Journaling Your Way to Peace

Who am I? Whose am I? What is mine to do?

Anything that I say about being good at some things, or not so good at other things, is going to be as much about other people as it is about me. If I think I’m good at something, it’s always good compared to somebody else. If I think I’m not good at something else, it’s always not so good compared to someone else. If I assess myself smart, or intellectually inclined, or big-hearted, or hard-working, or committed -- or if I assess myself as dim, or histrionic, or disorganized -- warm or cool, old or young -- I’m equally assessing other people as being, on average, less of whatever quality, positive or negative. If I were to say I thought I was a pretty good preacher, I'd be opining just as much on the quality of my colleagues preaching as on my own.

Who am I apart from what other people are? Who am I without the judgments, with neither positive nor negative self-assessments, for judgments are always comparisons? Who am I now?

There is a story that runs along through our heads, telling us about who we are. It’s a largely unquestioned story because we don’t take it out and look at it. Fragments of the story push us this way and that. The process of journaling invites us to take it out and look at it. When we start articulating our story, we begin to make it more coherent. We fit the fragments into larger chunks. Some fragments don’t fit. This is a new discovery for us! Only then can we choose to drop the incoherent fragments so that they won't pop up to push our life one way or another anymore.

Slowly, slowly, life begins to have a greater coherence. This increasing coherence naturally happens for many of us as we age anyway. Journaling helps it happen sooner, clearer, more thoroughly.

Anne Frank, a young girl imprisoned in hiding in an attic, was able to fashion a coherence out of self and life with a pen and some bound pages. Through journaling, she brought herself into being. It was not an ordinary girl’s diary, after all. As Anne Frank wrote at the beginning:
“I want to write, but more than that, I want to bring out all kinds of things that lie buried in my heart.”
What is it that lies buried in my heart? I don’t know, cannot know, what is in there until I see it manifest somewhere. Seeing it manifest on the page helps me see its manifestations elsewhere, too.

What lies buried in your heart? The journal is a life companion, always ready to help you be who you are but didn’t know it.

Life is lived, of course, day by day. The meaning of a life is the meaning of its days. Day by day we forge the chain we wear, link by link. Or, day by day, we walk an uncertain path to liberation. Or both.
Day by day.
Day by day.
Oh, dear Lord,
Three things I pray:
To see thee more clearly,
Love thee more dearly,
Follow thee more nearly,
Day by day.
Life comes at us and flies past us day by day, or, as the French say, au jour le jour. The French jour, meaning “day,” is the root of both journey and journal. Journey originally meant one day’s work or the distance traveled in one day. And journal is the record of the day, the recording of our life's journey.

Each fleeting day of our life, we travel one day’s distance. What did it mean? What was it for? Where did we go? Even though we were there, it is inchoate until we pull together the fragments and bind them together into a coherent accounting to ourselves.
Christina Baldwin
“Writing is sorting. Writing down the stream of consciousness gives us a way to respect the mind, to choose among and harness thoughts, to interact with and change the contents of who we think we are.” (Christina Baldwin, Life's Companion: Journal Writing as a Spiritual Quest, 9)
In All the Big Questions, Rebecca Hill says:
“What is the purpose or meaning of life? To get your story straight. To create a safe and gentle environment for yourself, and help create one for other folks, for living what truth you can stand.”
Without some way to do what journaling does, I will not know who I am, and will even forget that I don’t know.
“On the days when I’m not sure what the journey is or why I’m on it, I can still be sure what the journal is and why I write. I can hold onto my journal, write in it, lament and question and celebrate. . . . The format changes, the pens change, the contents vary, the cast of characters comes and goes. Yet this tangible object reminds me that my life is being lived on many levels, it reminds me that I need to act, watch, reflect, write, and then act more clearly. It urges me to remember to pay attention to spirit,” (Baldwin 11)
to the impulses and intuitions that may not be getting things exactly right but that nevertheless have a source in something important.

Sometimes I want to say that it feels like finally taking charge of my own life, finally defining for myself who I am, weeding out the impulse fragments that do not cohere. Or I want to say just the opposite: that it feels like letting go of the illusion of control. Life knows better plans than I can imagine. Much of what I write is to recognize where my clinging is. Recognizing makes possible releasing.

