Fear has a purpose. It is part of our warning system. Sometimes we have a premonition that something bad is about to happen. Fear is a warning device, an alarm that lets us know to be careful. Used in proper measure, fear protects us. It’s only when fear takes over and flavors every area of our lives that the emotion becomes detrimental.
Perhaps you’re familiar with this acronym for fear. False Evidence Appearing Real. When fear takes over our lives, it is often because we have dwelt on the emotion for too long. We see villains all around us. We listen to reports of crime, and we suspect that we will be the next victim. According to Merriam-Webster the opposite of fear is unconcern. To keep fear in proper balance and only use it when it’s necessary for our protection, we need to find a balancing emotion. Unconcern is similar to contentment, and how do we develop that characteristic or emotion?
Yoga and meditation are certainly positive exercises, but we also need to add our belief that the world is orderly and controlled by a Force that is greater than ourselves, and that nothing will happen without the Divine Spirit’s consent. This, of course, must also be coupled with our belief in a trustworthy and loving Higher Power. Perhaps you are also familiar with this acronym for fear: Face Everything And Rise. Unconcern or contentment can fill us with peace when there is an absence of fear, but often, in order to reach that state of unconcern we find that we must face everything and rise above it.
Knowing when you need to relax is just as important as doing the relaxing, because how can you relax if you don’t know you’re tense? I know some of my warning signs, but probably not all. One major key for me is grinding my teeth. When that occurs, it usually means I’m working too hard on something and getting minimal results. Another sign is irritability. I become short-tempered and sensitive. Another is tension in my neck, shoulders, and arms.
Another sign that I need to relax and let the universe take care of itself is my ability to drive courteously when others are driving recklessly. In my moments of sanity and lucidity I know that other drivers are not out to get me, they have places to be and things to do, and they could care less about me. As a friend reminds me from time to time, not everything is about me.
If I allow someone to cut me off in traffic without giving him or her a piece of my mind, what harm does it do? Besides, I need to save my mind for my old age when the pieces seem to vanish without me giving any away. These are just some of my warning signs. Perhaps we share some of the same ones. The important thing is to learn what the signs are, and then when the triggers go off, to take time to sit in silence until we find our center again.
Carrying the idea of relaxation forward into our daily existence becomes an extension of our centeredness. Once we appreciate the value of relaxing and returning to a state of silence, we can then use this to ground us when things around us seem to rage for attention. There is a balance to be struck between relaxation and busyness. They work together to make us the most productive we can be. They also work together to provide meaning behind the busyness we undertake.
Longer periods of relaxation combined with meditation can aid us in deciding our personal and professional values. It can also help us decide the things we believe are important to us and the things we can release and allow another to control.
As a writer, I have at times been committed to work on a daily basis in order to accomplish a goal. And, at times during those processes I’ve taken time to reevaluate the goals to see if the work is achieving the ends I had hoped for, or if I would be better off releasing the project and starting another. Sometimes I let the project go, at other times I saw it through to completion. Relaxation can help us correct our course when we feel we’ve gotten off on a detour.
When the spiritual disciplines are named, I never see relaxation among the list. But, it should be. The closest we come to the idea of relaxation is contentment, but they are slightly different. Contentment is a state of mind which can be created by relaxing, taking it easy, and by letting life unfold on its own. Relaxing is a prerequisite to a time of contentment and meditation.
Until I started the practice of yoga, I didn’t realize how tense I was. I struggled with the yoga positions until eventually I could do the full routine, and then I discovered the beauty of the practice when we got to the end. Most of my yoga practice is performed with the use of an instructional DVD, and near the end she instructs the follower to lie prostrate on the floor facing the sky with arms and legs slightly spread and to the side like a gingerbread man.
Then we are encouraged to relax, one part of the body at a time, beginning with the feet and working our way to the head. When she instructs us to relax our chin, our eyes, and our temples, I realize how tight I am. Deep natural breaths, and the gentle prompting to relax and let go, create a state of calm serenity in which we can center ourselves.
Our nations will not be at peace until we are at peace. Laying down the sword is a good first step, but peace is a positive emotion, not simply the lack of negative emotions. When peace is present, all thoughts of conflict are nonexistent, because we finally realize there is nothing and no one causing conflict but ourselves. When peace arrives, we understand the only one who needed to change was ourselves, and when we change and welcome peace into our lives, peace spreads naturally to our world.
