Tag Archives: empowerment

Hating Our Helpers

As we were raised to believe ourselves to be false identities called “egos,” we were raised within a system of reward and punished to conform to the ego’s rules prevailing at the time of our upbringing.  As these rules changed throughout our lifetime, we’ve done our best to adjust to the changes based on the same core principles of reward and punishment.  We seek reward and avoid punishment as best we can, unless we become convinced that there is reward in being punished, a reversal that happens often.

The twisting changes required of us to adjust our actions and reactions to conform to the unstable rules of the ego eventually twist each of us into a pretzel of confusion and despair.  We become convinced that there is no way to sort out the twists and turns of our lives and move forward along a simpler, straightforward path.  Convinced of the futility of sorting out the confusion we’ve adjusted to, we seek instead to become masters of the realm of confusion – by whatever dishonest means our mastery must be achieved.  Although it is impossible to consistently enjoy mastering confusion as our way of life, we seek as best we can to do so on the basis of reaping as many rewards and avoiding as many punishing consequences of mistakes as we can.  This is the ego’s game.  Within it, pride is a reward and shame a punishment. There are other rewards and punishments, too.  Our goal becomes to experience as much pride and avoid as much shame as we can manage. It’s an impossible task to achieve with any degree of reliability, but we’ll silence anyone who attempts to tell us that we’ve not done it well enough.

There are many ways to silence those who might tell at that our egos’ efforts to amass pride and avoid shame are inadequate.  All of them are forms of punishment we seek to allocate to others of whom we do not approve because we believe that they do not approve of us.  Within the ego’s realm, social approval becomes our demigod. We reward those of whom we approve and punish those of whom we do not.  How we allocate rewards and punishments reveals how we judge ourselves and the values we hold dearest.  Yet, we prefer to think that we are judging others and evaluating their values instead.  We are blind to our truths and the manner in which we reveal them in twisted ways as we struggle through life according to the ego’s pretzel plan.

Thus it is that we come to hate those who truly try to help us unravel the ego’s pretzel plan and straighten out our lives to live in simpler, egoless ways.  Actually it is our egos that hate being uncloaked and exposed in this way.  It feels painful to have our egos revealed to us.  It feels harsh and cruel simply because one of the ego’s main agenda items is to remain unseen and unchallenged.  When a helpful person challenges our ego, the challenge causes us to look at what the ego prefers we do not see.  Because we’ve come to completely identify with our ego as if it is truly who we are, we believe that the ego’s shortcomings are our flaws, even our “sins.” The ego’s reaction is defensive, an attempt to make the helper regret having offended our ego.

To defend our ego (as if we defending our true nature instead of a false substitute), we may directly attack the helper in ways to make the helper feel pain or we may dismiss the helper in some manner to avoid having to deal with him or her.  We justify our defensive maneuvers by the ego’s primary justification:  “It’s not fair,” so the ego says, “for ‘me’ to feel shame or guilt or any other painful emotion that it has taken ‘me’ so much effort to deny exists.”  So long as we allow our ego to think, decide, communicate and act for us, we will remain confused and at the mercy of the ego’s pretzel plan.

The helper’s dilemma is that the shame or guilt that the helper brings to light by challenging the ego is already at work within the person being helped.  It’s already buried in that person’s heart undermining that person’s health and happiness.  Yet, the burdened person does not know of this buried toxin and continues to deny its existence as best he or she can by resorting to the ego’s standard operating procedures.  “Do not be that honest with me,” cries the burdened person whose ego-based reactions are rooted in fear.  The burdened person mistakes the honest helper for the person who originally inflicted the pain and now attacks or dismisses the helper as the burdened person could not (but would have liked to) attack or dismiss the pain-inflicter earlier in his or her life.

No truly helpful person can avoid triggering painful memories and raising to awareness buried painful emotions from their tombs within the burdened person’s heart.  These tombs are hallowed ground, enshrined pockets of holiness within the burdened person’s heart.  To help a burdened person to resume being aware of his or her true nature as an innocent, holy child of Love, the helper must eventually lead the burdened person to look at and address these buried pockets of his or her heart and resurrect the qualities of life entombed there.

