Think about your life and consider the question: can you experience an ending that’s not truly a beginning; a fall that’s not truly a rise; a release that’s not truly an acquisition? Think about your life and consider the question: can you experience a "no" that’s not truly a "yes"?
And if you can, then I will ask you to think again. For, I really don’t think it’s possible.
It’s a very Taoist idea, you know: seeming opposites coexisting – not as antagonists but as necessary counterparts (as fond bedfellows, if you will) – each providing the energy that supports and empowers the existence of the other – seeming opposites coexisting in something of a beautiful, symbiotic unity.
The very symbol of the Taoist tradition itself speaks to this cosmic dance, to this universal interplay of seeming opposites that so defines what it means to be a soul privileged with this earthly experience of shadow and light, cold and hot, down and up, death and birth. And make no mistake – that’s what it is – a privilege.
I have to believe that countless souls linger on the fringes of this world, longing for this thick experience in which we can touch each other’s hands, smell baking bread, watch the miracles of Puget Sound, listen to the concertos of Chopin.
How tempting it is to miss these simple yet glorious experiences because of schedules and problems and responsibilities.
The Buddhist tradition says it this way: that if you toss a life preserver into the oceans of the planet, the likelihood of receiving a human incarnation is about the same as one, specific sea turtle randomly surfacing to find his head inside of that life preserver. So, to be clear, if you consider the area of the oceans to be some 341 million square kilometers, and the area of a life preserver’s opening to be, maybe half-a-square meter, we arrive at odds of that sea turtle finding himself wearing that new, polyethylene necklace somewhere in the neighborhood of 1 in 700 million.
And here’s the deal: in considering the countless events which conspired for the incarnation which landed you in that seat listening to these words, scientists would say that this metaphor actually offers pretty accurate odds.
Myrtle Fillmore spoke to today’s subject, and I quote, “Unity's mission in our world is to help people release those fears and hurts that bind and confine, that we may experience and express the love that we are.”
Charles Fillmore, in more colorful language, and I quote, “The mind, like the bowels, should be open and free.”
It’s an idea mirrored in history.
Ancient people recognized nature as a wise teacher who dictated the release of aspects of life as the years go by – relationships, attitudes, habits, attachments – that life might reveal new potentialities; a paradigm representing a reality in which endings and beginnings coexist.
And it’s an idea mirrored in religion.
The Hindu goddess Kali is the great Mother Goddess. She is seen as the womb from which all are born and to which all return – a goddess representing a reality in which beginnings and endings coexist.
And the Hebrew Bible reminds each of us that there is a time to be born and a time to die, a time to sow and a time to reap, a time to tear down and a time to build up, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance; a teaching representing a reality in which endings and beginnings coexist.
It’s an idea mirrored in mythology, told in the fables of the phoenix of Arabia who, upon reaching the end of a cycle of life, builds a pyre for himself. And upon being consumed by the flames, he issues forth as a new being – young and renewed from a red egg.
Some describe her feathers as colored like those of a peacock; others, as tinged in purple like the robes of a nobleman. Ezekiel the Dramatist claimed that her legs were red and her eyes striking yellow while Lactantius (lak-TAN-tee-us) claimed that her legs – covered in scales – were yellow-gold with rose-colored talons and her eyes blue like sapphires.
Now this Phoenix is not the bird of Arabia alone. He’s also known to fly through the Northern Lights over the plains of Lapland. And he’s also known to hop among the yellow flowers in the summers of Greenland. And he’s also known to float down the sacred waters of the Ganges on a lotus leaf.
But regardless of form, what is this winged wonder if not yet another restatement of a reality in which beginnings and endings coexist?
In the Southwest he looks like the Thunderbird; in England, she looks like Arthur's dragons. I might propose that this phoenix looks a lot like you. And she looks a lot like me. For whether you look to history or religion or mythology, the message is the same: there is a reality in which beginnings and endings coexist.
So, take a deep breath. That which is difficult isn’t your enemy. You have no enemies; for even that which is difficult conspires for your soul growth, unfoldment and development.
