Spiritual Practice: End of the Year Reflection

silhouette photo of person standing in cave

I love December for many reasons: the winter weather, Christmas lights, festive parties; but I also love it as it brings the end to one year and the promise of something new in January. This year is especially fun as it brings a close to a whole decade and opens up a new beginning in 2020.

At the end of each year, I enjoy reflecting back, to see what I might need to savor, grieve, let go of, and learn from. This can open up a time of dreaming and goal planning for the new year (which we can do in a later blog).

Today we will look at the categories: Body, Mind, and Spirit, and next time we’ll tackle Emotions, Work, Relationships, and Fun/Creativity.

Body: Thinking back on 2019, how did you feel about your body? I don’t mean, were you thin or fit enough, I mean, were you at peace with it? Do you try to be an integrated person who honors, loves, and accepts your body? If so, how did you do it? Where did you fall short?

This year I grew in loving my body. As a post-menopausal woman, this has been a challenge. My stomach, which has always been a small part of my body, has become distended and refuses to regain its shape. I work with a personal trainer twice a week and have been enjoying getting stronger. But I believe that yoga has done the most to help me love and accept my body the way it is. The practice of yoga, breathing and stretching together, works to reestablish balance in our parasympathetic nervous systems. These systems get out of balance with stress, and yoga helps us realign. When I’m practicing yoga, I often find myself grateful for my body and sending it love.

How about you? How is your relationship with your body?

Mind: For me, reading is always the best way to improve my mind. I also listen to podcasts, attend lectures and enjoy interesting conversations. Looking back on the year, I’d like to share two books that have been stretching my thinking.

the body keeps the score

First, the book, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk M.D. has helped me understand how Trauma affects the body. I’ve been working with trauma personally, and in my counseling practice for decades, and this book synthesis all the things I’ve learned into one helpful package. I’ve signed up to become an EMDR practitioner just so I can learn to help the traumatized even more. I highly recommend this book if you or someone you know has experienced trauma. Caution: It can be triggering, so it’s best to read and discuss with a trusted friend or counselor.

the great spiritual migration

The second book that is giving words to my experience is called, “The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World’s Largest Religion is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian.” By Brian D. McLaren.

I’ve felt that old ways of thinking of my faith aren’t working for me anymore but not sure what that means for the future. Don’t get me wrong, I still love God and Jesus and my faith is stronger than ever, but it’s different. The old forms don’t fit. McLaren gets that and he has vision, hope, and direction for renewing or reinventing our faith “for the common good,” as it was originally meant to be.

How have you grown your mind this year? What helps you stretch your thinking?

How about your spirit? This year my spirit has been happiest in helping others grow spiritually. I’ve been leading a spiritual formation class where we try different spiritual formation contemplative practices together, such as Lectio Divina or praying a labyrinth. That has been a blast! But personally, I feel a bit restless or maybe lethargic in my spiritual self. I feel weary. I’m still taking my monthly retreats of silence and meeting with my spiritual director, but I have a hard time just being quiet, settling in. That is something for me to reflect on for the new year/decade. What do I need to unplug from so I can settle? Maybe I need less time on my phone and more time in the trees.

How about your spirit? How are you nurturing that part of you that needs time in nature, time in silence, time in fellowship?

Thanks for joining me in part one of reflecting on the year. Tune in next time for part two where we will reflect on Emotions, Work, Relationships, and Fun/Creativity. Then get ready to create some dreams and hope for the new year. Let me know how you best sort through a year and plan for the next.

 

Photo Credit: Snow cave: Photo by Maël BALLAND on Pexels.com

 

 

Spiritual Practice: Reconnecting to our bodies

body mind

 

Have you ever had to experience someone asking how you’re doing and you realize that you have no idea how to answer that question? This is something I notice all the time. When I get busy or just go into my automatic to-do-list mode, I can forget to connect with myself. And yet, when I take the time to slow down, sit in my prayer chair or go to yoga, I often feel sad. It’s like my body knows how I’m doing, but I’m not listening to it.  I’ve cried in yoga or during a massage more than once.

There are many reasons we disconnect from our bodies. A culture of busyness is one. Women often have the experience of putting others first for so long, that when their children leave home, they have no idea who they are or what they want in life. Men who throw themselves into careers are often cut off from their emotions. As one young man said to me this week, “It’s not okay for men to cry in our culture.” Of course, these gender stereotypes are changing, but these are still things I hear about every day in my counseling office.

Children are running from event to event, piled with homework, and in their downtime their focus in on screens. They have no time to know what they are feeling – or even how to feel. They have little unstructured time to play, think, daydream or use their imaginations.

 

children playing soccer

Trauma can separate us from our bodies. The best book I’ve read on this topic is, “The Body Keeps the Score,” which explains how trauma lodges in the brain and comes out somatically in our bodies. Whether it’s asthma, migraines, or stomach aches, our bodies are reacting to stress and trying to get our attention. They want us to slow down and listen and learn to feel all of our feelings — even the difficult ones.

For people who have experienced trauma, this lack of connection to their own bodies can be very hard to correct. EMDR or other therapies can help immensely.

Unfortunately, even religious teachings can disconnect us from our bodies. The ancient Hebrew understanding of the soul was a unified view of body, mind, and spirit together. All three are equally important. At some point in history for Christians, the body became suspect. Puritans had to keep it covered, bodily functions became shameful, and talking about body biology was often taboo. My mother, even though she had three older sisters, thought she was dying when her period started. No one had prepared her.

