Giving Thanks on Thanksgiving Day

I took our dog Cheerios out early this Sunday morning for her usual walk. San Francisco is quiet that early on Sundays. The sky was a clear blue, the air crisp and fresh after a few days of needed rain, and the sun was bright if not yet warming. I felt a deep sense of gratitude being here, alive and awake. Writing about giving thanks this week, exploring just what that might mean, I felt something missing. What I wrote felt more like an intellectual appreciation of life rather than the deeply felt sense of this morning. While there was nothing wrong with that, it just wasn’t full enough.

When I take the time to acknowledge, to really recognize the blessings I have in my life, I appreciate what and who are here in my life rather than take them for granted. Like many others, I grew up learning to keep a keen eye to what was wrong and what could go wrong. This was/ is a defensive posture, helpful when facing immediate threats, but toxic when it became a life style. Since we tend to see what we expect to see, it negatively limited my ability to appreciate life. Even while the good was enjoyed, a part of me still looked for what might go wrong.

I have gradually been developing more of a keen eye for what is right and what can go right in life. Seeing, recognizing what is right and good in my life makes me happier and more grateful. This is a core teaching of Unity, although by no means limited to Unity. Unity’s first principal is that ‘God is goodness, the only enduring power in the world, active and present everywhere.’ If this is so, then even in times of adversity and suffering, God (or at least Good) must also be present. When times are hard it takes more conscious effort to find the good. Of course such times are when we need it the most.

As Americans we are relatively privileged, having opportunities beyond the reach of most other people in the world. Yet suffering is a fundamental part of life for everyone, everywhere. Some people remain positive and able to find joy despite terrible events in their lives. Others, even when they have incredible riches and opportunities, remain enveloped in suffering and fear. I feel happy that I am growing to be more like the first group, able to find the good in most situations. Doing so gives the hurts and problems in life less power to keep me from my good.

Thanksgiving Day can be something more than gorging on food and preparing for a shopping binge. Originally it was an expression of appreciation of the harvest, which the European settlers in New England brought with them. I gather these Pilgrims were not the most cheerful of folks, believing more in austerity than celebration. Yet they were able to appreciate the value of setting time aside to give thanks for life’s bounties. We can embrace their gift of a day for appreciating what we have without either limiting ourselves to their somber ways, nor going to the excesses of over stuffed bellies and over charged credit cards.

Yet Thanksgiving is but one day, one opportunity. What if we use it to begin or deepen a regular practice of gratitude? Lately, each night before going to sleep I think of 3 things or people that I am thankful for that day. It is too new a practice for me to draw conclusions about, but I believe it is helping me be more conscious of the good in my life. Hopefully, this will help me express my gratitude to others more often.

So this Thanksgiving, go ahead and enjoy the food and the company, but pay attention to how much you and those around you are able to give and receive gratitude. Give thanks to God by whatever name if that is meaningful to you. However I believe that unless we also extend that gratitude to those whose lives we share, it’s value will be limited.

Thank you for reading my ongoing venture into living a more conscious, intentional life guided by what I perceive to be God/ Spirit given direction. To the degree you feel moved to share anything in this that touches you, I will also be grateful. After all, this will suggest I am not only writing to myself ☺

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Spiritual Practice in Daily Life

For a spiritual practice to be substantial it must be more than reading ‘holy books’ or even praying, chanting or meditating. These may be necessary but unless we take the underlying values and perspectives that come from such teachings and experiences into our everyday lives, they become like a fancy musical instrument locked up in a museum case; pretty to look at but nobody gets to play or hear the music.

Spiritual communities can help support one’s practices in moving these from study to relating with others. How do we treat our fellow congregants when irritation arises? How do we react to difficulties and apparent differences?

There have been wonderful moments attending Unity San Francisco (http://unitysf.com/), when in reaction to a situation or upset, people express themselves in ways that while remaining honest to their own viewpoints, do not condemn others. Witnessing such efforts reminds me that I, too, can choose to respond from love and faith rather than fear and rejection. Irritation, anger and fear do arise, but with consciousness I can choose not to be run by them and instead react in ways that are more aligned with my values.

