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Monica Pickard spent twenty years of her adult life as a child care provider. During that time, with the help of her husband, she raised her son who has been diagnosed with Autism and Developmental Delay. She learned to navigate a world that was new to her – the world of Special Needs. She now shares these experiences and the wisdom they taught her, with love and heartfelt compassion for the human condition.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Living Our Beliefs: Renewing Our Understanding

            I am starting a series of posts; each one dealing with a different topic on living our beliefs. My purpose for this series is not to change anyone’s beliefs. My plan is to give you my view of ways we can begin to live our beliefs on a daily basis, but to do that I need to discuss religion, spirituality, and science as that is where our beliefs come from. Beliefs guide our lives whether we believe in God or not, and they impact our happiness and our ability to deal with life. I am not advocating being a believer / nonbeliever, any particular religion, or putting your faith in science; I simply want to point out the connection between our various belief systems and how they relate to our psychology. This series is written from the perspective of my beliefs which may challenge some of your beliefs, so you may not always agree with me, but you may be able to see my points from a perspective of your own beliefs. Additionally, you may be wondering how our beliefs relate to this blog about raising a child with special needs. Here’s how: this blog is about my new understanding of my relationship with my child, but this understanding extends to every area of my life and to every relationship I have. I choose to write about my relationship with my son, not because it is the only thing that has changed, but because it is the only thing I can share without invading the privacy of other people. My son’s disabilities are the examples I use in writing, but this blog is about me changing my thinking and to help you change your thinking, when appropriate, to make changes in our lives where we see fit. I hope you will join me on this quest with an open mind and heart.

“The basic principle of spiritual life is that our problems become the very place to discover wisdom and love.” ~ Jack Kornfield, Buddhist Teacher

            Our spiritual beliefs and the principles of science greatly impact our lives in every area; likewise, our thinking plays a critical role in our psychological health. These areas – spiritual beliefs, thinking, and science – are always connected, but many people tend to rely on them separately in different situations. I believe spirituality and religion are intended to help our souls and our mental health. In addition to that, science helps us to understand our universe and the way it works. Forces of energy (science) are intimately connected to our spirituality, our psychology, and the way our lives play out. Ancient people knew this, but somewhere along the way this connection became blurred. We began to see science and religion as separate belief systems. When something big happens, like having a child with special needs, losing someone we rely on, having marital problems, or [insert your problem here], some people turn to their religion for comfort and guidance. Most people do not turn to science, understandably, except in the form of getting on medication for anxiety or depression, but that is not what I am referring to here. If there is no particular belief system in our lives or we find that what we believe no longer works for us, we have no place to turn for guidance or understanding. This can be heart wrenching and can lead to long-term depression.
            Turning to religion can be extremely helpful when the person turning to religion understands what it is meant for; when they see the wisdom in the teachings. Other people begin to question their religion in times of crisis. I believe people do this because they do not understand the basic wisdom that religion is intended to convey. This is what I experienced in my own life. My child was diagnosed with disabilities and I turned to religion only to find it hurtful, so I began to question it and eventually turned away from it. I know others who have done the same thing in times of crisis. They ask - where is God, why is He doing this to me, why does He hurt good people? When no clear, believable answer comes from their clergy, family, and friends, or when a hurtful answer comes, they begin to question everything they have learned and turn away from their lifelong beliefs. This happens when our beliefs are filled with the judgments of the ego. Turning away can be a good thing! It was for me. I explain why in my posts, Fear of God, Part One: Confusion, and Fear of God, Part Two: Healing Revelations
            Even when nothing big has happened, in many daily instances we act with our ego, completely ignoring our spiritual beliefs and science because we do not understand the impact they have on our thoughts. The way I think about, feel about, and react to my life now is vastly different from the way I used to. This would not have happened if I had not dropped my old beliefs, along with the judgments they contained, and then begun to learn from other faiths, psychology, and science things that are part of Christianity, but that were not taught to me. I did not believe in God for quite a few years and yet I overcame my depression by changing my thinking while still not believing in God. It is possible to gain a new outlook and perspective without religion. It wasn't until I was much more knowledgeable about other religions, other teachings, and science that I began to see the wisdom in Christianity. What do I mean by wisdom? I am talking about the universal truths about the way the world works, which can heal us and every problem in the world. To get to those truths we must adjust our definitions and our interpretations from our modern world view to the view of our ancient past and we must learn some basic physics. (Don’t worry; physics – the basic principals I am going to discuss – is not as mind boggling as you think!) In religion, we must re-translate some of the things we have learned. For example, growing up, I learned to be God fearing. With my new knowledge, fearing God seems absurd to me. When you learn to fear God, you learn to fear life and it is psychologically damaging.
            When I read about sin and damnation in the Bible I have to constantly remind myself that it was written by people – not gods, people. I had to take these people down from the pedestal that I had placed them on. These people had fear and opinions, just like we do. These people were flawed, just like we are, and these people had different ways of speaking than we do. When I read the Bible, I have to remind myself of the original, 2000-year-old definitions of sin, eternity, the devil, and even God, which I now refer to as the Creative Force of Love. When I do that, I get so much more out of it! It becomes a beautiful book, full of wisdom and truth, help and hope. The warnings they give us about sin and hell are wise if we understand their original meanings. Here is an excerpt from Jack Kornfield’s book, A Path with Heart, to show how our definition of the word demon has changed:

