Spiritual Practice: Using Your Gifts to Bring Hope to the World

In our small group last night, our leader asked, “In the midst of all the chaos and pain, how do people of faith bring hope to the world?”

This led to a lively discussion which covered many topics, but the golden nugget of truth seemed to be that yes, we continue to fight for justice in a broader sense, and in a practical, day to day way, we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in the spheres in which we live.

Two members of the group work with at-risk youth; another runs a county program to help people with rental assistance. Yet another member runs a program for kids with behavior issues, and one is a retired man who spends his days caring for people who need help with repairs or shuttling grandchildren. We all have places where we can bring hope. We all have gifts we can offer that make the world a better place.

You might garden and share your produce with neighbors. You might have a car and take a neighbor shopping. You might bring baked goods to a lonely widow. Each of us, using the gifts we have, can bring our little light of hope and together we can light up this very dark world.

As one man in the group said, looking at history, there have always been dark times. Dark times bring out those who not only survive but thrive. Think of the faith of the black church, or that of immigrant populations. Those are the ones who will show us the way out of this dark place.

Phyllis Tickle, in her book, The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why, talks about looking at this issue historically. When you look at history, you will see that every five hundred years, God throws a yard sale, to shake up the church, to break off the man-made calcifications and renew faith. We are in the middle of a shaking that is hard, but necessary. Christianity needs to return to it’s “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God root.” — And to step away from this ridiculous political mess it got itself tangled in.

So, what gift do you bring that you can press into during this dark time to bring a little light of hope to the world?

For me, it’s writing. In her amazing book, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, Robin Wall Kimmerer writes:

“We may not have wings or leaves, but we humans do have words. Language is our gift and our responsibility. I’ve come to think of writing as an act of reciprocity with the living land. Words to remember old stories, words to tell new ones, stories that bring science and spirit back together…”

This is why I write. On my website, the tagline reads, “Infusing Reality with Hope.” Most all my stories have some dark issue of justice but end with hope. It is my desire that through my blog and books, I can bring my little light of hope to the world. Will you join me?

Tell me what gifts you are pressing into during this dark time.

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Spiritual Practice Sitting with the dying

I hope you don’t mind me getting really personal. Almost two weeks ago, we sat in the hospital with our “dadish” who labored to pass from this life into the next. Let me tell you a bit about him.

Carl Stanford was 94 years old. He lived alone and drove himself to the casino every day to take people’s money playing poker. He was a voracious reader and loved movies and fine dining with friends.

Carl had been a mechanical engineer at the Lawrence Livermore Lab in their nuclear program. He did this with no formal education. He was a WW2 vet, and, after retirement, he enjoyed many adventures as he loved to travel. He had five kids, at least ten grandkids and countless great grandkids.

About fifteen years ago Carl came into our lives. He dated my mom after my father died and he and mom had a wonderful eight years together before she died. We kept him; he was a part of our family by then so for the last six years he has continued to be our dadish.

Carl was an independent thinker; he believed the daily vitamin C he had taken for the last 45 years would keep him safe from Covid, and he refused to be vaccinated. He stayed well for the first year and a half of the pandemic, but the Delta variant took him out in two weeks.

Have you ever sat with someone who was dying? It’s hard. It’s a labor of love. When Carl had had enough of being strapped to oxygen at increasing levels, he ripped off his mask and said, “I’m done.” It was then that we gathered and did not leave him. Carl’s grandson, my husband, my daughter, and I were with him. The doctors said it would be two hours until he died; it was fifteen.

Being with someone who’s body is dying is like being with someone whose body is laboring to give birth.

There is a lot of heavy breathing and discomfort and there is not much you can do but be present, hold their hand, and ask for pain meds when things get rough. Both giving birth and dying lead to new life, one tangible and one intangible. It is a time of crossing a threshold, and thresholds are hard to cross; they take intense focus on the part of the person crossing.

We sat vigil with him, we talked to him, we held his hand. And at one-point things felt very holy. It was as if his spirit detached from his body and hovered nearby. We felt that his deaf ears could now hear us, and we spoke thanksgiving over him for all he was to us. I sang Amazing Grace. It all felt like prayer. It was a beautiful moment. His body hung on about five more hours, and we were there when he breathed his last.

