Spiritual Growth Within a Group

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From the very beginning of time, there was a master plan set down by the Creator which established, within a given time frame, certain progressive steps through which humanity was to move in order to rise to a certain level of spiritual purification. Many of life’s experiences could mesh with wisdom and knowingness so that each soul could emerge with a complete sense of Oneness with the Creator. As we progress through our life experiences, we begin to discover a profound purpose, a logic and glory of a spiritual expression, that which transcends the basic needs of the physical form and the persistent ego that tries to control who we are. We begin to develop a compelling urgency that reaches beyond the mundane to a much richer, fuller existence.

Each lifetime offers us the possibilities of utilizing all of those many qualities that we have accrued from lifetime to lifetime. Our ultimate goal is to strive to release the constrains of the ego and to act in Oneness with all of creation…where everyone is truly equal and where individual gain or distinction is no longer our primary focus.

Is it possible to look at life where it truly doesn’t matter which profession someone chooses, which country one lives in, what the color of ones’ skin is or what religion one practices? What matters are the simple, day-to-day interactions with our fellow man and learning forgiveness and compassion in every human encounter.

There are many avenues in our lives that we can walk on that help us practice unity, sharing, and experience a unifying in spirit for the evolution of our planet. These avenues can be walked along, but remember that they can also be walked as a part of a group consciousness. Most of us in this world are working independently on our spiritual growth and that, of course, is very important. However, another process that assists us in becoming more loving, compassionate souls is through utilizing group energies by working together in groups with a unified focus.

Our ultimate goal as preached from the Heavens, spoken through our souls and known by our entire being is to truly learn to love…to love ourselves, to love our neighbors as ourselves and to love every creature on Earth as a piece of God and of ourselves. Is it possible to love if you are not in relationship with another human, animal or other form of energy? It has been said that “He travels fastest who travels alone.” This may be true in many fields of human endeavor; however when the goal is learning how to love, it follows that such can be done only in relationship with others. When we want a closer relationship with God and are searching for Him in our own way, we are in a relationship with Him during the process. To search for God actually means to “learn how to love.” Even when we love ourselves, we are in a relationship with ourselves and are learning acceptance within ourselves…if we love a beautiful sunset, we are sharing an experience with another form of nature…if we love our homes, we are sharing a relationship with all that the home represents (security, comfort, peace, etc.).

Just as we have relationships with our spouse, our children, our family and friends, we also share a strong relationship with others of like mind. Whether it be sharing a day on the golf course with a golfing buddy, walking through a mall with a friend who is also a shopping fanatic or walking the beach with a special someone, hand-in-hand enjoying the beauty and sounds of the ocean, sharing an experience and common interest with another person can expand the enjoyment of the experience. This is the same as the joys of sharing a spiritual relationship with someone very special. When we are seeking truth and understanding within our lives, it is more profound when it is shared with others on the spiritual path.  Being a part of a focused spiritual group is an incredible opportunity for expanding who we are and how we think and live our lives. We each have a “calling” that has brought us to this world: to share a relationship with those other seekers, by maximizing relationships to achieve a much greater understanding of who we are.

How does a group help us develop a greater understanding of who we are? There are a number of excellent reasons for the effectiveness of work in small groups. They are:

  1. Motivational
    All of us may discover when we start on a new activity that our consistency, persistence and interest are strengthened and enhanced by the encouragement, support and interest of others involved in the same activity. When our focus seems to wane or when we get emotionally or mentally out of balance, their encouragement can spur us on; and in turn, when their motivation is low, we can encourage them.
  2. Stability & Balance
    We may, at times, become emotional or frustrated about a situation that we are experiencing. When we are dealing with a very complex area of study, in sharing with others we may see the wisdom of a more moderate and balanced attitude. As we begin to study and reflect upon the difficult concepts involved in spiritual unfoldment, we may find that our own way of reading or thinking is quite different. If we share our reflections with others, we discover that there are ways to view certain issues other than our own initial response. As we listen to another person’s perspective, we grow in the ability not only to appreciate the point of view of others but also to establish a more modest evaluation of our own ideas. We gain both as we listen and also as we give of ourselves to others. In sharing the burdens we carry, they grow lighter and we find ourselves strengthened by the response and encouragement of the group, some of whom may have dealt effectively with similar situations.
  3. Sense of Humor
    A third way in which a group can assist us on our path is to help us with a “sense of humor” about ourselves. In work as serious as soul development, we need to learn not to take ourselves too seriously. The group may help us see that some experiences that may appear so great or so tragic can be occasions to laugh at ourselves when we view them from a different perspective.
  4. Prayer Support
    A most important way in which the group enhances growth is through mutual “prayer support”. In groups that pray for each other, there is given an energy, support and protection that cannot even be properly evaluated in ordinary terms.

