The Gratitude Visit

Practice of the Week
The Gratitude Visit:
How to Open Your Heart

Category: Worth a Try (These can be an occasional or one-time enhancement for your spiritual life -- or could become a regular practice for your deepening and enriching.)

A story:
Once upon a time, there was a very depressed teenage boy named Roy. Roy hardly spoke to anyone. He spent his days at school feeling overwhelmed and depressed. He even seriously thought of ways of committing suicide. Luckily, Roy had an English teacher named Mr. Downing. Mr. Downing had a big heart, and he could see that Roy was in trouble. One day Mr. Downing asked Roy to stay after class and join him for lunch. Hesitantly, Roy accepted. During the lunch, Mr. Downing asked Roy a lot of questions, like what was troubling him, and how he might be of help. He told Roy that he thought he was a very smart and special kid, and gave him a lot of encouragement. Because of his talke with Mr. Downing, Roy put off his plans to kill himself. Eventually Roy graduated from Jr. High and never thanked Mr. Downing -- for twenty-five years. By then, Roy had become a successful and happy person, and he wrote Mr. Downing a detailed letter reminding him of what he did for Roy as a teenager, and how his act of kindness changed, and even saved, Roy's life. Roy tracked down Mr. Downing's phone number, called him up and asked if he could visit. Roy went to Mr. Downing's home, shared some more about who he was, and read aloud the letter he had written. As Roy finished the letter, both men were teary eyed. Mr. Downing Roy that the letter was one of the best gifts he'd ever received. For several days, the encounter left Roy with a warm glow.
What is called "Positive Psychology" represents psychology's shift from focus on the ill to helping normal people live more fulfilled and happy lives. Dr. Marty Seligman has tested various techniques to see if they can increase a person's level of happiness over a long period of time. He's found some techniques that work, and some that don't. For example, he's shown that, unless one is quite poor, more money has almost no effect on one's level of happiness. Beauty, youth, and intelligence also fail to lead to happiness. Seligman also found some things that do work, and one of the of the most powerful is the Gratitude Visit. It's a way of thanking someone who has affected your life in a positive way.
"The Gratitude Visit involves three basic steps: First, think of someone who has done something important and wonderful for you, yet who has not been properly thanked. Next, reflect on the benefits you received from this person, and write a letter expressing your gratitude for all he or she did for you. Finally, arrange to deliver the letter personally, and spend some time with this person talking about what you wrote." (Mary Seligman)
No one knows why the Gratitude Visit has such a dramatic effect in lifting the spirit. Research shows that it not only lifts your level of happiness that day, but its effect lasts a full month with no negative side effects. That's powerful medicine. If only anti-depressants were that effective!

To whom would you want to write a letter? What would you want to tell this person? Even just contemplating such a letter and/or visit may be of help. First think of anyone who you'd like to thank for affecting your life in a positive way -- a coach, a minister, a parent, a friend, or even an employer. It's best if the person you choose is someone you could potentially meet face to face sometime in the next month.

Second, when you begin your letter, simply say why you're writing and what she or he did for which you are grateful. Give details about his her or his kindness or help has affected your life in various ways. Then, if possible, do whatever it takes to arrange a face-to-face meeting. That may not be easy, but it's a hundred times better than a phone call -- and please don't even think about email.

When contacting the person to whom you've written, it's best if you can be a bit vague about why you're wanting to get together. The Gratitude Visit is even more fun when it's a surprise to the person receiving it. When you're face to face with your recipient, say that you have an important letter to read to them. Make sure they're not distracted with other things, and when the time is right, read the letter slowly and with feeling. Savor the experience for awhile, and if it feels right, then feel free to talk about what you wrote. I don't know if this experience sounds like much to you, but the reality of it can be very heart opening and powerful.

The Gratitude Visit is a dramatic way to show someone you care, but you're also welcome to express gratitude to people in smaller ways. For instance, you can write a not to a waitress saying you appreciate her great service. You can send an email to a friend briefly stating how he or she has positively affected your life. You can write a little love not to your mate expressing your gratitude for something nice that was done for you. All these little notes of gratitude help to bring the spirit of appreciation and thankfulness into your daily life, and that always feels good.

