Sunday, April 29, 2012


Sunday Service Discussion Notes for April 29, 2012

Last Sunday we had an Open Forum for our discussion: participants were invited to talk about whatever they wanted to share with the group.

Lara shared with the group Neil Pasricha's blog, "1000 Awesome Things." She explained that Neil was the son of immigrants who moved to Canada in the late 60s. They tried to bring their children up with gratitude for the bounty that they experienced in their new home. As Neil became an adult and began his own life, he began to be faced with problems and troubles of his own. His best friend took his own life, his wife asked him for a divorce, and life became very heavy and dark for him. He decided that he needed a way to focus on the positive things in life, so he started up a blog where he would write about one awesome thing he encountered each day.

It started as a small blog; only his family read it. Soon, however, it went viral and his blog literally won the Best Blog in the World award. It was the most popular blog on the internet. Neil has even been invited to speak at TED, and you can watch the video of his talk below.

Neil's TED speech centers around the Three As of Awesome:  Attitude, Awareness, and Authenticity.  The first A, Attitude, reminds us that we always have a choice in how we react to life. No matter whether events in our life are pleasant or unpleasant, we choose how we will behave in response. Nothing can make us remain in any state of feeling; we choose it. The second A, Awareness, centers around the idea of being present. Of being fully aware of what is going on at the current moment, which enables us to appreciate the everyday small joys in life, like warm Sun on our backs or finding some money in a the pocket of a coat you haven't worn in six months.  The third A, Authenticity, refers to being true to yourself. Be your real self and you will be happier than if you try to fit a mold that others are expecting you to fit.

This prompted the observation that it is enjoyable to do small kindnesses for others, especially strangers; you will get joy from watching them smile. We also noted that there are always small things happening around you that are there to lift your spirits, and that it does us good to take note of and enjoy these things.

It was observed that being thankful brings us into our heart center, and that the natural flow of things is for everything to be in its right place all the time. UMS founder Damien Simpson was quoted as saying, "Expect Miracles," alluding to the fact that little miracles are happening around us all the time.

Each of us shared with the group one awesome thing that had happened to us during the prior week, which left everyone with positive feeling all around.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Laughter: Part 1

Sunday Service Discussion Notes for April 22, 2012

Last Sunday we began a discussion on Laughter. 

We all agreed that laughter is definitely good for you: a vast body of research shows the mental, physical, and psychological benefits.

We discussed how a rather opposite emotion, anger, is like a poison in our system, and that laughter helps us dissipate this bad energy and "get the poison out." It is so effective in reducing stress and improving health that the practice of Laughter Yoga has caught on all over the world.

As we are all individuals with different personalities, we acknowledged that some of us are more naturally inclined to finding humor and laughter in life than others. We noted that it was important to find sources that will bring you laughter and cheer if you are not easily able to summon them on your own. Perhaps some form of entertainment, music, images, or even another person you like to spend time with can make you laugh and put you in better spirits.

We discussed how even hearing the sound of others' laughter elevates our mood, and the phenomenon of contagious laughter. It is even possible to influence other people with laughter; making people laugh puts them at ease, and they are then more agreeable and likely to listen to what we have to say.

A study was performed where groups of participants were asked to hold a pencil in their mouth using their lips or teeth in various ways, with some methods causing them to use their facial muscles in the same way that they would be used during a smile, while other methods mimicked the muscle movements for a frown or neutral expression. These groups of people were asked to watch various video clips while they did this, and then were asked to rate the videos with regard to how happy the participants were while watching them. The people whose facial muscles were being pulled into a smiling position rated themselves as much happier than the people whose faces were not in the smiling position, regardless of the content of the video. This result suggested that the physical act alone of forming our facial muscles into a smile actually makes up happier. The lesson: start smiling and happiness will follow.

We agreed that we need to allow ourselves to be happy; that we cannot expect other people, things, or external forces to make us happy. Happiness comes from within.

One participant told a story of a man who was diagnosed with cancer, and who became very depressed upon learning this news. He moved to Hawaii, but continued to feel down. A friend of his saw that he was in need of some happiness and suggested that he go to some of the local comedy clubs. Eventually, after his friend kept at him about it, he relented and went to the club. Soon he was attending again, and again. He became a regular attendee and began to really enjoy himself, and before he knew it, a couple years had passed and he realized that he was no longer depressed and was really enjoying life. Just adding laughter to his life had lifted him out of his depression.

Another participant talked about how her father was able to help her family endure World War II in Europe. She said that he always had an interesting way of observing the world and was able to use this talent to make up funny stories to tell the family, which raised their spirits during a fearful time.

UMS founder Damien Simpson was quoted as saying
"Where your consciousness is, ye shall dwell also."  
If you are laughing, you will be happy. This seems like an obvious statement, but it is well remembered when we are felling stress, depression, or loneliness. If we can find laughter, we can find a way out.  We agreed that we should try to find humor in any situation, even a bad one, and that we should not take ourselves too seriously.

