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CUUC

2015-05-28

Be Mindful

Practice of the Week
Be Mindful
"Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, nonjudgementally." (Jon Kabat-Zinn)

"When we are mindful, deeply in touch with the present moment, our understanding of what is going on deepens, and we begin to be filled with acceptance, joy, peace, and love." (Thich Nhat Hanh)
Rick Hanson on Being Mindful (1:52):


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

The movements of information through your nervous system -- which is what I mean by "mental activity," most of which is unconscious -- can create lasting changes in brain structure:
"neurons that fire together, wire together."
In particular, this rewiring is accelerated for what's in the field of focused attention. In effect, attention is like a combination spotlight and vacuum cleaner: it illuminates what it rests upon and then sucks it into your brain.

Since attention is largely under volitional control -- you can direct it with conscious effort -- you have an extraordinary tool at your disposal all day long to gradually sculpt your brain in positive ways. Unfortunately, most people do not have very good control of their attention: it's hard for them to rest it where they want and keep it there -- such as an important but boring meeting, or the sensations of one breath after another -- and hard to pull it away from things that aren't helpful, like senseless worry, self-critical rumination, or too much TV. The reasons include temperament (for example, anxious, spirited), personal history (for example, losses or traumas that keep them on edge), and our hyper-stimulating, ADD-ish culture.

Happily, attention is very trainable. You really can develop better control of your spotlight/vacuum cleaner. This is where mindfulness comes in—which simply means being steadily aware of something. As you practice being mindful, you will gain more control over your attention.

You could be mindful of what's around you -- perhaps key details at work, the deeper wants of your partner, flowers blooming and children smiling, or where you left the car keys. You could also be mindful of your inner world, such as soft feelings of hurt underneath brittle anger, your good intentions and basic decency, or unrealistic expectations that set you up for disappointment.

Mindfulness has lots of benefits. It brings important information about what's happening around you and inside you. It helps you witness your experience without being swept away by it, and to hold it in a larger context; as your mindful awareness increases, negative experiences have less impact on you. And the duration and intensity of what you are paying attention to tends to increase its traces in your brain. Consequently, mindfulness really helps you take in positive experiences.

To some extent, mindfulness has become associated with Buddhism, but all the world's religions and moral traditions value being mindful -- rather than mindless! Additionally, mindfulness is increasingly taught in secular settings such as hospitals, corporations, classrooms, professional sports, and military training.

Studies have shown that regular practices of mindfulness:
  • Thicken cortical layers in regions of the brain that control attention (so you get better at atten-tion itself) (Lazar et al. 2005)
  • Add neural connection in the insula, a part of the brain that supports both self-awareness and empathy for the emotions of others (Lazar et al. 2005)
  • Increase the relative activation of the left pre¬frontal cortex (behind the left side of your fore-head), which helps control and reduce negative emotions (Davidson 2004)
  • Strengthen your immune system (Davidson et al. 2003)
  • Reduce the impact of pain and accelerate post¬surgical recovery (Kabat-Zinn 2003; Kabat-Zinn, Lipworth, and Burney 1985)
Pretty great for a simple method—mindfulness—that you can use, privately and effectively, anywhere you go.

How

Mindfulness is natural. You are already mindful of many things each day. The problem is that most of us remain mindful for only a few seconds at a time. The trick is to have more "episodes" of mindfulness, and to lengthen and deepen them.

So, set aside a minute or more every day to be deliberately mindful -- focusing on a specific object of attention (e.g., the sensations of breathing) or opening wide to whatever moves through awareness. You could extend these moments of mindfulness into a longer period of meditation, letting your mind become increasingly clear and peaceful.

Then, throughout the day, add some additional times of mindfulness when you remain stably present with whatever is happening around you and inside you. If you like, use recurring events such as meals, a telephone ringing, or walking through a doorway as reminders to be mindful.

It will support and deepen your mindfulness to bring an attitude of curiosity, openness, non-judgmental acceptance, and even a kind of friendliness to the things you're aware of. Also try to develop a background awareness of how mindful you are being; in effect, you are paying attention...to attention, in order to get better at it.

