from here to eternity

burt lancasterHmmm, sounds like a great title for a movie.  From the collective “huh” I’m hearing, I must assume many of you young’uns don’t remember Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Deborah Kerr, Frank Sinatra, Ernest Borgnine and a host of Hollywood celebs in the 1953 movie.  It follows the tribulations of three U.S. Army soldiers stationed in Hawaii in the months leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Actually, I’m not here to do a movie recollection.  Let’s talk about eternity.  Let’s discuss from here to eternity.  Assuming we are all living in the here, where are heaven and hell and when is eternity?  Several years ago as I was dangling from a stepladder picking oranges from my prolific side yard tree, three strangers – a well-dressed lady and two gentlemen in suits – strolled onto my yard.

“Hmmmm,” I thought to myself, “either the FBI has caught up with me or it’s Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

The tracts and Bibles they were carrying were a dead giveaway that it was not the FBI.  I love my JW brothers and sisters, I love anyone who has a passion for living by a moral compass and sharing concern for the plight of mankind on this earth.  But, I have never understood the invariable first line of their proselytizing speech.

“Do you know where you are going when you die?  Where will you spend eternity?”

With all the kindness I could muster teetering on a ladder with a bucket full of oranges, I did my best to reply calmly to the three, “No, I don’t know and you don’t either.”

I don’t know and you don’t either.  For us mortals, assuming the cloak of humility necessary to unfailingly believe “I don’t know” is one of the most difficult hurdles on a spiritual path. Every one of us has wanted to know the inside scoop about heaven, hell, and eternity.  Does it exist?  Where is it?  Who is there?   My grandfather, a deeply devout, humble trekker, advised me years ago, “if your grandmother’s mother is in heaven, I’m telling St. Peter to send me to the other place.”

I loved that man.  He was unassuming, gentle and faithful to what he believed to be truth.  During his final years of life, grandpa read his Bible every day and prayed a lot.  I believe he got all his loose ends tied together before he died, but never did he tell me how or what to believe.  He never shared with me what he believed unless I asked.  Even then he was very careful to advise me that heaven, hell and eternity were mysteries that each man and woman must address within the sanctity of their own inner spaces.

That is, perhaps, the greatest challenge to anyone who treasures the words of Sumi – “It’s your road and yours alone.  Others may walk it with you, but no one can walk it for you.”  Or, as the words in Hamlet advise, “To thine own self be true.”

With so much noise spilling from pulpits and the mouths of proselytizers, it can be difficult to discern personal truth and follow personal moral compass.  Most of us have not yet mastered living in today, so why saddle ourselves with questions about eternity?

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what if ?

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Do you ever play the ‘what if ‘game?  It’s akin to the ‘should have’, ‘would have’ and ‘ought to’ conversations we have with ourselves occasionally.  I don’t know about you, but I never seem to win that game.  It’s primary facilitator is monkey mind.  What?  you don’t know what monkey mind is.  Oh Lord, we need to have a talk.

Monkey mind is the incessant internal chatter happening within the space between the ears.  Can’t turn it off, can’t shut it out, can’t override it.  On and on and on go the thoughts passing through the gray matter occupying the skull.  It is fertile ground for the game of what if.  

What if I had married my high school sweetheart?  What if I had planned my future as a young man rather than float through the 60s and 70s as a wannabe hippie?  What if my parents had tried harder to work out their religious differences instead of divorcing?  Yeah, what if?

I’ve become rather good at ignoring monkey mind allowing it to scream its mindless chatter into the ozone.  But, sometimes, even 70 years after the fact, I scream back, “what the hell was so damned important about their religious beliefs to let me grow up without a daddy?  Tell me, what?”

Funny thing about monkey mind – it’s not very conversational, just wants to rattle on with politics, worries, money problems, relationships, what old lady Jones fussed about yesterday, nursing homes, arthritis, dementia, the sorry state of the union, the price of lettuce, Susie’s boy friend, the cat’s dirty ears, floors need to be mopped – on and on and on.  But, after having its way for a while, the noise stops and serenity settles in for a visit.

And all is cool until the JWs knock on the front door, “Do you know where you are going when you die?”

“Hell yes,” I respond in my Donald Duck underwear and fluffies, “I’m going down to undertaker Bob’s place to have a nip and tuck and a transfusion of embalming fluid.  Now get off my porch and take your tracts with you.”

Have you guessed by now that I have a hair up my butt about organized religion?  When other neighborhood boys were playing pitch with their daddies, I was cooking supper for me and mom because she had to work.  When other boys took their daddies fishing, I had to go grocery shopping with mom.  When other boys sat beside their daddies in church, I sat beside my mom praying for a daddy like theirs. C’mon, take your best shot.  Tell me again what is so damned important about religion that mom and dad had to divorce because they couldn’t agree about Jesus.