One of the biggest conflicts to peace stems from religious organizations and their belief they have a monopoly on truth. Setting down the religious sword proves almost impossible because of this one consistent belief, spoken or unspoken, our way is the right way and the only way to reach life after death.
Peace will only come when we release the thought that we are “chosen” as the only children of The Divine, and everyone must conform to our way of faith. Even the belief we are special promotes the idea we have a lock on the right and only path Home. We are all special. Everyone can find a path that will take them Home. No one has to die to prove their way is the only way.
Our words have power to heal or destroy. Most of our speech doesn’t result in those extremes, but the words we speak are seldom — if ever — neutral. Another way of saying it is that at any moment in time our words heal or create dis-ease.
This is merely a fact, and not a cause for guilt. If our words are not loving and forgiving then we simply recognize it, try to do better, and move on. At times we tend to fall into negative thinking. When we recognize that we are having negative thoughts which are producing negate emotions, we can change our thoughts — which will result in more positive emotions and speech.
Or, we can change our words first and quite often our thoughts will follow. I have experienced times when I was teasing someone and inadvertently paid them a compliment. Their appreciation seemed to transform the exchange, so I eased up on my teasing, and my words became kinder.
The concept of honoring all paths comes easy for some, but difficult for others. My wife named her dog Sherlock, and he loves to play fetch. Throw practically anything and he will retrieve it. Problem is, he is so proud of himself that he won't let go of his prize. We can coax him to let it go, wait for him to get bored and drop it on his own, or pry it from his mouth, He doesn't understand that in order to play his beloved game, he has to let go of his previous behavior.
Spiritual growth often comes after letting go of our treasures. It doesn't mean our joy will be taken from us. On the contrary, it will be multiplied. Or, we may discover that what seemed to be our joy was not actually in keeping with our best interests. We see this with parents and children. Sometimes parents know that certain things aren’t in the best interest of their child. When possible, they try to replace something that is potentially harmful with something they know will be safe and will bring happiness, yet the child might cry and complain. As time goes on the child will come to trust the parent and understand that Love protects and provides what is ultimately in its own best interests.
Release: After experiencing all feelings, I release any emotions I deem harmful to my spiritual path.
Releasing harmful emotions is important, but it can also be difficult. When the pain is fresh, when the hurt is deep, and when the wound still bleeds, forgiving and releasing such emotions as bitterness, hatred, and anger are often the last things we consider. In these situations we have to feel the pain before we can find a miracle to help us surrender the emotions that would keep us in the dark nights of misery. Often that miracle is a simple desire on our part to stop feeling what we are feeling — to let go and return to pre-pain conditions.
When the pain becomes unbearable and people turn to self-medication through alcohol, drugs, sex, overeating, or any other form of suppression, we are not surprised. We are more surprised by the occasional miracle that seems to happen when people are able to release the pain and move on with life. Though it might take time, we can eventually release our pain and move forward, and even find spiritual places we would not have found without the darkness. It may sound oversimplified, but pray for a miracle, pray for love, and feel the pain, but don’t coddle it.
Slowly, I am learning the secret of overcoming fear. In my youth I was taught to fear God and keep his commandments. If I didn’t, I would surely die and go to hell. I was also taught to fear the evil in the world and to shun the darkness. Later I learned to fear political enemies — which was often problematic because they changed from time to time. Those who were once our enemies could also become our friends, or at least our allies.
I was a strange, quirky teenager who didn’t curse, go to movies, wouldn’t think of drinking, doing drugs, or having premarital sex. I was a Bible-carrying, holier-than-thou “freak” (he said with a bit of tongue-in-cheek). As a result of this unusual lifestyle, I experienced a lot of fear — from parents, church, ministers, the world, but mostly from myself.
For me, the answer to my fears was when I discovered that I was not to fear God, but to love God because God loved me. The answer to my fears was to love. If I had lived my teenage years with all those “quirks” but had understood and lived a life devoted to loving God, others, and myself, I could have lived a life void of fear. Fear and love cannot coexist within our hearts.
One goal of most religious belief systems is contentment. The Dalai Lama explains cessation by saying it is “the state of mind or mental quality which, through practice and effort, ceases all the negative emotions.” We generally think of contentment as a state of euphoria or ecstasy. A place of happiness and joy. We might envision someone in a trance, or someone who seems to be in another plane of existence.