But how about dealing with people who may not share my values? If someone is asking for a “spare dollar” on the street, calling with a sales pitch or asking for a donation my self-protective defenses automatically arise. The practice of being open hearted is not the same as becoming a doormat. Recognizing the Other does not necessarily mean giving them what they ask for. A street person in San Francisco helped me see this a couple of years ago.

In San Francisco there are plenty of people asking for money on the streets. On some blocks it can feel like I am running a gauntlet of ‘gimme,’ ‘gimme.’ Like many others, I learned not to make eye contact and keep on going. Then one day someone commented as I passed, “You can at least look at me. I’m a human being too.” That stopped me. I nodded and told him he was right. He got through to me. Now I usually acknowledge them with a nod, often saying ‘hello,’ before moving on. While most appreciate it, some still curse at me but I feel better about myself.

With close family and friends we find different “opportunities” to practice reacting from a higher place. These folks know us, have seen us before coffee, the make up, and when we may not be feeling particularly loving. While overtly we know they are on our side, because we trust them we can more easily get upset when we feel unheard or put upon.

Cheerios, our 3.5 year old dog, is barking even as I am attempting to write this. No doubt someone, perhaps with another dog, walked by. Her penetrating, sharp bark demands attention and I feel irritated. Can’t she just be quite for a few minutes while I am writing! With reflection, expecting a dog to understand the nuances of my need for quiet to write is ridiculous. Either I accept the barking, or close the doors so both she and I hear and react less.

But how do you react when your spouse or child triggers you? My spouse never yells or gets angry with me. (If you believe this, you have never been in a relationship!) I don’t know if it hurts more when he is right about what he says or when he is wrong. Sometimes I react in kind; sometimes I stuff my feelings. But neither is actually living my spiritual principals. Recognizing my feelings of resentment, and going to that inner, divine place, allows me to respond from a loving place rather than one that carries the hurt forward. Naturally this is something that continues to provide me with chances for growth 😉

The daily challenges that arise offer us immediate opportunities to practice our values. The more I can see them as gifts, the more I re-connect with God/ good/ or higher consciousness. Centered in Spirit my feelings are transformed, and I can respond from a place of clarity and love. And the more I am living my practice.

Posted in Affirmation, Attitude, Being Present, Emotions, God, Learning, Meditation, Pets, Prayer, Relating, Religion, Respect, Spirituality, Uncategorized, Unity | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Eyes Open & Shut- In Meditation & Life

From the Zen tradition, I learned to meditate leaving my eyes cracked open a little. Most other practices seem to be done with closed eyes. The Zen approach makes sense when you understand meditation as a practice in being fully present.

With eyes closed to outside stimulation, it is easier to sink into an altered state, whether becoming identified with the Divine within or with the various thoughts, daydreams and fantasies that will arise. With eyes open, I am more focused on my present surroundings, thus less able to attend to what is inside. Having the eyes slit open is as if they are both open and closed. I can focus on what is inside yet remain linked to the outside world where I sit.

The inner world includes the ordinary mind, the filters of experiences, expectations, fears, longings and mental chatter. Observing it during meditation helps me become conscious of what projections I have that interfere with true perception. Yet as the small, egoistic mind quiets down, something else becomes evident, an inner knowing that in Buddhism is called Big Mind or Buddha Nature. In Unity, we may call it the Divine or Spirit or God or the indwelling Christ.

Meditation makes me more conscious of how we are both human and divine. Adding prayer as a complimentary, more active approach, has allowed me to connect more to the Divine in my life. I notice more of the good in the world. I feel much better about life despite the many trying and at times scary events and issues that arise. Recognizing God as good, I look for the blessings and, guess what; I see more of them.

The human experience includes suffering in mind, body and spirit. We can conscious choose which direction it takes us. I can become bitter and resentful. Been there, done that, not fun. Or I can react to it with more empathy and compassion, and use it to be more deeply appreciate all the blessings in life. Choosing the latter, my life becomes richer and more enjoyable.

Ultimately Big Mind and small mind, God and self, Buddha Nature and ego are not separate things. The ordinary mind is an aspect of the universal that is conditioned by events and fears to a more limited perspective. As ordinary mind becomes more consciously identified with the higher self, Buddha Nature, or if you will, God, life’s possibilities open up.

