Sunday, August 30, 2009
Trust – Part Two
When A.A. folks talk about “turning it over” this is what they are referring to.
“Abandon yourself to God as you understand God. Admit your faults to Him and to your fellows. Clear away the wreckage of your past. Give freely of what you find and join us. We shall be with you in the Fellowship of the Spirit, and you will surely meet some of us as you trudge the Road of Happy Destiny.” (Wilson, 1976, p. 164)
“We asked His protection and care with complete abandon.” (Wilson, 1976, p. 59)
“We were now at Step Three. Many of us said to our Maker, as we understood Him: "God, I offer myself to Thee-to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life. May I do Thy will always!" We thought well before taking this step making sure we were ready; that we could at last abandon ourselves utterly to Him.” (Wilson, 1976, p. 63)
“Abandon” has become one of my favorite words. It has so much more oomph! to it than “let go of”. Besides, I left claw marks on anything I ever “let go” of anyway. For me “abandon” conjures up mental images of rusting hulks slowly returning to their true dharma nature – our old, bulldozer-like ways based on self-reliance (that didn’t work) forever left behind to be broken down and turned elemental. I love the clarity of the utter, emphatic, and certain rejection of ways and ideas proven ineffective!
CHANGE! It’s a beautiful thing. And as my Buddhist friends say, “long live impermanence!”
Anyway… I was discussing with a friend recently the subject of fear, specifically, fear of economic insecurity. There is a lot of that particular strain of fear going around these days and, since we can’t all just run off to the clinic for our “fear shots”, I wanted to talk about “trust” and the practice of accepting the things we cannot change and changing the things we can. We are not in charge of change. Change has a mind of its own – have you noticed? I can’t change you. I can’t even change me! And yet the only thing that doesn’t change is change itself. Enough with the platitudes already! But I think I’m on to something here.
And I suppose there are SOME things we can change. For example, good material life-skills practices - such as getting up off the couch, being industrious, getting trained, finding work, making money, and managing it well; these go a long way towards relieving financial stress. If done calmly, introspectively, prayerfully, and meditatively they can become spiritual practices in themselves. But sometimes it’s just not enough. Additional spiritual practice is called for. We need to take care of the inside as well as the outside.
Now I don’t know how your financial fear and anxiety goes but for me there is usually a triggering event. It could be getting an unusually large utility, food, legal or medical bill. Or it could be something as apparently harmless as being bludgeoned by the 4,528th negative economic news report in the media.
Or, it could be totally internally generated as, for example, I’m stopped at the railroad crossing waiting for the train to pass when some little, inner cognitive imp decides to get the ball rolling by presenting the thought, “that car insurance bill is getting closer….”
These are triggering events and, well, one thing leads to another and, before you really know it, you have a great big fear-based story going on in your head about money. You’re white-knuckling the steering wheel and the guy behind you is honking his horn and making funny hand signals to you evidently wondering why you’re still sitting there with train already long past. And it’s all a story! And a non-trusting, paralyzing story to boot - in your head and nowhere else! It’s amazing – don’t you think? I mean the things we do, and the stories we tell ourselves, apparently just for the purpose of ruining our ‘present moment’ (since nothing other than that is ever accomplished by them).
So, with this understanding we can consciously work to change the stories we tell ourselves. If we’re going to tell ourselves stories that affect our emotional state (and very little else) why don’t we work at making them positive and optimistic? Anything repeated eventually becomes a habit (to state the obvious) and habits are things that we are increasingly unconscious of whether we think so or not. Simple, right? Actually – yes, maybe a little too simple for the modern materialistic mind. These little, inner, fear-mongering imps can be persistent!
Since most of my hunter-gatherer skills have largely been relegated to storage in my DNA, cash flow issues have become a part of my habit life in a strong way. I need to eat and I don’t really want to become a ‘dumpster-diver’ (some of you know what I mean by that). I heard the other day that someone once asked Mother Theresa how they could help the poor. I don’t know if this is true or not but she supposedly replied, “First of all, don’t become one of them.”
