Power of the Mind

Buddha_in_Sarnath_Museum_(Dhammajak_Mutra)I’ve always been intrigued with Buddhism. The founder of Buddhism is said to have declared, “What we think, we become.” What does this really mean? I have been pondering that question for some time now. Others have said something similar. Ralph Waldo Emerson, an American essayist, lecturer, and poet, once said, “We become what we think about all day long.” Henry Ford, the founder of the Ford Motor Company, once said, “Whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right.” That is just a sampling of like-minded thinkers. So that begs the question, what do these quotes really mean?

I suppose the Buddha’s comment “What we think, we become” could be referring to self-esteem or self-talk. I know from personal experience and from observing my students as a teacher for 35 years, that self-talk is huge. I remember one particular student who thought that she could not pass my exams, and in fact, rarely did. What was interesting is this did not change until her thinking changed. I recommended to this student to visit the school counselor. She did and the counselor after much questioning discovered that her self-talk was such that she believed she could not pass my exams. The counselor worked with the student for a long while to change her thinking and lo and behold she started passing my exams. I also have worked with numerous students who told themselves that they were stupid, and these students were seldom successful. I suspect that this self-talk was reinforced at home. So quite literally “What we think, we become.”

Now this ties into what is known as the law of attraction. According to Wikipedia, “the law of attraction is the name given to the adage “like attracts like” which in New Thought philosophy is used to sum up the idea that by focusing on positive or negative thoughts a person brings positive or negative experiences into their life. This belief is based upon the idea that people and their thoughts are both made from “pure energy”, and the belief that “like energy attracts like energy.” So this law would say if you think about something long enough, you will attract it to you. Now I’ve had experiences that could be explained by this law. A number of years ago we took a family vacation to the east coast of Canada using a rental car to travel around. As we often did, we stopped to pick up pudding cups for a treat. Since I didn’t want my children to spill pudding in our rental vehicle, I didn’t allow them to consume theirs in the car. The decision was solely mine as there was much protest from my children and my wife. We all stood outside and ate our pudding. After all my lecturing to my children, along with their opposition and my wife’s belief that I was being a “worry wart”, guess who slopped  all over themselves. You guessed it, me. You could call that law of attraction or as Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, “We become what we think about all day long.”

 Now the law of attraction would say that when we worry about something, say “I hope the car won’t break down” or “What if the car breaks down” that we attract that into our life even though we may not want it. I can also relate to this. Many years ago my wife and I took a road trip. Out of the blue my wife asks, “What would we do if the van breaks down?” I responded with, “find a mechanic.” Well, a few hours later our van died as the alternator failed. We had to find a mechanic. Was that the Law of Attraction? Perhaps. Orison Swett Marden, an American inspirational author and founder of SUCCESS magazine, said, “Worry clogs the brain and paralyzes the thought. A troubled brain can not think clearly, vigorously, locally.” This law would say that because we were worrying, thus constantly thinking that the van might break down; we attracted that into our experience.

What I find particularly fascinating is that science is providing evidence that the mind can affect matter. Here are two studies that caught my attention. The first is what is called the placebo affect. We’ve all heard of the use of placebos used in the study of new medications. A Baylor School of Medicine study, published in 2002 in the New England Journal of Medicine (see Study Finds…), looked at surgery for patients with severe and debilitating knee pain. The patients were divided into three groups. The surgeons shaved the damaged cartilage in the knee of one group. For the second group they flushed out the knee-joint, removing all of the material believed to be causing inflammation. The third group received a “fake” surgery, where the patients were only sedated and tricked that they actually had the knee surgery. For the patients who received the “fake” surgery, the doctors made the incisions and splashed salt water on the knee as they would in normal surgery. They then sewed up the incisions like the real thing. All three groups went through the same rehab process, and the results were surprising. The placebo group improved just as much as the other two groups who had surgery.

Another fascinating example of how science is showing the power of the mind influences matter is the work of Dr. Masaru Emoto.  Dr. Emoto has been studying the effects of thoughts and feelings on water. He did this by producing different focused intentions through written and spoken words directed towards water samples. He did the same using musical styles. Dr. Emoto would literally present these thoughts to water samples and the water appears to “change its expression”. One of his books, The Hidden Messages in Water (1999), explains how he demonstrated the effects of human thoughts on water. More specifically, he observed the crystals of frozen water after exposing the water to music or thoughts. I have personally read this book and found it quite captivating and he has since published many more. (See Masaru Emoto)

There are many more captivating scientific studies that provide evidence that thought, or the human mind, can influence matter. See the 10 Scientific Studies… to learn more.

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Henry Ford, Time Magazine, Jan 1935

So maybe there is something to the Buddha quote, “What we think, we become.” Or as Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right.” If we think we are a failure, we become a failure. If we think we are brainy, we become brainy. Now I’m not suggesting it is magic. If we think and believe we are good at something, say hockey, doesn’t mean we magically are. However, the wanting to be good motivates a person to practice and become good at it. Eckhart Tolle, a German-born resident of Canada, best known as the author of The Power of Now and A New Earth: Awakening to your Life’s Purpose, says, “The mind is a superb instrument if used rightly. Used wrongly, however, it becomes very destructive. To put it more accurately, it is not so much that you use your mind wrongly—you usually don’t use it at all. It uses you.” I get that now. If we control those negative or destructive thoughts then our mind can’t use us. If we use our mind in positive and creative ways, then we grow as human beings. It is true. What we think, we become.”

