Who Are You?

Mind, heart, body, soul…yet we are all essentially one.
Created in the image and likeness of God…
Brothers and sisters – we are interrelated.
They call it interconnected.
I sense we are evolving.

I sometimes wonder if God is evolving with us?

Who Are You?

Compassion Behind Bars

>Rev. Shayna Lester Rev. Shayna Lester

Creating Compassionate Cities Behind Prison Walls
October 3, 2013

Congratulations to All Paths Divinity School faculty member Rev. Shayna Lester, Interfaith Minister, for the extraordinary initiative she sparked as prison chaplain at California Institution for Women at Corona.

by Lia Mandelbaum

From September 11-21, 2013 with the support of the administration at the California Institution for Women in Corona (CIW), the Compassion Games were able to take place behind the walls of their prison. I was very fortunate to get the chance to interview the person who spearheaded bringing the global project and movement to CIW, Reverend Shayna Lester, who is a Jewish woman and an interfaith minister who had received her ordination as a “reverend gabbai” from Jewish Renewal leader Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. Although the games were spearheaded by Reverend Lester, and carried out with the support from CIW’s staff members, Lester proudly states that it was ultimately the women that made the profound event a reality.

I recently wrote an article on the Compassion Games: Survival of the Kindest. The games are a part of an annual global project that usually takes place outside the walls of a prison. The “Co-Opetition” (rather then competition) between cities calls for the players to perform acts of service and kindness to create a collective impact. This is done by creating a shared agenda, shared measurement system, mutually reinforcing activities, and continuous communication that builds lasting community.

Instead of the games being between different cities, they were implemented at CIW and held as a “Co-Opetition” between all 8 of their housing units. Throughout the games, the women from each unit performed acts of loving-kindness and recorded them, along with their name and unit and placed the piece of paper they had recorded into a box that was centrally located. At the end of the games, the tallies were counted and the women from the unit with the most acts of compassion were honored with certificates, got to have their own delicious chocolate cake, and their unit be the first to go to dinner for a week. Although these rewards may not sound like a big deal, they are huge luxuries for the inmates and are greatly appreciated.

The most measurable result of the Compassion Games is that there was absolutely no violence at CIW during the 10-day period.

A Calling to Work with Inmates

After many years of being a marriage and family therapist (MFT), Reverend Shayna Lester had been seeking a meaningful volunteer experience that would be “the right fit,” and realized that she had wanted to become a Jewish spiritual director on top of being a psychotherapist. This took place around 20 years ago. Since then, she has become the lead volunteer chaplain for the Jewish community at CIW. She has taught classes to inmates at CIW’s interfaith chapel on the Torah, has taught the spiritual practices of Mussar, explored the Ten Commandments from a psycho-spiritual perspective, and counseled them. Amongst many other incredible projects she has developed or gotten involved with, she also sits on the steering committee for the Southern California Parliament of World Religions.

Reverend Shayna Lester brought the movement to CIW with the conviction that the games would have an immensely positive impact. As her vision became a reality, the prison staff, volunteers and visitors bore witness to an incredibly transformative experience for the women.

Stories From the Inmates

A Jewish inmate of CIW named Tikvah had said, “The ten days of the Compassion Games have come to an end but the positive feelings will linger for months to come. The women of CIW recorded nearly 4,500 acts of kindness during the games. There were many compassionate acts of sharing food, listening without judgment, complimenting one another, hugs, and being available to help the elderly and disabled. A disabled woman reported she had multiple offers each day to take out her trash. Another “Compassionista” was observed standing at the front door of her housing unit applying sunscreen to women before they ventured out into the scorching sun. Mostly, there has been a shift in awareness of how compassion and acts of kindness can change attitudes and our living environment.”

Another inmate said, “The Compassion Games allowed gang members or those who need to maintain an image to step outside of their “roles” and be kind to others without ridicule. One woman went to every window on the unit and cleaned the cobwebs from the outside of the windows (60 windows). This is big for someone in prison. Inmates are conditioned to pay for everything including acts of kindness. The games helped to break that cycle. This was an excellent learning experience for many. “

She also mentioned how one of the slips submitted into the box said, “I didn’t give (name) the beat-down she deserved.” This woman had gotten into an argument with another inmate, but the Compassion Games helped to diffuse her impulse to use violence.

READ MORE: http://www.jewishjournal.com/sacredintentions/item/creating_compassionate_cities_behind_prison_walls

California Institution for Women at Corona California Institution for Women at Corona

Compassion Behind Bars


“A spirituality that is only private and self-absorbed, one devoid of an authentic political and social consciousness, does little to halt the suicidal juggernaut of history. On the other hand, an activism that is not purified by profound spiritual and psychological self-awareness and rooted in divine truth, wisdom, and compassion will only perpetuate the problem it is trying to solve, however righteous its intentions. When, however, the deepest and most grounded spiritual vision is married to a practical and pragmatic drive to transform all existing political, economic, and social institutions, a holy force – the power of wisdom and love in action – is born. This force I define as Sacred Activism.” -Andrew Harvey


Spiritual Beyond Religion

“All the world’s major religions, with their emphasis on love, compassion, patience, tolerance, and forgiveness can and do promote inner values. But the reality of the world today is that grounding ethics in religion is no longer adequate. This is why I am increasingly convinced that the time has come to find a way of thinking about spirituality and ethics beyond religion altogether.” -Dalai Lama

Along my ministerial path, I meet many people who are “unchurched.” While they may have grown up with a specific religious tradition, they no longer affiliate with any particular beliefs nor do they attend communal religious ceremonies with any frequency…if at all.

According to recent social research, 1 out of every 3 American adults (33%) is unchurched. This means approximately 125 million Americans are unchurched.

