Author Archives: Art Nicol

About Art Nicol

By exploring a variety of careers and social roles as a child, spouse, parent, grandparent, citizen, community volunteer, attorney, employee, manager, social climber, social outcast, conformist, nonconformist, etc., I've arrived at a place in life where living wisely in the field Rumi describes as "out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing" most appeals to me. For me, it is the field of our dreams where we set aside the ego's harsh criticism and implied separation of one another into categories of “winners” and “losers” by a variety of dehumanizing criteria – and its other efforts to find reasons to separate us into isolated beings – and instead embrace unconditional love as the natural environment in which humans thrive. Love is the context of humanity’s sustainability and fosters our capacity to evolve to yet higher levels of consciousness and wisdom. I seek now to join with others to build this field of our dreams for all of us to enjoy as we play ball together and rebuild humanity as a single, harmoniously functioning entity within the natural world of which we are an essential element. I believe that wisdom does teach us to discern the meaning of human differences but not to use those differences to judge others as superior or inferior in some way that means I cannot relate to others or they cannot relate to me. Although I am a follower of Jesus and do my best to implement his principles of love, including all that forgiveness and reconciliation call forth from within me, I also believe that there are many paths of faith by which people grow in awareness of their relationship with a Supreme Being who is devoted to the welfare of all of us. We all are welcome in the divine heart. Enlightenment is not an exotic experience reserved for the few. Our divine destiny is to become increasingly aware of the divine truths that set us all free to enjoy life together and no longer divide ourselves into warring camps simply because we may not always agree. I believe in unity amid diversity and live as best I can as a timeless spirit in the midst of the paradoxes and tensions of human life that may try to pull us apart - both internally from our own integrity and externally from one another. I believe that all forms of violence that humanity inflicts upon ourselves arise from dishonesty about what matters most deeply within our hearts. In learning to deny the full, caring expression of our emotions and trying to live with diminished hearts, we drive ourselves to adopt false identities (called by some "egos") and to develop addictions and other mentally and emotionally unhealthy orientations to life as our means of surviving while coping with the emotions we've buried in our hearts and minds when we were not free to express them earlier in our lives. I believe that we need most to connect again within our hearts as naturally sensitive yet also courageous beings, identify the pains beyond which we need to move by experiencing the process of legitimate grieving and learn again that we are delightfully playful and loving beings here on earth to share life as innocent children of the Creator of Life, free of guilt and blame as well as pride and shame. We need to learn again the difference between peace and emotional numbness, hope and blinding ambition and joy and self-centered pride. The latter alternative within each pairing are ego-based experiences of the mind that is separated from the heart, where genuine peace, hope and joy abide. All unshared emotions, even unshared joy, are painful because we are created to share life heart to heart, not keep ourselves isolated from one another as if we are independent islands without natural connections. I subscribe to a declaration of interdependence beyond independence. I honor our capacity to grow developmentally independent as mature people (even at an early age) and yet also encourage us to move forward into interdependence, beyond artificial and futile efforts at the pretense of self-reliance. In healthy interdependence, we celebrate our naturally unique individuality while also appreciating and encouraging each other to share divine love that welcomes and nurtures each and all of us to become all we are capable of being. I've shared more about my ideas about personal wholeness, authenticity and love at www.freedomwise.com. I welcome your feedback.

We Brought the War Home to Us

While I was in college and exiting into the work place, the Vietnam War was still actively causing US citizens to take a stand for or against war in general or for or against that particular war.  It hit home for many of us because of the draft.  We could not avoid struggling to make up our minds whether or not we agreed with the use of weapons to impose our will on other people and, more intimately, whether or not we’d kill anyone to end a difference of viewpoints of any kind.  Could I see myself learning to use weapons in order to kill someone?  That issue remained a struggle for me.  I did not resolve it in my own personal life until many years after the Vietnam War was over.

Today I’m less concerned about death than I used to be because my experiences with God reassure me that there is definitely life beyond the death of our bodies and that no one is going to hell after his or her body ceases to function.  It’s amazing how knowing those simple facts to be true has clarified in my mind whether or not I’d use a weapon to settle a dispute or protect myself from harm.  Since I no longer believe in settling disputes by any means of violence, there’s no question in my mind that I’d not use a weapon to protect myself.  I’m simply willing to go to be with God free of my body’s limitations under whatever circumstances may come along to free me from my body.

Meanwhile, as I was gradually increasing my awareness of God’s reality and my opportunity to relate intimately with God’s reality while yet in the body as well as beyond, I watched us bring the Vietnam War’s issue about taking another person’s life home to us.  It’s no longer a question of whether or not we’ll kill or harm another person who is one of “them” beyond the US borders.  It’s become a question of whether or not we’ll kill or harm another person here at home to settle a dispute “once and for all” or do so to revenge a wrong we believe has happened that matters enough to us to use violence in anger to redress it.  The violence we used to export we have domesticated.  It’s ironic that at the same time we’ve out-sourced so many life-sustaining jobs to places beyond our borders we’ve managed to in-source use of weapons as a more and more acceptable life-terminating solution.  Is there some sort of correlation?  Has the growing hopelessness of finding the means to support ourselves and our families increased our willingness to kill someone we may be able to blame for our loss of self-sufficiency and accompanying sense of dignity and self-worth?  Has our gradually declining sense of self-worth caused us to view life in general as less valuable and assume that everyone’s life has little worth?

I’m not in a position to answer all aspects of the questions that were commonly on many people’s minds during the Vietnam War – nor those commonly on many of our minds today.  I still don’t know what I’d do if I were armed and had the choice to protect a loved one or even a stranger from harm by using my weapon.  I’d hope that I would be well-trained in the use of my weapon and in taking full responsibility for exercising wisdom and calm reason in deciding whether or not to use it under any circumstance that confronted me.  I could make conscious decisions to undergo such training to the fullest extent possible and remain current in my training.  But what I’d do after that remains unknown to me.  How would adrenaline and other by-products of fear affect my decision-making and performance?  Would I want to be trained so at least I had the additional option of appropriately using (or not using) a weapon?

Unresolved. By default I’m not trained or likely to ever be trained.  So, unarmed I continue to be.  After being so grateful for having not been in combat at any time in my life, I’m reluctant to participate in domestic combat now.  My saying that does not denigrate those who have made an alternative choice to become well trained in the use of weapons under the terms specified by the law and according to wisdom and reason.  Until we’ve resolved the issue of violence in our society at large, we need to carefully consider how widely available weapons are and in whose hands we allow them to come.  Continuing to escalate violence as an option while arming ourselves with increasingly more powerful weapons seems unwise to me when we seem to have so little control over the emotional and mental state of those who access those weapons and what their motives to use them may be.

For now I remain committed to investing all of my time and energy in promoting ways to reduce violence and reduce motives for using violence to settle disputes or seek revenge.  It seems to me that to the extent that we can reduce tendencies towards violence in our society and truly promote domestic tranquility intentionally by A) nurturing emotional and mental health for all of us and B) encouraging us all to be forgiving rather than vengeful, the issue of weapons and their use will fade in significance.  We simply would not need to bring any kind of warfare home to us anymore because we would have ended the emotional warfare that rages within so many of us in our private inner battles and spills out as domestic violence in our homes, onto our streets and into our schools, businesses and other gathering places. Our emotional battles within us extend outward into acts of violence.  It’s time to learn how to nurture lasting inner peace and allow our peace to extend outward instead.

© Art Nicol 2016

United in Opposition is Not United

Current dynamics at work in US politics highlight the false idea that our nation will ever be truly the “United States” while the call to unify is based on opposition to some identified opponent, here or abroad.  Check out the pattern prevalent in US history. You will see example after example of groups of various descriptions supposedly uniting in opposition to the identified opponent of their day only to have their “unity” disintegrate once the occasion for opposition ends.  Today we see this pattern at work in our presidential election as two main parties call for unity within themselves by clarifying and rally around their opposition to the “other” party.  Within our republican form of government where one vote more than 50% wins all the marbles, this practice works temporarily to put some people temporarily in power but is not a sustainable practice for the welfare of the nation or the world we so heavily impact.

We have become participants in this pattern as if it is the only option available. The media hypes this pattern in order to gain market share and profit from the controversies it helps stir up by sensationalizing them moment by moment as entertainment.  Are we truly entertained by watching our nation cycle through this pattern of futility decade after decade?  Do we truly want to elect and empower men and women to lead us around and around in this pattern without hope for any alternative of true, universal, national unity?  Where might we find the common ground for sustainable unity not based temporarily on identifying an enemy abroad or at home?

We will find that common ground buried beneath the rumble of painful emotions we harbor in our hearts.  We harbor them out of ignorance.  We neither know how to release these painful emotions and the memories seared into our brains by pain or to establish the noncyclical stability of peace we’d prefer “if only.”  But we can overcome our ignorance if we truly want to.  We can learn what we need to learn.  It is not beyond our capacity to learn.  It’s actually child’s play, more natural to children than to adults but still within the capacity of adults to relearn.  Adults do struggle with issues and responsibilities by which children are not typically burdened, although many children are bearing such burdens these days in earlier and earlier years.  In failing to release our emotional pain in caring, healthy ways so as to discover how to enjoy sustainable peace (domestic tranquility instead of domestic violence in all its forms), we are dumping our buried pain on children and expecting them not to be harmed by being dumped upon.

