Interfaith Community Sanctuary

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2017 Spiritual Discernment

Guidelines for Engaged Buddhism
by Thich Nhat Hanh 


These Guidelines for Engaged Buddhism are the essence of the Order of Interbeing -- and anyone who wishes may live their life in accord with these teachings. They offer clear guidance for living simply, compassionately, and joyfully in our modern world. They are a concrete embodiment of the teachings of the Buddha and the Bodhisattva ideal. These teachings allow us to touch the nature of interbeing in everything that is, and to see that our happiness is not separate from the happiness of others. They are the torch lighting our path, the boat carrying us, the teacher guiding us. Interbeing is not a theory; it is a reality that can be directly experienced by each of us at any moment in our daily lives. The Guidelines for Engaged Buddhism help us cultivate concentration and insight which free us from fear and the illusion of a separate self. Practicing these teachings helps us to awaken Bodhicitta, the mind of love, in ourselves and others.

JANUARY: Openness & Non-attachment to Views
Aware of the suffering created by fanaticism and intolerance, we are determined not to be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. We are committed to seeing the Buddhist teachings as guiding means that help us develop our understanding and compassion. They are not doctrines to fight, kill, or die for. We understand that fanaticism in its many forms is the result of perceiving things in a dualistic and discriminative manner. We will train ourselves to look at everything with openness and the insight of interbeing in order to transform dogmatism and violence in ourselves and in the world.
Aware of the suffering created by attachment to views and wrong perceptions, we are determined to avoid being narrow-minded and bound to present views. We are committed to learning and practicing non-attachment to views and being open to others’ experiences and insights in order to benefit from the collective wisdom. We are aware that the knowledge we presently possess is not changeless, absolute truth. Insight is revealed through the practice of compassionate listening, deep looking, and letting go of notions rather than through the accumulation of intellectual knowledge. Truth is found in life, and we will observe life within and around us in every moment, ready to learn throughout our lives.

FEBRUARY: Freedom of Thought
Aware of the suffering brought about when we impose our views on others, we are determined not to force others, even our children, by any means whatsoever – such as authority, threat, money, propaganda, or indoctrination – to adopt our views. We are committed to respecting the right of others to be different, to choose what to believe and how to decide. We will, however, learn to help others let go of and transform fanaticism and narrowness through loving speech and compassionate dialogue.

MARCH: Awareness of Suffering
Aware that looking deeply at the nature of suffering can help us develop understanding and compassion, we are determined to come home to ourselves, to recognize, accept, embrace and listen to suffering with the energy of mindfulness. We will do our best not to run away from our suffering or cover it up through consumption, but practice conscious breathing and walking to look deeply into the roots of our suffering. We know we can realize the path leading to the transformation of suffering only when we understand deeply the roots of suffering. Once we have understood our own suffering, we will be able to understand the suffering of others. We are committed to finding ways, including personal contact and using telephone, electronic, audiovisual, and other means, to be with those who suffer, so we can help them transform their suffering into compassion, peace, and joy.

APRIL: Compassionate, Healthy Living
Aware that true happiness is rooted in peace, solidity, freedom, and compassion, we are determined not to accumulate wealth while millions are hungry and dying nor to take as the aim of our life fame, power, wealth, or sensual pleasure, which can bring much suffering and despair. We will practice looking deeply into how we nourish our body and mind with edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. We are committed not to gamble or to use alcohol, drugs or any other products which bring toxins into our own and the collective body and consciousness such as certain websites, electronic games, music, TV programs, films, magazines, books and conversations. We will consume in a way that preserves compassion, wellbeing, and joy in our bodies and consciousness and in the collective body and consciousness of our families, our society, and the earth.

MAY: Taking Care of Anger
Aware that anger blocks communication and creates suffering, we are committed to taking care of the energy of anger when it arises, and to recognizing and transforming the seeds of anger that lie deep in our consciousness. When anger manifests, we are determined not to do or say anything, but to practice mindful breathing or mindful walking to acknowledge, embrace, and look deeply into our anger. We know that the roots of anger are not outside of ourselves but can be found in our wrong perceptions and lack of understanding of the suffering in ourselves and others. By contemplating impermanence, we will be able to look with the eyes of compassion at ourselves and at those we think are the cause of our anger, and to recognize the preciousness of our relationships. We will practice Right Diligence in order to nourish our capacity of understanding, love, joy and inclusiveness, gradually transforming our anger, violence and fear, and helping others do the same.

