UU General Assembly Blog
June 24, 2017
The exhibitor next to us is the UU History and Heritage Society. They don’t have anything on Thoreau. Since Thoreau is on the cover of the current UU World, we feature this along with a book “Thoreau: Mystic, Prophet, Ecologist”. I think that’s a great title. Normally we feature Emerson as the first UU Mystic, but Thoreau is also an important figure in our history – and he has continued to speak pretty powerfully to each new generation. We discuss the fact that there are no current organizations that identify as Transcendentalists – there are just historians. I like to think that we carry on a little of that energy in our community. The UU History group helped sponsor the Afro-Creole spiritualism history presentation that I blogged about yesterday. They were pleased with the strong interest and reception. My neighbor (a retired reverend) reports that many UU’s self identify as spiritualists.
Krista Tippett’s “On Being” interview today is a rebroadcast of her session with Martin Sheen. This is a terrific discussion – highly recommended. Sheen is quite the mystical activist – having been arrested at more than 60 protests. Thoreau would be proud of him. He speaks powerfully of finding his own true spiritual experience once he was well along in life. He comments near the end of the talk that you can only truly know spirituality in community. Perhaps that is a little strongly stated, but he speaks beautifully about the importance of community, and I feel the strength of his observation as I sit here at the table of UU Mystics in Community.
We get our first weekend visitor. Locals can get day passes, and we see local UU’s showing up on the weekend. The locals can be a little tentative in approaching our table, compared to GA veterans. Of course, the whole GA experience can be pretty overwhelming – such a large, animated, colorful gathering.
A gentleman from Florida stops by. He is part of a group that meets monthly on mysticism, mainly with a focus on intuitive experiences – with different types of experiences selected as topics, and then participants relate what their experience has been.
Doug and I are discussing nonduality. Doug works in the space of interpersonal neurobiology and is immersed in nonduality at this time, an area that also interests me. A California woman stops by and I comment that nonduality (derived from Vedanta) is big out there. She agrees that the eastern influences are abundant there.
A couple comes by. The man is a minister who works for the UUA in Boston. The woman really reacts to our Richard Rohr book. The woman is a minister in the eastern orthodox Christian tradition, working mainly with campus ministry. She had visited the Christian Fellowship booth . She views orthodox as meaning being true to yourself, and the tradition has taught her to quiet her mind to be in better contact with her true self. She did not feel connected over at the UU Christian Fellowship table (too much Bible study) but feels home here. Eastern Orthodoxy is a very mystical tradition, although that is not always apparent to whose who are not involved with the tradition. We had a very rich interaction with her. She left feeling much more at home in this general assembly.
A humanist stops by and makes the statement that he deals only with science as reality,seeming to imply that spiritual experience is false. I note that we focus on direct experience. Doug engages him, noting his own credentials in science, and the discussion amicably proceeds to explore the range of human experience – rational and intuitive, left and right brain.
A young woman stops by who identifies herself as a pagan. We discuss how earth based sources are one of the main channels that people find that open them to the wholeness and oneness that can be experienced.
A fellow comes by, originally from Honduras – a political refugee immigrant from the early 90s. A local UU. Doug happily engages with him in Spanish dialog. He discussed his search for meaning as he made his home here in the U.S.
A woman stops by to talk about Ken Wilber. There was a “hotbed” of interest in him at SUUSI (a regional summer camp) in the past. His work continues at www.integralife.com. As I noted yesterday, I am hopeful that we can engage more discussion in our community on integral spiritual practice.
A 45 year UU woman from California seeks us out. This is her first GA, which is always a mind expanding experience. She works in developmental psychology. We discuss our upcoming October online discussion of John Robinson’s book “The Divine Human” about the new developmental stage of spirituality later in life.
