Monday, August 15, 2016

Turning Toward or Turning Away

Why today?
When I was invited to be one of the summer service leaders this year, I was given a number of available dates. I chose today because August 14th is a very special day for me.

In August, 1958, my baby brother Christopher was born. He was born in the hospital after many hours of labor and was pronounced fit and well. At home, he slept a lot, as most babies do, and seemed mostly content, crying only occasionally. Although he seemed a little quiet for a baby, everything appeared normal. Later, a visit by the doctor revealed a collapsed left lung, probably never fully inflated, but an obvious cause for concern. He was taken to the hospital and placed in an oxygen tent. After nine days in the oxygen tent he stopped breathing. He lived for just five short months. We never celebrated his birthday.

Twenty-two years later, in August 1980, my son was born and we named him Christopher in memory of my brother. Today is my son’s 36th birthday. But that’s not the end of this story.
Last year I was going through papers after my Dad’s passing and came across my baby brother’s birth certificate. It turned out that my baby brother was also born on August 14th. So, today, August 14th, is a very special day for me, celebrating two family birthdays. I appreciate the opportunity to be your service leader today.

Meg Wheatley as an inspiration
Now, let’s turn to the theme of this service, “turning toward or turning away.” Margaret Wheatley and her book, Turning to one Another, provided the inspiration for today’s service. I first met Meg Wheatley in Manhattan in 2005. I was approaching the dissertation stage of my doctoral program and it was her inspiration that enabled me to frame my research. I still have the notes from her presentation that day. One thing she said was: The current leadership is having a devastating effect on the world. It seems nothing much has changed in the past eleven years. 
She went on to say, The leadership the world needs today is life-affirming leadership…. An extraordinary pool of life affirming leaders exist, and they need more of our support. We need to ask, What kind of leader am I prepared to be?” She said, “We need to move from ‘noticing’ into action.

And for those of you that have been following my work on conscious leadership, you will see that Meg Wheatley is still an inspiration for me. I define conscious leadership in a framework of noticing what is going on, setting intention, and acting responsibly. 
So today, I am going to talk about turning toward and turning away. Before we talk about turning toward, let’s talk about turning away. Not only turning away but running away.

Running Away
Some years ago, I wrote an essay. This is how it began: I am running away. I have always been running away. Yet I believe that running enthusiastically towards something is so much better than running fearfully away and, although still unconsciously running away from dark places, I now more consciously practice running towards the light. What is your experience of running away? How often do you consciously practice running towards your goals. To what extent are you living your life on purpose? 
While attending a spiritual retreat, I experienced one of those rare moments of real awakening. Despite being intensely goal-driven at times, my awareness of a long-practiced habit of running away from situations was heightened dramatically during one of the meditative exercises. 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. 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.

Running towards our goals is so much better than constantly running away. Turning away is slower than running away but it can be just as damaging.

What have you been turning away from lately? Have you been turning away from members of your family? Turning away from those in need? Turning away from your own needs? Think about what you have been turning away from.

Like some of you, no doubt, I am a Pink Floyd fan and I would like to share the words of a song written by Dave Gilmour and Anthony Moore. On the Turning Away is a song from Pink Floyd's 1987 album, A Momentary Lapse of Reason.
I won’t make you listen to my singing but you can find Pink Floyd singing this on YouTube. Let me share the lyrics of the song:

On the turning away
From the pale and downtrodden
And the words they say
Which we won't understand

"Don't accept that what's happening
Is just a case of others' suffering
Or you'll find that you're joining in
The turning away"

It's a sin that somehow
Light is changing to shadow
And casting it's shroud
Over all we have known

Unaware how the ranks have grown
Driven on by a heart of stone
We could find that we're all alone
In the dream of the proud

On the wings of the night
As the daytime is stirring
Where the speechless unite
In a silent accord

Using words you will find are strange
And mesmerized as they light the flame
Feel the new wind of change
On the wings of the night

No more turning away
From the weak and the weary
No more turning away
From the coldness inside

Just a world that we all must share
It's not enough just to stand and stare
Is it only a dream that there will be
No more turning away?
Written by Dave Gilmour, Anthony Moore Copyright © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Peermusic Publishing

Turning inward, turning outward
Before talking about turning toward, I want to explore Meg Wheatley’s assertion that the only two options are turning toward or turning away. What about turning inward or turning outward? Turning in to ourselves? Or turning outward, away from ourselves. 
Maybe, before turning toward others, we need to turn inward toward ourselves.

