Almost everyone has a religion, whether they are a person of faith or not. A person’s religion might be sports or karma or fitness or money or family or love, but almost everyone has a religion. Some people have several simultaneously.
You can tell a person’s true religious belief not by listening to what they SAY they believe in, but by their habits. Habits are the rituals of a person’s religious belief.
When I was in the Christian church, I would often hear individuals talk about others not being “true” Christians because they were divorced or they smoked or drank or didn’t attend services often enough. In their minds, a True Christian (TM) would act a certain way in their everyday life.
And, to an extent, they were right. At least when it came to their own belief system.
Every Belief System Has It’s Own Rituals
Show me your habits and I will tell you your religion.
Some people go to the gym. Some people worship at the altar of fitness or, in more extreme cases, bodybuilding. You can tell the difference simply by their habits – their “religious rituals” – performed each day and week.
Early in 2017, still trying to find the root of confidence in my own life, reading various life philosophies to find some or one I could integrate, I stumbled about a new way of thinking about religion and rituals.
Rituals Focus and Reinforce Our Belief System
When I stopped believing in anything supernatural, I also gave up all the Christian rituals I previously performed daily and weekly. I no longer prayed, fasted, read and memorized the Bible. I no longer spent time trying to find God’s will for my life.
After all, while I had found those things beneficial in the past, they were obviously just impressions in my own mind. They had no “real” impact on the world around me. At least, that was what I thought.
While reading about various life philosophies I came about a new idea. One not rooted in the supernatural, but in the mind.
Historically we have numerous examples of people who have accomplished great things despite personal adversity or huge obstacles. Hitler, Alexander the Great, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Bill Gates were/are all just men. They have the same basic human abilities we all have. Yet, in spite of being just ordinary, they were able to accomplish extraordinary feats – for good or for evil.
They didn’t succeed at their passion because they won the lottery of life. They succeeded because of one simple yet incredibly powerful trait: The power of their own will.
In my own life, though not in any way on the level of a world changer, I have seen the power of my own will accomplish seeming impossible, even foolhardy, goals.
Several years ago I was the worship leader for a new church plant in southeastern Kentucky. Our first Sunday we had 12 people in attendance. Over the next few years that had grown to a small congregation of around 80.
I had attended a worship conference at a large (10,000 member) church in Atlanta. Over the next week, in my prayer time, a stray thought crossed my mind. I began to think God was calling us, me, to host a worship conference in our tiny church.
To give you perspective, small churches in rural Kentucky don’t host what I was envisioning. Most of the kind of conferences of this type were hosted by “mega-churches” numbering in the thousands of members. Typically in a big city. The idea of our little church in the middle of nowhere Appalachia hosting a worship conference was almost laughable. Certainly attempting to do so would end with few in attendance.
Over the next few weeks, as I “sought God’s will” in the matter through prayer, I became more and more convinced God was calling me to move ahead and hold a worship conference. That confidence caused me to start taking bold action.
I contacted the church in Atlanta that had hosted the conference. I asked their worship director if he would be willing to come up to Kentucky and host a conference for us. He said he would get back to me. A month later he was still undecided.
I continued to pray and became more and more certain God was “calling” me to set up a worship conference in my little town. Undeterred by the indecision of that worship leader, I reached out to an international music publishing company and asked if they would like to co-host a conference with us.
To my surprise, they said yes. They advertised the conference via a number of channels, put together speakers and flew one of their worship bands to provide the music. Once the day came we had over 250 people from as far away as Korea come to Appalachia to participate.
While at the time I believed this was all put together due to “supernatural intervention” the reality is nothing supernatural happened. Instead, all that happened was I willed it into being because I believed God was behind it. In my belief system at the time, when God is behind something he would make it happen. The ritual of prayer so focused my will I persevered despite the odds and obstacles and made it happen.
Rituals Don’t Have to Be Supernatural
The key element in what I learned early in 2017 was this: The rituals I participated in as a Christian focused my will and rituals (habits) can still be used to focus my will today.
The regular practice of rituals focuses our will to create a desired outcome.
