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In my further striving to share interesting voices with you, I came upon this essay by Vilius Rudra Dundzilla, who is a yogi, university professor, Unitarian Universalist minister, and all around interesting guy.  This essay was first posted on another blog, but I had to share it hear. I met Rudra at Easton Mountain, and have been following his unique approach to life since then.

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The Importance of Spiritual Fitness

Me

Let me tell you about Orion. He’s a big, muscular guy. An ex-football player, and an ex-marine. He’s a body builder now. He looks like an Arnold Schwarzenegger type. He manages a lumber yard in Virginia. He’s pretty fit.

Last weekend was Orion’s 30th birthday. He was celebrating it by going on a yoga vacation. We both attended a retreat for yoga teachers and advanced practitioners. It was at Easton Mountain, a Gay spiritual center in the Adirondacks near Albany, NY.

The first session was an intense warm up routine. Lots of stretching, in many different ways, to get the muscles warm and limber. With a deep focus on breathing, and bio-feedback. Yoga is meditation in postures.

Orion knocked his back out. It hurt him the rest of the weekend. He dropped out of the program, eventually taking vicadin. His back was so stiff, and hurt so much.

I felt sorry for him.

I asked him how he prepared for the yoga retreat.

He didn’t. He hadn’t practiced yoga in 3 years. He thought he could just pick it up again. I think that was the foot ball player or the body builder talking. The retreat had very clear preparation steps. We were to detoxify our bodies for two weeks. And we were to practice as much yoga as possible. Daily. At home, with DVDs, or in yoga classes. Orion did none of this. And he suffered the consequences for it.

You

You’re probably thinking something like, “I’ld never do something like that!” A whole weekend yoga boot camp. Forget it.

OK, I’m the yoga freak here.

But I know you’ve been through similar situations.

Think back to your college days, or high school.

You’ve got your final exam tomorrow. How do you study for it?

Well, best practices say study a few hours each day, over several weeks.

But how do you study for the exam?

You pull an all nighter, craming for the test. You fall asleep around 3 or 4 am. The next morning you wake up, drink a pot of coffee, and hope for the best.

That is, if you wake up in time for the test. I once had a student sleep through his final because he pulled an all nighter studying.

Some of you are triathletes or marathon runners. How to you prepare? Do you wake up the morning of the Chicago marathon, and decide over breakfast at McDonald’s, I think I’ll run the marathon today.

NO.

You plan ahead and start practicing months in advance. You need to get ready.

God

Our religious traditions are filled with stories like this.

Spirituality does not happen over night. It requires practice.

We heard the Taoist tale of Khing the woodcutter. And how he prepared for his sacred task of carving a bell stand. It was no ordinary bell stand, but an elaborate one for a temple.

In the Jewish tradition, Miriam is the sister of Moses. She is the only woman in the Tanakh, Hebrew Scriptures, named a prophet or a prophetess. When the Hebrews escape from Egypt, she leads the people in celebration. She sings and dances in victory. It’s “The Song of Miriam.” She inspires the Hebrews, and they rejoice with her. These are her spiritual practices. Our choirs still do this today.

In Christianity, we have John the Baptist. He eats locusts and honey, and lives in the desert with his renegade band of followers. He wanders from town to town, preaching the coming of the Messiah. And he baptizes people, that is, washes away their sins. That’s his spiritual practice.

Let’s face it. As Unitarian Universalists, this guy would probably not appeal to our religious sensibilities.

Islam has Mohammed. He learns Judaism and Christianity from his fellow merchants. He rejects the idolatry of his people. He begins to worship the one God. He goes to the caves outside Mecca to meditate in solitude and silence. There, his revelations begin. That’s his spiritual practice.

India gives the world Gandhi.

He’s a corporate lawyer. A graduate of British education in India and England. A very proper gentleman. But he believes in human rights, and he fights for equality. He organizes all kinds of boycotts, and protests, and marches in South Africa and in India. He breaks unjust laws. He opposes segregation, Apartheid, discrimination, excessive taxation, mistreatment of the poor and underprivileged, and especially the British occupation of India. But he also realizes that he needs to prepare himself. He needs to become a different person, so he could effectively transform the world. From this realization, comes his teaching, “to be the change we want to see in the world.”