At the beginning, you may feel some resistance to doing something like this. My bet is that if you start this letter of gratitude, you'll soon find yourself enjoying the process. Then, if you can, arrange to meet with this person sometime in the next month or so, and read your letter directly to them. You'll be glad you did, Take not if this exercise givesyou a bit of a lift in life. If you're like most people, you'll be surprised to find that it does indeed have a noticeable effect.

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


Whatever You Meet Is the Path

Practice of the Week
Whatever You Meet is the Path

Category: Keep In Mind (This practice is for everyone to keep in mind and pay attention to. It doesn't require setting aside a separate substantial chunk of time. Just have the intention to grow stronger in this area as you go about your day. Sometimes make it a focus of your daily journaling.)

Whatever happens, good or bad, make it part of your spiritual practice. This practice sums up such earlier practices as "Live in Patience," "Turn All Mishaps Into the Path," "Stop Blaming," "Be Grateful to Everyone," "Put It In (the Ultimate) Context," and "Do Good, Avoid Evil, Appreciate Your Lunacy, Pray for Help." If you're following those practices, then you're seeing that whatever you meet is the path.

In spiritual practice, which is our life, there are no breaks and no mistakes. We human beings are always doing spiritual practice, whether we know it or not. You may think that you lost the thread of your practice, that you had been going along quite well and then life got busy and complicated and you lost track of what you were doing. You may have been embarrassed about this, felt bad about it, and that feeling fed on itself, and it became harder and harder to get back on track. And you think you are very far from your best intentions.

But this is just what you think. It's not what's going on. Once you begin practice -- or even just begin thinking about your practice -- you always keep going, because everything is practice, even the days or the weeks or the months or decades or entire lifetimes when you forgot to meditate, forgot to pay attention to your spiritual thoughts and exercises. Even then you're still practicing, because it's impossible to be lost. You are constantly being found whether you know it or not.

To practice the slogan, "Whatever You Meet is the Path," to memorize it, to repeat it to yourself again and again, to bring it up in meditation, to post it on your refrigerator, to keep it in mind, is to know that no matter what is going on, no matter how distracted you think you are, no matter how much you feel like a terribly lazy individual who has completely lost track of her good intentions and is now hopelessly astray -- even then you are on the path and you have the responsibility and the ability to take all of that negative chatter and turn it into the the path.

For Journaling

#1. Describe something in the last 24 hours that you didn't like -- about yourself or about someone else or about something that happened to you. Then write about how this was part of your path.

#2. Describe something in the last 24 hours that you really appreciated -- about yourself or about someone else or about something that happened to you. Then write about how this was part of your path.

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



Practice of the Week

Category: Might Be Your Thing (This practice is not for everyone -- but may be just the thing for you!)
“Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self." --Bhagavad Gita
Adapted from Eva S. Hochgraf, "Yoga," in Everyday Spiritual Practice

No matter how busy I am, every day I do yoga. I just don't feel right if I don't. Yoga helps me start out my day feeling calm and centered. It is a living, moving meditation. The series of poses settles my mind, and I reach a point of clarity and focus that carries through my day.

My first yoga class was part of Sunday school experiment when I was a child. I learned about slow, deep breathing, and I wowed the grown-ups in the class with my flexibility -- imagine being better at something than grown ups! Through the years, yoga has not only kept me flexible, but taught me a basic respect for my body, which kept me aware of the deep relationship between the body and the mind. Somewhere along the way, I began to notice how much of a calming effect yoga had on me -- an effect that lasted even when I went home to a trying two-year old. As my body stretched out and my muscles had a chance to quit being so tense, my mind followed.

My Practice

Every morning, before I get up, I like to start my day with a few deep breaths. It wakes me up, and reminds me to start the day in a deliberately calm way. I do a few simple poses in bed to help get my blood flowing. It's easy to bring your leg over to the other side of your body as you lie on your back and allow your spine to feel a gentle twist. Some mornings I start with a gentle rocking of the hips to wiggle out the kinks. It doesn't have to be very big or dramatic; it can be whatever comes to mind. What is most important is to enter the day with a body awareness.

