The Kingdom of Heaven

heavenSo 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.

Why did Eve Eat that Damn Apple Anyway?

even and the appleOne of my own first experiences of following my sensibilities occurred early on in grade school.  One day, when my teacher made an innocent mistake in pronouncing a classmate’s name, I raised my hand and corrected her.  Much to my complete amazement she was furious and made me put my head in the desk to “suffer the humiliation of Eve.”   The point of this little story is that my behavior was labeled “bad” for a reason that was rooted in one of the most pervasive assumptions (and one I was constantly plagued with) of all time—women are responsible for original sin, and as part of the punishment we should know our place.

The concept of Original Sin continues to slap women in the face in one form or another constantly.  For the most part, my time in Catholic school was a testimony of penance for that very belief.  For example, a priest once wrote my address on the board when I demanded to know where hell was.  Please save the explanations.  There is no parallel universe anywhere where treating a child like this would ever be acceptable.

So let’s take a look at the story that describes humanities’ fall from grace.  Did Eve’s choice to eat the apple from the tree of knowledge warrant plaguing womankind with that kind of burden?  Yes, she was disobedient, and yes, she convinced her mate to follow suit.  What about Adam’s culpability, though?   Eve had to contend with the serpent, pure evil; Adam just did what Eve asked him to do—how weak is that? (Remember that old maternal adage: if your friend jumped off a bridge would you as well? Well, Adam did.)

Eve suffered for her curiosity and then some, and Adam suffered for his weakness.  There is no inference that Adam was charged with dominating Eve, the two of them were considered one body. According to the first Genesis story, man and woman were created at the same time and God gave dominion over the earth to both of them.  It’s curious that most people only pay attention to the second creation story, where Adam is king of the world and Eve is made just to keep him company.  It is clear that part of Eve’s punishment was that she would  have an “urge” for her husband and be mastered by it—that appears to be an independent struggle for woman to contend with, not an excuse for gender subjugation.  If anything, Adam’s punishment is the clearer representation of slavery; he is destined to toil and sweat until he returns to dust.

Perhaps Eve and Adam knew intuitively that it was time to move on to a place of individual choice, and with that choice they lost their innocence.  Isn’t that the whole point of growing up though?  In order to mature in wisdom we have to leave our childhood behind and take what we’ve been taught and try it on for size.  So rather than getting too wrapped up in original sin and having woman bear the greater portion of it, perhaps it would be more productive to admit that both Eve and Adam made a choice that we have been living with ever since.  Even from the church’s perspective that may not be such a bad thing.  The Catholic Mass at the Easter Vigil has this to say about original sin: “Oh happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, which gained for us so great a Redeemer!”   It is curious though: when the “sin” becomes a good thing, Adam gets credit for it and Eve isn’t even mentioned?

Focusing so much on the sin detracts from the great responsibility that humans were given: to subdue and cultivate the earth.  The direction of the game of life had been set down.  In order for humanity to be successful, it appears to me anyway, that men and women would have to use their inherently unique talents together: the power of dominion coupled with the grace to nurture the ordinary things that God made.  The formula for this cosmic union is contingent upon male and female rising above fighting over which perspective is right, to embrace both perspectives as necessary to fulfill, successfully, the charge of God.

 Another reason I bring up Original Sin as a fundamental assumption that desperately needs critiquing is that it still fuels one of the most pervasive myths that plague culture: that women are weaker and thus inferior to men.  There are those of you who may think that statement is inaccurate, but really, look around you; there is evidence everywhere of that belief regardless of what level of consciousness you’re coming from.  How many women are in “high places,” positions of power?  Even if you really believe that the place of women in the world isn’t inferior just different, you need only look at the way the law has treated woman in this country.  One need only recall what some of the great jurists (even the fathers of our country) did to women legally, especially in terms of rights.  Rather than assume that the subjugation of women is the natural order of things, I choose to believe it is not.  But if not, how were masses of people led to believe that it was?

