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Natural Awakenings Atlanta

BRINGING LOVE HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS: Sage Advice from Spiritual Leaders Among Us

While December is usually a time for closeness and holiday cheer, this month we find ourselves at the end of one of the most turbulent and contentious years in our nation’s history. In light of the hope that comes with the holidays and the new year, Natural Awakenings asked several of Atlanta’s spiritual leaders to help us see how we might bring more peace and reconciliation into our homes, communities and beyond.  

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The Power of Love  

by Rev. Richard Burdick

The glove has been tossed into the ring! The holiday gauntlet has been thrown down!

Masked or not, elated with the election results or not, family festivities are just around the corner. Challenged by racial injustice or not, the invitations to these perilous yearly gatherings have been issued.

With the world in such a tumult, will we accept the challenge?

It is my hope that we will and that we appear in the battle’s arena with a new mind and power—the mind and power of love! A non-resistant love that uncovers the heart behind the politics and the spirit beneath the opinions. A non-combative love that hears the echo of fear’s cry as a call for connection rather than provocation. Consider that verbal jabs are signs of one who thirsts for intimacy and doesn’t know how to quench that thirst beyond the annual folly of expected sparring. Show them a different way. Look within yourself for a love so pure that it heals the deepest divide and reveals a more compassionate possibility beneath the surface of our alleged adversaries.

At Christmas time, we celebrate the birth of a man who taught “Love your enemies as yourself.” This year, consider that we have no enemies. Consider that nothing and no one is against us. Although the task is arduous, the rewards are immense. If we enter the arena with the expectation of an enemy, we will find one. Likewise, if we enter the arena seeking light amid darkness, we will find it.

From a sincere desire for unity, and the faith that it is possible, lay your plan. Make it a non-defensive plan to see beyond the veils of behavior and attack, challenge and transgression, to a higher possibility. May we, as conscious shifters of family dynamics, prepare ourselves by drinking so deeply of love’s well, when conflict rears its head, that we are an unwavering example of love’s presence.

Love is demonstrated in many ways: as compassion, understanding, forgiveness and listening. Love presents as sympathy, concern, sensitivity and silence. Most of all, she appears as our plan to retreat when we begin to feel we have dropped her shield and allowed the edge of ego’s blade to rile us to defense, or worse, counterattack. It is not retreat as surrender, but as non-resistance and poise.

Love’s grace understands the truth; as written in A Course in Miracles, “In my defenselessness my safety lies.” Her shield is fearless and eternal. Her mettle, indestructible. Contrary to our own egoic need for competition, love opens a corner of our mind to the Taoist teaching that says, “Because the Sage opposes no one, no one in the world can oppose him.” It is a great paradox for the ages that reminds us that in our meekness we will be strong.

Let us rise to the occasion with the mental and emotional softness of one who knows nothing can defeat love’s supple truth. Let us be so steeped in love’s prayer, immersed in love’s meditation and bathed in love’s baptism that not only is our journey home inevitable, but the entire family will be there as well, raising a glass to a new tradition.

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 Rev. Richard Burdick is the Senior Minister at Unity North in Marietta, Georgia.

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Where Silence Takes Us

by David Ault

Imagine that you, as a soul, are in a movie, reading this article and thinking about the holidays. Your movie is just one of millions upon millions upon millions of movies your soul is experiencing. They’re all playing simultaneously in a sort of cosmic universal Cineplex on adjacent screens. Though each movie feels separate, they’re all one organism—that is, God, Love, Life, Source, the Allness—whatever term feels best to you to describe the indescribable.

Devotion to inner silence has helped me understand the insanity of seeking one-dimensional answers to our multidimensional experience. Silence has taught me that, only when I’m able to fully honor this multidimensional experience as a perfect patterning and see my soul’s role and all other souls’ roles as perfect, can I fully show up in my movie as a bodhisattva—one who is dedicated to alleviating the suffering of others. A bodhisattva possesses both ancestral power and illumined love. Do not confuse them with hermits who remove themselves from society. On the contrary, silence is the preparatory fuel for the bodhisattva to advocate, march, mediate and to enter into the lion’s den of systemic issues with vision rather than an aggressive need to overpower.

The bodhisattva isn’t attached to the “how” of the desired transformation. That would be like trying to solve the mysteries of multidimensionality by attempting to apply a frame around an infinite canvas. Transformation is within the mind. What we desire to be, we already are. The aim is not to create a just and civil world but to reveal the energies of justice and civility that already permeate around us. Like love, we do not go out to seek it. It is fully present; we’re invited to remove the barriers within our own mind towards its existence. 

The language of God as silence is vital to this awareness.

Whether you decide to engage your inner bodhisattva is not a right or wrong decision. We’re all part of a perfect patterning; none of us have ever been kicked out of the garden. We’ve just forgotten who we are. 