You don’t have an answer either, do you?  Maybe they both got wrapped up in a lot of fahooey about ‘proper’ Christian behavior.  Maybe they listened to parents and pastors instead of their loving hearts.  Maybe they listened to theatrics and drama from the pulpit rather than humility and compassion.  My time on this earth has shown me that there are innumerable examples of what organized religion gone astray can inflict on the devoted masses.

Extortion, persecution, subjugation, enslavement, murder, genocide – all in the name of God.  Not just Christian, but Judaic, and Muslim, too.  Maybe I’ve got this God-Jesus thing all wrong.  What if God is judgmental, wrathful and vengeful condoning murder and intolerance of the infidels?  What if Christianity is the only truth amidst all the world’s faith creeds?  What if?  What if?  What if?  Aw hell, there goes monkey mind again running the conversation.

I don’t know if Shakespeare was a man of faith or not.  But I do believe he nailed it with his line from Hamlet:  “This above all:  to thine own self be true.  And it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”

Do I know my own self?  Do you?  We came equipped from the factory with reason and logic.  We have a conscience that guides and speaks to us in those questioning moments.  We profess an indwelling spirit.  Maybe that is all we need to navigate this life in search of enlightenment.  Evolving to the higher self intended for us does not need to be rocket science nor religious indoctrination.  Shalom.

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IT’S A GREAT DAY!- don’t argue

Silence the noise of others; listen to your own voice.

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Did you hear that?  Should I repeat it?  Don’t give more credence to the thoughts and rhetoric of other people than you give to your own.  “To thine own self be true.”  Polonius speaking to his son Laertes in Hamlet has been interpreted by many to mean many things.  But, let’s just keep it simple.  You and I have each an internal dialog that speaks from a place of experience, of guidance, of direction, of inspiration which often is amazingly ‘other-directed’ arising from the wisdom of the cosmos dwelling in our inner sanctum.  Call it soul, call it God, call it Spirit, call it a higher power.  It is ours and it is unique to each one of us according to the gifts blessing our lives.

So, why would anyone not listen to his or her inner voice?  Have you ever said any of the following?  “That man is better educated than I am, therefore he is more intelligent.  She is a psychiatrist, therefore she has deeper insight.  He is a preacher with a Doctor of Divinity behind his name, therefore he is more spiritual.  He’s my father, he knows better.  She’s my mother, she wouldn’t misguide me.  They are high school counselors, they know what is my best course of education.”

Just stop!  Stop it!  They all may be wonderful people, but only you know what speaks from your heart.  Some of them are not wonderful people, they are playing the control game for  selfish reasons.  Don’t allow others to call your shots.  This is your life and it’s your choice what you will do with that life.  Choice is life’s golden ticket.  Don’t give that ticket to someone else.

When you wake up in the morning, after you have said ‘thank-you’ for this day and this opportunity to breathe air into your lungs and pump blood through your body, after you have stretched your legs and arms, after you have smiled at your spouse or cat or dog lying beside you, get up and rejoice.  Rejoice over the opportunities ahead of you to be fully involved in an active and productive day plan with household projects or with your job.  Or rejoice exceedingly as you anticipate with zeal the coming day of rest and relaxation.  Maybe it will be a day at the beach, or a hike in the woods, or a shopping trip with the grandkids, or a special lunch with a dear friend.  Embrace it!  Cherish it!  You are a miraculous treasure brimming with options.

I can hear some of you saying, “Oh, zip it , Larry.  Life sucks.”

Maybe it does.  Loss of loved ones, physical ailments, poverty, social injustice, hatred, intolerance, prejudice, divorce, injuries remind us every day that this is not a Pollyanna world.  Stuff happens.  But, all that turmoil is processed by the same mind which also says that you are special and you are worthy of goodness and mercy.  You can walk the path of life with an overflowing cup.  You can rest in green pastures by still waters.  Or you can wallow in the mire with creepy, crawly things.  Again, it’s your choice which scenario you decide to internalize.  Don’t sell out to negative circumstances which are predominantly beyond your control while diminishing the spectacular essence within. Listen to this internal voice which  you have proven as truth through experience and reasoning that tells you, “Wow, I am going to have a great day.”

