Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Listening To Our Hearts

How often have you had a discussion with someone, looking for advice from them, and you’ve heard them say, “Just follow your heart.” If you haven’t heard this personally then perhaps you’ve heard it in a movie or a song.

I used to think that such an answer was flaky and unstable, and therefore without much merit at all. I thought it sounded too fairy-like. But things have changed.

There is a song by The Ragamuffin Band that says the following: “If I ever learn what my heart already knows, and not feel the hurt that I wear on my sleeve, but the laughter that burns inside my soul. Let the child come alive and drive away these ghosts. You know my head ain’t even close to what my heart already knows.” In another spot, they sing “With your hand you wrote upon my heart, what my head has yet to believe.”

Can we trust our feelings? Can we trust what our heart is telling us? For a few years I have heard of the concept of having your mind “descended into the heart” but I think I need to recommit to this, to listening to how I’m feeling.

You can only truly do this if you accept yourself and give your heart room to breathe. You can not listen properly to your heart if you’re always suspicious of it.

A question must be asked, “Am I my beliefs, or does my identity lay somewhere else?” Rich Mullins, a singer who headed up The Ragamuffin Band before his passing in 1997, wrote the following in his song Creed: “And I believe what I believe is what makes me what I am.” For me, this rings hollow, to think that what I am at my core is a set of beliefs I hold. In an earlier song, he speaks against listening to your heart: “Boy you just follow your heart? But my heart just led me into my chest.”

I think that there is a suspicion of the heart among many people for probably centuries. It goes along with a frowning upon of the body and sexual experience. I think the big question, or at least one of them is: “What is humankind’s condition at his/her core?” I used to believe that each of us was sinful and fell short of what we were supposed to be. Even though there was a belief system that was supposed to make up for this (for me, the system was Christianity and the death and resurrection of Jesus) I always seemed to be looking for a way out of my sinful self. I found myself cut off from my heart and my body. And what resulted? I began to live firmly entrenched within my mind. This is one of the big reasons why I found myself riddled with depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses. My mind was overworking when really my heart has been trying to talk to me.

I now believe that we are naturally good, that we are original blessings. Therefore our hearts and bodies are also good things, wondrous things.

How do we learn to rediscover our hearts all over again? I suggest two ways. Firstly, by taking a few moments each day to simply sit still with yourself and breathe, trying to not think of anything. This can seem daunting at first - I myself find this hard - but as thoughts pop up in your busy mind about what you “should” be doing, or about the days events, simply let the thought go and concentrate on your breath. Perhaps, if it helps, you can place your hand over your heart. I suggest doing this at least once a day, even for 5-10 minutes. Or perhaps doing it at the beginning of your day and at the end before curl up with your Snuggie and go to bed. Secondly, another way to reconnect with your heart is to do something creatively or immerse yourself in beauty. This may involve taking a walk and looking at the trees, looking at a full moon, singing your favourite song. It may involved making love with your partner.

If you’re like me, your mind could use the break. I believe the mind can also be a beautiful thing but it’s in the heart where true life resides and where we meet God, or Spirit, or Divine Mother (which I prefer). Just as our minds can become sick, so can our hearts. Perhaps yours has been broken as you’ve travelled through life. But there is help, and there is healing available for you.

Wherever you are at this point in your life, I hope that you can take time to listen to your heart.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Learning To Give Yourself Freely

I’m thinking today about giving ourselves away and what can help us to do that and what can hinder us.

Recently I have been feeling the desire to give of myself more genuinely and more freely. What do I mean? I mean being fully present when I am talking with or relating to my friends, indeed anyone I meet. I have been fortunate enough to have good friends throughout my life, and if you were to ask many of them, they’d probably say that I’m a good guy and a good friend. But I must confess that often I have not been present. You see, I couldn’t truly be fully present with and for them. I would try to listen to what they were saying but often my mind would be a thousand miles away. Why is this? Why couldn’t I give myself freely?

The answer is because secretly I was crying out, yelling out inside for them to “fix me” or “help me.” You can have all the best intentions in the world of being present and truly listening to someone that you care about, but if you are a wounded child inside who is crying out for them to fix or help you, it’s impossible to do.

Here’s my point, or at least one of them:

You can not give yourself away freely if you don’t already own yourself or aren’t comfortable with who you are.

This is something that has thwarted friendships and relationships of mine in the past and has left me feeling worse than before, not to mention the hurt others have experienced.

As hard as it is, no person and no thing can make you complete, make you whole. Hollywood and pop music would tell you otherwise, that once you meet “the one” all your problems are over and you’ll live happily ever after. I must admit I’m a sucker for these movies, but really, they’re unrealistic.

So how do we own ourselves, how do we give ourselves away freely? How can we become an even better friend or partner and be truly present when we’re around those we love?

