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Just Breathe

When I feel like my head is about to explode and I just can’t take one more thing going “wrong” in my life, I have to find my sanity. I find I like myself, and others definitely like me more, when I take time to breathe.

By that I mean I must allow my mind, body, and soul to focus on something other than day-to-day things and allow myself to just BE. I tend to be able to find my center and rediscover who I really am when I trudge around in nature.

This weeks destination: Cloudland Canyon

Greatest quote this week: “How can people look at this and not know there is a God” – my youngest son.

Where do you like to go to find yourself again?

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Four Ways Buddhism Brought Me Closer to God

Buddhism is just about as diverse as Christianity. They have as many sects as Christianity has denominations. The interesting thing about Buddhism is that they don’t worship Buddha. In fact, they are encouraged not worship Buddha.

This came as a surprise to me when I first became acquainted with a practicing Buddhist. I began reading some of the literature and eventually a few books by the Dalai Lama. For the record, they don’t worship him either. Buddhism is about training your thoughts to cultivate happiness. Christianity tells us that God wants us happy, and people are just better at everything if they’re happy including worshiping God.

Some Christian friends and family members warned me that I would “go astray” from the way of the Lord and “fall from the path of righteousness”. But, something was missing in my life, and I couldn’t figure out what it was.

I bought some more books on Buddhism. I read for many months and tried to meditate. It’s harder than it seems to think of nothing, but I kept at it.  After a while, something interesting happened. I felt lighter. I felt happier. Let me explain.

Buddhism says that you are to listen to your inner voice above your senses. It’s important to be “present”.  That’s stressed a great deal. I went about trying to be more “present” in my life, and this is how:

  1. Pay attention – When you’re stuck in traffic with nowhere to go pay attention. Don’t think about where you need to be or the list of things you have to do this weekend. Look around you. What is the guy in the car next to you doing. Is the wind blowing in the trees? Notice everything around you. It’s a good place to start and you build from there. You basically practice being in the moment by consciously taking note of what’s around you.
  2. Observe – Notice everything. Don’t pick out one object and focus on it. If you’re in a group of people take everything they do in. Like a movie that’s playing on a screen – see the big picture and the smaller characters in this picture. Be silent. Notice inflections in the voices, body language, the way someone is speaking. Take the position that you have no stake in the matter, but notice how easily and more adeptly you can respond.
  3. Breathe – This sounds easy. It’s not for me. When I’m upset or pressing a deadline I find myself not breathing. Breathe deliberately and deeply as often as possible. Before you settle in to go to sleep breathe deeply and notice the rise and fall of your chest.
  4. Meditate – This requires you being still and silent for about 30 minutes. Don’t dwell on anything or try to think. Just be.

Doing these simple things made me a better Christian in the following ways:

  1. Being present helped me appreciate the blessings before me and see the needs that were right in front of me. Acknowledging those blessings and the needs of others is the key to giving thanks and being charitable.
  2. Observing helped me understand underlying motives behind the interactions between people. Understanding is the key to compassion. Above all things Jesus told us to “Love God with all our hearts”.  Second to that he told us to “love our neighbors as ourselves”. You cannot love those on this earth if you do not have compassion. You can’t love yourself and you cannot love others. Surprisingly, my compassion brought me closer to God and understanding his plan for me.
  3. Breathing deliberately helped me calm myself. Decisions should come from a place of calm and love whenever possible. I found myself making better decisions because I was calmer.
  4. Meditating helped me be quiet long enough to hear God speak to me. There’s so much noise in the world today from tv. radio, internet, and people. This overstimulation not only shuts off our own inner voices but God’s voice.  It’s a great idea to shut it all off for 30 minutes or so just to hear God speak to you. I found that when I thought of nothing that this is usually when I heard my inner voice and God’s intentions for me the loudest and clearest.

