Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation
February 21, 2010

The Sufi Way by Graham Bell 2009. All Rights Reserved.
The Eckhart Tolle Way by Jackie Porter 2009. All Rights Reserved.
Spiritual Practice by Rev. Barbara Meyers 2009. All Rights Reserved.

The Sufi Way - The Way of Wisdom - The Way of Love
by Graham Bell

In the name of God most graceful, most merciful, most compassionate.

The Sufi Way or Sufism is Islamic mysticism which began even before the time of the Prophet Muhammad.

You might think of the Sufi Way as "sufi dancing" or even whirling dervishes with billowing robes and red fezes on their heads...or maybe gatherings of Muslims where music is played and chanting done to generate states of ecstasy.

You might see the Sufi Way as Rumi's poetry which is now a best seller and he is the most read poet in the United States of America according to the BBC. The New York Times describes Rumi as "the most influential poet in America since the 1960s". At first glance they are lyrical love poems but the reader soon comes to realize that Rumi's lover is the Divine. The embrace that he so deeply longs for is a soul-satisfying union with God.

The Sufi Way I want to share with you is an inner journey where the world of "you and I" disappears and the divine wisdom within is revealed.

My teacher Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, who came from Sri Lanka in 1971 to the United States, said this about the meaning of Sufi. (Now you better strap yourself in because we are going to soar above our everyday understanding.)

He begins:

"Sufi" is a unique word. "Sufi" is a unique Power. It does not relate to any particular religion. It belongs to all of humanity.

"Sufi" is a clear, pure Essence that has filtered and settled slowly, deep within. It goes beyond the state of silence, even beyond the station of the silent teacher within us. It is that State of Stillness when the Resplendence of the Pure Clarity of Wisdom has sunk down and settled completely within its ultimate Completeness and Perfection.

He goes on:

Now, if we call someone "Sufi", all the world should be dead to him. God alone should be living. All the world within him should have died. The illusion and connections that we call the world should be dead, while only the Resplendence of God and the Grace of God live on within him undyingly. It is such a State that is called "Sufi".

He continues:

For Sufi there are no differences, there is no world. But whatever are the Qualities of God and whatever is God's Compassionate Benevolence, Sufi is those Qualities. The one who has imbibed those Qualities is Sufi. He does not acknowledge differences of races, religions, or any separations. He embraces only God, His 3000 Gracious Qualities, and His Plenitude. One who has attained this State is Sufi.

He is One who has known and realized this state of:
La illaha
Nothing other than God Exists.
Il Allahu
You alone are God.

This is Sufi. This is the Word of God.


One who loses himself into nothingness, where the state of the self does not exist; one who knows the station where only God remains as that Solitary oneness that is God: this is the explanation of Sufi...And that state comes gradually, it grows gradually. A Sufi only sees the ideals of Wisdom. He becomes the Mirror. His heart becomes the mirror. So he does not see himself. Wisdom is what he sees.

That ends the quotation...you can loosen the straps now if you want.

Whenever Bawa Muhaiyaddeen addressed an audience he would say "O jeweled lights of my eyes" seeing the divine in everyone...including me.

My spiritual practice starts when I get up in the morning most days.

I recite certain prayers from the Quran which are said to have been brought by the Angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad.

I then pray to God to remove the arrogance, worldly connection, and illusion from my life, to remove the evil qualities of lust, anger, miserliness, murder, falsehood, vengence, back-biting, treachery, thievery, and intoxification; to be given modesty, reserve, sincerity and fear of wrong-doing, to be given the divine qualities of patience, contentment, trust in God and surrender to God.

I pray for a melting heart full of faith that is handed over to God.

I pray for a cure for the blindness of my heart and mind, remembrance of the Truth instead of forgetfulness, and wisdom to remove the ignorance of my heart and mind.

I pray for happiness, long life and success for my family, and those people I know who are recovering from illness.

I also pray for the protection of the Bay Area from Earthquakes and Floods.

I pray for peace and justice for the whole world, for clean food and clean water for everyone so lives may flourish, families may flourish and communities may flourish in justice, peace and happiness.

I then pray 33 times or 100 times the Zikr or Remembrance of God searching for the meaning within the meaning:

La illaha
Nothing other than God Exists.
Il Allahu
You alone are God.

Bawa Muhaiyaddeen said the following about the nature of the true human being:

Man lives within God,
God lives within Man,
God is Man's secret,
Man is God's secret,
God is Man's treasury,
Man is God's treasury.

The purpose and intention of my practice is to realize this in my heart and my life. 5 minutes isn't sufficient to talk about the who, what, when, where and why of my spiritual practice. I hope we can talk more about this with each other. Thank you.

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The Eckhart Tolle Way - My Spiritual Upgrade
by Jackie Porter

In our current technological age, we are used to hearing about buying or using upgrades -for example, changing our seating section on a plane or changing the operation system on our computers. This morning I want to use this metaphor of upgrading to share with you how I feel about studying Eckhart Tolle and my spiritual practice.

