The tradition of gift giving seems to go back to the beginning of civilization. People give gifts for many reasons – to show love, to ask for a favour, as a “thank you” etc. After Christianity began, the idea of gifts at Christmastime maybe started with the story of the Wise Men bringing gifts to Jesus at his birth.
Gifts without ribbons
We like to wrap our presents in pretty paper and tie them with ribbons. I wonder if we realize that we can give very beautiful gifts anytime, and without paper or ribbons? For example, giving someone a warm handshake, a hug, a pat on the back, things we take for granted, are really some of our most beautiful gifts.
We humans are very sensitive to being touched. Scientists tell us that a loving touch actually releases hormones in our body that makes us feel good! Years ago, I taught Psychology in a school of nursing. I told the nursing students how important their work was. Research says that people recover from surgery 80% faster because of the nurses’ healing touch.
Here is a beautiful song by a group “Nothin’ Fancy” (find it on You Tube) called:
“The Touch of Her Hand”
I found your letters today,
I had tucked them away
With a pair of white gloves and a fan.
I held them awhile, they took me back
and made me smile
as I remembered the touch of your hand.
It was a midsummer’s night,
the village green was in light.
Paper lanterns surrounded the band.
They played waltzes ‘til dawn,
‘til all the couples were gone,
And I remembered the touch of your hand.
Now the face in the mirror is old---er,
the children worry, they don’t understand.
Now I don’t live for the past
but in dreams I still dance,
and remember the touch of your hand.
(The words are from a man, but if you are a woman, just change the title to “The Touch of His Hand”).
Another gift without ribbons is a smile. It sends the same warm hormones as a touch. Only, we are so caught up with our own worries and problems that we don’t realize how we look with furrowed brow.
Unfortunately, our look triggers anxiety hormones in others. This is just spreading the virus of unhappiness. But a warm smile may be just the medicine the other person needs to kill the bad virus and pull him or her out of an unpleasant fog. What a gift that is! Better than one with ribbons and paper.
Here are some verses about smiling,
by Dave Mason (Google the whole song):
A smile isn’t hard to do,
and it brightens up your face,
makes you feel like flying free,
makes your heart to race.
But the best thing is that when you smile,
everyone smiles too.
And the greatest gift
when you’re feeling down,
is when someone smiles at you.
So, smile awhile from early when you rise.
Let that smile play on your lips
and [shine] within your eyes.
Let everybody see the sign,
don’t try to disguise.
Your smile might seem so small to you;
But, baby, smiles change lives.
To the gift of a loving touch, and the warmth of a beautiful smile, let’s add the sound of a kind word that can roll off our tongue. Just think of the power the tongue has. The tongue is like the rudder of a ship (James 3:1ff). No matter how strong the winds, the small rudder can control the direction of the huge ship. So too, sometimes it only takes one word to destroy a person. In the same way, when someone is down, it only takes one word to bring that person to life. What a gift!
I’m not really telling you anything new that you didn’t already know. So, my Christmas gift to you here, is like a little piece of string. Tie it on your little finger (in your imagination) to remind yourself of the awesome power you have! You can create sparks of life by being generous with your gifts, making life beautiful when you scatter your little gifts of touching, smiling, and kind words.
A Christmas meditation:
Let’s think about these ideas a little more deeply. Read slowly and meditatively. Get ready to think like the mystics do. Don’t let that scare you. Every one of us was born a mystic. Little children haven’t lost their mystical view of the world yet. For them, life is all wonder and mystery. They don’t walk, they run, skip and dance. They squeal with laughter and joy. We love their innocence. It’s because they are still mystics. Life is full of wonder and mystery.
John, the Apostle was a mystic. He wrote. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God” (John 1). Read that again: “the Word was God”. What does that mean?
John was thinking of the beginning of time, when nothing existed, only God. So, he wondered, where did the world come from? The answer was stunning. “The Word is God, and the Word became flesh”. Flesh is something you can touch and feel and see. So, this is how God becomes visible – everything in the world shows God in it, if we only have the eyes to see – the eyes of the mystic, like John.
And of all that God created, what is more beautiful, more mysterious, more fascinating – than humans; “and the word became flesh”! Each one of us is an image of God – if you look at us with the eyes of a mystic. Think about that, so beautiful – and true!
