Zen Blog

This blog collects various internet feeds aimed towards information, experience and technique exchange in support of our shared spiritual journey.....

”Namaste - may the light in me, honor the light in you…”

The Reunited States of America

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"Fittingly, Living Room Conversations is a state-of-the-art method for individuals and organizations to bring both sides of the political spectrum together to discuss issues of interest in a comfortable environment. No facilitator is needed; the living room conversation simply needs guests and hosts to honor their six basic rules of discourse, which are remarkably similar to what the member of Congress adopted.

Living Room Conversation Ground Rules

"BE CURIOUS AND OPEN TO LEARNING
Listen to and be open to hearing all points of view. Maintain an attitude of exploration and learning. Conversation is as much about listening as it is about talking.

"SHOW RESPECT AND SUSPEND JUDGMENT
Human beings tend to judge one another; do you best not to. Setting judgments aside will better enable you to learn from others and help them feel respected and appreciated.

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Jazz and the Spirit of Democracy

I’m listening to John Coltrane’s "Love Supreme" as I write this. It makes me think of St. John Coltrane Church in San Francisco. I live in Arkansas, but I think I am a member of the church, at least in spirit. I like the whole idea that people might sing along, clap, and dance to Coltrane’s "Love Supreme" on Sunday mornings, understanding it as a spiritual practice in its own right. As they dance they are putting on the mind of Coltrane and entering into Coltrane-consciousness; and many think of it as a kind of Christ-consciousness: open, free, celebratory, loving. Makes sense to me. I think Christ can be in Coltrane and Coltrane in Christ. Isn’t everything interconnected?

But let’s be honest. Not all Americans want to put on the mind of Christ or Coltrane. We are a religiously diverse nation, and the very language of jazz will speak to some but not all. But given that America is the birthplace of jazz, might it be possible that each of us, and perhaps even all of us, could put on the mind of jazz for the sake of practicing democracy, even if it’s not Coltrane’s variety?

Please don’t worry if you don’t like jazz. My wife doesn’t either. She teasingly says that every time she hears a jazz solo it makes her want to slap somebody. In her words: "You can’t sing along; the chords are dissonant; and it goes on and on forever without ever coming to an end." I tell her that we need not go to jazz bars on Saturday nights lest we end up in jail on Sunday mornings. I say to her: "It is enough to enjoy the idea of jazz."

I want to say this to you, too. Admittedly, I am a jazz enthusiast and in my more extravagant moments I entertain the idea that it might be good for everybody to listen to improvisational jazz at least once a day for twenty minutes, even if only as a kind of ascetical practice. Here is my argument.

Listening to jazz on daily basis could help widen our sense of harmony so that we can better appreciate the many voices of our world, some of which are very different from our own.It could help us become more tolerant of ambiguity so that we would not always want to divide the world into tightly-knit compartments.It could help us become open to surprise so that we don’t feel we had to control everything.

One of America’s leading jazz critics, Gary Giddings, says that jazz musicians have two goals: "Creating music that keeps listeners wondering what’s next, and finding a novel context within which to explore old truths." I think the world would be a better place if we didn’t always have to know what comes next.

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Crafting Gratitude

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Maggie Oman Shannon is an ordained interfaith and Unity minister, spiritual director, and workshop and retreat facilitator, who currently serves as Senior Minister of Unity Spiritual Center of San Francisco. She is the author of six previous books, including Prayers for Healing, one of our favorite prayer books. She hosts a weekly hour-long radio show on Unity.fm called "Creative Spirit." For Spirituality & Practice, she created the online retreat on "Ways to Pray from Around the World," which is now available on-demand.

Shannon has been a lifelong crafter, and she has long explored the connection between creativity and spirituality. In Crafting Calm: Projects and Practices for Creativity and Contemplation, she demonstrated an ability to seamlessly meld creativity, spiritual practice, devotional activity, and a love of the arts and crafts. With Crafting Gratitude, she turns her attention and intention to concrete ways, as she puts it, to "remember, on a daily basis, the incredible, overflowing, abundant richness of my life. So this book is for both of us."

Here are 40 crafts projects to make thanksgiving a spiritual practice in daily life. Sections cover gratitude for family, friends, and significant others; health; wealth and prosperity; home; vocations and avocations; nature and animals; opportunities and possibilities; and the Divine. Although she mentions in the introduction that the book is not so much a “how to” book as a “why to” book, we (as non-crafters) found her instructions for each project to be clear and helpful. The point is to use our hands to express our hearts, and this does not require prior experience or special talent.

To encourage us, Shannon has interviewed artists, teachers, coaches, consultants, and other facilitators about their gratitude practices. She shares stories about her own projects and what they have meant to her. For example, she made pet memory beads using the colors of a beloved kitty, plus a glass angel, two metal hearts, and a little bell; “Every time I look at them, I remember my little fur child and the joy she gave me, each bead and charm signifying the gratitude I felt and still feel for having experienced such a deep love for a pet.”

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Crafting Gratitude

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“As writer and transformation teacher Jamie Walters notes on her blog, it should make us feel better that the tenth-century monk, mystic, and Cistercian Abbot Bernard of Clairvaux — who would seem to have already figured out this question of vocation — would wake up each morning and, as he rose from his pallet, would ask, ‘Bernard, Bernard, why have you come here?’

“As someone who mentors and guides people through the process of change, Jamie has heard this question come up many, many times before — and she herself has grappled with it, having been the founder and owner of a successful big-city consulting company and now working primarily alone as a writer and guide through the transformative process, and having undergone many transformations herself along the way. Jamie says, 'For me, vocation and avocation are like two sides of the same coin. And what I've seen is that so much of what is happening even with clients is about vocation — when what we've built has fallen apart.'

"During those times, Jamie feels, a gratitude practice is key; either giving thanks for what is, or in anticipation of what can — and it is affirmed, will — be. Jamie has found the making of a honey jar to be a helpful practice and reflection.

"A honey jar can be used for a lot of things — there are all kinds of variations of this. I learned this practice from a friend who comes from the hoodoo tradition of the southeastern United States, a confluence of Cajun, African, Christian, and European influences. The purpose of a honey jar is to invite synchronicities, ask for clarity, and give gratitude. 'As a gratitude practice,' Jamie explains, 'the gratitude is in the practice of it, the practice is the prayer. It's a way of giving thanks either in retrospect or in anticipation.'

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