Dr. Arvind Vasavada, my guru and friend, my gentle, generous mentor from my seminary days, used to advise me and his analysands (counseling clients), “Be…
How easy it is to take the goods of life for granted.
I realized this in the usual way – by having something injured. Who notices how well their thumbs work? I don’t; they just do. But bang it a few times and infection sets in, making it throb with highly noticeable pain, and you’ll realize all the ways there are to bump it again and again doing ordinary things. Put a key in the lock? Ouch! Open a package? Oww! Type a sermon? Can’t hit the spacebar key like usual. Button the sleeve on my opposite wrist? Forget it.
My thumb! My amazing, strong, agile, sensitive, capable thumb – out of order, hurting, weak, barely able, sticking out like a sore thumb. It became a tender pain rod, brushing into everything I never noticed before. Now that it’s on the mend I can go back to using it without paying attention. But I’ve been reminded how important my thumbs are, and that makes me remember to appreciate also my fingers and toes, my vision and my nose, the way my body just grows and goes.
I’d guess you’re the same way. How often do you notice how your stomach doesn’t hurt? But if you get nauseous you’ll notice your stomach. We could take an inventory of all the things that work well and on their own in our bodies. We could be grateful over and over, thanking God or Life for carrying us along, hearts beating, breathing without notice, walking about if we’re able, and most of us are.
Once in a while we should be consciously glad, glad about how well everything works. We might say, “Thank God,” or we might just be amazed and appreciative, but a good way to go is to remember, enjoy and augment what’s good.
Eckhart Tolle reminds us of our propensity to latch on to what he calls the pain body. The pain body is some hurt or regret or ailment or story that drags us down in spirit, mind and body. Our bodies can ache with persistent woe. We get caught in depression, resentment, criticism, bent postures, hyper-reactive skin, fearful shame, overblown anxiety, weary wornness. We get just plain grumpy, sad, angry or hurting. The pain body can last beyond its due. We tend to think it is who we are, unable to notice the rest of our wonderful selves.
How do we change this and come to enjoy our better bodies, minds and lives?
One way is to come to church and be reminded of this bounty of goodness that is our larger reality and proper home. Not every church will do this for you. Some will trick you into not enjoying your body and life. Some will only add shame and blame to the pain body. I’m here to shift us away from persistent, pesky pain and open the pathways to peace, pleasure and prosperity.
I like Tolle’s rational advice. He says if you’re in a situation you don’t like, you can try to change it. If you can’t change it, you perhaps could leave. If you can’t change it or leave, you can change your attitude. Much of our lives is situational, largely beyond our influence. We’re stuck in this political moment, in this huge, relentless increase in global warming, in this culture with certain anxiety memes holding sway in our minds. They all hijack our attention and confuse our intention, replicating our problems without our noticing. Since we have only a bit of sway in these, and we can’t leave, we can change our attitude for the better.
We can change our attitude one thought, word or deed at a time.
Brain science has shown us how stuck we get in a “negativity bias.” In our limbic system, deep in, fear central rules. The amygdala remembers hurt and guards us to not have it again. It warns us to be wary. We easily remember that argument, slight, fight, or injury. We go self-protective, hiding out, or ready to fight back. We don’t realize how ordinary and limiting such a negative brain direction is.
There are far more neurons coming from the amygdala to the forebrain than there are from the thoughtful forebrain back. If we want to override the pain body the amygdala maintains, we have to create new neural pathways for brave, healthy thought to frequent. Deliberately ensconcing positivity into our thoughts, words and actions creates positive paths that we can find and frequent again.
When we dwell on any goodness in our lives, really consciously affirm it, revel in it, be grateful for it, share it, we create a happier habit than that old pain body was. Bit by bit, we overrule our negativity bias with a positivity blessing. We could say a sort of grace before, during, and after a good meal. We could accept a compliment. We could remember to be grateful for the simple goodness of life.
I remember a little prayer in an old Universalist hymnal, “Give me good digestion, Lord, and something to digest.” So simple. So good.
In this harvest season, we can have both. Having feasted on all the fruits of summer (watermelons and blueberries come to mind) we’re ready for some squashes. We go to the farmer’s market and easily pick up our share of the colorful bounty. We take in the friendly encounters. We’re glad for strawberries and beets, for our belly and our feet, for our minds that greet good feelings with new thoughts complete with gratitude and growing joy. We give our brains the goodness that comes back to bless us and those around us.
Did you know that most of your brain is occupied with running your body? We think with only a bit of our brain. But what we think influences how our bodies live well or not. We can have some limited influence by deliberately casting appreciative and caring thoughts towards others and ourselves.
