Light + Darkness (And a Different Kind of Salvation)

There was a moment, driving on the winding roads along the coast of Bodega Bay, that I nearly experienced a collision. It was dark, the only clarity of what was before me illuminated by the headlights of my car, while the darkness encompassed the majority of my periphery. All of a sudden, as I navigated the road’s contour, I slammed on my breaks fueled by panic and terror. No more than several feet ahead was a deer, standing in the middle of the road. Startled by the jarring halt of the mechanical beast, the creature leapt away into the darkness, a rapidly vanishing presence. 

The light, although minimal, in casting its radiance, became a salvation, literally protecting me from what could have been a near death. Had there been no light, who knows what tragedy could have resulted, but it was enough to make known what I would never had been able to if it was shrouded in darkness.

Darkness, was not this evil presence, but it was saturated by unknowing. What was around me was hidden and my mind could not articulate what was covered by the shadow of the night, veiled by unseeing.

But the light, working in the midst of the darkness, was the agent of consciousness, bringing understanding to that which was unknown to me because of the shadowy obstruction. 

However, this is not how light and darkness have been presented in our humanity and specifically in the religious community.

Light and darkness have been conveyed as though they are at odds with one another. This dualistic perspective sees light as good and darkness as bad or evil. Then, for certain reasons, we take human behaviors, actions, thoughts and feelings, give them a judgmental appraisal, and segregate them into these two categories. 

As a result, not only do we judge others based on these labels, we first judge our own selves, striving to avoid the “bad” and with a white-knuckled disposition, strenuously do whatever we can to stay in the “good” lane. But if we somehow deviate outside the lines, we immediately are pummeled by shame, to which we respond by promising ourselves, others and the Divine that we will amplify our good behaviors to counter the shame we feel.

But we have wandered far away from the actual meaning of these two words, light and darkness; and because of the misinterpretation, it has drastically altered and sucked the life-giving power of them.

Here’s another example. 

Imagine you are in your house and you begin to smell something that has an odor reminiscent of something deceased. As you follow the smell it leads you to the basement, but you do not have immediate access to the light, so you stumble around in the darkness, looking for some kind of light assistance so you can find and diagnose the source of that smell. Eventually, after a few minutes of fumbling for an illuminating aid, you find the light switch and turn it on. 

Its radiance saturates the room and you continue in search of that mysteriously repulsive fragrance. Not too long into your sleuthing, you discover the carcass of a rat emanating the smell that initially caught your attention. 

Once again, the darkness obstructed being able to find the source of nasal disturbance, and cloaked everything in the room, fusing it into a massively unknown presence. But once the light was accessed and activated, all objects became visible and distinct, and the root of the issue was found and addressed.

Light = Awareness / Darkness = Unawareness (And a Different Salvation)


Now, I want to translate this into our human existence.

Light and darkness refer to consciousness and unconsciousness, or in other words, what we see and are aware of inside ourselves and what we do not yet see. This means that our actions are fueled by this conscious awareness and/or an unconscious state of being.

It’s a fairly common human experience to feel lost and perplexed, following some reaction we had. This confusion speaks to a state of unawareness, a pre-seeing, one could say. Most of us are driven by the shadows present within ourselves, but enigmatically we are compelled and moved to live fully in the light, unguarded and uncovered. Some might call this a true human “nakedness”. 

But how do we move towards and live fully in the Light? I will tell you one thing, it’s not about converting to a particular religion or believing certain religious constructs. Actually, it's far more exciting and vibrant that this.

In Scripture, Jesus sits down with his disciples and gives this profound, “state-of-the-union” address quite foreign to anything humanity has heard. Jesus flips the belief system upside down. His message shifts from focusing on pleasing the Divine, to connecting towards the true self and living in human skin in a whole new way, contrary to how mankind has operated; entrenched in shame, constantly in fear of the Divine Other, and responding to one another in destructive, disconnected, and dehumanizing ways.

Interestingly, and I believe with intention, he begins his teaching with the Beatitudes, which is the progressive journey of discovering our true selves and living out of this foundation, and then subsequently moves on to talk about being salt and light of the earth.

Jesus draws the person toward their own selves, to face and accept the truths within, leading to transformation and a new way of being. 

Somehow that message fell into the throes of distortion

So he talks about being the light of the world, a city on a hill, a lamp not to be covered, but to shine radiantly to all (you can look it up in Matthew). Some take this to mean that we trumpet the name of Jesus, convince others to join a specific religious team, say a little sinner’s prayer, and receive their ticket into heaven.

But this is so far from what Jesus is talking about. Instead the light he is referring to is this significant radiance that beams from within; a radiance that is imbued with self-awareness, one who has gone into the shadows of their own inner world. 

When we talk about Jesus being this light, the richer understanding is that he is the consciousness, the illuminating awareness, that enabled humanity to begin to see inside themselves, to go into the “darkness” or the unconsciousness. 

Those That Live In The Light Have Journeyed into Their Own Darkness

Those who emanate light is referring to those who have traveled inside, faced themselves, experienced and listened to the truth that is communicated within the emotional realm, the subterraneous chambers within. They stopped pushing dimensions of themselves away or living behind defenses. Instead, with openness and acceptance they learned from the “voices” that stirred inside. 

They listened to the hate, the anger, their sexuality, their hunger, loneliness, emptiness, sadness, every desire, thought, feeling, behavior, need, judgment and so on. Instead of fixating on the problems of everybody else, they focused on what was happening within their own selves. 

Those that live in the light, live in the truth and the truth was accessed, not from an outside source, but inside, deep within their own hearts. With tenacity and commitment, they fought through the overpowering presence of shame that would cause someone to pull away and not go into the uncomfortable parts. Instead they lived in the uncomfortable, the tensions, and the unknown, surrendering their relentless efforts to demystify the mysteries of life.

We have judged darkness as evil, but darkness in and of itself is not evil. It is true that evil can come from darkness, for evil is birthed out of unknowing. Evil is the reverse of life, a destructive, toxic force that seeks to harm the self and all in its path. However, to address evil, one must irradiate the source from which it comes, a heart absorbed with unprocessed anger and pain. The one who acts with evil intent has not yet acknowledged, owned nor vulnerably felt the hurt that he or she carries inside.

It is those that go into their darkness that not only learn, but discover they have a message to share to others, one rich in compassion, care, boldness, strength, genuineness and vulnerability. 

To go into our “darkness” requires an openness to learning, growing, and sharing vulnerably everything that stirs inside ourselves. Those that have gone this path before us, become lights, beacons of consciousness, illuminating our dark spots, so that we may now understand and see. They walk with us, removing the impediments that block us from accessing our true self and expressing our message to all around.

Those who now operate within this state of consciousness, have experienced a beautiful care and compassion that they earnestly desire and reflexively share with all in the world. No longer do they live in exclusive and divisive realms, ostracizing those often hated and scapegoated by society. They operate by different rules, courageously sharing their truth, venturing into the “darkness” with others, helping them to face and no longer avoid seeing, in the hopes that they will move towards their true selves. 

This, I find incredibly exciting, that we all are invited to be salvations to one another, which begins on a self-journey of embracing the whole package, shedding the hatred and fear towards that which lives inside of us. It is on this journey that we discover how to live and connect and it's such a radiant message that we instinctually cannot push down, nor hide or keep from others; nor would we ever want to.

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The Demons Inside Us: Why the Real Enemy of Our Soul Might be the Voice Within

I am going to start off with some ideas that sound strange put together. I am sure you would never put children and the demonic in the same category unless you know of a certain child in your life that gives you quite the workout in parenting. 

One might wonder how these two even can be related, so hold tight, because I will explain. 

If you grew up in the church or had some religious background in your personal narrative, you might have encountered conversations about the Devil, Satan or the demonic. 

Depending on what your religious community, these names are not uncommon when it comes to issues we wrestle with in ourselves. 

But what if what we call the demonic or Satan is really something we created throughout humanity, as a way to understand what we have had difficulty understanding in our own selves? Could it be that these “forces” are really a projection of our own shame and judgment?

Let’s explore.


When We Don’t Know Our Own Selves

First, children.

When we are young we have no idea who we are. In our formative years we develop into these conscious, self-aware, social beings who move, function, care, process, calculate, reason, survive and thrive in the world.

But when we start out, all of this is lacking and for a time, nonexistent. Which generates the question, how do we become aware, conscious of ourselves, others and the world with whom we come into contact?

It all begins with the experiences we have with our parents. Under their care and guidance this is how we come to learn and interpret the world we encounter and how we understand our own selves.These interpretations develop directly and indirectly in their modeling of love, care, correction, responses to us, to their own selves and to one another. 

And often these experiences reside in our unconscious, that which is out of grasp of our conscious awareness, but nonetheless impacts the way see and react towards the various facets of life. 

Now, because we are first emotional/sensory beings, our initial reactions are first felt and then thought about. How we understand something lies in the emotional stirring that kicks up in us. In other words our emotions tell us a lot about what is happening in us and around us.

In various ways it has been communicated that our emotions cannot be trusted; however, they are the unadulterated truth. They are the purest, most honest part of us and it is imperative we listen to them, for they are the greatest teachers.

These feelings teach us about the problems in the world, the unexplored hurts inside of us, when something seems off or whether an experience was enjoyable or dissatisfying, and whether we are ready to make a change or not. 

This kind of understanding first starts within the realms of our early attachment relationships. Ideally our parents pick up on the emotion, which is often communicated through our behaviors and imbued with care and compassion they name what it is that is stirring inside of us.

So, first they see and then they acknowledge and help their child understand and know their own self, giving voice to the emotion and the need partnered with it. What first begins as an undefined void, now encounters definition. Such a loving act activates this ability in the child, aiding in their development, so in the future they can listen and respond to their emotional compass. 

In the beginning of a child’s life, their internal world is articulated through externalizing practices. Because they cannot understand, nor name what is happening inside, it pours out through behaviors, particularly play, where upon this canvas, they can express what cannot yet be verbalized nor understood.

Eventually the goal is for the child to no longer externalize their inner world, but can listen, attune, express or act and understand.

Something that can inhibit or prevent this is when they lack the proper caregiving in which their attachment figures interact in such a way that brings this kind of understanding. Manipulation, abuse, neglect, shaming, role reversal where the child becomes the parent, etc. all become an obstruction of the child developing ability to know and operate out of the self. 

When this happens, the child can not distinguish what is inside vs. outside. Everything blurs together, believing that another’s emotions is their own or if they feel something they may see it as occurring in another.

Added to this obstruction is when a parent in various ways shames certain emotions that a child feels, particularly the more intense and challenging ones, such as sadness, anger, hate, loneliness, etc. Because the child first learns to frame certain experiences and behaviors in two categories, good/bad or right/wrong, they will reflexively judge their own emotions, typically based on the parent’s response. 

As children we often categorize people and other things as either good or bad. And as we age, we can get stuck in this way of evaluating others, life and ourselves, good vs. bad

So fast forward to adulthood where this way of engaging and evaluating our feelings has remained underdeveloped, externalized and sorted through dualistic categorization. Imagine what we might create to grasp what is difficult and uncomfortable to process in our own selves.


Satan: The Enemy of Our Soul or is it Our Own Self-Judgment?

What if Satan is really an external projection of an internal battle?

In the Bible we read, at times, about the demonic; demons inhabiting someone, Jesus casting out demons, some mentioning of Satan (usually politically). Satan also mean “accuser”. But remember, when the Bible was written, humanity was in the beginning stages of developing and deepening understanding of what it means to be human. So it would make sense that the problems they did not understand in themselves became externalized as an outside, unseen “force”, instead of a very real internal battle and familial/societal issue.

We place God as good and Satan as bad. This seems to fit into dualistic thinking, which is how many of us tend to perceive and critique the world around us. Growing up in the church, if something good were to happen, people would emphatically and demonstratively praise God and announce their excitements to everyone around. But if something bad were to happen, I would notice in the conversation that these “bad” experiences would be attributed to Satan or interestingly, sometimes to God, who seemed to be “testing” us.

The other interesting observation was that when someone had a tormenting inner struggle, or anger, or any other emotion that one felt shame about, or some compulsive habit, they would put responsibility on Satan, claiming it was a “spiritual attack” and possibly default to an intervention of confronting the demonic in the hopes that one would feel relief.

Sometimes I would utilize such methods to address my own internal battles, but it never was “successful” in the sense that the struggle would leave. I would even address my own self-judgments and criticisms as the act of the demonic, which acquired this diagnosis by those around me labeling it as so.

But this always felt off to me and I was never sure why, especially since those in my spiritual community had confidently claimed they had interactions with evil forces and successful interventions with people suffering from demonic influence.

However, as these shifts began to happen in my life, in my own heart, in my faith, and with the church, I began to see why it all felt so off. 

I notice that as humans our tendency is to keep away from our inner world and doing the scary and uncomfortable deep soul work. In other words, we don’t want to look inside at our own sadness, emptiness, loneliness, hate, anger, sexuality, etc. 

And the ways we keep ourselves guarded from this kind of honest exploration is to keep everything externalized. 


We control others, we may obsessively collect things, use substances, look for ways to keep life thrilling and exciting, always hang out with people, judge others, target someone else as responsible for our own pain, choices that lead to disappointment, and misfortunes and project onto others what is inside of us, believing it is their problem.

I must admit, it feels far less painful and gives the illusion that I am in control to keep the focus off of me onto whoever or whatever.

Remember, when we are children, we are not yet attuned to our inner world and understanding it (which is our parents role) and so we find things (through play) to externalize what is happening inside. Through safe relationships, the hope is that our parents begin to help us know our own selves and the stirring inside of us. They guide us, with compassion, to connect to our own selves, without judgment.

But more often we do not have these kinds of experiences and grow up not knowing our own selves.

Now the other thing we tend to do is then judge the pain and discomfort, categorizing it as bad or evil, while labeling all the pleasant feelings and experiences as good. This is what we call dualistic thinking, which is to polarize people, political leanings, behaviors, events, circumstances, experiences, feelings, etc. into two categories. 

The problem is that eventually this begins to not work and what was categorized so neatly into these “boxes” dissolves into an ocean of gray. The way we had distinguished our encounters in life reaches an ineffective result, or to say it another way, life becomes a square peg in a round hole. Things just don’t fit anymore through such a frame.

But some of us may ignore or deny the futility of dualistically organizing the world and continue to filter everything thought these binary distinctions. It seems easier and more secure.


Keep Out: Project! Project! Project!

So let me take this back to the attribution of the demonic. 

I had often wondered why we label our behavioral struggles and inner pain as something demonic...

...Until I sought therapy and began to see the way I evaluated my own problems, struggles and disappointing circumstances.

 It was brought to my attention how much I judged myself, quite harshly, ruminating on what I had done, often brought about by the way someone reacted to me or how I perceived their reaction towards me. 

I had never seen how angry I would be at myself and could judge myself so critically and cruelly. The vicious thoughts and inner dialogue would hardly ever turn off and again, they would always come about in the context of relationship (someone getting hurt or angry towards me, seemingly disappointed, bullying and being cruel to me). I would always turn on myself.

And this is what I notice is the common thread in most of our problems, which are often some form of self-harm or harming another (which is just a reflection of the hate we feel inside). Either way, within us is this inner struggle of our own pain, emotional self and our behavior. We carry this shame, judgment and hate of ourselves and no one truly wants to hold all of this in. We must extinguish it or expel of it in some way.

One of those actions is scapegoating, which is to put the blame of our inner battles onto something else to alleviate the weight, burden and torment of our problems. Now I do believe that our emotional pain is attributed to others, but it is far safer and comfortable to find another unrelated victim to dispel these responsibilities onto.

This is where Satan and the demonic come in. I have seen and heard people, in certain denominations, judge their own behaviors, anger and other more uncomfortable emotions onto these forces. Lifelong problems, shame about their sexual behavior, addictions, etc. all heaped onto the evil tenants of the spiritual dimension. 

However, when I really listen to these statements, I hear something imbued in their words of anguish, confusion and defeat. What I really pick up on is the self-judgment and shame. I know, because I am no foreigner to feeling this way about my own self. Coated and filled within these statements is the soul mired with self-hatred and despair. 

For so long they have hated who they are, imprisoned by these evaluative “forces” and exhausted by countless attempts to rid themselves of whatever haunts them. Addictions they cannot escape, sexuality they cannot outrun, anger that won’t go away, longings and desires that create incredible discomfort. 

It is also not a coincidence that Satan, which means accuser, is what would torment us inside, this vicious voice of criticism and attack (actually the imprint of what was communicated to us by our loved ones).

This is permeated throughout the religious community, deeply rooted hate towards their own humanity and the manifestations of pain and desire. 

And it is understandable, that in order to alleviate the haunting, we must find something or someone responsible for it, who is not actually responsible (anyone, except those that really did hurt us). 

Satan and his forces become the target or the enemy of the soul, which means we must acquire interventions to destroy the powers that create so much torment in our own lives.  

But what I believe is happening is that the individual, because of the pain, torment, discomfort, and dis-ease, has labeled this within himself as evil, bad or wrong, which must get projected onto something external, rather than seeing that it exists within himself.

Also, this labeling is something called splitting, which is to push all the unwanted, judged and shamed parts of ourselves away.


Judgment’s Mirror/Moving From the External to the Internal

However, in order to heal, one must accept everything that is within and take an honest and courageous look inside without judgment or criticism (which is quite hard in the beginning).

That’s why I believe, when Jesus said, to look at our own “log” before judging another’s, this kind of examination reveals how much judgment we carry towards ourselves. The judgment we put on another is really an internal projection of our own inner criticism. For if we change our ways of looking at ourselves, inevitably we would no longer judge another through our own harsh standards. 

Jesus’s words, as I see it, were not conveyed in harshness, as we usually react towards someone judging us. His point was to actually experience freedom from judgment by going into our own caves and valleys of our soul with care and love. 

This is the prerequisite to living freely and joyfully through the painful, mysterious, wondrous ebb and flow of life, of connecting, of being. 

The initiative or entry way to becoming truly alive and embracing the range and vastness of life starts within us. And where it begins is when we switch from living externally, driven by the attempt to satisfy the desires of others or to project our personal struggles towards everyone else, to living and moving from an internal connection.

What does that mean? When we are connected to our own selves, knowing and accepting that which stirs within us and the significance of this stirring, that our emotions are communicative signals as we interact with our world and are moving us towards something greater, we are driven by the internal.

However, to reach this kind of connection and “being” requires us to no longer push away anything that stirs inside of us. We listen to it, care for it, move towards it and allow it to move us. Ignoring it, denying it, continually protecting ourselves from our own pains, griefs, desires, fantasies, longings and emotions will only breed disconnect. 

The beautiful opportunity we have been given is an invitation to compassionately accept all that is within ourselves. 

The path is one of discomfort and unease, facing the things we feel terrified of. We may feel our heart’s race and in the beginning, mentally or physically reach for something to distract from seeing the inner self; but what we may find, through this bold commitment, is a deeper understanding and truth that was heavily obstructed by our own self-constructed detours; something richer, life-changing, and compelling enough to share (the opposite of what we do when we feel shame).

May you embark on embracing all that moves and stirs within you, allowing it to teach you, guide you and become a light for others. 

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He Could Have Eaten: How The Temptations Jesus Faced Are More Human Than We Realize

Let me tell you first why I think the Bible is treated as irrelevant today. Actually, there are probably many reasons why it is given this response, but the one dominating my mind is that which treats the Bible as something communicating all about the Divine. Carrying this perspective we interpret the Bible as some puzzle to better understand the Divine, which unfortunately steers us away from it teaching more about our humanity. 

For those raised in the church it is often highlighted the importance of believing Jesus’s divinity and how all of these stories underlining him is about his divine character. However, what is missed is that these stories communicate beautifully about the path of developing and deepening our humanity, what it looks like to change, to love, to connect, to accept, to heal and so on. 

But because there is such a staunch focus on “correct” theological belief, it all gets lost in the muck of having to agree on a certain theological concept. 

Therefore, because there is great emphasis that these ancient texts are believed to be showcasing the divine, what relevance does that have for us today? This perspective creates something esoteric and intangible, far reaching and elusive.

However, if we move the divinity argument to the side for a moment, we might discover some incredibly rich truths being illuminated for us. Truths imbedded in theses stories that may help us understand ourselves that could move us further, change us, and impact us for the better.

Which brings me to the story of the temptation of the desert. In the book of Matthew, Jesus, who has been fasting food for forty days and nights, is lead out to the desert by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil, which is kind of weird scenario and a bit of a head-scratcher. 

It is during this meeting that Jesus encounters three specific temptations, all of which he resists and confronts with his own verbal artillery from the ancient writings. 

We see in the story that Jesus successfully escapes giving into the pull of these tempting offerings and the devil flees, subsequently leading to some kind of angelic intervention.

Pretty straightforward right? Don’t we all have our Spirit-driven-wilderness-devil encounter- angelic massage moments from time to time? I hope you pick up on the sarcasm.

All of this is fascinating to me. Why does this story exist? What is the author trying to communicate to his audience? Why did he feel it was important to write this?

Well, if you realize that the book of Matthew is all about the experience of change and how to move through it, this story begins to make a lot more sense.

The way I read this story is that it is all about what we encounter in the beginning of changing and moving into our own personal authentic expression in the world. 

It doesn’t seem like a coincidence that Jesus begins living out his message in the next story after his little desert meeting with the devil. 

Now, I am going to rattle some mental cages with some of these thoughts, so be prepared. 

What if the story is more symbolic than it is entirely literal? 

Could it be that this story articulates what happens when we encounter change in ourselves, as we move toward the other side of just “being” in the world? 

Think of our own “temptations” that pull us in directions that seem satisfying at the moment, but steer us away from where change is actually taking us. 

Let me be blunt and then I will explain.

This story seems to be communicating about the ego, a part of ourselves we all face; a voice inside each of us that nags incessantly to find ways to meet needs that seemingly promise fulfillment, and in the end turn up empty. 

All of those temptations Jesus encounters, although specific to him, directly relate and connect to our own nagging forces.

And that devil character, and I know this will be controversial, may actually be a metaphor for our own ego.

The ego is that force within that gives the most convincing unsolicited sales pitch, getting us to buy the product we think will satisfy the hunger we feel so strongly inside ourselves, that will cure the emptiness we are terrified to let exist; an emptiness that is so richly imbued with a powerful message actually leading us somewhere the quick fix cannot cure.

First, it is important to understand that our hunger and craving we feel is very significant. It is telling us something and we all find ourselves looking to feed this incredible feeling in ways that end in disappointment and dissatisfaction. 

Which is the way life works. It is a continuous search, for the hunger is a compass to something. 

But Jesus’s story is significant because the writer is wanting us to know the difficult process of change and how when we are faced with the hunger deep within our soul, we will go in search of what it wants. 

This is a story about a man wrestling with his own self.

Let’s explore this story a little further.

The Hunger Within

The story begins with Jesus going out into the wilderness. Wilderness is associated with wandering in the Bible. 

Wandering indicates not yet knowing and feeling lost. Think about it, if you don’t know the destination you are headed you are going to aimlessly travel around, directionless. 

The wilderness is symbolic for the uninhabited; but where many will externalize this believing it to be about physical land, we may miss that this is about unexplored internal terrains. 

So Jesus is led into this wilderness, something within him (Spirit) nudges him to go in search, which is when he encounters the Ego, that hungry beast inside that wants those cravings to go away immediately.

First he feels the unrelenting punch of hunger, which can be taken literally; however, let’s look at it metaphorically. 

We all feel hunger, but this is not a hunger that corresponds with food. This kind of hunger is much more soulful, pervasive and deep. It’s roots travel far down inside of us and is always on. 

