Ceremony as Gratitude

“When he lifts the coffee pot from the stove the morning bustle stops; we know without being told that it’s time to pay attention. He stands at the edge of camp with the coffeepot in his hands, holding the top in place with a folded pot holder. He pours coffee on the ground in a thick brown stream. The sunlight catches the flow, striping it amber and brown and black as it falls to the earth and steams in the cool morning air. With his face to the morning sun, he pours and speaks into the stillness, ‘Here’s to the gods of Tahawus.’ …

“The power of ceremony is that it marries the mundane to the sacred. The water turns to wine, the coffee to a prayer. The material and the spiritual mingle like grounds mixed with humus, transformed like steam rising from a mug into the morning mist.

“What else can you offer the earth, which has everything? What else can you give but something of yourself? A homemade ceremony, ceremony that makes a home.”
Robin Wall Kimmerer from her book Braiding Sweetgrass.

I found these words from Kimmerer in artist Terri Wilding’s blog Myth & Moor: Wilding pulls extended excerpts from books on topics such as art, nature, and ritual, pairing them with her own words as well as beautiful art images or photos from her own life in a Dartmoor village. Wilding’s blog has offered me much solace and insight over the years.

Wilding notes that simple ceremonies, like the morning coffee Kimmerer’s father offers the earth are acts of gratitude, humbly offered to the greater whole.  I realized that although I keep a gratitude journal it is an inward, more internal action of grounding – I acknowledge what I am grateful for as a reminder to myself, but I don’t offer any thanks to the world which provides these gifts.  Since reading Wilding’s post, I have been wondering how to include a simple gratitude ceremony – one that is not all about me – into my life. How can I show respect for the earth and all its gifts in the midst of a Brampton suburb?

This suburb is mundane in the extreme, all houses and driveways and asphalt. Highway and airplane noise are constant so we have keep the windows shut all year round. Very few trees were planted when the suburb was built forty years ago and few people garden so what vegetation there is struggles to thrive. Most shrubs and plants are ornamental, with only the occasional native pine or birch tree.

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Photo by George Berberich on Unsplash

At the same time, we are fortunate that our backyard has three youngish trees, just now coming into bud.  The crabapple will bloom soon.  We set up a birdfeeder and have been rewarded with visitors, from doves to red-winged blackbirds to sparrows to cardinals to finches. With the global shutdown – the Great Confinement as one artist named it – there is little traffic noise so windows can be open and I can hear bird chatter all day.  Right now the feeder needs to be refilled daily as the birds busily prepare nests and seek mates. As I spend time every day just watching the birds I realize that this may be my  offering to the earth – the daily replenishment of black sunflower seeds – a small expression of my gratitude for the joy of their songs and soaring arcs through the sky.

“What else can you offer the earth, which has everything? What else can you give but something of yourself? A homemade ceremony, ceremony that makes a home.”

Songs for the Shutdown

Sometimes we just need to laugh.  I’ve so appreciated all the creativity arising from this global shutdown. Amateurs and artists around the world are creating funny videos and songs to break the tension with much needed laughter.

The first one that made me laugh out loud was Chris Mann’s My Corona, and it is still my favourite.  I hadn’t heard of Chris before – he was on tv show The Voice in 2012 and has struggled to gain a footing in the industry despite having a beautiful voice. He is simply brilliant with these parodies and tributes. Chris recorded My Corona in mid March, becoming a youtube sensation in hours, and he hasn’t stopped since.

Enjoy these two funny parodies and a poignant tribute to essential workers.  Check out Chris’ youtube channel for more parodies and his other music.

 

 

Ancient Myths, New Life

This is a reflection I wrote several years ago for Easter.

Our spiritual tradition emerged from of Protestant Christianity but we no longer follow its biblical theology.

So while the United Church is proclaiming joyously that Christ is Risen, perhaps this service on Easter Sunday should be advertised with the words: “Come celebrate with us. We don’t know what happened.” (UU joke)

Easter is a tricky theological event for Unitarian Universalists.  Even for those of us who experience the presence of God, it’s hard to accept that Jesus ascended bodily into heaven having died for human sin so that we may all have eternal life.

