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2014-12-30

CUC Music: Sun Jan 4


In keeping with the monthly theme of Justice, Sunday morning music for January at CUC features works by composers affected by struggles for social, political or professional equality. The music performed on January 4 is all by gay composers, who contended with personal discrimination and professional challenges because of their sexual orientation. Come at 10am for Music for All Ages, where we will discuss connections between personal identity and artistic creation.
Read on for programming details.

Prelude:
Music for All Ages: Can You Tell Who I Am from My Music?
Mouvements perpétuels                        Francis Poulenc
            I. Assez modéré
            III. Alerte
Adam Kent , piano
Opening Music:
Threshing Song from Murcia                        Joaquin Nin-Culmell

Interlude:
Four Anniversaries                                    Leonard Bernstein
I.               For Felicia Montealegre

Offertory:
January: Fireside Fantasy, Op. 37, No. 1                        Pyotr Ilyitch Tchaikovsky

2014-12-25

Fill the Hole in Your Heart

Practice of the Week
Fill the Hole in Your Heart
“It is said that there are two ways to deal with pain. One is to shut your heart off so it won’t be hurt; the other is to open it bigger to allow more love to find it.” (Stewart Snyder)
* * *

Rick Hanson on filling the hole in your heart:


Adapted from Rick Hanson, Just One Thing. [Order a copy for yourself: HERE]:

As we grow up and then move through adulthood, we all have normal needs for safety, fulfillment, and love. For example, children need to feel secure, adolescents need a growing sense of autonomy, and young adults need to feel attractive and worthy of romantic love. When these needs are met by various "supplies" -- such as the caring of a parent, the trust of a teacher, the love of a mate -- the positive experiences that result then sink in to implicit memory to become resources for well-being, self-regulation, resilience, self-worth, and skillful action. This is how healthy psychological development is supposed to work.

But it doesn't always go this way, doe it? In the lives of most people (me included) -- even without any kind of significant mistreatment, trauma, or abuse -- the incoming stream of supplies has sometimes been a thin soup: perhaps your parents were busy caring for a sick sibling or preoccupied with their own needs and conflicts, or you moved a lot as a kid and had a hard time connecting with peers, or high school was more than the usual social nightmare, or potential lovers were uninterested, or jobs have been frustrating and dispiriting, or . . . in other words, a typical life.

The shortages in a thin soup leave lacks, deficits, in key internal resources. For example, I was a year or two younger than my classmates, which led to a shortage of inclusion and valuing from them, which in turn led to a lack of confidence and sense of worth in groups that persisted into adulthood. The absence of good things naturally has consequences.

And so does the presence of bad ones. When blows land -- when there is loss, misreatement, rejection, abandonment, misfortune, or trauma -- they leave wounds. Sometimes these heal fully, usually due to a rich soup of supplies. But often they don't, leaving pockets of unresolved emotional pain like pus beneath a scab, while also affecting a person's functioning like a lifelong limp from a broken ankle that never fully mended.

A lack or a wound will leave "a hole in your heart" -- which gets even deeper when the two exacerbate each other. For example, I vividly recall the time a popular girl in high school really put me down; it was a minor blow in its own right, but my years of social isolation had left me with no shields or shock absorbers to buffer its impact, which was to make me feel awful about myself for a long time afterward.

So what can you do about your own lacks and wounds? You've got them; we all do. Life alone can be healing: time passes, you put more distance each year between yourself and the train wreck of your early childhood, seventh grade, first great love, last job, last marriage, or whatever, and you move on to a better place. But this essentially passive process of being carried by life is often not enough for a real healing: it's too slow, or it doesn't reach down deep enough, or key ingredients are missing.

Then you need to actively fill the hole in your heart.

How

It's fundamentally simple: you take in good experiences (see previous practice of the week, "Take in the Good" -- CLICK HERE) that are specifically aimed at your own lacks and wounds. It's like being a sailor with scurvy: you need vitamin C—not vitamin E—for what ails you. For example, I felt both protected and independent as a child, so experiences of safety and autonomy as an adult—while valuable in their own right—did not address my issue: I needed the particular healing balm of experiences of inclusion and respect in groups.

Consequently, it's important to know what your own vitamin C is (and sometimes a person needs more than one kind). Perhaps you already know, but if not, here are some questions to help you find out: When your lacks or wounds developed, what would have made all the difference in the world? What do you long for today? What conditions help you feel truly happy—and bring out the best in you? What sort of experiences feed and soothe a deep hunger inside?

More specifically, here's a summary of some healing experiences—"vitamins"—targeted for particular lacks and wounds, organized in terms of the three motivational systems in your brain:



Lack or Wound
Vitamin
Avoiding Harms
Weakness, helplessness
Strength, efficacy


Alarm, anxiety
Safety, security


Resentment,
Compassion for

anger
oneself and others

Approaching
Frustration,
Satisfaction,
Rewards
disappointment
fulfillment


Sadness,
Gladness,

discontentment,
gratitude

"blues"


Attaching to "Us"
Not seen,
Attunement,

rejected, left out
inclusion


Inadequacy,
Recognition,

shame
acknowledgement


Abandonment,
Friendship, love

feeling unloved

Once you have some clarity about the psychological vitamins you need, the rest is straightforward:
  • Look for these vitamins in your life; also do what you can to create or increase them. For example, I keep my eyes open for opportunities to feel liked and appreciated in groups, plus I prod myself to join groups to create those opportunities.
  • The vitamin you need is an experience, not an event. The point of situations in which you are protected, successful, or appreciated is to feel safe, fulfilled, and worthy. This is hopeful, because it gives you many ways to evoke key experiences. For example, if feeling that you matter to others is what will fill the hole in your heart, you could: look for signs that others wish you well, whether it's the smile of someone making you a sandwich in a deli, the encouragement of a coworker, or a lover's hug; think about the many people in your life today or in your past who like and appreciate you; ask your partner to be affectionate (and be open to hearing what would help him or her to do this); try to develop more relationships with people who are by nature warm and supportive.
  • Be willing to get a slice of the pie if the alternative is no pie at all. For instance, if you finish a tough project at work, focus on the sense of accomplishment for everything you got done rather than on a few loose ends; if a friend is warm and loyal, open to feeling cared about even if what you really want is romantic love.
  • Then, using the second and third steps of taking in the good (CLICK HERE), really savor the positive experience for ten or more seconds in a row while sensing that it is sinking down into you, giving you what you've always needed. 
  • Have confidence that every time you do this, you'll be wiring resources into your brain. When I started this practice myself, in my early twen¬ties, the hole in my heart looked like the con¬struction site for a skyscraper. But I just kept tossing a few bricks—a few experiences of feeling included—into that hole every day. One brick alone will make little difference, but brick after brick, day after day, year after year, you really can fill even a very big hole in your heart!
For Journaling

What is the "vitamin" you need? Outline your strategy for supplying that "vitamin" to yourself.

