Can We See The Beauty in Imperfection?

cup0“Imperfections” are all around, and they include: messes, dirty clothes, weeds, snarled traffic, rain during a picnic, stains on the carpet; injury, illness, disability, pain; problems, issues, obstructions, losses – including with others; objects that are chipped, frayed, broken; mistakes, errors; confusion, lack of clarity; war, famine, poverty, oppression, injustice.

In a nutshell, an imperfection – as I mean it here – is a departure from an ideal or standard (e.g., dog poop on your shoe is not ideal, nor is the hunger that afflicts one in six people worldwide). These departures-from-ideal have costs, and it’s reasonable to do what you can about them.

But we usually don’t leave it at that: we get anxious – uneasy, nervous, troubled, stressed – about imperfection itself, rather than recognizing it as a normal, unavoidable, and widespread aspect of life.

Let the broken cup be a broken cup without adding judgment, resistance, blaming, or worry to it.

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Can You Know Things That Will Happen?

The frigid Michigan wind chilled me to the bone as I hugged my inadequate dress coat tighter and hurried through the darkness to my company’s annual Christmas party at a posh hotel.

I hadn’t looked forward to attending this occasion. It was just another obligation- a component of the treadmill life I led. Parties held for the sole purpose of prescribed merriment are particularly fearful occasions for me, and this one simply mirrored my loneliness as I entered the dimly lit ballroom full of chattering couples and shimmering lights.

The entryway table displayed an array of door prizes. I’d never won a door prize before. I’d never won anything in my life and didn’t expect to, but my eyes gravitated to a handmade teddy bear propped in one corner. Instead of the cute cuddly child’s toy one would expect, this bear was particularly ugly, and my attraction to it was unexplainable.

I didn’t want a teddy bear, and there was no room for such an unnecessary item in my cramped apartment, yet I reached out to pick it up. The moment I touched the bear , a stillness welled with me that seemed to dance apart from all the music and the chatter of the party.

As the party goers faded into the background, I was overcome with a feeling of absolute certainty that this teddy bear belonged to me.  It can only be explained as an unshakeable knowingness that supported not a shred of doubt, not a molecule of uncertainty, as if the ugly little bear was already mine.  Never before have I felt such certainty, such a powerful sense of knowing the outcome of an event before it had unfolded.

Throughout the evening I felt preoccupied by the awe of this experience. I was wondering when the drawing for the door prizes was going to occur so I could receive my teddy bear and leave.

At last the moment arrived as the music stopped and the lights brightened. The emcee began drawing names for the door prizes. As each recipient stepped up to claim his prize, everyone clapped and cheered. Still, the ugly teddy bear remained on the table.

Then I thought I heard my name called and I stood, but it was only after I stood that my name was actually called. Why had this happened? To have such a powerful knowingness about such an insignificant thing? My sense of awe about winning the bear and hearing my name held an aura of divinity about it.

But why such a waste of divine intervention? The magical encounter faded over time like a dream….I resumed my customary struggle with life that seemed drab, empty, and purposeless, but that experience led me to feel that I needed to pursue a new path to find meaning.

I was alone, lonely, unskilled, unfulfilled and broke. I had prayed to God for guidance before, but now I prayed in earnest, “Please God, I feel trapped here. I want to move to Arizona to be near my son, but I am scared. Should I take the chance without having any clear direction on how to support myself there?” Something inside me shifted, and my inner being began to flood with the identical sense of certainty I’d experienced when I first laid eyes on the teddy bear. I felt a lightness growing from within, and my consciousness became permeated with the secure knowledge that I was moving to Arizona. I knew it as surely as if the move had already been accomplished. It went beyond faith to a knowing.

Without the magic I’d experienced with the teddy bear I would have dismissed this divine guidance. I quit my job the next day, and two weeks later moved to Arizona. My career never recovered from this move, but my life bloomed in emotional and spiritual ways.

Today the teddy bear sits high on a shelf overlooking the life my new husband and I share. We have learned to join with God to communicate in  a way that heals any challenges or difficulties that arise and to share that love and learning with others.

  • When God Spoke to Me – a true story by Georgianne Giese, edited by David Paul Doyle.

How Can I Feel Spiritual?

headerphoto1If we are to experience spirituality we need to employ more than the usual empirical, conceptual, and analytical mind. We need to be in tune with our imagination, intuition, and contemplative mind. We need to focus on the spiritual, the transcendent.

Metaphors of parables or poetic thought are often more effective, because metaphors suggest rather than direct. Take for example this poem by Rumi (Barks 1995, 36)

Out beyond ideas…there is a field. I’ll meet you there. 

When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about

Ideas, language, even the phrase each other doesn’t make any sense.

Spirituality in its purest form is an inner, subjective experience. Pure, non-verbal experience of being is the spiritual field within.

Most religions contain language and practices intended to facilitate experiences of pure being and connection. Individuals often have their own unique interpretations of the tenets of their religion. Each uses the parts that speak to them.  Religion can be a sociocultural program for developing spiritually and for bringing spiritual realizations into everyday life.

