Quest for Inner Peace

Rev. Ned Wight

July 13, 2014

Congratulations! You’ve just made it through another holiday weekend of fireworks, hyperpatrioBc slogans and symbols, ubiquitous red, white and blue . . . and this season of intensifying poliBcal bickering, conBnuing economic uncertainty, and ongoing war and violence in Afghanistan, Syria, the Central African Republic and other hot spots around the globe.

So let’s focus our aTenBon this morning on something completely different . . “inner peace.”

Just returned from a week at GA in Providence, RI
FreneBc round of plenary meeBngs, workshops, recepBons, worship services, one-on-one conversaBons with friends, old and new
Even religious conference like this can be hard place to pursue inner peace. But there were moments: Singing together, Praying together, Si[ng together in silence. Taking in words of hard-won wisdom from ministers compleBng 25 and 50 years of service or words of challenge and hope from well-known religious acBvist for jusBce, Sister Simone Campbell, urging us to “walk toward trouble.” Not to menBon my own opportunity to rappel down the six stories façade of the Rhode Island ConvenBon Center to help raise money for the UUA. If there were ever a Bme to culBvate our own capacity for “inner peace,” it is now—for our own benefit, and for the benefit of a hurBng world.

In fact, General Assembly is a microcosm of much of life in 21st century America
Can feel overwhelmed by ads, e-mails, music or talk blaring from loudspeakers,

visual and aural cluTer everywhere
and it is this very chaos and confusion that invites us to seek something different, some experience of slowing down our breathing, our heart rate, of sBlling the exhausBng busyness of our scheming minds, of opening ourselves to an immediate felt connecBon with the heart of being
Is this quest the expression of some universal longing?

Maybe yes, maybe no . . . but if it’s your longing, you know that it just won’t let you go

Quest is for something experienBal—something so compelling, immediate and powerful that you “know” it to be true, trustworthy, reliable not because you’ve been shown the best argument to support it, but because you’ve felt a wave of assurance that’s close to “certainty”

There seems to be a curious relaBonship between “inner peace” and “thinking”—certain kinds of brain acBvity can get in the way
Point made by Eckhart Tolle in The Power of Now
Inner peace operates beyond the boundaries of the intellect alone
Is, therefore, tough to experience if you have a ceaselessly acBve mind that never stops—that never gives you a moment’s peace

consistent with the wisdom of mysBcs from Buddhist, Sufi, ChrisBan, Jewish tradiBons
spiritual task is to quiet the mind so that the self can be in communion with Being itself

Tolle led to this realizaBon by his own mysBcal experience of being brought out of deep despair into profound joy

Thought and consciousness are not the same. To expand our consciousness, we need to quiet our thoughts
as long as the brain is whirring along, generaBng all kinds of images, thoughts, ideas, solving problems, generaBng reasons to feel anxious, inner peace will elude us

doorway to inner peace opens when we give up the illusion that thought is the only key to life’s deepest meaning
This is very scary for some people
giving up deep loyalty to “conscious thought/reason” risks losing track of who we are

too big a risk to take—don’t even want to consider going there

some, like Tolle, come up against life situaBons where they seem to have liTle choice–thought and reason just don’t seem to work

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may be a personal crisis—admi[ng that you can’t control an addicBon, suffering the dissoluBon of a marriage or other relaBonship, discovering gay/lesbian inclinaBons within your deepest self, coping with the death of one you deeply loved

reason no longer works to maintain equilibrium, much less “peace” what’s a person to do?
Open up to the possibility that there might be another key to the door of inner peace than “thinking harder”

SomeBmes this possibility knocks us over the head
Bmes in my life when I was in the midst of a muddle of conflicBng thoughts and all of a sudden, for no apparent reason, I’ve had an experience of startling inner clarity–an “aha!” moment—moment of insight, a clear sense of what’s real—an epiphany

Such a moment occurred one summer night more than 40 years ago Living at Beacon Hill Friends House, Quaker residence, on Beacon Hill in Boston
Had just come back from seeing a film, “The Summer of ‘42”
I was lying in bed, feeling uncommonly restless
Suddenly overcome by an intense wave of posiBve energy—a kind of euphoric state
I got up, went to my desk and here’s what I wrote:

“Don’t love others by trying to remake them . . . want them to grow, but not according to your specificaBons, by your Bmetable
Learn to say no . . .stop fooling yourself about things you “should” be doing. Do things you want to do, things you know you’ll follow through on . . . be open to new things, but discriminaBng

Don’t wallow in despair . . . the ulBmate wall. Learn to be creaBvely selfish Tenderly meet needs, your own and others . . . as they come along . . . as they present themselves
Keep links of communicaBon open . . .

DuraBon is not important—depth is. Each moment, each experience— deep, thick, rich

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You aren’t perfect—don’t be saBsfied forever, but be saBsfied at each moment with yourself—accept yourself as you are, with imperfecBons, shortcomings, failings . . .
Love neighbor as self—self-love . . . Tomorrow is a new day . . . rejoice in the creaBon. Shalom.”

