Three Bible passages that may blow your mind (in a good way).

Jesus-150x150A version of this post originally appeared about three years ago at Elephant Journal and attracted over 20,000 views. I rewrote the story for my Patheos column “Wake Up Call” where it appeared 6/24/14.

Though I was raised in a strict Catholic family, one book I deliberately avoided for most of my life was the Bible. While I have long been interested in spirituality, I always found the Bible to be too dry, too boring. But several years ago, right before my daughter’s baptism, I decided to read the New Testament from front to back.

As you might imagine, the most interesting stories were the ones found in the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, that tell about the life and teachings if Jesus. I recall that every once in while I’d hit a passage that made me sit up and take notice, because Jesus was saying things I didn’t recall hearing in church.

I recently picked up the Bible again, and was glad to see that I had underlined the good parts for future reference. There were three specific passages that stood out to me, because they presented Jesus in a light we seldom hear about, with teachings that seem to cut against what many of us think about God and the church.

Mind Blower #1. “The Kingdom of God is within you.”

This passage starts with Luke 17:20 and continues in Luke 17:21 and I think it’s a real shocker—because it has the power to change your perspective on just where God is located and how you might access the Divine.

One day the Pharisees asked Jesus, “When will the Kingdom of God come?” Jesus replied, “The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the Kingdom of God is within you.”

Wait a second, isn’t the Kingdom of God supposed to be in the heavens, a place where the white-bearded Almighty sits on a golden throne? That’s the image of God the Father I recollect from my grade school catechism class, but it’s a description never referenced in the New Testament.

So what does it mean if, as Jesus says, the Kingdom of God is within? It means we don’t have to go very far to find all that we need in this life. All the wisdom and guidance we seek can be accessed at any given moment internally, once we learn to quiet the mind and tap into this amazing resource at the center of our being.

Mind Blower #2. “Ask and you will receive.”

This one comes from Mark 7:7 and deals directly with what we may ask for in prayer and out of life. It sounds so beautifully easy:

Ask, and you will receive. Search, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened for you.

This one I take with a grain of salt, as I don’t think you can take this to mean that God is a fairy godmother granting all wishes. But I do think it’s another sign that divine help is available to us at any given moment, if what we ask for is aligned with our purpose in this life (which is sure to involve you helping others).

Want a new Porsche convertible? Don’t even think about asking. But if you need help in guiding a troubled friend or solving a difficult family issue or even finding direction in your own life, assistance is available. Always do what you can with your own abilities—but feel free to ask for help and it will be given.

Mind Blower #3. “When you pray, pray privately.”

I was raised to believe that the place to pray was in church. Sure, you could say a bedtime prayer, but if you really wanted a direct connection to God, it was best done on Sundays from a church pew. This passage from Matthew 6:6 counters that ides in a big way. Here, Jesus instructs:

When you pray, go to your room and close the door. Pray privately to your Father who is with you. Your Father sees what you do in private. He will reward you.

As you may know, the idea of setting up a church was not the brainchild of Jesus, but of Paul of Taurus. Paul, who’s prominently featured in the New Testament, never actually met or received any direct input from Jesus on prayer or the church. In fact, the preceding passage in Matthew 6:5 actually seems to say don’t go to church: When you pray, don’t be like hypocrites. They like to stand in synagogues and on street corners to pray so that everyone can see them.

Now I am fully aware that there are many benefits to church attendance and gathering with a community of like-minded individuals. But it’s refreshing to hear that a twice-a-year church-goer like me can receive the same rewards from praying in private, something I do on a daily basis.

Final note: I’ll be the first to admit there’s a lot in the Bible that can rub you the wrong way or even leave you scratching your head. But as a local reverend once told me when I asked him about some parts of the Bible I found questionable, “you’ve got to find the passages that have meaning to you”. And that’s where I believe the value of the Bible lies, in finding the hidden chestnuts that talk to you.

You may also be interested in “10 True Things Jesus Said That You Won’t Find in the Bible.

Want to reduce stress and lose weight? Becca Chopra recommends you check your chakras.

Becca_ChopraBecca Chopra is my go to-person when it comes to learning about the chakras, the body’s seven “energy centers” of spiritual power. She has written a couple of informative and entertaining books on the subject that teach how chakras can affect everything from your love life to your health, wealth and happiness.

She has a new book out titled The Chakra Energy Diet and this time the topic is how eating right can not only balance your chakras—but help you lose weight, lower stress and gain more energy in the process. So you’ll not only look better, you’ll feel better too.