It is very important to understand that we all learn not only through self-introspection but also through comparison. This process is especially enhanced in the sharing of viewpoints and experiences in a group. As we listen to another, it is not that we should agree or disagree or try to discover who is “right”, but rather, that as we genuinely permit ourselves a different perspective as offered by another person, there may be a quickening of growth within ourselves. Therefore, it can be said that personal growth may be more enhanced by the dynamics of interaction in a peer group rather than solely in self-study.

Group gatherings may be called study groups, spiritual groups or a school that teaches students how to discover their own deep, personal beliefs. Whatever terms we use, they might better be called groups for the study, meditation and application of learning how to love. It is through this process that we are able to truly understand who we are and what we value and what we believe as truth in our lives. Group discussion, the group energy and the comparison learning can be a tremendous tool in our spiritual growth. We must remember…the spirit of the group is learning how to love

Some seekers who attend spiritual classes may be disappointed when they find the group failing to be in full agreement with their own viewpoints. Or, they find the group failing to measure up to their expectations in terms of some criterion of social or intellectual status. Such a response misses the point of the group because these criteria fail to reflect the essential purpose of the group which owes its oneness to a shared IDEAL, not necessarily similar IDEAS.

Along the same line, sometimes in a group there is one difficult, challenging individual who you find yourself judging. (On the flip side, you may possibly BE that challenging person to someone else!!) Rather than being a weakness to the group work, this gets us close to the very heart of the purpose of such groups. As we seek to grow personally in all of the dimensions with which the lessons deal, we come in time truly to love and appreciate that person with whom we initially were having the most difficulty. In the process of learning how to love this difficult person in the group, we find the group has been a laboratory in which we have experimented and learned about relationships. We then discover these lessons have generalized into our lives in such a way that we are now dealing more effectively with other “difficult” people, in our families, in our jobs and in other relationships.

The major theme of interest which draws people together in such groups may be the realization that there is more to us and to the meaning of life than we see in our present physical manifestations and circumstances. In our growth in a group setting, we find that we have a new, broader hope in the meaningfulness of life. This, in turn, leads to renewed motivation and the consequent energy that accompanies motivation, a new sense of direction in one’s life and a purpose guided by a clear commitment to ideals. As we seek to grow, we discover that that which stands in the way is generally ourselves. As we come to a growing awareness of the many dimensions of our own being, we gain both a deeper acceptance of our weaknesses and a more humble and thankful appreciation of our strengths. We find that the weaknesses and shortcomings that we have may be, with the thrust of a new spirit, turned into strengths!

As we come to understand our individual beliefs through our study of lessons, grow in attunement to the spirit through meditation, and experience improved relationships with others through daily application, we come to see that beyond all of this is the living force, the Spirit, acting in our lives and bringing about a transformation which no ego-oriented self-improvement program could ever even begin to offer.

We must approach with dignity and with compassion this task of becoming whole in every aspect of our lives. Even though the timing or experiences may differ from individual to individual, the end result is consistent…we must use this external support system to emerge through this process with the strength and understanding that we are not separate from God or one another but are in relationship with Him and all the rest of creation.

The Choice is Ours

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One more time…

OUR EGOS ARE IN CONTROL OF OUR MINDS AND ARE CAUSING OUR OUT-OF-BALANCE THOUGHTS AND EMOTIONS TO RULE WHO WE ARE!

How many times do we need to hear this before it really sinks in? Sometimes we may have to hear it over and over again to finally learn how to release the ego’s power over who we are!

Next…

WE ARE LOSING OUR PRECIOUS MOMENTS OF NOW BY FOCUSING OUR THOUGHTS ON PAST GARBAGE LIKE FEAR, ANGER, RESENTMENT AND OUR INABILITY TO FORGIVE AND MOVE ON!!