Now you can understand why the touch of your hand has so much power – God is in it. In a smile, God is looking through your eyes. When you speak love, God is speaking. This is the mystic’s view. This is what life is really about.
An edited letter received from my dear friend E
Christmas 2018 shared with permission
"We see with our physical eye, but we only see the fullness of God's creation and goodness with our inner eye, even in the least of things such as dirt and a worm." Julech, from Eternal Enfolding (pending)
In Julech’s mind love was the fire that incubated and vibrated the diamond’s radiance. It was the fire of the Spirit that pulsated Love which allowed him to say, ‘God is Love’. And if God is Love, He could only radiate love. He could “not love” and therefore must love everybody and everything, even those who harmed another or who claimed that He didn’t exist.
From: Eternal Unfolding
Compassion and Kindness
When we compare compassion with empathy or altruism we find the concepts are related but not the same. Empathy is a more general term and refers to our ability to walk in the perspective of and feel the emotions of another person; compassion includes those feelings and thoughts and motivates us to help the other. Altruism is akin to kindness, when we are prompted by the feelings of compassion to perform a selfless act. Each flow from the other, but we can exhibit one without the other.
There must be a greater source than what we see? Julech wondered. Everything is connected. The universe and all living things. There is an energy a fire that is within me that drives my yearning to go beyond my every day experience.
Is there anyone out there?
It was a beautiful July morning, not a cloud in sight and the temperature was just right for hiking.
Julech got an early start and had been on the trail for about two hours when he looked up at the clear blue sky and wondered out loud, " God, or whatever or whoever, are you up there?" There was no answer.
He wandered a little further and peered down into the valley? "Are you, whoever your are, down there?" There was no answer.
He kept climbing up the mountain trail.
After a further hour of walking Julech saw another hiker coming toward him. He looked a little older than Julech, had a beard, a staff for balance and was clothed in hiking gear. Julech thought maybe he had scaled the top of the mountain, and now was on his way back to the village below.
As they met on the trail, the hiker said, "It's a great day for hiking ." He paused then asked, "How far up are you going?"
"I'm not sure," Julech replied, " I'm just hiking up this trail and trying to take in all the beauty around me."
"Is that all? replied the hiker.
"Well no, I'm really on a journey looking for some meaning in life. I'm searching for something that I can't really explain at the moment. The only thing I can come up with is that there must be more to life than what I encounter day in and day out."
"That's pretty heavy stuff." said the hiker, as he began to resume his downward trek. He went about 50 feet (15 meters) then looked over his shoulder and called out to Julech, "Open your eyes and ears. Look and listen deeper."
What the heck does that mean, Julech thought. I can see the beauty around me, I told him that. I can hear the sounds of the wind, rustle of the trees, and the birds in the air. Look and listen deeper?
(From the opening lines of Julech's pending book)
Who Am I?
Julech is an interesting character who came to me one morning and asked,
"Do you know who I am?"
"No I don't, I never met you before," I responded.
"Really, are you sure?"
"Yes, I'm sure." I said.
"Well, I am the person who journey's through life seeking wisdom. I'm every person, man, woman or child, who seeks the truth and searches their heart for peace, forgiveness and love and when they find it, they give what they have found to others at no charge."
"Wow!" I was awe struck.
"Can you tell me more?" I asked.
"Who are you?" Julech replied.
What a question, not "what are you?" or "What do you do?" but, "Who are you?"
The most fundamental question I need to ask is “who am I?” We often define ourselves by what others think I. am. We define ourselves my the roles we play, by what others think who we are. But do we go into silence and in a quiet moment and ask: who am I?” This question begs others: Why do I exist? What holds me in existence? Why am I here? What holds me in life? When I ask these questions two things come to mind.
The first is one of bodily existence. I am here in body, I have a physical being. I can be perceived by others, I exist in time and space. The second one is of spirit. And spirit defines a more deeper self. One that we cannot see but is fused with the body to make me, me. The body projects outside, the spirit projects inside. It is the spirit that prompts me to ask: “who am I” and “why do I exist? And, “ where does life come from?”
The outside caters to my ego; and I also cater to my ego. I define myself by my ego. It likes to hear what others say and I puff myself up by buying into what they say. But my ego is not who I am as my body can exist without an ego, just as a rock exists without an ego. I exist because the spirit dwells within me and that spirit comes from the Spirit beyond me; it comes from a source that breathes life into all things and holds me in existence. Without that Spirit nothing would exist.
