A Simple and Comprehensive Overview of Life

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.

Labor Day Weekend Workshop

I’m very pleased to announce that I will be giving an adult workshop at the Thunder Eagle Ridge youth retreat center in Missouri over the Labor Day Weekend on the subject of my book The Secret of Emotions.   It will be an intimate and powerful weekend.  The cost is low, the setting is beautiful, and the people are wonderful.  I would love to see you all there.

Kill Them with Kindness, or Turn the Other Cheek?

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.

Gaining Wisdom Through Compassion

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.

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

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.

 

Longing for Love Is Now Available

I finished the final editing of the third book in my series with a few days to spare.  It is already available through Amazon, and I will be getting a supply in a few days to sell through my company.
In other news, I’m continuing to get really touching reviews for The Secret of Emotions, like this one from Sue Woods at GoodReads:

I love this book. LOVE LOVE LOVE it. It has given me so many things to think about that most self help books leave out.I am especially thankful that the chart on page 88 is in the book. I am just amazed that the author Justice Saint Rain has given the world a way to recognize our motivations. And in such easy simple ways. This is a small book with a very very big message that can be used by every human being who ever wanted to give their walk in this life a more positive spin and actually know what they are doing and why. Thank you so much Justice.
P.S. I will never be finished reading this book as I intend to keep going back to it to gauge my growth progress, encouragement and support.

Speaking of GoodReads.com, there are only a few days left in my 4 Tools of Emotional Healing give-away.  Sign up for a chance to win!

Now that all three books are done, I might finally have time to write some new blog posts.

Stay tuned!

Second Book Give-Away at GoodReads.com

In my last book give-away over 600 people entered to win one of 200 copies of The Secret of Emotions.  Now I am giving away 19 print copies of 4 Tools of Emotional Healing.  Click here to go to Good Reads and enter.  You will need to join Good Reads, but it is free.  While there, don’t forget to rate and/or write a review of any of my other books you’ve read.

Thanks,

Justice

 

Faith, Addiction, and the Marshmallow Test Revisited

Adapted from 4 Tools of Emotional Healing.

How can faith help you control your impulses, delay gratification and make healthier decisions?  Let me describe some recent research that sheds some interesting light on the connection.

Researchers have known for decades that people who have trouble with controlling their impulses, or delaying gratification have a much harder time succeeding in life. They are more likely to do drugs, drop out of school, experience an unintended pregnancy, etc. Researchers know this because of a long-term follow-up study of children who participated in what is known as “The Marshmallow Test” at Stanford University in the 1960’s. In it, researchers leave a 4-year-old alone in a room with a single marshmallow or other treat and tell them that if they can wait until the researcher comes back in ten minutes to eat it, they can have TWO treats instead of one. Children who were good at this—who waited the longest without eating the treat—were found to be more successful in many areas of their life as they grew into adulthood.

The fact that this one test correlated with a long-term pattern of behavior seemed to indicate that it was exposing an innate character quality in these children. A child was either good at delaying gratification or he wasn’t, and if he wasn’t when the test was given, he probably wouldn’t ever be. This consistency suggested that an ability to wait for a greater good was somehow written into a child’s DNA.

The fact that poor kids tended to do less well on this test was explained, not by their poverty, but by an inherited predisposition for irresponsible behavior and short-term thinking.

So where does faith come in? Well, about 50 years later, as it turns out.

In a 2012 study of 56 three-to-five-year-olds, researchers at University of Rochester found that children who experienced reliable interactions with a researcher immediately before the marshmallow experiment waited on average four times longer to eat the marshmallow than children who had an unreliable interaction.

For this new version of the study, children were given two activities. In the first activity, they were promised a reward if they did an art project as requested. After doing the project, half of the children were given the promised reward, and half were not. Later, this same researcher told them that if they waited to eat their marshmallow, they would get a second one.

The children who had faith that the researcher would do as he promised waited a mean time of twelve minutes, while those who expected the researcher to let them down waited a mean time of three minutes—only one quarter as long.

The ones waiting three minutes were not poorer, less bright, or less able to control their impulses. They had less faith that waiting would gain them any advantage.

They had learned from experience that promises are broken, people are unreliable, and pleasure should be grabbed while it is sitting in front of you. As one of the researchers said, “If you are used to getting things taken away from you, not waiting is the rational choice.”

This new study provides strong evidence that the kids who lacked self-control in the ‘60s were probably living in unstable households before they even walked through the door to take the test. Is it any wonder, then, that the follow-up studies found them to be less successful?

Many of us also grew up in unstable homes. Even if we had religious faith, we did not necessarily have faith that God and the universe were looking out for our best interests. The idea that there was plenty to go around never occurred to us. We expected to run out; we expected to be disappointed; we expected to be lied to; we sometimes even expected to be hurt and abused. These expectations were developed as a result of our interaction with those whom we should have been able to trust. As a corollary to these expectations, we also expected to fail, to have the rug pulled out from under us, and to be caught in an endless Catch 22 of bureaucratic gotcha’s.

The expectation that life will kick you when you are down creates a self-sabotaging attitude. Why study if you will never graduate? Why wait to have sex if you will never have a career? Why not take drugs, if they make you feel good now?

When we combine this expectation of failure with feelings of guilt and shame, it is not surprising that many of us go through our days subconsciously looking for proof that the world is out to get us. When that is what we expect to see, that is exactly what we find.

New Book, New Editions and a Thank You!

In case you haven’t heard, the second book in my Love, Lust and the Longing for God series is now available.  4 Tools of Emotional Healing and The Secret of Emotions are both now available in paperback and as KINDLE editions at Amazon, at InterfaithResources and at BahaiResources for instant download.

Thank you, also to the 600+ people who entered to win a free copy of The Secret of Emotions.  The 200 winners should receive their copy in the next week or so, as they were mailed today.