Sentinels of Peace

Forest Sanctuary Source: discovertheforest.org

Forest Sanctuary
Source: discovertheforest.org

#weekendcoffeeshare 6/18/16

If we were having coffee today, I would tell you how much I have been feeling the need to get out among a forest of trees. Nature and wilderness have been calling to me for sometime now.

When I visited my daughter in Colorado last year, we went up to Lookout Mountain. What I really liked most about it was sitting under the trees while eating our lunch. It felt so welcoming and comforting. I could have sat there for hours and just listen to the breeze in the branches.

It was like a homecoming and having the love of family all around you. With all of the branches overhead and the tree trunks all around, I felt safe and protected. I had found sanctuary and tranquility. When it was time to go, my spirit protested, reluctant to leave a place of such beauty, serenity, and unconditional love.

Now the forest land beckons me once again. My heart yearns for reunion with my stalwart sentinels of peace.

You might like to see the following related article:

Nature: A More Expansive Spirituality

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Just So…

Purple Rain Drops from naldzgraphics.net

P Purple Rain Drops
from naldzgraphics.net

What is this heavenly radiance I see before me with such uncanny beauty?
It is like a sky full of stars, but it is morning.

The light emitted is bright, beautiful, wondrous, and other worldly,
so much so that I find myself trying to catch my breath.
I cannot take my eyes off the dazzling display
of what looks to be sparkling diamonds
and precious gems of all kinds
with fire like I have never seen before.

Hundreds of water droplets clinging to a screen
have caught the early morning light, just so…
resulting in refraction of the light, just so…

Each droplet sparkles and pulsates with its own unique color.
All shades and hues of a panoply of colors can be seen
more vivid and vibrant than I could have ever imagined.

Is this how the universe of stars would look
if the dust and light years between us were removed?
Or is this the quality of light seen in the heavenly realms?

But alas, the gentle morning sunbeams that gave light, just so…
impinging on ordinary droplets of water at an angle, just so…
giving birth to such incredible beauty…
must now give way to a rising sun
and I am quickly transported back to earth.

Exhilarated by what I have just seen,
I realize that there is so much more
beyond ordinary perception.
Another world of unimaginable wonders.
A revelation that was given, just so…

Copyright 2016 by Blair Atherton

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So You Say You Are Spiritual…

Destination Ahead Copyright 2016 by Blair Atherton

Destination Ahead
Copyright 2016 by Blair Atherton

If you have chosen to move away from organized religion or you were not brought up in a home where religion was a part of life, you are not a spiritual person simply by default. When asked about your religious affiliation, replying that you are “spiritual” does not make it so. Neither does thinking of yourself as such.

In order to truly be spiritual, a few things are needed from you. First, you need to be aware that you have a spirit; that your spirit is what gives you life. It is behind your life force and it can guide and influence your thoughts and actions if you let it.

Having made this realization, then one is usually compelled to explore and understand the fundamental nature of spirituality. This is essential because being spiritual is a way of living and a way of viewing the universe, the world, our place in them, and the meaning of life. Spirituality can arise and thrive within or without structured religion.

Once you come to truly understand that you are a spiritual being, everything changes. One of the changes is that you move away from the material aspects of life to the nonmaterial qualities of existence. Your focus shifts away from things and self-serving behaviors and thoughts to unselfish concern for the wellbeing of all living things. This is a major paradigm shift in world view for most people, especially in the years leading up to midlife.

Once one acknowledges the presence of their spirit-self, the journey to discover what it means to be spiritual and to live the life of spirit begins. My hope and prayer is that it will come early in life for as many as possible so that the joy, happiness, and fulfillment it brings can be enjoyed for many years ahead.

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What is spiritual awareness?

I am Spirit

With Spirit Eyes I See

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How is My Divine Self Revealed?

With permission. Copyright 2012 by www.phatpuppyart.com

With permission. Copyright 2012 by http://www.phatpuppyart.com

If I am a child of God, then what is the essence of my divine nature? How is my divine self revealed?

I believe that the divine self is manifested by the spirit and that love and compassion are spiritual attributes. Therefore, one way in which we reveal our divinity is by expression of love and compassion for all things.

Compassion is not an attribute exclusive to people of religious faith. In fact, it did not originate in religion; rather, it is an aspect of our in-born divine nature. It is an attribute of humanity. Everyone has it, but we often get lost from time to time on our life path and stray from our inherent loving and generous nature. What is important is that we recognize that the spiritual gifts of love and compassion are at the core of our being; that when we express these qualities, we are revealing our divinity to ourselves and to those whose lives we touch.

Nothing is more rewarding or more important in life than sharing these spiritual gifts with others. What is important in the pursuit of meaning in our lives is that we all aspire and strive to express our divinity in various ways on a daily basis. It is through these actions that our divine self is revealed.

