*Transcript of talk given at the Unitarian Universalist Church, Great Barrington, MA 8/14/2011

One of my childhood heroes was Helen Keller. The other day I was remembering the first time I saw “The Miracle Worker”-the film version of the play made in the early 1960’s starring Patty Duke & Anne Bancroft-both wonderful actors.

What had so amazed me back then (and still does today) was the fact that Helen Keller had been able to break out of the prison that scarlet fever had locked her in when it took her sight and hearing as an infant. I remember as a kid wondering how she could even know what anything was-no words in her head identifying things-no visual images to connect to. I tried to imagine it but I couldn’t. I still can’t.

But she didn’t get free by herself. She needed help-someone to show her the way, a teacher: Annie Sullivan, partially blind herself and trained in sign language.

Helen was not an easy student-she fought and failed to understand anything as Annie made these funny finger signs in the palm of Helen’s hand as she has her touch objects.

Then, one day, as Annie is trying for probably the thousandth time, she places Helen’s hand under the hand-pump for the water. And as the water flows over her tiny hand you see this look of understanding-comprehension! And Helen begins to make the motions with her fingers, spelling out “W-a-t-e-r”….and the light has come on for her! She’s out of her prison cell- and there’s no going back. Literally
everything seemed a miracle to her! And in fact, was. She was “seeing” clearly- realizing a reality that most of us take for granted and rush past in our busy lives.

How much do we miss because of “conditioned mind”? Conditioned mind being the training we’ve received that has caused us to stop looking (or more correctly), STOP SEEING what is actually here???

How like that young Helen Keller we can become when we get locked into our own blindness- denying what we don’t wish to see, or not seeing what we take for granted.
Or how deaf when we’re unable to listen, or more correctly, to hear because of our own opinions, beliefs, and inner mind chatter.
These can become our prison. How do we break free? Where can we find our “Annie Sullivan”?

Jesus said: “Unless you become as a child you shall not see the kingdom of Heaven.” I’m sorry but I think that most religions and the tendency for literal interpretation has totally missed what he was talking about and trying to teach us:
That we must see with fresh eyes and open our minds so we may become teachable-this is called “beginner’s mind” in Buddhism.
He is telling us that in order for us to truly SEE what is REALLY here we must step beyond surface appearances and look beyond our conditioning to see in certain ways. It’s only then that we will truly see.

Can you remember being a child and seeing something for the very first time? Actually many of the things you saw for the first time you now have no memory of because you were just months or maybe a few years old. And as soon as you began crawling around you were taught what things were, and what their names were, and told things like “be careful” or “Don’t touch that”; and your “conditioning” began.

Some of this was good and necessary, and some not so good. Some of this conditioning became our “default settings”-where the mind goes “automatically”.

The “conditioned mind”-or more correctly the human brain-
Because the mind is more than just the brain- (which is a whole other talk I’ll save for another time) uses these “default’ settings very effectively and this has been key to our evolution. We don’t need to relearn things we do routinely, and this frees us up. We don’t have to spend valuable (maybe crucial) time trying to decide whether we should jump out of the way of that car coming at us, or ducking when something is thrown at us.

But this handy ability can also work against us.

A few years ago I saw a show on PBS and according to it the first Native Americans were unable to see Columbus’ ships as they approached. Their conditioned mind had not allowed them to see.

It’s why Jesus urged us to see as children see-to go beyond expectation and conditioning-to look as if it is the very first time.

The Heaven he speaks of is not the idealized, angels and harps and clouds way off yonder-this picture that religion has conjured up.
I should mention that in some scripture “Heaven” is interchangeable with “the Kingdom of God”.

So what is Jesus talking about?
Well, it’s referred to in many ways: The Ground of Being, The Eternal Now, The Greater Reality, Ultimate Reality, The TAO, Great Spirit, Universal Source, God, Allah, Brahman, or….well the list could go on and on. Simply said, it is THAT WHICH IS BEYOND ALL NAMES.