I can accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but not his divinity as the son of God.

Celebrating his birth at Christmas is one thing – after all every night a child is born is a holy night – but it is much more difficult for me to understand the veneration of his death.

With our fifth source of wisdom calling us to heed science and reason, I don’t accept the resurrection as historical fact. The gospels were written decades after his death. They aren’t eye witness accounts.

The earliest gospel in its original form – the gospel of Mark – says nothing about Jesus returning and being seen by his disciples.

I struggle with the bible as a historical document, but as a collection of mythic stories it offers wisdom into the human condition.

It has been said that “the shortest distance between truth and a human being is a story.”  (Antony de Mello).

Stories give us a way to reveal deeper truths, ones that are hard to express in facts: what it means to love someone, how life is both searingly painful and wonderful at the same time, the fear of death. These things we tell sideways – through poetry, through story.

The story of Jesus on the cross and what happens next is a grand tale of death and resurrection, divine miracle and the very human need for hope.

But it tells us more about humanity’s lament about the finality of death than about what happened that long ago day in Jerusalem.

Easter mythology is an old tale told in a new way. A very old tale indeed.

Rev. Kendyll Gibbons writes: “Spring in Minnesota is an act of faith. Easter comes, whether or not the climate around us has noticed, whether or not the sun has fully struck through the last of the winter’s chill. Every year it varies; the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. You have to know that this is a pagan holiday, with a little bit of Christianity grafted on; who would celebrate an historical anniversary according to such an esoteric lunar calculation? The very name of the day is pagan.”

Gibbons is right.

The Easter story evolved from even older myths from even older civilizations that surround the eastern shores of the Mediterranean.

Stories of death and resurrection has been told all over the Middle East and Northern Africa in all sorts of variations for over 6,000 years.

It’s a story of love and death, of fertility and fallowness. It’s a story of spring.

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One of the earliest variations of the story is about Ishtar, the Babylonian Goddess of war and fertility and Tammuz, her son or her husband – the translations differ.

Tammuz is badly injured by a boar when out hunting. He ends up in the underworld, not dead but spellbound in a sleep.

Ishtar laments:  “Him of the plains – why have they slain? The shepherd, the wise one. The man of sorrows, why have they slain him?”

Grief-stricken, Ishtar goes to find Tammuz in the underworld. Ishtar goes through various trials to reach Tammuz down in the depths.

She spends three days underground and during this time the world above falls asleep, nothing grows. Ishtar awakens Tammuz and when they return to the world fertility returns. The earth awakens.

The Gods and Goddesses personify forces of Nature; their actions shape the world as they fight and love, betray and reunite. A grand drama played out across the sky and the land.

Each spring, the Babylonians ritually re-enacted the story of Ishtar and Tammuz. The ritual honours the fertility of the land, the god dies so the grain may grow.

Life ends so that life may begin again.

The death of Tammuz was told as an act of worship, as an act of respect for the earth.

Centuries later, the Egyptians also shared myths of Gods dying and being reborn. Isis, who was the great mother goddess, had a husband Osiris, who was seen as the first King of Egypt and the bringer of civilization.

Osiris is trapped and killed by his brother Seth, who is jealous of his virtue. Isis searches everywhere for Osiris and finds parts of his body scattered all over the land. Through many adventures she brings his body back together.

In one of her forms Isis has wings. She fans them over the reassembled body. Osiris is revived.

Isis says “Osiris! You went away, but you have returned, you fell asleep, but you have awakened, you died, but you live again.”

But Osiris doesn’t return to life in the world. Instead he becomes Ruler of Eternity; he lives in the underworld and judges the souls of the dead. Isis stays in the world and gives birth to their son Horus.

Life ends so that life may begin again.

These are powerful stories from a time when people believed the Gods and Goddesses were manifest in creation, expressed in the seasons.