I like to do my regular routine before breakfast; yoga's not fun on a full stomach! My routine has possibilities for leisurely expansion or hasty contraction, because some mornings are hectic while others afford more time. Like most of my life, yoga is most satisfying at the comfortable balance of adaptability and habit.

A yoga series, like the Sun salutation or the Moon salutation would be my bare-bones minimum. We do these series frequently in class, so I don't have to think about what comes next. I also know how to play with them: add poses or refine moves when I have time. These series work particularly well when they are repeated, once on the busy days, a few more times when I'm in the mood. Even if I do them just once, though, I feel the difference as I head out the door, my head held high and my steps light and limber.

Getting Started

While some people begin to learn yoga from a book or video. I recommend beginning with a yoga class. It’s much easier to copy a person that a picture, and it’s very helpful to have someone answer your questions. Going to a regular class also helps keep your momentum going. But if you can’t find a class that’s convenient, don’t give up. You can still learn a lot and experience the benefits of yoga through books and videos.

These days, the opposite problem is more common: you may find so many different classes that you don’t know where to begin. Look first for a teacher who has some training and experience and a class that is offered at a good time and place for you. Keep in mind also that there are many different kinds of yoga – some are very exercise oriented (e.g., Hatha), others more energy focused (e.g., Kundalini), and still others very precise and helpful in realigning your posture and balance (e.g., Iyengar).

Some yoga classes include individual poses, often increasing in difficulty throughout the class time. Others will run through a specific series of poses every time. Some yoga uses a lot of props (straps, blocks, etc.), while others need nothing more than a mat. Some will do poses to music; some are aerobic. Most will offer a time of relaxation at the end. Experiment until you find the class that is right for you. Ask to try a beginning class for one time before committing to a course. If you’d like to expand your horizons beyond the particular class you’re in, take yoga workshops or go to yoga retreats. Your teacher will be able to make referrals.

As you become a yoga practitioner, you will learn that yoga is much more than an odd kind of exercise. It is much more spiritual and metaphysical than limber limbs. Its Indian roots are infused with a deep philosophical understanding. What the Western world calls “yoga” is really just the more athletic branch of the total system of yogic training and study as it is classically understood in India. Yoga is grounded in a detailed philosophy of nonviolence, selfless service, vegetarianism, breath and energy pathways, meditation, chanting, prayer, self-inquiry, and more. Yoga is a total life approach that offers rich rewards at whatever level you encounter it.

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


Reward Yourself

Practice of the Week
Reward Yourself

Category: Keep In Mind (This practice doesn't require setting aside a separate substantial chunk of time. Just have the intention to grow stronger in this area as you go about your day.)

When you were a child, your parents might have rewarded you on a fairly regular basis. Perhaps they told you how pretty you were, or bought you an ice cream cone as a reward for cleaning the yard. Rewards helped guide you, and made you feel loved.

Once you left your parent's home, there was probably no one around to play the role of encourager and guide for you. As adult, we must learn how to give ourselves rewards so we can be encouraged to move in a positive direction. Most adults either give themselves indulgences all the time, or they almost never do. By learning the art of giving ourselves rewards at appropriate times, we can benefit from this powerful tool.

The first and perhaps hardest task in learning to encourage yourself is to come up with a list of at least a dozen rewards -- things that you enjoy doing or having. The best treats are those that are not harmful to your health, are readily available and don't cost much. A week-long trip to Paris wouldn't be good reward for your list. Ask yourself, "What are little things I like to do or have, to which I rarely treat myself?"

Here's one sample list of enjoyable, nonharmful, readily available, and inexpensive rewards:
  1. Taking a bath.
  2. Listening to my favorite music for a half-hour.
  3. Eating chips and salsa.
  4. Going to a movie.
  5. Going to my favorite nearby nature spot.
  6. Calling one of my friends who lives far away.
  7. Playing guitar.
  8. Getting a professional massage or a brief one from my partner.
  9. Watching a favorite TV show.
  10. Going to a favorite restaurant.
  11. Being physically intimate with my partner.
  12. Reading the newspaper.
Some of these cost money, and some don't. Some involve other people, while others don't. Certain items can be done in five minutes, while others might take an entire evening. It's good to have a variety of items on your list so you can have different levels and types of rewards.

