Tomorrow is the beginning of a new year, and with it comes great potential. But, that potential is available every day of the year. Change is inevitable. It will come, and we can decide to accept it with grace or dread. The choice we make will determine our happiness, or at least our contentment. Some things in our lives need to change. We can cooperate with the Universe or we can resist. I write from personal experience because I can’t stop change, and I know there are areas in my life that need a new beginning. Will you join me and try to welcome the opportunity to be better? I love these words from Eckhart Tolle’s book, “The Power of Now.”
“Accept — then act. Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it. Make it your friend and ally, not your enemy. This will miraculously transform your whole life.”
Let us determine to accept whatever 2018 has in store for us. In fact, let us determine to accept whatever life has for us no matter what year it is and embrace our future with courage, hope, compassion, forgiveness, and love.
With only two days left in 2017, we want to thank those who support us by following our posts and reading our messages. We hope you will continue to follow us in 2018 and tell your friends about Religious Recovery and our resources. We hope to move forward in the coming year with workshops and meetings as well as continuing to produce more books and literature. We will return to our usual format beginning January 1st. We wish you a splendid 2018 with lots of spiritual growth and change.
The concept of unconditional forgiveness is new to some, yet it is so important that we find it such an appropriate topic that we want to close the first half of the year with it. In a world of crime and punishment, winners and losers, takers and givers, the concept that forgiveness is nearly as important as love is not acceptable to some. Here are some things to consider about forgiveness.
If we refuse to forgive, we injure ourselves. Forgiveness and consequences are not the same. Forgiveness sets people free—others, yes, but also, and foremost, it sets us free. The Divine freely forgives and some believe The Divine has the ability to forget. There is no error, mistake, or even sin (if you prefer that term) which cannot be forgiven.
Forgiveness is all or not at all. It is unconditional or it is incomplete. Forgiveness doesn’t depend on another person’s actions. Only we can decide to forgive, and we don’t have to withhold it until someone feels sorry or repentant. Forgiveness is a loving act—loving to others, but also to ourselves. Forgiving ourselves is just as important as forgiving others. When we judge another, we are also in need of forgiveness.
Forgiveness and love go together. One must lead to the other. Sometimes our feelings don’t match our choice to forgive. We forgive anyway and the feelings catch up in time.
As the last half of the year comes to a close, let’s look at the two most important concepts in the Religious Recovery program. The first is unconditional love. Here is what I believe about love.
Love always believes the best, never the worst. Love and judgment are opposites. Where there is fear, love is absent. Love corrects the errors of the past, present, and future. Love sees no enemies, only fellow spirits made in the image of The Divine. Our purpose is to love others, but also to love ourselves — in fact we cannot do one without the other. Love gives meaning to existence. Without love, life falls into chaos. We can never give away all of our love. We have an endless supply — there is no shortage of love. Every solution to every problem is love. Wars will end when love rules. Every true religion believes in love, but no religion has a monopoly on love or a full grasp on its power.
One individual committed to unconditional love can change the world. Everyone can be committed to love if they choose. Love is the greatest lesson we learn in life. Love comes in various forms, colors, trials, and even in victory and defeat. Love does not compete. There is nothing in the world that can challenge it. Hate is the absence of love and only a temporary condition. Love wins in the end. Love sees no individual as hopeless. Love does not play favorites and has no favorites. Love sees the specialness of every individual. No one is more exalted than another.
Peace is often thought of as the absence of conflict, but this is only partially true. Ceasefires have been called due to holidays or special events, but the peace does not last. As soon as the ceasefire is over the war continues. On a personal scale, we have times in our lives when events occur — like the birth of a child — when we are so overwhelmed with grace and gratitude that we forgive for a time the wars of anger, hate, impatience, and judgment that battle within our minds.
