Monday, March 10, 2008

From Brian: (March 10, 2008)

NOTE: My Reflections are now posted on a new Blog:

(The blog will be used for other thoughts.)

Friday, March 7, 2008

Brian’s Reflection: Friday, March 07, 2008

I've never felt a pain that didn't bear a blessing.

- Gene K. Hoffman

Not so fast! I think Hoffman is correct about this in essence. But. I’ve known some people who never got to the Blessing part. This has to become part of the way you look at Life, I think, for it to be a really helpful working principle.

Pain is a given of human existence. Perhaps of the Universe. I’ve gotten hurt, in body, mind, spirit, heart. Often it feels like it won’t go away. But, after just a couple of days of pain after my heart surgery and many other physical insults, the pain subsided; the Blessing was how the body can be quite amazing. (Though it’s interesting how a cold sore can be more aggravating than a 7” incision! Is there a wisdom here?).

I thought I would be a monk all my life. Nope: 15 years. But the Blessing was discovering my innate contemplative soul, to realize we all have one, and how critical it is to nurture it. My mind, over the years, has been pained to come up against hard concepts that challenged my assumptions about “truth”, especially about the Mystery of God, Faith, Happiness. The Blessing has been to understand that change and learning is Life itself. My Spirit has often been assaulted by discouragement and a panic of aloneness. The Blessing has been the gift of Friendship, holding me up in felt and unfelt ways. My heart has often felt rejection. The Blessing has been the knowledge and conviction of the “God of Unconditional Love”, the certainty that I (and all people) am loved and valued and delighted in - from that I learned both independence and generosity.

The Pain and the Blessing roll on. If your way of Life doesn’t support Blessing rising out of Pain, can it. You are worth much, much better!


Thursday, March 6, 2008

Brian’s Reflection: Thursday, March 06, 2008

All is change in the world of the senses,
But changeless is the supreme Lord of Love,
Meditate on him, be absorbed in him,
Wake up from this dream of separateness.

-Shvetashvatara Upanishad (Hindu)

I am with a group of folk from my congregations. We are on a retreat at Mt. Calvary Retreat House in Santa Barbara CA (not too shabby, right! trust monks to grab the best locations). We are sitting on top of a mountain, - the ocean and city lights below us, the flowering mountains around us, the clear star-filled skies above us, healing Silence enveloping us.

Last night, one of the monks gave us a talk on the Heavens. Once a science teacher, he became fascinated with astronomy when he came to live at this house 20 years ago. He reflected on several passages of the Bible that talk about how the Heavens “proclaim the glory of God”. Then he took us outside, where he had set up his 8” telescope. He showed us soft-white Saturn with its sweeping rings, and its moon Titan, 850 million miles from us. He showed us the Orion nebula, giving birth to new stars. He showed us the Andromeda galaxy, 2.5 million light years away but visible to the naked eye from our own Milky Way galaxy.

One has a slight sense, gazing out there, of panic. How tiny and insignificant we seem – and maybe “alone” in this vastness. But not last night. I felt the connection, the “being-part-of”. The Oneness with the change and reshaping and growing. “We” are all in it together.

But we have also “found” the Unchanging Heart of it all. We have intuited, plucked out of the vastness of the Unknown, the Known. Love. Our religion, many peoples’ religions, has made a determination about what the ultimate character of Existence is. It is Unchanging Love, anchoring us all in the wonder of Creation and sustaining without fear us in the constant flow of change.

Such is the “God” we have found. So we step out with a smile and trust. All is well.


Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Brian’s Reflection: Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Any kind of expectation creates a problem.
We should accept, but not expect. Whatever
comes, accept it. Whatever goes, accept it.
The immediate benefit is that your mind
is always peaceful.

- Sri Satchidananda

As I think about it, “expectation” is a great tyranny. Expectation by nature creates distance between two people, between a person and one’s ability to be open to the World and to Life, between our heart and another. It creates fear. It blocks love. I have always appreciated the story of Jesus talking with the rich young man. Jesus loved him, offered His answer to the young man’s questions about how to attain Eternal Life, but had no expectation that the young man should do what He said. Wise.

I “expect”, but without prejudice or a need to control (when I’m functioning properly!). I expect things, “good” or “bad”, to happen. But I try not to control it. I “accept” – and I think that’s what the author means. “Accept” doesn’t mean we agree or like. It just means we know that Life is going to come at us. It’s best to be agile in our ability to respond. Recently, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I had had the biopsy. While I was waiting for the results, I went through the process of letting my natural expectation of “bad news” be replaced by “acceptance”, so I could be resilient, accept, and not be controlled by fear. It worked! When the doc told me the results, I was ready to “get on with it”.

