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2016-10-27

Risk the Dreaded Experience

Practice of the Week
Risk the Dreaded Experience

Last week's Practice, "Succeed at Rejection" (CLICK HERE), was also about taking the risk to face a dreaded experience. This week we follow-up with Rick Hanson's encouragement: this Halloween, do something that scares you just a little a bit.


When things happened to you as a child -- or you saw them happening to others -- you naturally formed expectations about what you'd likely feel in similar situations in the future. Based on these expectations, you developed responses: do this to get pleasure, do that to avoid pain. Then experiences in adulthood added additional, related expectations and responses.

Consequently, the following sequence routinely happens inside you, me, and everyone else many times a day -- usually within a few seconds and often unconsciously:
  1. A feeling or desire emerges in the mind, seeking expression.
  2. This activates an associated expectation of emotional pain (from subtle unease to extreme trauma) if the feeling or desire is expressed; this pain is the "dreaded experience."
  3. This expectation triggers an inhibition of the original feeling or desire in order to avoid risking the dreaded experience.
For example, (1) you'd like more caring from someone, but (2) but your childhood has led you to be cautious about revealing those vulnerable longings, so (3) you play it safe and don't ask for anything.

Take a moment to find one or more ways that this sequence -- (1) an emerging self-expression leads to (2) an associated expectation, which leads to (3) an inhibiting response -- unfolds in your mind. Here are some examples:
  • (1) You want to get closer (e.g., emotionally, physically) to someone, but (2) moving closer exposes you to the risk of rejection, so (3) you do something that is distancing.
  • (1) A feeling comes up (e.g., sadness, anger) but (2) expressing this feeling (or feelings in general) was discouraged in your childhood, so (3) you change the subject, make a joke, or otherwise move away from the emotion.
  • (1) A desire arises to make something happen (e.g., aim for a new goal at work, write a song, plant a garden), but (2) you fear being unsuccessful, unsupported, scorned, or thwarted if you stick your neck out, so (3) you set aside your dream one more day.
Sometimes this is reasonable. For instance, (1) the urge to tell your boss to stuff it (2) prompts an expectation of big trouble if you do, (3) so you keep quiet.

But if you're like me and most people, your expectations of pain are often unreasonable. The negativity bias of the brain makes you overestimate both the likelihood of a bad outcome from self-expression and the amount of pain you'll feel if something bad actually happens. Further, the deep-down expectations that most shape self-expression developed when you were a child, so it is normal for them to be:
  • Concrete, simplistic, and rigid -- even though now you can think in more abstract, complex, and flexible ways
  • Based on a time when you (a) were stuck with certain people (e.g., family members, peers), (b) had few resources, and (c) felt pain keenly -- even though now you have much more (a) choice in your relationships, (b) assertiveness, money, and other resources, and (c) capacity to cope with pain.
These unreasonable expectations lead to responses that are needlessly pinched and cramped: we numb out internally, muzzle ourselves, stay safe and distant in relationships, and shrink our dreams. The experiences we dread hem us in, like taboo lands surrounding a shrinking little pasture, controlling us, telling us: "Don't chance that, live smaller." And most of the time, we suffer these costs without even realizing it.

What's the alternative?

It's to risk the dreaded experience -- and reap the rewards that result. For example:
  • (1) Wishing for something from an intimate partner, (2) you feel nervous about saying it, yet you know it's likely to be well-received and that you'll be fundamentally all right if it's not, so (3) you decide to speak up and risk feeling let down -- and with some zigs and zags, it works out pretty well.
  • (1) You don't feel your boss fully appreciates your abilities, but (2) he reminds you of your critical father and you dread those old feelings of hurt and low worth if you ask for more challenging (and interesting) assignments. So you plan carefully and identify a project he'll probably support, and you bring to mind, again and again, positive experiences of feeling seen and valued by others to help you cope if he is dismissive of you. (3) Having done your homework, you approach your boss with strength and clarity, which increases your odds of success.
  • (1) You want to start a business. (2) Even though you worry about looking like a fool if it fails, you remind yourself that most people respect those who stick their necks out and have an entrepreneurial spirit. (3) So you start that business and do your best, at peace with whatever may happen.
How

Start by observing how this sequence proceeds in your mind:
(1) self-expression --> (2) expectation of pain --> (3) inhibition.
This is the most important step (which is why the explanation above is longer than usual). You'll frequently see it in retrospect, when you replay a response you had in a situation -- a (3) -- and realize that its function was to shut down your self-expression. At bottom, many of our reactions are strategies (often unconscious ones) for avoiding a dreaded experience.

