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World Community – Today and Tomorrow

World Community – Today and Tomorrow

I’ve had a surprising number of people request a copy of my service and address from last year, so I’ve decided to make them easily accessible – here’s the first presented as a full text of the service, however you can jump straight to the address here

 

 

World Community: Today and Tomorrow

Principle 6: The goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all

 

 Welcome & Opening Words

The first weekend of spring – what a beautiful day to welcome you all here.  If you’ve lived in Queensland any length of time, you’ll know that this is likely to last about… a week?  By the next service, summer may well be in full swing… even if the calendar says otherwise.

 

Lighting of the chalice:

We light a chalice at every service. This is the one symbol that Unitarian Universalists used world wide. It represents different things for different people: search for truth; community; social justice…

We light this chalice to find inner peace, love for each other, and faith in ourselves.  A reminder to be welcoming to whomever we meet and kind to all living creatures.  I would like to invite Abby to light the chalice today.  We gather around this light of hope as we share this time together.

 

Song:          #360 Here we have gathered

Here we have gathered, gathered side by side;

circle of kinship, come and step inside!

May all who seek here find a kindly word;

may all who speak here feel they have been heard.

Sing now together this, our hearts’ own song.

Here we have gathered, called to celebrate

days of our lifetime, matters small and great:

we of all ages, women, children, men,

infants and sages, sharing what we can.

Sing now together this, our hearts’ own song.

Life has its battles, sorrows, and regret:

but in the shadows, let us not forget:

we who now gather know each other’s pain;

kindness can heal us: as we give, we gain.

Sing now in friendship this, our hearts’ own song.

 

For younger members:

In essence, a community is a place where everyone belongs and everyone wants to belong somewhere safe and loving.  Every person you meet wants to belong somewhere, not only to be safe, but to feel needed, wanted and treated fairly.  While everyone likes a little bit of quiet time now and again, in our hearts, nobody really wants to be truly alone – we all want to be part of something special.  A community is a very special thing.  They can be of any size.  Some are small – like a family; some are medium sized – like your school or sports team; and some are big, really big – like the world!  But the most important thing about communities is that there is a place for everyone.

For the story today, I’d like to introduce you to a little dog who’s just looking for his place to belong…

 

Story & Discussion with children    Mutt Dog

 

Joys and Concerns

I invite anyone who would like to to come forward and light a candle to honour a special milestone, joy, or sorrow in your life.  I will light a candle for all the unspoken joys and concerns that are still held in our hearts and minds.

 

Song:          #323 Break not the circle

Break not the circle of enabling love,

where people grow, forgiven and forgiving;

break not that circle, make it wider still,

till it includes, embraces all the living.

 

Come, wonder at the love that comes to life,

where words of humour are with freedom spoken;

and people keep no score of wrong and guilt,

but will that human bonds remain unbroken.

 

Join then the movement of the love that frees,

till people of whatever race or nation

will truly be themselves, stand on their feet,

see eye to eye with laughter and elation.

 

Meditation

We will now take a minute for quiet reflection and contemplation.  This is an opportunity to centre yourself and either clear your mind for a moment of peace, or focus on whatever is in your heart for a moment of clarity.

 

Address

A few weeks ago, I was conversing with my brother about how we communicate with those around us, which then turned into a discussion about who it is that we have around us and then HOW they came to be around us.  It was interesting to me that I have a very small, tight circle of people online and a slightly larger circle of people in real life, whereas his was a tiny circle in real life, but a huge circle online.  Both of us are influenced, fuelled and challenged (for better or for worse) by those circles of people, yet we built those circles up in vastly different ways: me, preferring to let my intuition and direct experience with a person shape my circle; him, trusting algorithms to place him in the path of interesting people!  Ultimately, though, each of us has built up our own bespoke communities that fit our needs.

When you hear the word ‘community’, what does it conjure up?  In your minds eye, what do you see?  Most likely – you see people (although some people might see animals first!).

But are there many people… or just a few?

Are they in real life, warm bodies with handshakes and hugs… or virtual, names and photos on a screen with emojis and sarcasm font?

Do they look like you, speak like you, think like you, act like you?

Is there are wide variety of appearances, voices, thoughts or behaviours?

Are they family, friends (also known as the family we get to choose), workmates… perhaps even a congregation?

There is no wrong answer here, as a community can be any of these as long as there is something that ties people together.  Something that brings them together in the first place, but then keeps them coming back.  A community of any sort is what its members make it.

