also on hand to add to the production. They can do a final monologue or soliloquy. They can narrate pictures from their own family scrap books. They can read their poetry or curse at their Ex. They can get out whatever it is they wish to express, knowing that this is what they are leaving as their sign post of their life’s experiences. The only stipulation is that at the time of the taping, their TTL reading must be within the final few weeks before their expiration date.

~

This author’s TTL device now shows only hours remaining. So I simply wish you a precious present, hoping you live your remaining time with the fullest mindfulness of the incredible beauty that resides within you and those around you. Know that as your remaining time transpires, all that you are and have been has been part of the height of humankind’s universal beauty and celestial nobility. Good job.

… Philip Siddons

Your Way

It was 12:50 and church had gone over again. Michael pulled into Burger King. He was starving and with church letting out late, he
had to throw something down the hatch before he quickly changed into his jeans. He had to get back to church to help. A few of the guys were putting together a wooden Noah’s ark for the children’s nursery.

“One of these days God ought to do that again with the flooding” Michael said out loud to himself as he pulled into the restaurant’s drive through lane. He had just seen a lot of people in casual clothing coming out of the Blockbuster
Video store across the street.

“It’s clear they never darken a church door” he muttered as he waited in line with the others in the drive through lane. “They live like there is no God and if they ever really knew they’re going to be coming up short on judgment day, they’d be
shakin’ in their boots, dying to get into church – but it’ll be too late.”

What Michael didn’t know, when he was about to place his order, was that the voice coming out of the intercom would be God’s. That’s right, the Almighty was sitting inside with
the earphone and mike, taking orders. God had never done that work before but was giving it a try, . . . actually helping out one of the workers who had gone home ill a little earlier.

“May I take your order” Michael heard through the intercom, surprised that the voice wasn’t as crackly and artificial as usual.

“Yes, I’d like a double cheeseburger and an Adventure Cappuccino . . . and make it quick. I’ve got to hurry to get back to church” Michael said, surprised that he told this minimum-wage person why he was in a rush.

“Admirable” said the intercom attendant with some warmth. “Since this is Burger King, we’ll treat you like a king and you’ll have it your way, of course.”

“Yea, that would be the day” Michael said with scorn, . . . clueless about what was soon to come. “The day I have it my way,” he added, “this whole town would be cleaned up and you’d be able to walk the street and never worry about being attacked by the hoodlums and the ungodly.”

“Sounds like you’d get lots of votes if you were running in the next election” the voice cheerfully said through the speaker system.

“You know what I would do if I really had it my way?” Michael continued. “I wouldn’t pray for three atheist Supreme Court Justices to die, like Pat Robertson suggested. I’d get the whole job done at once. I’d send everyone, who feels they’re too busy to show up at church, right to hell, . . just like that. If these Godless-liberals want to drive our country to hell in a hand basket, let’s ship’em there permanently and save them the work of dragging the rest of us there.”

“That’s a pretty tall order” God said through the intercom with seriousness. Is that what you really want?”

“Sure,” said Michael. I’d send them all there, . . . ‘like a thief in the night.’ Throw ‘em all in the infernal region and flame broil them over the open fire ‘my way’” Michael concluded, proud of his tying in the restaurant’s advertising rhetoric.

“All right, it’s your call” the voice said. “And one thing further, do you want fries with that?”

“No,” Michael responded. “I’m trying to stay healthy” he said with a smile on his face. “Your body is a temple, you know!”

“Yes, . . so it’s said” God responded with a touch of sadness. “Please drive around.”

When Michael came up to the window, there was only his bag of food and no cashier. He called into the window and no one was in sight. He waited another couple of moments and called again, even beeping his horn. Finally, in exasperation, he just took his food and drove off.

As he passed by the restaurant, he noticed that no one was in it. The food in the bag felt hot but there wasn’t a soul in the entire place. Neither was there anyone on the street or across the way in front of the Blockbuster Video store. He was
the only one driving on the street.

It felt a bit eerie. Sure it was Sunday but there were a lot of people out and about just minutes before so he turned on his radio. Nothing was coming out of his radio except the sound of someone humming a tune.

He pushed the button to switch to this favorite Christian
station but it was the same thing, . . . someone humming a tune.

“What the hell is going on around here?” Michael said half to the radio, half to the deserted street in front of him.

“Well that’s just the point, Michael” the voice said to him from his car radio speakers. The voice he heard was the same one he had just heard from the drive through intercom. Michael slammed on the brakes and came to an abrupt stop in the middle of an intersection. It didn’t even matter because there were no cars anywhere in sight!

