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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Simply Wait

by Lee Ransaw

by Lee Ransaw

I used this quote from the brilliant writer Franz Kafka as the closing words at last Sunday’s service at the UU Congregation of Durham.  We were exploring the idea of finding space for true relaxation in our lives.  This summed it up perfectly.

Blessing    from Franz Kafka

You don’t need to leave your room.
Remain sitting at your table and listen.

Don’t even listen, simply wait.
Don’t even wait, be quite still and solitary.

The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked,
it has no choice,
it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.

In the coming weeks, let the world offer itself to you.
Simply wait.

communing with flowers

Danmala by Kathy Klein

In the spring most Unitarian Universalist congregations in Europe and North America (I don’t know about elsewhere) conduct a flower ceremony, also known as flower communion.  The ritual was created by Norbert Capek, a Unitarian minister in Prague in 1923, who wanted a ritual which would be inclusive of both Jewish and Christian alike.  Capek turned to the universal beauty of nature – asking the people to bring in local wildflowers, he blessed the overflowing vases of blooms, then invited each person to take a flower.  He asked people to remember that we are all brothers and sisters, all connected.  Truly, he said, 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.  I love that the flowers also connect us to the land, as people bring the flowers of the season, from delicate buttercups to rich irises, reminding us of the riches of nature.

This year we were in Iowa at Easter and went to the local congregation where we had the pleasure of experiencing their annual flower ceremony – far earlier than it would be here in Canada.  At the end of May I helped lead the service at First Toronto, telling the story and framing the distribution.  This past weekend I could have made it to my third flower communion as here in Waterloo the service closes our congregational year.  Instead I choose homemade waffles and fresh strawberries on the patio, enjoying my first weekend off and home in months.  Flower communion is one of my favourite services, I love the exuberant, overflowing abundance of the flowers and the delightful chaos of everyone trying to pick a flower that speaks to them.

I didn’t get any photos of the flowers in service, but I found these amazing flower petal designs.  These danmala images, by artist Kathy Klein, are gifts to the world, created, photographed and left in place for someone to stumble upon.   Kathy says “The danmalas remind us all to listen to the unheard voice of nature, creation, and the eternal mystery”.

by Kathy Klein

Where the pot’s not

Daoism, with its emphasis on following the Way, fully aware of the complexity of trying to live in harmony with natural forces, is my favourite of the ancient religious traditions.  The Tao Te Ching, in particular the version developed by Ursula Le Guin, my favourite author, is dear to my heart.  The wisdom of this religion is a source of great spiritual nourishment for me.

I am off to the Canadian Unitarian Council‘s Spiritual Leadership Symposium in Ottawa, so today I only have time to post a piece from the Tao Te Ching that speaks to the value of being empty.  This is the chapter that inspired me to consider the empty chalice;  emptiness is so often considered a negative, yet it is that empty space – the openness waiting to be filled – that is so essential to living.

Chapter 11    The uses of not

Thirty spokes
meet in the hub.
Where the wheel isn’t
is where it’s useful.

Hollowed out,
clay makes a pot.
Where the pot is not
is where it’s useful.

Cut doors and windows
to make a room.
Where the room isn’t
there’s room for you.

So the profit in what is
is in the use of what isn’t.

Attentiveness: The Third Great Salvation

I just finished reading The Paper Garden:  Mrs. Delany Begins Her Life’s Work at 72 by Toronto writer Molly Peacock.  Mrs. Delany, a member of high society in eighteenth century England, had a fascinating life, and at the end of it, created almost 1,000 cut paper mosaics of flowers.   This Flora Delanica resides today in the British Museum, a tribute to one woman’s artistry and delight in life.  One passage caught my eye:

Detail of passion flower

In gathering shells the young Mrs. Pendarves was preparing for her great work, though she couldn’t possibly have known that.  She was just watching; [gathering shells] trains the eye.  However stuck Mrs. Pendarves was, she could always watch for those mollusks. Robert Phelps, a biographer of Colette, said this about watching:  “Along with love and work, this is the third great salvation.  For whenever someone is seriously watching, a form of lost innocence is restored.  It will not last, but during those minutes his self-consciousness is relieved.”

Noticing keeps you alive.  When we say, “I felt so alive!” doesn’t it mean we were observing the ordinary world around us as if it were new?

While I am not so sure about watching as “salvation” or the return to “innocence”, I agree with the sentiment: attentiveness to the world offers a kind of spiritual nourishment.  In paying attention to the world we entrance our monkey minds, placing the focus on something beyond ourselves, opening ourselves to the whole.  Mrs. Delany clearly loved life, and, judging by the detail in some of her paper mosaics, knew it well.  Peacock suggests that her detailed observation, a scientific stance of watching, helped sustain her and bring her always back to a love of life, during the many losses and disappointments of a long life.  For myself, I find my backyard, with its trees, flowers, birds and squirrels, to be a continual source of replenishment.  It is a small urban space, but I am always astonished by how much life it contains! While I don’t have the patience to create the works of art that Mrs. Delany so meticulously made, when I really look at my garden, there is always something waiting to be seen, budding pear blossoms, parsley reviving after winter, soft feathers from a hawk kill, a copper coloured beetle.  I find myself so grateful for the life that lives there, and go back into the house, soothed.

From attention comes knowledge and understanding, and delight.  My sense of Unitarian Universalism is that we celebrate this detailed observation of the world.  We are curious people, concerned more with questions than answers.   In paying attention to where we are, in being open to the wonder of the world, we find spiritual renewal.