* * *
Previous Practice of the Week: "Feel Safer"
For list of all weekly practices: "Practices of the Week Index"

2014-12-22

CUC Bird Walk Report: Sun Dec 21

The black moment is the moment when the real message of transformation is going to come. At the darkest moment, comes the light. – Joseph Campbell

Today we reflected on light and dark given that it was the winter’s solstice. The birds must have known it was a holiday, for they were not going about their usual routines. The cloudy and dark day might also have influenced the avian activity. We only had 9 species this morning, and though it was a bit cold, 6 human birders. As we walked around the grounds we paused and shared what the shortest day of the year means to us (other than there having so few birds!).
We did have one another, and even with so few birds (did I mention there weren’t many birds?), we could find gratitude in the chance to see the light of our shared time together.

In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.
– Albert Camus

Please join us for our next bird walk, Sunday, January 18th, 2015 – it’s Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend. Accordingly our theme will be justice in a multispecies world. The bird walk will go on regardless of the weather, for we have the Parsonage, a fire, and each other as we watch the birds at the feeder.

LoraKim

Today’s sightings:

11 Mourning doves
2 House Sparrow
3 Black-capped Chickadee
33 Canada Geese
1 White-breasted nuthatch
1 House finch
1 Hairy woodpecker
6 Cardinals
3 White-throated sparrows

2014-12-18

Feel Safer

Practice of the Week
Feel Safer
“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” (Maya Angelou)
* * *
Rick Hanson on feeling safer:


Adapted from Rick Hanson, Just One Thing. [Order a copy for yourself: HERE]:

Consider these two mistakes:
  1. You think there's a tiger in the bushes, but actually there isn't one.
  2. You think there's no tiger in the bushes, but actually one is about to pounce.
Most of us make the first mistake much more often than the second one, for several reasons:
  • Evolution has given us an anxious brain. In order to survive and pass on genes, it's better to make the first mistake a thousand times rather than make the second mistake even once; the cost of the first mistake is fear for no reason, but the cost of the second mistake could be death.
  • This general tendency in the human brain is exacerbated by temperament—some people are naturally more anxious than others—and by life experiences (e.g., growing up in a dangerous neighborhood, experiencing trauma).
  • Saturated with media, news about murders, disasters, economic turmoil, and horrible things happening to other people sifts into your mind—even though your own local situation is probably much less dangerous.
  • In ways that have been repeated throughout history, political groups try to gain or hold onto power by exaggerating apparent threats.
In effect, most of us have a kind of paper tiger paranoia.

Certainly, it's important to recognize the real tigers in life, which come in many shapes and sizes: perhaps an impending layoff at work, a cough that won't go away, a teenager growing pot in the attic, a friend or coworker who keeps letting you down, or the health risks of smoking cigarettes. Try to notice any tendencies to overlook or minimize tigers, and do what you can about the ones that are real.

Meanwhile, try to recognize the ways that you—like most people—routinely overestimate threats while underestimating the resources inside you and around you. In effect, most of us feel much less safe than we actually are. The unfortunate results include unpleasant feelings of worry and anxiety; not hunkering down and reaching as high and wide as one might; stress-related illnesses; less capacity to be patient or generous with others; and a greater tendency to be snappish or angry (the engine of most aggression is fear). It's not good to feel like it's always Threat Level Orange!

Instead, feel as safe as you reasonably can.

How?

Some people get understandably nervous about feeling safer—since that's when you lower your guard, and things can really smack you. If this applies to you, adapt the suggestions here to your own needs, go at your own pace, and perhaps talk with a friend or counselor.

Further, there is no perfect safety in this life. Each of us will face disease, old age, and death, as well as lesser but still painful experiences. And many of us must deal with unsafe conditions in the community, workplace, or home.

This said, consider in your heart of hearts whether you deserve to feel safer: whether you are more braced against life, more guarded, more cautious, more anxious, more frozen, more appeasing, more rigid, or more prickly than you truly need to be.

If the answer is yes, here are some ways to help yourself feel safer, so that a growing internal sense of calm and confidence will increasingly match the true reality of the people and settings around you:
  • Bring to mind the sense of being with someone who cares about you.
  • Recall a time you felt strong.
  • Recognize that you are in a protected setting.
  • Mentally list some of the resources inside and around you that you could draw on to deal with what life throws you.
  • Take a few breaths with l-o-n-g exhalations, and relax.
  • All the while, keep helping yourself feel more sheltered, more supported, more capable, and safer. And less vigilant, tense, or fearful.
  • Become more aware of what it's like to feel safer, and let those good feelings sink in, so you can remember them in your body and find your way back to them in the future.
You can practice with the methods above in general ways, such as in the morning plus several times a day if you tend to be fearful. Also try them in specific, unsettling situations, like before speaking up in a meeting, driving in traffic, getting on an airplane, or working through a sticky issue with your partner. Being on your own side, help yourself feel at least a little safer, and maybe a lot. Then see what happens. And take it in, again and again, if in fact, as they usually do, things turn out all right.

And there is really no tiger in the bushes after all.

For Journaling

Reflect on the suggested methods for feeling safer. Which ones do you think will probably work best for you? Why?