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David Ault is a thought leader, teacher, coach and global education advocate. He is the founder and executive director of Kaleidoscope Child Foundation, a non-profit organization that helps serve vulnerable children in India, Cambodia and Guatemala.

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A Harmonizing and Unifying Universal Force

by Brother Ishtananda

Imagine you are walking in the woods, and you see a beautiful spiderweb, glistening in the early morning sunlight. There, at each juncture of the web, is a dewdrop, and, no matter where you touch the web, every dewdrop is affected. Similarly, the “dewdrops” of our lives are affected by the underlying universal life. 

We are all connected by one consciousness. 

Currently, that underlying life on our planet is being “touched” by fear, anger, hatred and other unlovely qualities. If we are not very self-aware, we will unconsciously be adversely affected by what is going on in the world. We might express ourselves toward friends and family in negative ways, not realizing where that negativity is coming from. These negative qualities have the effect of creating disharmony and a sense of separation from those around us when they are not in agreement with our way of thinking. The effect is that we are unhappy, and that makes those around us unhappy. 

There are many ways we can try to improve this situation – empathetic listening, trying to be open-minded to others’ ideas, be more trusting, etc. But there is one powerful, universal force that unites and harmonizes. Through the use of this force, the other ways of being more positive and improving relationships will come naturally. The word for it is “love.” 

During the upcoming holiday season, let us try not to be affected by the negativity in the world, but rather open our hearts to that universal force of love so that we are affecting ourselves, those around us, and the world in a very positive, uplifting way. 

One of the most powerful ways of tuning in with that universal love is by meditation.

I would like to share with you an excerpt from Metaphysical Meditations, a book by Paramahansa Yogananda. The excerpt is called “Expanding Love.” He suggested not only reading the words but meditating, dwelling on, and feeling what the words represent.

“My kingdom of love shall expand. I have loved my body more than anything else. That is why I am identified with and limited by it. With the love that I have given to the body, I will love all those who love me. With the expanded love of those who love me, I will love those who are mine. With the love for myself and the love for my own, I will love those who are strangers. I will use all my love to love those who do not love me, as well as those who love me. I will bathe all souls in my unselfish love. In the sea of my love, my family members, my countrymen, all nations, and all beings will swim. All creation, all the myriads of tiny living things, will dance on the waves of my love.” — Paramahansa Yogananda

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Brother Ishtananda is a senior monk of the Self-Realization Fellowship, which was founded in 1920 by Paramahansa Yogananda, and minister counselor of the Atlanta SRF Center.

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Meditation and Peace of Mind

by Gen Kelsang Norden

The stress of the pandemic and the perpetual shifting of our everyday lives have brought with them what seems like a constant stream of problems. Most of the time, we feel overwhelmed, anxious or depressed about our reality.

Buddhism offers a simple, scientifically proven solution to help us cope: meditation.

Meditation is an effective method to clear away the disturbing thoughts that crowd our mind and, instead, develop true happiness and peace in our own heart. This state of inner peace helps us navigate through the world and our everyday circumstances with a happy mind.

As my teacher, Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, says in his book, Introduction to Buddhism, “When the turbulence of distracting thoughts subsides, and the mind becomes still, a deep happiness and contentment naturally arise from within.”

Even the most basic meditation technique makes the mind more resilient. Multiple studies have proven that a consistent meditation practice reduces anxiety and depression, increases our empathy, compassion and joy.

It puts us in a better position to deal with life’s challenges, to be a better parent, spouse, friend and community member, and to create a better world collectively.

You can learn to meditate even if you feel that your mind is too busy, too anxious, or too out of control. You, too, can benefit from meditation—even for five minutes a day.

Taking just five minutes out of the day to engage in some simple breathing meditation—by focusing your attention on the sensation of inhaling and exhaling through your nostrils — is enough to bring a tangible change in your experience and mental well-being. With regular practice, you will notice your mind is calmer as a result.

The practice works best when we make it a regular part of our day. Just as every day we make sure to look after our bodies by brushing our teeth, eating, moving and so on, it is also important to make sure that we do something every day to take care of our minds. Doing a simple breathing meditation or a meditation on loving kindness for a few minutes first thing in the morning or last thing at night can bring a profound change in our level of joy and happiness and our ability to meet the challenges of the upcoming year with resilience and a happy heart.

The extraordinary quality of meditation is that it shows us what’s possible. It shows us that we are capable of experiencing happiness, patience, empathy, joy, wisdom, peace, kindness, compassion and a better world for everyone.

If you don’t already have a meditation practice, I would like to encourage you to start one for the new year.

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Gen Kelsang Norden is a senior ordained teacher and resident teacher at Kadampa Meditation Center in Atlanta. She has been teaching Buddhism and meditation in the U.S. and the U.K. for more than 25 years.

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