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2016-04-27

See Everything As a Dream

Practice of the Week
See Everything As a Dream


Adopt "see everything as a dream" as a personal slogan. Repeat it to yourself from time to time -- when things aren't going well, when things are going especially well, when things are going somewhere-in-between.

Everything is always passing away. That's just how it is in this world. As soon as something appears, in that same moment, it's already gone. Everything that exists in time is like this, appearing and disappearing in a flash. That's what we mean when we say "time is passing." Things do certainly seem to be here, I am here, you are here, what you see outside your window is there -- but the closer you look, the less clear this is. The me of today must be slightly different from the me of yesterday and the me of tomorrow because I know for certain that the me of fifty years ago is quite different from the me of today, almost completely different.

The me of fifty years ago is completely gone, and no trace of him can be found anywhere. He must have disappeared decade by decade, year by year, day by day, and moment by moment. But how? It really doesn't make sense. Now it is today. Where did yesterday go, and where is tomorrow now? You can't say. Nor is it really clear where today -- where now -- is. As soon as you try to figure it out, it is already gone. Since this is so, you have to wonder whether it was ever really here to begin with, in any hard-and-fast way.

Things are always slipping gradually away. If we thought about it even for a moment, we would have to agree. But this is more than a thought. It is also a feeling. If we stop for a moment our busy activity and actually take stock of ourselves as we really are right now, feel our life at this instant, we can not a wistful sense of unease at time passing; we can actually feel this as an underlying mood or sense about life. It is quite unmistakable.

We actually do live our lives as if in a dream, trying to grab something that isn't really there. Think about this. You are reading these words sometime during a day of your life. Maybe it is early in the morning or late at night. Whatever time of day it is, you assume that the earlier part of the day actually happened, but did it? How can you really verify that? The past is completely gone. And so quickly! There is a memory, yes, a vivid memory, but memory is not the actual concrete fact. It's just memory.

Certainly you can find others who will agree with you that today really did happen, and it may never occur to them or you to question it, but what proof do we really have? Mass illusions are certainly possible. Everything is like this -- it's a memory -- even while it's happening. This is a physiological fact: the brain registers experience a moment after the experience has happened. Life actually, scientifically, is a kind of illusion. It's very hard to actually put your finger on experience. And the closer you look, the stranger it gets.

The truth is that there are many things that just don't add up, and you go about your business without investigating. But when you stop to reflect about it, or just stop to look at something or listen to something acutely for a moment or two, just stare at something or try to feel what your own mind feels like -- at such moments the oddness of it all comes home to you. Life is like a dream.

Here is an experiment you can try, a very simple one: try catching the beginning of any thought or emotion, just as it arises. See if you can grab it right there, just as it first appears in your mind. Sit still, very attentive, very alert, and try to do this. I think you'll discover that this is impossible to do. First there is no thought there, and then somehow, suddenly -- as if no time had gone by -- you are in the middle of the thought.

It didn't have a beginning; it is just there, as if it were there all along. And then it's gone, and you don't know when it started to go. It has just evaporated, without warning. It's really impossible to catch a thought before it arises or to see it pass away. And it's impossible to see your own mind, impossible to see the contents of your mind, because everything is like a dram that appears and disappears, and we don't know where it came from and we don't know where it went.

Seeing everything as a dream will coax you into relief. The same relief that comes when you wake up from that nightmare and your whole body suddenly relaxes because you realize that the dire situation you seemed to be in a moment ago is actually OK, it was just a dream. Your anxiety disappears, and you immediately lighten up and relax. Even the worst things can exude some lightness:
"Yes, this is terrible, this is not what I wanted, not what I'd hoped for, not what I'd worked for, maybe even what I had feared. But also it's not that bad. It is like a dream. It's happening and not happening. Soon it will be in the past. So I can look at it differently, I don't need to validate all of those dire thoughts that only make matters worse. Maybe I don't need to be so worked up about it. Maybe I can just figure out how to deal with it without that extra measure of anxiety and freak-out."
This is not a gimmick. Everything really is like a dream. When you practice seeing everything as a dream, apply it in your daily experience, it begins to change things for you. When you find that you are upset or angry, when you are having a day when you are mad at yourself or someone else and you are hammering on yourself or complaining about someone else for some reason, you can remember to see everything as a dream, and your mind will snap into a more alert present and you will find that you can lighten up to some extent.

