Our Better Nature

May 19th, 2015

The Power of Appreciation

May 6th, 2015

The Power of Appreciation
From Santa Rosa Center for Spiritual Living
November 2014

The Wisdom of Humility

May 30th, 2014


Spiritual Practice

February 28th, 2014

josh with sylvia
 In the morning, just about as soon as I can I find a place where I can have some solitude, I engage in my daily spiritual practice.  My tools are a cup of coffee and a book to read.  For me, it doesn’t matter if it’s cold or hot, or light or dark, just as quiet as possible.

 I close my eyes and I meditate.  I get in a position that’s comfortable for me.  I don’t assume some “holy position.”  I assume the comfortable position is the holy position and that’s why it’s comfortable.

 What I like to do is focus my attention on listening—appreciating what I hear.  Some focus on the breath, some like to stare at something like a candle flame, I just listen.  Some mornings I’m immediately into it and feel connected with life but most mornings involve a forgiveness practice.  I have to forgive when so much is coming to mind that is incomplete or that I am incomplete about from the day before.  So I forgive myself, I forgive others, and if I can’t in that moment, I promise myself I’ll look at it later and try to move on.  If I’ve learned anything about my challenges it is that they will wait.

 If what is keeping me from being present is something going on later in the day I try to let it go for now, and make a mental note to address it later.

 Meditation for me is really about appreciation.  By appreciation, just being in the moment, I become enlightened by life, by the spirit, the newness of right now.  Usually just five minutes or so of this is all that I need.  If I do too much longer than that I get anxious.

 Then I read little.  Just a few paragraphs.  My rules for the book I read is one, it has to be spiritual in that it addresses our relationship with the whole, and two, it has to be to the point.  By that I mean the two paragraphs can’t be there to set up for what comes three pages later–the statements have to be complete in themselves.  It’s got to be the kind of thing you can just flip to a spot and start reading.

Take something from the mystic Meister Eckhart for example-

“What is Truth?  The truth is something so noble that if God could turn aside from it, I could keep the truth and let God go.”

 Then I’ll just contemplate that for a bit.  Then I pray…

 I use the technique of affirmative prayer which is not to ask for anything but to know something.  I establish my consciousness of the infinite and I know the purpose of my prayers relationship with it.  It might go something like…

“I know that God is all.  The sacred is everywhere.  Divine Love, Divine Meaning, Divine Joy is at the heart or life and in the heart of my life right now.  I know it is at the center of my meeting today, and I know it is present in my meetings and interactions. I also know this is true for all of those who have requested prayer from me.  It is true of my loved one’s.”  And so on.

 That’s my everyday spiritual practice. I’ve been doing it just about like that for 15 years or so.  I’ve absolutely come to believe it’s the most important thing I do each day.  And in a more mystical sense I’ll claim it’s the only thing I really do.  Because everything that I do from then on–every response, every choice, every creative idea, every confrontation… I can usually trace back to that consciousness I cultivated in my spiritual practice.  Over time more and more what I do no longer seems as based on neurosis, esteem issues, judgment, calls for attention, self-inflated fantasies and so on but the best consciousness of wholeness that day that I can muster.

 What I’m doing on a daily basis is seeing the piece of my life (whatever’s up) in relationship with the whole.  Then I’m taking my awareness of the whole and applying it to the pieces of my life.

 The practical benefits of that for me are—I’m more a person of wide perspective–I’m more compassionate and understanding–I’m more present and a better listener–I’m more at peace, happy and if I’m angry or bitter it isn’t for long.  I’m more mindful.  I feel alive, that I live with purpose, and that something genuinely sacred lives within me and is active in my life.

The Buddha’s Present

December 13th, 2013

rev joshohah


        What is the first thing you think about when you hear the word “Christmas?”  “Jesus?”  “Presents?”  “Winter?”  “Food?”  How about Buddha?  Believe it or not, Buddha is one of the first things I think of.  Well,  a Buddha anyhow.  I think of Putai, the round Buddha you often see on the countertop at Asian restaurants who is often holding his sack.

        In Chinese folklore Putai goes throughout the town and collects the things that people have thrown away- what they no longer value or appreciate- and he gives it to children who cherish it.

        Can you imagine if Santa worked that way?  If instead of having to get the next big thing he gave our children what he once loved but no longer fully appreciates?

        “Look, an old toaster.”  “Look, Dances with Wolves on V.H.S.”  “Look, a black and white t.v.”  Imagine the savings.

        Now I know I’m making this idea sound a little silly, but I think you might find it powerful.  If it is something you really cherished—an old photo, a family heirloom, a pair of shoes… it may, even if you are giving it away, reawaken your appreciation of life.

