For some reason, I had the impression that Mitch was some sort of evangelical feel-goodauthor, possibly because I vaguely realized that he wrote The Five People You Meet in Heaven, which I enjoyed. As it happens, Mitch is Jewish and got his start as a sports writer.
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This book started when he was asked by his childhood rabbi to give the rabbi’s eulogy (an event that didn’t end up happening for another eight years.) In the course of getting to know the rabbi better, Mitch found his own previously casual faith reawakened. He also became involved, during the course of these years, with an ex-drug addict Christian pastor ministering to the homeless in his native Detroit.
Over the course of getting to know both of these men better, Mitch becomes more cognizant of the role of faith and it’s ability to make the world a better place.
The book if full of witty stories (most of them courtesy of the rabbi) and compassionate moments. It frankly admits (as does the rabbi) that we simply don’t have answers to all life’s questions. The rabbi gives the best answer I’ve ever heard to the question of “why do bad things happen to good people.” To quote the rabbi, “No one knows”.
While gaining a new appreciation for his Jewish faith and the value of tradition, Mitch is also given an appreciation for the value of ALL religions and traditions. Embarrassingly, the local Catholic priest, during Mitch’s childhood, once accosted members of the synagogue for taking up too many parking spaces in front of his church with “They didn’t exterminate enough of you!” As his penance, his archbishop assigned him to walk around the church school grounds during recess arm in arm with the rabbi. They later became fast friends.
Then there was the Episcopal priest who was invited by the rabbi to speak to his synagogue to foster mutual respect and ended up trying to publicly bring the rabbi to Jesus. But in spite of such rough spots, the book in infused with a warm and tolerant respect for Christianity and other religions – particularly as it explores the life and ministry of pastor Henry in Detroit and becomes involved in helping his ministry.
The Secret: The Power by Rhonda Byrne. I had previously reviewed wildly popular book “The Secret” by this author. I gave a mixed review of that book, in which I noted that a book on how to get anything you want can send an entirely wrong message to someone in the grip of powerful ego drives.
The newer book hit me wrong right out of the gate. It was only as I continued to read (in this case, listen) that I started to appreciate what the author was actually saying.
I’ll give away the “secret” of the book by saying that the “power” mentioned is Love. A wonderful message. However, in proving that everything in the world is created and obtained through love, Rhonda equates a fervent desire for a pair of designer shoes with “love” for those shoes. Unfortunately, spiritual teachers such as the Buddha identify desire as the root of all suffering.
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As the book went along, however, I realized that Rhonda means something different by “desire” than the Buddha means. What she’s actually suggesting is not a desperate longing for material things, but an awe, appreciation and gratitude for material things. This puts her program on an entirely different (and spiritually helpful) footing. For example, she shares a remarkable point of view for dealing with envy. Rather than having negative feelings about good things coming to other people, we are to consider this as a sign that we are on the same “frequency” as these good things, and that the universe is presenting them to us to enjoy, love, and HAVE if we wish. By this rationale, we should be as happy and grateful for someone else having good things as we would if he had them ourselves.
I found this a unique approach. While perhaps not as pure as being grateful for other’s good fortune because we are spiritually one with them, it’s a good start. And there is much to praise in the book. It’s well written, easy to follow, full of helpful quotations and excellent summaries. It encourages us to practice love, gratitude and positivity in every situation – and that can’t be bad. I found that simply listening to the book on audio while commuting improved my entire day.
The audio version, by the way, has lots of interesting music, sound effects, and Rhonda’s own unique voice. I found these helpful and engaging, but it’s easy to see how some people might find them distracting. Such people might prefer the book instead of the audio.
The original point I made in my review of The Secret still applies here I think. You have to begin with a good perspective on who you are and what your purpose is to avoid being sucked into an ego trap. As Jesus put it:
So then, don’t worry saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For the unconverted pursue these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matt 6:31-33, NET)
In a sense, however, the Power is much better on this point. An approach of cultivating love and gratitude is already a long way along the road of seeking the Kingdom than simply trying to practice the “law of attraction”. I think this book rounds out and corrects some of the potential problems with the first, and I’d recommend it over the Secret.
As some of you know, I’m a big fan of Ken Wilber. His “Integral” approach to spirituality, philosophy, and life in general is cutting edge, and incorporates more truth than any other system I’m aware of. I’m currently reading a book which I hope to review here soon – Integral Life Practice, which was co-written by Wilber and Terry Patten. The purpose of Integral Life Practice is to expand yourself in all aspects of human development. It’s Wilber’s contention, for example, that meditators, for example, who also do strength training are both better meditators and better athletes than those who do only one or the other. Integral Life Practice involves selecting development practices from a wide spectrum of developmental areas to balance your development and make greater progress.