In any community, for it to survive and thrive, what unifies it must be outweighed by what divides it.  Sometimes these divisions can be particularly difficult to deal with and present a particular set of challenges and necessitate specific tools for success.   For the UU communities worldwide, there is such diversity in language, beliefs and individual identity that it becomes essential for members and leaders to assess activities for signs of oppression or discrimination (however unintentional) and to ensure the promotion of inclusivity, so that it can withstand such a high degree of theological diversity.  When this is done, despite this gloriously incredible diversity, individuals are able to come together for safety, support and even to be challenged.

Any community, from the smallest family unit to the largest global network, makes mistakes along the way.  These mistakes, however, are often a cloaked opportunity to learn more about who we are.  As we are exposed to differing views that may well challenge our own, we are forced to scrutinise and assess our own views and perhaps even adjust them.

The idea of accepting ‘the other’ – an idea, a person or belief – when it challenges us has to be understood to be more than an option, but a necessity.  Meeting that challenge does require tolerating a certain amount of discomfort within the heart and mind, but (as with a good massage) discomfort can be transformative.  We grow, eventually being able to view strangers as friends, especially those who might easily be ignored.  Every person has a deep seated, innate need to belong and that sense of belonging is not physical.  It doesn’t come from changing where we live or what we do for a living – it comes from within us as individual and radiates out into the communities we build.

The benefit here is twofold – by expanding ourselves and our comfort zones, we develop new ways of bolstering not only our community, but also ourselves.  By recognising and welcoming ‘the other’ in ourselves, we open the path for true growth and development as individuals, which in turn pours back into and strengthens our communities.

It takes courage to engage and stretch our selves in this way, and mistakes will be made along the way.  There will be doubt and fear.  How do we know that what we are doing is just?  How do we know that our thoughts, actions or beliefs truly are peaceful?  How do we ensure that our daily life moves others towards liberty, rather than further away from it?  These are valid questions and there is no simple definitive answer.  It is easy and often tempting to surround ourselves with those who are already like us and do not challenge us in any way, but to do this would stunt a persons growth – intellectual, moral, spiritual – but like a muscle, these all need to be regularly and gently stretched and challenged to grow and thrive.  Through conversation with others, we may not necessarily directly change either them or ourselves, but we may create the space required to embrace change.  Through regular introspection and self-examination coupled with open communication with ‘the other’, we are granted the opportunity for authentic growth.  As exemplified by the communities my brother and I had created to surround ourselves, the method of communication has changed over recent decades, but the purpose of communication hasn’t.  When we show acceptance, we affirm people as they are.  When we show them encouragement, we help propel them to who they might become.  Equally, when we fully engage with our communities, when we are vulnerable and open with them, we are granted the same gifts in return.  Authentic acceptance is more than mere tolerance – it is more challenging, but the rewards for everyone are far richer.

But let’s look at our community goals – peace, justice and liberty.

As an individual, these seem daunting.  They’re just too big.  Too scary.  Too impossible.  And that’s ok.  The tiny steps of the journey that we take on the way to these goals IS the path to achieving these goals.  A single person taking those steps on their own may achieve some level of peace within themselves, but it may be a lonely, isolated peace.  When they undertake that same journey with the support of their community, in whatever form it may take, they all benefit from the shared experience and the end result is far more than a single person could ever have envisioned.

As we look at the world today, it can be easy to lose hope.  Burning forests.  Mass shootings.  Displaced peoples.  Cruelty, hatred, fear, intolerance – sometimes from those close to us or those in power of us.  It can seem like the goals of peace, justice and liberty are further away than ever before.   However, there IS hope.  Globally, and this may surprise you, we are living in one of the most peaceful and progressive times in human history.

The percentage of people who die violent war-related deaths has plummeted through history and our tolerance for many things that were once acceptable has declined – brutality was an accepted form of amusement, human sacrifice to placate the gods was expected. Bondage and oppression as a means for saving on workforce costs was considered economical and mass killings for political expediency was merely strategic. Brutal persecution and dismemberment as customs of sentence was righteous. Slaying for minor crimes and transgressions was social order. Assassination, massacres, manslaughter and duels were all commonplace. They were all considered acceptable, if not even reasonable courses of action.

Now, these actions are generally denounced around the world. We have entire global organizations devoted to suppressing, staving off, and condemning these sorts of acts.  As a global society, the ability to recognise and respect the experiences of ‘the other’ has been instrumental in reshaping the world.

