“I am only one, but still I am one.
I cannot do everything, but still I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something I can do.”

Edward Everett Hale

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Setting Sacred Intentions

I don't have a particularly good track record with New Year's Resolutions. In the past I have made long, ambitious lists, and started off on 1st January with great enthusiasm, only to run out of steam by the middle of January, because once again, my heart was not in it.

I think that the reason behind this is that I have a certain inner stubbornness that doesn't like being told to do something Just Because - just because it's January 1st, just because it's Dry January, just because it's Stoptober. I know that such Special Months do help a lot of people to start the process of giving up drinking or smoking, and I applaud them for that. But for me, they don't work. I have to have a reason which is relevant to my life, at this exact time, to be able to tackle any sort of major lifestyle change.

So for example, I was able to quit smoking on 1st June 2013, when I worked out that by giving up my 15 a day habit, I would be able to afford to give my two children, then just off to university, and extra £100 a month each! Deciding to quit drinking was a more long drawn-out process, which I have blogged about here. But each time, the choice was mine, at a time of my own choosing.

So when an e-mail from MindBodyGreen landed in my inbox this morning with the title 18 Sacred Intentions to Set for 2016, I was a little sceptical. But the post, by Vishnu Subramaniam, blew me away. It really spoke to my condition. The 18 sacred intentions are about living with awareness, with integrity, being true to oneself. They are as follows:

1.   I will take less and give more.
2 .  I will work less and live more.
3.   I will do less and be more.
4.   I will speak less and listen more.
5.   I will buy less and simplify more.
6 .  I will have fewer distractions and more time for reflection.
7.   I will be less realistic and dream more.
8.   I will complain less and appreciate more.
9.   I will worry less and surrender more.
10. I will judge less and understand more.
11. I will hate less and love more.
12. I will criticise less and praise more.
13. I will follow less and lead more.
14. I will fear less and act more.
15. I will think less and go with my gut more.
16. I will please less and stay true to myself more.
17. I will require less perfection from myself and accept where I am more.
18. I will hold fewer grudges and forgive more.

I am going to print them out and put them on the noticeboard next to my desk in my study, so that I can read them frequently in the coming year. They will be my Sacred Intentions for the coming year.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

An Early Christmas Present

I know how very lucky I am, in that my other half is responsible for the main Christmas meal. And, taking after my side of the family, we have the turkey cold, and it is cooked on Christmas Eve. This for two reasons a) it makes life so much easier on the day and, more importantly, b) it tastes so much nicer. Or that's what I think.

But the early Christmas present I'm talking about isn't that. He was listening to a new three-CD collection of Christmas carols as he started to prepare the turkey for the oven, and I was sitting in the kitchen eating my lunch. To be suddenly stopped in my tracks by CD2, track 12, Star in the South

Not one of the regular carols or Christmas songs, which get played endlessly every Christmas. This one is so special to me, as I had learned it in Junior Choir in my secondary school, over forty years ago, and hadn't heard it since. I could remember the words to the first two verses, but had forgotten the title, so was unable to find it. And there it was! And now I can listen to it whenever I please!

This has given me a ridiculous amount of pleasure, out of all proportion to the event. And I feel so blessed that I *can* be made so happy, by something so immaterial and incidental. As the last-minute shoppers desperately try to find the final Christmas presents, or strip the supermarket shelves of sprouts and parsnips, cranberry sauce and Christmas puddings, I am sitting here contentedly, listening to "my" carol.

Life is good! I wish all readers of my blog (for whom I am truly grateful), a very Merry Christmas or Yule or Happy Holidays, and a very Peaceful and Blessed New Year.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

My Unitarian Christmas

A couple of weeks ago, I posed the following question to the members of my congregation's Discussion Group: "If Unitarians believe that Jesus was a first century Jewish prophet, who was completely human, but who had a very important message to share with humankind, why do we celebrate Christmas, which is all about his miraculous birth?"

