Love Them Into Transformation

My self-defense, my protective reactions, work hard to protect me. It's just that they aren’t always very skilled at it. They’re rather like a typical child writing her first poem.

When your child shares with a poem she's written, you don't say, "The metaphors are mixed; it's full of cliches; some of the rhymes are off; and on line 7 I think you mean 'hermeneutic' instead of 'hermetic'." No, you don't say that. You say, “That’s wonderful.” You’re interested. You talk about the feelings expressed. If the child would like, you put it on the refrigerator. You take a few moments to beam proudly at the poem and at your child. And then you move on. You don’t get carried away and start calling up publishers to insist that your child's work be included in their next anthology.

My inner protector is like that child. It needs my love and attention. It doesn’t need me to get all carried away and devote my life to its glorification.

Is my protector flaring up to protect me when I’m not really in danger? Am I encountering a situation that triggers my protective mechanisms, when, in fact, I am encountering something or someone completely unarmed? I try to look more carefully at my triggers. Maybe that thing that’s scaring me is actually just a bag of skittles. I try to honor the protective mechanism, show it compassion, thank it for trying so hard to protect me, and ask it to trust me: to trust either that there’s nothing here that will hurt me, or to trust that the risk of harm is a risk worth taking for the sake of greater connection and compassion.

Yes, we live in a country, and in a state, that demonizes the darker skinned: Hispanics and African Americans. We don’t conquer the demonizer by rejecting it – scourging and excoriating -- but by looking with compassion at where it’s coming from. My guess is that it’s coming from insecurity. From fear. And if that’s what it is, I can understand that. I, too, have insecurities and fears.

Let us wear hoodies and stand and rally in solidarity with Trayvon’s family. At the same time, let us understand that our society will make no progress unless the insecurity is reassured. There are a lot of people out there who, in the right circumstances – or, I should say, in the wrong circumstances -- are prepared to do what George Zimmerman did. There’s a larger question. Demanding that fear and insecurity be arrested and locked up won’t make it go away. The larger question is how to love. How do we love so fiercely, so deeply, so courageously that we love even fear, that we love even hate -- and we love them into transformation?

We do now need to stand in solidarity with groups that are threatened because they are perceived as threatening. That’s what the hoodie is about. It’s a call for solidarity. We need to make that stand. And: we need to look at the larger question of this insecurity in our land.

It’s a legitimate thing to want to protect our homes. It’s also a legitmate thing for members of minority groups to want to be able to stroll safely through any neighborhood they may happen to be legitimately visiting while wearing a hoodie and carrying skittles and iced tea.

Our call is to a path of healing and wholeness that recognizes and honors all the voices in our hearts and all the voices in our society.

Our call is to love -- and stand on the side of love -- and recognize and honor all the colors: the colors of fear, of revulsion, of defense and protection; the colors of affection, of bold risk-taking for the hope of connection, of calling ourselves and others to accountability; the colors of tribal identity as well as the colors of delight in diversity.

Our call is to love -- and stand on the side of love -- and recognize and honor all the diverse voices and colors within us and all the people and colors around us. All the colors.
"De Colores"

All the colors, yes, the colors we see in the springtime with all of the flowers.
All the colors, when the sunlight shines out through a rift in the cloud and it showers.
Al the colors, as a rainbow appears when a storm cloud is touched by the sun.
All the colors abound for the whole world around and for everyone under the sun.

All the colors, yes, the black and the white and the red and the brown and the yellow.
All the colors, all the colors of people who smile and shake hands and say, "Hello!"
All the colors, yes, the colors of people who know that their freedom is won.
All the colors abound for the whole world around and for everyone under the sun.
* * * * *
Part 5 of "Evil."
Previous: Part 4, "Baptists, Bootleggers, and Self-Defense"
Beginning: Part 1: "Tragedy, Spring. Fractals."


Baptists, Bootleggers, and Self-Defense

When we approach our parts, our inner voices, in a spirit of humility and a friendly desire to understand them, we begin to understand why they cause the trouble that they do, and we can regard them with compassion.

So often, however, we don't approach our parts with that humble and friendly curiosity. Instead, we demonize them -- we call them our demons. (I referred to our parts as demons myself in the previous post. It's nice to "embrace your demons;" nicer still to see that they aren't really demons at all.) Then we call upon one "demon" to fight another. This makes both personae more demonic. Before long, a kind of internal corruption sets in. You called in one goon squad to fight another, and the two can end up going into cahoots with each other.

For example, the way that bootleggers and the evangelicals have worked together while apparently being opposed has become so well known that a model of politics has come to be named the “Baptists and bootleggers” model. In the paradigm case, preachers demand prohibition on alcohol sales in their county, while criminal bootleggers also work to keep alcohol sales illegal -- so that they can maintain their illegal business. The bootleggers help the preachers by ensuring that alcohol continues to be available – which means the preachers will always be able to pack their pews with periodic rousing denunciations of demon liquor. The preachers help the bootleggers by preventing competition from alcohol retailers. Sometimes the bootleggers themselves are devoted tithing members of the church, supporting the wonderful work the church does in ensuring the bootlegger’s income.

That kind of corruption can happen at the social level, and like a fractal pattern, can recapitulate within our hearts, as our inner parts put on a big show of fighting each other while actually they depend upon each other.

“Choose your enemies carefully,” the saying goes, “for you will become like them.” Alternatively: befriend them instead, and they lose their power over you.

Which brings us back to the Trayvon Martin case. George Zimmerman was concerned about crime. He spent time going door to door in his neighborhood urging his neighbors to be on the lookout for “young black men who appear to be outsiders.” The community reportedly did have a number of burglaries, thefts, and one shooting during the previous year. Zimmerman himself had called the police 46 times in the 14 months before his encounter with Trayvon Martin. In his battle with the forces that he saw as threatening, he became a perpetrator of the very thing he feared and hated. In the Sanford police department we may be seeing the same dynamic recapitulated on a larger scale.

Zimmerman claims he was acting in self-defense. Whether or not his action meets the legal criteria for self-defense, there was some kind of defensiveness at work. Remembering that whatever evil we see out there is also in here, in each of our own hearts, the question for each of us is: "What do I do in self-defense?" The things we do out of a felt need to protect ourselves often lead to harm, to ourselves and to others. When I get self-defensive, I know I shut down the possibilities for connection and love in the moment.

I’m not saying, never take protective action. I’m saying watch the protective habits, the protective impulse and urge. Just watch them, with compassion for them as they try to do their job of protecting you.

* * * * *
Part 4 of "Evil."
Next: Part 5: "Love Them Into Transformation"
Previous: Part 3: "Breaking Old Ground"
Begginning: Part 1: "Tragedy. Spring. Fractals."


Breaking Old Ground

Psychologist Richard Schwartz says:
“As clients embody more Self, their inner dialogues change spontaneously. They stop berating themselves and instead, get to know, rather than try to eliminate, the extreme inner voices or emotions that have plagued them. At those times they tell me, they feel ‘lighter,’ their minds feel somehow more ‘open’ and ‘free.’ Even clients who've shown little insight into their problems are suddenly able to trace the trajectory of their own feelings and emotional histories with startling clarity and understanding.”
The basic point here is an ancient one that, today, is popping up in a number of places. I like Richard Schwartz’s work not because he breaks new ground, but because he brings a clarity and vividness to very old ground. The basic teaching is one that Lake Chalice readers have been hearing from me -- and very likely other sources -- for years. My own personal work has been to understand this basic and ancient teaching better and better and to take it more and more deeply to heart.

Religious traditions have taught this point for millennia. Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, all teach – or have strands within them that teach – that we are sparks of the eternal flame, manifestations of the absolute ground of being. Christians call it the soul or "Christ Consciousness." Buddhists call it "Buddha Nature," Hindus "Atman," Taoists "Tao," Sufis "the Beloved," Quakers "the Inner Light." Once we step back from the part of us in conflict with another part of us, we have access to compassion for all our parts. We have access to who we really are. Rumi, in the 13th century, was making this point when he said that being human is guest house, so whoever comes – joy, sadness, dark thoughts – meet them at the door and invite them in. (click here)

I’ve often quoted Philip Simmons from a UUWorld article of about 10 years ago:
"There’s nothing our demons enjoy more than a good fight – nothing that confuses them more than our embrace." 
It’s not the demon that is the evil. Evil – or neurosis, or dysfunction, or depression, or unhappiness -- is what manifests when we try to push down or ignore or banish a part of us. We cannot become centered in the deep ground of our being by trying to flatten, suppress, deny, or destroy the feelings we don't like in ourselves or others. With humility, and awe, and gratitude, we can become centered in our selves by welcoming our parts.

