‘Cultivating Inner Peace’ – 06/09/20
Opening Music: Spirit of Life
Opening words: Hello everybody, it’s Sunday morning and we Kensington Unitarians, plus friends from near and far, are gathered once again here on Zoom. I’m Sarah Tinker, and I’m glad to be leading this service with its theme of Cultivating Inner Peace – because inner peace – well that’s something I could personally do with a bit more of in these ‘interesting’ times in which we are living. What about you. How are your inner peace levels this week? Are you gliding serenely through life – like the proverbial duck gliding through the water – effortlessly it seems, yet beneath the surface your little webbed feet are working furiously? Are you feeling rattled by the twists and turns, the conflicts and confusions, that seem to be an inevitable part of our collective lives at present? Or have you got this inner peace thing well and truly sorted? In which case, will you stay for our virtual coffee and chat time at the end of today’s service and tell the rest of us how to tick inner peace off on our ‘to do’ lists?!
There’s a lot I still need to understand personally about inner peace – but what I do know that it has some connection with our breathing and with our physical selves – so let’s take one of those calming, gentle yet deep centring and grounding breaths – breathing in down into our bellies and breathing out with a sense of release and arrival – here in this present moment. And that gives me chance to welcome those of you listening to a podcast, or watching a video of this service on YouTube some time in the future. It’s great that we can connect with you in this way.
Those of you who are with us on Zoom and are new to our Sunday morning gatherings please feel free to join in at a level that is right for you – it’s fine just to sit back and listen and switch off your video if that’s more restful for you. There’s no need to join in, in any active way, although there is chance to speak and sing if you want at several points in this gathering. But your presence here in community is what matters most so please make yourself comfortable……
Some opening words written by my ministry colleague Andy Pakula
Although we can not be together physically
We come together nonetheless
We see each other’s faces
We hear each other’s words
And we arrive at this virtual place as a community
As a people committed to one another and to our bold purpose
Even without the touch of a hand, we know togetherness
Even without an embrace, we know mutuality
May the light of solidarity grow ever brighter
May we be together for one another and for the world
Chalice Lighting: And I light our chalice flame, connecting us with Unitarian and Unitarian Universalist communities the world over, the warmth of its flame reaching out to all of you across the physical distances that separate us, reminding us that connections of the heart transcend all barriers. Our community connects us all and reminds us that we matter to one another and that we are loved and cared for. This one flame reminds us that we are one people, the human race.
Candles of Joy and Concern: Each week when we meet in our building in Notting Hill or here in our online congregation, we share candles of joy and concern, where we invite one another to light a candle and share something that is in our heart. So here in our Zoom service we’ve a good few minutes for some of you to tell us of a joy or a concern, and to light a candle, real or imaginary – visitors you are most welcome to join in. When you are ready to speak you can unmute yourself and speak out so everyone can hear and then re-mute yourself when you’ve finished speaking. Do give it a go if you’d like to, as it’s quite special to hear some other voices and perspectives, and let’s stay aware of how long we’re speaking for so others have chance to speak too. And I suggest we each now switch to gallery view on our own screens so we can see everyone. Our hosts Jane and Jeannene will do their best to spot if someone wants to speak and can’t unmute themselves.
These joys and griefs, spoken and unspoken, weave us together in the fabric of community.
Prayer and Reflection: Let’s bring the joys and concerns we’ve heard expressed today into our time of reflection and prayer, along with all those issues we carry quietly in our hearts. Our prayer today is a little different from usual, it’s a prayer for peace written by Joyce Rupp of the Servite community and it invites us to place our hands over our hearts and then open them before us at several points.
Let’s make ourselves as comfortable as we can, take a bit of time to turn inwards, to bring all of ourselves to this moment, align ourselves with that which guides our living in this world, the source of life’s meaning and purpose for us, the ground of our very being. Let’s be aware of the light coming to us from outside, perhaps be aware of where the sun is in the sky at this time of day for you.
Send Peace to your loved ones Place your hands over your heart. Move your attention toward your inner being. Slowly move further inward until you reach that place deep inside of you where abiding Peace dwells.
Now allow your attention to move toward your loved ones. Recall their presence in your life. Then open your hands and extend them outward, palms up. Send forth Peace from your heart to those you love, especially those who might not be at peace with themselves or others on this day.
Send Peace to the Suffering Ones of the World Place your hands again over your heart. Move your attention toward your inner being. Slowly move further inward until you reach that place deep inside of you where abiding Peace dwells. Bring to mind the suffering ones of our world, especially those who live in fear of being harmed in any way. Open your hands and extend them outward, palms up. Send forth the deep Peace in the centre of your being to these suffering ones.
Send Peace to Those Who Consider You Their Enemy Place your hands again over your heart. Move your attention toward your inner being. Slowly move further inward until you reach that place deep inside of you where abiding Peace dwells. Bring to mind those known or unknown who consider you an enemy. Open your hands and extend them outward, palms up. With as much true intention as will arise within you, send forth the deep Peace in the centre of your being to those who consider you their enemy.
