Friday, October 23, 2020

Contemplative Listening by Reverend Tom Capo preached on 10/18/2020

Meditation #1

            The following meditation for grounding was created for the practice of Generative Somatics (https://generativesomatics.org/).  The words were written by Susan Raffo who works with the Peoples Movement Center.

            First, come into standing position as you are able. If not sit up in your chair.  Notice where you are in a room and feel how your weight and stance are naturally on the ground.

            Now, notice your vertical. Feel the space between your feet and your knees and invite it to lengthen both towards the sky and towards the ground. Feel the space between your knees and your pelvis, invite it to lengthen, for there to be more space that comes here, both up and down. Do the same with the space between your pelvis and your diaphragm, invite it to length. Between your diaphragm and shoulders, along your neck, between your chin and the top of your head, down the length of your arms. Invite a lengthening in both directions. And then feel the entirety of your body and invite a lengthening between your feet and your head, towards the earth and towards the sky.

            This is your dignity, the place where you say “I am.” This is your vertical.

            Now, bring in your width. Start at your feet and feel each foot widening in [all] directions. Move into your leg and feel each leg widening, the inner leg moving further in, the outer leg moving out. Invite it to widen further. Come to your pelvis and feel the space between the two sides of your pelvis. Invite that space to expand, to widen out, left and right. Come into your belly, the sides of your torso, your ribcage, feel your sides and invite them to widen, the space inside to expand. Come to your shoulder blades and invite each shoulder to expand left to right. Continue up your body not forgetting your neck or your head, your arms and your hands. Now feel the entirety of your body and invite a widening between your left and right, an expansion from the center line that runs through your body out to the sides. A widening.

            This is your horizontal, the place of connection, where the “I” connects to other people, plants, all of our relatives. This is the “we”. This is your horizontal.

            Now bring in your depth. Feel your back, pay attention to your clothes against your skin, the feeling of space against your back, remember the back of your head, the back of your neck, the back of your legs your feet your arms, this whole back space and feel the space behind you. Now feel the front of your body and remember your face and forehead, the front of your shins, your feet, you belly and hands and feel the space in front of you. Feel yourself in the middle of this back and this front and connect the two and now expand, letting your front body expand forward and your back body expand back while you feel yourself in the middle. A widening.

            This is your depth, the place where you live in relationship to what has already happened and what is yet to emerge. This is where I and we live within space and time. This is your depth.

            Now bring all of these planes together, feeling them one after the other, vertical, horizontal, depth, feel yourself as 3D.

            Bring your gaze to an object in the room that is attractive or interesting to you. If not an object, an idea, a person, a dream, a thought, something you can sense as separate and outside of yourself. Feel your 3D self and then feel inside for your desire to move towards that item or thought or dream. Sense in for your connection to that thing and then, when you feel the connect of yourself to that idea or thing, let the desire move you towards it. Move until you feel you have arrived and then notice you have arrived. Practice this a few more times with different objects or dreams or other elements of desire. Wait until you feel the want or the longing or the connection to them and then move and then reach them.

            After you have practiced this for a few times and if you haven’t done this already, ground yourself again into the planes but connect them to your purpose. Why are you here? What is it that moves you? Feel your sense of purpose and connect it to those planes and then, when you are ready, let the purpose take your body and move you towards it. 

 

Meditation #2

Written by Martha K. Capo

            For a moment, see yourself at the foaming edge of land and liquid, watching the rhythms of the waves, watching the water transmit the energy of the winds traveling over it, watching that energy crest across the barrier of the sand and pebbles. Some pebbles, larger than others, only shift gently in place as the water sluices around them. Others, smaller, more agile, seem to chase the backwash as the water ebbs away, only to be returned--more or less--to where they began.

            Sometimes, we are boulders at the water's edge, absorbing the water's energy in stoic strength, standing solid and unmovable, defiant and unyielding as the water churns around us. (PAUSE) Sometimes, we are rocks: stubborn, slow to be moved, sluggish in our response to the tides pushing and pulling us. (PAUSE) Sometimes, we are pebbles tumbling helter-skelter, higglety-pigglety-pop, overwhelmed and unable to resist the breaking waves and sucking backwashes that we just can't seem to get away from. (PAUSE) And sometimes, we are sand, with an infinite capacity to accept and absorb and transmit the energies breaking against us, able to allow those energies to pass through us, through the pockets of silence, of space, of peace within us.

