I Don’t Understand Spirit

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I heard a great line: “I understand God about as much as my dog understands my credit card.”

That’s right. Yet it doesn’t matter how well we understand God or spirit or the presence within. Understanding is not possible. It’s also not necessary.

What matters is how we experience the presence of spirit – whatever spirit is. That experience is real and it can have an astonishing impact on our lives.

How we experience spirit is individual. It’s like learning your body. You step here, but not there. You lift here, and you release there. You lean toward this, and you lean away from that.

Some spiritual practices nourish. Some leave you hungrier still. And it changes over time.

Some spiritual practices always help, year in and year out. In this effort, we are not really learning anything about spirit. We’re learning about ourselves and how we connect to spirit.

That’s all that matters. In time, we become more efficient in the process. We learn how to drop a fruitless effort quickly. We learn how to recognize what works. We gain a taste for what effectively brings us to awareness.

After walking in the desert endlessly, we come to streams and forests and gentle pastures. The effort teaches us an understanding of how we connect. With practice, it comes easily. At first, however, that notion seems ludicrous.

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The Peace That Broken People Know

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Your wound is like the purposeful flaw in Native American pottery – it’s there to let spirit in. We all need to heal through life. It’s in the healing we connect with spirit. Spirit reaches us through the wound.

I used to believe that addiction was a form of wounding, that we hurt ourselves and others through addiction. That’s true. But it’s also true that the wound was there before the addiction. The addiction was our way of trying to cope with our wounds. At first, it works. Then of course it doesn’t. Things get worse and soon we’re struggling with greater wounds. When we get sober, we find we still need to heal the original wound.

What is that original wound? Does it come simply from being alive on Earth? We don’t know. Over time, we come to be aware that something within us is broken. The cure is our connection with spirit. Many of us discover this simple truth after trying everything else to ease the pain.

Many of us come to feel gratitude for the discomfort that so vividly prompted our attention to healing. This is good. Our spiritual journey begins as we try to heal the wound.

Spirituality in the Trenches

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Spiritual calm is easy when everything is going great. Finding peace is easy even if things are only going sort of well. Yet spirituality becomes critical in the rough patches, when life slips slowly or suddenly out of control. This’s when calm matters – and that’s when inner peace can be hard to find.

Our troubles are often illusory, but it can take spirituality to see through the illusion.

Think about difficulties you’ve experienced in the past. How many of those would have been greatly relieved if you kept your head? How many of them were not actually difficulties but rather misperceptions?

Overcorrection can cause serious car accidents. The state of Missouri recently identified overcorrection as the leading cause of traffic fatalities.

During much of my life, I responded to problems with emotional overcorrection. Call it overreaction or reactive behavior. It was a matter of not being able to insert the brain between a seemingly threatening event and my response to it.

Spirituality provides a cool pause in a highly charged world – a place of calm when life is on fire.

Spirituality can circumvent damaging emotional reactions and give you a chance to see – even if just for a moment – that the essence of life is peace and love, not threat and danger.

Living in the Quiet

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I used to want peace. Now I’m not sure what peace is.

The absence of stress? Taking away stress doesn’t necessarily leave us with peace.

So I’ll take quiet as the metric.

The absence of noise in my head doesn’t result in complete silence, but I don’t need complete silence to be quiet.

Birds, the breeze through the bushes, far-off horn honking, the tapping of a woodpecker a few trees away – that’s quiet enough.

Not fretting over the past, not uneasy about the future – just quiet.

My muscles relax and yet I’m not sleepy.

There are worse ways to live.

There are worse ways I’ve lived.

It’s not a long journey to be quiet. It’s right here, and I don’t worry whether it’s peace, whether I’m in the now, or whether I’m all right. It’s just quiet.

The Secret of the Voice in Your Head

 

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All day long, we go around with a monologue inside our head – the chatter of our thinking. Much of it includes thoughts such as: what do I have to do next, why is this or that person making things difficult, what am I going to have to eat or drink in the next? Will I be late? Am I good enough to do what’s expected from me? What happens if I lose my income? How am I going to stop this pain?

Often – if not almost always – it’s a mixture of fear and stress.

We sometimes mix the negative voice with fantasies of escape or revenge. These fantasies are not tangible nor rational enough to produce satisfying action.

The voice in your head sounds like your own, but it’s not. It tends to be a compiled rumble of childhood messages mixed with adult conflicts and disappointments. The fears and stress are enunciated in your own words and in your own voice.

