Category Archives: Speaking of Spirit

Discourse on the divine, as though such a thing were even possible

Starting a Religion, Part The Third

(I can’t let it go, can I? I blame the recent controversy surrounding Amendment One to the NC Constitution and the fact that I’m reading “Under the Banner of Heaven” by Jon Krakauer.)

Here’s a thought. If we start a new religion and want to give the leaders/moderators/facilitators a title, instead of “minister” or “reverend” or “pastor,” what if we call them “agent.”

I know, spies, insurance, IRS, KGB, all kinds of craziness.

But just hear me out while I explore the definitions and what they might imply.

(I’m perfectly willing to be talked out of it, but you have to actually do the talking to make that happen!)

The definition of “agent” according to Websters is

“1 a: something that produces or is capable of producing an effect.” Thus our agents are active participants in things, getting down on their hands and knees to do the dirty work, jumping out of their seats to come to the assistance of someone, never resting on their laurels (although everyone is entitled to a break now and again!)

“1 b: a chemically, physically or biologically active principle.” So our agents have a link to reality, to the physical earth.

“2: one that acts or exerts power.” Again, active participation.

“3: a person responsible for his acts.” Put a star next to this one! No matter what one of our agents does, they will have to accept personal responsibility for their choices. There’s no pope to point to and say, “He made me do it!”

“4: MEANS, INSTRUMENT” I think these synonyms imply that the agent is channeling another power, is acting as a conduit for another purpose, although, as stated above, they are still held accountable for their participation.

“5: one who acts for or in the place of another by authority from him, as, a: a representative, emissary or official of a government, b: one engaged in undercover activities.” I think this would clearly represent that we as agents would be assuming (hoping?) that God/Tao/Oneness has sanctioned our intent to help, heal, console, teach, inspire, or whatever loving activity we had decided to engage in.

If you think of agents, whether insurance, advertisement, government or spy, they are a go-between, they are supposed to be serving two parties to get them both what they need (okay, well not the spy, that’s pretty one sided, but the other ones…) I feel like if a person claimed to be a spiritual leader, they would be serving as a go-between for God/Tao/Oneness as well as the individual who is suffering from the illusion of separateness.

And the goal would not be for the individual to become dependent on the go-between, but for the agent to restore agency to that individual. To help them take power over their own lives, to get them to a place where they can move forward by making their own choices, with the love and support of a community.

I guess I’m thinking the religion will be that community. The agents will be the facilitators, the servants of both the Oneness and the people, to bring both together in harmony, humility and compassion.

Please point out where I’m seriously trippin’, because a lot of this starts to make real sense to me.

Starting a Religion, Part Two

Okay I’m a little freaked out. You’ve heard of the Stanford psychology experiment of 1971 that enrolled some college students and assigned them to be either guards or prisoners? Within a short period of time, the mild-mannered well-adjusted students fell deeply into their roles as either sadistic guard or depressed prisoner and the experiment had to be prematurely aborted.

Well as soon as I jokingly introduced the idea of establishing a religion, my mind immediately latched onto the idea and began deciding what rules would be foundational, what dogma members would absolutely have to agree to in order to belong, what beliefs were indispensable.

Precisely the reason I find myself unable to join any already established religion — because there will always be something that I can’t get behind.

And I immediately begin to justify my choices. “‘Love is the Law.’ No one can argue with that, can they? Everybody knows Love is the highest good. Surely anyone worth being associated with would swear allegiance to such an idea.”

But precisely because it’s an idea that members would be asked to embrace absolutely and without any exception is what makes it feel really dangerous to me, when I step back and look at the monster being built.

What if there was an escape clause of sorts? A mandate to “Think for yourself” or “Everyone is responsible for their own Trip.” Then any rule, principle or directive issued would have to be filtered by each individual through their own mental machinery to see what comes out the other side for them.

And then of course you’d have to have some kind of clause insisting that “Diversity is to be tolerated, encouraged and celebrated” so that when we’re all standing around holding a different result from the same starting point, no one has to feel the outcast or throw theirs in the trash.

It gets fantastically messy real quick.

No wonder the other founders of religion ended up creating such giant cesspools of insanity.

Starting a Religion

I’ve had people joke with me (I assume) about this. Even my own Dad.

But now reading Jon Krakauer’s “Under the Banner of Heaven,” as he details all the Mormon shenanigans, I think, why not?

