Thursday, August 27, 2009

Faith Conquers Fear

Faith Conquers Fear

Many people say it is knowledge that conquers fear as fear stems from ignorance. In the movie "Invasion" with Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig this is the premise. In the movie it is due to people's ignorance of how to deal with the virus that they perpetrate all sorts of uncivilized and murderous acts. One of the morals of the story, if one were required to take one away from it, was that to combat fear and its subsequent destructive qualities one had to disseminate knowledge.

While knowledge is of course the prerequisite to overcoming fear it must eventually lead to faith. One simply cannot be knowledgeable of absolutely everything in life, in the world and even in our closest relationships. It is through faith alone that we are inoculated against the horror and the uncertainty that we may see and experience in the world.

Knowledge must lead to faith, this is not to say faith in a particular God but faith in the rightful universal order of things. Faith in the law of gravity assures us that the natural order of the world will remain constant. A child has faith in her mother and father, her knowledge is limited; merely that these two people are her mother and father and will keep her from harm. That knowledge is limited, it is the child's faith in her parents that enables her to go out into the world and explore, learn, grow and deal with the challenges that will inevitably beset her.

Belief is not faith. We believe in things we can comprehend and explain. Faith is incomprehensible and inexplicable.

Faith is love.

Cultivate faith.

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How to Achieve Your Goals

How to Achieve Your Goals

1) Know Yourself This is the most important and crucial stage.

We must know ourselves in truth; we must understand our motivations, our skills and abilities BEFORE we begin setting goals. In my opinion this is the number one reason people fail to achieve their goals - they do not know themselves. Take your time to understand your past; what has given you satisfaction before, what motivates you, what gives you energy and so on. To set goals without knowing oneself is like making a goal to cross the Atlantic not knowing that your canoe is ill-suited to the task.

2) Break it Down.

Dream big, have big goals but learn how to break them down into small bite size pieces. A goal broken into four smaller parts is easier, and actually much more fun, to achieve than trying to tackle the entire goal in one fell swoop. In order to the keep the goal small it must first be measurable and quantifiable.

Answer these three questions: What, how much, and by when? This is very important; if you can't measure your goal by some objective standard you will not be able to build the energy necessary to achieve it and will lose impetus. The reasons most of us fail at achieving goals is that we bite off far more than we can chew, fail to realize the powerful influence that is inertia and do not have clear, measurable objectives by which to gauge our progress. By breaking the goal into small, bite size pieces we greatly improve our chances of achieving the goal, which in turn gives us the confidence, energy and determination to set and achieve other greater goals.

3) Ask for Help.

Asking for help increases our chances of successfully achieving our goal because we now have two or more people working to achieve it. Basic math. In the story of the Mahabharata Arjuna's son was murdered on the battlefield of Kuruksetra against the rules of war. When Arjuna found out he vowed to kill the person responsible, before sunset the following day, or he would commit suicide. This definitely satisfies the What, How Much and By When considerations. The first thing Arjuna did was ask for help, he asked Krishna and Krishna agreed. However unbeknownst to Arjuna, Krishna, who had vowed not to take up arms in the war, called his own personal chariot driver and told him to ready the chariot for war as he himself would join the fight if necessary to help Arjuna achieve his goal.

Arjuna was successful and we see in the story his goal setting satisfied all three criteria. He knew himself and his ability; he was, after all, the greatest warrior of his time. If anyone had the skill, knowledge and ability to achieve this goal he did. The What, How Much and By When were clearly and unequivocally addressed ie: the perpetrator - dead - by sundown. He then had Krishna helping and even willing to take up arms to assist if necessary.

It is an incredible story in terms of achieving a monumental task. Throughout that day Arjuna was beset by numerous obstacles. I am positive that this is the origin of the term, "threw everything but the kitchen sink" because the opposing army did just that. Arjuna's horses tired and needed to be rested - on the battlefield; three of his brothers were on the verge of being killed and he had to turn back to go rescue them; and an entire army was hell bent on stopping him. But, with the help of Krishna, he successfully went from one obstacle to the next until he had achieved his goal.

It is a wonderful story and we should take lesson from it. First know ourselves, our wants, our desires, our abilities and motivations. Then break the goal into bite size, measurable pieces. Then ask for help. There is also the incredible and inspiring story of Terry Fox, the young man who, with cancer and a prosthetic limb ran "The Marathon of Hope" to raise funds and awareness for cancer research. When asked how he could bear the pain and difficulty of the run considering his prosthetic limb and deteriorating health he is quoted as saying, "I only run to the next telephone pole."

Rest assured we can reach our highest and grandest goals with knowledge of ourselves, with help from others and one telephone pole at a time.

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Dealing with Adversity

Dealing with Adversity

We have all heard the term "turn your lemons into lemonade". The difficulty of doing so is the tricky part. A particular verse in the Gita comes to mind - "A person who is not disturbed by happiness and distress and is steady in both is certainly eligible for liberation." This verse touches on a consideration we ignore in our determined pursuit of happiness. We tend to think that it is all about being steady in distress, not being overcome by the negatives and the setbacks in life. In actuality the key to dealing with adversity and distress is in how we deal with happiness and the good times.

