Thursday, August 15, 2013

How Hard Can It Be?

Dr. Margaret Stortz, our speaker for the Free Event at Stepping Stones Books & Gifts in August, recently published a very interesting article in the August issue of Science of Mind Magazine.  The title is How Hard Can It Be? and in it she talks about efforts she has made to simplify her life.  We think you will enjoy reading the the excerpt below and, if you want to read the entire article, click on "Read more", or pick up the August copy of Science of Mind Magazine.  And, don't forget to join us here for an evening with Dr. Margaret on August 30.

When I personally think about where I want to find myself in a place of trustworthy spirituality, I  have to ask:  How hard can it be?  How complicated do I have to make my thoughts and practices on a daily basis?  Is there some mind-twisting place I have to enter so that I can feel I am engaged with the Divine Spirit?  The answer that comes to me says simply:  It can be as hard as I want to make it…and I am certainly not interested in complicating my life any more than it already is!

Thinking of how simple things can be, I am reminded of a preciously simple little song that begins Leonard Bernstein’s Mass, first performed in 1971.  It almost sings itself:   “Sing God a simple song/Lauda, Laude/ Make it up as you go along/ Lauda, Laude/ Sing as you like to sing/God loves all simple things/And love is the simplest of all.”  The fact that this song which just rolls off the tongue was part of a Roman Mass composed by the Jewish Bernstein is in itself an unfolding simplicity.  It has to make one think that the great themes of, peace and the search for the Divine...ought to be a whole lot simpler than they are.

Simplicity as Nostalgia
If we are longing for a simpler life, perhaps it would be a good idea to check whether or not we are just nostalgic for some present resting place in the past.  The past, of course, has its place in our lives.  It gives us depth and “thickness,” but we should know that those trips down Memory Lane can sometimes sidetrack us from present situations that need our attention.  Very recently I heard a sound that I have not heard for many decades…foghorns!  I grew up in San Francisco, the “city by the bay” of Tony Bennett’s iconic song, and all my growing-up years I heard fog horns during the foggy seasons.  They literally “sang” to one another in varying tones, sometimes from the west bay and sometimes eastward, sometimes coming from the San Francisco harbor, sometimes from the San Pablo yards.  The horns left my active memory as they were replaced by better technologies and no longer sounded.  I still live by the bay and recently there were two blasts...two only...that reeled me right back into my younger years.  I have to say that the memory trip was nice, but I also know that today’s simplicities have to be found in other ways.

Simplicity in the God Experience 
Ernest Holmes constantly tried to reveal the uncomplicated, open door to God.  He reminded us that we are always subject to God’s light and that it is the same light for all, that we all share the Nature of God, just one Nature diffused through all.  He spoke of a “sane simplicity” to which we should all return, a simplicity which has become complicated and convoluted by various religious systems that claim an exclusive corner on truth.  Nothing could be simple about that.

One of our current religious scholars, retired Episcopal Bishop, John Shelby Spong, has in his own way tried to make the “God experience” more credible.  In his wisdom and love he has taken the magical language out of spiritual discussions and given us a wholly natural view of the wonderful son, Jesus, as one who invites us to enter into the “God experience known in the fullness of life.”  Miracles are not the setting aside of natural law by supernatural means.  They are, as Spong writes, “part of the vision of wholeness that inspires us human beings to press the limits of our humanity in an eternal search for the transcendence that we feel is our destiny.”  At this point in our lives, how else can we live our spiritual lives more completely except through our human footprints on the ground?  Could there be a more natural way for us to bring our spirituality into life than as human beings sharing a recognized Oneness?

