Friday, January 31, 2014

MEDITATION—A MEASURED DOSE OF MEDICINE

The etymological meaning of the modern English word ‘meditation’ is most interesting to say the least. The word is a Latin-derived word---meditatus, past participle of meditari, frequentative of medēri, which is related to ‘middle.’ Remember the Buddha's MiddleWay? Well, the middle avoids and transcends the extremes at both ends, and thus all opposites.

The word ‘meditation’ is also etymologically related to such other words as ‘mediation,’ ‘medical,’ and ‘measure.’

Finally, the word ‘meditation’ also denotes ‘reflecting’ and ‘pondering,’ not in any analytical or cognitive sense but in the sense of directly perceiving ‘what is.’

One thing meditation is not is this---it is not ‘mind control’ in the sense of subjugation, sublimation or suppression, nor in my view is it concentration. Meditation is being choicelessly (that is, non-judgmentally) aware of what is. Now, in order to properly meditate you must go gently … and take it easy. More importantly, the ‘effort’ involved in meditation is of a relaxed albeit deliberate kind. It has been described as the ‘effort of no-effort.’ Resist not is the important principle involved.


Robert Ellwood wrote a most useful little book on the subject of meditation entitled Finding the Quiet Mind (TPH, 1983). In that book Ellwood, after referring to the etymological origins of the word, defines, or rather describes, meditation as ‘medicine for the mind which does its work by measuring out time, when it can reach a median, a point of equilibrium’ [emphasis added]. I like that. Let's look at those highlighted words.

‘medicine’

Yes, meditation is medicine. It is good for both body and mind, and there are innumerable scientific and medical studies attesting to that fact. Meditation is therapeutic and at times even curative. Why do we need the ‘medicine’ of meditation? In order to wake up, that is, see things as-they-really-are. You see, we are all in varying degrees ‘sick’ because we are in bondage to self. Meditation frees us from the bondage of self.

... ‘for the mind’

Medicine is, as just mentioned, also good for the body, lowering blood pressure, heart rate, and so forth.

... ‘does its work’

I have only only one qualm concerning Ellwood’s description. I dislike the words ‘does its work.’ The only ‘work’ the mind does, in meditation, is ... unconditioning. Be that as it may, I think that when Ellwood uses the word ‘work’ he simply means ‘action' in the sense of occurrence, but even then the action is that of ... listening, waiting, being attentive, and (most importantly) being aware.

... ‘measuring out time’

Meditation is something which takes place ‘in time,’ even though ‘time’ and ‘space’ (which are really one) are no more than mediums in which all things exist. Life is movement---ceaseless movement---and so is meditation. As such, meditation is timeless and spaceless.

Also, as everything (including space-time) is contained within ‘the Now,’ everything is total and complete in the Now. That is why we say that there is an ‘eternal’ quality about the Now. It is forever ... new. The present moment has its unfolding in the Now, the present simply being that which presents itself before us in the Now---so the present embraces past, present and future. True meditation ‘measures out time’ by letting---please note that important word ‘let’---each present moment, as ‘it’ unfolds from one moment to the next,  simply … be. There is nothing to 'transcend.' There is nowhere to 'go.' All you have to do is ... be.

... ‘a median’

When you reach the ‘median’ you experience balance and harmony. There is no longer any resistance to what is. In other words, you are now at …

... ‘a point of  equilibrium’ 

When resistance goes there is acceptance, equanimity, poise, and serenity.


All too good to be true? Not at all. Indeed, there are few, if any, things in life more important and more liberating than learning how to meditate successfully. I kid you not.


IMPORTANT NOTICE: See the Terms of Use and Disclaimer. The information provided on this blogspot is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your medical practitioner or other qualified health provider because of something you have read on this blogspot. For immediate advice or support call Lifeline on 13 1 1 14 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800. For information, advice and referral on mental illness contact the SANE Helpline on 1800 18 SANE (7263) go online via sane.org



Saturday, January 25, 2014

MEDITATION AND THE INFINITE

Meditation’ wrote H P Blavatsky, ‘is the inexpressible longing of the inner man for the Infinite.’

