Even Souls in Heaven Keep Growing

A friend was looking back at her life and wondering if she could have done better. Had she been living up to her potential so far? Was there something she had missed, she wondered: opportunities for personal growth, for walking the high road, for giving herself more fully to God. She’s a spiritual individual with a deep desire to serve God, and she was making an assessment of her efforts.

“Of course you could have done better,” I said. “We can always do better because there is always room for improvement.” God is infinite, so reaching for the divine within ourselves involves a stretch with no end point. We may gain some measure of enlightenment along the way, but there is no single moment of final bliss, no entry into nirvana or a state of Heaven once and for all with no further growth to follow. Thank God for that. To stop growing would be spiritual death.

The soul, our true self, is divine in nature and thus also timeless, like God. That gives us eternity in which to grow, which means even the souls in Heaven continue to unfold. On a particularly difficult day on Earth, when we feel the weight of our Earth-bound existence too acutely, it helps to know that we have this in common with the angels.

© 2012 Ilona Goin. All rights reserved.

On Being and Becoming

We sat curled up on the couch and a comfy chair, feet on ottomans to avoid the cool winter floor, warm cups of tea in hand. There we sat for hours, my friend and I, like armchair explorers traveling to distant lands and through the ages. Foreign dictionaries, a world atlas, and search engines were at the ready, should we require facts and figures along the way.

Students of history and the timeless quest for higher truths, we have few topics we won’t examine, or on which we haven’t already found some answers along with new questions. Asking questions is the fastest way to open the door to what you don’t yet know. After all, growing comes from investigating the unknown as much as from understanding what you already know, and we were fully prepared for a foray into the mysteries and wonders of life.

Soon we found ourselves considering the art of being and becoming. Whatever we are today, whatever state of consciousness we hold, is the sum total of all our past experience. More specifically, it’s the result of what we have learned from our experiences. In other words, living much is not the objective, learning much from even the smallest experience is.

Becoming, we agreed, is not a matter of alchemy—of transmuting a substance into something it was not—but of gaining an awareness of what we already are. It sounds esoteric, I know, but it’s really quite simple. Growth is not a process of adding something that was missing but of gradually tuning in to what we had all along. We are divine beings at the outset, it isn’t something we must be transformed into. Becoming is simply a matter of realizing who and what we are.

© 2012 Ilona Goin. All rights reserved.

The Altar of Love

The vast majority of us aren’t prone to anti-social behavior, but we aren’t always civil and courteous either. We don’t always keep to the highest principles and side with the force of love. Every day we make decisions that are either debasing or civilizing. So what are our standards? Do we give ourselves, then others, the dignity we all deserve as children of God? What kind of an example do we set?

Big or small, depending on our character, the tests are always there. When others seek to pull us in the wrong direction, do we stand our ground? Do we resist the temptation to succumb to our lower instincts and turn instead to the wisdom of our higher self? Do we choose the lazy way forward or will we work for the blessings of an ever-expanding heart?

The tests can be subtle, hidden in things so common, even widely encouraged, that they are easy to dismiss. “Breaking down” and eating foods we know we shouldn’t—it’s just one piece of cake, pie, or chocolate, or one donut or pint of ice cream, so no big deal, right? Watching silly online videos that claim to be funny yet show a cruel streak. Or bending rules when we know it’s wrong. Indulgences we wouldn’t be proud to announce. Cheating on a test. Lying to a spouse. All harm our dignity and civility and tear at the bonds of love that exist between us and others. Although God never stops loving us, our choices may indicate an unfortunate lack of reciprocity.

At home, at work, and with friends we are faced with the daily, implied question of where to draw the line between what is acceptable and what isn’t, what is constructive and what brings about a degree of collapse, what is wise or kind and what is foolish or hurtful. Every choice is between creation and destruction, love and power, life and death.

From moment to moment, even in the little decisions—such as the attitude we hold and the words we speak—it comes down to this: at which altar will you worship today? Darkness is simply what automatically fills the vacuum produced by an absence of love. It’s the default state that results if we stop living in the name of God.

So why would we? Willfulness. Selfishness. Fear. Our human nature tends in the opposite direction of our divine nature. Creatures of both Heaven and Earth, we choose the source of our influence one decision at a time. Whether we walk a high road or a low road depends on where we place our attention. Those who open their hearts to a higher power through prayer, meditation, and contemplation of the wonders of life act with wisdom and goodness.

A life centered on the divine—as both the source and the ultimate aim of our thoughts and actions—invariably leads to worshipping life. Love the life-giver and you will also love that which God imbues with life. Serve God and you must serve others, listening to their cares and attending to their wounds, walking with them when they pass through a valley of shadows and rejoicing with them in their times of triumph. The only way to open the heart to light and life is to find our way to the altar of love.

© 2012 Ilona Goin. All rights reserved.

Full Faith

PART 1

A friend was having a difficult time. Life was really pushing her to the wall, and she was trying to figure out how to keep from falling in a heap on the ground. Life has a way of stretching us to what we perceive as our limits in order to teach us to let go. It keeps after us until we surrender all our cares, and finally trust in a higher power to get us through. All the while it demands of us that we become strong enough to remain standing.

