Valentine’s Day

Today is Valentine’s Day. For many people this means it is a day of flowers, chocolates and greetings cards slushy, humorous or both. We may think this is a recent invention like Fathers’ Day, but that’s far from true. Valentine’s Day dates back many centuries and has its origins in 3rd Century Rome.

St Valentine is thought to have been a priest who conducted marriages against the wishes of the Emperor Claudius who believed married men made poor soldiers.  When Claudius found out he sentenced Valentine to death, but even while languishing in gaol Valentine fell in love with the gaoler’s daughter. He wrote her a letter on the day of his execution, February 14th, signed ‘from your Valentine’.

Valentine’s Day celebrations originated from a Roman festival called Lupercalia during which boys picked the names of girls from a box. The chosen would become their girlfriend for the festival. If they got on, they would get married. Later the church adopted Lupercalia as a Christian event in which St Valentine would be commemorated. In the Middle Ages they believed that February 14th was the start of the mating season for birds.

The first known Valentine’s Day message dates from 1415, a poem written by the Duke of Orleans to his wife when he was incarcerated in the Tower of London after the Battle of Agincourt.

Valentine’s Day is now an annual love-fest welcomed and enjoyed by millions. It’s a day of flowers, chocolates, romantic meals and intrigue – tradition has it that cards should be sent anonymously and some people go to enormous lengths to disguise the sender’s identity. Sometimes messages are serious, sometimes just a bit of fun. And maybe that’s the point. Enjoy it, but don’t take it too seriously. It’s the froth on the coffee, not the coffee itself!

Want to know more? Visit http://blog.davidlawrencepreston.co.uk/2018/02/love/

Love Is A Many Splendoured Thing

I was asked to give a talk on love for Valentine’s Day. I accepted. Shouldn’t be too hard, I thought. After all, everyone wants to love and be loved, don’t they? I soon wished I hadn’t. Like Prince Charles I couldn’t even decide – what is love?

I trawled the internet. I found the views of poets, philosophers, psychologists, theologians, novelists and neuroscientists. This merely confirmed my suspicion that the word means very different things to different people. For example:

  • My dictionary says love is ‘Deep affection or fondness; a concern for, and commitment to, each other.’ (But what about love of life, love of country, etc?)
  • At a conference of sociologists in America in 1977, love was defined as ‘the cognitive-affective state characterized by intrusive and obsessive fantasizing concerning reciprocity or amorant feelings by the object of the amorance.’ (Are you any the wiser?)
  •  Psychological researcher Havelock Ellis took a simple view: love = sex + friendship. (Not very satisfactory.)
  •  M Scott Peck (Author of ‘The Road Less Travelled’) defined love as ‘Concern for the spiritual growth of another.’ (A good one, but what does it really mean?)
  •  In his book, ‘The Four Loves’, CS Lewis says there are four main types of love – affection, friendship, eros/romantic love, and charity. (Would Aslan agree?)
  • My favourite came from Plato, written 2,500 years ago, that love is a noble idea, or ‘form’.

Love as a ‘Form’

Plato believed that behind every tangible thing is an idea, or ‘form.’ These are independent entities which exist whether or not we are aware of them and able to grasp them with the mind. For example, behind the physical form table is the idea of table. So love exists in the universe as an idea and as an ideal. We only become aware of it when it enters our experience. My experience of love is different from yours, meanwhile, the idea of love (also wisdom, justice, honesty, beauty and so on) remains constant, permanent and unchanging.

Plato’s ideal of perfection was love that is:

  •   Fearless
  •   Constant
  •   Non-discriminatory
  •   Unconditional
  •   Completely unselfish, and
  •   Endlessly forgiving

He urged us not to judge by appearances, but seek what is real, not what merely looks real. And perhaps that’s where many of us go wrong. We confuse real love with something rather less, and in doing so, we condemn ourselves to constant disillusionment and disappointment.

So let’s consider love from a number of different perspectives, to try and discern what is real.

Sexual attraction

Anthropologist and ‘love expert’ Professor Helen Fisher, author of ‘Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love’ (2004), regards love as merely an instinct driven by a collection of physical and hormonal changes over which we have no control. She claims that the brain has three chemical systems for dealing with love – one for sexual attraction, one for romantic yearning and another for attachment. The first draws you to a person; the second motivates you to focus your attention on them; the last enables you to stay with a mate long enough to rear children.

When working properly, these systems ensure we meet the right match and sustain that connection over time. But it can also warp our senses, distort our perceptions, play havoc with our thinking and cause us to behave – to put it mildly – most unwisely! And in no area is this more true romantic love. For example, research has shown that men lose the ability to think rationally in the presence of a pretty woman (did we really need research to prove this?). The face, body and any sexual signals given off consciously or unconsciously can easily override common sense.

