Tag Archives: Divine

The Center of the Universe or a Tiny Speck of Dust?

“Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.” –Mohandas Gandhi

Hello friend,

How often does the drama in your life make you feel like the whole world hangs in the balance, ready to rise or come crashing down depending on how you come through the situation? Pretty much every day, right?

A few months ago, I had a ton of theatrics storming around my head and weighing on my heart. I was feeling the pressure of a self-imposed deadline on finishing my book, way behind but not wanting to give up writing these letters to you every week in order to get it done. It was a sacrifice I just didn’t want to make. Meanwhile, I was entangled in a web of uncertainty surrounding my job status and my future in any sort of career field. This was tied to the weight of my family’s then-recent financial instability, as my wife had quit her job to start her own business from scratch. We were in a pickle, definitely in the short-term and quite possibly the long-term, too. It did not feel good for this guy who prefers to remain oblivious to such things as personal finance and health insurance. And of course, coloring all of this and everything else was the now-typical political ignorance and outrageousness that is just America in this day and age.

In any case, it felt like this crucial life moment, like my fate and the fate of those around me hung in the balance, our lives to be forever altered by the outcome of these intermingling dramas.

In the midst of that existential three-ring circus in my head, I received an email that seemed innocuous on the surface but actually gave me quite a shake. It was my birthday, and amidst a few other calls and messages from my parents and siblings, there in my inbox was a message from my favorite aunt and uncle. “We hope this little tune helps keep things in perspective.” It was a link to a Youtube video called “Galaxy Song.”  It had the feel of something that might be on “Sesame Street” or “The Electric Company,” a playful song to educate while it entertains. Here are a few choice lines:

The sun and you and me and all the stars that we can see are moving at a million miles a day in an outer spiral orb at 40,000 miles an hour of the galaxy we call the Milky Way. Our galaxy itself contains 100 billion stars; it’s 100,000 light years side to side….And our galaxy is only one of millions and billions in this amazing and expanding Universe…..So remember when you are feeling very small and insecure how amazingly unlikely is your birth.

These lyrics completely arrested me. I know I had heard the stats before about the astounding size of the Universe, but I guess I had let their ramifications escape my awareness, because this was like learning them anew. It was a real smack in the face.

I guess that in the past, I probably used the facts about the enormity of the Universe as an argument against the half of my brain that doubts the existence of some type of Creator/God. After all, my argument went, in all of this vast “emptiness” in which we cannot find evidence of other “intelligent life” (though I definitely think we flatter ourselves with that label), surely we must have been specially created by a Divine hand, right? (I use the same type of logic when I try to convince myself that the astonishing degree of intricacy of the human body and every other organism and system on Earth is surely a sign of an intelligent Designer.)

But in this case, when I try to wrap my mind around the vastness of it all and just how infinitesimally small our planet is in the grand scheme (not to mention each of us people individually), it makes me think that not only might I not be specially made, but also that, either way, I am completely insignificant. My issues and dramas, my dreams and gifts–they don’t matter at all. They have no bearing on anything. How depressing!

But then I think, “No! I am here on this magnificent planet for a reason, and I have this overwhelming sense of significance that echoes from deep inside me. I matter! I know I do!”

But then there are the facts again, and it seems obvious that I am not even the tiniest blip on the screen of the Universe, not just historically but even on the picture of today. After all, there are billions more stars just like our sun and therefore billions more solar systems. Not “billions” as in a figure of speech or writer’s embellishment, but actual billions. My life–heck, even my planet’s life–is nothing.

And back and forth I go.

Maybe this debate–or at least the admission that there should be a debate–pains me so much because I have always felt it was my destiny to be a world-changer, an agent of progress and hope for the masses of people that I plan to reach with my words and deeds. I would like to say that I have always known that I was significant, that I was born to make a difference, to leave a mark. I have spent my life believing that.

That makes the glaring facts of the Universe’s unfathomable size so daunting and humbling. Going just by the numbers, it is impossible to claim any shred of importance. It’s almost enough to make me give up. Because let’s face it: on paper, I don’t even have a chance in this debate. I have nothing! Logically speaking, if my galaxy is insignificant, then my solar system is even more insignificant, in which case my planet is even more insignificant, and that means my own life–and especially each of my daily dramas about my job and my mortgage and my president–is surely of no consequence.

That is why I think that DENIAL must be an exceptionally strong evolutionary adaptation of ours. Think about it: given that we can know empirically that we are the equivalent of a tiny speck of dust in this vast Universe, how else can you explain how each of us feels so central to the whole show?

Honestly, doesn’t it feel like your life matters? Doesn’t it seem like the outcome of at least some of your major life decisions has an impact on the world, and that that impact is actually important in the grand scheme of things? I know it feels that way to me.

I can’t help but think that this feeling of significance and the element of denial have a lot to do with FAITH and our religious practices. Consider all of the many different religions and expressions of faith that we have come up with throughout history. At their core, they are a way to not only help us make sense of our world, but also to instill in us the idea that each of us matters, that what we do matters. Perhaps we cling so hard to these religions–despite their generally flimsy logic–because by focusing intently on them, we are able to avoid thoughts of the magnitude of the Universe and our statistical insignificance. Maybe FAITH and DENIAL are equal partners in an elaborate hoax we are playing on ourselves.

Or maybe our propensity toward both faith and denial of the facts should be viewed as more evidence that we are so significant that we have been gifted with these traits to ensure that we press on to fulfill our special destiny. Maybe we are evolutionarily wired for significance. Maybe those dreams, ambitions, and feelings of purpose and calling are the Universe’s reminder that there is more to us than any statistics can prove or disprove. Perhaps our mere existence is to be seen as enough of a defiance of logic that we ought to know better than to look at numbers to tell us our worth. Maybe we just need to trust ourselves on that, to listen to that still, small voice inside to remind us Who We Really Are.

Honestly, I don’t know the answer. Maybe I am no more important than any other speck of celestial dust and all of us are just interesting-but-meaningless carbon anomalies being carried along on this third floating rock from the sun. If that is the case, then I wouldn’t stress so much about the job and the house and the conmen in Washington. But the truth is that as much as my brain loves logic, the Truth of who I am rests in my intuition. Somehow, that still, small voice is the one I trust the most. And I don’t care if it is unknowingly saturated with denial. My gut tells me I have a purpose and that I am here to make a difference, a difference that matters in the grand scheme of things. If it is right about that, fantastic. If it is wrong and I am really just that speck of dust, well, then at least I will have lived out my days in the service of making life better for all those other specks around me. I am going to have to live with that. Because I don’t know the answer, and I don’t know a better way.

How about you? Do you actually matter, or is your significance as infinitesimally small as your actual size relative to the Universe? Open up your journal and allow your mind to swim in a different depth, even if just for a while. What is your initial, gut-level reaction to this question? Is there actually something significant about each of us riding here on this little planet that is floating around one star amongst the billions and billions of stars in our galaxy, which is only one of billions more galaxies? Why do you think so many people think we are special despite the evidence to the contrary? Is it arrogant of us who think this way? Do you think we would feel more or less significant if we learned that there was intelligent life on planets spread all across the Universe? How often do you find yourself conscious of how small you are in relation to the Universe, not just how you are only one of 7 billion inhabitants of Earth? Is it mostly out of your consciousness? Do you consider that a form of denial? Is that denial healthy? How much of humanity’s significance–and your personal significance–do you attach to your faith? When you look at your faith and then at the statistics about the size of the galaxy and Universe, does it make you question the basic stories behind religions more than you might normally be willing to do? How much do you trust your intuition on this matter? Does your gut tell you that you matter? How much say do your brain and logic have in the matter? Even if you knew that it is very likely that you are fooling yourself, would you still continue to believe that your life and your choices matter? What would life be like believing that none of this makes any difference at all? Are there people in your life who believe that? What do you think makes them keep going? Can we be both insignificant and the center of the Universe simultaneously? Have your thoughts on this topic changed throughout your life? Have they changed as you have processed this today? Which way are you trending? Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you everything or nothing at all?

Shine bright,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you in any way today, please share it. We are all sharing this third rock from the sun, so let’s make it the best ride we can!

Do You Let Yourself Be Happy?

“Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.” –Abraham Lincoln

Hello friend,

This week, I was at the library with my daughter. After we had found her books, she wandered over to the Wii games, which are next to the movies. As a lifelong movie lover, I couldn’t help but stop and browse. It didn’t take long, of course, to find a few that got me excited and longing to watch. Then I caught myself in my daydream, had a good chuckle, and thought, “Yeah, right! When am I EVER going to find a couple of consecutive hours to watch a movie???”

That clarity about the reality of my life and schedule comes from years of experience being me. I definitely place strict boundaries around the few things that are my highest priorities and don’t allow anything to interfere with them. Because of that, the other things that are only somewhat or fairly important to me tend to get left off the schedule entirely. I don’t like that so many things that I enjoy have fallen by the wayside–and that other things that I am curious to learn have not been explored—but I have never been able to come up with a solution that sits right with me. I am just so protective of my big loves.

