Aspiring to the Impossible

Practice of the Week
Aspiring to the Impossible

Category: Slogans to Live By: Practices for everyone to keep in mind and pay attention to. These practices don't require setting aside a separate substantial chunk of time. Just have the intention to grow stronger in each of these areas as you go about your day, and sometimes make one of them the focus of your daily journaling. The titles of these practices are guiding slogans to live by.
To dream the impossible dream /To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow /To run where the brave dare not go
To right the unrightable wrong /To love pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are too weary /To reach the unreachable star.
(lyrics by Joe Darion)

In the words of the founder of the Hongzhou lineage of Chan, Mazu Daoyi (709–788), the fruition of Chan practice is a fluid "harmony of body and mind that reaches out through all four limbs...benefiting what cannot be benefited and doing what can’t be done." ("Chan Buddhism," Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Aspiration is a vow or commitment. In the Zen tradition, practitioners regularly recite “The Four Bodhisattva Vows”:
Beings are numberless; I vow to free them (all).
Delusions are inexhaustible; I vow to end them (all).
Dharma gates are boundless; I vow to enter them (all).
The Buddha way is unsurpassable; I vow to embody it.
Thich Nhat Hanh's version is:
However innumerable beings are, I vow to meet them with kindness and interest.
However inexhaustible the states of suffering are, I vow to touch them with patience and love.
However immeasurable the Dharmas are, I vow to explore them deeply.
However incomparable the mystery of interbeing, I vow to surrender to it freely.
These are certainly very impractical commitments. In fact, they are literally, precisely impossible to fulfill. But why not have aspirations so lofty they are impossible to fulfill? We’d be selling ourselves short if our aspirations were any less lofty. The trick is to keep on making effort in the direction of fulfillment of the aspiration but not to think that you will actually complete the job. Do not be dismayed or discouraged by this “failure” – instead be encouraged by it. This is a good approach because you will always have more to do and always be spurred on by the strength of your commitment. To commit to something you actually could accomplish is such small potatoes for a lofty, sacred human being like yourself.

The Four Bodhisattva Vows are extravagant and enthusiastic. They are the vows of one who is committed to becoming awakened for the benefit of others. While “bodhisattva” is a Buddhist word, I think it stands for something more basically human. We all want to be compassionate, giving, loving people at the bottom of our hearts. This is a human, not a Buddhist, aspiration. We would all like to serve others, to feel for others, to love others with everything we’ve got. We would all like to be a light for the world.

We might admire people who are wealthy, famous, or skillful in some way, but these things are not difficult. If you are born with some talent, a little luck (which might include the luck of being – by native temperament or by habit trained into you since childhood – hard-working), and you know the right people, you, too, can have one or more of those attributes. Many people are wealthy, famous, skilled, or all three. Much more difficult and much more wonderful is to be someone committed to compassion, to service, to love. Not someone that many people know about and talk about but someone who has the almost magical power of spreading happiness and confidence wherever she or he goes.

What a vision for your life, for your family, to be a light for those around you! To think of everything you do, every action, every social role, every task, as being just a cover for, an excuse for, your real aspiration: to free every being, end every delusion, learn wisdom from every moment – to spread goodness wherever you go. This requires no particular luck other than the good luck to be the sort of person willing to take on impossible aspirations – even if everything goes wrong in your life, even if bad luck befalls you at every turn, you can still adopt an aspiration similar to the Bodhisattva vows. No special skills or special contacts with “important” people are needed. Anyone can do this. We can all do this. This is the aspiration we should all cultivate for training the mind.

People often complain to me that they don’t have time for spiritual practice. In today’s busy world, it seems that we can barely cover the basics, let alone refine our lives further with spirituality. When spiritual practice is an item at the bottom of our long to-do lists (embedded in task-accomplishment apps on our smartphones), it is very hard to get to it – and usually we don’t. My answer is simple: spiritual practice is not an item on the list. It is not a task we do. It is how we do what we do. It’s a spirit, an attitude. Practice is not something we are doing over and above our life. It is our life. It is the way we live. We can live by striving toward unfulfillable vows.
And the world will be better for this, that one man . . .
Strove, with his last ounce of courage,
To reach the unreachable stars.
For Journaling

What unfulfillable vow will you make with your life? In your journal, reflect on this and re-write the Bodhisattva vows – or Don Quixote’s aspirations as sung in “Man of La Mancha” – into vows that you want to commit to pursuing (not achieving or keeping). Then, once a week, look back on the previous seven days and reflect on ways that your aspiration mattered – to you or to others -- or simply moments during which you recollected your vows.

