Category Archives: Spirituality

The weight and clutter of beliefs we carry

“When we carry a belief, it has a certain mental weight attached to it . . . The heavier the investment—such as religious loyalty, abortion, politics, patriotism, good versus evil—the heavier the weight of belief.”  —Neil Kramer in The Unfoldment

In my work at a local library hundreds of books pass through my hands every shift. Most times I don’t pay too much attention, except to note where to place the book correctly. Sometimes a book stops me and says, “Made ya look!”

This week it was The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter, by Margareta Magnusson. I have not read the book yet (if only I could read every book) but I gather the principle is this: clear out your crap before you die and make someone else clean up your mess.

I’m sure Margareta is more polite about it.

Speaking as someone who has had to clear up some such clutter, I endorse the idea. And I think we can go a step farther and clear out some of our mental and emotional clutter too.

In his book, The Unfoldment, Neil Kramer talks about the cluttery weight of beliefs we carry around with us. Some beliefs weigh more than others depending on how invested we are in them. Casual or lighthearted beliefs, like believing a four-leaf clover might bring us good fortune, are light and don’t bother us much to tote around. If we add on a lot more of those little beliefs (knock three times, don’t turn the calendar page until the new month starts, don’t step on a crack, don’t shave during playoffs, don’t wash your lucky socks . . .) the pack gets lumpy and awkward.

Big problems arise when we lug around sandbag-heavy beliefs. Those become a real burden because, even though carrying the weight is hard work, we don’t want to set those burdens down.

“Strangely, the heftier the belief, the more proudly people will sometimes bear its weight. If someone has carried a belief-anvil for 40 years, she is not going to react too kindly to someone telling her that it’s been totally unnecessary. All that effort and martyrdom would have been for nothing. So people hold fast to their own obstinacy, mentally staggering around under this peculiar encumbrance.  —Neil Kramer in The Unfoldment

And a disbelief can be just as heavy. “Disbeliefs require the same maintenance, egoic investment, and channeled consciousness as their positive counterparts,” Kramer writes. (So that’s why so many atheists look like they are a day past a good bowel movement.)

I think we need to think about death-cleaning our minds, clearing out the clutter of beliefs we shouldn’t pass along for someone else have to deal with.

Lately I have found myself avoiding conversations with certain people on particular topics if I know they carry a heavy belief, or if I know I do: Politics is a mine field, the #metoo movement has pitfalls galore, and even Easter has potential for controversy. I’ve started to think, “I need to lighten up.” The weight is getting heavy.

The benefit of death cleaning, I suspect, is keeping only that which serves life, for the benefit of health and happiness and the good of others. Sounds good to me.

four-leaf-clover

It was fun when my daughter found this four-leaf clover, but I don’t REALLY believe it brings us good fortune.

 

 

A fly in the ointment

A few dead flies will make even the best perfume stink. In the same way, a little foolishness can ruin much wisdom and honor. —Ecclesiastes 10:1

I used the expression during a family game of euchre on our summer vacation at the cottage. I had a good hand, and I took the first four of five tricks. But on the last one my daughter snuck in there with a higher card to deprive me of the extra point. “Ah, you were the fly in my ointment,” I said.

“What did you say?” my son asked.

“I said that she was the fly in my ointment.”

“I thought that’s what you said. What does that mean?”

“Have you never heard that expression before?”

“No.”

I turned to my daughter, “Have you?”

“No.”

Her boyfriend was in the room? “Have you?”

“No.” He looked mystified.

I started to wonder if I’d been saying something wrong over the years, or if the expression was one of those unique to the Ottawa Valley where I grew up. The Valley has many quaint but not universally shared expressions. I turned to my husband, “Have you heard of that?” He nodded that he had. Phew, I thought. I’m not losing my mind!

“What does it mean?” my son asked again.

I thought it would have been obvious, but apparently not. I said, “Well, it’s the dark spot in something that is otherwise perfect, or a damaging element in something that is otherwise healing. One small thing that harms a big good thing, or is just plain annoying.”

“That makes no sense. How could a fly get in the ointment anyway? It’s in a tube,” my daughter said.

Ah ha! We’d hit the stumbling block. People of my generation can envision a vat or tub of ointment with a dark fly in the light colour, buy in the mind’s eye of people my daughter’s age, ointment comes only in a tube.

“At the time the expression came to be ointment came in pots or tubs,” I said. “Picture a container of white ointment with a dark fly in it.”

“But why would you care if you had a fly in your ointment?” my daughter insisted.

Why do I care if there’s a fly in my ointment? Because a little foolishness can ruin much wisdom and honour, and there is foolishness going on right now that is ruining much wisdom and honour.

I know the negative thoughts and actions taking place all around us these days don’t represent the thoughts and actions of most people, but they’re flies in the ointment. Those few people who say them, think them, act on them make life stink to high heaven for all of us. The dark spots in an otherwise happy world, the damaging elements in an otherwise healing world, the small stains blemish the big picture.

Out damned spot!

 

 

The never-ending story

In a recent Sunday school class the kids and I played the “Let’s take turns telling a story” game.

I started them off with a character and a general setting and then we took turns with each person around the circle adding new characters, scenes and twists to the story. Plot development by plot development the story unfolded.

Often the ideas that other people came up with surprised us. We’d think to ourselves, “I didn’t see THAT coming.”

At a particularly challenging point in the story, one girl appeared stumped for ideas. She jokingly said, “The end.” But she quickly brushed that aside. “No, no, no,” she said. She gave the matter more thought and came up with an idea.