In spring the Nile River rises, swollen with the tears of Isis as she mourns Osiris. As the waters restore the parched fields, Osiris is revived in the greening plants.

Life and death, fertility and fallowness, are all mixed up together.

Life ends so that life may begin again.

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What I find interesting about the story of Jesus in his final days is how it both echoes and challenges the older myths of Babylon and Egypt.

The earlier stories are about Gods and Goddesses  – not people, but Jesus is a person as well as the son of God. His story becomes the human story.

Like Osiris, Jesus is betrayed. He is crucified, hung on a wooden cross to die, a common form of execution in his time.

After his lonely death his body is placed into a tomb and it is sealed by a rock rolled across the entrance. Three days later, women go to the tomb to care for the body. When they get there the rock has been moved, the tomb is open, and it is empty.

The women weep in shock, and an angel appears to tell them that Jesus has risen. This is where the original gospel of Mark ends. Jesus has risen, but this remark isn’t explained.

The story of Jesus mixes myth into history. It’s a fascinating blend of new theologies and old images, shifting the old myths of the Gods into the new religion of the One God.

The gospels are rich with historical detail while asserting this new mythic way to understand humanity and the divine. Death and resurrection still happen in the spring, but the story of Christ isn’t related to the changes in the land.

His story isn’t about the Gods embodying the cycle of nature. Of life ending and life beginning.

His story is about how people die and are reborn, about our relationship with one all-powerful God, a God that is beyond nature, indeed this a God that can confound the cycles of life and death.

It’s now life never ending.

With the death of Jesus humans no longer die. Christians are promised eternal life in heaven. It’s a paradigm shift.

The idea of everlasting life is appealing. While I can intellectually accept that Death is a necessary part of life, it is not so easy to accept in my heart.

Many of us have loved ones we miss dearly, that we long to be reunited with. The thought of being together again is a great comfort. It lessens the pain of loss.

And wanting life – your life – to continue on is understandable. To believe my life in some way will be unending sounds wonderful.

But I don’t know if this is possible.

Truly, we don’t know anything about what happens after death. It is the last “great adventure.” It’s the mystery that all of us, every being, will meet one day.

All we can do is live here on this earth right now. And live as well as we can in the face of inevitable death.

In the end, the older myths appeal to me more, the ones that don’t offer me hope of my own everlasting life, but point to a harder truth that life goes on even when I will not.

The daffodils of this year are not the same daffodils as last year.

The old makes way for the new, it is that never ending transition that makes life precious.

We are all temporary beings. Life ends so that life may begin again.

Life as a whole renews endlessly.  Ishtar returns from the underworld and the earth reawakens. Osiris is torn apart but is knit back together. Jesus is born and dies yet lives on in people’s hearts.

I take comfort in knowing that when I die, babies will keep on being born. Winter will end as it always ends. Life will spring forth as it always does.

In a way I feel relieved that while I can do my small part to live well, that is all I have to do.

I’m not responsible for the sun rising or the snow melting, just my own small part of this time and this place. Life carries on, with or without us.

While the ancient myths speak to the reality of death, they also highlight the fallow periods of life, reminding us that they provide the fertile ground for new life.

We might enter the underworld many times during our lives, but we can emerge restored.

One moment it seems like the snow will never go away, the trees and the earth are a uniform dirty grey, and then one morning there are purple crocus’ blooming. The grass is growing bright green. The cardinals are singing lustily.

Life is back!

We too can be brought back to life. We might have a time of sleeping, of darkness, but the planet continues to turn and we awaken. We feel forsaken and then forge new connections. We find a new path and start walking. Resurrection!

This is not easy, it takes emotional strength. And it’s a messy process.

Spring is an ugly time of year. The earth looks hung over. In my garden, broken branches and scattered leaves are remnants of the stormy winter. But the green shoots of the tulips are already bursting forth. I just have to help by cleaning up a little.

And life will burst forth, even if I don’t clean up the broken branches. It might be a little messier, but the green grass grows again.