* * *
Previous Practice of the Week: "Don't Take It Personally"
For list of all weekly practices: "Practices of the Week Index"

2014-12-17

CUC Music: Sun Dec 21

This Sunday’s musical selections feature solo piano works, which capture traditional Christmas songs from different cultures. Spanish composer Joaquín Turina sprinkles the score of his Navidad: Milagro en dos cuadros, Op. 16 (Christmas: A Miracle in Two Pictures) with the following programmatic notes:
“A very narrow street onto which the doors of the Cathedral open. It is snowing heavily. A popular carol is heard. A group of drunkards enters, crossing the scene in song; in their midst walks a little child who falls to the ground. The heavenly retinue appears. The song of the drunkards is heard from afar. An angel stumbles upon the child; the group pauses. The child sits up and beholds the Virgin extending Her arms. He rubs his eyes….he beholds the Child Jesus. He arises as if in a trance. Two angels take the child and bring him with the heavenly retinue. The scene grows totally dark. The celestial choir appears, full of poor people and beggars. Behind them, a great illuminated city.”
Unitarian composer Béla Bartók furnishes a set of ten diminutive arrangements of Christmas carols from Rumania, known as Colinde, and traditional Christmas carols from other European traditions make their way into Franz Liszt’s The Christmas Tree, composed for his granddaughter. Also included are an arrangement of Catalonia’s ubiquitous Christmas carol El cant dels ocells (The Song of the Birds), and a selection from Russian composer Vladimir Rebikov’s ballet The Christmas Tree.
Read on for more programming details:

“Christmas Around the World”
Piano Music by Adam Kent

Prelude:
Navidad: Milagro en dos cuadros, Op. 16
Segundo cuadro
Joaquín Turina

Rumanian Christmas Carols, First Series
Béla Bartók

Psallite! From The Christmas Tree
Franz Liszt

Opening Music:
The Song of the Birds
Traditional Catalan Christmas Carol, arr. by Joaquín Nin-Culmell

Interlude:
Waltz from The Christmas Tree
Vladimir Rebikov

Offertory:
Adeste Fideles From The Christmas Tree
Franz Liszt

2014-12-11

Don't Take It Personally

Practice of the Week
Don't Take It Personally
“Don't Take Anything Personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won't be the victim of needless suffering.” (Miguel Angel Ruiz)
* * *
Rick Hanson on not taking it personally:


Adapted from Rick Hanson, Just One Thing. [Order a copy for yourself: HERE]:

Here's an updated parable from the ancient Taoist teacher Chuang-Tzu: Imagine that you are floating in a canoe on a slow-moving river, having a Sunday picnic with a friend. Suddenly there is a loud thump on the side of the canoe, and it rolls over. You come up sputtering, and what do you see? Somebody has snuck up on your canoe, flipped it over for a joke, and is laughing at you. How do you feel?

Okay. Now imagine the exact same situation again: the picnic in a canoe, loud thump, dumped into the river, com¬ing up sputtering, and what do you see? A large submerged log has drifted downstream and bumped into your canoe. This time, how do you feel?

The facts are the same in each case: cold and wet, picnic ruined. But when you think you've been targeted personally, you probably feel worse. The thing is, most of what bumps into us in life—including emotional reactions from others, traffic jams, illness, or mistreatment at work—is like an impersonal log put in motion by ten thousand causes upstream.

Say a friend is surprisingly critical toward you. It hurts, for sure, and you'll want to address the situation, from talking about it with the friend to disengaging from the relationship.

But also consider what may have caused that person to bump into you, such as misinterpretations of your actions; health problems, pain, worries or anger about things unrelated to you; temperament, personality, childhood experiences; the effects of culture, economy, or world events; and causes back upstream in time, like how his or her parents were raised.

Recognize the humbling yet wonderful truth: most of the time, we are bit players in other people's dramas.

When you look at things this way, you naturally get calmer, put situations in context, and don't get so caught up in me-myself-and-I. Then you feel better, plus more clearheaded about what to do.

How

To begin with, have compassion for yourself. Getting smacked by a log is a drag. Also take appropriate action. Keep an eye out for logs heading your way, try to reduce their impact, and repair your "boat"—relationship, health, finances, career—as best you can. And maybe think about
finding a new river!

Additionally:
  • Notice when you start to take something personally. Be mindful of what that feels like—and also what it feels like to relax the sense of being personally targeted.
  • Be careful about making assumptions about the intentions of others. Maybe they didn't do it "on purpose." Or maybe there was one not-so-good purpose aimed at you that was mixed up with a dozen other purposes.
  • Reflect on some of the ten thousand causes upstream. Ask yourself: What else could be in play here? What's going on inside the other person's mind and life? What's the bigger picture?
  • Beware getting caught up in your "case" about other people, driven by an inner prosecutor that keeps pounding on all the ways they're wrong, spoke badly, acted unfairly, picked on you, really really harmed you, made you suffer, etc., etc. It's good to see others clearly, and there's a place for moral judgment—but case-making is a kind of obsessing that makes you feel worse and more likely to overreact and create an even bigger problem.
  • Try to have compassion for the other people. They're probably not all that happy, either. Your compassion for them will not weaken you or let them off the moral hook; actually, it will make you feel better.
  •  If you like, explore relaxing the sense of self—of I and me and mine—in general. For example, notice the difference between "there are sounds" and "I am hearing," or between "there are thoughts" and "I am thinking." Observe how the sense of self ebbs and flows, typically increasing when there are problems to solve and decreasing as you experience calm and well-being. This fluidity of "me" in the mind correlates with dynamic and fleeting activations in the brain; self-related thoughts are constructed all over the brain, tumbling and jostling with other thoughts, unrelated to self, in the neural substrates of the stream of consciousness (Gilliham and Farah 2005; Legrand and Ruby 2009). Appreciate that "I" is more of a process than an ability: a "selfing." Enjoy the ease and openness that emerge as the sense of self recedes.
And—really soak up the sense of strength and peace¬fulness that comes from taking life less personally.

For Journaling

Recall an incident when you did take something personally. Write about what that felt like. Then imagine yourself relaxing the sense of being personally targeted. Further, imagine a scenario in which there were causes that made the other person's behavior perfectly understandable. Now what are you feeling?

