As I discussed on Thursday, I was in the pulpit last Sunday. So many people have asked for a copy of my sermon, either so that they can study it in more depth, or because they were unable to attend church that morning. So I decided to publish it as today’s post. I hope you enjoy it and learn something new.
I know there are more than just a few of us who are disturbed by the results of Tuesday’s election. I went to bed late on Tuesday night as I tried to divert my mind from the horror that I feared approaching. I woke up irritable, and was greeted immediately with confirmation of my fears. The trouble is that I knew it was coming. But try as I might, I could see no way out of it. I didn’t know how to explain to people how the process works. Of course, we all know how elections work. We go to the polling place, cast our ballot, and hope that enough people agree with us for our preferred candidate to get elected.
But that is only part of the story. That is the final manifestation of a deeper story. It is all about our collective energy. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “Where focus goes, energy flows.” In other words, if we give enough attention to something, it will gain in power. It doesn’t matter what kind of attention we give it. Whether we focus on wanting it or not wanting it, we give it attention. And thus, it grows. Whether we are saying, “I want that,” or “I don’t want that,” the energy goes to “that”. And so it was with the election. So many of us focused on what we didn’t want. I’m not talking about just us, sitting here in these pews today. I’m talking about the entire nation, both the Hillary fans and the Trump fans, and indeed the entire world. We focused on fear. I am as guilty of this as anyone else. And so that is what we created. We created our fears at a fundamental level by focusing on them. I don’t say this to make anyone feel bad, but rather to empower us with knowledge so we can make better choices next time.
I don’t know about you, but I tried hard to avoid reading about politics this past year. It seemed, though, that everywhere I turned, there was Trump. I didn’t see nearly so much about Hillary, save from one particular congregant’s Facebook feed. And even much of the stuff that was for Hillary, was actually against Trump. When there is that much focus on something, lots of energy is pouring into it to help bring it to manifestation. The whole world contributed to this. I even saw videos from the people of Germany (very strong language, NSFW) warning us against repeating their folly from eighty years ago. I didn’t keep records, but I definitely saw Trump’s face or name exponentially more times than I saw Hillary’s.
But you know what? I didn’t get up here today to talk about the election. I got up here to talk about how we create our reality. The election is just an example of how this works in everyday life.
We all know that the actions we take can alter the physical state of our environment. We can move a piece of furniture, turn on a light switch, or punch a loaf of rising bread dough. Each of these things creates a change that we can see with our eyes. Likewise, our words can change the lives of those around us. We can speak out about social injustices, or give our voice in support of those who are oppressed, or campaign for our favorite politician. In much the same way, our emotions can alter our personal physical state. If we are stressed, our heart rate goes up. If we are sad, our eyes create tears. If we are anxious, our stomach feels fluttery. But did you also know that our words, thoughts, and emotions can alter the physical state of our environment?
There are some who have suggested that thoughts are tangible things composed of matter, that are simply beyond our capability to observe. As we learned in our science classes in school, matter is composed of atoms, and atoms are composed of particles – protons, electrons, and neutrons. These particles are made up of even smaller things called quarks. Don’t worry, I’m not going to quiz you on this later. There is a Theory of Everything, or String Theory, that roughly suggests that these quarks are essentially made up of pure vibrations. However, for string theory to hold true, we have to have more than the three dimensions we are familiar with – up/down, right/left, and front/back. There must actually be at least eight dimensions. There are many ideas about these extra dimensions, but what if it is in one of those dimensions that our thoughts exist? If matter is simply energy built upon itself in this 3-dimensional world into quarks, atoms, and finally observable objects, then thoughts could be energy built up on itself in a different dimensions. We can’t sense, and therefore can’t fully define, those dimensions, nor yet measure them in any way, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t real.
When I was young, I read a book called The Boy Who Reversed Himself, by William Sleator, and in the story, a boy found a portal that opened up into a fourth dimension. He encountered things he could not fully observe because he only had senses for three dimensions and not four. In the story, he learned that there is also a 2-dimensional world, that is accessible from the 3D world. If he were to travel to that 2D world, the beings there would not be able to fully perceive him, just as he could not fully perceive the 4D world. We can perceive time only from our position in it. We cannot step outside of time to observe it as a whole. I was fascinated with the concept. Time is generally considered the fourth dimension, but there could very well be more.
So if everything is made of various densities of energy, then anything comprised of energy can affect our material observable world. *If* our thoughts are physical items in a dimension that we cannot access, then the more we think them, the more they will grow. Eventually, they grow to the point of gaining more dimensions. Once they gain a foothold in one of the dimensions that we can observe, we consider them to be real. I believe that first observable dimension is time. Perhaps you have heard the saying by Frank Outlaw, “Watch your thoughts, for they become your words. Watch your words, for they become your actions. Watch your actions, for they become your habits. Watch your habits, for they become your character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.” Our spoken words are our thoughts manifested in the 4th dimension of time. They have no front/back, left/right, up/down. We can observe them only in the dimension of time. Once our words have enough power, they emerge into the observable three dimensions of space. These actions create our manifest reality, finally and fully observable to us, and to others.
