Monday, November 14, 2016

Grape #31: Choose Kindness

This reflection isn't about politics. It's about morality.

I have seen darkness, bullying, and hatred from my Republican friends and family members. I have also seen darkness, bullying, and hatred from my Democrat friends and family members. Darkness, bullying, and hatred do not show up in the soul of a person based on how they vote. This truth comes with some much-needed clarifications though.

When we speak of basic moral principles, there is a darkness in our country right now that we all, regardless of our political backgrounds and opinions, need to stop. It is a darkness that says that a person is somehow less than we are because of their skin color, gender, sexuality, religion, or nationality. These are moral absolutes that you either comprehend or fail to comprehend, and if you cannot get past that last sentence without agreeing 100%, your soul is sick, and I pray you find healing soon.

But here is a another great sickness that has invaded people of every political, sexual, religious, and ethnic equation. It is the disease of bullying, and it infects a person so much, they act without thinking or feeling in their pursuit of hurting other people. They mock people boldly on Facebook. They "slut shame", they bully, and they demean their fellow human beings in many corrosive, acidic, and disgusting ways, and it needs to stop right now.

We cannot hope to change this world for the better, to unite our country or our world, through hatred. No dark room can be brightened by bringing the darkness from another room into it. The dark can only be vanquished by the light.

To be clear, I'm not talking about the very real importance of defending yourself from danger, whether imminent and physical or widespread and political. I am in no way advocating for silence or acceptance of hatred and violence. But when we have the opportunity to discuss, argue, and debate important matters, no one will be helped by using that opportunity to share a demeaning picture or post online. I say this not as a perfect person who has never done this, but as a very imperfect person who has done it, and knows it's wrong.

The darkness I see out there is coming from people on the left and the right. I believe slut shaming Melania Trump is wrong. I believe mocking President Obama's name is wrong. I believe mocking Donald Trump for his hair is wrong. I believe calling a human being a spic, a nigger, or a faggot is wrong. I believe making fun of Chris Christie for his waist size is wrong. I believe hating someone for being a Republican or a Democrat is wrong. And don't tell me you're just calling out hypocrisy or you're dishing back what others give out, because two wrongs never made anything right.

Here's what else I know.

Politics has nothing to do with hatred, judgment, and dismissal of human beings because of their race, religion, sexuality, gender, and so on. When a human being, whether he's the President-elect or just the guy selling you your coffee, tells people that violence is a good thing, and hatred is a good thing, you need to use your own brain, your own heart, and your own soul, and realize that person is wrong. You need to call it out when it's safe to do so, and you need to make sure your friends and family members do the same.

You need to know, without any doubt in your mind, that hatred, violence, and bullying are wrong. This is not my opinion or my political belief. This is Morality 101, and I'm alarmed that so many human beings have not yet passed this entry-level class.

We are called to be kinder. We are called to be gentler. We are called to be more compassionate, loving human beings. This is not a religious calling or a political preference. This is a basic moral principle, and it's what keeps us all from killing one another.

The United States right now is filled with people who are scared. Respect that. Feel compassion for that. Try your best to understand that. If your only response is to mock people who are protesting, or crying, or shouting their grief and fear out into the wind, you are the problem. You are the sickness that has infiltrated this country and our world. If your first inclination is to laugh and to make fun of your fellow citizens, even those of opposing political parties, you are a sick-souled person. And again, I say this as someone who has done this myself. I'm not perfect, but I will forever believe we should all strive to be more perfect than we are.

I am a man who was raised a Christian but who found Christ outside the church more than within. I was an altar boy in grade school, a Bishop's server in high school, and a monk in college. I walked the walk and I talked the talk. And even though I have been heading away from "the church" for almost 20 years now since leaving the religious life, I have learned that basic moral principles have never been the property of religion. Morality instead forms an arc of love over us all. And though this moral arc can absolutely be found inside the walls of temples, mosques, and churches, it is not at all dependent on religious background, teaching, or even belief in order to be found.

So here we are today, a country split in half with differences and fed by anger and hatred. We are broken, and we need to acknowledge that brokenness. We cannot hope to mend this division until we first fully acknowledge that we are a nation of vastly different people with vastly different opinions that has been torn open and wounded.