        My Christmas advice to you is whoever the younger someone may be in your life give them Santa’s present- stand in that line and do whatever you have to do, but give them “Buddha’s present” as well.  I’d be willing to bet which one ultimately lasts.

        Of all the gifts I received as a child I have none of them.  The new toys quickly became the old toys.  What I do have are the family trinkets, the records I borrowed from Dad, some of mom’s recipes and so on.  Why not give something that isn’t new, but that will last?

        What would you give as your Buddha’s present this year?  Something you love but seems to be gathering dust…that’s not being properly enjoyed.  A piece of old jewelry?  A favorite book?  A story about a relatives life?

        The life of the Buddha, not Putai, but prince Siddhartha who attained enlightenment under the Bodi tree is a beautiful story.  And to me, it works very well as a Christmas story.

        In some ways it relates well to those of us feeling trapped in a material culture. 

        Siddhartha is the son of a King and Dad desperately wants what he thinks is best for his son.  For Dad, that is mostly to be safe and to be kept from all the evils in the world.  He keeps Siddhartha indoors, everyone around him is paid to be there, and Siddhartha is given every possession he desires.

        We may look at Siddhartha’s life, the riches, the security, the love and the lots of stuff, and we might think, “Hey, this kid has it all.  That’s what I want.  That’s what would make me happy.”

        To many people today, this is what happiness would be.

        And Siddhartha is probably happy too or as happy as he can be.  As happy as he can know what happiness is. 

        And isn’t that the issue sometimes when happiness is about the new tablet coming out, or what’s on TV later?  Not that all that isn’t wonderful, but it’s not real, real happiness.  It’s kind of an artificial life.

        And we should look at our children and ask not are they happy, but do they know what true happiness is?

        We should look at our loved one’s and say not are they happy, but do they know what true happiness is?

        And we should look at ourselves and not ask “Am I happy?” but ask, “Do I truly know what happiness is?”


        If happiness is in your mind a set of appearances- a state of affairs, no offense, but your happiness may be artificial.

        If your happiness is feeling fully embracing and embraced by the all of it, then you have discovered what real happiness is.


        So young Siddhartha is given an artificial life, he is given the appearance of happiness… which is not happiness, and somewhere inside himself Siddhartha knows this. 

        He asks a chariot to drive him around the grounds of the kingdom and stumbles upon what come to be known as the four passing sights.

        On one occasion, he sees an old person. The next occasion Siddhartha sees a sick person.  The following occasion to the charioteer’s dismay, a dead person.  And finally an ascetic, or renunciate who has sworn off all material possessions.  Siddhartha has never seen any of these before.

        In seeing these things is Siddhartha’s heart full with fear?  With sadness?  No, his heart is filled with life.  His heart feels for the first time compassion.  For the first time he can say “This is it. This is real life.”

        None of us may know all the secrets to the mysteries of life, but we should be able to feel real life.   To not avoid it.  To come to be true with it.

        Siddhartha leaves his kingdom to pursue real life.  He in a sense, ages, becomes ill, dies, and becomes a renunciate all at one time.  Eventually people say he achieved enlightenment.  He become known as the Buddha or “Awakened One.”

        Perhaps each of us can be “awakened one’s” too?  But maybe you don’t have to leave your family and swear away all your things to do it?  Maybe just a Buddha’s present could help?

        In “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George Bailey has a picture of his father up on the wall at the Savings and Loan and there is a quote under it from the Catholic Saint Lawerence.

        “All you can take with you is what you’ve given away.” 


November 21st, 2013



October 21st, 2013

  Alan Watts used to speak about the “Trickster Guru”

  “The attraction of being a trickster guru are many. There is power and there is wealth, and still more the satisfactions of being an actor without need for a stage, who turns ‘real life’ into a drama. It is not, furthermore, an illegal undertaking such as selling shares in non-existent corporations, impersonating a doctor, or falsifying checks.

  The first step is to frequent those circles where gurus are especially sought…

  Be quiet and solitary. Never ask questions, but occasionally add a point- quite briefly- to what some speaker has said. Volunteer no information about your personal life, but occasionally indulge in a little absent minded name-dropping to suggest that you have traveled widely and spent time in Turkestan.

  Such behavior will soon provoke people into asking your advice. Don’t come right out with it, but suggest that the question is rather deep and ought to be discussed at length in some quiet place. Make an appointment.

  Conclude the interview with a slightly veiled command to perform some rather odd exercise, such as humming a sound and then suddenly stopping.

  Make a further appointment for a report on progress.

