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The Thing You Know to Do
Episode 212th March 2022 • PowerPivot • Leela Sinha
00:00:00 00:10:26

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Leela Sinha:

Do not forget how small you are. You are a tiny

Leela Sinha:

bottle of perfume poured into the ocean. I want to talk a

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little bit today about prayer. Now I know this is a dicey

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subject to those of you who are not religious-- stay with me. I

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was raised atheist and agnostic. And my theism is very peculiar.

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When I learned to pray, I had no one to pray to. And so I had to

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reconceive the entire idea of prayer. I had always thought of

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it as asking a non-existent entity to do something for me.

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But why would they? Why would they do something for me? Even

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if they existed- which they didn't. Science and logic, every

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everything that I had at my disposal? Said No. So why, why

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would I even bother to ask? If there was no one to listen? And

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no response to be had? The answer turned out to be because

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it connected me to the larger network of humanity. And it got

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me really clear about where I thought I needed help.

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Initially, it wasn't really petitionary prayer petitionary

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prayer is the kind where you ask for something. But it gets

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complicated, because if you've ever seen Fiddler on the Roof,

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where Tevye is kind of arguing with God, dialoguing with God,

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in conversation with God all the time. That feeling felt really

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familiar to me when I was eight and 10, and 12. And watching the

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movie and the play, and learning all of the songs because I was

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that kid. But there was no one to talk to. There was no one

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there and yet, humans kept coming through for me, humans

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from unexpected places kept coming through for me, it turned

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out that humans, that the behavior of humans, was the

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thing that most people attributed to God. And it didn't

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matter that I was a young atheist. It was still useful to

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think about talking to something bigger than me, even if the

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bigger than me was the earth I stood on and the people around

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me. Unitarian Universalist kids get really good really fast at

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explaining complex religious concepts to their peers, and I

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was no exception. And I started to tell people that I wasn't a

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theist.... But. There were these things that I experienced in the

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world where something would show up just when I needed it, where

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I would get clear about what was next necessary and that next

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necessary thing would happen, where I would just know what to

Leela Sinha:

do. I got very accustomed to that "just knowing"; some people

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call it intuition. I thought of it that way. I still think of it

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that way. I don't think that humans are ourselves un-magical

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or un-secret. I'm a Unitarian Universalist and I believe, many

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of us, but not all of us believe this way, that human life and

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life in general and the entire entity of the planet is sacred,

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that all of these moving parts are part of one thing. That we

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are simultaneously individual and interconnected.

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So if we are simultaneously individual and interconnected,

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then surely there must be some use in expressing need when we

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are ourselves too small, to scent the ocean.

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In the face of even more crises than we already had, I have been

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deeply drawn to some kind of practice of prayer. I don't I

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have a traditional prayer practice in the usual Christian

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sense, because I'm not Christian, and I never was. And

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that way of dialoguing with those kinds of entities isn't,

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isn't part of how my bones and flesh are made. So I asked

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myself, this morning, last night, in the middle of the

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night, when I was awake and fretting over some of the things

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that are much too big for me to effect on my own. I asked myself

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why? Why did I think that I wanted to pray? I felt that I

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wanted to pray. And to whom? And how is this going to work? Now,

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I have developed a theism; there are entities, to which I could

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pray for support, for help. But they tend to be a little like

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tarot cards, they tend to talk back and say things like, "well,

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that's a terrible idea." They tend to kind of tell me that I'm

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being foolish, and that I already know what I'm doing. And

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occasionally, they'll give me a pointer, a piece of advice, a

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drop of wisdom. But mostly, it's "stop getting so stuck in your

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own stuff. Get up, see the sun, move your body. Do the things

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you know to do, for the people who are in front of you." And

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that's where I wanted to come to today. Do the things you know to

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do, for the people who are in front of you. It's not that you

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don't care about people on the other side of the world. Or

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even, let's be real, on the other side of your state, or

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county. On the other side of your city, even. It's that

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whatever is yours to do, needs to be done and it needs to be

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done well, it needs to be done in this moment, very well, if

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you can do it. Which means not doing the other stuff, right,

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not, not expending your energy too much on things that are not

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yours to do. And instead, being exquisitely yourself so that

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your piece of the pie gets done. And it's not about productivity.

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And it's not necessarily about direct service. It could be

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those things, but it could be so much more. It could be, if you

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are a praying sort of person, that what you need to do next is

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pray. It could be, if you're a writing sort of person, that

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what you need to do next is write. Maybe you need to journal

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first, get all that flotsam and jetsam off the top of your head

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and then write something for public consumption. It could be,

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that what you need to do next is feed the birds on your

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windowsill. Or take a picture of that exquisite flower with the

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dew still on it.

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It could be that you need to say hello to that person on the

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corner.

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To think that the small acts of human-ness that come naturally,

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are somehow inadequate to the task, is to miss the fact that

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we are, ultimately, being human together on the planet. And yes,

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there are massive crises going on; crises at a scale that most

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of us have not lived through. Yet. And also,

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it may be that your work today, is to get clear about what you

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need help on, and to speak that need into the world.

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