Sunday, April 7, 2013

Spiritual Laws

Today is Sunday, April 7, 2013. 

A quick look around the web reveals that there are a lot of people who have encapsulated sets of spiritual laws. Most sets contain only a few laws, so people won't be overwhelmed.  The thinking is that if you follow these four laws, or these seven laws, etc., everything will go right in your world.

Before I go on, I should clarify what I am talking about when I use the term "laws."  The kind of laws I am thinking of are not the kind of rules that are voted on and passed by any political body, such as speed limit laws, statutes forbidding murder and theft, or laws of commerce.  I'm not thinking about prescriptive "laws" such as the Ten Commandments. By "prescriptive," I mean laws that tell people specifically what they can and cannot do. What I am thinking about are laws that work a lot like scientific laws, except that they aren't necessarily scientific.  A scientific law is a statement that describes some aspect of the world, based on repeated observation.  Similarly, the type of spiritual law I am talking about describes some aspect of how things work in the world, and the workings of these laws can be observed repeatedly.  The thing to keep in mind is that all of these "laws" are defined by human beings, and the statements reflect the state of consciousness of the person who is making the definition.  That's part of the reason why some laws such as the Golden Rule are stated differently in different spiritual paths. 

Many spiritual traditions in the world agree on these laws.  Some traditions state them more succinctly than others.  One such law is the Law of Change.  Basically, it states that everything changes.  That's pretty simple, and we can see it happening in everyday life.  All things and all people change over time, with some changes occurring more rapidly and others occurring much more slowly.  Some changes that happen slowly are hard to see, because the time frame exceeds that of one human lifetime.  Other changes are so minute that our five senses simply cannot capture them.  Some changes can be felt, rather than seen, such as when the air pressure drops or when a friendship turns into a romance. 

When we try to live our lives in a way that doesn't make allowance for the Law of Change, there are negative consequences.  When one person leaves a relationship and the other person tries to hang on to it, misery is the result, for both parties. The same goes for a person who stays in a job or in a town even after it becomes clear that the job or the town no longer have any benefit to offer.  When a parent tries to keep a child protected for too long, or when a company keeps on using the same old ad slogan year after year, no growth results.  Simply put, when we resist change, that's when our troubles start, and when we accept changes and make the best of them, things work out better, somehow.

Another law that is often talked about these days is the Law of Attraction.  The simplest way to state this is, "Like attracts like."  I would argue that this statement is a little simplistic.  It's true that positive thinking often attracts positive effects, and negative thinking often seems to attract negative consequences, but there seems to be more to it than that, because most of us attract situations and people into our lives without really thinking about it.  I would submit that what we attract has to do with the deeply buried beliefs contained in our subconscious mind, including fears that were encoded there long ago.  I also think that the intensity of our emotions comes into play, especially our with respect to our feelings about ourselves.  

All of us have a few fears, some more intense than others.  When our fears begin to affect our behavior, especially when they limit our behavior or our options, it seems that we begin to notice what we fear all over the place.  In that sense, we attract what we fear the most.  If you feel threatened enough to buy a gun, not because you enjoy hunting or because you need to put food on your family's table, but because you feel the need to defend yourself, then you will start noticing all kinds of things happening in the world that you need to defend yourself from, and pretty soon you will feel the need to use your gun in one of those situations.  It's not the gun, per se, that is negative.  It's the fear that underlies your purchase of a gun that is negative.   Similarly, if you study the martial arts, not because it will teach you self-discipline or that it will help you maintain a healthy body, but because you feel the need to defend yourself, you will soon find a situation in which you are drawn into a fight.  Hate works like fear. When we focus on the object of our hatred, whatever or whoever it is, we begin to see that which we hate all around us, and it makes us miserable. 

Intensity of feeling is not a bad thing, though.  In fact, it is a necessary ingredient in success.  Many people have failed to achieve a goal simply because their desire to achieve was not intense enough.  Think of  an Olympic medalist or a business tycoon who started from scratch and survived many failures before finally achieving success.  The intensity of their feelings was crucial to meeting their goal.  It's not the intensity of desire, however, but the intensity of joy; these people are doing what they love to do, what brings them joy.  Anita Moorjani mentioned this in her book Dying to Be Me.  She said that we literally create with our emotions, and that it's important to do things that bring us joy.  

We we want something badly enough, we will do whatever is necessary to overcome obstacles.  In his "Last Lecture," Professor Randy Pausch told his audience, "Brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want something badly enough. They are there to keep out the other people."

