Tag Archives: Love

In Memory of Robin Mittenthal

Jay and Terri Mittenthal are friends who for several years opened their home to welcome students of A Course In Miracles to gather in their living room to talk about the course and share their life journeys.  In December 2017, they lost their son, Robin, when he was crushed under a tree that fell on him. As testimony to Robin’s impact among the people whose lives he touched, this GoFundMe account has gathered not only funds for his children but also a host of reflections to honor his heartfelt value to those who contributed and left comments.  https://www.gofundme.com/honoring-robin-mittenthal

Now I want to share with all who seek to live courageously with compassionate hearts this poem that Jay was inspired to write:

Grief
Tibetan flags stream on the cold air,
gusty flutter of surprise
like our son’s parka,
never again caught up to wear,
still in his apartment as we enter from the funeral home.
How can this be?  That’s the great surprise,
gone in an instant, back snapped like a limb
of the tree he was cutting down.
We are left behind, bemused, bewildered.
Weary of grieving, reluctant to stop,
we slide again into the abyss when once we start,
wandering in a labyrinth
where movement is a search
for what is not.

Within these lines may all who have ever been separated from loved ones by any cause see our common ground in our steadfast search for peace and love.  In resting motionless there we will find each other and our selves in the heart of Love.

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The Fallacy of One-upmanship

“It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
Jiddu Krishnamurt

As modern society became increasingly competitive, we adopted as one of ego’s justifications for competitive modes of living the “survival of the fittest” aspect of Darwin’s theory of evolution.  We thereby chose to glorify one-upmanship as the wave of our future.  Competition became a dominant theme in economic life as well as personal life, with professional sports offering a way to combine the two and fabricate vicarious opportunities to be a winner or loser by over-identifying with other people’s achievements.  In doing so we neglected to notice that Darwin’s theory also incorporated cooperation among members of a species for survival.

In our self-deprecating neglect, for centuries we’ve been one-upping each other as if that process carried to its extreme and unbalanced by concern for the human species as whole creates a better future.  By measuring our progress mainly in materialistic terms and accepting collateral damage (even among our own loved ones) as a norm, we’ve ignored other measures of the quality of life and failed to notice life’s decline.  In glorifying one-upmanship as the wave of the future upon which to surf to shore as champions of injustice, we failed to notice that we are riding that wave into shallower and shallower waters and waving good-bye to a deeper, more enriching future.  Now storm-generated waves of competition crash upon the shore to produce tremendously powerful undertows that drag many of us along the grinding bottom to drown in self-pity and self-contempt for our failure to thrive as upmanshippers.

If you are one of the disenchanted surfers who wants to find a way out of the shallows to avoid the grind and not be as likely to drown, consider what I share in the ABCs of love portion of this web site.  There you will find promising ideals to put into practice in cooperation with others as practitioners of love.  The principles of love are worthy of your heart’s desire for an upgraded lifestyle as you renew your capacity to sail the high seas.  The adventure of truth-seeking awaits you as you discover the treasure chest of love that your fear of pirates has caused you to bury in your heart.

© Art Nicol 2017

 

God is an Authority Figure Unlike Any Other

The heart of Jesus’ mission has always been to reveal that God is an authority figure unlike any other we may have known – or even heard of or imagined – throughout our lifetimes.  Followers of Jesus have the same mission.  Most of us have resisted the opportunity to fully benefit from this mission because we remain hung up on our experiences with human authority figures.  We acquired hang-ups as earthly authority figures exercised power over us in clumsy, perhaps even cruel ways and now we tend to automatically hang up on Jesus when he calls us to walk with him through our past experiences to know and show God as an authority figure unlike the earthly ones of our past.  I write this post to encourage all of us to listen when Jesus calls and hear and heed the more completely heart-satisfying message about God’s authority and power as he offers it to us.  We miss out on the grace of God when we ignore Jesus’ call to share the true nature of God with a world that hungers to know an authority figure of His/Her qualities.

How does God differ from earthly authority figures in offering to relate to us?  Let’s explore several differences among the many that exist.

  1. As we grew up, we experienced parenting figures, older relatives, teachers, coaches and others who wielded authority that we were taught to obey (or at least appear to obey) as quickly as possible to reduce the risk of wearing out their patience and tolerance. When we did not obey quickly enough to satisfy our authority figures, we usually endured punishment in some form, what the authority figures commonly called “consequences” for behaving in ways unacceptable to them or for being too slow or inattentive.  Even when not caught misbehaving, we often still felt guilty about violating our authority figures’ rules and not complying with their expectations.  We took their values, rules and corresponding expectations to heart and learned to feel guilty for not following them instantly even long after they ceased to be actively in our lives as authority figures.  As we adopted their values, rules and expectations as our own, we learned to believe them to come from God “on high.”  In this manner, we learned to confuse God with earthly authority figures and failed to see the significant distinctions highlighted in this post.

In contrast, God is an authority figure who 1) holds us to high expectations of progressively greater excellence but not instantaneous perfection and 2) does not punish us nor want us to feel endless guilt when we fail to uphold divine standards in our human lives.  Our conscience’s feelings of guilt may be helpful guidance when we realize we’ve not met God’s expectations but God does not want us to hang onto any guilt we may feel.  She/He wants us to forgive ourselves and let guilt go because He/She knows that guilt interferes with our freedom to learn the lessons in wisdom and grace that we gain from our failures to fully satisfy God’s standards of excellence.  He/She also knows that fear of punishment does not improve our capacity to learn and grow on account of our experiences in life.  Fear only inhibits our growth towards the mature wholeness God wants us to enjoy.  In helping us to grow strong enough to clear every hurdle of God’s expectations, Jesus introduces us to God’s forgiving nature that we might be free of guilt, no matter what we may or may not have done to fall short of God’s healthiest expectations or how many times we may have stumbled on our journeys.  Lightened of all burdens of guilt, we are more likely to gain mature humility and soar higher to clear each hurdle the next time it appears in our lives.  God generously grants us limitless opportunities to do so.

