Sunday, May 27, 2012


Sunday Service Discussion Notes for May 20 and May 27, 2012

Our discussion on the topic of Resilience spanned two weeks, taking place on May 20th and 27th.

During the first week we discussed how resilience is not a trait, it is a process.  It is not defined within situational boundaries, but is a condition that leads toward a beneficial end that is common to all situations.  The situations we go through in life, although sometimes hard, cause us to learn and grow. Being resilient helps us to learn the most from these situations. We all agreed that each of us will go through some trying experiences. The question is: How do we come out of these situations? Do we learn from them? Or do we let them send us into a tailspin?

"Resilience in psychology refers to the idea of an individual's tendency to cope with stress and adversity. This coping may result in the individual "bouncing back" to a previous state of normal functioning, or using the experience of exposure to adversity to produce a "steeling effect" and function better than expected (much like an inoculation gives one the capacity to cope well with future exposure to disease).  Resilience is most commonly understood as a process, and not a trait of an individual." 

What causes us to be resilient? If we aren't resilient, how do we become so? Many suggestions were offered by our group:

It was pointed out that although you may learn coping skills from only one situation, that you can apply those skills to all situations which require them.

It was suggested that we should handle life's situations as they arise, rather than looking for problems that aren't there, before they have even happened. We shouldn't wast time worrying about imaginary scenarios that we have cooked up out of fear.

One participant shared that she had done some reading which explained that we before we enter this incarnation, we plan our upcoming lifetime, with all its experiences, setting ourselves up to learn the needed lessons. If we plan these situations, who can we blame when we are not prepared? Shouldn’t we have strength to handle what we planned?  We planned it for a reason – to grow.

"This, too, shall pass," was a favored saying that helped some of us to endure tough circumstances; a reminder that all unhappy times do come to an end.

Avoid giving undue energy to negative thoughts. This will not help us to "bounce back" but will only cause us to spiral downward. Dwelling on past traumas will not help us to develop resilience, it will only sap our energy and distract us from the present, where our attention is most needed.

Another way of building resilience is to seek the help of others. To realize that we are not alone can give us the confidence to rebuild. We need to create support networks for ourselves of people to whom we can connect. Being able to simply share our traumas with others helps to reduce the magnitude of the problem, like an emotional release valve. These people we look to for support don't necessarily have to solve our problems, they are there to provide a sounding board for us to communicate the issue out loud and clarify it for ourselves. We did note that it was a good idea to be discerning in who we shared our troubles with - others may have even bigger problems that we do, and we may want to be careful in choosing a friend who is not also enduring a trying personal time when we "unload" our problems.

One person shared that she lets others just be themselves, and in this way she is able to learn something new or can see a new way of coping with a situation that she might not have seen on her own.

Pick your battles. We need to choose how we want to spend our energy. Decide for yourself when in unpleasant situations: Is it really worth the time and trouble to be worried about this?

Look for the lesson being taught by each situation, and try to find positive meanings even in traumatic circumstances. This will help us build the strength to navigate through tough times.

It is important for us to identify ourselves as survivors, and not as victims. Our very mentality can affect how events play out.

We talked about how we should prepare for potential issues during the good times, when we have the available resources, calmness, and thinking capacity to do so. An example of this is the idea of earthquake preparedness: to be best prepared it is a good idea to collect foodstuffs ahead of time, plan an exit route from your home, and have other supplies gathered and contingencies planned for. If we do this ahead of time, when an earthquake does happen, we are as ready as we can be, rather than finding ourselves in a panic trying to both recover from the actual event and deal with the needs of the day at a time when we are not thinking clearly.

One person mentioned that they had seen a video clip of Bruce Lee saying how we should be "like water" in that we need to adapt to any situation that arises the way water takes on the form of any container into which it is poured.

A reference was made to soldiers who have Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from war time experiences.  Another suggested that similar traumas are experienced from civil or domestic situations, and while we need to find good ways to cope with these issues, sometimes people who are caught unprepared to deal with adversities such as trauma, tragedy, threat, or stress are prescribed drugs as way to cope. We also noted that sometimes during adversity, many people turn to a "crutch" or escapist support system, such drinking, gambling, or any number of other addictive and destructive behaviors. We believe that this is not the best way to develop resilience.