Peace is more than an absence of conflict. Peace is a positive life force that extends all things good and kind toward all those around us — much the same as love. Weapons, such as negative attitudes and destructive ways of thinking are destroyed. Instead of dwelling on the bad, we dwell on the good. Instead of thinking of ways to retaliate, we seek ways to forgive and be forgiven. Instead of seeking justice, we seek pardon. For peace to be lasting and world-changing, it must be far more than an absence of conflict. It must be the presence of unconditional forgiveness and love toward ourselves and all others.
Once we have experienced heartache and distress in our lives and have been the recipient of compassion, compassion becomes an emotion that we are able to extend naturally. I recall a time when I had car trouble and someone stopped to help. My battery was dead and I needed a jump, but I had left my cables in my wife’s car. Having someone come to my rescue awakened gratefulness and a desire to offer help to someone else that was stranded. It wasn’t long before I came upon a fellow motorist parked alongside the road with their emergency lights flashing. Compassion rose inside my heart and I pulled over to help.
This example is simple, but the real value of compassion is learned when we have gone through much more difficult times other than a dead battery. When we are diagnosed with a life-threatening illness; when our marriage ends; when one of our children struggles with their sexuality — or when we do — compassion then becomes a valuable and loving emotion. When we have been through a trial by fire, we are less likely to judge another, especially if we will take the time to listen to our hearts.
What about those times when we don’t know what is right? We seek advice from family, friends, religious authorities, and even civil authorities, but we remain uncertain. Our hearts are also perplexed because we envision different scenarios playing out in every possible decision we might make, and we can’t guarantee which path would yield the best result.
At times the right thing to do is simply the next thing to do. This might include deciding not to decide — at least temporarily. Buying time can allow our vision to focus. Not all decisions have right or wrong consequences. If we choose a path, how will it affect me, my friends, and our lives? What about another path? One solution is to simply take a step down one of the paths and see how it feels. If you sense a level of comfort, then take another step, and then another.
If the path feels uncertain, step back and try another one. It could be neither path is wrong, only that each one will have certain advantages and disadvantages. One may be a shorter route to your goal but not be as pleasurable along the way. Another may be more enjoyable but might take longer. The right thing is often simply the next thing. Take a step, and see where it leads.
Some food dishes contain certain ingredients that, when eaten alone, would not be very delectable. If we made them the focus of the dish without other ingredients, they might also prove to be unpalatable. But, when we use a little bit of this, a little of that, and perhaps a lot of something else, often the whole becomes complete and delectable because of the combination of all the ingredients involved.
Sometimes we meet people we don’t like. As hard as we might try to be spiritual and accepting of all beings, we still run across individuals who, if we allow them to get close enough, rub us the wrong way. Our tendency is to treat these people like ingredients we don’t like, and we try to place them on a shelf, far out of sight. We wouldn’t think of including them when we make a dish of friends. At times, however, we find these unwanted souls — the ones we thought we hid away —creeping back into our lives, wanting to be involved with us.
It helps to remember that, yes, if we give them too much time in our lives, they can overpower the dish, and instead of creating something delicious, it may turn out to be sour and bitter. But, if taken in moderation, their presence can add flavor to our lives and actually enrich them. There is a reason for the presence of what appears to be the sour and the bitter.
The reason why we do something is just as important as the thing we do. The way we go about doing something is just as important as the goal we hope to achieve. Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “The end is inherent in the means.” If the goal is worthy, the means to accomplish that goal must also be worthy.
If our goal is peace, we cannot accomplish it through war. If our goal is freedom, we cannot accomplish it by enslaving others. If our goal is love, we cannot achieve it through hatred, bigotry, and judgment. If our goal is happiness, we cannot accomplish it if we are making others unhappy. If our goal is to return to The Divine, we cannot accomplish it by denying others their journey.
This is practical in all areas of life. One may want a promotion at work but go about it with the wrong motivation, hurting others by their reckless ambition. If the motivation is correct, however, then when the goal is reached, the reward will be sweet — not bitter — and they will have won over friends and adversaries alike. Love is the greatest motivation possible, and achieves the greatest results.