Certain parts of ourselves aren’t easy to be welcoming toward: hatred, rage, despair, fear, addictive needs (for drugs, food, sex), racism and other prejudice, greed. Nor are we proud of such parts of ourselves as ennui, guilt, depression, anxiety, self-righteousness, and self-loathing. We must learn to listen to and ultimately embrace all these parts if we are to move ourselves toward healing and wholeness. If we can do that instead than trying to exile them, then they transform. This is where psychology and faith meet, because we don't know how they'll transform, and we don't know when -- our parts make their own schedules. Faith  is our ability love and trust. Love your parts, trusting that your love will allow them to transform.

Every time we try to fight against a part of ourselves, we do so by generating or calling upon another part of ourselves. Diane called upon the Pusher to fight against the Pessimist. Or we call upon the Hate Hater to fight against the Hater. Now we have two personae that are giving us problems.

Treating our parts as if they had a life of their own -- as if they were, in effect, real personalities in themselves with a point of view and a reason for acting as they do -- helps us be present to them with compassion. When we approach them in a spirit of humility and a friendly desire to understand them, we begin to understand why they cause the trouble that they do. And we’re able to reassure them that the purpose they serve will be met.

* * * * *
Part 3 of "Evil"
Next: Part 4: "Baptists, Bootleggers, and Self-Defense"
Previous: Part 2: "Know Thyself. Know Thyselves"
Beginning: Part 1: "Tragedy. Spring. Fractals."


Know Thyself. Know Thyselves.

"Know thyself," said Socrates. And to know it is to love it. Much that we might want to call evil comes from failure of compassion for all the parts of the self -- which, fractal-like, recapitulates as failure of compassion for all the parts of family, tribe, society.

Psychologist Richard Schwartz describes how he began to work with clients through their peronae.
“I had one client, Diane, ask the pessimistic voice she was describing why it always told her she was hopeless. The voice responded that it said she was hopeless so that she wouldn't take any risks and get hurt; it was trying to protect her. This seemed like a promising interaction. If this pessimist really had benign intent, then Diane might be able to negotiate a different role for it. But Diane wasn't interested in negotiating. She was angry at this voice and kept telling it to just leave her alone. I asked her why she was so rude to the pessimist and she went on a long diatribe, describing how that voice had made every step she took in life a major hurdle. It then occurred to me that I wasn't talking to Diane, but to another part of her – [a part she had spoken of before] that pushed her to achieve and that constantly fought with the pessimist who told her it was hopeless. [Her Pusher was mad at, and fighting with her Pessimist, and at that moment, I was talking to the Pusher.] I asked Diane to focus on the [pushing] voice, and ask it to stop interfering in her negotiations with the pessimist. To my amazement, [the Pusher] agreed to 'step back,' and Diane immediately shifted out of the anger she'd felt so strongly seconds before. When I asked Diane how she felt toward the pessimist now, it seemed like a different person answered. In a calm, caring voice, she said she was grateful to it for trying to protect her, and felt sorry that it had to work so hard. Her face and posture had also changed, reflecting the soft compassion in her voice. From that point on, negotiations with the inner pessimist were easy.”
In another case, Dr. Schwartz is working with Margie, an anorexic. He asks one persona to “step back” to allow attending to another persona. He asks “Margie where she finds that voice of anorexia in her body and how she feels toward it. She closes her eyes and says it's in her stomach, and she's angry at it. She says that it tells her that it's going to kill her and that there's nothing she can do about it. . . . "

Dr. Schwartz says, "It makes sense that you're angry with the eating disorder part, because its avowed purpose is to screw up your life or even kill you. But right now, we just want to get to know it a little better, and it's hard to do that when you're so angry with it. We're not going to give it more power by doing that – just get to know more about why it wants to kill you. So see if the part of you that's so angry with it is willing to trust you and me for a few minutes. See if it's willing to relax to maybe watch as we try to get to know the eating disorder part."

Margie says okay. Schwartz asks how she feels toward the eating disorder now. Margie she says she's tired of battling with it. Schwartz asks that part to relax and step back too, and then another part that was very confused by the disorder. Each time, Schwartz asks "how do you feel toward the eating disorder now?"

Finally, Margie says in a compassionate voice, "Like, I want to help it." (Richard Schwartz, "The Larger Self" -- click here.)

As we become able to attend to, to hear, to be with a persona, then we're better able to stop being that persona – and we also stop being any persona that needed to fight that persona. What we step into when we step back is the true self.

* * * * *
Part 2 of "Evil"
Next: Part 3: "Breaking Old Ground"
Previous: Part 1: "Tragedy. Spring. Fractals."


Tragedy. Spring. Fractals.

Trayvon Martin died on Sunday Feburary 26, four weeks ago yesterday. He had just turned 17 years-old. Trayvon’s parents divorced when he was four. Known as “Tray” or “Slimm” (he was 6-foot-3 and about 140 pounds), he lived with his mother and older brother in Miami. He was a junior in high school, where his English teacher said he was “an A and B student who majored in cheerfulness.” He wanted to be an aviation mechanic.

Four weeks ago, he was visiting his father and his father’s girlfriend in a gated community in Sanford, Florida: southeast of Gainesville, about 100 miles, as the crow flies. Tray was watching basketball on TV. During a break, he went out to walk to a nearby convenience store for a snack. He was talking on his cell phone headset to his girlfriend. He was returning to the house, when he was seen by George Zimmerman.

Zimmerman called 911 and said, “This guy looks like he’s up to no good.” The dispatcher recommended that Zimmerman not take any action, and informed him that police were on the way. Zimmerman reported that Martin was headed toward the back entrance. He said, "They always get away," and then muttered what sounds like a vicious racist slur. It’s under his breath, so it’s not perfectly clear, but I’ve listened to the recordings, and that's what it sounds like to me.

Dispatcher: “Are you following him?”
Zimmerman: “Yeah.”
Dispatcher: “OK, we don’t need you to do that.”

The dispatcher reiterated that police were on the way.

While Zimmerman was on his cell phone, Trayvon was on his, talking with his girlfriend, and expressing concern about a "strange man" following him. She advised him to run. She has reported that she heard Martin say "What are you following me for?" followed by a man's voice responding "What are you doing here?" She heard the sound of pushing; Martin's headset suddenly went silent. She immediately tried to call him back, but was unable to reach him. Shortly afterward, a number of other 911 calls were reporting a shooting, and Trayvon Martin was dead.

It’s taken a few weeks for the case to grow in public awareness because it took awhile for the 911 recordings to be released, and as day after day passed with George Zimmerman not being arrested, public outcry began to grow.

The Lake Chalice topic this week week is "Evil." And as our hearts reflect on the tragedy that killed Trayvon Martin, it’s an easy thing to invoke a concept of evil. It’s easy to see George Zimmerman as evil, to see the Sanford Police Department as evil. Too easy.

At the same time, spring has officially come. I mention this because there's a lesson for us in the beauty of the spring flowers. Springtime illustrates that goodness and beauty are manifest where no color is left out, no part of the raucous parliament of sensations is excluded. Evil is the suppression of voices -- the suppression of color -- and beauty is inclusion of all colors, all voices.

The tragic death of Trayvon Martin may bring us to anger. It may bring us indignation and a yearning for justice. Well and good. I just want to ask us to notice one thing: that whatever is out there that we don’t like is also in here -- in our hearts.

There’s a metaphor here from the field of mathematics: fractals. Fractal patterns were big a few years ago. As you zoom in, or zoom out, on a fractal pattern, you find that smaller scales or larger scales recapitulate the original pattern. Just as society is made up of many different people, every person is made up of many different inner personae.

Sometimes the families in a tribe don’t relate to each other harmoniously.

Sometimes the members of a family don’t relate to each other harmoniously.

Sometimes the inner personae within an individual don’t relate to each other harmoniously.

Like fractals: the pattern at one level of magnification is found again at the other levels. In society, in our families, in our hearts: the tensions and dynamics we find in any of these are recapitulated in the other two.

I've mentioned a terrible tragedy, the arrival of spring, and fractals. Which feels like the right sort of beginning. To understand evil we must sometimes be head-on, and sometimes look far afield for our clues.

* * * * *
Part 1 of "Evil."
Next: Part 2: "Know Thyself. Know Thyselves."