* * *
If Don Quixote's "quest" seems a bit ridiculous, consider the impossible aspirations of hopelessly overpowered resistance movements. Resistors may see themselves as having no chance to actually win -- yet they commit to "fight the unbeatable foe." Zbigniew Herbert's moving poem, "The Envoy of Mr. Cogito," is based on his experience in the Polish resistance against Nazi occupation. See the poem and my reflection on it: HERE.

For list of all weekly practices: "Spiritual Practice Directory"

Music: Sun May 22


The social media give people the ability to assume alternative identities; they are the masquerade balls of modern times. The 19th-century composer Robert Schumann was intrigued by Romantic literature, especially the writings of Jean-Paul Richter and scenes in his novels which depicted costume balls. For Schumann, the donning of a mask had a dual potential: it could be a screen to protect the true self; on the other hand, the mask itself could express part of the self usually hidden from view. In piano works like Papillons and Carnaval, Schumann evokes the succession of dances interrupted by diverse masked characters at just such a ball. Read on for programming details and watch for explanatory slides.

Gathering Music: Adam Kent, piano

Papillons, Op. 2, Nos. 1-6 and 12

                                                Robert Schumann


Offertory: CUUC Choir directed by Georgianna Pappas for Lisa N. Meyer

*Laudate, Dominum from "Solemn Vespers", K. 339

                                                Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, arr. by Earlene Rentz




Praise the Lord

Praise the Lord, all nations;

Praise Him, all people.

For He has bestowed

His mercy upon us,

And the truth of the Lord endures forever.


Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,

as it was in the beginning, is now, and forever,

and for generations of generations.



From Carnaval, Op. 9




Slide Note:

Frederic Chopin takes a turn as one of the guest masqueraders in the delightful succession of dances, intimate scenes, and cameo appearances which comprise Schumann's Carnaval. In his role as a musical journalist, Schumann had once allowed his imaginary persona Eusebius to herald his discovery of Chopin's music with the exclamation "Hats off, gentlemen, a genius!"



                                                American Folk Song arr. by Brad Printz


From Carnaval, Op. 9





Minister's Post, Fri May 13

Dear Ones,

One of the functions of religion is to present to us an ideal of human life toward which we may aspire. In Christianity, the ideal is the Saint. In Buddhism, it’s the Bodhisattva. The Daoist ideal is usually translated “sage.” The Jewish ideal? In Yiddish-connected Judaism, I suppose it would be the Mensch.

Can you be a Saint/Sage/Bodhisattva/Mensch? You can try. You can make it your conscious aspiration every day. It may seem like an unattainable ideal, but the path of the Saint is not about attaining anything. Or, rather, the path IS the attainment. And what is this path? It is the path of peace, of justice, of transformative love.

All you need is the aspiration to put others first. And it helps to have trusty guides. This week, I share with you some guidance from bell hooks. She writes:
To work for peace and justice we begin with the individual practice of love, because it is there that we can experience firsthand love’s transformative power. Attending to the damaging impact of abuse in many of our childhoods helps us cultivate the mind of love. Abuse is always about lovelessness, and if we grow into our adult years without knowing how to love, how then can we create social movements that will end domination, exploitation, and oppression?

To begin the practice of love we must slow down and be still enough to bear witness in the present moment. If we accept that love is a combination of care, commitment, knowledge, responsibility, respect, and trust, we can then be guided by this understanding. We can use these skillful means as a map in our daily life to determine right action.

When we cultivate the mind of love, we are, as Sharon Salzberg says, “cultivating the good,” and that means “recovering the incandescent power of love that is present as a potential in all of us” and using “the tools of spiritual practice to sustain our real, moment-to-moment experience of that vision.”

To be transformed by the practice of love is to be born again, to experience spiritual renewal. What I witness daily is the longing for that renewal and the fear that our lives will be changed utterly if we choose love. That fear paralyzes. It leaves us stuck in the place of suffering.

When we commit to love in our daily life, habits are shattered. Because we no longer are playing by the safe rules of the status quo, love moves us to a new ground of being. We are necessarily working to end domination. This movement is what most people fear. If we are to galvanize the collective longing for spiritual well-being that is found in the practice of love, we must be more willing to identify the forms that longing will take in daily life.

Folks need to know the ways we change and are changed when we love. It is only by bearing concrete witness to love’s transformative power in our daily lives that we can assure those who are fearful that commitment to love will be redemptive, a way to experience salvation.
The path of the Saint/Sage/Bodhisattva/Mensch is the path of love.

