boys, men, toys

Those who know they have enough are truly wealthy – LAO TZU

The old cliché, “the only difference between men and boys is the size (and cost) of their toys,” rings soundly as I sit on my front porch watching traffic heading to the marina to launch into the Homosassa River and the Gulf the boats being pulled.  A few are modest older model pickup trucks pulling equally modest boats, but most are sleek, brand new powerful Fords and Chevys towing a mini-yacht that could house a small family in comfort.  Certainly they are a far cry from the sandbox trucks and bathtub boats we little boys enjoyed years ago while growing up.

And I sincerely do not begrudge their showy big-boy toys.  But, I also do not understand how some of us grew up to be content with the small toys in life while others were driven to bigger, better, shinier and more powerful.  Driving 18-wheeler coast to coast and north to south during the 1990s into 2009, we encountered frequently a fellow trucker keying up on his CB radio with a harsh crackle and a booming “Breaker, breaker 19.  Anybody got a copy on this here radio-o-o-o-o.  C’mon back-k-k-k”

Undoubtedly, folks two states away had a copy on this driver’s echoing master-blaster CB radio.  It was annoying and totally worthless for anything other than a showy display of strength and power.  My driving partner, a man not known to mince words, would reply, “yeah hand, we have a copy on your radio and we’re so glad you’ve finally found a big toy to compensate for your other small equipment.”

Worked every time.  Spitting and fuming just momentarily that radio then went silent.  That usually happened; however there were times when a profanity laced, violence threatening discussion ensued about equipment size as boys and men will often do.

It’s all about ego, isn’t it?  If the poor man with a shabby little rowboat feels less worthy than the man towing his $250,000 yacht with an $80,000 pickup truck, then that poor man has an ego problem.  If the rich man with the big toys feels better than the man with a little rowboat, then he also has an ego problem, doesn’t he?

A healthy ego along with balanced self-esteem teach us that blessings are not dependent upon wealth or possessions.  Your toys, no matter how large or expensive, are no better than my little dinghy with oars.  What is important is the level of self-worth your toys give to you or detract from me.  Simplicity is all about mind-set and priorities.  Even more, it is about living joyously day-to-day this mystery called life and disallowing the external forces of consumerism and consumption to call the shots. 🙏

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a Better Way

Today we celebrate what many Christians including Franciscans believe to be the most significant day of the Christian year – the birth of a new nonviolent world.  Jesus was all about nonviolence.  His ways and life, encapsulated in the Gospels, breathe a better way for Christians to engage with brothers/sisters of Hinduism, of Islam, of Judaism, of Buddhism, of all the great religious persuasions pursuing peace on earth.  Over a hundred years ago, Gandhi observed that every religion is rooted in nonviolence.  May we also, in our Christian faith walk, begin the Christmastide celebration ushering in 2020 with the peace of Gandhi, Buddha, Muhammad, Jesus on our hearts.  Namaste. 🙏

FROM MATTHEW 5:1-7, 27

And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him:
2 And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,
3 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.

three kings day

solitude

He who sits alone, sleeps alone, walks alone,
who is strenuous and subdues himself alone,
will find strength in the solitude of the forest.
BUDDHA, DHAMMAPADA, 305

How many of us wish today, as adults, that this wisdom would have been shared with us as children?  It simply was not considered normal for a child to prefer the solitude of the woods to activity with other children in the park.  We were called wall flowers when we did not keep up with the chatty ones at lunch break.  We were graded as slow learners when we did not engage in classroom discussions.  Yes, my elementary school report card (do they still have report cards?) had a space to inform my parents that I was not a team player, not a participant.  Do they realize the damage inflicted on a young boy who merely wanted to enjoy his solitude, a boy who did not rely on friendships and social activity for his fulfillment?  The birds, animals, and flowers in the countryside fields and woods were my intimate companions way back then.  I enjoyed the peace and quiet of these gifts infinitely more than the company of rowdy playmates in games of baseball, tag or hide-n-go-seek.