What is ‘the Infinite’? Is it Life? Eternity? Heaven? Paradise? Bliss? I don’t think it’s any of those things, at least not as those words are ordinarily used and understood. (I will, however, come back to the meaning of the word ‘Eternity’ very shortly.)

I think so-called ‘time’ and ‘space’ – which are really one – are no more than mediums in which all things exist. Life is movement---ceaseless movement--and life itself---pure Be-ing---is timeless and spaceless, with everything being contained within what we call ‘the Now.’ And when I say ‘everything’ I mean every thing … including space and time itself. All duration---that is, time---is total and complete in the Now. Further, there is an ‘eternal’ quality about the Now. It is forever new. The so-called present moment, such a brief and ephemeral ‘thing,’ has its unfolding in the Now.

So, there is one Presence and Power that surpasses even the all-consuming power of time itself--- the Eternal ... the Infinite. Now, Eternity, or the Infinite, is not something we enter when we die. No, Eternity is ‘something’ we are ‘in’---right now!

Each one of us---indeed every ‘thing’—is part of life’s Self-expression (‘Be-ing,’ or the ‘Self’), and life cannot die. Our bodies will die, and, I think, also our minds, but the life in us---well, that’s an entirely different matter.


Why meditate? The answer I give is this---it is the most natural thing we can do. You see, we come from Be-ing, we live, move and have our be-ing in Be-ing, and we will forever be part of Be-ing. We can’t escape ‘it’ … because we are ‘it.’ What? Pure Be-ing, which is forever complete and whole, and which embraces all in One-ness. Meditation---especially the practice of mindfulness---enables us to stop identifying with our body and our mind. They are not the real person each one of us is. Meditation also enables us to stop identifying with time, for the less we think about time, and the less we concern ourselves with time, the freer we will be.

Each one of us---even the most materialistic of persons---has an ‘inexpressible longing’ for the Infinite. The longing is ‘inexpressible’ because it is essentially ‘unspeakable.’ More than that, it is ‘hidden,’ because it is not something that is objective to consciousness itself. Indeed, this longing is of the very nature of Be-ing---that is, pure consciousness---Itself.

Well, why meditate if this longing for the Infinite is ‘inexpressible’ or unspeakable’? The answer is simple. People meditate because they want to live fully and mindfully in the abundance of the Eternal Now. They want to know the ‘Self as … One. They want to feel fully and truly alive … and one with all there is.

So, I say to each of you … meditate.


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The photos were taken by the author
on a recent trip to Tasmania

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

GOOD RELIGION … AND BAD RELIGION

'Religion is a monumental chapter
in the history of human egotism.'
William James.


I’m not sure whether I am religious or not. That’s a strange thing coming from me---a minister of religion … albeit a minister of a very liberal religion [Unitarian Universalism] … assuming for the moment it is a single religion, or even a religion at all, but that’s another matter.

I have come to dislike organized religion immensely. All too often religion---all religions---divide rather than unite. Religion is the cause of so much misery in our world. It’s certainly not the only cause, or even the major cause, but it is right up there nevertheless.


What is ‘religion’? Well, I am supposed to know something about that subject, as I wrote a huge number of words on the subject in my PhD thesis. Regrettably, the derivation of the English word ‘religion’ is by no means as clear as perhaps one would like, but we do know that the current English word ‘religion’ is derived from the Middle English word religioun which comes from the Old French word religion. Then we need to go to the Latin word religio. That word has affinities with three separate Latin verbs:

· religare, to restrain, bind, bind back, bind up, bind fast together, tie back (especially to oneself again), from ligare, to tie, close a deal, cement an alliance, unite in harmony
· relegare, to banish, from legare, to depute, commission, send as an emissary, bequeath, entrust
· relegere, to gather, collect again, review, re-read, re-examine carefully, from legere, to read, recite, or choose.

All very confusing. Actually, it’s even more complicated than the above, but that’s enough for present purposes. When one considers the meanings of the various suggested derivations of the current English word 'religion' there appear to be some common elements or at least similar themes.

First, religion involves, at one or more levels, the notion of ‘binding together’ or ‘binding back’, whether to oneself (in the sense of one’s true or spiritual nature), one’s ultimate ‘source’ or to other people as some sort of response to life, with a sense of awe, reverence, ‘fear’, devotion, veneration and respect, whereby meaning is gained.