We discussed how it is important for each of us has a unique sense of humor; that what makes one of us laugh may not do so for our neighbor. It is good for us to seek out others who share our sense of humor so that we will more often be in environments that promote laughter and fun, which will mutually benefit ourselves and our companions.

We did note that there are occasions when laughter can actually be detrimental, and that would be when it is malicious or comes at the expense of others, like laughing at someone who has fallen down.

One question that was raised was: Is there a way to see light or humor in life if you don't feel that you naturally have that ability?  We decided that we would take this idea away to think about and discuss our thoughts on it in a future session.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Circle of Life: Part 2

Sunday Service Discussion Notes for April 15, 2012

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

Whirling Dervishes
There is a circular pattern in life. Our facilitator, Lara, gave us an example of a spiritual and artistic embodiment of this pattern by describing the tradition of Sufi Whirling, performed by dancers commonly known as Whirling Dervishes.  A quote from the linked article illustrates:
"While whirling, his arms are open: his right arm is directed to the sky, ready to receive God's beneficence; his left hand, upon which his eyes are fastened, is turned toward the earth. The dervish conveys God's spiritual gift to those who are witnessing the ceremony. Revolving from right to left around the heart, the dervish embraces all humanity with love. The human being has been created with love in order to love."

It was brought up that when we die, we do not really die. That death is an illusion; merely a curtain covering a doorway into a new state of being. If we understand that the life of our spirit continues after it passes out of our physical body, we would perhaps not have so much fear of death.

It was asked whether we have evidence of a spiritual life after this physical one. We gathered a variety of responses to this from our participants:
One person noted that many people who undergo near-death experiences typically state that they wanted to remain in their new state, going "into the light" as we often hear this described, and that they were reluctant to come back to their bodies. This point was used to contend that whatever afterlife there may be, that it seems to be a good place, if people who almost die experience a taste of it and do not want to leave.

Another participant offered that "knowing" about the afterlife is a deep, undeniable feeling that you experience, rather than a set of empirical proofs.

As in the prior week's discussion, the famous Einstein quote was repeated, "Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be changed from one form to another," and this was also suggested as evidence that our spirits (which many of us agreed are a form of energy, perhaps one that we simply do not have the technology to measure and quantify) do not merely disappear or cease to exist when our physical body finishes functioning.

Many of us recalled accounts of communication from spirits who have passed over, and have many personal stories that included recognition of the personalities of those spirits whom we knew to be familiar to us, and common knowledge between these spirits and ourselves and that lead us to believe that they are the same people we knew during their life incarnate.

Why don't we know what the next phase of life is, exactly?  We theorized that this knowledge might influence the actions that we take and our behaviors in this life, and that perhaps if we all retained complete knowledge of all phases of life, we might delay in working on whatever personal growth we are trying to achieve in order to get to the next phase of our spiritual evolution. Perhaps we might say to ourselves, "This is too hard, and I know I will have to come back in another lifetime, so I will just work on it then." 

Depiction of Buddha attaining Parinirvana
The teachings of Buddha were acknowledged in regard to the continual cycle of death and rebirth on the path to complete enlightenment; the achievement of a final state of spiritual awakening. His teachings guide us to the state of Parinirvana, wherein a spirit has achieved complete awaking and once it passes from its body, it is no longer required to be reborn into the flesh to repeat the cycle. We noted that each person's spiritual journey is individual, and that what one person needs for their evolution is not the same thing that someone else needs.

A reference was made to the movie, Defending Your Life in which a recently deceased man awaits judgment in a fictional afterlife "waiting room" where it would be decided if he had learned the necessary spiritual lessons to allow him to move on to the next phase, or if he would be required to return and begin a new life in order to try to complete his learning. We wondered if this was a case of art imitating life, insofar as how close to reality this cinematic concept of the afterlife really was? Do we need to accomplish a predetermined level of learning before we move on to the next phase?

Another way of looking at this topic is that our personal Circle of Life expands and contracts. If you want to be closed off, making your life very focused, constrained, and quiet , your circle closes in. You may cut yourself off from an extremely active social life in order to focus on personal issues. If you want to be open, your circle opens up. You seek to expand the realm of things encompassed in your daily life, like friends, family, and groups of which you are a part.

We raised the question, "Why do some people live a long time and some only a very short time?"  This seemed like a good launching place for an entirely new discussion, and we chose this point to close the Circle of Life topic for now, and to reflect on the many points that were brought up during this discussion.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Circle of Life: Part 1

Sunday Service Discussion Notes for April 8, 2012

Last week we began a discussion on The Circle of Life. 