Like many of you, I have been paying some attention to the news the last several years about Scientology. I guess my interest began when Tom Cruise fired his long-time publicist and then went on Oprah to denounce psychology and jump on her couch.
Any rational person I know who has looked into Scientology even a bit thinks it is foolish. A belief that ancient volcanic activity produced a race of invisible beings who inhabit our physical body and must be properly exercised in order for us to live a billion years.
For a long time it puzzled me how people who have succeeded in many areas of their lives at a high level could believe such foolish things. They were intelligent people. Successful. They must have some grasp on reality or they couldn’t have gotten where they are in life.
Now I wonder: Is Scientology important to these people not because they believed all of the talk of Thetans and the power of the e-meter, or is it important to them because the rituals focus their will, their intent, whether they believe it or not?
Growing up in the US where the vast majority of people identify as Christian, I see this all the time. The majority of Christians here pick and choose the rituals they find meaningful, helpful to them. Some don’t even believe in a god of any kind, but choose to follow the moral principles of the Bible. Others view the Bible literally and take all of the rites and requirements there as sacred obligations and joy.
Formal religion is a product and we choose what works for us.
The Mind and the Placebo Effect
For the last few decades, medical doctors have know placebos can be just as effective for some “self-observed” physical ailments. Prescribing a placebo for pain, for example, can lessen the perceived pain for the patient without actually doing anything for them physically.
The reason most researched believed this effect happened was because the patient “believed” the treatment would work.
Dr. Ted J. Kaptchuk has been studying the placebo effect for decades at Harvard. In recent studies he began to ask: “Would the placebo effect still occur if the patient KNEW they were receiving a placebo?”
Surprisingly, the answer is yes.
Your mind and its workings are complex. We do know, however, that adopting rituals – even without a belief in anything supernatural – can have a powerful effect. Rituals can focus and then refocus our mind, our will, and create the reality we choose.
Reality is Created in Our Minds
None of us really can know objective reality. Let that sink in for a minute. Everything we experience is experienced by our minds. You could be the only “mind” in existence and be living in a Matrix-like simulation. You would have no way to know. Reality is whatever your mind believes it to be.
If you believe your parents loved and valued you, that is your reality and you will behave accordingly. If you believe they did not, you will also behave accordingly. The objective reality of whether or not they actually loved you means nothing, only your belief and reality.
Scott Adams, of Dilbert comic fame, has written a book about how we can program our brain to change our reality. In fact, his theory is someone is programming your brain right now – and it’s up to you to determine whether that will be you doing the programming or someone else.
How to Change Your Reality
Dr. David Burns is a pioneer in the psychological discipline of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is rooted in the belief that our emotions are first rooted in our thoughts. If we change the thoughts, the emotions change as well. His book Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy teaches individuals to do CBT on their own.
If someone is experiencing an emotion that is troubling to them, they can go through a process to evaluate and refine their thoughts. First, they identify the emotions they are feeling. Next, they identify the thoughts behind those feelings. Finally, they identify the actual truth of the situation.
Amazingly, identifying the irrational thoughts and countering them with truthful thoughts is surprisingly effective. If you are suffering from depression, anxiety or just about any negative thought pattern, I would suggest you give it a try.
But CBT can be effective not only in dealing with negative emotions, it can also be used to create positive emotions you need to change your reality.
The Chalice of Abundance
When I visualize Abundance’ role in my life, I picture my life as a chalice. The chalice is always full of The Wine of Abundance. Always, to the brim. Abundance fills everyone’s chalice completely, every day, all the time.
But here’s the thing: Everyone’s chalice is a different size. Someone with a small chalice has little room to be filled with Abundance. Someone with a large chalice, has more room to contain The Wine of Abundance.
The size of anyone’s chalice is based on their own beliefs and desires. Their will. My goal each day is to increase the size, the volume, of my chalice so I can hold more.
How to Increase the Size of Your Chalice
Several activities will increase the size of your chalice. Here are some I have identified work for me, your mileage may vary. You also may find new ones not mentioned here, feel free to let me know about these in the comments.
