Thursday, February 26, 2015

Spiritual Practices A to Z: Devotion

This is the fourth focus of the "Spiritual Practices A to Z" challenge that I'm doing that is based on the spiritual practices that are shared on the Spirituality & Practice website. So far I have focused on Attention, Beauty, and Compassion. For the past two weeks, I focused on the spiritual practice of Devotion.

Spiritual Practice: Devotion
Enhances: Self-discipline
Balances/Counters: Lack of commitment

Prayer Beads I Made
Prayer beads.
Taken on October 12, 2012.

The Basic Practice

The Spiritual Practices website noted that "the world's religions demonstrate an amazing variety of ways to practice devotion. To name just a few: Sufis dance. Buddhists chant. Catholics pray with a rosary. Protestants sing hymns. Orthodox Christians meditate on icons. Hindus gather to receive blessings in temples. Jews wrap themselves in a prayer shawl. Native Americans bring up the sun. Muslims make a pilgrimage."

It is suggested to begin by cultivating one's own garden of devotion. The Spiritual Practices website said, "Pick as many seeds to plant as you desire. Water them with love. Be vigilant in your caretaking. Add new plants to the garden for variety. And be happy knowing that this garden" pleases not only yourself, but the world.

Why This Practice May Be For You

Devotion is not something that is done once a week, only on religious holidays, or in response to a particular event in one's life. Special devotions may be called for at those times, but as a spiritual practice, it needs to be part of one's daily routine.

Devotion helps build self-discipline. Being constant in one's prayers prepares a person for other disciplines needed in life. On the other hand, if a person lacks commitment and doesn't tend to follow through in the long run, a devotional life will suffer as well. This practice needs to be done regularly.


For the person who is religiously or spiritually inclined,
work even becomes a vehicle for devotion, 
a way of utilizing one's gifts and talents to serve others.
— Marsha Sinetar in Do What You Love, the Money Will Follow

Panola Valley Gardens
Taken at Panola Valley Gardens 
on May 21, 2012.

Her garden is work because it is of devotion, 
undertaken with passion and conviction, 
because it absorbs her, 
because it is a task or unrelenting quest which cannot be satisfied.
— Donald Hall in Life Work


I read and wrote a review about Chanting from the Heart - Buddhist Ceremonies and Daily Practices by Thich Nhat Hanh.

The book has a variety of verses, chants, ceremonies, and discourses used regularly by the monks, nuns, and laypeople of a Buddhist monastery and lay practice center in southeastern France. It was established in 1982 by Thich Nhat Hanh and his community.

The other book I read and wrote a review about that focused on devotion was The Mystic Hours - A Daybook of Interspiritual Wisdom and Devotion by Wayne Teasdale. I f The Mystic Hours.


Baraka is an non-narrative film that delivers a collection of snapshots from the global family album. It shows many devotional activities practiced at sacred sites, in homes, and in communities around the world. I ordered this movie, didn't have time to watch it so I had to return it to the library, and then re-ordered it. My goal is to watch it some time in March.

There were two other films that were recommended that I want to watch, but are unavailable through the library system. Perhaps someday I'll be able to find them. The Spiritual Practices website recommended:

- Brother Sun, Sister Moon saying it is "a gorgeous piece of filmmaking by Franco Zeffirelli. [It] is an inspiring and edifying portrait of St. Francis's spiritual practice of devotion and his humble life of service.

Therese "is a stylized screen portrait of Saint Therese of Lisieux (1873-1897), later to be known as the Little Flower of Jesus, conveys the purity and simplicity of this saint's devotional life."


A wide variety of sacred music is attracting a worldwide audience - including Gregorian chants, and Hindu and Buddhist meditation music.

B'ismillah: Highlights from the Fez Festival of World Sacred Music, Volume I contains Pakistani chants, Egyptian odes, flamenco-style Christian songs, and Sufi dance music. Hamdulillah: Highlights from the Fez Festival of World Sacred Music, Volume II showcases spiritual songs from Iran, medieval Muslim and Andalusian songs, Moroccan Jewish traditional music, and Islamic songs of Central Asia.

Neither of the above-mentioned CDs are available through the local library or MNLINK system of libraries through the state. So, instead I watched a YouTube video that showed excerpts from the opening concert of the Fez Festival of World Sacred Music.There was a combination of singing, drumming, and dance.

The other video I watched is Moments from the Fez Festival of World Sacred Music. The first part includes an introduction by Fez Festival organizers and participants. One person said, "One feels so comfortable when they hear music that they love." Another said, "The only important things is the moment where we are." Another person (Omar al Kyayyam) said, "Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life."

I watched the Whirling Dervishes. I've never seen anything like that before. The men kept twirling around for about four minutes. The amazing thing was that they never lost their balance or fell off the narrow stage.

Daily Cue, Reminder, Vow, Blessing

Orange Walls and Bell at the Macy's Flower Show
Taken on April 5, 2013, at
the flower show in downtown Minneapolis.

• The sound of a bell, a church chime, or the stroke of a clock is a cue for me to pray.

About 2 1/2 miles from here, there is a church with a bell tower. At noon and 6 p.m., if the wind is coming from the south, I can hear the bells. It always makes me take a moment to focus on the bells and the beautiful music they create.

I don't do much beyond that, but that simple gesture is often times enough of a reminder for me to stop and focus - however briefly - on the beauty of sound and all that around me.

• When I hear reports of war, famine, and other disasters, I vow to remember all those who are suffering in my prayers.

There has been so much disturbing news in the paper recently. The images are so graphic and make me stop to reflect about the pain that so many people are enduring on a daily basis throughout the world. I have stopped watching the news at night specifically for this reason. It's just too much for me to take in and process.

