Mindful Musings

“Choose Faith, Not Belief In these Troubled Times”

By: Forrest Rivers

Faith is a beautiful thing. It can be compared to a budding flower, intuitively growing into its purpose to inspire and give life. However, this inspiring quality is too often confused with belief.

Faith and belief are not the same thing. Belief says: Through my rational mind, I think all things might be one. Or, in the future, I think I will succeed as an artist. Faith says: Within my soul, I feel all things are one. Or, I know I am already a successful artist … the world just hasn’t yet found out.

Belief thinks. Faith knows. Belief is fleeting, and can easily be broken down at the first sign of personal adversity or crisis. Hence, this popular phrase following a trying life circumstance: “I don’t know what to believe in anymore.”

The reason why belief is so fragile is because it is a projection of the mind’s ego. One of the defining characteristics of the ego-mind is that it views the world through the lens of separation. And because it sees itself as separate from the one unified consciousness, its thoughts are not truly rooted in anything but its own delusions of how it ‘thinks’ the world is.

This lack of intuitive knowing may also explain why belief often produces intense religious and political dogmas. In the absence of a deeper understanding, one begins to question the certainty of their own convictions and sets out to convert others to validate their ‘truth’ for them.

In contrast to belief is faith. Faith is the conquering of fear through inner surrender. It is born through one’s intuitive knowing and is strengthened through heartfelt prayer and meditation. Faith also finds its expression through participation in authentic acts of love and kindness.

Faith is firmly rooted in one’s own direct experience and soulful reflection. Another inspiring aspect of faith is that it takes on an eternal quality of higher truth that needs not be spoken to convert would-be believers.

For a person of faith, it is enough to know, for example, that Jesus and Krishna are sons of God in the respective Christian and Hindu traditions. Similarly, it is enough for those from Native American traditions to know (through direct experience) that in both form and spirit, the Earth is a perfect expression of divine awareness. With faith, one has no desire to convert others, for what is known can only be arrived at within.

The desire to inspire others through sharing wisdom and baring one’s soul is a hallmark of faith. The desire to control another’s thoughts is a hallmark of belief. The former is the source of inspiration for the sincerest artists, counsellors and spiritual seekers. The latter is too often the motivation for politicians, religious leaders and captains of industry. Faith heals and unites. Belief injures and divides.

These exceptional times that we find ourselves in have been mostly defined by our attachments to extreme belief. For example, amid the devastating backdrop of the COVID-19 health crisis, there is an alarming number of people who strongly believe that this pandemic is grossly overblown, despite medical evidence showing how horrifying this illness really is.

  Faith vs. belief


woman with surgical mask in front of laptop

Until recently, I used to be one of those people who believed that this pandemic was overblown, in order for political elites to control the people in their quest for total tyranny. But then I began hearing direct encounters from doctors (including from my own physician sister, who works in the ER) who have witnessed, firsthand, the destructive impact of the virus.

Another manifestation of extreme belief that has emerged in these times is the view that this pandemic and the ensuing economic collapse are signs that the apocalypse has arrived. Internet posts on this very topic have rapidly multiplied over the past six weeks, while the world has been in shutdown.

Of course, the negative consequences of current belief systems are there for us all to see. A particularly strong example is that of the current anti-shutdown protests in America. These protesters are demanding an immediate end to the shutdowns, even though virus cases are on the rise.

Fortunately, bubbling just below the surface is a faith-based perspective that transcends the realm of belief altogether. Viewed from this vantage point, many people of faith are increasingly coming to see this pandemic through a lens of greater awareness.

This expression of faith regards COVID-19 and all the challenges it presents as humanity’s golden opportunity to move beyond the state of ego-consciousness we have been in. Such a perspective extends beyond all divisive political, religious and societal dogmas, because it has everything to do with our own collective spiritual evolution as one human family.

Remember: Belief injures and divides. Faith heals and unites. Let faith be your guide in these troubled times!

