“I am only one, but still I am one.
I cannot do everything, but still I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something I can do.”

Edward Everett Hale

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Walking Away the Cares of the Week

This week has been a tough one, as some weeks are. So I was glad that it was coming to an end. And delighted to be able to see it out in style, as I welcomed people in to the first Walk Away the Cares of the Week at our meeting house, using our brand new (to us) labyrinth mat. It is based on the labyrinth at Troyes Cathedral, and was made by my friend, and painted by her daughter. And it is sixteen feet square.

Setting up took a while, but was greatly helped by my friend who had so kindly passed the mat on to the congregation (memo to self: it is much more intelligent to light the 24 tealights first, THEN strategically place them around the perimeter, not the other way round). But it was done on time, the atmospheric music was on the CD player, and the first people arrived to walk the labyrinth,

Peacefully, Mindfully.

The trick of walking a labyrinth mindfully is to focus on making each step, rolling from your heel onto your toe, gently lifting your foot, and placing it carefully down in front of you. As I walked, peacefully, mindfully, I felt my body begin to unclench and relax, and my mind began to quieten. Twenty minutes later, when I walked out again, I felt like a new person.

There is something about this kind of purposeful walking meditation that is very powerful, very soothing. I feel so very blessed that it is going to be something I am now able to do regularly.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Sharing a Blessing

Yesterday was the 'Saturday Intensive' on my spiritual direction course. And intensive it was: we were together from 10 am until 6.30 pm, followed by a shared dinner. The title of the day was 'Befriending Your Shadow' and it was a fascinating journey. Of course it was all confidential to the group, but one exercise we did towards the end of the day was really beautiful, and so I am sharing the process of it with you.

There are twelve of us on the course, and this exercise really has to be done with an even number. Six of us sat in a circle, the other six standing behind. Each standing person was asked to think silently of what they would want the most important person in their childhood to say to them, and then to go round the seated circle, whispering it into the right ear of each seated person. Then we swapped, and the seated people did the same to the other six.

To receive the six benedictions was incredibly powerful - I was in tears by the end, and I was not the only one.. And then to share my own blessing with those six friends "My precious child, I love you just the way you are" was also so very special. It left us all with deep feelings of thankfulness and connection.

In the words of Marianne Wilkinson, "If I choose to bless another person, I will always end up feeling more blessed." I have found this to be so true, and feel so very blessed.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Passing of an Era

This week, two public figures whom I have adored since I was a teenager have died, both of cancer, both aged 69. Of course I'm talking about David Bowie and Alan Rickman.

There have been some beautiful tributes posted on Facebook and elsewhere Like so many others, David Bowie got me through my teenage years (Hunky Dory was the second album I ever bought, and I have loved him ever since). His music spoke to my soul, and still does. It is an abiding regret that I never managed to see him live. My life has been richer through his music. And Alan Rickman's acting has given me much quiet pleasure, particularly as the ambiguous Professor Snape in the Harry Potter films. I find his voice mesmerising, and love just listening to him speak. His timing is so immaculate.

And now they are both gone, down into the silence of death. But we who are left behind are so lucky, because their work is still here to be enjoyed and savoured. I feel so sorry for their families and friends, who knew these two wonderful people in the flesh, and whose grief I cannot presume to share. May they find peace.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Seeking the Quiet Centre

This afternoon on Facebook, my friend Hay Quaker posted one of my favourite Advices from the  Quaker Advices and Queries: 

"Do you try to set aside times of quiet for openness to the Holy Spirit? All of us need to find a way into silence which allows us to deepen our awareness of the divine and to find the inward source of our strength. Seek to know an inward stillness, even amid the activities of daily life. Do you encourage in yourself and in others a habit of dependence on God's guidance for each day? Hold yourself and others in the Light, knowing that all are cherished by God."

I love this a/Advice on so many levels. Especially perhaps the last sentence: "Hold yourself and others in the Light, knowing that all are cherished by God."

So many spiritual teachers I admire talk of the importance of stillness and contemplation as the surest way to connect with the divine. They talk of just noticing thoughts as they arise, and letting them go, and returning to the silence. But I find it difficult to get into the silence at all. Letting go, surrender, these things are so very hard for me. I feel like Anne Lamott, who writes in her wonderful book Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers: "People ... might say jovially, 'Let go and let God'. Believe me, if I could, I would, and in the meantime I feel like stabbing you in the forehead." The first time I read that, I laughed out loud in rueful recognition.

And I try, I really do. Which I guess is half the problem. Every morning for nearly the past year, I have sat for 20 minutes, and tried to "find a way into silence". But as I said to my friend, most of the time "my washing machine mind goes round and round", and stillness, tranquillity elude me.

So I asked him whether, as a seasoned Quaker, he had any tips about finding a way into the silence. This was his response:

"The only tip I can give to using a silence is to imagine a big empty table with a white cloth in front of you, and just wait for things to be laid upon it. (PS do not put the table cloth in the mental washing machine!)

How do you find the quiet centre?

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Setting Sacred Intentions

I don't have a particularly good track record with New Year's Resolutions. In the past I have made long, ambitious lists, and started off on 1st January with great enthusiasm, only to run out of steam by the middle of January, because once again, my heart was not in it.

