Starting Here

This week’s text for Lectio Divina is by American poet William Stafford (1914-1993). In reading this poem, remember to read slowly, reflect on the text, respond from your own experience, and contemplate any connections or insights that may arise.

Find a quiet space to practice, as lectio divina calls for careful attention to the text and your own response.  The detailed instructions are here.

You Reading This, Be Ready

Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?

Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?

When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life –

What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?

William Stafford

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Consider the words…

For the month of October we will be practicing an old Christian practice known as lectio divina – sacred reading. Lectio divina is a way to cultivate the ability to listen deeply, to hear, as St. Benedict wrote, “with the ear of our hearts”.  It is a another way to develop our ability to pay attention – this time to the written word. By reading a text slowly, contemplatively, we become more open to the meaning behind the words. When you find a word or a passage that speaks to you, sit with it, ruminate on it, see where it takes you. What does it evoke for you, what connections do you find with your experiences? Please remember that contemplation is not another goal to be achieved, but a chance to rest in the grace of the world.

Lectio Divina as a Personal Practice
Use this week’s offering or choose a poem or a short passage from a sacred text, book of philosophy or book of meditations.

Find a quiet place that allows you to focus.
Sit in silence for a few moments, breathing deeply, letting your body relax.
Read the text carefully and slowly.
Repeat words or phrases that resonate for you.
Read the text aloud.
Reflect on why those words or phrases resonate, what meaning or understanding you are drawing from them.This may be done through quiet contemplation or journalling. Consider how this insight might nourish you in the coming days.
Read the text once more.
Sit in silence for a few moments more.

For families, you might choose a simple poem with strong images.

This poem is by American poet Mary Oliver.

What I Have Learned So Far
Meditation is old and honorable, so why should I
not sit, every morning of my life, on the hillside,
looking into the shining world? Because, properly
attended to, delight, as well as havoc, is suggestion.
Can one be passionate about the just, the
ideal, the sublime, and the holy, and yet commit
to no labor in its cause? I don’t think so.

All summations have a beginning, all effect has a
story, all kindness begins with the sown seed.
Thought buds toward radiance. The gospel of
light is the crossroads of — indolence, or action.

Be ignited, or be gone.

Deep like the Rivers

My soul has grown deep like the rivers. Langston Hughes.

In this final week of water practices, we will be using water as a meditation guide.

The sight and sound of water is highly evocative – the roar of a waterfall, the chatter of a creek, the soothing rush of low waves. The rich sensory offerings of water helps us to move into a meditative state, in which we can ground and center ourselves. Regular meditation refreshes our spirits, helps us meet the challenges of the day. Take ten minutes each day this week to meditate to the sights and sounds of water, the elixir of life, which sustains us all.  You can either play the video, or read the words before sitting in meditation.

Video Meditation
Play the video below, let your eyes go soft as you watch the water.  If it is easier, close your eyes and simply listen to the flowing water. It`s okay if your mind wanders; the point is not to empty your mind, but to not get caught up in your thoughts, to let them flow by you as the water flows. Gently remind yourself to come back to the water. Let your emotions – boredom, discomfort, sadness, joy – flow by as well.  Breathe in, breathe out, watch the water.  Video by Johnnie Lawson, Meditative Artist. (Warning: this video begins with ad).

Guided Meditation
The words below offer a guided meditation.  If you are using it for yourself, read a sentence out loud or silently, then close your eyes and image the scene.  To read aloud for others, invite them into a quiet time.  Ask them to settle into a comfortable sitting down or lying down position and close their eyes.  You might ask kids to wiggle their legs and arms and relax.  Wait for calm, then read the meditation out loud, pausing between sentences. Let there be silence when needed.

The Pool in the Forest
Breathe deeply, picture yourself walking along a path in a maple- pine forest. Breathe in that sharp pine scent.  Maple leaves crunch under your feet as you soak in the warm sunshine. Mushrooms poke out of the ground, moss hangs off branches. As you walk, the path begins to slope down toward a creek. You pass by limestone outcroppings, pale and solid and beautiful. You come to the creek and wander alongside, stepping from stone to stone.

Breathe deeply. You find yourself walking up to the source of the creek, a clear spring-fed pool. Dip into the water.  It is cold and refreshing. Cup your hands and take a drink. The water tastes sweet. It feels bracingly alive as it drips off your fingers. The water is so inviting, you decide to swim. As you dive in, feel the rush of energy as your body is immersed in the cool water. Every cell of your body feels completely alive. The water swirls and encircles you.

Relax into the soft embrace of the pool, let go of tension and breathe. Float quietly, supported by the gently moving water. Let your worries go like leaves floating downstream. Stay floating and drifting in the water. Let your thoughts dance along in the silence. Relax into the sunlit pool.

Breathe deeply. Feel the water in your blood and in your cells. The water within you,the water surrounding you. It is all one. One element. One whole.

Remember this as you climb out of the pool, reinvigorated. Remember this sense of belonging as you leave the pool, walking back along the stream.  Remember the wholeness as you walk back out of the pine forest and into your ordinary, extraordinary life.

 

Water is with us

This week, we are using water as a way to use and focus our attention on the world around us. Choosing a common event or experience as a trigger for our attention develops our ability to be present in the moment. 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.

As we depend on water to nourish us, grow our food, clean our houses, and so much more, we meet water many times a day. Taking a shower, drinking from a water fountain, walking past a puddle, filling up the coffee pot are just a few examples. Using water as a trigger to awareness and presence offers an opportunity to slow down for a moment.

The directions are simple:  Pause, Notice, Open.  waterfountain

Pause:  When you use a water source, pause and 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:  Come into awareness of the water. What are you using the water for? Where are you? What does the water sound like? Smell like? Taste like?  What is the temperature of the water? Thank the water for sustaining you (it may sound silly, but try it: gratitude is good for you!)

Open:  After focusing on yourself and the water, 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 week:  Pause, Notice, Open every time you come into contact with water.

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

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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

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“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.