Our agreement to certain moral absolutes is the foundation on which all laws and differences of political opinion are based. We agree that violence is wrong, that all men are created equal, that citizens are innocent until proven guilty, and that love is always, always, always greater than hate.

So I pray, for those who will read this, that you go back to your social media feeds or your desks at the office or at school, and you try your very best to keep kindness and love in your heart. Bringing darkness and hatred to a dark situation will do nothing. What is now, is now. What will be, will be. Your kindness and your love, even to the point of kindly telling your friends and family members that their social media posts are hateful, will make our moral arc that much stronger, and it will protect us that much more.

Choose kindness. Choose strength when you need to defend the defenseless, or even yourself, but whenever possible, I beg you to seek out and spread kindness. Be kind even with the sick-souled who don't see how sick-souled they are. Be loving with those who seem to be unlovable. And yes, you can still do this with strength and volume in your voice in the pursuit of healing our country's soul.

The moral arc that surrounds us needs feeding and constant upkeep. Our world needs more and more love, now more than ever before. What will be, will be, but what will be can be made better because of kindness. Choose kindness. Be Kindness. And be gentle, with yourself as much as with others. It isn't the solution to all our problems, but it is a much more powerful tool to take with us through our day than hatred.
Because in a world where even our political leaders are encouraging violence and hatred, it is your moral responsibility to preach out for a kinder world.

I pray for us all: Democrats, Republicans, Independents, and all those who are watching our country right now on the world stage. May we ALL make the choice today, right now, to not just choose this kindness for ourselves, but to do our best to teach our families, our friends, and our communities to choose this kindness as well. Fight the good fight in dialogue and discussion, and yes, even in political fervor, but do so always with kindness in your thoughts, your words, and your heart. We can be better than this. We are better than this. And it's time we changed.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Grape #30: Holy Week Reflections

Without fail, whenever Holy Week arrives, I'm brought back to every other Holy Week I've gone through before, every time I've watched the Jesus of Nazareth Miniseries, every passion play I've witnessed, or mass, or ritual, or stations of the cross.

It all begins, of course, with humility. On what we now call Palm Sunday, Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey. Hardly a bells-and-whistles entrance, I think you'd agree, but enough people know who he is now after he's been teaching and preaching for three years across the region. So here he comes moseying along--I always think of Eeyore--and just like his ride, he smiles sadly and says, "Thanks for noticing me."

Okay, so maybe that's not what he said, but you understand what I mean? He wasn't exactly screaming out for people to notice him. Still, they did notice him. They did know who he was, and they did recognize the beauty of the moment. They laid down palm fronds before him in tribute to both him and his ministry. It was beautiful.

He spends the week with his disciples, and he tells them to prepare the Passover meal later in the week. This will be the day we now call Holy Thursday. He dines with his friends, and starts to tell them what will happen next. And they're riveted, absolutely riveted. "Wait, what is he saying? This is all going to happen now? This weekend?" Imagine you're out to dinner with friends, and someone tells you they're about to be arrested, tried for treason, and killed the next day. You'd stop eating and stare at him with wild eyes, too. "No," you'd say, "that can't be true."

"No joke," he says, "In fact, the person who reaches for that yummy basket of breadsticks at the same time as me will betray me this very night." And by the time they're out in the olive garden, full from dinner, they forget. They fall asleep. He shakes his head at them and looks up in prayer. "Dear God, for Passover this year, won't you please let this cup pass over me? Can't we do this some other way?" He pleads to God for intercession, but nothing happens.
"In Gethsemane, the holiest of all petitioners prayed three times that a certain cup might pass from him. It did not. After that, the idea that prayer is recommended to us as a sort of infallible gimmick may be dismissed." - C. S. Lewis
Good Friday arrives, and within just a few hours that morning, he's tried and sentenced to death. The disciples seem to have slept in that morning, because most of them weren't even aware this was happening. In his darkest moments the night before, they slept, and in his final hours, they slept in. As they woke up late and had breakfast, maybe an egg sandwich or bagel, he was being whipped. Someone even cut out a bunch of thorns from a rose bush and crushed it on his head. "Here's your crown, king!" they laughed. By noon, his body was nailed to two pieces of wood, and he was left to die...slowly.