While studying theology as an undergraduate, I was aghast at some of the opinions the church’s greatest teachers had about women.  Thomas Aquinas (the guy who pondered the number of angels that could fit on the head of a pin) said in his Summa Theologica, that every woman should have a man as her personal master, because her intellect is no better than that of a child or an imbecile.  What is up with that?  History has demonstrated that statement to be inaccurate.  In all honesty, there have been more than a few men who’ve crossed my path that have defied accepted boundaries of stupidity.  St. Augustine, one of the most influential of Latin Church Fathers and whose work created the foundation for western Christendom, had this to say about women (and it’s a gem): “women should not be enlightened or educated in any way.  They should, in fact, be segregated as they are the cause of hideous and involuntary erections in holy men.”  My response is the same one given to my sons when they point the finger at each other: “Don’t blame someone else because you can’t control yourself.”  My utmost favorite though, is a church writer named Tertullian who said this about women: “You are the devil’s gateway, you are the unsealer of that (forbidden) tree, you are the first deserter of the divine law, you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack, you destroyed so easily God’s image, man. On account of your desert—that is, death—even the Son of God had to die”.  Methinks there was a bit of sexual repression going on there.  Even Martin Luther, a great reformer, believed that women were made by God to be wives or prostitutes.  And don’t even get me started on the Puritans.

But what does a young, female theology student feel when she finds out that many of the founding fathers of western Christendom had pretty skewed views of womankind?  Well, indignation at first, but there was also conflict because much of what these great men had to say was also brilliant.  It was at this point when using common sense, my innate sensibility, regarding the truth of the matter was essential: 1) there are plenty of men who are less intelligent than me; 2) it certainly is not my fault that men cannot control their sexual appetites; and 3) an entire gender, who, by the way was also created in the image of God, isn’t the gateway to hell.  These church fathers had great minds and were brilliant, yes, but like me were creatures of culture and human experience which made them most undeniably—fallible.

Herein lies the problem with our concept of great leaders and rule-makes: a majority of folk take every word, hook, line and sinker of what they say without using any discretion at all.  Generally speaking, their edicts for their supporters are sacrosanct, and those who oppose them are often vilified.   It’s black or white, with no amount of grey in between.  There seems to be a certain amount of infallible mysticism that surrounds the rules they create.  If they are brilliant and/or holy, then everything they say must be right and we must never disagree or criticize them.   Later, when we’ve evolved beyond them, or we tire of them and a flaw or two is exposed, we chew them up and spit them out, or, if they die before we tire of them, we make them saints.  Given that kind of attitude, how can the voice of a common student compare to the voice of the Church Fathers?  Well, if David could defeat Goliath, why not?  Seriously, if the names of the men who said those horrible things about women had been left out, wouldn’t it have been easy to write them off?  There have been plenty of times when I thought the men in my house were demons sent straight from hell, but that is my problem and no reason to make it a sweeping generalization for the rest of mankind.  We often vilify what we don’t understand, agree with, or are afraid of, because somehow on a deep level we do want to subscribe to the “there is only one true perspective” rule.   I, however, find it necessary to dispel this fundamental assumption when ever the spirit moves me—needless to say, the humiliation of Eve never quite stuck.

It is by questioning assumptions that we often have to contend with many conflicting perspectives, some of which seem to fit and others that do not.  It is during the process of questioning, though, that we can begin to recognize that inner voice, one rooted in being a completely unique person whose perspective is of no greater or lesser value than anyone else in the universe.  What I share with others doesn’t have to be right or better than anybody else’s perspective, it just has to be mine.  Have you ever been in conversation with someone and they pull out a masterful source from the Bible or the Constitution just to prove how right they are and how wrong you are?  Ultimately, both of the sources mentioned have always been subject to interpretation.  It is a rarity to hear someone say, “I believe this way because it serves me personally” and just leaves it at that.  Even though my inner voice may be inspired by my faith, it doesn’t mean that I have a better handle than anybody else on the mind of God or what God says to them.  It is the process of sharing our ideas that keeps us moving forward.  Sharing different ideas, regardless of who you are, should be encouraged rather than discouraged because you never know when another person’s perspective may be the needed ingredient for germinating an idea in someone else.  When personal truths are shared, the world becomes a better place.

Let me tell you something else I learned about some of our rule-makers out there: that many of them are completely and utterly crazy.  Throughout my life I’ve witnessed the amazing power crazy people have in establishing rules by which they demand others to follow.  Most often people, (including myself) side step around them to avoid the scenes they create when we don’t follow the rules they set down.  They come in many shapes and sizes, from some of the priests and nuns I had in school to people with substance abuse, or people who are generally miserable people and want to make sure the rest of us are made miserable too.  None of us are on this planet long enough to abdicate our person freedom and follow the rules of crazy people who sap away sanity like syrup from a tree.  Curiously, though, there is an upside to having crossed paths with all you sap suckers out there, because you gave me the opportunity to use and thereby hone my native good judgment.

