We gather here to be together
We gather because of two high values - Love and Justice
Love in our hearts leads to happiness
Love in our minds leads to inclusion
Love in our hands leads to justice
In this place and by the light, let us grow in love
Let have the courage to love enough to create joy
To create community
And to build a more just world
A world that, itself, will be ever more nurturing of love
Want the change - Rainer Maria Rilke
Want the change. Be inspired by the flame
where everything shines as it disappears.
The artist, when sketching, loves nothing so much
as the curve of the body as it turns away
What locks itself in sameness has congealed.
Is it safer to be grey and numb?
What turns hard becomes rigid
and is easily shattered
Pour yourself out like a fountain
Flow into the knowledge that what you are seeking
finishes often at the start and with ending, begins
Every happiness is the child of a separation
it did not think it could survive.
And Daphne becoming a laurel
dares you to become the wind
Did your lungs burn with that very first breath?
Was your skin tender as old scales
Were rubbed away
On the rocky shore?
You crawled from the sea
On new legs
Searching for food
For something new.
Was your body worn and tired?
Your vision blurred,
Your hopes vague?
Transformation is never easy.
A new butterfly
Has damp and fragile wings
Before it learns to fly.
I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
"Live in the layers,
not on the litter."
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.
~ Stanley Kunitz ~
Unconditional (Jennifer Welwood)
Willing to experience aloneness,
I discover connection everywhere;
Turning to face my fear,
I meet the warrior who lives within;
Opening to my loss,
I gain the embrace of the universe;
Surrendering into emptiness,
I find fullness without end.
Each condition I flee from pursues me,
Each condition I welcome transforms me
And becomes itself transformed
Into its radiant jewel-like essence.
I bow to the one who has made it so,
Who has crafted this Master Game.
To play it is purest delight;
To honor its form--true devotion.
- Jennifer Welwood
Message by Andy Pakula
L’Shana Tovah is the traditional greeting for the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana, which took place this past week.
At any of the big change events in the calendar, our minds tend to turn to thinking about how we will enter this new time. It happens at New Years with the ritual of resolutions. It happens often too when we have any big life transition - such as when we relocate, get a new job, get married or divorced, or when we go off to University or graduate.
At such times, we think of change. We may think about or yearn to start off with a clean slate. We may resolve to put behind us the behaviours or ways of being that didn’t serve us well.
And so we go into this new time or this new place or new relationship or new phase of life but for the most part, the slate we had imagined wiping clean shows up with exactly the same writing it had before.
We find we haven’t become fit, learned a new language, meditated every day, danced more, lost weight, stopped reacting defensively, become fearless, or stopped smoking. The change we want doesn’t happen just because we feel it ought to. Even our formal resolutions almost always fall away within a few weeks of making them.
A our current theme is science, I’ve got some scientific things to say.
Essentially, you are not the person you once were. Most of the atoms in your body change over very quickly. Except for some of the atoms in your teeth and bones you are almost entirely different molecular stuff than you were a year ago.
Change is a constant. You’ve changed and changed and changed. The shape and structure is retained, but the material that makes it up is almost entirely different.
You know how some songs you never quite make out the words and you get some strange idea of what the singer is saying? ‘Changes’ is a song like that for me and - reading the lyrics at last after about 40 years of loving that song - I realised that the song includes these lines:
“I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream of warm impermanence”
He is saying much of what we’re talking about. The ripples of the water show constancy of shape but they are not the same material from moment to moment. They are simply the form that various water molecules take and pass on over time. “The stream of warm impermanence.!
All this does raise questions of who we really are. If we are different stuff than we were, are we the same?
If there was a device that could synthesize a perfect replica of you so that - although the atoms were different - all their configurations were the same… Would that perfect replica be you? What if you could be transported this way from one place to another - creating a new you in San Francisco while disintegrating the old you in London, would that be OK with you?
The physicist Richard Feynman remarked on the paradox of constancy and change in the human body, writing: “The atoms that are in the brain are being replaced; the ones that were there before have gone away. So what is this mind of ours: what are these atoms associated with consciousness? Last week’s potatoes! They now can remember what was going on in my mind a year ago—a mind which has long ago been replaced. The thing I call individuality is only a pattern or dance, that is what it means when one discovers how long it takes for the atoms of the brain to be replaced by other atoms.”
Of course, the stuff of our body is mostly arranged into the structure of cells. These larger units of our body also get replaced, although not nearly as quickly as the atoms and molecules that make them up.
There is a factoid out there that all the cells of the body are replaced every seven years. It’s not accurate though.
The cells that line your small intestine have a tough and short life. They get replaced every two-four days. White blood cells - the cellular workhorses of the immune system - are replaced every one to five days.
Red blood cells last about four months before they’re retired.
