Today’s Quote

On what being a real man means, via the ex-NFL player and actor Alex Karras.

Soul Gatherings

It takes more courage to reveal insecurities than to hide them,
more strength to relate to people than to dominate them,
more “manhood” to abide by thought-out principles
rather than blind reflex.
Toughness is in the soul and spirit,
not in muscles and an immature mind.

~ Alex Karras ~
__________

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An 8-Step Guide to Meditation—and Deep Inner Peace.

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Kosal Ley via unsplash.com

Are you familiar with the writer Sam Harris? In 2005, he wrote a bestselling book The End of Faith that, in a nutshell, portrayed religion as little more than a collection of myths and superstitions that could be blamed for much of the world’s ills.

It was with some trepidation that I picked up his more recent book Waking Up, A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion—but I knew that Harris was an excellent writer and the title grabbed me. And in this fascinating study of meditation and consciousness, my only difference with Harris is this—where he finds self-transcendence, I sense the presence of God. (Which, to paraphrase Paul Tillich, I see not as a being, but being itself.)

It turns out that Harris spent much of his young adult life traveling the world and studying with some of the best meditation teachers of our time. (His main focus was Buddhist meditation due to its relative lack of religious content.) Harris shares with us his own 8-step guide to meditation, similar to one I shared on these pages, with a few nuances. It’s as good as any I’ve ever read, and it appears in a lightly edited form below:

An 8-Step Guide to Meditation.

  1. Sit comfortably with your spine erect, either in a chair or cross-legged on a cushion.
  2. Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and feel the points of contact between your body and the chair or cushion. Notice the sensations of sitting—pressure, warmth.
  3. Gradually become aware of the process of breathing. Pay attention to where you feel the breath most, either in your nostrils or rising and falling in the abdomen.
  4. Allow your attention to rest on your breath, as you let it come and go naturally.
  5. Every time your mind wanders, gently return it to the breath.
  6. As you focus on your breath, you may perceive sounds, bodily sensations, emotions. Simply observe these phenomena as they appear and return to the breath.
  7. The moment you find yourself lost in thought, observe it as an object of consciousness, release it, and return to the breath.
  8. Continue in this way until you merely witness objects of consciousness—sights, sounds, emotions, thoughts—and allow them to rise and pass away.

If you try this and are still struggling, see my story here.

Harris sees meditation as creating a deeper sense of well-being and inner peace. He strongly believes that we need to overcome the conventional sense of ourselves, which is an illusion. We can do this by taking a pause from our jittery, overthinking selves and paying closer attention to the present moment.

He relates our lives to watching a film in a movie theater. When we’re totally immersed in the film, we forget our surroundings and the fact we’re merely looking at light on a wall. In Harris’s words: “Most of us spend every waking moment lost in the movies of our lives.” Meditation allows us to step out of the movie, return to our seat, and observe our lives from a distance. It helps us overcome the illusion of the self, by placing us squarely in the present moment.

The reality of your life is always now.

But Harris points out that we often forget or overlook this truth. We become preoccupied with thought, dwelling on the past, pondering the future, questioning, analyzing everything, until we are “spellbound by the conversation we are having with ourselves.” He self-effacingly points out that:

It seems to me that I spend much of my waking life in a neurotic trance. My experiences in meditation, suggests that an alternative exists. It is possible to stand free of the juggernaut of self, if only for moments at a time.

What’s important to note here is that a regular meditation practice can also extend benefits into our everyday lives, not just at the moment of meditation itself. This ability to calm and unclutter our mind becomes an attribute we can always fall back on, merely by remembering to breathe. Harris refers to this as “mindfulness” and a “state of clear, nonjudgmental, and undistracted attention”.

When we reach this state, Harris tells us that what remains is consciousness itself, with “its attendant sights, sounds, sensations, and thoughts appearing and changing in every moment.” In the book, Harris takes a deep dive into the meaning and mystery of consciousness, a heady subject we’ll look at in the future.