Next, challenge your expectations. Are they really true? Help yourself appreciate the fact that expressing your emotions and wants -- in reasonably skillful ways -- will usually lead to good results. Speak to yourself like a wise, firm, and encouraging swim coach talking you through the first time you dove into a pool, with lines like Other people have done this; it turned out okay for them and it can be the same for you. You have the abilities to make this work. Yes, it won't be perfect and might be uncomfortable, but you will be all right. I believe in you. Believe in yourself.

Then, move out of your comfort zone by taking calculated risks. Start with easy situations in which the odds of self-expression causing a bad result are small -- and even if the bad result were to occur, it would be only mildly uncomfortable for you. Then work your way up the ladder of increasingly vulnerable and high-stakes self-expression. A wonderful freedom grows in the heart as you do this; you're less cowed by dreaded experiences and not clipping your wings to avoid them. If a particular self-expression does lead to a painful result for you, notice that you can cope with this pain and that it soon comes to an end, and absorb the reasonable lessons (e.g., it's not wise to confide in a certain friend). Overall, you could well decide that it's worth occasionally feeling some pain in order to gain the much greater pleasures of fuller self-expression.

Last, take it in when you risk self-expression and it turns out fine (as it usually does). Really highlight it in your mind when pessimistic expectations don't come true, or when feared events do occur but they're not all that upset¬ting. Open to the satisfaction of expressing yourself, and let it sink in. Feel the healthy pride and self-respect earned by being brave enough to dive in.

Rick Hanson on Risking the Dreaded Experience:


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

Music: Sun Nov 6


Consider arriving by 10am on Sunday November 6 for a special Music for All Ages presentation by Adam Kent and CUUC member Mary Lane Cobb. Adam and Mary will discuss the theme of Evil as it pertains to racism and discrimination, illustrated by the haunting poetry of Langston Hughes set to music by Margaret Bonds. Mary will perform several additional settings of Hughes’s poetry in the Music at CUUC opening event at 1pm that afternoon. In the Opening Music and Interlude, Manuel de Falla’s sultry ballet music for El amor brujo evokes witchcraft and obsessive, destructive love, and the Offertory features the wacky Poltergeist by American ragtime composer William Bolcom. Read on for programming details.

Prelude: Music for All Ages with Adam Kent and Mary Lane Cobb
I, Too:  the poetry of Langston Hughes and the music of Margaret Bonds
Opening Music:
Danza del Terror from El amor brujo
                                    Manuel de Falla

Offertory:
The Poltergeist
                                                            William Bolcom

Interlude:
Danza ritual del fuego
                                                Falla

2016-10-25

Music: Sun Oct 30


Sunday morning’s musical selections reflect on the “Day of the Dead” theme of the service. The Prelude features the slow movement of one of Beethoven’s early piano sonatas, one of the composer’s deepest expressions of grief and mourning. Soprano and CUUC member Kim Force, who offers several vocal works as well, offers the following comments about the Opening Music and the Interlude: In “I Will Follow You into the Dark”, the singer muses about what would happen if his love should die before he does. Chris Martin from Coldplay wrote “Fix You” for his wife after the tragic passing of her father, with whom she was very close. The song looks at how we try to support people suffering from loss.

Read on for programming details.


Prelude: Georgianna Pappas, piano
Piano Sonata No. 7 in D Major, Op. 10, No. 3
            II. Largo e mesto
                                                Ludwig van Beethoven

Opening Music: Kim Force, soprano
“I Will Follow You Into the Dark” by Death Cab For Cutie
Ben Gibbard

Offertory:
The Whippoorwill Dance              
                                    Joe Jordan

Interlude: Kim and Christian Force
“Fix You” by Coldplay
C. Martin, J. Buckland, G. Berryman, W. Champion

2016-10-20

Succeed at Rejection

Practice of the Week
Succeed at Rejection

How to Overcome Fear of Rejection

"He says the best way out is always through.
And I agree to that, or in so far
As that I can see no way out but through"
(Robert Frost)

When I was seventeen, I was very shy. It was hard to meet women my own age. By the time I was a freshman in college, I had only been on two dates. I was terrified of being rejected. My fear was like a prison, keeping me locked away in self-imposed loneliness. One day, I vowed I would overcome my fear. I would plow my way through it. I enlisted the help of a good friend to help sustain my motivation to face my fright head on. I gave my friend $50 and told him, "Don't give me this money back unless I get rejected by ten different women by the end of today." I figured experiencing ten rejections would lessen my fear.

