Tag Archives: relationships

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

Co-Conspirators in Deceiving Ourselves

Unless you are willing to be diligently honest with yourself about your emotions and learn how to express them in helpful instead of harmful ways, you participate in your family and all groups and communities including society at large as a co-conspirator in perpetuating lies.  Pretenses, deceptions, images, roleplaying, lies, propaganda, marketing, spin-doctoring, excuses, justifications, rationalizations  . . .   It does not matter what we call them. They are all classified as unhealthy for relationships at all levels or “dysfunctional.”  Don’t let the variety of terms fool you.  What matters is that they are all of the same nature at heart.  In their essence, they are all expressions of our failure to be honest with ourselves about our emotions and about our lack of skills in processing our emotions in healthy, caring ways.

Failure to be in touch with, aware of and capable of expressing our emotions in healthy, helpful ways causes our hearts to be deceitful because we need habits of deceit to keep our emotions from coming to our awareness or letting them be spontaneously expressed.  We each build our habits of deceit to mask our emotions.  We build these habits one step at a time through painful experiences as we practice denying how we feel and instead pretend that we either feel some other way or do not feel emotions at all.  For most of us, our habits become reactive and we operate on autopilot while no longer aware of how we hide our emotions from ourselves and others as if emotions are dangerous.  Might we want to practice another, deceit-free way of relating to ourselves and one another and stop pretending that we enjoy our deceptive lifestyles?  Might we want to unwire our autopilot and become consciously aware of and responsible for our emotions again?  The automated deceptive way is not our only option.  We are merely mistaken to believe it is.  We could choose to become diligently, courageously and compassionately honest in all humility and enjoy life a whole lot more simply because we’d be a whole lot more whole.

The root cause of the painful emotions we feel is the way we crucify ourselves and others on the cross of pride and shame as the horizontal bar and guilt and blame as the vertical shaft.  By pride and shame we bar the door to heartfelt intimacy.  By guilt and blame we continuously give ourselves and each other the shaft.  We draw and quarter ourselves on this quadrant of crucifixion when, truth be known, we do not need to crucify ourselves or anyone else if we’d let go of the habits of judging ourselves and others by how successful we are at being dishonest. We could instead appreciate each other for doing our best to be honest as we struggle together to change our habits and master the art of humble honesty.  And we’d no longer have reason to hate ourselves for lacking the courage to be honest about the sensitive nature of our hearts.

No one starts out with the intention of building a life based on lies.  Every one of us without exception begins life as a sensitive, innocent child who knows no better than to blurt out the truth about how we feel.  Yet, so long as we are raised around people who have been well-trained in the social rules and traditions of censoring and silencing their hearts, we will learn to censor and silence ours as well.  We learn as we are punished for being honest and rewarded for pretending.  To get along with others whose hearts are censored and silenced according to the “reward-and-punishment rules of the game,” we must learn to play the game of pretending.  If we learn the game well, we’ll learn to punish ourselves before anyone has to punish us or to shift the punishment to others by blaming or shaming them.  “He started it” is a good start in shifting disapproval to the other towards whom we point our finger of ill-fate.  The other fingers point back towards ourselves in silent self-hate.

To fail to learn to play the game well is to be exiled into loneliness or condemned to suffer at or near the bottom of every pecking order in town.  We learn to scratch in the earth in the barnyard for our tidbits of approval and be afraid of those with more powerful social status and pecking power than ours.  Only when we can peck as well the best of them do we dare to challenge those who previously pecked us and take our turn as a pecker.  Most of us live as chickens, too scared to challenge the roosters in the barnyard, but a few dare to challenge them and learn to crow as loudly and peck and kick as furiously.  But few challenge the whole idea of being a member of the farmer’s cooped-up flock.  To sustain such a challenge promises only more heartache of the most primal nature – total rejection from the group by whatever criteria we identify the group.

The roosters compete to rule the roost.  In the human flock, a rooster need not be a male cock.  She may be a hen who decided to copy a cock’s ways and out-do cocks at their own game.  Female roosters are increasingly more prevalent in modern times as feminism asserts the rights of women to be as nasty in their ways of competition as men have ever been.  The rules of the game don’t change.  Only the players change according to the current trends favoring dominance under the group’s rules for power-grabbing.  And when competing within the rules fails to gain the goals we seek, we subvert the rules and grab power some other way if we can get away with it.  Layers of deceit hide our corruption of the rules.  Politics continues as business as usual in all arenas of life in which power-dominance rather than power-sharing prevails as both the means and the end.  Only the rare bird who declares there is another way of honoring power as a shared community asset to bless the whole community dares to stand apart from the politics of the day and show himself or herself as an example of what could be “if only” we dared collectively to try this alternative long enough to give it a realistic opportunity to prove itself.

