December 9–We Are: Individual and Community

As Americans, we love our individualism.  Celebrating the individuality of each human being is a beautiful and necessary thing.  Our own Unitarian Universalist principles speak to this individuality. We affirm the dignity of every human being (1), acceptance of one another as these unique beings (3),  the right of each person to search responsibly for the truth and meaning of things (4), and the right of individual conscience and democratic process which implies that a single person’s vote matters (5).

However, when we affirm the right of a single person to seek for truth and meaning (4), we say that it should be done responsibly–which clearly means that we do not seek alone and that we seek within a context that calls for our response to others.  We call for justice, equity and compassion in our relationships (2).  What we do and how we do it has an impact on others, and our way requires us to act in ways that are just, equitable and compassionate.  We see the world as a community which embodies peace, justice and freedom for all people (6), and we declare an interdependent web of existence (7).  We are individuals, but we are always and deeply connected to all else that is.

That’s who we are–individuals but never JUST individuals.  So, when a child is born and the morning star rises to sing to the universe–this is who we are.  We are unique beings AND we are the result of grandmothers’ prayers and grandfathers’ dreamings.  We take our own breaths AND we are also the breath of our ancestors.  We are individual human beings AND we are the Spirit of God.

Celebrate who you are in the world today.  Go back to those affirmations that you may have crafted for yourself a few days ago.  Help and heal your mind with those words, and include some of these as well:

We are our grandmothers’ prayers.
We are our grandfathers’ dreamings.
We are the breath of our ancestors.
We are the spirit of God.

We are
Mothers of courage
Fathers of time
Daughters of dust
Sons of great vision.
We are
Sisters of mercy
Brothers of love
Lovers of life and
the builders of nations.
We are
Seekers of truth
Keepers of faith
Makers of peace and
the wisdom of ages.

Ysaye Barnwell

Bob Patrick

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December 7–We Are: What We Say

Most of us, when we find a friend discouraged, find words to encourage.  Many of us find it within us, when we find even a total stranger or someone that we do not know well or call friend discouraged, the ability to find words to encourage.  We do this almost instinctively. We do this with right intention.  We do this in order to raise up one of our fallen, to help them back into life.  Think about the kinds of things that you say, or would say, to a discouraged fellow human being.  It might be general things about reconnecting with life, with loves, with work, of taking one step at a time because one is able to do that, to hold faith in oneself, to keep a positive thought.

We know when we encounter a discouraged fellow that they need new words to replace the ones they are telling themselves.

We all tell ourselves things.  Most of us fall into very old patterns of telling ourselves negative things.  In fact, we tell ourselves things that we would never tell a discouraged fellow.  Because we do that, we need to do some house cleaning, a mental break.  We owe it to ourselves to regroup our thinking around the kinds of messages we would use to encourage another.  Why would we not?

Here is a way to personalize your own best message to yourself.  Simply ask (and write down the first thing that comes to you): what would I want someone to say about me if they didn’t know I was listening?  Write that down.  If you need to, shorten it to a short sentence or two and turn it into first person statements.  Instead of “he is the kind of man who . . . rewrite it so that it now says:  I am the kind of man who . . .   Now, repeat it to yourself.  Choose to begin to tell yourself this message. Any time you have a moment to yourself, choose to tell yourself this message.

Sacred stories are full of “I am” messages, and we often attribute them to divine persons.  I believe they exist as reminders that this is who we all are.  Dr. Ysaye Barnwell, author of many songs writes these words in our hymn, We Are, this month.  I think they are worth memorizing and using as messages to ourselves.

We are
Mothers of courage
Fathers of time
Daughters of dust
Sons of great vision.
We are
Sisters of mercy
Brothers of love
Lovers of life and
the builders of nations.
We are
Seekers of truth
Keepers of faith
Makers of peace and
the wisdom of ages.

We are all of these things.  Some of us don’t know it.  Some of us don’t believe it.  Some of us have forgotten it.  Some of us demonstrate it every day.  We all need these words.  They should be among our sacred texts.

Bob Patrick

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December 2–We Are: So Many Things

We are.  I am.  He/she/it is. You are.  They are.  To be.  Being.  Been.  All of these are the same verb in English–the verb “to be.”  It is in most languages the most commonly used verb and in many instances, among the most commonly used of all words.  And, it is irregular.  Imagine trying to explain to a new learner of English that am, is, are, was, were, been, and being are all the same verb.  Some are singular.  Some are plural.  Some are in the present tense while others are in the past tense, and a couple are only participles or infinitives and while they represent the core of the word, there is nothing about the way they look at first that gives any clue that they are the same word.

