Everyday Spirituality

For Talks at Google, neuroscientist Daniel Levitin said, “The brain is very good at self-delusion, that’s one thing it’s very good at.” (minute 6:30)

Levitin addressed the delusion of multitasking. It’s a myth, he said. The brain can’t multitask because it works sequentially. And in today’s climate of access to enormous amounts of information, the brain is vulnerable to overload.

Brain overload results in unproductive decision making.

Translating those concepts to the flood of conversations about sexual harassment and assault, brain overload results in decision making as careless as the men who use their penis to think and act.

Studies show the brain switches between two modes, task-engagement and mind-wandering.

When in task-engagement mode, we’re processing linear information undistractedly, causing brain activity in a certain region of the brain.

Alternatively, when we enter mind-wandering mode, another region in the brain lights up.

Despite my apparent self-delusion that mind-wandering looks like not paying attention, studies show that mind-wandering is the critical attentional mode that makes use of non-linear thoughts and allows our most creative acts and problem solving to occur.

When thoughts come to us, they need testing, because some thoughts aren’t useful to humanity. Silence and submission to fear aren’t useful.

Wendy Patrick, PhD, career prosecutor, author, and behavioral expert, wrote online at Psychology Today, “Feelings of confusion, guilt, shame, and divided loyalties often result in an unwillingness to report the exploitive behavior immediately after the incident, if at all.”

Let the conversations continue, however take the time to pause.

We women don’t want to subject men to the same demeaning characters of confusion, shame, and exploitation inflicted on us too often.

Women’s progress won’t come the same way it did or does for men, for the very reason we are different. We have divine Mind guiding us with progress. And women have made progress. Women are the strongest expressions of divine Love.

From 21st Century Science and Health

Abstinence from debauched sexual activity leads to an advanced state of intellectual and cultural development in human society, marked by progress in the arts, science, and religion. Without integrity, there is no social stability and the Science of Life can’t be achieved.

Quoting from science & religion to God

Spiritual growth counters the temptations to either languish in states of indolence and apathy, or jump into extremist actions. We can discover that the human mind, even bulked together with many minds, is powerless before divine Mind.

The mental qualities of dishonesty, lethargy, revenge, malice, and arrogance will not heal the sick. If they appear to, it is temporary and leaves the case worse than before.

We can spiritually discern and live by divine laws. We can outgrow false beliefs that work against progress. We can break barriers in ways that benefit humanity through an understanding of Spirit.

More than one million selfies are taken per day? Blah. Sounds like a self-obsessed world. Or, is it self-awareness?

Can selfies lead to self-awaking? Can it lead to an awareness of God?

Experts and researchers are trying to answer those questions especially since the increased selfie trend demands so much attention these days.

But, there’s nothing new about selfies, only the word, which was incorporated into the Oxford Dictionary in 2013.

In Bible times, people looked in water or used polished surfaces and saw themselves. It sometimes brought wonder and thoughtfulness.

“Just as you can see your own face reflected in water, so your heart reflects the kind of person you are.” Proverbs 27:19, Easy-to-Read Version Bible

The famous Artist Vincent van Gogh, painted and drew himself more than 43 times between 1886 and 1889, even though the modern mirror was invented in 1835.

“Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion—do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them.” Matthew 6:27-29, The Message

During the twentieth century, technology contributed to the spike in selfies a bit. Self-timers were added to cameras so the delay between pressing the shutter release and the shutter firing, allowed photographers to take selfies or family shoots.

However, after Apple introduced the iPhone with a front-facing camera in 2010, selfies became pervasive, nearly invasive.

Instead of being offended or obsessed with selfies as we know them today, we can move forward with a balanced perspective that holds in thought a true image of our self and others as the image of a God that is Love, Spirit, Truth.

From 21st Century Science and Health,” Sixth edition.

“A student of spiritual Science and a student of physical science are like two different artists. One says: “I have spiritual ideals, indestructible and glorious. When others see them as I do, in their true light and loveliness—and know that these ideals are real and eternal because drawn from Truth—they will find that nothing is lost and all is won by a correct estimate of what is real.”