What makes other humans special that they get to start a new interpretation of divinity?

Okay, I’m not talking about Buddha or Jesus or Lao Tsu or those sorts of “humans,” who obviously are special. I’m talking about the run-of-the-mill people who have interpreted what the wisest among us have said and extrapolate to impose laws, rules, guidelines. Generally with much prejudice and imbecility.

I think Rule Number One might be “For crying out loud be nice!”

Too obvious?

My daughter will insist that years ago I said Rule Number One was “Keep it in the bowl,” but seriously, that’s for cooking. We might be able to make a metaphor or parable of it and apply it to Life in General, but honestly the profoundly deep secret meaning of it (you might want to jot this down in case I become a prophet later) is “For crying out loud be nice to your poor Mama who has to clean up the floor later and stop whooshing everything on the floor.” So, really, just a corollary to the Rule Number One I previously suggested.

Rule Number Two for cooking was “You can’t have too much butter.” I think we might just keep that one in our religious text verbatim.

Jesus as Healer

I’m reading for the second time Thomas Moore’s book Writing in the Sand: Jesus & the Soul of the Gospels. This morning I started on the chapter about healing and read:

The good news is that we are creating a new world order in which the first task is to heal each other.

The Buddha begins his teaching with the simple observation that there is suffering in the world. Jesus similarly focuses on the sickness of the soul that affects people individually and socially, physically and spiritually. This perception of sickness is central, and healing is his signature activity. Jesus does not teach how to be virtuous, how to be saved, or how to be a good church member. He says nothing about memorizing dogma or following a strict set of moral rules. Instead, he continually demonstrates how to be in this world as a healer.

I find this perspective so inspiring. Moving away from judgment, rules and regulations, to focus on healing and becoming whole.

Also, in my current reading of the Gospel of Mark, I’m realizing for the first time how concerned Jesus was about feeding people. I mean, we’ve all heard the story of the miracle of the loaves and fish, but I think previously I had assumed that it was just another opportunity for Jesus to show off. But the second time he does it, Mark describes it thus:

In those days when there again was a great crowd without anything to eat, he summoned the disciples and said, “My heart is moved with pity for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will collapse on the way, and some of them have come a great distance.” Mark 8:1-3

I can completely relate, since I love to feed people and am constantly thinking about what food I will make, who will be around to eat it, what they might enjoy, etc. For the first time I felt a real human connection to Jesus through a story in the Gospel.

I think my study of Buddhism and Taoism has deeply informed my understanding of Jesus and what he was all about. I think for me the Good News makes much more sense when approached from these directions, rather than the hellfire preacher or rigidly structured, Pope-dictated way.

The message becomes very simple, and living as Jesus did and following his example is precisely as we are told the Tao operates, flowing like water to the lowlands, moving with the terrain, serving without asking for credit or being clever, losing one’s self in the ocean of Oneness.

To heal, to feed, to love!

I don’t know how any of it could be officially integrated in any way that anyone else would ever recognize as valid, but for me, it feels like Spirit is speaking and being revealed through the interweaving of it all.

Prayer Beads

I become obsessed with projects. Not to the point of losing the farm obsessed, but just that the idea will sit and simmer, sometimes boil, on a backburner of my brain until I finally do it. Then, it’s gone, and I’m left with a calm contentment.

My name was one of those things. Wanted to change it for as long as I could remember. Informally changed my first name at age 21, then at age 25 I adopted a new last name and legally changed my name. Ahhhh. That’s the ticket.

One of my smaller project obsessions is prayer beads. I’ve gone so far as to take a red cord and sew on 16 assorted beads, rocks and shells (with holes through them), buttons and pendants. Each with a particular meaning. I meant to assign to each “bead” one of the prayers I’ve memorized or meant to memorize, but that never happened. It didn’t feel organic. And the prayer beads look so random and chaotic. I don’t feel it.

But I think about this project, and how I shall tend to it, all the time, as though it were a small child I’d left out in the yard and need to go check on.

Why do I want this? I say prayers all day. I just use pauses in the daily insanity to say some prayer or other in my head, or something will remind me. I don’t see how having a physical reminder or representation would make me more prayerful.

But somehow the idea of having something physical in my hands to hold onto is appealing, like a crutch, like a precious photograph, like a hand to squeeze.

