Trudging the Road

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I don’t think my life’s journey is much different from most folks. From a young age I was given to believe that there are two aspects to a human being: the physical side and the spiritual side. As a growing young boy I was told to focus on the spiritual aspects: building up my treasures in heaven, saying my prayers in the morning and at night, keeping notice of myself because I knew that God was always watching me. The goal of my spiritual practices was to keep myself in His good graces and get to Heaven or risk being sent to ‘the Other Place!’ The physical side of me, my humanity, was seen as sinful and a play-toy for the devil to tempt into his dark and smoky lair. Between my parents, the parish priest and the nuns and teachers who taught me at the Catholic school I attended, I had a pretty good idea of just what might await me at either place and so I became the best little boy in the world.

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Into my teens I stopped agreeing with everything the ‘church’ said, but I still held onto my beliefs. I’m not sure when I came to understand that my spirituality was not necessarily tied to my religion, but I know it was before I started my seminary training which lasted until I came face to face with my own sexuality and couldn’t go on with theological studies knowing that I could never make a vow of celibacy in good conscience. This didn’t separate me from the ‘church’ or spirituality. I continued to participate and follow the precepts set by Rome as best as I could until I couldn’t in good conscience continue due to a church letter which basically said that I was intrinsically evil because I was being true to my nature. The Vatican and I went our separate ways. Neither of us missed each other much, I’m sure.

And I continued my spiritual journey without religious guidance. I was graced with the ability to think logically, thanks in part, ironically, to my seminary training in philosophy. I have looked at other religions and belief systems, discovering more of what they have in common rather than focusing on their differences and seeing how I can incorporate their best parts into my own life. It’s a journey that I continue today, more than 30 years later, with some ups and downs along the way; few have scaled a mountain without the odd slip here and there.

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What is interesting to me is I still feel that same spiritual tug that I felt when I was a child. I don’t believe in the God I grew up with and who looked a lot like the Roman god Zeus and who hurled thunderbolts. I usually don’t use the word ‘God’ or ‘god’ when talking with people because it has so many connotations and brings up way too much imagery for many people. But I do have a ‘God of my understanding,’ and I often share that as long as he isn’t the guy who looks back at me in the mirror, I’m well looked after. I still believe that we have a spiritual side as well as a physical side, but today I know that they are inextricably linked together. My spiritual being, my consciousness, experiences itself and life through my physical being, which in turn, experiences itself because it is, itself, conscious. It’s sort of like the chicken and the egg conundrum: you need both to have either.

I still look to Jesus for some of his teaching and I’ve added Buddha and Krishna to my list of spiritual guides. I also look to the Stoic philosophers like Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius as well as contemporaries like Wayne Dyer, Joe Dispenza, and Vishen Lakhiani. And I would be very remiss not to add the importance the twelve step program that I have been following these last ten years for my spiritual as well as physical wellbeing. I enjoy sharing my experiences with others and hearing of their own trek to where they presently find themselves. With open-mindedness and willingness I have traveled far down this road which has brought together the spiritual and physical aspects of my being. It’s a journey everyone’s invited to take in whatever way that works for them.

Rural Evening – Silversurfers

I’ve concluded that there is no conclusion: I can continue this journey for the rest of my days and never tire from the process. And I think that’s the point: there is no ‘end’ in spirituality, no destination only the journey. There are many pathways leading us onward and everyone’s pathway is just as valid as the next. While I sometimes wish that I had worked at this with more dedication and time in the past and be further along the path than I am, I also know that where I am on my pathway is exactly where I am supposed to be right now because, well, here I am. And you are where you are. What’s important is to keep going, to seek greater depth and understanding while being grateful for where we are at the present moment: living in the ‘now’. There is no final goal at the end. Happiness, peace of mind and serenity along the way are my reward. Enjoy trudging your own road of Happy Destiny.

Enlightened Acceptance

I have read many books and articles on enlightenment. And there are so many ideas as to what ‘enlightenment’ really means and how to get there. For some it is achieving a sense of Nirvana or having some sort of ‘mystical’ experience. Some see it as achieving ‘persistent non-duality’ where we are ‘one’ with everything and the self, or ego, is subsumed by the spiritual. Teachers suggest that it’s achieved by certain methods of meditation, or yoga, or chanting. Others say that we need to dig deep into ourselves and remove all that is untrue until we arrive at truth. Every guru, every religion seems to have a unique way to attain enlightenment, often at the expense of the teachings and practices of others.

Enlightenment: The Age of Reason

In looking at the word itself, ‘enlightenment’ I believe that it is a lot simpler than much of the information I have consumed over the years. It simply means allowing more light onto a subject. History refers to the 17th century as the Enlightenment because of it’s focus away from the magical thinking and onto the intellectual practices to arrive at truth which swept away the cobwebs of the middle ages. The latter part of the 20th century began an new enlightenment in a return to the spiritual aspects of our lives, turning away from the material excesses. Eastern mysticism and spirituality came to the west, and Western beliefs in democracy and economics moved east. A movement of the pendulum back to the centre.

If I could define enlightenment briefly I would say it is “the quiet acceptance of what is.”