These practices will gradually train your brain to be more mindful, which will bring you many rewards. For as William James -- the first major American psychologist -- wrote over a century ago (1890, p. 424):
"The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of judgment, character, and will...An education which should improve this faculty would be the education par excellence."
Jon Kabat-Zinn on Mindfulness (72:04):



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Previous Practice of the Week: "Morning Pages"
For list of all weekly practices: "Practices of the Week Index"

2015-05-25

CUC Bird Walk Report: Sun May 24

"Birds are the life of the skies, and when they fly, they reveal the thoughts of the skies."
- DH Lawrence


To go along with CUC's Journey Groups theme of the month and the holiday weekend, we reflected on transcendence and remembering loss. We shared silence, heard poetry and quotes, and discussed the events in our lives.

Today the bird world was much like the human world, a time of young ones leaving the nest. In this season of graduation and coming internships and college, the youth turn to independence as do the birds. The 2 robin chicks left their nest near the parsonage only yesterday, and the robin nests under the eaves of the sanctuary all are empty. Not all chicks are convinced that being on one's own is a good idea, as we noticed when one chickadee kept following her parents around, flapping her wings with beak agape. Perhaps this behavior reminds you of those humans you know.

Towards the end of the walk we stood talking under the Parsonage bird feeder, the good weather tempting us to stay outdoors as long as possible. There, one looked up to see a mature red-tailed hawk flying over the Parsonage, the sun shining through the bright red tail to fall on our smiling faces. Not everyone was in a smiling mood, for the hawk was being mobbed by 3 blue-jays. Mobbing occurs when smaller birds attack and swoop at a predator as a warning and signal - "We see you and we won't let you get away with it!"

And so ended our walk, seeing the beauty around us, transcending our stories by sharing our thoughts with those who inhabit the skies.

Here's the species list for the day: - 30 individuals of 17 avian species.

3 Mourning doves
6 American robins
3 Black-capped chickadee
1 European starlings
1 White-breasted nuthatch
2 House finch
1 Carolina wrens
1 Northern cardinal
4 Blue jays
1 Fish crow
1 Starling
1 Common grackle
1 Red-tailed hawk
1 Cowbird
1 House sparrow
1 Northern flicker
1 Mockingbird
2 Gray squirrels
3 chipmunks

5 humans

2015-05-21

Morning Pages

Practice of the Week
Morning Pages
"I sometimes think they should be called 'Mourning Pages' because they are a farewell to life as you knew it." (Julia Cameron)
The practice of doing "morning pages" is a specific version of the practice of journaling (an earlier "Practice of the Week": SEE HERE).

"Morning pages" are a key component of Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way. Cameron writes:

The bedrock tool of a creative recovery is a daily practice called Morning Pages. Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages – they are not high art. They are not even “writing.” They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind – and they are for your eyes only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more pages tomorrow.

Journalist Oliver Burkeman was initially skeptical but is now a convert to the value of morning pages. In, "This Column Will Change Your Life," he writes:
As a journalist, I hate writing exercises: why do extra work nobody'll ever see? Besides, Morning Pages were invented in the new age hub of Taos, New Mexico, by the creativity guru Julia Cameron,...But this summer I read three articles that suggested the exercise was catching on with business types, too. Then my friend Joanna, no new ager, revealed that she swore by them....

"There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages," Cameron writes....She means you can write about whatever's on your mind: petty worries, soaring plans, angry tirades.

When it comes to the how, she's strict. The pages must be done first thing: "You're trying to catch yourself before your ego's defences are in place." They must be longhand. And you must fill exactly three sides of US Letter paper (A4 is close enough). That three-sides rule is key: on an uninspired day, you might start writing banalities, but if you keep going, having dusted the cobwebs away, you might find breakthroughs occur. "It turns out you can't really write about nothing for three whole pages," Joanna says. Or, as Cameron writes: "The second page-and-a-half comes harder, but often contains paydirt." Equally, after three pages, you must stop, to avoid "self-involvement and narcissism". Brain-sweep complete, it's time to get on with the day.

Perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised at how powerful Morning Pages proved, from day one, at calming anxieties, producing insights and resolving dilemmas. After all, the psychological benefits of externalising thoughts via journalling are well-established. And that bleary-eyed morning time has been shown to be associated with more creative thinking: with the brain's inhibitory processes still weak, "A-ha!" moments come more readily.

Crucially, Morning Pages are private. If you need to destroy them to ensure that, go ahead: it's more important than keeping them for reference. Not because you'll necessarily pour out secrets there, but because it's liberating to know you could. It's why good therapists work hard to create a "secure frame", right down to making sure no one can peer in the window. And why, in her book The Rise, historian Sarah Lewis stresses the importance of "private domains" in the lives of great creative figures: rooms of their own where they could bring their work into the world, externalising it without sharing it. Morning Pages create a metaphorical private domain – one so valuable, I find it hard to imagine I'll ever stop.
See this 3 minute video on morning pages:



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Previous practice of the week: "Get More Sleep"
For list of all weekly practices: "Practice of the Week Index"

2015-05-20

CUC Music: Sun May 24


The intimate, exotic sound world of Catalan composer Federico Mompou (1893-1987) is featured in Sunday morning’s musical selections, excerpted from his delicately scored “Intimate Impressions”.  Seating music includes two vibrantly romantic selections inspired by the paintings of Francisco Goya by Enrique Granados (1867-1916). Works by Mompou and Granados introduced and performed by Adam Kent can be heard at:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wo2_GDC2lVU

Prelude: Adam Kent, piano
From Goyescas,
Quejas, ó La maja y el ruiseñor (Laments, or The Maiden and the Nightingale)
Los requiebros (Flattery)
                                                            Enrique Granados

Opening Music:
Secreto from Impresiones íntimas
                                                Federico Mompou
Interlude:
Pájaro triste (Sad Bird)
                                                            Mompou
Offetory:
Gitano (Gypsy)
                                                            Mompou

2015-05-19

Science & Spirituality: Soul of an Octopus

The Science and Spirituality discussion group meets twice monthly at CUC: on the second and fourth Thursdays of the month, 11:30a - 1:00p, usually in room 24.

Any interested person is welcome to join in for lively discussion of ideas.

The upcoming meetings will discuss Sy Montgomery, The Soul of an Octopus.

Thu May 28 - Chapters 1 - 3.
Thu Jun 11 - Chapters 4 - 6.
Thu Jun 25 - Chapters 7 - 8.

PUBLISHER'S DESCRIPTION:

In this astonishing book from the author of the bestselling memoir The Good Good Pig, Sy Montgomery explores the emotional and physical world of the octopus—a surprisingly complex, intelligent, and spirited creature—and the remarkable connections it makes with humans.

Sy Montgomery’s popular 2011 Orion magazine piece, “Deep Intellect,” about her friendship with a sensitive, sweet-natured octopus named Athena and the grief she felt at her death, went viral, indicating the widespread fascination with these mysterious, almost alien-like creatures. Since then Sy has practiced true immersion journalism, from New England aquarium tanks to the reefs of French Polynesia and the Gulf of Mexico, pursuing these wild, solitary shape-shifters. Octopuses have varied personalities and intelligence they show in myriad ways: endless trickery to escape enclosures and get food; jetting water playfully to bounce objects like balls; and evading caretakers by using a scoop net as a trampoline and running around the floor on eight arms. But with a beak like a parrot, venom like a snake, and a tongue covered with teeth, how can such a being know anything? And what sort of thoughts could it think?

The intelligence of dogs, birds, and chimpanzees was only recently accepted by scientists, who now are establishing the intelligence of the octopus, watching them solve problems and deciphering the meaning of their color-changing camouflage techniques. Montgomery chronicles this growing appreciation of the octopus, but also tells a love story. By turns funny, entertaining, touching, and profound, The Soul of an Octopus reveals what octopuses can teach us about consciousness and the meeting of two very different minds.