A lot like people (which is one explanation for why this word is used so often–it allows us to speak most directly about ourselves).

Let’s pretend for a moment.  There was this guy named Are.  Are was something of a bully. He came from a large family and lived in a neighborhood full of people who were just like him.  One day, while waiting for the train to go to work, Are began picking on a small guy named Am.  “What are you doing around here, Am?  You are a freak.  Nobody wants to be around you.  Your are not normal.”  Am and Are argued for a minute when Are began shoving Am and saying things like–“Look, you freak.  Real Beings are always together. None of us lives alone like you, you freak.”  Am tried desperately:  I am just as much a Being as you, Are.”  At that moment Is stepped up.  Leave him alone, Are.  Some of us do live alone.  Am and Is stood together, but immediately Are was joined with relatives: We Are and They Are.  We Are shouted:  Look, you idiots.  All Beings are always with other Beings.  We are plural.  Real Beings ARE always plural.  We are plural. They are plural. You are plural.  Beings are always plural.  Why don’t you freaks, Am and Is, get out of here and leave normal Beings alone.  We don’t like you.  We don’t think you are normal.

There was a bit of a skirmish in the back of the train platform.  A small but enthusiastic little Being made her way up to where they all stood.  She caused them all to stop and fall silent.  We Are spoke to her:  what do you want?  She smiled.  “I just wanted you to know that I am an Are, but I am single.  My name is You Are, and I am singular, not plural, but I look just like We Are and You Are (plural) and They Are.  You all are Bullies.  Am and Is belong to us.  They look different.  They sound different.  They are always single, but so am I.  And we are all  Being.  You Are (plural) looked down at the ground.  This was his daughter, and he knew she was right.

Our song this month, We Are, affirms many things about us as human beings including that “We are the Spirit of God.”  Many will want to argue with that.  Some will want to make a clear distinction between humanity and God. Some will want to argue that there is no such thing as God.  And yet, every single thing that has ever been said or revealed about God or Gods and Goddesses has come through human beings.  We are the Spirit of God. And we human beings are straight and gay.  Some of us are transgender beings and others are bisexual beings.  Some of us are dark skinned beings and others lighter skinned beings and despite our language not a single human being on the face of the earth is truly black or white.  Some of us are female beings and others are male beings and some are inter-sexed beings.  All of us have aspects of the feminine and the masculine inside us.

We are.  Why would we want to parse that down to just one form of what it means to be a human being?

Bob Patrick

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December 1 – We Are: One

“For each child that’s born the morning star rises

and sings to the universe who we are.”*

Yesterday was my birthday.  Those of you who know me personally already know this because, well, Facebook.  Because it was my birthday, and the microcosm of my acquaintance is represented on my virtual “wall” in loving messages wishing me well, I am acutely aware today of our connection.  Thank you for that.

I am also acutely aware that these connections represent my “bubble”.  Even with the understanding of the “six degrees” which separate each of us from every other person, there are millions of other souls on this planet with whom I have no direct connection, and with whom I am unlikely to ever come into contact.  People with experiences and perspectives of both tremendous and nuanced diversity.

“We are our grandmothers’ prayers,

And we are our grandfathers’ dreamings. 

We are the breath of our ancestors,”*

These people and I, with our different backgrounds, experiences, sensibilities, understandings… We are One.  One family, one people, one human heritage…  And we are not alone.

None of us are, you know.  We feel it acutely at times, that profound sense of aloneness, but there are people who care everywhere around us.  People who are listening to our cries of anguish, or of jubilation.  People who share our humanity.

“Happy Birthday” is wonderful, and it helps me to feel loved and connected, but the greatest advantage I am afforded from it is that it reminds me to reach out beyond my everyday interactions with the people in my life.

“We are the spirit of God.”*

Reach out to someone you haven’t seen or spoken to for a long while, or perhaps ever.  Let them know that they are on your mind, without any expectation of their response.  Remind them that they are not alone, that you are out there, and that you are listening.  Remind them that they are part of the Oneness that cradles us all.

~ Christiana  

*Opening lyrics of the hymn We Are…, by Dr. Ysaye Barnwell

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November 30–Filled with Loving Kindness: No Worry

Now that all your worry has proved such an unlucrative business, Why not find a better job.  

Hafiz

I’ve got a job I’d like you to do.  If you want it, it’s yours.  Oh, you won’t like it at all, and it won’t make you much money to speak of.  Besides that, over time, it will really damage your brain.  What do you say?  Want to try it?

So says Hafiz about life-long worrying, and so says recent brain research on what holding negative thoughts does to our brains, over time.  Why not find a better job, he asks.