So long as the ego is allowed to maintain its guardianship of these entombed qualities of tender holiness, the burdened person will remain burdened by buried grief and a victim of his or her own perceived grievances because he or she will remain blind to his or her natural innocence and holiness — as well as to the natural innocence and holiness of others.  The ego insists that none of us is innocent and holy.  It insists instead that all of us are guilty and unholy, often beyond redemption no matter how great may be the power of redemption that is available.  Its final defense is often to assert that the helper may be an exception to the rule and be in fact innocent and holy (a “saint” says the ego with scorn) but the burdened person cannot also be that way.  From the perspective of that defensive posture within which the burdened person must remained condemned by his or her own ego, the burdened person hates and distrusts the helper all the more.  Thus those who seek to lead us into awareness of the sacred life we all share suffer at the hands of egos the consequences of their efforts.

Let us salute those who risk being helpers who challenge the ego’s dominion at whatever risk to their own well-being may appear to happen.  Jesus risked his own physical existence as a helper who challenged the conformist traditions of the egos of his day.  Yet, what he risked losing was nothing compared to what he ultimately revealed is true of all of us.  None of us are defined by or confined to our bodies as the sum and substance of our lives.  As A Course in Miracles states more than once for emphasis, “I am not a body.  I am free for I am still as God created me.”  This insight is as true for you as it is for me as it ever was and still is for Jesus.

Let us confront our ego’s habits of crucifying those who come along to help us become free of our egos.  Let us no longer hate those who seem to be such radical enemies of our egos and embrace them as lovers of our spirits who help our spirits rise free of ego’s tombs to soar into the light of God’s love – even while yet experiencing and expressing ourselves through bodily forms.  In truth we have no enemies.  Only our egos can perceive of our fellow pilgrims on the planet as anything but friends and helpmates.  An honest helper is merely one whom we’ve dared to trust so much that he or she takes the risk of being honest with us and touches our heart with love — even when the touch reminds us of hurts we’ve tried so hard to forget we carry in our hearts.  We are not betrayed when we allow our hurting hearts to be revealed and brought to the light of divine love’s healing and redemption.

© Art Nicol 2016

R.I.P. – God is the Lap of Luxury

How much better off everyone would be if we were each to accept the gift of intimacy that God offers all of us!  This gift is a crown of purest golden love bejeweled with many precious gems of wisdom.  It adorns both our minds and our hearts to interconnect us within ourselves and with each other wholeheartedly in peace, hope and joy.  As children of the Reigning Monarch who Creates Universes, while we accept this royal gift as our natural inheritance, we need not die to receive it.  Not does it do anyone good to try to kill God to usurp the throne of grace and take it from Him/Her.  We need only be willing to thrive beyond our wildest hopes and dreams, coming fully alive to R.I.P. with God while yet experiencing and expressing life through our bodies and for all Eternity beyond such physical limitations once our bodies cease to function. No one will succeed to God’s throne and replace Him/Her.  Yet everyone can succeed in joining God within the realm of grace set before us as a gift for everyone to share.

No amount of wealth can supply the luxury that personal intimacy or oneness with God supplies.  That’s the irony that those who seek worldly wealth fail to admit is true. Whether you seek it for yourself or envy it when others have it, worldly wealth in any form – money, power, social status or any other – at best covers up the insecurities that come naturally from worrying about how God looks at one’s life.  At worst the endless cycles of pursuit, envy and worry associated with making worldly wealth one’s primary life-goal and measure of success aggravate the internal turmoil one experiences when an intimate relationship with God seems not available to be enjoyed at our leisure.

The gift of intimacy with God is available to everyone freely — without cost of any kind.  Most people find that reality too unbelievable to grasp or act upon.  We are raised to believe that everything costs something and that nothing worth having is free.  And it’s often true that possessing something to the exclusion of others comes with its costs.  Carving out a piece of the pie for ourselves to enjoy as our personal dominion costs whatever we have to trade or give up to carve, possess and retain it.  So, how could a personal, intimate relationship with God not also cost whatever we have to trade or give up to enjoy it?  The best bargains in life still have trade-offs and costs, so we believe.  We believe it until we experience life differently from the way we’ve been taught to expect life to be.  Only by strange experiences beyond our expectations and immediate comprehension can we learn that our expectations have been holding us back from the best life and God have to offer.