I strolled down to the University Center to seek out women. As I approached the first, sweat was dripping from my forehead. My knees were shaking, and as I said, "Hello," my voice cracked. When she turned and saw me shaking and sweating, she worriedly asked, "Are you all right? Do you need me to call an ambulance?" I assured her she didn't to do that, and that I'd soon be OK. A brief, awkward conversation ensued before I mumbled, "Would you like to go out together sometime?" In a kind voice she responded that she had a boyfriend, but that she was flattered that I had asked.

Only nine more to go, I thought as I began to breathe again.

Each rejection got easier. I soon noticed that the women I spoke to seemed more nervous than I was. My rejections were proceeding rapidly and smoothly until the seventh woman I approached. When I asked her for a date, she said, "Sure."

I hadn't thought of that possibility. "Sure, what?" I said.

After she convinced me she was really agreeing to a date, I wrote down her number, and, in a state of happy amazement, soon asked another woman for a date. To my surprise, she also said yes. By this time, I was feeling at ease while I asked women out, and the results were often positive. In fact, I had to start acting like a jerk in order to reach my quota of ten rejections and get my $50 back. After a total of eight acceptances, I finally got my tenth rejection. In one magical hour I had set up my love life for my freshman year and put a big dent in my fear of rejection.

The key to overcoming fear of rejection is to set it up so that getting rejected counts as success. As I faced my fear, I saw that it wasn't so bad. I could survive. Since I was fully prepared for it, rejection didn't seem like a big deal anymore. I noticed that with each rejection, it got easier. In addition, as my fear went away and I became more relaxed, I was often rewarded with an unexpected "yes."

Perhaps there is some area in your life in which the fear of rejection has kept you from moving forward. Maybe you've made success too important. Instead, try rewarding yourself for just making an effort and getting a "no." You'll survive. You'll become less controlled by fears of failure. And you'll probably get some unexpected yeses.

The ability to face rejection is one of the most crucial skills for creating a happy life.

There's a spiritual lesson here. When you structure a situation for yourself in which you count failing as succeeding, you teach yourself that what life is really about is neither failing nor succeeding. It's about showing up. It's about bringing the fullness of who you are to every situation. If judgmental fears are keeping you from fully showing up as your unique self, a spiritual practice of plunging into those fears can lead you out the other side.

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

Democracy Book Discussion

Calling all UUs of the Hastings and White Plains congregations! The corruption of our democracy calls for our attention.

Reverends Peggy Clarke and Meredith Garmon will be facilitating an exploration of healing our democracy and Parker Palmers book, Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit. Join us on Wed Nov 30 at one of these two times/locations:
11:00am at First Unitarian Society of Westchester, Hastings
or
7:30pm at Community Unitarian Universalist Congregation at White Plains

Why This Issue?

The need for securing truly democratic process is clear. Delegates at the 2016 General Assembly in Columbus, OH, selected "The Corruption of Our Democracy" to be the 2016-2020 Congregational Study/Action Issue (CSAI) of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) of Congregations.

Every two years, at General Assembly, the delegates select one issue for Congregational Study and Action for the following four years. (Thus, we are always in the first two years of one issue, and in the last two years of another issue). Delegates at GA 2016 considered other nominated topics, "Climate Change and Environmental Justice," "A National Conversation On Race," and "Ending Gun Violence in America." Feeling that these important issues could not be effectively addressed unless our nation's democratic process began working, delegates chose democracy as the single most important issue for UUs to begin addressing.

What is a CSAI?

The Congregational Study/Action Issue (CSAI) is an invitation for congregations and districts to take a topic of concern and engage it, reflect on it, learn about it, respond to it, comment on it take action -- each in their own way. A CSAI is NOT a statement -- it is a question.