Yours in the faith we share,

Join a Journey Group: http://cucwp.org/journey-groups

I.C.Y.M.I. (In Case You Missed It)

The May 1 Service, "Beltane":

The May 8 Service, "R.E. Sunday: Gather to Grow":

Here it is, your...
#120: Where Are They?

Sixty-one episodes ago, in #59, Gray Wolf asked Brown Bear about dedicating sutras to the enlightenment of bushes and grasses.

It is not difficult to mouth the words, "all things are myself." But do you remember it when asked where the trees are?

Saying it is one thing, showing it is another, knowing that you are showing it regardless is another.

One evening Owl said, "When Brown Bear visited us, Gray Wolf asked her about the dedication of our sutras to the enlightenment of bushes and grasses. Brown Bear said, 'They are very patient.' I've been musing about this for a long time, and I still don't know what to make of it."
Raven asked, "Where are they?"
Owl said, "Bushes and grasses? All around."
Raven said, "Like the moon and birds."
Owl said, "Stones and clouds."
Raven said, "Very good. Now, where are they?"
Owl hooted.
Raven said, "Yes! Yes! On that path."
The old man in the forest hut,
A dozen kilometers from the nearest road, which is dirt,
And about the same to a power line, or another building,
Lives on nuts and berries, which he cans,
And the occasional package sent by a religious order
To a P.O. box, which he visits when the post office is closed.
Six years without seeing up close a face,
or hearing a voice, of another human.
Beneath the hackberry whose bloom petals mottle his roof
There are no hermits.
Case adapted from Robert Aitken; introduction and verse by Meredith Garmon


Reproaching Your Demons

Practice of the Week
Reproaching Your Demons

Category: Slogans to Live By: Practices for everyone to keep in mind and pay attention to. These practices don't require setting aside a separate substantial chunk of time. Just have the intention to grow stronger in each of these areas as you go about your day, and sometimes make one of them the focus of your daily journaling. The titles of these practices are guiding slogans to live by.

There’s a popular saying, “embrace your demons.” Accepting the reality that they exist is necessary -- and acknowledging that in some ways they may have done some positive things for you can be helpful. But if, on balance, they are doing you more harm than good, then its time to reproach them for that.

If we are honest we have to admit that we have a lot of bad habits that keep appearing over and over again, despite all our good intentions. Of course! Look at all we’ve been through! Look at our crazy parents! Look at this troubled world we’re living in! If we are wrecks inside, it’s no mystery why. It’s the most natural thing in the world. But it’s OK, because we know that underneath that, we have a sacred noble human nature. In that spirit and with that knowledge we can correct ourselves without brutality or aggression. We can complain to ourselves (“Hey, you did it again! Cut that out! Stop that! What’s the matter with you?”) and still maintain a gentleness and sense of humor.

Judgmentalism becomes problematic when it aims at our own, or other people’s, essential character. But your bad habit, or greed, or anger, or selfishness isn’t your essential character. Think of it as a person in its own right – a demon who comes to visit you more often than you’d like. It’s the bad habit, not you, that needs reproaching.

Your practice (and your life) isn’t about – and has never been about – you. As long as spiritual practice (and life) remain about you, it is painful. Of course, your practice does begin with you. It begins with self-concern. You take up practice out of some need or some desire or pain. But the very self-concern pushes you beyond self-concern. “To study the way is to study the self; to study the self is to forget the self” (Dogen). When you study yourself thoroughly, this is what happens: you forget yourself, because the closer you get to yourself, the closer you get to life and to the unspeakable depth that is life, the more a feeling of love and concern for others naturally arises in you. To be self-obsessed is painful. To love others is happy. Loving others inspires us to take better care of ourselves, as if we were our own mother. We take care of ourselves so that we can benefit others.

First, try to become as familiar as you can with some of your most popular bad habits. Take jealousy, for instance. Instead of being spun around by jealousy, confused and full of passion and self-blame, as if the jealousy were somehow a substance ingrained in your essential character, study the jealousy. Be curious, almost scientific about it. How does it feel inside? How does it cause you to think and want to act? Study the jealousy until you can see it as a kind of entity, as if it were an independent person rather than a part of yourself. Then you can reproach the jealousy: “Here you are again, my skillful, silly old opponent. Many times you have fooled me and taken me in, but not this time! I reproach you with all my heart! I see you, but I am not taken in!”

