Category Archives: beliefs

Destroying the box and shredding the envelope

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Here is a box:

It has its uses. As you see, you can store books in them. They’re not places where one should go to think.

Here is an envelope:

Someday soon, nobody will know anything about envelopes because they contain snail mail and someday soon, nobody will know what that is. If there’s an envelope on your desk, you’ll soon discover that its easy to push.

When I read the news, I see that a lot of people have found a handy box and have gone inside it to do their thinking. They’ve done that for so long, they don’t feel claustrophobic. They’re good candidates for solitary confinement because they would never notice their plight. It never occurs to them to think outside the box.

Likewise, a lot of people are afraid to push the envelope. The phrase refers to traditional boundaries and presumed limitations rather than a physical envelope, though I have a feeling most people think of the paper container that comes in the mail.

I’m among those writers who don’t understand the attractiveness of thinking inside the box or of being afraid to push the envelope. I prefer destroying the box and shredding the envelope. Years ago, when I was writing management and supervisory training materials for corporations, my view–which, fortunately, was in tune with the prescribed best practices of the time–was that saying “we’ve always done it this way” was the weakest reason for doing anything.

People seem to find comfort in “we’ve always done it this way,” staying inside the box, and leaving the boundaries defined by the envelope alone. What a waste. Why put arbitrary limits on oneself? I don’t get it. For one thing, it’s boring. For another, it stifles innovation in business, government, the arts, and one’s personal life. It goes almost without saying that the writers we remember didn’t write their best novels and most groundbreaking nonfiction while sitting in a box.

I remember sitting in a high school humanities class when the teacher said to the class, “How many of you hate death?” Rather than boldly raising our hands, we all looked around to see who else was raising their hands. Nobody wanted to be the first to take a stand. Of course, in school, conformity is the ideal way of staying out or trouble. Apparently, it still is.

We still look around, don’t we, when new ideas arise to see who’s embracing them. It’s as though we can’t make a move without seeing what our peer group is doing? (I think Congress works like this.) So many people are afraid to be different!

Here’s a confined space:

The horizons in this space are very narrow. Yet, there seems to be a comfort in that. It’s the same every day. No worries. No censure from others who are afraid to step outside the space and think on their own. Thank goodness history’s innovators were unhappy with confined spaces.

I often ask people, when it comes to thinking outside the box or pushing the envelope, “what have you got to lose?” Inevitably, they have more reasons for not doing it than for doing it. I want to say, “why are you making yourself smaller than you are?” But I don’t. It’s not polite. If they ask me if I agree, I say that I don’t. This makes them nervous as though thinking outside the box or pushing the envelope will bring down the wrath of fate upon them.

Okay, that could happen. It probably won’t. Meanwhile, we’re more creative and innovative than we’re giving ourselves credit for. I see nothing to be gained by hiding our light underneath a bushel.

Malcolm

 

 

 

 

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Freedom of Religion Means We Listen But We Don’t Preach

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I grew up in a faith where one of our duties was to witness and spread the Word. I was never comfortable with that admonition because it seemed presumptuous to tell somebody else, “I know you already have a religion, but I want you to think about giving that up and switching over to my religion.”

My feeling is, if I ask you about your religion, feel free to tell me about it. Otherwise, don’t show up on my doorstep with a prepared sermon. Another feeling I have is that freedom of religion means that while we can learn from each other’s beliefs, none of those beliefs should be enacted into law. If they are, then one person is forcing his or her religion down the throats of those with other beliefs.

My mood is a bit sour today because in the novel I’m reading, the characters believe that mysticism is the work of the so-called devil. I guess the Christian mystics would take exception to that misguided idea. So do I. I take exception to it because I believe that while there is much I can learn from a preacher, there is also much I can learn by my own interactions with the Creator.

The polarized battle between red-state advocates and blue-state advocates has brought a lot of scripture quoting into the national debate. The people quoting scripture seem to think that freedom of religion is viable only as long as their beliefs are in control of the country.  Yet, when the same people look at other countries that don’t have separation between church and state, they complain about how outmoded it is to govern due to one interpretation of a holy book vs. another.