In white America, we don’t talk much about death. Other cultures have great rituals for grieving and honoring their dead. We have very little. But we are grieving, each in their own way, and we will continue to remember and cherish Carl.

Here are a few things I’d like to share from that experience:

  1. The nurses and CNAs were fantastic. I know how overworked they are. I know that people are quitting the healthcare profession in record numbers because they are exhausted beyond belief. But those that stayed are my heroes and I’ll forever be grateful to them.
  2. I’m so thankful they let us in with him. A year ago, people had to die alone, separated from their loved ones. We would have hated that. Two were allowed at a time until the end, when they let everyone in. So grateful.
  3. Everyone grieves in their own way. We need to allow people to grieve any way that works for them.
  4. The vaccine works. Of the four of us that were in that covid infested room, zero of us got breakthrough infection. We are so grateful for that. We were willing to risk it for Carl, but the vaccine held, and we are all well. Thank you to the scientists who labored to bring that vaccine out so fast.
  5. We are losing a generation of fantastic people who have lived through amazing times. Cherish your elders while you can.

Thanks for letting me share that story here. I’d love to hear your experiences of sitting with loved ones.

Writer Interview-Jacci Turner

Create on the Side Blog

Describe your day job.

I work as a Marriage and Family Therapist two days a week in private practice. Most of my clients are dealing with Post Traumatic Stress issues from childhood trauma. I also run a non-profit.

Tell me about your latest book.

My latest book is Tree Singer. It’s my first fantasy and it’s considered young adult fiction although most of my fans have been adults. It’s about a girl who can help trees grow by singing to them. When the forests start dying, she is called on a quest to find out why. There is adventure, tragedy, friendship, evil, and a bit of romance. Something for everyone.

How do you balance your day-to-day commitments with your writing life?

In my previous career I had to work most weekends, so I decided to dedicate Tuesdays to my writing. I still always write on Tuesday’s but now that my…

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Spiritual Practice: Deciding What to Care About

That’s a weird title for a spiritual practice but let me explain. The world is on fire! Where I live, this is literally true. ”Fires to the left of me, fires to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with smoke.” It’s just like last summer, the virus ramping up, California is on fire, people are losing homes, trees that have lived for centuries are dying, animals are burning or being displaced…it’s like Armageddon.

On top of that, there are hurricanes, floods, drought, Haiti, Afghanistan and political upheaval. Nurses and doctors are so exhausted from the first round of COVID they are fleeing their careers for their own sanity. Hospitals are understaffed, beds are lining the hallways and people that need care for non-related Covid illnesses are dying because they can’t get in to see a doctor.

It is overwhelming. My clients are extremely stressed. The hope of early summer when mask mandates were lifted led us to a momentary relief, and now that things are tightening up again, there is despair in the air. This is widespread in our collective consciousness.

So, what do we do? How do we handle it?

A friend sent me a blog this week by Nadia Bolz-Weber. In it she explains how we weren’t wired to deal with so many things at one time. The internet has opened the whole world’s problems to us and brought them into our homes. Our circuits are overloading. She shares three questions to help us know how to deal with this overload. Nadia credits Suzanne Stabile for these questions.

I’ve spent the week thinking about these questions and they really help, especially the last one.

What’s MINE to do, and what’s NOT mine to do?

This is all about boundaries. As an enneagram “two” I want to take on all the world’s problems. But they are not all for mine to take on. Asking this question helps me put on blinders to all the noise and shouting, and focus on my gifts, talents, calling and responsibilities.

What’s MINE to say and what’s NOT mine to say?

This one is HUGE right now. With people blaming and shouting about masks, vaccines and Afghanistan, from both sides of the political divide, I’m keeping my mouth shut. Arguing is not helping anyone. I will speak to anyone who wants to have a civil dialogue about any of these things, otherwise it is best to keep quiet and speak through this blog and my other places of influence.

The third question, I believe, is the one that will save us all from burnout.

What’s MINE to care about and what’s NOT mine to care about?