Contentment must also mean a cessation — an end of negative emotions if we are to experience only positive emotions. I suppose there are people who have achieved this, but I personally don’t know of any. I’ve been taught that our emotions have opposites, and that happiness can’t be known without sadness, love cannot be known without hate, and so on. But, is that true? Or is that a part of the illusion of our existence. Do the transcended masters still experience the negative emotions we struggle to eliminate?
I don’t know, but I want to believe — or rather, I choose to believe — that we can eliminate the negative emotions by focusing on the positive emotions. We can have heaven on earth, but it happens only in the hearts that have banished hate and accepted only love.
 Dalai Lama (2012-05-31). The Dalai Lama’s Book of Wisdom (p. 55). HarperCollins Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Let’s not make the mistake of thinking that our feelings can be easily dismissed — or that they should be. Yes, Stone Eight encourages us to release any feelings we deem harmful, but only after we have experienced them. It is not healthy to hold onto these experiences beyond a certain point, but it is also not healthy to dismiss them too soon.
Grief provides an example of an emotion that can be held for too long or for too short. Modern society seems to have lost the art of grieving. We expect those in grief to experience the emotions that go along with grief: anger, rage, denial, and so on, and then to release them and go on with life. Past cultures allowed months and even a year or more for someone to release those feelings. Who is to say how long is too long, and how short is too short? Only the individual can make that decision. Our part is simply to love those in pain, and allow them to heal in their own time without judging whether it is too long, too short, or just right.
Stone Seven encourages us to feel, and Stone Eight encourages us to release any emotion we deem harmful to our spiritual path. All emotions serve a purpose. Even hatred can be used for good if we can convert its energy into positive directions. To feel our emotions does not mean we have to cling to them. And, overcoming or releasing is not a matter of willpower as much as it is a matter of transformation. When we try to overcome through willpower we often empower the unwanted feelings more. Even the feelings we deem positive such as joy and happiness cannot be kept by the force of our will.
Emotions come and go, and their existence adds flavor to our lives. A world without emotions would be bland and meaningless. Feelings are necessary, and they come in opposites. Happiness is known because of sadness. If we were never sad, how would we know happiness? Contentment is desired most when we are anxious. Find the good in every emotion, and learn to release and transform them whenever you need to.
The forward pass wasn’t part of football until a rule change in 1906. Until then, 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 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 was used as much or more than grinding out yardage in the running game. Quarterbacks had another weapon in their arsenal. When they approach the line to start a new play, they can consider whether 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.
Because our core senses are neutral, we can shape our lives according to the images we desire. We can choose to believe the world is round and not flat. We can choose to believe in a Divine Being and call that being by any name we choose, or by no name. We can choose to change our lives in spiritual, ethical, and emotional ways.
Part of the process of change involves trusting our senses, not so much our core senses, but our sixth sense of intuition and our seventh sense of spirituality. Decisions made based on intuition and spirituality bring fulfillment and meaning to life. They help us interpret our world in positive ways that nurture our connection with The Divine. Intuition and spirituality also enable us to break free from old, negative, and destructive thoughts which produce destructive behaviors.
All of our senses are useful. It’s up to us to discern which ones work for a better world and which ones don’t. At times the same sense can bring opposite results, so we rely heavily on intuition and common sense, always coupled with the spiritual sense to be the overriding factor in all decisions.
We rely heavily upon our five senses — sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell — and for the most part we trust them without question. Some count intuition as a sixth sense. Others refer to internal senses including a mental sense and such things as sexual arousal as additional senses. There are also things that might be considered a sense such as humor, fear, or anxiety. Religious Recovery encourages us to feel. And the ability to feel in the emotional definition of the word could also be considered a sense. Eyes do not have emotional reactions. We see images, but the mental and sometimes spiritual makeup of our being interpret those images and make “sense” of them. The same can be said of sight, hearing, taste, smell, and physical touch.
Emotions become a mental and spiritual process conditioned by past experiences. The spiritual nature of our being could also be considered an additional sense that is most compatible with intuition and our mental capabilities working in unison — or at times in opposition. Not all feelings have to be spiritual in nature, but most can be useful to us in developing our connection to a Higher Power. In trying to change our lives to be more at peace with ourselves and with our brothers and sisters, we find it helps to remember that our five core senses are neutral. What I touch, see, hear, smell, or taste is a neutral experience. How my mind working with my Spirit interprets those encounters determines my contentment — or lack of contentment — at any given moment.