According to Becca, there’s a simple way to determine if your chakras could use a realignment: If you’re stressed out, feeling not so great, unhappy with the way you look, or out-of-control with food cravings, your chakras are not balanced. That means it’s time for some chakra work.

In the book, Becca moves from chakra to chakra, reminding the reader of the role of each chakra and helping the reader determine if a specific chakra is out of balance. If there is an issue, she talks to how it can be addressed through changes in diet, visualization techniques and yoga poses that can help you get your chakras realigned.

Here’s a quick overview of her approach as it relates to your diet:

Are you financially stressed, insecure or angry? Start feeding your Root Chakra with high-quality protein and foods that vibrate with the same color as that chakra—red foods like cherries and strawberries and root vegetables like red potatoes and red cabbage.

Are you lacking energy? Give your Solar Plexus Chakra a helping hand by eating complex carbohydrates like yellow millet or brown rice.

Want to be more loving and compassionate? Open the Heart Chakra with the help of fruits and vegetables, especially leafy green ones.

Need help with intuition and insight? Invigorate your Third Eye Chakra with dark blue, brain-supporting foods like berries and grapes, and without overdoing it, chocolate.

What about losing weight? Becca believes that one of the leading culprits when it comes to weight gain is stress. She points out that when you’re stressed, it causes a hormone called cortisol to surge, stimulating your appetite. The body decides it needs extra stores of fat or glucose and you reach for something to eat. She writes:

Most people are driven to eat comfort foods when stressed out, even if they’re not hungry. And comfort foods are usually high-fat, sugary or salty foods. You may be eating whatever is within reach to fill an emotional need, or cruising to the closest fast food window because you have no time to shop and cook a healthy meal.

So what’s the best approach to dealing with stress—and the overeating that comes with it? The author admits that the first thing she used to do when stressed was to reach for a bag of potato chips. But she’s found a better approach: take a breath and relax! She advises us to:

Put your hands on your tummy, below your navel, and feel it rise and fall with your breath. We often breathe very shallowly or even hold our breath when we’re stressed. Simple deep belly breathing can both calm the release of stress chemicals in the body and oxygenate your cells.

She then layers in how adjusting your chakras can help as well:

Using chakra colors, imagine breathing in bright yellow energy from the sun into your Solar Plexus or navel area and breathing out your stress. Or pull in inspiration from the heavens, visualizing violet or white light coming in with the breath through the Crown Chakra, and exhale your stress by breathing it out with awareness at the bottom of your feet.

Here’s one more tool that can help keep your appetite in check. Chopra credits Ann Doherty for the following meditation that can help you better manage your diet, by making you more aware of what and how you eat:

Hunger Awareness Meditation

  • Before you eat, breathe in and out of your belly a few times to relax.
  • Focus on your body and how you experience hunger.
  • Rate your hunger on a scale of 1 (none) to 10 (very).
  • If you’re not actually hungry, your cravings may be caused by dehydration – sip a glass of water or cup of herbal tea and see how you feel. If you’re fatigued, take a short nap or listen to a guided meditation (preferably with your feet elevated).
  • If you’re truly hungry, make nourishing choices.
  • Periodically stop, put down your fork or spoon and breathe. A fun idea is to try eating with your opposite hand to slow things down.
  • Chew fully and slowly to give your body time to note satiety or fullness – it usually takes 20 minutes.
  • Using non-judgmental awareness and experimentation, periodically rate your fullness on a scale of 1-10 (very).
  • Stop eating when you feel 80% full or when you reach an 8, still feeling comfortable enough to go for a walk.

This post originally appeared on my Wake Up Call column at Patheos, June 13, 2014.

What if we looked at each day like it was shiny and brand new.

NewDayIs it possible that our senses are dulled by our daily routine?

You know, the 9-to-5 rut. For me personally, after working several years at the same job, traveling the same route to work, performing similar tasks each day, I can testify to how easy it can be to walk through life with blinders on. And that’s a problem:

When we don’t expect to see anything different, we miss the small but important changes that take place around us.

I was alerted to this fact the other day, as I sat eating dinner after a long day at the office. My wife asked ne if I noticed anything new. My eyes darted from her hair to her top to the table I ate on. Nothing. She pointed up and I then noticed it. Perched atop the dining room chest was a small statue of a red mermaid. She informed me it had been there for weeks and had been waiting for me to notice it.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could wake up each day and see life as if for the first time?