Romantic love

Romantic love is usually thought of as strong feelings reserved for one special person. Sometimes indistinguishable from infatuation, it is unpredictable and frequently beyond our conscious control. When we fall in love, our bodies are flooded with feel-good chemicals such as testosterone, dopamine and serotonin. It’s as if a switch has been thrown and a different programme has started to run. In the early phases, when sophisticated bio-feedback sensors are attached, scientists find the effect on the body is similar to the effects of an obsessive-compulsive disorder!

The main problem with romantic love is that something suppresses the usual fault-finding mechanisms – we’re blinded and deafened to the reality of the other, including their so-called defects. That’s why a honeymoon has been described as ‘a short period of doting between dating and debting’.

And yet romantic love is highly prized in Western Society. Our media are obsessed with it and full of articles on how to find it. They mostly focus on attracting the person you fancy by appealing to their five senses: how to dress, how to use your voice, what perfume to wear, how to kiss, choosing sexy foods, and so on.

Romantic love renders our normal self-protection systems useless. Perceptions are distorted, clear thinking faculties disabled. Our biology knows this, which is precisely why the feel-good chemicals that act as they do. If they didn’t, our DNA would have a much smaller chance of being passed on!

If the loving relationship is to survive, romantic love must transform into something else – deeper, long lasting – and more practical. So our biochemistry adjusts, as we shall see.

Love as needs fulfillment

Motivational experts tell us that all motivation and ultimately behaviour is based on perceived needs. These needs may be physical or emotional, rational or irrational.

A friend told me this story. Two elderly men were talking.

‘I hear you’re getting married,’ said the first.

‘That’s right.’

‘Do I know her?’

‘Don’t think so.’

‘Is she good looking?’

‘Not really. She has a face like a pig.’

‘Is she a good cook?’

‘Dreadful!’

‘Then she must have lots of money.’

‘Not at all.’

‘Is she good in bed?’

‘No idea. Never tried.’

‘Then why on earth do you want to marry her?’

‘Because she has a car and at 82 can still drive!’

It’s interesting to think of what needs love fulfils – or what needs we hope, expect or want love to fulfil. There are physical needs of course, but in this day and age, in the West at least, most of our needs are, in fact, emotional. Some psychologists believe that love is simply a blend of emotions with survival value.

Love as an emotion

Emotions are part of our biology – they are, in effect, physical responses to our thinking and our belief systems. They can feel wonderful, but they can also bring misery. They can ruin our ability to think clearly, which is why acting on our emotions is not always the best way. As we mature, we leave childish emotions behind and earn more adult ways of functioning. Or do we?

Not always. Many of us fall in love with people who aren’t necessary right for us. ‘Ever fallen in love with someone you shouldn’t have fallen in love with?’ Among the reasons people make this mistake are:

  •  Looking for someone to take their pain away, to remove loneliness, self-doubt, poverty, etc.
  •  Trying to make themselves complete through another person.
  •  Romantic delusions: For example, ‘We need each other so badly’, or ‘I want to marry you and have your children – see how much I love you? How unselfish I am!’

Needs based ‘love’ is all too often bound up with emotions such as fear and selfishness. It can arouse fierce passions such as jealousy, possessiveness and revenge, and can easily be confused with:

  •   Co-dependence – ‘I need you; I can’t live without you.’
  •   Conditionality – ‘I’ll love you, but only if…’
  •   Lust – ‘I fancy you.’
  •   Romance – ‘I love the fantasy I have of you.’
  •   Hope – ‘I love you but I wish I could change you.’

Long-term loving relationships

The things that first attract us to each other are not necessarily those which keep us together. It used to be said that humans are one of the few species where a couple naturally stay together to support the offspring they have created. In reality, this may no longer be entirely true, but is still seen as the ideal. Stable societies depend on stable family groupings, which is why it is regulated by law and enshrined in religion and custom.

Old couple

Where the will to stay together is present, the transformation to long-term loving relationships is supported by our body chemistry. The feel-good chemicals endorphins and oxytocins replace the sex hormones, and the hormones that initially made us blind to the reality of the other person subside. Now we see them as they are, warts and all! Unlike romantic lovers, long established couples are all too aware of their partner’s failings!

We may ask ourselves in this cynical age whether ‘happy ever after’ is still a realistic possibility? Or indeed, whether it ever was? Perhaps people in previous generations were simply more orientated towards duty and necessity?