Whether it feels more like taking charge or more like letting go, over time, the repeated noticing of the conversation the mind is having with itself begins to change that conversation.
“One of the greatest powers of journal writing is that over time it helps us notice, influence, and change the conversation the mind is having with itself. This dialogue is nearly constant. All I'm suggesting is that some of it, especially that which is directed to specific questions, is extremely helpful to write down.” (Baldwin 27)
The journal writer’s mission is reclamation:
“to reclaim a sense of place, a sense of empowerment, a sense of healthy relationship between our lives and times.” (15)
I called the journal a companion, for there is a sense of conversation, of dialog, in journaling. It’s common for journalers to give their journal a name, and write entries addressed to the imaginary personage. Anne Frank called hers Kitty.
“Spiritual writing expands the interior conversation of consciousness to include your relationship with the sacred. You are no longer alone on the quest, or on paper. You are in conversation with Something you perceive as beyond, or deep within, yourself.” (23)
There is no map anyone can hand you for your spiritual journey. So you must make your map as you go. As Ponce de Leon, we are voyagers into a new world. As he explored this land we call Florida, having no idea of its coastline, let alone its interiors, he mapped as he went. So must we.

The map we make as we go is a rough sketch of where we have been with maybe some even rougher indications of what may lie ahead, gathered from unreliable scouting reports. Since it shows only the path we’ve traveled, not the surrounding area, not the destination, or possible routes to get there, it doesn’t do much of what we want a good map to do for us. Nevertheless, the map we make as we go is essential in trekking this unchartered wilderness called life. Only with careful attention to where we have been, laying out the experiences of the day so as to clarify their spatial relation to one another, will we be able to recognize, and thus avoid, going in circles. Our journal is our map of where we have been on our spiritual journey – a sketch of the terrain covered during each day, sometimes with some guesses about what may be ahead. Without it, I go in circles and do not even realize that I am.

It is a terrain of questions: questions to explore rather than to answer, to savor rather than resolve. As writer Ingrid Bengis says,
“The real questions are the ones that obtrude upon you consciousness whether you like or not, the ones that make your mind start vibrating like a jackhammer, the ones that you ‘come to terms with’ only to discover that they are still there. The real questions refuse to be placated. They barge into your life at times when it seems most important for them to stay away. They are the questions asked most frequently and answered most inadequately, the ones that reveal their true natures slowly, reluctantly, and most often against your will.”
Questions propel the spiritual quest and mapping them fills the pages. You might sometimes take a journal entry just to list questions you have, big and little:
“What’s for dinner? Who am I? What am I supposed to be doing with my life now? Who am I supposed to be doing it with? Will I have fun? What is the nature of spiritual fun? Will I recognize it when it happens? Is there a God out there, or is God all in here? Is God laughing at all the silly questions I ask? Are these silly questions? Is there life on other planets? Do they care about life on this one? Do I care about life on this one? What would I be willing to give up to save the world? What are life’s real essentials for me?” (36)
“The comfort that comes from questioning is this: even if there isn’t an answer, there is response. There is a sense of the sacred reaching toward us, as we reach toward it. . . . The voice of the sacred appears gently on the page, written in our own handwriting but carrying a message of support and comfort, sometimes challenge, which we do not generate alone” (39)
– at least, the conscious part of us does not generate it alone.

Open the covers, lay the page before you. The soul whispers vieni spirito creatore: come creative spirit. Be with me on this quest to create meaning from the flotsam and jetsam of this, the shipwreck of my life.

The poet Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, instructs:
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves. . . . Do not now seek the answers which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them and the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
I like that. I neither find the answer nor have the answer nor know the answer. Rather, I live into my answer -- if, that is, I first put in the time living the question.

Nuts and Bolts

If you are just getting started, your question is: "How do I journal?"

There are two rules.

  • Rule #1: date your entries as you go.
  • Rule #2: don’t make any other rules.

The spirit listeth where it will. Try to get out of its way and let it. Spirit, however, sometimes requires some coaxing to speak up. You must decide upon a discipline. You can change it as you feel the need – yet creative freedom thrives best within a clear framework.

Here are five journaling exercises.

First exercise: timed entries.

Set a timer for 5-7 minutes, and write until the timer goes off. Stop writing when the time is up, even in the middle of a sentence. Close the journal and put it away until the next day. This primes the creative pump, helps give you a sense having more to write than you have yet written.
“The frustration of stopping creates the impetus to write more. You become more interested in the ideas and thoughts you want to put down,” (25)
more eager to get back to the journal. “A week of timed writing will sharpen your writing focus” (25).

Second exercise: flow writing.
“Pick a tangible object from your surroundings and use it as the opening image in your entry. Let your mind free-associate from one thought to the next.” (24)
You can go until you have arrived at a place that feels finished, or you can combine these two exercises, and make this a timed entry. You’re writing the stream of consciousness, “learning to trust that no matter where you start, words will come to you” (25).