Sometimes we tried to think ahead so when our turn came we’d be ready. But then the person ahead of us would send the story off in a whole different unexpected direction. We’d have to adapt and think again.

Usually we’d panic a little when our turn arrived. We’d think, “Oh no. What am I going to say?” Once we set the panic aside, an answer always came.

We talked about all this after. We talked about how:

  • Life, like our story, is full of surprises. How often do we say, “I didn’t see that coming!”
  • It’s good to plan ahead but we need to be ready when things go off in a whole different direction. Be open and ready to respond to whatever comes.
  • Sometimes we want to give up. But carrying on is always more satisfying.
  • Panic paralyzes. Calm produces.
  • Working together is way more fun and interesting than puzzling through it on our own.

From this we can remind ourselves not to be surprised by the weird, unexpected plot developments in our lives and to be ready for anything. We can find the determination to never give up, not to panic, and to find some friends to make it interesting.

Have fun living your story.

What to bring to a zombie apocalypse? Stories

“. . . the shortest distance between a human being and truth is a story.'” —Anthony De Mello

Perhaps there’s a simple explanation for our society’s current fascination with zombies: We are living with them right now. Something to think about anyway, according to the moderator of the United Church of Canada, Rt. Rev. Jordan Cantwell.

At our Easter service on Sunday, the minister at my church brought to our attention a podcast interview with our moderator. During an Illuminate Faith interview, Cantwell was asked by a participant at a youth forum what she would bring to a zombie apocalypse.

I can’t imagine she could have been prepared for a question like that, so I give her kudos for providing the best spontaneous answer to an unexpected question I think I’ve ever heard.

“I think we’re in a zombie apocalypse,” she said. 

She described zombies as beings who appear alive but who are kind of dead. The “walking dead” can be . . “anything that sucks the hope and the life out of us . . .”

Cantwell suggests we can find walking deadness in ourselves and on the streets.

I’ve seen it in myself. Have you? I can think of a few people who live almost exclusively in walking deadness. Can you?

The zombies that surround us “drag us into the illusion that life is miserable, that the world is falling apart . . .” and they “suck others into their living deadness.”

And what does Cantwell bring to the apocalypse? Stories.

Zombies, she says, “believe in the power of death as stronger than the power of life and of love,” and stories refute that belief. Stories of compassion and faith feed energy and life back into ourselves and our streets.

Cantwell made her observations in the context of our Christian Easter—a story that involves missing corpses and life after death—but I think they apply to all people in all places at all times. Stories of compassion and faith don’t eliminate the reality of death for all people in all places at all times, but they do feed energy and life back into those people. 

“. . . even when death does its worst, God’s got another chapter.” —Rt. Rev. Jordan Cantwell


Listen to the full Illuminate Faith podcast here: http://illumin8faith.com/files/archive-april-2017.html

Holiday traditions and why you may, or may not, need a cat

I wrote this post in December 2012. I’m re-posting it now, because some of us might have to re-consider our “cats.”


Are you trapped in your traditions? Do they serve you, or do you serve them?

I pondered this question after reading a Paulo Coelho blog piece about an ancient Japanese story, which I will paraphrase here:

A great Zen Buddhist master had a cat. The cat was his constant companion even during the meditation classes he led. When the old master passed away, another disciple took his place and continued to allow the cat to join in meditation. When the original cat died, the disciples missed its presence, so they found another.

Disciples from other regions heard about the cat who attended meditation classes, and spread the story around to others. These disciples believed that the cat was the reason for the greatness of the Zen Buddhist master. Other temples began to bring cats to class.

Eventually, writings began to appear about the importance of cats during meditation. A university professor studied the issue and wrote a thesis about the effects of cats on concentration and energy. Disciples began to believe that cats were essential to meditation.

Soon, an instructor who was allergic to cats decided to remove the animal from his daily classes. Other disciples were aghast and reacted negatively, believing the cat to be essential to their success. But his students made the same progress even without the cat.

Generations passed and, one by one, monasteries began removing cats from meditation. After all, it was a burden feeding all those cats. In fact, students began to study the benefits of meditating without animals.  More time passed until “cat,” or “no cat” was no longer a matter of consideration. But it took many years for the full cycle, because “during all this time, no one asked why the cat was there.”

Christmas is one of the most tradition-bound times of the year. Christmas trees, shortbread, gifts, overspending on gifts, turkey, family gatherings, family fights, church services, candles, crèches, Santa, pageants, parties with too much rum eggnog, carols . . . These things have been part of our current version of the holidays for so long we have started to believe that Christmas is not Christmas without them. If we were to suggest not including them, people would react with aghast negativity.

Why are those “cats” in the room? Is feeding them becoming a burden?

Christmas means different things to different people. For me, it recalls the birth of a compassionate movement toward “all is one.” It recalls the birth of a man—an activist—who sought social justice and lived the idea that every person contains the divine spark. 

As I meditate my way toward Christmas this year, whether I invite some of those “cats” to join me or not, the movement toward “all is one” by all of us divine sparks continues regardless.

cat

I see the divine spark in Waffles’ eyes 🙂

Everything is exactly as it should be

In every given moment, we have everything we need.

Roads not taken are well not taken.

Paths that challenge us lead to the highest good.

Failures tell us we are early on the path of learning and must keep working hard, not that we are on the wrong path.

People enter and leave our lives at the perfect time for the perfect reason, even when it feels oh so wrong.

People who harm or frustrate us teach us timely, necessary lessons.

Injustice opens our eyes to the need for higher potential and leads to greater good.

Everything is exactly as it should be.

stanley-park "The whole point of getting things done is knowing what to leave undone." - Oswald Chambers