Sunday, November 27, 2011

Embracing Mystery Once More

"As our dark nights deepen, we find ourselves recovering our love of mystery. When we were children, most of us were good friends with mystery. The world was full of it and we loved it. Then as we grew older, we slowly accepted the indoctrination that mystery exists only to be solved. For many of us, mystery became an adversary; unknowing became a weakness. The contemplative spiritual life is an ongoing reversal of this adjustment. It is a slow and sometimes painful process of becoming "as little children" again in which we first make friends with mystery and finally fall in love again with it. And in that love we find an ever increasing freedom to be who we really are in an identity that is continually emerging and never defined. We are freed to join the dance of life in fullness without having a clue about what the steps are."

~ Gerald G. May

Monday, November 21, 2011

12th International Transgender Day Of Remembrance

Yesterday, November 20th, was the 12th International Transgender Day of Remembrance, where thousands internationally remember those in our transgender community who have been murdered or committed suicide. Here is a very moving audio piece to mark the occasion from last year.

May we not only grow in understanding and acceptance of our transgendered family, but embrace and walk hand-in-hand with them.

Love Is Better Than Anger

I thought I'd post this song called "Jack's Dream," written and performed by Guelph, Ontario artist James Gordon. It contains some of the incredibly inspirational words that Jack Layton wrote days before his passing. The conclusion to Jack's letter is:

My friends,

Love is better than anger.

Hope is better than fear.

Optimism is better than despair.

So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic.

And we'll change the world.

For American or International friends reading this, Jack Layton, 61, was a long-time Toronto, Ontario city councillor who went on to become leader of Canada's New Democratic Party (NDP). In the most recent federal election, Jack led the NDP to 103 seats in parliament, more than double its previous best showing. Jack became Leader of the Official Opposition in Canada's parliament. Jack faced cancer twice, the second time took him from us on August 22, 2011, mere months after his triumph.

Jack connected with Canadians, many of whom didn't even vote for his party. His folksy charm, willingness to co-operate and to listen, and his endless fight for causes such as health care, aboriginal rights, and seniors, among a tonne of other issues, endeared him to millions of Canadians.

Us New Democrats still miss Jack terribly.

Here's the song Jack's Dream.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Peace Must Begin With Me

"Although attempting to bring about world peace through the internal transformation of individuals is difficult, it is the only way. Wherever I go, I express this, and I am encouraged that people from many different walks of life receive it well. Peace must first be developed within an individual. And I believe that love, compassion, and altruism are the fundamental basis for peace. Once these qualities are developed within an individual, he or she is then able to create an atmosphere of peace and harmony. This atmosphere can be expanded and extended from the individual to his family, from the family to the community and eventually to the whole world."

~ His Holiness The Dalai Lama

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

When Hope Gets In The Way

Hope As An Obstacle

Thich Nhat Hanh - from Peace Is Every Step (1991)

"Hope is important, because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today. But that is the most that hope can do for us - to make some hardship lighter. When I think deeply about the nature of hope, I see something tragic. Since we cling to our hope in the future, we do not focus our energies and capabilities on the present moment. We use hope to believe something better will happen in the future, that we will arrive at peace, or the Kingdom of God. Hope becomes a kind of obstacle. If you can refrain from hoping, you can bring yourself entirely into the present moment and discover the joy that is already here.
Enlightenment, peace, and joy will not be granted by someone else. The well is within us, and if we dig deeply in the present moment, the water will spring forth. We must go back to the present moment in order to be really alive. When we practice conscious breathing, we practice going back to the present moment where everything is happening.
Western civilization places so much emphasis on the idea of hope that we sacrifice the present moment. Hope is for the future. It cannot help us discover joy, peace, or enlightenment in the present moment. Many religions are based on the notion of hope, and this teaching about refraining from hope may create a strong reaction. But the shock can bring about something important. I do not mean that you should not have hope, but that hope is not enough. Hope can create an obstacle for you, and if you dwell in the energy of hope, you will not bring yourself back entirely into the present moment. If you re-channel those energies into being aware of what is going on in the present moment, you will be able to make a breakthrough and discover joy and peace right in the present moment, inside of yourself and all around you.
A.J. Muste, the mid-twentieth-century leader of the peace movement in America who inspired millions of people, said, 'There is no way to peace, peace is the way.' This means that we can realize peace right in the present moment with our look, our smile, our words, and our actions. Peace work is not a means. Each step we make should be peace. Each step we make should be joy. Each step we make should be happiness. If we are determined, we can do it. We don't need the future. We can smile and relax. Everything we want is right here in the present moment."