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Legalized Discrimination

I’ve always held the belief that at least in the developed world human rights were considered sacred. I wanted to believe that because we live in the 21st century we had moved beyond discriminatory practices and racism. I thought the human race was evolving for the better. It seems I’m naive and that my assumptions were wrong.

On December 10, 1948, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), a document listing universal rights entitled to all human beings. A human right is a right that is believed to belong justifiably to every person. Article 6 of UDHR states, everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law. Article 7 of that document states, all are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

So why am I bringing up the UDHR? Well it appears that even in this modern era where we have an international declaration enshrining our human rights, that there are still people hell-bent on denying certain groups of people their rights.

On March 30 of this year, the State of Mississippi in the United States passed an Anti-LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender) Bill. Some of the law in Mississippi states, so long as individuals are motivated by “a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction,” any of the following behaviours would be considered legal by the government:

  • Religious organizations can decline to honour any same-sex marriage or provide any services related to recognizing that marriage.
  • Religious organizations can refuse to hire, fire, and discipline employees for violating the organization’s religious beliefs, basically protecting those who carry out above mentioned actions towards the LGBT community.
  • Religious organizations can choose not to sell, rent, or otherwise provide shelter to namely the LGBT community.
  • Religious organizations that provide foster or adoptive services can decline service without risking their state subsidies.
  • Any person can choose not to provide treatment, counselling, or surgery related to gender transition or same-sex parenting.

On March 23, North Carolina passed the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act that states, All public schools, government agencies and public college campuses to require that multiple-occupancy bathrooms and changing facilities, such as locker rooms, be designated for use only by people based on their “biological sex” stated on their birth certificate.

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from nohatespeechmovement.org

Clearly the laws passed in North Carolina and Mississippi are in violation of UDHR, namely article 6 and 7. In essence these states have legalized discrimination.  Now this is not without consequences. The Guardian says President Barack Obama has called for North Carolina and Mississippi to overturn state laws that affect gay and transgender residents. The United Kingdom Foreign Office issued to its citizens a statement warning LGBT tourists of the dangers of visiting North Carolina and Mississippi after both introduced “anti-LGBT” laws.

According to BuzzFeedNews entertainers such as Pearl Jam, Cirque du Soleil, Bruce Springsteen and Bryan Adams have cancelled plans to perform in those states. The Corporation PayPal cancelled its plans to open a new global operations centre in the city of Charlotte, North Carolina. The German Deutsche Bank announced that it was freezing plans to create 250 new jobs in North Carolina due to the state’s anti-LGBT law. At least 13 conventions in Charlotte were cancelled over concerns over the bill. Actress Sharon Stone, scheduled to film a movie in Mississippi, decided to change the location after the passage of the controversial law.

NewNowNext reported the corporation holding the rights of the musicals West Side Story and Footloose have withdrawn permission for their musicals to be done in the states of North Carolina and Mississippi, because of the anti-LGBT laws. The Blue Man Group tour was also withdrawn.

These anti-LGBT laws were passed despite the fact that the Supreme Court of the United States, the highest court of the land, ruled that same-sex marriages  were legal throughout the entire country.

Now the justification for these laws is based on religious beliefs; the beliefs of Christianity. Yes you can find passages in the Christian scriptures supporting the belief that homosexuality is sinful. Having said that you can also find numerous passages in scripture justifying slavery as well. Does that mean that we should also pass laws legalizing slavery? I think there would be a huge public outcry if we did. Slavery was a socially acceptable practice in biblical times but now it isn’t. Perhaps the beliefs about homosexuality shown in scripture are also reflecting the social norms of day. From what I’ve learned about LGBT, it is not a choice. Their sexual orientation is a part of their genetic and/or spiritual makeup. They can’t help who they are.

First Nations or aboriginal people use the umbrella term “two-spirited” to describe same-sex attraction and gender variance. The term refers to a person who has both a masculine and a feminine spirit. I first heard of this term many years ago when I was teaching a scripture course to a group of aboriginal people. From what I was told, the LGBT community is much more accepted by the First Nations people.

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from joshuanhook.com

Moreover, if Christianity is going to be used as justification for these laws, then all of scripture must be considered. Christians are called to follow and emulate Jesus. In John 8:1-11 is a story about Jesus who sat down in the temple to address a group of scribes and Pharisees who confronted Jesus. They brought up the issue of an adulteress woman, and invited Jesus to pass judgment upon her when they asked the question, should she be stoned, which is what the Law of Moses instructed. Jesus responded by stating that the one who is without sin is the one who should cast the first stone. The religious leaders then departed, leaving Jesus and the woman alone. Jesus then asked the woman if anyone had condemned her. When she answers no, Jesus said that he did not condemn her either, and told her to go and sin no more. This story clearly shows that Jesus did not judge or condemn others for their lifestyles. NOR SHOULD WE.