(taken from Fragments of Your Ancient Name by Joyce Rupp)
Peace Bringer, come to all hearts at war.
Move them to lay down their weapons,
To cast aside bitterness and resentment.
Bring your peace to hardhearted ones.
Lessen the grip of those who desire revenge.
May your peace release whatever binds
And free all those held captive by hostility.
And now Jenny has a reading for us and she’ll start by telling us a bit about it.
Reading: Symptoms of Inner Peace
The reading we’re going to hear now was written back in 1984 by Saskia Davis. She was working as a nurse with peer support groups for people with chronic or life threatening illnesses. She describes how she sat down to write, not at all sure what she wanted to say, and the words came pouring out of her onto the page. For her, these words felt like a ‘gift of grace’. And as sometimes happens, this piece of writing The Symptoms of Inner Peace took on a life of its own. You can find it in so many places and in so many forms and over the years it’s been translated into different languages. But what we’ll hear today is its original form. And Saskia Davis wrote it with some humour but also with a deep awareness of our human anxiety about infectious diseases. She was writing at the time when the so called AIDS epidemic was arriving in public awareness. People were frightened. Her words were not a denial of people’s very real and understandable fears but an encouragement to trust our inner wisdom.
This what she wrote:
Be on the look out for symptoms of inner peace. The hearts of a great many have already been exposed to inner peace and it is possible that people everywhere could come down with it in epidemic proportions. This could pose a serious threat to what has, up to now, been a fairly stable condition of conflict in the world.
Some signs to look for:
• A tendency to think and act spontaneously rather than on fears based on past experiences.
• An unmistakeable ability to enjoy each moment.
• A loss of interest in judging other people.
• A loss of interest in interpreting the actions of others.
• A loss of interest in conflict.
• A loss of the ability to worry. (This is a very serious symptom.)
• Frequent, overwhelming episodes of appreciation.
• Contented feelings of connectedness with others and nature.
• Frequent attacks of smiling.
• An increasing tendency to let things happen rather than make them happen.
• An increased susceptibility to the love offered by others as well as the uncontrollable urge to extend it.
Be aware! If you have some or all of the above symptoms, please be advised that your condition may be too far advanced to turn back. If you are exposed to anyone exhibiting any of these symptoms, remain exposed only at your own risk. This condition of inner peace is probably well into its infectious stage.
Meditation: ‘The inner smile’
And now we move into a time of meditation, this is an inner smile meditation technique – which I learnt from William Bloom but which goes way back in the Taoist tradition – so you might want to get into a comfy position where you can relax for 6 minutes or so – there’ll be a few words about our ability to hold ourselves and our lives more lightly, that will lead in to 2 minutes in silence and our silence will end with some music. Feel free to switch off your video for this section if you prefer, and remember that you don’t have to follow these suggestions at all – they are just suggestions and you may have your own way of relaxing and going deeper. But if it works for you, you might close your eyes or soften your gaze and take one of those lovely breaths that go deep into the belly and as you release the breath you can imagine a wave of relaxation spreading down from the crown of your head, over your face and neck and shoulders, that wave of relaxation working its way down your hardworking back, helping to straighten and find ease, down through your legs and feet and toes and out into the ground, releasing all bodily tension. And now using your powers of imagining, bring a feeling of an inner smile into your body, you might find a smile gently playing on your lips and allowing that sense of ease of your smile to fill every part of your body as your breath continues to calm and soothe you and that inner smile brings a sense of warmth and comfort. Let your whole body smile, let every cell of your body have a bit of that smile, feel the peace that a smile can bring in every part of you now and for the next few minutes of silence and then music – let today’s inner smile meditation really help you feel at ease in this world as we enter the fellowship of silence together now, a silence that will lead into the prelude from Bach cello suite no1 played for us by our music scholar Abby Lorimier.
Address: Cultivating Inner Peace
I’m doing what worship leaders often do in this address – teaching what I most need to learn. When it comes to inner peace I’m still in the junior class. Which is why I like to ask people what their particular ways of steadying themselves are in life. And over the years I’ve collected a goodly few of these methods which I’ll mention in a bit.
But let’s start by thinking of the opposites to inner peace – because they may be a little different for each of us. I wonder how you would you describe your opposite of inner peace? Some people describe having a restless mind or body don’t they – a feeling that they can’t settle to anything, or anxious, repetitive thoughts that swirl around – especially in the middle of the night when we lie awake. Does the word agitation express your experience, or maybe grumpiness or downright fear?
I’m grateful for the work of Rick Hanson – who writes extensively about the Neuroscience of Happiness. If you’re interested there are lots of his materials available online for free. He helped me understand the human brain’s negativity bias – how we are wired to notice negatives more than positives – as a survival technique. He explains that “The brain is very good at learning from bad experiences, but very bad at learning from the good ones,” and that is why our attention may focus more on anxiety, trauma, and suffering – rather than on the good stuff of life.
