My Friend and Fellow Spiritual Companion, Tom Rochester, just shared this utterly beautiful video with me. It is an audio recording of Buddhist nun, Samaneri Jayasara, offering a reading of - as she describes them, "a selection of exquisite Rumi poems and verses for meditation",
with the gorgeous music of Snatam Kaur and Wah!
Whatever your own spiritual path may be, see if this gentle offering has anything for you.
Thank you Tom, thank you Samanera, Rumi, musicians.
Here, friends, are 30 minutes of something you may or may not have realized you needed.
Prepare to breathe out what has held you captive.
Open to the larger truth of who and what you are or are not.
PEACE, dear friends.
. . . And how would I know?
[NOTE TO MY FRIENDS WHO LIKE COLORS AND ACTION BITS: That part is further down!]
Since we become who we are in specifically flavored arenas - country, culture, class, tribe, family, habits, teachings, religion, climate, food, education, exposure to others and on and on. . . so very many pieces of the puzzle make up who we come to identify as . . . How do we know when our beleifs and feelings are "true" or parts of a biased beleif structure? Most of us assume that "we are who we are" and that our views are based in "truth", "rightness" and/or our own "objective observations" of our experiences in the world. . . and are therefore "the way things are". But is this true?
I believe that the majority of us live in a dualistic reality; one in which on one level we embrace our own views as grounded, realistic truth - - and another level on which we are aware that our views - as well as everyone else's - are subjective; based on or influenced by personal tastes, viewpoints and most of all our life experiences.
The question arises, then, how could we know when our thinking or beliefs are biased on or in any given topic or situation? And further, how might we correct our biases when they often run so deep we feel them not only in our thoughts and emotions, but in our bodies?
Dr. Toby Atkins (of Community Health and Counseling Services, Maine) and I recently had the privilege of hosting the third of a series of workshops on Integrating Spirituality in Healthcare. Our focus in this meeting (for those who were not in attendance) was the topic of Bias; as health care workers, we want to make sure that we are treating all our patients in as loving a way as possible. Our staff want to do the work of recognizing and transforming our biases. I think ultimately all huam beings would like to be seen and cared for with equal compassion. How do we get there in a world so full of reasons to judge and hold grudge?
One of our brilliant doctors present at the session brought up an issue of most importance. She shared that she had been to many trainings on biases, and, unfortunately, while they seem well-intended and even well attended, the trainings do not seem to generate CHANGE in the actual beliefs and behavior of those who take the trainings. To me, this is a monumentally troubling note. The obvious question needing attention is:
Why is this so?
While I am no statistics expert, from my own experience in both learning for myself and training others, I believe bias training failure is due to a slightly misguided focus in bias training programs. Only time will tell if I am correct, but here is what I think; Most bias trainings focus on the THINGS WE HAVE BIASES TOWARD. That is, trainings attempt to offer us new information that may "change our minds" on topics we may have felt one way about, hoping that new facts, numbers, outcomes and intellectual exposure etc. may give us enough information that we will no longer shun whomever or whatever we previously shunned.
Yet even the most compelling facts do not seem to have effect when biases - implicit or otherwise - are in play; ". . . conventional training isn’t working, research suggests. In a 2019 meta-analysis of more than 490 studies involving some 80,000 people, the psychologist Patrick Forscher and his colleagues found that UB training did not change biased behavior." (Note, in writing this post, I googled "when Bias Training doesn't work", and found this terrific Harvard Business Review article on the topic, affirming my own findings. You can take a look via the link at the end of this blog post)**
That article (link at the bottom of this post) goes on to affirm what I have seen and believe; that bias training must offer more than a litany of what is wrong with biased views and which new views participants "should" embrace. A true change can only be made when we have not only the willingness, but the tools with which to A). Recognize our biases, B). Understand how we came by them and the depth to which they go within our being (are they thoughts and ideas we have misguidedly come to believe but can change with simply learing new information - - and this is what many bias trainings have been based on - - or are they emotionally embedded, and set off triggers for us that are likely linked to much deeper, familial or cultural membership; or could they arise from an even more difficult place within us - the somatic, or body-deep, neuropathways in the brain which may take special tools or even assistance from outside help to heal and transform??) and C). Ongoing, guided exposure to and interaction with real individuals from the group one has held biases against.
With the tools of observation-skills, guided-de-and-reconstruction and interactive exposure, biases can - and as I and others have seen - actually generate change. We are speaking, of course, in the realm of psychology, psychological healing and growth - and if we go deeper on the same strata, we are going to need to discuss the neuroscience of the matter - the fact that the brain has this fantastic neuroplasticity and CAN CHANGE, with the right tools in hand. . . . so, lets look for a moment at what those tools might be. . .