JUNE: Dwelling Happily in the Present Moment
Aware that life is available only in the present moment, we are committed to training ourselves to live deeply each moment of daily life. We will try not to lose ourselves in dispersion or be carried away by regrets about the past, worries about the future, or craving, anger, or jealousy in the present. We will practice mindful breathing to be aware of what is happening in the here and the now. We are determined to learn the art of mindful living by touching the wondrous, refreshing, and healing elements that are inside and around us, in all situations. In this way, we will be able to cultivate seeds of joy, peace, love, and understanding in ourselves, thus facilitating the work of transformation and healing in our consciousness. We are aware that real happiness depends primarily on our mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that we can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that we already have more than enough conditions to be happy.

JULY: True Community and Communication & Truthful and Loving Speech
Aware that lack of communication always brings separation and suffering, we are committed to training ourselves in the practice of compassionate listening and loving speech. Knowing that true community is rooted in inclusiveness and in the concrete practice of the harmony of views, thinking and speech, we will practice to share our understanding and experiences with members in our community in order to arrive at a collective insight.
We are determined to learn to listen deeply without judging or reacting and refrain from uttering words that can create discord or cause the community to break. Whenever difficulties arise, we will remain in our Sangha and practice looking deeply into ourselves and others to recognize all the causes and conditions, including our own habit energies, that have brought about the difficulties. We will take responsibility for the ways we may have contributed to the conflict and keep communication open. We will not behave as a victim but be active in finding ways to reconcile and resolve all conflicts however small.
Aware that words can create happiness or suffering, we are committed to learning to speak truthfully, lovingly and constructively. We will use only words that inspire joy, confidence and hope as well as promote reconciliation and peace in ourselves and among other people. We will speak and listen in a way that can help ourselves and others to transform suffering and see the way out of difficult situations. We are determined not to say untruthful things for the sake of personal interest or to impress people, nor to utter words that might cause division or hatred. We will protect the happiness and harmony of our Sangha by refraining from speaking about the faults of other persons in their absence and always ask ourselves whether our perceptions are correct. We will speak only with the intention to understand and help transform the situation. We will not spread rumors nor criticize or condemn things of which we are not sure. We will do our best to speak out about situations of injustice, even when doing so may make difficulties for us or threaten our safety.

AUGUST: Protecting and Nourishing the Sangha
Aware that the essence and aim of a Sangha is the realization of understanding and compassion, we are determined not to use the Buddhist community for personal power or profit, or transform our community into a political instrument. As members of a spiritual community, we should nonetheless take a clear stand against oppression and injustice. We should strive to change the situation, without taking sides in a conflict. We are committed to learning to look with the eyes of interbeing and to see ourselves and others as cells in one Sangha body. As a true cell in the Sangha body, generating mindfulness, concentration and insight to nourish ourselves and the whole community, each of us is at the same time a cell in the Buddha body. We will actively build brotherhood and sisterhood, flow as a river, and practice to develop the three real powers – understanding, love and cutting through afflictions – to realize collective awakening.

SEPTEMBER: Right Livelihood
Aware that great violence and injustice have been done to our environment and society, we are committed not to live with a vocation that is harmful to humans and nature. We will do our best to select a livelihood that contributes to the wellbeing of all species on earth and helps realize our ideal of understanding and compassion. Aware of economic, political, and social realities around the world, as well as our interrelationship with the ecosystem, we are determined to behave responsibly as consumers and as citizens. We will not invest in or purchase from companies that contribute to the depletion of natural resources, harm the earth, or deprive others of their chance to live.

OCTOBER: Reverence for Life
Aware that much suffering is caused by war and conflict, we are determined to cultivate nonviolence, compassion, and the insight of interbeing in our daily lives and promote peace education, mindful mediation, and reconciliation within families, communities, ethnic and religious groups, nations, and in the world. We are committed not to kill and not to let others kill. We will not support any act of killing in the world, in our thinking, or in our way of life. We will diligently practice deep looking with our Sangha to discover better ways to protect life, prevent war, and build peace.

NOVEMBER: Generosity
Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, we are committed to cultivating generosity in our way of thinking, speaking, and acting. We will practice loving kindness by working for the happiness of people, animals, plants, and minerals, and sharing our time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. We are determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others. We will respect the property of others, but will try to prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other beings.