Flow writing rides the surface of the stream, rather than diving deep. It glances among tips of icebergs, “touching on thoughts that ride deeply. You can expand the ideas that interest you at a later time.”

Third exercise: Dialog writing.

First, write a question at the top of the page. Take a breath, pause, listen. Write down the first response that comes. Ask follow-up questions, so as to create a rhythm of question-answer, a sense of back-and-forth dialog. Trust yourself to play both roles, to write in multiple voices. If you feel stuck and don’t know where to go next, bring in a third voice – an “overvoice” observer “that comments on how the dialog is developing and helps you see where it needs to go” (26).
“For example, if every time you talk to your exspouse, the two of you reach an impasse, don’t faithfully recite your exact words when you dialog about this situation, but drop beneath the verbal exchange. Ask yourself and ask the other with whom you write: Why do we get stuck at this point? What do you think is going on? How do you suppose we could get beyond this point? What are you willing to do? Here's what I'm willing to do. The more specific the quetion, the more specific the response will be. Dialoguin is such an imporatnt journal-writing tool, it will show up in many variation. Whenever you get stuck in your monolog, open your mind to dialog. You will be amazed at the insight waiting for you to ask instead of tell” (29).
Fourth exercise: Unsent letters.

Most of the time in journaling it is important that your only audience is yourself. If you are thinking that someday your journals will be discovered and published, or read by your descendants, then you begin to self-censor, to tailor yourself to your audience, to push aside the impulses that won’t make sense to them. Journaling is for your eyes only. So even when you imaginatively address yourself to a particular other person, be clear with yourself that this is to be an unsent letter. For your first foray, it might help to address a letter that cannot be sent: address it to yourself as a child, or to a child you never had, or to a fictional character in a novel you love, or to someone you knew who has died.
“The purpose of the unsent letter is to discover what impetus motivated it – which you may not know at the beginning – and decide what you need to do next, having discovered that impetus” (31).
The unsent letter may bring closure to an unresolved area of life – or it may bring new opening to a closed area.

Fifth: gratitude journaling.

I really recommend doing this one once a week. Do something else the other six days, and once a week, simply list things for the last week that you are grateful for. Nurturing the attitude of gratitude moistens the soil from which everything else green and joyful can grow. Please see the New York Times article yesterday (2011 Nov 21) on the value and power of gratitude: click here.


We might think of journaling as the keeping of a ship’s log. Note where you are, or you will be lost at sea.

Come to the edge of the ship's deck.

Through the telescope of the page, gaze out in wonder.

Cast your questions into the deep.
The wide universe is the ocean we travel.
And the earth is our blue boat home.
(Peter Mayer, "Blue Boat Home")


Nurture your Spirit? Help Heal Our World? For real?

Primary spiritual practice is whatever one does just to be doing it -- for its own sake -- without thinking about achieving anything or whether it's being done "right." One's primary spiritual practice can be almost any activity, and primary practices vary widely from person to person. Secondary spiritual practices support, amplify, expand, and deepen the primary practice. Secondary, supportive spiritual practices are much fewer and less individual: there are five of them, and all five are for everyone.
Physical Health, Cognitive-Intellectual Health, 
Emotional-Social Health, and . . . 
Spiritual Health?

About a month ago, I signed up at a web site for brain exercises. It's called lumosity dot com. (Click here.) I log on in the morning and I play a series of brain puzzle games that are supposed to keep my neurons strong. Some of the games exercise memory, others mental flexibility, or problem solving, or speed, or, attention. I don't know if it's really going to improve or help in maintaining cognitive function. But it might. It's only about 15 minutes a day, and it's kinda fun, so it seems worth a shot. And I got LoraKim signed up, too, so we can compare our scores.

I also do some physical exercises -- stretches, sit-ups, go for walks, ride my bike. Brain exercises for cognitive fitness (maybe), and physical exercises for physical fitness (definitely).

Then there's emotional fitness -- also called “emotional intelligence”: the ability to detect and identify emotions in self and others, harness emotions to facilitate the task at hand, and understand the language of emotion, including ability to recognize slight differences between similar emotions. Some of us are really good at that -- others, not so much.

A pyramid showing Physical, Intelligence,
Emotional-social, and Spiritual Quotients
Closely related to “emotional intelligence” or fitness is social intelligence -- because really resonating with someone, clicking with them, is a matter of knowing your feelings, recognizing theirs, and being able to synchronize with the emotion.

