10 Tips for Living a Good Life

Sunday Gathering 28th June, 2015

This Sunday gathering had quite a different format from usual, as the "10 tips" were woven throughout the hour. The entire structure of the gathering is included below.

Chalice lighting

You have come here today for a reason
Or maybe many
The weather is not bad, so you’re not here just to stay warm and dry
There may be some curiosity
You might love the music
You might need support or have support to offer
Among the many reasons for being here today, there is one we may not always think about - but it may make the biggest difference of all
Hear, amongst people who share important visions and deeply held values, we become more the people we hope to be
Community has an almost magical way of reinforcing ways of being, and in a community that values inclusion, acceptance, and deep living, this is a place where we grow in all of those directions
Let the flame we have lit today remind us of the many sustaining lights of community - lights of values and visions - lights of commitment and compassion - lights that combine to hold and heal us 
It is good to be together

Today is going to be a bit different from our usual Sunday Gathering. Instead of the usual message from me, there are going to be ten!  And they will be woven throughout the hour. On this last Sunday of our three month theme of #LiveDeep - We’ll find something of a concluding time today - Ten top tips for living a good life.

The first one just happened 

Number 1 - “to live a good life, surround yourself with people who exemplify the values you want to live.” You are here. You are well on your way to living tip number 1. 

Nine more top tips to come. I hope this hour feeds your spirit, makes you smile, prompts you to think, and makes you at least a little bit uncomfortable - which is always a part of growth. I hope this morning helps you in your own journey toward wholeness.
Whoever you are, you are not alone. You are welcome here. 

Tip number 2 is “Want what you have”
That’s a different of saying something that may be obvious but is also hard: exercise gratitude. One of the most essential life skills is learning to deeply appreciate everything you have, everything you have access to, everything around you.
It is easy to focus on what you don’t have. When my friend and colleague Rev Liz Lerner Maclay was here, she called her topic “Letting go of what we don’t have.” Each of us has images of the way things “should” be in our lives and what we “should” have, and the surest way to dissatisfaction in life is to focus on what we don’t have - especially on what someone else has.

The path to gladness is learning to love everything we’ve got. Love your feet, love your liver, love your veins and arteries, love the buses, love the Tube, love your freedom, love the rain… love everything that has anything loveable in it. That’s not everything, but it’s a lot more than we usually consider.

Let’s sing Morning Has Come now - number 1000 in Singing the Journey, because today - like every day we have the privilege of living - morning comes - a new day dawns - and there is hope and peace and love and we should celebrate! Dance with joy and sing a song of gladness.

Tip number 3 comes in the time for all ages. “It’s not important just because they say it’s important.”  
[A story was told about a mouse who saved a trapped lion even though all the other animals were gleeful at the lion's predicament. The mouse did what she knew to be right despite what everyone else was saying!]

Living a good life tip number 4. “Work to make a better world.” 

A good life is not simply about being happy. Laughing and smiling are important. Having fun is important - so important that the theme for the next three months involves “play.” 
A good life also involves meaning and doing good work. To my mind, there is no work more meaningful than that which leaves the world a better place. It can be the way you raise children, teach, support, change laws, tear down oppression, or it can happen simply through the kindness you offer to all those you encounter. 

To live a good life, we need to know that we are part of that journey to a better world - to a land we create with millions of everyday actions - small and large.

Come and Go with Me Singing the Journey 1018

If I Had My Life to Live Over, by Nadine Stair

I'd dare to make more mistakes next time.
I'd relax. I would limber up.
I would be sillier than I have been this trip.
I would take fewer things seriously.
I would take more chances.
I would take more trips.
I would climb more mountains and swim more rivers.
I would eat more ice cream and less beans.
 I would perhaps have more actual troubles but I'd
have fewer imaginary ones.
 You see, I'm one of those people who live sensibly
and sanely hour after hour, day after day.
 Oh, I've had my moments and if I had it to do over
again, I'd have more of them. In fact,
I'd try to have nothing else. Just moments.
 One after another, instead of living so many
years ahead of each day.
 I've been one of those people who never go anywhere
without a thermometer, a hot water bottle, a raincoat
and a parachute.
 If I had my life to live over, I would start barefoot
earlier in the spring and stay that way later in the fall.
 If I had it to do again, I would travel lighter next time.
I would go to more dances.
I would ride more merry-go-rounds.
I would pick more daisies.

Tip number 5 is “Take the right amount of chances.” 

Nadine Stair’s poem is from the perspective of a person - someone like me - who avoided risks - big ones and small ones. Life is dangerous at times. There really are hazards and the news is full of them. Sometimes it would be nice to see a headline “boy walks home alone at night and nothing bad happens” or “nice man turns out to be actually nice” or “British tourist visits India and has a good time. Nothing bad happened.”