******This article was originally published on themindfulword.org

 

Mindful Musings

“A Ballad of Hope Amid a time of Crisis”

 

By: Forrest Rivers

 

The year was 2020

The world was plagued by a pandemic

that inflicted mass casualties across the land

Countless millions watched in horror

As loved ones fell victim to the virus

Many more struggled to find work and food

As the world’s exploitative economy

Suffered a catastrophic collapse….

Meanwhile, corrupt and greedy politicians

Stood callously by

As the number of homeless multiplied and starved around them

With little assistance coming from their maniacal rulers

Some people resorted to looting and organized crime

To get their needs met….

But set against this backdrop of death, fear and deprivation

A movement of higher consciousness was well underway

Driven into isolation to control the deadly virus

Citizens of the world came to have gratitude

For all the little things they had taken for granted:

Smiles from passing strangers,

Sentimental hugs,

Uplifting time spent with dear friends and family

And the sweet joys of live song and dance

Were all things sorely missed and remembered

Nostalgically….

Such expressions of gratitude

So intrinsic to what it means to be human

Triggered cosmic waves

Of beautiful but unintended consequences

For humanity’s awakening amid this age of crisis….

Sequestered in their homes for months

Some discovered a love for art and creativity

While others found God in books and through online talks

From enlightened teachers….

Souls fortunate enough to have nature out their front door

Planted a garden or communed with the Earth

Through walking, swimming and biking

And, inner reflection became a powerful tool

to confront despair for many more….

The ancient practice of meditation underwent a resurgence

As did faithful prayer and mindful attention

To each passing moment

And, the spirit of service

That was heartlessly neglected by society for far too long

Began bubbling within the hearts of each man, woman and child

once more….

FINALLY,

The day came

When it was safe for all to emerge from their houses

But when they re-entered the storm of form

What they found was not the same world as before….

A revolution had been born

And seeds planted

As all showed a genuine love for one another

And displayed reverence for the Earth

Consuming less and communing with Her more

Everywhere,

The Renaissance in art was felt

As Creative expression flourished

Like rivers flowing into the infinite blue ocean

For the first time in half a century

Young people everywhere

Chose to find meaningful work

Rather than chase the almighty dollar….

Of course,

Many day to day things remained the same….

Grocery stores were still frequented

Children still attended schools

And people still drove long distances

To see kindred spirits in kind—-

But inwardly,

Humanity had awakened from its stupor

Of vanity, greed and self-absorption

Upon entering this new world

Every step felt lighter

And the sun seemed to shine

With a greater luminosity

To herald the coming

Of mankind’s arrival

And to celebrate

Its most profound realization yet:

All things in life are ONE

And filled with the eternal bliss of the Universe

The age of crisis had given way

To mankind’s enlightenment

And the old adage that darkness gives way to light

Assumed a new and precious meaning

In this sacred season of spiritual revival.

 

Mindful Musings

“Creation Song”

By: Forrest Rivers

****Originally published on themindfulword.org

The many emerged from the One
As a divine demonstration
Of love, beauty, spirit and truth
Yet, this infinite presence
That was at once the spark and the flame
Sought to fully know IT’s perfect self
Through the wonders of form

And so, IT began to sculpt
IT’s own cosmic clay
Into various expressions of IT’s own divine being

As the great laws of the Universe
Began to take hold
A boundless array of realities
Came to pass
Before finally bursting open
Like spring flowers in bloom

It was set against this glorious backdrop
When the Supreme Soul
Molded the Earth out of IT’s own formless essence
And unveiled the most spectacular event
Of past, present and future
Merging into form
As ONE

A glorious work of art
This magnificent sculptor of the Cosmos
Imbued each of IT’s own mystical qualities
Into the Earth’s sacred elements
As water, air, fire and soil
Became manifestations
Of IT’s own vital life force and purified center

Immersed in the sheer joy
Of IT’s own power of Creation
This Godhead of Wisdom planted the magical seeds
That were to blossom
Into trees, mountains, rivers and oceans

As planetary forms continued to sprout
Mysterious patterns of the unfolding
Could be intuitively felt
As evolution became the vehicle
By which the One came to know the multitude of the many
And itself…