Many people postpone resolving their issues with God until as late in life as they can.  They assume that resolving their issues with God early will deprive them of the pleasures and other satisfying qualities of life they crave.  They crave to carve a huge slice of the pie, perhaps a larger slice than anyone else has ever carved or perhaps a modest slice compared with others.  Craving to carve consumes most of us to one degree or another.  We measure our success and happiness by the slice of life we can call “ours.”  We may even prefer to call it “mine” if we have no one with whom to share it whom we trust enough to share it without taking it from us.

The key to revisiting our beliefs about carving and the necessity of constantly craving more rests in realizing that we are making assumptions about life that are not necessarily true.  For example, we are assuming that sharing will result in loss because others will take advantage of our generous nature and run off with the wealth we crave to call our own and keep control over.  But, suppose that the type of wealth that truly allows us to R.I.P. with God cannot be taken from us nor ever run out no matter how widely or wildly we share it?

Suppose that intimacy with God is available to me without making it less available to you or to anyone else?  Does it not make sense that an eternal, infinite God is expansive enough to share the Divine Heart of Love with you, me and everyone without anyone having less than anyone could possibly crave?  How huge a slice of God might you want to taste in order to prove to yourself that God is huge enough to satisfy you while satisfying everyone else too?

Think of it this way:  How much water do you imagine dipping out of the Pacific Ocean to have all the water you’d ever need or want?  Assuming you did not want to claim a monopoly on the ocean and sell it to others for your own personal profit, how much of the ocean’s water do you actually need or want to possess at any one time?  Do you imagine having to hoard your desired portion and keep it safe from others or do you realize that there’s no lack of water in the ocean that requires you to hoard it?  Any water you dip out and use will find its way back into the ocean through the Earth’s never-ending hydrological cycles.  It will return to the ocean for you or anyone else to dip out again later if you want or need it.  The same is true about God’s love and all other aspects of Divine Nature.  The supply of God is more than oceanic.  And the replenishing cycle of Divine Love is more reliable than our planet’s hydrological system.  God is not finite as the Pacific Ocean is.  God is infinite.  God is a reliable resource to draw upon for all of our life.  Why not rest in peace with God now instead of postponing your rest while you spend decades of your life scrambling after slices of pie in various forms that matter so little in eternity – and are defined only in illusory terms anyway?

When I say “in eternity,” I mean “in your heart.”  Your heart is inseparably linked with God for all time and beyond time.  When you learned according to the ego’s rules to deny your emotions and numb or harden your heart to the world around you, your motive was to protect yourself from pain.  Despite this worthy motive, an unforeseen side effect took place: you taught yourself to forget your naturally restorative intimacy with God within your heart.  You do not need protection when the powerful energy of divine restoration is available to you.  Divine intimacy and all it offers are still there in your heart, waiting for you to resume any time you decide to seek God’s presence within you.  God is waiting patiently for your return home to your heart’s dominion.  God is waiting for you to make room in your awareness for what has been missing from your awareness – your heart and all that your heart deeply desires.

Do you suffer a loss when you resume awareness of your heart?  Not in truth. But for a time it may seem like you’ve lost the protective schemes you set up to protect yourself from awareness of your heartaches and your heart’s not-yet-met desires.  In returning to intimacy with God by turning inward within your heart to connect again with God where God waits, you are making the choice to unlearn all the lessons of ego-protection that you so diligently learned under the ego-mind’s dominion of fear.  The ego even convinced you to fear God and expect only punishment and pain from God on account of shutting Him/Her off from your awareness and from your life.  You control the tap for shutting off or turning on your God-intimacy-awareness.  The free will that God created you to enjoy remains yours.  For a time you’ve been exercising your free will to ignore God’s call to return to intimacy with Him/Her.  And yet in so doing you’ve ironically lost your sense of freedom.  Why?  Because we can enjoy being truly free only if we enjoy our freedom within our intimacy with God and make our intimacy with God a primary focus of our attention and our commitment within our free life.