Feel: I allow myself to feel. My emotions are part of my being. By allowing myself to feel, I heal and grow.
Many of us were taught as children to bury our feelings. There might be times when this is appropriate, but as an adult we learn to feel the feelings and release the unwanted ones, but only after we have allowed ourselves to feel them. Suppressing our feelings creates a discord in our personalities. We might feel anger on the inside but outwardly smile as if nothing was wrong. Suppress the feelings of anger long enough and it will turn to rage. People will wonder how such a nice person could go, as they used to say in my prior place of employment, postal.
Anger, along with all other emotions, exists. Emotions serve a purpose and are one of the most important ingredients that make us human. By examining our pasts and owning the feelings we experience, we can put ourselves in a position to heal and grow. We heal by feeling, forgiving, and releasing. We grow by rewriting the past in order to see love instead of fear. Then we can carry this new interpretation into the present and allow for more healing, growth, and love in our lives.
Special days such as birthdays or holidays are wonderful times to plan a celebration. But, once in a while, we can take time during the course of our daily routines to plan a mini celebration. It doesn’t have to be anything special. We can simply celebrate life — the joys and sorrows, the ups and downs, and the normal routines we regularly experience.
Celebrations don’t have to be elaborate. Taking ourselves to a movie, or out to eat, or cooking our favorite food — the little things that bring a smile to our faces. Other ways to celebrate are to look through old photos or recall special times like vacations, or life passages. We stop to remember that life is more than the humdrum of routine. We celebrate the moments that remain bright in our memories, but also the ones that remain dim in our memories because all of these events are part of our lives.
Life is an adventure — an amusement ride of colossal proportions. Let’s not wait until the ride is over before we enjoy it. Let’s relish each and every twist of the track, each upside-down flip, and the high-banked turns. The ride will end soon enough, and when it does, we’ll wish we had realized it was only a ride, relaxed more, and celebrated each moment of the trip.
Through forgiveness and through release of the past, present, future, and negative emotions, we find the experience of non-attachment. Three simple steps can be taken to experience non-attachment more frequently.
The first step it to observe. Our spiritual lives are not lived in some other dimension of time and space. We remain present in the world, but we become the observers, the watchers of things as they come and go. The second key is to allow. Our job is not to stop the world from turning but to allow it to spin. We are called upon to observe what is happening and to allow things to unfold. The third key is to let go. Things might happen that we wish had not happened. We have no logical explanation, and the events seem to disrupt our beliefs in a loving deity and an ordered and fair world. Non-attachment decides to accept whatever comes and to find the good, the lessons, and the joys — and even the laughter that is always available in all situations.
Stuff happens. But, we decide how to interpret that stuff, how to relate to it, how to use it for our benefit and not our defeat, and how we interpret it for the better of all humanity. Release things, circumstances, and situations, and then accept and overcome.
Quite often the essential things are overlooked. We take our breath for granted, but without it we would die. We don’t have to practice breathing any more than we have to practice existing. We take both for granted, but we cannot have one without the other. There is no absolute way of knowing certain things. Will the sun come out tomorrow? Will the moon continue to circle the earth? We take these things for granted, however, because they have never failed us in the past.
Many people treat their spiritual journey the same way — taking it for granted that they will have a future time to think about things spiritual and other-worldly. We don’t know for certain that our behavior in this life will influence the next life, but most religions seem to think that it will. For some, however, the question isn’t whether our behavior influences the afterlife, but how it affects our present life. Could we be happier and more fulfilled in this life if we were to pay attention to our spiritual journey even if we don’t know for certain that it will continue after we die? Living a better, more fulfilled life is a strong argument for religion and spirituality and to be the best that we can be — here and now. And, if it has positive benefits in a world to come, then that’s a wonderful bonus.
When we get rid of the clutter in our lives, it’s generally a good thing. There are times when we throw something out, something we may have been holding onto for years, “just in case we need it,” only to discover shortly after it is gone that if we’d only kept it a little longer we could have used it. But, for the most part, our lives are often filled with so much clutter that we find it difficult to enjoy life, and in extreme circumstances, the clutter paralyzes to the point we can no longer function.
Clutter in our spiritual lives can prevent us from living in the present moment. Sometimes this clutter comes in the form of rules, guidelines, procedures, programs, and traditions. Sometimes the clutter comes in the form of responsibilities — jobs and families — and there may be little we can do to change things.