  1. Throughout our lives, we likely encountered earthly authority figures who played favorites and recruited people to their side in order to demonstrate the influence and significance they held and impress us with the losses we risked in being uncooperative. These experiences set us up to assume that other authority figures, including God, would relate to us in similar ways.  We learned to believe that popularity and social status are desirable, especially popularity and favor with influential authority figures whose opinions of us might make a difference in how things turn out for us.  In the process of relating to such authority figures we may have developed habits (mostly unconscious ones) that came to control our words and actions – perhaps even our thoughts – as we did all we could to seem to be on the side of the authority figures who ruled our lives and remain in their favor.  On the other hand, we may have developed habits of rebelling (perhaps secretly) against authority figures and did not allow them to directly influence our lives much at all.  From either perspective, many of us failed to develop close, meaningful, mutually respectful and fear-free relationships of trust and transparency with our earthly authority figures.

In contrast, God is an authority figure who does not play favorites in any way and has absolutely no need to be popular or have others on His/Her side in order to be powerful.  It’s a mistake to believe that God needs approval from anyone to be the Supreme Authority Figure in the Universe.  He/She has no more need for social approval than He/She needs to inflict pain, guilt or punishment in any form on anyone.  If you think about it, you’ll realize that earthly authority figures react to our mistakes as if they’ve taken them as personal insults – as if their egos have been bruised by our failures to live according to their expectations.  Since God has no ego and does not need our approval, why would God react this way?  It is only in the interests of earthly authority figures to claim that God reacts this way so that they can claim that God backs up their earthly authority.  Such claims are the ultimate expression of the desire for earthly authority figures to recruit others – including even God – to their side to demonstrate their power.  God takes no sides in expressions of earthly authority and seeks only to guide earthly authority figures to exercise authority with wisdom born of humility and to avoid hubris.  Since God does not play favorites in any way, He/She does not favor one earthly authority figure over another but rather seeks to guide them all, regardless of the degree to which any may be inclined to listen to Him/Her.  As Jesus’ life reveals, as our Divine Parent, God invites us all – earthly authority figures and the rest of us – into close, meaningful, mutually respectful and fear-free wholehearted intimacy with Him/Her even as She/He serves as our Ultimate Authority Figure.

  1. It is commonly said of earthly authority figures that power tends to corrupt them and absolute power tends to corrupt them absolutely. In this manner, the higher up the ladder of power that an earthly authority figure rises, the more likely it is that he or she will wield power with decreasing empathy, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, humility and grace and with increasing hubris.  Studies have discovered scientific evidence of changes in our brains and how we think as we rise to wield earthly power. Although these changes do not occur uniformly in everyone, the risk is great that they will occur unless disciplines are in place to curtail their development.  (For more about this topic, visit http://www.daedalustrust.com/ and read “Power Causes Brain Damage” in the July/August 2017 issue of The Atlantic Monthly at theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/07/.)

In contrast, God is an authority figure who is not corrupted by any degree of power, even absolute power.  By nature, God is infinitely powerful and yet also incorruptible. He/She never stoops to bullying, bribing or being bribed.  If anything, His/Her grace and mercy expands the more we try to no longer conform to the patterns of the world and instead allow our hearts and minds to be transformed as the means of demonstrating God’s good and perfect will towards everyone.  That is, the more diligently we strive to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God regardless of social disapproval we may encounter and the failure of others around us to do likewise, the more He/She welcomes us to be close and comforted even in the midst of our most troubling testings and trials.  How few earthly authority figures compare well to God on that standard!

  1. By their nature as “earthly,” our human authority figures are physically outside of us and rule over us while we grow from childhood into adulthood.  As they train us to conform to their spoken and unspoken rules, expectations and way of life, they hope that we’ll internalize their dominating values, ideas and attitudes and allow them to rule unquestioned for all our lives as if our parents and other earthly authority figures are eternally with us and as absolute in knowledge and power as God is. It is common for this to happen. We are apt to struggle throughout our adulthood trying to take back our true power from such internalized authority figures in order to value ourselves and recover our freedom to outgrow their training and become our own persons with power to question what we’ve been told.

In contrast, God is present within us from the start – when we were first created – and reigns beneath, alongside and around us as the nurturer of our true nature and source of health and wise guidance.  Rather than be a source of rules for us to obey and expectations for us to satisfy, God is the source of all we need to fulfill our divine destinies as Her/His children.  God’s resources are offered freely and abundantly to us from within as well as outside of us.  Guidance, wisdom, love, motivation and the energizing opportunities of life are some of His/Her most precious gifts extended openly to each of us.  We are each God’s favorite child of the model and design we are because we are each uniquely who we are.  No one can compete to take our place in relationship with God.  If a person tries to compete with us for a relationship with God, that person is merely abandoning his or her natural relationship with God and trying mistakenly to substitute a lesser quality relationship.  That’s a foolish choice made by all who continue to fear God and seek to come into Her/His presence disguised as someone else rather than to approach the throne of grace “just as I am without one plea.”  Unlike many earthly authority figures, God is not poised to pounce upon us with a judgmental, fault-finding attitude as many people mistakenly believe but rather is peacefully and lovingly at rest within us, continuously inviting us to be at ease within Her/His inner embrace.  As we accept love’s invitation to be at ease, we release stress and have far less reason to take on any dis-ease.

  1. Unless a human authority figure masters the art of humility and disciplines himself or herself to rise beyond ego’s claim on his or her mind, to one degree or another, he or she will engage in hypocrisy. His or her actions will to some degree conflict with each other and with his or her words.  He/She is likely to hold differing standards for himself/herself as well as for others as part of playing people against each other or currying favor with some in preference to others.  She/He may make mountains out of molehills while overlooking some mountains as if they were molehills. Blowing hot and cold, using double standards and playing games with emotions will be part of his/her typical patterns.  Worse yet, he/she may be petty, vindictive, heartless and too little concerned about the welfare of others whom he/she tends to undervalue as a matter of routine.

