Tree Singer — Chapter One

tree hugger

I’m trying something new on my off weeks from blogging. I’m going to post a chapter of my new work in progress (WIP) called, Tree Singer. I’d love feedback and questions (even edits) as you read. If enough people enjoy the serialization of this novel, I’ll keep putting chapters up. If not, no biggie; it’s just an experiment. This book is my favorite novel so far because of my special relationship with the trees. And, I’ve hidden some spiritual secrets inside that most people won’t notice… but maybe you will.

I hope you enjoy it! I give to you,

Tree Singer

by Jacci Turner.

Chapter One

Something was wrong with the trees. Mayten could feel it, but she didn’t have the words or the training to understand what it was. She brushed it off with “I’ll ask Mother later.” and lay with her long legs stretched out on the sturdy limb of her favorite oak tree. Her back pressed up against the thick trunk and her face turned upward. This was the best view of a tree, from a low branch looking up. From here she could see the structure of the tree, the beauty and symmetry of its branches.

“And so,” she continued talking to the tree, “when we move levels, I’m worried about my best friends; I’m just sure that Tray will be called to be a traveler. And that’s what he wants of course, and Cather is just beside herself with worry, you know how she feels about him –  I know I’ve already said all this but I just can’t help it. Why do things have to change?” She smacked her fist down on the branch beneath her so hard that she almost lost her balance. “Sorry Auntie,” she said sheepishly and scrambled into a sitting position, crossing her legs over the branch, she knew she must sound like a petulant child.

Shame washed over her as she remembered her mother’s firm warning, “Mayten, you’ll never get past stage three if you don’t stop talking to the trees and start listening, focus child!” She felt silly. Only the very youngest singers spent all their time talking to trees, but she felt shaky today, and this tree was like an auntie to whom she’d poured out all of her hurt and pain as a child. She was leveling up tomorrow and starting her real training, stages four through seven. In stage four you learned to send and receive feelings with the trees, something she’d already been practicing in anticipation, but it was hard for her to focus. There were so many distractions, and here she was babbling on like a level two baby. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, focusing all of her energy on listening to the tree.

As she concentrated, she felt the warmth of sun on her face, heard the chatter of squirrels and the flutter of bird’s wings. Insects buzzed about her and she smelled the earthy woodiness of the oak. In the distance, laborers out behind her homestead, chatted as they worked. She had to push past all of that to hear the tree.

Finally, she was able to block out all the other noises and tune into the tree. Her auntie tree hummed, comfort and peace washed over Mayten. The humming was the sound of her sap, reaching up from the roots, ready to flow into new growth. She hummed along with it, unable to block out the joy and new life she heard there.

She loved spring when the trees came out of their winter quiet and started to sing about light and birth and joy. The sun filtered through the branches above her, drawing the sap up, up, up and out in new, leafy growth. She sang to the tree and coaxed the sap upwards. There was the familiar comfort coming to her from her oak friend, yet, there was something new in the voice of her auntie tree, something that unsettled Mayten. This wasn’t the first time she’d noticed it, and it dampened her joy.

Mayten wanted to discuss the sound with her mother, but Castanea was extra busy with clan duties, preparing for the leveling ceremony. Tomorrow was the first day of spring, the day all children fifteen-years-old, graduated to the next level of their training, from apprentices to initiates. If she hadn’t known how busy her mother was, Mayten would have sworn she, the clan’s chief singer, was avoiding her daughter. She’d barely seen her in the last few weeks.

If she was honest, Mayten was a little nervous about the ceremony. She’d climbed the tree because being in the trees always put her at ease. But today the auntie tree didn’t calm her. Today, the auntie needed calming, and with frustration she realized she didn’t know how to do it. She tried to sing away the darkness she felt from her friend…was it sadness? Was it fear? In her three years of apprenticing her mother, she’d never heard this particular sound from the trees and identifying feelings was advanced level work, but she knew there was something not quite right.

It was probably nothing, maybe her own jitters were getting in the way of hearing clearly. Mayten didn’t like change and tomorrow everything about her life would take a new direction. Tomorrow she would get her calling, which she wasn’t worried about, but Tray, one of her two best friends, would get his, and that would change everything.