Sometimes the pressures of daily life seem too much to bear. When the road ahead is hard to see, we wonder, what about our hopes and dreams for the future? We ask ourselves, and perhaps God too, how we’ll ever get there from here.

And if things get tough enough, if we feel desperate enough, we might even rail against God, shaking our fist at the Almighty in defiance or reproach. As if the Supreme Deity cares what we think of the divine plan. As if our personal opinion carries any weight and will be taken under consideration at the next council meeting in Heaven. What folly—our objections to the way things are hardly deserve a form letter in response, so we get no answers to our prayers. We really should know better.

My friend was not in a state of resentment or rebellion, but she was wondering, would there ever be something in it for her? So she asked, “Isn’t it possible for me to walk the walk God is asking of me and still have some personal happiness too?”

Sure, that might be possible; it might even be what God was intending for her anyway. But that wasn’t the point: it wasn’t the right question to ask. When we want to have our cake and eat it too, we haven’t yet arrived at surrender. We’re nowhere near trusting in God, and that’s what the lesson is all about. The reason life has our backs against the bricks in the first place is to teach us how to put our full faith in the Holy Spirit.

“Love your dreams with all your heart, and then love God more,” I said. She knew what I meant: put your love into your vision of yourself living a good and happy life, but also surrender your agenda to the will of God. There is always a greater plan, and it is in our best interest to go with God rather than to insist, like stubborn adolescents, on doing things our way.

Besides, there is no negotiating with God. Still, people do try. They say, God, if you’ll just let me keep this, I’ll give up that. Or they set a timeline that puts the deadline for personal changes conveniently far off into the future. For example, they promise themselves or God that they’ll change their diet after a family event two months out. Or lose weight, but not until after New Year’s. Somehow, there is always something that makes right now seem an inconvenient, unpleasant, or even unkind time to take that next step in life. So, they put God on a schedule—their own schedule, of course.

Change just isn’t our favorite thing, so when we finally have to undertake it we feel that we should be allowed to play a part in the decision making. After all, isn’t it our lives? Don’t we have a right to decide what we want? It only seems fair that we play a significant role in determining the course of our own lives—and that we should therefore expect to not only be consulted, but also to get a seat at the table so we can present our list of demands. After all, God wouldn’t be so callous as to expect of us deep and lasting changes without making the process to our liking…right?

Deep down we know better. We suspect that, if we were to remain that comfy and content amidst the changes, we wouldn’t really be growing. It leaves us with a niggling feeling that substantial growth necessitates a degree of growing pains. Life insists on us moving out of old comfort zones the moment they are no longer in our best interest. The only question is whether we’ll do it willingly—maybe even enthusiastically, if we can just remember to see it as a promotion instead of a punishment—or whether we’ll dig in our heals and make it a struggle. That part is up to us. What isn’t, is that God’s in charge of the production, and our best hope of happiness lies in getting with the program.

The moment we do—that sweet moment when we realize that we can let go and safely follow the divine’s promptings wherever they lead—our lives change for the better. We discover that a higher happiness follows as soon as we surrender our own will in favor of the will of God.

© 2012 Ilona Goin. All rights reserved.

Living Our Dreams

PART 2

In the previous article, called Full Faith, I discuss the folly of setting our own agenda and trying to negotiate with God. I suggest that a higher happiness follows once we surrender our own will in favor of the will of God. Here’s the flip side. Oh yes, there always is one.

What does God want from us? In the history of religion there are as many theologies and mythologies to answer that question as there are faiths, and there are as many perspectives as there are believers.

Religions seek to codify and explain the nature of the “contract” between God and man, the perception that we’re in a tit-for-tat deal with the divine. God created the world, and thus the Creator expects our obedience. God gave us life, so we owe worship in return. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to work?

Of the original 613 religious laws of Judaism, some 250 are still in play (closer to 270 if the believer lives in Israel). Moses’s encounter with the burning bush, which carried both the divine light and the voice of God, mercifully reduced the unmanageable count to a memorable few, leaving just 10 Commandments to be carried down from the mountain and out into the world for millennia to come.

Jesus further simplified the art of righteous living by raising one principle above the rest, love. When the Pharisees put Jesus to the test, asking which of the Ten Commandments was most important, he answered, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.” (1) In what is known as the Golden Rule Jesus also said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (2) To that he added, “And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (3)

Thus the law of God has been distilled down to its essence, to a simple principle that on a daily basis requires no interlocutor or translator, to a spirit that lives in our hearts and directs our thoughts and actions. Having arrived at love, we have found the highest and eternal truth of God’s nature and purpose. And so love—for God, ourselves, our neighbor, and all life—becomes who and what we are and also our modus operandi.

And with that, we carry the key to our holy scriptures within us, be that the Holy Bible, the Torah, the Koran, the Vedas and Upanishads, the Tao Te Ching, the Avesta, the Book of Mormon, or any other inspired book in which we find sustenance and succor.