Aware that sexual desire is not love and that sexual relations motivated by craving cannot dissipate the feeling of loneliness but will create more suffering, frustration, and isolation, we are determined not to engage in sexual relations without mutual understanding, love, and a deep long-term commitment made known to our family and friends. Seeing that body and mind are one, we are committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of our sexual energy and to cultivating loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness for our own happiness and the happiness of others. We must be aware of future suffering that may be caused by sexual relations. We know that to preserve the happiness of ourselves and others, we must respect the rights and commitments of ourselves and others. We will do everything in our power to protect children from sexual abuse and to protect couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct. We will treat our bodies with compassion and respect. We are determined to look deeply into the Four Nutriments* and learn ways to preserve and channel our vital energies (sexual, breath, spirit) for the realization of our bodhisattva ideal. We will be fully aware of the responsibility of bringing new lives into the world, and will regularly meditate upon their future environment.

*the Buddha told the monks:

“There are four kinds of nutriments which enable living beings to grow and maintain life.What are these four nutriments? The first is edible food,the second is the food of sense impressions, the third is the food of volition, and the fourth is the food of consciousness.”

The Order of Interbeing (Tiep Hien) was formed by Thich Nhat Hanh in the mid-1960's, at a time when the Vietnam War was escalating and the teachings of Buddha were desperately needed to combat the hatred, violence, and divisiveness enveloping his country. The word tiep means "being in touch with" and "continuing." Hein means "realizing" and "making it here and now." (Hanh, Interbeing). From its inception, the Order was composed of all four membership categories of the original Buddhist community -- monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen. Members of the Order of Interbeing vow to study, practice, and observe the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings and to provide leadership in sangha building. Order of Interbeing lay and monastic members embody the practice of mindfulness in daily life and relationships, helping to awaken bodhicitta (the mind of love) in ourselves and others. Our teacher Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) says, "It is easier to become an Order member than to be one." ~ Jerry Braza.


Our spiritual discernment for 2016 was Spiritual Permaculture: Coming into Deeper Relationship with Earth.

The twelve principles of  permaculture are primarily guidelines for designing functional, sustainable agricultural systems. However, as a distillation of the way nature works, they are applicable across a wide range of activities: social, creative, economic, and spiritual. Our hope is that focusing on these basic tenets will help us connect these different aspects of our lives, and see how the same wisdom of balance and harmony works in all of them.

By placing our spiritual practice in a holistic, ecological framework, we can work against the tendency in our culture to mentally separate ourselves from nature, and develop deeper connection with the natural processes that sustain and nurture us.

Our primary spiritual duty in this time is to reconnect with the spirit of the planet that creates and supports us. We can use these principles as a way of coming into deeper relationship with this Earth, who is both our responsibility and the deepest level of our selves.

(from Wikipedia)
The three core tenets of permaculture are:
Care for the earth: Provision for all life systems to continue and multiply. This is the first principle, because without a healthy earth, humans cannot flourish.
Care for the people: Provision for people to access those resources necessary for their existence.
Return of surplus: Reinvesting surpluses back into the system to provide for the first two ethics. This includes returning waste back into the system to recycle into usefulness. The third ethic is sometimes referred to as “Fair Share” to reflect that each of us should take no more than what we need before we reinvest the surplus.

Twelve Permaculture design principles
(articulated by David Holmgren in his Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability):

1. Observe and interact: By taking time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation. [January]
2. Catch and store energy: By developing systems that collect resources at peak abundance, we can use them in times of need. [February]
3. Obtain a yield: Ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the work that you are doing. [March]
4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback: We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well. [April]
5. Use and value renewable resources and services: Make the best use of nature's abundance to reduce our consumptive behavior and dependence on non-renewable resources. [May]
6. Produce no waste: By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste. [June]
7. Design from patterns to details: By stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature and society. These can form the backbone of our designs, with the details filled in as we go. [July]
8. Integrate rather than segregate: By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other. [August]
9. Use small and slow solutions: Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and producing more sustainable outcomes. [September]
10. Use and value diversity: Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides. [October]
11. Use edges and value the marginal: The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system. [November]
12. Creatively use and respond to change: We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing, and then intervening at the right time. [December]


Permaculture Tree drawing is from Introduction to Permaculture by Bill Mollison.
Learn more from Jessa Finch here:


Our spiritual discernment for 2015 was:
"Restoring Balance to the World: Hoops of Honor"
the inspiration of First Peoples artist and visionary Silversong Belcourt as shared by storyteller Doug Banner

Based upon the prophecy
“When the earth is suffering and we see our children suffering there will come a generation that will restore Honor for all people.”

