Happiness is an Inside Job

2020 was a strange one, eh? Difficult for some. Devastating for others. A year filled with pretty much everything. The near impeachment of a President, peaceful (and some not so peaceful) protests, the death of a Chief Justice, life-threatening storms, fires, and other natural disasters, an election filled with more political shenanigans than I could ever imagine (does anyone remember the days when we knew who was President close to 24-hrs. after the polls opened?? 🙋🏻‍♀️), oh yeah, did I forget to mention the global pandemic?

That's what I'd call the kitchen sink!

Certainly no one’s life went to plan in 2020. I can hardly believe that at this time last year I was enjoying frigid temps in sunny Florida, without a care in the world. Who knew that a mere 60 days later the country would be in lockdown, the least of my worries would be the cold weather in FL, and I would dedicate 77 straight days to caring for my parents, sans pickleball? Despite steering clear of mainstream media, unfollowing every annoying (read: politically obsessed) friend in my Facebook newsfeed, and the help returning in June to lessen the load, by December my exhaustion was complete. In utter disgust, on New Year’s Eve, I deactivated my Facebook account and this time I am not looking back. Gone are the inane, endless debates about whether or not a mask is effective (wait, is Covid-19 even real?!? 🤦🏻‍♀️). No more memes stating the obvious fact that Donald Trump will go down in history as the greatest embarrassment the United States has ever had for a President. And on January 6, I managed to wiggle back out of my hometown and into the open arms of my grandchildren. Whew!

Yeah, 2020 was hard on all of us, and some definitely more than me. RIP 🥀 Cousin John. Still, when December came, every time I heard something along the lines of, “Thank the stars 2020 is gone! It was horrible! I can’t wait for 2021 to get here!!

In 2021 (when the virus is contained, a vaccine is found, and the madman ousted) I can finally be happy again!!”

More times than I can count I had to bite back my reply:

If you did not find a way to be happy in 2020, rest assured that happiness will not find you in 2021.

Packing for move number 31 (or is it 34? clearly I’ve lost count), I was reminded that a change in location had never markedly improved my happiness factor. If anyone knew that, it was me. As far back as 1991 I learned (the hard way) that ‘wherever you go, there you are.’ Turns out time is the same (read whenever in place of wherever). In truth, despite the global difficulties we all waded through last year, I managed to accumulate many beautiful amazing memories, gained a treasure-trove of relationships, achieved personal milestones, developed new skills, read life-changing books, learned all sorts of useful things, had fun, and discovered ways to take care of and appreciate myself and others on a whole new level.

As I look back on my life, it occurs to me that there have been even harder years in the past. I remember standing in my kitchen in 2014, having just ‘celebrated’ my first birthday without my sister, begging my was-band to let me join him for counseling in a last-ditch attempt to save a marriage that had died many years earlier; and when I asked my daughter if she knew the last time I had been happy, she answered without missing a beat: “Hawaii,” she said. Too bad I hadn’t lived in Hawaii since 2005!

Happiness is a fickle companion when we allow circumstances to dictate it.

I spent oh so many years doing that! Enough to teach me that happiness is a state of mind, one that I can find in the blink of an eye – completely apart from any outer circumstance.

Did you know that you become what you practice? There is an old saying among caregivers of the elderly:

When you grow old, you just become more.

More of what you were when you were young(er). I used to think it was due to the loss of impulse control. But having become more intimately acquainted with the elderly, I now believe it is simply a matter of habit.

They say that workers in nursing homes can tell the angry from the forbearing and the kind from the nasty in the first few minutes they spend with a resident. It is as if what we choose moment by moment when we are young eventually cements into a personality – a fixed way of being that is not easily altered. With age, some not only lose the desire or capacity to change, they become inured to their bad behavior altogether – or worse, they feel entitled to it.