No one should be denied their human rights no matter what their sexual orientation is or what the colour of their skin is or for any other reason for that matter. If the makers of these laws truly proclaim their actions are rooted in Christian belief, then they should take heed to Luke 6:35 (NRSV) where it says, But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he [God] is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting in any way that the LGBT community is wicked. I am only trying to get across the point that God treats everyone with kindness, even the wicked. As far as I’m concerned, LGBT individuals are like you and me. They are merely trying to happily live their lives like everyone else. No matter what our beliefs are, we must still learn to be tolerant and understanding of all people.

Fear or Love

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Banner reads ‘I am Brussels’ in French & Flemish – Reuters pic

One week ago on Tuesday, March 22, 2016, three coordinated bombings occurred in Brussels, Belgium’s capital. Two attacks occurred in the Brussels airport, and one at its metro station. During these attacks, 31 innocent victims were killed along with three suicide bombers. Even more disturbing is the 300 innocent people who were injured.

I feel great sadness when I hear of a terrorist attack especially when it occurs in Europe because just six months ago my wife and I were in Europe. In October of 2015, my wife and I visited Belgium. While Brussels was not one of the places we visited, we did visit several of the World War One sites in Flanders’ Fields. We also visited Paris, France on our trip so when the Paris attacks happened it deeply affected us both, as did the Brussels attack.

As I stated in my November 27, 2015  post about the Paris attacks, terrorism is something I cannot understand. I’ve tried to put myself into the shoes of a terrorist in order to comprehend how someone can cause harm and death to innocent people like the bloodshed that happened in Brussels. The news media repeatedly tells us that the people who carry out such acts of violence have been radicalized.  Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a radical as  “advocating extreme measures to retain or restore a political state of affairs”. So as I understand it, radicals are people who carrying out acts of murder for political gain.  This is what I can’t wrap my head around.  In my mind killing innocent people for political gain, or any reason, is wrong!

How can someone with any kind of conscience murder innocent people? As I mentioned in the November post, the only thing I can come up with is that these people have been brainwashed. It is the only explanation that makes sense.

What disturbs me the most is when a terrorist attack  happens on our planet panic sets in. Panic is a symptom of fear. The school that I taught in is taking a group of students to Germany this month. The Brussels event set off a wave of panic among the parents. These parents were fearful because their children were off to Europe, where terrorist attacks occur. Now I’m a parent, so I understand the need to protect your children. But when we cave in to fear, the terrorists succeed.

Perhaps it’s time to look at the issue of terrorism from a different perspective. According to many spiritual writers today, all behaviours and emotions can be put into two categories – love and fear. These writers tell us fear is the opposite of love. So what is fear? Fear results in a feeling of not being protected or feeling secure. So when it comes to terrorism, fear sets in because we feel insecure and vulnerable. In fact, that is what terrorism is all about, instilling fear. Terrorists want us to be fearful. They want to cause terror. In fact, ‘terror’ is the root word of ‘terrorist’ or ‘terrorism’.

Fear limits our minds. People who live in fear will do harmful things. They lash out at those whom they perceive to be the cause of their pain. The same could be argued for animals. When do animals attack? It is when they fear for their survival.

Now most people would argue that the opposite of love is hate but when you think about it, hate is really stemming from fear. A person might “hate” someone who has abandoned or disrespected him. Abandonment makes more sense in terms of the fear. When a person feels abandoned, their emotions are stemming from fear of being alone. Disrespect is when a person feels scorned or disregarded, so it stems from the fear a person has when they are not honoured or regarded.

In a CNN report, Republican front-runner Donald Trump is quoted as saying,

“It’s going to get worse and worse. In my opinion, this is just the beginning. It will get worse and worse because we are lax and we are foolish — we can’t allow these people, at this point we cannot allow these people to come into our country. I’m sorry…”

His remarks clearly come from fear. His and others like him lack love and compassion. Banishing others does not stem from love. It stems from fear which indicates that there is no love.

Love on the other hand doesn’t hurt. If it hurts it is fear. Love is a core emotion from which many other emotions are created. Emotions such as happiness, kindness, charity, faith, empathy, fairness and compassion all come from loving intentions. This type of love is what the Greeks called agape love. This love is selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love. It is the highest form of love there is. With this type of love there is no exclusiveness.

Fear is the opposite of love because fear is the base emotion from which hate, prejudice, greed, stress, paranoia, and many other negative emotions are based.

1 John 4:18 of the Christian scriptures tells us, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” It is also interesting that scripture scholars tell us the phrases “do not fear” and “do not be afraid” appears 365 times in the Christian Bible. I don’t think that is coincidence. Perhaps a basic message in the scriptures is, do not have fear because when you are fearful, you do not possess love.

The CNN report referred to above quotes Pascale Rouhier, a 38-year-old resident of Brussels, as saying, “I’m not going to change my way of living because Brussels is my city.”

The article also reports that 2,000 people gathered in front of  the Brussels stock exchange, with Belgium Prime Minister Charles Michel and other leaders who laid wreaths at Maelbeek metro station.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, “Our strength lies in our unity, and our free societies will prove to be stronger than terrorism.” (see article)

These are all examples of people whereby fear has not taken hold. Their reactions and comments stem from love. Love unifies while fear divides.

Perhaps former Beatle John Lennon sums it up best when he said,

“There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance. We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others or our potential to create. Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States was right when he said during his inaugural address on March 4, 1933,   “Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself.”  If terrorists succeed in their mission to instil fear into the world then they will create a culture of fear; a culture where there is no love; a world full of hate, prejudice, greed, stress, and paranoia. But, if we don’t allow fear to take hold then we will have a culture filled with happiness, kindness, charity,  empathy, fairness and compassion; a culture where there is love. The choice is ours.

