The Practice of Community

Class Presentation

Movies are truly modern-day storytelling instruments. They have the power to reach massive audiences, which is why they should, and do, matter so much to society. Whether they are stories of afar or just everyday existence, good movies are a way for people, particularly youth, to understand and relate to the world in constructive ways.

Please join on for class on June 12th 2014 Betty Andrews as class member will make a presentation on what the practice of community means to her and how discovering support, encouragement and interdependence is important in our lives on our spiritual journey. Betty will share her journey as she continues to work on a film adaptation of Pedro-Perez Sarduy’s novel “The Maids of Havana”, the story of an Afro-Cuban maid’s battle over class, privilege, and power in pre and post-revolutionary Cuba. The story is the black woman’s journey by the name of Marta. It’s the narrative of many courageous and creative women of African descent who, collectively, are responsible for the survival of black people in the new world. Please read more about how you can be involved by clicking on this link

The following is a short you tube presentation is about the Maids of Havana, The Movie



The Practice of Comminity

Film Review

This week you are invited to watch the film The Village which explores the value of community. Please see a review below.

The Village

Directed by M. Night Shyamalan Buena Vista Home Entertainment 01/05 DVD/VHS Feature Film PG-13 – a scene of violence, frightening situations

If you want what visible reality can give, you’re an employee.

If you want the unseen world, you’re not living your truth.

Both wishes are foolish, but you’ll be forgiven for forgetting that what you really want is love’s confusing joy.

— Rumi in The Essential Rumi

To be spiritual is to have an abiding respect for the great mysteries of life — the profound distinctiveness of other people, the strange beauty of nature and the animal world, the ineffable complexity of our inner selves, and the unfathomable depths of the Inexplicable One. Through the practice of mystery, we learn to live with paradoxes and give up the idea of always understanding everything. We are able to rest in the riddle of not knowing.

In India they use the term “old soul” to describe someone who is ripe enough to experience the deepest mysteries. We usually think of mystics, not filmmakers, when we speak of these individuals, but M. Night Shyamalan certainly qualifies. This young writer and director of Hollywood movies has created a series of very unusual and popular stories that all deal, in one way or another, with mystery.

Leonardo Boff, a Latin American Catholic, has observed: ‘We never ‘catch up with’ reality itself. The real nature of mystery always evades our attempts to conceptualize it, and escapes the nets of our language and symbolism. Its depths are never plumbed. Mystery is always linked to passion, enthusiasm and all the great emotions, in short to life’s deepest and greatest impulses.” Shyamalan’s movies transport us to places where awe and wonder are the only appropriate responses to mysteries beyond our ken.

In his film, The Village, Shyamalan uses the thriller genre to explore the value of community and the soul-stirring powers of self-sacrificing love. It is set in a late nineteenth century isolated settlement run by a somber group of elders. They are proud of the simple and harmonious life they have created apart from the world. Their children are well disciplined but they also feel free enough to have some fun with their chores, splashing water on each other or twirling around while sweeping the porch. Edward Walker (William Hurt) is the most vocal elder, and he also teaches school. He is married to Tabitha (Jayne Atkinson). Their two oldest daughers are Kitty (Judy Greer) and Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard, the gifted daughter of director Ron Howard, in an Academy Award-caliber performance). Although blind, Ivy sees more than most in the village. She has a special way with children because of her sensitivity, and she also is very close to Noah Percy (Adrien Brody), an emotionally troubled young man.

When Kitty proposes marriage to quiet and intense Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix), he turns her down. He has not been the same since the death of a boy in the community. Lucius asks the elders for permission to undertake a dangerous mission — to travel through the woods surrounding the village to “the towns” and bring back medicine so others do not have to suffer and die needlessly. His mother Alice (Sigourney Weaver) does not know what to make of this proposal, but Edward respects the kind and noble intentions that lie behind it. She becomes more concerned when Lucius says, “There are secrets in every corner of this village. Do you not feel it? Do you not see it?”

Shyamalan has imagined a community that has as its foundations fear. Everyone is frightened of “those we don’t speak of” — terrible and violent creatures that live in the forest. Although they have set up a perimeter wall with a guard tower at the edge of the woods, recently the beasts have been preying upon livestock and forcing the villagers to flee into underground shelters while they stomp on the floors above them. Red marks left on the door seem to signify that their long truce with the creatures has ended. One day Ivy asks Lucius why he is so fearless, and he responds, “I don’t worry about what will happen, only what needs to be done.” Ivy, who has always been viewed as a tomboy, gets her own chance to demonstrate fearlessness when she is called upon to save the one she loves and to take the community in a new direction.

