I was fortunate enough to be interviewed for a series of podcasts called A Baha’i Perspective, produced by Warren Odess-Gillett. He asked me about my life and influences, then we talked about how I got into publishing. At minute 23 we start talking about the four main books I’ve written – Falling Into Grace (minute 23), Why Me? (minute 28:30), My Baha’i Faith (minute 36:30), and we round out the interview with an extended discussion of the three separate parts of Love, Lust and the Longing for God starting around minute 42:20. If you haven’t read any of my books and would like a quick, painless and free way to learn the basic concepts behind each of them, this is your chance.
I gave five talks in three days during my book tour of SE Michigan. Three of them were recorded, but at this point only snippets of two are available at Alan Gamble’s page. You can check them out by clicking here. If you just want a taste of my presentation, here’s a short clip about finding the right person to spend your life with.
I had such a good time that I’m eager to hit the road again. If you would like me to come to your area, let me know.
It is time for another book tour – this time South Eastern Michigan – and it is this weekend! I’d love to see you all. Here is the schedule:
Friday March 28
The Secret of Emotions
3:30-5pm Jackson District Library’s Carnegie Branch, 244 W Michigan Ave., Jackson – .
A Conversation on Healing
7-8:30pm Hannah Community Center, 819 Abbot Rd., East Lansing
Saturday March 29
The Science of Happiness
1-2:30pm Adrian Public Library, 143 E. Maumee St., Adrian
Songs & Conversation on Unity
4-6pm King Community Center, 1107 Adrian St., Jackson
Sunday March 30
The Secret of Happiness
12:30-1:30pm Baha’i Center of Washtenaw County, 5550 Morgan Rd., Ypsilanti
By the way, if you would like me to come speak in your area, all you have to do is ask (and help with expenses).
If we want people to understand the relationship between virtues and emotions, we will probably need to start young. Toward that aim, I’m working on a new project – a Virtues Alphabet Refrigerator Magnet set. I’ve decided that along with the 60 magnets – each of which contains a letter and a virtue that starts with that letter – I should offer my own parent-friendly definition of each virtue. I welcome your comments. (Since comments are moderated, they will not appear immediately, but I’ll post them as fast as I can.)
You already know what these virtues mean, but here are some helpful hints as to how to apply them to your children:
Call them active when they initiate activities other than watching TV or playing video games.
Call them adorable when they do something that melts your heart.
Call them attentive when they listen to what you are saying, even if there are lots of distractions.
Call them brave when they try something new or challenging.
Call them beautiful when they are a pleasure to be with.
Call them creative when they put things or ideas together in a new way.
Call them courteous when they say please and thank-you, or are polite in social situations.
Call them dependable when they do what they say they will.
Call them delightful when they make you smile.
Call them eager when they are excited about doing something.
Call them eloquent when they use words well for their age.
Call them energetic when their youthful energy is being channeled wisely.
Call them excellent when they achieve something at the top edge of their ability.
Call them forgiving when they let go of anger or disappointment with a friend.
Call them friendly when they make an effort to get along with their peers.
Call them generous when they share something of theirs with a friend or family member
Call them gentle when they handle small animals, babies or delicate items with care.
Call them helpful whenever they help you do something – even if you have to make up an artificial need so that they can practice this important virtue.
Call them happy when they are enjoying the many virtues that surround them.
Call them independent when they try something new on their own.
Call them intuitive when they express a thought or feeling about their environment that might not be obvious at first glance, or that they figured out through an emotional insight rather than through their rational understanding.
Call them idealistic when they express hopes and dreams for a better world.
Call them just when they choose to be fair, whether it is in a game, or when dividing treats.
Call them joyful when they take pleasure in their own growth.
Call them kind when they show concern for other people and animals.
Call them knowing or knowledgeable when they share with you something new they have learned.
Call them loving when they perform acts of kindness or service for those they love.
Call them loyal when they show support or say positive things about one friend or family member to another.
Call them mature when they behave in a way that is advanced for their age, or do NOT behave in a way that might be considered typical for their age.
Call them modest when they 1) dress and behave appropriately for their age and gender or 2) avoid bragging or boasting about their accomplishments.
Call them noble when they strive to be their very best.
Call them nurturing when they care for those weaker than themselves.
Call them observant when they notice something interesting and point it out to you.
Call them optimistic when they show a positive outlook towards some future endeavor.
Call them organized when they clean their room, compete a puzzle or successfully take on a task with multiple parts.
Call them patient when they wait for you.
Call them playful when they are having fun being silly.
Call them questioning when they want to know more.
Call them quiet when they are willing to moderate their noise level to match the situation.
Call them radiant when they are so full of life and love and enthusiasm that you can hardly stand it.
Call them respectful when they control their impulses in respect for the rights and feelings other people, or when they do thing that show that they value people and things other than themselves.