* * *

Previous Practice of the Week: "Respond, Don't React"
For list of all weekly practices: "Practices of the Week Index"

2014-12-10

CUC Music: Sun Dec 14

This Sunday, CUC’s Choir will be on hand to perform “Hope” by Greg Gilpin and an aria from Giancarlo Menotti’s Christmas-miracle opera Amahl and the Night Visitors, a work they will perform in its entirety at our special holiday concert next Sunday, December 21 at 1pm.

Joaquin Turina (1882-1949)
In addition, Spanish composer Joaquín Turina’s Danzas fantásticas, originally composed for piano and later orchestrated, express December’s theme of Hope in their numerous outbursts of joy of excitement, which seem to well up from evocations of mystery and despair. The composer prefaced each dance with a quote from the Spanish novelist José Mas as follows:

Exaltación:
“It seemed as if the figures in that incomparable picture were moving within the calyx of a flower.”
Ensueño:
“The strings of the guitar sounded like the lamentation of a soul that could no longer bear the weight of bitterness.”
Orgía:
“The scent of flowers mixed with the aroma of Manzanilla, and from the bottom of the slender glasses, full of incomparable wine like an incense, joy arose.”
Click here to preview these piano works in a performance by CUC Music Director Adam Kent from Burgos, Spain: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w4d0a6aYJTQ. See below for more program details.



Prelude
Danzas fantásticas -- II. Ensueño and III. Orgía
Joaquín Turina
Played by Adam Kent, piano

Choral Anthem
Hope
music by Greg Gilpin, lyrics by Pamela Stewart
Sung by CUC Choir directed by Lisa N. Meyer and accompanied by Georgianna Pappas

Offertory
Danzas fantásticas -- I. Exaltación
Joaquín Turina
Played by Adam Kent, piano

Choral Anthem
“This is my box”
from Amahl and the Night Visitors
Gian Carlo Menotti
Sung by
Amahl, Carla Fisher
His Mother, Mary Lane Cobb
Kaspar , Ernie Kennedy
Balthazar, Boris Morocho
Melchior, Matt Haines

2014-12-09

Virunga : Movie and Discussion



3:00pm - 5:30pm

Sat Jan 10, 2015


One of our community ministers, Rev. LoraKim Joyner, will host this movie and discussion about the literal fight to save the mountain gorillas of the Congo.  The New York Times reports that the movie showcases, "the best and the worst in human nature."  Conservation indeed compels us to reflect upon what it means to be human in a multispecies world, for we are both the cause and cure for what threatens this earth and her beings.   How are we to engage in the complexity of change given the hardships and challenges for conserving other species, including ourselves?  Let us gather together and find a way, the Conservationist's Way, where we save ourselves and the world.  This movie guides us along the path, as does LoraKim as she brings to the discussion over 28 years of front line conservation work in Central America. Bring movie snacks and beverages to share.

2014-12-03

Music: Sun Dec 7

Join us on Sunday, December 7 at 10am for Music for All Ages, our monthly music appreciation forum including children from the Religious Education program. This week, “You’ve Got Rhythm!” will explore perceptions of time in music and in life. A performance of Ernesto Halffter’s “Dance of the Shepherdess” will be included (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4hq1Ps2GIM for a talk and performance of the piece by Adam Kent):



CUC’s Choir is on hand as well with two inspirational anthems, and the morning’s Offertory music includes solo piano selections evocative of the animal world. Read on for programming details.

Adam Kent, piano and speaker

Music for All Ages:
“You’ve Got Rhythm!”
"Danza de la pastora" (Dance of the Shepherdess)
Ernesto Halffter

Offertory:
"The Leader of the Golden Tortoises"
"The Little White Donkey"
Jacques Ibert

Choral Music by CUC Choir directed by Lisa N. Meyer and accompanied by Georgianna Pappas

"For The Beauty Of The Earth"
John Rutter

"Down To The River To Pray"
Traditional American Hymn, arr. by Roger Emerson

2014-11-28

Respond, Don't React

Practice of the Week
Respond, Don't React
“Do you have the patience to wait till your mud settles and the water is clear?” (Lao Tzu)
* * *
Rick Hanson on responding, not reacting:


Adapted from Rick Hanson, Just One Thing. [Order a copy for yourself: HERE]:

To simplify the explanation of a complex journey, your brain evolved in three stages:
  • Reptile, fish—Brainstem, focused on avoiding harm
  • Mammal, bird—Limbic system, focused on approaching rewards
  • Human—Cortex, focused on attaching to "us"
Whether a person is a psychopathic criminal or a saint; these three systems—avoiding, approaching, attaching— are always at work. The key is whether they're at work in a good way—one that promotes happiness and benefit for yourself and others—or a bad one that leads to suffering and harm.

What's happening in your brain when these systems are functioning in a good way—when you're feeling fine, or even "in the zone," self-actualizing, or spiritually blossoming? The answer is important, because then you can deliberately stimulate and thus gradually strengthen the neural networks that underpin these good states of mind.

When you are not rattled by life—in other words, when you're feeling safe, fulfilled, and loved—your brain's avoiding system is calm (in a word), the approaching system is contented, and the attaching system is caring. This is the responsive mode of the brain, which delights, soothes, and refuels you. It's your home base, the resting state of your brain, which is real good news.

Now here's the bad news: we also evolved hair-trigger mechanisms that activate the fight-or-flight reactive mode of the brain and drive us from home when we're stressed, whether from the snarl of a leopard a million years ago or a frown across a dinner table today. When you feel even subtly threatened, the avoiding system shifts gears into hatred (to use a strong, traditional word that encompasses the full range of fear and anger); when you're at all frustrated or dissatisfied, the approaching system tips into greed (ranging from longing to intense obsession or addiction); and when you feel even mildly rejected or devalued, the attaching system moves into heartache (from soft hurt to awful feelings of abandonment, worthlessness, or loneliness).

