Human Doings

Human Doings

Rev. Fiona Heath    November 29th, 2015


Motivational speaker Wayne Dyer noted that we learn at an early age to be human doings not human beings. We are taught that our self worth arises from what we do.

We learn to  measure ourselves by how much we accomplish, compare ourselves to other’s accomplishments. 

It is true we live in an age of productivity.

One of the first questions we ask people when we first meet them is what their work is, and – even unconsciously - judge them for it.

Being busy gets you a gold star.

Busy people are seen as good people, properly engaged in contributing to society.

You never want to admit at a party that you don’t work too hard and have lots of free time.

If you are doing your job properly, you should be working long hours, exhausted and strung out and loving it.

It is all about the doings.

In this kind of busy urban society we live in, social change activism looks suspiciously like corporate work – working overtime without pay,

intense focus and dedication to the exclusion of all else,

and with a narrow field of vision.

Everything is urgent and intense.

For some people, who have high energy levels and excellent focus, this can be a good path.

But it isn’t the only way to be.

For some, the social norms of intense work are the path to burn out.

If we wish to transform society,

we also have to look at ourselves.

The tools which created this society are not the ones which will transform it.

Learning how to be different, how to live differently, is a necessary task to build a truly inclusive, equitable system.

Many of us don’t live with well-being.

Instead, “we are knocked around by the tumult of our daily lives, battered by the constant barrage of bad news,

of overwork and despair.

We work more hours than our bodies and psyches can stand.

We get stuck in postures of despair and cynicism.

We find ourselves caught up in a rigid relationship to time, task, and relationship.

Long-term vision is sacrificed for immediate and inadequate gains.

Opportunities for collaboration become mired in competition.

Anxiety around scarcity and the sense of a world on the verge of collapse disables us.

We become disconnected from our own internal sources of wisdom, vision,

and spaciousness.”  (Horwitz & Vega-Frey, Spiritual Activism & Liberation Spirituality)  

This can happen to anyone in our culture of accomplishment.

One activist noted that many people organizing for a better world take on the identity of a martyr, so dedicated to the cause that all else is sacrificed and boundaries dissipate.

But part of being a martyr is untimely death.

A new paradigm of transformation is more appealing to me.

The Miami Workers Centre is a grassroots organization supporting low wage workers in Miami Florida. 

They represent people of colour and work for racial and gender equity.

Several years ago Gihan Perera was the Executive Director and feeling frustrated.

The organization didn’t seem to be able to move forward and truly serve low-income people. 

Staff turnover was high,

due to conflict and overwork.

Enthusiasm was dwindling, with shrinking turn out at events and meetings.

Perera attended a leadership training that included a focus on spirituality.

As a left wing idealist, with a negative view of religion, he was resistant to the idea that a spiritual perspective was helpful in organizing for social change.

Eventually he began to recognize the truth in his own life - when he was centered and strong, he made better decisions.

He realized that all his staff needed to be spiritually and emotionally grounded for them to do the work effectively.

Perera notes that being grounded spiritually helps people open up to new ways of doing things.

He says “We need to… throw away the standard script and use our centeredness, our inner knowing and spiritual wisdom. 

We are on a trapeze and we have to let go to catch the next one.

It takes faith, courage and surrender.”

Perera shifted his approach, becoming a coach and mentor to staff instead of a supervisor.  He changed expectations about workstyle.

The Miami Workers Center has increased in effectiveness and membership. 

Their mission now is to develop conscious leadership among the working class.

The focus is on building relationships.

Instead of re-enacting the combative and competitive dynamics of social norms, they focus on building healthy relationships across difference.

In re-imagining how they worked together, they changed how they worked within the system.

They have members who sit on municipal boards and help move Miami towards racial and gender equity.  (Zimmerman, et al, Out of the Spiritual Closet)

It takes faith, courage and surrender.

We are all hanging from the trapeze of our post-modern urban consumer high wire act.

And it is swinging fast.

Finding the trapeze that takes us to edge of the high wire act and lands us safely on the ground isn’t easy.

It takes faith, courage and surrender.

Faith that a different way of being is possible.

Courage to live that new way in the present.

And surrender to the outcome.

I invite you to consider the state of your spirit.

Do you feel grounded?

What nourishes you spirit?

Do you have connections to others, to the earth that keep you healthy?


As people of the chalice we live with the strange beauty of paradox.

We see the world not through rose coloured glasses, but as it is, in all its terrible wonderfulness.

We accept the world as it is, and try not to live in denial.

We know there is injustice, we know there is pain and strife.

But we also know that there is joy.

We learn how to hold both the pain and the joy.

We also have to know ourselves.

 “Real, meaningful change…. happens in these places of compassionate … acceptance of our own capacities and our personal and societal limitations.” (Horwitz & Vega-Frey, ibid)  

Knowing our own capacities means accepting our power.

Not our power over others, but our power to create.

We are all more powerful then we think.

“We tend to think about a show of power as being loud, strident and unyielding.

Often, we are more powerful when we are calm, centered and present.

From this place, we can tap into our own power, a sense of something bigger than ourselves, and make decisions out of wisdom instead of raw emotion.” (Zimmerman, ibid)

We are more powerful than we think, when we find our centre, when we are able to act from calm compassion.

Power to create, power to work together, arises out of spiritual depth.

We are more powerful than we think, and more limited.

Wisdom also rises out of knowing our limits.

Knowing that we don’t know it all and that sometimes the best thing is to admit it and just listen.

Knowing when we are stretched too thin, trying too hard.