Gregg Braden said something similar about emotion in his book Lost Mode of Prayer.  It's not the words you speak in the prayer, but your thoughts, as you pray, fueled by emotion, that are important.  Braden says that emotions are the language with which you communicate with the Universe. In essence, Braden is saying that imagination is a form of prayer.  Imagination is a creative force, a combination of thoughts expressed as imagery and powerful emotion.

Most of us have had the experience of running afoul of these various spiritual laws at some point in their lives.  Those who are unaware of these laws are the ones who think that the universe is against them, that they just have rotten luck, that they are unworthy.  They are the ones who cry, "Why me, God?"  They are the ones who develop chips on their shoulders that weigh them down. On the other hand, those who recognize the existence of spiritual laws have the option of asking themselves which law they are resisting, even if it turns out to be one they were unaware of.  Once we identify which law we have been working against, we can figure out how to work with it, instead.

Two spiritual laws that many people are unaware of are the Law of Noninterference and the Law of Silence.  When they go against these two laws, negative results ensue. The problem is that people don't always make the connection between what they did or said and what happened later.  It's important not to get too hung up on names.  These laws work, no matter what you call them or how you state them.  A lot of good folk wisdom is based on these laws.  

 The Law of Silence cautions us to keep to ourselves what passes between ourselves and God.  The wisdom and insights that we receive are tailored specifically for us, not necessarily for others. Harold Klemp, the spiritual leader of Eckankar, says, "The Law of Silence is easier to learn if you just listen to others instead of having to pummel them with your great wisdom."  It's fine to tell people about a general spiritual principle that may benefit them, such as forgiveness, but there's a fine line between bragging, spiritually, and true teaching.  

One big trap people fall into is giving their listeners the impression that what they say is universal truth for all, without regard for the opinions, experiences, or state of consciousness of others.  It's easy for people who think they have a personal handle on "truth" to threaten others with hell and damnation if they disagree.  

How many times have we seen someone who is on fire with a message from God do damage to others?  Remember Son of Sam, the perpetrator of eight different random shooting incidents in the New York City area?  That story was televised nationally back in the mid-70s.  There have been other incidents that are not so well known.  Recently, a mother in Arizona tried to drown her 3-year-old son in a mud puddle, claiming Jesus advised her to do it.  A man in Pennsylvania stabbed his grandmother on the advice of the Archangel Michael.  A woman in South Carolina killed her husband because Jesus and Mary told her to.  Muslim terrorists who slammed planes into the Twin Towers in New York did so because they believed they were acting on God's orders.  The list goes on.

The Law of Silence also applies to gossiping, giving people information that they are not ready to hear, and complaining about our troubles.  When we gossip, our (sometimes unconscious) intent is to make fun of others or put ourselves above others.  When we give people information they are not ready for, we may open the floodgates of their anger or fear and cause them to do something negative.  When we complain about our troubles, we are focusing on problems, rather than solutions, and we are giving others the power to use our problems against us.

There are a lot of ways to express the Law of Silence, some of which you may have learned at your mother's knee.  How many of us have heard Mom say, "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all"?  Or how about this one from Maurice Switzer: "It is better to remain silent at the risk of being thought a fool, than to talk and remove all doubt of it."  Many famous figures have weighed in on the matter, as well.  Abraham Lincoln said, "In times like the present, men should utter nothing for which they would not willingly be responsible through time and eternity."  The 13th-century Persian poet Rumi wrote, "Silence is the language of God, all else is poor translation."  Gandhi counseled people to "speak only if it improves upon the silence."  

There are many warnings about what may happen if you don't observe the Law of Silence. Ambrose Bierce declared, "Speak when you are angry, and you will make the best speech you will ever regret."  Winston Churchill said, "We are masters of the unsaid words, but slaves of those we let slip out.."  A very common saying whose original author is long forgotten said, "You can't unring a bell."  Mark Twain wrote, "The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly-timed pause."   Benjamin Franklin remarked on the effort of self-discipline implicit in observing the Law of Silence.  "Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment."

The Law of Noninterference is a little harder to grasp, and something that not all people recognize.  It says that we must allow others their freedom, even if it means we have to watch them make a mistake.  This is not to say that we can't caution them.  It simply means that once we have expressed our concerns, we should not prevent others from making their own decisions.  Of course, when you are a parent or a teacher tasked with protecting children, it is sometimes necessary to limit the freedom of those you are responsible for, but I still think a lot of parents and teachers err when they don't allow kids to make their own mistakes, especially when it comes to the little things in life that will not lead to death or permanent injury.  We all learn by doing, and this applies especially to young children.  

