A Mindful Heart

“For as he thinks within himself, so is he.”
Proverbs 23:7

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Philippians 4:8

And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.
Matthew 22:37

 

Mindfulness. Means staying aware of our thoughts, emotions and even our body. More importantly, implies we can choose what we let in. What we keep out. What we ponder. What we search for to reflect on and notice.   Becomes a habit, like breathing in and out.

Most importantly, you have the capacity to keep in focus good things in your life. Moment by moment. You can fill your mind up with thoughts, feelings and emotions you choose. By choice you bring into your heart and soul an ongoing awareness of the light in your life and even the darkness. Like opening a doorway into your own spirit, you can invite solid, promising beliefs and perspectives into the day. The hour. Even the minute.

Take a moment and imagine experiencing all the blessings that come from above moment by moment and having these affect how you love, how you reach out and how you behave. Picture a door to your soul that opens and closes with you in charge. Beyond the door you see a vast open space filled with wispy ghost-like images, each one representing a virtue, a blessing, a thought waiting to sweep into your waiting spirit. You let them in and they feel good, right, and powerful.

Imagine you fill each moment of each day with a contemplative awareness of bringing light and love into the life of your soul-mate, your spouse, your children, your friends and even the stranger. What a difference that would make. The capacity to make a difference starts in the mind and heart. Exudes into the fabric of all your relationships. And changes everything.

Changes Everything

A Long Time Ago

I remember once my father telling me, in preparation for a High School debate, that when it comes to the news, “No news is good news.” His point was that the news tended to focus on the bad things, seldom the good.

I think somewhere he was telling me what to let in and what to keep out. Too indirectly to sink in much. Although I have to admit, I still remember it to this day. My father seldom helped me with school, and so I also think back to this one event where he stepped in and made a statement about life, about the mind and when to be careful. Maybe somewhere in side he hoped to teach me a lesson that might make a future difference.

I would love to go back and have more conversations about the heart and mind and what he thought represented a good way to think about life, what to attempt to store in my memory banks for future use – to make wise choices.

My maternal grandmother took this kind of thinking to heart. She taught me early on that Jesus comes into a man’s heart when he requests His presence – after admitting his total need for him to solve sin and the wayward steps he takes in life.

To this day, I find it hard to believe the Spirit lives within me. But I’m trying to get closer to my own appreciation of God in me. I like to focus on what it would be like if His residence in my heart were taken more and more seriously. What would I have to give up and what would I gain? And what’s the cost of ignoring Him in the daily happenings I face?

When I think of our power as men where we stand tall, feel confident and know why we’re here on earth – whether discussing courage, wise choices, loving others and even success – I believe that our progress and even our peace, depend on a fresh look at what we pay attention to in the moments that occupy our immediate focus. If we dwell on the nature and experience of love and believe it comes from our own heart and not just something we feel when someone loves us back – then we can also begin to wonder how to speak from love, think from love and share it with others. Love in some way becomes everything.

I can’t help but ponder what my life would have been like if my dad had taught me early on to guard my heart, how to train my brain to reflect on what I let in and what I dismiss and then how to take the positives I dwell on to grow my life.

Ultimately what we focus on the most, defines us. Much can go into the heart. And it’s all potentially life changing.

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“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.” Marianne Williamson

This quote, often attributed to Nelson Mandela, interests me – because we don’t often think, as men, of being afraid of our own power, light and even brilliance. I believe there is a measure of truth here – for several reasons but one I want to emphasize. It centers on the idea of freedom. The awareness that we are free to make choices that affect our destiny and the lives of others, decisions that shape our beliefs and the kind of life we commit to, can be overwhelming. We are called to be great – in how we love, the contributions we make to the lives of others, our faith in light and God, and to ourselves. Stepping beyond this fear – of the immense responsibility and the anxiety created in trying to live out a determined, magnificent life – becomes the hallmark of a man whose courage takes him closer to his full potential – to live fully alive, to make a difference and to live powerfully beyond measure.