The ancient Tsalagi (Cherokee) creation story states that our purpose for being here is to realize the Great Mystery. When the two legged, the four legged, the swimmers, the fliers, the natural world, and the mineral world live in harmony the world will come into balance. The mystery carries us around the great circle. Humanity spins body, mind, and spirit around the axis mundi of creation. Together, by tracing our roots to the great tree of peace, by living in right relation with all things we make whole the sacred hoop.

Hoop of Life: This is represented in the Hoop of the mother’s skirt. Celebrating the contributions of Women to the hoop of life through motherhood and all that signifies from birth to death. We celebrate the potential of maiden, the life giving force of mothers, the nurturing power of the matron and the wisdom of the grandmothers. We celebrate the Healers and Caretakers of all things.

Hoop of Honor: This is represented in the hoop of the father’s arms. We celebrate Men. We honor the warriors and their sacrifices to protect their families, the home and the community. We celebrate the nurturing power of men as providers and protectors, and the wisdom of the grandfathers. We celebrate Sacred Warriors and Guardians of correct action.

Hoop of the Home: Represented as the walls of the home, or the hoop of the tipi. Children are celebrated, for a home truly comes into its own when there are children present. We celebrate innocence, creativity and play. We celebrate Builders, both material and relational.

Hoop of the Village: Teachers are celebrated here as the purveyors of tradition. It is the teacher’s responsibility to teach children how to be positive, productive citizens of the community and nation. Teachers help children understand the value of tradition and the wisdom of the elders while supporting them to create their own future. We celebrate the Mentors and carriers of tradition.

Hoop of the Nations: A group of villages that share common cultural and traditional values makes up a nation. Leaders represent the need for balance and wisdom so that different nations may live in peace. Ideally, Leaders bring forth the values of tradition and the wisdom of time with the vision of a future of peace and honor for all. We celebrate leaders at every level who represent these qualities. We celebrate Communicators and speakers to all tribes at all levels.

Hoop of the Earth: This is represented as the circle of the Earth as seen from space. We celebrate the Elders who carry the wisdom of time, experience and tradition. They know the value of reverence for the earth. We honor the Elders and provide a place for them to share their knowledge and wisdom. We listen to Elders with reverence, respect, and appreciation. We celebrate the Keepers of Ritual and Keepers of the Cycle of the Year such as farmers and gardeners.

Hoop of the Sky: Represented in the bowl of the Sky with Father Sun, sister Moon and all our relations among the Star People. We celebrate Artists who commune directly with the creator. They make the intangible tangible. Artists celebrate all the hoops in their creative representations in painting, music, dance, writing. Their work helps us to remember our connection to the Creator and ourselves. We celebrate the Astronomers and those who possess planetary understanding.

Hoop of the Universe: In this hoop we honor the creative energy that is the Universe. Many speak of this energy as the Creator. We bring Spiritual Leaders to this circle for they are our guides and teachers on the many pathways to God. All are equal. All are correct. Each of us has the right to choose and we honor and celebrate that choice in this circle. We celebrate those who bring inter-religious understanding.

Hoop of All My Relations: In this circle we celebrate Relationships to all that exists. We are all children of the same God. Animal, vegetable, mineral, the two legged, the four legged, the fliers, and the swimmers are all celebrated in this circle.

Hoop of Intention: This is the hoop of Intentional Action. Right action requires respect, acceptance, gratitude, appreciation, harmony, love, compassion, deep caring connectedness and love. What are the issues to which we are willing to commit ourselves and our lives? What is missing to build a life we love in a world we love to live in? In this circle we are asked to commit ourselves to something and set a clear intention as to how we will work to make a better world for all. We celebrate the Scientists and the seers of possibilities.

Hoop of Celebration: We have now worked hard and with clear intention. It is now time for the Sacred Party, the Pow Wow. We bring together everything and everyone we have honored and celebrate the gifts brought, shared and created. With music, dance, song, stories, art and food we celebrate all that it means to be people of Honor walking on this Earth. We celebrate the Timekeepers, the Drummers and Musicians.