Of course this is not really about eyes open or closed, but a grounding and joining of our inner and outer experiences in such a way to experience life as richer and more joyous.

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God or Principle?

When I pray with people, I usually ask whom or what do they pray to; is It God, the Universe, Higher Power, Principle, Spirit or whatever? Actually the Prayer Chaplaincy training says to use your own terms, not the other’s. I prefer to use the terms of the person I am praying with, thinking doing so makes it more accessible for them. In a broader sense however, this raises the question, to whom or what are we directing our prayers?

Modern Unity teachers seem to be moving from their original teachings which included recognition of a God head or God the Father. While the emphasis has always been on God within and developing our own consciousness of spiritual laws, modern Unity metaphysics seem to be taking this further. Recently I heard Paul Hasselbeck (perhaps the most prominent contemporary metaphysician in Unity) say he is moving from using the term God altogether; he prefers to just say Principle. He expressed concern that referencing God confuses people since most of us were raised with an understanding of God as this external supreme being rather than a universal Principle internally available to us.

Ironically it was regaining God that drew me more deeply into Unity. At first it helped me give voice to something I had experienced irregularly over my lifetime; an inner place where I became something more than my ordinary self. I do not always ‘hear’ It clearly, but there is a sense of knowing. Seeing It as a scientific rule or principle feels too limited.

In embracing Buddhist practice and thought in my mid-twenties, I thought of It as Buddha Nature. Buddha Nature is similar to Principle, something central to all beings needing only to be awakened to consciousness. Principles and science are neutral tools that can help us understand and navigate through life. Buddha Nature describes our highest nature that is not only truthful as in scientific principals, but also compassionate. To call this inner expression God, adds something that is more alive and active than either Principle or Buddha Nature.

Unlike the written God of ‘thou shall’ and ‘thou shall not,’ It is more flexible and compassionate, at times directive yet never threatening. All choices have consequences, whether or not I follow the impulses I feel when in touch with God or God Consciousness. Paying attention (and meditation) helps me better differentiate what is generated from ego states and what from the state of the highest good.

There actually is no need for a supreme being or God in order for one to understand fundamental good in the world. A true spiritual path involves learning how to direct our own life’s course toward greater good in the world, easing suffering and growing compassion for ourselves as well as others. Spiritually speaking, the rest is details. So why then God?

I can only speak from where I am now along my journey. My sense is that It is more than a guiding Principle. Yes, It is an internal connection, sometimes referred to as the “heart space.” Yet I have a growing sense that It is more than my highest good even as it directs me toward the highest good. And It also is a point where all beings are one.

Long before I was conscious of Unity, I had observed that unless I was holding back in some way, the Universe tended to cooperate with my intentional choices and actions. Often not at once, nor necessarily in ways I might expect, something more was engaged. I have also found being in touch with that space called God or Spirit or Principle at times would provide direction in ways that no neutral or scientific law of nature could do.

Just as I myself remain a work in progress, so too will my understanding of God. Consciousness of God gives me more room to choose faith and love over fear particularly in times of stress. This also helps me understand spiritual principles better. Ultimately it may affirm how we all are God. Or I may find Principle or Buddha Nature clearer and more useful. Nevertheless I find this exploration as something that expands my consciousness, compassion, appreciation and understanding of existence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Affirming We Are Whole

I visited my parent’s graves in Caesarea, Israel, with my husband Allen and my brother Glenn this past Tuesday, July 8th. I had not been to their graves since my last trip 4 years earlier. We had come to Israel this time for Glenn’s daughter Ronit’s wedding which would happen the next day.

My parent’s graves are next to one another underneath a plush, medium sized tree filled with bright yellow flowers. The tree not only dropped many yellow flowers in varying shades of yellow and states of decay over the graves, but also leaked a dark amber-brown sap onto the stones. Glenn had brought along some oven cleanser to remove what he could of the stains.

Silently I prayed. Not just the Jewish prayer which I stumbled to follow in Glenn’s recital, I prayed in the ways I have learned as a prayer chaplain, touching into the heart space wherein the inner expression of God is one with all.

