Reconciliation: Past, Present & Future

Reconciliation: Past, Present & Future

My mother is so much more than a mere artefact of memory. In 'A Grief Observed', CS Lewis wrote the following: “Grief is a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape.” For me these are the very early stages of a new journey, all winding into totally unfamiliar and unravelling landscapes. But as I begin to travel there I find I am not alone. I have the love of an amazing wife, a courageous brother and family. Friends - and this community in particular - are also joining me at different stages to listen to my stories and support me along the way to an unknown destination, somewhere in the not too distant future. But my most vital companion, sat right at the front with me now as I make my way through this long and winding valley will always be my mother, Susan Duran.

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Celebrate Our Future

Celebrate Our Future

This past week, we learned that New Unity has been awarded a major grant from the Heritage lottery Fund.

Richard and Mary would be pleased that our celebration will be followed by a workshop on racism. They would applaud the other work we do and, I think, they would urge us not only to talk about what they did and said but what we can learn from their lives about how to address today’s challenges. They would urge us to do all we can to make sure that the funds we have been given on the basis of their work contributes to building a more just world today.

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Enjoy the World or Change the World?

Enjoy the World or Change the World?

Ours is a world of love and a world of hate. A world of compassion and a world of cruelty. A world of great joy and extreme sorrow. A world of conception and a world of killing. A world of nurturing and a world of neglect. I want to ask how we are to live in such a world. Too often, we find ourselves in a dilemma: the ugliness of the world keeps us from happiness. The distress we feel leaves us unable to act to better the world.

Truly living means opening ourselves up - being sensitive and susceptible to all of life - its wonders and its terrors. Let us be tender and open to the world - to all it brings. Only then will be have the ability to truly savour this world and to save it.

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Celebrate for Happiness

Celebrate for Happiness

It is not only the case that our lives have more joy when we can celebrate the small achievements of the journey. It is also true that celebration at each milestone gives us the motivation to go further.

If you want to be happy and want to succeed in your goals, stop focusing only on your big goal and enjoy the journey. There is so much opportunity for joy and satisfaction along the way. The destination is necessary but don’t miss the journey because of it.

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Mindful of Happiness

Mindful of Happiness

Mindfulness is more than just focus alone. It is focus on the mind itself - watching a beginning to have a greater awareness of the process of our emotions and our thoughts. And this awareness is the beginning of the ability to shape the direction our thoughts take - whether toward the present moment or the past or future. Whether toward gratitude or toward irritation.

Mindfulness on its own though could be harsh - I see a thought and say ‘bad thought!’; I notice an emotion and judge myself for feeling that way. For happiness, mindfulness must be accompanied by self-compassion. I see the thoughts cross my mind and even though they may be anxious or angry feelings I want to push away, I offer myself care, I respond with gentle caring. The emotions rise and I respond in that kindly way I would offer to a loved one rather than the harsh reaction we sometimes direct at ourselves.

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Happiness & Helping Others

Happiness & Helping Others

Helping helps the helper. Of course, if done right, it helps the helped too, but there is something very special about helping others that makes us happier. In fact, the benefit is not only to the helper’s happiness level. Helping others benefits overall health twice as much as aspirin protects against heart disease. One study showed that people 55 and older who volunteer for two or more organizations have a 44 percent lower likelihood of dying from any cause. This is a stronger effect than exercising four times a week. Volunteering is nearly as beneficial to our health as quitting smoking!

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The Barriers to Happiness

The Barriers to Happiness

We put obstacles in the way of our own happiness. We don’t do it deliberately. We do it because someone told us to. We do it because we are afraid. We do it because we don’t love ourselves enough. We do it because we have been hurt so badly that we can’t get over it without help. We build a wall that keeps us from the thing we most want - happiness. May the wall you have built against happiness fall. May true happiness be yours and may it cause you to be someone who brings great happiness to others.

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Can You Love You?

Can You Love You?

It is easy to say ‘accept yourself’ and ‘love yourself.’  Doing it is something else entirely. For some reason, we have a tendency to be much harder on ourselves than we would ever be with a friend. And because we are so quick to condemn, we feel was must deny or hide away what we see as our imperfections. The first step to self-acceptance and self-love is to be honest with yourself. You have plenty of flaws. We all do! Being flawed is part of being human. Recognise them. Count them. List them. You may find that they seem smaller and fewer when you look at them honestly than they seem when you are busy pushing them away. They seem huge in your peripheral vision but shrink when you look at them head on.

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The Happy Hermit

The Happy Hermit

Happiness is not made of pleasure. It is not built by knitting together one pleasurable experience after another.  It depends on the development of self-knowledge and self-acceptance. It requires that we become comfortable with ourselves - not in preparation of being a happy hermit but as part of the path to becoming a person who can love others open-heartedly and without losing ourselves. Only when we know and accept ourselves can we find true happiness in a life of purpose, meaning, and deep relationship with other lives.

This week, I hope you will make some time to be alone with your own thoughts. Turn off the music or the podcast. Put away the phone. Put down the book. Sit quietly or walk without distraction. Listen to your own thoughts. Take time to get to know yourself. Take time to grow happy.

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The Discomfort of a Happy Life

The Discomfort of a Happy Life

A lot of the figures in our culture that we’re supposed to look up to seem to be having a pretty happy life. Celebrities are beautiful and smiling and moving about the world with ease. We don’t see them covered in tearful snot eating crumpets in front of the telly. I’m sure they do though. Even Beyonce.