It is connecting with that Source within me, that holds me in existence and joins me in unison with all of creation, in all time, in the past and the future, where I can begin to answer the questions: “who am I?” “why do I exist?” “what holds me in life?” And “why am I here?”
Find a quiet spot and listen to Leonard Cohen with the Web Sisters sing "If It Be Your Will."
May we have
Peace in our hearts
We may have
Peace within our families
Throughout our land.
Merry Christmas Everyone!
Giving thanks should be an everyday occurrence. Often it is not. Fortunately we have one week-end in a year to remind us of the importance of a "thank you." Let's build on this week-end and during the coming year develop an attitude of gratitude and thanksgiving.
Give thanks for:
Our families, friends and neighbours,
Our associates, colleagues, and employers,
Our customers, suppliers and service providers,
Our helpers, mentors and supporters.
Give thanks for:
The expanding sky and the heating sun,
The waving ocean and rippling waters,
The breathing air and the whistling wind,
The glistening grasses and blooming flowers.
Give thanks for:
Those who lead us with compassion and care,
Those who teach us to forgive and share,
Those who bring us their gift and talent,
Those who guide us with hope and trust.
Give thanks for:
Our senses to see, touch, smell and hear,
Our ability to walk, skip and run,
Our laughter and joy,
Our gift of life
Give thanks for all these and more
Share the gift of gratitude to all those you know
And even those you don't. Give thanks..
Richard P. Fontanie MSW, FCMC
Image courtesy Dale Swanston
A couple of years ago I attended a conference where I had the pleasure of listening to Dom Laurence Freeman, OSB, speak about meditation. Dom Laurence is the Director of the World Community for Christian Meditation located in London, England. He has taught, wrote, led conferences and expanded the practice of meditation with those from all walks of life. At this conference he traced the long Christian tradition of meditation, talked about its simplicity, how it transcends thought and engaged his audience in a meditative exercise of silence and stillness. He pointed out that meditation is practised by all major faith communities and by anyone regardless of where they are in their life's journey.
There is a meditation renascence taking place today as an antidote to the stress and strain of modern day life and for many, as a journey of spiritual awakening. After I listened to Dom Laurence I reflected on my own meditative practice which has followed three parallel paths: Reflection, Reflective Meditation and Mindless or Contemplative Meditation. Maybe you have experienced these as well.
Reflection: What I used to call meditation I soon realized was nothing other than a process of reflection. I would identify a problem or someone would give me an issue to resolve and I used to say "let me meditate on this a bit." My mind was very active during this time and I would think through the problem or issue. I would also take a passage from one of my readings whether that be a passage from a leadership, management or spiritual book and my mind would in effect chew on the passage. I would analyze, slice and dice and, come to some conclusion and develop an action around the topic. My mind was preoccupied with the thought content and alternate solutions. I still actively engage my mind in this reflective process - just ask members of my family as I walk or sit around with creases in my forehead.
Reflective Meditation: During Reflective Meditation, my mind is semi-active. I think about an issue, problem or decision not in detail but in its broad context and let the scenario present itself within my mind's eye. I do the same with passages from my readings and use them as a back drop to what I now refer to as Reflective Meditation. During this time my mind is engaged and dances around the topic or passage but I try not to pull it apart or analyze it in anyway but just let the passage speak to me. My mind often skips around and sometimes I dwell on thoughts that are different from the passage. Let's call them what they are - distractions. I just go with them and eventually I come back to my original passage or the presenting thought. The point here is that I reflect on "something" presented to me either verbally or in a reading that still engages my mind.
Mindless Meditation to Spiritual Contemplation: This is a form of meditation that transcends the mind. I have practised this for many years. I call this Mindless Meditation because I work at emptying the mind of all activity - entering into silence and stillness. It wasn't until I read a small book by Dr. Wayne W. Dwyer, "Getting in the Gap” that I discovered another way of approaching this type of meditation. He pointed out that it was the space between the words that mattered and not the word or words one used to relieve mind activity.
Let's take an example from a well-known prayer "Lord make me an instrument of your peace." In my Reflective Meditation method I focus on the sentence and try to understand what it is saying to me and how I can become an instrument of peace. My mind is semi-active but still working like crazy. Once I begin to take the first two words "Lord make" and use these two words as bookends so to speak, I open myself up to the space between the words. I discover a connection with a deeper inner consciousness that goes beyond self to what I call my Spiritual Source - a door is opened to allow the Spirit to come in rather than me banging on the door with an over active mind.