There are times when for three days or three months or three years we live suspended, not knowing whether we are truly alive.

These are times which can be incredibly lonely, when it is so hard to connect to others, so hard to connect to our own spirits. We can become so isolated in pride and fear of telling others about the fallow periods.

Yet the ancient myths remind us that we aren’t in this alone, even when we think we are.

Jesus cried out, believing himself forsaken by God. But He was not. Osiris was in pieces, but Isis put him back together. Tammuz was alone in the underworld, but Ishtar came for him. Even the Gods needed help sometimes!

These myths remind us that we are not alone. We all belong somewhere, to someone, to something. We all belong to this grand drama of life on earth.

We can all be brought back to life, through the strength and support of others, through love, through kindness.

We might need to get out the rake and make the first move, or even the second or third moves, but life will respond.

The wagging of a dog’s tail. The kindness of a stranger. The patient support of a loved one. Any small moment might be the beginning of hope. And in the next breeze we can feel that spring is in the air.

We can begin again.  We are not alone, even in the worst depths of despair, someone is looking out for us, whether we know it or not.

Let us be grateful for those that love us and care for us.

Let us be grateful this spring morning for all the kindness and compassion that surrounds us, even when we can’t quite feel that support.

Let us be grateful for ancient myths that reveal deep truths. That remind us that we are part of the cycle of life and death, that despite the broken branches and scattered leaves, spring blooms once more.

As we celebrate life renewing, knowing that spring returns year after year, let our hearts be glad and grateful.

Let us remember that we too can be renewed.

So Say We All.

 

Sources: 

The Myth of the Goddess. 1992. Anne Baring and Jules Cashford.

The Pagan Christ. 2004. Tom Harpur

Searching for Resilience

These past few weeks have reminded me of the need to stay resilient, to find the things that restore my spirit so that I can handle the anxiety of this current crisis without being overwhelmed.  This has been challenging, as OVID-19 continues to escalate here in Ontario, and as I am an avid news reader and have been inundating myself with information.  I am learning to control checking The Guardian and the CBC and CNN for updates, and re-focus on the things I can and need to do to maintain myself, my family, my home and my work.  The small daily chores of living take on a greater importance – taking more care with cooking and longer walks with a grateful dog – and I am appreciating increasing contact with close friends.

Although I am not an especially musical person – I will always choose a book or film over a concert – I am finding that certain songs are helping pull me back into shape when I feel stretched out and stressed.  This particular song, by American global roots duo Rising Appalachia, has been on regular rotation for me, the words “I’ve got my roots down, down, down, down deep” have become a mantra of sorts.  The earth is resilient, and finds so many ways to come back to life, especially now during spring.  Keeping my roots in the earth helps me find my way back.

Enjoy the beautiful music and beautiful dancers of “Resilience”.

The Spiritual Spiral

This is an excerpt from a reflection given at the Unitarian Congregation in Mississauga in May 2015, about the value of tending to your spirit.

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How do you understand the term spirit?  Does it include connection? Something Greater? Something Vital?

Something greater might be God, it might be nature, it might be the universe. The words will always be inadequate. And will vary from person to person.

But the difficulty in language should not prevent us from speaking about matters of the spirit.

For me, the spirit is the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. We all have bodies, minds, and emotions.  We have personalities and histories, and experiences. And yet taking it all together we are still something more.

In Unitarian Universalism, spirit refers to the wholeness of the self  – the wholeness of all beings. It can also refer to the greater whole – again that might be God or the universe. I use it both for the wholeness of the individual self and the wholeness of the – well – whole.

Words are inadequate!

“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. No name is large enough to hold this power [that is larger than life, although it contains life], but of all the inadequate names, the one that comes to me now is spirit. […the word seems to catch the lightness, radiance, and wind-like subtlety of the power that I seek].”  (Scott Russell Saunders in The Force of Spirit)

Spirit. Breath. Wind. Air.