Remembering not to feel bad about feeling bad is a gamechanger. Knowing that some days all you can do is stay under a blanket and eat crumpets and stick on the telly and watch four more episodes of the Crown, and that’s exactly the right thing to do. Noticing it’s a bad day and gently taking care of yourself. Not adding the ‘woe is me, I shall never be happy again’ layer of self-punishment on the top.

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Wanting What We've Got

Wanting What We've Got

Whether it’s dog toys, cooking gear, shoes, electronics, or whatever, I crave stuff for the burst of happiness it provides and then, when that wears off, I am on the web looking for more and better stuff. In fairness to all of us who turn to stuff and having more and more stuff, we live in a market-driven capitalist economy. If we don’t want stuff the whole system falls apart. And it’s not enough to want one great phone, we have to want the latest phone. We have to want and to want more.

We can come to be happy with the life we live if we are not confronted with how much better some others have it. The challenge, then, is to learn to want what we have - rather than to continually strive to have everything we could possibly want. Even if we could get what we want, it would only make us happy very briefly before that happiness would fade in the face of the next thing or even just boredom.

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The One True Path to Happiness (Hint: There Isn't One)

The One True Path to Happiness (Hint: There Isn't One)

Meditation, kindness, exercise, helping others, keeping a journal - these are all ways to develop happiness. In the end, working toward happiness involves two complementary approaches: first, making choices that fill your life with meaning, purpose and relationship. And second, cultivating habits of mind and body that enable us to endure hardship without losing our essential happiness.

The ways of approaching these two objectives are many. The paths to enduring happiness are long and require effort, wise decisions and much practice. But the journey is worth taking.

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Joy In Times of Adversity

Joy In Times of Adversity

That same world where the people we love eventually die, or can commit ruthless betrayals, is also where someone can look at us as if we’re the only thing on earth that matters to them. The same world where one church can be a place of judgement or abuse is also where another can be a place of support, salvation, and comfort.

Understanding this balance is at the heart of what it means to be joyful. We can’t ignore all the terrible things we experience, and we can’t ignore the wonderful things. We must find a way to reconcile these opposing realities. Our authentic selves, our well-being, and sometimes even our survival depend on our ability to live where joy and adversity overlap.

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Freedom Is Not Enough

Freedom Is Not Enough

The question of what we want freedom from is actually the easy one. We can identify many way in which we are constrained and many changes that could make us more free. The harder question to answer is what we want freedom for - what we will do with that hard-won freedom. If you had freedom from financial constraints so you didn’t have to spend your time with earning money, what would your freedom be for? What would you do with your time? Would it make your life satisfying? Would it bring you happiness?

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Death & Happiness

Death & Happiness

We know from scientific studies that contemplation of your own death causes you to focus more on what are called intrinsic motivations such as relationships, self-growth, and helping others and makes you focus less on extrinsic motivations like fame, wealth, and physical appearance. Contemplating death causes us to focus on those aspects of life that are now well-known to be associated with greater happiness - our connection to others, our potential to develop as human beings, finding purpose in our lives. Death - whether actual or simply contemplated - has a profound way of refocusing our priorities. It turns us toward the aspects of life that bring happiness. I would like to invite you, if you wish, to consider how a greater consciousness of mortality might change how you live your life.

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Consumerism & Commitment

Consumerism & Commitment

Who among us hasn’t occasionally thought that a relationship wasn’t fair - that you were putting in more than you were getting out? Who hasn’t thought that they do more than their fair share of the caring, the listening, the supporting, the initiating, or the cleaning? Relationship is eroded when everything is about getting the best deal. This corrosive effect has been called ‘commodification’ - the process by which everything - including people - becomes simply an item of trade with a value assigned by the free market.

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How To Be a Man

How To Be a Man

This talk explores the problematic notion of 'Being a Man'. What does it mean to identify - or be labelled by others - as male? How does it influence that person's self-perception and behaviour? James Arnoldi, founder of New Unity's men's group Not Just a Beard, examines the consequences of being labelled 'a man', as well as exploring his own questions of whether or not to self-identify as one.

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The Mother Label

The Mother Label

The world is bigger than our families. The world calls us to do more than give up everything else to be the best parents we can possibly be. So, if you are a mother, and you are carrying guilt about not being the number one mum in the world, I hope you will recognise that - while important - being a parent is not your only purpose in life. And for all of you, if your mother was less than the ideal mum you might have wished she was, I hope that you will recognise that she was or is human - flawed as we all are. And recognise too that - as important as you are - she was also called to be herself.

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Label Me Foreign

Label Me Foreign

There are some fascinating themes in the Purim story. For one thing, the real hero of this story is a woman – Esther. Through her courage and ingenuity, Esther manages to save her people from genocide. Female heroes are not unique in the bible, but they are very, very rare. The story is perhaps even more remarkable because of the one character that is absent. Unlike virtually every other bible tale, one key player does not appear: God. I like that because it is empowering. It seems to me a message that human beings can bring about justice - can save their people - can right the wrongs.

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Labelling Race

Labelling Race

If you feel some level of suspicion or discomfort about people who are different from you, then you are a human being. This is one of the unfortunate ways we are wired - one of the ways that evolution as tribal animals shaped us. It is then reinforced by racism in our cultures. The first step is to watch your own feelings and thoughts as they arise - to be mindful about yourself. This is among the important pieces of work we must each do to become the people we want to be - people who can contribute meaningfully to creating the world we want for ourselves and for the generations who come after us.

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