Holy Saturday's the day when nothing happens, and there's a supreme holiness in that. When you've spent the last two days thinking and praying about the awful end to Jesus's life, you're suddenly faced with this empty hole in your life. Tears may come, just as they do when you're a day apart from a loved one's death, but at the same time, you're left feeling empty. Robbed. Uncertain of anything.

But then Easter Sunday arrives. You've finally convinced yourself your loved one is gone. The awful hours of the previous two or three days are behind you, but now you reach the tomb and find it empty. Impossible, you think. How could this be true? The resurrection is at the core of Christian theology, but even if you have trouble believing that Jesus rose from the dead, body and soul, there's still the truth as shared by so many in the years afterward.

"We saw him appear before us." "We touched the holes in his hands and feet." "He walked with us on the road to Emmaus."

These were people who Jesus told to their faces what would happen, and even they didn't believe him. Peter, his closest disciple, denied even knowing him! They fell asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane when he needed them most. They slept in the next morning while he was beaten and crucified. And when the women of their group ran to them and said they saw him alive, risen from the dead, risen from the tomb, they made fun of them. "You silly women don't know anything," they mocked, "Why should we believe you?"

So when we read about all of this, including their amazing stories about finally seeing him themselves, talking to him, touching his hands and dining with him, we see real people telling their real stories without sugarcoating anything. "We didn't believe either," they're telling us, "and we know it all sounds crazy, but it's true!"

Holy Week comes just once a year, but we go through it over and over again in our lives. Every time someone close to us dies, we experience all the pain and doubt, lethargy and hopelessness the disciples felt. Our faith is tested, and we may even scoff at those who try to tell us they've seen the resurrected spirit of a loved one in person. But it's true--all of it!

All theology aside--and I personally don't believe a whole lot of things traditional religion has taught me--the soul does survive death! Holy Week is an opportunity to reflect on all of it: the death and the life, the empty hole and the empty tomb, the darkness of this world, and the light of the next. "We didn't believe either, and we know it all sounds crazy, but it's true!"

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Grape #29: Irritable Scowl Syndrome

You've no doubt heard about bitchy resting face, a syndrome that's not so much intentional as it is unfortunate. Irritable scowl syndrome is similar, but it absolutely comes with intention.

The serial scowler either knows they are, or simply doesn't care. They make no effort to conceal their distaste, for that would defeat the purpose of scowling in the first place.

A scowl is meant to convey distaste and judgment. It is intended to communicate disagreement with the hopes of changing the situation at hand.

When afflicted with ISS (Irritable Scowl Syndrome), you walk around with hatred. You see a car parked badly, and you scowl. You see a teenager dressed in a way you disagree with, and you scowl. You see a post on social media you don't like, and you scowl. You see a person you dislike with a smile on their face, and you scowl. You see a problem with your meal at a restaurant, and you scowl. You see a scowl, and you scowl.

ISS is common in people over 40, but it's also common in people one day of age and up. In rare cases, Irritable Scowl Syndrome can cause Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and just as often, Irritable Bowel Syndrome can cause Irritable Scowl Syndrome. Talk to your doctor about almost anything, and you may soon find yourself with Irritable Scowl Syndrome. Four out of five doctors have Irritable Scowl Syndrome, and it is contagious.

There is no known cure for ISS, but encouraging your face to move in the upward position rather than downward is a good place to start. Practice in the mirror if necessary. Just think of happy things, and see if that helps. In clinical trials, some patients observed that simply loving people rather than judging them helped remove the scowl immediately.

For more ways to help reverse the process of scowling, please visit Spirituality With A Smile on Facebook, or subscribe to this blog.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Grape #28: Doubling Down On Kindness

Very often lately, I've heard about how a political candidate is accused of saying or doing something heinous, and instead of apologizing, he doubles down on his hateful rhetoric a day later.

So today, to help balance the universe out, I thought we could look at ways we can all double down on kindness in our lives.

The kind thing to do is holding a door open. The double-down kind thing to do is holding the door open with a smile or a happy comment.

