Category Archives: The Way of Peace

Positive sense of mental well-being related to better brain health

By Alzheimer’s Prevention Bulletin

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The power of presence

(Originally posted 08/15/13 at Trojan Horse Productions.  Reblogged 05/21/14.)

[Note, 08/15/13: Releasing this now as I will have another post on similar topics in the very near future.]

Wednesday afternoon 07/03/13 I stepped into the shower and said, “OK, what will I think about?” The answer came, “Think about nothing. Give yourself completely to this activity, this experience.”

And at once, for the first time in weeks, I felt the boost that comes from conserving one’s energies, when they are no longer being drained by attention to things distant from here and now and what I myself can do.

This is the power of presence.

[Notes to follow up on in the future:
– Scott Morrison
– Brother Lawrence: silence; feelings
– Forgive us our trespasses
– Take no thought
– The needle’s eye
– Just for today
– Serenity prayer
———
– Be here now
– Wherever you go, there you are
Conspiracy Theorists: America’s Lost Sheep?
Was There a Jesus? If So, What Was He Like?]

Strategies

Strategies pertain to long-range goals, or a basic posture one means to maintain over a long period of time.  Tactics are plans of what to do from moment to moment.  In this chapter and the next I set forth the strategies and tactics known to me, that I personally use.

Other may know others; others may know better. In my work in therapy, I have been astonished how much is known to psychologists that is not common knowledge — probably because the media would rather keep people at each others’ throats than help them improve their own lives. (Compare, for example, at this writing, the recent spasms of abuse by Senators Feinstein and Grassley in the Brett Kavanaugh matter.)

Seek peace

“Seek and you will find.”

There’s no end of irony in that I write this now not based on what I have accomplished, but based on what I have yet to accomplish.  I myself do not yet do these things.

Seek peace, and you will find it — or create it.  Seek turmoil, and you will find it — or create it.  The Way of Peace entails seeking peace.

One may face dozens of decisions each day, between a path that will maintain or enhance one’s peace of mind, and a path that would destroy it.  It can be as simple as choosing a self-affirming, self-loving act over a self-destructive one.  It can be a choice of attitude towards a project or a relationship that may occupy one’s attention for hours or days.

In “the rooms” of the Twelve Step movement, we speak of changing “people, places and things.”  People, places and things that were associated with one’s former life of addiction, may need to be sacrificed in order to maintain one’s recovery — one’s newfound peace of mind.  Don’t go back to the corners you used to hang on, let alone the bars you used to hang in.  Give up activities that used to accompany your drinking or drugging; find new ones.  Old friends who used to egg you into self-destructive activities, aren’t likely to be friends to your chosen, new and better course in life.

A change of spouse may be necessary.  This is not at all unusual in the recovery movement.  The tantrums and turmoil one used to create, while in one’s active addiction, may have left the spouse so emotionally (and/or physically and/or financially) scarred, she or he cannot cooperate with the new self one seeks to be.  Given something like PTSD, the spouse may be unwilling or unable to forgive, but instead keep reminding the recovering person of her or his past offenses and behavior patterns.  To maintain peace of mind, one may need to get away.  Permanently.

There are influences and thought systems to which I will not voluntarily expose myself; for the sake of maintaining peace of mind:

  • Noir film or literature:  Scenes of torture, betrayal, and evil schemes I would never have thought of on my own, are not consistent with the way I want to think about people.
  • WERQ:  The only radio station one heard anywhere in Barclay, it was everywhere, spewing forth material produced by and for gangsta wannabes.
  • Ta-Nehisi Coates:  Currently the darling of the American intelligentsia, he seems to champion exactly that values system most prone to keep the black man bankrupt and in jail.  That’s not what I want for the black man.
  • Critical theory, including critical race theory and critical gender theory:  As I am more oriented towards feelings than ideas, these systems seem to me to be all about deconstructing others’ hopes.  I want to create hope, not deconstruct it.

Choose happiness

Many times, one can simply choose to be happy — just wish it, and one will be there.