I believe it is, but only if both partners realise:

  • No-one person can meet all your needs. Don’t expect them to. And don’t allow them to expect it of you.
  • No two people match perfectly. We may never be fully understood by the person we had hoped would understand us.
  • You are still individuals even when together – as Kahlil Gibran advised, ‘Let there be spaces in your togetherness.’
  • And remember, love does not equate to idolatry

But as we all know, sadly it doesn’t always happen. A man was attending the burial of his recently-deceased wife when someone asks: ‘Who is it who rests in peace here?’ ‘Me, now that I’m rid of her!’ he replied.

This joke is at least 1600 years old. It was discovered with some ancient Greek writings. Nothing changes!

Perfect love

To return to Plato – how many loves do you know that meet his criteria for perfect love? If you are in a one-to-one relationship, ask yourself: Is our love fearless? Unchanging? Non-discriminatory? Unconditional? Completely unselfish? Endlessly forgiving?

Romantic love by its very nature cannot meet these criteria, being needs-based, short-lived, conditional (‘I’ll only love you if you do all this for me’) and unforgiving. It is also discriminatory – exclusive to one person.

But you may disagree.

Moreover, even the happiest long-term relationships are likely to have most, if not all, of these characteristics. After all, many long-term relationships work on the basis that ‘I’ll do just enough to stop you leaving, if you do just enough to make me stay.’

Again – you may disagree.

Higher love

There’s a third type of human love. It’s a love that goes beyond our families and friends and encompasses all of humankind, perhaps even the whole of creation. Again we must be careful. It’s easy to profess love for those caught in an earthquake on the other side of the world and ignore the illness and suffering right under our nose.

One of the great passages on love was written by Paul of Tarsus. Professor Henry Drummond, a 19th Century scientist and theologian, was so impressed by this passage he wrote a book on it and urged his students to read this passage daily for three months. Many reported that it had transformed their lives.

‘Love is patient and kind. It is never jealous. It does not boast, it is not proud; it is never rude or self-seeking; it is not easily angered, and keeps no record of wrongs. Love takes no pleasure in evil and delights in truth; it is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, to persevere.’

(1 Corinthians, 13, 4-7)

‘You will find as you look back upon your life,’ wrote Drummond, ‘that the moments when you have truly lived are the moments when you have done things in the spirit of love.’

I challenge you: read these words daily. Then put them into practice. After three months, look back on your experiences. You may experience a profound awakening.

But there’s an even greater form of love:

Universal Love

Human love is a pale shadow of the love expressed by the creative intelligence that sustains us, whether you see this in theological terms or as the information fields that quantum physicists tell us underpin the entire physical universe.

Chemically-driven, delusional romantic love, and needs-based, co-dependent love exist only within the confines of our own skin, shaped by human instincts and emotions; but universal love is not an emotion, lays down no conditions, and it does not discriminate. It is the very Life-Force within us. And it meets all of Plato’s criteria – it is fearless, constant, non-discriminatory, unconditional, completely unselfish and endlessly forgiving.

The late, great spiritual teacher, Anthony de Mello, wrote:

‘Is it possible for the rose to say, ‘I will give my fragrance to the good people who smell me, but I will withhold it from the bad? Or for a lamp to say, ‘I will give my light to the good people in this room, but I will withhold it from the evil people?’ These are images of what love is about.  It is around you like the air you breathe and in every atom of your body.’

Think about it: if this were not so, the universe would quickly self-destruct!

You can ignore it, deny it, cut yourself from it (and hence destroy your own happiness), but you can’t stop the flow. Be quiet and still, and you can feel it pulsating in every part of your being. Let it radiate! When we awaken the infinite power of love that lies within us, anger and fear dissolve. Inner peace and contentment are ours.

To quote Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (a French Jesuit priest who died in 1955):

‘The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides, gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, we shall have discovered fire.’

 

©David Lawrence Preston, 8.2.2018

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Buddhism, Animals and the Environment

I was first attracted to Buddhism because it seemed to me to be more eco-friendly than other traditions. It seemed more enlightened than Christianity, Islam and Judaism!  But recent investigations have made me wonder if this is really true as we shall see.

In ancient times when the world’s major religions were created they had no notion that the life support systems of our home planet could be destroyed by human activity. But  we now have a global view and we have seen what bad stewardship by humans can accomplish – overpopulation, polluted seas and atmosphere, global warming, deforestation, soil erosion, animal, fish and bird species dying off at an alarming rate to mention just a few.

In Biblical times animal sacrifices were considered desirable as a means of pleasing the deities, and the Roman rulers murdered living creatures for entertainment. It is said that on one day alone 70,000 animals were slaughtered in the Colosseum just for the spectacle. They had no notion that entire species such as lions and tigers could one day be threatened with extinction forever.

