"As evidenced by the history of all
religions, mankind seems to
compulsively work to complicate the
spiritual life of living in harmony with
God, a relating that is as natural as
The Two Agreements: A Good News Story For Our Time
S.L. Brannon on DBSA Life Unlimited web site
The Two Agreements fb page
"MY UNDERSTANDING FAMILY LETS ME BE ME"
Every culture in the world has certain norms that govern everything from personal relationships to religious practices and political views. These norms shift depending on the times and places in which we live; however we are always expected to conform to them. Those who do not often find themselves subject to a painful, even paralyzing, stigma.
There are two of these nonconforming groups who I have found to be particularly stigmatized: those suffering from mental illness and those who consider themselves “Spiritual But Not Religious” (SBNR). I know about both of these by personal experience. I am a person who lives with depression and lives a spiritual life unattached from organized religion. Despite the fact that a growing number, nearly 20%, of Americans are identifying themselves as SBNR, they are consistently branded as heretics and “non-believers”.
How can this be? Religious texts and leaders proclaim that God/Source/the Creator loves us all unconditionally, yet it seems that this message is often followed up with—you guessed it—conditions! We either don’t believe enough or the right way, and that’s why we’re not getting what we want in this life and why we won’t end up in heaven in the next.
The real issue, I contend, is the continued practice of viewing those who differ from us as “other”. It’s an exclusivity game—we belong, you don’t. Christ’s mission on earth was to help us understand that we are all of the same Source energy. We are all loved just as we are, and all entitled to heaven, just as we are. Yet (and I am not pointing the finger at anyone in particular), instead of embracing people across the spectrum of spiritual beliefs, we allow norms to divide us. On the largest scale, this leads to conflicts between the world’s three major religions; on a smaller scale, it leads to the stigmatization of people who do not follow the rules.
We must push back against stigmas—that is a given. In the meantime, however, we also must seek out and cultivate what I call the “understanding family”. This is a group of people who accept, love and support us no matter what. It can be the family we are born into or the one we make for ourselves, but they are critical to our mental, spiritual and even physical wellbeing.
Many of us take this support system for granted, especially when our lives are going well. It consists of our spouses, parents, friends or religious community. However, it is when we suddenly find ourselves on the fringes of society that we must sometimes seek out a new family built on common interests or struggles. They are the people who will let us know that we are not alone. They are often our only refuge from the world at large. Most importantly, they are the ones who will help us combat the most damaging stigma of all—the one we assign to ourselves.
What am I doing here?
Such a strange question, when you think about it. After all, we were born “here”, raised “here” and taught to desire all the things that “here” can offer, whether they be material things, such as a new car, or the intangibles, such as romantic love. So why do we feel this odd sense that we are here for a greater reason, and often clueless as to what that reason is? I believe it is the knowledge, no matter how deeply buried (or ignored), that are true selves are spiritual and that our true home is somewhere other than this three-dimensional plane.
While those who consciously ask the question often feel tortured by their seeming inability to find an answer, those who do not ask the question may suffer even more deeply. They feel a hole inside them but cannot put a name to it; as a result, they often fill it with it unhealthy things like drugs, alcohol or toxic relationships. Of course, these things only leave them feeling emptier, so they up the “dosage”, and so on.
The “why am I here” question weighs on us most when we are feeling lost or facing some sort of adversity. Then the question becomes, “What is the purpose of all this struggling? Why am I even here if x, y, and z is going to happen to me?” But really, we just want to know what we can do to make the struggle meaningful.
The answer is both simple and complex at the same time. Complex, because each of us has different needs, desires, and abilities, as well as our own unique part to play in this human mosaic. Simple, because all of us can find this purpose by connecting to something larger than ourselves, such as God or nature, and / or outside ourselves, such as another person or a humanitarian cause. In The Two Agreements, I discuss how Jesus’ purpose was to share the Good News and bring people together around an understanding of our oneness with God and with each other.
Similarly, it is by finding our connection to Source, and to each other, that we find our own way to serve. In other words, we have to go within to go without. Take a few minutes each day to clear your mind of the “to do” list and any other chatter that plagues you. Then, in the quiet, ask yourself, “What matters to me? What am I passionate about? How can I make ‘here’ a better place?” I am not suggesting that the meaning of your life will come to you in that moment (although it has for some people), but I can tell you that taking these first steps on the path will lead to a sense of connection, and of purpose.
"I trust you are challenged by the reinterpretation of The Two Agreements to step beyond a limited life imposed on you by religion. With the reinterpretation, we leave the separation of saints and sinners behind and embrace inclusion of all humanity regardless of race, religion, past “crimes,” or other demographic barriers. All humans are children of God growing into maturity of oneness in the unnamable One. Our gaining spiritual maturity makes it possible to live from the Christ mind.
And living from the Christ mind, we reserve judgment. Consequently, when we believe we are being judged by others, it causes pain and suffering. It causes fear of eternal separation from God. It causes guilt for not being spiritual enough to go to heaven. It causes shame for being an imperfect human. We do not have to be controlled by fear when we perceive others are judging us. We can choose to react as Jesus did by turning the other cheek.