Is it time to reconsider where you’ve allowed the primary focus of your attention and commitment to aim?  Are you willing this season to begin an experiment in R.I.P. with God before you are on your death bed?  I encourage you to run the experiment throughout 2017 to see what difference it makes in your peaceful enjoyment of life.  Wisdom can be yours to exercise and invest as you choose.  All you need do is stop (meditate), look within (contemplate) and listen to (commune with) your heart.  Your heart is well-stocked with wisdom to guide you on your adventure in intimacy with God.  Within that divine intimacy awaits all the love you’ve ever craved to experience and share.  There’s no end to the wealth that is the most precious in the universe.  It is yours, mine, his, hers, ours and theirs merely for the allowing and receiving.

Let’s all rest in love’s lap of divine luxury this season and for the rest of our lives – here on Earth and afterwards.  Prove to yourself that there is life after death of your body by experiencing it fully while yet experiencing your body too.  Fully physical, fully divine!

© Art Nicol 2016

Pointedly Evolving or Pointlessly Revolving Spirituality?

Politicians refer to the “rubber chicken circuit” as shorthand for going around shaking hands and eating meals with an array of their constituents at various local gatherings.  That’s an ego’s way of cultivating popularity and votes while avoiding making tough commitments that might cause controversy and lose approval and votes for the politician.  Although not openly announced, politicians’ unspoken mantras are “Stick to topics the are safely trivial or trendy and popular.”  “Avoid dealing meaningfully with anything that is controversial.”  “Get elected or re-elected to office at whatever cost.”  Based on the rubber chicken circuit, as much as possible politicians remain amiably bland and elastic much like the chicken they learn to stomach and smile over during their meals with constituents.  Nothing really changes.  Constituents cease expecting anything to change. Ah, now there’s a sustainable comfort zone so long as the chickens don’t come home to roost too often and cause constituents to wonder how to hold their elected officials accountable for the mess in the barnyard.

As spiritually cloaked politicians seeking favor with audiences who will elect them “Pope” of their gathering and donate money to pay the bills, popular speakers and teachers of popular spiritual constituencies travel around similar circuits to maintain their amicably bland, noncontroversial positions as leaders whom their constituents are willing to follow and keep in office.  These “leaders” make sure not to expect “too much” of their constituents and carefully espouse ideas and address topics that allow their constituents and themselves to remain on the circuit as chicken-hearted practitioners of whatever path of faith they identify as theirs.  That’s the ego’s way of co-opting spiritual principles as tools for gathering people together in social groups for mutual admiration and self-congratulatory celebrations.  The ego is slick.  It does not have principles that require it to honor the actual substance of spiritual principles and practices.  Its solitary principle is self-preservation. All other supposedly sacred principles may be sacrificed on the altar of ego-preservation. Egos within the leader and constituents silently conspire to lead everyone on circuits of different configurations that have one thing in common, namely that they always wind up back at the same point at which they started.  And they manage to dress up that starting point as a new destination and celebrate arriving there.  It’s so safe – for the ego but not for the community supposedly served by the leader.

Here’s a web site illustrating how widely varied racetrack-like circular thinking can be while the vast majority loop back to the starting point:

https://www.pinterest.com/explore/race-tracks/

Spiritual evolution does not happen on any circuit that makes continuous revolutions around the same track.  If a supposed leader’s role is merely to appear to be ahead of the pack on every lap of the track and keep the pack entertained enough not to notice how repetitive their experiences actually are, then most leaders of most spiritual communities are excelling in their roles.  The ego would like us to believe that they are “doing their best” to lead.  The truth is that they are doing ego’s best to covertly mislead.  To avoid actually allowing us to experience spiritual evolution, the ego’s goal is to keep us spinning our wheels around the same track or switching to alternate tracks as we explore a variety of spiritual paths that distinguish themselves in their details but all race around some form of a closed circuit.  No matter how convoluted the loop, it’s still a closed loop.  True spiritual evolution progresses along an open path.  That’s scary to the ego.  Uncharted territory?  Rough patches?  Going off track may happen?  Unexpected developments that require us to use our spiritual principles under extremely taxing conditions so as to enhance and deepen our understanding of our principles through practice?  “Heaven forbid!” cries out the ego.  But actually such an open path of ascension through unexpected rough patches and off-track exploring is our way to heaven at heaven’s bidding.  Not “Heaven forbid” but “Heaven does bid!”