If I were to guess, this hunger is actually about embracing and living in the world, connected, present, tethered to moving in the now, free of judgment, operating by the rules of love.

We are hungry for fulfillment, to no longer feel the lack, but paradoxically we must embrace the lack, the emptiness and the longing to experience fulfillment. We shift from bending life to curb the inner rumblings and allow the inner rumblings to be a part of living. 

I know it sounds odd; however, this is one of the great objectives in life, learning to embrace the pains, joys, satisfactions and losses. 

Think about yourself in this scenario, feeling this intense inner craving for something. Here Jesus is confronted with his own hunger and the tension of being able to quiet it with his divine abilities. 

At this moment he has the ripe opportunity to use his mystical powers to meet the potent growl of hunger within himself. 

But fascinatingly, he does not. He does not give in. Which is odd, is it not? Why wouldn’t he feed himself, knowing he has every capability of doing so?

It seems the author is wanting us to know something about this specific temptation; that we all feel this intense hunger and we all have some kind of capability, some more than others, to instantly gratify it. However, this instant, quick nourishment fades away to the powerful return of that existential craving. 

But Jesus’s resistance of it, I wonder, might point to a deeper, spiritual hunger that is resistant to the quick fix. 

I fall into grooves of feeling empty and looking for ways to nourish it; it is the human experience. It is intrinsic, unavoidable and a beautiful, meaningful wrestling match that seems to have a purposeful direction.

Another thing to note in this story is the phrase, “If you are the Son of God...” This is really an important part, because this highlights the conflict within himself, the crisis of identity. There seems to be this tension of wanting to prove who he is, the first beginning with understanding his own self, his purpose, meaning and ability in this life. 

Which is critical for us to understand how this connects to our own selves, the inner conflict, feeling lost, desperate attempts to know who we are. This story clearly illuminates the journey of becoming the self. 

The Longing to Be Seen, Known, and a Part of Something Greater

Now, comes the next temptation, the whole cliff-jumping-off-the-temple-into-the-angelic-net performance. This is a very significant temptation. 

Here Jesus faces another internal fight, but where the first began with a hunger experienced deep within, this now brings in the pull of the external.

Seriously, why would Jesus feel this tug to do some death-defying-miraculous stunt? And why would it be from the temple? 

The temple holds significance, for in those days the temple was the place where those go to worship. So this kind of stunt would attract quite the crowd, bringing attention and spectacle upon Jesus. Such an act would send these blatant messages that Jesus was the Christ, or the messiah, which the Israelites were in anticipation of happening.

The other interesting observation worth noting is that Jesus often told those that he healed or intervened in some miraculous way to keep this a secret, to not share what happened with anyone. 

In his life, he never announced who we was to anyone, via megaphone, or social media, or in any self-elevated way. Who he was poured through the way he lived, loved, and engaged with others. Those that came to know him was not by self-proclamation or advertisement, but purely through “being”. 

Which brings me back to this temptation, where he is faced with the opportunity and that powerful compelling feeling to announce who he was through a grandiose gesture. 

It is what we all encounter, this powerful desire to be seen and known, to experience the amazement and adoration of others, to feel the overwhelming rush of the other’s praise. It is intoxicating and often something we search for in our personal relationships and beyond. 

Deeply imbedded in this is to feel satisfied with our own selves; however, the struggle is that such satisfaction is attempting to be nourished through the validation of others, an unending struggle that can only change through a journey presented before us in the story.

Often, I experience this intense desire to show the world who I am, through whatever means that will fulfill this ache. I want so badly to be known in this world, to make an impact, to cure this existential loneliness in moments. It seems that this in a way will be a comfort to the lingering emptiness and hunger I feel. 

The push to be known is a powerful one and to live in a time where we have the accessibility and means to get this need met stirs only intensifies the draw. 

One last note to make about this temptation is the repeated phrase, “If you are the son of God...” Where the first was about using his abilities to meet hunger, this one seems to be pointing to proving to the external, or to others, who we are. 

That growl happens so loud in us, as we want others to see who we truly are, to accept us, to love us, to approve of us. We use our abilities to generate that kind of response; our beauty, sexuality, strength, intellect, creativity, etc. can be a means to feeling connected and feeling loved. 

And that is what is so beautiful about this incredible need, that we want to feel a part of something and to truly experience connection with others. However, there is a fork in the path at the base of this need, the attempt to short-cut it through methods of instant nourishment or the longer path that moves towards it being fulfilled in a way that is sustaining and satisfying.

What this temptation profoundly communicates for us is that we carry something to give to the world, but instead of it being driven by the external, it is a message we have connected with deep inside that we desire to share to the world, untethered from the other’s response.


The Draw to Feel in Control


The last of the temptations is that in which the “devil” promises Jesus that he may have all the kingdoms of the world if he were to bow down and worship him. 

Now Jesus is tasked with facing the muscular current to use his abilities in a powerful way, in a way that humanity has often used them, for power, rule, control, etc. 

I find it interesting, if this is indeed the order of the temptations written, that this is the last of the temptations. 

If you go back to the first, it starts with a deep, intrinsic, cavernous hunger for something more, 

followed by...

the pull to be recognized and praised by others, 

followed by... 


the outcome of what happens once we are elevated to a powerful degree by the surrounding world. We are given prestige, respect, value, and the power to persuade and influence others to the way we want others to be influenced.

This has a powerful draw to it. And this, if we do not face our own ego, will be where we end up, looking to control, force, and bend life, specifically humanity, to meet our own internal hunger. We will always live avoidant of the emptiness and the hunger of our soul, which is screaming for a different kind of fulfillment.

Also, if you notice (once again I going to be controversial), Jesus denies and resists the fight to become king, which is what society would have done, had he listened to that part of himself that could use his abilities to gain this kind of power and fame. 

He had the opportunity, but he chose a different path.

Where I am going with this, is that modern Christianity has done what humanity reflexively does historically; elevates, deifies, and worships. They made Jesus king and this is what he opposed in the temptations, the draw to become king. 

Instead, he chose a path that he modeled for us to take, one that requires going into our own self, facing the hunger, the longings, the desires and the pull to feed it as the Ego directs. For the ego is a persuasive force that presents a path that seems promising in fulfilling the deep-seated hunger, but will lead back into emptiness.

Jesus, showed us the way of actual fulfillment, one that results in living honestly, compassionately, genuinely, vulnerably, inclusively, annihilating barriers that humankind constructed, mending wounds, going into societies of the outcasted, hated, and ostracized, and moving only in way where he was compelled to move, listening to the voice within.

It is why, I believe, the author was intentional in how he put these sequence of events together, first the temptation and then living out the message. This is how it begins, facing our self and our ego that we may live in the world knowing who we are, not what the “world” or society dictates what we are to be.

Outer Vs. Inner- Directed Life

There is so much to uncover in this story, but the way I interpret the author’s writing is that we come to a point where we are staring at two paths. The one path pulls us to display ourselves and our abilities for others, the motive to acquire the adoration and praise of others, which ultimately results in us control, subjugating, dehumanizing, abusing and oppressing others. 

This kind of path happens when we lack personally knowing our own selves. When this is unclear we will fixate on others, shaping our life, image, personality, etc. to their desires, where ultimately, we will attempt to control their reactions to us. 

Some people in power, such as rulers and dictators function in this way.

And then there’s the other path, the one that goes into the emptiness and loneliness, welcomes it, as well as the pain, allowing it to shape and mold us. It is down this path that we become attuned to everything that exists in our selves and thus impacts how we relate and connect to others. 

This other path is that which leads us to a greater knowing and we discover who we are and the purpose of why we exist in the world.


May you embrace that beautiful, tumultuous, turbulent, challenging, incredible journey of the true self, that you may live touching the world in incredible, life-changing ways.

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Lust- Masturbation? Pornography? Fantasy? Oh my!!!!!

For quite some time I have wanted to uncover one of the most shamed areas of our humanity, our sexuality. I grew up in a community that presented sexuality and sexual behavior in a certain way, often restrictive, promoting purity and abstinence, vilifying pornography, ambiguous evaluations on masturbation, the misunderstanding of affairs, and high security around men and women interacting with one another all to avoid the “treacherous” fall into a sexual rendezvous.

Some of the conversations amongst men would be laden with judgment towards their own fantasies, “wandering” eyes at women, distracting tactics to avoid sexual behavior, and it all funneling towards a discussion on prevention. 

However, this approach and view created questions in me and I found myself greatly impacted by the way I was taught about sexuality. I felt a great shame over masturbating and looking at pornography when I was a teenager, which to counter this haunting, powerful feeling was to avoid any of this at all costs. 

Literally, I shut down my sexuality for over 10 years! Call it sexual anorexia or whatnot, but I dried out that well for at least a decade. Eventually it just turned off for some time, although at moments I would find myself hoping that a beautiful woman I encountered would lock eyes with me, like a fantastical cinematic encounter. 

About a few years ago, this turning off had worn down and my sexuality began to resurface again, leading to a rekindling with this part of myself. 

In the beginning I felt shame and guilt, but I fought through these imposing forces to get to the other side, touching on the deeper desires of wanting to be intimately connected and how castrating this part of myself affected my ability to engage with women, because in the background was this voice of fear, shame and judgment.

In this new opening and awakening of sexuality, I became aware of my own judgments and was confronted by my discomfort with the way people navigated their sexuality that seemed to fall outside the “rules”. All of this stemmed from the interpretations on sexuality by my community and I just accepted it, believing this was the truth, of which I shaped my own life around.

So all of this entered into an unraveling of what I was taught about sexuality and how it was communicated within the community I was a part of.

Even when working with clients and helping them connect to their sexual side or exploring with couples, (who weren’t “married”, gasp!) the blockages to their intimacy, I felt the tension of the voice of my religious community and what was unfolding in front of me during sessions.

Was this wrong? Was it a “sin”? The conflict I felt was very strong and real for me, because what would have been communicated to me was that I was perpetuating or participating in “sin”. 

But that did not sit well with me, especially when clients were genuinely wanting to connect better. Imagine that! They wanted to better their relationship. What seemed “wrong” about this?

Or what about someone that was just enjoying his or her sexual experiences with another person or people and it was mutual and respectful? 

Or people that felt shame about masturbating and/or looking at pornography, thinking they were impure, which was clearly the shame talking (I will write about that soon), and I did not feel like it was a big deal; instead exploring with them what they liked and did not like; opening up a conversation to talk about their sexual desires and longings. Again, was this some great “sin” I was participating in?

And as I delved into myself I realized that what is most destructive is not so much the behavior, as it is the hiddenness, the secrets we keep that haunt us, the birthplace for addiction. It is the secrets that can generate the greatest harm, enslaved by the tyranny of judgment.

When we live in the shadows of shame, it dims the light on awareness and understanding of which can actually can lead to greater connection, insight and expanding consciousness of ourselves, the deficits in our relationships and so much more. 

However, pushing this away, guarding ourselves so intensely and creating vigilant security so we don’t act out, may not truly help. It is encountering and learning that changes us, moves us, and shapes us to learn the truth of what it means to be human, to love, and to be connected. 

When something is quarantined far off into the darkest recesses of ourselves, it will eventually reveal itself, for it is a light bearer, a truth teller, communicating undiscovered and un-mined depths within our heart, needs fused within the soul that are crying out for nourishment, to be seen, known, and understood. 

So, where am I going with all of this?

I think there has been an incredible misunderstanding on what lust actually is. Growing up in an environment that judged certain sexual behaviors or experiences, like masturbation, viewing pornography or sexual fantasizing as a lustful act, created a disconnect in engaging, exploring, and understanding our own sexuality.

But lust, as I will show, is not the behavior itself that often gets judged, but the operation of the heart; and there are significant, deeper reasons why one may function in this way. However, when it is under the oppression of judgment and shamed by others and ourselves it dims our understanding on why we may be in a relentless state of searching to meet these “mysterious” needs.

You Think You Got it All Together Until…

This leads me to a section in the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew, where Jesus does something alien and profound to mankind; he teaches a new way of living in the world. But what is also fascinating is that he highlights the surface of the behavior and the misunderstanding of the way the Israelites interpreted the law and then draws them deeper, challenges their interpretations, and articulates a whole different rhythm of engaging in life. 

But what he leaves out is a detailed map and multi-step plan on this journey to this alternative lifestyle. There’s no specific how-to’s.

Yet, there is this small section in his soliloquy that tells us where it all begins, the start of transformation, of becoming new.

When he talks about adultery, which is one of the Ten Commandments (Though Shall Not Commit Adultery), he, I imagine, befuddles the listeners’ minds, reorienting the focus from behavior to the center of all humankind, the heart. 

He basically says, “You (the Pharisees) feel proud because you think you have not actually  participated in breaking this Law, but in reality, you have fooled yourselves, because your heart communicates something different.”


Now, let's put some context around this, because Jesus, when bringing up the law, is challenging the Pharisees, who lived fixated on behavior, presenting to others and to God this seemingly ‘pure” persona, doing everything “right”. However, they were unaware that their hearts were misaligned with their behaviors, veering from the law in other ways, finding loopholes, so to speak.

Because they were so externally focused, they were severely unaware of their own interior self and the stark incongruity between the way they lived in presentation to others and the inner world within them. They had convinced themselves that they were doing right for God, but their hearts lacked love; which, if out of love, would be expressed in very different ways, far from the way they lived in the world.

The Pharisees operated in judgment, ostracizing others, and masquerading as “righteous”, but it was all a veneer, for inside was the presence of pride, hate, and arrogance, the antithesis of Love. 

So, let us return to the whole adultery conversation. Jesus had a specific target audience when he was unraveling the truths of these laws. Much of this was directed towards the Pharisees, who, to avoid committing adultery, found a loophole by creating billions of reasons, then generating them into laws, to divorce their wives. Seriously! They conjured up a ridiculous number of offenses to end their marriages, like if she cooked a bad meal.

Which kicks up a question for me. What would compel them to do this? It is interesting, don’t you think? What in the world would drive them to come up with an unending list of laws, so that they could terminate their relationships? 

You don’t have to travel very far to find that answer, for it is all in the same conversation, when he says that you have committed adultery by lusting after another woman, who is not your wife. 

Now that invites a whole new set of questions and fuels the tank for exploration. Jesus, in a sense, says, “you guys think you got away with not committing adultery, but that could not be farther from the truth, because you don’t see that it already exists inside of you.” 

Why would he say this, specifically to them? Here’s a theory...

The Pharisees, in a state of lust (which I will explain a little later), catches the next beautiful woman, someone probably more beautiful and desirable than their wives; and because they are dutiful to the law and don’t want to break it, cunningly find a way to slip through the cracks of this stipulation, so they can satisfy their insatiable urges for that woman they lock eyes on. So they create these absurd offenses to divorce their wives and feed that unending hunger with the next beauty that crosses their path. 

Now this is starting to make a whole lot more sense. This is not about feeling attracted, desiring or even fantasizing about another person who is not your spouse. This is not about masturbating or looking at pornography. This is a different ballgame. 

Jesus moves the focus from behavior to the inner realm of the person, where life flows, where decisions are made, were action begins. 

So the Pharisees, to navigate these relentless cravings for more, believed they found a way to get those needs met and still adhere to the law. 

We all do that at times right? Think about it? When have you felt an intense hunger for something for which you didn’t have the resources to acquire or this decision to meet this need could drastically affect someone else, or it goes against the “law” and you arrange things in your head to justify feeding this hunger inside?

We feel the ominous, loud, voluminous presence of craving for more, for the next thing, for the prettier, shinier, sexier, faster “object” and it might go against something, quite possibly hurting another, and we do some rapid mental altering to figure out how it will work out to get this “object”.

I am sure none of us are strangers to this process. 


Lust: The Hungry Search for More

Now, I am going to get even more psychological here. This whole lust thing that Jesus references is a word and concept I have been investigating for some time, because I have heard it used in ways that don’t seem to make sense for me. 

In prior religious settings it was an umbrella term for certain sexual practices; however here it is saying something different, which I will attempt to explain.

First off, what is lust? 

It is desire, but desire with the volume turned way up. This kind of desire overrides the soul, consciousness, and even the ability to pause to think. In a way, it is the act of impulse without conscious awareness of what is actually driving the heart towards the specific “object” of one’s hunger. 

It is a hunger that manifests in an insatiable craving, one that evades satisfaction. The person fueled by their intense hunger will temporarily satiate this need within, but once the impact of fullness wears off, restless, they will return to the hunt searching for more. The pattern continues on and on, until some experience of derailment.

One who is lost to their cravings, feels the physiological nudge to feast upon the next beautiful object, with the unconscious hope that this will fulfill the lack within. They experience blockages in the ability to look deeper, to understand and know the need they are looking to nourish.  

Which is what changes the course of the unending search to end the starvation; that one consciously engages, sees, and befriends the hunger, the emptiness, the longing and the inevitable futility of getting it met through such ravenously-imbued methods.

It is only when someone comes to terms and understands the hunger within themselves that they will begin to listen to where the inner rumblings are truly leading them; a much different path of fulfillment. 

So, how does this all connect to the whole Pharisee-adultery-lust scenario? Essentially, the men saw a much more desirable woman and in order to satisfy their cravings, while seemingly avoiding defying the law, they found ways to divorce their wives and evade the “crime”. 

But Jesus’s point was that adultery began deep within their soul, way before the act, as they committed to leave their wives for another woman. 

Now this adultery word, I am not the biggest fan of, because it seems steeped with judgmental connotations. Therefore, I am going to change it to something that makes more sense to me and might change the way anyone thinks about this dynamic. 

Let’s look at adultery in the lens of attachment and bonding. If the bond occurs within the intimate setting of two lovers, then when someone commits to beginning a relationship with someone who is not their lover, they have veered away from the bond, in search for something; a search that has great meaning.

Within the veering away is this mysterious catalyst that fuels the person to turn towards another lover. What that is has yet to be defined. But the search for someone outside the bond communicates something that is lacking or missing within one’s self, a truth that is itching to be discovered. 

What if Jesus’s point was to challenge the men to look deeper than their behavior, which was shrouded in pride, effectively convincing themselves they had upheld the law? 

What if this challenging was an act of love, to help them see that this adultery that began in their hearts is telling them something? 

What if he wants them to become aware of their intense inner cravings?

Could it be that with great compassion he is wanting them to wrestle with what it is that they really are looking for, this profound need that exists within them, begging to be understood?


I wonder if Jesus’s purpose in illuminating this issue ever so briefly was to cause the audience to begin to question, to spark their curiosity, to draw them towards their soul. 

Such a confrontation was to call them out on their crafty ways to weasel out of the law and perpetuate this unending quest to end the starvation, which leads to a few possible outcomes. 


One, they could apathetically shrug their shoulders and continue in their ways. 


Two, they become defensive and attack Jesus, which reveals that they are guarding something. 


Or three, they receive the confrontation and begin the inner soul work, unmasking themselves to face their own shadows.

If they picked option three, they might possibly discover, eventually, with the bold commitment of facing the internal self, what an intimate relationship possibly looks like, beautiful dimensions within a relationship rich with vulnerability, and the experience of being seen and known. 

But the Pharisees operated in life by pleasing the External that they could not see their own hearts. The reason they went to these lengths was because they believed they needed to follow the Law to please the Divine, and convinced themselves that they were sustaining the pleasure of the Other, which obfuscated understanding their own deeper self.

I cannot help but see this same occurrence in my life and others. We hold these secrets within ourselves, and live clandestine lives out of fear of the harm it will cause to the most important relationships in our lives. What will it do to our connection if I am truly honest to those close to me?

This, I believe, was deeper at work within the Pharisees motives. This External fear lead them to avoid an honest exploration of their own selves, which, quite possibly would have lead them to greater truths about what their hunger (or “Lust”, if you prefer) is truly communicating.

And this applies to all of us, that we cease living to please and appease that Other, which subsequently pushes us to fabricate a secretive life, which possibly leads to compulsivity and an “addictive” quest for more. 

This is one of the greatest challenges in humanity, the shift from living externally-driven, to internally-directed. The latter is where the richest truths continuously unfold and reveal themselves. We have this inner wisdom that requires attunement, but, unfortunately loses signal, when we pivot our lives around the satisfaction of the other.

Contrary to what we are often taught, through culture, and religious beliefs and practices, is that we are to know and live from within ourselves. It is only then, that our attunement to the Divine occurs, for the voice inside is a Voice that connects us all, that moves us in ways that increases our love, that heals the world around us, that illuminates the truth imbedded in all of life.

This, quite possibly, is what Jesus was articulating in his teachings

This could be what he was drawing out as he confronted the systems created by the Pharisees.

Could it be that his purpose was to challenge the obstacles that guard against exploration of the heart that inhibit life?

Maybe

May you begin the life-changing shift of looking within, attuning to those inner nudges, the voice inside that is calling you into deeper truths, to connect in profound ways to yourself. For that kind of shift, one that leads to accepting and connecting to all areas within ourselves, is that which impacts the way we engage with all around us in our life narrative. 

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"Don't Trust Your Heart", Because it Might Actually Be Telling You What You Need to Hear (Writing)

Don’t trust your heart, we are warned. It is filled with evil intentions that will lead us down a destructive path. Emotions are vilified and intellect is glorified. Think about the other and how they would feel. Or consider what it would be like if someone else held you in unforgiveness and let that motivate you to forgive. Or just focus on God and what he wants and what is pleasing to him. Etc., Etc., Etc. 

I am sure it has been the culmination of human destruction and evil acts throughout history, but judgment and avoidance of listening to and acting out of the heart has been in circulation for quite some time. Lacking understanding, we have set up road blocks to this dimension of our humanity.

Yet such avoidance and obstruction is the cause of the problems in the world. Murder and other violent acts, suicide, addiction, racism, compulsive relationships, abuse, affairs, etc. exist because of the lack of attendance to our own and other’s hearts. 

It is fair to say that the human heart has been pushed into the shadows, a hidden and shamed part of ourselves. However, it is the very thing that steers the ship. It is the engine to what we do and when we ignore it, push it away, judge it, or live externally-focused, it takes over the wheel, making unconscious decisions, while we exist as some hostage-passenger shrouded in confusion, feeling lost and ashamed. 

The heart or soul of the person is the guiding force of life and to disconnect from it manifests in problems that blatantly signal to us that we have forgotten ourselves. 

It is the communication center, the compass, the fuel to living and loving vibrantly, and yet it has been taught, often in religious communities, that it cannot be trusted. I hear stories of those in the Christian community that live tormented trying to figure out what God wants (as if it were even conceivable) or if he is angry or disappointed or ashamed or distant or has abandoned us. To reconcile these disparaging perceptions, we overwork ourselves, altering our behaviors, white-knuckling day-by-day to avoid careening into trouble. 

However, what we believe is helping, is only cultivating, perpetuating and exacerbating the issues. The root, or the deeper truths, are never engaged in and explored. Instead we live terrified of facing the past and thus disconnected, which can lead to depression and anxiety or other disorders (all of which communicate disconnection, by the way).

But what would happen if we actually attended to the heart and interacted with it? What would change if we listened to the voice within that was shouting to be heard and known? What if knowing this part of ourselves can only truly exist in the realms of relationship, where it is a mutually reciprocating engagement of being seen and known? I wonder how things would shift personally and beyond.


What May Change When We Listen

Have you ever wondered why you feel so lost and confused after you reacted some way? How it deeply troubles you, even to the point of despair and wanting to pull away from the world? Or what about your reactions to feeling ashamed and condemned within yourself? 

All of these are natural responders to our actions, but if we stay stuck and suffocated within these states, we will never learn what we are in search of. 