            Marine Biologist Rachel Carson wrote "[i]n every outthrust headland, in every curving beach, in every grain of sand there is a story of the earth." In every breath, in every curving muscle and ligament, in every pulse and rhythm you experience, there is a story of you. Of who you were, of who you are now, of who you will choose to be. Of how you choose to be connected to All That Is. A story that is still being written--by you.

            What are you today? The boulder? The rock? The pebble? The sand? All of these? What is the energy that is swirling around you? How is that changing you? How is that energy changed by your interaction with it? How will you choose to write your own story?

 

Sermon

            One of my favorite Buddhist authors is Brad Warner.  I have a couple of his books:  Sit Down and Shut Up: Punk Rock Commentaries on Buddha, God, Truth, Sex, Death, and Dogen's Treasury of the Right Dharma Eye and Hardcore Zen : Punk Rock, Monster Movies, and the Truth about Reality.  I plan to get some of his more recent books, I have my eye on Don't Be a Jerk: And Other Practical Advice from Dogen, Japan's Greatest Zen Master.  Just a little background on Brad, he started out life as a Punk Rock bass guitarist, then decided to go to Japan and needed work.  He was hired to get dressed up in those monster get-ups for Ultraman shows and movies.  While in Japan he studied Zen Buddhism and became an ordained Zen priest.  I actually met him in Cedar Rapids when he was there promoting Sit Down and Shut Up.  His philosophy is that we can all make time in our lives to sit down for a few minutes and be quiet, breathing and allowing our thoughts and feelings to flow through us in Zazen meditation and being open for emotional and spiritual grounding, insight, purpose, direction, and/or connection in the here and now.  The foundation of Buddhism according to Brad is: “Do as well as you possibly can. That's Buddhist morality.”  He does affirm the four Noble Truths of Buddhism, but has sort of a different way, perhaps a more modern way of presenting them: “The first noble truth, suffering, represents idealism. When you look at things from an idealistic viewpoint everything sucks, as the Descendents said in the song called “Everything Sucks” (from the album Everything Sucks). Nothing can possibly live up to the ideals and fantasies you’ve created. So we suffer because things are not the way we think they ought to be. Rather than face what really is, we prefer to retreat and compare what we’re living through with the way we think it oughta be. Suffering comes from the comparison between the two.” And he describes Zen monks as having achieved " a rare state of inner with-it-ness.”

            Now when it comes to meditation, prayer, ritual and all those kinds of things, he believes everyone is capable of getting some benefit from them, but “The very idea of higher states of consciousness is absurd. Comparing one state of consciousness to another and saying one is "higher" and the other is "mundane" is like eating a banana and complaining it's not a very good apple.” He goes on to say that “Practicing zazen [or really any form or meditation] is like gradually (or maybe not so gradually) getting your sight back.”  I hope that helps you with some of your expectations about meditation and prayer; we are not seeking an altered state of consciousness when we meditate or prayer.  We are opening ourselves to the contemplative practice of deep listening.

            To contemplate is to think about an action before doing it.  A contemplative practice is opening oneself to an inner vision or seeing transcendent of the intellect, facilitated by practices such as prayer or meditation.  There are so many contemplative practices and such disparate experiences from those practices, describing it can be like blind men trying to describe an elephant—one who feels the leg says the elephant is like a pillar; one who feels the tail says the elephant is like a rope; one who feels the trunk says the elephant is like a tree branch; one who feels the ear says the elephant is like a hand fan.  With contemplative practices you might here one person describing the effects as relaxation; another might say a contemplative practice resulted in their transformation; one might say a contemplative practice helped them learn more about themself; and another might say a contemplative practice connects them with their Goddess.