Call them strong when they put forth extraordinary effort, either physically or emotionally.
Call them sincere when they express how they really feel.
Call them truthful when they tell the truth – even if it is difficult.
Call them thankful when they express gratitude.
Call them unique when they do something that demonstrates their unique personality or way of thinking.
Call them unselfish when they give up something they want for someone else.
Call them unified when they successfully negotiate with other children or family members to do things together.
Call them vibrant when they approach a task full of energy and enthusiasm.
Call them virtuous when they demonstrate a combination of any of these virtues, but especially the kind, loving, selfless and generous ones.
Call them wise when they recognize the difference between what their impulses demand and what their virtues require.
Call them wonderful when you are amazed at how well they are practicing these virtues.
Call them expressive when they use words, gestures and emotions to communicate their experience.
Call them exuberant when their enthusiasm is so contagious that you catch it yourself.
Say “you are being yourself” when they express a personal opinion or do something that makes you want to smile because it is just so “them.”
Say they are yearning when they want something good for them or the world with all of their heart.
Say they have zeal when they express commitment and enthusiasm for achieving a goal.
Call them zestful when their natural joy of life bubbles over.
I spent much of my life trying to be better, special, and right. The only alternative I could imagine was to be worse, ordinary and wrong and no one wants to be that.
Now I’m trying to teach myself (and my kids) that it is possible to be unique, valuable and connected instead. It is difficult to overcome years of conditioning. I still want to be best. I still want to be right. I still long to be special. But all of those adjectives create barriers between me and others. They keep me in a state of comparison instead of a state of compassion.
Unique is not special. We are all unique. Paradoxically, it is one of the many qualities we have in common with every human on earth. Our ability to recognize our own and other’s uniqueness helps us to connect with others as sovereign identities. Being unique is one of the things that gives us value. Even if every link in a chain appears identical, it is unique, and it plays its unique role in life. No other person – no other link in the chain of life – can take another’s place.
But for that uniqueness to have an effect, it must be connected. Without a connection to the rest of humanity, a person’s unique contribution to the world will be lost. It doesn’t have to be the best contribution, a “special” contribution, or even the right contribution. It just has to be that person’s contribution.
I came to understand that participation is more important than being right when I realized that Aristotle was wrong about almost everything he said. Seriously. He had some crazy ideas. But the fact that he was willing to share his ideas and explore them with others made him a valuable contributor to the world of ideas.
Like Aristotle, I can offer unique and valuable insights – even if they turn out to be completely wrong. I can offer unique and valuable service – even if it is not perfect; even if it’s not better than the guy’s beside me. It is my desire to be of service, my willingness to contribute and my whole-hearted participation that defines who I am, not whether I am better, special or right.
Even if the only thing I can do is to be the person that someone else practices their patience and compassion on, that is still a link in the chain and it serves a valuable purpose.
This is a real challenge to smart, talented and/or beautiful people – to truly be able to believe that they would still have value if they were slow, untalented and ugly. Humility is not about seeing yourself as low, but about understanding that EVERY person on earth is just as valuable as you are, no matter how un-special and wrong they may be.
I tell myself this. I try to believe it, but it goes against 57 years of conditioning. I pray to God that – as I grow old and weak and forgetful and needy – I can hold onto this belief and begin to internalize it enough that I can be at peace when even the dream of being better, special and right is beyond me.
This is what it means to pray for humility.
It has been a while since I posted anything here, so to make up for my absence, I’m going to tell you everything I know in one short post. The rest is just details.
The purpose of life is to become our true selves, to reflect the qualities of God in the world of creation and to acquire virtues – which are three ways of saying the same thing.
In order to acquire virtues, we need to be able to recognize them, become attracted to them and practice them.
We learn to recognize virtues by using our hearts to perceive their presence or absence, and our minds to analyze, compare, contrast and correlate our experiences with our emotional responses to them.
We become attracted to virtues by opening our hearts to the positive sensations we feel when we experience or express a virtue.
Virtues are a form of energy. They motivate us to act. They are like food for the soul. They give us the energy we need to exercise our will.
Happiness comes from surrounding ourselves with God’s virtues. Joy comes from acquiring God’s virtues.
The physical world is not just a vague metaphor for spiritual reality; it is an active reflection of the spiritual world. Virtually every spiritual phenomenon has one or more forms of expression in the material world. Human souls and human bodies exhibit many “parallel systems.” We can learn more than we think about the soul by studying our bodies – and vice versa.
Our “higher nature” is that part of us that is attracted to the attributes of God themselves.
Our “lower nature” is that part of us that is attracted to the symbols (or reflections) of God’s attributes. Both are good. One is better. We can learn to turn an attraction to the symbol into an attraction to the virtue.