Practice of the Day

Prayer Flags Tied to Tree
Prayer flags at Pipestone National Monument 
(a national park) in Pipestone, Minnesota. 
Taken on June 8, 2012.

The Hopi Indians of Arizona believe that our daily rituals and prayers literally keep this world spinning on its axis. For me, feeding the seagulls is one of those everyday prayers.
— Brenda Peterson quoted in American Nature Writing 1994 edited by John A. Murray

To Practice This Thought:

Pillowcase Dress for Little Dresses for Africa
Made a pillowcase dress that was sent to Africa
on April 9, 2010.

Identify one activity you do every day that can be regarded as a devotional act to sustain the world.

I thought about this and there are several things that I do each day that I could regard as a devotional act to sustain the world. The one, though, that is most consistent is recycling. Every day I am recycling paper; packaging from items I used to cook and bake meals for my family; and/or creating something from an item that could have been tossed.

As I look at the dress above that I sewed, I think about the girl who received it. Perhaps she didn't have many clothes, and the dress brought her spirits up on the day it was given to her. She could hold and collect things in the two pockets that were made from fabric that was sitting in one of my fabric bins. The decorative fabric band, also, was made from that same fabric that was just in my room waiting to be used for something.

The pillowcase...that fabric...even the thread - all could have been tossed in a landfill. Instead, I repurposed it into something useful that a child could wear. I need to continue to do things like this - not only to use up what I have on hand, but to help others who I will never see face-to-face in my life, yet are deserving of help to make their lives easier.

Spiritual Exercises

Each week make an effort to simplify your life as an affirmation of your commitment to beauty. Give away or discard one excess possession.

I like this idea and need to start getting in the habit of doing this practice. The timing for this spiritual practice came when I was out of town for several days and trying to get a lot done with 4-H in preparation for a club meeting and two wildlife project bowl meetings. I'm hoping that in March I can retroactively look at this spiritual exercise and make it a regular habit throughout 2015.

Discussion Questions, Storytelling, Sharing

Setting the Time
Olivia was playing with a clock while Sophia was playing behind it
on our trip to the New England states.
This was taken on September 9, 2011.

• David Steindl-Rast points out the importance of finding cues to prayer. He tells of two sisters who had a clock that struck every 15 minutes. With each stroke of the clock, one would say, "Remember God's presence," and the other would add, "Let us always be grateful." Talk in your group about what kinds of things spark your prayers.

I contacted a clock repair shop on February 17th to fix our mantel-size grandfather clock. The repair shop makes house calls, and I'm going to get the clock fixed. I miss hearing the rhythmic sound of the clock ticking. It's a sound that was very familiar when I was growing up between the cuckoo clock and grandfather clock with the ticking as well as chimes and cuckoo noises throughout the day and night.

• What benefits have you derived from worshiping in a community? What parts of the service are most satisfying to you?

The benefits for me have been being around like-minded people who enjoy listening to the same inspirational readings, talks, and music during a service. I particularly enjoy the music within any service - instrumental and vocal.

Household, Group, and Community Projects

• Find ways to expand the devotional activities in your household. Use a variety of graces at meals. Incorporate blessing prayers into such activities as leaving for school, going to the grocery store, or washing the car.

I didn't have a chance to do this during the past two weeks, but I like these ideas. So, I'm going to keep this idea as future reference.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Mystic Hours - Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 8

For the 8th week of the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge, I read The Mystic Hours - A Daybook of Interspiritual Wisdom and Devotion by Wayne Teasdale.

This book actually took me more than a week to read because it is a daily reflection book - so there's one page per day of the year in the book. Each page has a quote and a reflection; with the former being from various faiths. It is a diverse book in terms of beliefs and reflections.