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A Letter to God

_DSC1503 Dear God

Dear God,

I am writing to ask that through your grace and the efforts of your Holy Spirits that the dark minds of the wicked and selfish be turned toward the light of goodness, love, and compassion. I ask that you give us world leaders and governments that are driven by a strong desire for the happiness, health, and well-being of their people and by a strong desire for a peaceful world.

I realize that transformation is a very slow process and that sometimes it is only through great suffering that change takes place; that sometimes it is only through great injustice that justice can finally be achieved; that sometimes it is only through darkness that the search for light and truth begins.

It appears that you have set into motion circumstances to motivate us to change as individuals and as a civilization. You have pointed the way, but I understand that it is up to each of us to contribute to the creation of a better world for ourselves.

I pray with all my heart that the majority of us will hear your call and respond to adversity, not with anger, aggression, or grasping, but rather with equanimity and a strong desire to help one another get through the trials and tribulations we face, and to find lasting happiness through continuing acts of love and compassion.

I am and forever will be your devoted servant.

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Buddhism – Spirituality for Everyone Part 2

Path to Enlightenment Photo credit sathyasaibaba.wordpress.com

Path to Enlightenment
Photo credit sathyasaibaba.wordpress.com

In my first article on Buddhism, we examined the Four Immeasurable Minds. These may be best described as highly elevated spiritual states of mind or ways of being. The Noble Eightfold Path discussed here can be thought of as a practical guide for living a noble and virtuous life.

The two are interrelated and interactive. Progress toward one fosters progress in the other. When both are present in an individual, the person is not only truly enlightened, but they serve as a role model for those wishing to achieve the highest levels of spirituality.

Some may worry that the Four Immeasurables may be too much of a paradigm shift to achieve or consistently sustain in a world culture that seems to be diametrically opposed to them. Such a shift in one’s state of mind is indeed challenging, but it is a goal well worth pursuing.

The Noble Eightfold Path gives us practical goals for how we should strive to live our everyday lives in a manner that leads to spiritual awakening and liberation from a mind-set of greed, hatred, violence, duplicity, and self-aggrandizement. It is a path that can transform us spiritually and prepare us for progression to the divine state of the Four Immeasurable Minds.

The Noble Eightfold Path

The word “right” in this context means “in the right and most beneficial or positive way.”

1. Right View or Understanding.

Right view is seeing and understanding things clearly as they truly are. It is also the ability to distinguish between thoughts and actions that are wholesome or unwholesome. Right view requires a flexible, open mind. It leads to an understanding of the law of cause and effect or moral law of karma; namely, that any action will produce results or effects that have the same nature as the action.

2. Right Thinking, Thought, or Intention.

We need to free our minds from bias, prejudice, wrong perceptions, making assumptions, and judging. Through right thought one makes an effort to rid one’s self from what they know to be wrong or immoral. In so doing, we are making a commitment to follow a spiritual path. Right thinking leads to right speech and right action.

3. Right Speech.

Do not lie, bear false witness, use harsh, hateful, or divisive language, gossip, be rude, engage in useless chatter, etc. Always speak truthfully and lovingly in a manner that brings joy, hope, and understanding to others. Our speech should be guided by right view and right thinking.

4. Right Action or Conduct.

Engage in moral, ethical, honorable, and peaceful action. Practice nonviolence and be committed to protecting all life on earth.

5. Right Livelihood.

Choose a profession that is honorable, ethical, and helps and sustains living things rather than one that supports war, killing, disharmony, or harms, cheats, or exploits them. Five types of livelihoods to be avoided are specifically mentioned:

Trade in any kind of weapons.
Any form of trade in human beings.
Breeding and selling of animals for slaughter.
Manufacture or sale of addictive drugs or intoxicating drinks.
Production or trade of any kind of toxic substance or poison designed to harm living things.

6. Right Effort or Diligence. (Paraphrased from Rahula referenced below)

Right diligence is a concerted effort (1) to prevent evil and unwholesome states of mind from arising, (2) to rid one’s self from such thoughts that have already arisen (3) to produce good and wholesome states of mind that have not yet arisen, and (4) to develop and bring to perfection the good and wholesome states of mind already present.

7. Right Mindfulness.

Right mindfulness is being diligently aware of activities of the body, our sensations and feelings, and our thoughts (and their nature). It is being mindful of and living in the present moment free from all thoughts or concern about the past or the future. In mindfulness we refrain from judgement or interpretation of what we are experiencing in the moment. When we are mindful, right thinking, right speech, right action, etc. will be expressed.

8. Right Concentration.

Buddha said that when we have a singleness of mind supported by the other seven factors of the Noble Eightfold Path we have achieved right concentration. It is an essential component of effective meditation.

Right concentration is described as a one-pointed mind. That is, the ability to focus or concentrate on one thing. Right concentration encompasses and is facilitated and supported by the other seven elements of the Noble Path. The practice of right concentration allows us to cultivate insight and develop wisdom by examination of the true nature of things through meditation.