There's physical fitness, cognitive fitness, emotional fitness, and social fitness. So: Is there such a thing as Spiritual Fitness – spiritual health, spiritual intelligence? I have two things to say about that.

Number one, yes, there is a way to measure spirituality, and there are exercises to boost your spiritual fitness.

Number two, no, spirituality is not at all one more kind of fitness, and the very idea of spiritual fitness completely misses the point.

First, let’s look at number one: there is spiritual fitness; it can be measured; and training can improve it.

Defining Spiritual Fitness

According to psychologist Robert Cloninger's work in this area, "spirituality" cashes out as self-transcendence -- an orientation toward the elevated, whether that is experienced as compassion, ethics, art, or whether it is experienced as a divine presence. By orienting toward the elevated, we transcend the ego defense mechanisms by which most of us spend our lives governed.

Self-transcendence is the sum of three subscales:
  • self-forgetfulness; 
  • transpersonal identification; and 
  • acceptance.
C. Robert Cloninger (b. 1944)
Self-forgetfulness is the proclivity for becoming so immersed in an activity that the boundary between self and other seems to fall away.

Transpersonal identification is recognizing myself in all things, and all things in myself. As the poet Kabir said, "Everyone knows the drop merges into the ocean, but do you know that the ocean merges into the drop?"

Acceptance is the ability to accept and affirm reality just as it is, even the hard parts, even the painful and tragic parts.

Cloninger has devised a questionnaire to measure self-forgetfulness, transpersonal identification, and acceptance. Add those three scores together to get the self-transcendence score. Voilá, we have measured "spiritual fitness."

(See Wikipedia's entries on Robert Cloninger, here
and on Cloninger's Temperament and Character Inventory [TCI] here
More on the TCI is here.
You can take the TCI on-line [payment required] here.)

Many different phrases have been used to express the spiritual capacity – the capacity to:
  • see beyond walls,
  • commune with divine mystery,
  • experience an internal caress,
  • hear our deeper consciousness,
  • experience epiphanies,
  • become awake,
  • usher ourselves into right relationship with life,
  • open our heart to life's blessed mysteries,
  • foster a greater love of self and greater caring for neighbor and earth.
According to Cloninger, what we’re really talking about with these metaphorical and poetic phrases, is self-forgetfulness, transpersonal identification, and acceptance.

Now let me say where all of this seems to me to miss the point, to go astray.

The Paradox of "Spiritual Fitness": Judging Ourselves for Being Too Judgmental

Our culture has a mania for self-improvement -- whether it's in the physical area, the cognitive, the emotional, or the social. Get more physically fit: Exercise, diet. Be smarter, train your brain for greater memory, speed, attention, flexibility, and problem-solving. Hone your emotional skills, sharpen your social skills. Here's what you need to do to win friends, influence people, get the promotion, achieve success, make your marriage work and/or get that cute man or woman to notice you, find fulfillment, be energized, get the respect you deserve, prevent wax build-up, and fight tooth decay.

These are the themes that fill the shelves of the self-help section. There's even a self-help book on how to write a bestselling self-help book -- because, you don't really have it all together unless you have written a book to explain it to the rest of us.

Over and over we are told: whoever you are, you're not good enough. Wherever you are on life's journey, you really ought to be further along by now. Whatever your grief or burden or wounding, get over it. Get fixed.

Oddly, at the same very same cultural historical juncture at which we judge ourselves unworthy at every turn, we are also more prone to judge ourselves greater than we are.

Ninety-three percent of US drivers identify themselves as above-average drivers. Ninety-four percent of college professors believe they have above-average teaching skills.

"In the 1950s, 12 percent of high school seniors said they were a 'very important person.' By the '90s, 80 percent said they believed that they were" (David Brooks, citing Jean M. Twenge, New York Times, 2011 Mar 11. Click here.) And it's no wonder: our young people, more than any previous generation, have been "bathed in messages telling them how special they are."

We think we're better than most others -- better than average -- and at the same time, think we're not good enough. We yearn to be further and further above average -- which means more and more distance (perceived distance anyway) between ourselves and other people. There is actually no contradiction: we simply judge ourselves inadequate, and we judge other people – average people – even worse. Our more agrarian great-grandparents were certainly capable of passing judgment, but I don’t think it consumed their lives as often as our judgmentalism consumes ours.