Everything is passing; every problem, no matter how tough is already solved, even as it's developing.

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

2016-04-26

Music: Sun May 1



Solo piano works evocative of the season as well as our Flower Communion are featured this Sunday morning at CUUC. The Prelude opens with a charming celebration of May written for student pianists by Robert Schumann. Next come a set of tender floral tributes from American composer Edward MacDowell’s charming Woodland Sketches. The morning’s Offertory is Claude Debussy’s delicately scored “Heather”, thought to describe the lavender-rose scrub brush of the Brittany Coast. Several examples of Ragtime round out the morning’s solo piano music. In addition, the CUUC Choir is on hand with several uplifting selections, including a traditional 16th-century May Day song for congregational participation. Read on for programming details.
Prelude: Adam Kent, piano
Mai, Lieber Mai, Bald Bist Du Wieder Da! (May, Lovely May, Soon You’ll Be Back Again!) , Op. 68, No. 13
                                                Robert Schumann
To a Wild Rose, Op. 51, No. 1
To a Water-Lily, Op. 51, No. 6
                                                            Edward MacDowell
The Chrysanthemum           
                                    Scott Joplin

Special Congregational Music:
Cottesmore: 16th-century traditional May-Day song    

verses:
1.       Good morning lords and ladies, it is the first of May.
Come look at our fine garland that looks so green and gay.

2.       The cuckoo sings in April, the cuckoo sings in May.
The cuckoo sings in June, July and then she flies away.

3.       The cuckoo is a merry bird, she sings as she flies,
She brings us good tidings and never tells no lies.
Anthem: CUUC Choir directed by Lisa N. Meyer and accompanied by Georgianna Pappas
No Greater Gift      
 Amy F. Bernon   

Offertory: Bruyères (Heather) from Préludes, Book II
                                                Claude Debussy



Anthem:
You Are The New Day                             
John David, arr. by Peter Knight

Flower Communion Music
Heliotrope Bouquet                       
                                                Scott Joplin and Louis Chauvin

2016-04-21

Pay Attention to Blessing

Practice of the Week
Pay Attention to Blessing
"Neurons that fire together wire together"" -Donald Hebb, 1949 (CLICK HERE)
Negativity bias. As we evolved over millions of years, dodging sticks and chasing carrots, it was a lot more important to notice, react to, and remember sticks than it was for carrots. That’s because – in the tough environments in which our ancestors lived – if they missed out on a carrot, they usually had a shot at another one later on. But if they failed to avoid a stick – a predator, a natural hazard, or aggression from others of their species – WHAM, no more chances to pass on their genes. Thus, we developed brains with a built-in negativity bias.
  • In a relationship, it typically takes five good interactions to make up for a single bad one.
  • People will work much harder to avoid losing $100 than they will work to gain the same amount of money.
  • Painful experiences are much more memorable than pleasurable ones.
At the end of the day, you're more likely to find yourself thinking about the one thing that went wrong than the fifty things that went right.

Our brains are like Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones. Negativity bias helped our hunter-gatherer ancestors survive, but it also oriented their feelings, expectations, beliefs, inclinations, and mood in an increasingly negative direction. This is not fair! Most of the facts in your life are probably positive or at least neutral. Yet the self-reinforcing increasingly negative orientation makes us anxious, irritable, and blue.

Fortunately, the natural negativity bias can be counteracted -- by paying attention to blessing.