First I thought of the tree, especially the wound from which the sap leaked. Recognizing the tree as another expression of the Divine I saw it as whole, without the wound, the healthy expression of the Divine that we all inherently are. Doing so, I also thought of the tree as a symbol of life in The Holy Land, both vibrant and at the same time, wounded. Rockets and the returning bombs had been damaging and destroying material things and lives all week.

Then I prayed again, seeking my departed parents, and my maternal grandmother whose grave lay opposite them. I had been thinking about them during the flight to Israel. Having no idea what if anything I would feel or sense, I went into that sacred heart space and thought again of them. Then I felt something, a distant connection, a sense of deep peace as if any concerns during life were long gone, and a warm approval of me. It was brief, felt more than heard, and I received it with gratitude.

Later thinking about it, I remembered my prior visit four years earlier, when I thought, “this is nothing. Just the physical remains of those long gone.” Yet looking back, there was a presence, one I only barely perceived at the time, so did not recognize. I have long felt at peace with my parents’ deaths, although with some sadness regarding my mother. The last time I had seen her, shortly before her death, she was not at peace unlike my father. The deep sense of peace I felt in the cemetery eased this for me.

‘Was this real or just my imagination?’ I questioned. But thinking this question creates a false dichotomy. Imagination is often the first step in discovery. There was/ is a feeling of symmetry, of balance in my experience that felt right. It would not have been possible without imagination allowing me to be open to more than the material world. It left me with a touch of awe remembering that beautiful tree, visualizing its dark tears stopping, and seeing it (and not only it) as whole again.

One part or type of prayer involves going within to the silence where I am more fully open and present to what is here and now. For me this is basic meditation. Another form of prayer is affirmation, where we see and affirm ourselves or whomever we are praying for in their innate wholeness despite whatever apparent harm or limitation I/ they may be experiencing. It is all too easy in this life not only to perceive limitation, threat and harm, but to expect it. I have found a great liberation in shifting from living based on fear or expectation of harm to living based on expectations of good. Painful things still happen, but they do not so easily darken my life, or my spirit. Besides, it has been my experience that over the long haul, the universe tends to conform to our expectations whether they be positive or negative.

So for now, particularly whenever things seem to be going wrong, I consciously choose to affirm the wholeness, health and love within myself and others.

Namaste

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THE STRUGGLE TO GOD/ GOOD

When we speak of God, are we speaking of the same thing? Can there be ‘good’ without God? Is God a manifestation, a projection of the goodness and creativity in our world or the source of it? I do believe in something I call God, and I know (s)he isn’t some old bearded guy in the sky. Yet I still struggle with just what this is, particularly given all the horrid things that happen in the world.

I have not published a blog entry for a while. I have been wondering where this writing is heading. I write about thoughts, feelings, struggles, beliefs and questions. Often when I examine interesting concepts or perspectives I sort of try them on, like a new pair of shoes. How well do they fit? Do they look good? I need to walk for a while in the ones that seem attractive to get a feel for them. Some just don’t fit, some may work out in time, and then there are those that seem to be right from the beginning. So what about God?

As of now, I see three options regarding God:

1) God exists. God is defined as omnipotent, omnipresent, compassionate and good by most, although also judgmental by many. (A god who is indifferent is irrelevant.)
2) God does not exist (Except in our imagination, perhaps as a projected part of ourselves.)
3) God is a work-in-progress. Rather than a fixed existence, even God evolves over time.

The first principal of Unity is “There is only One Presence and One Power active in the universe and in my life: God, the Good, Omnipotent.” * So is God short for good? One can believe in Good without believing in God. A lot can be explored from this presumption, including an inherent right/ belief in prosperity and wholeness.

Yet, as the saying goes, “Shit Happens.” ‘When shit happens, make compost of it’ sounds good. Suffering can lead to learning and growth. But what about the really terrible things? Yes, people can find deepened wisdom from their own and others’ suffering. Yet there are too many examples of extreme suffering, the Holocaust, child abuse, animals tearing apart one another for food or instinct to hunt. It is difficult to imagine these as a manifestation of an omnipotent, omnipresent compassionate God-the-Good.

The existence of such horrors can support the view of no-God, but also God as a work-in-progress. This suggests that God is also developing as we sentient beings develop our own consciousness. Primitive life, which can be vicious as the early gods men worshiped, was the product of early development. It becomes refined as we become more conscious. Yet does this really explain, in this day and age where many are more conscious, that we still have such large scale human on human abuse and destruction?