Hoop of the Creator: All that happens is in, with, and through the Creator. We are embraced in the Creator’s loving arms. In this Hoop we recognize that all things in the world are cyclical. The seasons, birth and death and rebirth, the water cycle, the carbon cycle, and the cycle of the Hero’s Journey. Things begin, they progress for a while, and then they end. The waters of the oceans turn to clouds, to rain, to rivers and back to the ocean. Here we celebrate the end of a 12 month cycle knowing that in the next year we will begin again. Like the representation of the never-ending Celtic knot, completion does not mean the end. It is the breath we take between acknowledging what we have created and what new call will emerge. We celebrate the Cosmos.

We have adopted the above image to represent the Twelve Hoops of Honor. The hoops are depicted in the sky in the four colors of the northwest coastal First Peoples. Earth is depicted as one continent, Pangea, surrounded by one ocean, Panthalassa. 


Our Spiritual Discernment for 2014 was suggested by Anita Mammoser:

Principles of Spiritual Activism – by William Keepin

Transformation of motivation from anger/fear/despair to compassion/ love/purpose. This is a vital challenge for today’s social change leaders, particularly those who confront injustice in its various forms. This is not to deny the noble emotion of appropriate anger or outrage in the face of social injustice. Rather, it entails a crucial shift from fighting against evil to working for love, and the long-term results are very different, even if the outer activities appear virtually identical. Action follows Being, as the Sufi saying goes. Thus ‘a positive future cannot emerge from the mind of anger and despair’ (Dalai Lama). Martin Luther King emphasized that we must purify our intentions before moving into direct action for social change. Otherwise the results of our work may actually undermine our noble purpose, in the name of advancing it. As Thomas Merton cautioned, “If we attempt to act and do things for others or for the world without deepening our own self-understanding, our own freedom, integrity and capacity to love, we will not have anything to give to others. We will communicate nothing but the contagion of our own obsessions, our aggressiveness, our ego-centered ambitions.”

Non-attachment to Outcome
This is difficult to put into practice, yet to the extent that we are attached to the results of our work, we tend to rise and fall with our successes and failures – a sure path to burnout. Our task is to hold a clear intention, and let go of the outcome – recognizing that a larger wisdom is always operating. As Gandhi stressed, ‘the victory is in the doing’, not the results. Also, remain flexible in the face of changing circumstances: “Planning is invaluable, but plans are useless.” (Churchill) In Satyana’s training programs, several social change leaders have reacted strongly to this principle. As one environmental lawyer stammered, “How can I possibly go into court and not be attached to the outcome? You bet I care who wins and who loses! If I am not attached to the outcome, I’ll just get bulldozed! And when I lose, the Earth loses!” His exasperation underscores the poignant challenge of implementing these principles in the real world of political and social conflicts. Yet he kept coming back to our retreats, actively looking for ways to love his adversaries. He eventually came to see that non-attachment to outcome does not mean passive indifference to outcome. He also acknowledged that although it was difficult to love some of his adversaries, one way he could do so was to love them for creating the opportunity for him to become a passionate voice for truth and protection of the natural environment.

Integrity is your Protection
If our work has integrity, this will tend to protect us from negative energy and circumstances. We can often sidestep negative energy from others by becoming ‘transparent’ to it, allowing it to pass through us with no adverse effects. This is a consciousness practice that might be called ‘psychic aikido’.
Integrity in Means and Ends
A noble goal cannot be achieved utilizing ignoble means. Integrity in means cultivates integrity in the fruit of our work. Some participants in our trainings engaged regularly in political debates, testimony, and hearings. We suggested they apply the Tibetan tonglen practice for transmuting negative energy into compassion and love – right there in the hearing room. Those that experimented with this in earnest reported that it was very helpful in defusing charged psychological situations, and reducing tension in heated debates.

Don’t Demonize Your Adversaries
It makes them more defensive and less receptive to your views. People respond to arrogance with their own arrogance, creating rigid polarization. Be a perpetual learner, and constantly challenge your own views. The ideal is to constantly entertain alternative points of view, so that we move from certitude to perpetual inquiry. This is sometimes hard to do, because we often feel very certain about what we think we know, and the injustices we see. As John Stewart Mill observed, “In all forms of debate, both sides tend to be correct in what they affirm, and wrong in what they deny.” Entering into an adversarial situation, we are acutely aware of the rightness of our own affirmations, but there is usually a kernel of truth in what is being affirmed by our opponents – however small. We need to be especially mindful about what we deny, because this is where our blind spots often lie.

