Conquering fear, healing, joy

Complete freedom and joy!!

Last year, while serving at a summer camp I had a wonderful experience overcoming the fear of heights on a zip-line.  (You can read about it in an article in the Christian Science Monitor here) Before publishing an article about this demonstration, the editor had asked if I thought this was a complete healing of my fear of heights, or if we should just leave it with this particular incident. At the time, I felt more comfortable just leaving it about that particular situation, but this left me feeling a a bit sheepish.  And part of me felt like maybe I needed to test it out to know whether or not I was truly completely healed.  I knew this wasn’t exactly how healing works, but I dismissed the thought a moved on.  

When the article was about to be published, I was asked to do an audio recording of the article.  In doing so, I reread the article several times to practice.  I was struck by the power of the truths that I had worked with at the time about the ever-presence of God, Love and how that love eliminates all fear.  It made me realize that I never needed to be afraid of being separate from Love or outside of Love’s care.  Could I ever be too high up for God to reach me?  That seemed ridiculous.  

At the time I recorded the audio piece, I was actually in Japan and the next day I had the opportunity to visit the Tokyo Skytree with my friend and her kids.  One of the landings was 350 meters high and there were places were you could lean out on an angle and look down at the sprawling city below, as well as a part of the floor that was made of glass so that you could walk over it and see the buildings underneath.  The kids and I did both of these things and I didn’t ever feel a twinge of fear.  I thought about the ideas that I had worked with on that zip-line and knew that they were true for me then and there as well!  We also ventured to the top platform at 450 meters, which give us an even more expansive view of the city, which was a beautiful sight. 

Then a this summer, I had the opportunity to go zip-lining in Costa Rica with a group of high school students on a service trip.  This zip-line was much longer and higher than the one the previous summer, and consisted of 12-15 lines that passed across a valley, over a river and through a rainforest canopy.  I was overjoyed at the freedom and sheer child-like joy I was able to experience and express in doing this activity.  I was even able to share ideas with a couple of kids that were a bit nervous about it and they too had a great time.  I was completely free from fear and embraced every moment of the experience. I am so very grateful for the opportunity to feel the presence and power of Divine Love that truly “casts out fear” as the Bible states in 1 John (4:18).

Also, as a fun side note – I watched the entire Free Solo movie, mentioned in the article – and really, really enjoyed it!!!

grace

How many different ways can we be tricked?

Recently I was out walking the dog around the pond by apartment.  It had been very cold, and just the night before we had a light dusting of snow.  It was a beautiful morning, but the snow covered some icy patches on the path making them hard to see.  My dog started to slide around, and noticing this, I thought I would be safe by walking in the grass.  However, for some reason there was a huge sheet of ice that not only covered the path but the grass around it.  Next thing I know, I was on the ground.  

At this point, I’d love to say that my first thought was turning to God to know that I was safe, as ever, in Love’s warm embrace.  But that’s not what happened.  First I stood up, frustrate, even angry and check to see if I was hurt.  Nothing seemed to be too sore, other than my ego. But then my thought went to self-righteous anger at the apartment management company for not salting the path.  I thought about how I should march right into the office to tell them I had fallen and was hurt… but was I?  I checked again… not really.  Well, I could have gotten hurt, that’s what I’d say… but could I?  

Well, some might say, yes, of course you could have been seriously hurt, that’s so dangerous, they should do better.  But when I think about this through the lens of Divine Science, I know that the truth of my being as God’s perfect creation is perfection, wholeness.  Right then I started to check my thought and recognize that from God’s point of view, I could never fall from grace.  I could never lack grace – both in the sense of being graceful, and in the sense of abundant goodness, kindness and blessing poured forth from the Divine.  

In one of my favorite books, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Mary Baker Eddy puts it this way, “When speaking of God’s children, not the children of men, Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is within you;” that is, Truth and Love reign in the real man, showing that man in God’s image is unfallen and eternal.”  (SH 476:28–32) She also speaks of man as “unfallen, upright, pure, and free”.  (SH 171:4) So, I knew I could see my self as unfallen and free.  

