God Help America

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I woke up the morning after the US election feeling out of whack and completely off kilter. Soul-weary exhausted. I had so hoped that this would mark the day that he would just go away.

If politics is a reflection of our collective spirituality, how is it possible that my American neighbours could enable such a massive step backwards?

This presidential campaign preyed on anger, fear, and powerlessness. It revealed the chinks in democracy’s changing armour and a palpable shift in consciousness. It was one of the most divisive campaigns ever, and will be one of the hardest fractures to heal.

CS Lewis must have seen this coming 75 years ago when he wrote his insightful and prophetic Uncle Screwtape Letters:

“Make sure to keep the patient in a constant state of angst, frustration, and general disdain towards the rest of the human race in order to avoid any kind of charity or inner peace from further developing. Ensure the patient continues to believe that the problem is “out there” in the “broken system” rather than recognizing there is a problem with himself.”

15032688_1577828872230912_4162241211964790966_nIf you believe that we each have our own day of reckoning, he will certainly have a whole lot of explaining to do. He brought out the worst in many of us. I was shocked at the intensity of the anger he brought out in me. But I know that I alone am responsible for what comes out in me. Not him.

He has given a voice to people who are angry and fed up, but really those people and those feelings have been there along. He just happened to be the opportunistic lightning rod to channel it. He is only the symptom of a much bigger dis-ease in almost half of the American people. Had the other side won, those people would still be out there. Still angry.

Judgement is one of the ugliest and most destructive human traits, and one of the hardest to overcome. The judgement we have piled on him and his supporters because they do not think or behave the way we think they should has only served to further divide us. In a democracy, there will never be absolute agreement on everything–some will be happy with the outcome and some will not. So maybe “agreement” should not be the goal. Maybe the goal should be to let go of our insatiable need to be right, and try to find a better way to coexist despite our differences. Where does one person’s rights end and another’s begin? Yes it’s complicated.  Yes it’s a very delicate balance. Yes it’s much easier said than done. But it is the only way or we will destroy each other.

“We must mature into people who are, first and foremost, citizens of Earth and residents of the universe, and our identity and core values must be recast accordingly.” —Bill Plotkin

As messy and imperfect as democracy is, this is the process we have. At the very least the people have a choice, and some degree of influence over their own governance and future. Many countries do not have this privilege. America has chosen him, and now they must hold him accountable. I hope that there are enough decent people in his circle to balance him out, and that there are enough checks and balances in place to keep him in line. I hope that what he said after he won about “uniting the American people and healing wounds” represents the real person and intention, and that the hate he has spewed for months was only a tactic to get elected. Maybe I am naive.

Will he rise to the occasion? Will he win over his critics, or has too much damage been done? Will he succeed or will he implode? How much of what he said he would do, can he actually do? Only time will tell. I will try to reserve judgement until I have seen him in action.

Now that the choice has been made, the next steps are clear. If he works to truly and humanely improve the lives of all Americans, he should be supported. If he works a hateful, self serving, exclusionary, irresponsible, fear-based agenda in any way, shape, or form, he must be exposed, opposed, and conquered at every turn. On this there can be no compromise. He is being scrutinized like no other, and must be kept on a very short leash. The US could be on the precipice of a very dangerous, destructive, and revolting era, and it could get very ugly for a very long time. This is our wake-up call.

Of one thing I’m certain: hate cannot combat hate–many wise people have said this, and we know this to be universally true. Continuing to hate him and his supporters will get us absolutely nowhere.

We humans have a tendency to fear the unknown, and avoid that which is different from us. That fear and ignorance can often turn into hate. That’s the real war we should all be fighting.

We have survived other natural and unnatural disasters, and we will survive him. Nature has a way of taking care of itself. He is impermanent and containable. The sun will rise again tomorrow, and the day after that. In the meantime, we need vigilance but we must not be driven by fear. And we ALL need to listen, to try to understand, to self-reflect, and to be open.

If we can do that, then some good can come from all this. Maybe he’s here to teach us something about ourselves and to show us where we’re very clearly stuck. Maybe he’s here to shake us up and help us evolve. Nothing ever changes when we are too comfortable. Now that the fear has been exposed and the anger is out of the shadows, maybe the journey towards healing and civility can begin.

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A Reason, A Season, A Lifetime

photo_hands-1They say that people come into your lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.

It seems like it has been more “reason” and “season” than lifetime for the last little while. And it’s those I thought were lifetime that are really throwing me for a loop.

Relationships that I thought would always be there, but for whatever reason, seem to have run their course.

People who I thought had my back, but who really don’t.

Love that is conditional.

What does it say about them? What does it say about me? Why does it happen? Have I changed? Have they changed? Or is this just the natural flow of life and relationships, and I have trouble accepting that?

Lots of questions. Not many answers. And more questions.

What defines a relationship? What is the glue that makes it strong?

Is a shared past powerful enough to keep a relationship together? Or does it need ongoing maintenance and nurturing? Getting together with old friends is fun and nostalgic, but how many times can we recount the same stories over and over again? If the relationship is to continue to be meaningful and current, it feels like it needs more.

What about the ups and downs? The ups are easy. The downs, not so much—but how we navigate these speaks volumes about what you truly have together. The only way through the rough spots is when two people decide to work together—two people who care and are engaged, and who choose to do the dance of friendship together.

I have had, and continue to have many wonderful people in my life. Some I think will be brief, become meaningful. Some I think are forever, end up not being that.

And some of them crush me. The ones I think are rock solid that aren’t. How fragile they are, and how little it takes to break them. This is what surprises me the most.

The intense feeling of loss makes me feel untethered, as do all the emotions that come with it: anger, hurt, betrayal, sadness, abandonment, devastation, and despair. Why are they so hard to let them go? Is it because my expectations are too high? Or because I imagine them to be more than they actually are?

To me, relationships are ultimately about two people who, to varying degrees, care about and appreciate each other. Two people who somehow make the other one better, and are willing to put in the time and do the work to try to understand and help each other.

For most of my life I have fought to save relationships at all costs. But that’s changing. It takes two people to make a relationship work—we’re in it together or we’re not. And perhaps there are other changes taking place as well. My tolerance for bullshit is dropping. My idea of what it takes to maintain a good relationship is evolving. And maybe I am starting to realize, albeit begrudgingly, that some relationships have simply run their natural course.

There are very few I can count on to be truly forever. In the end, everyone is temporary and everything ends. There is an ebb and a flow, and the reality of life is that people come and go.

As hard as it is, I cannot allow myself to continue to be crushed them. It messes up my head and makes me sick. I know deep down that what I must learn to do is appreciate the “reason” or the “season” I have been given with them, think about what I may need to change moving forward, let them go, and wish them well. And carry in my heart the good they have brought to my life.

I need to stop resisting, trust that things are as they were meant to be, hope that the pain and anguish will fade, and that eventually I will feel some measure of peace.

I need to get out of my own way.

But it sure ain’t easy.

When Things Fall Apart

IMG_5269It has been perhaps the toughest week yet, with separation emotions running very high. I have spent most of it at a very good friend’s cabin, allowing the painful reality to wash through me. I feel like I have been run over a few times by a train. The worst part is knowing how badly she is feeling and knowing that I am the cause, or at the very least, have contributed to it. And that I cannot fix it.

I drift in and out of sleep. I read. I cook. I work on my music. I exercise. I eat. I bounce around. I sleep some more. I hope that when I wake up it will be better.

I have not been very “up.” I thought of apologizing for the quality of my company, but there is no need with a good friend. He just gets it. Rather, I am very grateful for being given the space to just be. A gentle nudge now and then to get up and do something, but he never pushed me. Thank you Dan-o.

There is a small bookshelf at the foot of the bunk bed, and one book title jumps out at me, like a neon sign: “When Things Fall Apart” by Pema Chodron. Timely. And certainly not coincidental. Things seem to come to me when I need them most. When I allow them to come.

Here are a few passages that left a mark. Maybe they will resonate with you.

“When things fall apart and we’re on the verge of we know not what, the test for each of us is to stay on the brink and not concretize. Yet spiritual journey is not about heaven and finally getting to a place that’s really swell. In fact that way of looking at things keeps us miserable. The very first noble truth of the Buddha points out that suffering is inevitable for human beings as long as we believe that things last–that they don’t disintegrate, that they can be counted on to satisfy our hunger for security. From this point of view, the only time we really know what’s going on is when the rug’s been pulled out and we can’t find anywhere to land. To stay with that shakiness–to stay with a broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feeling of hopelessness and wanting revenge–that is the path of true awakening.”

“We regard discomfort in any form as bad news. But for practitioners or spiritual warriors–people who have a certain hunger to know what is true–feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. Those events and people in our lives who trigger our unresolved issues could be regarded as good news. We don’t have to go hunting for anything. Most of us do not take these situations as teachings. We automatically hate them. We run like crazy. We use all kinds of ways to escape–all addictions stem from this moment when we meet our edge and we just can’t stand it. We feel we have to soften it, pad it with something, and we become addicted to whatever it is that seems to ease the pain.”

“We can learn to meet whatever arises with curiosity and not make it such a big deal. Instead of struggling against the force of confusion, we could meet it and relax. When we do that, we discover that clarity is always there. In the middle of the worst scenario with the worst person in the world, in the midst of all the heavy dialogue with ourselves, open space is always there.”

“Our personal demons come in many guises. We experience them as shame, as jealousy, as abandonment, as rage. They are anything that makes us so uncomfortable that we continually run away. We do the big escape: we act out, say something, slam a door, hit someone, or throw a pot as a way of not facing what’s happening in our hearts. Or we shove the feelings under and somehow deaden the pain. We can spend our whole lives escaping from the monsters in our minds.”

“Underneath our ordinary lives, underneath all the talking we do, all the moving we do, all the thoughts in our minds, there’s a fundamental groundlessness. It’s there bubbling all the time. We experience it as restlessness and edginess. We experience it as fear. It motivates passion, aggression, ignorance, jealousy, and pride, but we never get down to the essence of it. Refraining–not habitually acting out impulsively–is a method for getting to know the nature of this restlessness and fear. It’s a method of setting into groundlessness. It’s a transformative experience to simply pause instead of immediately filling up space.”

“To think that we can finally get it all together is unrealistic. To seek for some lasting security is futile. Believing in a solid, separate self, continuing to seek pleasure and avoid pain, thinking that someone “out there” is to blame for our pain–one has to get totally fed up with these ways of thinking. Suffering begins to dissolve when we can question the belief or the hope that there’s anywhere to hide. Hopelessness means that we no longer have the spirit for holding our trip together.”

“In a nontheistic state of mind, abandoning hope is an affirmation, the beginning of the beginning. You could even put “abandon hope” on your refrigerator door instead of more conventional aspirations like “every day in every way I’m getting better and better.” Hope and fear come from feeling that we lack something…from a sense of poverty. We can’t simply relax with ourselves. We hold on to hope, and hope robs us of the present moment.”

“Death in everyday life could also be defined as experiencing all the things that we don’t want. Our marriage isn’t working, our job isn’t coming together. Having a relationship with death in everyday life means that we begin to be able to wait, to relax with insecurity, with panic, with embarrassment, with things not working out. ”

“One of the classic Buddhist teachings on hope and fear concerns what are known as the eight worldly dharmas. These are four pairs of opposites–four things that we like and become attached to and four things that we don’t like and try to avoid. The basic message is that when we are caught up in the eight worldly dharmas, we suffer. Becoming immersed in these four pairs of opposites–pleasure and pain, loss and gain, fame and disgrace, and praise and blame–is what keeps us stuck in the pain of samsara.”

“Usually we regard loneliness as an enemy. Heartache is not something we choose to invite in. It’s restless and pregnant and hot with desire to escape and find something or someone to keep us company. When we can rest in the middle, we begin to have a non-threatening relationship with loneliness, a relaxing and cooling loneliness that completely turns our usual fearful patterns upside down.”

“The experience of certain feelings can seem particularly pregnant with desire for resolution: loneliness, boredom, anxiety. Unless we can relax with these feelings, it’s very hard to stay in the middle when we experience them. We want victory or defeat, praise or blame. For example, if somebody abandons us, we don’t want to be with that raw discomfort. Instead, we conjure up familiar identity of ourselves as a hapless victim. We automatically want to cover over the pain in one way or another, identifying with victory or victimhood.”

“Not wandering in the world of desire is another way of describing cool loneliness. Wandering in the world of desire involves looking for alternatives, seeking something to comfort us–food, drink, people. The word desire encompasses that addiction quality, the way we grab for something because we want to find a way to make things OK. That quality comes from never having grown up.”

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The Dog Days of Marrriage

My wife wants a dog. I vehemently and categorically do not. I do not want the added responsibility. I am already punching far above my weight in that department. I have gladly taken on a wife, son, and a cat. I am grateful and happy to have them in my life, but I do not want any more responsibility.

She feels that it has nothing to do with me, and that I do not have the right to prevent her from following her dream.

I am learning to stand up for myself after so many years of repression. My wife is also learning to stand up for herself and say no, and I am proud of her. It’s a necessary part of her growth and evolution. It’s been a long time coming. This just happens to be the first big test, and I (and the whole dog question) is the first big target.

So here we are…a Mexican stand-off. Neither of us is willing to budge. So what to do?

I cannot deny that I am very angry about it. And I have said some things in anger over the last few days that I regret. She points out that my behaviour and attitude is inconsistent with my spiritual practice. Fair enough. She says that if I can see past my resistance that I may actually enjoy a dog.

Perhaps, but I just can’t seem to go with the flow on this one. I just don’t want more responsibility imposed on me.

And I am floored that she is prepared to bring a dog into this house that I do not want.

But as I am slowly learning, and as I have mentionned several times before in this blog, anger is my one “catch all” emotion. Once I start looking at it carefully and untangling it, I realize that there is more to it, and that there are many other emotions and feelings behind the anger.

So I start digging a little deeper, and poke around a little in the shadows.

And what I discover is that for me, this is about losing control. Feeling powerless.

Like I felt the first time, when I found myself alone with a twisted neighbour in his dark shed when I was four years old.

Finding My Voice

Repressed. Stifled. Buried.

These words describe most of my life. Not in a poor me way, because it has certainly not been all bad (far from it), but these words do describe the backdrop that has colored everything, and has shaped who I am today. Always this unsettled, uncomfortable feeling like I am on the outside looking in.

I am used to not acknowledging what I think, what I feel, and pushing my needs so deep that I have often lost sight of who I am. It’s ingrained. Feeling shame, but not understanding why. Not allowing my essence to flow. At work and at play. Life in general.

The truth is I have never really believed that I am OK. Broken sort of. I have learned to work around all this of course, but the lack of confidence–the root cause–has never really gone away.

As I am discovering, many of these repressed emotions don’t ever really go away. They leak out in all kinds of other ways. Anger is a big one. Many emotions funnel into this one catch all emotion. That one I have become quite good at expressing. “Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” I understand what Mark Twain means now. The anger has wreaked havoc inside.

But I have begun the process of untangling the mess I have created. I can’t change the things that have happened to me, but I can change how I feel about them, and more importantly, choose not to let them dictate who I am today, who I am to become.

Much of this shift began when I left my career of 23 years, about 18 months ago. I have been turning over those rocks one by one ever since. To see what’s been hiding under them. And there is an avalanche of rocks to choose from. But lots more light now to shine under them.

And I am learning something very powerful through expression. Learning to release those pent up feelings in a healthier way. Talking about what I feel. Figuring out what I want and saying it. Learning to listen to….to tune in to what my emotions are telling me. To act on them and not let them fester. My wife is helping me with this…with her love, support, and encouragement.

Writing about what I feel…another outlet I could never have imagined only a few months ago. This blog, for me, has become a godsend…literally. It’s helping me to make sense of the inner chaos, to work through and express things that are on my mind. I panic at times that I won’t have anything of value to say, or even anything to say at all. But I continue to dig, and the thoughts keep bubbling up from somewhere.

And singing. I feel the shift with this one especially. I have always loved to sing, but what used to come out was sort of flat….not much “oumph” behind it. But I have always felt that there is an inner “rock star” in there somewhere, as my friend Kurt put it.

The rock star is simply me. The real me. I am in the process of finding and releasing him. Rob, my voice coach, has helped me unlock what’s been buried for so long. And what’s emerging has life. Passion. Soul. A new sound.

“Who gives a shit,” he says. “Just let it fly.” And he’s right. And now I am.

I am slowly realizing that I have something to say.

I am starting to find my voice.

What Would Love Do?

A few days ago I sent an email to my mother, asking if I could mail a package to her. We don’t talk or see each other much any more…the past continues to interfere with our ability to be in the present together. I think this dates back about seven years to when I began a relationship with Deborah, and more intensely since we were married in 2009. I think my mother lost an “emotional” partner in a sense as I began my matrimonial journey, and she has never accepted that. But that’s a whole other topic for another day.

It did not seem like a complicated request to me, but it clearly was to her, the tone of her reply emails to me becoming more and more terse as her insistence on controlling the process grew. This is not new. By the third email I was really pissed, and began hammering out a reply to match.

I too, am still very angry—specifically that she has never accepted or become part of my new life—and I could feel the fury and frustration building inside of me as I pounded away on the keys. She has a knack for bringing that out in me. I think most of that anger comes from the sadness of what could be, but isn’t. Like love is now conditional, and has been withdrawn, and this hurts. But I have trained myself not to feel hurt.

Trouble is, I have repressed and denied my feelings for most of my life. And that clearly has not worked, as I am slowly discovering. I need to acknowledge the feelings now, but also not allow myself to be ruled by them. Another topic for another day.

My instinct is to lash out and hurt back when I feel attacked. But deep down I know there is nowhere to go with this. Deep down, I don’t want to blame or make my mother (or anyone else for that matter) responsible for my anguish. I want to understand where it comes from so I can let it go, and focus on being and becoming the person I want to be.

So right before I pressed SEND, I stopped. Do I really want to escalate this, I thought to myself.

Is this what love would do? Asking myself this one question has changed a lot in my life lately, often preventing me from doing and saying many potentially destructive things. I need to remember that anger is really a cry for love. Do I want to be right, or do I want love?

Love would definitely not send an angry email.

So I have not sent it.

Hey America…Are You Tired Of Killing Each Other Yet?

And today’s mass shooting is….New York AND Chicago. Two more (in one day) to add to the list! So now you’re up to FOUR mass public shootings since July 20, America. Yeehah!

Yes I know…this is a similar blog entry I posted a couple of weeks ago, just following the Milwaukee and Colorado killings. This is not something I usually write about, but I can’t believe what I’m witnessing here. It’s like a car wreck in slow motion, and it doesn’t seem real. So I think I will continue re-posting a new version of this every time there is another shooting, which according to the stats could be every 30 minutes. Perhaps I’ll just stick to your mass public shooting schedule. Maybe you’ll get tired of reading this post. But maybe you’ll get tired of killing each other first, and begin the process of getting guns off the streets. America is a great nation in so many ways, but its approach to guns is not one of them.

Why not start with looking at the stats and laws from other countries and trying to implement ideas that work? Japan for example has greatly reduced gun violence over the past 10 years or so. Japan’s weapons law begins by stating “No-one shall possess a firearm or  sword,” and very few exceptions are allowed. Makes sense to me. We also know that most acts of gun violence are perpatrated by young males, so why not take steps to get guns out of their hands? I am not an expert on politics or human behaviour, but it seems to me that these might be good places to start.

Yet no one wants to do it. So why is the US “right to bear arms” such a taboo subject? It may have made sense at one time, but now? Has it become so entrenched in its culture that their is no room to reassess this primitive and antiquated “right?” An evolving society means that we are constantly changing and reevaluating. What worked 10, 20, 50, or 100 years ago does not necessarily hold true today. There are countless examples of positive change that have led to societal advancement, so why not guns as well?

In the wake of these recent individual violent acts in the US, I keep wondering about what it is that makes these people do what they do. What is making them so angry? Granted it’s not just a US phenomenon, but it is happening there with increased regularity. It’s becoming commonplace, we become almost immune, and that’s a really scary thing. We begin to accept it as the new normal.

And it’s not just the individual. Our frame of reference is a world that is constantly bickering and competing. One where countries are always at war with each other. Where individual acts of terrorism seem like the norm, and where the decisions and actions of the few dictate the parameters in which the vast majority of us live our lives.

I don’t have the answers but I do know that it is a symptom of profound anger, unhappiness, and disconnectedness. It is a symptom of a very sick and fearful society. One that has lost its way.

Why do we continue to choose hurt over healing? Why do we not opt for creation, cooperation, and peace over destruction and aggression? These are not new questions, but we keep doing and allowing the same things over and over, somehow expecting a different result (Einstein’s definition of insanity).

What do we really expect will happen when we allow guns to be part of our culture? Do we think that any good at all can come from it? Are we really satisfied with the status quo?

How often will it have to happen before we look honestly at the root causes, and decide collectively that we don’t want to live this way, and not make guns so easily accessible? Once a month? Once a week? Maybe every day?

Or will it be when enough of us have been more closely impacted by these acts of violence? When our brother, mother, cousin, grandaughter, or spouse has been killed by a gun. Or perhaps we will have had enough when we have all simply wiped each other out. Do we really like living this way?

What a blunt and primitive species we are. If there is a more evolved species watching us from afar, that is surely what they are thinking. “Look at these silly little humans,” they might say, “they provide each other with guns and other destructive tools, then methodically go about wiping each other out.” Smart folk, eh?

Surely we have all seen enough–lived through enough–to know that violence does not work. We have thousands of years of history that proves it. And we must know by now that it is getting us absolutely nowhere. Surely we must know at some level that what we’re doing is not working.

I just came across this timely piece by Richard Rohr. Substitute your own beliefs or words, but the overiding message is clear and universal.

“If  the self doesn’t find some way to connect radically with Being, it will live in anxiety and insecurity. The false self is inherently insecure. It’s intrinsically fragile, grasping for significance. That’s precisely because it is insignificant! So it grabs at things like badges and uniforms and titles and hats and flags (and I would add: GUNS) to give itself importance and power. People talk about dying for the flag of their country. They don’t realize that the Bible would definitely call that idolatry. What were you before you were an American? Will you be an American in heaven? Most of us don’t know how to answer those questions without a spiritual journey and an inner prayer life.

Who were you before you were male, before you were female, before you were black, before you were white, before you were straight, before you were gay, before you were Lutheran, Mormon, or Amish?

Have you ever lived there? At that naked place, you will have very little to defend, fight about, compete with, overcome, hate, or fear. You are then living in the Reign of God, or what Buddha calls the Great Compassion. Violence is unneeded and undesired.”

Governing ourselves in a way that normalizes and encourages violence is not the way forward.  Yes of course it would be complicated to change the rules on guns. Yes of course some people would not be happy about it. Change is usually messy. But what’s the alternative?

Enough is enough. Time to stand up. Time to change. Time to find a better way.

Violence: When Will We Decide That Enough is Enough?

In the wake of these recent individual violent acts in the US, I keep wondering about what it is that makes these people do what they do. What is making them so angry? And it’s not just a US phenomenon. There are examples everywhere.

And it’s not just the individual. Our frame of reference is a world that is constantly bickering and competing. One where countries are always at war with each other. Where individual acts of terrorism seem like the norm, and where the decisions and actions of the few dictate the parameters in which the vast majority of us live our lives.

I don’t have the answers but I do know that it is a symptom of profound anger, unhappiness, and disconnectedness. It is a symptom of a very sick and fearful society. One that has lost its way.

Why do we continue to choose hurt over healing? Why do we not opt for creation, cooperation, and peace over destruction and aggression? These are not new questions, but we keep doing and allowing the same things over and over, expecting a different result (Einstein’s definition of insanity).

How often will it have to happen before we look honestly at the root causes, and decide collectively that we don’t want to live this way? Once a month? Once a week?

Or will it be when enough of us have been more closely impacted by these acts of violence? Or will it be when we have all simply wiped each other out?

What a blunt and primitive species we are. And we know better.

Surely we have all seen enough–lived enough–to know that violence does not work.  We have thousands of years of history that proves it. And we must know by now that it is getting us absolutely nowhere.

Aren’t we all getting just a little tired of this?

I just came across this timely piece by Richard Rohr. Substitute your own beliefs or words, but the overiding message is clear and universal.

“If  the self doesn’t find some way to connect radically with Being, it will live in anxiety and insecurity. The false self is inherently insecure. It’s intrinsically fragile, grasping for significance. That’s precisely because it is insignificant! So it grabs at things like badges and uniforms and titles and hats and flags (and I would add: GUNS) to give itself importance and power. People talk about dying for the flag of their country. They don’t realize that the Bible would definitely call that idolatry. What were you before you were an American? Will you be an American in heaven? Most of us don’t know how to answer those questions without a spiritual journey and an inner prayer life.

In prayer you will discover who you were before you were male, before you were  female, before you were black, before you were white, before you were straight, before you were gay, before you were Lutheran, Mormon, or Amish.

Have you ever lived there? At that naked place, you will have very little to defend, fight about, compete with, overcome, hate, or fear. You are then living in the Reign  of God, or what Buddha calls the Great Compassion.

Violence is unneeded and undesired.”