You are Unique
Each of us must find and fulfill our true calling. “It is better to tread your own path, however humbly, than that of another, however successfully.” (Bhagavad Gita) We each have a unique melody to contribute to the symphony of life. Discover yours, and sing it out with confidence, joy, and abandon – and let the harmony parts take care of themselves.

Love Your Enemy
Or at least, have compassion for them. This is a vital challenge for our times. This does not mean indulging falsehood or corruption. It means moving from ‘us/them’ thinking to ‘we’ consciousness, from separation to cooperation, recognizing that we human beings are ultimately far more alike than we are different. This is challenging in situations with people whose views are radically opposed to ours. Be firm on the issues, soft on the people. The practice of loving our adversaries is obviously challenging in situations with people whose views and methods are radically opposed to ours, but that is where the real growth occurs. As we discover that the problems of humanity are also found in our own hearts and lives, we realize that the ‘them’ we often speak of is also us. We are not exempt and we are not different.

Selfless Service of Others
Our work is for the world, not for ourselves alone. In doing service work, we are sowing seeds for the benefit of others. The full harvest of our work may not take place in our lifetimes, yet our efforts now are making possible a better life for future generations. Let your fulfilment come in gratitude for the privilege of being able to render this service, and from doing so with as much compassion, authenticity, fortitude, and forgiveness as you can muster. This is the traditional understanding of selfless service, and yet its opposite is also true, as reflected in the next principle:
Selfless Service Serves Us Also
In serving others, we serve our true selves. “It is in giving that we receive.” We are sustained by those we serve, just as we are blessed when we forgive others. As Gandhi says, the practice of satyagraha (‘clinging to truth’) confers a ‘matchless and universal power’ upon those who practice it. Service work is enlightened self-interest, and it cultivates an expanded sense of identification that includes all others. So although we are not here to serve ourselves, nothing serves us better than serving others.

Do Not Insulate Yourself from the Pain of the World
Shielding ourselves from heartbreak prevents transformation. Let your heart break open, and learn to move in the world with a broken heart. As Gibran says, “Your pain is the medicine by which the physician within heals thyself.” When we open ourselves to the pain of the world, we become the medicine that heals the world. If we push away the pain, we are actually preventing our own participation in the world’s attempt to heal itself. This is what Gandhi understood so deeply in his principles of ahimsa and satyagraha. A broken heart is an open heart, through which love flows and genuine transformation begins.

What You Attend To, You Become
Your essence is pliable, and ultimately you become that which you most deeply focus your attention upon. You reap what you sow, so choose your actions carefully. If you constantly engage in battles, you become embattled yourself. If you constantly give love, you become love itself. Each one of us is entirely responsible for our particular life, and for what we choose to serve.

Take Sufficient Time for Retreat, Renewal and Deep Listening
Knowing when to retreat is part of knowing how to advance. The greatest spiritual leaders and activists have always taken significant retreat time away from the world, in order to better serve in the world. Sustained periods of conscious respite help to clarify vision and thought, relax the body and mind, and purify intentions. This expands our capacity to serve and cultivates a larger, more circumspect view of ourselves and our service.

Rely on Faith, and Let Go of Having to Figure It All Out
There are larger ‘divine’ forces at work that we can trust completely without knowing their precise workings or agendas. Faith means trusting the unknown, and offering ourselves as willing vehicles for the intrinsic wisdom and benevolence of the cosmos to do its work. “The first step to wisdom is silence. The second is listening.” If you earnestly ask inwardly and listen for guidance, and then follow it carefully – you are working in accord with these larger forces, and you become the instrument for their music. A foundation in unshakable trust is not Pollyannish fantasy or naïve idealism, as some ‘realists’ might interpret it. Rather it entails a deep and instinctive alignment with the mystery and wonder of life itself, invoking something real yet hidden that goes quite beyond traditional scientific principles. Faith is not blind adherence to any set of beliefs, but a knowing from intuition and experience about universal forces and energies beyond our direct observation. We can draw upon and engage these hidden forces, first by knowing they are there, and second by asking or yearning for them to support us – or more precisely, asking them to allow us to serve on their behalf. This realization actually brings great relief, as we recognize that it is not up to us to figure out all the steps to transform the world, because we are just participating agents in a much larger cosmic will and wisdom.

