JOY TO THE WORLD
"Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God."a We ended last week's talk with those words from mystic Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and we begin today with them.
We have spent each Sunday this month focusing on a variety of ideas around joy, many of which were inspired by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu in The Book of Joy.b
I want to pick up today where we left off last Sunday. We looked at 4 of the 8 pillars of Joy according to His Holiness and the Archbishop. They were the 4 pillars of the mind, and today we are looking at the 4 remaining pillars, which are pillars of the heart.
And our look at the 4 pillars of the heart will be a bit brief because they are things we talk a lot about here.
To move us into those 4 pillars, I want to take a slight step back to the 4th of the 8 Pillars of Joy which is the pillar of Acceptance and of that quality, "The Book of Joy," says:
"Acceptance [is] the final pillar of the mind, and it [leads] us to the first pillar of the heart: forgiveness. When we accept the present, we can forgive and release the desire for a different past."c
And so, "forgiveness" is the first pillar of the heart and the 5th of the 8 Pillars of Joy.
I love the end of the statement I just shared ("we can forgive and release the desire for a different past") because it confirms a definition I've used for forgiveness for a very long time:
"Releasing the demand that someone or something be any different from what they were or are."
The way Nelson Mandela handled the South African situation when apartheid finally ended in the early 1990s is one of the greatest lessons in the transformative power of forgiveness.
The atrocities of apartheid had been in place for 75 years. Mandela himself was imprisoned for 26 years!
Upon his release, he became president of a country that was ripe for a bloodbath of revenge, yet he brought about an amazingly peaceful transition -- the hallmark of which was not revenge but forgiveness.
In The Book of Joy, the Archbishop said: "Now, I don't pretend that [forgiveness] comes easily [those who say that forgiving is a sign of weakness haven't tried it], but we do have a nobility of spirit. We've spoken of Nelson Mandela as an amazing icon of forgiveness, but you and you and you and you have the potential to be instruments of . . . forgiveness. We cannot say of anyone at all that they are totally unable to forgive. I think that all of us have the latent potential . . . Indeed, no one is incapable of forgiving and no one is unforgiveable."d
The 6th Pillar of Joy is Gratitude. We've spoken of this quality already this month, but it is so important, it bears repeating.
Every day, think as you wake up "I am fortunate to be alive. I have a precious human life. I am not going to waste it." The Dalai Lama has often said. "Gratitude is the recognition of all that hold us in the web of life and all that has made it possible to have the life that we have and the moment that we are experiencing. Thanksgiving is a natural response to life and may be the only way to savor it. Both Christian and Buddhist traditions, perhaps all spiritual traditions, recognize the importance of gratefulness. It allows us to shift our perspective."e
I love this idea: It is not happiness that makes us grateful, rather it is gratefulness than makes us happy.
If acceptance means not fighting reality; gratitude means embracing it. It means moving from counting your burdens to counting your blessings.
Buddhism teaches us to be grateful even for our enemies. The Dalai Lama calls them "our most precious spiritual teachers" or "sacred friends":
"When you are grateful, you are not fearful, and when you are not fearful, you are not violent. When you are grateful, you act out of a sense of enough and not out of a sense of scarcity . . . A grateful world is a world of joyful people. Grateful people are joyful people. A grateful world is a happy world."f
The 7th Pillar is Compassion. And I love the distinction this book made between compassion and empathy. While empathy is having a great understanding for, and even experiencing, another's emotions, compassion is a more empowered state where we want what is best for the other person.
As the Dalai Lama has described it, if we see a person who is being crushed by a rock, the goal is not to get under the rock and feel what they are feeling; it is to help to remove the rock.
Compassion is an innate quality in us (just like joy!). In fact, scientific studies have shown that children as young as six months old have a clear preference for toys that reflect helping rather than hindering another.
When we help others, we often experience what has been called the "helper's high," as endorphins are released in our brain, leading to a euphoric state. The same reward centers of the brain seem to light up when we are doing something compassionate as when we think of chocolate.
The warm feeling we get from helping others comes from the release of oxytocin. This hormone seems to have health benefits including the reduction of inflammation in the cardiovascular system.
Compassion, then, literally makes our heart healthy and happy!
In the book: "The Archbishop and the Dali lama had revealed throughout the week one of the core paradoxes of happiness: We are most joyful when we focus on others, not on ourselves. In short, bringing joy to others is the fastest way to experience joy oneself. As the Dalai Lama said, even ten minutes of meditation on the well-being of others can help one to feel joyful for the whole day - even before coffee. When we close our heart, we cannot be joyful. When we have the courage to live with an open heart, we are able to feel our pain and the pain of others, yet we are also able to experience more joy. The bigger and warmer our heart, the stronger our sense of aliveness and resilience."g
And there is, so very importantly, self-compassion. The Dalai Lama mentioned during the week how shocked he was to hear from Western psychologists about how many of their patients wrestle with issues of self-hatred.