Wayne Dyer

I really like Wayne Dyer’s definition of enlightenment. And I think it is what we are all called to be: human adults who quietly accept the who, what, when, where, why and how of the present situation. It’s not pretending to be someone from our past or anticipating who I might become in the future. It is being in the present, using the power of this moment to find peace and know that at one’s core being all well and there is serenity. It means that I have ‘light’ in my life. It also means that I can change to allow even more light into my life.

Dyer used the same definition for enlightenment as I use for the word ‘humility’: the quiet acceptance of what is.

Are humility and enlightenment the same thing then? Quite possibly.

We often mistakenly equate humility with humiliation. They are not the same. Humility is a state of being, a character trait if you will. Humiliation is an emotion, an abasement of our pride. Humility is a character trait that I seek to cultivate in myself. And, if I truly know and accept where I am in life, nothing can humiliate me. If I really know myself, then I am solid upon the ground. I accept where I am in life.

However, Enlightenment, Humility and Acceptance do not demand that we must stay where and how we are in life. In fact, I think it is a challenge to improve. When I know how little I know, I am challenged to find out more. If I see that my lifestyle is not providing the health that I want in life, I am challenged to make changes in what I eat and how I exercise. If my financial situation is below where I would like it to be, I can alter my earning and spending beliefs. But I can’t make any of these changes if I don’t first ‘know’ how things stand at the present moment in time. The proverbial ‘light bulb’ comes on and we see exactly where we stand. We become ‘enlightened’.

That is why Enlightenment is the acceptance of how things are. It is the first step on a new journey to greater knowledge, greater understanding and infinite wisdom. It is a journey that I can work at every day and is, therefore, not a state of being or a moment in time. I became enlightened when I realized that teaching at an elementary school was not how I wanted to spend the rest of my working life. I became enlightened when I started a small business and grew it from the ground up. I became enlightened when I ended a relationship that was no longer nurturing to either of us. I look at my sobriety as a gift of enlightenment. And I can be enlightened by the little things in life too, like walks with the dogs, a sharing of like minds, or a new experience. All of these contribute to my own enlightenment journey; they add a bit more ‘light’ of knowledge, understanding and experience to where I am standing today.

Enlightenment is a process that takes time and patience as well as humility. It is part of my ongoing journey of becoming just a little bit better version of myself today than I was yesterday and for that, I am grateful.

Meditation…

I have tried meditation various times over the years and just couldn’t seem to get the knack of it. You see, I cannot fold myself into the lotus position, at least not without breaking at least one leg. And sitting cross-legged is also very difficult for me, especially after more that just a couple of minutes. So I figured if my body wasn’t designed to do meditation. I know this was just an excuse but I never really gave it much of a serious thought or any sort of a concerted effort.

There are many methods of meditation. As a teenager, I remember that Transcendental Meditation (TM) was big. Everyone who was anyone was taking the course and learning their mantras. For most North Americans, it was the first time Eastern philosophy was ever discussed and practiced. Later, other practices of meditation were sought out and taught. Some meditate by focusing on their breathing. Others focus on an object, or use prayer beads to quiet their minds. I like Eastern spirituality and I understand the appeal of Buddhism and its teachings. But the Buddhas, the gongs, the incense, its prayer wheels and flags, could not keep me in a practice of meditation. And yet, I knew that I wanted it, and probably needed it!

Why do people meditate? It relaxes the body and mind, thereby reducing the negative stress and anxiety that we experience. As well, scientific research is proving that it has a physiological effect on the body. It can change our body chemistry, releasing dopamine and other ‘feel good’ molecules into our bloodstream. Creativity, attention and memory are positively influenced. You don’t have to meditate for hours on end to enjoy the benefits and they last long after the quiet time we spend. Meditation changes you: body and soul! (Forbes Magazine: 7 Ways Meditation can Actually Change the Brain.)

So even though I knew about all these benefits, it wasn’t until a good friend of mine introduced me to a book by Sam Harris: Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality without Religion, that everything finally clicked into place for me. I still haven’t finished the book but I appreciate his very practical approach to spirituality and to meditation. I downloaded the meditation app and started using its guided meditations. I think it’s about ten free sessions before they ask you to pay up, but for me, it is well worth it. I finished the 50, ten minute beginner sessions and now usually use the daily meditation, between 10 and 20 minutes long.

After more than three months, meditation is part of my morning routine, along with daily writing and, of course, coffee. Do I see and feel the benefits? While I can’t say that I feel my brain cells growing and changing, I can say that I appreciate the calm, the quiet, and the peace. Some days it takes longer than others to calm the thoughts and focus on just breathing. It’s common that I find myself deep in some thought and Sam’s voice will reach out of the silence to tug me back to this moment. There are days where I become mesmerized by the dance of colours that I see behind my eyelids. Fortunately, there’s no graduation from this practice. It is a daily practice that I invite you to enjoy as much as I do.

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Find what type of meditation works best for you. If you want to sit cross-legged and burn incense, that’s great, but it’s not necessary. You need only find a quiet spot where you won’t be disturbed for a few moments. And you can meditate at any time of the day. Hey, if you find that you really do ‘wake up’ at the end of the session, you won’t be the first to have fallen asleep. There is no wrong way. There is only the embrace of the stillness that is within us all.

I first heard this ‘prayer’ in the Waking Up sessions. I have incorporated it into my daily practice. And it is my wish for you:

May you be happy.   
May you be free from suffering.   
May you know peace.