So how exactly does one go about discovering the rules by which to live? Rather than filter through all the outside sources available, I began my journey internally because of something intriguing Jesus once said. In response to a question regarding when the Kingdom of Heaven would come, Jesus replied, “The Kingdom of Heaven cannot be observed, and no one will announce ‘Look, here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ for behold, the Kingdom of Heaven is within you.” Clearly, if the Kingdom of Heaven is within us surely it is the inner world that changes how, not what we observe in the outside world. Later on in the gospel of Mark, Jesus says this about why he spoke so often through parables: “The mystery of the Kingdom has been granted to you. But to those outside….they may look and see but not perceive, and hear and listen but not understand.” Paradoxically, focusing inward to create a foundation for the rules one chooses to live by seems counter intuitive. Most instruction and learning comes from the outside in. Tapping into the Kingdom within is the first and most necessary step in being able to actually see and understand clearly what the outside world stands to teach us. Think of trying to read in the dark. A book, no matter how brilliant, is worthless if there is no light to illuminate what is written on the page. Tapping into my inner resources turned on a light that gave me a different kind of sight, and it has certainly changed how I see the world.
I don’t want to get too hung up on semantics but, the Kingdom within has been described in many different ways: the voice of truth, the cosmic consciousness, intuition, conscience, etc. Whatever you choose to call it, it is the inner voice which speaks from deep down inside. Because the concept of intuition is present in many cultures and, for me anyway, doesn’t carry as much theological baggage as and is more feminine than “The Kingdom of Heaven,” it’s the label I’m going to use to describe the melody of the universe. Intuition, is actually defined as the act of mentally looking into, contemplation, perception; a mental view. Archetypically, it is associated with all things feminine, especially in many religious traditions. In Eastern religions, the symbol of the Yin-Yang, or t’ai chi, represents the interaction of opposites such as male/female and light/dark. It is the combinations of all kinds of opposites that form the world we see. Culturally, intuition is associated with femininity; it represents darkness, water, instinct and feeling. Without subscribing to “Emo” culture, we are going to delve into the black side of the yin-yang symbol. Because it is in basking in the coolness of the yang, that I discovered my own intuition which became a mechanism for accessing the Kingdom within.
Let me also say that getting in tune with intuition isn’t just for women, although we may be given a predilection for knowing how to use it (fodder for another huge debate, but again I have plenty of tales to back this one up). This is not to be taken as advocating that all you men who are reading this to embrace your feminine side and get all emotional and sensitive (although it wouldn’t be a bad thing). You men out there should think about being taught by a woman, she may come in a variety of forms but for each and every one of you out there, like a guardian angel, some woman is ready to offer her perspective and it would behoove you to listen. So let go of the baggage of Eve, the apple and original sin for a moment and look inward to find the prize…and just breathe….and listen for the melody within.
Here is something that must be said. Simply stated, my faith in God is central to the way in which I observe the world—but that is just me. Although devout, I wouldn’t describe my faith as typical. I know I’ve said this before, but as a theology student I was given an assignment to find a biblical passage to represent my faith…my choice?: King David dancing naked before the Ark of the Covenant—draw your own conclusions. In the rash of religious fundamentalism that has taken hold of many in today’s world, I am almost a bit embarrassed to share my passion and devotion to God for fear of being pigeon-holed as an advocate for some of the idiocy that has come out of some religious fundamentalists. However, this post can be helpful to anyone regardless of where they are in life’s great journey or what philosophy or theology they embrace. My purpose here is to simply help people reflect on, and have a stake in how they choose to observe the ordinary things in this world because it matters more than you may realize. The many Christian and other spiritual images I use serve to illustrate what I have learned, and they just seem to make a lot of sense to me. More than anything, it is faith that God is behind me at all times that gives me the strength of this conviction: All things, are indeed possible.
Let me say this: the connections I’ve made based on how I observe the world have led me to new ideas which have resulted in becoming an effective force for change (or a force to be reckoned with depending on the day). Simply put, I found that most of the materials necessary to live out the movie in my head and the answers to my life’s questions came wrapped in ordinary brown paper, free for the taking. As much fun as it is to believe that a secret society, centuries ago, has buried the secret to happiness in countless riddles all over the globe, the truth is that it has been right in front of us all along.