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“It’s Never Too Late To Be What You Might Have Been” – George Elliot

I love this quote because it suggests that we can step into, grow into and become the man we might have been – had we the clarity of mind and the courage to create that life. It suggests that our potential isn’t static but expansive, like seeing the sky above and realizing unseen galaxies lie beyond. Invisible but real. When a man commits to radical growth and change – because he has identified and committed to a journey and identity that seemed impossible before – he has a new reason to live. A new target and a new destiny. The Spirit can now work in that man’s heart and soul in ways never understood or been possible till now.

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Fully Awake – Fully Alive

“Sometimes the fog lifts, however slightly, and we see more clearly the better road ahead. And while it may be dimly lit, if we keeps our eyes wide open, we see places we have never known but only dreamed possible.”
            Doug Gustafson

             “Explore. Dream. Discover.”
                        Mark Twain

The quest to be a better man necessitates taking a vivid look at your own person – at your life in all its colors and shades. Ponder for a minute these thoughts:

“Just how awake are you – to love, to your dreams?”

“Do you feel fully alive, awake to your potential, to what life is calling you to be?” For many, “What God is calling them to be?”

“Do you know yourself, what your made of, what you stand for when push comes to shove – when facing crises or difficult times?” “Can you talk candidly about your values and what creates resilience in your life when the pressures mount?”

I bring to the table a huge bias. That the only life worth living has gone through rigorous testing – by the fire of radical honesty. Your fire. Your honesty. The fire you walk through where you try hard to uncover and understand your true self – what you stand for and what you’re made of. The kind of rigorous self-analysis that tests your metal – that peers in so close to the heart that both good and bad emerge into focus.

Let me challenge you to make two lists.

One – a list of the darker stuff. The list that includes where you’re selfish and just want your own way. Where you don’t really listen or love well and you withdraw from those you care about out of anger. The behaviors you’re not really proud of but maybe feel stuck in. Be honest and include your history, past and present.

Second – a list of strengths and what makes you vibrant, alive and strong. This list includes where you shine, how you bring light into the lives of others, how you love and tend to the people who know you. This list includes how you make a difference in the world to those in your circle – and those who will know you in the future.

Now ask yourself, which list do you build your life around? Which list do you keep in your conscious mind and which one drives your choices and decisions? Do you believe it’s possible to construct a life that centers itself on love, compassion and a desire to see good things happen – to you and to people you know? Where you’re driven by your passion to be real, to succeed and make a difference in the world?

When all is said and done, and the end of our days draws near, which list do you want to be remembered by?

Read this and repeat after me:

I want to be a better man. Whatever it takes. I want to live with influence, where I touch the lives of those I love and care about in ways that make them feel valued, worth every penny of life they’ve been given. I want to be a man of influence, however small, however large where I strive to know myself fully and where I take my strengths and use them for good. I want to create a huge life out of my dreams and talents and to do this, I will commit to the right list – where I   give my life over to creating my most amazing self. The one that shines. The one that prospers as it grows from a compelling vision of what it means to live well – for good and for love. For the life I want to create and sustain.

So just how awake are you? Strive to live fully awake and fully alive. Live according to the man you truly desire to be. Your best self. First, define who he is – be a list maker. And then commit to building a life centered on principles you have identified. Refuse to forget them or shove them under the rug of passivity – regardless of circumstances and the unexpected events of life. This begins the true journey of how to be a better man.

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From Head to Heart to Hands. A Success Model for Men

“Choosing to live your life by your own choice is the greatest freedom you will ever have.”
Shad Helmstetter

Models for Living
When I think of all that goes into each individual choice we make in life, and we make thousands a day, I wonder how to maximize those choices. I wonder how we make decisions that reflect the personal power we have to change our outlook, to create meaningful visions for our lives and to tee up our journey in such a way that we gain momentum, excitement and passion for the path ahead.

I love models of how to live, especially if they outline simpler ways to move forward, without sacrificing the reality that life can be complex and our day in and day out doesn’t always take a linear path. So one simple model focuses on a three-part look at generating drive, direction and goals in our experience and everyday life. Those three elements have to do with our mind, our basic heart that goes beyond mere thinking and then the actions we take to execute our core beliefs.