This story originally appeared on my Wake Up Call column at Patheos, April, 26, 2017.

Was the Greatest Spirituality Book of All Time Written 120 Years Ago?

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Christopher Jolly via unsplash.com

This story originally appeared on my Wake Up Call column at Patheos, April 2017.

Every few years there’s a spirituality book that captures the imagination of the public and becomes a big bestseller. Think The Secret by Rhonda Byrne or A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle, or before that, you may remember The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield from the early-90’s or even Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach from the early-70’s.

Well, once upon a time there was a spirituality book that was even bigger than those classics. It came out all the way back in 1897 and since it’s now 120 years old, there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of it. It’s called In Tune with the Infinite by Ralph Waldo Trine and it’s considered by some to be the greatest spiritual book of all time.

in-tune-with-the-infinite-ralph-waldo-trineA pioneer in the era’s New Thought Movement, Trine wrote over a dozen books, but it was this one that caught fire with the public and went on to sell over 2 million copies. Just how popular was In Tune with the Infinite? I actually have a worn dustcover from the 1909 edition and here’s what the publisher says on it:

It has become a world classic in its line. One traveler writes that he has come across a man reading it sitting on the banks of the Yukon; another that he finds it in the shops and even the little railway stations in Burmah and Ceylon. An American reviewer has said: “For one to say that he has never head of ‘In Tune with the Infinite’ is similar to saying that he has never heard of the Constitution of the United States.”

For a book that achieved such worldwide popularity, it’s main message was relatively simple: God is within us at all times and accessible by us at all times. By realizing that we have this presence inside us, and by getting “in tune” with this infinite and divine source of love and guidance, our lives and world can be changed for the better. Trine writes it’s up to us:

You and I have the power, the power within us, to open or close ourselves to this divine inflow exactly as we choose. This we have through the power of mind, through the operation of thought.

I’ve included 11 of my favorite passages below, adding category headings. I’ve also done some light editing, updating verbiage that was dated or awkward, shortening some of Trine’s writings to avoid redundancy and, where possible, making the language gender neutral. Before you begin, here’s a sample from the book’s prelude that talks to just how important our mindset is:

The optimist is right. The pessimist is right. The one differs from the other as the light from the dark. Yet both are right. Each is right from their own particular point of view, and this point of view is the determining factor in the life of each. It determines whether you have a life of power or of impotence, of peace or pain, of success or failure.

Once you read the passages below, I’m sure you’ll get the gist of Trine’s powerful message. Read them slowly and you may agree that much of what he writes has the ring of truth, even today.

#1. What I Call God.

The great central fact of the universe is that the Spirit of Infinite Life and Power is behind all. It animates all, manifests itself in and through all…it is creating, working, ruling through the agency of great immutable laws and forces that run through all the universe that surrounds us on every side.

Every act of our everyday lives is governed by these same great laws and forces…this Spirit of Infinite Life and Power that is behind all is what I call God.

God, then, is this Infinite Spirit which fills all the universe with Himself alone, so that all is from Him and in Him, and there is nothing that is outside. In Him we live and move and have our being. He is the life of our life, our very life itself.

#2. Find Your Center.

Find your center and live in it. Surrender it to no person, to no thing. In the degree that you do this, you will find yourself growing stronger and stronger in it….and how can one find your center? By realizing your oneness with the Infinite Power, and by living continually in this realization.

#3. Wash Your Windows.

If the windows of your soul are dirty and streaked, covered with matter foreign to them, then the world as you look out of them will be dirty and streaked and out of order…go wash your windows, and instead of longing for some other world you will discover the wonderful beauties of this world. If you don’t find transcendent beauties on every hand here, the chances are that you will never find them anywhere.

#4. Recognize, Listen, Obey.

