PRAIRIE UU Society, Madison, WI - NOV. 20, 2005
READING       “Family Reunion”   Maxine Kumin 
The week in August you come home,
adult, professional, aloof,
we roast and carve the fatted calf
-- in our case homegrown pig, the chine
garlicked and crisped, the applesauce
hand - pressed.  Handpressed with greengage
Nothing is cost effective here.
The peas, the beets, the lettuces
handsown, are raised to stand apart.
The electric fence ticks like the slow heart
of something we fed and bedded for a year,
then killed with kindness’s one bullet
and paid Jake Mott to do the butchering.
In winter we lure the birds with suet,
thaw lungs and kidneys for the cat.
Darlings, it’s all a circle from the ring
of wire that keeps raccoons from the corn
to the gouged pine table that we lounge around,
distressed before any of you was born.
Benign and dozy from our gluttonies,
the candles down to stubs, defenses down,
love leaking out unguarded the way
juice dribbles from the fence when grounded
by grass stalks or a forgotten hoe,
how eloquent, how beautiful you seem!
Wearing our gestures, how wise you grow,
ballooning to overfill our space,
the almost-parents of your parents now.
So briefly having you back to measure us
is harder than having let you go.
             Thanksgiving and the Holidays fill us with mixed feelings. There are moments of great joy and satisfaction.  And, there are often feelings of being alone and without as much love as we need, or enough places to share our love. Today's reflections address how we might hold our hearts and others with compassion and grace, whether our blessings are apparent, or not.
            Today's reading, the poem by Maxine Kumin takes me back to the 3-month period of time when my mother was dying of cancer.   My sister, Scott my partner, and I took turns staying with her for a week at a time.
            My sister and I were trading shifts, and I stood at the garage door and watched her drive down the driveway and head back to her family.  I felt a terrible wrench in my heart.  It was very hard to see her drive away.  I missed her terribly, even though she had stood beside me just moments ago.  I went into the house and spoke with my mother about it
            “It must have been so hard to have us leave and go out on our own,” I said.
            She said, “ Oh yes, but, we saw each other often.”  In that one sentence, she described what every parent must go through - the transition from day to day intimacy with a child, to an adult relationship of negotiated companionship and friendship.
     The Holiday SEASON fills us with mixed feelings just because of the complexity of human need and human relationship as described in Maxine's poem and my experience with my sister and mother. There are moments of great joy and satisfaction.  And, there are often feelings of being alone and without as much love as we need, or enough places to share our love. Today's reflections address the practice of choosing compassion and love, whether our blessings are apparent, or not.
            Recently, I met a man whose wife had just died of Alzheimer's.  She had been ill for about ten years, and died of complications of her heart.  The last two years she had been living in an Alzheimer's Home, as she could no longer cope at home.  I expressed my sympathy about his loss and he thanked me.  I asked another question and he told me the most wonderful story. When he finished, I asked if I could share it with others, and he said yes.
            He said, when she had had to go into the home he realized he had a choice of how to respond to the situation.  He could either be bitter and morose throughout the coming challenges, or he could be loving and grateful for his life and hers in these final years. He chose to be loving and grateful.
            “Every time I went to the home, I would let the workers know how much I appreciated them caring for her.  I spent time loving her.  When I stepped out the door and headed home, I would consciously tell myself what things she and I had to be grateful for in that day.  When I was depressed or angry, I would let myself feel it and let it pass away, knowing it was a normal feeling and that I didn't have to dwell in it.”
            “It made all the difference in how I have experienced these last two years.  Although it was hard, I feel surrounded by people who have been loving and caring to her and to me.  My children have made peace with their Mother's illness and we are all mourning together.  I know it made it easier for her, too.  Although she had lost most recognition of us and had a tenuous hold on reality, one could feel that she felt safe and was well cared for physically.  That matters quite a bit, I think.”
            For me, this man's story is the essence of my remarks for this morning.  As we approach the holiday time, we will have many mixed feelings.  It is a time that we are meant to be with family, celebrating our good fortune, giving gifts to each other and caring for those less fortunate.  The culture around us contributes to the pressures by relentlessly selling us whatever it can - inundating us with unsolicited catalogues in our mailboxes and producing Christmas wares before Halloween has even passed.  It is a challenging time, to say the least.
            However, I believe that our lives our full of blessings, even if they are not apparent.  That is, even if we do not have a loved one at our side, or children to buy toys for, or money to create a Thanksgiving Spread, -- we can find blessings where they might not be apparent.  This practice is the great opportunity of this season.
            This message is told in another way, from a story from Carolyn Myss's book, ANATOMY of the SPIRIT.  Carolyn Myss is a practitioner of healing and psychological underpinnings of the human psyche.  Jack's cousin, Gregg, wanted Jack and his wife, Lynn to invest in a business venture.  Jack, a carpenter, was forty-seven.  His cousin convinced him this investment was a good idea.  Jack's wife, Lynn was hesitant but wanted to support her husband and his cousin.  They decided to put in much of their life savings.