It may not seem like it, but the world community is forming fast and, more importantly, communicating even faster.  We are sharing views, assistance and resources more than ever before and further than ever before.  We are hearing about events, sometimes even within seconds of their occurrence, on the other side of the world and we are able to take local actions to effect change far away.  Individuals are forming every imaginable type of community to meet their needs and the needs of others.

We speak of justice, liberty and peace for all – these are certainly lofty goals and may well seem unattainable.  Today they are.  But what about tomorrow?  What will you do today to improve the prospects of peace for tomorrow?  What will you do today to ensure justice is served tomorrow?  What will you do today to protect liberty for tomorrow?  It’s easy to hope that someone else or some other group will step in to fix things, but remember that all groups, all communities, are made up of individuals who all contribute something, no matter how small.  Alone, their contribution may seem paltry or insignificant.  Alone and individual may feel powerless.  But when surrounded by their community, when bolstered by their peers, they are powerful.  Just as a single candle can seem inadequate and ineffectual, many candles can light the darkest cavern.  The power of community is far, far greater than the sum of its parts.

How we share our thoughts and actions is incredibly important.  When we are working towards a common goal, we share not for the fame or fortune it brings us, but to be an example to others.  In the end, does it matter whether what brings us into any particular community is a personal intuition or an algorithm, as long as we can look forward towards the future with a vision for a better tomorrow for all.

Reflection and discussion on the topic

 

Song:          #378-379

Let those who live in every land declare that fear and war are done –

Joined by the labour of their hands, in love and understanding, one.

 

Ours be the poems of all tongues, all things of loveliness and worth.

All arts, all ages, and all songs, one life, one beauty on the earth.

 

Final thoughts

Before we finish up, I would like to leave you with the words of Edward Everett Hale as they speak to the special nature of community and why every member matters:

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 that I can do.

 

Extinguish Chalice

It is now time to extinguish the chalice.  I would like to invite Abby to put out the flame today.

Let us remember that we extinguish this flame, but not the light of truth, the warmth of community or the fire of commitment.

These we carry in our hearts.

 

 

 

5 Easy Health Changes That Will Have You Feeling Better Immediately!

5 Easy Health Changes That Will Have You Feeling Better Immediately!

Life is busy. Time is short. How are we supposed to look after ourselves when we’re looking after everyone else?

Everyone knows I have five basic rules to good health, but how can you incorporate them into your life?

Here are five ways to include positive steps into your life without thinking too much about it.

1. Eat Mindfully

This means paying active attention to your food with all five senses and noticing everything about it, before you even take your first bite! To start with, don’t eat while watching TV or reading as your attention is focused on something else. It will help you feel fuller and more satisfied with your meal earlier than when paying attention to something else, potentially stopping the urge to binge or consume excess food without even noticing.

2. Introduce Incidental Exercise

While not everyone can get off a stop early from the bus or train, take the stairs instead of the lift, or walk down to the corner shop instead of being tempted to drive, there are ways to include additional exercise in your day. It’s recommended that we exercise for at least half an hour every day, but it doesn’t have to be all at once. Doing small chunks of exercise might be easier and has been found to be just as beneficial to health.

3. Go On A Tech Fast

Taking temporary a time out from social media and constant availability to everyone via your mobile phone can help you slow down and relax. You can stop worrying about what everyone else is doing, give work a break (except when you’re at work, of course!) and be more mindfully  present with your family or loved ones.

4. Give Up Sugar

Just for a little while! Ok, so everyone is doing is and you’re probably sick of your neighbour/colleague/friend from school/sister-in-law telling you how sugar is bad and fruit causes all kinds of problems.  In all honestly, there’s likely no nutritionist who will tell you that free sugar (the extra that is added to drinks, coffee, tea, cakes, biscuits and sweets) is necessary for your health. Giving it up for a few weeks can help your skin and help you make better food choices.  If you quit for at least three weeks (ideally two months), you’ll help reset your sense of taste and need less of it in the future to reach the same level of satiety – win, win!

5. Set An Alarm

A regular bedtime can help you create strong and healthy sleep patterns.  Sleep is your scheduled maintenance and downtime – it’s absolutely essential for physical and mental health!  It’s too easy to lose track of time in the evenings and before you know it it’s nearly midnight (or later!). Why not set an alarm for sleep time, just like you do for wake time?