Our Head
The head, the intellect, can be viewed as the center of imagination – where we find ideas, dreams and beliefs that can take us places. Places like the moon, where we put ourselves in a future space that we believe we can achieve, inhabit and generate purposeful living. Where we land with excitement and adventure and face the unknown with curiosity, resolve and vigor. Resolve to explore and build.

So often, as men, we forfeit our imagination by burying our inspirations beneath the concrete jungles we live in. Circumstances frequently get in the way of seeing a brighter day, a new way of thinking and perhaps a brand new way of living. To live courageously means to challenge our dullness and our defeats, especially when we conclude that things could never be different. We can’t live any other way. First and foremost, we need to challenge our thinking. Momentum can stop too easily in the tracks of an immobilized imagination. For many men, the need to dream again becomes an essential ingredient in defining new choices that take them to new heights.

Our Heart
But if our fresh energy and drive for newness and change moves from the head to reality, it has to first land in the heart – where we decide to take our passion seriously – where we decide to let our dreams sink in so deeply into the soil of excitement and determination, that we don’t let go of what choices we have that long to sprout like new branches on a fertile tree. That move beyond self-imposed limits that say, “You can’t do this or can’t do that. Circumstances won’t let you.”

In the heart, we learn to reflect on what we’ve been thinking. To imagine how to apply fresh insights to our choices, to our lifestyle and to the relationships we live in. Taking stock of our thoughts allows us to gain wisdom, to weed out insignificant ideas in favor of meaningful ones.

Our Hands
And finally, so many decisions we make fall short because we don’t deliver. We stop in our tracks and don’t create actions that implement new, exciting beliefs. With the right behaviors, we transport our thoughts and energy into the reality of everyday life. And when we do that, we build newness and ways of handling life that have the potential to take us to higher ground.

The Plan
Challenge yourself with this:

Head: Identify 4 or 5 ideas of how you want your life to be. No matter what circumstance you live in that you feel may limit you or box you in. Think long and hard about how these would make a difference in the quality of your life. How your relationships might change. How your happiness would be affected.

Heart: Now reflect deeply on why each idea would impact you. How it would make you feel if you implemented them. How your experience of life would be different.

Hands: Take at least one of those ideas and commit yourself to starting a process of living it out – putting it into effect. Identify small and large steps that you will begin to see it to the end. 

Conclusion
Remember that any changes you identify in your life can be small, medium or large. You might, for example, tackle building a better marriage. You might challenge yourself to spend time in silence in an effort to slow down in life or to get in touch with your emotions or spiritual energy. You might even consider a career change. But with each possibility, you need a way to move ahead. Start with the head, go to the heart experience and take action – a simple model that can accelerate growth, transformation and create a better life.

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The Power of a Man’s Story

Every man I meet has a story, created from the sweat and tears, sorrows and joys, ups and downs that have occupied his moments, infiltrated his hours and hijacked his days. I’ve noticed that some men seem to wear their story in their face, as if events and circumstances experienced leave their marks. But certainly all men have invisible marks, etched inside the heart and soul that make him unique. Make him brilliantly one of a kind. Whether he knows it or not. So often he doesn’t.

I now believe that a man’s story takes shape from a thousand building blocks. Ordered and structured out of a thousand choices. Creating one path out of a thousand trails he could have selected. In each story, a man has aimed somewhere. He has chosen a way ahead for himself. He may or may not know that.

Knowing your story – who you’ve come to be at this moment in time – lets you answer the deep question, “Who am I?” Some questions are more important than others. This one ranks high.

I wish my dad had taught me the brilliance of story. How to think of my story. How a man comes into the truth of his existence – able to say, “This is what I stand for and this is what I’ll fight for.” Perhaps to the death.

Your story, my story, means so much. It leaks out of the inner well of values we hold. It provides the basis for each decision we make. It allows us to take stock of where we are in life and where we want to be.