More often, one faces choices among different courses of action or ways to look at things — some of which are more likely than others to let one feel happy, or to bring happy results.  It is wise to choose the course of action, or the point of view, most likely to leave you feeling happy.  Even in very little things, in minor things, it matters.

Circa 1985, Frank Minirth and Paul Meier produced the landmark Happiness is a Choice.

It is chock full of strategies and tactics, and even exercises, to help one learn to consistently choose happiness.  I never read it myself, because it’s written from a perspective of Biblical inerrancy, which was sure to offend me again and again.  But it is revolutionary.

Look on the bright side

Look at opportunities, not obstacles.

Stumbling blocks can become stepping stones.

Almost every cloud has a silver lining somewhere.

The novel Pollyanna told the story of a relentlessly optimistic girl.  Years ago, I was fearful of becoming “pollyanna” — relentlessly optimistic — because I supposed it involved denying that the cloud exists, denying that bad things ever happen.  In fact, it involves instead a radical acceptance that bad things do happen, and a choice to move through, rather than dwell in, the grief and get on with life.

If you’re going through hell, keep going.
— Winston Churchill

Opportunities for grief are and always will be available.  There will always be a reason to feel sad or angry.  The question is how often, how much and how long one will choose to feel that way.

Related: Life in the outer darkness

Look on the bright side.

Rodgers and Hammerstein are about the last place I’d look for wisdom.  The song, “My Favorite Things,” from The Sound of Music, is very wise:

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things
* * *
When the dog bites, when the bee stings
When I’m feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don’t feel so bad

It works.  And in almost any situation, replacing bad feelings with good ones is a good thin in itself.  It’s worth it.  It leaves one in a better position to deal with the grief one can’t help but feel, and to move on, making positive decisions for oneself and one’s neighbors.

Related: I will not be disappointed.

Sublimate

In Silentium Altum, Amrose Worrall states:

Thought control starts with selective thinking.  If there is a thought that should be avoided, do not entertain it.  Some have tried to destroy thoughts by fighting them.  This is not a success­ful method.  The way to overcome unwanted thought is to think its opposite.  In this way hope replaces despair, confidence re­places fear, success takes the place of failure and faith takes the place of doubt.

What is an opposite thought?

Worrall was an engineer by trade, and so oriented more towards thoughts and ideas than I am.  I am more oriented towards emotions and feelings.  Note that the changes speaks of — hope replaces despair, confidence replaces fear, faith replaces doubt — are actually changes of feelings, not thoughts.

Sublimation is the change of one feeling into another, and we each have the right and ability to change one’s own feelings any way one likes.  Here is an example of what I actually call “incineration;” from the post, “Some prayer exercises:”

In silence, the normal way to deal with a negative thought or feeling is to just let it leave your experience, like a stray piece of paper on the sidewalk that is blown away from you by the wind.

From time to time, however, some mass of bad feelings may come that seems like it just won’t go away, no matter what you do.  A visualization like this one can be useful in such a situation.

Visualize a pile of firewood.  As a child colors in the spaces in a coloring book, fill up this firewood with all the bad feelings.  Pour the bad feelings into it.  Add more firewood to the pile until you have enough.  Let the images become as vivid as you can make them.  Feel the weight of new logs in your arms as you carry them toward the pile.  Pick up some of the pieces, feel how hard they are, how heavy they are.  Tap one piece against another, and hear the thunk, thunk as you do so.

Then set the thing on fire.

Watch it burn.  All the bad feelings that you poured into it are now there, rather than in you; and the fire is changing all that material into light, warmth, and heat — which you can choose to be positive feelings, optimism, comfort, love and joy.

Watch it until the firewood is all consumed.  Then the bad feelings will be gone.

One can use whatever before-and-after images one likes, “from” whatever ugly image may symbolize one’s ugly feelings, “to” whatever lovely image may correspond to one’s desires; with the substance involved changing — substantially — as one makes the change.

One who practices Presence becomes able to do all this without having to enter silence and without having to imagine.