The kind thing to do is letting someone pull in front of you on the road. The double-down kind thing to do is waving them in with your hand.

The kind thing to do is smiling kindly at a stranger. The double-down kind thing to do is really meaning it.

The kind thing to do is pointing out some water or mess on the floor, so the next person doesn't slip. The double-down kind thing to do is cleaning it up yourself right away.

The kind thing to do is putting your phone down on the table while you're sitting with someone at a meal or a party. The double-down kind thing to do is putting your phone away completely in your pocket or purse.

The kind thing to do is not replying in a nasty way to a hate-filled post on social media. The double-down kind thing to do is posting something love-filled in response.

The kind thing to do is fully listening to someone tell a story. The double-down kind thing to do is not one-upping them once they're done.

The kind thing to do is giving your loved ones all your attention and love. The double-down kind thing to do is giving all your attention and love to those who look, pray, and speak differently than you do.

The kind thing to do is appreciating that we're all different, and we're allowed to have different beliefs from one another. The double-down kind thing to do is opening your mind to really learning about other cultures and beliefs.

The kind thing to do is liking this post on social media. The double-down kind thing to do is sharing it. *smile*

Reply here or in the posting you saw this from with your own double-down suggestion. The kind thing to do is ______________. The double-down kind thing to do is ______________.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Grape #27: The spiritual response to bullies

I'm an easy target for bullies. A lot of people see me as a pushover, or weak, someone who they know won't come back at them with the same intimidation or mean words they throw at me. 99% of the time, that's who I am, and I've always regretted the times I lashed out in response.

Growing up Catholic, we watched the entire Jesus of Nazareth miniseries every year in high school. I got to know Jesus first as the Son of God, and later as my friend and brother. I've realized over time how much his message has been co-opted by the Pharisees of today, but when I look at the man himself, well, he continues to be one of my greatest role models.

Remember the old "turn and offer him your other cheek as well" slogan? Eugene H. Peterson, my favorite biblical translator, phrases it this way:

"Here's another old saying that deserves a second look: 'Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.' Is that going to get us anywhere? Here's what I propose: 'Don't hit back at all.' If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, gift wrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously." (The Message, Matthew 5:39-42)

How many of us are capable of doing this? But even more important than that, how many of us believe Jesus was right? How many go to church on Sunday nodding their heads, yet support hate-filled political leaders on Monday?

Jesus said this when Peter drew his sword in the Garden of Gethsemane: "Put your sword back where it belongs. All who use swords are destroyed by swords." (The Message, Matthew 26:52-54) Does this sound like someone who believes in putting even more guns into more hands? But I digress!

We're living in a very strange world in which people use their religions against other people instead of fusing their souls with other people as children of one, love-filled God.

Bullies come in every religious cloth and many outside of belief too, of course. On one side there are religious people who bully others into an ultimatum of dogmas set up against the possibility of eternal damnation, fire and brimstone. And on the other side are comedians mocking religious and spiritual people alike for wasting their time on an invisible, nonexistent deity. Each of these are flanks of far too many in the center: folks who are being taught by osmosis from their favorite news network or preacher that hatred is okay now and then, because it keeps us safe.

So what do we do when we're bullied by someone dead set in their love of hatred, or their casual affair with closed-mindedness? How do we spiritually respond to bullies?

By taking a deep breath--or twenty--and calming the storm within us. When someone says something mean or hurtful about us or our black, Muslim, gay, trans, Spanish, or Chinese friends (and so on), we must let the wild waves churning within us be still. We must find that inner peace that we had as children, the inner peace we all had and still have within us. And once we get to that place, we can respond to the person or situation with love.

Is this easy? No.

And I'm not putting myself up on some pedestal either. I'm just the typist here, not the example. I struggle with all of this just like you do. And that's what this is about anyway, isn't it? Realizing we're all in this together?

The elevator filled with all kinds of people and beliefs, religious and political, gets stuck between floors, and we have to decide to either be at peace or be in the perpetual storm that does nothing but hurt us and others.

The spiritual response to bullies is peace and love. It's the solution that requires no fists or swords or guns or bullying words of any kind. It's the solution that may even mean getting punched in the face or the shirt stolen off our back.