“To be the change we want to see in the world.” That is the essence of spiritual fitness. As a child, he grows in up a religious family with Hindu devotionals. As an adult, he examines the religion of his youth. And explores other ones as well. Sound familiar?

Gandhi develops his deep spiritual practices gradually, over his life time. He experiments a lot. And he sticks with the practices that work for him. It’s trial and error.

He mediates every morning. He prays. He studies scriptures: Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Jain, and Jewish, all the religions. He even translates the Bhagavad Gita. He eats a vegetarian diet, and even tries a Fruitarian one. He controls his sexuality, sometimes to the chagrin of his wife. He keeps a day of silence once a week. Silence.

He weaves his own clothing out of Indian homespun cotton. And wears very simple Indian peasant clothes: a dhoti and a shawl. He journals, daily. And he writes articles, letters, and edits a newspaper. He takes long fasts. To purify himself, and to protest social ills. And when factions would argue at a meeting, He’d do one of two things. He’d suddenly declare that it was time for prayer. Or, he would serve tea to everyone. He would break class barriers and take on the role of a servant. Jesus washes feed. Gandhi serves tea. Seekers would come to Gandhi’s ashram. They have great plans, and huge ideas. They want to organize all sorts of protests, and marches, and actions. Gandhi tells them to spin and weave their own clothing first. BUT, BUT, BUT they try to respond. And then clean the toilets, Gandhi says. That blows their bubbles. He’s teaching them patience and humility.

Gandhi’s spiritual work empowers him. His gumption for social justice comes from his inner spiritual work. His struggles for human rights and equality is effective only because of his spiritual preparation. His spiritual fitness. He calls himself a spiritual warrior.

Gandhi is an example for us. We need to “be the change we want to see in the world.”

You

You know as well as I do that spiritual practice is a challenge. It takes time to find the right one. And then things get in the way, and you forget about it. But with repetition, it becomes easier. It becomes your second nature. The practice sustains you. It kicks in, when you need it most. Like when you find yourself stressed out, worried, spinning out of control. Bills, shopping, work, guests, you name it. And suddenly you remember the practice. And it calms you down.

A mother once told me her teen son had locked himself in the bathroom. Teens sometimes need their privacy, you know. After a while, mom knocked on the door. She got a gruff answer, “Ma, I’m all right. Leave me alone.” After a long while, she knocked again. There was no answer. She could not open the door. She panicked. She forgot how to unlock a bathroom door. She could not get to her son, to see what was going on with him. And she worried: how could she lift him? He was bigger than her. Her mind raced. Was it drugs? Or alcohol? Or, heaven forbid, suicide? Did he drown in the bathtub? Or electrocute himself? Or something else? She was going crazy.

She called 911. The paramedics took care of everything.

In the ambulance she realized, she needed to let go. Her son was in capable hands. She could do nothing to help. And she remembered the meditative breath, her meditative breath. The breath that clamed her down. Breathing, she could care for him without obsessing, without driving herself crazy.

As it turned out, he had gone into insulin shock. All-knowing and all-powerful teen that he was, he had not taken his insulin that day. Or maybe for a few days. He felt fine, so he felt did not need his meds.

As religious seekers, the challenge for you is finding a spiritual practice that works for you. And sticking with it.

What is your spiritual practice?

What do you do to center and ground yourself?

What inner work gives you inspiration and energy to do your outer work?

Is it meditation? Knitting? Gardening? Biking, or jogging? Walking along the lake front?

Take moment to think about this, and jot down notes on the slip of paper provided.

We

As a congregation, we are here to help each other. One of our goals is spirituality. Let’s read the words on the cover of our OOS together: 2U “is a vibrant community that inspires you to develop your own spiritual path and live our your values in the world.”

We share spiritual practices together in worship. Worship is the core life of a congregation. We pray, we sing, and we seek inspiration together. That is a spiritual practice. We have small group ministries, with check-in, a spiritual reading, and personal reflection about the reading. That is a spiritual practice.