“What’s just the point?” Michael nervously said, wondering if he was having a breakdown or a sudden bout of insanity.

“What the hell, that is going on, is just what you ordered” God said from the radio. “You’ve just sent seven billion people to hell. They’re all gone but you’ve got a couple of problems with
that order.”

By now, Michael realized to Whom he had been speaking and took courage. “You mean You took care of all those unchurched heathens for me, just like that?” he
asked with some pride.

“Yes” God answered back through the radio. “But since there isn’t a literal place called “Hell” I brought them over into my place, just to get them out of your way. “And by the way, the only people who are left in your life are the two hundred or so who go to your church. There’s nobody left where you work. I’ve got most of your relatives. Have you noticed that your wife and kids have been bored to death with your church? So enjoy the quiet and the simplicity” God concluded.

Michael’s radio made a pop and a sputter sound and was silent. He saw a car coming toward him from the opposite direction. It was Hal Linden and his wife Brenda from church. He looked as bewildered, as Michael felt, as their two cars slowly stopped so they could talk.

“I can’t believe it” Hal said. “It’s the rapture or something and everyone’s gone. Maybe this is it” he concluded with wide-eyed excitement.

Michael looked at him and responded, “If it is, how come we are left here?” In the prolonged silence that followed, neither of them could speak.

Michael continued home. His neighborhood was virtually empty. It was as if a bomb had dropped and sucked every living thing away.

Michael’s radio snapped on and God asked one more question. “By the way, Michael, what’s a hand basket?”

About Your Worry About Giving Your Children Enough Religion or Spirituality

October 11, 2010

You already have a fully formed belief system. You already are a whole person with an increasing sense of your connectedness to the core of who you are, to the same of others as well as to the One Who made you. As for the peace we come to feel from something greater than ourselves, inwardly, you  know you are part of that. At the risk of sounding something like a Hallmark card at 6 a.m. on a Monday morning, . . . you already are part of the loving, brilliant, noble and compassionate whole in which we all exist.

Our shortfall, probably because of striving, fear, clinging or delusion, is that we forget. We are distracted by our own and the suffering of others so we forget our connectedness and purpose of compassion.

But your very existence, in all that you are and all that you teach to your children, your spouse and friends, is your gift. Your love and wisdom, as it continually evolves and grows to embrace others, is the “true spirituality” that contrasts so remarkably with the institutional and organized religion that most people have come to think as their religion. “Kindness is my religion” says the Dali Lama.

It’s simple, when we think and read about it for a number of years, but it easily eludes us on a daily basis. We’re confused by our own ambitions, fears and longings. We are absolutely hoodwinked (if that word is still in use) by our own delusions of “success” and “security.” It is unfortunate that we have to find ourselves in ‘near death experiences,’ in ‘fox holes’ or washed up on the shore, barely alive from excruciatingly significant emotional experiences. It is sad that before we are able to be truly present in the moment, we first must learn (and relearn) to present with ourselves – who we really are. Almost like the inattention of a toddler, we forget what we’ve learned and how noble we actually are.

We forget how to let things go and embrace ourselves and others with compassion. We can have compassion and give unconditional acceptance for a child or a hurting adult but sadly, not for ourselves. It’s somewhat pathetic that we can spend a lifetime of mindful philosophical inquiry and study and yet forget the lives, teachings and personal responses to the spiritual leaders of the very religion to which we ascribe. How quickly we have a brain freeze about the essentials of how our core being is to be in relation to others.

We also seem to be blind to how many leaders of organized religion have contorted their theology to portray a punitive god who relates to creation with an “are you good enough” check list. Our blind acceptance of this dominating, caustic and judgmental religion is  baffling. Incredibly, we pay attention to foolish, narcissistic and self-absorbed political leaders who think they have magically purchased intelligence through their own aggression.

There is a never-ending list of insight to unfold in our lives that makes for an infinite number of pigments on the canvas of our lives. Life’s meaning has endless artistic renderings of beauty and redemption. Life is embodied with meaningful themes and scenes that contain compassion and connectedness. Life’s patterns yield learnings that recognize universal suffering and yet healing and unconditional love. Living among other thinking and compassionate beings causes us to learn and respond. It is in the rhythm, cadence and creative flow of our human experience that we encounter wisdom and love.

