Category Archives: modern faith
This short clip from 60 Minutes serves as a fitting follow-up to my Tuesday post about thinking.
Anderson Cooper wires up his brain to show visual evidence of the calming effects of meditation. When Cooper drops into meditation after thinking about a stressful event, his brain responds immediately. His brain leaves behind the red stress zone and enters a “blue mindfulness zone.”
For centuries, meditation practitioners have touted the physical, mental, spiritual and emotional benefits of meditation, but naysayers dismissed the claims as a bunch of unscientific hooey. Scientific evidence gives such naysayers permission to trust in the unseen.
The next time stress-inducing thoughts pop into your head, remember Anderson Cooper’s brain, focus on your breath and find your own blue mindfulness zone.
Click on the link below to watch the video: 60 Minutes
“Researcher storyteller” Brené Brown touches on some of my favourite topics in the TED talk link below.
Like many people still learning to feel comfortable with the idea that Darwin and the divine are not mutually exclusive, she had to dismantle her “If you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist” philosophy. When she wasn’t able to beat back vulnerability and uncertainty with her measuring stick, she had a breakdown/spiritual awakening. (Funny how often those two go together.)
Her research with people who lived wholeheartedly showed four common traits:
- Courage to be imperfect.
- Compassion for others and themselves
- Connections with others made possible because they did not try to be what they thought they should be but lived authentically
- Vulnerability and a willingness to do something with no guarantees even when it was uncomfortable.
When people did not live wholeheartedly, they numbed vulnerability through shopping, food, or addiction. They tried to make the uncertain certain.
She mentions religion. At their best, religious communities show courage, compassion, connection and vulnerability. At less than their best, they try to make the uncertainties of faith and mystery certain.
If you’ve never seen her talk before, I think you’ll find it inspirational. If you have seen it before, watch it again. I think you’ll find it inspirational.
“. . . never wait for science to give us permission to do the uncommon.” ~Dr. Joe Dispenza
I took this picture on our Canadian Thanksgiving walk at Shaw Woods. It’s difficult to grasp this picture at a glance, so I’ll walk you through it. The sheer rock face to the left used to be the surface on which the tree grew. The clump of brownish tangle forming a V shape opposite it are the roots of the tree. We know the tree sustained itself for many years on that precarious and not-very-nourishing place because it grew to a substantial size. You can see the circumference of the trunk above the heads of my mother and my son. Their size gives you some perspective on the size of the tree.
The roots of the tree could not penetrate the solid rock to grow deeply, so root tendrils reached out horizontally over the slanting rock in their search for sustenance.
Such a precarious state could not endure. At some point, a storm-driven gust of wind exerted such pressure on the tree that its roots peeled away from the impenetrable stone and it toppled. Without deep roots solidly anchoring it into the ground it could not survive a storm.
We can learn lessons from this tree.
Metaphorically speaking, to survive life’s storms, people need roots entrenched deeply into solid, anchoring sustenance: faith, nurturing friendships, loving family. Sure, some can survive for a while by spreading themselves thinly over precarious and not-very-nurturing surfaces, reaching out for sustenance through such things as jobs, money or alcohol and drugs. Like the tree in the photo, some people last surprisingly long that way. But eventually a storm comes with a wind too strong to withstand: the job disappears, the money dries up or the alcohol and drugs destroy ability to function effectively. Then the shallow roots peel away and everything topples.
Are you deeply rooted and ready for a storm?
“The arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice.” —Martin Luther King Jr.
The gunman who shot Nathan Cirillo this week here in Ottawa was not thinking clearly. The irony of the place of his death was lost on him, I am sure. He died creating chaos in the shadow of the Peace Tower. His angry rampage and his death show us one thing:
Peace Towers above all.
I read the quote at the top of this post in the book Made for Goodness And Why This Makes All the Difference by Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu. Martin Luther King Jr. gifted me with the most faith-sustaining quote I have found thus far, and my wish for my city, and for the people of Montreal who also saw one of their own die this week, is that we turn to it now.
It will help us if we remember that every evil act unleashes a search for the good. It will help us if we remember that every act of evil advances us further along the arc of the universe toward justice. It will help us to remember that the arc is long.
Here’s a fact about our city: almost every resident knows someone who works in downtown Ottawa. The federal government employs a large percentage of our population, and most of them work near where the shooting took place. When anything occurs in downtown Ottawa, almost every resident immediately thinks of how it is affecting someone they know—a spouse, a child, a neighbour or someone from their bridge club.
You have to know that a shooting in the downtown core on a workday in Ottawa paralyzed this city in a way it would not in most other places. The news rippled out for miles in every direction, and within that radius, virtually every person had a spouse, a child, a neighbour or a member of their bridge club—someone they knew and loved dearly—in mind.
We are more than a city; we are an interconnected community.
We have not had a high profile on the world stage. Here is a version of a conversation I have had often when travelling in other countries:
PERSON FROM THE OTHER COUNTRY (PFTOC): Where are you from?
(awkward pause while the person tries to politely figure out how to tell me he has no idea where that is)
ME: . . . Canada
PFTOC: Ah, yes. Canada.
(visions of polar bears and RCMP officers dance in his head)
ME: It’s the capital city, you know.
PFTOC: Really? I thought Toronto was the capital.
ME: Oh, sigh.
Often I wonder, why do people not know about the capital city of Canada? Perhaps more do now; this week international media have their cameras and their news feeds focused on us. The writings cover many different angles of the story: the words of love whispered to Nathan Cirillo as he lay dying [if you read nothing else, read this], the Canadian national anthem played at the Pittsburgh Penguins/Philadelphia Flyers game [thanks for that], the rivals in the House of Commons embracing [rivalries are vapours, really] , the long, hard day of devastated Muslims in our city [please read that one too], and the inevitable security concerns.
The events this week in Montreal and Ottawa started international conversations, and when we discuss acts of terror or evil, what we’re really doing is asking: How can we create good from this? Desmond Tutu suggests that we are made for goodness, and I believe these conversations, unleashed by an act of terror, help us search for the good. They show us that any action taken out of hatred, revenge or anger fails in the long run.
Because Peace Towers above all.
— Michael O’Neill (@mikeyo19) October 23, 2014
This past week I had the privilege of writing an article about a woman from my church. Jean volunteers for a long list of organizations, giving to others in different ways. As she bakes, delivers meals to seniors, quilts, and tackles her many other labours of love, she glows with energy and good spirit. When I asked her why she does all she does, she said, “It makes me feel good. I get back so much more than I give.”
Another friend of mine volunteers for Canadian Red Cross. He supports people in need in his own community, and he travels to countries in crisis around the globe. When he speaks of this work, he glows. “I get back so much more than I give,” he says.
I have heard that refrain over and over in my life, from people aglow with the joy of hands-on giving.
After my conversation with Jean, I thought about other people I know who have stable jobs and who probably give to charity, but who don’t give of themselves in a close contact way. They golf every Saturday, or they enjoy fine dining, or they spend most weekends at their cottage.
I would never say these people aren’t happy. If I were to ask them if they are happy, they would say yes. What is the difference then?
The difference is the glow: The merely happy people pass through life content; the others glow with a giving contact high.
The question then: Do I want to be merely happy, or do I want to glow?