Sorry Wrong Number

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I don’t know if many of you listening to this have had experiences of synchronicity.
          You know that experience when something occurs which is in perfect alignment with your current thoughts or ideas?
          An example might be, one day you are thinking about someone that you haven't seen in years but on your walk in the park that very day you bump into that person.
          Or you think about someone you haven’t heard from in a while and they happen to phone you at that very time.
          I’ve had a few remarkable examples of synchronicity in my time which I can share with anyone who asks but I won’t bore you with the details just now . (and I have to add at this point the usual health warning attached to Unitarian sermons – you don’t have to accept a word of what I say – and there is no such thing as Unitarian set of beliefs except maybe to say “have a think about this and then make up your own mind”)
          Anyway to get back to serendipity, which is what gave rise to the title of this sermon which is “Sorry Wrong Number”
          A few months ago my wife Fran answered the phone to someone who said “Hi Fran, is Tony there?” Fran passed the phone to me and the lady introduced herself.
          Her name was totally unfamiliar to me but you know how memory can sometimes play tricks on us. I apologised for not being able to figure out who she was.
          We went through various possibility of connection, was she in the church, no.

Had we been on some course or in some class together. No.

Was there any work connection. No

Were we involved in any common activities. All no.

“But you are Tony” - Yes.

“And your wife is Fran” - Yes

It was all very strange.

Did we know of one another through meditation?

No, but she told me she was very interested in meditation and I told her I was too, so the two of us, complete strangers, went on to have a long and interesting chat about her meditation practice
          The lady shared 4 ideas that I am going to share with you today.
          She says these 4 practices help her remain positive and I hope these simple ideas will do the same for you and for me.
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Point Number 1
          Make time every morning to run through all of the things you have to be grateful for.
          Gratitude is a fundamental attitude if we want to live a happy life.
          It is the opposite of that sense of entitlement which leads us down and down into an endless spiral of wanting.
          You might ask what have we to be grateful for?
          Well just about everything
          When you stop to think of it even how amazing it is to be alive.
          And what a gift it is simply to have been born into this world.
          (Never mind all the day to day benefits)
          Just the thought of this leave us filled with a great sense of gratitude.
          Seven hundred year ago Meister Eckhart, the German theologian, philosopher and mystic left us these words:
          “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough”
          Just imagine

“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough”
          And so it is, thank you is enough. So message number one from our mystery caller. Begin the day with Gratitude – now that can’t be a bad idea

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Her Point Number 2
          Avoid negative thinkers and the endless bad news in the media
          Now it is important to keep ourselves reasonably up to-date with events – but do we really need to follow the news 24/7?
          Some items capture our attention more than others, the virus, Brexit, the US election.
          But isn’t once a day enough of this diet of trouble?
          This is not to suggest that we close our eyes to what is going on in the world.
          But to keep a balance so that we have time to devote to our own goings on and the needs of the people around us.
          And we have to remember to energise ourselves by being around positive and enthusiastic people.
          We all know people whose simple presence puts us into a good mood.
          We smile even at the thought of them

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And, of course, we have come across the opposite as well.
          But when it comes to dealing with negative thinkers, offer just a little support, if you can.
          We are not responsible for the goings on in the heads of other people.
          Let’s do our best to try to help, but don’t slip into a black hole of negativity by remaining too long in negative company.
          We all remember the poem “Desiderata” and its lines.
          Avoid loud and aggressive persons.
          They are vexatious to the spirit.
          So message number 2:
          Avoid negative thinkers and the concentration on bad news in the media.

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Next - Point Number 3 from our mystery lady
          If there is something bad or sad that you cannot influence or change, dismiss it from your thoughts altogether.
          Here the mystery caller reminds us to be aware of our area of concern and compare that with our area of control.
          Many of us will have heard of the three circles we can use when we come to decide on the usefulness of our actions in the world.
          They are
          our Circle of Concern,
          and within that our Circle of Influence
          and the inner circle called our Circle of Control
          So we will take a look at these 3 areas
Our Circle of Concern is the outermost circle
It can be very wide
It could be, say, worry about the state of the Earth’s environment.
It could be a concern about world peace or human rights in the world.
Now there is no problem with having a wide Circle of Concern
We have to be concerned with the big issues – but the operative word is “concerned’.
And our circle of concern could include something less global such as a general concern about the well-being of someone we care about but over whom we have no power of influence
          For things which land in this circle we have concern but realistically speaking most of us should realise there is nothing we can do which affects the entire situation.
          Now if you happened to be the UN Commissioner for Human Rights, then world human rights would not only be inside your Circle of Concern but it would also fall within your other two circles – your Circle of Influence and your Circle of Control. But most of us are not in the happy position of being able by ourselves to influence global events.

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Which brings us to circle number 2 - our Circle of Influence.
          On the inside of our circle of concern we each have our Circle of Influence.
          These are areas where we are possibly able to influence events and maybe inspire other people.
          So looking again at say the state of the world environment we may just find we have people we can influence and encourage and that is what we should try to do.
          This is a possibility we should consider – can we influence things for the better?