Adventures with Mother Nature

Every summer since 2002, starting when my son was 8 years old, my son and I have taken hiking excursions to the Canadian Rockies. Traditionally, we go with my brother-in-law and his two sons. Sometimes my brother and his son would join us as well as a friend and his two sons at the beginning. These excursions entail carrying 40-pound backpacks containing food and cooking equipment, sleeping gear and a tent. On some occasions we carried our 40-pound packs 14 kilometres (8.7 miles) before reaching our destination.

Most hikes were to the backcountry, a remote undeveloped rural area accessible only by hiking trails. We would hike to places such as Landslide Lake, Ribbon Lake, Lillian Lake, Utopia Creek, Glacier Lake, and Celestine Lake to name a few. I realize that these names likely don’t mean much to many of you but I can assure you that these settings are some of the most breath-taking, beautiful scenery in the world.

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Lillian Lake

We’ve had some adventures over the years. In what is called Kananaskis Country, we did a day hike to Ribbon Falls after a good night’s rest at the Ribbon Lake campground. To reach our destination, we had to maneuver down a vertical cliff. Thankfully, there were chains attached to help a person propel downward. By carefully finding footholds and hanging onto the chains we successfully got to the bottom part of the cliff. Being that I am afraid of heights, this was a terrifying experience for me. Climbing up the cliff was much easier.

After hiking the Galatea Creek Trail, also in Kananaskis Country, and arriving at our destination of Lillian Lake we put our backpacks down and went to scout out a site to set up our tents. Several minutes went by before we returned to collect our equipment to take to our chosen site. To our dismay, we discovered a chipmunk chewing its way through the top of my son’s brand new pack which I had just purchased for my son. In fact, this was his first trip with it. The chipmunk had chewed a hole into the top of the pack in an attempt to get at the trail mix inside. I was not happy with that animal and yelled some choice words at the creature. Thankfully the little beast was not successful in retrieving any of the trail mix.

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Geraldine Lake trail (boulder hoping)

One of the most difficult hikes we’ve done was to Geraldine Lakes in Jasper National Park. It involved a very steep climb beside the waterfalls between Lower and Upper Geraldine Lakes where you come to kilometres of boulder hopping across what is called talus field. To say it was exhausting hopping from boulder to boulder carrying a 40 pound backpack is an understatement. At one point I was feeling sorry for myself asking, “Why am I doing this?” Thinking that I was getting too old for this hiking business (I was in my 40s), we came upon a fellow hiker in his 70s. He told us that Geraldine Lakes was one of his favourite trails and that he had hiked the trail many times. I needed an attitude adjustment at that point and my outlook changed after talking to the senior hiker. If a 70-year-old man can hike that trail, I had nothing to complain about being I was 30 years younger than this man. It’s all about your mental attitude. Being in shape, of course, helps.

One of my favourite hiking experiences was our hike to Utopia Creek in Jasper National Park. There were eleven of us on that expedition. On the Saturday evening we decided to take a different trail back so that we could climb up to what is called the Sulphur Skyline, which has some of the most breathtaking panoramas in Jasper National Park. This meant hiking the Fiddle River 11 kilometre horse trail from our campsite, then going up a 700 metre (2300 feet)  elevation gain of about 2 kilometres (1.2 miles) to reach the skyline. The trailhead had a sign saying, “Trail not recommended,”  but this didn’t stop us. What we did not realize is that we had the cross the Fiddle River not once, not twice but six times.

On our first crossing we carefully hopped across the river from boulder to boulder with our backpacks on until the last bit whereby we took our packs off, tossed them a fair distance to another person on the riverbank and then hopped onto the bank ourselves. Thankfully no one fell into the water and our packs remained dry.

During the second crossing we decided to take our hiking boots off, put on our sandals and cross the river in our sandals. The current was strong and the glacier water literally made my feet hurt.

Now the third crossing was done in our bare feet. By this time the ritual of taking off our boots was becoming burdensome, so when we had to cross the river on the fourth, fifth and sixth occasion we just kept our boots on. The current was strong so there were times when I had to hang onto my son, age 12 at the time, to prevent him from being swept downstream by the current. We stopped at a trailhead leading to Mystery Lake to ring out our wet socks and dried our boots as best we could. We eventually made it to the Sulphur Skyline with one of the most spectacular views I have ever had the privilege to appreciate. The chipmunks on top of the skyline were brave creatures as they would come right up to your fingertips looking for food.

In 2009, nine of us spent three hours hiking the 7 kilometre (4.3 mile) trail to Celestine Lake in Jasper National Park. A friend of mine and I were the last to arrive at our campsite as the younger ones of the group were much quicker than us older ones. What made this adventure so memorable was the fact that when my friend and I arrived at the campsite, we were told that we had to go back as there was a forest fire nearby. Now we didn’t believe them, of course, until we saw the warden’s helicopter take off. Apparently, the park warden arrived in a chopper and called to my brother in law saying, “I have some bad news guys. You have to leave as there is a fire in the area.” So it turned out that we were told the truth. We had to spend the next three hours returning to our starting point.