We learn. We discover that in all of our connectedness, we find we are not truly alone but blessed with a brilliant presence of meaning in ourselves and others that nurtures each of us.

You’ve already passed on to your children all that you have come to learn and value through all of your life’s experiences. It’s now in their hearts and their DNA. They certainly know and perceive your values. You don’t have to worry. The good and what they deem as truly good —  they’ll keep. The views and teachings,that are less wise and helpful —  they’ll discard. They don’t need you to tell them what doesn’t really work. If they are questioning, they will ask you or someone else they have come to trust.

This is true of your children and everyone who has been a child throughout history. It isn’t up to you. It’s up to each of us, in the context of our life’s interactions, to find our own meaning. We can’t and shouldn’t pretend that we can control the flow of what we think is of value.

So genuinely pause and trust the brilliance, the creativity and the wisdom that your children already possess. Trust what is already within you. Trust what is within all those with whom your children interact. Know, in faith, that in us there is the Spirit of Wisdom and Compassion that leads us all to the spiritual expression in which we find ample meaning.

You already have enough. You are enough. Your children already have enough. Instead of worrying, celebrate that there is a Life-Presence that has been with you and your children forever. You don’t have to worry. It is what allows each of us to stop and dance with a child on the sidewalk in the midst of our walk. It is what causes us to create stories about archangels and light forms from another galaxy. It is what enables you and I and our children to bring new things to life that have before, been unimaginable. And this Presence can’t be corrupted by ignorance, hatred, intolerance or raging fear. “Bidden or unbidden, God is present” said the sign over the front door of Carl Young’s home.

Instead, it is the Life-Presence which can bring love, joy, creativity and compassion in any moment. Nobody can take cause it not to exist and nobody can take it away from you. No one can take this Presence from our children.

Like all of us, they’ll often become distracted from the Presence of each moment but they’ll never lose it. What each of us have, already, is enough. You and they will come to joy and understanding.

So we can stop striving for something that is already in our possession. Our children have what they need. Celebrate the Presence. It is enough.

Before and Beyond The Light of Day

One day, during one of Heaven’s typical beautiful afternoons, the unicorns had just finished performing a majestic dance and run across the meadows. It had been their gift to God and to anyone else who happened to wonder by.

After the performance, God thanked them for their delightful promenade and started back to the celestial palace. As it was, God felt like carving, a hobby recently undertaken by the Almighty. As usual, others of heaven’s inhabitants walked along with God just for fun.

On the way to the palace with The Almighty, the unicorns talked of their gratitude. They were still thankful to be free to roam throughout the land, unlike the ancient days when they were confined only to the pastures of sorcerers who thought they owned them.

As they headed toward the palace, they heard the beginning beats of a nearby orchestra which was starting a song. Michelle Branch was standing on a nearby hillside, surrounded by hundreds who comprised a full orchestra and as many singers of a great choir.

As the pianos, electric bass guitars and violins began with the initial beats in establishing a rhythm, The Almighty smiled in recognition of the hymn “You’re Everywhere To Me” (Recorded back in the ancient earth time as “Everywhere”on her CD The Spirit Room.) and immediately begin to sway with the music.

In an instant all who were walking with God stepped into a wonderful dance. They seemed to have been choreographed as all were waving their hands above and around themselves in perfect rhythm with the song. Everyone sang every word and those who could, performed equally exquisite symmetrical dance movements in the sky above. The swells of the chorus and deepening rhythm of the tympani drums thundered down through to the distant valleys. The singer’s high octave soprano voice was perfectly supported by the blending of the sixteen part chorus. Even the trees swayed with the song. At the final chord, God, and all those surrounding dancing and singing beings, landed in a graceful final posture. In that instant, the seraphim angels exploded themselves into a thousand multicolored stars to light up the sky. The hills danced. Heaven thundered with a final cord.

“Cool” said God as they resumed their walk back to the palace.

It didn’t take the Almighty more than a minute to begin singing another familiar ballad with the silver-horned unicorns joining in singing. There were now hundreds who moved along with God. There were people, numerous angels and scores of gleaming fairies who had joined them after the unicorns’ performance in the meadow. In Heaven, most everyone enjoys singing and whenever someone starts up a song, voices blend in with marvelous harmonies, rhythms and antiphonal choruses.

Along the way, Mary joined the group as she was just coming from the weaving cottage. She wanted to give God the beautiful blue robe she had just woven.