Tactics

Take things in stride

From a previous post:

A runner’s “stride” has two factors.  First is the distance between steps — from where the toe of one foot hits the ground on one step, to where the toe of the other foot hits the ground on the next step.  The second factor is the number of steps she or he takes per minute.  Ideally, both factors are constant, so that the runner maintains a steady speed.

Sometimes an obstacle or interruption may come up in the runner’s path, that he or she will step in or on unless some adjustments are made.  Could be a hole in the ground or a pile of doo-doo.  In this case, the runner may shorten or lengthen one step in order to avoid stepping on the thing, and correspondingly lengthen or shorten the next step, so that overall her or his speed doesn’t change.  This is “taking things in stride.”  One can do the same with the obstacles or interruptions of life.

The afternoon of Tuesday, June 12, became a comedy of “What else can possibly go wrong?”

My Medicaid had got cut off because they required proof of income, and the only proofs I thought I had weren’t acceptable.  I dreaded accessing their website because it’s impossible to navigate and never gives me enough information.  I dreaded phoning them, because the person’s voice is always so faint on the other end of the line, I can’t hear the person.  I found out that various centers are available where one can get in-person help.  I found one nearby.  They operate by appointment only.

So, to make that phone call, I went in the big plastic grocery bag where I keep about half my things, to the place where I normally keep my phone (off, to save battery).  It wasn’t there.

I had carelessly left it on top of the table earlier in the day, and a specific passerby took it.

So I had to go replace it, in order to make that phone call.

Online I found a T-Mobile store at Lombard and Light Streets, and in due course I went there.  They had a $75 phone on display, but the clerk told me it wasn’t in stock; that one was for display only.  He said the other store, at Harborplace, had it in stock.

Half a mile distant.  So I went there.  The manager said the $75 phone wasn’t in stock, but she could give me a special deal on a different one for $100.  So I took that.

By the time she finished what she had to do, it had become pretty urgent that I get back to the shelter, if I was to get a bottom bunk (preferred) or any bunk whatsoever — and not get turned away and have to shell out for a hotel room for the night.

Something else suddenly became more urgent, however:  I needed to sit down in the bathroom.

So I finished at the store, asked where was the nearest men’s room, go did the necessary there (very messy), and set my sights on a fast trip to the shelter.

When the strap on my plastic bag broke.

Fortunately, I had an identical bag rolled up in my backpack, and was able to put all my things into that.

And, as it happens, wound up getting a bottom bunk.

Hours later, though physically worn out, I found myself in high spirits — because I had taken things in stride.

Related:  Previous post, same title:  Take things in stride

Keep the thought, change the feeling

One may find one’s mind focused on an idea, person or situation, and one’s feelings toward that focus untoward.  The practical needs of the moment may mean one can’t just “get your mind off it,” but one can possibly choose more desirable feelings.

One possible option sometimes is “flipping.”  If I find I’ve just cursed someone, I can begin thinking and feeling the exact opposite, thinking, “God bless him,” and sending the person love, light and prayers.  Thus usually entails a lot of chagrin for the sin I committed to start with.

Other times, the change — sublimation — may take more time and effort.

Keep the feeling, change the thought

Feelings one may find objectionable — may not necessarily have to be so.  It is hard for me to discuss or name some of the feelings involved, since for most of my life I never voluntarily let myself feel them, and I have only lately become willing to manage these limbs of my soul.

Feeling mean, being mean; being or wanting to be “hard;” “getting your game face on;” being aggressive: these are some of the feelings in question.  To me, determination feels a lot like anger.  But these feelings have their God-given uses, when one faces hard physical exertion or has to overcome obstacles.  One like me, who wants to rise out of poverty, faces a ton of hard work and many obstacles to overcome.  So I’m coming to accept, even welcome such feelings — and when they come, set my mind on situations where they may be useful.  One example is to see myself climbing the ladder, up out from the pit of poverty, to the level ground of the social mainstream.  It’s hard, and it’s OK to feel hard.

A very common situation: untoward sexual lusts.  If one is in a presumptively exclusive relationship, lusts directed towards another need not be denied, repressed or sublimated, but instead merely redirected towards one’s partner.  For single women and men, attraction to an inappropriate person can be redirected towards one or more appropriate persons — even if the object of one’s fantasy can only be purely imaginary.