By tilting toward the good -- toward that which brings more happiness and benefit to oneself and others -- you can level the playing field.

Don't just count your blessings. By focusing attention on them, the blessings in your life have a chance to change your brain -- re-orienting your feelings, expectations, and mood in a positive instead of negative direction.

You'll still see the tough parts of life. In fact, you'll become more able to change them or bear them if you pay attention to blessing, since that will help put challenges in perspective, lift your energy and spirits, highlight useful resources, and fill up your own cup so you have more to offer to others.

1. Look for blessings.

Take note of positive aspects of the world (something beautiful or pleasing) and yourself (your health, your skills). Take note of positive events (finishing a batch of emails, getting a compliment). Most blessings are ordinary and relatively minor -- but they are till real. You are not looking at the world through rose-colored glasses, but simply recognizing something that is actual and true.

2. Let yourself enjoy the blessing.

Once you've identified a blessing let yourself feel good about it. So often in life a good thing happens -- flowers are blooming, someone is nice, a goal's been attained -- and you know it, but you don't feel it. This time, let the blessing affect you. Take half a minute or so to give attention to the blessing and how much you enjoy it. You can do it on the fly in daily life, or at special times of reflection, like just before falling asleep (when the brain is especially receptive to new learning). Try to do this at least a half dozen times a day.

Be aware of any reluctance toward having positive experiences (thinking that you don't deserve the blessing; thinking that it's selfish, vain, or shameful to feel pleasure; fearing that if you feel good, you will lower your guard and let bad things happen). Then turn your attention back to the blessing. Keep opening up to them, breathing and relaxing, letting them move your needle. It's like sitting down to a meal: don't just look at it -- thoroughly taste it!

Most of our daily blessings are pretty mild. That's fine. Simply stay with it for ten, twenty, even thirty seconds in a row -- instead of getting distracted by something else.

Soften and open around the positive experience; let it fill your mind; give over to it in your body. The longer that something is held in awareness and the more emotionally stimulating it is, the more neurons that fire and thus wire together, and the stronger the effect on your base-level feelings, expectations, and mood.

Letting yourself enjoy your blessing is not the same as clinging to it. Actually, it's the opposite: by taking blessings in, you will feel better fed inside, and less fragile or needy. Your happiness will become more unconditional, increasingly based on an inner fullness rather than on external conditions.

3. Intend and sense that the blessing is sinking in to you.

People do this in different ways. Some feel it in the body as a warm glow spreading through the chest like the warmth of a cup of hot cocoa on a cold wintry day. Others visualize things like a golden syrup sinking down inside; a child might imagine a jewel going into a treasure chest in his or her heart. And some might simply know that while this blessing is held in awareness, its related neural networks are busily firing and wiring together.

Any single time of paying attention to blessing will usually make just a little difference. But over time those little differences will add up, gradually weaving positive experiences into the fabric of your brain and your whole being.

For Journaling

Paying attention to blessing means taking moments throughout the day. Extend the practice into your journaling. Name some of the blessings of the day. Write about how you enjoyed them (or are letting yourself enjoy them now). Reinforce the feeling (such as a warm glow spreading through the chest), the image (such as syrup sinking down inside), or the thought (that your awareness is wiring your neurons) by describing it in writing after each blessing you name.

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adapted from Rick Hanson, "Take In the Good"



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

Music: Sun Apr 24

Our special musical guest is the songster satirist, Roy Zimmerman.

He'll be singing at least 5 of his songs: 3 of them for the Prelude (10:00 to 10:10), and another couple during the service.

Later Sunday evening, Roy's giving a concert at the Ethical Culture Society at 7:30.
Roy Zimmerman sings satirical songs - original songs about class warfare, creationism, same-sex marriage, guns, marijuana, abstinence, Republicans (a lot of songs about Republicans), ignorance, war and greed.