“This is splendid” God said, smiling and kissing her and putting it on with obvious pleasure. Its blend of blue hues were woven with intricate artistry, shimmering as it mysteriously reflected the light of the Creator’s countenance.

“Wow! Michael expressed, looking at God’s new cloak.

“Majestic!” said Angelica, a seraphim who was also among those who were in route to the palace.

God decided to express thanks to Mary for the gift and swept a hand out toward the slope of the nearby hill. Instantly the hillside was covered with thousands of bird of paradise flowers – all matching the many colors of the new coat. In a whisper that all could hear, God said “Thank you Mary.”

As they neared the palace, several flew or walked off to other places. While walking down the beautiful central inlaid blue and green marble hallway, God noticed Michael stopping to talk with a woman leaning in her apartment doorway so God also came over.

Above them, the grand hallway of the palace vaulted up to the open and endless sky. The crystalline gothic flying buttresses regally leaned in from above, as if supporting the sky behind them. Between them were intricately carved cave-like stalagmites of gold. Each formed giant ornamental figurines. Their weight and mass created dazzling walls and foundations between and beneath the towering columns – giving the hallway a cavernous and endless depth.

Directly above the hallway was a ceiling of open sky – all of the planets and stars clearly within sight. From standing within this grand palace corridor, one could see the expanse of the universe above – framed by this golden and crystal edifice.

The woman speaking in her doorway was Doris. God remembered she had recently entered the celestial palace to take residence after a splendid life on the earth planet. She had been here long enough to rejoin her husband John and meet most everyone. She even made several new friends who had come from the planet Photon in the Crimea galaxy.

Doris’s face was radiant with joy as she saw God. Angelica and several others were coming to join her in conversation with Michael. She had passed through many human years but as were all, who dwelled in God’s house, she was ageless. The resiliency of her spirit radiated out from her human form in which her essence dwelled.

Pausing in her conversation with Michael, Doris slowly turned and said to God, “Thank You for the two lights You had sent me in my last transition, Holy One. I was uplifted at a time when I needed them most. I will thank them myself when I dine with them at tonight’s feast.”

“Your thanks have already been received, My child” God said, “for it was my two luminary essences and I Who Personally came to you in your move from your apartment to the rehab facility” God said with a gentle smile. “You would be interested in hearing how they came to you?”

“Oh yes,” said Doris with interest as she, and the others who were there, slowly began to sit at God’s feet in the hallway.

As God came to a cross-legged seated position to face the listeners, the winged creatures, in complete syncopation with the Almighty’s movements in being seated, also gracefully collapsed to sit as one unit, folding their wings behind them with the poise of a ballerina’s pirouette. With the natural silence of anticipation and reverence, all were now sitting around God in the grand hallway. God’s face became even more radiant.

Brushing hair back with both hands, God smiled broadly and began with a face of beauty and joy. A story was about to begin.

“Near your eightieth birthday, Doris, I was in the conference room carving on the grand table” the Almighty began. “I was considering how your earthly form was wearing and that you would soon be needing help. Of course I had, long ago, arranged for especially caring people to be coming into place to assist you as you had to change your dwelling.

One of the most difficult sorrows for Me is how I must refrain from showing My children the future. If you clearly saw how I am always beside you and how I unfailingly bring you what you need, you might go about your life less mindful of your own responsibility for your choices. In this domain beyond time – the future, past and present exist – you would have known that you were already here with John and the rest of us as he made the transition to fully experience of My Presence.

“On that side of time,” God went on, “you had to dwell without knowing the future. This is so that you would use your freedom to direct your life’s choices with the resources I’ve already given you. But you could not see this then and I knew you were troubled.

“I was feeling your sorrow when you were grieving about leaving your home to move into the health care center. I know the comfort of familiar friends and familiar surroundings and the sadness that comes with their loss. So as I was feeling your sadness, I was carving in the great conference room table. My current project is the wooden carved reflection of earthen life on the surface of the conference table.”

As The Almighty spoke, all could see the scene of God over in the palace conference room. When God spoke, you saw things as they happened.

In the room was a lengthy mahogany table with villages, farms and cities intricately carved on its surface. If it wasn’t for the uniform deep brown hues of the mahogany wood grain, you would think the table top was vibrantly alive with life and movement.

God was sitting near the end of the lengthy table, slowly shaping the hat of a miniature person walking along a peaceful street in a town. At God’s left was a gentle Turquoise glow, a light form being who, by being there, was reflecting her rays directly on the table at the place of the carving in progress.

