In the Chill Air of November

The leaves have fallen and the snow has arrived, heralding the onset of winter.  It is the chill air that I notice most, as I pull down my hat and pull up the scarf to protect my face.  And yet, when I stop and stand and pause, I love the bracing coolness of the air.

This week, take some inspiration from Unitarian Universalist Brian Nelson’s meditation on air.  Stop one day on the sidewalk and breathe and simply experience the air all around you and within you.

As the autumn air grows chill, take this opportunity to become mindful:
be aware of the air itself.
“The air is the most pervasive presence I can name,
enveloping, embracing, and caressing me
inside and out.”*

We swim in the air even more deeply then we swim in the water;
it bathes us as it slips into our lungs and fills our hearts.
Every breath refreshes us, calms us,
and yet sometimes the breath startles us.
Remember this:  the word spirit comes from the latin for breath.

As we bundle up against the oncoming chill,
face the wind and feel the prickles of cold air against the skin,
an icy reminder of the invisible realm of life.

* (David Abrams, The Spell of the Sensuous)

Adapted from Earth Bound, daily meditations by Brian Nelson

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Reminders that Matter

As we explore memory this month at the Unitarian Congregation in Mississauga, this practice helps us to remember the wisdom that guides us through the dance of life.  What matters to you?  What are your dearest values?

Make a wisdom list of 10 thoughts that help you be yourself, whether that is positive affirmations or sage advice from a beloved grandparent.  Don’t worry about trying to get down 10  all at once, start with a couple and fill in the list over the next couple of weeks.

Some examples might be:

  • Remember to be kind to yourself.
  • Remember that Granny always said you catch more flies with honey then with vinegar.
  • Remember to take time to appreciate that first cup of coffee – slow down and savour.
  • Remember to make choices based on values, not just wants.

Make this list your own – write the specific pieces of advice and wisdom that have resonated with you throughout your life.

Adapted from Soul Matters Memory packet.

Precious Autumn

“I cannot endure to waste anything as precious as autumn sunshine by staying in the house. So I spend almost all the daylight hours in the open air.” Nathaniel Hawthorne

This week’s spiritual practice is to pause, notice, open to the beauty of autumn.  Last week there were some glorious fall days with azure skies and tangerine leaves, leaving me amazed and delighted as I walked the dog.  It was impossible not to see the intense colours, so strong and alive in the sunlight.

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Pause, Notice, Open is a simple practice that brings us into the moment.

Go out for a walk around your neighbourhood or a local park, during the day, in sunshine or not.

Pause, breath slowly and deeply.  Check in with yourself, stretch and relax. Shake out your body. Re-direct your thoughts to the present. How are you feeling? Take a few moments to sit with what ever emotion you might be experiencing.

Notice, after checking in with yourself, look outwards.  Look at the vegetation around you, at the trees and shrubs, even down at the ground. Try to keep your eyes “soft”, let your eyes roam about you and then return to whatever tree or shrub captures your attention.  Look more closely, study the leaves, look at the light.  Move around to see the tree from different angles. Take photos if it helps you focus.

Open:  Once you’re satisfied with the looking, stand still and breath deeply.  Look a little more, take the experience into your body, and offer some gratitude out in return – to the trees, to life, to God, whatever works for you.  Then take one more slow, deep breath and return to your walk.

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Find a Stillness

Find a stillness, hold a stillness, let the stillness carry me.

I have always like this song – 352 in the UU hymnal, – words by Carl G. Seaburg – a tribute to the potential of silence.  Silence is a simple and always available avenue into a deeper contemplation of the self, the universe, the sacred.  Or it can just be a breathing space, a moment to simply be in a busy world.  This month, as we explore the theme of Sanctuary, let’s practice the lost art of silence.

Make room for silence in your life, find short spaces where you can be quiet – take a minute of silence before turning on the car, take a minute at your desk before beginning work, stop yourself before turning on a podcast or the tv, and simply sit for a moment.  Try to stay silent for at least a minute.

This silence includes not checking your phone or reading a book.  Just breathe and be and listen. What do you hear? What do you feel?  See if the silence within is mirrored by silence outside of you.  If you are disturbed by outside noise, you may have to be more intentional in seeking quiet places. Or you might appreciate the life going on around you, either way, keep to your silence and simply listen.

For couples or families, consider a silent meal.  Make it an occasion: turn down the lights, dress up the table, and light candles.  Eat the whole meal without speaking.  Share your experiences afterwards.  Did silence impact on your awareness of the food?  Of each other? Was it enjoyable?

William Penn wrote:  True silence is the rest of the mind; it is to the spirit what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment.   

 

From October to May, I will offer UU spiritual practices twice a month, based on the Unitarian Congregation in Mississauga theme or the season.

Beautiful Together

“This is my fundamental conviction: diversity is beautiful.  All people in all their colours, all the flowers in the sunlight, this is beautiful.”  Rev. Matthew Johnson-Doyle.

Each spring  Unitarian Universalist congregations in North America celebrate a flower ceremony created by a Czechoslovakian Unitarian minister Norbert Capek.  Capek wanted a ritual which would be acceptable to both the Jewish and Christian members of his congregation. He turned to the universal beauty of nature, asking people to bring in local wildflowers, he blessed the overflowing vases of blooms, then invited each person to take a flower home. Capek asked people to remember that we are all brothers and sisters, all connected. We are all different, yet we are beautiful together.

We offer our chalice communities the gifts of our unique selves, and we receive the unique gifts of others. The flower ceremony is a symbol of the value of diversity, the necessity and beauty of our differences that fit together to create a thriving system. It is a joyful service, with lightness and gratitude. I love that the flowers also connect us to the land, as people bring the flowers of the season, from delicate buttercups to sumptous roses, reminding us of the riches of nature.

