Water Awareness

This week we will focus on running water, developing sensory awareness as a spiritual practice. Sensory awareness or “reverential contemplation” is a Unitarian Universalist way to access our first and sixth sources. Reverential contemplation can lead us to experiences of mystery and wonder and help us connect to the rhythms of nature. Neo-pagans, taoists. naturalists and martial artists may also  develop their sensory awareness as part of their learning process. Through deep breathing, grounding the self, and paying attention, we can increase our connection to the world around us, reminding us we are part of a “great conversation” among all life on earth.

Flowing Water

Find a source of running water, seek out a trickling stream or rushing river or go sit by Lake Ontario. If you can’t get outside, use a water fountain (I found one at a second hand store for a few dollars), or stand by the sink as you are filling it to do the dishes.

Breathe deeply. Feel your feet firmly, yet loosely, planted on the ground. Let your worries and stresses sink down into your feet and into the ground. Listen to the sounds of life around you. Breathe deeply.

Focus your eyes and ears on the water. Watch its movement and form. Notice the shapes and patterns that it makes, where it runs fast and where it slows down. Look at how it pools and puddles. Breathe in. What does the water smell like?

If outside, notice the way the patterns of movement form and reflect the shapes the land. The visible motion is only the surface layer, there is more complex motion below.  What can the surface tell you about the depths? Notice how the light plays off the water, changing as the water changes.

If you are inside, be aware of the sounds the water makes at different depths, as it touches different materials like metal or ceramic. Change the pressure, notice what happens to the motion of water as the flow increases or decreases.

After five minutes, breathe deeply and look away from the water.  Take a minute to reflect on your experience of flowing water.

Water in Motion exercise adapted from Starhawk’s The Earth Path

20170316_105404

Advertisements

The Element of Water

Water is truly the elixir of life. Life on earth would not exist had water not come into being billions of years ago.  Our true creation story begins in the distant oceans – the source of all life arose from ancient deeps – our salty blood reminds us of our marine evolution. As Unitarian Universalists we honour this life force as an essential aspect of the interdependent web of life.

For UUs water represents the healing nature of our common life, the welcoming pool that accepts us all, as we are. Our water in-gathering ceremony reflects this symbolic understanding as we bring water from our summer experiences to blend into our water chalice on the Sunday after Labour Day.  As water is the focus of our “beginning again together” ritual, it feels right to use water as the theme to begin this year of spiritual practice.

This month we turn our awareness and attention towards water, grateful for its life creating properties. In paying attention to water, we remind ourselves of our deep connections to all life on earth.  We expand our awareness to the larger whole through the lens of water.  Water also connects us to the larger Unitarian Universalist community, reminding us of its support and care.

water chalice 2017

2017 water ceremony – our beautiful water chalice.

Water:  First Practice:  Joys and Sorrows

The sharing of joys and sorrows is, along with quiet meditation, one of the most common spiritual practices for UUs.  Most worship services include both in some form or another.  For many congregations, joys and sorrows are expressed through lighting candles.  Others use glass pebbles and water.  Spiritual Exploration groups often use a water chalice.  Each week when we gather, we take the time to place pebbles in our water chalice or light a candle, sharing the ups and downs of living.  As we drop in a stone, we know the ripples extend beyond ourselves, letting our joys increase and helping our sorrows to dissipate. This simple act reminds us that we are not alone, others have experienced the same losses and concerns, and that happiness returns in time.

This week, our spiritual practice is to simply take “joys and sorrows” into our homes as a reminder that we are part of this chalice community wherever we are.

Individual Practice

Fill a bowl with water.  Collect some pebbles, glass stones, buttons, or pennies and place beside the bowl.

Each day, take five minutes to sit with the water chalice. Take a minute to simply sit and be, looking at the water. As you look at the water, reflect on your day.  What are you struggling with?  What are you worried about?  What is hurting you? Pick up a pebble, name your struggle aloud. Release it into the water. Continue to sit looking into the water. What was the best part of your day?  Where did you find delight? Pick up a pebble, name your joy aloud.  Release it into the water.  Sit quietly as long as you need to. To end, you might wish to say “Living with joys and sorrows, I am whole and part of the whole.”

Couples or Families

For families or couples, practice this at bedtime or at the end of dinner, whenever you are all together and have a few minutes to focus. Gather the family around the water chalice. Begin with quiet, just looking at the water. Then ask each person to share something significant from their day. After everyone has spoken, or after each person speaks, you might say  “we listen in love”.  To end, you might say “Together we face our sorrows and celebrate our joys. Blessings on us all.”

Tips: If your children (or you!) have trouble settling, begin by ringing a bell or striking a chime or drum. Clear some space around the chalice so there are few visual distractions. Use words that work for you. What matters most is taking the time to sit, look at the water, and reflect on the ups and downs of the day.

Going Deeper: Spiritual Practices

20170908_110723

“Spirituality can… be defined as the art of being a part of something bigger than yourself.” Lupa

This year, as part of our mission to Deepen our Spirits, we are offering a new blog Going Deeper:  Spiritual Practices. Each month we will focus on a particular practice such as meditation or an element such as fire.

(It will be posted here temporarily, but will migrate to the Unitarian Congregation in Mississauga website in a month or so).