Eulalie, the main character in my Florida Folk Magic series, mixes fundamentalist Christian beliefs with hoodoo. This is fairly traditional. While I am sympathetic to the mix of magic and religion, Eulalie’s beliefs are not my beliefs. However, as an author, my duty is to portray her belief system as it is and not belittle it with authorial comments that stem from my beliefs. I think the author of the fundamentalist-oriented novel I’m reading now has intruded himself into the story by having his characters say that mystics are aligned with demons.

When I sat in high school and college history classes and learned about the numerous religious wars, I naively thought, thank goodness this can’t happen now. Apparently, I was wrong. There’s a lot of dueling scripture flying around as a justification for a lot of clashing beliefs and contrasting cultural approaches to the world. In fact, the world seems to be divided along religious lines with all sides believing their faith is everything and that the faith of others is nothing. Frankly, I don’t know how to combat that kind of arrogance other than to listen and try to understand.

–Malcolm

Waiting for….what?

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“You are on the verge of the new age, a whole new world.
Human consciousness, our mutual awareness, is going to
make a quantum leap.
Everything will change. You will never be the same.
All this will happen just as soon as you’re ready.”

– Paul Williams, “Das Energi

Clipart.com photo

People say they will follow their dreams when the trivial is cleared from their calendars. . .when they get out of school. . .when the children leave the nest. . .when Godot arrives. . .when the weather changes. . .when the Christmas rush is over. . .when the dog gets back from the vet. . .when the garden is put in. . .when all the junk is cleaned out of the attic. . .when time stops going by. . .when somebody they trust gives them permission. . .when they get things back together after the last funeral. . .when wishes become horses. . .when they find the magic book with all the answers. . .when they no longer need a fix or a drink. . .when somebody leaves the invisible gate open. . .when the hearse is on the way.

Seems a waste, doesn’t it, never getting started?

“A bit of advice
Given to a young Native American
At the time of his initiation:
As you go the way of life,
You will see a great chasm. Jump.
It is not as wide as you think.”

– Joseph Campbell

–Malcolm

And, for some shameless promotion, the Kindle edition of my new novel “Lena” is on sale for 99₵ this weekend.

 

 

Magic: Thoughts about healing

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Healing is difficult to discuss because many people associate it only with the forms prayer takes within their chosen religion. Also, it’s often associated with quackery, whether it’s the traveling preacher who plants supposed sick people in his audiences who come forward for a healing and then appear to get well on the spot, to the claims and counter claims made by people about various over-the-counter vitamin and mineral supplements. Also, it is very easy to run afoul of various laws about practicing medicine without a license to prohibitions about advertising oneself as a psychic or healer.

I don’t really see healing as magic, but I place it here because–other than prayer–most people tend to see generic healing methods as paranormal in some way.

I do believe in the power of prayer within the context of an organized religion, other than to note that (in my view) the Christian Science Church has the most comprehensive approach to healing and the way the world is constructed than most other Protestant denominations.

Having said that, I also want to mention that the Silva Method and the Rosicrucian Order, both of which I’ve mentioned before, teach methods of absent healing (healing at a distance). The Silva Method provides a much faster introduction to healing and other intuitive technqiues than the Rosicrucian order due to their short seminars and courses.

Reiki

Reiki, as it tends to be taught in the United States, provides both laying on of hands and absent healing methods. Personally, I have found its methods to be very effective and to mesh well with my spiritual views. As the website says, The word Reiki is made of two Japanese words – Rei which means “God’s Wisdom or the Higher Power” and Ki which is “life force energy”. So Reiki is actually “spiritually guided life force energy.”

While its origins are different, Reiki is very compatible–in my view–with Silva and Rosicrucian Order techniques. Among other things, all of these methods teach that the energy does not come from the person acting as a so-called healer, but from Creator. These methods also stress that the healer does not instruct the energy on what or how to do to accomplish its purposes. Reiki, which is taught by certified instructors, can also be researched in books. Instructors are better, I think; also finding the best books–outside of any recommended by an instructor is problematic since some of the more popular ones are criticized for either being inaccurate or otherwise outside of standard Reiki teachings.

Fools Crow

Years ago, Fools Crow, the Teton Sioux healer and medicine man who died in 1989, said that in order to heal another person, me thought of himself as a hollow bone through which the energy flowed.The better he was as a person, the cleaner that bone was. (I am speaking of the Fools Crow in Thomas E. Mails’ book based on interviews and not the novel about a Blackfeet medicine man written about by James Welch.)