The key lies in how to observe the ordinary: using ones own cosmic imagination to see everyday raw materials as essential ingredients in creating something greater, to achieve ones dream. I may just be stating the obvious, but I’m amazed at how many people don’t even begin to use the simple things that are right in front of them. They look, but do not really see. The growing sense of fear and despair in the world is all the proof that I need to bring a message of hope. Observing the world as one that is evolving into greatness shapes the very way one moves and creates in it. This is not just another take on “attitude is everything.” When I use the word “observation,” I’m not speaking about a passive action, rather, one that is the root of all creation and growth. I, in my ordinary-ness, am as essential a factor in the world’s equation for success as any president or king, because my observations are unique to me alone. And because they are unique to me alone, they can be the exact ingredient necessary for my greatness somewhere else.
Another observation I’ve made is that too many people want to bypass the middle of any process. We live in a day and age where the easiest route is always the best route, regardless of the cost. Having status is far more important than the process by which one attains it. What happens when one is given something too easily, without the opportunity to earn it? In an age where technology has made all our lives so much easier, perhaps we have lost the motivation to work hard…for anything. That may be a hard bit to swallow, but there is evidence out there to prove my point. I find the amount of money that goes into gambling and lottery pots around the world staggering. It is certainly more than the GNP of many third world countries in the world. What really is the end result for bypassing the middle where all the hard work is and jumping to the end? I think part of the reason that we want to bypass the middle is that there is a subtle underlying message today that tempts us into believing that life shouldn’t be hard, that there are ways to bypass any difficulty and that if you can’t fix it within a moment’s time, throw it away and buy something better. Sadly enough, there are more than enough individuals out there who have, to put it bluntly, just stopped moving period, forcing the rest of us to find our way around them.
I would also venture to say that most people out there have, at times, considered themselves to be inconsequential when it comes to making an impact on the world. They don’t see themselves as an essential element in something much greater. It is this belief that has created the grey cloud that is obstructing clear sight. I am here to say this: the roots of colossal change lie in the smallest and simplest things which often go unnoticed by the naked eye. When you bypass the middle of any process, you miss all the important stuff. It is the mustard seed approach that Jesus spoke about: taking something small and seemingly insignificant and learning to have faith in its potential, to put forth the effort to nurture it and see its place in the distant future, far after it has left my circle of influence. Like the beauty of our DNA’s double helix, every single element is essential in creating the blueprint that becomes a human being. It is the compilation of many different elements that expresses our potential. Why not look at our human family the same way?
Being in the middle of a process can also be, at times, tedious, hard work, full of uncertainty, and time-consuming. It also demands a great deal of humility and faith in the work being done and the process as a whole. It is my hope to give credit and encouragement to anyone in that middle place, where the effort is not glamorous, but is no less essential than finishing the job. All of us, at one time or another has had the tedious job of passing a bucket. Columbus may have been credited for discovering America, but when it came to the discovery of chocolate he was just a middle man
From my unrecognizable place in the world, I’ve seen a lot. Being in the middle has had its advantages. I’ve learned a lot from being a middle child, living in the Midwest, graduating several times in the middle of my class, having a middle-income, juggling the challenges of the middle class etc. Far from being mediocre, though, being in the middle has offered me an equidistant view to the world. From the thick of it, I see an increasing sense of discontentment, anxiety, stress and a loss of hope. It seems that my penchant for average has kept me, sometimes against my will in a position of observation. There seems to be a ubiquitous grey cloud that hangs over society today, even a midst the plethora of groups who have laid claim to the key to happiness or in the alternative try to isolate the exact source of our discontent and eradicate it. In all honesty, most of those groups on high who offer solutions to any and all problems if I would just surrender my control and give into “the right way of thinking” are never all that hopeful or happy, which truly doesn’t inspire much credibility on their part.
And yet, I’m not offering any magical solution either. However, it doesn’t mean that a solution isn’t there, just waiting to be recognized. After years of honing my observation skills, I think I understand why we aren’t necessarily in a better place. It all lies in our perception and our ability to see the solution. No solution to any problem is helpful if you can’t see it. So let me use another sense to focus on the problem. Focus on your hearing for a moment: I cannot sing. I’m not being modest. I really can’t sing. But, just because I’m aware of my own limitations vocally doesn’t mean that I also forgo the ability to make a decision about whether someone else can sing or not. Pretend you’re on a variation of the show American Idol. Now, instead of it being your job to listen to potential singers, focus on the contestant’s perception of their singing. The truth, or proof of talent, is what comes out of their mouths, not from voicing the opinion that they are the one you are looking for. Very often, you respond with incredulity, because it is painfully obvious that many of the contestants are delusional. Then, just when it feels like there is no hope, and you’re ready to accept anybody that may have only a glimmer of talent, a pure tone and melody presents itself often from the least likely contestant. It is keeping alive the hope, like a beautiful song, that an answer to a prayer exists out there for each one of us. All of us ordinary folk have been inundated with really bad singers for too long now. The negativity of the information we receive from almost every angle, like nails on a blackboard, is making my head hurt. Like those terrible singers on American Idol, some people are just plain off-key and should be told so. When truth becomes buried so deeply under the screeching of the tone-deaf, it does have an effect on the rest of the world, making it harder for the rest of us to hear the clear tones of truth.