Air connects us all, it surrounds us, the air we breathe is the air that has always been part of the planet.

We are rarely aware of the air. We notice air when there isn’t enough of it – people with asthma know it all too well. And we notice air when it is in upheaval – whirlwinds creating chaos.

I’d say the spiritual aspect of living is a little like air. We notice when it’s missing and our lives feel constricting and tight. We notice when life is too intense and blowing us about. It’s why many people when they first come to UCM need to sit in the back and cry.

Spirit may be intangible, but it is also vital to our well being. And many people, whose lives are neither too constricting or too intense, might never pay attention to their spiritual side.

But for those who are aware, wonder awaits.

“”Spiritual treasure can be found in our everyday life. Spirit does not exist except as part of the bodily experiences of human life on earth” (Barbara Brown Taylor).

The spiritual is not separate from the material but is entangled. Just as we are entangled in air – it surrounds us and is within us. It is when we live with attention and awareness that we begin to see this.

It is of primary importance, perhaps more now than ever, that our spirit, the essence of ourselves, which some might call soul, can experience a sense of connection to the immensity of the greater whole – to the spirit of all.

Spirituality can be, at its most basic, understood as the awareness that all life is connected. Spirituality is not a set of beliefs, but a way to experience the universe whole.

Sara Maitland, a writer who went to live alone and experience true silence, describes a moment when she was sitting on a rock high on the side of a valley looking down onto a river in the distance.

“..Quite suddenly and unexpectedly, I slipped a gear, or something like that.  There was not me and the landscape, but a kind of oneness: a connection as though my skin had been blown off.  More than that – as though the molecules and atoms I am made of had reunited themselves with the molecules and atoms that the rest of  the world is made of. I felt absolutely connected to everything.  It was very brief, but it was a total moment. “

Spiritual experiences are experiences of connection. They happen in your body, in the world.

Spiritual practices are disciplines that help us develop patterns of behaviour that make it easier for us to be aware of a sense of connectedness.

Some might not even call it a spiritual sense, like sports fans. But to cheer so ardently for the Blue Jays baseball team, to feel such connection to the team’s wins and losses, what else is it but a sense of connection to something larger?

I was on Yonge Street way back when the Blue Jays won the 1993 World Series. I suspect the euphoria that night was not much different from the joy at the Hindu festival of Diwali.

We all need to belong to something larger than ourselves.

The spiritual is the sense that despite all of our knowledge, all of power, all of our control, that we are part of something beyond our comprehension.

Something so vast, so immense, so beautiful.

Something we didn’t have to do work for or sacrifice for, but simply is.

And we are part of that oneness.

Our molecules reuniting with all the other molecules.

It is a way to press the reset buttons on ourselves.

After experiences like Sara Maitland’s slipping gear up on that rock high up in the valley , people report feeling lighter, or comforted, or freer, or joyful.

After the Montreal Canadians win the Stanley Cup, (fingers crossed) people will express similar feelings!

And that’s okay, connection can be found in unexpected places.

It can also be found here.

We are the place with a spiritual perspective.  It’s what religions do. As people of the chalice we are called to look beyond ourselves and pay attention to the luminous web of life.

One of the symbols of our chalice community is the golden spiral.  Also known as the golden ratio, or the divine proportion, it is a mathematical spiral of precise geometry.

The spiral has the self at the centre, going out to the community, to the earth, to the universe.

Our spiritual lives are like this as well – a going outwards into connection with all that is and a going inwards into greater self awareness –  the spiral movement taking us ever forward.

Let us live into the spiral, live into our bodies, and so find ourselves part of the mystery.

 

Nature Immersion

My final spiritual practice – after gratitude, meditation, and journalling – is being in nature. This is probably the most meaningful and restorative practice for me – spending time walking in the woods always lightens my spirit –  and the one I find hardest to experience living in the surburban Greater Toronto Area.  I typically drive so much I don’t want to drive more to get out of the city, and while there are some good trails nearby they are short and haunted by the sounds of traffic. Walking there helps, but it isn’t the same as a longer walk or bike ride away from city sounds.

