Happiness Teachers

Yay“I’m not so interested in stuff anymore. These days, I’m after experiences,” she said.

 When I heard my friend speaking, I thought she was expressing  wisdom  that usually comes with age. Eventually, most of us  do learn that happiness comes from the inside.

Plenty of studies  show older people are happier than youthful ones and I can see it is true for many of my friends. I’m certainly happier than I was when I was seventeen. Aren’t you?

Do you remember the desperate search for happiness you went through in high school? If you look backward for a moment, you may very well discover you are happier now than ever before.  We don’t have to wait until a certain age or go through troubles, but we do need to understand happiness is an inside job.,

You can be cheerful at thirty or sixty as well as ninety. Most of us learn things as we travel through life and, if we are observant, we learn that happiness doesn’t depend on what we have. It depends on our inner wisdom, love, and strength. If we are lucky, we encounter a Happiness Teacher early who helps but that’s not as common as wish it were. 

Most of us learn  as we experiment with getting what we think we want. We figure it out alone. Our journey probably includes  letting go of false idols; popularity, success, romance, beauty, social status, recognition, and money. Even good health isn’t  the complete answer. The answer lies within our thinking and understanding.

Somewhere along the way, we stop putting our faith in appearances and begin cultivating other, less tangible, but more important values. Look around at your friends and you will  see the happiest ones aren’t the ones with the most stuff. Pretty houses and fancy cars are fine but they don’t delight for long. Happiness is based on who we are, rather than what we have.

You don’t have to be any particular age to learn to be happy. Happiness is based on deeper, long lasting values  that give us a sense of control over our lives. While it is true that nothing is permanent, the love you feel always stays with you. So does your satisfaction if you choose work you love.  So do qualities such as a good sense of humor and curiosity about life.

These ideas are not secret. You don’t need a special guru, a secret code, or a million bucks to grasp the key to happiness. People who learn to savor the moment and feel grateful  know everything they need to know to keep on the sunny side of the street. Happiness is a gift and it depends on skills just about anyone can learn.  Gratitude and appreciating the moment are two wonderful tools. So is letting go of the need for other people’s approval.

Most of us have to learn these lessons as we go along and we can do it faster if we find genuine Happiness Teachers to help us by demonstrating.  Our parents taught us what they knew but many did not know how to be happy. They meant well, but they couldn’t teach what they didn’t know.

Happiness Teachers are all around us. Some are neighbors and some, like Maya Angelou, are on TV.  Others, like me, write books and blogs. You can recognize them by the wisdom they share and the fact they aren’t selling you “stuff”. They are happy themselves and they are happy sharing what they know.

If you are happy most of the time, you are a Happiness Teacher yourself. You know how to be content and that is what most people hunger for. Others can learn from you, just as you can learn from others. It’s that simple.

We humans learn naturally from one and another. Look around at your happiest pals. You will probably see they have developed the ability to live mostly in the present moment. You will probably notice how often they express gratitude.

We can all be happier if we pay attention. Some of this extra happiness will be based on a loss of innocence. There comes a day when we must stop believing that a new shampoo or a different mustache brush will make people love us more.

When we stop being true believers in the great American Consumer Creed, we will be happier. When we stop believing the high priests of products and start selecting activities and relationships that are joyful, we will be happier.  When we begin to  look within for our Love and Light, we will be happier.

I have many friends and the one I quoted at the beginning is an outstanding Happiness Teacher. She doesn’ t offer classes or advice but I’ve learned  by observing her.  My friend is not a wealthy woman but she has a busy and fulfilling life. She learns new things, meets interesting people and has a lot of fun. She always seems to be happy.

She chooses experiences that keep her interested in life without requiring fancy clothes or expensive tickets. Her life is valuable to others and it suits her well. I admire her intelligence, her resourcefulness, and her creativity. I have learned a lot about available community resources from her. She lives alone, far from family, but she is never lonely.

Two organizations provide the basics for her lifestyle – AA and our church. These two groups provide the spiritual and social backbones for her rich lifestyle. Not only does she meet wonderful people but also she is steeped in the spiritual teachings of gratitude and mindfulness.

Alcoholics Anonymous teaches us to be consistently grateful for the many blessings we receive. . The Spiritual Living Center also values gratitude. The Law of Attraction is a spiritual principle that describes a process for attracting more good. For example, if I desire more friends, I don’t complain. I give thanks for the friends I have. God responds to my gratitude by sending me more friends.You can observe this law in action in your own life if you experiment.