Secondly, religion involves, at one or more levels, the notions of ‘return’, ‘recovery’, ‘restoration’ and ‘re-encounter,’ whether to one’s own self, some condition or way of life, or one’s ultimate home or resting place, with the object and purpose of religion being to restore to us the knowledge of what we really are.

Thirdly, religion ordinarily involves the selection and systematization of certain teachings and beliefs and a consequent abiding by that selection with some degree of regulation and control (eg in the form of codes of conduct) as well as conscientiousness and scrupulousness arising from the religion and inherent as well in its practice.

Fourthly, religion involves the notion of ties in the sense of the fulfillment of duties and commitment.

Fifthly, religion involves practices and activities intended to give effect to the foregoing including but not limited to repetitious rites and the reproduction of formulas and expressions.

Finally, religion involves notions of holiness, sacredness and sanctity (including but not limited to sacred places or things and objects of veneration) and often---but not necessarily---involves notions of supernaturalism as well as superstition.

Now, it may seem overly simplistic to divide religion---all religions---into ‘good and ‘bad,’ but I intend to do just that. Here I go.

Good religion unites, that is, it binds together not just the adherents of the particular religion but all persons in the sense that it recognizes the existence of a larger family of persons who, though they may not be followers of the religion in question, are nevertheless worthy of the same respect and love shown to adherents of the religion. Good religion recognizes the interconnectedness of all life and all persons. On May 18, 1966 the Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr [pictured left] delivered an important lecture at the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly at Hollywood, Florida. Among the important things Dr King said was this:

'All I'm saying is this: that all life is inter-related, and somehow we are all tied together. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the inter-related structure of all reality.'

Good religion accepts, embraces, affirms, and seeks to enhance the inter-related structure of all reality. It does not seek to impose its beliefs or practices on those ‘outside’ the religion. That is hard for a religion such as Christianity, which seeks to follow what it understands Jesus meant when he said---assuming he actually spoke these words---‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation’ (Mk 16:15). Now, I could go on for some time giving you my understanding of those words, and what is meant by the ‘gospel,’ but I dare say most of my readers couldn’t care less about the matter. Those who do ‘care’ would reject what I would say in any event. I take comfort in these words of Richard Le Gallienne: 'Organized Christianity has probably done more to retard the ideals that were its founder's than any other agency in the world.' Ditto most if not all other organized religions.

Good religion does not oppose the findings of science nor the use of reason. It eschews superstition and does not ground itself in outdated and silly notions of supernaturalism. It allows its adherents to have perfect freedom in the interpretation of its scriptures and teachings. It erects no barriers around its ‘altars.’ In short, good religion is inclusive whereas bad religon is exclusivistic in nature. Good religion teaches and practises love. Bad religion teaches love ... but withholds it from certain people who think and act differently.

Yes, bad religion divides, judges, bans, and condemns. So, we have the 'saved' and the 'unsaved,' the 'faithful' versus the 'infidels,' and so on. Dreadful stuff. Appalling. Bad religion promulgates the nasty view that it is the one true religion, that its founder or head is the only way to God, heaven, enlightenment, bliss, or whatever. I make no apologies for using the word ‘nasty.’ Bad religion asserts the supremacy of its so-called ‘holy’ book over all others, and may even claim that its holy book is infallible and inerrant. 'The inspiration of the Bible depends on the ignorance of the person who reads it,' wrote Robert G Ingersoll. The same goes for all so-called 'holy' books. All talk of infallibility, inerrancy and unchallengeable authority in matters pertaining to religion is dangerous---and silly---stuff. It is the stuff of martyrs, religious terrorists, and the like. Such stuff has no place in the world of the 21st century, even though we see the evidence and workings of such religion all around us.