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But finally the inside circle for each of us our very own Circle of Control.
          This is where we can in fact do something and this is where our energy is most usefully concentrated.
          Looking at applying our environmental concerns within that Circle of Control we see that we can do quite a lot.
          We can refuse, we can reuse and we can recycle.
          We can refuse to buy products in plastic bottles.
          Remember the market responds to consumer demands, and when we buy something we can try to ensure that we make use of it to the end of its useful life or we can pass things we are not using to someone who will have use for them. In other words try our best to ensure that products produced at the expense of the earth don’t wind up in a dump.
          And in our personal lives there is so much within our area of control.
          We can decide how we spend our time and resources, we can take care of other people.
          We can support our friends
We can do our work to the best of our ability
Practicing honesty and truthfulness in our day to day lives
So message number 3 is urging us to pay less attention to what is outside our control and concentrate on doing our best in the areas that are within our control.

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And finally to Point Number 4
          The caller says try to see the positive side of everything that happens rather than dwelling on the negative.
          As she said this to me (and this was in the middle of the pandemic) she added “Almost everything that happens could have been worse.”
          So think of the idea of the glass half full and concentrate on the positive
          According to the Oxford English Dictionary positivity is:
          “The practice of being, or tendency to be, positive or optimistic in attitude.”
          Positivity is a practice

It is not something that we are born with. It needs to be nurtured and it can be nurtured greatly especially in childhood. But adults can develop it too, just like playing the piano, or the organ, or learning the guitar, positivity is a skill we can develop the more we practice it.
          In recent years, as we all know, we have learned that our brains are not static our brain structure changes according to our habitual thought patterns.
          Brain plasticity, or neuroplasticity, refers to the brain's ability to change and adapt as a result of experience.
          We have all heard about the brain's capacity to move functions from a damaged area of the brain to other undamaged areas, and there is also “structural plasticity” which is the brain's ability to actually change its physical structure as a result of learning.
          So if we can develop an attitude of habitual positivity it can rewire our brains and help us overcome our negative thinking patterns.
          If we practice positivity we can train ourselves to think and respond to situations more calmly and more optimistically.
          Now positivity is not like a light switch where we turn it on and we find the light stays on we will have lapses. That is only natural, but if we can bring ourselves back, get up when we fall, hopefully, over time, we will find the lapses will be less and less and at least we will be more aware of them. It takes time and a little effort every day, but the rewards of a positive attitude can be life-changing and for the better.
          So that is the message delivered to me by accident by someone unknown to me and now being passed on to you.

1. Make time every morning to run through all of the things you have to be grateful for.

2. Avoid negative thinkers and the endless bad news in the media

3. If there is something bad or sad that you cannot influence or change, dismiss it from your thoughts altogether.

4. And try to see the positive side of everything that happens rather than dwelling on the negative.

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But I am sure you are curious as to who was this bringer of a formula for a happy life and how did she happen to phone me?
          I emailed the lady later on that day and she replied to say that my mobile number meant nothing to her – the mystery deepened further.
          Finally we discovered what had happened. She was looking to speak to a Tony whose wife was Fran – so far so good but the Tony she was looking for lived 11 kilometres from here and she had misdialled just one digit of the seven digit phone number.
          That one mistaken digit led her to me and now to you and to this service entitled “Sorry Wrong Number” now I am not suggesting that this is a miracle or anything of that sort.
          It was just another one of those interesting happenings, a moment of synchronicity and there is no need to worry. I don’t believe in predestination or anything of that sort. I believe that everything is open to possibility, and that nothing is fixed I would go so far as to say that even the one whom we call “God” doesn’t know the future. But that just my heretical opinion and how could I possibly know?
          But how about the thought that there is much more to the universe than what we can see with the human eye ? Much more than we can discover even with our most advanced machines, all our advanced technology? The deeper we go within and beneath atoms and subatomic particles the more we are introduced to an ever more amazing and ever more fluid world.
          When Albert Einstein was asked questions about God and about whether he (Albert Einstein) was a Pantheist this was the answer he gave:
          “Your question is the most difficult in the world. It is not a question I can answer simply with yes or no. I am not an Atheist. I do not know if I can define myself as a Pantheist. The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds.” He goes on: “May I not reply with a parable? The human mind, no matter how highly trained, cannot grasp the universe.
          We are in the position of a little child, entering a huge library whose walls are covered to the ceiling with books in many different tongues. The child knows that someone must have written those books. It does not know who or how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child notes a definite plan in the arrangement of the books, a mysterious order, which it does not comprehend, but only dimly suspects. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of the human mind, even the greatest and most cultured, toward God.
          We see a universe marvellously arranged, obeying certain laws, but we understand the laws only dimly. Our limited minds cannot grasp the mysterious force that sways the constellations.” Words of Albert Einstein.
          If we watch out we may find little moments of synchronicity and serendipity that might just be a sign from the energy of the universe that all is well and all will be well.
          I get that feeling when these things happen to me.
          That all is well and that all will be well.

Tony Brady                                         Dublin - 24 January 2021
Dublin Unitarian church


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