Remove Limiting Thoughts
When I finally gave up Christianity I had a limiting belief. Even though I “knew” objectively I had accomplished in my life the things I had accomplished, I somehow believed I could only accomplish challenging things because of my faith in God.
The objective truth wasn’t truth for me. I believed something else, even in the face of that truth.
How do you remove limiting thoughts? You counter them with truth. CBT. In my case I have a ritual I practice every morning where I go through a series of index cards, reading them aloud but often under my breath, to remind me of truths I need to counter my own limiting thoughts.
Focus Your Will
Several years ago I started this blog with the intent of learning how to write fiction. I was making my living as a nonfiction writer, doing well at it, but I wanted to create fiction. Initially, my writing was poor. “Sucking is the first step to succeeding” I’ve heard.
My fiction was written in “fits and starts.” I might write a chapter, or a story, then write nothing for months. My “skills” saw little improvement for years.
Two things changed that, and they both had to do with focusing my will.
First, I connected with my friend Meg and we decided to write something together. A silly story, one chapter at a time, alternating weekly and posted to our respective blogs. Over three months I learned much more about how to write dialog, picture a scene, tell a story in a longer form. It wasn’t great. It was possibly mediocre, but it was better.
The focus produced by the partnership meant I was “obligated” to get better.
The second was NaNoWriMo last November. It “forced” me to write every day and do so with a deadline. I now have an almost complete draft of 76,000 words. It is far better than any fiction I had written previously.
Focusing my will, even by these self-imposed obligations, increased the size of my chalice.
There are other ways you can focus your will on a daily basis. I’ll cover those in my next installment.
This is the first in a series I will be writing to record my thoughts and experiences searching for greater levels of Abundance in my own life. You may find these helpful to you as well.
Before I dive in, let me make one thing clear: This is not based on something supernatural. It is not “The Law of Attraction.” It is not based on vibrations or various gods and goddesses intervening. It is actually based on some solid science about how our brains function.
For a long time I was a Christian (you’ll hear more about that later) and believed in two worlds, natural and supernatural. I became an atheist and no longer believe anything exists outside the “natural” world. Physics always trumps faith.
Having said this, recognize the Principles of Abundance I will begin to flesh out here and in future posts will be applicable to people with or without faith or religion. In fact, if you are a person of faith they may be a bit easier to apply than a person without faith.
What is Abundance?
Paul J. Meyer was a pioneer in what was to become the personal development industry. In 1960, Meyer started a business named “Success Motivation International” or SMI designed to teach business people how to find greater levels of happiness and fulfillment in their lives through goal setting and time management.
One of the key elements of his technique was to separate our lives into six parts and evaluate where we are in each. I first started reading his materials in college and quickly adopted those six areas in my own personal evaluations. Here are the six areas:
For a number of years after college I asked myself on a regular basis “what does ‘success’ look like in each of these areas?” Finally, about 10 years ago, I surveyed just over 10,000 people and got their responses to that question. Here are the results:
- Spiritual – Living in tune with deeply held values and beliefs.
- Mental – Having a mind that is sharp, peaceful and optimistic.
- Physical – Having a body that is fit, healthy, strong and attractive.
- Familial – Having a family that is happy and healthy.
- Social – Having a wealth of personal relationships where you are giving and receiving love, help and encouragement.
- Financial – Having more than enough for today and the future.
You don’t have to adopt these particular definitions, find ones that work for you. The point is, however, to understand what Abundance would look like in your life. For me and thousands of others, these definitions work pretty well. Your mileage may vary.
Beginning to Understand Principles of Abundance
When I was 12, at a church retreat, I became a Christian. At 16 I began practicing a daily ritual many Christians engage in called a “daily quiet time.” It was a time set aside each day for prayer, scripture reading and meditation.
As I grew in my faith, I added other rituals like fasting, scripture memorization.
At 17 I enrolled in a Christian college where I determined to spend my life helping other people find happiness in their lives. Particularly, at least for the next several years, I planned to do that through teaching and counseling Christian principles. I moved to rural Appalachia to help some of the most physically and spiritually impoverished people in the US.
