Monday, October 19, 2015

Listening Honestly: Meditation and Sermon

Order of Service - Sunday September 13, 2015 - First Parish Church - “Listening Honestly”

  Close your eyes and use only your mind for the next while.  Let’s breathe for a moment.  Hear the air moving through your nostrils and into your chest.  Feel the expansion and contraction of your waist.  Not too deeply.  Just a gentle in and out, only slightly deeper than you would normally breathe.  A bit more in, a bit more out.  And now return your breathing to a normal, relaxed flow.  Let your eyes remain closed and listen...  

  There are two ways to make a plan.  And I will use a travel metaphor to describe them.  One way is to decide what car you want first, and then where you want to go.  Or two, decide where you want to go first and then what kind of car would be best.  

  It’s always better to choose the destination before embarking on a journey.  Even if that destination is not a physical place, but a state of mind that we desire.  Choosing to be happy is a destination.  Choosing to be honest.  Choosing to know ourselves.  

  Often our lives are held back only by our discomfort with making a decision, our discomfort with being declarative, with taking a stand. It’s a challenge to maintain confidence, to remain patient and faithful.

  When we are part way through our journey we sometimes become afraid that we have wasted our time, we begin to doubt, to lose faith.  But on a road, we know we are only halfway between the beginning and destination.  We see the map, we know what exit we are on, and we know how long it will take us before we arrive.  All is well when you have a document to follow, even if blindly.  

  Yet a map is a poor instrument faith.  Because faith is not a road map.  It’s a GPS.  It tells us one step at a time based on where we told it we would like to go.  And when we accidentally miss an exit we are not scolded by the GPS.  We are simply re-routed.  We are patiently and calmly given the next best way to get there from here.  Because we know the destination of our intention.  Our inner voice knows exactly where to go.  If only we make a decision, enter a destination, and click begin.

And who knows, maybe the car is the destination.

Sermon: “Listening Honestly”
  “Be impeccable with your word.”  This is the first tenet of one of my favorite spiritual books, don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements.   The agreements are simple to recall, but hard to practice.  Be impeccable with your word, don’t take anything personally, don’t make assumptions, and always do your best. Be impeccable with your word, don’t take anything personally, don’t make assumptions, and always do your best.  Sounds perfectly easy and reasonable.  Be impeccable with your word is a suggestion that you always be honest. Dr. Ruiz says, “Through the word you express your creative power.  It is through the word that you manifest everything.  Regardless of what language you speak, your intent manifests through the word.  What you dream, what you feel, and what you really are, will all be manifested through the word.”1  

  You biology hears you.  Your mind listens to your mouth.  Jesus said in Matthew ch 15, vs 11:  “It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man.”2  And I point out by that same instrument, what proceeds out of the mouth also has the power to heal, to cleanse, to declare, to bless.  If we have the power to defile ourselves with our words we also have the ability to empower ourselves.  And perhaps exponentially so.

  In 2012, the results of the a social experiment called the National Honesty Index were released. It was conducted by the Honest T Company and was based on a the purchase of their bottled ice tea from unmanned kiosks throughout the country using the honor system.  “The outcomes were recorded using a customized digital tracking application by undercover observers nearby.”3 Among the findings:
  • 93% of participants were honest
  • Salt Lake City and Oakland were both 100% honest
  • Women are 95% honest while men are 91% honest
  • Boston baseball fans are more honest than New York baseball fans
  • Redheads are more honest than blondes and brunettes
  • Motorcyclists were 92% honest while Comic Book fans were 86% honest
  • Men with beards were 96% honest while bald men were only 85% honest4

  Now we’ve all seen statistics on honesty before.  We know that the data says we all of us lie all the time.  Even when someone asks us how we are and we say fine, thank you, when we know we are not fine, we’re actually having a crappy day, thank you, and I don’t want to talk about it.  But we say, “Fine, thank you.”  There are times for honesty and times to keep one’s own counsel.  The adage to remain quiet when one has nothing good to say is a fine practice.  But it can lead to fibbing, even if compassionately meant.  And I’m not suggesting a change in that practice.  It’s better to be thoughtful about a person’s feelings when deciding upon the level of honesty to which we commit ourselves.  But it makes a point that complete honesty is virtually impossible.  But that does not mean that we should avoid the intent of honesty.