            When someone ask me what a contemplative practice can offer, I often tell the story of the martial arts student who approached his teacher with a question. "I'd like to improve my knowledge of the martial arts. In addition to learning from you, I'd like to study with another teacher in order to learn another style. What

do you think of this idea?" "The hunter who chases two rabbits," answered the master, "catches neither one.”  When we are focused on the goal or the benefits of meditation or prayer, we stop looking as deeply or clearly within ourselves.  Part of our conscious attention is devoted to the moment where it will all come together for us. Our desire and attachment to a particular outcome clouds the way, and keeps us from actually receiving the gifts, blessings, grace that we might receive from our contemplative practice.  

            I both pray and meditate.  I pray because I believe there is something out there beyond just the physical things around me.  Not that I pray with the intent to connect with whatever is out there, but just because I believe there is something out there.  And I pray because I believe that prayer helps me to affirm within me the values that I try to live by in this life.  And I don't prayer to make me live my values, I just feel that giving voice to those values makes it more likely that I will remember them as I live my life.

            I use a formulaic prayer that I developed—first I call out to that Infinite Power, whom people call by varying names, but whose grandeur and whose love no name expresses and no words can tell.  I don’t have a name for it; so I use many different names, depending on how I am feeling at the time—mystery, God, Goddess, father, mother, that which is beyond understanding, love, that which causes the flowers to shine and the stars to blossom, the list goes on. 

            Then I voice what I am grateful for in my life.  I list such things as the cool breeze on my face, the warmth of the sun, the ability to exercise to be healthy, my family and friends…sometimes something like—“I am grateful for being able to write this sermon." I give voice to these.  And I have noticed that voicing my thanks has resulted in an increased awareness of the many blessings, gifts, and grace that I experience in my life. 

            The next section of my prayer is for understanding of all that I am experiencing in my life.  I do not believe that things are put in my life by some greater power to help me learn or grow or be humble or whatever.  I do believe that I am called by my very existence to make meaning in life’s experiences.  Like what meaning or learning or wisdom will I gain as I move through this Covid 19 time.  This section of the prayer is to remind me to open my heart, mind, and soul to life. 

              Finally, I send out my hope and blessings for others.  Sometimes it sounds like this: “May the winds, the oceans, the herbs, and night and days, the mother earth, the father heaven, all vegetation, the sun, be all sweet to humankind.” And sometimes I send blessings and grace to healing for those who are ill or in pain.  I do believe that intentionally sending out my blessings out to others makes a difference.  I have read about studies showing that sending out positive regard positively affects people around you, but even without those studies I believe I would still send out blessings and hope because our world is so much in need of them.

            I also meditate.  When I meditate, I find my mind becomes clear and sometimes I experience insight or a different perspective on what is going on around me.   Not because I am looking for either of these things, but because I am open.

            I use Zazen meditation.  Basically what this is focusing on one's breathing.  I sit up straight, let me eyes rest, put my feet on the ground, and attend to all the sensations of my breathing.  Often, my breathing is from my abdomen, slow and steady.  That is it.  I sit there and breath mindfully.  I don’t expect anything, but I am grateful for what I receive.  My meditation helps me be mindful and live in the moment, and not just while I am meditating.  Through regular meditation, I have come to learn what many teachers of meditation have always said—that meditation needs to be looked upon “as a teacher rather than a servant,” “a process rather than a goal.” So I just breathe without expectations, without goals; I just practice bringing my focus to my breathing.  

            There are some elements that are consistent from one technique to another in meditation:  be relaxed, be comfortable, have a passive attitude, and focus on a “concentration point.”  A focus point or concentration point might be a candle, a picture, music, a mandala, drumming, chanting, sitting or walking.  Like we did in the last part of the first scripted meditation today, bringing your attention to an object across the room.  Or "if not an object, an idea, a person, a dream, a thought, something you can sense as separate and outside of yourself."  Like the visualization in the meditation by Martha that you heard today.  During this focus you might ask contemplate questions:  "What are you today? The boulder? The rock? The pebble? The sand? All of these? What is the energy that is swirling around you? How is that changing you? How is that energy changed by your interaction with it? How will you choose to write your own story?"  

