This post comes courtesy of a conversation I had with a friend I had not seen in a long time. After exchanging the usual “Hello how are you?” I informed the gentleman he looked healthy and good. It was an honest assertation. There seemed to be more of a content look about him. It was his response that inspired this post.
“I’m good.” the young man replied. “I’m going through some stuff and when you change spiritually, you change physically.” That quote is what we are going to discuss today. If you look at the picture above it will give you a good analogy as to what spiritual growth is like. When a snake reaches a point of growth that its current skin can no longer contain, that skin is shed. For a while during this process the snake looks as if it is literally falling apart. As it is making its transition bits of skin will cling to its body until they are rubbed off revealing a shining ‘new’ snake. After sometime the snake’s skin becomes dull and the process is repeated. Another interesting fact I discovered while doing research for this post is that this process occurs six or seven times the first year and then can slow down to once a year or less.
This process is not much different than human spiritual development. When we are beginning to grow spiritually, or shed the skin of our old beliefs, we can appear as if we are coming undone. Often, there is a lack of sleep, a look of uncertainty and a general physical dishevelment. Until, at last, you achieve a look of inner peace and balance such as this man had. That is not to say everything is perfect in your life, but that you have come to peace with who you are and how that impacts your life. There are many who may not appreciate the look of the shiny new snake, especially those who have not grown to the same state you are at, or those who consider your growth a threat to themselves or your relationship with them. Sometimes it is necessary to leave them behind much like the skin the snake sheds.
Another interesting parallel was the rate of change. Much like the snakes who shed several times in the beginning of life and then do so at a reduced rate as their life progresses, we humans grow the same spiritually. As young children we absorb knowledge like a sponge. learning and taking in new ideas and beliefs at a rate that is surprising. As we grow older our learning is balanced with responsibilities and our attachment to our beliefs. Our willingness to change them slows. This is not always a bad thing, but that means our spiritual growth can take a lot longer, but it is also a lot more dramatic.
It would be great if all of us as adults could take a few weeks off of work, travel to India and meditate and study with the Dalai Lama, or whatever other spiritual adventure calls us. We could spend a few weeks shedding the skin of our outdated beliefs and emerge with a fresh and healthy new perspective. Instead, most of us have to balance spiritual growth with work, social and family obligations and a general lack of time to pursue them. This can lead us looking like we, and our lives, are totally falling apart as we feel that everything inside is beginning to fall in place.
Remember this snake analogy when you are either witnessing someone going through their spiritual rebirth, and especially when you are going through your own. As you develop new and empowering beliefs they may not fit into your current modalities. This can seem like your life is forever trying to put a round peg in a square hole. This is not only because you have changed, but because there may be things in your life that no longer serve who you are as a person. This is also life’s way of initially testing your commitment to your new beliefs. Hang in there as soon you will too reveal the shiny new more empowered you underneath the skin of the beliefs you have outgrown.
The American Civil War (never really did understand that term) was about far more than just slavery. It represented rural verses city life. It pitted national governing against local governing. In broad terms, the southern way of living against the northern way of living. Of all of these issues the basis was the same, different people with strong ideological beliefs on both sides.
It can still be argued as to whether rural or city planning is better and healthier. I am sure there are benefits to both national and local governing. What I felt was really a no-brainer was dismissing the human rights of someone based on either the color of their skin or their ethnic upbringing. In today’s world of division, this can, and often does, include political and religious differences as well. While it is certainly ok and quite natural to disagree with each other on these issues, what is not acceptable is to vilify or dehumanize others who are or believe different than we.
As I tend to surround myself with people who are as accepting and open-minded as myself, these issues are not always front and center in my mind. In my own way I think of things like prejudice and racism as not only arcane, but ludicrous. Would you really deny yourself a blood transfusion because Dr. Charles Richard Drew, who invented a way to process and preserve blood plasma was African-American? Would you do without such inventions as paper, printing and umbrellas because they come from Chinese inventors? Would you do without all of Albert Einstein’s contribution to science because you are anti-Semitic? The fountain pen, windmill and one of the most important inventions to my writing – coffee are all of a Muslim origin.