Because of my strict adherence to my highest priorities, I am definitely hanging out with my kids as much as possible every day. I am getting in a workout before they wake up every day. And I am sneaking in a little writing time every day. The love, challenge, wellness, and sense of fulfillment I get from this combination of priorities allows me to maintain the very high level of Happiness that has been a part of my identity for the last twenty years. But is it enough?

Are my strict boundaries and elimination of other categories of joys effectively limiting my happiness?

That thought freaks me out. The very last thing I want to do is limit my own happiness.

A few years ago, I read an article that got shared around social media about a palliative care nurse who listed what she came to believe to be the “Five Biggest Regrets of Dying People”. It was great fodder for journal entries, because of course I wanted to check in with myself to be sure I was not going to have those regrets. In one form or another, I have asked you about the regrets in these letters over the years, things like daring to be authentic, not working too much, staying in touch with loved ones, and having the courage to express your feelings. Those were all very clear to me.

But there was one regret on that short list that seemed to elude my grasp: I wish I had let myself be happy.

“Let myself.” There was something just vague enough about this idea when I was processing the others that I decided to leave it alone. I didn’t address it. But somehow, the idea has stuck with me all this time. I haven’t forgotten it. Or, maybe, it hasn’t let me forget it. In any case, it is time to face it.

How does one let oneself be happy? Or, perhaps it is better addressed from the other end: How does one KEEP oneself from being happy? 

I tend to think of Happiness as something you choose. You have to make the decision and keep making the decision. I am sure that sounds oversimplified and perhaps naïve, and maybe I will cop to that. I definitely think it is a choice—that concept is simple—but I think the choice itself is a complicated one.

Happiness has some layers to it. Everyone has a different idea of what goes into it. I once wrote to you that my version of “Happiness Stew” consists of Authenticity (living your Truth), Connectedness (to the Divine and/or loved ones), an atmosphere of Progress and Growth, a pervasive attitude of Gratitude, and lots of “Good For The Soul” activities. A few years later, that recipe still sounds about right to me.

So, given those ingredients, how do I imagine either letting myself be happy or keeping myself from being happy?

In some ways, I think each of these ingredients can play a part. Of course, living authentically—being unapologetic about who you are and what your soul calls you to do despite what others expect from you—can grant you the freedom to do more of the things you love and truly find your tribe in the world, both of which can play a huge role in your happiness. Living a life that does not honor your calling would make true Happiness a challenge. I have certainly tried hard on this one throughout my adult life, and I have reaped the benefits in my heart and soul in proportion to my authenticity. I have concluded that fake is ultimately unhappy.

Having that feeling of being connected to others and to something greater than yourself tends to give our existence a deeper meaning and value, which can lead to, at worst, greater satisfaction, and perhaps greater happiness. Isolating yourself would certainly seem to take away that “meaning” aspect–or at least change the meaning—and potentially diminish your happiness. On this front, I can admit to some successes and some failures, or at least doubts. I have definitely felt connected to the Divine, a feeling very much shaped by my spiritual and scientific worldview. With people, though, I have been more hit-and-miss. Much like my priorities mentioned at the top, I have kept almost all of my attention on a small number of people, mostly my family. Those relationships have been richly rewarding, but I cannot help but feel I have not cast my net wide enough and reached out to all of the people that I could have in an effort to truly find my tribe when it comes to like-minded adults, in or out of my career interests. That is a potential stone unturned when it comes to how certain I feel about letting myself be happy. For the moment, I will just say that my suspicion is that I could be happier if I could find that tribe.

Continually learning and stretching your limits—the atmosphere of Growth—provides that edge that keeps life interesting and engaging, which are, again, crucial.   On this Progress front, I feel like I have done pretty well most of the time. I have spent a great deal of energy on trying to expand my mind, expand my knowledge, and expand my empathy. There are still many more books to read, skills to learn, and places to visit, but I have been pretty consistent with my efforts and feel greatly rewarded every time I lean into my growing edge.

The “Good For The Soul” activities—the things that make you feel full of peace and joy and love–is another aspect of the Happiness Stew that I have been keen on trying to maximize. Running through the sprinkler, snuggling up with a good book, tickle fights with my kids, and writing this letter to you are just a few of the many ways I try to sprinkle my life with the good stuff, the stuff that just feels right. I do think Happiness is possible without a full schedule of these activities, but they certainly put the cherry on the sundae of Life. Prioritizing them in my schedule—and being fully engaged in them during their time—is truly a way of letting myself be happy.

Conversely, I can see how consciously choosing to deny yourself these treats and smiles would be regret-worthy later on. I have always fancied the idea of learning the guitar, as I would appreciate the challenge but then, even more so, I would have so many good-for-the-soul moments in playing songs and singing. I smile even as I type these words to you about playing those songs. I can see how I might be legitimately denying myself a greater Happiness by choosing to not begin this learning. That prospect makes me shudder.

Despite the importance of all of these Happiness components—Authenticity, Growth, Connectedness, and Joys–I can’t help but think that in the end, the single most important contributing factor in the degree to which you allow yourself to be happy is the presence and pervasiveness of Gratitude in your life.

After all these years, I find it to be no coincidence that the year I began writing in my journal every day was the year I began my life of uninterrupted happiness. Of course, I would love to make the direct leap from Journaling to Happiness—or even to advertise that all happy people journal—but I think that would be a bit of an oversell. No, the real link I claim is the one between Journaling and Gratitude. I have always said that the beautiful thing about the clarity I gained when I started journaling is that it made obvious the countless gifts in my life. Suddenly I was so much more thankful for it all—truly, the whole thing—and so much more aware of each individual gift that I had not recognized as such before. It was only after spending some quality time really soaking up all of that gratitude and the implications of it that I realized fully for the first time that the deep, enduring Happiness that had enveloped my entire existence was due to this newfound, profound gratitude that I had been feeling.

I also realized that I got to choose that gratitude. I had to keep cultivating it, consciously and intentionally. I recognized that the best way for me to cultivate it was through my daily journaling. I found that it had become my habit to write about my many blessings, and that writing always seemed to put me in a mindset to notice more and more blessings. It snowballed, and suddenly I was seeing gifts in places I had not noticed them before. As my recognition grew, so grew my gratitude. As my gratitude grew, so grew my happiness. Soon both were so entrenched that I could not imagine either ever leaving me.

And they haven’t. In twenty years.

So, have I let myself be happy? In so many ways, I would have to say it is more like I made myself be happy. I chose myself happy. Every day. Every journal entry. Every “Life is beautiful” tagline at the end of each entry as a reminder. For a while, I chose those words, chose to find the blessings, chose Gratitude. After that, though—I think as a reward for my choosing—it was all there was to choose anymore. That, for me, is Happiness.

How about you? Have you let yourself be happy? Open up your journal and write yourself through this rich and rewarding topic. Probably it is easiest to begin with your own recipe for Happiness. What are the core ingredients? Does my recipe ring true to you? If not, what will you add or subtract? Is Happiness a choice? Okay, now that you have defined the main ingredients of a happy life, try to determine if you are getting your fill of each. In what aspects are you doing very well? In what aspects are you falling short? On a scale of one to one hundred—with 100 being Supremely Happy—how happy are you? How does that compare to the other people in your life? Now look at the main issue of the day: How happy have you LET yourself be? Is your rating as it is because you have held yourself back? In what areas of your life have you sabotaged your Happiness potential? Have you let Fear hide your light or keep you from making connections? Have you stayed too much in your comfort zone? Have you followed the pack instead of the beat of your own drummer? Have you denied yourself your good-for-the-soul activities, thinking they were too childish or self-indulgent? In what other ways have you stymied your happiness? Are these things enough that you can envision “I didn’t let myself be happy” as one of your deathbed regrets? Are these things you can change before they get to that point? What step can you take today to allow yourself to be happier? Will you make that move? I hope so. Leave me a reply and let me know: How happy have you let yourself be?

Let go,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you today, please pass it on. Share Happiness!

What Do You Believe?

“If you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything.” –Gordon A. Eadie

Hello friend,

Sometimes, I confuse even myself. As someone who generally prefers to be alone and doesn’t watch a lot of television, I end up doing a lot of pondering. As someone who writes in a journal every day and attempts a deep-diving letter to you every week, sometimes I feel like I have explored every topic in the human experience from a dozen different angles.

Sure, I get surprised still, on those occasions when someone gives me a look at the world from a brand new perspective. I love when that happens!

But on most days, on most topics, I tend to think I have looked at things backward and forward, trying so hard to understand each side that I sometimes forget which angle I came in believing to be the correct one. Hence, my confusion.

I am always open to new information and a fresh perspective, and that leaves my opinions vulnerable to change. I have flip-flopped on many things during my adult life, both through simple experience and through deeper examination of my head and heart. I have done it with social issues and with spiritual beliefs. I have done it with people.

Though an open mind and a willingness to change always get a bad rap in political campaigns, on the whole I think of my malleability as a good thing.

But just because a guy is open-minded doesn’t mean he is without a solid foundation. Right? I mean, even though all this journaling has made me more receptive to different viewpoints, I don’t think of myself as wishy-washy. I know where I stand on the basics. I have a rock!

So, what is it? What is my foundation? What do I believe?

