Reward Yourself

Practice of the Week
Reward Yourself

Category: Keep In Mind (This practice doesn't require setting aside a separate substantial chunk of time. Just have the intention to grow stronger in this area as you go about your day.)

When you were a child, your parents might have rewarded you on a fairly regular basis. Perhaps they told you how pretty you were, or bought you an ice cream cone as a reward for cleaning the yard. Rewards helped guide you, and made you feel loved.

Once you left your parent's home, there was probably no one around to play the role of encourager and guide for you. As adult, we must learn how to give ourselves rewards so we can be encouraged to move in a positive direction. Most adults either give themselves indulgences all the time, or they almost never do. By learning the art of giving ourselves rewards at appropriate times, we can benefit from this powerful tool.

The first and perhaps hardest task in learning to encourage yourself is to come up with a list of at least a dozen rewards -- things that you enjoy doing or having. The best treats are those that are not harmful to your health, are readily available and don't cost much. A week-long trip to Paris wouldn't be good reward for your list. Ask yourself, "What are little things I like to do or have, to which I rarely treat myself?"

Here's one sample list of enjoyable, nonharmful, readily available, and inexpensive rewards:
  1. Taking a bath.
  2. Listening to my favorite music for a half-hour.
  3. Eating chips and salsa.
  4. Going to a movie.
  5. Going to my favorite nearby nature spot.
  6. Calling one of my friends who lives far away.
  7. Playing guitar.
  8. Getting a professional massage or a brief one from my partner.
  9. Watching a favorite TV show.
  10. Going to a favorite restaurant.
  11. Being physically intimate with my partner.
  12. Reading the newspaper.
Some of these cost money, and some don't. Some involve other people, while others don't. Certain items can be done in five minutes, while others might take an entire evening. It's good to have a variety of items on your list so you can have different levels and types of rewards.

Once you've made your list, put a copy of it in a place where you'll see it often. We are prone to forget to reward ourselves for hard work. If you have your list in a prominent place, it will help remind you that you need to take care of yourself.

With your rewards list done, you can now begin using it to shape your behavior. First, ask yourself, "What would I like to encourage and motivate myself to do?" Think of a few key behaviors that you know you wish you were more regular at doing. Perhaps it's exercising regularly, contacting new clients at work, or meditating every day. Second, decide to give yourself an appropriate reward after you do what is difficult for you to do. For large tasks, such as finishing a major project at work, you might give yourself a sizable prize. For small tasks, consider giving yourself just a small, simple treat. After a while, your brain will get the message that it's worth doing difficult tasks because you invariably get rewarded for your efforts.

In my therapy practice, my clients and I often make "deals" in which they agree to give themselves a major reward once they've achieved a specific goal. One client, "Frank," had always wanted to go on a trip around the world. He made a deal with me that as soon as he had $20,000 saved up, he would immediately buy his tickets and go. Starting with almost no money, he saved up the full amount in just 18 months. Dangling a big enough carrot in front of yourself can create miraculous changes in your behavior and attitudes.

Some people are used to indulging themselves. They eat big meals, go to movies, and take nice trips whenever they feel like it. If you're like that, then consider withholding from yourself your accustomed rewards until after you've done something you know would be good for you to do.

Each person must find a healthy balance between doing work and receiving rewards. If you tend to be a workaholic, be sure to treat yourself to something pleasurable after each difficult task you complete. If you tend to be indulgent, make your access to rewards dependent on completing some of your responsibilities.

A loving parent knows when his or her child needs encouragement, and when he or she needs to be disciplined. Now that you're all grown up, you need to decide for yourself what you need. With practice, you'll find the right amount of rewards that help you feel motivated, supported, and balanced in life.

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For list of all weekly practices: "Practices of the Week Index"


Do Good, Avoid Evil, Appreciate Your Lunacy, Pray for Help

Practice of the Week
Do Good, Avoid Evil, Appreciate Your Lunacy, Pray for Help

Category: Keep In Mind (This practice is for everyone to keep in mind and pay attention to. It doesn't require setting aside a separate substantial chunk of time. Just have the intention to grow stronger in this area as you go about your day. Sometimes make it a focus of your daily journaling.)