Soon, reptiles, mammals and the great-winged pilots of the sky
Joined in on this airy dance of eternal peace
But just as the cosmic void seemed to swallow whole
The illusionary folds of both time and space
A peculiar being was born that gradually multiplied in numbers…

The human race appeared upon the celestial mosaic
Neither separate from nor superior to the rest of creation
These strange two-legged creatures
Were merely one among an infinite number of life forms
To emerge on this blue sphere of wonder
And, like a leopard’s blazing speed
Or an eagle’s godly soar above
The Great Mystery also bestowed a unique and special power
Upon mankind:
The ability to reason

So long as their scheming minds were only harnessed
To satisfy their basic needs of survival
Humankind found eternal truth and meaning
Through the higher planes of spiritual reality
And a delicate balance was achieved:
Between the rational and intuitive intellect

From the very start of humanity’s epic journey
Through the wisdom of form
Wise indigenous souls
Of the Earth
Held this fragile balance of mind and heart
With astonishing ease

For countless generations, these native ancestors of the land
The Original dwellers…
Maintained this precious equilibrium
Through the unwavering love and devotion
Of Grandmother Earth and all HER divine manifestations

The Sun and the moon
All of the diverse plant and animal life
The majestic forests and deserts
The ancient flowing lakes and rivers
And even the silent passing of the seasons
Were venerated as holy expressions
Of Absolute Being

The enlightened ways of these native souls
Continued to thrive for countless millennia
Until, for reasons only known by the Creator
A brutal culture rooted in hubris began its long and steady ascent
Into prominence
Through inflicting unimaginable cruelty
Upon the Earth’s well-being

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As tiny cabals of these “two-leggeds” extended their influence
Through using the mind to sequester truth and knowledge
They unknowingly lost that inborn spark of wild
That bore the fruits of intuitive wisdom

With the harmonious ways of the original peoples
Now being subjected before the forces of blind belief and logic
First Religion, and then Science
Came to replace the authentic connection of spirit
Found through the Earth and within…

Though appearing to stand in direct opposition
To one another
These twin forces of the mind
Pursued in common life’s answers to existential questions
That could only be arrived at
Through the intuitive heart space
Of focused contemplation

As the ego’s yearning to “know” grew ever stronger
The Indigenous path of inner communion
With the Earth and self—
Gradually gave way to an exterior search
That produced only conditioned faith and grandeur

As the path of ego fully enveloped the purity of soul
Patterns of structured doctrine emerged
That coalesced into the formations
Of institutions that blinded and deceived

As hungry aspirants claimed what they thought
Were their rightful seats to power
The human race moved ever further
From its exalted state of intimacy with the Earth

Bloodshed, genocide, slavery and the devastation of the natural world
Were the shameful outcomes of unchecked egos
As this era of reason multiplied through three “great revolutions”
Known as the crops, machines and computers

But finally, one day
The time came when the Omnipresent One
The Supreme Mover and Shaker of the Cosmos—
Willed for the ways of the original Earth Dwellers
To make a long and heralded return
And they savoured the opportunity to lead humanity back into the light

Emboldened by the strength of their own awakening
Humankind embraced its brethren once more
In the forests, lakes, oceans and mountains
And forged a new covenant with Creation

Overjoyed with tears of elation
The Lord of Love shined IT’s light brightly
And merged again with ITS own boundless potential.

 

Mindful Musings

Transcend Your Fear of Death

By Forrest Rivers

****Originally published on the mindfulword.org

One day, sooner or later, we are all going to die. Like every human being, as the inevitability of our own death dawns, we will be presented with two paths to follow.

We can choose the first and heavily traveled road of clinging to our own egoistic notions, sensory desires and worldly pleasures in the face of Yama, the King of Death. We can delude ourselves into thinking that we can push away the imminence of our body’s expiration and cling to the transient nature of our physical reality.

This choice will only wind up creating more needless suffering, because just as the Buddha taught, everything in our physical realm is impermanent and fleeting.

Fortunately, for our own sense of well-being, we can also choose the second and more lightly traveled road of embracing our physical demise by surrendering to the wondrous passage of form—returning to the Formless, the Void, the One.

