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I just returned from my college reunion at Hamilton College in Clinton, NY. I won’t tell you what number reunion it was for me, but I’ll just say it was “a big round number” as I like to call these things. We had about 30-35% of the graduating class back, and, while this is the third time I’ve been back to College Hill, it is the first time that I was there where I felt like I was fully present. I think that a lot of people step into sites that were scenes from earlier in their lives and they revert to the person they were there, and stop being the person they are now. I’ve done that in the past, and was working really hard to be present in the fullness of who I am now.
One thing that I think is the norm for any college reunion is drinking. I think I had more in 30 hours than I normally have in a month! I was lucky to be staying in campus housing so I didn’t have to drive anywhere. In some ways I think that is to numb yourself from feeling everything as well as to try to relive your old activities, and get away from the staid live of the present. I got to see a number of friends that I was close to while I was a student, including choir buddies (I sang most of my time there are was a
member of numerous singing groups), roommates (Eric, I swear I will go to Wellesley soon in the Meditate Mass 351 Challenge. Thanks for following!), suitemates (great to meet your family Dave!), and even people I never talked with while I was there. I even met someone who I never spoke with in my four years on campus to find he lives a little over a mile away and might be interested in my career consulting (yup, it’s a tax deduction right there!). I even got to go rock climbing for the first time in my life. They certainly never had that when I was on campus!
I also tried to do some thing that are being true to me. There was a yoga class that I took, and I first did yoga on campus where I was the only student to an upperclass woman from Brazil. That, and the health food store in the village of Clinton were things that got me to think about health issues and set me up for the 26 years that I’ve been a vegetarian. These were the seeds that grew to make me who I am now.
A really new thing for me was that I got to attend a GLBT Alumni gathering. I was not out to myself then and very few people on campus were. Now they have a building where they have programming and are very visible on campus. In talking with a number of the current students, it sounds like it’s not always the easiest thing, it’s a lot different than my time. I also got to meet other GLBT alums and find out that there’s a GBLT Alumni group! It’s amazing to think of being all of myself there. (Note: another gay alumnus of Hamilton wrote a great article for the New York Times about his experiences at reunion, which mirrors a lot of what I’m saying here.)
There are three things that really struck me while I was there:
- One of my fellow alums was there who really made an impression on me. I didn’t know her that well while I was on campus, but we knew each other enough to say hello and chat. She’s obviously had challenges in her life as she was walking with a walker and utilized an iPad to type out what she had to say that couldn’t be relayed in hand gestures. She was in yoga class with me, and was everywhere during the weekend. I know that she had some assistance, but she was very self determined and was definitely showing up fully as she is today. I didn’t get to speak with her much, but I did tell her she if a very strong woman.Thank you, Classmate, for your presence.
- A friend of mine that I’m still connected on Facebook asked me what it was like being gay in college and if I was out, did I hide it from people, etc. She said it must have been very difficult and she felt badly that she couldn’t have done something to make it a better experience. This was totally unprompted and really made me feel cared for. It was something small, but made a big difference in my heart.Thank you, Friend, for your presence.
- While I was not out in college, there was a guy who was. He was an athlete and well liked, and was really the first colleague that I had that was out. I didn’t have the words for it at the time, but I realize now that he was the first guy I had a crush on. Unbelievably, he was there and I got to say thank you to him for being out, and that it made a difference to me even though I didn’t come out then. He said it was awkward, but he knew that he had to do it. I wish I could have been that brave.Thank you, Role Model, for your presence.
I was working hard at being present and being me authentically while I was there. This is difficult in lots of situations, but by forcing myself to do that, I gained some strength and that I can be more me in any situation and can take that into my future.
So, are you being present even when it’s tough?
It’s past Memorial Day, so in these parts it means that summer is officially in session. I know that many people have a reading list for the summer. I have not been one of those people. I don’t tend to read books as a “start here, finish book, start the next” type of reader. I tend to pick up about four or five books and read them spottily and sometime finish them, sometimes not.
My bookshelf has been crammed with books that I thought would be great to read, but I’ve never gotten to them. In the quest to be more intentional and to actually do things that I say I want to do, I’ve decided to publish my summer reading list and write a review of each book after I’m finished. I don’t tend to read fiction and as you’ll see most of them have something to do with spiritual, career, or productivity matters (or all three at once!) I wish I liked to read fiction, but as you see they are all non-fiction
Here are the books that I’ve decided I want to try to finish this summer:
- The War of Art by Steven Pressfield: This book has been suggested to me more times that I can imagine from so many people, and I understand this is about how we can be with our creative selves.