Love: I learn to deepen my ability to love when I learn to tolerate, accept, embrace, and forgive. I choose to employ these attributes to my spiritual walk, to my personal relationships, and to my world view.
If we are a spark of divinity, or as some would say, created in the image of The Divine, and if The Divine is Love, then somehow we must also be a spark of love, or created in the image of Love. Certainly the potential for love exists in all of us, so why isn’t love as predominate a driving force as it should be? Part of the blame probably goes to bad religion — religious belief systems that would have us believe their way is the only way and religious belief systems whose adherents are willing to die and kill for their beliefs.
How can love be evil? How can love war against other human beings in the name of religion? If we believe we are a spark of The Divine then we must return to the love that created us. Love is not conditioned by religious divisions, by religious nations claiming to be the only pure children of The Divine, or by elitists. When we return to Love, we will tolerate our divisions until we learn to accept our differences. When we learn to accept our differences we will learn to forgive our fellow men, fellow women, and ourselves for our closed-minded, religious bigotry. When we learn to forgive, we will be able to embrace those who we once thought were different from us. When we learn to embrace, we will experience unconditional Love.
If our lives are not what we want them to be, the simple answer is to change them. One stumbling block in the road to change is called an autopilot. I worked at the same job for years, and after I retired I found myself driving to my old job. Sometimes I even came close to making the final turn onto the street where the building stood.
Habits are extremely helpful in our lives. It allows us to do repeated tasks without much thought or effort. But when those repeated things prove unwanted it can be difficult to break the old habits and form new ones. The Dalai Lama wrote, “Each of you should feel that you have great potential and that, with self-confidence and a little more effort, change really is possible if you want it.”
When it comes to breaking habits, the answer is simply to do it. Make the effort one decision at a time, one day at a time, and one moment at a time. We can replace old negative ways of thinking and replace them with a positive approach to life. Start with the positive, and in time, it will drive out the negative.
 Dalai Lama (2012-05-31). The Dalai Lama’s Book of Wisdom (p. 67). HarperCollins Publishers. Kindle Edition.
One secret to contentment is to desire fewer things. When we struggle to keep everything our head wants, we end up with a lot of things. Then the problem is how to maintain, store, and use each to its fullest potential. When we don’t say no to every whim and wish, we end up with a cluttered life — and also a cluttered mind.
It’s not right or wrong to desire things, but the things we choose to desire determine the quality of our lives. If our desires never go beyond material things, then we live a shallow life. If our desires go beyond accumulating things for ourselves to helping those around us, our lives tend to be more satisfying.
If our desires go beyond the material to the spiritual areas of life, we find our lives are full and meaningful. There is nothing wrong with wanting material possessions — for us or for others. It is good to want to live a more spiritually-centered life, but in all circumstances a balance can bring us the greatest joy. Having material things is neither good nor bad. Don’t feel guilty for having too much, or for too little, but remember, when we feel as if we have lost our joy, sometimes it helps to remember to desire less and to be content — and grateful — for what we have.
Everyone we meet has enormous amounts of beauty within them. Sometimes our blindness prevents us from seeing what our hearts know is real. Sometimes we allow the words we hear to taint our vision, but the beauty is still there like gems waiting to be unearthed. If we fail to see our own beauty, it becomes difficult to see the beauty in others. If we fail to see the beauty in others, it also becomes difficult to see the beauty within ourselves. At times it only takes a simple act of kindness to reveal beauty. A smile, a touch, a listening ear, or a helping hand can soften a person’s shell and allow us to glimpse the pearls of beauty they guard from others.
Beauty speaks to beauty, and grace speaks to grace. By sharing our inner beauty we receive beauty in return. There are times when our attempts to extend beauty and grace appear to be rebuffed, but nothing ever returns to us void. Beauty reflects, echoes, and shadows us with our every attempt. The people who rebuff our kindness have yet to recognize the child of The Divine within themselves. Our grace softens their shell. In time, they will discover there is nothing to fear — from us, or from others.
