Words Without Thoughts

I was lying on the couch last night watching Hamlet, like you do, when I heard these lines:

“Words without thoughts never to heaven go.” –Gertrude, Act 3, Scene 3

I paused the video to reflect on this. It seemed to jive with what I had heard in church that morning, which was that prayer is a thought, a belief, or a feeling arising within the mind of the one praying. Without the feeling behind it, words are just words. To make prayer effective, you’ve got to fully embody the belief behind it.

I’ve been working with some affirmations for abundance and prosperity lately. I taped a few little mantras to the refrigerator and the bathroom mirror. I noticed that some days I’d recite them mechanically, just saying the words and then mentally ticking off the task, wondering when my prosperity was going to show up. Then when nothing happened I’d fall into the old attitude of lack. I began to wonder if I really believed in what I prayed for, or if I just thought I believed.

I started an experiment and began reading the affirmations out loud with passion. I said them with zeal and used big hand gestures, like an evangelical preacher. Even if a small part of me was still doubting inside, I tried to act as if I really believed my words. Then I’d stand with my eyes closed for a few minutes, trying to feel the truth of my words, letting them soak in.

A few days after this experiment I received an invitation to teach a meditation class and two yoga classes for an adult education program, something I had been trying to attract. Naturally, I accepted.

I am learning that gratitude is the prerequisite to abundance, not the other way around. You can’t sit around in a separative funk wondering, “Where’s my abundance?” and expect it to just show up. If your attitude is always that there is never enough, then that’s what gets reflected back to you. God doesn’t hear the words without thoughts. But if you start out with a feeling of gratitude for anything, even the beauty of a sunrise, that’s a signal to the Universe that you are open and ready to receive.

I challenged myself to make a list of 100 things that I am grateful for. It started out with some basics, like having a roof over my head, food on the table, and a job. The more I wrote, the more I realized how fortunate I really am. Things like having access to clean, running water; the right to vote; paved roads; the ability to drive…things that some of my ancestors didn’t have, and many people on the planet right now don’t have. I began to notice small things, like having clean sheets, the public library, and an orange tree in my yard. Once I got going, it was easy to find things to be grateful for.

Thanksgiving is an ideal time to work with the concepts of gratitude and abundance. I invite you to also make your own list. Let the feeling of gratitude grow in your mind and crowd out any feelings of lack or want. You could even start the list by taking a deep breath, and feeling grateful just to be alive.



Spiritual Mile Markers

Dear Friends,

Today is the one year anniversary of this blog!! I first want to say thank you to each and every one of you for your support. I started this blog because I wanted to share some of the wisdom I’ve gleaned from having a spiritual practice. I wanted to create a community where we could help each other along the path. The topics I write about usually come from my daily life, ideas that are rooted in the mundane activities we all share but that contain universal spiritual principles. I hope this blog has given you some practical ways of deepening your own practice and a sense of being in it together. I am very grateful for the presence of each and every one of you.

I called this blog “Spirit Trail” because I liked the metaphor of the path, with all its twists and turns and ups and downs, it’s challenges and it’s rewards. Sometimes we fear what might be around the next bend; other times we get an expansive view. It’s not uncommon to take a wrong turn, or to have to repeat your steps. But ultimately we are all climbing the same mountain.

Whether you are conscious of it or not, you are on a journey of discovery. Your soul is on the path of enlightenment, a dawning of the full awareness of who you are as a spiritual being: a unique expression of god. Every person you meet on this journey has value to bring to your experience. Every experience you have serves your enlightenment in some way. This is going on around you and through you every day.

My story is your story. My particular dramas might be different than yours, but the tale is the same. Here we are, traveling together. I am playing the role of teacher/blogger, and you’re playing the role of student/reader. But the funny thing about being a teacher is that the roles often get reversed. So really I’m just reminding you of the real power that already exists in you. I’m standing here next to you, showing you the full picture of your life. Your life is a microcosm of the macrocosm of the universe.


Some of you may be asking, “Are we there yet? How do I know if I’m making spiritual progress?” Well, thankfully we know what it looks like further down the trail because a few brave and wise souls have already journeyed there and sent postcards back. All of these enlightened beings seem to share three qualities:

1. Peace. They have a profound sense and understanding of their connection to spirit and to all things, and they rest in that. They don’t panic, they don’t worry, and they’re not troubled or conflicted by all the things going around them. Even when things happen in the world that seem horrific, they somehow see all of our human drama from a higher perspective, knowing that no soul is ever lost and all good is guaranteed.

2. Compassion. All enlightened beings show compassion, which is love in action. They recognize our oneness and know that how you treat others is paramount to how you will be treated in return. Compassion is one of the first signs of spiritual maturity. They are forgiving. They’ve made enough mistakes in life to know that they cannot judge another person. We’re all doing the very best we can.

3. Wisdom. Those who have traveled further down the road hold a deep, abiding wisdom that cuts through fear and doubt. If they come to a rattlesnake on the path, they simple walk around it. They trust in knowing they are an aspect of god, and this gives them a power, a deep connection to the truth within.

So as we journey along, watch for these spiritual mile markers, a way of examining your own life and checking in with your progress. Cultivate these three qualities in your daily experiences. You are on the right path.

With love and gratitude from your fellow traveler,


Happiness is a Skill

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. These ideals are part of the very fabric of American life, written even into our Constitution. But maybe the Founding Fathers should have clarified what they meant about happiness, because it seems as a nation we have gotten caught up in the pursuit of happiness, rather than finding happiness where we always are: in the present moment.

For many of us, real happiness is a fleeting phenomenon. It always seems to be just around the next corner, in the next promotion, a new house, a new car, or even a new partner. We think that acquiring something new and better will bring contentment, but usually it doesn’t work. After the novelty of newness wears off, life returns to a baseline and we crave the next new thing.

Life is full of ups and downs. You can choose to BE happy.

Life is full of ups and downs. You can choose to be happy.

Some new studies are showing that there is another way to find lasting happiness. Instead of trying to find happiness as the direct result of something, you can focus on simply being happy and success will follow. We can actually reshape how the brain responds to the everyday environment through neuroplasticity, a concept that is gaining momentum in the scientific community and that has practical applications for all of us. You can change your perception simply by paying more attention to what is working right instead of constantly worrying about what is wrong.

Many years ago I was at a party and someone asked how I was doing. I started into a whole laundry list of everything that was going wrong in my life, but the other person just held up their hand and said, “No, I don’t acknowledge any of that.” I was shocked. But after the bruise to my ego healed I could see that they actually were happy. It was like they’d put up an umbrella against the dark cloud I’d been carrying around with me.

I’ve been trying to experiment with this in social settings by opening the conversation with something positive, or by putting a new spin on the facts. Instead of, “I’m stuck, nothing’s working,” I might try, “Wow, there is so much abundance in my life. I have so many choices and I feel overwhelmed trying to make sense of them all. It’s exciting being in the unknown!” It seems to change the whole tone of the encounter, and now science is backing up this effect.

By treating people kindly, happiness can actually be spread. Neurons that fire together, wire together, is how neuroplasticity is often explained. Changes in mood among one person are contagious in social settings, such as in an office environment. These changes are communicated by mirror neurons, which capture the perceived emotions of others.  If a room contains happy and unhappy people, those most expressive of emotions will have the most influence. Mirror neurons will most strongly pick up their emotions.

Over a longer term, practicing an appreciation for what’s good can rewire the brain to a more optimistic outlook. Just as harmful events and stress can cause anti-social changes in the brain, a positive environment can rewire the brain to promote pro-social behavior and well-being.

So don’t worry, be happy! And Happy Independence Day to all my US readers!

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