Category Archives: Spirituality

Why Spirituality is a Better Escape Than Drinking, Sex or Drugs.

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Joanie Cahill via freeimages.com

What’s your favorite form of “escape”? Personally, I’m a big fan of craft beers. In fact, I’m sipping a Flying Dog Mango Habanero IPA as I write this and it tastes pretty darn delicious. But I fully realize that drinking has a funny, often detrimental effect on some people.

I recall once having a conversation with an EST-trained co-worker sipping a diet soda at a party. I was aware she was a recovering alcoholic and asked her what would happen if she had a beer or glass of wine. She told me it would lead to another and another—and later that night I would find her on a corner uptown trying to buy crack. I thought she was kidding, she wasn’t, and I abruptly changed the subject.

There’s a spirituality writer by the name of Chris Grosso who has had his own share of “overindulgence” problems, which he has chronicled in a couple of books including Everything Mind. He writes about the man he once was—a guy constantly looking for the next drink, the next high, ruining family and personal relationships along the way.

After he hits an especially craggy rock bottom, Grosso comes to the realization that a deeper engagement with his spiritual practice is the only way out. When it comes to drugs or drinking or sex, or even less discussed addictions like online gaming or porn, he concludes:

No activity will ever provide a lasting source of peace, happiness or contentment like spirituality will.

For me, the key part of this statement is “a lasting source”. And as much as I personally like the buzz provided by a few high-octane craft beers, it’s something I primarily reserve for the weekend, and not an activity I can turn to each moment of each day for solace. (Instead, I use these quick stress releases.)

You might also wonder what Grosso means by “spirituality”. The author favors Meister Eckhardt’s definition that “to be spiritual is to be awake and alive”. For him, this includes any activities that “wake me up” like running, meditation and spiritual reading, from the heady writings of Ken Wilber to the dark poetry of Charles Bukowski.

Grosso stresses again and again the need for us to find our own truth and explore what spiritual activities resonate for us. He writes that “there are a number of different ways, paths, beliefs that are available” and that the alternative is “a life lived grasping at external objects for fleeting happiness”.

So how does one avoid the “grasping”? If you want to stay grounded, and live life alert and aware, the key is to develop a regular spiritual practice. Personally, I have a morning ritual that covers some of the same bases as Grosso, as well as acts as simple as spending a few moments alone in quiet contemplation in the early morning hours with a cup of freshly-brewed coffee.

The bottom line is you’ve got to take action. Drinking and drugging and having sex are activities—and if you feel like you’re overly dependent on any one of them, you need to curtail the activity and fill the void with an alternate diversion. Toward that end, Grosso cites this call-to-arms by Ken Wilber:

Nobody will save you but you. You have to engage your own contemplative development. Spiritual development is not a matter of mere belief. It is a matter of actual, prolonged difficult growth, and merely professing belief is meaningless and without impact. Reality is not interested in your beliefs; it’s interested in your actions.

If you don’t have a spiritual practice, that means starting your own today. You may want to follow the lead of my colleague Thomas Moore who has put together an inspiring 10-point guide to starting your own practice. Use it as guidance, but remember, as Grosso reminds us, we must always create our own unique path, our own individual way of finding the God within us.

In parting, here are three smart rules to live by each day that I culled from Grosso’s writings:

  1. Learn to live mindfully with the acceptance of whatever life hands you.
  2. Stop to see the beauty, wonder and interconnectedness of all things.
  3. Cultivate a greater sense of loving-kindness for yourself as well as others.

A 10-step guide to being “spiritual but not religious”.

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Contemplation by Ghassan Salman Faidi, via Wikimedia Commons

I will soon be writing about the brand new book from Thomas Moore, a modern-day translation of one of the New Testament gospels, The Book of Matthew. But as I did a little research on that book, I was reminded of Moore’s previous release, the groundbreaking A Religion of One’s Own.

If you are one of the many who consider themselves “spiritual but not religious”, this book is a must-read as it lays out a blueprint by which you can develop your own spiritual practice. This is important because if you are truly serious about your spirituality, a regular routine can enrich your spiritual awareness and strengthen your faith. This practice doesn’t just replace religion, it becomes your religion and an integral part of your life.

