I was the guest minister at Celebration center on Father’s Day and delivered the message of the day which as entitled “Surprise Yourself.” This article is based upon that sermon and is a special post today in honor of my father’s transition October 14, 2002.
I find it quite fitting with today being father’s day, that my talk for today is about one of the many lessons that I learned from my first “guru” - Charles Anderson.
Along this path of life where I grew up as his son, I learned that life is a journey of evolution that is unfolding, in, as, and through me and I learned the importance of the “journey” of evolving and of enlightening rather than arriving at a destination where I am finally done because I have evolved and am enlightened.
In looking back at all the family fights, moments of pain and anguish, as well as in those fleeting moments of laughter, I can clearly see how my father taught me several very important lessons. In hindsight, I see them in both the subtle and the not so subtle life lessons which can be semi-summarized by saying that “evolution is a revolution of my involution”. . . HUH!?
OK basically that means, that to evolve, to transform and to change into what I desired (which oddly enough was actually to “be” what I already “am”) that I must revolve, I must turn around, turn my gaze from the outer to the inner, or as is phrased in the Bible “the kingdom of heaven is within.” I then must become involved in my life because when you seek first the kingdom of heaven, all else will be added.
My father planted within my mind that tiniest of acorns of awareness that said, evolution and enlightenment are basically as simple as taking the classes that I took in high school or those that I would take in college. I had no idea what the man was talking about so of course I asked him to explain.
He responded with a kind of analogy which I will paraphrase for you (smile).
So its Monday morning and you are going to class for the first time. You are going to the class with a mind full of what you already know. So there you are in class knowing what you know and you learn along the way that you don’t know what you think you knew so you have to open yourself to re-evaluating and unlearning in order to learn more of what you did know that you knew that you didn’t know you didn’t know . . . basically you learn that you don’t know it all and that there is always more to learn because you’re never going to have learned it all. That being said, you learn what you are there to learn and once the class is done and you’ve passed then you take responsibility for your life by taking the knowledge that you have and apply it, using it to experience life more fully and in certain lucid moments of being fully alive, your soul will shout “Carpe’ Diem” because you have Seized the Day! In those moments you are fully authentic, fully transparent, and thus fully transcendent because you are aligned with the evolutionary expanding consciousness of the One Mind that we call God!
**OK so let’s pause for a brief commercial break – Did you know that you cannot ever be separate from God? As we have said before, think of this alignment concept like radio waves and a radio. The radio waves are present right here, right now. . .they are surrounding us and they are moving through us because they are everywhere and yet without a radio we cannot access them. Even if you happen to have a radio, unless you tune in to the “desired” station you’re going to remain un-aligned. This alignment with God that I spoke of actually occurs with your conscious choosing to get the radio (your spiritual practice) and to use it by tuning into 111.1 Universal Mind radio where it’s all God, all good, all the time!
**Now back to our regularly scheduled program…
How on Earth did my father know this in order to teach it to me? Long before my father and mother married, many many years before I was born, my father was in jail. He was serving more than 20 years for murder. While he was in jail he became fully in-volved in life. He became a careful and mindful observer, he read voraciously, and he studied everything he could get his hands on! What I mean by that for example, there was a prison library that my father became best friends with. He didn’t care what the subject matter of the book was, he read as many of the books as possible and he often joked that he thinks he read them all. My father didn’t stop there however; though he did not “sing” per se, he joined the choir. While being athletic and playing sports in high school, my father took his athleticism to a new level when he opted to involve himself in every sport the prison offered. He didn’t care if it was baseball, basketball, football, tennis or ping pong! This “getting involved” concept did not stop there. The prison also had a band and access to musical instruments. My father began playing various instruments until he ended up playing everything. Mastery of the instrument was never his goal; he simply wanted to get a rudimentary understanding of and ability to play each one whether it was the flute, the guitar, the saxophone, the trombone, the tuba, or drums. You name it, if the prison offered it or had it, and my father could use it to his benefit, he did it!