            I haven’t talked a lot about passive attitude, other than to say don’t have expectations or goals.  Jack Kornfield, teacher in the vipassana movement in American Theravada Buddhism, offers this bit of wisdom (1993, Tricyle) about having a passive attitude during a contemplative practice.  He says as we practice "we become our own monastery. We create the compassionate space that allows for the arising of all things: sorrows, loneliness, shame, desire, regret, frustration, happiness."  I would frame this as creating a space for that which is stirring within us, a space that might offer us an opportunity for relaxation, awareness, insight, and/or wisdom to arise and for us to become aware of it.  Or as Kornfield's teacher, Achaan Chah describes this you are "taking the one seat." Achaan said, "Just go into the room [within oneself] and put one chair in the center, [then] open the doors and the windows [of the room], [and] take [that] seat in the center of the room… see who comes to visit. You will witness all kinds of scenes and actors, all kinds of temptations and stories, everything imaginable. Your only job is to stay in your seat. You will see it all arise and pass, and out of this, wisdom and understanding will come.'”

            But here's the thing, taking that one seat and simply observing one time, doesn't usually result in much.  Perhaps you get some relaxation of your body or mind that first time, but maybe not.  Let's just say that you are more likely to experience something more if you practice, practice, practice one type of meditation without expectation of what you might receive.  Not a very Western way of doing things, is it?  As with any practice, this is a process, not seeking perfection or a result.  After picking one practice, be patient and open as you stick with it. 

             I hope you do make some time for prayer and or meditation in your life.  I believe that in one way or another we all have some sort of contemplative practice, but I believe be intentional, consistent, and open during your practice offers many benefits for the practitioner, especially during difficult times like we are experiencing in our lives and in the world right now.  Keep in mind what Tibetan yogi Milarepa writes: “The affairs of the world will go on forever.  Do not delay the practice of meditation [and, I would add, prayer].”  There are always distractions, many things going on in the world—prayer and meditation are practices that can help you discern your path as the world moves on around you. 

            This life we have each been given is a journey of the holy, if we just recognize the holy in our experiences.   This life offers experiences of transformation, experiences that no words can express, that are just as real as the ground beneath our feet.  At one time in our lives our spiritual path may be a journey of the heart, for what the heart expresses, we call prayer.  At another point in our lives our spiritual path may be a journey of being, for what our inner being knows, we call meditation. This is your journey, your life practice.  Own it, and know yourself to be fully alive.  Namaste, Shalom, Peace.


Saturday, October 3, 2020

Grief and Covid 19 by Reverend Tom Capo

 

Meditation

            For our meditation, I invite you into some writing.  Please take out a piece of paper and something to write with.  Now fold your piece of paper in half long ways. 

            On the left side of the paper at the top, I want you write “I feel peace in my heart about the loss of”, then put a loss that you are experiencing during this time of Coronavirus.  It doesn’t have to be a big loss, but it needs to be something that you feel now.  (pause)

            When we begin I will ask you to read quietly or say aloud what you wrote “I feel peace in my heart about the loss of” and whatever your loss is, and then listen to your inner responses.  On the right side of the paper write all those inner responses—whatever they are, don’t filter them, this is just for you.  Keep writing until it feels like there is nothing else to write.  Then again read quietly or say aloud “I feel peace in my heart about the loss of” and whatever your loss is.  And again write anything that comes to the surface.  You are invited to do this over and over until you feel you are done.  There may be emotions that well up in you as you do this exercise, open up to them.  But if you feel overwhelmed, feel free to shut them down.  I do not want this exercise to cause you distress.  Please take care of yourself. 

            Now take a deep breath.  You can begin. 

Sermon


 

            Does this image represent some of what you feel when you think about Covid-19, dark detailess bodies blocked from connection. What feelings does it illicit in you?

I have been talking through Zoom with a number of people in our congregation and people in the larger community over these past six months of Corona-induced isolation.  What seems to be lingering under the surface in many of these interactions is a sense of loss.  It might be a loss of control, loss of security, loss of connection.  With loss comes grief.  And grief can impact people in many different ways.  Perhaps in the ways that Elizabeth Kubler Ross describes in her stages of grief--denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.  Have you noticed yourself floating between any of these states of being as you endure this time of isolation? 

