CENTER COMMUNITY NEWS
Newsletter of the Center for Sacred Sciences
Vol. 34, No. 4 • Fall 2021
Light of Love Day
According to tradition, Joel delivered an annual Light of Love Day talk December 25 on a topic related to Love and Compassion. This year's talk focused on 'the joy of surrender'. After an overview of the teachings of the mystics from various religious traditions on the essential role of surrender, Joel guided us in a meditation. We first investigated how phenomena arising outside of us come and go spontaneously without any involvement of our will. Then we examined how involuntary phenomena involving our own body (such as our heartbeat) arise and pass without any need for our will. Even our own thoughts and emotions spontaneously flow through awareness effortlessly without any need for the exercise of our will. Joel then invited us to surrender to this miraculous display in joy and appreciation. After Joel's talk, members of the CSS community shared music and poetry, starting with a song by Aruna Beth, followed by a poem by Merry Song, a cello and piano performance by Steven Pologe and Katherine Parks, and a guitar piece by Aaron Haas. Thank you all for sharing your talents!
Spiritual Writing Workshops with Merry Song: What Do You Wish You had Learned Early in Life?
Merry Song leads spiritual writing workshops
at the Center for Sacred Sciences.
During one session of a writing workshop this fall, Merry Song introduced the poem “What You Missed that Day You Were Absent from Fourth Grade” from Everyone at This Party Has Two Names by Brad Aaron Modlin. In this poem, Modlin expresses what he would have liked to have learned early in life—things that seem to matter most such as being present in the moment. Merry Song used the poem as a jumping off point for a three-minute in-session writing. Below are a few of the examples produced by practitioners starting with the writing prompt: “The teacher explained…”
The teacher explained how when people die they really stay with you. They live on in your consciousness. When people die it’s not your fault. Also, people aren’t always truthful, but that’s their problem not yours. She said that sometimes the question you ask is more important than the answer you get. The answer is always love.
The teacher gave each of us a tiny folded piece of paper the next day. Every one of us got a question. Mine was: Who are you? My best friend’s question was: Why you? The boy who always caused trouble got: What do you love?
The teacher asked for forgiveness for not telling us who she was, for not having the time or patience to explain all the things we needed to know. She left the room and didn’t return. Maybe that was a message. It wasn’t about me.
I thanked the teacher for her honesty and kindness. I did wonder why she disappeared, but I knew it wasn’t about me.
The teacher explained how girls and boys were much more the same than different. That was Social Studies. Then in Health Ed she shared about how sometimes people get sick or die, even when they have not lived very long. (She said later that this was an understanding from Buddhism called “impermanence.”)
The teacher gave us all candy, and told us that we were only allowed to eat what other students might give to us. She talked about the unexpected joy of sharing with kids we hardly knew. (That part didn’t work out the way she hoped, I think.)
Right after the candy exchange, Teacher asked forgiveness for forgetting that a couple of the students were diabetic, and for them candy was a tease— not a treat. Some of us suspected that even that was part of the lesson plan … she didn’t say “I’m sorry,” just “oops!”
In the afternoon, Teacher stopped talking and went to the window, looking at something outside for a long time. At the end of class I thanked the teacher for ending things in silence. We all learned a lot that day.
The teacher explained how rocks can actually tell you a story. Some have very ancient stories, maybe just of other rocks and how they got transported into different dimensions from other universes. How some rocks can tell you their story by the way they feel when you touch them so even if you can’t see them you can get an idea where they may have been born.
The teacher gave us all our own special rock. She had them in a beautiful hand woven grass basket and we each got to reach in without looking and pick a rock to be our very own. She then asked each of us to tell a story about the rock we chose. Like, where it may have come from and how it got to be here in the basket to be chosen.
The teacher asked forgiveness for each person who never listened to the rocks and explained that we don’t need to be forgiven for doing something against nature when we don’t know it was out of rhythm. Just to remember the next time we want to gather rocks to take them home with us to ask the rock or rock’s permission to give them a new home. They will always respond so you need to listen carefully.
I thanked the teacher for the great wisdom she imparted. My relationship with rocks would forever be richer.
The teacher explained how babies were made. How you got pregnant, and why boys couldn’t. She told you that our government was by the people and was meant to serve you and me. She didn’t forget to illustrate how voting machines work.
The teacher gave each of us affirmations. She pointed out the qualities and characteristics that were gifts that each had, whether we knew it or not. Before she was done, the class was glowing.
The teacher asked forgiveness for the times that she failed to really answer questions completely. She admitted that sometimes the shortness of the class periods prevented her from going as far or deeply as she wanted. She wanted to have us fully ready for the next year, but knew that anything could happen.