To God’s right was a darker, more purple, light form also reflecting upward and around to the other parts of the room. This light was Indigo on the spectrum, also casting a complementing light directly upon God’s carving work. As God continued telling the story, the listeners watched it unfold.

“I was carving on the table with my two luminaries Turquoise and Indigo. They accompany Me wherever I go and as it happened, Turquoise was giving each of us a hot fudge sundae.

Turquoise, . . . I love how she becomes deeper in her hues when she fills with enthusiasm, . . . she began to speak of her meeting with the Sun. She talked of the Sun’s powerful rays. The pulsing radiance of the golden and orange glow. As she ate and spoke, she paused to look into God’s face and then at Indigo but went on.”

All the inhabitants of God’s house, who were gathered there in the grand hallway, continued to see the events as God spoke. They saw God carving at the table, sitting comfortably and casually back in the chair, smiling as Turquoise spoke and changed hues of her color according to the inflection of her words.

“I hope to spend more time with the Sun” Turquoise continued. Perhaps it will increase my own intensity. I know I could glow with a deeper radiance and wider spectrum” she said wistfully, pausing, and then looking at Indigo and then at Me” God noted. “She was looking for advice but I just smiled, knowing Indigo was soon to respond.”

“Indigo agreed with her about the Sun’s warm and powerful rays” but God let her go on without interrupting as she thought, out loud.

“If you ask me,” Indigo finally responded, knowing she had finished and that God was likely to wait until he responded, “consider being more mindful of the perfect intensity you already possess.”

Indigo smiled and let his words sit for a while with Turquoise. He looked at her with a steady and unchanging golden glow as Turquoise pondered what her response might be.”

“As has always been the case,” God said with an engaging warmth and thoughtfulness, “my friend Turquoise had given her pause but before she returned to her thousands of emerging ideas and creativity. She slowed in her thoughts to consider his words. Turquoise looked at the calmness in Indigo’s countenance and then continued her next words. She looked at Me and from the look on My face, she knew I was about to speak. Her smile broadened but her eyes revealed her questioning feelings.

“Turning toward Me she asked, “How can I become more mindful of my intensity? It seems dim in comparison to the Sun’s glow.”

I said, “One of my children is about to enter a life transition, during which she will need you both. Both of you come with Me and the answer to your question, Turquoise, will become evident.”

“With a sudden flare in their light forms, both Turquoise and Indigo thrilled within themselves as they passed out of the conference room with The Omnipotent One to the Milky Way galaxy and to earth. The hot fudge

sundaes had been consumed and like magic, the dishes had instantly appeared in the nearest one of many palace kitchens. In no earthly time, the three of us stood in a modest apartment. The time space was measured just past one of the galaxy’s millennium markers” God said.

As Doris sat nearby listening and watching the Almighty’s story unfold, God turned to her and said, “Doris, here you see yourself sitting and reading through the descriptions of your future living space.” As could the others seated around her, she could see herself in her old apartment. It was the wee hours of a morning and she had woken, unable to sleep. She was looking nervously through the pamphlets the retirement home had given her in preparation of her arrival.

“Your worry has found expression on your face,” God pointed out, “and I felt your sadness. You were struggling with letting go of your familiar furniture. You knew not all of your familiar possessions could be taken with you.

“You were also remembering your years with your husband John. You were overcome with a sense of your loss” God said, reaching over to put a hand on her shoulder. “How I longed to show you how you were already here with John in this place, even though all of your senses were focused only on your earthly residence in time past. You would have never understood how the celestial city exists in times past, present and future. You were certainly not even aware that the three of us were beside you. I wept for your sorrow and the limitations of your awareness.

“It was then, however, that I turned to Turquoise and said, ‘This is your calling. Speak to her of what is possible. As you do so well, put her in touch with her abilities to see what could come about. Lead her to create and bring about what has not yet been’ I said.

“Next, I turned to Indigo and told him to wait for Turquoise to do her magic. ‘At the appropriate time,’ I said, ‘show Doris that things are just as they should be. That all things that matters are connected and there are lessons in each experience that relate to all others.’

“For the time following, Turquoise began to bring Doris’ attention to the pictures of her future dwelling in the health center. Without her knowing of My presence and the luminaries, Doris turned her focus not on what she could not take but on what she could bring with her to her new home. She became full of ideas and possibilities. Turquoise showed her how a small oak table could serve as a writing desk as well as a breakfast table.