 

Thoughts???

 

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Spiritual Practice: Nurturing Relationships

 

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You know if you follow me that I work with people that are dying. Nothing clarifies a person’s priorities like knowing they are going to die. One thing becomes crystal clear. When you know you’re dying, it’s the relationships you will miss. As someone wise once said, “No one says on their deathbed, I wish I’d spent more time at work.”

Nurturing relationships is a spiritual practice that takes time and intention.

Consider these three stories:

I’m working with a young man who is dying from lung disease. When I asked him if he had any “spiritual background,” he said, “I sort of just believe in the Universe.” I asked how he felt about the Universe. He said, “The Universe has been giving me s**t for years.” I asked if the Universe had given him anything good. He pointed to his fiance and said, “It gave me her.” She was the only joy in his otherwise miserable life, the one bright spot.

I worked with a man who had spent the last decades of his life as a houseless alcoholic. Because of his choices, he had been alienated from his many children and siblings. Then he told me about his cat, Jewel, and he wept bitterly, missing her. His only comfort was that Jewel would be waiting for him on the “other side.”

Today I sat with a woman who is deaf but can still see. She still has a strong mind, on good days. I was paging through her photo albums with her, impressed that she had traveled the world as a nurse. Her son even told me that she had smuggled Bibles into Russia. But the only photos she commented on, and did so consistently, were of her son. “My son,” she would say with pride. Nothing else mattered to her but him.

So, if relationships are so important to us when we are dying, we’d better start building them now. You might be wondering, who will I miss when I’m gone? Who will miss me? If you’re looking around, thinking, “Wow, my friendship pool is pretty small,” it might be time to nurture some relationships.

Spiritually, nurturing relationships is the natural progression of loving God, loving yourself and loving others.

Friendships are mysterious. Some last forever, like perennial flowers. Some, like annuals, are only for a season. Here are some ideas on forming new friendships:]

  1. Facebook is a wonderful place to find and reconnect with old friends, long lost cousins, or past loves. Old friends are cool because of your shared history. I’ve attended class reunions I would have skipped because I’ve reconnected with so many old friends.
  2. Join a small group on something that interests you: a Bible Study, a gardening group, a stamp collecting club. I’ve found that, in these kinds of groups, it generally takes time to get to know others. Don’t give up. It helps to become a leader in the group and bond with others in leadership. Once, when I had moved to a new city, I joined an exercise class that also did crafts. I had first thought I had NOTHING in common with the women in the group, but eventually, I learned we had many things in common and we became good friends.
  3. Get on “Meet ups” and find an active group to join: hiking, softball, writing, painting. Don’t be afraid to try something new, you may discover a hidden or forgotten talent. My daughter once gave me a membership to a writer’s group for my birthday. Nine years and eleven published books later, I’m still attending.
  4. Take a class. Especially a class that involves participation, like wine-tasting, travel, improvisation, or dancing. Having to work together builds friendships.
  5. Join a group that serves others. This takes care of any self-pity issues and bonds you together with like-minded people. Try Habitat for Humanity and build a house for a needy family.
  6. Nurture your existing friendships. A group of friends and I started a “Game Night” group 30 years ago. We meet monthly and each couple hosts the group once per year. These are the folks I would call if I needed anything. We may not hang out much outside of Game Night, but if there is ever an emergency, we’re all there in a heartbeat.
  7. Adopt a pet. My step-dad came home with a dog the SPCA had brought to a baseball game to give-away. That little fellow has become his constant companion, filling a big void since my mother died. Our own dog, Rocky, has been a very important part of our family.
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  9. Start small. If these ideas seem overwhelming, just invite a friend to lunch. Unfortunately, no one can make friends for you. It can be intimidating to reach out, but it is worth the risk.
  10. And above all, cherish your parents while they are still alive. Today I sat with a patient who was deeply asleep. There was nothing I could do to wake her no matter what I tried. Then her daughter walked into the room, and before her daughter even reached the bed, she became fully awake and engaged. Love them while you can. They won’t be here forever.