Love Creates the Form
Not the other way around. The heart crosses the abyss that the mind creates, and operates at depths unknown to the mind. Don’t get trapped by ‘pessimism concerning human nature that is not balanced by an optimism concerning divine nature, or you will overlook the cure of grace’. (Martin Luther King). Let your heart’s love infuse your work, and you cannot fail, though your dreams may manifest in ways different from what you imagine. What Martin Luther King calls the ‘cure of grace’ is fundamental, yet quite beyond what the logical mind can fathom. Grace is ineffable to the senses, yet is no less real for being hidden. It is the power of love in action, and love is the greatest power in the universe. On this point, King soundly refuted even the most compelling social and religious pessimists who relied on political and theological analysis alone (e.g. Reinhold Niebuhr’s Moral Man, Immoral Society). To overlook the cure of grace is to overlook the very source and foundation of all life.


Excerpted from Song of the Earth, a Synthesis of the Scientific & Spiritual Worldviews,
edited by Maddy Harland and Will Keepin. 

William Keepin, PhD is co-founder (with his wife Cynthia Brix) of Satyana Institute and Gender Reconciliation International. Will has practiced silent meditation for 30 years, trained extensively in spiritual traditions East and West, and leads retreats on interspiritual mysticism and practice. A physicist and former whistleblower in nuclear science, his books include Divine Duality and Song of the Earth: A Synthesis of Scientific and Spiritual Worldviews.

Our Spiritual Discernment for 2013 was:
Following the Light: 
The Dance of the Elements

“There is one holy book, the sacred manuscript of nature, the only scripture which can enlighten the reader.” – Hazrat Inayat Khan

MD.pngThe human being is viewed in many traditions as a reflection of the cosmos, made “in the image of God”. The light of our souls symbolically reflects the light of the sun. Accordingly, we can experience the annual passage of the sun through the zodiac as a cycle of personal growth and transformation. As we move through the seasons, the elements of Fire, Air, Water and Earth merge and separate in harmony with the natural cycle, reflecting both in the weather and in our inner lives. By paying attention and attuning to the rhythm of the year, we ourselves become harmonized and are able to move with more grace and freedom in the world.

The astrological signs are one set of symbols that has been traditionally used to describe this sacred cycle of twelve. Together they form a map of the complete human being. Well before they were used as personality types, they helped us understand the nature of time and creation. What opportunities for change and deepening do they offer us now? When we attune our prayers and practice to these energies, we can use this traditional knowledge to move once again in harmony with the flow of life. Each time of year can be a doorway for inner work and spiritual transformation.

January: Capricorn - cardinal Earth
The Soul of Earth. Re-establishing connection with the soul of the world.

February: Aquarius -fixed A ir
Embodying Our Ideals. How our thoughts create the future.

March: Pisces - mutable Water
The Oceanic Spirit. Transcending individual boundaries. Releasing limitations that inhibit connection.

April: Aries - cardinal Fire
The Creative Fire. The energy of initiating action, of beginning. Life moving forward. Establishing our power to create our lives.

May: Taurus - fixed Earth
The Willpower of Earth. Building healthy structures in our lives. Coming together solidly. Constructing strong but flexible belief systems.

June: Gemini - mutable Air
Reflective Consciousness. Working with the relationship of self and other. Balancing of masculine and feminine energies.

July: Cancer - cardinal Water
Developing Emotional Intelligence. Attaining inner equilibrium. Using the subconscious consciously.

August: Leo - fixed Fire
The Fire of Life. Living in the flames. Digesting the experiences of life.

September: Virgo - mutable Earth
Transforming Our Habits. Responding to our observed patterns with clarity. Moving toward right action.

October: Libra - cardinal Air
Developing a Harmonizing Mind. Bringing all of our parts into balance, so we can be receptive to divine guidance.

November: Scorpio - fixed Water
The Stillness of Water. Becoming aware of the pause between movements. Removing the old to make room for the new to grow.

December: Sagittarius - mutable Fire
The Transforming Fire. Using our passions as fuel for the spiritual path.

Each year the Interfaith Community Sanctuary ministerial circle chooses a spiritual focus -- or, spiritual discernment --- for our community to concentrate upon as part of our personal and communal spiritual development. This spiritual discernment informs our worship service Messages and many of the devotional circles meeting in our sacred space incorporate it into their practices and discussions. 

We have explored the following concentrations in recent years: Following the Light: the Dance of the Elements,
The 12 Conditions of a Miracle, The 12 Steps to a Compassionate Life, The Charter for Compassion...