Have we become too clean?

Have we become too clean?

There are a few ideas I’ve been toying with to do with how overt cleanliness is more closely linked with anxiety or desire for control and the effect this is having on our physical and mental health.  It’s an extremely complicated area and there are so many variables at play that it is certainly difficult to unravel them from one another – so why unravel?  Let’s look at the whole mess and see where we end up!
 
We live in a society that values cleanliness – I mean, we’ve all heard that “cleanliness is next to godliness”, right? There is also the obsession with ‘clean’ eating (which is not strictly the same kind of clean, but funnily enough also ties into the same areas of anxiety, desire for control and need to eliminate all ‘bad’ things from ones life).  So why is it that we are living longer, yet the quality of our lives (especially in the last few decades) is plummeting?  Increased rates of allergies and intolerances are certainly popping up in my clinic, but is it all down to better diagnostic techniques or is there something more to it?
Where antimicrobial gels and sanitisers were once only used in hospitals and labs, they are now staples in many handbags, nappy bags and backpacks.  In Australian society, showering morning and night (or even more often!) using surprisingly harsh products is widely accepted, despite the massive amount of water used and detergent run-off damaging our water systems – those who shower less often or with minimal detergents are seen as inherently dirty and somehow even unvirtuous.  The use of bleach or ammonia based cleaning products is standard in many homes, yet we still seem to be getting sicker.
Is the obsession with super-clean homes and bodies starting to kill us?  Not only are we avoiding useful triggers in building a healthy immune system, increasing rates of allergies and adverse reactions to innocuous triggers (the hygiene hypothesis of allergy), but the massive rise in the use of chemically based anti-microbials in cleaning supplies and personal care products (as opposed to primarily mechanical cleaning using plain soap and water) is not only wiping out the bacteria in your home, but also on your skin and potentially in your gut.
 
Why is this important?
 
Coupled with the overuse of antibiotics, we are losing our most important companions – our bacteria. The bacteria that we have in our gut and throughout our bodies are essential for so many processes, from aiding digestion to producing Vit K to even modulating mental health.  By destroying the delicate balance of microbes in and around us, we are perhaps doing far more harm than good.  ‘Fixing’ a broken microbiome is not a quick and easy task, taking months or years to repair damage to a multitude of systems.  Perhaps minimising the damage in the first place would be a far better (and more sustainable) option.
Set yourself up for success

Set yourself up for success

This month I had a conversation with a patient about vacuum cleaners and how they only work if you use them, rather than just leave them in the middle of the room.  It got me thinking about a new vacuum I bought for the clinic last year (or so I told myself…)

The new little vacuum didn’t even make it into the clinic!  I brought it home and there it’s stayed…

The old vacuum is certainly effective, but it is big, cumbersome and lives in a cupboard, while the new one is cordless, light and slots onto a little stand for recharging.  You can simply pick it up, vacuum up what you need cleaned up and pop it back with absolutely zero fuss. Since this little vacuum entered my home, I think I vacuum at least ten times as much as before!  Why?  Because it’s fuss free, it requires so much less effort to use and (most importantly) it’s visible!

This is one example of how small changes to your surroundings can change your behaviours (and even your thoughts about particular situations).  In this case, I’m still the same person, but my behaviour changed purely because it was now easier for me to complete the task.  Previously, once I actually dragged out the old vacuum I was often surprised about how quickly and easily I completed the task and wondered why I put it off for so long, but then proceeded to follow exactly the same pattern of thoughts and procrastination each and every time.

I broke that pattern by changing something, Any change, however small, can lead to a breaking an unhelpful pattern of thoughts and it’s these small changes that play a part in setting yourself up for successes, rather than repeated failures.

I’ve always advocated for enabling small successes through small changes that lead to big successes and big changes.  In general, if something takes more effort then you are less likely to do it, and if it takes less effort then you are more likely to do it.  These small changes can be as simple:

– If you have more racing thoughts at night, then keep your journal by your bed rather than in a different room.

– If you are struggling with snacking on sweets at work, keep them off your desk and away in a cupboard – having to walk to your cupboard can be hard compared to reaching into a drawer at your desk!

– If you are finding that time escapes you, take a minute to make a plan and schedule time for yourself.  Even committing to paper (and no one else!) can be enough to make it real.