What Does Improved Democracy Have To Do With Unitarian Universalism?

Our Seven Principles give us spiritual grounding to put our faith into action. Our fifth principle declares our commitment to "the right of conscience and the use of democratic process in our congregations and in society at large." Our General Assembly considered CSAI proposals in 2010 and 2014 on “Revitalizing Democracy” and passed AIWs (Actions of Immediate Witness) in 2011 and 2013 on amending the constitution.

What Are Some of the Questions for Study?
  • Unitarian Universalists have identified escalating inequality, racial justice, voting rights, immigration, reproductive justice, marriage equality and more as major moral concerns. Now climate change looms large. Could passing an amendment establishing that only human beings, not corporations, unions and other artificial entities, have constitutional rights, and money is not free speech, benefit these important issues?
  • What does “corporate personhood” mean and why is it important to address that in addition to “money as speech” in a proposed constitutional amendment?
  • How have Supreme Court decisions over the past two hundred years created this “legal fiction”?
  • How does treating corporations and other artificial entities as persons violate our Unitarian Universalist principles?
  • Is a moral political revolution needed to address voting rights, gerrymandering, voting methods, and the possibility of public financing of campaigns?
What Suggestions for Actions Does our Unitarian Universalist Association Offer?

The Advocacy and Witness staff at UUA is preparing a resource guide for the issue. So far, these suggestions have been posted at UUA.org:
  • Hold forums in your congregation on the various proposals to overturn Citizens United v. FEC and other Supreme Court decisions giving moneyed interests sway in this country.
  • Show the 30-minute film “Legalize Democracy” and discuss how this supports our Seven Principles and affects all ages.
  • Encourage your congregation to pass a resolution for Move to Amend and endorse it.
  • Encourage your City Council and County Commission to pass a resolution for Move to Amend, and work to place a ballot initiative or non-binding referendum on your city or county ballot, so all voters can speak out on this important issue. Invite youth to participate in this effort.
  • Educate your congregation about the Interfaith Caucus of Move to Amend. Use the issue of climate change to reach out to other faiths.
  • Join your UU State Action Network, or start one if your state does not yet have one, and encourage them to include climate change as a core issue and the amendment movement to help address it.
What Are the Hastings and White Plains Congregations Doing?

Let's begin our plunge into the spirit work of restoring/creating democracy by looking at Parker Palmer's wonderful and insightful book, Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit.

Join us on Wed Nov 30 at one of these two times/locations:
11:00am at First Unitarian Society of Westchester, Hastings
or
7:30pm at Community Unitarian Universalist Congregation at White Plains.

Order a Copy of the Book

Order from Amazon: CLICK HERE
Order from Barnes & Noble: CLICK HERE
Order from Indie Bound: CLICK HERE

About the Book
In Healing the Heart of Democracy, Parker J. Palmer quickens our instinct to seek the common good and gives us the tools to do it. This timely, courageous and practical work—intensely personal as well as political—is not about them, “those people” in Washington D.C., or in our state capitals, on whom we blame our political problems. It’s about us, “We the People,” and what we can do in everyday settings like families, neighborhoods, classrooms, congregations and workplaces to resist divide-and-conquer politics and restore a government “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

In the same compelling, inspiring prose that has made him a bestselling author, Palmer explores five “habits of the heart” that can help us restore democracy’s foundations as we nurture them in ourselves and each other:

- An understanding that we are all in this together
- An appreciation of the value of “otherness”
- An ability to hold tension in life-giving ways
- A sense of personal voice and agency
- A capacity to create community