With Christ mindedness we would reorder our lives. Understanding and working with God’s spiritual guidance, we would no longer teach our children that they are sinners separated from a punishing God. Can you imagine a child, raised with the knowledge that he is one with a loving, kind, compassionate God, demonstrating power over the elements, sickness, and death? He would do even greater works than Jesus did during his earthly ministry. And that is where we are headed . . . "
~ S.L. Brannon, The Two Agreements: A Good News Story For Our Time
There are many people who seem to be unable to believe in God without, also, believing in a personal enemy. In fact, most of the people I know who believe in a personal God believe there is an opposing force working against them, against their belief. In my reinterpretation of the greatest story ever told, I identify an enemy for anyone having a need of one. The enemy I point out is not an entity roaming heaven and earth. It is civilization, the world, in which we live.
Why see the world as our enemy? The world is a perfect enemy because it is our teacher, giving lessons from the moment of birth in how to speak and how to think and what to say and what to think, etc. In fact, humanity becomes reliant on the world to teach all that one needs to know to survive and thrive. However, the opposite lessons are taught. The world teaches that we are separate from God and one another and there is a lack of the vital things necessary for life and happiness. I call this collection of untruths the Lie. Obviously, believing the Lie works against our surviving and thriving in life. In fact, belief in these teachings sets us up for failure and a life ruled by fear.
Once entangled, how can anyone get free of the enemy? Where do we start?
Sadly, we start so often from the wrong place and easily find ourselves in places we wish not to be. You can begin by deciding to no longer live in fear and let Spirit be your teacher. As often as you can, choose to be alone with your teacher by becoming still and entering the Silence.
Spirit teaches that you matter. Irrespective of age, sex, social status, money, personal accomplishments, ethnic or cultural background-- you matter. So, you can refuse to be controlled by guilt, shame, and fear.
No matter what the world teaches, Life is meant to be the celebration of your individual significance, not an endless and fruitless search for the existence of your significance. It is meant for you to take the talents, interests, and passions that are you and find a way plant the seeds that give birth to the life you deserve and were destined to live. You are a valued and important part of a larger tapestry and life is your contribution to that picture.
Celebrate your unique significance. Nurture your talents and interests. Cherish your values and passions. Know that in caring for others you find your greatest affirmation. Know that caring for yourself and caring for others are not an opposition, but a unity that takes you deeper and deeper towards a life of real meaning and completion.
Don't chase something you already have. The days are numbered for all of us. Celebrate! Celebrate the gift of you, the gift of others and the gift of life you are given. Start at the beginning. Start unlearning your feelings of fear and feelings of lack today.
People often assume that my “day job”-- peer counseling those who struggle with bipolar disorder, depression and other mental illness --is connected with my spirituality. To this I would say that they are right…and wrong. What do I mean by this? I mean that the two are connected, intimately, just not in the way others might think.
One of the major themes I explore in The Two Agreements is that Christians must constantly prove themselves to God in order to avoid eternal damnation. Of all the many obligations and rules we must follow, the biggest is arguably the edict to “do good”.
“Generally, anyone wanting to become a true believer must go to these buildings [church] and participate in the organized programs to get themselves “right” with God and to make Heaven their home for all eternity. Too often the motivation to be church members primarily involves feelings of guilt, shame, and fear to “avoid hell at all cost!”
I contend that one does not need to help others in order to get to Heaven, for we are already guaranteed God’s love and salvation by our very existence. However, when we are in touch with our true selves and realize that we are at one with our Creator (and therefore each other), we will be moved to do good. Our service to humanity will not come from a place of fear or obligation, but out of the knowledge that in serving others, we are being who we really are.
“As the system operates at this time, we are left feeling alienated from others and our own true being, due, in large part, to our individuality. We must take it as our goal to rediscover that lost, alienated natural self and help others in doing the same. And we must call one another out by saying, “I see you. I see through your disguise. I know that you are God-in-hiding.”
Helping others elevates us to a higher spiritual level. It is not a shackle we carry as a means of proving ourselves, but an opportunity to recognize the God in ourselves and therefore recognize the God in others.
Many friends of mine go about life everyday wondering what's their purpose in life. They suffer anxiety wondering if jobs, relationships, and goals are inline with or a distraction from their "true" purpose.
In The Two Agreements, I give a simple, clear practice -- enter the Stillness and enter the Silence as often and as long as one can. Then, Intuition provides guidance to a purposeful life. All one needs are "ears to hear".
Neale Donald Walsch -- Conversations with God
S.L. Brannon, B.A., M.Ed., D.Div. You can learn more about me on facebook and linkedin.
A healthy spiritual life is vital to recovery and wellness for those living with a mental health challenge. I share my spiritual faith system, one of my own design. In my book, I encourage everyone to do the same - create a spiritual life that works for you.
Purchase and read my book, The Two Agreements: A Good News Story for Our Time. In its pages, you can find ideas on finding peace and health. And you will be making a donation to the Tennessee local chapter.
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