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.

10 truths about Jesus that may surprise you.

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Heinrich Hoffmann, via Wikimedia Commons

About once a year, I’ll pick up a book about Jesus in search of fresh insights on the man and his mission. My personal preference is that these books not be tied to any specific dogma or religion, but that they explore the many mysteries and myths that surround Jesus and his life. And I found just such a book in Jesus, the Human Face of God by scholar Jay Parini.

The author identifies himself as a Christian and a regular churchgoer, but he is decidedly a man who looks beyond the Bible for answers. He has done his homework and uses Gnostic and historical texts to look at the misconceptions about Jesus, as well as uncover hidden truths. Below are 10, some of which I knew but that continue to fascinate me, as well as a few others that surprised me.

  1. Jesus never set out to create a new religion. He considered himself a devout Jew with his own ideas on how to reform Judaism, not someone who planned to start his own religion. Even his earliest followers, who called him Rabbi or Teacher, mainly saw themselves as Jews who wanted to modify Judaic practices, not create a separate religion.
  2. According to Jesus, he didn’t perform miracles. Those around him did. Jesus emphasized that he wasn’t the reason miracles of healing occurred, what mattered was the faith of the person being healed. Jesus thought of himself as an instrument of God—who enabled people to be healed through their own belief. For instance, in Luke 17:19, Jesus heals ten lepers and proclaims, “Rise and go, your faith has made you whole.”
  3. Jesus told us a secret: how to access his kingdom. Parini reminds us that in the Beatitudes, Jesus emphasized that the kingdom of heaven was immediately available to those who practiced the same virtues that he did. These include humility, mercy, peacefulness and, of course, love. If you lived your life with these qualities, Jesus said that you too could open the doors of heaven here on Earth.
  4. Post-resurrection, even his closest followers didn’t recognize Jesus. After the death of Jesus, Mary Magdalene arrives at the tomb—but does not recognize the resurrected Jesus, mistaking him for a gardener. Neither did several of his other disciples, including two who saw him at the shore (John 21:4). Parini believes there is a subtle teaching here: “We should not expect to recognize Jesus at first, even as he wakens within us.”
  5. His family members may have thought he was nuts. His family appears to have regarded him as somewhat volatile, even mad, and that his ideas were strange. When he was preaching to a large crowd one unidentified family members even yelled out, “He’s out of his mind” (Mark 3:21).
  6. Like President’s Day, the birthday of Jesus was combined with another holiday. Christians didn’t settle on December 25th as Christmas Day until the fourth century. This choice probably had something to do its proximity to the winter solstice—and the fact that it was near a “feast day” celebrating Sol Invictus, the official sun god of the Roman Empire.
  7. Did Jesus really raise Lazarus from the dead? Maybe, maybe not. Parini sees the meaning of the raising of Lazarus as potentially symbolic, not a literal raising of the dead, but a figurative one. It ties into an early-Christian belief that many of the teachings of the Bible were not meant to be taken literally. Lazarus stands in for everyone who follows Jesus and finds himself raised from the “living dead” to a new life.
  8. “Wake up to God…his kingdom is inside you, within your grasp.” The bold line above is Parini’s take on the true meaning of Matthew 3:2, which usually reads: “Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”. He believes the original translators inserted the word “repent” for an Aramaic word that has a very different meaning. Additionally, as several early Christian texts point out, the kingdom of heaven is found not above, but here within our reach.
  9. The letters of Paul come second in the Bible. But were historically first. The first complete versions of the gospels date to the fourth century—a very long time after the events they describe. It is also important to note, that while the letters of Paul appear after the four gospels in the Bible, they represent the earliest Christian documents. The four gospels were written after them. Also curious: Paul makes no mention of either the life or death of Jesus, only his teachings.
  10. To be a follower of Jesus, you don’t have to go to church. To quote Parini: Jesus never meant to found a formal church with rituals and organized practices, to ordain priests, or to issue doctrinaire statements that formed a rigid program for salvation. Other than “follow me,” his only commandment was “to love one another as I have loved you.”

This story originally appeared at my Patheos “Wake Up Call” column, March 25, 2016.

 

The guy who gives thanks for his Stage 4 cancer.