These are some things I want to remember:
- The greatest accomplishment in life is to be who or what you are. (Abbot Thomas Keating)
- Look within to identify our true self and work throughout the year to express it.
- The choice is between nonviolene and nonexistence. (Martin Luther King, Jr.)
- Reason, common sense, and the enduring wisdom of our great religions call us to the realization of our responsibility to embrace this course if we want to survive as a species in a larger community of species. Nonviolence summons us to the clear recognition that we are a fragile human family in a fragile world. In a very real sense, our choice is really between inner growth and destruction.
- Our attachments hold us back from experiencing true happiness. Freeing ourselves from the bondage of attachment requires a mind trained in the pursuit of liberation, a mind able to let go of all that hinders.
- We have to prepare the house by living a committed spiritual life, putting aside time each day for prayer, and most of all practicing compassion and love.
- My religion is kindness...I'd rather be kind than right...You can always be kind. (Tanzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama)
- the bond connecting all beings in the great web of interdependence in which we all participate and by which we are sustained.
- When we are living in harmony with our nature then we cannot resist being kind, loving, passionate, and merciful.
- If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other. (Mother Teresa)
- Only when we remember our inescapable relatedness to one another will peace become a reality.
- Cultivate joy as you would a dear friendship.
- If you would be happy all your life, plant a garden. (Chinese proverb)
- It is often the simple things in life that greatly enrich us and teach us things about ourselves we never knew, but they also open up for us aspects of reality that are necessary for our happiness. Let us not fritter life away in a kind of work and passive entertainment. Rather let us learn the value of contemplation in the power of the simple.
- The mind is like a parachute - it only works when it's open. (Lily Tomlin)
- Genuine growth is only possible if we are open and listening. A closed mind is a recipe for stagnation and mediocrity. People are always threatened by change, especially if it requires them to stretch beyond feelings of security and assumptions about happiness. An open mind and an open heart are indispensable to achieving real maturity, and, even more important, becoming an agent in the happiness of others. Let us strive to keep our minds and hearts open, the openness that education engenders and spirituality develops.
- True greatness is found in the humble disposition. It is an acceptance of reality balanced with an openness to positive change.
- Creativity leads beyond the routine safety of the known. The creative spirit is never satisfied with what we know - or think we know - with past achievements, or the comforts that lull us into a mechanical living of life. Creativity involves stretching beyond our current understanding, attitudes, capacities, and opinions. Through creativity, culture continues to evolve on the back of innovation.
- The creative mind is never content with our current assumptions unless they are founded on deep truth.
- It is not death that is the tragedy of life....[but] what you let die when you are alive. (Robert Muller)
- When they are young, most people have a genuine desire to serve the world, to selflessly contribute to humanity's future and to be future of all sentient beings. Yet many become disillusioned with age and give up on their earlier desire. They settle for something less, like simply achieving the American dream. That dream isn't bad; it's just not enough to realize our potential as spiritual beings.
- A dream that I dream alone is only a dream, but a dream that we dream together is reality. (Raul Seixas). 
- Great societal changes...require vision and a movement.
- When we have a worthy dream, an inspired vision, we cannot keep it to ourselves; we must share it with others if it is to catch the popular imagination and eventually become imbedded in others' collective hopes, becoming the dream of the people.
- Music inspires, opening minds and moving hearts. Great music appeals to our emotions, stirs up feelings, aspirations, and possibilities.
- Let us be aware of music's potential to lead us and inspire us. Let us allow music to carry our deepest intention.
- The highest wisdom is kindness. (Berakot)
- Kindness will eventually transform the entire existence of an individual, having reverberations in the community and the world. Let us allow ourselves to be refashioned by the effective and beautiful quality of kindness.
- When we become truly established in other-centeredness, where we put the well-being of the community above our own self-interest, then we somehow also speak and act for the Divine.
- Zen Buddhism infuses that country's ancient culture, whoever is so grounded in right motivation and behavior thinks, speaks, and acts in the light of the ancestors.
- All we need to know is present in the world; it is written in the nature of the earth. Let us dedicate ourselves to discovering that natural wisdom present in the world so that we can spread this awareness and change the course of the world.
- Courage does not ignore danger, nor does it negate fear; it concentrates on what must be done and on the hope of something better.
- Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
- It is always the secure who are humble. (G.K. Chesterton)
- The humble are secure precisely because they are humble, and the secure are secure because they have this humility of heart....the security...comes from wisdom.
- It is the easiest thing in the world for a person to deceive himself. (Benjamin Franklin)
- We deceive ourselves when we ruthlessly seek our wants or use other people to obtain them. We lie to ourselves to shield our conscience from the truth. When we deceive ourselves, we are hurting ourselves the most. The cure is pure honesty and humility. True humility never tolerates self-deception.
- Seek the company of the wise, to associate with people who have a similar conviction, who are looking in the same direction. One virtue implies others: A generous soul may also be courageous, kin, compassionate, loving, and patient.
- The purpose each one of us has is not merely a mission external to us, but has a lot to do with unfolding and developing our gifts, especially who we are in our capacity for mercy, kindness, and love, the cultivation of which is an essential part of the task of life.
- Until humankind extends its circle of compassion to all living things, it will not itself find peace. (Albert Schweitzer)
- There is no possibility of a mature spiritual life without humility. Nor is it possible to be a successful human being without it. Humility is also, most fundamentally, a relationship of truth with ourselves.
- We acknowledge our mistakes, not years from now, but when they are made. We must be willing to own up to these mistakes before others and not simply ourselves.
- In compassion, kindness, and love, we discern what is needed and we respond. We are a good listener to some, a provider of strength to others, a fierce  advocate and prophet to still others. 
- No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave. (Calvin Coolidge)
- Individual happiness by itself, alone is an illusion. It's superficial and doesn't last. When we work for the happiness of others, or as the poet Ralph Waldo Emerson says, pour it on others, we become happy in the process. What we give out returns to us, and if we are constantly contributing to the welfare, joy, and happiness of others, we will receive these blessings in return.
- The first step in personhood is to allow ourselves to be loved. (John Main)
- When we accept love from others, we open ourselves to the possibility to genuine happiness, which arises in us as we find ourselves giving love in return. Being loved increases our own capacities to love - to be merciful, kind compassionate, and sensitive - all capacities that lead to true happiness. Love opens up the whole spectrum of human greatness: other-centeredness, self-sacrifice, heroic virtue, joy, and deeds of extraordinary generosity.
- You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late. (Anonymous)
- We don't know if we have a tomorrow here in this world: we have no guarantees. But we do have the present moment, the now, and that's where we can choose to be kind, to respond to a loving, compassionate way.
- As soon as the waves have stopped and the lake has become quiet, we see its bottom. So with the mind when it is calm, we see what our nature is.
- Giving of ourselves to help others works in two ways: it benefits the recipient and it benefits the giver.
- Teaches open the door. You enter yourself.
- A person's true wealth is the good he does in this world. (Muhammad)
- None of the material wealth of this world lasts. The only things that follow us into eternity are our good works. 
- The only reason for material wealth is to share it with the less fortunate, not to hoard it for oneself. This is our glory as spiritual beings: to assuage the sufferings of others, to others, to offer what we have to those in need.
- The end and aim of all education is the development of character. (Francis W. Parker)
- The medieval Christian ideal of learning also focused on the education of the whole peson: body, soul, and spirit.
- The Tibetan tradition places great emphasis on the good heart.
- We simply pay too much attention to facts and skills and not enough to fostering responsibility, ethics, charity, and kindness.
- Our relationship with the natural world is not primarily stewardship. It's primarily rapport, admiration, interaction with, and listening to. (Thomas Berry)
- The soul is the sense of something higher than ourselves, something that stirs in us thoughts, hopes, and aspirations which go out to the world of goodness, truth, and beauty. (Albert Schweitzer)
- When we look at the extent of cosmic time, our lives are as brief as fleas. The brevity of life should alert us to the purpose of our existence: to grow in compassion, kindness, love, and sensitivity. Time is short and there is so much to learn, to be, and to do. Impermanence frames the field of our growth. Focus on what is necessary and leave all else behind.
- The positive side of frustration and discontent is the beginning of discovering your dream. It is a sign that the deeper aspects of who you are need to find a vehicle to actualization in your life. Whether the frustration you feel is related to a talent you have that lacks an outlet, a vision you have of where you want to be, or some creative project you can't quite get started on, you have to listen to your discontent because it is. A gift we give ourselves gives us to move us forward in realizing our dream.
- Humor bonds us with others: it builds intimacy, trust, and a positive attitude.
- A sense of humor is one of the surest signs of balance and perspective in ordinary life - a sign that someone understands that life is meant to be enjoyed and that we can find something funny even in our deepest foibles, mistakes, and misfortunes. 
- At the end of life, when someone has lived a life with consciousness and they look back on it, the questions are simple: "Did I live fully?" and, more than anything else, "Did I love well?" (Jack Kornfield)
- To live life with awareness is to live each moment with real sensitivity  and receptivity to others, their sufferings and need. To live fully is to be aware of the opportunities to be compassionate and loving toward others. To love well is to love unselfishly and to strive to be ever more inclusive, extending one's care even to those with whom we would not ordinarily associate. It is to be spontaneously open and receptive to those we meet who may need us in some way.
- Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. (Martin Luther King, Jr.)
- To bring the four energies together in the moment - physical, intellectual, spiritual, and emotional - is the fundamental artistic act. This is where the joy arises. (Dick Richards)
- Just as a tree, a bush, or a flower cannot live without roots, we cannot live without  being firmly established in our souls. The soul should also be nourished and cared for, just as a gardener nurtures the growth and well-being of his garden. Prayer, meditation, kindness, and love are ways to nourish the soul, the root of our being.
- Compassion for yourself translates into compassion for others. (Suki Jay Munsell)
- Every time we suffer, we grow. (Ram Dass)
- Suffering has a way of opening our hearts and putting us in touch with our compassionate nature. Suffering teaches us to love and to be kind, compassionate, and sensitive to the struggles of others. It is the greatest means of enlarging our perspective.
- Constantly rushing discourages authentic behavior. It is the opposite of compassion, kindness, love, and sensitiviyt, and more important, it is the enemy of being present, both to the moment and to others. To be truly present, we have to take our time, whether we are looking at the task at hand, which we can then do with good intention and efficiency, or listening to the people around us, who we can respond to authentically and appropriately. When we're in our hurried state, we are unable to attend to spiritual practice. Allow yourself to slow down and be present to others and to the miracle of the present moment.
- You always carry within yourself the very thing that you need for the fulfillment of your life purpose. (Malidoma Some)
- Each person has a mission, a work they must contribute to the whole. It appears vaguely at first, a nagging dissatisfaction or an inkling of desire for greater things, but within a disciplined inner journey, the process of becoming honest with ourselves, we can come to realize our life purpose.
- We cannot do great things, only little things with great love. (Mother Teresa)
- She knew that great opportunities are rare and that the little opportunities that come our way every day provide the occasions for us to grow in love by transcending ourselves.
- Your trials did not come to punish you, but to awaken you. (Paramahansa Yogananda)
- Challenges bring us to our sense about our lives. They can serve as vehicles of realization, helping us to understand why we are here and how necessary the spiritual journey is for us. They awaken us to the serious purpose of life and inspire us not to waste this opportunity on a halfhearted existence.