There is beauty all around us. But, there is also beauty within us. The beauty in creation is easy to behold. Even in the cold days of winter, we see beauty in the ice and snow. But, looking deeper, we also find it in the barrenness of the long, cold winter — if we choose to open our hearts to it. Inner beauty is more difficult for many people to recognize. Some religions even tend to discourage us from seeing ourselves as beautiful lest we become conceited and self-absorbed.
But, in all creation, I know of nothing more beautiful than a human being made in the image of The Divine. We have the ability to see, hear, touch, feel, think, love and be loved. We have the ability to reason, change our minds, and make others smile with just a touch or a hug. We are beautifully complex creatures that are worthy of our own love and admiration. We are just exactly as The Divine created us — beautiful, lovely, full of potential, and worth. Recognize your beauty and celebrate.
Religion and society set up rules to let us know what is right and wrong. But in any given situation, how can we be certain the right thing we are told to do, is in fact, what’s best for us and everyone involved? Rules and laws are helpful and keep our societies and our lives orderly most of the time. But on some occasions those rules and laws are inadequate. Even well-intended restrictions often have disastrous results, as was seen in the days of prohibition. Passing laws that prohibited us from consuming alcohol backfired and created a greater desire to partake of the forbidden fruit of the alcohol vine.
There are times in life when the rules and laws of religion and society clash with what we know to be true in our hearts. Across the centuries, leaders have taken a stand when their hearts would no longer allow them to keep silent. Jesus got along with nearly everyone except, it seems, the religious rulers of his time. He knew the truth, and he would not back down.
Circumstances surface in our lives, and at times, society and religion tell us what is right, but our hearts know they are wrong. We can ignore the truth, back down from confrontation, or stand and be counted among those who would bring loving change to our world.
A humble heart is also a grateful heart. Gratitude and humility are inseparable. To seek humility is a noble goal, but it is as elusive as the idea of enlightenment. Once you think you’ve achieved it, you realize it has slipped beyond your grasp. Humility is an outward measure of an open spirit. The ego would have you brag that you are humble, even if only to yourself. But, if you believe what the ego says, then your humility will be overtaken and the subtle force of pride will slowly rise.
Humility is one of those qualities that is perhaps best left unsought. But, if we were to try to add it to our repertoire of positive characteristics, then the search belongs not within, but without. Humble people see themselves as no greater or no worse than any other person. They do not believe they are special in the sense that they are better than someone else. All people are seen, and treated by them, as perfect creations of The Divine, and as such, are worthy of love and respect. This is what is meant when we say we seek humility outside of ourselves. Humility is characterized by the way we treat other people and by the extent to which we give love and acceptance to everyone.
Appreciation goes a long way in helping us accomplish the tasks assigned to us whether those tasks are job related or Spirit related, and often they are the same. One of my favorite quotes is attributed to Leo Buscaglia, and it states, “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest accomplishment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
Before I sat down to write these words, I was the recipient of two kind words: “Thank you.” I was being thanked for something I had written that touched another person’s life. That person who took a few seconds out of their day to let me know I had helped in some small way was enough to bring tears of joy to my eyes.
Stone Twelve begins with the words, “I am grateful,” and ends with the sentence, “I thank those who have guided me on my path.” How important it is to show our appreciation to those who have given us a word of encouragement, a hand to hold, an ear to hear, and a heart to share their love with us.
Thank: I am grateful. Gratitude helps me bring out the positive in my life and also makes room for The Divine to bring additional positive situations, people, and spiritual experiences into my life. I thank those who have guided me on my path.
Like attracts like, and the more we open to love, joy, peace, and happiness, the more we attract those qualities. The same holds true for gratitude. The more gratitude we express to ourselves and others, the more it comes back to us.