For our spiritual practice this week, I invite you to create an at-home flower ceremony.

With Friends
Host an informal get-together and ask each friend to bring their favourite flower, whether from their garden or a florist. Have a communal vase and ask each person to speak about their flower and what it represents to them. Is it their favourite flower because of its associations with a special event or person in their life?  Does its colour or shape symbolize a meaningful attitude? Is it an aesthetic choice? Ask them to reflect on what their choice says about them in this moment in time.

At the end of the evening, gather around the vase and ask each person to choose a different flower to take home.

With Family
If you have a garden with flowers, go outside and ask each person to pick a few flowers.  If not, bring home a variety of flowers from a florist.  Place them in a vase and have the family sit around it.  Take a minute to sit quietly and look at the flowers.  Ask each family member to talk about which ones they like the most.  Parents may want to point the differences in the flowers, how well they look all together, or how a healthy system has room for lots of different kind of plants or people.

Invite the family to take a favourite flower and place it beside their bed. Ask them to look at in the morning and before bed time.

Solo Flower Ceremony
The UU flower ceremony is a celebration of community. As a personal spiritual practice it can be a way to honour people who matter to you. Using a bouquet of flowers, place each stem into a vase one at a time. With each flower, connect it to a person within your life. Reflect on how that person contributes to your well being. These may be your closest friends and family, or who provide you an essential service you deeply value, or an acquaintance who has had a positive impact on you in the last few weeks.  Silently or out loud thank that person as you put the flower into the vase. Continue adding flowers until you run out of people you wish to uphold and appreciate.

Sit back and appreciate the abundance of people and beauty in your life.

Looking for Blossoms

“More than anything, I must have flowers, always, always.”  Claude Monet

At this time of year we are surrounded by flowers, in public and private gardens, along roadsides, even in the cracks of the concrete sidewalk. Walking the dog in one short block I saw tubs of pansies, geraniums, and begonias. There are forget-me-nots, iris, peonies, columbine, poppies, periwinkles, and even a few dandelions gone to seed.

Living flowers aren’t the only flowers we see. Images of flowers abound in our society, from desktop backgrounds, to coasters, to paintings. I have a painting of sunflowers in my front room.

For our spiritual practice this week, flowers will be a cue to focus our attention on the world around us. Choosing a common object as a trigger for our attention expands our ability to be present in the here and now. It is a way to wake up our consciousness and sharpen our senses. This is a good spiritual practice for experiencing a sense of connection to the greater whole.

Using flowers as a trigger to awareness and presence offers an opportunity to slow down for a moment.

The directions are simple:  Pause, Notice, Open.

Pause:  When you notice a flower or an image or reproduction of a flower, pause and breath slowly and deeply. Check in with yourself, stretch and relax. Shake out your body. Re-direct your thoughts to the present. What are you feeling in this moment? Take some time to sit with what ever emotion you might be experiencing.

Notice:  Come into awareness of the flower.  What kind of flower is it? Look at its colours. Consider its petals and leaf formation. Breathe in. Does the flower have a scent? Touch the flower if you can.  How does it feel? Appreciate the flower’s beauty. Notice your response to the flower – how do you feel as you pay attention to the blooms?

Open:  After focusing on yourself and the flower, expand your attention. What else is around you? What is attracting your attention? Try to keep your eyes “soft”, don’t stare or focus too intently, let your eyes roam and gaze at what captures them. Open yourself to the environment surrounding you. Then take one more slow, deep breath and return to your activity.

Try it for a day this week: Pause, Notice, Open every time you encounter a flower.

Seeing Flowers

“If you pass by the color purple in a field and don’t notice it, God gets real pissed off.”  Alice Walker

In our final month of Unitarian Universalist spiritual practices (we take a break for July and August), we return to the practice of observation of a particular element, this time flowers. For UUs, flowers, which are part of one of our of annual rituals, symbolize our planet. Flowers represent the marvelous diversity and beauty of the earth, reminding us of how much there is to see and learn if only we pay attention. Each flower is unique yet part of the larger eco-system, just like people. We all belong.

So we will notice – not just the colour purple – but all the colours of the flowers.  By turning our awareness towards flowers, we might see the great beauty of this world.

Flower Gazing

This is a Unitarian style engaged meditation – bringing attention towards a single flower. This 10 -15 minute meditation could be done alone, in a small group, or with children. You might have a single flower that everyone considers, or have each person choose a flower.

Find a flower. Set up a space that allows you to have the flower at eye level. Put it on a coffee table and sit on a cushion on the floor, or pile some books on the table so that when you sit on a chair, the flower is high enough you don’t have to bend your head up or down to see it.

Once you have set up the space, get comfortable, close your eyes and take some deep breaths. Let your breathing slow down and your body relax.

Open your eyes and gaze at the flower. Try to keep your focus soft. Look at the flower, at the shape of its petals, at the stamen, at the stem and leaves. See how they fit together. Look at the colours.  Smell the air and see if there is a scent.

Keep bringing your focus back to the flower but try to allow your vision to be wide. See the flower in the context of the space, but keep the flower in the foreground.

If you would like to touch the flower, do so, but move your hand slowly and gently.

Take your time. When you feel you have seen as much as you can take in, thank the flower (through a nod, through words, through silent appreciation).

Close your eyes. Check in with your body, mind, and spirit.  How are you feeling? Think about what you saw and how you responded.

When you are ready, open your eyes and go about your day.