Category Archives: Life Philosophy

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.

Wise words from Canada—and the smartest guy you never heard of.

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By Provincial Archives of Alberta, via Wikimedia Commons

This story first appeared July 27, 2016, at Patheos where I write a regular weekly column called Wake Up Call.

I’ve honored the deceased recently, including my buddy Terry, a good man who passed away at 55 from a sudden heart attack, and my wise expat friend from France, John, who passed away in April. Now it’s time to honor the living—a guy who I feared might have joined Terry and John.

There’s a blogger from Edmonton, in Alberta, Canada by the name of Ivon Prefontaine. He gave me a jolt a few days ago when I suddenly realized I had not received a blog update from him in several weeks. For a few years now, I’ve looked forward to his regular e-mail missives and when I went to his Web site, Teacher as Transformer, there were no signs of activity since late-May.

It didn’t seem right, someone who blogged frequently to suddenly go silent, so I reached out to Ivon—and discovered he is alive and well. He informed me he is busy finishing a book, which has taken up a lot of his time, so had put his blog on hold.

Ivon is a writer and fan of poetry, neither of which I can say about myself, and he regularly shares poems he admires. But what pulls me into his blog posts aren’t the poems themselves, but his writings about them, which are full of great depth and insight. For me, they put a context around the words, and are often are more illuminating than the poetry itself.

Without further adieu, here are four examples of Ivon Prefontaine’s writings from his Web site:

Freedom to Choose

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space there is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom. ~Viktor Frankl

Viktor Frankl was a psychiatrist and neurologist who developed a school of psychiatry called logotherapy, which is the search for meaning in life. He used his experiences as a Holocaust survivor to help inform his findings.

Humans choose their responses and seek life’s meaning. When we lose our meaning in life, we drift, feeling rudderless and without mooring. What keeps us grounded are the choices we make in life and the meaning we find in life. For example, becoming a teacher, a farmer, a parent, etc. gives life purpose and calls us to take action.

We express who we are through responding to the continuous calling, the vocation, that we find through various meaningful roles. When and if we find our life’s meaning, it allows us to make a difference in the world, for other sentient beings, and for the non-sentient elements of the world. We care for all aspects of the world and feel connected to it.

Thomas Merton suggested some humans find their calling and others search throughout life, unable to find it. Perhaps, it is they do not hear what calls them and are unable to respond. Mindfulness and silence open spaces to hear the calls that give our lives meaning and make living meaningful.

Lost

 I sometimes feel lost in the world, without bearings. David Wagoner counseled that when we feel lost, to stop and listen to the world, as if it were the forest and a powerful stranger able to speak to us.

When I stop and pray, I ask someone for help, but, if I rush on, without listening, the prayer cannot be answered. I pose a question that I cannot answer. Prayer is not just speaking. My heart opens and receives what is returned to me.

Is it in the form of words? Or, is it the gentle breath that is hardly perceptible? When I am mindful and listen to listen, I intuitively sense differences. Mindfulness becomes an attentive and sensitive way of life, as opposed to just happening.

Still Point

Max Reif describes the rush of life and the calling of nature somehow overriding that rush. The poem reminded me of biblical passage from Matthew 6:28 describing lilies as just being.

What is my hurry? What roots me in this place and time? I overlook the depth of those questions. I enjoy reading Wendell Berry’s essays about farming. He reminds me that farming is a love of place and time. The small farm is home for people and nature. There is no separation.

My mother said farmers do not need Daily Savings Time. Depending on the time of the year, they understand their work based on the time and space they are in at that moment. When I think of the world as unpatterned, I sense its majestic wholeness and not compartments, rendering them virtual.

 Leaving home

for work

each day

I hear the trees

say “What’s your hurry?”

Rooted, they

don’t understand

how in my world

we have to rush

to keep in step.

I haven’t even time

to stop and tell them

how on weekends, too,

schedules wait

like nets.

It’s only on a sick day

when I have to venture out

to pick up medicine

that I understand the trees,

there in all their fullness

in a world unpatterned

full of moments,

full of spaces,

every space

a choice.

This day

has not

been turned yet

on the lathe

this day

lies open, light

and shadow. Breath

fills the body easily.

I step

into a world

waiting like

a quiet lover.

Prayer of St. Francis

Kathy and I celebrate our 40th anniversary this weekend and we are on our way to Alaska. We used The Prayer of St. Francis (Peace Prayer) as a reading for our wedding mass. As well, we have an inexpensive plaque that sits on a dresser in our bedroom. My mother gave it to us many years ago. When we celebrated my mother’s funeral mass a year ago, we read the prayer, as well.

When I was in Spokane for extended periods, I posted a copy of the prayer on my bedroom wall. It serves as a daily reminder of what we are capable of as humans in relationship with one another, the world, and God in our moment-to-moment living.

The prayer is about the travails and their rewards that we undertake. When I think about love, I recall Thomas Merton‘s saying we call it falling in love for a reason. We open ourselves, risk being hurt, and the rewards are worthwhile. We mind, care, and attend to people and things.

 Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is error, the truth;

Where there is doubt, the faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,

Grant that I may not so much seek

To be consoled, as to console;

To be understood, as to understand;

To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

 To see more of Ivon Prefontaine’s writings, you can visit his Web site here.

Norman Vincent Peale’s 7 life-changing words—and why some call them blasphemous.

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Norman Vincent Peale, via Wikimedia Commons

Norman Vincent Peale may be best known as the author of The Power of Positive Thinking. First published in 1952, the book went on to sell 5 million copies and is still a Top-10 “religion & spirituality” book at Amazon today. It was one of 41 books Peale wrote during a distinguished life that included receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award of the US, in 1984.

More than a writer, Peale was also an ordained minister. He served as head of the Marble Collegiate Church on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan for over 50 years and preached there well into his 80s. During his tenure, the church grew from a few hundred to over 5,000 congregants and is still active today.

Now if you have ever read the work of Norman Vincent Peale, his positive aphorisms seem innocent enough. After all, who can disagree with sayings like this:

Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy.

Empty pockets never held anyone back. Only empty heads and empty hearts can do that.

If you have zest and enthusiasm you attract zest and enthusiasm. Life does give back in kind.

Yet, despite his success as both an author and preacher, there were many in the Christian community who saw his “power of positive thinking” as downright dangerous, even cultish. For instance, consider these harsh opinions of Peale that came from three fellow religious leaders in the 1950s.

“This new cult is dangerous. Anything which corrupts the gospel hurts Christianity. And it hurts people too. It helps them to feel good while they are evading the real issues of life.” ~ Reinhold Neibuhr, Professor of Applied Christianity, Union Theological Seminary

“It has sort of a drug effect on people to be told they need not worry. They keep coming back for more. It is an escape from reality.” A. Powell Davies, pastor of All Souls’ Unitarian Church, Washington D.C.

“There is nothing humble or pious in the view this cult takes of God. God becomes sort of a master psychiatrist who will help you get out of your difficulties. The formulas and the constant reiteration of such themes as “You and God can do anything” are very nearly blasphemous.” ~Liston Pope, Dean of Yale Divinity School

To Pope’s point, Peale believed there was a simple 7-word combination that had the power to cause a dramatic and positive impact on your life. He claimed that it helped many people he knew and all you had to do was silently repeat these words throughout the day. As retold by John Templeton, this “formula for success” had the power to “erase failure, increase strength, eliminate fear and overcome self-doubt.” The words are:

I can do all things through God.

These seven words sum up Peale’s belief that all things were possible if we went about out lives with a positive attitude and recognized there was a higher power that could help us along the way. Yet, it was statements like this that ran (and still run) contrary to the beliefs of many in the religious community.

While Peale was a Christian, he believed that Jesus Christ wasn’t the only pathway to God and that no religion had a monopoly on our ability to connect with God. Take this statement from Peale that was first published in his Plus: The Magazine of Positive Thinking:

Who is God? Some theological being? He is so much greater than theology. God is vitality. God is life. God is energy. As you breathe God in, as you visualize His energy, you will be reenergized!

Or this thought he shared with the talk show host Phil Donahue:

It’s not necessary to be born again. You have your way to God. I have mine. I found eternal peace in a Shinto shrine…I’ve been to Shinto shrines and God is everywhere…Christ is one of the ways! God is everywhere.

God is a source of energy! God can be found in a non-Christian religion! God is everywhere! Blasphemy say the critics! Yet, I find it all very refreshing. It takes the concept of God beyond the rigid dogma of religion and positions this higher power as a powerful force in our everyday lives–one that’s available not to a select few, but to everyone. And what’s wrong with that?

This post previously appeared on my Wake Up Call column at Patheos, May 24, 2016.

Mother Teresa—on why loving your family is the most important thing you can do.

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Robert Pérez Palou (robertperezpalou.com/) via Wikimedia Commons

I was recently reading one of my favorite life philosophy books, when author John Templeton asked a question that stopped me in my tracks:

Was the Earth a better place because you were born?

Wow, that’s a tough ask, isn’t it? For some context, Templeton credits this line to an old American Indian myth. When a tribe member made the journey to “the new life” (or what we call death), he was met by a figure known as “the Great Hunter”. Before he could move on, the deceased had to answer the question in the affirmative, as in “yes, I have made the world a better place.”

So how do we accomplish this noble task in our own lives? I stumbled upon some pertinent advice from Mother Teresa, the Catholic missionary known for providing basic services to the poorest of the poor, including treating those with HIV/Aids, leprosy and tuberculosis. (She is now nominated for sainthood in the Catholic church.)

It seems that when Mother Teresa received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 (donating her $192,000 prize to the poor of India), she was asked “what we can do promote world peace?” Her response: “go home and love your family”. She went on to discuss what she saw as “the poverty of the west”:

When I pick up a person from the street, hungry, I give him a plate of rice, a piece of bread, I have satisfied. I have removed that hunger. But a person that is shut out, that feels unwanted, unloved, terrified, the person that has been thrown out from society—that poverty is so hurtable [sic] and so much, and I find that very difficult.