I believe that the greatest decision we can make it is to listen and actually understand our own hearts. This is the only way that things will change for us, that compulsive/addictive, and unconscious actions will cease. The goal is to continually grow in greater awareness, that we no longer carry on in life detached, disconnected and lost. This all will shift when we boldly heed the voice within. 

Living Externally…Only Creates Problems

It is not about living to please others or, sad to say, God. This may be counter to what has been taught, but consider the repercussions of living for the desires of others. When we are always looking to see what others will say or God will say or what he wants, asking questions in the hopes that he will respond and give us clear direction, we miss that the answers often lay within our own selves.

We might all agree that a child that, as she grows, continues to live always pleasing her parents, afraid of their reaction, is not healthy or the purpose in life. The desire is that she lives listening to her own heart, enjoying what brings her joy and fulfillment and allowing that to impact and effect people in a way that moves and stirs them to live fully (true evangelism). We would encourage her to live compassionately caring and knowing herself, to encourage her to express her needs, to feel and articulate her anger and pain, and to understand her own limits and strengths. 

However, when she is fixated on her loved one’s responses, always wanting them to be satisfied with her decisions, she inevitably pulls away from herself, feeling lost and tethered to the always changing and elusive desires of another. This creates a disconnect and chasm from one’s own heart. 

And for those who have experienced various forms of relational trauma, such as abuse, neglect (of emotional needs), abandonment, a parent pulling away, and other shaming responses, it throws off the internal compass. Now the child lives always vying for the parent’s love, unconscious and avoidant of their own emotional guide that communicates when something is off or on, when they are connected or not. 

This type of family environment facilitates and creates disconnection from the self.

But the parent’s sacred role is to help the child know their own selves within boundary lines that create safety, trust, and the experience of being loved and valued. The child’s loving guardians carry a very important task of guiding the child to attune to their hearts and to sharpen self-connection. It is a beautiful and special position.

However, when we develop out of environments where this kind of caring was lacking, we will struggle to actually know ourselves and move out of the heart. And when disconnection continues, our hearts will lead us into places, that scream for us to listen. All behaviors and the emotional fuel it runs on, whether we realize it or not, are about connection.

We cannot turn off the heart and our desires, for such needs will begin to surface in other ways, be it addictions or fantasies. Everything we do is driven by need, the need to connect, both to ourselves and others. 


Listening to Ourselves Shifts the Way We Live, Connect and Care

So, believe it or not, the goal is to live, not driven by external praise and validation, but an internal way of being and moving in the world, satisfied by our own efforts, and listening to what stirs us personally. Living out of this position allows us to care for others, because we truly know how to care for our own selves. When we face our own pain, hurt, loneliness, longing and emptiness, we care for it in others, helping them face theirs. When we connect to ourselves emotionally and actually listen to what is communicated through our feelings, our response to this part of us is one of welcoming, not quieting.

I find it to be the greatest challenge to live out of my own heart, but it is only when I do so that I begin to actually live, grow, heal and respond to the world in a drastically different way. My experience of life takes on a different shape, and I am moved by the faith that exists within me, which is communicated through the emotional stirs. 

It is paramount that we orient ourselves this way, for to do otherwise ends up perpetuating a disconnected self. The heart is the most powerful, alive, moving force within us, constantly messaging our needs and what is healthy versus unhealthy connection. 

When we actually draw near to our own hearts, we encounter the wellsprings of life, and in order to listen we must silence the judgment that interferes with the voice of life. 

The goal in life is live increasingly more connected and intimately engaged with our surroundings, enjoying who we are and the uniqueness of others, developing and deepening in love for all...and it begins with acknowledging our own hearts.

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You Just Don't Have Enough Faith

Last Wednesday I was pissed and anxious. I was just on vacation and I was antsy to get home. So much emotional pain was coming up and to be stuck in an airport felt suffocating, like it was this unending imprisonment. But the other dilemma, is that I did not even want to be home. In fact, I had no clue where I wanted to be. I wanted to crawl out of my own body and be lightyears away from existing. 

But when I got home, shortly after, I knew I needed to go for a drive. Arriving at my usual destination close to the lake, I began to feel the sadness and grief, quietly yelling at the moon as if it was God. However, even that hit a wall and I recognized that it was time to go back home, even though being miles away from home seemed like the best and worst option.

And when I returned, I knew I would not be able to sleep unless I followed and stayed connected to this hellish, unrelenting and all-consuming anxiety. So I stayed up, pacing in the backyard, until the vault opened and this intense anger came bursting out as if it had been shoved down for years, anticipating release. For what may have been an hour, I went into the anger, revealing itself in uncensored presentation.

Eventually there was emotion left, the tiredness kicked in and I went to sleep.

But that Wednesday, I knew that I was going to head to the ocean two days later. I had to. There was no other option or direction. Internally I checked to see, assessing for other routes, but this was the only one that resonated strongly.

And I knew why I was going to the ocean; to encounter and feel the grief coming up within me It was this particular place and the various areas within this space that was purposeful and integral for connecting to my grief. In other words, I was not just going to the ocean to feel, I was going to specific places around this area to encounter and feel through the pain tied to memory.

When I arrived there, I was unaware just how intense the pain would be, oscillating between moments of rage and gutturally weeping. It was awful, ugly, messy, and unbearable (hopefully I am making it quite clear just how agonizing this time was). 

However, in the first spot where I ventured into the grief odyssey, I found myself, as I started to leave the area, hesitate. I kept looking back at this particular area, marked by a past experience, and could not walk away. The weeping increased and I realized at that moment, I was not only here to grieve, I was here to say good-bye, for I was holding on. Of course, this only increased the weeping, but at the same time, I felt some relief knowing fully why I came.

The whole day was brutal, but necessary. I had never encountered that level of grief in my life, yet as I look back, I know it was meant to be for me to drive two hours to the coast and spend the entire day going into the pain that would have haunted me until I faced it. It was terrifyingly healing.


You Just Don’t Have Enough Faith

Now, at that first spot, the concept of faith kicked up. Faith has been something I have chewed on for a while, exploring what it really means. It was interesting that I began to think about faith during that day, which happened to be the driving force behind me being at the ocean. It was through faith that I came, which led to me understanding myself and life more deeply.

The understanding of faith, as I see it, has been misconstrued. Maybe it is the way I have filtered it through how people have interpreted this word, but it seems that faith has been drastically distorted. 

It appears that we have meshed or entangled faith with belief, when they are very different dimensions of humanity. Belief is the mental construct in which we filter and see the world. It is how we view ourselves, others, life, God, etc. They are ideologies, theologies, and philosophies, all which are shaped by layered experiences. 

When you go through an experience you often attempt to make sense of the novel moment with what you believe, shaping that experience into your already established lens. 

What we say is faith, is really a conversation about beliefs, which overshadows the beauty of what faith really is. 

In our misconstruing of faith, we have watered it down, isolating it to tribal, segregated belief systems and rituals, encapsulating it with “religious” terminology. And again, as I have written before, our understanding of religion also seems to suffer from distortion. Religion is about reconnection, not the way we have constructed it to be, restricting it to repetitious, ritualistic actions that give the illusion that we are in “right” standing with the divine. 

Another issue that sadly and unnecessarily adds to our suffering is the idea that our “lack” of faith has prevented healing or blessing or some hopeful phenomenon from happening. We make judgments towards others and ourselves for not having “enough” faith. Or you might have heard someone state that they needed more faith.

If something tragic happens, our relentless prayers that we orient towards the Divine, who we try to exhaust and convince, appear impotent and powerless, resulting in self-blame, subsequently leading to some kind of intensely committed rigorous activity to muscle-up our faith.

But what does needing more faith actually mean? First it seems to imply that I, you, or anyone needs to believe more; that their belief system needs to strengthen in order for good things to happen. It leaves the responsibility in our hands, but we end up tormented that we did not believe enough, that somehow it was weak and we need to have the correct and accurate mental constructs, the right ideology, philosophy and theology. Only on this foundation could my prayers have been answered.

And how do we “increase” or get more faith? Even this interpretation overtly states that we are in charge of making this happen and working hard to upgrade our faith, so that the things hoped for would materialize.

But this is where this understanding falls apart. What happens when what you believe does not match up with your experience? You have what seems to be the “correct” belief system, allowing you to nestle into the security of your ideologies and yet have contrasting experiences that completely rupture and shatter what you believe, leaving you disillusioned and in agonizing crisis. 

Now, having faced such contrasting and conflicting situations, the foundation of our belief system has been upturned, violently jack-hammered and brutally shaken.

No matter how much we scramble to understand, our grip is lost, as well as any ability to solidly reconcile the event. We try to fit it into our cognitive parameters, but it just won’t take, and instead we are consumed by an overwhelming fog of pain, disillusionment, discontentment, anger and sadness.

We are now left with the fork-in-the-road moment of going the usual, well-worn path or beginning to allow the experience to teach us something novel, stretching across the boundary lines of what we believed.

Our belief systems can only thrive on openness and malleability, for we are constantly evolving, learning, growing, assimilating and piecing together the fragments of life. Our life is filled with continual unfolding experiences and instead of trying to corral these moments and fit them into our already-developed perspectives, it is best that we approach it from the other angle; to allow our beliefs the space and room to grow from the moments we encounter and engage in. 


Faith: The Mysterious Movement in Us All

This all leads back to faith.

What if faith is so much more dynamic and universal than what we have realized? Taking it out of the context of religious traditions, could it be that faith is much more expansive and innately wired within all of us, and that we are collectively headed towards something so mysteriously profound and transformative? What if faith is operating constantly inside every human being, no matter where we are or what we believe or what we commit ourselves to?

I wonder then if faith has sadly been limited to man-made religious parameters, when it is the divine current running through every person, regardless of any “faith” tradition, stirring, moving, drawing us somewhere beyond understanding.

Faith is so much more than believing in something. In fact faith operates beyond the confines of our belief systems. To move in this way of living actually ruptures and breaks the self-constructed parameters and rules of how we see, define and operate in life. Our self-created and maintained lens can neither tether nor domesticate faith. It is wild, moving, vibrant, and free.

Faith, then, by my definition, is innate and dwells within. It is a compelling force, in which we are moved, despite the certainties we have generated and look for. Faith is an invitation to go where we are drawn, a movement towards something, both in the moment and in the meta-narrative of life. 

It is experiencing, where understanding and knowing follow once the invitation has been accepted and we participate in the moment or moments we are compelled to engage in. In other words, to make it more practical, we might say, “I have no clue why this resonates with me so strongly or why I am drawn to go and do this or see this or be a part of this, but it is the only thing that makes sense to me.” It is that “I-can’t-get-this-out-of-my-head” or “I-can’t-shake-this” experience. 

It is only when we listen to that internal nudge and commit to it that we begin to see the reason we are drawn in the first place. 

(Now, as a disclaimer, clearly there are some of those impulses that I would say are violating and destructive (harm to another or to one’s self) and this is not what I am promoting. But nonetheless, those impulses we feel are to be listened to, looked at, shared, and explored in order to understand, heal, and change.)

I am talking about faith and those impulses to face ourselves, to grow and evolve, to risk, to connect deeper, to love and heal others. 

Faith, you could say, is intimacy on some level, for intimacy is about experiencing and being experienced, where we open ourselves up to see and know and to be seen and known. It is an in-the-moment unfolding narrative, where we must listen to that nagging signal that won’t turn off no matter how much we distract or try to deafen it.

I believe to avoid it only creates anxiety, restlessness and confusion. We are built to go and seek and the seeking is sparked by this unsettled curiosity and draw to find out.

And faith is actually a growing and developing dimension within us. The more we begin to attune to it, listen and heed that “voice”, the more it strengthens. It is no longer a nuisance, but a guide into greater living, connection, healing, etc.

It is about surrendering control, the need to know, to have it mapped out, or to be certain. Faith is a completely different dimension and gear to travel in, leading us into the depths and riches of life. 

When we operate in life this way, listening and attuning to the internal “nudge”, life unfolds very differently, stepping away and out of the confines, the “safety” and the intellectual security. What takes the place is a knowing that is richly formed, continually, by experience. It is the path to actual living and growing. And when you look beyond the idea that faith only happens or works in a specific “religion” or belief system, you might see that this movement is happening in all of us and not some discrete group. 


Peter, You Had It and Then Lost It

The story of Jesus walking on water is multi-faceted, but what I want to highlight is Peter, who decided to step out onto the sea to move towards Jesus. Yes, in some ways it highlighted Jesus, but I believe what was really underscored was the faith we all carry within.

So what happened? The disciples were on a boat and Jesus, in order to get to them, decided to take the “everyday” route of walking on water (note the sarcasm). Peter, who saw this mysterious figure that seemed to be Jesus, who reassured them it was him, called out to Jesus, asking him to identity himself by calling Peter to step out onto the waters. 

When Peter did, at first he was in his groove. Everything was moving fluidly, until the winds kicked in, It was at that point, that he began to sink, crying out to Jesus to save him. Jesus, immediately caught him and brought him back to the boat, where he said “You of little faith...why did you doubt?” 

This is a fascinating story with a lot going on. A few observations. Peter asked Jesus to call him to the waters, in which Peter accepted the invitation. But it was Peter who initiated, who felt compelled, who took the step. The external conversed with the internal; meaning, seeing this mysterious, unknown figure, that appeared to be like Jesus, compelled Peter to seek this out for himself. 

Although interacting with the external stimulus, Peter was moved from within to see what was so enticing. He had very little idea who this man was, until he initiated and made the first few moves. Only when he took these steps in uncertainty did the impact and discovery take place. 

Now, also something to take note; Peter, began to move unwaveringly in this compelling force or energy stirring inside him, which enabled him to walk on water, against all logic and the natural functions and consequences of life. When he stayed connected to his faith and moved towards the object, he was in the groove. But once he became afraid, which happened as a result of veering into the external circumstances that challenge the impossible, he began to sink. His faith became entangled with fear and it caused him to question and doubt the internal guiding force towards Jesus.

Then Jesus’s response adds more of a fascinating dynamic to the story. After rescuing Peter, he proceeds to address his faith as little, questioning why he doubted. But then there is no other explanation or dialogue to that question. It is left without an answer, which I believe might be open ended for a reason.

Jesus’s response is not one of condemnation, judgment, or chastisement. This would go against his nature, mission, and orientation, which is to draw people out of judgment and shame. Actually his statement and question was an invitation to explore and his comment on the measurement of his faith was communicating that it was young and underdeveloped. It was more of a tender and compassionate response. 

For Peter, in connection to his own humanity, he had not experienced enough of this movement by faith, or what I like to call, the inner, compelling voice. This was a whole new way of being and operating in the world, to step out into the unknown with only the guiding force of “I don’t know why, but I need to go and see.”


You Can Only See When You Leap

You see faith is not something that we force to grow or increase in ourselves. Faith is an inner guiding presence that we listen to and follow. It is those moments of “tasting and seeing”. It is only when we begin to engage in our experiences that we learn, grow and become increasingly more attuned to that inner nudge. 

Faith requires that we surrender the prerequisites of having to know before we leap. It requires that we live and engage completely in the moment, for all of what we have been given is in full operation now. So often this gets contaminated with anxious, pummeling thoughts about what is to come and the possible scenarios that could unfold, paired with security-driven behaviors that only perpetuate the illusion that we can avoid pain. 

But faith is about listening within, knowing that the nudge to go and see is leading us somewhere profound, healing and quite possibly transformative. There is purpose to that nagging force that will not back down, instead looming larger until we listen.

It is why I was led to the ocean, to feel the full range of emotion that travels with loss. I was not escaping, but facing head on the excruciating pain of saying goodbye to someone and uncovering the truth of myself and the other with whom I became attached, shedding the layers of illusion and denial that numbed the pain for a brief time. 

Yes, doubt and fear entered in before I left, but I knew beyond those distracting forces that I needed to go to heal. It has taken a while to operate by this inner force, including many moments of backing away. However, once I began to listen and respond, I began to see the purpose of accepting the invite to go and do. Such participation in this way of living has brought about healing and increased a vibrant connection to life. 

May you listen to that inner wisdom, that true faith that is guiding and moving you in profound ways towards a deeper, richer way of living and loving in the world.  

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Jesus is Not Going to Save You...

About a year ago, my family went through an excruciating tragedy. We lost a dear member to an overdose and it wrecked those closest to him. The brutality of such a loss was overwhelming and traumatic, leaving those alive to question, to despair, to feel enraged, and lost and discontent and disillusioned and on the cusp of venturing into self-destructive behaviors. It was ugly, and that is a mild description of the horrors it created. This death was such a destructive force and unbearably agonizing.

Several days later, I spent time with some friends and in response to their question of how I was doing, I decide to share what had happened. I began to process with them how horrific this all was and how I found myself wrestling with this tragedy and the roots of why it happened in the first place. It was troubling for me, knowing that his tragedy was the symptom of something deeper, a foundational relational dysfunction that began early on.

And having these insights, I felt conflicted and overwhelmed as to how this could have all been addressed early on. What do we do when we see and experience the dysfunction of others? Do we ignore it and allow it to go unaddressed? Or do we illuminate the disharmony and discord occurring before our eyes? What is our responsibility to our loved ones? And how do we go about sharing these insights with love and care that they may heal, grow and connect in beautiful, life-giving ways?

Obviously I wrestled with this deeply and found it to be distressing. My friend, offering unsolicited advice proceeded to respond to what I had shared and simply pointed out that the real problem and cure is that they need Jesus and a revelation from him. At that point I had shut down, pushing away my anger towards her and this incredibly dismissive statement. But since then I think about that time and what she shared on and off, my anger returning with same intensity I felt in that moment.

Jesus Came to Expose the Pain, that you May Live… Hopefully

Having been taught that Jesus is the cure throughout my life was not something I entirely embraced or bought into, and now, as I have gone through the involuntary shifts and changes in my faith, I have wrestled with this prescription that many in the Christian community reflexively advise as the antidote, while dismissing the deeply rooted and entrenched problems that exist in this world and in our own personal lives and relationships. 

I truly believe that we have missed the purpose and point of Jesus, unfortunately creating and establishing him as the buffer and formula for healing all of life’s problems. 

But what is interesting is that Jesus communicated something wildly different, as he began his profound and affecting soliloquy on what it means to live and become human. Throughout the Sermon on the Mount and Beatitudes he pontificated on the process of change and becoming and emanating love to all; this process contingent upon looking within and addressing the shadows that obfuscate the True Self and True Love. With every behavior he addressed, he put the responsibility back on the individual to face their insides and to respond in a way that is authentically human and a reflection of the divine love. 

In other words, his mission and purpose was to teach and reflect to people how to actually live connected and to love truly, without any impediments. And in his death, he communicated that there was and never has been separation from the divine. That love has always been around, flowing, moving, igniting and affecting. And in his resurrection, he showed that the life and “deaths” we experience has purpose and significance beyond what we imagine. 

He drew people to their own hearts, to face the internal self, for it is when we go into the shadows that we move into the light and love in a way that others are hungering to encounter and experience. 

Now this is where it gets scary and messy and troubling, because once you start to face your own self, which is an incredibly exhilarating and terrifying journey of feeling lost, discontent, disillusioned, angry, confused, lonely, alive, and energized, you begin to see life very differently. Your lens changes, your judgment shifts, you see the problems that exist are the result of disconnection and you begin to feel compelled to share these deeper understandings in love to others. 

You at once feel incredibly alone and yet connected at the same time. All of life takes on new meaning and the way you engage with others is drastically different from the way the world (including some in religious communities) does. Those who are ostracized by society, abusers, pedophiles, drug users, terrorists, perpetrators of domestic violence, etc. are seen with inherent value and worth and their actions begin to make sense, even if the way they act is harmful, destructive and in desperate and imminent need of confrontation and intervention. 

It can feel deeply satisfying and fulfilling and also isolating to live out of this expansion of love. When good, bad, right and wrong no longer work in understanding problems, your perspective expands in ways where you see something deeper, the root of the problem. And when the root of the problem is discovered, you can expose it and address it, which inevitably and immediately begins to take effect. The emotions within a person is now a signal and guide that must be felt, expressed and understood as the process of becoming human.

Jesus was inviting others to join this “way” of becoming human. What he modeled was the path of true and authentic living. However, we have misinterpreted this in thinking we need to convince others to turn to him, instead of continuously modeling the humanity he displayed, which he clearly communicated begins as an inner journey

We Are the Healers

I want to challenge those that believe that we are to lead people to Jesus or say to others that Jesus will save you, when he was calling us to lead, guide and “save” others. For it is through a compassionate and empathic soul, confronting the wrongdoing, addressing the dysfunction, weeping and laughing with others, listening to the cries within and connecting them to the depths of their heart, where the springs of love already exist, that such a person reflects the Divine love that Jesus innately displayed. In other words, we become “Jesus”. 

I know that this may be offensive and troubling, but Jesus was connecting us to the “kingdom within” our own souls and that when we go into our own “darkness” we become lightbearers for those who are stuck within and suffocated by their own shadows. 

We do not realize, which I want to express, that we are a part of healing and affecting the world. It is the love we carry within that impacts and changes others, the love we have accessed, because we have looked inside. Others are hungry and thirsty to experience this kind of loving and affectionate attunement. Their souls are crying out for this. However, when we jump into praying for someone or convincing someone that they need Jesus, while dismissing their bleeding soul and that intrinsic longing to be seen and heard, we miss the opportunity to express this divine love.

For those that say that someone “needs a revelation from Jesus” is completely missing the fact that we are the revelation. It is the divine love within us that people need desperately and if we are attuned to it in ourselves then we carry the beautiful and profound opportunity to be this revelation of love to others. We carry the healing presence and ability within.

I am so deeply moved by our discoveries today regarding relationships, attachment, sexuality, vulnerability and intimacy, as well as the disorders that result from connectional discord or misalignment. What is clearly revealed is our yearning for connection and the innate drive to bond. And a dimension to that is the need for intimacy, the realm within a relationship where we experience this reciprocating seeing and knowing of the depths of one another. 

I believe we are called to both see and know these depths, including the pains, traumas, longings and needs in others, as well as to share our own depths. When we engage in this together, incredible healing takes place. Sometimes we are so busy praying for miracles for others and for ourselves, that we miss that we and others around us are the miracles that we are clamoring for.

Are we willing to confront, to draw out the pain, to encounter the defense, to risk loving even if others are limited in their ability to love back? Are we willing to weep with others, to hear the “dark” dimensions within someone that they are terrified to share and face? And are we willing to share our own pains, discomforts, traumas and wounds as well? 

My hope is that we all wake up to this; that it does not only exist within therapy, but can be encountered in every day life, people coming alive as they feel safe, heard and seen. I believe that incredible healing can be activated as we orient towards one another, shifting to a face-to-face engagement. 

But it starts when we come out from hiding behind the safety net that Jesus is going to save and heal all problems, for it is us that is called to “save” and “heal” others through the love we manifest within, a love that is imbued with compassion, care, vulnerability, genuineness, tenderness, gentleness, and the boldness to address the destruction that inhibits the flow of love and intimate connection. 

It is this kind of love that will ripple continually, and to access this kind of love begins with the bold venture of facing, naming and experiencing our own impediments, pains and discovering our authentic self. Only then will we love purely, honestly, boldly and authentically. 

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Your Symptoms Are Your Greatest Teachers: The Problems You are Trying to Annihilate Are Actually Teaching You Something Profound

I judged my compulsive struggle with pornography, until I realized what it actually meant. I avoided my anger, before it hit an intolerable level, leading me to see the sacredness of its presence. Or my sexuality and what my desires illuminated. Or my sadness. And my fear. The list could go on.