Susan comes back from hosting the mystics lunch. One of the participants is a long time minister who actually got Howard Thurman to come to speak at his congregation many years ago. Thurman was a world renowned Christian mystical activist – we have presented his materials at our booth in the past. The UU minister at lunch will send Susan information from this presentation. This minister had Huston Smith in his UU congregation – Huston was world renowned as a religious scholar and was a contemporary and colleague of Aldous Huxley who wrote the book “Perennial Philosophy” – one of the most influential books on mysticism in the last century. Its great to make contact with an elder who had ties to these influential mystics, and to feel the thread of those connections as they have informed and enriched our own journest.
A young woman stops by – from the Westport Ct congregation (close to my home turf). She attends Trinity College in mechanical engineering. Its great to run into people from back home. Then a friend from my congregation stops over to invite me to a wine and cheese at the condo that they are renting. A lot of good socializing is part of the GA experience.
A young woman from Puerto Rico asks about what support we provide as a community for people who use entheogens. We discuss the interest among some UUs in sharing on this – seems like a good subject for a future community teleconference. She tells us about the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. We discuss the importance of community in the traditions that use entheogens. We talk about our book by Andrew Newberg on How Enlightenment Changes Your Brain. We also move on to talk about the book “The Hidden Life of Trees” as we talk about the hidden connections that surround us.
During the afternoon, we have a series of conversations with numerous people stopping by and connecting in various ways. Too much interaction to be able to keep track of it in this blog. We also have people picking up the UU Sangha – the UUBF newsletter that we have on the table. We’re happy to display their news letter since they don’t have their own table here.
Susan and I are chatting about the book “Everyday Spiritual Practice.” She has the first chapter in this book written by UU clergy. The book has always sold well and has now been updated and the new updated version is coming out as “Faithful Practices To Feed Your Spirit” from Skinner House this fall. All of the original contributors are providing new contributions based on where they are now on their paths. Susan will share her mystical experience at 17 in a highly personal and heartful way. Looking forward to it. It is a brave and generous to share such experiences and not to conform them to some idealized model.
We talk with a woman who works with the Small Group ministry team. We hope to support more congregational groups. Those who are interested should reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org and also join our July call (Third Tuesday, details at uumystics.org).
We constantly get people stopping by asking ‘How Do You Define Mysticism”. We say that we orient around the UU first source statement of direct experience of transcending mystery and wonder. We don’t try to define mysticism – the point is to move away from boundaries towards a larger experience.
We have a great dialog with our last visitor from California, who spent 10 years in an ashram, and who described his own experiences of universal love. He also talked about his mother’s mysticism, as well as the incredible experiences of connection that he had in work as a community organizer. He bought one of our T shirts and said this visit was the best part of his G.A. A great way to end another good day.
UU General Assembly Blog June 23, 2017
A great conversation to start the day. Sat and chatted with a woman who is a UU reverend from the Philippines. She joined our Facebook group on the spot (should have grabbed a photo!). She said she was from a mystic lineage – animists in the Philippines. She also noted that transcendentalism (drawn from our New England forebears) remained active among UU’s in the Philippines up to current times. We discussed spiritual experience and connection, which for her also includes supernatural experience. She described her fourteen day retreat/fast that she did in community back home – and her transforming experiences of larger consciousness and falling away of personal fears – in that retreat. Interestingly, while finding us on Facebook, she pointed out that there is another closed group of Mystic UU Ministers out there at this time.
A woman stops by to take a picture of our booth because she thinks this will be the thing to convince a friend who is hesitating about becoming a UU.
Doug Taylor returns to the table. He attended a program last night. Cheryl Walker presented on leadership and change. Getting out of ego, and making an impact. Are you here to make a name for yourself or to make a difference? Are you doing it for change or positive impact? How do we transcend differences? How can I get into nondual state and then have that as an embodied sense so that in the world we can operate from the space where there are no differences and then deal with the issues in front of us.. Getting beyond institutionalized and institutionalized racism. The radical transformation is to get to the place where there are no differences (Rumi’s “field”), and then be in the world from that place.