Healing the Heart of Democracy is an eloquent and empowering call for “We the People” to reclaim our democracy. The online journal Democracy & Education called it “one of the most important books of the early 21st Century.”
From the Englewood Review of Books:
“There is a deep and disturbing cloud hanging over the United States. It is a malaise that is leading to cynicism and self-centeredness. The antidote is to be found in the healing of the heart of our democracy, so that we might emerge from this private focus to a public one, which recognizes our interdependence. I know of no better guide to discerning the problem and the solutions, than this book by Parker Palmer. It is a prophetic book, one that needs to be taken with all due seriousness, if we are to emerge from our malaise stronger and healthier than before.”
From Publishers Weekly:
"He bravely takes on the current political climate, and this book provides therapy for the American body politic. His insights are heart-deep: America gains by living with tension and differences; we can help reclaim public life by actions as simple as walking down the street instead of driving. Hope's hardly cheap, but history is made up of what Palmer calls 'a million invisible acts of courage and the incremental gains that came with them.' This beautifully written book deserves a wide audience that will benefit from discussing it."
Spirituality and Practice says:
Healing the Heart of Democracy is a hopeful book that lifts up and hallows the heart as a source of inner sight. Inspired by the efforts to understand and undergird democracy by Abraham Lincoln, Alexis de Tocqueville, Rosa Parks, and others; the author sends us on our way rejoicing with the small portion of hope that he has planted in our minds and souls.”

2016-10-18

Music: Sun Oct 23


Solo piano works by Unitarian composers of Christian origins are featured this Sunday at CUUC. Edvard Grieg’s charming Lyric Pieces are frequently influenced by Norwegian folklore, and much of Béla Bartók’s output reflect the composer’s research into traditional Eastern European music. Arthur Foote was organist the First Unitarian Church of Boston for 32 years, although his music seems most heavily indebted to European late-Romantic references. Read on for programming details.

Prelude: Adam Kent, piano
Norwegian Melody, Op. 12, No. 6
Woodland Peace, Op. 71, No. 4
Homeward, Op. 62, No. 6
                                    Edvard Grieg

Opening Music:
Romance in F Major, Op. 15, No. 3
                                                Arthur Foote
Offertory:
Rumanian Dances
            Dance with Sticks
            Waistband Dance
            Stamping Dance
            Hornpipe
            Rumanian Polka
            Quick Dance
                                                Béla Bartók

Interlude:
Notturno, Op. 54, No. 4
                                                Grieg

2016-10-17

The Coming of Autumn

The Coming of Autumn at the CUUC Parsonage, 2016. See the 2014 series HERE.
Mon Oct 10:

Fri Oct 14:

Mon Oct 17:

Thu Oct 20:

Sun Oct 23:

Wed Oct 26:

Sat Oct 29:

Tue Nov 1:

Fri Nov 4:

Mon Nov 7:

Thu Nov 10:

Mon Nov 14:

2016-10-13

Science & Spirituality: Beyond Words

"Science and Spirituality" meets on the 2nd and 4th Thursdays of each month, at CUUC, at 11:30.

Next meeting: Thu Oct 27, 11:30a

At our Oct 27 meeting we will begin discussing:
Carl Safina, Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel

Grab a copy of the book and join us! For Thu Oct 27 we'll be discussing: "Part One: Trumpets of Elephants" (pp. 5-136).

Order from Amazon: CLICK HERE
Order from Barnes & Noble: CLICK HERE
Order from Indie Bound: CLICK HERE

Description:

"I wanted to know what they were experiencing, and why to us they feel so compelling, and so-close. This time I allowed myself to ask them the question that for a scientist was forbidden fruit: Who are you?"

Weaving decades of field observations with exciting new discoveries about the brain, Carl Safina's landmark book offers an intimate view of animal behavior to challenge the fixed boundary between humans and nonhuman animals. In Beyond Words, readers travel to Amboseli National Park in the threatened landscape of Kenya and witness struggling elephant families work out how to survive poaching and drought, then to Yellowstone National Park to observe wolves sort out the aftermath of one pack's personal tragedy, and finally plunge into the astonishingly peaceful society of killer whales living in the crystalline waters of the Pacific Northwest.

Beyond Words brings forth powerful and illuminating insight into the unique personalities of animals through extraordinary stories of animal joy, grief, jealousy, anger, and love. The similarity between human and nonhuman consciousness, self-awareness, and empathy calls us to re-evaluate how we interact with animals. Wise, passionate, and eye-opening at every turn, Beyond Words is ultimately a graceful examination of humanity's place in the world.