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Courtesy James Chan, freeimages.com

His name is Mike and I’ve known him for over a decade. While we work for the same company, we’re now in different offices and I hadn’t seen him for a while. So it was through the grapevine that, about six months ago, I learned Mike has Stage 4 cancer.

I visited his office recently and had the chance to sit down and talk with him. Mike still goes to work every day. Some mornings he has chemo and is at his desk in the afternoon. He does this because he loves his job and his co-workers. (And, while not big in stature, he does it because Mike is one tough dude.)

He has now had a total of 26 sessions of chemo. At best, Mike is fighting this thing to a draw. But it’s not like a ref will step in and call the fight over. The cancer is still there, so the battle continues each day. Mike tells me it’s a grind, it’s not so much the cancer but the treatments that wear on him. He gets tired more easily. He has obviously lost some weight.

Mike believes in Jesus and prays to him each day. He gives thanks for all the good in his life, what’s known as a prayer of gratitude. And yes, he even gives thanks for the cancer. Mike mentioned something that a friend who had cancer told him once, and it’s a saying that he takes to heart:

Cancer brings hardships, but it also brings gifts.

Mike has found these gifts. It has brought him closer to his three college-age children and to his friends. It has rekindled his relationship with his kids’ mother, his ex-wife. It has caused him to stop and think about how fortunate he is, because life has given him so much.

We discussed Mike’s prognosis, and he told me he had “a 3% chance of making it 5 years”. I don’t know what that means if broken down to a year or two. But his answer told me that Mike is taking the long view, looking at the best possible scenario. At the same time, he tells me he has led a good life, and if it happens sooner he will be ready.

In a week, Mike is going to Lourdes. While there, he will bathe in the holy waters and pray to the Virgin Mary. It was not his idea, a friend told him he was going, the trip had been bought and paid for without Mike’s consent. His reaction: “I’ll go, and that way I can help all the people sick with cancer.” You see, even with Stage 4, Mike considers himself “healthy with cancer.”

Not by his choice, Mike will be ushered to and from Lourdes by the Order of Malta, a religious order that serves the sick. He will be watched over at all times by eight uniformed members of the group who will accompany him, carry him actually, to each prayer session at the Sanctuary of our Lady Of Lourdes and each visit to the healing waters of the nearby spring.

Will this cure Mike? I don’t know. But even if the cancer does eventually take Mike from this earth, it has lost. The cancer may break down his body, but it has not defeated his spirit or damaged his soul.

To paraphrase the words of Rudyard Kipling, Mike is one of those rare individuals who can meet triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same. He has looked cancer squarely in the eye and seen it for what it is, one more phase in what amounts to a long and happy life.

I will write a follow-up to this story in a few weeks about Mike’s experiences at Lourdes.

The Bible Passage more potent than the Law of Attraction.

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Adam Jackson via freeimages.com

What is the key to getting more success and happiness out of life? If you believe in the Law of Attraction, you might trust the maxim that “like attracts like” and that by focusing on the positive you can attract the positive. Believe you’re going to land that job, win that contest, find the ideal mate, and good things will come your way.

To a certain degree it makes sense, because nothing good ever comes out of negative thinking. But if you’re like me, you may have discovered the Law of Attraction doesn’t always work the way we envision it. In spite of our best efforts, the outcome is not always what we expected. Sure, the Law seems to work sometimes—just not all the time.

But recently I read a twist on the Law of Attraction that makes a little more sense, that rings a little more true. It was called out in a book by John Templeton, the billionaire businessman turned spiritual philosopher, who believed the following Bible passage held the key to a happy and successful life. It’s found in Acts 20:35 and reads:

It is more blessed to give than to receive.

Now Templeton didn’t just quote this passage, he took it a step further and put a little more context around it. He linked it with the Law of Attraction to form this simple but powerful idea:

Giving can make you a magnet for success, because good attracts good.

What Templeton has done is swapped the idea of positive thinking bringing you a positive outcome—and replaced it with the notion of doing good bringing you a favorable outcome. It’s a formula that’s set in motion by the act of giving. Templeton has even set up some rules around this idea:

  • If you want to be happy, strive to make someone else happy. Give happiness.
  • If you want to have more love in your life, strive to be a more loving person. Give love.
  • If you want to be successful, help others to succeed. Give of yourself.

It’s the Law of Attraction brought to a higher, more meaningful level—because it doesn’t just center around positive outcomes for ourselves. It recognizes that we’re part of something bigger, that what is good and positive for us must also be good and positive for others.