Of course, I am showing a certain prejudice or bias in all that I have written, for I have aligned myself with all that I see as ‘good’ religion, and strenuously reject all that I see as ‘bad’ religion, but I must and will say this in self-defence---I have used reason. If ‘truth’ is truth---that is, if the word has any meaning at all---then truth must be universal. It cannot be the exclusive preserve of some people but not others, or of one religion but not others. I like what Oscar Wilde said, 'Truth, in matters of religion, is simply the opinion that has survived.'  That's funny, but Wilde is wrong. Truth, in all matters, is never a matter of opinion. Truth is a matter of what is.


Now, I must be careful here. I am not saying that all religions teach the same thing, although I do hold the view that, at a certain level, there are certain teachings that are more-or-less common to most, if not all, of the world’s major religions. Also, I am not saying that one religion is as good, or as bad, as another, because all of them are flawed in various ways … including the one of which I am a minister. What I do say is this---some religions are more silly, and (even worse) more dangerous, than others, and some religions have few redeeming features. I will leave it at that for the time being.

Religion is not unimportant. Indeed, it is of great importance. However, one does not need to be ‘religious,’ in any formal, organizational sense, to be a decent and responsible human being. Indeed, it may even be easier to be the latter kind of a person if one eschews religion in a formal, organizational sense. However, religion, in the true sense of the word, is inherent in what we are as human beings. I am thinking especially of the notions of ‘binding together’ and ‘binding back,’ as well as the idea of being ‘restored’ to our true nature. Religion is about ‘going home’---and, no, I am talking about some supposed ‘place’ called heaven, paradise or the like. We all need to be more closely bound together, and without some sense of being ‘bound back’ to our source---or to some principle, power of ‘thing’ of supreme, indeed ultimate, importance---life has little meaning. We all need to ‘wake up’ to an understanding of who and what we really are. True religion is about being … fully human. Albert Einstein [pictured below] expressed it well when he said:


'[A] person who is religiously enlightened appears to me to be one who has, to the best of his ability, liberated himself from the fetters of his selfish desires and is preoccupied with thoughts, feelings and aspirations to which he clings because of their super-personal value.'

A true ‘religious’ response to life---displayed as a sense of awe, reverence, and respect to all persons, indeed all life---is of ultimate importance. 

Only a response to life of that kind can save us---and the planet.



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Thursday, January 16, 2014

ME AND MY SHADOW ... ALL ALONE AND FEELIN' BLUE

In years gone by there was a bandleader of great renown called Ted Lewis [pictured left, as well as below]. Lewis, who was born in Circleville, Ohio in 1890, is sometimes referred to as the ‘King of Jazz,’ and in many respects he was the originator of the ‘Big Bands.’ He was also billed as 'Mr Entertainment,' 'The High-hatted Tragedian of Jazz,' and 'The Medicine Man for Your Blues,' but he liked to refer to himself, on and off-screen, as the 'Dispenser of Happiness.' I like that, for what could be nobler than that---dispensing much-needed happiness.

With his battered, tilted top hat and cane, he was certainly the most successful, the highest paid, and arguably the best-known, bandleader, musician (a clarinetist, but not a great one) and showman extraordinaire of the 1920s, ‘30s, and '40s, and his long career in showbiz 
(beginning in 1910, when he organized his first band) spanned some 60 very prolific years with innumerable appearances in vaudeville, theatres, concert halls, ballrooms, hotels and nightclubs (the last being the Desert Inn, at Las Vegas, Nevada in 1967), on Broadway, in films, and on radio and television (the latter until as late as 1969) ... not to mention lots of recordings (from 1917 to at least 1957). At his 80th birthday party in 1970 he played the clarinet with a local Circleville, Ohio jazz band. He left us the very next year but I can still hear in my mind’s ear his famous catchphrase, ‘Is everybody happy?’