To do without any of these inventions because you believe this or that group of people are less than you would not only be foolish, it would be ignorant and stupid. Every culture has its heroes and its villains. To condemn an entire race or group of people based on the actions of one, or some of its people is not only irresponsible, but asinine. Do I hate all of my German friends because back in the 30’s and 40’s there was a neurotic freak named Hitler who killed millions of people? Of course not. Do I hold a grudge against all of my Christian friends because many of them lead to the death of over 100 million Native Americans? That would be senseless.
If we are to hate someone based solely on the racial/religious or political differences we have with them, then we should be prepared to do without all of the amazing contributions brought on by that group. As I look around my group of friends and notice the vast difference in color, culture and creed, I look forward to learning from and working with all of them to make our world a better place. As the Dalai Lama said, we are all brothers and sisters.
Continuing on our theme of looking at the world in an entirely different way, I present to you the quote in the picture above. To be educated just enough to believe what they have been taught but not enough to question it. I suggest you read that line a few times and really let it soak in. Most of what we have been taught has come from those who were around us when we were growing up. This group could include our family, friends, teachers and others. Let me ask you this question. As well meaning as these folks were in teaching us, could it be that perhaps they had a certain prejudice? Maybe they were just passing down beliefs they had been taught unquestioned? Do you think what may have been correct say 50 years ago, may not be correct anymore? Cigarettes and soda used to be considered ‘health tonics’ in the not so distant past.
Doing things because “That’s the way they have always been done” makes as much sense as riding a horse to work instead of your car.
I suggest questioning a lot of what you believe. That is not to say it is incorrect. Quite to the contrary. Questioning what you believe can lead to a greater understanding and strengthen your faith in it. I turn to the Dalai Lama for an example. One of the leaders of Tibetan Buddhism, he could have easily just followed tradition and did things the way they had been done for centuries. Instead, he has challenged convention and opened up dialogue with other faiths. He also has questioned his own faith. Instead of accepting the power of his form of meditation, he encouraged scientific study of it. He challenged neuroscientist Dr. Richie Davidson to switch his focus of study from anxiety, depression and fear to study qualities like kindness, compassion and equanimity. He even gave permission to have Buddhist monks studied while they meditated. What he discovered only strengthened his faith.
I encourage all of us, myself included, to take a look inside at some of our long-held beliefs and ask why it is we believe them. Perhaps they could use a little tweaking? Perhaps they are totally invalid in light of our own personal experiences. Perhaps, like in the case of the Dalai Lama, by questioning them we will gain an even deeper understanding and appreciation of them.
Desmond Tutu has always been a person I admire. Although strong in his faith, he, along with the Dalai Lama, have put differences aside to work together for the greater good. In this single quote I think the reason they do so is summed up rather nicely.
When facing a conflict, the first thing many of us do is run to our friends to vent. Whether that venting is in person, on social media or in some other medium it generally degenerates to gossip and leads to both parties growing further apart on the issue at hand. It also reduces the amount of trust between the two parties. We see examples of this on the world stage between governments. The end result, all too often, results in war. This not only leads to the loss of countless, often innocent, lives, but decades of trust between nations and their people.
This also happens on a personal level. Working as a DJ, and as a bartender for years before that, I have seen this happen far too often. These adults have issues with each other, sometimes legitimate, sometimes petty. Rather than act in a solution oriented manner by approaching the person in a non-confrontational manner to discuss their differences, they begin complaining to others, or worse put things out there on social media. This usually results in name calling, and even others joining in and fueling the anger and hate.
This also happens on an intimate level. At my day job I have overheard men complain about their wives and girlfriends nagging them, or driving them crazy. I have heard ladies complain their husbands are inattentive and ignorant. What happens? The other party usually agrees with them, maybe even adds a story of their own and both parties leave with an even greater angst for their spouse. When they get home a loving resolution is further away then when they left that morning.
Enemies do not always have to be those we are against. As mentioned in the above examples they can be our friends, our coworkers or even those closest to us. No matter how we define those we are in conflict to, it is important to realize the only way to reach a peaceful solution is to confront them in a peaceful manner, while expressing the desire to reach a solution beneficial to all parties.
I am not foolish enough to think that this will be easy, solving conflict generally never is. The reward, if we do pursue this path, will be peace. That peace will not only benefit us, but those around us. We cannot control the actions of the governing bodies of the world, but we can set an example for them and for others by rising above the negative and petty. By doing so we will begin to foster a world full of peace and love.