“Doris, you remember this time, don’t you?” God said to her as she was intently watching her former form sitting in her apartment. “You were full of energy and some delight as you went through your most prized possessions and contemplated new uses.”

“Yes,” Doris replied with joy in her voice, “I found that what started out as a dreary day had been transformed into a time of creativity. I felt like I did when I was planning for our first new home” Doris concluded with joy in her face.

“In the earth hours that followed,” God continued, “you heard a knock at your apartment door. Your kind neighbor, Andrea, had stopped by for tea and to ask if you needed anything at the store.”

Those attending the story saw a red haired and cheerful woman in her forties, speaking brightly with Doris. “She had many enthusiastic ideas to help you decide what furniture would serve you best” God continued. “With Turquoise’s gentle but new light, you came back in touch with your life-long abilities to think of new possibilities. You embraced your gift of creativity and connected with the new ideas of your neighbor Andrea” God added. By now, you’ve noticed that Andrea lives across the hallway from you here, as well.

Doris nodded in affirmation with a warm smile but soon returned her gaze to the continuing scenes of her past life before her. “I wish I had been more mindful of what You had already given me” Doris said to God. “It seems as if I have lived with less light than I could have for so many years” she noted with a sigh.

“Ah, my dear Doris” God responded with a gentle arm on her shoulder, “that is why I have always been beside you. So that you would never feel the searing and unending despair as one who has no hope. Of course it was Indigo’s role to continue from there” God went on.

In the scenes which followed, Indigo’s purplish glow appeared to surround Doris in her new residence. She was eating in a rather pleasant dining area with other residents, talking with her new friends. At times, she laughed. In other moments, Doris was seen with sadness as she heard others tell of their transitions. Yet in more scenes than not, Doris seemed to have a look of contentment.

“Your thoughts often returned to your past” God pointed out as they watched. “Whenever the light of Turquoise embraced you, you were filled with profound thoughts of all with which you have been blessed and what could be in the future.

Whenever you were graced by Indigo’s deepening light, you saw that in all of your loss, you somehow were able to embrace the wholeness of your own life. That throughout the many unexpected times of sadness, people and things had come together to the point of there being enough. As Indigo illumined your soul, in the tired sunset hours ending your days, you were mindful of time made precious in time’s passing. You sensed the purity and holiness of each moment in which you have taken breath. Each each exchange, with another of My creatures, is always filled with new possibilities of healing and delight – filled with a never-before-connectedness which makes for the meeting of minds and hearts.”

“All these things you have sensed throughout your visit to earth” the Holy One said, “and it is now that you fully see how wonderful and transformed life becomes with the wisdom of these added lights.”

“Yes, Sacred One” Doris said, looking into the gentle eyes of God. “The light of what can be and the knowledge of how everything is just as it should be makes each moment sacred. How utterly magnificent that we are privileged to breathe in each moment in eternity” Doris concluded.

As the story had gracefully ended and a singer was stepping up on a nearby pedestal in an enclave further down the hall, God, and all who where gathered, slowly rose.

God beckoned, with a slight wave of a hand, inviting Turquoise and Indigo to move into the gathered assembly. A chorus and musicians was beginning a song. What seemed like a thousand musical instruments and voices quietly began a song, just in front of the millions of heavenly hosts.

God gathered the two light forms Turquoise and Indigo closely and said, “It is to you both that I entrust My Spirit of Wisdom for My children.

“Turquoise, before the morning rays of the Sun come to My children, cause their eyes to envision what they can not see. Sing to their hearts of what they can bring about that has not yet seen the light. Fill them with the knowledge that in any moment, with a playful mixture of fun and work, magic can be created in any task. But know that it is the exact intensity of your present glow that brings about this power to transform the ordinary to something of splendor. Turquoise, the Sunshine has nothing on you.”

Turquoise smiled and her light blue hue deepened and all, who were near her, moaned in awe at her joyful glow.

“Indigo,” God continued, “your illumination brings all to see My actual presence in their life. As the weariness of life comes upon my children and as they reminisce over what has been, cause them to see how all things are connected. Illuminate them so they may make the connections between the pain and the healing, the loss and the contentment. Bring them to see the astounding love we all have for them in a time when their hearts are shrouded with the darkness. Speak to them, as you did in speaking to Turquoise, that who they are is just who they should be. That they are and will become what they must. Convince them in their hearts that all things are in transition to good.”

As the music was beginning of the song, God said to them all, “This has been from the beginning. All that ever was and will be is for you. All that I have been and will be is embodied in an unquenchable love of your soul.”

