Today, I am going to invite you to be more conscious and I hope to show you how.
As Sam Harris wrote in his book Waking Up, A Guide to Spirituality without Religion, “consciousness remains notoriously difficult to understand or even to define.”
According to neuroscientist Adrian Owen of the University of Western Ontario, “Consciousness refers to two quite distinct things — wakefulness and awareness. But the problem for people working on consciousness is that none of us can agree on what it actually means.”
I have many academic definitions in my files, but today I want to keep it simple. I am going to describe being conscious in three phases: noticing what is going on around you, setting intention, and acting responsibly.
Let me share a story about Mahatma Gandhi.
"One day Gandhi stepped aboard a train as it started to move, and one of his shoes slipped off and dropped on the tracks. Unable to retrieve it, he calmly took off his other shoe and threw it back along the track to land close to the first. When an amazed passenger asked why he had done that, Gandhi smiled and said, "The poor man who finds the shoe lying on the track will now have a pair he can use." With the eyes of his imagination, Gandhi saw a man with bare feet, saw him coming across a lone shoe and desperately searching for the other, and saw the disappointment on his face when he didn't find it; seeing these things, Gandhi did what he could to help." (Donald McCullough in Say Please, Say Thank You)
Gandhi was noticing what was going on around him.
So, NOTICING is about becoming wide awake, it is about waking up, waking up to what is going on round you.
So, what are you noticing? As you look around you today, what do you see? What are you sensing? Sensing is about listening deeply using all the senses; being alert to changes in our environment, in people, and in ourselves; recognizing the need to stop what we are doing to be mindfully aware of our surroundings without judgment. Conscious people see more and they exclude less.
I want to invite you to really notice what is going on around you. This is going to be the audience participation segment of this morning’s service but it will be a silent participation. In a moment, I am going to invite you to stand, not yet, in a moment. I am going to ask you to find a partner, next to you, in front of you, behind you, wherever you find a partner and if that person is sitting down, sit with them. I am going to ask you to look deeply into each other’s eyes without speaking; to notice what is going on.
So, let’s do it. Stand if you are able, find a partner, -- have you found a partner – now, without speaking, look deeply into the other’s eyes. Notice what is happening. Keep silent… Keep looking… Keep noticing. … Okay, when you are ready, thank your partner and sit back down.
Thank you! Now, I am going to ask you some questions. Answer them inside, there is no need to speak. So, what did you notice? What did you notice in your eye-gazing partner? What did you notice happening to you? Be curious. Learn from the experience, be fully aware of what is going on around you. Be in the moment, live in this moment.
I imagine you noticed a lot…
I hope you were practicing our first UU principle, noticing the inherent worth and dignity of the person into whose eyes you looked. I invite you to keep noticing what is going on around you.
So noticing is about sensing what is going on, using all your senses; it is about learning, being curious, and it is about being mindful, being in the present moment. But noticing is not sufficient, Gandhi was mindful of losing his shoe, but his intention was that the person finding his shoe would benefit and have a pair of shoes, and he acted responsibly.
Let me tell you about the surgeon and the burglar, a Story of Intention from Christopher Titmuss in Mindfulness for Everyday Living.
The surgeon, working in the operating room on a major operation, and the burglar, stealthily going from room to room, have something in common. Both show an extraordinary degree of mindfulness from one moment to the next. Both remain completely absorbed in their work. What separates the surgeon and the burglar is the intention — and that intention makes all the difference, even though in both cases the quality of focused attention is extraordinarily high. The burglar generates suffering that even an insurance policy cannot redress. The surgeon, on the other hand, works to relieve suffering for a patient.
Authentic mindfulness takes into consideration the intentions behind our actions. Intention matters as much as mindfulness. Together they have the power to transform our lives. Our intentions act as a governing force behind our actions. Even if we make mistakes and the results do not work out the way we want, we can take note of our intentions. If we know, deep in our heart, that our intentions are wholesome, then we should take comfort in this knowledge.
I am reminded of the saying attributed to Plato or Philo of Alexandria: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is engaged in a great struggle.” What did you see as you looked into your partner’s eyes this morning?
So, for me, SETTING INTENTION is about possibility thinking – Thinking positively; believing in possibility not obstacles, in abundance not scarcity. It is about exploring opportunities and being purposeful.
It is also about committing to action -- clearly defining intent; committing to acting responsibly.
I would like to share a poem…
Are you a Reason, a Season, or a Lifetime?
Reason, Season, or Lifetime
People come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime.
When you figure out which one it is, you will know what to do for each person.
When someone is in your life for a REASON, it is usually to meet a need you have expressed.
