Put It in Context

Practice of the Week
Put It in Context

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.)

The previous three [of the practices adapted from Fischer's Training in Compassion] -- Turn All Mishaps Into the Path, Stop Blaming, and Be Grateful for Everyone -- fit together. Grateful to everyone and everything, we are willing to acknowledge whatever happens as an opportunity, which we accept with complete responsibility and receive with joy. Moreover, these three depend on a conventional understanding of beings as we usually conceive of them, self and other, you and I, them and us.

"Put it in context" entails a deeper sense of what we are. The context we're talking about is not just one more relative context. Rather, this practice involves going beyond conventional or relative understanding. The isolated self of our concepts does not and could not exist. The distinction between self and other is an empty illusion. From an absolute perspective, there is no self and other. There's only Being, and there's only Love, which is Being sharing itself with itself without impediment and with warmth. It just happens to look like you and me to us because this is how our minds and sensory apparatus works.

"Put it in context" means seeing your situation and what you are experiencing in the context of -- indeed, as a part of and an integral manifestation of -- this love without boundary. "It" includes all the disturbances of your life -- all your confusion, which is to say, your resistance, your pain, your fear, your grief, your frustrated desires, and so on. Usually we hope any such emotion or reaction will eventually go away and we will be free of it. Instead, by placing it in context of the absolute, we take a different perspective, and we take it to a deeper level. We look at its underlying reality. What is actually going on when we are upset or angry? What is happening? If we could unhook ourselves for a moment from the blaming and the wishing and the self-pitying, and could look instead at the actual basis of what is in fact going on, what would we see?

We would see time passing. We would see things changing. We would see life arising and passing away, coming from nowhere and going nowhere. Moment by moment, time slips away and things transform. The present becomes the past -- or does it become the future? And yet right now there is no past or future. As soon as we examine "now" it is gone. And we cannot know how or where it goes. This may sound like philosophy, but it doesn't feel like philosophy when you or someone close to you is giving birth. If at that moment you are standing in the delivery room or are yourself, in pain and joy, giving birth -- in that first bursting-forth moment, you are amazed. This small life you think you have been living, with its various issues and problems completely disappears in the face of the miracle of visceral life springing forth in front of your eyes. Or if you are present when someone dies, you know then that this emptiness is not just philosophy. You may not know what it is, but you will know that it is real. And that this reality is powerful and makes you see your life, and the whole of life, quite differently in that moment. A new context emerges that is more than thought, more than concept. When you view your daily human problems in the light of actual birth and actual death, you are putting your experiences in absolute context.

Every moment of your life, even (and maybe especially) your moments of pain or despair or confusion, is a moment of your own inherent wholeness, your inherent perfection. This is a fact, whether you see it or not. Learning to see it is the path of wisdom.

Attend births and deaths whenever you have the chance. Accept these moments as gifts, opportunities for deep spiritual practice. But even when you aren't participating in these peak moments, you can remember and reflect on the ultimate context within which all your concerns and anguishes occur. And when your mind is confused and entangled, you can take a breath and try to slip below the level of your desire and confusion. You can notice that in this very moment time is passing, things are transforming, and this astonishing, inconceivable fact is profound, beautiful, and joyful -- even as you continue with your misery.

For Journaling

Describe the most confusing -- sad, annoying, upsetting -- moment of the past 24 hours. Then describe your feeling in the context of the ultimate.

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

Music: Sun May 21

“What does the May monthly theme of ‘Joy’ have to do with ‘White Supremacy?’” you ask?

The joys of music, creativity, and self-expression can be an antidote to discrimination, as the CUUC Choir’s performances of “Shenandoah” and the Beatles’ hit “Good Day Sunshine” will suggest this Sunday morning. Solo piano selections include works by composers of African descent from the traditions of Ragtime and Spirituals, musical forms which gave hope and solace in times of oppression. Read on for programming details.

Prelude: Adam Kent, piano
Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child             
                                                Traditional Spiritual, arr. by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor
Elite Syncopations
Maple Leaf Rag
                                                Scott Joplin

Anthem: CUUC Choir directed by Lisa N. Meyer and accompanied by Georgianna Pappas
American Folk Song, arr. by Brad Printz
Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel?
                                                Traditional Spiritual, arr. by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

Good Day Sunshine     
John Lennon and Paul McCartney, arr. by Kirby Shaw



Practice of the Week

Category: Might Be Your Thing (This practice is not for everyone -- but may be just the thing for you!)
“The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions that have been concealed by the answers." --James Baldwin
Adapted from Julie-Ann Silberman, "Art," in Everyday Spiritual Practice

Artwork is my daily spiritual practice. My goal is not to create masterpieces, but to get more closely in touch with my interior spiritual life. In my life, I use words a lot, I read a lot, and I think a lot. I need a spiritual practice that will take me away from those things and get me in touch with what is happening at the core of my being.

I was a painter and an art major in college, but then my focus changed, and I left that behind. When my father died, I was sad and lonely and wanted to express the feelings raging inside me. I could feel an aching in my arms and heart. I could see images in my head, but I wasn’t letting them out. I needed a vehicle for the day in and day out process of grieving. So, I returned to the tried and true longing of my body. I went into my basement and dug up some old pastels and oil paints.