As Templeton points out, “if you only receive, that’s all you end up having. If you give, you have the pleasure of knowing that you have helped others, plus the rewards that giving brings back to you.” And it all starts by taking to heart a simple Biblical passage:

It is more blessed to give than to receive.

The truth is if we want more happiness, success and love out of life, we have to give more to life. It’s a good reason to forget about receiving and start “giving” today.

5 Ways to De-Stress Almost Immediately.

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Supreet Vaid/freeimages.com

The marketer Seth Godin recently put out a short blog post that was so thought-provoking, it stuck with me all day. It was about the nature of work and how, no matter where we’re employed, our jobs often leave us feeling stressed. Godin reasons that:

Responsibility without freedom is stressful. There are plenty of jobs in this line of work, just as there are countless jobs where you have neither freedom nor responsibility. These are good jobs to walk away from.

Does this sound like your job? The fact is while many of us have great responsibilities at work, we usually don’t have the freedom to control our work environment, the hours we put in, or the pace at which we need to complete our tasks. And this “responsibility without freedom” often leads to stress.

But if you can’t “walk away” from your job, how do you combat the stress that often comes with it?

A current story in Spirituality & Health magazine, titled “Five Ways to Transcend Stress”, takes the long view of de-stressing, including acts like detaching, journaling and loving yourself. But it struck me that when it comes to real life, you need a faster way to relieve stress, whether it comes at work, at home or while standing on line at the DMV.

What follows are five small acts that can help you almost instantly. Most of these tactics take only a few seconds, though they require a little practice. (And by practice, I mean remembering to use them.) I think of them as my arsenal of stress relief tools and often use them in combination, employing 2, 3 or all 5 of them of them to bring me back to an even keel.

  1. Breathe. When we’re in stressful situations, we often engage in shallow breathing. What we need to do is take a deep breath. Innnnnnnnnnn. Outttttttntttt. Repeat. The increased oxygen intake has a way of clearing our heads and quickly calming our system.
  2. Smile. Now I’m not talking about a big, goofy grin, but a slight upturn of the lips at each corner. There’s something about a smile that can help lighten a tense moment, like a muscle memory that somehow takes us back to a happier time. Start with one each morning, and try to wear it throughout the day.
  3. Use your mantra. I just wrote about meditation and my take on the mantra—and the fact you need to find a key phrase that works for you. Once you begin meditating on a regular basis, a quick interior repetition of your mantra has a way of reminding you of the meditative state, relaxing the mind.
  4. Go for a walk. Stress has a way of tightening our muscles including the one inside our heads. Carve out 5 minutes and go for a quick brisk walk, even if it’s just around the block. There’s something about putting the body in motion that makes the mind feel better.
  5. Remember “It doesn’t really matter.” Surprisingly, these words come from Think and Grow Rich author Napoleon Hill who gave himself this advice whenever he felt overly stressed. In the grand scheme of things most of the things we fret over aren’t that important. What really matters is not our jobs, but the people and activities outside them.

For a story on a related topic, see my post “You’re Spiritual, Your Job is Not. So How Do You Cope?

Meditation made easy (for those who say they can’t meditate).

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Crissy Pauley/freeimages.com

Have you ever tried to meditate and found you just couldn’t do it? Maybe you like the idea of meditation, are well aware of its benefits, but you just can’t get your racing, over-thinking mind to calm down enough to engage in the practice. This may help.

About two years ago I wrote a Wake Up Call column titled “How to Meditate like a Monk in 10 Easy Steps.” It was based on a slim paperback book called Deep Meditation by Yogani that was (and still is) far and away the best book on meditation I’ve ever read. (For your convenience, the “10 easy steps” are listed below.)

One of the things I liked about the book was Yogani’s empathetic approach to meditation. He realized that we have a tendency to start thinking about other things when we meditate, self-sabotaging our meditation practice. So the author gently, and continuously, reminds the reader that when your mind starts to wander, no problem, just come back to the mantra.

For me, there was just one hiccup. Even after months of practice, I found myself falling off the mantra constantly and thinking about anything and everything else, from the work day ahead to the repairman I had to call to planning the upcoming weekend. My meditation sessions turned into very choppy affairs, my “monkey mind” continuously losing focus and interjecting random thoughts, as many as 20, 30, 50 times over a 20-minute meditation session.