It’s not so much that any of us want an awful job that makes us sick and miserable to be around.  It’s that this thing called worry can be really difficult for us to stop doing.   If worry plagues you, it is my suspicion that this may be an old pattern–maybe one that stretches back into childhood.

The dark of the bedroom was for me, as a child, a very  scary place.  That’s not unusual, but there are also plenty of children who are never afraid of the dark.  I was.  And, there was not anything my parents could say that made it any better.  Ultimately, I was just supposed to, well, stop.  Easier said than done.

I’m not much  of a walking around worrier, but just let me wake up in the middle of the night.  I’ve long made my peace with the actual darkness of night–even to the point of rather liking it.  The longer nights and shadows of the winter are really welcome to me, like a blanket that can be so comforting.  But, if something wakes me up in the middle of the night, an old pattern steps up.  Let’s think about all of the things that might go wrong. Within seconds I can feel my heart rate jump up and my breathing accelerate.  Before I know it, I’ve been awake for an hour or more worrying about one thing or another.  Hours later when I am up and in the world and remember these things, they just seem so unworthy of my worry.

Even the things that seem worthy of our worry are probably always unworthy of our worry. Worry is pouring so much of our life force into the future which we cannot control, and it is an abdication of tending the present moment–the only time we ever really have.

I’ve learned that in those middle of the night worry sessions that I can choose to be present.  My inner dialogue goes like this.  Well, if I am going to be awake for a couple of hours, I might as well enjoy my breathing instead of pouring myself into a future I cannot control.  Then, I begin focusing on each in breath and out breath.  I can enjoy my breath for a couple of hours.

Except that about three breaths in, I fall back asleep.

That is a much more lucrative job–enjoying each breath.  I highly recommend it, and I recommend it first to myself because I will likely wake up again some night this week and start to worry.  I recommend it to you if worry is a problem for you.  At night or by day, we can choose to be present to what is right now.  I recommend being present to us all, because when we are more here than stretched out into the future, we are a powerful force in the world–together.

May we be peaceful and at ease.  May we be whole.

Bob Patrick

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November 29–Filled with Loving Kindness: Mix with Care

You carry all the ingredients to turn your life into a nightmare — don’t mix them!

Hafiz

If we spend any regular time reflecting on our lives, we know on some level what those ingredients are–the ingredients that, if mixed, could turn our lives into a nightmare.  If that strikes us as strange, then perhaps we owe it to ourselves to spend more time in reflection.

Even our own questions about ourselves are the sure lead:
Why do I always . . . ?
Why don’t I ever . . . ?
Why do people think that I . . . ?
Why should I . . . ?
Why would I ever . . . ?

What other questions do we find ourselves asking ourselves?

I came to understand many years ago that we cannot really ask a question to which on some level we don’t already know the answer.  That may seem absurd, at first, but that perspective is built on this: we are incapable of asking a question about something about which we have absolutely no insight.

When Hafiz says says that we carry within us all the ingredients necessary for a nightmare–DO NOT MIX–he is acknowledging this reality.  The pain, the hurt, the brokenness, the shame, the betrayal, the secrecy, the mistakes, the crimes, the confusion that has been worked on us and that we have worked ourselves–we know them.  Like these pieces of ourselves, they are ours to tend and to work with.  Mixing them is not a good idea.

So, when I invite loving kindness into myself, it is for some sort of healing of these things. When I invite loving kindness into you, it is for some sort of healing of these things that are also in you.  But, when we invite loving kindness into US, we acknowledge that we all struggle with demons and brokenness, that we are utterly bare and raw in this regard, and that none of us holds any sort of thing that we can use as judgment over the other.

In other words, our broken pieces bring us, finally, to the place of unconditional love.  In love with each other, in love with our own selves and all of our own broken pieces, we rise to do the work that today requires.  No shame.  Peaceful.  At ease.  May we be whole.

Bob Patrick

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November 28–Filled with Loving Kindness: Who Makes a Difference?

Stay close to any sounds that make you glad you are alive.

Hafiz

Over the last few weeks, I’ve shared posts that include reports from brain research about how the content of our thinking can change our brains.  When we focus on negative things, in particular things that bring us to worry and fear, those kinds of thoughts over time change our brains affecting our abilities to think clearly, affecting how we perceive ourselves and ultimately affecting how we perceive the external world as well.  As might be expected, those perceptions tend to be negative themselves.  We really do become what we think.

Likewise, positive thoughts change our brains, too.  Thoughts that are hopeful keep our brains–especially those parts that engage in creativity–functioning well and capable of expansive ideas and the ability to consider a broader range of possibilities than if we collapse our thinking into worry and fear.