Anyway, to sum it up before moving on, we CAN consciously work towards positive change by doing things like:
1) Turning OFF the TV,
2) Getting up off the couch,
3) Being industrious,
4) Getting trained,
5) Finding work,
6) Making money,
7) Becoming an effective money manager, and
8) Being just a little more self-observational when it comes to the ‘funny’ stories we allow to run in our heads about money – and learning to consciously change them for the better.
In my experience, these were (and are) ALL ‘must do’s’ – but they are not enough. I absolutely had to develop a state of mind that included the ongoing concept that I lived in a friendly – rather than hostile – universe. I am talking about a universe in which I am taken care of by a ‘mystical’ benevolent power greater than myself. Otherwise, I would find myself repeatedly at the mercy ‘mystical’ malignant powers greater than myself. For me, this means trusting God. When I look back and consider the facts of my life, it’s as plain as day that I have been taken care of all of my 53.5 years by a mystical benevolent power greater than myself. I have always been in “the stream of Providence” whether I happened to be cooperating at the time or not (see Swedenborg, 1965, AC 8478 cited below).
Having spent about 15 years of my life as a card-carrying atheist, I empathize with those of you who are now accusing me of indulging in fairy tales. But I know that I am not trying to change your beliefs (no one could have changed mine) - I am only sharing my personal experience. You might want to move on to some other blog - as I definitely would have during my atheist period.
Dear reader (I’ve always wanted to use that phrase), at this point I would ask you to refer back to “Trust – Part One” (as needed) and just refresh the memory on all the tips and pointers contained in the selected citations from both A.A.’s “Big Book”, and, Liz Cronkhite’s work on “Developing Trust” and the “Four Habits For Inner Peace”.
I chose all of those citations because I believe they provide all the basics a person needs as he or she moves more deeply into the practice of trusting God. I like the method of first (at least) getting a general idea of what you’re about to do – and THEN doing it – prepare and execute. As I pointed out in Part One, willingness (even if only a little) is a necessary prerequisite to the process. Hopefully you won’t have to go through the emotional, intellectual, and interpersonal “beating” that I endured in order to scrape up the willingness to really begin trusting God – but you probably will (or already have) - so it won’t hurt to keep that in mind. As the A.A. crowd says, “In every case, pain [was] the price of admission into a new life. But this admission price had purchased more than we expected. It brought a measure of humility, which we soon discovered to be a healer of pain. We began to fear pain less, and desire humility more than ever” (Wilson, 1986, p. 75).
The nutshell of my personal process of spiritual development and trust-building looks like this; I had to:
1) Learn to self-examine,
2) Make an effort to stop doing some of the things that were clearly causing trouble,
3) Accept feedback from others,
4) See the need I had to build a relationship with God,
5) Self-examine some more,
6) Clean up my relationships with myself, others, and God,
7) Learn contemplation: i.e. prayer and meditation,
8) Be of service to others, and finally,
9) Practice, practice, practice all of the above….
This nutshell could be rendered even more briefly and concisely as follows. I practiced:
1) Introspection (includes #s 1-5 above),
2) Contemplation (#6),
3) Altruism (#8), and finally,
4) Spiritual habit-formation (#9).
That is as concise as I feel I can be and still cover all the bases.