I would encourage you to look long in the mirror and ask yourself some key questions. Ones that could be life changing!

“Do I really know myself, what I stand for and what drives me?”

 “Can I name my deepest values?” “Am I living these out in all areas of my life – in all the roles I play in life?”

“What principles are so important to me that to live without them, or to ignore them, a significant piece of me would die inside?”

 “Am I the conscious author of the life I’m living, or do I live unconsciously, as if life just happens to me without my knowledge or choice in the matter?”

“What could I be doing to identify the steps ahead and begin charting a course for myself that I’m proud of, that I truly want and that reflects my deepest concerns and desires?”

Know this much – that you have the choice to define the story ahead – your story. You get to shape it with your own courage, with the grit that comes from your heart and spirit. Yet you must believe you can. Begin now, as never before, to live out what you value most, what you want in life that really matters and how you want to make a difference in the journey ahead. Your journey.

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From “Me” to “Us” – Creating an Authentic Marriage in a Culture of Want

Authenticity. More than a current buzz word. The lynch pin necessary to create and sustain deep, connection between two married lovers. The only way to truly know someone’s heart, intentions and what they bring to the interpersonal table. Real stuff you can trust because your lover makes himself or herself known. Yes, known.

Authenticity means living out in the open. Like standing in a vast field with no trees to seclude secret thoughts and fears. Seen. Known. Requires bold choice. To put your heart and soul out there to someone you care about, your lover and marriage partner. Not easy. Not at all. Risen from a life-giving philosophy that creates lightening-like energy between lovers from the electricity grid of genuine, “here’s my heart” connection.

Being authentic opens the door for mature, undaunted love. An authentic heart – and only an authentic heart – has taken time to know what it means to be human. To live with feelings, emotions, hurts and joy. Living a transparent life opens a door of awareness of what makes others unique. You see in your lover a wildly, one-of-a-kind man or woman. You feel compelled to know them – for who they are. Not what you can get from them. Not from what you deserve.

Much can get in the way. Of being real and open with your thoughts, feelings and emotions. For some, personal hurts from childhood block out the sunlight of an enduring, genuine connection with your mate, like an eclipse that darkens a once translucent sky. Problems with drugs and alcohol, depression, anxiety, all suffocate desire, and take the oxygen out of your capacity to love and truly know yourself as a friend and companion.

Perhaps the greatest enemy preventing us from living an irradiant, this-is-me life comes from a philosophy that buries truth and openness beneath an opaque, avalanche of self-centeredness. A perspective on life and love that says, “I deserve” this. “I’ve earned it.” Closes out light in favor of crouching behind shadows that reveal no more than what we feel is safe. Acceptable. Makes us look good.

In fact, this culture saturates our lives with one singular message – “you deserve” this or that. Really, you deserve it all. We all hear it – all the time. Seems that everything good in life, we’ve somehow magically earned, deserve to get just because we are alive! What a philosophy of life. Somehow, life owes us good things.

Quite different from a personal life based on humility. A perspective that considers all the benefits in life as blessings. Undeserved, unearned but given by God out of grace. One system of thinking crowns each person as the center of natural blessings, the other as recipients of God’s touch, care and heart – recipients of His divine blessings. His amazing grace! Quite different indeed.

Self or other. The juxtaposition of two differing ways of thinking. Two life-changing philosophies that determine the quality of your life and whether God takes center stage or a back row purchased with low cost tickets that ignore the price of His death on the cross. When God takes center stage, you still deserve it all – because He has paid the ultimate price and sees you through the eyes of His Son. When He sits in the back row, you deserve it all because you’re you. No other reason than life owes you something more than has been given so far. Time for you to cash in. Get what’s coming.

In Jesus’ great discourse, the Sermon on the Mount, He discusses giving, prayer and fasting motivated by two distinct energies (Matthew 6:1-24). One centers on impressing others. A kind of false self that hides behind gimmicks, facades and a belief that if I’m real, you won’t accept or love me.