Fools Crow’s hollow bone is another way of looking at the fact that the healing systems I’m most familiar with teach that the “healer” is a channel through which the Creator’s healing energy flows. Part of being a good channel is having a positive attitude, generally acknowledging your connection to “all that is” (God/Creator/Cosmic) and living in accordance with the highest precepts such a connection entails.

If you want to help people as a “healer” in addition to or instead of traditional prayer, you might have positive results with the be generic method below if you don’t have the resources to become involved with Reiki, Silva, or the Rosicrucians. Also, if you are not part of the culture in which conjure/hoodoo or shamanistic practices are used, I think going onto conjure/root doctor or shaman websites for healing methods is a mistake. If you grew up in these cultures, then I suggest finding a practitioner to train you rather than trying to learn a rather complex system out of a book.

Generic Technique

In a strictly generic sense, one can attempt absent healing by doing the following:

  1. Whether you use counting down with numbers (self-hypnosis related) biofeedback, a recorded guided medication, or meditate through another method, the process begins by calming the mind and entering a condition where your intuition is enhanced and not focused on concerns and projects of the day. To use Silva’s terminology, you are slowing your brainwaves from beta to alpha.
  2. Various people use the term “mind’s eye” in a variety of ways. When I use it, I consider it to be like a movie or TV screen that I imagine I’m looking at when my eyes are closed. So, when I say visualize something in your mind’s eye, I mean that you are imagining seeing something with, say, the same clarity you might visualize a memory. In this case, you’re imaging seeing the person who is ill. If you know them or have seen a picture of them, then you already can recall their likeness in the same way you’d do that if you were simply thinking about them. If you don’t know what they look like, then you will probably have a name and maybe the town where they live. Pretend that you are seeing this person.
  3. I should mention that if you do this a lot, you will discover over time that the person in your mind’s eye has become more of a psychic impression than your imagination. You’ll know this is happening when you accurately see image of people you don’t know.
  4. “Healers” have various methods for acknowledging at this point that the energy comes from outside themselves. Many of us “say” something like “I am offering myself as a connection and a channel of attunement for the healing energy now flowing to [person’s name].”
  5. If you know the person’s ailment, your mind’s eye impression of them may show them as somewhat translucent with the ailment highlighted in red.
  6. Outside the specific methods taught by Reiki, Silva, and the Rosicrucians, some “healers” simply visualize white or blue-white or even golden light flowing into the image in their mind’s eye and, in the process, seeing the red disappear. It’s best to avoid saying/think something like, “This energy is fixing Bob’s heart” because when you do that, you’re telling the energy (which is smarter than you) what it ought to do.
  7. Healers tend to remain passive at this point while maintaining their visualization of the person and/or while imaging the energy flowing unimpeded through themselves. Really, they need to get out of the way rather than thinking about the person, the ailment, or the process of serving as a channel. As I see it, once you’ve started the process, there’s no particular length of time you need to spend. Five or ten minutes, perhaps.
  8. Then you close out your “session,” thank the Creator for using you as a channel for healing [name of person] and then conclude your meditation in a way that works for you. Many will count numbers upward as a “code” (so to speak) for coming “up” from deep levels of mind to the level of mind used for everyday things.
  9. It’s important to consider–as many disciplines teach–that a physical ailment might be caused by many things. That is, it may result from an imbalance within the person’s life and thoughts. So, one never wants to focus on removing pain because the pain is a signal that something is wrong. And, it’s quite possible that the physical ailment can be healed only to return later because the imbalance that caused it was never addressed.
  10. Basically, if somebody online or in person asks me to pray for somebody who is sick, this is what I’m going to do. Directing energy to those in need doesn’t conflict with what their doctors are doing: if the person or the doctors notice anything, it might be that the person got well sooner than expected.

Malcolm

 

 

 

Conjuring up that Christmas Spirit

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At some point in my life, giving gifts became a lot more fun than receiving gifts–not that I plan to turn down gifts. I don’t know when it happened. Perhaps, I became less greedy as I got older after left my parents’ household and started my own. Perhaps, my focus was on utilitarian needs that seemed too lame to serve as Christmas gift ideas for those who asked for them. I’m at a loss to explain when it happened.