My friend is happy with AA and the church but she doesn’t stop there. Our local library is a place for gentle yoga, interesting lectures and her book club.  She not only finds free books but she enjoys a variety of lectures, workshops and classes. The library is a rich source of great experiences. There are many other venues she knows about because she is awake too opportunities. She never complains about lack of any sort. She is busy and happy on a limited budget.

Her life demonstrates how wisdom grows and opens us up. When we stop yearning for things and begin to appreciate what we have, we can achieve happiness. She looks inside for guidance and strength, and makes happy choices.  I’m grateful for her because she teaches me how to live well.

Ask Yourself

Are you as happy as you want to be?

Is there a Happiness Teacher in your life?

Are you a Happiness Teacher  to anyone?

Do you have a plan for more happiness?


Releasing Ambition


My blog readership is growing. That’s good! I have a goal I know I will reach because I am writing in integrity, love and joy. However, I sometimes think of “get popular quick schemes” and that means I’m pushing the river again. Addiction happens in peculiar ways!

No matter how much one loves a project, the joy will disappear when racing to an arbitrary goal becomes more important than the process itself. The whole point of this blog was to create something in freedom and offer it to anyone who wanted it. It is supposed to be fun.

So what does that have to do with counting numbers? I’m not working on commission or earning brownie points to get into heaven. Once again, I am reminding myself to let go and let God. I don’t ever need to struggle.

After all these years, I know myself pretty well and I  know that one part of my personality part is accustomed and addicted to struggle.  I call her “The Strider”.  She says, “Not enough” or “It should be better,” quite often. The Strider can squeeze the fun out of any project if I am not aware of her tricks.

It is easy to slip into old ways if I am not watching. I struggled to get through college. I struggled to build a writing career. I struggled with alcohol and food and in many other things when I was younger. Truth is, I can use any goal as a piece of torture equipment if I’m not careful.

I have learned a lot about addiction and I have learned to watch out for the symptoms.  Writing, for me, is particularly addictive, but I need to remember that I undertook this blog as a service to others and as a retirement hobby. In this moment, I release the need to count readers and I simply return to writing for fun. I don’t have to prove anything.

I am not alone. Work addiction of one sort or another happens to wonderful people. It sneaks up on you, even in your retirement years. In fact, so many ministers “fail retirement” that is kind of a joke.

Addictive personalities will push themselves at work, at home, on the road or in the studio. I have a good friend who was practicing yoga at age 65. She was a marvel. She could do so much, so easily, that she constantly amazed us all. We were all proud of her and she never seemed to show off or be ego driven about her expertise. She did, however, really want to stand on her head. We prayed for that in church. When she got so she could do that well, she upped the ante and wanted to stand on her head longer.  One day her guru advised her, “Take the ambition out of your practice.”

When she shared that story with me, I thought, “I should take that advice myself.” Of course,  I failed exercise class in the 7th grade and it didn’t bother me. I can’t bend over too well and I certainly don’t plan to stand on my head ever – at least in this lifetime. However, I do try to remember and take her teacher’s excellent advice. I do not want to be a slave to ambition. Do you?

We all know people who seem to be in a frenzy about how they are using their time and what they are or are not accomplishing. The idea of living in a frenzy doesn’t appeal to me. Does it appeal to you? Does the idea of taking the ambition out of your pursuits appeal to you? Sounds good to me.

Of course, ambition can be fine as long as we are making decisions that create a healthy, well-balanced life. But if you feel as though you are struggling to get it all done, you may want to make changes. One of the greatest gifts of our Religious Science teaching is knowing we always have a choice.

The question of how hard to work is one that touches all of us at some time or another. In our youth, our ambition may get us where we think we want to go but if we don’t balance it with loving connections to others, we become unhappy and distorted.

In our middle years, ambition takes many forms including working hard to persuade others, to train our children into our beliefs and to forge ahead in the workplace. Again, we get out of balance if we don’t take care of our bodies and our spiritual lives.

Retirement years are the biggest temptation for many of us. We have choices about how to spend our time and can very well end up staying so busy we neglect our spiritual practice and our bodies and minds. Inaction leads to disuse. Too much action leads to fatigue.