Buried pain, like harmful toxic waste, leeches from the dumps where we think we safely bury it to contaminate the waters of life within which we expect our children and ourselves to swim and find clean water to drink and bathe in.  Our buried pain poisons our lives and robs us of the most enriching qualities of life we’d otherwise enjoy.  We must cease to use our hearts as waste dumps for toxic emotions.  To cease to participate in this pattern, we must learn to grieve through our pain and find peace again beyond it.  In our present state, our society allows no one to avoid experiencing pain.  Thus, we all must learn to release pain as a necessary life skill. To fail to master this skill means to guarantee that the pain will pass along to the next generation for them to deal with.

We adults must stand up for protecting our children from the pain we’ve not yet processed, stand up as adults before us likely did not do for us.  In some period of our history, the cycle of pain must stop.  Our current generations of adults can be that time.  The cycle can wind down and be replaced with healthier conditions if we are willing to participate fully in those conditions.  It’s up to us to have the courage, compassion, commitment, creativity and curiosity to discover again how to cooperate with each other in unity about this process.  It is a process that requires no opponents and instead welcomes all to participate.  By definition, grief is universal to us all.  We can stand together not in opposition to pain but in unified commitment to learning how to release pain in all its forms and reasons for existing.

Pain need not be as prevalent as it is.  It need not be endured forever as we’ve been taught to believe.  We can learn to stop perpetuating it.  To release our personal pain one person at a time releases the nation from pain.  Let’s help each other enter into a process of grieving through the lifetime of pain we’ve endured as dumping grounds for other people’s pain and unite in peace beyond our pain.  Peace will not come immediately because the process of grief must allow time to identify, express and share our buried pain for healing and release to happen.  But our commitment to the process of grieving is enough to ensure peace will come in time.

Peace is actually our natural state of being.  It is the tender condition that exists within our hearts but is now buried beneath the rumble of the patterns of opposition we’ve endured.  We have the power within us to seek no longer to engage in artificial reasons to perpetuate our pain and instead to free ourselves of the rumble and return to our natural state of peace and goodwill among all peoples – of every age, gender, station in life and other demographic parameter by which we measure ourselves.  Let’s now measure ourselves as peacemakers and peace-sustainers instead of as participants in the internal warfare to which politics currently calls us under the mistaken notion that that’s the only way.  There is another way.  It leads to the end of suffering for us all.  Might not that outcome motivate us all to explore this possibility?

© Art Nicol 2016

What If We’re All to Blame?

The blame game is sheerest nonsense since most of us adults who are participants in the US economy and have the right to vote both with our money and our polling place opportunities share the blame for the deplorable state of the world.  If you’re as convinced as I am that the blame game takes us nowhere closer to understanding how the US has fallen to the low we’ve reached, perhaps you’ll consider with me this solution:  Let’s treat the situation as if we’re all to blame and take up responsibility for our part in generating this deplorable condition and for our part in co-creating the true alternative.  The false alternative, of course, remains to deny that the US society is in deplorable condition and keep right on going down the drain with our eyes closed.  If we try that approach, we won’t need to worry about being blamed for sticking our heads in the sand because we’ll have already stuck them somewhere darker to prepare for our future drainhood.

For myself, my children, my grandchildren and others about whom I care, I prefer not to go blindly down the drain without doing my best to head back up towards the rim of the basin and perhaps even climb out of the tub, sink or toilet bowl we’re in.  I believe we’re flushing our future down the drain no matter what downward spiral we say we’re stuck in.  I want to be honest enough to see that pattern at work as we whirl around in our confusion pointing fingers at each other while trying to transfer blame to someone else.  We’re acting like terrified children on a merry-go-round screaming at each other to make it stop so we can get off and blaming the person on the other side of the merry-go-round for making it go around faster and faster.  Just because we keep seeing the same people on the other side of the merry-go-round does not mean that they are more to blame than we are for the ride we’re all taking.  We’re all being taken for a ride.  (That last sentence uses a verb in the passive voice that does not disclose who’s doing the taking.)

Perhaps you find spinning in circles amusing.  I don’t.  After a while it makes me sick to my stomach.  So, I decided to listen to my gut and search for a way off the merry-go-round.  I found it.  I’ve found that the process of getting off made me feel confused and disoriented at first because while standing on solid ground beyond the merry-go-round my head was still spinning as if I were still on board.  It took a while to adjust to standing on stable ground rather than spinning around.  At first I was still dizzy, even more aware of my dizziness than before. In the process of regaining my balance, I learned that I had adjusted to the spinning as best I could and now needed to re-adjust to non-spinning stability again.  In time, I did.  Now my stomach has settled and my mind is at ease.  Now I can heed my gut intuition as well as reason with my mind as a unified field of feeling and thinking my way forward through life with wisdom as my guide.  I enjoy using this new orientation to guide me forward beyond the merry-go-round into more promising, stable territory.

To stay off the merry-go-round in all of its forms and formats in the world, I had to shed the part of me that is tempted to ride along and play the game of spinning tales and using circular justifications and excuses for my decisions and actions.  I had to stop pointing my finger “over there” and claiming that the “other guy or gal or they” made me do it.  I even had to stop claiming that God or the Devil made me do it.  I had to take full responsibility for “doing it,” whatever “it” was from time to time.  “Yes, I did it and I accept full responsibility for doing it.”  Tough sledding sometimes.

It was not easy to offend the popular opinions of powerful people and go against the flow of social conformity to act according to my heart’s intuition and my mind’s reason as best I could.  It has not been easy to make mistakes and take responsibility for them so as to learn all I could from them rather than close myself off from these ofttimes painful learning opportunities.  It has been no easier to make right decisions, be roundly condemned for them by others and still take responsibility for them as if they might, perchance, have been right or at least closer to the target than I’d been before.  Whether I decided or acted “right” or “wrong” in the eyes of others depended on the views of those who judged my decisions and actions according to their own preferences, prejudices and power to control what I did.  The characterization of my decisions and actions as “right” or “wrong” did not depend on their objective nature but on the subjective viewpoint of those who judged.  Some judges even relished the chance to punish others so much that they would leap at the opportunity to wield power over me, even arbitrarily, just to feel powerful.  I’ve offended a lot of viewpoints as I did my best to swim upstream as a nonconformist against the current of conformity that’s relentlessly sweeping us all down the drain.

What part of me is tempted to go along with the crowd and not offend the status quo of the drain-heading flow?  It’s the part of me that’s susceptible to being influenced by social approval, an experience I admit I crave.  I much prefer to be approved of than disapproved of.  The part of me addicted to social approval is the same part of me that is susceptible to other forms of addiction or dependency under the influence of any of my natural appetites.  It’s my ego.  Based on any appetite, my ego may turn me back drainward at the least little excuse if I let it.  The patterns of my life are aligned with drainward compliance because I was taught all my life to be a “good little boy.”  Translations for that phrase for me turned out to be “conformist,” “people-pleaser” and “conflict avoider.”  To fail to conform to the expectations of others, displease someone important or stir up controversy was “bad” and was punished by social disapproval.  I had to learn to stand up in the harshest streams of social disapproval and nevertheless face away from the drain and do my best to swim away.  Sometimes, the best I could do was root myself in place and resist the drainward flow, like the post of a pier resists the flow of the tide swirling by it.  The tide of social opinion blames me for resisting its flow.  Yet the truth is that all I am doing is standing my ground and refusing to go along with the riptide of popular social viewpoints or the egotistical preferences of authority figures supported by those who blindly follow them as frightened, compulsive people-pleasers, as once was I.

It’s not been easy to learn to stand up for myself after spending my first decades learning to go with the flow and not assert any viewpoint not pre-ordained to win me social approval or at least avoid social disapproval.  I had learned to be silent when the risk of disapproval presented itself.  In fact, I had learned to take no risks and hide myself from the mainstream of the drainward flow.  For some time, I clung to the rim of the basin and held on for dear life.  Eventually I let go of the rim and allowed myself to be swept totally down the drain while being characterized as totally disapproved of.  There turned out to be no greater freedom from fear of lost approval than to lose it all, drown in disapproval and resurface somewhere down the drain where the flow is freer of the ego’s judgmental attitudes and assumptions.

Freedom turned out for me to be downstream, drainward and then out the drain into natural channels into which artificial drains arbitrarily dump their social outcasts.  There are unflattering terms to use as labels for such outcasts.  I became identified with them and their social exile.  And I found myself in good company.  What do I mean “good” in this sense?  I mean spiritually free to rise up to become new lives without blaming anyone for our circumstances but ourselves.