Thomas Nast, 1881 – Wikimedia Commons Photo

As for why, that’s easy. Whether one see’s Christmas as “Yule” or Chrismas as a Christian holiday, Spirit takes precedence over getting stuff. We invite Spirit into our homes with wreathes and garlands and trees and lights–and for those of us who recall earlier times–with holly and Yule logs and candles and those twelve days between December 25th and Twelfth Night. Spirit encourages us to see the smiles on loved one’s faces when they open their gifts. And yes, Spirit reminds us to be gracious when we open our own gifts, items others have carefully chosen.

Spirit reminds us how to love each other within the ancient continuity of the changing seasons and their holy days. When we listen to Spirit, we see Christmas and/or Yule as more than a race to the Christmas tree on Christmas morning. It’s a series of days, a time of beauty and lights and song, a time of doing for others, a time that shows us how wonderful the world would be if the Spirit of that time stayed overtly with us throughout the year.

I’m not sure Spirit is with us on Black Friday because on that day, excessive consumerism seems to grab us by our throats and propel us toward big dollars and large numbers of presents (often from children’s lengthy Christmas lists) rather than finding that one special gift that will never be forgotten. Okay, if we get it at half price, I guess that’s okay, but not if we have to wrestle a horde of shoppers in multiple store aisles to filch it from the unwashed rabble.

Spirit probably doesn’t mind how we focus our celebrations–Hanukkah, St. Lucia Day, Christmas, Kwanza, Yule, Epiphany/Twelfth Night–as long as we conjure that Spirit into our lives and share it with others.  Trappings and gifts without Spirit are empty. If you have a favorite movie that helps you step away from the cares of the world into the wonders of this time, Spirit approves whether you prefer White Christmas or A Christmas Carol or Holiday Inn or The Polar Express or It’s a Wonderful Life. No doubt, Spirit loves more songs than we can count.

My intuition tells me Spirit loves eggnog because, as an 1890 article in the Times said, “And what is eggnog? Worcester says, “A drink made up of spirit, milk, sugar, and eggs beaten up together.” I like eggnog almost as much as mulled wine and mince pies and an endless pot of hot chocolate. Since these things are among those that remind me of Spirit, Spirit smiles upon them.

Spirit is not a shelf of booze, though being a little tipsy from time to time might help us notice Spirit because losing ourselves is the only way to find Spirit. The morning hangover reminds us there are better ways to conjure Spirit than getting drunk.  Most of us know that, of course. However you celebrate this time of year year, I hope you find the true spirit of your beliefs and share your smiles with those you love.

–Malcolm

 

 

 

Taking the trouble to think well

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The publisher’s description of Alan Jacobs’ How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds includes the comment that “Most of us don’t want to think. Thinking is trouble. Thinking can force us out of familiar, comforting habits, and it can complicate our relationships with like-minded friends. Finally, thinking is slow, and that’s a problem when our habits of consuming information (mostly online) leave us lost in the spin cycle of social media, partisan bickering, and confirmation bias.”

Those who constantly complain about the political and other confrontations in the social media that often contain nothing more than spouting the ideas of one group of another rather than investigating issues and speaking for oneself will probably agree with the assertion that “Most of us don’t want to think.”

We see the same lack of thinking on many news shows where, instead going out and digging up the facts from multiple sources, some TV anchors prefer to convene panels of so-called experts each of whom weighs in with an opinion based on his/her agenda, political party, favorite think tank, and employer.  These opinions keep the anchor from having to think. The same does for the viewers. Subscribing to a pre-packaged point of view if much easier than formulating one’s own view.

If they’re worth anything, the authors of fiction and nonfiction are forced to think. They have to research all the viewpoints and known facts for nonfiction and they often have to do the same thing for fiction. Fiction, while it’s a story, has to have a basis in truths. Those of us who write like to think; and we like to think that our words will find others who like to think or, at least, others who can be tempted into thinking by a compelling story.

In his article “Let us Think Together” in The Weekly Standard, Chad Wellman writes “In How to Think, Jacobs, a professor in the honors program at Baylor University, offers a straightforward but powerful argument. Knowledge, he suggests, is best understood not as right or justified belief but as a good created by people who think well because of the kind of people they have become.”

I agree. Thinking makes us better. In becoming better (a better person, not somebody who thinks s/he is better than others), we think with more passion, depth and discipline. Thinking, like writing, requires constant practice. Wellman adds that we tend to strongly consider the claims of people we admire because of who they have become. “To believe some claim is also to trust some person,” he writes.