I started, however, to get back to my thinking about the management company and how I should give them a piece of my mind… if not for myself, for others.  What if someone else fell and got injured?  But, if God’s man can never fall from grace, doesn’t that also cover my neighbors?  It’s not to say that it’s not right to take actions that are practical and wise to keep people safe, but I had to check my motives here.  Because really, it seemed like I was looking for any excuse to justify my anger and frustration.  And the more I got angry, and rehearsed what I might tell the management company the more my shoulder began to ache.  

Well, that’s ridiculous I thought.  Why am I letting my thought get so spun up here?  I know the truth about my being and I began to hold more closely to that idea that if I couldn’t fall from grace, my thought couldn’t be filled with anything but grace.  

Later that evening, my friend came over for dinner.  I had been still dealing with some soreness in my shoulder and was feeling a bit sorry for myself.  I told my friend I had fallen on the ice.  His response… “Cool!” 

Well, here comes that anger and frustration again…  How could he say that?   But this time, I caught myself more quickly. What did I really want his response to be?  Was I looking for pity?  That’s not me!  I’m not pitiful… 

I recognized this thought was just another trick to get me to give into this story that I could fall from grace.  But no! Not a fall, not self-righteous indignation, not self-pity could keep me from experiencing God’s unending, ever-present, abundance grace and goodness!!  Enough was enough!  I would not be tricked…    And recognizing this, I felt the power behind Mrs. Eddy’s statement, “Grace and Truth are potent beyond all other means and methods.” (SH 67:23)  

That night I went to bed feeling at peace and woke up perfectly well.  

Conquering fear, Love

Facing fear with love

Fear is a funny thing.  It can seem to completely overtake us and our sense of being.  I love the idea of it as an acronym – False Evidence Appearing Real.  How true that is… that it is entirely false.  In an article By Pam LeBlanc, Alex Honnold – world renowned climber – puts it this way:

Fear to me is my body giving me a warning. It’s sort of like a point of data, like hunger or something. My body is telling me I need to eat at some point. Fear is sort of your body reminding you that you’re uncomfortable. Then it’s up to you to decide if your body is in real danger or your body is being irrational. You’re the guide.[1]

To me I think fear is mental but I love the point that you are the guide and get to decide if the danger is real or if it is irrational or false evidence….  So, you get to decide if you will let fear over power you.  But sometimes it doesn’t seem that simple.

This summer I had the opportunity to overcome my fear of heights when I was serving as a Christian Science Practitioner for a high school group at a summer camp for Christian Scientists.  I had the opportunity to ride roller coasters and go zip-lining.  I didn’t know if I wanted to do either, because for some reason in recent years I seem to really fear heights.

It doesn’t even make sense because as a child I was always climbing trees, walls… being the first out on a high-ropes course and intentionally falling or jumping off… I used to rock climb, and had a pretty big fall when doing a lead climb in Thailand and never seemed to fully recover from it.  I tried to finish the climb but had to come down and have one of my group members finish it.  Then I went back to the practice wall but never felt as confident, especially on the tricky overhang.  When I moved back to the US from Thailand, I had wanted to get into climbing again but never did.  Since then this fear has festered, but mostly was dormant because I was not often in a position where it would come up.

So here I was at camp, where the campers in my group were overcoming fears and challenging themselves every day.  I was there supporting them with spiritual ideas, but felt somewhat hypocritical, if I wasn’t prepared to do the same.  So, I went on a roller coaster…twice.  And yes, I screamed my head off the first time… and then laughed my head off the second time (and still screamed a little bit).  But it was fun!  I felt silly and child-like and free.

