Spiritual self-helplessness

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I used to be a purveyor of spiritual self-help. The biggest portion of my bookshelf at home has long consisted of this genre. These books point to different ways to bring peace, love, health, cash, and prizes into your experience. Some of them are bent towards the non-secular and others the secular.

They all offer a ‘right’ way to do ‘it’. In order to get what they promise, you do things this way.

And so, for a very long time, I’d do what the book in front of me told me to do. I’d have a nice spiritual buzz for a few hours or days. Sometimes, I’d see a nice uptick in whatever area of my life I was working on — maybe it was finances — and I’d think, Great! This stuff is working!

And then that sense of emptiness would arise again which would prompt me to go get another spiritual self-help book in order to fill that longing for...

Yeah… I couldn’t put a finger on exactly what it was that I was seeking. I thought it was money, but I’d personally known a number of monetarily wealthy people and they didn’t seem much happier than me.

Whatever my search brought me was never enough. I was never far enough up the spiritual ladder, it seemed.

Higher, Jonas. 
Higher.

I know I’m not the only one who’s grown tired of climbing up the delusional spiritual ladder to nowhere.

Well, since my deconstruction of the modern religion of non-religious spiritual self-help (which came years after my deconstruction of the brand of Christianity I was raised with), I’ve returned to the Christian faith with a post-conventional point of view. I’ve recovered the baby from the bathwater (I think) and since my return, the biggest game-changer for me can be stated with one word…

Grace.

Grace is the biggie. Grace is what makes ancient contemplative Christianity unique and it’s so often overlooked (especially in our modern culture out West when we’ve turned it into just another brand of self-help).

This is because grace has nothing to do with our self-will. It has nothing to do with our spiritual morning routine. We can’t manifest grace. Grace just is. Grace is all we need. And all we can do is be aware of it, open to it, and accepting of it.

Grace comes into our tiny human view when we reach the end of ourselves. When we’ve self-helped and self-helped some more only to realize none of it has really done the trick (for very long).

It’s when we realize how little help we can offer ourselves that we open ourselves up to help from all of life itself.

This is spiritual self-helplessness — the emptying of the self and the acceptance and extension of grace.

Because when we realize how our efforts of helping ourselves are topically nice (I mean, I like money, health, and sex), but mostly in vain, we can open our hands to the divine and be free from our struggling, striving, self-obsession, and external manipulation. We can know that we are children of God, that we’ve never left the garden, and that all of our stumblings are forgiven.

This is what we yearn for at the soul-level. But we replace it with superficial material ‘things’ that are mere false idols for what really matters — our innate wholeness that never waivers, but that we so easily forget.

And so, here I am. A purveyor of spiritual self-helplessness. (Probably not going to be on Oprah’s list anytime soon, but at least you’re here and I’m here, which is great.)

My prayer for you and your helplessness is this…

May your self-help bring you all the help you can give yourself. May you manifest just enough of the things you desire so that you can see that it’s never enough.

May you come to your knees before the end of this incarnation and realize that your wholeness and completeness aren’t up to you and never have been. As a child of God, they’re etched on the underside of your soul, out of physical view, but securely seated as ever.

I pray that you feel the relief of that. May you feel — truly feel — your helplessness. In other words, may you realize God’s grace. May this grace release you from the fruitless pursuit of personal perfection and power. And may you extend this grace to the brother and sister who stumbles alongside you in this clumsy, vulnerable human experience.

May this grace allow you to see that you’re not in the driver’s seat and never have been. I pray that you find the back seat comfortable as you enjoy the ride through this life knowing that it’s way better with others to share the view and laugh along with.

Yes, I pray that you laugh at the helplessness of the human condition. May more and more tension ease with each guffaw.

You and I — we’re personally helpless. But in this realization, we’re free.

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A good way to get good at stuff

Photo by Japheth Mast on Unsplash

First, a disclaimer… We, as a culture, need to chill a bit when it comes to ‘getting better’ (yes, that’s why I baited you with that headline, because maybe you’re someone who’s a biiiit — shall I say — driven to succeed).

A lot of us in our culture today are severely unhappy due to the constant thriving and striving to improve.

We need to knock that shit off. Seriously. We’re here. We’re alive. We’re breathing. We have life and light flowing through our veins. It’s all a gift.

I believe more focus should be placed on celebration and connection with life rather than improvement born from an ego ideal that won’t make us much happier anyways.

Okay, there’s my disclaimer.

Now, we’re human. I get it. We like to get good at stuff. Yes, there are a lot of ways to get good at things (practice comes to mind), but as I write this, I can’t think of many in my experience that’s been more powerful (yet subtle) than this:

To get good at something, stay in the conversation around it.

Now, what I’m talking about here are things that are more creative/intellectual in nature rather than physical/athletic. Although you future Olympians may find some nuggets of truth here as well.

I’ll take writing as an example. Yes, I’ve done (and still do) the work… Years ago, I’d trade in hours of sleep every night for hand-copying old long-form sales letters. I bought every book I could about the craft. I’d read blogs I loved for hours (this was back in the days of Google Reader when you could just keep scrolling through the archives of blogs like a long book).

But all the while, I stayed in the conversation. I stayed curious. I talked to people both inside and outside of the writing world about it. I’d talk to myself about it all day long. I’d contact my favorite writers and try to pick their brains (there are a lot of unanswered emails out in Gmail land somewhere). I had serious doubts about the way things were being done. But I knew that if I stayed present in that world and did my work, I’d grow and learn and evolve. And I did.