Pushing away these “problems” were the actual problem. Denial. Splitting. Rationalizing. Comparing. Deflecting. Projecting. Regardless of the defense, it is an act that vilifies some aspect of us in which we do not want. Or we despise it. Hate it. Label it demonic or attribute it to some evil force. Another way to maneuver through the unwanted issue is to draw up some Divine reason for why it exists. Maybe it is my burden to bear. God must be teaching me a lesson or humbling me. So on and so forth. 

One can conclude from all of these approaches that we have great difficulty in grappling with our struggles. They become forces of torment, one’s in which we, in moments, violently castrate from ourselves. The attempt to annihilate it indicates the degree of judgment, fear and discomfort we experience with carrying such “issues”. 

What if it is the exact opposite of how we are to treat these components? In all the energy we spend exorcising these parts of ourselves, only to increase their haunting presence, instead we could be learning from them, allowing these “issues” to be the greatest teachers. What if embracing them was more healing and transformative than any effort to ostracize them away from ourselves?

In my past, and what I would experience in my faith community, were strenuous efforts to eradicate the problem, instead of embracing its presence, welcoming the opportunity to learn from this “sage”. Sadly, this would not happen. Behavioral and cognitive actions were the only instruments to dealing with any struggle. Judgment imbued in questions, which only led to the heart closing up, instead of opening and healing. Distracting one’s self or thinking about how the other person’s pain to stop our actions or praying or devoting more to some cause seemed to be the only help.

But it never got “rid” of the problem. It just intensified their existence. They were actions that perpetuated avoidance, instead of drawing upon them for guidance. Clearly, we knew very little how invaluable and meaningful these struggles really were and are. 

These “problems” are the voices that we attempt to silence, much like the brave ones that challenge the systemic toxicities that exist within humanity. Such voices are calling us to look at the actual problems and address them. However, the terror of facing and acknowledging what actually is the issue (which leads to rupture) is far greater than snuffing out those voices and living in denial, continuing to live in some self-constructed security that convinces us that everything is ok.

So, those symptomatic voices within yourself that manifest in your behavior is not a haunting force, but instead a beacon of light, calling you to look within.

Let me be more concrete.

 

How Pornography Brought Me Closer to My Heart

I wrote a while ago on pornography and I provocatively titled it, “How Pornography Can Draw Us Closer to Our Hearts”. This writing was inspired by my own experiences which shaped my judgements on porn’s existence. I assessed the destructiveness of pornography’s presence in this world because of my own personal unresolved issues. 

However, the issue was not in pornography itself, but in my clandestine engagement of it. It was the hiding that created the compulsion or “addictive” tendency, not the outlet itself. But the reasons I was engaging with pornography were communicating something that judgment and shame prevented me from seeing.

Now, let me first say that there is pornography out there that is unwaveringly destructive and harmful, displaying sex in a toxically distorted way. Violent, abusive, destructive, coercive, degrading forms veer far from what the sexual experience is made to be; which, is enjoyable, mutual, intimate, playful, sensual, and connected. And I believe that such toxicity needs to be addressed, but not in the ways we (society, faith communities) have gone about doing so.

But bringing it back to an individual level, one may learn more from exploring this pull towards viewing pornography than to strenuously guard themselves against it. The act of forbidding something only draws us to it with greater intensity. Even the act of forbidding deserves an honest look. Why do we go to great lengths to make something illicit, which creates more of a draw to turn back to it? What are we avoiding by doing so? Is there another way to address the problem that greatly reduces if not eliminates its force in our lives?

I believe so, but it will take a shift in perspective and a bold commitment to embrace its presence in our life in order for change to happen. 

Keeping it personal, earlier this year, my 12-year “abstinence” with pornography came to end. The return back to it was at first riddled with shame. What had I done? I ruined 12 years of commitment. I felt this wave of disorientation come over me. It was overwhelming and a fog of disillusionment set in. All this judgment swelled up within me and I could feel myself beginning to slip into realms of self-hatred.

But something within me was not okay with this aftermath. I no longer wanted to live haunted and obstructed by shame. I wanted to get to the heart of what was really behind me viewing pornography.

The next day, still in the traumatic haze of shame, I went to the lake, finding a safe spot to emote. I felt this anger well up inside me that I displayed by throwing rocks and breaking sticks against trees. I argued with God and I felt anger towards the shame that was attempting to pull me into defeat and despair, then leaving me to tear myself apart, until reconciling all of this pain with another vow of committed avoidance. 

Yet, something was different in me. I knew that would no longer work, the unending tug-a-war between engaging in some “forbidden” act and then finding ways to avoid it, all fueled by judgment. 

So, I fought through, eventually articulating the truth behind looking at pornography, how my deepest desire was to be intimately connected with a woman and how pornography touched that desire quite strongly. I expressed my greatest longing to experience this in my own life, and that pornography was the blatant display of this need. 

It was a much needed and significant moment that led to another significant moment. When I stopped trying to vehemently push this “issue” away, I began to learn from it. No longer, was I drawn to the pornography I once looked at as a teenager. It was fascinating to see what I liked and what I did not. The authentic pleasure of a woman was quite exciting and satisfying. I was turned off by inauthentic or feigned displays of pleasure, men dominating women and the focus being solely on men’s pleasure. 

I only gravitated towards those that which displayed sex in an erotic, mutual, respectful, reciprocating, sensual and enjoyable way. When shame ruled over me, I could not see any of this, or why I turned to pornography in the first place. I was imprisoned by my impulses, which only led to burying this struggle further down. And hiding it, prevented me from learning.

My “addiction” in the past was not caused by pornography, but hiding and I hid it out of fear of loved one’s judgment. Sadly, when I did open up about it, I was judged, which inevitably caused me to not talk about it. I was alone in my struggle, and understanding my sexuality, including someone willing to inquire about my desires and what I look at. 

Without shame and judgment, pornography does not have a hold over me. I don’t ruminate on it, mentally attempting to push it out of existence, only for it to come back with vengeful force. Learning about my desires has led to embracing my sexuality and longings for intimate connection. I feel more connected to myself now than I ever have.

I am aware that it is a risk to share this, especially when the majority of the voice is to demonize and eradicate pornography. But it is an illusion to think that we will rid something just by treating the symptom, instead of the root. If you really want to invoke change, then you must be willing to travel further, beyond the symptom, into the actual reasons we act in the ways we act. I speculate that when we commit to this way of living, we will actually discover the true heart beneath the “monster”. 

 

Once You See, Everything Changes

This personal experience has changed everything for me, including the way I work with people in therapy. I hear the symptom and the ominous presence of shame and judgment in their words, and I lead them to look further than what they cannot see because of these oppositional forces. Whether it is pornography, an affair, anger, cutting, lying, OCD, etc. all of it is a signal of something more, the heart crying out to be seen and heard. 

It is a rewarding experience, to help others become authentically connected to themselves, to begin listening within and to learn from their struggles which teach them accurately about what is missing, what they fear, what they avoid, and the other impediments that stop them from truly living and being connected with all of life.  

Adding to that reward, specifically, is the enjoyment of helping men become connected to their sexuality. I hear the cries underneath the pain of men hungry to connect with their wives, but lost and terrified in knowing how to. 

One client of mine, believing that he looks at pornography because he is “horny” and likes the naked female form, confessed that he looks at women that specifically look like his wife. Why? Because he wants to be connected with her! However, there are impediments in the way of their connection that he experiences, of which he is not yet aware. His viewing of pornography is the expression of this deficiency and struggle. 

An affair indicates something similar, that there are contaminates within the intimate connection of two committed lovers. 

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is the attempt to deal with future pain, pain that stems from past hurt and trauma. It is the cries of rage and agony.

Anorexia is rage turned inward, rage towards loved ones that were highly controlling and critical. 

We must be willing to face our judgments of both our and other’s behaviors, because there is so much more going on underneath the surface. It is a hard and yet rewarding path to take, to begin to see the problems that exist in the world are beyond our initial presuppositions. These issues are teachers, guides and sages, beckoning us to listen, to listen to the voice that is crying out to be seen and heard and to be loved.  

May you begin to embrace your problem, not as some illicit, “sinful” act, but one that is mirroring an inner need that is longing to be acknowledged and cared for. And may that kind of embracing lead you do so in like for others that are hungry for an encounter with a love they have never experienced. 

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Why Pornography Can Draw Us Closer Towards the Heart: A Mirror into Our Own Desires (Part III)

I cannot emphasize enough how the greatest problems derive, not in viewing pornography, but from hiding, judging and shaming ourselves for it. Have you ever thought about why we demonize pornography? What causes us to react in that way? What is stopping us from understanding what it is really pointing us towards?

Many of us have taken the stance on protesting the “evils” of it, which, there are clearly evils within it, as I will address. But when we paint it with a broad stroke and then hate ourselves for looking at it, it obscures understanding why we are truly drawn to it in the first place. Also, the shrapnel and explosions of judgment block us from seeing what we are specifically drawn towards within pornography; how these specifics say a lot about our personal human desires, longings, fears, insecurities, pains, etc. 

It is no different than when we judge an affair as “wrong” or a “sin”, while missing what drew the person to that in the first place. What were they looking for? How did they feel? What dynamics were in that relationship that were missing in the marriage? What are they afraid to share with their spouse? It is no different with viewing pornography.

In fact, trying to stop the behavior is far less important than becoming aware and connected to our own hearts and what we are looking for when we turn to pornography. I believe when there is no shame, judgment or hiding, the intense urge to turn to it greatly reduces. The more we help each other connect to our hearts and desires, the less disconnected and impulsive we will be. 

It is vitally important we get out of this “right” and “wrong” mindset and venture into the arenas of the heart. With anything that we judge, we miss the treasure buried within it, which teaches us something more meaningful and I believe, life changing.

 

The Desire for Connection

To put it simply, looking at porn points to the human desire to be connected. It is the desire to be engaged and present, indulging with that loving other in the sexual encounter. Our sexuality has been so shamed, judged and mishandled that to have any kind of sexual experience is met with fear, anxiety, shame and embarrassment.. 

But our sexuality is inseparable from our humanity. It carries the deepest, most intense cries for connection, especially a spiritual one. Ultimately, we long to be seen and known and reciprocate this towards another.  When others or ourselves shame this, we either shut this down entirely (what I did), or it develops into detached, disconnected, and impulsive behaviors (also what I did). 

What We Watch and What It Reveals About Our Internal World and Desire

This is essential to understand. Have you ever thought about why certain pornography attracts you? If you feel repulsed by it at all or towards yourself for watching it, then it probably has obfuscated understanding the deeper truths. 

Think about it in terms of a mirror. What is the purpose of a mirror? It's function is to reflect. But a mirror does more than just reveal the physical image of ourselves. When you look in the mirror, you are not confronted with just this image, but how you feel and perceive this image. You may feel very internally secure and confident, which develops into an appreciation and enjoyment of your physical self. But if you are particularly feeling low, and self-critical, then the evaluation of your appearance is shaped by these feelings that turn into judgment. 

What we specifically view regarding pornography points to something specific we are longing for or that which we are needing to address. Our internal world becomes externalized through pornography. It is no different than sexually engaging with someone, in the sense that how connected/disconnected we are from ourselves and our own needs greatly impacts a rich interaction with another. For example, if we are always focused on pleasing others in our life, working overtime to keep them happy, then it will play out in our sex life and significantly impact enjoyment of the sexual experience together. 

 

Enjoyment 

Sex is meant to be enjoyable. In fact, we were created to indulge together in this experience. Much like our emphatic and sensual engagement with decadent food, such as a chocolate cake, the sexual experience is designed to be engaged in this way. Pornography is an attempt to create this.

For a moment, push past the judgment of right/wrong or good/bad  and ask yourself why porn exists. At the heart, it is an attempt to highlight the pleasures of the sexual experience. Now, it certainly deviates from this in many arenas, but the purpose is to capture the otherworldly pleasures of our sexuality.

When anyone watches pornography, it instinctually arouses the sexuality within, eliciting desire. The problem is that we shame ourselves or others shame it and then we attempt to push down our sexuality, avoid fantasy, masturbation, or even viewing pornography. We find ourselves completely beaten down by judgment. The reaction is to distance ourselves from feeling aroused and enjoying our sexuality or keep this hidden life that perpetuates relational and self-disconnection, creating “addictions”. 

Part of that enjoyment in the sexual dimension is that it contains elements of playfulness, novelty/spontaneity and risk/adventure. I do not mean that it is harmful or violent or degrading; but that both partners collaborate and contribute to cultivating that erotic space and satisfaction. 

Now, that is not the remedy to vulnerable emotional connection, but it is a necessary component to greater closeness/meaningfulness.  Introducing new positions, toys, places etc. is not going to replace that emotional intimacy and curb disconnection. Disconnection comes from the avoidance of emotional engagement and seeing one another. When couples commit to turning towards one another and intentionally work through the distance, hurts, pains, and past wounds together, it greatly impacts closeness to one another. 

If the sexual experience lacks playfulness, then it may point to certain fears/insecurities/discomforts within that inhibit this dynamic. Pornography conveys some of the elements of playfulness, through role playing and narratives, but it does miss the genuine intimate connection to another. 

 

The Person You Watch is the Person You Long to Be

 I have talked to both friends and clients on different ends of the spectrum when it came to having a strong or weaker sense of self and the confidence to take initiative and risk, in life and in the erotic space with their partner. How they feel about themselves and how connected they are to their own needs, desires, bodies, strengths/limitations, in the entirely of their life, greatly impacts their sexuality and engagement with their partner. 

For example, let's say the individual struggles with initiating in life, is often concerned with the emotional satisfaction of the other, and avoids sharing his/her own needs and desires. Well, typically, that person is going to carry this into the sexual encounter. They are going to be disconnected from themselves, nervously concentrating on the other’s enjoyment, pleasure and security. 

This individual, who feels disconnected and afraid to bring up their own needs, may turn to pornography as an attempt to feel this connection they are longing for with their partner. What and who they watch is going to be very significant. They may gravitate towards pornography where the partner of the same sex as the viewer is more assertive/confident. What this indicates is the individual’s desire to feel this confidence within himself. 

Or if the individual is watching pornography where the other partner is more assertive, confident and engaging, it could very well point to the desire for the individual’s partner to express greater confidence in themselves and initiate sexually, which will profoundly impact the sexual experience.

On a final note, another element to be mindful of is the “type” of person you find yourself drawn towards in regards to a partner. Married men that I’ve counseled have found themselves watching pornography where the woman resembles their wife. This is very significant, and I believe points to the deep desire to experience a greater erotic encounter with their wives, but also a fear to share vulnerably with them. Their longing is not to “get off” to whoever, but to be richly connected to their partner. 

 

Force/Control, Degradation/Humiliation, Abuse/Violence

Let me first clarify that there are arenas within pornography or I would say erotica, that express a beautiful and genuine connection between two lovers. It exhibits mutual enjoyment, playfulness, novelty and closeness. However, a good portion of pornography does not portray this wonderful celebratory expression of human sexuality and engagement. It derails and deviates far from it into harmful and degrading acts that points to something the deep within.

 

Force/Control

Typically, whether in pornography or in actual life sexual encounters, if force and control are elements in this realm, then it may signal this intense desire for closeness that is imbued with fear. Pushing sexual contact to feel close and create security before there is even emotional closeness can indicate fear of loneliness and a great desire for connection.

It is an attempt for that individual to remedy fear within themselves. And usually this fear stems from relational hurt. Pushing sexual contact too soon may be this way to protect from any further hurt, but it only masks the pain, instead of heals it.

 

Degradation/Humiliation and Abuse/Violence

If an individual finds themselves venturing further into “dangerous” realms in pornography where degrading and violent expressions of sexuality are portrayed it can indicate a couple reasons.

For those who engage in these acts, there is this insatiable hunt to feel satisfaction, away from pain. Think about when you feel anger or rage in reaction to someone's behavior and how you might feel satisfied imagining yourselves destroying the individual. Acting out in violence is the attempt to remedy severe shame, pain and hurt. We crave vindication and when we push down our anger and rage, it will eventually surface into more destructive actions, either towards ourselves or others. 

So then apply this to the sexual arena, where the vulnerable self surfaces. Those that both act this out or watch others do so, usually highlights intense rage and anger within and the fear of expressing this vulnerably to others, especially the one with whom they feel anger towards. The individual also feels self-hatred, which is really anger turned inwards.  

Anger is a beautiful emotion that can potentially bring greater intimacy when shared vulnerably, but it is also terrifying to feel and share before another. When this form of pornography is sought after, it could indicate an anger and rage that needs to be connected to (non-destructively).

The other reason could mean that the individual has buried or hidden their engagement with pornography for quite some time and thus created this insatiable thirst to feel satisfied. The individual is actually disconnected from themselves, including their emotions, both their relational and sexual desire, and attunement to their own bodies. When they feel shame for even looking at pornography and then hide it,  this obscuring effect occurs that keeps the person from awareness of why they turn to view it in the first place. 

What happens is it perpetuates this thirst to feel satisfied and so they must venture into more shocking expressions of sexuality to create this internal satisfaction. However, shame and self-hatred shortly resurface and the hunt continues.

 

Conclusion

This writing does not cover all the intricacies of why we are drawn to view pornography or the types of pornography. It is merely to start a conversation and to puncture this “right/wrong” or “good/bad” paradigm. Consider your own judgments towards something you may wrestle with, such as eating certain foods, smoking, drinking, dancing, movies, shopping, etc. When you get stuck in judgment, it blocks you from connecting to your own heart and getting to the vulnerable self. 

Judgment stops us from learning valuable truths.  When Jesus said to first take the log out of your own eye, he is referring to this internal examination or awareness. Feeling shocked or even recoiling at another’s behavior is a normal, visceral response, but to then evaluate it in “right” or “wrong”  standards blocks us from understanding and connecting to others. Judgment keeps  us from knowing ourselves and our own desires. 

Understanding what we are drawn towards in pornography will connect us closer to our own hearts, pains, desires and what is genuine, life-giving, satisfying and meaningful sexual/relational interaction. And when we can courageously venture into our own chambers, we can help others do the same.

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Why Pornography Can Draw Us Closer Towards the Heart (Part II)

Pornography powerfully draws out something very visceral and innately woven into us; our sexuality. To try to force our desire to view pornography away or hate it, is to push something ingrained within ourselves away, creating a “forbidden” dynamic that inevitably elicits the desire to seek and reengage in it. 

Pushing this away, hating ourselves or feeling shame for it, blocks us from getting to the heart and the core need. When we commit to discovering our authentic self and those God-given needs, we become more connected to ourselves and the draw towards pornography loses power, rendering it impotent. 

There is a loneliness and emptiness within that drives us toward connection, closeness, engagement, and intimacy with another. Our sexual drive alerts us of this longing.

The sexual encounter is a very powerful, spiritual, emotional, and physical experience. It is a fleeting expression of an already deep attachment that celebrates and adds to the bond. It is a moment of “nakedness” before another person. We see them, they see us; there is no mask. When there is nothing inhibiting each other, viscerally there is movement to be intimately close.

That satisfying sexual encounter activates before any kind of sexual or physical initiation. It begins when we intentionally reveal ourselves to each other. This comes in many forms; laughing together, vulnerable conversations, emotional expression, fighting that brings closeness, expressing anger to one another in healthy ways, allowing distance and individuality, spontaneity, meeting love needs, sharing love needs, etc. 

When people enter into that sexual dimension in “nakedness”, they want to celebrate and share in the pleasure of closeness together. This requires knowing individually what is arousing and allowing that to be a part of the shared moment. 

 Our sexuality signals the innate desire to be joined, to see and know and to be seen and known.

 

So why does a person (man or woman) turn towards pornography? 

The drive for sexual connection is so instinctual and innate that pornography stimulates and attempts to satisfy these needs. When a person engages in it often, it points to a strong sex drive and a need to be intimately connected that is beyond sexual.  

Although a person is turning away from their partner, the heart’s desire is to bond with his or her love. However, there is a fear in connecting with the real, of pouring out, and opening up before another heart. Turning towards pornography is an attempt to recreate this. 

The individual is also searching for themselves. They feel lost and empty within and the encounter with pornography transiently fills, convincing the deepest parts of the self that they are found. 

It is less about numbing and more about nourishing; including a desire to soothe emotional ache, need and longing. The person is hungry to feel alive, which actually happens in vulnerable connectedness with others and with God, including connecting to emotions.

However, paradoxically, despite the individual looking in pornography to be found, satisfied, and connected, they progressively become more and more detached. They become numb to themselves. What begins as a hunt to feel alive, can lead to a dissociated self.   

 

The “Nakedness” We are In Search Of

Viewing pornography activates a part of our brain (mirror neurons) that while watching it, reenacts what it sees. In other words, we become so entranced and locked in to the viewing of the sexual experience that we believe we are a part of it. Another part of our brain, which is activated by powerful neurochemicals, is notified to record this powerful occurrence. So, what we are viewing actually begins to shape our sexuality and expression of it with another. 

We were created to partake and immerse ourselves in the sexual experience, not observe it. But to partake in the sexual experience means we participate in other vulnerable realms first; and that requires the intimidating risk of opening up one’s self to another and allowing the other to share themselves to us. The realm of “nakedness” begins before the physical nakedness. 

And this means we become present with ourselves in order to be present with another. Actually, it all happens simultaneously in the dimension of relationship. We come to know ourselves while engaging with the other. Relationships are a mirror that bring up the inhibiting issues and the beautiful intricacies within. They ignite desires, reveal our blind spots, traumas, shame, defenses, fears, weakness, strengths, gifting, our need for aliveness and our need to be relationally engaged. 

Relationships that also incorporate pornography into their sex life to “spice things up” are looking to jump start, enhance, and/or repair something malnourished and missing in their intimacy.

But vulnerability is SCARY, because we are revealing things that we are uncomfortable to admit even to ourselves. It is a risky action, as we potentially run into another’s walls, their defenses, emotions and fears, and limitations, all which can trigger our own. Both engage in this messy dance to be close, but in that process, they must navigate the jaggedness of pain and the thorny weeds that inhibit closeness. 

When a person is afraid of their own emotion, not only will they avoid expressing to the other when the feel hurt or anger towards them, they will be afraid of the other's emotion, resorting to defenses to quiet their emotions out of fear and discomfort. It is pretty clear that becoming connected is quite the challenging endeavor.

 

Final Thoughts

For those reading this, I’m aware I have highlighted viewing pornography in covenantal/committed relationships and not much in the arena of singleness. All of this still applies, but it does leave the question of honoring our sexuality while single, especially when our sexuality is such an integral and inherent part of our personhood. 

We are taught very little in the area of understanding and honoring our sexual needs, and sometimes the response can range from pushing down our sexual desire, distraction tactics, the “cold shower” approach, or expressing it freely, uninhibitedly and impulsively with little awareness and connection. 

I believe that there is a middle road that does not lead to disconnection, but honors, preserves and cares for our sexuality. That’s a topic for another time, but for now I find it important to express what we are searching for when we view pornography. Despite all the judgments towards those who engage in it, both men and women, the act speaks powerfully to the deepest, intrinsic desire to be seen, known and bonded.

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Why Pornography Can Draw Us Closer Towards the Heart (Part I)

First off, we really don’t get anywhere by demonizing something. When we vilify something, it usually comes from a lack of understanding and discomfort within ourselves. 

When we operate through a black and white paradigm of right/wrong or good/bad it obscures learning and discovering the matters of the Heart, including our own. Whenever our first reaction is to cast judgment on a person and their behavior, it is necessary to step back and look over our own hearts and reactions to become aware of what lies within, as Jesus instructed. One must ask themselves, why the hatred towards someone and their behavior. If we traveled past the vitriol, what would we actually discover in ourselves?