15 Creative Goals in 2015

I've been thinking about what I want to learn and do in terms of my creative goals in 2015. Although almost two months have already passed, there's still ten months ahead to incorporate more creative time in my life.

During 2015, I want to:

1. Learn how to do fused glass.

2. Do glass blowing.
3. How to build a portable brick oven so I can create homemade pizzas and breads in it during the summer.
4. Finish all the WIP (works in progress) in the bin.
5. Go through all the fabric bins and donate what I no longer like or want.
6. Use the bag of felted wool to make a project (or two).
7. Learn 3 new crocheting stitches.
8. Make a pair of socks using the sock loom.

9. Learn to knit and make something useful.
10. Use some of Dad's clothes and make legacy gifts to give to Mom, Mary, Jim, and me.
11. Do two upcycled crafts that use jeans.
12. Make six handmade cards using inspiration from other DIY cards.
13. Make three homemade bath products.
14. Paint and install a barn quilt.

15. Make something for the next door neighbor's daughter who is expecting her first child this spring, and who has a baby shower in March. Did this on March 1st. I made two baby bassinets from diapers and a washcloth bouquet

Monday, February 16, 2015

Spiritual Practices A to Z: Compassion

This is the third focus of the "Spiritual Practices A to Z" challenge that I'm doing that is based on the spiritual practices that are shared on the Spirituality & Practice website. So far I have focused on Attention and Beauty. For the past two weeks, I focused on the spiritual practice of Compassion.

Sophia helping Darlene frost and decorate cookies
for Valentine's Day at the nursing home.
(Taken on February 13, 2015)

Spiritual Practice: Compassion
Enhances: Caring
Balances/Counters: Judgment, Pain

The Basic Practice

Compassion is a feeling deep within ourselves and a way of acting — being affected by the suffering of others and moving on their behalf. Buddha and Jesus are the two most well-known exemplars of compassion, and it is the central ethical virtue in the two religions that developed from their teachings.

Olivia helping Annabelle at the Valentine's Day 
cookie decorating activity at 
the nursing home on February 13, 2015.