Then, I discovered the problem. My mantra wasn’t working.

In the book, Yogani recommends focusing on the word “Ayam”, or “I am”, while meditating. Most Buddhists favor using “Aum” or “Om” which in your head winds up sounding like “Ommmmmmmmmm.” And that was my issue. The sound just wasn’t strong enough for this Western mind to keep random thoughts from flowing in. So I tried a new mantra, one that had personal meaning to me:

God is Love. Love is God.

I repeat this mantra over and over (sometimes replacing it with “Love is Good. Love is God.”) And there’s something about this longer, more verbal mantra that locks me in. As, I repeat the words they create a circular pattern. I sometimes see the words visually flowing as if in a figure eight. And it works. I am now able to go through 20-minute meditation sessions with nary a disruption, the new mantra acting like a shield that fends off random thoughts.

Now there’s no need to take my mantra as your mantra—unless these words also have special meaning for you. Your words may be “Jack and Jill went up a hill” repeated over and over. So find the phrase that works best for you, something that’s easy to repeat and could be as simple as “I love my family, my family loves me.”

WHY MEDITATE? I don’t know how or why, but it works like a reboot to the system. I compare it to restarting your smartphone or computer when you’re having technical issues, and somehow the issues then disappear. After meditation, it’s as if your mind is working from a clean slate. You’re suddenly in a better place to deal with whatever obstacles or opportunities life sends your way.

Below are the “10 easy steps” I developed after reading Deep Meditation. Yogani’s words are listed verbatim from the book; I’ve added a few additional comments in italics.

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

This post previously appeared on Wake Up Call, my column at Patheos, February 29, 2016.

3 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Die.

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Hai Thanh Nguyen/freeimages.com

The inspirational writer and business consultant Dawna Markova is a long-term cancer survivor who has been diagnosed with the disease on six different occasions. That’s not a typo, 6 different times. In fact, almost 30 years ago she was told she had only six months to live.

Yet, after each diagnosis, Markova has battled back. I heard her interviewed on a Sounds True podcast and when this fact came out she was asked how she did it—how did she find the motivation and willpower to not give in to this deadly disease that has come so close to taking her life? She said that when each diagnosis of cancer arrives she finds herself asking “what’s unfinished for me to do?” She then looks at her life and asks herself three pointed questions:

  1. What do I still have to give?

  2. What do I still have to learn?

  3. What do I still have to experience?

And each time she has had to ask herself these questions, she realizes there is still work for her to do in this life. It’s not her time. She has wisdom to pass on, new things to be learned, places she still needs to go and people she needs to see.

Yet as devastating as a cancer diagnosis may be, it does give you time to ask these questions and act. For others, death comes more quickly—like a friend’s brother who passed away while shoveling snow a few weeks ago. Two years away from retirement, he did not have the opportunity to say good-bye to his loved ones or pursue his plans of traveling to new and exotic places.

It makes me believe that the 3 questions we see above are questions we might ask ourselves daily, as none of us really knows how much longer we will be here. Life is fleeting. And it is in our best interests, and the interests of those around us, if we make the most of each and every day.

This story brought to mind another one I wrote a few years ago about a business executive who found out he had three months to live—and how he handled his final days. You can see that story here. The story above was previously published on my Wake Up Call Column at Patheos, 2/22/16.

Beginnings: becoming who you were meant to be.

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Brad Harrison/ freeimages.com

In Beginnings, The First Seven Days of the Rest Your Life, author Steve Wiens offers up a unique addition to the motivational book genre. Steve, a pastor in Minnesota, has tied his main message to the seven days of creation found in the Book of Genesis and the promise of new “beginnings”.

Now to be honest, I found the biblical connection a bit tenuous—but it really didn’t matter. Steve is a gifted writer and storyteller, sharing many personal anecdotes and putting fresh spins on a few biblical tales. He could have connected his message to the Seven Dwarves, and I’m sure it would have been just as good a read.

I’m going to talk about two key messages I pulled from Beginnings, the ones that resonated with me after I put the book down. The first is a primary theme that is repeated throughout the book, about how we are constantly offered the chance to start anew and “bring forth even more life into the world”. Wiens posits the idea that:

You are partnering in the ongoing creation of your actual life, which is endlessly unfolding, artfully constructed and filled with hidden beginnings that sometimes flow out of unexpected endings.