Yes, I’m to blame for my going down the drain and being flushed out of the pools of social approval amid which I once swam.  I think it helped me to slip readily down the drain that I never swelled with pride when I swam in such pools because secretly I knew in my heart that I did not belong there.  Not swelled by pride, I did not clog the drain and readily slipped through.  I did not belong in the pools, especially in the sense that no one owned me as their belonging.  I was not bought and paid for and required to do my owner’s bidding no matter how degrading it might be, like some slave or prostitute or junior partner in a firm.  I always had the option of dropping out and not participating in the pool.  And I found that the option to drop out could also transform into the option to rise out.

Both dropping out and rising out diverge from conformity to social norms.  To the extent that modern society embraces the norm of citizenry enslavement within the economy, I became abnormal to find freedom from our social institutions of slavery. To the extent that modern society imposes the norm of poor physical, emotional and mental health and loveless relationships upon its citizenry, I became abnormal to discover how to be progressively healthier to the point of wholeness and how to experience divinely defined love.  I highly recommend exploring and engaging in such social abnormalities!

Yes, I’m to blame for what has happened in my life and for the decisions and actions that flowed from my life.  I still am.  By accepting the “blame,” I accepted and still accept full responsibility. And I discovered that with great responsibility comes great power.  The converse of the Spiderman Principle is true!  My life has proved it to my own satisfaction.  If you don’t like being blamed for other people’s decisions and actions, try taking full responsibility for putting yourself in the position to be blamed and then consider exiting that position for higher ground.  In the long run, drainward is not really as fun and rewarding at it looks.  No addiction or dependency is. Just when you fear most falling ignominiously into utter failure in the pursuit of your highest ideals and most heartfelt dreams, let go, sink to the bottom and swim out the drain to freedom beyond the pools of social approval within which you fear being judged and condemned.  Down there in the dark you may be surprised to find your way to the higher, more lighthearted ground you’re looking for.

© Art Nicol 2016

Chickens Coming Home to Roost

We live in a distressing time in the US because we live amid the nests to which the chickens are coming home to roost.  The phrase “chickens coming home to roost” refers to the cycle of insanity that returns to those who act insanely the consequences of their deeds.  “Chicken” is an especially apt term because it’s also typically used as a label for a person who is extremely afraid.  (Supposedly, chickens are easily scared and scattered in fear before a marauding fox. Yet, if one has tried to interfere with a hen who is protecting her brood of chicks, one might not be convinced that all chickens are readily frightened away.)

Let’s look at the possibility that “chickens coming home to roost” refers to the actions of scared people returning to haunt them.  Since actions arise from thoughts and since feelings of fear can cause thoughts that are irrational, one can readily see how actions that are of chicken nature are based on fear.  Fear distorts minds to think irrationally, even to the point of causing chronic irrationality we label “insanity.”  In recent generations, the US has become a society of chronically frightened and irrational people who prefer to deny our emotions and hide behind the masks of our egos in pride than to admit that we are afraid most of the time.  We acquired the habit of denying our fears by many decades and multiple generations of denial of emotions in general.

For example, during one insane cycle of fear-generated violence, one generation created nuclear weapons to solve the problem of needing to feel more secure and then faced the very real possibility of triggering a nuclear holocaust to destroy humanity and render our planet cruelly less habitable.  Chickens threatened then to come home to roost.  But, we learned to live under that cloud of nuclear fear and march on undeterred in our commitment to our consumerist militarism.  We proudly called our lifestyle Darwinian capitalism and by well-crafted propaganda fooled many of us into believing it was “free enterprise” — an expression of our more expansive freedoms as free people,  who, as it turns out, failed to realize how seductively our egos were enslaving us on account of our unconscious fears.

We still live under the fear of pending doom of nuclear disaster and many other fears that have piled on top of it in the dark caverns of our minds where our egos entomb them rather than face them. We still march on undeterred as long as we can manage to remain undisturbed by the consequences of our decisions.  On account of our habit of denial, we’ve become increasingly indifferent to the legitimate needs of human beings, others and ourselves.  Instead of caring how our actions may affect “others,” we carefully plan our actions to make sure that their ill-effects fall on others but not upon us.  We’ve practiced this principle of exporting ill-effects for many generations in both our military ventures and our business ventures.

In our military ventures, we expected US citizens to go “off to war” in two world wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and many other smaller scale combat actions. And somehow we expected them to function within horrifically terrifying battlefield conditions without falling apart or being adversely affected by their experiences.  We expected them to be brave and strong and committed to protecting their faraway homes from the threats we believed were so significant that we placed our citizens in harm’s way in distant lands to avoid those threats.  Those who survived physically, we welcomed home as heroes with far too little regard for how their service to our welfare cost them emotionally. We saw physical wounds and disabilities but not emotional ones.  We failed to expect, as reason dictates, that after the intensity of battle is over, the falling apart comes along naturally as a part of grieving.  It must if anyone is to regain his or her sanity after being subject to such insanity.  To us who had learned to harden our hearts and deny to our emotions their sane, healthy role in our lives, emotions became invisible and readily ignored.  It takes sensitivity and empathy to detect emotions in ourselves and others and we learned well how to deaden those human attributes of sanity and pretend to live “well” without them in operation in our lives.  In fact, we often ridicule and look down upon as “weak” and certainly unmasculine those who have not deadened their sensitive, empathetic nature. We too have learned not to fall apart nor to grieve to restore our sanity.  Insanity — to one degree or another preserved by unprocessed emotions — has become our national norm.

We have avoided bringing the battlefield home to us by exporting it abroad to other cultures and lands where we felt freer to resort to violence that spilled over into civilian populations, but not our own.  Now the chaos and violence of the battlefields we exported under the influence of our fears are coming home to roost.

We also have exported the harmful commercial side-effects of a materialistic, hedonistic society to place those burdens on others as much as possible.  We’ve used the “toilet bowl theory” to justify dumping toxic wastes where we who enjoy the byproducts of that waste are not directly affected or even confronted by the sights and smells of toxins that are robbing others of life, liberty and their pursuit of happiness.  Extraction and use of fossil fuels — and the disposal of waste produced by their extraction and use — proceed apace so long as the harmful consequences of the their extraction, use and disposal fall on others.  We don’t care unless toxic waste or garbage dumps show up in our backyard. Someone else’s backyard is just fine with us. Pollution is other people’s problem so long as we have options to avoid it.

As a long-term consequence of playing chicken with the truth and failing to honestly face our fears throughout multiple generations, we are now no longer able to reroute the chickens from returning to the roost from which they originally flew.  The chickens of our militarism and consumerism are coming home to roost.  The empire we’ve enjoyed living within for many generations is now undeniably soiling its own nest.  Our lifestyles of denial, of pride and of shifting blame no longer protect us from facing the consequences of our insane, heartless decisions.  We are faced with the consequences whether or not we want to be. And we find it difficult to see the justice in this backflow of chickens to their roosts.  But just it is.  How we’ve come to abhor justice!  We fear justice most of all!

If we are to adequately address the escalating violence rising in our society, we must hear and heed the call of justice and do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God — not “our” God as if we define God but “God” as if God defines His/Her own nature.  Micah 6:8 states what is required of us, oh, fallible mortals that we are.  We must face the fact that those whom we trained to use weapons to protect our insane lifestyles are returning home to find other uses for their training and their weapons.  We trained them to become insanely insensitive and lacking in empathy like us and we now object to their teaching us the consequences of our heartlessness.

Certainly, we find it attractive to hire some of our former military personnel to staff our internal civilian military forces to protect us internally from harm that we have created through our heartless lifestyles and to route some of our citizens off to prison.  Mass incarceration is another form of dumping ground for the waste products of our militarism and consumerism but we must face the fact that God created no human being to be labeled “waste” and so unjustly treated.  Although we claim to be, we are hardly entitled to critique those whom we’ve trained to do our dirty work of harming others on our behalf in the course of their assigned duties as if we might expect them to be always capable of setting aside their emotions and acting reasonably – with sensitivity and empathy –  in the face of perceived threats to their well-being.  We’ve trained them to react instantly without out consideration for the harm that might flow to others from their defensive reactions and then later purport to hold them accountable for using reflexively the training that we required of them.  Having required of our guardians of domestic tranquility other than the duty to do justice, love mercy and walking humbly with a merciful, forgiving and gracious God, we reap the consequences of our unholy expectations.  We must hold ourselves accountable!

We also object to finding scummy green algae clogging the beaches upon which we prefer to frolic in our escapist activities so necessary to offset our denied internal emotional pain.  We have learned to flee from the natural consequences of our harmful, heartless lifestyles to beaches, parklands and other scenic nature preserves to which we have consigned the last remnants of nature by which we feel rejuvenated while we cause it to become ultimately extinct.  The loss of beaches and waterways to algae on account of unfettered use of fertilizers to grow profitable crops and the loss of picturesque mountain vistas to rapacious mining and deforestation or to acid rain from the byproducts of industry to feed our materialistic appetites are chickens coming home to roost too close to home for us to ignore.  But ignore them we will if we can.

