Savasana in the Himalayas…

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So it’s Thursday, September 8th, 2011. Bhaktifest officially begins. I’ve already been on an adventure and a half, and technically the festival had not yet even begun. I woke up, rather spontaneously, right as T and Jen were unzipping their tent across from me. We had discussed getting up early together so that we could go sign up for yoga class last night. Being that I was a first timer, they pick out a class for us to sign up for together – a Vinyasa flow class with Scott Blossom. We wait in line for about an hour and sign up. It’s only about an hour and a half before the class, so we wander around the venue. The vendors we saw last night are mostly set up, others are just rolling in and starting to set up. There is an energy that already has an edge on yesterday.  It’s hard to pin down; last night, we anticipated the festival. This morning, we could see it, but maybe not yet touch it, just know that we were taking steps towards the precipice.

I really don’t know what to expect – in yoga class or at this festival overall. One expectation I came with was lots of bear hugs with new friends, and I am most certainly not let down on that expectation. I’ve done a few yoga poses before on Wii, which evidently does not count as having “done”  yoga. We line up our mats in the left front corner, all four of us close to each  other. T is just to my left and has already let me know he’ll give me tips as we go along. Scott talks to us in a calming and soothing way about preparing mentally for our practice, for Bhaktifest, and about the yoga we will be doing. As I’ve come to learn often accompanies yoga classes, a philosophy is taught in short lessons and stories both before and during the instructors direction for the practice. I listen with an open mind, a slightly open heart and just try to visualize and internalize the lesson.

I can’t remember the particular deity, story or lesson that Scott delivered – I ‘ve had so many lessons since that they start to melt together a bit – but I do remember the way his voice grabbed my focus, and held it, for most of the class.

The kirtan music starts up. A harmonium thrums out a soft, reverent melody laced with longing. A set of tabla drums join in and give this longing and seeking a pace. We hear the ancient Sanskrit names of God in beautiful yearning euphony, and we repeat them back with as loving an attempt at pronunciation and tonality we can muster. Scott invites us into each pose, explaining what we are stretching, opening, or strengthening – physically, mentally, and spiritually – with each position. We begin going through our flow. Each pose, I just start a second or so after everyone else and imitate their movements and positions. On several occasions, T whispers a correction to me and I promptly attempt to do what he suggests.

I’m feeling some intense stretches, some serious muscle work, and one other thing; an unbearable sensation of heat. It’s unseasonably hot right now – I think the high for the day was around 115 Fahrenheit. Class started at 11 a.m. just as the heat of the day gained its footing, so I’m estimating the current temperature at precisely one-hundred and hotter-than-you-know-what degrees. I live in Arizona, so I’m no stranger to these kinds of temperatures – just not used to doing hour and a half yoga classes in them. Several times, I feel the heat and exertion pushing me to the edge and suspect I shall soon swoon. I take short breaks in child pose (Scott said I could if I needed to!) and walk back to my backpack once to get a sip of water. Then, I go right back into the flow. My mind is grappling with this heat, as if thinking about it instead of focusing on my poses and intentions will somehow help. Bikram yoga, or hot yoga, is practiced by the legally insane, yogicly gifted, and constitutionally cold blooded in the safety of climate controlled studios set to 95-105 degrees; not on 115 degree days, outside, by yoga virgins.

For the third time in less than 24 hours, I’m rather sure that I’m going to die. After a class lasting long enough to read Dante’s Inferno aloud twice, we are nearing the end of our practice. I can barely hear Scott’s instructions to lay down on our backs in Sivasana position over the moaning of my body telling me to please go find a pile of ice to climb into. I learn that Savasana translates to “corpse pose” which is awesome, because I’ll already be in position when I croak in 2 minutes. He tells us to still the mind – no small challenge since mine is running around like a horse on fire. I am laying there ignoring his request and just feeling hot, being hot, thinking hot when it occurs to me that I need to knock it off and just try to do this thing.

“Chill out self. The body isn’t going to kick the bucket over this. You’ve been hotter before and lived, and you are already cooling down – you’re just laying here for crying out loud. Now shut up and focus.”

“Focus on what dummy? YOU were just freaking out over the heat yourself and you ignored his instructions.”

“Well, then, just focus on breathing in and out. I think that’s supposed to work.”

