Is suffering a choice?
At some point in life everyone goes through difficult times: the loss of a job, illness, financial troubles, relationship difficulties, divorce, and the death of a loved one.
But is there a way to face these inevitable and often unexpected challenges without having to suffer? Is it possible to experience all the trials life may bring from a place of acceptance, curiosity, strength, and a spiritual perspective that allows you to remain connected to your joy and appreciation throughout it all?
For Pastor Mark Anthony Lord, founder of the Bodhi Spiritual Center in Chicago, living in a state of joy and appreciation no matter what is not only possible, it is actually the way God wants us to live!
In Thou Shall Not Suffer, Lord recounts the path to his own liberation from suffering and teaches that ending suffering in our lives is not about some sort of intellectual understanding; it occurs the moment we focus our attention on the healing power of self-love, acceptance, and a more expanded, deeply personal God.
Lord shares his seven-step program for facing each day with joy, possibility, and peace. Each step contains exercises designed to guide you to a new way of being in the world, one where you can:
• Re-envision a God who works for you
• Forgive yourself and others no matter what
• Quiet the voices of inner judgment and self-doubt
• Find and stay true to what you really want in life
• Make peace with the past and create a life full of passion
• Give back to your community in a meaningful way
By the end of this book you will be have all the tools necessary to leave suffering and pain behind and embrace a life of happiness and joy.
It's time to follow the new commandment: Thou Shall Not Suffer!
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About the Author
Mark Anthony Lord is the founder and spiritual director of the Bodhi Spiritual Center in Chicago. An internationally recognized speaker and workshop presenter, his teaching style is engaging and experiential, using humor, current events, and personal examples to encourage people to ask the deeper questions that allow genuine transformation. He lives in Chicago, IL. Visit him at www.markanthonylord.com.
Read an Excerpt
Thou Shall Not Suffer
7 Steps to a Life of Joy
By Mark Anthony Lord
Hierophant PublishingCopyright © 2014 Mark Anthony Lord
All rights reserved.
Get a New God
I believe in God, but not as one thing, not as an old man in the sky. I believe that what people call God is something in all of us. I believe that what Jesus and Mohammed and Buddha and all the rest said was right. It's just that the translations have gone wrong.
Imagine a three-year-old boy riding a tricycle, happy and free as he whips down the sidewalk. Now see that same boy at age seven. He is bigger and stronger but still riding that same tricycle. He looks awkward and uncomfortable, all knees and elbows jutting out as he pedals along, but he hasn't completely outgrown the trike yet so he can still get around. Now see him at age fourteen. He is much too big for the tricycle but is still riding it. He actually looks ridiculous but insists this is the bike for him. Let's go for one more. The boy, who is now a thirty-two-year-old man, is still riding his tricycle. At this point you would easily consider him certifiably crazy.
I have discovered that many people are like this man and his tricycle when it comes to their relationship with God. They cling to their childish ideas and concepts even though they have long outgrown them. They remain attached to the fairy tales of an external God, which are clearly no longer working for them in adulthood. Or they realize it's ludicrous to try and keep this storybook God alive, but because they have no alternative they throw God out altogether.
While I was in ministerial school in Los Angeles I worked part time as a spiritual counselor at a 12-step recovery center. I met many different kinds of people there, from doctors to priests, homemakers to well-known entertainers. Addiction is a spiritual disease, which requires a spiritual solution. My job was to help them heal their relationship with God so they had a fighting chance of recovering.
Many patients whom I worked with were acutely conflicted. I would often hear them say, "I do believe God is loving, but I'm also afraid that I might displease or anger him." More often than not they experienced God as punishing or nowhere to be found. Really, the God of their understanding was an exaggerated version of the world that told them they were losers, deeply flawed, and that if they would just try harder they could stop their addictive behaviors. Most prayed God would free them of their addictions more times than they could count, but the God they were praying to was their childhood understanding—the one they thought didn't love or care for them. In desperation they turned to their tricycle God who clearly didn't work.
You don't need to be an addict to have a messed up idea about God. I've come to discover that most everyone I teach could use some healing in this area. When I work with my newer students I begin by asking them to tell me every negative thing they've thought, learned, or heard about God. Not everybody has exactly the same ideas, of course, but there are common themes.
God tends to be male, domineering, and able to watch our every move from someplace "on high." Some were told his job is to welcome the good people into heaven and send the bad people to hell to burn for eternity. He keeps score, though whether he answers people's prayers or not seems arbitrary, leaving many feeling abandoned and confused. He has a lot of rules on how we are and aren't supposed to behave. He wants us to ignore our inherent desires, especially the sexual ones. If you were raised Christian, you were most likely told that you had to accept Jesus as your personal savior and that those who didn't were out of luck—to hell they went. It seemed clear that God had favorites, but who were they? And how did you really know if you were one of them?
It's a sobering moment when we see how easily these negative, fearful ideas about God can be accessed with just a bit of coaxing. Even though you and I have long outgrown many of these childhood images, they still remain in us, especially when we feel afraid, alone, and in need of deep healing and comfort. It is during these times when our understanding of God either serves and carries us through or leaves us feeling even more alone and afraid.