Jesus also said another amazing thing: “The kingdom of God is within you”.
RIGHT HERE! RIGHT NOW! It is not some other “place”, nor is it off somewhere else.

It is a state of CONSCIOUSNESS….
Which leads to a state of being, because “being” is a product of consciousness. And he is telling you that
IT is in you! It is part of who you are- it is your TRUE NATURE, only you’ve forgotten this and he’s trying to remind you.

When Helen Keller screamed with recognition and understanding-when she REALIZED that “water” was water for that first time, she was in what might be called a “State of Grace”, or Satori- Enlightenment. She was fully awake in that moment!
Profound realization consumed her being and she was transformed!

I heard a recording of her describing this moment, and she described it in exactly that way-“I WAS TRANSFORMED”

To a blind and deaf girl, heaven had presented itself and she recognized it. She recognized the miracle.

Paulo Coelho wrote: “You can become blind by seeing each day as a similar one. Each day is a different one, each day brings a miracle of its own. It's just a matter of paying attention to this miracle.”
Attention is key. But even more important is willingness.

So are you willing? Try this: Everyday, make it a point to see/acknowledge a minimum of one (1) miracle. When you brush your teeth in the morning, take a moment and look in the mirror: Right then and there you’re off to a great start because you will see your 1
st miracle staring back at you!
Don’t think so?
Just think of all the things that had to happen in “just the correct sequences” - in just a “certain way” in order for you to be here. And this goes all the way back to the beginning of what we count as time, which is approximately 13.7 billion years. Because if just one of those “incidental little things” hadn’t happened exactly when it did….”You” wouldn’t have happened when you did. Sit with that for moment and let it sink in.

Carl Sagan once said that to truly make an apple pie from scratch you need to go back and invent the Universe. And you are more than an apple pie. But it’s the same idea.

Look for miracles –cultivate open mind. Maybe even more important, cultivate open heart. The heart knows before the mind when it comes to miracles. You feel it right here in your chest, and then maybe a nano-second later the mind says “OH!” And then maybe another second or two and the mind begins to look for rational and logical explanations.

Rational and logical thought are all well and good and I am very grateful for them…in their proper place. But they need the heart to balance things out. With that in mind, the sciences are a great way of re-acquainting yourself with miracles all the time.

On the web there is a short film called
“The Hubble Ultra Deep Field” that is absolutely mind-blowing! They had pointed the telescope at a tiny patch of sky where there appeared to be nothing and began taking pictures over several days. What was discovered were over 10,000 galaxies and some of the oldest stars in the Universe.

The first time I watched this film I found myself brought to tears by the wonder of it all-and I think I was probably pretty close to the way Helen felt that day the water ran over her hand.

Each of us has a choice: You can choose to see the wonder, making it a point to look for it everyday. If you do, I guarantee, not only will you find it, you will be changed by it, because seeing miracles connects you to gratitude and a grateful heart sees more and more miracles. Or you can focus on the proof that there is no such thing, instead turning your eyes toward the things that keep our world as it is. And keep us as we are.

I’ve had people tell me that these pictures of space are proof of our tiny insignificance, saying that we simply don’t matter at all in the grand scheme of things. I totally disagree. Tiny? Yes. Insignificant? No-at least more so than all the other “tiny” and insignificant things that had to happen in order for you to be sitting here as “You”.

The truth is that I find us remarkable. We’ve come to a point in our development where we are looking out at this vast universe and recognizing it as part of us- as part of “who” we are. Maybe we are in reality a part of the universe becoming aware of Itself. Insignificant?
I don’t think so.

Einstein said "There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle”.

So, how much awe and wonder can you stand?? Are you willing to see what is REALLY here-are you willing to see miracles? Are you willing to connect to your own inner Helen Keller? Or maybe become an Annie Sullivan as you help another person out of whatever prison holds them? The Buddha reminds us: If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole life would change."
Thank you.