  When some student asks, ‘Where did you get all this?’ Well, you just picked up a thing or two in Turkestan, or ‘I’m quite a bit older than I look.’ Or say that ‘Reincarnation is entirely unlike what people suppose it to be.’ Later, let on that you are in some way connected with an extremely select in-group. Don’t brashly claim anything. Your students will soon do that for you, and, when one hits on the fantasy that pleases you most, say, ‘I see you are touching stage eighteen.’

  As time goes on, allow it more and more to be understood that you are in constant touch with other centers of work. Disappear from time to time by taking trips abroad, and come back looking more mysterious than ever.”

  Watts words are humorous, but notice his empathy as well for the trickster…

  “a trickster guru is certainly an illusionist, but one might ask ‘What else is art?’ If the universe is nothing but a vast Rorshach blot upon which we project our collective measures and interpretations, and if past and future has no real existence, an illusionist is simply a creative artist who changes the collective interpretation of life, and even imposes on it.”

  For Watts, none of us can help but in a sense, be a fake. In my own life, when it comes to my own individuality, it took quite a few lessons to figure out that if I wanted to stick out in this world, I would first have to stick in. If I wanted to “make a difference in the world,” I couldn’t stand outside of it, a critic looking in, but had to engage in it. That meant playing along with “the way things were” in a sincere way. Only when I did this did I come upon a strong sense of uniqueness and purpose, and could make a difference with it.

  When we get stuck in the part, it plays us instead and we lose our sincerity. I’m sure we can all recall times when we were so right about something and now looking back we see how we had it so wrong. To me, the issue does not come in being incorrect, it is in not being willing to address our mistakes and change our minds. We may have been right based upon the part we were playing at the time, but re-established in ourselves, we see clearly again.

  For Watts, the trickster to a degree is entertaining and not necessarily dangerous. The danger is in how quick some can be to give their own wisdom and power away. Yes, others can illuminate us, inspire us, and challenge us, but only we can rob ourselves of sincere experience.

  In a world where we wear masks and play in the theater of life, we still have a choice about the parts we play and how we will play them, as well as who we will see in life for the parts they play vs. who they really are. Part of the joy of life is getting to be seen as great roles by others… “parent,” “teacher,” “friend,” but that doesn’t mean we should need to be these roles for our own self-acceptance. The trick is to play your part well, but never hold so tightly to it that you lose your ability to be true.

The Burden of Freedom

October 4th, 2013

The Burden of Freedom

  Howard Thurman was an African American minister who lived through the majority of the 19th century. He lived through segregation, world wars, and the great depression holding strongly to the divinity of all people regardless of race, gender or religion.
  Here’s him sharing a little of his own life experience speaking out against the segregation of his time.

  “When I was a boy I earned money in the fall of the year by raking leaves in the yard of a white family. I did this in the afternoon, after school. In this family there was a little girl about six or seven years old. She delighted in following me around the yard as I worked. One of her insistences was to scatter the piles of leaves in order to find a particular shape to show me. Each time it meant that I had to do my raking all over again. Despite my urging she refused to stop what she was doing. Finally I told her that I would report her to her father when he came home. This was a real threat to her because she stood in great fear of her father. She stopped, looked at me in anger, took a straight pin out of her pinafore, ran up to me and stuck me with the pin on the back of my hand. I pulled back my hand and exclaimed, “Ouch! Have you lost your mind?” Whereupon she said in utter astonishment, “That did not hurt you—you can’t feel.”
   In other words, I was not human, nor was I even a creature capable of feeling pain. Manifestly this is an extreme position, but it indicates the social and psychological climate in which it would be possible for a little girl to grow up in a Christian family with such a spontaneous attitude toward other human beings. Segregation guarantees such inhumaneness and throws wide the door for a complete range of socially irresponsible behavior.”

  Thurman would be an instrumental part of the founding of what was known as the first interracial and intercultural church in San Francisco. A book he wrote entitled “Jesus and the Disinherited” about how the teachings of Jesus were a guide for the oppressed was something that Martin Luther King carried with him during the Montgomery bus boycott.

  I think that story about him getting stuck with that pin is a great story about freedom. It is a moment when Thurman realized his calling in life–ultimately an empowering moment. The majority of my compassion in the story isn’t for the young Thurman, but the little girl. By being taught such a false doctrine about other human beings she had been abused and discriminated against by her teachers, her culture, and her religion.
  Thurman may have been hurt and insulted, but clearly that prick set him free. “Forgive them Father for they not what they do.” Clearly that’s easier to see and do when it’s a little girl. That’s part of what I think makes this story powerful, because the “perpetrator” is so innocent. It is each of our duties to enlighten ourselves of the dignity of everyone around us.
  Have you ever been treated like you are not human? By someone who did not know dignity?
  Have you ever held the needle and pricked someone’s hand, forgetting that they are a human being? Forgetting that you yourself are a human being? Maybe it was an ill word, a betrayal of trust, a thoughtless act?