When I drink a glass of water I think, “Hello, water! Welcome again to my body. Here you are, four billion years old, yet refreshed again. I love you. Go tell all your cousin molecules how much I love them,” and I drink it. Probably the water doesn’t hear me or get my vibes, but I hear me and get my vibes. Down the water goes, working its magic in a billion little places. When I release the water later I say, “Bye, water. Thanks for flowing through me. See you later.”
As you know, I am a fan of Genesis One, where Elohim God evolves a universe in six stages, declaring natural existence “good.” But in Genesis Two/Three in the Garden of Eden story, the subtle deceiver tricks people into an alienating version of “good and evil,” resulting in their shame, blame and pain. By thinking they know good and evil they become alienated from their own bodies, each other, their garden home, and their God. I recommend we remember the original and ongoing God-given, natural goods of Genesis One: Light is good. Water is good. Life is good. Humans, males and females, are good.
But we’re like Adam and Eve, being swayed by misleading goods: Religions tell us unquestioning belief is good, while doubt and thinking for one’s self is bad. We’re sexual all our lives, providing us God-given pleasures and connection, but some label that bad, judging it immoral, shaming it, punishing it. Zealots and militarists laud obedience, pumping up murderous sanctimony, willing to kill and die for their cause. Advertisers pair such natural goodness as a waterfall to their anti-natural products, as in, “Take a breath; it’s springtime! Salem Cigarettes.” Some parents strap the buckle end of the belt hard across their precious child’s back, thinking they’re “raising them up in the way they should go.”
The subtle deceivers are many, but the real goods are more. We’re built to be smart, sexy and able. We’re given reliable natural systems, from microbes to ecosystems to far-flung galaxies. We have self-constructing, self-repairing bodies. We’re learning the value of soil, rivers, oceans and air. We know how kindness soothes others and smooths society. We treasure, protect, and promote a culture of intelligence, fairness, peace, art and mutuality. We know the goods are grown by favoring them, enjoying them, augmenting them, replenishing them.
In this era of fake presidents and factual global warming, of mangled government and mismanaged environment, it is easy to get so cynical we grow numb. Irritable apathy can set in. Snarky meanness on top of truly bad news riles our negativity bias. Lest it drag us into the morass and cause us to do injury to our own bodies and each other, we need to deliberately and persistently practice peace and pleasure, dwelling in and augmenting the good.
Many religions teach the non-scriptural trinity. Ours favors another form: truth, beauty and goodness. These are our natural home, our lovely home, our own real home. This is where and how our Creator wants us to live. This is what we can see in ourselves and give to each other. The subtle deceiver tricks us with misleading goods and evils, but we’re made in the image and likeness of Creation. We don’t stay stuck in the sin of shame, blame and pain; we rise to our real selves to tell our truths, to see and be beauty, to live in and for the goodness we are.
This little fellowship here in Grants Pass, Oregon, it is a blessing on us from the past that we enjoy now and bequeath to the future. No longer do we have our feet held to the fire for praising an alternate trinity. No longer do we fall into the false judgment of dividing humanity into the chosen and the damned, for we’re all in this together and our only salvation will be as we are all saved.
No longer do you lose your funds renting someone else’s space. Now you invest in your own resources, your own activities, and your own growing goodness. Each UU fellowship has a character. You are free to craft this one’s. Your main worships and your various groups are already praiseworthy; new programs and people will fit right into this liberal legacy of love. You can come here to be welcomed and affirmed, reminded that from your bones to your brain, you are an incarnation of truth, beauty and goodness. You can find it in yourself and give it to each other. You will create a synergy of health and happiness for yourselves, those yet to come, and this lovely southern Oregon community.
Let us pray: Oh, Thou who we don’t know for sure whether You exist and are hearing this prayer or not, hear this prayer. We are in awe and gratitude for the natural existence of energy, matter, and life. That we humans are alive with ability to dive beneath the waters and fly into the skies, that we have bodies that let us be and an ecosystem that comforts and enables us, that we are able to feel good about ourselves and give that to each other ─ for this underlying and overarching goodness, we thank You. As we gather the colorful bounty of our harvest season, let us also be nourished by its beauty and the truth of such beauty and goodness in ourselves. May we honor the goodness we were born to incarnate by enjoying and sharing it. May this fellowship be a beacon of open-minded, kind-hearted souls, tending our place in this garden with gladness, generosity and joy. Dear Creator, may we come alive with Your goodness, exalting our incarnation with creativity and love. As we are given this goodness, may we cherish and magnify it in our lives and the life of this fellowship and world. From this harvest we plant these seeds. Grow, oh good One!
Reverend Byron Bradley Carrier
For the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Grants Pass
Grants Pass, Oregon
© October 29th, 2017