How have you made friendships that last? Share any ideas you have for developing and nurturing relationships.

 

Photos: Plant through pavement, perennial , annuals, Rocky — mine.

 

Spiritual Practice: Poetry

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Those of you who are poets, or love to read poetry, already know that poetry is good for your soul. This post is for those who have not considered this connection. I am one of those people who never really “got” poetry. Most of it I find incomprehensible. But, when I have been guided through it by someone else, it touches my heart. But now I have discovered Mary Oliver. A friend gave me this HUGE book called Devotions that is a collection of Mary Oliver poems. I thought, “great, a book I’ll never read.”

I tried it. Let me tell you, Mary Oliver writes poetry even I can understand. She writes about the natural world. She listens, observes and writes about nature. Her poetry fills my soul.

I believe poetry (or any creative art form) connects us to the creative energy of the universe and lets us join God in continuing to make the world a more beautiful place.

It involves listening, really seeing, and hearing. Once we stop and do that, we can not miss being filled with joy and hope and beauty. In a time in our world which can seem so desperate, this hope and beauty is a needed comfort.

So here is my attempt (with pictures) of a Mary Oliver-esq poem. I hope you will try some poetry-writing yourself. Or at least some reading!

 

Beauty

 

I leave the desert to fill my weary soul with beauty

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I marvel at the colors, a vast array

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The shades of green alone could fill a book.

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Flowers, take my breath away,

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and clouds are sonnet worthy

The rushing water is a breath of heaven.

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And I wonder…

Do those who live here

Forget to notice this beauty?

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Are they too busy trimming, mowing and clipping,

To stop and gaze in awe?

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Not this desert dweller. Never.

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How could I cease to be amazed by wonders like these?

 

Alright friends, lets hear your attempts! And, before I get any hate mail, I do love the desert and see beauty in it, but mostly in it’s people.

 

Photo Credit: Blue Horses: A painting by Franz Marc about which Mary Oliver wrote a wonderful poem.

The rest of the pictures are mine, taken in Auburn California.

Exciting Writing News!!

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Today I wanted to take some time to share my exciting writing news!

  1. I worked with my editor to get all of my books from The Finding Home Series available with hardback covers. This is important because libraries and schools only want books in hardbacks because they last longer.

Could you help me get the word out by sharing this with any librarians or teachers that you know? This series is best for third grade and up.

 
Snapped Front Cover

  1. Introducing my latest book! Snapped is about an issue that many teen girls and boys face: cyber bullying. It’s about a girl who gets roped into a relationship on Snapchat that turns sour, and how she has to make a decision about if, when, and how to speak out about it. Here’s how the book back cover reads:

Ari Wren has a great life: Two best friends and a family she loves.

Cade Waters is by far the most popular guy at Sierra High School. Why then has he suddenly noticed Ari, a freshman nobody? Her friends are surprised by his attention and more than a little jealous. As Ari finds herself falling for Cade, his requests become more intimate and personal. Ari feels confused and unsure about what to do.

Follow Ari as she navigates budding romance, tough decisions, betrayal, and a trip to an island, in this young adult story of growing up the hard way.

This book is currently available in eBook but will be out in print soon.

Could you help me spread the news by buying the book and writing a review or recommending it to a friend?

Thank you for your love and support for all the different kinds of writing I do.  Jacci

Spiritual Practice: Assenting to Change

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Most mornings I walk in the high desert. I’ve noticed that after one of our rare, intense rains, the landscape of the trail changes dramatically.  Large rocks, previously hidden, are uncovered. Smaller rocks, washed down slopes, make the trail tricky to navigate. In some places, fine sand washes down to cover the trail in a delightfully soft carpet.

Our interior landscape also changes when the storms of life descend on us. The loss of a loved one, a job loss, or the onset of a chronic illness will forever alter the landscape of our lives. These major changes have the ability to make us bitter and angry people, or soft and loving people. The difference is whether we are willing to assent to the changes that are happening to us. We don’t have to like them, welcome them or look forward to them. Change can be really hard! But, it is also inevitable. Therefore, we can choose how to respond to it. Can we see change as God’s grace to help form us into more loving people? Can we look for the good or the gift in the change?

