Tuesday, March 26, 2013

To Love and Be Loved

how does one deal with those who seek only their own well-being, who are always dissatisfied, who seem to never put the needs of others ahead of their own needs?  this is the problem i face with a close family member.  i see my loved one's unhappiness in never having enough of anything, as they look incessantly for new things to buy.  i see the unhappiness in coming to the end of each day as my loved one says, "this was a terrible day."  yet i seem powerless to help this family member.

this morning as i spent time in prayer and meditation, my thoughts kept returning to this person that i love, this person whose thinking is filled with "if only this or that would happen, i would be happy."  my resolve today is redouble my efforts to show this dear one love, to work to live a life of service and happiness myself in the hope that my loved one will see that happiness is possible when one lets go of the need to possess and to enjoy each moment as it comes.  i can't take responsibility for this one's happiness, but i can only do what is within my power to relieve her suffering.

my prayer for each of us this day is that we don't allow the suffering of others to pull us away from a life of service that brings joy to us, that we work to relieve suffering, not by taking responsibility that belongs to another, but by showing that is possible to let go of our own selfish desires and find the path to happiness through service.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

I Am [Not] Evil, [Not] Born in Sin

last sunday in our worship service, we read a unsion prayer of confession, as we do each sunday.  the prayer in this particular service was filled with "sin" words, as one might expect in a prayer of confession, but this particular prayer sparked thoughts in me about our focus on sin and the need to continually ask forgiveness and feel guilt and shame because of our sinfulness.  as i sat in the service, i began to wonder if this model doesn't do a lot of damage.

we who were raised in the calvinist tradition have constantly been told of the evil nature of the human race and the need to constantly compare our sinfulness to the goodness of God.  we don't hear a lot about "total depravity" any more (thank goodness) but the legacy of that construct has been ingrained in us.  as i age and examine the human condition, i become more and more certain that God created us as good creatures, that our natural state is one of goodness.  but we have been given freedom to choose how we live our lives, and we do not always act in ways that are consistent with our own natures.

this practice of constantly confessing our "sins" and begging forgiveness leads to feeling that one is unworthy, degraded, a failure.  a much healther approach, and one i believe is more in line with who we truly are and how we should relate to one another and the Creator, is to realize that we are imperfect but capable of learning to make wiser choices, choices that increase our happiness and decrease our own suffering and that of others.  life is a process, and we can choose to learn and grow to become more compassionate, to live more mindfully, to listen to the voice of goodness that God placed in our hearts and minds.

we hear over and over that we need to eat healthier foods, we are too fat, we need to work harder, we need to exercise more, we need to accumulate more stuff, we need to save more money, we need to invest more money, we need, we need, we need.  the message of all that "needing" is that we are moral, social, and physical failures.  isn't it better to examine our lives, asking ourselves if this action or that practice increases or decreases our true happiness and that of others and make choices based on reasonable decision-making?

my prayer for each of us this day is that we celebrate our innate goodness, live more mindfully, and transform our lives based on choices arrived at through reason, choices that increase happiness and decrease suffering!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Like the Sunshine after Rain

if you haven’t read the art of happiness by his holiness the dalai lama and dr. howard cutler, i highly recommend it.  as i was reading one section the other day, i was taken by the discussion of the reason the sensation of pain is important.  in the section of the book entitled “dealing with pain,”  cutler cites pain: the gift that nobody wants by dr. paul brand.  brand, as retold by cutler, recalls his early experiences of treating lepers in india.  because the disease had robbed his patients of the sensation of pain in their extremities, they were often injured by wounds that became infected or by burns.  the pain that would have warned them of dangerous situations was absent, and this led to injuries that could have been rendered much less serious or avoided altogether.

this section of the book prompted me to think of the effects of some other unpleasant sensations and emotions, of the “yin and yang” of human existence.  is it possible to understand joy without experiencing sadness?  can there be happiness without suffering?  does peace have meaning if one has not been exposed to conflict?  it seems that we are able to experience the full range of human emotions in order to see the differences between those that are desirable and those that are not.  in order to benefit from the positive, there must be a negative.  those who say that the suffering in the world proves that there is no God, i think, miss the point.  suffering is caused by our own actions, and when we allow negative emotions--greed, lust for power, desire, and the like--to become the focus of our lives, suffering for ourselves and others is the result.

when we recognize that it is our own failure to turn from those undesirable, limiting emotions and work to eliminate them while embracing positive emotions--love, compassion, generosity--our own suffering and that of others is lessened.  the great gift of God is that we are given the freedom to make that choice.  my prayer for us this day is that we exercise the freedom we are given to turn from those things which increase suffering and embrace those which lead to happiness.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Snow Had Fallen, Snow on Snow

my wife and i are planning a trip to germany and switzerland, with side trips into france and austria, for the last week of november and the first week of december.  at first, we thought we'd take a cruise on the rhine river, but as i looked at all the places we could see by opting for day trips on the train from munich and basel, we decided we'd rather spend a week in each of those cities.  are we crazy for making a trip to bavaria and switzerland at that time of year?  the idea of experiencing late fall and the beginnings of winter in places where there is a pronounced change of seasons seems exciting to us.  watching snow fall on beautifully lit christmas markets sounds incredibly romantic from the comfort of my armchair in the den right now, and i hope that the reality is as magical as the picture in my mind.

another factor in our decision to travel by train rather than cruise ship is the fact that it may not be too many years before a trip as independent travelers negotiating the train stations and streets of unfamiliar european cities will be impossible for us.  when the infirmities of age necessitate seeking convenience rather than finding our way on our own, that will be the time for the river cruise!  so, it's time to start brushing up on german, checking out apartments, and making flight reservations.  we'd welcome advice from anyone who has any to offer.

what is it that makes travel like this so intriguing?  every time we travel we meet people like us, people with the same uncertainties and insecurities, people with a genuine desire to befriend strangers in a foreign environment, and a few (though precious few fortunately) who are eager to take advantage of others who are struggling to figure out how to get around in unfamiliar surroundings.  certainly the beautiful sights we try to capture in hundreds of pictures are part of the joy of traveling away from our comfort zone, but it is the ordinary people that make these trips worth taking.

my prayer today is that each of us looks at those most familiar to us with new eyes, as if meeting them for the first time, seeing that each person is a reflection of ourselves, deserving to be treated with kindness.  may we look past the petty irritations and see the inner person craving respect, love, and peace.  shalom.