We listen to the rain on the roof of the exhibit hall. A regular thing here in New Orleans (even after storm Cindy has passed). Very zen like to sit with the sound of the rain. A fellow talks about the three pillars – Buddha, Dharma ,Sangha. Can we think about our community in these terms?
A couple from Missouri stops and chats (Next year GA is in Kansas City). The fellow comments on the juxtaposition in our name – mystics are viewed as being quiet/meditative – but we also have community in our name.
A youth group swings by. They tend to travel in packs and then to sort of swing in and out through a short visit. Doug engages their questions about mysticism quite animatedly, and I can see his enthusiasm even drawing a little interest from the boys, who tend to linger a little further from the table.
We’re delighted to have an extended conversation with Peter Bowen from uuplanet.org. Peter designed our logo more than a decade ago. He offers to upgrade the resolution – so we engage him on the spot. We also ask for any other design thoughts for our home page banner and overall use of graphics. Peter is one of the founders of UU Small Group Ministry, and we have an extended discussion and he gives us some great tips on organizing. Doug talks about his experience as a therapist, and finding that small groups can foster safe, caring connection – which fosters authentic experience that can become transcendent. Peter encourages us to develop some four session canned programs which can serve the purpose of inviting people into small groups that can then evolve into the kind of group that Doug describes.
The lunch time crowd is unusually light today. New Orleans has a Riverwalk Discount Outlet center with a food court right next door and perhaps the easy availability of fast food has reduced the traffic relying on the GA dining.
A couple young guys stop by. I comment that Emerson and Thoreau were my gurus when I was that age. One of them, now from California, said that his family were Transcendentalists – having hailed from Hudson Valley NY. He asked about membership – signed our contact list – and ready to become a member when we make that official.
A woman from Louisiana talks about small group spiritual discussion. I suggest that they participate in our Tuesday conference calls and then have a follow-up meeting to dig in more deeply. There is a lot of interest in these monthly calls. Another woman at the table really wants to get involved and is excited about the calls, and then realizes that she has a scheduling conflict – but resolves to rearrange things. They both address the fact that there are few people in the congregation and a sensitivity and a reluctance to bring this up in conversation. One of them is a Richard Rohr fan – many people point him out as a meaningful resource (our August teleconference focuses on his interview with Krista Tippett). Another woman joins the conversation and talks about being viewed as “crazy” for talking about spiritual experience.
Two fellows from California talk about mindfulness – some companies out there bring this in to the workplace. They are both Eckhart Tolle fans. I show them a brand new title that I found just down the street a couple days ago called “The Leap – The Psychology of Spiritual Awakening.” – with the imprimatur of Tolle. One of the fellows talks about ongoing discussion in his congregation about how much spirituality should be entertained in their UU community. So many people find that there is not that much room for this in their UU congregations.
A fellow from Philadelphia points to our Andrew Newberg book on How Enlightenment Changes the Brain. Newberg is a neuroscientist from the same school I attended in Philadelphia – the home of the Quakers. We discuss science, neuroscience, and spiritual experiences.
A seminarian takes some serious time with us to critique our name. His experience of spirit is one of immanence and he doesn’t feel that people can have transcendent experience and that it could not be real. His interest is honest and sincere. He points out the strong humanist resistance to anything non-material. He recommends that we reference Peter Mayer’s song “Holy Now” – this is really a good suggestion. Not surprisingly, he follows Buddhist meditation practices – sitting meditation – and is very tuned into the mystery and awe from that experience. Susan Manker has joined us by this point, so that there are two of us to absorb and context this input. We orient around the first UU source statement of direct experience of transcendent mystery and wonder. It could fairly be said that this is flawed in that it does not also bring in immanent mystery and wonder, but we need to hold words lightly. I point to Thoreau who was strongly grounded in the here and now, but also had experiences that felt transcendent.
