Friday, November 25, 2016

Reflections on the Day After: Why Thanksgiving is Decidedly My Favorite Holiday


Who doesn’t love a day off of work, time spent with loved ones, and a delicious meal?  All things to be grateful for and a wonderful way to celebrate, for sure!  But they’re not unique. As enjoyable and truly special as they may be, we do similar things on other holidays and occasions as well.  The dishes may change, and the people we’re with may vary a bit, but these general aspects of the Thanksgiving holiday are common among our various celebrations throughout the year.


At one point in the day yesterday, it just hit me. Thanksgiving has got to be my favorite of them all. For me, two unique things about this day really make my heart smile.

For one thing, Thanksgiving is a day that we can all share. It’s not a religious holiday that by definition involves only a portion of the population. Furthermore, even more shared than Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, or other non-religious occasions like Valentine’s Day and the like, Thanksgiving is a simple but distinctive celebration, with nothing* but love and gratitude as its focus. We can all join in, and how awesome is that?

(*Note: I’m going to ignore here the fact that as something relatively new, stores are now opening on Thanksgiving and people are actually out in them. Personally, I still choose not to join in. Many people, I know, likewise feel the same, but whether you like it or love it, let’s not bring that in here as a point of contention.)



Now, the other thing I love about Thanks-giving… is the giving of thanks! I’ve always loved that, but this year I appreciated it even more than ever before. My husband I have a tradition of spending a number of hours on Thanksgiving day, reaching out to friends and loved ones to give them our good wishes. It’s great to hear from so many and to catch up with some whom we haven’t connected with in in a long time. This year, however, instead of just calling or writing to say “Happy Thanksgiving” and to enjoy the many conversations, we actually stopped to really tell people how much they meant to us, to share with them our gratitude for we what appreciated in them, and to thank them for ways they had been there for us throughout the year.

The impact on me was significant.  My heart truly felt happy to connect with so many in a vibration of warmth and love.  It feels so awesome to let people know they are appreciated, and connecting in that way with people from all different parts of our lives is really special. Adding to that my general thoughts and reflections, throughout the day, about various reasons for which I feel so blessed, I literally started feeling grateful for gratitude itself.

As I connected with even more individuals through the medium of social media, I also found the wave of positive thoughts, thanksgiving wishes, and expressions of thankfulness to be so truly refreshing. We have spent so many weeks in this country enduring a heightened division among us that it felt so good to see and feel something welcomingly different. For at least a day, we shared a vibration of joy and thanksgiving.

Gratitude is something we talk about so much in Spiritism. We know conceptually that it is a source of both nourishment and healing for our souls. Still, when we stop to cultivate it and enjoy it as we may do on days like Thanksgiving, we realize how powerful it really is. It then becomes strikingly evident how important it is for us to exercise and express gratitude not just on a dedicated holiday but as much as possible all throughout the year.

 

Having said all the above, I must add one more thing. I want to acknowledge that for a good number of people the holidays are trying times, including Thanksgiving.  Even when feeling grateful for acknowledged blessings, many find themselves - around the holidays in particular - reminded of losses, difficulties, or loved ones missed so dearly. Others may be prompted to reflect on their lives and for one reason or another find themselves burdened by regrets.  And of course many struggle, whether it be to make ends meet or to simply make it through the day.  If you count yourself among them, I am thinking of you as well, and I have you in my prayers. My heart goes out to those who are hurting, and I ask that in our vibrations of gratitude and love, we remember and extend our giving hearts and hands to those who need the kindness and compassion and of others.  

I likewise pray that for the well-being of our nation, we can keep alive any healthy and vibrations that may have been kindled over this Thanksgiving weekend. For our world as a whole, I pray for peace. Finally, I extend my sincere appreciation to all those who are doing what they can to cultivate respect and care for all individuals, as well as for the environment we share and will one day leave for generations to come. To all doing their best to be make a impact in this world, I thank you.

Happy Thanksgiving to all and God bless.



Thank you for reading!
 
Blessings to all, today and always
Heather

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Taking A Step Back to Gather Perspective and Push Forward.


Ahhhhh, Spiritism…  the science, philosophy, and moral compass that I love so much and from which I have drawn strength and understanding on countless occasions. Where would I be today if were not for this blessing in my life?!  I don’t know, but one thing I am absolutely sure of is my immense gratitude for the opportunity to acquire this knowledge. 

There are times in life when something unexpected seems to hit us from “out of nowhere” - at least from nowhere within the range of our expectations. Whether disruptive acts of Mother Nature, unforeseen circumstances of life that leave us with a feeling of loss, or other events spawned by what strikes us as shocking choices, attitudes or behaviors of our fellow human beings, such events leave us bewildered, asking questions, perhaps making demands. In some cases, we may even find ourselves in a state of anger or fear. 