AT MY AGE I CAN SAY WHATEVER THE EFF I WANT I'M A CRAZY OLD LADY - Keep  Calm and Posters Generator, Maker For Free - KeepCalmAndPosters.com

Having experienced first-hand the end result of people committed to a life of complaining and otherwise negative thoughts/behaviors – people who cannot enjoy the good in life without finding something to complain about – I cannot see a downside to seeking the kind of happiness that is not blown about by every wind of circumstance.

Sometime in late summer or very early fall of 2020 I asked a family member a question that I hope I never forget. They had spent several minutes lamenting how miserable Donald Trump had made their life, how unhappy they were because he was President, and how Trump had basically ruined their life. I had been listening to this diatribe in one form or another for close to a year at that point, and just couldn’t take it anymore without voicing the question that bubbled up inside me every time anyone of privilege complained about their quality of life under the regime of Donald Trump:

Give me one example of how your personal everyday life has been affected (for good or ill) since the day that he took office almost 4 years ago … … …

IF you never watched the news.

Perception really is everything. And perception is dictated by one thing and one thing only: Focus. Keep your attention on what is bad in the world and you will feel bad. Focus on what is good in the world and you will feel good. But when we realize that good, bad, and even great have always been and always will be present around us, maybe then we will finally turn inside to discover the divine spark that is able to bring forth the joy of being alive despite any outside circumstance. That, my friends, will be a great awakening. And it is one that each of us can choose to have at any point in time.

I will not look for happiness in 2021. Instead, I will focus my gaze on the one place that happiness is always available to me – inside my heart. Nothing can shake it loose – except my willingness to place my attention elsewhere.

Happiness is right here, right now. It is within me and within you. Do you have the courage to go within to find it? I warn you, it will demand that you drop everything else. The happiness inside will require you to let go of all the stories you tell about your past, and you will have to release all of the ‘what ifs’ and ‘how tos’ of your future. The past is a murky, half-remembered thing and the future does not – will not ever in fact – exist, apart from your dream of it. You and me, right here, right now. I choose to celebrate that.

Please don’t go looking for happiness in 2021. It is not there. Happiness is within you. All it will take to find it is a little bit of focus.

Much love, much light,

~C

The Energy of Gratitude

thanksgiving-2903166

Late autumn, my favorite time of the year. The air is getting cooler, the leaves have turned and fallen, in some places there may even be the first dusting of snow. Everyone is taking a deep breath in anticipation of the busiest season – the Christmas holidays. Right there, slammed in between Halloween Christmas, comes Thanksgiving. Supposedly the time of year when to count our blessings. The real danger is finding ourselves lulled to sleep by the turkey or drifting into a diabetic coma by Grandma’s pecan pie. Much worse is the feeling of overwhelm in a house full of visiting relatives we never really liked anyway. In today’s world, how many of us truly use the time to give thanks? Continue reading “The Energy of Gratitude”

A Lesson in Contrast

In college, my friends and I had a saying:

You cannot begin to change until you know the opposite of what you are.

It was a reminder that the only path to real growth was to see the truth about yourself (i.e. the Ego) and then understand the way(s) in which Spirit was different from that. Sometime in my mid-thirties I realized that most of what I knew about success or moral character  – pretty much everything – I learned by example of what not to do or who I did not want to be like. It was then that I began to understand experientially what our college saying meant in terms of the power of contrast to teach.

Time, experience, and study have expanded and deepened my understanding of the Bible as well. I now realize that the stories within it most often reveal what Spirit is not, and in fact, what the true inner self of man is not. This particular learning tool can prove quite effective when the ego mind is struggling to comprehend the vast, ‘silent’, and invisible realm we call Spirit. But nuance tends to be ignored under a strictly literal view of the text.

For example, countless sermons have been preached on Genesis 22, the story of Abraham’s call to sacrifice Isaac. Most people, commentaries, preachers, and Christians believe that god was testing Abraham’s faith when he told him to take Isaac up on a mountain and offer his only son as a sacrifice. They believe that god provided a ram for himself that foreshadowed god one day sacrificing Jesus to appease himself. But is that really what the story of Isaac was about? Does Spirit really test peoples’ faith in such horrific ways? Is this same god so offended by ‘sin’ that he requires a human blood sacrifice to be appeased? Sounds an awful lot like an egotistical deity to me.