About the Author

Carl Safina's work has been recognized with MacArthur, Pew, and Guggenheim Fellowships, and his writing has won Orion, Lannan, and National Academies literary awards and the John Burroughs, James Beard, and George Rabb medals. He has a PhD in ecology from Rutgers University. Safina is the inaugural holder of the endowed chair for nature and humanity at Stony Brook University, where he co-chairs the steering committee of the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science and is founding president of the not-for-profit Safina Center. He hosted the 10-part PBS series "Saving the Ocean" with Carl Safina. His writing appears in "The New York Times," "National Geographic," "Audubon," "Orion," and other periodicals and on the Web at National Geographic News and Views, Huffington Post, and CNN.com. Beyond Words is his seventh book. He lives on Long Island, New York.




Send and Receive Compassion

Practice of the Week
Send and Receive Compassion


Compassion literally means "to feel passion with." Passion means pain. Compassion is the willingness to feel pain with another, to feel another's pain as one's own.

We usually think of compassion as something sweet and nice, positive and wonderful. Everybody wants to be compassionate. And it's true -- compassion feels good. But we overlook the fact that compassion is also essentially a painful feeling.

Feeling another's pain as our own is painful. And it turns out that it's impossible to take in the pain of another unless we are able to take in our own pain. And most of us are not so good at accepting our own pain. We prefer to deny it or distract ourselves from it. We are so intent on making our own pain go away that we don't allow ourselves to feel it. We can't take it in. Consequently we are incapable of feeling another's pain, so we are incapable of actual compassion, although we may think we are quite compassionate.

If you've ever been ill, physically or emotionally, or otherwise in need of compassionate caring, you may have noticed that many people will offer help and kind words, but somehow most of these offerings seem either insincere or otherwise to miss the mark. They don't feel good; they don't help. It is as if these people, though they clearly mean well and their offers are touching, are not capable of really receiving your pain. They want to make you feel better, help you somehow by offering remedies and recommendations or cheerful words or distracting gifts, but they seem unable or unwilling to do what you need them to do: to simply feel and acknowledge your pain. They want to be compassionate, but they can't seem to do that, and so their presence makes you feel more lonely and isolated in your misfortune.

This is because they are actually terrified of their own pain. And you can feel that they are also terrified of your pain, even though, of course, they would never say so and may not even realize they are feeling this. But you, the person ill in a hospital bed or depressed or grieving, can see this all too clearly. And when you are in need of compassion, these people do not really comfort you. Maybe they even annoy you, despite their sincere efforts -- because it is impossible to be truly compassionate, to receive another pain, if you are unable to receive your own.

My mother was a dear woman, but at the time of her death, decades ago, she was bewildered by what was happening to her, and quite agitated. She was sixty-two, never expected to die so young, and didn't fully grasp that she was, in fact, dying. Or maybe she just couldn't bear to think about it, and no one around her ever brought it up. We were all there, me, my brother, my father, and my mother's sisters. Probably what my mother needed, in her agitated state, was a little peace and quiet. Instead, she was constantly interrupted by nurses and doctors looking in on her and by relatives who keep turning her pillow, asking her what she needed, getting her things she didn't need, and trying to talk to her about cheerful things.

It seemed obvious to me that none of us could accept the reality of my mother's situation because none of us had made peace with the fact that this was death, that she would die, we would die, and that we all felt terrible about this situation. None of us could face the pain -- ours or hers.

A dear friend of mine lost her husband, who died suddenly, with no warning. His death was a complete shock to her, and her subsequent grief was so immense that she was all but inconsolable. She had many friends who kept trying to comfort her. Not only did their efforts leave her completely untouched, they actually made her angry. Her grief had given her a deadly accurate insincerity meter, so she felt people's fear and avoidance much more than she felt the consolation they were trying to offer he with their words and pats on the shoulder.

This is common in grief. You can tell who is and who is not really willing and able to go where you are, in your deep sorrow, and you can be quite upset by the pious conventional words and gestures of those who want to be nice and compassionate but actually have no clue as to what compassion actually is. Compassion really does require us to feel the pain of another personally.

Real, full compassion requires training your heart to do what it usually does not want to do: to go toward, rather than away from, what's painful and difficult in your own life. Second, it requires realizing that your own suffering and the suffering of others are not different. When you discover that this is so, you see that when you are willing to really take in your own suffering, you find, within that very suffering, the suffering of others. The reverse is also true: when you are able to truly take in the suffering of another, you find within it your own human pain. Being willing to receive pain, we come to understand, is the only way to open our hearts to love. Practicing real and full compassion makes this an experiential truth.