Moore has written that he sees the world “heading for a completely secular approach to life, which is to say soulless, which is to say disaster. We need a new way to be religious, a really new way. A way that honors the traditions of the past but moves on.” And A Religion of One’s Own shows us the way, offering us guidance in building our own spiritual practice while sparking our imagination as to what being spiritual really means.

What follows is a summary of the main tenets found in A Religion of One’s Own, a 10-point list written by Thomas Moore himself. It lays out the keys to developing your own spiritual practice and offers a glimpse of what a “spiritual but not religious” life can be.

  1. Meditate. Learn a formal way of meditating, or be contemplative in nature, alone, at work, or at home.
  2. Live ethically. Do no harm and make your life a positive contribution to humanity. Work ethically for ethical companies or organizations. Change work if necessary. At least, stay on track toward a highly moral life work.
  3. Live responsively. Read the signs for who you are to be and what you are to do.
  4. Have a dream practice. Dreams give you strong hints about what’s going on and how you can adjust. Without them you have no guidance but your own consciousness, which is too limited.
  5. Be a mystic. Expand your sense of self through art and wonder. Achieve special states of awareness. Have a greater sense of self through losing yourself.
  6. Be intimate with nature. Especially take daily note of the sky: sun and moon, clouds, weather, planets, stars. Learn from animals. Be astonished by geology and plant life.
  7. Be a monk or monkess. Adapt monasticism of any variety to your daily life and to the world in which you live. Spend time carefully. Read deeply. Study. Honor the book, good food and community.
  8. Aim for bliss. Not superficial happiness or possessions or wealth. Not entertainment. But bliss: knowing you are in the right place and doing what you are meant to do.
  9. Develop a philosophy and theology of life. Think about your life. Work out some principles for yourself. Don’t follow the crowd. Take the road less taken, the narrow gate, the path you see behind you.
  10. Learn from the world’s religions and spiritual traditions. You don’t have to join or believe. Find insights and methods and beautiful expressions and images. Don’t separate secular from sacred. Make your own collection of truths and art works.

This post originally appeared on my Wake Up Call column at Patheos, May 11, 2016.

 

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.

How to improve your spiritual well-being—morning, noon and night.

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Jasper Zeinstra/freeimages.com

I wrote this story in early January for my Wake Up Call column at Patheos, but its “new year” message is still relevant today. It’s about the power of rituals to help calm and center us, and how by adding a simple evening ritual to our routine, we can close each day with a sense of gratitude.

The new year is the time to make big resolutions, and for many of us this includes becoming healthier and more physically fit. But this year, why not strive to improve your spiritual health as well?

I’ve written about about how important it can be to start each day with a morning ritual and how it can have a positive effect on your mental and spiritual well-being. For instance, my morning practice includes a morning run, spiritual reading and a moment of contemplation over a cup of freshly brewed coffee.

When we start our days with this type of regular routine, it nourishes us both body and soul. A morning ritual has a way of calming and centering us, better preparing us for the day ahead. So no matter what challenges life puts in front of us, we can deal with them from a place of greater compassion, humor, kindness and love.

(And for those especially tough days, remember one thing: breathe. When we’re in tense situations, we often shorten our breath. And by engaging in rhythmic breathing, we can calm our mind and soothe our soul.)

I was recently reminded of another tool we can use to maintain our spiritual health—a short evening ritual we can engage in at the close of each day.

If you’re like me, you meditate each morning for a 15 to 20-minute session—and while another meditation session is recommended toward the end of the day, work and family life often get in the way. That’s why I’m happy to share a simple, 5-minute practice you can do each night at bedtime to cap off the day and put your head in a good place before you go to sleep.

The idea comes from Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg who, while recovering from the sudden death of her husband last year, began a simple practice. Before she went to bed at night, she started writing down three things she did well that day. The list started with small acts like making a cup of tea. She found that by focusing on things she had done well, even if small, she was able to record something positive each day and rebuild her confidence.

Now Sandberg is moving on to the next step. According to a recent story in USA Today, she intends on continuing this practice in the new year, but with a new and important twist:

Instead of recording three things she did well, Sandberg said her resolution was to write down three joyful moments because, to quote Bono, “joy is the ultimate act of defiance”.