Large boulders, exposed by the rain, are like those parts of us previously unexamined. which in times of stress now rise to the surface. Our fears, insecurities, and stubborn bitter roots are exposed for all to see. Do we try to cover them up, or can we be honest with ourselves and others so that healing can begin?

The rocks that cover the path are like the myriad decisions we have to make after a huge storm. These take careful navigation at a time when emotional resources are low. Do we hide from the enormity of these decisions or ask for help from our trusted soul friends?

The soft sands which have washed across the path are like the unexpected graces that surprise us: the support of friends, the sudden brilliance of a sunset, or a double rainbow. These glimpses of beauty are reminders that we are not forgotten in our pain. We do not walk alone.

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There are also beautiful landscape changes in the desert after a storm; new life springs up almost at once. Desert flowers bloom afresh and small creatures, their numbers previously diminished by drought, are born in abundance.

This same hope for growth and life are ours in times of landscape renovation. They are a reminder of the God who is known for recycling ashes into beauty, turning mourning into joy, and exchanging the spirit of heaviness for garments of praise. All that God asks is our assent to the transformation.

These are the markers of hope to look for as we walk the now altered trail. What new insights will we receive? What new skills will we learn? What adventure is ahead…just around the bend?

Change is not easy, and I have faced more than my share, so if you need someone to walk with you, let me know in the comments below.

 

Photo credit:

Erosion, wildflowers

Spiritual Practice: Cutting off Toxic Relationships

cutting off toxic relationships

 

How is breaking off a relationship a spiritual practice? Read on!

Shouldn’t we all try to live at peace with one another? The answer is yes, of course we should. Yet, there are people and even institutions who don’t have your best interests at heart. They can actually become crippling to your soul, and when they are revealed as toxic, sometimes the best thing you can do is cut them out of your life.

I have a friend who was once a part of a very controlling church. When she thinks about it now, she shakes her head in wonder and says, “I was drinking the Kool-Aid!”

For you younglings, this is a reference to the Jim Jones cult, where in Jonestown, Guyana, 909 followers were killed by murder/suicide when they “voluntarily” drank cyanide-laced Kool-Aid. My friend’s church wasn’t as cultish as the Jonestown group, but it had some very controlling features like needing approval from leadership to date someone, etc. It was definitely heading down the Jonestown road.

I was thinking about how churches can become controlling and toxic when differences of opinion aren’t tolerated and everyone is forced to believe a certain way. I’ve had many friends hurt by being part of the “inside group” of a church, then when they don’t tow the party line, they suddenly find themselves on “the outside.” The hardest part is their “friends” don’t want to hang out with them anymore. It is devastating.

But churches aren’t the only ones who have this cult-like, controlling, or toxic behavior. I’ve seen it in businesses, marriages, and even friendships. Often, you don’t know you’re drinking the Kool-Aid until you leave that place/relationship and get some distance from it.

One example of a corporation with Borg like tendencies (you know, “resistance is futile” …Star Trek…) is the behavior of a local, unnamed hospital. Hospitals send recruiters to nursing schools for an employment fair before the students graduate. But this particular hospital sent recruiters a month before the others came, then told the applicants, “If you agree to take a job with us before you graduate, then change your mind, you will be blacklisted from ever working for us.” This kind of proprietary behavior is downright evil. It doesn’t give the nurses a chance to compare offers from other hospitals. When a corporation uses threats to control behavior, it is a “cult-like” practice. Making a choice to work there is choosing into a toxic work environment. Trust me, it won’t be good for your soul.

This toxicity is easiest to see in marriages or romantic relationships. Usually, the controlling behavior involves money and/or jealousy. If your partner is keeping a tight rein on the finances, questioning you every time you go somewhere, or using anger to control you, you are probably drinking the Kool-Aid.

