Tag Archives: service

Christmas cards

I’m doing Christmas cards this year. I usually do a few – the silly ones from card stores go back and forth in my family. It’s a fun tradition and doesn’t cost much. But this year, I decided to go big. So far I’ve written about 50 and I have another 40 waiting to be written. At some point I started wondering – will someone be happy to get this? Will they be upset there’s no gift card or check in there? Will this seem like an empty gesture? On the other hand, will this make someone’s day? Will they understand that I took the time to buy a stack of cards, find their address (and that’s been a hoot, finding snail mail addresses) and affix a pretty stamp? What if I forget someone?

At some point, I have to mail these suckers. I have to let that little bit of light shine on its own merits and let people receive my love as they choose to receive it. I’d love to put $100 bill in each card, but that’s not budgeted in my 2017 fiscal year. I’d love to write long, very personal notes in each one but at some point I have to go home, I have to write next week’s talk and I have a whole bunch of people to meet with. At some point it has to be enough that I tried and sent a bit of love out into the world.

Isn’t it great that no matter who you are, Spirit is excited to hear from you? Even a small card with a scrawled signature makes God’s day. When I send up a thank you for the parking space, I can feel God get the warm fuzzies. When I stop to listen to a bird singing or watch the sunset, it’s acknowledging the work of the Great Artist. There are so many small ways to be with Spirit over the course of the day, and they all send a bit more love out into the world. I’m sending you some now.

In the same boat

I never liked working in groups in school. I wanted to be in charge of earning my own grades. I didn’t want some other person, who was obviously never going to be as smart as me, messing up my GPA. Yes, I’m talking about elementary school. I had issues.

Most days now, I’m an adult. I recognize the Oneness of all beings and I get that life on this planet is a group project. We sink or swim together. There’s a thing called the Bodhisattva vow that says that souls are innumerable and the Bodhisattva vows to row them all to the distant shore. I don’t vow to row anyone else to shore, but I’ll take an oar and help. If we’re all just walking each other home, as Ram Das says, then I’ll walk next to anyone. I don’t think I do the Universe any favors by thinking I need to carry someone else. After all, that other person is just as much a part of God as I am, right?

Having said that, I’m discovering the joy of working together with other folks who are walking home at the same rate as I am. Yesterday, a group of us went outside after service and weeded the labyrinth. With so many working on the project it went pretty fast and it gave me time to catch up with folks I usually don’t get to have conversation with on Sunday. I also just got back from a gathering of ministers in North Carolina. It’s a beautiful place and the Center there in Asheville is impressive at a lot of levels. My ministry only started being successful once I recognized the power of the group consciousness. I started enjoying ministry when I realized that part of my job was to do lunch with colleagues and share the joys and challenges with them. Those connections make my career possible.

So today I’m up for the group project this teaching Universe has assigned. Today I work with and walk with anyone who sincerely wants to create a world that works for everyone.

 

Football

My brother called to tell me about his son and their football team. They have this coach – Coach Vito – who just sounds really impressive. All the local teams came together for something called Jamboree, where they play short games and spend a full day on the field. No score is kept in the entire league (my nephew is still six) so it’s really about learning to play the game.

However, Coach called the whole team over at the next practice and asked how everyone thought they’d done. I picture them remembering that they had fun, so it must have been good. The team members talked about their successes and how it all went. They decided that based on their playing, they had done well.

And then Coach gave feedback. He said there was one thing he saw their team (and their town’s teams) do that he didn’t see from anyone else. What he noticed is that their team helped other people up if they fell. They have been taught that no matter what team another player is on, if they see someone go down, they are to give that person a hand up. Coach complemented the kids and said that was exactly the kind of people they should be.

Now, this team may or may not face the right direction. They may or may not bring the ball with them when they run for the touchdown. But by all the gods and goddesses of autumn, they are learning to play the real Game.

Thanks, Coach!

Immortality

Tonight I’m teaching a class whose theme is Immortality. We’re going to be talking about life after death, what it might be like to live without a human body and what we teach about all that. Mostly it ends up being a discussion of the students’ experience with near death experiences, ghosts and other interesting occurrences. The thing is, our teaching is pretty simple. We don’t claim to know. We each individually have our pet theories, but the official teaching is that we can’t really know.

Here’s my official teaching. It’s more interesting to me to know if there can be a healthy, prosperous, fulfilling life BEFORE death. My focus is on right now. Am I doing everything I can to live large before I leave or am I just waiting for whatever comes next?

When I was in Practitioner training, we had to do an exercise in which we wrote our own eulogies and planned our memorial services. Mine was a big party with balloons and music and fun. I said I had died at the age of 83. I believe it was a happy death, and not a particularly difficult one. I had time to say goodbye to folks, make sure my affairs were in order and then just leave gracefully. This exercise is supposed to be about living more fully in this life because we are reminded we won’t be here forever.