We simply can’t interpret 2,500 year-old ideas in the light of 21st Century knowledge and priorities.

Ethical attitudes and the place of animals

In principle Buddhist attitudes to the natural world are very clear. The First Buddhist Precept states ‘I undertake to refrain from harming living beings. Abstaining from violence is a requirement of the Eight Fold Path incorporating Right Action and Right Livelihood. A modern interpretation by Thich Nhat Hahn (in his ‘Order of Inter-being’) includes:

  • 11th Precept: Do not live with a vocation that is harmful to humans or nature.
  • 12th Precept: Do not kill. Do not let others kill.

Could that be any clearer? No harming, no violence, no butchering or hunting. No profiting from destructive and cruel activities. Non-violence towards all beings and the planet.

Should animals be considered as equal worth as humans? Other religions also have strong views on this. The Hebrew Scriptures (OT) tells us that God granted humans stewardship over the Earth and all living creatures.  Does this mean we have divine permission to exploit them?

Not in Buddhism. Buddhism says we should respect all sentient beings. Fair enough, but what is a sentient being?  Elephants, dolphins, horses, sheep, fish, birds and so on for sure. But how about insects, bacteria, single cell life and viruses – does the First Precept apply equally to them? Clearly not.

It is complicated in Buddhism by the belief that there is a possibility of being reincarnated as an animal and maybe having been animals in previous lives. How could we harm a creature that may once have been our mother?

In my opinion all creatures have just as much right to a dignified and cruelty-free life in their own natural environment as we do and Buddhism seems to agree. Good karma arises from taking care of vegetation, waterways, forests and minerals too. Caring for the planet, not exploiting it indiscriminately is a good thing. And so it should be.

A hierarchical world

Even so, like other religions, Buddhism assumes a clear hierarchical structure. Humans are central to Buddhist teachings. Its goal is to encourage advancement towards personal enlightenment.  So humans are above the animals. The idea that all beings are of equal worth and interdependent is not a prime motivator, although there is ‘merit’ in taking care of the natural world.

For me it is disappointing that the welfare of some species considered more important than others. For instance, when a bullfighter gets injured in the ring, who do I feel sorry for? The bull, naturally.

How the Four Main Virtues relate to animals and the natural world

The Four Main Virtues in Buddhism are:

  • Loving kindness
  • Compassion
  • Joy
  • Equanimity

With respect to the natural world they raise a number of questions, such as:

  • Is it OK to cull some animals (e.g. badgers, foxes, seals) to protect perceived human interests?
  • Is killing a whale, elephant or lion worse than killing a dog, snake or hedgehog?
  • Is it loving kindness to destroy an animal’s natural habitat (e.g. by cutting down trees and draining marshes) so that it becomes extinct?
  • Where’s the compassion in removing a calf from its mother, stealing her milk and then slaughtering the young? Or in keeping a calf in a tiny pen so it can’t move, and feeding it on an unnatural milk-based diet to make its flesh white for the veal industry?
  • Is it OK to placing a hen in a cage and steal her eggs?
  • Can we stand back with equanimity as human activity destroys the natural .environment?

Our current relationship with the natural world is often bereft of loving kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity. It is highly exploitative and far from harmonious!

Plant life and the environment

Some Buddhist texts forbid causing injury to seeds, crops and vegetation and state that there is merit in planting trees, herbs and other plants. But is this because plant life has worth in itself, or because it is offers utility to humanity, for instance, trees provide shelter, beauty, fruit and timber?

Buddhism is equivocal on whether plants are sentient or non-sentient beings, therefore deserving of the same respect as the higher animals. Even so many Buddhists see living in or close to nature as beneficial (the Buddha himself lived in the forest). And so it is. Humans need sunlight, natural earth resonances and fresh oxygen to thrive.

Again, while the natural world is not the prime objective of good environmental practices, at least it in an indirect beneficiary and we should all be thankful for that.

Vegetarianism and veganism

Buddhist principles strongly suggest a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, but this isn’t followed by all Buddhists. Some say it is alright to eat meat providing you have not knowingly had it killed for you, so, for instance, monks are permitted to eat meat provided they were not complicit in its killing.

On the one hand there are those among Buddhists and the general population who argue that eating meat is natural and healthy and eating is essential to control certain animal populations.

On the other hand, others say (as I do) that rearing animals for meat is uneconomic and wasteful, destroys the balance of nature, damages the environment (e.g. methane), causes suffering to living creatures, and is unnecessary for human health.