The reactive mode was a great way to keep our ancestors alive in the wild, and it's useful today in urgent situations. But it's lousy for long-term health and happiness. Each time your brain lights up its reactive mode—each time you feel pressured, worried, irritated, disappointed, let down, left out, or blue—this triggers the same stress machinery that evolved to escape charging lions or lethal aggression from other primates or humans.

Most reactive mode activations—pushing you off home , base—are mild to moderate. But they're frequent and relentless in the lives of most people, leading to a kind of inner homelessness that can become the new normal. Besides feeling crummy, this is bad for your physical health, since chronic stress leads to a weakened immune system, disturbed digestion, dysregulated hormones, and increased risk of heart attack or stroke. Stress wears on your mental health as well, bringing: pessimism, blue mood, and depression; heightened anxiety and irritability; "learned helplessness"; hunkering down, playing it safe, dreaming smaller dreams; clutching tighter to "us" and fearing and even exploiting or attacking "them."

So—let's come home.

How

These Practices of the Week include many practices for calm, contentment, and caring—and there are lots of other good methods in the writings and teachings of many people. So I'm not going to focus here on any particular way to activate the responsive mode of your brain. The key point is to make it a priority to feel good, to look for everyday opportunities for peacefulness, happiness, and love, and to take all the little moments you can to marinate in well-being.

Because here's more good news: Each time you rest in your brain's responsive mode, it gets easier to come home to it again. That's because "neurons that fire together, wire together" stimulating the neural substrates of calm, contentment, and caring strengthens them. This also makes it harder to be driven from home; it's like lengthening the keel of your mental sailboat so that no matter how hard the winds of life blow, you stay upright, not capsized, and keep on heading toward the lighthouse of your dreams.

What's wonderful about this is that the ends of the journey of life—being peaceful, happy, and loved/loving— become the means of getting there. In effect—in a traditional phrase—you are taking the fruit as the path. Instead of having to scratch and claw your way up the mountain top, you come home to the meadow that is the natural state of your brain—nourishing, expanding, and beautifying it every minute you spend there. For as they say in Tibet, "if you take care of the minutes, the years will take care of themselves."

For Journaling

Describe a time in the recent past when you were reactive. What would you have done differently if you had been more responsive and less reactive?

Describe a time in the recent past when you were responsive. What were the reactive impulses that you set aside in order to be responsive?

* * *

Longer video: Tara Brach, "Learning to Respond, Not React" (48:12)


Previous Practice of the Week: "Relax Anxiety about Imperfection"
For list of all weekly practices: "Practices of the Week Index"

Relax Anxiety about Imperfection

Practice of the Week
Relax Anxiety about Imperfection
“Be Content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” (Lao Tzu)
* * *
Rick Hanson on relaxing anxiety about imperfection:


Adapted from Rick Hanson, Just One Thing. [Order a copy for yourself: HERE]:

"Imperfections" are all around, and they include: messes, dirty clothes, weeds, snarled traffic, rain during a picnic, wine stains on carpet; injury, illness, disability, pain; problems, issues, obstructions, losses—including with others; objects that are chipped, frayed, broken; mistakes, errors; confusion, lack of clarity; war, famine, poverty, oppression, injustice.

In a nutshell, an imperfection—as I mean it here—is a departure from a reasonable ideal or standard (e.g., dog poop on your shoe is not ideal, nor is the hunger that afflicts one in six people worldwide). These departures-from-ideal have costs, and it's reasonable to do what you can about them.

But we usually don't leave it at that: we get anxious—uneasy, nervous, troubled, stressed—about imperfection itself, rather than recognizing it as a normal, unavoidable, and widespread aspect of life. Instead of dealing with conditions as they are—weeds, injuries, conflicts with others—and just handling them, we get caught up in worrying about what they mean, grumbling, feeling deflated, becoming opinionated and judgmental, blaming ourselves and others, and feeling woe-is-me and yet again disappointed/mistreated/wronged.

These reactions to imperfection are major second darts (as described in last week's Practice of the Week). They make you feel a lot worse than you need to, create issues with others, and make it harder to take skillful action.

Here's the alternative: let the broken cup be a broken cup without adding judgment, resistance, blaming, or worry to it.

How

Make appropriate efforts to improve things, but realize the impossibility of perfecting anything; even the most sophisticated technology cannot produce a perfectly flat table. You just can't perfect your personality, thoughts, or behavior; trying to do so is like trying to polish Jell-O. Nor can you perfect others or the world. Open to this fact: you cannot perfectly protect your loved ones, or eliminate all of your own health risks, or prevent people from doing stupid things. At first this opening could feel poignant or sad, but then you'll likely feel a breath of fresh air, a freedom, and a surge of energy to do the things you can now that you're not undermined by the hopelessness of making anything perfect.

We need standards and ideals—from the strike zone in baseball to the aspirations in the world's sacred teachings—but we also need to hold these lightly. Otherwise, they'll take on a life of their own in your mind, like petty tyrants barking orders: "You must do this, it's bad to do that." Watch out for righteousness, for self-important moralizing insistence on your own view of how you, others, and the world should operate. Know if you have tendencies toward perfectionism; I do, and I've got to be careful about them or I become a difficult person to live with or work for, as well as unhappy inside.

Further, many things transcend fixed standards. For example, could there ever be such a thing as a perfect rose or a perfect child? In these cases, anxiety about imperfection is absurd—which applies to trying to perfect your body, career, relationships, family, business, or spiritual practice. Nurture these, help them blossom, but give up on perfecting them.

Most fundamentally, all conditions, no matter how imperfect, are perfectly what they are: the bed is perfectly unmade, the milk is perfectly spilt. I don't mean morally or pragmatically "perfect"—as if it would be just perfect to tear a shirt or start a war—but that all conditions are utterly, thoroughly themselves. In this sense, whatever is the case—from dirty diapers and everyday hassles to cancer and plane crashes—is the result in this instant of the perfect unfolding of the entire universe. Try to see that unfolding as a vast, objective process in which our personal wishes are as consequential for it as a patch of foam is for the Pacific Ocean. In this light, perfection, and imperfection vanish as meaningful distinctions. There are only things in their own right, in and of themselves, without our labels of good or bad, beautiful or ugly, perfect or not. Then there is no anxiety about imperfection; there is only simplicity, directness, engagement—and peace.