I made the mistake of mentioning to my middle-aged hairdresser that I’m a licensed therapist. I don’t usually mention this fact, for a good reason, because she then felt free to tell me too much information about her and her boyfriend. “He gets mad and jealous whenever I go anywhere,” she said. “And he wants sex all the time; isn’t once a day enough?” I wanted to scream, “Run! Run away from him as fast as you can!” But, she was still wielding scissors near my head.

I’ve also seen this same dynamic in friendships, usually in women. If your friend gets jealous and you feel like you have to lie to him/her about spending time with other friends, you’re drinking the Kool-Aid.

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So, how do you know if you’re in a toxic relationship at home, work, church, or with friends?

  1. When someone tries to change your personality by using manipulation, anger, or guilt, to make you into someone you are not.
    2. When you don’t feel free to express your own beliefs or opinions.
    3. When someone tries to limit your access to money, time, friendships, options, or your own body.
    4. When you feel like you can’t talk to anyone about these problems: You can’t go see a counselor or talk to anyone about your issues.

 

If this blog is making you uncomfortable, sit with it for a while.

Ask yourself “Where do I feel this discomfort in my body: stomach, back, head…?

Ask your body, “What are you trying to tell me?”

Ask the Divine, “What do I do now?”

You may need to seek the help of a trusted counselor, spiritual director or wise friend for help in disentangling yourself from a toxic situation, but your soul will expand and rejoice if you do!

So, is breaking off a relationship a spiritual practice? You bet it is when your soul is suddenly free to breathe and grow after being bound and suffocated by a situation or another person.

I’d love to hear what you think about this idea and/or any times you’ve left a toxic situation and what it was like for you.

 

Photo: Woman at top

Spiritual Practice: Writing

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Writing as a spiritual practice? Of course! Every religion has its writings. I remember when my spiritual director said that writing was a form of prayer. I was blown away. Anything done with intention toward God is a from of prayer. So, I’ve been pondering this question lately: Why do I write? And especially, why do I write books? Obviously, there are other things I could do with my time. But, writing seems to be something I feel almost driven to do.

I’ve tried writing off and on many times in my life but for some reason this is the first season I’ve been able to take a finished book and see it through the rewriting/editing/publishing process. Maybe I just had to be old enough to have the patience for it.

It feels like there’s something more though. I’ll never forget the privilege I had at the Festival of Faith and Writing in 2014 when I heard Brian Doyle speak. He was a poet, novelist, essayist and the editor of Portland Magazine. Sadly, he passed away suddenly and too soon, at the age of sixty. During his talk he told us how three of his friends died in the twin towers during 9-11. He was too distraught to write about it until his little daughter came and said,

“Dad, you always tell us not to waste our gifts. Your gift is writing and you are wasting it.”

Then he decided to tell three stories about 9-11: One about a couple who may or may not have known each other but chose to face death together and jumped from the building holding hands, another about a man that wheeled a women in wheelchair down 80 flights of stairs then ran back to get more and didn’t come out, and the third about a fireman who kept going in and out saving people until he came out no more. He said our stories about hope and beauty help push back the darkness in the world and we need to keep telling them. I hear you Brian. I hear you.

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This is the way I feel about writing and it felt good to hear someone else say it.

I believe our stories are sacred and somehow push back the darkness in a very dark world. I write because I am driven to shine a light, no matter how small, and say to a hurting world, there is hope.

How about you? Why do you write?

 

Want more? Check out my books!

Photo Credit: Writing,   Colored Lights

Spiritual Practice: Sabbath Rest

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On Mondays, when I’m in the middle of my work day, I get a calendar reminder on my phone that says, “Tomorrow is your Sabbath.” The notification gives me great joy and peace knowing tomorrow I can rest.

The word Sabbath means different things to different people. To my Jewish friends it comes from the creation story where God created the world in six days and on the seventh day rested. He commands his followers to do the same, and when I lived in Israel, the Sabbath was definitely something to look forward to! It was celebrated from sundown Friday night to sundown Saturday, so we spent Friday shopping and chopping, preparing a fantastic dinner to share with friends. Good food, good friends, good wine, joy and rest. Everything was closed Saturday so there was nowhere to go, nothing to do but relax. It is a beautiful practice.