“But it’s SOOO freaking hot!”

“Shut up and breathe.”

So I did. I decided that I would try and still the mind. I’m sure I wandered off of just focusing on my breathe a few times and let those thoughts just flitter away, possibly broke into a mantra in my head; would have either been the Mahamantra, or, possibly, Our Father. Either way, all I know is that I left that really hot place – my body – for the next 10 or 15 minutes. I’m not asleep; falling into slumber always brings on dreams right up front – I often start a dream 3 or 4 times before I actually fall asleep, and I can usually remember the parts of the dream where I’m bordering on conscious, but that transition didn’t happen. I just left my mind and body altogether, but was still conscious.

The only things I can say about that time is that it was timeless – both an instant and an eternity at once, it was calm like I’ve never even considered before, and it was cool. I did not visualize corresponding scenery, but I felt that I was somewhere cool like the Himalayas, and it was light – pure light, brighter than white light. No sense of movement, no “tunnel” of light like people report in near-death experiences, no sense of vision, smell, or hearing – just light, and cool, and calm.

Photoshop on yoga

Scott asks us to wiggle our fingers, and wiggle our toes, and I immediately begin to do so. The brightness starts dimming slowly, and degree by degree the sense of heat comes back. I cannot believe how many degrees come back, because when it’s completed I feel like I’m in an oven. I can’t believe the contrast between how cool I just felt and how hot I feel now – it’s drastic. The coolness leaves me, the light leaves me – but the calm stays, and it feels wonderful.

After class, I’m explaining this sensation to someone I just met, and he asks how long I’ve been practicing.

“Um, this was my first class.”

“Ever?”

“Yeah, Ever.” At least in this life. “Is that normal?”

NO, that is not normal, evidently. Some people work for years to achieve that kind of stillness of mind. Some never feel it. Well, I know what I felt and it was incredible.

I’m thinking, “Ok. This yoga stuff is pretty cool. “

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Yoga Virgin!

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While setting up camp, T mentioned that they might be going
into town later in the evening to stop by a drug store for a few things and
asked if I needed anything. I asked if I could tag along, and he agreed. I set
off to wander the grounds a bit as vendors and staff finished setting up for the
festival’s beginning the next morning. People were trickling in the whole time
and setting up camp. People seemed to all have things they were busy doing, but
none were too busy to stop and say hello or introduce themselves.

My heart was already cracked open a sliver by the day’s events, the friends I had just met, and the overall vibe that embraced the grounds of the Center for Spiritual Studies –  http://www.jtrcc.org/ –  where the festival was being held. I was excited; I already felt as though in a hieghtened state of awareness, and the festival had not yet even begun. After touring the grounds and meeting several people, I made my way back to camp. By this time, Jen and T’s friend Bearnedette had arrived and we were introduced. Immediately, I felt connected with this soul. I knew she was a kindred spirit, yet I was timid about how to engage her in conversation. Good old ego worried about how someone would receive me with acceptance or rejection. We all got to know each other a little bit with conversation and had a few laughs that just can’t be conveyed well – you had to be there. To give this inside joke some credence, even though those not present may ever understand:

“No, I said I brought swimming trunks.  What in the hell are swimming drugs?”

My tent flaps just won’t stay put. They keep flapping around in the breeze.”

Yeah you really just had to be there. For the record, no drugs, swimming or other, were involved in the creation of this inside joke, just a very very funny lesson in communication perceptions.

I think that we all got to know each other quite a bit better once we landed at our destination – the local CVS drugstore. Well, there were drugs at the store and I did purchase some Benadryl – due to discovering that Bearnadette, like me, had some serious allergies to ant venom, and the correlating discovery of the fist sized ants that occupied our camping area, but none of this Benadryl needed to be or was consumed during the festival. These three souls invited me in, gently, to child-like play in the store. We must have toured every isle, some twice, finding items of use or amusement and sharing humour and innocence with eachother. This was to set a precedence that shopping can be a profoundly playful event that we could continue on a few occasions over the weekend.

At some point shortly before, during, or after this excursion, a discussion of signing up for the following day’s Yoga classes commenced. I felt like a freshmen as this deliberation of classes to take took place. At some point I had to confess, amidst a yoga instructor and two seasoned practitioners, that I had never taken a yoga class before. Well, unless doing yoga on Nintendo Wii counted – and it didn’t.

