I’m always in awe of my flowers blooming from seeds that I planted in the spring. Planting, growing, and blooming happens year round all around us every which way we look, but each time I take a closer look I am impressed by nature. Oddly enough even in the face of such miraculous beauty, I noticed that when I want to take a picture I search for the so-called perfect flower. I notice if the petals are a mess or out-of-order I look for a more perfect flower. It seems so silly and absurd when I think about it now, a more perfect flower? All the flowers are perfect. I stopped myself and really examined my thought process. I then took a whole bunch of pictures of this imperfect perfection found in the flower garden. I was looking at them differently. The beauty in the flower is the flower, not the perfection that we impose upon it. The best picture, in my opinion ended up being the great big sunflower bloom with the petals split at the top. I could have “fixed” the flower, or the picture with editing, but I thought better of it. That day took me back to a Ram Das talk that I love about seeing people like trees. In this case flowers, but the same idea. Here’s one quote from his website talking about it.
I think that part of it is observing oneself more impersonally. I often use this image, which I think I have used already, but let me say it again. That when you go out into the woods and you look at trees, you see all these different trees. And some of them are bent, and some of them are straight, and some of them are evergreens, and some of them are whatever. And you look at the tree and you allow it. You appreciate it. You see why it is the way it is. You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough light, and so it turned that way. And you don’t get all emotional about it. You just allow it. You appreciate the tree.
The minute you get near humans, you lose all that. And you are constantly saying “You’re too this, or I’m too this.” That judging mind comes in. And so I practice turning people into trees. Which means appreciating them just the way they are.
So, in my case I was actually judging flowers at the moment I realized my mistake. I am a product photographer for catalogs and web pages so my eye is trained to look for a lack of balance or symmetry. I am editing a picture in my mind before I take the picture. So I have to catch myself when it comes to photographing nature and people to see the natural beauty that needs no editing or filtering. This thought experiment led me evaluate how I was looking at myself and others in my life.
I tend to get lost in self-improvement and trying to be better so much that I lose sight of the beauty of where I am now and loving this moment. Nothing is wrong with trying to be better, but when we don’t allow for the place we are right now to be acceptable we lose something precious. Just like I looked at the petals that were bent instead of the whole flower, I look at the my own flaws and magnify the imperfections instead of seeing myself as a whole human being perfectly imperfect.
I practice being mindful of how I see others and drop the assumptions and judgement and allow for that person’s beauty to be seen like a tree just growing this way and that. I allow the same for myself and try to remember that I was just a seed, and I am growing like a tree bending towards the light, living, breathing and being part of the miraculous world which is all interconnected and growing and learning how to love.
With greater knowledge and reading my horizons expanded and the world felt huge and unknown to me.
“Mortals are helplessly tied like cattle by the rope of latent and residual desires born of their karmic footprints. The rope can be cut only if we use the God-given knife of intellect that animals do not have. A tiger is controlled by the instinct to kill and is helpless in this regard. Human beings are endowed with intellect and power to reason by which they can slowly cut the rope. We fail to use our power of reasoning and intellect due to ignorance. One’s enemy is none other than the other side of oneself. Sometimes intellect is taken away by the trick of divine illusory energy (Maya) before the dawn of fate-born adversity. One must use intellect, the precious divine gift to human beings, to analyze the situation. There is no other way to get out of the vicious circle of Maya.” –Bhagavad-Gita
I am on a spiritual quest. I have believed and prayed to God my whole life. The way I pray has changed a myriad of times. When I was little I prayed in Catholic school to the old man with a beard guarding the pearly gates of Heaven. I was sure I would never be good enough to enter or win the heaven prize, but I tried. Being good for God was a tricky task with him being the all-knowing Being that he was told to me to be. I prayed in my journals with “Dear God” prayers and I would begin with gratitude and then sort of list out my problems and the things I needed help with in my life. I had issues with my mom and dad and the ever-present dark cloud of money problems lingering around. I wanted God to fix it and I thought if I prayed hard enough I would win like the lottery (odd are about the same as it turned out). But I went to mass at school and on some weekends when my family was able to pull it together enough to roll in and sit and try not to laugh, but laugh anyways and feel guilty for it later.