The swami is right. It helps to have a peaceful mind. Life takes on a deeper wonder, mystery, excitement.


Monday, March 3, 2008

Brian’s Reflection: Monday, March 3, 2008

I don't want to get to the end of my life
and find that I lived just the length of it.
I want to have lived the width of it as well.

- Diane Ackerman

Work! That’s the problem! Oh, there are a few people (hopefully more than I know of) who absolutely love what they do as work and find that it is part of living the “width” of their lives. I suspect most people don’t have that connection. Now I understand more why the Biblical Creation story has God cursing human beings with having to work hard to eke out a painful existence from an uncooperative land - since the story was written by hard-working people who were worn out with never ending work to stay alive!

However, even putting work aside, my observation is that people choose paths in life that work against living the width of life. I have been “criticized” all my life by friends and parishioners griping about the fact that I travel to fun places and take a lot of opportunities to have fun, whether it’s birding in Madagascar or eating long lunches in Tuscan hill towns. I know that bottom-line they are just expressing the fact that they would like to be doing some version of what I’m doing. But I have gently pointed out that I have made choices that allow me to do these things, including rejecting some possibilities in order to enjoy others. Some people would rather have a $35,000 Lexus; I’m happy with a $10,000 pre-owned car and two trips to Italy!

Anyway: Diane is just nudging us. Think about how we spend our lives. It doesn’t have to be a trudging though the hours and days. There is “width”. We can orchestrate the side-trips out to the various edges, which will be different for each of us. If we’re either lucky of determined, work can be a part of it!


Friday, February 29, 2008

Brian’s Reflection: Saturday, March 1, 2008

God judges persons differently than humans do.
Men and women look at the face;
God looks into the heart.

- from the Book of the Prophet Samuel

“God “is always what we human beings hope we can be. And for every human being who wants to be Hitler, there are incalculably more who want to be ….. insert the name of the loveliest, kindest, most intelligent, most loving person you know of.

The words from Samuel come from the passage where the prophet is sent to find a king for Israel to replace Saul. All of Jesse’s sons are rejected. Then David appears, and we are told that he was very handsome. He’s the “runt” of the litter. But God is looking beyond external handsome - and one can be handsome or ugly (both relative terms, of course), since to God the exterior is irrelevant - to a handsome heart. David is chosen, despite the fact that he committed adultery and treachery and murder. God is interesting, isn’t She!!

One of the things I like about God is that God transcends our petty human categories. Skin colour, place of origin, gender, sexual orientation, etc. This gives me some hope about the human community! We may be capable of wretched discrimination and hate of “the other”, yet we can conceive of an Ideal that transcends all this nonsense - and we admire this!

So, within the human heart there are contending realities. We can look at “the face”, or we can look “into the heart”. Well, despite the sad state of human relations worldwide at the moment, I’m betting on “into the heart” coming out on top, and will try consciously to abet it.


Thursday, February 28, 2008

Brian’s Reflection: Thursday, February 28, 2008

No [person] is exempt from saying silly things;
the mischief is to say them deliberately.

- Michel de Montaigne, philosopher, born
on this day, 1533, in Perigord, Bordeaux

Which gets me to the fascinating subject of Love. I seem to spend my life trying to understand the nature and character of Love - and I suppose that is OK, being in my “line of work”. But I actually think it “should” be everybody’s life-work. Certainly Christianity is essentially about Love/Compassion. I have that sense about Judaism, and Buddhism. Regrettably, through my own inexcusable lack of knowledge of Islam, I don’t know if a Muslim would say that Islam was essentially about Love. Must ask an Imam sometime soon.

I keep distinct Romance and Love. For me, Romance is lovely, but it’s a sub-set to Love. Romance, to me, has primarily to do with feelings - and feelings are notoriously slippery. On again, off again. People tend to bring flowers to their beloved when they feel good; I think it would be better to bring flowers when you don’t feel good about the relationship. You can extrapolate.

I also have come to think that Love is 95% an act of the will. One chooses, makes a conscious choice, to love, regardless of how one feels. In my own religious culture, I take this from Jesus, and other experiences in Life. One does not die for Love because it “feels” good - unless one is warped in some fashion! Chosen willful Love is clear and sharp and brilliant, not flabby and soft. Hence I can live with Dennis; I have no fear that transient feelings will take command of the choice to love.

I am very careful about using the word “love” in conversation or correspondence. As per Montaigne, I do not want to use it in a silly way. I want to be deliberate, to know that when I say “Love”, or “I love you”, or “Love to you”, I mean it.

It would be extremely detrimental not to be deliberate about Love.