I just received an invitation for a free webinar by Terry Patten on The Three Essential Practices of an Integral Spiritual LIfe. Certianly one motive for the free webinar is to drum up readers for his newsletter, I also expect the webinar to be quite informative, and I wanted to pass along the invitation to the readers here. You can sign up for the webinar (which will be on Thursday, Feb 23rd, at 5:30 PST) via this link: Webinar Registration.
If you get this message too late, take a look at Terry’s sight regardless. I believe the webinar will be offered as a download after the event.
Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed….I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other. But this cannot be seen, only believed and “understood” by a peculiar gift.
Again, that expression, le point vierge, (I cannot translate it) comes in here. At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our mind or the brutalities of our own will. This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us. It is so to speak His name written is us, as our poverty, as our indigence, as our dependence, as our sonship. It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billion points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely….I have no program for this seeing. It is only given. But the gate of heaven is everywhere
(Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander p158)
I’ve noticed a synchronicity lately with regard to the idea of “goals”. At the very time when I’m feeling some personal frustration at not meeting some of my important goals – two of my favorite bloggers, Steve Pavlina and Leo Babauta, are posting about the idea of reducing the importance of goals in our life.
Leo, in his Zen Habits blog, writes that the problem with goals is that they may force us to work on things we aren’t really passionate about.
Goals as a system are set up for failure. Even when you do things exactly right, it’s not ideal. Here’s why: you are extremely limited in your actions. When you don’t feel like doing something, you have to force yourself to do it. Your path is chosen, so you don’t have room to explore new territory. You have to follow the plan, even when you’re passionate about something else.
The ideal life, according to Leo, is one in which we follow our inspiration and passion at each moment. This is the kind of life that produces truly great results. Coincidentally (or not), Steve Pavlina has been trying an experiment in which he tries to follow his inspiration and passion in each moment. In the past, if a flash of inspiration came to him, he would write it down for later planning and scheduling. Now (or at least for the next few weeks of the experiment) he just DOES it.
When an inspired idea comes to me, I act on it almost immediately. I know that I have about a 48-hour window — maximum — to write and publish that idea. Otherwise the energy is gone. Trying to create that same content later is possible, but it’s much more difficult and takes a lot longer.
The experience is like catching a wave. I might wake up one morning and get an idea for a new article, and I know I need to grab my laptop immediately and let it flow through me. In those situations I can write nearly as fast as I can type, without having to pause to think.
This is an interesting tie-in to something Eckhart Tolle said in A New Earth. If you do something – even the simplest thing – in complete harmony with your higher self (and I’m paraphrasing a bit) then what you do will improve the entire spirit of the planet – even if what you’re doing is sitting on a mat watching the birds fly by. On the other hand, if you try to do something wonderful, and it is NOT in complete harmony with your higher self, then – no matter how externally wonderful it may seem – you are harming yourself and everyone on the planet. You are bringing an energy of disharmony into the world, and ultimately, that energy is negative and will have negative effects. When we work from the higher self, we are a conduit for the Spirit into the world:
For it is God who works in you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure (Phil 2:13 WEB)
Some degree of planning or scheduling is probably useful in a world where everything runs by the clock and people are expected to produce on schedule. But perhaps we overdo it. I’m going to reconsider the importance of goals in the larger scheme of things.
Of course, this can be risky. As Steve Pavlina puts it:
Dealing with the unpredictability of what’s going to happen next is extremely unsettling. In order to make it through this, I have to let go of trying to control anything. I have to let go and trust
Which is what faith is all about. It’s not about clinging tenaciously to a dogma. It’s about trusting that Spirit will see you through.
Like many people, I never seem to have the time I’d like for meditating and spiritual development. I’d like to begin each day with spiritual practice, but sometimes I’m running late and don’t get to it. Since I have a long commute, I’ve sometimes tried to listen to meditation tapes while driving, but this can be dangerous. Wayne Dyer’s Japa meditation CD, for example, had me in such an altered state that the physical world I was driving through lost importance – which is not a good state for driving.
This morning I tried something different – adapting mindfulness or walking meditation to driving. This seemed like a good match, since it actually makes you MORE aware of your surroundings. Rather than going within, your focus is on being fully present in the situation.
The technique is very simple. Start driving. Turn off your radio or music. Focus entirely on the sense impressions of driving. Be fully present in the experience of driving your car, and don’t focus on any inner dialog or thoughts. If you become aware that you are thinking about something other than the experience of driving, gently return your focus to the road in front of you. Don’t judge yourself for your thoughts, but keep returning your focus to the road, the car and your driving.
