Here is a link to listen to a version of song that Sue Cotter played to open the morning – it’s called Wildflowers by Jody Kessler. I wish that Sue’s rendition had been recorded, but this recording is by Jody Kessler, who wrote the song. It’s very nice! If you like it, please consider purchasing it to support Jody’s work or you can purchase Jody’s other CDs here.
Here is the text of the guided meditation and sermon I gave at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Stanislaus County on July 10, 2011. I added a few comments that aren’t included in the text, but this holds the overall gist of the sermon:
Guided Lovingkindness Meditation
Take a couple of long, slow, deep breaths and as you exhale, see if you can relax any tension in your body. As you exhale, release all the worries and stress from the day just for this moment. Gradually, let your breathing come back to normal.
Take a moment now to reflect on being here with many like-minded individuals like you who have come together this morning.
Think about the people around you, how they each have been born into this world, who have had mothers and fathers, perhaps brothers or sisters, or children, like you have. The people around you in this hall have also experienced struggle as well as joy; have laughed and cried; have all wanted to have happiness, just as you have wished for happiness in your life.
Think of a moment of happiness you’ve experienced in your life. It doesn’t have to be huge, just a moment when you felt happy.
Bring that happiness into your heart and feel it there. As I say this next phrase, silently repeat it to yourself and let that happiness flow out from your heart. “Just as I wish to be happy, I wish that everyone here can also be happy.”
Now, coming back into the feeling in the heart, think of a moment when you felt safe and protected free from harm – or if you’ve never experienced that feeling, perhaps imagine what it would be like to feel safe and protected. Bring that feeling into your heart and feel it there. Thinking of the people around you in this hall, know that they too have experienced fear or may have experienced harm; have all wanted to have safety, protection and freedom from harm, just as you have wished for safety, protection and freedom from harm.
As I say this next phrase, silently repeat it to yourself and let that feeling of feeling safe and protected flow out from your heart. “Just as I wish to be safe, protected and free from harm, I wish that everyone here can also be safe, protected, and free from harm.”
Now, coming back into the feeling in the heart, think of a moment when you been in good health. Bring that feeling into your heart and feel it there. Thinking of the people around you in this hall and moments in your own life when you’ve experienced illness or perhaps you’re ill now, know that they too have experienced illness or ill health; have all wanted to have good health and wellness, just as you have wished for your own good health and wellness.
As I say this next phrase, silently repeat it to yourself and let that feeling of wellness flow out from your heart. “Just as I wish to be healthy and well, free from sickness and ill health, I wish that everyone here can also be healthy and well, free from sickness and ill health.”
And finally, coming back into the feeling in the heart, think of a moment when life was easy or when things were peaceful for you. Bring that feeling into your heart and feel it there. Thinking of the people around you in this hall and moments in your own life when you’ve experienced peace and ease from the sorrows and struggles of life, know that they too have experienced similar sorrows and struggles; have all wanted to have peace and ease, free from sorrow and struggle, just as you have wished for your own peace and ease.
As I say this next phrase, silently repeat it to yourself and let that feeling of ease and peacefulness flow out from your heart. “Just as I wish to be at peaceful and at ease, I wish that everyone here can also be peaceful and at ease.”
When I ring the bell, slowly open your eyes and take a moment to take in the people all around you who have just wished you these kind wishes, just as you have wished them the same.
All You Need Is Love – UUFSC Sermon July 10, 2011
Many of the issues of the world revolve around our ideas of who we are, the tribe or community we belong to, and the mentality of “us” vs. “them.” The very idea of division, of creating an identity, separates us from others. Issues of race, gender, economic status, religion all are based on the idea that the other group is different and therefore not a part of my group, my identity – they are foreign. When we see people as being separate from our tribe, it’s very easy to treat them differently.
There is a story that a over 2500 years ago in the time of the Buddha, a group of monks had gone into a forest to practice meditation, but were frightened away by the tree and forest spirits that lived there. They approached the Buddha for advice. He gave them a teaching on loving kindness to practice and when they went back into the forest and practiced loving kindness, the tree and forest spirits were moved to also be kind to the monks and stopped frightening them and allowed them to practice peacefully in their forest.