I reached adulthood believing that I was deficient.  My waning social activity supported that idea.  Not a joiner, not a member, not a community person, not a party person.  Even my growing alcoholism, ages 17 to 34, revolved around drinking in the woods with a few select friends or by myself at home.  It became a problem when I began to avoid social commitments with loved ones and friends.  My perceived deficiency controlled most aspects of my younger years as I nosedived into deep depression and obsessive alcoholic behavior – a symptom of the misconceived impression of Larry, the socially awkward introvert.

However, looking back on those years, I don’t remember ever feeling lonely.  A lover would slam the door when leaving in anger and disgust saying, “You don’t need anybody, do you?”  Sadly, the truthful answer confirmed those words.  I didn’t need anybody to fill my empty spaces.  I became a socially deficient drunk who just wanted to be left alone.

Recovery from alcoholism has demanded even more intense self-scrutiny and introspection.  Initially, I had to learn to love myself as I was, not as someone else thought I should be.  In the meeting rooms I met many other men and women just like me – socially awkward and withdrawn from life.  We held each others’ hands, cried together, prayed together, hugged, and instilled a sense of completeness in each other that had always been missing before.  The healing was slow and painful, but we became participants in life even in our own quiet, unassuming ways.

Western culture places an enormous emphasis on assertiveness and achievement.  We are considered weak if we are not pushy and demanding.  Those of us who are perfectly content with the quiet and peace of a meandering stream through the meadow or a walk along wooded trails or an afternoon reading poetry are sometimes deemed lazy and unproductive.

To others like me, I say STOP!  Just stop!  Stop being a people pleaser trying to fit into a preconceived social mold.  Introvert is not a cuss word.  Not everyone can be extroverted, nor should they try to be.  When I appreciate the person whom the God of my understanding created, when I accept that today at this moment I am a perfect product of this creation, then life can also be perfect.  Doesn’t mean that I don’t pursue growth and try to make tomorrow’s version of me even better.  It simply means saying quietly and thankfully, “Just as I am, Lord.  Receive all of me just as I am.”

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Am I a tuba or a piccolo?

Lord, let me be your instrument

“Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.” ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS – STEP ELEVEN

The chapter, STEP ELEVEN in “Twelve Steps & Twelve Traditions” published by Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., uses as its theme prayer the popular Prayer of St. Francis.  The last stanza teaches:

“For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
it is in dying to self that we are born
to eternal life.”

That last line of the prayer of St. Francis – it is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life – creates a sense of timeless, never-ending spaces filled with nothingness.  Eternity is, after all, a long, long time.  I spent an eternity waiting for you at the grocery store.  That boring movie lasted an eternity.  The pastor’s homily seemed like an eternity.  I suppose my point is this: who wants a life of endless moments of boring eternity?  Eternity presents itself as action-less, a void filled with forever.  What happens should we substitute everlasting for eternal?  Everlasting life.

“Larry,” you are asking, “what’s the difference?”

I like to think that everlasting applies to values, to a faith that sustains, to a relationship with that Higher Power referenced in Step 11 of the Alcoholics Anonymous 12 step program.  Everlasting has survived religious philosophies, social fads, and worldly obsessions.  Everlasting will continue to the ‘other side’ of this life via the memories of us in those we leave behind and perhaps as a basis for our after-life continuance.  Yes, it is eternal, but it is vibrant and exhilarating to behold.

Along with other faith-based Scriptures we often turn to the wisdom writers of Christianity’s Bible for inspiration.  Galatians 5:22-23 names these everlasting gifts:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Against such things there is no law.”

Against such things there is no ending.  They endure. They are everlasting.  Hallelujah, we can choose our eternity filling it with good fruit.  Why would anyone want to fill life with hatred, unforgiveness, doubt, despair, darkness and misery when the everlasting gifts are freely available?

Make me an instrument of peace
where there is hatred, let me sow love
where injury, pardon
where doubt, faith
where despair, hope
where darkness, light
where sadness, joy
from the PRAYER OF ST. FRANCIS

Again turning to Christianity’s wisdom literature, Matthew 19:16-24 relates the story of a wealthy, young man who encounters Jesus and asks,

“What good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

Jesus responds by telling him to keep the commandments, sell his possessions and give to the poor.

“Then come and follow me.”

