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.

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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.

Beyond Diet and Exercise!

Over the years I have learned a lot about diet and exercise. I am, for the most part, conscious about what I eat. For the past year I have stayed away from simple carbohydrates (especially sugars in its many forms,) and gluten. It’s meant I have to forego some wonderful desserts, breads and pastas. But I have also dropped almost 15 kilos, I feel better, I have little back pain and pain in my knees and hips has all but gone. I have been going to the gym regularly as well, following a balanced program that uses free weights, exercise machines and cardio equipment to tone up my muscles. Someone commented jokingly at the beginning of the pandemic that we would come out of it as, chunks, monks, drunks or hunks. I’ve opted for the final option. No, I’m not going to be competing in any challenges or looking to participate in an Ironman competition. Nor am I trying to look like I drank at the fountain of youth; it’s a personal challenge to look the best that I can for myself, to be in the best physical condition and the best health possible for myself.

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I am not alone. There are many who extol the benefits of avoiding things that are detrimental to our bodies and all others in moderation. And there is no end to excellent information on-line with respect to improving and maintaining our physical health.

We are not just our bodies: we are also our minds. I have to ask myself, am I doing the same to build up my mind, and my thinking as I have done for my body? Do I seek out positive ‘foods’ for my mind, moderate some and avoid others? Am I making sure that I am exercising my brain by what I read, watch and listen to?

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I work hard to keep a strong and healthy body. Can I say the same for my mind? Do I guard my serenity and happiness with the same fervor as I wear a seatbelt and follow driving rules? Do I guard against the negativity that abounds in my social media as well as the news media? Do I protect my mind as well as my body? Do I allow random thoughts access to my head and give them access to peace of mind?

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For many people, the answer is an unfortunate no. Regardless of where we go, we see people ‘connected’ via their phones to social media. We have a moment of spare time and we dive into Instagram and Facebook, only to realize that an hour has gone by and we’re still scrolling the feed. Or we have the 24 hour news channel on the television playing in the background. Everywhere we are being bombarded by mostly trivial information. As I heard one person share last month, we have a device in our pockets that gives us access to all of the knowledge that humans have gained in the whole of history and we use it to look at videos of kittens.

If your body is important to you, then I suggest that you be as vigilant with your mind. It’s up to us to look after our physical health. It’s also up to us to look after our mental and emotional health. Be as discriminating about what you read and watch as you would with how you eat and exercise. I’ve discovered that I can get along just fine knowing about some of the facts that happen in the world. I don’t need to know all of the details. As much as we would like to see and read about more ‘good’ news, it’s not going to suddenly appear. We all know that breaking any of the ten commandments sells newspapers and attracts viewers. I can’t control what happens ‘out there’.

I have little control over what happens outside of my small circle of influence, and within, it’s pretty much a full-time job keeping track of my mind. Regardless of what’s happening around me, I can control what I let into my mind and how it affects my emotional state. Just because a thought comes into your head doesn’t mean you have to act on it.

I believe that we are integrated beings. I can’t focus on only one aspect of who I am, my body, and ignore my mental state. I am committed to work both my body and my mind with a steady diet of what’s good and positive, and exercising them both to keep me at my best possible condition. It’s my responsibility.

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