In contrast, God is free of hypocrisy and remains steadfast in His/Her orientation towards each and every one of us as a divine child welcome to participate in the divine family business as Jesus did.  God holds out holiness as the universal standard for Himself/Herself and for us too.  Since holiness is the same as healthiness and wholeness shared in oneness with God and each other, it is a high standard worth attaining.  It is also natural to us because it is the nature in which we are all created as extensions of the Holy Parent.  God indulges in none of the traits of an ego and sustains positive regard for all of us regardless of how well or poorly we may satisfy His/Her standards of health and wholeness from time to time.  Jesus told the story of the prodigal son to illustrate God’s commitment to our well-being for all eternity.

I hope that these thoughts stir up hope that many of your assumptions about God’s nature and your relationship with God are based on fallacies acquired along the way in your life.  None of these fallacies needs to continue to interfere with your awareness of God’s presence within you because you have the power to change your mind and allow your heart to be cleansed of all fear moment by moment by God’s love flowing freely from the throne of grace to you as a tree of life planted astraddle the river of life.  The river of life flows with God’s love for all of us, without exception – no matter what we may have said or done or what we or anyone else may think of us.

I encourage you to set time aside to rest with God as Jesus frequently did as he spent time away from the crowds and even from his disciples.  Put down your roots into the soil of unconditional love and drink of the river of life as often and as deeply as your heart desires.  There is no more promising way to use your time than to put a smile in God’s heart by smiling there with Him/Her.  She/He delights to share your joys as well as your sorrows and other heartfelt emotions throughout your lifetime because in your open sharing She/He knows that you have come to trust that you are best off when you spend time regularly in God’s home within your heart.  None of us is banished to live as a prodigal child for any longer than we want to.  When we decide to come home to God by welcoming His/Her presence within us, we’ll know it has happened forever.

© Art Nicol 2017

 

Rival or Revival?

The ego feels threatened by God because the ego has no function or purpose in God’s realm.  Thus, the ego sees God as its rival and the cause of all conflict rather than the Source of All Life lived in endless harmony.  Our true nature yearns for God because God’s presence within us empowers the revival of our true function and purpose as divine lovers embodying, as Jesus did while expressing himself through a body, our natural, created capacity to live in harmony with each other and with all forms of life.  Free will is our power to choose which relationship to have with God – rival or revival.  The first arises from a false identity with ego.  The second is a process to enjoy forever as the truth sets us free to live as God created us to be.

Created with free will, we have the power to choose whether to see ourselves as God’s rival as ego does or see ourselves as empowered by God to experience revival from the dominion of fear over which ego presides into the dominion of love within which ego fades as our habits of thinking fearfully fade.  With which do we choose to identify – ego or God?  We are either falsely fabricated by-products of the ego or truly created children of God.  No one can make this choice of identity for us.  To force us to choose to be God’s child would be to deny our free will’s fullest power.  To not be rivals of God we must have the power to reject God and choose ego instead and yet remain loved unconditionally by God and welcomed to return to our senses and choose again to honor our true nature and our created, natural relationship with God.  Only when we realize that we have the power to reject God can we accept that we have the power to stand freely alongside God as divine children — together within the holy family God envisioned when God created us.

God did not create us to be less free or less powerful than God.  God envisioned us to be co-creators of heaven with God, to participate fully within the family business of co-creation.  In time we will realize as Jesus did that we “must be about our Father’s business” and cease to compete with Him/Her as if to set up a rival business.  God does have a monopoly on love.  Yet God’s generous nature would withhold no feature of love from any of us.  Unlike human business monopolies based on profit-making, God seeks no profit from the distribution of love in abundance except the joy of sharing life with us openly and honestly.  Our main challenge now is to step free from ego’s false teachings and instead live with all our hearts with awareness of God within the core of our beings for the purpose of sharing love as generously and abundantly as God does.

Will you join me in this grand adventure in exploring a universe free from fear’s domination?  Will you join me in allowing all excuses for interpersonal violence and planetary exploitation fade away? It’s unreasonable, even maddening to strive to rival what is best when revival of what is best is as near to us as our hearts.

 

The Blaming of the Screwed (Or Letting Sleeping Gods Lie)

It is the nature of the ego to twist the truth into pretzels well salted to cause more pain to those already wounded.  The ego produces both heroes upon whom to heap praise regardless of its unwarranted nature and scapegoats upon whom to heap blame regardless of its irrational nature.   To make sure that an ego-based culture appears to be balanced, the ego assigns some members roles of heroes and other members roles of scapegoats or anti-heroes.  In this way, the culture is divided between two opposing forces who play out their competing roles before audiences populated by the ego-culture’s majority of members who prefer to avoid being noticed as their best way to avoid taking the risk of being praised as a hero or critically judged and later blamed as a scapegoat.

The masses cower in fear of being singled out for the ego’s heartless judgment – to be praised or scorned – because they have noticed how routinely praise turns into scorn as heroes fall under the overwhelmingly unreasonable and unhealthy expectations placed on them by the masses.  Heroes desperate to please the masses overtax themselves to perpetually warrant praise and avoid scorn.  When heroes fail to live up to the expectations of the masses, the masses turn on them to convert them into scapegoats.  The feeding frenzy is brutal as hero-worshippers fall upon their wounded former heroes to tear from them every shred of human dignity.  From the perspective of the masses, it’s better to never ascend to the heights of public praise than to descend into the status of publicly scorned fallen hero.