This did not stop there however. While in the confines of his jail cell, to occupy his mind, he counted the bricks of the wall. I remember the first time I heard that story and thinking to myself, “my God, my father’s crazy!” Many years later I was able to look back and see that the counting of the bricks was actually a form of meditation! And knowing my father as well as I do, I know that somewhere in his counting of these bricks, a rhythm of sorts was created. Not sure I would call it chanting however, I am certain that the counting whether in silence at times or aloud at others, was in fact mediation. I don’t think he knew that that’s what he was doing, at least not consciously, but looking back now I understand that my father wasn’t crazy, he was completely lucid and sane! By being able to do that meditation and being able to do all the other things that he was doing allowed him to transcend the confines of the prison walls and bars; the very same confines, the very same walls, the very same bars that drove others to self abusive behavior, to solitary confinement, and even to suicide. But, by turning within, my father “revolutionized” his life, he, like the phoenix died and was reborn. It was this newly evolved and ever evolving man that many years later passed on this teaching to me.
The lessons were never formal, “do this son and you will find inner peace…” They were much more subtle. As far as I can remember the first major lesson began when my father told me to go ahead and go to the movies alone. If it wasn’t with family, when I would go to the movies, I would go with friends. This one particular time no one was available or something or no one wanted to go see the movie which may have been either Superman with Christopher Reeve or it may have been the first Star Trek movie or Star Wars; I don’t remember. All I know is I did not want to go alone! So this wise guru called dad said, “If you really want to see the movie, go ahead and go to the movies alone if you must. You might surprise yourself.”
You might surprise yourself?? Huh?!
You being me might surprise yourself which was myself . . . I might surprise myself? HUH!? In my mind, that was like me planning my own surprise birthday party and as I walk into the house and everyone screams SURPRISE, I’m surprised?! I didn’t know how this concept worked in his mind, but whatever! I wanted to see the movie, so I went and amazingly - I enjoyed myself! I had fun and I in fact surprised myself! From that point on I didn’t care if others wanted to see a movie or not, I went out alone if need be and in time enjoyed seeing movies alone! Imagine that!!
This lesson he was teaching me didn’t end with the movie situation. After I graduated high school and wanted to go to the art institute of Pittsburgh and study illustration and graphic design, I kept replaying what one of my art teacher’s in high school he had told me about not having talent, not having skill, and wasting both time and money going to the art institute because I would never graduate. After expressing to my father my apprehension and dare I say fear of going to the Art Institute, my father once again said, “You are a very good student, you learn well. Why not go to the school despite what that one person told you. You might Surprise yourself.” I enrolled and two years later graduated with my first degree and true enough I did surprise myself; not only did I enjoy the process of learning and not only were my art skills growing, and not only did I graduate despite what the art teacher had said, I learned something about ME that I may have never gotten in this lifetime had I not ventured out into the unknown in order to surprise myself. From that point on anything that I wanted to study I went on and studied it. In a fashion similar to my father, I read, studied, learned, unlearned and learned anew; that’s why I went to school for as many years as I did. Learning is eternal and so I, a student of life, shall learn forever. Dad taught me that if you want to learn it then learn it, if you want to do something, then do it, and if you have a goal, then go after it! This was one of my most profound lessons which I still find myself uncovering layer upon layer.
In the summer of 2001, while I was studying theatre education at VCU, I received a letter from dad. The letter “felt” different and trusting my intuition and reading between the lines, I knew I needed to go home at the end of the semester. I stayed several days and on the night before returning to Richmond, dad laid in his bed and after filling his water pitcher as I had done for many years while living at home, he and I chatted. As I sat on the edge of his bed dad imparted a very important teaching to me. He said, “You know when you were in elementary school and the doctors diagnosed me with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and they said that I had approximately 2 to 4 years to live, the number one thing that I wanted at that time was to see you go from elementary school to middle school . . . and I saw it.
Then the next thing that I wanted was to see you go from middle school to high school and I saw that. So the next thing that I wanted was to see you graduate high school and go to college if that was what you wanted to do or do whatever you wanted, I didn’t care as long as you were happy doing it and while I wasn’t able to physically be at your graduation I saw you graduate and so made up my mind that I wanted to live long enough to see you become a grown man, independent, capable, healthy, happy and free and you know what? Not only did I surprise the doctors who expected me to live only four years by living with Lou Gehrig’s disease for over 20 years I surprised myself!!