As The Almighty spoke, God’s image transformed to the likeness of a constantly changing person. God’s face and countenance continually changed. God’s countenance became a celestial display of gentle compassion and renown wisdom.

In as much time, again God’s image transformed into a slowly moving swirl of light. It was as if all of the colors of the universe now joined in a dazzling blend of distinct light forms. Yet half of this moving column of light burned with an intense Turquoise – the other half, a deep Indigo.

Suddenly all of the heavenly hosts joined in the rising swell of singing and instrumental song and dance. All that lived, moved in dance or flight into sparkling patterns – all in cadence to the song. The earth, the stars and all the planets of all the galaxies pulsed with the unending universal chorus.

And it was morning and it was evening and everything was just as it should be.

 

It’s a Wonder We Can Think at All

“When I think back
On all the crap I learned in high school
It’s a wonder I can think at all
And though my lack of education
Hasn’t hurt me none
I can read the writing on the wall”
from the Simon And Garfunkel 1973 song “Kodachrome”

Remember our priorities back in high school? The things we did to achieve recognition or our own self-worth? We’ve forgotten the very people we tried to please in order to fit in and be accepted.

By our thirties, we had grown out of our myopic high-school view of the world around us. It was like a now too-small suit that our parents had given us, in which we wouldn’t be caught dead. Those adolescent world views and judgments on large swaths of humanity. All these opinions and pronouncements are now gone – vanishing like someone else’s overheard burp from another room. It’s like the vicious radio talk show host who is forced into retirement after society, and all his former show’s sponsors, have moved on with other, more enlightened value systems.

What caused us to disregard what had once been at the center of our values?

Certainly it was exposure to new people and their broader perspectives in life. Likely, it was the pain of suffering – ours and theirs. The test of time ground down the inadequacies of oversimplified religion and ideologies.

It was, as Simon and Garfunkel’s song suggested, a transition of our minds from black and white to ‘those nice bright colors and their greens of summers, that make us think all the world’s a sunny day.’ Most of us emerged from a childhood where we are shown the world through a black and white lens. Perhaps out of our parent’s exhaustion and inadequate teacher credentialing, they did the best they could but wanted to keep it simple. They wanted to control things, or at least appear to be in control. To them, there were the good and the bad; the angels and the demons – “them” and “us.”

By the time we found ourselves in college, we were truly embarrassed to discover that we had actually believed what we had been told. Those millions of people, labeled as “Communists” by our parental units, turned out to just like us – only with a different political system. We discovered that everyone who is poor had not brought it upon themselves (from their lack of adapting, in a Social Darwinist scheme of ‘making it’).

To our dismay, the people and institutions, in whom and in which we were taught to trust for our religion and spirituality, were sometimes false idols themselves. They actually believed that they were the only ones right and everyone else was wrong and headed toward’ hell in a hand basket. ‘We discovered, in time, that the values we have been carrying around, as if precious and holy, were woefully threadbare – contradictory to the core teachings of all of the world’s wisdom traditions.

“Is that all there is?
If that’s all there is, my friends, then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is”
Pebby Lee, 1969 ‘Is That All There Is?”

“Seargeant O’Leary is walking the beat.
At night, he becomes a bartender.He works at Mr. Cacciatorre’s down on Sullivant Street,
Across from the medical center,
And he’s trading in his Chevy for a Cadillac, lac, lac, lac;You oughtta know by now,
If he can’t drive with a broken back,
At least he can polish the fenders.
And it seems such a waste of time,
If that’s what it’s all about…
Momma, if that’s moving up, then I’m moving out.”
Billy Joel, 1977 ‘Movin’ Out’

“Disillusioned words like bullets bark
As human gods aim for their mark
Make everything from toy guns that spark
To flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark
It’s easy to see without looking too far
That not much is really sacred”
Bob Dylan’s 1965 It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)

When we did begin to pull ourselves away from “all that crap we learned in high school,” we probably spent a number of years proclaiming what we don’t want for our lives. We expressed our dissatisfaction with the bigotry, prejudice and the painful social injustice. We did it with the clothing we wore, the language we used and our lifestyles. For some of us, we are lucky to be alive from risking drugs, alcohol and Californication. We were hell-bent on stating, with the canvas of our lives, that we were not our parents. We did this with our lifestyle, language and how we spend our time. We were defiantly not what we were raised to be. Or so we thought.

