“We are One”

“We may see each other as being individual in physical appearance and as being different in human personality, but we do not see others as being different in spiritual awareness. We are One.”

The Mystic Path to Cosmic Power by Vernon Howard (New Life Foundation, 2015, originally published in 1967). This choice deviates from my usual book selection in that the author is neither a mystic nor writing about a known mystic. Rereading this classic, though, was connecting to an old friend. Many years ago, I taped “Ways to Gain New Strength” (see below) to my computer stand. When I replaced the book that had disappeared in one of my many moves, I was amazed to see the list was only one small part of the total message. The volume itself is a treasure of ideas I have read before but needed to hear again. Perhaps the same is true for you.

I recommend this as a beginning primer into the metaphysical world, and I also recommend it as a refresher read. Before I ever thought of my mystic journey, Vernon Howard was presenting many of the necessary components. He explains his ideas simply and clearly. I quote his words for most of this review.

Don’t be overwhelmed with the information. Simply choose the ideas or statements in this article that resonate most strongly with you. Spend time with those that seem most significant. Often the ones we are most resistant to are the ideas we most need to address. “Observe your resistance.”

Ways to Gain New Strength

  1. See the attractiveness of the higher life.
  2. Don’t accept unhappiness as necessary.
  3. Increase your self-awareness.
  4. Abandon self-defeating attitudes.
  5. Insist upon strict self-honesty.
  6. Try to understand your desires.
  7. Make simple and persistent efforts.
  8. Refuse to sacrifice your integrity to anyone.
  9. No longer take excitement as happiness.
  10. Stop wasting energy in negative emotions.
  11. Make self-change your aim in life.
  12. Want the Truth more than anything else.

On your mystic/spiritual path, “you may have to work alone a good part of the time. You may have no one with whom you can discuss things. Never mind. Even that is part of your adventure. Just keep working as best as you can.”

“The greatest love you could ever offer to another is to so transform your inner life that others are attracted to your genuine example of goodness.”

“We cannot recognize a virtue in another person that we do not possess in ourselves. It takes a truly loving and patient person to recognize those virtues in another.”

“All worry — and there are no exceptions — all worry springs from false notions about ourselves…Fear is totally unnecessary.”

“We are exactly where we have chosen to be. But we belong where our original nature longs to be.” On some level, we know exactly where that is.

“Your happiness does not depend on what they think of you…Your happiness depends on what you think of yourself.”

“You must stop living so timidly, from fixed fears of what others will think of you and of what you will think of yourself.”

“You have nothing to do. You have everything to be…Choose to be a new person.”

“Demanding things from the exterior world is an endlessly agonizing process…Turn all demands inward. Demand your own power.”

“Be good-humored  toward everything that happens to you.”

“One minute of experiencing the free flow of life for yourself is worth a thousand hours with books and lectures.”

“Think for yourself always.”

“You have the power to remain perfectly calm in every difficult and unexpected event in life…Start with this: When faced with a difficulty, do not ask, ‘What should I do?’ but rather, ‘What must I understand?’”

“Why are we afraid of others? Because we want something from them. The desire can be almost anything – – companionship, approval, sex, security. The mistake is this: Not having found the true self which is free from compulsive desires, we seek gratification from people. This creates fear that we won’t get what we want, or anxiety that the other person will make us pay dearly for it.”

“The Mystic Path has no moral judgments. We don’t consider a five-year old child inferior to a child of ten. We simply realize that everyone is on a different level of insight and awareness.”

Perhaps after reading Howard’s words, you might want to make your own list from his ideas. Then use that list as a frequent reminder in your quest for personal, inner growth.

“Can you be without noise and stimulation and not be afraid? Can you be inwardly still, without demanding a distraction from the strange stillness? If so, the fearsome silence turns magically into the peaceful harbor you have been seeking all of your life.”

“His Interspiritual Thought”

The significant theme in Bede Griffiths: An Introduction to His Interspiritual Thought by Wayne Teasdale is his interspirituality. In addition, this book, surprisingly, pulls together all of the major thoughts in my previous blog posts:

  • Teasdale in “Each of Us is Called to be a Mystic” and Ram Dass in “With Joy and Suffering” and “Love was his Real Teaching”  each promote the East as a counterpoint to our Western beliefs.
  • Julian of Norwich in “Mirth and Mourning” was critical of the Church and advocates for the feminine, Aivanhov in “Ablaze with Fire” believes the feminine is the way to improve the world, and Starr In “Our Vulnerability is Our Strength” explains femininity as a key to a better future. 
  • Harvey and Baker in “The Severity of Our Predicament” argue the importance of spirituality in our changing world and overcoming the belief that we are separate from one another or the universe. 
  • Bede Griffiths supports each of these ideas.