It’s happening right now with my spiritual studies. I’m going to school to become an interfaith minister and we’re currently studying New Thought pretty heavily (I won’t go into what that is here — you’re a Google search away from the answer). For some time now, I’ve been running into some doubts and inner challenges around it.

But I’ve stayed in the conversation. I’ve hung out at my spiritual center, taken classes, accepted mentoring, talked to people, challenged people, and asked questions knowing that this is a long-term game. It’s why it’s supposed to take us years of study and apprenticeship to be able to do this work.

All the knowledge and insight in this realm — or any realm, in fact — doesn’t come from watching a few videos, reading a few books, and taking a few courses. Yes, they’re stops along the way. I don’t mean to discount them. But none of them are the finish line.

It takes staying in the conversation for the duration. It takes patience with yourself. It takes staying in through the dip to see what’s on the other side.

We need to let go of the notion that ultimate knowing and uncertainty will ever come. Getting ‘good’ at something takes patience and tenacity. It takes being humble while having an insatiable curiosity. It takes knowing when you’re ‘doing it wrong’ so you can change it up. And it takes knowing that the possibilities of improvement are endless.

So what’s the rush?

Stay in the conversation and you won’t be able to help but grow.

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Personal development is never enough

“A person leafing through a book” by João Silas on Unsplash

You may be a personal development junkie like me. If you are, please know something:

Developing the personal self is never enough.

If I were to read every one of Tim Ferriss’ books and do all of his hacks and processes perfectly, I promise you, at the end of it all, I’d still be unsatisfied. Not to blame him or any other personal development author (I guess I could even be accused of being one), but that’s why personal development sells so well. Because we can never get enough of it.

Personal development can easily become fodder for the ego to spin its wheels on.

If personal development remains the focus, you’re playing the ego’s game. A game focused on the separate, personal self. This game always ends in shattered expectations, burnout, not-enoughness, and lack. Yes, it may lead to some cosmetic and material improvements in life, but we still… won’t… quite… be there.

At some point, if we really want to experience fulfillment, joy, and connection with our life and our work, we have to trust-fall back into something wider than the personal self. If we don’t gain the awareness of a deeper Self (yep, I’m talking about the Divine here, folks), we’ll just stay in that hamster wheel chasing the next shiny improvement.

Without a sense of surrender, life gets tiring really easy. But when we see that the personal self is a representation of something bigger and unseeable that’s tied into all of life, we start to see that we’re mere bit players in a grander dance than our rational minds can understand. When our death grip on life becomes too much to bear, we can surrender to that loving, creative, intelligent, uniting force present within each of us.

This is the role of spirituality. It takes us deeper and helps us transcend our small personal selves. And when we live from an awareness of that deeper place, we can put personal development in its proper role. We can have fun with it…

We can go for that 6-pack because it seems fun, not because we’re disillusioned into thinking our self-worth rests on it (I prefer the dadbod myself, but…).

We can start that YouTube channel, not because our idol does it and we have to be like her, but because it’s a great creative outlet to express a deeper mission.

We can improve our relationships, not as a way to cajole or manipulate a separate being into accepting us, but in order to express grace, forgiveness, intimacy, and our deeper truth as united beings.

There’s great virtue in personal development on this human journey. But we can’t stop there. The personal self will always be in a state of development. But the soul could care less about development.

All it wants is to know and express itself as it is.

Know that you can do both.

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Making a wholehearted pivot

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If you’re a creative professional/entrepreneur type, you’re making this stuff up as you go along (else, you’d just be a normal business person, which sounds about as interesting as a manila envelope).

I love this lifestyle. I love what the internet offers us today.

If we can locate the meeting place between our gifts and other people’s desires, we can create a life doing what we love.

I barely graduated high school and dropped out of college when I was 19. If I’d relied on conventionality along this path, I’d still be scrubbing golf carts every night until 9 pm.

But I can sit here and write a warm post to you that matters. And I can quietly offer something of value to you for money — if you find it useful. If not, no hard feelings. I’ll try again tomorrow with more heartfelt stuff.

Being able to do this. Is amazing.

Anyhow — back to my original point… Since we’re making this stuff up as we go, sometimes this requires pivoting. Changing direction. Correcting our course.

If something isn’t working, we can’t just keep doing it until our manager tells us to stop. Because we have no manager besides the one in our very own hearts (and our customers, of course).

Pivoting is scary. Especially when it comes to content. Because you’ve done all this work that’s pointing people in this direction. But now, you have to go in another direction (if you want to not scrub proverbial golf carts again). It’s like turning a gigantic ship made up of months — maybe years — of old content.

I’m recently going through a bit of a pivot myself. Not a drastic one, but any pivot feels drastic to the ego. Because the ego is rooted in a certain identity. An identity that it deems safe and certain.

But it’s all bullshit. The ego’s sense of certainty is flawed. And it’s sense of uncertainty is flawed.

So, what to do amidst an impending pivot?…

If it’s a knee-jerk reaction to an egoic fear, think twice. If the direction of this potential pivot makes you feel small and constricted, let it go.

But if it makes you feel expansive and you can see the possibility for both the growth of your business and your soul…

Turn the ship.
It’s fine.

Sure, some people who may have been following your work will gnash their teeth and kick and scream. They may even unsubscribe (gulp).

When you pivot, you must release your ego’s grip on approval and follow your heart in your new direction.

They’ll find another boat to jump on. There’s plenty of boats online. But yours is going somewhere different. If they care to jump on later, it’ll be there.