Then it came time for zip lining… one of the campers ask if I was going to go.  I wasn’t… but then that voice came from inside saying, are you really going to let your fear get the best of you here?  So I decided to try it.  I paired up with one of the boys and we were going to go on the tandem zip lines together.  (Just two lines, side by each and you can go at the same time… and even race if you want to)…  So the countdown happened… 1…. 2…. 3…. And the camper jumped of the platform and started off…. I on the other hand was still on the platform.  I couldn’t seem to make myself do it.  Another count down and some encouragement from the counselors… still nothing.  I felt some hands on my back gently nudging me a bit (and I could tell that the person the hands were attached to – a good friend of mine – was debating if they were allowed to just push me or not… I know they wanted to)…  I decided that this fear was ridiculous… I didn’t want to give in and look ridiculous … and it was clearly fun because everyone talked about how great it was… so here we go again…. 3… 2…. 1…. Jump!  Wahoooo!!!  It was so much fun, that on the next one, I decided I would actually race the camper who had kindly wait for me at the platform in between…  It was so much fun!!

So back to that False Evidence Appearing Real… and that idea that “it’s up to you to decide if your body is in real danger or your body is being irrational…”  I bring up Alex Honnold because I just watched the trailer for the film about his free solo of El Capitan that is just coming out.  (Spoiler alert: he succeeds!!)  While watching this trailer… my body (and mind/thought) reacted… I because so filled with fear that my stomach ended up in knots, the palms of my hands (and even my feet) started to seriously sweat.  I was utterly consumed by the fear for a few moments…. (maybe that’s what the movie folks were going for… but thank goodness the trailer is only 2 minutes long)…

Did I have an actual reason to fear?  I looked up from the film trailer and I was of course sitting in my chair with my legs up on the ottoman, and my iPad on my lap watching a video.  I was not on the face of a giant cliff… I was in my study… sitting down… watching a video.  Also, I paused and looked up Alex Honnold (who I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t know much about before this) to find out that yes, he is in fact still alive…so, there was literally nothing to fear, even for the guy on the screen.  But it didn’t matter… in fact, still sitting here in my chair in my study typing up this blog post and thinking back to watching the trailer I’m starting to sweat and get nervous all over again!!

Fear is a ridiculous thing… so how do we conquer it?  How was I able to let go of it on the zip line (which now sounds sooo wimpy compared to a giant cliff face with no ropes or safety harness like I was wearing)…

Well, in the Bible it says,

“Perfect love casts out fear.”[2]

How does that work…?  “Perfect love” to me is Divine Love… unconditional, ever-present, all-absorbing, all-encompassing, spiritual love.  It is the kind of love of our Father-Mother God that says, I am right here, holding you up, embracing you… and will never let anything happen to you… I will protect you… I will uphold you and carry you and save you.

I can see some people saying at this point – yeah but bad things happen, how do you explain that?  Well, our life with this Love is eternal… and while sometimes we may find scary or bad things seem to be happening… if even in that moment, we pause and commune, or allow ourselves to be at one with that Divine Love… we can feel a sense of peace… Mary Baker Eddy speaks of it this way in her seminal text Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures… that we can

“feel the unspeakable peace which comes from an all-absorbing spiritual love.”[3]

It is what the Psalmist spoke about in Psalm 23, which Mrs. Eddy writes it this way:

[Divine love] is my shepherd; I shall not want.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for [love] is with me; [love’s] rod and [love’s] staff they comfort me.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house [the consciousness] of [love] for ever.[4]

So when we live or dwell in that consciousness of love, there is nothing to fear – real or imagined.  Love is guiding us through each challenge, if we listen and allow ourselves to feel Love’s ever-presences.  Love will guide us to break through ever fear.

“Love inspires, illumines, designates, and leads the way,” [5]

[1]“If you had no fear of heights, would you climb a 3,000-foot wall?” By Pam LeBlanc.  American-Statesman, March 25, 2018. https://www.mystatesman.com/lifestyles/recreation/you-had-fear-heights-would-you-climb-000-foot-wall/gSKgi7BXfJYgDWVnnwNdeL/amp.html

[2] 1 John 4:18

[3] Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, by Mary Baker Eddy p. 264

[4] Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, by Mary Baker Eddy p. 578

[5] Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, by Mary Baker Eddy p. 454

Soul, Spirit, Understanding the Divine

“Roots hold me close; wings set me free”

IMG_0330Yesterday as I was sitting by the lake with my dog on this chilly, but sunny fall day with the wind blowing through the few trees surrounding us and casting ripples upon the water, I was reminded of a favorite poem or hymn from the Unitarian faith tradition, “Spirit of Life” by Carolyn McDade.