But as I grew up and learned about the world of religions and the history of ancient philosophy for the Hindu, Buddhist, Tao, Muslim, and Jewish people I lost my way. I was confused as to why all the stories had the same theme the same common stories and lessons to learn; yet the world was at war over religion. I was shocked at the similarities when I read the story of Gilgamesh and compared it to the Noah story.
Unfortunately, the Book of the Dead didn’t reach us in its entirety. From what we know of it, it was made up of several texts, written on papyrus and objects. In the most general terms, The Book of the Dead was a book of spells – both religious and magical. The theme of Death and the Afterlife was one of the most prominent ones in the texts. The Book of the Dead is believed to have influenced The Ten Commandments given to Moses – it reads exactly like them, except in the Negative Registry. For example, The Book of the Dead says, “I have not stolen”, whereas the corresponding Commandment is “Thou shall not steal”. The first text of the Egyptian Book of the Dead can be traced back to as early as 3150 BC.
The Epic of Gilgamesh
The Story of the Great Flood, the Serpent in the Garden of Eden, and many other Biblical stories are believed to be strongly influenced by this Epic Poem from Mesopotamia. The Epic of Gilgamesh is said to be written circa 2100 BC. It tells the story of King Gilgamesh and Enkidu, a man created by the gods to free Gilgamesh’s people from his oppression. The Epic of Gilgamesh predates Homer’s Odyssey and is believed to have heavily influenced the work.
Institution of Amenemope
This particular Egyptian work is believed to have close ties with the Book of Proverbs and was written sometime between 1300-1075 BC – a few centuries after The Book of the Dead. Unfortunately, very little of the work from that period has survived and to date, there aren’t any coherent translations available.
The Rigveda of Hinduism
The Rigveda is a collection of Hindu hymns that is considered to be one of the four Vedas – sacred canonical texts of Hinduism. The Rigveda is believed to have been created between 1500 and 1200 BC, although allegedly it was recorded in oral form only back then. The Rigveda is believed to have been written down for the first time around the early Middle Ages. Nonetheless, it is one of the oldest religious texts written in an Indo-European language. It is also the only text on the list that’s still in use – the hymns are dedicated to various deities and phenomena.
The Zoroastrian Texts
Zoroastrian Texts depict one of the world’s oldest monotheistic religions practiced in Iran around 600BC-650CE. The religion is believed to have influenced many of other world religions, including Christianity. For example, the story of creating the world in seven days is told in Avesta – one of the texts that predate The Bible. Several parallels can also be traced between another text called the Gathas of Zarathushtra Yasna and the Book of Isaiah. Zoroastrianism is also responsible for the angels and demons hierarchy and notions of Heaven and Hell.
With greater knowledge and reading my horizons expanded and the world felt huge and unknown to me. The stories I had learned from the Bible were not original stories, they were most likely influenced or borrowed from other ancient texts and religions. This was very unsettling to me. The quiet little nook of Catholicism was nothing like I thought. There was darkness in the history of religion, exclusion, secrecy, crime and a whole bunch of sin, as I understood it. So, I quit going to church and I began to search for answers. Who am I when it comes to God and is there a God, as I had believed? I took a class called Religions of the World, read the Bhagavad-Gita, and searched for enlightenment with books on Buddhism and spirituality. The answers I found were common, the path, the way, the source, the higher power, God, the Light, and then what seems to be an infinite list of names for God many different ones per each religion.
It gets confusing when you are searching for answers and trying to find an external match for what’s internal. The answer I have so far landed on is just that, God is internal not something I need to go looking for outside of myself. When I quiet my mind and listen, God is found there. When I walk in the woods and observe the natural world all around me, God is there but interconnected with what’s inside of me. I feel like consciousness links us all together in one source of energy that is life and as we live this human experience we transcend a bit higher each times until we achieve the ultimate body-less state of eternity. Could I be wrong? Of course. Could I be right? Of course. No one knows, but what I feel in my heart is that learning to love on earth is the greatest task and the ultimate message. Love one another. It’s so simple, yet we’ve muddied it up so much that people want to back away from religion and God and all the wrong messages that have been associated with it. If we can maybe relearn what our word for God means, be it love, higher power, divine, Om, what have you, then we can begin to love the message again and find prayer and ritual and reverence again. Surrendering to Love only means that we join forces with the energy flow of life and lay down our battle gear as we learn to love.
“My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.”