2015-05-15

Join the CUC Band!

The CUC Band got started in 2015 May. Rehearsal is on Thursday evenings, 7:30p, in the CUC Sanctuary.

Experienced band director and CUC member Christian Force is leading this move to provide CUC with a contemporary ensemble to bring rock/pop/folk music to CUC. The initial goal is to prepare a few things for summer services.

A possible Sunday afternoon "Contemporary Worship" at CUC is also under consideration and may begin at some point during the 2015-16 year. The band would be a key part of that service.

Any instrument is welcome. Especially needed is a good core of guitar/bass players, vocalists, and percussionists.

Christian can make up/write out parts on the fly as needed. Guitar, flute, tuba, and bongo? We can find a way to make it work!

Join the band! Email Christian Force in advance at force2k1@yahoo.com. At this point, rehearsal is not every Thursday, so contact him to confirm rehearsal dates. Also  mention:
  • What you play? Or, what's your voice part? Or both?
  • What kind of music is most inspirational to you? (Genres or even specific songs.)

2015-05-13

Get More Sleep

Practice of the Week
Get More Sleep

Rick Hanson on getting more sleep:


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

You need more sleep.

That is, unless you really are that rare person these days who's truly getting enough sleep. (Disclosure: that person is definitely not me.)

Without sufficient sleep, risks go up for car accidents, diabetes, heart disease, depression, and unwanted weight. And performance goes down in paying attention, learning, and staying motivated. Plus, it just feels bad to be foggy, groggy, tired, and irritable.

People don't get enough sleep for a variety of reasons. It's common to stay up too late and get up too early, and drink too much coffee to get going in the morning and too much alcohol to relax at night. Sleep problems are also a symptom of some health conditions—such as depression and sleep apnea—so talk with your doctor" if you have insomnia or if you still feel tired after seemingly getting enough sleep.

The right amount of sleep varies from person to person — and from time to time: if you're stressed, ill, or working hard, you need more sleep. Whatever it is that you need, the key is consistency: getting good rest every night, not trying to catch up on weekends or holidays.

After I left home, I often went back to visit my parents. They frequently told me I looked tired and needed more sleep. It bugged me every time they said it. But, you know what?

They were right. Almost everyone needs more sleep.

How

Two things get in the way of sufficient sleep: not setting enough time aside for it, and not having deep and continuous sleep during the time allotted.

In terms of the first problem:
  • Decide how much time you want to sleep each night. Then, look at your schedule, see when you need to wake up, and work backwards to give yourself a bedtime. Figure out what you need to do during the hour before your bedtime to get to sleep on time; it probably includes not getting into an argument with anyone!
  • Observe the "reasons" that emerge to stay up past your bedtime. Most if not all of them will boil down to a basic choice: what's more important, your health and well-being—or watching another hour of TV, doing housework, or (fill in the blank)?
  • Really enjoy feeling rested and alert when you get enough sleep. Take in those good feelings, so your brain will want more of them in the future.
In terms of the second problem, issues with sleep itself, here are some suggestions; pick the ones that work for you:
  • Consider the advice of organizations like the National .Sleep Foundation: have a bedtime routine; relax in the last hour or two before bed; stop eating (particularly chocolate), drinking coffee or alcohol, exercising, or smoking cigarettes two or three hours before bedtime; make sure the environment of your bedroom supports sleep (e.g., cool and quiet, good mattress, ear¬plugs if your partner snuffles or snores).
  • Do what you can to lower stress. Chronic stress raises hormones like Cortisol, which will make it hard to fall asleep in the first place, or wake up early in the morning.
  • Make a deal with yourself to worry or plan during the next day, after you get up. Shift your attention to things that make you feel happy and relaxed, or simply to the sensations of breathing itself. Bring to mind the warm feeling of being with people who care about you. Have compassion for yourself.
  • Really relax. For example, take five to ten long exhalations; imagine your hands are warm (and tuck them under the pillow); rest a finger or knuckle against your lip; relax your tongue and jaw; imagine you are in a very peaceful setting; progressively relax each part of your body, starting with your feet and moving up to your head.
  • Certain nutrients are important for sleep. Unless you're sure you're getting these in your daily diet, consider supplementing magnesium (500 milligrams/day) and calcium (1200 milligrams/day). If you can, take half in the morning and half before bed.
  • The neurotransmitter serotonin aids sleep; it is made from an amino acid, tryptophan, so consider taking 500-1000 milligrams of tryptophan just before bed. If you wake up in the middle of the night and can't easily fall back to sleep, consider 1 milligram of melatonin taken sublingually (under the tongue). You could also eat a banana or something else that's quick and easy; rising blood sugar will lift insulin levels, which will help transport more tryptophan into your brain. You can usually get tryptophan and melatonin at a health food store; do not supplement either of these if you are breastfeeding or taking psychiatric medication'(unless your doctor tells you it's fine).
Good night!