There's a decidedly Lefty slant to his lyrics. "We used to have a name for Right Wing satire," he says. "We called it 'cruelty.'"

The Los Angeles Times says, "Zimmerman displays a lacerating wit and keen awareness of society's foibles that bring to mind a latter-day Tom Lehrer."

Tom Lehrer himself says, "I congratulate Roy Zimmerman on reintroducing literacy to comedy songs. And the rhymes actually rhyme, they don't just 'rhyne.'"

Joni Mitchell says, "Roy's lyrics move beyond poetry and achieve perfection."

In twelve albums over twenty years and on stages, screens and airwaves across America, Roy has brought the sting of satire to the struggle for Peace and Social Justice. His songs have been heard on HBO and Showtime. He has recorded for Warner/Reprise Records. He's a featured blogger for the Huffington Post. And everywhere Zimmerman goes, the Starving Ear goes with him. (Read more at: royzimmerman.com)
Here are a few samples of Roy's work:

"My Vote, My Voice, My Right"


"America"


"Everybody Is Everybody Else"


"I Approve this Message"


"End of the Ship"


"Summer of Loving"


"Hope, Struggle, and Change"


"Hope, Struggle, and Change" (cover by Phoenix Choir of UU Congregation of Atlanta)


"Austerity Beatles"

2016-04-17

Our BLM Resolution

On Sun Apr 17, Community UU adopted this resolution:
WHEREAS, Unitarian Universalists strive for justice, equity and compassion in human relations;

WHEREAS, Unitarian Universalists have a goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;

WHEREAS, allowing injustice to go unchallenged violates our principles;

WHEREAS, the 2015 General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association adopted a resolution, called an Action of Immediate Witness that called Unitarian Universalist congregations to action:

  • to become closer to a just world community,
  • to engage in intentional learning spaces to organize for racial justice with recognition of the interconnected nature of racism coupled with systems of oppression that impact people based on class, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability and language;
  • to work toward police reform and prison abolition (which seeks to replace the current prison system with a system that is more just and equitable);
  • to take initiative in collaboration with local and national organizations fighting for racial justice against the harsh racist practices to which many black people are exposed.

WHEREAS, all lives matter, and in order to live in a world that better recognizes that, we must attend to where lives are most treated as not mattering;

WHEREAS, the Black Lives Matter movement is the civil rights movement for racial justice in our time;

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Community Unitarian Universalist Congregation at White Plains supports and is a majority-white ally of the Black Lives Matter movement and its Guiding Principles;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that Community Unitarian Universalist Congregation authorizes expressions of that support, including but not limited to: public statements from Congregation leaders of support and advocacy for Black Lives Matter and its Guiding Principles, and the public display of a “Black Lives Matter” banner to be clearly visible to traffic on Rosedale Avenue.

2016-04-14

Enjoy Humility

Practice of the Week
Enjoy Humility
"Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less." (C. S. Lewis)
Rick Hanson on Enjoying Humility:


humble (adj.) mid-13c., from Old French humble, earlier humele, from Latin humilis "lowly, humble," literally "on the ground," from humus "earth." (Online Etymological Dictionary)
Text below adapted from Rick Hanson, Just One Thing. [Order a copy for yourself: HERE.]

Some might think that humility means being less than others, a doormat, second-class, or self-effacing.

But actually, it's none of these. Humility just means that you're stepping out of the rat race of self-glorification. You're not trying to build up your ego, impress people, or compete with others for status. You're not preoccupied with yourself. What a relief!

The root of the word "humble," comes from the Latin for "ground." With humility, you abide like the earth itself: solid, unpretentious, creating value without fanfare.

Humility is not humiliation. In fact, relaxed humility builds your confidence: you know your intentions are honorable, and you expect that others will probably be supportive.