It is by striving to follow the Noble Eightfold Path in our everyday life that we develop the basic principles of ethical conduct, mental discipline, and wisdom which are central to Buddhist practice. Buddha gave many discourses on each element of the Path to explain their meaning in great depth. Consequently, my brief explanations are sorely incomplete and do not give a full appreciation of the scope and quality of each element of the Path.

While many components of the Eightfold Path are things for which most people seeking a spiritual way of life would strive, the Path codifies a stepwise process to achieve them. The Noble Eightfold Path encompasses universal elements of a spiritual way of life. Many of them resonate with the teachings of Christianity and other religions.

I would place persons who engage in spiritual practices and thought akin to those of Buddhists among the exalted meek who are said to one day inherit the earth. In a world seemingly filled with murky shadows and darkness, they are a beacon of light and hope.

References

Hanh, Thich Nhat, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching. Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation. New York: Harmony Books. 2010. First published 1999.

Rahula, Walpola. What the Buddha Taught. 2nd ed. enlarg. New York: Grove Press. 1974. First published 1959.

You might like to see the following related articles:

Buddhism – Spirituality for Everyone Part 1

The Law of Cause and Effect

Buddhism – Spirituality for Everyone Part 1

Immeasurable Photo credit: sathyasaibaba.wordpress.com

    • Immeasurable
    Photo credit: sathyasaibaba.wordpress.com

I have been curious about Buddhism ever since years ago reading Siddhartha, the story of the life of Buddha. As a spiritual practice, Buddhism seemed somewhat mysterious, esoteric, and complex. All this talk about oneness, meditation, and remaining unattached perplexed and confused me. At the same time, there was something about it that was very intriguing.

Now having done some reading about the teachings of Buddhism I would like to share with you what I took away as some of its central teachings that have informed my quest for a deeper and expanded understanding of how to live a spiritual life.

In my view, Buddhism is in many ways spiritual practice in its purest, most highly developed form. I say this in part because it is not a religion. Buddha is not a deity. Buddhism is a spiritual way of living, and of conceiving the world and existence. It does not exclude or renounce a higher being; rather, practice of the concepts of Buddhism can serve as an adjunct or complement to any religion or for the nonreligious. For example, Buddhist belief and practice centers around universal love and compassion for all living things.

Buddhism is a very deep and challenging practice with many elements and layers that takes many years of study to comprehend and master. What I share in this and the next article to follow are but two areas of Buddhist teaching that I found interesting and especially informative to living a spiritual life.

The Four Immeasurable Minds

The Four Immeasurable Minds also are called the Four Divine States of Mind or the Four Perfect Virtues. They are said to be purifying states of mind that can transform the world. This is an area of Buddhist teaching that immediately captured my interest because these four virtues embody what I believe to be key attributes of spirituality. The Immeasurables are:

1. Love
2. Compassion
3. Joy
4. Equanimity

These four states of mind and being are said to be at the core of an enlightened person. They guide and empower everything that an enlightened one does and their interplay and application create conditions for progression to the highest levels of spirituality. To practice these effectively one must go beyond self and extinguish the ego.

These divine virtues are meant to be applied not only locally in everyday life, but also to be radiated in all directions throughout the world in meditation and/or prayer. In doing so, one is in communion with God.

Love or Loving-Kindness

One must live in a way that radiates immeasurable love throughout the world to all living things, unconditionally without attachment or preference for one over another.

Compassion

Similarly, one’s compassion for all living things should be boundless and pervasive without discrimination or favor of one over another. It is a sincere desire that the suffering of all living things will diminish or end.

Joy or Sympathetic Joy

This is selfless, measureless joy in the happiness and good fortune of all living things.

Equanimity

Equanimity is a clear, tranquil, unselfish state of mind that is free from discrimination and prejudice and holds no enmity for any living thing. It is this state of mind that fosters, facilitates, and supports love, compassion, and sympathetic joy that are all pervasive.

In a world filled with selfishness, greed, self-aggrandizement, and racial, ethnic, and religious discrimination, the Four Immeasurables represent a major paradigm shift. Nevertheless, instilling in one’s self the Four Immeasurable Minds should be the goal of anyone who wishes to be an authentic spiritual person in communion with God. What a wonderful world it would be if everyone (or at least a majority) patterned their thinking and actions according to these four states of mind!

References

Brahmavihara. Wikipedia.org. Accessed February 6, 2016.

Hanh, Thich Nhat, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching. Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation. New York: Harmony Books. 2010. First published 1999.

The Four Immeasurables: Love, Compassion, Joy and Equanimity. Viewonbuddhism.org. Accessed February 6, 2016.

Rahula, Walpola. What the Buddha Taught. 2nd ed. enlarg. New York: Grove Press. 1974. First published 1959.

You might like to see the following related articles:

Buddhism – Spirituality for Everyone Part 2

The Quintessence of Life

Spirituality as a State of Being