But we were busted. In the course of every day conversation, work-place exchanges and patterns of how we actually did things, we ended up becoming not that different than our parents. We found ourselves riddled and driven by the same fears as our parents. We overused the personal strengths that served us in the past in compensating for our fears.  Our therapists complicated by our task list of schemas which get us caught up in some of the same unhealthy over-compensations as those who raised us. This is not your father’s Buick but it’s a Toyota .- so what? (See  Tara Bennett-Goleman’s Emotional Alchemy: How the Mind Can Heal the Heart)

Genetics? Probably not, except for our body types. But fear drives us to it. We write off people by the millions who approach life differently than us. We fear them and we fear change. We fear the kind of learning that forces us to set aside the old and pick up the new.

Consider how they used to catch monkeys for zoos. They carved out a coconut, attached a chain to one end of the coconut and the other end to a tree. Next, they put fruit in the coconut. When monkeys come along, they’d grab the fruit inside the coconut but refuse to unclench their fist that is holding the fruit inside. Unwilling to let go, they remained stuck to the coconut, chained to the tree.

In potential teaching moments, we are somewhat like the monkeys. We won’t let go of what we know and believe. That’s because it requires us to do the work of stopping and reflecting outside of our usual patterns of interpreting and compensating for our fears. It requires the work and energy to empathize with others – embracing their experiences and perspectives. We aggressively surround ourselves with people who look, act, dress, think and speak just like us. It’s fortunate we all don’t become hermits and wall ourselves away from society – refusing to talk with or read about anyone else. Some people, we guess, actually die of stubbornness and ignorance. We all have bouts with it.

If you enjoy developmental psychology, reflect on what we did with ourselves during our twenties. The school degrees. The striving for certifications. We climbed up rungs up the corporate ladder. The PTA meetings and how we drove our children to “succeed.” Like lemmings, we flocked along, trying to get our self-worth out of our careers or who we are married to, our money or power. We insured everything in sight so that we can replace anything.

But when do we stop talking about what we don’t want for our lives and pursue what we want? At what point, in the short linear path of our lives, do we get down to the business of pursuing what is truly most important to the core of our being?

  • What  most important to our life?
  • What is the meaning of our life and where are we headed?
  • Who and where is our source of learning how to pursue a life of greater meaning?
  • Is there an app for that?

Maybe you’re in the process of discovering that now?

Compassionate Presence

October 11, 2010

There is a lot of sadness around us. As Buddhists would point out, that’s because of the almost constant attempts to control, predict, grasp or fearfully run away from (or avoid) it all. They also teach that everything is temporary but not to the point of existential meaningless where nothing seems to be connected or to have meaning. It is to teach that whatever is, will ultimately change. “Where moth and rust corrupt” in the tradition of your early years of teaching.

To say that compassion is the only thing that is ‘permanent’ is probably better understood if it is said that when all things and people are gone, what seems to endure is compassion.

We remember a person’s character of caring and self-sacrificial love for others. That seems to stay with us when they are gone. It won’t be their temporary ownership of a Heisman trophy in the trophy shelf of the back room of the mansion (that the next mansion owner will likely try to sell to the highest bidder on EBay). Neither will it be the amount of political or financial power one accumulates during this relatively short lifespan.

Instead, what will endure will be the extent we are able to be truly present in the moment with others in such a way that we can fully accept and take them in a loving and unconditional way. It is in those moments we find avenues of reaching out and truly connecting, as kindred spirits, so that we can be agents of compassion and healing. As we form a community (which knows no boundaries), we join in something that is greater than ourselves and become more fully mindful that we are truly connected with all others and all living things.

We gain a keener sense of this in the practice of meditation. That’s because in this sedentary activity, we first learn to be fully present with ourselves. (How many people in your life are really there with you – who aren’t frantically eying their Blackberry or looking at their watch while they speak at you with no eye contact?) Learning to be fully present in the moment with ourselves yields learning to be fully present with others. We need then learn to be open and present with the Spirit Who created us.

Now all of that sounds like a Hallmark card on steroids but a lifestyle of being truly present in the moment, . . . being at home with yourself, others and your Source . . . brings you to compassion. I believe this life of compassionate mindfulness is at the core of all world religions that seem authentic.

These core teachings are present in all religions but are more, in my opinion, intentionally taught in Buddhism. If you’re interested in reading some more on this, take a look at Jack Cornfield’s The Wise Heart. ISBN: 978-0-553-80347-1 (0-553-80347-6)