So what’s left to say? Living in the simple way described above has been an amazing journey of discovery. It has resulted in a state of mind that I will here do my best to describe. First of all, by the practice of this process almost all of the fears, worries, and anxieties have been eliminated from my consciousness. The same is true for the various forms of depression, discouragement, and hopelessness that used to be constant companions. Also, the experience of anger, hostility, and judgment-based irritation toward others has been dramatically reduced. I have become vastly more responsible to others both morally and financially than I once was. The following “promises” (as my A.A. friends describe them) have all come true in my life in varying degrees (with more development still to come). A.A. writes:
“We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.” (Wilson et al., 1976, pp. 83-84)
That last one is actually a most remarkable realization and experience to have! Obviously, the maintenance of our freedom of choice requires that the Divine provide us with a very powerful “appearance” that we are doing everything. Writes Swedenborg:
“Nearly everyone believes that man thinks and wills from himself and consequently speaks and acts from himself. Who from himself can suppose otherwise, since the appearance of it is so strong that it does not differ at all from actually thinking, willing, speaking and acting from himself? And yet this is not possible.” (Swedenborg, 1949, DP 308)
"The appearance is that man is led and taught of himself; but the truth is that he is led and taught by the Lord alone. Those who confirm in themselves the appearance and not at the same time the truth… are all interior idolaters, for they are worshippers of self and the world. If they have no religion they become worshippers of nature, and thus atheists; but if they have a religion they become worshippers of men and also of images… Those, however, who confirm in themselves the appearance and also the truth become worshippers of the Lord; for the Lord raises them up from their proprium [or “self-centered self”] which is in the appearance... and He enables them to perceive interiorly that they are not led and taught of themselves, but by Him.” (Swedenborg, 1949, DP 154:1-2)
The truth of the situation (explained above) is why it can come as quite a shock to realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. The appearance is quite strong - but once that realization is had, the motivation or willingness to improve one’s conscious contact with God can increase exponentially. If this willingness is consistently acted upon as outlined above, the following state of mental, emotional, and spiritual trust described by Swedenborg in the following citation is eventually achieved.
“… those who trust in the Divine… do not think of the morrow with solicitude, still less with anxiety. Unruffled is their spirit whether they obtain the objects of their desire, or not; and they do not grieve over the loss of them, being content with their lot. If they become rich, they do not set their hearts on riches; if they are raised to honors, they do not regard themselves as more worthy than others; if they become poor, they are not made sad; if their circumstances are mean, they are not dejected. They know that … they who are in the stream of Providence are all the time carried along toward everything that is happy, whatever may be the appearance of the means; and that those are in the stream of Providence who put their trust in the Divine and attribute all things to Him;… Be it known also that insofar as anyone is in the stream of Providence, so far he is in a state of peace….” (Swedenborg, 1965, AC 8478:3-4)
Worrying about future life outcomes destroys our joy in the present moment. Learning to live mindfully in the present moment is a critical skill in the building of trust in God. The best teachers of present moment living that I have found are the non-theistic Buddhist practitioners. I have benefitted the most from the teachings of Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist master of the Mahayana tradition, who is a prolific author that has spent most of his life in exile from his native Vietnam - adapting the teachings of the Buddha to the western mindset. His concept of “engaged Buddhism” turns day to day life into an act of meditation and/or prayer and encourages practitioners to live in a loving, kind, active, and other-centered way (Hanh, 1998). It was from Hanh’s teaching that I finally had the “aha!” experience about the present moment. It is a glaringly self-evident truth that if you take good care of the present moment you are automatically taking good care of the future – because the future is made up of present moments. This is an anxiety reducing notion that in itself creates a much greater degree of functionality in the human mind when consistently practiced.
Since the western religious or spiritual mindset usually includes the notion of a “God”, non-theistic Hanh accommodates to this by explaining his perspective on the Divine as follows:
“In Buddhism… God is Mind, especially the collective mind. Mind is the ground of everything… If we understand God as the ground of being from which everything manifests, then our understanding is not different from the Buddhist vision of mind….” (Hanh, 2006a)
Being experts in meditation, one of the two major components of the spiritual practice of contemplation (the other being prayer), Buddhists can be relied on to provide good examples after which to model our non-Buddhist practice (if we are non-Buddhists). Buddhists also pray. Thich Nhat Hanh wrote an excellent little book entitled “The energy of prayer: How to deepen your spiritual practice” (Hanh, 2006b) which anyone thinking of utilizing these spiritual practices for trust-building purposes would be well-advised to have at hand. His descriptions of the practice of “engaged Buddhism” (mentioned above) answer well to the third major spiritual practice of altruism. Buddhism in general is known for its commitment to ending the suffering of all sentient beings through compassionate action, community-building, and dharma teaching.
