The Journey Matters

“It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” Ursula K. Le Guin

For our final February writing practice, we consider the theme of journeys. Find a quiet place where you can sit without interruptions for fifteen minutes.  See the first post for the basic outline of the practice.

Theme: Journey

So much of our lives is spent traveling, moving from place to place. For some that may be within a bounded geography, learning the deep details of place, others wander the wide, wide world.  All of us, however far we range in body, are also on an interior journey.  This journey of spirit meanders, goes around and comes around, taking long breaks then suddenly leaps ahead, but it spirals ever onward as we live.

Describe your greatest journey. It may your spiritual journey or it may be a physical journey, or both. Where did you go?  How did you travel?  What did you do? What did you learn? How did it change you? What did you leave with? Are you still arriving?Spend the time with the question which seems to need answering the most.

Describe your greatest journey.

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Dark into Light

A Quaker woman once described the silence in Quaker worship as the time “you were to go inside yourself and greet the light” (Vecchione, Writing and the Spiritual Life).

Writing, for me, is a similar moment in time and place to go within myself. I find it helps me to put all the pieces of my life in their proper order. I feel better after an extended period of attentive writing: lighter, refreshed, content. I don’t always feel like I am “greeting the light”, but I feel like I am at least making room for the light within, clearing out some of the darkness that shadows it.

Journal writing for me is often about paying attention to the dark, making the darkness within (and without) less frightening and more normal, which helps it to fall away.  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”.

Putting pen to paper helps move me into a place of integrated wholeness. In that grounding, I am, if only temporarily, more open and responsive to the wider world. Writing is a creative response to the divine mystery of living. It helps me be open to the beauty and wonder and spirit present in the everyday; it helps me to be curious and delighted by life.

This week we will explore our struggles with the dark. Spend at least 10 minutes writing in a quiet place. Light a chalice before you begin and take a minute to breath before beginning. See this post for details of the practice. If you begin with the image of darkness and find your writing goes somewhere very different, let yourself follow. If after 10 minutes, you have more to write, please continue.

Theme:  The Dark

Describe the dark.  What does it look like? Does it have a sound? A smell? What does the dark feel like? Where is it located? How do you feel about the dark? What scares you about the dark? If  your fear is strong, spend some time examining that fear. Where does the fear come from? Can the dark also be friendly? What do you appreciate about the dark?

Describe darkness.

Writing the Spirit

“Writing can be a way we connect with the spiritual forces that support our lives, a way to be in the presence of holiness and to honour the mystery of life and creation.”  Patrice Vecchione

Writing is one way to access the depths of your spirit – all those things you know but may not be aware of.  It is a way to access that “still, small voice within”, the voice of wisdom and insight that can be so hard to hear in our everyday lives. This February we will use writing as a spiritual practice, as an avenue to awareness. Each week I will offer a different question or theme to consider through writing for 10 minutes. If you have another question that you want to explore, or find the writing takes you someplace very different, please follow that path.

The Basics

Begin in silence. Before you begin writing, take at least a minute to sit in silence. Take deep breaths and centre yourself. Let your thoughts rattle away and slow down. If ritual helps you, before the silence, light a chalice or ring a bell, to shape this moment with intention.

Use a notebook and a pen. While most of us are used to the fast typing of a computer, using a notebook and pen slows us down, offers less distractions, grounds us in the physical world, and helps define this writing as a spiritual practice. If you use a computer, close all the windows and turn off e-mail and media alerts.

Keep your hand moving. Once you start writing, don’t stop, keep your hand moving to help keep your thoughts flowing. Writing without stopping also helps stop your inner critic from deciding some language or thoughts are best unwritten. Don’t step back and analyze your thoughts. Let the words flow. The reflection time comes afterwords. Set an alarm for 10 minutes.

Embody the word. Be concrete in your descriptions. Be specific. If you mention a bird, identify it – a robin or a falcon? If you are writing about exhaustion, explore how you feel. Drill down to the details. If you are writing about something abstract, describe it through the senses – taste, touch, sound, smell, sight. Giving your ideas a physical presence helps create connections.

First Theme:  Belonging

This week’s theme comes from the Rev. Karen Hering, a UU minister who runs Faithful Words, a literary ministry. Belonging is a key understanding of Unitarian Universalism, we belong to this planet, we are part of an interconnected whole. But it can be very difficult to feel like we belong, we often forget, or neglect, the ties that keep us together. Other connections we might not be consciously aware of. Not everything we belong to is healthy or right for us. After writing, take some time to reflect on what you have written. What stands out? What surprises you? What do you wish you did not belong to?

“The bird belongs to the sky, even though it cannot sleep there; the egg belongs to the nest even though it will not stay there.”  To whom and to what and to where do you belong? Hold these questions as you begin to write. If you feel stuck ask yourself the question out loud. Don’t editorialize your answers but simply write them down, develop each belonging with some detail.

To whom and to what and to where do you belong?

The Flame Within

There is a candle in your heart, ready to be kindled.  Rumi

In Unitarian Universalism our chalice light symbolizes the spark of life within all beings. The light within each of us doesn’t always burn steadily. At times we might feel our light burning strong and steadily, at other times it might be fiercely ablaze, at others a dim glow. Today’s practice is intended to provide insight into the state of the flame within. Do we need to nourish our spirit with more self care? Do we need to channel some of our energy out into the world in more productive ways? This practice involves drawing and can be done with children.

The Flame Within

tools:  chalice with candle, paper, pencil or black pen, red, yellow, orange crayons and markers

Find a quiet space where you can sit comfortably and draw easily.

Light the chalice with the words “I honour the light within me.”

Sit and watch the flame for a few moments. Find your pulse on your neck or your wrist. Feel its beat.

Let go of your pulse. Close your eyes. What does the flame within you look like? What does it feel like?

On the paper, draw your inner light. Don’t over think, choose your colours quickly and draw with loose strokes. The drawing is just for you.  Is your light bright and bold? Is it soft and steady? Close your eyes or focus on the chalice light again if you feel stuck in drawing. (For those who are truly reluctant to draw, you could also write out your response, quickly with the first words that come to mind).

When your drawing feels complete, sit back and close your eyes. Focus on the fire within. Open your eyes. Does your drawing reflect your sense of your inner flame? Describe it to yourself. If you feel your flame needs tending in some aspect, what might you do to feed the fire?

Sit a moment more in silence.  Blow out the chalice flame with the words “I honour the light within me.”

Be a Great Poem

Scott Weber Creative Commons

Scott Weber Creative Commons

A few weeks ago I based a service on one of my favourite texts. This is an excerpt from the reflection. By American poet Walt Whitman, this famous poem is found in the preface of his grand work Leaves of Grass.

This is what you shall do:
Love the earth and sun and the animals,
despise riches,
give alms to every one that asks,
stand up for the stupid and crazy,
devote your income and labor to others,
hate tyrants,
argue not concerning God,
have patience and indulgence toward the people,
take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men,
go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families,
read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life,
re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book,
dismiss whatever insults your own soul;
and your very flesh shall be a great poem and
have the richest fluency not only in its words
but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and
in every motion and joint of your body.

I love this image of our bodies becoming lyrical poetry, objects of great beauty and rich fluency. Imagine a world where our elders are understood as great poetry.

Whitman’s advice from 160 years ago is still sound. Devote your income and labour to the service of others,
Fight against injustice, examine what authority tells you. Be patient with other people.

And while Whitman was suspicious of church, I think that Unitarian Universalism is precisely a place that encourages this way of principled living. Unitarian Universalist communities are intended as spaces for reflection, to examine all the endless information and opinion that is thrown at us everyday and to dismiss what insults our souls.

We need spaces like this more and more in this busy technological world. We gather on Sunday mornings for a moment of rest and reflection. This time together is time to simply be, as you are. It is for self-examination and understanding.

If we all strive to become great poems, through living our seven principles and being grounded in our six sources,
then perhaps our children will have the same ambition.
Pulitzer prize winning poems will be everywhere!

Imagine that.

the way home is all downhill

I wrote this poem many years ago when, after having a rough few months, I found a good place for myself. The house where I was living was down a hill from the centre of town; biking home I knew when I was almost there as I could stop pedalling and glide easily down the hill. Walking, it doesn’t feel the same, but on a bike it is a lovely way to arrive home. The same is true of where I live now – at the convergence of two gentle downward slopes – and there is something about that easy, invitational last move towards home that is a true gift.

the way home is all downhill

your neighbour’s gift
+++ of cheerful bulging cucumbers
mail in the mailbox
+++ with your name on it
the stray cat
+++ swirled around your legs

these  make you stand in the living room and
+++ lose your mind
++++++ in ordinary delights

i am here    you think

and everybody knows

your laughter causes dust to rise up off the ficus
+++ and dance
++++++ in the encircling sun

And I believe, without doubt…

I find myself longing for spring, so grateful for the lengthening daylight as we head towards the equinox.  In anticipation, I offer this delightful excerpt from Pattiann Roger’s poem Rolling Naked in the Morning Dew (1989).

Lillie Langtry practiced it, when weather permitted,
Lying down naked every morning in the dew,
With all of her beauty believing the single petal
Of her white skin could absorb and assume
That radiating purity of liquid and light.
And I admit to believing myself, without question,
In the magical powers of dew on the cheeks
And breasts of Lillie Langtry believing devotedly
In the magical powers of early morning dew on the skin
Of her body lolling in purple beds of bird’s-foot violets,
Pink prairie mimosa. And I believe, without doubt,
In the mystery of the healing energy coming
From that wholehearted belief in the beneficent results
Of the good delights of the naked body rolling
And rolling through all the silked and sun-filled,
Dusky-winged, sheathed and sparkled, looped
And dizzied effluences of each dawn
Of the rolling earth.

Just consider how the mere idea of it alone
Has already caused me to sing and sing
This whole morning long.

Pattiann Rogers

Lillie Langtry - 1899 "The Degenerates"

Lillie Langtry – 1899 “The Degenerates” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)