I find Mindless Meditation breaks through the hassle and stress brought on by daily activity and gets to a deep spiritual awaking. It transcends the mind and rationality, and extends the state of human consciousness to a state of unconsciousness to a spiritual dimension, where time and space has no meaning.
In mindless meditation we exist in the moment, in the now, and in that moment or now all time is suspended and we are in a state beyond consciousness, and are gifted with the whisper of the Divine. And, in that state of transcendence the positive aspects of compassion, respectfulness and forgiveness are strengthened.
I now equate mindless meditation with spiritual contemplation which is practised in complete silence, and in those silent moments we are embraced and touched by Divine Love. Richard Rohr, in his work at the Center for Contemplation and Action, explores this type of meditation and it's relationship to contemplative stillness, silence and connection with the Divine.
Mindless meditation or contemplation is difficult because our mind always wants to analyze, judge, wander, and think about someone or something else. In essence our ego gets in the way of "egolessness", and doesn't want to be quiet, be still and listen to our inner self. This type of meditation takes work and daily practise.
Meditation and Business: So how does all this relate to business?
Since meditation has shown to produce a wide range of mental benefits it is no wonder that many of the top producing businesses have made room for on-the-job meditation. Meditation is also used in the sports world as a way to calm the inner self, deal with fear, build relationships, strengthen focus and self-discipline. Phil Jackson, in his book Eleven Rings outlines how he used meditation as a method to reduce tension and prepare for game day.. Phil Jackson is one of the most successful coaches in NBA history.
What to do: There is a place for all three methods depending on what is required. The first two ways have helped me develop breakthrough solutions to problems as well as changing my own behaviour. The last method is quite simple, calms the mind, promotes health, rejuvenates energy and gives greater balance to a busy life. I find this last method takes greater self-discipline but the dividends are bountiful.
All three methods require a calming down of the body. For Mindless Meditation find a quiet place - close your office door, sit on a bench in the park or develop a small oasis in your back yard, or find a comfortable corner in your home, - sit upright with feet on the floor, then take deep breaths to relax the body from head to toe. Some people find it helpful to light a candle or have calm music playing quietly in the background.
As we grow with meditative practice we will find that we can block out the noise around us for brief periods of time - for example when sitting on an airplane or waiting for an appointment, or standing in line - and for a few fleeting minutes or seconds we will slow ourselves down and connect with our inner Spirit. For longer meditations or contemplation many teachers recommend choosing a meaningful word and repeating it over and over until it disappears and you are centred at a place of peace and silence. Choosing a word to ready ourselves to enter into a contemplative dimension is often referred to as Centering Prayer. Dom Laurence, Richard Rohr and Thomas Keating suggests two 20 - 30 minute Heart or Soul Meditations a day, one in the morning and the other in the evening.
Want to learn more: You will discover that the techniques described above are found in most meditation traditions and go back thousands of years and are as relevant today as way back then. There are over a dozen ways to mediate drawn from Christian, Buddhist and Hindu traditions. The difference among them appears in the purpose and intent one ascribes for the meditation. Here are a few resources you may find helpful:
Author: Richard P. Fontanie, MSW, FCMC Updated from the archives of Fontanie Learning Solutions.
I believe in a Power beyond me. I call this Power God or the Source of all Love. I connect with God through my spirit which actually is His Spirit within me. We are connected as one Spirit. Not that I am God, but that God - Spirit dwells within me and as such I dwell with Him. From this conjoining I have life, and can become fully alive in service to others through love, compassion and forgiveness.
Whether one believes in a higher Power, a God beyond Self, a Source from which we all come, or not, I think we can agree that we do have a spiritual self that becomes a source for our creativity; and we can rejuvenate our spirit through meditation, quietude and relaxation. This is known as living in the "now" or living in the presence of God.
From time to time it is good for us to examine our spiritual well-being. St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), founder of the Society of Jesus or Jesuits proposed a daily exercise which he called the Examen of Consciousness or the Daily Examen – a simple exercise in discernment. The exercise encourages us to reflect on our day and review moments when we were conscious or aware of God – or when we were present to His Spirit of Love – and times when we were distracted or forgetful about this awareness.
