GNL number 44

a report of doings at meeting #44, Sunday, January 16th, 2011
including liturgical notes, major themes, and other odds and ends


We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned,
so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come.
—Joseph Campbell


  • The topic is STARTING OVER (good one for the new year?). Some of us interpreted today’s topic as NEW BEGINNINGS…. but, as Anna often reminds us, nobody’s ever wrong at CoS!

  • Ann started the discussion with a bit of show & tell. She held up a spatula which Elliott had rebuilt and told the story of how he had been zealously mixing up a batter, causing the original tool to splinter and break- He proceeded to repair the spatula and made it into the more usable kitchen utensil she brought with her! For Ann, this fit into today’s topic as starting over, but not necessarily from scratch- rather shedding old & broken thoughts/habits/beliefs and re-building upon the usable, salvaged parts.

    Cynthia spoke next, reading three favorite quotes about beginnings. (see AFTER WORDS) New beginnings/starting over for Cynthia is keeping to the New Year’s resolve to get rid of STUFF which clutters and distracts her life… bundles of old papers from Natural Food & More, collections of buttons, shells, jewelry, etc., and was very pleased to announce many of these things will go to an artist friend who will use them in her mosaic creations. How perfect — to recycle/reuse/rebuild stuff into artwork! The Big Dig is in progress in Cynthia’s computer room, starting NOW.

    Jack, in the spirit of clearing the decks before going to his next phase of life, asked that we take as many copies of his books as we wanted to or could distribute around Schoharie County. (see AFTERWORDS) He also pointed out that many of his possessions have already been given away, noting that niece Penny is the keeper of his memories. Jack also spoke frankly of having to die to be released from the shackles of Parkinson’s, certain that he will be able to walk again in Heaven.

    Anna spoke about feeling more isolated this winter and that no one called or came by regularly… but she reminded herself that she could reach out to others, which is an old new beginning in her life’s experience. For Anna, attending Al-Anon meetings was a starting-over point where she learned that others do not have authority over her. She continues to re-learn ways to care for herself — and others!

    Erynne said she and Jack had giggled about the up-coming topic for today- which led them to think about the poem “The Road Less Traveled”…Her visit with Jack and preparation for discussion led her to recall three major life-changing moves which she made by choice- and one, in particular, when she found herself in an airport with no luggage, no baggage and no keys. The experience was not so much frightening as freeing — she felt released from having STUFF. Erynne is wishing to have the courage to enter the spirit world, when the time comes, with that same excitement and the feeling of launching herself into the future, untethered.

    Sue talked about many times/places she’s started over, most recently this past summer, being pulled back into very public, more labor-intensive activism for a longer time period than ever before- rejoining ACCORD & feeling that she knew what to do — and she had to do it — and the recognition that this task is the stuff of life… no final goal, not ever getting it done, once and for all — just the latest round in a long journey; Zen teaching helps! Every breath is a new beginning, a starting over — and Sue says the older she gets, the more she understands that it always has been and always will be what it’s all about: the forgetting and the remembering. She also spoke of starting a new marriage — the second for each of them, and her new husband’s proposal became their resolve — “never let the shit get more than ankle deep before we do something about it;” of starting again and again to connect/interact with her brother — she will see him in February for the first time in 2&1/2 years! Sue offered several quotes and gave each of us a copy of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Beginning Anew Ceremony (see AFTERWORDS)

    Jill, (a welcome new-comer to CoS), said she wondered what homework she had to do to prepare for this meeting…. She described the end of a marriage as one of her major starting over points, bringing her to a new home, requiring all new clothes — (no need for high heels and dresses on the farm) and meeting new people. Another new beginning took place when she went away and lived on an island in a tent for 6 months while working and teaching. Jill spoke of splicing pieces of our ‘past lives’ into the present, not to erase our ‘bad’ experiences but to use them like Elliott did to make the broken spatula into a better one. “Time to clear the cobwebs” brought Jill to Church of Skippy for inspiration.

  • Some extracurricular discussion at this point, as Sue spoke of helping to heal old wounds through teaching others; Ann talked about REALLY focusing on the wounded place/bad experience and finding the vanishing point; Anna spoke of thinking about her parents’ lives — remembering her dad coping with hard times through humor and writing wonderful children’s stories, and her mom finding contentment with her little gift shop.
  • Vijaya spoke about dealing with her sister’s depression. She, being the Big Sister, explained the way to work through sadness is to concentrate on being present in the moment. During their meals, she would speak only of the scent and flavor of the food, and think of the nourishment it provides, and not allow talk of problems. Taking a walk and focusing on the trees or the color of the sky for discussion, again, no dwelling on troublesome thoughts allowed! Vijaya’s Starting Over wishes for 2011 — to be a year of forgiving, loving and blending into Nature: she longs to become a tree! Her new beginning will start on her journey to India, where she will spend 1 month at yoga retreat, visit a tiger sanctuary and make a pilgrimage to see the Dalai Lama plus visiting her family and doing some shopping. She plans to return to America with renewed energy to grow her gardens.