  Early this year I did an experiment with myself.  I didn't realize the complexity of what I was experimenting with at the time, but I came to learn something about myself.  In light of studies like the one conducted by the Honest T Company, I wondered just how honest I was being.  And, being a person who believes in affirmations, I decided to experiment with my own honesty by seeing what an affirmation of I Am Honest would produce.  Especially, because I think I’m a pretty honest person.  I even return the excess when a cashier accidentally gives me too much change.  So I wondered what the affirmation would do.  I am honest.  I am honest.  I am honest.

  To be honest, I was amazed.  Within only a few days I started to realize that my lack of honesty wasn’t to other people.  It was mostly to myself.  There were so many things I hadn’t realized about myself.  Important nuances about who I am and what I want to be.  And especially areas where I was avoiding the truth.  Without realizing it I had started to make a shift.

  And here is where things got really interesting.  My continued affirmations of I am honest, began to infuse my life with glimpses of truth from other people even when they were not being honest.  I’m not saying that I became a lie detector, or anything.  But I started to take less personally the lies of others, as don Miguel Ruiz was suggesting as the second of the four agreements: Don’t take anything personally.  When someone lies, far more often than not it is not a reflection on you, but them. Not their horribleness or their untrustworthiness, or their “evilness,” but their wounds.  It told a truth about their wounds.  And you can do one of two things about that.  You can either be offended that they were trying to dupe you, or you can hear the honesty beneath their action.  And you can, if you try, find compassion for them.  

  When a kid comes to me and tells me that they are inheriting a yacht when their uncle dies, I take it with a grain of salt.  Maybe they are telling the truth, maybe they aren’t.  I do try to give the benefit of the doubt when possible.  But I knew this kid wasn’t inheriting a yacht.  So I chose to see the honesty beneath his words.  I feel inferior.  I feel un-special.  And I was able to put aside the lie in favor of the real truth of his statement.  And I shook his hand and I said, “That’s really great.  You know, I can picture you on a yacht.  You look real happy at the wheel.  In control of your world and able to go anywhere you want.  I bet you’re going to be an amazing grown-up someday.  And I can’t wait to see where you steer that yacht.”

  As Dr. Ruiz’s third agreement suggests to do, I didn’t make an assumption that he was trying to hurt or fool me.  I assumed that he was doing his best to communicate what was in his heart.  Don Miguel Ruiz tells us in the fourth agreement to always do your best.  And the truth is, I always think people do their best; at all times.  That may be hard to believe when we see people doing horrible things all the time.  But what are their options?  Of course everyone has free will to choose what’s right.  But sometimes a person is faced with what feels like only two choices: steal or go hungry.  From our privileged perspective, it’s easy for us to say, “Well, just don’t do that.”  But for someone who is dis-empowered, disenfranchised, angry, lost, these two choices truly feel as though they are the only choices.  Steal or go hungry.  Will you judge them?  Will you take their theft personally?  Will you assume that they are unable to do their best?  Or will you choose to look beneath their actions to the enormous truth they are speaking?  Will you write them off or show them a new truth?  Give them a new option?  Cast a brighter light for them so that they may see the totality of the better choices available?  Or will you harbor resentment against them?  Wounding yourself ever so slightly in the process.

  This is not a solution to all deceit.  Most lies are indiscernible from truth.  But we can make one assumption: that a truth exists regardless of the way a person chooses to express it.  That every time they open their mouths a truth does emerge.  It may be hidden from view, but it exists, nonetheless.  And that truth is always that they, too, are a person.  A human.  In need of love and compassion.  Perhaps we cannot surround ourselves with liars and thieves, I certainly don’t suggest that.  But we can choose to feel differently about their actions.  We here do not most of us believe in the Devil as an entity with an agenda, so let’s not paint a person who is unable to speak truth with an evil brush.  That’s not taking responsibility for your neighbor.  When you cannot associate with a person because their truth is over-clouded with deceit or untrustworthiness, have compassion for them.  Pray for them.  Love them from a distance, if you must, but love them nonetheless.  Love your enemy.  Love those who might trespass against you.  Not for what that love will do for them, although it will, but for what it will do for you. 

Listen compassionately.  Hear lovingly.  Choose to hear truth at all times and truth will reveal itself to you.  Listen honestly.  To yourself, to others.  Choose to be impeccable with your own word.  Prepare your instrument of hearing by purifying your instrument of speaking.  It’s bigger than you think.  It's a giving of intent toward being honest as a life practice.  And that will have a ripple effect throughout the entire Universe.  Mark my words.

1. Ruiz, Dr. Miguel Angel, The Four Agreements, San Rafael CA: Amber Allen, 1997, page 26
2. New American Standard Bible (NASB)
are-the-most-honest-cities-166733476.html (accessed Sept 2015)
4. ibid

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