Instead of continually running from death’s haunting shadow, we have the power to meet The Spirit of Death at its own doorstep, with our hearts wide open to what IS and will soon become.

Rather than lament the existential fact that we really have no control over the time and manner of our own passing, we can choose to become death’s supreme inquisitor and ask it all the questions that we intuitively already know the answers to.

Imagine the possibilities, upon learning of the Universe’s ability to bring us all to an awareness of the breathtaking unity that exists within one cycle of birth and death. Death does not have to be a painful and frightening process. We can use this ultimate transition for our own inner healing and self-growth.

Adopt a healthy perspective on death and dying


clouds surrounded by light

Over the years, it has become a living truth to me that we are more than our bodies. I have come to strongly believe that when we die, some spiritual essence of who we are transcends the act of death and the decay of the body. Exactly where we go remains one of the greatest existential mysteries.

Similar to both the Hindu and Buddhist beliefs on reincarnation, I intuitively feel that each of us has taken countless births as males and females, as rich and poor, as oppressor and oppressed, and even as moral do-gooders and rapacious sinners. It is possible, as Tibetan Buddhists believe, that we have even taken animal forms in our previous incarnations.

Perhaps, the Universe’s grand intention for reincarnation is for us all to steadily build toward a full consciousness of who we truly are through the many experiences lived and lessons learned from each incarnation. Buddhists might call this awareness ‘nirvana,’ Hindus ‘self-realization’ and Christian mystics ‘Christ consciousness,’ but the same idea is implied. Through each passing incarnation, we move closer and closer to realizing our total union with the Imperishable Tao.

Indeed, adopting such a perspective on our own deaths relieves us of our existential anxieties and brings us infinite comfort that when our bodies die, the truest essence of who we are does not.

Preparing for your own death


man on mountain embracing the sun

There is no better way to overcome your fear of death than by actively preparing for it through formal spiritual practices like working with the dying and meditation.

Stephen Levine, a late and influential meditation teacher, spent countless years working with people who were, as the Hindus say, close to “dropping their bodies”. His experiences led him to write a profound and groundbreaking book titled, A Year to Live: How to Live This Year as if It Were Your Last.

In drawing on his work with the Living/Dying Project, a non-profit he helped co-found that fosters a loving space for the terminally ill to die consciously, Levine showed how adopting the perspective that each day could be your last reduces anxiety and fills life with more meaning.

Ram Dass, the late pioneer of cosmic consciousness and the author of the seminal book, Be Here Now, was a contemporary of Levine who also spent considerable time working with the Living/Dying Project. In numerous books and recorded lectures, he recounts his many years of devoted care for the dying as the most profound spiritual work that he did on himself.

According to this beloved saint, the more one consciously works with those who are dying, the less they come to fear their own death. He was fond of teaching that if you can learn to “keep your heart open in hell,” through embracing the painful emotions that watching another die engenders, then the opportunity to transcend your own fear of death arises. Once this occurs, one is then able to gain a deeper perspective of the eternal nature of the deathless self.

Finally, in the Theravada Buddhist tradition, monks partake in regular mindfulness meditation exercises on their own deaths (this practice is called Maranasati). The central aim of these contemplative sessions is to cultivate a deeper awareness and acceptance of death.

Eventually, after years of this practice, monks become so comfortable with the absolute and impermanent nature of their physical reality that they are able to transcend this greatest of existential fears altogether, and live the remainder of their lives with greater joy and compassion. In turn, living a more joyous, as well as a more compassionate life are the two most sought-after goals of all spiritual seeking.

Transcend your fear of death and enter the boundless realms of everlasting peace!

 

Mindful Musings

Be Here Now by Ram Dass

In this time of great uncertainty, the message of the late and great Baba Ram Dass, to ‘be here now,’ could not be more relevant. This seminal classic is many things: part spiritual biography of one saint’s trippy odyssey through the layers of consciousness; part artistic work of wisdom that will break one free from dualistic thinking; and part manual for living a spiritual life. Unquestionably, Be Here Now was the Bible of the hippie counterculture


The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu

Two of the positive things that have emerged from COVID-19 are the profound realizations that we are all connected by some all-permeating cosmic life force (The Tao), and that rather than trying to control every event in life, we would be wise to learn how to flow with the Universe. These two realizations also happen to be two of Lao Tzu’s main teachings in this mystical wisdom text.