As the Spiritual Practices website said, "The spiritual practice of compassion is often likened to opening the heart. First, allow yourself to be feel the suffering in the world, including your own. Don't turn away from pain; move toward it with caring. Go into situations where people are hurting. Identify with your neighbors in their distress. Then expand the circle of your compassion to include other creatures, nature, and the inanimate world."

Sophia tuning her harp in preparation for 
our time at Northwoods Humane Society.
We are starting to do music therapy for the animals 
who are waiting to be adopted there 
which has been very rewarding. 
This is Bridgett listening to Sophia.
(February 13, 2015.)

Why This Practice May Be For You

The practice of compassion increases our capacity to care. It reinforces empathy, sympathy, and charity.

Laurie, My Parents, Me, and Belinda on Red Day
On May 12, 2011, over 30 volunteers from 
Keller Williams in Maple Grove came to 
my parents home to help them with outdoor work 
as well as making their home safe indoors. 
This was for their annual Red Day (volunteer day). 
The volunteers had such great attitudes and 
worked through the pouring rain. 
My parents are so happy - and thankful - that they were chosen to 
receive all the help and improvements to their home. 
Why were they selected? 
Keller Williams was looking for families 
who have made a difference in the community.
My dad was in the very advanced stages of  Alzheimer's Disease, and
my mom had significant mobility and other health issues.

However, when you move toward others with compassion, you are likely to encounter some common attitudes that want you to close your heart again. The usual suspects are judgment and all its associated "isms": ageism, classism, racism, sexism, and nationalism.

On a personal level, your compassion is sabotaged by feelings of ill will toward others: malice and spite. These feelings, and others arising out of personal pain and emotional wounds, are actually symptoms indicating that you need to have compassion for yourself.


Compassion is a foundation for sharing our aliveness and 
building a more humane world.
— Martin Lowenthal in Opening the Heart of Compassion

Olivia filling a sock with toiletries and 
other personal care items that will be 
donated to a person experiencing homelessness.
(Taken on February 5, 2015.)

Like a mother who protects her child, 
her only child, 
with her own life, 
one should cultivate a heart of unlimited love and 
compassion towards all living beings.
— The Buddha quoted in The Mystic Vision 
edited by Andrew Harvey and Anne Baring

Olivia and I brought lunch to my mother on Valentine's Day.
I made tuna noodle salad with eggs and 
chopped all the vegetables very small so she could eat them 
(she has lost most of her lower teeth).
We had fresh strawberries and mandarin oranges,
 rosemary crackers, and chocolate cookies.
She has a container of potted tulips that 
will grow over the next few weeks.
(Taken on February 14, 2015.)

The Jain religion in India teaches that because all life is essentially interrelated and interconnected, all living beings should be considered sacred and be respected. This belief forms the basis of the doctrine of ahimsa, which has been translated into English variously as "reverence for life," "nonviolence," and "dynamic compassion."
— Nathaniel Altman in Sacred Trees

When we were volunteering at Northwoods Humane Society on February 13th, we noticed Jet who was in her kennel at the very back pressed up against the wall. She appeared frightened and very timid. Brenda (the executive director) had to carry her out and gently push her into the room where we were sitting. 

Within five minutes of listening to harp music and being petted, Jet was feeling more relaxed. She even ate two bowls of soft food. Her expression and demeanor changed from one of fear and anxiety to one of happiness and relaxation. 

She was moved to a quieter area at Northwoods after her time in the room with us and seemed to be doing significantly better. Her ears were up, she looked alert, and she was so much more engaged and happy. She's going to make a family who adopts her very happy. 

Compassion is the intention to see each human being 
as no better or worse than yourself, 
neither more nor less important, and 
as fundamentally similar to yourself.
— Timothy Miller in How to Want What You Have

Because my mom has significant vision issues (she's blind in both eyes), 
we bought her a Valentine's Day card 
that hopefully she could see.
Sure enough, when she took the card out of the envelope, 
she said, "I can see it!"
Her smile was heart-warming for me to see.
Olivia read her the message, and 
I noticed as she was reading it my mom had her hand on her heart.
She had tears in her eyes as Olivia read to her.
(Taken on February 14, 2015.)

To grow old is to pass from passion to compassion.
— Albert Camus quoted in Letters to a Young Doubter by William Sloane Coffin

We are beginning to learn that each animal has a life and a place and a role in this world. If we place compassion and care in the middle of all our dealings with the animal world and honor and respect their lives, our attitudes will change.
— Jane Goodall in The Ten Trusts

Sophia and Bailey

On the day that Bailey was adopted from the 
Minnesota Hooved Animal Rescue Foundation (August 13th), 
we have welcomed and  tried to provide comfort to her.
She was not use to eating grass (she was in a dry lot and ate baled hay),
 so she needed to be slowly transitioned to 
being able to eat fresh grass.
During the first week after she was adopted, 
the vet came out to do an overall check on her. 
He noticed that she was blind in her right eye, and 
had some pigment issue with the left eye.
This has required compassionate care as 
we helped her learn her new environment, 
meet a new equine friend who was adopted on the same day, and 
helped her trust us. 
(Taken on August 13, 2009)

What do you want to achieve? The Dalai Lama responded, "To be happy. My practice helps me lead a useful life. If I can give some short moment of happiness to others, then I feel that my life has achieved some purpose. This gives me deep mental satisfaction — this feeling always comes if you serve others. So when I help others, I feel happy. For me, the most important thing is human compassion, a sense of caring for one another."
— His Holiness the Dalai Lama quoted in The Big Questions by Lama Surya Das

Dogs Resting While We Pack Books
Sophia packaging up boxes of books that 
we shipped to Lesotho, Africa, to establish a library in a primary school.
(Taken on December 7, 2012.)

All beings wish for happiness, so extend your compassion to all.
— The Buddha quoted in Buddhist Wisdom by David Crosweller

Olivia Folding Clothes
Olivia helping to fold and organize clothes for
a clothing giveaway at a local church.
(Taken on May 19, 2011.)