Students of birth order identify the first born as predisposed to compete for the roles of heroes or standard bearers of an ego-culture’s most rewarded and idealized values – even when those values are myths honored more in the exception than in the rule.  Heroes are taught the value of keeping up their image to remain objects of praise as false idols regardless of the declining substance behind their image.  To cultivate and maintain their images as heroes, initially first born or otherwise born, the heroes must climb over others to ascend ladders of success they identify as theirs to top in order to tower over others by comparison.  Inflicting pain on their competitors is necessary to ascend most rapidly because pain causes competitors to be at least reluctant to challenge them if not crippled in capacity to challenge.  Thus heroes need wounded competitors to prevail as heroes.  What would be the significance of praise if it were not contrasted with scorn?  All the ego’s world is colored by such comparisons between winners and losers by whatever criteria winning and losing is measured.  In obedience to the ego’s rule, we heap praise upon winners, heap scorn upon losers and do all possible to distinguish one from the other!  Such is the fundamental order of the ego’s culture.

Those who are born into circumstances rich with opportunities to earn praise seek to preserve the culture into which they were born.  Those born into circumstances deficient in opportunities to earn praise naturally feel screwed by what seems like “fate” and suffer within the circumstances they did not cause.  The injustice of such suffering is apparent and yet prevails so long as the ego’s culture remains the status quo.  Changes that only change how circumstances favor one group over another group merely change how injustice is distributed and who is encouraged to become heroes most readily and who is encouraged to become scapegoats to keep the ego’s culture in balance.  The ego will always demand the existence of heroes/winners and scapegoats/losers.  Which members of society take up which roles is a matter of indifference to the ego so long as the clear distinction between the two is preserved.  Cycles of hero-worship and scapegoat-blaming will continue until the ego’s system is entirely replaced by an alternative that is based not on fear but on love – love as defined by Love’s Divine Source.

A sure-fire way to disrupt the ego’s system is available.  All we need do is to no longer allow sleeping gods to lie.  Every person who survives in society by masquerading as an ego is in truth a sleeping god.  While asleep every god who adopts the ego’s roles as his or her means of survival is lying.  He or she is participating in twisting the truth into well-salted pretzels by twisting the truth of his or her genuine, divine nature into a false image of a human being who values social approval over authenticity and personal integrity.  All of us hunger for the freedom to be and express authentically who we are as children of God.  That’s what being a “god” means.  So long as we remain too afraid to explore and express our authentic nature as God’s children amid the ego’s pressures to conform or be scorned, we will suffer (often in silence but suffer nevertheless). When we dare to be true to ourselves as God created us, we will cease to suffer.  We will still feel pain as inflicted by those who inflict pain on others as their means of climbing ladders of social success as rewarded by the ego.  But we will need no longer endure the chronic suffering of one who has betrayed himself or herself out of fear of the ego’s methods of enforcing conformity upon the masses.

Our choice is not to avoid pain.  It is to embrace the pain of standing out among the ego-conformists to be neither hero or scapegoat and no longer value “winning” or “losing” on ego’s terms.  The ego-enslaved will characterize us as “losers” but little do they know because they have yet to discover the relief of release from fear’s pretzeling  social pressures.  Being twisted by our own lies causes our own suffering.  We have the choice to awaken as God’s children and rise beyond ego’s enslaving twisted definitions of happiness and success to explore, embrace and enjoy freedom to be ourselves.  No longer hero, scapegoat or cowering member of the masses, we are free to envision the alternative to the ego’s fear-based culture and flock together as birds of a feather – as eagles who soar where the sky is no limit.

Let’s stop blaming the screwed for the ills of our society or holding heroes accountable for “fixing” those ills we are helping to produce and maintain.  Let’s instead no longer be sleeping gods and awaken to our true nature as God’s children.  Let’s move forward together as co-creators of a culture rooted in the soil of God’s unconditional love for all humanity, rising up relentlessly beyond ego’s hard-heartedness and branching out in all directions to welcome all who would take up our common cause – the call of our hearts to end the interpersonal violence and planetary exploitation that distresses us all.  No matter how much praise we offer to heap, no hero can do for us what we must do for ourselves.  No matter how much scorn we offer to heap, no scapegoat can be blamed for not substituting for the responsibilities only we have the power to carry as we contribute to our society’s freedom from fear.

The “God” Factor – Fact, Fiction or No Cause for Friction?

In The ABCs of Love, I present an operating system for healthy relationships that includes a reference point beyond human control t hat I call a “God” Factor.  Because this element may trouble some readers, I want to clarify what I mean by a “God” Factor.  I expect many readers to find a way to identify their own “God” Factor and feel less troubled by my use of the term once I clarify what I mean by it.  I address this issue up front because its resolution is vital to a reader’s exploration of The ABCs of Love with an open mind.

I use “God” Factor as a label for a target or focus of faith.  We all put our faith in something, even when we don’t realize we are doing so.  Our choice is not whether to have faith but in what we place our faith.  The tiniest target of faith towards which we might aim is the self alone, separate and unrelated to anyone or anything else.  Although I encourage all of us to cultivate self-love as an essential part of experiencing love, I believe that love must be shared to be activated and not stillborn, shallow or stagnant.  To fully activate love, The ABCs of Love lays out a system for setting love free to be shared as a form of energy, the energy that sustains our health and empowers us to recover our health if we allow it to slip away.  So, I take the position that our individual self alone is not an adequate focus of faith to serve as a “God” Factor.  To be healthy and share love, we need to have faith in our individual selves but not only in ourselves.  To enjoy an ever-expanding encounter with love, we need to be true to love’s nature and place our faith in a “God” Factor larger than individual self.

The possibilities for a larger-than-self target for our faith are varied.  In my investigation of the wide array of possibilities, I have identified characteristics of a “God” Factor that hold the greatest promise for setting love free to be shared abundantly as The ABCs of Love envisions.  These characteristics include:

  • Motivation and guidance to nurture ourselves, others and our relationships with increasing competence to enrich our lives with deeper, equitably shared satisfaction;
  • Tendency to improve the quality of our lives as measured by heart-honoring factors such as peace, hope and joy;
  • Capacity to be tested within our experiences regardless of our inability to establish and control it or the effects is has on us. In other words, the capacity to be independent of our control and surprise us with outcomes different from those we initially may have expected – whether or not flattering to our pride.
  • Capacity to help us recover from our mistakes and misunderstandings about how to relate to life and one another and help us courageously take risks and sustain balance as we walk our talk;
  • A not-completely-known nature we can progressively understand better and better as we exercise our faith in it and grow more mature, wiser and more loving on account of wrestling with its mysteries.