Often our discomfort points to something within our own hearts that we have not faced, reconciled or that we judge about our self. And when we are lost in the tormenting throes of self-judgment and shame, we lose clarity on what actually drove us to act in such a way. It inhibits us from encountering our own hearts, specifically our desires, needs, longings and the fear of it all, including the intensity.

Because we are afraid of the inhabitants inside our hearts, even repulsed, we go so far to project it onto God, convinced that somehow, He feels exactly the way we do about ourselves. And to counter all of this shame and judgment, we create defenses or protective mechanisms to cushion or block out the pain, making attempts to generate a more acceptable self to all and to God.

And yet, discovering the Truth and our true selves, as well as moving into a greater connection with God, ourselves and others, requires venturing into the heart, and facing what we fear or feel shame over and actively avoid.

That means that wonderful truths can come from what we feel a great deal of shame about, such as pornography; which is often demonized, including the viewing of it. But what if demonizing it actually does the opposite of lead to healing? What if in the vilification of it, we lose sight of why we are driven to view it and how we are trying to meet several needs, including connecting sexually?

What if shaming ourselves for viewing pornography is what actually creates the compulsion to return back to it; that feeling guilt and judging it as “evil” or “wrong” elicits an impulse to annihilate the crippling feelings and at the same time an insatiable excitement to seek out the “forbidden” within its realms? 

When WE create this “forbidden” experience, our natural inclination is to turn towards it, engage in it and unravel its illicit mysteries. Putting distance between us and that desired “object” intensifies the desire and the impulse all the more. Paired with this is an anxiety or fear of something missing within ourselves that we believe will not be met. 

Why? Because we live in the tension of wanting mystery and the satisfaction of uncovering it, and when something is designated “forbidden”, it becomes this mysterious entity that wets our appetite for the unknown. The urge to know paired with fear becomes intense, and we give in to its force, partaking in the discovery of its mysteries and its pleasures. 

Immediately after engaging it, we feel the overwhelming, radiating jolt of shame and the inability to mentally grasp what just happened. It becomes so enveloping and paralyzing that reflexively, we pull away from God, ourselves and others. We attempt to quiet the presence of shame and self-hatred by turning back to that which we feel shame and guilt over; perpetuating and deepening our engagement in the “forbidden”; igniting a cyclical relationship.

We become lost, disordered within and detached from all of life the more we try to “fight” against it, continuously focusing on its presence and hating ourselves deeply.

But the actual remedy is to turn towards our own hearts, relationships and God, even in the midst of the powerful presence of shame and guilt. I believe that true accountability is not one that checks in with the behavior or the “did you look again” approach, but instead helps one another connect to the heart beneath the behavior. It is within this dynamic that awareness, connection, vulnerability, intimacy and aliveness occur. 

When we get stuck focusing on our behavior, we lose sight of what compels us towards this outlet. And when we judge our behavior as good/bad or right/wrong, that too prevents us from a richer experience of exploring ourselves.

Labeling it as adultery, fornication, sin, etc. may aid in diagnosing, but it is usually a judgmental response that leaves us and others entrenched in our seemingly inescapable shame, further disconnected from ourselves. The labeling of another is also a defense from others that perpetuates distance, generates pride and protects one from feeling their own hurt. 

The last thing I will end with, it that we have this idea that turning pornography is to numb emotional pain or it's because the person is “horny”, but those are really shallow critiques. It is partially accurate, but there is much more to the “why” that I will dig into in posts to come. For now, I wanted to demystify and bring a reframe onto this subject that many consider problematic and destructive. 

But the truth is that it does not have to have this kind of impact, when we can look at it as instrumental in discovering deeper mysteries about ourselves. In seeing it as an aid in exploring our hearts, it no longer has this ominous power or force in our life that we so fervently try to destroy, while paradoxically magnetizing us back into its presence. It is equally essential that we are surrounded by loved ones, who help draw us out of shame and towards our hearts in order to heal. 

I hope that I can convey how significantly pornography mirrors, what exists within ourselves and what we are really longing for relationally. 

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Doubt: What if You Don't Know?

This will come across to some as heavy, disparaging and depressing and for others maybe it brings hope, illuminating their own inner struggle. I guess it depends on where we allow ourselves to be and what we want to hear. Most times I feel lost, wandering a desert. A forest would be more appreciated, at least there’s more to admire. But my narrative places me right into the barren lands of existential crisis.

There are those moments scattered amidst the journey that act as a beacon, a light that draws me to meaning and significance. It is experienced as insight or an expansion of consciousness. My perspective deepens and shifts and the old lens of seeing life is replaced by a new one. For a fleeting moment I am found and I know I am of purpose and significance.

But this moment dissolves into the muscular wind of helplessness, frustration, uncertainty and hopelessness. And what do I do with such moments, for they are often? 

I can’t figure out life. Formulas are an illusion and a security blanket that attempts to remove all uncertainty, but this presence eventually returns, looming within the soul. 

And my faith and belief has changed. At one point I considered myself no longer a Christian, until I began to understand True Christianity. Where do I go when I carry this overwhelming sense of feeling lost? Where many call the “church” the home, I never have and probably never will. It is a home I never really lived in, or could get comfortable in. I always felt like a transient or vagrant, forcing myself to speak the language or dialect when my soul cringed inside. 

But, the question remains, to where do I go? Where do I seek comfort or security? Or is that all smoke and mirrors to distract from facing my doubt and the inevitability that life will be filled with great loneliness, angst, trouble and restlessness.  

I don’t “worship” and I no longer pray in the traditional sense. My prayers are movements or actions that I believe are Divine nudges. Or my prayers are filled with the profane; vulgar, vein-popping screams to Whoever put me here. Most days are filled with cabin-fever and unrelenting “soul” pacing.

But I don’t want to run to the church for nurture, because who would be able to hold my existential angst and questioning? Who would allow me to doubt and question everything I was taught? I fear that it will be met with surrounding prayer, vacant chatter that distract, invalidate, and stifle my soul. I don’t want to be fixed, I want to be heard and understood.

Can I not question Jesus and who he was? Did not Peter wrestle with this strange, alien man who was somehow connected to the Divine? Sometimes it seems petty to argue the cohesion of Jesus’s divinity and humanity, and somehow if you question it, you are deemed a heretic. And that’s the problem…there is little room for questioning, existential anxiety and angst. 

We built some religion around worshiping and promising that Jesus is the cure to all our problems, but he never seemed to promise this. Instead he modeled quite poignantly and blatantly a life of loneliness, frustration, mourning, dread, and then Divine abandonment, followed by a resurrected life. We seem to forget this, the heavier human experiences of our faith.

There is a lack of emphasis on this dimension of our humanity and change. More and more I begin to see Jesus’s words of “I’m the way, the truth, and the life” as something more expansive and universal. What he seems to be saying is that the way I am showing you life is right now, and embodied in me, so follow this way of living. And this way of living comes with the prerequisite of “dying” and being “born again”, which means we enter into our own darkness and shadows; that nothing remains hidden within us. We must face everything inside ourselves, even the way we created “God” through our own projections and securities to protect against pain, despair and doubt. 

And unfortunately, we try to convince or articulate people’s need for Jesus, rather than radiating his divine presence within us, that draws others to seek that path, the path of becoming new, transformed and whole. 

Jesus talked about letting our light shine, but this light shines and radiates from within; and how we get to that light, requires us going into our shadows and facing it all, feeling it all, living in the polarity and ambiguity, being stripped of judgment and dualistic thinking.

Jesus makes several references to this Divine presence being inside us, already. However, our ability to access it is blocked when we live in states of defense, perpetually focused on others, either judging them or pleasing them. All of this obscures facing our own self. We suffer a great loss when we commit to the inner journey, unraveling layers, facing wounds, defenses, and our ego. I believe this is what Jesus meant when he says you must “lose yourself to find yourself”.

So, here he is, this man, in connection with the Divine, illuminating the Christ within, turning the world upside down, challenging the political system, and our distorted ways of loving and being, teaching and guiding us in True and Authentic humanity; and we miss all that, by making a religion out of him, this icon or mascot for Christianity. 

The fallacy is that we, quite annoyingly, I might add, is tell people about Jesus and make an argument to persuade them to accept him, but the reason why people were drawn to Jesus was because of the Christ within him, one of the personalities within the Divine Triune relationship. Many were compelled to him because of the Divine love he radiated. Sadly, I am not sure we mirror the same, unless we listen and boldly face our own selves in an inward journey, learning to listen to the voice within or that “kingdom” within or that Divine presence leading us. But we have to be willing to see the impediments that distract and pull us away from this Voice. 

I truly believe that others will be drawn to our “light” when we connect to that “light”. We don’t have to persuade or argue or defend. Jesus NEVER did that. He never convinced someone, he just lived out this beautiful, foreign love that others encountered and their thirst finally came in contact with the source. We have been given that opportunity.

But we have turned all this into a “religion” that covers up pain, and promises security. Songs that act as make up that mask the gashes of the soul. Sermons that promise good fortune and that God will make everything better. Anything that will remove or at the very least, numb the inner angst and questioning.  

Even our prayers seem to be a balm to pain, vacuous words that cover up the hurt someone is revealing to another. Are we ready and willing to listen to someone who is crying to be heard and seen or do we stifle that by jumping into praying to God for them? True prayer is integrated into the person, meaning we live out what we are compelled to do. We don’t have to consult or pine or panhandle or convince or beg the Divine. It does not mean we do not connect and commune, but it is less a “should I or should I not” soliloquy, for the answer is already within us. 

The most beautiful kind of prayer is one that listens and cares deeply for what another is saying and sharing, connecting compassionately to their vulnerable disclosure. That is where the healing lies, thrives and is experienced. 

True Religion: The Inward Journey

I believe that True Christianity or “religionless” Christianity, as Peter Rollins describes, is dangerous, visceral, instinctual, raw and explicit in its expression, confronting wrong doing, exposing the lies, weeping and nurturing others in their pain, fighting for the lonely, the abandoned, the traumatized, the neglected and feeling the depths of despair, ache, and an existential restlessness. And it means that we do not shield ourselves from it, but embrace and walk in it, allowing this to lead us to a transformed or transfigured life and being. It is the riskiest and boldest path to travel, for there is a great susceptibility to be wounded, hated, abandoned, rejected, and potentially killed to operate in that kind of love.

There is no promise of security, and yet somehow, we may experience this Divine “holding” when we go into the depths of the uncertainty. No longer do we cover up anything, knowing that it will pull us away from actual living and loving. This is the path Jesus calls us to.

This is where, I hope, I am being led, away from the security and into the unknown, being stripped of most of what I have been taught. It feels like wandering, sometimes drawing me into a panic, anxiously grabbing for what I used to know and how I used to live. But when you encounter the impotency and meaninglessness of all of this, it is like grasping at delicate weeds, that rip out at the slightest tug. Old perspectives and material comforts are transient anesthetics, that when the numbing wears off, the pain returns with a visceral punch. 

The feeling of falling is not one to fight, but to embrace. When I no longer know, then I allow that to be a guidance in my life, teaching me about the unknown or the fraying of what I once believed and why I believed it. 

We are called to live dangerously, to illuminate the Christ within, even to the point of death. It is when we connect to the Divine that exists within ourselves that we move in that energy that has the power to heal in so many dimensions. The presence we carry is far more powerful than verbal bandages we offer to others. But again, the requirement is to face our own soul, which is a disquieting and unnerving endeavor. A cohesion of pain and freedom. 

And we must be willing to enter into this odyssey, abandoning our mental and behavioral efforts to know and manufacture security. For it is in this abandonment that we begin to experience true life and true connection to the Divine.  

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Anger: The Most Vital Feeling You Try Not to Feel (And that's a Problem)

Anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, depression, eating disorders, suicide, cutting, homicide, self-criticism, etc. All of these have something in common, one thing that lingers inside the soul of a person, fighting to get out, to be known and felt and to longer live trapped within the heart. It is that one emotion that we don’t want to feel, for if we do it will create more problems and possibly destruction; it could ruin relationships and that would forever stay with us. I believe this one emotion is one of the greatest creators of so many mental health disorders and as I have seen, we have no clue what to do with it when it comes up.

The above disorders are not some embedded, permanent problem, forever entrenched within a person. Instead, they are the loudest notes of pain and relational disorder. All of these surface and reveal themselves to point to the disharmony in connection. An individual is not their disorder, but their disorder is a sharp cry that something is off in the system. 

However, this is not what I mean when referring to the common denominator. What connects them all, despite the differences in the manifestation of an internal struggle is one emotion.

Anger.

Throughout humanity, anger has been the most demonized, avoided and judged emotion. But it is one of the most important, integral, and transformative feelings. The significance of this emotion is where language falls short. 

We avoid showing it to people, attempt to not feel it, create “control” groups for it, and build hundreds of clinics to address the behavioral displays of deeply buried anger. But the problems continue to exist.

It is a powerful emotion and when we fight so hard to avoid it or act out of it destructively, it causes an innumerable amount of issues. But its meaning and existence is profoundly invaluable and is trying to tell us why it is there. 

But to hear the message, we must feel it and allow it to exist.

 

Underneath the Floorboards…Eventually It Reveals Itself

As a young boy, I would encounter one of my parent’s vitriolic anger towards me. It was terrifying. My body radiated and pulsed all over synchronized to the battering-ram pounding of my heart. It was so intense that while the rest of my body froze, this little beating organ was working overtime, punching my rib cage so hard it had to the potential to break it.

I stood their stuck, as the deepest, most guttural blasts of rage hit my soul. And I was trapped, for to pull away potentially threatened the “loss” of relationship. This conflicting experience was happening simultaneously, wanting to get the hell out of there and hide and yet staying to maintain connection. 

In the midst of the plumes of anger and rage from this parent, came my own anger. At some point, naturally, I began to feel pissed, probably even enraged. And I could not keep this from being displayed.

Once it was out there, my own anger, that is, this parent could see it, and the response was “you can’t be angry, only I can be angry” or other reactions to shut down this feeling.

The scariest one, was the pulling away. While still angry, this parent would turn to silence, and visibly display their anger with slamming the cupboards or slamming silverware into the drawer, the ear-splitting clash of the metal piercing me internally at every moment of contact. But the silence and withdrawal were the killers; this menacing presence of cold removal permeated the house. 

So, in response, instinctually, I would fall to the ground, crying, begging and pleading for this person to come back. I would berate myself, attacking my own self just to soften this person and have them return back to me. It was quite the effective tactic, but it was so reflexive, I had no idea why I committed to this way of getting connection back. It just happened.

But the moments after the return and “reconciliation” I would be left in the fumes, feeling the most intense shame and rage. However, I had no idea what to do with these feelings, but I needed them out of me. I could not carry them. We were never meant to.

I would spend quite a bit of time after the moment, ruminating on what happened, cycling through the events, hoping for relief. It would never come. All I experienced was the unending misery of disorientation, shame, self-hatred and loneliness. The only relief was when this parent would apologize and shift to being affectionately loving. However, my own internal world was writhing in pain and feeling lost. And even the affection created conflict in me. I wanted to pull away.

As I got older, I found myself all of a sudden in depression, feeling hopeless and helpless. Something would trigger me and I would end up in this low, gloomy place paired with blasting thoughts of criticism. Any “mistake” or an upset reaction from someone and there I was, hating myself, withdrawing from others. 

It led to me to staying in my room, or talking to my parents about how horrible of a person I was. One parent’s response was to turn compassionate and contend with the hateful words I was saying to myself. But this issue continued. 

Another byproduct was that I would hardly ever want to attempt something new out of the intense fear and assumption that it would only end in hurt and pain and misery. An intense frustration would have to kick in for me to get out of this protective barricade.

It was not until I met with my old supervisor, now therapist, several years ago, that I became aware of what was truly happening. He could hear the depression and self-criticism present in my voice. The energy was not there as I talked about my current experiences. The tone of my voice was flat.

He pointed this out and challenged me to start getting angry at the depression and eventually the self-criticism and judgment. 

Why?

Because these were all symptoms of not feeling my anger when it came up.

The depression happened because I would quickly go from anger to despair, but then get stuck in the despair, the “This will never work out” state. 

And the self-criticism was fueled by rage, but it was turned towards myself instead of toward the object I was angry at (mom, dad, God, life, friends, situations, etc.)

When I became aware of this, it was not an easy transition. I would fall into despair quickly, eventually beginning to see that I ended up in this state. But to tap into my anger, anger that was buried so deep within me partnered with my learned reflex to stuff it and then mentally stab myself over and over again, seemed almost impossible.

This was a whole new way of connecting to myself. In my younger days I developed anxiety and anxiety-driven behaviors such as OCD and hypochondriasis in response to avoided anger and relational pain. As an adolescent I would operate more passively, saying and/or acting in ways that communicated I was angry, but never overtly and vulnerably admitting it to the person. 

Then in my early 20s, I began to feel anger towards my mom and my dad. All this rage and hate radiated viscerally to the surface. However, to buffer the intensity I would continue to shove it down and judge myself. I felt so lost in how to deal with the power of this feeling. Anger was a “dangerous” feeling in my experience and I was completely alone in navigating it, so I naturally built walls around it.

Yet, this muscular feeling, that I worked hard to quiet, was pushing and screaming to be felt and heard. At the time, I was without a map, directionless on what to do, because I had never been helped in connecting to and understanding this part of myself.

Something began to happen when my therapist both pointed out the origins of depression being an internalized anger, and validated the feeling, exposing it and giving name to it without judgment. 

Slowly and with trepidation, I began to really feel it, in all of its intensity. Hate, rage, anger, violent thoughts and desires, criticisms, judgments, vein-tearing screams, the most vile and vitriolic-laden words; all of it came out. There were moments where I would pull away, noticing that some of my thoughts fueled by my rage were uncomfortable, bordering on racist or demeaning appraisals of others. But if I were to fight against all of these, it would stay hidden, corrode my soul and nag until it came out. 

I could no longer escape the anger and all the intricacies laced within it. To hide was more uncomfortable and unbearable than to scream it out…until its presence left.

And eventually I became comfortable with the emotion, going on rage-drives (not speeding, just yelling) or having unfiltered conversations with friends, aware that it would lead me somewhere. Subsequently, would come the other pain, hurt, loneliness, sadness, etc. underneath. 

The result is that very little, if at all, do I feel depressed and am aware that when I do, that I have often times pulled away from anger or that it is around the corner of the despair I feel.

 

Things Get Messy: When We Mishandle our Anger

So why share my story regarding my struggles with anger?

Because anger has gotten a bad rap, and for understandable reasons. Actions fueled by anger have led to much destruction and harm; however, the reason for this is because we have had a foggy awareness of anger and its existence. We also have set up ways to circumvent our anger, which, when something stays hidden, it eventually bursts forth with great intensity.

Anger is the louder cry of pain, more specifically, relational pain. The bellows of anger signal that things are off in our connection with others and with the function or structure of life. It points to injustice, whether on a large scale, such as racism and other forms of inequality, or within our own person relationships where toxicity (manipulation, abuse, etc.) exists.

Whenever there is harm done to another or to ourselves the root is most likely anger and if we were to travel further, we would unravel a more vulnerable emotion of hurt.

However, we cannot access that tender feeling of pain, until we travel through the intensity of our own anger. And most of us probably carry some intense anger within. Usually the larger the wounding and pain, the larger the anger, rage and hate.

The problem is that some of us are scared to feel the intensity of anger. Whether you realize it or not, you have defenses set up to avoid this emotion. Whether you turn to some coping mechanism or retreat to some mental defense, such as judging your own reaction or trying to invoke empathy for those that enrage you, there are these unconscious detours that steer you away from feeling your pain. 

Self-harming behaviors such as cutting, pulling hair, uncontrolled substance use, and suicide are all signals of rage turned inward, towards the self. But these only exist, because it has never been safe to feel such rage. It is squashed, stifled, suffocated, bitterly criticized, etc. by loved ones. The person feels an overwhelming sense of aloneness and lost, unaware that such self-harm is really to deal with the hate towards someone else that was never validated and allowed to be expressed.

Or there is the other end, where anger, rage and hate turn towards harming or destroying the other, whether psychologically or physically or both. Regardless of the complexity of its expression, the simple basis of such actions is an overwhelming sense of pain that the person has no idea how to vulnerably share. Instead of humbly acknowledging it, feeling it and expressing it, instead the person moves in violent ways to destroy another as an attempt to end the suffering with themselves.

The problem is that it never resolves anything.

The only path of healing is to look at our violent thoughts, desires and fantasies, or even our actions and to follow that back to the presence of anger. From there, we must boldly face and feel our anger, finding other outlets to express this feeling (finding non-living things to rip, smash, hit, scream, etc.).

It can never be physically directed towards others or ourselves, for the healing will never come. Invoking violence upon others is an illusion that only elicits further destruction, which humanity has sadly experienced enough of. 

When we truly connect to the anger we feel, it leads us somewhere, to greater truths. What I mean, is that feeling this emotion connects to the reason it has surfaced, but we must enter into feeling it to draw us towards tenderness and a more vulnerable state where we will discover the hurt that occurred within the relationship.

This is no easy endeavor and I certainly am not making it out to be. I was completely unaware of my anger and how it presented itself. I felt an incredible discomfort as it began to surface. Instinctually I tried to turn it off.

I would consider the most integral part of connecting to my anger, was my therapist naming it, conveying understanding and guiding me in feeling it. I needed someone to point this out, without judgment or shaming. 

And I hope that others do the same for you. Or if you do not currently have that support, that this writing is enough to validate what you struggle with inside.

May you feel the depths and richness of your anger and allow it to guide you towards the greater message of relational discord and pain. May it draw you towards vulnerability and to boldness in sharing your hurt to those who have done the wounding. And may you express the anger you feel in such a healing way that those around you no longer feel alone in the anger they carry; instead, giving others permission to feel what they have avoided.

Anger is a beautiful emotion, that should never be silenced, because in doing so, others will never see nor hear the truth and have to face change within themselves necessary for reconciliation and relational healing; or in other words to bring unity to the world around us.

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You Can Fight Changing, But You Won't Win(AndThat's a Good Thing)

While on a walk with a friend, he was sharing with me this newfound discovery about himself and how he navigates connection in relationships with the underlying presence of fear fueling his way of connecting to others. In other words, out of fear of losing those close to him, he has a particular way of pushing real, authentic reactions within himself down within relationships to prevent the loss of them. 

Some might call this a false self, wounded personality, a bent self, etc. Whatever you label it, he had expressed vulnerably and openly that he had become aware of this part of himself. I found it to be a very moving moment of self-discovery and felt excited for him at the new level awareness he developed, knowing that this was the start of change.

We all carry these personalities that have developed while we were young in order to stay in harmony with our loved ones, while inevitably shutting down the True Self and all the emotions tethered to the True Self. We have pushed these aspects down out of survival and the prevention of loss. 

But False and True selves is not what this writing is about. It is about change and how we end up changing.

On the walk it became clearer to me the sequence or progression of change and I expressed to my friend in excitement over the expanded insight.

The words came to mind only because of my own experience with change, which has been wonderfully tumultuous. But I could map out a clear pattern with my own self-transformation and see the unique markings of growth in my journey.

 

When Things Get Frustrating

About three years ago, I began to grow restless and frustrated. I had no idea why. These feelings just showed up and made little sense. But they hardly let up. All I knew is that I was tired of feeling stuck in my life. My life stagnated, even thought I had finished grad school and was now in my internship on the path to becoming licensed.