Who doesn’t want to change the world? Who wouldn’t want the world to be a better place for everyone? Tall order right? How can we convince political rivals not to resort to bloodshed to solve their differences? How can we convince those whose hearts are filled with hate to replace it with love? In short, we can’t.
Not very inspiring I know. It is the truth. We cannot change the minds and hearts of others. That is up to them. This blog is focused on things we CAN do though. So what can we do? How do we reach those souls who need it most? How can we change the world? It is actually easier than you think. The only way we can truly touch and reach each other is through love and compassion. The woman who is credited with the quote above, Mother Teresa, changed the world on a grand scale using both love and compassion.
The good news is you do not have to surrender your life and help those people in a third world country like she did. All we have to do is show love to those around us. This is not always easy, but it will pay rewards far beyond what we can imagine. Being a shining example of love and compassion to our family will provide them with a framework to do the same. My good friend Bart recently had his first child. Both he and his wife and very caring and compassionate people who genuinely care about the world around them. It does my soul good to know such parents are raising a member of the future generation who will bring the same to the world.
So what about those who do not have the luxury of having such parents? That is why it is important to be the best example we can for everyone we encounter. Let us do our best to remember in the coming year that a lot of people do not have the benefit of a loving and compassionate example to draw from. Perhaps they have not learned how to deal with anger, or how to understand those who are different from them. They might have even been raised and taught to be full of hate and judgment. In the face of such people we need to serve them and the world around us by being that example. That is not an easy task, especially when that anger or judgment is directed at us. By fighting our temptation to reflect the same emotions back, and by ‘killing’ their judgment and anger with our love, compassion and understanding we are indeed changing the world.
This is a quote that really helped get my life on the fast track. Here is something I am often guilty of, thinking too far ahead. What do I mean by this? I will think of all the steps I must do to complete a project and become so overwhelmed I will not start. Have you ever done that? This quote helped me look at things differently. My goal is to be someone who can touch lives and bring joy to countless people across this crazy planet we live on. If I thought of everything that would have to happen for that to be true I would quickly be overwhelmed and may be inclined to give up. Instead I find that asking myself a different question helps a great deal. I read this quote and then think of my goal and ask myself “What can I do today?” What steps can I take today that will help my cause in the future? Too often we focus on if we had only done this in the past, or well things will be better when I can do that in the future.
This need not only apply to life missions. Even things like the vacation you are looking to take. If you can’t afford the trip to Fiji tomorrow, what can you do? Look into getting your passport? Look at resorts in Fiji and which you might like to stay at? Talk to a travel agent and discover what time of year is best. Begin to visualize yourself there. So many steps you can take today. Start by putting $20 in a bank or savings account to put towards it. Little steps taken daily change your life. So let us ask ourselves, what can we do today? Even if it seems like a very small step, take whatever action you can towards your goal. You will feel better and gain momentum.
To paraphrase the late Zig Ziglar motivation expert and author, Motivation doesn’t last, neither does bathing that is why we must do it daily. So how to capture this? How can we work in motivation every single day with limited or no effort on our part? How can there be a reminder every single day to seed our mind to greatness and expand our compassion and our drive for success. The answer can be found on your wall, or on your desk, or on that table by the television. It is a great tool that is often overlooked. The day by day calendar. Whoever started this great idea was on to something. it is getting to be that time of year where calendar stores start popping up at your local mall. I strongly suggest paying a visit to one. For roughly the price of one dinner out you can be treated to daily motivation right in your home! They have calendars for all different angles. Trying to become more driven? They have calendars for people who are starting their own business. looking to create more peace and tranquility in your life? Try a zen calendar. The one I am currently using is ‘insight from the Dalai lama’ he is a man I greatly respect and his words give me a lot to think about as I go through my life. All I do to accomplish this is tear off a little piece of paper as I grab my daily cup of coffee. Think of whatever goal you are aspiring to, now imagine 365 powerful thoughts towards its creation. All of them already written and waiting for you with no effort on your behalf. how much closer to accomplishing your goal, whether it will be to be more relaxed, prosperous or enlightened if you could focus on it in a different manner 365 ways in a year. a great thing about these calendars you can tear off the sheet, which is roughly 4 inches by 4 inches and take it with you. fold it up and put it in your pocket/wallet/purse whatever. Then you can take it out and think about it several times a day. My aunt who either has far more ambition, time or both than myself even saved a few of her favorites and made a scrap-book of them. Thus, they can keep inspiring her for years to come. Now if I could only find that calendar with beautiful beaches, lovely island girls and motivational quotes I would be set. Seriously, stop by your local calendar store and take a look around, see what may work for you. Also there are nice little desk calendars and even wall calendars that can provide you with inspirational thoughts weekly or monthly. They are great for developing mantras and building on a single idea for a prolonged period of time. Recently my amazing friend Crystal gave me one and I love it! Not only do I enjoy the inspirational quotes, but I am always reminded of, and grateful for the amazing friend I have in her. So they also make wonderful gifts to inspire others.