Here are some of the instructions the Buddha gave to the monks:
[The Buddha’s Instructions on Loving-kindness (Karaniya Sutta)]
Think: Happy & secure, may all beings be happy at heart.
Whatever beings there may be, weak or strong, without exception,
Long, large, middling, short, subtle, blatant,
Seen or unseen, near or far,
Born or seeking birth: May all beings be happy at heart.
Let no one deceive another or despise anyone anywhere,
Or through anger or resistance wish for another to suffer.
As a mother would risk her life to protect her child, her only child,
Even so should one cultivate a limitless heart with regard to all beings.
With good will for the entire cosmos, cultivate a limitless heart:
Above, below, & all around, unobstructed, without enmity or hate.
Whether standing, walking, sitting, or lying down, as long as one is alert,
One should be resolved on this mindfulness. This is called a sublime abiding here & now.
It is this kind of love – that of wishing well of kindness, that I want to speak about today.
The Dalai Lama often says “My religion is simple. My religion is kindness.”
What is really radical about this teaching by the Buddha on loving kindness over 2500 years ago is the inclusion of all beings – whether weak or strong, long, short, middling, without exception. In the time of the Buddha, and even today, caste was very important in India. The idea of leaving the caste you were born in was impossible. Yet, the Buddha accepted people of all castes, including women, to come and practice together towards awakening. In these times, I think the Buddha would have included LGBTQI, black, white, yellow, red, brown, Republican, Democrat, etc.
The heart of this teaching is the universality that all beings would like to be happy, to be safe, to be at peace, and to be healthy. With the cultivation of mindfulness, we learn to become familiar with the breath, the body and all of its myriad sensations, we become familiar with emotions and how they are felt in the body and in the mind; we become familiar with what it is like to have a mind in a human body: the different activities of the mind, the various mind states, the attitudes in the mind, and finally awareness itself. In that process, we also begin to see that our experiences are not so unique – that being born in a human body comes with this panoply of sensations and mind states. We all know what it is like to experience anger, rage, fear, joy, happiness, love, lust, embarrassment, sadness, grief, despair. Each of us has the capacity to experience these emotions and states of mind. It takes kindness and mindfulness to cultivate the ability to be with these states to know them well; in their depth and profundity.
Sharon Salzberg says,
“When we cut through all of our external differences, we see that our most basic drive – for every single one of us – is a longing for happiness. This is what every single, living, breathing being shares, no matter how we behave, no matter who we are. We all want to be happy.”
I believe, as we begin to see how universal this longing for happiness is, it becomes difficult for us to hold ill-will towards anyone because we know what it feels like to have ill-will directed towards us and how this keeps not only others from being happy, but ourselves from also being happy. Just think what it feels like in your own body when you think of what it’s like to be angry or filled with hate. It’s very unpleasant and painful. As we begin to see how this is so painful and unpleasant in our own bodies, it becomes difficult to wish that on anyone else.
There was an inspiring video on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K_5YnHFwsIA) through a project called SMOOCH, which has been recording stories of forgiveness. The story recorded a young black woman by the name of Princess who lost her son on July 4th, 2010 in a shooting. She was able to forgive the murderers of her son because she realized that the pain and anger she felt, if she turned it towards someone else would only hurt someone else in the same way she was feeling. “Hurt people, hurt people.” To hurt someone else would make them feel the way she did and she couldn’t do that to someone else. She also felt that modeling this, to stop and acknowledge the pain and anger and to let it go and not come out in action of more anger or violence would help heal rather than hurt more people to be a role model for the children and others who may not know another way.
When we extend good will towards all, we can find peace in our own hearts.
George Washington Carver said it this way:
“How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in your life you will have been all of these.”
