I have come to believe that what I want and what the Universe wants are the same. You might ask, “Do you think the Universe wants you to win the lottery?” No, I don’t. That’s not actually one of my dreams. I have from time to time fantasized about winning and have even gone so far as to buy a ticket — only one for each jackpot I enter, though. If The Divine wants me to win the lottery, I only need one ticket. So far that hasn’t happened, and I rarely participate anymore.
No, what I’m talking about are our deep-seated dreams. The dreams that we think about in the crises of life. The dreams that surface when we meditate, pray, and contemplate the greater purpose of our individual lives, our collective lives, and the world and its place in the universe. A fifteen-year-old child may think he wants a car and freedom. A wise parent gives him only what he can handle. And, as the child matures, his dreams and his parent’s dreams for him often come together. As parents we want our children to be happy, to succeed, and to make a difference in the world. I believe the Universe also wants for us to have mature, healthy, safe, and wise dreams. To be happy. To succeed. And, to make the world a better place.
Sometimes our thoughts overwhelm us, and we need to take a break from all that’s going on in our world. This can be the thoughts connected to our everyday lives, or it can be religious thoughts. Fears that arise from religious errors, or concerns about not being able to live up to the teachings of a religious organization, can overwhelm us and leave our minds battle weary and worn.
There is a simple process to help when the mind chatter becomes too much to handle. Imagine a mind vacuum that has the ability to suck out all the mental clutter from your mind. It also has the ability to draw off all negative emotions that go along with mind clutter. If we also visualize the vacuum is being operated by our higher power, it can add strength to the exercise.
Nature abhors a vacuum, so we also want to reverse the vacuum and blow peaceful thoughts and loving emotions into the places left abandoned. This vacuum can also come in handy when it’s time to replace old beliefs with new ones. We allow the vacuum to remove the thoughts that prove to be cancerous to our spiritual journey, and we replace them with different thoughts that feed our souls and strengthen us.
Four corners round my bed, four angels round my head. One to watch, two to pray, and one to chase bad things away.
Some may be familiar with this childhood prayer, but I didn’t discover it until I was in my 60s. I believe angels watch over us, and, at times, their job is to protect us from physical harm, and, at other times, it is to protect us from mental harm. I especially like having two angels to pray on my behalf. Many times we don’t know what to say in prayer, but our angels do. They speak the words that are in our hearts, but they also pray for our highest and best — things that we may forget to ask for.
The last angel’s duty is to chase bad things away. These bad things might include physical things, but they also include bad thoughts such as negative thinking, bitterness, and even hatred. In other words, thoughts that are not about love and forgiveness. Whether or not we believe in four angels surrounding our beds at night, this simple prayer can bring comfort, strength, and guidance.
Connect: Not only will I try to discern through mental activity, but I will also discern by connecting with The Divine through prayer, meditation, and contemplation.
Prayer has value, but the value doesn’t rest in getting what we want or in changing the mind of The Divine. Prayer’s value is in what it can change in us and how it can lead us. Instead of telling The Divine our needs and wants, which The Divine already knows, why don’t we try to ask questions for a change?
“What is happening? What am I missing? How can I best handle this situation? Is there a way to find peace in this conflict? How can I have peace and love in my life?”
These are just a few of the many questions that we might ask. Of course the bigger questions arise from time to time: “Is this all there is? What is my purpose? What do I keep making the same mistakes?” And then there are the religious questions we might ask: “Why am I being treated by my former religious organization as if I have AIDS? If they preach about love, how can they be so unloving and unforgiving?”
Prayer is the place to go to find change and growth for our personal lives. But this happens best when we follow our prayers with the practice of meditation and contemplation. We meditate in order to hear The Divine speak to us, and contemplation joins the practice of prayer, meditation and common sense into a powerful formula for spiritual stability, strength, and fearlessness. All of these combine with one simple rule that balances everything together: do to others as you want them to do to you. Treat us with love and respect.
Connect: Not only will I try to discern through mental activity, but I will also discern by connecting with The Divine through prayer, meditation, and contemplation.
When our common sense fails us—as it will from time to time—we fall back on the spiritual practices that have proven effective for centuries. Prayer, meditation, and contemplation are spiritual observances that have been used by many spiritual guides and masters to connect with The Divine, and these three practices are still guiding people to find their own spiritual path.