Another participant suggested that some people are motivated to put themselves in very stressful situations. The objective explanation was:  We have to believe that this is their path, and the source of their lessons. How well they absorb the lessons would depend a great deal on how resilient they are.

One person said that we have a need for inner resilience; that we need to trust that no matter what happens, we will be fine. She stated that we may be better off to "go with the flow" and to not resist events that are happening. She shared the quote, "Whatever you resist shall persist."

We encouraged everyone to remember that we were given this life and all of its ups and downs because we were strong enough to handle them. We should recall this each time we are faced with adversity to help us feel secure that we can overcome it.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Life's Lessons

Sunday Service Discussion Notes for May 13, 2012

Last Sunday our topic for discussion was Life's Lessons.

One of the interesting dichotomies during this discussion was the idea that there are individual lessons for each of us to learn, but that there are also universal lessons that we all learn. Some of us felt that it was one way or another, and some of us believed that both were true.

At the core, it was suggested, all of us are learning universal lessons, like love and forgiveness, but that each of us is traveling a different path of experiences to learn these lessons. We were reminded that all of the clich├ęs and adages we hear repeated have been born out of these type of universal life lessons. Sayings like, "Don't judge a book by its cover," or "It's always darkest before the dawn," have survived the generations because they have proven themselves true as humanity remains essentially the same despite the turning of the years.

Some participants believed that each person comes into this life with specific lessons to learn that are tailored to their individual spiritual progress, but that we could still learn from others because we live in a very big world that provides us with other people who share things in common with ourselves, who may be learning the same lessons that we are.

It was posited that "To Love Unconditionally" is life's greatest lesson, and that it is actually easy to love everyone if we cease to be judgmental of each other. Someone had seen a T-shirt online that spoke to this. The headline said "Love They Neighbor," and below it continued, "Love thy Muslim neighbor, Love thy black neighbor, Love they gay neighbor, etc." illustrating this idea.

It was also suggested that all lessons are positive ones, regardless of how painful or pleasant the learning of them may seem at the time. That each lesson is essential for your spiritual growth. This idea was met with another point: that sometimes an event can happen, and what we think we've learned from it can actually be a "false" or bad lesson. For example, a person whose partner has left them and created negative feelings may now feel that they have learned the lesson that, "All men leave." Is this true? No, of course it is not. But this person may feel that it is true based on a bad experience.

We encounter many lists and examples of life lessons as we explore our world. How do we determine which of the lessons applies to us? One participant said that, "It's not true when somebody tells you it's true. It's true when it feels right and true for you."

Our facilitator this week, Lara, asked the group to share some of their life lessons:
We heard from one person that they had a devastating house fire and they lost all of their possessions. She was contemplating the disaster for a time afterward, trying to figure out what lesson she was supposed to have learned from an event like this. Her son pointed out to her that she was always helping and giving to others, and that she  had never really learned how to receive help. This event had now forced her to learn to receive help and good will from other people.

Another participant talked about how he had moved to California many years ago, but he committed to making trips home to the mid-west several times a year, even though he could ill afford it, and he could not figure out why he persisted in doing this as it was difficult and costly to do. After his parents had passed, he was having a conversation with his sister, who pointed out to him that he had not been making the trips for the benefit of his parents, but for his own benefit. She told him that he had been building a pattern of memories of that place and time so that it would be easier to let go when the time came. This revelation made sense to him, and he was able to learn the lesson that you should go with your feelings of what is the right thing to do - you will realize later the purpose that it served.

We also wondered if it might not also be alright to live for a time not focused on learning a lesson, but to just be. That this might be good for our peace. Lara shared a quote:
"They say that life is a great learning process, and that you can go on and on in a never-ending learning experience, but I am ready to let go of the learning. I am tired of the pain and the strain and the weight of heavy burdens. I am tired of the fears, the insecurities. I am done with learning; from now on I only want to have, to be, and to belong to. I can, because I am. Not, I will because I will learn to."  ~C. JoyBell C.

