I set myself a high bar today. I've promised to share a way to live with peace and joy during a time of Great Environmental Challenges. I'll tell you right off that what I have to share with you is not a way to avoid the pain of being alive. What I have to share is some of the learnings given to me that encourage me to embrace life rather than shrink from it.
When I mentioned “environmental challenges, I was referring to news of radiation from the nuclear plant in Japan. I was referring to global warming and climate change, to evidence of accumulating toxins in our environment, and concerns for the quality of such vital resources as air and water. By environmental challenges, I also include the economic downturn, recession, depression or whatever it is being called now. Lastly I include as environmental challenges things such as conflict with loved ones, competition at work, and in general things not going how we want them to go.
This is the learning that I have most wanted in my life, to be able to meet life with a good measure of peace, joy and love. When I reflect on lessons that has I have received, I feel so grateful, humble and awestruck. I celebrate the framing of this wonderful question.
As UUs we affirm the power of framing a question. For example, when we have pain in response to an event, do we ask “what's wrong with me? (that this happened to me?) Do we ask “how can I bring faith, peace and love to this situation? Whichever question we ask, our brain will answer us. When we ask questions designed to support us to grow in spiritual awareness, we will achieve “progress not perfection.” We will discover treasures unimaginable and life more abundant.
Today is Palm Sunday, and that means that lent is almost over. Lent commemorates the 40 days that Jesus went into the desert to fast and meditate, where here Jesus was tempted by the Devil, each time choosing to have faith in God.
Each year I continue the traditon of giving something up for Lent in order to emulate and follow Jesus. The idea is to give up something that stands in the way of being able to live out the gospel, the good example of love, compassion and justice seeking that Jesus demonstrated.
This year I decided to give up complaining. I long ago realized that I was a champion complainer, and that I had grown up in a family culture where complaining was - what we did. I learned to complain about things small and big. Among my biggest complaints were the existence of famines, holocausts, and ecological insanity. I was delighted to find my first UU congregation and to have people who shared my concerns for humanity, people who were willing to express these concerns, often in the form of complaining.
A few years ago at our UU General Assembly, Van Jones, predicted Obama's election, and he warned us that unless we were prepared to govern, and shift from complaining to assuming power, that Obama could not succeed in bringing about change, and we would return to war waging and policies that permit environmental ravaging. He reminded us that the most famous speech given by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was not “I have a complaint.” It was “I have a dream!”
Jones warned our assembly that we had come to see ourselves as a minority, ignored and dismissed, and that we had placated ourselves as being right rather than remaining in the struggle of how to be effective. To be effective, he said, we would have to believe that we could lead. To succeed in bringing about the kind of changes we preach about, sing about, read about and discuss, discuss, discuss about, we would have to learn to share our vision and guide people toward it. We would need to deal with people's objections and concerns, rather than simply dismissing them as one of the ignorant ones ie not one of us.
He said that if we believed that we were the only ones who cared about the environment, we were mistaken. If we believe that we were the only ones who care about our children and grandchildren, we are mistaken. If we believe that we were the only ones who recognize that the status quo is failing us, we are mistaken. I agree with Van Jones, that it is time that we claimed our place in the mainstream, to move beyond being complainers and become leaders offering guidance and support to live into a better day.
Are you curious how I've done with my intention to give up complaining during Lent? ... Never has there been a year that I failed more miserably than this one. Wait was that a complaint? There I go again? Wait was that a complaint? Or never mind!
I am actually not deterred by my abysmal failure. Rather, I celebrate that the consciousness that led me to reach for another piece of freedom from ego. I am imagining being free of the habit of complaining, and the hiding being postures of “being right.” I celebrate my intention to engage with curiosity, to use my power to collaborate and affect change.
I have imagined and therefore tasted a piece of the liberation that is in store for me, and for us all. I say that liberation is in store for us, because I believe in Universal Salvation. I believe that one day each and every one of us will be free from the illusions that block us from fully knowing our interconnectedness and oneness. All that is hidden will be seen, and the truth will set us free, each and every one of us.
Will Hammer made up a riddle that his sister Molly shared with me. She said to me: “Imagine you are trapped in a box. You were dropped into a hole in the ground. There is no door or window above you, below you or on any side of this box. How do you get out?, she asked.
Will then gave me the clue for answering this riddle. He reminded me of his first instruction. (Imagine you are trapped in a box.)
The “answer” is to stop imaging that you are trapped in a box. I will add: How do you stop imagining that you are trapped in a box? Observe what is actually happening, or imagine something that you would like to have happen.
In 1996, I had a abdominal hernia operation performed with only a local anesthesia. Afterwards, the doctors and nurses kept telling me how great I'd done. Thinking that I hadn't done anything but lie on the table, I asked my doctor what was meant by these comments. He said that most people imagine that something horrible is happening to them.
Most of us try to imagine all the horrible things that might happen in order to avoid them. We direct ourselves with negative feedback. Mark Twain said “"I’ve seen many troubles in my time, only half of which ever came true." For me it has been less than 2%.