For some given period of time, a blow like this may threaten to knock us off balance, and it is not until time, faith, reasoning, an open mind, the compassion of others, personal resilience, or any combination of the above helps us to find our “center” that we press forward, with relative equilibrium. In these moments, we should turn to the resources that help us to do just that, and for me Spiritism is one of them.  

To me, it seems that only from the perspective of the immortal soul do certain things stand even a chance of making any sense, as painful as they may still be to endure. That said, it’s not simply that we are immortal. It is that life itself is multi-dimensional and that this particular material lifetime is but one of many - just a spec on the radar of our spiritual existence. Reincarnation is the key to understanding so much about life; but again, reincarnation, alone, is still not enough. The key is that we are evolving, each and every one of us. We are simultaneously on both our individual pathways and a greater, shared journey. 

This is, in part, why we have so much in common and, at the same time, so many differences. It also helps to explain why our collective progress is only a reflection of where we are as an entire group of diverse individuals, including both ends of any spectrum, no matter what aspect or characteristic we chose to measure. This was one of the thoughts behind the following statement I posted on Facebook last week.




I understand, however, that understanding a statement like the one above is probably not something that will happen without some background and foundation in the general principles of Spiritism. A true understanding, to the point of drawing strength and courage from such a concept, will likely only come through some amount of time spent actually studying and reflecting on the teachings found throughout Spiritist literature.

This is why I was so thankful, yesterday, to see this presentation which I’m sharing with you here since the recording is already available. If you are rather new to Spiritism, this video will give you a chance to see and hear some information and clarifications that may serve as at least one source of calmness in a moment of chaos, light in a space of darkness, or hope in a time of doubt or worry. If it at all resonates with you, then I would encourage you to explore further into Spiritism

For those who are already Spiritist, there are some great reminders here that help us to gather our thoughts and regain footing when we stumble over unseen obstacles inherent to a world in our planet’s current stage of spiritual transformation.



Experience of Immortality in Times of Transition
- Suzana Simoes


This timely presentation captures the essence of Spiritism so as to demonstrate just how Spiritism affords us invaluable insights on life and the process of transformation, and it calls upon us to put that knowledge into action.  


◊ ◊ ◊

Let us not become paralyzed, but mobilized. This is not “religious talk”. Nor is it ignorance. Likewise, it is neither blind faith nor a deaf ear. It is the application of an informed and rational faith to make sense of the world and to find the hope and courage to be that which we desire to see in the world around us.  

Don’t take my word for it. Check out the video.

Thank you for reading!
Blessings to all, today and always

Thursday, September 8, 2016

More Isn’t Always Better: Spiritists Value Suffering But Do Not Seek It

More isn’t always better. Ironically, whether it’s a natural human tendency or more of a widespread cultural norm, we so often think that just because something is good in some way, it then behooves us to seek more of it. That is simply not true, but perhaps this is why there is sometimes a misconception, among those who make hasty assumptions without understanding well the teachings of Spiritism, that because Spiritists emphasizes the role of suffering in facilitating our spiritual progress we then seek out ways to suffer as if intentionally.

Just to set the record straight, Spiritists seek happiness, not suffering. This is what we are striving for. The more we study Spiritism, the better we understand how suffering helps our spirits, in the long run, to overcome barriers to the attainment of that happiness we so desire. Suffering educates, awakens, motivates, and inspires, yet the suffering we value is the suffering that finds its cause somewhere in our past, whether in this lifetime or before it. For those circumstances, we are then enlightened by Spiritism regarding the purpose of suffering, as well as what is required on our part to take advantage of its benefits. 



In no way do we seek further suffering as if in attempt to “capitalize” on it and reap its “greatest possible benefits”. This, in fact, would be contrary to divine law! Our ultimate goal is actually to minimize our suffering and maximize our joy, until the latter grows and swells like an ocean wave approaching the shore line, ready to wash away any remaining imprints from our painful past.  

Reflecting on this understanding, I am reminded of the famous Serenity Prayer, by Reinhold Niebuhr:

   God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, 
   The courage to change the things I can, 
   And the wisdom to know the difference.