Once you've made your list, put a copy of it in a place where you'll see it often. We are prone to forget to reward ourselves for hard work. If you have your list in a prominent place, it will help remind you that you need to take care of yourself.

With your rewards list done, you can now begin using it to shape your behavior. First, ask yourself, "What would I like to encourage and motivate myself to do?" Think of a few key behaviors that you know you wish you were more regular at doing. Perhaps it's exercising regularly, contacting new clients at work, or meditating every day. Second, decide to give yourself an appropriate reward after you do what is difficult for you to do. For large tasks, such as finishing a major project at work, you might give yourself a sizable prize. For small tasks, consider giving yourself just a small, simple treat. After a while, your brain will get the message that it's worth doing difficult tasks because you invariably get rewarded for your efforts.

In my therapy practice, my clients and I often make "deals" in which they agree to give themselves a major reward once they've achieved a specific goal. One client, "Frank," had always wanted to go on a trip around the world. He made a deal with me that as soon as he had $20,000 saved up, he would immediately buy his tickets and go. Starting with almost no money, he saved up the full amount in just 18 months. Dangling a big enough carrot in front of yourself can create miraculous changes in your behavior and attitudes.

Some people are used to indulging themselves. They eat big meals, go to movies, and take nice trips whenever they feel like it. If you're like that, then consider withholding from yourself your accustomed rewards until after you've done something you know would be good for you to do.

Each person must find a healthy balance between doing work and receiving rewards. If you tend to be a workaholic, be sure to treat yourself to something pleasurable after each difficult task you complete. If you tend to be indulgent, make your access to rewards dependent on completing some of your responsibilities.

A loving parent knows when his or her child needs encouragement, and when he or she needs to be disciplined. Now that you're all grown up, you need to decide for yourself what you need. With practice, you'll find the right amount of rewards that help you feel motivated, supported, and balanced in life.

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


Do Good, Avoid Evil, Appreciate Your Lunacy, Pray for Help

Practice of the Week
Do Good, Avoid Evil, Appreciate Your Lunacy, Pray for Help

Category: Keep In Mind (This practice is for everyone to keep in mind and pay attention to. It doesn't require setting aside a separate substantial chunk of time. Just have the intention to grow stronger in this area as you go about your day. Sometimes make it a focus of your daily journaling.)

Four-in-one this week! These four reminders -- slogans to try to live by -- fit together, and bring us back down to earth. If spiritual teachings are to really transform our lives, they need to oscillate between two levels, the profound and the mundane. If practice is too profound, it's no good: we are full of wonderful inspiring, lofty thought, insights and speculations but lack the ability to get through the day with any gracefulness or to relate to the issues and people in ordinary life. We may be soaringly metaphysical, movingly compassionate, and yet unable to relate to a normal human or a worldly problem. This is the moment when the Zen master whacks you with her stick and says, "Kill the Buddha!"

On the other hand, if practice is too mundane, if we become too interested in the details of how we and others feel and what we or they need or want, then the natural loftiness of our hearts will not be accessible to us, and we will sink under the weight of obligations, details, and daily-life concerns. We need both profound religious philosophy and practical tools for daily living. This double need, according to circumstances, seems to go with the territory of being human.

First, do good. Do positive things. Say hello to people, smile at them, tell them, "Happy birthday!" or "I am sorry for your loss, is there something I can do to help?" These things are normal social graces, and people say them all the time. But to practice them intentionally is to work a bit harder at actually meaning them when you do them, to actually cultivate a sense of caring and feeling for someone else that is as real as you can make it, paying attention to what you say, how you say it, and how you actually feel it, or don't. We genuinely try to be helpful and kind and thoughtful in as many small and large ways as we can every day. From a religious point of view, doing good also includes wholesome religious acts like chanting a sacred text, studying, meditating, or giving money and other gifts to the spiritual community. All of these intentional positive actions, directly religious and not, generate virtue. They create a positive attitude in the mind or heart that will strengthen us for the good.