It’s not that we don’t care about all these things, it’s that we CAN’T care about all of them at the same time and get anything else done. We are each called to love God and our neighbors, so what does that look like for YOU. You might be drawn to work with refugees. Someone else might have a heart for disaster relief. Someone else might want to help find housing for the houseless. If we each focus on our area of care, everything will get covered and we won’t lose our minds.

What is YOURS to care about? Draw your focus in. Take stock of your core values. Maybe your family needs all your attention right now. Turn off the TV, stay off the socials, and focus your care on them. Maybe you have a justice heart and time and energy to write letters, make calls, protest injustice or run for office. Do that, but don’t waste time and energy comparing yourself to anyone who is called differently.

The number one best way to heal from trauma is through social relationships — in real life relationships, where you can hug, and look into each other’s eyes, and listen deeply. So, it’s time to reach out to those we love, and hold them fast in our arms. We will get through this together.

Please let me know how you are doing. I’m talking about some of these things on Tik Tok these days too, as well as on other socials. I’d love to hear from you there or here.

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Spiritual Practice: Taking a Retreat

If you follow this blog, you know I’m a big advocate for taking time away from home and spending it in silence and solitude. I try to do this monthly at a retreat center in California, although the pandemic put a fifteen month stop to it. Thankfully, I was able to return this month. It was fantastic to be back!

People ask me, what do you do for twenty-four hours? Are you silent the whole time? There are a lot of ways to do a 24-hour retreat, so I’ll just tell you about the elements that are usually part of mine.

First, I try to take a friend or friends with me. This is fun because our drive to the center is almost two hours. On the way we talk about what we hope to get out of the retreat, what we need most, etc. Once we get to our rooms, we won’t see each other again until we meet for dinner. At dinner we’ll catch up on how the retreat is going so far, but after dinner we are right back into silence. In the morning, on the drive home, we debrief what happened for us during the retreat. Sharing what we did or learned helps us move forward into whatever is next.

What does my retreat look like? Here are some elements that I enjoy.

  • At some point during the retreat, I will usually take a nap. I often don’t realize how tired I am until I get away from home. A holy nap is a much-needed blessing. I don’t want to sleep away my whole retreat, but a good nap is appreciated.
  • I usually sit and let my thoughts drift in silence for a time. I make sure to turn off my phone for much of the retreat. It’s a time to let the swirling thoughts settle and clarify.
  • I will often have an hour with my spiritual director during a retreat. Whether it’s in person or on the phone, talking to her helps me clarify what I am thinking about and hearing from God.
  • I love to spend time outside on the center grounds. Ours has a labyrinth, and a little forest to walk through. I’ll attach a brief video of that forest below. Most retreat centers are in beautiful locations and have plants and flowers to wander around. Inside the center are beautiful pictures and art pieces, and a chapel to sit in as well.
  • I always bring spiritual books to read and snacks to eat. I don’t turn on any form of movie or tv. I try to keep off my social media, although after dinner I usually have a call with my husband and then check in online for a brief time.
  • I write on my retreats. Most of my books have been at least partially written there and my most recent book, Tree Singer, was birthed there. I also have a journal on my computer that I only write in during retreats. There is a weird fifteen-month gap there now.

So, how does one find a retreat center? I’d start by googling “Retreat centers near me.” If there is a monastery near you, they often rent out rooms for retreats and sometimes there will be someone there who will offer spiritual direction (usually at an extra cost). Many Christian camps and conference centers offer rooms for individual retreats too.

What are the goals of a retreat? For me, it is a chance to get away from my obligations. This allows me to unplug, slow down, and listen. I listen to myself, to God, and to nature. I listen to my spiritual director and the friend(s) I’m with. In a noisy world, giving yourself the gift of twenty-four hours of listening can do amazing things for your soul. I always feel that it ends too soon. I come home happier and more settled.

There are other kinds of retreats. If you can’t do a full day, try going somewhere beautiful for two hours and sit and listen while gazing at a river or tree. There are also guided retreats which usually cost a bit more because the fees pay for the presenter. Many retreat centers have guided retreats on topics like dreams, grief, or spiritual practices. I once went to a guided retreat for several days and ended up writing a fictional account of that experience. People who read it feel they have been on a retreat with me. You can read The Retreat here.