2-5_abraham-sacrifice

Most (if not all) cultures contemporary to Abraham practiced blood sacrifice to appease the anger of their god(s). In fact, some sort of blood sacrifice has been practiced for centuries in almost all cultures ever to exist. Here is an eye opening site on the history of blood sacrifices around the world. I found the conclusions page fascinating.

So when god told Abraham to kill Isaac, he was not telling him anything new. Sacrificing children, especially the first-born, to the god(s) was commonplace in those days. In fact, everyone was doing it. To Abraham it would have been business as usual for his god to demand the kind of worship that required the ultimate sacrifice of human blood – even if it was the only son that Abraham had. But while the story began ordinarily enough, the ending revealed something radical. Just as the knife made its way to Isaac’s heart, a voice called out. A ram had been caught in a nearby thicket and the voice instructed Abraham to sacrifice it rather than his son. Here was the first instance of Spirit showing man that he was in fact unlike all of the ego’s imagined gods.

Lesson #1: God does not require human blood to be appeased.

If you believe that the revelation of Spirit’s nature to mankind has been given throughout history progressively, then you would get how this little nugget rocked the ancients’ overall understanding of deities in general and the God of Israel in particular. But this was just a stepping-stone to a much broader understanding of what makes Spirit different from the ego. Fast forward to the establishment of the temple cult under Moses’ leadership. Here god distinguished himself from other gods by commanding one animal sacrifice each year to bring justice for the entire nation.

Lesson #2: God does not require unlimited animal sacrifices.

The last puzzle piece of what god is like can be found ringing in the voices of the prophets. They called the nation of Israel to put a stop to ritual sacrifices altogether. According to them, the God of Israel had no need for blood at all.

Lesson #3: God does not require blood because Spirit needs no appeasement.

How can Spirit be offended by anything my paltry and utterly insignificant ego does? Even thinking that there is a god my ego might offend lends power to my false sense of self.

Yet, despite this final clear message from the prophets at the close of the Old Testament, the Christian church continues to teach that Jesus was the ultimate blood sacrifice for sins. They even go so far as to say that god himself put Jesus to death as our substitute – making Spirit into the worst father ever to exist. Which brings me to why I am writing this post today.

In 2011 I wrote a post called Walking Through the Pieces. It went on to become my all-time most-read page, clocking in at a whopping 10,209 views as of January 6, 2020. No other post of mine has come anywhere near this number.

I know now that Genesis 15 (and even much of the rest of the Bible) was nothing more or less than a look at what Spirit is not like.

In the cultures contemporary to Abram, people made agreements this way: they cut animals in two and spread the pieces apart, leaving a path between them. Both parties walked between the pieces while stating the terms of the covenant. Walking the path symbolized a vow and a curse in one: I promise to do thus and so, and may this happen to me if I do not keep my end of the bargain. The practice was quite common and would have been second nature to Abram. This is a clear example of the evolution of the Ego attempting to protect itself – its persistence to survive by exacting revenge should it ever be crossed.

Throughout the Old Testament it was Spirit’s practice to reveal its characteristics over and against the surrounding gods and cultures of the day. In Genesis 15 we discover a god who does not bargain with mankind,since only Spirit ‘walked through the pieces’). The lesson here is clear: Spirit blesses, gives, and loves without requiring anything in return. Spirit is about love and grace, not law and judgement. Too bad Sonny did not understand that all he need do was understand who he was.

Today, most Evangelicals will tell you that salvation is part of a covenant with their god called the gospel (good news). They use Abram’s initial belief in the promise of an heir to teach that man’s part of the bargain is to believe that Jesus’ death paid god back for our sins, because God requires recompense in blood. Whoever refuses to hold up man’s end of the covenant (belief or faith in said bargain) will be treated like those slaughtered animals – except they will not merely be cut into pieces and die, but suffer an eternity in hell (at the hand of this same so-called ‘loving’ god)!