2013-07-13 01.19.38Now I have been asked over the years why I would go into the back country where there is no contact with the outside world; where there are bears and cougars and it can sometimes get to below freezing at nights. Those are good questions. My first response to those questions is always that it is quality time with my son. But it is more than that. I do it for the adventures. There is nothing like being in nature and the experience of standing on top of mountain with the wind blowing through your hair. The beauty that Mother Nature has to offer is far-fetched until you see it, and even then it can be surreal. For me, being in the wilderness is a chance to touch the divine. It is during those times that I feel closest to God or the Universe.

According to the article, How Does Nature Impact our Wellbeing, put out by the University of Minnesota,

“Being in nature, or even viewing scenes of nature, reduces anger, fear, and stress and increases pleasant feelings. Exposure to nature not only makes you feel better emotionally, it contributes to your physical wellbeing, reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones. It may even reduce mortality, according to scientists such as public health researchers Stamatakis and Mitchell.”

Maybe that’s why I do it. Without knowing why, it made me feel better. So, go out into nature and reduce your stress. Speaking from experience it works. It is so easy to get so wrapped up in our daily urban lives that we forget what nature has to offer. Visit Mother Nature to de-stress. When you do you will discover that she is worth protecting.

 

Seek Some Awe

William James, an American philosopher and psychologist, once said, “Religious awe is the same organic thrill which we feel in a forest at twilight, or in a mountain gorge.” I totally understand what Mr. James is communicating. I have had many experiences of awe when out in nature. But first, we should understand what awe is.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines awe as a feeling of great respect sometimes mixed with fear or surprise. Now that word fear usually confuses me especially when talking about awe.  We typically think of fear as being afraid of something or someone. However, Dictonary.com says in addition to being afraid, fear is reverential awe, especially toward God. The Free Dictionary describes awe as a feeling of respect or reverence mixed with dread and wonder, often inspired by something majestic or powerful.

Dacher Keltner, Professor of psychology at the University of California, defines awe as the feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends your understanding of the world. So the way I understand awe is that awe are those moments when we experience something majestic or powerful; when we feel wonder. They are the times when we have an encounter with the divine. They are moments when we in some way experience God or the Source of all Being or something mystical. It’s when you are touched at a soul or spiritual level; when what we are witnessing or experiencing is beyond our understanding.

The_Earth_seen_from_Apollo_17Many astronauts talk about their experiences of awe when looking at the planet earth from space. Alan Shepard, Apollo 14 astronaut said, “When I first looked back at the Earth, standing on the Moon, I cried.” Russell “Rusty” Schweikart, Apollo 9 astronaut said, “When you go around the Earth in an hour and a half, you begin to recognize that your identity is with that whole thing. That makes a change … it comes through to you so powerfully that you’re the sensing element for Man.”

One of the best known for his experience of seeing Earth from space is Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell who said:

“That’s a powerful experience, to see Earth rise over the surface [of the Moon]. And I suddenly realized that the molecules in my body, and the molecules in the spacecraft and my partners had been prototyped, maybe even manufactured, in some ancient generation of stars. But instead of being an intellectual experience, it was a personal feeling… And that was accompanied by a sense of joy and ecstasy, which caused me to say ‘What is this?’ It was only after I came back that I did the research and found that the term in ancient Sanskrit was Samadhi.”

Oxford dictionary defines Samadhi as a state of intense concentration achieved through meditation. In Hindu yoga, this is regarded as the final stage at which union with the divine is reached. In essence what Mr. Mitchell is saying is he felt some sort of union with the divine.

Susan Santucci, a learning specialist and author says, “Watch for glimpses of the divine order.  Find those experiences, sights, and sounds, which fill you with awe.  Any experience met with awe can be spiritual:  a safari through an animal kingdom, taking in a sunset, a hike to an awesome mountaintop.”

P1030507editedI have hiked in the mountains with my son and friends and family for many years. I have to agree with Susan Santucci as every time I stand on top of a mountain, I feel that sense of awe. For me, it is a spiritual experience. It is an experience where I am overtaken with the beauty of the mountain landscape. I have this same experience when I am at the ocean. Standing on an ocean beach, looking at the vast amount of water in front of me sets me into a state of awe. Sunsets do the same. When my wife and I were in Europe a few months ago, we were blessed to see numerous sunsets and even sunrises. It never ceases to amaze me how beautiful those magnificent colourful skies can be. Each sunrise we beheld on our trip was uniquely beautiful. I have a sense of awe or wonder every time I am lucky enough to see the northern lights or the aurora borealis. For me, each of these experiences were, as Dacher Keltner put it, a feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends ones understanding of the world.

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Yes, I understand some of the science behind how mountains are built with colliding tectonic plates. I comprehend that when the Sun appears lower and lower on the horizon, its light needs to pass through more of the atmosphere to reach our eyes, so as the sun drops towards the horizon, it progressively loses violets and blues, then greens and yellows, and finally even the oranges, leaving only the reds behind. It is mind-boggling to comprehend that 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered by ocean, and the deepest known area measures 11 kilometres (6 miles) deep.  I understand that the aurora borealis occurs when collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun enter the earth’s atmosphere and collide with its gases. As amazing as the science is, when I experience the above-mentioned things I experience something beyond my science understanding. My experience is met with awe and wonder. When I am experiencing these things I touch the divine.