Every time I hold a bowl of rice, I know how fortunate I am. I know that forty thousand children die every day because of the lack of food and that many people are lonely, without friends or family. I visualize them and feel deep compassion. You don't need to be in a monastery to practice this. You can practice at home at your dinner table. Eating mindfully is a wonderful way to nourish compassion and it encourages us to do something to help those who are hungry and lonely.
— Thich Nhat Hanh in Living Buddha, Living Christ

Donating Food to Food Shelf
Olivia and Sophia donating food to the food shelf. 
(Taken on July 31, 2012.)


I checked out two books from the library during the last two weeks: The Rhythm of Compassion - Caring for Self, Connecting with Society and How to Be Compassionate: A Handbook for Creating Inner Peace and a Happier World.

The first book I began reading, The Rhythm of Compassion - Caring for Self, Connecting with Society by Gail Straub, has taken me the entire two weeks to read. The book compares the relationship between soul and society to the in-breath and the out-breath of meditation practice.

She presents stories of individuals who have struggled to maintain balance while caring for self and caring for the world as well as questions that prompt the reader to reflect on their inner life and who they are; and their life of service.

Helping Make 500 Sandwiches
Sophia, Olivia, and I helped make meat and cheese sandwiches 
that were donated to a program that 
served those who were experiencing homelessness.
(Taken on September 23, 2012.)

The most critical part is finding a central image that influences how we see our personal life, identifying the legacies we've inherited from our parents, and exposing where we belong and where we hide.

The author discusses four qualities of mature compassion — a quiet mind, an open heart, presence, and radical simplicity. We can become more compassionate by making a place for imagination, discipline, and support in our lives.

I am petting Bridget as she listens to harp music.
We are volunteering once at month 
at Northwoods Humane Society.
(Taken on February 13, 2015.)

However, our helping is tainted when "the ego wants to fix, to make things perfect, to reorder someone else's life, to do something to maintain the illusion of control."

There are so many insights into this book about my own life and focus on helping others. I am taking my time with it to fully reflect on it, and think about ways to be both more compassionate to myself as I try to be with others through volunteering and service.

The second book that I checked out is How to Be Compassionate: A Handbook for Creating Inner Peace and a Happier World by His Holiness The Dalai Lama. I have not had a chance to read it yet, but it is focused on the Tibetan techniques for how to transform one's mind and heart. The book is supposed to have a "soul-stirring, enlightening array of material gleaned from science, religion, theology, psychology, and [The Dalai Lama's] own adventures of living a compassionate life."

Sophia with Nora - one of the dogs that 
came into the room when she was playing the harp.
Olivia and I each spent time with Nora.
(Taken on February 13, 2015.)


There's a movie called Damien that's a one-man drama focusing on the suffering servanthood ministry of Father Damien, a priest who put his life on the line for lepers isolated on Molokai island in Hawaii. This movie was unavailable through any Minnesota library, so I ordered a book instead about Father Damien.


Benjamin Britten's War Requiem was first performed at the 1962 dedication of the new Coventry Cathedral built next to the ruins of the cathedral destroyed during World War II.

Winston Churchill visiting the ruins of 
the Coventry Cathedral in 941.

In this choral work, Britten alternates the language of the mass with tenor and baritone solos taken from the antiwar poetry of Wilfred Owen, who died on the battlefield in World War I. Compassion is a constant companion of this powerful music.

Wilfred Owen.

The YouTube video I found is 91 minutes. It is an impressive work of art that includes a full orchestra and choir.

According to Wikipedia, "The traditional Latin texts are interspersed, in telling juxtaposition, with settings of poems by Wilfred Owen, written in World War I. The work is scored for soprano, tenor and baritone soloists, chorus, boys' choir, organ, and two orchestras (a full orchestra and a chamber orchestra). The chamber orchestra accompanies the intimate settings of the English poetry, while soprano, choirs and orchestra are used for the Latin sections; all forces are combined in the conclusion."


Two of Pablo Picasso's most famous paintings evoke compassion. Guernica, painted in 1937 for the Spanish Pavilion at the Paris World's Fair, reflects the artist's visceral response to the destruction caused by the Spanish Civil War.

Picasso created this piece in response to the bombing of Guernica, a Basque Country village in northern Spain, by German and Italian warplanes at the behest of the Spanish Nationalist forces on April 26, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War.

According to Wikipedia, "Guernica is a statement against fascism, showing the tragedies of war and the suffering it inflicts upon individuals, particularly innocent civilians. This work has gained a monumental status, becoming a perpetual reminder of the tragedies of war, an anti-war symbol, and an embodiment of peace. Upon completion, Guernica was displayed around the world in a brief tour, becoming famous and widely acclaimed. This tour helped bring the Spanish Civil War to the world's attention."

Weeping Woman, from the same year, is considered to be a postscript to Guernica.

The Weeping Woman series, according to Wikipedia, " regarded as a thematic continuation of the tragedy depicted in Picasso's epic painting Guernica. In focusing on the image of a woman crying, the artist was no longer painting the effects of the Spanish Civil War directly, but rather referring to a singular universal image of suffering."

Daily Cue, Reminder, Vow, Blessing

Seeing someone in pain is my cue to practice compassion.

When I was volunteering at the nursing home on February 13th, there were several people who were having difficult afternoons because of their challenges with dementia. All were part of the Music & Memory program, so I helped the CNAs get the iPods with the personalized music and the headphones and put them on the seniors. Listening to the music helps reduce stress and anxiety as well as some of the behaviors that appear because of dementia (e.g., yelling out).

Music has the power to reduce stress and anxiety; and
create the feeling of happiness in those with 
dementia and Alzheimer's Disease.
(Taken on January 23, 2015.)

