Francis de Sales: progress in perfection

“Keep yourself faithfully in the presence of God; avoid hurry and anxiety, for there are no greater obstacles to our progress in perfection,”

Excerpt from Maxims and counsels of St. Francis de Sales for every day in the year. Francis, de Sales, Saint, 1567-1622

I came across an old book with quotations from St Francis de Sales, and they immediately resonated with my focus on providence and what I’m learning from the Abraham-Hicks material. I figured I’d put some up each day for a while. Enjoy!

Israel Folau: seeing the good

In my latest article at MercatorNet I apply my focus on providence to look for the positive aspects in the case of Israel Folau, a rugby player whose recent sacking for quoting a “homophobic” Bible verse has worried conservatives, Christians, and free-speech advocates in Australia and beyond:

Predicting possible negative outcomes is a learned skill. In fields like journalism and ethics it’s an occupational hazard. We can learn to do the opposite instead, looking for the good in every situation, the good our faith tells us God will inevitably bring out of evil.

What happened to Folau is not exactly something his friends and family would cheer for, but it’s also not an outright evil or pure misfortune.

https://www.mercatornet.com/above/view/the-sacking-of-israel-folau-can-you-see-the-good-in-it/22488

Feel good all day 14

Allowing, eh?

So how do I allow?

Part of me wants to hit this with everything I’ve got, but we know by now that when we strive or push or try it’s because we think we have somewhere to be, something that needs to change, something we must fix.

It’s tempting to seize control, but it’s also dismal and small to then feel responsible for everything that’s going on.

You create your reality, but two-thirds of the process don’t require any effort and the final third is only effort in the most minimal sense.

It’s kinda tiring and sad to think that you’d have to build your reality thought by thought and brick by brick. But it doesn’t work that way. The real work is being done by the divine being of which you are just an extension, a thread, a single point of view.

That’s why mysticism is full of surrender: surrender to God, surrender of the individual self, surrender of the illusion of separation.

But the individual perspective is still part of the plan, we still have a role to play, and we can still allow it to be a whole lot easier.

My efforts to be as happy as I can and feel good all day have definitely paid off. But they were also efforts I embarked on when I thought effort and focus was my greatest strength.

I wanted to take control of my experience and I’m very good at focusing intensely on a given subject until I feel completely on top of it. Yet the fruit of this intense effort includes realising that there’s a better way; that needing to be on top of things limits the scope of what can happen in your life.

Allowing is the better way. Making space for surprises and miraculous occurrences is the better way. Leaving openings for God to do the work is infinitely better than insisting I oversee the action step by step from my own limited perspective.

Allowing is the antidote to thinking I’ve gotta do it all by myself. The expectation of a DIY job resists the benefits and cooperation of divine help.

Allowing is, therefore, the expectation that it’s all being done for me, by someone whose power and efforts entirely eclipse my own. Isn’t that far more exciting?

Count Your Blessings Day 3

Counting your blessings makes you better at noticing and appreciating the blessings already in your life, converting you from a mindset of survival to one of abundance.

This morning my son noticed a branch of a local bank as we drove by. “That bank is everywhere!” he exclaimed.

I told him that when we pay attention to something, we easily find more of it, whether it was already there, or newly coming into our experience.

Today’s count begins with last night, taking my daughter for a walk around the block again. She quickly fell asleep and slept well for several hours!

I slept well too, and though it seemed today would be empty of activities, I ended up taking the kids to visit friends for a lovely catch-up!

The friends gave my kids some Easter eggs, and also us some packets of Malaysian instant noodles to take home 😍

The weather was perfect today, just like the last three!

The friend we visited is also my kung fu teacher, and we chatted briefly about concepts in training. I’m looking forward to our next session!

I spent half an hour sitting on my front porch sipping a delicious coffee and working on my blog as the cool breeze rustled the leaves of our plants right in front of me. The sound of the road was like all the busyness of life passing by while I relaxed in the shade. What a feeling of peace!