The Village is a timely, powerful, and surprising drama about the dangers of a fear-based culture that divides the world into “us” versus “them.” Although safety is a universally recognized value, it can never supercede love and hope, two spiritual values that are saluted in the last third of this very fine movie. Shyamalan also makes the valid point that any community that focuses all its energies on the evil ones out there usually proves defenseless against the dark forces within its own walls.

Both the visible reality and the unseen world that Shyamalan has created in The Village remind us of his extraordinary skills as a master of suspense. But, as Rumi says, what we really want is love’s confusing joy. And we are not disappointed.

Book Excerpt on Spiritual Community

An Excerpt from Creating Community Anywhere: Finding Support and Connection in a Fragmented World

by Carolyn Shaffer and Kristin Anundsen

Carolyn Shaffer and Kristin Anundsen show how new webs of support are showing up all over the place. Here is an excerpt on transformation. “Fran Peavey holds what she calls her ‘annual accounting’ each year on her birthday. She invites her friends to join her for a dinner, for which she cooks something special as a thanksgiving for the support and friendship extended throughout the year. Since people come who know her but may never have met one another, Fran asks them to introduce themselves briefly. She enjoys helping people from the various parts of her multifaceted life connect with one another. Once the food is cleared away, Fran begins her ‘accounting.’ She begins with the year in her life that has just passed, reflecting upon the accomplishments and highlights as well as the difficulties. She tries to share as openly as possible how the year has felt from the inside. Then she addresses the year ahead, speaking of the activities and challenges she foresees and the kinds of support she is going to need. Sometimes her friends ask questions or offer advice and comments.”

The Practice of Community


Kindness, Heart, Self-growth, Community, Service

by James Fadiman, Robert Frager

The Sufi way is not a path of retreat from the world but a way of seeking the Divine while still actively engaged in the world. Engagement in the world provides opportunities for spiritual growth, opportunities to practice love, awareness, generosity, and nonattachment. The Sufi approach is summarized by Sheikh Muzaffer, a modern Sufi teacher: “Keep your hands busy with your duties in this world, and your heart busy with God.” Our hearts have become frozen, armored against the pain and suffering we have all experienced in this world. With the help of a devoted teacher and sincere brothers and sisters along the path, we can defrost them. Love, service, and compassion help us reopen our hearts and comes closer to God. One of the greatest services we can perform is to help heal the injured hearts of others. Our hands are made to lift up those who have fallen, to wipe the tears of those who are suffering from the trials of this world. Sheikh Muzaffer also said, “A kind word or glance softens your heart, and every hurtful word or act closes or hardens your heart.”

Source: James Fadiman, Robert Frager in Essential Sufism

Connections, Sacrament, Universe, Reflection, Community

by Neil Douglas-Klotz

Communion reflects the way in which every wave and particle in the universe is connected to every other. Every atom, person and action is related to every other, to a greater or lesser extent. The tendency of atoms to bond, of animals to herd, and of human beings to form communities reflects this principle.

Source: Neil Douglas-Klotz in Desert Wisdom


By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat

The early Christian Desert Fathers and Mothers taught that the Way of Jesus is a path of subtraction more than addition. They strove mightily to become loving, forgiving, kind, and compassionate, but they also dropped those things that brought them down or served as a distraction from their surrender to God. They knew how to let go.

Thomas a Kempis, in the spiritual classic The Imitation of Christ, also advocated making a regular practice of letting go: “To sum up, dear friend of Mine, unclench your fists, and let everything fly out of your hands. Clean yourself up nicely and stay faithful to your Creator.”
But how does this work out practically? Usually not without a great deal of intention, effort, and patience with yourself

Letting go of fixed ideas about the way things are or how people are supposed to behave is one step, and it’s not easy. Take some cherished idea of yours and try to change it; you will see that the resistance is very strong. The mind likes the security that comes with long-held ideas. But the spiritual life requires us to constantly examine and even revise our ideas. We learn to reframe our views especially about our status and superiority over others.