Second, avoid evil. Pay close attention to our actions of body, speech, and mind, noticing when we do, say, or think things that are harmful of unkind. Having come this far with our mind training, we can't help but notice them, we feel bad. In the past we might have said to ourselves, "I only said that because she really needs straightening out; if she hadn't done that to me, I wouldn't have said that to her. That's why I did it, it really was her fault." But now we see that this was a way of protecting ourselves (see "Stop Blaming"). Now we accept responsibility fr what we have done. I'm not speaking of terrible things. Most of us probably do not do terrible things on purpose. This practice mostly references unkind thoughts or words that do not seem so bad and yet erode our sense of integrity if we don't pay attention to them. So we do pay attention to what we say, think, and do -- not obsessively, not with a perfectionistic flair, but just as a matter of course and with generosity and understanding, and finally we purify ourselves of most of our ungenerous thoughts and words.

Third, appreciate your lunacy. Indo-Tibetan Buddhist practice includes making offerings to demons. Psychologically, it's the same idea: bow to your weakness, your own craziness, your own resistance. In fact, congratulate yourself for them, appreciate them. Truly it is a marvel, the extent to which we are selfish, confused, lazy, resentful, and so on. We come by these things honestly. We have been well trained to manifesst them at every turn. This is the prodigy of human life bursting fort at its seams. It is the effect of our upbringing, our society, which we appreciate even as we are trying to tame it and bring it gently round to the good. So we make offerings to the demons inside us, we develop a sense of humorous appreciation for our own stupidity. We are in good company! We can laugh at ourselves and everyone else.

Fourth, pray for help. Pray to whatever forces you believe in -- or don't believe in -- for help. Whether you imagine a deity or God or not, you can reach out beyond yourself and beyond anything you can objectively depict and ask for assistance and strength for your spiritual work. You can do this in meditation, with silent words, or out loud, vocalizing your hopes and wishes. Prayer is a powerful practice. It is not a matter of abrogating your own responsibility. You are not asking to be absolved of the need to act. You are asking asking for help and for strength to do what you know you must do, with the understanding that thought you must do your best, whatever goodness comes your way is not your accomplishment, your personal production. It comes from a wider sphere than you can control. In fact, it is counterproductive to conceive of spiritual practice as a task that we are going to accomplish on our own. Remember: "Be Grateful to Everyone." There is no way to do anything alone. Not only does it make sense to pray for help, not only does it feel powerfully right and good to do so, it is also important to do this so that we remember that we are not alone and we can't do it by ourselves. Sometimes we forget this point and fall into the habit of imagining an illusory self-reliance.

Do good, avoid evil, appreciate your lunacy, and pray for help. Simple everyday instructions.

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


CUUC Music: Sun June 18 reports: "Johann Sebastian Bach wrote a great many musical compositions and had a large number of children. In between, he practiced on an old spinster which he kept up in the attic."

The father of twenty children and one of history’s greatest composers, J. S. Bach epitomizes the juncture between music and paternity. The Two and Three-Part Inventions were written by Bach as a gift to his ten-year-old son Wilhelm Friedemann as a guide to mastering keyboard techniques and a model of polyphonic composition. In honor of Fathers’ Day, a group of these perennially beloved teaching pieces opens the morning’s Prelude.

The CUUC Choir is on hand with a special valedictory offering for the final service of the “official” church year, along with anthems related to the monthly theme of Freedom and the eternal longing for peace. Tchaikovsky’s “June”, a seasonal offering written as part of a monthly commission for the St. Petersburg music journal Nouvelliste, rounds out Sunday morning’s music.

Read on for programming details.

Prelude: Adam Kent, piano
Two-Part Inventions Nos. 1, 4, 6, 8, 9 and 13
                                                            J. S. Bach

Introit: CUUC Choir, directed by Lisa N. Meyer and accompanied by Georgianna Pappas
And Wherever You Go
                                                            Douglas E. Wagner

Flying Free 
Don Besig

June: Barcarolle, Op. 37, No. 6
                                    Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Let There Be Peace On Earth   
Sy Miller and Jill Jackson, arr. by Mark Hayes 



Practice of the Week

Category: Worth a Try (Can be an occasional or one-time enhancement for your spiritual life -- or could become a regular practice for your deepening and enriching.)

adapted from Marta Morris Flanagan in Everyday Spiritual Practice, Ed. by Scott Alexander
"I want to fast to help me
slow down and connect with myself,
to be more conscious of my decision,
not only about food, but about all the ways
that I "stuff my feelings, my spirit.
I want to live more consciously."
--Matt Muise
I fast at least once a year, for three days at a time. I abstain from all solid food and limit myself to drinking fruit juices, herbal tea, and water. This juice fast prevents dehydration and provides many vital nutrients while still inviting me to abstain and feel that emptiness of body and openness of soul.