Naturally, you should continue to check your mirrors, watch your blind spots and follow good driving practice. In fact you should be more intently aware of your surroundings than usual. Be aware of the road and your surroundings with the same calm intensity of a cat watching a mouse hole. This is probably a better technique to practice on a routine drive, like a commute, than when you are trying to find a new location, although it would probably work with any kind of driving.
No two meditations are alike, and no two meditators are alike – so don’t judge your own experiences. What you experience is what you experience, and it’s fine. But here are a few observations on my own meditation this morning. First of all, it was a bit tiring. Being mindful in a complex situation like driving can be slightly overwhelming. The trick was to relax and be aware of all the experiences in general, rather than trying to shift a laser focus of awareness between all the various things going on.
I also discovered that I have a habit of giving myself verbal mental directions while I’m driving, telling myself where to turn and when to shift. That was a bit odd. But at times during the meditation I felt a wonderful sense of joy. Life seemed so good. Happiness was staring me in the face, waiting for me to shut up long enough to notice it. During these times, I had the odd sensation that I was driving on a route I had never seen before. I actually wondered for a moment if I was lost. The truth is, I suppose, that I had NOT seen it before – not really SEEN it. In fact, the day before this experiment, I had one of those frequent experiences of arriving at a particular turn on my route and being unable to remember how I had arrived, because my driving was on autopilot while I was lost in thought.
The experiment seemed like a success to me. At the very least, I think it won’t hurt my driving at all. It may improve it. Give driving meditation a try and let me know how it works for you.
All that we see or seem Is but a dream within a dream – Edgar Allan Poe
So I went to see Inception last night with most of the family. First a general review. It was an excellent and entertaining movie. It combined espionage, science fiction and action with mind-bending psychological and metaphysical elements. I don’t generally go out of my way to see a Leonardo DiCaprio movie, but he seems to be getting better.
But my reason for commenting here is because of the use of the dream metaphor. Just as a warning, my commentary below may be considered a spoiler by some, so you may want to see the movie first.
The movie involves shared dreaming, dreams-within-dreams, and the strange phenomena that in dreams, we are often unaware that we are dreaming, and confuse dreaming with real life. As the characters struggle to avoid becoming lost in their multi-layered dreams and strive to wake up, a natural question arises – what if the waking world is actually yet another layer of dream, from which we need to awaken? In the film, this speculation is immediately and forcefully dismissed as pathological. But the director knows that he has planted a seed of doubt in our minds, and he subtly toys with that doubt right up to the end of the movie. Seeds of doubt are another theme that runs throughout the movie.
In fact, dreaming and waking have been used in various spiritual traditions for thousands of years as a metaphor for ordinary consciousness and enlightenment. In fact, the name “Buddha” translates as “the awakened one”. In the Gnostic “Hymn of the Pearl” from the Acts of Thomas, the son of a King is sent on a mission to retrieve a treasure, but falls asleep and forgets who he is. His father sends a letter to remind him:
Awake and arise from your sleep, and hear the words of our letter. Remember that you are a son of kings, consider the slavery you are serving.
Unenlightened consciousness is indeed very much like dreaming. We become entranced with the little details of our lives and the stories unfolding around us. We forget and become unconscious to a larger context around us. We forget our connection to our highest self and become attached to the particulars. Many enlightened teachers have confirmed that the process of enlightenment is like waking up from a deep and not very nice dream.
It’s interesting that several spiritual and psychological schools and techniques use dream work, dream journaling and lucid dreaming as tools for self-development. Ken Wilber suggests that dream work is one of the few resources we have for accessing our shadow aspects – which are normally invisible to the conscious mind.
Like the dream engineers in Inception, we need to become better architects of the dream world in order to become more conscious in the waking world – and ultimately – awake to the larger world of spirit.
As you may or may not know, Pope Benedict recently directed that anyone who attempts to ordain a woman to the priesthood, and any woman who is ordained, is automatically excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church. In response to that, my bishop, Bishop Lewis Keizer, presiding bishop of the Home Temple, formally excommunicated Pope Benedict last Sunday (July 18th 2010) at a ceremony in Aromas California.
I’ve written elsewhere on this site about Bishop Keizer, who is probably the most learned man I know on the subjects of esoteric and mystical Christianity. Bishop Keizer and the Home Temple are part of the Independent Catholic movement, has all the twenty two known lines of apostolic authority (far more than the Pope, as it happens). Bishop Keizer, who ordained me to the priesthood, has also been ordaining women for years.