It’s an idea that the author Alan Lightman put forward in his book Einstein’s Dreams. In one memorable chapter, Lightman’s Einstein imagines a world where people awake each day to a blank slate. They have no memory of the previous day (or days), so they consult notebooks to uncover the details of their lives.

The notebooks tell them where they work and they go off to jobs that are new and full of promise. When the workday ends, they check the notebook again to be reminded of where they live. They come home to spouses they have never seen before and children they have never met. And with great curiosity, they reacquaint themselves with each other and tell stories about the day’s events.

Once the children are put to bed, the husband and wife talk, not about balancing the checkbook, but “about the stars in the night sky.” They look into each other’s eyes. They learn about each other’s dreams. And each night they fall in love all over again.

If their lives sound full and rich, it’s because they are. In Lightman’s words, “It is only habit and memory that dull the passion for life.” Without habit and memory, they live each day as if it were a new and exciting adventure.

And while it may not be possible to live in Lightman’s imagined world, Thomas Moore believes it is possible to bring the same kind of zest to our own daily existence. In his book The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life, Moore sings from the same hymn book as Lightman, explaining how we must let go of what we know in order to uncover the new. Moore believes that:

The first step is to recover a beginner’s mind and a child’s wonder, to forget some of the things we have learned and to which we are attached. As we empty ourselves of disenchanted values, a fresh paradisiacal spirit may pour in…we may discover the nature of the soul and the pleasure of being a participant in the extravagance of life.

Because when we go through life as if we have seen it all, done it all and heard it all before, we stop listening and learning. We begin tuning out the small details of life that have the power to surprise and delight us. We miss the nuances that add texture and meaning to our lives, like a red mermaid sitting atop the dining room chest.

The good news: solving our attention-deficit problem is easy. We just need to start interacting with life as it interacts with us.

It starts by making a conscientious effort to live at a slower and more thoughtful pace, open to the people and places and experiences we encounter. We must walk through each day alive and alert, our eyes wide open, looking a little bit longer, listening a little more intently, digging a little deeper to recognize the small but important details that make up our lives.

When we teach ourselves to look past the things we know and expect, we may be surprised. We may find that our lives are richer and full of more interesting and rewarding experiences than we ever imagined. We may notice that the happiness we’ve been chasing or found elusive has been with us all along.

A different and longer version of this story appeared at Contemplative Journal.

The Bible I read for wisdom and guidance is not the Holy Bible. It’s this book.

Worldwide_LawsEach morning I do a little reading as part of my spiritual practice. And over the years, the one book I have turned to more than any other is The Worldwide Laws of Life, 200 Eternal Spiritual Principles, by John Templeton. A close second would be Wisdom from World Religions, Pathways Toward Heaven on Earth by the same author. They are the equivalent of my Old and New Testament.

I have read through each of these thick texts twice and as their titles imply, they provide both wisdom and guidance. By reading a couple pages in the morning, I get a daily dose of spiritual nourishment, every bit as important as the vitamins I take. They put my head in the right space for the day ahead with lessons on love, virtue, gratitude and forgiveness.

Almost as compelling as the knowledge inside these books is the man who wrote them. The late John Templeton may best be known as the investment guru behind the Templeton Funds, but he was a man who combined two full lives into one. Believing that while science has advanced over the centuries, religion was in the dark ages, he devoted much of his life to the pursuit of spiritual understanding and discovery.

John Templeton

John Templeton

Templeton bequeathed the billion-plus dollars he made in his lifetime to a foundation that bears his name. Today, the Templeton Foundation spends tens of millions annually researching the scientific underpinnings of faith and religion. In addition, his annual Templeton prize, valued at well over a million dollars, has been given to the likes of Mother Teresa and the Dalai Lama.

But for me, even more important are the several vital religious and spiritual texts he left behind. While raised a Presbyterian and strongly influenced by his Christian faith, Templeton did not believe that any one religion had a monopoly on the truth. So he began collecting the wisdom that made the most sense to him, pulling pieces from all of the world’s religions, as well as various authors and philosophers, until he had in fact created what amounts to a new belief system.

Interestingly, Templeton once used the following words to describe the life of the astronomer Ptolemy: His genius lay rather in his extraordinary ability to assemble the research data of his predecessors, to introduce improvements of his own, and to present the result as a logical and complete system, written in a readily intelligible form.