I’ve been pretty up front about managing my depressive disorder. The effect this exercise had on me was to make me calculate how much longer I had to be here and when I could leave. It was more like counting down a prison sentence (a life sentence, if I want to be facetious). I’m not afraid of death; like many of us, I tend to have more anxiety around life. Realizing that I believe life to be eternal was, at one point, a very painful truth.

So now I’m taking the next step. At this juncture in my life, I still firmly believe that life is eternal and we get to keep the memory of whoever we were on earth. That’s no longer bad news. I also believe that we get to learn more about whom we have been in other lives and who we are between lives, which sounds pretty cool to me. The homework (as it were) is to make sure I don’t waste the time I have here. Am I coming out from behind my Netflix queue in order to engage with real people? Am I being of service to the folks I meet in the grocery store and at work, or do I just post something on my Facebook letting people know how I feel about the latest scandal? Or kittens, for that matter? (I’m pro-kittens, for the record).

This culture makes it so easy to live from a step back. We make it easy to live by proxy through our electronics. It takes effort to remain present in the here and now, and I believe it’s entirely worth it. As fascinating as I find near death experiences (nope, never had one) I don’t want to have a near life experience while I’m here. If for no other reason, I want actual people to show up for my memorial service and have something to say other than what my favorite TV show was.

Listing

I love making lists. I love checking things off my list each day or week. I make a list of things I want to accomplish and then gleefully check them off. I don’t scratch them out because I might not be able to read them easily if I did. I want to go back over the list and make sure I don’t try to do something twice (waste of energy) and I want the joy of knowing exactly what I accomplished.

To some degree the whole list thing is useless for doing spiritual practice. I can’t say “meditate”, then put a check mark by it and be done for the day, much less the rest of my life. So far, I can’t pray for a better attitude just once. That one seems to be ongoing. Spiritual practice lists would be like putting “brush teeth” on a daily project list. Yeah, you’ll do it (one hopes) but that doesn’t mean it’s really complete. If I put it on the list of things to do, it just takes up space. It should be habitual, but I find that my habits are hard to start and even harder to stop.

I do have a mental “do every day” list but that is short. It only has three things on it. It’s just cell phone, cat box and medications. That’s my do every day before leaving the house list. I found that if I didn’t do those three things, if I tried to leave them for later in the day, bad things often happened. If you are a cat person, you don’t need me to explain. If you are not a cat person, you don’t want me to.

So how do I make my mad skillz at list making work for me in my spiritual practice? I finally found an answer. I have a list of things to do when I don’t know what to do and/or I’m not having fun. On that list are things like “use a lifeline” which refers to prayer and meditation. It also includes “call a friend”. I have the word HALT on that list. It stands for hungry, angry, lonely or tired. If I’m feeling any of those, I stop, take care of myself and then it is usually easy to move on to knowing what else to do next. Doing some kind of service is on that list. Service work both keeps me out of my head and out of the fridge (emotional eating is an old coping mechanism). I can read a book or watch a Youtube video of a sermon by a friend. There are so many things to put on this list – but when I’m in the dumps, I don’t naturally think of them. When the things on this list are a habit, I’ll have to create a new list. Luckily, that’s a favorite thing to do.

What’s on your list? What works for you?

Leadership

I just started reading John C. Maxwell’s “Leadership Gold: Lessons I’ve learned from a lifetime of leading.” Now I read a lot of leadership books. It was part of my training in psychology and as a minister. For whatever reason, I was blessed with folks even outside my official teachers that kept steering me back in the direction of studying leadership. So I know I’m slogging through the wrong book when I sit there thinking, “I could have written this and why is the author dumbing it down so much?!?” I know I’m on the right track when I’m highlighting every other word and/or planning a class or how I can fit certain ideas into a Sunday talk. Leadership Gold is of the second group, in case you’re wondering. Since this is a library book, I can’t highlight. I’ve already got my talk for this week written on a slightly different subject. Luckily… I blog.

I’ve barely made it through the introduction and I can tell you right now, this book is really about spirituality and the job of a bodhisattva. Did you know I’m a bodhisattva? Did you know that you are, too? Being a bodhisattva is the best job in the world. A bodhisattva is the best kind of spiritual leader – someone who comes and reminds folks of their own inherent wisdom and power and maybe nudges them toward certain practices or tools along the way. Okay, so I nag. We all have our talents.

The bodhisattva as described by Maxwell starts by first learning for him or herself the art and science of leadership. Step one in leadership is always going to be knowing how to use the tools of the trade. If I can’t do it, I can’t teach it. And if I don’t know what I’m doing, I can’t speak about it simply so that other folks can learn it. So I have to live this stuff. Now, if I make it all complicated it’s called theology. If I make it esoteric and ineffable, it’s called mystic philosophy.

In spirituality, it’s really just being a decent human being. Yep, that’s all we bodhisattvas do. It really boils down to “Be nice.” We gussy it up in ritual and burn incense and write long books we call scripture, but that’s what spirituality really is. Being nice means I listen attentively and respectfully. Being nice means I don’t want to take away from other people or tell some folks they can’t be part of our group. If I were being professional that would be called being racist or homophobic and/or having a “lack and limitation” consciousness, but it’s really just a variation on not saying “Give me your lunch money and no, you can’t sit with us.”