I looked for an antonym of clutter but didn’t find just one specific word. Instead I found “near antonyms” such as calm, hush, peace, quiet, stillness, and order. A lack of clutter in the physical world doesn’t guarantee these positive qualities will result, but it certainly allows for them to happen more easily. In the spiritual realm, a lack of clutter doesn’t necessarily bring these qualities either, but it certainly provides an atmosphere more conducive to finding the peace we seek. If we make time once in a while to pray without asking, we may also want to pray without the clutter of religious rules and restrictions. Relax. Throw out anything that doesn’t support your communion with The Divine, and rest in the Divine Presence.
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? The 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 goal in 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.
I would not give the keys to my car to a ten-year-old child. I wouldn’t allow a minor to play the lottery, even if it wasn’t against the law. And, I don’t expect the Universe to give me success in the areas where I am not equipped to handle it. From personal experience, I know how easy it is for my ego to take control and make me think I’m something I’m not.
I have hopes and dreams that the Religious Recovery program will be successful and grow into a large organization that helps thousands, perhaps even millions of people. But, I have also had other dreams in the past that only came to a measure of success far below what I’d hoped. I’m learning to let go and live in the unknown — allowing Divine Spirit to guide my steps as quickly or as slowly as is best for me. So, I ask The Divine for success and growth, and then I leave it up to The Divine to decide how much of each I can handle.
There is nothing wrong with making plans for the future unless it prevents us from fully living in the present. Plans are great. At times, however, we can project a specific dream of the future that is so detailed that we are reluctant to accept anything less than that dream. And, what if our dreams conflict with someone else’s dream? Or, even worse, what if our dreams conflict with those The Divine would have us experience?
We can plan and dream, but at some point we might be better served by turning those plans and dreams over to that which is greater than self, and say, “This is what I think I want. But I don’t always know what’s best for me. As I make these plans, I ask for Divine guidance. I do not know what will come of my dreams, but I want to launch out into the great unknown and see what You will bring to me.”
Sometimes it’s difficult to let go of our plans and allow them to play out without our micromanaging them. It’s like prying away our fingers, one at a time, ever so slowly. But when we release them and choose instead to live one moment at a time, worry and fear lose their grip on us.
Be: Letting go of past hurts, disappointments, and abuses and letting go of future plans and expectations, I resolve to live in the present moment and simply be. Be present; be open; be available; be with Higher Self.
Another common expression for the concept conveyed in Step Six is mindfulness. Letting our past infiltrate our present moment can create unnecessary problems. By letting go of the past we are able to live fully in this moment. When we carry past baggage into the present moment we prevent ourselves from enjoying the things that are with us, around us, and within us.
Mindfulness has become a practice similar to mediation, contemplation, and prayer, and it can include elements of all three. Mind-fullness re-minds us in that it reshapes our minds. It rearranges our thoughts to give us a new mind, changing our thoughts from past ways of thinking and even future thinking to present-moment awareness. We can’t change the past — only our interpretation of events and feelings. Because of freewill choice, we can’t be certain of future events. But, we can see the value in this present moment, and we can remember to accept the experience of life no matter what it holds for us.
When I reflect on Stone Six, the image of someone meditating in a lotus position comes to mind. But, it doesn’t have to be like that. It is possible to develop this practice in the daily routines of our lives — as we drive our cars, shop for our food, attend our religious meetings, eat, sleep, and repeat — we can live each moment as if there was no past and no future, only this present moment.
There is a practice used for the mining of gold known as panning. A wide, shallow pan is used in the process, and it is partially filled with sand and rocks and then submerged under water. Because gold is heavier than sand and rock, the pan was shaken until the gold is sorted from the gravel and sand.
Spiritual gold mining can be done using a similar process. We gather religious advice and information into the broad container of our minds, and then we sort it thoroughly to allow the gold of spiritual wisdom to remain. We discard the gravel and sand of what is not intended for our highest and best.
Sometimes gold can be found when mining for other substances such as copper. Gold may not have been the element we were searching for, but an astute miner will be rewarded for recognizing the element. Spiritual gold doesn’t always show up in the places we expected to find it. We might be surprised to find spiritual gold in a prison, or in the slums, or in our daily routines. But, those who know what they are looking for, will find the spiritual gold, cherish it, and allow it to enrich their lives.
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