Bishop Keizer explained that he took this action in honor of Mary Magdalene and the scores of other women in the early Christian period who served in positions of leadership and authority, but who were systematically written out of official church history – the Magdalene herself being falsely stigmatized as a prostitute.
The formal decree prescribing excommunication for those who ordain women comes from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a name changed in 1965 from the original (historically infamous) name of the Holy Office of the Inquisition. Pope Benedict himself, in his former name of Joseph Ratzinger, presided over this body, which enforces the doctrinal decrees of the Vatican.
Below I’ve included the youtube video of Bishop Keizer’s announcement, as well as the texts of the rationale for the excommunication and the ceremony itself. Those women (and men) who feel called to priesthood are invited to visit Bishop Keizer’s website at www.hometemple.org and look into his seminary program.
TEXT OF RATIONALE
“I don’t excommunicate people. But I am excommunicating the Pope in order to empower a subtle and invisible spiritual process that will result in his removal from leadership of the Roman Catholic Church, and replacement by a Pope grounded in the true historical teachings of Yeshua, the Master Jesus, which are embedded in every human heart through the Image of Godhead and the Yetzer Ha-Tov or Good Motive, and opposed by the Yetzer Ha-Ra or Evil or Egoistic Motive. The current Pope represents the wrong-headed ideals of the medieval Council for the Inquisition, which resulted in massive injustice and genocide against my spiritual predecessors, the so-called heretics. The name of the Inquisition council was recently changed for public relation purposes to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith or CDF, and before he was Pope, Joseph Ratzinger served as Prefect or head of that order, which deals out punishment for grave offenses against Catholic Canon Law. This week, in his role as Pope Benedict XVI, Ratzinger has ordered the CDF to deal out retribution against Catholic Bishops who ordain women Priests-another major wrongheaded step backwards in a series of Ratinger’s zealous revival of Inquisition-era mentality that will probably result in the future bankruptcy and demise of Catholic Christianity. I am an independent Bishop with all twenty-two extant lines of valid Apostolic Succession, even more Apostolic lineages than the Pope has, since mine also include the so-called heretical lineages. I have been training, ordaining, and consecrating women Priests and Bishops for over thirty years in the Home Temple, and I have great faith in the spiritual and institutional leadership insights of women in partnership with men.
Being a scholar/Bishop grounded in the authentic teachings of Yeshua, I have the right, the authority, the responsibility, and the power to excommunicate this Pope for the benefit of all beings, and for the sake of a future Catholic Church and the New Humanity that is now coming into manifestation as proclaimed by the Master Jesus, and that is need of spiritual leadership that represents the humanistic wisdom and compassion that emanate from the authentic Heart and Mind of Christ within.”
TEXT OF RITUAL DONE IN THE CONTEXT OF THE MESSIANIC SEDER MASS
“In the Name of Mar Yeshua, the Master Jesus, and for the Honor of the scores of women leaders of the original home congregations of Christians saluted in the authentic Epistles of Paul, but later denounced in the Pseudo-Pauline Epistles composed by a later generation who used Paul’s authority as a tool in their campaign to systematically ban women from church leadership, and for the great woman Apostle Miriam Magdalene, who was finally declared in the third century to be identical with the anonymous repentant prostitute of the Synoptic Gospels in a final attempt defame female leadership in the churches:
I, Dr. Lewis Keizer, Presiding Bishop of the Home Temple, validly holding and transmitting all twenty-two extant lines of Apostolic Succession from the Master Yeshua, training and ordaining both men and women Deacons, Priests, and Bishops for home ministry and volunteer interfaith chaplaincies for over thirty years, joined by Bishops Willa and Daniel, this day, Sunday, July 18, 2010, do hereby Excommunicate from the community of the truly faithful the man called Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph A. Ratzinger, former Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith or CDF, which was known in earlier centuries as the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition. Pope Benedict XVI this week made the ordination of women into a crime against Canon Law equivalent in gravity to the crime of child molestation by Catholic priests, and making Bishops who ordain women to Priesthood referable to the CDF for punishment. Catholic Bishops cannot be excommunicated or stripped of their Apostolic Consecration, but they can be deposed from their sees and salaries. The Home Temple has no such rules regarding excommunication of Bishops, and thus we formally Excommunicate Pope Benedict XVI from the Body of Christ, which is the body of Bar-Enash, the so-called Son-of-man Messiah, the Second Adam, the New Humanity.”
[All Bishops put hands on candle and Lewis extinguishes it. Lewis declares: “So be it!” Willa and Daniel answer: “And so it is!”]