We know that the skills of self observation, introspection and an ability to see ones' self with a degree of objectivity are necessary. We know that assistance from the outside - whether in the form of research or conversation with those holding different information - is necessary. We know that guided exposure to and day to day interaction with the folks we have held biases towards is required. We also know that the level of depth of our bias needs tending to (again, mental bias is thought based - requires new ideas; emotional bias is feeling-based - requires personal review, often deep processing; somatic or body-deep bias - likely requiring a trained professional assisting us with somatic healing techniques to unearth the roots of what may currently manifest as a visceral experience of dread, as in PTSD)
If the goal is for each of us to transform our biases, how on Earth to we embark on what seems like such a time-consuming, overwhelming task?
I am aware that after reading all this, finding, facing and undoing our biases sounds like pretty exhaustingly daunting focus. But fear not - the beginning is so much simpler than all of what you have read so far! There is a thing we can ALL start with, regardless of how big or little our work ahead may be. Here is a fact that takes NO change to embrace - you can engage with this truth no matter where you are on your journey. Even if you do not wish to change your bias towrds a particular group, you can engage in this exercise for your own well-being!!
It is this:
NO HEALING TAKES PLACE WITHOUT A SENSE OF SAFETY AND ACCEPTANCE OF ALL OF WHO AND WHAT WE ARE, RIGHT NOW, IN THIS VERY MOMENT.
Before we go further, I will offer a little blurb on what, in psychology, is known as
UNCONDITIONAL POSITIVE REGARD.
You will need this info, because I am going to ask you to conjure it towards a formidable enemy. . .
What is Unconditional Positive Regard?
Unconditional Positive Regard is a concept first shared by Stanley Standal (PhD psychology) in 1954, but promoted by psychologist Carl Rogers, is defined by humanistic psychologists as:
Experiencing and expressing empathy, support, and acceptance for and to someone, regardless of what they say or do.
I will prepeat that last bit, because . . . did you truly hear it?
. . . regardless of what they say or do.
Unconditional Positive Regard emphasizes the healing power of human connection and emphasizes that problematic behaviors like overeating, drinking too much, and procrastinating (or whatever other things we believe need changing) aren’t altered with confrontation, judgment, or punishment; they are remedied with compassion, understanding, and acceptance.
The theory holds that people are wired for self-actualization, or the need to fulfill our potential, yet painful experiences like being bullied, shamed, or judged thwart our growth. Unconditional positive regard restores hope by showing us we are loved and accepted. Through this lens, when people feel safe, honesty – and courage to face it - follows. Being honest with ourselves and others is central to the change, growth, acceptance and the “life harvesting” that is needed in order to find fulfillment throughout our lives. When we hold ourselves or another in Unconditional Positive Regard, we offer a space of unfoldment many of us may have had very little of in our lives.
Without Unconditional Positive Regard, change and healing are far distant friends.
No change without U.P.R.?
This means that your first task, no matter what else is true, is to begin with accepting that most formidable (as I mentioned above) enemy; can you guess who that is? It is yourself - and at first, thank goodness, this does NOT entail changing anything!
Here are some steps you can take, if and when you are ready.
Are you ready?
Here you go:
Remind (if you already know this) or teach (if it is new to you) your good, changeable brain this: Mending bias begins within. The nurturing of Unconditional Positive Regard begins within us. If there is any place inside us that we do not hold in compassion, it will be difficult to face another that in any way mirrors that aspect of ourselves.
IF YOU ARE WORKING ON LOVING YOURSELF, YOU ARE DOING THE FIRST AND DEEPEST STEPS IN MENDING BIAS.
And for this I thank you and honor you.
This work is harder than it looks.
Actively choosing to love the unlovable within you teaches your whole self how to love others, no matter what your judgements may be - they will soften. When we can offer ourselves Unconditional Positive Regard, we begin to know instinctively how to offer it to all those we encounter. And when we do, we make space for healing for all.
My big point here is this: We could all, always, use more positive regard; it is how we become better humans.
A special thank you to all of you who made it through this entire post!
And to all of you who are doing the work; LOVE is not easy, it is a warrior's task and my bias is that any who do not acknowledge this have not yet encountered or conjured the courage to have risen to the task.
Blessed Loving, Friends.
Live, and Die, Heartfully. (In the end, what else have we?)