Ted Lewis and His Orchestra

You can find a lot of Ted Lewis’s music, and some of his film and TV performances, on the internet, and there is even The Ted Lewis Museum in Circleville, Ohio. I first became aware of who he was when I was a kid watching Abbott and Costello films on TV. (I still love A&C.) In one of their classic films, Hold that Ghost, Ted Lewis appeared with his orchestra. One of the musical numbers performed by Lewis in that film was ‘Me and My Shadow’---his signature tune. In the following clip from Hold That Ghost you can see and hear Lewis performing the number with his African-American ‘sidekick’: 

video

Now, first try to overlook the racist overtones of a bygone era (although the act wouldn't have been seen as racist at the time, but that doesn't mean much). Note how Lewis’s ‘shadow' follows and mimicks Lewis’ gestures. In all, it's a fascinating musical number, and the lyrics [more-or-less but not exactly as 'sung' by Lewis here] are interesting, if not curious, to say the least:

Me and my shadow
Strolling down the avenue
Me and my shadow
Not a soul to tell our troubles to
 

And when it's twelve o'clock
We climb the stair
We never knock
For nobody's there
 
Just me and my shadow
All alone and feelin' blue

And when it's twelve o'clock
We climb the stair
We never knock
For nobody's there

Just me and my shadow
All alone and feelin' blue.

Who or what is your ‘shadow’? Now, I am not so much referring to the concept of the ‘shadow’ in Jungian psychology. That perhaps is too narrow a concept for present purposes. The fact is each one of us has one or more shadows which follow us around, leaving us at times ‘all alone and feelin’ blue.’ 

The shadow may be some failure or disappointment from the past, the memory of a failed relationship or a deceased loved one, an actual person (living, dead or entirely imaginary and fictitious), a hurt or resentment, anger, a sense of inferiority or insecurity, loneliness, fear, anxiety, or practically anything that is capable of holding us back. Here’s another common shadow---tired, worn-out beliefs and belief-systems. In fact, all beliefs prevent us from seeing and experiencing life as it really is, that is, as it unfolds from one moment to the next.


Now, I am not one to say, ‘Forget the past.’ I would never want to forget certain wonderful things and people from the past. For me, they are a present reality through the faculty of memory. Never forget that our remembrance of things and people past is a present one---a present experience. It is never 'just' the past. Then, again, there are some less pleasant things that ought to be left in the past---period. They are our ‘shadow.’

What is your shadow? Perhaps you have more than one. First, work out what are your shadows, and then decide whether they are holding you back. (Be very honest with yourself about that.) Then make a decision---there is great power in so doing---to set yourself free from all that is holding you back from seeing and experiencing life as it really is. Next, start to live differently, that is, as a free man or woman, unencumbered by the failures and disappointments of the past as well as all negative thoughts and emotions. If you are painstaking about all that, then you will be able to ‘stroll down the avenue’ ... without your shadow. And oh yes, it also helps---both you and others---if you make it a habit of dispensing happiness wherever you go. That's what Ted Lewis did ... very successfully.

And then you will no longer feel blue.


Ted Lewis performing 'Me and My Shadow'
at the Hollywood Canteen


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Grateful Acknowledgments
Acknowledgments are made to the Estates of the Late Bud Abbott and the Late Lou Costello in respect ofcopyrighted, trademarked and other controlled material of the Estates. All rights reserved. The licensable images of Abbott and Costello, the routine ‘Who's on First’ and other routines and materials of and by Abbott and Costello are controlled material of the above mentioned Estates. The video clip (courtesy YouTube) as presented in this post is for entertainment, nonprofit and non-commercial purposes only. There is no intention to infringe copyright or any other controlled material. This post, and the blog itself, are solely for informational and educational purposes that are entirely nonprofit and non-commercial in nature, intent and actuality.


IMPORTANT NOTICE: See the Terms of Use and Disclaimer. The information provided on this blogspot is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your medical practitioner or other qualified health provider because of something you have read on this blogspot. For immediate advice or support call Lifeline on 13 1 1 14 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800. For information, advice and referral on mental illness contact the SANE Helpline on 1800 18 SANE (7263) go online via sane.org


Monday, January 13, 2014

AUSTRALIA’S FIRST POSITIVE THINKER

‘The positive thinker repels disease:
the negative thinker invites infection.’ 

Who wrote that? Please read on.

On a recent trip to Tasmania I made a pilgrimage of sorts to Bruny Island, an island off the south-eastern coast of Tasmania, where, in a little cemetery at Lunawanna, are the mortal remains of a fascinating and highly eccentric woman who was a pioneer and veritable giant of New Thought in Australia. The name of this woman? The ‘Reverend Sister’ Veni Cooper-Mathieson (also known as Mrs Amanda Malvina Thorley-Gibson) [pictured left].