What a great idea—appreciating the good that happens each day before it’s forgotten. And it squares with another practice I just heard about via the pastor Steve Wiens of Minnesota. He reminds us of a centuries-old ritual called examen. It involves “noticing God’s presence and discerning God’s direction” each evening by reflecting on the day’s events and asking ourselves two simple questions. To quote Wiens:

At the end of each day, take ten minutes to stop and review the day’s events, becoming aware of God’s presence all through it. Then ask two simple questions:
1. When was I most alive today?
2. When was I most drained today?

You can write your answers down in a journal or simply contemplate them. (Wiens recommends “praying through them”.) Either way, the point is to find out what in your life is bringing you closer to God (a happy place) and which actions take you further from God (a negative place). By noticing these patterns, we can then make the necessary adjustments to help ensure our good days outnumber the bad.

By ending the day with the practices suggested by Sandberg or Wiens, we bring our day full circle. With our morning ritual, we ready ourselves for the day ahead. With our nighttime ritual, we reflect on the day’s events and learn to appreciate all that is good and right in our lives. It also helps us better realize our true selves in the process.

The 7 Keys to Spiritual Investing.

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freeimages.com/Svilen Milev

If you’re like me, and you have money in a 401K account, the last few weeks have been a bit stressful. The stock market has been swinging up and down like a yo-yo, with more than a few triple digit declines. So how do you stay calm and spiritually centered as you watch your retirement fund dwindle?

As I frequently do, I turned to a wise source for advice—John Templeton, the billionaire businessman turned life philosopher best known for the mutual fund that bears his name. In the book Spiritual Investments, Wall Street Wisdom from the Career of John Templeton, author Gary Moore looks at the principles that guided his thinking. (It should be noted that Moore worked for Templeton for many years and the book was published by the Templeton Foundation Press.)

Spiritual Investments looks at 17 key investment principles of Templeton, and how they were informed by his spirituality. I’ve edited the list to what I believe are the core 7 tenets. (If you’re looking for deeper insights, I recommend picking up the book.) In each example below, the financial principle is backed up by the spiritual principle that stands behind it.

  1. Investdon’t trade or speculate. As Moore points out, “we do better in the long run by viewing the stock market as a “home base” rather than as a trip to the casino.” That means not overreacting to a sudden market downturn, chasing the latest hot stock or jumping in and out of the market on a whim. Calm your mind and stay relaxed as you pursue your life’s goals. Constantly jumping from one relationship, job or spiritual calling to another seldom offers long-term gains or happiness.
  2. Buy low—at the point of maximum pessimism. This is a key maxim of Templeton’s philosophy and is the best way to make money in the market. Yet while every investor knows to buy low, sell high, few follow through on it. Many jump into the market when stock prices, and enthusiasm, are high. Don’t follow the crowd. And remember that just like in real life, those who hit bottom often become the greatest success stories.
  3. Search for quality. Invest in funds that are well known and companies that are leaders in their category. Look for categories that are consistently growing. When you surround yourself with quality, it can’t but help you grow as a person. Associate with individuals who you trust and admire.
  4. Diversify. In stocks and bonds, there is greater safety in numbers. Do the necessary research, and then spread out your investment dollars, diversifying by company, industry, country and risk. Don’t dedicate your energies to just one facet of life, ignoring everything else. Balance and diversify when it comes to devoting time to your family, friends, the arts and your spiritual life.
  5. Don’t panic. It’s the worst thing you can do as an investor, because acting out of fear often results in bad decision-making. The only reason to sell during a market downturn, is to buy other, more attractive stock that has also dropped in price. If your portfolio performed well before a crash, there’s no reason to think it won’t do well after one. During challenging times, relax. Breathe. Rely on your faith, because faith and fear cannot coexist.
  6. Learn from your mistakes. The only way to avoid mistakes is to not invest, which is the biggest mistake of all. When something goes wrong, figure out how you might avoid the same error in the future. Turn each mistake you make in life into a learning experience. Your progress in life is based on the mistakes you make and how you learn from them and grow.
  7. Use prayer to gain perspective and quiet your mind. Before you make a financial decision, pray. The serenity that comes from prayer can help you think more clearly when making an investment decision. The simple act of prayer, or asking for guidance can help you with any life choice. Often the answers come when we are still enough to hear them.