Warmly and as Always,
**Read the full article here: Harvard Business Review
Here are two short videos on the topic. . .
Heartwarming short on human differences:
All of Us, an award-winning video from our Unconscious Bias course
Powerful short film on bias – can you witness your own bias as you watch?
Stranger at the Gate | 2023 Oscar-Nominated Short | The New Yorker Documentary
PROJECT IMPLICIT - Might You Have Biases You Are Unaware Of?
The mission of Project Implicit is to educate the public about bias and to provide a “virtual laboratory” for collecting data on human biases.
PROJECT IMPLICIT, begun in 1998 and officially launched in 2011, is (from their website) “non-profit organization and international collaborative of researchers who are interested in implicit social cognition.
They offer a whole pile of tests you can take to assess your own biases and learn more about biases in general. Also from their site
“People don’t always say what’s on their minds. One reason is that they are unwilling. For example, someone might report smoking a pack of cigarettes per day because they are embarrassed to admit that they smoke two. Another reason is that they are unable. A smoker might truly believe that she smokes a pack a day, or might not keep track at all. The difference between being unwilling and unable is the difference between purposely hiding something from someone and unknowingly hiding something from yourself.
The Implicit Association Test (IAT) measures attitudes and beliefs that people may be unwilling or unable to report. The IAT may be especially interesting if it shows that you have an implicit attitude that you did not know about. For example, you may believe that women and men should be equally associated with science, but your automatic associations could show that you (like many others) associate men with science more than you associate women with science.”
Disability, Transgender, Gender – Career, Race 'Black - White', Asian American, Jewish, Hispanic American, Native American, Arab-Muslim, Weapons, Gender – Science, Weight, Presidents, Sexuality, Age, Skin-tone, Religion.
FUN WITH TESTS - TRY ONE!
The Implicit Association (Bias) Tests:
Good Morning Friends,
This is a quickie: I am lifting up a blog post by David Auten, who like myself, is a hospice chaplain with a blog!
His self-description (from his blogsite):
David is a writer and spiritual counselor working with hospice patients and their families in San Diego, California. He is a graduate of Yale Divinity School and the author of four books, including most recently Leaving God Behind from Wipf and Stock Publishers. A former martial artist, pastor, and teacher of religion and philosophy, David is known for his caring demeanor, conversational style, and appreciation for the dark asymmetries of life.
I particularly like David's latest post and wanted to share it with you all - specifically those of you who feel there is something different about yourself, something that makes you unique, in whatever way. . .
(which - or who - guess what - - is ALL OF US.)
The title is PEOPLE ARE STRANGE. Please enjoy a read of it HERE.
Warmly, and With Love,
Here is a song for you to listen to as you breathe into the treasure that you are, and recall of all you have offered, do offer and will offer to those you consider to be your children:
IRON & WINE: Upward Over The Mountain
One day, most likely, they will thank you. But in case they do not, I am thanking you ~ from one mother to another; there is nothing that contributes so deeply to the betterment of life on Earth than good mothering.
Yes, THANK YOU. . .
~ BLESSINGS, MAMAS, BLESSINGS ALWAYS ~
Windborne is an AMAZING vocal group, who's style embraces ancient music and most innovative arrangements. . . but more importantly, on the topic of Heartful Living and Dying, for some, their music has a timelessness to it that can open our hearts to both our own very personal joys and sorrows, and also to our shared thread of being human, whomever or wherever or whenever we are blessed to be so in our short journey here on Earth.
The music of Windborne is goose-bump-making on it's own, but add to that the fierce, compassionate souls who make up the band (Lauren Breunig, Jeremy Carter-Gordon, Lynn Rowan, and Will Rowan "share a vibrant energy onstage with a blending of voices that can only come from decades of friendship alongside dedicated practice") and their dedication to making our world a better place.
An excerpt from their website (link below):
"With a 20-year background studying polyphonic music around the world, Lauren Breunig, Jeremy Carter-Gordon, Lynn Rowan, and Will Rowan share a vibrant energy onstage with a blending of voices that can only come from decades of friendship alongside dedicated practice. The ensemble shifts effortlessly between drastically different styles of music, drawing their audience along on a journey that spans continents and centuries, illuminating and expanding on the profound power and variation of the human voice. The singers educate as they entertain, sharing stories about their songs and explaining the context and characteristics of the styles in which they sing."
I urge you to have a listen, and allow what magic the music may have for you to move your cellular matter, heart or spirit wherever you most need to be today. . .