            What has been happening to us as we face a combination of Coronavirus and certain life events?  Marriages, memorial services, beginning school, starting college?  What about Coronavirus and a lack of emotional, spiritual, mental, and social resources, or Coronavirus and a lack of time, money, food, or any number of things?  Or any combination of issues with Coronavirus?  What I learned as a psychotherapist is the longer we are in between the old normal way of being and a new normal way of being, that in-between time, we are drained of resources, we are more fragile, and we are less likely to take good care of ourselves—we put off meeting our basic needs, and/or we withdraw from those we love and care about, and/or we put off our spiritual practices, practices that help us maintain an internal sense of peace.  As Tara Haelle writes our surge capacity is depleted, and things we normally do or thing we handle relatively easily become increasingly difficult.  We might find ourselves lacking focus or direction or motivation.  All these can be signs of grief and/or exhaustion.  And my friends, we are all experiencing losses and exhaustion right now, however they may manifest for each of us. Many of us need to find ways to consistently and intentionally manage this grief and exhaustion, because Covid-19 is not going to magically disappear one day. 

            Sometimes a story can offer us some insight when we are experiencing trying times. Let’s look at the story of Granny’s ride. You might have been curious how it would turn out.  Maybe you put yourself into each of those characters and wondered what it might be like to be Granny, or Smart the horse, or the enchanted hare. Granny’s life had been utterly routine, unchanging for years and years, sorta sounds like how I have been feeling during this past six months.  She gets up in the middle of the night, by mistake, and stumbles into an adventure that required all her bravery.  Is that you?  Smart the stalwart horse was called on to be that partner who modeled calmness in the face of danger.  Is that you?  The hare had been hunted for who knows how long, always scared, searching for allies, longing for transformation.  Is that you? Getting behind the things you are scared of, what does that look like?  Keeping calm in the face of danger, how do we do that?  As Granny reflected on this adventure: “We carried on, that’s all we did.”  How are you “carrying on” these days?

            Stories offer a way to look differently at life, to ask ourselves questions, particularly questions about ourselves; how we would respond, how we might do more, or do differently, if we had to, if we were in those circumstances.  Well, my friends, we are in different circumstances.  What if someone, a year or so ago, told you a story about yourself in a pandemic?  Could you have seen yourself being brave or stalwart or transformed during it?  Could you have wondered how you might get behind it?  Or calm during it?  Or jump into action when faced with it? 

             And now we all are in the in-between routine of just living in it, facing loss and exhaustion.  How are you carrying on now that the story is real?  Is it the same way you might have imagined?  How has Covid-19 shaped the story you are telling about yourself?  And I ask you to think about this: is it time to change the narrative of that story? What place does grief have in that narrative now?  The starring role?  If so, and if we’re ready to do so, how do we change that?  My friends, unfortunately the only way to avoid grief is not to live.  Being that we are all still very much alive, we can choose to change our relationship with grief.  I believe we must recognize, attend to, and honor our grief. Not to make the star of the story, but a part of the story.  We will have to notice that there are both recognized and as yet unrecognized losses weighting on us, exhausting us. We will need to take time to give attention to those losses; and honor those losses by giving them the light of day—maybe through writing, singing, creating art, or giving voice to our losses, perhaps sharing them with someone we trust.  And we don’t realize that we can be transformed by grief as well as that we can transform grief.  Let’s move into a few minutes of meditation and sit with that concept a bit.

            Take a slow deep breath and let your attention turn within yourself.  Listen for that still small voice within you, that inner stirring of the soul, that offers you direction, that aids you in your discernment.  Settle into that connection.

            Now read over what you wrote during the meditation, not looking for details.  Let the stirrings of your soul guide you to a word or a short phrase in what you have written.  A word or phrase that lights a way for you, a new way forward, or perhaps a new narrative for your story about loss.  Write down that word or phrase.  Read that word or phrase to yourself a few times, either quietly or aloud. Notice what it offers you—hope, joy, direction, connection to person or spirit…whatever it offers you.  Allow yourself to accept what is offered in the spirit of gratitude. 

            I invite you to keep that word or phrase with you, in your mind or perhaps keep it on a piece of paper on your desk or taped to your computer, or somewhere, or someway so you will be see it or hear it or somehow be reminded of the blessing, the renewal of spirit, the opportunity it offers.  You are embarking on an adventure now, a new way relationship with grief.  In the light of this blessing, how will you choose to tell the story of who you have become during Covid-19 now?