There is a place for judgment, evaluation, good-bad, better-worse -- and there always will be. Judging Mind has important work to do. The problem is that it works overtime. Judging Mind seems to want to take over when what we would like it to take is a break. Spirituality is about seeing the appropriate, limited role for judgment -- while also holding in our awareness the wider context within which judgment has its little corner. That wider context transcends our petty assessments of better and worse.

Your spirit is the part of you that understands that you are good enough – that you are, in fact, perfect – and any approach that says spirituality is one more area where you’ve got to get better undermines the very spirituality it purports to encourage.

We might look back on moments of self-forgetfulness and realize we were performing very well. At the time, in the moment, we weren't thinking about our performance as good or bad. We had lost the sense of being a separate self to judge better or worse and were just flowing, like a current in a river that has no concept of itself as separate from the rest of the river or from the rest of the earth's waterways. As soon as the thought enters your head, "hey, I'm playing superb tennis today," or "I'm painting a real masterpiece here," the spell is broken.

Transpersonal identification is recognition that we are the other -- and there's no place there for judging ourselves better than others, better than average.

Spirituality involves acceptance, the affirmation and embrace of reality exactly as it is, not judging ourselves or others as needing to be better.

That's why I say the very idea of spiritual fitness misses the point. We aren't going to learn to be nonjudgmental by judging ourselves for being too judgmental. The spiritual path is not about fixing something that's broken about you. It's about the abiding truth that you aren't broke, and don't need fixing. You really are perfect exactly the way you are, and couldn't possibly be any better.

Here I am with my judging mind, asking: How can I turn off this judging mind? I can't make it happen. However I might characterize it -- being awake, more epiphanies, inner peace -- I can't make that happen. As soon as I think there is such a thing as a separate me, and soon as I judge it as not spiritually healthy enough, I have erected an impassable barrier. My very effort to take it down is what makes it stronger. I'm telling myself: "Try harder . . . not to try so hard."

It's Not Up to You. Except the Part That Is.

I love Unitarian Universalism and Unitarian Universalists, and have committed my life to our faith. I love us, and I do want us to be all we can be. I know that one criticism of UUs goes like this:
Unitarian Universalists are dabblers and dilettantes -- highly knowledgeable and intellectually curious, but spiritually rather frivolous. They seem to think they understand the taste of the food just from reading the cookbook. They seem to believe they'll get strong muscles by attending a lecture on weightlifting. UUs, by and large, are not serious about their spiritual development.
Some of that criticism is unfair. The criticism results from misunderstanding the way that valuing diversity works. Our commitment to diversity and our appreciation of the rich rewards of a diverse community do not mean that each individual UU is required to be uncommitted to anything other than diversity itself. It does mean that a UU’s spiritual practices include cultivation of, and delight in, affectionate relationships with others with different practices, perspectives, and understandings. "Include" does not mean "are limited to." Unfortunately, too many UUs themselves seem to have accepted the misunderstanding and approach religious life as if diverse community were sufficient. Thus, the criticism has some partial truth to it. So here's what I want us to know:

Number one, know that it's not up to you. You can't make it happen. You can't fix yourself. Indeed, you're not broken, and can't possibly be any better. That's the first lesson, and that's also the last lesson, because only in rare moments do most of us manage to truly believe that.

Number two, in order to really "get" number one, there are some things that are up to you. There are spiritual practices. Why would I do practices since I'm already perfect? I might start doing them because I don't feel perfect. As contradictory as it is to judge myself for being too self-judgmental, that's exactly what I do.

Embrace Your Demons

I began spiritual practice because I was beset by my various demons. I had been fighting them for years, and was not winning. Apparent victories were temporary, fleeting. The fighting just gave the demons a good work-out and made them stronger.

Spiritual practices are ways to stop fighting. If I embrace my demons instead of fighting them, then they aren’t such a problem for me, or for the others in my life.

I can't make this happen, but what I can do is practice stepping back to see what my fears, my insecurities, my judgments of inadequacy might do on their own if all I do is steadily acknowledge them. They start to fade away on their own. Of course, they don't entirely leave. They come back for visits. They send me a card on my birthday. (They're so thoughtful, these demons!)

I sit and try to notice the thoughts and feelings that arise: "There's judgment. Again. There's the judgment that I shouldn't have judgment. Again."  Don't resist, just notice.

Will that do anything?

Ah, this is why we call it faith. I take the leap of faith of opening myself to all those demons, opening my heart to the unknown, trusting that they will sort themselves out as they need to. I can't make myself be at peace. What I can do is pay loving attention to the things that give me turmoil. What I discover is that the waves gradually get smaller, and further apart.