Your jealousy is not you. It is simply something very disadvantageous that is arising. You don’t have to be so convinced by it and you don’t have to take it so personally.

The great Tibetan master Trungpa Rinpoche spoke of making speeches to our various bad habits: To our selfishness, for instance, we could say, “You know, you are a terrible person. You have caused me so much trouble. I’m so tired of you. And you know I just don’t like you anymore! It’s all because of you that I have all of these problems, and you know what? I’m not going to hang around with you anymore! And who are you anyway? I’m fed up. Go away! I have absolutely no use for you at all.”

To be able to address your own selfishness like this is no easy thing. This is the opposite of how we usually view our various faults. We don’t think of our selfishness as being an opponent, an adversary in its own right. Instead, we think of it as ours and that we ought to be ashamed of it. The idea that my selfishness is an independent entity that I can reproach and disidentify with doesn’t come naturally to me.

And yet, if I think about it for a moment, why not? My experience shows me that my life consists of experiences that are constantly coming and going. Even my sense of self is something that comes and goes – there is no place it exists and no particular experience or substance I can point to that is “me.” I can think this through, but even more, my daily meditation practice has given me the visceral experience that it is certainly so. There is no essential me. Things are coming and going, here, within the sphere of what I call my consciousness, and that is all. So it really is true – my jealousy isn’t mine and isn’t me. I am responsible for dealing with it – which I do by reproaching it. But I am not responsible for its being there; it just arises, and it isn’t really mine.

If you don’t completely grasp this point, that’s OK. Full understanding is not necessary. You will grasp it eventually, little by little, as you keep up the practices of training in compassion. The training itself will slowly make clear that you don’t have to take everything so personally. You can have a much more flexible and even humorous attitude toward yourself and your many faults than you ever thought possible. And once your attitude loosens up, everything becomes much more workable.

For Journaling

Pick one of your "bad habits." Write a letter to it in your journal voicing your reproach. Acknowledge the ways that it might be trying to protect you and keep you safe, but be clear why you don't need it (anymore).

* * *
For list of all weekly practices: "Spiritual Practice Directory"

Religious Education: May 15, 2022

Religious Education & Faith Development
Community Unitarian Universalist Congregation at White Plains
May 15, 2022

2021-2022 RE Theme: Community, Wholeness, Discovering Our New Normal
Center Lane Prom
Sponsored by PrideWorks

Tomorrow! WJCS Center Lane Prom is a special event just for high school-aged LGBTQ+ youth and their allies! Click here for a flier.

WHO: High School-Aged Youth Only (please bring ID)
WHEN: Friday, May 13, 2022 from 7:30pm - 11:00pm
WHERE: Sonesta Hotel (formerly the Crowne Plaza) – 66 Hale Ave, White Plains, NY
HOW: Arrive solo, with a date, or a group of friends.  Come dressed in whatever way makes you feel like you! Dance the night away and be ready to pose for a prom photoshoot. Covid safety protocols will be in place. 
COST: $45 in advance, $60 at the door* Register Here (save $15, limited time)
QUESTIONS: Contact the Center Lane Team at (914) 423-0610 or centerlane@wjcs.com.

Don't forget Pride Academy – click here for the flier and the application

All Center Lane Links

Family Conversations
Supporting Mental and Emotional Health
and Encouraging Communication at Home
Children & Parents/Caregivers
Participate Together

5 Fridays: April 22 - May 20, 7:00-7:30pm, Online

Tomorrow! Friday, May 13th, 7:00-7:30pm, Zoom 8428
Children through 5th grade and their parents/caregivers are invited to the fourth of five sessions exploring mental and emotional health, designed to encourage conversations at home. This Friday, May 13th, we will talk about managing intense emotions and share practices for the week ahead. 

In the third session last Friday (May 6th), we learned about understanding thoughts, watching and discussing this video, then learning practices to stop and think, get curious and ask other questions, and change the message in our head. Click here for the skill practice sheet

Dates & Topics: April 22, Understanding Feelings; April 29, Relaxation Skills; May 6, Understanding Thoughts; May 13, Managing Intense Emotions; May 20, Mindfulness. The series is led by Tracy Breneman and Jeanne Nametz, Religious Educators for the White Plains, NY and Ridgewood, NJ congregations. Contact: Tracy Breneman

Support Democracy

The Democracy Matters team is gearing up for the midterm elections and we have opportunities to act on our values. These are opportunities for whole families to participate together! Contact Norm Handelman at yakman42@gmail.com to be added to his contact list. (pictured, Claire S's postcard for the 2020 election)