If you have a broker you can trust, continue to follow their wise counsel. Don’t trust your broker? Find another. But if like me, you do your homework and believe you are your own best financial advisor, these seven tips may help.

In closing, I should point out that John Templeton was a great humanitarian who gave away much of his fortune before he died. Moore reminds us that Templeton believed that “those who do good, do well.” He suggests we give at least 10% of our income to charities and that “giving an even greater percentage of our time and energy to worthwhile causes” is an investment that will pay huge dividends.

This post originally appeared on my Wake Up Call column at Patheos, September 7, 2015.

Underground Spirituality: Preachers, Rogues and True Believers of the NYC Subways.

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Jerry Attrick/freeimages.com

When I come into New York City to go to work each day I usually walk a mile from Port Authority to my office on the east side of Manhattan. But, when it’s precipitating or I need to shave a few minutes off my commute, I head underground to the NYC subway system, specifically the 7 train.

To get to the 7, I pay my fare and walk a few hundred yards down a wide tunnel where I pass throngs of people of all colors and nationalities. It is the United Nations of subway lines and reinforces the idea that we are truly a nation of immigrants. But most interesting to me is that most days I spot men and women promoting their own version of the spiritual truth.

The most obvious are the subway preachers, calling out to all who pass in their Hispanic or Caribbean-flavored English. There is one passionate fellow in short and tie who stands out. A worn bible in hand, he moves swiftly from person to person, side-stepping 10 feet to the right, then to the left. He implores each one he can reach to “find the Lord Jeeeeeezus, he is your salvation”, and says it as if he believes it is the key to his own salvation. And maybe it is.

There are the mostly African-American Jehovah’s Witnesses, always dressed in their Sunday best. They solemnly stand by their portable carts of religiousmagazines and books. They do not preach but it appears they are available for counsel and I wonder if their advice is filtered through their belief that the end of the world is imminent, that God’s kingdom is near at hand.

The tunnel leading to the #7 train.

The tunnel leading to the 7.

Then there are the pairs of well-scrubbed, smiling 20-somethings, dressed like young professionals. They pass out postcards invitations to a free showing of Dianetics, The Story of Book One. It’s “the film about the book that started it all”, the all being the Church of Scientology. What’s with these kids I wonder, have they not seen Going Clear? They always appear to be out-of-towners, probably new to the city, looking for a place where they can fit in and this is it.

On more than one occasion, I have seen the flip-side of the Dianetics kids, middle-aged men who look like they have led hard lives, handing out religious pamphlets from the shady Tony Alamo Christian Ministries. Yes, the same Tony Alamo who was convicted in 2009 of being a child sex offender for having underage brides in several states. He is now serving 175 years in prison, yet somehow his ministry lives on.

Perhaps most puzzling to me are the two elderly, Asian grandmother-types who I see every few months. They hand out the same pamphlet with a message that seems contrary to their always smiling faces, warning (in all caps) to “NEVER RECEIVE 666, THE MARK OF THE BEAST”. I am aware this is pulled from a biblical prophecy in Revelations, but this brochure has given it a modern-day twist.

It seems that as part of the upcoming “cashless society”, the “global government” will be implanting microchips into the back of our hands. These chips include some sort of bar code that contains the number 666, otherwise know as the mark of the beast or Antichrist. And once these chips are implanted in us, well, the Antichrist has won and we are in big trouble.

We are warned to not comply with the chip implant program even though it means ‘THOSE WHO DO NOT SUBMIT WILL BE SYSTEMATICALLY EXCLUDED FROM EVERY ACTIVITY!” But no worries. Because it sets the stage for the ‘SECOND COMING OF JESUS CHRIST!! THE RAPTURE OF THE CHURCH IS IMMINENT!!” So it’s kind of a no win-win situation.

When I see these subway preachers, rogues and true believers, I take their literature, I listen to what they have to say, try to greet them warmly with my eyes. They are on their own path, one that is not my own. But ultimately we are trying to reach the same place, a sort of union with something greater than ourselves, even if our vision of how to get there is very different.

This post previously appeared on my Wake Up Call column at Patheos, October 5, 2015.

Can you be spiritual and still have a wild streak?

Man-drinking-pint-of-beer-011-150x150I consider myself a spiritual guy. Though I’m a lapsed Catholic, I believe in God. I meditate and pray daily. I like nothing better than to spend an hour or two reading a good spirituality book. Oh, and I write the Wake Up Call column at Patheos.