I came across an episode of All Things Considered by NPR the other day that explored the scientific effect of prayer and meditation on the brain. As one scientist said, “You can sculpt your brain just as you’d sculpt your muscles if you went to the gym. Our brains are continuously being sculpted, whether you like it or not, wittingly or unwittingly.” Another scientist explained “The more you focus on something — whether that’s math or auto racing or football or God — the more that becomes your reality, the more it becomes written into the neural connections of your brain.”
We can harness this magnificent power by deliberately choosing to channel that energy into the things we do and make. A handmade shawl, like the ones made by our wonderful Shawls of Love, can not only bring comforting memories of being loved and physical warmth from the yarn fabric, but it can also alter the structure of our brain as those memories evoke pleasant emotions and thoughts. The love and compassion that is literally knitted into the very fabric can align us towards joy and hope and a more positive outlook on life.
Likewise, our meals can bring great comfort and nourishment when cooked with love, but they can also bring distress if that same food is cooked with an angry heart, as we heard in the reading earlier. This is a great reason for the practice of blessing food before it is eaten. I believe a nutritionally mediocre meal cooked with joy and love is much more beneficial than a nutritionally pure meal cooked in anger and resentment. Love really is a secret ingredient.
We absorb the energy of the things we consume, whether we are talking about food, media, or ideas. Some energies are best left alone, such as media that disturbs us. How can we distinguish which energies are good for us and which are harmful? That is a simple distinction. If it makes you feel better, it is better. If it makes you feel worse, it is harmful. Pay attention to exactly how every decision makes you feel. Sometimes things that made you feel better before turn around and begin to make you feel worse. Pay attention. One piece of chocolate can be good, the entire bag, not so much. If watching the news makes you anxious and fearful, then don’t watch it. There is no law that says you have to keep up on the news. And if it is something you really need to know, you will find out about it through other channels that feel better. Our emotions are our guidance system that tells us which energies will take us to where we want to go.
Whom do we affect most with our thoughts? To whom do we speak or think the majority of our time? I would offer up that it is ourselves. Our mind is constantly chattering at us. What is it saying? Are the thoughts that you think uplifting to you? Do you congratulate yourself on a job well done? Do you take pride in your sense of style when you look in your closet? Do you admire that cute little mole on your face? Or do you instead criticize yourself for not being perfect? Do you see only a sloppy closet and chastise yourself for not keep it well organized? Do you see that mole on your face and think it makes you ugly? Do you, like I, diminish your accomplishments and disregard them, and therefore yourself, as not worthy? What effect do these thoughts have on your body?
A following episode of All Things Considered interviewed a woman living with HIV. For 15 years she has lived with HIV, taken no medication, and the virus has not produced AIDS in her body yet. She attributes this to her daily meditation. She has blood work done a few times a year to monitor it, and she has remained as healthy as everyone else. She told the interviewer, quoting the Buddha, “Everything starts from a thought, and then the thought creates a reaction. And I have the power to control my mind, before it gets to a physical level or an emotional level.”
Many times I have wondered just how much impact I have on the world. I don’t consider myself to be much of anyone special. I am not particularly active in society as I am busy at home taking care of my family. I am not a motivational speaker, I am not a celebrity, I don’t volunteer at the Community Kitchen or at Hundred Nights Shelter. I am a homemaker and my circle of influence seems very small, limited primarily to my family, both domestic and religious. But knowing that every word I speak, indeed every thought I think, can physically alter me and all those with whom I come in contact each day, the checkout clerk at the supermarket, the mail lady, the children’s teachers, my neighbors, greatly expands my circle of influence. I may not have have written any bestselling books, or created critically acclaimed movies, or appeared on television, but I am having an impact, and that impact can be one of love and lifting up, or one of anger and tearing down. It is my choice. I believe we owe it to ourselves and to the world around us to mind what we say and think. Our thoughts are more powerful than we knew.
We cannot help but to affect everything that we encounter every day. Our influence may be but a drop in the ocean, or it may be the entire world to whatever we are influencing. Only we have the power to determine what kind of energy we will contribute. So let all of our choices be of benefit to all. Let our choices of actions be helpful, let our choices of words be kind, and let our choices of thoughts be loving. They affect both the recipients of our energy and us. For we cannot influence another without conjuring up that same energy within ourselves first. Our love and our compassion and our kindness all improve the world we live in. Go forth in love and make a difference in the world today.