Let me start at the end. I have reached the point where I don’t fear death. I actually don’t believe there is permanent death for any of us, and this belief is very liberating! I can release lots of fears after letting go of the fear of death, and live my life with much more peace.
I have come to believe that our true eternal self goes by various names, from various traditions, which largely mean the same thing: Divine Light and Spark, Radical Grace, the God Within, the Holy Spirit, the Eternal Soul, Conscious Awareness, Pure Energy, Infinite Compassion, our Buddha Nature. This is an eternal presence or awareness that passes all human understanding. I believe we each merge into an “all-connected” state after we complete our human lives that is filled with unconditional love, more powerful than we can dream of. We are spiritual beings having a human experience, not the other way around.
I will articulate more of my spiritual beliefs, but let me first outline my journey to this point.
I grew up attending South Congregational Church in Kennebunkport, a typical Protestant, fairly liberal, United Church of Christ institution. I was baptized and confirmed there, and attended Sunday School and Youth Groups. My childhood best friend was our minister’s son, and, my Mom worked as the Church Secretary for 15 years. I was involved!
The core message about God that I grew up with was that He was not a judgmental or stern God; rather He loved all unconditionally and compassionately, and celebrated our joys and wept with our losses. God was there for great comfort, and Church was a sanctuary in this way. Our Church community or congregation was very important in terms of care and support and friendship.
I didn’t really know how to interpret the many miracles that are in the Christian narrative: the Virgin Birth, the healing miracles, the Resurrection, etc. Were they real, or symbolic? I didn’t take Christ “into my heart” at any rate. I guess my best reconciliation was that God incarnated as Jesus Christ, bringing the divine to the human experience, and He died, to prove we are all blessed, forgiven, and loved unconditionally. I believe in this creed, and for that I am indeed grateful!
My later teenage years and early 20’s I drifted away from my Church, as is common. I did experience a remarkable professor at Colby College named Gus Todrank, who I first had in a survey of world religions, and realized how remarkably similar their roots and precepts are. I later took more advanced courses with Prof. Todrank, and he opened my eyes to unconventional thinking about our religious institutions and practices, and he really started me on a personal spiritual journey, that’s now been going on my whole life.
Marcia is an (American Baptist) minister’s daughter, and when we got married (in So Congo Church) and settled in Kennebunk, it was natural to get involved. We attended regularly, had our three children baptized and confirmed there and attend Sunday School, and I served on and chaired various committees as our kids grew up. We enjoyed the Church community very much, and became personal friends with the current minister. I even delivered a sermon one Sunday, when a guest minister had to leave for an emergency halfway through the service, and handed me (the Deacon in Charge for the day) her typed sermon. It came off not half-bad!
Attending our Congregational Church was and is a meaningful experience for me. It’s a moment in the week to stop, reflect on blessings in my life, enjoy the often-powerful music, take home things to think about from Charlie’s sermons, and enjoy the authentic well-wishes, caring outreach, and goodwill of other members.
But I have been on a spiritual quest for some time, and traditional Protestant religion hasn’t answered many of my questions. The Scriptures seem limited and not often relevant to me, and certainly the divisiveness often created by dogmatic differences among religions has been appalling and shaped our history in a tragic way at times. I sensed and believed there was more at a personal level, that lead to ultimate peace and joy,
So in my 40’s and 50’s I began a more personal quest. Marcia and I began a “book club” with three other couples that was loosely spiritually based – we read the Conversations with God series, for instance, and books by Mitch Albom, and Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. I became interested in Marianne Williamson’s theories of miracles in our lives every day, Elizabeth Kubler Ross’s finding God in our last days, and Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now. I started to read Deepak Chopra, and I even co-led a CEO group I am involved in around Chopra’s Seven Spiritual Laws to Success. I became intrigued by Buddhist philosophy.
I’ve continued to be an avid reader of spiritual growth books. My time is in the early morning, before anyone else is stirring, and I have eagerly received the wisdom of many authors. Since my cancer diagnosis in May 2014, my mortality has certainly become more real to me and I want to play out my remaining life in the best way possible, and I have also been exploring what might come next! Important books during this phase of my life have included Anita Moorjani’s Dying to be Me, see more below), Richard Rohr’s The Naked Now, Jack Kornfield’s The Wise Heart, and Wayne Dyer’s I Can See Clearly Now. They have helped inform and shape my spiritual beliefs, which I will articulate further in a bit.
But active spirituality is not just reading and reflecting; it has to be experiential. One striking example was an experience Marcia had, just after her Dad had passed away. We were in London, and attending Sunday morning worship service at the historic St Paul’s Cathedral. Marcia at one point early in the service said to me “push over”, and she created a space for what I thought was an empty seat. Later in the day, she confided that her father had paid us a visit, and wanted a seat!