I had another one of these experiences when my daughter showed me a video of Jeffrey Li, a 10-year-old boy from Canada, and Celine Tam, a 7-year-old girl from Hong Kong, performing a duet of the song “You Raise Me Up”. I was blown away. These two singers literally took my breath away. What I heard from these two young people touched me at a soul or spiritual level. It made me ask, “How can a seven and ten year old have singing voices like this?” The singing voice of these two “kids” was beyond my understanding. If you haven’t seen the video, check it out below.

Maybe it is time to seek out more of those awe experiences, whatever they may be for you. In fact, doing so just may make the world a better place. Articles such as High on Wonder: People Who Experience More Awe Are Nicer, Better People, and The Key to Fulfillment claim science is providing empirical evidence that awe is the emotion that motivates people to do things that enhance the greater good. If we choose to get rid of the some of the distractions like cell phones and watching television in our lives and seek to put ourselves in new situations such as going to new places, and meeting new people, this may increase our chances of encountering awe. If it is true what the studies are saying, experiencing awe will make us better people. I implore you to seek out some awe and wonderment in your lives. You will be better for it!

Namaste, a Reverent Gesture

A_yoga_namaste_Hindu_culture_religion_rites_rituals_sights.jpgOver the years I have been periodically greeted with a greeting known as “Namaste”. This is a gesture that entails a slight bow made with hands pressed together, palms touching and fingers pointed upwards in front of the chest. I have witnessed speakers and performers greet their audiences with this sign. Many years ago our school hosted an exchange student from Thailand who when she first arrived would greet her teachers and fellow students with the Namaste gesture. Some of my yoga instructors concluded every practice by uttering “Namaste” while bowing with hands pressed together. Even in Taekwondo we bowed to our opponents although not with our hands together. A bow in Taekwondo was a sign of respect which is its meaning in all martial arts. We even bowed when we entered the dojang or gym as a sign of respect for it.

Whenever someone greets me with the Namaste gesture, and especially when saying the word “Namaste”, I feel very honoured. I feel respected and accepted. It truly is a wonderful feeling when acknowledged with a gesture of Namaste. So what does this form of salutation mean? Where does it come from as it is not a common form of greeting in my part of the world?

In my part of the world, the handshake is the popular form of greeting. A handshake is a ritual in which two people grasp one of each other’s like hands and give a brief up and down movement of the grasped hands. The origins of the handshake are unknown as historians say that the handshake predates written history, and therefore is somewhat difficult to track down. What I find fascinating is there are some historians who claim the ritual dates to the Romans who would approach each other and grab the forearm to make sure the other man was not carrying a weapon. If that is true, then the handshake has a very different connotation than Namaste does.

The  Namaste gesture is widely used throughout India, Nepal, and parts of Asia.  Namaste or namaskar is used as a respectful form of greeting, acknowledging and welcoming a relative, guest or stranger as well as with goodbyes. It is also used when a person expresses gratitude for assistance offered or given, and to thank the other person for his or her benevolence.

The gesture (or mudra) of Namaste is a simple act made by bringing together both palms of the hands before the heart (sometimes the forehead), and lightly bowing the head. In the simplest of terms it is accepted as a humble greeting straight from the heart and reciprocated accordingly. But does it have a deeper meaning? Being a teacher who taught Religious Education, I knew it did. So here is a lesson.

From the great religion of Hinduism, the sign of Namaste is an ancient Sanskrit greeting still in everyday use in India and especially on the trail in the Nepal Himalaya. Translated roughly, it means, “I bow to the God within you,” or “The Spirit within me salutes the Spirit in you,” a Hindu knowing that we are all made from the same One Divine Consciousness. More specifically, nama means bow, as means I, and te means you. Therefore, Namaste literally means, “bow me you” or “I bow to you.”

Now this can be thought of in many ways. These are some of the ways the meaning of Namaste has been explained to me.

  • The Divine light in me acknowledges the Divine light in you.
  • The God in me greets the God in you.
  • I honor the spirit in you that is also in me.
  • The Divine wisdom in me recognizes and acknowledges the Divine wisdom in you.

Hinduism Today says the Namaste gesture

“bespeaks our inner valuing of the sacredness of 216px-An_Oberoi_Hotel_employee_doing_Namaste,_New_Delhiall. It betokens our intuition that all souls are divine. It reminds us in quite a graphic manner, and with insistent repetition, that we can see God everywhere and in every human being we meet. It is saying, silently, ‘I see the Deity in us both, and bow before It. I acknowledge the holiness of even this mundane meeting. I cannot separate that which is spiritual in us from that which is human and ordinary.’”

One practicing Hindu put it this way.

“I’ve heard it means, ‘I salute God within you.’ The true Namaste gesture is accompanied by bowing the head and shoulders slightly. This is a gesture that lessens our sense of ego and self-centeredness, requiring some humility to do it well–whereas shaking hands can be quite an arrogant event.”

According to Buddha Weekly, it is not just a salutation. For Buddhists the gesture is called Anjali and it serves many purposes. In spiritual activities, the mudra Anjali (offering with both hands), indicates we are making a “divine offering.” In a Buddhist context, it is the “cure” for pride, one of the great obstacles in their practice. In day-to-day life it indicates respect, literally meaning “I bow to you.”  Also, in acupuncture terms, the tips of the fingers activate certain energies.