Four-in-one this week! These four reminders -- slogans to try to live by -- fit together, and bring us back down to earth. If spiritual teachings are to really transform our lives, they need to oscillate between two levels, the profound and the mundane. If practice is too profound, it's no good: we are full of wonderful inspiring, lofty thought, insights and speculations but lack the ability to get through the day with any gracefulness or to relate to the issues and people in ordinary life. We may be soaringly metaphysical, movingly compassionate, and yet unable to relate to a normal human or a worldly problem. This is the moment when the Zen master whacks you with her stick and says, "Kill the Buddha!"

On the other hand, if practice is too mundane, if we become too interested in the details of how we and others feel and what we or they need or want, then the natural loftiness of our hearts will not be accessible to us, and we will sink under the weight of obligations, details, and daily-life concerns. We need both profound religious philosophy and practical tools for daily living. This double need, according to circumstances, seems to go with the territory of being human.

First, do good. Do positive things. Say hello to people, smile at them, tell them, "Happy birthday!" or "I am sorry for your loss, is there something I can do to help?" These things are normal social graces, and people say them all the time. But to practice them intentionally is to work a bit harder at actually meaning them when you do them, to actually cultivate a sense of caring and feeling for someone else that is as real as you can make it, paying attention to what you say, how you say it, and how you actually feel it, or don't. We genuinely try to be helpful and kind and thoughtful in as many small and large ways as we can every day. From a religious point of view, doing good also includes wholesome religious acts like chanting a sacred text, studying, meditating, or giving money and other gifts to the spiritual community. All of these intentional positive actions, directly religious and not, generate virtue. They create a positive attitude in the mind or heart that will strengthen us for the good.

Second, avoid evil. Pay close attention to our actions of body, speech, and mind, noticing when we do, say, or think things that are harmful of unkind. Having come this far with our mind training, we can't help but notice them, we feel bad. In the past we might have said to ourselves, "I only said that because she really needs straightening out; if she hadn't done that to me, I wouldn't have said that to her. That's why I did it, it really was her fault." But now we see that this was a way of protecting ourselves (see "Stop Blaming"). Now we accept responsibility fr what we have done. I'm not speaking of terrible things. Most of us probably do not do terrible things on purpose. This practice mostly references unkind thoughts or words that do not seem so bad and yet erode our sense of integrity if we don't pay attention to them. So we do pay attention to what we say, think, and do -- not obsessively, not with a perfectionistic flair, but just as a matter of course and with generosity and understanding, and finally we purify ourselves of most of our ungenerous thoughts and words.

Third, appreciate your lunacy. Indo-Tibetan Buddhist practice includes making offerings to demons. Psychologically, it's the same idea: bow to your weakness, your own craziness, your own resistance. In fact, congratulate yourself for them, appreciate them. Truly it is a marvel, the extent to which we are selfish, confused, lazy, resentful, and so on. We come by these things honestly. We have been well trained to manifesst them at every turn. This is the prodigy of human life bursting fort at its seams. It is the effect of our upbringing, our society, which we appreciate even as we are trying to tame it and bring it gently round to the good. So we make offerings to the demons inside us, we develop a sense of humorous appreciation for our own stupidity. We are in good company! We can laugh at ourselves and everyone else.

Fourth, pray for help. Pray to whatever forces you believe in -- or don't believe in -- for help. Whether you imagine a deity or God or not, you can reach out beyond yourself and beyond anything you can objectively depict and ask for assistance and strength for your spiritual work. You can do this in meditation, with silent words, or out loud, vocalizing your hopes and wishes. Prayer is a powerful practice. It is not a matter of abrogating your own responsibility. You are not asking to be absolved of the need to act. You are asking asking for help and for strength to do what you know you must do, with the understanding that thought you must do your best, whatever goodness comes your way is not your accomplishment, your personal production. It comes from a wider sphere than you can control. In fact, it is counterproductive to conceive of spiritual practice as a task that we are going to accomplish on our own. Remember: "Be Grateful to Everyone." There is no way to do anything alone. Not only does it make sense to pray for help, not only does it feel powerfully right and good to do so, it is also important to do this so that we remember that we are not alone and we can't do it by ourselves. Sometimes we forget this point and fall into the habit of imagining an illusory self-reliance.

Do good, avoid evil, appreciate your lunacy, and pray for help. Simple everyday instructions.

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For list of all weekly practices: "Practices of the Week Index"


CUUC Music: Sun June 18 reports: "Johann Sebastian Bach wrote a great many musical compositions and had a large number of children. In between, he practiced on an old spinster which he kept up in the attic."