And if we can no longer ignore them, we will shift to others the blame for causing them and the responsibility for correcting and cleaning up our messes – if we can.  As taxpayers who have already funded construction of the highways and airports we use to escape on our vacations to beaches, waterways and mountains, we hardly think it’s fair to also expect us to accept responsibility for the harmful side-effects of our lifestyles and bear the cost of cleaning up after ourselves. Let someone else bear the brunt of our insanity!

And if you say that there is no one else available upon whom to shift the burdens, you are wrong.  We may no longer be able to find others in different parts of the 3-dimensional physical world upon whom to foist the consequences of our insanity, but we are creative thinkers.  We can export the consequences into the 4th dimension – to the future and let the next generation deal with it.  Or perhaps not.  Perhaps we are living amid the time frame of that “next generation” even now as the chickens we raised and exported to the winds now journey home to roost among us.

© Art Nicol 2016

The Highest Privileged Class

I was born with matching skin into a white, middle class family with adequate resources to provide its seven children with shelter, nutrition, clothing, healthcare and the rest of the necessities of life on modest terms.  The instability of my family’s home as we moved around to follow my father’s advancing career opportunities did not deprive us of the education that later opened doors to college options if we wanted them.  Our home routines emphasized education because both of my parents were college-educated, as were my grandparents before them.  Education was not our pathway out of any ghetto.  It offered continued upward mobility as measured by social status, finances and clout.

We never lived in a ghetto although we also never lived in prosperous conditions until my youngest siblings entered school full-time so that my mother could go to work as an elementary school art teacher and add a second income to the family’s resources.  Out of the house at that point, I still could come home to visit the increasingly comfortable, middle class household my younger siblings enjoyed.  As part of a childhood tradition of passing along hand-me-downs, I started each school year wearing shirts that my older brother outgrew plus two new shirts I was permitted to select for myself.  Also handed down to me each school year from generation to generation were the more fundamental traditions of parental stability and educational opportunities that opened doors not as readily opened to others even of my race who may have lacked such multi-generational support for their natural developmental progress.

Experiences I had as a volunteer while in college and later experiences I had as an adult opened my eyes to the more limited opportunities of children of other races, economic classes and little or no empowering traditions of parental stability and education. Especially limited were opportunities available to those born into poorer families or not supported by two educated parents who negotiated their way through life as a couple rather than allow their marriage to flounder in the seas of an angry divorce.  My experiences with dysfunctional family dynamics were mild compared with those of many who struggle to grow up in this “land of opportunity.”  I was not only living in the “land of doors that opened” more readily to people of my gender and race.  I was also living in that land while being prepared by my family to advance through those doors as a welcomed arrival within whom those on the inside of such fields of opportunity felt comfortable.  In short, I was well trained to conform, keep my alternative thoughts to myself and appear to bow to authority.

At first, I did not realize but gradually became aware that my social training as a child groomed me to be a member of the privileged class that measures its privileges by money, social approval and power to take dominion of whatever territory appeals to its members. I was an unwitting heir apparent within the gender, race and class who had arrived on this continent centuries earlier to claim it for themselves regardless of any pre-existing occupants and explore and exploit its resources as if they were entitled to use any and all of them to feather their own nests without regard to the impact of their greedy exploitation upon anyone else or the future of the continent.  Those were hand-me-down attitudes of entitlement that eventually I found did not fit me like a shirt I wanted to wear.  The fabric of those traditions chaffed my soul and burdened my heart.  The shirts others offered to me as hand-me-downs when I was an adult were too small for me and not my style.

The privileged class in which I found myself entitled to membership was this continent’s original entitlement class.  Its traditions were rooted in assumptions of entitlement.  The more socially aggressive among the first arrivals either served as agents of the aristocracies of Europe or claimed to seek their own fortune independent of the dominion of such aristocracies in order to establish an alternate aristocracy.  Wars were fought for independence from European aristocracies and for rights of ownership of people and things not previously subjected to ownership while continental-style aristocracies emerged upon this continent within the new culture. The culture turned out to be not new but instead a rehash of the old culture relabeled and sometimes disguised behind a thin veneer of democratic principles and necessarily therefore covert in its nature.  The Europeans on the continent of North America claimed it for themselves as minor bullies when they overthrew the dominion of foreign bullies posing as European monarchs and then proceeded to bully each other into accommodating each of them.

For reasons of my own, I had no natural inclination to be a crown prince rubbing shoulders with the aristocratic bullies I found within the privileged class of white, educated, upwardly mobile, financially promising males into which I was so readily welcome as if I were one of them.  Within that class I was a misfit.  Eventually I failed to adequately disguise my misfit orientation and found myself less and less welcome.  My skin color, education and other matching criteria could not save me.  I became an anathema to those who preferred to exploit their privileges and climb higher over the backs of others. For many years I was confused about where I belonged socially.  If not these, then who were my people?

As my mind gained clarity about who my people are, I became aware that there is class of “highest privilege” to which all of us have the power to belong and within which all are welcome.  This is the class beyond subclasses defined on ego’s terms as superior or inferior to one another depending upon the criteria selected in each cyclical assessment.  Beyond the ego’s constant campaign to separate humanity into variously appealing, variously socially approved and variously designated subcategories, there is a united, all-inclusive class with access to the most rewarding experience available to humankind.  Its access to this rewarding experience is only exclusive to the extent that the class is all-inclusive.

One has to join this uppermost class voluntarily to encounter the experience of this highest possible reward but anyone and everyone can join.  No one is excluded who volunteers to join and does the one thing necessary to be included with full membership privileges.  That one thing is to shed his or her ego and step beyond the ego’s divisive, inherently conflict-perpetuating perspective to see the world through an ego-free lens as a universally unified and symbiotic experience for all forms of life.

Humility is the process needed to shed the ego.  Any who will humble himself or herself, give up his or her illusory and meaningless privileges as an ego and seek his or her true identity beyond the ego is welcome to join in the experience of unconditional love that flows freely and abundantly within this class.  It is a highest class act and attitude to join.  Humility is not a step down into the basement of life, as some mistake it to be.  In fact it is the stairway to heaven on Earth.   Pride and prejudice do not cause a person to ascend but rather to descend in privileges as measured by a person’s decreasing or increasing quality of experiences of love.

At love’s heights it is authenticity, integrity and humility that matter most — for all of every age, gender, gender orientation, sexual orientation, social status, marital status, financial status, race, nationality and creed.  Love is truly all we need and ego has no capacity to deliver it.  Just as no electrical energy passes through plastic or rubber, no energy of love transmits through the artificial identity we call the ego.  Ego insulates us from love.  Let’s let go of ego to know that love abounds infinitely and eternally for all of us.

© Art Nicol 2016

Arbitrary Power Expresses Maximum Powerlessness

News media reports the arbitrary use of power against innocent targets with increasing frequency. Why? Why do we hear of and see so many senseless expressions of power used to harm the least reasonable targets?  Because such expressions of power are symptomatic of an underlying social condition of perceived powerlessness.  Individuals who used to comfort themselves by associating in their minds with being part of a powerful group, team or nation no longer find comfort there because those opportunities for vicarious “power by association” are disappearing.  Traditions of parasitically drawing a sense of power by belonging to an unassailable, always winning group are crumbling.  In the absence of traditional temporary relief from secret (often unconscious) feelings of personal powerlessness and resulting frustrations about lack of control over one’s own destiny, individuals who are vulnerable to such feelings of powerlessness for whatever reason are popping to the surface with their frustrations in both planned and spontaneous acts of reactionary violence.

The USA population includes many frustrated people who no longer believe that they have power to influence the course of their lives and cause any improvement in their lives or the lives of others they care about.  The mythical American Dream of pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps and single-handedly achieving success on some terms valued by the achiever is a bubble that has burst.  Like the housing bubble, .com bubble and so many other illusions of permanent prosperity based on constant growth, the American Dream of continuously improving prosperity based on continuous expansion of the economy and of dominance by the USA empire around the world has burst.  We’d like to pretend to blame that bubble’s bursting in air on current leaders or even upon past leaders and comfort ourselves with renewed bombs bursting in air, but that’s another illusion.  The truth is that illusions are illusions and don’t last forever.

If an individual feels powerless, one way of compensating for his or her sense of powerlessness is to find convenient targets of sufficient weakness to inflict harm and pain upon in some way dramatically obvious that the “power to cause pain” flows from the individual according to his or her arbitrary willfulness.  “See how powerful I am?” is the message.  If the individual feels frustrated about not having his or her way in other areas of life, at least in this one area he or she is can assert unchallengeable dominance.  The more arbitrary the expression of power in relationship to any true justification for that expression of power, the more powerful the person feels temporarily.  It’s like a “fix” for that person.  Arbitrary use of power is addictive, a drug upon which the powerless person depends for relief.  Plus the more publicly the person gets away with his or her abuse of power, the more thrilling the expression of power becomes.  Targeting senseless victims for abuse becomes not only an addictive habit but a destructively meaningless hobby, sadistically amusing to the person who expresses power in this manner.  “Getting away with it” adds to the thrill of arbitrary power.  “Getting away with it in the open with no one being able to stop me” is the greatest thrill of all.  “Recruiting others to protect me while I am openly abusing power by harming innocent victims” also adds to the person’s false sense of power.