Letting go of the fantasy that we can control what happens in our lives is another difficult assignment. We have been programmed by the media to believe that we can influence others and even make them love us by what we wear, how we look, and how much money we spend. But in reality, none of these things can effectively change our lives. Letting go means surrendering to the grace of God that makes things happen. In Christianity, Mary, the mother of Jesus, beautifully models this concept as a young unwed girl when she opens to grace. She doesn’t know what will happen, but she knows trying to control it is folly. In Buddhist as well, not knowing acknowledges the mystery of life and honors the inexplicable things that come our way as spiritual gifts.

Letting go of hurry and worry in this fast-moving culture is another spiritual challenge. It means relaxing our grip and all the tension that comes with it. Slowing down may be regarded as an act of subversion in the business world where we are pressed to do everything as quickly as possible. Quick thinking is rewarded, and those who can’t keep up are penalized. But letting go of speed can lead to new possibilities. “Trees do not force their sap,” the poet Rainer Maria Rilke once wrote, “nor does the flower push its bloom.” With more time, you may hear the voice of your intuition and discern the will of God.

Perhaps the everyday act of letting go that causes the most discomfort involves our possessions. One way to prepare for winter is to clear away some of the clutter that has gathered in the basement, garage, or attic. Because it’s so natural to cling to things, every choice about what to keep or discard reflects what matters to us.

Clutter-clearers will tell you that you don’t really need anything you haven’t touched in a year. But this kind of letting go should not be done mindlessly. As you pack away items for a donation or even as you put them in the trash, you can pause for a few seconds to remember how they have served you. Remember, too, that the less you have, the more you will appreciate what you have and the more attention you can give your things. Here subtraction becomes a catalyst to gratitude.

That is one of the marvels of letting go: it always leads to a deepening and an enrichment of our lives.

Forgiveness Quotations

Never forget that to forgive yourself is to release trapped energy that could be doing good work in the world.  — D. Patrick Miller

Forgiveness is something freely granted, whether earned or deserved; something lovingly offered without thought of acknowledgment or return. It is our way of mirroring the goodness in the heart of a person rather than raising up the harshness of their actions….it allows us to live in the sunlight of the present, not the darkness of the past. Forgiveness alone, of all our human actions, opens up the world to the miracle of infinite possibility. — Kent Nerburn in Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace

The practice of forgiveness is our most important contribution to the healing of the world.
— Marianne Williamson in A Return to Love

An Excerpt from Calm Surrender: Walking the Path of Forgiveness by Kent Nerburn

In this down-to-earth book on forgiveness, Kent Nerburn sees it as the spiritual practice of love put into action. In this passage, he confronts one of the major dilemmas facing those who need to forgive.

“This is the dilemma that faces us all when we decide to walk the difficult path of forgiveness. Are we complicit in wrongdoing if we do not challenge those who wrong us? Or are we contributing to the darkness in the world if we get caught up in the web of heartlessness and cruelty that gave birth to the injustice?

“I don’t know. And yet I must know. Somehow, I, you, each of us, must find a way to respond to the cruelty and injustice in the world in a way that doesn’t empower those who harm others. At the same time, we must avoid becoming ensnared by their anger and heartlessness.

“One of the great human wagers is whether we best achieve this by shining a light of pure absolution into the darkness, trusting that the light will draw others toward it, or whether we stand against the darkness with equal force, and then try to flood the world with light once the darkness is held at bay.

“In either case, though, one thing is certain: Forgiveness cannot be a disengaged, pastel emotion. It is demanded in the bloodiest of human circumstances, and it must stand against the strongest winds of human rage and hate. To be a real virtue, engaged with the world around us, it must be muscular, alive, and able to withstand the outrages and inequities of inhuman and inhumane acts. It must be able to face the dark side of the human condition.

“How we shape such forgiveness is one of the most crucial questions in our lives. And, it is not easy. Sometimes we get so frustrated that we don’t think we can take it any more.

“But we can and we must; it is our human responsibility. Even though we know that forgiveness, misused, or misunderstood, can become a tacit partner in the wrongs around us, we also know that, properly applied, it is the glue that holds the human family together. It is the way to bridge the loneliness that too often surrounds us. We must find a way to build that bridge, even if four hands are clumsy and the materials at our command are flawed.”

