Essence and the Self: Entering Emptiness to Find Fullness

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“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

– Jesus (Matthew 5:4)

Dear Students,

We have built our semester’s exploration in World Religions around the concept that a common message in the Wisdom Tradition is the need to let go of a small self in order to allow a Larger Self to emerge. But this simple message begs the question: what is it really like in daily life to experience this movement from one to the other? Continue reading

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Opening to Presence: Best Books of 2016

screen-shot-2016-12-25-at-10-52-13-pmIt is not difficult for me to pick out my spiritual highlight of 2016. A good friend recommended that I look into Dot B mindfulness training during the summer holidays, and so I applied across Europe for a program. However, each was full, and so I gave up, assuming that I would remain in Hong Kong for the summer. Image result for EnneagramThen at the last minute I stumbled across an Enneagram workshop in London, taught by Russ Hudson, arguably the premier teacher in the field, and his gifted co-teacher Robert Holden. They had a few remaining spots, so off I went to London, with the Brexit vote looming, trying to better understand this captivating personality typing system. My biggest underlying question that I carried to London with me, however, was how does the Enneagram fit into my understanding of the Wisdom Tradition, as taught by my teacher Cynthia Bourgeault. Continue reading

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Purifying Your Purpose: Finding and Letting Go of the Self in “Service, Society, and the Sacred”

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“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me . . . Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.”

– Jesus in Mark 8:34, 10:43-44

“If psychological work helps us find ourselves, spiritual work takes a step further, helping us let go of ourselves.”

– John Welwood, Toward a Psychology of Awakening, 97.


Dear Students,

This semester in “Service, Society, and the Sacred“* I want you to explore yourself at a level of depth and specificity that I assume you have never done before. Ideally, this self-exploration will give you some clue about your life purpose. That may sound over-the-top grand, but I don’t believe it’s too early for you to understand something about your soul’s purpose in your experience as a high school junior or senior. Continue reading

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Mind the Gap: Cynthia Bourgeault on Moving from the Small Self to the Larger Self

screen-shot-2016-12-04-at-11-22-14-amDear World Religion Students,

We have been talking all semester about moving from the small self to the Larger Self, which means bringing together your day-to-day experience living in this visible, competitive, and finite world (of the horizontal) with your Eternal Being (on the vertical). You are now doing the Spiritual Practices Project, which I consider to be the highlight of the course because it puts all these abstract ideas to the test. And the most practical question seems to be: what will happen as you do these spiritual practices? What is it really like to move from the small self to the Larger Self? Continue reading

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Non-Reactivity: The Supreme Practice of Everyday Life

screen-shot-2016-10-23-at-5-20-05-pmHigh school gives students lots of opportunities for emotional reactivity –
and for practicing its opposite, non-reactivity.* 

Dear World Religion students,

We’ve been talking about the common message contained within the cross-cultural Wisdom Tradition, which states that the goal of life is to marry the horizontal material existence in time with the vertical dimension of the invisible and eternal. Or more personally, we have said that the aim of life is to integrate Image result for after buddhism batchelorthe small self of daily life with the Larger Self that lives forever. All of these lofty and abstract ideals may be appealing, but what does it mean in real life and how do we get there? And, in keeping with body-mind-heart emphasis of the Tradition, how do we make sure the spiritual journey isn’t just some kind of head trip? The surprising and eminently practical answer to these questions is something that Buddhist writer Steve Batchelor calls non-reactivity.[1] Continue reading

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“Crossing Over:” A Poem about the Spiritual Journey


The 13th century Persian poet Rumi wrote love poetry that gave expression to the deepest yearnings of the human soul in search of God the Beloved. Here are two examples of his exquisite verse:

“In your light I learn how to love. In your beauty, how to make poems.
You dance inside my chest where no one sees you,
but sometimes I do, and that sight becomes this art.”

“Love is from the infinite, and will remain until eternity.
The seeker of love escapes the chains of birth and death.
Tomorrow, when resurrection comes,
The heart that is not in love will fail the test.”

I wrote the poem below, which bears some loose resemblance to Rumi’s  style and themes, in the middle of the night as I sought to deal with unconscious fears – by bringing them into conversation with spiritual symbols I encountered on my trips to Bhutan. Continue reading

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Homecoming at Last: Service Learning and the Divine Embrace

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When Christ said: ‘I was hungry and you fed me,’ he didn’t mean only the hunger for Image result for mother teresabread and for food; he also meant the hunger to be loved. Jesus himself experienced this loneliness.”

“Seeking the face of God in everything, everyone, all the time, and his hand in every happening. This is what it means to be contemplative in the heart of the world. Seeing and adoring the presence of Jesus, especially in the lowly appearance of bread [Holy Communion], and in the distressing disguise of the poor.”

-Mother Teresa


Next month I will take my students again to the Foshan orphanage, as I have many times over the last 20 years, for a 4-day weekend as part of the Humanities I in Action course. What brings me back as an educator year after year is the raw, potentially transformative power of the experience. Over and over again the simple bringing together of my students with children who live in a state-run institution in China breaks into my students’ lives like no other event. Continue reading

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