“The other artist replies: “You flaw my experience. My ego-centric-ideals are both mental and material. It is true that materialization renders these ideals imperfect and unreliable, yet I would not exchange mine for yours, for mine give me instant self-gratification, and they are not so shockingly transcendental. They don’t require me to be unselfish. They keep Soul well out of sight. Moreover, I have no notion of losing my old doctrines or personal attachments.”

“Now then reader, which mind-picture or expressed thought will be real to you—the spiritual or the temporal? Both you cannot have. You are bringing out your own ideal, either eternal or temporal. Either Spirit or matter is your model. If you try to have two models, then you practically have none. Like a yo-yo, you will spin and bounce between the real and the unreal.

“The Revelator tells us of “a new heaven and new earth.”[1] Have you ever pictured this heaven and earth, inhabited by beings under the control of supreme wisdom?

“Let us rid our self of the belief that we are separate from God, and obey only the divine Principle, Life and Love; here is the launching pad to all true spiritual growth.

“It is difficult for the narcissistic attitude to accept divine Science, because Science exposes the nonbeing of a separate self. The sooner error is reduced to its native nothingness, the sooner realness appears and our genuine being is understood. The destruction of error is by no means the destruction of Truth or Love, but is the acknowledgment of them.”

[1] Rev. 21:1

Experts say, surprises are good for us. How can this be?

Research shows that surprises work on the brain’s dopamine system and allows us to focus our attention better. Data claims that surprises inspire us to look at our situations in new ways, to keep us learning, or bring satisfaction.

The problem with this data is, it doesn’t feel completely true. And experts even warn against bad reactions to bad surprises.

I remember being a kid and playing baseball with my siblings and cousins. My big cousin swung the bat and hit me smack in the forehead. The whack was totally unexpected. And not satisfying.

What typically happens after a bad surprise?

I’ve caught myself adjusting my expectations and training myself accordingly so as not to be disappointed.

I trained myself to stay away from baseball. It was my best effort to using that surprise-whack to my advantage. And so far, so good, I haven’t been hit in the head with a bat again.

Basically, I avoided baseball in the effort to avoid a disappointing surprise.

But think about this Cheryl, I tell myself, are experts telling me that, if I hadn’t avoided baseball, would I have become a star baseball player earning millions?

Probably not, I can’t even throw a ball.

But for this address, that incident hints at what experts warn against. Avoiding surprises. Experts gently encourage us rather, to grow benefits from surprises.

Which means, I can’t do its opposite of avoiding surprises. Avoidance is a short-term solution, similar to the option to lower my expectations in the hopes it will reduce disappointments when the unexpected comes my way.

Let’s take half a minute here though, to distinguish between realistic and unrealistic expectations. In regard to unrealistic expectations, yes, it is effective, it is to our benefit to avoid or lower unrealistic expectations.

But, when it comes to realistic expectations, expectations of bettering our world, we can treat surprises with more lasting answers or advantages. I think we do it already.

We’re learning about human nature. We learn how resilient and progressive we can be, while at the same time learning how destructive we can be.

We learn how to use reason and conviction, to strive to grow the good in human nature.

Because of my own limitations, I find having a power greater than myself helps in this effort. I call the greater power divine Spirit, or God. And remind myself Spirit is the source of benefits and satisfaction, not surprises. Which means therefore, that surprises can’t take away benefits or satisfaction.

I’ve also taken the time to observe. To look around and ask, just how many people get surprised?

Some people get surprised often, whereas some people don’t seem to get surprised at all. The older I get, the less I get surprised. Every time a surprise comes my way, I shake my head and think, doesn’t surprise me one bit.

Then I plow ahead through the situation, to grow benefits. For inspiration, I often look to others who have successfully grown benefits themselves.

There is the story of Joseph, in the Bible. He was thrown into a pit, by his jealous brothers. I can’t help but assume that the family dysfunction was a disappointing surprise to Joseph.

A tribe came by the pit, brought Joseph out and sold him as a slave.

Joseph’s owner learned to trust him. Until, that is, Joseph was falsely accused and so sent to prison.

Despite the surprise of prison, Joseph kept his God and believed in advantages, not only for himself but also for others. It’s interesting, because whereas Joseph previously worked for the privileged, he now had the opportunity to work for the underprivileged. And, he could, because divine Spirit is in force everywhere, designed to uplift and empower satisfaction.