I believe the answer is that we must stop expecting so-and-so to heal our pain and we must release it to God. Now hold on, hold on. Perhaps you’re rolling your eyes now and saying to yourself “Here we go, he’s gonna go on about God when really I don’t believe in Him.” Well, ok my friend, tell me about the God that you don’t believe in. Is it the Man-In-The-Sky God who judges people to be good or bad and sends some people to Heaven and some to Hell? Guess what…I don’t believe in that God either; I haven’t for years. The God that I am talking about is a spiritual presence that lives both within you and I and in everything around us. This is not a judgmental, harsh God. This is a loving, quiet presence that lives within us.

What I am suggesting is that you and I need to release whatever pain and hurt that we have been carrying around for far too long. As long as we expect our friends or lovers to take our pain away, our friendships and relationships will be needs-based and frustrating, and probably eventually ending. And it’s not their fault! It’s not their job to fix us! The only thing that can truly help us, I believe, is if we connect to the God presence within each of us and consciously release our pain and hurt to Him/Her. I’m not saying this is easy to do, it’s not sometimes. That’s why therapists are there to help, it’s their job. It’s not easy, but when we do this, when we “let go and let God,” we can learn to walk freely and openly and truly show up in our friendships and relationships. Without the burden of our pain and hurt, we can truly listen to what other people are saying and be a good friend to them.

I encourage you to, in the words of author Henri Nouwen, learn to “cry inward” instead of outward. Nouwen suggests that we need to both cry out to God, and find a community that can truly hold us. I’ll leave you with this piece of writing of Nouwen’s that I find very powerful. Blessings.

"Cry Inward" by Henri Nouwen

“A split between divinity and humanity has taken place in you. With your divinely endowed centre you know God’s will, God’s way, God’s love. But your humanity is cut off from that. Your many human needs for affection, attention and consolation are living apart from your divine scared space. Your call is to let these two parts of yourself come together again.

You have to move from gradually crying outward – crying out for people who you can think can fulfil your needs – to crying inward, to the place where you can let yourself be held and carried by God, who has become incarnate in the humanity of those who love you in community.

No one person can fulfil all your needs. But the community can truly hold you. The community can let you experience the fact that beyond your anguish, there are human hands that hold you and show you God’s faithful love.”

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Don't Pray For Me

This post is not aimed at one person. I've had several experiences which have led me to write this.

"I'll be praying for you." Are these comforting words for you to hear? They should be. Hopefully they come from a friend or loved one who has your best interests at heart and who are concerned for you.

There are certain things that people pray for which are not very controversial at all, such as healing from an illness, that someone will find a job, etc. But there are other prayers which I do not appreciate at all. Let me explain.

Ever since I have made my way out of Christianity (probably 8 years or so now) there have been numerous people who, after hearing of my change, responded by saying - among other things - that they'll "be praying for me." This has often come after they have read some of my writings on religion and spirituality, or after I have commented with a differing view on their status updates.

If I was doing poorly spiritually I would say "Thanks! I appreciate your prayers!" But I am doing better spiritually than I ever have. I have a relationship with the Divine that is more personally authentic and true than it ever was.

My problem with people who say that they'll be praying for me is that they are not saying "I see you, I respect where you're at." What they are really saying is "You don't believe the same things that I believe, therefore you are on the wrong path. I'm praying that you'll come back to the truth."

To me, this is quite offensive, because it suggests that "you" know what is right for me and that you presume I am wrong.

I would never, while praying, pray "God, Jennifer doesn't believe the same things that I do anymore, therefore she is lost. Please bring her back to my way of thinking." Never.

This is the big difference, and I understand it. I believe that each person is on their own spiritual journey and that there are many many ways that we experience God. Evangelical Christians believe that there is one way to God - Jesus - and we all must accept him as Saviour. I understand it, I do. I used to believe it. I was the one praying for so-called "lost souls."

But I have given up my need to be right. I have given up thinking that I know what is truly best for other people's lives. I don't want to convince anyone to believe what I do.

My only job is to love. Catch that? My only job is to love. I realize that that is probably what Christians are claiming to be doing when they say they'll pray for me, but really, if you dig down deeper, they are more concerned that I fit into their belief system.

If I thought it would net results I would say "don't pray for me." But that's most likely futile. So go on and pray for me if you wish, because I know you probably will anyway. I understand where you're coming from. But consider for a moment, if you will, that I truly am doing great just as I am, and i don't have to fit into your belief system.

