Transcript of Unitarian Universalist Zoom presentation: 7/12/20
There’s nothing simple about living with uncertainty. When I was 27 years old, I went from being physically gifted to becoming severely handicapped. One saving grace was that I lived in an apartment where I also worked – simplifying my lifestyle. When I was 29 years old, I learned that the company was changing it’s model of live-in counselors to commuting counselors. I’d have to move. I wasn’t sure I could cope with both moving and adapting to a commuting lifestyle. If nothing changed, I knew I could be an invalid within 5 to 10 years. Despite a flowering meditation practice and a trust that things would work out, I nonetheless had anxiety and restlessness over the uncertainty I was faced with. As with my physical difficulty, I knew the universe didn’t owe me an easy way out. As it turned out, the next day the owner called me to his office to make me an offer. He really wanted my then-wife and I to stay with the company, and offered an apartment for reduced rent in the adjacent third building that he owned. It was a gift that I held in gratitude.
Uncertainty means exactly that, we just don’t know what will happen. But that doesn’t mean we should despair. Despair would only add insult to injury. Because uncertainty can be destabilizing we need to stay clear with what is most important, what is sacred to us, without giving in to fear or despair. It may seem harder to do the more that we actually lose. But sometimes difficulties cause us to question our habits and beliefs, and that crack is where the light shines through.
Perhaps you’ve heard the saying: The most important thing in life is knowing the most important things in life.
I thought Yogi Berra said this, but it turned out to be a writer I’d never heard of: David Jakielo, Yogi Berra said: Love is the most important thing in the world, but baseball is pretty good, too. Knowing what is really important helps you to prioritize how you spend your time and energy. Sometimes we need to see the world from a different angle to remember what is most important.
When I was 21 years old, a friend showed me a book on Zen Buddhism called Zen Mind, Beginner’s mind. I smiled to encourage him. He offered the book for me to read, but I said, “I’m not a beginner, so that book may not be for me.” Boy, was I wrong.
In Zen, uncertainty can be met by don’t-know mind or beginner’s mind, an opportunity to develop a wise relationship to situations of not knowing, to bring curiosity and interest to a mind that is willing to be surprised. Suzuki Roshi, author of Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind, writes, “In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities. In the expert, there are few.” The beginner knows they have much to learn, so the world is always new. When we experience our world as fresh and new, we are more likely to bring our full attention to the experience, and less likely to get stuck in old patterns of thinking and behaving, old ways of seeing the world that may not be adaptive.
Here’s a Zen story. The master asks the disciple, “Do you understand Zen?” The disciple timidly replies, “No master, I do not.” Then the master says, “Neither do I.” The master is comfortable knowing that he can’t conceptually understand Mystery.
Beginner’s mind is open to new knowledge or experience. There’s a saying: a mind is like a parachute. It doesn’t work if it isn’t open.
When our heart/mind is open we escape from the contracted self. Then, we may slow down and take a conscious pause to marinate with Mystery. Then, we may discover that the world is sacred.
Here’s an interesting observation I made when I was a preschool teacher. I was 23 years old, working in a well-organized university day care with a high ratio of teachers to kids. When I took them on outdoor walks, every 4 and 5 year old in my group was fascinated by nature. An unmitigated spontaneous expression of wonder would erupt over something as commonplace as a ladybug. Those kids felt the blessings of walking in a new world. Jesus said: “unless you change and become as little children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” The kingdom of heaven is the state of loving awareness – being conscious of our essential nature.
What is a Blessing?
I actually remember the following joke, which was told by the new minister who began preaching at our Fundamentalist church when I was ten years old. He told this joke on his very first day: his welcome sermon.
A man buys a new Ferrari and wants to take it to a minister to have it blessed. So he takes it to the first minister and asks, “Will you bless my new Ferrari?” The minister looks at him quizzically. “What’s a Ferrari?” The man decides this is not the minister to bless his Ferrari, and finds a second minister. “Will you bless my new Ferrari?” Again the minister asks, “What’s a Ferrari?” Discouraged, the man seeks out a third minister. He decides to ask straight away, “Do you know what a Ferrari is?” “Oh yes!” states the third minister. The man decides this is the one, and asks, “Will you bestow my Ferrari with a blessing?” The minister answers: “What’s a blessing?”
It’s a good question, one that my parents could not answer on the ride home. To them, the punch line of the joke was not only irrelevant, but also irreverent. Ministers did not bestow blessings. Only God was in the blessing business. End of story.
Or, perhaps the beginning of the story. I decided I liked the idea that someone could bestow a blessing. After all, people did say “bless you” when someone sneezed. I had hoped, perhaps, that our new minister would be able to explain it. My parents suggested he would not, that the elders might silence him on the topic.
As a ten year old, I liked both the joke and the idea of blessings. My parents did not. In retrospect, it probably sounded too Catholic.