So, rather that framing today as a willingness to release all out there that’s difficult, consider framing it as a willingness to transform all in here that’s ready. For while a narrow perspective would have us believe that fire represents release, a broader perspective would have us understand that fire represents that sweet point of transformation between that which has come to pass and that which has come to be.
It’s all-too-common for our rituals, for our prayers, to represent changed circumstances without changed consciousness. In other words, it’s all-too-common for the human creature to want a new outer world without a new inner world (we want a changed life without a changed mind) and that’s not the prayer we teach or encourage.
So, I invite you to affirm the following statement from Christian wisdom teachings, “I am willing to be born anew.”
In your mind’s eye, imagine yourself in something of an arid land – perhaps it’s a dessert. The sun is setting and the insects are buzzing as you continue to add sticks and branches to a pyre that reaches ever-higher, ever-higher, ever-higher. It’s a sturdy pyre, supported by thick trunks which converge near the top – far from your reach. More sticks and branches, more sticks and branches, more sticks and branches until, at last, you sit on a stone and look upon the monolithic structure.
Without surprise, you’re aware of two companions sitting on either side of you. And without speaking a word, the companion to your left asks, “Shall we begin?” And without speaking a word, the companion to your right asks, “Shall we begin?”
And, with a nod of your head – with that simple gesture of willingness – the pyre blazes to life, its transforming flames reaching, its purifying smoke spiraling, heavenward.
And so it is that you allow the question to rise, “What would I offer to the transforming flames today?”
And with any image that begins to dance before your mind’s eye, you uncurl your fingers to find a word written upon a piece of bark as it rests in the palm of your hand. And as the question rises, first from the companion to your left, “Are you ready,” and then from the companion to your right, “Are you ready,” you toss that piece of bark into the transforming flames, as you say, “I am willing to be born anew.”
And with any image that begins to dance before your mind’s eye, again and again you uncurl your fingers to find a word written upon a piece of bark. And as the question rises, first from the companion to your left, “Are you ready,” and then from the companion to your right, “Are you ready,” you fling that piece of bark into the purifying smoke as you say,
“I am willing to be born anew.”
Over and over and over. Until, at last, the images cease. And you find yourself at peace – just you and your companions.
And yet, even though the images have ceased, and even though you find yourself at peace – just you and your companions – you become aware of a weight in your hand. And so yet again and one last time, you uncurl your fingers only to find that in the palm of your hand where those pieces of bark had appeared now rests a glimmering, white stone.
It’s decidedly blank. It’s undeniably beautiful. It’s unquestionably infinite. And in your heart of hearts, you know that it’s irrefutably yours.
That glimmering, white stone fills you with a sense profound hope, an experience of eager anticipation, an experience of profound promise.
So, you allow your fingers to close around it. And you tuck it away, allowing that hope, that anticipation, that promise to dance within you for the next seven days.
As you do so, I invite you to be with the following ancient blessing that was created in the Nahuatl language, spoken in Mexico.
“I release my parents from the feeling that they have already failed me.
“I release my children from the need to bring pride to me; that they may write their own ways according to their hearts, that whisper all the time in their ears.
“I release my partner from the obligation to complete myself. I do not lack anything, I learn with all beings all the time.
“I thank my grandparents and forefathers who have gathered so that I can breathe life today. I release them from past failures and unfulfilled desires, aware that they have done their best to resolve their situations within the consciousness they had at that moment. I honor you, I love you and I recognize you as innocent.
“I am transparent before your eyes. I do not hide or owe anything other than being true to myself and to my very existence, that walking with the wisdom of the heart, I am aware that I fulfill my life project, free from invisible and visible family loyalties that might disturb my Peace and Happiness, which are my only responsibilities.
“I renounce the role of savior, of being one who unites or fulfills the expectations of others.
“Learning through, and only through, LOVE, I bless my essence, my way of expressing, even though somebody may not understand me.
“I understand myself, because I alone have lived and experienced my history; because I know myself, I know who I am, what I feel, what I do and why I do it.
“I respect and approve myself.
“I honor the Divinity in me and in you.
“We are free."