And a while ago, I had an e-mail discussion with a friend of mine, who was lamenting the secularisation of society in this country. He wrote: "We are in danger of losing the communal memory of Christian myths, the Christian rhythm of the week, and the Christian cycle of the year. These are valuable in themselves, whatever meaning we attach to them. They have not been replaced by alternative in our secular society."

This rang very deep bells with me. I was brought up in the Christian mainstream at a little primary school, and sand all the C of E hymns and followed the rhythm of the Christian year. They are a part of who I am, a part of my deepest life. So when Christmas comes round, I love to attend a Carol Service, and sing the carols with gusto (while mentally exclaiming at the message of some of them, I must admit!). Yesterday afternoon, I drove to Warwick to join in the Carol Service at Warwick Unitarian Chapel, which was really lovely. The sense of Christmas community was palpable.

Warwick Unitarian chapel
Is this hypocritical of me? If I don't believe that Jesus was the unique Son of God, should I celebrate Christmas, which is all about such unlikely elements as God becoming man, and a virgin birth? But as a cultural Christian, I am still moved by the age-old story, even though I know in my head that it is mythical, and conflated from the stories in the two gospels. My heart still responds to it.

My answer, as a Unitarian, is that the Christmas I care about is more to do with the message of "peace on earth and goodwill to all men" (and women, of course). I truly believe that the message that Jesus preached - love God, love your neighbour, and don't forget to love yourself - is a crucially important one in this mad world of ours. If Christmas reminds people of this great truth, which is common to all religions, then I'm all for it.

So let us celebrate Christmas as a time when the universally applicable message of love and peace and goodwill to all is brought to the front of people's minds, and our bit of the world grows a little bit more charitable, and a little bit more kindly.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Kindness to Strangers

Yesterday morning, I decided to try a few more carpet stores in my quest to find a red circular rug for the Weiss Room in our new church (circular rugs being now as rare as hen's teeth - they are all rectangular). I was eventually directed to a particular shop, where I found just what I wanted.

So far so good.
the rug in situ, looking good!
But I was pushing my trolley out of the store, with the rug packed high, blocking my view of what was ahead, and crashed into a low metal post with the trolley, winding myself badly with the handle, and gouging a chunk out of my right shin into the bargain. The shock of the collision and the pain stopped me in my tracks.

Fortunately, someone had seen what had happened. A kind man came over and ask whether I was OK, and when I said no, I really wasn't, he offered to wheel my trolley through the rain to the other side of the car park, then loaded the rug into the car for me, wished me well, and took the trolley back to the store. Talking gently all the while about Christmas and the weather, which I found very soothing.

His simple act of kindness restored me to myself, and enabled me to carry on with my day. As Stephen Donaldson once wrote: "There is also love in the world."

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

True Rules

Just recently, I have been re-reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, which I have blogged about on here before.

She divides the book up into months of the year, with a theme for each month, and several ideas for each theme. October's theme is Pay Attention, and one of the ideas is "Examine True Rules". She writes: "Instead of walking through life on autopilot, I wanted to question the assumptions I made without noticing. ... I had my own idiosyncratic collection of principles - which I called True Rules - for making decisions and setting priorities."

And this made me wonder about what my own True Rules might be. After a little thought, I have come up with the following list (in no particular order):

  1. There is always enough time.
  2. Appreciate what you have.
  3. Always say 'please' and 'thank you'.
  4. Be open to new thoughts and ideas.
  5. Get some exercise every day.
  6. Never forget to say 'I love you' to the people you love.
  7. Life is too short to spend doing things you dislike, unless you absolutely *have* to.
  8. Do some writing every day.
  9. Live with integrity - be yourself.
  10. Always have a book on the go.
This seemingly arbitrary collection of principles actually has a huge influence on the way I live my life. I was also interested to reflect on where they had come from - a couple from my parents; one from a guided meditation session many years ago; and others from religious and spiritual books I had read, or people I had encountered. I wrote the list quite quickly, without thinking about it too much, but having slept on it overnight, and now re-reading them, I stand by them. They work for me.

Everybody's True Rules will be different. What are yours?