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Spiritual and relationship expert, teacher, counselor, advisor, speaker, and writer James Gray Robinson

MEMORIAL DAY

           Memorial Day is the federal holiday established to honor those who died fighting for the United States. It is not clear how the holiday originated (hard to believe in the modern age) with many cities claiming to have had the first celebration for the fallen. Tradition states that it began in Charleston, SC in 1865 with a celebration by newly freed slaves to honor those who died in the Civil War to free the slaves. Whether the national holiday grew from that or other memorials for the fallen soldiers, Memorial Day has grown to be one of the major holidays of the US, at least in part because it unofficially marks the beginning of the summer.

            The irony is that it would seem that we only pay this holiday lip service as we continue to lose soldiers in conflict all around the world. One would think that any intelligent life would recognize the effects of violence on itself and cease perpetuating death and violence. How many orphans does it take to stop war? How many PTSD cases does it take to stop violence? When will we stop the idea that violence is a solution for any problem?

            My father graduated from the United States Military Academy (West Point) in 1945 and joined the occupational forces in Europe for three years following surrender by Germany. To this day he is apologetic about not being a part of the actual war against Germany. When he is asked if he served during World War II, he goes into a long story about not actually fighting Germans but he did have a violent incident with Russian troops. A more telling story is how kind and gentle he was before he went to West Point; and how angry and driven he was after that experience. Until the US Military Academy accepted women, graduates of West Point were quick to point out that the experience of going to West Point makes men out of boys. I am not sure what the tag line is now, but I shudder to think how many sweet, kind and gentle teenagers were transformed into killing machines and then unleashed upon an unsuspecting public without any deprogramming. This process continues unto this day.

            The affects of military service is overwhelming our VA hospitals and becoming more and more of a problem with PTSD and chemical warfare poisoning, not to mention the physical damage many wounded warriors have to live with. How much suffering do we have to experience before we stand up and cry “ENOUGH”! It is clear that we are losing the war against terrorism. A case in point is the Boston Marathon bombing. The lone surviving terrorist was sentenced to death several times over. One death will never repay the damage done to the victims of that day. Ironically enough, death is what the surviving terrorist wanted; now he gets to go to heaven and have 72 virgins. Somehow something is not computing.

            The truth is the wars that we are waging in other countries will likely bankrupt our country. We spend trillions of dollars in research every year on how to kill our enemies better. We could simply buy our enemies lock stock and barrel more cheaply. I am not suggesting that we do that, but I am questioning why we spend so much money on death and violence. Having the biggest and most deadly weapons in the world has not kept us safe.

            This Memorial Day we have to wake up and become more conscious about what we are doing as individuals and as a nation to perpetuate the fallen. We are the victims of our own device. There is too much money flowing into the hands of those that profit at war. There is too much disinformation being fed to us by politicians that want us to continue funding war and violence.

            I believe that we should honor our fallen and demand an end to war by whatever means are available. We have the resources, technology and intelligence to do so. We are funding both sides of every conflict currently waging in the world. We are so afraid that nations will turn on us if we don’t fund their violence that we have sold our grandchildren’s destiny to continue the fighting. We need to stop making weapons of mass destruction. We need to clean up our mess. We need to stop sending soldiers into harm’s way. We need to learn the lessons of our past so that we do not repeat them. The world will not support the status quo much longer. We either have to chose freedom or totalitarianism. We have to choose peace. 

Spiritual and relationship expert, teacher, counselor, advisor, speaker, and writer James Gray Robinson

DOING IT “WRONG”

            I had a astrological reading the other day. After studying my star chart for a while, the astrologer told me that according to the positions of the planets and stars, I was destined to struggle because the struggle increased the speed of my growth. It was my destiny to feel like I was doing something wrong because it made me be more conscious of what I thought, said and did. In other words, it was my karma to always feel like I was making a mistake, and that I was a mistake. This was the grace that fueled my growth as a spiritual being.  So when I was feeling like I was screwing up, I was paying my karma. I wasn’t actually screwing up; I was living my life in accordance with the divine plan of my life. So the irony of my life is that when I feel like I am doing it wrong, I am doing it right.

            When talking to others I have discovered that most of us carry an irrational belief that somehow we will never get it right. Somehow there is a belief buried deep in our subconscious that we must be screwing up because if we were doing it right, we would be enlightened, or at least we would be more enlightened than we are at the moment. We succumb to the temptation of looking to the left and right and comparing ourselves to each other. This is guaranteed to create suffering. We forget that our karma has everything to do with where we are in the moment compared to everything else. We are where we are because of the choices we have made.

            Due to the fact that most of us were raised in an educational system of some sort, we were programmed with the belief that life is graded. If you do well, you get an A and if you don’t do well, you fail. Life is not based on a grading system. There are no “A’s” and there are no “F’s”. If there are, the only grader is our ego. If you look back on the education you received, I would be willing to bet that the best lessons you received in school were not in the classroom. Our best thinking is done when we allow our minds to roam and imagine. Quite frankly, I couldn’t tell you anything about what I studied in school. I can tell you a lot about all the times I thought I was screwing up.

