Monday, January 20, 2014

The Maze of Perception

When I was in San Francisco in the early 1990s I needed to take a rest from the walking up and down hills and so I ducked into a beautiful cathedral at the top of one of the hills. Grace Cathedral. And that was my first introduction to labyrinths. It was in the sanctuary with the light streaming through the stain glass windows and I remember approaching it and reading the instructions and then entering the meditative walk. For those of you who have done a labyrinth walk or studied labyrinths, what you know is that there is one path. If you stay on that path you will arrive at the center, where you can stop and reflect. And when you wish to return, you go on the same one path until you are back where you started. You can totally relax because you cannot go the wrong way or miss a turn – the experience is an inner one because the outer is in place. A maze on the other hand is totally different. It is a place where you can enter and theoretically never get out. There is no central resting place…. You can get lost……. confused……disoriented…..even feel hopeless. That’s the image I would like to use in this discussion about our perceptions and thoughts. A maze. We all have thoughts – we are usually deep in them most of the day. There is nothing wrong with having thoughts. They are necessary to function in the world. We are human beings and we need to figure out stuff – what we are having for dinner, how to get from this place to that, reconciling our bank statements………….what colour to paint the kitchen. but have you ever noticed that we can start with one thought and the next thing you know we are in the maze, going round and round, not solving anything, not going anywhere. Lost in past memories or future projections. I am not saying to stop thinking! I am not even suggesting that we try to decrease our thoughts…..They are so plentiful and active that trying to stop or slow them down can feel like standing at the bottom of a waterfall and yelling “stop!”, “slow down” while we are meanwhile getting pummeled. But let’s look at what happens. We have a thought and then – we add meaning to it and that’s where we can get pretty creative. We see someone look our way with a scowl and that observation cascades into all kinds of interpretations: what did I do wrong? What’s her problem? Why is he always mad at me? Are they sick? I should call them. I should avoid them…… Each one of us has our own unique path we go down – a well used and worn path. So yes, thoughts are fine, interpretations happen. The part that sends us down into the maze is when we believe our interpretations are reality. When we see the scowl and believe they are mad at us. When we read the news and know that disasters are everywhere. Can you see that when we believe every interpretation that passes through our minds that we will be thrown this way and that. unhappy – happy – sad – joyful – impatient – frustrated – peaceful – all over the place. Because you may have noticed –there is no end to what our wonderful minds can do with a thought. Our senses trigger thoughts. We think we can rely on our senses to tell us the truth, to show us what is real. But what do our senses tell us? The world is flat. The sun goes away at night and comes back in the morning. If we rely only on our senses to tell us what is real – we will be very misled. Adjusting to the idea and accepting the fact that we cannot rely on our senses to tell us the truth about our world or ourselves can be challenging. One of humankind’s biggest upheavals was accepting that the earth was not the center of the universe. Those who first believed it were imprisoned and punished for even saying such a thing. Imagine how incredibly difficult it must have been for people to accept that when everything they saw told them otherwise. It meant that what they saw was unreliable – not only unreliable but not even true. What would our lives look like if we could just accept our thoughts for what they are? Creations of our wonderful minds; usually based on previous experience. The only reality our thoughts have is in our minds. I know this is table is here because I can see it and touch it. It exists even when I don’t have my attention on it. During the week it sits in our spiritual centre – at least it’s there when I open the door! Our thoughts however, only exist when we are thinking them. The moment our mind is on another thought – the previous one is gone – no longer exists. How many perceptions have we been holding onto for years and years – without questioning them? As one of our speakers said: “we need to turn it over and look for the expiration date.” We rarely do this until we are we are forced to reconsider our position. Like the people who lived during the time of Galileo. Like the shift we all are making now about the age of the universe is or that the forests do not go on forever which is what our perception might tell us. I would like to use a poem written over 2,500 years ago…… Lao Tzu Poem Always we hope Someone else has the answer; Some other place will be better, Some other time It will all turn out. This is it. No one else has the answer. No other place will be better, And it has already turned out. Lao Tzu looks at three very common areas of our human perceptions: people, places and time. The first one: Someone else has the answer; How many times have we all struggled with a problem? We have tried and tried and it’s too hard to figure out. We don’t know how to do it. We all have our ways of reacting to this kind of situation. It is uncomfortable and sometimes we start embellishing this thought. I don’t know how to do this and……….. I should know the answer. If I had more ____________ I would be able to figure this out. I need someone else who has the answer. What does that imply when we are sure someone else knows? It implies that the answer is outside us… hold that thought. The next line: Always we hope…Some other place will be better, How many situations have we been in – this house is too old, this boss is untrustworthy, I need to move out of this town/out of this neighbourhood. If I could just move, change my surroundings – everything would be better. What does that imply when we are sure somewhere else is better? It implies that our happiness is dependent on something outside us. hold that thought. Always we hope…Some other time…it will all turn out. Time….Am I the only one who counted the days until my 16th or 18th birthday because THEN – I could do what wanted and my life could finally begin…… everything would be better. or looking forward to the day – the last child left the house, you retired, got a job……As soon as this (fill in the blank) is over, everything will be fine. Putting our lives on hold, waiting for the future when it will all turn out. What do all these verses imply: we are hoping that under the right circumstances, in some distant future it will all be OK. That it is not possible for it to be all right now. Do you see where we have abandoned ourselves in this type of thinking? Where we have put our lives on hold? Where we have entered the maze? A maze of epic proportions – so vast we may not even see that we are trapped in it. And then Lao Tzu goes on to say: This is it. No one else has the answer. No other place will be better, And it has already turned out. I remember the first time I came across this practice of deep acceptance I thought – this is it! My life will always be like this? with a sinking feeling in my stomach. Have you noticed that everything changes? This is ‘it’ in this moment. In an hour it will be a different ‘it’. Next week ‘it’ will be different. But when we are stuck in the first part of that poem – waiting for someone or something to change so we can enjoy our lives - we are lost. Lao Tzu was a very wise man and he does not leave us there. The poem continues. At the center of your being you have the answer; You know who you are and you know what you want. There is no need to run outside for better seeing. Not to peer from a window. Rather abide at the center of your being; For the more you leave it the less you learn. Search your heart and see The way to do Is to be.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Freedom in 2014