Throughout our lives, we face many questions about our goals and exactly how ambitious we should be. Should I persevere? Should I delay gratification until I get my goal? Should I pile up more money for the future? Should I keep exercising until I “feel the burn”? Should I stay in the marriage and find some way to make it work?

When you look at life’s big questions in the framework of whether or not to live for today or tomorrow, it seems as though life really is an art or dance. We each have to find our own balance. We have to make our own decisions. We have to decide how much energy to put into this or that project.

I talk to people all the time who are in a quandary about how to spend their time and money. I try to help them see they are always at choice, one way or another. There is always something we can choose to do and since balance is constant movement, there is always a need for adjustment.

Making new choices is easier than it looks. We can choose whatever is the apparent step in this moment to move us in the direction of our dreams and let God do the rest. We don’t need to torture ourselves with the past or try to control the future. We just move ahead a step at a time and enjoy life. We can feel good about what we are doing because God is good all the time.

When I get out of balance and start rushing, I remind myself to release the ambition and enjoy the process. The future will take care of itself. I have learned to envision a goal and believe in it and then give it to God to do the work. It is not necessary to struggle or worry about making it happen.

As of now, I am back in balance. This day I am simply writing what I know and sending it out with love. I know the perfect right readers will find it.

Ask Yourself

Am I struggling to make something happen?

Do I need a new balance?

What immediate choice am I able to make?

Do I want to release the ambition?

Sadie’s Story

dreamA long time ago, Sadie, who was new to the Center, called me. She said, “Since I’ve been listening to your talks about the power of our thoughts, I’m afraid to think.”

I was a new minister and I had no idea how to answer her so I said I was sorry she was worrying. Sadie’s been gone a long time but if she called again tomorrow, I’d have a better answer. I’d tell her not to worry about worrying, that it was just a one step in the process of attaining wisdom. I’d say she was doing fine because she was becoming aware of how powerful our thoughts really are.

Unfortunately, Sadie left the church soon after that phone call and we didn’t get a chance to grow up together. I wish she could have been a partner of the Center and I trust she did continue to grow. I know I certainly  have. I hope she continued her Religious Science studies because I believe that is the most effective path to wisdom’s door although the Founder, Dr. Ernest Holmes says we will all eventually achieve enlightenment.

Over the years, I have seen many people come and go from the Center of Spiritual Living. They enter the teaching, for one reason or another and choose to leave for one reason or another. The details change and  patterns of movement remain. Some stay for a long, long time. Others move from the area and go to a new Center. Some die. Some are disappointed. Others get what they want and move on without dreaming new dreams.

Wisdom has many pathways. Everyone must travel his own road and no person, place or thing outside himself has all his answers. The answers have to be unique because we are unique individuals. So I learned to bless them as they came and love them if they stayed. I also learned to bless them if they went. I learned to trust the process. Whatever piece of this wisdom teaching they got, that taste that will eventually prod them to find a way for more. Light is powerfully attractive.

My own pattern taught me to trust. I started attending Science of Mind Centers when I was in college and I was in and out of the teaching three times with lengthy gaps. When I finally settled down to become a minister, I was in my fifties. It wasn’t so much that I disagreed with what I’d heard thirty years earlier, it was just that my life seemed to get in the way.

In the beginning, I wasn’t ready to seize the power for myself so  I was busy giving it to outside events and people. At this point, I might wish it had been a quicker journey except I’ve learned that the past is gone forever. Why try to rewrite the past when it is impossible? Especially when there are so many opportunities to deepen our understanding today? Today is all that is important.

When I first got sober, I had a Hindu poem that I read daily. It began, “Look to this day, for it is life.” I have no idea what the rest of the poem said, I only know that I did learn to “Look to this day,” somewhere along the line. That is a deep piece of the wisdom of the ages that I kept for my own. Thank you, God.

That day long ago, when Sadie called me it was because she “got it” that her thoughts were powerful. That is a part of the wisdom of the ages. Thank you, God. It is Light and it attracts us because it is part of the wisdom we seek.

We all learn as we move along. Sometimes we learn as the result of our mistakes. Sometimes we learn because we observe, sometimes as the result of trauma, sometimes because we encounter the right teacher at the right time.

