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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Conscious Evolution

This past Sunday, after service, I had an in-depth and thoughtful conversation with a congregant.  I really enjoy it when, after a Sunday talk, someone wants to engage in a deeper exploration of the topic. I interpret it to mean that my talk stimulated some questions and personal exploration, and I feel gratified.  At one point in our conversation she asked me if I thought it is easier for me in my position as the minister of the church, in comparison to those in other careers, to be more consciously aware of my Christ nature in the midst of my daily activities.  My immediate response was “no.”  At the moment she asked the question, images of opportunities I have had to know and express the Truth of my being arose in my mind.  I was keenly aware of the many times I fail to respond from my Christ nature.  Sometimes I am successful, but not always.  However, I have now had time to further consider the question and my answer, and in hindsight I would have chosen to respond differently.   A simple “no” does not capture the complexity of the question, nor does it provide an adequate or completely honest response.  So, I thought I would share some of the thoughts that have come up for me in retrospect.

I realize there are exceptions, but for most of us fully embodying our Christ nature does not happen instantaneously, nor is it sustained constantly.  Living in and from the conscious awareness of the Christ is an evolutionary and transformative process.  The transformation of personal consciousness from the belief in separation, which is the primary cause of suffering, to the awareness of oneness, our Truth, usually happens over the course of a lifetime; however, instances of conscious evolution may occur multiples times each day provided we are willing to consciously and actively participate in the process.  Each person, situation or issue that stimulates suffering, regardless of the intensity of feeling, is an opportunity for us to evolve.  We can choose to meet life with curiosity and commitment, in so doing evolve with it, or we can resist it and continue to suffer.

We evolve, not by ignoring our pain or pretending that we are too “spiritual” to feel it.  We evolve through our willingness to acknowledge the pain, feel it, and process through the thoughts we are thinking about ourselves or another that formulate our belief in separation.  Then, through our willingness to question the belief and discover the truth, we are able to come to the place of understanding, compassion and the remembrance of Truth, ours and another’s.  While it may not be what we commonly think of as such, I consider this an evolution of consciousness, moving from the belief in separation to an awareness of oneness, which we may consciously choose in any given situation.  And, each time we choose conscious evolution we contribute to the transformation of our consciousness.

While evolution is a continual process of growth and change, transformation, though it frequently occurs through a process of growth and change, is ultimately a state of sustained alteration of consciousness. One who has achieved this transformation and lives in the state of realized Oneness is often referred to as “enlightened” or “awakened”.  In the Christian tradition, we believe Jesus was an enlightened master whose consciousness was fully evolved and who fully embodied the Christ.  There are people living today who some believe are living in this state of consciousness, a small list includes Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now; Byron Katie, creator of The Work of Byron Katie®; and Gangaji, teacher and author of The Diamond in Your Pocket and other books.  There are others who are no longer living who are also considered to have been enlightened, such as Meister Eckhart, Sai Baba and Jiddu Krishnamurdi, to name a few.  While a few of those named are believed to have attained enlightenment suddenly, most are reported to have attained this level of consciousness through their commitment to spiritual practice, practices that helped to facilitate transformation one evolution at a time.

If you have read this far, you may be wondering how all of that pertains to the original question.  Well, I do not claim to be an enlightened master who lives fully from a transformed consciousness, yet.  I do, however, assert that I am engaged in the process of conscious evolution to the best of my ability.  So, my answer to whether living from my Christ nature is easier because I am a minister is still “no,” but if asked if it is easier for me to live from Christ consciousness because of my spiritual practice and because my commitment to be in ministry helps keep me focused on my evolutionary process, my answer would be “yes”.   Every day, often multiple times a day, I am presented with opportunities to engage in the process of conscious evolution.  At times, I am tempted to run and hide.  And, to be honest, there have been times in my past when I have avoided it as strenuously and persistently as possible.  But, as I am sure you have noticed, life continues to show up, and each of us has to choose whether we will meet it and evolve with it or resist it and suffer through it.  I am grateful for the tools I have acquired during my years of conscious spiritual study and practice.  Utilizing those tools helps me to, more and more, stay firmly grounded in my Truth and to be the best Christ I can be in any given moment.  I am grateful to be in a position that allows me the opportunity to explore and discuss this transformation process with others as we make this journey together.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Dawning of Grace

I have recently begun reading Anne Lamott’s book, Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith.  Until now, I have not read any of her work, even though several respected friends have told me about her thought-provoking writing.  As often occurs, a few days ago I “happened” to see a Facebook post of a quote from her.  And, as occasionally happens, I decided it was time to pay attention, so I went to to shop for new reading material.  As I perused the list of her many books, this title spoke to me.

The subject of ‘grace’ has often intrigued and sometimes confused me, so I chose this book in hopes that it might shed some light on the subject. It is a collection of humorous and often touching stories about events and people in Lamott’s life that have in some way helped her to awaken to life’s beauty including her own, even though it shows up in unexpected and unusual ways at times.  In the stories I have read thus far, she doesn’t specifically mention ‘grace’ or ‘faith,’ for that matter, but her stories are filled with the underlying message of what I have come to believe about ‘grace’ which I attribute, at least in part, to the book, Falling Into Grace, by American-born Zen Buddhist author, Adyashanti.  Unlike what many of us commonly think of when we hear the word ‘grace', Adyashanti says, “In essence grace is anything that helps us truly open – our minds, our emotions, our hearts.”  Lamott’s stories convey the essence of ‘grace’ from this perspective.

