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Looking Toward The Future – by Carolyn Cooper
What feelings does the word “future” conjure up for you? What do you see in your mind’s eye? Utopia, an abyss, space travel?
A wise person who has guided me on the spiritual path of Cafh once told me that in order to walk with serenity toward the future, I need to accept the teaching I have distilled from past experience and cultivate a passion for spiritual freedom, for myself and everyone. I have found that this helps me maintain a flow of energy and keep it focused on a constructive end.
This guidance sounds simple, but it requires constant alertness. The experience several years ago of tutoring a rambunctious eight-year old brought me up short against my firmly embedded assumption that other people are somehow just minor variants of me. In the course of the tutoring, a series of tussles of will and some breakthroughs gradually wore away this assumption. Little by little I came to see that if I wanted to teach this child, I had to stand beside him, where he was. The distillation of this experience was the realization that an interaction with another person is often more productive if I am as concerned about where she is as I am to bring her around to my way of thinking. However, old constricting habits like that assumption call out to me from behind. “Stay safe and comfortable here with us in the past. Don’t stretch too far or you’ll fall on your face! Why try to help someone who doesn’t seem to want your help?” Sometimes while I’m dreaming of spiritual flights, I trip over an old attitude lying on the ground right in front of me. I didn’t see it in time because my head was in the clouds.
What does spiritual freedom mean, anyway? At a very personal level, I think it implies the capacity to put myself in someone else’s shoes, to extricate myself from old patterns of seeing life in terms of opposites–me versus them, failure versus success, guilt versus complacency–and to be willing to leave the past behind. It also means committing myself to my ideals through appropriate practices and lifestyle, even though there are no guarantees that this will bring specific benefits to me or others.
When Bertrand Russell was a very old man, he wrote that it was important for him to be passionately interested in the future. He poured his energy into work to realize the possibilities he saw for humanity, even though he well understood that he would not see the result of his efforts.
I have to live my life looking toward the future, whether I have many years ahead of me or very few. What possibility do I see for our common future? What do I want to give myself to in the time that I have? I have chosen to work for peace. As soon as I say the word “peace,” myriad ways to promote it rush into my mind. There are political, environmental and social action groups, non-profit organizations, public forums, religious and humanitarian associations, academic programs and think-tanks that are all engaged in this endeavor. I am inspired by others’ insights and efforts and am very willing to support them.
In addition, it is clear to me that I need to work for peace by delving into the resources of my path. To work for peace must mean to nourish it, to cultivate an environment in my inner and outer life that expresses this possibility. It’s important to orient myself to work for peace rather than merely against what I perceive as an obstacle to peace. I have been experimenting.
One friend suggested praying for peace every day at a certain time. I chose noon. Noon often comes around when I am in the middle of an activity. If I am walking from one place to another, I collect my thoughts and remember, for example, how much people who are caught in a war zone are longing for peace. The sense of having to stop in some way, even if only interiorly, marks the importance of the prayer. But one day, feeling that this prayer was lifting me out of my immediate environment, I paused to take in where I actually was. I heard children playing in a nearby schoolyard, and I realized, “Of course, peace means praying for the well-being and happiness of the children right here, not to mention the well-being and happiness of their teachers and families!” It felt good to bring my prayer for peace back into my immediate surroundings.
I want so much that the children in my neighborhood today and the children whom I see on the television or in the newspapers will grow up appreciating other people’s views and cultures, will know how to resolve their conflicts, and take responsibility for creating and sustaining peace in the world. This marvelous possibility that I glimpse demands of me my energy and time right now, because I realize that the future we are all walking toward is mysteriously and wonderfully bound up with the way each one of us perceives and lives this present moment.