I had big goals. I wanted to transform people’s lives by providing inspiration, well-paid employment and individual counseling. I began leading worship and helped start or restart several churches throughout eastern Kentucky.
By this time my prayers and other rituals were more about me seeking the will of God. Once I was convinced I was in God’s will in a certain area – like planting a church or growing a business to provide employment – I had incredible boldness and confidence. I truly believed if I did what God was calling me to do, I would succeed no matter how big the goal or how oppressive the obstacles may be.
My supernatural belief in the power of God gave me force of will to succeed. It worked, I was able to do many things I would never have dared attempt without God’s help.
Through a long series of events over a number of years, I decided to give up my faith in the supernatural. It was painful, discouraging and created a number of personal crises.
It was a necessary step to take me to where I am today, but it left me with an ongoing lack of confidence. In my mind I understood anything I had accomplished was done by force of my own will, not the will of any god or supernatural force, but mustering up confidence without belief was difficult. Knowing something in my head didn’t necessarily mean it was in my “heart.”
Regaining Confidence to Pursue Abundance
For several years I tried to rediscover the confidence I had once known. Confidence allowing me to build a successful business, raise happy and healthy sons, care for my ill wife. It worked to some extent, but still I struggled. I found it hard to embrace and believe in the grandiose ideas and goals I had once trusted God to materialize.
Over the next few years I was able to regain some confidence, but life seemed to have less purpose. My sons grew up, moved out and started families of their own. My wife and I parted ways. All of my life I had done things for God, my family and others, and now all I had was me, and on some level I wasn’t very motivated to pursue lofty goals for just myself.
Lack of motivation led to some problems. My business began to fail. I had to lay off workers. Money, which used to be abundant, was becoming scarce. I fell victim to my own unfulfilled desires and overindulged in many things, often on a daily basis.
By mid-2016 I knew I had to make some changes. I needed to get routine, significant income. I needed to find my own center. I needed to figure out what was holding me back from the mental joy and peace I desired.
By January 2017, I began to understand I needed to cohesive philosophy to pull together the various pieces of my life. I began reading various views, many of them ancient, about how to live life to produce happiness and abundance.
By May, I had found a puzzle piece that completely changed my life and my journey. More on that in the next installment.
This needed four more words. Hope you enjoy. -Kevin
“I LOVE your apartment, Jack!” Sarah’s voice was faux-effervescent in the annoying way a woman tries to be “bubbly” at the beginning of a relationship.
“It’ll do” replied Jack’s monotone. “Let me open a bottle of wine and let it breathe. Red or white?”
“Oh, thank you! White please, red makes me blush.”
While Jack busied himself in the kitchen, Sarah surveyed his living room. Neat, orderly, clean. Cleaner than her’s ever. Nice leather furniture, industrial accessories complete with the bare brick wall. Giant television. Expensive looking stereo.
The brick wall anchored shelves displaying an eclectic assortment of oddities, lit by track lighting. Their prominence made Sarah think they must be important to him. She walked over to the display and eyed an antique locket.
“This is a beautiful locket” she spoke over her shoulder to the kitchen.
“Thank you, just one of the things I’ve collected along the way.” Jack was always polite and gracious. “Pick it up if you want, it won’t break, it’s endured worse.”
Sarah’s eyes took inventory of some of the other items. A pair of concert tickets in a small frame, a swatch of cloth in another, a mag strip Hilton hotel key in a third.
Jack joined her at her side, placing his arm around her waist, fingers caressing the curve of her hip.
“Why all the wine bottles?” she asked, counting 11 empties on the shelf.
“Wine represents the joy of life. When I share wine with a friend, I sometimes like to keep the bottle to remind me of the joy of that moment.”
Sarah turned into him, their faces just a few inches apart. “A ‘friend’, huh?”
“Yeah, a friend.” Jack pulled her tight against him, kissing her deeply. His hands explored her back as she felt him harden against her thigh.
They had been dating four weeks. Six dates. He had been to her’s twice, but he had been slow to invite her to his. He had been slow about everything. They would talk late into the night with sexually charged conversations, and they had made out almost to the point of no return several times, but he had refused to take the plunge.