The teacher explained that it’s ok to just be yourself; feelings are natural and difficult things that have happened in our past get triggered. It happens to all of us. She showed the kids how to do tapping while feeling their feelings and witnessing their experience without judgment.
The children did exercises and games to help them to explore their boundaries and to know when they are being honored and when they are breached. And they practiced different ways of speaking up about their experience.
They broke into dyads and the teacher gave them all time to acknowledge each other about what they appreciated about each other and what they now understood about one another. Some of the kids cried and hugged and felt they had really been seen. It naturally followed that some of the kids talked about what had been feeling hard for them and somehow were able to take in support they didn’t know was possible.
The teacher asked forgiveness for the times that she had not understood what each child needed, and apologized for how she was having to teach material that was taking away from the time she wanted to focus on skills that were really needed: How to ground themselves. How to ask for what they needed. How to give feedback with kindness and tact. How to set limits and clarify goals. How to create the systems they needed to accomplish their own goals. She wanted to help them to grow into happy, healthy functional adults and knew that the curriculum was definitely falling short.
The children thanked the teacher for her desire to support us in being our very best and for taking the time to focus on their feelings.
It was a day of self honoring and it seemed the kids really had a different sense of themselves and each other when I came back to join the class. I was looking forward to the important lessons we would learn in the future. It felt like I had really missed something important!
The teacher explained how insects were an important part of the ecosystem so that we should respect and honor them. How spiders were our friends. Not to fear them and squish them with our shoe when we first come across them but see where they can be helpful in our lives. She went on to explain how Manitoba mosquitoes and fish flies were a good thing. The fish flies piling up under the street lights, so smelly, along with the mosquitoes so aggressive, were useful in how they fed the birds and fish. The teacher gave us all nets and bug farms to catch butterflies, beetles and dragonflies to put them in our mesh bug farms to study, appreciate and to love these little creatures. To remind us of the importance of how we can appreciate and accept these little insects and creatures. The teacher asked forgiveness for those that did not appreciate or nurture the hidden and small creatures in our own lives. She asked for forgiveness and understanding to the pesky ants that eat our food and house. She asked us to hold the mirror to these little creatures as they show us the parts of ourselves that we find small, useless and unwelcome. To forgive ourselves... I thanked the teacher for showing us how to accept, appreciate, praise and love all those unwanted parts of ourselves that we ignore and do not welcome. Thank you.
What my friend Brenda missed that day she was absent from school…
The teacher explained how the human body is a miracle, how the blood pumps through the arteries and the veins exactly the way it’s meant to go without being told, how the food digests after each meal and moves through the system, usually without a hitch, and comes out divided into liquid and poop – at which the boys at the back of the room howled with laughter. They really couldn’t help themselves. She explained that each of us is entirely unique, but we have these amazing functions in common.
The teacher gave us all we wanted to know about the human body, and then she went beyond to tell us about how we were conceived and grew in our mothers’ bodies until we were too big for our moms to contain us so we popped out into the world. She said our moms were equipped to feed us even if there was no food in the house. The teacher was what Teddy’s mother called “woowoo,” she was so enthralled with the body.
The teacher asked forgiveness for her woowooness, for teaching us things our parents hadn’t even thought to tell us because we were so young. Well, we didn’t mind. Most of it was pretty fascinating. The ones she should’ve asked for forgiveness from were our parents. Some of them were livid that she had carried on so about things they didn’t want us to know, that some of them never would have told us, but left us to find out for ourselves. And some of us were really glad we knew when the time came that those lessons were valuable. My friend, Brenda, got pregnant right out of high school and she never heard what my teacher had to say. Would it have made a difference? Who would know?
But I was happy I didn’t get pregnant right out of high school.
Our dear friend and fellow spiritual practitioner Bob Cowart took his last breath peacefully around 7am on Sunday October 24, 2021. Bob was a wonderful, gentle soul. We were blessed to have him join us for several CSS meetings in the past few months. He openly shared with us his cancer diagnosis and was clearly committed to taking his situation as a precious spiritual opportunity. During his last days he said that he was ready.
Below Joel shares a poem he wrote for Bob and a video recording of his reflections on Bob, which was played at the celebration of Bob's life. Also below, Robin Retherford, a friend of Bob and member of the CSS community, shares her experience spending time with Bob during his last months of life.
Poem for Bob — student, friend, gracious host:
Ringed by autumn storms,
in the morning light
a gentle soul
joins the dance of leaves,
Peace, at last!
