First Parish Watertown Summer Service – August 3, 2014
Call to Worship
We live in an age where life can move too quickly around us, and it becomes easy to feel engulfed in waves of uncertainty. I sense so many friends around me feeling stuck and afraid about lies ahead.
I hear a common question – ‘What steps can I take take to move forward?’
I witness a negatively-focused, media-driven, anxiety that leaves me feeling both blessed and guilty for whatever peace surrounds me.
Are there times that you question – ‘What right do I have to want more than I have now?’
And so, I offer you this flower:
If I asked you what right does this flower have to blossom so beautifully when kissed by the sun and rain, would you begin to allow yourself the right to transform?
If we could change ourselves,
the tendencies in the world would also change.
As a man changes his own nature,
So does the attitude of the world change towards him…
We need not wait to see what others do ~ Mahatma Gandhi
Homily – (Practicing the Art of Transformational Thinking)
I’d like to give you fair warning that this service may feel to some of you like a pep talk…
The theme for this service, ‘Practicing the Art of Transformational Thinking’, came to me almost immediately when I asked myself, ‘What do I know to be true?’
Transformational Thinking – What is it? It sounds like a business buzz word – and being an independent service business owner, having abandoned the corporate world, I once promised myself that I would never again to use such terms.
Transformational Thinking is an idea that asks if there could be truth to the much maligned concept of ‘Magical Thinking’. It is an idea that asks if Thinking could be one of our under-utilized senses. Transformational Thinking and remembering those thoughts, is a path to creating your own personal philosophy. It is an idea that encapsulates my perhaps arrogant belief that we all have power to move beyond a place of ‘Feeling Stuck’.
I do not claim to have insight into some magical realm, but I am someone who has lived through and moved beyond at least two long-term life phases of ‘feeling stuck’. I lived with and moved on from a dark inner depression that lasted from age 13 to 29. I lived with and moved on from an isolating career frustration that meandered in and out of my life for 26 years. I think these long experiences of living in a stuck place entitle me to share some of the Transformational Thoughts on that have guided me through.
The first of my personal Transformational Thoughts is this: ‘Problems that Frustrate Have Solutions that Give Life Meaning’ (Be Patient). This idea came to me years ago in the middle of a particularly frustrating day at work – as a reminder to me to be patient. I remember the moment this phrase popped into my head. It was an ‘ah-ha!’ moment. I felt both an overwhelming sense of relief and a need to write it down – to remember it. All the things that were standing in my way, filling my brain with frustration, were not there to stop me – to clog me up. Rather, they were there to give me a sense of direction – to help me clearly understand what I needed to focus on next. Really, being someone who has always had trouble knowing which way to turn, this thought was a magical gift. Focus on the frustrations. Resolve them one by one. Or make a plan that might resolve them down the road.
Now, it takes practice to do this – to sit with frustrations long enough to find solutions. But that is why I call Transformational Thinking an Art – it takes practice and patience, just as much as learning to master music. And it also takes practice and patience to learn to let a frustration sit within your brain, without letting it overwhelm your spirit. My suggestion here is really one of allowing yourself to calmly mediate on frustrations – to be mindful of them, to let them simmer in your mind – and then again, to give yourself permission to set them aside when you need to and when you do not feel a resolution unfolding. This would be the somewhat paradoxical art of not getting frustrated by your frustrations. In the times that I have allowed myself to do this, to walk away from and then return back to some problem that I could not work out, I have always found that, eventually, the frustration transforms into a solution.
A second Transformational Thought was given to me as a gift by a dear friend, at a time in my life when I was feeling pushed to make a cross country life change life simply because my employer was requesting it. She said simply – ‘Do Not Be a Turtle’ (Be Loud). Now I have to say, at the time that she said this, it really felt like a slap in the face, like a bucket of cold water dumped on my head. Here I was, trying to be brave in accepting a life challenge presented to me. I wasn’t trying to pull my head in and hide under my shell, even though that is exactly what I really wanted to do at the time. I felt honestly naked in the realization that my fears and uncertainty were so obvious to her. And perhaps because of the sharpness of the impact, I have always since remembered those words and embraced them for all their metaphorical power. To me ‘Do Not Be a Turtle’ means to remember that I am never really alone. Yes, at the time I may have been without a life partner, but I was not alone in my existence in my world around me. There are friends that care about me. There are inner voices that will guide me (and this, by the way, was an earlier personal realization that helped me walk away from that depression which had followed me from childhood). There are inner voices that will guide me.