The inner life of the human soul is reflected in the social organization which it has collectively developed. We are composed of an inner community which must be unified, coherent, consistent and well-organized in order for us to live spiritually healthy lives.
The only way to achieve this is to practice internal consultation – that is, to meditate and learn how to listen, not just to our loud conscious thoughts, but to our quiet subconscious thoughts and feelings as well. They don’t always point in the same direction. Helping each voice be heard and resolving any differences between them brings us peace and inner unity. The technique called “focusing” is an excellent first step in acquiring this skill.
All of these skills – the ability to love and acquire virtues, and to create a harmonious inner and outer life – exist potentially in every person, and can be developed through education, prayer, meditation (internal consultation) and practice.
The religions of the world offer us inspiration, guidance and examples to follow. They are how we come to know what virtues really are.
That’s it. Once you know why you are here and how to get pointed in the right direction, the rest of life is in the traveling – or in the making music if you prefer. Enjoy.
Last week I had a spat with one of my customers that ended with them demanding more of a refund than I thought was justified or fair.
I stewed over this conflict for hours over the course of several days. When the returned goods arrived with yet another snotty note and demand for payment, I had to make a decision as to what to do.
Should I give in to an unjust demand, or stand up for myself and only refund what I thought was fair? I was becoming more angry and agitated the more I wrestled with my decision.
I knew that this was not healthy. I tried walking thorough the steps of forgiveness that I understood so well intellectually, but my heart wasn’t in it.
Finally, I realized that there was a difference between what was right, and what was spiritual. The world’s scriptures don’t say to treat fair people with fairness, they say to treat your enemies with kindness; that we should turn the other cheek, not because it is just or fair, but because that is how we change the world.
As I contemplated this idea while still stewing in my anger, I remembered a talk I had given in college about the three spiritual stages we can act from in our dealings with our enemies.
The first is to continue to see a person as an enemy, but be kind to them anyway – first because it is the right thing to do, but second, because doing so will drive them crazy. This is summarized beautifully in this very graphic Proverb:
“If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink: For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the LORD shall reward thee.” Proverbs 25:21
The second stage is to see mean people as enemies, but to love and pray for them anyway. Jesus says this right after telling us to turn the other cheek.
“Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Matthew 5:43-44)
That’s pretty darn hard, but there is an even more challenging stage available to us – that of not even seeing people as enemies in the first place.
“Let them see no one as their enemy, or as wishing them ill, but think of all humankind as their friends….” Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 1
In this situation, I knew that I was not yet capable of the third level of spiritual kindness, and wasn’t even feeling the love that I needed for the second. What I could do, however, was to heap coals on this person’s head by being exceedingly kind.
I decided to not only refund the amount that they asked, but to refund 10% MORE than what they had demanded. At least this way, no one could accuse me of being unfair, and I could finally let go of the tug-of-war in my own head about whether I was being unprofessional or not.
There is a Chris Williamson song with a chorus that goes “Gonna KILL them with kindness. Gonna kill them with KINDNESS,” that kept running through my head as I typed in the credit.
So does this count as being spiritual? Could going through the motions, even if I wasn’t feeling loving or kind, count as a spiritual victory? Were the angels smiling, laughing, or shaking their heads in dismay?
Three days later, my wife received a very strange call. The customer who had demanded the refund was on the phone and was very distraught. They didn’t know what had come over them to make them be so rude, and would we please forgive them and let them order from us again in the future? This had been a minor wake-up call that caused this customer to re-think their attitude towards money and service and courtesy.
Now, I have no idea whether this customer even checked their credit card statement to see that I had refunded more than they expected. All I know is that I had decided to follow God’s guidance, even though my heart wasn’t in it, and it had worked a minor miracle.
Don’t get me wrong. I would still LIKE to be able to love people who are mean to me, but between now and then, if all I can do is move from the desire to get revenge to the desire to “kill them with kindness,” then I will take solace in knowing that any movement in the right direction is still good. I may never get this kind of confirmation again, and that’s OK. I got the message. There is a reason why every religion asks us to overcome hate with love and evil with good. No matter what else it does, it puts a little more good into the world.
The heaven of divine wisdom is illumined with the two luminaries of consultation and compassion. — Bahá’u’lláh
Wisdom is the virtue that allows us to recognize what virtue is needed in any given situation. Put concisely, wisdom allows us to squeeze maximum spiritual gain out of minimum spiritual pain. It allows us develop our virtues efficiently and effectively. Common wisdom is that wisdom only comes through experience—lots and lots of experience. We need to be able to try many different responses to the same type of tests to see what works and what doesn’t. Wisdom, it seems, comes from trial and error.
But does it have to?