The emotional and mental inner workings of people who senselessly use power to harm or cause pain to others is not as much of a mystery to humans as we’d like to claim.  Most if not all of us have had occasion to be at least tempted to engage in such power dynamics as a way of compensating for the frustrations of our lives.  “Kicking the dog” in private is a minor expression of power for this purpose.  Punishing weak members of society for their acting out their own frustrations in public upon arbitrary victims is another expression of this power.

We much prefer to accuse others of doing what we’d likely do ourselves when the shoe is on the other foot and then inflict pain upon them as if to flagellate ourselves vicariously for participating in such a weakness.  The temptation is strong to point the finger at others and declare ourselves free of any related habits and hobbies.  It would be better for all of us if we’d spend at least as much time pointing the finger towards ourselves and confessing our own misunderstanding about power and how power to cause pain and harm to others is never a true expression of power.  It’s a game our egos play to express how undeserving of love we secretly believe we are and to convince us how much we are powerless to do anything about improving the condition of the society in which we live.  The ego lies.  True power is the power to help another person recover from having been the victim of arbitrary power or any other form of pain and find his or her path to freedom from otherwise, in turning the table, becoming an abuser of power too.  We must get up from that table and take no side of it. Instead we need to fashion campfires and other circles of reconciliation around which to gather as one village.  If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes this kind of transformed village to raise us all up to envision and share true power from another perspective.

If our nation is ever to stop abusing its power by subjecting weaker nations to pain and harm, we as individual citizens of our nation must undertake personally to adopt a different understanding of power and participate with wisdom in the alternative vision of power as a capacity to heal rather than to harm.

© Art Nicol 2016

The Patterns of Our Lives – Tarzan Lives in Us

How long ago was it that a generation of young adults listened to Simon and Garfunkel sing about life’s patterns?

The night sets softly
With the hush of falling leaves,
Casting shivering shadows
On the houses through the trees,
And the light from a street lamp
Paints a pattern on my wall,
Like the pieces of a puzzle
Or a child’s uneven scrawl.

Up a narrow flight of stairs
In a narrow little room,
As I lie upon my bed
In the early evening gloom.
Impaled on my wall
My eyes can dimly see
The pattern of my life
And the puzzle that is me.

From the moment of my birth
To the instant of my death,
There are patterns I must follow
Just as I must breathe each breath.
Like a rat in a maze
The path before me lies,
And the pattern never alters
Until the rat dies.

And the pattern still remains
On the wall where darkness fell,
And it’s fitting that it should,
For in darkness I must dwell.
Like the color of my skin,
Or the day that I grow old,
My life is made of patterns
That can scarcely be controlled.

Is it necessarily true that we are trapped in the established patterns of our lives?  Or is there an effective exit strategy we could adopt? Through that strategy may we come closer to solving “the puzzle that is me?”

The tale of Tarzan tells of the experiences of a man raised in the jungle by apes from boyhood and then later transported as an adult male to live among humans in a society supposedly more civilized than the apes enjoyed.   The man Tarzan struggles to adapt to his new society’s rules, roles and rituals after having learned the apes’ rules, roles and rituals by heart.  The apes’ 3 Rs had become engrained into his nature and controlled his thoughts and actions.  They did not necessarily mesh well with how humans expected Tarzan to think and act.  Tarzan’s story is about the choice to extend unchanged into adulthood patterns learned in childhood or to transform patterns and mature as necessary under changing circumstances.

As we are born into an ego’s jungle-like culture, we are raised by egos to conform to the ego’s rules, roles and rituals just as apes raised Tarzan to conform to the apes’.  Both egos and apes seek to survive amid competitive pressures by other life forms.  For any of us to become members of a culture other than the ego’s culture we must re-examine the rules, roles and rituals we adopted under ego’s training and change our patterns of thought and action to reflect the changed dominion under which we choose instead to live. In this case, to “change” is to intentionally nurture greater developmental maturity.

Without intending to disparage apes, I suggest that egos are a less desirable role model for human thought and action than apes are.  We can do better than mimic apes or egos.  To be more than the rat in a maze about which Simon and Garfunkel sang, we need to move beyond the choices that Tarzan faced to struggle with a more radical choice of altered life-orientation – a more radical process of intentionally nurtured maturation that excels beyond the ego’s orientation of arrested development.  There are patterns we must follow to remain loyally conformed to the ego’s orientation as mere immature survivalist who manage to hang onto life long enough to say we lived a long life.

If it matters that we attain a quality of life more enriching than the egos’ quality and express our capacity to share such a more satisfying life sustainably together with all of us “naked apes,” the ego’s patterns of arrested development will not work.  It’s time to admit that the ego requires that we dwell in darkness as if destined forever to scramble and claw blindly along confusing paths in a maze of futility — while seeking endlessly for that never-to-be-discovered, elusive cheese.  With all of the ego’s patterns, the outcome ultimately is a decreasing quality of life coupled with an increasing sense of life’s being helplessly out of our control.  Must we end up being the cheese that stands alone?

To emerge from darkness, we need to let go of all aspects of our egos and allow the alternative to ego’s orientation to express itself progressively into more complete maturity or wholeness in our lives.  So long as we cling defensively to our egos and the ego’s patterns, in the deepening darkness of fear’s increasingly rigid grasp we will dwell.  We each have within us the power to rise into the light instead.  Our individual and collective choice of radically upgraded meaning, purpose and direction for our lives makes all the difference!  Without intending to offend farming lifestyles or any other traditional lifestyles, we need to intentionally develop a culture for humanity that does not eventually relegate some its members to its margins as lonely chunks of cheese.

© Art Nicol 2016

Let’s Address the Root Cause of Racism, Sexism and Other Egoisms

Many and vocal are the voices speaking out today against institutional or systemic racism in the USA.  A growing awareness emerges that the racism once thought adequately addressed by the civil rights movement decades ago still prevails beneath the surface.  Racism may have gone underground and become harder to pin down because of the camouflage it has acquired, but it is still operative in the United States. Like a virulent virus it has formed new strains that resist detection and eradication.

I propose here to shed some light on why this is true.  Will this light be all the light needed to illuminate this topic?  Hardly likely.  But perhaps it will help some see more clearly the patterns that support racism and the treatment necessary to eradicate those patterns. To keep things simple I will draw upon Martin Luther King Jr.’s insights as starting points.  The overarching pattern I observe is that we’ve not taken MLK Jr.’s insights to heart and applied them rigorously as far as they would take us if we did so. Having abandoned any commitment we may have once felt to be inspired to action by MLK Jr’s words, we now reap the consequences of abandoning his principles instead of remaining faithful to them while traveling together along the full length to which they would otherwise have taken us.  To eradicate institutional racism we need to apply the antidote of principles espoused by MLK Jr. until they work their miracle of transformation fully.

First, I start with this observation made by Martin Luther King Jr.: “Morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless.” We have failed to admit to ourselves that laws may repress undesired actions but that they have never changed the underlying motives for socially destructive actions.  Repression by punishment, sanctions, consequences, etc. forces the motivating attitudes underground.  “Don’t ever let me catch you behaving that way again, young man!” berates a parent to a wayward son.  Some sons change their attitudes within and do not misbehave again.  Many sons simply become sneakier to make sure that their parents do not catch them misbehaving again but do not actually cease to misbehave.  They learn to misbehave in ways not as readily detected by their parents.  Thus it has been with making racism illegal.  A change of heart is needed, even among the heartless.  It is not enough to threaten to punish or impose consequences upon the heartless for misbehaving.  Their thrills come from defying authority and seeing how craftily they can get away with misbehaving.  It’s an ego-driven game with rewards of its own.  We fail to admit that anyone who has become heartless on account of themselves having been treated heartlessly is likely to have become immune to change forced upon him or her by additional painful consequences.  We need to stop the insane practice of trying to out-bully bullies (both within our nation and beyond).

If we are to truly learn anything from our decades of utterly failing to eradicate racism, it must include the insight that passage and enforcement of laws, no matter how artfully worded or rigorously enforced they may be, will not eradicate racism.  What might the alternative be?  How are the heartless transformed to consider being and then actually daring to become less heartless?  How do we release ourselves from the prisons of heartlessness within which  we seek to survive and instead make wholehearted empathy and compassion new prevailing norms in the USA?  Surely we will not try to legislate empathy and compassion.

Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream about the alternative I have in mind: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”  He took the risk of dying while doing his part to make his dream come true, not merely for his children but for all children.  And the risk he took materialized and he was silenced.  We have repeated his dream speech many times since then.  But as Eliza Doolittle sings in My Fair Lady, “Words, words, words, I’m so sick of words. Is that all you blighters can do?”  Words frequently repeated but rarely applied become slogans that lose their meaning.  MLK Jr. was not a “blighter” who failed to put his words into meaningful, sustained action.  Many of those who repeat his words contribute to the social blight of racism by being “blighters” who do fail to “walk the talk” as 12-steppers might say.  Instead we tend to relapse into our egostic pursuits of choice and fall off the wagon of transformation needed to actually accomplish social justice.  We are seduced in part by the appeal of social approval to which we remain addicted, an appeal to remain safely hunkered down in the crowd rather than to stick out our necks.

