In Australia, the months of May and August are the months of the year I love the most.
What I love about them is the intense blueness of the sky and the green of the vegetation. Some of my happiest moments have been staring through the branches and the greenness of the trees to the bluest of blue skies.
Near where I live I can walk down a pathway, cut off from the driveway into the next building by tall trees and a fence covered in greenness. It is there I can imagine I am in the bush and at times I am carried away in awe at the stillness and the beauty. I think it reminds me also of my childhood roaming the bushlands of Western Sydney.
I also, more than once a day if possible, practice mindfulness meditation. I sit in the now listening to the noise all around, smelling any present odours and feeling any light pushing on my eyes. I am also listening to my organs, letting my brain run free and drawing close to me those I love.
I lose myself in the wonderful now.
What I have learned is that good living is good religion. However, you don’t achieve spiritual fulfillment by solely contemplating your navel. You need to share your experiences with other like-minded people in a back and forth way. I am learning we learn who we are in the reflection we see in the eyes of the other.
There are many influences that have led to these realisations. A huge one is the 12-Step movement. That is where people in addiction come regularly together and, through a 12-Step process share their path to sobriety with each other.
Very few know the great psychiatrist Carl Jung was a big influencer in the development of this program. He said any such program as to the one being envisaged had to have a spiritual base otherwise it would be ineffective.
I am not an addict, but it has been my attendance at meetings on my property where over and over again I am hit with the truth that the 12-Step program is a pretty good way to live.
At those meetings I can truly be myself and share the very depth of my soul. It is when you do that true healing occurs. I now find myself regularly saying to those who are struggling with real issues in real life to as well as seeking counselling, also join a helpful group of like-minded people. It is there where your issue loses its power over you as it becomes a story which can be then dealt with.
As I said, good living is good religion and I long ago realised I had to drop the ideological trappings of organized religion, much of which I found did not lead to good living.
If I had to talk about the real influences of religion on my life I would have to start with the stories of and told by Jesus. Within that framework comes the influences of the 12 -Step movement and Buddhism. Often, I find the bits I have picked up from “12 Steppers” and Buddhist practitioners colour-in the drawings in my mind, sketched or drawn by Jesus.
In Thailand I have a very close friend, llya. llya a is a very pious Buddhist. For many years he lived the life of a monk in a Buddhist monastery, which he left to subsequently to run Childline Thailand. llya has studied Buddhist philosophy deeply and rose to a senior position in the monastery. One of the great joys of my life is to walk the streets of Bangkok with llya. He talks Buddhist stuff and I talk Christian stuff and I’m staggered by what I learn.
One of the last two times I visited him in Bangkok, he took me to meet the current head of the monastery. It is situated deep in the rainforest in the heart of Thailand. I don’t think I ever met a stiller, more compassionate more knowledgeable human being! He invited me to his rainforest Temple and I will be heading there as soon as I can.
Jesus said, “To find yourself you have to lose yourself’ and “the kingdom of God is here now. Look and you shall see it.”
We find who we are when we lose ourselves in the now. We find ourselves when we come back with a start and think “where did I go”? That can lead us to do a no holds barred self-assessment where we look at ourselves, our strengths, our weaknesses, our self-delusions etc honestly and openly. That leads to change. “Repent”, a word often used by Jesus simply means face yourself and turn yourself around.
When you look at Jesus’ earthly life, it didn’t end well. It doesn’t end well for so many prophets and truth-tellers. But it doesn’t stop them.
Human life is not easy. Just living our lives day by day is hard. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t in life face and has to overcome enormous struggles. What I have learned is that for many of us we are born with a sense of entitlement and end up bitter when life doesn’t pan out the way we expect.
Real human suffering can either break us or break us open. I regularly come across people who have had dreadful wrongs done to them, they realise hatred is not the way forward. Hatred destroys us and in many ways it doesn’t have any effect on the hated.
That brings me to this Coronavirus pandemic. It has brought so much death, misery, anger and showed us in stark reality that it is the most vulnerable who have suffered the most because our society has overlooked them for such a long time. We are reaping the benefits of overlooking the needs of the most needy and it is really biting us painfully on the bum.
In simple terms the young are facing an uncertain future, the old are facing no future at all, the poor and the dispossessed have little or no protection and the rest of us are anxiously somewhere in between. We all really worry the petri dishes of the pandemic, which are mostly pockets of poor, elderly and dispossessed, are cooking the virus and so it could eventually catch us.
As I said, it is enough to break you or break you open. I am constantly amazed at those Jewish victims of the holocaust who, although had every right to feel hatred and unforgiveness towards their oppressors, found a sense of peace in forgiveness and lovingness. One of my most cherished possessions is a prayer from an African Bishop who prayed for the murderers and rapists of his daughters.
Now, I am not saying people should not seek justice on those who have deliberately or incompetently allowed this pandemic to wrought such individual, societal and economic destruction. There are other ways to do this. Justice itself cries out for this to be done.
When I dissolve into the now, I can feel the lovingness from whence this forgiveness comes. It is as much part of our DNA as the blue of the sky and the green of the foliage. It tells me all this is not in vain. Like the sun’s rays the warmth of ultimate healing is the promise in all life.
I am writing this to bring hope where there is so much sadness, lostness, fear, grief and a general sense of malaise. There is, at this time, a real feeling of anxiety produced ennui.
Maybe I will survive this pandemic and maybe I won’t. I do know however that the gifts this life offers will go on, they are there now, staring us right in the face.