These practices—combined with love and kindness—create a winning combination that move us toward a greater understanding of our purpose, our path, our light, our happiness, and our peace. They move us out of the sphere of religious observance to spiritual participation. Not only do we know about The Divine, we come to experience and to know The Divine. Whereas religion might instruct us to fear God and follow the rules, spirituality leads us to love The Divine and to become divine-like in our lives.
The power of prayer has been highly touted and often to the neglect of meditation and contemplation. These last two practices seem to have been demonized by some Christian circles as being a part of Eastern religion and therefore not to be experienced or practiced. What a shame. Some of the greatest minds have depended heavily on all three practices, and if I had to pick which one would be the least effective, in my opinion it would be prayer. This is especially true if our perception of prayer is to make petitions to The Divine, to pray without ceasing (which sounds like talking nonstop), or to claim something or even someone in the name of God or The Divine when that claiming goes against freewill or the will of our Higher Power.
If my neighbor was to approach me with a gift and I refused to accept it, what would happen to the gift? It would remain with my neighbor. This may seem like a silly thing to do — why would someone reject a gift — but what if the gift was unwanted and uncalled for criticism? If I refuse to accept this negative gift, the harsh, unloving words will remain with my neighbor. At times we fail to realize that we can reject the hurtful things that are said to us and about us.
If we accept these cruel words we give them power to hurt us. But, if we reject them, the words are left to hurt the ones who spoke them, and they must carry the results of their cruelty. We can say “no” to hurtful gifts. “What you are saying is not true, and, no, I will not accept your criticism.” We denounce the gift, but not the giver. We do not repay evil with evil. But, we recognize the voice that cries out for love within our adversary, and we give love instead of evil.
A key element in overcoming religious abuse of any kind is trust. Also, in our efforts to help others who have been injured, we must be trustworthy. Perhaps the most important element in this issue is to develop the ability to trust ourselves. This may be simple for some, but for those who have put their trust in a religious institution or a religious individual, only to have their trust abused, this can be difficult. Even though it might have been someone else who abused our trust, our confidence in our ability to trust our own judgment, our own discernment, and our own intuition can come into doubt. How can we trust our judgment when we were deceived so badly in the past? Some practical advice comes to mind.
We learn from our mistakes — or at least we hope to — and we try to discern what part we may have played in allowing the hurts or abuses to happen. If we placed all our trust in one specific organization or leader, we may want to rethink that strategy and have more than one method of spiritual growth. We also consider whether or not we have come to the point in our paths where we can walk alone — at least for a time — in order to develop a more personal relationship with The Divine. It doesn’t mean the path has to be lonely or we will always walk in solitude. People will cross our path and we may choose to walk side by side for a time. Let us recall the wisdom of Stone One that asserts that we are responsible for our own spiritual path.
When children first learn to walk, they stumble and fall many times. But, they don’t give up. They may cry and scream, but eventually they get up and try again. Anytime we try a new endeavor, the secret to success is not in falling but in getting back up. We may cry and complain, and be tempted to quit, but perfection is a process — a stepping forward in the same direction until we have got our legs.
Spiritual progress is much the same. We might decide to try some new spiritual adventure — at least new to us — and fail miserably at the beginning. Sometimes it is also a matter of unlearning what we have learned. This is difficult. To unlearn something, especially something ingrained in our religious makeup, unsettles us and makes us feel as if we are that infant learning to take his first steps again.
Yoda said, “Do, or do not. There is no try.” The infant takes a step. He does not try to take a step — he takes a step. The result is judged a success or a failure. He walks or he falls. But the real success is in the doing. As long as we’re “trying to take a step” — but not actually moving our feet and our legs — we will never walk. Let go of the fear of falling or failing. Believe in the Spirit who has guided us this far and take a step.
Each of us has a spiritual navigation system that, if we will listen to it and follow its guidance, will correct us when we get off course. At times we may become so annoyed with the voice of correction that we silence it or ignore it. That doesn’t affect the system; it simply sends us a new course and quietly guides us on. But, if we refuse to follow the system for long periods of time, the corrections become more involved, more difficult, but not impossible.