Possible categories of “God” Factors with these characteristics include, but are not limited to:

  1. The Golden Rule and other principles for cultivating mutually uplifting relationships (see, for example, Source of variety of restatements of the Golden Rule);
  2. The Desiderata (see This text of the Desiderata) and other comprehensive statements of a positive, balanced orientation to life;
  3. The Serenity Prayer (see Text and history of Serenity Prayer) and other statements of commitment to seeking and sustaining balance between our intellect (mind) and our emotions (heart) as we explore life’s opportunities;
  4. An ethical, religious or scientific thought system that honors the value of ourselves and others and calls us to grow wiser, more empathetic and more understanding as we both age and mature;
  5. An entity we honor as a “Supreme Being” of benevolent orientation towards all of humanity, including ourselves and our loved ones and strangers whom we welcome as potential friends;
  6. Nature, including all forms of life and the ecosystem that sustains the life we call “Earth;”
  7. Love, Life and/or Truth as an expansive array of desirable qualities most significant to your heart.

This list is incomplete.  You may identify another “God” Factor that works for you as you practice The ABCs of Love.

Although I leave open the choice of label for this “God” Factor, I encourage every practitioner of the ABCs of love to be accountable to a standard for quality beyond himself or herself as a necessary condition for experiencing more love.  In setting our standards and evaluating how well we meet them, if we ask only whether we please ourselves, love has little chance to appear within our endless loop of self-indulgence and self-pleasing.  For us to get along cooperatively with each other, we each must have a beyond-and-greater-than-me standard for how we treat each other.  “We” is greater than “me.”  Relationships inherently involve interactions with others whom we accept as being other, independent people and not merely trained pets, puppets or pacifiers of our pride (ego).  Just as we expect others to do for us, we must respect as fact that the “others” in our relationships have wills, feelings and ideas of their own and voices by which to share them, even when we might not prefer to hear them.  If we are not willing to honor and listen to those voices, then we condemn ourselves to having no genuine relationships, choosing instead to fake them or go through life alone without sharing love. To totally indulge one’s ego is to rule out the possibility of encountering love and stifle the inflow of the “more” we hope might still be possible.  If I insist that I am the ruler (or even owner) of all others and none may dare defy me without suffering my displeasure or banishment, then I’m not interested in participating in relationships on love’s terms.  Love will not insist on its terms and yet will also not be bent to do the ego’s bidding.

The function of a “God” Factor is to provide a reference point for keeping our egos in check.  It need not be a “Supreme Being.”  It may be an ideal or principle such as the Golden Rule.  It may be “Truth,” “Love,” “Universal Energy,” “Chi” or some other target of belief that we admit that we imagine exists but do not totally understand nor control or bend to our will and yet offers us something “more” we desire.  Whatever “God” Factor we choose, if we can totally define and control it then it’s not going to serve as the reference point we need to allow our minds to open to possibilities beyond what our egos accept as “comfortable” (totally controlled).  The “God” Factor we adopt must motivate us to seek answers beyond what we believe we already know and make room for the “uncomfortable,” “undominated and “uncontrolled” to enter into our experiences.  Truth welcomes Love.  Love welcomes Truth.  We who seek both Truth and Love seek what we do not yet know by experience and yet imagine may be possible.  The ABCs of Love will serve us in our quest. Even if we do not name Truth or Love as “God,” so long as we admit that we do not yet know all the Truth or Love we want to know, we’ll find it as we journey together in our quest for it beyond the terms on which our egos previously dictated we must live.

The love-energized system presented in The ABCs of Love incorporates the idea of a “God” Factor as a fundamental assumption and prerequisite for success in sharing love.  Does that mean that someone who believes that there is no “Supreme Being” cannot make use of the ABCs of love?  Not necessarily.  But it does mean that a person who insists on defining love for himself or herself without reference to any standard of quality beyond his or her own preferences or current ideas about love is likely to not encounter the love towards which The ABCs of Love points its practitioners –  unless that person is open to the possibility of allowing his or her own experiences to reveal new insights and understandings.

In short, a close-minded person who shuts his or her heart and mind to the possibility of discovering new things about life and love through personal experiences may be disappointed because forcing the ABCs of love to fit rigid, pre-determined definitions cripples love’s nature.  To enjoy the experience of more love than one has encountered thus far means to open oneself to discovering more by experience.  The discovery of more love is not merely a theoretical journey but an applied one as well – one practiced within relationships with others whom we do not control by domination or manipulation.  Expanding definitions of love’s qualities are unlikely to remain confined within fixed boxes.  They are more likely to outgrow boxes like many potted plants outgrow their pots.  To grow we need more room for our ideas about love to extend their roots into deeper soil and expand their branches upward and outward to boldly welcome life as it shares its light.

Are you willing to unbox your ideas about love and allow them to take on new life and become enriched with deeper and more expansive meaning because of the experiences you are having?

Being open to growing on account of one’s experiences is a central theme of The ABCs of Love.    This is as true of those who first approach the ABCs of love declaring that they believe in a “God” Factor identified as a “Supreme Being” as of those who approach declaring that their starting position is that there is no “Supreme Being” of any kind.  For all of us, the quest for the truth inherent in practicing the ABCs of love holds a common question:  Based on our experiences, are we willing to re-examine our beliefs about life, including about a “God” Factor and our definitions of words we use such as “love,” “God,” “sacred,” “true,” “false,” “right,” “wrong,” “good,” “bad,” “devotion,” “growth,” “satisfaction,” “wisdom” and “life” as we encounter experiences and let them enrich our insights and understandings?  A discussion about whether the “God” Factor is a fact or a fiction need not be a source of friction any more than a discussion about what we believe to be “good and bad” or “right and wrong” needs to be.  We can expect each of us sometimes to hold our opinions and viewpoints with passionate emotions.  The exploration of issues introduced by The ABCs of Love invokes our emotions. Sometimes we may be surprised by the strength of our emotional attachment to an idea.  The question that love raises is “Are we willing to look at our emotions to see why we have strong attachments to certain ideas and consider revisiting those attachments and revising our ideas if and when each of us – without pressure from another person or any group – decides it is appropriate to do so?”