Can we defend ourselves and our neighbors from suffering and death? Can we take up arms against a sea of troubles if the sea of troubles is threatening to crash onto the shores of our homes and souls? Well, what did Jesus do? He was arrested, peacefully. He was beaten, severely. And instead of just being killed, he was killed slowly up on a cross for all to see, as the hot sun beat down on his hungry, thirsty, bloody body.

I'm not suggesting you go that far! That isn't my purpose!

I just want you to see how far from that you've gone when you insult someone's race, religion, sexuality, or identity in any way. I want you to see how far from spirit you are when you help bullies succeed, when instead of helping your sisters and brothers who struggle to put food on the table (whether or not they treat themselves to a new pair of sneakers), you instead vote for political leaders who preach vile, evil hatred every chance they get.

Deep breaths, deep breaths, Sean. I'm trying!

I understand now why Jesus lashed out at the money-changers in the temple, but instead of making that one instance of anger the center of my approach, I remember how kind the man was most of the time, how much he preached love and forgiveness. I remember how amazingly, freakin' sweet he was all the time. And it helps me still the storms of anger others have stirred within me.

I continue to pray, as I hope you will too, that we may all strive for greater peace, both in our world, and in our hearts. The storms will keep coming at us all the time, and they'll show up in all sorts of disguises and phrases, even from people smiling and pretending to be good. But when we trust in and swim in the calm waters deep within us, we can better react to the hatred. We can, and we must. This world needs us to try harder.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Grape #26: What does being a good person REALLY mean?

Today's reflection is a tricky one for me, because anytime I presume to tell others what is moral and what is not, there are some out there who gleefully wag their morality-loving fingers right back at me in response. So right from the start, let me be clear: I'm not perfect. I do things I shouldn't. I say things I shouldn't. I react and act in ways I should not. For all my angelic tendencies, and I do have some, I've still got a big stack of non-angelic tendencies. So if you know me well, dear reader, please know the words I share below are the deepest truths from my heart and soul. They are not claims to my own fame, but rather moral absolutes I preach to myself as much as to you.

What does being a good person mean?

It means letting people in on the parkway, and asking for a place in as well. It means holding the door open for people when they're closing in fast, and apologizing when you forget or neglect to do so. It means not gossiping about others incessantly, harping on the worst characteristics of a person, or whatever perceived weaknesses you believe they have.

But these are just some of the first steps to being a good person. These are easy.

What does being a good person really mean?

It means standing up to bullies, who too often think they are not bullies simply because they refrain from violence. Bullies, more often than not, bully with their mouths.

It means calling out a wrong, no matter who said or did it. It could be your spouse or best friend, or even the leader of your political party of choice. A wrong is a wrong is a wrong.

But even these are just directions we walk once we're healthy enough to understand basic right from basic wrong. Before all this, we need to choose to be a certain type of person. We need to choose to live this one life like the angels we already are.

So what does being a good person REALLY mean?

It means caring enough. It means choosing to be the kind of person who cares so much, your opportunities to better the world multiply before you more than others.

It means noticing a person's nerves and reaching out to them to help.

It means speaking to other people as if you're speaking to God.

It means being the kind of person who doesn't push a glass door open with his fingers on the glass, simply because someone will have to clean it later.

It means listening, really listening, to a friend or family member speak, and not just spending the time thinking up your reply.

It means believing that most of the people on this planet mean well.

It means not judging an entire group of people based on some who have done wrong.

There are people in this world who will shovel their front walk just so they don't get sued, and not so people don't fall. We all know people like this. They clearly don't care, at least about others. They cut us off on the parkway, they let the door slam in our faces, and they mock other people with an unholy venom. They believe that everyone out there is their enemy until they prove themselves otherwise. They believe the world is filled with bad people, and it's their job to take up arms against them--sometimes literally, but more often than not, verbally and emotionally.

Conversely, a truly good person believes we are all children of God (or, outside of all religious talk, that we are all average human beings until there is serious reason to doubt or fear a particular person).

Being a good person means not just doing good, but believing in good. It means walking through this life like an angel in disguise. It means trying your very best, all the time, not because you're expected to put in a good effort some of the time, but because your highest calling is to be good ALL the time.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Grape #25: Give Yourself Permission To LIVE!