For Journaling

Just add a quick note at the beginning of each daily journal entry, recording how many hours of sleep you got last night. Simply taking note in this way will begin to bring your attention to strategies for sleeping more, such as those listed above. As a further step, write about the reasons that kept you kept you from getting to sleep earlier last night. Also: write down how many hours you want to get tonight.

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Previous practice of the week: "Forgive Yourself"
For list of all weekly practices: "Practice of the Week Index"

CUC Music: Sun May 17


Do composers reflect their sexual identities in the music they create? Come to CUC this Sunday May 17, and hear solo piano works by composers who would be defined as “gay” by today’s definitions, including Francis Poulenc, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Franz Schubert, and Aaron Copland. Read on for programming details.

Prelude: Adam Kent, piano
Suite Française                                   
            Bransle de Bourgogne
            Pavane
            Petite marche militaire
            Complainte
            Bransle de Champagne
            Sicilienne
            Carillon
                                                            Francis Poulenc

Opening Music:
Slow Dance                                                           
Aaron Copland
Interlude:
Moment Musical No. 6 in Ab Major, Op. 94, No. 6
            Franz Schubert
Offertory:
Troika Ride, Op. 37a, No. 11                       
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

2015-05-06

CUC Music: Sun May 10


Join us this Sunday for a musical celebration of Mother’s Day. On the program are solo piano works by such female composers as the eighteenth-century Vienna-born Marianne von Martinez, Felix Mendelssohn’s older sister Fanny, and Robert Schumann's beloved wife Clara. In addition, depictions of maternal love and tenderness are provided by Tchaikovsky and the African-American composer R. Nathaniel Dett. CUC’s Choir is also on hand to perform two uplifting and moving selections. Read on for programming details.
Prelude: Adam Kent, piano
Sonata in E Major
                                    Marianne von Martinez
Melody, Op. 4, No. 2                                   
Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel
“Mamma”, from The Children’s Album, Op. 39           
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
“Mammy” from Magnolia
                                                R. Nathaniel Dett

Anthem: CUC Choir directed by Lisa N. Meyer and accompanied by Georgianna Pappas
You Are The New Day                
John David, arr. by Philip Lawson 

Offertory:
Mazurka in G Minor, Op. 6, No. 3                       
Clara Wieck Schumann
Anthem:
Come In From The Firefly Darkness               Amy F. Bernon



2015-05-05

Forgive Yourself

Practice of the Week
Forgive Yourself
"It is very important for every human being to forgive herself or himself because if you live, you will make mistakes -- it is inevitable. But once you do and you see the mistake, then you forgive yourself and say, 'Well, if I'd known better I'd have done better,' that's all." (Maya Angelou)
Rick Hanson on forgiving yourself:


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

Everyone messes up. Me, you, the neighbors, everybody. It's important to acknowledge mistakes, learn from them so they don't happen again, and feel appropriate remorse. But most people keep beating themselves up way past the point of usefulness: they're unfairly self-critical.