Going out each day helps me appreciate coming home. I used to want to be home all the time, but it’s even more fun when there’s activity and energy and interactions with other people away from home. I’m feeling more engaged by life!

I think it relates to openness. It’s not that blessings can’t flow to us alone at home, but what is the motivation keeping us out of circulation? Is it resistance? If so, then it is necessary to go out and be open, not for the sake of what is “out there” but for the spirit of allowing and receptivity.

I spent a couple of hours playing minecraft with my son, and then I cooked dinner while my wife took the kids out for a walk!

Sipping delicious home brew and listening to an Abraham recording while the air filled with delicious smells…I took a minute to sit on the couch and just revel in the beautiful ambience.

A neighbour dropped by during dinner with an Easter gift for the kids and we gave her some pasta to take home.

An old friend and walking-buddy got back from holiday and we went for a late night walk followed by a catch-up on the past week.

Reflection

I’m currently lying on the couch, legs draped across my wife’s lap as she plays games on her phone. I’m really sleepy but wanted to finish this post before I get to bed. Both kids are asleep; it’s been an excellent day and I’m completely worn out.

What I really want to reflect on is how my days increasingly feel like a series of good things. Counting my blessings like this makes each day seem full of activity.

And the effect is translating into real-time; I’m looking for what each day will bring as I live it. Instead of being at home and avoiding interruptions, I’m actively opening myself to new activities and experiences with an attitude of expectation because I know I’m going to be writing it all down at the end of the day!

It’s like being a character in a movie and knowing that the plot must be about to start, or playing a game and just taking for granted that there’s an npc who will set the ball rolling for you.

I can easily and happily envisage my life becoming a series of activities and events, like a string of pearls or a montage in a movie where the in-between bits barely register.

Or alternatively, my sense of what a blessing is and my power of appreciation might expand until doing the dishes is a blessing, folding the laundry is a blessing.

I mean, lying on the couch right now is a blessing for sure, and there are other things personal or prosaic that don’t make it into the list.

Imagine, then, a life of continual blessings and constant appreciation from morning til night. Imagine how good that would feel! Imagine the kind of person you would be, to find happiness and appreciation your whole life through!

Killing the Buddha

If you meet the Buddha, kill him. – LinJi

The basic dichotomy of melancholic spirituality is that we are prone to despair and we require faith in providence to see us through.

But lots of spiritual teachers accentuate the suffering and disappointment in life, as if they are keen to get us disillusioned with worldly happiness and craving something more refined.

Buddhism hits the ground running with the first noble truth, frequently rendered in English as “life is suffering”, but with the more nuanced translation of “dissatisfying” also on offer.

In hindsight I don’t think melancholics need to be encouraged to view life as intrinsically dissatisfying. I don’t think it serves us to take such a negative principle on board as the premise of a spiritual path.

Killing the Buddha

The Zen Koan about “killing” the Buddha is a warning against religious idolatry, sanctimony, and the kind of spiritual practice that forgets the real meaning of the Buddha in favour of an image or a vision.

But today for me it means letting go of spiritual principles that don’t serve me – no matter how esteemed their author or noble their pedigree.

Is life suffering? No. Is life dissatisfying? No. It might have felt that way at times, but thinking there was something intrinsically negative about life and existence only made me feel worse about it.

Life is meant to be happy and joyful and satisfying, and if killing the Buddha helps me get there, I’m sure he won’t mind.

How the internet is driving the fractionalisation of society

In my latest article on Mercatornet I reflect on the growing fractionalisation of society, facilitated and driven by the internet:

In the recent past everyone watched more or less the same TV shows. Now we can enjoy such a diversity of content that kids in the same class at school can effectively inhabit different planets of entertainment, just as their parents inhabit different worlds of news and online opinion.

There are still many points of convergence, but the option to not watch Game of Thrones or Downton Abbey or the latest from the Marvel Cinematic Universe is more viable than ever.

