Earlier this summer, I had the privilege of spending time with John Philip Newell, perhaps the foremost teacher of Celtic spirituality in the world today. He was in residence as the chaplain of the week at Chautauqua Institution in early August and spoke in the amphitheater every morning. John Philip and I first met back in February when he was in Boston and we enjoyed a couple of brief but insightful conversations. It was wonderful to renew our connection at Chautauqua during a long lunch together on the porch of the Athenaeum Hotel overlooking the lake.

Meeting John Philip and spending time with him has helped me find a place within myself where my Christian heritage and the much more universal sense of spirituality, to which I’ve subscribed for most of my adult life, can meet.

For me, there is no separation between the sacred and the secular, the physical and non-physical, the seen and the unseen. It’s all just energy manifesting in different forms. And it’s all infused with the source of life – with Consciousness, Love, Spirit, Source, God, or however you are most comfortable naming that creative and sustaining force of all. Celtic spirituality, as well as the Celtic Christianity that has emerged from that tradition, is rooted in this same fundamental truth.

The ancient Hermetic Principles, which are a significant part of the foundation of the Transformational Presence approach, are also rooted in this truth. In fact, it’s an interesting study to look at how the Hermetic Principles are actually the foundation of most of the world’s religions and spiritual systems. Each religion has interpreted those principles in different ways, yet if you go back to the mystical traditions behind each of the religions, you find the essence of the Hermetic teachings.

The Hermetic Principles speak of the creative and sustaining force of the universe as “the All.” The first principle states that everything is held within “the All” and “the All” is held within everything. Said another way, everything is held within the greater Consciousness, and the greater Consciousness is held within everything. Or if “God” is a more comfortable expression for you, then everything is present within God and God is present in everything.

Take a moment, pause from your reading, and take that idea deep into your being. It might be a very familiar concept to you, and perhaps you even recognize this as your own core belief. On the other hand, it might not be so comfortable. You might ask, “How can you say that God or Consciousness or “the All” is in everything and everything is in “the All,” especially with all of the troubles we have in the world today?”

Admittedly, this is an enormous topic. Yet let’s stay with it at its essence. It has great significance for our time.

Meister Eckhart, an early German Christian mystic, said, “God is found in the human soul not by addition, but by subtraction.” With all respect to the profound teachings of Meister Eckhart, I would actually expand his statement to read, “God is found in all of creation not by addition, but by subtraction.” Or in my own more universal language, I might say, “The Source of Life is found in everything – every person and all aspects of the natural world, as well as in all situations and circumstances – not by addition, but by subtraction.”

The last few weeks, I’ve been writing about the Great Breaking Open that we are experiencing in the world today. What if this Great Breaking Open is actually about “subtraction”? What if the real calling of this time is to strip away the complex layers of our present-day systems and structures and get back to the essence of who we are, both as individuals and as societies? Perhaps the Great Breaking Open is really about the human spirit saying “Enough!”

The Great Breaking Open is asking us to be clear in our intention about who we will be and the choices we make going forward. It’s calling us into a discernment process that begins with grappling with who we are. “Who are you?” and “Who are we?” are perhaps two of the most difficult and most important questions we can ask right now. And not just on the surface – mother, son, sibling, spouse, teacher, lawyer, plumber – but who we are at the heart of our being. And then to get clear about why we are here. What is our purpose – our soul mission, as we name it in Transformational Presence work.

Here’s a brief exercise to help you begin that discernment. Take three minutes to write about who you are. Set a timer and start writing. When the bell rings, stop writing and read what you have written. Then take a fresh page and write again for another three minutes about who you are. However, this time, you may not write anything that you wrote the first time. At the end of three minutes, read what you have written, and then take a fresh page and write again for three minutes. Same topic – who are you? The same rule continues to apply – you may not write anything that you’ve already written. Feel free to continue this process until you feel like you are getting down to your core – who you really are at your essence. When the exercise feels complete, take some time to reflect on what you have discovered through the process.

As societies, what if our first big piece of work in response to the Great Breaking Open is to do “subtraction” together? Before we rush to create new structures and systems, new policies and rules, new laws and guidelines, what if our first step is to strip away everything that is not who we truly are at our essence? We begin with ourselves, and then continue by inviting exploration within our families, organizations, businesses, and societies when and where appropriate.

This takes courage. It takes a willingness to let your heart speak. It takes profound honesty, and it may bring up feelings of great vulnerability. Yet vulnerability is actually a step on the way to authentic power and strength. My friend and colleague Jayne Garrett describes vulnerability as “a healthy state of openness and awareness.” Being vulnerable doesn’t require revealing your deep, dark secrets. It just requires a willingness to be real and authentic. And the more real and authentic you are, the stronger and more effective you become.

Michelangelo said, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” There is nothing to add to our souls, to ourselves, or to our societies in order to find out who we are as manifestations of Source, Consciousness, or God. Our job now is to carve away everything that keeps us from being who we really are – Source, Love, God, Consciousness. Our job is to take away everything that is not alignment with who we are and who we are called to be from the depth of our human spirit. And then, the path forward will reveal itself.


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