I was a yoga virgin.

My new friends were both surprised and intrigued by this notion. Why in the world did I pay for and come to a 4 day yoga retreat if I wasn’t into yoga? The truth is that it was the kirtan, the worship music, that led me to this destination. Most folks get into yoga for the physical aspects and are then exposed to the philosophy and music. I, however, do everything in life backwards. I was first interested in the philosophy, which then led to the kirtan music, which finally landed me at a yoga retreat.

My yoga mentors decided on a class that would be good for me to take, and we all retired to our tents agreeing to get up early enough to get in line and sign up.

Musings of a Modern Seeker

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I spent months buying gear, planning, and preparing for my trip to Bhaktifest. I began packing a week beforehand, not wanting to forget anything important. I was going to be camping – something I had not done since I was a kid – and doing so for 5 days in the harsh desert environment of Joshua Tree, California. Sure, I wasn’t exactly going to be backpacking, and I’d have access to water, food, and modern amenities within a few miles of suburban comforts like convenience stores and Starbucks, but I really wanted to be as self-sufficient and self-contained as possible. I had everything in order when I left on Wednesday morning to begin the journey.

I had reservations about driving alone; I’ve dealt with anxiety and panic attacks for years. The anxiety seems to hit when I’m far from help, on my own, and especially if I feel I’m not in complete control. Driving alone on an unfamiliar path to a new destination is about the epitome of those elements that have brought on my anxiety in the past. The majority of the drive was uneventful, even pleasant compared to my fears of how this would go.

As I came up Highway 62 from Palm Springs to head into Joshua Tree, the road became windy, steep, and unnerving. I’ve certainly driven on worse roads in more foreboding conditions, but as the canyon walls steepened I felt my nerves becoming unsettled.

About three or four miles (I was later to learn this distance) from the road’s emergence from the canyon, my anxiety peaked as I rounded a corner and the power from the car’s engine suddenly wavered. I was rounding a turn when this happened and just barely completed the turn when the guardrail ended and I was able to pull off onto the shoulder – more appropriately described as a narrow ledge before the edge of a cliff – just as the car stopped moving.

Panic set in. Cars and trucks were flying by at 55 miles an hour with perhaps a foot, maybe two, between my door and their passenger side doors. I hopped out reluctantly in between cars passing and instinctively reached for the modern version of a pocket savior – our indispensable smart phones. This was nothing AAA couldn’t handle, right? Surely, if and only if – I had any kind of tower signal. The canyon walls rose sharply perhaps 500 or 600 feet on all sides. There was nowhere to go to gain signal if I wasn’t going to get it here.

Well, no worries. I had packed for nearly all possible emergencies and certainly had some tools in my gear that would save me. I tried a family radio I had brought, but with line of sight a necessity, I tried in vain to toggle between channels calling out a mayday; someone would have to be ON that channel in the precise 30-45 seconds they were driving within line of sight, so none of this technology was going to help me.

It was 115 degrees outside. Thankfully, some things I brought actually would help me – the water, ice, and hat I had brought were quickly put to use as I decided what to do next. Of course I could try and walk out, but all of my gear was in the car – which itself was in a precarious positi0n – and I couldn’t see far enough ahead to know how much shoulder I would have to walk on or how far I might have to walk. I elected to just let go and let God. I would be here until He sent an angel, or at least a tow truck, to rescue me.

After about 20 minutes a passerby risked stopping to offer help. I was positive that the breakdown was more than could be fixed with some hand tools on the side of the road. What I needed was a tow. He offered to stop at a service station up the hill to have them send a wrecker to come get me. He departed, and I waited. And waited.

About an hour into the ordeal, I saw a wrecker with no tow on board pass in the opposite directly. I waved furiously and exuberantly, thinking this was my rescue, just needing to go past me to a turnaround and I’d be in business. I waited, but the wrecker never came back. A different wrecker, also with no tow on board, did eventually round the corner on approach to me – and blew by at 55 without the slightest hesitation. I waved (I found out later that California law prevents a tow truck driver from stopping unless you wave them down – however, waving them down does not necessitate that they stop) but he didn’t even bat an eye.