But these rumblings going on within me were beyond my academics and training. This was deeply personal. Whatever was going on in my “soul” was done with the way I lived and navigated life.

Not that I didn’t take risks in my life, but I typically lived in a self-constructed security system, only wanting to move if I was certain of the outcome. If there was little to no certainty, I stayed put, sheltered within my safe corridors. I didn’t want to take risks in dating or friendships, or passions or traveling, but I dreamed and longed for changes in these areas.

Even in my spiritual connection, I had grown restless, hungry for something deeper and real, beyond the church services, worship gatherings, conferences, support groups, etc. I wanted an authentic encounter with the Divine.

This led to taking risks, beginning to connect genuinely with God, myself and others; being bold in the arena of dating, deepening my intimacy with friendships, and exploring more of life without the hinderances of judgment and shame.

But the frustration was about no longer living in the shadows, stifled or suffocated by fear and this internal voice of judgment or crippled by the reactions of others. Another way of saying this is, I WANTED TO BE FREE! Which is what True Religion is really about, freedom. But not in the sense of I can do whatever I want, but actually a love that expands and deepens, to indulge and stay connected to myself in the moment, to share this message of love to others through my own uniqueness and to continuously explore the mysteries of life. True religion is about living in the uncertainty and the paradoxes, while pursuing the mysteries, turning towards and not away, and living honestly and authentically.

And this was what my restlessness was about! I no longer wanted to be barricaded by the impediments of my childhood, the judgment/critical voice, the projected distortions onto God or to stay hidden, living in the shadows. I was chomping at the bit for something within to burst forth and illuminate this Divine Love that has always lived inside, but was obfuscated by the wounded self.

But I couldn’t fully understand this restlessness until I embraced and followed it, listening to the moments that pointed me to go somewhere, surrendering the illusory security of having to be certain. I was compelled to “go” and then “see”. And when I did, each moment was pivotal in the movement towards change. 

And I am still on that journey.

 

The Rhythms of Change

Now, in looking back at all this, I was able to see the journey of transformation, which I want to share with you all.

So how do we change? It might seem nebulous at first, but once we go through the process, it begins to make sense. We can fight it all we want, but there is this unavoidable gravitational pull, I believe, that moves us towards authentic and deeply connected living.

First it starts with discomfort and discomfort manifests as restlessness. Something just doesn’t feel right in our life, relationships or specific circumstances. Things just stop working the way they once did. Or maybe I should say the way we connect, relate, respond or react to life loses its grip and effect. 

But all we have in the beginning is this experience that things feel off. We are tired, burned out, frustrated, unsettled or discontent. The awareness has not yet kicked in. The language for why we are in this state is underdeveloped and missing. 

And this leads us, possibly, to seek outside resources, someone who may be able to help us put language to our disturbance. At first our motive is to shed ourselves of this obnoxious presence in our lives, but eventually, if we fall into good hands, that other person will only inform us that they do not have the answer, but will join them in their search for it.

Too often, I have found that others, although well-intentioned, respond with feedback and giving people possible answers to their problems, instead of acknowledging the feeling and exploring with them the meaning within it. Doling out solutions to existential wrestling superficially scratch the surface and do very little to promote deeper change.

Someone wise in our lives does not give some shallow answer, but instead helps the individual embrace the present state and struggle, with the hunger for change and greater meaning. Such a person does bring clarity to the emotion and what it alludes to, but does not give solutions that disconnect the person from the state they are in. For example, if someone is beginning to connect with their anger they have never been allowed to feel towards a particular family member, the solution is not to spend time with that member they are angry at or find something they enjoy in common together (real advice I was given). 

The best response is to assist that person in feeling and connecting to their anger and eventually sharing it with the individual they feel anger towards.

We need others to help us understand and explore ourselves, especially the groaning associated with change. This is a huge part of developing awareness. I don’t see awareness happening on our own. The beauty of relationship is we help one another change by reflecting, mirroring and putting words to the struggle, pain and other emotion. You could say that we are a light to their darkness.

So, what began as unconscious rumblings within us, led us to seek out help, where we began to “see” the truth of our struggle and toiling. Within the realms of relational intimacy, we can enter into self-exploration and discovery, learning about our pain, hurt, defenses and the wounded ways we have tried to connect to others that have only pushed down our honest and true selves.

From there, with our newfound self-consciousness, we enter into the next step, the ambivalence. It is in this stage that we feel the tension of defaulting to our old, impulsive, unconscious ways of safety and maintaining relationship with the decision to do something new, bold, more vulnerable, and unfamiliar to us. Instead of turning towards what reflexively we normally would have done, we blaze a different trail. 

The conversation inside might sound like this, “normally I would cuss that person out to hurt them, but instead I am going to let them know that I feel hurt.” 

 

A New Way of Living

We typically will find ourselves defaulting to the old way of reacting at times, but if we commit to learning, sharing, and growing, eventually we will start to take more risks and go a new route. Even frustration will surface in reaction to the intense vacillations within ourselves of going to the old versus attempting the new.

And when we venture into the new, things will not always reach a satisfying return or result, but because of the strengthening within, we push forward and learn from the experience for the next opportunity. 

This is the process of change, the oscillating journey of growing towards fullness and deeper connection. We often try to alter our external worlds, missing the fact that it is our self that is shifting, for the better. But we must listen to it and allow ourselves to be seen by others to understand and commit to the unfolding development. 

We all start with our objects of security (habits, addictions, rituals, etc.) that leads to disturbance or restlessness and then frustration, followed by seeking out help, developing awareness, and then making new moves that lend to the continual discovery and development of ourselves. 

It is better in the end to allow the change to happen within you, for there is a natural pull or draw to grow and heal. 

May you learn to embrace the restlessness growing inside that will lead you deeper into living life.

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When Things Get Weird: Anxiety and What It Might Be Telling You

Anxiety and fear; what a strange signal right? Notice how I said “signal”? Because that is what it is. In fact, all of our emotions are signals. Which means they are calling to us, beckoning us to listen. For there are messages within them, and if we keeping finding ways to turn these signals off, we miss that nagging presence that is telling us something…that something’s off. Or something’s on, working, satisfying, delightful, pleasing, etc. But we must pay attention, for these messages are leading us somewhere. 

My childhood was saturated with anxiety and fear! And my adolescent years! And my early adult years! Unrelenting emotions. Spectral bullies. The inner torment. To feel this more days than not, always unsettled, restless, and terrified was unbearable. I would ruminate all day, waiting for punishment, for someone to leave, to be ridiculed, teased, to lose love and connection, terrified of making mistakes.

I couldn’t escape them. But I certainly tried. Focusing on the good, altering my thoughts, ritualistic behaviors to calm my soul, obsessively fixating on the scenarios in the hopes that I would find solace. Throwing myself on the ground, prostrate, begging one of my parents to come back to me. Avoiding any scenario that would put me in the scope of wrath from them. Beating myself up with words and emotion in order to escape relational harm.  Oh, and I would pray too, anxiously and obsessively working out the right combination of words to God, hoping the Divine would dissolve these feelings if I nailed that line just right.

But it wouldn’t leave. Every time anxiety would return, poking, prodding, nagging, teasing, obfuscating me from living. When I was in the swarms of anxiety, that became my focus, trying to get rid of it and yet imagining what would happen later on. I was imprisoned by my own emotions and desperately trying to escape them.

 

Where it All Began

 So, here’s how my anxiety/fear manifested. This gets interesting. First it began with fear one of my parent’s responses to me, their anger and the pulling away and shutting down, refusing to acknowledge my presence. It also had to do with the tension between parents, often fighting, with things left unresolved. Storming out of the house, the slamming of the door like the bellowing of a trumpet blowing out the loudest, ear-piercing notes to communicate hurt. 

Then there were other moments of dismissing emotion, condescension amidst my parents, sarcasm, and other hurtful responses that perpetuated the sting within the relationship. And then I would be the confidante to one of my parents, listening to the cries of hurt and anger towards the other parent. The unfinished repair between them poured out to me. I was the emotional bandage. My body writhed in discomfort, but I felt trapped, because to say anything would threaten distance in the relationship. 

In addition to all of this, I was terrified of making any “mistakes” for it would be met with some of the most intense, vitriolic, volcanic eruption of anger, of which I was the vessel. And through the anger were the cries of a history of relational pain, the deepest wounds of hurt from past relationships, all projected onto me as a child. And I could feel myself freeze and internally collapse, being sucked into the black hole of shame. My impulse was to hide, to find the farthest, darkest corner to bury myself into, but the threat of losing this person was inconceivable, so I remained in this frozen state, stuffing down my own anger and rage.

I think it is fair to say that these experiences contributed to not feeling safe and secure in my family. And when we lack that safety and security in our relationships in any way…well, we are going to have some emotions about that. And more often than not, these emotions manifest in fear, which can present itself in many ways.

And thus the weird part. Aside from toiling in anxiety, and my stomach suffering the blows of terror, were peculiar behaviors. Some of my behaviors were typical. Fixating on what would happen when one parent finds out that I landed into “trouble”, attempting to do “better” to appease them, and trying to find the silver lining to calm myself were common for me. 

However, it didn’t stop there. 

I eventually developed this fixation over potential ailments, physical conditions and diseases within my body. I can recall the cold jolt of fear taking over my body as I heard about a cancer someone had or a painful procedure they had to endure to address some physical issue. Obsessively, I would feel around my body, the fabrication of disease becoming real and tangible in my mind. 

And then I would panic over the words I would use, terrified I said something profane or that I flipped off someone, when I never did. Literally, I would pay attention to my hands and fingers, vigilantly arranging my extremities to avoid the potential to do something vulgar. Whenever I would talk, I was convinced I had slipped profanity into my sentence, combing over it again and again, panic intensifying and enveloping me as I neurotically studied my words. 

And then I thought my mom was a lesbian (which she was not), because of how close she was with her friends.

And then I obsessed over my sexuality for years (which is another conversation).

Oh, also I had behavioral and vocal tics, and other idiosyncratic movements.

And I also pulled out my hair, visible gaps in my eyebrows and eyelashes, giving evidence of my troubled and unsettled internal world. 

Oh, and you know what I would do to calm these crazy, all-consuming storms? 

Share them with my parents. All the time. To the point where one parent would snap in frustration. 

When I would share them, I stumbled over my words, nervously circumventing what I really wanted to say. I would do this over and over again, feverishly looking for relief…no, peace. Whenever this particular thought or feeling came up, I would spend hours focusing on it, working up the courage to share with my parents what was coming up.

They would often say I was fine, that I will be okay. My entire soul would settle in relief, feeling grounded again with life, and an excitement would return to explore and connect with the world around me. But in the background, they had worried conversations about me.

I was tormented by all of this for years and years. It seemed like there was no escape. Eventually I went to therapy, which had helped in some ways, and as I got older the strange obsessions began to subside, especially as I sought help and then went off to college, away from family.

Which is interesting isn’t it, that when I connected outside the family, getting help and then moving away, these obsessions did not have as much power as they once did. 

Possible connection?

 

That Emotional Neighbor that Won’t Leave You Alone

As I entered into my thirties, my awareness and understanding of myself, especially the emotional layer, began to deepen and sharpen. 

I began to realize that my emotions were communicating something, unrelentingly poking at me until I listened.

And when you begin to turn towards your feelings, you will find they lead you somewhere into the truth of your situation and relational connection. 

That is why I have found anything that creates a distraction from my emotional realm, prevents me from feeling and knowing myself even more. Any attempt to get me away from my feelings is a blockage from growing and evolving into my True Self. Whether it is changing my thinking, trying to distract myself, only looking at the positive, “praying” for the other when I hate them or am deeply hurt or that these feelings will leave, or even attempting to alter my behavior are routes that lead me away. 

What I believe is necessary and essential is that we return to our self, which includes feeling through our emotion and developing awareness of they are saying.

So, this is why my anxiety manifested in those ways and what my anxiety means when I feel it today…

First, Anxiety is another way of saying unsettled and restless. You can feel it, your body tightens, your lungs constrict and your breathing shallows. And that is what I was feeling as a young boy, unsettled about the unhealthy relational dynamics in my family. However, I had no idea what this feeling was and what is trying to tell me. I had stuffed so many things down because I had to, especially anger. 

My lack of emotional understanding was due to the lack of loved ones helping me and teaching me about my inner world. I lived in this “fight or flight” state, which usually presented itself in the form of paralysis. 

But my anxiety, tics, and OCD behaviors were the expression of relational dissonance, a mom that I feared and was terrified I would lose her love, the unresolved tension and fights between my parents, and my father who avoided vulnerability and working through the troubles in himself and his marriage. 

In other words, my early experiences were built on rocky ground; my own sense, awareness and connection to myself blurred by the often-felt unsettledness in my family. 

And you know what I did with anxiety in order to deal with it? Shared it with my parents.

Why?

To end the tension and build connection; to curb the intense fear within; to bring my parents together, to be seen and heard, and to get love and soften my parents. That is how I dealt with my anxiety, ritualistically talking it out in the hopes that my family would return to relational harmony and unity.

I was clearly communicating that something was not right within our family and how I was being treated was damaging. 

Strange huh? But it actually makes sense that at times what we project our fears onto, is not really the actual object. It is safer to fixate on something unrelated than to say, I am scared of “You” and I hate “You” and I am hurt by “You”. And when we don’t have that language and understanding it starts to surface in unique behaviors. 

OCD and anxiety behaviors usually manifest in ritualistic actions that help the individual feel secure and at peace. The desire is to feel whole and content, but when there is relational wounding, schism or we feel unsafe in our world due to the pains we have felt in our human connections, we develop ways to never try to feel that pain again. 

But the only solution is that we must go towards the hurt.

 

Acknowledging What You Don’t Want to: What Anxiety Might Be Telling You

I believe that the feeling and manifestation of anxiety speaks to something being off in relational connection and when I pull away from myself.

Anxiety is the signal that there is disharmony, pain, hurt, and unhealthy relational dynamics. Our own intuitive self knows that there is dissonance in the connection, the way we are being treated or watching the treatment of others. 

The surfacing of anxiety is not just relational, obviously. It happens when we have had a terrifying experience non-relationally, like getting bit by a dog or having a traumatic moment when flying. But the anxiety comes in the anticipation of facing what we fear stepping into and when we avoid going into those uncomfortable situations.

Or anxiety kicks in when we feel overwhelmed, attempting to take too much on in our life or the present situation is currently unbearable.

But the point in all of this regardless of what you feel anxious towards, has to do with something being avoided that needs to be attended to.

Anxiety is a big flashing sign saying “Look within! Pay attention!”

When we turn away or pull away or when something is just below the surface that we have yet to face, this emotion tells us this.

I will end on this. A couple months ago I felt disappointed over a situation involving a woman I was attracted to. It did not work out and after a phone call, I felt disappointed, but I noticed that paired with the disappointment was this strong presence of anxiety.

But because I learned that this emotion is drawing me to something else, I explored further, to which I discovered that I felt rage over the situation. Immediately I knew that I needed to express the rage, seeing that the best option was to get in my car and yell until it was no longer there. Eventually I felt settled and the anxiety went away.

In another situation, I had a conflict with one of parents. I felt unsettled over the lack of repair between us. I knew deep within me that I had to return and share what was stirring inside. The more I stayed away (believe me, I fought coming back to the situation), the more anxious and restless I felt.

It was a calling to face what I often fear in relationships, to step into the uncertainty of conflict, and move in more vulnerable and intimate ways. I tried to avoid it, but the unsettled feeling intensified.

As much as anxiety can be a nuisance, it shows itself for a significant reason; that when things are avoided both in yourself and in relationships, or you feel overwhelmed or there is hurt, pain and anger that needs to be felt, it lets you know. And I believe it is beyond just mere relief, but to move towards wholeness and freedom.

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Sharing Myself: A New Way of Teaching

Anxiety, OCD, shame, judgment, self-hatred, guilt with pornography and masturbation, questioning my sexuality, pulling away from people when I feel hurt, etc. These elements and more are a part of my story and my journey and for some time I have wrestled with tackling big concepts sometimes at a distance, talking about it cerebrally, in some ways apart from my own self and my own struggles.

Recently I have been wrestling with the desire to reach more people, to impact others to see themselves, life, faith, God, etc. in a different way, reframing issues that many of us have judged, especially myself. And I still intend on doing that, but from a different angle. One that is more personal; actually, deeply personal.

I have found that I have given my own story a minor role in my writings and podcast episodes, highlighting more of the issues from an impersonal lens. Well, actually, all my writings are personal, spending hours, days, and weeks churning on these concepts and dimensions; going through the torment, wrestling with them in the late hours of the night, going on short, spontaneous rage-filled road trips to exorcise the lost and hungry state I find myself in, in the hopes that something will click.

I listen to and read the ideas of a few people that I highly respect and revere, who tour the world, generate podcast episode after episode every week, overflowing with beautiful, thought-provoking, mind bending, soul-energizing nuggets; and I find myself wrought with inspiration and frustration, longing to make an impact, to be a part of the unstoppable Healing Presence in this world. 

And as I fixate on the journey and process of these thinkers and the wonderful effect they have on the world, I miss something significant…myself. My own voice gets lost and forgotten; stifled in the throes of comparison. Anxiously and fearfully I scramble to sound like them, to parallel their soul travels, all the while neglecting my own. 

There is not one journey that is the same. There may be similar dynamics in the process of change, but it is still unique to that individual. Everyone has some facet of this Divine Love to share with the world; their own idiosyncratic marking that comes with the prerequisites of pain, “death”, agony, ecstasy, joy, toil, struggle, weeping, laughter, and all the other elements that facilitate this process of change and becoming. 

I would consider not sharing this journey to be a tragedy, something the world is missing out on and needs to hear. For it to be contained, silenced, stifled or hidden is quite possibly egregious and sadly unfortunate; because who knows the impact such honesty and openness will bring, allowing others to come into the light, to move into connection, to see that Love we are deeply yearning for. 

It is courageous to move against the grain, or that neurological pull to hide and stay barricaded in the shadows, when the markings of pain and struggle is exactly what others need to see and hear to be given permission to enter into their own journey of healing and uncovering. 

So with a helpful nudge from some close support in my life, I want to rip off the “protective” coverings and share with you the intricacies of my own journey in the hopes that you or anyone who reads this will experience hope, compassion, inspiration and whatever else that generates boldly going into the unknown corridors of your own heart and see your struggles in a completely different light, given permission to explore and look within.

Jesus did say the “kingdom of God is within you” and also says to “seek first the kingdom”. If anyone is turned off by “religious” jargon, I get it. There are many religious things I have been turned off by and still am. But in other words, Jesus is saying to look within and find that inner voice, the inner voice that leads you to greater connection, a Divine Connection. Listen to it, for your own soul is communicating to you. Don’t turn it off, shut it down, pull away, quiet it, douse it. Our own hearts are sending us messages about things not being right about the world and a hunger that yearns for things to be put back together or united. That’s a powerful system and I will hopefully show you that in my own personal revealings.

May it bless you in a way that moves you to travel inside your own soul and discover what has been buried within all this time, a Love deeply ingrained and waiting to be revealed to all. 

 

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True Religion: Coming Back To a Harmonious Connection

What is religion? I think we have strayed far from its understanding and quite frankly, living out of its understanding. It has been muddled by our attempts to get back to that Divine relationship. But our attempts have been saturated in shame and judgment. When problems in life arise, we develop theories of why God must be allowing this or even creating this. “Maybe he’s teaching me. It’s a lesson,” we make continuous attempts to understand this Mystery in order to pull us out of the pain.

So if the problem starts with God orchestrating the pain in our life, then we must fixate and figure out the solutions in an attempt to please God. There must be a cure and it falls on our shoulders to get it right. Maybe we change our behavior by stopping it or altering the intensity of our engagement in it. We switch habits that don’t seem as “wrong”. Or we muscle up on our religious “rituals”, depending on our religion. For Christians, increasing Bible reading or Scripture memorization is what we reach for as the remedy to our struggle and pain. Have you ever thought about why we tend to default to that?

Another tactic is to generate and populate our lives with greater rules and regulations. Or we learn from others on how they construct their lifestyle, rich with stipulations and laws which  get passed down to us, within family and within the church. We create worlds of legalism. Do this, but don’t do that. This is right and this is wrong. It all feels seemingly safe and secure. Handrails to grab onto; training wheels that prevent us from falling, lines to divide and articulate lanes to travel within. It even creates a feeling of pride, this deep sense of satisfaction and fullness over our ability to hang on to and follow these laws. And this pride is always tethered to the belief that we are satisfying the desires of the Other (I am doing it right, so He will love me). But eventually such constructs begin to crack under the polarizing and paradoxical experiences in life that draw out pain, anger, need and longing.

Do we know why we do this?

The heart’s intent is to be in “right” standing with the Divine; where no rift, discord, or disharmony exists. However, all of this is based and founded on fear of punishment and judgment that we carry within ourselves. What we experience internally becomes the lens from which we view all of life and the Mysterious One. We are terrified of disconnection, but out of fear and continuous hiding (pushing parts of ourselves away), we sustain and cultivate this disconnection. We pull away and detach. But our very existence and life is about continuous connection. This is how all of life works. So underneath all the shame, judgment, and self-hatred is the heart’s cry for True Communion.

However, living under the regime of fear and judgment, the creation of rules metastasizes to reconcile hurt and to “feel” connected to the Life Source. But it does the complete opposite. It only perpetuates detachment, evolving into greater problems and pains. When we break the rules we create (but somehow believe God has explicitly made them), we feel shame and then either act out compulsively (usually fueled by a deep rage), leading us into greater self-hatred, or we restrict and intensify the rules. 

Thus, we create fundamentalism, a restricted way of living, operating and functioning in the world. It is sustained and stained by judgment, criticism, self-hatred, and shame. Living in fundamentalism, we stay hidden, cutting ourselves off or splitting aspects of ourselves of which we feel shame. Again, we fear these certain parts from being seen, felt and exposed. Because we don’t actually go into or explore or look at these tenants within, we default to control, manipulating the outer or external world to calibrate the internal dissonance.

When we create these standards of living, we hold others to this, judging them for shaping their life differently that conflicts with ours. It confronts our own worlds, our belief systems and our ways of operating in life. Discomfort permeates within and to combat this state of dis-ease, we clamp down tighter, eclipsing our struggle and tension by focusing on the “sins” of another. 

Fundamentalism is fear-driven, always stemming from hurt. Instead of opening ourselves up to the pain, allowing it to move and transform us, we shut it down, living in fear of its return. 

But what happens when something Foreign comes along and ruptures this self-constructed world? 

The instinctual response is extreme discomfort and fear. We cover this up by anger and rage, which comes forth to protect and guard against this level of vulnerable exposure. Our internal alarm system signals to us that something is off and even dangerous. This is what the Pharisees did when Jesus challenged their belief systems and I guarantee this is what most of us do to one another whether we are conscious of it or not.

Reflexively, to cushion and buffer the blow of our exposed nakedness and feeling threatened, we try to get it off of us. We turn to scapegoating or casting, projecting and blaming the other to keep our world and self from falling apart and our manufactured securities from shattering. Everything we held onto and have known is now at risk of fraying. With great urgency, we try to hold up the walls as they face the inescapable experience of ego demolition.

However, this demolition is necessary, the confrontation of our belief systems and securities in order to move into something new; into a new way of being, seeing, living and connecting. 

But this is how we have constructed “religion”, creating laws, regulations, mechanisms of control, upping our spiritual game by doing more in order to combat the fear and pain within. However, I believe we have deviated far from what religion actually is and means, instead perpetuating and sustaining these segregated tribal groups that fight (violently, I might add) to convince others that they hold the correct systems of belief. And this has existed ever since humans detached from intimate union with the Divine. We have cultivated a humanity that lives tribally and segregated, while God is continuously moving us into unity and harmony.