So it has been with MLK Jr.’s inspired dream.  It died amid droning repetition of the words not matched by their vigorous application in our lives.  His dream inspired and challenged us when he first revealed it.  It does so yet today.  But we have failed to respond.  That is our failure.  That is our own heartlessness revealed in stubborn apathy and resignation to the way things are as if that’s how things will inevitably always be.  Until we overcome our own failure to respond and transform our own hearts, we are part of the problem and have no standing to prosecute those whose hearts remain hardened along with ours but whose violent actions, both overt and covert, remain expressed without restraint.  To end the torrent of racism eroding our nation, each of us must cease to contribute our little stream of heartlessness and add instead our most wholehearted rivulet-grown-to-river participation in the alternative of which MLK Jr. dreamt and spoke and for which he lived fully until his life was cut short.  We must stop resisting forward motion and instead begin relentlessly persisting in it.

Are we willing to fully and persistently participate in the alternative society that offers the only solution to systemic racism? Do children’s lives matter?  To what degree?  Are we willing to risk it all for the possibility that the children who matter to us will grow up to live in a nation that does not judge them by the color of their skin nor by any other superficial and unworthy criteria?  MLK Jr. said “No one really knows why they are alive until they know what they’d die for.”  Are we willing to lay down our lives for the sake of the children on whatever terms we are called to lay them down?

I suggest to you that dying for a cause is not the more difficult way to lay down your life.  The more difficult ways of laying down one’s life involve continuing to live in the face of intense fears with the courage of one’s convictions no matter how unpopular those convictions may be in the minds of others.  We must be willing to put at risk the very social approval by which our thinking, speech and actions are too often unconsciously censured, shaped and stylized.  Once again, participating in public rallies, cheering (or even being) inspirational speakers and generally repeating the patterns of the civil rights and anti-war movements of the past are in vogue.  Missing are the rigorously probing self-examination and repentance that will help us all let go of our attitudes and beliefs that support racism, sexism, heterosexism, ethnocentrism and other forms of egoism so as to deprive institutional and systemic expressions of those dehumanizing “isms” of support.  Doubtlessly, MLK Jr. engaged in such self-examination and repentance.  His private process of rigorously examining his own character to root out pockets of hypocrisy must become our own process.

To examine our institutions for signs of any “ism” (including the scourge of intellectualism) while failing to examine ourselves — as citizens of a republic who staff, patronize, support and give legitimacy to our institutions — for attitudes and beliefs that perpetuate all forms of “isms” is to fail once again to learn the lessons of history and doom ourselves to repeat them.  Is our only goal to change the current flavor our egoism or to eradicate it entirely in all flavors?  Will it be unpopular to call for examination of our individual and collective character so as to be capable of judging ourselves by the content of our character instead of by the color of our skin, age, ethnicity, religion, gender/gender orientation, sexual orientation, economic class, educational level, marital status, family type, etc.?  Yes, but MLK Jr. had an insight for us here too: “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”  He, she, we . . . let’s not quibble about pronouns now.  We have more important issues to address.  As writer Walter Kelly once said long ago through Pogo, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

The overarching pattern that we must address radically, at its roots, is the pattern of the ego’s dominance in our personal lives and elsewhere throughout our nation.  The ego is based on fear.  Fear is the opposite of love, which the ego has zero capacity to honor and share.  Love is an anathema to the ego.  Yet, love is also the antidote to fear because it is the only true alternative to fear.  Fear corrupts our character, causes our hearts to harden and seduces us by alternative temptations to not be true to ourselves and to stray from our paths of transformation.  We must apply the antidote of love rigorously as compassionately necessary to ourselves and to our neighbors without judgment or condemnation until all fear is released and we rise up together as “one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”  Again repeating words makes us numb to their meaning unless we live them out radically through our own lives as if the welfare of the children depends on us.  It does.

If we truly desire with all our hearts to lean not upon our own understanding, it is time to trust in the Higher Power from whom divine love flows for guidance, humble ourselves to shed our egos, forsake all attitudes of pride and shame as well as guilt and blame, and listen within our hearts to the still small voice of wisdom we’ve so rigorously repressed that our consciences barely make themselves heard.  That’s our choice.  I invite us all to join in participating in the radical healing of our nation of all the pain that our various forms of “isms” have inflicted upon us all, more upon some than upon others, but not sparing any of us. May we find within us our innate capacity to forgive ourselves and each other and rise up together — not to seek vengeance one against another but instead to seek victory in which we are all included.

I end now with one last quote from Martin Luther King Jr.: “Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.”  That is the attitude that will save us from all of our less worthy attitudes and beliefs by which we’ve beset ourselves with violence by seeing each other as separate and unforgivably wrong, even as if some form of competitor if not an enemy combatant.  Can we love and forgive our competition and our enemies, both those whom we find within our hearts in residence because they caused us pain in the past and we’ve not yet forgiven them as well as those who remain external to us but also remain unforgiven?  Martin Luther King Jr. shared inspiring words about the power of persistently applied love as the ultimate solution but I’ll leave that quote for you to find.

© Art Nicol 2016

Let’s Not Yet Dismiss Jesus As Impotent and Irrelevant

In the United States, we are surrounded by massive evidence proving beyond all reasonable doubt that Jesus is condemned to impotence and irrelevance within a nation that claims to adhere to consumerism-gutted Christian celebrations such as Easter and Christmas and accounts for large, if dwindling, attendance at churches who give lip service to Jesus as the divine entity they honor.  The overwhelming majority of jurors gathering at such places of worship have declared Jesus to be irrelevant as well as impotent within their lifestyles.  They prefer to substitute a watered down, plastic, artificially distanced version of Jesus in place of his living vitality at work within their hearts and minds.  They prefer to hold Jesus in a social chokehold, silence his voice and condemn him to a life sentence of imprisonment within their egos as they bar the door against wholehearted surrender to his call upon their lives.

Every foreperson of every jury handpicked by the prosecution in favor of violent reactions to other people’s violence has declared the verdict:  Jesus is “Guilty as charged” and condemned to oblivion!  Jesus has been on trial across our nation for generations and is now presumed to be guilty of irrelevance and impotence until proven innocent, of which proof there scarce is hope. The only evidence he ever sought to leave on Earth was the evidence provided through the lives of wholehearted followers in his footsteps.  Today few followers are willing to seek the faded signs of his divergent path among the crowded ways along which as lemmings we scramble towards the cliffs over which others have flung themselves. Thus the evidence he seeks to reveal is faint because we are faint-hearted.

The prevailing presumption in favor of Jesus’ impotence and irrelevance is the predictable outcome of our devoting the resources of our legal systems throughout our lands to exacting retribution for every perceived wrong committed by one person against another through all forms of legal process, both criminal and civil.  In the face of Jesus’ model of forgiveness, despite claiming to be a Christian nation, not one state within our Federal system offers its citizens the opportunity to experiment with non-retributive responses to wrongdoing across the board as a systematic norm.  Occasional programs of restorative justice and mediation notwithstanding, the social norm of a retribution-purposed legal system offers little room for Jesus’ voice.  His has once again become a voice crying in the wilderness.  This time that wilderness is our nation of violence and knee-jerk tendencies to use the law to augment personal anger into a national tragedy and twist all legal proceedings into venues for personal revenge.

In Romans 12:2, followers of Jesus are (note: “are” not “were”) admonished, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”  In willful disregard of this admonition, the vast majority of those who claim to honor Jesus prefer to react to wrongs with the same patterns of thoughts, words and actions as the mainstream society around them.  Patterns socially engrained in our thinking since infancy are not readily uprooted.  Like dandelions casually yanked up by their tops, they spring back from deeply buried roots. They are tenacious weeds eradicated only by persistent application of the Holy Spirit as the universal herbicide for the mistake of putting our minds “upon the things of man instead of upon the things of God.”

Based on worldly patterns, we allow the early stage of grief commonly recognized to be “anger” to motivate our actions in response to wrongs we perceive to have been done to us and to others towards whom we feel protective.  Anger is the mainstream, deeply rooted pattern of motivation behind both criminal and civil “remedies.”  Although called “remedies” as if they offer some form of healing, they are not remedies but reminders of the vicious outcomes of cycles of violence perpetuated by anger.  They are institutionalized, socially conformist forms of revenge not anything close to what Jesus presented as the model response to wrongs of criminal or civil nature.

