Wise Words – We Are All Creators

As spiritual seekers, we are all creators.

“The object isn’t to make art, it’s to be in that wonderful state which makes art inevitable.”

Robert Henri

It’s funny, but I don’t think this quote is about art. It’s about the larger container that holds art but holds everything else as well.

When I sit down to write, I try to settle into a relaxed state that is connected to Spirit and open to guidance. If I don’t drop into this space, I am writing from a part of my brain that feels like the thin outer shell of who I am. The words might be organized, articulate, well-informed, they might even sound good, but the writing isn’t coming from the truth. At some level, it isn’t honest.

To drop into this state, I have to let go of my expectations about what my writing should be. I have to face and walk through the fear that my writing will expose me as idealistic, deluded, ego-inflated, or just plain silly. When I can do that, my consciousness shifts, and I enter the “wonderful state” Robert Henri is talking about. And then I can write.

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Wise Words – By Our Love, Not By Our Thinking

By our love not by our thinking

“By our love the Sacred may be touched and held; by our thinking, never.”

The Cloud of Unknowing, Chapter 6

Thinking is not wrong, it just gets too much air time in our hyper-productive, over-stimulated society.

When applied to problems it is good at, its answers seem complete:  How many grams are in a cup? When is the next solar eclipse? How much weight can this bridge design hold? These are questions with definite answers, and logic is ideally suited to deliver them. This leaves the false impression that thinking is a superior pathway to understanding. 

But we humans are multi-dimensional. For all its usefulness, logic cannot reach the parts of life we hold most dear:  the waves of love we feel holding our newborn child or grandchild; the subtle smile in the eyes of our spouse or partner; intuitive bursts of creativity; an inspired refrain of Bob Dylan or Beethoven; the upswept majesty of entering a cathedral. These are sacred experiences and no logical explanation of them is complete or fulfilling. They need to be embraced by another dimension of our being.

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Wise Words – The World Is Full of Magic Things

“The world is full of magic things waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”

William Butler Yeats

I can’t be sure this quote belongs to W.B. Yeats, but it certainly fits with how he saw the world, as a place of enchantment.

It places the source of wonder not in our powers of vision, but in the things around us. It is the world that is alive and we who are the dullards. If we can look up from the mental whirlwinds that absorb us and drop the preconceived packaging we use to keep the world safely in place, we can awaken our senses and see where magic is afoot.

For most of us, our perceptions are dimmed because we look at life through the same old, tired filters. These filters fog our perception like glasses made from Coke bottle bottoms. But we can revive our senses by dropping our filters, even briefly.

I will make you a promise. Try this experiment of attention and attitude for 30 seconds, and your senses will awaken to things you have been ignoring.

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Wise Words – Enlightenment Happens by Accident

 “Enlightenment happens by accident. Practice makes you accident-prone.”

Robert Aitken*

There is a natural paradox stitched into the fabric of spiritual practice – it requires both effort and non-effort.

We have “goals” on the spiritual path, but we hold them loosely. We want to be more conscious, enlightened, and open to the sacred experiences that crack the facade of our outer shell, but we know these can’t be reached by willful pursuit. The achievement-oriented skills we’ve learned to use in the outer world don’t work in the inner world. Trying harder makes us, well, hardened, and less open to receiving. Holding the reins too tightly keeps the horse from moving freely.

Our awakening comes in spurts, unexpected flashes sprinkled over time. By accident, so to speak. Spiritual growth is not a linear process. It is subject to our care but not our control. It’s more like preparing a field and waiting to see what sprouts. Things progress below the surface if we cultivate an openness to spontaneity, a receptivity and close listening that allow the alchemy to work at its own pace.

And, on the other hand …

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Wise Words – Your Most Important Spiritual Task: Opening Your Heart

“If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

C.S. Lewis

A sadness comes over me as I read these words and recognize the truth of it in me. Over the years, I have learned how to protect myself by armoring my heart.  

We all do, I suppose. Shortly after our birth, the world began to show us it can be a hurtful place. One moment, we felt a sense of union and safety with our parents, and the next, we felt the devastating ache of absence. So, we learned to shield ourselves from painful feelings by shutting off the heart. 

These preverbal lessons embedded themselves in the first layers of our psyche. And perhaps the most painful early scar was to adopt the false belief that somehow the fault must be in us, that we are not lovable. In various ways, we all share the early tragic misconception that we are not okay as we are.

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Wise Words – A World in Chaos, or the Birth of a New Consciousness?

Just before [an airplane] cracks the sonic barrier, there’s increased vibration and greater resistance . . . In our present state of evolutionary development, you might say we are flying just beneath the sound barrier of consciousness . . . On the other side of the sonic boom, we discover heightened connection, transparency, integration and resonance – more unity. 

People all over the world are experiencing decidedly tumultuous times.  Perhaps this is a sign that we’re moving closer to the “speed of sound” – closer to new consciousness. Of course, the faster we travel, the more volatility we meet – until we have breached the membrane and exceeded previous evolutionary limitations. What a beautiful boom that will make.

Thomas Hübl, from his book, Attuned

We live our lives in the day-to-day, so it’s easy to miss the longer view. In the day-to-day, we attend to the details of living life. The coffee pot, the kid’s breakfast, the list of appointments, errands, deadlines, and obligations, these all have their rightful place and deserve our attention.