Nothing to Attain: The Primary Spiritual Practice

We might start a spiritual practice wanting our spiritual muscles strong, toned, trim, and limber. If we do keep at it, we might gradually come to see that there's nothing to attain – except the knowledge that there’s nothing to attain.

A visitor to a Zen center heard the master give a dharma talk saying Zen is about being ordinary. Afterwards the visitor asked the master, “Ordinary? So, then, what is the difference between you and me?”
The master said, “There is no difference – only, I know that.”

We do the practice not to attain something. We do the practice just to do the practice. Dishwashing becomes spiritual practice when you aren't washing the dishes to get them clean; you are washing the dishes to wash the dishes.

There are many, many forms of spiritual practice. There's the traditional idea of spiritual practices: Bible study,  prayer. Unitarian Universalists have many other spiritual practices: yoga, martial arts, social action, vegetarianism, living simply, cooking, eating, not eating (fasting), quilting, art. There's gardening, hiking in the woods, walking along the beach, playing a musical instrument or singing or listening attentively to music. Any number of things can be spiritual practices if they are approached with a deliberate intention to get out of our judging mind for a while, and just accept, affirm, and appreciate -- allow self-forgetfulness and transpersonal identification to come over us if they will.

Think about something you do just to be doing it, something you do without thinking about achieving anything, without thinking about whether you're doing it the way you supposedly should be doing it. There's your spiritual practice. It is the place in your life where you are liberated from your own judgmentalism, freed from the pursuit of goals and purposes, and allowed to bask in just being.

It feels nice, doesn't it?

And then there's all the rest of life.

Five Secondary Spiritual Practices for Everyone

Maybe you would like to infuse all of your life with a bit more of that spirit. As I say, we can't make that happen. All we can do is invite it to happen. There are five particular practices to invite our spirituality to infuse more of our lives. Whatever your main spiritual practice is, these five supplemental practices will provide a foundation for it. Our main spiritual practices are highly varied -- these five support practices I recommend for every single one of us as a way to strengthen and extend your spiritual practice and your "spiritual fitness."
  1. Journaling
  2. Reading
  3. Silence
  4. Group
  5. Mindfulness
First, journaling. Fifteen minutes a day. There are many different approaches to journaling. Here's a simple starter plan. Six days a week, “just keep the pen moving.” Write whatever comes to mind for 15 minutes. Then, on the seventh day, list in your journal five things that week that you are grateful for.

Noticing is the key to spiritual acceptance, and writing down whatever comes to your mind is helpful for noticing what is alive in you. (My further reflections on journaling: click here.)

Second: "Scripture" study -- with a very wide understanding of "scripture." Again, 15 minutes a day. Select a text of “wisdom literature.” The scriptures of any of the world’s religions are worthy texts for spiritual study. The Dao De Jing, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Hebrew Bible's book of Psalms are wonderful places to start. Also worthy would be books like Thomas Moore’s Care of the Soul, or reflections like Thomas Merton's, or poems of Rumi, Hafiz, or Kabir, or writings by St. Francis, Teresa of Avila, Julian of Norwich, Rabindranath Tagore, Gandhi, Pema Chodron, Thich Nhat Hanh. Any of these will do nicely. Choose works that resonate with you, and commit to study them a few minutes every day.

What this does is enlist your cognitive capacity to assist your spiritual. We live through our days full of ideas and concepts -- and most of them are connected to some form of judgment, some form of not wanting things to be as they are. Wisdom literature helps give us some concepts that can nudge some of those other concepts a little bit into the background more often.

Third, silence. Another 15 minutes a day. I know, this is adding up -- and, gosh, aren't we all too busy anyway? Who has time for stuff that has no purpose? I can't answer that. When the quest for peace is urgent, the time is not the issue.

Find a posture that will allow you to remain still. Bring attention to your breath. When (not if) your thoughts wander, simply notice where they wandered to and return to your breath. This simple practice begins to cultivate awareness of your own thoughts – and helps you get to know the true person you are that is so much more than just your thoughts.

Fourth, group practice. Monthly is good. Bi-weekly is better. Go weekly, if you can manage it. A group that shares in your primary spiritual practice, whatever it may be, is a great boon for deepening in that practice. If walking on the beach is where you have had the best luck experiencing serenity, get together a beach-walking group -- in addition to having some time to walk alone. If it's cooking, get in a cooking club -- only, be sure it's a cooking club that intentionally approaches cooking in a spiritual way.