I’d love to hear about you. Have you ever tried a retreat of your own? You can do it in hotel or an Air B&B, but it’s harder to discipline yourself to keep the TV off. Try it and let me know how it goes!

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Spiritual Practice: Expanding Your Mind

To the Eastern mind, the soul is made up of three parts: Body, Mind, and Spirit. If you’re like me, it’s hard to keep all three balanced. But since I spend a lot of time talking about the spirit and body, today I’m going to focus on expanding your mind.

The pandemic has had an unexpected effect on many businesses, and happily, businesses that rely on the internet are thriving. Online book sales are up 42% in 2020 and climbing, online training programs are everywhere, people are learning languages on apps, and many are taking virtual tours of museums. Here’s what I’ve been trying:

I spent ten hours online with Bessel Van Der Klok, MD (author of The Body Keeps the Score) learning more about trauma. I never could have afforded this training in-person as I’m sure he won’t be in my town any time soon, but the training was fantastic and accessible.

I just came off a four-day Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference. Three thousand people tuned in virtually to hear speakers from around the globe. Every state in the Union was represented and people from fifty countries. Learning about new things is now more accessible than ever, I didn’t have to fly to LA, pay for a room or for food — just the conference.

How will you use this difficult time to expand your mind? We are perhaps on the verge of another shutdown, or at least where I live, we are back to masks and distancing. It’s time to embrace new things, new ways to grow and expand our minds. Is there a class you’ve always wanted to take? A degree you’ve always wanted to get? An instrument you’ve always wanted to play? Now is a good time to learn.

For me, besides therapy and writing, my interests have turned toward trying to understand our natural world. And for me, since travel has been limited, that means books. I’ve been reading to develop more of a connection to our earth. This interest came from my own writing of the book, Tree Singer, a young adult fantasy in which a young girl must save the forests of her clan from an evil that is killing them. That led to reading these books:

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer. The author of the book is from the Citizen Potawatomi Nation as well as a Scientist. Her stories are homey, readable and help me see food more than something I pick up at the grocery store.

The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries from a Secret World by Peter Wohlleben. In this book the author explains how trees talk, breathe, and shelter their young. It is rather mind blowing!

The Overstory: A Novel by Richard Powers. Although listed as a novel this book reads as a collection of short stories with the key element in each featuring a tree or trees and echoing many of the things in the books above.

These are the kinds of books I’m reading, the classes I’m taking, and the conferences I’m attending. Online programming is making things much more affordable for us all. What will you be doing to continue to expand your mind? What topics are drawing you in? I’d love to hear about you.

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Spiritual Practice: Suffering

It seems there is so much suffering in the world right now, and in my little world too. I have four friends who have lost their husbands, two to covid, and another dear couple whose daughter died. My mother-in-law is on hospice and I can’t even count the number of friends with chronic and terminal health issues. Hard times! Throw that on top of politics, pandemic, wars and drought and it feels overwhelming.

So, how do we “suffer well?”

First, we have to banish some unhelpful and toxic theological beliefs that cause unnecessary suffering.

The first is that “If you have enough faith, you’ll never get sick etc.…”  I call BS on this one. Nothing in the Bible promises this, but there are plenty of verses that say IN our suffering God will be with us.

Second, “God causes our suffering to teach us something.” This is also not true. We suffer because we are human and live on earth with other humans. Again, God promises to be with us in our suffering (God’s rod and staff comfort us, etc.) but not to prevent it and certainly not to cause it. Suffering, however, often leads to our growth and we can learn many things through the school of suffering which God can help us understand. God is the greatest recycler of our s**t.

Third, “Christians (or good people) won’t suffer.” Nope, not true. There are Psalms called the “Psalms of Lament” for a reason; they give us words for our suffering. There is an entire book called Lamentations. Jesus suffered big time. Happy Clappy Christianity is not helpful for those of us who are suffering. We need to be real about our pain so we can support each other not candy coat our suffering with fake perfectionism.

If a friend is suffering, what should I do? Well, here’s what NOT to do.