When we come into the recognition of our own true selves, to the realization of the oneness of our life with the Infinite Life, when we open ourselves to this divine inflow, the voice of intuition, the voice of the soul, the voice of God speaks clearly.

When we recognize, listen to, and obey it, it speaks ever more clearly, until there comes the time when it is unerring, absolutely unerring, in its guidance.

With a mind at peace, and with a heart going out in love to all, go into the quiet of your own interior self, holding the thought I am one with the Infinite Spirit of Life, the life of my life.

#5. Love.

Tell me how much one loves and I will tell you how much they have seen of God. Tell me how much they love and I will tell you how much they live with God. Live only in the thought of love for all and you will draw love to you from all. Live in the thought of malice or hatred, and malice and hatred will come back to you.

#6. Know Yourself.

There is no better way to help yourself than to know yourself. Become aware of the powers that are lying dormant within your own soul…for it is through your own soul that the voice of God speaks to you. This is the interior guide. This is the light that lights every person that comes into the world. This is conscience. This is intuition. This is the voice of the higher self, the voice of the soul, the voice of God.

#7. Do Little to Do Much.

Those who are truly awake to the real powers within are those who seem to be doing so little, yet who in reality are doing so much. They seem to be doing so little because they are working with higher agencies, and yet are doing so much because of this very fact. They do their work on the higher plane. They keep so completely their connection with the Infinite Power that It does the work for them and they are relieved of the responsibility. They are the care-less people. They are careless because it is the Infinite Power that is working through them, and with this Infinite Power they are simply co-operating.

#8. Seeing the Good in All.

The moment we recognize ourselves as one with (the Infinite) we become so filled with love that we see only the good in all. And when we realize that we are all one with this Infinite Spirit, then we realize that in a sense we are all one with each other…wherever we go, whenever we come in contact with our fellow man, we are able to recognize the God within. We thus look only for the good, and we find it. It always pays.

#9. The Law of Prosperity.

This is the law: When apparent adversity comes, be not cast down by it, but make the best of it, and always look forward for better things, for more prosperous conditions. To hold yourself in this attitude of mind is to set into operation subtle, silent, and irresistible forces that sooner or later will actualize in material form that which is today merely an idea. But ideas have power, and ideas, when rightly planted and rightly tended, are the seeds that actualize material conditions.

#10. All Can Obtain It.

No human soul need be without it. When we turn our face in the right direction it comes as simply and as naturally as the flower blooms and the winds blow. It is not to be bought with money or with price. It is a condition waiting simply to be realized, by rich and by poor, by king and by peasant, by master and by servant the world over. All are equal heirs to it.

#11. Bring Joy Everywhere You Go.

Carry with you an inspiration and continually shed a benediction wherever you go; so that your friends and all people will say, your coming brings peace and joy into our homes; as you pass along the street, tired, and weary, and even sin-sick men will feel a certain divine touch that will awaken new desires and a new life in them; that will make the very horse, as you pass him, turn his head with a strange, half-human, longing look. Such are the subtle powers of the human soul when it makes itself translucent to the Divine.

Life is good. Life is bad. Either way, you’re right.

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Brooke Cagle via Unsplash.com

This story originally appeared on my Wake Up Call column at Patheos, 2/20/16.

How do you see life? Do you look at it as a series of struggles to overcome? Or do you view life with wonder and focus on the small and big moments that bring you joy and passion and love.

It’s funny how our frame of mind shapes our world, how when we expect bad things to happen they often do, and how when we expect things to turn out for the best we are often right. The old saying appears to be true: Life is a mirror and it reflects back to us what we think into it.

“You find what you look for: good or evil, problems or solutions.”

The above quote from John Templeton sums up the intimate relationship between our state-of-mind and the state of the world around us. Within each day and within each moment, we have the opportunity to look at life in a positive light or to put on dark-tinted glasses and see life as dreary and foreboding.