What if what we are doing is not working? It is just propelled by the same motive, delivered in a new way, hoping to achieve the same results of being in good standing, to “please” the Divine, to change His mind, to fix the pain and to find the cure. Every religious construct does this, even Christianity (I am getting heretical here). 

What if our understanding and perception of God and of Jesus is off? What if we have been seeing and communicating through this distorted lens? What if hell is not what we have imagined it to be? What if our self-constructed religious institutions are not what True Religion actually is?

(On a side note, regarding hell. I find it fascinating that when people begin to question the meaning of hell, the response towards such persons is often met with anger, being labeled a heretic and then ostracized. Pondering on why this generates such vitriol, I began to form this theory that the belief in the hell we have constructed is so strongly needed to sustain a fear-driven, right and wrong orientation of living. It drastically threatens our security system, puncturing the way we have constructed our lives. When we cling to the hell we have interpreted for centuries, then it fuels us to try to live “correctly” and “rightly” in order to please God. But the hell that I believe actually exists, is one that is created within, and equally challenges us to face the shadows within in order to change for the better. It is far more vulnerable and exposing than the hell we have believed in and we are also confronted with the responsibility of helping others face the hells they presently live in, instead of this false security that “those” people are going to “burn”, but “we” are safe and sound. But I digress.)

We spend unnecessary energy arguing who’s right and wrong, who’s belief system is most accurate, and I wonder if Christ is saying “You’re missing it; you’re playing the game humanity has played since the beginning, when mankind disconnected, hid and remained in hiding. You’re still holding on to the same rules to sustain this false security with me. Let me show you a new way to live and a new game to play, with less rules.” 

Maybe Christianity has wandered away from what True Connection really is. Maybe Authentic Christianity is about living in the paradoxes of life, the ambiguity, and the mystery. Could it be that Christianity is less about altering someone’s belief system, or getting them to join “our team” and instead joining them in becoming fully integrated and connected with themselves, others, and God? I don’t believe this process is about challenging beliefs, getting them to say some “sinner’s prayer” and trying to avoid “sinning” by constructing layers and layers of protective barriers. It is about breaking down those barriers and operating without constraint, but also to be completely and fully engaged with life and living in the present. 

What if when we experience and understand True Religion, such a shift will enrich our traditions, not destroy them? What if it becomes fueled by unbridled love, and deep pleasure and enjoyment, not something cerebral, rote, lifeless and obligatory? Jesus even explicitly stated that he came to bring wholeness to the law, not abolish it. I wonder when we experience wholeness, our engagement with life will change drastically, giving way to immerse ourselves in the pains and joys that accompany this journey. 

I will explain.

 

Radical Religion: Part I

There are two words that I think are essential to understand when it comes to living whole and complete; that being, “religion” and “radical”. Both are in relationship and, in fact, they cannot exist without the other. 

Religion, when broken down is rich with meaning. In Latin, religion is worded Re-ligare. The prefix “re” means again, while the root “lig” refers to tie or bond. The word Ligare essentially can be defined as “to connect”. It is not arbitrary that a fundamental physiological component of our bodies, the ligament, is derived from this word. The ligament is a fibrous connective tissue that connects to various bones and cartilage and supports muscles. Quite an important task! 

Religion, then, originates from this Latin word Re-ligare, which, when translated, means to reconnect or rebind. 

This appears to reveal that religion is about reconnection, to return to a bond or an attachment. “Again”, clearly indicates moving back towards something. It implies that there is some kind of return. For instance, if I went to Ireland for the first time, I would not say that I am going “again” or “returning” to Ireland on my first venture there. However, if once visited, I decide to make another trip out to the country, I would certainly use the word “again”. I would be returning back to a place I traveled once before or several times. 

Now if religion is about reconnection, or returning to unity and harmony or coming back to a bond, why in the world would this even exist in the first place amongst humanity? If we are invited to reconnect, then it speaks to disconnection, which implies that we (all of humanity) have pulled away. And this further implies that there is something/someone from which we have distanced ourselves. But what would create this detachment effect?

When I think of creating distance between me and someone, usually it indicates some need for protection. There is some felt or intuited experience that I do not feel safe in the presence of another. And sometimes the experience can either be a tangible present discernment that someone is unsafe, or it triggers past relational injuries that surface within the current exchange. 

However, regarding God, as I shared in a past writing/podcast, when humanity (Adam and Eve) decided to partake of the prohibition (fruit of the tree), immediately fear washed over them and they reflexively hid. Their fear was instinctual, and this innate need to protect oneself from the harm of another kicked in. But as it shows in Genesis Chapter 3, God was inviting them back into intimate connection, or to RECONNECT!!! 

But Adam and Eve stayed in hiding, avoiding the vulnerability of sharing that they stepped into the prohibition. So, they disconnected and detached from the Life Source when they chose to stay defended and guarded. They distanced themselves from a state of vulnerability, moving farther away from True Connection and Love. 

Remaining in this hidden, shamed place, generated all kinds of problems, or disorder. God explicitly said what would happen to humanity. Everything would become disorganized and distorted. This disconnection created, stimulated and perpetuated discord and our whole entire being and way of relating suffered from this. The whole system and its rhythm was thrown off. 

However, we can only live so long in the discord before we try to remedy the disorder. Our entire self-suffers as it feels the rhythmic dissonance, that something is out of tune; and we look for ways to get back to that rhythm and harmony. In other words, everything we do is about returning to a genuine, true connection in life. And I mean everything. We are innately hungering, seeking and attempting to mend the detachment. We will do whatever we can to come back to a Divine Relationship and honest connection with life. 

 

What it Really Means When we talk about Disorder

Disorder always is a message that something is off. But disorder, which is often expressed behaviorally, is fueled by emotion and emotions are the actual signifiers regarding whether we are connected or not, that something is or isn’t missing. Anger, sadness, grief, fear, emptiness, loneliness, joy, excitement, pleasure, etc; these all carry meaning that acknowledges connection and disconnection. 

We are wired to be aware, connect to and feel the fullness of these feelings in order to lead to the understanding present within them. We cannot get to the message until we go into the feeling. Our feelings communicate harmony and disharmony. And when these go unattended, suffer neglect and are shamed, we end up detaching from this vital part of ourselves. This detachment then leads to impulsive and compulsive behaviors, which are all perpetuated from a disconnected self. Suicidal behaviors, cutting, rage, bitterness, murder, molestation, rape, etc. all stem from detachment and such behaviors are an attempt to feel connected again (I will cover most of these in later writings). And all of these behaviors are a reaction to something off-kilter and warped in the connectedness of life and relationship. 

This is really important to understand. When we continually live in shame and hiding we move in the reverse of true humanity. We experience a degradation of our personhood, creating barbarism. It is written in Genesis and expressed in other historical books. Mankind drastically deteriorated into impulsive, consumptive, hypervigilant, reactive, guarded, destructive, tribal creatures. It is the complete opposite of how we were wired to be, fully present, alive, engaged, loving and indulging in life. 

However, even underneath this barbaric humanity is a heart yearning for True Life; and although the person may not be aware of this, they are continuously, and insatiably attempting to meet those heart needs. You cannot turn this off. Our heart’s desire to be whole and connected is always on and we will relentlessly seek out such fulfillment. Whether a person is aware of their disposition or not, they are always pursuing wholeness. 

Here is the thing, the more someone disconnects from the Connector and disconnects from themselves (a simultaneous experience) it perpetuates a detached personhood. And when a person lives in this disconnected state, they are never truly present in life. To be present means to be living in continual awareness of oneself and surroundings (without judgment), attuned to one’s own heart and the needs/emotions that fuel it. 

But when someone is bound and riddled by shame and perpetuated hiding, it obscures this ability to be aware and access one’s internal world. They feel and then act off impulse, leading the person into more entrenched and potentially destructive ways of dealing with the shame that haunts them and trying to feel whole. 

One’s ability to attune and access their internal world is dependent and shaped upon their attachment figures (people who care for them in their formative years). Our caregivers give voice to our felt experiences and provide safe parameters to connect to and express these emotions. By doing so it enables us to mature, evolve, develop and live connected. We do not fear our internal self, instead we welcome it, allowing these beautiful emotions communicate messages regarding the world around us. We develop an innate sense of our own needs, desires, longings, limitations and strengths. 

When we live attuned and can embrace all of our self, we care for the messages that tell us when there is connection and disconnection in life, and specifically in our relationships.

Here’s the thing, however, in the evolution of humanity, we are having to work through the connectional disorders and false ways of trying to reconcile harmony in our relationships that have existed ever since humanity entered into the world. We are not born into families that are whole and well-integrated. And our histories are lined with inhibited relational connection. We all carry some degree of injury that has created a false self and warped ways of living. When I say false self, I mean this defensive way of living that seemingly protects us from harm and attempts to hold on to relationships. 

If you think about the disturbances in your own self that create dissonance, inhibit living and the sometimes hurtful ways of acting out of this, the heart in all of this is the cry of detachment and the longing for True Connection. All of these disturbances have to do with relational attachment. 

I truly want to make sense of this for you, so you can experience a growing compassion towards your own self and others. 

Disorder, false personalities, defenses and our injured ways of feeling connected all stem out of relational fissure and various degrees of pain. This means then that healing and becoming whole requires relational support and love. This is where religion comes into the picture.

 

Radical Religion Part II:The Invested Movement towards Wholeness  

Let me get to the point. Authentic and true religion is about reconnecting to all of life. This includes ourselves, others and the Divine. This was the whole point of Jesus, to reveal the Divine Love, to model Authentic and Wholistic Humanity and begin the process of reconnection. It was not to get someone to change their belief system, or get them to follow rules, but to allow their perspective of God and life to shift through experiencing the Divine Presence in human skin. The experience is the most important part and the change in belief will follow. This is incredibly important to understand.

Jesus always went to the heart, whether it was radiating compassion or confronting the inner-world of those whose hearts were saturated with pious arrogance, superiority and inflated ego (Pharisees or what I like to call, the Fundamentalists). This means we are called to do the same, always starting with our own self. 

Now, let me expand on my theory of religion with the fascinating command Jesus gives in Matthew 5:48. Chapter 5 covers a lot of ground, beginning with the process of becoming connected to all of life (the Beatitudes) and then going right to some of the root issues that begin within the heart. He also emphatically highlights True Love, that pours out to those we hate, as well as reconciling relationship. But right at the end he finishes with this line, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect”.

Here’s where it gets really exciting (at least for me). Notice how he gives the command to be perfect in the present and states that this perfection we are to carry is the perfection the Father has. When Jesus refers to being “perfect” he means “complete” or “whole”. In the past, I found this to be an incredibly difficult and unattainable feat, until I investigated further.

To be perfect means to be whole and to be whole means we are fully integrated within. What does that mean? To be fully integrated, means we are completely connected to ourselves and aware of our internal world. It means that we know ourselves deeply and consciously commit to seeing and embracing all that lies within, facing the shadows, voicing the pain and struggle and allowing it all to teach us the greater messages that lead us to a richer and satisfying life. 

Let me explain even further. Almost all of us are disconnected and detached in some way from ourselves. We have natural defenses in place and corresponding behaviors that block us from looking in and feeling the pain and wounding we carry. We may project, scapegoat (violently or nonviolently), deflect, minimize, catastrophize, deny, split (pushing away the shamed, unwanted, hated parts of ourselves), etc. All of this is another way way of saying disintegrated personhood. 

But here’s the caveat, in order to live authentically and truly connected, we must go the core, the areas within that are deep with pain, surrounded by fear. And we cannot do this alone. We need others to walk with us into the “abyss” of the self and face what lies hidden in the shadows. 

This is where “radical” comes in. Radical means “root”. True radicalism is not about violently holding on to belief systems and forcing others to comply with such tenets. True radicalism is about going to the root, the pain, the core, facing the False Self in order to get to the True Self; the True Self that is tethered to the Divine. 

Radical religion is about together uncovering the blockages that inhibit Authentic Connection with all of life. With great courage, we help one another face the scary, the unwanted, the shamed and hated. We draw out the pain and the defended self, while simultaneously becoming more connected to the True Self. This is exactly what Jesus did. And as he did this, people’s belief systems and warped perceptions of God began to shift, first with confusion, followed by a powerful expansion of consciousness. 

Radical religion is about reintegration (acceptance of the entire self), which leads to wholeness or the perfection that Jesus talks about. This consists of caring for the emotional dimensions of ourselves and others, which also inevitably impacts and changes our perspective of those we have hated. When we attune to ourselves and embrace all that lives within, when we weep and get angry for ourselves and care for our own pain, we will see others drastically differently. 

I believe that when we invest in this journey towards wholeness our lives will become transformed and deeply rich. Integration requires full attunement to our entire self, which includes conscious awareness of our bodies and the messages communicated somatically. When we notice the physical signals, we can then travel into the emotional realm, which again, signals to us when something is off in our connection with life.

To give an image, when a fruit-bearing tree is producing rotten, underdeveloped and anemic fruit, it is a clear sign that something is off in the foundation or the heart of the tree, which, if followed further, one will find that some kind of malnourishment and disharmony happening between the tree and its connection to the ground.

 

Returning to True Religion

I am not sure why we have strayed from Authentic Religion, perpetuating Tribal Religions stocked with dogmas and rituals, deviating from a Unitarian Love that is drawing all into this Divine Communion. There is importance in understanding the history of this derailment; however, what is even more vital is that we move towards True Religion or reconnecting with ALL of Life. 

This is not a solo endeavor. We absolutely need others to help in our growth, transformation and reconnection. But this is a great challenge and responsibility. I must admit how terrifying and thrilling it is to be a part of this Loving Flow that is moving people into richer living and True Humanity. The honest truth is that it is a messy commitment, forming communities that allow for the pain, defense and intense emotion to arise, and to walk with people into the shadows. Such a commitment comes with the prerequisite that we continually journey into ourselves, feeling, seeing, and expressing what lies within. 

It also requires courage for those who are wrestling and unsettled with the shallow dimensions of relationships; who feel an inner turmoil and intense hunger for vulnerable and authentic connection.

For me, I am going against what I have been taught in the Church, all the dogmas, support groups, sermons, rituals, etc. I know this may bring up discomfort, but I believe that when we help each other become integrated and attuned to all of our self, we will simultaneously become connected with the Divine. When we change our focus to the heart of a person, I believe it will beautiful lead to transformation. It requires a shift in where we fixate our energy. 

Sadly, and I have fallen prey to this for most of my life, we keep confronting behavior and generating methods to alter it; self-help books, seminars, conferences, manuals, formulas, etc. Our methods are often imbued with judgment and shame, and a works-base mentality, instead of compassion and courage to go to the root, where both the wounding and the True Self lie. The only work we are challenged to do is to face, love, and care for what lies within. And the paradox is that we can only do that when others love and care for what resides internally in us. 

I truly believe when we remove the impediments and blockages to our True Self, helping one another to grow in greater attunement and self-awareness, we inevitably move into the Divine Love Flow. I get that this sounds “New Agey”, but God’s love is a flow that was revealed through Jesus. This Mysterious One is not only inviting us but moving us into this rhythm and harmony. How exciting and incredible that this gravitational pull into Love is constantly flowing, an unstoppable current. The only thing that really blocks our awareness of this is that we have not yet had loving encounters that open us up to this Loving Current. 

I will end on this. I have seen this profound shift and transformation in myself when I stopped pulling away from anything that surfaced in me; hate, sexuality, anger, rage, judgment, insecurity, fear, etc. The truth is that it was a brutal, piercing and painful experience to go inward. I don’t mean introspection, or judging myself for my temperamental limitations, wounds, pains, fears, doubts, reflexive reactions, etc. I just mean, allowing and feeling what purposefully was surfacing. 

For me, this inward journey required moments of solitude with the Divine and sharing this with others who were safe, accepting, compassionate, and loving. In order to move through, it was necessary that I open myself up and express gutturally the pains that I carried within but were often unconscious of their existence until they presented themselves in certain moments. What followed has been this deepening and strengthening of attunement to life, God and others. I have reconnected and this continues in its formation. 

 

Conclusion

As always, I have no clue how this will be taken. Some may love what I am saying and others will hate it, even to the point where they stop reading or listening and that is the risk I take in sharing this message. However, this is a message I must share and not sit on. 

My hope is that the ways we have operated in “religions” and particularly the Church, will shift and shed what has actually robbed and obfuscated authentic connection with the Divine, ourselves and one another.

There are moments where there is this resurgence or stronger emphasis on community. I wonder what compels this? The message in it seems to speak of a hunger for greater and true connection, but there also appears to be blockages to that. What I have experienced has tended towards a behavioral and right/wrong focus, when there is a far different path. This path is greatly uncomfortable, because it no longer operates in those paradigms, but instead journeys into the heart, underneath the behavior. 

Religion is about helping others to come out of hiding and allowing the space to struggle, wrestle and slowly take steps towards the Divine Invitation. Religion consists of “seeing” another, turning towards them, revealing our own vulnerabilities, past and present. It is about deepening engagement and intimacy with one another and collaboratively helping each other remove the impediments (shame, judgment) that obscure the True Self. It is not about doing less or more of something.

It is about having open conversations that invite us to explore and engage in our curiosities of the miracle and wonder of life that, I believe, will lead us into the Loving Presence for which we are hungering. 

My bent, as well, is that True Religion is an open invite to all, to engage in the unfolding experience of greater connection, and opportunity to heal in all the wounded and underdeveloped areas in ourselves. Unfortunately, it has been formed into a club with requirements and rules for getting in, instead of the loving space to wrestle, struggle, and experience a beautiful, expansive love and grow regardless of where we are. 

This cannot be talked about without referencing the disciples who followed Jesus, washing their feet and the communion. Jesus invited some of the messiest, intense, violent, and unstudied people to teach them about the depths of life and loving. There was no prerequisite for getting in, just the invitation. And what is even more powerful is that he vulnerably cared for all of them, washing their feet in actual nakedness or True Humanity. Then with communion, once again, he gave all of them the invitation to be a part of this new relationship, including Judas, who would betray Jesus. 

Seems to me that Jesus is clearly displaying an inclusionary love, but somehow that got lost in translation.

May we all awaken to this Divine Love that is inviting us into deeper and authentic connection, moving us into wholeness, and leading us into True Living. May we also awaken to the meaning of True Religion, truly operating as the body, drawing one another into this beautiful connection to the Divine and all of Life. 

 

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Ask, Seek, Knock: The Hunger That Leads You Somewhere Beyond

Have you ever wondered why we have needs? It seems like such a mystery. Have you noticed that in everything we do, we are doing it fueled by some reason? Beyond putting food on the table, a house to live in, or money in the bank, we are continuously endeavoring towards something. If it was just for shear survival, then we would most likely live in simple housing, hunt and gather and raise a family so they could aid in this objective. But the way we live seems to extend far beyond this. 

There’s this evolution happening, and it is dynamic, progressive and relentlessly moving. But towards what? Something within us keeps stirring, groaning, nagging, prodding, nudging, and it does not go away. Why are we not satisfied, but instead keep adding to our creativity, shaping our music, art, changing career paths, moving away, etc.? This restlessness is important. Our tendency is to judge this, bringing up negative connotations such as, entitlement, hedonism, and over-indulging. But this adding more, this continuously evolving humanity, this toiling is communicating something significant. A blatant message of an inherent need, a need that is pointing to something larger and I believe, more transcendent.

In my underdeveloped thinking, I struggled with Jesus’s words in Matthew 7:7-11. He leads us on, convincing us that if we ask or seek or knock we are going to get our desires. How often have we grown frustrated or angry towards God, because we asked him hundreds of times and still, nothing? I thought Jesus promised us reward if we follow the three-step formula? I have had countless conversations with God, emotionally-laden ones, regarding my desires for a wife. And that started in my early twenties, which has picked up steam, now being in my thirties. It is easy to lose hope, resigned to the idea that I will live some abstinent and celibate lifestyle, bald and chalk-full of wisdom, but companionless. 

But there’s something within me that flickers with hope and confidence. Last year was a journey of “trying” to meet that woman, but resulted in moments of embarrassment, heartbreak, and resonating pain. However, such moments developed into this wonderful shaping of knowing myself, awareness of who and what I am attracted to, and moving into greater healing, vulnerability, and spiritual depths. I am convinced that this person is in sight, but that does not take away from the pain, sadness, anger and toiling. Both coexist. One does not replace the other; they share the same space. 

Back to Jesus’s enigmatic instructions for getting these needs met. The context in which he is talking is about these needs and desires and he is highlighting a very interesting sequence; ask, seek, and knock. At first, I thought these were interchangeable actions. There is Jesus, brilliantly laying out different ways of asking. But when I looked again, my eyes saw something else. What he was conveying was sequential and progressive. It has a starting point and a point of arrival (it is not an ending point, but the beginning of something else). It is a dynamic journey of that “something more”. 

Let me first talk about this context of need/desire. Need is this inherent placement of want that exists within a person. It is a gap or hole or emptiness that a person feels, which is expressed through desire, the tangible felt expression of need. Desire is this visceral arousal, indicating an emptiness that longs for fulfillment. That is what need is, the necessary ache for fulfillment and satisfaction. Consider hunger, for instance. The need for food is communicated through the rumbling of your stomach. And if you go without food for longer stretches, the body shakes, your judgment becomes cloudy and primitively you seek out anything that will cure this unfulfilled groan.

But the need that Jesus is talking about, and what I am highlighting, is beyond mere daily survival. It is something greater and transformative. In everything we do, we are seeking out a deeper, richer, more satisfying connection; something that sees us and knows and cares for us. We are looking for this mysterious, transcendent intimacy. We are all relentlessly searching for this and that is a beautiful thing, regardless of the path we find ourselves traveling. 

 

Asking: The Ignition

So, Jesus starts with asking. This is the Beginning or the starting point. The arousal of need is felt, this sense of lack. The stirring is inevitable. The whole person feels it, senses it and encounters it, especially around others. When we are with people, we are drawn to them and long for what they carry. It awakens something within us, but our understanding is fragmented and unclear. 

Men, who encounter a beautiful woman, become aroused, viscerally feeling desire for that partner. Or they may see a father love his son and they are filled with painful longing at what they never had or the want for a child. Women, may come upon a man who tenderly loves his wife, stirring this need to experience this in their own lives.

Regardless, the need (for connection) is instinctually triggered, which leads to asking, the response out of desire. Asking indicates not having and the heart is turning towards and directing the lack towards Something. The asking is indicative of not knowing, uncertainty and feeling the mystery imbued in this desire being fulfilled. All we have is this signal that tells us something is missing and we want fulfillment of it. 

 

Seeking: Allowing the Need to Lead Us

Seeking is very different than asking. Asking is directing our lack towards Someone, but seeking is more movement. I see this as a journey or search. It is an odyssey into the need. What is this arousal communicating? Why do I feel this unrelentingly? It is clear that the need is taking us somewhere. It is a constant presence, and although its intensity may ebb and flow, it burns continuously within us.

We are given freedom and great margin to explore this need. This felt need is telling us something, but how does it get met? For what are we truly hungering? Despite all that I have added to my life, why is this restlessness still in existence? Could this need be drawing us to something greater than what we have constructed or attempted to enrich our lives with?

The greatest need is not food, water or shelter (although vital and important). It is about connection. The thread woven into everything we do and in all actions is for connection. Becoming famous, rich, successful, seen by others, married, developing friendships, having children and moving into and pouring out of our passion still leave room for this ache. All of these actions keep pointing us on, to Something Else. We keep adding more. The restlessness and stirring grows.