We have children’s and adult faith development programs. We learn spiritual practices, grapple with life’s tough questions, and find ways to serve the world for the common good. That is a spiritual practice.

We nurture ourselves, then we serve the world.

Like Gandhi said, we need to “be the change we want to see in the world.”

 – Viluis Rudra Dudzilla is Professor of Humanities & Comparative Religion at Harry S Truman College in Chicago, Illinois, USA and a Minister in the Unitarian Universalist Association.

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Ken with Minuteman Statue on Battle Green, Lexington, Massachusetts, 26 December 2011

It’s the day after Christmas, and everyone is either extremely mellow, or they are frantically shopping for after Christmas deals.  It seemed to be a holiday for just about everyone, and I took the opportunity to clean up some things around the house, do some paperwork, and then I set outside to do some errands and do some writing.

I’m the type of person that I need to get out of the house to get something done that takes a lot of focused time.  I tend to go to the library to do a lot of writing or organizing.  As today was an official holiday for most municipalities, I decided to go to Starbucks, and in wanting to utilize my time well with this challenge, I headed off to Lexington to sit in a Starbucks and get some writing done.

As most of you know, Lexington is famous for the Battle of Lexington on April 19, 1775 and (along with the Battle of Concord) starting the American Revolution.  Lexington now is a pretty affluent suburb of Boston, but with a nice town center and many historic buildings.  The obvious shot for me was with the Minuteman statue on the Lexington Battle Green.

Lexington Battle Green Sign, Lexington, Massachusetts

Ken at Boston Marathon Starting Line, Hopkinton, Massachusetts, 25 December 2011

On my way home from my family Christmas celebration in Upton, I decided that I had enough time to meditate in another town on the way home (hey, the whole reason for this challenge is to get me to go to places that I otherwise wouldn’t go and experience it.)  I decided that I’d try to Hopkinton, as that was relatively on the way home, and not a place that I normally would go through.

Hopkinton is best known to most as being 26.2 miles west of Copley Square in Boston.  In other words, it’s the start of the Boston Marathon.  I stopped at the Town Common and saw the Marathon Starting Line painted on Main Street (Route 135) and did a walking mediation around the center.  It’s quite cold, so I didn’t want to spend too much time, and it’s getting darker earlier.

I did the marathon in 1998 (in 5:07:16, which is pretty good considering I race walked the marathon and finished before many of the runners) and haven’t really been back since. That was a time that I really set a goal (I had been coaching people as part of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training Marathon Walking Program, but hadn’t done one myself, so I really wanted to do this to proved that I was a marathoner too.  It was a tremendous effort, but so worth it see that I could do whatever I put my mind to.

So, what goals have you put your mind to?

Ken with Boston Marathon Starter Statue, Hopkinton, Massachusetts, 25 December 2011

Ken at Upton Inn, West Upton, Massachusetts, 25 December 2011

Merry Christmas to all! This day, I got two for one on the Meditate Mass 351 Challenge.  I was at my brother’s house in Upton where my family all got together, and I took some time to take a walk and take in the land around there.  I’m normally just spending time with family while I’m there, but this time I wanted to also take a break and get some air.

I walked by the old Upton Inn, and then walked a bit farther and saw an old dam that had a lot of water pouring out of it. Upon doing some research, I can see it was the West River that was there and this looked like a quite old dam.  It was a beautiful, clear, cold afternoon.

So, how are you meditating on Christmas?

Ken at the Coolidge Corner Theater, Brookline, MA, 23 December 2011

Today, I had a great massage in Coolidge Corner, which is one of the main shopping areas in Brookline. It’s one of those places in metro Boston that isn’t far in distance from my home in Arlington, but there’s no good, easy way to get there. I managed to do my
last Christmas shopping there today, and ran into a couple of friends to boot. I’m taking some time off and taking care of myself in addition to my tasks.

The Coolidge Corner Theater is an icon in Brookline so I had to take my picture in front of it.