I believe that I am engaged in installing a huge upgrade - an upgrade in my consciousness. I am a woman who from an early age has believed in God and lived in the faith and comfort of the mythological consciousness of Christianity. In the '70s I could no longer believe in the dogma of the church though I still considered Jesus as my teacher. In the '80s I began graduate studies in Transpersonal Psychology where I explored the Divine Feminine and lifted up my feminine consciousness. I practiced several kinds of meditation, always seeking to find a way for my separate self to experience God. I have been a human woman who was a spiritual seeker.

The upgrade I am working to install is this: Instead of being primarily a human woman who is a spiritual seeker, I believe I am a spiritual being incarnated in a human body on planet earth, and life itself is my spiritual practice. I know that neither an intellectual recognition nor even steadfast belief in this will create my new upgrade and transform my consciousness: it requires waking up and becoming self-aware.

The all important practice is being aware in each moment of where I am - am I lost in the world my mind has created? Or can I sense the presence of my own inner aliveness: my essence, the Spiritual Being that I am? Can I quiet my thinking mind and feel and Be in the connectedness, the joy, the peacefulness, the abundance that is my true self?

About 2 years ago, Michael Joss, a fellow Mission Peeker suggested that I might want to tune into a spiritual teacher that Oprah was introducing on her TV program. I was one of the over 6 million people all over the world who listened to Eckhart Tolle for 10 weeks, one chapter a week, discuss his book, A New Earth.

Eckhart Tolle is a contemporary spiritual teacher who is not aligned with any particular religion or tradition and is teaching from his own experience of awakening and living in this expanded consciousness. He uses Buddhist teachings and also teachings from Jesus in the New Testament. In fact the title, A New Earth, comes from St. John who saw in a vision "a new Heaven and a new Earth." The foundation of a new earth is a new heaven - an awakened consciousness. The earth or external reality is only the outer reflection of what is inside.

I was captivated and touched with the wisdom and the clarity which he was teaching about how to know and accept ourselves in a deeper way, to engage in our own inner work to uncover and connect with our Essence or God Self, which has always been ours but has been covered over. He describes our pain body, our old reactive fear-based consciousness of wounded separateness and how it keeps us suffering and searching for something to make us happy or safe or loved. He teaches how to transcend this everyday ego-based state of consciousness which we think of as our self, and how we can awaken to discover this other part of ourselves, our Eternal Essence consciousness, the peace and joy that Jesus said, "passes all understanding."

I feel fortunate to be in the Mission Peak community where one of the covenants of our fellowship is # 3, the acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth. Michael and I agreed to support one another in studying this book A New Earth and John agreed to join us.

By word of mouth, when we began studying this teaching in July of 2008, there were 10 of us. We started with a bowl of soup and called it Soup and Soul, as we thought we would be feeding both our physical and our soul bodies. John and I are still facilitating this group and a second group that started in 2009. In fact a third group is beginning this very evening led by Jenny Kassan, if you are interested.

I am not a very teckie person, and any upgrade which means a new way of doing something is difficult for my egoic personality which prefers the familiar. But I am committed to this shift in my consciousness, to waking up to who I really am, and I appreciate this group of friends who are committed to supporting one another in this internal upgrade.

We have developed some ways to help get us out of our emotional reactivity and our monkey minds.

The simplest way is just to stop and breath. Eckhart says just being with my breath shifts me momentarily into an expanded reality. We pay attention and practice becoming aware of where our minds are - usually hanging out in the past or the future instead of Now. We practice bringing our attention to the present moment always trying to accept what is there, with no resistance or judgment. Gradually we are developing this new part of ourselves, this neutral observer, who sees everyone and everything without negative judgment or blame.

I believe there is very little spiritual help in our contemporary culture and it has been a great gift to have this teacher share his experience of enlightenment, and a group of friends who walk the path together. It is an urgent need for me and, I believe, a great help for our troubled times.

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Spiritual Practice
by Rev. Barbara Meyers

We live in a culture that is all too often superficial. Engaging in spiritual practice is about living deeply in such a world.

What does "Spiritual" Mean? Especially for those who consider themselves atheists, agnostics and religious humanists?

I would like to start by saying what I mean by the word "spiritual." The Latin root of the word "spirit" is "spiritus" and it means "breath." It is commonly used to refer to that which gives us energy, creativity and meaning. My colleague the Rev. Peter Lanzillotta says, "That which is of the Spirit can be defined as whatever is deemed sacred, true, love and respect worthy for the individual, for their community, and for their world. To be spiritual is to pay reverent attention to the holy within, between, among and beyond us all."

I want you to notice that none of this implies that a person needs to believe in God to have a spiritual life. I am very mindful that the survey of this congregation that we did as part of our search for a new minister revealed that 70% of us define ourselves as atheists, agnostics or religious humanists.

Spirituality is for all of us here, not just the theists among us.

And it may be increasingly important for upcoming generations. I just read the conclusions of a new Knights of Columbus report, that said that for people 18-19, being "spiritual or close to God" was the most selected of any other "primary long-term life goal." More important than other choices which included "to get married and have a family" and "to get rich". The rate at which they selected it was significantly higher than other generational groups, and nearly twice that of Generation X.