Mark Andrew

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Don't Need No Miracle

I don't need no parted waters
Don't need no burning bush
Don't need no water gushing from a rock
Or a stick turning into a snake
I don't need no speaking donkey
Don't need a rainbow up above
Don't need fire raining down from heaven
Or deliverance from my foes
I don't need to see the blind man touched
Or to see the leper healed
Don't need no water turned to wine
Or the multiplying of food
I don't need no demons delivered out
Don't need no hovering star
Don't need no tongues of fire
Or a grave without a stone
Because I believe when I see
Her hips, her legs, her eyes
I believe when I see
The sweetness in her smile
From where I stand she is my creed
My proof, my testimony
I am baptized in a sea of awe
She is my one and only.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Take Time To Slow Down

How busy are you? Does it seem like you're on the go every waking moment, from the time your alarm clock goes off to the time your head hits the pillow? If so, what are the consequences of that? Often they are stress, worry, and being out of touch with ourselves.

Perhaps you take a few minutes each day for a time of prayer or meditation. Some people take 30 minutes, some take 5. If you haven't practised being still for a long time, if ever, you can start by doing meditation or prayer as you walk to work, shop for groceries, do the dishes. Try taking slower steps, and as you do, connect with those emotions you are feeling and allow yourself to feel them just as they are. These are times for being with yourself and with God. Maybe you're more of an imagery kind of person and would like to picture yourself as a little child being held by your mother, or leaning on your lovers shoulder. Maybe short sentences or affirmations would be best for you, such as "I am God's child and therefore I inherit absolute peace and love." Or maybe you just need to be perfectly silent and give yourself permission to feel what you are feeling.

As you practise having moments like this, you may find yourself wanting to expand the time by several minutes.

These are moments where time seems to slow down or stop completely. In these moments there is no job to complete, no assignment to finish, no kids to feed. These moments only belong to you and God. Everyone says they want to live in the present moment but how many of us really do that? I know I oftentimes don't.

It's time for peace.

It's time for love

It's time to slow down.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Your Dreams Are Not Too Big

There is a reason for the dreams that you harbor in your mind from the time you wake up in the morning to the time you pull your blankets over yourself at night. I believe that our dreams are nothing less than Divine ideas that are being born in us and waiting to be lived out by us. What are your dreams? Did you always want to be a painter but instead settled for another career because it seemed too unrealistic? Or maybe it was a pilot, a writer, a business owner. Maybe you've worked at another job for years but your dream is still there in your mind, day in day out. Maybe your dream is to have a loving, successful relationship, maybe kids. But as the years ticked on that seemed unlikely, so you've settled and your dreams have lay dormant.

I believe that these divine ideas wouldn't have been put in you if they weren't achievable. Otherwise, it's as if the Divine is dangling a carrot in front of you, always unreachable.

Why don't we realize our dreams? I think there are at least a couple of reasons. Firstly, while we may dream big, often we don't believe big. Perhaps the word faith has come to mean "believing in the right theological beliefs (whatever those are...)" If this is the case, perhaps faith has become stale for us. But what if, instead, faith meant believing that God lives within you and the dreams he has placed in you can absolutely come true? How exciting would that be? What if God wants what we've wanted all along?

This leads to a 2nd reason why we may not see our dreams realized in our lives. What do we believe about God and the Universe that we live in? If we believe that God is naturally kind of stingy, like a curmudgeonly old uncle, someone who is cheap and whom we have to beg for gifts, then of course we won't expect much from God. Many people - I admit I am one of them - often resort to begging God for things or repeatedly asking, as if God had to be coaxed or is hard of hearing. But I have been learning that God is a good God, more than willing to give us our hearts desire. God is pre-disposed to blessing us. Have you ever at Christmastime watched the Alistair Sim version of A Christmas Carol? When Ebenezer Scrooge wakes up a changed man on Christmas morning, he jumps out of bed and begins to dance wildly for joy. He just can't help himself!

That's the way it is with God. He's bursting at the seams wanting to bless us with good gifts.

How do we open ourselves up to these gifts, to seeing our dreams come true? I think the main way is by changing our thought patterns. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Instead of waking up in the morning and expecting the worst, expect the best! Instead of falling into the thought that "my life has been this way for years, I can't live any other way," change it up and affirm "I am now seeing my dreams come true. My life is vibrant and exciting!" If you and I were to consistently do this (and believe me I really know how hard it is to break years-long thought patterns) what a change we would eventually see!

Finally, another reason why I think we don't see our dreams come true is because for some reason we don't think we deserve it. Maybe we think others deserve to be happy, but not us. Or it could be a case of how we view humanity's relationship with God. If God is a separate being who we view as perfect and holy, but we view ourselves and the rest of humanity as dirty or sinful in nature, then no wonder we may doubt our desires at every turn and suspect that we are undeserving. In my opinion we must strike this far from our minds. I believe instead that God lives within us (Jesus said that the kingdom of God was within) and that each of us are divine in nature. As such we are heirs of all the good gifts that God possesses. Jesus also said that if human parents know how to give good gifts to their children, how much more does God know how to do so.

In closing, I believe that your dreams aren't too big. They are there for a reason. Dream big. Expect Big. Change your mind. Know today that you deserve the very best!


Mark Andrew