And that’s what Templeton himself has done with these two major works, The Worldwide Laws of Life and Wisdom from World’s Religions. There are quite literally words to live by, and below I offer just a few samples of this treasure trove of inspiration and guidance. While Templeton uses a lot of short quotes and excerpts by others to illustrate his points, all words below are from the author himself, except where noted.

On Love

Love is an inner quality that sees good everywhere and in everybody. It insists that all is good, and by refusing to see anything but good, it tends to cause that quality to appear uppermost in itself and in other things. Love takes no notice of faults, imagined or otherwise.

On Inner Peace

The place of inner stillness and quiet is termed “the Silence”. We enter an elevated state of awareness, of heightened receptivity, a time of being fully alive to the moment. It may sound strange, but when we are in the Silence, we do absolutely nothing. We are content just to be, and we luxuriate in the ecstasy of being consciously with God.

On Beauty and Life

Is your life beautiful? Do you live in surroundings that you have made beautiful through your own unique, creative ideas? To expect and lovingly require beauty to be apparent in all areas of your life is to be deeply loving to yourself, your soul, your world, and shows reverence to God and all of life.

On Seeing the Good

Seneca said, “Eyes will not see when the heart wishes them to be blind.” How can we open our inner eyes and begin to see with the “eyes of the spirit”? By lifting our vision. By choosing to look for the good in all situations. By deciding to place our attention on workable solutions to problems rather than focusing on what we perceive as wrong.

On Going with the Flow

We have the ability to work with the forces in our lives in various ways to experience greater expression of who we are and what we’re capable of being. We can choose to work with and not against the spiritual forces of life and to experience the good that is present for us.

On the True Meaning of Wealth

If we have not developed a reservoir of spiritual wealth, no amount of money is likely to make us happy. Spiritual wealth provides faith. It gives us love. It brings and expands wisdom. Spiritual wealth leads to happiness because it guides us into useful or loving relationships.

On Purpose

Your mission in life is to have a “why” to live for, to use your best qualities in the service of the kind of world in which you would like to live. That is your purpose. That is what life expects of you.

On the Silence of God

Sometimes when our prayers seem to be unanswered in the manner we think they should, we may feel that we are not in tune with the timeless, unlimited universal Creator called God. But nothing can be separate from God. Everything that touches you, everything that touches each individual in the universe, is a part of God. The divine ideas we receive from God in the silence are like manna from heaven. The pour forth through us ever new, ever alive, ever beautiful, ever more wonderful every day.

On Flow

The wonderful substance of God flows in and through us and extends from us in every direction. Truly, there is no place we can go where we are not bathed in the infinite sea of the substance of the universe. There may be a number of ways to open the channel for good to flow to us, but have we looked recently at the many ways good can flow from us?

You can find ever more wisdom from John Templeton by clicking here.

This post originally appeared on my Wake Up Call column at Patheos, May 28, 2014.

Mastering the Dalai Lama smile. (Or how to let your love shine through).

DL_mainThe 14th Dalai Lama is one of the most revered people in the world. Spiritual leader, head of the Free Tibet movement, best-selling author—it’s hard to think of anyone who has done more with his or her precious life. Yet, if you ask me, the most compelling part of the Dalai Lama has nothing to do with his many accomplishments. It’s his ever-present smile.

In virtually every photo you see of the man, the smile is there, conveying warmth and compassion. In fact, it’s virtually impossible to find a shot where at least a hint of a smile is not present. It’s his natural countenance. I’ve included a few examples on this page, but there are literally hundreds of different examples. (Do a Google image search on “Dalai Lama” and see for yourself.)

dalai-lama-laughIt’s a genuine smile that starts at his mouth and spreads to his cheekbones and eyes. There are also photos where it looks like the Dalai Lama was just told a joke and is enjoying a good belly laugh. But no matter the image, I feel like this is one man I can judge by his picture alone. He is at peace with himself, he loves mankind, and he lets this love shine through. Which got me thinking:

Wouldn’t it be great if we all could master the Dalai Lama smile?

Now, I’m not suggesting we fake a smile, but the fact is many of us go through life feeling pretty good about ourselves and the world around us. But we often leave this feeling bottled up inside and don’t project it outward to those we encounter in our everyday lives.

dalai_lama_1So what I’m recommending is that we take a cue from the Dalai Lama and shine our inner light and love outward. It’s easy really, and just involves loosening our face muscles a bit, thinking about all the things we love and are grateful for, and letting our mouths do the rest.