Soul farts

It took me years to accept that these do, in fact, occur, and that they are what they are.

Unpleasant feelings may come out of nowhere, not in response to any event, and hang on for minutes or hours, unable to be sublimated.

Just as the physical body produces various wastes, including gaseous farts; it stands to reason that the soul also produces spiritual (emotional) wastes, including farts of its own.

One handles a soul fart the same as a bodily fart: just let it go, though the “smell” may inescapably abide for a while.

In the midst of a soul fart, it’s essential to know that this has no rational basis and is not in response to any event.  One needs to step back from one’s feelings — put in the clutch, so to speak — and determine not to take anything too seriously, anything anyone says, anything that may happen.  Hold off on any major decisions until after the gas passes, when one will have better judgment.

The Itch

The most troublesome soul fart for me has been what I call “the Itch:” the desire for turmoil, the desire to find (or create) trouble, to be angry, even to possibly hurt others, and so on.  I am coming more and more to accept it as a soul fart, and to stop beating myself up just because it happens.  The chapter “About organized religion” will deal at length with a man who has an especially bad case of it; the possible karmic bases; and what he must do to be free.

 

 

An examination of the Sermon on the Mount

In the beginning, I claimed that all Jesus’ teachings have the goal of enabling a person to attain and maintain a state I said he called “the Kingdom,” which I call peace of mind; and that the principal means thereto is the practice of presence, keeping one’s attention on the here and now and on what one, oneself, can do.

The time has come to test that thesis. Continue reading An examination of the Sermon on the Mount

Two (or more) views of the Kingdom

The term “kingdom of heaven” or “kingdom of God” meant different things to different people in New Testament times.  What it meant to Jesus appears to me to be different from what it meant to the early church, the Gospel writers, and even the Twelve.

On the one hand, I will set forth below what it meant to everyone but Jesus.  On the other hand, if the reader is content to accept what I just said without proof, the reader may be happiest to skip the rest of this chapter, and the next, and instead go straight to “Jesus’ words about ‘the Kingdom‘”.  Some of this stuff gets really technical.

Continue reading Two (or more) views of the Kingdom

Jesus is not coming soon — or ever

“The end of all things is at hand.”
— 1 Peter 4:7

The first time I was told, “Jesus is coming soon,” I was twelve years old, in seventh grade.  My friends and I had no reason to doubt it.  We thought, “He might come tonight.  Or tomorrow.  But it could be tonight.”  We lived in breathless anticipation.

For me, it all began to unravel seven years later, albeit it hasn’t finished unraveling yet.

Continue reading Jesus is not coming soon — or ever

Jesus’ words about “the Kingdom”

When I first conceived The Way of Peace, I set myself the task of accounting for every time Jesus used the word “Kingdom” in the Synoptics, the end being to demonstrate that what I call “peace of mind” is what Jesus called “the Kingdom.”  This task will remain unfinished.  I decided that only 41 of those sayings were authentic.  Some will be examined more than once, from different angles; others won’t be examined at all, either because I don’t understand them myself or because they’re hard to relate to The Way of Peace.

Here and now

The first difference between what Jesus taught about the Kingdom and what everyone else believed (as set forth in the previous chapters):  Jesus portrayed the Kingdom as not coming, but present.  It’s as if he was telling people, “The kingdom you seek is already present, here and now.”  Emphasis is added in these quotations:

Matthew 5.3: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5.10: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 13.31: He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field;”

Matthew 13.33: He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

Matthew 13.44: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, … “

And in direct contrast to the Synoptic Apocalypse’s forecast of “signs” of the Kingdom’s coming (Matthew 24:29, Mark 13:24-25, Luke 21:25-26), we have Luke 17:20-21:

20Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; 21nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.”

There is a question of whether “among you” should properly be translated “within you.”

Bookmarks

No one’s going to read this all at one sitting.  A click on any of the links below will take you to that part of the text.  Then ALT+LEFT will bring you back here.