A woman stops by with more of the classic questions and needs that people present. I mention that somewhere between 12-15% of UUs self identify as mystics (I think). I share that many view themselves as “closet mystics”. She really resonates with this term and leaves the table with a better framework for understanding and sharing this experience in UU congregations.
Doug talks about a Zen group in California. Online Satsang. Audio only. Opening reading. 30 minutes of sitting. Bell and end. Our goal is to develop an online sharing that is contemplative and also involves sharing.
Within the space of five minutes, two folks showed me the book “A Luminous Brotherhood, Afro-Creole Spiritualism”, by Emily Suzanne Clark. The author presented this book to 250 people here just in the last hour. We discuss the Course in Miracles, which is well known. We discuss theosophy and Edgar Cayce. We discuss the practice of intuitive healing practices and the gradual movement into openness. A young woman stops by (from Maryland) with a “I Pray Well With Others” shirt who was raised Baptist and had a health crisis in youth but the intense Baptist community praying for her did not work. She found she abandoned prayer and then rediscovered it in her own way over a number of years. The gentleman here described how his spiritual community prayed intensively for an injured loved one and they all knew at once when she recovered consciousness in a distant hospital. His view also is an openness to the unknown. The discussion then turns to shamanism.
We are visited by another woman who worked with her husband to vision a totally new life and career style, involving numerous complexities and it all played out as envisioned.
UU General Assembly Blog - June 22, 2017
An early visitor is a fellow who has been a practicing Sufi for four decades. Another fellow comes along, a youth from Mississippi. They both are commenting on the increased sense of spirituality that they see and hear in UU GA programs. The fellow compares to GA more than a decade ago in Fort Worth (the first GA that UU Mystics appeared at). At that time, atheism had a larger profile and there was reference to spiritual experience. I note that spiritual programming has been on the decline at GA but their sense is that spiritual references are more common in some of the larger GA events.
A young woman from Illinois stops by and discusses her own contemplative experience, and asks me about my own. This is welcome – most visitors are more inclined to discuss ideas rather than personal experience. She feels that her contemplative practice is mostly solitary and that people are often uncomfortable with the subject. She signs the contact sheet and acknowledges that it is affirming to be tied to this community.
A fellow visits who is a third generation in a New York German immigrant family that has pursued spiritualism. I comment on how Emerson distinguished between spirituality and spiritualism. This fellow thought that there used to be a UU Spiritualist Group, and I also comment on the UU Psi Symposium. He says that in Buffalo (at some past time?) the congregation offered their sanctuary to a local spiritualist group that needed a worship space – a very welcoming act.
We have a couple members of our Facebook group stop by and I got photos and will share alog. One of them, a reverend from California, commented that our Mystical Experiences pamphlet is the most popular pamphlet in their church, so I offered her a packet of them – which she welcomed. We discussed the challenge of discussing mystical experience in group settings.
Sam Trumbore, the Albany minister, says hi. Sam is a long time leader in the UU Buddhist fellowship. He staffed the UUBF exhibit table next to ours for a number of years. UUBF is doing biennial convocations and they are going well, drawing 50-100. He encourages us to do one. Sam is a long time friend of UU Mystics. We are joined by Rev.Jim Sherblom from Concord MA. Jim put together terrific adult programming initiatives at First Parish. He says that they did mystical retreats (about a dozen people) at Stillwater Monastery, a still active Benedictine monastery outside of Boston. He share a promo piece on his new book, “Spiritual Audacity”,coming out in September. Listed as “perhaps the most important book by a UU mystic since Rev. Jacob Trapp’s 1973 book, “The Light of a Thousand suns”.
A woman from Georgia appears and we discuss small group work in UU congregational settings. She commented about the small groups in her congregation – Christians, Buddhists, Pagans. She commented that each is focused on a path, but all of the paths lead to a common destination which is “The Thing”. We turned to our sign and said “This is the Thing”. It is great fun to share the “One River Many Wells” of ecumenical sources that we share.