The man went away saddened because he had great wealth.  We are not told what the man  chased – eternal joy or worldly comfort.  Where is my wealth stored?  Is it comprised of internal values that sustain or is it a temporal storehouse filled with stuff that will rust and rot?  Lord, let me be an instrument – a tuba, loud and thundering with your peace and kindness.  What would you be?speaking truth2

 

let’s dance, shall we?

“…..you then realize that you don’t live your life, but life lives you.  Life is the dancer, you are the dance.”  A NEW EARTH – Eckhart Tolle

How many of us believe that we are the dancers, that we put the action into life? Do-si-do your partner – EEEEEHAW!

Think about this for just a moment.  Realizing that little old me never was the one in charge of this life which I claim as mine can be somewhat diminishing if not outright devastating.  It relegates the ego to a minor role in life’s theatrical production.  In the book which many alcoholics refer to as the BIG BOOK, Bill W. tells us:

“Most people try to live by self-propulsion.  Each person is like an actor who wants to run the whole show; is forever trying to arrange the lights, the ballet, the scenery and the rest of the players in his own way.  If his arrangements would only stay put, if only people would do as he wished, the show would be great.” Bill W. ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS, pg. 60

Lights, camera, action!  Let the dance begin.  I am that which is being danced, life provides the script, the scenery, the other actors.  Maybe asking God to do the do-si-do will result in a spectacular production?

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HAMLET – neither good nor bad

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” 
HAMLET – William Shakespeare39

My grandmother was a wise yet simple farm woman.  She knew how to gather any vegetable from the garden or berry from the woods and cook it into a delicious casserole or jam.  The storage shelves in the cellar were filled each year with mason jars of wonderfully colorful canned vegetables and preserves.  And in her spare time she crafted from scraps of dresses and coats gorgeous quilts or blankets.

I learned from her that a man “is what he eats.”  The foods which a person consumes will ultimately determine the health status of his/her body.  Unfortunately, I strayed from Grandma’s wisdom regarding foods and nutrition as a young adult resulting in various difficulties with the Western culture health epidemics plaguing us today.

I also strayed from the spiritual/life lessons learned from my farming community as a young boy leading to addiction and behavioral patterns which controlled the years when I should have been maturing into a responsible adult.  Living life soberly has been a prolonged process of ‘catching up’ to others who learned their lessons well and pursued G.O.D. – Good Orderly Direction – rather than waste precious years cavorting as a prodigal son in the far country. (see LUKE 15)

Those of us who share these experiences of addictive exile have a choice to make in our recovery years.  The times were neither good nor bad – they simply were.  What we did, the hell we created for others and ourselves cannot be reversed.  The heartaches and pain inflicted on loved ones including ourselves must be accepted as part of the process leading to sobriety.  Today I know with certainty that I was a royal A-hole back then.  However, today I also know that I don’t have to sit in this chair ten years from now looking back and saying, “Damn, what an asshole I was back on September 18, 2019.”

They say that humility is all about acceptance – accepting and reconciling my past, who I was and what I did, but then recognizing who and what I am destined to be as a sober-minded man living a life that doesn’t really belong to me.  It’s a journey with G.O.D.

So, now you ask, “Larry, what does this have to do with Shakespeare and Hamlet?”

Everything, absolutely everything in life is neutral, neither good nor bad.  It is the thinking which you and I attach to ‘everything’ that makes it good or bad.  We have the choice to create the life we want.  My physical pain suffered today from poor habits of eating and addiction years ago is a good thing because I choose to marvel in the complexity of a body which uses pain to remind me that, yes, I am still alive.  The morning leg and knee pain awaken me to a new day saying a prayer of gratitude,

“Thank you Lord for giving me breath and heartbeat.  My leg hurts, my knee hurts, but they still function and, oh, just look at the glorious sunshine awakening me.”