Spiritual Activists: Thich Nhat Hanh

This story is about another monk – not a Catholic monk, but a Buddhist monk, born in Vietnam. His name is Thich Nhat Hanh – he’s also called Thay. He’s 85-years-old now and lives in France.

Thay and Thomas Merton met each other once – 45 years ago when Thay was visiting in Kentucky. They discovered kindred spirits in each other.

It helps to have a tradition of practices and writing to help the heart open up to the true self. It can be a Buddhist tradition, or a Catholic tradition, or some other one.

Thay became a Zen Buddhist monk when he was only 16. When there was a war in his country, Thay tried bravely to stop the fighting. Instead the government made him leave the country, the homeland he loved.

He and his friends bought an old farm in France, which they named Plum Village. They fixed up the buildings and planted gardens and plum trees. Many people – from Vietnam and elsewhere came to Plum Village to live and work – or to visit for awhile -- and practice and learn to be mindful – to love each other and not be violent.

At Plum Village, they spend a lot of time praying, meditating, and practicing mindfulness -- which means being aware of what we are doing and concentrate on enjoying it before we do something else. Pay attention to what is around you without worrying about the past or the future.

When you take a little time to sit quietly – maybe sit outside and just watch the grass and the clouds and the birds – it can make you feel calmer and nicer. And we can use that feeling to make the world a better place to live. When we are mindful, we are peaceful, and when we are peaceful, it helps other people be peaceful, too.
Breathing in, you feel calm.
You are fresh as a flower.
Breathing out, you are not going to get angry.
You are solid as a mountain.
Thay says, “Make good use of the flower and the mountain in you and you will not be affected by what other people say and what they do to you. You will be able to help so many people.”

Thay was just a boy when he first began his training to understand how what we might think we want isn’t always what our heart really wants. When we don’t get what we think we want, we might fight or act mean. For Thay, though, you don’t have to have one big heart-opening experience like Thomas Merton had at Fourth and Walnut. You just have to water the seeds of joy and wanting to help others – and not water the seeds of anger and selfishness.

Keep watering the seeds of kindness and sharing, and let the seeds slowly grow – and this helps water those seeds in our friends, too. Thay often speaks to children. He says:
Walk and touch peace every moment.
Walk and touch happiness every moment.
Each step brings a fresh breeze.
Each step makes a flower bloom.
Kiss the Earth with your feet.
Bring the Earth your love and happiness.
The Earth will be safe when we feel safe ourselves.

* * * * *
Part 5 of "The Spiritual Activist:
Previous: Part 4: "Thomas Merton"
Beginning: Part 1: "Satyana's Principles of Spiritual Activism"


Saturdao 13

Dao De Jing, verse 8b

16 translations

1. James Legge:
The excellence of a residence is in (the suitability of) the place;
that of the mind is in abysmal stillness; that of associations is in
their being with the virtuous; that of government is in its securing
good order; that of (the conduct of) affairs is in its ability; and
that of (the initiation of) any movement is in its timeliness.
And when (one with the highest excellence) does not wrangle (about
his low position), no one finds fault with him.
2. Archie Bahm:
If experience teaches that houses should be build close to the ground,
That friendship should be based upon sympathy and good will,
That good government employs peaceful means of regulation,
That business is more successful if it employs efficient methods,
That wise behavior adapts itself appropriately to the particular circumstances,
All this is because these are the easiest ways.
If one proceeds naturally, without ambition or envy, everything works out for the best.
3. Frank MacHovec:
In the home the truly wise love the humble earth, the foundation on which the home it built; in the heart they love what is genuine; in friendship they are compassionate; in words they are sincere; in government they foster peace and good will; in business they work with quiet efficiency.
Serenity is the goal of Tao; through it nothing is lost.
4. D.C. Lau
In a home it is the site that matters;
In quality of mind it is depth that matters;
In an ally it is benevolence that matters;
In speech it is good faith that matters;
In government it is order that matters;
In affairs it is ability that matters;
In action it is timeliness that matters.
It is because it does not contend that it is never at fault.
5. Gia-Fu Feng:
In dwelling, be close to the land.
In meditation, go deep in the heart.
In dealing with others, be gentle and kind.
In speech, be true.
In ruling, be just.
In business, be competent.
In action, watch the timing.
No fight: No blame.
6. Stan Rosenthal:
“The Way of Water”
Like water, the sage abides in a humble place;
in meditation, without desire; in thoughtfulness, he is profound, and in his dealings, kind.
In speech, sincerity guides the man of Tao, and as a leader, he is just.
In management, competence is his aim, and he ensures the pacing is correct.
Because he does not act for his own ends, nor cause unnecessary conflict,
he is held to be correct in his actions towards his fellow man.
7. Jacob Trapp:
“Like Water”
The Sage in his heart loves what is lowly;
in his thought he loves what is profound;
In relations with others he loves kindness;
He himself abides by the good order
He would have others observe.
Neither slothful nor strenuous,
He so times his actions and engagements
As not to be wasteful of energy or opportunity.
His words convey confidence.
He does not contend with others,
And thus lives peacefully with them.
8. Stephen Mitchell:
In dwelling, live close to the ground.
In thinking, keep to the simple.
In conflict, be fair and generous.
In governing, don't try to control.
In work, do what you enjoy.
In family life, be completely present.
When you are content to be simply yourself
and don't compare or compete,
everybody will respect you.
9. Victor Mair
The quality of an abode is in its location,
The quality of the heart is in its depths,
The quality of giving lies in trust,
The quality of correct governance lies in orderly rule,
The quality of an enterprise depends on ability,
The quality of movement depends on timing.
It is precisely because one does not compete that there is no blame.
10. Michael LaFargue:
Excellence in a house: the ground
“Excellence in a mind: depth
Excellence in companions: Goodness
Excellence in speaking: sincerity
Excellence in setting things right: good management
Excellence on the job: ability
Excellence in making a move: good timing.”
Simply do not contend
then there will be no fault.
11. Peter Merel:
So the sage:
Lives within nature,
Thinks within the deep,
Gives within impartiality,
Speaks within trust,
Governs within order,
Crafts within ability,
Acts within opportunity.
He does not contend, and none contend against him.
12. Ursula LeGuin:
“Easy by nature”
For a house,
the good thing is level ground.
In thinking,
depth is good.
The good of giving is magnanimity;
of speaking, honesty;
of government, order.
The good of work is skill,
and of action, timing.
No competition,
so no blame.
13. Ron Hogan:
Keep your feet on the ground.
Remember what's important.
Be there when people need you.
Say what you mean.
Be prepared for anything.
Do whatever you can,
whenever it needs doing.
If you don't
compare yourself to others,
nobody can compare to you.
14. Ames and Hall:
In dwelling, the question is where is the right place.
In thinking and feeling, it is how deeply.
In giving, it is how much like nature's bounty.
In speaking, it is how credibly.
In governing, it is how effectively.
In serving, it is how capably.
In acting, it is how timely.
It is only because there is no contentiousness in proper way-making
That it incurs no blame.
15. Yasuhiko Genku Kimura:
In dwelling, be grounded,
In thinking, be deep,
In giving, be balanced,
In speaking, be truthful,
In governing, be orderly,
In working, be competent,
In action, be timely,
In following the virtues of water,
The Sage contends with no one,
And therefore he invites no troubles in life.
16. Addiss and Lombardo:
Live in a good place.
Keep your mind deep.
Treat others well.
Stand by your word.
Keep good order.
Do the right thing.
Work when it’s time.
Only do not contend, And you will not go wrong.
* * * * *
Our lives:
A place to live;
thoughts and feelings;
friends, giving;
reflecting upon the policies that govern us;
work, business, affairs;
making one-time decisions (as distinct from policy-making and routine work).
That's pretty much it, isn't it?
"If one proceeds naturally, without ambition or envy, everything works out for the best."

* * * * *
See: Saturdao Index


Spiritual Activists: Thomas Merton

In 1958 – a year before I was born -- a 43-year-old monk from a monastery in Kentucky was visiting Louisville. He was standing on a street corner: the intersection of 4th street and Walnut Ave. His name was Thomas Merton, and he had been a Catholic Trappist monk for 15 years.

The corner of 4th and Walnut is now famous because of what happened to Thomas on that day. Something very profound happened to him – and yet nothing at all happened to him. All around him people and cars were going about their usual business as he stood there. What happened was this: his heart opened up.