Today is the last Sunday in the year 2013 - we may already be looking forward to the new year with anticipation. However... when we look only forward we are missing an opportunity to reflect on what has been. It’s important to take time to mindfully and lovingly look back too – see what we may be holding on to that is no longer beneficial for us. We all carry old beliefs, attitudes, thoughts and feelings from our entire past life experiences. And if we do not take the time to review and evaluate them, we can find ourselves burdened by a whole lot of stuff that is not even beneficial for us any longer. That can drag us down – slow us down. Today’s special service, the Burning Bowl, is to help us let go the baggage of the past – to release negative and limiting thoughts and beliefs that are no useful. In do doing, we CAN move ahead – into the new year – into life - with ease and freedom. The purpose of this service is to take time for a consciousness cleansing. It is a time to let go of old stuff so that we can open up new places in our minds and hearts. I have noticed in my life - some baggage is pretty comfortable. familiar. we hold onto it –even though it is not really working FOR us any longer. We often hold on long after the benefit is gone - at the price of our happiness and freedom. We may think that if we give something up – it means we were wrong in the first place. We have all kinds of reasons for hanging on to stuff – sometimes just habit. Two frogs are stuck in a deep rut in an old hard dirt road. They try and try to get out. One finally succeeds and bids the other one goodbye. Later they meet each other at the pond. “I’m glad to see you, but I thought you couldn’t jump out.” said the first frog. The other frog replied, “I couldn’t, but then a truck came along and I had to.” Often time we change only when we have to. When life squeezes us so tightly that it grabs our attention and we are forced to look deeply within. What we are looking for now is more than change – more than jumping out of the rut. In our spiritual pursuit we are embracing personal transformation. Deep profound change – from the inside out. The first step is to take some time to look inwardly for something we may wish to release. Now often the first thing that comes to mind is a person or situation that we want to put behind us, to move past. The Truth – as much as we would like to release someone from our lives... sometimes... they are still there! at work, next door neighbors, family members. So it is important to remember as we go through this service - we are not releasing people……we are not releasing conditions……We are releasing the energy we have around them - letting go of the feelings or thoughts we have about them. We can release the disappointment …. judgment……… regret………guilt We can release the thoughts and feelings we have because THIS is something we do have control of. This is something we have the ability and power to do. We cannot make a person go away. But we can sure transform the energy we hold around them and as a result feel differently about them. FIRST STEP: spend some time in quiet meditation and contemplation - creating a space in which Spirit may work. Gently allow to come to mind any thoughts and behavior patterns we wish to release. What IN US is standing in our way of experiencing life fully and with joy? SECOND STEP: I will invite you to write a word or short phrase, which describes, or perhaps symbolizes in a way meaningful only to you, the condition from which you desire release. When you know what it is you would like to release, write a word or short phrase, meaningful only to you. THIRD STEP: When you feel so moved, place your paper in the flame of the candle and see it transformed by the flame, releasing the energy and power you have previously given that condition back to the potential for good from which it came. As the fire transforms the energy contained in the paper into heat energy, so you are releasing the seeming power this condition has had in your life. While you are standing at the burning bowl, or at any time you can repeat this affirmation: ‘This is no longer a part of my life. I set myself free’ MEDITATION Loving Spirit, we open ourselves up to your indwelling wisdom. We come before You, hearts open, minds receptive, thoughts still. We recognize that we are in the presence of pure Being, and immersed in the Holy Spirit of Life, Love, and Wisdom. We are filled with all the potential for growth, perfection and transformation. Your Truth is now living within every cell and fiber of our being. Your Love now activates our every thought and word. The joy of Your Life moving through us now quickens our actions. We are here to release negative and limiting thoughts and beliefs and establish a new awareness of Truth within ourselves. We are creating a space within which divine energy may work. The process of releasing begins with recalling the Truth that we are spirit, perfect, holy, and harmonious. In the quiet of this time, it will become clear, what at this moment, I am willing to release. What thoughts or feelings are holding me back from my highest good. What I need to release to feel and experience the freedom of Spirit in my life. Psalm 51:10 “create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within me” I give thanks in advance that this work is done, that wholeness is restored in me. Truly this is the best day of my life, for it is an expression of the eternal now. I move forward into each day, alert to its gifts, ready for its transformations, grateful for its lessons. All is well. Amen Take time now to rest in the quiet and allow Spirit to guide you. Remember we allow it to come to us – without criticism, judgment. Like the way we would gently loosen something dangerous from the hands of a small child. Gently, easily, with great care Growing in consciousness - transformation - is a two step process - first clearing out what no longer serves us, then filling in with something new. Every time we clear something out - we want to mindfully choose what to replace it with.