I write this blog simply to bring this matter to your attention.  Are you following a leader around a closed loop that leads back to the point you began?  It might take a few years to wind back around and there may be window dressing to cloak the old as if it’s new, but what’s really going on?  When spiritual leaders rotate from audience to audience are they conspiring to hide the fact that none of their audiences are actually making progress?  Dare to ask yourself.  Your heart will tell you.  Listen closely and watch what your wise heart brings to your attention.  Ask for clarity and your experiences will reveal it to you.

Is your organization’s supposed spiritual leadership actually a closed shop of politicians carefully screening their inner machinations from your view?  How willing are the leaders to hear your pointed, probing questions and respond with honest disclosures of both the facts and the process by which they lead?  Are the leaders typically talking to you about the latest books they’ve read?  Are they simply appearing to stay ahead of you by reading the latest teachings of other ego-encircled, ego-circling authors so that you are relieved of the responsibility for finding time to read those books and think about them for yourself?  Do you notice any patterns in the process?  Is it convenient for you to pay someone else to do your homework for you and keep you feeling smugly safe within the cocoon of your existence rather than to shake up your comfort and stir you to explore on your own?

Watch out for patterns of convenience and complacency.  Leaders who allow you to pay their salaries so that you don’t have to do the homework required to make your own spiritual progress are hoodwinking you.  Ask to have the blinders taken off and see what’s going on for real.  A rubber chicken life is not worth living.  In the end, you’ll feel cheated because you allowed it to happen to you.  You’re only cheating yourself by being unwilling to ask tough questions and find out how your leaders respond.  Don’t chicken out now or you’ll regret it later.  Neither a rubber nor a plastic life is anything but ultimately a disappointing exercise in futility.  Keep your heart open and see what’s there to be seen.  It’s not so much about having eyes in the back of your head as having the sense to listen to your intuition and see with your heart too.  Your heart holds a vision for the life you earnestly desire to live.  Are you letting that vision lead you or are you perishing without a vision simply because you won’t turn into your heart?  Remaining out of touch with your heart and blind to the grander vision is a choice. It’s your choice, a choice you have both the power and the responsibility to make moment by moment.

© Art Nicol 2016

Called to Heal the Harm

Within every path of faith there are principles and practices that support healing physical, emotional and mental wounds by faith.  As a follower of Jesus, I am compelled to acknowledge that his path of faith did not stop at the principle “first do no harm” but moved beyond merely “ceasing to do harm” to heal harm already done. This, I submit, is Jesus’ ultimate weapon of mass reconstruction to be applied at any time before we use our ultimate weapons of mass destruction any further.  We are fooling ourselves if we believe that we are not already using weapons of mass destruction and spreading them worldwide into hands of many angry people bent on revenge for past harm done to them and to the group of people with whom they identify.  What will be the most persuasive antidote to such revenge-motivated actions that spread harm further and more massively?  The antidote that will persuade the pain-angered weapon holders to lay down their weapons and join hands in peace will be healing of the harm they witnessed and release from the pain they have endured.

The sacred teachings by which Jesus’ life is surrounded and supported include miraculous concepts that point to miraculous actions that result in miraculous outcomes.  Do we not sense our need for miracles in this modern era?  It is time to activate miracles and set them free to achieve their goals.  We who follow Jesus are empowered to activate miracles, as, I believe, are others who follow other faith-based practices.  Since I am a follower of Jesus, let me address the path of faith along which Jesus walked while on earth to activate miracles and leave it to others more knowledgeable than I to address other miracle-activating paths of faith.  We are all in this together and need not compete with each other over who performs miracles.  There is enough harm already done for as many healers to address as may devote themselves to doing so.