Self-preservation, self-love and self-care are fundamental to Buddhist practice, so it was shocking to him to hear that people had to learn to express compassion not only to others but also to themselves. But without compassion for oneself, there is no joy.
And the final Pillar of Joy, the 8th Pillar, is the Pillar of Generosity.
The Archbishop said: "I've sometimes joked and said that God doesn't know very much math, because when you give to others, it should be that you are subtracting from yourself. But in this incredible kind of way . . . you give and it then seems like in fact you are making space for more to be given to you."h
In the Buddhist teachings, there are three kinds of generosity and all three are factors in opening ourselves up to joy:
material giving - time, talent, treasure;
giving freedom from fear - which can involve protection or solace and
spiritual giving - which can involve giving your wisdom, moral and ethical teachings and helping people to be more self-sufficient and happier.
But perhaps the greatest kind of generosity and the kind that was exhibited by both the Archbishop and the Dalai Lama throughout the book is "Generosity of the Spirit."
That is exhibited by being big-hearted, magnanimous, tolerant, broad-minded, patient, forgiving and kind.
And those are the 4 Pillars of the Heart:
Which combine with the 4 Pillars of the Mind:
And now we're going to move right into the burning bowl ceremony.
So, we are going to celebrate in a Unity way - celebrating in advance your most amazing 2022, where you experience Christ Consciousness and all that that brings with it in higher and deeper ways.
So let's look at creating some positive spiritual thoughts with our Burning Bowl service. This is a wonderful ritual of release, where we let go of old patterns, old attitudes that no longer serve us and replace them with positive, uplifting ones that free us. And we do this by saying good-bye to the year, 2021 and embracing and welcoming 2022. James Thurber said, "Let us not look back in anger or forward in fear, but around in awareness."i Awareness is the key. And we do that by staying present. The present holds the power of now.
Today is about letting go of those burdens that we are carrying around with us. One of Charles Fillmore's most powerful teachings is that, "We must do a mental house cleaning." So, we are going to clear out any thoughts or beliefs that are no longer serving us. Some of those things may be Negative thoughts - thoughts about ourselves or others that are not for our highest good.
For instance: unforgiveness, prejudice, hate, illness, disease, guilt, fear, or addictions
Now think about how these things have affected you throughout the years. How long have you been carrying them? That is what we are here to rid ourselves of today. In doing so, I invite you to let go and let God; to trust that you are being supported and strengthened in God's love. It says in Ezekiel, "A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you."j
So just get comfortable where you are sitting. Have a pen or pencil and the paper with the fire on it available. Relax and feel the pew supporting your body, the way God's love supports you.
Father, Mother, God let us accept responsibility for our lives, for our thoughts, feelings, actions, and reactions. Help us to now use our will to choose what we will take with us into the New Year and what we will release. We now turn over to Spirit, our negative thoughts, fears, beliefs and anything else keeping us from our good. Through the power of the Christ, we now release and let it all go. We give thanks and bless this ritual that we are about to perform
Now move your focus down to the area of your heart, and visualize a pure white-golden light glowing there, becoming brighter and brighter - radiating outward. You are becoming a being of pure light and love - pure Spirit - feel yourself floating upward and over the countryside - a summer meadow, green and lush.
You see a child playing down there, sitting in a field of daises. As you gaze lovingly at the child, you realize it is your inner child, that little being that lives within you.
There is a beautiful sack beside the child, and you know it is your sack of life. Inside the sack are all of the things you have learned along the way. Ask your inner child to open the sack and see if there are any thoughts, hurts, or experiences that are left in the sack from childhood that no longer serve your inner child. Ask the child if he or she is willing to pull the things from the sack and release them to love. Assure your inner child that the sack will be much lighter when they are able to release the things that bring hurt to your heart ... habits that you developed during this stage that are not useful to you now.
Your child says yes. Gently take the things from her or him and release them in a bubble of pure light as you write them on your paper...
Now, your child turns and hands the sack to a youth leaning against a big beautiful oak tree, watching the bubbles of a dancing brook... The sack has grown larger throughout the years of living, of learning, of experiencing. You realize this youth is your inner adolescent, and you ask him or her to open the sack and remove any hurts or habits from that stage in your life that are blocking your highest good. Let your inner self gently place these memories into a bubble of light and place them into the brook to be washed away as you write them down
Now your adolescent carries your sack to where you are, standing on a mountain where you have full view of all the experiences of your life. The sack has again grown much larger.
Invite your higher self to take hold of the sack and open it. Are there any hurts... fears... attitudes... beliefs... feelings of shame or guilt... unhealthy habits... that are left in the sack from any stage of your life that you are willing now to release? Assure yourself that the load will be much lighter when people and old hurts are forgiven, when habits are let go, when attitudes and beliefs are transformed, when fears are brought into the light.
As your Inner Self shuffles through the bag, you notice a white bird land beside you. This bird is the symbol of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the Whole Spirit of God. You bring out the hurts and fears and feelings and release them to the white bird, to carry them to the light as you write them on the paper.