A bodhisattva’s main job is to help other people become, well, bodhisattvas really. Leadership is really teaching other people to be all they can be, coaching and encouraging them. I can’t be a leader if I’m walking alone. That’s a hiker, not a leader. I need folks to walk with me. These days, leadership doesn’t even look like walking at the head of the line –it’s more like being part of a group of hikers, but knowing the trail better than the others. As Maxwell wrote, you’re a tour guide not a travel agent.

So if you’re part of my community and I get to the do this in person – keep up, don’t wander off and definitely ask questions (h/t to Doctor Who). If you’re just passing through, take what you found useful and toss the rest. You know which is which. And either way, yes, you can sit with us and I’ll trade half my ham and cheese for some of your baloney… hey, that’s deep

The Vows

Most of you know that I was raised Catholic. I thought all the clergy took the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. However, I’m taking a class right now that says that ain’t so! According to our teacher, many spiritual folks don’t realize that there’s a cultural belief, or something in the race consciousness that says to be spiritual, you must take these vows. What the heck was I thinking?

Poverty doesn’t just mean that people will watch to see what car I drive. It means that if there’s something good going on, I should apologize for it. Who am I, a servant of the Divine, to take the best of what’s offered? Now, as I type that, it sounds ridiculous, but I’ve caught myself explaining that my new(ish) car was actually a gift from my mom’s estate. Oh, and I really needed a new car. Oh, and it’s ecologically sound and I got the most basic model. See where I’m going with this? I took the vow at some point, albeit unconsciously.

And then there’s chastity. Want to end an awkward date? Or get out of having to go on one in the first place? Tell him you’re a minister. Go ahead. No really. Best if you wait until he’s been flirting, or even better, told a dirty joke. I was raised Catholic, remember? Clergy doesn’t date. Now that’s just me, but I’m willing to point out that “hedonist” is usually not a compliment. In modern terms, then, chastity means not enjoying sensual pleasures, like silk pj’s or really good wine. It can mean lots of things to lots of people, but I’m off to confession because last night’s chicken was truly exceptional, so you’ll have to figure that one out yourself.

And that leads to obedience. Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t do being told what to do. I don’t react well at all to being given orders. Do you know a meta-physician who does? Neither do I. Our teacher explained that in modern terms, obedience means needing to work really, really hard in order to be a good servant. I’m a spiritual person so I must get up super early to meditate and read self-help books and scripture (where’s the sarcasm font on this thing?). To be a good person, or at least one who is spiritual, our culture says you can’t get angry or impatient. One who is obedient to the Divine does not rest when there is more work to do (and there will always be more work to do).

So those are the vows. Are you recognizing yourself in any (or goddess help us, all) of these? What would your life look like if you excused yourself from those vows? How about all the other ways we play small in this life? You don’t have to go live large right now – don’t freak out. Just think about it.

I’ll be over here, with my glass of wine and some chocolate. Doing my penance.

In Service

Our theme this month at the Center for Spiritual Living Prescott is service to the world. Now, depending on how you read this, it can feel overwhelming or wonderful. There’s a part of me that still hears someone’s desires as my problem to take care of (oh, to be free of the old programming!) so the idea of being “in service” can feel overwhelming. On the other hand, I’ve learned that when I am in service and simply doing what I’m doing in the present moment, with no agenda other than to be there, it’s beautifully relaxing and fun.

It’s not our job to save the world. Let me repeat that – it’s not our job to save the world. The world does not need saving. The world is full of adult children of God that have wonderful, wise souls with wisdom installed at the beginning. Just because I might have dealt with a similar situation or because I feel like I’m in a better place, doesn’t mean that I should have the spiritual arrogance to try to fix or save anyone.

There’s a story told in a TED talk by Ernesto Sirolli about how he learned how to be of service without imposing any of his own “stuff” on those he was serving. When he first started out, he went to a third world country and taught them how to garden. They had a beautiful garden, although getting participation from the community was hard. And then the season changed, the garden flooded and a group of hippos came and ate everything overnight. Ernesto noticed that the locals seemed unsurprised. When he asked why they didn’t tell him that this happened every year, their response was, “You didn’t ask.” And so the talk was titled, Want to help someone? Shut up and listen!

To be in service to the world – whether it’s the Divine world that exists within you or the physical world that is all around you – requires that we first get quiet and listen to what is needed. I might be great at baking bread and want to teach you how to do it. However, if you don’t like bread, or can’t eat it, it is not actually service to you when I teach that. It’s service to my own need to feel good. If your heart is calling for you to be gentler with yourself as you go through changes, yelling “Try harder! You can do it!” in your head may not be as helpful as you think.

n any case, we are called to be in service. We are called to get quiet and listen to our consciousness to hear what is ours to do. If we want to help another person, we are called to first ask, “How can I help?”

How is the world calling you to be of service?