Steve McSwain

"Things I've Learned from the Spiritual Master" by Steve McSwain

One of Us
“One of Us” by Paul Pulszartti

Things I've Learned from the Spiritual Masters
Steve McSwain

On the day of my spiritual awakening, everything changed for me.  Instantly, I felt engulfed by a sacred presence, the likes of which I had never known before. The sacred sense of the Divine presence has never abated since then, either. 

Today, I live in a state of perpetual peace almost continuously. Sure, the intensity varies from moment to moment, but a feeling of the sacredness of all of life never does.  Self-loathing, self-judgments, self-doubt, all symptoms of a low self-esteem, have given way to peace and confidence, self-love and self-acceptance.  I still have questions, even doubts.  What is different today, however, is that I accept them, even relish them, knowing and appreciating the paradoxical realities within myself and within this universe. Resistance to life itself, characteristic of my daily existence prior to the awakening, has all but disappeared, too. 

I also have a new vision of myself, as well as the world, which transcends all racial, religious, and cultural differences. This is remarkable, given that I was raised in a conservative, evangelical church and was myself a Baptist minister for nearly two decades. But, since the awakening, I find value in all spiritual traditions. This radically new vision gave birth to the Unity pendant, which you have most likely seen advertised in the Unity Magazine. 

The really striking thing today is this: While I still regard myself as a Christian, and perhaps more so than at any other time, I feel just as connected to Buddhists and Buddhism, to Hindus and Hinduism, to Muslims and Islam, and so on. 

From all of these traditions I have discovered valuable insights and learned invaluable lessons about life and living—insights and lessons that are transformative in nature within every person where they are regularly practiced.

Know who you are and why you’re here.  Someone once said that the two most important days of your life are these: “The day you were born and the day you figure out why.” 

I spent the greater part of my life knowing neither. For example, I mistakenly thought I was my name, my body, my thoughts, as well as my ambitions and accomplishments. Further, I mistakenly believed there was some job I showed up to accomplish. As a consequence, I spent the greater part of my life looking for myself, and my job, in all the wrong places. I did not realize there is but one reason you and I are here—to be.  Now, you can spend your whole life trying to figure out what you’re supposed to do in order to be; or, you can relish who you really are and then, whatever you do, will have lasting significance. 

Saint Augustine said, “Love and do what you will.” I would add, “Be and then do whatever you will.” 

The mistake most make, which is the same mistake I made, is to think that the “I” I see in a mirror is the “I” I am.  The truth is, however, the “you” you see is not really the “you” you are. Until you know this, you will cling to the illusory image you see which Albert Einstein described as “an optical illusion in consciousness.” 

You are not the image you see. Neither are you your name or accomplishments. Instead, you are the nameless, formless “I am” behind all that will eventually disappear. Since I provide a comprehensive analysis of all of this in 
The Enoch Factor, I will go no further here but encourage you to more fully explore this in the book. 

Question everything.  The Buddha said, “Believe nothing merely because you have been told it.”

Until you question everything, especially those things you were taught to believe, your faith will be perfunctory at best. The ego in you may cling to a set of beliefs, and so vigorously defend them against anyone who may question them, but know this: all the ego in you is really clinging to are inherited beliefs. Until you question your beliefs, you will forever confuse beliefs 
for faith, which is the fundamental error made in most religions today. 

Someone once observed, “Beliefs are a cover-up for insecurity. You only believe in the things you’re not certain about.”  When people say, for example, “I believe in God,” what does that really mean? No one says, “I believe in the sun.” Why? What’s there to believe in? You 
knowthe sun. Similarly, when you know the Divine within you or, more accurately, when you know the Divine that you are then you living from the place of authentic faith, beyond mere beliefs. 

Do unto yourself as you would have yourself do unto you. A slightly different twist on what is commonly known as “the Golden Rule.” While credited to Jesus, it is actually found in some form in all spiritual traditions. You only ever do unto yourself what you do unto others. Conversely, “what you do to others, you do to yourself,” or so said the Buddhist monk, Pema Chodron. 

Confucius said, “When you meet a virtuous person, emulate them; when you meet an evil person, however, look within.” 

Look for the life lesson in every experience.  Your life unfolds as a series of synchronous and meaningful events, as Carl Jung taught us. While these events may appear to be random and disconnected, they are actually conspiring together to bring you into union with the Divine.

A similar truth is taught in Buddhism. What you are presently experiencing will not completely disappear until you learn the lesson it was sent to teach you. 

This is precisely why Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, who provided us insight into the stages of grief, frequently said, “There are no mistakes. All events are blessings given to us to learn from.” In Christianity, Saint Paul framed a similar picture of your life and mine when he said, “All things work together for our good,” (Romans 8:28). When you know this, instead of being in resistance to what is happening in your life, you will look for the life lesson in it. 