Even I was ensnared by this interpretation of the narrative when I swallowed the assumption that Jesus’ broken body was the fulfillment of god’s part of the covenant on our behalf – that god himself slaughtered Jesus to pay for our sins. And that I was somehow worthy of the wrath of god.

But now I know that interpretation of the story is completely erroneous. The church is as wrong about Spirit as good ol’ Sonny. Jesus’ death itself is the true picture of love – nonviolence in the face of persecution and slaughter – and the ego – the willingness of self-absorbed man to kill any perceived threat to its survival and then create a god in their own image.

I have come to see that the real point of Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom of Heaven on earth was to draw a clear picture of how we were all made to live: manifesting our dreams through dependence on Spirit, free from unworthiness (the law of guilt and shame), filled with love for ourselves and others, connected to the Divine Spirit through meditation and prayer, able to envision perfect health and thereby cure all illnesses, living with no need to defend or ‘save’ ourselves from what is an inevitable part of life itself – the death of the body.

What if the Roman Ego sacrificed Jesus because his message of spiritual freedom was a threat to their perceived earthly power? What if it really had nothing whatever to do with god’s purported anger towards mankind? What if the story of Jesus dying on a cross was never about salvation, because we don’t need saving, because the prophets told true: GOD DOES NOT REQUIRE BLOOD OR NEED TO BE APPEASED? The New Testament is most certainly not the story of what happens to anyone after they die, as Christians claim, because the gospel text has absolutely nothing to do with a bloodthirsty god.

What if the story of Jesus’ death is a picture of what Spirit is not like?

As my understanding of the sacred texts has evolved into a more esoteric understanding, the true power of the story has blossomed. Believing that Jonah was swallowed by an actual fish reduces the powerful metaphor of a blackness in the soul manifesting as anger, depression, anger, self-absorption, and suicidal ideation to nothing more than a fantastical fairytale. The sobering truth of the power of the mind to take us into the depths is much more life-altering! Believing that Jesus literally walked on water belittles the real meaning of his utter commitment to a life lived by the Spirit, from the heart space rather than any reliance on the rational mind.

The literal interpretation of the Bible has served for several centuries to perpetrate division, hatred, and war – our modern forms of ritual sacrifice – all in the name of the god of religion – exactly the opposite of what the story of the gospel is there to teach us.

It is time for the world to be turned upside down once again. It is time to challenge the powers that be with the nuance of a Biblical narrative that reveals a spiritual force that lives within each and every one of us, that is more loving and full of grace than any of us have ever dared imagine or hope for. We are walking containers of the god-spark that blesses no matter what, loves no matter who, and requires nothing in return. A Spirit who stands in relentless, nonviolent opposition to the angry, bloodthirsty ‘gods’ invented by ego-driven men, drunk on the idea of earthly power and gain, trapped themselves within a system designed to control others using fear, guilt, and shame, all under the delusional concept of ‘survival.’ 

True change can happen once we know the opposite of what we are. May Spirit grant that we be given the eyes to see, the ears to hear, and the courage to face the truth.

Thanks so much for reading.

Namaste,

~C

P.S. If you are suffering under the oppression of any religious system and would like someone to talk to who understands where you are and how scary it feels to even think of walking out, please contact me. As a recovering evangelical myself, I would be happy to talk you through the pain and of waking up. Please know that you are by no means alone!

Winging It

For my Sister, who I will always remember as Peter Pan.

From my window seat I gazed out at rivers and roads as they wound their ways over the landscape below, occasionally dimmed by my tears.
From my window seat I gazed out at rivers and roads as they wound along over the landscape, occasionally blurred by tears.