Transitions by William Bridges: Career development is all about changes, and this is the standard book in my field. I’ve never read it before, so this is sort of my “good medicine” that I really need to experience.
- Embracing Your Inner Critic by Hal Stone & Sidra Stone: I, like so many, have some internal issues to work though, and this book was recommended by my friend Elsa (a mental health counselor) as a good resource for looking at this issue.
- Planets in Work by Jamie Binder: Another recommendation from Elsa. I have been researching archetypes, and I’ve been looking at how those show up in astrological readings. This looks at how astrology could be used in career development decisions.
- A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle: This book was given to me by Casey Miller and he read this many times on his cross country bike trip. I’ve seen videos of Tolle speaking, but never read any of his works. It’s about time.
- Awakening in Time by Pamela Kristan: I was at a presentation Pam gave at the Theosophical Society of Boston, and Pam’s work has to do with the intersection of productivity and spirituality. As you can imagine, this is right up my alley. I had to see how I can incorporate her ideas into my work.
- Living & Loving Well by Joseph Stuczynski: Joe presented at Easton Mountain a few years ago, and his work focuses on getting clear with our values in order to make good decisions in our lives, especially about our personal relationships. This is more of a workbook to clarify your goals, so this should be a quick win in getting it done!
- Mastering Respectful Confrontation by Joe Weston: Joe is an amazing human being and presenter, and I have been to numerous workshops that he has done, and this book puts done in words what he preaches. Joe’s main concept is that the concept of power in our culture has gotten to be connected more with physical strength and power over others, and he bases his alternative vision on Easter philosophy as the power within and with other people, and how we can have conversations that empower everyone and don’t deny our own needs. This is great stuff!
- Making It All Work by David Allen: I have been a “Getting Things Done” (GTD) fan for a number of years, as David Allen’s philosophy about personal productivity is all about how to free yourself from the stress of life and having a “mind like water” so that you can easily accomplish things in your life without fretting about them. I was lucky enough to attend a seminar last year that David personally taught, and Making It All Work is the continuation of those theories.
- How to Eat, Move, and Be Healthy! by Paul Chek: In 2008, I was part of an online weight loss challenge through RealJock.com (which I won!) and DIAKADI Body was the exercise consultants on this. Though continuing to follow their great advice, I found out about Paul Chek’s work, which integrates the concepts of health, exercise, and nutrition with a more holistic & spiritual sense that really attracted me. I don’t know it so well, but have liked what I’ve seen.
- Mindfulness by Ellen Langer: This book was given to me by my boss back in the early 1990’s, and while I’m obviously interested in it, I never finished this book that was one of the first on the subject. It’s time. Thanks Dave!
- Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert: Dan’s research into what makes us really happy (as opposed to what we say makes us happy) has been really enlightening to me, as I work with people to get at the core of their happiness.
- Eating Free: The Carb-Friendly Way to Lose Inches, Embrace Your Hunger, and Keep Weight Off for Good by Manuel Villacorta: In the aforementioned weight loss challenge, Manuel’s crew at MV Nutrition in San Francisco was invaluable to giving me the knowledge to eat better and lose weight. This is a new book that just came out last month, and again, I need to read it to remind myself of all the knowledge that I’ve learned (and maybe forgotten!) I highly, highly recommend that you pick up this book!
I might not get them all finished by Labor Day but it’s an intention (not at goal!).
So, what are you reading? Do you have any comments or experiences with any of these books?
Like probably many of you, I’ve had a busy and rough spring, and with the coming of Summer (yes, it’s coming!), life is starting to slow down a bit. I’ve been joking that I didn’t need a Mental Health Day, but a Mental Health Week. I was feeling so frazzled that I really needed some reflection time.
Beware of what you ask for. Last week after a major responsibility, my whole body just seemed to collapse with a flu. It started with just exhaustion, but soon moved into the stuffy head and coughing fits. It’s been about a week, and I’ve been forced to really stop my regular schedule of events and work and just stay home and take care of myself. It’s really been about pressing the reset button for me. This has been a pattern for me in that I run myself into the ground, and then am not available to do anything for a while. This time, I tried to see this as a gift (what other choice did I have?) Instead of just laying about and bemoaning that I was so sick, I looked to see what I could do different this time and listen to my body to see what I could do to help it heal.