For Journaling

"Instead of dealing with conditions as they are—weeds, injuries, conflicts with others—and just handling them, we get caught up in worrying about what they mean, grumbling, feeling deflated, becoming opinionated and judgmental, blaming ourselves and others, and feeling woe-is-me and yet again disappointed/mistreated/wronged." When was the last time you did this? Write about what it would be like for you instead to accept that condition with equanimity.

* * *
Previous Practice of the Week: "Don't Throw Darts"
For list of all weekly practices: "Practices of the Week Index"

2014-11-26

Forgiveness - Reflection & Resources for Families

Children are often told, “Say you’re sorry.” The offended person is expected to accept the apology and “forgive.” Sometimes the words are meant sincerely and felt by the other person; sometimes they are not, but there is still the expectation to forget the offense. However, true forgiveness is an internal process that relates more to a shift in perspective than a relationship outcome. If we can help children accept human fallibility and process the hurt they have felt or witnessed in another person, then they develop a deeper emotional intelligence and life-changing tool.

The lesson on forgiveness in the Unitarian Universalist Religious Education curriculum Moral Tales, which the CUC fourth-grade class is using this year, begins by asking the children to think about acts of goodness that they and others have done. The children are then asked to name the virtues behind the acts, e.g., generosity, courage, honesty. Before they think about what it means to forgive themselves and others for hurts that have occurred, they need to be holding the sense of goodness that exists in all of us. In order to process hurts in a healthy way, we need to remember that goodness abounds and we hold virtues within us, despite our foibles.

The session then focuses on an old Middle-eastern story about two friends who travel together. The friend who is slapped by the other in an argument writes the hurt in sand and it is blown away by the winds of forgiveness. The same friend is then saved from drowning by the friend who had slapped him. He etches that act in stone and when asked about the difference replies, "When someone hurts us, we should write it down in sand where the winds of forgiveness can erase it away. This way our hearts are free from bitterness, and we can renew our friendships. But, when someone does something kind for us, we must engrave it in stone and in our hearts so that we will never forget.” 

The curriculum tells the children that

the act of forgiveness is one of the most important choices we can make. Forgiveness can help us keep our relationships with others. It can help us have hearts full of love rather than bitterness.
It is pointed out that the word forgiving is made up of “for” and “giving.”
Forgiveness means giving kindness, empathy, and love to another person, even if they have hurt us. When we are angry at ourselves and forgive ourselves, we are giving kindness, empathy, and love to ourselves.
It is stressed to the children that this does not mean we forget the hurtful act or excuse it. The interaction may still affect the choices we make, e.g., not lending a personal possession to someone who has destroyed one, but we make efforts to let go of the resentment.

Similarly, psychological studies on forgiveness have defined it as a
freely made choice to give up revenge, resentment, or harsh judgments toward a person who caused a hurt, and to strive to respond with generosity, compassion, and kindness toward that person. It is a process that involves reducing negative responses and increasing positive responses toward the person who caused the hurt, across the realms of affect, cognition, and behavior. Importantly, forgiveness is not condoning, excusing, denying, minimizing, or forgetting the wrong. It can occur without reconciliation, which requires the participation of both parties, if the person who caused the hurt is absent, deceased, or remains unsafe.
Forgiving is not forgetting, but it is changing our perspective toward the incident. The key is that forgiveness is an internal process that helps us shift how we feel and determines our relationship to ourselves, as well as others. It may or may not change the interaction with the person who caused the hurt or who we hurt, but it changes the way we move forward on our life paths. The studies have shown that this choice of forgiveness directly affects health outcomes and mortality rates.

In teaching our children what it means to forgive, we are empowering them with a tool that will positively affect their health and their ability to relate to the people around them. In helping children accept our human imperfections, we enable them to give understanding, empathy, and kindness to themselves and others. They are freed to act boldly in transformative ways because they have let go of burdensome resentments and unhealthy self-criticism. Learning the process of forgiveness is vital to personal well-being and the continuation of peace-making in the world.

Resources

Moral Tales, Session 5: Forgiveness http://www.uua.org/re/tapestry/children/tales/session5/index.shtml

Study on Forgiveness and Health Outcomes http://www.academia.edu/1007805/Forgive_to_Live_Forgiveness_Health_and_Longevity

The Forgiveness Toolbox: A skills-based toolbox enabling individuals and groups to transform the impact of harm and violence and nurture peaceful co-existence http://www.theforgivenesstoolbox.com/

Barbara Marshman, What If Nobody Forgave? A story about letting go of grudges. http://www.uua.org/worship/words/readings/5955.shtml

2014-11-25

CUC Music: Sun Nov 30


In the waning days of autumn, Sunday morning’s musical selections include a seasonal work by Tchaikovsky, along with brooding, introspective inspirations by Schubert, MacDowell, and Rachmaninoff. Join us to embrace the darkening season through these timeless classics. Read on for program details.
Prelude:
Impromptu in C Minor, Op. 90, No. 1            Franz Schubert

Opening Music:
To an Old White Pine, Op. 62, No. 5                        Edward MacDowell

Interlude:
November: Troika Ride, Op. 37, No. 11                        Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Offertory:
Prelude in B Minor, Op. 32, No. 10                        Sergei Rachmaninoff

2014-11-24

CUC Bird Walk Report: Sun Nov 23

Bird Walk Report
November 23, 2014

When we feed birds, they teach us their language in gratitude.
And when we understand them, they feed us.

Today we reflected on gratitude and practiced it as we walked through the woods and over creeks.  Much gratitude was given for the calm weather, one another, and the abundant birds on the walk. We didn't have a great variety of species (that we could identify) but there were a lot of birds, including flocks of gulls and sparrows flying over that we couldn't identify.


Our gratitude practice included:
What we are grateful for in our lives
What we are grateful for about birds
What we are grateful for when others do something for another
What we might be grateful for in loss and discomfort
What we might be grateful in the short, cold days of winter
What we are grateful for during our walk this morning

There was great delight in the tree full of mourning doves as we pondered that they are the only group of birds (along with pigeons) that take in water through suction, and not through gravity.