Sister Veni was born in MaitlandNew South Wales, Australia, in 1867, and was initially engaged in newspaper work before embracing New Thought, spending three years (1906-09) in Great Britain and USA studying metaphysics. She died on Bruny Island, Tasmania, Australia, in 1943, aged 75. During her lifetime she founded several New Thought centres in various states of Australia, her pioneer work commencing in 1903. Sadly, she came to grief in Tasmania, the last Australia state in which she settled, when in May 1934 she was fined in the Hobart Police Court for 'practising as a physician.' She was a metaphysical healer, and many such healers ran afoul of the law in those days. After the rather nasty incident in court, Sr Veni appears to have kept a fairly quiet profile.


The twice-married Sr Veni was the archetypal New Thought leader of the day---itinerant speaker, teacher and writer, prolific self-publisher, self-proclaimed ‘healer’, and self-promoter extraordinaire. She taught that Australia was the ‘land of the dawning’ and advocated female emancipation (albeit in some rather odd ways---read on). 

Sr Veni cofounded the Australian New Thought Alliance (conferences held in 1916 and 1928), and also founded many other religious organizations including The Women’s White Cross Moral Reform Crusade (a society to promote celibacy among young women, there being a companion group for young men---not surprisingly not-so-successful), The Universal Truth Healing Fellowship, The Esoteric College and Home of Truth, The Bethany Healing Centre, The Church of Truth Universal (and Metaphysical College), The Truth-Seeker Publishing Company, The Universal Truth Publishing Co (of Australasia), and The Order of the Prince of Peace. 

I should also mention that for a few years during the 1920s, and (it seems) also around 1931, Sr Veni operated a home for unmarried mothers and their babies in Mount Victoria, New South Wales, for a time at the historic home of Closeburn House [pictured below].


Needless to say, all of the various entities and organizations founded by Sr Veni are long gone---although New Thought is still alive and well in numerous new incarnations. 

Some of Sr Veni's books include A Marriage of Souls: A Metaphysical Novel (1914), The Soul’s Immaculate Conception (1923), and The Universal HealthRestorer (1929). She also published and edited the Australian New Thought journals The Truth Seeker, The Healer, and The Revealer. All in all, she was a very busy woman—and she was no doubt sincere in her beliefs whatever others (and the law) may have thought of her.

Sr Veni had an interest in Rosicrucianism---often lecturing and writing on the subject---and she supported the English-born Australian occultist Frank Bennett in his attempt to found a lodge of the OrdoTempli Orientis in Sydney New South Wales, in 1915. (For better or for worse---the latter in my opinion---Aleister Crowley was the best-known member of the order.)

Consistent with New Thought teaching Sr Veni emphasized the innate divinity of every human being. ‘We are all Sparks of the One Eternal Flame, the Great Life Principle, which men call God.’ And what of Jesus? Well, he is ‘the revelator and demonstrator of Good or God in man … our Great Exemplar.’ She wrote that ‘if you are not prepared to go through the entire process [of spiritual transformation and psychological mutation] within your own souls, then the crucifixion of Jesus and the resurrection of Christ has no real meaning for you.’ She also wrote, ‘Mankind has worshipped the personal Jesus, and rejected the Universal Christ, which was individualized and so manifested in and through Jesus.’ I couldn’t agree more. The ‘Christ’ is not a person but a power, a potentiality, and a presence for good---in each of us. The sooner we stop worshipping the Jesus of the Churches, and start worshipping each other---well, the Good in each one of us---the sooner our world will improve for the better. Sr Veni expressed it well in her book A Marriage of Souls:

'Then, of course, all things are possible to us if we will but believe it. We shall have dominion and power over all things; indeed, the power is now latent within us, just as the full-grown man is lying hidden within the babe, only waiting to be developed and hence revealed. When we come to this stage of consciousness we naturally are able to do the works of a Son of God, just as His first-begotten, or eldest son, Jesus, did. He said we were His brethren, and that His Father was our Father, and that Truth is for all eternity and for all Humanity: not only for one people or one age; for God is no respecter of generations or nations any more than He is of persons, He is God of all the earth. This was so … for it came from the Source of all truth, the Spirit within every man that giveth understanding. …'