So, back to the rules in respect to men and women, why can’t there be two equally respected perspectives?  Why can’t we simply appreciate that reality is divided into two equal parts, like two sides of a coin?  Well, besides equality and balance being absolutely no fun at all, with balance there is also no difference, no discord, and without difference there is no perceptual universe.  If there were never any conflicts what reason would there be for any of us go beyond our limitations?   If there were no darkness, could we truly know light?  It’s the same dilemma with good and evil.  Although the rules that I choose to follow may not be the same as yours, and many people in other parts of the world live according to a different rhythm, it doesn’t give me license to “live in my own private Idaho.” My own growth depends on bumping up against other rules and ideas that often run contrary to mine.  That may sound a bit like I am contradicting myself, but just bear with me.

While studying Constitutional Law in law school, I was aghast at the lack of discussion that was encouraged about controversial issues, and in Con Law, there was a new one every day, from abortion to affirmative action.  What saddened me most was that many class mates had their minds made up about an issue already and refused to even entertain the possibility that in actually listening to the “other side” they may be gaining a greater truth.  The atmosphere became not one of  learning, but of debating who was right.  Inside the walls of a law school should be a forum for good intelligent discussion, a place to exercise the skills we were learning: to conflict with each other and in doing so achieve a greater understanding.  Sadly enough, there may be a legitimate reason for societies’ mistrust of lawyers.  The one thing I regret most about law school is that I didn’t take enough time to tell those students and teachers who had thought provoking things to say that I appreciated their insights because it challenged me to look at issues a little more broadly.

So although inequity exists and may be the natural order of things, it doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be my goal to abolish it anyway and actively engage in conflict with the intent to create harmony, even if the harmony is only internal.  Because it was during my biggest struggles that truth often exposed itself and led me to seek an ever greater truth—inevitably leading to another conflict.  Again, it all turns on perspective.  One person may want to win and have their perspective prevail and happily remain ruler of their own little hill; another person may want to clash just to see what there is to learn in the process.   It makes the most sense to me to choose the latter.  The most important reason not to be too concerned about any controlling perspective is not only are they fleeting, regardless of who claims to be right at any given time, truth has a way of eventually prevailing anyway, like a phoenix rising out of the ashes.  There is so much more out there that we, as human beings, have yet to discover that no one person can ever claim to have any complete answers.  I believe that God has them, but the rest of us are a far cry from being “in the know” like God is.  We simply have to get over the fear to engage in conflict.

As a result of not being in the know, here is another fundamental assumption about the game of life that proved to be inaccurate: that the rules should never change.  The fact is that the rules change constantly, whether we want them to or not, as they should.  As long as humanity keeps moving, discovering, inventing, loving, and hopefully evolving, the one thing we can be sure of is change.  The ending of the game I play isn’t etched in stone; that is the great thing about free will.  The rules I live my life by now are not the same as those that guided my life in my teens, twenties, thirties, forties and yes even my fifties.  There may be a consistent theme in the rules I follow, but I’ve learned not to rigidly hold on to rules that no longer fit my life.

Let me stress that although there are certain fundamental rules that are necessary they aren’t always obvious.  I’ve usually discovered what they were the hard way but at times there were a few people who were older and wiser that held my attention.  And although there are lines drawn for the kinds of rules that help our world vs. destroy it, I can’t say, unequivocally, what they are.  Throughout my life though, (usually by running smack dab right into a brick wall) I have picked up on some universal themes which are laid out at the end of this chapter.  I am also aware that I can’t change another’s perspective any more than I can make pigs fly—with any level of concentration.  For example, the men in my house won’t be transformed into clean freaks simply because I choose to believe that dirty underwear doesn’t belong on the kitchen floor.  And although my opinions are made known to the men in my house, picking up underwear, laughing about bodily functions, and carrying the burden that it will always be my job to replace the toilet paper are things I’ve simply accepted, one, as a means to preserve my sanity and second, that men and women will always exist together and it would behoove us to try and get along.