Seeking the Good and acknowledging it seems to me to be the better, higher path people can take regardless of how one answers questions of God. We act and react in ways that co-create the world we experience. We need the commitment to find the growth, compassion and good that can come out of all life circumstances, especially the more difficult ones. I find that life works and feels better the more I do this.

Seeking the good from bad situations does not justifying the terrible things that happen. It allows us to rise above them, to not to get caught in the dark events, or the thoughts and feelings they generate. It is refusing to be dragged down to the dark side, Darth Vader! I am reminded of the image of religious Jews dancing on their way into being gassed by Hitler’s minions. They were declaring the light in the pit of darkness. And they are not the only ones.

Each of us have day to day opportunities to do likewise, even if not in such extreme circumstances. Einstein is quoted as saying we each have a fundamental choice to make: “Do you live in a friendly or hostile world.” This choice seems to me what makes for a spiritual life or not, more than following any set of religious rules.

So, do I believe in God? The short answer is yes. God does exist for me, something both an essential part of me, and something beyond myself as well. And that is material for future posts.

*http://unitysf.com/home/five-principles-of-unity/

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Lack, Gratitude & Prosperity

Lack, Gratitude & Prosperity

Unity teaches Affirmative Prayer, where we affirm health, prosperity, and well being as already being present. This is quite different than prayer as an appeal to some external higher power to save us. It is based on identifying with Spirit, the Christ Spirit, the Universe or God within more than any external manifestation of the Divine. That which is God within each of us is whole, omnipotent, omnipresent, all-powerful and all good.

When feeling lack, we re-align our beliefs and attitudes toward being whole, prosperous and positive. We identify with that aspect of us which is God. Affirmative Prayer is constructive and life affirming. Yet sometimes prayer can be used in foolish and even harmful ways. Constructively, we choose not to give energy to or feed fear, negative thoughts and feelings. Unity teaches us to shift consciousness beyond any immediate, temporary lack to re-center by recognizing our fundamental wholeness.

Recently I read a tragic story where asserting belief in prayer was quite destructive. Two parents in Pennsylvania were convicted after the second of their children died of curable pneumonia because their religion considers it a sin to get medical treatment.* They were asserting their belief that through prayer God would heal their children. The article reported that the couple’s minister said that while they were right to refuse medical treatment, it was their “spiritual lack” that resulted in their children’s deaths! How horribly misguided and arrogant to presume that medical treatment could not be God’s answer to their prayers. “No God, you can’t do it that way. Only the way I want you to do it.” Prayer and poorly directed faith perhaps, but certainly not Affirmative Prayer.

I have been trying to incorporate Affirmative Prayer in my life. It has been helpful in several ways allowing me to recognize and appreciate what goes right in my life. A larger issue for me has been my psychotherapy practice has shrunk significantly over the last few years. My work lends meaning to my life as well as income. Both have significantly diminished leading to anxiety and a loss of direction. Having tried a variety of ways to bring in more clients without much success, my natural reaction has been to feel fear, lack, and frustration. Feeling stuck can be quite depressing.

Yet there is another truth here. I still do have people with whom I am working. I feel much gratitude for the opportunities they offer me in sharing their lives, suffering and growth. I still have more to give and need more money to pay bills. However, through appreciating what I do have with those whom I work, as well as the support of family and friends, I recognize the prosperity that is in my life right here and now. It eases the fear and gives me faith to believe that more will come. Of course I need to be open enough to notice the opportunities, particularly if as I suspect, they come in different forms than in the past.

I am feeling vulnerable expressing this publicly. What if my practice and money do not improve? Doubt and faith are entwined. Through feeling gratitude for what and whom I do have in my life, right now I am encouraged rather than depressed. So for now at least, I trust that staying open, will be enough for me.

* http://www.examiner.com/article/praying-parents-convicted-of-murdering-second-child

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Suffering, Consciousness & Compassion

Ever wonder why suffering exists? It is a fundamental question in religion and philosophy. If one believes that God exists and is good, omnipotent and omnipresent, wanting only the best for all beings, how could suffering exist?

