One year after the end of the Civil War, in Columbus, Mississippi, three women were pulling weeds and briers and dropping flowers onto the graves of the Confederate soldiers when they found themselves collectively compelled to begin dropping flowers onto the graves of the Union soldiers as well.
This custom earned such a response from other women of Columbus that it resulted in a determination to make the decoration of all soldiers’ graves an annual occurrence.
And this is told as the story of the first Decoration Day.
And, it was three years after the end of the war that General and Mrs. Grant were presiding over ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, as children from the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphan Home and members of the Grand Army of the Republic were dropping flowers onto Union and Confederate graves, reciting prayers and singing hymns.
And this is also told as the story of the first Decoration Day.
In fact, so widespread was this impulse, after a war that had divided states, communities even families, that such observances occurred spontaneously and simultaneously, without political or military encouragement, in locations from Arlington Heights, Virginia to Boalsburg, Pennsylvania to Knoxville, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi to Kingston, Georgia to Carbondale, New York – and the list goes on. Each told as the story of the first Decoration Day.
And even more recently, it was Yale Professor David Blight who stumbled upon a file labeled the “First Decoration Day.” This dusty file recounted the story of Charleston, South Carolina’s Washington Racecourse and Jockey Club, used by Confederate soldiers as something of an open-air prison where 257 Union soldiers would die from disease and exposure to be buried in a mass grave behind the grandstands.
This dusty file recounted the story of a procession that began at nine o’clock in the morning led by some three thousand black schoolchildren marching around the racecourse. They were followed by some three hundred black women — organized as the Patriotic Association to distribute clothing and other necessities to freed people. And they were followed by black men — organized as The Mutual Aid Society who were followed by still more white citizens and black citizens, together carrying armloads of wreaths, crosses, roses and flowers.
One correspondent described, and I quote, “When all had left, the holy mounds — the tops, the sides, and the spaces between them — were one mass of flowers. Not a speck of earth could be seen. There were few eyes that were not dim with tears of joy.”
So, for me, beyond remembering of those who have died, Memorial Day is a recognition of that impulse within humanity that compels each of us in our sweetest moments even today to remember that that by which we find ourselves divided can never be more compelling than that in which we find ourselves united.
In one petri dish, Dr. Bruce Lipton placed nutrients in front of cells. In a second petri dish, he placed toxins in front of cells. And after a few hours in the incubator … well, I’m sure you’ve already predicted the outcomes: the cells in the first petri dish moved toward the nutrients and the cells in the second petri dish moved from the toxins.
And so it is with us human beings (as complex galaxies of cells): we move toward those signals that support growth. And we move from those signals that threaten survival.
And because neither cell nor human being can move forward and backward at the same time; both cell and human being are, at any given moment, either in growth mode or survival mode.
So, when you’re triggered into survival mode, this process happens in which your pituitary gland signals your adrenal glands which release stress hormones which displace blood from the regions which support growth into the regions which support survival – or, from the abdomen and into to the arms and legs. You might recognize this displacement – it’s something you’ve referred to as, “Butterflies in the stomach.”
The first thing that happens when you’re in survival mode is that you stop growing. And those same stress hormones which have your arms ready to lift a car off that child, your legs ready to run into that blazing building, weaken your protective systems. So, if the first thing that happens when you’re in survival mode is that you stop growing, the second thing that happens is that your immune system is weakened.
And that’s why some get sick when they cram for final exams.
That’s why some get sick when they worry through the night.
That’s why some get sick when they refuse to request help.
This is why one core Unity idea suggests that one seeking health must mind not only an outer world, but also an inner world. And those same stress hormones which displace blood from the abdomen into the arms and legs, also displace blood from the conscious and creative part of your brain into the unconscious and reactive part of your brain. And you want this because the unconscious and reactive part of your brain processes about a million times faster than the conscious and creative part. You want this because if you see a shark, or smell some smoke, or hear a disembodied voice in the attic, it might not be the best time to start a negotiation.