Pivoting is an intuitive process. It’s one where both the heart and mind must work in unison. And it requires decisive action.

Full steam ahead, captain.


Jonas Ellison is a professional writer and interfaith minister-in-training who provides practical and spiritual support to his fellow creative craftspeople. You can find more of his work at Higher Thoughts, one of the most popular single-author publications on Medium. Subscribe to his daily missives and musings at JonasEllison.com

Stirring the water doesn’t help it settle

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger

But this is what the self-help industry at large is up to. It’s up to giving us ‘strategies’ and ‘methods’ to ‘fix’ our mental/spiritual state so that we get into a more ‘positive’ place (a lot of air quotes there, intentionally).

If you’re reading this post, you’re likely into personal development. If I were to ask you what you’re seeking in your journey, you might say something like…

A sense of security.
To feel at home in myself.
A deeper sense of calm.
Greater presence.
To become more connected to myself and the world. 
Freedom of movement, in a sense.
An insight rich state of being.

And I’d have to agree with you. It’s why my bookshelf at home has one main section: self-help/spirituality. Because I once believed I needed them to get me to an inner state that resembled the qualities above (and still sometimes do).

But I started seeing, more and more, that these qualities showed up when the last thing on my mind was ‘improving myself’.

That deep sense of well-being that I was seeking would arise when I least expected it. While I was present in my life, not caught up in my head.

I saw that the problem wasn’t in getting somewhere I’d never been before, but in getting back to a naturally settled state that was at the core of my being.

I saw the human lot, not as original sin, but original grace. That my well-being is part of my design, not something I had to gain access to through some 7-step process.

In life, we unknowingly teach ourselves to drift away (or run away) from this space. And when we start trying to ‘improve’ ourselves, what we do is fill it with good ideas, activities, etc. thinking they’ll bring us the thing we already have.

But the more we do, the worse it gets.

The metaphor of the pond works perfectly here. For some reason, we metaphorically stir the waters of the mind harder the more we try to get it to clear up. After all, it feels productive, right? The ego feels like it’s doing something.

But at some point, we have to stop. And when our arm gets tired of stirring, we might lie back on our jacket at the side of the pond and take a nap. We might look up at the sky and notice the divinely intelligent pattern that the birds fly in. Or ponder that thing we forgot at the store. Again.

And when we sit back up to stir some more, we’ll see that the water is clear. It’s the damndest thing, isn’t it?

Meditation

I now recognize my stirring. I see that the work I’ve been doing to get out of some contrived broken state is a futile exercise. Because at my core, underneath the swirling waters, lies a calm so deep and serene that nothing can agitate it. That said, I also see that stirring the waters is my human nature. So beating myself up over it doesn’t help. And if it makes me feel productive to stir, than stir I will. But nothing beats putting the stick down and realizing the transformative self-corrective pattern of the universe that I’m a small, yet infinite, part of. And so it is.

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One small secret: My bro side

Secrets, secrets… We all have them.

Today’s post is inspired by an email I recently got from John Romaniello, one of my favorite bloggers. John (or ‘Roman’ as he’s called) is a fitness dude. He has one of the top fitness sites around, and he’s a fantastically entertaining writer, unlike many writers in that arena who are about as dry as the protein bars they peddle.

(Quick aside: I always tell people I mentor to read stuff outside of their subject matter to stay fresh. He’s one of my favorite ‘outsiders’ beyond the reaches of spirituality, although he does get dangerously close at times, probably without knowing it).

Anyhow, back to the email… Roman wrote to motivate people to share a small secret about themselves that the internet at large might not know about them.

Here’s his call to action:

Today, reveal one small thing about yourself on social media. One small secret that your friends or fans or followers don’t know about you.

Let them in just a little. Let the cracks in your armor show — because that’s how the light gets out, and how it gets in.

Use #onesmallsecret and tag me. I want to know what you reveal.

Although I’m a couple days late, I figured I’d take a crack at it. So here’s my #onesmallsecret (even though hashtags don’t work on Medium).

I have a bro side

Since we’ve had a kid and whatnot, I haven’t been to the gym in a long time (besides a couple of failed attempts), but there was a time when I was — I gotta say — pretty ‘swoll’, to use bro terms.

I know… Philosophical, minister-in-training, theological spirituality guy Jonas. That’s probably how you know me. But I once loved getting huge muscles and stuff. Even though I’m in a different place, that yearning is still there.

I started working out a lot when I was single and in my mid-twenties. I purchased Arnold Schwarzenegger’s classic Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding and studied it like an apprentice. It was fascinating to me.

I’d work out every day — sometimes twice a day. I never got into steroids, but I consumed a healthy amount of supplements like protein, creatine, etc.

I’ve always been a skinny-ish, small-ish dude. I’m of average height now, but it took some time to get here. Getting physically fit, having clothes fit a certain way, and carrying that posture was fantastic.

No, I was never obnoxious about it (maybe just a little), but I was definitely a bit of a bro, no doubt about it (yes, I also have a fairly robust brocabulary, which I sometimes sneak in on this blog, if you’ve been paying attention).

I never took my bro side too seriously — it was more in jest.

This post comes at a timely fashion because today, I joined a gym and did my first full workout in a long time. It was embarrassing. It was really hard. But it felt amazing. Even got a little pump going #gainz. But this dad-bod has to go.

So there you have it. A little secret about me.

Why is this a secret? I guess, because it doesn’t fit my ego-ideal at this time of my life. It’s not something I go around advertising because it’s not part of the persona my ego has in mind.