Americans, however, even the Christians who still celebrate a form of the Sabbath on Sundays, have largely missed the point of Sabbath Rest. They rush off to church, dragging their screaming children, because they are usually late, and sit through a service that may or may not renew their souls. The rest of the day might be full of errands or house cleaning or yard work. It isn’t very restful. Plus, everything is open for business, so there is shopping to be done! I don’t know about you but I generally clean the house, do the laundry and  buy my groceries on Sundays.

I had the good fortune of working for a ministry that taught me the importance of taking a Sabbath day to rest to restore my soul. For most people in ministry, the weekend is not a good time for Sabbath rest as it is full of ministry opportunities. That is why my Sabbath falls on a Tuesday. I plan my work schedule around my Sabbath.

I see Sabbath as a day to reconnect with myself and with God — a day to do things that are good for my soul. My Sabbath day might go like this: I don’t set the alarm and wake up with I’m done sleeping. I enjoy some time to read and pray, or as on an extra special morning, get a massage! Then I generally go to the library and sit in the corner quiet area. This is where I write. I love to write and writing restores my soul in a very real way. You might have a different favorite activity like hiking or reading or going to a movie or scheduling lunch with a friend or taking a nap. At lunch I may treat myself to food I don’t normally eat, like a Taco Bell burrito and a diet coke. In the evening I enjoy my Yoga class. It’s a day of spaciousness and settling and reminding myself what is truly important.

If you’re a young parent, having a Sabbath might seem impossible. But, I’ve known couples who have done Sabbaths together, or taken half-day Sabbath’s so they can trade the children off with each other. I’ve known single parents who have traded kids with friends for a few hours so they can have mini Sabbaths. When you have small ones, two or three hours for yourself is an incredible luxury.

And don’t think it’s going to happen naturally once you’re retired. I’ve noticed that as soon as someone retires other people tend to make demands on their time, which is fine, if that gives you joy. But, if you want to have a Sabbath, no matter what your life situation is, you’re going to have to make boundaries around that day, or that period of time, and defend them against the myriad offers to do other good things. With Sabbath, like with most things, you are not choosing between good and bad things, but good and better things. No one will value your time for you, you have to fight for it yourself.

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So, give it a try. First, brainstorm these questions:

What would I do if I had an entire day to myself?

What most makes my soul feel light, happy, and renewed?

How can I consciously connect with God, myself, and my body?

 

Then, decide when and how to make it happen. Let me know if you try it and how it goes. Enjoy this day of rest.

Spiritual Practice: Displacement

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Have you ever been in a place where you are the only one who looked like you? Maybe you went somewhere you didn’t speak the language, or the food was unfamiliar, or the customs were confusing. What did it feel like to be in that place? What you experienced is called a displacement experience.

For those who live in the margins, the non-majority folks, displacement is an everyday experience. Being a white, cis gendered, straight person, I am rarely displaced. I live in a city where I’m in the majority. It is comfortable for me to be who I am here. Why then should I go out of my way to displace myself?

It is important to displace ourselves because this is often the only way to truly know the human experience of our brothers and sisters. How can we have love and compassion if we have never known what it feels like to be “other?” If am to grow beyond my prejudices and assumptions, I’m going to have to start by displacing myself.

Displacement is the first, and easiest place to enter into honest dialogue about cultural, ethnic, religious and world view differences. If God is the God of all people, and we want to move closer to oneness with God and with each other, we will have to take steps to cross the barriers that separate us.

Here are five easy ways to displace yourself. Pick one, try it and share the results. If you are already from one minority culture, try one from a different group.

  1. One of the easiest ways to displace ourselves is to read a book written by someone who is not like you. Some of my favorites are:

Fiction: The Hate You Give, by Angie Thomas. (especially good on audio)

Non-Fiction: Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?: And Other Conversations About Race by Beverly Daniel Tatum

Memoir: Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians by Justin Lee  

  1. Purposely go someplace where you are not like the majority of people in the room:

Visit an ethnic church, mosque, synagogue, or temple. Places of worship are still the most segregated parts of our society. Let yourself really feel what it is like to be unfamiliar with the culture of the church. There are black churches, Latino churches, Korean churches, Greek Orthodox churches, Muslim mosques, Jewish Synagogues…all will welcome you in, but you may not feel welcome there. This is a good thing to understand as it is often the experience of when a person of color, or a different region, or one of our rainbow family members visits your place of worship.