I think that the reason behind this is that I have a certain inner stubbornness that doesn't like being told to do something Just Because - just because it's January 1st, just because it's Dry January, just because it's Stoptober. I know that such Special Months do help a lot of people to start the process of giving up drinking or smoking, and I applaud them for that. But for me, they don't work. I have to have a reason which is relevant to my life, at this exact time, to be able to tackle any sort of major lifestyle change.

So for example, I was able to quit smoking on 1st June 2013, when I worked out that by giving up my 15 a day habit, I would be able to afford to give my two children, then just off to university, and extra £100 a month each! Deciding to quit drinking was a more long drawn-out process, which I have blogged about here. But each time, the choice was mine, at a time of my own choosing.

So when an e-mail from MindBodyGreen landed in my inbox this morning with the title 18 Sacred Intentions to Set for 2016, I was a little sceptical. But the post, by Vishnu Subramaniam, blew me away. It really spoke to my condition. The 18 sacred intentions are about living with awareness, with integrity, being true to oneself. They are as follows:

1.   I will take less and give more.
2 .  I will work less and live more.
3.   I will do less and be more.
4.   I will speak less and listen more.
5.   I will buy less and simplify more.
6 .  I will have fewer distractions and more time for reflection.
7.   I will be less realistic and dream more.
8.   I will complain less and appreciate more.
9.   I will worry less and surrender more.
10. I will judge less and understand more.
11. I will hate less and love more.
12. I will criticise less and praise more.
13. I will follow less and lead more.
14. I will fear less and act more.
15. I will think less and go with my gut more.
16. I will please less and stay true to myself more.
17. I will require less perfection from myself and accept where I am more.
18. I will hold fewer grudges and forgive more.

I am going to print them out and put them on the noticeboard next to my desk in my study, so that I can read them frequently in the coming year. They will be my Sacred Intentions for the coming year.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

An Early Christmas Present

I know how very lucky I am, in that my other half is responsible for the main Christmas meal. And, taking after my side of the family, we have the turkey cold, and it is cooked on Christmas Eve. This for two reasons a) it makes life so much easier on the day and, more importantly, b) it tastes so much nicer. Or that's what I think.

But the early Christmas present I'm talking about isn't that. He was listening to a new three-CD collection of Christmas carols as he started to prepare the turkey for the oven, and I was sitting in the kitchen eating my lunch. To be suddenly stopped in my tracks by CD2, track 12, Star in the South

Not one of the regular carols or Christmas songs, which get played endlessly every Christmas. This one is so special to me, as I had learned it in Junior Choir in my secondary school, over forty years ago, and hadn't heard it since. I could remember the words to the first two verses, but had forgotten the title, so was unable to find it. And there it was! And now I can listen to it whenever I please!

This has given me a ridiculous amount of pleasure, out of all proportion to the event. And I feel so blessed that I *can* be made so happy, by something so immaterial and incidental. As the last-minute shoppers desperately try to find the final Christmas presents, or strip the supermarket shelves of sprouts and parsnips, cranberry sauce and Christmas puddings, I am sitting here contentedly, listening to "my" carol.

Life is good! I wish all readers of my blog (for whom I am truly grateful), a very Merry Christmas or Yule or Happy Holidays, and a very Peaceful and Blessed New Year.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

My Unitarian Christmas

A couple of weeks ago, I posed the following question to the members of my congregation's Discussion Group: "If Unitarians believe that Jesus was a first century Jewish prophet, who was completely human, but who had a very important message to share with humankind, why do we celebrate Christmas, which is all about his miraculous birth?"

And a while ago, I had an e-mail discussion with a friend of mine, who was lamenting the secularisation of society in this country. He wrote: "We are in danger of losing the communal memory of Christian myths, the Christian rhythm of the week, and the Christian cycle of the year. These are valuable in themselves, whatever meaning we attach to them. They have not been replaced by alternative in our secular society."

This rang very deep bells with me. I was brought up in the Christian mainstream at a little primary school, and sand all the C of E hymns and followed the rhythm of the Christian year. They are a part of who I am, a part of my deepest life. So when Christmas comes round, I love to attend a Carol Service, and sing the carols with gusto (while mentally exclaiming at the message of some of them, I must admit!). Yesterday afternoon, I drove to Warwick to join in the Carol Service at Warwick Unitarian Chapel, which was really lovely. The sense of Christmas community was palpable.

Warwick Unitarian chapel
Is this hypocritical of me? If I don't believe that Jesus was the unique Son of God, should I celebrate Christmas, which is all about such unlikely elements as God becoming man, and a virgin birth? But as a cultural Christian, I am still moved by the age-old story, even though I know in my head that it is mythical, and conflated from the stories in the two gospels. My heart still responds to it.

My answer, as a Unitarian, is that the Christmas I care about is more to do with the message of "peace on earth and goodwill to all men" (and women, of course). I truly believe that the message that Jesus preached - love God, love your neighbour, and don't forget to love yourself - is a crucially important one in this mad world of ours. If Christmas reminds people of this great truth, which is common to all religions, then I'm all for it.

So let us celebrate Christmas as a time when the universally applicable message of love and peace and goodwill to all is brought to the front of people's minds, and our bit of the world grows a little bit more charitable, and a little bit more kindly.

Merry Christmas!