As an innocent human being, Jesus was subjected to harsh treatment as if he were a criminal.  Amidst that cruelty, as he hung at the behest of religious leaders of his era on a form of torturous death popular among the politically powerful, he hung there between two others condemned to the same cruelly prolonged death for their petty crimes.  There Jesus continued to minister mercy, acknowledging the humility of one of his cross-hung compatriots by welcoming him as a guest of Jesus in paradise.  Throughout his ministry on Earth, Jesus encountered, healed and welcomed many whom the mainstream, religiously self-justifying, status-quo-reserving law-abiders called “sinners” and would have stoned to death or banished from their “good company.”  He dared then to say (and would say again today howsoever unpopular it might make him), “And neither do I condemn you” to the woman caught in adultery (having no opportunity to say the same to her male collaborator in adultery since no one sought to stone him at the moment of the story preserved in the Bible).

On another occasion, Jesus taught that the person who visited an inmate in prison was counted among those who had ministered unto him.  It is doubtful that he had in mind that such a visitor would go to the prison to chastise and condemn the inmate as if he or she were chastising and condemning Jesus.  More likely, Jesus expected the visitor to show mercy upon the inmate and share kindness and other acts of mercy with the inmate as Jesus would have done.  He would have visited the inmate as an expression of God’s unconditional love.  How do we view and treat those we incarcerate or others whom we relegate to the margins of society as undesirables? How rigid is our caste system?  To what extent do we dare violate it?

In modern society (one that ironically we claim to be a civil one), we function like a gang of mobsters. We who claim privilege status within the “gang” we call society do not directly sully our hands in the dirty work of harming others.  We hire agents to do the dirty work, just as any seasoned gang leader does.  We hire prosecutors with orientations as bullies who lust for power and hunger to exercise dominion over others to accuse and condemn members of our society as scapegoats to contrast to the heroes we hold up as paragons of virtue.  Sometimes we are so disappointed with our heroes that we topple them off the media-elevated pedestals upon which we had previously installed them and cast them down as scapegoats of the most useful kind.  The media profits from both these false elevations to and the subsequent sensationalized falls from social grace.  In contrast, regardless of the judgment of people in dispensing social grace for temporary, shallow, self-serving reasons, God’s divine grace remains relentlessly extended to us all — howsoever others may judge and condemn us.  Such is an example of the pattern of the world as we put our minds not upon the way of Jesus as an exemplar of God’s way but upon some alternative our egos in our fear prefer.

Followers of the ways of the world who conform mindlessly to its patterns are not following the one who walked the Earth as Jesus, suffered upon the cross of social condemnation to demonstrate his divinity and would even today lead us all to co-create heaven here and now upon this Earth if only we would follow him in all our thoughts, words and deeds.  To do so, as Paul wisely and insightfully observed, we could not allow our minds to remain imprisoned within the patterns of worldly thought of our current, ego-confined, adolescent society but would instead intentionally and relentlessly allow our minds to be renewed by the power of the Holy Spirit until our every thought, word and deed revealed the perfect will of God as mature children of God according to our true identity.

As one who had throughout his life on Earth grown in “wisdom and stature in the eyes of man [and woman] and God,” Jesus’ life revealed the will of God in his thinking, speaking and acting.  We are called to do likewise to overcome our identity crisis and refuse to linger any longer in it.  To fulfill our high calling as inheritors of the Kingdom of Love, we must divest our energies from the false calling of condemning others and re-invest these God-given energies with steadfast, uncompromising devotion of our hearts, minds, bodies and souls to ministering to the “least of these” as if each and every one of them is Jesus – without even one exception our egos would prefer to make because we are afraid to appear foolish in the eyes of those who conform to the patterns of the world.  Whom would Jesus reject from his ministry?  Which social leper do we condemn as if he would?

One pattern most fondly adhered to by the world who condemns Jesus to impotence and irrelevancy is the pattern of carving out exceptions to the lifestyle principles he both espoused and modeled.  If you claim to believe in Jesus, follow him as he has called you to do, not compromisingly or lukewarmly – at risk of being spit out of his mouth – but instead radically, wholeheartedly and passionately as if Jesus is not only your savior but your Lord as well.  Allow fear to carve out no exceptions to his mercy and grace lest you discover that the exception you carve out also encompasses you.  Seek full release from the pain you struggle to deny you feel as you fail to live according to your true identity as a child of God. It is that pain that causes you to believe you are being punished and sustains the guilt you feel.  That pain is not punishment.  It is merely the natural result of not allowing yourself to expand beyond your ego’s concerns and undertake your own growth in stature and wisdom.  It is the pain an eagle’s developing chick feels while confined within its egg.  Struggle to peck your way free of the ego’s imprisoning shell.  In the pattern of your creation, you are like Jesus, destined to grow relentlessly in your unique expression of God’s grace.  It is painful to allow your socially reinforced fears to stunt your growth and confine yourself within your ego as if it were your identity.  The ego is a false identity.  You are a good egg but more than an ego.  Accept your true identity as a sibling of Jesus within God’s family and let go of the pain of denying that identity.  Through letting go of your ego, you will discover the freedom from painful guilt and shame your heart desires.

No longer be careless about your heart’s desire to do the right thing even when it is socially unpopular to do so.  Instead care less about the opinions of those still entrapped in the judgmental attitudes of their egos and care more about the judgment of Jesus upon your life.  Seek his mercy as you extend yours.  Let divine love be perfected within you as it was perfect in Jesus so that love casts out all fears that might otherwise falsely convince you that some exceptions to the universal extension of unconditional love to all have merit.  Argue with if you must (as most of us do!) but eventually do not defy your Friend and Master.  Surrender to his loving, merciful wisdom so as to come to know your true, forgiven, grace-empowered nature as God’s child ever as much as Jesus knew and knows his own.  That is what it means to belong to him.  It is the path to service by which you come to know the fullest joy life offers.  It is the pathway to relief from grief that otherwise lingers when it need no longer linger.

To whose pattern do we conform?  Whose view of us matters most to us?  To whose image and likeness do we seek to conform so as to beam the radiance of God’s grace across the heartscape of our nation’s ills and bring forth relational healing instead of condemnation?  We have a choice between the pattern of the fear-filled, fear-controlled ego or the pattern of the love-embodying, love-surrendered follower of Jesus. Let go of ego’s reign and embrace the reign of love offered to you unconditionally by God through Jesus.

In that manner, let your heart not be troubled, nor let it be afraid that upon your death bed you’ll find yourself alone, while drowning in regrets and awash with grief you could have faced and overcome so many years earlier.  Why let the anger of grief rob you of years of peace, hope and joy that await you here on earth as a gift?  Accept the gift.  Linger no longer in the darkness of your prolonged grievances. Instead allow the light of love to shine forth from within you as you know in your heart you can and desire.

The impotence and irrelevancy you choose to assign to Jesus is actually a false belief in your own impotence and irrelevancy.  Neither you nor Jesus is impotent or irrelevant when you team up to respond with grace, mercy and love by faith in the Divine Parent whom Jesus called “Abba.”  The time of the grace of our Father/Mother God/Goddess is upon us.  Accept and embrace who you are and cease to hide isolated in the shadows as if you are impotent and irrelevant to making a difference in how others experience their lives.  Join love’s revolution as a welcome member of the team who wholeheartedly, without reservation embrace Jesus as our wayshower.  And find yourself welcomed home as you welcome others as your sisters and your brothers.

© Art Nicol 2016

Affinity for Divinity

Within each of us is an affinity for divinity. Why?  Because we are each “originally” created as an expression of the divine and yearn deep within us to return to our roots.  (By “originally” I mean both “from the beginning” and “as a uniquely distinctive expression of the Creator – a one-of-a-kind original.” That’s a paradox of our existence:  we are each uniquely, distinctively different and yet we are all also united as one within the human race according to universal qualities we all share.  We, as the entire, eternally interconnected human species, express diversity within unity to express all of the Divine Source with Whom we are eternally united as one.  As Divine Love flows through us we reveal the Divine Source’s nature and favor towards us.)

Our yearning to be free to be and express who we truly are is surging up from within us from our roots.  Within us the S.A.P. we are (Spiritually Anointed People) rises relentlessly to the surface, as surely as in northern climates the sap in trees rises to renew life each spring.  By acknowledging our yearning and cultivating, watering and nurturing the soul-soil within which our roots thrive, we encourage our depth of yearning to rise closer and closer to the surface until it emerges into expression within our daily lives and blossoms here as us – who we each are and who we collectively as the human species or “humanity” are. (Within the sequence of time here on Earth, some of us will rise up before others but eventually we will all rise up so that time and space will matter less and less because our eternal and infinitely powerful divine nature will have come online collectively.)

We are inherently and resolutely as determined to know our own divinity (divine identity), be true to it and express it as dandelions are to rise again from the slightest bit of root or tiniest of wind-borne seed.  When our divinity emerges collectively, as a human race we will cease to engage in oppression, exploitation and conflict towards each other and be unstoppably resilient and brilliant as caregivers for all forms of life within and around us.  Until then we’ll simply fail time after time to achieve our heartfelt dreams and desires to end violence because being untrue to ourselves is the ultimate violence and guaranties our failure to achieve lasting peace.  To paraphrase Shakespeare, we must know our true identity – our authenticity – and be true to it at least simultaneously with, if not before, being false to no one else.  As we learn to be honest with and accept others non-judgmentally, we learn to be honest with and accept ourselves non-judgmentally.  This is the feedback loop process for recovering awareness of our true identity.  Acceptance of others leads to greater acceptance of self, which in turn leads to greater acceptance of others, etc. – all with growing inner peace as well as outer peace.  Thus we implement the principle “As within, so without.”