Buddha said that what he taught was the truth of suffering and the end of suffering. As I understand it, Buddha identified three basic forms of suffering:
1) Illness, old age, death and death of a loved one.
2) Impermanence. Everything changes.
3) The conditioned mind. This includes expectations of fairness and right and wrong.

The first two forms of suffering are inevitable parts of life. The third is optional and the focus of Buddhist practice. I think of it as learning not to cling to expectations more than not having them. Many traditions warn against desire and often Buddhist teachings warn specifically against attachments. Yet it seems to me that without desires and the attachments that friendship and love usually bring, life would be too limited.

When a loved one dies or leaves, we suffer with that loss. Yet unless one gets stuck by either denying the loss that is or raging against a feeling of injustice, along with the hurt feelings of loss we also are warmed by the joy and wonder of the connections that have passed. They remind us of our capacity to connect and feel at such depth and meaning. For while in love we tend to focus on love’s object (the one we love), the wonder is actually as much that we ourselves can love and relate so deeply.

Suffering is not just for humans. Stepping out during a rare break on a weekend long, silent Zen meditation retreat, I was feeling quite vibrant. The sittings were done facing white walls, with eyes only partially open, being almost a form of sensory deprivation. Walking outside the building into nature all my perceptions seemed to explode with a wonderful intensity. Then I heard this very plaintive bird cry from nearby. Turning I saw a few feet away, large hawk with a small bird trapped in it’s talons. The hawk was judiciously plucking the living small bird’s feathers from it while called out in pain and terror. This was the peaceful, compassionate nature we admired? Knowing there was nothing I could do, I still took a step closer and the hawk flew off with it’s prey.

I had thought that animals killed their prey before dismantling it, a clean kill and end of suffering. So what was this? The hawk was not acting with an intention to cause suffering. I suspect when animals do kill their prey before devouring it, it is more about preventing it’s escape than any sense of compassion. One thing that animals largely lack which people can have is *consciousness. With consciousness comes the capacity for both compassion and intentional cruelty, aspects that inform our choices in ways not present for animals.

Pain and suffering bring things into to sharp awareness in the moment. Pleasure and love can also do this. We can benefit by simply enjoying the sense of well being brought by love and pleasure. With suffering however, unless we learn from it we only lose. As conscious beings faced with suffering, we can choose to act or not to act with compassion, or, on the other side, with cruelty. Consciousness brings the responsibility of choice. Self-aware beings can identify with another’s suffering. With consciousness, compassion is the usual healthy response to suffering.

To put this another way, having eaten from the Tree of Knowledge, we have become the gardeners in the Garden of Eden. We are at least partially one with God. The more we let ourselves become attuned to the God, Spirit, or Universal within, the more we will act for and from the highest good to maintain a flourishing garden.

The conscious choice to respond to suffering with compassion seems a good description of living a spiritual life. May we all be more conscious and compassionate in all we do.

* The term self awareness or human level self awareness might be better here. As one person wrote me, higher level animals show evidence of consciousness and caring for self and others. Yet to feel compassion they would have to be able to imagine themselves in the other’s position, something only humans seem to be able to do.

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I AM SO BLESSED

“I am so blessed, I am so blessed,
“I am so thankful, I am so blessed…”