◊ ◊ ◊


Would you like to know more about the Spiritist understanding of suffering?  Here are a few resources for you to explore more:


Watch my talk entitled Understanding Suffering:




Read about The Meaning of Suffering on this ExploreSpiritism.com webpage:




Check out these articles regarding suffering on the NW Spiritism blog:





Thank you for reading!
Blessings to all, today and always


Heather

Monday, June 6, 2016

“Punished By God?” - Why Spiritism Today Deserves a Different Choice of Wording

I don’t know about you, but I’ve personally reached a point in my Spiritist studies where I just think that references to being “punished by God”, and the like, do not represent the best choice of wording to use in our present-day dissemination of the Spiritist message. I kind of cringe a bit when I occasionally see or hear such wording being used still today. Please know that I mention this only because of my love of Spiritism and my appreciation for the invaluable perspectives it affords. For over 150 years now, the spiritual realm has been working hard to help us understand the Spiritist teachings and employ them for our own betterment, and the spirits’ message deserves terminology that will convey it as effectively as possible. While Spiritism leads us to understand the compassionate nature of God and the beneficial aspects of our experiences as evolving, spiritual beings, the connotation that is typically associated with the word punishment can take away from a more enlightened understanding of our spiritual evolution. 



Spiritism helps us to comprehend our gradual development of intelligence and moral capacity, and it shows us how all our experiences contribute to this education and growth. As such, we know that along our journey, we make choices and, consequently, the results of those choices become part of our learning process. We learn how reincarnation facilitates our progress by allowing us opportunity after opportunity to learn at our own, self-directed pace. And from countless communications from spirits at all different degrees of advancement, we have testimonies that help us to learn from both the mistakes of some and the motivational examples and wisdom of others. 

Through literature that has helped us to envision the interactive nature of the spiritual and material realms, we’ve learned, among many important teachings, about so many ways in which discarnate beings help and support us in the struggles of material life. Most importantly, suffering takes on new meaning under the light of Spiritist principles. Though we may still struggle to embrace our challenges, disappointments, and pains, from Spiritism we understand their role in helping direct us toward the true happiness we are all destined to achieve. 

Having stated the above, when one thinks about being “punished by God” or “paying for something one has done”, what comes to mind (or what could, in isolation, come to mind) may be something totally different from an understanding of learning, accountability, the compassionate justice of our creator, and the natural laws that govern life.  That wording may tend to make us envision an act of revenge or retaliation of some sort, as if an “angry” God were still settling scores. If Jesus came to teach us about God’s love and eradicate this kind characterization of God, then the spirits have explained Jesus’ message with information that deepens our understanding of God’s perfect nature.

Granted, within the greater context of Spiritist teachings, the word punishment can be understood in a way that is in better agreement with the Spiritist principles; in fact, this exercise is of particular importance when reading the foundational texts of Spiritism, and those who understand Spiritism can make the proper association when doing so. But isn’t it preferable for our present-day dialogue to go “straight to the point” with language that resonates best with that which has enlightened and inspired us?  And shouldn’t we also consider how we may best serve those who come new to Spiritism and, at minimum, do not yet have the context with which to make the proper interpretation?

◊ ◊ ◊

As I’ve hinted to just above, I am very aware that the works of the codification, for example, include many instances of the words punishment and its variations.  The latter are found in statements made both by Allan Kardec, himself, and the communicating spirits. Perhaps invariably, then, some may question whether I am contradicting Kardec or pointing out what I’d consider a flaw in those texts. I assure you that this is not at all the case.

To begin, we need to allow for the timing and historical context of those works. From its inception, Spiritism offered a shining light to liberate its students from the hopeless belief in eternal damnation, while also empowering individuals with awareness of their spiritual existence and progress. Considering that grand contribution, any potential issue with the mere use of the word punishment, in reference to the unpleasant consequences of certain choices was much less significant than the benefits afforded by those relatively progressive teachings that were introduced. The way I see it, the terminology at that time perhaps represented a bridge between old and new concepts. By the way, for those who’ve read my previous post entitled “Dear ‘The Spirits’ Book’, You had me at ‘What is God?’”, this is not unlike the analogy I used there of crossing monkey bars.    

It’s also important to keep in mind that the word punishment doesn’t have to conjure up thoughts of vindication. For example, a parent may punish a child and do so out of love - to establish authority, teach a lesson, or deter a harmful behavior. In this case, it is the parent who is generating the circumstances that the child will experience as an unwanted consequence of his or her actions. The punishment, therefore, is unpleasant but temporary, and as the child matures, he or she will one day understand both its beneficial purpose and the love with which it was instilled. This meaning is rather acceptable, and perhaps this interpretation is the bridge that would help take us to a more involved understanding.  It also helps us to read through the earlier Spiritist texts.

