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).

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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

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.