Yet, there is a side to me that craves more than just a fulfilling spiritual life. While the party-all-the-time days of my youth are long gone, I still like to engage in activities that keep me in touch with the wilder side of my soul.

I enjoy going out with my wife for a good meal, accompanied by a bottle of wine and often followed by a nightcap. I still go to clubs in the city to hear live bands. I enjoy quaffing pints of craft beer with friends, whether it’s at a local pub or while watching a sporting event, in person or on TV.

But do these hedonistic pursuits mix with the spiritual life?

At the spiritually-charged Web site Rebelle Society, there’s a story by Victoria Erickson titled “8 Wonderous Ways to Restore Your Wild Spirit” that talks to this issue. It offers several suggestions on escaping life’s often draining rules and routines, by feeding “our naturally wild spirit”. Here are three of my favorites, pulled directly from Victoria’s article:

Find live music. Find the kind of music that makes your soul soar from the sound. Music’s rhythmic beats exist to tell universal truths that awaken us from everyday hibernation.

Make love. Like it’s your last night on earth, gasping for air and sanity, frantic under clouds and stars and sheets. The kind that’s made of heartbeats, intertwined flesh, and fiery, blazing, all consuming passion.

Get wet. These are cures that open you in places you forgot could even open, for salt and water are a miraculous mix. Release disappointment through tears, sweat from awesome, bodily pumping movement, and swim in the soft caress of water.

I say bravo to all of these ideas, and have added three of my own:

Go for a drink. Invite a friend to a local bar, preferably one without the distraction of a blaring TV, and engage in the art of conversation. A bar may be a good place to drink—but more importantly, it is a place to laugh and share stories and enjoy the companionship of a good friend.

Do new stuff. Don’t have time to take up a new hobby or go on an exotic vacation? Tweak your current routine. Drive a different route to work, even if it takes a little longer. Go out for dinner on a weekday. Stop by that coffee shop, you’ve always meant to visit. Mix it up!

Sit in a church. Not on Sunday and not when any type of mass or service is going on. Sit in a church when it is empty or nearly empty of people. Clear your head of all thoughts and do not pray. Do nothing but immerse yourself in the great silence of a sacred space.

Set your life on fire—seek those who fan your flames. ~Rumi

Like Rumi, the spiritual author Thomas Moore believes that we must find and light the “spark” within, and pursue the intangibles that give us our passion for life. Moore writes that we must fight against “mediocrity in life”. He believes that “it is the failure to let the inner brilliance shine” and “doing only what is necessary and sufficient,” that leads to a life of mediocrity—and ultimately, to boredom and even despair.

It is in our own best interests to “fan our flames” (Rumi), to “light our spark” (Moore) and to “feed our wild spirit” (Erickson). The alternative is to live a less than full life, a life that’s less than satisfying. And who want’s that?

This post originally appeared on my Wake Up Call column at Patheos, November 12, 2014.

Everyone has a spiritual story to tell. What’s yours?

The Storyteller by Breean Cox

The Storyteller by Breean Cox

Are you familiar with StoryCorps? It’s a nonprofit group that records people telling stories about a key moment in their lives. Over the years, they’ve collected almost 50,000 stories that can be accessed online and at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. You may have heard one of their broadcasts on NPR’s Morning Edition where they air Friday mornings.

It got me thinking that we all have a story to tell about ourselves, especially as it relates to our spirituality. We all have taken a unique path to get where we are today—and just like those who tell their stories on StoryCorps, chances are there was a key moment or moments in your life that shaped your own personal religious and spiritual beliefs.

Here’s my abbreviated spiritual story:

I was raised in a strict Catholic household and forced to go to church and catechism classes weekly until the age of 16. But the church and Bible did not speak to me in words I could understand. Then, after a gap of over a decade with no religion or spiritualty in my life, I realized there was a hole in me that could only be filled by figuring out the greater meaning of life.

I began reading spiritual and religious books voraciously. I learned to breathe. I had several mystical experiences with nature where I became so tuned-in to my surroundings that I could sense the Divine in every leaf, in the chirp of each bird, in the blowing breeze. I rediscovered prayer. I heard the voice of God inside me clearly directing me to a different life path where I put the well-being of others ahead of my own self-centered interests.