You ask, “But how do you know that what I’m experiencing is what I am supposed to experience?” Precisely because this is the experience you are having.  Eckhart Tolle says, “Whatever you fight, survives; whatever you resist, persists.” In other words, learn life’s lesson in each and every experience.  Or, expect situations to keep appearing, usually in different clothing, but with the same purpose or intention—to help you evolve.  To teach you an important lesson and so take you to a higher level of consciousness. 

Let go of your regrets.  Have you ever heard someone say, “If I had my life to live over, I wouldn’t change a thing?” What should you know whenever you hear this? The person making this boast is not likely shooting straight. 

We all have regrets. And, if given another chance, there are many things I would change.  Which is one reason why, I suppose, reincarnation is such a compelling belief to many.  With regard to my regrets, however, what is more troubling to me than things I did I wish I had not done are the things I wish I had done that I did not do. 
 Which is the point of forgiveness in Christianity. 

Many Christians mistakenly think that forgiveness is about the innocent man Jesus having to suffer the wrath of a neurotic God who is twisted out of shape over the failures of human beings. What forgiveness is really about, however, is Divine grace—or, the divinely-provided capacity, as demonstrated in Jesus, to forgive others for unspeakable evil they might do to you and the equally provided capacity to forgive yourself for the wrongs you do to yourself. Both enable you to move beyond your regrets. 

Meditate more often than you medicate.  The latter requires a prescription; the former requires discipline.  For several years now, I have practicing Japanese meditation. In this practice, one not unfamiliar to Benedictine monks in Catholicism, there is the repetition of a mantra. 

“Mantra” is a Sandskrit word made up of two others: 
tra meaning “instrument” and manmeaning “mind.”  Hence, a mantra is “an instrument of the mind.”  When you meditate, try using a mantra. Often, for example, I will use the following mantra to bring focus to my mind: “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). 

The fastest way to inner transformation is through meditation. When you go within, your world changes. Transformation 
only ever occurs within you.  If you want your circumstances to change, your consciousness must change. When you go regularly to the only place where this kind of change could ever take place—your inner world—you discover your outer world morphs into something infinitely more meaningful. Lao-Tzu said, “Where there is silence one finds the anchor to the universe.”

Live in space, not time.  What is it that comprises most of what is around you and me?  Nothing.  Emptiness. Train yourself to be aware of nothing.

“But,” you object, “that statement makes no sense whatsoever!” 

To the contrary.  Give some of your attention every day to nothing and see what happens. 

On a clear night, I enjoy gazing into the heavens, as perhaps you do, and observing the stars, planets, and constellations.  When I awakened spiritually, however, I instantly became aware of something else or, more accurately, I became aware of nothing—the emptiness out of which all things appear. 

The universe is mostly nothing, isn’t it?  If you’ll train yourself to give some attention to the space of emptiness—which is infinitely more than the objects in consciousness—I suspect you will make a similarly remarkable discovery.  You will discover the Nothing that is Everything. 

There many other things I’ve learned as a consequence of my awakening. I’ll mention one more—the importance of 
thinking about death daily. In the west, death is mostly avoided, denied, as well as dreaded by virtually everyone.  While I have lived most of my life in fear of death, too, today I find it more mysterious than foreboding.

Why?  When I woke up, for example, I realized that it was the ego in me that was frightened by death.  The deeper me—beyond name, form, or function—could never be afraid of death.

Ego is your make-believe self, illusory in nature. Yet, it is that part of us that we typically mistake for who we are.  You are not your name, however, or your body, or even the thoughts you think.  In other words, just like everything else, ego is that part of you that will eventually die and disappear.  Ego knows this, which is why it is terrified of it. 

Dis-identify with the ego. Why? As long as you are completely identified with ego, you will fear death.  The deeper “you,” however, the “I am” that you are (I mentioned earlier), will never die. It is eternal. Identify more with the “you” you really are and the fear of death will subside.

Virtually every spiritual tradition encourages you detach from the ego.  Jesus put it like this: “Deny self” (Matthew 16:24).  Muhammad said, “The most excellent Jihad is the conquest of the self.”  The goal of all spiritual traditions is this: to guide you into ego-detachment, into self-discovery, self-fulfillment, or, as I like to put it, into Divine consciousness,” which is really, self-awareness.

For me, the greatest consequence of my spiritual awakening is this: while I had searched for God and inner peace for most of my life, I woke up to the realization that God had found me already.  Which is why I love the way Thomas Merton put it: “When you are disposed to being with God, you are…no matter where you are: in the monastery, in the city, in the country, in the woods. At the precise moment it would seem you are in the middle of your journey, you have actually arrived at the destination already.” 

What more could you need?  What more could you want?