“Interspirituality is the activity and the process of exploring other traditions in more than an academic sense. It presupposes an intense personal interest in these other forms of faith and spirituality.” Teasdale

Bede Griffiths, born in 1907, was an English Benedictine monk and mystic who devoted his life to finding similarities between Christianity and Hinduism, while studying other religions and spiritual traditions. Wayne Teasdale is the perfect person to write about Father Bede’s interspirituality since Teasdale himself believed in and discussed the same idea in his The Mystic Heart: Discovering A Universal Spirituality in The World’s Religions.

My focus on Father Bede and his work is not about the details of his extensive struggle to intermix Christianity and Hinduism. While I admire his complex, comprehensive and worthy life’s dedication to that pursuit, my interest is the main points of agreement and disagreement he discovered in the two religions.

“He always emphasized solidarity with everyone and the whole planet.” Teasdale

Father Bede wants a union of intuitive wisdom and scientific reason. Christianity does not, he believes, allow us to see a bigger picture or a mystical truth. I agree. He explains that Rationalism separates the mind and the world. Instead, he sees the world as organic, with all parts interrelated, an idea from quantum mechanics. I wrote about this in my book The Trust Factor: The Art of Doing Business in the 21st Century, commenting that “the behavior of the whole, not individual parts, is significant.”

Father Bede studied this new science, this quantum mechanics. Seeing the world as organic, with parts interrelated, he saw the Eastern view of mystical union as a necessary component to religion, one missing from the Judeo-Christian tradition. As he explained, “The sciences which for centuries have been opposed to religion and spirituality are discovering links with it.” While this link has yet to be defined, the ever-changing field of science may be getting closer.

Another crucial difference between Hinduism and Christianity, this one favoring rather than critiquing Christianity, is that the masses of the poor and suffering in India believe this life is their karma and they will be reborn to a better life next time. If they can help one another, that is good, but there is no duty to do so. Father Bede feels that “when they reject the orphan and the widow and the poor they reject God.” Jesus taught that it is our responsibility to help one another, a moral demand. Unlike Hindus, Christians have an obligation to help, explains Teasdale. 

“In the Christian tradition there has been very little recognition of the feminine aspect of God.” Griffiths

Father Bede sees the need for the “recognition of the feminine aspect of God” in Christianity, another example of a major difference in the two religions. He makes an interesting comparison of the Hindu use of gods and goddesses, explaining that Hinduism is not really polytheistic as the prevalence of the deities seems to indicate. Rather all are simply part of one God, Brahman, the One Reality. Hinduism also refers to Divas (masculine) and Devis (feminine), allowing for both the feminine and masculine. 

While no gods and goddesses, Christianity does have many angels, such as the seven archangels, cherubim, seraphim, other ranks of angels and the individual guardian angels, all mentioned in the Bible. Just as many of the Hindu deities have specific roles, our archangels have assigned tasks such as Angel Raphael in charge of healing. 

Father Bede believes that Hinduism embodies the feminine. “Bede is convinced of the necessity of including the notion of the Motherhood of God in Christian theology, of restoring the feminine aspect to its place in our understanding of the divine nature.” Perhaps the Holy Spirit could be the feminine person of the Trinity, he argues.

When I started this mystic blog and journey, I did not expect to have my research evolve into finding the feminine within the spiritual. As mentioned above, Julian of Norwich, Aivanhov, Ram Dass, Starr, and now Father Bede all reflect that inclusion. Father Bede even comments on the value of the body, not a stance one expects from a monk. “We have had a negative, or unbalanced view of the body and of sexuality,” he claims, reminiscent of Julian of Norwich’s view and her belief in the importance of honoring the body. This is the time for an awakening of Christianity to a recognition of all aspects of the feminine.

“He has made a beginning.” Teasdale

Father Bede believes Christianity focuses too much on our separation from one another and on our separation from the divine, while ignoring a mystical union and the feminine. Hinduism does not include the necessity of helping others. These are significant differences, yet Father Bede does not find them impossible to overcome. He spent his lifetime searching the theology of the two in order to show their compatibility and, convincingly, finds the similarities more important. 

We need optimism in these times. Too much division is evident in our lives and in the world. What if we open our hearts to an understanding and acceptance of all religions, spiritual paths and indigenous traditions, as suggested by Father Bede? While expanding our hearts and minds, we can also include room for the feminine in Christianity, a seemingly ridiculous oversight today. Interspirituality should include all spiritual beliefs and all people.