There have been many inspiring personal spiritual stories told in book form, The Last Barrier by Reshad Feild and Hidden Journey by Andrew Harvey, come to mind. They talk of each individual’s very different path to self-discovery and their own version of spiritual truth. And while both offer keen insights, they do not take the place of your own story, the one that is unique to you, the steps you took to get where you are today.

One person telling their spiritual story is Angela Kolias who I met through a LinkedIn Spirituality group. She self-published a book titled Alpha Omega Yoga that tells her own story of self-transformation through drawings and poetry and spiritual insights. She tells us who she is as person by showing us how she got to where she is today, her spiritual progression and growth, and she shares her wisdom with all who read her book. It will also serve as an important artifact in the future for those want to know who Angela is and was, it captures her true essence.

The biggest issue for many of us is that we don’t believe our stories are worth telling. We think they are too small or insignificant. So instead of crafting our own tales, we spend our time looking outside our own lives at the stories of others, oftentimes the rich, the powerful and/or famous.

Yet, we all have had special moments and spiritual experiences in our lives that make us the people we are today. These stories talk to your path in life, your passions, your spiritual explorations, the times when, if only for a fleeting moment, you sensed the presence of a higher power.

What’s your story? What gives your life meaning and purpose? How did you arrive at the spiritual place you now stand? Was there a single moment of enlightenment or many? Look into your past and find the stories that matter most to you. Write them down. Or, like StoryCorps, record them on audiotape. Then, share them with family and friends, with anyone who wants to know who you are and what makes you tick.

This post previously appeared on my Wake Up Call column at Patheos, July 21, 2014.

Finding your own personal spiritual mentor (with advice from Napoleon Hill).

wiseman-150x150The really smart marketer Seth Godin got met thinking about mentors the other day. While I’ve always believed the spiritual path is best navigated as a solo journey, and have railed against “gurus” in the past, the word “mentor” evokes a different image for me. I picture a wise sage who, when needed, dispenses valuable advice and counsel, ensuring that the spiritual journeyer stays on course.

But how do we go about finding our own spiritual mentor?

According to Godin, it’s easier than you think. He points out that our mentors can be anyone, living or dead, whose example we live up to and honor, “even if we never meet them, even if they’ve passed away”. He writes that most of us don’t have mentors within our reach, so “for the rest of us, heroes will have to do”. And the good news is there’s a vast supply of heroes available. In his words:

I find heroes everywhere I look. I find people who speak to me over my shoulder, virtual muses, who encourage me to solve a problem or deal with a situation the way they would. This is thrilling news, because there are so many heroes, so freely available, whenever we need them.

Once you find your own personal hero to emulate, he even coined an expression that can help guide you in your life decisions:

WWHD. What would my hero do?

Now commiserating with a dead hero may seem like an unusual way to receive guidance, but consider that Napoleon Hill, author of the classic motivational bookThink and Grow Rich, gave similar instruction. Buried deep in Hill’s long-time bestseller you’ll find a chapter devoted to “The Sixth Sense: the Door to the Temple of Wisdom” that addresses this very subject. His initial comments on mentorship mirror those of Godin:

My experience has taught me that the next best thing to being truly great is to emulate the great, by feeling and action, as closely as possible.

At this point, Hill ventures into more esoteric territory that may surprise those who view Hill as a straight-laced uber-capitalist. He reveals that “every night over a long period of years”, he “held an imaginary council meeting” with a group he called the Invisible Counselors. Who were his counselors? Some of the greatest minds of all time including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Edison.

Hill says that his communications with the panel of counselors worked like this:

Just before going to sleep at night, I would shut my eyes and see, in my imagination, this group of men seated with me around my council table…here I had the opportunity to sit among those whom I considered to be great…(I) called on my cabinet members for the knowledge I wished each to contribute.

Now it needs to be noted that Hill had extensive knowledge of each of his “cabinet members”, which also included Henry Ford and Napoleon, having studied their lives in detail. He knew their backgrounds, their manner of thinking and their individual characteristics. So it’s easy to see how he may have conjured up his league of mentors.