On the bright side, we can replace the negative thoughts with positive affirmations or steps toward solutions. Even then, a negative voice will pop up out of nowhere. Chasing those negative thoughts is like hitting the plastic moles in What-A-Mole. So, how do you untangle this mess of unhappy inner quarrels?

Here’s a secret for the ages: you don’t have to believe in your own thoughts.

Your thoughts are just thoughts, words streaming through your head like the crawl at the bottom of a news channel. Let those thoughts be. They are not you. You don’t have to own them. They actually get quieter if you pay them no mind.

It’s a tiny thing to learn, but it’s helped me a great deal.

The I Am Behind Who I Am

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Do you ever get the sensation there is someone with you, in the background of your life somewhere? When I was a kid, I had a feeling of something faint in the background. I didn’t think it was God, because I associated God with church on Sunday, and most of what I felt about church was shoes that hurt and an itchy coat.

That childhood sense of something with me was most pronounced when I was by myself out in the woods or fishing or catching snakes or frogs by a pond. Something that knew me was near me. I don’t remember that is was comforting or loving, just that it was there. I didn’t think much about it.

When puberty began, that sense completely vanished. I spend a few years out of sorts with my family and school. I was awkward and hopeless, completely on my own, lost and alienated. In my late teens, experiences with psychedelic drugs brought that feeling back, but only later did I connect it what that feeling I had as a kid. At the time, it seemed the presence I felt was part of the drug experience.

When I began to meditate a few years later, I would experience a sense of presence. The sensation was in my arms and chest, and it came with a feeling of peace and well being. Sometimes the feeling was just above my head and a few inches behind me, connecting to the back of my head.

I thought of it as the sensation of spirit, a sensation of connectedness. I didn’t think of it as consciousness or awareness, and I certainly didn’t think of it as part of myself. Actually, I still don’t.

Then I ended up in the hospital – long story – where I was put into a coma for three weeks. I emerged from the coma with delusions – common when emerging from a sustained coma. The delusions are marked with vividness. Only later did I learn they were delusions. At the time they were exactly like real life.

As I came out of the delusions and began to get my “self” back, I had the sensation of something else looking out through my eyes. The feeling wasn’t alarming; it seemed natural. Everything was so crazy during that time, it was just another part of my bizarre recovery. I had to learn how to eat and walk again – those seemed to be the more pressing issues.

Yet that sense of something looking out through my eyes didn’t subside as things slowly returned to some sort of “normal.” The sensation has not left to this day, many years later. Something is looking out through my eyes. Some of the sensation is exactly like meditation, with a warm buzz in my chest and arms and a sense of well being and peace.

At any time, I can bring it into my awareness, in traffic, during moments of anxiety. It almost always calms me. I suspect that what I’m experiencing is the awareness of the larger “I Am” behind or beyond the self. If I were to choose one word for it, it would be “awareness.” Whatever that means. There is an awareness with me that seems to be looking out my eyes.

I believe it’s the same thing I experience as a kid in the woods, the same thing I experienced during psychedelic experiences and during meditation. Only now, it is much more pronounced. I can’t explain it, but it has become the centering focus of being alive.

Be Where You Are

We tend to spend the whole day chasing our brains. The brain has a to-do list that’s a mile long. Every time you scratch off a completed item – or give up on an item when you realize you’ll never get it done – a new items appear at the bottom of the list.

Then we have to go to the trouble of prioritizing. Item number 14 needs to move up to item one by Tuesday. Suddenly item five has become an crisis. So you do number five at the same time you’re doing item one. Now you’re multi-tasking. And the horror of multi-tasking is that there’s no such thing. You can alternate back and forth between two tasks, but even the most buzzing brain can’t focus on two things simultaneously.

This is how we live our lives. The brain just loves this busyness. And when it’s time to take a break from tasks, we put our brain on the treadmill of media where our thoughts spin endlessly on the hamster wheel of psychic energy. Even sleep doesn’t bring rest as our dreams spin wild.

OK, time to go back to Paul Simon’s lyric: “Slow down you move to fast. You gotta make the moment last.”

There is a moment, and it lasts forever. It’s where your true life takes place. You don’t have to go on vacation or off to the mountains to find peace. Peace exists within you. You are peace. The brain is not you, no matter how much it insists it is.

Let the brain rage on. You can’t stop it. But you can slow down your breathing and realize You Are Here Now. And the You Here Now is peace itself. Nothing fancy. The You Hear Now is everything, and no noisy brain can disturb its eternal peace.