Reading nature writing helps fill in the gaps when I can’t get out, so today in this time of social distancing I offer you this poem by the brilliant thinker Wendell Berry.

Return 

Through the weeks of deep snow
we walked above the ground
on fallen sky, as though we did
not come of root and leaf, as though
we had only air and weather
for our difficult home.
But now
as March warms, and the rivulets
run like birdsong on the slopes,
and the branches of light sing in the hills,
slowly we return to earth.

Wendell Berry

icy crocus

Write Away

 

A Quaker women once described the silence in Quaker worship as the time “you were to go inside yourself and greet the light” (in Vecchione, Writing and the Spiritual Life, 2001, p.6).  Writing, for me, is a similar moment in time and place to go within myself and, if not greet the light, at least diminish the darkness.

I journalled extensively in my twenties and early thirties; I found writing regularly was an excellent self care practice. It helped me to understand my actions and sense of the world, but also to stabilize myself.  Through writing I was able to find the ground of my being, and be able to stand more firmly in the world.

Since the fall, when I began participating in a UU Wellspring group, I have returned to journalling – not consistently but regularly, and I have been reminded of its value for my spirit. The writing is largely stream of consciousness, I begin with whatever is on my mind at the moment I begin to write.  I have no agenda to the writing, I am not trying to record my days in detail, or examine myself in any particular way.  I follow the writing wherever it goes.  While it occasionally leads to an insight or epiphany, I find that it is most valuable in helping me let go of anxiety or worries or concerns about having doing something wrong or not lived up to an expectation.  Writing those anxieties out helps me to release them.  Writing out an experience gives me distance and perspective, takes it out of my self in a way that talking about it doesn’t necessarily do.

While I don’t write to the divine or use writing as a prayer, I do find that journalling is a spiritual practice.  I feel better after an extended period of attentive writing: lighter, refreshed, more content.  I don’t always feel like I am “greeting the light”, seeing it clearly, but I feel like I am making room for the divine light within me, clearing out some of the darkness that shadows it.  May Sarton, in her memoir Journal of a Solitude, quotes Jung: “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious”.  Writing for me is often about paying attention to the dark, making it less scary and more normal, which allows it to fall away.  If I have been able to write through a difficult experience and come out to a place of integration, then I will write about who and what I am grateful for in my life, where I find joy and wonder.  Writing helps me be more open and present.

In this new era – the COVID-19 pandemic – in which the future seems not just uncertain but dangerous, with infection increasing daily here in Ontario, writing has become a necessary spiritual practice to cope with stress. What is helping you make the darkness conscious?

(this post is an adapted excerpt from a personal essay written for a class in seminary in 2011)

All the feelings…

“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky… Conscious breathing is my anchor.” Thich Nhat Hanh

With the COVID-10 pandemic hitting Ontario with rising cases and increasing closures, it’s hard not to be overwhelmed with all the feelings;  most days I meet worry, fear, anxiety, anger, grief and all their friends, whether it is over breakfast listening to the news or during afternoon tea with CBC.  These are all healthy, valid and to-be-expected ways to feel as normal shifts under our feet, but some days my house feels too crowded for comfort.

Over the years I have learnt not to shut painful feelings out, but I do try to soften their intensity with mindful meditation.  Sitting with a guided meditation from the Calm app has been my go-to in times of struggle. Mindfulness helps bring the emotions into focus while breathing with intention, the breathing brings in just a bit of distance from the feelings, which helps soften their impact.  This is a spiritual practice that is especially useful in these uncertain days when we don’t quite know what is going to happen next. Who is going to get sick? How bad is it going to get? We just don’t know what it is to come.  I can’t change that uncertainty, but I can manage my reactions, so I turn to mindful meditation.