I’ve been doing a lot more journaling, done a lot more sitting quietly instead of browsing online (which is a lot easier now that I have an iPad!), and just listened more and thought about what could really benefit me. I got sick for a reason, and I have been trying to see the underlying patterns that have gotten me sick, and questioned if those are good for me right now. I feel like I’ve uncovered some things about myself that are good lessons for the future. Rest assured, those things will probably come out in future blog posts.
I’m almost well, but am going to try to keep these learnings in my day to day life. While I can’t take three hours to get ready every morning to go out (how I wish!), I can see what aspects of them I can take and incorporate into my daily routines. More work to do.
So, have you ever had a time that you were forced to stop, and what did you learn from it?
I have been out sick with a nasty flu for the past week, and it’s really gotten me down, but it has given me lots of reflection time. I was outside lying in the sun (trying to bake out this gunk) yesterday, and as I was journaling, this poem came out. I figured that I’d at least share this with you. I don’t proclaim to be a poet, and I’m sure this could go through a lot of editing, but here it is anyway. Sort of states where I am on my journey.
The Comet and The Sun
I want to grow wings out of my back
and glide above the buzz of the day to day life
to see the inconveniences for the little annoyances that they are
instead of the struggles they appear to be from this vantage point.
I want the clarity to see things from the perspective of the eternal
where I can relieve in myself of the burdock burrs of life
that cling to your pants whenever they find you as a convenient vehicle.
I am not as important as I think I am.
While I am the center of my galaxy, I am only a passing comet in this;
bright, energetic, and slightly dangerous if I get too close.
I will also make entry and exit, onto other exciting adventures .
The comet is viewed as impressive when in view
but not much considered went out of sight.
May I have the humility to see my light as people see the comet:
a welcome visitor but not the sun.
So, What have you come to realize today?
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.
The Importance of Spiritual Fitness
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’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.
You plan ahead and start practicing months in advance. You need to get ready.
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 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.
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.
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?
I haven’t posted in the past week, as I’ve been on a sort of personal sabbatical. I’ve had quite the busy and full past few months, and I needed some time that I could take to slow down, take stock of where I am, and get prepared for the months ahead. I’m just now coming out of it, and I think I’m better centered to do what I need to do for the winter.
Part of that was doing my Alternative Black Friday retreat. I had planned on doing that at a location in Arlington, but as luck had it I instead went to The Peace Abbey in Sherborn, Massachusetts, which is a lovely place. The day consisted of meditating, journaling, reading, walking, and other activities. I’ll be planning on doing it again in the future, so let me know if you’d like to be a part of the next session!
Part of doing this was to see what interesting and creative ideas could come out of my head at this time, and I think I got a good one. Massachusetts has 351 cities and towns. I’ve been to a majority of them (having lived in the Commonwealth for most of my life) but there are a number of towns that I haven’t been to yet. I have seen at least one blog about a couple working to visit all 351 towns and cities, and I thought this might be a great idea for me, as I’ve been looking for ways that I can incorporate practices to my life. I’m calling this the Meditate Mass 351 Challenge.
So, here’s my spin on this: I have to do a number of things in order for a town to count in the 351.
- I have to actually be in the town and either meditate/pray/sit quietly for at least 10 minutes. This makes it so I can’t count places that I’m driving through on the Massachusetts Turnpike (Yup, just picked up Blandford!)
- I have to take a picture of me in front of a landmark or building that would only be in that town (e.g. post office, town hall, police station, etc.) It doesn’t have to be a government building, but at least one where there’s no mistaking where it is. For example, I could choose Durgin Park or Fanueil Hall in Boston. It also means I can’t just step over the border 3 feet and sit for 10 minutes. I have to find where the life of the town is.
When will I finish this? I don’t know. It will be a fun project, and might get me to go out of my way to see a town I’ve never been to. I’ve always wondered about Nantucket, Egremont, Wales, and Plympton. I’m setting this as an intention and not a goal. I think that this will allow for some interesting things to happen, and if I just give myself the space for this, I hope they will.
So, what are you creating in order for interesting things to happen?