The idea of a personal God who protects us, loves us, and then punishes us by not allowing us into Heaven, but instead casts us into Hell for eternity if we haven't met his standards of living, is so outlandish that it can only be taught to children who don't know any better-which, by the way, is how it's done. If a person hasn't been introduced to this mythical idea about God in early childhood, he or she becomes increasingly hard to preach to.
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It cannot be denied that as institutions, churches do good work. They operate schools and hospitals. Their charity outreaches, which take care of the homeless, sick, and hungry, have real impacts on communities. And while there are certainly hellfire-and-brimstone preachers around, there is counterweight in Presbyterian and Methodist ministers, who are grounded in a modicum of rationality, using Biblical stories as fables to teach psychological and ethical principles.
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Be this as it may, an increasing number of us find that something is missing... something vague... something-dare I say-spiritual. Even those of us who scoff at religious and spiritual institutions have to admit that there is something there-purpose, meaning, internal calm, a like-minded society, and a chance to serve our fellow man-all of which are admirable. We are attracted and repulsed at the same time, primarily because there seems to be a steep price to pay when we enter the so-called spiritual arena.
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For reasons unknown, the philosophical aspect of the yoga movement has had to make way for the yoga fit revolution; today's image of a yogi is a slender and scantily clad young female doing postures on the cover of a bestselling magazine, whereas the older image was of an Indian man with long beard sitting in a cave wearing a loin cloth.
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The real difference between yoga and religion is this: Religion says believe, do not doubt, often citing the word of God and promises of an eternal afterlife, reciting dogma (unsubstantiated pre-modern myths), while yoga only points the way and urges its students to practice and experience for themselves. In this way yoga is very scientific in its approach to self-knowledge, transcendence and enlightenment. Its message is: Try the practice for yourself and only then can you truly believe.
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For more than twenty years, I have been seeking a way to be both rational and spiritual. I have been looking for a ray of hope in an otherwise-compartmentalized world in which people segregate religious aspirations and rationality in the hope of not having to resolve the glaring gap between the two. It's a gap that seems almost impossible to bridge, but I refuse to accept that disparity.
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A person with less knowledge and more self-confidence (which is primarily a way of thinking and acting) will often run circles around a person with more knowledge and less self-confidence; which means that self-confidence has the upper hand to knowledge when it comes to acting in the world. It has been interesting to see many of my star academic students struggle with teaching in the real world, while others who were less qualified in the academic field but had more self-confidence have gone out and positively affected many more people through their teaching.
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These superhero and mythical stories have, in many cases, replaced Biblical stories as vehicles for communal myths, but they are hardly any better than ancient magical adventures tinged with mythical archetypes and the decidedly unnuanced black-and-white struggle between good and evil.
What I call stupidity is not only lack of knowledge, although much of humanity could be elevated from poverty, dogma, illusions and war through traditional education. A thriving education system is the foundation for progress. But stupidity is not merely ignorance; it can also be a way of acting. If you act contrary to your own goals in life - you're stupid.
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If you stick with the definition of spirituality as a peaceful internal state (a.k.a. deep, dreamless sleep while awake), then you will ignore some of the hallucinatory experiences that are bound to happen when you sit in silence (studies have shown that, in such circumstances, the mind often creates elaborate experiences and stories that are reminiscent of dreams) and refrain from interpreting them as something otherworldly.
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Imagine a time before you had ever had chocolate. Going to lectures about chocolate would have been interesting. Reading about chocolate might have increased your appetite. But only tasting chocolate would have really made you understand how good chocolate can be. Only tasting- only experience.
You see, meditation is not a fabricated state. It is natural. It is accessible to all. And in the same way that a person who learns how to run, can run any time they want to, or, a person who knows how to play an instrument can play music at will, once you learn how to meditate, you can create your moments of peace at will.
The only thing that seems to differ between the major schools of meditation is the point of concentration. Some traditions use mantras, others follow the breath, some have their eyes open, others have their eyes closed, some use simple words, others use prayers and the list can go on. Despite extravagant claims to the contrary, modern research has found no significant difference between the points of concentration at the beginning stages of meditation, which means it doesn't really matter which mantra, word or phrase you choose to begin with. The main thing is to practice whatever meditation method that you have chosen; sit still and let the mind settle.
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You are here and you can't escape it. Thoughts about why you came to be here and a poor-me mentality will not help you to resolve the situation. You cannot avoid being here now, in this present moment, in this unfortunate predicament. Your choices, lack of choices, or accidental events, have led you to this moment. That cannot be changed no matter how much you think about it. The only things that can be changed in this present moment are your thoughts and actions right now. Take a deep breath and totally accept this moment.
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Forgiveness is probably the most important self-esteem building process anyone can undertake. Forgiveness is an internal response to the fact that we cannot, under any circumstances, change the past. The only things we can change are our thoughts about the past. Forgiveness happens when we stop wishing for a better past and understand that we are carrying hatred, anger and resentment within us.