We need to be alert to the beginnings life offers us, as they are often not obvious, and involve breaking free from the status quo. To Wiens, this means “leaving the forced march”, so we can “pursue the endless adventure of becoming”.

Now, Wiens recognizes that this journey of becoming who we were really meant to be—who God wants us to be—is both “dangerous and transformational”. But it’s worth the effort:

There is something deep inside of you so good that you’re most likely suppressing it because you can’t believe that bringing it to life might help to heal the world. You need to bring it out—over and over again.

He tells us that “there are seeds of life embedded within you by God, and something needs to call them forth so they can burst into life.” We can choose to ignore this calling and push the “seeds of life” back down, but it’s in our best interest to bring the good inside us to life. We need to take action, no matter how difficult it may be:

It can feel like surging rage, bubbling up and embarrassing you in the middle of a meeting at work. It can feel like blinding frustration. It can even be blissful joy, filling you in a moment that overwhelms you with gratitude.

My take: beginnings come in different sizes, from big to small. The big opportunities can include starting a fresh relationship or finding a new way to serve your family or community. But there are small opportunities as well, and we can realize them virtually every day—stopping to talk with someone on the margins, complimenting a stranger, going out of our way to do anything that resembles walking the proverbial old lady across the street. These smaller beginnings shake us from life-as-usual, and put us on a path that is more loving, more kind and more compassionate.

The second aspect of the book that really hit home for me was Wiens’ look at the four seasons and the different moods each one of them evokes. Since winter has now set in here in the Northeast United States, I found his chapter on the “the soul-crushing season of winter” especially evocative and personally relevant. (See my “blue winter” piece from a couple of years ago.) Wiens writes:

During the winter we wait, and the waiting is brutal. Going without what we’re longing for feels desperate and panicky. When you are waiting, there is a hopelessness that can descend and cover you, a fog that won’t burn off. It’s my least favorite season.

Amen Steve, I agree with you 100%. The only good thing I can say about winter is that it passes. Like a tree covered by a thick blanket of snow, we silently endure this unwelcome visitor and perhaps our roots grow stronger during the process. And I suppose the chill of winter makes the arrival of spring all the more joyful, with its new opportunities, it’s chance for new beginnings.

This post originally appeared on my Patheos Wake Up Call column, January 13, 2016.

Are you happy? Maybe it’s more important to be content.

If you had the choice, would you rather be happy or content? I’ve written about happiness several times on these pages, but it recently dawned on me that there’s a subtle difference between the two words.

While the dictionary definitions of happy and content are fairly similar, for me happiness is best represented by this image:

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jaylopez/freeimages.com

If you’re familiar with the happy face emoji, you may know that the same face is shown conveying a number of different emotions. It can be smiley or sad, sleepy or stressed, surprised or pensive. They are the many feelings we often cycle through on any given day and they serve as a reminder: Happiness is often fleeting, here one moment and gone the next.

On the other hand, when I think of contentment, this picture comes to mind:

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Buddha

Is there a more peaceful countenance than that of the classic Buddha? I have many similar-looking Buddha statues around my own home and they serve as constant reminders to take a breath. Get centered. Be.

The good thing about contentment is that it lasts. Happiness comes. Happiness goes. Contentment stays. The contented state-of-mind, once established in the morning, can be maintained throughout the day.

While outside circumstances may change, when we’re content, we remain calm and centered. We are at peace with the world, no matter what the world sends our way. To quote the poet Rudyard Kipling, we “meet triumph and disaster, and treat those two impostors just the same.”