Maybe it’s just that being raised Catholic and then choosing to walk away from that religion leaves a little rosary-shaped hole in my life that I keep trying to fill.

Maybe that’s what is unappealing to me about the one I’ve created; it isn’t official, it’s a wannabe.

Or maybe the thing I walked away from was the official externalization of interior spirituality, and I’m afraid that if I get too deep into these prayer beads I will become superstitious, overly attached, or just plain goofy about them.

In any case, it provides me with a fascinating, ongoing meditation with regards to my own internal mess.

God is Love

My mother and I have been having regular Sunday afternoon phone conversations for years now, and in the last few months we have turned them into a book club of sorts, which is just heavenly and makes me miss her all the more (we are currently on opposite sides of the North American continent.)

We assign ourselves chapters of some book or other and then we chat about what we read for part of our conversation.

We ran out of book ideas for the time being, so we’ve started in on the Bible.

Anyone familiar with me knows that I struggle with labels. I am a believer, but I don’t feel comfortable adopting any religion in particular.

Watching the documentary Journey into Buddhism yesterday, in which they travel throughout Asia and give commentary on Buddhist thought, history and tradition as they go, I alternated between reactions: on the one hand, ‘YES! This is exactly what I believe” as the narrator was talking; and on the other hand, “No, not so much,” when I see the visuals, the ornate temples, the gigantic statues of Buddha, basically, the culture. Fascinating, but doesn’t resonate.

It feels false to take on ideas with none of the background that goes with it.

Then I’m reading our assignment, my mother’s and mine, for this week: the first letter of John. I read in Chapter 4, beginning with verse 7, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. ”

Yes! So simple! God = Love. A rock to stand on. A declaration that I have no problem declaring allegiance to.

Further, verse 18, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love.”

Fear is something I struggle with moment by moment, and here is a way out! Rather than compounding the fear, as I’ve heard “Christians” do so often, the goal is to be free from fear, just as the Buddha says it is possible to be free from suffering. Life will still be difficult, there will still be pain, but we don’t have to suffer or be fearful.

“Put aside all doubt and meditate on the pure and holy nature of the regarder of the cries of the world.”

Perhaps my desperation for a label is my doubt that what I believe has no value or truth unless it has a pre-printed sticker on it, unless I can hide among a group of people or take refuge in their building.

For now I stand with my mother, who knows exactly the label she feels comfortable with, and who accepts me without one.

Heaven, Hell and True Worship

Not a big fan of carrot and stick religion. “I’ll be good so I don’t burn for eternity!” “I’ll do right because I want to be rewarded someday!”

Grow up.

Be good because it feels great. Do right because it is the best way. Take care of others to see a smile on their faces, or at least to sleep better at night knowing you were the best human you could be.

Cultivate virtue because it leads to beauty, truth and peace. Develop compassion because it leads to happiness, for yourself and those around you.

Open your soul to the divine because what other way is there to live? Beyond reward and punishment, connecting to Spirit is truly being alive.

Oh my Lord, if I worship You from fear of Hell, burn me in Hell; and if I worship You from hope of Paradise, exclude me from Paradise. But if I worship You for Your own sake, do not withhold from me Your Eternal Beauty. — Rabia, from Essential Sufism, edited by James Fadiman & Robert Frager

Dark Days of the Soul

I’m passing through the shadows. It’s really damn dark and lonely in here.

This isn’t how my life was supposed to be. If I’d known, when I decided to throw myself body and soul into mothering five children, that I would fail so often and so profoundly to help them find joy in life, that they would all be so frequently miserable, full of conflict, anger, disgust, resistance to any good thing, would I have carried on?

Nothing else I’ve ever done has even come close to being as rewarding as being a Mama. So if that vocation is such a pit of misery for everyone involved, then nothing else would be worth it either.

The only logical alternative is oblivion.

I open the book The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh. In it he writes:

Even if we are in pain, if we can see meaning in our life, we will have energy and joy. Energy is not the result of good health alone or the wish to achieve some goal — material or spiritual. It is a result of feeling some meaning to our life.

But what does it all mean?

I’ve always identified too well with the existentialists. I’ve always been able to see much too clearly how none of this has any rhyme or reason. All the explanations of some jealous, angry higher power torturing us into being so afraid that we will do anything to avoid even more torment in hell’s eternity… I’m certainly not going with that brilliant philosophy.