I believe we are All One. I believe this in not simply the scientific way that the physicists can show us, but also the spiritual and metaphysical way. This is my most fundamental belief. I believe we are All inextricably intertwined, All a part of the One. I mean this in the way that there are lots and lots of unique waves in the ocean, but they are all still the ocean. In my model, you may have your own soul with your personal calling and I mine, but you are still me and I am still you, and we are still the ocean, too. I know that starts to sound like New Age mumbo jumbo to most people. That’s okay with me. In this belief that we are All One, my foundation has its one leap of faith. I capitalize the “All” and “One” because I believe this unity, this singularity of the Universe, is Divine. I can’t prove the Divine part, of course. I mostly infer it from the intricacy and pure awesomeness of the Universe, which I know could have happened randomly. But even if this faith part proves to be false—and I am open to that and don’t mind a good interrogation of my reason—the fact that we are All connected remains backed by science. So, whether we are “one” or “One”, the effect that has on my day-to-day existence remains unchanged (though it changes my view of the possible afterlife). It still leaves me with a profound responsibility when it comes to my planet, my Universe, and all that occupy it.

I believe that connecting with your passion or Bliss—whether as a career or hobby or way of life—is crucial to fulfillment. I believe this so strongly that a large part of my Bliss is to help people to discover their own and to engage it authentically. This is precisely why you are reading these words right now. I hope that through self-reflection, you will come to understand who you really are and what makes your heart sing. That could be children, teaching, travel, or ornithology. Whatever it is, I believe that engaging it regularly is crucial to you living your best, most satisfied life. I want that for you.

I believe there are very few things in the world more valuable than self-belief. I would be beyond grateful if my children were blessed with vast stores of both kindness and self-belief. That is enough to make a good life out of.

I believe that without empathy, we are lost, both individually and collectively. Perhaps this is simply a subset of the kindness that I just mentioned, but I feel the need to give empathy its own spotlight. I look at the problems of the world today—the Haves vs. Have-Nots, Republicans vs. Democrats, Christians vs. Muslims, Whites vs. Blacks, the general Us vs. Them we are so encouraged to fan the flames of—and I just see an appalling lack of empathy. An inability to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. To see her as you. To think, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” This, of course, connects back up to my first, most fundamental belief: that we are All One. To live that belief is to embody empathy.

I believe we are here to make the world a better place and to lift each other up. I am totally clear on the idea that my existence is to be spent striving for happiness, prosperity, and general well-being for myself (I think most people are with me on that, right?). And since I truly believe in that first core concept of Unity, logic tells me that I ought to strive for happiness, prosperity, and general well-being for All. It should come as no surprise to you that things like wars, racism, environmental destruction, the prison-industrial complex, and the extreme income inequality pain me in my deepest places.

I believe, finally, that despite my unsocial nature and completely contrary to the dominant cultural message of self-reliance, we are only able to “Do Life” with the help of others, and it is only in relation to others that our time here has any meaning and value. Thus, we can value personal growth—like writing in a journal—and personal responsibility, but we prove those valuations with our actions toward others and in the love that drives those actions.

There. That’s what I believe.

How about you? What ideas make up your foundation? Open up your journal and scrape off your top layers to get down to your core. What thoughts make up your bedrock? Are you like me and have one primary belief that casts a giant shadow and informs most of the other beliefs? Which belief is your most powerful? What kind of belief is it—spiritual, moral, emotional, scientific, rational, or something else? In what areas of your life do you feel that belief’s reverberations? Do you feel it every day? Even if it works every day in your life, how often do you actually think about that belief? Is it a part of a mantra or prayer that you use to remind yourself of its importance? How long have you believed your most important belief? Were you taught it from birth? Did you come upon it yourself, making the conscious decision that it was for you? What about your other main beliefs: were they chosen for you, or did you decide to adopt them? Can you limit your core beliefs to a small handful, or does your list go on and on? How different are your beliefs from those of your parents and siblings? Will you try to pass your beliefs on to the next generation? Do you ever get preachy to others? How do you feel when other people try to get you to adopt their beliefs? Are you generally open-minded? Are you open even when it comes to your core beliefs, or are those untouchable? Do you have any unhealthy beliefs? Do you wish you could let go of some and trade them for others? Can you? Which are your favorite beliefs, the ones you are proud of? Are you good at acting consistently with your beliefs? Where can you do better? Leave me a reply and let me know: What do you believe?

Believe in yourself,

William

P.S. If this increased your self-awareness or made you evaluate things differently, please share it. Spread clarity!

A Godless Future: What does the next generation believe in?

DSC_1156“Atheism is more than just the knowledge that gods do not exist, and that religion is either a mistake or a fraud. Atheism is an attitude, a frame of mind that looks at the world objectively, fearlessly, always trying to understand all things as a part of nature.” –Emmett F. Fields

Hello friend,

Last Sunday, I sat in the audience at a small church with a mix of pride, joy, and utter fascination. It was “Religious Education Sunday,” the day when all of the kids from all the different age groups in the congregation get to “perform” for the adult members, a way to highlight something they had learned in their classes during the year. I beamed and giggled as my son and the other kindergarteners sang “This Little Light of Mine.” I had taught the second and third grade unit, so I watched, with equal measures of anxiety and pride, their re-enactment of a story from Buddha’s life. Next came the third and fourth graders, then the middle schoolers, and on up, each group taking their turn at the front of the chapel, with all eyes on them.

Finally, it was the seniors’ turn. They were to go up, one at a time—there were only three of them—and read their personal “Faith Statement,” or credo, which they had clearly spent much of the year working on (and obviously their whole lives developing). Of course, I love to get inside someone’s head and heart and see what they are all about, so I was truly eager to hear what each had come to believe about this supremely important topic.

After all, I was raised Catholic. The essence of my religious education was being told, “THIS IS WHAT YOU BELIEVE! DON’T QUESTION IT. EVER!!!” I never fathomed the possibility of delivering my own, personally crafted statement of my spiritual beliefs to my entire church as I finished high school.

Thus, I was absolutely riveted when the first young man–quite an impressive 18-year-old, the kind you would like to hire for that Summer job and trust that he would be on-time and not playing on his phone all day–got up, thanked the congregation for their years of support, and began, “I believe in Science.” He proceeded to give a thoughtfully composed, confidently delivered speech that detailed his beliefs and the reasons behind them. And the crux of his belief system: There is no God. I was totally fascinated. Not just at his belief (or disbelief, rather), but also at the setting he was proclaiming it confidently in.

{A quick aside here for some context. After staying away from any sort of official house of worship for about 18 years, I somewhat begrudgingly allowed my wife to talk me into trying out a Unitarian Universalist (UU)fellowship several months ago. If I had to sum up my take on the UU principles, it would go something like this: As long as you are welcoming and respectful to everyone, open to all perspectives and backgrounds, and want to work for social justice and peace in our world, you are welcome here. I think of it more as a moral group rather than an actual religion. My sense is that, at least in my particular fellowship, there are probably a lot of people who left more the larger, organized religions earlier in life, turned off by their rigidity, dogma, or narrow scope. I would guess that the vast majority of members believe in a Higher Power of some sort, but certainly not all of them. But all are welcome to share their authentic selves. I have stuck it out this far for two main reasons: 1) I wanted my kids to hear another voice besides mine and my wife’s regarding moral and spiritual issues; and 2) I wanted us to do more of the service work that we often say we would like to do but rarely find the time for, figuring that connecting to a group that can facilitate opportunities to help would make it more likely (a.k.a. laziness on my part). Okay, back to the story….}

As I joined the applause for the charming young man’s speech, I thought to myself, “Wow! An atheist! And confident enough at 18 to proclaim his well-considered beliefs to a group of adults (mostly the gray-haired variety). What a rarity!” Then the second young man climbed to the podium and proceeded to inform us that he is also an atheist. His statement was different and equally well measured, but the conclusion was the same: “I believe that God does not exist.” My head started spinning. “WHAT ARE THE ODDS?!?” I was shocked! When the final young lady stepped up, full of personality and charisma—she later closed the service with a fantastically soulful version of Sam Cooke’s classic “A Change Is Gonna Come” with her acoustic guitar—I was sure she would tell us that her spiritual journey had led her to believe in a God like the one I grew up with. Wrong! She, too, had decided that she was an atheist. I was floored! Again, I just kept thinking, “What are the odds?” Three intelligent, friendly, socially-competent 18-year-olds who had put serious time and effort into this process had all decided that God did not exist.

As I applauded all three of them for their graduation and the self-awareness gained during this process of creating a personal Faith Statement—indeed, I think it is a good exercise for all of us–my mind kept returning to the same questions. It had been snagged and couldn’t free itself. Over and over: “Is atheism the new thing? Just how high is the percentage of true atheists—or even agnostics—among young adults today? How did I miss this?” I was flabbergasted. Not by the atheism itself—while I believe in a Higher Power, I can see the difficulty in proving it—but by the thought that this would be an enormously important shift, if indeed it was a shift, in our culture. But is it? How could I know?