In a classic book by John Templeton, I ran across a 10-point list the author attributes to an obscure metaphysical author named Rebecca Clark. The list is important because I believe it calls out the keys to living a contented life. Rebecca’s words are in bold type, my thoughts follow with a little help from Mr. Templeton:

  1. Know who and what you are. Find yourself. Be secure in the knowledge that you are a unique individual and have value to add to the world.
  2. Count your blessings. Never forget the good that already exists in your life. Give thanks for it daily.
  3. Act maturely. Learn from life, continue to grow mentally and spiritually, but always wear your learning lightly.
  4. Eliminate fear. Look fear in the eye and befriend it. Remember the worst possible thing that can happen is usually not as bad as a fearful mind might think.
  5. Give of yourself. Love. Service. Praise. Help. Encouragement. Friendship. Kindness.
  6. Value simplicity. Because the simple pleasures in life are often the best. (But you already know that.)
  7. Welcome changes. They are often for the better. Learn to flow like a gentle river through the changes that enter your life.
  8. Exercise the law of unlimited supply. If you believe it’s possible, it becomes possible. “What the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” ~Napoleon Hill
  9. Pause to enjoy life. Get off your phone and appreciate the beauty around you. A tree. A painting. The sunset. Your child. Your partner.
  10. God first. All of us are a little better, a little stronger, a little more centered, when we realize God is always at our side.

This post originally appeared at my Wake Up Call column at Patheos January 24, 2016.

Americans are “Anxious”, “Worried” and “Mad as Hell”? WTF, America?

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Design by Noam Galai, photo by Liron Moldovan via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve been hearing about it on NPR, reading about it in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times and seeing it on various cable news shows. The story making the rounds this election-year goes something like this:

There is a large part of the American electorate that is “angry and anxious”. People are “mad as hell” and think “the system is rigged against them.”

They’re worried about losing their jobs to immigrants, about the power of big banks, about having their guns taken away. They’re worried about terrorism—including, apparently, many in rural areas of the US, where the chances of encountering a terrorist seem as likely as bumping into Sasquatch.

To all this I say: WTF, America? Why the malaise? We have never been a country of whiners, yet in all of these reports there is an overwhelming emphasis on the negative. No one mentions the abundant good found in our country, in our communities and in our lives. All we seem to hear, in the words of two leading presidential candidates, is that “we are in crisis” and in “serious, serious trouble.”

I, for one, am not buying it. Because when I look around, I see a country that is doing fairly well–and a nation of good people that as a rule are kind, helpful and generous. And while some may believe their lives would be better off if the right man or woman was elected president, I say it doesn’t matter. Whoever our next president might be, it’s going to have little to no impact on our everyday lives. Because the fact is, happiness is an inside job.

“Anyone who starts out to chase happiness will find it running away from him.”

The quote above comes from the American pastor Harry Emerson Fosdick and the universal point he is making is that happiness (or contentment) can only be found within. You especially won’t find it if you’re looking to a politician of any stripe to make life better for you. I’m reminded of the following anecdote, to which I added my own election-year twist:

There was a man who thought that money would make him happy so he built a successful business. But after he had money, he still was not happy. So he sought the companionship of a spouse. But after he was married, he found he was still not happy. He thought children might make him happy, but after his kids were born he was still not happy. So he thought that if only the right person was elected president, then he would be happy…

Enough of my rant. Maybe you are feeling angry and anxious. Perhaps you’re unemployed or underemployed. Or, like me, you’re overworked and putting in 60+ hour weeks. No matter what the issue, there are ways to keep yourself cool and centered. Below are several coping mechanisms that may help.

  1. Find your religion. Reacquaint yourself with God or whatever higher power you recognize. You can do this in church. Or out in nature. Or through quiet contemplation in your den with the lights out and your feet propped up. You can also start a religion of your own, a spiritual practice that’s designed for you and by you.
  2. Exercise on a regular basis. When we don’t take care of our body through regular physical exercise, it can have a negative mental impact on us. Run. Walk. Bike. Swim. Lift. Do whatever you can–because a healthy body really does lead to a healthy mind and spirit.
  3. Chill out with meditation or centering prayer. Spend some time being in the present moment, not looking at the future or the past. I’ve long talked about the value of meditation, but if that turns you off, give centering prayer a try. Similar concept, same results.
  4. Remember love conquers all. “Give of yourself to your family and friends, be appreciative and accepting. Be willing to say, ‘I love you’.” (John Templeton). Because the fact is when we show others love, like a boomerang, it has a way of coming back to us.
  5. Fight the fear. Often “the thing we fear we bring to pass.” (Elbert Hubbard). So instead of letting doubt and fear take up residence in your mind, focus on all the good in your life. Replace each negative thought, with something positive. Then, repeat steps 1-4.

This post appeared recently on my Wake Up Call column at Patheos. As I publish it here, the state-of-mind of much of the American electorate continues to baffle me.