So, what are you doing to take care if yourself?

PS – Happy Festivus!

20111222-082305.jpgIt is the morning of Thursday, December 22nd, and the sun has come up after the longest night of the year (in the Northern Hemisphere). For cultures all over the world for centuries, this has signaled that the long, slow decrease in light will not continue, and light will return to the land. To use a term that’s been used a lot in the last few years, this was the original “It Gets Better” signal to the world.

We’ve all experienced times when things seem great, followed by times when all seems doom and gloom. I think we all intellectually understand the phrase from many traditions that “This too shall pass” whether good or bad, but that’s hard to emotionally get while we’re in the middle of something. Elation or depression can both keep us from clear thinking. I see this all the time when clients are just so happy to have a job they don’t realize that it’s not the right one for them and they dive into depression a few months later when the reality of their choice hits them.

At this time when all can seem merry and celebratory to some, and incredibly depressing to others, know that soon we will have the ordinariness of January. Take heart in enjoying what is here now, or knowing that enjoyment will come later. We are at an extraordinary time in our planet’s rotation, and that will generate extraordinary thoughts. Be kind and know they are there and that things will change.

So, what are you realizing right now?

Empty Beach at Upper Mystic Lake, Winchester, MA, 18 December 2011

Today feels like winter has finally come to New England after a very mild November and December. The high temperature should still be below the freezing point, and while it’s very sunny out, it’s the type of day you want to just stay inside.  I’ve been cleaning and cooking in preparation for a gathering at my place this afternoon, but wanted to at least get out for a little bit.

One of the reasons for this challenge is to push myself to go to places that I wouldn’t otherwise.  This was a great opportunity, so I went to the Mystic Lakes Reservation in Winchester, which is a short ride from my house, but would be nice a quite and give me the chance to be out in nature.  I decided that this should be a walking meditation, as it’s really cold out!  It was nice and there weren’t many other people outside.  By moving and meditating, I focused on what was around me, my falling footsteps, and what I could see. I’m still working on it and distracted by too many thoughts but this was a nice respite from my planned day.

So, what new things are you trying today?

Ken at Shannon Memorial Beach, Mystic Lakes Reservation, Winchester, MA, 18 December 2011

Blooming Winter Tree, December 2011

On December 16, 2009, I started with my first post at the Spirit-Work Connection blog.  I’ve now done 132 posts on all sorts of topics related to my life, career development, personal growth, spiritual seeking, and anything else that’s come to my mind. I’ve been saying that I’m writing my book a blog post at a time, and my thoughts on all these matters have been developing as I try to put them down in words for you.  It’s been a great journey and I look forward to more interesting concepts arising.

To do that, I need some input, and I’d really like to know what value you’ve gotten from my writings.  Please leave a comment stating the insights that you’ve gleaned and developed as a result of my writing. I will choose one lucky commenter from everyone who’s commented between now and 12/23/11 at noon for a free resume critique.

Thank you for your support of my work, and I look forward to lot of other interactions in the future!

So, what have you learned?

As I’m interested in all different aspects of the connection of spirit, passion and work, I’ve wanted to get some other voices in here to tell about their experiences of mixing these three aspects.  The first one is Casey Adam Miller, who I met at the end of his cross country bike ride where he found that connection for himself.

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Most of my life I have followed the rules.

I attended a private high school, graduated cum laude from a renowned college, and in 2006, obtained two Masters degrees from one of the world’s most prestigious universities in the world.

By the age of 31, just 5 years later, I had done what most people with my background thought we ought to: traveled the globe, built a company, and made some money.  By most accounts, I was what I thought success should look like. Yet I was not any happier. And my life was certainly not any more meaningful. Like many people of my generation, I was stuck between the allure of capitalism and the painful realization that more does not mean better.  I felt empty, even though my life was surrounded by wonderful places, experiences, and things.

In January 2011, after 5 years in Mexico City, I quit my job at the the energy company I had help to found. The existential pains I had felt most of my adult life made moving to San Francisco in the name of love an easy excuse, if not a mask for the deeper reasons for my move–I was fed up with the rat race and the sacrifices I had to make in order to live in this crazy world we have built for ourselves.