No one that I know wants to reduce ourselves to what we might think of as Pollyanna style thinking–the inauthentic happy face forced onto any situation.  I have grown quite tired of being told regarding our national politics to “just pray” and that everything is happening “according to God’s will.”  Prayer is sort of meaningless to me if we are not going to be engaged in our community and its issues, and turning difficult issues over to “God’s will” strikes me as a dangerous cop out when our attention to issues is sorely needed.

So, is this metta practice–sitting and focusing on “May I/you/we be filled with loving kindness–” isn’t that just simplistic thinking?  I don’t think so, and I can tell you why.

Today, we are going out into the world to do what we do.  I happen to be a teacher.  You happen to be and do other things.  We go out into the world to do our thing, and there is a real racism at work in our world.  There is still a willingness to see women as second-rate human beings.  There is still a fear of “the other” however people see “the other:”  people of other than their own religions, people of other than their own ethnic backgrounds, people of other than their own sexual orientation and gender identification.  There are still people in our community who think they know better about a woman’s health and reproductive choices than the woman herself does.  Every single one of those issues require my response.  In some cases, they require me to confront fellow citizens.  I want whatever I do out in the world today to matter.

So, it matters how I leave my house.  I need to walk out the door this morning clearly grounded in the best place, the best mind, the best heart, the best attitude that I can muster.  So, stay close to any sounds that make you glad you are alive today.

So, stay close to any thoughts that make you glad that you are alive today.
So, stay close to any sights that make you glad that you are alive today.
So, stay close to any sounds that make you glad that you are alive today.
So, stay close to any smells that make you glad that you are alive today.
So, stay close to any tastes that make you glad that you are alive today.
So, stay close to any sensations that make you glad that you are alive today.

Because, when we find ourselves needing to confront what is not right in our world today, we need to come from a place of sheer joy at being alive if we hope, at all, to influence another human being to give up the way of death and to embrace the way of life.

From whom would you more willingly receive the message that you must let go of what you hold and turn around, repent, and take up another way?  Someone who was sad, angry and bitter? Or someone who was full of the joy of being alive today?

Bob Patrick

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November 25–Filled with Loving Kindness: For the Sake of the Earth

We have come into this exquisite world to experience ever and ever more deeply
our divine courage, freedom and light!

Hafiz

I know that some people reading this do not accept the notion that we come into this life with a purpose.  That idea presumes something larger than us, larger than our earth in our solar system that somehow directs a plan that we are a part of.  I know that some people reading this are clear that there is Something larger than us somehow weaving together meaning and direction into human life on this planet in our solar system and that includes our births, lives and deaths.  I know that a great many people reading this live in space between those two positions:  some days they are clear that there is nothing larger than us, no plan, no purpose, no meaning except what we make of our lives.  On other days, they have experiences that leave them pondering just the opposite:  perhaps there is a Force, an Intelligence, a Weaver that weaves meaning into our experiences as human beings.

I know that most of us are well beyond thinking whatever we think about the meaning of our lives “because the Bible tells me so.”  Whatever one’s cosmology, anthropology or outlook on metaphysics and the material world, Hafiz was onto something useful.  I rephrase it like this:  The human life that takes on meaning for us will include ever deepening experiences of courage, freedom and insight including even what those things mean.

I want a human community (locally, nationally, world wide) where everyone has what they need to survive and thrive.  Such a life, in order to be meaningful, must be squarely rooted in respect for human dignity.  Beyond that, everything else we might say or want is icing on the cake.  What becomes clearer to me as I live and work in this life (insight, light–I hope) is that this kind of human community is possible, but creating it demands courage. What becomes increasingly clear to me is that my notions of freedom first taught me in school and community were terribly shallow.  Freedom does not mean just doing whatever I want to do, but coupled with light, with insight, being able to choose better and better things.  Better for all concerned.

Example: Having energy to do the things we need and want to do is good.  It’s better not to violate centuries old treaties and sacred lands of Indigenous peoples in order to get more energy.  It’s even better to find energy that is not dependent on fossil fuels in the first place.  It’s even better to help and encourage fuel companies to transition their work away from fossil fuels toward renewable sources.  Renewable sources of energy are good for us all because they are good for the planet, and without Mother Earth, none of us have a life or a posterity to be concerned about. Our time on that score is running out quickly.

Hafiz called them divine courage, freedom and light.  I don’t care whether we think that they are divine or not.  I am thinking today, however, that a meaningful life is one that is filled with loving kindness, and that true loving kindness cannot be had without courage, and without a shifting, deepening sense of freedom.  I am clearer than ever that it takes a life time to grow into that kind of insight and meaning.  For the sake of the Earth, for the sake of our brothers and sisters who suffer more than we do, we cannot waste a day in this work.