Whether that be to touch your deepest, most authentic grief
Your brightest, most expansive joy
May you hear the echos of your own heart's song in all you encounter, now, and in every moment of your precious, Heartful, Living and Dying.
To learn more, visit their website HERE: https://www.windbornesingers.com/
Listen to Windborne (Stabat Mater - Windborne - Mont-Saint-Michel)
This is a fun deconstruction of their method of creating music:
And here is a song full of both joy and mourning, for all of us to think about, no matter what stage of Heartful Living or Dying we are in (When I'm Gone):
I want to do two things here today - First is to lift up the amazing work of Julie McFadden.
In her own words: "I educate people on the death and dying process and help them through it. I believe that people should know about the dying process BEFORE they're actually going through it with a loved one or themselves."
Indeed, through her social media platforms, many interviews and podcasts and news articles which feature her work, Julie is changing the way people experience death and the process of dying. I highly recommend checking out what she has to offer; from discussions on the fear of death and dying, to very practical tools for the journey, including videos showing the body's natural process of dying, Julie makes the mysterious familiar. And, as we all know, what you KNOW is never as scary as what fear imagines. Julie is doing a phenomenal job of bringing awareness to the process of death and dying.
The second thing I want to discuss here is the idea of a "bad" death. This is the one arena in which my view differs from Julie's. I suggest that you consider both, and then, from a place of your own discernment, make decisions for yourself or your loved ones.
In one of her videos, Julie shares what she calls a "bad death". You can view it
I would venture to say that most - or many - of us in the western world would agree with Julie's view on the young man in question's death. What I want to discuss here, however, is that this is not a universal viewpoint. There are cultures, religions and individual souls for whom "comfort" is not the pinnacle or goal of life or the process of dying.
Yes, most agree that SUFFERING is not a preferred experience, and that shifting suffering is a worthy focus. However, HOW one shifts suffering may differ. For example, generally speaking, in the western world and western healthcare, the method for shifting suffering is usually medical intervention. That is, if there is pain, give pain-reducing medicine. If there is anxiety, give medicine that alleviates anxiety. If there is difficulty breathing, give medicine that relieves that difficulty. Etc. But in some other cultural, religious or personal viewpoints, one might see suffering as an opportunity for spiritual and/or psychological evolution - perhaps to become more present, to let go of striving, to free one's mind from an illusion of separateness or the misconception that who or what we ARE must be anchored to the body or personality.
I raise this issue because our goal in end-of-life care in hospice is TO SUPPORT THE DYING in manifesting their wishes and doing their dying process as they wish to do it. If this is so, it is important for us - as hospice workers, as friends, as family and for anyone who is care-giving at end of life - to think beyond our own ideas of "a good death" or "a bad death", and open to whatever may be the truth for the person we are serving.
My own mother's death was a learning experience for me. She went through many feelings and desires along the journey, but ultimately, she shared that the purpose of life was NOT to "feel good" but to EXPERIENCE EVERYTHING! At one point, after a night of excruciating pain (for a number of reasons due to location and miscommunication, we had no access to pain meds even if we had wanted them), my mother, knowing that she had perhaps a day left to live, said "What I would give for just one more day - even the worst day of my life!" I was shocked. This was a woman who had had many very rough days in her life - days most of us would do much to avoid every having to face. "Even the WORST day?" I asked. . . "Yes", she shared, "When you have all your days ahead, you think it is all about having "good" days, but when you have no more, you realize that just getting to experience things - even the worst thing - is a gift." Her words changed the way I viewed hardship from that day going forward in my life and to this day. I am much more curious about - rather than dreading of - the hardships I encounter. This view, in and of itself, has lessened my suffering on a daily basis.
Meanwhile, in some spiritual traditions (several Buddhist ones come to mind), consciously being present with pain, struggle, fear or other "difficult" emotions, sensations and experiences, may be seen as an opportunity, rather than something to be avoided. Learning to "bear witness" to hardship, to spiritually expand one's ability to contain yet be larger than an experience does build us in so many ways. If this has not been your focus or practice, it may seem brutal; yet do we not owe it to those we care for to honor THEIR choice, EVEN WHEN IT SEEMS TERRIFYING OR PAINFUL TO US??
In my opinion, YES, we do.
Whatever our personal beliefs are about how a person "should" face their death, pain and suffering, it is good to know that ours is not the only way. If we say that our mission is to be in service of another, is not that other's desire then to be lifted up before our own? And if we feel we must impose our own views over theirs, might we not take a step back and imagine what it would be like to have our own views disregarded for someone else's?