I know that for some, life is hard. They struggle with addictions or illnesses, are in soul-crushing relationships or have trouble keeping a roof over their head or food on the table. But if you don’t fall into those categories and still see life as a downer, it’s time to take a fresh look.

We can all expect, in the words of the Dude, to face “strikes and gutters, ups and downs…”—but many of life’s difficulties come from putting our own negative spin on events or failing to see hardships as learning experiences that prepare us for future growth. I bumped into a short poem by the talented young writer and yogini Sara Courter who reminds us that our past experiences shape us into the people we are today.

You’re so hard on yourself.

Take a moment.

Sit back.

Marvel at your life:

at the grief that softened you,

at the heartache that wisened you,

at the suffering that strengthened you.

Despite everything,

You still grow,

Be proud

Of this.

Within each moment of each day, we have the opportunity to turn things around. To view our own lives as noble undertakings in which we are active participants in doing what is good and right for ourselves and those around us. In the words of John Templeton:

We can see ourselves as patient and considerate. We can think of ourselves as focused and strong in all circumstances—strong with the ability to reach out a loving hand; strong with the ability to speak the right words, to take the right actions, and to become an unshakeable tower of strength, love and light.

The power resides within us to change the way we view the world, to become these beacons of strength and love and light. It’s not something anyone else can do for us, it’s something we must do for ourselves—and it starts with having the right frame of mind. As Templeton says:

You can complain because rosebushes have thorns…or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses. It’s all how you look at it.

I recently published the spiritual fable Thaddeus Squirrel. It’s available at Amazon.

 

Walt Whitman on God, America and Life.

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Walt Whitman by Mathew Brady, circa 1862

This story was first published on my Wake Up Call column at Patheos on February 4, 2017. To see my more recent columns, click here.

In my neck of the woods, the name Walt Whitman is associated with a bridge that connects the southern part of Philadelphia with Camden, New Jersey. You’ll usually hear about “the Walt Whitman” in connection with traffic jams or lane closures. But while reading Mary Oliver’s Upstream, I was reminded that the real Walt was perhaps our greatest American poet.

In 1855, at the age of 37, Whitman first published what was to become his masterwork, Leaves of Grass. He kept working on the poem for four decades, rewriting and adding to it over and over, until by 1892 it had grown from 12 poems to over 400.

Oliver describes Leaves of Grass as “a way to live, in the religious sense, that is intelligent and emotive and rich, and dependent only on the individual…no politics, no liturgy…just attention, sympathy, empathy.” She writes that Whitman’s aim was to “force open our souls” which he does with calls-to-arms like this:

Unscrew the locks from the doors!

Unscrew the doors themselves from their jams!

Whitman believed in God, and according to biographer David S. Reynolds “denied any one faith was more important than another, and embraced all religions equally.” Whitman himself once wrote “I adopt each theory, myth, god, and demi-god, I see that the old accounts, bibles, genealogies, are true, without exception.” He believed that God existed in all things and within all people, that we are God and God is us. In Leaves of Grass he explains:

I hear and behold God in every object, yet understand God not in the least,

Nor do I understand who there can be more wonderful than myself.

Why should I wish to see God better than this day?

I see something of God each hour of the twenty-four, and each moment then,

In the faces of men and women I see God, and in my own face in the glass

There are long passages in Leaves of Grass where Whitman offers glimpses of his America, his words taking us to the people and places that made up our country in the mid-1800s. He empathizes with what he sees, writing that “I know every one of you, I know the sea of torment, doubt, despair and unbelief.” Whitman observes and reports and, with an economy of words, paints vivid scenes with each line:

The conductor beats time for the band and all the performers follow him,

The child is baptized, the convert is making his first professions,

The regatta is spread on the bay, the race is begun, (how the white sails sparkle!)