So before you continue reading, let me offer a challenge: if you want to free yourself from the chains that bind you then suspend all your beliefs for a moment and try living by the seat of your pants for a bit. The Upanishads (Hindu scripture) says, “Whether we know it or not, all things take on their existence from that which perceives them”.  When you’re done reading, go for it.  Put on your old beliefs if they fit, but in order to see if the rules you are following fit the movie in your head, you should be willing to, at the very least, entertain the possibility that everything you think you know for sure right now maybe nothing more than a shadow created by someone else.  Only you can bring to life the movie that is in your head.  Then it becomes life as you see it, not how it has been told to you.  Oh and one more thing, once I chose which rules I was going to follow, the responsibility of achieving my dreams was on me.  Like the parable of the talents, God has given me a treasure, and it was up to me to go and make something out of it.  That may sound like a big responsibility, but I try to think of it more as a golden opportunity.

Things that I know are true:

1)  Things are not always what they appear to be, so pay attention and don’t judge too quickly—and by all means, have a sense of humor, especially when you’ve judged incorrectly.

2) Shit happens—and that can be a good thing.

3)  One need not be perceived as an influential person to be a powerful influence.

4)  What goes around comes around, or a slight variation: what ever you put out there comes back to you tenfold.

5)  Love (or God) is a constant (like in math) and is greater than and is never changed by our perception—love is separate from and not defined by our expression of it.

6)  The opposite of love is not hate, but fear

7)  What is essential is invisible to the eye; it is only with the heart that one can see rightly.

8)  Fame is not necessary for me to shape the world in a powerful way…no one, not even me need be conscious of it.

9)  Real power has nothing to do with control.

10)  Having faith demands that I let go (not give up) of an outcome; and doing that will almost guarantee things will work out.

11)  Just because I cannot understand “why” now, doesn’t mean that I will never understand, sometimes I have to be open to looking at an issue from a multi-dimensional perspective.

12)  Unexplained phenomenon is simply proof that I am continuing to evolve and that I don’t have all the answers yet.

13)  Vengeance never brings peace.

14)  Money is never a reason to do, or not do anything.

15)  I may not control all that happens in my life, but I do control how I respond to it.

16)  Destruction and death are essential elements in growth and life.

17)  Things gained without lessons learned are empty successes.

18)  Without God (love), I am nothing.

Native Good Judgement

10026_CommonSenseThe phrase “common sense” means native good judgment and is derived from the Greek koinē aesthēsis which refers to the total perception of the five senses.  If you have senses, then those of you who read this have, potentially anyway, as much common sense as anybody else.  The problem lies in the execution.  Like any other gift, native good judgment must be exercised. Over my lifetime, my mother and father constantly challenged me and my siblings to use good common sense, and it’s never been easy considering the world we live in.  I never forgot those simple edicts that came from my parents: “If you eat all that Halloween candy, you will get sick”; “If you wait until the last-minute to study, you probably won’t really understand the material and not do well on the test”; “If you treat your siblings like crap, crap is what you will get in return.”; “The most important lessons always contain some form of difficulty.”  Those pearls of wisdom created a strong base for much of my decision-making as an adult, (that and scoring the 97th percentile in an aptitude test measuring common sense…which I’ve bragged about before).  Common sense should also never be confused with intelligence-it is not the same thing.  Some of the most intelligent people I know actually seem to be lacking in common sense.  Like the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz, they really should give diplomas for that kind of smarts.  The scarecrow discovered that the only way to increase the wisdom of one’s native good judgment is not by always doing what one is told, but by figuring it out on ones own and actually taking personal responsibility for those choices that go awry.

Taking personal responsibility for the choices one makes and developing common sense are intimately connected.   Unfortunately one can’t develop without the other.   Based on what I observe in the world at large, be it politics or religion, common sense is on hiatus.  It has simply left the building.  And that is the root of much my of my anger and sadness about the world today.