Bob Patrick

Post Scriptum:

Here’s an excellent example of courage, liberty and light in our midst.

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November 24–Filled with Loving Kindness: Amid so much trouble

When all your desires are distilled; You will cast just two votes:
to love more, and be happy.

Hafiz

Recently, I came across a sermon by Unitarian Universalist minister, The Rev. Meg Barnouse (also published in the UU World) in which she addressed the dis-ease so many of us are feeling after the election. She offers not only consolation but some very practical considerations for how any of us move beyond whatever our expectations and hopes were prior to the election.  I enthusiastically recommend that you read it or watch it as she delivered it at First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin.

Since reading what she has to offer, I’ve been able to try some of her ideas for talking with folks after the election–especially those who hold very different views than I do.  I found myself becoming embroiled in an argument about whether or not someone was a racist or not, accused of playing the race card, etc.  I paused, and I went to this:  Can you tell me what hope you have for the coming President and his government?  I’d love to know what drew you to him.

And the entire conversation changed.  The rancor that was so evident seconds before dropped away.  Within the space of maybe 5 sentences, the person with whom I was talking and I had found some significant common ground.  Later in the conversation, the other person actually offered that we had much more in common than we disagreed about, and I concurred.

I have and will continue to have strong reservations and even distrust of our President-elect.  He has much to prove to me before I can move from that position.  However, I will likely never have a personal conversation with him, and I will most certainly never live in community with him.  Meanwhile, I will be in many conversations and live in the midst of a large community of individuals to whom I owe more than my outrage.  I am outraged on many levels, but when I bring my outrage to any one individual without any attempt at really being with them, hearing them, understanding them, my outrage simply becomes part of the problem.  I think that we are in too fragile a position in this country for me to contribute to the problem.

Now for Hafiz’s words.  I suspect they mean this: survey your entire feeling life.  Look at where all those feelings take you, where they become emotions–words and actions in the world, for good, for bad, for blessing, for cursing and even for some neutral effects.  Now, trace them all back to their source.  What you will find is a source that is something like a very basic desire to love and be loved.  In my own heart, it almost always comes down to being included without judgment.

I thought the vote casting was over.  I guess not.
Happy Thanksgiving

Bob Patrick

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November 23–Filled with Loving Kindness: Not Fear

Fear is the cheapest room in the house.
I would like to see you living in better conditions.

Hafiz

How do we want to live?  Isn’t that at least one of the questions driving many of us these days?  How do we want to live?  What kind of people are American people?  What sort of nation are we and will we become if we cannot maintain certain basic rights, certain conditions below which we will not allow ourselves to fall?  What conditions are we living in now and will we live in in the future?

This is Hafiz’s wonderful metaphor.  “I see you have chosen the cheapest room in the house to live in.  The room made of fear.  I would love to see you living in better conditions.”

There’s a lot to be afraid of right now.  Change always harbors the elements of fear.  Not knowing where we are going as a nation, what policies and laws might change, how they will affect us or people that we love and care about can take us into the room called fear pretty easily.  It does not help that we just spent a year being fed messages of fear on a daily–sometimes hourly–basis.  Everyone with any sort of stake in the election process engaged in fear-mongering, too.  My own party, which I think has a moral high ground over the others (why would I support a party that I didn’t think had a moral high ground over the others–so don’t bust my chops for taking that position) engaged in fear-mongering, too.  Every day, I received emails whose subject line always sounded like something horrible was about to happen.  What they really wanted was another donation, but by the time I could read that, the stress hormones were already doing their work in me.

Daily doses of fear do us a world of harm.  I wish that we lived in better conditions.  Even facing the turmoil that I think we face, I also think that we can live in a better place than a room called fear.  It will take daily practice and daily commitment to some things.

  1. Let us remind ourselves each day that we are people of worth and so are our fellows.  We stand together on hope, ready to practice love and compassion.
  2. Let us refuse to accept bad things–thoughts, actions, laws and attitudes–as the new normal.
  3. Let us be willing to take actions that assert our stand with our fellows.

On that last note, Rev. Meg Barnouse, senior minister of First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin, TX offers some practical advice here in her article on how to talk to relatives at Thanksgiving about the election, but also in this: if we want to give money and show support for the front lines of the fight for human rights, consider those organizations led by People of Color and LGTQ folks who have been on that line for a long time.

Fear is cheap and easy.  Anyone can live there, and anyone can use fear to take us to that place and convince us that it is the only place we can afford.

We really can do better.

Bob Patrick

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