Some of us are terrified much of the time, if it’s not GMO crops that will get us, it’s ebola or nuclear power. We can worry about chemicals in our environment, terrorism, climate change, infection, and on and on and on.

Living to minimise risk is not living. Living requires accepting risk. But balance is essential. We also all know people who take too many risks and their lives are the worse for it. Take chances, but find the right balance.

The New Unity choir is going to sing now - and they’re taking a risk in doing that and they’ll be singing about how sometimes you just gotta do it!
By the way, you might take a risk too and show up at 9:45 am any Sunday to join up with us.

Do when the spirit says do
The New Unity Choir

Tip number 6 is “know yourself.”

How much do you really know about yourself? When we’re little, we don’t understand anything. We don’t recognise if we’re sad or hot or cold or angry or happy. We operate pretty much on automatic. And that includes not even knowing we're about to expel something unpleasant from one of several orifices…

When we get a bit older, we do start to recognise how we work. We can tell when we’re sad or happy. We can sometimes recognise that we’re angry, although often after the fact, and we might start to learn about the things that cause us to feel these ways.

But we also figure out ways to prevent feeling because it’s too hard sometimes. There are lots of strategies - busyness, drugs, denial… and all of them leave us less in touch with what is happening in our inner life - and less able to participate fully in the life that is all around us.
A good life includes a continual process of coming to understand who we are and how we work. The person who understands why something affects them in a particular way has greater control of their life and more ability to live with others meaningfully, lovingly, and joyfully.

We’ll share a time of stillness now to be present to ourselves.

[A time of stillness for reflection and meditation]

We’re about to take a collection now, and this brings us to good life tip number 7. “Help others.”

Happiness is a funny thing and gaining it can be counterintuitive. When I say "happiness", I don't mean fun or pleasure, I mean the deep kind of happiness that comes without laughter or necessarily even a smile. It’s the kind of happiness that - when we reflect on the whole picture of our lives - we say “yes - I’m very happy.”

That kind of happiness does not yield to chasing happiness. Think about happiness like a bird. Go chasing after a bird and it will fly away fast and high - out of sight. But build the conditions right and the bird is there - eating happily from your bird feeder or perched in the shrubs you’ve grown specially to invite it.

One of the ways we build the right place for the happiness bird to alight is - paradoxically - by making others happier - by helping others.

Collections at New Unity are donated to selected charities. This month, we are supporting The Pete Brennan Trust. The Trust was set up to honour the the memory of Brennan’s tireless support for students who had difficulties in accessing the full range of educational opportunities. The trust provides funding to enable all children to have such access. http://www.sns.hackney.sch.uk/Pete-Brennan-Trust

Tip number 8 is “cultivate compassion.” 

Invariably, if you don’t live in a self-contained bubble, encased in steel, and hidden away in the top of a high tower, someone sometime is going to hurt you. It might be just that they jump the queue in which you’re standing. They might be rude. They might say things that make you feel worthless. They might cause serious damage to you emotionally or physically.

That’s bad and you probably can’t prevent it entirely. But you can make the injury worse when by carrying around anger and suspicion. It becomes worse when you come to assume that people are bad and that they are generally out to get you.

The truth, as I understand it, is that we are all flawed. That is part of being human. And because we are flawed, we do stupid and often hurtful things.

The more we understand this and the more we recognise the suffering in all of us, the more we are able to engage with the world in a more open and less fearful way. This understanding is called compassion.

As we do each week, we will now light candles of joy and sorrow. Anyone with a personal joy or sorrow is invited to light a candle silently or to also share words to talk about what is on their heart.

We do this because we are here to support one another and to celebrate together.
We also do it because knowing each others’ inner life helps us to each grow more compassionate.

[Lighting of candles of joy and sorrow]

Tip number 9 follows from our most painful candles. Sorrow and even tragedy visit every one of our lives. When they do, the important question is how we will respond - what comes next?
Think about the difference between eggshells and bones. They have a lot in common. They are made by living things. They are made of similar materials. And yet, they behave very differently when they are damaged. An eggshell is damaged irreparably. Shattered. Bones heal - and the point that was broken actually becomes stronger than the surrounding bone - stronger than it was before being damaged.

Eggshells are dead things. Bones are alive. Number nine reminds us to look for life in hardship - look for the opportunities for growth when hard times come. After the pain, find comfort. After the comfort, learn to sing and dance again.

Comfort Me - Singing the Journey 1002

Closing words

This time we spend together will shortly come to an end
We came together in this place, and - before long - we will disperse
Everything is temporary
Some things last longer than others, but nothing endures
When we live in the past or the future, we fail to live
Life is here, now, in the present. In this very moment.
Number 10 - be fully present to the here and the now
Be awake
Be alive
Live fully
Live well
May it be so.