What does it mean?

Does it mean we prove how tough we are to just plod along, even when everyone around us hates everything and wishes we were dead, out loud, several times a day?

Is it worth all the misery for those couple of minutes a day when the kids get along and share a giggle?

Cuz here’s what it seems to boil down to: It sucks being alive. It’s hard, frustrating, at times agonizing, frightening, a constant, relentless struggle with someone or something. Even the richest, most spoiled brats in the world are still heavy with misery over some kind of drama, lacking, addiction, pain, sorrow. None of us escapes it.

What does that mean? What significance could it possibly have for people to carry on, slashing and smashing as best they can through the jungle of every day life?

I feel like if I could just get the point, I could be a better person, and relieve the suffering of those around me just a bit.

But instead of relieving suffering, I have actually created five new people with the infinite capacity to experience horrific misery.

I remember when my first was born, the thought occurred to me, I’ve given birth, and I’ve given death. I’ve just condemned an innocent soul to death. Hopefully not soon, hopefully not painful, hopefully in her sleep after many years of blissful existence. But nevertheless, however it happens, it was because of my choices.

No wonder people want to put off the responsibility on some higher power, who has the “Plan,” and they are just hopeless pawns in “his” game, trying desperately to follow “his” rules in order to escape punishment for the terrible shortcomings that “he” bestowed upon them.

Is that what it means? I have demonstrated my awesome ability to confer life and death, and now what? I’ve tried to be an example of enjoying good food, nature, books, ideas, enjoying the company of loving, creative people, and it works for a little while. But then they get bigger and their attitude becomes, screw you old lady, and the horse you rode in on. Get your lameness and cluelessness the hell away from me!

Ah, good times.

I want to be a beacon of light. My name, “Elena,” is a form of “Helen,” which means “torch.” The whole purpose of a torch is to be a tool to light the way. You don’t lead someone, and I don’t feel like a leader, you just keep burning and allow them to use you to lead themselves, shining your light as best you can.

But in this dark time, when all the air has been sucked out of my atmosphere, my little flame struggles and flickers and gasps for some kind of fuel to consume. Some kind of meaning to allow me to burn on.

Selfless Service, Unconditionally

The Hua Hu Ching, as written by Lao Tzu and translated by Ni, Hua-Ching, states very clearly throughout the text that we are to serve the world selflessly and unconditionally:

One who practices virtue and selflessness should not hold any particular idea in his mind about how to fulfill his virtue, for virtue is the very nature of one’s being. One should always be willing to assist others selflessly and unconditionally by offering one’s skills and achievements to serve them. One should be willing to give away the things one cherishes most or even offer one’s life to assist others. One should not restrict one’s service by distinctions of color, nationality, family or social relationships, sensory perceptions, or any other relative condition. To restrict the ways in which one would render service to others to suit one’s personal preference is potentially harmful. If one relates to others and serves them only according to his own design, it is as if he has entered the darkness and can see nothing. By chance he may help some people, but he may also injure others. However, if one does not limit himself by imposing special terms on his serving others, he is like someone with good vision who enjoys the brightness and sees clearly. His influence is purely positive.
One Love.
Love the One in All.
Can we do what’s in front of us but keep in mind the big picture simultaneously?


Can you imagine a world of unconditional selflessness?

Can you imagine yourself participating? Agent of Love? Engaged indiscriminately?

The Thirsty Fish

“I laugh when I hear that the fish in the water is thirsty.” — Kabir

from Essential Sufism edited by James Fadiman and Robert Frager

Are we not fish surrounded by waves of life energy at all times? Do we not swim in the atmosphere of exactly what we need at every moment? One deep breath gets us where we need to be to take the next step.

At times I feel thirsty, desperate for cool, soothing relief, cut off from the Source of blessing.

Then I catch my reflection in the mirror – a little wave swelling into its own unique form, riding my own path to the shore.

But what’s that holding me up, providing the matter and momentum of my individual wave? The immensity of the ocean. I cannot exist or move without it. This seemingly limitless Source is so much a part of my existence that I forget it’s even there. All I see is a separate wave over there, some up that way, one over yonder, and me here, “by myself.”

I must use a bigger mirror.

I am Water made wave. I thirst only to realize the Connection that always is.