GNL number 43

a report of doings at meeting #43, Sunday, December 12, 2010
including liturgical notes, major themes, and other odds and ends


Within your own house dwells the treasure of joy;
so why do you go begging from door to door?
—Sufi saying


As inspiration for today’s topic, Maintaining a Merry Heart, and our chief example, Jack led off by declining long commentary on it because of his Parkinson’s, and handing the lead to us. We teased him for copping out, which he didn’t mind of course, because of his merry heart. And we continued the intro by reading aloud three passages from Proverbs:

A merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance.
—Proverbs 15:13

He that is of a merry heart hath a continual feast.
—Proverbs 15:15

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.
—Proverbs 17:22

Nancy, again citing Jack as exemplar, described some attributes of a merry heart — not only a broad and long perspective, that can contain the hard things as well as the sweet ones, but openness to wonders big and small in our midst, and to beauty and possibilities and, maybe above all, to fun — playfulness. And she recalled that Jack has felt granted this by grace, and a faith that crystallized in his young manhood. In addition, she and others at yesterday’s vigil had witnessed another example of a zesty, merry heart, in Rev. Bob Smith. Bob, whose Parkinson’s often causes his feet to “freeze” to the ground, announced happily he’d discovered if he hummed or sang (especially Sousa marches or gospel hymns), he could get walking again, and he proceeded with gusto to demonstrate!

Sue, one of those witnessing the above, and one familiar with Parkinson’s from her experience with her dad, added that she’d found out about that music-rhythm effect too, and like others among us, knew of the work of Oliver Sacks on this connection. She also recalled the way Thich Nhat Hanh spoke of smiling as healthy for both smiler and smilees (even if the original smiler isn’t feeling so happy). She read several good quotes as well, for which see AFTERWORDS.

Vijaya reported the good news that she’s finally been given the village’s approval to make a public garden-retreat in the north corner of the Union Street parking area, something that will make her merry as well as many others. We recalled that she has already made a beautiful garden in the area behind her store and building on Main Street, which many of us have enjoyed at her luncheons. Today she also brought someone who has been a regular part of those luncheons, her sister from India, Indira.

Indira told of doing similar garden-making projects on her own especially in Delhi, and how satisfying that was. She illustrated for us how she returns to her heart — by (going to temple and, with her grandkids) dancing her beautiful Krishna and the Calves song. And for much of the meeting, she sat at Jack’s feet and massaged his feet and legs.

Anna spoke eloquently of the inspiration Jack has been to her, not only as a model of tolerance, goodwill and peacemaking, but of his warm, smiling spirit, and this made him a little teary. She thanked us all again for this good place to come where nobody’s “wrong”,  and also characterized our group as having something of a merry quality as well.

Cynthia presented each of us with one of her freshly published calendars, made from prints of her beautiful paintings of plant themes paired with poems or quotes. She explained how going to her pens and paints has been and continues to be a wonderful way to relocate her “heart-self”.

Christine said she is basically happy in her life and marriage, and spoke of times of special happiness, like vacations at camp, but she didn’t think of herself as having a naturally merry heart; there were too many hard experiences in her early life. (And she remembered feeling pained when others had reminded her to smile.) This started a discussion of happiness:  what is it, what would make you happy, what do you need to be happy. Which some of us wanted to revisit more fully at another time.

Adair cited a book on happiness she had been reading: Stumbling Toward Happiness, by Daniel Gilbert. And she spoke of the struggle sometimes, e.g., at work, to smile and be positive when you are not feeling so good physically; but then also of being reminded it’s worth it by the occasional feedback like she’s had recently from patients expressing earnest thanks for her positivity and help. She gave us a 6-wordie too: Joy brings hope to all hearts.

Gail spoke of her good luck to be raised in a home where she and her mom sang and danced in the kitchen regularly, and though there were ups, downs and arguments in the family, the dust always settled, and she grew up constitutionally merry. So now Virginia has the benefit of that outlook inherited. Gail also read two wise aphorisms, which appear in AW.

Ann recognized she was not going to be happy all the time, but knew it was important to laugh, and felt good to help others laugh.  She told a hilarious story, of how her dog Jeter reminds, even teaches her to laugh at herself when she’s cussing the computer, by walking out when it gets rough. To which Gail remarked, “Your dog knows you CAN teach an old person new tricks!”
(More thoughts in AW.)

We decided our offering today would be made to another local project, Forgotten Friends (near Sharon Springs), in memory of Evelyn Bush, who died a year ago, and who was so fond of animals, and this animal shelter program.