Amazing insights from more than four decades ago—gist of the sermon I’m sBll preaching to myself every day
wisdom from a place of inner clarity that is sBll valid

Believe that this experience in 1971 was a moment of deep inner peace not as a kind of spiritual sleepwalking—but as heightened vitality, a greater sense of being fully alive
I recall this moment whenever somebody speaks of “inner peace” as if it were some sort of state of semi-consciousness
it is more like a state of heightened consciousness
Same sense of Hebrew “shalom”—not passive “peace” as if drugged, but acBve “peace” as if you were in right relaBonship with everything else in the universe

So we can’t think our way into inner peace
But neither can we—nor should we–force our minds into submission by turning them off through an act of will
Maybe some people can—some people do
Not my path—not the path of our Unitarian and Universalist forebears

If not through the willful suppression of thought and reason, then how do we access “inner peace”?
The quest for “inner peace” is a quest for connecBon—a desire and an intenBon to

“make a connecBon with the ‘source’ of all life, all intelligence, all wisdom, all compassion”
Like love—we can’t make it happen, but we can invite it to happen by culBvaBng the virtues of the peacemaker

Offer on this summer weekend Rev. Ned’s list of nine pracBce that we can pursue to prepare ourselves for the experience of inner peace in turbulent Bmes:

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Awareness . . . that “our minds are part of the whole mind”—the collecBve unconscious (Jung)

Inten+on

“want inner peace above everything else”
“being willing to be wrong, foolish, willing to forgive—and start over again”

Physical Ac+vity

We are embodied creatures—brains within bodies; as I have grown older, I have become ever more aware of the connecBon between physical acBvity and inner vitality
We need to be deeply intenBonal about aTending to our physicality

Simplicity

Stop allowing yourself to be drawn into the relentless “complexificaBon” of your life, your Bme, your commitments
As Trappist mysBc Thomas Merton wrote, “To allow oneself to be carried away by a mulBtude of conflicBng concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence.”

Quiet

Cu[ng out the background noise is crucial to inner peace
Frederick Buechner (Whistling in the Dark) says this about quiet:
“An empty room is silent. A room where people are not speaking or moving is quiet. Silence is a given, quiet a giq. Silence is the absence of sound and quiet the sBlling of sound. Silence can’t be anything but silent. Quiet chooses to be silent. It holds its breath to listen. It waits and is sBll.”

Openness

Live as if every moment were important—laden with giqs
And as if you were going to receive the next big giq at any moment

Mindfulness

PracBce being fully present in the present moment Use your breath, use techniques of meditaBon

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Allocate Bme each day to pracBce being mindful about your being in that present moment

Pa+ence

Sages tell us “inner peace” is always available to us
But ge[ng rid of the barriers is no small task
Like prince charming coming upon Sleeping Beauty’s castle
Lots of hacking away at briers and brambles before happening upon the princess
PracBce paBence

Trust

Makes paBence possible
A form of faith, combining confidence, hope and love

Awareness, intenBon, physical acBvity, simplicity, quiet, openness, mindfulness, paBence and trust
Worthy companions to bring along on your quest for inner peace

Why set out or persevere in this quest?
As I said before, some of us don’t have much choice
The quest just won’t let us go
Like the liTle boy on the farm who was excited beyond belief when he ran out to the barn on Christmas morning and found a pile of manure: “Oh boy! Surely there must be a pony in there somewhere”

And there is a larger reason for us to join forces with one another on this quest:
The world stands in need of the power that comes from the deep inner peace I’m talking about

It’s the power that inspired Albert Schweitzer and Mother Teresa to work with those abjectly poor and sick
It’s the power that inspired 19th-century Unitarian prophet Theodore Parker and 20th-century naBonal prophet MarBn Luther King, Jr., to proclaim the equality of all people before God

It’s the power that inspired mysBc writers Thomas Merton and Anne LamoT to write of their circuitous journeys from perplexity to faith

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It’s the power that inspires many of our Veatch grantees to call to account those who put ungodly greed before the common good
It’s the power that inspires all of us to act as if a beTer world were possible, and to partner with others to make this beTer world a reality

As one of my parishioners once said, “The only hope for the whole mind to which we all belong is that we alter the thoughts and acBons that are wrecking the earth”
only way that will happen is if our thoughts and acBons spring out of the “inner peace” that is consciousness of our connecBon with all other living beings

The quest for inner peace is especially challenging in this Bme of war, economic distress, environmental degradaBon, poliBcal and social conflict. It is also especially urgent and colossally important. It is my hope for you that these hazy, crazy, lazy days of summer might also be days of increasing awareness, intenBon, physical acBvity, simplicity, quiet, openness, mindfulness, paBence and trust. I encourage you to keep your eye on the prize that is inner pace, and I wish us all every success in our quest.

So may it be. Shalom. Blessed be. Inshah’allah. Aho! ShanB. Amen.

 MeditationUUCSF140713NedWight

Prayer for Meditation at the UU Congregation of the South Fork Sunday

July 13, 2014

God of all people, all faiths and all doubts,
we thank you for calling us together once again.
Be present here in our midst
as we renew our vision of a community transformed.

We ask for your gift of wisdom, granting our minds new insights about what our community needs to make it a place of nourishment and enjoyment for all who call it home.

We ask for your gift of vision, opening our imaginations and giving us creative ideas for strengthening the bonds of community among diverse and even conflicting interests.

We ask for your gift of courage, emboldening us as we work together to draw upon the highest dictates of our faith, far removed from any and every form of narrow self-interest.

We ask for your gift of patience, teaching us the art of “non-anxious presence” with one another in our efforts to build community, reminding us that change takes time, and that progress, not perfection, is our goal.

Finally, we ask for your gift of compassion, kindling in our hearts the fires of love and mutual respect that will knit us together into a single caring community in which our children and our children’s children can and will thrive.

God of all people, all faiths and all doubts,
Be present here in our midst,
inspiring us with your gifts of wisdom, vision, courage, patience and compassion
as we seek to build a transformed community in which all the gulfs that divide us are bridged
and all that is broken is made whole.
So be it. Shalom. Blessed be. Amen.

 

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