In relationships, humility creates comfort and ease. It's like an open hand, empty of the weapons of superiority, scorn, or self-importance. You're receptive to others, not presuming your own infinite wisdom; as a result, they're less likely to feel criticized, and less likely to get defensive or competitive with you. Not chasing praise, you become more aware of your natural worth—which becomes easier for others to see as well; the less you focus on being appreciated, the more appreciation you'll get.

Humility embodies wisdom. It recognizes that everyone, including the grandest, is humbled by needing to depend on a vast web—of people, technology, culture, nature, sunlight, and biochemistry—to live a single day. Fame is soon forgotten. At the end of it all, we're each reduced to dust. Humility helps you be at peace with these facts.

How

Healthy humility is grounded in healthy self-worth. Feeling humble does not mean feeling inadequate. If you're like me and self-worth has been an issue, take steps over time to deepen your felt recognition of your own good qualities with the practices of taking in the good (HERE) and seeing the good in yourself (HERE). Be mindful of any challenges to self-worth that could lead you to compensate with over-confidence, puffing up your reputation, or preemptive strikes of superiority.

Nor does being humble mean tolerating mistreatment. Speak up and do what you can. Knowing that you are prepared to be assertive makes it easier to relax into the unguardedness of humility.

A humble person wishes all beings well—including oneself. You can still dream big dreams and help them come true. With humility, you pursue excellence, not fame.

Be honest with yourself about any ways you are not humble, any times you've been cocky, pretentious, promoting yourself with exaggerations, or entitled. In particular, try to catch any antihumility in your relationships, such as acting one-up or better-than, or being (even subtly) dismissive or devaluing. Instead, flow more with others: be modest, don't always try to win the point, don't interrupt, and don't claim more than your share of air time or credit.

In your brain, the background murmurings of self-centered preoccupations— I sounded really good there . . . Hope they thought so ... I wish people praised me more... I want to be special — are supported by networks in the top middle portions of your cortex. When you step out of that stream and are simply present with what is, without turning it into a story about yourself, different networks come to the fore, on the sides (especially right) of your head (Farb et al. 2007). You can stimulate these networks and thus strengthen some of the neural substrates of humility by:
  • Taking a panoramic, big-picture view of situations and your part in them
  • Sensing your breath as a unified whole, with all the sensations of it appearing in awareness as a single gestalt (rather than attention skipping from sensation to sensation as it typically does)
Explore humility on a global scale. For example, notice any beliefs that your political viewpoint, nation, or spirituality is superior to that of others. Also consider your consumption of the planet's resources from the perspective of humility, are there any changes you'd like to make?

Throughout, be aware of the rewards of humility. Enjoy how it makes your day simpler, keeps you out of conflicts with others, and brings you peace.

Journal

This week, focus on humility in your daily journaling. Reflect on these three questions:
  1. Were there ways in the last 24 hours that you were "cocky, pretentious, promoting yourself with exaggerations, or entitled"? Were you "acting one-up or better-than, or being (even subtly) dismissive or devaluing"?
  2. Were there moments in the last 24 hours that you had the feeling that "your political viewpoint, nation, or spirituality is superior to that of others"?
  3. Exercising humility, reflect on your consumption of the planet's resources in the last 24 hours. Are there any changes you'd like to make?
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Rick Hanson's TED Talk on "Hardwiring Happiness":



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

2016-04-12

Music: Sun Apr 17


In recognition of CUUC’s historic Black Lives Matter vote as well as the Passover holiday, Sunday morning’s musical selections feature solo piano works by composers of African and Jewish descent, including Felix Mendelssohn, Aaron Copland, and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. The CUUC Choir also offers a traditional Hebrew round. Read on for programming details.

Prelude: Adam Kent, piano
Slow Dance                                               
The Young Pioneers
                                                            Aaron Copland

Three-Fours: Valse-Suite, Op. 71, Nos. 1-3
                                                            Samuel Coleridge-Taylor
Anthem: CUUC Choir directed by Lisa N. Meyer and accompanied by Georgianna Pappas
Come In From The Firefly Darkness                 
 Amy F. Bernon    


 Offertory:
Song without Words in A Major, Op. 19, No. 3 “Hunting Song”
                                                Felix Mendelssohn
Anthem: Hine Ma Tov Uma Nayim*       Traditional Hebrew Round   
        *Translation:  Behold how good and pleasing it is for people to dwell together in unity.

