I wanted to recall what it was the woman did in my Conversion While-U-Sleep dream to precipitate that wonderful state. I wanted to program myself to revisit that dream situation the next night (although the dream did not reoccur), so I began asking myself, “What is the path to God’s Grace?”. In other words, what was the situation that got me there?
Originally published 2000
The short version goes like this:
- Recognize its presence
- Realize it is a gift
- Generate gratitude for the beauty you feel.
As you express gratitude, your joy intensifies, so in a very real way, gratitude is an amplifier. There is no particular action you can take you experience it, so you know it is a gift. But forgetting that it is a gift allows it to slip away. You have to open your heart and let it come in, from wherever it comes from, filling you from within. That opening is an act of awareness, of recognizing its presence.
Once experienced, that meditation helps you reconnect with the most powerful state of being you are ever likely to experience. But how do you arrive at the experience the first time? How does one come to experience a state that can only be described as “God’s Grace”?
The Many Paths
I recalled my “marital arts” training with Grandmaster Tae Yun Kim. “Spiritual strength training” is probably a more accurate word for it. I recalled that I had experienced periods of real “enlightenment” (a feeling of lightness, incredible energy, spontaneous bursts of insight occuring frequently, feeling an emotional “lift” around the clock, 24-7).
The first of those period had occurred while actively practicing gratitude (for anything I could think of) every waking moment. That one lasted a solid 2 weeks. The last had occured when I really connected with forgiveness. That one lasted a week. In between, there had been one when I was generating love for a week. (I think. That one does not stand out in my memory as clearly, and the details are buried in about 90,000 words of diaries I kept during that period.)
In computers, a “path” is defined as a chain of directories from the “root” (or top of the tree) down to a particular directory. So one path might be: God/Grace/gratitude. Another might be: God/Grace/Forgiveness. A picture of those paths, and a few others, might look like this:
God | Grace | +-----------+---+----+-------+-------+ | | | | | Gratitude Forgiveness Love Helping Healing
There is an old Taoist saying that a religion is one path up a mountain, and there are many paths — all going up the same mountain! The diagram above shows how that is so. And these are just a few of the paths. For example, many meditations arrive at a state of Bliss. So Bliss might be next to Grace, directly under God. And meditation might be under Bliss. (There are undoubtedly dozens of other possibilities, as well.)
Christianity is unique in it’s insistence on confusing the result (God) with the path (Christianity). That there is God (what Christianity would call “one God”) is a given. But from there, the “orthodox” religion leaps to “one path”, which is absurdly arrogant, at best. (It calls for a lot of forgiveness!)
So God is the root of the tree — or the top of the mountain. Grace is a “communion” — feeling of oneness — a joining together (which is what the word “Yoga” means, too!). And the various activities at the bottom are all paths to achieving that state, and actions that spring naturally from that state when you are in it! Finally, those actions are required, in response to various situations, in order to maintain that state. (More on that coming up.)
Two other things I gained from my martial arts experience were:
- Like the blocking and punching.you learn to respond to physical challenges, you have to “block” and “punch” sprititual challenges as they come to you throughout the day.
- The rather mysterious comment made by Mr. Saunders that really feeling “good” was the enemy, as well, that an even keel was best. (This comment is echoed in other Eastern teachings, but I never understood it until now.)
In the same way that a physical attack produces an immediate response to ward off the attack — blocking and punching — the intrusions in our lives which precipitate anger, frustration, and annoyance, need to provoke an immediate “learned reflex” of forgiveness — one that becomes second nature through persistent training.
But oddly enough, the gifts in our lives need to provoke a response as well — a response of gratitude. The reason? A sense of gratitude is essentially an act of humility. A recognition that the good thing in your life really is a gift, that it came from somewhere. When gratitude is not present, the result is pride. And that emotion, oddly enough, individuates you! (If Grace is a communion with God, then pride is a separation which removes you from that state. The emotions stay high for awhile, but outside forces eventually make you succumb.)
Like the prisoner in the dream, we all find ourselves in a situation that results from who we were. High and low, rich and poor, our “lot in life” stems from our past. If you believe in reincarnation, then you have an explanation for your “starting position” in the race of life — it’s a matter either of choosing the experiences you need to learn and grow, or the result of some cosmic plan that puts you where you need to be to get those experiences. But, either way, “loving acceptance” appears to be the only graceful way to deal with the situation until, by persistent loving and demonstrating your truth, the situation changes.