Whether it’s a short story, essay, nonfiction book, or a conversation with a friend or colleague, that trust we feel insofar as the discussion/issue goes comes in part because their words–and who they are–convince us that such trust is justified, that whatever that person is saying and/or writing has been thought out with some diligence–as opposed to some off-the-cuff (and often combative) pronouncement on a Facebook thread about a current issue.

I’m currently reading another one of Jeff Shaara’s civil war novels. I believe the “truths” in these novels because, over time, I see that he has not only done a great deal or research and that he considers accuracy as his first duty, but that he has studied and thought about the facts and personalities so that he can put the battles into a believable context.

As writers, we want readers to see our books that way. This means that, for the most part, our audience is not made up of people who think they are making a difference by blindly accepting biased news reports and hastily made social media responses as gospel. Part of learning to think comes from realizing that we write our own gospel about the ways of the world by listening and reading from those whom we trust and by thinking for awhile about what we gain from that before deciding what it means to us and who we are becoming.

–Malcolm

 

Who Am I and Why Am I Here?

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“We’re not on our journey to save the world but to save ourselves. But in doing that you save the world. The influence of a vital person vitalizes.”

– Joseph Campbell

nightsky2It’s easy to point to great inventors, world leaders, writers, preachers, and leaders of social and environmental initiatives and say those people probably know who they are and why they’re living in the world.

We may be wrong about that because we don’t know their stories inside an out. These people inspire us, though, showing us–among other things–what a person can do through perseverance,  a willingness to fight against their challenges, and to have the strength of will and strength of purpose to reach their goals.

The rest of us can get discouraged when we read biographies or news stories about famous people who accomplished great things that have made the world a better place. How, we wonder, can we live up to that? I don’t think we’re supposed to live up to that. As Joseph Campbell would say, they were following their own paths. We have our own paths and, more often than not, those paths don’t involve being famous and ending up in the history books.

Some people say they are here to live ethical lives, to be loving and compassionate spouses and friends, to do an honest day’s work while interacting with customers and colleagues out of kindness and fairness, to bring up their children with sound values, and to take part in a churches and/or secular groups that address important causes in the community and the world. Such people vitalize the world in ways they may never know when you think of the thousands of interactions and influences they have with others during the course of a lifetime.

What we’re drawn to

Perhaps many of us discover who we are and subsequently why we’re here by looking at the causes, books, issues, subjects, belief systems and people we’re continually drawn to. Others get a strong hint when they enter college and suddenly find a subject fascinating or when they get a job and inadvertently take a company training course that leads their career in ways they never suspected on the first day of work. We find ourselves drawn to certain parts of the country or the world, possibly for what may initially seem to be the most flippant of reasons, only to find new lives there that suddenly define who we are and why we’re here.

While many people can inspire us teach us and show us (by example) what a lifetime might look like, only we can ultimately answer the question “Who am I?” Discovering that answer is often a frustrating and a lonely journey. Sometimes negative experiences get in the way of our goals and then–in time–we learn that who we are is a person who can live with adversity without losing their faith in themselves while finding new ways to define why they are here.

Do we plan our lives before we’re born?

Personally, I believe that before we are born, we know who we want to be and why we want to be here. If that’s the case, then we’ll be drawn to the kinds of people, places and things that facilitate our needs. I don’t believe in coincidences or luck or fate, so even if we don’t have a “life plan” before we are born, I think that we will develop one while we’re here as one thing leads to another. Yes, that often looks like a twisting and haphazard path until one reaches old age, looks back on it, and sees that behind all the seeming chaos of it, there was a central focus toward being who they became.

Being open to spontaneity

People used to say “go with the flow.” I don’t think that applies to mob action, acting like sheep or lemmings, or taking the easy way out. I think it means, as Joseph Campbell put it, following our bliss and doing what enlivens us and enriches us and transforms us. One has to be open to that flow to jump into it and see where it leads; we can’t consciously plan upcoming “coincidences,” “chance meetings,” or “lucky encounters with other people” in advance. We can expect them and be open toward spontaneously embracing those moments when they occur.

“Who Am I and Why Am I Here?” is usually an evolving discovery. Most of us don’t necessarily know that in high school or college or our first full-time job. Life will, I think, help us figure it out.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the hero’s journey novel “The Sun Singer” and the heroine’s journey novel “Sarabande.”