Why??? When are we going to get it? Another thing…we are living for tomorrow with the assumption that our current problems will be gone and our lives, we assume, will be happier. If so, what is happening to the present? Are we missing it? Is it being overshadowed by anxiety or the illusive hopes that our lives will be happier when such times as our kids are out of the house, or when we don’t have to go to this unsatisfying job any more, or when our mortgage is paid off? Whatever it is that we are anticipating that will bring us more contentment than we are presently experiencing, if we do not change our thinking NOW then these “whens” will simply be replaced with other “whens”. We will continually believe that we will be happier later on. Wherever it is that our thoughts are taking us, we are missing the present!

Are you getting fed up with the restlessness, the anxieties and the constant dreaming for better times? If so, then CHANGE YOUR THINKING!!! CHANGE IT NOW! The present time is the only time that is available to us, and it is for this moment that we need to be grateful!

I spoke to an incredible senior citizen a while back about to what she attributes her positive attitude, her optimistic outlook on life, and her brilliant smile. She shared with me her secret: She stated that she wakes up each morning and makes the conscious decision and verbal affirmation, “Today I choose happiness.” How profound is that?! How can so simple a statement contain so much wisdom, power and love? How many of us can have the courage to proclaim such a statement to ourselves and then truly live by it? Can you? Is happiness a conscious choice? I believe it is! This courageous person shared with me that she has experienced several difficult experiences throughout her life; yet through each challenge, she chose happiness. I walked away from my time with this special lady a changed person. She is a living example of how our attitude and outlook on life are our own individual choices to make, and how they can make our lives positive, loving and worth living or, conversely, a cross to bear.

So, does a statement such as this: “I choose happiness” seem possible in your life? Can you say it now? Can you step aside from your current problems and challenges and look at yourself in the mirror and say that you choose happiness? All that we truly have is the present moment, and we can choose to see happiness in this moment or we can look at life as one continuous problem after another that we have to overcome. No one can do it for us! We must make the continuous effort to see our current problems as situations that we need to learn from, lessons that our souls CHOSE to experience in order for us to remember who we are. These situations were not forced on us…they are gifts offered to us to grow more loving, more patient, more understanding individuals.

Our families need us, our friends need us, our planet needs us! Are we up for the challenge? Can we use our precious life energy in a focused, loving way that can help create peace in our lives and peace in our world? I think we can!

The Importance of Understanding Time

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It is of vital importance to observe our minds (thoughts AND emotions) in order to begin to live more consciously and fully in the Now. Self-observation and introspection enable us to evolve into more loving, peaceful beings. In order to remember who we are, we must look at ourselves under a microscope and honestly accept what we see, observing where our thoughts are and how we deal with our emotions. It is only through this conscious self-introspection that we can view ourselves as the ‘witnessing presence’ which is the ‘watcher of the thinker’. This is the point of perception where our Higher Selves continually observe the activities going on both in our thoughts and our emotions. Whether we consciously know we are doing this or not, it is happening constantly. It is very important to remember to view ourselves with loving, non-judging eyes, because if we find fault with ourselves or feel guilty about the chatter going on in our heads, then we are simply continuing on in the duality thinking and will not be able to make the necessary changes within ourselves.

So, before we go on, we need to discuss briefly how we can change these ingrained patters of rampant thoughts and emotions and learn to understand our minds and how they work. The first step is that we must understand the basic mechanics of living UNconsciously, which is when we define who we are through our thoughts and emotions, allowing the mind to control our lives, thus creating a false self or ego as a substitute for our true self. When this occurs, we become as a ‘branch cut off from the vine’ where the ego’s needs are endless and keep us living in a state of constant fear and want. When we truly begin to grasp how this dysfunction operates, we can then begin to detach from this ego or illusory sense of self and learn to disconnect from the many fears, problems and traumas in our lives that seem to define who we are. It isn’t until we recognize where our minds are that we can begin to make changes within ourselves and learn to live more consciously. Our minds generally want to escape the Now by thinking that either the past or the future will be better than the present…if the imagined future appears better, it gives us hope and anticipation…if it is imagined worse, it creates more anxiety and fear.

BOTH ARE ILLUSIONS!!!