But it’s true… There’s a bro side of me that I can’t deny. It’s not my upfront personality, but if I’m at the gym around bros, I can still turn it on when the mood arises.

How about you?

If you’re someone who shares a lot online like me — maybe you have an audience of some sort — there’s probably something slightly embarrassing about yourself that would feel freeing to share with your tribe. No need to go too deep and dark.

What’s something that you don’t want people to know, but in reality, you kinda do? Something that might clear the air, show a different side of yourself, and add complexity to the conversation you’ve started online?

Throw it in the responses and let me know.

And please… Don’t brofile me, m’kay.


Jonas writes short daily stories and preachments on the daily here in Higher Thoughts. Get one to enjoy with your coffee every morning by subscribing below.

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True Heroism

Image: Akhil Verma

Joseph Campbell wrote the blueprint for heroism. It’s astounding how far today’s version of has drifted from the ideal.

You’ve probably seen this, but if not, here’s the model:

The classic notion of a hero/ine (I’ll use the word ‘hero’ in this post for brevity’s sake) is one who goes the distance.

He might be initially motivated through individualistic ego-based means, but that ego ideal quickly shatters under the intensity of the challenges and temptations he faces. He encounters a mentor and undergoes a deep, painful process of transformation. This hero returns home as a newly-forged generative being with endless gifts to give others and ‘pay it forward’, if you will.

Today’s version of heroism has been degraded…

Today’s hero is bold, muscular, rich, famous, and naturally gifted. He’s out for himself, having nothing to give others besides a projected image of grandiosity. He’s made a self-sufficient life and has constructed heavy boundaries — both inner (via a strong ego) and outer (via a huge mansion, cars, etc.) — to ensure his survival. Today’s hero is still stuck in survival mode (although he survives really well).

Today’s model of heroism isn’t really heroism, it’s fame.

I’m not knocking this. I think fame is great. Even if there’s a lot of luck that goes into the equation, it takes a lot to get to this point. But if our hero stops at famous, he’ll never fulfill his heroic longing.

This survival-based heroism falls far short of the classic hero in that, as much as he’s surviving better than the rest of us, he’s not really thriving.

We hear the stories of the famous rock star dying at the tip of a needle or at the bottom of a cliff in a smashed up Lamborghini. Upon closer inspection, our hero of today is seen to be unfulfilled in a very deep sense.

True heroism serves the common good, or it is not really heroism at all.
 — Richard Rohr

In order to thrive, a hero must grant the soul’s yearning to share his hard-won gifts. I’m not talking about donating 1% of his earnings to some charity or putting his name on a new library for the tax write-offs.

He must eventually fire his ego and surrender to the other, a horrifying feat to the ego, indeed.

The way I see it, if you’re the winning quarterback or contestant on The Bachelor, you might be famous, but you’re not a hero.

Fame isn’t a prerequisite for true heroism. True heroism can be accomplished without making headlines or gaining a huge Twitter following. It can be accomplished on a very quiet path.

No Lamborghini required.


Jonas writes short daily stories and preachments on the daily here in Higher Thoughts. Get one to enjoy with your coffee every morning by subscribing below.

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Necessary suffering: The way down is the way up

Image: Alex Ivashenko

If we look at the world — from nature to the stories and myths we’ve told each other throughout time — a poignant truth can be derived:

One thing must be sacrificed in order to gain something else.

A caterpillar has to lose its caterpillarness in order to become a butterfly.

Leaves must die, fall, and turn to dust before new life emerges in the spring.

Remy has to get sucked down the sewer and lose his family before he becomes a world-class chef (Ratatouille is one of my all-time favorite movies — I had to use it here).

Donald Trump has to become president before a new kind of politics arises (did I say that?).

There’s no way around it. Things must get really shitty and die before something new emanates from the loins of creation (sorry, I just felt like saying ‘loins’, okay?).

This is the case in our personal lives as well…

There’s a ‘necessary suffering’ required (yes, I dare say, required) in life. It’s programmed in and I’m convinced it’s absolutely inescapable.

This tendency to want to escape suffering is the root cause of the lion’s share of extended evils of our world, especially in the west.

I don’t know about you, but I was raised with the notion that, if I didn’t ‘sin’ and I said my prayers the right way — if I was a good boy — I’d escape suffering…

But then we lost our home…
And my mom got sick and passed away when I was 16…
And I had to deal with my extended family’s addictions and poverty…
And I lost all of my money in 2008 a month after getting married…
And my dad passed 6 months before my daughter was born…

I could go on, but I know I’m preaching to the choir. You’ve likely experienced lower than I have. This is no pissing contest or miseryfest. This is a call to solidarity through the one thing we all have in common, but which our society strives so hard to avoid...

Our suffering.

Have you been able to escape it? I’ve never met anyone who has.

So why do we have such a stigma about it?

Losing, failing, falling, sin, and the suffering that comes from those experiences — all of this is a necessary and even good part of the human journey… You cannot avoid sin or mistake anyway (Romans 5:12), but if you try too fervently, it often creates even worse problems.
 — Richard Rohr

The ‘way down’ is the only ‘way up’.

We must embrace our suffering and see the blessings it provides.

We must see suffering, not as something shameful, but as a natural event that allows parts of ourselves to die so that new parts of us can be birthed.

This view doesn’t fit into our Western philosophy of progress. We’re all about the ‘hockey stick growth’ — ‘up and to the right’. We see success as #winning. Or #crushingit.