The father of twenty children and one of history’s greatest composers, J. S. Bach epitomizes the juncture between music and paternity. The Two and Three-Part Inventions were written by Bach as a gift to his ten-year-old son Wilhelm Friedemann as a guide to mastering keyboard techniques and a model of polyphonic composition. In honor of Fathers’ Day, a group of these perennially beloved teaching pieces opens the morning’s Prelude.

The CUUC Choir is on hand with a special valedictory offering for the final service of the “official” church year, along with anthems related to the monthly theme of Freedom and the eternal longing for peace. Tchaikovsky’s “June”, a seasonal offering written as part of a monthly commission for the St. Petersburg music journal Nouvelliste, rounds out Sunday morning’s music.

Read on for programming details.

Prelude: Adam Kent, piano
Two-Part Inventions Nos. 1, 4, 6, 8, 9 and 13
                                                            J. S. Bach

Introit: CUUC Choir, directed by Lisa N. Meyer and accompanied by Georgianna Pappas
And Wherever You Go
                                                            Douglas E. Wagner

Flying Free 
Don Besig

June: Barcarolle, Op. 37, No. 6
                                    Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Let There Be Peace On Earth   
Sy Miller and Jill Jackson, arr. by Mark Hayes 



Practice of the Week

Category: Worth a Try (Can be an occasional or one-time enhancement for your spiritual life -- or could become a regular practice for your deepening and enriching.)

adapted from Marta Morris Flanagan in Everyday Spiritual Practice, Ed. by Scott Alexander
"I want to fast to help me
slow down and connect with myself,
to be more conscious of my decision,
not only about food, but about all the ways
that I "stuff my feelings, my spirit.
I want to live more consciously."
--Matt Muise
I fast at least once a year, for three days at a time. I abstain from all solid food and limit myself to drinking fruit juices, herbal tea, and water. This juice fast prevents dehydration and provides many vital nutrients while still inviting me to abstain and feel that emptiness of body and openness of soul.

When I fast, I pay greater attention to life. I am more mindful. Some practice fasting as a time of repentance and self-sacrifice. For them, like other ascetic practices, fasting involves the denial or withholding of pleasure. But for me, fasting is not a form of suffering, because I do not find suffering in and of itself a useful spiritual discipline.

Instead, I fast to make more room for God. When I want to deepen or reawaken my sense of the Spirit, it is helpful to let go of something else. When I fast, I create more room for God in my life, sometimes simply by the large amount of time that is freed from thinking about, shopping for, and preparing food. My hunger during the fast also serves as a visceral reminder of my own deepest yearnings.

We are all hungry people. It is often difficult to be in touch with our spiritual hunger if we are satiated with food. Try to meditate on a full stomach! Often we stuff ourselves with food in a vain attempt to feed another kind of hunger that cannot be satisfied with food. Often we fill our hungers with food, with drink, with busyness, with distractions like television. Fasting is a time-honored spiritual discipline that awakens us to the deeper hungers within.

During a fast we give up anything that has become a habit that might harm the body during the fasting period: caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, sweeteners o all kinds, drugs, and medicines, as far as possible. Fasting is not appropriate for people who battle bulimia or anorexia or those with special health problems. But fasting for a short period of time is healthy for most others. It cleanses the body of toxins. Some medical doctors have advocated fasting for purely physical health reasons. I find that the first twenty-four hours are the hardes physically. I can feel tired and have headaches. But there is a sense of freedom that comes to me on the second day.

In the beginning of a fast many people are fascinated by the physical aspects of the experience. But more important is to monitor the attitude of your heart.

Fasting is spiritual discipline known to every world religion. The Jewish calendar includes several fast days, most prominently the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur, while Muslims fast between dawn and dusk during the month of Ramadan. In the Christian tradition, fasting was once a common discipline, continuing from the early church up to the Reformation. During the Middle Ages, it became associated with excessive ascetic practices involving rigid regulations and extreme self-mortification and thus fell into disfavor. In recent years, fasting has attracted renewed interest.

Moses, David, Zoroaster, Kongfuzi (Confucius), Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, and Buddha all fasted for spiritual reasons. Like Elijah, who was fasting when he heard a still small voice, we are more open to the Spirit when we fast. And like Jesus, who was fasting when he was tested in the wilderness, we realize depths of faith and personal powers when we fast.