By living more consciously, a higher dimension of presence comes into our lives automatically. The moment we realize that we are not present, we ARE present! Whenever we are able to observe our minds, we are no longer trapped in them! It is that simple…it just takes awareness!!! Awareness takes effort at first, but with trust, perseverance and determination, living consciously the majority of the time is truly possible.

The following are simple reminders:

Click on image to view in full size.

Click on image to view in full size.

All of these reminders help us to live more consciously in the Now and enable us to step out of past and future fears and introduce more presence into our lives. Once we can feel what it means to truly be present, it becomes much easier to simply choose to step out of the time dimension whenever it is needed for practical purposes and move more deeply into the Now.

This leads us into the discussion of how we can change our attitudes and perspectives on what is ‘time’ and what role it plays in our ability to stay conscious and present as much as possible.

The following statement is the key:

Time and mind are inseparable!

To be identified with your mind is to be trapped in time…the compulsion to live almost exclusively through memory and anticipation. This creates an endless preoccupation with past and future and an unwillingness to honor and acknowledge the present moment and simply allow it to be. The compulsion arises because the past gives you an identity and the future holds the promise of salvation and fulfillment. BOTH ARE ILLUSIONS!!! Thus, it is important to end the delusion of time!

Many people say, “Time is something so very precious”, but time isn’t precious at all because it is an illusion. What we perceived as precious is not time but the one point that is out of time: the NOW…that is precious indeed! The more we are focused on time (past and future), the more we miss the Now, the most precious thing there is. Why is it the most precious thing? Because it is the ONLY thing…it’s all there is. The eternal present is the space within which our whole life unfolds, the one factor that remains constant. Life is NOW…there was never a time when our life was NOT now, now will there ever be.

Often times, we think the past and future are even more real than the present since the past determines who we are and how we behave in the present, and future goals determine what actions we take in the present. This is very challenging for us to undersatnd because we are using our ‘minds’ to try to grasp this; however, ask yourselves the following questions: Have you ever experienced, done, thought or felt anything outside of the Now? Do you think you ever will? Is it possible for anything to happen or be out the Now? Of course not! Nothing ever happened in the past…it happened in the NOW! Nothing will ever happen in the future…it will happen in the Now.

What we think of as the past is a memory trace, stored in the mind, of a former Now. When we remember the past, we reactivate a memory trace of an event. Also, the future is an imaged Now, a projection of the mind. When the future comes, it comes as the Now. When we think about the future, we do it now. Past and future obviously have no reality of their own…just as the moon has no light of its own but can only reflect the light of the sun…so are past and future only pale reflections of the light, power and reality of the eternal present. The essence of this is difficult to be understood by the mind; however, once we grasp it, there is a shift in consciousness from mind to Being, from time to presence. Suddenly everything feels alive, radiates energy and emanates Being.

If you have ever been in a life threatening or emergency situation, you are aware that there is a shift in consciousness from ‘time’ to ‘presence’ that happens immediately and naturally. The personality that has a past and a future momentarily recedes and is replaced by an intense conscious presence, that of being very still but very alert at the same time. Whatever response is needed then arises out of that state of consciousness.

Similarly, many people love to engage in dangerous activities such as mountain climbing or car racing because it keeps them in the constant state of Now, that intensely alive state that is free of time, free of problems, free of thinking. Slipping away from the present moment even for a second for them may mean death, so the totally conscious state that is required is exhilaration! That energy is powerful and this desired state is available to all of us, without having to climb to the top of El Capitan! We simply have to BE present!

Since ancient times, spiritual masters of all traditions have pointed to the Now as the key to the spiritual dimension. In church you may have heard the saying, “Nobody who puts his hands to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God.” Also, the whole essence of Zen consists of walking along the razor’s edge of Now, to be so utterly, so completely present that no problem, no suffering, nothing that is not WHO YOU ARE in your essence can survive in you. A similar question in the Zen tradition is, “If not now, when?” Finally, Rumi, the great Sufi poet and teacher declared “Past and future veil God from our sight; burn up both of them in fire.” We have all been exposed to many, many lessons and teachings that have stressed the importance of living the present moment, but how many of us truly are able to live and apply this awareness into our lives on a daily basis? We must be honest with ourselves…do we live and accept ourselves in the present NOW or do we depend on our past experiences or our future dreams to mold our present days?