“Bede Griffiths contributed substantially to the advancement of the ideal of universal unity and solidarity…Most important, it is a prophetic indication of the future.” Teasdale

“Our Vulnerability is our Strength”

Wild Mercy: Living the Fierce and Tender Wisdom of the Woman Mystics by Mirabai Starr (Sounds True, 2019). Throughout this wonderful telling of Starr’s own life and that of many women mystics, she claims “The tender attributes of the feminine do not render her weak and ineffectual. They glorify her.” And, as in the title of this article, “Our vulnerability is our strength” along with “Our capacity to forgive is our superpower.” Starr’s words are powerful and often need little explanation. She speaks for all of us.

“Women do not always feel comfy inside traditional religious institutions…We would rather be undefined than ordained in traditions that don’t fit our curves.” Starr

Starr grew up amongst many spiritual traditions and religions. Her extensive knowledge is evident in her discussions of women mystics from Hinduism, Buddhism. Taoism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam and indigenous wisdom ways.

“Perhaps you, like I, have associated spirituality with rising above the human condition, rather than consciously embodying it.” Starr

But “spiritual awakening does not leave us immune to the human condition. Quite the opposite. It brings us into the heart of reality, where we mourn, rage, bow and give thanks, ache and surrender.” You might want to read that last sentence again. Starr opens us to being human with all aspects of what that means, not just a sanitized version. As women, we need to honor our full range of emotions. 

“A more feminine flavor of leadership…feminine wisdom feeds the human spirit.” Starr

“…we are beings out of balance when we deny the value of the emotions, the dark, the hidden.” This is one of Starr’s most significant statements. “Beings out of balance” probably defines so many of us because we have not been encouraged or allowed to “value the emotions, the dark, the hidden.” In our feelings, we find who we are, not thoughts to be feared but ones to be honored and accepted. The way of the feminine is to be guided by the heart, not the mind. Her claim that “the way of the feminine is neither repressing or indulging” releases us from any confining beliefs.

“And that’s the path of the feminine: the path of connection.” Starr

“Connection is liberation. Cultivate it.” She cautions against waiting for anyone to save us. Instead, look to other women for guidance.  “Our way, the way of the feminine, is to find what everyone is good at and praise them for it and get them to teach it to one another.”

“…the balance of the masculine and feminine has been so terribly out of whack in human history.” Starr

She mentions Ram Dass (see my two previous posts on Ram Dass “Love was His Real Teaching” and “With Joy and Suffering”), her lifelong friend and mentor, as “a feminine mystic in the body of a man.” It is not just women who embody the feminine, some men do also.  

“Contemplative life is not for the timid. It’s scary to be quiet, and it takes courage to be still.” Starr

“For the feminine, however, the line between contemplative life and social and environmental action is blurry to the point of insignificance. She turns inward, where she recognizes herself in all beings, which moves her to turn outward and act on behalf of the whole.” Starr

Starr believes that we have an environmental crisis and  “must break the habit of overconsumption and engage in voluntary simplicity,” echoing the thoughts of most mystics. She shares the mystical Jewish wisdom, which teaches that everyone has a particular task to heal the world. This task is most likely something a person is already good at and is definitely something the person loves to do. Sit quietly, think of our strengths and imagine how to harness them, she suggests, and in doing that “Be wildly creative.”

“Child-rearing is arguably the most difficult path possible, a hero’s journey that leads us on harrowing adventures but for which we receive no credit.” Starr

This statement needs no comment, except to remind women of their endurance and importance in providing for the next generation in hopes of a better world. “Family is the most powerful spiritual teacher I have known.” Similar to the statement on raising children, I think most women intuitively understand this, especially as we age and find challenges and empathy with family and/or close friends.

“It wouldn’t hurt if we didn’t love and that love is worth the pain.” Starr

An important part of her book is the section on grief, an overriding emotion for Starr who lost her 14 year old daughter suddenly in a car accident. With no chance to say good-bye, even years later and after writing a book describing her grief, Caravan of No Despair: A Memoir of Loss and Transformation, her pain remains strong. In her darkness, she reminds us of our role in helping others. Women often carry the burden of comforting their sisters, both biological and close friends, in a time of crisis. If you have lost a loved one, are close to someone who did, or want to be reminded of the solace of other women, I encourage you to read this book. 