The drover watching his drove sings out to them that would stray,

The peddler sweats with his pack on his back, (the purchaser higgling about the odd cent),

The bride unrumples her white dress, the minute-hand of the clock moves slowly,

The opium-eater reclines with rigid head and just-open’d lips

Whitman looked at the mosaic that is America and saw a country that was, like him, vibrant and alive. His lust for life, and his love and compassion for all that he encounters, becomes contagious. He believes we are all connected, with one another and with one God:

And I know that the hand of God is the promise of my own,

And I know that the spirit of God is the brother of my own,

And that all the men ever born are also my brothers, and the women my sisters and lovers

He passes no judgment, all men and women he encounters are created equal, regardless of their station in life:

It is for the wicked just the same as the righteous, I make appointments with all,

I will not have a single person slighted or left away,

There shall be no difference between them and the rest.

Walt Whitman is a true man of the people, all people, and his fearless, open-hearted voice still resonates today. Some of my favorite passages from Leaves of Grass follow, with brief commentary,. Or to see the poem in its entirety, via the Poetry Foundation, click here.

Walt Whitman gulped life in big sips, his enthusiasm jumping off the page:

You sea! I resign myself to you also—I guess what you mean,

I behold from the beach your crooked inviting fingers,

I believe you refuse to go back without feeling of me,

We must have a turn together, I undress, hurry me out of sight of the land,

Cushion me soft, rock me in billowy drowse,

Dash me with amorous wet, I can repay you.

He believed that men and women were created equal. This passage, written in the mid-1800s, was ahead of its time:

I am the poet of the woman the same as the man,

And I say it is as great to be a woman as to be a man,

And I say there is nothing greater than the mother of men.

He wrote of the soul, seeing God as inhabiting us, as we inhabit God. If God is all powerful, so are we:

I have said that the soul is not more than the body,

And I have said that the body is not more than the soul,

And nothing, not God, is greater to one than one’s self is,

And whoever walks a furlong without sympathy walks to his own funeral drest in his shroud

He lived a full and active, but could also sit still and observe life:

I exist as I am, that is enough,

If no other in the world be aware I sit content,

And if each and all be aware I sit content.

One world is aware and by far the largest to me, and that is myself,

And whether I come to my own to-day or in ten thousand or ten million years,

I can cheerfully take it now, or with equal cheerfulness I can wait.

Here, in a rare complaint about his fellow man, he finds solace in animals:

I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contain’d,

I stand and look at them long and long.

They do not sweat and whine about their condition,

They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,

They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,

Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things

It is well-documented that Whitman was likely gay. He wrote at length about the male body, yet his writings capture a lustiness we all at some point share, regardless of our sexual orientation:

My lovers suffocate me,

Crowding my lips, thick in the pores of my skin,

Jostling me through streets and public halls, coming naked to me at night,

Crying by day Ahoy! from the rocks of the river, swinging and chirping over my head,

Calling my name from flower-beds, vines, tangled underbrush,

Lighting on every moment of my life

These are the very final words in Leaves of Grass, written when Whitman was close to death.

I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,

If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.

You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,

But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,

And filter and fiber your blood.

Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,

Missing me one place search another,

I stop somewhere waiting for you.

 

I still have two copies of my new book, the spiritual fable Thaddeus Squirrel, I’m giving away for free. These copies contain a few typos that have since been corrected. Want one? E-mail me at tomrapsas @ gmail.com (without the spaces).

Revealing the mystical secrets of Kabbalah.

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Nick Scheerbart via unsplash.com

Kabbalah is the ancient Jewish tradition of mystical interpretation of the Bible. It has been said it can take decades to study and truly comprehend Kabbalah’s lessons. Fortunately, I found a short cut.

The author and religious scholar Daniel C. Matt studied Kabbalah for decades and condensed his knowledge into an easy-to-read book titled The Essential Kabbalah. Matt points out that the word kabbalah means “receiving” or “that which has been received.” And while it refers to knowledge being received through study, it also means that “if one is truly receptive, wisdom appears simultaneously, unprecedented, taking you by surprise.” Matt says that:

The spiritual seeker soon discovers that he or she is not exploring something “up there,” but rather the beyond that lies within.

