Holding the High Watch

‘Holding the High Watch’ is the phrase Errol Roelofsz used to describe the job of the Prayer Chaplains at Unity San Francisco. It means that regardless of circumstances we stand with God, affirming the Truth that love and goodness are inherent in each person and situation. As a prayer chaplain, particularly when someone wants prayer for difficulties, a serious illness, struggling to find work, loneliness, depression, fear, anxiety and/or anger whatever the cause, it is my job to affirm the positive without judging their feelings or struggles.

When things are going well, the prayer is one of gratitude and appreciation. This is less challenging than when someone is facing fear and suffering. How can I be grateful and see the good in life, when a loved one has stolen most of my savings? Or I have just learned I have breast cancer? Or I don’t know how I am going to pay next month’s rent?

With ‘the news media,’ the phrase ‘if it bleeds, it leads,’ remains sadly true. Recently the news has focused on children being taken away from their parents as part of the USA’s border immigration enforcement. This fundamentally immoral behavior (child abuse) is being done in our name. Social media spreads out information—and misinformation—very quickly. We get inundated with pictures of crying toddlers and smirking politicians who misuse the Bible to justify what is basically unjustifiable.

So how do I ‘Hold the High Watch’ in circumstances such as this? How do I affirm the good in life when people defend child abuse as reasonable action? Whether you are a prayer chaplain or not, it is in times such as now that it is most important to affirm the good in life, in people. Michelle Obama is famous for repeating the phrase, “When they go low, we go high.” So how do we go high when this is happening and those supporting it basically attack anyone who objects to it as weak, unpatriotic and anti-American?

It seems so easy to respond in kind, accuse them of being stupid, racist, ignorant or anti-American. We can focus on their bigotry, the anti-family policies of the allegedly pro-family crowd, the sanctity of life only before one is born. To repeat a helpful phrase, ‘The trouble in wrestling with a pig is that while you both get dirty, the pig likes it.’

I believe that every person, every soul is good at core. Some folks just seem to hide it better than others, usually defending against some fear. None of us always behaves or express ourselves from our core of love, compassion and kindness. It is my responsibility to resist the impulse to mirror the negativity coming at me. I would rather respond from a deeper, loving wisdom.

As a prayer chaplain, when someone comes to me to pray after getting a cancer diagnosis, I pray affirmatively with them. I affirm their core value as a person, as well as their underlying health, strength and wholeness. I don’t curse the cancer. I affirm life, and bless them, their families, caregivers, even their treatments. I see all working together for their highest good, and the highest good for all. Then I express gratitude for their lives, for all the things they have already enjoyed and achieved and the things they continue to do.

So what about the families being torn apart and the children feeling lost and confused? I pray affirming them being reunited and healed. I also pray that those bringing forth such policies are reminded of their core of love, and that kindness is not weakness but a different form of strength. And finally, I pray that all of us find healthier ways to address fear that doesn’t fuel suffering and inhumanity.

It is easy to see the ‘bad’ that comes from these actions. So where is the ‘good?’ This is a hard question. I do know that some of those whom up to now have ignored the abusive actions of our leaders, are starting to take notice. Protests are spreading beyond the usual groups. I see an awakening of consciousness that we are actually all of the same race, the human race.

“Holding the High Watch,” or “Going High” means choosing to see and act based on affirming life and love, and not to return fear with fear, hate with hate. Those who perpetuate harm may never acknowledge or even see the wrong they do. It is not my job to force them to do so. It is my job to respond with love, not ignoring the abuse but not mirroring it either. I choose to live more from love than fear. It makes life better for all.

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Posted in Affirmation, Compassion, Consciousness, Emotions, fear, God, Gratitude, Love, Prayer, Spirituality, suffering, Uncategorized, Unity | 1 Comment

Relax: Let Go and Let God

Relaxation is how most traditional practices start. As you can see even our dog practices it. Yoga, most martial arts, meditation, prayer, are amongst those that start with relaxation. Yet at the same time in most advanced cultures, relaxation tends to be an afterthought. So what is relaxation and why focus on it?

The Apple Dictionary App defines relaxation as follows:
1) the state of being free from tension and anxiety.
2) the action of making a rule or restriction less strict.
3) the restoration of equilibrium following disturbance.

So relaxation is defined as relief from its opposites: tensions, anxieties, rules, restrictions, disturbances. In relaxation we let go of these in order to return to an easier, open state of being. We are more able to appreciate life by being conscious and present—if we aren’t so tired we just fall asleep.