  Freedom is not forgetting whatever has happened and moving on. Freedom is the responsibility of never holding that pin again and speaking up wherever we see it prick.
  That’s the dichotomy of freedom. It involves the burden of knowing better, yet, out of that burden comes emancipation from the worst kind of ignorance.

Missing the Bull’s-eye

September 13th, 2013

  It seems to me that each of us has a mark we set for ourselves; A mark for all the important areas of our life. I know I do. It is a center I seek in my relationships and in my work—a bull’s-eye.
 I don’t know about you but I often miss the bull’s-eye. One thing that I find helps me hit the bull’s-eye is to have a really simplified idea about why I’ve missed it. Doing so can put me immediately back on course.
 In my work it is not listening. If I’m not listening I know I’m missing the bull’s-eye.
 In my relationships, I know I’m missing the bull’s-eye when I blame my partner for my own feelings.

 Stephen Mitchell has book called the Second Book of the Tao translating mostly the work of the Taoist philosopher Shuang Tsu.

“The mature person is like a good archer
When he misses the bull’s-eye
He turns around and seeks
The reason for his failure in himself.”

 In his commentary, Mitchell says,

“When you can live this most radical simile, missing the bull’s-eye may look like a flash or irritation with your wife, or outrage at the morning headlines. “Turning around” means taking total responsibility. There’s no blame or denial in it.”

 Our target in life is to be ourselves. Initially this may sound like a selfish idea, but when being our best self is our bull’s-eye everyone around us can benefit.
 There’s nothing wrong with having targets in your life that are far off and hard to hit–Those “big goals.” Yet, there needs to also be those daily targets that keep us steady. A daily practice that eventually makes hitting the far targets a result of organic growth and skill and not dumb luck.
Perhaps you’ve heard the words of Thomas Fuller? “One may miss the mark by aiming too high as too low.”

 Your bull’s eye should be specific and attainable on a daily basis.
 For example, your bull’s-eye should never be about what you don’t want to happen. Your bull’s-eye shouldn’t be to not get in a fight with your spouse or to keep someone else from being a “you know what.” Your bull’s-eye should be to listen intently, or communicate from love, or be patient.
 The clearer your bull’s-eye, not only the easier it is to hit, but the easier to know when you’ve missed which means the sooner you can try again.

Good is a Choice

August 23rd, 2013










 I was in Las Vegas and I sat down at the Roulette table and got 100 dollars in chips. I won, I lost. I lost again. I looked at the people at the table placing opposite bets from me and realized they were secretly praying too. But I’m the minister right…I have to win. I’ve got the most spiritual power here. I tried to intuitively pick the right numbers. I tried to deductively realize I had been divinely guided to this table at the right time. I tried to telekinetically get the ball to land on my number in the wheel. As the roulette wheel span I wondered, “Is this the futility of prayer? To ask to win? To ask for more?” Is prayer about asking for what is, or is it about utilizing what you’ve been given?”

“Yes,” was the answer…this was futile prayer. Yet, I did get another answer. Enjoy life. Have fun. Choose good.

 Regardless of outcome, choose the good.

  And that I think is a fundamental spiritual question… Is good something we create or is good something we choose?

 If good is something we create, good is the result of skills, luck, gambling, magic and control.

 If good is a choice it means that good is the privilege of a clear mind and a grateful heart.

The good is never outside of us, the good is always in our choices. Not just in what we choose but in the choosing.

 Maybe I’m just saying that cause I lost my hundred dollars at roulette, but I do love this idea that Good is always here, that love is always here, that fulfillment is always here, but it must be chosen.

  Ernest Holmes said, “The gift of life is not complete until it is accepted.”

 Good is not a possession it is a choice. Love is not a possession it is a choice. Peace is not a possession it is a choice.

It’s always there.

  We are making things difficult for ourselves when we start making our good dependent on something other than choice. In fact, we start opposing our good because we start denying ourselves the freedom. For good is closely related to freedom…good is the freedom to grow, to love, to enjoy. When we start measuring or comparing our good to another’s, we start to lose it and it becomes dependent.

Does that mean give up on good? No, it means return it to your choice.

 When your on your couch and your wondering what to do next…choose good. When your channel surfing your mind for different channels of memories while your going to sleep…choose good. When you’re your grumpy and it is hot and you could snap at someone, don’t…choose good.