A Year to Live by Stephen Levine

Drawing on his profound experience and work with the dying, this late and inspiring meditation teacher decided to live one year of his life as if it were his last. The result was a series of meditation exercises and profoundly rich reflections that will help one contemplate their own relationship with life and death. This book makes for a great read in a time when we all are being forced to face our own mortality.


The Bhagavad Gita by Krishna

Consider the power behind these words from the revered Hindu mystical text, the Bhagavad Gita (Song of the Lord):

“You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work. You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction. Perform work in this world, Arjuna, as a man established within himself—without selfish attachments, and alike in success and defeat. For yoga is perfect evenness of mind.”

These words of advice from Lord Krishna, the God Incarnate, to his faithful friend and devotee, Arjuna, couldn’t possibly be more relevant to the times we are currently living in. Selfless action, balance and inner awareness are what we need right now, in our struggle against COVID-19. Lord Krishna shows us how to cultivate these inspiring qualities within ourselves.


This Season’s People by Stephen Gaskin

This is a beautiful book of inspiring wisdom-oriented quotes and reflections. However, what truly adds to this book is the authenticity of its author. Stephen Gaskin was a counterculture writer and speaker, and co-founder of the Farm (one of the best-known hippie communes in the Western world) in the early ’70s. As the system appears to be collapsing around us, those drawn to intentional off-the-grid spiritual communes as a peaceful alternative may find this book eye-opening.


The Dhammapada by Buddha

The First Noble Truth: Suffering is an innate characteristic of existence.
The Second Noble Truth: The cause of suffering is craving, desire or attachment.
The Third Noble Truth: The ending of suffering can be attained through eliminating all craving, desire or attachment.
The Fourth Noble Truth: There exists a prescribed means to end suffering (the noble Eightfold Path).

COVID-19 has produced immense physical suffering, and it is a fact of our existence at the moment (Buddha’s First Noble Truth). Less obvious, to many, is that this virus has also caused enormous mental and emotional suffering. Much of this suffering can be directly attributed to our craving, desire and attachment for existential comfort and security (Buddha’s Second Noble Truth). It is heartening, though, that this suffering can be ended (Buddha’s Third Noble Truth) through a means-tested path to enlightenment (Buddha’s Fourth Noble Truth). These core teachings of the Buddha can reveal much about our current state of being.


Ishmael by Daniel Quinn

This eco-spiritual novel centers on a telepathic gorilla-sage named Ishmael who walks a prized pupil through the unsustainable and destructive ways of Western civilization’s relationship to the Earth. In the end, Quinn calls for something of a return to the guiding vision of indigenous cultures, whom he appropriately refers to as the ‘leavers.’ As our ‘taker’ (Quinn’s name for the dominant Western culture) economy grinds to a halt, now is the perfect time to re-examine our exploitive relationship with Mother Earth and find a better way. Ishmael is a good place to start for exploring such solutions.


Black Elk Speaks by John G. Neihardt

Indigenous wisdom from an inspiring and highly revered Native American Medicine Man. The profound insight that he shares through his life story comes directly through ecstatic visions he had through divine communion with the Great Mystery. What could be more needed at this moment then getting back to the deep and wise roots of our native ancestors—the true spirit guardians of this land?


The Upanishads

A mind-blowing and soulfully revealing collection of mystical Hindu texts written by unknown saints and sages. Existential themes addressed that are acutely relevant to our times include: the meaning of death, the nature of God, reincarnation, inner wisdom and meditation.


Beloved honourable mentions:
The Perennial Philosophy by Aldous Huxley (Harper Collins)
The Tibetan Book of the Dead by Padmasambhava (multiple translations and publishers)
The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran (multiple translations and publishers