I remembered that a few weeks ago, one of my co-workers, who raises her kids in the Catholic Church, had mentioned to me that her oldest son, a college freshman, is an atheist. So, after stewing on this puzzle for a couple of days, I asked her about it. She told me that her son’s roommate at school—randomly assigned—also turned out to be an atheist. She said he has friends with all sorts of different spiritual beliefs, but she was clear that he was definitely not the only atheist among them. It began to sink in that the three kids at my fellowship might be more than a statistical aberration. Atheism could be on its way to becoming the norm for the younger generations. How did this happen?

When I was a kid growing up in North Dakota, I didn’t know of any atheists. In fact, so entrenched was I in doing what I was told that even the thought of an atheist scared me. It was a taboo. You might read of an atheist in a book in the same hushed tone that you would a Satanist, as though there were a shroud of Evil around it. It was dangerous. I laugh now when I think of the reactions I have received when telling people that I am not a Christian. The first thing that usually gets verbalized is, “So, you don’t believe in God??” That is quite a leap, of course, and not necessarily a logical one. But I have certainly had the sense that, at least in some company, I have been the one viewed as “dangerous.” However, I am not an atheist.

I’ve met some confirmed atheists in the long years since then and didn’t think much about it. The few times I had, I wondered why I thought it so spooky when I was a kid. Philosophically, I have come to understand that one does not need a God in order to live a happy and morally-upstanding existence. Basically, the stigma in my mind has faded and morphed into more of a fascination (I want to know everything about everyone with different beliefs than me). But still, I didn’t know I was missing the beginnings of a potential religious revolution. My mind is blown!

How about you? What thoughts and feelings come up in you when you consider the possibility of an increasingly atheistic population? Open up your journal and try to make sense of your reactions to this possible trend. I say “possible,” because although the prospects for almost every fringe belief system, hobby, and interest seem to have increased in our Information Age, I had rarely considered that atheism might be on a real surge before this week. Also, with religion not being one of those topics to safely bring up in social situations, this rise might not be recent (or even real). Do you think it is? Have you had experiences of meeting or learning about young atheists in recent years? Let’s assume, at least for the moment, that this increase is really occurring. Do you see it as a passing fad or something with staying power? If it is for real, how does that sit with you? Are you alarmed? Unfazed? Pleased? My co-worker whose son is an atheist thinks the cause of the rise is these kids seeing all of the problems that the major religions have either directly caused or made worse, leaving the kids thinking, “This is not the way to go.” Is there some merit to that argument? The kids I listened to last Sunday talked a lot about Science and preferring things that could be tested and proven. Is that a good argument? With “1” being Totally Uncertain and “100” being Totally Certain, what is your degree of certainty regarding the existence of a Higher Power? If your number is pretty high, how tolerant and accepting are you of people who still believe but are much more uncertain about it? What is your reaction in learning that people you know are atheists? How would you like your children (real or imaginary) to come to their beliefs? Do you see the parents’ role more in terms of instilling their own beliefs in their children, or more as exposing their children to the range of beliefs and allowing the children to gravitate toward their own beliefs? Is it enough to try to teach children good morals and behavior, or should a religion be attached, too? How do you think you would feel if your child gave you his Faith Statement, and it concluded that he was an atheist? Would you try to change his mind? At what point do we just let them decide these things on their own? If atheism became the norm for the upcoming generations, how do you think that would change our everyday world? Would it be, on the whole, a benefit or a detriment? I think that, whether or not this surge in atheism is real or not, these are important questions for us to consider. In either case, leave me a reply and let me know: What does the younger generation believe in? 

Believe in YOU,

William

P.S. If this letter made you look into yourself a little deeper or from a different angle, I hope you will share it with your circle. We should be mirrors for each other. Bless you.

This Life & The Afterlife: Torn Between The Two

IMG_2404To die, to sleep – To sleep, perchance to dream – ay, there’s the rub, For in this sleep of death what dreams may come….” –William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Hello friend,

Here’s the deal: I am so desperately eager to get to the next life, but I also simply cannot let go of this one any time soon. Huh? How can I reconcile that? Allow me to explain.

I believe that the state of being that comes after this life is going to be absolutely amazing. Not just amazing, though; because we throw around the term “amazing” all the time about pretty much anything we like: a gym class, our new yogurt, shoes, etc. What comes after our physical death, I believe, will be beyond amazing. Indescribably peaceful, blissful, and aware of our complete oneness with the Divine Source.

Now, let me be clear: I don’t claim to know what exactly comes next (and I am suspicious of anyone who does). I believe that we are all completely divine, that we existed prior to our appearance in this human form, and that we will continue to exist in another form(s?) when we are done with these bodies. I am attracted to many of the ideas of Buddhism, and reincarnation is one that I have played with. I am open to that possibility but not necessarily sold on it. I also don’t really buy the traditional vision of a Heaven with pearly gates and all of our friends and relatives who look exactly like they do now, a view that I think is common. I definitely don’t believe in any sort of Hell in the afterlife. But I definitely do believe in continuous existence, that we are not just going to cease entirely when our hearts stop beating.

I guess if you pinned me down and made me pick a description using our limited human ideas, I would say that I believe that when we die, we become fully aware of our pure divinity again. We lift the veil that we wear throughout our human journey, the one that allows us to believe that we are somehow separate from God and separate from each other. Unbound by our physical form, we join the stream of pure consciousness of All That Is. We are pure Love, and, more importantly, we know it. To me, that is who we are now, but we simply don’t recognize it, aren’t aware of it, and so we continue to act out of ignorance throughout our time on Earth.

You could probably say that is the foundation of my spiritual beliefs: that we are all One—all God, if you like—and thus, the end is not in doubt.

So, needless to say, I am pretty darn excited to get to the end of this ignorance and onto that plane of Bliss and Conscious Union with The All. {I don’t mind if you translate that to “Heaven” and “God” as long as you feel what I mean.} Indeed, I would love to be there now. I can’t wait!!!

BUT…..

You cannot take me now! No way, I need to be here forever! Well, not exactly forever. Just until I reach a wise, old age when my kids have successfully navigated their way into middle adulthood (and hey, grandkids would be cool, too!). I need to be here for them. I guess it is two reasons, really. First, I want them to have their Dad to help shepherd and support them through the trials of this world. I wish that for any kid, and certainly for my own. And secondly/selfishly, I simply don’t want to miss a thing! Seriously. These kids have completely rocked my world, and I am addicted to my life with them. I sometimes have daydreams about being diagnosed with a terminal illness with only a short time to go, and I get to the point of actually sobbing when I think about saying goodbye to them and how many things I would miss out on. It crushes me. I have gotten to the point where I am absolutely clinging to this earthly existence.

I was never this way before I started this family way of life. In fact, before my wife and kids came along, when I lived a solitary (by choice) life, focused intensely on my spirituality and connectedness to the Divine, I felt both blissful and completely ready for death. Eager, even. Often, in my happiest, most fulfilled moments—on the top of a mountain or in the middle of a clear stream—I would hear myself saying aloud, “You can have me any time, God!” I absolutely meant it.

But a funny thing happens when you get invested in particular Earthlings. Suddenly, you don’t want to leave this place anymore. Like the Hollywood stories of people who had given up on life until they meet someone to love, my wife and kids somehow made me want to stay here (a lot!). They didn’t’ make me happier or more at peace. No, they just made me feel responsible and desirous (desperate?) of squeezing out every possible moment with them. They took me out of the next world that I was reaching for and grounded me fully in this one. They made me think Heaven can wait.

So, what gives? Was I crazy then to want so much to move on to the afterlife, or is my mind warped now in thinking that something from this life—even my darling little angels—could be worthy of making me prefer this life to the next one? I don’t know if there is a right answer to this.

I guess the way I am approaching it, I see myself as an infinite being, so the next life is always out there and won’t be any shorter for my stay on this floating rock called Earth. So, despite its uncertainties and cruelties, I am going to take this portion of the ride for as long as it will have me. I know I am wearing the veil of ignorance and disconnect while here, and while that is frustrating at times, I just need to return to my foundational belief occasionally to remind myself: We are all One, and thus, the end is not in doubt. So, I will make the best of this veiled part of the journey, soaking up the magical moments with my family on this beautiful planet. And then, when my day comes—though they may have to drag me kicking and screaming—I will remove the veil and float blissfully away, fully aware of my divine and infinite nature. One moment at a time….

How about you? Are you more clinging to this life or longing for the next one, or, like me, a little bit of both? Open up your journal and take a deep dive into your beliefs about God and the nature of reality. I must admit, I found it quite challenging but wonderfully invigorating to try to put into words how I envision the afterlife. So please, make the effort on this one. I suppose the underlying question with this topic is: do you believe in a Higher Power? What do you call it? Is that Higher Power judging how you are doing in this lifetime in order to give you a sentence for the afterlife? Do you believe there is some sort of afterlife? How would you describe what you think happens to us after we die? Is it different for everyone? What do you think of concepts like Hell or Purgatory or Limbo? How about reincarnation? Pearly gates? Choirs of angels? Do you think you get to “meet” a personal God? A life review? Judgment? Is what comes next dependent upon what happens here in this existence? Do you think that what you get then depends upon what you believe now (i.e. different results for Atheists, Hindus, Christians, etc.)? How much of your view of the afterlife is dictated by a religion? Were you born into that religion, or did you adopt it when you were old enough to decide for yourself, or somewhere in between? How sure are you that your belief in the afterlife is correct? Does your belief make you want to get to the next world as soon as possible, or would you prefer to stick around here for as long as you are able? What are the things in this world that make you want to stay? Do we owe it to ourselves/our loved ones/our Higher Power to stay here as long as we can? Is that just part of the deal of being born? To what degree are you clinging to this world? Is that more due to what you have here—loved ones, etc.—or more due to your uncertainty about what awaits you when you die? Is it normal to not want to die but also to very much want what comes after death? Leave me a reply and let me know: Which life do you want more: this one or the next one?