Bad things happen, to be sure. The cure, though, is much more basic and a lot more boring, which may, to many people, make it far less interesting than being delusional. Truth is often the bitterest of pills and it is indeed a challenge to encourage consumption in a way that is palatable…but I do feel obligated to try. The answer lies in not what one sees, but how one sees it: the process of observation. For example, take something simple like the cacao bean, cane sugar, and cow’s milk. Looking at these raw materials singularly one may not see anything remarkable, but who could have guessed that, as an addendum to a long and adventurous journey of discovering a new world, these ordinary elements would work in concert together to become one of the great culinary discoveries of all time: chocolate.
The fact that chocolate has been a delicacy and has delighted our taste buds for centuries isn’t at all surprising. What may be surprising, though, are recent scientific studies that have also shown the impact that the properties of the cocoa bean has on our health. Many of you are probably aware that consuming chocolate releases endorphins : a natural morphine like substance that your body produces that inspires well-being. Were you aware that chocolate may also improve cognitive function and make your heart healthier also? Had the cocoa bean been left in its natural and bitter state, perhaps we wouldn’t have been so willing to include it as practically its own food group. Again, so there is a great food that is good for you, not such a big deal. The biggest miracle of chocolate though, doesn’t lie in our taste buds or sense of well-being, but how it came about in the first place.
The truly amazing part about the interactions between the Mayans, Aztecs, Columbus, Cortez, and some Spanish monks, is that individually they never intended to discover a new food. The creation of chocolate is only one example of what can happen when simple elements of different worlds unwittingly merge and then emerge into something entirely new and different. Like children do, the key is to observe the world in a way that is teeming full of potential. Perhaps it is God’s intent to present us the necessary raw materials and let our hearts be the source of seeing what ordinary elements mixed together can do to transform the bitter into the delightful. It also took time, some failures and a host of different players to find the perfect recipe. The creation of chocolate is the perfect metaphor for the plot of the movie in my head: there is always something great that can come out of any journey, even if it is unintentional. The challenge is to believe that any road can lead to chocolate by learning to see the infinite potential in ourselves, and the ordinary things and people one sees along the way. My entire life thus far is a living testimony to this truth.
In a general sense, the purpose of these post’s on observation is to create a cosmic sort of chocolate, so to speak: to create a process by which one can see the world in a way that looks as good as chocolate tastes…and is still healthy for you. It just doesn’t make sense that from this world of amazing raw materials God would give any of us great visuals without also setting us in the right direction and providing means necessary to be a part of bringing them to fruition. It’s simply a question of being able to see and then bring together the right ingredients. I’ve also learned not to be too rigid about what the final result will look like, to limit the number of roads necessary to get there or even stay around long enough to actually see the fruits of my labor. And I can say with confidence that I have never been disappointed. Confused at times, perhaps, but never disappointed.
That being said, because each of our lives are different I wouldn’t necessarily expect anyone else to fully understand or appreciate the movie in my head, like I probably wouldn’t fully appreciate what is going on in anybody else’s either. It’s important to preserve subjectivity. Not only are we all predisposed genetically to certain traits, we all have accumulated millions of different experiences, resulting in millions of unique personal dioramas. So really, no one individual will ever see the world in the same way any other does. This also means that no one else can give you an instruction book on how to live out the movie in your own head. What I’ve observed is that too many people rely on others to tell them how they must see the world to find success which is one of the causes of the world’s deluded thinking.
The whole point here is not to have you embrace the movie in my head, but to embrace the movie in your own head and learn to observe the world in such a way so that it can happen. Figuring out what ones uniqueness is and putting it out there in the world to mix with others is the first step. This is not without challenges, especially in this day and age, because being a totally different and unique individual often runs contrary to societies’ push to be defined by and live within specific cultural rules created by bigger and seemingly more powerful people than us ordinary folk. It is easy to succumb to the pressure to allow an external standard to tell you what to think and define who you are and your place of importance in this world. If we all saw the world the same way, there would never be growth, which depends on a myriad of different perspectives, from the grandest to the simplest. As an ingredient, my addition to the mix might be the most basic, but essential nonetheless. Like chocolate, it’s the different ingredients coming together that can bring a dream to life.