Outside of religious preaching, prayer, testimonies, hymns, scripture and rituals some people find spirituality in service, relationships, touch, books, movies, music, meditation, dreams, gardening, promptings, insight, stillness, yoga, hiking, sunsets, birds, mountains, trees, unity, families, children, elderly, feasting, fasting, animals, light, water, flowers, challenges, trials, sacrifice, knowing, hard work, candles, chanting, dancing, singing, clean living, etc.

When these activities are done with a focus on spiritual experience and a shift in transcendent consciousness we can have a mystical experience.

Mystical experiences can occur during intentional practices or intentional living that can be designed to create conditions conducive to transcendent experiences.

Williams James wrote:

One may say truly, I think, that personal religious experience has its roots and center in mystical states of consciousness… Our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness we call it, is but one type, while all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different. We may go through life without suspecting their existence; but apply the requisite stimulus, and at a touch they are there in all their completeness… No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded.  (James [1905] 2005, 313)

  • Spirituality and Aging by Atchley

Have You Ever Felt Like You Were In A Dark and Dreary Wasteland?

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A Book of Mormon Parable

And it came to pass that while my father tarried in the wilderness he spake unto us, saying: Behold, I have dreamed a dream….
I beheld myself that I was in a dark and dreary waste.
And after I had traveled for the space of many hours in darkness, I began to pray unto the Lord that he would have mercy on me, according to the multitude of his tender mercies…
And after I had prayed unto the Lord I beheld a large and spacious field…
And I beheld a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy.
I did go forth and partake of the fruit; and I beheld that it was most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted….
And as I partook of the fruit it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy; wherefore, I began to be desirous that my family should partake of it also….
And as I cast my eyes round about, that perhaps I might discover my family, I beheld a river of water; and it ran along, and it was near the tree of which I was partaking the fruit.
And I looked to behold from whence it came; and I saw the head thereof a little way off; and [there] I beheld your mother Sariah, and Sam, and Nephi; and they stood as if they knew not whither they should go.
And I beckoned unto them; and I also did say unto them with a loud voice that they should come unto me, and partake of the fruit…
And they did come… and partook of the fruit also….
And I beheld a rod of iron, which extended along the bank of the river, and led to the tree by which I stood.
I also beheld a path, which came along by the rod of iron, even to the tree by which I stood; and it also led by the head of the fountain, unto a large and spacious field, as if it had been a world.
And I saw numberless concourses of people, many of whom were pressing forward, that they might obtain their path which leads unto the tree by which I stood.
And it came to pass that they did come forth, and commence in the path which led to the tree.
And then there arose a mist of darkness; yea, even an exceedingly great mist of darkness, insomuch that those who had commenced in the path did lose their way, that they wandered off and were lost…
I beheld others pressing forward, and they came forth and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press forward through the mist of darkness, clinging to the rod of iron, even until they did come forth and partake of the fruit of the tree.
But after they had partaken of the fruit of the tree they did cast their eyes about as if they were ashamed.
And I also cast my eyes round about, and beheld, on the other side of the river of water, a great and spacious building; and it stood as it were in the air, high above the earth.
And it was filled with people, both old and young, both male and female; and their manner of dress was exceedingly fine; and they were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit.
And… [some at the tree] because of those that were scoffing at them; fell away into forbidden paths and were lost.
And now I, Nephi, do not speak all the words of my father.
But, to be short in writing, behold, he saw other multitudes pressing forward; and they came and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press their way forward, continually holding fast to the rod of iron, until they came forth and fell down and partook of the fruit of the tree.
And he also saw other multitudes feeling their way towards that great and spacious building.
And it came to pass that many were drowned in the depths…; and many were lost from his view, wandering in strange roads.


And it came to pass that I beheld that the rod of iron, which my father had seen, was the word of God (to each heart), which led to the fountain of living waters, or to the tree of life; which waters are a representation of the love of God; and I also beheld that the tree of life was a representation of the love of God.

Book of Mormon 1 Nephi 8, 11

How Can I Find My Stillness Within?

0814meditation04The practice of mindfulness helps us “be where we are.”  Anchoring the attention in present moment reality, acknowledging whatever we are experiencing and letting it be, helps us to let go of reliving stressful memories from the past and imagining stressful situations that may or may not become a reality in the future.   Mindfulness is the skill of “being where you are.”

Sylvia Boorstein defines mindfulness as “the aware, balanced acceptance of present experience . . . opening to or receiving the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is, without either clinging to it or rejecting it”.   The body with its sensory experience is an excellent anchor for present moment awareness because it cannot exist in the past or in the future.  Thus, whenever we come back to the body, we come back to the present in which there is probably no problem.

–Adapted from Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life by Steven Hayes, PhD

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Create moments of stillness in the midst of activity. Stopped at a traffic light? Waiting in line? Riding the bus?