We see suffering as being for the poor, unfortunate, and downtrodden. Not for ‘us’. We’re big into ‘engineering our own superiority systems’, as Rohr would say, to where we don’t allow suffering at all.

But I say this…

Real transformation can come only through suffering.

The avoidance of suffering only prolongs and intensifies the suffering when it does strike. It’s an ego move that adds layers of disappointment, embarrassment, projection, blame, denial, etc. on top of it.

The ego sees suffering as something we must suppress and push aside rather than lay ourselves bare to.

Like a wound wrapped up in a dirty, sweaty sock, all it does is fester and eat at us from the inside-out before re-emerging in unexpected, harmful, violent ways.

A last word from Fr. Rohr…

We grow spiritually much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right.

The way down is the way up. Or the way up is the way down. Same difference.

Human perfection isn’t found in perfection. It’s found in how we handle our imperfection.

This is where holiness is hidden. We find the growth of our soul in the depths of our pain, not when we’re piously floating above it.

And so I pray that you suffer. May you suffer well. May you suffer fully. May you not be ashamed in your suffering, but rather enlivened. And may your soul soar to new heights on the other side of that suffering.


For more on this, PLEASE read Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life from Richard Rohr. #mindblown


Jonas Ellison is a spiritual writer, teacher, practitioner, and an interfaith minister-in-training. He helps people deepen their lives through applied spirituality while documenting his journey along the way.

To subscribe via email to his updates and exclusive content, click here.

Dancing with the absurd

Image: Mark Asthoff

Experiencing something without trying to understand it is really hard for us to do. The human mind wants to understand everything. By ‘understand’, I mean that we try to fit it into our model of the world.

If we can’t do this, we deem it absurd. It proves impossible to understand. Since we can’t mold it into our structure of the world, we typically fight it or run from it.

Either way, we stay the same.

Experiencing the absurd without understanding it is an exercise in blowing up your old structures so you can rebuild anew.

It’s hard to dig your heels in and argue for the absurd. And that is where its beauty lies. When we allow ourselves to sit in the tension of not falling to one side of the argument or another, something in us deepens and makes room for more complexity than we could stomach before.

There’s a great virtue in sitting with a mystery without trying to solve it.

When we sit with the absurd and let it be as it is, we can’t help but stretch our limits and grow. A weight lifts off of our brains when we realize we don’t have to understand everything. It’s when we genuinely let go of understanding the absurd that we create space for new insight to be born.

Understand?…


Jonas writes short daily stories and preachments on the daily here in Higher Thoughts. Get one to enjoy with your coffee every morning by subscribing below.

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Be mean in a nice way

Another spiritual lesson from my 3-year old kid

Image: Igor Ovsyannykov

My daughter is growing a conscience. It’s fascinating watching her inner-intricacies bloom towards the surface.

Her emotions used to overwhelm her. They still do, but as she grows able to express them in words, the pressure is lessening.

She’ll do something completely out of line — like pull the dog’s tail, push over her high chair, or take permanent marker to… whatever — and when we call her on it, she digs her heels in and fights it.

But then, at some point after the steam blows off — it could be minutes, hours, or days later — she brings it up like it’s her idea…

“You don’t poke the doggie’s eyes, Daddy.”

Or…

“You don’t throw the toys over the fence, Mom.”

“That’s right, Rory. That’s a good idea,” is what I always say to give her credit for her brilliant insight.

The other day, she flipped the tables and got me with one that struck me as profound…

I yelled at Dagny, our Shih-Tzu (or, Rory’s Shih-Tzu, I should say) for chewing on our rug. I didn’t just yell, I Y-E-L-L-E-D at her.

“You don’t have to be mean to Dagny, Dad,” she said, in her best teacher voice. “You can be mean in a nice way.”

Wow… Mean in a nice way, huh? 
Yeah, I suppose so…

I guess I could have followed Cesar Millan’s advice and been ‘calm and assertive’ instead of taking the ‘loud and obnoxious’ approach.

It got me... 
You CAN be mean in a nice way.

Hold the line but don’t lose your head. 
Stand up for yourself, but don’t lose your center. 
Speak your defiant truth, but don’t attack frivolously. 
When someone wants to escalate things, don’t flee, but refuse to follow suit.

That kid… Tell ya what… Sometimes I wonder who’s teaching who.


Jonas Ellison is a spiritual writer, teacher, practitioner, and an interfaith minister-in-training. He helps people deepen their lives through applied spirituality while documenting his journey along the way.

To subscribe via email to his updates and exclusive content, click here.

The transformative nature of decision

Image: Austin Neill

Thoughts only matter to a certain point. Your thoughts can (and likely will) be all over the place about any one thing.

It only matters what you decide.

A recovering gambling addict can be walking through a casino with a million thoughts firing through her synapses telling her to stop at the table and play. But none of them matter. Her future only hinges on what she decides to do.

She can be a slave to those thoughts. Or, she can decide to walk past the tables, out the door, and onto the viewing deck to check out the view of the sun setting on Lake Tahoe instead.

This is where her power lies.

It doesn’t matter what you think, only what you decide.

When you harness the power of decision rather than being ruled by it, your life changes instantly.

When a certain habitual pattern is set, sure, it’s nice to think better thoughts. If you’re into thinking stressful thoughts, it helps to consciously steer those thoughts in a more positive direction. But decision is what lays down new tracks in your thought patterns.