             Not long afterwards, the entire venture failed.  Jack's cousin disappeared.  A few months after that, Jack injured his back and his blood pressure increased.   He became very depressed.  Lynn finally didn't know what to do and forced him to go with her to a growth and healing workshop. 
            Clearly, Jack was incapacitated in his feelings of having let his wife down, having “failed” in his investment strategy and feeling like a failure in life.  The workshop leader began talking about forgiveness and Jack prepared to leave the room.   Lynn stood up and caught his hand and addressed him like he and she were the only one in the room -
            She said,   “I feel like you did invested for us out of love -out of trying to help our family.  You got hurt because you were out working to provide for our family.  I will never believe an act of love is rewarded with pain.  I believe that if you change your perspective and hold to the truth that you supported someone you love because it felt right, then, somehow, this will work out for us.  I don't want the anger you feel for your cousin and for yourself to ruin the rest of our lives. So I say we just keep going.”
            Jack began weeping and expressing words of apology and gratitude to his wife.  By the end of the workshop, they were in a brand new place.  Months later Jack was much better and they had moved on in their lives. They had both forgiven Gregg and themselves for the losses. 
            Again, in this case, one person chooses to see the situation through the eyes of love, rather than criticalness, and that transformed both of their lives.
            The lesson that we are surrounded by blessings, no matter how it appears otherwise, is beautifully described in the Buddhist practice of mindfulness. The Buddha nature is to touch compassion, joy and love.  Buddhism teaches that these 3 - compassion, joy and love, - are always available in every moment, how would you know they exist if you do not practice them  - if you do not use them when you have a chance to?
            For example, my Buddhist friend Bob's 23-year-old daughter, Michelle, had a terrible car accident last week.  A very large truck ran into her car.  No one was hurt, but her car was wrecked and she was in terrible shock.  She called her father within 20 minutes of the accident.  He said he remembered that as soon as she told him he knew he had a choice of how he responded.  He could get into his angry father place, or he could become a detached money counting business person, totaling losses and negotiating insurance deals or he could respond mindfully - from his developing Buddha nature and express love and joy and compassion,
            “Because I have practiced for so long, I could choose the Buddha nature quickly,” he told me.  “ I told her how much I loved her, how happy I was that she had not been hurt.   I expressed compassion for the other driver and encouraged her to do the same.   I kept telling her how much joy there was in me for her.  Later she told me it helped her so much.
            “And” he continued, “We stepped through the other things we had to figure out - like contacting the insurance company -mindfully - without rancor or anger and with centeredness.  It has all worked out fine.  This week, she has told me how much she appreciated my calm and my telling her how much I loved her and how happy I was for her.”
            Bob's reminded me so deeply that the Buddha nature is always present through mindfulness.   Choosing to practice mindfulness is a way to gain access to Buddhist nature - to touch compassion, joy and love - which are always available to us -- but you have to make a choice.   And, how would you know there is love if you did not experience it? You must practice it. ...Noting all the possibilities, but choosing the path of love as often as you can. 
            In the Meditation Hall of the Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hahn, they often ring a bell - much like ours - and that means for everyone to stop what they are doing and come into the present, even more than they are.  “Thy” says to use the phone the same way - when it rings, use it as a time ot practice mindfulness.   In a moment I will invite us all to practice mindfulness.  It will be an early holiday gift we can all give to each other.
            The same is true of practicing finding the blessings, whether they are apparent or not.  This takes strength and courage. Especially when we are very lonely or feeling especially bitter.  But, it can be made easier by asking someone to share these ideas with you, to pick a holiday partner, a friend who you think may be going through the same thing and dialoguing about it.  Or, maybe you feel especially blessed and would like to partner with someone, anyway. Use each other for support.
            We must never underestimate the power of how we use our minds.  We can realize that we hold possibility in our minds, rather than demanding answers from the outside.   We can choose love and joy in as many moments as possible - as often as we can.   And, if we practice it with others - and share our journey with others, we minister not only to ourselves, but also to others.  
            Our blessings are not only in the outside world, represented in physical form and back accounts.  They are right under the surface in our own minds, just a choice away.  
Invitation for Congregation to participate in Mindfulness Practice.....or, you may also choose to sit in quiet reflection...
Mindfulness Definition by Thich Nhat Hahn (adapted)
The energy to here and to witness deeply everything that happens in the present moment, aware of what is going on within you and outside of you...and to choose how you use your mind in the moment...
Adapting Thich Nhat Hahn’s Mindfulness Practice - Say to yourself and breathe with the words.  repeat 3-5 times
Breathing in , I calm my body.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment.
I know this is a loving moment.
Follow up with the same practice, but with one word only:
Calming    Smiling    Present Moment   Loving Moment
Amen. Blessed Be, Salaam, Shalom. Namaste. Ho.