I didn't go to church until I was in college. Spirituality was not really a part of my life, nor did I feel like it was missing. But I am a generally curious person, so in college I tried a Catholic mass or two, and then a friend took me to the Unitarian Church. I have found my sporadic visits to UU Churches fulfilling and thought-provoking. In fact, a few services-- in particular ones about the first principle of Unitarianism-- have moved me to tears (which was hella embarrassing, crying in public). The first principle simply states that 'We, the member congregations of the UUA, covenant to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person.' This is, really, a very strong covenant. People do many beautiful things, but damned if we don't also do a ton of terrible things. Promoting the inherent worth and dignity of people who we like is easy, but what about those who have done, and continue to do, things we find morally repugnant?
One thing very difficult about living by the first principle is that you can no longer submit to black-and-white characterizations of things (which one may notice, are constantly being foisted on us). We often surround ourselves with like-minded people who affirm our values and conclusions about the world. This makes sense for a lot of reasons-- it is more comfortable to be around people you generally agree with (reduces conflict), and it is optimal for making progress towards common goals. On the other hand, it makes it easy to get entrenched in your own ideology-- and we all have ideologies. It also makes it easy to think of those with different views as caricatures instead of as humans. Simplifying others’ perspectives instead of trying to understand, seeing them as cartoons, instead of human and worthy of our consideration.
What's the good in living in such black and white? It makes things easier (shit’s mad complex, yo!)—but also makes it easier to write off. Ideas that I haven’t heard about on tv or at school? Write ‘em off cause they’re crazy, that’s what everybody else is doing, and it is easy. But it takes us away from the truth.
I have also found that, when I turn harsh critical thoughts towards others, it is often the case that I am really having critical thoughts about myself. Learning to be less critical of others, and start appreciating their humanity instead, also gives us the room to be less critical of ourselves and start accepting ourselves in a more honest way-- flaws and all.
Last, just some words about practical things I've found to promote happiness and well-being in my life:
1. Bicycling in lieu of driving-- and also learning bike repair skills (many cities have some sort of free workshop program where you can learn for free or cheap).
2. Spending time outside and moving every day (get some sun, especially in the winter, just bundle up real good!)
3. Yoga cured my life-long asthma, and I am dead serious about it. My whole life, I had needed medication multiple times a day and exercise was painfully associated with completely losing my breath. Yoga (not aerobic-lose-weight yoga, but moving-focusing-breathing yoga) damn-near eliminated my need for medicine and I felt physically reborn. I was skeptical at first, but there is wisdom in those ancient practices.
4. Buying less stuff (the less often you go to stores, the less stuff you want to buy! It’s like they designed the stores to make you want stuff you don’t need or something…)
Thanks for reading and best wishes to everyone, I've really enjoyed reading what everyone has to say.
Pioneer Valley, MA, USA