A discussion of any issue need not produce more friction than we can tolerate if we are willing to release our minds from assumptions and beliefs we’ve acquired earlier in life when our current experiences challenge those assumptions and beliefs with new information or perceptions.  By “release,” I do not mean that we automatically discard a belief simply because an experience seems to conflict with it or another person (or group, minority or majority) disagrees with it. I mean that we exercise our freedom to be “willing” to re-examine our beliefs and assumptions – together with the emotions associated with them – in light of our experiences. In this freedom, we then decide whether or not we continue to hold onto a belief or assumption or let it go in favor of a revised or alternative one.  I encourage us to participate in this process of shared thinking because I discovered in my life that reasoning includes revisiting and rethinking our ideas not alone but in the company of others who honor our emotions and ideas as well as value us as people.

For example, suppose we were using a new system to navigate the world’s oceans and were told that the new system was designed on the assumption that the Earth is more or less spherical while we had believed all our life that the Earth is flat and our own senses seemed to tell us it was flat.  As far as we could look, we saw flatness.  Would we therefore automatically cast aside the new system without testing it?  Some would; others wouldn’t.  At issue is not merely what and how we decide but also “Why do we decide as we do?”  To be aware of our thinking process includes being aware of emotions that influence us our willingness to take risks.

To believe that there is no “God” Factor that is potentially helpful in our quest for more love simply because we cannot see or detect “Truth,” “Love,” “the Golden Rule” or any kind of “Supreme Being” scientifically may be as valid as the belief that the Earth is flat – a belief that once seemed confirmed by our inability to detect the curvature of the Earth as we stand upon it.  “Looks flat to me!”  So, we declare it’s flat.  “Cannot detect a “God” Factor anywhere in my life!”  So, we declare there is no “God” Factor.  It may be logical but also may be mistaken because information flowing into an observer’s mind may be filtered through his or her belief in the sanctity of the idea, assumption or attitude with which she or he started.  To remain open to the possibility of acquiring richer insights and understandings based on experiences, one cannot worship an idea as if it’s set in stone and make it sacred.  To do so is to risk making that idea into a rigid idol.  One must be willing to let go of blinders that limit one’s awareness.  A belief that there is no “God” Factor may be sacred to those who hold it – as sacred as a belief in a “Supreme Being” is to those who hold that belief.  In addition, a person may hold sacred a definition of a “Supreme Being’s” nature although it may be incomplete or inaccurate.  The issue is “Do we recognize that we exercise faith when we declare something to be true without being able yet to prove it’s true?”   Are we willing to be like fish who once gave little or no thought to the invisible water in which they swim and unconsciously place their faith and now investigate the invisible with growing curiosity about its nature and function in our lives? Might the nature and quality of the waters of life be important?

Placing faith in the Scientific Method of hypothesis, experimentation and observation is as much an act of faith as placing faith in religious teachings or some abstract principle like the Golden Rule. Science, religion and ethics are sets of ideas making up systems of ideas handed down generation after generation complete with their own internal self-validating processes.  Every thought system risks being a closed system of thinking. The ABCs of Love is an open system of thinking.  That is why every practitioner of it will find aspects that challenge the beliefs he or she holds dear, even sacred. Are you willing to tolerate having your most cherished beliefs and assumptions uncovered,questioned and perhaps validated, or perhaps not validated in whole or part?

I write about The ABCs of Love based in part on my own challenging experiences that have demonstrated the value of the principles and practices outlined here.  I remain open to feedback from practitioners to continue to enrich the content and sharing of the ABCs of love.  I am on a journey as a practitioner just as I encourage everyone to be.  The “God” Factor has challenged me throughout my journey.  At the beginning of my journey, I had given little thought to what a concept of “God” might mean.  I had heard about there being a “Supreme Being” and assumed that to be “Supreme” meant having the power define life and be more in control of it than I would ever be.  To me it was the essence of any idea of “Supreme” that I could not define the nature of  a “God” but could only accept that, if there is a “God,” that entity (by whatever name called) would define itself and reveal itself to me if it chose to.  I believed I could not create a “God,” but there might be a “God” who created me.  Otherwise, I did as best I could to treat others “right,” whatever that may mean from time to time.  Looking back, I believe my initial “God” Factor was some version of the Golden Rule.

            Eventually, I began to think more consciously about a “God” Factor as I matured and had children of my own and also addressed issues in my community that concerned the welfare of children beyond my own.  Thinking about the welfare of children stretched my mind to consider an ever expanding range of ideas and options that came to my attention that seemed to influence the welfare of children.  Gradually, the “God” Factor that I’d pushed off to the edge of my life while a young adult, edged back into an increasingly more central role in my thinking.  I began to reference what I thought (my “opinions” and “viewpoints”) to sources beyond myself, most of which I found in material authored by experts in fields of study related to life in general and to children’s wellbeing in particular.  The authors’ ideas came alive to me as I wove them into my own practices and explored their benefits.  I began to adopt aspects of other people’s viewpoints into my own. I came to see that ideas that proved most helpful often came from authors who made reference to a “God” Factor (e.g., life’s spiritual features and principles) as if there is a “God” Factor of some sort.  I also noticed that the “God” Factor many authors believed in did not express the judgmental nature that I had assumed a “Supreme Being” would express.  I had to continually revise my ideas about the “God” Factor as authors’ ideas came together to build a picture of a wise, compassionate, understanding and forgiving “Gentle Essence” who might have a personal nature as I do and even include me within the scope of His/Her/Its benevolent care and love.