Friday, November 4, 2011

Expecting From Others What They Can Not Give

"When people have learned to de-sanctify each other, to treat each other as means to our own ends, to not feel the pain of those who are suffering, we end up creating a world in which...terrible acts of violence become more common. This is a world out of touch with itself, filled with people who have forgotten how to recognize and respond to the sacred in each other because we are so used to looking at others from the standpoint of what they can do for us, how we can use them toward our own ends."

~Rabbi Michael Lerner

Have you ever been guilty of this? Of looking at others from the standpoint of what they can do for us, and how we can use them for our own ends? I know I have. And I think it most often comes when an aching chasm is present in our own lives and we haven't found a way to address it. For me, I think it's when I forget that the Divine is present in and around me and that in the Divine there is all that I truly need. Still, I may know this in theory, but I want something, someone visible. So in the past I have found myself crying out to others for something that they cannot give: meaning, purpose, spiritual rest. The news that pisses me off is that no one can truly complete me. This is where I think Hollywood lies. Anyone who knows me very well knows that I'm a sucker for romantic movies. You've Got Mail, Notting Hill, The Notebook, The Lake House, yep, bring 'em on. But within most of these movies lies the premise that once you find "the one" you will no longer have times of loneliness and pain. Don't get me wrong, I think that being with "the one" can complete you and make you happy...well...almost. I still think there is a key need for the spiritual, for that Divine presence in our lives where we go for mental and emotional support. It could be meditating for 20 minutes each morning, or walking the dog around the neighbourhood for half an hour while taking in the beauty of nature around you. But here you are connecting with the Divine within you. We must go to the Divine within us for the seemingly inexhaustible needs that we have, or we will do what Rabbi Lerner suggests: use others toward our own ends. This becomes not an "I love you honey," but an "I love you because you make me feel good all the time and I could never live without you."

Ever been in a friendship or relationship where suddenly the other person gets up and leaves, and you're left devastated? I have. Perhaps it's not because we are terrible people and we did something horrible. Author Henri Nouwen writes: "They do not say that you are bad, ugly or despicable. They say only that you are asking for something they cannot give and that they need to get some distance from you to survive emotionally. The sadness is that you perceive their necessary withdrawal as a rejection of you instead of as a call to return home and discover there your true belovedness." Amazing stuff.

We find more words of gold, words that are so true that they hurt, from Nouwen:

"A lot of giving and receiving has a violent quality, because the givers and receivers act more out of need than out of trust. What looks like generosity is actually manipulation, and what looks like love is really a cry for affection or support. When you know yourself as fully loved, you will be able to give according to the other's capacity to receive, and you will be able to receive according to the other's capacity to give. You will be grateful for what is given to you without clinging to it. You will be a free person, free to love."

The question arises within me: What or Who is the source of my completeness? The answer obviously would bring up different answers depending on many things: your religious beliefs, your spiritual experiences, your upbringing, etc etc. For me, I have to strike a balance because for a long time I spent a lot of time alone, reading and writing about the spiritual life. I think that I must remember that the Divine is my source, and that everyone and everything She brings into my life is pure gift. Spirit is my completeness, and the people and things placed around me are Her instruments.

Mark Andrew Alward