I am so thankful that I was trained to do the Music & Memory program, and that we are able to bring the gift of music to seniors.

Practice of the Day

If you see on the evening news a person who moves you by his distress, just breathe it in and breathe out to him love and strength.
— Andrew Harvey in The Direct Path

To Practice This Thought: Send love to a stranger you notice is in need.

Spiritual Exercise

Create a Compassion Collage. I didn't do this since I didn't have magazines that I could cut up, but do want to do this in the future. Basically, the activity is to gather pictures of people, places, and things for which you feel compassion. You may take photos yourself, cut them out of magazines and newspapers, copy them from books, or find them in the direct mail appeals from service organizations.

Look for strong pictures to which you have an emotional response, no matter how painful. Include examples of the suffering of animals, nature, and things.

Add words or symbols to represent others areas of concern — "Earthquake" to remind you to feel compassion for victims of natural disasters, "Prison" for political prisoners and those who have committed crimes, or "Garbage" to note the suffering caused by wasteful consumption - for example.

Leave one area of your collage blank for what has not yet touched your compassionate heart. Keep your collage in a place where you can contemplate it at least once every day. One or more images may become the focus of prayer or meditation.

Hand Collage - One of the activities that I did see during the two-week time period focused on Compassion was one that was done at the 4-H BLU conference on February 7-8, 2015. The youth were in small groups and each traced her/his hand onto a piece of white paper.

Inside their hands they put things that they liked to do with others. From the overlapping hands, you could see how the youth were different from one another - yet could come together, support one another, and make a difference in the world.

Above: Sophia and Olivia in their small groups 
working on the hand tracings.
Below: The hand tracings of Sophia's group.

Journal Exercises

Some of the positive and inspiring messages that 
the youth wrote at the 4-H BLU conference 
on February 7-8, 2015.

• Identify an area where you need to be compassionate to yourself. Write about how you will go about this.

Interestingly, this issue came up at the beginning of the month when I was journaling and before I had read about this exercise. I wrote about how the upcoming several months - particularly the next few weeks - already feel like they are out of balance with a lot of volunteering and not enough time at home.

One of the challenges that I'm going to need to address is how to balance my time - homeschooling, volunteering, and caring for my family - so that I don't burn out and/or am not effective.

• Make a list of "missed opportunities" to show compassion to poor, sick, lonely, alienated, or hurting beings. Look for any patterns in your behavior or inaction. Identify an obstacle or rationalization that has kept you from being more compassionate.

This is something that I wrote in my journal about.

Discussion Questions, Storytelling, Sharing

The following are two things to reflect upon not only during this two-week time period, but throughout the year:

• Share an example of a situation when your willingness to be compassionate was tested. What do you usually do when you meet someone in need of help? What kinds of questions do you ask yourself? What conditions do you set?

• Tell a story about a moral mentor you have known-someone who inspired you with his or her compassionate activity.

Household, Group, and Community Projects

At the 4-H BLU conference, each youth wrote her/his name 
on a piece of paper that was tri-folded. On the inside, 
they wrote things that they are proud about themselves. 
On the outside from they wrote their name. 
On the back center, other youth in the small group 
wrote positive qualities about the person. 
It was a way to build self-esteem and acceptance, and 
show compassion to one another through 
supportive words and comments.

• Go on a fast. If you are inexperienced in this practice, begin with a one-day fast. Eat only fruits or vegetables and drink at least eight glasses of water. Or skip a meal a day for one week. Use the time you would have spent preparing and eating food for quiet reflection on the experience of being hungry. Feel compassion for the millions of people around the world who do not have enough to eat. 

I didn't do this, but want to remember that this may be an action to take at some point in the future.

Olivia petting Nora while Sophia played the harp 
at Northwoods Humane Society.
Nora loved all the extra attention and music.
(Taken on February 13, 2015.)

• Volunteer to serve meals at a soup kitchen, to carry meals to shut-ins, to read to people in the hospital, or to do any other activity that puts you close to suffering.

On February 13th, Sophia, Olivia, and I volunteered at Northwoods Humane Society to provide music therapy and extra attention to dogs and cats who were experiencing higher-than-normal levels of anxiety or stress, or needed some one-on-one time with people.

That afternoon, we spent time with about 15 seniors and helped them frost and decorate cookies for Valentine's Day. For many of them, they needed help remembering how to use a knife and put frosting on a cookie, and what to do with sprinkles. It was pretty sobering to see that such a basic activity was so challenging for many of the them.

I also had the opportunity to put the Music & Memory headphones on seniors who had dementia or Alzheimer's Disease who were having difficulty that afternoon.

On February 14th, Olivia and I visited my mom who is considered a shut-in. She was thrilled to have us spend time with her and eat lunch that I had prepared that morning for her. We had a nice conversation and time together.

Sophia, Olivia, and I gave Valentine's Day cards 
to the seniors. Vernon was so excited to receive one, and 
had his tucked in his pocket so he could bring it 
back to his room at the nursing home.
(Taken on February 13, 2015.)

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Chanting from the Heart - Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 7

This week I read Chanting from the Heart - Buddhist Ceremonies and Daily Practices by Thich Nhat Hanh. This book ties into the fourth spiritual practice I'm focusing on during the last two weeks of February: devotion.

Although there were many beautiful words and thoughts in this book, for the majority of it I skimmed through it since I couldn't picture myself reciting many of the passages.

However, there were some parts that I liked and wanted to remember. One of passages was the Silent Meal Practice. The author said, "From time to time, you might enjoy having a silent meal at home with your family or friends. Eating in silence allows us to see the preciousness of the food and our friends, and also our close relationship with the Earth and all species.

"Sitting silently at the table with others, we also have the opportunity to see them clearly and deeply, and to smile to communicate real love and friendship."