Depressingly, fat cells get replaced only about once every 8 years.
And heart muscle cells get replaced, but at a slow rate too.
There are a few exceptions to all this recycling: your neurons, the cells of the lenses of your eyes, and oocytes in females, are never replaced. You only get what you’re born with and that’s it.
Now we may look at the brain then and say - aha - there I am and I am constant and unchanging. But, although neurons don’t get replaced, they constantly grow and change. They make new connections and sever old ones. And there are other cell types in your nervous system that do get replaced more rapidly and there are good indications that these cells also play a role in how our brains function.
So change is a constant at a physical level in the human body. It’s not even clear that we are the same people we were at some other point in time. Some would say that notion of a permanent enduring ‘self’ is an illusion, but we’ll have to leave that for another time.
You have changed. When you look back over your life, there seems to be a constant observer but you will also note that that person from long ago did or said things that you would never do now. There were things that you regretted, things that you no longer have the courage for, perhaps a timidity or prejudice or fear that appalls you now to remember. There may be joys or triumphs that seem just strange to you now - where your current brain can’t imagine itself in the place of your younger one.
And despite all this change, when we decide we want to change, we find it difficult. The writing reemerges in the supposedly clean slate.
I asked you what you’d like to change some of those change wishes you’ve probably held onto for a long time.
It is hard to change. Resolutions don’t work well. We talked about a few weeks back comparing the mind to a bossy but somewhat ineffective rider on the back of a much more powerful elephant. The rider makes resolutions. The elephant of our unconscious mind yawns, rolls its eyes, and does whatever it damn pleases.
So, change is hard and often elusive.
Change doesn’t happen from information alone. If it did, no one would smoke, we would all be great environmentalists emitting zero carbon, we’d all wear helmets when we bicycle and everyone would practice safe sex all the time.
Change doesn’t happen because we resolve to make it so. The rider doesn’t have that kind of power.
But change does happen in our lives - for better and for worse - and, although there are no clear rules or formulae for successful change, there are a few things we do know.
Change often happens when we have trauma in our lives. When we have been terribly ill or suffered a grievous loss, it shocks us out of our complacency and shows us ourselves in a new perspective - a perspective that may lead us to head in new direction. This is not a path to change that most of us would choose, but it stands as a possibility for growth on the other side of deep distress.
Change can happen through a combination of learning and practice - mind and body. The best and most effecting learning happens this way. The elephant needs to feel in addition to the words.
Although we don’t change through information and warnings, stories can have a very different and much more potent impact. Religions have always known this and use it well. The elephant responds to stories.
Change is more likely to happen when you are uncomfortable. The anxiety we hate so much can make our minds more open to new ways of being, thinking, and doing.
Change seems to require a deep kind of self-awareness. If we are not intimately acquainted with how we think and behave, there is not much hope of changing them.
And finally - importantly - change depends on who you’re with. Cultural influence, social impact, peer pressure - whatever you want to call it, who you are with makes a big difference in how you change.
We like to think that we act and think independently of those around us, but the truth is that we are social animals. We are immensely influenced by those around us.
We may think of peer pressure in a negative way - the force that makes us smoke, drink, and take too many risks when we’re young. But peer pressure is content-neutral in a way. It can also do a great deal of good.
Studies have shown that peer pressure causes doctors to use hand sanitizer more often. It causes people to lose or gain weight. It causes us to start or stop smoking. It changes our political perspectives.
People preparing for medical school caused me to want to be a doctor. People committed to getting their PhDs made me stick with a pursuit that didn’t suit me. Smokers got me smoking. Being around people who didn’t smoke made me stop. That’s only a tiny fraction of my list and I’ll bet yours are long as well.
Learning combined with practice
And peer pressure
When some of these factors come together, they can be incredibly powerful and life changing. Consider Alcoholics Anonymous. People arrive in crisis. They find themselves surrounded and connected with peers who are in recovery. They commit to facing themselves openly and honestly. And you can be sure they are uncomfortable. Is it any wonder that so many people change in that process?
Importantly, there is another place that can have enormous power to cause change - and you are already there.
Attending a Unitarian congregation in the States changed the direction of my life in massive ways. And New Unity is even more likely to change lives than that place because here we are more open to connection, more interested in being self-aware, and we are more willing to wrestle with discomfort.
I want New Unity to be a place of positive change - a place of transformation. I want to see change toward love and justice radiate from this place.
It has begun. And we can do more. Let us make this a community where we commit to relationship, to knowing ourselves honestly, and to entering into discomfort. This is how we change ourselves. It is how we contribute to a world changing for the better.
May it be so.
Life is change
It has happened for you and it will continue
May our coming together be a force for positive change
For change that leads us toward growth for ourselves
And a brighter future for our world