This is how he wrote about it:
“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. The whole illusion of a separate holy existence is a dream.…This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. And I suppose my happiness could have taken form in the words: ‘Thank God, thank God that I am like other men, that I am only a man among others.’ It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race, though it is a race dedicated to many absurdities and one which makes many terrible mistakes: …A member of the human race! To think that such a commonplace realization should suddenly seem like news that one holds the winning ticket in a cosmic sweepstake. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun. They are not ‘they’ but my own self. There are no strangers! Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed…I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other.”
This week, Lake Chalice is asking: What do you want? Really want? And do you know? Wednesday’s post looked at Mohandas Gandhi; yesterday’s at Dorothy Day. Maybe seeing what they wanted will help us see what we want. Today we ask, what did Thomas Merton want?

When, at age 28, in 1943, Thomas entered the monastery and become a monk, what he wanted was to be alone, to withdraw from the world. There is so much that is sad, and unfair, and just ridiculous about the way people treat each other, and the way most people live their lives. Thomas just wanted to get away from all that.

What he found out after spending a lot of time being alone was that he wasn’t separate from the world at all, but right at the very center of it all the time. Thomas began to understand very deeply that most of our lives, we have an idea of ourselves: the “me” that works in the world, thinks about itself, tries to get things for itself. But this “me” is not the true “me.” The true “me” knows what Thomas knew as he stood at the corner of 4th and Walnut.

Maybe I want a house, or a bicycle, or some tasty, rich food. But what my true self wants is to know the truth of love, to know that you are me, and I am you, and to live a life constantly based on that knowledge.

The whole point of being alone, Thomas realized, is not to withdraw from the world but to teach ourselves the truth of love for the world. In loving the world, we want most to end war and poverty: for people to enjoy each other’s love, respect, and fair treatment.

Thomas was a social activist – not by establishing organizations or leading demonstrations, but by writing. He wrote powerful essays that helped people see how bad and unnecessary were war, and racism, and nuclear weapons.

When someone sees that his true self is also the true self of everyone, and wants to spread that joy, then he sees that when we’re mean to each other, it hides our true self, and hides the other person’s true self.

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Part 4 of "The Spiritual Activist"
Next: Part 5: "Thich Nhat Hanh"
Previous: Part 3: "Dorothy Day"
Beginning: Part 1: "Satyana's Principles of Spiritual Activism"


Spiritual Activists: Dorothy Day

Our next story is about Dorothy Day, born in 1897. She was a girl living in the San Francisco Bay area when the big earthquake of 1906 hit. Hundreds of people lost their homes, and the people came together to find shelter and food for the homeless families. Seeing the way that people can help each other in need made a strong impression on Dorothy.

As a young woman, she lived back in New York again – in Greenwich Village, where she was part of groups called “anarchists” or “socialists.” She marched in demonstrations for women’s suffrage and participated in protests against the fighting of World War I. “No more war! No more war!” said Dorothy Day.

What did she want? She wanted a world in which all people were peaceful and fair with each other. Her heart and her mind were very clear about that from her childhood.

Dorothy was 30-years-old when she became a Catholic and joined the Catholic church. Soon after, she was in Washington DC participating and writing about a march against hunger. While that seemed important, a feeling came over her that it wasn’t what her heart really wanted to be doing. She wrote:
“I offered up a special prayer which came with tears and anguish, that some way would open up for me to use what talents I possessed for my fellow workers, for the poor.”
She prayed for a way to help the poor.

She returned to New York, and the next day met Peter Maurin. The two of them started the Catholic Worker movement. They put out a newspaper, then began to build houses of hospitality – homes for the poor, where poor men and women and families could get food and a place to sleep.

Dorothy lived as a poor person herself: in the houses of hospitality, with and among the poor. Voluntary poverty meant an insecure life – and this very insecurity was a part of Dorothy’s life of faith – she had to trust in things beyond her control, had to open her heart to the unknown. She wrote:
“Our poverty is not a stark and dreary poverty, because we have the security which living together brings. But it is that living together that is often hard. Beds crowded together, much coming and going, people sleeping on the floor, no bathing facilities, only cold water. Poverty means…bedbugs, cockroaches and rats and the constant war against these. Poverty means body lice.”
Prayer gave Dorothy strength and courage to live the vision of the Catholic Worker movement: voluntary poverty, community life, and nonviolent pacifism.

At age 46, Dorothy left the Worker movement for six months for spiritual deepening. She took a room at a convent, and spent most of her days in prayer and meditation and in studying books about spirituality. The time for spiritual renewal was very important for maintaining her joy in the work for peace and justice. Throughout her life, Dorothy Day went on retreats where she would spend a week in silence and prayer deepening her awareness, her appreciation of beauty all around, and her joy.

What did Dorothy want? She knew that what the heart really wants isn’t things that money can buy. The heart wants to connect with others and serve. The heart wants fair and decent treatment for everybody. The heart wants to remember joy, and not waste its life away in forgetfulness of the joy that is all around us.

When a reporter asked Dorothy what the Catholic Worker movement was trying to do, Dorothy said,
“We are trying to make people happy.” 
It’s not that she thought other people’s happiness was more important than her own. It’s that the life of prayer and study had helped her live a life in which she always remembered that other people’s happiness and her own are the same thing.

We all want the same thing – but we don’t all know what we really want, or we give up on what we really want and settle for pouring our energy into what we think we want that isn’t what our hearts really want.

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Part 3 of "The Spiritual Activist"
Next: Part 4: "Thomas Merton"
Previous: Part 2: "Mohandas Gandhi"
Beginnining: Part 1: "Satyana's Principles of Spiritual Activism"


Spiritual Activists: Mohandas Gandhi

(A children’s story, sort of.)

In the Sunday school classes at many Unitarian Universalist congregations, our children learn to say: "We are Unitarian Universalists. We are a people of faith who have open minds, loving hearts, and helping hands." We also teach them that Unitarian Universalists aren’t the only wise people, nor the only open-minded or compassionate people. Hindus and Christians and Moslems and Buddhists can show us some ways to be better Unitarian Universalists. One of those people of deep faith who have much to teach us to deepen our faith was Mohandas K. Gandhi.

Let me first ask: What do you want? Did you ever think you wanted something, and then found out that it wasn’t what you really wanted? What we think we want isn't always what we really want -- and we often don't know what we really want.

I think that happened to Gandhi. Gandhi was born in India in 1869. He became a lawyer. At first, he couldn’t make a living as a lawyer because he was too shy to speak up in court.

What did Gandhi want? One thing it seems he wanted was for other people not to think badly of him. That made him shy about speaking up. But what did he really want? He didn’t know yet.

He moved to South Africa to do lawyering paperwork for a company there. Gandhi was in South Africa for 21 years. He gradually came to see that what he really wanted – what his heart wanted – was peace and fairness for all people. His heart knew that the suffering of others was his own suffering. Knowing this helped him be less shy.

Once, he was thrown off a train because he was in First Class, and the train official said his skin wasn’t pale enough for him to ride in First Class. On a stagecoach, he was beaten by the driver for refusing to make room for a European passenger.

What did Gandhi want? He wanted to be treated fairly. As he thought about his own desire to be treated fairly, he began to see that there was something bigger that he really wanted: fair treatment for all people.

Gandhi began organizing protest against a law that said Indians in South Africa could not vote. He was attacked by a mob and barely escaped with his life. Later, he could have asked the police to arrest the people that attacked him, but he wouldn’t do that. He said he wouldn’t use the law to fight back against personal wrongs.

What did he want? He wanted laws changed to be more fair. More than that, he wanted hearts changed. He wanted to see meanness learn how to turn into love. He knew putting people in jail wouldn’t help them learn how to be kind.

When he finally returned to India, it was ruled over by the English, and the English didn’t treat the Indians very well. Gandhi organized India – millions of people – to protest to let India be governed by a government elected by all of India – instead of being governed by another country.

Gandhi knew what the Indians wanted – and he knew what the British wanted, too – what they really wanted in their hearts, even if their thinking heads hadn’t figured out yet what the hearts really wanted.

So Gandhi always led protests that were nonviolent. People can’t open up to what their hearts are telling them if someone is hitting them. Through Gandhi’s nonviolent leadership, the British as well as the Indians were shone the way to greater flourishing and happiness.