On the way to proving that an alternative does truly exist, those who dare to stand apart as examples fall and disappear because the roosters in the barnyard set no self-restraining limits on how they will exercise power to keep and advance their rooster status as they also protect the game that favors their dominance.  Assassination is an acceptable means for those who have in mind as their ultimate goal the maintenance and advancement of their deceitful claims to roosterhood.  Rather than be exposed for their ruthless means of maintaining their roosterhood, current roosters will go to any length to wipe out (or at least disembowel) the opposition’s leadership, oppress the opposition’s followership and write history to demonstrate the superiority of maintaining the status quo of the roosters’ dominance in the face of claims that an alternative exists.  It’s always better that one man or woman should perish than that a whole barnyard of peckers in their pecking order should perish.  By whatever means necessary, these truthseekers – and worse, truth-tellers — must be silenced.

And so it goes throughout human history.  Men and women who seek to stand up for justice for the whole flock and dare to challenge the way things have always been die if they are not willing to be silenced some other way.  The more they speak from positions that may be heard by the flock, the more likely it is that they must die.  Silencing them simply will not be permanent enough for the sake of roosters’ collective claim upon permanent dominance.  Roosters prefer to fight beak and spur against other roosters on rooster terms than to see the whole system by which rooster dominance is preserved be replaced by a system with other values, means and ends.  Roosters fight for preservation of the status quo even when they have to switch out their positions of dominance and take up other roles of power within the flock. Why? Because they have no idea how to participate in the alternative way of distributing power equitably among the members of the flock for the benefit of the flock instead of for the roosters’ own private benefit.  Private benefits, private property, exclusive control and dominance and similar values swing widely out of balance when the roosters become desperate to preserve their positions of power by any means available.  Heartlessly deceptive means are as good a means as any other when the chips are down. What is heartlessness to the man or woman who long ago gave up having a heart in favor of pretending to be satisfied with amassing power for powers sake?

How might we stop playing by the roosters’ game and participate in the alternative way of shared power?  We must stop being self-deceptive and start being honest with ourselves and others about our emotions.  Denial of emotions produces egos that are more than willing to continue to play games to manipulate other people to amass power, property and popularity by any means.  The more hardhearted the ego, the less the rules — as well as personal character, integrity and authenticity — matter. All that matters is gaining more power.  What the cocks and their competitors for power among the hens won’t tell you is what they do not know for sure but likely do suspect.  In their lust for power, greed for prosperity and vanity for insanity there’s something of great value missing from their lives.

What might that “missing element of life” be that can only be experienced by those who are honest about their emotions and free their hearts once again to be tender and compassionate?  What do the defenseless have an opportunity to experience that competitive egos miss?  Listen to your heart.  You may well sense the answer there.  It’s a truth that we all share. It’s the one true power that really matters.  It is love that has gone missing while we’ve scrambled in the dusty barnyard for our bits of grainy approval flung to us by very few who own the barnyard and pen us up so deceitfully.  It is love that can come our way as unexpectedly as insects and worms might pass our way to supplement our artificial diet of bits of putrefying grain.  Love has the power to liberate us to range cage-free.

Might we dare to value love more than another insect or worm that holds protein for our bodies but no energy for our spirits?  Might the owners of the barnyard and our pens be amazed if we were to fly the coop entirely and cease to be imprisoned by our egos?  Might we be willing to discover once again that we have wings meant to fly free and range beyond our cramped cages and fenced-in barnyards? Might we discover what’s been too long missing in our own lives and value it so highly as to stop pecking on each other long enough to discover that in each of us is a sister or brother who once was a good egg until she or he mistakenly learned the barnyard’s games of power-dominance and mistook it as the only way to survive?  Might by love’s power it be possible that we all may thrive – all without exception or exclusion, including the roosters who previously believed so cruelly and self-deceptively otherwise?  As we each forsake the way of self-deception let us always remember that we once, too, were deceived into forming ego’s habits of dishonesty.  May we allow every other person to rise free of ego too – without pride or shame, guilt or blame remaining to taint their risen presence.  We all need to be resurrected from the ego’s tomb and allowed to see and be the light again.

© 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

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

Arbitrary Power Expresses Maximum Powerlessness

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Art Nicol 2016

Let’s Not Yet Dismiss Jesus As Impotent and Irrelevant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Art Nicol 2016