Being now inspired—inspirited, imbued with Spirit, lit with the flame of divine love—we have the opportunity to put that inspiration into everything we do. It becomes our muse and teacher, our calling and guide. It leads our heart into action, and we therefore make choices that are of a higher order. We act in the name of God, even when we make the small decisions of our daily life.

By willingly setting our agenda aside to live in accordance with the will of God, we have opened the door to greater personal freedom. The result is that we are allowed, indeed expected, to have a hand in designing our own lives. We may now set goals and manifest our dreams. We thereby become active participants in a divine artwork in which our own life is but a pixel on a screen. The point is, it is now our pixel to do with as we wish. Because God sees that we have learned to tune in to the larger picture, and that we can be counted on to cooperate with the divine color scheme, we are free to express ourselves and follow our passion.

In other words, our love for God has turned us into a brush in the service of the divine artist, and our individuality, our vision and dream, our love, becomes a useful tool in God’s paint kit. So the Creator lets us create in His name.

This is how we discover that we were created to create. We were designed to envision and invent, to make something good out of good ideas, to develop things that serve others well, and to do all we can to help the next person take another step in life. And we serve best when we serve from the heart—when we live in accordance with our dreams, when our actions are fueled by our deepest passion.

Love brings out the best in people, and our love for God brings out the best in us. Whatever it is we love to do, however we love to give, will transmit that love and serve God’s purpose.

© 2012 Ilona Goin. All rights reserved.

The Humble People and the Beautiful People

People come in many flavors. Like the varied foods at a smorgasbord, some are sweet while others are sour. Next to the hard and tough we find tender ones too. The great thing about a buffet is that we can pick and choose what we like, and stay away from what doesn’t suit us. Individual freedom is great that way.

We can pick our friends, but in daily life it’s not quite as easy to avoid the sour pickles or the hot peppers should we find them too intense for our liking. These are the sort of times we’re grateful to believe in a Creator, assuming that we do, because it reminds us that we are all God’s children. It’s easier to work the hot and sour people into the mix when we know that God loves us all regardless of our personal traits. It helps to remember too that we don’t have to like everyone, we just have to give them the freedom to be.

This simple rule of thumb comes in particularly handy when we are faced with the tension between people of heart and people of mind, those who come from love and those who operate from power. It’s particularly tough when we find ourselves in environments where the latter seem to outnumber the former five to one. It happens—in school, at work, in church, in sports, even in our neighborhoods.

On the one hand we have the common folk, hard-working and earnest, kind of heart and generous of spirit. On the other, we find the self-styled social standard, such as the artsy literati of New York and the surgically perfected “glitterati” of Hollywood. Or, as a friend of mine puts it, there are the humble people and then there are the beautiful people.

These two groups represent an age-old choice posed to every individual throughout history: What will it be, substance or surface? Which offers the greatest treasure life can offer: The fine gold dust mixed into the dirt road of a humble life of love and service, or the baubles and bangles of costume jewels that line the path of the self-important? Most are fooled by colorful glass, but a few know real gold when they see it.

The divide between the humble and showy, the deep and superficial, the givers and takers is not based on economic status or social standing. It is a measure of character and wisdom. Thus every corporation, organization, civic group, church, or small town has its corollaries.

Wherever we go, human nature is what it is. Who doesn’t know someone at the office who takes credit for other people’s work, or someone in their church or synagogue who hogs the limelight to garner personal accolades? Who hasn’t marveled at the near-caricature characters in real-life small-town leadership positions? No wonder both Charles Dickens and Mark Twain found ample material for their stories on their own sides of the Pond.

Vanity and pride are integral drivers of human action, and tend to relegate kindness and compassion to the back seat. Those who are driven to act on their baser instincts, along with those who reach for a higher standard, all wake up each day with a choice. 365 times a year life presents us all with a new day—a blank slate if we wish it to be, if we accept the gift and take the opportunity to re-prioritize and start fresh. It is a chance to not only be a better person but to create a better life for ourselves, our loved ones, and even the strangers we meet along the way.

Each day is a choice between the unimportant and what really matters, between wasting a day or living a life of significance, between self-service and serving others. It’s our choice, yours and mine. What will you do with today?

© 2012 Ilona Goin. All rights reserved.

When a Door Opens, Take the First Step

All too often in life we hold back, not sure what awaits us on the other side of the doorway. It could be good, of course, but then again, we just don’t know, and that’s the problem: we’re not all that keen on uncertainty. And yet, that’s life. So what’s the alternative? In the end there is but one way forward, and that is to boldly go where no individual has gone before: into the next moment of our own future.

Sometimes we linger on the threshold for days, perhaps even years, looking for the strength to keep going. When we finally let our preconceptions and agendas go and take a leap of faith, more often than not we discover that our fears were unfounded. We regret not opening our wings sooner and vow to trust our flight muscles the next time around.

With increased experience come growing faith, courage, and spirit of adventure. The more we take a chance on life, the better we get at flight.

Copyright 2012 Ilona Goin. All rights reserved.