Take a trip to an inner city ethnic enclave. Visit China Town or Little Italy; walk through Harlem; go to a gay bar or dance. How do you feel there?

Notice your bodies reaction to this environment: Are you scared? Are you anxious? Can you imagine that some of your brothers and sisters feel those sensations every day at work, or when a police car comes up behind them?

  1. Try a different ethnic food restaurant each month. How does it taste on your tongue? Do you like it? What would it be like to feed it to your baby? What can you learn from the different diets? This is a fun and easy displacement exercise!  
  2. Invite someone different out to lunch, or even better, over to your house for a meal (ask if they have any dietary restrictions first!). Then open an honest dialogue as you get to know them. Be a learner, not a teacher.
  3. Watch a movie that is out of your comfort zone. Some of my favorites:

Black Panther (What Africa, undisturbed by European colonization and European cultural dominance, might look like, a sci-fi version of course, but still awesome.)

Love, Simon (When a gay protagonist is the star of a sweet, chaste film, like “Never Been Kissed,” it can open our eyes to the experience of our gay friends.)

The Sea of Trees (Learn about the Japanese suicide culture and deal with the truths of grief in the American culture and how they intersect.)

The Danish Girl (What does it feel like to have one body on the outside and feel like the inside doesn’t match? This will help build compassion for our trans friends.)

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I’m still a newbie in this racial reconciliation dialogue but my friends of color have taught me that displacement is a good first step. In light of the things I’ve learned the last twenty years, I wrote a book that helps put white people into a fictional displacement. It might be a fun and easy on-ramp for you to read. It’s called, Cracker.  

Some comments from reviews:

“Cracker is a must read as it takes you away to a world that we should all see, one that helps you truly open up your eyes to the magnitude of racism and prejudice against gay and lesbian’s. This story not only forces you to face your own thoughts on racism, but it also educates you on the history of oppression creatively through her vivid and strong characters. Cracker will change the world you see and the way you decide to treat people that are different from what you see in the mirror; it opens your eyes and your mind.”

“I recommend this easy to read yet profound book to teens and adults without reservation, and hope that it yields deeper curiosity, trust, and courage to love across difference in every reader.”

“This story made me keenly aware of (and question) my own beliefs in the most profound, imaginative way. Ann’s story riled me up and shocked and shook me to my core. Jacci challenged me and changed my perspective.”

Let me know which displacement exercise you try and what you learn from it!

 

Photo Credit

 

Spiritual Practices: for the Classroom

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I was asked to translate some spiritual practices into non-spiritual language for classroom settings for a seminar at the Nevada Reading Week Conference. Since our beautiful conference got snowed out, I thought it would be fun to share those here, for you or your teacher friends to try!

Mindfulness in the Classroom, by Jacci Turner

The sympathetic nervous system prepares the body for intense physical activity and is often referred to as the “fight-or-flight” response. The parasympathetic nervous system has the opposite effect as it relaxes the body by inhibiting or slowing many high energy functions. Sometimes called the rest and digest system, the parasympathetic system conserves energy as it slows the heart rate, increases intestinal and gland activity, and relaxes sphincter muscles in the gastrointestinal tract. Techniques which stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system help us feel more calm.

1. Deep breathing: Deep breathing increases the supply of oxygen to your brain and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes a state of calmness.

Ask your students to sit with their feet on the floor and their hands on their desks or in their laps. Have them take several deep breaths, picturing the in-breath as moving all the way down to their toes, and the out-breath as moving all the way to the tops of their heads. This exercise balances and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system — which will calm your students. You can do this in two minutes!

Additional ideas: You can ask your students to give the in-breath a color, e.g. blue, and another color to the out-breath. This simple mindfulness technique helps us remain present with our bodies in an easy and relaxed way.