Note that the exercise does not pass judgement on right or wrong, or how well we succeeded or failed, or about moral and immoral behaviour. It is simply about our presence in the now with God. Or if you are a non-believer, just being in the presence of the now as a giving and loving person. St. Ignatius recommended we do this at the end of each day. Initially it may seem like a taunting task, but once we get into a rhythm of daily practice we find it becomes an exercise for greater fulfilment.
The following are the five steps St Ignatius suggests; I have presented them for those who believe in God and for those who are non-believers.
For the Believer
For the non-Believer
May you live in peace and joy.
(Julech is a pseudonym for someone who is on a spiritual journey)
Image: D.Swanston, from Fontanie Archives
There is a yearning in our hearts that calls for peace, compassion, love and forgiveness. December is a time of the year when we have an opportunity to take time out of our busy schedules to focus on these inner promptings. It doesn't take much for us to get lost in the bombardment of negative news that blares out around us. Yes, not all is right in our troubled world, but each of us in our own way can make a difference in bringing about those things for which we all yearn.
When I write about forgiveness, compassion, meditation, gratefulness, and stress relief, I find a wide audience. Why is this? I suggest it's because people are trying to find expression for these inner promptings within their places of work and in their lives. They are searching for peace within themselves and with those around them as they deal with the push and pull of life.
Inner peace is found through calmness and silence and when we are at rest. I hope you can find time to sit out from the noise of this festive season and enjoy that peace. When you do, you will also find the strength to share it with others; and in so doing, you will become a beacon of light for those who are still troubled and weary. Thus, in some small way you will make a difference. If there is enough of us who do this we can be a force for positive change in our workplaces, communities and the world.
Peace also to those caught in wars, in prisons, and those who are considered enemies. It is never too late to lay down arms, seek forgiveness and be at peace with one another.
So, my message today is one of peace as we light the Christmas candle representing the light and peace of Christ; or, the Jewish menorah, the symbol of light, wisdom and Divine inspiration; or, cultivate tadabbur to enhance awareness and healing in the Islamic tradition; or, seek to create a union between self and the infinite life force found in the Hindu tradition; or, search for enlightenment and freedom from suffering through the meditative practices of Buddhism; or, participate in the smudge ceremony of our Native North American people which symbolizes the cleansing of negative energy and the healing of mind, body and spirit. These traditions and sacred rituals point us in the direction to inner peace and a way to encourage peace with each other.
Richard P. Fontanie, MSW, FCMC
The prayer of St. Francis of Assisi is one that extends to people of all faiths and walks in life.
During this season which calls out for peace, let's take a moment to reflect on his words of wisdom and inspiration.
A Prayer for Peace
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not
so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
We pray from down here, not up there. We are so caught up with ourselves that we pray from our point of view and not from God's point of view. God knows all things, understands our wants and needs, sees all things from an eternal perspective, not from a time perspective. He is the source of all things. Prayer, then is resting in Him and being with Him as He dwells in us and we in Him. Prayer is a quiet communion where grace flows like the rain upon us; the grace of joy, love, forgiveness and peace. All we need to do is open ourselves to Him and that becomes our prayer of adoration, praise and thanksgiving. We join Him and He sweeps us up in His grace.
"Be still, and know that I am God;" Psalm 46. This is all we need to know about prayer. In our stillness we listen, we communicate in silence and knowing that we are one in His Spirit, and His Spirit is one in us. We are not the Spirit, but partake of the Spirit. There is no need to form words as we are transformed through His Spirit. Whatever our needs, they are met; whatever our longings they are met; whatever our gratitude and requests for forgiveness, they are met. Silence with Him is our prayer.
Prayer is being with the Light of God. Being in His presence. We don't have to say anything because He knows what is in our hearts and minds. We just need to rest in Him and Him in us. Our prayer is a reflection of Him as He shines through us. Our prayer is an encounter with the Spirit where no words are necessary. No need to memorize prayers, words, and rituals just be with the Spirit of the Lord and dwell with Him and listen. Carry on a conversation rather than rolling off words from memory. Prayer is being with Him and Him in us without words. That way we don't have to worry about 'what should I say?' "Am I saying it right?' If we are with Him in Spirit and He is in us then our conversation with Him is right. It's prayer.
Treat the earth well,
It was not given to you by your parents,
it was loaned to you by your children.
We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors,
We borrow it from our children.
-Native American Traditional