How

To send and receive compassion, begin with resting in the openness of mind (SEE HERE.) This is also where to end. This gives us the basis for the hard work of real compassion. In the beginning, resting in the openness of mind gives us courage. In the end, we return to that open rest for recuperation.

Start by breathing in the openness of mind that you can feel in the clarity and strength of the inhale. And then exhale, letting go completely and merging with openness of mind, so that there is nothing else present but that. Breathing this way, we open to a complete release of everything and trust of everything especially when we exhale, resting in the natural openness of our own being and of everything. This is just an easeful opening and letting go. Stay with this part for as long as you need to.

Next, breathe in your own suffering. Let compassion ride on your breath. As you inhale, take in your own pain and the suffering. Not only do we not avoid it as we usually do, as it is our natural impulse to do, we actually breathe it into our body. Gobble up all the suffering and the pain. You may well be squeamish about this, and it might be difficult at first, but with practice, you can do it. Visualize the pain and suffering as a dark, sticky substance or smoke or some kind of goo that you are breathing in, taking into your body. The goo is coming is coming from all around you, and you are taking it in, with all the pores of your body as well as through your nostrils as you breathe in. If you are not so visually oriented, then in some other way imagine that you are actually breathing in the pain and suffering, really take it in. This is receiving.

Then, breathe out. When we breathe out, something miraculous happens. It turns out that our bodies are transformation machines. They transform the goo, the suffering, the pain, into lightness, ease, peacefulness that comes out of our nostrils and all the pores of our body as a light sweet mist (or some other imagined form of lightness, ease, joy). Unharmed by the pain you breathed in, you have now transformed that pain, so that you now breathe out bliss and ease and lightness and healing power, as if you were breathing out healing light. This is sending. You are sending healing light to yourself and to many others.

Why This Works

Our body has a wisdom greater than we imagine. It breathes, circulates blood, heals us, keeps us balanced and alive every day, without our paying attention to it. Our bodies have been miraculously born into this world, through no effort on our part, and when the body is finished doing its work, at that precise moment, without fanfare and without regret, it lets go of life and returns to the earth it is made of. (We may have regrets and clingings, but the body doesn't. It knows exactly what to do.) Our life, in fact, is a sacred miracle. We constantly forget this, occupied as we are with other matters. But fortunately our body never forgets. Our body never fails us, for it is, on its own, as it is, love itself, life itself, nature itself, flowing on in profound sanity despite our human confusions. Naturally it has the capacity to breathe in suffering and transform it into healing. In fact, this is what breathing is: inhaling we are saying yes to another moment of life with all of its pain, sorrow, and loss; exhaling we are releasing all of this, letting go of everything and returning to peace.

Real compassion doesn't take a major effort on our part. We only have to allow it. If you allow the breath to bring in suffering, allow the body to receive, then when you breathe out, it's not suffering anymore. We have turned the suffering of ourselves, of others, of the whole world, into easeful, healing light.

Regularly practice connecting with the body's natural real compassion. Then, when you encounter someone who desperately needs compassion, you will know how to face their pain -- their suffering and grief. The impulse to superficially cheer or comfort will be gone. Without fear or avoidance, you will know what to say (or just be quiet) and do (or just be present and still). Your sincerity will be clear because you have truly taken in their pain. You haven't made it go away (indeed, the urge to push it away is the source of insincere gestures) -- yet you are sending peace.

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

2016-10-12

Music: Sun Oct 16


Join us this Sunday for special musical programming with the CUUC Choir. At 10am, Choir Director Lisa N. Meyer leads a Music for All Ages program during the morning’s Prelude, which culminates in a song-sharing experience with everyone assembled. Popular favorites by Carole King and from the African-American Spiritual tradition feature vocal solos by CUUC parishioners Kim Force, Mary Lane Cobb, and Ted Kuczinski. Read on for programming details.
Prelude:
Music For All Ages: The CUUC Choir, with Choir Director Lisa N. Meyer and pianist Georgianna Pappas
“How Music Brings People Together”, including “Do Re Mi” from The Sound of Music
Anthem:
Homeward Bound  
Marta Keen, arr. by Jay Althouse  
Mary Lane Cobb and Ted Kuczinski, soloists