Now I was raised a Christian, so how might this fit into a Christian context. In 1 Corinthians 3:16 it says, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (NRSV) To me that aligns with the Hindu claim that the divine is within us. Christians just call it the Holy Spirit. I was taught that at baptism or confirmation, depending on the religious tradition, that the Holy Spirit entered and from then on resided in us.

In Galatians 5:22-23 it is written, “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.” (NRSV) So Christians believe that if a person allows the spirit to be active in them, then that person should express love, joy, peace, and so on. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Christians supported this belief with the Namaste gesture, a slight bow made with hands pressed together.

namaste-2No matter how Namaste is interpreted, it invokes a sense of sharing a spiritual connection and creates a sense and feeling of oneness. It is a way to feel connected. It conjures up feelings of respect. It is a sign of universal oneness. Maybe this world would be in a better place if all humans practiced this simple gesture. As the Buddhists believe, it just may be a “remedy” for pride that is the cause of many problems. I’m convinced this simple gesture brings about more feelings of reverence and honour for others. Mohandas K. Gandhi allegedly said once, “Namaste. I honor the place in you where the entire universe resides. A place of light, of love, of truth, of peace, of wisdom. I honor the place in you where when you are in that place, and I am in that place, there is only one of us.” Such a simple sign, a bow with hands together, with the intended meaning as Gandhi explained, just might make all the difference in this world.

What is the Meaning of Christmas?

If I am honest with myself, I have to admit that I have always had some struggles with the consumerism of Christmas. I grew up with six siblings and parents who didn’t have much money. We always received gifts for Christmas, but they were simple gifts like farm sets and matchbox vehicles. Truth be told, we were happy with the gifts given to us, even though they were not the biggest or newest toys on the market at the time. Being an adult for some time now, I’ve witnessed family and friends giving extravagant gifts worth hundreds or thousands of dollars, and I have always thought how ridiculous this seemed as it was proof for me of the rampant consumerism that occurred at Christmas time.

People’s struggles with consumerism have been going on a long time. In 1965, an animated television special based on the comic strip Peanuts, by Charles M. Schulz, debuted for the first time on television. The special was called A Charlie Brown Christmas and this was a cartoon that really addressed the issue of consumerism at Christmas.

51ACRI9SIYL._SX940_In the cartoon, Charlie Brown knows that he should be happy, but he isn’t. He believes that commercialism is the problem. He struggles with his younger sister Sally who wants him to help her with her Christmas letter to Santa, where she dictates, “I have been extra good this year, so I have a long list of presents that I want. Please note the size and color of each item, and send as many as possible. If it seems too complicated, make it easy on yourself: just send money. How about tens and twenties?” He is also conflicted when Snoopy enters a Christmas decorating contest and wins a cash prize.

Charlie doesn’t know what to do about it all. When Lucy suggests that he direct the Christmas play, Charlie Brown hopes to find the true meaning of Christmas in the process. Even that doesn’t seem to work. One of the last pieces for the play is to get a Christmas tree as the set centerpiece. Charlie Brown, along with Linus, takes on the task with his entire cast wanting him to pick out a nice aluminum tree. Instead, Charlie Brown chooses a small, frail looking real tree, which when he tries to decorate it  he believes he has failed.

Even Linus declares, “Christmas is not only getting too commercial, it’s getting too dangerous.” Linus’ sister Lucy tells Charlie, “Look, Charlie, let’s face it. We all know that Christmas is a big commercial racket. It’s run by a big eastern syndicate, you know.” The cartoon is about Charlie Brown who is trying to obtain the real meaning of Christmas, which he believes is eclipsed by commercialism.

No one speaks of consumerism around Christmas better than Cal Thomas, an American syndicated columnist who often writes from a Christian perspective. Mr. Thomas recognized uncomfortable truths about Christmas in his December 2003 column. In his column he wrote:

“I’m not sure it’s worth keeping Christmas anymore. Oh, it is fine for those apparently dwindling numbers of us who still believe in the “original cast” of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the Wise Men and the animals. They, as any post-Thanksgiving (not to mention postmodern) shopper knows, have been replaced by the road show of reindeer, winter scenes, elves and the God substitute, Santa Claus, who serves as a front for merchants seeking to play on the guilt some parents bear for ignoring their kids the rest of the year…

Why participate any longer in this charade where the focal point of worship has shifted from a babe in a manger to a babe in the Victoria’s Secret window? From gold, frankincense and myrrh to Bailey Banks & Biddle? No room in the inn has been replaced by no room in the mall parking lot. If God would get a lawyer out of hell, He might be justified in suing for copyright infringement. His great story has been hijacked and transformed into its opposite.”

Even though the column was written twelve years ago, Mr. Thomas still echoes the sentiment that many people feel today. Add to that the desire by some for political correctness or the mentality of some that we cannot say “Merry Christmas” for fear that we might offend non-Christians; that the politically correct thing is to say “Happy Holidays.”  The Bible Society of Australia conducted some research in 2011 about the Australian public’s attitude towards Christmas. 70% of Australian believers think the true meaning of Christmas has been lost. Their research also discovered that 51.9% of ‘non-Christians’ think that the true meaning of Christmas has been lost. (see Loosing the meaning of Christmas). So that begs the question, what is the true meaning of Christmas? Is Christmas just about giving gifts as our consumerist society wants us to believe?  I’ve been reflecting on this question for some time now and I have come to the conclusion that Christmas is really about love.

img_3204In 1995, Dr. Gary Chapman published a book called, Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate, a book I read a few years ago. Here is a quick summary of the five love languages as described by the Verily website.