We who follow Jesus are not challenged merely to be “good” people as if conforming to the best of current social norms is enough to satisfy our high calling.  We, like Jesus, are challenged to be “God’s” people, God’s children who activate miracles as Jesus did while walking the earth.  “These and greater things shall you do,” Jesus declared to his followers.  We must now believe him and activate “these and greater things.”  Will we do it by our own power as “good” people who take care of each other?  No, that’s not enough.  Is it enough to take care of strangers and be “good Samaritans?”  As helpful as that is, it does not yet carry us into the realm of “these and greater things.”  Being God’s people who do good towards others is helpful because those actions call into question the doubts others may have about God’s willingness to be helpful to them.  Our helpfulness may open the minds of those we help to the reality of God’s willingness to perform miracles for them, miracles beyond their minds’ understanding but within their hearts’ hopes and desires.

Yet, to be fully faithful followers of Jesus, we must now learn to activate those miracles, those “greater things” of which Jesus spoke.  We will not activate them by continuing to conduct the religious business of Christianity as usual.  We must move radically beyond business as usual to be fully followers of Jesus. The ultimate social justice is to undo the harm others have already suffered and demonstrate that such harm was never intended by God.  We reveal God’s true intentions by releasing God’s power to heal every form of harm completely.  To declare that we cannot do this “ultimate” form of justice is to declare that Jesus misinformed us about our capacity to follow him.  This capacity of which he spoke remains largely unexplored by his modern followers.  Some of his first followers explored and exemplified it. For example, the Bible describes this incident in which two of Jesus’ first followers participated: “But Peter said, ‘I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!’” Acts 3:6 ESV.

From this example, it’s important to note that it does not take money to activate miracles.  That fact is of interest to most of us followers of Jesus because we’re not wealthy. Silver and gold we may not have “none” but we have little.  It may even be true that being wealthy would interfere with the conditions under which “greater things” or “ultimate justice” is best activated.  We who are not wealthy need to concern ourselves less with issues related to income and wealth inequality and focus more upon the disparity between the capacity in which Peter walked and our capacity to activate miracles.  What’s in the way of our activating miracles as Peter did?

In the centuries since Peter activated miracles as a follower of Jesus, many influences have come along to dilute the power of his followers to do likewise.  It’s time to cut through all layers of dilution and boldly step out as Peter stepped out.  Peter’s a great example of the boldness we must acquire because he, like us, at first made a lot of excuses for not following Jesus boldly.  But in time he found the courage to do so and to quit explaining away his lack of capacity.

Since Peter stopped explaining away his lack of capacity, Christianity has been taken over by hosts of teachers and preachers who explain eloquently and otherwise why we’re powerless to activate miracles.  We are overwhelmed with explainers who want us to believe that they are the exemplars of the maximum possible faith in Jesus. Jesus has a term for such explainers. It’s not a favorable or flattering term.  About such teachers and preachers he spoke when he mentioned “blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” Matthew 23:24 (NAS)  In accompanying passages of the New Testament he had harsh things to say about them as he warned against following them.  Over the centuries, such teachers and preachers have carefully avoided using such passages except when it served their purpose to perpetuate their favorite prejudices and/or preserve their positions of power.  Rarely if ever have they cited those passages when confessing their own blindness and repenting as openly before their congregations as they had earlier misled them. Those who strain to focus on trivial matters so as to distract us from the camel in the room — that they don’t want to talk about and prefer that we’d all swallow together — occupy roles of leadership throughout the human institution that has replaced Jesus as God’s representative on Earth. We need to ditch such blind leaders before they ditch us more than they already have.