Decision-power is like a muscle. The more decisions you make, the stronger it grows. Yes, at first, it hurts. Hell, it hurts even thinking about it. But soon, you’ll be moving more weight and enjoying the challenge.

Here’s an important distinction:

Action is what turns a thought into a decision.

Decisions are thoughts on steroids. They lead to action and overrule every thought that came before them, no matter how negative or limiting.

Don’t just think more positive thoughts, decide to do more positive things.

Get your body involved. Get your wallet involved. Pay for the person’s coffee behind you in the drive through. Tell that teenage checker at the grocery store that you’re moved by how she does her job with a smile and a glimmer in her eye.

Faith involves your feet. Not just your mind.

Decisions are what mold your future. Not thoughts. Not conditions… Decisions.

Do you even know how much power this gives you?

Well.. Now you do.

What’ll you decide?


Jonas Ellison is a spiritual writer, teacher, practitioner, and an interfaith minister-in-training. He helps people deepen their lives through applied spirituality while documenting his journey along the way.

To subscribe via email to his updates and exclusive content, click here.

The inner-flow vs. the outer-flow

Image: Richard Tilney-Bassett

You know the saying…

Go with the flow.

Most of the time, this phrase points to someone who takes no initiative. Who has no confidence. And who lets the world have its way with him.

On the other hand, there’s the value of not going against our emotional current. Rather, by finding thoughts that take us downstream into alignment with Source, we can go with the flow of our higher self.

So what is it? Is going with the flow a powerless state? Or a dynamic spiritual approach to life?

The way I see it is, we all have an inner-flow and an outer-flow.

The inner-flow is what we feel when we close our eyes and align with Spirit. In this inner-flow, we see a future that excites us. We feel a calm detachment from the stresses of life. There’s a certain undercurrent that beats our heart and nudges us towards more, carrying us on to another day.

The inner-flow of life is the one that exists in your soul.

The outer-flow is the rat race going on all around us. When we’re not attuned to our inner-flow, this is the dominant flow in life. It has to do with bills, time clocks, Facebook arguments, automobile problems, telemarketers, orange presidents, and wind damage to the roof.

The hard thing is, the inner and outer-flows typically run contrary to each other.

Most people go with the outer-flow of life after a certain age (my threenage daughter, Rory, is definitely not doing this yet). It wears them down, and they end up breaking. They start wearing cell phone holsters, dad jeans, and buy PT Cruisers (don’t worry, anyone can fall victim to this force). This is the more limiting of the two flows, but it’s the one that the ego tends to identify with out of fear and the yearning for certainty and safety.

If this is you, I’m thinking you should close those eyes again.

Full steam ahead.


Jonas writes short daily stories and preachments on the daily here in Higher Thoughts. Get one to enjoy with your coffee every morning by subscribing below.

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A book review: Power Through Constructive Thinking by Emmet Fox

You may have been noticing a lot of Emmet Fox quotes in my recent posts. That’s because my nose has been buried in his book, Power Through Constructive Thinking.

This is the first book in my curriculum towards becoming a Spiritual Practitioner and then (if I keep it up) a New Thought minister. (You can read more about my journey here, if you’re interested.)

I’ve read dozens of books in the New Thought/Transcendentalist realm, but this one was the most Jesus-centered I’ve come across. Although it’s a Christian-centered theosophy, most books in this genre speak of the Divine in a more general, impersonal way. This book, however, is super-Jesusey (yep, I just made that a word) and calls on the Bible throughout. But it’s Jesusey in a refreshing way.

Emmet Fox is anchored in his belief without stepping into the territory of dogma. This is the Jesus message I can get behind. It’s one of love, unity, and inclusion. It’s subversive and it portrays how he defied the fearful/violent regime of his day (and, as we have it, one that is still alive today).

He walks through several well-known Bible verses and gives his spiritual translations on them. This sheds a whole new light on some of the old, tired, lofty ideals within it.

Takeaway

This book took me to a deep, introspective place. I particularly enjoyed the ‘7-day mental diet’. This is the practice where you’re to take 7 days to monitor your thoughts and only ‘eat’ the ones that are healthy. Any thought that resembles junk food is to be examined and discarded instead of consumed and given power to.

The kicker is, if you happen to mess up and find yourself getting pissed off at the news for an entire day (like me), you have to start back on day one.

I did this exercise and, after the first few days, felt… better. Way better. So much so that I decided to keep going. Since then, although I may have popped an accidental mental M&M at one point or another, my diet has been quite healthy.

As for the journey

So here I am on step one of many and I’m still as enthusiastic as ever on this journey towards Ministerhood.

Like I’ve said before, I don’t know if I’ll ever have an actual church. I love having a good excuse to study world religions and philosophies. And if it helps my work here, it’s done its purpose.

I love being a student. Sure, I could just randomly read spiritual texts, but having an actual curriculum keeps me focused. It gives me boundaries. And creativity digs boundaries.

Anyhow, I highly recommend this book to anyone on a spiritual journey. However, if you have any resistance to the Bible or Jesus, skip it. But if you’re cool with the J-word and are open to seeing the Christian message in a new light, this one is for you.


Jonas writes short daily stories and preachments on the daily here in Higher Thoughts. Get one to enjoy with your coffee every morning by subscribing below.

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On spiritual language

Image: Amanda Jordan

It’s only recently that I’ve been able to use more spiritually-amplified (borderline religious, in fact) words. For the longest time, words like ‘God’ and ‘Jesus’ looked like threatening opponents on the page. I’d delete them as soon as I’d type them (and saying them was out of the question).