So why is it OK in my country to eat a sheep or a pig, but not a dog or cat? And if we are unwilling to kill are we willing to let others kill on our behalf? Could you kill a cow or a sheep and chop it up for  food? Moreover, is it acceptable to use animal products without killing, e.g. milk, eggs, honey. How cruel are we allowed to be? And what about the by-products of the meat industry – leather, gelatine etc.

Once again, Buddhist principles seem clear, while practice does not.

Animal experiments

Is it acceptable or justified to subject a living creature to suffering and probably premature death on the off chance of relieving suffering and illness in human beings.

Conclusion

We are the only animal stupid enough to deliberately destroy the very life support systems of the planet that nourishes us. But they didn’t know that in the Buddha’s day.

Nowadays one of the most pressing questions for humanity is ‘How do we create a lifestyle for all than benefits all creatures in the long term and is sustainable?

Self-restraint, the notion that only if everyone voluntarily restricts the demands they make on the planet can it be saved, is the key but seems to be impossible in capitalist societies (and I include China). It is very much in line with mainstream Buddhist thinking  – but not necessarily followed by all Buddhists.

But there are tensions in Buddhism between the pursuit of individual advancement and environmental concerns. There is no assumption in Buddhism that humans are part of nature and Buddhist virtues such as loving kindness and non-violence are not always extended to the natural world.

That’s not just a pity – it’s a matter of long term survival of all species. Including us.

©David Lawrence Preston, 21 Oct 2017

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Yeshua’s Greatest Hits

20

The Transfiguration

Yeshua takes three of his disciples up a mountain to pray. Suddenly, his face changes, his body is transformed and his clothes become dazzling white light. The prophets Moses and Elijah appear and engage him in conversation. A cloud overshadows them, and a voice says, ‘This is my son, my chosen, listen to him.’ The disciples turn away, terrified, and fall to the ground. Wisely, on their return to civilisation, they choose to keep quiet about what they have seen. Even in those days, one could be locked up for telling tall stories!

(Mark 9:2-10)

19

Ask and you shall receive

‘Ask and it will be given to you; search and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you,’ proclaimed Yeshua. People loved it, and they still do. If all you have to do is ask, then let’s ask for whatever we want – money, fame, youth, new toys, Pacific cruise, why not? Unfortunately for those craving the material things in life, Yeshua was not talking about earthly, but spiritual riches. Hence this oft quoted saying is understood by few – including, one imagines, Howard Hughes and the unfortunate King Midas.

(Matt 7:7-8)

18

Sharp words

Everyone enjoys seeing a bully humiliated and unable to retaliate, and when Yeshua let fly, he let fly! ‘You brood of vipers,’ he exclaimed with a group of Pharisees in his sights, ‘you hypocrites,’ ‘you snakes, how can you escape the sentence of hell?’ How the audience enjoyed his outbursts! (There is no record of what he did for an encore.)

(Matt 12:34, Matt 23: 29-33)

17

The Last Supper

Before being led away to his death, Yeshua shared bread and wine with his disciples and, in an impressive demonstration of clairvoyance, let slip that he knew which of them would betray him. Who would have thought that two thousand years after the event, people the world over would still be breaking bread and sipping wine mimicking a symbolic act intended only for those present at the time? Incredibly some of these people believe the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Yeshua! Yuk!

(Mark 14: 17-25)

16

Washing the disciples’ feet

A demonstration of service and humility that would not go amiss in the boardrooms and corridors of power in every land.

(John 13:4-10)

15

The Prodigal Son

A cautionary tale loved especially by young men who have left home, messed up and crawled home expecting a warm welcome, a good meal and new clothes. A lesson for the elder brother in controlling jealousy too. Poor thing – he thinks he’s missed out, but doesn’t realise he had it all, all the time. Perhaps he should spare a thought for the fatted calf! There are always others worse off than yourself.

(Luke 15:11-32)

14

Love your enemies

Yeshua’s great injunction is admirable but rarely put into practise. ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,’ he said. ‘For if you love only those who love you, what reward do you have?’ So, come on people of the world – and that includes you all you politicians, and religious leaders – shape up!

(Matt 5:44-46)

13

The crucifix: a universal symbol of fellowship

Bit gruesome, this one, and not of Yeshua’s making for he was long dead before the idea caught on. It owes much to the misogynist and religious obsessive Paul of Tarsus who wrote, for example, ‘For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God;’ and, ‘May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.’ Strangely, some are more inspired by Yeshua’s ghastly death than his exemplary life.