Dr. Ernest Holmes, Founder of Religious Science, and author of the Science of Mind Textbook, assures us that eventually all humans will attain enlightenment. Clearly, it won’t be in this lifetime for everyone but since we are all spiritual beings having a human experience, I believe it can happen. We are all on Wisdom’s pathway, moving toward the Light. We are discovering our spiritual magnificence.

I don’t know about Sadie, but I do know I am farther along wisdom’s path than I was when I started the church 24 years ago. Spiritual progress can only be measured by comparing yourself to your own past. The fair questions are, “What have I learned?” and “What do I know today?”

Today, I know my thoughts are powerful. I also know I have choices. I can choose to think about the potential in the power of thought or I can choose to worry that I will make a mistake. The choice is mine.

Today, I know the past is gone forever. I can choose to regret missed opportunities or I can choose to release the errors of my past joyfully. The choice is mine.

I also know that there is a deeper wisdom that I can use to direct my thoughts and actions in this moment. The past doesn’t have control over me if I stay in the NOW. I can make new choices that are based on conscious, wide-awake decisions, not just habits.

I know that part of becoming more conscious is establishing the direction of my thoughts every morning. I use a gratitude list to start my morning on a cheerful note. Expressing gratitude also quick-starts the spiritual law of cause and effect in my life.

We say, “What I think about comes about”. Making a definite gratitude list early in the day is a way to control the direction of your life. For example, when I state that I am grateful for my money I have, I quick-start spiritual law to bring me more money. When I list my good friends, I quick-start the ease of making more friends.

Most thoughts are based on old habits even though they are so powerful they are actually creating our life. Why let habit create without taking charge? Why not use wisdom and make a conscious decision what to think and believe? Why not dream big?

Sadie was onto something when she learned her thoughts were powerful but her fearful response was only half baked. When she starts rejoicing because her thoughts are a powerful tool she can use, she’s putting the frosting on her cake.

Ask Yourself 

What wisdom have I learned?

Do I believe my thoughts have power?

How do I feel about that?

What do I do to control my thoughts?

What more could I do?

Bless and Release

FreeShe sat in the chair, shoulders slumped and head in her hands, as she sobbed. “I don’t ever want to see him again.  He’s bad for me but I can’t get him out of my mind.” Her practitioner said, “If you mean that, then every time you think of him, say, “I bless him and release him to his highest good.”

         It worked! It took almost a year, but she followed the suggestion and one day she realized she hadn’t thought of him in days. What’s more, from that day forward, she was a happy woman. One day at a time.

This is a true story and it is demonstrates a simple but quite wonderful technique for letting go of any long, tortured issue or relationship.

Despite her original feelings, she blessed and released until she truly felt the words. It worked for several reasons and the first of these was she wanted change. The second reason it worked was that she got support and  help.

When we have lived with a problem long enough to know that we need to move on and we do not have the courage to do so, we really should seek help. It is out there. Ministers and practitioners in churches are a good place to start your search for support.

It is usually very helpful to talk over your problem with someone who is trained to listen. It may enable you to clarify your position and you may be able to come up with a next step that makes sense. If you seek a religious counselor, you get the added benefit of prayer.

Of course, you should also pray for yourself but sometimes when we are deeply emotional about an issue, it is difficult to pray effectively. Having a minister or practitioner pray for you can be very helpful because the practioner is not emotionally involved. He or she will see you as perfect, whole and complete even when you are despairing.

There are also other avenues of support available. Sometimes your pastor may be able to refer you to a respected psychologist or grief counselor.  You may need to get a physical checkup if you are depressed to make sure your health is optimum.

Twelve Step groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Debtors Anonymous, Alanon, Gambling Anonymous, C0-Dependents Anonymous, and Narcotics Anonymous are extremely valuable if you are struggling with an addiction. There is something wonderful about being with a group of people who are also recovering from an addiction. You will hear some real “down home” wisdom there. The Steps and the Traditions are a great platform for a new life.

There are many ways to let go of activities and relationships that no longer are working. Of course you must want to change to do much but you can always begin where you are. Even if you don’t want to change, you can pray to be willing to change. Your prayers will bring you further guidance.

It is important to remember that we must truly let go and move on. It does little good to let go of a bad marriage if we carry our story with us for the next ten years. The purpose of changing to feel better is to truly release the problem and move on. We must let go emotionally as well as physically.