Take thy Bliss, O Man!
–William Blake

I love laughing.
—William Blake


Rescheduled to Sunday, January 16, 2010 (10:30), at Jack’s place. The topic is STARTING OVER (good one for the new year?).


from Sue

He that is of a merry heart hath a continual feast.
—Proverbs 15:15

A truly happy person is one who can enjoy the scenery while on a detour.

Be happy.  It’s one way of being wise.

Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back
and realize they were the big things.
—Robert Brault, 

A merry heart goes all the day. Your sad tires in a mile.
—William Shakespeare

from Gail

Laughter is the closest distance between people.

The best way to cheer yourself up is to cheer up somebody else.

from Ann


I’ve had some other thoughts about our last CoS — finding/getting/keeping a merry heart. Many of us equated a merry heart with happiness, not altogether a bad thing. That equation has some drawbacks because of the impetus to develop a gradation of happiness – some people would consider a peaceful and serene space of time as a happy experience, others might thrive on and consider chaos and challenge as the true happy circumstance. I had had some intermittent thoughts during the month trying to find synonyms for merry and happy and had to separate the two words; merry suggested to me a jollity, ha-ha ho-ho Christmasy feeling, whereas happy had a much broader set of feelings, as suggested above. I would love to revisit this topic at another time of the year, notChristmas time, to see if I come up with other senses of a merry heart.
Just some thoughts while driving.

from Nancy

The sense of living is joy enough.
—Emily Dickinson

The greatest happiness you can have is knowing that
you do not necessarily require happiness.
—William Saroyan

Joy (or in Buddhist terms, ananda, or bliss) is our natural state… It is not something we achieve or win, find or acquire.  In fact, the irony of happiness is that the more we chase it, the more it flees us. The enduring joy is one inherent in our being.  It is not to be found in a person, condition, or object. It is part and parcel of the consciousness of life; to the extent that we live in consciousness, we live in joy. To the extent that we are unconscious, we miss the bliss.
Starting from the recognition that we are complete, we experience a bliss transcendent to pleasure and pain. Beyond the ups and downs, the inevitable turns of fortune, we embrace the whole of our lives in gratitude. Dostoevsky called man “the ungrateful biped”. Unfortunately this is often the case, but he also said, “Man is unhappy because he doesn’t realize he’s happy….If anyone finds out, he’ll become happy at once.”
In Zen, there is a practice of awareness referred to as “inhibiting the inhibition”, or “blocking the block”. If, as all enlightened masters have said, true joy is our natural state of being, then we needn’t do anything to acquire it. Rather, we have only to become aware of how we are blocking it by insisting on the fulfillment of some condition before we can be happy. This awareness itself blocks the block and returns us to our natural state of bliss.
—Lawrence Boldt, editor of Zen Soup


1 Comment

  1. Nancy said,

    January 8, 2011 at 3:19 pm

    (an excerpt from a letter of Rev. Judy Scott to Nancy and COS:)

    Happy New Year 2011, Nancy and COS long-distance friends!

    Your COS notes arrived today. Of course, they are always of interest, but today I read them with special interest as I am no stranger to Parkinson’s. I hope to add Jack to my growing circle of compatriots! Hi, Jack!
    A member of my last church moved to our town a few years after he was diagnosed with PD. It was especially aggressive, and he had to leave his job. A few years later he underwent two experimental surgeries and eventually he recuperated enough to be able to come to church on Thanksgiving Day. But during the 3 or 4 months of the hard business of his recovery, I visited a lot. He and his wife knew that I have Parkinson’s too. That was irrelevant. He wanted to tell his story, as threadbare as he was. One minute laughter, the next with tears, he did tell as much as could bear. We laughed and cried together.
    The years fly by. My own PD is much different, slow in its progression. 20 years and counting. There is no magic bullet, though for me the meds I take are effective and a good cover!
    A paraphrase of a Kahlil Gibran quote comes to mind: “While joy sits at your table, sorrow sleeps in your bed.” There’s always the flip side, isn’t there? The logic of the following is a good reminder too:
    “Happiness isn’t a destination. Happiness is the fuel
    that carries us from place to place along life’s journey.”
    The bottom line of my 45 years in ministry is that we [she and her husband, Rev. Frank] were so enriched as we were privileged to share in the faith walk of many. It had to be grace (the Amazing kind) that often put me in the right place at the right time and to somehow Be There, which is what helping, giving, teaching, learning and more requires of us. To me, that was the superlative of happiness.
    It occurs to me that many of us haven’t given enough time to figuring out for ourselves, “Is this real happiness or not?” Happiness can show up in the most creative disguises. Don’t be fooled.
    End of letter.
    Beginning of a New Year! My best to each!!!
    Give goodness, generosity, kindness and compassion
    to all you can whenever you can wherever you are!


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