To ‘not be a turtle’, I must remember to be Loud and voice my needs and fears. I need to not be afraid to seek advice or to share anxieties about choices that I am trying to make. The problem is that words and ideas can spin endlessly in my mind, but it is usually not until I voice them out loud that they can transform in some plan of action. And further, I must remember to get out of my shell and into the sunlight, because I truly believe that every good decision I have ever made was made outdoors.
So I would just like to note here that it is not without a bit of irony that in the career choice that I finally made years later, one that has brought me bucket loads of contentment, I do basically carry my office upon my back. I travel from home to home and bring my service with me. Moreover, when I allow myself to indulge in a retirement fantasy, it is always some variation of packing up a tiny mobile home and hitting the road. And in that sense I am still very much like a turtle. But I am, perhaps , now a turtle who recognizes the spirit that I share with every client that I work with, every friend that I share with – and I am loud in sharing my experiences with others as I can. I am now a traveling turtle that brings my heart with me, not afraid to bask in the sun, and not driven by fear.
The idea of setting aside fear leads directly to my third Transformational Thought – that being one shared with me by my father-in-law when I was once again feeling stuck in how to move forward with career choices. I remember sharing with him that every time I got an idea for what I could do next, I immediately thought of all the reasons that it wouldn’t work. His advice to me was sage and Transformational in that he said to me ‘Don’t focus on what you can’t do – Focus on What You Can Do’ (Be Proud) . Now this Transformational Thought is built around two concepts – Take pride in who you are, and do not fear failure. About not fearing failure – J.K. Rowling shared the most magical of advice at a Harvard commencement when she credited her rock bottom personal life failures with helping her to ‘strip away the inessential’. She said, ‘I stopped pretending that I was anything other than what I was.’ Taking pride in who I am, in what I enjoy, in how I like to carry myself, in what skills I have acquired, in who I like to spend my days with, in what makes me feel connected to the earth, in what gives me a feeling of a job well done… these are many of the questions that I found answers to when I began the mental work of ‘Focusing on What I Can Do’. These answers led me to ideas, which led me to resources, which led me to options, which led me to life choices that I could feel confidence in – and in the end, I was able to find a work path that leaves me with a sense that my life has meaning. Taking time to practice these thoughts transformed me. And yes, I do feel proud of myself for having walked through a frustrating journey and out into a brighter patch of sun. I feel proud and incredibly grateful.
Which leads me to the final Transformational Thought that I would like to share today, and that is a simple phase of gratitude that I learn during the year I spent living in Japan in my final year of college. The single word that is spoken by tradition before every meal, ‘Itadakimasu’, is Transformational in its simplicity. Itadakimasu translates to one basic thought – ‘I am Grateful for all I receive’. Beth & I have tried to actively share this thought with Elijah and at the times when we can manage to gather for meal together as a family we practice speaking out loud: ‘Itadakimasu – I am grateful for all I receive’.
I believe that this active practice of gratitude has made a world of difference in our life choices and it helps me to never forget how very blessed my life is.
And so to wrap this up, if I may summarize with a personal reclamation of the tradition of Business Buzzwords: Transformational Thinking for me, and my Personal Philosophy is this: Be Patient, Be Loud, Be Proud, Be Grateful – and practice it, as often as I can. You, mostly likely, have your own set of Transformational Thoughts, just as you have been shaped by your own life experiences. I believe that these thoughts can inspire you and take you exactly where you need to go. If you can take time to recognize and honor those thoughts, if you can sit in the sun and rain and allow yourself to simply be, I believe that when you need them most, you will not feel alone, and your personal philosophy will be there to guide you.
Closing Words – In closing, I like to share some wise words written by Max Erhman – these were shared with my mother when she retired from her position as an elementary school Principal, about to began a new adventurous stage in her life. The quote now hangs in my study and guides me in times of doubt:
Beyond a wholesome discipline
be gentle with yourself
You are a child of the universe
No less than the trees and stars
You have a right to be here
And whether or not it is clear to you
No doubt the universe is unfolding
As it should
~ Blessed Be