Now, while the child in the above example is not electing nor generating his or her own punishment, in the reality of our spiritual life, we do in fact influence how we experience the outcomes of our choices and the kinds of experiences by which we will learn. This happens, for instance, through the workings of our conscience (see The Spirits’ Book, Q&A 621) and even through certain situations that, while in the discarnate state, we may request for an upcoming incarnation.  Furthermore, unlike the parent who typically creates a punishment designed primarily for calling the child’s attention, in a general way, the kinds of consequences we experience, via divine law and our own conscience, are very specific to what we need to learn and/or correct as a result of our less than ideal choices and behaviors.

For further exploration, let’s consider the fact that we do not always correlate unpleasant consequences to punishment. This depends upon the source of the circumstances. To illustrate, suppose you run too quickly down a flight of stairs and you end up falling and getting hurt.  You may recognize your error in taking the stairs too fast, but would you put the rest of the blame on punishment?  No, because you understand the natural law of gravity. And who can blame “science”?  Well, although the example is extremely simplistic, the point can be made that the circumstances we may deem as “God’s punishment” are really, in a similar way, only the materialization of laws just as natural as the law of gravity. They are, however, still not yet understood in that way.

◊ ◊ ◊

When we come across punishment in Spiritism, let us be conscious of the intended meaning of the word. Fortunately, once one has taken the time to read through Kardec’s texts, this meaning does become clear within the rich philosophical framework of Spiritist principles. We cannot take punishment in this context to indicate an “eye-for-an-eye” type of retribution. It simply refers to the fact that we must be shown where we have gone wrong and then correct our mistakes, restore what we have damaged, or re-harmonize what we have left in imbalance. We may be in moral debt for having caused a loss, but we’re not “made to pay”; as painful as the process may be, we’re instead given the opportunity to re-establish our good standing.

My point in all of this is to say that while the word punishment, per se, is not necessarily inaccurate, I believe that the negative connotation it carries, for many, does not do the greatest justice to the truly inspirational education that Spiritism has brought to us. Under such circumstances, it may unintentionally lend itself to the viewpoint of the child who fails to see the greater purpose and screams “unfair!” at a (perceived-to-be) external imposition of consequences, even more so if we read into it an attribution to God of imperfect human tendencies and behaviors.

While we can understand the wording in texts from Kardec and other earlier writers, I humbly suggest that in our modern-day communications, we take care to select words and expressions that really introduce others to kind of inspiring clarification that Spiritism is capable of. So let’s make it clear that we are not truly punished, but rather we are educated. We do not pay; we restore. We are not condemned; we are redeemed. We are not sinners; we are students. We are not belittled; we are beloved. 


I believe that in taking this approach, we will not only help those who are new to Spiritism; we will also grow in our own exploration and practical application of the Spiritist philosophy.  
                     
                 


Sunday, March 20, 2016

A Research Paper on The Scientific Investigations of Allan Kardec

What made Allan Kardec and his work stand out amidst all the Spiritualist activity that was so prominent during his time? Much of this had to do with the scientific approach that Kardec applied to his studies of spirit manifestations and communications. 

Kardec’s scholarly and professional background made him well prepared to take on this task of such significance, and this is illustrated by the approach he took to this work, as well as the elucidating logic woven through his explanations of the spirits’ teachings derived as a product of his investigations.

Those who appreciate these characteristics of Kardec’s work, as well as those who would like to learn more about Kardec’s process of investigating the existence, communicability, influence, and teachings of spirits will want to check out this recently published research paper that I, for one, was thrilled to come across.

Author Alexander Moreira-Almeida referred to Kardec as “a pioneer in proposing scientific investigation of psychical phenomena”, and he wrote about it this paper, entitled “Allan Kardec and the Development of a Research Program in Psychic Experiences”.



I encourage you to take a look into this and share it, as Moreira-Almeida has attempted to increase awareness about the existence and significance of Kardec’s research. I leave with you here the abstract and more information about the author. You can then follow the link to the full-length paper that has graciously been made available to the general public.

Paper Abstract (spacing included by me for visual purposes):

Allan Kardec was one of the first scholars to propose a scientific investigation of psychic phenomena but details of his life and his research work are not well known and have been misrepresented. This paper is a descriptive essay briefly presenting Kardec's biography, the first steps in his seminal research, and several epistemological/methodological guidelines he proposed to develop a comprehensive scientific research program to deal with psychic phenomena.