While Mother Teresa spent her life helping some of the most destitute people in the world, she looked at our society and saw a different kind of poverty—one of the spirit. And her recommendation to cure this ill was a simple one: The good you can do in this life starts at home. That’s the first step. She elaborated further advising us to:

Spread love everywhere you go: first of all in your own house. Give love to your children, to your wife or husband, to a next door neighbor…let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.

So it starts with your family and expands outward, to your neighbors, your workplace and on to your community. Mother Teresa believed not in grand gestures, but in the power of these small acts of compassion. She is quoted as saying “we can do no great things—only small things with great love.”

As a recap, below is a version of the initial question put forward by John Templeton, followed by Mother Teresa’s words that I believe provide the perfect answer. They are truly words to live by.

Q: How do you make the world a better place?
A: Spread love everywhere you go…let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.

This post previously appeared at my Patheos “Wake Up Call” column, May 2, 2016.

The Surrender Experiment: Can letting go improve your life?

Jan Jacobson

Jan Jacobson

What would happen if you totally and completely let go? What if you stopped making decisions and began saying yes to whatever came your way? Would life unfold the way it was supposed to instead of the way you forced it to happen?

These are the type of questions that led Michael A. Singer to try something he called The Surrender Experiment. It’s the title of his new book that details the amazing twists and turns that his life took when he stopped thinking and analyzing every decision he had to make, and began saying yes to everything that life brought his way.

First some background on Singer. He is probably best known for his 2007 book The Untethered Soul, which was praised by Deepak Chopra, landed him a guest spot on the Oprah Winfrey show and became a #1 New York Times bestseller. But his latest book reveals something even more interesting, the story behind the story.

Singer was a self-described “hippie” living near Gainesville, Florida, when he went on a quest to quiet the chattering voice inside his head, the one that analyzed and often criticized his every move. So he began a process where, through extended meditation sessions, he learned how to quiet this part of his brain, never judging, just going with the flow of life. And life takes him on a wild ride.

While in a Radio Shack one day in the late-1970s, he takes an interest in one of the very first personal computers. After making a few trips to the store to “play” with the display model, he buys one and teaches himself how to write computer code. He eventually ends up writing a billing program for a doctor’s office, and through a series of synchronistic events, winds-up creating the country’s largest medical software firm.

There’s much more to the story, but let’s first look at Singer’s way of thinking that got him to a place where he enjoyed such success. In this passage, he sums up the daily conundrum most of us face:

The battle between individual will and the reality of life unfolding around us ends up consuming our lives. When we win the battle, we are happy and relaxed; when we don’t, we are disturbed and stressed.

Singer wonders if it has to be this way. He speculates that “if the natural unfolding of the process of life can create and take care of the entire universe, is it really reasonable for us to assume that nothing good will happen unless we force it to?” To combat the negative effects of constantly doing battle with life, Singer charts another course:

I decided to just stop listening to all the chatter about my personal preferences, and instead, start the willful practice of accepting what the flow of life was presenting me.

He quite literally puts life in charge, realizing that “life was asking me to get out of the way and let her do her thing.” This is easier said than done because it often means saying yes when the judgmental part of him wants to say no, but Singer had spent years readying himself for this task. He meditated for hours each day and built a “temple” on his land in Florida where like-minded visitors came for yoga and spiritual discussions.

One important point I should mention here is that we should not confuse “surrender” with passivity or weakness. In Singer’s world, “it required all the strength I had to be brave enough to follow the invisible into the unknown.” He goes on to say that “I let go of myself and allowed what was meant to be—to be.”

By accepting the “challenge of serving the energy that came my way”, Singer is able to build a massive national company—that at the peak of its success is brought to its knees by an unscrupulous former-employee. One of his top salesmen is arrested by the government for taking kickbacks and to save his neck implicates Singer in the scheme. An overreaching federal prosecutor goes after Singer in a case that gets tied up in the courts for years.

Singer was forced to step down from the company he had created, but a funny thing happened during the time he was waiting for the case to be resolved. He wrote The Untethered Soul. And while some may wonder how a man following the righteous path to the best of his ability could deal with being unjustly accused of a crime, Singer writes that “life had dropped me off exactly where she had picked me up.”

The charges were eventually dropped and he went back to his temple where he had started his meditation sessions 40 years earlier. Over the years, thanks to his business success, his property had grown to over 100 acres and several structures, and hosted both morning and evening services. In his words, “because I had surrendered each step of the way, no scars were left on my psyche.” He goes back home in peace.

He had learned what were for him were the most vital lessons of life—that by putting life in charge, everything would work out just the way it was supposed to. Below are Singer’s parting words, lightly edited, summarizing his experience:

All I did was my very best to serve what was put in front of me and let go of what stirred up within me. Joy and pain, success and failure, praise and blame—they all had pulled at what was so deeply rooted within me. The more I let go, the freer I became. I realized to the depth of my being that life knew what it was doing. Once you are ready to let go of yourself, life becomes your friend, your teacher, your secret lover. When life’s way becomes your way, all the noise stops, and there is great peace.

This post previously appeared on my Patheos Wake Up Call column, September 20, 2015.