Then, just 4 months later, I was dumped on the Eiffel Tower.

Heartbroken, without a place to live, and unsure of the direction of my career, I fell into a deep depression.  In retrospect, the perfect storm had brewed in my life, giving me occasion to reflect on what was important.  Casually, I started asking people how they found meaning in their lives, considering the fact that at that point, I had absolutely none in my own.

My impromptu conversations soon turned into formal interviews.  And before I knew it, I had declared to the world that I would ride my bicycle from coast to coast asking people how they found meaning in their lives (a particularly odd declaration, given the fact that I didn’t even own a bicycle nor ridden one since elementary school).

I quit playing by the rules entirely to find something I think all of us want, but many don’t know how to find: a life’s purpose.

On August 8th, I left San Francisco and nearly 3 months later, arrived in Cambridge, MA.  Along the way, I interviewed over 400 people about how their find meaning in their lives and, not coincidentally, for the first time found meaning in my own life.

I am now in the process of writing a book that will inspire others to find meaning in their own.  Over the coming weeks, I will be releasing chapters of my book that speak to the 6 1/2 characteristics that meaningful lives share in common.

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I will be asking other writers from different perspectives to share their thoughts in the future.  Let me know if you know anyone you’d like to see write about the Spirit-Work Connection.

So, How would you answer Casey’s Question? How have you found meaning in your life?

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Tree in Boston Common, December 2011

I started this blog (almost two years ago now) because I wanted to get out my ideas on the intersection of where people feel their passion and souls live and what they do in their lives to create meaning and support themselves. I’ve seen too many of my clients who are just blindly going through their professional careers who then 5, 10, 20 or even more years into it discover that they are completely unfulfilled and feel like they have been wasting their lives. It’s my goal to get as many people as possible to consider what’s important to them first before taking these steps. They might take the same actions, but this time with confidence.

I’ve also been doing a kit of personal reflection and study in my life and tried to share my learnings with all of you. Probably the greatest insight that I’ve had is one that I’ve read and heard for years, but I finally “got it”. As is probably apparent from my posts and my professional position, I’m a great proponent of planning and working your plan. I’m always looking for ways to be in control of what’s needed to be done (just look at all the posts that I have with the tags GTD, actions, goals, and the like). That’s my natural way of being and I can easily teach this to others. I’ve had to be a student of the other side, namely allowing things to happen.

I’ve been so driven to get things done that I’ve been impatient to allow things to happen. I’ve come to realize in a visceral sense (and not just intellectually) that there are too many variables in the world that I have no control over, and I have to learn how to just “be” in order to effectively deal with life’s challenges. As the saying goes “Life happens while you’re making other plans”. If I’ve been working so hard to get everything right, I’m not able to deal with what’s in front of me effectively.

In reviewing some of the data that I’ve seen from this blog, the #1 search term that brings people to my site is “human being versus human doing”. My first post on this is subject is one of my most read posts. I think that people have a great longing wondering if what they do has meaning and if there are other ways of being. As you can probably tell, it’s my work to answer that question with a resounding “Yes!”.

The first step is to practice “being”. It sounds cliche, but you have to work at slowing your mind down and just be present to the current moment. Our fast paced culture does all it can to keep us from bring present. This is not something I can just give you; it takes practice. You will screw it up a lot at the beginning. Keep trying. There are lots of different ways (yoga, meditation, prayer, serving others, etc.). Find the way that works for you and keep trying to do it and stay present.

Once you get that down, it will be much easier to actually take the action steps you need to make your dreams happen. You’ll have a focused goal and won’t have a lot if other things crowding your mind to keep you from the action steps to get them done.

So, how are you being today?

Ken Mattsson

Ken Mattsson

Ken Mattsson

I am a career consultant who specializes in the connection between what your spirit wants to do in the world, and how to marry that to the work that you do in order to support yourself. While I work with people in all fields, I specialize in working with "creative entrepreneurs" and the LGBT community.

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