My childhood religion was not the last word on the subject. There is worldwide diversity in belief and practice. Buddhists offer blessings as a gesture or gift, for example: “May you find peace and health to the degree possible.” The gift is given with awareness. Blessed Be is a pagan greeting or intention to spread goodwill. Thomas Aquinas would have us: “will the good of another.” That’s a loaded statement, because first we need to see the potential good in another, and then will, or bless, that good into being. Will, like true intent, is both conscious and transpersonal – evoking a presence that is larger than ourselves. We could call that presence the close edge of endless, God, Source, the Sacred, Soul, Universe, Awareness, or whatever you want. The idea isn’t to get stuck on a word, but to open yourself to Mystery and to don’t know mind.
We can make an invitation to blessings.
A blessing is like a prayer, a whole-bodied invocation to come into accord with the best possible outcome for a person or situation. A blessing can elevate our being, our sense of connection, into transpersonal communion. When we come into accord with our whole self, that resonance will inform our thoughts and actions. From connections such as these, blessings are born. Our moment of blessing can be contagious.
From the core of our heart/mind/spirit, we are holding space for the Beauty that surrounds us in a sincere gesture extended to others, that they may come into the field of Potential. We are extending a genuine aspiration that this moment and moments to follow come into harmony. With compassion and conscious intention, we seek to elevate our words or silence into a longing – a living hope or transmission of spiritual generosity. Hope is the thing with feathers, and a blessing is wind under wing.
May we experience many blessings.
Like kindness or loving, blessing can become a way of interacting with the world. What you bless blesses you in return – it’s a way of interacting with the world. We can extend blessings through both silence and words, through the goodwill of our caring and love that we nurture in ourselves and give to the streams of life. We are not trying to manipulate Fate. But maybe, the synergy of many blessings can inspire actions or contribute toward creating the best possible outcomes, and open the hearts of they that can listen.
This goes beyond a single blessing. I’d call it the Blessing Way if the Navajo nation hadn’t already used the term in designation of a specific ceremony.
Blessings extend into a desire that our lives come into accord with potential, harmony, and joyful experience. We are sharing our true intentions with awareness – consciousness. Here’s an example: On this day and in the days that follow, may you come into accord with the nourishing pathways of your life. Blessings nourish both the one that gathers or holds the space for blessings and the one receiving the blessings – the one who is open to the gesture.
Blessings elevate our conversation with Life. When there are things we can’t know, we can focus on what is sacred, something that will resonate with peace. What are the songs your life will sing? How can we learn to vibrate with harmony, with the alive energy that brightens your spirit? It is good practice to hold space for friendliness, goodwill, and love. Blessings can act like a happiness contagion, spreading like ripples on a pond, or becoming a blessing stream.
There are many ways to bless this life, each according to our predilection. For example: the monk abiding in solitude and the person dedicated to social service both share the same blessing field. And there are many unknown people lifting the world with small blessings – working with animals and nature, working in their own ways to improve the environment and our relationship with Mother Earth, working with friends or family who are sick or elderly. All of these authentic acts of love, courage, and strength contribute equally to raising the quality of our collective consciousness, and contribute equally to the blessing fields of humanity and the world that we share with all sentient life.
Reclaiming a shared blessing-space is a radical worldview. The poet Rumi states: “Out beyond the ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” He is referring to a place beyond judgment, beyond hate and condemnation, beyond the polarities of opposing and divisive views. He is making an invitation to let go of separation and connect through interbeing. It is a shared field of everything sacred and divine – the current of the Tao, the essence of all life. The field beyond wrong-doing and right-doing exists here and now in the blessing fields. It’s what Jesus called the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus said: “the kingdom of the father is spread out upon the earth, and people do not see it.”
In the blessing fields we can contribute to the flow of healing that links people of conscience to the building of a better world. It does no good to simply punish or condemn the dark or chaotic aspects of humanity. Of course we need to act with prudence and healthy boundaries to safeguard the web of life. And we need to take care not to be drawn to the lowest common denominators of fear and hate. We may need to cultivate radical love and fierce equanimity.
This model of living takes an ongoing conviction to think and act with kindness, courage, and love to stand strong in a circle of kindred spirits, both seen and unseen, but always connected in a resonant field with the better angels of our nature. True love comes from the Source of our being. That path of renewal will meet with resistance from all of those that benefit from the status quo. There will be difficulty, because of all the history and momentum behind the greed and dark deeds of humanity. But the blessing field is alive with the ongoing force of Creation. We have the potential as a species to evolve socially, ethically, and spiritually. If we are to thrive, we genuinely need to honor the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
The blessing fields are a reclamation of what is sacred, good, and sustaining. It brings us to a higher level of accord and agreement with all life.
I’d like to end with a full-bodied blessing from the poet John O’Donohue:
May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.
And I will add: May you be tender with difficulties, loving and strong.
Thank you for your kind attention.