Why fast?

Fasting reveals things that control us. We often cover up what is inside us with food. When we fast, these things surface. While fasting we may feel the sorrow, anger, regret, or pride we have been hiding from ourselves.

Fasting is a way to bring awareness to what we do. Many of us eat for emotional comfort. It becomes an automatic impulse.

Fasting helps us pay attention, and when we do, our relationship to things changes. We see more and see more deeply. We are present to the moment.

Fasting helps us return to a balance in our lives. How easily we let the nonessential take precedence. How quickly we crave things we do not need.

Fasting is a time to write in a journal, pray, meditate, walk. These are all ways of being receptive to grace.

When fasting, it is helpful to keep daily concerns and distractions to a minimum. I do not watch television when I fast. Instead of relying on stimuli from the outside, it’s best to try living with yourself. Let yourself be directed from within.

When fasting, do whatever does your body good. If you are tired, sleep. If you like physical activity, exercise. Do things that please you: read, dance, or listen to music.

When you fast, it is helpful to reflect each day. Ask yourself:
  • What was hardest about today’s fast? What was easiest?
  • What surprised me about fasting today?
  • In what ways did I become aware of the deeper hunger of my soul today?
  • What were the inner demons I encountered today on this fast?
  • What special grace did I experience today?
You may give your fast a focus. Some people are mindful that two-thirds of the world go hungry every day. They fast as an act of concern and identification. The money saved from this experience goes toward hunger. I know of one person who was so struck by an insight into himself during a therapy session that he spontaneously observed a twenty-four-hour fast to help him remember and deepen that insight.

Beginning and ending a fast is important. Gathering with others to observe a fast’s initiation and again to break the fast can be helpful. In one breaking-fast ritual I have participated in, we each brought a reading, a poem, or a passage that spoke to us during the fast. We also brought a piece of fruit. Silently, one by one, we approached the table and prepared our piece of fruit, placing the pieces on china plates, one for each person. One of us would slowly cut a banana and distribute slices to the plates. Another person would peel and divide the sections of an orange, and so on.

When we all had gone forward in silence and prepared our fruit, we were left with a plate for each of us with an array of fruit. It was a wondrous offering of food. Slowly, mindfully, and with great intention, we broke the fast by tasting the fruit before us. And always after the silence of our meditation, there was laughter as we ate together. It was good.

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For list of all weekly practices: "Practices of the Week Index"


CUUC Music: Sun June 4

Church music through the ages is represented in Sunday morning’s Prelude by the juxtaposition of J.S. Bach’s Chorale “Jesu, Joy of Our Desiring” with “A Simple Song” from  Leonard Bernstein’s Mass, written for the opening of the Kennedy Center. Elsewhere, the Affirmation of our Third Grade Class is marked by a duet performed by Tycho and Christian Force as well as excerpts from Robert Schumann’s Scenes of Childhood. The CUUC Choir is also on hand with a celebrated number by the Beatles as well as a medley of beloved African-American Spirituals. Read on for programming details.

Prelude: Lisa Meyer, soprano; Adam Kent, piano
Jesu, Joy of Our Desiring
                                    J. S. Bach, arr. by Harold Bauer
A Simple Song from Mass
                                    Leonard Bernstein

Special Music: Tycho and Christian Force, duo piano
The Juggler
                                                Mauro Giuliniani

Anthem: CUUC Choir directed by Lisa N. Meyer and accompanied by Georgianna Pappas
John Lennon and Paul McCartney, arr. by Audrey Snyder     

From Scenes of Childhood, Op. 15
1.     Of Foreign Lands and Peoples
5. Important Event

Song of Freedom   
Traditional Spirituals, arr. by Victor C. Johnson  


Find Your Calling

Practice of the Week
Find Your Calling

Category: Worth a Try (This can be an occasional or one-time enhancement for your spiritual life -- or could become a regular practice for your deepening and enriching.)
"The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need to do and (b) that the world needs to have done. If you really get a kick out of your work, you've presumably met requirement (a), but if your work is writing cigarette ads, the chances are you've missed requirement (b). On the other hand, if your work is being a doctor in a leper colony, you have probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you're bored and depressed by it, the chances are you have not only bypassed (a), but probably aren't helping your patients much either. Neither the hair shirt nor the soft berth will do. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet." (Frederick Buechner)
What is your calling?
Is a new calling trying to be heard?
Try the "Billion-Dollar List" test!