“Acceptance does not mean not caring…of course we care. We must care. Acceptance means being with things as they are, not turning away and not trying to shape them to our will.” Starr

After her own tragedy, Starr became a death counselor. “Once we have made our way to the bedside of one dying beloved, however, it gets easier to gain access to the next.”

“…but the most important part is to sit quietly and bear witness. Bear loving witness.” Starr

She helps us understand loving, living and dying. “I did not turn away from their suffering. I bore witness. This is our task as women on the path of transformational love. We guard one another’s hearts with our lives.”

“I believe in the healing energy of the feminine as a fire that can melt the frozen heart of the world.” Starr

“With Joy and Suffering”

“Living in the fullness of the moment with joy and suffering, witnessing it all in its perfection, our hearts still go out to those who are suffering.” Ram Dass

Ram Dass in Polishing the Mirror: How to Live From Your Spiritual Self (Sounds True, 2014) wants us to live “with joy and suffering,” reminiscent of the “Mirth and Mourning” of Julian (see blog post of Jan 23, 2012). Both spiritual teachers understand the necessity of these dueling emotions. This is my second article on this book since I am in awe of Ram Dass and his work. There is so much more we can learn from him. I also want to mention On Being Ram Dass by Ram Dass with Rameshwar Dar (Sounds True, 2021), published after his death. This book relates his fascinating life events told with his usual humor. The end of that book describes his death after decades of being in a wheelchair, dependent on others. Ram Dass understood suffering.

We can learn about emotional as well as physical distress from Ram Dass. He was a gay man born in 1931 to a prominent Boston family. For too many years, he felt compelled to hide his sexuality. He also had to deal with his family’s lack of support and approval for his chosen lifestyle when he returned from India dressed in a white robe with a long beard, and renouncing materialism. Not the accepted look or outlook for the Boston society of his day. Then after a stroke, he spent the last decades of his life in a wheelchair. Yet he never lost his faith, never complained, nor ever feared death. And he taught until the end. He lived life with joy, despite the hardships he endured. His message is “with joy and suffering.” He remains an inspiration.

“I can’t help being filled with awe at the magnificence of how it all works. I also realize suffering is a part of the way it all works.” Ram Dass

He helps us understand the bigger picture of life, using an example of cropping a picture too narrowly, allowing one to see only part of it, perhaps the clouds. “If cropped at a wider angle, you see the blue sky all around it.” That more expansive view shows the joy and magnificence of life. Suffering plays an important role but does not define our lives. There are many types of affliction from physical pain to levels of mental anguish or severe depression to financial hardship. Those hurts affect us, our loved ones, our community and the world. Ram Dass wants us to recognize that “suffering is a part of the way it works.”

“Something happens when you stop trying so hard to avoid suffering.” Ram Dass

“Suffering is sometimes the sandpaper that awakens people.” Ram Dass

Ram Dass’ stroke was part of his spiritual awakening. A friend of mine refers to cancer as her awakening. Mine was an arrest and conviction, something I wrote about in The Trust Factor (Sunstone Press,1997). Many of you have your own incident that defines your transition. Any spiritual understanding includes suffering. Do not just try to fix it. That is not our job. As Ram Dass points out, thinking we can “fix it” is arrogance. Be open. See how any hardship benefits the soul. He claims, “The more conscious you become, the more you recognize that suffering is how the teaching you need in the moment is coming down.”

“The saving grace is being able to witness the suffering from the perspective of the soul.” Ram Dass

There are three vantage points, or planes of consciousness, he explains. First is ego, the plane of personality. The second is the individual soul. The third is the mystic part of us, that small voice within, or the One. Near the end of his life, Ram Dass could not get himself out of bed or his wheelchair and had to accept help from many caretakers. He hurt but reminds us “I am not my body.” He acknowledges that the pain and lack of mobility did not help his ego, but did “benefit my soul.” How we experience suffering depends on our attachment to ego. Moving beyond personality to soul allows us to observe a higher meaning to our lives.

“Can you respond to suffering without closing down and still keep your heart open?” Ram Dass

“…clear the mist of desire from your mirror” or “polish the mirror,” as Ram Dass suggests in the title of his book. Then we can start to reflect on things as they are, not on how we wish they were. Pain exists. Do all that you can to relieve any hurt for yourself or others while working to keep your heart open. “Love and compassion are emotions that arise from the soul. When you identify with your soul, you live in a loving universe.” That is Ram Dass’ universe, the one he wants us to embrace.

He encourages us to accept life as it is, despite any pain, and open our hearts to compassion. That is living “with joy and suffering.”

“When you bear what you think you cannot bear, who you think you are dies. You become compassion.” Ram Dass