She was sure tonight they would, and she ached for it. He was smart, sexy, funny and surprisingly compassionate. He wasn’t like the other men.
He broke off the embrace. “Let me go pour our wine. You sit on the couch.”
Sarah obliged. She always did as told. Jack returned with two glasses and handed one to her.
“How did you become a crime writer?” she asked, hoping the conversation would be short and they would move to the bedroom. They had talked enough.
“I just find it fascinating, the psychology of criminals. Especially the most deviant ones. Murderers, especially serial killers, have fascinating psychology.”
“That sounds creepy.” Sarah gave a little shiver.
“I guess the fascinating thing for me was discovering they’re not much different than a so-called ‘normal’ person. We all have the capacity to kill for many reasons – financial gain, sex, ego or even just the thrill. The difference in serial killers is they don’t have an ‘off’ switch. We all have the same desires, but serials don’t have the limits other people have.”
“I guess that is fascinating” Sarah lied. “I don’t think I could kill anyone.”
“The crime shows always get it wrong. They picture these people as monsters. We’re all monsters, just some have the ability to suppress it. Some don’t…” Jack’s words trailed off as he took another sip of wine.
“For example: Trophies. They think serials keep trophies so they can go back and, what, masturbate on them? That’s not why serial killers keep trophies.”
“OK, that’s just gross.”
“But, see,” Jack continued, “that’s exactly what I am talking about. The media portrays these people as sex-crazed monsters, but that’s rarely the truth. When you really study them you begin to understand that isn’t an accurate picture.”
“So tell me, newspaper boy, why does a serial killer keep trophies?”
“For the same reason you have that picture of your grandmother on your end table. It makes you smile to remember her, it brings back memories of the time you spent together. It gives you a moment of joy. A smile.”
“But enough about that stuff,” Jack said, standing. “I have plans for you tonight.”
Sarah smiled a coy smile. Jack took her hand, pulled her to her feet and led her to the bedroom. Finally Jack would get the release he had been anticipating for weeks.
An hour later, Sarah emerged, fully satisfied, freshly showered and dressed. She didn’t enjoy the “after”-cleaning up the blood, wiping down the prints. She grabbed the bottle from the counter, pouring it into the sink. Corking it, she placed the bottle in her ample purse.
“Crime writers always get it wrong,” thought Sarah, as she locked the door behind her.
Sex is an itch you can scratch.
Love is an itch in that part of your back you can’t reach and you need someone to scratch it for you.
For two years now She had been His joy.
He was working through a difficult time. Walking through mud. Business was picking up, His long hours were beginning to bear fruit, emotionally He was tired.
They were seeing each other less to give Him time to right His ship. She had come to His last weekend and it was delightful. Monday at 6am they waved goodbye and He was back to work.
When He knew they would be apart He would take down His pictures of Her. The wallpaper on His phone and computers changed from Her smile to something that didn’t immediately remind Him of Her. Pictures that didn’t create the longing to feel Her pressed against Him, tightly encircled by His arms.
Today he put them back up again, maybe only for a day. He needed the energy, the peace, the touchless embrace of Her smile.
And for the first time this weekend, He felt joy.
I try to understand the words you’re not saying,
the soul buried deep beneath the veneer of smiles and laughter,
avoiding my gaze that sees you in spite of yourself.
Hiding is an art for you, a skill from a lifetime of practice.
You only reveal to others what you want them to see.
The confident, the wise, the controlled.
Somehow I read the tea leaves. Seeing glimpses of real.
The distance of text messages and phone calls made it easier.
No eyes on you.
Gradually you let me in. Testing the waters. Scared yet hoping.
Someone who might see you, love you as you are.
Yet waiting for the second shoe to drop.
You surrendered your body, but it was just a body.
You had surrendered it once before without being seen.
An anonymous placeholder.
We navigated together the revelations.
The hurt. The misunderstandings.
Mishearing words never spoken.
“You only pursue me because I run” you said.
Not realizing the truth:
I pursue you because I see you.