Or, you can have your students picture their negative emotions going out of their bodies with the exhale and the positive emotions coming in with the inhale, e.g. “As you breathe in, picture yourself breathing in strength and courage and as you exhale, picture yourself sending all of your insecurities out of your body.”

1. The Examine:  Have your students sit comfortably with their eyes closed. Have them think back through their day and search for a time when they felt they were their best selves: the most true and good part of who they are. Maybe they were kind to a friend or a pet or did something their parent asked without arguing. This might take a minute, like searching through a backpack for a pencil; you know it’s there, you just have to find it.

Then, when they have found that memory, have them savor that memory using all five senses: touch, taste, feel, sound, and smell. This will anchor the memory to their long-term memory. It takes about 30 seconds to anchor a memory.

Then repeat the exercise looking for a time during the day when they fell short of their best self. Maybe they were short with someone, or got angry unnecessarily. Let that memory land lightly on their hand, like a butterfly. Say to it, “you are a part of me, and next time, I’ll do better.” Then blow on the butterfly and let it fly away. This is not a time to beat ourselves up and we don’t want these memories to stick in our long-term memories — just acknowledge them and let them go.

2. Welcoming: Have your students sit comfortably and ask them to identify any difficult feelings they might be having, such as anger, sadness, fear, or anxiety. Allow them to let themselves welcome that feeling and really feel it. Where do they feel it in their body? Is it in their stomach? Their brain? Their back? Ask them to tell the feeling “I know you are a part of me and I welcome you.” Then let them just sit with the feeling for a few moments. Then, have them say to the feeling, “Right now, I need to get back to my day, so please take a back seat; you are allowed to be here, but not allowed to drive. It’s okay if you stay with me, but you cannot be in control because I am in control. If it’s important we can talk more later.” Then, take a deep breath and let that feeling go.

in-the-classroom

3. Walking and breathing: First, have the students practice breathing in slowly through their noses and out slowly through their mouths. Then challenge them to make their exhale one second longer than their inhale. Have them walk and count their steps as they inhale: one, two, three, four. Then have them try to exhale one more step: one, two, three, four, five. However, many inhale steps they can take, they are to try to add one more exhale step. They can do this around the classroom or on the playground, concentrating on their breath. Again, this balances the parasympathetic nervous system.

4. Body Listening: Have the students sit comfortably and close their eyes. Have them take an internal scan of their bodies. If there is a part of their body that draws their attention, have them focus on that part and try to see what is happening. Ask, “What is that part trying to tell you? It might be saying that you’re hungry, or tired, or you need to go to the bathroom or that you’ve injured yourself in some way. It could be saying something metaphysical. Tell your body you are listening and you will take care of its need ASAP.”

5. Breath Affirmation: Chose a name for yourself that is positive and that you would like to be called. Maybe it’s a name someone you love calls you like, “sweetheart” or “honey,” or a nickname you like. Then think of something you need when you are anxious. A word like “breathe,” or “calm,” or “relax.” Then, put the two together and think the first one on the inhale: “Sweetheart,” and the second one on the exhale: “Breathe” Use this reminder silently during stressful situations: “Sweetheart (inhale) Breathe (exhale) Sweetheart (inhale) Breathe (exhale)…”

6. Reading: Reading to a child is one of the simplest ways to calm them and help them stay present.

 

Jacci Turner is an Amazon bestselling author of Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction. Her MG book, Bending Willow represented Nevada at the National Book Festival in Washington D.C. That book is the first book in, The Finding Home Series, and Jacci recently released the fifth book in the series, Willow’s Roundup. The series will soon be coming out in hardback for Libraries and Schools. You can find it and all of Jacci’s books on Amazon and other online outlets. Jacci is on most social media outlets or you can find her on her website at Jacciturner.com and her blog on Spiritual Practices at https://jacciturner.wordpress.com. She enjoys speaking in schools. As a former school counselor, she loves children very much.

These photos link to some great websites for mindfulness in the classroom.

Small kids pic

Bigger kids pic