“If you want other to be happy, practice compassion. if YOU want to be happy, practice compassion”
-The Dalai Lama
Here are some interesting facts I pulled out of this months Success Magazine according to a May report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention here are some interesting facts for the years 1999-2010
Suicide in adults age 35-64 rose 28.4%
it rose 48.6% for men in their 50’s
it also rose 59.7% for women age 60-64
So what solution does this article recommend for this issue? Altruism, or simply put, helping others. I know to a lot of you this may sound “new age-ish” but let me assure you it is not. Shawn Achor, author of the book Before Happiness and author of the article cites recent positive psychology research. I am going to cite not so recent Neil past events. There was a time a few years back my life was a mess, my job at the post office was in limbo at best, my relationship had ended and I just seemed more depressed every day. Now of course this is before I started researching and applying lots of the knowledge on display here and in my new book. Back to that time however, I didn’t know which way to go. My friends and family had grown tired of listening to my “woe is me” attitude and quite frankly, so did I. So seeing the post office didn’t care to use my talents I decided to head down to the meal program I helped at once a month. It was not the day that I normally helped, but figured they could always use an extra hand. That simple decision impacted my life dramatically. First, it put in prospective my problems. I still had a job, albeit barely. I was healthy. I had a roof over my head. the people we served that day could only make claim to a few of those, some not even one. Not only that, their expressions of gratitude and genuine wishes of goodwill for me were overwhelming. By the end of the day not only had I pretty much forgotten about my problems I was feeling grateful and even happy. Seeing that you can make someone else smile has a profound effect. Looking back that may have been the beginning of my passion to serve and help others. Which was later brought to the forefront by my amazing friends Carmen and Alyssa. (More on them tomorrow.) The great thing about helping others is it really is one situation in life that is win/win. When you bring joy or just simply a smile to the heart of another person they obviously feel good, but seeing that reaction and knowing you played a part in it brings a joy like nothing I have ever experienced. you do not have to help at a meal program or a shelter to have this effect. Notice people who do not normally receive a lot of compliments. try giving them a sincere and kind word or maybe even just a smile and hello. When, at Christmas time, the post office becomes the personification of chaos I cannot begin to tell you how much the words “Thank you for your hard work during the holiday season” mean. Not to mention all the homemade cookies and candy! So perhaps a kind word to a busy cashier, or an extra tip for a busy waitress this weekend. You may not stay to see the results, but knowing you had a positive effect on a person’s day can make your day as well. So go ahead and be kind for selfish reasons. If we all were this world would be an amazing place!
“The fact that there is always a positive side to life is the one thing that gives me a lot of Happiness. This world is not perfect. There are problems. But things like happiness and unhappiness are relative. Realizing this gives you hope.”
The Dalai Lama
I really like this quote. How many times in life have we looked back at an incident that at the time seemed terrible only to realize how much good had come of it? The secret here is to try to shorten the time it takes to see the good in a given situation. Here is something to carry around with you and try when we encounter one of life’s unavoidable challenges. Ask yourself, “What is good about this situation” Spend no more than five minutes pondering that. Then move on and do your best to forget about what is troubling you. Your subconscious mind will still be focused on that very question. Then later that day sit down and ask yourself the same question. Although it may not seem you have given it any more effort you mind will have been working behind the scenes to come up with several ideas. It may even help to sit down with pen and paper and work on creating a list. The more you do this, the more you work on training your brain to be positive and this same formula works for solving problems. This week, let us all try to see and focus on the positive side to everything!