When I fast, I pay greater attention to life. I am more mindful. Some practice fasting as a time of repentance and self-sacrifice. For them, like other ascetic practices, fasting involves the denial or withholding of pleasure. But for me, fasting is not a form of suffering, because I do not find suffering in and of itself a useful spiritual discipline.

Instead, I fast to make more room for God. When I want to deepen or reawaken my sense of the Spirit, it is helpful to let go of something else. When I fast, I create more room for God in my life, sometimes simply by the large amount of time that is freed from thinking about, shopping for, and preparing food. My hunger during the fast also serves as a visceral reminder of my own deepest yearnings.

We are all hungry people. It is often difficult to be in touch with our spiritual hunger if we are satiated with food. Try to meditate on a full stomach! Often we stuff ourselves with food in a vain attempt to feed another kind of hunger that cannot be satisfied with food. Often we fill our hungers with food, with drink, with busyness, with distractions like television. Fasting is a time-honored spiritual discipline that awakens us to the deeper hungers within.

During a fast we give up anything that has become a habit that might harm the body during the fasting period: caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, sweeteners o all kinds, drugs, and medicines, as far as possible. Fasting is not appropriate for people who battle bulimia or anorexia or those with special health problems. But fasting for a short period of time is healthy for most others. It cleanses the body of toxins. Some medical doctors have advocated fasting for purely physical health reasons. I find that the first twenty-four hours are the hardes physically. I can feel tired and have headaches. But there is a sense of freedom that comes to me on the second day.

In the beginning of a fast many people are fascinated by the physical aspects of the experience. But more important is to monitor the attitude of your heart.

Fasting is spiritual discipline known to every world religion. The Jewish calendar includes several fast days, most prominently the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur, while Muslims fast between dawn and dusk during the month of Ramadan. In the Christian tradition, fasting was once a common discipline, continuing from the early church up to the Reformation. During the Middle Ages, it became associated with excessive ascetic practices involving rigid regulations and extreme self-mortification and thus fell into disfavor. In recent years, fasting has attracted renewed interest.

Moses, David, Zoroaster, Kongfuzi (Confucius), Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, and Buddha all fasted for spiritual reasons. Like Elijah, who was fasting when he heard a still small voice, we are more open to the Spirit when we fast. And like Jesus, who was fasting when he was tested in the wilderness, we realize depths of faith and personal powers when we fast.

Why fast?

Fasting reveals things that control us. We often cover up what is inside us with food. When we fast, these things surface. While fasting we may feel the sorrow, anger, regret, or pride we have been hiding from ourselves.

Fasting is a way to bring awareness to what we do. Many of us eat for emotional comfort. It becomes an automatic impulse.

Fasting helps us pay attention, and when we do, our relationship to things changes. We see more and see more deeply. We are present to the moment.

Fasting helps us return to a balance in our lives. How easily we let the nonessential take precedence. How quickly we crave things we do not need.

Fasting is a time to write in a journal, pray, meditate, walk. These are all ways of being receptive to grace.

When fasting, it is helpful to keep daily concerns and distractions to a minimum. I do not watch television when I fast. Instead of relying on stimuli from the outside, it’s best to try living with yourself. Let yourself be directed from within.

When fasting, do whatever does your body good. If you are tired, sleep. If you like physical activity, exercise. Do things that please you: read, dance, or listen to music.

When you fast, it is helpful to reflect each day. Ask yourself:
  • What was hardest about today’s fast? What was easiest?
  • What surprised me about fasting today?
  • In what ways did I become aware of the deeper hunger of my soul today?
  • What were the inner demons I encountered today on this fast?
  • What special grace did I experience today?
You may give your fast a focus. Some people are mindful that two-thirds of the world go hungry every day. They fast as an act of concern and identification. The money saved from this experience goes toward hunger. I know of one person who was so struck by an insight into himself during a therapy session that he spontaneously observed a twenty-four-hour fast to help him remember and deepen that insight.