Buying new art supplies is part of the spirituality of art and one of the first steps to take in making artwork a spiritual practice. Buy supplies that excite you and that will work as a vehicle for your self-expression. The next step is to put your supplies out in a place where you spend a lot of time! If you spend time at your kitchen table, put the art supplies there. If you spend time in front of the TV, put them there. Initially, you are more likely to be able to tap into the creative aspects of your everyday spirituality if you try to create in the places where you usually spend time. Eventually you may want a special place for creating, but in the early stages of developing your spiritual discipline of creation, it is important that your practice be a part of your daily existence.

Spirituality is not about separating myself from my life. It is about getting more deeply in touch with the sacred in my daily living. Human life is sacred; therefore, what we do and how we fill our lives is sacred. So when you are doing your ordinary things, tap into the sacred. Listen to your soul. Use that to make your art.

Don't try initially to create representational art; rather, try to use color to express your feelings. Often I begin by closing my eyes. Usually in that darkness I see colors, and I begin with what my inner eye has selected. As I continue to work, I will frequently close my eyes and explore the image in my mind's eye, how it changes and develops. It is easier to change things in your head than it is on the paper or canvas. Perceiving images guided by inner awareness is important to understanding creation as a spiritual discipline.

Art as a spiritual discipline is the chosen need to find center. Finding center in an emotional sense is vital to the quality, depth, and meaning of your work, whatever the medium.

One of the pitfalls of art as a spiritual discipline is that others often expect us to display our work or to share it with them in one way or another. Creations that come out of an inner listening are intensely personal. They are every bit as difficult to share as journal entries, personal prayers, or the content of meditation. The advantage of those other disciplines is that very few people expect them to be shared in a public way. To keep your artwork for yourself takes some strength.

There may also come a time when you are ready to share your creations, and this too presents questions. Choosing to share your creations requires you to be comfortable with the work and its place in your life, so comfortable that the responses of others do not change the meaning or the place of the work in your own life and practice. When you are at this point, then you can decide how and with whom to share your work. We must remember that creativity is about the process, not the outcome, especially when it is being used as a spiritual discipline. Creativity is about the experience, the identifying and releasing of feelings and core responses to the world around us.

I have found artwork to be a very powerful spiritual discipline, one that has allowed me to reconnect with parts of myself that I had long negated and devalued. Having integrated artwork back into my life, I feel a sense of wholeness that I had lost. I have also chosen to share my work through a public showing and found it to be a powerful affirmation of the balance in my life. That balance was brought about in large measure for me through the spiritual practice of creativity.

No matter what media or methods you explore, or how you choose to share your art with others, personal authenticity is the most important aspect of art as a spiritual practice. Listen to yourself. There are no limits. Use what you have, experiment, and eventually find what you like. This spiritual practice is based on tangible, tactile responses. If you do not feel in touch with the medium, if it in any way holds you back from self-expression, get rid of it and try something new. If you don't like painting on canvas, try painting on rocks. If pastels on paper don't work for you, see if crayons on fabric do.

The most important things are to find yourself and to let it out. Pay attention to your dreams and the inner workings of your mind and even to the colors you see. The more you pay attention to what you see and how you respond to it, the more material you will have for your creative endeavors. Artistic expression is from the soul, and no one else knows what yours contains, so let it out in your own way.

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


Music: Sun May 14

Jazz great Valerie Capers teams up with bassist extraordinaire John Robinson in a program of sensitively chosen and artistically re-imagined classics this Sunday at CUUC. Among Dr. Capers’ selections are several works selected in honor of Mother’s Day. The CUUC Choir is also on hand with inspirational numbers in folk and jazz idioms. Read on for programming details, and consider attending our Jazzfest! Concert next Saturday evening at 8pm for more of Val Capers’ enchanting music.

Prelude: Valerie Capers, piano; John Robinson, bass
Some Other Time
                                                            Leonard Bernstein

Opening Music:
A Child is Only a Moment
music and lyrics by Earl Brown

Interlude: CUUC Choir directed by Lisa N. Meyer and accompanied by Georgianna Pappas
Come in from the Firefly Darkness
Amy F. Bernon    

Isn’t She Lovely?
                                                Stevie Wonder

What A Wonderful World    Music by David Weiss, Lyrics by Bob Thiele, arr. by Mark Brymer  

In a Mellow Tone
                                                Duke Ellington


Enjoy Your Hands

Practice of the Week
Enjoy Your Hands

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.)
"Studies suggest that knitting - and crafting in general - can actually act as a natural anti-depressant, as well as reduce stress and even protect your brain from aging." -- The UK Daily Mail, 2014 Mar

"The real action of compassion is touch. . . . Regrettably, we are a touch-deprived culture in the west." -- Dacher Keltner

"To touch is to give life." -- Michelangelo
Adapted from Rick Hanson, Just One Thing.

Sometimes it's worth remembering the obvious: you engage the world with your body — often with your hands.