The Bible says, "You cannot serve two masters." You can't believe in an unconditionally loving God and a punishing God at the same time; but many people pretend they can.
There's a problem with having that old, punishing God still living inside you, even if you declare it a distant, rejected memory. When you encounter challenging times in your life—when you feel up against the wall—that God surfaces as a victimizer. Instead of turning to God for hope and inspiration when you need them most, there you are feeling alone and unsupported. Even those of you who have many good feelings about God can find yourself in hard times and wondering, "Why is this happening to me? What did I do to deserve this?"
With the industrial revolution came so many advancements and comforts. Modern life has met and exceeded our physical needs. But as our physical comforts have increased, all around us we see people in the throes of depression, loneliness, and a sense of "what's it all for?" This is called existential suffering. It is painful and scary.
In this world of plenty, many people today are walking around obsessed with their problems. We struggle with neurosis, insecurity, intimacy issues, money troubles, fears, and soft or hard addictions. Some of us feel like crap on the inside, unworthy and not good enough. This is our collective soul crying out for its spiritual evolution and sense of meaning. Our spiritual advancement has not kept pace with our technical advancement, to say the least. It's time to "catch up" spiritually. It is time to get back to God. But I am not talking about the tricycle God. We've got to get a new one—a more mature, two-wheeling God that works for us in every way.
What if that scary, vengeful God were just made up? What if you and I have been force-fed a bad fairy tale about God? This monster of an idea got a hold of us way before we were ever close to being capable of reasoning or choosing otherwise. I was given no other option, so I took it all—hook, line, and sinker. The great news is that if we made this God up then we can unmake this image; blow it up and create a brand-new, more expansive one.
Right now, you can become liberated and create a personal, truly unconditionally loving God—one that works through you and for you. I know this may sound like a crazy concept, but it's true. You create God all the time, so let's create one that works.
Fire the Old God
If you were going to rehab an old, dilapidated house, the first thing you would need to do is clear out all the debris and garbage that's in the way. From there you could begin deciding what to keep, what needs to be restored, and what needs to be thrown out. Imagine for a moment that you have all the finances, time, and energy that you need to rehab this home. You have a team of the best architects, contractors, and builders that can be found. I invite you to feel as excited about clearing out the old God and getting a new one as you would if you really were building the house of your dreams.
I created an exercise many years ago where I ask people to write a termination letter informing the old God he is no longer needed. He has served his time, but the job is over. This can be a fun exercise as well as deeply meaningful and transformational.
Here's an example:
Dear Old God,
Effective immediately your services are no longer required. I have spent way too many years under your punishing and shaming control, and it is over! You were never there for me when I was a kid and needed you. I felt so deeply afraid of you and your judgment. You never comforted me or made me feel good about myself. You did a really bad job of helping me feel and see you. I've never felt loved by you; instead, I mostly felt not good enough and like I had to continually jump through hoops to get your attention and make you happy. I never could be good enough, and I am done trying. I am done feeling unworthy and afraid around you. You are a delusional, needy, scary, unforgiving, unavailable God who no longer gets to have residence in my mind, body, spirit, and life. It is time for me to become free of you and time for you to be on your way. Your termination is effective immediately. There will be no severance pay and no opportunity for you to return. This charade is over, and you are out!
Not sincerely, Mark Anthony
Surprisingly, when I have students read the letters they have written out loud their classmates find themselves laughing. Why? It can be painful, but often it is humorous to realize that when it comes to God, they've been riding a tricycle for far too long and they can do something about it.
As you can see, it's important to be strong; not to take it out on God, but to get in touch with any anger or resentment that may be lying dormant. It's important and powerful to use your voice to set yourself free. This exercise is simple, but it can also be deeply transformational if you will let it. I've had some people write pages, leaving no stone unturned in order to set themselves free.
I encourage you to tell God what didn't work for you and how you may have felt abandoned, judged, afraid, or alone. Get as specific as you need to, and don't hold back. This is your opportunity to get it all out.
Be sure to take all the time you need to write your termination letter. Even if you don't perceive this being a big issue for you, I ask that you go as deeply into your psyche as you can to detox yourself of any and every negative, separating idea of God that is in there. Be specific. If your parents divorced and God was not there for you or did not bring them back together like you wanted, then write that down. If you were abused or neglected, put that in there too. The point of this exercise is to allow the young, unenlightened part of you to have a say.
After you have completed your letter I encourage you to seek out a trusted friend, therapist, sponsor, or beloved family member to share it with. Part of the healing process is to be seen and witnessed. Ask this person to listen with their hearts and to be a space of total acceptance of your freedom. I'm certain the work you've done will bless and set him or her free, too.
Remember, before you can build your expansive, beautiful new home in which you will live safely and happily, you need to get all the junk out.
Create a New God
Once we have terminated the old God, our next step is to create a new one.