We common folk who follow Jesus do not lack the capacity to activate “greater things” by which harm already done may be healed, unless we resist surrendering our lives in service to God.  That resistance to surrender is inherently intertwined within our egos, which are devoted to “edging God out” as much as possible from our lives, as 12-step programs reveal.  The convenience-oriented, complacent, competitive ego active in all of us due to our social training within an ego-oriented society must be de-activated if we are to activate “greater things.”  The ego is interested in activating only petty things, not greater things.  In fact, based on ego, we become activated at the slightest irritation.  Will we follow Jesus beyond our ego’s arguments and explanations for why following him is “impossible?”  Will we cease to allow our ego’s petty irritations to distract us from answering the Spirit’s call to heal?

The ego is expert at formulating excuses and justifications for not following Jesus “that far” and at distracting us from such pursuits.  One of the ego’s main excuses is “No one else is doing that. Let’s not look foolish in trying it ourselves.”  Our fear of failing and appearing foolish in the eyes of others prevents us from taking the risk of serving God in this amazing capacity that Jesus exemplified and promised was ours as much as his.  Peter hid from others for fear of looking foolishly associated with Jesus before men, women and children.  Then he found the courage within him to dare to look foolish so that he might demonstrate why Jesus placed such faith in him as to call him to step from the safety of the boat to walk on water.

Jesus is calling us now to do the same. How do we do it?  2 Chronicles 7:14 states the “how” this way:

“. . . if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (NIV)

This is the way Peter did it too.  He humbled himself, prayed, sought God’s intimate presence within his heart and turned from all excuses he’d been making for not surrendering himself in service according to Jesus’ model of service.  In this manner he prepared his capacity to activate “greater things” without taking upon himself the arrogant notion that the power to do so would be his alone.  He set aside his ego to turn from all the ways, values and attitudes of the ego (for such is the meaning of “wicked ways”).  With his ego set aside, he was able to look past his fears and converse with God heart to heart.  God hears within our hearts, where we hear Him/Her as well.  Thus God heard Peter and fulfilled the Divine Promise to heal according to God’s will and way, not the ego’s will and way.  And thus also Peter heard God within his heart and dared to utter his powerfully healing statement of faith.

It’s important to note the context in which Peter’s ego-dissipating faithfulness allowed God to perform “greater things” on account of Peter’s presence.  Peter followed Jesus admonitions and practiced what he’d been taught while walking with Jesus.  For me, four points stand out in the following expanded description of healing that took place:

“Peter looked directly at him, as did John. ‘Look at us!’ said Peter. So the man gave them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, ‘Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk!’” Acts 3:4-6 (Berean Study Bible)

Point 1:  Peter was not alone in his reaching out to others.  John was with him.  Peter acknowledged that fact when he told the man “Look at us” not “Look at me.”  Peter and John were acting in concert.  Thus Peter and John activated “greater things” by “gathering two or more in the name of Jesus.”  Both Peter and John were devoted followers of Jesus.  They were complying with Jesus’ model of sending out disciples two by two and taking few worldly goods with them.  Peter may have been the one who was more ready to speak up as the more socially aggressive member of the team, but John’s presence in wholehearted agreement was essential to the activation of “greater things.” John was not merely being passive.  As an active listener and keen observer, he was a full participant.

(Let’s stop over-admiring those who are socially aggressive in leadership positions and stop assuming that their outspoken nature makes them somehow more important than those of us who remain observantly quieter.  We too have value in activating “greater things.”  By our presence and ability to listen heart to heart and make eye contact, we set the stage for activation of miracles as much as any more verbose person does.  Activation of “greater things” is a collaborative process best set in motion by whole people who collaborate according to their diverse contributions.  When we walk together as followers of Jesus, we discover, reveal and engage in our capacity to activate “greater things” because Jesus keeps his promise to be there with us.  It’s by Jesus power and presence offered by and through us together that miracles take place.)

Point 2: Peter and John traveled in ways that allowed them to cross paths with those who needed “greater things” to happen for them. These were the common folks who were likely more receptive to miracles on account of having spent so much of their lives despairing of any truly effective help ever coming their way.  (In modern society, these would be the folks who lack access to universal healthcare, bank accounts, credit cards and smart phones.)  The man whom Peter and John met had already experienced the futility of expecting “silver and gold” to heal him.  When he looked at Jesus’ followers he looked with “expectation.” He was not as disappointed by Peter’s disavowal of financial wealth as we might believe.  When he heard Peter’s “but,” he knew something better than another trivial coin was about to come forth.  What he received exceeded his mental expectation of alms and addressed his heartfelt prayer for healing.  By reason of his own life experiences, he had been prepared to be receptive to the healing offered.