Whether you see suffering as a thing to be mitigated at all cost and would prefer total unconsciousness to any pain, OR if you see pain as a thing to be embraced as opportunity for experiential growth (or if your own view is some combination of these extremes), it is my hope that you might explore opening to the fact that not everyone will choose what you would, and that this exploration might gift you a wider view for the next time you are honored with the task of supporting another who has their own views and hopes for their very personal, very sacred last weeks, days, months, hours or moments here on Earth.
Here are a few websites to investigate further. . .
An article on assessing and managing pain for Buddhist patients - CLICK HERE.
HERE is more on Buddhism.
THIS LINK is to an article where the author considers matters of pain avoidance.
MORE THOUGHTS on spirituality and pain.
And now for a bit of the beauty, depth and light on the topic of death and dying, please enjoy a watch of a fabulous episode of "MY LAST DAYS" (MY LAST DAYS was created by Justin Baldoni, with episodes directed by Baldoni, Ahmed Musiol and Farhoud Meybodi, produced by Wayfarer Entertainment, in association with SoulPancake, with executive producers Justin Baldoni, Rainn Wilson, Ahmed Musiol, Farhoud Meybodi and Sam Baldoni.)
CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE EPISODE:
SPREADING A MESSAGE OF LOVE AND HAPPINESS.
If you are not familiar with SOULPANCAKE'S MY LAST DAYS, it is a beautiful documentary series sharing stories of inspirational living - from the lives of people who are dying.
You can follow @soulpancake here:
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Hello Again Dear Humans & Angels. . .
Every one of us who has made it to adulthood (and many of us who are still very young) has/have experienced immense LOSS of one kind or another. One thing science and psychology knows about grief in loss is this:
To deny emotion does not spare you of it; rather, it loads your undercurrents and deep self with a heaviness that can show up as physical, emotional, mental and/or spiritual un-wellness. . . this can manifest in actual physical ailment, deep disconnection from a sense of aliveness, mental confusion and alienation from life, others, and even ones self. It can leave us either sleepless or un-endingly drowsy - either way, exhausted. It can render us helpless and hopeless to face our moments or so anxious we can barely breathe.
The other side of the coin of unwellness is the potential for SUPER-wellness. While science tells us that to withhold our feelings can cause great damage to our beings, it also shows us that those who courageously and willingly allow their emotions full and open expression, will find that on the other side there awaits a wealth of healing, energy, and even new roads of hope and possibility. More physical energy and freedom from aches and pains, emotional fluidity and connectedness, mental clarity and hopeful thinking, and often a spiritual growth or awareness one didn't have access to before. At the very least, and at the beginning of grief's journey, one may find a moment or three of stillness in the midst of the storm. . .
Yet for many of us, accessing our grief - no matter what sort of loss we have experienced - is not always easy. Whether your loss is past, present or to come; whether it is of human life, pets, places or things, perhaps a listen to the song below (or any other music that softens your heart) might open a gateway to your grieving. If so, welcome it. Set a time and space to fully FEEL the power of loss, the depth of how fully you LOVED what you are losing, and be open to the river as it carries you - yes, perhaps for a time right through the pit of despair, and into the caves of the dragon of ache. . . but if you stay with it, if you are willing and able to follow grief's lead, look into the mirror your pain offers you - you will likely find on the other side that grief leaves you up on a drier shore; a shore that has a bit more stillness to it than the one you left; a shore that offers a spot of rest, a slightly slower or deeper breath. Grief may require that you make this journey several times to the depths and back again before you have expressed all that is there for you to feel. If you can know that Grief is not your enemy, but rather a well that forms you to a new version of yourself, one that encompasses rather than needs what you once had - and will always love - then you may, eventually, find yourself with a level of tranquility, grace and well-being you never knew you had.
Ready to fall in? Listen to this (or any other music that opens you to wherever your heart needs to go):
Lewis Capaldi - Wish You The Best (Official Video)
I wish you deep journeying and a gentle return.
*Thank you Lynn Frances Anderson for making me aware of this song that so powerfully dumps most of us into our good and powerful Grief.
Click on the Youtube link below to listen to Daniel Burgin's season-appropriate music while you read!
Please support artist Daniel Burgin if you like what you hear - You can listen to more of his songs by going to his Bandcamp page: https://danielburgin.bandcamp.com You can also find Daniel's music on Spotify and all other common streaming platforms; All music composed and arranged by Daniel Burgin © 2022 Daniel Burgin
Rev. Maya Massar