One person who has tried the “spreading the love through smiling” approach is the humorous and always inspirational blogger James Altucher. His method does not involve mimicking the Dalai Lama, but he does have a unique way he connects with those he encounters:

I pretend I am everyone’s mother or I pretend that everyone who passes me is going to die tomorrow and I care deeply about them…I smile at each person’s eyes. I don’t stop until they pass me. I love them. They are my babies.

As you can tell, James is a little bit out there (and I love him for that), but I think his intention is right on. In fact, one day he committed himself to smile at everyone he passed on the street—not just anywhere, but on the perceived mean streets of New York City. And his results were pretty amazing. He not only saw a change in each person who caught his smile, he saw a change in himself:

Their faces lightened up. All of them. I could see their faces relax. The tightened cheeks fall a little. The eyes start to smile. Until finally they smiled back as they passed…and for each smile that I gave, it was sent back to me, I felt stronger. Like the rays of a yellow sun hitting Superman. Giving him his super powers.

Now, James carries no misconceptions that he could make the people he smiled at any happier, and admits this was somewhat of a selfish exercise. But it did ultimately seem to have a great effect:

I traveled for a tiny bit into their lives. And my smile locked with theirs, like a kiss. A small kiss on the forehead. A brush of the lips. A tiny subconscious impulse sending an electric message back and forth between me and each person.

This idea of spreading love around like this is actually based on a very old premise, something the ancient Greeks called agape (pronounced ah-gah-pay). While mentioned in the Bible, I think the spiritual billionaire (who gave away all his money), John Templeton, explained it best:

Agape is a love that’s distinctly different from erotic love or romantic love, as it exists on a higher, more spiritual plane. It’s the unselfish love you give to everyone and everything around you, while expecting nothing in return. It’s love simply for the sake of loving.

With agape, your actions have nothing to do it with the actions of someone else. It’s all about you giving love to others around you, even those you don’t know. Sound like a worthwhile idea? There’s no better way to get the ball rolling than with the Dalai Lama smile. Look at the pictures on this page and try it in the mirror for yourself. It’s easy. And it can really do wonders.

This post originally appeared on my Wake Up Call column at Patheos, May 13, 2014.

You already know how to talk to God. Here’s how to listen.

listeningLet us be silent, and we may hear the whispers of the Gods. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

What do devotees of the Bhagavad Gita, Evangelical Christians and this humble blogger have in common? We all believe in the power of a direct and personal relationship with God.

For me, this personal relationship means that I start most mornings with a specific ritual. After rolling (or some days, hobbling) out of bed, I flick on the coffeemaker and begin stretching, followed by a cup of coffee, a 5-minute meditation session, more coffee and a three or four-mile run.

It’s at different points during this morning routine that I find and connect with the essence of God within. It literally gives me a feeling of warmth and love inside and gets me ready for the day ahead, hopefully to spread the compassion and good vibes I feel to everyone I encounter. Oh—and to borrow a phrase from a colleague, I have a conversation with God.

Now, this is not a traditional conversation, as it’s usually wordless and involves a lot more listening than talking. I simply ask for guidance in whatever single area of my life most needs it most. And while this may sound kooky to those less spiritually-inclined, I’m practicing a tradition that has been around for some time (see John 10:27) and recommended by some of the leading spiritual lights of our age.

One regular conversationalist with God was Ralph Trine, an early New Thought Movement leader. Trine believed there was a “divine inflow” that we all could tap into for guidance and advice on any life matter. In his great, forgotten classic In Tune with the Infinite, which early last century sold over two million copies, Trine wrote:

It is through your own soul that the voice of God speaks to you. This is the interior guide.

More recently, the modern-day poet and wise man Ivon Prefontaine explained it this way:

Regardless of faith and even when we do not have it, there still exists a source deep within each of us that when we touch it and let it speak to us is able to guide us in wonderful and amazing ways.

Perhaps our greatest American philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson, also believed there was a source of guidance available to us all called the “divine soul.” Emerson had his own way of communicating with this source, which he referred to as “lowly listening” (more on that later):

There is a soul at the center of nature and over the will of every man…we prosper when we accept its advice…we need only obey. There is guidance for each of us, and by lowly listening we shall hear the right word.