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In our youth, we may have ridiculed the cost-of-living-index family, with their house, two cars, and two kids, but today we are pro-family. We have seen the damage done by the previous generation and have doubled our efforts when it comes to caring for our families. Our children come first.
Many people close themselves off from the world when they are under pressure. That is understandable. I have gone through periods when I didn't want to meet people because I didn't feel good about my situation in life and that made my life even more stressful. Remind yourself often about how much of an impact compassion and friendship can have on your life. You need to get out there, be compassionate and share your time and your life with your friends and other people that need your support. It's worth it on every level.
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You can tend to a garden every day for 20, 30 or 40 years. But if one day you stop giving it loving attention and care it will rapidly deteriorate. Weeds will start to grow, and in a relatively short period of time the garden will become a jungle. On the other hand, it is much easier to turn things around and start cultivating the garden again if it has flourished in the past. The same is true with the human mind and respectively the actions we take every day. If we cultivate our life with dedication, positive thinking, and consistent actions, it will be much easier to turn away from destructive behavior, however far we stray away from our original course.
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One of the hallmarks of great teachers is that they rejoice when their students surpass them. Encouraging an atmosphere of questioning and inviting people to grow within your classroom isn't necessarily easy; which must explain why people who want to create cults or die hard followers discourage questioning in general. They would rather have people reciting their dogma than asking hard questions.
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It is imperative that your work habits from school do not make their way into your book writing process. I am talking about the practice of typing the last words just before the deadline every time you would hand in an assignment, a paper, or even a thesis. Your book needs time to mature, and you must allow yourself the luxury of rewriting and editing until you are satisfied.
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Not wanting to change, constantly fighting change, and being afraid of change; these are all extremely stressful mental dispositions, because let's face it - change happens! Learn to embrace change, flow with change and even proactively make changes. Indian traveling yogis never stay in one spot for very long to remind themselves of the transient nature of the world. The modern yogi need not necessarily do the same, but just be aware of this natural tendency of change and flow with it-and that will make life a lot less stressful.
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Walk into any church, and you will see people swimming in a sea of emotions (everything from shame and guilt to love and ecstasy). That may be the reason some people think that the more emotional they are, the more spiritual they are. But, as we will explore later in the book, undiluted spirituality has little to do with emotions, and what little it does have has more to do with emotional growth than feelings of elation.
Growth seems to evolve from a narrow-minded, constricted worldview (selfish) to an ever-more-encompassing worldview (multiperspective caring). To put it simply, the more self-centered you are, the lower you tend to land on these scales, while the more perspectives you can entertain-the more empathy you can show and the better your ability to see things from a variety of viewpoints-the higher you land on these scales.
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Gandhi is an example of a man who grew from being self-centered as he was learning to become a lawyer in England, to becoming more family- and social oriented in South-Africa, where he led a reformation of Indian rights, to becoming determined in helping his nation recover from British rule at which he succeeded in the end with the help of a great many people. At the end of his life Gandhi was increasingly focused on a larger picture, encasing the whole world in his vision of a peaceful future.
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For example, the call for equal rights has perverted into 'let's all be the same.' Male and female biological differences are discounted, because 'male' and 'female' are considered 'outdated social constructs, ' and while that is partially true, the social construct stance becomes clear reductionism when it totally discounts clear differences in male and female biology (i.e., androgyny is not the same as equality).
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The most important principle in your relationship with time is that time is perishable. No one can save time. It's not like money. You can't deposit the time you don't use into an account and use it later. Time passes. Time is a constantly depleting resource. Once it's gone, it's gone, and you will never get it back.
One myth that has become established in the self-development arena is that it only takes 21 days to form a new habit. This simply isn't true in all cases. Sometimes it takes a shorter time, sometimes a longer time, and sometimes old habits are so hard to break that new ones never take hold.
If you have ever procrastinated and then found yourself energized to complete a task at the last minute, then you have used the beneficial aspect of the fight or flight response (not the procrastinating part, but the energizing part). You see, with all its negative long term effects, the fight or flight response still gives us energy, and if we know how to use that energy, then stress is potentially good, at least in the short term.
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Everyone knows that a quick-fix usually doesn't work, yet we have all been sold on the idea time and time again. Most of us would like to believe in miracle drugs and fast relief. The truth is that most of the quick fixes for stress focus on temporary relief from tension or pain. Temporary, as in, the problem will return with a vengeance. This doesn't mean we should never take drugs to alleviate tension or pain, it just means that taking drugs is not a viable permanent solution; it's just a temporary relief.
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Habits equal autopilot. Take brushing your teeth for example. Once that becomes a habit, you don't have to write positive affirmations or remind yourself constantly to brush your teeth. It is simply a habitual part of what you do every day. That is why I emphasize the five habits of stress management, not the five rules or the five goals. If you make these five habits an essential part of your life, then you will be able to manage stress effectively.
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