Every spiritual path has a language for the common difficulties we encounter. The Sufis call them Nafs. The Christian Desert Fathers, who practiced nearly 2000 years ago in the deserts of Egypt and Syria, called them demons. One of their masters, Evagrius, left a Latin text of instructions for those who meditate in the wilderness: “Stay watchful of gluttony and desire,” he warned, “and the demons of irritation and fear as well. The noonday demon of laziness and sleep will come after lunch each day, and the demon of pride will sneak up only when you have vanquished the other demons.”

Gluttony, desire, irritation, fear, laziness, and pride are the ways the ego controls and manipulates us, but these early Christians called them demons. Christians recognize some, possibly all, of these things as sins.
            The word repent is a religious word and its meaning has never changed, but how much do we really understand the word? Here are some definitions:
            To feel remorse or regret;
            To feel or express sincere remorse or regret about one’s wrongdoing or sin;
            To view or think of with deep regret or remorse
So, basically, it is feeling bad about something you did or did not do. In religious terms, it suggests we turn away from a life of sin. Very recently, in fact, while I was in the midst of writing this post, author and former pastor Brian McLaren gave me a new way to see the word, repent. What if we looked at it as a change in thinking? You did something with a certain mindset, you feel bad about it; your thoughts have now changed to a different mindset, hence your bad feeling. You now regret having done it because you are thinking differently about it, maybe even questioning why you thought that way in the first place. With your new way of thinking you see why it was wrong and wish to change it. Here are some more definitions, as Mr. McLaren pointed out:
             A sincere turning away, in both the mind and heart, from self to God
            To change one’s mind;
            To think differently
Seeing the word repent this way brings a broader implication to it. We can change our thinking in every area that needs changing before we make a mistake. Turning away from a life of sin might come to mean turning away from our old way of thinking which will prevent future regrets. To repent is not just something to do as an afterthought; it now becomes a way of life. A true and complete change of mind will naturally result in a change in our actions. Isn't that what Jesus wants for us; to change our thoughts from judgment to kinship, from hatred to love, and to see our various groups as one human family? I will talk more about changing our thinking in the next post.
            The warnings of sin and repentance in the Bible are also found in all other religions and spiritual teachings using the language of their own cultures. Cultural definitions matter. If we understood the definitions of each culture we would see that they are all sharing the same wisdom, explained in different ways. Our modern definition of a demon or a devil is vastly different from 2000 years ago. When we understand the words used by Christian writers and what those words meant to them, we see that the definitions we give to those words today are different than were intended when they were written. As the Kornfield excerpt shows, the demons of yesterday are the egos of today. Understanding the ego is what brings a loving transformation to the bible for me now. To understand the wisdom in the bible we must first understand the ego – what it is and the huge role it plays in our thinking – so we will explore that in the next post, along with the role of science. Throughout this series, I will continue to share my new definitions as they arise.
            I hope you are still with me, Friends! Until next time, I wish peace for you all.

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