A Teaching Story from New Age Judaism: Ancient Wisdom for the Modern World by Melinda Ribner
Melinda Ribner seeks to present “a synthesis of Jewish and New Age thought and spiritual practice.” She is convinced that Kabbalistic teachings have great relevance to the quest of today’s seekers. Here’s one example:

“Forgiveness is so liberating and is emphasized in New Age books. Rabbi Elimelech, a great rebbe of the eighteenth century, was known to ask for forgiveness of everyone in his household before Shabbos each week. He would go to each servant, each child and to his wife, begging them to forgive him for anything he might have done unintentionally to hurt them in any way. It is a good thing to routinely ask for forgiveness from people we are close to because it is very possible that we have hurt them unintentionally. People do not always share how they have been hurt.”

To Practice: At least once a week, ask members of your household to forgive you for anything you might have done unintentionally to hurt them in any way.

An Excerpt from Solitude: A Return to the Self by Anthony Storr

Psychotherapist Anthony Storr heralds solitude as a pathway to personal growth, creativity, and meaning. Here is an excerpt on joy which entails happiness.
“Although man is a social being, who certainly needs interaction with others, there is considerable variation in the depth of the relationships which individuals form with each other. All human beings need interests as well as relationships; all are geared toward the impersonal as well as toward the personal. The events of early childhood, inherited gifts and capacities, temperamental differences, and a host of other factors may influence whether individuals turn predominantly toward others or toward solitude to find the meaning of their lives.
“The capacity to be alone was adumbrated as a valuable resource, which facilitated learning, thinking, innovation, coming to terms with change, and the maintenance of contact with the inner world of the imagination. We saw that, even in those whose capacity for making intimate relationships had been damaged, the development of creative imagination could exercise a healing function. Examples were also given of creative individuals whose chief concern was with making sense and order out of life rather than with relationships with others; a concern with the impersonal which, we suggested, tended to increase with age. Man’s adaptation to the world is largely governed by the development of the imagination and hence of an inner world of the psyche which is necessarily at variance with the external world. Perfect happiness, the oceanic feeling of complete harmony between inner and outer worlds, is only transiently possible. Man is constantly in search of happiness but, by his very nature, is precluded from finally or permanently achieving it either in interpersonal relationships or in creative endeavor. . . . Some of the most profound and healing psychological experiences which individuals encounter take place internally, and are only distantly related, if at all, to interaction with other human beings.
“The happiest lives are probably those in which neither interpersonal relationships nor impersonal interests are idealized as the only way to salvation. The desire and pursuit of the whole must comprehend both aspects of human nature.

 “When from our better selves we have too long
                   Been parted by the hurrying world, and droop,
                   Sick of its business, of its pleasures tired,
                   How gracious, how benign, is Solitude.”

                                                                                                                 — The Prelude by Wordsworth



“Solitude is the foundation for meditation, prayer, and many other disciplines that lead to a healthy faith life. Learn to practice solitude, and you’ll find yourself better in tune with God, yourself, and others.

• “A first step in practicing solitude is learning to take advantage of ‘mini retreats’ or ‘little solitudes’ that comprise our days. Ideally, these moments of solitude will also be silent, such as when you first wake up or while you sip your coffee before work. More likely, they’ll include the noise of everyday life as you make your way through traffic or ride in an elevator or wait on hold for someone on the other end of the phone. The point is to make the most out of these moments by quieting the noise within yourself and being present to the here and now rather than becoming impatient or getting lost in to-do lists and worries.

•”Additional steps in practicing solitude include setting aside a small block of time each day to rest and recharge, limiting how much you speak (try to go an entire day without speaking!), and designating a quiet place (inside or outside your home) and a time when you can retreat there for a regular period of solitude and silence. One of the hardest things about the practice of solitude is to do nothing except be still and listen. Practice is the key.

•”To take your practice of solitude further, try to get away for a few half- or full-day periods each year. Or, if possible, go on a retreat for two days or more. Take little more with you than a change of clothes, a Bible, and a journal. Use this time to reevaluate where you are in life: Where do you want to be in three years? In five years? In seven years?”
— Jeremy Langford’s Healthy Spiritual Life

The Method of Centering Prayer

In the Practice of Silence class (week 3) we will focus on the spiritual practice of Centering Prayer. Centering prayer originates from the 12th century Christianity and was reintroduced to the modern world today by Father Thomas Keating. Centering Prayer is a method of prayer that guides you into the presence of God. Please watch the video below on how to engage fully in this practice

The Method of Centering Prayer
Centering Prayer is a method designed to facilitate the development of contemplative prayer by preparing our faculties to cooperate with this gift.