So yes, you want this, but you don’t want this all the time. And yet Lipton goes on to estimate that as much as 95% of one’s daily life is spent in survival mode; or that as much as 95% of one’s daily life is spent in stalled growth, with compromised immunity and under the unconscious and reactive brain.
We keep ourselves immersed in fight or flight mode, and then we wonder why we’re stuck, sick and silly.
Now, in her book What Are You? Imelda Shanklin said that there is one life and that you are an expression of that one life. And that one life is the deeper layer of you that is timeless, formless, limitless; that deeper layer of you that existed before it assumed physical form, that deeper layer of you that will exist after it releases physical form.
So, you are not your body. You are not your name. You are not your gender. You are that one life, by whatever name you choose to call it, you are that one life enjoying a body, having a gender, knowing a name. India Arie said the same thing in song when she said, “You are not the things your family did. You are not the voices in your head. You are not the pieces of the brokenness inside. You are light.”
So, while it’s tempting to identify ourselves with that personal layer that can be experienced by the sensory self, we do well to identify ourselves with that impersonal layer that can be recognized by the intuitive self. Said more practically, you do well to remember that you are more than you appear to be!
So, from the beginning, this requires a departure from theistic thinking. This requires a departure from a paradigm in which some humanized being somewhere manufactures, for a paradigm in which a universal impetus everywhere present emanates.
And while you might be tempted to think of this as a new paradigm, it’s not. It long predates the theistic thinking of the early church. That God is the deepest reality and ultimate source of every expressed form isn’t a bag of extra light and fluffy unicorn food. It’s an ancient paradigm in which one seeks to perceive God just behind the eyes of the one sitting next to you. It’s an ancient paradigm in which one seeks to perceive God in the budding of that tree, in the calling of that bird, even in the comforts of that spring breeze.
As Imelda Shanklin said, there is one life and you are an expression of that one life. As such, to love God is to live life fully. And to love God is to honor life deeply. How much better might our world be today, if those who purported to love God honored life deeply?
So, if chapter one says that you are a being of life, chapter two says that you are a being of mind; that just as there is one life which is being lived as you, there is one mind that is being thought through you.
This is a troubling, maybe encouraging, maybe humbling, maybe invigorating idea: that you share mind with the greatest geniuses of all time; that you share mind with the inspiration of Mozart, with the brilliance of Einstein, with the vision of Picasso, with the compassion of Gandhi, with the fabled wisdom of Solomon – that’s some stuff, there.
If chapter one asks, “If life is the eternal truth of you, how is your living?” chapter two asks, “If mind is the eternal truth of you, how is your thinking?”
Are you trying to welcome the highest thoughts through a mind constricted by fear? Or are you trying to welcome the highest thoughts through a mind opened with love? Because you see, Lipton goes on to explain that if it’s fear that triggers you into survival, it’s love that triggers you back into growth.
Said another way, it’s love that makes it possible for the very highest that’s within you to come forth! If you want to create like Mozart, imagine like Einstein, paint like Picasso, lead like Gandhi or think like Solomon, this is the time to step into community. This is the
time to step toward friends. This is the time to step toward connection, toward collaboration, toward support. This is the time to step toward anything and everything that represents love in your world. Because when life asks you, “How is your thinking,” it’s love that will prepare you to say, “My thinking is elevated, evolved and inspired, thank you very much.” And there’s an affirmation for you.
“My thinking is elevated, evolved and inspired, thank you very much.”
Maybe this is why Unity’s own Charles Fillmore said, “Fear weakens both mind and body. The one and only remedy is restoration by love.”
Maybe this is why Rabbi Nachman said, “The whole world is a narrow bridge. And the most important thing, is to not be afraid."
Maybe this is why Lao Tzu said, “Water with worry and fear and you will produce weeds that choke.”
Maybe this is why the Bible offered some variation of, “Have no fear,” as its most-repeated phrase, appearing over 350 times.