  1. Don’t use trite sayings to try to comfort i.e., “God must have missed your husband so he called him home.” That is not only untrue, it is very unhelpful.
  2. Don’t say, “call me if you need me.” People who are hurting won’t call. Instead say, “I’m dropping off dinner Monday night.” Or, “Can I come by tomorrow and vacuum for you?’ When my friend Mike died a bunch of our friends whet over to finish house projects he hadn’t finished. Tangible help is good.
  3. Never dismiss or deny someone their grief process. Everyone grieves differently and in their own way and time. Just let them know you love them and will be along for the journey.

So how do I deal with my suffering?

First, I’d suggest we need to change our culture so it is okay to ask others for help. I’m thankful counseling has lost its sigma, at least with young folks. It is so much a part of their culture that I recently heard a song which included the words, “my counselor says…” It’s important to seek help for any kind of suffering whether that help comes from a professional, a pastor, or a group of friends. To get help we must be willing to ask for it.

Second, allow yourself to embrace your suffering. Instead of turning the pain away, stuffing it, or denying it, allow it to be. If you stuff pain it will come back in your body as stomach issues, back issues, headaches, etc. This is bad for you. If you sit with it, listen to it, express it, even welcome it, you will heal faster. Your pain, and the feelings that come with it, are a part of you just like your joy and happiness are. They want to be acknowledged, held, and loved too.

Third, and I know I say this in almost every blog, but if you can get out in nature, it is very healing. I just had the opportunity to get out into the big redwoods for the first time in a year and a half. It was a rough year and I was exhausted. Being in the trees felt like letting my soul unfurl. Then we went to the ocean and it was peaceful and beautiful and it rained and washed away my fatigue and depression. Nature is a healing place. Try to find somewhere beautiful to sit for a while and let God speak to you through creation.

Also, sometimes a ritual can help. We attended a service for our friends whose daughter died. It was in a liturgical church with a lot of ritual and religious images around. I was surprised how comforting I found that experience. When it is hard to find words for our suffering, ritual can help. You might write a letter to a deceased loved one, bury things that remind you of a painful break-up, or gather friends to share your pain around the full moon. Create a ritual to help yourself heal.

Suffering will always be with us. I’ve never met anyone who hasn’t suffered. The more we can be honest and help each other the better it will be for all of us. I’d love to hear how you deal with suffering. Prayer? Meditation? Sharing with friends? What helps you?

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Tree, mine

Spiritual Practice: Re-engaging with People

Two weeks ago I was able to attend my first in-person retreat at my beloved Mercy Center. The retreat leaders asked us to share how we felt coming into the retreat, and I said, “I’m so glad to be here, and I’m also feeling anxious. I may have forgotten how to PEOPLE.”

The fact that things are opening up a bit seems to be having this effect on many folks. It’s exciting to think of reconnecting with friends we haven’t seen in a year, AND it’s also anxiety-producing.

You go to the store because you CAN, and only half the people are wearing masks. Should you wear a mask or not? You go out to eat because you CAN, but it feels odd to be eating inside. These conflicting feelings are exhausting.

Many of us enjoyed being less busy than we were before the pandemic, and we are asking ourselves how to re-engage without falling back into the pattern of being overworked and stressed out. I want to see people, but I don’t want to see people. You get me? It’s very confusing.

I just finished listening to a book by Oprah and brain doctor Bruce D. Perry called, “What happened to you? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing” Dr. Perry talked about how our brains are wired to scan for threats. For instance, whenever we are in a new place where we don’t know folks, our brains scan each face we pass, asking the question, “Safe or unsafe.” We hold the likeness up to some imprint we developed as an infant. This is why moving to a new place is stress-producing and exhausting. We have to re-scan and relearn who is safe.

Now we’ve had a global pandemic where many who were not in our bubble for a year fell into the “unsafe” category. And the idea of getting back out there in the crowds sets off all the “unsafe” alarms in our heads. This leads to the underlying anxiety about re-engaging.

But Dr. Perry also talks about how being involved with a group of friends and family (our clan) helps us heal past trauma and live our best lives now. We just can’t get the same kind of support online no matter how much we Zoom. It’s time, folks. It’s time to re-engage.

So how do we do it?