Proximity — Matthew 4:17, Mark 1:15
Focality: The treasure and the pearl — Matthew 13:44-46
Growth
The mustard seed — Matthew 13:31, Mark 4:30, Luke 13:18
The yeast — Matthew 13:33, Luke 13:20
Children
Greatness — Matthew 18:3-4
To whom the Kingdom belongs — Matthew 19:14, Mark 10:14-15, Luke 18:16-17
The rich man — Matthew 19:23-24, Mark 10:23-25, Luke 18:24-25
Other
Matthew 5:20
Matthew 23:13
Mark 12:34
Luke 6:20
Luke 9:62

Proximity

Jesus speaks to this at Matthew 4:17 and Mark 1:15.  Here I prefer the King James Version; Matthew 4:17:

17From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

The Kingdom is present, not future; and it is available to you.

Focality: The treasure and the pearl

Matthew 13:

44“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

45“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

An oxymoron: grace is free to anyone who’ll pay the price.

Many people, including almost all the homeless men I know, believe in what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.”  An easy gateway to that mistaken belief is Romans 6:23:

23For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Those are Paul’s words, not Jesus’.  The Jesus of the Synoptics was nowhere much concerned with sin; nowhere taught that “belief in” him mattered; nowhere taught that he would die for others’ sins.  Those concerns are all Paul’s, not Jesus’.

In contrast, Bonhoeffer’s treatise, The Cost of Discipleship, is based on Luke 14:25-33, which concludes that, in the end, the cost of discipleship is everything one has.

My testimony: it’s worth it.

I experience what I call peace of mind as far and away the most desirable thing — state or condition — in the cosmos.  It is well worth giving up all one’s possessions.  But “possessions” aren’t confined to material things.  Spiritual “possessions” one may have to give up include these:

– self-aggrandizement(*)
– regrets(**)
– victim mentality
– contempt — for anyone
– ideologies
– self-loathing
– guilt
– scars
– pain
– ethnocentrism
– resentments(**)
– righteous indignation
– malice
– powerlessness
– fear

(*)See “Greatness,” below.
(**)
The sacrifice of resentments and regrets is what Steps 4 through 9 of The Twelve Steps are all about.

Again, it’s worth it.

Growth

The mustard seed. This parable occurs at Matthew 13:31-32, Mark 4:30-32, and Luke 13:18-19.  From Matthew:

31 He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’

Every commentary I know of says the tree here is a symbol of empire, based on its similarity to Daniel 4 and Ezekiel 31; and provides no elaboration.  I don’t buy it.

The commentators may think Jesus spoke of the worldwide messianic Jewish empire that the Pharisees expected.  In that case, the “birds of the air” who “make nests” are the client states, puppet regimes or satellite nations over which the empire had established domination.  The empire calls itself their benefactor and protector, but in fact they are its servants, and pay tribute.  It’s all a great protection racket.

Tribute.  Supposedly: Presents you give your neighbor because she or he is so nice.  Actually: Shakedown money you give a bully and hope he or she don’t kick your ass.

I see no reason why Jesus would ever intend any such thing.

It seems to me more likely that Jesus spoke of the “empire” each person can become unto oneself.  With peace of mind (the mustard seed) as one’s foundation, one can build upon that foundation, structures within one’s being — feelings, thoughts and actions — to support the “birds of the air” that are one’s goals, one’s dreams, one’s projects, one’s relationships, one’s love for God and family and neighbor.

The yeast.  This parable occurs at Matthew 13:33 and Luke 13:20-21.  From Matthew:

He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

This may be my favorite parable.

Note that three measures is roughly eight gallons, or a cubic foot.  Now, I don’t know what “leavened” (ἐζυμώθη) means.  If it means “doughy,” then one has a big honkin’ mass of bread dough.  If it means “yeast,” then one has a big honkin’ mass of stuff putting out a funk no woman would ever tolerate in her home.