In my younger years, I would have been a “doubting Thomas”, believing in only things that are rational and scientifically provable. But I have come to believe that there are miracles, spirits, incarnations, etc. that are just too coincidental and purposeful not to take seriously.
Here’s an excerpt from one of my early Blog posts, recalling a story around my own Dad’s death, and how it impacted me 13 years later:
Growing up cruising the Maine coast, we always saw lots of seals in their natural habitat, swimming, sunning, playing. My Dad seemed to love seals. I will always remember one magical night with him on Seabiscuit, when we were in a place ironically called Seal Cove, on the Damariscotta River, and a large population of seals croaked and sang most of the night. Dad talked about that one for a long time.
Our family had a special seal sighting right after my Dad passed away, in 2001. He died in Florida, and I remember the day when I returned to Kennebunk with my Mom, and we drove down into her driveway on River Locks Road (riverfront location). Some family came out and said there was a seal hanging out off the docks! Now, a seal hadn’t ever been seen by any of us in almost 30 years of living there. This is 2 ½ miles upriver! But that seal hung out for the rest of the day, and my entire family were all sure that somehow it was Dad, telling us everything was okay.
So fast forward 13 years to the Sunday morning in June, a few days after “The Diagnosis”. I wasn’t sleeping much, so got up early and walked Parsons and Crescent Surf Beaches, my favorite morning place of all time. Crescent Surf is very quiet and private, and as I was walking along I was thinking that I am really going to need a lot of strength, both emotionally and spiritually, to deal with this, and I wasn’t at all sure where that strength was going to come from. All of a sudden, there was a seal just outside the surf, staring at me, 50 yards away. He stared at me for a while, dunked, and then came up again and stared some more before taking off.
Duh! I actually laughed. Dad! Of course, THAT’S where I am going to find strength from. His incredible example in life, and in dying, of strength, perseverance, and courage. Okay, I felt better. Thanks Dad!
Do you believe in ghost and spirits? I have refused to discount the possibilities of after-life spirits, and in fact Marcia and I believe our first house was frequented by a spirit or ghost – there were just too many unexplainable events, as there are many documented cases where paranormal activity seems too real to be discarded.
A few years ago my spiritual path signaled a detour, an exploration into a more traditional religion, that of Quakers. My ancestors who came to this country in the mid-17th century were devout Quakers, and it was an important part of my family’s life for generations. It eventually gave way by time of my grandfather in the early 1900’s, but I had always had a desire to learn more.
Well, it turns out that Timothy, whom I am named after, was head of the New England Quaker Mission in the 1880’s and 1890’s, and when he retired from Hussey Manufacturing, he and his wife took up establishing a permanent school in Ramallah for young Palestinian women – and eventually a boys’ school as well. In 2011, I made a connection that these schools still existed and were thriving. So I spent 3 days in Ramallah, Palestine, and got to live in my great-great grandfather’s shoes for a bit. I went to the Dover (NH) Meeting House twice (still active) and enjoyed the “stillness” of the worship meeting, and took in the values of peace, compassion, service, tolerance, and the belief that God the Divine rests within each of us. I saw this in action in both Dover and Ramallah, and it certainly informed me more about my faith history, but in the end it didn’t capture me enough to re-invent myself as a Quaker!
More recently, Marcia and I have visited a couple “mediums” locally. The ability to communicate with those “on the other side” seems remarkable, but the skeptic in one’s self is easy to bring out. But I have been convinced, by the particular details that the mediums have been aware of, that individual spirits exist after death, and they can communicate and sometimes have important messages for us to share. If you haven’t tried a psychic medium, give it a go – it can transform your spiritual beliefs. I now believe I am surrounded by loved ones who have passed away, and they are guiding and comforting me through my life journey, and probably making sure I learn my life’s lessons!
I became fascinated by “near death experiences” (NDEs). The first one I read about was a very compelling story (Proof of Heaven) of a neurosurgeon in Virginia by the name of Eben Alexander. Dr Alexander was one of the best and brightest neurosurgeons, Harvard-trained, a church going man, and he was skeptical of any NDE’s he had ever read about. But one morning he collapsed into a coma, and eventually was diagnosed with a strain of e coli bacterial meningitis. Very rare, and he was on death’s doorstop for close to a week. He experienced an incredible and unbelievable journey. He attempts to describe this place and journey: the richest music, purest light, and brilliant, ecstatic, stunning explosions of light, color, love, and beauty, often without time boundaries. He experienced multiple universes. The overwhelming messages were that we are loved and cherished unconditionally, we have nothing to fear, and there is nothing we can do wrong.