A couple years after prison life, Joseph was remembered for his good skills, and released. Moreover, he was put in charge of saving the country from starvation, which included saving his immediate family.

In a contemporary book titled, “Surprise: Embrace the Unpredictable and Engineer the Unexpected,” authors, Tania Luna and Leeann Renninger argue that surprise, whether good or bad, brings vitality to our lives.

But what about the times when a series of bad surprises overwhelm the good and eat away at vitality or satisfaction?

This nearly happened to me in religion.

My religious background includes a religion associated with Mary Baker Eddy, born in early 19th century. She realized the value of applying the unseen power of Spirit, and taught it to others through a schooling called Christian Science. She wrote a book titled “Science and Health.”

A group of followers formed, and Mrs. Eddy later started a church. And, one surprise followed another.

At the turn of the 20th century, people were flocking to churches of Christ, Scientist, led by Eddy.

The institution gained in credibility especially when it came to spiritual health and healing. Christian Science was so in vogue that nonreligious and religious people clamored to be in her church.

Thousands of Jews left the synagogues in the 1920s to join her church.

Jewish leaders were taken by surprise by the migration, but used the surprise to a greater advantage by acknowledging their own access to mindful health. Morris Lichtenstein, wrote and published the “Jewish Science and Health.” He could, because the unseen force of Spirit, supporting Eddy was also supporting him. Jews began staying in the synagogues.

The Society of Jewish Science organized in New York City and is still there today.

Back to Mrs. Eddy, after she died in 1910, her church began losing leadership throughout the 20th century.

By the time I was born in 1961, the state of the church did not resemble the early history of Christian Science.

The church was in decline, and at that point, Christian Scientists were known as the people who never go to doctors. It was an accepted stereotype, believed by both admirers and critics of Christian Science. Even I believed it, until it became unpleasant and alarming.

I felt guilty when I went to the doctor. I also heard remarks that children’s health care was compromised by parents who were praying.

I heard people justify or debate this stereotype using one sentence from Eddy’s Science and Health. The sentence reads, “Only through radical reliance on Truth can scientific healing power be realized.”

In efforts to discuss healing or benefits, that sentence was repeated as if it meant healing comes through radical reliance on prayers. But it doesn’t say that.

Reliance on prayer is not the same thing as reliance on Truth.

Sure, prayer is a big part of Christian Science, but prayer isn’t equal to Truth. Prayer is only a method of discovering truth, even discovering the proper use of medicine.

I also learned the definition for radical had, well, radically changed during the 20th century. The definition of radical found in a 19th century dictionary, was “pertaining to the root or origin.”

Today, radical means extremism.

So, the religion I was familiar with, did not condone extremism or fanaticism, but encouraged reliance on truth for progress and satisfaction.

In other words, religion has no power other than what human nature gives it. And human prejudices make mistakes.

Surprisingly, this conclusion made my mind more peaceful. It made my mind not so quick to link religion with radicalism.

Honoring that lesson to my advantage, I practice not judging a person by their religion, and not judging a religion by a person.

But I had to do more, because sitting around thinking I was no longer involved with the stereotyping and extremism, I was still indirectly letting the misconceptions carry on. To reverse this, I revised and published a revision of Eddy’s Science and Health.

In my latest edition of 21st Century Science and Health, the sentence I referred to earlier now reads, “Only by advancing from the root of Truth can scientific healing power be realized.”

Advancing from the root of Truth, realizes healing power.

Writing and publishing are only a few of many ways the force of Spirit encourages us to grow benefits, for ourselves and the world.

Now, I’ve noticed something else about surprises. They can be confusing. So confusing, that I forget to reap any benefits.

But can I reap benefits later in life? Yes.

In the 1960s, I was barely old enough to be amazed and confused at what NASA and the Russian Federal Space Agency were doing. When the elementary school “emergency test” alarm came over the speaker system, we kids dove under our desks for protection from Russian bombings that never came. At home, I watched on the black-and-white television, American and Russian astronauts, respectively, escape the powers of earth, orbit in outer space, and return to earth. It all came with elements of surprise. But I didn’t reap any benefits.

And now today, outer space adventures are ho-hum. After five decades and spending a bazillion dollars, we have astronauts, today, living where we once thought no person could live. And they’ve been doing it continuously, since year 2000, at the International Space Station.