As my predecessor Fran Dearman used to say – your no is as sacred as your yes!

To seek a better world, whatever your day job is, requires us to be spiritually healthy.  A good foundation holds a sturdy house.

Some of you may know the saying, when you are too busy to meditate for thirty minutes, meditate for an hour.

We need to make time in our lives for the activities that nourish our spirits.

Time for reflection, to consider what we are doing and why.

It may be meditation or journaling.

It may be dancing or singing or drawing.

It may be sitting here in worship.

These are all worthwhile activities. 

Non-productive activities that accomplish little but mean much.

Anarchist and activist  Emma Goldman once proclaimed that I do “not believe that a Cause which stood for a beautiful ideal…should demand the denial of life and joy… I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody's right to beautiful, radiant things."

Music, art, friendshipare beautiful radiant things.

Part of our role as a spiritual community is to be a place where we aren’t human doings, but just human beings.

That we are a place to come and simply be, to let go of achievement and stress.

I hope that through sitting together in this sacred space, “we are [all] moving toward a doing that grows more deliberately out of being.” (Horwitz & Vega-Frey, ibid)  

As Unitarian Universalists, we work to see the world as it is.

We strive to know ourselves, to know our own power.

We seek to understand our limits and care for ourselves.

I hope we make space for the beautiful, radiant things of life.

In doing so, we deepen our spirits.

In deepening our spirits, we are better prepared to engage with the world.

In deepening our spirits together in community, we build caring relationships which sustain us all.

Working towards a better world is not simply for people in non-profits.

A beautiful work of art can transform the world, so can ethical business practices, an innovative product or a teacher who instills respect for others in their students.

Sometimes a kind word changes everything.

Alicia Garza is one of the women who began the Black Lives Matter movement.

Two months after the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Garza went to Ferguson.

Distrust and rage enveloped the city like dense smoke.

Garza went to Ferguson and listened.

She went door to door just to connect with people.

She listened to the pain and grief.

She responded to fearful aggression with compassion.

Instead of telling them what needed to be done, she asked questions from the heart  - what does this movement “black lives matter” mean to you? What is your biggest hope for change?

Garza wasn’t trying to get people to take action, she was giving grieving hearts a chance to be heard.

And that can be enough.

To be a living expression of kindness, of connection, is enough.

South Asian writer activist Arundhati Roy once wrote “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

By giving ourselves space to be quiet, to heal, and to be together,

we can hear that new world.

Let us be ready to welcome it.



Social systems, no matter how permanent they seem, were created by people and can be changed by people.

And there are all kinds of societies – feudal, monarchies, dictatorships, socialist, capitalist, democracies.

Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings.

We live in a pretty good society as things go.

A democracy that mostly works, an economy that is fairly steady, stable electricity and clean water, national values that aspire to a multicultural, open  society.

A little cold maybe in the winter.

But it could be better.

Not everyone is part of the good life.

We have lots of people living on the margins, facing the indignity of inequity.

As people of the chalice,

Guided by our seven principles,

Nourished by our six sources,

we might see the world with fresh eyes, and begin to envision a new way of being.

When we clearly open to what is, we gain the ground to imagine what might be possible.” (Horwitz & Vega-Frey, Spiritual Activism & Liberation Spirituality)  

What would a society based on interdependence look like?

Based on values of inclusivity and honouring difference?

Can we imagine all the people living in peace?

Can we imagine that there is no enemy, no us versus them, only all of us, struggling together, interconnected?

Where power is not about the power to dominate but the power to create?

By trying to live counter culturally to our busy, achievement oriented society, through being not doing, through patience and self care, we change how we are in the world.

If we can embody our dream of equity, we become the new society.

And that makes all the difference.

Like a drop of rain falling into a pond, our changed self ripples out into the larger society.

We don’t know where those ripples will go.

And so we need  patience.

In a hurry up and get it done yesterday world, patience is truly a virtue.

Change takes time, no one person can do it all.

We can each do a little, without taking the entire burden on our shoulders.

We can be the change we seek, without being all the change.

Olympia Brown became the first ordained female minister in North America in 1863.

Others were preachers, but Olympia was the first to attend seminary and receive ordination in the Universalist church.

It wasn’t easy.  The dean of the seminary begrudging accepted her, and was so negative in their correspondence he was surprised when she actually showed up! 

She was a Universalist minister in the United States for twenty years.

She was also passionate about universal suffrage – the right to vote for women and black people.

In 1867 she travelled to Kansas to campaign for amendments to the Kansas constitution which would make it the first state to give women and black people the right to vote. 

She spoke all over the state, attracting large crowds.

When the vote came, less than a third of the men voted in favour.

It was defeated.

Olympia Brown spent twenty years as a Universalist minister; she was happily married and had two children.

Although a successful minister who brought struggling congregations back to life, she eventually she resigned to devote herself to women’s rights.

She didn’t work alone, many other people were also seeking this right.

In 1920, American president Woodrow Wilson granted women the right to vote. And on November 2nd, 1920, Olympia Brown, in her eighties, voted for the first time.  53 years after her Kansas campaign.

That’s the long game.

There is a story about the Dalai Lama where he is speaking with some people depressed about the state of the world. 

 “Do not despair,” he said.

“Your work will bear fruit in 700 years or so.”

By his calculations, Olympia Brown did extraordinarily well.

So let us remember to have faith and courage, and surrender our expectations of outcomes.

Let us remember to nourish our spirits and nurture community.

May we imagine a new way of being and live our way into it.

And the world will be transformed.

So Say We All.


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