  1. Words of Affirmation: Actions don’t always speak louder than words. If this is your love language, unsolicited compliments mean the world to you. Hearing the words, “I love you,” are important—hearing the reasons behind that love sends your spirits skyward. Insults can leave you shattered and are not easily forgotten.

  2. Quality Time: In the vernacular of Quality Time, nothing says, “I love you,” like full, undivided attention. Being there for this type of person is critical, but really being there—with the TV off, fork and knife down, and all chores and tasks on standby—makes your significant other feel truly special and loved. Distractions, postponed dates, or the failure to listen can be especially hurtful.

  3. Receiving Gifts: Don’t mistake this love language for materialism; the receiver of gifts thrives on the love, thoughtfulness, and effort behind the gift. If you speak this language, the perfect gift or gesture shows that you are known, you are cared for, and you are prized above whatever was sacrificed to bring the gift to you. A missed birthday, anniversary, or a hasty, thoughtless gift would be disastrous—so would the absence of everyday gestures.

  4. Acts of Service: Can vacuuming the floors really be an expression of love? Absolutely! Anything you do to ease the burden of responsibilities weighing on an “Acts of Service” person will speak volumes. The words he or she most wants to hear: “Let me do that for you.” Laziness, broken commitments, and making more work for them tell speakers of this language their feelings don’t matter.

  5. Physical Touch: This language isn’t all about the bedroom. A person whose primary language is Physical Touch is, not surprisingly, very touchy. Hugs, pats on the back, holding hands, and thoughtful touches on the arm, shoulder, or face—they can all be ways to show excitement, concern, care, and love. Physical presence and accessibility are crucial, while neglect or abuse can be unforgivable and destructive.

I have always thought that there was a lot of merit to Dr. Chapman’s Five Love Languages. How does Christmas fit in with Dr. Chapman’s love languages? Well, after thinking about it, it turns out that Christmas addresses all the languages of love. Let’s have a look at each.

  1. Words of Affirmation: Giving affirmations are part of the Christmas tradition. Compliments such as “that Christmas dinner was delicious” or “You look great” are freely given. Christmas cards are sent out each year expressing sentiments of love to others. Christmas letters do the same thing. This does not include the affirmations we give when we greet our loved ones when visiting them at Christmas. Words of affirmation have always been a part of the Christmas tradition and still are.
  2. Quality Time: Christmas is about spending quality time with family. The Bible Society Australia research I mentioned earlier discovered that 94% of Australians liked spending time with loved ones at Christmas. I know of individuals that only see their loved ones at Christmas time. To quote Burton Hillis, “The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree: the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other. Quality time is unquestionably an important part of the Christmas tradition.
  3. Receiving Gifts: Not much needs to be said about this love language. The biggest aspect of Christmas is gift giving. It has always been this way. However, that doesn’t mean that gifts have to be worth enormous amounts of money. Mother Teresa once said, “It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.”
  4. Acts of Service: Christmas is also a time when people do something special for others. It might be buying an extra gift to donate to Santa’s Anonymous. It might be conducting a food bank drive. Christmas seems to be a time that brings out the “goodness” in people. In my community, one family puts on a Christmas dinner for those less fortunate in the community. Acts of Service are a part of the Christmas tradition.
  5. Physical Touch: I can’t speak for everyone, but my experience of Christmas has always been filled with lots of hugs and kisses from loved ones. People seem extra happy at Christmas and therefore seem more willing to express their feelings through physical touch That could be a hug or a kiss or at the very least a hand shake.  Dacher Keltner in his article Hands on Research says, “the science of touch convincingly suggests that we’re wired to; we need to connect with other people on a basic physical level. To deny that is to deprive ourselves of some of life’s greatest joys and deepest comforts.” Physical touch is a critical part of the Christmas tradition.

So after much reflection on the topic, I’ve come to the conclusion that Christmas is more than the consumerism that I’ve been dwelling on. It’s more than gift giving. Christmas brings out the best in people. Christmas is a time that brings forth more love into the world. Christmas is about a spirit of love, otherwise known as the Christmas spirit.

The Christ child is a symbol of love, hope and peace that creates a joyful season. For Christian believers its more than a symbol. For non-believers the child is a symbol of love. Perhaps Linus Van Pelt expressed what Christmas is all about best when he said, “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.'”

Christmas is an attitude. It’s a time when we allow the spirit of Christmas that inspires us to give and receive. That can be in the form of acts of kindness, giving gifts, saying a kind word, smiling at a stranger,  giving hugs freely, or visiting someone you haven’t seen in a long time. Calvin Coolidge says it best when he said, “Christmas is not a time or a season but a state of mind. To cherish peace and good will, to be plenteous in mercy [I prefer to say compassion], is to have the real spirit of Christmas.” The true meaning of Christmas is about a change in attitude. It’s about allowing the spirit of love, otherwise known as the Christmas spirit, to take hold of us.