It’s not easy staying out of the pits.  Visit a grumpy neighbor, watch the national headlines on TV, look at your overdue electric bill. I understand because I have been there, I sometimes visit there even today.  Life has to be a daily, if not hourly, surrender to that inner voice telling me that, contrary to my negative thoughts, I can enjoy a perfect day because for this moment at this time I am a perfect version of me.  I hope to evolve and enlighten with each tomorrow, but for this moment in life I have everything I need within me to live a day far beyond my greatest expectations.  Believe it absolutely with heart, mind, and soul.  It will happen.  Guaranteed! Today’s another great day.

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the Search

questions

See that fellow sitting in the question mark?  That’s me now, been me 90% of my waking time and often I wonder if my sleeping time is not also consumed with questions.  You are probably the same, are you not?  It’s who we are – inquisitive and always looking for the answer.  A favorite TV commercial from years ago showed a young boy with his father sharing quality time together.  The boy’s response to everything the father did was, “Why?”

Why, why, why? Today’s internet has made answering our questions just a few key strokes away.  Google it, ask the computer assistant, go to the online encyclopedia.  Wikipedia is our guide to every query imaginable.  We have online language translators, quote sources, and 54 versions of the Bible – just a click away.

“Alexa, why am I here?”

That charming voice emanating from your device will list numerous reasons for your physical existence, biological determinants and a bibliography of further research.

“But, Alexa, who put me here?  What is my purpose here?”

Aha!  Let’s play stump Alexa, shall we?  I have asked those two questions of a multitude  of common sense people, scholars, teachers, preachers, parents, friends, lovers, and strangers.  And I have received a million differing answers.  Why?  Because nobody knows.

Theories abound, theologies are a dime a dozen, philosophies chase down bizarre dead ends, experts whimper with possibilities, but nobody knows for sure.  Men of religion profess truth, gurus and yogis sit in lotus position meditating, rabbis quote ancient spiritual wisdom, and Buddha claims he attained enlightenment.  But nobody knows for certain who put Larry Paul Brown on earth and what is his purpose here?

I can only assume my chosen path will be enlightening, that my faith is founded on truth, that my death will find me in a better place than my birth.  I can only assume that my spiritual journey will not result in a train wreck or that my inner GPS has not miscalculated the directions.

We live by faith and experience, don’t we?  Perhaps another important question to entertain is, “Whom do I trust?”

Will I trust all the aforementioned entities or will I look inward to what I have learned to be my honest assessment of me?  Will I follow the indwelling Spirit and my inherent conscience in my decisions and behavior or will I give that responsibility to the man in the pulpit, the professional counselor, my best friend, my spouse or the jolly fat man sitting under the bodhi tree?

Famously, Polonius advises his 18 year-old son, Laertes, in Shakespeare’s HAMLET, ” This above all: to thine own self be true.  And it must follow, as the night the day.  Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

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who am I?

smiley 3“To thine own self be true.”

I could ask ten friends what this famous quote means to them and I would probably receive ten different opinions.  Most would say that a man needs to know what makes him tick and follow that inner energy to self-fulfillment.  I can understand this Shakespeare quote in the realm of self/ego identity.

But, what if I write self and capitalize it, Self?  “To thine own Self be true.”

The ancient mystics referred to the inner dwelling of a God spirit as the Self.  Christians call it the Holy Spirit.  A friend of Bill W. calls it the God hole.  It is the inherent inner emptiness which is intended to be filled and satisfied by an entity greater than myself, a presence which is independent of my physical identification here on earth, a spirit which I call my Higher Power.

Those of us in addiction recoveries, know that this God-hole has not always been filled with Spirit.  We tend to throw everything but God to our inner desires.  Food, drink, drugs, sex, materialism, the list is endless.  Our lives became directed by self rather than Self.

My sobriety anniversary is coming up in January.  It is much more than a date on a calendar.  It commemorates the time in my life when I became “true to Self.”  I became willing to fill that God hole with the intended Spirit rather than alcohol.

Richard Rohr in cac.org says that “Love is our True Self.”

“Love, like prayer, is not so much an action that we do, but a reality that we are. We don’t decide to be loving. Love is our True Self. It is where we came from and where we’re going. All spiritual growth is no more than a matter of becoming who we already are.” Richard Rohr

Am I spiritually grown-up?  No, as stated in my AA literature, “we claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection.  We are not saints.”  I still throw selfish desires into my God hole trying to appease that person who is driven by self rather than Self.  I cave to greed, lust for recognition, fear, and anger.  I give ego control of my destiny.

One of the promises of my recovery fellowship is, “We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.”  It is a revelation that through proper tannenbaumspiritual nourishment in humility and communion with a Higher Power, the innate human desire for fulfilment will focus on receiving eternal blessing.  The drive for earthly satisfaction will diminish.  It encourages me to be true to Self instead of self.

Namaste.namaste rainbow