Am I always successful deferring thinking about everything that crosses my radar screen?  Of course not, I continue to be a member of the human race and therefore frequently offer an opinion, good or bad.  But, another tool learned in my recovery journey is the Serenity Prayer,

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things that I cannot change, courage to change the things I should, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

For me, the wisdom is in knowing when my opinion matters and when it does not.  When should I apply thinking to the never-ending parade of drama in today’s life?  As I process this choice I realize more often than not that my opinion truly does not matter.

smiley face 2

 

Carpe diem

smiley face 2

Hallelujah, it’s a new day, opportunity for a fresh start, the first day of the rest of your life.  C’mon, get out of bed, stretch your arms, say a few words of thanks for breath, for heartbeat, for arms and legs that move.  Hug your spouse, cat or dog and go brush your teeth.  While looking in the bathroom mirror, say to yourself, “you are wonderful, I love you.”

“Larry, it’s raining, the weather is dismal, my spouse is snoring, my back hurts, I was up too many times to pee, I am tired and I just want to snuggle up to my pillow and waste the day in bed.”

Okay, that also is an option.  Maybe tomorrow will be a better day – if you still have breath and a heartbeat tomorrow.  Do you realize the rarity of being alive this moment of  this day in the history of mankind?  Do you understand how precious this waking moment is, that any moment’s breath could be the last?  Do you?

CARPE DIEM!  Seize the day, it belongs to you.  Your Lord made it just for you.  We don’t have the luxury of rolling the dice and accepting anything that happens in this day.  Get out there and do something.  Learn something new.  A skill, a hobby, a new yoga practice, a delicious recipe for Caribbean chicken, an exciting writing idea.  Just do it.  Carpe diem.  Tomorrow could be too late.

Lounging in bed still sounding like a good idea?  Okay, try this.  Think of a friend in the hospital who can’t leave his bed, an elderly family member who’s confined to a wheelchair, the veteran who suffers debilitating PTSD, your neighbor who unsuccessfully attempted suicide last week?

God gave you this day to make a difference in your life or the life of another of his children.  Seize the moment and make it a spectacular testimony of a life well-lived and humbly appreciated.  And when that last breath of the last moment of the last day is upon us, may we hear the words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

So get up, get moving!  It’s a beautiful day.

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this little spark of mine – I’m gonna let it shine

 

“We are made, the scriptures of all religions assure us, in the image of God. Nothing can change that original goodness. Whatever mistakes we have made in the past, whatever problems we may have in the present, in every one of us this beautiful-cropland-dawn-1237119‘uncreated spark in the soul’ remains untouched, ever pure, ever perfect. Even if we try with all our might to douse or hide it, it is always ready to set our personality ablaze with light.”  EKNATH EASWARAN (1910-1999) cac.org

(Eknath Easwaran was an Indian born spiritual teacher and author, as well as translator and interpreter of early Hindu texts such as the UPANISHADS and the BHAGAVAD GITA.)

Meister Eckhart (1260-1328) taught:

“Our supreme purpose in life is not to make a fortune, nor to pursue pleasure, nor to write our name in history, but to discover this spark of the divine that is in our hearts.”

The world, specifically Western Culture, might do well to listen to the words of all religious traditions whose mystics searched beyond the limits of this life experience for truer meaning and self-less examination.  Escaping the insanity of violence, war, poverty, genocide, persecution, religious intolerance and greed is critical for a path to a sustainable co-existence of the human species as well as the ecosystem of earth which inarguably is essential to our survival.

Giving up self-indulgence is not easy.  Just ask any other recovering alcoholic or addict.  A primary symptom, if not the most salient aspect, of our addictions was ego-driven selfishness.  Unfortunately, that does not miraculously disappear upon our first day of the recovery process.  For most of us, especially me, this change in focus becomes a lifetime endeavor.  Some days are better than others, but the spark is there.  An AA saying that resonates is, “A belly full of booze and a head full of AA don’t mix.”  It’s the same with recognizing the divine spark within each of us.  Once you experience it, you can no longer ignore it.  That inner essence demands change.

I continue to be amazed that for some people this change is easily accomplished.  Involving in service work, rejoining their communities, whether in civic groups or church groups, seems to be a cakewalk for them.  Not for me.  You can drag me to a town hall meeting, but I will be kicking and screaming all the way.  It is not natural for me to do something that is not all about me, me, me.