I held him close so he wouldn’t fall. He was probably about five or six inches taller than me but now only weighed 106 pounds. When he spoke, he could only whisper, so I held my ear up to his mouth as I’d given up trying to read lips. We’d had an interesting journey together, stumbling on a similar spiritual path and sharing a love of music. We’d visited one another on several occasions, mainly me going to stay at his place and climbing the 82 steps to his front door in the Berkeley Hills. The view was spectacular. I can’t even remember how we spent the time mostly except that it was easy and there was always something to talk about. It was never romantic, just a friendship that felt like we’d been family for a long time.
When I Go - Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer
When he called out of the blue to say that he was dying, I was caught off guard but somehow wasn’t that surprised. Life had run its course and now he was leaving; none of us knew where. And then it began, a time more focused than ever where the illness evoked so much caring and compassion and a whole community sprung up around him. As his life was coming to a close, the search for awakening persisted as did the unanswerable questions of why, and what for and what’s it all about? There wasn’t much to say so mainly we just sat in silence. I held his hand and kissed it once when I thought he was sleeping. He just opened his eyes and looked over.
It felt like all of us were facing death alongside him as this pregnant, rich moment filled the air except somehow our stories would continue. We would see the progression of climate change, the next president, the springtime in Berkeley and watch ourselves get older and learn and develop and he would not. He would even miss the celebration we held in his remembrance and all the music.
I didn’t know what to say then and I still don’t, so I’ll just say this: I’ve never seen a live birth or held someone close as they died. I’ve been to a wedding or two and enjoyed it. This was the closest I’ve ever come to holy, to the silence, to the blank unknowable question hanging in the air, to truth and the undeniability of it and to the offering to life that death brings. It was my great privilege and honor to care for Bob in his last days and a gift I will always remember.
"On the Isle of Rejects, I noticed..." by Christine Lakshmi Ratchinsky
On the Isle of Rejects I noticed a huge mound in the middle of the island that actually made up most of it as far as I could tell.
It was an endless mound of discarded dishwasher soap, books and diaries, photos, toys and games.
It looked like some of these were new while others looked ancient.
Looking closer I noted that these all seemed so familiar to me.
Wait, these were old photos of me when I was young...
Some family photos, some with exlovers, some school photos. I looked so sad and rejected in these.
And here were my stuffed animals and toys that were torn, broken and thrown out.
There was that diary that I tore apart as it had such terrible memories.
I thought all these were gone...
Some of these items were so old that I saw that they were my ancestors' stories.
Then I looked around and I noticed a Sea of Rejects around me and the island.
The sea was filled with parts of me that I rejected floating and swimming in this sea.
These were parts of myself that I preferred not to notice and pushed down.
All these discarded selves were resurfacing. As far as the eye could see, this ocean of pain was not just mine but society's.
The whole "Story of Separation" is our "Rejection Story".
I looked around for a place to escape. There was nowhere to run or hide.
So I climbed up the peak of this mound of the Isle of Rejects and sat to notice what was around me.
Can I accept and have compassion for all these parts?
It was actually quite peaceful just hanging out.
Then I started to notice beyond this Island and Sea of Rejects.
There was this blue spacious empty sky overhead and below was the ground of Unknowing.
Mission and Programs of the Center for Sacred Sciences
The Center for Sacred Sciences is dedicated to the study, practice, and dissemination of the spiritual teachings of the mystics, saints, and sages of the major religious traditions. The Center endeavors to present these teachings in forms appropriate to our contemporary scientific culture. The Center also works to create and disseminate a sacred worldview which expresses the compatibility between universal mystical truths and the evidence of modern science.
Among the Center’s ongoing events are Sunday public services with meditations and talks given by the Center’s spiritual teachers; and — for committed spiritual seekers — weekly practitioners groups and periodic meditation retreats. The Center is accessible. We are a welcoming and inclusive community.
The Center maintains an extensive lending library of books, audios, videos, and periodicals covering spiritual, psychological, philosophical, and scientific subjects. In addition, the Center provides a website containing information and resources related to the teachings of the world’s mystics, the universality of mystical truth, and the relationship between science and mysticism. The Center also publishes this newsletter.
The Center for Sacred Sciences is a non-profit, tax-exempt church based in Eugene, Oregon, USA. We rely chiefly on volunteer staff to support our programs, and on donations to meet our operating expenses. Our spiritual teachers give their teachings freely as a labor of love, and receive no financial compensation from the Center.
About the Center Community News
The Center Community News is published on the CSS website several times a year. Its primary purpose is to help foster a community of spiritual practitioners by sharing original teachings, experiences, reflections, artistic expressions, and reports among members of our community.
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