The spiritual navigation system can be a number of things. For instance, it can be a traditional religious belief system. This has worked for multitudes and continues to function for most people. But, it can also be an inner guidance system. A soft voice that speaks to us in the stillness. It can also be our conscience guiding us to keep away from certain things or certain decisions because they could be bad for us and take us off course. It could be our intuition, that sixth sense that goes a little further than the conscience by not only steering us away from the bad but by also directing us toward the good.
In a perfect world, all of these things — religion, meditation, conscience, and intuition — work together to provide the greatest guidance system possible.
The business world competes, but on occasion someone comes along and breaks that mold. When that happens, when businesses cooperate instead of compete, everyone stands to benefit. Fear generates the need for competition, because we tend to believe only the strong will be successful. But, is that true? Certainly we have shown in many areas of life that when we work together the result is far greater than when we work alone.
Religion has often fallen into the mold of big business, and as such it also competes with other religions. As a result, we have, at times, experienced a cutthroat atmosphere in which each claims to have the Truth, or a new revelation of the Truth. Some have the latest, greatest teachings and doctrines that will usher their believers to their promise land.
What would religious cooperation look like? Where would we even begin? Do we have to agree on every little rule and regulation, or could we concentrate on a handful of major tenants we agree on and let the rest work themselves out in time — or remain unresolved?
Even as I write these words, it seems like a dream that has little chance of becoming a reality. I suppose the most we can hope for is simply a ceasefire. But, let’s not give up the dream. We can — and will — get along when we stop competing and start cooperating.
I love the navigation system that came with my car. I love being able to type in an address and let it guide me. I remember the days of paper maps and written directions. After that came printed maps from the Internet, but finally came the electronic navigation system. I could use one of those in my spiritual walk — a system which tells me where to turn and how to get to my spiritual destination. And, when I make a mistake, to correct me and put me back on course.
My dash mounted GPS system would tell me it was “recalculating” when I missed a turn. That was its way of saying I’d made a mistake. What I like is that it didn’t judge me, condemn me, or “guilt” me. I missed a turn, I made a mistake. So what? The GPS simply went about the process of getting me back on track to my destination. Even though there was no moral judgment from the device, I often grew weary of hearing that word, “recalculating.”
My new navigation system doesn’t inform me that it’s recalculating. It simply does it and then gives me my next turn. No guilt. No shame. It doesn’t tell me I’m on my way to an awful, horrible, painful destination. It simply gets me back on track.
From time to time we come to a crossroads on our journey home. We seem to have lost our way. Some call it a crisis of faith. We wonder why we seem to have come to a dead end. We question if we have lost our way, or if we were ever on the right path to begin with. We may look for help from The Divine and find that The Divine is silent.
This is the time when we don’t look around us as much as we look within. Where did I go wrong? How could I have been deceived? A faith crisis is a time of redirection. In many situations we discover that the road we’ve traveled has taken us this far, but can lead us no further. It may also be a time when we decide to forsake organized religion — at least for a time — and venture out on our own. When we do, we discover we are not really on our own, and we never were. Angels surround us and walk with us. The presence of The Divine travels with us and within us. The darkness is merely a cocoon that protects us until we are ready to break free and venture into new Light.
Discern: It is my responsibility to discern what works for me and what does not, always remembering that what may not resonate with me today may resonate at another time.
When we leave the familiar and branch out into the unknown, we take small steps and test the footing beneath our feet. We might have left a religious organization or been shoved out of it, but regardless of the circumstances, we must learn to walk on our own and find our own way. Unfortunately there are those who would approach us with their claims of knowing the right way and having the roadmap to get us there.
We enter into these new alliances with trepidation. After all, our blind faith might have been responsible for our previous loss of spiritual grounding. The best advice I know to give is for us to learn to listen to the voice of The Divine. By taking one step at a time and checking for solid spiritual ground, we move forward even if it feels as if a one-legged turtle moves faster than we do.
One of the most helpful lines in this step is the reminder that what doesn’t resonate today, might resonate at a later time. We might not be ready for certain changes and areas of growth. Some things might not resonate simply because they are so unfamiliar or because our former religious system taught that certain things were wrong, evil, or of the devil. These denouncements were meant to help, but often the result is closed-minded people who can’t be persuaded of any other point of view except what their former religious leaders tell them is truth. We question, test, discern, and use our Divinely-inspired common sense. We will know what works for us and what does not.