In the beginning of this article, the woman learned to say, “I bless you and release you to your highest good.”  She didn’t understand why she should bless the person she was angry at, but in time, it became clear. If we hold onto the anger, we are holding on to the past. We must move into the present to be happy and fully functioning.

Do you know people who carry their “story” with them wherever they go?  They cannot enjoy life or live fully because they are still trapped in negative feelings about something that happened in the past.  Certainly, it is bad to have a dreadful childhood. It is worse – it is tragic – when a person retells the story of his past so often that he creates a dreadful adulthood as well.

We must be willing to release the past and live in the present if we are to create a happy life.  We must not be stuck in the past or so busy planning the future that our lives slip by without our active enjoyment.

Many great religious teachings, including Buddhism and New Thought emphasize the need to be fully present. We must be aware of the present moment in our hearts and minds as well as bodies.

There is a wonderful old story about two travelling monks who walked until they came to a river. They met a woman there who needed help to cross. One monk carried her across and put her down on the bank. She thanked him and the monks continued to walk. An hour later the other monk said, “You should not have carried that woman! It was forbidden!’ His companion answered, “True, I broke my vow but I put her down an hour ago and you are still carrying her.”

What are you still carrying? When we carry bitter childhood memories or nurse grudges against old bosses or fromer spouses, we are like the monk who continues to carry the woman.  Let’s not hold onto the burden or we will feel like Marley’s ghost dragging his chains as he visits Ebenezer Scrooge in Dickens’ Christmas Carol. Let’s put the past down and walk freely into the moment. The past is gone forever.

Think about it. The past is over. It is gone. The way the past continues to harm us is when we choose to remain angry or sad. If we use the past as an excuse, if we feel self-pity, or if we are mistrustful, we are allowing the past to intrude on today’s possibilities.

I own a battered copy of a book by Ram Dass called Be Here Now and I treasure it. The book looks as if the cat dragged it through the swimming pool a couple of times, but it contains great wisdom. We are here now and we need to realize it, mentally, emotionally and physically.

Here’s a physical exercise to use as a reminder to be open and present. Take a moment and close your fists tightly and squeeze hard. See how that feels? That is what holding onto the past feels like. Now, slowly, open up your hands, stretch your fingers out and cup your hands into a receiving position. That is today’s possibilty. Which do you choose?

 Ask Yourself

Is there anything I want to release in my current life?

Do I carry negative feelings about anyone from the past?

Am I willing to bless and release that past?

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My Rose Parade Epiphany

SayingThisDayI watched the Rose Parade because it reflects the things I love about California – the blend of old and new ways and ideas. Besides all that, the Rose Parade and I have history.         

I went to the Rose Parade when I was around thirteen and I climbed a lamppost to see more. That made me very dizzy and I thought I would faint or vomit.

That experience scared me so much that I avoided parades, football games, pep rallies, rock concerts and  department store sales forever after. I only began to enjoy the Rose Parade after I got a large color TV and could drink coffee in the comfort of my recliner.

Some people write resolutions or clean house but I like to spend my New Year’s mornings watching the beautiful floats pass me by. I sometimes turn the sound off and I always tape it ahead so I can fast forward the commercials. It’s a good way to start the year – relaxed, comfortable and surrounded by beauty. I love sunshine and flowers.

The parades show the very best about my beloved state. They showcase its amazing diversity, unusual history, and most of all – it’s perfect balance of tradition, campy earnestness and impermanence.

This year, as I was watching, I marveled at the amount of love and care that goes into every float. The one from Cal Poly was built by an estimated 10,000 hours of volunteer labor and all from California, mostly organic, flowers. I could see those earnest young engineers tilling the soil. Many of the flowers came from campus gardens.

I was enjoyed the beauty, ingenuity and fascinating details built into those floats. My personal favorite was from Indonesia. It won the President’s Award and was built with the 2500 species of Indonesian orchids.

The Indonesian float contained antique musical instruments and giant shadow puppets. Human attendants walked beside the float wearing spiky, fabulous costumes that looked as though they came out of one of my favorite movies, Pricilla, Queen of the Desert.  I loved that float and I found myself wanting to preserve it somehow.

That brought me to my epiphany for the New Year! It occurred to me that even if there were some way to “keep” the float, once the moment was over, it would not be the same. I truly understood that the magic of the moment is in the mind of the viewer in that moment.