So simply relax. Why not? Easy to do in a hot tub. Yet perhaps not so much if we are stuck waiting in a traffic jam, a grocery checkout line, the DMV or other government offices, or waiting to board a delayed flight. Modern life seems to have a lot of ‘hurry up and wait’ opportunities. What a treasure trove of anxiety, fear, irritation and grumbling! Even if I start out patient, when others around me start to grumble and express anxiety I quickly feel them arise in me.

Years ago I discovered that when I became aware of my tension in times of frustration or anxiety, I could release it by shifting into a meditative pose of mind and body. I would focus on deep flowing breathing as in mediation, and relax muscles. Sometimes when standing, I would shift my weight slowly from right foot to left foot and back, a practice I learned in T’ai Chi. Thus through relaxation, ‘wasted’ waiting time would transform into practice time, and I felt much better.

The body is a great help in relaxation, since most tensions are held in different body parts. I get tight in my shoulders and jaws when tense, some fairly common reactions. My dentist informed me a few years ago that I had developed cracks in some teeth from grinding. Grinding teeth is a tension reaction. And me, Mr. Meditation, had not even been aware of it!

“Let go and let God,” is a useful phrase that reminds me to relax. I haven’t been able to find its origins. It speaks of faith that at times, we are better served by releasing the need to act or ‘do.’ Instead we can simply ‘be,’ having faith that some good will emerge. In a way this is prayer and meditation. We relax the mental and physical muscles, we get out of our own protective urgency to do something, in order to know the truth of a situation.

While I have always owned Apple computers, on rare occasions I need to use a PC. In running a class series at Unity San Francisco, I was using Power Point on a PC. I had a lot of trouble getting things to work. Someone even guided me via video calling—so she could see what I was doing—but it didn’t help.

Over the weeks of the class several people tried to figure out what might be going wrong. For the last class I gave up and had someone else get it started. It felt a bit absurd and foolish. I sensed something basic was missing but what?

The night following the last class, I woke up relaxed from a comfortable dream. My mind wandered to the computer issue. I suddenly remembered a basic difference between a PC and a Mac. No longer under time pressure to fix it, I found the elusive answer. Mac mice are simply clicked, no right or left choice. I had been right clicking instead of left clicking on the PC, hence nothing would opened.

There is a Bible quote about seeking the kingdom of God first in all things.(Matthew 6:33) In practice for me, this means relaxing and turning inward, ‘Letting go and letting God,’ prayer and meditation. I had been so focused on the doing, fixing the situation that I never fully ‘Let go and let God.’

Once again I have re-discovered the importance of taking time to relax, of relaxing and ‘first seeking the kingdom of God.’ ‘Letting go and letting God’ eases and clarifies what is in front of me here-and-now. If naming God is difficult for you, simply add the letter ‘o’, and you have ‘Let go and let Good.’ Finding God is finding Good. With either term life becomes easier and more enjoyable.

Posted in Affirmation, Being Present, Consciousness, God, Meditation, Prayer, silence, Spirituality, Uncategorized, Unity | 2 Comments

Being the Light in the Dark

Moon 2006

At this time of year in the northern hemisphere we have the longest, often coldest nights, the turning point before moving toward the greater light, warmth and the new growth of spring. Traditional holidays, celebrated as Christmas, Chanukah, Winter Solstice and others, have helped people create their own light at this time of darkness. They can serve to reaffirm our commitment to, or faith in, living by the light of our highest good.

This seasonal darkness currently seems matched spiritually and culturally in the United States. It is normal to feel anger and despair when we see those expressing hate, greed and inhumanity ascend to the highest offices of power not only in the US but across the world. I have wondered how is it that humanity so often allows some of the most dysfunctional amongst us—the least spiritually, psychologically and morally developed—be in charge? By the time they are finally removed, the rest of us have to figure out how best to cope and heal from all the inevitably negative consequences of their actions.

The traditions of the past, while often distorted by commercialism and superficiality, still hold some timeless answers. Humans have survived through many periods of darkness, wars, persecutions, holocausts, pandemics, and natural disasters. To do so, we have learned to not only ‘light a candle in the dark,’ but more importantly to become the light in the dark.

By “being the light in the dark” I mean holding to the highest good when it is hardest. I remember an image likely from a movie, of bearded Hassidim singing and dancing as they went into the Nazi gas chambers. Could I knowingly go to my death singing praises of God as they did? Could I find and express joy in the most despairing times of life?

While I have often failed to do so, I do know this is possible. It helps to have others to remind me of the Light that is who each of us are at core. It helps to decide, to choose to be and act from this core. And it helps to practice this every day, to learn to see each set back, harsh criticism, or attack as an opportunity to deepen my faith in God, Good, Love and Life.