Stone Three encourages us to question every experience. Another way of looking at this is to say that we have doubts. One of Jesus’ apostles was nicknamed Doubting Thomas, and in the past I’ve considered his title to have a negative connotation. But does it? Perhaps this was not a negative nickname, but a positive one. Certainly people who have been caught up in toxic religions would have been better served had they listened to their doubts instead of following blindly — some even to the point of death.
Religious Recovery encourages doubts and questions. We recognize the need to reason and think for ourselves in order to build a strong faith, one that is our own and not based on the doctrines that may not resonate with us. Deepak Chopra stated “Religion is belief in someone else’s experience. Spirituality is having your own experience.”
Our experience may parallel that of a religious organization, but until we have questioned and doubted for ourselves, it is not our religion or our spirituality. We need to emulate Doubting Thomas and question our experience until our faith is our own, and not that of another.
Things that we hear or read about don’t always resonate with us. The reason might be because we aren’t ready to receive the message. Or it could be that the message is not right for us at that time — and perhaps may never be. It could also be that the message is wrong. A message that separates us from The Divine is wrong or inappropriate. But, another reason that something we hear or read doesn’t resonate with us could be because we have taken the message at face value and not looked below the surface to the deeper meaning.
A Course in Miracles states that “I am responsible for what I see. I choose the feelings I experience, and I decide upon the goal I would achieve.” Considering just the first sentence, I wonder how it is that I am responsible for the things I see. If a snake crawls into my field of vision, am I responsible for the snake’s actions? From a certain vantage point, this sentence doesn’t resonate with me. The second expression, “I choose the feelings I experience,…” resonated with me immediately and helped explain the first sentence even though I’m not fully convinced of the validity of the first one, and it still doesn’t resonate with me on all levels.
The point I’m making is not to demonstrate my ignorance or insightfulness, but to say to all of us that it is okay if we don’t resonate with everything a religious or spiritual teacher says. He or she might be wrong. Or, they might be right but we’re not ready to accept the truth. Or, we may need to dig a little deeper to get at the meat of what’s being said.
 Schucman, Dr. Helen (Scribe) (2008-08-01). A Course in Miracles (Kindle Locations 8625-8626). Foundation for Inner Peace. Kindle Edition.
We often find it difficult to forgive the Wizards, or in our situations, the religious leaders that deceive us. Perhaps it is easier for me to forgive because I was one of them, and I suppose in some ways I’ve set myself up once more for scrutiny. I don’t want to be judged. I’m doing the best I can. I no longer believe I have all the answers, and I freely admit that some of the answers I think I have might be wrong. That’s why Stone Three is so important to our spiritual health.
We no longer depend on one person or one religion to provide all the answers. We accept that our path home is ours to find and walk. We weigh all advice and wisdom against other advice and wisdom, and we discern what works best for us.
At some point, however, we must address what we will do with the wizards of religion. Shall we slay them or forgive them. Holding grievances will only hold us in prison. Releasing grievances will set us free to love and be loved. That doesn’t mean we have to return to their tutelage. We see the wizard for what he or she is. A man or a woman, but, so are we. I also find it helps to remember that wizards can be redeemed.
When we stop playing the Wizard and come to terms with our humanity, we often have to rebuild our worlds. A large part of restructuring means that we leave behind old ways of thinking and believing. I can relate to the pre-unmasked Wizard who bellowed out life’s answers, but I can relate now more strongly to the post-unmasked Wizard who, in humility and grace, helped the scarecrow discover his brain, the tin man discover his heart, and the cowardly lion discover his courage. He even had a new and better plan to help Dorothy make her way home. What the wizard hadn’t yet discovered was that his path and her path were not the same. Only Dorothy could find her way home.
His way into Oz and her entrance there came about by different means. Their exit from the Land of Oz also took different paths. The wizard left in the balloon that had carried him there. Dorothy left by realizing the truth in her heart that there was no place like home, and upon waking she discovered she had never left. Yet, the dream felt like more than a dream to her. It felt like a real life adventure — and the actors and parts were shared in both worlds.
Perhaps one day we will awaken from our dream of separation from The Divine to discover we have, like Dorothy, simply been on a wonderful adventure, and home was always with us in our hearts.