Embrace it All,

William

P.S. If this one made you dig into your core beliefs and your psyche the way it did for me—I found this topic highly engaging—pass it on. Self-awareness is a gift!

The One-Day Challenge: A Trial Run at Being Your Best

DSC_0556“Act the way you’d like to be and soon you’ll be the way you’d like to act.” –Bob Dylan

Hello friend,

A lifetime ago—or so it feels—I was an actor. I took some classes in which I would perform scenes from plays or movies for my teacher and classmates: one day I was a troubled teenager, the next day Hamlet, then a nitwit soldier, a stuffy artist, an insecure thespian, and on and on. It was fantastic! I got a wonderful charge out of stepping outside of myself for a moment and trying on someone else’s personality. It was enormously liberating. It was also very educational. I learned a lot about how it felt to have characteristics that I don’t really have, or at least that aren’t dominant in my personality. And even though some of those traits may have rubbed off on me a bit and leaked into my daily life temporarily after the play or class was finished, without repetition over the long haul, it became clear that this this tiger doesn’t change his stripes too easily.

Over the last week or so, I have been reading two books that have me quite captivated and, I dare say, feeling an urge to make a change. The first book is my fourth journal, written in late 1997 and early 1998. The dates that I have been reading lately cover a sort of spiritual zenith for me, a time of extreme bliss and near-communion with the Divine. I was in a zone of amazing peace, and reading about it now is a real education for me. The other book, which I am about halfway through, is Roland Merullo’s Dinner With Buddha. The story takes us on a roadtrip across the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains with a Buddhist master and his brother-in-law, a middle-aged New Yorker who narrates the journey and shares the insights he gains as he tiptoes between the two worlds of his own jaded, worrying nature and the peaceful, present-centered nature of his companion. I am fascinated by the way the narrator envies the mind of the master and how he battles with his own natural cynicism about the world, pondering whether he could actually achieve such mindfulness himself. I have had my own longings in this direction over the years, so it resonates deeply with me.

So, what does my acting experience have to do with my blissful, 25-year-old self and roadtripping with a Buddhist master? Answer: they remind me that there is always a chance to try to be something different today than I was yesterday. Something better. Little habits of the mind—thought patterns—could shift and, in the process, change my entire life.

After all, as happy as I am now, I am well aware that I could be much more so. I don’t have to look beyond my own history for a good example. I look back to those days of my fourth journal, and I see a guy whose mind was beautiful. I was in such a state of Peace and Gratitude. I can see from the daily entries that it was about the lenses that I viewed the world through—my thought habits—and the little things that I did. I certainly wasn’t doing anything cool and exciting that an outsider might take notice of and copy. Quite the opposite: it was an extremely simple, uneventful existence.

There are, no doubt a few more complications in my life these days—a wife, kids, bills, etc.—compared to those fourth journal days. I cannot just set those aside. There are also no acting classes or plays that give me a free pass to escape myself and pretend I am the guy who has it all together and knows that same deep Peace I once knew.

There are, however, the lessons from both of those eras, if only I am open to them. And there are books, like Dinner With Buddha, that serve to remind me that there is always an opportunity to learn, to kick old habits, to think a little differently, to transform myself into a better me.

These books and memories have stirred me up. They have me thinking I need to make some changes. I want to feel more of those better parts of me. I want to know that deeper connection to the Divine again, to feel that sublime Peace more frequently.

But, since my life is hectic, and since I have come to better recognize the pitfalls of committing 100% to huge lifestyle changes all at once, I have come up with something more modest. I figure if I can just dip my toe into the deep current of self-improvement rather than diving in headfirst, maybe I would be more likely to feel some success and thus stick with it longer. Success breeds conviction, right? So, instead of signing up for a 30-day yoga course or committing to reading all of my books on spirituality again, I am going the other way.

I am calling it “The One-Day Challenge.” Catchy, eh? The idea is to act like your best self—and think like it—for an entire day. It doesn’t mean you have to apply for medical school or announce you are quitting your job—or even go skydiving or knocking off some major bucket list items—but just take on the mindset and the manners of the version of you that you long to be.

For me, I suppose that would mean being more quick to offer a smile to the people I pass (e.g. at the gym) and more willing to strike up a conversation with an intriguing stranger. I am usually so short and eyes down that I squash any interaction before it has a chance to develop. I know that I miss out because of that. I might also send a few personal notes of greeting or encouragement to loved ones. I am terrible at keeping in touch—this year more than ever, it seems—and it would make me feel better to shore up the most important ties that bind. I would also be a little more openly kind and attentive to my wife, who often gets the short end of my focus in favor of the kids.

But mostly–and this comes straight from the two books I have been reading—I would just try to stay completely in the moment. I would give up worrying about the future, especially tying my emotions to it. If I have to do some planning (e.g. at work), I will do it without getting stressed out about what might come. Staying present, taking my time, enjoying my company, breathing—those are the key elements to my success at The One-Day Challenge. If I could combine them with being more open and affectionate, sprinkling on a touch of bravery, my recipe would be complete.

Of course, I would like to say I am committing to being all of that every day at full capacity forever, but that would doom me to failure. But how about for a day? I could start with that. It is realistic. And who knows where it might lead? I am game! Improvement is not such a bad thing to aim for. I have certainly had less productive challenges. I am grateful for the opportunity to try, and grateful for the benefits that will undoubtedly stem from the attempt. It’s all good to me!

How about you? Are you up for The One-Day Challenge? Open up your journal and knock around some ideas that you might aim at for one focused day. How does the “Better You” think compared to how you normally think now? Is the Better You more kind? More patient? More focused? More generous with praise? More (or less) ambitious? More playful? More present? More honest? More open? More loving? More forgiving? More optimistic? What else? All of these characteristics might sound appealing in theory, but how many of them could you reasonably shoot for in your One-Day Challenge? One or two, maybe? Even though I tend to get greedy and want to improve in all of these areas at once, if I am being honest with myself, I think just trying to be completely present for a whole day would be more than enough of a challenge for me. And really, that one task might just take care of most of the others without even thinking about them. That is how valuable mindfulness is to me. What is your big one? Are you like me and had a pretty good grasp of it once but then let it slip away, or have you never had the thing you are aiming for? Are there so many things on your list that you could easily pick one per day and do, say, ten One-Day Challenges? That might be kind of fun! You could really try to see which ones stick and which continue to be elusive. Do you believe a person can change her life by changing her mind? Do you believe YOU can do it? Do you want to? Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you up for The One-Day Challenge?

Claim your power,

William

P.S. If you think there might be something to this challenge, share it with a friend. Challenges are usually better with a support system, whether that is a cheerleader or someone who is willing to do it alongside you. Good luck and blessed be.

Taking a Moment to Say “Thanks!” Instead of “Please???”

IMG_2404“We should certainly count our blessings, but we should also make our blessings count.” –Neal A. Maxwell

Hello friend,

“DEAR GOD, I WANNA TAKE A MINUTE, NOT TO ASK FOR ANYTHING FROM YOU, BUT SIMPLY TO SAY THANK YOU FOR ALL I HAVE. –SHARE IF YOU ARE THANKFUL”

This was the first meme that popped up on my Facebook Home page this morning when I was laying in bed. For whatever reason, I instantly felt guilty. I suppose I am no different than most folks who have grown up with the concept—whether through our parents and grandparents, or, more likely, just too much television and movies—of God as wish-granter. We pray for our team to win, for our friends to travel safely, for our child to make the team, and for ourselves to get that new job. We ask our Higher Power for that stuff. We usually ask nicely, too, starting most requests with “Please God….” Even if we didn’t grow up in a very religious family, the God-as-wish-granter theme permeates our culture. If we really, really want something, we ask God. We call it prayer. 

I don’t pray a lot. Well, not in the traditional, down-on-my-knees-at-bedtime kind of praying. It is probably because my concept of God is a little different than the usual one (see my post “Who Is God?” from December 2015). I believe deeply in God as All There Is, including you and me. I believe that all of the Universe is Divine. This doesn’t mean that I am not allowed to pray; it just changes the context of the conversation a bit. You might even say it makes a prayer out of everything I think, say, or do. When I have my occasional direct words aimed at God as seemingly something outside of me—what most folks would recognize as my nearest thing to traditional prayer—it definitely is all about gratitude. I don’t make direct requests. I give direct thanks, usually for a simple but beautiful moment where the Divine just seems to permeate every bit of the moment. More often than not, it is when I am either observing Nature’s beauty or watching my kids be the miraculous little creatures that they are. Sometimes it simply overwhelms my heart, and I just whisper, “Thanks, God.” Those are my conversations with God.