For me this struggle is what it means to live a spiritual life. Not the specific rituals, songs, ways of living, but the ongoing choice to be the light I seek, to be the love I seek. Choosing over and over again to be the hands and voice of God/ good/ light is what makes for a spiritual or even moral life.

Posted in Affirmation, Being Present, Emotions, God, joy, light, Love, Religion, Spirituality, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Your Super Powers

From a young age, I enjoyed reading science fiction and fantasy books. I loved the people (or creatures) in exotic locations, doing fantastic things. While having advanced technology was interesting, it was the special characters, sometimes with special talents, that drew me. I was intrigued imagining being able to read minds, or fly, or talk with animals, or heal with your mind or touch, or other similarly super powers. These powers, personal and technological, enabled them to explore fantastic places and survive challenges that might defeat others. Yet they were still ordinary beings with personal fears and flaws.

Yet even if a character had special abilities, that didn’t mean they could do anything, anytime. As with our more common abilities there are limits. Indeed the best stories have people succeeding with a combination of unusual abilities and what we see as more ordinary skills. I can speak, but talk to me in Finnish and I will be lost. I can ride a bike, but without a lot of practice forget about any multi-mile trips. Abilities ordinary and extraordinary have rules or principles by which they can be expressed.

For many years I saw my interest in fantasy stories as escape or relief from ordinary life and it’s challenges. I enjoyed those in exotic settings and with exotic powers, overcome seemingly overwhelming odds or events. I felt vicarious empowerment and aliveness which only indirectly touched upon my own struggles. Yet what if exotic powers are only exotic because we are unused to using or seeing them? What if we all actually do have special powers?

Actually, of course, we do. Some of them are so familiar we take them for granted. Via technology, we have many, from automated travel including flying through the air, to speaking with and seeing folks on the other side of the world, and through conquering diseases that were fatal not that long ago. Yet our technology, as amazing as it is, is actually the product of people pursuing their dreams (super visions) and developing what on one level are ordinary powers—of creativity, imagination, observation—and making them super by applying them in new, interesting and useful ways.

Often people express this through work. The architect who builds a strong, functional and beautiful building, the surgeon who saves lives by cutting into living beings and healing them, the bus driver who greets everyone who comes aboard, drives through difficult streets to get people to their destinations safely, the teacher who takes unruly children and inspires them to learn to be more than they were aware they could be.

It is not only through work. The accountant by day, poet by night, or the person who greets everyone coming into Church on Sundays making them feel welcome and special, is him/ herself special. So is the volunteer who comes into a hospice, hospital or senior residence and helps the patients/residents feel alive and valued. There are so many different ways each of us can make a real difference in peoples’ lives every day. Remember super powers by their nature do not so much defy the laws of nature but extend them in different ways.

Ultimately our choices differentiate whether what we do is truly super, something that improves lives and aliveness, or just another, limited, self-serving action. Yes, we need to provide for ourselves. Yet it is when our actions come from seeking the highest good for all that our abilities, our powers become truly super.

Posted in Affirmation, Being Present, Compassion, Gratitude, Passion, power, Relating, service, Uncategorized, volunteer | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Silence

I have meditated since the early 1970’s. So when I went to sit the other day and I went truly into the Silence, I was surprised to realize that lately there have only been brief moments of it.

The meditation style I mostly do is Buddhist meditation that is all about silence. There are a variety of useful teachings which help one let go of thoughts, feelings, and other reactions in order to simply be present.

Trance states, contemplation, spacing out, getting lost in fantasies, thoughts and feelings are merely things that come up, happen. The practice involves noticing but not attending to these things. This involves not so much pushing them away as not engaging them.

Over the years there have often been moments, and sometimes more than moments, when there was true silence. There is ease, little or no sense of myself or others, awareness of the present and the deep, replenishing stillness. Recently in meditation, while my mind would go through things and release them—the analogy I use is taking a psychic poop—the moments of true Silence have been fleeting.

Taking longer times apart to practice meditation can be helpful, yet perhaps ironically the present is always here. It is possible to fully release the distracting mental activity at any moment. This is not only in formal mediation practice. It is more about resting in peace rather than other, more agitated mental states, anywhere, anytime.

After that morning re-awakening, having lunch with Allen, I was able to let him talk without having to engage. I not only ate more slowly—I have always been a relatively fast eater—but was satisfied with less. Allen asked if I was OK. I was, am more than OK.

I have been blessed with so many tools to enable me to let go and relax in the Silence, yet how often do I use them? Mind engagement and entertainment is habituated as well as enticing. When I remember and choose the Silence in my life, I get less caught in life’s dramas. I feel peaceful and get things done with less stress and more appreciation.

Learning to be truly still is a gift that can take some time to fully appreciate. I hope in sharing this reminder with which I was blessed will be of use to you as well.