Most of all, it is important to express gratitude for the gift of grace! The actions of forgiveness, gratitude, etc. can help to maintain that state, but it is wise to pray for the inner strength to do so, and to be grateful when you’re successful — because pride in the ability to perform those actions also individuates!
In trying to write my understanding, as best I can, I am in that very process succumbing to pride — to thinking that I really understand it. And that feeling individuates me, and imperils my inner serenity. I have to remember that this whole essay started as a result of a dream! In that dream, the gift of grace descended on me as a result of some action or demonstration that I no longer recall. Even when I experienced those periods of enlightenment, I undertook some action for a period of time, and I eventually found myself in that state. But was there a cause and effect? Do I understand the process that well? I think not! In a very real way, grace is a gift!
Taking Action vs. Forgiving
As always, the concept of being a forgiving person runs head long into the concept of preventing harm to yourself, or others. One response, when asked for your coat, is to give your shirt also. That is a valid, and possibly the best response. Another response, favored in the martial arts tradition, is to act to prevent harm. So you punch, not to retaliate for a grievance, but to prevent further harm from being perpetuated — either on yourself or on others — by the transgressor. It’s a matter of “tough love” — you hit hard when necessary, to preserve and defend life and the spirit. (Watch the spirit being taken out of someone who is oppressed, and the necessity becomes apparent.)
Interestingly, in that tradition it is highly desirable to strike emotionally, rather than physically. Physical actions are such a total last resort, that they hardly ever come into play. (I am not a master of this process. Far from it. I’m as ineffective as the most untrained white belt. I am only reporting here. But I admire the capacity to do it, and have seen it, so I feel I can say something about it.)
Emotional blocking and punching can take many forms. With words and gestures, mannerisms and behavior, one can act with humility, and remove another person’s aggression. For example, sincere apology can remove the desire to punish. On the other hand, you can berate and intimidate another verbally — not to punish them, but to enlighten them. Done with love, this can be a very effective process. How do you know it’s done with love? Only when it’s over. Someone who really hates you will keep the grudge, even after they’ve expressed it. But when someone loves you, even if they hate what you’ve done, it’s over when it’s over — completely over (and that can be hard to understand or accept).
Emotional blocking can also take the form of deflection — for example by defusing a tense situation with humor, or by distracting a person from their original intentions, or any number of other ways. Like any skill, these are actions that require practice to be perfected. Understanding how to do a somersault is not the same as being skilled at doing it.
Taking emotional action to improve behavior is the fundamental act of parenting. The hard part is to be acting from love, from grace, rather than from anger or frustration — yet to still take the appropriate action to shape future behavior. I was fortunate in my martial arts experience to have the opportunity to do some “surrogate parenting”. God, was I awful at first! At this point in time, parenting is definitely an “apprenticeship” skill. It’s one you learn from a mentor. In most cases, those are your own parents, for good or for bad. But in the martial arts group, I had access to many folks who were much wiser than I, including Grandmaster herself when the occasion warranted it. I grew enormously as a result. I also witnessed abilities in these areas that I have yet to achieve!
Whatever the action taken, the delineation is between past and future. Whatever action you can take, that is appropriate, you do take — when it will have a beneficial effect in the future. But things that are in the past are forgiven. What makes that tricky is that “now” keeps becoming the past, and the “future” keeps becoming “now”. That is the essence of the “flow” in Taoist and martial arts traditon.
Situations and Responses
In the martial arts program, Grandmaster’s number one student, Master Salton, once said that Grandmaster gave us a variety of “tools” we could use in different situations. Over time, you wound up with an array of tools “hanging from your tool belt”, and you became more skilled in their use. In retrospect, that analogy is particularly apt. This section describes some of the tools I managed to acquire (or observe in use) during my seven years in that program.
Like a carpenter working on a project, you need to pick the tool appropriate for the job at hand. (Sometimes, there are several possibilities. If one doesn’t work, you can always try another!) Once you have learned how to use a tool on one job, it’s hanging on your belt from then on, ready to use in other situations.
In any given situation, the emotions serve as an indicator of which response is required. This table lists some situations and responses:
|anger, frustration, annoyance||forgiveness|
|elation, happiness, joy||gratitude|
|calm, tranquil (“in between”)||appreciation, Love God|
|depression||persevere, future focus, seek help|
|undirected||listen for guidance|
|fear||Trust in God, pray, future focus|
|addiction||motivation, belief, forgiveness|
The first two, we’ve talked about. The remainder deserve a few words of explanation:
Calmness and Tranquility
Note that even calmness and tranquility requires a response! You can get to where the constant intrusions of daily life make you whiz at forgiveness, and yet still forget to appreciate the quiet and beauty in your environment. When nothing is happening to occupy your attention — either bad or good — it’s a good time to turn your attention outward and recognize what is there. After all, things could be a lot worse!