There’s also a very practical point of wishing others well: if your enemies are happy, safe, healthy and at peace, they won’t be enemies or harbor ill-will towards you. We can easily see that in ourselves: it’s natural for us to lash out when we aren’t happy, when we don’t feel safe, when we don’t feel well, when we’re not at ease or at peace with the world. When we’re in an environment that is safe, where we’re at ease, when we’re not feeling sick and feeling happy, we’re unlikely to hurt someone – our hearts are open and friendly. When we begin to eliminate the barriers, the divisions and boundaries we create between different groups or communities, we include others into our tribe – they are no longer enemies. The moment someone is outside of our tribe, we hold them with suspicion and fear. When you open your heart to someone, they become a friend.
Og Mandino says:
“Beginning today, treat everyone you meet as if they were going to be dead by midnight. Extend to them all the care, kindness and understanding you can muster, and do it with no thought of any reward. Your life will never be the same again.”
Here is a poignant story from Joann C. Jones:
“During my second year of nursing school our professor gave us a quiz. I breezed through the questions until I read the last one: “What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?” Surely this was a joke. I had seen the cleaning woman several times, but how would I know her name? I handed in my paper, leaving the last question blank. Before the class ended, one student asked if the last question would count toward our grade. “Absolutely,” the professor said. “In your careers, you will meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say hello.” I’ve never forgotten that lesson. I also learned her name was Dorothy.”
I’m currently in a community dharma leader training program through Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre (near San Rafael). This is the fourth program offered by Spirit Rock and this particular group was intentionally picked to include a wide range of diversity: race/ethnic background, gender identity: LGBTQI, economic status, geographic location (three people are from South Africa). It has been a challenging group where issues of culture and identity have come up several times. I don’t know anywhere in the world where such a diverse group of people have come together intentionally to build a community of emerging leaders that are learning to lead diverse communities with respect for our differences. It’s not easy work and yet, we have the common bond with the intention of living the Buddha’s teachings including those of loving kindness – to learn to meet each other in our differences, yet hold one another with kindness and respect. It is so radical, at one point, I felt as though this should be a candidate for a Nobel Peace prize. Just imagine what the world would look like if the leaders of our world could come together with the intention of meeting one another with kindness and respect – to meet each as another human being from the same tribe, rather than separate tribes.
This kind of willingness to break down the barriers that separate us from others also brings us to explore how we are in relationship to our own experience of the world. We begin to explore whether we are kind and loving to all the aspects of ourselves or whether we’re cruel and unkind and unwilling to accept the flaws and foibles of our own character – those parts we wish weren’t there. It is our relationship with who we are where our own peace and freedom lies. If we’re struggling with who we think we should be or beating ourselves up with how we ought to be, when we’re in conflict with ourselves and our experience of the world, we cannot be at peace with ourselves or with the world. If we wish to be happy, we need to be able to meet our own imperfections with kindness, care and tenderness. We need to give ourselves the permission to fail, to be imperfect, to make mistakes – just as we need to give others the same permission, knowing that we all are imperfect human beings.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn said:
“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?””
If we are at peace, holding with kindness, all of the many facets of ourselves – the parts we don’t like with the parts we do, we become whole – we’re able to meet our whole experience. When we can embrace the difficult within ourselves with acceptance, honesty and truth, we can then embrace others with acceptance, kindness and compassion because we know them as ourselves. They too have felt and known this, just as I have as a human being. Our natural response then is love. We merely reflect the awareness of this truth into the external world. How we are in the world is merely a reflection of how we are within.
Confucius said, ” To put the world right in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must first cultivate our personal life; we must first set our hearts right.”
Leo Buscaglia says this:
“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
I think we have the potential to turn not only a life around, but the whole world around with kindness.
This quote is from Mother Teresa:
“There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread, but there are many more dying for a little love.”
And finally, I want to leave you with a poem by Hafiz:
With That Moon Language
Everyone you see, you say to them, “Love me.”
Of course you do not do this out loud, otherwise
Someone would call the cops.
Still though, think about this, this great pull in us to connect.
Why not become the one who lives
With a full moon in each eye that is always saying
With that sweet moon language
What every other eye
In this world
Is dying to hear?