We don’t hear WWJD very often these days.  “What Would Jesus Do?”  In no way have I perfected this approach, but when I ask myself this question, I can usually depend on a positive, forward-moving answer.  It doesn’t matter whether one believes a divine Jesus, a virgin-born Jesus, a reverential Jesus or a bodily resurrected Jesus, the keys to successful, peaceful, empowered living are contained in the writings which are attributed to the words of Jesus of Nazareth.  Those nuggets of inspiration and truth culled from the Bible’s chapters detailing Judaic history, folklore, and ancient wisdom present a lifestyle and mindset that lead to the change demanded by each individual’s inner essence.

Not surprisingly, this truth can be gathered from most of the world’s great spiritual traditions if we put aside the hype and tribal prejudices of religion and instead search for the reality of inner discovery.  History’s mystics lead that search.

 

 

Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi

“Why ask about behavior when you are soul-essence,
and a way of seeing into presence!
…Forget the nonsense categories of there and here,
adult-adventure-backlit-915972race, nation, religion,
starting point and destination.
…No more questions now
as to what it is we’re doing here.”
(underlining is my emphasis)
RUMI, THE BOOK OF LOVE by Coleman Barks

This short passage from Rumi, a Persian poet, jurist, Islamic scholar, theologian, Sufi mystic, emphatically tells that instead of being concerned with the ego and its demands, the journey in this life is all about the inner essence, the divine spark.  Call it Spirit, call it energy, call it God or whatever our faith traditions name this essence, this is the ultimate reality.  Rumi, in naming “there and here, race, nation, religion, starting point and destination as nonsense categories”, challenges the mind to ask, “If not that, what then is important in this world experience?”  Not names, not locations on this planet, not vocations, not family status, not physical appearance, not past successes nor personalities define who or what we are as members of this human experience.  If we believe otherwise, we are deluding ourselves.

Of course I have difficulty with this thought process.  Being reared and having lived my life in Western culture with its insatiable drive to promote the needs of self (a.k.a ego)  over all other concerns, the welfare of fellow mankind and the stewardship of our Mother Earth easily become lost in the hubbub of me, me, me.

Perhaps if reared in Eastern philosophy or having embraced the ways of mystics as a young man, viewing the inner self as reality and all else as secondary baggage would not be as daunting.  But, I am a typical Westerner and therefore, I struggle.  I try not to compare myself with others on their spiritual trek, I only compare to whom I have been and where I have walked.  My goal is progress, not perfection.

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we are One

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So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.  GENESIS 1: 27

Millions of Christians are obviously dyslexic.  That verse does not say that man created God in man’s image.  OUCH!  Have I deflated any egos, yet?  If not, keep reading.

In Western culture, many of those who profess a God, especially those of Christian persuasion (and I honor 🙏 any who do not profess), conduct lives led by ego and personal advancement.  Individualism is lauded, winning at all costs is admired, the boys with the most toys win.  The comparison game runs rampant, many egos are shattered upon realizing they don’t measure up to that which is considered success and prosperity.  I know what I speak of because, yes, I have been there and done that.  I can still go there today if I am not mindful of the fact that I am created in the image of God, I also am Spirit.  Let that sink in.  You, me, all of humanity and all of Creation are made in the image of God, the permeating life energy which is our reality.

We are primarily spirit and our physical existence on this earth should not be what defines us.  This body, this life we have created embracing materialism, this set of prejudices we harbor, this ego we strive to protect is not reality.  The spiritual persona, which is exactly what God was, is, and always will be, is most often reserved for Sunday morning church and Easter time reflection, yet it should be the everyday, 24 hour a day endeavor to align with what we know to be truth – the Life proclaimed by Jesus of Nazareth or the Path advised by Buddha.

In Hindu teachings it is enlightenment, Christianity calls it salvation, Buddhism names it the end of suffering (dukkha).  It is the surrender of egoic and self-serving lifestyle to a transformative and liberating awakening.  It is when Yahweh, Allah, Vishnu, Shiva, Nirvana, Buddhahood and God, in whose image we are made, becomes reality and this earthly life is known to be illusion.

A deflated ego is a good thing.  It removes any need to attain material wealth, to strive for social status, to always be right in religion and politics, to proclaim my God better than yours, to be judgmental, to fear and hate, to be anxious about tomorrow.  A deflated ego ushers in enlightenment, salvation and the end of suffering.  Namaste. 🙏

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