Even though traditional prayer is a rarity for me, because of my worldview that holds everything as fully God, it may be reasonable to conclude from that that all of my thoughts, words, and deeds are a form of communication with God. When I hear of a religious extremist’s story of withholding medical treatment from their suffering child, preferring instead to “leave it in God’s hands,” I usually find myself shouting at the screen, “But YOU are God, and so is the DOCTOR and the MEDICINE! Please pray, of course, but DO SOMETHING! To not try to save your child is actually taking it out of God’s hands, not the other way around! Your hands are God’s hands!!!” I know that is not how everyone sees things, but my view shapes my perceptions.

With that said, and if my thoughts and actions are my form of communication with God, then I am totally guilty of making my prayers into Wish Lists rather than Thank You Notes. Almost always I am in STRIVING mode. I am thinking about or doing something that is about me striving for something else. Something more. Something better. I am trying to get out of this situation and into one that speaks more truly to who I am and what my dreams are. I can be pretty single-minded about it, too. The translation of this—given my concept of God—is essentially that I am not grateful for where I am and I want to get out of here. In regular prayer terms: “Please God, rescue me and bring me the type of success I desire!”

That is the source of the quick jolt of guilt I received when I read that Facebook post this morning. It hits me on a parallel to the way it hits other people, even though we pray differently. I am just as guilty as making my prayer a request rather than a “Thank You.” Seeing that more clearly now is a great reminder for me to become more about the NOW. It means that I can, even in the midst of my striving for better and more, become more fully present and aware of all the wonderful gifts in my life as I now know it. I think of the health of my family, which has been really, amazingly good throughout my life (knocking on my desk right now!). I think of my convenient work schedule and the corresponding opportunity to spend so much time with my kids. I think of my ability to share my words with you and others all over the world. I think of all the freedoms I have because I live in America, and all the comforts I enjoy—clean water, safety, a warm home of my own, to name a few—as a middle-class member of this society. These are all things well worthy of my deep and abiding gratitude, and not just once in a while. To fail to become more aware of these fabulous gifts—and thus more consistently grateful—would be a show of immense disrespect to my beautiful life and the magnificence of the God I believe in.

It doesn’t have to mean that I must stop striving to improve my life and the world around me, however. Even in my haste to improve myself and my station, I can still acknowledge and honor the wonder of the gifts I am presently living with. The concepts of Striving and Gratitude do not have to be mutually exclusive. They don’t have to compete with each other. So, I can take time to step out of my actions—the bulk of which are Striving things—to say “THANK YOU,” which is a Being thing. I can be both grateful and ambitious. I can say prayers of thanks and do acts of ambition. Oh yeah, and I should probably take a few moments to just sit and BE. To stop thinking and striving. To just ENJOY. That sounds like it would be okay, too. I am pretty sure God is in that silence, too. I will meet Her there.

How about you? How do you pray? Open up your journal and think about your relationship with your Higher Power. What is the tone of most of your communication? Are you usually there to ask or to thank? What do you ask for? Big, general things, like world peace or an end to hunger? Or smaller, specific things, like your blind date to go well or the weather to be nice? Do you feel guilty asking for things for yourself? If everything you do is actually a prayer about how you want your world to be, what is your lifestyle saying about what you desire the most? Are your actions more grounded in the present, or are you like me and often focused on building your someday? How often do you consciously thank your Higher Power, for either your life in general or a specific stroke of good fortune? Do you believe in a God that picks and chooses which prayers to answer, which wishes to grant? Do you think that showing more gratitude would make God more likely to answer your prayers? On a spectrum from All Requests to All Thanks, where do you land regarding your conversations with God? Leave me a reply and let me know: What are you grateful for today?  

Personify abundance in all you do,

William

The ONE That Got Away?

DSC_0227“The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.” –C.G. Jung

Hello friend,

This is a ghost story.

Where do I begin? When I was 21 and just in the early stages of my acting/exploring the world/discovering myself period, I met an amazing young woman named Alex. And I mean young. She was 18, but, somehow, instead of spending her last few months of high school hanging around her schoolmates and partying, she was working out and hanging out with a bunch of twenties-and-thirtysomethings, including me. We were friends at first, as I was casually dating someone else at the time. When that fling ended and she and I continued to spend time together, I grew to realize that there was something deep and magical about her.

She was not at all like the other women I knew. For one, she was incredibly intelligent. She was fiercely independent. She was one of those “old souls” that made it seem completely natural for her to be good friends with a fortyish guy I knew. There was some pain there, too. She also had an intriguing combination of honesty and distance. She protected herself, even as she was vulnerable. It was a tricky combination to unlock, to say the least. But I admired her greatly, anyway. She oozed potential. I sensed that I would one day hear news of her curing cancer or leading a team of Doctors Without Borders that saved an entire ravaged province in Africa. I was impressed in advance.

The thing about that kind of potential when it intersects with precisely her age in a lifetime is that there is no track record. No history of “Oh, this is how you are and what you do, so I know exactly what you will be doing five years from now, too.” Real grown-up relationships often end with each party knowing just what to expect of the other’s future. There is enough film on them to know their tendencies. But when you are 18 and loaded with talent and depth, there is simply no limit. You can write your own ticket. It is like when space travel first became a real possibility. With no history and with potential to burn, it is bottled PROMISE. It is a degree of HOPE that leaves you breathless. It is, in a word, exciting.

It was during my short time of knowing Alex that I was given my very first journal by a common acquaintance. I was only writing about once a week then and quite briefly, but I am now completely enthralled as I look back on those initial entries. Even when I was dating someone else, I never failed to mention how fascinating and wonderful my friend Alex was. Eventually those entries come to the spot where there was only her in my thoughts, and we were a couple. A combustible mix of two characters protecting their hearts but still caring fiercely about the other, all the while knowing that we were headed in two very different directions. We were a classic case of two star-crossed lovers. Neither Time nor Destiny was on our side. I wanted to be a movie star and anywhere bigger and brighter than where we were, and she would be heading off to college before long and curing the world of its ills. It was a love that could not be.

I had my future of stardom on my mind and jumped at the first chance to leave town. So, instead of spending a Summer of Love with her, I put the fortress around my heart and said goodbye. I told myself that the writing was on the wall for us anyway, that we had a good handful of weeks and that a few more months was not going to change the end of the story. I chose the head over the heart. Or, rather, I chose my dreams of stardom over a possible love story. She even came to visit me for a day that Summer, and I had a very hard time letting her in. At first, I kept her at a real distance because I could not let it go on. It was only later, shortly before she left, that I realized—after all of our protecting ourselves early in our relationship and my firm resolve that we must cut the cord completely, no long-term relationships—that I really, truly loved her. I finally let myself feel that, if only briefly. It was like putting a giant weight down. I loved someone amazing. Someone who was going to set the world on fire with her brilliance. For a magic moment, I let my guard down and allowed that bottled PROMISE to enter my heart and carve its initials there.

And then she was gone. That was it. Never to be heard from again. We didn’t keep in touch. I kept on chasing my dreams across the country and across oceans. And she……….??? I have no answers. I have a million questions and even more visions of what she might have been doing all these years—the people she has touched, the wonderful places she has visited, the diseases she has cured—but they are only visions. Apparitions. She has truly become a ghost for me.

I don’t know why I never took pains to keep up with her or track her down. I never thought we would ever be together again—romantically speaking–so I wasn’t pining in that way. But that POTENTIAL. That bottled PROMISE. That HOPE. To simply follow her life story seems like reason enough for me to have kept connected, even once in a blue moon. But no. Nothing. Not a call. Not a letter. Nothing. I cannot explain my actions.

What I am left with is a ghost. An apparition of who she is. A vision of what she has done. And even a “what if” about an epic love story that might have been if our paths had crossed in a different place and time. It is the kind of stuff that an imagination can go wild with, or that can turn a sane mind insane. There is so much to dream about, so many holes to fill, both in the story and in the heart. Lots of wondering.

It has taken on a life of its own, I suppose, as the years have piled on top of one another. The ghost becomes the thing, perhaps a bigger thing than there ever was in the physical world. I had but a few months to know her and even less to love her. And now, on the other side of the scale from those few months is 21 YEARS! Years of myth-building and monument-making. Based on what? My belief in her potential. In her inner beauty and future greatness. She is immortalized for me the way James Dean and Marilyn Monroe are for others. Dying young does that to you. We only remember the best and imagine what might have been. That is my Alex. Bottled PROMISE. Forever a ghost, made sacred by potential and the sands of time.

Until now.

Yes, earlier this week, I was doing a work assignment of trying to connect to old acquaintances by sending friend requests on Facebook. I was only thinking of people from the last few years. When I finished the task, which had me feeling nostalgic for old friends, I decided to see if anyone existed from my past lives. I searched a few people from the old acting days in California without much luck. Then it hit me: my ghost! Why had I never thought of it before? Honestly, it took me a minute to get up the nerve to type her name. I just wasn’t prepared to see her, as she had existed only in my mind for over 20 years. And then, there she was. Photographic evidence of a real person. I was completely sucked in, of course, checking out her posts of her dog and her recent wedding. But I was also unnerved by it. Worlds were colliding, and it was a bit overwhelming.