When it comes to talking and listening to God, I’ve distilled my personal process down to three steps—but by no means do I want to make this sound easy. It probably took me a decade or so to perfect the first step. Step two came much faster, as did step three though I know this can be a tricky one for a lot of people. Here goes:

1. Go to a place where you can quiet the mind and be still.

Unless you walk around in a perpetual state of Zen, this is a necessary first step. And as a Patheos reader, you probably already have a good idea what technique for quieting the mind works best for you. (If not, try this one.)

For me, I’m best able to quiet my mind by focusing on my breathing via meditation or by taking a brisk run along the river that lines my neighborhood. But there are many other ways to get there, as well. As Douglas Block points out in his book Listening to Your Inner Voice:

You can achieve this stillness through any process that relaxes you and slows down your thoughts—meditation, visualization, long walks, exercise, driving on a country road.

2. Engage in what Ralph Waldo Emerson refers to as “lowly listening.”

It’s pretty much what it sounds like. Once in a relaxed state, put your concern out to God. Then, while not trying too hard, “listen” within. Scholar and author Richard Geldard, who has written two books on Emerson’s philosophy, explains what happens during this lowly listening phase:

Solitude, stillness, reflection, judgement and understanding all come together to guide us.

Emerson discussed the process of lowly listening is in one of a series of essays titled Spiritual Laws. He wrote:

Place yourself in the middle of the stream of power and wisdom which flows into you as life, place yourself in the full center of that flood, then you are without effort impelled to truth, to right, and a perfect contentment.

The key is listening. As author Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee points out in his thought-provoking book Prayer of the Heart in Christian and Sufi Mysticism
:

Learning to pray is learning to listen. Within the heart we learn to wait with patience for God’s words, which may come even when we have not asked.

3. Separate the word of God from the voice of the ego.

A friend once told me that she hears lots of words in her head, the problem is figuring which are the right ones. And maybe that’s the hard part. But once you’re able to tune in to the “soul at the center of nature” as Emerson calls it, you’ll find there’s a single, authentic voice there.

When I say voice, it doesn’t always come through in words (though it can), but usually in the form of a deep-seeded intuition. One moment you’re questioning the correct next step at work, at home, in love or in your life. The next moment (or day) you know the answer with some certainty.

The one important part is learning to separate the false voice of the ego with the true voice of the soul and God. Vaughan-Lee advises that
:

Such listening requires both attentiveness and discrimination, as it is not always easy to discriminate between the voice of the ego and the voice of our Beloved. But there is a distinct difference: the words of the ego and mind belong to duality; the words of the heart carry the imprint of oneness. In the heart there is no argument, no you and me, just an unfolding oneness.

What’s the importance of this morning conversation with God? I believe it’s invaluable and can help ready you for the day ahead or even help you find solace in the middle or end of the day. Again, in the words of Ralph Trine:

The little time spent in the quiet each day, alone with one’s God,that we may make and keep our connection with the Infinite source—our source and our life—will be a boon to any life. It will prove, if we are faithful, to be the most priceless possession that we have.

This story appeared May 1, 2014, on my Wake Up Call column at Patheos.

How to meditate like a monk in 10 easy steps.

639px-Abbot_of_Watkungtaphao_in_Phu_Soidao_WaterfallWhen it came to meditation, I was always kind of a dummy. It seemed easy enough, but I just didn’t get why I needed to do it. After all, I cleared my head each morning with a brisk four-mile run. Did I really need to meditate, too?

Still, as I read stories about the meditation practices of Sting and perused the filmmaker David Lynch’s book on meditation and consciousness, Catching the Big Fish, I couldn’t help but wonder–was I missing something?

So I tried meditating. On several dozen occasions. But my jumpy, synapses-in-overdrive brain was having no part of it. Why go blank, my jabbering mind would say, when there were so many plans to make, so many different things to think about? I was the world’s worst meditator.

Then, while window shopping at Amazon one day, I stumbled upon the book Deep Meditation by Yogani. I was familiar with Yogani as the guru who didn’t believe in gurus, and after reading several glowing “it’s the only meditation book you’ll ever need” reviews, I bought it. Now, after countless successful sessions, I’m sold on meditation, too. There’s no better way to refresh and recharge the mind.

When it comes to meditation instruction, Yogani is the opposite of a taskmaster, in that he is kind and forgiving—and the thing he is most forgiving about is falling off the mantra, the word you’re supposed to focus on as you block out all your other thoughts.