Spiritual practices can help us learn this art- as Lupa says – of being part of the whole. Spiritual practices are ritualized acts intended to help you expand beyond yourself and experience the whole.  They are about sensing – however fleetingly – the totality of all that is, whether for you that is the universe or the divine.  It is about experiencing the connection between the self and the whole.

In the Unitarian Universalist understanding, spirit refer to the wholeness of the self – the sum of emotion, body, and mind which is more than its parts.  From the Latin spiritus, the word spirit is linked with air and breath: felt but not seen, intangible yet essential, ephemeral yet connects us to one another.  Spiritual practice develops our ability to experience the sense of belonging and wholeness that is at the root of our tradition.  It is not easy to experience this sense, and it is always brief, but regular practice helps create the pathways that bring us closer to the intangible. Regular practices help people become more resilient, experience comfort and peace, and cultivate new understandings.

Every Wednesday a new activity will be posted. We will experiment with activities from other world religions as well as some unique to Unitarian Universalism.  Each activity will only take from 5 to 15 minutes.  You can choose to do these practices daily for a week, or try it just once.  Some are to be done with the whole family, others are solitary.  If one resonates with you, repeat it.  This is the year to experiment to find a practice that works for you.  Try finding a regular time to practice, first thing in the morning or last thing at night, or perhaps after work as you transition into home life.

A Spiritual Journey

And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles,
no matter how long,
but only by a spiritual journey,
a journey of one inch,
very arduous and humbling and joyful,
by which we arrive at the ground at our feet,
and learn to be at home.

Wendell Berry

A special thank you to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Durham, in Brooklin, Ontario, where this year of spiritual practices was originally created.

Dancing with Fire

Every January Unitarian Universalist congregations across Canada celebrate a fire ceremony.  For many, this ritual of burning paper in flame is a New Year’s ceremony, a release of the past.  But this has never felt right to me, I see this ceremony as one which honours the power of fire.  Our symbol is the flaming chalice, a lively, ever-changing flickering flame of life. It is a symbol of the vital, sacred spark of life that resides in every living being.  And like every living being, it has the power to destroy and to create. Yet we so often light a chalice in services and meetings without thinking about that flickering flame.  The fire ceremony gives us an opportunity to meet the flame and celebrate it’s power.

The Unitarian Congregation in Mississauga will be celebrating the fire ceremony this coming Sunday, looking at how we can focus our energy in the coming months.  Where do our passions lie? What can we do to make our passions “blaze with life”?

To me, fire is one of the most beautiful elements of life on this planet. Scary, energizing, mesmerizing, gorgeous. The fire dancers in these two videos highlight fire’s living beauty.

 

Solstice Blessing

IMG_1656

In the shadowed quiet of winter’s light
earth mourns softly…

Kneel down here
on the frosty grass,
and seek the hope buried in the ground.

Bend your ear to the beating heart of the planet
and listen hard.

A whisper: love this world.

Distill peace from the snow
and water the cities
with mercy.

Weave wonder from the forest
and clothe grief
with beauty.

Rest in the rhythm of the turning year,
trace the golden threads
connecting all beings,
and vow anew to do no harm.

The winter trees stand watch
haloed in the last gleams of the slanting sun.

Branches sway.
Birds sing.
Wonder abounds.

Make your life an answer:
Pay Attention.
Be Connected.
Live in Awe.

adapted from  Rebecca Parker’s A Winter Blessing
IMG_1665

Blue Socks for the Journey

IMG_5339

Last month I went on a silent retreat at the Five Oaks Retreat Centre near Paris. In exploring the beautiful property and beyond, in peaceful quiet, I was able to slow down, reflect and simply be. It was a good time out to catch my breath and clear my thoughts.

Activities were put out for us to pursue if we wished, colouring mandalas, creating prayer beads, and poems to contemplate. I loved the fairytale images in this poem by the tremendous Canadian poet Lorna Crozier.

Packing for the Future: Instructions

Take the thickest socks.
Wherever you’re going
you’ll have to walk.

There may be water.
There may be stones.
There may be high places
you cannot go without
the hope socks bring you,
the way they hold you
to the earth.

At least one pair must be new,
must be blue as a wish
hand-knit by your mother
in her sleep.
Take a leather satchel,
a velvet bag an old tin box –
a salamander painted on the lid.

That is to carry that small thing
you cannot leave. Perhaps the key
you’ve kept though it doesn’t fit
any lock you know,
the photograph that keeps you sane,
a ball of string to lead you out
though you can’t walk back
into that light.

In your bag leave room for sadness,
leave room for another language.

There may be doors nailed shut.
There may be painted windows.
There may be signs that warn you
to be gone.Take the dream
you’ve been having since
you were a child, the one
with open fields and the wind
sounding.
Mistrust no one who offers you
water from a well, a songbird’s feather,
something that’s been mended twice.
Always travel lighter
than the heart.

IMG_5349

 

IMG_5337

For Life and Death are One

“For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.”
Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet.

I first posted this video in the spring a couple of years ago. I’m posting it again in recognition of the upcoming Honouring Loss service this Sunday at the Unitarian Congregation in Mississauga. A visual poem about the inseparable nature of life and death, it speaks to the Unitarian Universalist sense that death is part of the natural cycle, to be grieved over but not denied. Life crumbles into decay and composts into new life, over and over and over again.