I have no doubt that to truly master the lessons of Kabbalah takes years–but with the upmost respect for the tradition, and our purposes here, I’ve distilled Matt’s work down to several passages that had special meaning to me and grouped them by category.

You’ll note that Kabbalah tradition includes a practice that sounds very similar to meditation and centering prayer. It represents additional proof that there are common threads within all faiths, and that ultimately, we are trying to connect with the same God. (For a more in-depth look at Kabbalah, I recommend you pick up Matt’s book or his new writings on the Zorah.)

Lessons from Kabbalah.

Knowledge.

  • When you contemplate the Creator, realize that his encampment extends beyond, infinitely beyond, and so, too, in front of you and behind you, east and west, north and south.
  • Be aware that God fashioned everything and is within everything. There is nothing else.
  • All your physical and mental powers and your essential being depend on the divine elements within. You are simply a channel for the divine attributes.

Preparation.

  • Select a special place where no one in the world can hear your voice. Be totally alone. Sit in one spot in the room or the loft, and do not reveal your secret to anyone.
  • As you prepare to speak with your Creator, to seek the revelation of his power, be careful to empty your mind of all mundane vanities.
  • If it is at night, light many candles, until your eyes shine brightly.
  • If your mind races, return to the place you were before the thought. Return to the site of oneness.
  • If you wish your intention to be true, imagine that you are light. All around you, in every corner and on every side, is light…a radiant light…up above, the light of the Presence. The light is unfathomable and endless.
  • Place in front of the eyes of your mind the letters of God’s name, as if they were written in Hebrew script.
  • Remember God and God’s love constantly.

Guidance.

  • Interpret what you hear in an uplifting manner, approximating it as best you can.
  • When you see that you have achieved a little, concentrate more deeply in your meditation, until you experience a pure spirit speaking within.
  • Search and discover the source of your soul, so that you can fulfill it and restore it to its source, it essence. The more you fulfill yourself, the closer you approach your authentic self.
  • The desire to act and work, the passion to create and to restore yourself, the yearning for silence and for the inner shout of joy—these all band together in your spirit, and you become holy.
  • When you train yourself to hear the voice of God in everything, you attain the quintessence of the human spirit…by training yourself to hear the voice of God in everything, the voice reveals itself to your mind as well.
  • When you desire to eat or drink, or to fulfill other worldly desires, focus your awareness on the love of God…elevate the physical desire to spiritual desire…draw out the holy spark that dwells within. You bring forth holy sparks from the material world. There is no greater path than this.
  • In the end, the Blessed Holy One will guide you on the path that it wishes and impart holiness to you. You are walking in the presence of God while being right here in the world. You become a dwelling place of the divine.

This post previously appeared on my Wake Up Call column at Patheos. Click here to see my latest stories.

21 Simple Rules to Live By (by Mahatma Gandhi).

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Gandhi, 1948, via Wikimedia Commons

This post originally appeared on my Patheos Wake Up Call column, 1/20/17.

Do you have a code or set of rules you live by? I often resort to my favorite authors and books for guidance, but I recently came across a short, but compelling 21-point list from a legendary figure that I’m going to put into my spiritual arsenal. It comes from Mahatma Gandhi.

First, some background: Gandhi was the leader of the Indian independence movement that challenged British rule during the 1930s and 1940s. Through nonviolent civil disobedience, Gandhi helped lead India to independence, inspiring civil rights movements around the world. He later worked to bridge the divide between Hindus and Muslims, an act that would lead to his assassination at the age of 78.

More than a political leader, Gandhi was also recognized as his country’s spiritual leader. He wrote that his way-of-thinking was inspired by the Hindu holy book the Bhagavad Gita. He first became acquainted with “the Gita” in 1888 and he says that it taught him how “a perfected man is to be known.” They were in effect, his rules to live by.