I could not bring myself to send her a friend request. It was like it would be an invasion of something that existed magically in another dimension. Making us real adults that had moved on would violate that sacred space. Only later in the evening, when I reminded myself that she was a big piece of me somehow and that this is my one life and that I would actually love to hear her life story someday, did I go back and send her that request. I couldn’t tell if I had just ruined the whole thing or not, but the ghost was now actually haunting me. It occupied my mind and kept me always on edge when I turned on my phone or computer, ever wondering if my request would be answered. After a day had passed, I felt a little relieved that she hadn’t accepted it. Maybe I was a ghost in her life, too, and she preferred me that way. She was going to protect the sanctity of our otherworldly arrangement. I appreciated that.

After another full day passed, however, my heart stopped when I saw that she had accepted. With the dye now cast, I knew I had to reach out and see what the conclusion to our story would be. Not wanting to sound like the crazy stalker but still needing to be honest, I sent a note to tell her that I had always held her in the highest regard and believed that, with all of her talents, she would somehow save the world. I told her that if she ever wanted to meet up and tell me her life story, I would love to hear it. And if not, I wished her all the best. It was my Truth, and I sent it with a clear mind. And then, I waited. There were a million different ways that note could land with someone who hadn’t heard from me in 21 years and with whom I had no idea where I stood in her heart or mind, so I was totally on the edge of my seat. I wasn’t sure if it was excitement or dread. Finally, this morning, the response came. And the ghost story kind of ended.

It turned out sort of the way I intuited it when my first impulse on seeing her Facebook page was to leave it at that and not send the message. It was more romantic and mysterious when it was a creation of my mind. I could wonder forever in the ethereal haze of “What if…” Now I know that she has not cured cancer—though she is a nurse—and that she has only a vague recollection of our time together. Sure, that stings the ego a little bit (or a lot). But it is also fascinating to me, a guy who loves to study the human experience and the way our minds can choose to interpret our world. I caught a glimpse of someone for a handful of weeks, when every possibility in the world was before her, and I immortalized her there. She was my James Dean. For her, it seems, I was a happy moment in her life, but like most moments, soon forgotten. We were two ships passing in the night.

And so, my 21-year fantasy comes to an end. The bubble has burst. With the reality just a few hours old, I cannot say for sure if I regret searching her name on Facebook. I felt enriched by the fantasy all these years, so grateful was I that I got a brief glimpse at Greatness before it became Greatness. That felt good, like I had a secret window that no one else ever would. And really, I did. It doesn’t, in the end, matter if she cures cancer or prevents a nuclear crisis. Like all of us mortals, she is and always will be magic and Divine. And special. We can count ourselves lucky in this lifetime if someone sees all of that in us. But that part is not up to us, as I learned by this experiment.

I learned something else, though, too. I learned that it is perhaps an even greater gift to see that magic, that beauty, that bottled PROMISE in someone else. It is like being able to see through God’s eyes. It’s amazing, truly. Maybe my Divine vision could only sustain for this long because, after my brief glimpse, the vision was only in my mind. It was a ghost, an apparition that I could beckon in its purest form at my whim. It is hard to maintain that Divine point-of-view day after day in the real world, when that person is disagreeing with you about finances or leaving wet towels on the floor. The mind’s eye is more forgiving.

So yeah, as I process this whole thing right now and my fantasy gives way to reality, I really am grateful for this ghost that was my ghost. Today’s reality check just reminds me of what I wasn’t so aware of before: that the ghost was good for me. That the Hope was a gift. That tiny window in my lifetime is a beautiful memory for me and planted a seed far greater. She isn’t the one that got away after all. No, she is the one that will stay with me forever in that Divine form, a beautiful reminder of an important lesson. This ghost story has a happy ending after all. I’m keeping her! The ghost and I will live happily ever after……The End.

How about you? Do you have a ghost that you have lived with? Open up your journal and tell your story. Who was your ghost to you? A lover? A friend? A family member? How long did your actual relationship last before it existed only in your mind? Why did it end? Do you feel badly about the way it ended? What role does potential play in this person becoming your ghost? Are you like me and wonder how this person lived her life and changed the world with her gifts? Or is it about the potential relationship you might have had, the epic love you might have shared? Do you believe that your ghost is really “the one” for you, in the romantic sense? Do you think your ghost is somewhere feeling the same way about you? Why is the person still a ghost? Have you ever tried to track him down? What is stopping you? Is it safer just to keep him in your mind, where you get to control the vision? Who is the one person in your history that you would most like to sit down with and hear their life story? Leave me a reply and let me know: Who is the ONE that got away from you?

Love heals,

William

Why Are You Here?

DSC_0963“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” —Friedrich Nietzsche

I watched the movie “Selma” yesterday. It was about the Civil Rights Movement and Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s quest for the fair and equal treatment of Black Americans, in this case as it pertained to voting rights. It has really stayed with me, this film, creeping into my consciousness as I move through my day. I was captivated by so many different aspects of the film and the history behind it. One angle that really grabbed me in a unique and powerful way, though, was Dr. King’s resolve and willingness to go back into the fray—being beaten and jailed and leading others into situations that ended in their deaths—over and over despite serious doubts and guilt over so much spilled blood. And then there was his family. He carried the dual burdens of being taken from his wife and kids for long periods of time and also, by virtue of his leading role in the movement and the explosive mix of ignorance and violence that defined the opposition to it, the knowledge that he and/or his wife and children could be murdered at any time. I could not help but keep asking myself, “With so many reasons to NOT keep working for the cause—really big, life-or-death reasons—what kept him going back in?” 

The answer I keep coming back to is that, deep down inside, he knew what his life purpose was. He knew that he was alive for a reason, and that to turn his back on that purpose would be to disrespect his Maker. He had a calling. A reason for being. A purpose.

I latched onto this aspect of “Selma” so strongly because I have been lately in the process of defining my own life purpose. I am going through the process as part of my Life Coach Training Program. It is no small task, either, let me tell you. Along the way, I have had to address what my needs are and what I value most in this world. I have tried a number of different exercises designed to help rank my values. I am not talking about chosen values—standards that I have adopted and held myself to—but rather about core values, which are things that I feel I was born with, things that have been with me all my life. The exercises—indeed, the entire process—have been very revealing.

Boiled down into one-word answers, these are some of my core values: spirituality, self-knowledge, teaching, purpose, growth, family, service, connectedness, health, and authenticity. These things get right to the heart of who I am and what makes me tick. They provide wonderful clues to my life purpose, but they are just the beginning when it comes to trying to define it succinctly.

The next phase of my homework was to make a long list of examples of times in my life when I knew was living “on purpose”. That is, times when I felt completely in the flow, energized, and as though things were effortless. I quickly jotted down more than twenty times in my life when I felt that way, ranging from when I was a teenager all the way up to the last year. My list included many times when I was writing, including writing my very first blog to you. I was on fire with passion for what I was doing, and the work and the cause filled my sails. It was effortless. I also noted many times when I was teaching, from private tennis lessons to Philosophy 101 classes. It included times when I have spoken publicly, including when I performed my sister’s wedding. That felt right to me. I also felt right and true in the simplest moments with my family, as well as hiking alone in the mountains or swimming in the ocean, feeling totally connected to the Divine.

I then took time to write a bit about each of these examples: what I was feeling and what about them struck such a deep chord in me. Next, I combed through all of my descriptions for recurring themes and words that resonated with me. It turned out to be not so different from the list of core values I had already made. Words that kept surfacing were: Connected (with the Divine, with others), Inspire, Dreams, Growing (personally and spiritually), Motivate, Teaching, Sharing (my love, traditions, my message), Challenging (myself and others, moving beyond the comfort zone), Family, Creativity, Self-Improvement, and Improve the World.

With clarity regarding both my core values and the recurring themes of the most “on purpose” moments of my life, I was feeling ready to write my purpose statement. After some tinkering with language, this was my first draft:

The purpose of my life is to help people—myself included—to live their best, most authentic lives by teaching and inspiring them to know themselves better; to be grateful for all that they are and have; to challenge themselves to grow spiritually and experientially; and to honor and pursue their dreams.

I was kind of liking it, actually. It named the things I want to do with my life, and that hit me in a good spot. It rang true.

However, I felt the pressure to make it short and sweet, so I started chopping. To a writer, cutting out words is like killing your babies, so it was no picnic for me, I promise you. My condensed draft looked like this:

The purpose of my life is to teach and inspire people—including myself—to know themselves better, to connect to the Divine, and to follow their Bliss.

While I wasn’t so sure I liked it better than the long version, at least it was concise. I figured I would put them to the test with my teacher when I got to class tonight. I was feeling pretty confident.

As it turned out, the joke was on me. I got to class tonight, and he started explaining life purpose statements and the differences between purpose, mission, and vision. You see, mission statements talk about the ways we are going to fulfill our purpose. They are action statements. Purpose statements, on the other hand, identify our calling or reason for being. Curses!!! While I had thought I had two pretty solid versions of my purpose statement, what I really had were a long and a short mission statement. Back to the drawing board!