Whether you are hanging from a lamp post or sipping coffee in your living room, when the float passes you by, it is gone. Which is just another way of saying, “The past is gone forever”. I should have learned that better, of course, in 12 Step or as Religious Science minister. God is always NOW.

There was something about my enlightened New Year moment that helped me internalize the idea that the time I have is Now. We say we know these things but if I am honest, I can see that quite a bit of my life is dedicated to the past, one way or another. For example, my office is filled with photos of people who are gone. Some have moved far away and some are dead.

I still love them and I like to remember that love. My friend, Rev. Jeff Proctor’s photo is on my desk as a kind of magical memory of him and his technological ability. Is that good or bad? I don’t know but I do know I must not yearn for the past or I will miss the present.

Somehow, in the years since I got dizzy in a New Year’s crowd back in the 1946, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned that I am in charge of my life and my mind. I’ve learned to enjoy life and to appreciate beauty. I’ve also learned that beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.

This year, I’ve learned that even if you could spray the float in plastic and stick it in a museum somewhere, the experience would not be the same. It would not bring the same thrill. But that’s OK. We just need to move on and not regret the past.

The fact that the past is gone forever is not a good thing or a bad thing. It is just the truth. If we are unable to accept that truth, we will hold on to guilt, bygone wishes, or remorse. We can’t reject the present because we judge it inferior. Accepting that life moves along is a key to enjoying life.

The Rose Bowl floats reminded me of sand painting. I’ve always been fascinated by the hours that the Tibetan, or the Native American shamans work on sand painting. When they are complete, they destroy them. Why?

This was always a big mystery for me. I have always thought of visual art as something we hang on walls. That may be so for some people but for the spiritual teachers of many cultures they are more. The sand paintings are beautiful teaching devices. Rose Bowl floats and sand paintings teach the impermanence of life wonderfully well.

As a writer and artist as well as a spiritual leader, I know a bit about losing oneself in the beauty of the moment. That particular sense of losing yourself in the moment is the payoff that keeps people coming back to paint that picture, build that float, stretch into a new yoga pose or write that novel.

The artist is familiar with being in the moment and so is the person who follows Buddhist or Hindu meditation techniques. It is a great relaxing change for most people.

Most people tend to sell meditation, and other well-known forms of spiritual practice as ways to enhance ordinary life. You hear a lot about lowering blood pressure or living longer. That’s fine but it’s not the best part of the story.

Moments of living in the Now are where we find God. The payoff from painting, journaling, stretching into yoga or simply counting your breath, is in the moment where you lose your separate sense of self. Spiritual practice is its own reward. God is in the Now. Joy is in the Moment. Life is Now.

It’s true the past is gone and the future is unknown but that is neither good nor bad. It simply is. The impermanence of life simply is. This is your moment to know God. And also is the truth.  Happy New Year.

Ask Yourself

What’s new in my life?

Do I hang onto the past?

How’s my spiritual practice?

Past & Present Gifts

gift  I hope you are having a wonderful holiday season. Mine was lovely. This year, I enjoyed every bit of the holiday festivities. The events were low key compared to some years, but the love seemed even more pronounced. God is good – all the time.

One of the highpoints of this week was spending Christmas Eve with family members in Redondo Beach. This is the season for nostalgia and we all know that can be dangerous but this year the party was very present and very fun.

We ate a lot and laughed a lot and we didn’t drift into the “good old days” conversations. My family has never looked like Norman Rockwell’s idealized version of Americana but as the years flew by, we all found our own balance and happiness.

Even though memories flooded my mind, I enjoyed the present holiday season very much. I always loved my family but when I was younger, I didn’t know it as well as I do now. I am also better at recognizing their love for me. I’ve changed and so have they.

Redondo Beach hasn’t changed much, and everywhere I look, I see myself as a younger woman, making crucial choices. Especially at Christmas, I feel a bit like Old Scrooge (with less money) visiting my youthful self. These trips down memory lane are a little unsettling; I fade in and out of time warps even though I know the past is gone forever.

I lived in this beach town from age 16 until age 30. I then returned at 33 to live here until I was 40. During that time, I was widowed twice and I raised my daughter there. I also taught school longer there than any other place. History is all around me. Some of it is pretty bad but I see more and more good in those years – now that I’ve ridden and survived the rapids.