Every day is a new possibility. ANYTHING can happen. Lots of anythings WILL happen. Just let go and let them HAPPEN!

When was the last time you JUMPED up and down? When was the last time you walked around the block, not for fresh air or exercise, but to simply APPRECIATE your neighborhood? When was the last time you got down on the floor and LOOKED UP at your home to see how a child or pet sees it all?

Do yourself a favor. TURN UP the music more often! GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION to rock out more than you do!

your life
, EVERY CHANCE you get!

Tears and sadness will return no matter what, so balance them out by truly living THIS  BEAUTIFULIFE whenever you can!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Grape #24: Do you use your Facebook for good or evil?

You have at your disposal an incredible tool that can, in theory, reach a worldwide audience. Never before in the history of mankind has this been possible. Never before has one, non-office-holding human being had the ability to affect this much change all around the world, just by typing on their keyboard, or clicking away at their mouse.

Don't use Facebook? Forget the noun--insert Instagram or Twitter, or any number of others. All that matters is that the ability is yours to make a difference.

Not spiritual? Just decide before you post anything to Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram whether or not it's something that's nice or mean, whether or not your words can affect positive change. If your post has the potential to upset people, tread carefully, gently.

(Note: being critical of those who are hateful, judgmental, racist, homophobic, transphobic, Xenophobic, and so on is good, not evil. There are times when upsetting the status quo is your solemn duty as a good human being.)

The potential is in your hands. That public post has a globe next to it for a reason. Write the right words or post the right photo, and that baby could travel all the way around the world. So choose wisely. Choose to use social media for good.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Grape #23: WWGD

I often ask the question, "What Would Jesus Do?". It's not the kind of trite phrase I throw around or mention casually, nor do I say it at all to non-Christians, but it does help center me, and centers the conversation more specifically on my choices as a Christian. How am I following Jesus's example? How am I not?

But this past Sunday, perhaps for the first time in my life, I really got to thinking about a much larger question, which might soon be my go-to expression instead: "What Would God Do?".

All theology aside, Jesus was human. He showed his temper every now and then, and lived this life of temptations along with the rest of us. Yet when you look at morality from a much wider perspective, where only purest goodness and perfection are possible, asking yourself What Would God Do? becomes the more important question.

Jesus was an incredibly sweet, loving guy by all accounts (and I've read more than four of them), but he was still a human being. God, though, is the gold standard. God is the parent, the one who doesn't just show unconditional love, but is unconditional love. Adding conditions of any kind just isn't in God's DNA.

So ask yourself this question next time you're faced with a difficult situation or person. What Would God Do? It'll also lead you to more questions. How would God handle this person's mean or ignorant comments about other people? How would God handle that person's choice to physically or psychologically abuse my loved one? What would God do...differently than I would do?

If you say or even think, "smite", "judge", or any other word that means to punish in some way, you're not thinking about God correctly, and it's time to realign your spirit. God is love. To hurt one of God's children or to say nasty things about one of God's children is to go against God, but that doesn't mean God will take revenge the way humans get back at each other. God just teaches us truth and love when we are outside of truth and love. God just fixes us when we're broken (and loves us whether we're broken or not). To put it another way, God is the hospital, and not the jail. God is the nurse, and not the policeman or the judge.

WWJD? Good start! But try asking yourself WWGD next time. It's time we reach even higher.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Grape #22: Unfearing Death

A hundred years or so ago, I took a theology class at Manhattan College called Death & Dying. The title alone grabbed my attention, but the more I read through the class description, the more I knew I had to sign up. The subject matter covered a wide range of material, from hospice work and resurrection theology to near-death experiences and apparitions. And while my personal focus for the semester was near-death experiences, I've never forgotten the depth of knowledge I received just from that one class. In many ways, it was a massive introduction to a field of study I've happily immersed myself in ever since.

Death, I learned back then, is something of a secret no one dares speak about. People barely whisper about it, even at funeral homes, and they generally do everything they can to avoid the topic completely. It's almost as if the act of discussing it might make something happen, as absurd as that sounds. "God forbid my grandmother ever dies, I don't know how I'd go on." Huh? Your grandmother IS going to die. So is every other person in your family, all your friends, everyone in town, the country, and the world. Oh, and sorry, but so are you.