The yeast in use in Jesus’ day was not like the yeast we use today.  Wild yeasts are already present in all wheat flour, and if the flour becomes moist, the yeasts begin to grow.  The yeasts we use today have gone through many generations of “cultivation” and “refinement” and are fully assimilated to the ways of polite society.  The wild ones, in contrast, are like boorish backwoodsmen who come to the table with dirty fingernails and unwashed hair.  They stink.

Jesus tells us how the cosmos operates: not what should be, but what is; not what should happen, but what does happen.

An upside and a downside, whichever way you choose.

So in Jesus’ day, yeast was actually associated with spoilage, rottenness and decay.  So Jews diligently clean it all from their homes in the weeks before Passover.  When Jesus told the Twelve to beware the yeast of the Pharisees (Matthew 16:6, Mark 8:15, Luke 12:1), he was saying beware of their nonsense, their garbage, their poop.

Acting in ways consistent with lower serum serotonin, lowers one’s serum serotonin, and makes one more prone to continue to act in those same ways — lowering one’s serotonin further, and taking one farther away from peace of mind and from prosperity and from the life of joy that Jesus taught.

So it is not necessarily a parable of growth; it can also be one of decay.  You can choose for yourself which one it is for you.

A lump of yeast hidden in a mass of flour: when nthe flour gets moist, the yeast will send out enzymes from its surface into the flour, that break down the starches into materials the yeast can consume.  It consumes them, and grows.  Now more yeast, a larger lump, from its larger surface area continues to send out those enzymes, and the yeast continues to grow — exponentially.

The Kingdom within any person, which I call peace of mind, acts on one’s body, soul and mind to make it more and more like itself, potentially eventually becoming the whole.  In particular, peace of mind induces one to act in ways consistent with higher serum serotonin — the results of which are prone to have the effect of raising one’s serotonin, making one prone to continue to act those ways — drawing one ever closer to greater peace of mind, greater prosperity and joy.  See “Serotonin and the individual.”

Children

Greatness

Matthew 18:3-4:

“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

Here comes a situation that is very hard for most Americans today to understand.

Greatness was a big, big deal among Bible people.  The most basic measure of greatness was a man’s (sic) height — literally, how tall he (sic) was.  After all, you just have to look up to anyone who’s taller than yourself, and look down on anyone who’s shorter.  This played a role in the selection of Saul as Israel’s first king (1 Samuel 10:23-24).

Other indicators of greatness included age, wealth (Job 1:3), physical strength, number of offspring, and good looks (1 Samuel 9:2; 1 Samuel 16:12).  These various facets made endless disputes possible, as in our present text and its parallels (Matthew 18:1-4, Mark 9:33-37, Luke 9:46-48).

Women were less.  They literally didn’t count — they weren’t counted.  See Matthew 14:21 and 15:38, and note that Matthew is the exception here: in the corresponding stories in Mark and Luke, the women aren’t even mentioned at all.

Children, being youngest and shortest, were least.

The great were presumed to be right to bully the small.

Social dominance orientation consumed more of Jesus’ energy than any other one issue.  Self-aggrandizement cannot co-exist with peace of mind.

To whom the Kingdom belongs

This saying occurs at Matthew 19:14, Mark 10:14-15, and Luke 18:16-17.

Luke 18:

15People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it. 16But Jesus called for them and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 17Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

The Twelve regarded children — the least — as unworthy of Jesus’ attention.

Much has been written about this passage.  What features of child-likeness make one fit for the Kingdom?  It may be that children are pure of heart.  See:  Heart and soul.

The rich man

Matthew 19:

23Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven.  24Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

These words also occur at Mark 10:23-25 and Luke 18:24-25.  They won’t be understood apart from the whole story.  From Matthew 19:

16Then someone came to him and said, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”

17And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”

18He said to him, “Which ones?”

And Jesus said, “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; 19Honor your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

20The young man said to him, “I have kept all these; what do I still lack?”

21Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

23Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

25When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, “Then who can be saved?” 26But Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”

My take:  the problem isn’t having wealth, nor desiring wealth, but making one’s happiness dependent on it.  Peace of mind entails choosing to be happy no matter what one’s circumstances.