Value these times as an opportunity to close your eyes and go within or say a little prayer. “Wherever you go, in the midst of movement and activity, carry your stillness within you.”                                               — Deepak Chopra

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Expand the field of your awareness around your breathing, so that it includes a sense of the body as a whole, your posture, and facial expression.  Follow the breath now as if your whole body is breathing – holding it all in this slightly softer, more spacious awareness.  Let go of the need to do anything about what you are experiencing and just allow yourself to be.

from Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy, Segal, Williams, and Teasdale [2002]  

How Can I See The Good When All I See Are Flaws?

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There’s an old story about a group of monks living with their master in a Tibetan monastery. Their lives were disciplined and dedicated, and the atmosphere in which they lived harmonious and peaceful. People from villages far and wide flocked to the monastery to bask in the warmth of such a loving spiritual environment.
Then one day the master departed his earthly form. At first the monks continued on as they had in the past, but after a time, the discipline and devotion that had been hallmarks of their daily routine slackened. The number of villagers coming through the doors each day began to drop, and little by little, the monastery fell into a state of disrepair.

Soon the monks were bickering among themselves, some pointing fingers of blame, others filled with guilt. The energy within the monastery walls crackled with animosity.
Finally, the senior monk could take it no longer. Hearing that a spiritual master lived as a hermit two days walk away, the monk wasted no time in seeking him out. Finding the master in his forest hermitage, the monk told him of the sad state the monastery had fallen into and asked his advice.

The master smiled. “There is one living among you who is the incarnation of God. Because God is being disrespected by those around the Incarnated One, God will not show Godself, and the monastery will remain in disrepair.” With those words spoken, the master fell silent and would say no more.

All the way back to the monastery, the monk wondered which of his brothers might be the Incarnated One.

“Perhaps it is Brother Jaspar who does our cooking,” the monk said aloud. But then a second later thought, “No, it can’t be him. He is sloppy and ill tempered and the food he prepares is tasteless.”

“Perhaps our gardener, Brother Timor, is the one,” he then thought. This consideration, too, was quickly followed by denial. “Of course not” he said aloud. “God is not lazy and would never let weeds take over a lettuce patch the way Brother Timor has.”

Finally, after dismissing each and every one of his brothers for this fault or that, the senior monk realized there were none left. Knowing it had to be one of the monks because the master had said it was, he worried over it a bit before a new thought dawned. “Could it be that the Holy One has chosen to display a fault in order to disguise Godself?” he wondered. “Of course it could! That must be it!”

Reaching the monastery, he immediately told his brothers what the master had said and all were just as astonished as he had been to learn the Divine was living among them.
Since each knew it was not himself who was God Incarnate, each began to study his brothers carefully, all trying to determine who among them was the Holy One. But all any of them could see were the faults and failings of the others. If God was in their midst, the Holy One was doing a fine job of hiding Godself. Finding the Incarnated One among such rubble would be difficult, indeed.

 If God insisted on remaining hidden, then they had no recourse but to treat each monk as if he were the Holy One.

Each so concentrated on seeing God in the other that soon their hearts filled with such love for one another the chains of negativity that held them bound fell away. As time passed, they began seeing God not just in each other, but in everyone and everything. Days were spent in joyful reverence, rejoicing in the Presence of the Holy One. The monastery radiated this joy like a beacon and soon the villagers returned, streaming through the doors as they had before, seeking to be touched by the love and devotion present there.

It was some time later that the senior monk decided to pay the master another visit to thank him for the secret he had revealed.

“Did you discover the identity of the Incarnated One?” the master asked.

“We did,” the senior monk replied. “We found God residing in all of us.”

The master smiled.

What Can We Learn From The Stoics?

stoicismStoicism is a philosophical school that arose in Greece and was influential in Rome. It shares the insight that  the most important aspect of our nature is the part that we share with the rational divine, which is a union with nature/the universe/the cosmos.

The Stoic philosopher Seneca was born about the time of Jesus, was educated in Rome and became a Roman senator. He wrote about the importance of using reason to control our negative emotions and gain control over our internal lives in response to a world that is largely out of our control. He suggested we should be internally skeptical about the causes of our anger, to be reflective and to rise above it.

Another Stoic philosopher, Epictetus who was a slave, reasoned that we should accept whatever happens to us, good or bad with good cheer, control our emotions and act in the most rational way forward. He said that because life is short and will end, we shouldn’t waste it on being unhappy and upset.

He said that we should find meaning in our social relationships and roles and responsibilities in our families and community. Getting along, and not letting negative emotions get in our way, is our most important task. First calm down and then approach any problems rationally.

He also discussed the cycle of life and that we shouldn’t feel any more anxiety about death than we do watching leaves fall from the trees. It is a natural process that should be accepted like all of the other processes we encounter in nature, but at the same time cherish the moments we have here on earth.

Marcus Aurelius was a serious student of both Stoic and Epicurean philosophy. He wrote about taking the long view of life and realizing that everything passes. Most things that we obsess over are really very brief and inconsequential in the long scheme of life, and so are not worthy of the attention we give.

The Stoics find meaning in reflective thought, a cherished finite life, and rational action in the face of an irrational world.

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