Let the spirit of God work in you. Know that it is not by might, nor by power, but by spirit, active in you, that transformation happens. Give yourself a silent blessing for being open and receptive enough to become aware of that which is in need of transformation. It says in Psalms, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me."k
Now silently, meditatively, please come forward row by row, to the flame, representing the cleansing action of fire. Touch your paper to the flame to start it burning, and then place it in the bowl.
As you release the paper, release from your mind everything that you've written on that paper, knowing that the Living Spirit of Truth is healing and transforming everything right now. Say to yourself something like, "This is no longer a part of my life. The forgiving love of God in the Truth of Jesus Christ now makes me free." Then silently come back to your seat, and remain in quiet meditation until everyone is finished.
In a few minutes, we're going to experience a meditation to visualize the good you wish to see manifest in your life over the next twelve months - to visualize how your heaven on earth would look.
There are two things that keep us from being in heaven - first that we don't believe it's possible, and second, that we don't think we deserve it. This meditation will be a step in overcoming that. For a few minutes, you need to let go of all belief in limitations of time, money, ability, situation, whatever you think is keeping your good from you. You're going to write a letter to God, but dated December 31, 2022. In it, you're going to thank God for all the wonderful experiences you've had the past year - not the year 2021, which you've just completed; but the year 2022, which lies before you.
I've heard it said that thanking someone for something they've done is politeness, but thanking God for something in advance is faith. Jesus said, "So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours."l So that's what we're going to do right now. We are going to put emotion into our belief.
Before we start our meditation, please take the paper that says "Dear God..." and have a pencil or pen ready. After the meditation, we'll take a few minutes to write the letter.
In the letter, you will affirm what you want to experience as if it has already happened; that it's in your life now; not that it will come about or that you're going to do or have something. God works in the now. And if you're affirming something very specific, be sure to include a loophole for Spirit. Write "this or something better, thank you God," so that you're not putting any limitations on your good.
So, I invite you to close your eyes now, take a few deep breaths, let yourself relax, and return to that quiet, inner place of peace. Rest there, held in the beauty and comfort of the love that you are. In this peaceful place, take a moment to appreciate all that you have given and all that you have received in the past year, the year 2021. Thank yourself for the steps you have taken and the lessons you have learned. Recognize the healing you've accepted and the growth you have allowed. Let this gratitude fill your heart.
Picture yourself back on the mountain. Before you is a gateway, the gateway to your future, fresh and open, full of promise and opportunity. Behind you is everything you've experienced, everything that has happened to you in life, which has brought you to this moment, December 31, 2022. Step through the gateway and greet the new year, 2023, with open arms and a clear heart.
Begin to reflect on the past year in a positive and joy-filled way, seeing the pages of the months turning slowly. Allow the ideas and thoughts of a renewed consciousness to come into your mind. See yourself in the positive, loving light of the One Presence, knowing that your emotional, physical, and spiritual health are unfolding into the wholeness of the Christ-perfection right now...
Imagine your life December 2022 brightly shining with love and blessing, laughter and joy, purpose, peace and grace. Know that this is God's will for you. Believe the scriptures when they say, "for God all things are possible."m
Remember that you are the co-creator of your life - remove all limits and know that the Kingdom of Heaven is now. Imagine your home, the harmony of your relationships, perfect health, a rewarding, fulfilling job, all the time you need, abundance in all areas of your life. Choose to let the Christ see and speak and hear and feel and act through you. This is heaven and it is your choice to live in it. Know that in Truth, you are prosperity, you are love and wisdom. You are guided in right ways, and you are Unlimited.
And now, as Spirit moves you, and remaining in a silent, meditative state, open your eyes and write your letter to God, dated December 31, 2022 thanking Spirit for all the blessings you have received throughout the year, 2022. Affirm the good that you have received for your life, your church, and your world. When you have finished, fold your letter, take it home, and put it away until the end of 2022. Say silently to yourself, "Thank you, God, that this is now so." (write letters)
It is in releasing the old and accepting and giving thanks for the new that true freedom is ours. In the words of Jesus: "Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me."
I look forward to another year full of joyful surprises from Spirit. I see for each one of you, prosperity in all areas of your lives; and my vision for you is for many blessings, may 2022 be the year when all of your inner dreams manifest in the outer realm. God bless you and have a Happy New Year.
aPierre Teilhard de Chardin
bHis Holiness the Dalai Lama & Archbishop Desmond Tutu, The Book of Joy
cHis Holiness the Dalai Lama & Archbishop Desmond Tutu, The Book of Joy p. 333
dHis Holiness the Dalai Lama & Archbishop Desmond Tutu, The Book of Joy p. 338
eHis Holiness the Dalai Lama & Archbishop Desmond Tutu, The Book of Joy p. 335
fHis Holiness the Dalai Lama & Archbishop Desmond Tutu, The Book of Joy p. 361
gHis Holiness the Dalai Lama & Archbishop Desmond Tutu, The Book of Joy p. 383
hHis Holiness the Dalai Lama & Archbishop Desmond Tutu, The Book of Joy p. 388