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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Try a Little Loving Kindness

Our final December Meditation practice is arriving in January, fortunately it is all about loving kindness.  The January Fire practice will begin next week.

There are many variations of this classic Buddhist meditation known as the metta bhavana meditation from the Theravada Buddhist tradition. This version comes from meditation teacher Sharon Salzburg.   An ancient meditation, it was first heard over 2,500 years ago.  It is intended to cultivate compassion and empathy not just for others but for yourself as well.  As Unitarian Universalists, this meditation can be seen as an expression of our first principle, a way to honour the inherent worth of all beings, as well as our seventh, our connection to the interdependent web.

Loving Kindness Meditation

Find a quiet place where you will undisturbed for 15 minutes.  Sit in a chair or on a cushion.  Please get comfortable, closing your eyes. Settle your feet on the floor and get your back straight without tension.

Take a few deep breaths, relax your body. Feel your energy settle into your body.  Feel your energy settle into this moment.

The phrase to repeat: “May I live in safety.  May I be happy.  May I be healthy. May I live with ease.”

Gently repeat these phrases as you hold yourself and then others in your heart.  If you find your attention has wandered, don’t worry.  Just begin again. You may say them out loud or quietly to yourself.

Hold yourself in your mind and heart.  Hold an image of yourself, say your name.  Feel yourself be present in this moment. Repeat:
May I live in safety.  May I be happy.  May I be healthy. May I live with ease.

Call to mind somebody that you care about–a good friend, or someone who’s helped you, someone who inspires you. Visualize them, say their name. Get a feeling for their presence, and then direct the phrases of lovingkindness to them.
May you  live in safety.  May you be happy.  May you be healthy. May you live with ease.

Call to mind someone you know who you find difficult: to appreciate, to accept, to love.  Someone you have trouble with. If somebody like that comes to mind, bring them here. Imagine them sitting in front of you. Say their name. Get a feeling for their presence and offer the phrases of lovingkindness to them.
May you live in safety.  May you be happy.  May you be healthy. May you live with ease.

Think of someone who plays some minor role in your life, that you don’t have a particular feeling for, or against. Maybe the checkout person at the supermarket or the tim hortons staff. If someone like that comes to mind, imagine them sitting in front of you, and offer these same phrases of lovingkindness to them.
May you live in safety.  May you be happy.  May you be healthy. May you live with ease.

When we connect into these phrases, aiming the heart in this way, we’re opening ourselves to the possibility of including, rather than excluding, of connecting, rather than overlooking, of caring, rather than being indifferent. And ultimately, we open in this way to all beings everywhere, people, animals, all creatures, without distinction, without separation.
May all beings live in safety, be happy, be healthy, live with ease.

Take a final deep breath, and when you feel ready, open your eyes.  May this energy carry through into your daily round.

To listen to an audio version of a loving kindness practice, go to this Mindful page.

 

Just Breathe

“I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.”
Sylvia Plath

From long standing family tensions to the financial strain to the present giving pressures, the Christmas season can be difficult to navigate with grace. This week’s meditation is a time to stop and breathe. Mindful breathing is an ancient meditation practices, easy to learn and a powerful tool to calm the mind. With renewed calmness, we are better able to deal with all this season may bring.

Breathing meditation directs your attention to the breath, not making yourself breathe, but noticing it. You may find your mind wanders quickly off. The practice is to keep returning to your breath, without guilt or struggle or shame, after each distraction. Slowly, the distractions become shorter and it is easier to return to the breath. With regular practice, your mind will settle and you may become calm, steady, and peaceful.

While beginners can best practice breathing meditation at home, for 5 to 15 minutes, you can also tune in to your breathing at your office desk or at the mall. Taking a few moments to pay attention to your breathing can help ground and center you.

If you like support, look for a meditation site that has a voice you find soothing.  You can try the app Calm (which requires signing up, but has some good free meditations) or Headspace which has a wide variety of meditations. Meditation Oasis is a good website for guided meditation.  This page explains breathing meditation and offers a nine minute meditation. The link directly to the audio clip is below.

Breath Awareness Meditation

The Art of Meditation

Meditation is an ancient practice, first noted in writing in the Hindu tradition around 1500 BC.  Judaism, Sufism, Taoism and Buddhism have also developed forms of meditation, with Buddhism heavily influencing contemporary North American meditation practices. Many Unitarian Universalist congregations offer meditation groups led by members involved with Buddhism.  As UUs, we understand meditation as a way to calm and centre in a busy world, a way to re-connect with one’s self and the larger whole. To meditate creates the space to step back from an endless forward momentum and take time to simply be.  It encourages us to be more aware of life, and in being so aware, offers hope in the beauty of living.  Given the stresses of the holiday season, December seems like a good month to explore some basic meditation practices, starting with mindful meditation.

Mindful meditation – focusing on breathing or the body – helps focus the mind and develop our ability to pay attention and be present in the moment.  By scanning the body, the intention is to nurture a curiosity about these sensations your body is experiencing, not to explain them away but to simply be aware of them.  Today we’ll use an body scan meditation to learn some basic meditation skills.  Don’t worry if your mind keeps wandering – that is normal! Meditation is a practice which takes time to learn.

This is a very simple introduction to meditation.  Many more detailed introductions, such as Tara Branch’s video introduction, are available for those interested in going further with this practice.

Wear comfortable clothes and find a quiet place to listen to this short audio piece from Calm.com.

Please note: there will only be 3 posted practices for the month of December.