I’d say start with the people you know best. For me personally, we were thrown into re-engagement when one of our close friends died last month from Covid. Yep, this scourge is still happening. Our group of friends rallied to host the family’s gathering after the funeral. We set up the chairs, served the food, and cleaned up, so the grieving family didn’t have to worry about anything. It was a sorrowful day, yet gathering for the first time in a year with friends felt very good (and because we were all vaccinated, we could hug)!

Do something fun! This last year was HARD. We all pulled together to make the world a safer place. So, pat yourself on the back and do something you enjoy! For me, it was going to that women’s retreat. I’d forgotten how fun it was to laugh out loud in a group. Laughing on Zoom isn’t nearly as fun because everyone is muted. You can tell people are laughing by looking at them, but you can’t hear them. Laughing releases endorphins, and doing it in a group releases more. Do something with folks that makes you laugh out loud. I promise it will make you feel better.

Get out in nature. Living in a desert, I’ve missed being out in the trees more than anything else this year. We have planned a road trip to the giant redwoods in June. I can’t wait! Nature also releases chemicals that calm our nervous systems. You just can’t be anxious with natural beauty all around you.

Pace yourself. Like a turtle, you can stick your head out and then retreat to your shell as needed. You don’t need to be out there 100% of the time. In fact, you’ve probably learned that downtime is vital to your mental health as well. I’m contemplating going back to work in person. I’ve asked my clients what they think, and more than half of them are eager to be face to face. Others want to continue online. I’m not rushing this decision for myself, and I’m not making it for anyone else. I will offer both in-person and online counseling as long as the insurance companies allow it. We each need to move forward at our own pace.

We have no idea when this pandemic will end. We may all end up back in quarantine come next winter, which is a harrowing thought. In the meantime, I’d encourage you to stretch your legs and your comfort levels to get out of the house.  Enjoy some sunshine and some people. And let me know how it’s going for you.

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Spiritual Practice: Caring for the Earth

            It’s hard to write about caring for the earth when I feel like I don’t do a good job of it. I’m not out marching against strip mining or signing climate change petitions. I have to ask myself what does it mean to care for the earth on a meta level, my level, something doable?

            Indigenous peoples have a close relationship with the earth, they pay attention, they watch, they look closely and listen. They have to as their survival is closely tied to the earth. Farmers are like that too. I often refer to my Idaho relatives who are farmers and ranchers as people of the earth. They are hard working and extraordinarily kind. They have suffered with the earth, getting things to grow and getting animals to flourish. They are “grounded.”

            But I live in a city where the earth is covered by paved roads and sidewalks. I have to drive to a place to hike “off road.” It is harder to be connected to the earth in a city. So, I will start with simple ideas that we can all try.

            Most people who are connected to the earth see the earth as feminine — Mother Earth, as it were. She is constantly giving birth, renewing life, and sacrificing for her children. Perhaps thinking of the earth as female will encourage a loving and soft appreciation for her. She is not meant to be conquered and overcome, but treasured and cared for.

            Yesterday I stepped outside after it had rained and was taken by the beautiful sweet clean smell that permeated the air. Often, I would miss this experience, in a hurry to get where I’m going, but I’m trying to stop, savor and appreciate nature. So, I stood, closed my eyes and breathed a few breaths before getting in my car.

            Since the pandemic began, I’ve been doing my counseling work from home. My “office chair” sits in front of a window. I ordered a bird feeder online. I researched the best food for small songbirds and bought black oil sunflower seeds. It has been fun to watch the little ones flutter around outside my window.

            That gave me an idea. There is an old brick planter in front of that same window with nothing in it. The afternoon sun scorches that planter and few plants can survive. But I decided to plant four sunflowers there, and guess what, they are thriving. They like the sun. This way when they are done growing in the fall, they will become natural bird feeders for the winter.

           

My next big hope is to plant some trees. Trees are being slaughtered in our world and they are the number one way to save our planet. They clean the air, remove pollution and provide oxygen. They provide shade and homes for birds and insects. They are lovely to look at and produce chemicals that make you feel good.

If you are interested in learning about how trees communicate using the wood wide web, try reading, The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate―Discoveries from A Secret World,by Peter-Wohlleben. It’s a fun, easy to read, book I’m finding fascinating.