The Needle’s Eye is thought to be a particular gate in Jerusalem that was very narrow, so that a camel might have difficulty getting through — especially if fully packed.  To enter the Kingdom, one may need to unpack the camel.  As to sacrificing one’s possessions, see “The treasure and the pearl,” above.

Other

Luke 9:62

Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

See the context, Luke 9:57-62.  Each of these men makes excuses as to why he cannot follow Jesus.  The Kingdom pertains to undivided intention, or purity of heart.  The verb most often translated “doubt” actually means “to waver,” or to be of two or more minds.  The problem with looking back while plowing — being concerned with the past rather than the present — is that one will plow a crooked row.

Matthew 23:13

“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them.”

I have no eagerness to find fault with anyone’s religion, but we know Jesus had conflicts with some of the Pharisees, and we may as well consider why.

The Pharisees’ spiritual heirs are the Orthodox Jews of today.  I know no small number of such people whose lives revolve around the Great Commandment; for whom no thing is more important than love for God and for one’s neighbor.  Such were many Pharisees also, such as the “teacher of the Law” mentioned in the next passage below.

There were and are others, however, whose lives are constant anxiety over picayune ritual observances.  The Pharisees taught there are 613 mitzvot, or commandments, in Torah that are binding on every Jew.  They did not arrive at that number by counting; no one knows for certain what they all are.  The number seems to me to have been picked out of the air by some authoritative person, such as Ezra, perhaps because it stands for some important word.  (Hebrew numbers are also letters.  חי, “chai,” meaning “life,” for example, corresponds to the number 18.)  The elaborations on the mitzvot are spelled out in the Talmud, a monumental text that, at the customary rate of “a page a day,” takes 7½ years to learn.

It is taught that Jewish faithfulness to these mitzvot is all that allows the cosmos to continue to exist.  Were they to neglect them, the fabric of space-time would soon fall apart.

No self-aggrandizing system can lead one to peace of mind.

Mark 12:34

When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.

The context is a series of disputes between Jesus and other learned Jews in the Temple.  Such disputes were practically a pastime for such people.

The story of Mark 12:27-34 is markedly different from its parallels at Matthew 22:34-40 and Luke 10:25-28, which do not mention the Kingdom.

What about this man’s testimony prompted Jesus to say, “You are not far from the kingdom of God?”  I am impressed with the man’s total focus on love — love for God, love for neighbor.  Maybe such love is focal for peace of mind.

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The authentic Jesus “Kingdom” sayings

Matthew 4.17: From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Matthew 5.3: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5.10: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 6.10: Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Matthew 6.33: But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Matthew 10.7: As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’

Matthew 13.24: He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field;

Matthew 13.31: He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field;

Matthew 13.33: He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

Matthew 13.44: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

Matthew 13.45: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls;

Matthew 18.3: and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 18.4: Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 19.12: For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.”

Matthew 19.14: but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”

Matthew 19.23: Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 19.24: Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Matthew 23.13: “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them.

Mark 1.15: and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Mark 4.30: He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? [mustard seed]

Mark 10.14: But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.

Mark 10.15: Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

Mark 10.23: Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”

Mark 10.24: And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!

Mark 10.25: It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Mark 12.34: When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.

Luke 4.43: But he said to them, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.”

Luke 6.20: Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

Luke 9.62: Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Luke 11.2: He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come.

Luke 12.31: Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

Luke 12.32: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

Luke 13.18: He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? [mustard seed]

Luke 13.20: And again he said, “To what should I compare the kingdom of God? [yeast]

Luke 18.16: But Jesus called for them and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.

Luke 18.17: Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

Luke 18.24: Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!

Luke 18.25: Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

A first look at meditation

Although I constantly refer to “silence” and “presence,” I have put off posting any how-to here about meditation, since there are innumerable resources out there and I don’t want to re-invent the wheel.   I may eventually post a how-to here.

In the meantime, Brian Williard sent me the below link that I can’t ignore.

I’d urge anyone who’s interested in meditation, or in learning how to meditate, to read it.  Actually, I’d encourage anyone who’s not engaged in meditation now, to read it.

Son Meditation in the Midst of Turmoil

Continue reading A first look at meditation