Conventional medical wisdom holds that consciousness is produced by the brain, and most medical experts have dismissed such an experience as a product of some level of consciousness – essentially a very powerful dream. But Dr Alexander knew that his particular condition meant that there was zero brain functioning, and there is no way to explain this in terms of the rational theories we have constructed. Consciousness must come from outside the brain, and where it comes from is a complete mystery. Thus the credibility I have to give to this scientist and doctor who can’t explain the NDE other than as a divine mystery.
One more point to validate Dr. Alexander’s story; he described a beautiful young girl as his angel-guide while was on the “other side”. Several years later, he discovered that he had a sister who he was separated from at birth, and never knew of her existence. He was sent a photo – and of course the photo matched the angel-guide….Hmm?
The next book I read on this subject was shortly after I got my cancer diagnosis. It once again gave me great faith in a spiritual eternity, and faith that we have nothing to fear in human death. Anita Moorjani tells a story similar to Dr. Alexander, in her bestseller Dying to be Me. A young Indian woman in her 30’s, she lay dying in a Hong Kong hospital, after a 2-year brutal fight with leukemia. Her organs and body were shutting down, and her medical team and family thought she had just hours to live. But she later reported a separation from her body, and being able to listen in to conversations about her status, even in other conference rooms in the hospital. She even “saw” her brother getting on a plane in India.
Like Eben Alexander, she experienced an after-life that she had difficulty putting into words. The metaphor that struck me most was her metaphor of “heaven”: Imagine the world’s greatest and largest warehouse, and one that can be only experienced by residing in our physical world. In reality, we experience only a very tiny corner in this space. When we awaken to the many infinite possibilities, it’s like flipping a switch in this warehouse that reveals glories that you never knew existed, colors you’ve never seen, melodies you’ve never heard, skyrockets exploding, and a vastness that enriches complexity, depth, and breadth into eternity.
More recently, I have explored the concept of reincarnation. Why not? It’s not discussed much in Western religion, but it turns our most other spiritual practices include this in their belief system. It started when a long-time friend, who lives in Southeast Asia now, told me over coffee one day that he has had “past life regression therapy”. It was therapy to understand the lessons that he had to overcome and various aspects of his personality that he wrestled with. He was convinced he lived lives as a battlefield warrior in Europe in the 1500’s, and as an Egyptian among the pharaohs.
And as any student of WW II knows, General George Patton was convinced he knew the detail of a battleground in France, despite having never set foot in France in his life.
A recent lunch with a well-known business leader in Maine led to a discussion that he is positive he lived a past life in the 19th century as an Indian chief. He has explored the Dakotas, and just knows places and events that are intimately familiar.
So I read the book Many Masters, Many Lives, by Dr Brian Weiss. He documents how a young woman came to him for anxiety treatment, and over a couple years submitted to hypnosis, eventually revealing 77 past lives! Many of these stood up to historical standards, and were not something she could remotely know in her present world. And she even shed light on a dead son of Dr Weiss, who she could never have known details about.
I can’t explain all this, but remain open to the mystery and the calling of a divine spirit. It shows up as I boil this all down into what I think spirituality means to me.
I have also come further along my spiritual path the last two years in my battle against cancer. Lots of reading and reflecting, including making friends and attending a workshop run by Terry Fralich who focuses on the principles of living our lives in a very purposeful and mindful way. I have introduced Conscious Leadership at our workplace – figuring out how to get the most meaning out of our lives and what matters most. Mindfulness has become my new mantra, and meditation, walks on the beach, and just enjoying the moment have become new ways for me to stay centered in my life.
So here it is, after my long journey:
- We never truly die; we are infinite souls that each has a purpose – that is, to experience love in its most ultimate form.
- Love and fear are the two most basic emotions. When we are born with the divine love of a newborn, we experience the all-encompassing and infinite spirit. Eventually we develop a sense of identity, and ego, and we develop defense mechanisms. Grace is achieved when we can release our fears and our insecurities, and return to love.
- Live your life fearlessly! Trust the wisdom of our infinite self. Giving up the fear of death is extremely liberating.
- All is perfect, and always will be. And time exists as a dimension we are passing through – there are many parallel universes.
- We are all One, and we are all Connected. The world will be a much more peaceful and loving place the sooner we can all realize this truth.
So that’s it! Live fearlessly, know we are all one and connected, and don’t sweat the small stuff. Release yourself into the eternal Grace that is available to us all.
I am not giving in, and I think I have figured out how to truly “beat it”. Onward and Upwards, Savor the Moments, and Keep Buggering On!