Sometimes we get so discouraged we feel as if we have nothing to be grateful for. Those are times when gratitude can be the most effective. A daily practice of gratitude helps us establish a baseline of strength to help us overcome discouragement and depression.
We don’t have to be rich, or successful, or healthy, or married, or religious, or upper class to be grateful or to have reasons to be grateful. The poor, the hungry, the lonely, the troubled, and the sick can all live lives full of gratitude. Gratitude makes life enjoyable, for us, and for these we express gratitude towards. Aesop had this to say about gratitude: “Gratitude is the sign of noble souls.” Allow gratitude to be the oil that fuels the light of your soul.
The forward pass wasn’t part of football until a rule change in 1906. Until that time the role of the quarterback was to take the snap from center, hand off the ball, or carry it himself. Changing the rules changed the way the game was played and brought more excitement to the fans and players. You would think that all teams and coaches would embrace the change but some did not.
Some of the reasoning went like this: Three things can happen went you throw a pass: a completion, an incomplete pass, or an interception. Two of those three things are bad, so I’ll play the odds and stick to the run. As time went on, this philosophy faded away, and the forward pass is used as much or more than grinding out yardage in the running game. Quarterbacks now have another weapon in their arsenal. When they approach the line to start a new play, they can consider if a pass would work better than a run.
Spiritual rules do not change, but religious rules can and do change. How successful we are at playing the game depends on the set of rules we heed. If we ignore the spiritual rules, we will be penalized and pushed back on our journey. Moving forward is accomplished through team work, patience, and passing love from one to another.
Even football players go through routines similar to what we experience. Go to work, suit up (don’t forget your protection), huddle, break, look over the opposition, call for the play to start, fight for progress, get stopped in our tracks, huddle again and start the next attack. The most successful quarterbacks have honed their skills but also have learned to trust their instincts. They’ve learned how to read the opponent and adjust accordingly.
I wonder what happens to quarterbacks after their final season. Do they dream about the game? If so, do their dreams consist of glory plays or times when the opposition broke through and put them on their butts? They only thing they were responsible for accomplishing was moving the ball into the end zone. Seems simple enough, but in reality, it is not.
Our only goal in this life is to move from this realm of existence into the next one. If there is no other realm of existence, then the game of life has no meaning. Some think it takes a lot of work and persistence before we are worthy to move into our next life. Some think it is a matter of following a formula, and once that commitment is made we are “in” no matter what we do.
I’m not promoting one view over the other. I would, however, like to remind us all that, much like football, it is a game, and we are here to enjoy it no matter how many times we get knocked on our butts and pushed around.
The Religious Recovery program encourages us to think for ourselves and to decide what path works best for us. If we don’t feel as if any particular religious belief system meets our needs, then that’s okay. But, does this encourage a world of one-man religious/spiritual shows? If everyone is off doing their own thing, doesn’t chaos and confusion reign?
There is always the possibility the worse can happen, but there is also the possibility the best can happen. The result depends upon the viewpoint we take. If we look for the bad, we’ll find the bad. If we look for the good, we’ll find the good. Society has evolved in nearly every area, even in religion, but it seems as if religious belief is the last area where change is pursued.
There is always a danger that religion can be twisted to an evil man’s purpose, but if we are following our own path, then we are less likely to be taken in by some charlatan’s schemes. Religious belief and spirituality is personal and communal. It involves both the individual and the entire society — in fact the whole world. Yes, one-man religious shows can be positive so long as they remain loving, caring, forgiving, and free of judgment and grandiose schemes.
Look for the heart behind the mask, and remember, a sense of humor is a gift from The Divine. For my part, I tend to shy away from religious leaders who don’t have a healthy sense of humor.