Just as study helped enlist your cognitive to assist your spiritual, the group experience enlists your social brain on behalf of the spiritual. And that helps invite the spiritual to infuse more of your life. It's so important to know that you're not going it alone!

Fifth, resolve for mindfulness. Continuously. Develop the habit of bringing yourself back to the present moment whenever you find that you’re somewhere else. These are not the practices that will make you perfect. You’re already perfect. They might not change anything at all -- and that's going to be discouraging for that judging mind that wants results.

My intention is for my Judging Mind to just do its job and stop being such a totalitarian tyrant. I can't make that happen, I can only keep inviting it, over and over, day after day, year after year.

My faith is that an awakened life is possible. I am called toward that possibility -- not because it's better -- that would be a judgment -- but just because it is who I am.

Nurturing my spirit. Helping heal our world. For real?

For real.

* * *
For a somewhat revised and expanded version, posted in seven parts, begin here.


November 11: Armistice Day

Eleven! Eleven! Eleven!

It's a day we call Veterans Day. It began as Armistice Day -- commemorating the armistice that ended World War I on 1918 November 11. Armistice: A cessation of hostilities as a prelude to peace negotiations. On the first anniversary of the WWI armistice (1919 Nov 11), President Woodrow Wilson announced:
"To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country's service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations."
Notice the double purpose of Armistice Day: (1) to honor the veterans, and (2) to show our "sympathy with peace and justice."

World War I was thought -- hoped -- to be the "war that ends all wars." No such luck, it turned out. Still, the idea of ending war, of governing our world nonviolently, of spreading peace and justice across the globe should not be forgotten.

In 1954, the US government changed Armistice Day to Veterans Day. The motive to honor all veterans, not just the World War I vets, was nice. But in the process, the other function of Armistice Day was lopped off. Attention was diverted away from "armistice" -- the laying down of arms, the ending of hostilities, the commitment to peace.

The hopes that lifted the hearts of North Americans and Europeans 93 years ago at the end of WWI may have seemed, by the 1950s, sadly deluded -- perhaps even a cruel hoax. The US had been through the carnage of WWII, and then embroiled itself in a Korean War for three years. The notion of ending all war seemed hopeless and unrealistic. The attitude was: war is going to go on, and on, for as far into the future as imaginable -- so let's just commemorate the courageous ones who fight our wars for us.

The building of peace is much tougher than many Americans in 1918 knew -- the skills of peacemaking require much more development. But the task of peace and justice (for no peace will be lasting, or worthy, without justice) should not be abandoned. Unitarian Universalists committed to that task with a 2010 Statement of Conscience, "Creating Peace." On this November 11, please re-read and re-commit to that statement -- click here.

So today I am celebrating Armistice Day. I honor the fire of youth -- the energy, the camaraderie, the commitment to a cause, the way they can fling themselves so passionately into harm's way. I acknowledge that it has been a while since our country has actually deployed that fire to protect the freedom of US residents, but I honor the effort and training and bravery that our veterans have displayed nevertheless. I also take this day to recommit to armistice; to lay down all instruments of violence; to promise again to myself and my world to forego thoughts, words, and deeds that treat a being as an object or diminish any being's sense of value or security; to truly walk the path of nonviolence.

* * * *
It's November 11, it's 1918, it's Armistice Day, and I,
I would have no arms.
I would have no legs.
I would live in Europe, Asia, America, south and north, Africa, Australia, Antarctica, and all the wide deep blacken blue oceans.
I would have no Western front.
I would name myself Peace Among the Nations.
Finally undisappointable,
Hanging over the beleaguered of nations like a happy gracious fog, I would
Penetrate everywhere.
I would weigh you down with uplifting serenity.
I would double you four times, Woodrow Wilson World War.
All ate of you, consumed by love, would have a thousand arms each reaching and embracing every dying soldier every wailing mother every broken-legged horse, enfolding them in doesn't-change-a-thing compassion.
I would have no arms.
* * * *


Shaken And Stirred, 007?

We are 007 -- that is, Oh! Oh! Seven billion! According to the UN, the world population has reached 7 billion. That's a lot of people.

To put this in historical context: In 1350, estimated total world population, following a number of years of famines and the Bubonic plague, was down to 370 million. A mere 661 years later, it is 2011, and we have almost 20 times that number of people.

(Interesting aside: 661 years is about 30 generations. The folks living in 1350 were my 28th-great-grandparents. Since the number of my ancestors doubles with each generation, then I have slots for over 1 billion 28th-great-grandparents. Each of the the 370 million people on the earth in 1350 would appear in an average of three slots on my family tree -- and that's true of each of the 7 billion of us alive today.)