– If you always have a bag of frozen vegetables in your freezer, you’re more likely to add them to meals rather than avoid spending time prepping fresh ones.

It’s human nature to do what is easiest – it’s not a moral failing or character flaw! Your environment can significantly impact your choices, your behaviours and your thoughts – so set yourself up for success and make that environment one that works in your favour rather than against you.

Add a little woo and stir…

Add a little woo and stir…

Everyone knows me as a straight-laced, by-the-book, evidence-based health practitioner.  In fact, I’m known for my extensive knowledge of rather boring facts that I can recall about almost any topic at will, but did you know I dabble in something softer, more esoteric…?

Yes, I dabble in mindfulness and self examination!

Every now and again I’m reminded that I have majors in both psychology AND philosophy (focusing on epistemology and metaphysics).  I often forget about that second one because I focus so much on the clinical aspects of my profession.  This month, I had a little reminder…

Growing up, I’d had a book on fortune telling that fascinated me and I was particularly interested in cards.  I had a theory in my early adolescent mind that while the cards were face down in the stack the top card was simultaneously all the cards and none of them – that the card ‘became’ itself upon being flipped over and viewed.  Later on, I learned about uncertainty principles, observer effects and the beauty of both physics and metaphysics in how we try to understand those ideas.

On a whim, I purchased a set of “Angel Cards” purely because I thought they were pretty and reminded me of the artworks of some of my favourite neoclassicist painters, such as Adolphe William Bouguereau.  Reading the booklet that came with them made me laugh because I didn’t feel any connection like that described within – I just liked the art!  Still, on a particularly stressful day (just before taking my 4yo son for a surgical consult regarding his recently broken nose) I decided to lay some cards down and do a reading for myself.

As always, the thought that the top card both existed already in that place and didn’t exist until I viewed it popped into my mind, but I completed a layout and read my cards.  My cards indicated Strength for upcoming changes, Nature for inspiration and Claircognisance for guidance (that last one added to my collection of random facts because I had to look up what it meant!).  I had a giggle and moved on with my day of taking my boy to hospital without giving it much more thought.

During the hours of waiting, however, I had some time to reflect on those cards.  I had time to quietly contemplate and assess what those words mean, how they enter my life and the various aspects of my life that could stand to have a little more strength, nature or claircognisance (go on, look it up!).  I found that I fixated on those words quite a lot that day and found them to be an effective focus when it was all too noisy, too bright and too hectic around me.

The cards themselves were not particularly special, but I was able to take the exercise of the reading and use it as a calming focus for myself when I needed it.  This was a practice of mindfulness and self examination in a place that is usually not conducive to introspective thought, but it was calming and soothing at a time when I needed it most.  Some people flip open a book to read a random passage and others look for patterns around them – anything can work as a focus if you are open to letting your mind have a play.

I’m not sure if I’ll do more readings, but the cards are just there, ready to prompt some new words to focus on at any time.

Festive season? Not for everyone

Festive season? Not for everyone

Who’s noticed the Christmas decorations popping up already?  Some places jump in early and start putting them up in November, whilst others like to really get a head start and have Christmas items available in October!  Whilst this doesn’t bother me one way or another, it does serve as a sign that the next couple of weeks are likely going to get tougher for many people.

Much like the archways and carpets of purple jacaranda trees in bloom were a reminder that it was really time to knuckle down and study because exams were only weeks away (I know, I know… I was one of those students!), the emergence of Christmas decoration is a signal that those who are already struggling are about to be struggling even more.

Those who are in a financial bind find this time of year particularly difficult with lower working hours and higher expenses, especially if they rely on childcare during school holidays.  Those in situations of family violence or abuse often find this time of year an even greater risk to their safety as tempers (and often alcohol) run over.  Those who struggle with addiction (substance, food or habit) can find this time of year to be an even greater challenge than the rest of the year as the words ‘treat yourself’ become more visible with each day.  Those who are affected by physical or mental conditions often find their symptoms are exacerbated towards the end of the year by stress, fewer available treatment appointments and a sense of exhaustion.  Those who are already in fragile mental states through depression, grief or anxiety can find their balance is tipped from managing their condition to not coping well at all.

It is important to remember that if you are not one of these people, it is very likely that others close to you are.  They may not wish to advertise their struggles, but their struggles will still be very real.  Try to look beyond your immediate needs and be aware of who may be having a particularly hard time – offer them support, kindness and gentleness.  It may well be the most important gift they receive this year.