A few months later my father transitioned (or died for those unfamiliar with the term transitioned).
I’ve learned many things over the years from that seed that he planted, a seed that I've heard echoed by many other teachers that I had over the years, read and heard in a variety of ways whether they were the comic books that I read, hidden in the books of fiction that I enjoyed, or whispered in the movies that I have watched.
For example, Harry potter, how many of you read the books or have seen the movies?
OK for those of you who haven’t, I’m sorry there is a slight spoiler’s alert so you might want to stick your fingers in your ears for a second.
So, Harry dies and in this limbo place he and Dumbledore have a conversation about what has happened. As the conversation ends, Harry asks Dumbledore, “Tell me one last thing, is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?” Dumbledore replies, “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”
OK so in that one statement rested a truth that I felt may take me years to fully awaken to, let alone to apply to my life! What happens in my mind is real! My mind, my thinking, my consciousness and reality are one and the same? Hmmm I turn my attention to the story itself and I look at the progression from book to book or movie to movie and the evolution of Harry Potter becomes very clear.
Alan Watts tells a story where he says, “I had a discussion with a great master in Japan ... and we were talking about the various people who are working to translate the Zen books into English, and he said, “That's a waste of time. If you really understand Zen... you can use any book. You could use the Bible. You could use Alice in Wonderland. You could use the dictionary, because... the sound of the rain needs no translation.” And from that I have learned that all stories contain spiritual truths and that they all contain metaphysical lessons for each of us on our individual journeys. For example, in Harry Potter, I see through his evolution, revolution, and involution the action steps that I to must take to awaken to my Self-created “destiny.” And this lesson of evolution and awakening or enlightenment is one that I recently saw again in The Life of Pi, and in Cloud Atlas, and most recently in the new Star Trek movie as well as in After Earth. And I haven’t even seen the new Man of Steel movie, and the lessons are popping up!! In some of the trailers, Jor-El, father of Kal-EL, (Superman) asks the following questions, “What if a child dreamed of becoming something other than what society had intended? What if a child aspired to something greater?”
What if… ?
What if you allow all that you Are to birth forth?
What if you allowed it to evolve in, as, and through you?
What if you, as a Caterpillar allowed that evolutionary impulse to awaken and give you wings? Yes, it means dying to what you know and are familiar with in order to become what in Truth you already Are!
Joseph Campbell said, “We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned.. so as to have the life that is waiting for us. The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come.”
This same idea is found in the Bible, in Eph 4:22-25: So get rid of your old self, which made you live as you used to,..Your hearts and minds must be made completely new. You must put on the new self, which is in God's likeness and reveals itself in the true life that is upright and holy!
Each of us is called from a place deep within our cellular memories, from the place of pure Spirit and Love and we are asked to stand authentically, to evolve from the hunched over position of our Neanderthal ancestors and to rise, revolutionize the way we live, move, and have our beingness in the ever present Presence of the Divine which is ever present in, as, and through us as well!
Evolve by joining the revolution, get so involved in Life that you have no choice but to shine, to be great, to be amazing and to be Love in action!
If I may, I leave you with a poem.
When you look at an acorn what do you see?
One tiny seed sitting so unassumingly?
Do you see food, that a squirrel might eat
or is it merely an acorn to crush beneath your feet?
Can you see the tree that it can become,
when it dies to itself and aligns in the One?
Not only that if you care to see,
from that single acorn a forest can be.
From shell to its core,
yes it’s only an acorn and yet so much more.
When buried in darkness deep in the earth,
because of its love it dies to give birth.
From the tiniest of acorns, springs forth the tree
that in due season demonstrates …prosperity.
For from that one acorn and the tree it became,
thousands and millions of acorns fall to live out the same dream.
And you like the acorn, hear a whisper, if still…
You know there’s a dream for YOU to fulfill;
To evolve and to become what you already are –
not merely a person, a parent, a minister, or star,
You are already divine so stop seeking the how –
Just let go and fly
Go surprise yourself - now.