Talking with Young People
About Reproductive Rights

Young people hear what adults discuss and they often have questions. How does an adult navigate those conversations? In OWL training, we learn that simple, factual, age-appropriate responses are helpful.
When it comes to reproductive rights and abortion, start with consent. These resources may be helpful: How to Talk About Reproductive Rights in Terms Simple Enough for a Child to Understand, Parents, October 2021; and Please Talk to Your Kids About Abortion, The Cut, October 2021.
This Sunday 
May 15

Diane and Hans offer childcare for young children. Everyone wears a mask. No snacks are served. Drop off and pick up in room 32 in the yellow hallway. Childcare will be extended this Sunday for the RE information session and Racial Justice Team's program. 

10:00am Worship
In Person & Livestream

“What's Your Class?” ~ Rev. Meredith Garmon

It's possibly a discomfiting question. Isn't it easier to imagine we don't have any particular class? During our exploration of Borders and Boundaries (our Theme of the Month for May), we consider, as Rev. Josh Pawalek put it, that “being a spiritual person means cultivating a willingness and a desire to cross the lines that separate us from the rest of life.” Let us ask: in what ways might class boundaries be separating us from the rest of life? The service will include our first New Member Recognition since the pandemic!

Quiet activity boxes are available for young people who attend worship. The Order of Service is available on our websiteTo join the worship livestream, click https://bit.ly/CUUC-Worship, or phone in (audio only): 646-876-9923. Webinar: 761 321 991, Passcode: 468468. Due to a recent Zoom update, you will now need to enter your e-mail to join. Revisit past services anytime at youtube.com/TheLiberalPulpit and subscribe!

1st-12th Grades
In Person

Wear a mask, enter through the RE lobby, and visit the RE welcome table. After worship, please pick up children 4th grade and younger before coffee hour so RE leaders can attend other activities. 

K-7th and 10th-12th Grade PlaceKeeping Sunday
Start in Fellowship Hall, then Outside

On April 24th, the RE PlaceKeepers placed leaf packs in our stream. This Sunday, they will remove the leaf packs and weights from the stream, empty the leaf packs, and sort and identify the organisms they may find to understand who is living in our stream and what that might tell us about water quality. The activity will be outside. All participants should wear masks, boots or old sneakers, and long pants. Remember to do a tick check back at home. We need seven clean large buckets with handles. If you have a bucket you can loan for the morning, please contact Cynthia Roberts (cynthiaVRoberts@gmail.com).

8th-9th Grade Coming of Age Class
Room 11 in the Red Hallway

Tracy B is leading the final two classes as youth continue worship planning and working on their credo statements. Youth should bring any credo materials they have, e.g., notes and outlines, to class this Sunday. The following Sunday, May 22nd, we ask youth to bring a rough draft to share for peer support and encouragement.

Click here for the spring RE schedule and program information.

8th-12th Grade Youth Group

11:15am-12:30pm, Youth Group Room 14, Red Hallway
After RE this Sunday, the 8th-12th grade Youth Group meets to conquer the Quest Room. This will be Raquel’s last opportunity to be with the youth as her year-long internship with us comes to an end. Please let Tracy know if your youth will attend (cuucwptracy@gmail.com). 
Families, Committees, Journey Groups & Friends Can Also Enjoy the Quest Room! Sign Up for an Hour Here

YOUR TASK: Graduation is fast approaching at CUUC S.H.I.E.L.D. Academy! However, intelligence has been gathered that Hydra agents are planning a campaign to make sure the next generation can not stand in the way of Hydra’s quest for world domination! It is up to our heroes in training to find out where and when the campaign will take place. Complete this final mission and take your place amongst the great heroes of our age! Each group has one hour to complete the quest. Start with the first clue, solve it, and find instructions for the next clue. The room will have up to ten clues to solve. At the end of that hour, please follow the instructions to reset the room for the next group. Sign up here. Questions? Contact Tracy, cuucwptracy@gmail.com
For up-to-date information, schedules, and Zoom links, visit the RE overview and schedule. You may also consult our CUUC website calendarFamilies participating in childcare through 12th grade RE, please submit 2021 registration (click here for the form). Read All CUUC Announcements in the Weekly e-Communitarian Newsletter
Tracy Breneman, Director of Faith Development and Religious Education, cuucwptracy@gmail.com
Community Unitarian Universalist Congregation at White Plains  
468 Rosedale Ave · White Plains, NY 10605-5419