I started drinking there. I also had an auto accident and got sober there. I returned to drinking there nine years later. I worked my way through college there and I wrote my first novel there. There is also where I first attended Dr. Frank Richelieu’s Religious Science Church.

I’ve been sober for 39 years, by the grace of God and my 12 Step program. I really do know the past is gone forever. I also know I can’t push the rewind button on my life and make different choices. I can, however, take this season of Joy as a chance to be grateful. Life has actually turned out as well as any of those novels that Dickens wrote.

One of the greatest gifts of my age is the ability to look back and marvel at the “dumb luck” or the unseen angels that guided me to make some positive decisions. Forty years ago, I wouldn’t have bet a nickel that I’d still be here – let alone be happy.

I’ve already lived longer than my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. Despite my smoking, drinking and eating issues, I’m still here. I’m interested in life and I can still be useful from time to time. That is surely a gift from God. Thank you, God.

I’m no Charles Dickens but I could write several different endings to the book of Jane’s life. If it were not for the crucial and (mostly) unconscious choices along the way, things might have been very different.

I could have been killed in that auto accident instead of ending up in the hospital and deciding to get sober. I could have married any one of several wrong candidates for my hand. I could have been a miserable human being if it were not for going to church when I was 23. I could have been truly broke if I hadn’t decided to go to college.

Until recently, I could only see the tragedy in going back to drink after 9 years of being dry. Now I see that those 9 years enabled me to raise my daughter, build a career and achieve enough I could use when I got sober the second time.

It is humbling to think about, when I look at my life as though it were a novel, I can see a series of dumb choices and also many others I made in the direction of life and love. I chose to keep on trying to heal even during some very dark times. I chose to believe that using the ideas I found in Science of Mind and 12 Step programs could help me turn my life around.

I chose to leave some people because I felt bad when I was with them. I chose to continue to seek love. I chose to try new ideas and to step out on faith. I chose to take better care of myself even though it was a long way down the path in the other direction. I chose to let the past be what it was and to believe I could make different choices today.

All of these choices amounted to acknowledging that God was for me, not against me. It took me a long time and it was a zigzag path but the forward steps added up.

I used to believe I was stuck and I wasn’t. Since I’ve discovered the power of choice, I have devoted myself to helping others take charge of their lives.

Many people aren’t sure they have many choices ahead or behind them. They believe they are only reactors, rather than actors on the stage of their own lives. They see themselves as victims. Whether victims of their early childhood, their late starts in life, their fate, their bad luck or their flawed characters, they define themselves as powerless. Despite what our culture teaches and what we may believe, everyone has access to Infinite Power and Infinite Possibility.

That Infinite Possibility and Power must be discovered within ourselves. No one can do it for us, although we can point the way for each other, we must make our own choices.

If I had that power, I would wave my magic wand and say, “Do it this way!” But it would never work. We all have to discover our own pathway to hope. In the end, we will all be writing our own life story.

One of the saddest things about seeing yourself as a victim is that you don’t know you have any power to change anything. Even if people get to the place where they hear an authority say, “You can change your thinking and change your life,” they may interpret that to mean, “It’s all your fault.”

In this Season of Love, I feel my Oneness with all people and all life. If I could, I would give everyone the gift of self- discovery this season.

Right now, I imagine every reader, unwrapping the gift of love and discovering Unlimited Possibility in the exact right size and color for his or her life. And with the gift, there is a message from me. It says, You have the power to change your thinking and change your life. Never give up hope! Never stop trying! You can do it!
Ask Yourself
What positive choices have I made in the past?

What positive choices shall I make soon?

What do I want to use my gift of power for?

An Agreeable Spiritual Practice

I am watching an Oprah program and Bishop TD Jakes is talking about finding your life purpose and pursuing it. He seems to think that having an aim is the solution to all of life’s problems. While that’s a great pro-active attitude, I’m not certain anything is that simple. However, after watching for almost an hour, I realize I agree with Bishop Jakes almost completely.

         Bishop Jakes is a hugely popular black preacher from a traditional background. As he and Oprah talked, I heard not one word about sin, hell, the devil, or any of the other concepts that drove me away from my first church’s teaching. At least in that conversation, he seemed to be completely about hope and love.

I love that and I hope that his message of love and hope is as consistent as it seemed.  I don’t have enough information to make an absolute judgment but he sure looks like the real deal. Isn’t that wonderful?