A recent book, Spirituality for Humanists by James Park, explores six phenomena of spirit:

(1) self-transcendence & altruism, i.e. getting beyond the self
(2) freedom
(3) creativity
(4) love
(5) existential anxiety
(6) joy

The book states that the more completely we live in these modes, the more fully we become persons of spirit. I agree. (And again, I want you to notice that none of these requires that you believe in God.)

Becoming a Spiritual Director. As you may know, I am enrolled in a Spiritual Direction certificate program at the Chaplaincy Institute in Berkeley. This involves one year of classes organized in four week-long intensives and a year of supervised internship. I have completed three-fourths of the class work and have embarked on my internship. I can hear many of you asking - What is Spiritual Direction and why does Barbara want to do it?

Each of us is on a spiritual journey in our lives. A spiritual director walks with you on your spiritual journey, listens as you uncover what you find as your life's meaning and purposes, and supports you along the way. The Chaplaincy Institute's program is intentionally interfaith, so that many different ways of approaching spirituality are studied.

The Chaplaincy Institute program describes spiritual direction as follows:

"Spiritual direction does not provide easy answers. Instead, it focuses us on the difficult questions our lives present to us and helps us to make careful and soulful discernments, supported by a sympathetic companion.

"The term 'Spiritual direction' is a misleading description of this ministry, and yet, due to history, that is the name that most people recognize. In actuality, spiritual directors are guides or companions who typically do not do much 'directing' - particularly those using a non-directive interfaith approach. We don't tell people what to think, or what to believe, or how they are supposed to feel, or what to do in any specific circumstance.

"This is good practice. What most people need is not another person - who is allegedly an 'expert' - to tell them what to think or do or how to behave. A true spiritual director is good at helping people uncover that 'deep down' wisdom."

In fact, one of the modules that we studied was how to do spiritual direction with people who are atheists and agnostics. Some might ask why such a person would seek spiritual direction. I'll explain it like this: Everyone has something that they regard as most sacred, or ultimate. If it isn't a traditional God figure, it might be a sacred ideal like humanism, or scientific truth, or creative expression. Or the ideas I mentioned earlier of altruism, freedom, love, existential anxiety, and joy. A spiritual director would walk with such a person and listen to what is important in that person's life as it relates to their ultimate truths, with the goal of becoming more intimate with that truth.

Sometimes people seek this kind of clarification if they have had a shattering experience, or if they realize that they will need to strengthen themselves for a trial they see coming up, or if they are seeking more meaning and purpose in their lives.

I began the Spiritual Director certificate program primarily to support my mental health ministry because, in the past, religious and spiritual ideas were pathologized by the psychiatric community, there is a great need to reach out to people who need an approach supportive of spirituality. I see that I can play this role. But obviously, what I learned can be applied to others as well.

Talking about having a questioning attitude about spirituality reminds me of a joke:

A guy was climbing a tree when suddenly he slipped, then grabbed at a branch and was hanging there. After an hour or so had passed he felt himself getting exhausted and looked up to the heavens and cried out: "God, help me, please, help me."

All of a sudden the clouds parted and a voice boomed out from on high. "Let Go!" said the voice.

The guy paused and looked up at heaven once more, and then said: "Is there anyone else up there?"

Developing a Regular Spiritual Practice. As a part of this program, I've decided to practice what I preach. As a result, I've started to seriously address my own personal spiritual practice, making it a real and regular priority in my life. My previous efforts would work for a while, but then something would interfere, and my practice would lapse. I've been trying a number of things to address this, and have found one that so far is working. So, I thought I would pass it on in case it might work for someone else.

What I have done is this: I made a commitment to spend at least a half-hour each day in some kind of spiritual practice (I have collected several books, CDs and other materials). Further, each day, I write down what it was that I did that day. This could be as simple as: "Spent 30 minutes in silent meditation." Or it could be more descriptive and even have some reflections attached. For some reason, at least for me, this combination of a commitment plus writing it down has been thus far quite successful in keeping my practice regular. In fact, the practice has deepened, so that I look forward to what I will do that day, and what I might write about it.

Examples of Spiritual Practice. Sometimes people wonder what spiritual practice is. They're pretty sure that Buddhist meditation is spiritual practice, but don't know the extent of what some consider "spiritual." The short answer is that a spiritual practice is anything that brings you closer to your concept of the Divine. If you are not theistic, you could say that a spiritual practice is anything that brings you closer to what you hold as Ultimate Truth.

Here is a list of practices:

Sitting Meditation
Walking meditation
Tai Chi and other martial arts
Keeping silence
Art and Crafts
Fasting for a limited time
Service to others
Learning or writing poetry
Engaging in meaningful rituals
Reading inspiring works
Being in nature

Do you know any others that work for you? (Pause for reflections from the assembly)

Whatever your practice is, it should fit you and your most deeply held beliefs, and it should help you move positively forward in the journey of your life.

I'll end with a quote from Sara Moores Campbell:

"We receive fragments of holiness, glimpses of eternity, brief moments of insight. Let us gather them up for the precious gifts that they are and, renewed by their grace, move boldly into the unknown."

Amen. So may it be.

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