Another good Samaritan stopped at this point – he offered water, which I didn’t need as I had 5 gallons with me, and I told him someone already called me a tow truck. He left, and I waited. I waited, feeling utterly helpless, completely exposed, and in danger I had no power to remove myself from. I desperately required the assistance of someone’s sense of goodwill or duty to get me out of this predicament. Nearly two hours after breaking down, I still waited, sweating in the sweltering canyon.

One last passerby stopped. I let him know how long I’d been waiting, wilting, and wondering if anyone was coming to help. I asked him to call 911 for me when he got back into cell phone service and he promised he would do so. Perhaps another 20 minutes or so later my tow truck finally arrived. After the car was loaded, he apologized that the rig had no air conditioning – at that point I wouldn’t have cared if the cab of the truck was filled with alligators so long as I was getting out of that death trap canyon.

The wrecker was from a service station in 29 Palms. The driver said he could drop me off at the festival, take my car to his shop and call me with the estimate. I was impossibly close to my destination when my car broke down, just a fifteen-minute drive. By foot, however, it would have taken a few hours, not to mention the impossibly heavy load of gear I had with me. The driver dropped me off at the main entrance. I climbed onto the back of the wrecker and unloaded my nearly 200 pounds of gear.

I expected to be able to back my car in, pull out my tent and set up camp, but given the circumstances I was glad enough to be out of that canyon and to have made it to the festival. I was greeted at the check-in tent with warm smiles and cold water.

Finally my spiritual adventure could begin! After getting all signed in, I asked for directions to the campgrounds and was given a general heading. I loaded up about 120 pounds of my gear on my back and arms and set out in that general direction.

A quarter mile later, I was pretty sure I was going to die. I had made it to the main stage which was still under construction as the festival didn’t officially start until Thursday. I set down my gear to rest for a moment and was about to have another go when I was confronted with the sweet, smiling face of an angel wearing a volunteer badge.

“Can I help you carry some of that?”

My brain said, “No, I’m a man. I’m self-sufficient. I can haul all of this by myself.”

My body, which at the moment was thankfully controlling my mouth and vocal chords, said, “Oh dear God please and thank you.”

“Where are you headed? Are you a vendor?”

“Looking for the campgrounds – I’m just an attendee. How far is it?”

“Um, dude, you’re not going to make it there like this. You need a ride! What’s your name?”

“I’m John.”

“I’m Jen. Hang on a second.”

A wave of relief, gratitude, and openness washed over me.

Jen pulled out her phone and called her friend “T-Rex” to see if he could give me a lift. A few minutes later, T-Rex arrived in a pickup, loaded my gear, went back to the entrance to grab the rest of my gear, and then drove Jen and me to the campgrounds… about another half a mile away. I now knew that I absolutely was going to die – or at least pass out- if Jen and T-Rex had not rescued me. T pulled up the truck to where their tents were and asked where I wanted to set up….

“EXACTLY here looks just fine. Thank you SO much for helping me.” I was holding back tears as I set up my tent. After the ordeal of the canyon, the heat, the hike, and the heavy, I don’t think I’ve ever felt so in need of others’ help; here these folks were rescuing me like there was no other possible response. I wanted to stay as close to these nice people as I could, hoping to find some way to repay them for the help when all I really had to offer was my friendship and excessively too much camping gear. Little did I know that they had only begun to help me in ways I may never be able to repay.

Heart as wide open as the sky

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This will take a while to explain. A month of diligently documenting the people, events, and emotions that have given me this experience, perhaps. No, more like a book, a how-to, or at least a how-I-did-it book; years of writing, editing, and rewriting. Nay – this story will take a lifetime to tell, and can only be told by walking the path, singing the song, embracing the love, and bowing reverently before the lotus feet of the great sages, the beautiful souls, and divine will that have given me this most incredible experience of my life to date over the last week.

Truly, I yet lack the vocabulary to explain these events dutifully, but I’ll do my best to learn as I teach, and we’ll look at these events together one step at a time. Let’s begin where we always do – at the end. The end of Bhaktifest 2011, the four day Yoga, Kirtan, and Spiritual Festival at the Joshua Tree Retreat Center in California.