Forgiveness is at the core of Steps Six, Seven, and Eight. Daily forgiveness of ourselves or someone else might not be a practice with which we’re accustomed. In the prayer Christians refer to as “The Lord’s Prayer” or the “Our Father” prayer, Jesus instructs his followers to pray: “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Doesn’t it seem likely we will hurt someone during the course of the day, even if it’s only in our thought life? Doesn’t it also seem likely someone will trespass or hurt us by something they say, do, or think? If so, then there is a need for daily forgiveness. Just as there is a need to love every day, there is also a need to forgive every day. There may be times when we can’t recall something that needs to be forgiven, and that’s wonderful. But, I propose those days are rare. There are always those times when we showed less love than we could have. Times when we could have been more compassionate. There are also times when well-intentioned plans went wrong.
As part of our daily prayer, meditation, or perhaps as a refrain, let’s remember to forgive those who hurt us, and seek forgiveness from those we have hurt. We make this request to The Divine, and if the opportunity presents itself to ask forgiveness in person, we will be ready.
In my life, I have played the scarecrow, the tin man, and the cowardly lion — all characters from The Wizard of Oz. But one character I strongly identify with is the Wizard. My best friends bought me a sign to post over my office door, and the sign reads, “Nobody gets to see the Wizard. No way. No how.”
I identify with the Wizard because of the years I spent ministering in a church. I wanted to be the great and powerful religious leader with all of life’s answers. I wanted to exude strength and power. I didn’t necessarily want people to fear me, but I wanted them to be in awe of my wisdom and my abilities to solve problems. I wasn’t consciously aware of the impressions I hoped to achieve, but they were there.
The problem never occurred to me that I didn’t have all the answers. I had been raised to believe a certain way and to not question those beliefs. We were right, and our role was to bring everyone else into right thinking—our way of thinking. I was pushing levers, blowing smoke, billowing out my message, and figuratively trying to scare the hell out of people. At least, I thought I was scaring people away from the fires of hell.
When we fail and the world sees us for what we are, we can no longer hide behind the curtain. We must come out of hiding and into the Light to face our accusers. We must admit to ourselves and others that we are only a man.
When I was a teenager, a girl about my same age visited our church. I was excited because we didn’t get a lot of visitors, and since the church mission was “to spread the gospel,” I hoped we could help her “come to Jesus.” So, I wasn’t surprised when our minister approached me.
“Wayne, I want to talk to you about our guest,” he said. I knew he felt the same excitement I did, but then he continued by saying, “Do you think you could talk with her about the length of her skirt? It’s really short.”
I didn’t expect my Pastor to only mention the length of her skirt and nothing else. I certainly wasn’t interested in discussing her appearance from a negative point of view. My Pastor didn’t ask me to say how nice it was to have her visit. Nothing about hoping she would return and maybe bring her family or friends — just a concern over the length of her skirt.
I stood in disbelief, and I don’t recall if I agreed to speak with her, but chances are I nodded even though my heart wasn’t in it. But, if I actually agreed to have the discussion the minister requested, I didn’t follow through. I didn’t approach her about the subject. My heart knew he was wrong, so I simply befriended her and let it go.
Recovery is sometimes as simple as rewriting the script of the past. I believe the minister’s motives were misplaced. It may have been the first time I realized the minister was not the great and powerful Oz, but only a man. In his defense, he was a kind man, and I learned a lot from his ministry. However; that was also the first time I understood the saying, “Take what you like and leave the rest.”
Question: I question every experience, all information, personal motives — mine and others — including the ideas presented by The Religious Recovery Program.
In my quest for new spiritual insights, I have tried a variety of experiences. Some have resonated with me while others have not. To accept the validity of a new spiritual practice without questioning its effectiveness and its substance is reckless. For some of us, reckless acceptance of a religious system or a religious individual is what caused or permitted our religious abuse.
We would have been amiss not to warn our readers about questioning the things that are written and taught in the Religious Recovery program. Each of us learns and grows over the course of time. I have learned a lot of new things especially in the years following my break with my birth religion. But, years from now I may discover that some of the things I accepted might have worked for me at the time, but with new understanding and enlightenment, I might discover that some things no longer feel right, and this brings us back to Stone One again. We—you and I—are responsible for our own spiritual path.