Perhaps my favorite quote on the matter--passed on to me through that college class I took--is this: "Death is like masturbation. Everyone does it, but no one ever wants to talk about it."

As kids, we hear about people dying, but it's often shared with us like some sort of a fairytale. "Aunt Bea went to live with Jesus," or "Uncle Joe went up into the clouds to sleep forever." We shield children from the truth, or at least our best understanding or belief of the truth, but the problem is, we never end up talking about it once we're old enough. We never have a sit-down conversation as a rite of passage into adulthood, where our older family members finally explain the truth of it all.

And what is the truth? Well, we don't know. We have stories to rely on, and nothing more.

People die due to many different causes, and when they do, we cease to find any sort of life in or around them. Believers, whether or not they were believers beforehand (an important distinction), say they've experienced something beyond all human comprehension when a loved one's body died, or even when their own body died and was brought back. Whatever their stories, believers believe and unbelievers do not.

Death, then, seems to mean two different things. It's either an absence of pain, stress, and fear due to the fact that you no longer exist, or it's an absence of pain, stress, and fear due to the fact that you transcend into a beautiful reality beyond all human comprehension. There are, it turns out, just these two possibilities, but both include the reality that you become free from all pain, stress, and fear.

So what reason is there to really fear death? Why do we flinch away from it, like it's some sort of nightmarish reality? If someone's body has died and they're now free from all pain and worry, whether or not they've transcended into an afterlife, then what about that do we find gruesome or horrific? What part of it makes us really hurt inside?

Well, that's easy. The part of the deceased person that we loved is now gone from us, and this new absence makes us cry. It makes us hurt. It makes us hate the reality of it all, that our loved one is no longer with us in the here and now.

So too does the mystery. We can't stand the mystery, because it speaks to how much we don't know as human beings, how much we can never know as human beings. We're built to want to know everything we can about everything we can, so when someone presents us with the scene of our loved one in a coffin, we can't help but be flustered by the impossible truth laying there in front of us. The mystery hits us hard. The absence hits us hard. The impossible reality of that which we do not understand is quite literally staring us in the face.

Unfearing death is an ability you can learn to cultivate. You can even learn to master it. How? By accepting reality. By facing the truth. Every human being who ever lived prior to our current crop of humans later died. Their bodies stopped working, their brains stopped functioning, and their hearts just plain stopped. Every human being, without exception, has to die. It's part of what being a life form on this planet entails. Heck, even Jesus died.

In other words, stop being surprised by it. Stop finding it shocking when someone slips away and all life seems to disappear immediately from their human frame. Cry, yes. Be sad. I always am, and I've been through the loss of both my parents, several friends, and a sibling already. This isn't about conquering sadness. This is about conquering fear.

What we need to do is face our fear of death whether or not we are people of faith. And talking about reality is a great way of facing reality. We need to talk about it more. We need to come to a place of understanding, and then prepare ourselves to teach that lesson well to our children and our grandchildren. Fairytales may help them understand when they're little, but once they're old enough, they deserve the truth. We all do.

Want to unfear death? Want to make yourself stronger before the next unexpected death appears in your life? Then stop lying to yourself. Stop telling yourself that person will always be there, will always be around. They won't. Things happen. Death happens. Death always happens, 100% of the time. Stop lying to yourself, and start talking to others about it. Reach out to a loved one willing to have that hard chat along with you. Talk about it. Face the facts, and do it sooner rather than later. It'll help you stay strong in the midst of the hardest times we'll all go through as human beings. No, it won't make you invincible to pain, nor should it, but accepting death as part of what life is will make things just a little bit easier to handle once the next death arrives.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Grape #21: Soul Silence

Imagine you had two hearts beating inside you, and each one took turns pumping your blood. Your doctor wouldn't know you had two hearts when she checked your heartbeat. She'd just assume your one and only heart was doing exactly what it was supposed to do. Not unless someone actually took a photograph of your insides would they realize your heart had a secret sibling.