As counter-intuitive as this may sound it is actually easier to turn our setbacks into victories than to turn our victories into resounding successes. We have also heard the phrase "nothing fails like success". This is true. This is particularly why the Gita extols us to "be steady" even in happiness and not be sidetracked and overwhelmed by our experiences of happiness.

The Gita tells us that our experiences of both happiness and distress are like our experiences of winter and summer, they will come and go. The key is to remain unfazed by both experiences so that we can achieve success in our spiritual journey and over the long run. We must learn to enjoy and appreciate our experiences of happiness without being attached to them. In doing so we are more able to endure and move through the inevitable experiences of distress also without identifying with those experiences and thus becoming emotionally and spiritually incapacitated.

It is how we deal with our experience of happiness that tells how we will deal our experience of distress. Remember: "A person who is not disturbed [influenced, controlled] by distress AND happiness is certainly eligible for liberation."

Laws of Karma and Samsara

The Intricacies of Karma and Samsara

Krishna tells Arjuna in the Gita that all activities (kriya) “both auspicious and inauspicious” create impressions (karma) and leads to bondage (samsara). So “good” acts that leave “good” impressions (karma) or “bad” acts that result in “bad” impressions (also karma) are all impressions (you guessed it - karma) and therefore bind one to samsara.

Samsara is the “Wheel of Life” or the cycle of birth and death. We must be free of residual karma, good or bad, in order to achieve pure spiritual enlightenment and enter the pure spiritual realm unsullied by material impressions (karma). In order to expend such impressions we must take on a material body for it is only in a material body we can expend our material impressions. However, there is problem, well actually two problems.

The Karma-deha and the Bhoga-deha.

The Bhoga-deha is a material body that can only expend karma. The soul in a Bhoga-deha body enjoys or suffers the consequences of previous acts, i.e. expends karma. The Krishna tells Arjuna in the Gita that all activities (kriya) "both auspicious and inauspicious" create impressions (karma) and lead to bondage (samsara). So "good" acts that leave "good" impressions (karma) or "bad" acts that result in "bad" impressions (also karma) are all impressions (you guessed it - karma) and therefore bind one to samsara.

Samsara is the "Wheel of Life" or the cycle of birth and death. We must be free of residual karma, good or bad, in order to achieve pure spiritual enlightenment and enter the pure spiritual realm unsullied by material impressions (karma). In order to expend such impressions we must take on a material body for it is only in a material body we can expend our material impressions. However, there is problem, well, actually two problems.

The Karma-deha and the Bhoga-deha.

The Bhoga-deha is a material body that can only expend karma. The soul in a Bhoga-deha body enjoys or suffers the consequences of previous acts, i.e. expends karma. The Bhoga-deha is a non-human body; a plant, animal, insect etc. This body is solely meant for burning off karma, one cannot create karma in a Bhoga-deha body. An animal, being under the complete control of Mother Nature (Prakriti) and her influences and energy, cannot create karma. This is actually desirable from the point of view of expending karma and getting rid of impressions. If we remain in an animal body, expending Karma, then we can rid ourselves of vast amounts of residual material impressions. One cannot continue to break the law if one is in jail and one will eventually "pay their debt" to society when the sentence ends.

The Karma-deha is the human body. It is in the human body that we can, and do, create karma. It is in the human body that we are held responsible for our actions due to the fact that we can exercise choice based on developed intelligence. The problem is that if we are not careful we can begin to create more karma (both good and bad) and must be reborn in some body or other to expend that karma. It is the person who is NOT in prison that has the freedom, indeed the opportunity, to break the law. It's a catch-22 really, the only way to break the cycle of material existence is through the human form, the karma-deha, but it is in the human form that we are most likely to create karma thus throwing us back into a bhoga-deha body and keeping us bound in Samsara.

Despair not; there is reason for and a solution to this karmic conundrum.

The Freedom of Choice

Question: Would we rather be free with the freedom, choice and risk of breaking the law or be imprisoned without the freedom, choice and risk of breaking the law. I know, dumb question.

The reason we must be in the human form to break the cycle of samsara is that we must choose to do so.

It is only in the human form, the karma-deha, that we have the freedom of choice. The pursuit of spiritual enlightenment, God realization, Brahman realization, call it what you like, must be an intentional choice. God would rather we choose to have a deep, spiritual relationship with him, just as we would rather be with someone who freely chooses, and is not coerced by outside persons or circumstances, to be with us.

Love can only exist and grow when both persons freely choose to be in the relationship, not when there is force. In the end of the Gita, after hours of explaining all the different spiritual paths and philosophies, Krishna tells Arjuna to "do what you wish to do".

Krishna, spirituality, the Gita, is not about force - hence the freedom of the human being to choose whether or not to create its own karma.

So the key is not to eliminate "bad" karma and acquire "good" karma because ALL karma leads to samsara.

The key is to become karma-free!

But that is another post for another time...