            As we get older, we keep grading ourselves using different grading systems. The size of our bank accounts, the number of toys that we have, or the kind of relationships we have all are grading systems that we use to determine how we are doing.  These are all created by the mind, for the mind to keep the mind in power.

            The good news is that if you are reading this article you are ahead of the masses. If you are like me, it was a big relief to know that my angst was only an illusion I created to grow as rapidly as humanly possible.  The truth is that without my angst I would be stuck so deep in the creek mud that I could only get out with dynamite (otherwise known as divorce, disease, bankruptcy or disaster, all of which I have experienced). Compared to dynamite, I would take my angst every time. If you feel like you are a mistake, take heart! You actually have the potential to become enlightened. We either believe or don’t believe everything is God. If we do believe it, then we have to conclude that nothing is wrong.

            It is our ego that judges our situation to be “wrong.” When we feel like we are doing it wrong, we are in our heads. If we looked at our circumstances through our heart, we would know that it is right. Many people think that they are schizophrenic or bipolar because they always have dialogue going on in their head between an angel and a demon. The dialogue is actually between our hearts and our heads. It is our head/mind that labels life as “right” or “wrong”, just like we learned in school. Our hearts don’t care about any of that, our hearts only care about loving others and connecting with God.

            The truth is that life is a mystery most of the time. We are not supposed to know everything. If we did, our heads might explode. Whenever you think you understand it, you don’t. We think we are screwing up when we actually are unloading lifetimes of karma. The trick is not to panic and to keep breathing. I have discovered that the more I concentrate on my breath, the less I care about how I am “doing.” So if you find yourself stressed out because you think you will never get it right, relax. Join the crowd. At least you are in the crowd going where you want to go. So remember, when you think you are doing it wrong, you are doing it right.

             

 

Spiritual and relationship expert, teacher, counselor, advisor, speaker, and writer James Gray Robinson

WHO ARE YOU?

After forty years of meditation and spiritual practices I must confess that I’m no closer to answering the question “who am I?” than I was when I first became self-aware. I defy anyone to come up with a simple answer to that question. Go ahead, ask yourself, and keep contemplating this question. We are of course a combination of experiences, information, beliefs, thoughts, perceptions and emotions that constantly shift like a kaleidoscope rotating between our ears. I believe that we seek to answer that question because we are trying to understand something called “life”, which defies definition.

Our perception of ourselves is constantly changing as well, which makes the question and answer relative to how we perceive ourselves at any given moment. If we like ourselves the answer will be one thing, if we don’t like ourselves the answer will be different. We drift in and out of self-acceptance/loathing depending on the circumstances of the moment. Most religions and spiritual philosophies are centered on the proposition that we have to be balanced in life, kind of like the tale of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”, i.e. our perception should not be “not too hot, not too cold, but rather, just right”.

We have also been trained to compare ourselves to others, which creates a need to identify ourselves followed by possible feelings of either inadequacy or superiority. We feel the need to define ourselves so we can understand where we fit into the grand design. We want to know “who we are”, “what our life purpose is” and other philosophical questions that monopolize our minds.  This self-analysis and need for self-definition is what is referred to as “mental masturbation”.  Does it really matter who you are? Do we really have to know what our purpose is? Or is this our mind’s way of distracting us from our real mission, which I believe is to experience life in its infinite variety.

We can become so busy trying to define ourselves, and put ourselves in a box, that we become delusional. There is no box. We can also be so focused on making ourselves unique that we lose the bigger picture of creating heaven on earth with our fellow human beings.

The answer to life’s most perplexing question, “Who Am I?” does exist. The answer is we are the being that we perceive we are. Unfortunately for some people that answer opens up another can of worms because that puts our life circumstances squarely where we don’t want it to be, on our own shoulders, responsible for ourselves. However, if we’re going to make sense of our existence, to be happy with our self-image, to be “just right”, we have to take responsibility for how we perceive our life and our selves. If we perceive life is unfair, it is unfair. If we perceive life is fun and exciting, it will be. It doesn’t matter what is actually happening, what matters is how we perceive it.

I recently experienced something that was very emotionally traumatic. The details are not important, and they never are. Basically, someone I loved very much fired me. What is important is discovering why it was emotionally traumatic, and choosing what to do next.  This experience went to the core of my self-image, my self-confidence and my self-esteem. I had given this person everything that I had – my love, my money, my life, as well as my self-worth – and then I was fired. I was on an emotional roller coaster for months afterward.