Why am I telling you this?
First, if you are unchurched, please know that you are not alone.
Secondly, experience tells me MANY people who describe themselves as unchurched also describe themselves as spiritual…in fact, deeply spiritual.
As a nondenominational interfaith minister, not only do I think that’s OK to be unchurched, I support your freedom to choose whatever spiritual path best meets your personal needs given your unique history and what you hope to gain from your spiritual exploration.

Follow your mind and heart and soul.

God does NOT have a religion. Please, think on that.

Unchurched? You are not alone. Blessings!

Spiritual Beyond Religion

Happiness Comes from Giving

Happiness Comes from Giving, Not Buying and Having
Materialism Doesn’t Lead to Well-Being, but Altruism Does
-Published on January 9, 2015 by Steve Taylor, Ph.D. in Out of the Darkness

So many of us strive so hard for material success that you might think there was a clear relationship between wealth and happiness. The media and our governments encourage us to believe this, since they need us to keep earning and spending to boost economic growth. From school onwards, we’re taught that long term well-being stems from achievement and economic prosperity – from ‘getting on’ or ‘making it’, accumulating more and more wealth, achievement and success.
Consequently, it comes as a shock for many people to learn that there is no straightforward relationship between wealth and well-being. Once our basic material needs are satisfied (i.e. once we’re assured of regular food and adequate shelter and a basic degree of financial security), wealth only has a negligible effect on well-being. For example, studies have shown that, in general, lottery winners do not become significantly happier than they were before, and that even extremely rich people – such as billionaires – are not significantly happier than others. Studies have shown that American and British people are less contented now than they were 50 years ago, although their material wealth is much higher. On an international level, there does appear to some correlation between wealth and well-being, partly because there are many countries in the world where people’s basic material needs are not satisfied. But this correlation is not a straightforward one, since wealthier countries tend to be more politically stable, more peaceful and democratic, with less oppression and more freedom – all of which are themselves important factors in well-being.

So why do put so much effort into acquiring wealth and material goods? You could compare it to a man who keeps knocking at a door, even though he’s been told that the person he’s looking for isn’t at home. ‘But he must be in there!” he shouts, and barges in to explore the house. He storms out again, but returns to the house a couple of minutes later, to knock again. Seeking well-being through material success is just as irrational as this.

Well-Being through Giving

If anything, it appears that there is a relationship between non-materialism and well-being. While possessing wealth and material goods doesn’t lead to happiness, giving them away actually does. Generosity is strongly associated with well-being. For example, studies of people who practice volunteering have shown that they have better psychological and mental health and increased longevity. The benefits of volunteering have been found to be greater than taking up exercise, or attending religious services – in fact, even greater than giving up smoking. Another study found that, when people were given a sum of money, they gained more well-being if they spent it on other people, or gave it away, rather than spending it on themselves. This sense of well-being is more than just feeling good about ourselves – it comes from a powerful sense of connection to others, an empathic and compassionate transcendence of separateness, and of our own self-centeredness.

In fact, paradoxically, another study has shown that this is one way in which money actually can bring happiness: if you give away the money you earn. This research – by Dunn, Gilbert and Wilson – also showed that money is more likely to bring happiness is you spend it on experiences, rather than material goods. (1) Another study (by Joseph Chancellor and Sonja Lyubomirsky) has suggested that consciously living a lifestyle of ‘strategic underconsumption’ (or thrift) can also lead to well-being. (2)

So if you really want enhance your well-being – and as long as your basic material needs are satisfied – don’t try to accumulate money in your bank account, and don’t treat yourself to material goods you don’t really need. Be more generous and altruistic – increase the amount of money you give to people in need, give more of your time to volunteering, or spend more time helping other people, or behaving more kindly to everyone around you. Ignore the ‘happiness means consumption’ messages we’re bombarded with by the media. A lifestyle of generosity and under-consumption may not suit the needs of economists and politicians – but it will certainly make us happier.

We would do well to heed the words of the American Indian, Ohiyesa, speaking of his Sioux people:

‘It was our belief that the love of possessions is a weakness to be overcome. Its appeal is to the material part, and if allowed its way, it will in time disturb one’s spiritual balance. Therefore, children must early learn the beauty of generosity. They are taught to give what they prize most, that they may taste the happiness of giving.’

-Steve Taylor, Ph.D. is a senior lecturer in psychology at Leeds Beckett University, UK. He is the author of Back to Sanity and The Fall. http://www.stevenmtaylor.com


(1) http://www.wjh.harvard.edu/~dtg/DUNN%20GILBERT%20&%20WILSON%20(2011).pdf
(2) http://sonjalyubomirsky.com/files/2012/09/CLinpress.pdf

Happiness Comes from Giving

A Simple Definition of God

“How do we know for certain that things we cannot see truly exist?

Look at a picture of food, for example. The flavor, texture and scent are not in the photograph, but we know they’re there.

Our eyes detect only three dimensions (just as a camera captures only two), so whatever is is that makes life happen must exist in a dimension we simply cannot see. The energy that keeps us alive is beyond our five senses and very mysterious. Even though it is out of our control, we trust that it will wake us up tomorrow morning.

Whether we admit it or not, what we have is faith. We have tremendous faith that his unseen energy will keep the earth spinning, the grass growing, and our hearts beating five minutes from now. We don’t know this, we trust it.

Some people refer to this life force as “God,” while others call it “the Universe,” “Emptiness,” “Mother Nature,” or “Father Time.” The name you give it doesn’t matter as much as the appreciation you have for it.

God is not “out there” for us to pursue; God is in our heart to discover.” – Timber Hawkeye

A Simple Definition of God