Dear, new, and yet somehow anciently familiar friends have just departed the festival. I am overwhelmed with emotion. Earlier today, my heart was split wide open by Lord Ganesha’s axe as Minoj inadvertently disclosed my destiny to me by the simple telling of his own tale. I am of course sad that such friends are departing from my company, and regretting that this intense leg of my spiritual journey is drawing to a close, but a much deeper sense of – awe. No, Wonder. No, still not capturing it – Transcendental Compassion and Bliss. Almost – Bhakti Satchitananda. भक्ति सच्चिदानन्द. That one about covers it. So – a much deeper sense of Bhakti Satchitananda is shocking my body and mind into a fervor of tears and bliss that just want to express themselves somewhere.

Bhakti means devotional service to God, and Satchitananda is a realization of eternal truth, consciousness, and bliss. I sit down in front of the main stage while the All Star Kirtan jam begins and as the sun sets, I write. I write, and I cry. I cry rivers. I bawl from the seat of my soul. I’m crying out love for all sentient beings, love for the Divine in all of It’s mysterious forms, I’m crying out for the individual petals closest to me, and I write. Shortly after I get started on my writing, an acquaintance made over the weekend brings me a headlamp to wear so that I can see the page. I thank him, and put the headlamp on, and without reacting to the fact that someone else is seeing me in this state, I continue writing. And, I quote:

Pictures may be worth a thousand words, but I’m no photographer, so I’ll try to tell the story in less than one thousand words for each needed picture. I HAVE SEEN ALL OF US THROUGH GOD’S EYES. Each of us beautiful, one of a kind, and yet irrelevant and incomplete except in relation to each other. We are each but one petal of an infinite Lotus Blossom. Missing any one petal, the flower would be incomplete. And what we are made of is Love. The illusions of this world confuse us as to who we are and how to express that love.
When I told people who had been to Bhaktifest that I was going, they all told me the only thing I needed to bring was an open heart. I thought I had an open heart. I had NO clue. But by God’s grace, the love and company of friends and fellow Bhaktas, and the leadership of enlightened teachers, my fears, my desires, my selfish ego, and the negativity that had built walls around my heart have been gently removed, one brick at a time, so that I could glimpse the love and light that I am made of. With my heart wide open, I can feel the love inside all sentient beings, the love of God, pouring into my existence. And yet, at the same time, and equally infinite wellspring of light and love is coming directly from me and pouring back out into all of you.

The gratitude I have for having this experience brings me to my knees and I have only one prayer, one want, one sadness: that I want everyone to feel this.

I know that going home will bring back the same factors that I allowed to build walls, brick by brick, around my heart. I can only hope the great souls, these teachers, have given me enough tools to pull those bricks back one at a time as they come up. Maybe one day I’ll have practiced enough that the bricks give up. I know that the physical world will demand that we change who we are to conform to the current social rules, but I’ll not go quietly into that night. I will fight to always see you all as the divine beings you are. I’ll fight to break down the walls around my heart, and the walls around your hearts, until I die and again into the next life – until each one of us has a hold of that truth: We are all One. We are all Love. We are all God. Let every moment of my life, every breath, every thought, be of expressing this love and light to others and showing them the light and love they hold inside themselves.

There are a thousand ways to get back to God. What matters is that you take that first step – and then keep going. If you can take that first step, that one little leap of faith, you will be able to benefit from the work, lessons, and grace of the great souls who have gone before you and the bright lighthouses of knowledge and love that work among us in this world to do one thing: to help us answer the questions of Who we are, Why we are here, and Where we are going.

End quote.

More to come. More lilas, a vision, and maybe a miracle or two in this story yet to come.