I eventually discovered that my quality of life did not depend on my momentary circumstances, and the mental masturbation that followed that experience was only an exercise in self-pity. When I started focusing my thoughts on spiritually and emotionally uplifting thoughts, the pain went away. I stopped fantasizing about this person being punished, and started telling myself that I was talented, worthy and loved by the divine. That was all I needed to get out of the fog caused by the emotional trauma I experienced. Specifically, I kept repeating to myself  “I am confident that better things are on the way”.  And my life began to change.

I’m not selling affirmations as the cure-all for life’s challenges. I want you to understand that what happens to us is much less important than how we think about ourselves to be. If we believe we are talented, worthy and lovable, we will be. If we believe that everything happens to help us be better human beings, we will be. So if you have recently experienced trauma, don’t worry. You are only growing into a better version of you. 

 

Spiritual and relationship expert, teacher, counselor, advisor, speaker, and writer James Gray Robinson

A KIND HEART

In a recent article about Buddhism I was taken by a statement that happiness is the result of a kind heart. Therefore, in order to develop happiness one has to develop a kind heart. The energy of that thought swept through me like a spring breeze and I relaxed into a deep state of bliss.

            My experience in this world and the experience of many people I have met on the spiritual path includes emotional and physical trauma. Something happens to us that frightened or hurt us and made the world a scary, unsafe place. These traumatic experiences can harden our kind nature like a callus or scar tissue on our heart.  We become defensive and can push people away in order to protect ourselves from pain. Even more subtle wounds are created when we experience something that we don’t like. These wounds are often dismissed or ignored because they don’t necessarily hurt. These more subtle wounds might cause frustration, irritation, anxiety or stress, but are accepted as part of everyday life.

            As I trudge the path of happy destiny towards spiritual freedom and light, I feel it  is my duty to remove these calluses, bruises, or wounds on my heart. This is necessary to allow my heart to open and to expand my consciousness. I am convinced that happiness cannot be logically reached; it must be experienced through our hearts. It is reassuring that one of the oldest belief systems in the world (Buddhism) incorporates this belief in the form of the statement that happiness can only be reached through a kind heart.

            I often contemplate what is a kind heart. So far, the best conclusion I can draw at the moment is that a kind heart is a heart filled with compassion, awareness and acceptance. There is no room in a kind heart for resentment, resistance, anger or any other “negative” emotions. I further believe that these painful energies are the result of what the Buddhists call lazy or habitual thinking. I call it “worst case scenario thinking.” As a former attorney I often imagined what the worst-case scenario would be in a trial and plan accordingly. This defense mechanism was very useful; however, when it spilled over into my personal life it causes great suffering.

            One of the most important steps in developing a kind heart is to understand that we are not our thoughts. When we have thoughts of a hurtful or painful nature, we must not condemn or criticize ourselves for these thoughts. We have to simply accept them as random thoughts that are not real.  When we dwell on these thoughts or resent them (“resent” means “to think over and over”) we are building thicker and thicker calluses and scar tissue on our hearts.

            Another important step is to understand that we create our realities for the specific purpose of becoming enlightened. So when life does not suit us, we have to look for the message we are telling ourselves by creating something we don’t like. Some common themes I am witnessing these days include: (1) money has nothing to do with happiness; (2) companionship is not necessary for happiness; and (3) “common sense is more important than spiritual sense” (Derek O’Neill).

            In order to develop a kind heart, we have to understand that we do not need money, mates, material stuff and thirteen spiritual diplomas to be happy. We simply need to accept the fact that we are exactly where we are supposed to be — going exactly where we are supposed to go. In my experience, one of the most damaging illusions and lies that we tell ourselves is that we are not living the life we are supposed to live, that we are somehow doing something wrong and that we are victims. Whenever we experience stress and anxiety it is because we believe something is wrong somewhere in our life. This leads us away from a kind heart, because a kind heart is flexible and pliable enough to understand that everything is perfect.

            A great exercise for those anxious moments is to sit still and breath into the heart. Imagine that when you inhale you are sending light and oxygen into your heart (not the lungs). When you exhale imagine that you are exhaling all illusions and misunderstandings that hurt out of your heart. It is amazing how fast relaxation comes when one does this.

            It is not so important that we be kind to others as it is to be kind to ourselves. There is no need to feel guilty, ashamed, stressed or anxious when we have a kind heart. A kind heart is like a loving parent observing a child who is angry or frightened and knows that everything will be all right. The child (us) does not know everything will be all right, but the parent does. When we can feel the feeling that everything will be all right, we can relax and enjoy life.

            The payoff for having a kind heart is the inevitable effect that people will gravitate to us. We have to understand that some people will be kind, while others will project their anger and fears all over us. When we have a kind heart, we do not take offense at these people, we understand their pain and have compassion for them. This is how we can develop compassion for others, by being kind to ourselves.

            Ultimately we come to the realization that everyone is simply a reflection of the thoughts and feelings we experience. When we can respond with kindness to everything, to the thoughts, emotions, events and people that we like and dislike, bliss will be ours.