LEWIS: And now may the Spirit of the Eternal One and the Mind of Christ arise from within the heart of humanity to provide true spiritual leadership, not only in the Roman Catholic Church, but in all the Christian churches, based on the Halakah of spiritual life and the coming Sovereignty of God’s Way within the New Humanity taught and proclaimed by the Master Jesus. May the atavistic doctrines and dogmas of men opposing science, birth control, human love in all its expressions, and the leadership of women, be overcome and replaced by the love and wisdom of Christ that dwells in the heart of the New Humanity SO BE IT, AND SO IT IS! . Amen Amen Amen.”
I was browsing around this morning and ran into a rather grim article over at the Boston Globe titled How Facts Backfire. It highlights psychological research which uncovers the interesting pattern that when people are deeply committed to a particular opinion, showing them facts that prove them conclusively wrong doesn’t change their opinion. It actually makes it stronger.
This bias also works on the positive side of course. We’ll gladly accept “facts” that confirm our opinions.
There is a substantial body of psychological research showing that people tend to interpret information with an eye toward reinforcing their preexisting views. If we believe something about the world, we are more likely to passively accept as truth any information that confirms our beliefs, and actively dismiss information that doesn’t. This is known as “motivated reasoning.” Whether or not the consistent information is accurate, we might accept it as fact, as confirmation of our beliefs. This makes us more confident in said beliefs, and even less likely to entertain facts that contradict them.
Jumping to conclusions is actually a mental shortcut that served us well in survival situations. It can be unhealthy to stop and ponder whether this particular lion, unlike the last one you met, might in fact be friendly. Doubt and hesitation are unwelcome when decisive action is needed.
But this survival instinct can backfire, and it can be used against us to manipulate us by our leaders, our culture, and even our religions. Research shows that the stronger and more deeply held our opinions, the less likely we are to be swayed by any facts. And while we have no problem seeing this tendency in people who agree with us, the trick is to see it in ourselves.
The best defense against this and other cognitive biases is to be aware of them and to
seriously ask ourselves, especially with regard to our dearest opinions, to which of them we might be falling victim. I find it very helpful to make myself clearly and honestly adopt the motto, “I might be wrong”.
Many of my most transformative and wonderful experiences in life have been the result of discovering I was wrong about something. I’ve gotten to the point where I actually relish the th
rill of uncovering some new opinion or aspect of myself where false ideas are lurking. To find them opens us up to new experiences and new learning. Learn to embrace them.
As for convincing the unwilling of their errors, the article in the Globe is less than optimistic. As Von Schiller put it, “Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain”. Lord Acton was a bit kinder, and put it like this:
“There are two things which cannot be attacked in front: ignorance and narrow-mindedness. They can only be shaken by the simple development of the contrary qualities. They will not bear discussion.”
The Globe article tends to agree. While occasionally a brutal assault of facts will change an entrenched opinion, the only thing that seemed to work well in changing wrong opinions was an overall increase in the opinion-holder’s self esteem. This makes perfect sense, as when we become identified with our opinions, they become part of our ego structure. To lose an opinion to which we’ve become attached is to lose a part of ourselves. Only if we have a strong self-worth are we comfortable risking that kind of danger.
At the bottom of it all, the primary negative emotion in this and so many other things is fear. Our little ego’s fear of being further diminished by having the ideas it associates with damaged. By identifying, instead, with our higher selves, we learn to trust. We feel safe opening ourselves up to change, because we have faith that our true selves will survive that change. We develop an attitude of love and acceptance toward the universe, and, as the writer of First John says, perfect love casts out fear.
Integral Spirituality: A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Postmodern World – by Ken Wilber. I’ve read this book several times now, and need to return to it periodically to incorporate more of it’s insights into my thinking. I’ve previously explained that Ken Wilber is probably the most comprehensive thinker around. His writings lay out a system (a continually evolving system) that integrates science, psychology, spirituality and all the major streams of thought from all disciplines. If you think you have some great new insight or philosophical system you want to unleash on the world, read some Ken Wilber first, because he probably got there before you.
While many of the chapters in the book review material that Wilber has already written about, there are some important additions to his system. One of these is the post-modern insight that ALL of our truths are dependent on our cultural context and perspective. There is also new material on the lost “spiritual” line of development in our culture, and why it was lost. And don’t skip the appendixes to this book, because they contain critical material on “post-metaphysical spirituality”, which is a shocking but liberating concept.
All this comes together in a chapter on the “conveyer belt”. Wilber explains that only the major religions are equipped to become the vehicles that move the world into a higher level of consciousness, because religions own the great mythologies that speak to 70% of the world’s consciousness. Because of this, they can become the conveyors that usher humanity through difficult passages of transition.
Many people would find this book a bit complex, but for me, it’s going to become one of the most essential books in my library.