What I’ve learned so far…

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So…this whole idea of chronicling, in detail, each and every step along my spiritual journey…well, it sounded like a good idea. Unfortunately, life happened. Homework, kids, pretending to almost try and work out to lose a few pounds, FaceBooking for hours a day, plus staring at walls and drooling… all have made it a little bit difficult to keep up with the minutia of the journey. But, I thought it might be a good idea to at least chronicle the high points. I’m laying out the universal truths I’ve uncovered but not taking the time yet to rationalize the conclusions. These are my conclusions of what is right for me. I don’t intend to enforce my ideals on anyone else. However, in the spirit of discussion, let me know which ones you disagree with and I’ll be happy to banter back and forth until you change your mind, I change mine, or we agree to disagree. One philosophical difference per person, please. I’ll keep your argument anonymous and respond publicly for the benefit of all.
• Eating meat is wrong. Go ahead, justify, and argue that God made animals really yummy. He also made gasoline smell like something you’d want to sniff all night. I know exactly how yummy an In N Out burger is… but if you had to raise the animal and slaughter it every time you wanted to eat meat, you might think differently. If there were a way to get that meat without having to kill a soft furry innocent animal, would you prefer it over brutal slaughter? Well there isn’t. But you just admitted you’d prefer not to kill. The good news is you can have your way and avoid the killing. Haven’t eaten meat in 8 months and I haven’t withered away yet. All you have to do is decide.
• We are each responsible for our own happiness, salvation, and reality. If someone else is making you unhappy, all that means is that you feel they provided a viable excuse you rationalize as being reasonable enough to blame for you deciding to be miserable. Shit happens folks, to all of us. We are of course going to feel a certain way about it, but dwelling on it or getting over it is a choice. Doesn’t happen instantly, it isn’t easy. You’ve got to work hard at getting over it. Not as hard as working on NOT getting over it, except that you work for years longer at the latter.
• There is a God. Call it what you will, rationalize away, but there is a power, an energy in the universe and in us that is beyond the physical experience.
• All religions point to this higher power and then ruin it all by claiming exclusive rights to it. Shiva, Allah, Yahweh, Jehovah, Krishna, Vishnu, God, Divine Mother… all are equally inadequate in trying to describe the indefinable. And all prove to me the same important lessons. Borrowed and paraphrased from Eat Pray Love because darn it, it’s a pretty good description.
• Love everybody. Love the ones you’re supposed to and the ones it’s hard to love. You want to be loved unconditionally? You are, by God and your dog. You want to be worthy of that love you receive? Love others unconditionally.
• Hate, anger, regret, sorrow… unnecessary baggage. Again, borrowing from Eat Pray Love… holding these emotions within in you is like drinking poison and expecting your enemies to die from it.
• Bhakti is awesome. Literally means selfless devotion, and there is great joy in it. Serve your dogmatic church, your children, your pets, your neighbors, your God, your company, whatever you find worthy of serving…selflessly. Do not be attached to the results and you’ll find your joy in the work itself.
That’s all for now folks. By all means bring me your disagreements, if the argument is strong enough you might just get a chance to mold this heart as wide open as the world. Or you might find your heart open enough to grow and change.

Becoming me

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For the last six months, I’ve been pursuing an understanding of Sanatana dharma, otherwise incorrectly known as Hinduism. I’ve always had a fascination with Eastern Philosophies and religion in general, but my first experiences in this recent pursuit have had a powerful impact on me. The first time I read it in the Bhagavad Gita, I absolutely knew that Krishna’s edict of not eating meat was right – at least for me. I then literally stumbled into a Hindu temple in Maricopa after getting lost, and happened to do so about 5 minutes before a major festival was to take place at the temple. There have been many other small lilas along the way, each letting me know that I am at present walking down the path God has laid before me.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to explain to Western – and thus mostly Christian – family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors my reasons for pursuing this because I’m explaining something I barely yet understand, let alone know all of the reasons I’m pursuing it.

I can for certain, however, ascertain a major attraction towards Hindu and Buddhist philosophy. I simply do not believe in a God that would condemn three quarters of all humans to burn in hell for not having been born in the right family. However large your religion is, there is a minimum of 3/4 of the human population that believes differently. According to many religions, you either believe their version and convert or it’s fire and brimstone for you.

Bullshit.

Hinduism and Buddhism, however, recognize that there are many paths to God. They don’t discount the validity of others’ faiths or the value of diverse beliefs. Neither requires that you abandon faith in anything else. 

So here’s my argument. I know that in the Christian Bible, Jesus does say that it is only through Him that one can be with the Father. But where in the Bible does it say WHEN one must accept Jesus? Please do enlighten me if you know, because I can’t find it. What if Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit are set up in a receiving line at the pearly gates awaiting each of us after we die? Would those who didn’t accept Jesus in their lifetime on Earth maybe have another shot at it then? What atheist, Hindu, Buddhist, or Wiccan would see the glory of God and His Son bathed in the light of creation with their own eyes and then still reject them?