That was always my biggest obstacle when meditating—having my mind constantly jump from the mantra to virtually anything else going on in my life. But Yogani patiently and frequently eased my concerns by letting me know it’s alright, just come back to the mantra if you get off track. Even if that means refocusing on the mantra again and again and again.

Deep Meditation is a quick and easy read, a slim 100-page book in pretty big type, and can be had for around ten bucks. And while I recommend you buy a copy, I thought I’d provide ten key points from the book which I’ve listed below verbatim–with my thoughts added in italics.

  1. For most people, twenty minutes is the best duration for a meditation session. But it’s okay to start with 5-10 minutes and work your way up from there. Try it twice a day, once before the morning meal and the day’s activity, and then again before the evening meal and the evening’s activity. I make sure, at minimum, to get a morning session in each day.
  2. A word on how to sit for meditation: The first priority is comfort. It is not desirable to sit in a way that distracts us from the easy procedure of meditation. Or to do it in a position where you might fall asleep.
  3. For our practice of deep meditation, we will use the thought I AM. This will be our mantra. We can also spell it AYAM. I use the similar Sanskrit word “aum”. All Yogani asks is that you keep it simple.
  4. While sitting comfortable with eyes closed, we’ll just relax. We will notice thoughts, stream of thoughts. That is fine. We just let them go without minding them. After about a minute, we gently introduce the mantra.
  5. Whenever we realize we are not thinking the mantra inside any more, we come back to it easily.
  6. As soon as we realize we are off into a stream of thoughts, no matter how mundane or profound, we just easily go back to the mantra. Like that. We don’t make a struggle of it. The idea is not that we have to be on the mantra all the time.
  7. Thoughts are a normal part of the deep meditation process. We just ease back to the mantra again. We favor it. Deep meditation is going toward, not pushing away from.
  8. No struggle. No fuss. No iron willpower or mental heroics are necessary for this practice. All such efforts are away from the simplicity of deep meditation and will reduce its effectiveness.
  9. When we realize we have been off somewhere, we just ease back into the mantra again. We are reading it inward with our attention to progressively deeper levels of inner silence in the mind.
  10. This cycle of thinking the mantra, losing it, and coming out into a stream of thoughts is a process of purification. It is very powerful, and will ultimately yield a constant experience of inner silence in our meditation and, more importantly, in our daily activity.

Happy meditating!

This post appeared on my Patheos column Wake Up Call, April 16, 2014.

Want to feel better immediately? Unleash the power of gratefulness.

keep-calm-and-always-be-grateful-150x150Several months ago I wrote about the one prayer to say if you’re saying only one. I call it the prayer of thanks. And it’s so important, I’m now writing about it again with some fresh, new insights to offer.

The fact is as much as we may obsess about what’s not right in our lives, most of us have a lot to be thankful for. And by expressing gratitude for all the good things in our life, something magical happens—we open our lives to receiving additional blessings.

For me this gratitude comes out as an interior monologue or prayer each morning. I start with the words, “I give thanks (to God) for all the good in my life. I am thankful for…” and the mental check-list begins. It always starts with my family, my home, my health, my work and continues on to my friends, business associates, the sunshine, the first signs of spring, the peaceful solitude of my morning bus commute.

As it turns out, it seems I’m not the only one who has found the power and importance of a daily gratitude practice. My Patheos colleague Rick Hanson recently stressed the same theme in a story titled Developing a “Buddha Brain” Through Gratitude. Hanson believes that:

Gratitude shifts your attention away from resentment, regret, and guilt…and focuses your awareness on positive things, simple good facts such as having enough water to drink, the laughter of children, the kindness of others, or the smell of an orange.

I should also tell you that Hanson’s practice of gratitude extends beyond a morning prayer. He recommends taking the time to express gratitude throughout each day, something I often try to do, but can sometimes forget in the midst of a busy workday. Hanson offers the following practical advice:

To reap the rewards of gratitude, rest your attention on a good fact, noticing details about it, staying with it for at least a few seconds in a row. Then allow a natural emotional response of gratitude to arise. Continue to pay attention to this feeling of gratitude for another few seconds – or even longer: it’s delicious!

One of my favorite bloggers is the self-deprecatingly humorous and inspirational James Altucher. James has had more than his share of tough times in life, losing his home, his wife and business, as well as a small fortune. But he rebuilt his life, mentally and physically, spiritually and emotionally, through a regimen he calls a Simple Daily Practice. A vital part of that practice is what he refers to as ABG, which stands for Always Be Grateful.