I don’t know why... It’s not like religion and I had any kind of falling out. I just know that people who’ve used certain religiously loaded words have immediately triggered my BS detector and I never wanted to be one of them.

This resistance showed me that I had work to do. It took some time to let go of the limiting thought-forms that had glommed onto those words, but I finally did. And lately I’ve been using them — and words like them — quite liberally without wanting to go take a shower afterwards.

It’s been nice opening myself to spiritual vocabulary. It’s like learning a new language and has allowed me to talk to a whole new section of people.

I now see that I can use that vernacular without being obnoxious. But I also realize that this terminology isn’t necessary to make an impact on a spiritual level.

Communicators must meet people where they are. My mission has always been to bring the transformative concepts of spirituality into the lives of even the most secular people.

Speaking of Jesus, he used such lofty, religious terminology because most people in his day (especially the religious elite whom he railed against) spoke that language. He was meeting them where they were. At that time, the world largely worshipped anthropomorphic Pagan gods (not hating on Pagans, btw — just saying). But he also had no problem toning it down and talking in more colloquial terms to those who were on the fringes of the religious elite.

Spiritual principles aren’t just for those who claim to be spiritual. They’re for anyone who has a human heart.

And so, reflecting on this notion, it’s nice to know I can crank it up when speaking with those who speak that language. And I can tone it down when talking to my accountant.

I’d love to hear your opinions… Do you see certain religious words (God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, etc.) refreshing in today’s largely secular world? Or do you roll your eyes at them?

Just curious…


Jonas writes short daily stories and preachments on the daily here in Higher Thoughts. Get one to enjoy with your coffee every morning by subscribing below.

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Keep it surreal

Image: Alex Ruban

We drive a lot in Nevada. Almost everything is at least 20 minutes away. Podcasts are must-haves.

I listened to an interview the other day on one of my favorite podcasts, The School of Greatness, hosted by Lewis Howes.

Lewis was interviewing the co-founder of Summit Series, Elliott Bisnow.

I knew nothing of Bisnow before this, but found his energy to be contagious (besides the fact that he sounds eerily like Tom Cruise). The whole interview is fantastic. You can catch it here:

[embed]http://lewishowes.com/podcast/elliott-bisnow/[/embed]

What struck me was an underlying theme that he summed up in one quote where he said…

“It’s not enough to ‘be real’. You’ve got to aim for creating surreal experiences to inspire the kind of impact that will change the world.”
 — Elliott Bisnow

This spoke to me...

I know there’s a certain virtue to ‘keep it real’. A lot of folks have done very well in doing this. But ‘keeping it surreal’ is next-level stuff.

I don’t know about you, but I love experiences that raise me out of the hamster wheel of daily life.

I have ‘real’ all around me. My Facebook feed is ‘real’ (or is it fake?). My indigestion is real. My bills are ‘real’. My fears and doubts and insecurities and limitations seem ‘real’ (although I know they’re not, but that’s for another post).

I have plenty of ‘real’ in my life. I want more ‘surreal’.

On a personal note, this is why I created Higher Thoughts. It gives me a space, every day, to enter into the surreal and bring my reader along with me.

The surreal. This is what Spirit calls us to.

So, keep it surreal this weekend. Let me know how it goes.


Jonas writes short daily stories and preachments on the daily here in Higher Thoughts. Get one to enjoy with your coffee every morning by subscribing below.

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Positive negative visualization

image: Ewan Robertson

Positive thinking is great. I’m all about it. I see nothing wrong with visualizing an end goal and holding firm to that vision.

But one thing that positive visualization falls short on is how to handle the obvious negative thought-forms that arise along the way.

As I sit here and type this, if I were to try to visualize a goal (hold on, let me do this…. okay, got it), negative stuff automagically pops up.

Doubts are a very real part of this process. But ignoring them while staying adamant on focusing on the positive outcome does something quite interesting…

It roots them in even deeper.

By ignoring these doubts and negative thought-forms, we keep them in-place, unattended. And when they’re unattended, they’re able to dig their heels in. The quiet recesses of the mind provide a safe space for them to do this.

To heal your doubts, shine the light of your conscious awareness on them.

Look straight at them. But look at them with a soft gaze. Not a sharp, fearful one.

See them for what they are. And then see yourself dealing with those negative outcomes in a fruitful way. See yourself pushing them aside. See yourself overcoming them in very real ways.

Here’s what’s really neat about this (did I just say ‘neat’?… yep, sure did). Many of them will disappear as soon as they’re exposed to the light because they’re so outlandish.

By moving towards the negative with a positive spirit, you heal those doubts and mental obstacles rather than letting them live unimpeded.

Don’t worry, you law-of-attractioners out there… Doing this will not bring the bad stuff upon you. Only if you give the doubts and fears the last word will they seem to overtake you. But here, you’re looking at them resolutely and mentally moving beyond them.


Jonas Ellison is a spiritual writer, teacher, practitioner, and an interfaith minister-in-training. He helps people deepen their lives through applied spirituality while documenting his journey along the way.

To subscribe via email to his updates and exclusive content, click here.

On spiritual posturing

Image: Miguel Salgado

This is largely what prayer is to me.

A posturing of the Spirit.

An emotional/spiritual/mental/(and as a byproduct, physical) stance we take in our lives…

It’s a way in which we carry ourselves…

Energetically. 
Intentionally. 
Metaphysically.

Do you fill up a room with life and light and spirit and presence? Or do you cast a dark cloud on it?