Please join us for our next bird walk, Sunday, December 21st, 2014 - It's solstice!  If there is inclement weather, join one another inside for warm tasty beverages and watching the birds at the feeders.  As usual we will have time for reflection and sharing.

LoraKim

Today’s sightings:
4 Titmouse
33 Mourning doves
4 House Sparrow
3 Black-capped Chickadee
11 European starling
4 Canada Geese
2 White-breasted nuthatch
4  House finch
5 Blue jay
2 Downy woodpecker
2 Cardinals
1 Red-bellied woodpecker

16 gulls

2014-11-20

What's In a Name?

Since 1972, we have officially been called the “Community Unitarian Church at White Plains." Over the past 20 years, the thought has surfaced and resurfaced numerous times as to whether our current name continues to reflect who we are as a congregation. This fall, our Board of Trustees appointed the What's in a Name? Committee to engage our members in a process for group consideration of our name. The goal of the What's in a Name? Committee is to get input from every single member and friend through this process. We have met with several committees and groups to date and are now ready to schedule small group meetings for members and friends who have not yet had the opportunity to complete a survey on our current name and alternative options.

We would like everyone’s input. PLEASE PLAN ON ATTENDING ONE OF THESE MEETINGS if you have not done so yet:

Sunday, February 1st at 11:40 in room 24.
Sunday, February 8th, at 11:40 in room 41.


THESE MEETINGS WILL NOT TAKE MORE THAN 20 MINUTES as our mission is simply to gather information from you. Child Care will be provided. Grab your coffee and come on over.

It is important that you read the short, informative packet that can be accessed through the CUC website -- Or: CLICK HERE -- before completing a survey at one of the meetings. If you are not able to do so, let us know and we will be glad to e-mail you the packet. Hard copies are also available on the welcome table in the lobby.

If you have any questions, please contact any one of us on the committee. We look forward to meeting with all of you.
Karen Dreher
John Cavallero
Karen Schatzel
Scott Damashek
Adine Usher

Don't Throw Darts

Practice of the Week
Don't Throw Darts
“When touched with a feeling of pain, the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person sorrows, grieves, & laments, beats his breast, becomes distraught. So he feels two pains, physical & mental -- just as if they were to shoot a man with a dart and, right afterward, were to shoot him with another one, so that he would feel the pains of two darts.” (Shakyamuni Buddhi, Sallatha Sutta)
* * *
Rick Hanson on not throwing darts:


Adapted from Rick Hanson, Just One Thing. [Order a copy for yourself: HERE]:

Some physical and mental pain is inevitable. I remember being six and slipping on an icy sidewalk in Illinois and landing hard on my tailbone: ouch! Much later, in my fifties, when my mother passed away, there was a different kind of pain. To survive physically, you need a body that tells you it hurts when it's ill or injured. To flourish psychologically and in your relationships, you need a mind that sends different signals of distress—such as loneliness, anger, or fear—if you're rejected, mistreated, or threatened.

To use a metaphor from the Buddha, the unavoidable pains of life are its "first darts." But then we add insult to injury with our reactions to these darts. For example, you could react to a headache with anxiety that it might mean a brain tumor, or to being rejected in love with harsh self-criticism.

Further, it's common to have upsetting reactions when nothing bad has actually happened. For instance, you're flying in an airplane and everything's fine, but you're worried about it crashing. Or you go out on a date and it's fun, but then he/she doesn't call for a day and you feel let down.

Most absurdly, sometimes we react negatively to positive events. Perhaps someone complimented you, and you had feelings of unworthiness; or you've been offered an opportunity at work, and you obsess about whether you can handle it; or someone makes a bid for a deeper friendship, and you worry about being disappointing.

All these reactions are "second darts"—the ones we throw ourselves. They include overreacting to little things, holding grudges, justifying yourself, drowning in guilt after you've learned the lesson, dwelling on things long past, losing perspective, worrying about stuff you can't control, and mentally rehashing conversations.

Second darts vastly outnumber first darts. There you are, on the dartboard of life, bleeding mainly from self-inflicted wounds.

There are enough darts in life without adding your own!

How

Accept the inevitability of first darts. They hurt, but pain is the price of living. Try not to get offended by pain—as if it's an affront—or embarrassed about it, as if it's a personal failing.

When pain does come, hold it in a large space of awareness. In a traditional metaphor, imagine pouring a big spoon of salt into a cup of water and then drinking it: yuck. Next, imagine stirring that spoonful into a big bowl of clean water and drinking a cup: not so bad now. It's the same amount of salt—the same amount of physical or emotional pain—but now held and diluted in a larger context. Be aware of awareness: it's like the sky—pain passes through it like storm clouds, never tainting or harming awareness itself. See if you can let the pain be without reacting to it; this is a key aspect of an unconditional inner peace.

Observe second darts. They're often easier to see when others toss these darts at themselves—and then consider how you throw them at yourself. Gradually bring your recognition of second darts into the present moment, so you can see the inclination to throw them arise—and then catch them if possible before you stab yourself one more time.

A second dart will often trigger a cascade of mental reactions, like one boulder rolling down a mountainside setting off others in a chain reaction. To stop the landslide, start by relaxing your body as best you can. This will activate the calming, soothing parasympathetic wing of your nervous system and put the brakes on the fight-or-flight sympathetic wing.

Next, try to see more aspects of the situation that's troubled you, and more of your life these days altogether—especially the parts that are going fine. Because of the negativity bias, the brain narrows down and fixates on what's wrong, so you have to nudge it to widen its view to what's right. The bird's-eye, big picture view also deactivates the midline neural networks that do second-dart ruminating, and stimulates circuits on the side of your brain that can let things be as they are without reacting to them.

Don't put more logs on the fire. Don't look for more reasons to worry, criticize yourself, or feel mistreated. Don't get mad at yourself for getting mad at yourself!

When you throw second darts, you are the person you hurt most. The suffering—mild to severe—in second darts is truly unnecessary. As the saying goes, pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.