Clock Time Vs. Psychological Time…

Just as there is a place for mind and mind knowledge in the practical realm of day-to-day living, we also need to know how to use time in the practical aspects of our lives. Keeping track of time for daily appointments and activities is of course important, but we must be wary when it takes over all aspects of our lives. There are two types of ‘time’ that we must be aware of: ‘clock time’ and ‘psychological time’. The enlightened person’s main focus of attention is always the Now, but they are still peripherally aware of time, which means they continue to use clock time but are free of psychological time.

Clock time is used for the practical aspects of our lives. Clock time is not just making an appointment or planning a trip. It includes learning from the past so that we don’t repeat the same mistakes over and over. Knowledge that we have attained through past experiences is also using ‘clock time’. It is thus when we are able to make choices, based on learning from prior experiences. Similarly, when we set a goal for ourselves and work toward it, we are using clock time. We are aware of where we want to go, but we honor and give our fullest attention to the step that we are taking at this moment. However, if we become excessively focused on the goal, perhaps because we are seeking happiness or fulfillment in it, the Now is no longer honored and it becomes reduced to a mere stepping stone to the future. Then we are no longer using clock time. THE PRESENT MOMENT REMAINS THE ESSENTIAL FACTOR: when any lesson from the past becomes relevant and the knowledge of the experience is applied to the Now, ‘clock time’ is being honored.

‘Psychological time’ is identification with the past and continuous compulsive projection into the future. It is when we lose all touch with the present moment, and when our identity, value and purpose is only based on what we have done or what we will be doing later, what we look like or what we are thinking or feeling. If life’s journey is no longer an adventure or seen as beautiful but is an obsessive need to arrive, to attain or to ‘make it’, then psychological time or past and future identification rules who you are.

Be alert as you practice this so that you do not unwittingly transform clock time into psychological time. For example, if you made a mistake in the past and learn from it now, you are using clock time. On the other hand, if you dwell on it mentally, and self-criticism, remorse, or guilt come up, then you are making the mistake into ‘me’ and ‘mine’: you make it part of your sense of self, and it has become psychological time, which is always linked to a false sense of identity. Nonforgiveness necessarily implies a heavy burden of psychological time.

You will not have any doubt that psychological time is a mental disease if you look at its collective consciousness manifestations. They occur, for example, in the form of ideologies such as communism or rigid religious belief systems which operate under the implicit assumption that the highest good lies in the future and that therefore the end justifies the means. The end is an idea, a point in the mind-projected future, when salvation in whatever form (happiness, fulfillment, equality, etc.) will be attained. As an example, it is estimated that as many as 50 million people were murdered to further the cause of communism, to bring about a ‘better world’ in Russia, China and other countries. This is a chilling example of how belief in a future heaven creates a present hell. Can there be any doubt that psychological time is a serious and dangerous mental illness?

How does this mind pattern operate in your life? Are you always trying to get somewhere other than where you are? Is most of your ‘doing’ just a means to an end? Is fulfillment always just around the corner or confined to short-lived pleasures such as drink, drugs, or thrills and excitement? Are you always focused on becoming, achieving, and attaining? Do you believe that if you acquire more things you will become more fulfilled or psychologically complete?

In the normal, mind-identified or unenlightened state of consciousness, the power and creative potential that lies concealed in the Now is completely obscured by psychological time. Your life then loses its vibrancy and sense of wonder. The old patterns of thought, emotion, behavior, reaction and desire are acted out in endless repeat performances, a script in your mind that gives you an identity of sorts but covers up the reality of the Now. The mind then creates an obsession with the future as an escape from the unsatisfactory present.

If you are currently experiencing a very challenging set of experiences that make you believe that the future HAS to be better than this present state, you must realize that the future is generally a replica of the past! Superficial changes are possible of course, but REAL transformation depends upon whether you can become present enough to dissolve the past by accessing and accepting the Now. What you perceive as future is an intrinsic part of your state of consciousness now, and chances are you will experience more of the same unless the quality of you consciousness NOW is altered.

So….if it is the quality of your consciousness at this moment that determines the future, then what is it that determines the quality of your consciousness? It is your degree of presence!!! Therefore, the ONLY place where true change can occur and where the past can be dissolved is the NOW!!!