Because each of us is different, the need to have outside acceptance or approval can be fatal when striving to live one’s dream. Understanding what goes on in one’s head is central to the individual only. Don’t get me wrong, acceptance and approval is nice, but it isn’t a requirement. When I think of some of human histories greatest thinkers, Socrates, Plato, Jesus, Galileo, Shakespeare, Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Susan B. Anthony, Einstein, to a personal favorite of mine, Teilhard De Chardin, they were far more familiar with condemnation than acceptance. Where would we be if they hadn’t persisted in the face of societies’ disapproval? The simple reality is that no one else can live my life or fulfill my dreams, but me. Most of the things that I’ve accomplished in my life never would have happened had I waited for permission, approval, or enough of an understanding by other people of what goes on in my head for anyone to give me support in the first place.
While approval isn’t essential, it is also impossible to achieve one’s dream in a vacuum. We are all dependent on ordinary elements to make the movie in our heads a reality, whether it comes in the form of a person, an idea, or a simple experience. And it is being able to see the importance of those simple things and have faith in their potential in whatever guise they are presented to us that will determine one’s failure or success. Expecting that someone else can give you all the answers will almost guarantee failure, and rarely are they packaged with a bow and flashy wrapping. Although acceptance by others is never necessary in bringing a dream to life, the knowledge that each individual out there may be essentially the exact ingredient necessary for a dream is reason enough to encourage everyone to “be all that they can be.” The more I actualize my own dreams, the better chance, even if unwittingly, I can help actualize someone else’s. How often does that thought come into your heads? How often to do you start your day with this thought: I may be the exact ingredient necessary to help someone’s dream come true? Even if it is in the subtlest way, that thought should change everything about how you observe the world…when was the last time anyone told you that you were essential to success of the world…to the success of building the Kingdom of God? I thought so. So, let it start now. Be cosmic chocolate to someone. They don’t even need to be aware of it…only you do.
So how does one go about judging perspective? Is it even appropriate, especially given that we all walk in our own pair of shoes, is there any kind of measurement that we can use to create some kind of standard? Empathy for our fellow humans can only take us so far. Is there a human blueprint or archetype that we can use as a starting point? When I observe the men in my house, a great deal of the time I truly believe that I’m the only sane person in crazy town. Therein lies the rub…is it possible to truly understand perspective when all you have is your own…is there any substantive to point to judge what is truly illusory and crazy? I know there are a million self-help books out there, and I’ve actually read a few…but I’m looking for something more subtle. Is there an underlying beat, deeply embedded in our DNA, that we humans march too? Let’s talk about the Golden Mean.
The Golden Mean, or Golden Proportion is a particular construct I’ve used to help me give shape and form to a concept that is usually so illusive. Some of you who read this may be already familiar with this concept and for those of you who aren’t, I’ll explain it to the best of my ability (or you can always look it up in Wikipedia).
The Golden proportion is a special proportion deeply rooted in nature, art, math and philosophy that represents harmony and balance. According to ancient history, the Greek mathematician and astronomer Eudoxus of Cnidus (c.370 B.C.), noted that when he asked his associates to find the most pleasing placement of a crossbar, they naturally did so according to this proportion, 1 to .618. Here is a diagram (great thing, the internet).
The golden mean is also called PHI (pronounced “fee”, not to be confused with PI) in the language of mathematics. PHI was derived from a sequence of numbers created by a thirteenth century mathematician named Leonardo Fibonacci. The sequence is a progression in which each term is equal to the sum of the two preceding numbers: 1-1-2-3-5-8-13-21, and the quotients of the adjacent terms possessed the property of achieving the number 1.618, which is PHI, or the golden proportion. PHI is found throughout some of the best architecture in history, including the Great Pyramid and the Parthenon. You’ll see it in art, (a classic Greek urn, da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man) nature, (the spiral of a sea shell) biology, (the proportion of male to female bees in a honeybee community) and music (organizational structures in music or the shape of a violin).