I later-in-life determined to reap benefits on a mental level. I used my memories to serve as symbols of our ability to escape physical limitations, orbit in freedom, and return with new perspectives.

We can, escape limiting thoughts, live in spiritual freedom, and share actively new perspectives with humanity.

A couple of weeks ago in the New York Times, American liberal journalist and commentator, Charles Blow, wrote an op/ed titled, “Checking my male privilege.” The author addressed the recent rash of high-profile accusations of sexual harassment and assault toward women. Blow confessed that he was shocked by these men’s vulgar behavior toward women, because he hadn’t and probably won’t harass women.

As a male outside the harassment issue, Blow admitted though that he still needed to check himself. He didn’t want to work implicitly, or indirectly, on the side of sexism. He wanted pro-actively, to stand on the right side of fighting for justice.

He also wrote, “There is no magical solution here for the infinite and permanent expansion of empathy and awareness. It is work, hard work.”

“The infinite and permanent expansion of empathy and awareness.” What a cool statement.

I believe, the force of divine Spirit, is behind this infinite and permanent expansion of goodness.

Spirit is in force. It’s universal. It attracts and surprises us with our ability to fight for justice and equality. And then, what happens to the sexism, racism, and fanaticism?

No, wait, that’s not the question to ask.

Here’s the question:  When we act with divine Spirit, what happens to justice, respect, and lasting satisfaction? They expand. As does our ability to face any surprise, and use it to benefit our self and humanity.

(The above text was a sermon delivered by Cheryl Petersen at Unitarian Universalist Society of Oneonta, in New York)





Read “Giving Voice to Quiet,” from The Daily Star newspaper, Oneonta, NY

Store-bought frozen chicken-nuggets and tater-tots. That was our Thanksgiving dinner, year 2000.

Carrying the bagged meal, my husband, our two daughters, and I mucked our way through deep snow to a cabin in the Blue Mountains in Oregon. Our decision wasn’t a protest to a gluttonous holiday meal. We weren’t broke. We weren’t mad at the extended family.

We needed quiet time together.

After starting a fire in the Franklin woodstove, we watched the crackling flames. We went for a walk and listened to the light wind blow through the trees. We talked about what we saw and heard.

When it neared time to eat, preparation wasn’t too intense. Directions: Set oven at 425 degrees, place frozen nuggets and tots on pan. Bake 40 minutes.

After dinner, we washed the plates and utensils and cleaned up after ourselves.

Did we have a long family discussion? No.

Did I give one of my “mom lectures”? No.

Did we have any screens or devices with us? Absolutely not.

We gave voice to quiet, accompanied by giving thanks. It was great.

Whether Thanksgiving this year is simple or hectic, we can follow the recipe given in Ecclesiastes, “Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind.” (Ecclesiastes 4:6)

Quietness doesn’t come easy. For help, I’ve taken the approach of prayer, found in the Bible. I learn from Christ Jesus, who rose early in the morning, “and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.”

But I remind myself that quiet and desolate silence are not equal.

Spiritual leaders admired today didn’t, and don’t, linger in desolate silent places. They were, and are busy, actively working, uplifting, feeding, and sharing good ideas that give voice to quietness.

Researchers find a correlation between quiet and the noise in our head.

Effects of internal quietness and noise were discovered accidently by Dr. Luciano Bernardi, professor at the University of Pavia in Italy, when he studied how the brain reacts to different types of music. Data showed that the two-minute silent pauses between the different types of music proved more relaxing on the brain than the relaxing music, as reported in the journal “Heart” in 2006.

I ask myself, can I hear harmony, instead of music? Can I see beauty, instead of food? Can I feel thanksgiving, instead of feel pressured? I’m willing to give it a try because I’ve tasted its benefits in the past.

Whether this year’s Thanksgiving celebration involves a trek to a remote cabin or wearing noise-cancelling-headphones during the celebration, look for the special guest of quiet. And listen up, because quiet can speak volumes.

Bio: Cheryl Petersen, of Delhi, is a freelance religion writer. Her books include “I Am My Father-Mother’s Daughter,” and, “from science & religion to God: A narrative of Mary Baker Eddy’s Science and Health.”