From the perspective of A Course In Miracles, Liz Cronkhite offers an elegantly simple four-fold daily practice routine for the purpose of building trust in the Divine and personal inner peace. She calls them “The Four Habits for Inner Peace” (Cronkhite, 2007). Here are the four practices (see Part One for greater detail):
1) Commune With God Daily
2) Practice the Holy Instant Throughout the Day
3) Extend Love to Keep Love in Your Awareness, and
4) Let the Holy Spirit Lead You
This is a beautiful practice. I ‘commune with God’ every morning before even getting out of bed. An important part of these Four Habits for me is memorization; I attempt to recite the four practices to myself as I go through my day. If I can’t remember one of them I look it up to aid my recall. Part of my communing with God in the morning (usually at the beginning before I stop thought) involves asking God to help me remember these practices as the day goes along. When I find myself in a situation where I need or want awareness of God’s presence I stop and practice the second habit - I step into the "holy instant." The same goes for extending love and consciously letting the Holy Spirit lead.
Finally, I want to add that the Swedenborgian theological system exceeds any other I have found in its emphasis on altruistic action. Also known as the doctrine of use, this practice involves focusing on the usefulness in the Divine design of every created thing, and, in all human endeavors. Connecting with God’s creations (especially His human creations) through uses is a major way of connecting with God Himself – which brings us nearer to God and thereby enhances the quality and quantity of trust in the Divine that we experience. In fact, the trine of love, wisdom, and use appear to be the fundamental basis of all reality. Swedenborg writes:
“Love, wisdom and use make an inseparable group of three. If they are separated, none of them is anything. Love is nothing without wisdom, but in wisdom it is formed to some purpose; and the purpose to which it is formed is use. Therefore when love by means of wisdom is put to use, it actually exists, because it is realised in action. These three are exactly like end, cause and effect; the end is nothing unless by means of the cause it is realised in the effect. Take one of the three away, and the whole falls to pieces and becomes as if it had never been.” (Swedenborg, 1988, TCR 387:3)
How this shows up in real, day-to-day life is as follows:
“God loves each and every human being, and because He cannot do good to them directly but only indirectly by means of other people, He therefore breathes into people His love.” (Swedenborg, 1906, TCR 457)
“… the Lord performs uses to man through man….” (Swedenborg, 1911, AE 1226:6)
“Someone who loves the neighbor as himself never experiences the delight of charity except in the exercise of it, or in use. Consequently the life of charity is a life of uses. Such life pervades the whole of heaven, for the Lord's kingdom, being a kingdom of mutual love, is a kingdom of uses….” (AC 997:1)
Cronkhite, E. A. (2007). The four habits for inner peace. Retrieved on 17 August 2009 from http://acimmentor.blogspot.com/2007/10/four-habits-for-inner-peace.html .
Hanh, T. N. (1998). The heart of the Buddha’s teaching: Transforming suffering into peace, joy, and liberation. New York: Broadway Books.
Hanh, T. N. (Winter/Spring, 2006a). Answers of Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh to questions from Publishers Weekly magazine. Retrieved June 25, 2006 from http://www.plumvillage.org
Hanh, T. N. (2006b). The energy of prayer: How to deepen your spiritual practice. Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press.
Swedenborg, E. (1906). True christian religion. J. Whitehead (Trans.). Retrieved August 14, 2009, from http://www.sacred-texts.com/swd/tcr/index.htm (Original work published in 1771) TCR
Swedenborg, E. (1911). Apocalypse explained. J. Whitehead (Trans.). Retrieved August 14, 2009, from from http://www.sacred-texts.com/swd/ae/index.htm (Original work written 1757-9) AE
Swedenborg, E. (1949). Divine providence. Wm. Dick & E. J. Pulsford (Trans.). London: The Swedenborg Society. (Original work published 1764) DP
Swedenborg, E. (1965). Arcana coelestia. J. F. Potts (Trans.). New York: Swedenborg Foundation. (Original work published c. 1749-1756) AC
Wilson, W. et. al. (1976). Alcoholics Anonymous. Third edition. New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services. (Original work published 1939)
Wilson, W. (1986). Twelve steps and twelve traditions. New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (Original work published 1952)
Swedenborg, E. (1988). True Christian religion. J. Chadwick (Trans.). London: The Swedenborg Society. (Original work published 1771) TCR