According to Altucher there are a ton of benefits to always being grateful and practicing ABG on a regular basis. For starters, he points out that when you’re feeling grateful for all the good things in your life:

  • You actually release dopamine into your brain. This makes you feel uplifted and acts as an anti-depressant.
  • You get creative energy. Being grateful for what you have, this second, allows you to start planning the next step in a more creative way.
  • You’ll treat with better respect the positive things you do have.

Like Hanson, Altucher also advises being grateful for more than just a few minutes in the morning. He recommends that we “try to do it all day”. It’s something he calls a “Grateful Diet” and it works like this:

Be grateful non-stop for the next 21 days. What could it hurt? Be grateful for every object, person, thought, situation, that enters your mind. All of these are deserving of your gratitude. Do all of the above things for 21 days. Your life will be completely transformed.

Could gratefulness really help us live a better life? It surely can’t hurt and I for one can vouch for its effectiveness. And the best thing is, unlike all the fad diets out there, it’s super easy, requires a minimum of effort, and you can see the results virtually immediately. All good reasons to try it today.

This post previously appeared on my Patheos column Wake Up Call, April 2, 2014.

Introducing my new column: Eyes Wide Open at Contemplative Journal.

CJAs some of you know, I write a regular column for the leading faith site Patheos called Wake Up Call. Well, starting this month I’m excited to also be writing a monthly column for a fairly new site, the aptly named Contemplative Journal.

At CJ, I’ll have the opportunity to expand on some of the issues I write about at Patheos at greater length. I’ll continue to explore different aspects of spirituality, with a focus on the contemplative dimensions of life. As I write on the site, Eyes Wide Open will invite readers “to open your eyes in new ways and explore the wisdom of our day and the greater spiritual truths in our midst”.

My first story is titled Is Paying Attention the Key to a Happier Life? and looks at the importance of mindfulness in everyday life. I hope you enjoy it. And be sure to check out the Contemplative Journal site, where you’ll find many wonderful articles and insights from several unique voices on the spirituality scene.

9 Life Tips from a Tiny Book that’s Spiritual Dynamite.

Law-of-Success-150x150He is the wisest who seeks God. He is the most successful who has found God. ~Yogananda, The Law of Success

It measures a little over 5 inches by 3 ½ inches and is only 39 pages long. You can comfortably read it in about an hour. Yet it’s jam-packed with wisdom and a true Wake Up Call for anyone who has wondered off the spiritual path. It’s The Law of Success, Using the Power of Spirit to Create Health, Prosperity and Happiness by Paramahansa Yogananda.

Perhaps best know for introducing millions of westerners to meditation through his Autobiography of a Yogi, Yogananda penned many books during his lifetime. But for me, The Law of Success is his masterwork because it so concisely sums up what living an active, engaged spiritual life is all about.

Yogandada uses what might best be called the KISS approach (Keep It Simple Silly). And for me his book serves as a guide book to daily living. I pick it up whenever I feel off-kilter and feel the need to get my life back on track. It makes me realize that success is not measured by material wealth, while reminding me of the vital role God plays in the process.

What follows are passages that mean the most to me, strung together as a loose narrative. If you find these compelling, I’d suggest you pick the book up as this only skims the surface. It will be a few dollars well spent.

9 Life Tips from The Law of Success.

  1. Success is not rightly measured by the worldly standards of wealth, prestige and power…success is measured by the yardstick of happiness.
  2. Your work can be called a “success” only when in some way it serves your fellowman.
  3. Develop the powers that God gave you—unlimited powers that flow from the innermost forces of your being.
  4. Before deciding any important matter, sit in silence, asking the Father for His blessing. Then behind your power is God’s power; behind your will, His will.
  5. When the consciousness is kept on God, you will have no fears; every obstacle will then be overcome by courage and faith.
  6. When you do your part and rely on God to do His, you will find that mysterious forces come to your aid and that your constructive wishes soon materialize.
  7. Along with positive thinking, you should use will power and continuous activity in order to be successful.
  8. Always be sure, within the calm region of your inner Self, that what you want is right for you to have, and in accord with God’s purposes.
  9. In order to be happy one should have good health, a well-balanced mind, a prosperous life, the right work, a thankful heart, and, above all, wisdom or knowledge of God.

This post originally appeared at my Patheos column Wake Up Call, March 22, 2014.