There are many good meditation apps for phones and tablets.  Calm and Headspace are the most well known and worth the subscription cost (I subscribe to Calm, which has series on managing emotions, sleep stories, and more), but there are some that are free or have good free access such as Stop, Breathe & Think, Insight Timer, and Smiling Mind, which has a special focus on children.  Experiment and find out what kind of mindfulness works for you.

The uncertainty of the pandemic means anxiety and stress are spiking.  Days of increased isolation, the loss of steady schedules and predictable plans, and worries about loved ones and livelihoods, all this wears us down.  Spiritual practices like mindful meditation – just sitting and breathing – helps us accept all of our emotions without being overwhelmed by them.

This is a time to tend to your spirit.

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Filling up the Chalice

It’s time to fill up the empty chalice again. In the coming days and weeks I will be using this blog to offer spiritual practices, poetry and readings, music and videos, and humour to help people centre themselves in this new world of COVID-19 pandemic living.

As a Unitarian Universalist I know that the way we get through this is together, with people sharing their gifts and talents with one another.  My hope is that as a UU minister I may be able to provide some insights and practices that help you breathe and find your way back to your inner core of wisdom and strength. One of the fundamental truths of UUism is that we are not alone but part of the web of all life; the COVID-19 virus is painfully showing us how interconnected we are, but that interconnection is also a source of comfort, even when it can only be realized at a distance.

I am at home in self-isolation – well – couple isolation – until the end of March. We came home last week from a week of holidays in Cuba, spending time in close proximity with international tourists and returning through Pearson International Airport.  We are following the government directive to stay home except for walking the dog, and we avoid people when we do go outside.

It was overwhelming to come back to a surge of emails, facebook posts, UU responses, government directives and news coverage after our limited internet access in Cuba. It’s been an anxious few days trying to absorb this new normal, and I have found myself forgetting my usual spiritual practices, when they should have been the first things I resumed!

Today I’ll begin with one of my go-to practices:

Gratitude Journal

For years gratitude journalling sounded a little silly to me; how could saying I like ice cream make any difference to my life? However, in a particular trying time, when life felt bleak I decided to try writing down three things I was grateful for each day.  Each one had to be as specific as I could, not simply “sunshine” but the sun’s warmth shining on my face as I walked the dog in the woods.

At first I couldn’t always come up with three, which shows how much I was struggling, but over time things shifted and I found it hard to stop at three! Taking five minutes each day to sit and think about what was good in my life did re-train my brain to seek the positive.  Each morning after breakfast I sit in my favourite chair and review the previous day, choosing three people, events or experiences. Keeping it specific helps to evoke the positive memory.  Even on sorrowful days there are shafts of light.

When things are going well I can get careless, either not writing at all, or falling back in generalities, but when I am feeling off this practice helps me to remember the good in my life, so I feel like I have solid ground to stand on instead of being stuck struggling in quicksand.

My dog Tikko is a constant in my gratitude journal, so here he is!

Tikko March 2020 2

Tikko is missing his groomer!

 

The Kind Commute

This month at UCM we are considering kinship.  Here’s a spiritual practice to build connections.

Build up your sense of being part of the whole – a sense of kinship with all that is – simply through being mindful on your daily commute.  Whether you drive, take the bus, or use the train to head into work; or take the same route daily to drop the kids at school, or have a regular routine to head to the gym, or walk the dog, use that daily travel to practice kinship.

Make an effort to be hospitable, welcoming and respectful to all the life you meet on this regular commute.  Smile, wave or nod at the people in the other cars, at the cardinal perched in the tree, at the dog barking in the window.  If you can, take a moment to wonder about their lives, or simply look them in the eyes and smile.  If you use a car to commute and get frustrated by other drivers, try to slow down and make space, let them into the lane with a wave.  Try to remember that we are all in this together, and make an effort to connect, even in a small way, with some of the other beings on your daily commute.

Even if you feel a little silly, keep on with this intention for as much as you can over the month.  Relationships take time to develop, but if others share your schedule, over time you will become familiar to each other.  Be present and try to connect with your kin.

(adapted from Rev. Scott Alexander’s kinship practice).