I know people who have told me that Jesus or an Angel have come to them, or God has spoken to them, thus taking their faith in their given religion and turning it into knowledge of the correct path. Fact is, I might even believe them that the experience they have had is real. Unfortunately, I haven’t had that experience myself, so all I have is faith. If I must go on faith, there are only a few methods I may use to decide which path to follow. I can follow the religion that those who have an influence on me believe in (this is how most people choose a religion) – but that is problematic. Any given family has a mix of different denominations that members follow, if not entirely different religions. At that, I would be following a path because my parents, neighbors, in-laws, or siblings told me to. What is the adage about jumping off a bridge again? Right – the lesson there is that we should think for ourselves. Next option: go with what rational deliberation determines is likely to be the least incorrect possibility. First, that would take an awful lot of brain power to compute. Second, I’m not sure I could then say I have faith in the path, because I simple arrived at a logical conclusion. Logic is, according to nearly every religion, subject to the fallibility of my own senses and preconceptions, and is almost mutually exclusive to having true faith in any religion. So I’m left with really one option that will work: pursue understanding of all faiths and have faith in what feels to be true – resonates to my very soul – until God decides he wants to give me that experience which turns my faith into knowledge.

The problem I see is that many organized religions teach ethnocentric bigotry – and most people embrace and love that bigotry. We teach principles of religious tolerance in America. According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, the applicable definitions of tolerance  are:

2

a : sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own 

b : the act of allowing something : toleration

3:

the allowable deviation from a standard; especially : the range of variation permitted in maintaining a specified dimension in machining a piece

Okay, sympathy – that’s nice. I’m sorry that you’re wrong about God’s name or which book about him you prefer. Have a nice time burning in hell, sorry that it will be hot. Allowing me to believe wrongly and burn in hell for it. That’s making the sympathy angle look a little bit nicer, but we live in the United States. Unless the action I take in pursuing my faith violates YOUR civil liberties, you legally are obligated to allow me to pursue my faith. How about the last one – it’s actually my favorite. An allowable deviation from a standard – so it’s okay for you to believe differently so long as it’s pretty darn close to what I believe.

Does anyone really feel that they are being a good neighbor, friend, family member, or coworker by tolerating differing religious views? Seriously? If you are only tolerating, you are doing nothing more than you are legally required to.

My new religion, mantra, political party, and personal banner – ACCEPTANCE.

I ACCEPT you as you are. I ACCEPT that while you believe differently than I do, you might be right or I might be right – unless God comes down to settle the argument personally, we probably won’t know in this lifetime. I ACCEPT that it is okay for us to disagree, and if you disagree, I won’t threaten you with my religion’s punishments for your blasphemy. I ACCEPT others’ beliefs and make them my own if they feel right to me. I ACCEPT that the primary purposes of all religions are basically the same – to set a cultural standard to help keep order, to give people a sense of belonging, and to teach one to live life in a way that doesn’t harm others, helps others, and lands one closer to God in the end. I ACCEPT the potentially eternal and fiery consequences if I choose wrongly which religion to follow, but frankly I’m not that concerned. I believe that God gave me a soul that knows wrong from right and I believe that if I try to do what is right and try to pursue a spiritual path that leads me to God, I won’t be punished for my efforts. You can either ACCEPT my belief or you can condemn it, your choice.

Do you tolerate people of other races, or accept them? Do you tolerate those you love, or accept them? Did Jesus, Buddha, Moses, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa, Krishna, or whomever you do or don’t pray to ask you to tolerate others or accept them?

If hate itself had a website, the smartphone application for hate-lite would be titled tolerance. Come as you are, folks. Our country is a mess right now because of egocentric polarization at every level. We really are all one people. We believe things that at their core are so similar it’s hilarious. We all want the same things; we just disagree on how to go about achieving them.

Coming soon to a theater near you…

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One man’s quest for meaning; the mission to live free of fear and anxiety, a journey to understand the eternal from the perspective of the ephemeral; an exploratory adventure through the jungle of spirituality and religion. Ancient customs, modern practices, opposing viewpoints, diverse cultures, and common emotions. Will he discover the truth in time? Will it take a leap of faith, or rational cognition to discover the truth? Will others accept his belief in the truth he discovers, or will they reject him for believing in doctrines that are contrary to their own religious dogmas? Stay tuned for further sneak peeks, teasers, and trailers.