They have come to assist you through a difficulty; to provide you with guidance and support; to aid you physically, emotionally or spiritually. They may seem like a godsend, and they are. They are there for the reason you need them to be.
Then, without any wrongdoing on your part or at an inconvenient time, this person will say or do something to bring the relationship to an end. Sometimes they die. Sometimes they walk away. Sometimes they act up and force you to take a stand. What we must realize is that our need has been met, our desire fulfilled; their work is done.
The prayer you sent up has been answered and now it is time to move on.
Some people come into your life for a SEASON, because your turn has come to share, grow, or learn. They bring you an experience of peace or make you laugh. They may teach you something you have never done. They usually give you an unbelievable amount of joy. Believe it. It is real. But only for a season.
LIFETIME relationships teach you lifetime lessons; things you must build upon in order to have a solid emotional foundation. Your job is to accept the lesson, love the person, and put what you have learned to use in all other relationships and areas of your life. It is said that love is blind but friendship is clairvoyant.
— Author Unknown
Today, notice with intention, the people who are in your life, whether it be for a reason, a season or a lifetime.
Setting intention means clearly defining our intent and committing to action. Let me share some personal experiences.
Let me share a personal story
While attending a spiritual retreat a few years ago, I experienced one of those rare moments of real awakening. Despite being intensely goal-driven at times, my awareness of a long-practiced habit was heightened dramatically during one of the meditative exercises, a habit of running away.
I suddenly realized the number of significant situations I had run away from: I ran away from home; I ran away from the church that was an anchor during my formative years; I ran away from a failing marriage; I ran away from numerous jobs that had become unexciting, some might say I ran away from England. It was not always easy to leave and, in leaving somewhere, I was always heading towards another place but, all too often, without a purpose other than getting away from a bad situation.
Our lives are full of transitions but are we running away or are we running towards something? I am not saying don’t run away but I am saying, ‘start running towards something.’ In any case, running away or running towards, we need to know why. This takes me the “big why” -- our purpose or calling.
My friend and guide Richard Leider, in his book The Power of Purpose, writes: “Purpose is fundamental to human life. Purpose gives us the will to live or to persevere. It gives us the reason to get up in the morning. Purpose gives us courage.” We all have a purpose whether we know it or not. Have you discovered your purpose? Can you describe your purpose in ten words or less?
Neale Donald Walsch, known for his Conversations with God, says, “There is no blackboard in the sky on which God has written your purpose, your mission in life. That blackboard just doesn’t exist. Your purpose is what you say it is, your mission is the mission you give yourself.”
Running towards our goals is so much better than constantly running away. Living purposefully is what gets you out of bed in the morning.
Linda Linder in her book, Waking Up, says: Telling the truth compels responsibility. Taking responsibility requires taking authentic action. When we can speak truthfully and take action our lives unfold, blossom, ignite and we “Wake up!”
So, with clear intent, we can then move to the third phase of being conscious and that is acting responsibly. This means speaking candidly, practicing integrity, and taking responsible action.
Three Kernels of Corn Parable (author unknown)
Three young men were once given three kernels of corn apiece by a wise old sage, who admonished them to go out into the world, and use the corn to bring themselves good fortune. The first young man put his three kernels of corn into a bowl of hot broth and ate them.
The second thought, I can do better than that, and he planted his three kernels of corn. Within a few months, he had three stalks of corn. He took the ears of corn from the stalks, boiled them, and had enough corn for three meals.
The third man said to himself, I can do better than that!
He also planted his three kernels of corn, but when his three stalks of corn produced, he stripped one of the stalks and replanted all of the seeds in it, gave the second stalk of corn to a sweet maiden, and ate the third.
His one full stalk's worth of replanted corn kernels gave him 200 stalks of corn! And the kernels of these he continued to replant, setting aside only a bare minimum to eat. He eventually planted a hundred acres of corn. With his fortune, he not only won the hand of the sweet maiden but purchased the land owned by the sweet maiden's father.
And he never hungered again. I think he became a conscious capitalist!
Acting responsibly is an opportunity for us all. We can act responsibly first for ourselves; remember, the airline requirement to put your mask on first before you help others.
We can then act responsibly for those we are in relationship with, for the people we care about, and for the causes we care about.
So, I invite you to combine the consciousness practices we have explored this morning
NOTICING, SETTING INTENTION, ACTING RESPONSIBILY -- all the time
I believe this reflects our 7th UU Principle: Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
So, at least for today, I invite you to:
Notice what is going on around you, listen deeply with all your senses
Clearly set intentions for your actions, get clear about your purpose
And act responsibly by speaking with candor, practicing integrity, and taking responsible action.
May it be so.
Waking Up, a sermon delivered by Paul G. Ward at 1stUUPB on June 14, 2015