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Part 2 of "The Spiritual Activist"
Next: Part 3: "Dorothy Day"
Previous: Part 1: "Satyana's Principles of Spiritual Activism"


Satyana's Principles of Spiritual Activism

Social justice requires spirituality. We cannot be effective at transforming the world if we are not transforming ourselves. We cannot do the work of bringing peace and justice to the world if we are not doing the work of bringing peace and justice to our hearts. We absolutely, simply cannot. The heroes of social justice activism -- people like Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Aung San Su Kyi, Dorothy Day, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Thomas Merton – weren’t just effective political organizers who happened to also have a strong faith. Their work for justice depended upon, was empowered by, and became effective through their spirituality.

Gandhi embodied what his Hindu faith teaches of ahimsa: the principle that all living things are connected and form a unity requiring respect and kindness. Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton embodied what their Christian faith teaches of love – often referenced as the Latin caritas, or the Greek agape: a spiritual love. Agape, as one theologian puts it, is “an intentional response to promote well-being when responding to that which has generated ill-being.” They took to heart Jesus’ words, “love your enemy,” and their faith tradition taught them to answer hatred with love. Aung San Suu Kyi, Thich Nhat Hanh, and the Dalai Lama continue to embody what their Buddhist faith teaches of karuna (compassion), and anatta (no self). There is no self separate from others; each of us is all of us; we cannot truly want to hurt them. Without a committed spiritual discipline, justice work is not compelling, is ineffective, succumbs to angers and fears, and ends in burn-out.

The Satyana Institute (click here) has worked with social change leaders since 1996. They have developed these thirteen "key learnings and guidelines" for effective spirituality that makes effective social justice work possible:

1. Transformation of motivation from anger/fear/despair to compassion/love/purpose. This is a vital challenge for today's social change movement. This is not to deny the noble emotion of appropriate anger or outrage in the face of social injustice. Rather, this entails a crucial shift from fighting against evil to working for love, and the long-term results are very different, even if the outer activities appear virtually identical. Action follows Being, as the Sufi saying goes. Thus "a positive future cannot emerge from the mind of anger and despair" (Dalai Lama).

2. Non-attachment to outcome. This is difficult to put into practice, yet to the extent that we are attached to the results of our work, we rise and fall with our successes and failures -- a sure path to burnout. Hold a clear intention, and let go of the outcome -- recognizing that a larger wisdom is always operating. As Gandhi said, "the victory is in the doing," not the results. Also, remain flexible in the face of changing circumstances: "Planning is invaluable, but plans are useless." (Churchill)

3. Integrity is your protection. If your work has integrity, this will tend to protect you from negative energy and circumstances. You can often sidestep negative energy from others by becoming "transparent" to it, allowing it to pass through you with no adverse effect upon you. This is a consciousness practice that might be called "psychic aikido."

4. Integrity in means and ends. Integrity in means cultivates integrity in the fruit of one's work. A noble goal cannot be achieved utilizing ignoble means.

5. Don't demonize your adversaries. It makes them more defensive and less receptive to your views. People respond to arrogance with their own arrogance, creating rigid polarization. Be a perpetual learner, and constantly challenge your own views.

6. You are unique. Find and fulfill your true calling. "It is better to tread your own path, however humbly, than that of another, however successfully." (Bhagavad Gita)

7. Love thy enemy. Or at least, have compassion for them. This is a vital challenge for our times. This does not mean indulging falsehood or corruption. It means moving from "us/them" thinking to "we" consciousness, from separation to cooperation, recognizing that we human beings are ultimately far more alike than we are different. This is challenging in situations with people whose views are radically opposed to yours. Be hard on the issues, soft on the people.

8. Your work is for the world, not for you. In doing service work, you are working for others. The full harvest of your work may not take place in your lifetime, yet your efforts now are making possible a better life for future generations. Let your fulfillment come in gratitude for being called to do this work, and from doing it with as much compassion, authenticity, fortitude, and forgiveness as you can muster.

9. Selfless service is a myth. In serving others, we serve our true selves. "It is in giving that we receive." We are sustained by those we serve, just as we are blessed when we forgive others. As Gandhi says, the practice of satyagraha ("clinging to truth") confers a "matchless and universal power" upon those who practice it. Service work is enlightened self-interest, because it cultivates an expanded sense of self that includes all others.

10. Do not insulate yourself from the pain of the world. Shielding yourself from heartbreak prevents transformation. Let your heart break open, and learn to move in the world with a broken heart. As Gibran says, "Your pain is the medicine by which the physician within heals thyself." When we open ourselves to the pain of the world, we become the medicine that heals the world. This is what Gandhi understood so deeply in his principles of ahimsa and satyagraha. A broken heart becomes an open heart, and genuine transformation begins.

11. What you attend to, you become. Your essence is pliable, and ultimately you become that which you most deeply focus your attention upon. You reap what you sow, so choose your actions carefully. If you constantly engage in battles, you become embattled yourself. If you constantly give love, you become love itself.

12. Rely on faith, and let go of having to figure it all out. There are larger 'divine' forces at work that we can trust completely without knowing their precise workings or agendas. Faith means trusting the unknown, and offering yourself as a vehicle for the intrinsic benevolence of the cosmos. "The first step to wisdom is silence. The second is listening." If you genuinely ask inwardly and listen for guidance, and then follow it carefully you are working in accord with these larger forces, and you become the instrument for their music.

13. Love creates the form. Not the other way around. The heart crosses the abyss that the mind creates, and operates at depths unknown to the mind. Don't get trapped by "pessimism concerning human nature that is not balanced by an optimism concerning divine nature, or you will overlook the cure of grace." (Martin Luther King) Let your heart's love infuse your work and you cannot fail, though your dreams may manifest in ways different from what you imagine.

* * * * *
This is part 1 of "The Spiritual Activist"
Next: Part 2: "Spiritual Activists: Mohandas Gandhi"


Saturdao 12

Dao De Jing, verse 8a

16 translations.

1. James Legge:
The highest excellence is like (that of) water.
The excellence of water appears in its benefiting all things,
and in its occupying, without striving (to the contrary), the low place which all men
dislike. Hence (its way) is near to (that of) the Tao.
2. Archie Bahm:
The best way to conduct oneself may be observed in the behavior of water.
Water is useful to every living thing, yet it does not demand pay in return for its services; it does not even require that it be recognized, esteemed, or appreciated for its benefits.
This illustrates how intelligent behavior so closely approximates the behavior of Nature itself.
3. Frank MacHovec:
The highest motive is to be like water:
water is essential to all life, yet it does not demand a fee or proclaim its importance.
Rather, it flows humbly to the lowest level, and in so doing it is much like Tao.
4. D.C. Lau:
Highest good is like water.
Because water excels at benefitting the myriad creatures
without contending with them
and settles where none would like to be,
it comes close to the way.
5. Gia-Fu Feng:
The highest good is like water.
Water gives life to the ten thousand things and does not strive.
It flows in places men reject and so is like the Tao.
6. Stan Rosenthal:
Great good is said to be like water,
sustaining life with no conscious striving,
flowing naturally, providing nourishment,
found even in places which desiring man rejects.
In this way it is like the Tao itself.
7. Jacob Trapp:
“Like Water”
The Sage is like water:
He serves by what he is,
He helps as he goes along.
Dwelling in lowly places,
Seeking the common level
Which the proud distain,
He is near to Tao.
8. Stephen Mitchell:
The supreme good is like water,
which nourishes all things without trying to.
It is content with the low places that people disdain.
Thus it is like the Tao.
9. Victor Mair:
The highest good is like water;
Water is good at benefiting the myriad creatures
but also struggles
to occupy the place loathed by the masses.
Therefore, It is near to the Way.
10. Michael LaFargue:
The highest Excellence is like water.
Water, Excellent at being of benefit
to the thousands of things,
does not contend –
it settles in places everyone else avoids.
Yes, it just about Tao.
11. Peter Merel:
The best of man is like water,
Which benefits all things, and does not contend with them,
Which flows in places that others disdain,
Where it is in harmony with the Way.
12. Ursula LeGuin:
“Easy by nature”
True goodness
is like water.
Water's good
for everything.
It doesn't compete.
It goes right to the low loathsome places,
and so finds the way.
13. Ron Hogan:
"Doing the right thing" is like water.
It’s good for all living things and flows without thinking
about where it's going
...just like Tao.
14. Ames and Hall:
The highest efficacy is like water.
It is because water benefits everything (wanwu)
Yet vies to dwell in places loathed by the crowd
That it comes nearest to proper way-making.
15. Yasuhiko Genku Kimura:
The highest good is like water.
Benefitting all but contending with none.
Flowing in low places which the masses disdain.
Hence it is close to the goodness of the Tao.
16. Addiss and Lombardo:
Best to be like water,
Which benefits the ten thousand things
And does not contend.
It pools where humans disdain to dwell,
Close to the Tao.
* * * * *
See: Saturdao Index

All in it Together

This year more people have returned to Tomas’ village. The death threats have not stopped, nor has the illegal poaching of macaw chicks. When we shared our year's research results with the village, I told the leaders that if any more parrot chicks were lost, even one more year of it, that might be the end of macaws in Honduras. So the leaders held a community meeting and decided, on their own, to organize daily parrot patrols to protect the remaining nests.