Gandhi believed that all reality is “an incarnation of God.” There was no higher goal in life than to become like God. He believed it was the only way one can truly be at peace and “the only, ambition worth having.” To reach this state of self-realization, it required “desireless action…by dedicating all activities to God, by surrendering oneself to Him body and soul.”

This idea of “desireless action” means that as one goes through life, one must act but not be tied to outcomes. It’s a philosophy perhaps best encapsulated by the line from the Kipling poem If, encouraging us to “meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two impostors just the same”. Gandhi phrases the sentiment like this:

Do your allotted work but renounce its fruit—be detached and act—have no desire for reward, and act. He who gives up action, falls. He who gives up only the reward, rises.

What follows is a passage by Gandhi that addresses what it means to be a true devotee of the Gita. I think you will find its message is pertinent to people of all faiths, and something we all can and should aspire to be. While it appears in his writings as a complete paragraph, I have taken the liberty to break it down line by line.

21 Simple Rules to Live By. 

A true devotee lives his life:

  1. Jealous of no one,

  2. A fount of mercy,

  3. Who is without egotism,

  4. Who is selfless,

  5. Who treats alike cold and heat, happiness and misery,

  6. Who is always forgiving,

  7. Who is always contented,

  8. Whose resolutions are firm,

  9. Who has dedicated mind and soul to God,

  10. Who causes no dread,

  11. Who is not afraid of others,

  12. Who is free from exultation, sorrow, and fear,

  13. Who is pure,

  14. Who is versed in action and yet remains unaffected by it,

  15. Who renounces all fruits of action, good or bad,

  16. Who treats friend and enemy alike,

  17. Who is untouched by respect or disrespect,

  18. Who is not puffed up by praise,

  19. Who does not go under when people speak ill of him,

  20. Who loves silence and solitude,

  21. Who has a disciplined mind.

Spiritual Wisdom in A Light-Hearted, Entertaining Fable: Thaddeus Squirrel #BookReview and #AuthorInterview

Thanks to Becca Chopra who reviewed my book for her “Inspirational Book Blog”. She also interviewed me and had some great questions that tell the story behind the story. The review and interview are posted below:

Becca's Inspirational Book Blog

thaddeus_squirrel_frontHow does passion lead to purpose? In Tom Rapsas’ new book, Thaddeus Squirrel: A Spiritual Fable, the main character realizes that working day and night foraging for acorns, more than he would ever need, is meaningless to him. He ends up running away from his tribe of squirrels as he’s not accepted for his difference of opinion. On his journey, he is gravely injured by a dog, then cared for by a group of chipmunks who have wisdom to share.

The chipmunk who saved his life, Sol, is a sage old guy who starts offering Thaddeus new questions to peruse and new ideas to consider… ultimately, that his life has meaning, and it’s up to him to find that meaning within himself.

Sol says, “I’m going to do more than tell you about the meaning of life. I’ll show you how to find it, first-hand… the meaning for you may…

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My new book for young adults, the spiritual fable Thaddeus Squirrel.

thaddeus_squirrel_frontI recently published a new book, the spiritual fable Thaddeus Squirrel. It’s a book that was over 10 years in the making which requires a short explanation.

When my daughter was a little girl, I used to tell her fairy tales at night, some from books, but many that came from my own imagination. About that time, I started traveling a lot for work, which made it tough to tell her these stories–though I did the best I could, sometimes telling them over the phone, other times mailing her the stories to read on her own.

It struck me that I should publish one of these tales as a book. Only work, and life, continued to get in the way. Every few months, I would go back to work on the book, only to be sidetracked yet again. At one point, a year went by without me even looking at it.

The funny thing about the book though is that as I was writing it, my target group of one, my daughter, was growing older. So the story began to grow a little more elaborate with deeper thoughts on spirituality and the role of God in our lives. And by the time I completed it, the final product was no longer for children, but for teens and young adults.