This is the Silent Meal Practice:

1. Looking at your Empty Plate or Bowl

My plate (bowl), empty now,
will soon be filled with precious food.
I see how fortunate I am
to have enough to eat
to continue the practice.

2. Serving Food
In this food
I see clearly
the entire universe
supporting my existence.

3. Sitting Down
Sitting here
is like sitting under a Bodhi Tree.
My body is mindfulness itself,
free from distraction.

4. Looking at the Plate of Food before Eating
Beings all over the Earth
are struggling to live.
I aspire to practice deeply
so that all may have enough to eat.

5. Contemplating the Food
This plate of food,
so fragrant and appetizing,
also contains much suffering.

6. Introducing the Five Contemplations
...[We are advised] to eat in mindfulness,
establishing ourselves in the present moment
so that we can be aware of the food in front of us and
the community surrounding us.
We eat in a way that makes peace, joy, brotherhood,
and sisterhood possible
during the whole time of eating.
Brothers and sisters, when you hear the bell,
please meditate on the Five Contemplations.

7. The Five Contemplations
This food is the gift of the earth, the sky, numerous living beings, and much hard and loving work.
May we eat with mindfulness and gratitude so as to be worthy to receive this food.
May we recognize and transform unwholesome mental formations, especially our greed.
May we take only foods that nourish us and keep us healthy.
We accept this food so that we may nurture our sisterhood and brotherhood and nourish our ideal of serving living beings.

8. Beginning to Eat
(Recited silently while chewing the first four mouthfuls)
With the first mouthful, I practice the love that brings joy.
With the second mouthful, I practice the love that relieves suffering.
With the third mouthful, I practice the joy of being alive.
With the fourth mouthful, I practice equal love for all beings.

9. When the Plate or Bowl Is Empty
My plate (bowl) is empty.
My hunger is satisfied.
I am determined to live for the benefit of all beings.

10. Drinking Tea
This cup of tea in my two hands,
mindfulness held perfectly.
My mind and body dwell
in the very here and now

11. Washing the Dishes
Washing the dishes is like bathing a baby Buddha.
The profane is the sacred.
Everyday mind is Buddha's mind.


The Five Remembrances

1. I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.
2. I am of the nature to have ill health. There is no way to escape having ill health.
3. I am of the nature to die. There is no way to escape death.
4. All that is dear t me and everyone I love are of the nature of change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.
5. I inherit the results of my actions of body, speech, and mind. My actions are my continuation.


The Five Awarenesses

We are aware that all  generations of our ancestors
and all future generations are present in us.

We are aware of the expectations that our ancestors, our children,
and their children have of us.

We are aware that our joy, peace, freedom, and harmony
are the joy, peace, freedom, and harmony
of our ancestors, our children, and their children.

We are aware that understanding is the very foundation of love.

We are aware that blaming and arguing can never help us
and only create a wider gap between us;
that only understanding, trust, and love
can help us change and grow.


The past has already gone,
and the future has not yet come.
Let us not drown ourselves
in regret for what has passed
or in expectations and worry for the future.
The Buddha has said that we can
be peaceful, happy, and free
in this present moment.
Let us hear the Buddha's words
and let go of our sadness and anxiety.
Let us come back to ourselves
and establish ourselves in what is present right now.
Let us learn to recognize
the conditions for happiness
that are present within us
and around us.

Can we hear the birds singing
and the wind in the pines?
Can we see the green mountains,
the white clouds, the golden moon?
The Pure Land is available
in the present moment.
Every day we can enjoy ourselves
in the Buddha Land.
Every mindful breath and step
takes us to the Pure Land,
revealing all the wonders
of the Dharma body.

I am determined to let go of
hurrying, competing,
being busy and disgruntled.
I shall not run after fame, power,
riches, and sex
because I know
that this does not lead to true happiness.
All it will bring me is
misery and misfortune.

I shall learn to know what is sufficient,
to live simply,
so that I have time to live deeply
every moment of my daily life,
giving my body and mind a chance to heal,
and to have the time to look after and protect
those I have vowed to love.

I shall practice for my mind to grow
in love and compassion,
so that I have the ability to help
beings anywhere
who are drowning in craving.

I ask the Buddhas everywhere
to protect and guide me,
to support me on my path,
so that I can live in peace, joy,
and freedom every day,
fulfilling the deepest aspiration
as your disciple
whom you trust and love.


Discourse on Happiness

Not to be associated with the foolish ones,
to live in the company of wise people,
honoring those who are worth honoring —
this is the greatest happiness.

To live in a good environment,
to have planted wholesome seeds,
and to realize that you are on the right path —
this is the greatest happiness.

To have a chance to learn and grow,
to be skillful in your profession or craft,
practicing precepts and loving speech —
this is the greatest happiness.

To be able to serve and support your parents,
to cherish and love your family,
to have a vocation which brings you joy —
this is the greatest happiness.

To live honestly, generous in giving,
to offer support to relatives and friends,
living a life of blameless conduct —
this is the greatest happiness.

To avoid unwholesome actions,
not caught by alcoholism or drugs,
to to be diligent in doing good things —
this is the greatest happiness.

To be humble and polite in manner,grateful,
content with a simple life,
not missing the occasion to learn the Dharma —
this is the greatest happiness.

To persevere and be open to change,
to have regular contact with monks and nuns,
and to fully participate in Dharma discussions —
this is the greatest happiness.

To live diligently and attentively,
to learn about what is wonderfully true,
and to be free of wrong perceptions —
this is the greatest happiness.

To live in the world
with your heart undisturbed by the world,
with all sorrows ended, dwelling in peace —
this is the greatest happiness.

For he or she who accomplishes this,
unvanquished wherever she goes,
always he is safe and happy —
happiness lives within oneself.