Spirit of Life, come unto me.

Sing in my heart all the stirrings of compassion.

Blow in the wind, rise in the sea;

Move in the hand, giving life the shape of justice.

Roots hold me close; wings set me free;

Spirit of Life, come to me, come to me.

I got to thinking especially about the line “Roots hold me close; wings set me free…” and it led me to think about two of the synonyms that Mary Baker Eddy, discover and founder of Christian Science, uses to describe God in her seminal work Science and Health, with Key to the Scriptures – Soul and Spirit.

God. The great I am; the all-knowing, all-seeing, all-acting, all-wise, all-loving, and eternal; Principle; Mind; Soul; Spirit; Life; Truth; Love; all substance; intelligence.[1]

I’ve found over the years of studying this text and Eddy’s definition of God, that Soul and Spirit were at first the most difficult for me to grasp.  But since getting a clearer sense of those words, their meaning and how they apply to my life and being – as the image and likeness of God as described in Genesis in the Bible – I have found them to be two of my favorite synonyms to pray with, as I continue to learn more about God and my relationship with God in my daily life.

I love to think about Soul as the roots that “hold me close”… some of the attributes of Soul that we express as the reflection of Soul are strengths,depth, resilience, power, dominion, abundance, richness, uniqueness…  I see Soul as the source of my strength, what keeps me and my life grounded and “rooted”… It also feeds more with abundant goodness and richness, color and flavor and culture… much like a root system feeds a tree and holds it to the earth… providing stability and resources.  When I think of a soulful person, I think of someone who is rooted and has real depth and the strength and resilience to get through things, even when it doesn’t seem humanly possible.  I think of someone with the unique individuality and a richness and vibrancy, like a painting with bold colors, which makes you pause and ponder… or a piece of music that you can feel at the deepest reaches of your being and has the power to move or inspire you.

 

I love to think about Spirit as the wings that “set me free”… I think of someone who is spirited, or we may say “she has spirit”… that quality of enthusiasm, joy, life, light… a serene sense of peace… a pure sense of joy… radiance…   Spirit is what lifts me up and causes me to soar above the seeming drama and darkness of the day… it is what bring a sense of freshness and newness to life.  It is what allows us to delight in the beauty around us… in the simple joys and pleasures of a playful puppy, a cheerful child, or a budding bloom…it’s that Spirit of Life, as the song states…

 

So as you go about your day today… perhaps you can find ways to connect to a deeper and higher sense of the Divine as Soul… and as Spirit.

 

[1] Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 587

About the photos:

Baobab trees have resilient root systems (photo taken in South Luangwa, Zambia)

The Albatross has a wingspan of up to 3.5 meters or 11.5 feet!! (photo taken off the coast of Dunedin, New Zealand)

 

Conquering fear, healing, humanity, Love

Curiosity – good or bad?

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

As Shakespeare so eloquently put it… and so it is with curiosity.

As a professor and abroad director, I hoped to instill a sense of curiosity in my students…Cape of Good Hope (14) what I hoped for was to see a sincere desire to learn more about the world, other people and cultures and ways of life.  I think the more we turn outward and learn about others, the more we can cultivate a culture of compassion and empathy… where we can see our common humanity.

However, I’ve recently noticed that curiosity can also have a negative purpose… and I’ve see this popping up over and over lately.  This seems to happen when the motive behind the desire to know something isn’t inspired and then it seems to gravitate from curiosity to fascination or even obsession… This would be cast as voyeurism… or even “morbid curiosity” which an online dictionary defines as a curiosity which is so compelling that the curious person is driven to satisfy it, even though he or she knows or strongly suspects that they probably won’t like what they find, or otherwise find something which is irrelevant or unsatisfying…

I first noticed this notion of curiosity being possibly a negative in some cases from a story book I was reading my nephew called My Father’s Dragon.  In the second book in the series the main characters a boy and a dragon end up on an island filled with canaries that were all “dying of curiosity” because the king canary was so sick with curiosity about an ancient secret passed down over generations… anyway, it got me wondering if there are situations where curiosity could be a bad thing…

I heard it once said, “never ask a question if you don’t really want to hear the answer”… and this may be some good advice in a way… or perhaps allow us a moment to check our motive… why do we want to know?  What purpose does knowing X serve?  Will it help the situation?