2016-04-05

Be Patient

Practice of the Week
Be Patient
“Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.” (A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh)
See also the Practice of the Week: Patience

Rick Hanson on Being Patient:


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

It's fine to want things to happen in a proper and timely way. But what if you need to hang in there for several years in your current job before you can move on to a better one, or you're stuck on hold listening to elevator music, going to the mailbox each day for a long-awaited letter, or trying to get a squirming toddler into a car seat? Now what?

Patience means handling delay, difficulty, or discomfort without getting aggravated. Circumstances are what they are, but patience protects you from their impact like a shock absorber.

In contrast, impatience interprets circumstances as you being hindered or mistreated, so you feel frustrated, let down, or annoyed. Then insistence comes in: "This must change!" But by definition you can't fulfill that commandment (otherwise, there'd be nothing to get impatient about). Impatience combines all three ingredients of toxic stress: unpleasant experiences, pressure or urgency, and lack of control.

Impatience with others contains implicit criticism and irritation—and people want to get away from both of these. Just recall how you feel when someone is impatient with you. Or consider how others react when you are impatient with them.

Impatience is dissatisfaction; it is resistance to the way it is. Patience senses a fundamental all-right-ness, the doorway to contentment. Impatience is angry; patience is peaceful. Impatience narrows down onto what's "wrong," while patience keeps you wide open to the big picture. Impatience can't stand unpleasant feelings; patience helps you tolerate physical and emotional discomfort. Impatience wants rewards now; patience helps you tolerate delayed gratification, which fosters increased success and sense of worth.

Patience may seem like a superficial virtue, but actu¬ally it embodies a deep insight into the nature of things: they're intertwining, messy, imperfectible, and usually not about you. Patience also contains a wonderful teaching about desire: wish for something, sure, but be at peace when you can't have it. Patience knows you can't make the river flow any faster.

For Journaling

For an overview, reflect on these questions in your journal:
  • What does patience feel like? Impatience?
  • How do you feel about someone who's really patient? And about someone who's really impatient?
  • What makes you impatient?
  • What helps you stay patient?

How

In challenging situations:
  • Try to step back from thoughts that make you impatient, such as righteousness, superiority, or insistence. Remember that standards differ among persons and cultures. Remind yourself that there is (usually) nothing truly urgent.
  • Be aware of any body sensations or emotions triggered by delay or frustration—and see if you can tolerate them without reacting with impa¬tience. Relax your body, come into the present moment, and open to feeling that you are basi¬cally all right right now.
  • Rather than feeling that you are "wasting" time, find things that are rewarding in situations that try your patience; for example, look around and find something beautiful. Pay attention to your breath while relaxing your body, and wish others well. Similarly, rather than viewing yourself as "waiting in" situations, explore the sense of "being in" them. Enjoy the time being.
  • Try to have compassion for others who seem to be in the way or taking too long. For example, a pet peeve of mine is people who stand in the middle of public doorways, but lately I've been realizing they have no idea they're blocking others.
  • Pick a conversation -- or even a relationship altogether -- and deliberately bring more patience to it. You could react more slowly and thoughtfully (and never interrupt), let the other person have more time to talk, and allow minor issues to slide by.
  • Play with routine situations -- such as a meal -- and take a few extra seconds or minutes before starting, in order to strengthen your patience muscles.
  • Offer patience as a gift -- to others, dealing with their own issues, and to yourself, wanting true happiness. Life is like a vast landscape with both soft grass and sharp thorns; impatience rails at the thorns; patience puts on a pair of shoes.

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