 
Kardec raised and tested several hypotheses to explain mediumistic phenomena: fraud, hallucination, a new physical force, somnambulism (including unconscious cerebration and clairvoyance), thought reflection (including telepathy and super-psi), discarnate spirits and several other theories. He accepted that fraud, hallucination, unconscious cerebration and thought reflection could explain many phenomena regarded as mediumistic. However, when mediumistic phenomena were studied as a whole, the best explanation would be the spiritist hypothesis, a spiritual origin for the phenomena. He named this hypothesis "Spiritism".
Some guidelines he proposed to advance scientific research in psychical phenomena were: to use methods appropriate to the subject of investigation, to avoid both sterile skepticism and credulity, to be open to the novel, and to heed the need for a comprehensive and diversified empirical basis. He stressed the importance of theory for a scientific research program, and that facts are not enough to create certainty. Parapsychology/psychical research has much to gain in better knowing Kardec's and other pioneer's works, not just for a better understanding of the field's history, but also for potential scientific/philosophical tools that may be useful to move the field forward. Deeper studies on aspects of Kardec's work and life are warranted.
Source: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/228394013_Allan_Kardec_and_the_development_of_a_research_program_in_psychic_experiences


About the Author:

   

 Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Federal University of Juiz de Fora (UFJF) School of Medicine, Founder and Director of the Research Center in Spirituality and Health - NUPES-UFJF, Brazil. Chair of the Section on Spirituality of the World Psychiatric Association. Trained in psychiatry, CBT and has a PhD in Health Sciences from the University of São Paulo (USP), Brazil. Formerly a postdoctoral fellow in religion and health at Duke University (USA). Coordinator of TV NUPES (youtube.com/nupesufjf)
Source: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Alexander_Moreira-Almeida

  

Full-length Paper and List of References:
View here




Thank you for reading!
Blessings to all, today and always
                                       
Heather


Friday, March 11, 2016

What Is Spiritism? (Great Video!)

Curious about Spiritism? Sit back, relax, and have a watch this fantastic video!


 What Is Spiritism?

(shared with the gracious permission of Conscious Living Spiritist Group)

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Does Analytical Thinking Decrease Religious Belief?

Or do we simply need beliefs that stand up to logic?

The Huffington Post published an article about research suggesting that "prompting people to engage in analytical thinking can cause their religious beliefs to waver" to some degree.  Here’s my two cents on that suggestion, from the perspective of Spiritsm:

Having dared to dive deeply into their religious beliefs, people sometimes discover questions left unresolved or some specific teachings that do not make rational sense. Still, many do not lose their intuitive sense of a higher power. At that point they may become seekers. Alternatively, they even may choose to stay with their religion, turning to it as a way to connect with God and taking from it that which they find in agreement with their sentiment and reason.

Regardless, there is a reason why people believe so strongly about certain things they “feel” to be true, even when the complete set of teachings (meaning, taken in their entirety), in any particular religion or philosophy, does not resonate with their analytical thinking. Question # 959 of the The Spirits’ Book, for example, asks, “Where do we get our instinctive sense that there is a future life?”, and the spirits answered that it is from the knowledge we had before our (present) incarnation. Some of the initial Q&A's of this book also refer to this same intuitive belief that we have about the existence of God.

That said, many who hear this intuitive voice but take a hard look at their traditional religions or philosophies become restless with doubts and questions, and they start searching for something that can answer their questions without compromising reason or faith. What they are seeking is, in fact, the “rational faith” (as opposed to “blind faith”) that Kardec wrote about upon analyzing the Spiritist teachings and realizing their capacity to revolutionize our way of thinking.





A time has come in which our evolutionary human spirits seek to understand life and its meaning on a deeper level. But it must also be a practical level.  This is why so many find Spiritism to be a breath of fresh air.

We’re not looking for the mysterious or esoteric. We want to comprehend and be fully engaged. We want information that gives us insight into why we are here in this world, why we suffer through hardships that seem to have no fair cause, and how we can find happiness. We want to know that there is good reason for cultivating love and compassion. We want to understand our creator. We want to know what will happen to us when we “die” and if our loved ones that already passed on continue to live. We want explanations for supernatural phenomena that others try to dismiss. And the list goes on.

Friends, it is for this reason that Allan Kardec wrote that "unshakeable faith is only that which meets reason face to face in every epoch"1 and that “it is precisely the rationalism of our century that leads us to accept Spiritism”!2


Thank you for reading!
Blessings to all, today and always

Heather



1 "The Gospel According to Spiritism"  
See items 7 in Chapter XIX of The Gospel According to Spiritism by Allan Kardec [original title in French: L’Évangile Selon Le Spiritisme, published in 1864], translation © 2008 by the International Spiritist Council, published in 2008 by the International Spiritist Council.

2 What Is Spiritism? by Allan Kardec [original title in French: Qu’est-ce Que Le Spiritisme?, published in 1859], translation © 2010 by the International Spiritist Council, published in 2011 by the International Spiritist Council.