It is not meant to replace other kinds of prayer; it simply puts other kinds of prayer into a new and fuller perspective. During the time of prayer we consent to God’s presence and action within. At other times our attention moves outward to discover God’s presence everywhere.

Explanation of the Guidelines
I. Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within.”
A. The sacred word expresses our intention to be in God’s presence and to yield to the divine action.
B. The sacred word should be chosen during a brief period of prayer asking the Holy Spirit to inspire us with one that is especially suitable to us.
1. Examples: Lord, Jesus, Father, Mother, Mary; or in other languages: Kyrie, Jesu, Jeshua, Abba, Mater, Maria.
2. Other possibilities: Love, Peace, Mercy, Silence, Stillness, Calm, Faith, Trust, Yes; or in other languages: Amor, Shalom, Amen.
C. Having chosen a sacred word, we do not change it during the prayer period, for that would be to start thinking again.
D. A simple inward gaze upon God may be more suitable for some persons than the sacred word. In this case, one consents to God’s presence and action by turning inwardly to God as if gazing upon God. The same guidelines apply to the sacred gaze as to the sacred word.

II. “Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly and silently introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your consent to God’s presence and action within.”
A. By “sitting comfortably” is meant relatively comfortably; not so comfortably that we encourage sleep, but sitting comfortably enough to avoid thinking about the discomfort of our bodies during the time of prayer.
B. Whatever sitting position we choose, we keep the back straight.
C. If we fall asleep, we continue the prayer for a few minutes upon awakening if we can spare the time.
D. Praying in this way after a main meal encourages drowsiness. Better to wait an hour at least before Centering Prayer. Praying in this way just before retiring may disturb one’s sleep pattern.
E. We close our eyes to let go of what is going on around and within us.
F. We introduce the sacred word inwardly and as gently as laying a feather on a piece of absorbent cotton.

III. When you become aware of thoughts, return ever-so–gently to the sacred word.”
A. “Thoughts” is an umbrella term for every perception including sense perceptions, feelings, images, memories, reflections, and commentaries.
B. Thoughts are a normal part of Centering Prayer.
C. By “returning ever-so-gently to the sacred word,” a minimum effort is indicated. This is the only activity we initiate during the time of Centering Prayer.
D. During the course of our prayer, the sacred word may become vague or even disappear.

IV. “At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes.”
A. If this prayer is done in a group, the leader may slowly recite the Our Father during the additional 2 or 3 minutes, while the others listen.
B. The additional 2 or 3 minutes give the psyche time to readjust to the external senses and enable us to bring the atmosphere of silence into daily life.

What is Meditation?


As we work with mindfulness, the following video presentations are meant to serve as an introductory on how to meditate for those with little or no experience in the practice of meditation, as well as those who are experienced in other types of meditation but interested in learning a new meditation technique.  Please note that this is from a Buddhist perspective but the principles apply to any type of meditation practice. (Click on playlist to  select the required video)

In this first video, explains what meditation is, and how one should go about practicing it.

The second video explains how to put into practice the principles learned in the first video during formal sitting meditation. Sitting meditation is a simple meditation exercise that can be performed sitting cross-legged on the floor or even on a chair or bench.

The third video explains the technique of walking meditation. As with sitting meditation, the focus of walking meditation is on keeping the mind in the present moment and aware of phenomena as they arise, in order to create clear awareness of one’s reality.

The fourth video explains four fundamental principles that are essential to the meditation practice. The practice of meditation is more than just walking back and forth and sitting still. The benefit one gains from meditation practice depends on the quality of one’s mind at each moment, not the quantity of practice one undertakes.

The fifth video is about Mindful Prostration and explains a third technique of meditation used as a preparatory exercise before walking and sitting meditation.  It is an optional practice, and may be omitted if desired.

The sixth video is about daily life. The teachings in the previous videos  is enough for a new-comer to begin on the path towards understanding reality as it is and discusses  some of the ways in which the meditation practice can be incorporated into daily life, so that even when one is not formally meditating one can still maintain a basic level of mindfulness and clear awareness.


Thought of the Day

… in the end, each of us must chart a personal, unique path to God within the community of people with whom we travel. As Thomas Merton once said in comparing the spiritual life to the search for a path in a field of untrodden snow: ‘Walk across the snow and there is your path.’ No one can give you exact directions. Each person’s spiritual geography is unique.       – Robert J. Wicks, Everyday Simplicity