When you look outside yourself and somehow can’t seem to muster that sense of profound appreciation, focus on the source. Look inward and Love God. With that connection established, God’s presence in natural beauty is revealed. A tree, a cloud, a single blade of grass — all are one with God. To see a tree, and at the same time see God, is to know the oneness, the unity, the Yoga that is God. Appreciation, then, is a recognition of a particular manifestation of God. To see a thing, and to perceive its essence as God, that is appreciation.
When a situation is too big to handle — when your inner strength is not sufficient to deal with it, there are two responses. The first is prayer — an inner asking, not for the situation to change, but for the inner strength to make the appropriate response. If there is any doubt about the correctness of the response, or your ability to do it effectively, then it is important to seek help.
When you are handling the situation is a sure-handed way, when you know what you are doing and know that you are doing the right thing, you have achieved mastery of that situation. Would that all situations were like that! But whenever there is doubt about the right move to make, it’s wise to seek counsel. Being remarkably full of pride and very stubborn, that was not something I was good at. But as I encountered situations that were beyond my capacity to cope, I found it helpful to talk to a mentor who could help me find the best way to deal with the situation. It makes even more sense to utilize such a mentor before a situation escalates to that point.
For me, depression is a sign that an overwhelming situation has occurred too long, and I no longer have any idea how to cope. I’ve been there a couple of times, close enough to become really familiar. The first response is perseverance — to keep going, regardless. To endure. The second response is a positive future focus. Grandmaster once wondered why other people don’t do what she does — to look forward to the wonderful days ahead, when the situation is over. Vividly visualizing that scenario makes it real that the current situation is temporary, and that positivity becomes a powerful resource to draw on. (One I need to get a lot better at!). Finally, seek help. Talk to people — especially to wise people, whose opinion you trust. Listen to their advice, and act on everything that makes sense.
When a real attack occurs, there is a danger of imminent harm to yourself or others. You must be ready to defend, if only for the sake of your spirit, your honor. But when you are in one of those impossible situations where no action is possible, then the only response is to forgive! Even when you are defending (which sometimes takes the from of counterattack), there is a continuous flow of acting to prevent future harm, and totally forgiving any harm that has already occurred, and (more importantly) forgiveness for the intention to do harm. Tough job! Not for the faint of heart. It takes a lot more practice than I have devoted to it, so far in my life. But mastering that flow is the only way to maintain that state of grace while at the same time having a positive impact on the future! (Note: The intention to do harm is the most hurtful part. If someone hits you by accident, it is no big deal. If they hurt you because they intended to, it hurts a lot.)
I’ve spent entire vacations laying around, doing absolutely nothing! With dozens of projects I could be working on, hundreds of big and small improvements I could be making in my life, I can spend hours in front of the TV, making no difference at all. Bad! The only thing that changes that is a sense of direction — a goal you want to achieve, and a commitment to spending time on it. It helps to schedule time. When you plan on performing some activity at a specified time, you’re more ready to do it when the time arrives. But it can also be hard to achieve the appropriate balance of flexibility. You might skip doing things when you really could have done them, or you might force yourself to do things when you really shouldn’t. And choosing which things to do is also tricky — there are so many choices!
A PBS special called Uncommon Friends of the 20th Century gave a useful answer. In it, the fellow who was a mutual friend of Edison, Ford, and Charles Lindbergh — all of whom hung out together — described a scientific experiment he took in his youth. In that experiment, he decided to “turn his life over to God”, and see what happened. So each morning, he spent a few moments quietly listening for guidance on what to do. The experiment was so successful that he continued it over the course of his life! And he taught it to his remarkable friends, too.
Now in eastern traditions, those moments of quiet listening are also known as “meditation”. Doing it before going to bed makes sense as well. Grandmaster always recommended both morning and evening meditations. And I know that I when I go to bed with a project in mind for the next day, I wake up ready to tackle it!
One of the Yoga traditions is actually focussed on sleep-creativity — on going to sleep with a problem, and waking with the solution. Early in my life, I found that the relaxed time before sleep was when creative energy was often at it’s highest — with the result that I often couldn’t get to sleep until very late! But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that I write and think best in the morning, and that going to sleep with a question or two in my head “primes the pump” for the next day.