Many of the things he said seemed to be right out of a Science of Mind lecture. He talked about releasing the past, being self-directed and following your inner promptings. I am happy to hope that these ideas are replacing the old stories of sin, punishment and so forth.

Despite their fundamentalism, black churches have always had an emphasis on forgiveness, community, redemption and living together despite human frailties. From slave days, they have been social, political, educational and spiritual institutions. While some of those needs have dissipated over the past fifty years, there is still loyalty at work. We continue to more segregated on Sunday at 11 AM than any time of the week.

New Thought thinkers, along with Quakers and Unitarians, have always been an exception to the color barriers. We have always welcomed people of all colors and all religious heritages and they do attend and participate. The Carlsbad church has always been proud to have people of color and several religious backgrounds since its beginning. That is typical.

New Thought has also had strong black leaders who founded churches that were open to anyone but were predominantly black. Dr. Barbara King of Atlanta, Dr. Johnnie Coleman of Chicago, Dr. Daniel L. Morgan of the Guidance Church in Los Angeles were three very prominent New Thought leaders who had large, mostly black churches, at least  since the Sixties.

Dr. Michael Beckwith of West Los Angeles was the first to blast out of that historical mold and attract a truly urban mix of people. His church was always different from his those of his predecessors.

I believe that Dr. Michael is the harbinger of things to come for our denomination. There is a wonderful openness in our churches that is in the teaching itself and it extends to our spiritual communities. Dr. Michael’s celebrity status, now that he has been on Oprah so many times has, no doubt, opened a lot of people up to the joys of positive living based on spiritual truth.

I have always believed that black churches had more in common with New Thought thinking than most of the other fundamentalist groups. We both are very big on living in the present and releasing the past as well as believing in redemption – or the ability to release the past and change for the better. Rev. Vivien Nexon, who is an activist in prison ministries, said in a recent interview… I do have a basic core belief in the process of redemption. I believe that any deity that anybody serves is a forgiving and graceful being.

 There is resonance here. I hope Bishop Jakes and Rev. Nixon are  the harbingers of things to come in the traditional churches. I hope they are all moving away from stories of sin and eternal punishment into inner-directed questions such as, What do I believe? Who am I? What do I want? What is my purpose?

As we celebrate our religious and social diversity in this nation, we need to remember that we are more alike than we are different. All you have to do is live somewhere outside the US or Canada for a while and you will see that you have more in common with your compatriots, despite their ethnic or religious background, than you do with people from other places.

Shared values of optimism, belief in possibility, an ingrained sense of self-reliance and self-trust are a strong part of our heritage. When we talk about the individual’s right and ability to change, there is nowhere in the world that people believe in that concept the way they do right here at home.

Ask any North American if he thinks people can change and the answer will be yes. Sometimes it will be a qualified yes but basically, we believe that an individual has the ability and right to move from one social class to another, the right to scale economic ladders and the right to determine his own destiny.

We find many truths – such a woman’s right to drive a car or a child’s right to food and shelter or an adult’s right to choose his own church (or not) to be self-evident. We were founded on the idea of individual freedom and self-reliance and we really do believe in it.

I am always hearing how much more religious we are than our European counterpoints. That’s true and it looks to me as though we are releasing a lot of dogma. I don’t hear much of the old nonsensical notions about good and evil. I get many fewer questions about how to talk with people’s born-again relatives.

I hope the literal interpretation of the Bible is less prevalent.  Despite the peculiar notions we see expressed on TV about same sex marriage and corporal punishment in the schools I believe the general population is saner than it was 20 years ago. Talk about evolution being a myth appears to be quieting down.  So does the idea that the devil might win the war of good and evil. Are things saner? What do you think?

I think they are, although we have a long way to go on a woman’s right to choose and same sex marriage equality. But even on these hot button issues, most people don’t seem so certain the other guy’s ideas will send him to hell. A lot of us do not even believe in hell (except the one we create for ourselves here on Planet Earth).

What we do seem to believe in is creating a good life for ourselves and helping others. Is that a religious belief? I think so. Is that a belief that you, I, Bishop Jakes, Dr. Beckwith and the President of the United States can agree to believe in? Certainly.

Perhaps we are on our way to a national religion and perhaps it has many names but will surely contain a healthy dose of positive, spiritual living.

Ask yourself

What do you believe?

Who are you?

What do you want?

What is your purpose?