Imagine you suddenly won or inherited a billion dollars. What would you do? Maybe you'd throw a big party, take your dream vacation, buy a nice house. Then what?

Retire? You might think you'd want to retire, but most billionaires continue to passionately pursue their work. In fact, the one thing rich people tend to have in common is that they love their work. By imagining what you'd do with a billion dollars, it's possible to gain a better idea of what you yearn to do in the world, the important work that you are called to offer the world.

When you become clear about what you really love to do and what you consider to be important work, you become more focused and capable. Twenty-five years ago, I was living in a 1967 Dodge van, making $400 a month. It seemed unlikely I would ever have a bestselling book and speak to millions of people a year. Yet, by consistently pursuing what I love, it happened. Even if I didn't make much money or have much success in my field, I would still be enjoying what I do. I love teaching and writing. I'd definitely do it for free. Had I made the mistake of pursuing a different line of work just to make a lot of money, I'd probably be miserable. Many people make the error of putting their desire for money before their desire for meaningful work. Usually they end up paying a big price. Yet by figuring out what you'd do with a billion dollars, you can easily learn and start to pursue your true passions in life.

A billion dollars is one thousand million bucks. That's a lot of money. Would you want to help end starvation? Would you go into politics? Would you become a writer, inventor, or musician? What line of work seems like it's so fun or so important that you'd gladly do it for free? Take a few minutes now and write down a few answers to that question.

When I first looked over my billion dollar list, I became a bit depressed. After all, I wasn't doing any of the things I had written down. I had never done any writing, never been on TV and was afraid of public speaking. Yet I figured I'd start in small ways. I began by teaching a personal growth class to a few friends for free. I started writing things down just for my own benefit. As time passed, I got better at what I did. Before I knew it, people were paying for my workshops, publishers were buying my books, and TV producers were calling me to be on their shows. Since I really loved what I was doing, it was easy to be dedicated to it, even during times when I wasn't having much success.

Once you've written down what you'd do with a billion dollars, begin in small ways to incorporate some of those activities into your life. For example, if with a billion dollars you decided that you'd work to end the abuse of animals, then why not start to work in that area now? You don't need to quit your job to do that. You can begin by writing letters to your congressman, joining an animal rights group, or volunteering at an animal shelter. I know many people who started doing such things after they wrote out their Billion-Dollar List, and later found themselves in a paying job working for the cause for which they had previously volunteered.

The Billion-Dollar List helps you to think in a new, expanded manner. As you wrok in ways that are in line with your values and passion, you'll feel a sense of inner fulfillment. Many people report that initially making less money at a job is a small price to pay for work that is truly rewarding. Once you've made your list, you'll have a clearer sense of the direction you ultimately want to go in life.

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For list of all weekly practices: "Practices of the Week Index"

CUUC Music: Sun May 28

Music about love is featured this Sunday morning at CUUC, in recognition of the renewed wedding vows of Janet Press and Bob Indra. As a special treat, Janet’s granddaughter Isabella sings “A Whole New World” from Aladdin as part of the ceremony. Unitarian composer Edvard Grieg’s “Wedding Day at Troldhaugen” was written as a 25th anniversary gift to the composer’s wife, evoking a Norwegian country wedding procession. Writing about “The Maiden and the Nightingale” Spanish composer Enrique Granados counseled interpreters to think more about the jealousy of a wife than the sadness of a widow. Felix Mendelssohn’s Song without Words known as “Duet” and Isaac Albéniz’s celebrated Tango in D both depict a couple’s intertwining voices. Read on for programming details.

Prelude: Adam Kent, piano
Quejas, ó La maja y el ruiseñor from Goyescas (Laments, or The Maiden and the Nightingale)
                                    Enrique Granados
Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, Op. 65, No. 6
                                    Edvard Grieg

Opening Music:
Tango in D
                                                            Isaac Albéniz

Song without Words in Ab Major, Op. 38, No. 6 “Duet”
                                    Felix Mendelssohn

Interlude: Isabella Okelberry, soprano
A Whole New World (Aladdin’s Theme from Walt Disney’s Aladdin)
                        Alan Menkin/Tim Rice