Now, science has yet to find any evidence of a physical soul inside the brain or the heart, so if it is in there somewhere, it's very well disguised. Human experience, however, points to quite a bit more. People have seen things. They've heard things. They've received messages, proven to be true, from both living loved ones thousands of miles away, and from deceased friends and relatives, long since gone from the Earth. Impossibly true when looked at in terms of brain science, yes, but still part of a worldwide series of phenomena that cannot be explained.

So what does the soul require to do what it does best, to enlighten, teach, and inform? Well, it doesn't seem to require blood flow or synapses, nor any other bodily part or fluid, not even water. The soul, spiritual folks believe at least, requires something more esoteric, something more intangible, something that can't show up on a radar, EKG machine, or CAT scan. Much like microwaves and ultraviolet waves were for many years, the energy of soul is still completely untraceable.

One of the reasons soul is so hard to measure, track, and even locate at all is because it doesn't make any sounds or give off any discernible light. It can't be photographed, seemingly by its very nature. "How convenient," skeptics will say, and honestly, who can blame them? Soul is, by its very nature, a silent, invisible effect more than it is an actual thing. It is existential beyond that which can exist in the known universe, which makes it something no believer can ever hope to prove.

Stranger still, and worse news for the believers who hope to argue their cause, soul seems to thrive on silence. It comes alive when the mind and body are at their most silent, most calm, most still place (be still and know that I am God). Soul can easily be mistaken for unconscious brain activity in this place of greater consciousness, but it's not emanating from the brain at all. Instead, something new is born in the silence. When you quiet your brain and open yourself up to something greater, soul begins to glow with an invisible light within you.

Here's the problem soul believers face. If one of the world's most-respected scientists invited 25 of the world's other most-respected scientists to join him in a large conference room, shut off the lights and asked them to quiet their brains and wait for something to happen, they'd probably do exactly as he said, fully expecting something to appear in the room before them. But if a well-known preacher invited the same 25 scientists into the same room for the same task, many would balk at the idea.

Faith, it turns out, is something of a wormhole. You either step through it and embrace whatever might happen to you, or you dismiss it outright as just another silly theory.

And so there's this soul silence, this immeasurable place of trust that millions of people have leapt through. They've silenced their brains as much as possible, they've quieted their heartbeats as much as they safely can, and they've found another whole universe of experience. They've seen the light, quite literally, in a darkened room. They've heard from loved ones who died decades earlier. They've received startling truths and witnessed incredible scenes that are impossibly true within the known parameters of this universe. Some have even died and come back with stories of what they saw.

What have they done with this information, this amazing experience they can barely explain? They've shared it with whomever is willing to listen. They've shared it just as you would an amazing video on the internet. They've told all their loved ones what happened to them, and they keep on telling anyone else who will listen.

Some refuse to listen, though, and they learn that lesson very quickly. Tell a guy who's colorblind what color is, and they'll believe you, even though they don't understand, because most of the world's people see color. But tell an atheist about an inexplicably amazing spiritual experience you've had, and they won't believe you, because the same thing never happened to them. It's alright, though. Soul doesn't require anyone else's faith, just your own.

So how do you find this soul silence, this place where soul speaks to you? What do you have to do to make it happen?

Well, it's important to know that real soul silence cannot be worked. If you're working at it, you're allowing your brain to search for soul, which is the complete opposite of what you need to be doing. The brain needs to be turned off, not put to work. Soul work is staring at a cellphone waiting for it to ring, but soul silence is when you just appreciate the quiet of the non-ringing phone.

Finding the silent place where soul shines within you is easier and easier to do the more you practice this. It's like closing your eyes at night when staying in a new home, reminding yourself where the bathroom or the light switch is in case you have to get up in the dark. The more you close your eyes or still your senses and listen, really listen with 100% of your being, the more you will absolutely hear soul calling out for your attention. You can even do this at work, or in the kitchen while standing up preparing your dinner. The place and time don't matter, because soul doesn't live inside the boundaries of time and place anyway.

But you do have to first open yourself up to the possibility, otherwise you'll never understand what possibilities are waiting for you. A closed mind, like a closed door, cannot receive any visitors.