The refrain is from a song by Karen Drucker (“Songs of the Spirit Li” album) often sung at UnitySF before the meditation. For months, every time we would sing this song I had to stop singing because of the tears that would come to my eyes. The music changed recently, and I don’t tear up all the time any more, but there was something about the music and the words that touched me deeply. I could feel a depth of gratitude as I opened myself up to the song, a sadness at how much I have missed not allowing myself to fully feel blessed, and something else, not so much joy as fully feeling accepted by self and God.
Blessing someone or some thing usually seems to be a type of honoring or bestowing good, affirmation, acceptance and approval. While growing up Jewish, I recall the berakhot or blessings as primarily a ritualistic way of thanking God for many different things in life, most often food. Blessing was recognizing God as our source and giving thanks.
When we can see ourselves as also an expression of God or the Divine, then blessing someone or something, is affirming them/ it from that higher place within us. Or  without that depth, it can just be nice words.
Eric Butterworth, in “Spiritual Economics,” adds another, more specific use of blessing. He writes,“never allow money of any kind or amount to pass through your hands without blessing it, whether it is coming to you or going from you.”  This type of blessing is an affirmation of money as a vehicle of sharing and multiply prosperity for all who pass it along. Thus exchanging money also becomes blessing those with whom you exchange it.
Recognizing how we are blessed creates a wonderful attitude of warm openness. When I focus on limitation, on what is missing, my feeling sense is very different, worried, anxious, fearful, and sometimes angry. When I focus on gratitude for what I have, my feeling sense is of warmth, caring, safety, and fulfillment.
Much of my life I have held back from letting myself fully feel blessed. What is it that I fear? If I allow myself to really feel blessed, fully feel good about life, it could make me vulnerable to deeper disappointment when things go bad. There is the distorted concept of Pollyanna* as a person who denies all that is wrong leading to greater suffering in her life. Appreciating and feeling grateful what I have does not mean ignoring the dangers of life or the nasty things that can happen. It is about not letting them define how we feel and how we live.
As it is sang in the song,“I am so blessed.” I have life, health, family, friends and community, as well as a growing awareness of God or Spirit that connects us all. The more I appreciate all that I have, the less that-which-I-do-not-yet-have can deflate my happiness in the here-and-now.

*In the actual story of Pollyanna she maintains a rosy disposition despite all the terrible things that happen in her life, not because she doesn’t suffer or see them but because it is a better choice than to be angry, nasty, morose and powerless. Yet the name has become synonymous with an excessive, even delusional and self-damaging level of cheerfulness or optimism. This distortion says something sad about our culture’s values.

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Belief

Over the last weeks, I have written a couple of blogs but not posted them. Something seemed missing or incomplete about them. The one entitle “Faith” came closest to what was/ is emerging. I have settled on the term ‘belief,’ often used synonymously with ‘faith,’ but not quite the same.

I have had some rather extraordinary experiences (or perhaps perceptions of experiences) in my life. I shared the tree hugging one and will eventually share some others. My understanding of what they mean can change over time. But I have not made them into defining moments. I do not worship my own experiences, make gods out of unusual people or events. I see no need to do so.

Since my involvement with Unity, and more specifically my practice as a prayer chaplain, I have been reading Unity and related books regarding principles and understandings of life, God, the universe and our place in it. This has brought up many thoughts and feelings, as well as memories of life events which I now view somewhat differently. These days I am also experiencing strong emotional reactions listening to certain music and hearing about some events, feelings that I really do not understand. Yet this feels right if confusing and scary at times.

A quote I have heard some Unity ministers use recently, and I read in the forward to Marianne Williamson’s book The Law of Divine Compensation, attributed to Albert Einstein, says: “The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or a hostile universe.” I presume this means that if we believe things are negative, our perspective will be somewhat paranoid, prepared for and expecting the worst. If we believe that things are basically positive, then we will look for things to work out well. Yet what if it is neither? What if the universe we live in only becomes as positive or negative as we make it to be? Things will continue to happen that we like and do not like, but our attitude will determine how we react to it and how we allow it to affect how we feel and think.

Unity speaks of the One Power some call God, some the Universe or Spirit, that is both all connected and good. Do I believe in this? If yes, then I look to see the good in all that transpires, easy when things are going well, much more challenging when horrors happen. Seeking the Good I will eventually find it. Yet what if this unifying presence is just an illusion, something to find comfort in times of trouble? What if?

If God the Good is simply my imagination, a construct which makes me feel better, find the good in life, and act in ways that promote that good, what is wrong with that? The way I see it there is really only one choice. Seeing and seeking the good in life. From that what emerges is a positive life experience, and the conscious choice to add to the joy and caring for others and myself. Whether God the Good actually exists or is a product of hopeful construction it leads me to living a healthier, more moral, positive and constructive life. And with Unity at least, God is not some supernatural external power but the superior, creative aspect of ourselves which we share with all existence.

So, what do I believe? For me I have times of faith in God and times of doubt. Perhaps ironically, even my doubts continue to point me in the same direction of faith in the good and the growth that comes with it. I can see and feel the benefits of doing so, the joy that is added to my life, the sense of connection and growth.

So what, if anything, do you believe?

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