 

Posted in Affirmation, Attitude, Being Present, Buddhism, Gratitude, silence, Spirituality, Truth, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

God Once Again (And not likely not the last)

There is one God the good, all power—omnipotence, everywhere present—omnipresence, and all knowing—omniscience. This is the first of the five basic principles of Unity, from which the others flow. And this declaration is also the basic apparent contradiction that makes most people, believers and not, doubt. For if all is God, and God is Good, we have to stretch our reasoning into variations of a pretzel to explain all the pain, suffering and evil in the world.

I cannot enumerate let alone explain all the rationalizations that folks come up with to work around this issue. The main one usually comes down to there being a force for Bad that somehow exists in opposition to the Good, even though the Good still is all powerful. Frankly, while I am glad that some find comfort in such reasoning, I do not.

Unity Metaphysics, as I understand it, primarily views bible passages as metaphors for states of mind and spirit. Whether or not people believe in the Bible (the Christian Bible inclusive of the Hebrew Bible) in a more literal sense, the Fillmores (Unity’s founders) used the passages to better understand how we develop our awareness of God and Being and Self, a more practical approach to spirituality. Their teaching and healing practices incorporated much from there.

So how do I believe in God if I see the reasoning for God as mostly rationalization? I do so because I have sensed God all my life, at various times, in various ways that have little to do with either mental reasoning or physical perceptions. In practicing Buddhist meditation, I was able to sidestep the question of God while learning to experience life more directly. In exploring Unity and it’s teachings, I finally was able to accept God as I experienced It, rather than through others definitions.

Religious writings and teachings describe God and It’s teachings based on other people’s understanding carried forward over centuries. The writers built upon what was written before. To see and call such works the literal word of God is idolatry at core. Good teachers and teachings can help you find God, but you yourself have to experience the Divine or at best, all you have is an idea of God.

As for the conflict between God being all Good, and the suffering and evil in the world, that is the core ongoing struggle. We all need to own both the goodness and badness or confusion within us if we are to have a chance in understanding the bigger picture. Societies also need to do so if we are ever to have real peace.

I get glimpses of a deeper answer at times. It reassures me. The more I choose to find ways to turn myself and others away from acting on fear and doing harm—regardless of reasoning—the more God becomes real in my life. Choosing to be compassionate and loving, respecting others’ struggles while not doing harm, nor abetting harm done by others is the best I have come up with so far.

Posted in Buddhism, Compassion, God, Love, Religion, Spirituality, suffering, Uncategorized, Unity | 4 Comments

LIVING MY VALUES

Hate and fear cannot be stopped by more hate and fear. Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Gandhi and Jesus (that Jew from Nazareth) preached this message. We lose before we start when we forget it. Yet following this teaching is not so easy.

The current US Presidential election has brought out so much dark energy, anger, fear and hate. I don’t know if it is mirror neurons in the brain, but we seem to instinctively react in similar ways to such attacks unless or until we pause and think “Is this who and how I want to be? Are these the values I want to be living?”

To simplify it—while for the moment putting aside corporate and foreign exploitation of both sides—Liberals (including me) and the Left are appalled at the hate, violence and blame against those who are different and vulnerable. The Trump campaign, rather than “Making America Great Again,” was actually “Making America Hate Again.” Truth and Love seemed to be ignored. And half the country’s voters supported it, whether actually endorsing these values or so angry at the status quo they didn’t care.

Again keeping this simple, many on the Right were tired of having their feelings, view points and interests marginalized. They saw Clinton as untrustworthy, representing Government over-reach, and putting ‘special interest groups’ (read women and minorities) ahead of their needs. “Liberals” were taking away their jobs and country and giving it to the Others. The phrase “bucket of deplorables” codified their sense of rejection whether they were economically deprived or secure.

Years ago I heard the following, useful saying: “The trouble with wrestling with a pig is that, while you both get dirty, the pig enjoys it.” The Obamas’ have been quoted saying, “When they go low, we go high.” The only way we cannot “get dirty” is to follow this advice. We are all humans and, in in the USA, all Americans. If any of us is harmed or prevented from living their potential, we are all less for it.

The election is over. It is my intention to continue to work toward the type of country and world I know we can co-create. It is one where no one is left behind even though each of us is on a separate journey. I will continue to reject and call out degrading and abusive language and behaviors regardless of their source. The Left has as much group think as the Right. We must not let the exploiters, whether corporate, ‘religious’ or other ideological, continue to turn us against one another for their own, short-term gain. We can and must rise to this or we all lose.

Posted in Consciousness, Love, Politics, Religion, Respect, Truth, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment