- The Absence of God
- Searching for a Credible Faith?
- Getting the Basics Right in Life
- A Daunting Challenge
- The Listening Soul
- Beyond Activities and Possessions
- Doing What I Think I Should & Doing the Best That I Can
- What is the Point of it All?
- An Uninterruptible Power Supply – A Metaphor for our Lives
- Spiritual Power and Wisdom
- Simple Spirituality
I was swimming at our local community pool when a fascinating conversation broke out in the hot tub. Two women were discussing their religious beliefs. One woman was excited about joining the local Baptist church, having grown up in another denomination. The other woman said she was an Atheist. She said: “I believe in the absence of God”.
I have reflected for several weeks on the absence of God. Many people have experienced God missing at times, whether or not they have a religious faith.
I was struck several years ago by reading a conversation with Mother Teresa. She said that she had gone on for many decades after her first potent experiences of God’s presence, where he spoke powerfully to her. However, her transcendent ecstasies were not repeated again during the next fifty years, despite her exemplary life of service to the dying poor in Calcutta.
I have also been reading the French philosopher and mystic, Simone Weil. She wrote about the necessity of God withdrawing intentionally from the human sphere. Otherwise, she says, we would not have the freedom to become the mature spiritual beings that God wants; we might be more like animals or puppets, responding to what God desires in a slavish fashion, rather than in a willing manner. She said God’s love for us requires some distance between him and us.
God’s absence seems apparent in many places. I have seen the empty cathedrals of Europe, lovingly built by people of great faith, but nowadays admired primarily for their architectural elegance. Has God gone missing in Europe?
What of those who suffer unimaginable evil from crime, war, torture, and exploitation. Where is the presence of God for them? Or is he perhaps found more often during times of misery than in times of pleasure?
Finally, there are references in scripture to God’s absence, whether in the Psalms or with Jesus crying out “My God, why have you forsaken me?”
For many years I have reflected on the presence of God, but now I realize that we experience his absence as well as his presence. This dearth is a profound dilemma: how do we deal with feeling such an immense absence?
Thirty years ago my wife and I lost a baby girl who was only 3 ½ months old to crib death. That event left us in profound grief, feeling totally deserted by God. How could God take away a bright child whom we loved so dearly? Kathy had put baby Hannah down for a nap while we celebrated our oldest son’s fifth birthday. But when Kathy went back to check on her, the baby was cold and dead. We grieved for most of a year, wondering what we might have done wrong. Such events shake us profoundly, even if we have strong faith.
There is the phenomenon of “absence makes the heart grow fonder”. When my wife, children or friends reappear after being gone a while, I am overjoyed to see them; I seem more excited than if they had been with me all along. Absence and separation from those we love most is a necessary facet of our ordinary existence. Perhaps this is part of why God doesn’t always seem present to us.
Even for those who strongly believe in God, our experience varies between times of feeling his uplifting presence, and at other times experiencing his inexplicable absences.
I believe that God never truly leaves us, but that our perceptions change due to our activities, moods and thoughts. Should we focus intensely on recapturing God’s presence in our mind’s eye? Or are we better to wait patiently for this luminous light to reappear like the dawn?
Some people think that powerful worship can bring them quickly into God’s presence. Others wonder if contrived emotional experience may not be more the result of powerful suggestion, than truly finding his exquisite presence. Perhaps God is more likely to be heard in a “still, small voice” than in loud celebrations. Or does this depend on our temperament?
Our feelings of God are colored by the religion we practiced as children, or by the lack of any religion. We judge everything through that lens. So if we are bitter about our childhood religious experience, God may get tossed out, or at least his image may become disfigured in our mind.
I believe that those who seek God steadily will find him eventually. We can seek God in music, books, scriptures, nature, meditation, prayer, church, or in other ways. The different ways in which we experience God remain a mystery. So too is the mystery of his absences.
From time to time I meet people who are searching for a trustworthy faith. The skeptical woman I mentioned in “I Believe in the Absence of God” was one of them.
I met this same woman again recently at my swimming pool and she questioned me intensely about my belief. This surprised me since she hardly knows me. She is searching eagerly for a source of hope before she dies—but she is not prepared to settle for any creed that lacks credibility. The blind faith she had as a child disappointed her. Now she wants to find TRUTH, not just a pleasant myth. Finding a reliable belief system has been my life-quest as well.
I use the term “faith” (or religion) to mean our ultimate road-map for life. This concept applies to an individual, and also to a family or a community of people. It helps to have a group of people living together who share the same values and employ the same road-map. That is known as a faith community.
In one sense, a materialist or an atheist also has a “faith”—faith being defined as a system of living and thinking that we are willing to bet our life on.
Both Albert Einstein and the renowned British historian Arnold Toynbee included Communism and other secular belief systems in their categories of religious phenomena. I quite agree with them: any system of thought and practice that drives its adherents with consuming passion is a kind of “religion” or “faith”.
I would include “Environmentalism” in my category of faiths. Some of my friends believe that there is nothing more worth living and dying for than to save the fragile planetary environment. Heroes of Greenpeace have risked their lives in trying to save the planet and its endangered species. Although their faith may not be supreme wisdom for living, I agree with their goals. On the other hand, their single-minded approach sometimes fails to address life’s other disconcerting questions.
The term faith implies principles we believe intensely, but that cannot be scientifically proven. True faith involves struggle and controversy, almost by definition.
Belief is something we value so much that we naturally want to share it with friends. That may cause serious disagreement, particularly if we become too zealous and impatient to convince others.
Any search that is not linked to finding insight and understanding will eventually prove unsatisfying. Real conviction changes our emotions, but it should persuade our minds as well.
The religion of my childhood seemed too peculiar for me to accept without questioning. People living in my Amish Mennonite community in the 1950’s followed their traditions as best they could. However, they believed some things that seemed naive, if not foolish to me.
My father was an example of this naïveté, although he was also a marvelous man in many respects. My Dad was born over a hundred years ago in 1906. He dropped out of school after grade six to help support his family when his mother died in the great flue epidemic of 1918. Like many rural people, Dad had some farfetched ideas that seemed laughable to his better educated children.
For instance, my father claimed that earthworms fell down from the sky whenever it rained. There is no doubt that whenever there was a heavy rain at our farm, the ground was covered with earthworms; they came out of the earth to avoid drowning. My father’s interpretation, however, was that the worms fell down out of the sky together with the rain. His observations fit the facts as he understood them, but his line of reasoning was humorously deficient. His approach to the Bible also seemed haphazard to me.
Traditional religions often become mixed up with elements of superstition or folk tales. We see this in other people’s religions, but not always in our own traditions. I notice that city dwellers have their superstitions, such as astrology. Whenever there is an absence of real faith, then folk tales and superstitions tend to fill the vacuum.
Albert Einstein famously remarked: “All men are equally wise and equally foolish before God”. The Infinite One must laugh at the pretentions of small earth dwellers. How little we humans truly understand; but our preachers and academic teachers hold forth with bland confidence on subjects none of us understand very clearly.
After years of observing religion and faith in its many forms, I have become less critical of primitive and traditional religion. I did not realize as a boy that most people admired my Amish Mennonite family. I thought we were far too peculiar to be accepted by our neighbors. However, most people have considerable respect for sincere believers: whether they are Catholics, Baptists, Jews, Buddhists, or Environmentalists. In one sense, each of these faiths is incredible. Perhaps that is the very nature of faith—to believe profoundly in what other people do not (yet) find convincing.
I have concluded that ignorant and simple people rarely go wrong when they sincerely try to follow their scriptures—that is exactly what scriptures are for. Thus in my older years, I find that I believe most of the things that my father held dear. I don’t accept all of his superstitions, but I find faith in God, in Jesus, and in the Bible better for me than any of the alternative faiths/religions that I have investigated.
Although people may be struck by the lightning of God’s truth at any age, authentic faith must be tested on the battlefield of life. Faith that is not pure gold will not endure the refiner’s fire.
Fortunately, God who reveals Himself to those who seek Him. It does not depend on our intellectual sophistication. That is why highly educated people may never find faith, while simple folks are still finding God all around the world. Humility before the ULTIMATE INTELLIGENCE is the only requirement for faith and worship.
The language of faith is mysterious because it attempts to describe a REALITY much larger than human intelligence can grasp or explain. Faith may sometimes seem vague or precarious, but it is a lifeline. It brings hope, enthusiasm, courage and vision. It depends more on guidance from above, than on our mental gymnastics.
Where faith is lacking, people find life very dark. However, there is light available for those who are willing to follow it.
That light grows gradually brighter as we approach the ONE who lives in LIGHT. St. Paul describes God to his young friend Timothy as the one … “Who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honour and might forever.”
Faith should be credible, but it will also remain tantalizingly and spectacularly incredible.
There is far more to life than just the basics. But failure to get the basics right can have tragic consequences, even when we attain exceptional achievement in some dimensions. Those individuals who manage to get the basics right will enjoy a life of joyful harmony that will surpass the accomplishments of the rich, the famous, the brilliant, the athletic, and the beautiful.
A billionaire without good health or real friends is sad beyond consolation. A famous actress with her family life torn apart will never fully enjoy her career success. An Olympic athlete caught shoplifting is a tragic spectacle. A PhD graduate from a famous University who can’t hold a job and turns alcoholic is miserable.
There are many examples to be seen of people failing to get the basics right, who suffer disastrous consequences from their failures. One small book can’t tell you all you need to know about life, but it can point you in the right direction. That is my hope and purpose in writing this.
The basics of life include every major dimension of living:
Health – Eating healthy food, getting regular exercise, avoiding drugs, tobacco and excessive drinking are essential for the health of you body. No doctor or hospital or even great wealth is an acceptable substitute. It is said that many people spend their health to gain wealth and then wish they could trade back their wealth to regain their health.
Relationships – Those who invest in healthy relationships on all sides are fortunate. They will enjoy a harmonious marriage, a good family, many friends, and a loving community about them. These do not come entirely by accident. They must be cultivated for a lifetime. Strong relationships need patience, playfulness, and a genuine interest in others’ lives. But the rewards of cultivating this garden of relationships may exceed any other rewards in your life.
Career & Money – Most of us have a career, or job, however humble. Doing your job well is essential for both happiness and success. There are simple rules for managing your work as well as your money. Following these rules regularly will bring prosperity and stability. Frugality in one’s own spending and generosity towards others is a golden combination for happiness.
Mind – Our mind is an instrument of great power. While many people try to do well in school, learning goes far beyond our school years. We must teach ourselves how to learn continuously and how to develop our mental powers. First we need to clear space in our mind – by restricting mindless activities like television, radio, books, and games without a purpose. Learning is a lifetime occupation, which can bring enormous happiness and a real sense of fulfillment. We must teach ourselves how to learn.
Emotions – Our emotional world is equally potent for good or for ill. With courage, determination and purpose we can climb the highest mountains. But with fear, cowardice, and despair, the smallest challenges loom infinitely high and insurmountable. Controlling the emotions within us may seem like an impossible task, but without that kind of self-discipline we will be forever limited in our potential.
Self-discipline – The challenges of life require mental and emotional discipline, as well as self-discipline in other areas. To succeed, the discipline should be gentle, gradual and self-forgiving. We all fail to keep our resolutions, but the best people get back up after each failure without guilt and then carry onward.
All disciplines are interrelated, so that progress in one area reinforces progress in other areas. Even a little progress is encouraging. Supportive friendships are most helpful in our efforts. This is a battle that can be won in time. The outcome may seem to take years. But gradually the results become apparent — our results become apparent to the whole world. Our self-discipline may seem to be a strictly private matter, but everyone around us will feel the consequences.
Rest, leisure and quiet times restore our strength and build up our reserves for the inevitable difficulties that every human must face from time to time. We need to learn the patience of a long distance runner, for surely life is a long race. Learning to be contented in all external circumstances, however bleak, is one of the greatest abilities we can develop.
Finding our creative potential is another key to happiness and fulfillment. Our individual interests all differ, but each of us has unique abilities: whether in cooking, design, gardening, music, art, working with people, or mechanical talent. Until we develop our own passionate hobby or career in an activity we find fascinating, we will never experience complete fulfillment. We need a sense of adventure, of discovery, of new horizons intended for each of us as a unique person. Even a paraplegic or someone lacking eyesight, or hearing, or speech can still find plenty of adventure. This has been demonstrated by many heroic souls—like Hellen Keller.
We need to develop our own code of ethics and moral values and stick to them. That will not only improve our relationships on all sides, but will also improve our reputation for trustworthiness in work and in our community. It will also bring harmony and tranquility to our hearts and minds.
Inner guidance – We need to hear the quiet inner voice that speaks within all of us and directs us toward the light. There are other loud voices, within and without us, which we must learn to resist. We must not yield to temptation, to passion and to fear. Developing a trustworthy center of our being is one of the rewards of mastering the basics.
Finally we humans all have a significant spiritual dimension. While spirituality is part of the basics of life, it is also a complex and difficult topic to communicate well in a short space.
Once you start focusing on getting the basics right in your life you will find plenty of help and information beyond this book. This concept is not a new or fresh discovery by this author. Generations of good teachers have pointed out the way of wisdom to all who will listen.
But one thing is critical. You must take the initiative. You must make the decision to steadily improve every aspect of your life. or else your life will gradually slide downwards into pit.
It is easy to forget all this as soon as you lay down this book, or to think that changing your life is impossible. Many people start out in life with great advantages that they squander along the way. Others start out in poverty and obscurity (as I did) and gradually find the golden road to happiness and success. The right road is truly there, ready to be found.
The issues discussed here are of ultimate importance to your life or to any life. These will determine your life or death; health or sickness; wealth or poverty; friendship or loneliness; great accomplishment or insignificance.
It is your life and mine that we are discussing. What is your life worth to you? Is it worth the time and trouble to get it right?
These principles may take a while to become highly effective — if you are looking for an instant cure, you have found the wrong book! Right living is a slow path but it leads us ultimately in the only good direction available.
Will you make the effort? Will you find a notebook or journal to write down your own observations, so that you gradually develop your own teacher within?
I believe you may be at a major crossroad in your life. Will you take the road to happiness, fulfillment and adventure? I hope so!
We all discover sooner or later that life is a daunting challenge. Somehow, we seem to have missed out in getting the basic instructions on how to live our lives successfully. We must have been napping when the teacher told us what we really needed most to know.
To make matters worse, there are many wrong theories and half-truths floating around about how we should live our lives. Imagine traveling in an unknown place when you don’t even know if you have the right map to guide you.
I have found a number of principles on this subject, after much study and reflection, including lots of trial and error.
We are not accidental creatures lost in space. There is a design and a purpose for our lives if we can find it. There is a God.
We are meant to be happy and to enjoy our whole lives, but we also need to know the basic principles that enable us to survive and prosper.
Each of us needs to adapt the principles for living to fit the unique challenges each one of us is facing. While there are general rules for everyone, each one of us needs to determine our personal priorities in light of our circumstances.
We all need to accept the responsibility of taking care of our own selves. I must – and you must – take care of my body every day, by getting plenty of exercise and eating lots of fruits and vegetables.
Similarly, I need to take care of my own family, friends, money and my job. There is no one else who will or could do this for me.
Each of us needs a gentle discipline in every area of our lives. We need to develop good habits that will sustain us when trouble comes, as it certainly will.
We need to seek wisdom for living every day, but avoid being taken in by the cheap promises made by people who pose as teachers, but who really want our money more than to actually help us.
When we first discover how big the problems are which we face, we may wonder if there is any hope of ever getting it all right. However, we only need to do one thing right at a time. If we always try to do each thing right to the best of our ability, we will gradually succeed more and more.
There is plenty of room for failure, and for trial and error. We need to relax and to have confidence – if we are sincerely trying. We will rarely get any thing right the first time, or even on the second try, or on the third time. But practice makes perfect.
Finding good teachers and good friends is vital to our progress. However, bad friends lead us to more and more trouble. Bad teachers are even worse.
It is never too late to start to improve. Some people are fortunate enough to get a really good start in life, while others only discover the need to do this much later in life. But doing the right thing will always pay off, even if we have made a real mess of our lives.
So my job for today is to find what I need to do for this day and then do my best to do it right. If I do this every day, my life will improve significantly.
I need (and you need) to try to get all of the basics right in our lives. That is the only key to success and happiness. Forget about winning the lottery or getting rich quick – that is an illusion. But doing the right things daily will make a difference beyond what we could ever imagine!
In our heart of hearts, we usually know what we should do in most matters. If we don’t know for some areas, we should ask friends or experts that we trust. Good advice and good books can help us to avoid trouble and to find success.
Success is not just a personal matter. I cannot truly succeed by doing things which help me but which will cause you harm. Until I start to work for the success of everyone around me, I will always find conflict and unhappiness.
Doing the right thing is the only way to find real fun and lasting enjoyment in life. All other approaches lead to a bad outcome.
The road to happiness is slow but sure. Trying to get there too quickly is a big mistake. You may ask if a little self-discipline is so good, then why not try to do it night and day with superhuman efforts. But regrettably, such heroic attempts rarely go the full distance. Gentle efforts bring regular successes, but excessive efforts produce recurring failures. Don’t make your life unnecessarily difficult.
Spiritual seekers endeavor to hear what we can discover beyond limits of the sensory world.
We also try to sharpen our ordinary senses—to see all that there is to see; to hear every audible sound; to feel the slightest touch; and to taste and smell the wondrous scents around us. These too inform our souls.
But ultimately, to grow spiritually we need to “listen” to what is beyond ordinary hearing, or seeing.
The hardest challenge of our lives is knowing how to live, in knowing what to do, and what we should avoid doing. How can we distinguish the right path to travel, among the countless possibilities available, both within ourselves and beyond us? How can we find a reliable road in such a perplexing maze?
Since ancient times we have been told that if we “listen” intently enough, we can acquire sufficient wisdom to guide our path. Sometimes this has been described as extra “sight” or “vision”. In India, it has been described having a metaphorical “third eye” in our forehead.
What we are discussing here goes beyond physical hearing or seeing, and beyond any of our other senses, as important as they are.
One of the difficulties with a spiritual quest is having inadequate vocabulary to describe this invisible realm. We readily acknowledge the reality of taste and smell, although it is hard to precisely describe the taste of food to someone who has not yet tasted that recipe. It is harder still to describe spiritual things so that they can be immediately be grasped.
To illustrate this dilemma, look at the famous story of Helen Keller who lived in the 19th Century. She was unable to hear, see or speak at all. She had lost these ordinary senses due to a severe childhood illness at age two.
Yet, with the help of an astute teacher, she was ultimately able to learn a kind of language, to speak somewhat, and even to write some best-selling books. She attended Radcliffe College, part of Harvard University. Mark Twain believed that Helen Keller ranked with Napoleon, as one of the two most extraordinary people of the 19th Century.
We are all a bit like Helen when it comes to learning about the spiritual world. However difficult it may be to understand what seems incommunicable, the alternative of not being able to understand anything spiritual is even more miserable.
Like Helen, we may be tempted to rage – at the enigmatic nature of this hidden realm. We have to find language and concepts beyond our ordinary senses. This is what spiritual seekers have done throughout the ages.
We can benefit from carefully chosen books and astute teachers, but some of us would rather just enjoy normal existence to the fullest. But then some inexplicable event – a death, an unexpected vision, or some other extraordinary occurrence brings us back to the quest of spiritual knowledge.
Life is full of perplexity without spiritual knowledge. How can we tell good people from bad ones? How do we decide on difficult ethical and moral questions, when there is so much conflicting advice? How do we know when we are getting it right?
Can we ever mature enough spiritually so that we will stand on our own feet, without dependence on teachers, however helpful they may be?
Guides are needed, but they are not enough alone. We need the ability to distinguish between false guides and reliable ones, between those who are only a few steps ahead and those who are mature. Even that requires listening and shrewdness.
This is difficult for us. However, walking onward in spiritual darkness, like the physical darkness that Helen Keller experienced, is even more vexing.
We need spiritual perception to navigate the fog of life. Our friends and family will get sick or die. We will face dangers and challenges of every kind throughout all of our days. We will need to decide where to live, whom to marry, what career to take and many more questions. All of these choices will all benefit from spiritual knowledge.
I encourage you to open the “ears” of your soul to hear. That is what this book is about.
I am now starting my seventh year of “retirement” and am still amazed how busy I am. For a while, I thought that this was just a temporary phase while I was catching up with all the things I had neglected during my executive career. Then there was the matter of moving up the coast to a wonderful small community and creating a pleasant life. I have succeeded in writing some blogs and in staying in touch with a wide variety of friends. But why do I still get up at 5:00 AM to make sure that I can accomplish what seems important?
Obviously the building of a new house on two lovely acres and all the landscaping and gardening opportunities fill a lot of hours. I have investments to manage and a few boards that require my best judgment. We just sold an old van and bought a new one. I have another car to sell off.
It seems that I can hardly keep up some days on doing what seems truly important. Does this sound like a familiar story?
Eugene Peterson said once that modern people spend much of their lives pursuing ever more possessions and ever more activities, but neither can truly satisfy our deepest longings, which are for Intimacy and for Transcendence.
Intimacy means an affectionate and loving personal relationship with another person or with a group of friends. It involves closeness, familiarity and warmth. It requires a lot of time and commitment. It means opening up ourselves on a deep level and becoming vulnerable. It requires shedding our veneers and facing our companions with our defects and insecurities on display. It means dropping our masks of respectability to stand naked emotionally with those we love. Intimacy is a lot more difficult than sharing activities and comparing possessions. Why do we need it so much?
Transcendence is an obscure word for many people. It doesn’t even appear in some dictionaries, although transcend, transcendent and even transcendental are used from time to time.
To transcend is to go beyond, rise above or be more important or better than something, especially a limit. Transcendent is greater, better, more important, or going beyond or above all others. Transcendental describes an experience, event, object or idea that is extremely special and unusual and cannot be understood in ordinary ways
Transcendence words are used particularly in philosophy, psychology and religion. This concept involves going beyond our normal range of perception. Sometimes it can mean being above and independent of the material universe. It may be expressed as supreme, extreme, ultimate, unsurpassed, or uttermost. It may be an experience, event, object or idea that is extremely special and unusual and cannot be understood in ordinary ways. All of these words are used frequently to refer to God or any other concept of Deity. They may involve prayer, meditation and the invisible realms of reality, such as Heaven.
So coming back to your and my ordinary lives, how can we pursue intimacy and transcendence, rather than just increasing our activities and possessions?
I may not choose to be intimately related to everyone I meet, particularly if I suspect that they are manipulative or malicious. However, I have daily opportunities to open up to new people and to spend meaningful moments with my closest companions. That should be at least as important as building my house or finishing my never-ending TO DO list.
Transcendence takes even more focus and concentration. It means looking up at the night sky with millions of bright stars when our dogs need to run out. It means watching plants and trees in their life cycle through the seasons and wondering about the cycles of my life and those of other people.
Both transcendence and intimacy deserve far more of my attention and reflection. They are what I long for most deeply when my busy-ness subsides at midnight.
As a much younger man and an aspiring folk singer, I used to play Green Back Dollar by Hoyt Axton on my Gibson steel-string guitar:
Some people say I’m a no count
Others say I’m no good
But I’m just a natural born traveling man
Doing what I think I should
Oh Lord, doing what I think I should
Well, I don’t give a damn about a green back dollar
Spend it fast as I can
For a wailing song and a good guitar
Are the only things that I understand
Oh Lord, the only things that I understand
After nearly a lifetime of studying and observing the human species, and of investigating every possible moral philosophy, religion and form of spirituality, I have come back full circle to simplicity as the best approach to life. “Doing what I think I should” and “Doing the best that I can” may seem like a poor excuse for pursuing my highest ambitions, but the alternative looks worse.
A large number of people have given up trying to live a good life altogether, since it just seems too hard. Others are still striving valiantly to achieve perfection as best they can understand it, but are getting battered by the unceasing storms that blow them off their desired path.
Perhaps it doesn’t need to be this hard. As most of us move into an increasingly complex and complicated (“complexicated”) world in our large metropolitan areas, we have become rich in money and possessions, but poor in free time, leisure and simplicity. Just driving or commuting to work is arduous. Managing a successful career is increasingly challenging. Maintaining relationships, a solid family, and caring for the wider community seems more like an impossible dream than a present reality. Add to this the complications of exploding technology, communications, entertainment, and new systems for doing anything better (which usually disappear overnight), and we moderns are working full-out just to meet our minimum obligations.
The irony is that while we have ever more knowledge and educational degrees, we have less understanding of how to live life well. By contrast, although my parents and grandparents faced life-long economic hardships and health challenges, they didn’t spend their days in unfathomable complexity. They could come home after a hard day’s labour to sing, garden, cook, chat with neighbors, and to keep their simple faith.
Our generation seems in danger of losing what matters most in life. We may own cars that perform beyond the wildest dreams of our grandparents; and we accumulate home furnishings, travel to distant places, and live like royalty in some respects; yet, we suffer the severe modern anxiety where the speed of change has left us utterly baffled.
So I come back to simplicity and to manageable goals. At age 66, I have no illusion that just around the corner I will encounter a new success formula to bring great wealth, better health, effective government, or perfect spirituality. Rather, I see much unhappiness in those still striving for impossible levels of perfection in every dimension.
I remember fondly the days of my youth when I had few “green-backed dollars”, but lots of fun and leisure. I enjoyed never-ending days at the beach or in the mountains with friends and family. We sang around the fire. We cooked simple food. We made plenty of mistakes. But life was good.
I hope for the generations that follow that our material ambitions, our pursuit of education and knowledge, and our desire to achieve human perfection in every aspect don’t ruin what could be a good life.
My advice: just do what you think you should and the best that you can. It doesn’t get much better than that.
I have spent most of my working life in Vancouver, which recently topped the Economist Magazine’s list as the very best place to live in the top 120 global cities. Yet in this safe, exciting and wonderful city, I have watched some of the most fortunate people on our planet struggling in futility as they try to reach their life goals.
Mothers rush their young children from music lessons to sports activities. Parents rush home for dinner before pursuing their evening’s activities. People are buying houses and cars, music systems and vacation properties. They save what they can for investments in the future: education for their children and for their ultimate retirement. People seem frenzied by their non-stop activities and by ever more things to buy. Few people are really contented and happy.
An English poet from an earlier generation said: “Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers”. As traffic gets more and more congested with expensive cars, people are endlessly rushing around, and sometimes I wonder: what is the point of all this?
We all look with compassion at starving children in poor countries. We sympathize with youth in developing countries who will likely never share the opportunities of the middle class in Vancouver. But when we see successful managers and even multimillionaires working as furiously as the very poor, we stop and wonder, what is the point of all this?
These ultimate questions about life are what occupy me most. In fact, these questions have fascinated me for a very long time, which perhaps means that I am a “philosopher of every day life”. I believe that I know some of the answers to these perplexing questions, but I struggle to communicate the answers adequately.
My answers are not entirely original, nor are the questions. These questions have been asked and answered since the dawn of human history. Some teachers give very simple answers to these difficult questions; but unfortunately, while the simple answers are not entirely wrong, they seem inadequate to satisfy this generation; the changes seen on our planet during the last 100 years are likely the most momentous in 5,000 years of recorded history.
One typical answer is: this endless struggle in our lives is all about another dimension where we will go after death. I don’t reject that answer entirely, but I find myself impatient with otherworldly solutions that are of no use here and now. The wisdom we need most urgently is how to live our lives today and tomorrow. Hopefully, that wisdom will also point us towards our ultimate destiny.
Since ancient times, some people have believed we should seek pleasure, moment by moment: in delicious food, in fine wine, in sex, in all kinds of physical pleasures, and in whatever artistic and cultural pursuits which satisfy our immediate longings. This hedonistic philosophy still going strong today.
A smaller group of philosophers has believed that most pleasures should be denied, that we should seek complete chastity, poverty, simplicity and purity of our souls. This ascetic philosophy is also advocated today in many forms, both religious and secular.
However, the largest group of humanity has little conscious philosophy in these matters: they are too busy rushing to their next activity to give this matter much consideration.
Let me provide a note of hope and optimism. I truly believe that there are answers to life’s ultimate questions when we look for them. There are good solutions to life’s challenges. There are wholesome ways to live our lives so that they do not end in futility.
But these questions demand our full attention. The solutions do not come in little pills, or in easy recipes that take two minutes. The answer is more like a journey we must undertake.
My hope is to provide you the best wisdom that I have found in terms of practical usefulness for every-day living. I have climbed part way up this mountain of spiritual seeking. I have found a life for myself that is mostly harmony and peace.
This wisdom will not exempt me from old age and death, but it provides me a deep sense of meaning and contentment as I watch the endless cycles of life. I invite you to come share this exciting journey.
Yesterday there was a colossal storm on our part of the Pacific Coast. Huge waves tossed massive logs up onto park benches at Davis Bay, our public beachfront. Water leaped over the new cement barrier recently constructed to keep the water off the main coastal highway.
While the road escaped closure, seaweed was strewn beyond the barriers. Stones, pebbles and sand washed up onto the sidewalk. It took hours after the storm subsided to repair even part of the damage. Powerful machinery will be needed to push the mammoth concrete barriers back into their previous orderly line. The strength of the wind and waves was unimaginable!
At our house, the power went out at 5:30 a.m. Huge fir and cedar trees came down over power lines everywhere. Fortunately, our backup generator had been repaired just last week, so 12 seconds after the grid power went out, our generator turned our lights back on.
Furthermore, I had just purchased and installed an Uninterruptible Power Supply (a back-up battery with surge protection) to safeguard the hard drive of my top-of-the-line iMac. Thank God I had done it in time. The power went off and on many times during this long day. It could have damaged my wonderful new computer. But I was well protected.
Most houses lost electric power. Our nearest neighbors came and stayed at our house most of the day. They had relatives visiting them, plus a little child. We enjoyed their company and were glad to able to share a refuge in this storm. Another friend came over to use our oven to finish baking her bread. She left us some tasty slices for sandwiches.
But many families and older people were less fortunate. They were cold, hungry, worried about their food spoiling in refrigerators, and exhausted by the time the power came back on 16 hours later.
Such events, whether from natural causes or human malfunctioning, occur every day. We try to prepare, but sometimes we are caught far short. Too bad that we don’t always have an Uninterruptible Power Supply.
I was not prepared last year when I caught a sudden severe pneumonia that nearly killed me. What my doctors and I had never known is that I had severely diminished lung capacity due to polio. I lay unconscious for 6 weeks while my family and friends despaired for me ever to recover. I stayed in hospital for four months. But fortunately, I had an astounding recovery that amazes my doctors.
Although I had not done sufficient to prepare for such a devastating illness, my body was healthy overall so that I recovered quickly. From that traumatic illness, I realized I needed to improve my habits and lifestyle so that, hopefully, my wife will not become a premature widow.
Most of us don’t learn soon enough how big the storms can be in our lives:
• Sudden loss of employment
• Breakup of a marriage
• A major illness like cancer
• Mental deterioration, in its many forms
• Community breakdown and crime
• Adversarial confrontations between ethnic, religious or socioeconomic groups
This book is dedicated to helping us become prepared for the inevitable storms we face, and to suggest methods for recovering from damage already incurred. I have had to live with a badly crippled body from childhood Polio, but I not only survived, but I have prospered.
If you could see my lovely home and surrounding estate, you might be a bit envious. However, I believe nearly all of that could be taken away without destroying me, or my contentment. I have learned sources of strength that go beyond my material possessions or even my wonderful family.
My book presents ideas on many diverse topics. Some parts will address your personal situation better than other sections. You can start reading anywhere: in the middle of this book, at the end, or anywhere in between. Just look at the index of chapters and themes to find what interests you most.
I believe that we can find an Uninterruptible Power Supply: for our families, for our neighborhoods, our schools, and companies. But it takes an open mind, diligent preparation, and maximum flexibility to adapt to the unexpected.
It also requires us to learn where we stand in the universe and about the ultimate source of spiritual power – that is truly our Uninterruptible Power Supply.
Since ancient times there have been stories all around the world of sages who have remarkable wisdom and spiritual power. Some they say could heal, read minds, predict the future or work miracles of various kinds. They lived on mountains, in caves, in remote places, or sometimes in more normal circumstances. They were reported to be incredibly wise and helpful to their communities. (I am not including here any description of people who practiced the “dark arts” and worked evil magic.)
I have been fascinated personally about such tales and have tried to research them in an open-minded, yet skeptical way. I am sure that as with most stories, there has been considerable exaggeration, if not deceit at times. I have tried to trace down a few stories of these who lived in current times where I could get reliable information.
Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi both fit this category somewhat. Both had tales circulating about their miracle-working abilities and special knowledge. But they themselves claimed no unusual powers or knowledge, which is interesting. My guess is that both were wonderfully developed in spiritual terms. I believe that they were powerful and wise, but not supernaturally so.
Here let me make a distinction. I personally believe in spiritual forces far beyond human comprehension, explained as God in some circles, and by other names and concepts elsewhere. I believe, as did Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi that God or these supernatural forces work in our world constantly and that certain individuals have been able to align themselves with this great power.
So I believe that it was by the Power of God say that Mother Teresa could feed and care for so many of the sick and dying in Calcutta, but the great power did not belong to her. I believe that she listened to her inner voice in prayer and meditation and was given special wisdom and vision for her task.
I am not saying that all reported miracle workers are fraudulent, but that I have found it difficult to verify most of these claims, whether Christian, Hindu, or otherwise. Those who perform on stage or camera are especially suspect. God does not seemingly approve of much publicity.
But before leaving you with the impression that this arena is mostly about legends and exaggeration, let me paint a different picture of the spiritually illumined. I believe that we humans have remarkable potential for spiritual development, but that it consists mostly of less visible and less fantastic qualities.
True spiritual illumination starts with outstanding commitment to goodness towards all members of the human community, as well as caring for the earth and for its animal and plant life. St. Francis was a great example of this.
It also involves prayer, meditation, reflection and communion with the infinite powers of the cosmos. This is no magic, but it is a reality attested to by centuries of spiritual seekers. I believe this changes our hearts and minds for the betterment of ourselves, our families, and everyone we touch.
Spirituality brings healing: inside of the seeker and in the lives we touch. We heal bodies, minds, emotions, families and even organizations. Spirituality is all about healing. If sometimes a seeming miracle occurs, the spiritual person attributes it to divine blessing, not our own special powers. But some saints appear to be surrounded by special healings and other miracles, although I have not known such a person directly myself.
So where does this leave a spiritual seeker? I believe that a vast, rich world of potential lies open to the sincere seeker, but they must be discriminating and skeptical about fabled spiritual giants, who are most likely publicity seekers, if not frauds.
I practice my spiritual disciplines just in the same fashion that I exercise, watch my diet and my finances. I have found it a very worthwhile pursuit, but not a quick way to become rich, powerful or famous. Rather, it helps me to become truly human and to realize my full potential.
I recommend seeking spiritual illumination, but with eyes open wide.
Although religion is declining among educated people worldwide, the interest in spirituality and in ultimate questions remains high. I frequently hear comments and discussions of these among friends. I see movies, books and TV programs addressing spiritual issues.
I have spent much of my life inquiring about the right spiritual path. I have read complex books of theology. I have seen some of the famous gurus who appeared in North America during the last 40 years. I have read books and scriptures from the major cultures. And during this time of investigation I have practiced my own simple disciplines to keep me happy and whole.
Having reached my mid 60’s, which is older than most of my ancestors lived, I have concluded that spirituality is actually simple, but it encompasses our whole life. It goes well beyond prayer, meditation, singing, or reading scriptures, as important as these are for me.
It starts with how we live our daily life. Do we choose what is healthy and holy (or whole) for our body, mind and soul, or do we live from hour to hour in a helter-skelter fashion?
Most of know what is good for our bodies, whether or not we practice it. We need simple food, balancing fruits and vegetables with whole grains, potatoes, and legumes, plus some meat and fish for those who eat them. We need a regular sleeping pattern with 6 – 9 hours of sleep at a regular time to keep our bodies refreshed. We cannot afford to imbibe much alcohol, nicotine, or drugs, whether legal or illegal.
We need regular and vigorous exercise, although not in extreme amounts; half an hour per day is an adequate minimum. That is about it for the body, except for bathing and attending to sickness or wounds. The body is the temple of the spirit, so its care is essential to spirituality.
Spirituality is the nurture and care of our spirit in all of its dimensions:
• Our heart and emotions
• Our mind and learning
• Our work and career
• Our money and possessions
• Our home, gardens and all growing things
• Our parents, siblings, children and other relatives
• Our friends, neighbors and our opponents
• Our community of people we know and meet
• Our actions and conduct, particularly in stressful times
• Our character and morals
• Our future and our destiny
All of these items above involve important aspects of our spirituality. However, in all of these we are fortunately never acting alone:
• There is a guiding hand of Providence that inspires us and supplies our daily needs. I believe God creates and upholds this world, the cosmos, and every being within all time and space.
• The Spirit of God speaks to us through a variety of voices and subtle influences, including our own thoughts and feelings. We can learn to distinguish His voice from both our own muddled thoughts and from the temptations of the evil powers about us.
• There are wonderful teachers and writers, of whom Jesus of Nazareth was the greatest. His voice has spread across the centuries and I believe we can listen to him speaking directly in our hearts.
• There are evil powers, both visible and invisible, which we must oppose.
• There are angels and beings of light that help us in our struggles.
• And there are kindred spiritual seekers who are also trying to build a more beautiful and harmonious world
Our daily life takes place within this immense spiritual universe. Our struggles are meaningful, even at times when we see mostly darkness and despair.
We each have a divine purpose for which we are created; until we find and pursue this calling, we can never be happy or contented.
Our spiritual life does not require us to make spectacular, heroic progress. We often learn by trial and error, but are protected as long as we try fervently to do what is good.
We need to be contented with our current possessions and circumstances. That does not mean we cannot expect wonderful new experiences ahead and aspire to a better future– we should!
Fortunately, spirituality is simple enough that a child or any ordinary person can comprehend it. However, caring well for our spirit in all it aspects will challenge us throughout our lifetime.