Offertory:
You’ve Got a Friend
                                                Carole King
Kim Force, soprano

Anthem:
Hush, Sombody’s Callin’ My Name
American Spiritual, arr. by Brazeal W. Dennard
Mary Lane Cobb, Soloist


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2016-10-05

Take Refuge

Practice of the Week
Take Refuge
I take refuge in the Buddha, the one who shows me the way in life.
I take refuge in the Dharma, the path of understanding and love.
I take refuge in the Sanha, the community that lives in harmony and awareness.
-The Three Refuges (Buddhism)

In Hawaii one time, my wife Jan and I visited a "place of refuge." People fleeing for their lives could come there and be sheltered. Related customs exist around the world; for example, in medieval Europe, a person could take refuge in a church and be protected there.

Less formally, we all need everyday refuges from challenges, sorrows, and the occasional sheer craziness of the world. Otherwise, you get too exposed to the cold winds of life, and too drained by the daily round. Without refuge, after awhile you can feel like you're running on empty.

Refuges include people, places, memories, and ideas -- anyone or anything that provides reliable sanctuary and protection, that's reassuring, comforting, and supportive, so you can let down your guard and gather strength and wisdom.

A refuge could be:
  • curling up in bed with a good book, 
  • having a meal with friends, 
  • making a To Do list to organize your day,
  • remembering your grandmother, 
  • feeling strength in your body, 
  • trusting the findings of science, 
  • talking with a trusted friend or counselor, 
  • having faith, or 
  • reminding yourself that although you're not rich, you're financially okay.
The world's religions also have refuges that may speak to you, such as:
  • sacred settings, 
  • texts, 
  • individuals, 
  • teachings, 
  • rituals, 
  • objects, and 
  • congregations. 
Personally, one of my favorite refuges is practice itself. It makes me feel good to trust that if I keep plugging away, then I can gradually become happier and more loving.

What gives you a sense of refuge?

How

Make a written or mental list of at least a few things that are refuges for you. And if you can, take a moment each day to consciously take refuge in those things. You can "take refuge" in several ways:
  • Go to a refuge
  • Come from a refuge
  • Abide as a refuge
  • Sense a refuge at work in your life
Personally, it's been a breakthrough to imagine that my refuges already exist inside me, that I can live from them, as an expression of them in this life. When you take refuge in this way, you are giving yourself over to wholesome forces, and letting them work through you and carry you along.

You can take refuge explicitly, with words, by saying things in your mind like:
  • I take refuge in __________. Or 
  • I abide as __________. Or 
  • __________ flows through me.
Or just sense the refuge without words: feel what it is like for you to be in it, safe and supported, home.

Then repeat your way of taking refuge for each of your refuges. Try to do this every day, as soon as you remember to do so. It only takes a few minutes or less. And you can even do it in the middle of traffic or a meeting.

Once you have finished taking refuge, sense the good feelings and thoughts sinking deeply into you, filling you up, and weaving themselves into your being -- a resource and inner light that you'll take with you wherever you go.

For Journaling
  • How would you fill in each of the following blanks? "I take refuge in _________." "I abide as __________." "_________ flows through me." Record how various terms in the blanks feel for you.
  • Write about events in the last couple days when it was (or might have been) particularly helpful to take a moment for taking refuge. 

Rick Hanson on Taking Refuge:


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

2016-10-04

Music: Sun Oct 8


Violinist Elena Peres returns to CUUC to perform Max Bruch’s arrangement of Kol Nidre, the holiest prayer of the Jewish liturgy associated with Yom Kippur. Mozart’s charming Sonata for Violin and Piano in G Major is also heard during the morning’s Prelude and Offertory. A prayerful Song without Words by Felix Mendelssohn—a composer of Jewish descent—is the Opening Music. Read on for programming details.

Prelude: Elena Peres, violin and Adam Kent, piano
Sonata for Violin and Piano in G Major, K. 301
I.               Allegro con spirito
                                                Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Opening Music:
Song without Words in A Major, Op. 19, No. 4 “Confidence”
                                                Felix Mendelssohn

Offertory:
Sonata for Violin and Piano in G Major, K. 301
II.              Allegro
Mozart

Interlude:
Kol Nidre, Op. 47
                                                Max Bruch