Question every new experience. Don’t abandon old beliefs simply because they came from a system that you have discarded. Some things could be worth retaining. In particular, I loved the music of my previous faith. I may not agree with all the words, or be compelled to sing every stanza of every song, but I am able to enjoy the feelings of praise and worship that I enjoyed. We don’t have to reinvent the church. We can take what we like and leave the rest.
When we become involved in religious beliefs that major on the lesser issues such as outward appearance versus an inner experience, we may find ourselves “dieting” from practices that may actually be healthy. For instance, in my youth, the church I attended taught that dancing was vulgar. Their solution was to ban all forms of dancing.
After I left that religious group, I allowed myself to decide if I agreed with their assessment. Country line dancing was popular at the time so I took lessons. For the first time in my life, I enjoyed the thrill of my body moving in time to the rhythm of the music. Dancing did not feel morally wrong. Joy, peace, exercise, and even love and laughter were a part of my experience.
Many people who leave a religious organization — especially one that is restrictive — explore the forbidden fruits. Some things, like dancing, we may find enjoyable and even an aid on our spiritual journey. Other things such as drinking or drugs could prove destructive. Moderation and a balanced spiritual diet are keys to making our way in a world unrestricted by religion. Also, remember to keep any healthy practices from the past as part of your present spiritual diet.
Many people — including myself — go through yo-yo dieting. We lose weight, only to gain the same weight back and sometimes more. We cut calories and increase exercise, only to find that when we quit the exercise and return to our normal eating habits, our bodies crave the foods we shunned. The best way to lose weight and keep it off is to change our eating habits. Eat right, chew thoroughly — and slowly — and allow ourselves to enjoy “pleasure foods” in moderation.
Bad diets can also occur in religion. For example, the practice of fasting, if not done in moderation, can be harmful to our health. Obsessing over attendance at religious gatherings can leave us addicted to religion, and distracted and distant from our daily lives. Being overly zealous in our quest for peace can leave us restless and ill at ease.
A healthy spiritual diet allows us to use our natural abilities to their fullest, but also allows us to explore new practices. We approach this with moderation, balancing our needs against the demands of those new experiences. Remember, too, that spiritual desserts are not bad if taken in moderation. We each define what those spiritual desserts are for ourselves.
Some religions teach that we have been separated from The Divine and from each other. Many of these same religions teach that we can be reconnected with The Divine and from that point on we are no longer alone because The Divine stays with us. Some religions teach we are never alone, but, we are a Divine spark and so The Divine is always with us.
Experience may suggest the first is true. Our times of loneliness seem to argue that The Divine has abandoned us to our own decisions and our own paths. We certainly seem to be separate from one another. But, what if this division was nothing more than an allusion — nothing more than a dream?
I am not a theologian. I don’t have the answers to these questions. But, I have to admit I am fascinated by the idea I never walk alone. Many religions hold to the belief in angels watching over us everywhere we go. Aren’t angels spiritual beings who do the work of The Divine? If angels watch over us, then why not other divine spirits? Why not our Divine Father/Mother? The Divine loves us, and I choose to believe that He/She watches over us, and we are never alone. Maybe it’s not good theology, but it feels right to me.
Closed minds stifle spiritual growth. An open mind allows the Divine Spirit to show us and teach us new things and to have new experiences. One religious experience I’ve enjoyed was a gathering that allowed members of the group to present a talk each week. My religious background was in Protestant Christianity, and I had never experienced Catholicism. During one of the services I attended, a member shared with us the rosary. Everyone was given a string of beads and together we recited the rosary.
For those of the Catholic persuasion, this is nothing new — and perhaps not exciting. For me, however, it was a new experience, and one that I decided I would enter into with an open mind. In the past, my mind would have balked at the experience because of my former teaching. “Mary was not a god, so why do we worship her or even pay her honor,” or so I was taught. But, as I opened my heart and mind, I found there was nothing to fear, and plenty to be gained. We honor Mary for what she stands for, an example of the divinity within motherhood, and for the realization that within all of us, the birth of a spiritual being can and does take place. I would have lost that insight had I entered the experience with a closed mind.
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Our purpose is to help individuals to heal who have been injured by religion or the religious. We welcome your comments and questions.