Inside the mind are many subpersonalities. For example, one part of me sets the alarm clock for 6 a.m. to get up and exercise ... and then when it goes off, another part of me grumbles: Who set the damn clock?! More broadly, there are an inner critic and an inner protector inside each of us. For most people, that inner critic is continually yammering away, looking for something, anything, to find fault with. It magnifies small failings into big ones, punishes you over and over for things long past, ignores the larger context, and doesn't credit you for your efforts to make amends.

That's why you need your inner protector to stick up for you: to put your weaknesses and misdeeds in perspective, to highlight your many good qualities surrounding your lapses, to encourage you to return to the high road even if you've gone down the low one, and—frankly—to tell that inner critic to Hush Up Now.

How

Start by picking something relatively small that you're still being hard on yourself about, and try the methods below. Then work up to more significant issues. Here we go:
  • Start by getting in touch with the feeling of being cared about by someone in your life today or from your past. Get a sense that this person's caring for you, and perhaps other aspects of him or her, have been taken into your own mind as parts of your inner protector. Do this with other beings who care about you, and open to a grow¬ing sense of your inner protector.
  • Staying with feeling cared about, bring to mind some of your many good qualities. You could ask the protector what it knows about you. These are facts, not flattery, and you don't need a halo to have good qualities like patience, determination, fairness, or kindness.
  • This step and the one above it will help you face whatever needs forgiving, and actually forgive yourself.
  • If you yelled at a child, lied at work, partied too hard, let a friend down, cheated on a partner, or were secretly glad about someone's downfall — whatever it was — acknowledge the facts: what happened, what was in your mind at the time, the relevant context and history, and the results for yourself and others.
  • Notice any facts that are hard to face—like the look in a child's eyes when you yelled at her—and be especially open to them; they're the ones that are keeping you stuck. It is always the truth that sets us free.
  • Sort what happened into three piles: moral faults, unskillfulness, and everything else. Moral faults deserve proportionate guilt, remorse, or shame, but unskillfulness calls for correction, no more. (This point is very important.) You could ask others—including people you may have wronged—what they think about this sorting (and about other points below), but you alone get to decide what's right. For example, if you gossiped about someone and embellished a mistake he made, you might decide that the lie in your exaggeration is a moral fault deserving a wince of remorse, but that casual gossip (which most of us do at one time or another) is simply unskillful and should be corrected (i.e., not done again) without self-flagellation.
  • In an honest way, take responsibility for your moral fault(s) and unskillfulness. Say in your mind or out loud (or write); I am responsible for _____, _____, and _____. Let yourself feel it. Then add to yourself: But I am NOT responsible for _____, _____, and _____. For example, you are not responsible for the misinterpretations or overreactions of others. Let the relief of what you are NOT responsible for sink in.
  • Acknowledge what you have already done to learn from this experience, and to repair things and make amends. Let this sink in. Appreciate yourself. Next decide what, if anything, remains to be done-inside your own heart or out there in the world-and then do it. Let it sink in that you're doing it, and appreciate yourself for this, too. Now check in with your inner protector: is there anything else you should face or do? Listen to the still, quiet voice of conscience, so different from the pounding scorn of the critic. If you truly know that something remains, then take care of it. But otherwise, know in your heart that what needed learning has been learned, and that what needed doing has been done. 
  • And now actively forgive yourself. Say in your mind, out loud, in writing, or perhaps to others statements like I forgive myself for _____, _____, and _____. I have taken responsibility and done what I could to make things better. You could also ask the inner protector to forgive you, or others out in the world, such as the person you wronged.
  • You may need to go through one or more of the steps above again and again to truly forgive yourself, and that's all right. Allow the experience of being forgiven — in this case, by yourself — to take some time to sink in. Help it sink in by opening up to it in your body and heart, and by reflecting on how it will help others if you stop beating yourself up.
May you be at peace.

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Here's a 10-minute guided meditation on self-forgiveness:



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Previous practice of the week: "Have a Direct Experience of Transcending Mystery and Wonder"
For list of all weekly practices: "Practice of the Week Index"