Overall we seemed to agree that the lessons we learn in life are important for our own spiritual growth and that they came in many forms, some pleasant, and others not so. We saw that we might not always realize what the lessons are right away, but that we were all learning them for a good reason.

We agreed that this session would wrap up our discussion on the topic of Life's Lessons.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Laughter: Part 2

Sunday Service Discussion Notes for May 6, 2012

Last week we concluded our discussion of Laughter. Click here to read the summary of the previous week's discussion on this topic.

In our previous Laughter discussion, we left off with the question, "How does one develop the ability to identify what is funny, and to find humor in daily life?" Here were some of the answers that the group offered:

We need to maintain a sense of perspective in order to find the humorous side of situations. Realizing the old saw, "One day we'll be able to look back on this and laugh," may help us to be able to laugh about it right now as well.  Once we realize that we each have lots more living to do, we can see that maybe a current situation isn't so bad overall.

We should develop the ability to laugh at ourselves, and to not take things so seriously all the time. We agreed that the ability to "lighten up" about ourselves; to let go of some of our ego, would make us more likely to be able to laugh at other circumstances as well, and generally put us in a better mood, as we won't feel as though we constantly have to defend ourselves from perceived slights and embarrassments.

Another way that we can find and enjoy the lighter side of life is to remove or at least let up on our own personal filters. Sometimes we may see something that triggers an initial reaction of amusement, but our inner filter tells us that we are being immature or inappropriate; that it is not acceptable to find humor in this situation. This can prevent us from sharing our thoughts with others, of from even entertaining and enjoying the humor on our own. We may find that if we follow our first reactions and allow ourselves to laugh at things, and even share them with others, that we are laughing a lot more, and now our friends are having a good time as well. Even if we second guess ourselves and think that our own thoughts may be silly or odd, we may discover that we are not alone once we voice them to a friend, making a positive connection with another person.

A natural progression of the last suggestion, is that we should stop "viewing everything as an intelligence test;" in that we should worry less about being judged by others. Our egos make us concerned with how we appear to others and this can be a constant burden of fear and stress that does more harm than good. We may be able to begin taking ourselves less seriously if we remove the worry that others may judge us. We must say to ourselves, "So they are judging me. So what?" We typically find that other people are more accepting than we imagine them to be.

Another participant suggested that we find a "go-to" source for smiles and laughter. This might be a favorite movie to watch, a website, visiting a comedy club, or spending time with a friend or relative that makes us laugh. Whenever you are feeling down or stressed, turn to this source to lift your spirits.

A different suggestion was to inject more physical activity into our day. One participant noted that when they work out and get their heart pumping, and their body begins to release endorphins, that they are in a much better, lighter mood at the end.

We discussed how laughter is infectious. A few participants had seen a some video links posted on our Facebook page showing a man with "the funniest laugh in the world," and just their viewing of the video, watching another person laugh, was able to put them in a better mood. In one of the videos (below) the man was escorted around a workplace and we are able to watch as he cheers up everyone in the offices with his laugh.

In a second video (below), the same man was picked out of a comedy club audience as a volunteer and the comedian in charge can barely proceed with his act because he can't help but laugh.

A story was told about how someone moved into a new neighborhood and the neighbors all warned him about one man whom everyone said was a grouchy person, best to be avoided. When the new neighbors approached this man with warmth and openness, they discovered that underneath the gruff exterior he was really a very nice man. The majority of other people on the block had been repelled, however, by the persona that he appeared to have in public. This showed us that being open and light-hearted attracts other people to you, while having a grumpy, cool exterior pushes people away.  It also reminds us not to judge people based on first impressions or hearsay.

One of the final points that was made what that a sense of humor makes life's sometimes difficult lessons easier to take. We are all going to have to learn certain lessons in our lives, and we agreed that it would be much less stressful to learn them if we can laugh about the situation.