You can find the book at Amazon in both paperback and Kindle versions–which brings me to an important announcement: In my haste to publish the book before my self-imposed deadline of 12/31/16, the first release contained several typos. The typos have now been fixed, but as of 2/20/17 I have 2 remaining copies that contain a few small errors. I’m giving them away. Be one of the first two people to contact me at tomrapsas@gmail.com with your address, and I’ll ship you a free copy.

“Dear God, I’m doing the best I can.” (Remembering Huston Smith)

To readers of The Inner Way: First, a sincere thank you for reading. Second, as some of you know I write a regular weekly column at Patheos called Wake Up Call. My duties there have kept me from updating this site as often as I would like. In the future, I’ll be posting a story-of-the-month here once monthly. For more regular updates, you can sign-up for the Wake Up Call newsletter in the right hand column of this page.

hustonsmith_2005

Huston Smith, 2005, via Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps the great religious scholar of our time died recently in Berkeley, California. His name was Huston Smith and he lived until the age of 97.

I know Smith primarily through the book The World’s Religions. Originally titled The Religions of Man, it has sold over 3 million copies since it was first published in 1958. There is a well-worn copy sitting on my bookshelf and I refer to it when I need a quick lesson or refresher on the beliefs of other faiths, whether it be Taoism, Sufism or the primal religions of Australia.

Smith wrote over a dozen books and what made him such a good writer was his ability to take complex belief systems and explain them in simple terms. But he did more than just write about religion—Smith himself practiced within many faiths and religions, in what some call “interspirituality”, believing that all the world’s religions were compatible.

I’m sure he would have agreed with the contemporary scholar Mirabai Starr who believes in “the oneness at the heart of all religious traditions.” Starr does not differentiate between the faiths. She seeks “…the source of Love itself. I catch whiffs of this great beauty in every one of the world’s spiritual traditions.”

Huston Smith led an adventurous spiritual life, experiencing first-hand the many ways in which we connect with the Divine. While he was a church-going Methodist, he celebrated the Sabbath with a daughter who had converted to Judaism. He prayed in Arabic to Mecca five times a day. His spiritual resume, as reported in the NY Times, also included the following:

  • As a college student, he became a missionary and was later ordained a Methodist minister. He soon realized that he had no desire to “Christianize the world,” he would rather teach than preach.
  • As a philosophy teacher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), he ate psilocybin mushrooms with Timothy Leary more than once, reporting that “he had a personal experience with God.”
  • He meditated with Tibetan Buddhist monks, practiced yoga with Hindu holy men and whirled with ecstatic Sufi Islamic dervishes. He helped introduce the Dalai Lama to Americans.

But maybe the most thought-provoking thing I read in the obituary of Huston Smith was this: His favorite prayer was written by a 9-year-old boy whose mother had found it scribbled on a piece of paper beside his bed. It read:

Dear God, I’m doing the best I can.

At first glance, I wondered how this child’s prayer could be the favorite of a man so versed in the world’s religious traditions. After all, Smith’s entire life was dedicated to connecting with God and helping others do the same. But it dawned on me that for all his accomplishments, Smith maintained a modest view of his relationship with the Creator.

This prayer was Smith’s humble way of telling God, and perhaps reminding himself, that he was not perfect or knew for certain if he had achieved his life-long quest to learn and teach us all he could about the many ways we access the Divine. The prayer also reminds me of the words of John Templeton, as I believe they apply to Smith:

As we become more willing to release the personal ego, we open the door to greater communication with God. One who is humble and grateful for all God-given blessings opens the door to heaven and earth now.

We too might take Huston Smith’s prayer to heart during our own moments of meditation and contemplation. Dear God, I’m doing the best I can. It is a reminder that while there is much that we do in our attempt to live a full and rich spiritual life, there is much that can still be done.

I recently published the spiritual fable Thaddeus Squirrel. You can learn about it here.