Linear TV focused our attention on a limited range of options, just like the two-party political system effectively concentrates genuinely diverse political views on a near-binary set of options.

The rise of the internet means that people can now air their diverse political views, whether it be weird and wonderful theories or simply the degree of personal support or opposition for a candidate.

And it’s not just a process of “airing” what is already there. Exposure to diverse opinions engenders greater diversification. We change, reflect upon, amend and consolidate our opinions as we realise how and why other people agree or disagree.

https://www.mercatornet.com/features/view/often-in-error-never-in-doubt-how-the-internet-is-driving-the-fractionalisa/21802

Is it time to consider the lily?

My latest piece at MercatorNet is part 2 of my parenting tips from a low-energy father. Therein I advise we draw on providence and find ways to be happy, for the benefit of ourselves and our children:

Parenting doesn’t end at getting things done. Parents aren’t machines. We model not only our behaviours and skills to our children, but our entire worldview and the moods and personality traits that accompany it.

We can, in a sense, “do everything right” but still inhabit a joyless existence, and our children are powerfully susceptible to the long-term influence of our attitude to life.

That’s why good communication is not enough, and why – for my own sake, and for the sake of my children – I set out learning how to change how I feel.

https://www.mercatornet.com/family_edge/view/is-it-time-to-consider-the-lily/21652

The service-provider state

My latest article on MercatorNet takes the providential view a step further by speculating on what good might come out of the dismantling of traditional moral structures and principles in society and the state.

Like an internet service-provider, we will increasingly expect the state to keep us connected and free from unwanted interference, the perfect venue for the exercise of autonomy.

And despite its association with various ethical issues, autonomy is not a bad thing. It’s a part of our humanity and deserves exercise and respect.

The rise of individual autonomy is not intrinsically evil, nor was the paternalism of the past.

But with providence in mind, the overall trend suggests a development or evolution of our social and political structure, and it’s no accident of history that the rise of individual autonomy came on the heels of the most horrific expressions of collectivism and statism.

https://www.mercatornet.com/above/view/same-sex-marriage-and-the-service-provider-state/20793

God writes straight with crooked lines

My latest article at MercatorNet brings a providential view to bear, for those disheartened or dismayed by the same-sex marriage postal vote result:

…it would have surprised me if this society, in which we’ve seen moral norm after moral norm explode in the face of individual autonomy, suddenly bucked the trend by voting “No” to same-sex marriage.

This is an individual perspective. I wouldn’t try to convince people not to campaign, if they feel that is what they should do. For me, campaigning would have felt insincere.

Because what inspires me is not the thought of victory in battle, winning the culture war, or defeating the enemy through cunning, effort, or good strategy.

What inspires me is finding the right path to tread, a path that will always lead in the right direction no matter what is going on in the world around me.

https://www.mercatornet.com/above/view/god-writes-straight-with-crooked-lines/20733

Serving two masters

Embed from Getty Images

Having a smaller, less stable income these days has left me newly appreciative of certain biblical passages:

No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

Money too is more than food and clothing, and as such I think it gives us a sense of security and sufficiency that inhibits our sensitivity to providence.  Why should we ‘trust in God’ when we have permanent employment and a guaranteed income?

This balance between material security and spiritual dependence is complex, as demonstrated by the contending interpretations of the beatitude of the ‘poor in spirit’, and the story of the rich young man who went away sad.

It’s not wealth per se that is the problem, but our devotion to it over and above higher things; allowing it to dominate our lives and our minds.  At times it can be hard to tell whether we are the masters of wealth or the slaves, driven by financial imperatives with nothing higher to intervene or change our minds.

I think this is the significance of my decision not to follow the financial imperative back into mediocre employment for the sake of a reliable income and the sense of security and sufficiency it affords.  The decision to cease compromising my integrity for the sake of money means acknowledging something higher than my income in a society where a high income is more often than not the summum bonum.