A young woman from this area stops over – she felt she had to visit the table – we sat and chatted for some time. Her spiritual practice involves the use of substances – entheogens. I love it that someone would come and share something so private and personal and entirely meaningful to her path. It is rare that I encounter this sharing, but is another thing that I expect is in the closet for people, particularly if they don’t feel that their experience will be accepted as genuine and transformational. We discussed the ways that we create small groups to explore experience. She had attended the workshop here on “Emerging Spiritual Communities” where the trend towards spontaneous small groups not specific to congregations was discussed. This resonated with my own experience. We ended with some discussion of Richard Rohr – we have two of his books here and will be discussing his interview with Krista Tippett in our August mystics call.
Rev. Arvid Straube (Eno River, NC) stopped in to discuss the integral framework (Ken Wilber). He teaches at Meadville and this is one aspect of his teaching. He has a chapter in the popular UU book “Everyday Spiritual Practice” which is being updated this year and his new chapter will be on integral spiritual practice. The integral philosophy has been important to me, and to some other UUs. The Eno River chuch has done some good program work in this area. There has been interest in organizing a denominational interest group around this, but nothing has emerged. I believe that there is opportunity for us to do more with this approach in UU Mystics. We displayed Wilber’s book on Integral Meditation at GA last year.
Not that much later, Mary Grigolia appeared – Arivid’s longtime collaborator at Eno River – she is now in Cleveland. She described a small group – NRG – neurospiritual reflection group – in her church. They are currently discussing Rick Hanson’s book, Just One Thing. She beautifully described her own spiritual practice focusing on the body, then the heart, then observing the mind, and finally opening to unbounded awareness – a self created version of the Heart Sutra. She also shared a powerful story of experiencing the immensity and intensity of Hurricane Sandy and living into the awe of that moment.
We are visited by a gentleman from Georgia who talks about Jill Bolte Taylor’s incredible book, A Stroke of Insight. This is about her experience with stroke, which shut down her left brain and opened her to powerful mystical experience from the right brain. He points out that Ted Talks promotes this talk as one of their all time most popular talks. We discuss how much of spiritual practice involves shutting down or overriding the “monkey mind” so that we can access the right brain, which is too often made inaccessible in our left brained world.
Reinforcements have arrived. We are joined at this time by Doug Taylor, a fellow UU Mystics trustee who is helping with our exhibit and our lunchtime discussions. We are also joined by Susan Manker Seale, another mystics trustee – who edited our UU Mystical Experiences pamphlet.
Doug Taylor has returned from the UUBF program on Buddhist Practices to Support the Work of Justice. Standing room only. Focus on how Buddhist spiritual practices can ground our activism and develop resilience for challenging times. Return to the body, open the heart, and renew your spirit for the work ahead! The presentation comments on the strong influence a person can have if they show up in a way that is grounded and centered, and this way of being emerges out of spiritual practice, often focused on loving kindness meditation.
Susan Manker-Seale comes by at the end of the day. Ministers’ choir is practicing daily – an awesome annual event. This is Susan’s high point of GA – has been doing this for 30 years or more. They sing at the two highs of the GA for clergy – the celebration of long-serving ministers and the service of the living tradition – honoring the ministers who are transitioning.
UU General Assembly Blog – June 21, 2017
A gentleman from Berkeley stops by and we discuss “aging and sageing”. Having a few years under his belt, he concurs that spiritual connection gets stronger, and jokes “I can’t remember what I had for lunch, but I do get the nature of Reality”.
We have a display about Thoreau (200th birthday). A woman from Worthington PA stopped by – she grew up on Cape Cod – lots of New England Transcendentalist energy there. She commented on a book called “The Outermost House” – a house way out alone on the edge of the Cape (washed away in 1993) – a fellow lived there for a year and wrote about it. Sounds like an interesting read, some parallels to Thoreau’s Walden.
A woman from Milwaukee comments on a mystical poet, William Stafford, who resided in Portland, Oregon and is highly regarded – apparently has a park named after him out there. We discuss “aging and sageing”. She comments on an excellent 8 week program on Conscious Aging run by IONS – Institute of Noetic Science.