(1 Corinthians, 1:18 and Galatians 6:14)

12

The Lord’s Prayer

Two thousand years after being dictated to a massed throng, various translations and mis-translations of the Lord’s Prayer – surely the world’s favourite prayer (even more so than the Prayer of Saint Francis) – are recited by millions on a daily basis. All together now:

‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we have also forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.’

(Matt 6: 9-13)

11

A novel way of paying taxes

Yeshua is reminded that even the Messiah has to pay taxes, so he sends a disciple to the lake and tells him next time he catches a fish, to open its mouth, and he will find a coin sufficient to clear their arrears. (If only it were always so easy!) So if you plan to go fishing when the wife wants you to do some jobs around the house, tell her this! But bear in mind, nowhere does it say Peter took Yeshua’s advice.

(Matt 17: 24-27)

10

Ascending to heaven on a cloud

Acts of the Apostles tells us that forty days after returning from the dead, Yeshua told his disciples that they would soon receive a great power and preach his message to the ends of the earth. Then a cloud took him out of their sight. Two white-robed men then appeared and said that he would one day come in the same way as he went. So if you ever see a man descending on a cloud, that’s him!

Incidentally, Luke’s Gospel says he ascended ‘soon’ after the resurrection. We know that the two accounts were written by the same author – dementia, perhaps?

(Acts 1: 9-11 and Luke, Chapter 24)

9

The Sermon on the Mount

The greatest piece of oratory ever? Even Monty Python were inspired by the birds of the air and the lilies of the field! Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, Churchill’s wartime speeches or Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ don’t even come close.

Original version: Luke 6:20-49

Extended long playing version with sampled bonus material: Matt 5, 6 and 7

8

Casting out demons

Yeshua cast out a host of demons from a madman and sent them into a herd of pigs. The pigs, it is said, stampeded into a lake and drowned. Impressive, but tough on the pigs!

(Mark 5:1-13)

7

The feeding of the five thousand

Five thousand people, starving after a hard day’s hero-worshiping, fed to excess by five loaves and two small fishes. Beat that, Sai Baba! Would be usefully replicated in places like Eritrea, Darfur and the Congo. Where’s G_d when you need it?

(Mark 6: 30-44)

6

Render unto Caesar: a stunning riposte

Everyone enjoys seeing a smart-ass humiliated with a neat reply. In this case, a group of Herodians asked Yeshua a trick question: is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Yeshua knew that if he said yes he would alienate his followers, and if he said no he would be arrested by the Romans. So he took a coin and asked them whose image was on it. ‘Casear’s,’ they replied. Then he told them to give the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to G_d the things that are G_d’s. Game, set and match! How today’s politicians wish they could emulate this stunning riposte!

(Matt 22: 15-22)

5

Throwing the bankers out of the temple

Wouldn’t everyone like to see bankers, currency dealers and speculators get their comeuppance? Well try this: go into the head branch of any bank, open the tills and tip the contents on the floor. Tell the manager his bank is nothing but a den of robbers, then try to leave. See how far you get

(Mark 11:15)

4

Walking on water

Cephas couldn’t do it, but Yeshua could. Even Evel Knievel never managed this – nor Houdini, nor David Blaine –  the ultimate stunt for show-offs!

(Matt 14:25-32)

3

Raising Lazarus from the dead

Lazarus had been dead for four days and making quite a stench when Yeshua brought his rotting corpse back to life. Isn’t it amazing that G_d continues to allow such suffering in the world if his son is capable of such feats?

(John 11:1-44)

2

Rising from the dead

There’s plenty of speculation on this one, and no-one except Yeshua really knows the truth. Even so, it’s quite a claim and, amazingly, a quarter of the world’s population believe it!

(See, for example, Matt 28:1-20 and John 20:1-30)

1

Changing water into wine

The ultimate party piece! He did it for his mother (doesn’t everyone want to please their mother?) Amazingly, in surveys eight out of ten said they would rather be able to turn water in to wine than come back from the dead.

(John 2:1-10)

 

©David Lawrence Preston, 30.7.2017

 

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5 reasons to forgive

Practise forgiveness

Judging, blaming, bearing grudges and forgiveness are closely related. Before you need to forgive you must have judged, blamed and felt a measure of fear. Otherwise there would be nothing to forgive.

It is not for you to decide whether the recipient deserves to be forgiven is not. Forgiveness is not about condoning wrongdoing, but is part of the process of righting wrongs and putting something better in their place.