Beginning and ending a fast is important. Gathering with others to observe a fast’s initiation and again to break the fast can be helpful. In one breaking-fast ritual I have participated in, we each brought a reading, a poem, or a passage that spoke to us during the fast. We also brought a piece of fruit. Silently, one by one, we approached the table and prepared our piece of fruit, placing the pieces on china plates, one for each person. One of us would slowly cut a banana and distribute slices to the plates. Another person would peel and divide the sections of an orange, and so on.

When we all had gone forward in silence and prepared our fruit, we were left with a plate for each of us with an array of fruit. It was a wondrous offering of food. Slowly, mindfully, and with great intention, we broke the fast by tasting the fruit before us. And always after the silence of our meditation, there was laughter as we ate together. It was good.

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


CUUC Music: Sun June 4

Church music through the ages is represented in Sunday morning’s Prelude by the juxtaposition of J.S. Bach’s Chorale “Jesu, Joy of Our Desiring” with “A Simple Song” from  Leonard Bernstein’s Mass, written for the opening of the Kennedy Center. Elsewhere, the Affirmation of our Third Grade Class is marked by a duet performed by Tycho and Christian Force as well as excerpts from Robert Schumann’s Scenes of Childhood. The CUUC Choir is also on hand with a celebrated number by the Beatles as well as a medley of beloved African-American Spirituals. Read on for programming details.

Prelude: Lisa Meyer, soprano; Adam Kent, piano
Jesu, Joy of Our Desiring
                                    J. S. Bach, arr. by Harold Bauer
A Simple Song from Mass
                                    Leonard Bernstein

Special Music: Tycho and Christian Force, duo piano
The Juggler
                                                Mauro Giuliniani

Anthem: CUUC Choir directed by Lisa N. Meyer and accompanied by Georgianna Pappas
John Lennon and Paul McCartney, arr. by Audrey Snyder     

From Scenes of Childhood, Op. 15
1.     Of Foreign Lands and Peoples
5. Important Event

Song of Freedom   
Traditional Spirituals, arr. by Victor C. Johnson  


Find Your Calling

Practice of the Week
Find Your Calling

Category: Worth a Try (This can be an occasional or one-time enhancement for your spiritual life -- or could become a regular practice for your deepening and enriching.)
"The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need to do and (b) that the world needs to have done. If you really get a kick out of your work, you've presumably met requirement (a), but if your work is writing cigarette ads, the chances are you've missed requirement (b). On the other hand, if your work is being a doctor in a leper colony, you have probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you're bored and depressed by it, the chances are you have not only bypassed (a), but probably aren't helping your patients much either. Neither the hair shirt nor the soft berth will do. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet." (Frederick Buechner)
What is your calling?
Is a new calling trying to be heard?
Try the "Billion-Dollar List" test!

Imagine you suddenly won or inherited a billion dollars. What would you do? Maybe you'd throw a big party, take your dream vacation, buy a nice house. Then what?

Retire? You might think you'd want to retire, but most billionaires continue to passionately pursue their work. In fact, the one thing rich people tend to have in common is that they love their work. By imagining what you'd do with a billion dollars, it's possible to gain a better idea of what you yearn to do in the world, the important work that you are called to offer the world.

When you become clear about what you really love to do and what you consider to be important work, you become more focused and capable. Twenty-five years ago, I was living in a 1967 Dodge van, making $400 a month. It seemed unlikely I would ever have a bestselling book and speak to millions of people a year. Yet, by consistently pursuing what I love, it happened. Even if I didn't make much money or have much success in my field, I would still be enjoying what I do. I love teaching and writing. I'd definitely do it for free. Had I made the mistake of pursuing a different line of work just to make a lot of money, I'd probably be miserable. Many people make the error of putting their desire for money before their desire for meaningful work. Usually they end up paying a big price. Yet by figuring out what you'd do with a billion dollars, you can easily learn and start to pursue your true passions in life.