    Jack spoke about visiting India many years ago, which he clearly remembered but had difficulty expressing details of.

    We decided our offering today would be made to The Ron Cleeve Fund and we hope for his complete recovery.


    Thus every spiritual journey begins. In the midst of the turbulence of this world, and in spite of our fear, we somehow find the courage to take one loving focused step and then another, with each step finding our footing on a path that only reveals itself step by step. But we DO it! We don’’t let the fear stop us. We cross into the wilderness leaving behind the safety of slavery, —a life of conditioned response.
    Torah Journeys—The Inner Path To The Promised Land, Rabbi Shefa Gold


    Sunday, February 13th, 2011, 10:30 am @Jack’s
    TOPIC: MUSIC OF THE HEART (appropriate for St. Valentine’s Day)



  • When the first baby laughed for the first time, the laugh broke into a thousand pieces and they all went skipping about — and that was the beginning of fairies.
    Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie
  • Time has no divisions to mark its passage; there is never a thunderstorm or blare of trumpets to announce the beginning of a new month or year. Even when a new century begins, it is only we mortals who ring bells and fire off pistols.
    The Magic Mountain, Thomas Mann
  • More than an end to war, we want an end to the beginnings of all wars. (written for a radio broadcast to be given April 13th, 1945 — but President Franklin D. Roosevelt died April 12th)
  • 2

    Jack’s books will be distributed at the 500th Peace Vigil on Saturday, January 29th and at the event for ACCORD/ Anti-Bias Committee on Sunday, January 30th. In addition to what Sue has on hand, there is a box containing at least 100 copies available.


    other quotations from Sue

  • One thing, and this is most important, remains to be said. Purity of heart is not the ultimate end of the monk’s striving in the desert. It is only a step towards it. …Paradise is not the final goal of the spiritual life. It is, in fact, only a return to the true beginning. It is a fresh start.
    Zen and the Birds of Appetite, Thomas Merton
  • The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.
    —Mark Twain
  • At every instant, everything is completely new.
    Infinite Circle: Teachings in Zen, Bernie Glassman
  • You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.
    —C.S. Lewis
  • Every wall is a door.
    —Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • Thich Nhat Hanh’s “Beginning Anew” Ceremony

    • “At Plum Village, we practice a ceremony of Beginning Anew every week. Everyone sits in a circle with a vase of fresh flowers in the center, and we follow our breathing as we wait for the facilitator to begin. The ceremony has three parts: flower watering, expressing regrets, and expressing hurts and difficulties. This practice can prevent feelings of hurt from building up over the weeks and helps make the situation safe for everyone in the community.
    • “We begin with flower watering. When someone is ready to speak, she joins her palms and the others join their palms to show that she has the right to speak. Then she stands, walks slowly to the flower, takes the vase in her hands, and returns to her seat. When she speaks, her words reflect the freshness and beauty of the flower that is in her hand. During flower watering, each speaker acknowledges the wholesome, wonderful qualities of the others. It is not flattery: we always speak the truth. Everyone has some strong points that can be seen with awareness. No one can interrupt the person holding the flower. She is allowed as much time as she needs, and everyone else practices deep listening. When she is finished speaking, she stands up and slowly returns the vase to the center of the room.
    • “In the second part of the ceremony, we express regrets for anything we have done to hurt others. It does not take more than one thoughtless phrase to hurt someone. The ceremony of Beginning Anew is an opportunity for us to recall some regret from earlier in the week and undo it. In the third part of the ceremony, we express ways in which others have hurt us. Loving speech is crucial. We want to heal the community, not harm it. We speak frankly, but we do not want to be destructive. Listening meditation is an important part of the practice. When we sit among a circle of friends who are all practicing deep listening, our speech becomes more beautiful and constructive. We never blame or argue.
    • “Compassionate listening is crucial. We listen with the willingness to relieve the suffering of the other person, not to judge or argue with her. We listen with all our attention. Even if we hear something that is not true, we continue to listen deeply so the other person can express her pain and release the tensions within herself. If we reply to her or correct her, the practice will not bear fruit. We just listen. If we need to tell the other person that her perception was not correct, we can do that later, privately and calmly. Then, at the next Beginning Anew session, she may be the person who rectifies the error and we will not have to say anything. We close the ceremony with a song or by holding hands with everyone in the circle and breathing for a minute. Sometimes we end with hugging meditation.”

    From Teachings on Love, Thich Nhat Hanh

    Available here


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