Donna Thomson, wrote: Turning inward does not mean abandoning the world, turning your back on loved ones, work, relationship, the joys and sorrows of the world. Turning inward means spiraling towards the center, the still point within you from which all activity in the outer world truly arises. Turning inward is the awareness of that still point deep inside one's own breath, mind and heart. Turning inward means allowing the attention to spiral down to that point.
The season of summer is spiraling down to the still point of the equinox. The season of autumn spirals further yet into the solstice, and then the return begins. Autumn is a wonderful time for walking meditation, to walk a labyrinth, a circle, to simply walk, feeling the change, feeling the earth beneath your feet, step by step, feeling the stillness of your step upon the earth. Just for a few moments, a heightened awareness of your walking brings you home to yourself, here, now.

To walk in the world with your attention centered within yourself, this is turning inward. Take a breath and feel in your own being, perhaps in the heart, in the belly, perhaps simply somehow in the very center of yourself, a point, a seed. Be with that seed for a moment. Everything now begins its retreat back to the seed. In the spring the seed will blossom again. With your inhalation feel yourself retreat to the still point within you, with the exhalation know that you are always blossoming, always bearing fruit.

The cycle of the years, the cycle of day and night, the cycle of the breath, the inhalation and exhalation-the rhythm of your being is the rhythm of the seasons. There is no other rhythm.

As you walk upon the earth, as you look around, you realize the earth prepares itself for the change, for the falling of the light.

In a world full of aggression, disturbance and distress, the moments where you can feel in yourself the earth's rhythm pulsing in you like a heartbeat, those moments are great gifts, however rare they may be. Honor them, treasure them, the precious moments of your precious life upon this earth.
May all beings be happy, peaceful and free of suffering.

(Ref. Donna Thomson:

As I pondered this reading, I concluded that Meg Wheatley was right. Turning inward is simply another way of turning toward, turning first inward toward ourselves and then outward toward others. Turning toward or turning away, there are the only two choices.

So, let’s focus on turning to one another; turning toward not turning away.

This aligns well with the first of our seven UU Principles: The inherent worth and dignity of every person or, as we voted to support at our annual meeting, The inherent worth and dignity of every being. What or who are we turning toward today?

A Google search on the phrase “turning toward” revealed some interesting links. Book titles, songs, and simple phrases abound in the Google world. Here are a few of the phrases that resonated with me:
  • Turning toward our partners
  • Turning toward our children
  • Turning toward the sun
  • Jack Cornfield’s Turning Toward our Essence
  • Turning toward home
  • Turning toward mystery
  • The Sufi Book Turning Toward the Heart
  • The song Turning Toward the Morning
  • Turning toward tomorrow
  • Turning toward joy
  • Turning toward love
  • Turning toward peace
  • Turning toward freedom
  • Turning toward justice
  • And Meg Wheatley’s, Turning to One Another

Turning to one another
So, in a moment, I am going to invite you to turn to one another. I will give you questions, questions to answer for yourself and share with whoever you turn towards. When you are answering the questions, speak from the heart. When you are listening, listen deeply without interrupting of commenting. Simply be a witness. We will have about a minute each to share the answers to our questions.
This is an opportunity to practice the first of our seven principles: The inherent worth and dignity of every person.
As you think about turning toward something today, something or someone, the questions are:

What do you wish were different? What you can do to make things different?

So turn to someone close by, in pairs or threes, and briefly share your answers to the questions: What do you wish were different? What you can do to make things different?

[Pause for interaction]

As you continue through the day, reflect on your answers and think about what you can do to make a difference.
Let me conclude with Piglet’s song from the The Te of Piglet, written by Benjamin Hoff. Winnie the Pooh get’s most of the attention so let’s give Piglet some credit today.

Piglet's Song

Let's find a Way today,
that can take us to tomorrow.
We'll follow that Way,
A Way like flowing water.
Let's leave behind,
the things that do not matter.
And we'll turn our lives,
to a more important chapter.
Let's take the time and try to find,
what real life has to offer.
And maybe then we'll find again,
what we had long forgotten.
Like a friend, true 'til the end,
it will help us onward.
The sun is high, the road is wide,
and it starts where we are standing.
No one knows how far it goes,
for the road is never-ending.
It goes away,
beyond what we have thought of.
It flows away,
Away like flowing water.
May it be so.

Turning Toward or Turning Away, a sermon by Paul G. Ward, delivered at 1stUUPB, August 14, 2016.

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