My former understanding of grace from a more traditional Christian perspective was that grace is a “gift from God” that we do not earn and can never deserve, but that God bestows upon us as “He” deems appropriate.  The commonly used phrase, “There but by the grace of God go I,” which I admit I have uttered on occasion, is usually used as a reference to someone who is experiencing a less than enviable life situation and to whom the one speaking is favorably comparing himself.  This statement speaks of a God who favors some with grace, while withholding it from others.  I no longer believe in a capricious God who dispenses grace on a whim, but in a God that freely expresses (gives) all that It is, constantly and continually, as Its “gift of grace.”

I can best describe my current concept of ‘grace’ metaphorically.  If God were the sun, its rays would be Love and grace the field of ever-present light in which we all “live, move and have being.” (Acts 17:28)  This light is available to us at all times, and if we are willing to open our spiritual eyes, it will allow us to see the Truth of our being reflected in everything we perceive.  When we realize (real-eyes) that we live in the state of grace and that every encounter, every situation, in fact every breath is an opportunity to awaken to the Truth of our being, we will have received the gift of grace.  Grace is the light that dawns upon our conscious awareness and awakens us to the truth of God expressing in us, as us.

Join us on Sunday for the 10:00 service as I explore further this concept of ‘grace’ and how it can awaken us - our minds, our emotions, our hearts - from the delusion of a God from whom we are separate.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Value of Judgments

I have recently noticed myself judging others, and I have found myself judging myself for it.  I don’t think I am alone in that, so I thought I would take some time to explore this issue of judgment.

Many who are on a conscious spiritual path have been taught that in order to be truly awakened or enlightened, one must give up judging others.  To expect ourselves to give up judging, and to hold that as a measure of our state of consciousness, is unrealistic and unnecessary.  I offer that we are actually more enlightened, not by giving up judging, but instead by becoming consciously aware of our judgments and striving to understand their value. Human beings judge.  It is an aspect of our human conditioning.  Rather than attempting absolution of judgment, I encourage us to acknowledge our judgments and invite them to inform us of what we deeply value.

On some level, all human beings engage in value judgments, by evaluating or judging based on our particular set of values.  In other words, we sometimes decide on the rightness or wrongness of persons or situations based on our values.  And, we can find ourselves reacting to the judged person or situation according to our learned behaviors.  Typically, when we judge something as wrong or bad, we criticize, fight against, and/or avoid it.  In short, whatever we judge negatively, we resist.  Further, we most often feel justified in our value judgments and our reactions.  The troubling result of engaging in unconscious value judgments is that we determine right and wrong, good and bad, and we assign labels. Unfortunately, this type of judgment frequently leads to conflict, even war, and sometimes, as has been the case in history and as we are currently witnessing in Iraq, genocide.  Fortunately, there is another way. 

Instead of unconsciously engaging in those types of value judgments, or thinking that we have to give up our judgments, we can learn to appreciate the value of our judgments.  In order to do that, we must first be willing and able to recognize our judgmental thoughts and admit to ourselves that we judge, without judging ourselves for judging.  Instead of making ourselves or another right or wrong, we can honestly observe our judgments and allow them to inform us of our values.  Then, rather than reverting to our base human behaviors, we can consciously choose to engage in behaviors that reflect our values and establish connection rather than create conflict. 

As an example, yesterday I drove into the church parking lot and noticed that our recycling bin was filled to overflowing.  Knowing that it had been recently emptied, and also knowing that there is no way the church had generated that much recycling content in such a short time, I concluded that it was being filled by our neighbors.  I immediately felt angry. I was judging the ones who made unauthorized use of our property as wrong and bad.  One might say that I was "warring" with them in my mind, and feeling the impact of the internal conflict.  As I allowed myself to acknowledge my judgment and connect with myself, I recognized that I value respect, and that I was telling myself that they were disrespecting our property and discounting the expense we incur to have the container emptied every other week.  However, after further consideration, I can also acknowledge that whoever used the container as their recycling receptacle, values care of the Earth and the environment.  I also value those things.  As I continued my contemplation, I realized that I cannot possibly know what is in the minds and hearts of whoever chose to place their recycling in our container.  Rather than “warring” with them, I decided to do my best to connect with our shared values and respond accordingly.  Perhaps I can have a sign made that says something like the following:
“While we appreciate that you share our care and concern for the Earth, we ask that you respect our rental of this container.  If you choose to use this container for your recycling, please respect the Earth by not filling it to overflowing resulting in litter.  Please also respect that we need room for our recycling materials as well.  Blessings to you.  Namaste.”
Appreciating the value of our judgments, rather than unconsciously engaging in value judgments is, in my evaluation, a more accurate measure of our level of enlightened consciousness.  When we are willing to honestly and authentically connect consciously with our values, it soon becomes apparent, that all human beings share the same core values.  Conflict is not stimulated by differing values, but by the ways we choose to live those values. 

Our judgments can, if we are willing to connect with them, give us a great deal of information about ourselves, our values, and how our choices reflect our values.  They can also, if we are willing, provide us with a way to connect with others as we consciously connect with their values.  Our unexplored value judgments serve to separate us, while our conscious exploration of our judgments can serve to connect us at a deeper level.  Instead of attempting to give up our judgments, or continuing to engage in unconscious judging, or judging ourselves for judging, I encourage us to acknowledge, learn to become consciously aware of, and appreciate the value of our judgments that ultimately connect us at our deepest levels.