Before we rise up to blossom as we truly are in fulfillment of our own hearts’ desire and of The Divine’s will for us as beloved children of The Divine Source of Life, we are buried beneath the illusions and false images the world of fear teaches us to worship as survivors but not thrivers.  To thrive we must come alive as who we truly are and dare to share our true identity with at least one other and then more and more with all others as sisters and brothers in the same divine family.  It is irresistible, this urge to emerge and share!

Recently I’ve been thinking again about how this emergency took place in my life.  Emergence felt like an emergency because it felt urgent to my heart that I emerge and it felt threatening to my ego that I might emerge as me from behind the cloaking device my ego had become as my social image.  Pride and shame held me back, inhibited my emergence and tried to thwart my fulfillment in living true to who I am.  After living many years as an ego and hiding within the social roles egos train us to play, it upset many people who had known me in my ego roles to behold the real me emerging.  “What’s wrong with you, Art?” they’d ask, if not overtly to my face then privately to themselves and perhaps as well to others.   What was “wrong” with Art was that I was no longer willing to play charades and hide myself from others.  The process of emerging was awkward, more awkward than it need be for others if only we’d all welcome such emergences more openly and not do our best to control or even repress them as unwelcome challenges to the status quo within which we profess ourselves to be so comfortable.  Repressive social reactions on the part of frightened conformists delay and even disfigure emergences.  Being scalded by shame and blame wounds our hearts and can leave long-lasting scars.

I was no longer comfortable with hiding within the status quo as a conformist. I was troubled by my affinity to divinity.  I did not know my troubled waters initially by such a concept.  I did not know how to identify my troubled state.  Indeed, I was more inclined to ask of myself “What’s wrong with you, Art?” than to claim the truth that something miraculous and beautiful was happening – something possibly more “right” than yet understood let alone socially acceptable.  Today I hope to be here to encourage others to emerge beyond merely surviving within ego’s fearful darkness to enjoy thriving within the love-bathed lightness of wholeness, authenticity and integrity.  We need to give each other emotional support as we emerge as authentic but diverse expressions of the divine instead of bashing each other for being different. Let us learn to bathe wounds rather than bash the wounded, wash away grief rather than wander astray and wallow in its initial stages of denial, anger, bargaining and depression.

For each of us, the process of emerging is motivated in some way by our affinity for divinity.  Yet, our identifying links with divinity may differ.  Mine is merely an example of what may be possible for all of us.  If your links to divinity are of a nature similar to mine, I welcome you to share your experiences with me and others.  If, however, your links to divinity are of a different nature, please honor them as well and feel equally welcome to share them.  Perhaps in our sharing we will find the common threads and themes that link us all.

As briefly as I can manage let me describe linking themes I have traced throughout my life that opened doors to phases of my emergence:

First Theme: I will call this linking theme my desire to enjoy relationships with authors and other storytellers, both of fiction and nonfiction.  Throughout my life, I have enjoyed reading, listening to and watching stories that are well presented and have depth and breadth of symbolic meaning.  Allegories and metaphors need not dominate but a story that reveals patterns of human thinking, emotions and character development intrigues me.  Call them archetypes, themes or common patterns, their presence revealed within a story captures my imagination and draws me inward to participate in the experiences of characters in the story.  My imagination allows me to “there” with the characters even while remaining “here” in my own life.  Truth be known, sometimes I tend to become more “lost” in the story than remain aware of my surroundings. Ironically it is my tendency to become so lost in my imagination that allowed me to encounter my true identity and recover from having mislaid and forgotten it as ego’s social training taught me to do.

I became lost in stories told by others to become found in my own living story.  I now realize that my whole life has been symbolic and in some way identified with the common allegories and archetypes of humanity.  (It is likely that you will find your life story is as well.) In some ways, my awakening to this realization while surrounded by many people who do not yet realize that it is also true for them caused me to feel lonely.  I yearn for the companionship of others with whom to share my story and listen to theirs too.  Knowing that every one of us has a story worth sharing has held up to me a path from loneliness to more expansive connections with others past, present and future.  The Eternity of Divinity embraces all time frames and is part of the divinity for which I now feel such affinity.  I began as an expression of an eternal story and now know myself as continuing to be such an expression.

Among the many story tellers who have encouraged me to grow increasingly aware of my nature as a child of God none has been more influential than Jesus.  The stories he told that remain in our records are likely not the only ones he told.  His whole life remains largely an untold story buried beneath myths and legends that have been layered on by various story tellers’ for a variety of purposes.  What marvels my imagination most is that the most outlandishly generous and merciful of the stories of Jesus’ life are the most likely to be true.  Within stories of helpful Samaritans, prodigal sons, women at wells, women at risk of being stoned, reviled tax collectors and others honored to share meals and the like, I found myself invited to imagine what it might be like to have known Jesus as a disciple walking with him as he revealed and shared the nature of his Father as the Divine Parent of us all.  Through my imagination my heart tapped into inspirations that gave birth to actions that taught me much by experience that formal, ego-censored education could not show me.

Second Theme:  I will call this linking theme my desire to be helpful.  Perhaps mostly as a result of my middlish position among seven siblings and my desire to earn my parents’ attention, appreciation and approval, I acquired the disposition and habit of being helpful early in life and could not shirk it afterwards.  I believe that this habit was hard to break because it is rooted in the nature of the Divine Source of Life.  The Source is disposed to helpfulness and habitually helps us whether or not we ask.  As this second theme shaped my development from childhood throughout adulthood, I stumbled along, many times failing, as how to be most helpful was revealed to me.  Throughout my life, I had to change many of my ways of offering helpfulness to more closely correspond to how divine aid is offered, but I could not shake off the desire to be helpful even when I became discouraged about ever learning how to be helpful in truly helpful, lasting ways.  Just as Edison experimented with many materials as he searched for ones to serve as filaments in his early light bulbs, I experimented with ways of helpfulness that shed little light or burned out all too readily.  There are ways to help as the Divine Benevolent One helps, to be an extension of Divine Benevolence as Jesus was while walking upon the earth, and to shed a warm and gentle light to radiate within the darkness of a violence-tossed and troubled world.   Mastering how to do so remains one of my primary goals.  Stories of those who have done so gracefully and effectively throughout the ages continue to inspire and guide me.

Third Theme:  I will call this linking theme my desire to share.  Again this theme began when I was growing up amid seven siblings and observed that if we did not share, there’d not be much left for the smaller and less aggressive ones of us.  Thus, sharing began as a survival principle.  Later it morphed into a principle by which to thrive as me as I discovered that the Divine Source of Life had created and still creates all that is by sharing Divinity with all.  Organic, natural sustainability models itself on the Divine.  In time, I learned how to engage in feedback loops with the Divine and my fellow human beings and to enjoy the empowering unity that such feedback loops generate.  My life has been enriched by sharing all that I receive. I know now with certainty what I had previously only believed was possibly true – that giving and receiving are the same thing, a unified and unifying process we call “sharing.”  The Golden Rule rules our whole lives as surely as the Law of Gravity rules our physical existence.  Whether or not our affinity for divinity will ever defy gravity I do not know except to say that the gravest and weightiest of earthly problems seem to grow lighter as we approach their solutions from the perspective of Eternity.  In my experiences, the Creator has turned out to be more lighthearted than I was initially led to believe.

These three themes have grown over my lifetime as branches of a stout and sometimes fruitful tree. Within those branches I have found myself nourished, nurtured and lifted beyond the ego’s mind-clouding fogs of pain and confusion into awareness of my own identity as a child of God.  My discovery of my divine identity led me to discover FIRELIGHT as an acronym to partially summarize my story.  Faith Initiates Rising to Excellence by Learning to Implement God’s Highest Truth. What is that Truth?  That we are each and every one of us without exception a child of God, by whatever name we may refer to such a Supreme Parent or Source of Life.  (And by whatever names – deriding or uplifting – that we have from time to time called ourselves and have been called by others.)

When I call this ultimate Truth “highest” I also mean it is the deepest, reaching to the taproot of our creation within which all our roots are joined.  Designed to explore the truth of divine love within the depths of our beings, we are also designed to express this truth within our relationships from the most intimate ones outward in ever-expanding circles of new life.  Ours is a love story, a story of mutually helpful beings designed by Divine Love to grow in evermore powerful capacities to express and share love in ever-ascending, upward spiraling feedback loops – giving and receiving as a unified Divine Companion and Loved One for our Creator. “As the Creator Is so We Are.”  We are here on earth to discover what that observation means and how to live according to it in all the fullness of our beings.

(For more about FIRELIGHT, please visit the Firelight SJL tab above.)

© Art Nicol 2016