How do you connect your inner and outer worlds? How do you bring the two together? Is there a conflict? Does your inner-voice say one thing while your mouth says another?

Spiritual posturing is prayer without ceasing.

Not the kind of prayer where we take intermittent spiritual breaks from our lives to try to coax some deity into intervening and doing things for us.

But a perpetual inner-conversation with the segment of our maker that lives in our very own soul to see how we’re measuring up to our highest Self.

Spiritual posturing is a constant calibration of spiritual alignment to ensure we’re living wholeheartedly.

Life is fluid. Always advancing. Never static.

In life — just like anything that involves motion and growth and speed — good posture makings things a lot easier and yields far better results.

Stop slouching…
That’s better.


Jonas writes short daily stories and preachments on the daily here in Higher Thoughts. Get one to enjoy with your coffee every morning by subscribing below.

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On Hope and her sister, Faith

Image: Lautaro Andreani

If faith is blind to you, I’m afraid what you’re experiencing is not Faith, but her younger sister, Hope.

When you see the two sisters walking into the room from afar, they look very much alike.

But as they move closer, you see that your notion is far from the truth…

Hope is nothing at all like her older sister. I mean, she’s sweet and all, but she’s frail, anemic, and not very bold. She hangs out at the bar, worried and fretful.

But Faith — Faith is the real deal. Faith is a powerhouse of a woman.

Faith is on the dance floor right away. She has substance and she gets it done. She’s confident and sure of herself. Her underlying principle is the Presence of the Divine.

Unlike Hope, Faith doesn’t hold the future on a fanciful wish. She doesn’t shy away or get nervous from the ghost of uncertainty. She sees her task as breathing life into what’s yet to come into the world. Faith has conviction in the unseen.

Hope is spoiled and stubborn. She spends a lot of time complaining about things and she waits for the future to materialize to her whims before she takes action.

Faith acts first and knows the future will fall in line. She sees her Spirit as the first mover, not the outside world.

If Hope latches on to you while you’re getting a drink, I’m sorry. She can ramble on and on about how she really wanted to do this and that, but how it just hasn’t worked out yet.

I suggest hanging out on the dance floor with Faith.

If you can catch her.


Jonas Ellison is a spiritual writer, teacher, practitioner, and an interfaith minister-in-training. He helps people deepen their lives through applied spirituality while documenting his journey along the way.

To subscribe via email to his updates and exclusive content, click here.

On pushing into your greater mission

Image: Siebe

Sometimes, life needs a good push to get things moving.

I wrote the other day about being pulled to a greater mission. But, as Benjamin Foley pointed out, I failed to articulate the crucial prior step...

[embed]https://medium.com/@benjaminjfoley/do-you-think-one-needs-to-push-first-in-order-to-pulled-1ff3daed3d1b[/embed]

The pull usually starts off as a whisper. An invitation to initiate.

I believe a push comes before the pull really takes hold.

You hustle your face off for a year to get that business rolling...

You endlessly edit that manuscript to get it ready to ship...

You try roasting that blend 47 times to get that certain aroma and profile you’ve been looking for…

You blush and sweat and stutter for the first year of being on stage in front of the most horrible crowds…

But soon, something else takes hold of you.

Something I briefly stated in that post but would like to emphasize here is this:

The ego pushes. But Spirit pulls us towards something greater than our smaller selves.

We’re pulled to push. And when we give life a nudge, the pull aids us. Because we’re not doing it on our own.

Yes, we have egos. We’re human.

I rail on the ego all the time, but it’s only to bring attention to it instead of being unconsciously ruled by it. When we’re aware of it, we can employ it instead of being controlled by it.

Nothing pushes like the ego…


When we push merely on the impulse from the ego, we’re nothing more than slaves.

But when the pushing is in conscious service of our Soul’s higher calling, we’re masters.


The ego pushes. 
God pulls.

Quite the powerful tag-team, right there.


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Jonas writes short daily stories and preachments on the daily here in Higher Thoughts. Get one to enjoy with your coffee every morning by subscribing below.

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On dropping the notion of approval (for now)

Image: Pawel Janiak

I have a quick one today. It’s an easy question I’d like you to start your day with.

It’s not incredibly deep or esoteric. It’s pretty simple (but aren’t the simplest ones the best?).

Here it is…


What changes would you make in your life today, if you didn’t care what anybody else thought?


The primal, carnal, reptilian parts of our brains still speak quite loudly, even at this stage of our evolutional development (we’re only a couple clicks away from the stone age in the big picture, friends).

Approval is huge. Approval is largely what kept us alive at one time. If our tribes didn’t approve of us, we were kicked out of the campfire circle and left for dead. We were accused of witchcraft and burned at the stake. And all the other horrid stories of the rejected throughout history (and even current times).

Today, override that voice. 
Ask yourself a new question.

You’re not in high school anymore (if you happen to be, and you’re reading this, you’re far beyond your age in spirit, so this applies to you too). You’ve left your parent’s guardianship (even if you’re still living in their basement).

This question — and your individual answer to it — is incredibly freeing. It’s liberating. It dares you to set out on an adventure of the soul.

Growth comes from steering out of old ruts and making new ones. It’s not an easy thing to do. It’s rough and bumpy and treacherous.

But eventually, new grooves will be set. New tracks will be laid down. And a new life will emerge.

Your life.


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Jonas writes short daily stories and preachments on the daily here in Higher Thoughts. Get one to enjoy with your coffee every morning by subscribing below.

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