What a miracle!  God heard the man’s prayers in part because the healed man had also set aside his ego and become humble before God.  His life hardly provided him the means for “wicked ways.”  Thus in this context, three humble children of God failed to pursue socially “normal” definitions of success and instead encountered God’s healing.  Peter and John would have missed this opportunity had they traveled as members of the privileged class upon a camel, cart or other convenient conveyance.  So, too, modern followers of Jesus fail to encounter opportunities to activate “greater things” when we move about in cars and take advantage of our financial means to serve ourselves with conveniences that are not enjoyed by more humble members of society.  In our cars (or on public transportation with our ears and eyes filled with piped in sounds and images from our smart phones) we may travel alone or together, perhaps even singing songs of praise to Jesus, but always we must be on the lookout for opportunities to step away from the conveniences by which we insulate ourselves from the storms of life and instead walk on troubled waters as Jesus calls us to walk.

Point 3: Both Peter and John looked directly at the man on his mat, noticed him and made eye contact.  Only one of them spoke but both locked eyes with the man who requested help from them.  Neither Peter nor John turned away from witnessing the distressing circumstances of this man’s life. They both acknowledged the man’s presence – and his humanity as well as his divinity.  They both looked upon him with compassion, not disdain or judgment.  In short, they looked as they had witnessed Jesus look upon so many people whose life experiences had humbled them.  When Jesus looked, he was moved by compassion to work miracles.  Likewise, Peter and John exposed themselves to being moved and thus allowed the power of miracles to move through them in their open-heartedness.  They allowed themselves to serve as channels of healing  blessings rather than to maintain their egos’ resistance to that role.

Point 4: Peter and John took the risk of allowing others to notice their power to activate miracles.   They had witnessed how Jesus had been treated when the crowds noticed the miracles that poured forth from his life.  They had seen the fickle nature of the masses who crowded in close around him, then welcomed Jesus as a popular conquering hero and next turned upon him only a few days later to cry out, “Crucify him, crucify him.”  Peter and John had every reason to know that they were at risk if they revealed themselves as operatives of Jesus.  Yet, such mental awareness did not prevent them from setting “greater things” in motion by acting as their heart called them to act.  Compassion is an affair of the heart, not an attribute of reason.  We do not argue ourselves into feelings of compassion, empathy or other emotions that link us to others as members of one race.  We feel those links happening inside of us.  We feel them where Jesus said that the kingdom of God abides.  We feel them where our emerging wholeness beyond the ego allows us once again to feel.

As we “trust, feel and talk about things that matter,” we emerge together beyond ego by sharing and thereby overcome our sense of separation from each other that ego produces.  Sharing our internal kingdom’s energies heart to heart reminds us that we are not alone nor lacking in inherent self-worth no matter what our social status may be from time to time.  We set aside past lessons in distrust and dare to experience renewing lessons of trust.  We set aside our ego’s habits of denying our emotions (and our heart’s wisdom) and instead encounter new habits of realizing, acknowledging and expressing our emotions helpfully (and listening to our inner wisdom heedfully). And we not only talk about things that matter but also do what’s necessary to activate what matters.

Our capacity to activate “greater things than these” matters to the destiny of humanity.  May we each follow Jesus as our role model, friend and empowering presence by joining with other followers to serve the Living God — whom Jesus called Abba Father — who desires to comfort, heal and bless us all.  For such a God is Abba Father to us all as no man has ever been or ever could be alone. (And Holy Mother to us all as no woman has ever been or ever could be alone.)  Followers of Jesus, as was Jesus, are nothing but expressions of trivial futility unless we activate Divine Power to flow through us as we remain connected with our Source.

© Art Nicol 2016

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

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

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