Parents may tell their children over and over that the stove is hot, but when a child touches the stove for himself, he will learn once and for all what his parents' words really meant.  The experience of an accidental burn may one day protect him from harm when his folks aren't there to keep watch.

The parents who let their child do his or her own science project may cringe when they see the results, knowing that their kid probably won't be getting an award for his or her efforts, but they can turn it into a positive learning experience later by asking the child to reflect on how little effort he made, how little time she allowed herself to finish, and how a neat and organized project reveals how much the student has learned about a particular subject.  

I have to laugh when I remember a mother who was confronted about writing a paper for a year-long project that her daughter, a senior in high school, needed to complete for graduation.   The mother wrote the paper, not even bothering to use the guidelines that the teacher had gone out of her way to demonstrate to the kids throughout the school year.  

When told her daughter's paper received an F, the mother cried, 'I worked very hard on that paper."  

"Well, then, you got an F," said the teacher.  "The fact remains that your daughter has not written a paper and she won't be graduating until she does."  

The girl spent the next three weeks or so writing the paper, little by little, after school, supervised directly by her teacher.  The mother fumed, publicly.

Given that the girl was already a high school senior, it was probably too late, but the teacher couldn't allow herself to give up on what might have been the last chance to teach this child something about doing things for herself.  With a mother like that, though, I wouldn't be surprised to hear that this young woman has continued to depend on people to bail her out of situations after she finally graduated.

There are a lot of parents who complain that they keep having to foot the bill when their adult kids run out of money, while conveniently forgetting that they never took the time to teach their kids how to pay their own way.  Maybe they didn't refuse to bail a child out so he or she could learn a valuable lesson early in life because they didn't want to see their child hurt or deprived.  Maybe they were just afraid that others might think they were bad parents.  Maybe they were afraid to risk their child's anger or rejection, not realizing that what they were really teaching their child was how to manipulate others using anger and rejection as a tool of vengeance.

The Law of Noninterference recognizes that some things that happen in a person's life may be a way of balancing negative karmic issues from past lives.  Once again, it's fine to offer help, but if the person involved doesn't seem to appreciate our efforts, the reason is probably that they didn't really want the help.  It's hard to tell when a person has truly learned from his troubles or not.  If he hasn't, then no amount of help on our part is going to get him out of a jam the next time he makes the same mistake.  Our help sometimes has the effect of taking away the person's right to learn from his or her mistakes by experiencing the results of his or her own words or actions. So many of us give unsolicited advice without thinking, and then we wonder why people don't act on it.

A lot of people have asked why God sometimes doesn't help us, if he knows everything that's happening in our lives.  Well, the Law of Noninterference is why.  This is why we have to pray, why we have to ask for help before we can receive it. No one, not even a spiritual teacher, not even God, may enter into a person's personal space without permission.  If someone asks you to pray for them, fine and dandy, but if they don't, then your prayers are a form of interference, especially when you begin to tell God what to do, e.g. "Help him pass the test," or "Send someone for my daughter to marry." Praying that a person with a terminal illness won't die may simply extend the person's suffering.  Praying that the person won't suffer may actually be unintentionally taking away a person's right to balance his own negative karma, especially at the end of life.  In that case, the best prayer is one of the shortest:  "Thy will be done, O Lord."  When we pray this way, we allow the situation to resolve itself for the highest good of all concerned, even if the outcome is not to our liking.

Much harm has been done by people who think they know more than others what is good for them.  In the United States, for example, Native American children were forcibly taken from their homes and put into boarding schools who hoped to erase their cultural heritage by making them learn the rules of white society and converting them to Christianity, using methods that were incredibly cruel, such as making kids wear handcuffs. Condition in these boarding schools may have improved since the early days, but Indian kids are still taken away from their families by force, on trumped-up grounds, and they are still being deprived of the chance to learn the ways of their own culture.  Recently, some whistle-blowers who worked for the state social services agency in my home state of South Dakota were put on trial for making this situation public.  The case was dismissed, but the system continues, and other lawsuits have been filed. 

Disregarding the spiritual laws doesn't consign a person to hell.  Rather, it ensures that we will have to experience the consequences of our disregard, and when we finally connect the negative situations in our lives with our words and actions, we learn on a trial-and-error basis how these laws actually work, not only for individuals, but also for families, for whatever cultural, racial, spiritual or social group we identify with, and for our nation.  :-)

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