To get to my purpose rather than my mission, I need to focus on Who I Am more than what I am going to do to express who I am. At my core, who am I? Why was I born? Why am I here? What is in my soul’s code? With only a few minutes of reflection—and what will probably be the first of many drafts—I suppose I would answer this way:

I am a catalyst for self-knowledge and authenticity. 

Yeah, I suppose that about sums me up. I want people to know themselves deeply and to own themselves completely, including the honoring of their dreams and their own unique path in life. In a way, I think my purpose is to help everyone live their purpose. Or, is that my mission? Whatever! In any case, I think I am starting to understand why I am here. And that’s the whole point, right?

How about you? Why are you here? Open up your journal, and get ready for some deep diving. What are your core values? Can you name your top ten? If you had to get it down to three—and really, you don’t—what would they be? Are you living from those values now, or are you off-course? Think about the times in your life when you have felt most “on purpose”. Write them all down, and then elaborate. What were you doing? What are the common themes running through those experiences? Do those themes mesh with some or all of the core values you listed? Now, write out your Life Purpose Statement. Be as concise as possible; really try to boil it down to your essence. And don’t play small! Your purpose is magnificent, so name it and claim it. How difficult is it to crystallize your calling? Have you always known what it was, or is it only now becoming clear to you? I think writing a mission statement is really helpful, too. I accidentally wrote mine first, which gave me some good clues as to how to write my purpose statement, but I think it probably works best to know who you are first before stating the way you are going to fulfill that purpose. In any case, do the work. Dig. Ask yourself some tough questions. And take the “shoulds” out of it. What do you really value? Who are you really? Not who do you wish you were, or who do you think you should be to make others happy or proud. WHO ARE YOU? There is no greater question and no more important answer. Leave me a reply and let me know: Why are you here?

Your truth shall set you free,

William

Who is God?

DSC_0880“God has no religion.” –Mahatma Gandhi

At Christmas dinner several years ago, in the course of conversation, I mentioned that I was no longer a Christian. The room went silent. All of the buzzing of different conversations stopped dead. There was a collective shutdown of communication, as no one seemed to know where to go with that thought. You might think that such a nugget might stir up a provocative discussion about some fascinating existential issues, such as religion, God, or the very nature of humankind’s place in the universe. NOPE! Crickets. No one asked what I believe in, why I had left the religion, or if I had found a new one.

WHY ARE WE LIKE THIS? Why do we have such difficulty communicating about an issue that speaks to not only our very essence as a species but also to the core beliefs that define our perspectives as individuals? Let’s face it: what you believe about God and religion colors your entire worldview. It is indisputably important. Even if you don’t care much for the topic, it is affecting you as the lens through which you see the world. So, why can’t we talk to each other about it? Why can’t we tell each other who God is to us?

I suppose the pat answer is that God and religion are in the same category as politics: there is just too much emotion tied up in them, that it only creates trouble to attempt a conversation on the topic. I can understand that. Because these feelings run so deep, it is only too easy to cross someone’s line, causing either the walls to go up or the fireworks to go off. Even though I appreciate a good, challenging conversation, I understand the hesitation to the idea of bringing God up at your holiday gathering in anything other than a prayer. However, I think one of the negative side effects in always taking a pass on this is that, over decades and generations, these issues are never raised at all. We learn what we learn from our religion or school or culture, but we also come to see by example that there is no room to converse and investigate the topic. We are receptacles only. Don’t think. Don’t question. Don’t explore. Accept blindly and silently.

It seems a shame to me, though, to miss out on some deep-diving conversation. It is such a rich, grand topic, after all. So, I will make a deal with you: I will give you a pass on attempting this conversation with your friends or family members today IF you take it to your journal. Yes, your journal: the safest, most accepting and affirming place to be your beautiful self. My journal is where I have processed my spiritual journey, from religious upheaval to deep, lasting Peace.

I grew up in a sometimes-churchgoing Catholic family. It was all of the traditional Christian representations of a Father God who had one son named Jesus, and the only way to return to God in Heaven was through Jesus. My Mom was more into it than my Dad was, and we went to church often enough to know the drill. I never liked it as a kid. Too much ritual, too much standing, too long, too boring. I respectfully challenged just about everything my Confirmation teacher said regarding the rules of getting to Heaven, because it just didn’t ring true to me.

From that introduction, you might think that I bolted from the church the moment I left home, but the opposite is true. When I went to college, I started going to Mass regularly. It was less formal, and I usually enjoyed the message of the sermon—which kept me going back—but never could quite get attached to all of the ritual and dogma. Even as I moved around the country in my wandering days in Minneapolis, Chicago, DC, New York, and Los Angeles, I always found a Catholic church to attend. I really just wanted to hear the sermon; I wanted to be moved and inspired by a good speech. I stomached the rest for the sake of the speech. And the Church was all I knew.

Until it wasn’t. When I was about 24 and living in California—and going to church weekly—I started finding wonderful books about other people’s experiences of God and spirituality. A seismic shift began inside of me. I was, at long last, connecting with stories of the Divine that rang true to me and my experiences. I was seeing in words for the first time the God I had always known. My soul began to bloom, and I was on fire with this new connection I was making to my God, the one I had always felt but never had the words or the support for. It was a God who permeated everything and didn’t have the jealous, vindictive streak from the stories I had learned growing up. And because God permeated everything completely, it meant that we were all one—connected, just like Quantum Physics tells us—and that we were all (not just Jesus) fully God. I liked this God. I liked him because I knew him. Somehow reading these books caused me to remember what I had somehow forgotten.

As you might have already guessed, my days as a Christian were over in a hurry with this new revelation. I was still fascinated and totally inspired by Jesus of Nazareth, but I was just as clear that he was not the one and only son of God and that I didn’t need to go directly through him to access God. (It was an amicable break-up; we’re still friends.) In the months and years that followed my awakening—nearly 20 years of uninterrupted Happiness, I believe it worth noting–I have been an avid student of God and religions. I have studied Philosophy of Religion both in and out of university. I have read the Bible from cover to cover, the Koran, Bhagavad Gita, and other traditional holy books. I enjoy them very much. I see pieces of each traditional religion that are appealing. I quite like certain aspects of Buddhism, particularly. Still, I have come to prefer books like Neale Donald Walsch’s Conversations With God series or Deepak Chopra’s How to Know God. I like to learn about Quantum Physics, because it tells me in scientific terms what the other spirituality books on my favorite shelf tell me: that we are all One, inextricably intertwined with All That Is. I actually feel as though I understand well, though, where atheists and agnostics are coming from, and I sympathize with their positions. The traditional ways that scientists have determined “proof” don’t tally well when it comes to verifying the existence of any God. We are left with philosophical arguments, leaps of faith, or trusting our guts, hoping to find, as I did, something that feels like Truth.

So, what do I call myself if someone asks? If I don’t see the conversation going very deep, I might just say, “I am spiritual but don’t subscribe to a particular religion” or “I believe in God but am not religious.” More specifically, I believe that God is pure Love and that God is All. That is, that there is nothing that is not fully God. A logical extension of this is that I am God, in the same way that Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, or Krishna (or Jim Jones or David Choresh) is God. (Humorous side note: My four-year-old confirms his understanding of this concept by saying, “God’s in my ear, right, Dad? God’s in my butt, too, right?” Yes, son, God is in your butt.). In any dictionary, there is a term called pantheism. I like the way Alasdair MacIntyre explains it: “Pantheism essentially involves two assertions: that everything that exists constitutes a unity, and that this all-inclusive unity is divine.” To be even more specific about my belief, I actually prefer the term panentheism, which is found in only a few dictionaries. Essentially, it means that God is the universe in its entirety, but God is also more. God transcends the universe. “He” is both the universe and also the intelligence behind it. That works for me. All of this points me to two conclusions that I like to remind myself of regularly: 1)We are All One, and 2) The end is not in doubt. I travel happily through the world with those assurances.

How about you? Who is God to you? Open up your journal and your soul, and merge the two. How do you visualize your God? Is it an old man with a long white beard who lives in a cloud-like Heaven? Is it an invisible spirit? Does it have human-like characteristics, such as anger and judgment? Is your God found in Nature? What do you call your God (I use God, the Universe, the Divine, the All, the One, All That Is, and Life interchangeably)? How do you reach your God? Do you have to go to a house of worship? Is God found only when you bow and make a formal prayer, or do you see God in the most mundane of circumstances? Do you pray regularly? Are your prayers typically requests for things you want, or prayers of gratitude? Do you feel heard? Do you think God answers specific prayers? If so, how do you think God decides? How tolerant are you about other people’s idea of God? Do you find yourself more put-off by someone from a different religion or by an atheist? Do you think there is any way to prove God’s existence? Is the order in the universe enough to explain it, or the complexity of the human body, or perhaps “miracles”? If it is so difficult to prove, why do atheists get such a bad rap, and why is there so much killing and animosity in the name of God? How sure are you of your God? Sure enough to try to convert others to your belief? This is a delicate topic for conversation—I can attest to that—which makes it the perfect topic for a journal entry. Dive deep and find your Truth, uncertainties and all. I would love to know what you find. Leave me a reply and tell me: Who is God to you? 

Namaste,

William