The other, an authentic response to God, His Person and the identity He has given us in Christ. Speaks of a holy calling that dispenses with the need for a fabricated self, manufactured out of a belief that approval from the world matters most. Says, “Be centered in your true self, the way God sees you and knows you.” “You are His creation and that is enough.” Enough!

Jesus makes it clear that living an authentic life ushers in blessings untold. God rewards the transparent, real person. We manufacture nothing. He delivers it all. Forgiveness, the blessedness of serving one Master. That alone means we don’t live two lives out of two philosophies. Rather, we have one focus. Living out a real, genuine life creates unbelievable direction, focus and passion. Doesn’t get eclipsed by selfishness, desires that derail us and paths that lead nowhere.

Ultimately, authenticity provides your soul-mate with a look into the window of your heart. A place God inhabits. The way God sees and knows you. The true you. When you love out of transparency, you love fully. Your self no longer stands on the street corner of self-affirmation, looking for rewards from others, from your life partner. It gives from rippling streams that offer tributaries of real love, real devotion and compassion for the lover God has given you for life.

Authenticity. The greatest gift God gives each of us. Set free from false distractions of what we think we need. We now can give it all. To others. To ourselves. To the lover God has given us for life – our soul mate, our best friend, our husband, our wife.

You have no greater gift to give your life partner than your true heart. A spirit shaped by the hand of your Maker. Transparency pulsating with the invisible blood of care and compassion that flows from a confident, forgiven self. Surging with the power through deep veins that pour into the unique soul of your mate. Authenticity – believable, “this is me” honesty that says, “I love you.” “Because you’re you.”

Ponder for a moment your personal strengths, your capacity to love, and the virtues you live by. Authenticity and transparency form the cornerstones of a vivid, life-changing love relationship. You create spirit-moving potential, the kind that blows away the expectations of your lover when you live out an honest, genuine life. Your capacity to love has to flow through the dam of self-interest, carelessness and sin to make a difference. Comes down to truth. The truth that drives you, pumps excitement through your emotional veins and grows love.

Only the “truth” sets us free (John 8:32). Only the truth. Authenticity at its best. A no-lies way of living and being. Most of us hope to cultivate a life based on truth, honesty and transparency. Whether searching for a place to worship, a new friend or a marriage that rocks the soul, we want the real thing. Not fabrications of someone’s personal philosophy or even Biblical interpretation. But life-changing, radical relationships that cut through the fog bank of insignificance and come out the other side consumed with what truly matters in life. Not the artificial, but the real.

The real truth, the real heart from our lover. Not the disguised, the “almost get what you mean,” but a life emerging from the dark, exposed by the brilliant sunlight of honesty and transparency that leaves us wanting more. For the sake of the very health of our hearts and souls.

You see, authenticity makes a difference. Confronts discouragement, overpowers indifference and creates everything real – filling up lakes with a cleansing water that flows out of a vast well of brilliance when uncluttered by the commotion of an obsession with hiding what comes from within. Springs from the heart, the soul and the deep well of wisdom that God gives us to reach into.

With authenticity, the heart opens for others to see. Cuts through your smiles and mannerisms and gets straight to your spirit. Simplifies life and love. Overrides anger, provides a bridge for healing from hurts and conflict. Endorses freedom and openness, limiting the prisons we live in when we surround ourselves with invisible bars that keep others out, often those we love most.

So what happens when you export your philosophy of life into the land of relationships? Of marriage, of two lovers who have committed their lives to one another? The philosophy of “I deserve it because I’m me” waits with monumental expectations for initiative from your lover. Give me love, care and respect.” Why? “Because I should have it. I deserve it.”

The philosophy of authenticity, of truth, says, “Love me because you choose to. For you have something that means the world to me – a brazen love from your own will, choice and your capacity to love wholly.” For whole love, unconditional, grows in the rich soil of transparency, from one who knows himself or herself well. Truly the great gift from God Himself, carved out of grace and handed over from His mercy. The God who knows us completely. And has set us free to be present and alive to Him – and to one another.

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