I discovered in the process that I was afraid of the “God” Factor of which I held a fuzzy, ill-defined concept.  And I was afraid of love.  Fear colored my ideas about both.  In the face of fears of the Unknown and of my failure and inadequacy to master the art of love, I wrestled with a “God” Factor that I assumed was judging and finding fault with me – and would therefore impose consequences upon me for my failure to perform well enough to earn a “good grade.”  I realized that I confused my concept of a“God” Factor with the performance-oriented habits I’d acquired trying to please my parents and other authority figures in my life.  It became as important to me to please a “Supreme Authority Figure” as a “God” Factor as it had been to please my parents and teachers.  Questions such as “What pleases ‘God’ most?” became important to me.  Was it blind obedience to rules?  Cooperation within relationships?  Grace, mercy and justice that might sometime supersede rules?  Forgiveness?  Faith?  As I stumbled along pursuing these questions to their limits, I discovered by experience that there is a “Supremely Gracious Authority Figure” quite unlike any most people speak about or seem to know exists.

Through my experiences, I discovered that Huston Smith made a valid point in his book The World’s Religions. Having studied a broad range of paths of faith in depth – both mainstream and minority branches, Smith summarized that all paths of faith in some sort of “Supreme Being” held in common these three ideas about the “God” Factor:  1) there is a Creator who is the source of all life; 2) one can seek and receive help from the Source of life who desires to sustain the life of every person (seeker and not-yet seeker) on the best terms possible; and 3) regardless of how certain some people claim to be about the “Supreme Being’s” nature and what that “Being” thinks, most of what is true about that “Being” remains a mystery to humans.  I formed the impression that A) all paths of faith converged in and shared a common mystical experience of a “God” Factor not yet experienced by those who had not yet become aware of the mystical dimension of their chosen path of faith and B) all who delved deep enough into their chosen path would arrive at this mystical encounter.

I now accept that I’m on a journey delving into the depths of a multifaceted mystery that I’ll never fully comprehend.  Many people fear the “Mysterious Unknown.”  No longer fearing it, I’ve discovered that the “Mysterious Unknown” has never stopped creating for the benefit of Creation and that we are an important facet of Creation but not the only facet.  We have our place and role and need to learn to respect all living beings throughout Creation in order to fulfill our role and feel deeply satisfied within our hearts.  I’ve learned that the “Mysterious Unknown” is pleased when we feel deepest wholehearted satisfaction because that’s how we detect the presence of the “Being” even now – within our empathy-connected hearts as if we and that “Being” share one heart as well as one life of continuous co-creation.  I’ve discovered that I prefer to be wise rather than foolish and that, in the long run, learning to listen to the “Supreme Yet Mysterious Authority Figure” in my heart allows me to be guided by wisdom and joy.

While the ultimate destination of my life remains a hinted-at mystery, I grow a little more confident every day in my capacity to walk forward into the Unknown while filled with unfathomable depths of love and allow the Unknown to be revealed to me bit by bit rather than be so afraid of the Unknown as to avoid it entirely.  Although the “God” Factor remains a mystery and largely unknown to me, on account of my experiences I can report that the journey has been wondrously enriching and rewarding and that my encounters with the “God” Factor have not included any condemnation or punishment by a “Supreme Authority Figure” such as I once was taught to fear. All condemnation and punishment has come from frightened, ego-based people who refuse to experience and express the fullness of their own compassionate hearts.  While I don’t know all there is to know about the “God” Factor, I am encouraged by what I’ve come to know so far.  I am also grateful for having come to accept the presence of a Divine Source of Love and Life so that my heart can be awash with the flow of Life and Love moment by moment – all as if to prove that heaven is here and now on Earth because it manifests itself to me within my heart and mind as our sharable Reality.

I hope you also will boldly investigate the “God” Factor and dare to explore the possibilities to discover your own insights and understandings while enjoying the journey of life as love’s gracious peace, hope, joy and wisdom flow into, through and beyond your heart and mind with increasing, yet ever gentle power.

© Art Nicol 2017

 

Honoring the Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

At this time in January, there’s a focus on the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.  Much is said and written about honoring the man for the ideas for which he stood and put his life at risk.  Much is made of the “legacy” he left us.  However, little is said about his legacy not being self-activating.  If there’s a reason for the continuation of the issues to which MLK Jr. devoted his life it lies in his legacy not being self-activating.  If there’s a reason for the tenacity of these issues it lies in the fact that MLK Jr. focused not exclusively upon symptoms but also upon root causes.  If we are to enjoy the benefits of expanding success in the field of social justice, we must join him in his focus upon root cause.

If we are to be beneficiaries of MLK Jr.’s generosity, we cannot look upon his legacy with passivity nor ignore root causes while legislating against symptoms we seek to address by merely banishing them from view.  We cannot honor him merely with words, especially not words voiced only once a year, but not even words voiced throughout the year in the form of legislation and regulations, policies and principles.  More than words are needed to receive the legacy MLK Jr. left us.  More than legislation is required to carry it forward to give birth to its promise and nurture it to maturity.

To reap the generosity MLK Jr. had in mind when he devoted his life to leading us together into doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God, we too must walk in whatever way God shows us to walk today to address at their root causes the issues that continue to need addressing.  Opportunities to do so abound.  That we might not be gifted as an orator does not excuse us from finding our own gifts and devoting them to service to address the issues MLK Jr. addressed.  If we truly want to fully honor him, we must ensure that he did not die in vain.  To do so, we must look deep into the heart of the messages he left us and find concrete ways to address at their root cause the issues he identified.  MLK Jr. espoused grand ideas that inspired his followers to act upon them.  We can likewise give life to those ideas through our own actions as we invest our gifts in the same field of social justice in which MLK Jr. invested his.