On the subject of sin, Sr Veni wrote, ‘Sin means “missing the mark” [IEJ: indeed it does] or falling short of the higher ideals of life which you have set up for yourself, and know to be your soul’s true goal. To do or be, less than you are able or capable of doing or being, is sin.’ That, too, sits very well with my Unitarianism. Sr Veni preached a ‘Fourfold Way to Life Eternal’---right feeling, right thinking, right speaking, and right acting. (Does that sound familiar?) Like all New Thoughters, she taught that ‘every thought is a living force.’ ‘When you think a thought, you give life to a created idea. You have used the essence that brings forth a Word; then the Word becomes flesh in the earth of your being. It must produce according to tis quality and character.’

In 1929 Sr Veni wrote and published The Universal Health Restorer. That book, written almost a quarter of a century before the publication of Norman Vincent Peale’s classic book The Power of Positive Thinking was published, contains the following piece of New Thought wisdom---‘The positive thinker repels disease: the negative thinker invites infection.’ 

There you have it---the power of positive thinking (well, the principle, if not that exact phrase which appears to be Dr Peale’s alone).

Rest in peace, Sister Veni. You were one of a kind.


Note. The November-December 2013 issue of New Dawn magazine features an interesting article by Walter Mason on Sister Veni Cooper-Mathieson. You can download a digital version of that magazine issue as well as other back issues of the magazine at the New Dawn website




Wednesday, January 1, 2014

PRACTISING MINDFULNESS---GO FORTH INTO THE NEW YEAR WITH PURPOSE AND STRENGTH

Would you like to be a 'colonizer' of a brand new territory---a territory yet to be explored? I will explain shortly ... but first I must digress. (I usually do, you know.)

One of my life-long interests has been Hawaiiana and Pacificana, including a special interest in some 30 or so low-lying coral islands in the central Pacific Ocean, scattered between Hawaii and Samoa, that once were sometimes referred to as ‘American Polynesia.’ That was a term coined in 1859 by the distinguished German statistician and geographer Ernst Behm. I have written a couple of monographs on American Polynesia---one of which found its way into the world famous Bernice P Bishop Museum (the 'Bishop Museum') in Honolulu, Hawaii---as well as other articles on the topic of Hawaiian spirituality. Most of these writings can be found on SlideShare if you're interested in reading any of them.

Anyway, there is a Hawaiian word panalāʻau. Like many Hawaiian words it is an amalgam of a number of other Hawaiian words or parts of words, and I could write quite a few pages on the etymological meaning of the word panalāʻau. At the risk of gross oversimplification, the word panalāʻau has two main, but several more, component parts, namely, pana and ʻau. The word pana means, among other things, to shoot (eg an arrow, or a bow). The compound word ʻau means to insist, to urge continuously, persistently or with great intent or purpose. Conjointly, the word  panalāʻau connotes the idea of striving and going forth purposively. More specifically, the word panalāʻau means a colony, dependency, or territory, as well as a colonizer or colonist. A colonizer is, of course, a person who goes out, and forth, to strive a build a new society. There is often much hard work in so doing, although there are invariably many risks involved as well, including the risk of doing harm to any indigenous population present as well as to the natural environment.

When, over 30 years ago, I first read the books American Polynesia and the Hawaiian Chain and Panalāʻau Memoirs, both written by Edwin H Bryan Jr (1898-1985) [pictured right]I was fascinated with what is known as the Hui Panalāʻau. (Before I proceed any further I want to mention that Bryan, who was a veritable polymath, was the Curator of Collections at the Bishop Museum from 1919 until 1968---that is, for almost 50 years. His connection with the Bishop Museum did not end even then! He became Curator Emeritus and was the Founding Director of the Museum's Pacific Scientific Information Center. Bryan was a landmark scientific explorer of the Pacific and we owe so much to his genius, courage, and his various seminal writings on Pacific Island history (including natural history), flora and fauna, geology, geography, and archaeology, as well as on astronomy and many other subjects.)