They have no money and their lives are in danger, but they elected to spend their resources to protect parrots. And they did. They prevented a lot of poaching, and when they didn’t prevent it, they were often able to catch the poachers and confiscate the chicks, which they raised themselves in the middle of nowhere with no electricity and no training in avian husbandry, and barely enough food for themselves.

Eventually eleven of the giant, red, long-tailed parrots were released and they now fly free, intermixing with their wild family members. Every day the juvenile birds return to eat rice and beans in the village.

Two months ago an armed group of 10 men came to the village and robbed it of nearly everything of value. The people are still there not giving up, and the birds are still flying free. The people know that if the birds can remain free, they can too. Liberating the birds is liberating themselves. Saving the birds is saving themselves.

These are ordinary people. They fuss with each other, strain their relationships, and give into desires that cause harm. But what they have learned is that there is no special place of privilege on this planet. We are all in it together, and if one doesn't make it, none of us do. So they aren't saints. They are looking after themselves.

Food choices are like that. Whatever we do with what and how we eat, it is the precious work of saving ourselves and our earth. We are all in the club called the predator-prey cycle.

We evolved to take care of ourselves, which means harm to others. I've always thought we needed another principle/purpose - we must harm to survive. With that existential knowledge always in mind, we could be a lot more accepting of others and a lot less denying of what it means to be human in communities of mixed species. As the first sentence of the Ethical Eating Statement of Conscience (click here) reminds us:
“Aware of our interdependence, we acknowledge that eating ethically requires us to be mindful of the miracle of life we share with all beings.”
Such awareness of independence and mindfulness of the miraculous moves us from privilege to humility and gratitude; from loneliness and alienation to radical hospitality. The Statement of Conscience goes on to say:
“Unitarian Universalists aspire to radical hospitality and developing the beloved community. Therefore, we affirm that the natural world exists not for the sole benefit of one nation, one race, one gender, one religion, or even one species, but for all. Working in the defense of mutual interests, Unitarian Universalists acknowledge and accept the challenge of enlarging our circle of moral concern to include all living creatures.”
Our passions are consuming the world. We were born to do so. Our compassion can save the world. We were born to do so. How to do this tough work? To be fed not just by our passions, but by the fulfilling sense of reverence for all of life, and gratitude.

The Statement’s last sentence is:
“With gratitude and reverence for all life, we savor food mindful of all that has contributed to it. We commit ourselves to a more equitable sharing of the earth's bounty.”
Here, then, is a recipe for succulent dish to feed us all: Equal parts gratitude and reverence. Mix well. Let sit until humility and interconnection settle. Sift out privilege. Dash liberally with commitment. Serve immediately, and eat with mouth full of compassion. Yields infinite servings.

* * * * *
By LoraKim Joyner
6th and last part of "Consuming Passions"
Previous: Part 5: LoraKim: "Vice Versa"
Beginning: Part 1: Meredith & LoraKim: "The Eating Conscience"


And Vice Versa

There is something about the long cold nights of winter that turns us all into foodies. This is exacerbated by sharing it with others. Research shows that when you eat with one friend, you'll eat about 35 percent more. With a group of seven, you'll eat 96 percent more. We better chow down before anyone else gets it - it's competition.

Competition is very real - we were born to be that way. Food resources may be scarce, so when food is available and others are all eating, don't relate, eat. Don't talk with your mouth full and keep your mouth full!

The myth is that this is our only choice. We can talk with our mouths full, of compassion. We can relate, interconnect, share - we were born to be that way. Mindful eating, ethical eating, is about seeing we have a choice. We can consume both passionately and compassionately.

But it's a tough choice - there is so much fun and pleasure around food. My best times have been dinner parties I've thrown. One time, when I was in veterinary school, I had a whole freezer full of mutton. I had worked at the state fair and a couple of us took home two ewes, and we killed them and butchered them ourselves. We thought doing so made us manly veterinary students. I invited everyone I knew over to help me eat the food, but I got called away at the start of it to go fight a forest fire. When I returned, days later, my friends said it was the best dinner party I ever threw, and I wasn't even there!

Though it was a good time I decided I didn't want to kill any more sheep, and if I wasn't willing to kill them myself and insure they had a good life, I decided to stop eating them. That was hard to do because in those days vets were meat eaters. They understood that they served people first, and nonhuman animals second.

This is changing. A new program in the American Veterinary Medical Association called “One Health” (click here) aims to raise awareness that the health of humans is inextricably interconnected with the health of nonhuman animals.

Humans need healthy ecological communities. And vice versa. The new myth we are coming into is that we don't have to choose between animals and people, or those with power and privilege, and those without. That recognition is reflected in our Ethical Eating Statement of Conscience (click here). It's about environmental justice. It’s about taking care of people, and the planet, and all species, together.

It can be done. I've seen the miracle of commitment that our species can rise too.

Last June, I was in Honduras working with the indigenous communities there. My goal is to help support their efforts to preserve the last 150 Scarlet Macaws left that fly over their ancestral lands. There used to be thousands of them throughout the country, but no more.

People want to steal the birds to make money. They take the young chicks from their families to sell them to people with power and privilege. There is terrible pressure on not just their ecological community, but also their human community. People with money and power are stealing their land, sometimes killing the indigenous people to take what they want.

Tomas, an elder of the village, tried to stop the illegal poaching, logging, and cattle ranching. For his efforts, he was ambushed him one day and shot four times. He nearly died. His whole village fled because they were likewise threatened. Yet, four months later Tomas returned to the ghost-like village to work with me and others on parrot conservation. We had to hire a squad of soldiers from the National Militarily to accompany us and keep us safe.

I asked Tomas why he was willing to risk his life. And he said,
"Everything is at risk so I am willing to risk everything. If we lose the parrots, we lose our way of life."
And he is not alone. This year more people have returned to his village. The macaws need these people protecting them.

* * * * *
By Rev. LoraKim Joyner
Part 5 of "Consuming Passions"
Next: Part 6: LoraKim: "All in it Together"
Previous: Part 4: Meredith: "Hard Questions"
Beginning: Part 1: Meredith & LoraKim: "The Eating Conscience"


Hard Questions

What do we – we of liberal religious persuasion – in fact value, in word and in deed? What can we articulate about ourselves and our values that could help us live with greater integrity?

We value respect for interdependence, awareness of the miracle of life, protecting the environment, a fair and livable wage for agriculture workers. We value greater equality, both in enjoying the bounty of our earth and in bearing the burdens of pollutants. We value food, and healthy food, and consumer product safety for food. We value reducing unnecessary pain.

Can we live with a greater integrity with those values? How would our lives be if we relied less on those skills for handling cognitive dissonance when it comes to those values?

Each of us must work out with diligence our own integrity. The first step is to simply notice – and notice as nonjudgmentally as possible: Where does cognitive dissonance arise for you? Where do you notice that yourself not living by your values? Maybe it’s not possible to live by them, or maybe the values need to be adjusted. Before you get to those questions, just neutrally observe the experience of dissonance.

The Statement of Conscience on Ethical Eating (click here) opens some issues, but does not give us all the answers. Thus, the statement says:
“Some of us believe that it is ethical only to eat plants while others of us believe that it is ethical to eat both plants and animals. We do not call here for a single dietary approach. We encourage a knowledgeable choice of food based on understanding the demands of feeding a growing world population, the health effects of particular foods, and the consequences of production, worker treatment, and transportation methods.”
Each of us must work out our own integrity, but that doesn’t mean that it must be a lonely and solitary task. You don’t have to go it alone. We can help each other think about issues whether or not we begin – or end – agreeing with each other. This is the call of conscience – the call of this Statement of Conscience: to engage each other in conversations to encourage us each toward our own integrity.

I believe, moreover, that there is such a thing as “our” integrity. There’s your integrity, my integrity, her integrity, and his integrity – and there’s also our integrity. There is a community integrity that is more than the sum of its individual members’ integrities.