While in college, I had the chance to study and to meet Lawrence Kohlberg, a professor at Harvard University who was well-known for his theory of moral development.  In his theory, there are three levels of moral development with two stages within each level.  Kohlberg also maintained that individuals could only progress through these stages one at a time, in order, without jumping any stage.  The first level, termed “pre-conventional” is generally found in elementary school age children.  At stage 1, (ages 1-5) children behave according to socially acceptable norms created by an authority figure.  Obedience is compelled by threat of punishment.  At stage 2, (ages 5-10) right behavior means acting in one’s own interest, “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.”  The next level, “conventional,” is where most of society lies.  Beginning with stage 3 (ages 8-16) right choices are based on being a “good boy/girl or doing what will gain the approval of important others such as parents, teachers or friends.  Stage 4 (ages 16 and above and if they reach it, where most adults remain) is defined by abiding the law and fulfilling one’s obligation of duty.  In this stage, leaders are assumed to be right and individuals adopt social rules without considering the underlying ethical principles involved.  People who break rules, deserved to be punished.

What I found most disturbing was Kohlberg’s conclusion that only about 20-25% of today’s adults (most in their late twenties) ever reach the last level of moral development, labeled “post-conventional.”   In stage 5, people do recognize the underlying moral principles served by laws, and if a law no longer serves a good purpose, they actively work to change it through legal and democratic means.  Respect for the law and a sense of obligation to live by the rules is still important, but an individual uses only legally acceptable means to make changes.   Less than 1% of adults ever make a stage 6 moral decision.  Kohlberg believed, theoretically, that civil disobedience was often how a stage 6 moral decision distinguished itself.  In this instance, breaking a law in defense of an individual right can be justified.  Martin Luther King, for example, argued that laws are only valid insofar as they are grounded in justice, and that a commitment to justice carries with it an obligation to disobey unjust laws and accept whatever consequences may come.

It is the kind of strength of conscience that defines Kohlberg’s sixth level that led me to conclude that developing one’s native good judgment is a necessary step in reaching the latter stages of moral development.  It is by exercising and honing one’s native good judgment that acts as a moral compass in not only determining what rules we are going to live by, but gives an individual the internal fortitude and certainty to actually live by them.

In the Judeo/Christian tradition, we are taught that human beings are created in the image of God so the obvious conclusion is that we should have a great deal of faith in our native good judgment.  If we are going to continue to evolve as human beings it doesn’t make sense to think that by questioning cultural rules we would encourage anarchy, rather, it should encourage just the exact opposite.  It is often through questioning that truth itself becomes clearer and that clarity will ultimately shed light on what rules are working in each individual life.  Of course any challenge to these rules most likely leads to conflict but, it was and still is from this kind of vantage point that I make most decisions to co-direct my destiny.

As I mentioned before, exercising the senses to develop that inherent native good judgment is a must.  Lack of use weakens our ability to use them and leaves one vulnerable to outside influences.  Of course, there are many reasons that all of us have, at times, chosen to disregard what we know to be true, subjecting ourselves to a whole other set of unhealthy rules.  Catholic school taught me that they were the seven deadly sins: pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed and sloth.  There are a host of others, to be sure, but these seven are as good as any.  Knowing what rules serve a higher purpose doesn’t mean that I was always capable of listening to that inner voice and adhering to them—which is normal because sometimes the best way to learn is by making mistakes.  Note the distinction between discovering what rules are good to follow and actually choosing to follow them; it is very important.  Obviously, the proof is in what kind of choices we have made in our lives thus far and the people who influence us on a daily basis.  However, the more adept we become at using native good judgment, the more difficult it becomes to fall prey to those deadly sins.

It would be inaccurate to assume that “proof” of using native good judgment will always result in being labeled “good” by society.  In thinking of my own childhood a little poem comes to mind: “When I was good, I was very, very good and when I was bad I was clueless.”  The ditty needed changing because sometimes challenging the rules means embracing the willingness to accept judgment as being bad.  Being labeled “naughty” by some of my teachers perhaps was the inevitable result of not behaving as little girls should, meaning I always spoke my mind and never stopped barraging teachers with questions about things that were difficult to wrap my young brain around.  Mind you, I never wanted to be bad; being arbitrary just didn’t come naturally.  All I wanted to know, if I was expected to act a certain way, was the reason why.  Perhaps one of the results of questioning the validity of the rules we follow is to turn up the volume on those innate sensibilities.  So, what does this all mean in practical terms?  Stay tuned…

To See or Not to See

ireland-crossHere 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

Back to Observation

eyes of graceFrom 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.

The Golden Mean

Golden-Mean-1

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).

golden proportion

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