Given the salutary effect of thinking about a problem before going to sleep, it makes sense that “listening for guidance” would be remarkably effective before retiring, as well as after rising.
A remarkable book entitled Consciousness Explained by Daniel Dennet has a fascinating explanation for why this would be so. It’s well worth a read. In it, Dennet describes a party game where someone is supposed to guess what someone’s dream was about, and who had it, by asking yes/no questions. The rest of the people are supposed to pick one person’s dream an share it, but instead they decide to answer every question that ends with a letter from the from the first half of the alphabet with “yes”, and every other answer with “no”, except that they will achieve some consistency by agreeing with previous answers, when necessary. When the person starts asking questions, in this scenario, they in effect create the dream as a result of the questions they ask. Dennet’s contention is that “random images” in our heads are interpreted in light of the questions we are asking! That is a useful observation that explains why “chance” favors the prepared mind. That’s why a falling apple suggested gravity to a newton, and mold on a cantalope became the source of penicillin — because someone was asking the “right” question. (Lots of people were probably asking the question! The ones that became famous were the ones with the luck to come across the right stimulus, and the insight to see things in the right way!)
In my seven years’ training with Grandmaster, I saw people actually change. At no time in my life prior to that had I actually witnessed sudden, dramatic changes in people of the kind that I witnessed during that time. I saw people overcome fear of heights, fear of public speaking, and many other fears, and make all sorts of changes in their lives. The common factor in these changes was trust. Not trust in themselves, or belief in themselves — but trust in Grandmaster. They would do things because Grandmaster asked them, because they believed in Grandmaster — it was Grandmaster who believed in them. After taking the steps and conquering their fears, over time they developed a belief in themselves — because they had proven to themselves that “they could do it”, whatever “it” was.
If you are not fortunate enough to have a Grandmaster you can lean on, trust God! After all, that was the goal of Grandmaster’s process, anyway. Like a mother, she gives her students someone close they can rely on. But the goal of the process is make them able to stand on their own — to forge their own inner connection from whence they can draw their strength. So, when facing fear, reach inside and trust in God, and pray for the inner resources that are surely there!
A future focus is also helpful when you are attempting something new. One of Grandmaster’s great lessons to me was understanding that you will be good at thing, after a time. Even if you’re horrible at first, and you fail miserably, eventually you will learn what you need to succeed. To paraphrase Shakespeare, “The ability to persevere, undaunted by failure, doth make a success of us all.” The basic principle here is: “If they can do, I can do it, too.” Looking at others who are successful can give you an image of what you will look like when you, too, are successful. Focus on that image and “look to the future” to overcome fear in the present.
There are large addictions and small addictions. But by definition, no addiction is easy to overcome. I’ve licked some major ones in my time (smoking, drinking), but still have some to overcome (TV, for one). The one common factor in successfully overcoming an addiction is convincing yourself (thoroughly) that you don’t want to give in to that temptation any more. After that comes dealing with the habit. But the key, the root of success, is motivation.
It is said that a drunk has to hit bottom before he will go to an AA meeting and work to set his life straight. The “bottom” is the point at which a person comes to realize “I can’t live this way anymore”. Some sink lower than others before they reach that point. So the “bottom” is not so much a defined location. Rather, it is the point at which a person reaches an internal decision, and ceases to desire that which was previously attractive.
My Experience with Smoking
It is possible to consciously program that desire, without having to hit bottom first. When I quit smoking, I did it with “sleep teaching”. I had speaker that fit under the pillow, a 15-minute repeating tape (a tape-loop), and a timer that turned on the recording for 2-1/2 hours as I went to sleep, and for 1-1/2 hours as I woke up. I created a list of things to tell myself, and then recorded the collection of positive messages like this: “You know, Eric, you can stop smoking….You know you should stop, and you know how much you want to stop…You know you’ll be healthier, and your clothes will smell better, and you’ll save a lot of money…So go ahead and stop smoking…You can do it…You know you can.”
Today, I would keep each message burst to under 1 second, and leave a 5 second gap between bursts. As I recall, that was the optimum timing found in the Russian studies on relaxation-learning. The time between messages lets you go back to a totally relaxed state before the next item arrives. But even without that refinement, the tape worked wonders.