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Grieving and Detachment

Grief and Detachment

As mentioned in earlier posts becoming detached enhances the pleasure we receive from life, not the other way round. Attachments put our focus, attention and energy on future acquisition and past regrets. Detachment enables us to live in the present.

There are of course periods, events or situations in life which are causes for genuine grief. To become free of attachments does not mean that we feel no sense of loss. The fact that happiness resides within does not mean that situations outside our control cannot cause us genuine pain.

To be detached means that because we have realized that our happiness is an internal reality we experience a grief that is full, healthy and complete and leads to healing. Because the loss is not tied to our ultimate happiness we are able to grieve fully and completely without any preoccupation as to our future happiness. Rather than a grief that is liberating, healthy and deep the person that is not detached, internally secure and have a strong sense of self tends to have dysfunctional grieving patterns and habits. Such persons either grieve too much to the point of hysteria, despondency or depression or they repress their feelings, not grieve in full and cause real long term harm to themselves and their relationships.

Do not repress or suppress feelings of genuine loss. Instead recognize that our happiness is separate from and independent of our grief and we can therefore experience the loss with our entire being and then move on and ultimately pass through the sense of loss.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Spiritual, but not religious

Spiritual but not Religious.

The library is quite a peaceful place and the mid-afternoon daylight pours through the floor to ceiling windows. I have always enjoyed writing in the quiet of a library or bookstore, though the relative ruckus of High School adolescents reminds me to schedule my library sojourn for an earlier hour of the day.

This morning, during my mantra-meditation practices, my mind kept toying with this concept of spirituality vs. religion. I encounter many in my coaching and speaking programs who vehemently abhor organized religion. I can understand that sentiment as I was raised in a religious institution myself. Practitioner’s disdain for ritualistic and institutionalozed practices, rules and regulations, devoid of mature spiritual development and understanding, is in most cases well-founded.

Let’s set religiosity aside for the time being; at least religiosity as defined as an institution. What is spirituality? It is easy to define religion and religiosity. However, people’s definition of spirituality varies from person to person. I will say that in my experience, more often than not, spirituality is basically religion without the “God” element. Religion without “all the worship and service to God” generally describes most people’s idea of spirituality.

Religiosity, devoid of “worship and service to a particular God”, still does not clearly explain or define spirituality. The definition of spirituality, with or without acknowledging God, is a significant issue considering the saying by the philosopher Chardin. “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

As spirit beings inhabiting a matter-based reality we will naturally encounter some incongruities. The question is simple; how do spirit-made beings function in a matter-based world?

The process of negation is one way to identify and nourish our spirituality. Let’s eliminate gratification. The senses of sight, smell, taste, touch and sound provide us with sensual pleasure and gratification. However, activities that are not primarily intended to gratify these senses, yet still give us a sense of happiness, is an activity that stimulates the soul, hence spiritual.

If we invite a friend to accompany us to the movies with the primary intention of sharing the experience and getting to know the other person then the evening can be spiritually uplifting. If our primary concern was the stimulation of our senses, during the movie and thereafter, then we are susceptible to frustration if the movie turns out to be drivel and the evening does not turn out to be sensually gratifying.

Our spirituality is identified, nourished and strengthened when we choose activities and engagements that are only secondarily or incidentally stimulating to our material senses.

Problem solving must be done in a similar fashion. When we encounter problems and find solutions to those problems that are not primarily tied to our personal, sensual gratification the resultant spiritual solutions will be far more universally applicable, acceptable and beneficial.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Detachment and the Pursuit of Happiness

Detachment and the Pursuit of Happiness.

Those who have read my articles and blog, (, know that I am constantly advising that we give up our attachments. The opposite of attachment is erroneously believed to be detachment, this is not the case. The opposite of attachment is aversion. Let’s briefly define these three; attachment, detachment and aversion.

An attachment is the belief that the source of my happiness resides in my external, material reality, i.e. personal, sensory gratification. An aversion is the belief that the source of my misery depends on my external, material reality, i.e. the lack of my personal, sensory gratification. Detachment is the understanding that while my external material reality is indeed a reality, and affects me on an external, material level, I also exist in a spiritual reality which is untouched by my external circumstances.

An attachment dictates that when dining out if I order and receive olives on my pizza the evening will be perfect and I will be happy. Aversion is when the chef mistakenly puts pineapple and ham on my pizza; I become frustrated and unhappy and the evening is ruined. Detachment is even if they put pineapple on my pizza and turn it into a fruit salad I retain my ability to experience happiness, (even as I hurl pineapple at the hastily retreating waiter), because I recognize that my happiness is not at all a function of someone else’s culinary dysfunction.

Detachment is the ability to remove focus from our personal, sensory gratification and to remain situated in happiness even in adverse, external circumstances. Detachment means our personal, sensory gratification is secondary to existing with spiritual maturity. Detachment, for theists, means our personal, sensory gratification comes second in our relationship with God. Detachment, for atheists, means our personal, sensory gratification comes second in our relationship with the world.

Detachment is the key to happiness; not attachment and aversion.

By the way, being detached did not dampen the gusto with which I devoured that pizza one whit!