            Here are a few more ideas. Take a WOW walk. Go somewhere with plants and trees and look, listen, watch. Then, notice the beauty of a flower, the activity of an ant, the majesty of a tree and say, “Wow!”

            Start composting. If you have any place at all for a garden, you can compost unused food scraps and yard trimmings so that it will recycle them into great soil for you to grow something. This may take a year, but if you start now, you can have some rich soil by next growing season. We just started ours, I’m excited. Now if an apple goes bad before I can eat it, I don’t feel as bad as I did when I just threw it away; it goes in the compost pile.

            Recycle. This is easier in some areas than others. Ours has become very easy with single stream recycling. Everything goes in one container. Our recycle bin is now bigger than our garbage can!

            Try writing a poem or a Haiku about the earth. I like Haiku because they are short (five syllables, seven syllables, five syllables). Writing about something makes us more aware of what a treasure it is.

Walk in dappled light

Breathe in the fragrance of spring

The earth rejoices

In fact, I recently published a whole book with one major character being the forest. If you’d like to wander through the forest with me and enjoy a world where the people are especially connected to the earth, please read Tree Singer.

If we all add our small drop to help our earth, it can become an ocean of healing.

 I’d love to hear how you are trying to love and care for the earth.

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Spiritual Practice: Sitting Still

After viewing the Academy Awards this year, I decided to watch The Sound of Metal. It’s about a man named Ruben, a drummer in the world of heavy metal who loses his hearing. He goes to live in a deaf community and is mentored by a man named Joe. Joe tells him that each day he must go into a room and try to sit quietly. If he can’t do that, he can write his thoughts on a pad of paper. The goal is to get to a point where he is able to sit quietly. Joe says,

“But for me, those moments of stillness: that place, that’s the kingdom of God. And that place will never abandon you.”

I remember my first silent retreat at a catholic retreat center. I felt the same way Ruben does in the film. I spent the whole weekend pacing and writing all of my thoughts in a letter to my friend. Now it’s my favorite spiritual practice! I talk more about this here.

Why is it so hard for us to sit still?

For some of us, we were raised in a family that never sat still. My mom was the energizer bunny, and if she wasn’t at work, she was cleaning the house or working in the garden. Even in her later years, if she was sitting, she was beading jewelry, painting, or doing cross stitch. I can’t remember her ever holding still for long.

For some of us, it’s the fear of being alone. We are so connected to our devices it is easy not to deal with the “truth” that surfaces when one is quiet. And yet, this is exactly what the spiritual practice of sitting still does for us — it brings us face to face with ourselves and hopefully with the loving gaze of the divine.

This is best described in a quote by Parker Palmer:

“The human soul doesn’t want to be fixed, it simply wants to be seen and heard. The soul is like a wild animal – tough, resilient and shy. When we go crashing through the woods shouting for it to come out so we can help it, the soul will stay in hiding. But if we are willing to sit quietly and wait for a while, the soul may show itself.”

We can’t heal our soul if we are not giving it the time it needs to surface.

This spiritual discipline comes from all world religions. Here is a small sampling:

“Be still
Stillness reveals the secrets of eternity”

― Laotzu

“Your duty is to be and not to be this or that. ‘I am that I am’ sums up the whole truth. The method is summed up in the words ‘Be still’.

― Ramana Maharshi

Silence is not for its own sake. The silence we seek is the silence that does not sin the sin of eternal agitation. It is a silence meant to help us—once healed of our anger, finally harmonious and serene—see that the world around us is a graceful and peaceful place.

―  Joan Chittister

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So, give yourself the gift of time. Try this: Set a timer for ten minutes and let your breathing slow and your mind wander. Have no agenda. See if doing this for three days helps you see things more clearly and feel more grounded. Get to know your soul, it may have many deep, painful, healing things it needs to reveal to you.

(I’ll attach a guided meditation that might help. When I have trouble quieting my mind, I often start with a guided meditation).

You can work your way up to twenty minutes or try it at various times during the day. I’d love to hear how practicing sitting still changes your life. What practices of silence do you enjoy?

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