We usually view the news while in the day-to-day mode of attention. Each item appears on the screen as a separate event and taken together, they sometimes paint a distressing picture. Extreme weather events, shootings, scenes of war, political gridlock, social unrest, hateful displays – we absorb the parade of disturbing headlines and react to each, feeling our emotions and grappling to make sense of it. 

And it seems to be getting worse, each day more extreme, the suffering amplified, our bodies more fatigued, and our emotions more numb. The speed of it is disorienting. We want it to slow down, for the madness to stop, for things to go back to normal.

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Wise Words – Reclaiming Our Public, Private and Secret Lives

“Everyone has three lives: the public, the private and the secret.”

Gabriel García Márquez

We all have a sense of who we are as a person, even as a young child. It’s true that we grow and change, but we still feel that we know who the “me” is that is growing and changing. In fundamental ways, I am still that six-year-old, that ten-year-old, that fourteen-year-old boy from years ago; all of them feel like the same “me,” looking out at the world and experiencing the events of my life.

As we grow, we learn a lot of rules about how to be, what is acceptable and what is not. Some are basic rules of fairness and kindness, and some are the local customs and manners of our family and communities. This process teaches us how to present a version of ourselves to the world. This is our public life.

Our public life serves us well. It provides self-esteem, gives us some power to influence how people see us, and perhaps most importantly, creates a place of protection. Our public persona is a shield we can place in front of our most vulnerable spots. Many people over-identify with the image they have constructed for their public life. They hold their armor tightly and let few people in. Maintaining this shield takes a lot of emotional and mental energy, and it can become exhausting and ultimately lonely.

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Wise Words – The Great Mystery Into Which We Were Born

“I was like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.” 

Isaac Newton

“Never cease to stand like curious children before the great mystery into which we were born.”

 Albert Einstein 

I hate to admit it, but I have a strong need to be right. I know a little bit about a lot of stuff, I see ways to connect the dots into a coherent picture, and I can tell a pretty good story.   

Then I fall in love with my story, and I argue for it.

A motivating part of my self-image is that I am intellectually astute and have the vision to see the big picture. I like to make good points, I like to win arguments. I think of myself as wise (which is a kinda unwise thing to think, when you think about it).

I don’t know where this need to know, this “expert mentality,” comes from. Somewhere in my childhood, I learned that being smart and knowing things gained praise and approval. It became an armor that protected something tender inside. Knowing “how the world works” gave me the illusion of control, a sense that life could be stable and predictable.

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Wise Words – Ritual as Doorway to the Divine

“A ritual is the enactment of a myth. By participating in the ritual, you are participating in the myth. And since myth is a projection of the depth wisdom of the psyche, you are being put in accord with that wisdom. Your consciousness is being reminded of the wisdom of your own life.”

Joseph Campbell

I pull open the heavy doors, walk into Christchurch Cathedral, Dublin, and stare at the receding rows of arches high above me. From tall windows, the fading sun throws a soft yellow light on the massive stone ceiling. I am here for Evensong, sung tonight by the Cathedral Girls’ Choir. I take a seat.

I love spending time in ancient places of ceremony and worship, where the walls have listened for centuries to chanting and singing, where people have worn the stone floors smooth, coming together to find peace, solace, and connection. The sacred presence of generations has soaked this place, and I feel it can soak me too if I let it.

Sitting in the vast volume of the nave, surrounded by grandeur, I’m surprised that I feel small and large at the same time. One by one, the internal gears that keep my mind spinning start to slow down and a sense of calm contentment unfolds.

The choir begins, quiet harmonies rising into the evening, piercingly clear in the stillness. Reverent, resonant, lifting a soft beauty into the air, touching something in each of us that wants to be lifted up, wants to join in that beauty. My boundaries loosen. I am immersed, absorbed, connected across time, welcomed into stillness.

A young girl, she can’t be more than ten or twelve, has a solo line that floats above the rest. She effortlessly holds a long, high note, then sounds one even higher that splits me. My insides melt and tears well up. I close my eyes. If I let go completely, I would start to weep.

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Wise Words – There Is No Other Way Like Yours

“Do not compare, do not measure. No other way is like yours. All other ways deceive and tempt you. You must fulfill the way that is in you.”

Carl Jung

Every transmitter has a fingerprint, a set of characteristics in its signal that mark it as unique. This is true for every radio, antennae, and cell phone, for every satellite in space. Each has its own distinct signature, reaching out across the distance, not duplicated anywhere in the world.

And aren’t we like that too, each a collage of qualities, strengths, gifts, imperfections, and quirks, each emitting our individual signal? This collage acts like an antenna that transmits the unique voice of who we are. It’s gratifying to work from our authentic self; we all know how our heart soars when we do what we are wired to do.

The signal starts out strong and clear when we are young, when we don’t know any other way to be. But over time, a lot happens that interferes with our original signal. It gets covered with different messages about who we are:  the expectations from parents and teachers, or the field we pursued because we are good at it, not because we loved it, or the misguided advice we got that we couldn’t sing or weren’t good at math.

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