We all learn through experience. The more experiences we have, the more mistakes we make. The more mistakes we make, the more we learn and the wiser we become. But life is only so long, and many mistakes are fatal. If I want to learn a lot and grow old, then I would be wise to learn as much as I can from other people’s experiences. Through consultation—sharing thoughts, ideas and experiences with people verbally—I can experience the world through other people’s minds. Through compassion, however, I can experience the world through other people’s hearts. I can learn how to identify the presence or absence of virtues in different situations. I can come to feel passion for the virtues that other people love, and grieve the absence of virtues that other people value.
The mind may be able to guess what virtues are present, but it is the heart that is specifically designed to be able to sense the presence and absence of virtues. Your mind might be able to guess that a brown liquid in a cup is coffee, but without the sense of taste or smell, it would be difficult to prove. Likewise, there are the virtues that should be present in a situation, and then there are the virtues that actually are. Our hearts, through our emotional response to a situation, tell us what virtues we perceive. But it is only through compassion that we are able to experience the emotional response to the virtues that someone else may perceive.
We have all had the experience of expecting a person to react emotionally to a situation in one way, only to discover that they responded completely differently. People’s emotional perspective is just as unique, just as personal, and just as filtered as their intellectual perspectives. It is not that these people are being “illogical.” It is that their experience and filters are causing them to sense the presence or absence of a different set of virtues. The only way to understand them—and increase your level of wisdom in the process—is to develop compassion.
Compassion, then, is the virtue that allows us to identify and appreciate a wide range of virtues through our emotional connection with other people. When we feel compassion for people who suffer from poverty, sickness, drug addiction, abuse, and other personal loss, then we acquire a great longing for the virtues that would help ease their pain—without ourselves having to suffer from their difficulties. This is a kind of wisdom that no amount of talk will provide.
The capacity for compassion does not only apply to sadness. To feel what another person feels and be compelled to take action can also apply to hope, love and wonder; to courage and conviction; to faith and joy.
When we see a mother cry at the loss of her son, do we not cry? When we see a child laugh in delight and wonder, do we not laugh? Compassion allows us to benefit from everyone’s experience and be uplifted by anyone’s joy. It connects us to the entire human race.
Note: This is an excerpt from 4 Tools of Emotional Healing and Love, Lust and the Longing for God.
The final book in the Longing series is now available — combining the complete text of my three previous books. It is a powerful tool for personal transformation.
In The Secret of Emotions I explained how to understand the spiritual meaning behind our emotional sensations and offered a whole new vocabulary for understanding the language of the heart. In 4 Tools of Emotional Healing I used this language to explore the healing potential of Honesty, Forgiveness, Compassion and Faith and offered practical guidance as to how to apply them to our daily lives. In Longing for Love I applied this unique understanding of emotions to the question of how to find and nurture healthy relationships, while avoiding shame-based relationships and addictive or compulsive acting out.
Now all three of these life-lessons are available in Love, Lust and the Longing for God, a single volume that will be equally useful for individuals trying to understand their life challenges and therapists trying to explain the subtleties of the healing process to their clients.
We all have faith in something. The question is whether we have faith that we will succeed, or faith that we will fail; faith that the world is a safe place, or faith that it is out to get us; faith that there is meaning to our lives or faith that the universe is a great cosmic accident in which we are just a tiny blip.
We also all believe in a Transcendent Higher Power, no matter how vehemently we try to deny it. This belief began before we were even born and was reinforced every day of our lives for the duration of our emotional development.
We are born helpless and dependent upon adults who had much more power than we did. We believe, to the very core of our subconscious beings, that there is a power outside of us that is greater than we are because we experienced such a power every day of our early lives. Our feelings of helplessness and powerlessness were therefore embedded in our emotional reality at birth. They are the foundational scaffolding upon which our early emotional and intellectual world-views were built.
Our pre-verbal awareness that as infants we were subject to the whims of forces more powerful than ourselves was reinforced by at least 10-15 years of additional experiences during our childhood and youth. It would be unrealistic to think we could erase these feelings from our psyches. No matter what our head tells us, our hearts tell us that there is something bigger than us out there. It would do no good to engage in an intellectual argument with our hearts over whether or not there is a God.
If we resign ourselves to the idea that a part of us will always believe in a Higher Power, we can still do three things. First, we can accept that our hearts will always long for a source of power, strength and protection. This is not a sign of weakness; it is simply a universal aspect of the human condition.
Second, we can work to uncover what our subconscious and emotional beliefs about that Higher Power might be. We will always believe in a force bigger than ourselves, but we can wrestle some power back from it by being able to name it and describe how it has influenced us.
Finally, we can use this use this understanding to slowly redefine our Higher Power, both mentally and emotionally, to be more supportive and loving. Instead of denying or doing battle with the Higher Power we grew up with, we can transform it; educate it; turn it into the loving Force that we need it to be in our hearts.