During my hernia operation, I practiced a breathing meditation. I had wanted to watch, but was not permitted. So I chose to imagine the results I wanted. I repeated an affirmation to remind me that the surgeon was helping me, and I chose to visualize white light being directed to the area.
Now you might say “Wait a minute, that's fine for surgery, but what about when horrible things really are happening? What good will it do for us to imagine that there is clean air and water? What good is it to imagine global warming as a good thing? Isn't that just a practice in denial? Isn't that a way to stick our heads in the sand and avoid these crises?
I am not advocating from turning away from things that disturb us. I want us to take responsibility for our experiences and how we live. I want us to be people of faith, who act based upon love rather than fear.
Much of my spiritual path of learning has built upon an answer to a prayer more than 30 years ago. A close friend of mine killed himself. I had stayed over his house just one week prior. We smoked a lot of marijuana together. After he killed himself, I stopped “partying” and began getting wasted in isolation. I was romancing melancholia and death. It was an attempt to grieve that only took me into depression. I began considering following Eric's lead.
Fortunately, I had been brought up in a synagogue where we prayed and were encouraged to speak frankly to God. In my hour of despair, I turned to Soveriegn One I believed was responsible. My mind heavy with all things that were wrong with this world, I shouted “What do you want from me?” I meant “how do you expect me to live with all this?
The answer came as a memory and three words. I remembered driving a friend home some time ago. Jackie Lupichuck and I sat in my car and talked for a while. I didn't tell her what I was thinking of doing, but she knew I was hurting. She didn't say anything that fixed all of my problems, but her sitting with me, her caring had made a world of difference. Her being with me broke my isolation and guess became a bridge to God.
And the words that I heard as an answer to my prayer?: “Just show up.” I took it to mean showing up in the way that my friend Jackie had done- with compassion.
This message saved my life, and over time it's meaning has deepened. I have come to understand “showing up” to include honesty and integrity. I've learned this the hard way. There have been so many times I have lacked the skill or the ability to even imagine how to speak up when I didn't like the way things were going. I've come to realize that when I go along with things that are not in integrity with my values, that I'm not really showing up.
One of the best aids for showing up is the power each of us have to choose meaning. We never really understand the full meaning of events. So we are left to decide what meaning we assign to all the events that occur in our life. We forget that we are choosing. We learn to pretend that we have a firm grip on reality. We forget that we are still doing what we did as children. We are making believe.
Since we are the ones that make up the story of our lives, why not make up an enjoyable one? Some might accuse me of encouraging delusions. Since I think we are all crazy anyway, I'm not worried about that. I'm more interested in choosing perspectives that will lead to lasting peace and happiness?
I don't think most of us have been taught to do this. We have been taught that events outside of us cause us to feel what we do. Fortunately, increasing numbers of people on planet Earth are learning that the true cause of our feelings lies inside of us. As we become aware of the power that is ours we will more often act with integrity to our values. I wish to use the power to create peace and happiness, and to help others to do the same.
We want our UU congregations to be safe environments encourage us to examine our beliefs. When we realize that we have been holding beliefs that have limited us, we will likely choose to change them. Beliefs are at best snapshots of the past, attempts to predict the future. They are attempts to make sense of this world. At any given moment we can choose to maintain or change our beliefs. In any given moment, we can choose to open up to a fresh experience of what is.
As a society we hold many limiting beliefs. It's popular to believe that biology determines our experiences. It's popular to believe that who we are is determined by our subconscious, and that we can never fully know the reasons we do anything. Until recently it was popular to believe that our behaviors were determined by the hard wiring we inherited or developed as a child.
I do believe that we learn when we are growing up from the examples of those who are closest to us. We learn what to believe, and how to feel about life. The really good news is that beliefs can be changed at any moment.
Science is proving the plasticity of the brain. It's a fact that when we change our way of thinking we actually change our neurochemistry and create new neural pathways. I've heard that on average we have 60000 thoughts each day, and for most of us more than 80% of these are simply repeats of the same thoughts, travel the same neural pathways as we did the day before. If nothing new is happening, that's called stagnation and it leads to death. Perhaps this is why we have variations on the question “What's new?” and “Wazzup?” We are checking for signs that our friends are alive!
I am really excited and encouraged by the development of consciousness on Earth, and by the growing awareness of the power we exercise when we form our beliefs. I'm excited by the growing number of people who are learning to take responsibility for choosing beliefs, and who see how this contributes to being. Increasing numbers of us are realizing that to a very large extent our experience is determined not by what's going on outside of us, but by what goes on inside of us. We are learning the power we have to choose our beliefs, and how that affects the way we feel and act.
So I will close with several more questions. #1 What might happen if a group of people shared a common intention to bring more peace, love and happiness into this world by taking responsibility not just for their actions but for the consciousness that leads to action.
-What kind of consciousness are we shaping in ourselves? What kind of consciousness do we wish to have? How can we individually and as a group to cultivate the kind of consciousness we want?
Blessings on you for the journey of life. May you have strength to continue to develop your faith. .