 

Two winding roads brought us here

with twists and turns

unexpected

 

Like ribbons intertwined

our paths would cross

until

 

Separately we traveled

each path’s distance

unknown

 

One winding road leads me on

with bends and forks

unforeseen

 

My path’s sharp angles

obscure choices ahead

unwritten

 

Always looking, searching

plagued with questions

unanswered

 

Looking through your eyes

or you through mine

unblinking

 

Flight impossible for fear

now you soar with me

untethered

My Sister as Peter Pan circa 1968
My Sister as Peter Pan circa 1968

The only thing to fear …

Daily Prompt: 1984

by michelle w. on January 9, 2013

You’re locked in a room with your greatest fear. Describe what’s in the room.

That’s easy. Since I grew up feeling like I was locked in a room with them – all the time. At night I used to see one in my mind’s eye sitting on the topmost stairs outside my bedroom door. It never looked at me … until I dared to close my eyes. Somehow the covers provided safety. Never mind that I couldn’t breathe while hiding under them. I could hardly breathe from fear anyway. What was a little blanket compared to those monsters? How could a blanket overcome my terror??

It’s nighttime. I’m dreaming the same old dream. I find myself in the middle of the street (what am I doing outside??), in front of my house, barefoot, in a nightgown. I can feel the rocks cutting into my skin. The darkness is a presence closing in on me. No sound escapes my lips … they might hear! They come towards me barking, snarling; as hard as I run I never move. I can’t get away.

It’s daytime. A waking nightmare. I’m walking in the sunshine on the boardwalk with a friend. As the leashed shepherd passes his head turns completely around to watch me. He senses my terror.

It’s nighttime again, only I’m awake. I’m supposed to pick up a book from my friend but somehow my feet will not move me to the front door. My brother keeps yelling at me to go, but I stand frozen to the spot; his voice sounds like it’s far away, echoing back at me from the inside of a well. I can’t see it but the sound of it barking as it lunges for the fence leaves me shaking and sweating in terror despite the cool night air.

Jump forward 5 years. Asleep in my dorm room, I’m dreaming. It’s a friend’s house and the dog is penned. Not the usual rottweiler, shepherd, or doberman, but a beautiful Irish setter. As I leave the dog gets loose. I’m running again, this time over the leafy carpet path of some woods, terrified. Suddenly I stop. This has got to stop. Turning, I become the attacker. The poor animal has no chance to escape from the years of pent-up rage inside me toward him and his kind. Awake again, I realize for the first time in my young life, I’m FREE! The fear remains but the mindless terror is gone. The room has been unlocked, the monster chased away – by me!

The story was that at a young age a dog jumped me. Playing, of course. But apparently someone freaked out and taught me to fear. I have no memory of this. At least not on a conscious level. Funny how the things underneath our awareness creep out as irrational fears.

I heard once that there are 365 instances in which the Bible exhorts us: “fear not”. One for every day of the year. One for every night of terror. My fear was scarier than the imagined threat the dogs posed. It was so powerful – exerting a numbing force over me, able to control my emotions and my body. People would tell me, “Don’t be afraid. My dog won’t hurt you.” It wasn’t the dogs – terror itself tormented me in the locked room of my mind.

I have never been bitten by a dog. I have been bitten by fear. Fear comes in many forms: animals, finances, health issues, Interstate traffic, even other people can cause terror – the crippling kind that leaves you sweating and breathless, reminding you that ultimately, you are not in control of your environment.

It takes a serious amount of discipline to train the mind not to dwell on the things of our nightmares. I have found that telling someone not to think about something only makes the thing bigger, more real. The only hope is a substitute. That’s how the mind works. You can only consciously think about – focus on – one thing at a time. When you find your fears overwhelming you find something else to think about. Better yet, find someone else to think about. Slowly the fear will lose its power over you until you can unlock that door and walk out for good.

It’s a dangerous world we live in. But only one thing stands in the way of you moving forward: your own fears. Scream into that terrorized room that you will find the key to unlock its door. Turn around and beat your fear to a pulp. Walk out the door free from fear’s hold on you. Walk out knowing you are loved. Walk out and find someone else to love.

Perfect love casts out fear.

Truly, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.