You may be wondering what I’m getting at, and thinking that it is always good to know more information than less… but let me give you some examples that may help illustrate my point…

Sometimes I hear friends say they want to know more about their partner’s history with past relationships.  I get it, I’ve been there… but at these times, I’ve had to ask myself.  Do I really want to know?  Probably not… but if so, why?  Will it lead me to feel better or worse about myself, about my partner, about the other person?  Will it lead me to compare myself to others… and does that ever go very well?  (Not usually… either we put someone else down and puff ourselves up, or put ourselves down… and either way the entire premise is off because we are often basing our view of ourselves and others not as the image of Love, a perfect, whole and complete creation of the Divine … but as a faulty human)…

In another situation, someone told me that they had gotten more details than they wanted about someone’s passing and couldn’t get the images out of their head.  They said they should have stopped the flow of information, but were just so curious about it, they just let happen and now they couldn’t seem to undo it.  This is tough stuff… when someone passes, it’s tempting to want what some may call the “gory details”… but do you really want that in your thought?   And related to that, it’s easy to get caught up in the trauma and drama of a tragic event… we want to know why it happened? Who’s to blame?  What were they thinking? What are others thinking?  Why now?  Why this way?

These are all examples of what I am talking about when I say that curiosity can have a negative side…  I’m not saying it’s wrong… and some may say “human nature” to wonder about these things… and I am not saying that it is not good to be informed to learn from and prevent tragic events from happening in the future… that’s different.

It’s the bit where fear generally gets us spun up asking these questions… and we become consumed with fear in the asking… but in all of that… aren’t the real questions deeper than all that… aren’t we really wanting to know — am I safe?  Is he/she safe?  Am I loved?  Are they loved?  Am I worthy enough?  Am I good enough?  Are they?  Will I be ok?  Will they be ok?

I find that it is helpful when wondering “what if” it is good to pause and this about “what is”… What is true about me and my fellow man from a spiritual vantage point right now and always…Well for me that always starts with God, with Good, with Love… which I know to be all-powerful, ever-present and eternal.  It begins with knowing that I (and everyone else) am created by God, Good… that I am whole and complete… that Life is truly eternal and that Love is truly ever-present… and that not one of us can ever be separated from Love or Life for a single moment.  When I get present to that fact, then the questions fall away… and I feel more at peace.

I find the “what ifs” keep us in the past or the future… and to find a sense of peace and the answer to those deeper questions… it’s helpful to stay in the present… in the eternal now… and declare that Love is present and powerful and wrapping us up and keeping us safe and whole.  Paul states in Second Corinthians “For he says, “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.[1]

[1] 2 Cor 6:2 – New International Version Bible

healing, humanity, joy, Love

Pure and simple…

“Pure and simple and nothing else…” that is what came up at the very bottom of the definition when I clicked “Look up” on the word “pure” in something I was reading on my iPad.  I love that idea! IMG_0121

Pure and simple joy

Pure and simple love

Pure and simple truth

And the list goes on… the applications are endless!  I love the idea of simplicity combined with purity… our human lives at times seem so hectic and complicated… there seems to be so much drama in the world today.  From politics, to relationships, to TV shows, to tweets, to global issues and challenges… there seems to be no end of complications and drama.  But in the one true, pure, honest relationship – our individual (and collective) relationship with God, with Divine Love… there is no drama, there is nothing complicated… it is as simple as it is profound.  We are the loved of Love.

In looking up the work pure (and purity)… I also found it means – innocence, cleanness, quality, clear, true… spotless, untainted… being that and nothing else…

It means independent of sense of experience – as in pure knowledge.