When MLK Jr. was assassinated, his field of ministry was expanding.  He saw the need to include the needs of all people in the implementation of justice and mercy throughout the nation and beyond it.  Our vision of the possibilities of service must likewise be expansive and yet can be as localized as MLK Jr.’s actions often were.  Although his thinking was expanding globally, his actions usually focused locally.  Where and when he was is where and when he took his stand.  Where and when we are is where and when we can likewise take our stands for justice, mercy and equality under God’s dominion. He endeavored to see issues from God’s heavenly and eternal perspective and yet take action from within humankind’s experiences in the here and now.  He sought to elevate service by people towards other people as sacred acts of justice, mercy and love.  He saw within the specific and concrete actions taken by people the redeeming brilliance of abstract ideals that God has espoused for millennia.

One example of this interplay between the concrete and the abstract, between the specific and the general, between the fully human and the fully divine, will illustrate my point about how we may yet more comprehensively honor MLK Jr.’s legacy by investing our lives fully and meaningfully in the here and now.  Of the many visionary ideas MLK Jr. left us to consider was one captured in his declaration, “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.”  (I Have a Dream Speech, August 28, 1963.)  If we examine this abstract idea with clear minds and hearts, we will see how to implement it in concrete, specific ways.

As a side note, it’s interesting that discussions about the meaning of this ideal tend to focus upon the nature, origin and dynamics of racial discrimination.  Yet, today in the US we face continued if not increased racial discrimination, often more covertly practiced than before but not diminished. All of the discussions about it have produced discouragingly little lasting fruit.  This failure to bear abundant fruit has even soured some people on the idea of civil rights, as if it’s not ever going to be possible to adequately dispel racial discrimination and disharmony in our nation.  I offer up here the idea that the goal of reducing racial discrimination and disharmony to the point of dispelling both entirely (or at least to socially negligible proportion) remains viable if and only if we address the root cause of discrimination and disharmony, not only such as are based on color of skin but also such as are based on any other superficial factor inherent in the human race.

I propose that to honor MLK Jr.’s legacy fully will result in reducing discrimination and disharmony across the board for all excuses any person gives for discriminating unjustly or promoting disharmony unproductively.  Root cause!  MLK Jr. identified the root cause of racial discrimination (and, I propose, all forms of invidious discrimination) in his declaration about his hoped-for future for his children. But we have studiously avoided focusing on what he said in this regard because we are uncomfortable with the idea of addressing the root cause.  To remain comfortable within our familiar territory, we have learned to tolerate the continuation of discrimination in an array of forms and turn a blind eye to it rather than address it.

Admittedly it is challenging to address the root cause of discrimination because doing so requires that every one of us take stock of an aspect of ourselves we have little skill at (or stomach) for evaluating and addressing.  However, if we are to fully honor the legacy MLK Jr. died to leave to us, we will take stock of “the content of [our] character” and engage in upgrading our character’s content and nature until we’ve purged ourselves of all character weaknesses and cease to perceive, think, feel, decide and act under the influence of our former weaknesses.  Building strong, resourceful and responsible characters requires effort, self-discipline and determination to succeed at any cost.  It’s much easier to intellectually debate the nature, origins and dynamics of racial discrimination for centuries than to devote the next decades to gut-wrenching, heart-rending character-building, with its requirements for humility, honesty and vulnerability and its ongoing need for self-monitoring and self-discipline.

We have the capacity for humility, honesty and vulnerability as well as self-monitoring and self-discipline.  But these are not traits of humanity that insist upon their existence in the modern era within which survival and advancement according to modern criteria are based on an opposite set of values, priorities, attitudes and skill set.  To build characters worthy of honoring, we must resolve not to conform to the ways of modern culture and instead sink the roots of our lives resolutely in the soil of deeper concerns, values and priorities than those to which our modern culture subscribes — and develop attitudes and skills not promoted by our culture as survival skills.  We must cease to be dedicated to the preservation of the status quo – because the status quo is betraying our character and revealing us to be weak in our resolves about doing better.

The opposite of sound character is hypocrisy.  Models of social success based on hypocrisy abound around us.  Models of sound character valued at any cost are not necessarily non-existent but they are largely buried in fiction and considered fanciful and impractical or are buried beneath the hype by which hypocrisy is sensationalized and promoted as the more reliable route to fame and fortune.  Messages about the value of sound character are lost amid the media’s glamorizing of hypocrites who sell their souls to gain the world’s acclaim, show off their wealth and regale in their social status. The media amplifies self-promoting blowhards and windbags while largely overlooking their alternatives of sounder character.  There is no silence of the hams nor inclination of the media to refuse to serve them up to the public as a constant diet.  And the eagerness of the public to feed their minds according to the media’s dietary plan reflects a lack of sound character among the fragile public whose hearts fix upon false idols that glitter and may even be gold but are never God.

When we have created public as well as private programs to promote sound character among ourselves and our children and immersed ourselves within them with utmost determination until we emerge transformed by a renewal of our hearts and minds, we will continue to suffer from racial discrimination and disharmony and all other forms of injustice.  Should we insist that others engage in character-transforming programs for as long as it takes to emerge transformed?  No, because going against a person’s free will is not likely to bring about deep and lasting change within that person.  Yet, we can develop such programs, ourselves voluntarily participate in them and simultaneously offer them to all who are willing to explore them.  If we do so, the fruits of such participation will be self-evident and the role models who emerge from these programs will cause skeptics to pay attention and bid them drift ever closer to participating themselves.

One day all hypocrisy (and its close cousins dishonesty and violence) will disappear from our national character because we have resolutely weeded it out from our individual characters one opportunity, one issue and one person at a time until the pattern of generalized character sustainability takes hold.  Just as a field of weeds springs from individual weed seeds so, too, does a field of honor, integrity, health, peace and goodwill among all peoples spring from individual seeds who decide to become one with and to express that crop throughout all relationships in their lives.  The miracle of such a social justice transformation beckons us to heed the vision Martin Luther King Jr. once held out to us.  He holds it out to us even now as we re-read his words and take them into our hearts at the depth from which they emerged from his.

© Art Nicol 2017