Five irresistible reasons to forgive

  1. When we forgive, we free ourselves from anger, bitterness and resentment and create inner peace. Our bodies feel less tense. The incident becomes merely a memory, no longer charged with emotion.
  1. Everything we give out returns to us. When we forgive, the bitterness evaporates and we avoid being on the end of others’ bitterness in future.
  1. We take responsibility for our lives rather than expecting something outside our control to happen or someone else to change.
  1. We forgive not so much for the other person (they may know that we’ve forgiven them). We do it for ourselves. Who benefits the most when you forgive – YOU! There’s a wise old saying: Acid harms only the vessel that contains it.
  1. Forgiveness brings our awareness to the present. We let go of the past, stop plotting for the future, let go and move on.

Forgive yourself too

Guilt is one of most disempowering emotions and one of the most common. Many people fret over things they can do little about, and some even feel guilty knowing they’ve done nothing wrong.

Guilt is a futile emotion because it is rooted in the past which, of course, can’t be changed. All we can do is change our thoughts and feelings about it.

What about you? You deserve forgiveness as much as anyone else. What do you need to be forgiven for? You have made mistakes – we all have. Instead of feeling guilty, look for the lessons and don’t make the same mistakes again.

Do you find it hard to forgive?

Do you ever feel you’re not ready to forgive? You want to, you know it makes sense and yet those blaming thoughts keep coming.

If so, start by wanting to, then intending to forgive. The willingness to forgive is a major step.

  • Examine your beliefs about forgiveness. Do you believe that you have to get even for every wrong done to you? Do you believe that forgiveness is a sign of weakness? Do these beliefs serve you well?
  • Eliminate unforgiving thoughts. Sow thoughts of love, empathy and forgiveness. Affirm – Perfect order is now established in my mind. I am at peace.
  • Picture the person who you wish to forgive. Surround this image in white light and affirm, ‘From this moment on, I send you love and light.’ ‘See’ the two of you as connected.
  • Extend love, generosity and compassion to them and avoid petty acts of revenge.

 

©David Lawrence Preston 6.6.2017

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Universal Intelligence – however you conceive it – loves all its children equally

Not long ago a local Councillor from Northern Ireland stated his belief on UK national radio that Hurricane Katrina was God’s retribution against gay people in New Orleans (apparently a gay festival would have taken place in the city two days later had the hurricane not happened) and added that the Tsunami in December 2004 was due to God punishing Asia for not being predominantly Christian.

What do you think? Do you agree with the Councillor, or would you rather heed the words of Gene Robinson, the openly gay man who was elected Bishop of the New Hampshire in June 2003, sparking off a heated debate between conservatives and liberals within the Church over whether he should be allowed to serve.

Said Robinson, ‘The nature of G_d must take precedence over the affairs of the church, and the nature of G_d is to love all His children equally.’

Whether you see G_d as a man in the sky, an Intelligence, a quantum information field or whatever I think you can be pretty certain that it doesn’t discriminate. However you conceive it, it loves all its children equally.

 

©David Lawrence Preston, 30.1.2017

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Self-love

Is it wrong to love yourself?  Some people think so. They think of people who love themselves as being rather unpleasant,  selfish and conceited.

But loving yourself is not the same as being in love with yourself. This is usually a form of bravado indulged in by individuals who think too little of themselves and desperately try to hide it.

To love yourself, you don’t have to do everything perfectly. You don’t have to prove anything. You don’t even have to do your best.

Self-love benefits others too, for only when you have love for yourself can you share it with others. Disliking oneself is no way to spread love and help others to feel better about themselves.

Self-acceptance

Self-acceptance is closely related to self-love. Self-acceptance means acknowledging what you are and respecting all aspects of yourself.

It does not mean giving up on yourself. If there’s something you want to change that is worth changing, change it. Do it lovingly.

As your capacity for self-love grows, other changes occur too. You become more tolerant, calm, compassionate and peaceful. Others feel better in your presence (animals are also very quick to pick up on this.) You instill calmness and confidence in others.

©David Lawrence Preston 18.1.2017

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Love your enemies

A great teacher taught that we should love our enemies and bless those who persecute us. What did he mean by this?

Problems with others usually occur because our own thinking is in error. With no enmity in our thinking, we have no enemies! That’s why Abraham Lincoln observed, ‘Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?’

An adversarial state of consciousness is disempowering. It’s also detrimental to our health.

Go within and seek the peaceful side of your nature. If others don’t respond, send them a silent blessing and let it go. Their anger and aggression is their problem.

Be grateful to those who test you

Our so-called enemies are our finest teachers. Aim to make peace with them. Don’t even consider whether they deserve it – that’s just a judgement.

Eric Butterworth tells of a distinguished writer who visited a Quaker friend. Each evening, they walked to the street corner to buy an evening newspaper. The friend would be cheerful and pleasant, but the news vendor would always respond with a grunt. The writer commented on this one night. ‘Why are you so nice to him?’ he asked his friend.