What was insightful to me was not that we conceptually understand all the implications of the golden proportion, or mean, but that we, somehow by nature, abide by its rhythm. Somehow we intuitively know this balance point. Up there out in the world, there is a consistent melody that life moves to. There is supposed to be a connection to something larger and I think that we stopped listening to that melody a long time ago. In the human scale, our hearts lie right at the golden proportion point, so it isn’t surprising to me that the heart, not the head is the archetype where true wisdom and love is found.
The lack of reliance on intuition, that internal melody evidenced historically by how dominant pure reason became. Reason, historically a male characteristic, has been considered superior to intuition. Think of it, it’s common to tell someone to be reasonable but have you ever heard someone ask you to be intuitive? The general tenor of history has taught that intuition, because it is vague and illusive, is also something that can’t be relied on and is something that should be evolved from, replaced by science and reason, again, probably rooted in that whole “sinful human nature” thing. There is also plenty of examples in history when it was even vilified—note, burning “witches” at the stake. In working to regain a better sense of balance in this world, hence a better perspective, there is nothing to lose by looking at the possibility that “reason” may have shown us just one side of the coin. Visiting the other side of the coin, via my intuition, certainly added clarity and a new dimension to my world. And adding that dimension was as pivotal as learning the world was no longer flat.
Although intuition is intensely personal, outside resources were helpful in learning to tap into it, understanding the golden mean only being one of them. We all receive plenty of guidance from outside sources, mine happened to be from scripture, scholars, educational programs and all sorts of other mediums and everyday people like my parents. Most often I listened to these sources not because of a command but as the result of a conscious choice, they hit a harmonious chord deep within. Like the story of the Garden of Eden, there is a point when we all have to learn to rely on ourselves when making choices. Ultimately, I am the direct beneficiary of all my personal choices, even if the choice is only limited to whom or what I’m seeking direction. The greatest challenge is to have the courage to let go of the control of the rational world and allow ones self to move according to the rhythm of the universe. In this age of rigid rules and control it feels overwhelming to trust what’s “out there.” It has, for me, been the only way that I have stumbled across the answers to many of my life’s questions. That isn’t to say reason wasn’t essential as a check when something sounded too good to be true. It has always been the balance of both my innate sense and rational mind that has kept me pretty balanced (unless you ask the men in my house…)
As a result of remaining fairly ignorant about the power of intuition, I wonder how often we second guess ourselves. The sense of knowing what choice is the right one comes to me by gut instinct far more often than I may realize or accept. The result of weakening the credibility of our inner voice is that it becomes a whole lot easier for the world outside to dictate how we live. As you already may realize, the outside world perpetuates a lot of illusions guaranteed to obstruct clear sight. Without a strong inner voice, it’s easy to succumb to those illusions. Perhaps living from the outside-in is less effective than to root how we live in the world from the inside-out. So, from this point onward, try letting your intuition be your guide in what is presented as only one woman’s take on what lies on the other side of the coin.
How we observe the world is essential, but let me go into detail about that later. It was my intuition that added a whole different dimension to the power and accuracy of my observations. But it isn’t always easy listening to my inner voice. First, because it means shutting off my own babble long enough to listen and second, by its very nature it tends to be elusive. In this day and age, it is even more difficult to listen to the voice within sometimes because of the noise of everyday life, from everything we’re wired into, to the noise of modern life outside. We are all bombarded by sounds from practically the moment we wake up in the morning, and it takes a conscious effort to turn them off. It is possible, however, to learn how to tune them out. When things get really crazy and loud in my life, I remember a line from one of the Psalms that says “Be still and know that I am God.”
Because of the mysterious and intangible quality of intuition, it is the perfect place from which God can speak most clearly. There is a great story in the Old Testament about the prophet Elijah. As a result of being a zealous advocate for God, Elijah is a hunted man. He hides in a cave and the Lord speaks to him and tells him to go outside the cave and to wait for him to pass. Elijah witnesses strong enough storms to shake the mountains and cause rocks to fall, yet the Lord was not in the storm. Afterwards there was an earthquake and then fire and the Lord was not present in these powerful acts of nature either. Then Elijah heard a tiny whispering sound in the wind, and it was in the whispering where God was present, and it was from the whispering where he received direction. Please don’t think I’m representing myself as a prophet: I’m not. I have, however, taken the MMPI , busted my hump academically, read thousands of books and danced under the full moon naked—okay scratch that last example. But like Elijah, I do believe God exists in the whispering, from deep down within me. I am confident in this statement because I’ve learned to get out of my comfort zone and test the wisdom I receive from within and then watch the results. At least at this point in my life I choose to listen to the presence and direction of God in the whispering—when I shut up long enough to listen