A woman from California stops by – we are discussing “aging and sageing”. She proclaims – “we have enough of that in our congregation!”Average age pushing 70 (not this woman). We chuckle about the greying of UUs but it also relates to how we hold this in our community. We get more “olders” than “youngers” attending at GA but I think this is also true of identification with mysticism. Its good to have the writings of the 20 something Thoreau here on display (he did not attain advanced age himself).
Five young UUs stopped by. A girl from Delaware was the one with the focused interest and questions (the guys kind of hung back). We talked about Thoreau and “what is a mystic”. Good to see the interest and appreciation, while also being at ease with the hesitation of youth.
Jay McNeal stopped by, from Richmond, VA. He hosts transformational conversations in podcasts at coffeepotfellowship.com. He is also ordained as a Baptist minister and is executive director at unitedfaithleaders.com. He mentioned “Breakfast at the Victory”, a classic mystical offering by James Carse. He was also sharing from George Lakoff (one of his books is “Don’t Think of an Elephant”. Neuroscience is rapidly advancing our understanding of our neurological programming, informing us of the patterns that tend to direct our lives.
Wayne Arnanson stopped by – a UU cleric who is a leader with the UU Buddhist Fellowship – www.uubf.org. We have often exhibited next to each other at G.A. The UUBF has biennial convocations – this year in Portland, Oregon – after several prior rounds at the Garrison Institute in NY.
A local fellow stopped by and informed me that he is not a mystic and doesn’t believe in “all of that stuff” but had experienced a haunted property in the area. Similarly, his companion had an out of body experience but she also was declared to be “not a mystic”. There is certainly baggage that comes with this mystic handle, and frequent confusion about spirituality vs spiritualism.
A Massachusetts woman stops by. They have created a UU commune (small) focused on spirituality, sustainability, and social change. Also “getting rid of the ‘isms”.
A Connecticut attendee suggests the book “Soft Atheism” as a good resource for UU Mystics.
Thomas Earthman visits – he is the leader of IAmUU.net – a mission/outreach program to make UU’s more visible in the world. We discuss that what he is doing for UU’s in overall society, is similar to what we are doing for mystics in the UU denomination. Useful sharing of perspectives. Also, we discuss regional work initiatives – joint programming among multiple congregations within reasonable driving distance. From of us in UU Mystics are also doing this – identifying like minded persons among local congregations.
Talking with a retired school psychologist now residing in Florida. Incredible history of service to the disadvantaged. Finds youth quite at home with mystical ideas (meditation, reincarnation) but not drawn into community around it. Reminds me of Emerson when he says that he tries to get people comfortable with the fact that they can find reliable answers within themselves. His path included some focused time with the work of Edgar Cayce.
UU Mystical Musings Online Discussion -
Every third Tuesday at 9pm ET/6pm PT
Phone: 646 558 8656 (US Toll) or +1 408 638 0968 (US Toll); Meeting ID: 952 722 999
Please join us on June 20 at 6pm PT/9pm ET for our discussion on the topic of our current newsletter: "UU Mystics: The Middle Path of Spirituality and Social Justice ". We will be discussing how we deepen our spirituality individually and in community and how this relates to social justice and our work in the world.
Welcome! We are members and friends of Unitarian Universalism walking the path of spiritual experience and growth as it unfolds in our lives. We come to this website for inspiration, we circulate a newsletter, we explore our experience in our Facebook group, we convene at the UU General Assembly, we engage in teleconference discussion – in these and other ways we find kindred souls who clarify our attention, move us more deeply into our hearts, and show us the way to embody and engage our spirituality in our lives. Thank you for visiting us and we hope to bring your longings and experience into the web of community that we are together weaving.
Why should we not also enjoy an original relationship to the universe? Ralph Waldo Emerson, An early UU Mystic