For Journaling

List and describe three "first darts" of pain that came your way in the last week.
Then describe what "second darts" of reactivity you added to the first darts.
How can you stop adding the second darts?

* * *

Previous Practice of the Week: "Love Your Inner Child"
For list of all weekly practices: "Practices of the Week Index"

2014-11-19

Music: Sun Nov 23

Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)
Gems of musical Americana, prefaced by a tender expression of gratitude by Unitarian composer Edvard Grieg, highlight our special Thanksgiving service at CUC this Sunday. CUC’s Choir will be on hand as well for this festive occasion.

Piano Music
Adam Kent

Prelude:
Thanks, Op. 62, No. 2
Edvard Grieg

Sentimental Melody
Aaron Copland

The Young Pioneers
Santa Anna’s Retreat from Buena Vista
Stephen Foster

Variations on “Yankee Doodle”
Anon. American Colonial

Offertory:
A.D. 1620, Op. 55, No. 3
Edward MacDowell

Choral Music
CUC Choir
Directed by Lisa N. Meyer and accompanied by Georgianna Pappas
Mary Lane Cobb and Ted Kuczinski, soloists

Choral Anthem I:
Shenandoah
American Folk Song, arr. by Brad Printz

Choral Anthem II:
Homeward Bound
Marta Keen, arr. by Greg Gilpin

2014-11-13

Music: Sun Nov 16

This Sunday, legendary jazz pianist Valerie Capers and bassist/sopranino recorder player John Richardson are our musical guests. Read on for program and biographical information, and please come with your friends to hear Valerie and her trio on Sat Nov 22 at 7pm, at our annual Jazzfest! event.

Music played by:
Valerie Capers, piano
John Robinson, bass and sopranino recorder

Prelude:
Some Other Time, from On the Town
Leonard Bernstein

Opening Music:
Precious Lord
Thomas A. Dorsey

Musical Interlude:
Jitterbug Waltz
Fats Waller

Offertory:
Moanin'
Bobby Timmons

Dr. Valerie Capers

Dr. Valerie Capers was born in the Bronx and received her early schooling at the New York Institute for the Education of the Blind. She went on to obtain both her bachelor's and master's degrees from The Juilliard School of Music. She served on the faculty of the Manhattan School of Music, and from 1987 to 1995 was chair of the Department of Music and Art at Bronx Community College of the City University of New York (CUNY), where she is now professor emerita.

Her outstanding work as an educator has been lauded throughout the country as being both innovative and impressive. Susquehanna University awarded her the honorary degree of Doctor of Fine Arts, and Doane College (Crete, Nebraska) and Bloomfield (New Jersey) College (along with Wynton Marsalis) both have awarded her honorary doctorates. Teaching and workshop venues include Doane College, Stanford University, the Cleveland (Ohio) public school system, St. Thomas (United States Virgin Islands) high schools, Brigham Young University (Provo, Utah) and the Mozarteum conservatory, University of Salzburg, Salzburg, Austria.

Among the awards and commissions she has received are the National Endowment for the Arts, including a special-projects grant to present a jazz series at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, Meet the Composer, the CUNY Research Foundation, the Smithsonian, and The Fund for Artists of Arts International.

Three of Dr. Capers' most noted extended compositions are Sing About Love, the critically acclaimed Christmas cantata produced by George Wein at Carnegie Hall; Sojourner, an operatorio based on the life of Sojourner Truth, performed and staged by the Opera Ebony Company of New York; and Song of the Seasons, a song cycle for voice, piano and cello (which has been recorded several times) was both commissioned by the Smithsonian Institute and premiered in Washington, D.C., at the invitation of the Smithsonian, and recently performed at Weill Recital Hall in New York City.

Dr. Capers has appeared with her trio and ensemble at colleges, universities, jazz festivals, clubs and concert halls throughout the country and internationally, including a series at Weill Recital Hall and at the Rendez-vous de l'Erdre in Nantes, France. Her trio's performances at the International Grande Parade du Jazz Festival in Nice, France, the Martin Luther King Festival in Ottawa, Ontario, and the North Sea Jazz Festival in The Hague received rave reviews. The group has also participated in the Monterey Jazz Festival, the Clifford Brown Jazz Festival (Wilmington, Delaware), Jazz in June (the University of Nebraska-Lincoln), the Mellon Jazz Festival (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), and New York's Kool, JVC and Downtown jazz festivals.

She is also regularly heard in New York City at The Kitano on Park Avenue South and the Knickerbocker in Greenwich Village. As a classical soloist, she has also performed Mozart's "Concerto for Piano & Orchestra, No. 23" at the Pepperdine University Center for the Arts in Malibu, California.

Throughout her career, Dr. Capers has appeared on numerous radio and television programs, including two appearances on Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz and Branford Marsalis' JazzSet. Adventures of Wagner in Jazz, a special program created by National Public Radio (NPR), and About Music (two separate programs, "Traditions and Personalities in Jazz Piano" and "American Composer and Piano Virtuoso: Louis Moreau Gottschalk") were all broadcast on KBYU-FM in Provo, Utah, and carried throughout the country on NPR.

Throughout her career, she has performed with a roster of outstanding artists, including Dizzy Gillespie, Wynton Marsalis, Ray Brown, Mongo Santamaria, Tito Puente, Slide Hampton, Max Roach, James Moody, Paquito D'Rivera and Jerry Weldon, among others.

Valerie Capers was the first recipient of Essence magazine's "Women of Essence Award for Music," where she was in the elite company of fellow honorees Oprah Winfrey and Marla Gibbs.

Dr. Capers’ recordings include: Portrait of Soul (Atlantic), Affirmation (KMA Arts), Come On Home (Columbia/Sony) Wagner Takes the 'A' Train (Elysium), and Limited Edition (VALCAP Records). Her book of intermediate-level piano pieces, Portraits in Jazz, was published by Oxford University Press (OUP). OUP has also published an arrangement by Dr. Capers of the English carol, "It Came upon the Midnight Clear" (lyrics by the American Unitarian, Rev. Edmund Hamilton Sears) for mixed chorus a cappella.