In our society we have decided that someone else who is more qualified, more holy, or more educated about spirituality in some way knows God better than we do. That's ludicrous and simply untrue. Absolutely every person is individually wired to know God in a way nobody else ever will. The more I understood this, the more it became vitally important for me to take the time to deeply know my God—the God of my being.
Trust me, you know the God of your being. You really do. In fact, nobody can be more of an expert in your God than you. But the key is getting you back to this amazing, perfect connection you have always had.
Getting a new God is not going to be easy—especially in the beginning. The resistance of the ancient mind, the ancestry that is encoded in your being and your own conditioning, is going to fight back. Know that these old voices are going to scream and argue, "Who are you to make up who God is?" "What if you're wrong and God really will throw you into hell?" "Why don't you play it safe and just go to church on holidays, show up when you have to, and just squeak by?" Fear will rise up quickly, but pay it no mind. It's time for it to dissolve into the nothingness from which it came.
Today, because I have taken the time needed to actively transform my beliefs and ideas about God, I now live in a completely new and expanded reality. I feel so free, loved, supported, protected, and at one with my creator. I have a loving, personal relationship that is alive, interactive, co-creative, and deeply fulfilling. I believe in myself more because I know at a deep level that God, the Infinite, the great I Am presence is within me, for me, all around me, forever. And yes, this new experience of God absolutely has freed me from suffering.
Let's look at some new ideas about God. Some may feel really good immediately. Others may make you pause and feel resistance. I encourage you to welcome those feelings. Breathe them in, but don't allow them to stop you. Just acknowledge them and be willing to have your mind and heart renewed.
Although we are one with God, and God is all we are, at our current state of consciousness and evolution the best way to get to know the God of your being is by establishing a conscious relationship. Your bond with God, like all relationships in your life, develops according to the time and commitment you put into it.
Your relationship with God is the most intimate one you can have, and the more you allow this intimacy to deepen, the more your other relationships will be expanded and blessed: easier, more fun, and more fulfilling. The more you depend upon God as your inner happiness, support, acknowledgment, source, and supply, the more you can allow other people in your life to be who they are with no expectations or need for them to be different.
Exercise: Hire Your New God
I'm going to take us back to the exercise about firing the old God. If you haven't completed that yet, please take the time to do that now, because it leads perfectly into this next part—creating a new, more expansive, only-for-you God. We do this by writing a God-for-hire advertisement. (If you need help then ask for it, right?) And how do you specifically get what you want, in God, and in life? By being specific and clear, of course.
This exercise, which I have done with countless people, is meant to be fun and transformational. This is where you get to create a God that is perfect for you. Remember, this God knows your every wish, desire, and need. This God loves what you love and wants you to experience and have what you love. This God, your God, is here for you. So if you love to shop, ask for a God that loves to shop. Create a God that loves to make love, eat chocolate, drive fast cars, surf, help others, paint, sing, dance. Create a God you can count on!
I want you to experience God as much as possible throughout your days, and the way to do that is to realize that when you are doing what you love, and your life is filled with joy and purpose, then you are one with God. There is a simple and very deep equation that sums this up:
When you feel good, you are feeling God.
Why? Because your God is your good. They are one and the same. I mean feeling authentically, naturally, and wholly good. I mean feeling goodness that makes the world a better place. Your God never can or will cause harm to another. Feeling your good must multiply the possibility for others to feel theirs. Otherwise, it's not the real deal.
Now it's time to write your God-for-hire ad. Here's an example for you.
God for Hire
This job is available to be filled immediately. This God must be 100 percent accepting of me and all my foibles, and must love me not only in spite of them, but including them. This God must leave no part of me unloved or unappreciated. This God must be available every day—morning, noon, and night.
This God must be bigger, bolder, and louder than any fear. This God must give me clear direction and turn up the volume so I am certain not to miss it. And when I choose to not listen, this God must immediately expand His/Her/Its love and make His/Her/Its message of care and guidance even clearer.
This God must love and accept absolutely everyone. Nobody can be left out of the eternal plan of freedom and happiness. This God must lead me to forgiveness quickly and easily. This God must especially help me know I am loved when I am feeling needy, insecure, and afraid.
The God of my being must have a great sense of humor, show magnificence in all things, help me be honest with myself and others, and never ever allow me to feel bad about my body, my weight, my age, or anything about me. Help me to take things lightly. Help me to always share. Protect me from the storms, and if I need to go through them, by all means, help me get my raincoat on and my umbrella up long before it's too late.
Apply in person, in my sleep, in the wind, or anywhere you want to. Just make sure I see it and feel it. This is a lifetime job with amazing benefits ... me!
Excerpted from Thou Shall Not Suffer by Mark Anthony Lord. Copyright © 2014 Mark Anthony Lord. Excerpted by permission of Hierophant Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Get a New God 1
Chapter 2 Forgive Yourself and Others 21
Chapter 3 Love Yourself Madly 37
Chapter 4 Want What You Want 57
Chapter 5 Surrender 75
Chapter 6 Generously Receive 93
Chapter 7 Give Yourself Away 107