Simplicity, however, does not necessarily translate to an easy flow of living.  In my thinking, the simplest things in the world would be the acceptance of Oneness with the Whole.  Intuitively, organically I have always known this in my mind and heart, and no teachings in my upbringing occurred to disrupt this.  I had only to more formally structure my understanding of what Oneness meant to me, but nothing more.  Even so, my wonderful, necessary, imperfect humanity gets in the way of living a life of uninterrupted Oneness.  I get hurt; I get upset, annoyed, irritated, hard to get along with and unwilling to explore where another is coming from.  When I am in this place, I bleed psychologically, and the rush of imagined separation parks on my doorstep and obscures my sense of Oneness.

The Loss of Simplicity
The artifices of our lives can become killing experiences in our spirits for a time.  Sometimes we insist on perpetuating ideologies of separation that keep us from one another, ideologies that cannot tolerate diversity in thinking or appearance.  Drugs may have their place…certainly there is no “thing” that does not have spiritual overtones…but we can become dependent on feel-good therapies so that we don’t have to think through hard things to get to spiritual realignment.  This says nothing about where we may find ourselves in relationship to one of the greatest complications of all…money.  As students of truth we all have the opportunity to view money as spirit in form, having only the importance we give it, neither good nor bad in itself.  In theory this is a wonderful way to hold money; in practice our dealings with it become way more complex.  This article is not considering the moral concerns about the use of money, only the complication it has become in our lives.  In societies that are market driven, we now have to ask if money is intruding where it does not belong.  Author, Michael Sandel, worries that “we are moving toward a society in which everything is up for sale.”  Some of this can seem pretty goofy if it didn’t indicate the limits to which we will go for money. Consider this:  “Rent out a space on your forehead (or elsewhere on your body) to display commercial advertising.”  Air New Zealand hired thirty people to shave their heads and wear temporary tattoos with the slogan ‘Need a change?  Head down to New Zealand.’’’  Have we gone so far into the world of commodifying everything that we are forgetting what is sacred, what can only be freely given and not bought?  We may not be able to buy love, but we certainly succeed in buying “pretend” love.

Simplicity Made Simple
Of course we know that our lives are demanding and that there is a need to stay on top of things. What we might ask ourselves is how many things we have accumulated that we now must stay on top of!  Practicing our spirituality has an almost automatic way of slowing everything down and letting ideas fall into place.  I have a friend who meditates regularly and has decided that some of the real advantages of meditation are to quiet down the body systems and allow the mind to think of one idea at a time.

How healthy it would be to cut down on our racing thoughts and allow mind and body to ruminate on some quality of the Divine!  This would allow our mind/body systems to reset to optimal positions of functionality, every part of us flowing calmly into every other part without having a fire at our feet.

I consider the Dalai Lama one of the masters of simple living.  He has needed to be far more worldly than the Dalai Lamas before him because his early flight from his homeland into exile has made it necessary for him to be on the world stage far more than he might have imagined.  Nevertheless he keeps to the sacred simplicities of his life and shares them with us.  He speaks of loving acts of compassion toward others, and he carries with him his practices of restraint from negative emotions, his spiritual disciplines and the cultivation of virtuous thinking, all of which assist him in remaining the “simple monk” he describes himself to be.  Anyone who is aware of this simple monk cannot miss the joy he carries with him.  It is in his giggle, and I am sure it is in the removal of as many distractions as he can eliminate from his spiritual energies.

How hard would it be to pare away some of the add-ons that we crowd into our days?  The things that need our minds, hearts and energies of course deserve our attentions, but there are superfluities that do not.  I know people who live in a perpetual state of “as long as”….as long as I’m doing job or that task, I’ll just pile on more to do… As long as I am going out, I’ll jam three places to go in the space for two. I don’t live that way anymore because I simply don’t have the energies available, but what if we made a choice to live in a state of what I call “wholeness, holiness and joy.” Everyone’s magnificent spirit needs care and attention.  Mind and body we can make the time and space for the Infinite to pour through us with more ease and less complications.  We can begin to sort out again what is important…and what is not.  We can think about what gets our attention and how deserving it is.  How hard can this be?

Details about the upcoming evening with Dr. Margaret may be found here.

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