It wasn’t until I went through these exercises that I realized what had been missing: Peace.  My mind was too clouded with thoughts to recognize what I needed most. Jesus is the ‘Prince of Peace’, and I think I understand that better now with the help of  a few Buddhist instructions. I don’t pretend to be a practicing Buddhist or understand Buddhism fully, but I am grateful for the positive impact on me and those around me. I’m most grateful for my strengthened relationship with God.

What do you do to try to hear your own inner-voice? What do you do to hear God?

Hope: The Centerpiece of Life

Hope is one of the great “intangibles” like love, compassion, and understanding that we all need to thrive. The human race is poor indeed without hope. We need hope to get out of bed every morning, to turn a doorknob and trust that it will open the door, to put a key into lock and trust it will turn, to use our money and pay for our transactions, and to keep doing this day after day as we work toward a future for our families. But, what happens when you lose hope?

First, nothing. You go through the motions of the day mindlessly as an act of habit for a time. But after a while something else creeps in: Doubt. Then you ask yourself, “What’s the point?”. Logic cannot explain why we move forward in life. Logic would say that we do it to pay the bills. Why? Because we need a home for our families. But, if there’s no hope for a future – what is the point? Then the questions that lead to real self-destruction come: That drug might help me, why not take it? That sexual interlude might make me feel better, why not do it? That shiny new thing might make me feel better, why not buy it? In the case of Nadia Sulman, “More kids might make me feel better, why not have 8 more?”. But I digress… The problem is: The why-not-actions have to be performed over and over again to try to fill the hole in the spirit where hope used to be. Pretty soon you have a negative feedback loop with all the power of a black-hole that will suck the life from you and everyone around you. You see, when hope is lost by one, others suffer. ALWAYS. Why? Because you are someone’s brother/sister, father/mother, son/daughter, neighbor, friend, example, employee/employer, and a community member.  All  are affected by your actions. We become selfish when we lose hope and selfishness can be as destructive as an emotional-atom-bomb.

I refer to certain people as “Emotional Vampires or Emotional Terrorists”. You know the type – they always see the glass not just half-empty but “just about empty”. No matter your encouraging words, they have an overwhelmingly negative retort. Leaving you and those around them drained.

A pessimist is defined by John Maxwell this way: “A pessimist is a person who, regardless of the present is disappointed in the future.”

What makes an “emotional vampire/emotional terrorist” aka a pessimist? Bad circumstances? Bad upbringing? Just a bad break? A bad decision? I think it’s hope that comes from faith. Hopeful people recover from a bad decision. Those who don’t have hope – usually don’t. People around the world and here at home have serious problems and some live in dire circumstances and still they have hope. So it must be more than just external circumstances.

Consider Job the long-suffering servant of God. When he lost his possessions, his family, his health, his friends, his livelihood, and his home Job clung to one thing: Faith. Faith translates into  hope. So it’s not surprising that Hope is mentioned many times in the Book of Job.

Job 8:13 “Such is the destiny of all who forget God; so perishes the hope of the godless.”

Job 11:18 “You will be secure, because there is hope; you will look about you and take your rest in safety.”

That’s how I sleep at night. I rest in the word’s of God and my faith. I have hope that the Lord will see me safely through the night. This is not easy for me as the victim of TWO home invasions. But I realized, at an early age, that I had a choice: Be paralyzed by fear or Live in Hope.

For those of you who lament, ‘Yeah but that’s the Old Guy in the Old Testament’ then let me reference someone who is both hopeful and living in difficult circumstances today: The Dalai Lama. He was exiled from his own country. He is a man without a country and without a family and without a true home, yet he is hopeful and despite his circumstances happy.

“There is a saying in Tibetan, ‘Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength.’ No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful experience is, if we lose our hope, that’s our real disaster.”
— Dalai Lama XIV

“When we meet real tragedy in life, we can react in two ways–either by losing hope and falling into self-destructive habits, or by using the challenge to find our inner strength.”
— Dalai Lama XIV

So to those of you who have hope I ask you this: What gives you hope? What’s your bedrock of faith that hope springs from?