This is all vital and necessary. The freedoms given to attempt to meet and understand these needs is essential in moving towards. It is dangerous when we cut ourselves off from seeking and hungering, because we atrophy. This dynamic movement is integral. And regardless of what we add to our life, the wrestling and toiling continue, struggling with the unknown and the mystery. Why am I no longer satisfied? What once was exciting, became impotent. Discontentment permeates the soul. We feel a greater emptiness in the connection within our relationships (notice, I did not say the person themselves, but the space between).

We encounter what others carry or hold and the “riches” of their lives; how they are seen, praised, known, confident, etc. This only stirs up the longing even more and the envy, which is desire intensified. What we see in others, gets awakened in us. There is growing awareness and shaping of our understanding of this need. 

Saturated in this journey is wandering, an undulating endeavoring of trying to find what that desire is telling us.  

Another thought to add is that the danger in seeking out these needs, is not in the seeking, but when we hide and stay in that hiding out fear of wrath and judgment for the ways we have attempted to meet these needs. We are allowed to step into the “forbidden”, but it is coming out of the shame and hiding that is necessary to move towards this Greater Connection and Humanity.

 

Knocking: The Beginning of Something More

Then Jesus finishes this sequence with “knocking”. He adds that the door will be opened to those that knock. Well, once again, I am filled with inquisition. What are we knocking? Whose door is this? What does the door symbolize? 

If asking is starting the engine and seeking is pressing the gas and traveling, then what is knocking? It does not indicate an ending, but a beginning to something. Jesus is still communicating mystery. This door is opened, but where does it lead? It is another part of the journey, it seems. 

Knocking appears to indicate some sort of arrival, to some sort of place. But is this a physical location, or symbolic? The individual has made it somewhere. I believe, first off, that the continuous nagging of need and the restlessness is the fuel that leads us and guides us to this “place”. Wrestling and wondering are necessary elements to this “arrival”.

But there is this blatant mystery surrounding the knocking. And knocking indicates another action. We don’t know What or Who is behind that door. It is another vulnerable risk and stint of the journey of that need being met. I believe this trumpeting need woven into us is to be connected to this Divine Love. Knocking hints at a place, a place Jesus would often highlight in his journey of unveiling True Love and True Humanity. 

This place is the kingdom, or God’s Presence, the Divine Communion. Stepping and becoming aware of this Presence is the connection we are truly longing for, which is why jobs, success, marriage, kids, etc. don't actually satisfy, but only ignite further restlessness and emptiness. They are pointing to this Love Beyond. He even says in Matthew 6:33 to run after Kingdom’s Realm. This is the seeking, characterized by wrestling, toiling and restlessly endeavoring in the mystery of life. 

He says that the door will be opened to those that knock. Those that arrive know they have arrived and that their needs were crying out for this. The One Who Welcomes and Invites does so without hesitation. The caveat is the seeking. The journeying leads to this welcoming, because the heart knows the Presence that has always Been and is always Inviting, making this Love known to all. This is where the satisfaction and fulfillment of our needs happens. 

 

The Mystery Continues

What that door opens to is laden with mystery. All I know is that my unfulfilled desires have led me here, but there it is met with unknowing. I am now in this Presence, seeing life very differently, being shaped and transformed by Love, my scope of life growing, changing and colored by this Love. 

I have no clue when that woman will come into my life and how it will unfold, but I know that I needed to go through a time of feeling intense hunger and going through pain of trying to meet those needs through desperate efforts. The defeat of such situations beautifully led me to embrace feeling the restlessness, sadness, and anger of my desire to be married. And when I stopped my desperate attempts to nourish these needs, I began to hear the Voice within them, inviting me, beckoning me and drawing me.

This Voice was and is leading me into something far more satisfying, enriching and pleasurable than I could ever manufacture. In this search I have begun to see a different humanity and a True Love. God has become this Lover, teaching me the rules and ways of Loving, seeing the depths of others pain, enjoying those around me and moving in more vulnerable ways. Who knew that my asking would lead to this?

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Communion: That Bread and Wine Thing (Why it is more transformative than you realize)

Communion, what a strange ritual, right? Eating bread, drinking wine, remembering Jesus and his death; that he died for our sins, etc. Depressing! For the past few weeks I have wrestled with Christian traditions. I didn’t understand them; at least why we still continued to repeat what was taught to a small group of people thousands of years ago. In recent conversation with God, as I choked through my words, I honestly shared how these rituals no longer make sense and I don’t see the relevance in participating in them.

But the other day, something shifted. My perception changed and I became aware of the power of communion. I read one line that an author quoted from some theologian, and the wheels started to turn. I began to see what my friend was all gung ho about regarding communion; why he emphatically and repetitiously gave his soapbox speech on this odd religious gesture. He kept quoting Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:30, when he confronts the church on how they do not “discern” the power of communion, which is why “many of you are weak, chronically ill, and some even dying”. 

Here’s where the revelation began. I was sitting in a coffee shop, waiting for a friend who never showed, because he slept past his alarm. For backup, I brought a book and while reading, this quote that I landed on moved me to tears. The quote began, “Because the Christian God, is not a lonely God, but rather a communion of three persons, faith leads human beings into the divine communion.” And the water works started flowing. Why?

 

The Message is in The Mirror

I believe all of life is a reflection and a mirror. It is a metaphor for Something greater. It a tangible way to describe the Divine and this Mysterious Love. If you need more proof, look no further than a fruit bearing tree or a child. The vibrant, luscious, health-inducing fruit reflects the health and strength of the tree itself. And the health and strength of the three is a reflection of the nutritious, rich soil from which it grows. Or children. The way they love reflects the way they have been loved. The extension of care and empathy towards others, means they have been shown the same from their loved ones. The examples are endless.

So, if all of life is a reflection or mirror of this Divine Presence, then when Jesus introduces this strange “ritual” to the disciples, maybe, in some way, he is pointing to something. What if, communion is not only a reflection of something Divine, but by sharing in it, we are actually stepping in to this Divine Love? What if being in this Divine Love brings instinctive healing, transformation and joy to the entire self? Science Fiction-ish, right?

In Matthew 26:26, Jesus invites the disciples into this enigmatic experience. He shares bread and says it is his body and then wine, claiming it is his blood. Why is he doing this strange thing? What is he communicating?

First off, this takes place at the Last Supper, which precedes the impending doom of Jesus’s death. He must have sensed the increase in violence and hostility from the “fundamentalists” towards him and knew his time was coming to an end. But at this moment, he is inviting them into something very intimate and transcendent; however, I assume, at this time, they had no idea how profound this act was. So, he does this bread and wine thing and talks about how it his body and blood. He shared how each must participate in this, because it “seals the new covenant” and how his blood will “be poured out…for the forgiveness of sins.” 

Jesus, first off is referring to his death. And how did his death happen? The fundamentalists or pharisaical Jews wanted to annihilate him. He was blaspheming God, or the god of their own perception. And all Jesus was doing in his life, was reflecting and mirroring this Divine Love, revealing how this Presence is here and now. But some could not handle it and stirred up their own shit, to which they could not stand to see. It was too much and too terrifying. It ruptured their self-constructed securities. 

But this death, is not just about death. It is about life. And it is about giving life. Jesus death was about annihilating alienation between humanity and God. The position on the cross was this powerful gesture of arms spread wide, inviting all into this Love. This vulnerable act of outpouring love was an invitation; an invitation into this Divine Communion (see where I’m going). 

So, Jesus shares this bread and wine with his disciples in a very intimate moment and setting. He is revealing communion. But not a ritual or tradition to cognitively and repetitiously do for the rest of humanity. It was not an act of looking at our sins and how “underserving” we are of love. Quite the contrary. Communion, was and is this partaking and stepping into life, that Love that is constantly and continuously flowing, moving, shaking, stirring, healing, transforming drawing and inviting. 

 

A Love That Goes into The Shadows

Jesus was reflecting the communion that exists within God. That within God, are three personalities, pouring into one another. Giving and receiving, cherishing, valuing, celebrating, seeing and turning towards each. If you need further evidence, this love is reflected through Jesus, which he explains in John 15.

Here, he says that the love he shares with his disciples is the love he has received from the Father, and it is a love he wants them to hold on to and share with all around. It is a Love that cannot be turned off, but always to be poured out. Jesus, filled with this love, empties it out to his disciples, for them to give to others. He invites them into this love and as a result of sharing it, now he wants them to do so in like.

He then says, there is no greater love than one who lays down his life for his friend. When we are in the Communion, we are so filled with Love and its healing presence and properties that we gutturally or viscerally move to bring this Healing, Transcendent Love to others; for them to encounter this Communion. This kind of Love goes into the shadows and the hiddenness and speaks Life. This kind of Love pursues those outcasted and excommunicated, hated, despised, told that they have a mental illness and are sick. This love moves in true radicalism; that is, it goes into the heart, the root, the deepest places of pain, where the wounds began and the self took shape out of those relational injuries. 

This kind of love cares for those that have harmed and/or molested children. Why? Because such a Divine Love knows that those that act in such ways are trying to get back to that innocence; that innocence that was robbed from them; that child that was hated. We can imprison, kill off, segregate, separate, quarantine, etc. but it will never change humanity. This approach and mindset will only perpetuate pain, torment, hatred, division, wars, etc. Love cares for those who are seen as sick and “should” be wiped off this earth, instead healing the wounded places, listening to that buried, young pain that has steered the heart into greater wounding and loneliness, leading them into this Divine Communion and Unity.

Those that are blatantly and overtly messy, scorned, lonely, and vulnerable to the greatest harm, are impressionable and open to the most beautiful transformation. They are the ones that shine brightly with this Transformative Love, a beacon of radiating Care. This is why Jesus instructs us to go to those transparently messy, because they are not hidden and they will be the greatest displays of this Otherworldly Love, that will ripple profoundly.

 

An Invitation into Divine Intimacy

Jesus shares this act of communion as an invitation into the Divine Love. And he does this at a table, where food is shared. This setting is a reflection of intimacy and vulnerability, seeing each other, face-to-face, indulging in life. He is mirroring and revealing this Presence. When communion is taken, it is more powerful than we realize, which is what Paul is confronting. He is saying, “You don’t get it!” Wake up! You are in the Presence when you share in Communion. Much like the human sexual experience and how it reflects this Divine Outpouring Love that is encountered through face-to-face, emotionally-engaged intimacy.

Communion is about Life and True Living; laughing, crying, going to the pain, getting angry, rejoicing, joking, teasing, dancing, feasting, indulging, turning to one another, seeing each other, and speaking to the True Self. Communion is about uniting and sharing in this Divine Love together. It is an experience and experiencing this Presence together, moving in greater awareness of how Real and Present this Beautiful Love is.

The “bread” and “wine” is not some symbolic act, but an invitation into this Divine Presence. It is more than a reminder, but an incitement to step into this Love and connect. No wonder Paul expressed his indignance over the church’s flippant, oblivious and self-serving attitude. He knew the depths and healing power of this “act”. It was not a ritual, but an undertaking of profound awareness and movement into a very real and present Love.

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The God Who Weeps (Before He Heals)

In one of my classes at grad school my professor brought up a unique, but potentially overlooked detail within the heart of the story of Lazarus in Scripture. This story, contained in John chapter 11, reveals another powerful attribute to Christ; that being, his ability to raise someone from the dead. Now, for those who are reading this, rolling your eyes at such a fairy tale, hold on. This is not about the metaphysical act of being raised from the dead, but what precedes it.

So, my professor points out this fascinating part in the story where Jesus weeps before he does the miraculous, pointing to something very special and integral to understanding the heart of God.

To give an abridged version of the story, Jesus is informed that Mary and Martha’s brother, Lazarus, has died. He travels to their place of residence and is at first approached by task-oriented, cognitive, Martha. The dialogue is imbued with logic over the tragedy, since this is the way Martha operates in the world. 

Martha leaves and Mary returns, who is in emotional upheaval over the death. She bargains with Jesus that if he were here sooner, her brother would have been healed (interesting, how they knew Jesus could heal the living, but had no frame of reference for his ability to call someone out of physical death). One can assume that Mary is fairly emphatic, raw and emotionally demonstrative regarding her brother’s death. 

What does Jesus do? He tells her to “calm down”, that “everything is going to be okay”, to focus “on the great things about Lazarus,” right? Or he quickly jumps into praying for her? Or he gives really encouraging, sage advice to help her in her pain and unwaveringly tells her to wipe those tears away, and as he rolls up his sleeves, he informs her he is going to raise her brother from the dead (his version of getting her an ice cream cone for her emotional pain)? NO!!!!!!

Quite the opposite happens. Jesus viscerally weeps. It says that he was moved two times and wept before he called forth Lazarus from the dead. Think about when you have wept. What is that feeling like? How does the body respond? It is a guttural contraction of grief, the body doubling or bent over with the deepest, heartfelt feeling of anguish. The foundation of this felt emotion is in the bowels, that reflexively radiates throughout the body.

Jesus wept with Mary and the others. Out of deep compassion, he viscerally sobbed, mirroring their pain. He could have reassured them. I mean he was going to heal Lazarus; is not that the greatest reassurance? No, instead he felt with them, traveling together in the pain. Then he performs the miraculous. 

What does this say about God? About our feelings? What does it teach us about responding to our own emotions and that of others?

 

When Things Just Stop Working: Am I a Heretic? (yes)

For a long time, I felt this deficit in my relationship with God. It could be characterized as disconnected and detached, cerebral and obligatory. My understanding of this relationship came from those significant in my life; family, churches, speakers, friends, small groups, etc. Forced, often anxiously-steeped prayers would be my “connection” time with God; trying to figure out the correct combination of words to “feel” His presence or receive an answer to my cries.

I would go to bed, obligated to utter some half-ass prayer, just to relieve the guilt I felt for not giving an adequate amount of time “to” Him. The church would instruct us to do “devotions”, these carved out 30 to 60 minute dedicated times of reading something in scripture or a guided journal, ending the time with a prayer, believing this would set the template or mood for the day. The purpose was to get our minds set on the “thoughts” of God, whatever that meant.

When I even thought about approaching the Bible, anxiety would strike, because of the daunting task of reading it as a text book, scrutinizing every detail, and making sure I understood the context. Or I would take a more mystical approach, turning serendipitously to a page and whatever grabbed me was this metaphysical message for my life. 

My reaction to others asking for prayer, or bringing prayer requests up in a group, was saturated with discomfort and disconnect. I could not stand going through the litany and encountering myself publicly meandering through conversation with God, detached emotionally, as I nervously prayed for someone. Immediately I felt anxious, flooded with pummeling thoughts of how to pray. 

I was also instructed to “give it” to Him, meaning my problems. Always out of encouragement, we would be informed to “lay it down at the cross”, or would go through some guided prayer or casting out some “spirit” to end the emotional pain. 

But all I felt was further pain, isolation and distance from God, toiling in guilt and forced moments with Him. It was easy to believe I was doing something “wrong” and was left on my own to feverishly figure out how to get it “right”.

I began to question these “methods” and approaches. The prayer requests, guided prayers, devotions and promptings to “lay it down at the cross” only stirred up struggle for me. I bitterly criticized myself and thought I was blasphemous for recoiling at these “spiritual” tenets. But I was only left with questions. What was the point of all this? Why was I doing this? How come I am so pissed at these approaches? Did my recoiling mean I was heretical? 

 

The Shift

Years ago, I had this revelatory moment. In my conversation with God, it hit me how I was neglecting my emotions and genuine felt expression to God. Instead I substituted such for logical, repetitious pleadings that looped over and over, leading to frustration. I switched to what was really happening internally for me and I felt greater relief, although nervous I would get smitten by the “righteous wrath” of God. But to my surprise, what I feared did not come true. 

My understanding of prayer and connection with God began to shift. These were powerful moments of deeper, richer, vulnerable and more transformative experiences.

What I started to see was this deep cry for something genuine, raw, and emotionally unfiltered in my relationship with God. I could no longer push down these frustrations over the mantras that blocked me from living vulnerably and authentically. In my anxious, cerebral pining, I was missing the most important chunk; the present rumblings within my heart. Could this be the key to greater connection with God and life?

 

The Beatitudes: Mirroring the Heart of the Divine

Jesus presents this enigmatic list to his Disciples in Matthew chapter 5 called the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes is this fascinating layout for those living life fully and truly. It is a blueprint and a key to understanding the process of becoming alive, deeply connected and attuned to God. But it starts off weird and ends weird. It is an anti-invitation. Who starts off an invitation to greater living with loss? Or ends it with persecution? I mean don’t most parties beckon others with the promise of something pleasurable? Welcome to the upside-down world of God.

Let me fast forward for a moment. Something unique happens towards the end of the Beatitudes. Jesus talks about how those who pour out mercy and peace will be blessed with the mercy and peace from God. But how is this kind of living possible if we have not yet experienced it internally? 

Consider our human relationships like a mirror. They reflect what is within us and influence or shape our internal world. Notice how children will emulate what their parents do and how they act. For example, children want to dress or cook like dad or mom. Or think about how they react the way their parents do when they get upset. Their brains (mirror neurons) are taking in both their parent’s behavior and the motives threaded within it. 

Or look at the group you spend time with; how you develop a similar language, perspective, interests, style or attitude. The more you connect with those in your life, the more your internal self is shaped by the one’s surrounding you, reflecting this influence in your outward expression towards the world (politics, culture, religion, etc.).

Now bring it back to this peace and mercy thing. If we reach a state where we are pouring this out to others, or “reflecting it”, then something enigmatic must have happened in our intimate moments with God, where his peaceful and merciful presence begins to impact our internal world. To operate out of this state, we must first encounter it from something or someone that already holds it. A child learns the language and expression of love by the way her parents speak and model it. The way we learn to share love is not by reading about how it happened to others thousands of years ago or memorizing Scripture or convincing ourselves that God loves us. The learning comes from experiencing it personally and deeply.

So how the hell do we get to this place of a love overflow? This leads us back to the start of the Beatitudes. That anti-invite. It’s where things get messy and real. What is the beginning of living? Powerlessness, Loss, mourning and softening (meekness). We begin by opening ourselves up to encountering reality; the pains, wounds, unfulfilled desires, longings, attachments, false/protective personalities, warped perceptions, what we’ve held to as the meaning of life, etc. 

Courageously we go into the terrifying and unknown world of our heart, unraveling the layers that have blocked the True, Vulnerable, Authentic Self. This mourning and loss are the deep, bellowing groans of the painful transition away from what we’ve believed to be our actual selves, giving way to the real. It is a dying process, which manifests feeling loss, lost, directionless, empty and powerless. 

It is a bloody and bruising battle, feeling what we have never felt, facing what we have never faced, seeing what was obfuscated. It is an invitation into the deepest, richest, most vulnerable connection you have ever encountered. We are feeling and seeing everything we have turned away from; sexuality, abuse, hatred, rage, murder, gender, painful longing, etc. Whatever we have turned away from, pushed away or stuffed down, we face boldly.

To become more connected to God means, simultaneously, we become connected to ourselves. We move towards our hearts, leaving nothing unturned. We give up the ego and the false protection, exposing all that lives within us to Him. Quite the invite, right?

The Beatitudes marks this mysterious and powerful journey of going through this emptying process, leading to hunger, followed by being filled or satisfied. When we open ourselves up and then unbridledly pour it all out, we are actually emptying ourselves to become filled with something new, satisfying and live-giving. 

How does it all connect?

 

The Invitation to Feel it All

Jesus wept deeply, profoundly, and gutturally. He had the greatest connection to the Source of Life, having the ability to do the miraculous and the supernatural; yet he sobbed and grieved with the others. He was moved by their pain and despair. It was the purest display of compassion; feeling what they felt, giving permission to go into the pain together. He never shut it down, but instead instinctually opened himself up to be in the emotional heartache with them.

What does this tell us about God, this Divine Presence, this Mystery, this Source? If Jesus reflected the heart of God, then it is safe to say that God feels with us in our pain and would never shut it down nor pull us away from our emotion, need and desire. Instead, he invites us into it all; the anger, rage, murderous desires, envy, lust, horniness, sadness, excitement, joy, etc. 

The one does that does not push away, detach, disconnect, split off from his or her heart, but chooses, instead, to move into every present emotion, that stirring within, is listening and honoring the deeper messages of the heart. And these messages are not just some random biopsychological/neurochemical utterances to pay attention to. They are much more meaningful. They connect us to something Greater, something Transcendent. 

Emotions have been vilified, cauterized, feared, judged, numbed, pushed down, dismissed, devalued, etc. Why? I wonder if such reactions speak to emotions’ inherent, transcendent and vital importance. Feeling through our emotions changes us, moves us into greater beings, into greater connection and closeness with God, generates aliveness and shapes us into persons that pour out to others, impacting them with a Profound Love. 

 

My Story Continued: Getting Out of Formulas and Into The Uncensored

Within the last five years there has been a drastic shift in my engagement with God. I realized how much I was striving, heavily steeped in obligation, guilt and the compulsion to get myself “right”; spending inordinate amounts of time ruminating on what went wrong. I would set out to solve the mystery of the occurrences in my life, guessing what God was doing. However, I would end up in the same place, lost, discontent, disillusioned, and hating myself. I would avoid my emotions, ache, desires, longings, etc., and all would succumb to the serrated blade of judgment.

The transition went from operating in my head to pouring out of my heart. This meant that not only did I need to acknowledge what resided within me, but it was vital that I go into the emotion and allow its presence to be a part of me. A contained, suffocating, muted inner dialogue became an externalized outpouring expression of what stirred inside. 

I no longer wanted cling to the handrails of guided prayers and detached formulas. I felt the hunger for something authentic, honest, uncomfortable, paradoxical, mysterious and real. And boy, did I go through the uncomfortable, tension-filled, conflictual, disquieting struggle of making known what was inside me, both to myself and to God.

Nothing stayed hidden; whether I felt hatred or horny; shame or joy. When I masturbated or looked at porn, I stayed in conversation with God, expressing to him my deepest desires. Sadness, grief and unfulfilled longing filled my conversation. I embraced wrestling with God in anger and discomfort over feeling alone and seeing things differently than my church community. At certain moments I would contend with God on something he was inviting me to do or to go into and began to boldly express my anger towards Him. Like I said, nothing was hidden nor filtered. The greatest healing took place in uncensored dialogue. 

And as I committed to this way of connecting, things shifted. Shame and self-hatred reduced, replaced by this energetic hunger and aliveness. I felt a great security between me and God. Anxiety or restlessness would communicate to me when I was pulling away from my feelings and from Him. I could only be present by turning towards my emotion, feeling it robustly and deeply. The wonderful byproduct of creativity emerged as well (quite a discovery, how connecting to our emotions leads to a surge in creative outpouring). 

 

Closing Thoughts

The core of this message is that God cares wholeheartedly for our emotional realm, since it is a reflection of his vulnerable, emotional expressive nature. He feels deeply with us, which is clearly indicated in the story of Lazarus. God loves all of our being deeply, because he carries within himself a deep love that he expressively enjoys pouring out. When we accept, care, feel and travel into the emotional dimensions of ourself, this innate hunger surfaces to venture with people into their own pain. It is an unrelenting ripple of healing love.

There is another option, however. The other route is turn away from our hearts, living detached, but constantly seeking out that Connection down various paths. However, there will always be that nudge to turn back, to go into the heart, to venture down that narrow, less-traveled path to something greater, richer, abundant, lavish, satisfying and true. May you accept that anti-invite and enter into the life you were wired to live unbridledly free in.

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