Now, back to the subject of the Hui Panalāʻau. Those Hawaiian words have been variously translated as ‘club of settlers of the southern islands,’ ‘holders of the land society,’ and (more commonly) ‘society of colonists.’ In the mid-1930s, the US Bureau of Air Commerce (later known as the US Department of Commerce), and later the US Department of the Interior, was looking for suitable sites along the Pacific air route between California and Australia to support trans-Pacific flight operations.

Howland Island colonists. 1936.

So, the US federal government asserted, or rather re-asserted, its claim to various (then) uninhabited small islands in the central Pacific---that had been previously claimed by American guano interests---and proceeded to establish small American colonies on several of those islands---islands such as Howland, Baker, Jarvis, and Canton (now 'Kanton,' and part of the Republic of Kiribati). Some 130 young Hawaiian men were chosen to be the colonizers. Native Hawaiian men made up the ‘bulk’ (often in more ways than one, no disrespect intended) of the colonizers. 
(E H Bryan Jr, a haole, was an honorary member of this esteemed society of men.) These wonderfully brave and tough men were the Hui Panalāʻau---the ‘Society of Colonists.’ The years of colonization (1935-1942) extended well into World War II, and, in the case of Kanton, considerably longer, but that’s another---and most interesting---story altogether. (BTW, once the War began, all the hard work the colonizers did was very useful for the Allied War Effort in the Pacific, but that, too, is another story.) For those who are interested in the story of the Hui Panalāʻau, you can read more about it here

I have digressed considerably. Please forgive me. (Alright, I don’t mind if you don’t.) Anyway, the story of the Hui Panalāʻau has all been quite interesting---at least to me, and I hope to you as well---and it's all much more than mere backdrop to my 'message' (if that be the right word). As I’ve already mentioned, the word panalāʻau connotes the idea of striving and going forth purposively. I like to think that is the way we ought to face life---and the New Year. Life is never easy, but we do make it so much harder for ourselves than we need to. We can go boldly into the future when we have courage and confidence. How can mindfulness help in that regard? Well, in many ways, but first let's make it perfectly clear what we mean by the term mindfulness. This oft-quoted definition, or rather description, of mindfulness comes from that great 'guru' (yuk) of mindfulness Jon Kabat-Zinn:


You see, in order to live mindfully, we must ‘pay attention’ in a certain way. More specifically, we must pay attention ‘on purpose.’ We must also pay attention ‘in the present moment’---or, as I often say, ‘from one moment to the next’---and we must do all that ‘nonjudgmentally.’ Mindfulness is a going forth into the future. Now, how does one go forth into the future? By being fully aware---including being aware that one is aware---from one moment to the next. That requires the exercise of what is often referred to as ‘bare attention,’ namely, enough attention to ‘wake up’ to the present moment, to ‘stay awake’ (and 'here and now'), and to observe what is taking place ... enough attention to be able to 'discern' without discriminating or judging … but no more than that. Any ‘striving’ on our part to ‘stay awake’ requires, yes, a certain amount of effort---but, paradoxically, it is an effortless sort of effort. Like the Hui Panalāʻau to whom I made reference above a certain amount of curiosity and energy is required to practise mindfulness, otherwise the mind is dull and bored. The mindful mind is patientflexible, open, even open-ended, receptive and ever interested in whatever is the experience of the moment---from one moment to the next.

Four colonists bid farewell to Jarvis Island.

Please do not get the impression that mindfulness requires the type of effort and striving that would be required to colonize some barren, remote Pacific island or the like. No, I am not saying that at all. But, in a very profound sense, each of us needs to be a panalāʻau---that is, a colonist. What are we colonizing? What is this 'brand new territory'---yet to be explored? Well, it's nothing other than our limited period of space-time in which each of us lives and moves and has our being. We can either be timid, dull, and bored---that is, lifeless, so to speak---or we can go forth into that new territory in courage and confidence---striving on purpose to wake up … and to stay awake ... from one moment to the next ... one day at a time ... indeed, one moment at a time. That is the only way to truly live ... as opposed to merely exist. So, go forth ... strive purposefully ... and 'colonize' your own new territory in space-time.

Happy New Year! In Hawaiian, that’s Hau’oli Makahiki Hou!


Kanton Island from the air