And it meIMG_2919ans absolute, utter, sheer – as in pure joy!  Pure or sheer joy… like that of a  young child playing or dancing …or a puppy frolicking or rolling in the grass… isn’t that the kind of uncomplicated joy we all truly want?  Or pure love… untainted and uncomplicated… simple, yet profound… unconditional…

There was a time when I would bristle at the term “purity”… or at least the way that I perceived it being used by religious institutions.   When I was younger, it seemed like being pure meant on the one-hand – boring –  without the flavor of experience.  It seemed like a term for “goodie-two-shoes”… not someone who really wanted to live and experience life to the fullest… experiment and try new things…  Or it was for those that were holier-than-thou and filled with self-righteous judgement of others, and it seemed that if you strayed from a life of purity, you should feel shame and guilt… as if you were unredeemable… and a bad __X__ (fill in the religion of your choice).   That certainly doesn’t sound simple… but filled with complicated drama.

When I recently dug a bit further and looked up the terms “purity” and “pure” in my Dictionary.com app … and what I found was interesting… some of the many definitions start with the word “freedom”…  I found that interesting because I think in the past, a lot of what I was seeking through experimenting with things that may be considered part of an “impure” lifestyle was a sense of freedom… freeing my mind and body… freedom from the shackles and constraints of what I “should” be doing… or from societal expectations and pressures… or an escape from the burdens weighing down my thought, putting them on hold or pausing them by filling my experience with other things that made it possible to forget or ignore them and even world around me… or the dark thoughts I would sometimes have… I mean when you read the news, there is a lot of trauma and drama in the world, let alone in my little life… and sometimes you just need to drown that out a bit… or at least that’s what I thought at the time.

I’ve found other ways to deal with these things in the many years since then, by finding a deeper connection to the Divine which brought healing and a strong sense of security.… but I still struggled with the idea of purity, in part because of my past and thinking that I was not “redeemable”… or at the very least I was judged…

So back to these definitions of “purity” and “pure”… and the fact that it’s about freedom… I made a list from these definitions… freedom from:

  • ContaminationIMG_8361
  • Pollution
  • Guilt
  • Evil
  • Foreign elements
  • Anything that debases
  • Anything inferior
  • Extraneous matter
  • Blemishes
  • Anything that tarnishes or taints
  • Discordant qualities

Wow!  Well, I do want freedom from those things!  Freedom from guilt, discord, blemish or taint… that would be great!  And it IS great!  I strive for this each day and have found so much freedom in growing and digging deeper into a more spiritual sense of joy, freedom and purity.

These ideas have given me a lot of food for thought about where I do see and desire purity in my life… pure joy… pure love… pure goodness… that sounds lovely… simple… uncomplicated… and without judgement…  With that child-like freedom to find joy in the simple things… I’ve found to be a truer, deeper, lasting and more satisfying and fulfilling IMG_0078joy… much more so than the temporary happiness I may find in complicate or dramatic elements… or finding an escape from it all… instead I seek out that pure and simply joy… in watching the hummingbirds flutter about the flowers and veggie plans on my porch, dog walks in the woods, cooking for family and friends, sitting quietly by the lake and communing with Spirit, reading a children’s story to my nephew…  Maybe it sounds Polyana-ish to some, but basking in pure and simple, spiritual love and joy can bring healing and allows us to break free of drama and love our neighbors.

That is the life I am already leading… because I learned that redemption is always possible… and it we are always able to claim our innocence and purity as God’s beloved child in whom He is well-pleased[1], because that is an unchanging fact.  Just as the moment the prodigal son turned from his life and came back to his father seeking forgiveness… the father ran to meet him and embraced him… and he was instantly redeemed by that fatherly love[2].  That is true for any and all of us… we can find that sense of freedom…

And we can all rejoice in a life that is filled with pure and simple love, joy, goodness… if we are willing to seek out the good… “pure and simple and nothing else.”

cropped-30743258_10155977619376195_4226069294653374464_n1

 

[1] Matt 3:17, Mark 1:11, Luke 3:22 – speaks of Jesus as his Son in whom He is well-pleased, but I believe this applies to each and every one of us as God’s sons and daughters… the children of God

[2] Luke 15:11 – 32