A billion dollars is one thousand million bucks. That's a lot of money. Would you want to help end starvation? Would you go into politics? Would you become a writer, inventor, or musician? What line of work seems like it's so fun or so important that you'd gladly do it for free? Take a few minutes now and write down a few answers to that question.

When I first looked over my billion dollar list, I became a bit depressed. After all, I wasn't doing any of the things I had written down. I had never done any writing, never been on TV and was afraid of public speaking. Yet I figured I'd start in small ways. I began by teaching a personal growth class to a few friends for free. I started writing things down just for my own benefit. As time passed, I got better at what I did. Before I knew it, people were paying for my workshops, publishers were buying my books, and TV producers were calling me to be on their shows. Since I really loved what I was doing, it was easy to be dedicated to it, even during times when I wasn't having much success.

Once you've written down what you'd do with a billion dollars, begin in small ways to incorporate some of those activities into your life. For example, if with a billion dollars you decided that you'd work to end the abuse of animals, then why not start to work in that area now? You don't need to quit your job to do that. You can begin by writing letters to your congressman, joining an animal rights group, or volunteering at an animal shelter. I know many people who started doing such things after they wrote out their Billion-Dollar List, and later found themselves in a paying job working for the cause for which they had previously volunteered.

The Billion-Dollar List helps you to think in a new, expanded manner. As you wrok in ways that are in line with your values and passion, you'll feel a sense of inner fulfillment. Many people report that initially making less money at a job is a small price to pay for work that is truly rewarding. Once you've made your list, you'll have a clearer sense of the direction you ultimately want to go in life.

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

CUUC Music: Sun May 28

Music about love is featured this Sunday morning at CUUC, in recognition of the renewed wedding vows of Janet Press and Bob Indra. As a special treat, Janet’s granddaughter Isabella sings “A Whole New World” from Aladdin as part of the ceremony. Unitarian composer Edvard Grieg’s “Wedding Day at Troldhaugen” was written as a 25th anniversary gift to the composer’s wife, evoking a Norwegian country wedding procession. Writing about “The Maiden and the Nightingale” Spanish composer Enrique Granados counseled interpreters to think more about the jealousy of a wife than the sadness of a widow. Felix Mendelssohn’s Song without Words known as “Duet” and Isaac Albéniz’s celebrated Tango in D both depict a couple’s intertwining voices. Read on for programming details.

Prelude: Adam Kent, piano
Quejas, ó La maja y el ruiseñor from Goyescas (Laments, or The Maiden and the Nightingale)
                                    Enrique Granados
Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, Op. 65, No. 6
                                    Edvard Grieg

Opening Music:
Tango in D
                                                            Isaac Albéniz

Song without Words in Ab Major, Op. 38, No. 6 “Duet”
                                    Felix Mendelssohn

Interlude: Isabella Okelberry, soprano
A Whole New World (Aladdin’s Theme from Walt Disney’s Aladdin)
                        Alan Menkin/Tim Rice


Put It in (the Ultimate) Context

Practice of the Week
Put It in (the Ultimate) Context

Category: Keep In Mind (This practice is for everyone to keep in mind and pay attention to. It doesn't require setting aside a separate substantial chunk of time. Just have the intention to grow stronger in this area as you go about your day. Sometimes make it a focus of your daily journaling.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Journaling

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

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

Music: Sun May 21

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

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

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

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

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



Practice of the Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Music: Sun May 14

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

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

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

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

Isn’t She Lovely?
                                                Stevie Wonder

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

In a Mellow Tone
                                                Duke Ellington


Enjoy Your Hands

Practice of the Week
Enjoy Your Hands

Category: Keep In Mind (This practice is for everyone to keep in mind and pay attention to. It doesn't require setting aside a separate substantial chunk of time. Just have the intention to grow stronger in this area as you go about your day. Sometimes make it a focus of your daily journaling.)
"Studies suggest that knitting - and crafting in general - can actually act as a natural anti-depressant, as well as reduce stress and even protect your brain from aging." -- The UK Daily Mail, 2014 Mar

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feel them feeling your life.

For Journaling

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

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

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Dacher Keltner on touch:

Rick Hanson on enjoying your hands:

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

Music: Sun May 6

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

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

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

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