Tag Archives: Thomas Moore

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.

 

Moving away from formal religion—toward a one-to-one relationship with God.

The_Creation_Michelangelo-150x150The problem is that we have lost religion—in the deep meaning of the word. We have formal religions that contain the seeds of genuine religiousness, but they are weakened by…fundamentalism, moralism, empty ritual, misunderstood teachings and general irrelevancy. ~Thomas Moore

Are you one of the millions worldwide who classify themselves as “spiritual but not religious”? I count myself among that group and if you’re like me, at one point in your life you were part of an organized religion. You may have attended church or religious services on a regular basis, but abandoned this practice because you just didn’t get much out of it.

Yet, the spiritual world still calls you. You have a yearning to connect with something greater than yourself. So you fill that need with a hodgepodge of spiritually-related activities. You pray and/or meditate. You read spirituality books. You take yoga, engage in mindful exercise or go outdoors to find a spiritual connection with nature.

You’re creating your own one-to-one relationship with God, a religion of your own.

One person who knows where the spiritual-but-not-religious (SBNR) are coming from is Care of the Soul author Thomas Moore. He has written a groundbreaking new book that gives valuable instruction on how we can create and enrich our own spiritual practice. In A Religion of One’s Own: A Guide to Creating a Personal Spirituality in a Secular World, he talks about a future where we “move away from being a follower to being a creator of religion.”

Moore reminds us that we can just as easily discover the divine outside the church as inside it. In this new spiritual world, we look to formal religions for insight, but create and follow our own path.

We can, in fact, create a personal religion rooted in the practices and rituals of our own everyday lives. On this path, we treat “the natural world and everyday activities as sacred.” We sense the divine in nature, through the appreciation of art and music, by feeling “our soul stir at family gatherings and visits home, in deep friendships and romantic relationships.”

If you’re one of those of us on the SBNR path, Moore stresses that “the discovery or creation of religion of your own, is not an option. It’s a necessary step in your spiritual unfolding.” It is, in fact, a calling, a part of our essence that we cannot ignore if we want to achieve true spiritual fulfillment.

As members of the SBNR community, the key is to deepen and further enrich our spiritual practice—to move beyond paying lip-service to the “spiritual but not religious” designation and place ourselves squarely on a path of spiritual growth and development. Developing a real one-to-one relationship with God only works with our real intention and commitment to make it work.

The good news is we are not starting with a blank slate. No matter the limitations of your current practice, there is room for growth and we “don’t have to rely entirely on our originality” to enrich our spiritual pursuits. Moore instructs us that:

Language, ideas, techniques, methods and rituals are there to be borrowed. We can learn from many different traditions how to meditate, how to honor special days…how to go on a pilgrimage, how to pray, how to fast and abstain…how to forgive and heal and offer gratitude.

Among the spiritual activities Moore recommends is reading and studying classic spiritual texts, which might include teachings as diverse as the Bible to the wisdom teachings of Native Americans. He also calls out the Lectio Divina practice of the Benedictine monks, which involves four simple acts: read, meditate, pray, and contemplate.

Moore also places great importance on the use of sacraments in your practice, which he defines “as an outward sign signifying inward grace.” He calls out the example of Thoreau at Walden Pond and how he had his own set of “sacraments.” Thoreau saw acts as simple as taking a bath or rising early as connecting him with “the gods.”

The fact is, with the right intention, virtually every daily activity can be seen as a way to connect with the Divine. Moore even mentions one of my favorite soul-enriching activities: sipping a cup of coffee in the early morning hours, in quiet contemplation. The potential activities that can help you experience this connection are as endless as your imagination. Moore writes of the following historical examples:

Emerson lectured, Thoreau built a cabin and wrote a diary, Dickinson wrote poems, Kevin Kelly arranges flowers, Simone Dinnerstein plays Bach, you make gardens, I sturdy and write books. Just as we each may have a religion of our own, we may also have our own rituals and narratives and express our intuitions in ways that are most comfortable to us.

It’s all about staying “in tune with the rhythms of nature and the pulse of your life”. In following your own path, you discover, sometimes through trial and error, what activities work best for you. In time, you create a spiritual practice that is true to you, removing the veil of religion, until nothing separates you from God.

This post previously appeared on my Wake Up Call column at Patheos, July 30, 2014.

The amazing power of 100% pure, unlimited agape.

Pure Love by Csaba Markus

While my last post was about sexuality, today I’d like to change the subject to l-o-v-e love. I’m not talking about the love you feel for your favorite ice cream, your cat or dog, or even your significant other or spouse. My topic is the true greatest love of all, something that the ancient Greeks called agape (pronounced ah-gah-pay.)

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

In our society, love often includes an implied “if I love you, you have to love me back” pre-condition, that comes from a need for security or completion. In Writing in the Sand, Thomas Moore describes it as “a banker’s idea of love. If you don’t get as much out as you put in, you are being cheated.” But agape is different, as it has nothing to with the actions of someone else.

Agape is often associated with the unconditional love of Jesus, but it’s said to originate with the Greeks who identified it as coming from a divine source. This source, aka God, offers an endless supply of agape to all of us, all the time. As John Templeton points out in his book Pure Unlimited Love:

Agape is the holy, unconditional love that God gives us regardless of what we look like, how much money we have, how smart we are, and even regardless of how unloving our actions may sometimes be.

So no matter how unworthy or unlovable we may feel, God offers us a consistent outpouring of love (best accessed through meditation and prayer). Of course, the most difficult part of agape is the reciprocal side—taking the love we receive from the divine and turning around and putting it out into the universe. As Templeton points out:

The great challenge is not in getting love but in giving it. Agape demands that we give others the freedom to return or not to return our love. And because it is unlimited, it keeps on giving even when love is not returned.

Templeton actually advises trying to be like God by “radiating unlimited love”, which to me means reflecting the love you receive like a mirror (albeit a mirror that’s deep inside you). You then set up a feedback loop, by which the more you extend love outwards to the world “the more you become flooded by waves of love from others and from God”.

As you can imagine the benefits of this endless loop of love are many. As Templeton puts it, When we practice agape, it becomes easier to love our enemies, to tolerate those who annoy us, and to find something we appreciate in every person we meet”. He also points out that this unlimited love “encourages strength and freedom and empowers a person rather than fosters dependency or weakness”.

Thomas Moore goes a step further by advising that agape can even lead to romantic love, though he does add a few words of caution: “This doesn’t mean you should suffer abuse at the hands you love. As Jesus says more than once, you always have to love yourself in equal measure.”

No matter how you use agape, there’s no downside. Even the briefest of encounters with another person become an opportunity to share this unlimited love. It’s an amazing power that we all hold within our hearts and that can be used at any time. Why not start right now?