I attended a Halloween wedding and found it to be a wonderful experience. The groom dressed as Frankenstein, and the bride dressed as the bride of Frankenstein. In my discussions with them, I discovered them to be jovial and good-natured. I shared some jokes and humorous stories and the bride in particular displayed a great sense of humor. The groom, however, was difficult to read. The reason? His Frankenstein mask hid his facial features and all I could see was the monster’s face. When I mentioned to him that I couldn’t tell if he enjoyed the banter, he said kindly, “Trust me, I’m laughing behind this mask. You are very funny.”
We wear masks of different configurations as we go through life. Stone Eleven encourages us to include laughter as the notes of our songs. It’s important not to allow the masks to hide the laughter that resides in our hearts. When we become too serious, our masks of importance hide our fun-loving nature. When we become too judgmental, our masks hide our childlike ability to trust, love, and accept.
The masks of the wedding couple were shed after the wedding ended. Let us remember that we may try to mask our feelings and bury our joy, but it can’t be blotted out entirely. It may be hidden for a time, but the ability is always there just waiting for us to pull away the façade and show the world the joyful, playful, fun-loving children that The Divine intends us to be.
One of the negative emotions we might want to release is negative anger. If left unchecked, anger can cause harm. Unless our anger turns to rage, hatred, and action, we won’t be punished for our anger. Unless we attack someone else, our anger remains somewhat controlled, and we don’t have to fear retribution. The problem with negative anger is even though we may not be punished for our anger by someone else, anger can bring its own punishment.
Imagine going into a room and locking the door. Someone comes to see us. Someone we don’t like. Even though the person knocks on the door, we keep silent. The knocking increases, but we determine to stay our ground. We have escaped the person, but if we sit and wait in anger, our peace is taken, and we sit in the negative emotions that anger brings. We are being punished by our anger.
If we can wait in silence without anger, we will retain our peace. The person outside our door is not the enemy. Our true enemy is our anger or hatred. As we work the Stones, we learn when to reject emotions that do not bring love, happiness, or peace. Choosing to sit in our room to avoid an encounter we believe will not benefit either party can be a loving gesture as long as anger doesn’t overtake us.
We can find renewed energy by listening to the sounds of nature. For those who live in the city, many CDs are now available which have recorded nature sounds. But, other sounds work for us as well. Some enjoy a symphony. Others enjoy religious or spiritual praise music. Some enjoy chants. There is a large variety of musical sounds that can help us feel as if we are being bathed in love.
Music isn’t the only means of taking a spiritual shower. For some, reading and meditating works wonders. For others, taking a walk or watching an uplifting program helps bring our spiritual focus back to The Divine with renewed energy. And, don’t overlook the value of laughter. Stone Eleven reminds us to choose laughter as the notes of our song. Personally, a good, hearty, belly laugh does wonders for my emotional well-being. Sometimes it helps to be around children because they know how to laugh and have fun. Whenever we are prone to take ourselves too seriously, whenever we are burdened by the everyday cares of life, we can take a few minutes out of our day and enjoy a spiritual shower.
Life is full of challenges, and we tend to label these as good or bad. What if we considered them neither? What if we simply allowed all experiences to play out without giving them a value judgment? We make countless mistakes on a regular basis. If we were to categorize these events and label each as good or bad and stacked them away on a shelf, would the good containers outnumber the bad ones?
I recall learning to play the trumpet. I made plenty of mistakes — too many to mention. But, had I given up, I never would have known any measure of success. Our lives are filled with many trials, and we often overcome these trials not through perfect performance, but because we fail and try again. If we were to go back to our storage room and look through the boxes that we categorized as bad, we might be surprised to learn that as we look back over the situations, we might change our minds and move many of the boxes from the “Bad Experiences” shelf and place them on the “Good Experiences” shelf. We might even be able to laugh at some of the things that once seemed like such a big deal.
Note: You might need to refresh your screen to see the current day's Inspiration.
Our purpose is to help individuals to heal who have been injured by religion or the religious. We welcome your comments and questions.