Some people believed that we do not ask to be born, others believed that we do. In either case we have a compelling drive to make sense of the world as it is presented to us.  As we come into this world, we are taking on the responsibilities of life. We come into this life with purposes to fulfill and tasks we must complete for our spiritual growth, though we may not realize what they are.

It was said that life goes on in spite of us. Hitch a ride and jump on at any point; you will not miss anything.  Life is a circle and it will come back around.

We discussed the idea that resurrection is a reality. We die all the time  and we are born all the time in many different ways throughout our lives. Each transition we make is a little death and a rebirth. The transition from childhood to adulthood is an example of this: your child-self dies as your adult-self is being  born. This shows that death and rebirth on a wide array of levels,  are a natural part of our lives, even beyond this existence.

Another form The Circle takes is in the flow of energy into and out of each of us. We give out the energy that surrounds us, and it comes back into us. If we are giving out bad energy, that is what we will receive back. If we are exuding good energy, we will take good energy back into ourselves.

A lecture from UMS member Betty Link was cited on the Three Phases of Life - Dependence, Independence, and Interdependence. The first third of our lives is the Dependence phase, where we rely on others for our existence and growth. We rely on our parents to take care of us, on our teachers to impart knowledge, on our peers to absorb social skills. The second phase in life is the Independence phase, where we go out into the world on our own and begin to fend and provide for ourselves. The third phase is Interdependence where there is now a give-and-take relationship with the world. You are now giving back to people who are in their first two phases and this completes The Circle.

Banded Woolly Bear Caterpillar
One attendee used as an example of the cycle of death and rebirth the Banded Wooly Bear arctic caterpillar. After hatching, it spends as much time eating as possible, but as the feeding season is so short in the arctic, it freezes completely over the winter, thawing out the next year to feed again. These caterpillars have been known to repeat this process for up to 14 years before finally becoming a moth.

As this discussion was held on Easter Sunday, we asked the question "Did Christ die?" Some felt that he didn't die, but he transitioned into another phase of existence. This was compared to the many phases we transition to in this life and the next.

Another idea that was presented was that The Circle of Life is not so much a circle but a spiral that continues to evolve over time as we grow and change.

We discussed how everything continuously moves in circles, nothing ever remains stagnant. Events and states of being happen, go away, and return at another time, and no state of being is permanent. When we are going through difficult times, one reminder to ourselves is "This, too, shall pass." This will give us the strength to endure our current challenges and the foresight to prepare for future ones.

It was brought up that death is the illusion of an ending, but that when you die, it is not really the end.  You do not really die, you just transition into a new existence. An appropriate quote from Albert Einstein was offered:
"Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be changed from one form to another."

We decided to continue this discussion topic again next week, on April 15th.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

What Is Your Story and Does It Define You?: Part 2

Sunday Service Discussion Notes for April 1, 2012

Last week we concluded our discussion of "What Is Your Story and Does It Define You. Click here to read the summary of the previous two weeks on this topic.

We talked about how our stories can take you out of the here and now. Sometimes we cling to our stories so tenaciously that it can prevent us from experiencing the present in a meaningful way.  We may be so completely caught up in a past event or circumstance that we fail to see that the rest of the world has continued to evolve and move forward while we remain stagnant.

We formulate stories all day long based on what we are going through at the time. Each event or interaction sets our mind to spinning tales about what happened to us. But we agreed that we must remember that our stories are shaped by our own personal perspective, not necessarily by reality, or the true story. It is only by questioning these stories that we are able to keep a good grip on what is real and what is not.

We discussed how our stories are colored by learned behaviors, which are in turn based on behaviors of people in our lives (parents, close friends) that we spend a lot of time with that influence us whether we are aware of it or not.

A question was raised, "What is the difference between an event and a story?" to which the succinct answer was presented, "The difference between an event and a story is that the event is factual and the story is your perception."

We talked about how sometimes our enthusiasms of the moment can be quelled by past realities. That reality may not exist today, but it is a story that is lived every time a new enthusiasm is felt, and an oppressive inner voice tells us to "Be serious; get your head out of the clouds." This can deter us from pursuing new interests and possibly deprive us of wonderful new experiences if we allow the story to rule us.

Author Byron Katie was quoted with the prayer: "Spare me from the desire for love, approval, and affection,"  as the desire for these things too often causes us to behave in ways that may ultimately be detrimental to ourselves or others. This is not to say that a desire for love, approval, or appreciation is a bad thing, and can in fact can lead to good, however some of us felt that the wording of this prayer sounded more negative than it ought, and for clarification, an alternate version was offered: "Guide me in the way I seek love, approval, and appreciation."

As this service took place on Palm Sunday, we learned why the palm tree is associated with the holy day. In the time of Jesus, the palm tree was the tallest natural object around, and was therefore thought to be the closest to God. Because of this, palm fronds were used to cover the path over which Jesus was to walk as he entered Jerusalem.