The Quaker replied, ‘Why should I let him determine how I am going to behave?’

Be grateful to those who make life difficult, and don’t let them rule your behaviour. They are your greatest teachers.

 

©David Lawrence Preston 7.12.2016

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Love your enemies

A great teacher once said, ‘Love your enemies,’  baffling not only his audience but also hundreds of millions ever since. How can it be in our own interests to love our enemies? What did he mean by this?

Problems with others usually occur because our own thinking is in error. With no enmity in our thinking, we have no enemies! That’s why Abraham Lincoln observed, ‘Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?’

An adversarial state of consciousness is disempowering. It’s also detrimental to our health. Go within and seek the peaceful side of your nature. If others don’t respond, send them a silent blessing and let it go. Their anger and aggression is their problem.

Be grateful to those who test you

Our so-called enemies are our finest teachers. Aim to make peace with them, whether or not you feel they deserve it.

Eric Butterworth tells of a distinguished writer who visited a Quaker friend. Each evening, they walked to the street corner to buy an evening newspaper. The friend would be cheerful and pleasant, but the news vendor would always respond with a grunt.

The writer commented on this one night. ‘Why are you so nice to him?’ he asked his friend.

The Quaker replied, ‘Why should I let him determine how I am going to behave?’

Be grateful to those who make life difficult, and don’t let them control your behaviour. They are your greatest teachers.

 

©David Lawrence Preston 7.12.2016

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The Higher and Lower Selves

Our inner experience often feels like a tug of war as various streams of thought battle for attention. Some thoughts come from the needs of the body and emotions. They make up the part of the mind referred to as the ego or ‘Lower Self’.

In contrast, we also have thoughts which come from the part of the mind referred to as the ‘Higher Self’, when we’re thinking, speaking and acting from a consciousness of pure love.

Living from the Higher Self is living to our highest potential. We approach life in a positive way and our loving energy spreads out like ripples in a pond, influencing the people around us and making our contribution to a better world.

We are individual expressions of the whole

The first step in living from the Higher Self is to remember that we all have the same life spirit dwelling in us. However, although we are part of the one organising intelligence, through the ego we can fall into the illusion of seeing ourselves as separate.

We are individualised expressions of the whole, like musical notes contributing to a perfect composition. Just as a single note does not embody the whole piece, the piece is incomplete without every note. The universe would not be the same without you. It would be incomplete.

When you act from love you’re coming from your Higher Self

You’re coming from your Higher Self when you’re thinking, feeling, speaking and acting from the pure love and peace that lies within you. Make a conscious choice to love. Put the ego to one side and fear dissolves. You discover inner resources you didn’t know you had. You become a channel for the good that flows throughout the universe.

The Lower Self (or ego)

The term ‘ego,’ is used in many ways:

  • In psychoanalytic theory it is the part of the mind that controls the pleasure-seeking ‘Id’ and is restrained by the conscience (the ‘Superego’).
  • We also hear people described as having ‘a big ego,’ meaning they think too much of themselves.
  • I can also mean the image of ourselves we like to present to the world – our idea of who we would like others to think we are.

The ego is a product of past programming and greatly susceptible to fear and self-doubt. It is a tiny part of who we are, but it behaves as if it is the only part. Even thinking of ourselves as spiritual can be an ego trap if we think this makes us better than anyone else.

Recognising the ego

To dismantle the ego, we must recognise its false ideas and beliefs, dispute them and let them go. It is not an instant process: years of conditioning take more than a few weeks to work through. Only a handful of spiritual masters have ever rid themselves of it completely.

Working diligently on yourself allows the Higher Self to play a greater role in your life. Do you recognise any of these ego-based thinking patterns in yourself?

  • Believing that you are a physical being separate from everyone and everything else.
  • Seeing others as a threat.
  • Believing you have to compete for status and attention.
  • Making comparisons.
  • Jealously safeguarding your reputation because you think this is who you are.
  • Needing to be right and taking pleasure in proving others wrong.
  • Constantly seeking approval from others, since you cannot find it within.
  • Living in the past and fretting about the future, overlooking the present.
  • Seeking to cushion yourself against anything that could threaten your security.
  • Being controlled by the emotions, hence prone to jealousy, judgement, boastfulness, meanness and hatred.

You are connected

Start by dropping the idea that you are separate from the rest of existence. You’re not. Nor are you any better or worse than anyone or anything else. Spiritual energy is part of everyone and belongs to all. As John Donne wrote, ‘No man is an island, entire of itself.’

 

©David Lawrence Preston, 6.11.2016

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