The Statement of Conscience has a section on congregational actions. It asks us to consider the sort of food we have at congregational events – whether catered or potluck. Radical hospitality (see blog series on “Radical Hospitality”: starts here) calls on us to welcome whatever you bring to a potluck. Yet we can rightfully take pride in locally produced food, fair trade foods, organic foods, and in more plant-based dishes. We can engage in direct action in solidarity with workers and labor advocacy groups to support agricultural and food workers – and the other actions the Statement suggests for congregations.

Would that represent a greater community integrity for this Fellowship? What is your path of integrity? What is mine? What is ours?

Those are hard questions – questions worthy of our reflection and engagement.

When the questions get hard, here’s one thing I do:

I ask my wife.

* * * * *
By Rev. Meredith Garmon
Part 4 of "Consuming Passions"
Next: Part 5: LoraKim: "And Vice Versa"
Previous: Part 3: Meredith: "Integrity"
Beginning: Part 1: Meredith & LoraKim: "The Eating Conscience"



I was at a seafood restaurant a week ago. I ordered flounder. This is not something that I do very often. I identify as a vegetarian, and 363 or 364 days out of a year, I am. In the last couple years, though, once or twice a year, I’ve had fish.

So there was some cognitive dissonance for me in ordering that flounder. We humans have strategies for dealing with cognitive dissonance. I am as adept at those strategies as anyone. When it comes to “not thinking about it,” as I proceed to do something that the better angels of my nature wish I would think about, my skills have not been formally measured, but I guess they are at least average.

Our passions – or just our comforts, and our habits – pull us this way and that, often leaving our cognition, well, dissonant. In some other churches, they express this by saying, “what sinners we are.” I’m not sure that’s the best way to put it, because I’m not terribly confident I know what’s a sin and what isn’t. I do know that we are all struggling with how to live a life of integrity. I know we often fail. I know I do.

“Integrity” is an important word – a helpful guiding concept, and it’s helpful to see where the word comes from. Integrity means integrating. Integrity is about our opinions, values, and actions, all integrating with each other. A life of integrity is a life that is coherent, that coheres. Integrity has to be dynamic, because we’re always learning, growing, changing, revising our opinions, developing deeper understanding of our values. The work of integrating our values with each other and with our actions is never finished.

Let me offer an analogy: grammar. Suppose you have the job of composing a grammar textbook for a language that has never had a grammar book, and has no tradition of grammar instruction. The native speakers have come to you to help them better understand and use their own language, and you have agreed to take on this extensive task.

Your research will be focused on two questions:
1. The descriptive question: how do people speak?
2. The prescriptive question: How should people speak?

You must begin with the descriptive. What are the norms? What are the nouns and verbs and how are they normally arranged and inflected varied to signify plurals or tense? Only out of the deep, deep descriptive work can a prescriptive guide emerge. When we’ve identified how we do usually speak, then – and only then – can we identify the aberrations.

Grammar instruction, you see, is about integrity: coherence and consistency in the principles that guide our speaking. Ethics works the same way. The ethicist’s first and primary job is to delve deeply into what we actually do – what decisions we make, how we really behave. From that grounding in descriptive work, the ethicist can notice ways that we deviate from our own norms.

Ethical inquiry is about trying to work toward a greater integrity.

When Unitarian Universalists engaged the question of ethical eating, the first question, as with any ethical issue, was: what do we in fact value, in word and in deed? And second: What can we articulate about our values that could help us live with greater integrity?

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By Meredith Garmon
Part 3 of "Consuming Pasions"
Next: Part 4: Meredith: "Hard Questions"
Previous: Part 2: LoraKim: "Planet Chalice"
Beginning: Part 1: Meredith & LoraKim: "The Eating Conscience"


Planet Chalice: Children's Story

Once upon a time there was land where all the animals were shaped like chalices. Some were round chalices; some were thin chalices. There were tall chalices and short chalices. Some had fur, some had feathers, some had fairly bare skin. Some chalices would swim, some would climb, some would run, and some would burrow. Some chalices liked to eat plants, and some liked to eat each other. You would think that since they were all chalices, they would get along.

But they didn't.

In fact, the planet was about to tear itself apart from conflict between the chalices, when a space ship appeared. The chalices thought it was a god because it had a chalice emblem emblazoned on the outside. It wasn't a god. It was a spaceship from Earth, in the far future, when the Unitarian Universalist Association had its own space program. Unitarian Universalist Astronauts went on missions for the UUSC (Unitarian Universalist Space Committee).

The chalice folk called a temporary truce from their fighting so they could greet the space ship. The ship's doors opened, and, instead of a chalice emerging, there was a very different sort of animal. You and I would recognize it as a human being, but the creatures of Planet Chalice didn't recognize it at all.

One of the chalice folk said, "Look, it's not a god after all!"

And another said, "It is too a god!"

One chalice said, "We should kill it."

Other chalices said, "We should save it."

Soon the chalices were all fighting again.

The human cried, "Stop! What is this?"

One of the chalices paused in the midst of aiming a bite at another chalice. "It's fighting," she answered. "Don't you have it on your planet?"

"We used to," said the human. "But we stopped."

"How did you stop it?"

"It's complicated," said the human, trying to remember the history she had studied of the many centuries in which wars came and went, gradually getting smaller and further apart.


"Well, actually, basically, it was simple."


"We realized that we were all different kinds of bodies and beliefs, but that, like a chalice, we all carried the divine light within. Just like you?"

"Just like us?" exclaimed the chalices. "What are you talking about? What divine light?"

"Look closely," said the human. "I can see it in each of you. It's so beautiful, as are each of you."

The chalices looked at each other. They looked and looked. And they saw the light within. They saw that each of them was a vessel to carry the light of interconnection. They were amazed.

"My work here is through," said the Unitarian Universalist astronaut, as she went back into her ship and took off.

Over the next years -- and decades -- and centuries on Planet Chalice, there continued to be arguments and conflicts. There continued to be sad times. Yet it was never so bad as it had been in the days before one simple insight of appreciation happened to be dropped by a foreign visitor. From that moment forward, the chalices never went into any problems, no matter how complex, without always seeing the light within.

* * * * *
By LoraKim Joyner
Part 2 of "Consuming Passions"
Next: Part 3: Meredith: "Integrity"
Previous: Part 1: Meredith & LoraKim: "The Eating Conscience"