Here’s what happened: I listened that tape morning and night for 3 weeks. I wasn’t on a time table, so I wasn’t looking for results at any particular time. I wasn’t concerned, therefore, that I hadn’t stopped. But got darned sick and tired of listening to that tape! So after 3 weeks, I shut it off.
A week later, I picked up a copy of Reader’s Digest, and saw an article on the effects of smoking. I read it. (That is a significant event, because I had skipped over such articles for years, prior to that.) The article said that smoking kills something like a million lung cells every time you inhale, and lung cells don’t regenerate. That gave me the “reason” I needed, to stop. (All I needed was the motivation, really. But having a mental reason to hold on to really seemed to help.)
It occured to me that I was running and exercising to be healthy. Yet I was smoking, which had the opposite effect. It was clear that I was working against myself, and that one or the other would have to stop. I decided it would be smoking. (That’s one of those “life defining” choices. I made a decision for health in my life, right then.)
So I stopped. Right then. I put it out the cigarette I had been smoking, and stopped. I left the carton up on the refrigerator, and kept the opened pack I had in my shirt pocket. I decided I would quit because I wanted to, not because there weren’t any cigarettes around. (Another significant event. In the past, if I thought of stopping at all, I figured I would stop after finishing the pack, or the carton, or whatever.)
But the story doesn’t stop there! The following afternoon, I was in a boring, 2-hour lecture on statistics in psychology. I’d been fighting off the desire for a cigarette all day. At the 1-hour mark, we took a ten minute break — and when I came back and sat down, I found a half-smoked cigarette in my hand!!
At that point, I laughed out loud. I had to. No other response was possible. I mean, my body had been so desperate for a cigarette that it had managed to send my mind off in other directions and then, totally on autopilot, take out a cigarette, light it, and be halfway done with it before I even noticed! As I said, I laughed, and put out the cigarette.
And that’s when I knew I had it licked. My reaction told me all I needed to know. I could have been despondent about being overpowered by the desire. I could have called myself weak, a failure. I could have given up. But I didn’t. Instead, I marveled at the complexity and ingenuity of the human design, and put the cigarette out. The positive message had paid off. I was in charge, despite the minor setback.
In the ensuing weeks, I would discover the situations that triggered the desire to smoke. One was drinking. Beer tasted completely different — I had to relearn the taste for it all over again (since I was still drinking, at that time). The other was talking. I had never known how much I depended on cigarettes to create a little pause now again, to give me time to think. It also gave me something to occupy my hands, and raised my blood pressure just enough to make me a little more light on my feet, intellectually speaking. It took many months, and in some cases years, for those triggers to dissipate, so that they no longer created an urge to smoke.
My Experience with Television
My experience with television, on the other hand, was completely different. In the “full-time” martial arts training program I was in for a while, television was considered unhealthy, so it was strictly off-limits. We’d watch movies and videos occasionally, but never sit coms or anything with commercials in it.
I was in the program for seven years. After leaving, I avoided television for awhile, but eventually got right back into it, killing a lot of time in front of the tube. You see, no matter how “good” I had been for those seven years, it had never been my decision, my desire, to stop. And, as of today, I have yet to make that decision. It’s a difficult one to make. The thing is, every once in a while there is something that is really good on — something educational or incredibly entertaining that I would never have discovered unless I had been “surfing”, because I wouldn’t have been drawn to it even if I saw it on a program listing! (Examples: A recent infomercial on a smile-brightening method I plan to try, RiverDance — a program on Irish Dancing that inspired to me to devote 5 years to it, PBS specials on science, and things that are just spectacular.)
On the other hand, it’s more comfortable for me to sit in front of the tube than it is to go out and meet people. (There is something about noisy crowds that makes me anxious and, for pity’s sake, something about listening to someone talking to me that makes gives me anxiety, as well.) So it would be better if I found ways to occupy my time that got me out and about, more in touch with people. (I do engage in activities that get me out several times a week. Still, I need to work on intimacy. One of these days, the TV is going to have to get under control…)
The bottom line in all this is that motivation and belief (in your ability, in the “rightness” of kicking the addiction) are the keys to overcoming. So when you connect with Higher Power / God / Life Energy / Universal Energy, that is what to look for.
But the most important thing to remember is that if you forgive others, you will be forgiven. It is not necessary to live with guilt. You don’t have to feel guilty about your addiction, and then add even more additional guilt because you are not able to forgive yourself for your addiction. You don’t have to forgive yourself at all! You need only focus outward, not inward, and forgive with all your might. If you can succeed in that, heaven will be yours.
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