But we all have our ways of dealing with this negativity bias and ways of finding the inner peace we so yearn for. If we’re fortunate – the ways we find inner peace are themselves helpful to us rather than harmful. Because this is addiction territory – our addictive behaviours have their roots in our fears and in our longing to soothe our agitations.
Here are some of the paths to inner peace people have described to me over the years:
Many people use simple mantras that help calm them. One of my favourites is from The Course in Miracles ‘I could see peace instead of this’.
Others use visualisations – remembering a happy time or place perhaps.
Our hobbies can be a source of inner peace – playing or listening to music, gardening, sewing, knitting, cooking, being out in nature, walking, swimming, caring for pets – they all take us out of ourselves don’t they and give us an outward focus – rather than remaining stuck with the repetitive, spinning nature of our thoughts.
And I know that many of us have spiritual or philosophical perspectives that are very helpful antidotes when we are restless or anxious. Some of you will remember congregation member Will Lyons who so loved the work of Spinoza and his famous saying ‘from the aspect of eternity’ – take another perspective on life’s issues – move away from the focus on self for a while and develop a wider, longer view – for we are but tiny sparks of life, here for such a very short while in a magnificently immense universe.
To become aware of the quality of our thoughts is probably for most of us the first important step on the path to inner peace. And finding a way to accept what is in life is, rather than railing against it, is often the second step needed to discover inner peace within ourselves. You may have heard the Zen Buddhist story of the general, notorious for his cruelty, who led his army through the territories of his enemy. People fled from the towns and villages up to the safety of the mountains – desperate to escape from the cruel general and his soldiers who were free to maim and kill all they found in their path. The army arrived one night in a village that was deserted except for a monk who had stayed to take care of the monastery. On hearing that there was someone who did not seem to be afraid of him the general marched into the monastery where he found that small man sitting in his saffron robes in solitary meditation.
“Don’t you know who I am?” shouted the general, brandishing his sword as he approached the monk. “I am the one who could kill you with his sword without giving it a second thought”.
“And I am the one”, replied the monk calmly, “who can let you kill him without giving it a second thought”.
And on hearing this, the general bowed and left.
And bowing and leaving is what I should do – this address has been long enough. Can I leave you this contradictory thought? Most of us probably agree that finding inner peace is a ‘good thing’. The ‘ability to find equanimity in the face of life’s vicissitudes’ as a spiritual teacher years ago described it to me with a wry smile. But would you also agree that at times an inner discontent is also healthy – the discontent that encourages us to improve conditions in our world, that spurs us on to make a difference? It’s been described as divine discontent – and for me that captures something of its creative energy. Inner peace does not need to be passive; inner peace allows us calmly to assess what needs to be done, based on the situation that we are now in. So may your levels of inner peace and divine discontent be just how you’d like them to be today – for we are the only ones who can make that choice. What will it be? Amen
Hymn: There’s an opportunity to sing a hymn now but if you would rather just read the words that are going to appear on the screen soon that’s fine. If you like singing then you can join in with vigour, safe in the knowledge that we will all be muted and no-one will hear you. And this hymn, To seek and find our natural mind, explores our sources of peace and wisdom I hope you enjoy this recording from the Unitarian Music Society.
Announcements: My thanks go to Jeannene and Jane and for all the essential background work of hosting today and to our musicians Peter Crockford and Abby Lorimier. It’s good to spend time with you here today. We’ll be back again for next week’s gathering at 10am here on Zoom, and you’re also welcome to join us for our 10.30 coffee morning on Tuesday. I know I mention the red DONATE button that you can find on our website’s front page just about every week – and that’s because I’d always wanted a red donate button and now we’ve got one. And best of all it works – if you press it, it encourages you to transfer money from your bank account to Essex Church’s bank. So only press it if you do have money to spare as there are many other causes in need in a time like this, including you. A big thank you to everyone who has made a donation towards church running costs in the last week – especially the people whose names I don’t recognise and so I can’t thank you in person. Because of your generous donations we can keep paying our staff to do great work to make the world a better place and to help us all find a bit more of that inner peace we’ve been thinking about today. We have a virtual coffee time to chat after the service in small groups if you’d like to join in – and we’d like to take a photo of us all as soon as the music ends, so do stick around if you don’t mind being in a photo.
We’re going to have some closing words in a moment followed by some piano music – I invite you to select gallery view on your screen now so that we can all see each other for the closing words and enjoy a feeling of connection in community.
I extinguish our chalice flame but not the warmth of this community. And I send the light of this candle out into the world that all lives might be blessed with moments of inner peace this day. And in the midst of all that needs our attention may we find ways to harness our divine discontent, and work together to build a life for all, built on principles of justice, equality and greatest compassion.
Amen, go well all of you in the week ahead and blessed be.
Closing Music: Country Garden
Rev. Sarah Tinker
6th September 2020