Saturdao 11

Dao De Jing, verse 7

16 translations

1. James Legge:
Heaven is long-enduring and earth continues long.
The reason heaven and earth are able to endure and continue thus long
Is that they do not live of, or for, themselves.
This is how they are able to continue and endure.
Therefore the sage puts his own person last,
and yet it is found in the foremost place;
he treats his person as if it were foreign to him,
and yet that person is preserved.
Is it not because he has no personal and private ends,
that therefore such ends are realised?
2. Archie Bahm:
The principle of initiation persists; and the principle of completion continues also.
Why do such opposing principles persist? Because they inhere in Nature, rather than stand by themselves.
That is why opposites endure.
The intelligent man, when an issue arises, stands off and observes both contentions.
Since he does not take sides, he never loses a battle.
By not favoring one side more than another, he is able to appreciate the virtues of both sides.
3. Frank MacHovec:
The heavens endure; the earth is very old. Why?
Because they do not exist for themselves, they therefore have long life.
The truly wise are content to be last; they are therefore first. They are indifferent to themselves; they are therefore self-confident.
Perhaps it is because they do not exist for themselves that they find complete fulfillment.
4. D.C. Lau:
Heaven and earth are enduring.
The reason why heaven and earth can be enduring is that they do not give themselves life.
Hence they are able to be long-lived.
Therefore the sage puts his person last and it comes first,
Treats it as extraneous to himself and it is preserved.
Is it not because he is without thought of self that he is able to accomplish his private ends?
5. Gia-Fu Feng:
Heaven and earth last forever.
Why do heaven and earth last forever?
They are unborn,
So ever living.
The sage stays behind, thus he is ahead.
He is detached, thus at one with all.
Through selfless action, he attains fulfillment.
6. Stan Rosenthal:
“Sheathing the Light”
When living by the Tao, awareness of self is not required,
for in this way of life, the self exists, and is also non-existent,
being conceived of, not as an existentiality, nor as non-existent.
The sage does not contrive to find his self,
for he knows that all which may be found of it,
is that which it manifests to sense and thought,
which side by side with self itself, is naught.
It is by sheathing intellect's bright light
that the sage remains at one with his own self,
ceasing to be aware of it, by placing it behind.
Detached, he is unified with his external world,
by being selfless he is fulfilled;
thus his selfhood is assured.
7. Jacob Trapp:
“To Live is to Give”
This deathless universe
Forever renews itself
In all its transformations.
By endlessly giving itself
It endlessly becomes itself.
So the Sage seeks to live:
To be foremost by being last,
To save his life by losing it.
By giving himself,
He becomes himself.
8. Stephen Mitchell:
The Tao is infinite, eternal.
Why is it eternal?
It was never born;
thus it can never die.
Why is it infinite?
It has not desires for itself;
thus it is present for all beings.
The Master stays behind;
that is why she is ahead.
She is detached from all things;
that is why she is one with them.
Because she has let go of herself,
she is perfectly fulfilled.
9. Victor Mair:
Heaven is long and earth is lasting.
Heaven and earth can be long and lasting
because they do not live for themselves.
They can be long-lived.
For this reason,
The sage
withdraws himself
but comes to the fore,
alienates himself
but is always present.
Is this not because he is free of private interests?
He can accomplish his private interests.
10. Michael LaFargue:
Heaven is lasting, Earth endures.
What enables Heaven and Earth to last and endure?
Because they do not live for themselves –
so it is that they can live so long.
And so the Wise Person:
Puts himself last, and so finds himself in front.
Puts himself in the out group, and so maintains his place.
The personal does not exist for him—
isn't this how he can perfect
what for him is most personal?
11. Peter Merel:
Nature is complete because it does not serve itself.
The sage places himself after and finds himself before,
Ignores his desire and finds himself content.
He is complete because he does not serve himself.
12. Ursula LeGuin:
“Dim brightness”
Heaven will last,
earth will endure.
How can they last so long?
They don't exist for themselves
and so can go on and on.
So wise souls
leaving self behind
move forward,
and setting self aside
stay centered.
Why let the self go?
To keep what the soul needs.
13. Ron Hogan:
Tao never stops. Why?
Because it isn't trying to accomplish anything.
The Masters hang back.
That's why they're ahead of the game.
They don't hang on to things.
That's how they manage to keep them.
They don't worry
about what they can't control.
That's why they're always satisfied.
14. Roger T. Ames and David L. Hall:
The heavens are lasting and the earth enduring.
The reason the world is able to be lasting and enduring
Is that it does not live for itself.
Thus it is able to be long-lived.
It is on this model that the sages withdraw their persons from contention yet find themselves out in front,
Put their own persons out of mind yet find themselves taken care of.
Isn't it simply because they are unselfish that they can satisfy their own needs?
15. Yasuhiko Genku Kimura:
Heaven is eternal and earth everlasting.
They thus endure forever.
Because they exist not for themselves
But for the whole, selflessly.
Whereby the sage,
Puts himself behind and thereby finds himself foremost,
Holds himself outside and thereby finds himself inmost.
He has no self apart from the whole,
Wherefore he realizes the self that is the whole.
16. Stephen Addis and Stanley Lombardo:
Heaven is long, Earth enduring.
Long and enduring
Because they do not exist for themselves.
Therefore the Sage
Steps back, but is always in front,
Stays outside, but is always within.
No self-interest?
Self is fulfilled.
There seems to be an empirical claim: that if you put your own person out of mind, then you always will be taken care of, your needs satisfied, all your desires fulfilled.

Suppose you listed your desires: a house; a car; fulfilling and well-compensated work; a lovely, talented, and devoted partner; lovely, talented, and devoted children; the unwavering respect and admiration of your peers.

Will you get all these things through selflessness? Maybe. Probably not.

Suppose you dig a little deeper into your desires and notice that your first list consists merely of "strategies," rather than human "needs." So you make a list of the "needs" you want fulfilled: security, acceptance, health, connection, autonomy. The items on your first list were strategies for getting these things -- and maybe other strategies would work as well or better.

If you become like the Daoist sage described in Dao De Jing verse 7, will your universal human needs be provided for? Sometimes. Sometimes not. No guarantees.

The Daoist sage finds "complete fulfillment," he "can accomplish his private interests," "finds himself content," and is "always satisfied." Not only does this happen even if wealth doesn't happen, but this also happens even if universal needs (for, say, security, health, and acceptance) are not met.

This is not about how the sage gets the things that nonsages think they want. This is about how the sage has everything she wants because whatever she has is exactly what she wants. There is nothing more to get. To be fulfilled requires only that you become aware of how fulfilled you are.

The sage is unselfish -- yet not in the sense of going around performing ostentatiously altruistic deeds. This is not "unselfish" as a description of actions. The sage is unselfish in recognizing that "she has no self apart from the whole."

As Ames and Hall explain: "The world as a process is constituted by the myriad things that find their consummation within it. . . . While each focus pursues its own consummation, there is not superordiante, generic agenda beyond the unsummed total of the foci themselves. There is no world qua world."

* * * * *
See: Saturdao Index


The Eating Conscience


At our 2008 annual General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association held in Fort Lauderdale, the delegates selected one issue to be the study and action issue for 2008 – 2012.

Our process, for about the last decade, has been to select just one issue every two years. The selected issue is then the subject of nationwide focus among Unitarian Universalists for the next four years. We always have two issues before us at any given time. We are always in the first two years of one issue while in the last two years of a second issue.

For instance, the issue for 2006-2010 was “Creating Peace” (for the Statement of Conscience that resulted, click here).
The issue for 2004-2008 was “Moral Values for a Pluralistic Society” (for the resulting Statement of Conscience: click here).

Five proposed issues were on the ballot in Fort Lauderdale. The one that emerged with a majority of votes was: “Ethical Eating: Food and Environmental Justice.”

For the next three years, Unitarian Universalists across the country engaged in various study and action, utilizing a resource guide assembled by the Unitarian Universalist Commission on Social Witness, and other resources they found or created. Through debate and discussion at the 2009 General Assembly in Salt Lake City, and the 2010 General Assembly in Minneapolis, Unitarian Universalists worked toward articulating our stance.

Last summer, at our 2011 General Assembly in Charlotte, North Carolina, a draft Statement of Conscience was further debated, amended, revised, and ultimately approved by much more than the required two-thirds of all delegates. (Read the Ethical Eating Statement of Conscience: click here.)

One product of our four-year process has been the creation of a wonderful and helpful website:
ethicaleating.uua.org. Check it out!

Our own – and my own -- Rev. LoraKim Joyner was active in that process from the beginning. She now serves on the Unitarian Universalist Association’s President’s Advisory Council for Ethical Eating.

(See lorakimjoyner.com)

I was on the Core Team that shepherded the Ethical Eating issue through many hours of “Mini-Assemblies” at our 2009, 2010, and 2011 General Assemblies. Those Mini-Asemblies voiced and heard information, reasoning, concerns; considered and debated and amended the language of the Statement of Conscience that would ultimately go to the floor for the entire General Assembly to further debate and amend.

It was a bit tough going for a while. People really didn't know what to do with the nonhuman animal piece - how do we care for them, and also care for all the human animals? We understood that environmental justice was the predominant issue -- which means not relegating the less powerful and privileged to unhealthy environments. It was like people had to choose humans over nonhumans, or had to choose to choose for themselves or for others people. Everyone was wondering if they would have to give up grandma’s special recipe that had been in the family for generations.

By the time we came to amend the statement, things had shifted. We had mixed our conversation about ethical eating in with our learnings about Compassionate Communication which helps us stay engaged when we are uncomfortable, triggered, and in conflict. And we had done the religious work.

You see it’s not about making a well articulated argument or gathering all the information we possibly could to convince someone else. It’s about opening our hearts to let in enough beauty, and enough tragedy. So people weren't so worried about the animal piece or dictating diet rules for anyone. Instead there was a sense of living into the question: How do we help each other live meaningful lives interconnected to all of life, preserving as much life as possible?

Unitarian Universalists do not have a univocal answer to that question. We still don’t. What has happened in the last three and half years is that we have lived into that question. A little.

Ethical Eating is complicated. It is a hot enough of a topic to sear the soul. But that’s just about the right temperature so that together we can whip up a heck of a batch of good eats – good for us and good for the planet.

* * * * *
Part 1 of "Consuming Passions" (Rev. Meredith Garmon and Rev. LoraKim Joyner)
Next: Part 2: LoraKim: "Planet Chalice: Children's Story"