In 1804, world population reached 1 billion.
123 years later, 1927, we reached 2 billion.
The next billion took only 33 years to add: in 1960 we reached 3 billion.
And the fourth billion took us only 14 years: 1974: 4 billion.
We reached 5 billion in 1987, and 6 billion in 1999.

We've been adding an additional billion people every dozen years since 1987. The total numbers are going up, but the rate of growth is declining. From 5 billion to 6 billion is a 20 percent increase while 6 billion to 7 billion is a 16.7 percent increase -- yet both the 6th and the 7th billion took 12 years.

In fact, the growth rate peaked in 1963 at 2.2 percent per year. Does 2.2 percent per year seem mild? During the 1960s, Paul Ehrlich's The Population Bomb, attracted a lot of attention, yet 2.2 percent per year might not seem very explosive. If the economy is growing at only 2.2 percent per year, that's regarded as sub-par: average US economic growth was 3.8 percent per year for the first 27 post-war years (1946 - 1973), and has averaged 2.7 percent per year since then (1974 - 2010).

However, it takes only a constant growth rate of 0.45 percent per year to get from 370 million to 7 billion in 661 years.

Here's a breakdown of that 0.45 percent overall Average Growth Per Year (AGPY):
AGPY for the 454 years, 1350 - 1804: 0.22 percent
AGPY for 123 years, 1804 - 1927: 0.57 percent
AGPY for 33 years, 1927 -1960: 1.24 percent
AGPY for 14 years, 1960 - 1974: 2.08 percent
AGPY for 13 years, 1974 - 1987: 1.73 percent
AGPY for 12 years, 1987 - 1999: 1.53 percent
AGPY for 12 years, 1999 - 2011: 1.29 percent

So the population growth rate is slowly coming down from its peak -- but is still higher than the AGPY  between 1927 and 1960 -- or any period before that. In fact, a growth rate of 1.29 percent per year would still produce a population doubling every 54 years. If the AGPY of the last 12 years were to continue, we'd reach 14 billion (twice the current population) by 2065, like so:
2022    8 billion
2031    9 billion
2039    10 billion
2047    11 billion
2054    12 billion
2060    13 billion
2065    14 billion

Fortunately, this is not  likely. The growth rate has been declining since 1963 and is expected to continue to decline. The US Census Bureau projects that we'll reach 8 billion in 2027 (rather than 2022), and 9 billion in 2046 (rather than in 2031). Most of the studies predict the growth rate to reach zero around mid-century. World population would then flatten out around 9 or 10 billion, and may even begin to decline a bit.

Education -- particularly the empowerment of women is a crucial variable. The more we can accelerate empowerment of  women, then the sooner we'll see a variety of positive developments, including faster declines in the population growth rate.

Can the earth support 9 or 10 billion of us? Can it even support, sustainably, the present 7 billion of us? If all 7 billion people consumed resources at the rate of the average US lifestyle, the answer is clearly no. It would take 5.3 earths to supply 7 billion people with what the average US resident gets. 

So. One of  the following must occur:

1 - Sharp population declines. We'd have to get down to less than 1.5 billion if the one earth that we have were to supply us all at a level of the average US citizen; or
2 - Substantial reductions in consumption for the wealthy. Those who consume at or above the US average will need to adopt lifestyles consuming less than a fifth of what we now consume; or
3 - Massive poverty for the majority. We might try continuing to let a few people consume vastly disproportionate shares of the resources by forcing 90 percent or so to live in poverty; or
4 - Some combination of #1, #2, and/or #3; or
5 - We'll run out of earth -- with attendant massive famines, resource wars, etc.

Your assignment, Agent 007 -- the assignment of the oh, oh, seven billion agents on the planet -- is to avoid #5. We also need to avoid #3 as much as possible. The risk of instability, unrest, and violence -- not to mention the moral wrong -- of #3 should be avoided. #1 ain't gonna happen -- unless #5 happens first, thereby causing #1. So that leaves #2 -- or some form of #4 that consists mostly of #2.

That's what we gotta do. It's enough to leave us shaken. But will we be stirred to accept this assignment?

Start by learning more:
Good introduction to the population issue: here
Ian Angus and Simon Butler argue that enviornmental crises come much more from the wealthiest 1 percent than from the rest of the 7 billion: here.
Article about Bill McKibben's take on climate change and population: here.