Human hands are unique in the animal kingdom in their dexterity and sensitivity. Their capacity for skilled action helped drive the evolution of the neural networks that handle sophisticated planning, decision-making, and self-control.

Your hands reach, touch, caress, hold, manipulate, and let go. They type, stir pots, brush hair, wash dishes, shift gears, scratch ears, open doors, throw stones, hold loved ones, and help you snuggle into bed. They may not be perfect, and with aging, they may sometimes be in pain, but they're always lovely and vital.

Appreciating your hands makes you appreciate living. Being mindful of them — paying attention to what they're feeling and doing — is a simple and available way to drop down into a more sensual, in-the-body connection with the world, including the people you touch.


Right now, take a moment to be aware of your hands. What are they doing? What are they touching? They are always touching something, if only the air. What are they sensing? Warm or cool? Hard or soft?

Move your fingertips. Notice how incredibly sensitive they are, with about 20,000 nerve endings per square inch. Play with the sensations of your fingers stroking your palm, your thumb touching each finger in turn, the fingers of one hand caressing the fingers of the other one.

Soak up the enjoyment your hands give you. Use your hands to draw you into pleasure such as the warmth of holding a cup of coffee, the relief of scratching an itchy head, or the satisfaction of getting a pesky button through its hole.

As appropriate, touch others more. Feel the grip of a handshake, a friend's shoulder, a lover's skin, a child's hair, a dog's or cat's fur.

Buddha Okays All Beings
Feel the skillfulness of your hands: steering a car, writing a note, replacing a lightbulb, sawing wood, planting bulbs, measuring garlic, peeling an onion. Feel their strength in holding a knife, making a fist, lugging a suitcase.

Watch your hands talk: pointing, rising and falling, opening and closing, thumbs-up, okay, waving hello and goodbye.

Many times a day, try to sink awareness into your hands.

Feel them feeling your life.

For Journaling

For your journaling today, copy this sentence into your journal: "Wow, my hand is amazing." As you copy it, pay close attention to how all the muscles of the hand coordinate their motion to allow you to write that sentence.

Make a list: "Things my hands did today that I wouldn't normally have paid any attention to at all."

* * *
Dacher Keltner on touch:

Rick Hanson on enjoying your hands:

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

Music: Sun May 6

Floral imagery abounds in Sunday morning’s musical selections at CUUC this week, in celebration of our annual Flower Communion service. Sopranos Laura Sehdeva and Kim Force team up with Christian Force and Adam Kent in an arrangement of “The Rose”, popularized by Bette Midler. Elsewhere, a rag jointly composed by Scott Joplin and Louis Chauvin memorializes the heliotrope blossom, Tchaikovsky’s flowers waltz away, and Mendelssohn’s bees pollinate every bloom in sight at their wedding. Read on for programming details….

Prelude: Adam Kent, piano
Heliotrope Bouquet
                                                Scott Joplin and Louis Chauvin
Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker
                                    Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Story Music:
The Bees’ Wedding, Op. 67, No. 4
                                                Felix Mendelssohn

Offertory: Kim Force, Laura Sehdeva, Christian Force
The Rose
                                                            Amanda McBroom


Music: Sun Apr 30

On the outskirts of Barcelona at the summit of Tibidabo, a peak of the Collserola mountain chain, is a playful amusement park known as “Parc d’attraccions”. The site and some of its divertissements are evoked in a charming suite for solo piano by Catalan composer Manuel Blancafort performed this morning. Tibidabo, based on the Latin “tibi dabo”—“I shall give you”---is taken from the Vulgate from the Gospel of St. Matthew. The Devil tempts Jesus, showing him a view of the world from on high—as if from a mountain peak—and suggests, “All these things I shall give you, if though wilt fall down and worship me.” As a tourist destination, Tibidabo features not only the quaint children’s rides and spectacular views of the city and the Mediterranean, but also the peculiar image of a huge statue of Christ overlooking the tiny Sagrat Cor church, His arms outstretched over the park’s gigantic Ferriswheel.

The CUUC Choir is also on hand with selections inspired by April’s monthly theme of Mercy, including references to divine compassion as well as poetry by Emily Dickinson.

Finally, song writer and satirist extraordinaire Roy Zimmerman—widely admired in UU circles—returns to CUUC with selections for the morning’s Offertory and Postlude.

Read on for programming details.

Prelude Adam Kent, piano
From Parc d’attraccions
   I.   L’Orgue dels cavallets (The Carousel Organ)
   II.  El tumult desvetlla recorts (The Tumult Awakens Memories)
   III.  Polka de l’equilibrista (The Polka of the Tight-Rope Walker)
Manuel Blancafort

Anthem: CUUC Choir directed by Lisa N. Meyer and accompanied by Georgianna Pappas
"His Eye Is On The Sparrow" Music by Charles Gabriel, Words by Civilla D. Marin, arr. by Ruth Elaine Schram

Offertory: Roy Zimmerman
"Citizens United"

Anthem: CUUC Choir
"I Shall Not Live In Vain"   Music by Ruth Morris Gray, Words by Emily Dickinson

Postlude: Roy Zimmerman
"My Vote, My Voice, My Right"