But Hill’s story goes a step further. After a few years of regular evening sessions, Hill notes that he “was astounded by the discovery that these imaginary figures became, apparently, real.” In his book, he details several encounters that moved beyond give-and-take conversations where his counselors begin giving him unsolicited advice.

One night Hill awakens to find Abraham Lincoln standing at his bedside.Lincoln informs him that: “the world will soon need your services. It is about to undergo a period of chaos that will cause men and women to lose faith and become panic stricken. Go ahead with your work…this is your mission in life.” Hill follows this advice (and who wouldn’t listen to a direct appeal from Abe Lincon) which leads him to write the aforementioned Think and Grow Rich.

As time goes on, Hill discontinues his these regular nightly meetings, but throughout his life he goes back to the counselors whenever he needs mentoring or advice. And they were always there for him.

On scores of occasions when I have faced emergencies—some of them so grave that my life was in jeopardy—I have been miraculously guided past these difficulties through the influence of my counselors.

Ready to find your own spiritual mentor?

For starters, let me point out that Hill was a voracious reader and in effect knew the counselors he enlisted well. So it only makes sense to choose a mentor whose teachings, and life, you’re well versed in—or to kick-off the process by studying books by and about your preferred mentor.

Additionally, Hill believes the earliest one can encounter the counselors is the age of 40–and that in most cases, they’re usually not accessible “until one is well past 50” and only after you’ve gone through “years of meditation, self-examination and serious thought”.

As for me, I’m buying into it and have enlisted the aid of my own spiritual mentor—the great American businessman turned philanthropist and spiritual author John Templeton who, by the way, passed away in 2008. I will write more about him and my experiences in an upcoming post.

This post originally appeared under a different title on my Wake Up Call column at the faith site Patheos, January 9, 2014.

Kaballah in 60 seconds: what Madonna didn’t tell you.

Madonna-150x150I’m reposting this column from a few years ago in memory of Rabbi Phillip Berg who passed away last week. Berg may be best known as the man who introduced Madonna, and several other big name celebrities, to the Jewish mystical tradition of Kabbalah. (After his death, Madonna paid tribute to Berg saying: “I learned more from him than any human I have ever met.”)

It is said it can takes decades of study to truly understand Kabbalism which helps explain why Berg was often criticized for presenting to his followers what has been called Kabbalah-lite. Yet, Berg succeeded in introducing the main tenets of this tradition to a vast audience, writing books and founding the Kabbalah Center of Los Angeles, which now has locations in 40 cities worldwide.

 A number of years ago, wondering what all the fuss was about, I read several books on Kabbalah by authors that included Phillip Berg, his son Micheal Berg and the scholar Daniel C. Matt. I found Matt’s book, “The Essential Kabbalah”, to be the most rewarding and it resulted in the column below. Perhaps this short tract will persuade you to learn more about this compelling mystical tradition.

One of the more daunting religious traditions I’ve ever studied is the ancient Jewish mystical teaching known as Kabbalah. According to Wikipedia, Kabbalah’s purpose is to “seek to define the nature of the universe and the human being, the nature and purpose of existence.” Sounds like it could be straightforward, but it’s not.

Reading translations of the Kabbalah texts, or even books about the tradition, is enough to make your head spin. The language is dense and the concepts difficult to comprehend. No wonder, it’s been said that mastering the lessons of Kabbalah can take decades.

Fortunately, I found a nifty short cut in the form of a book by the scholar Daniel C. Matt called The Essential Kabbalah. Matt has studied Kabbalah for decades and condenses his knowledge into 163 generously spaced pages.

For our purposes, I’ve gone a giant step further and cut the text down to a few hundred words, focusing on the subject that interests me most—communing and communicating with God. So consider this the polar opposite of a comprehensive look at Kabbalah. It’s more of a snapshot—or a snapshot of a snapshot.

Note: the words in italics below represent author Matt’s translations from the ancient texts and feature my favorite passages. I’ve grouped them under three main themes.

Where to find God.

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.

Preparing for God.

Select a special place where no one in the world can hear your voice. Be totally alone. Sit in one spot…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 you wish your intention to be true, imagine that you are light. All around you, in every corner and on every side, is light. Up above, is light.

Receiving God’s 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.

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 originally appeared at Wake Up Call,  my column at the faith site Patheos, September 22, 2013.