I’m grateful for my children’s generation, and possibly the internet/social media, as these strictures are loosening. People now talk openly about the menstrual cycle, masturbation, and sex. Hopefully, these changes will help reconnect us to our bodies. I’ve seen adds for cry pillows and gatherings for women to come together and cry, or for men who come together and snuggle to learn how to be both masculine and nurturing. At some deep level, people are understanding that our need for bodily contact and non-sexual intimate connection is important.

adult beverage breakfast celebration
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

How do we reclaim the connection to our bodies?

  1. Prayer or meditation helps ground and connect us. The Insight Timer App has thousands of guided meditations to help with that. You can try any length, with many different topics, or just use the timer and sit in silence.   The practice of centering prayer is growing in our faith culture, and there are many guides available or possibly centering prayer groups near you to join.
  2. For trauma, I’d recommend a therapist who specializes in trauma. If you don’t feel the first therapist you try is a good fit, try another one!
  3. Any activity that helps you connect with your body will help. Walking, hiking, swimming, gym workouts, yoga, and massage will all help. You are NOT being selfish when you give yourself time and money to do these things.
  4. If you have someone to hug, do it. Body contact is HUGE. If you don’t have someone to hug, get a pet, or volunteer at an animal shelter or the church nursery. We need to feel another presence near us to help with the calming of our parasympathetic nervous system. Think about the elders in your world. Often, if their spouse is gone, they very rarely get touched. Hug a lonely elder!
  5. Breathe and listen. Our bodies wait to tell us how we are, who we are, and what we need.

Let me know how you keep in touch with yourself. What works for you?

Photo credit, body

children playing soccer

Spiritual Practice: Finding Your Tribe

backlit dawn foggy friendship

When I say tribe, I’m not referring to a group of people you were born into, as in a Native American tribe, but in the popular understanding of the word: a distinctive or close-knit group, a group of kindred spirits, people you feel safe with.

Sadly, these are not always the same people as the tribe you were born into, though it is for some lucky folks. Also, your tribe will change over time depending on where you live, work, play and grow as a person. Sometimes, a change in beliefs or political understanding will move you from one tribe to another. Sometimes a job promotion or increase/decrease in your standard of living will propel you from one group to another.

The important thing is, we all need a tribe — people that “get us,” people that are safe. I recently met a young woman who had developed a great group of friends. Later, something happened that showed her they were not her tribe. They betrayed her deeply and gossiped horribly about her. She was devastated and is now having trouble trusting anyone else. That is a hard thing; betrayals can stick with us causing us to withdraw and put up walls of protection around our hearts.

My husband and I went through a tribe change when we started standing with the LGBTQ community. Our faith tribe, some family members, and many friends could not understand this decision and we felt exiled from that tribe. It was a very painful thing. But it was also freeing. We had been tiptoeing around on eggshells, trying to avoid rocking the boat in our tribe, and when we left, we could walk more freely. Suddenly, it was as if we could breathe, we could be ourselves, and we could advocate for justice. We remained close to many of our longtime friends, but it felt as if our tribal allegiance had undergone a seismic shift. Eventually, we found likeminded people with whom we could be more candid with about topics that were previously difficult to discuss. It took a while but we are now enjoying exploring a new tribal identity.

 

photo of a person wearing printed crew neck t shirt

How do you find a tribe?

  1. Look for people who might have the same interests as you. Perhaps in a church, community organizing group, book club, hiking group or political action group.
  2. Look for people you feel comfortable around.
  3. Try sharing a bit of yourself and see how that part of you is handled by others in the group. Are you welcomed or held at a distance?
  4. Not everyone you meet will fall into the category of tribe-worthy. We all have friends, acquaintances, and family members that we love, but that does not automatically make them part of your tribe. Don’t put all your energy into forming a tribe at work. Jobs can disappear and your tribe along with them.

Why do we need a tribe? Life is hard, and we are all busy. Having a small group of people you can be yourself with is important. You don’t have to agree on everything to be part of a tribe. The best tribes can challenge and disagree but continue to love and be connected. The best tribes can bring in new ideas and expose each member to new things. But tribes don’t just happen, they need to be cultivated. Meeting with people regularly is the only way to develop a tribe. Weekly or monthly gatherings, dinners, or any event where you can talk deeply with one another can lead to a tribe. You must take risks to form a tribe. Tribes can be healing. As we share our pain in the safety of a tribe, we can heal.

five women laughing

When we left our former tribe, we started a new one called “Shalom.” It was to be a place of healing for people from the LGBTQ family who had been hurt by the church. This became a tribe of safety and love, but it took over a year before we could all trust each other. After five years we officially dissolved the group, not because anything bad had happened, but because it had met its purpose. Everyone in Shalom, including us, had found safety and healing, and life had gotten better and busier for everyone. Everyone agreed it was time to stop our meetings which had gone from weekly for three years, to monthly for the last two. We will still be friends, but it was time to let the tribe scatter.

How do you know it’s time to move on from a tribe? Sometimes it is just natural as life and priorities change. But tribes can also become toxic, as what happened to the young woman I mentioned. If there is gossip, lying, or intolerance of who you are, it might be time to leave. If you find yourself avoiding the folks in your tribe, you might need to reevaluate. A tribe is somewhere you are not just tolerated, but celebrated.

Do you have a tribe? How did you find it? Have you ever had to switch tribes? I’d love to hear your stories.

 

 

Photos: Top pic 

Man in shirt pic

Women laughing pic

 

Spiritual Practice: Healing Burnout

burnout

I listened to an interesting audiobook the other day called, The Burnout Generation. It talked about millennials and how they are increasingly facing burnout. Why?

  1. They graduate from college with an average of $35,000 in debt hanging over their heads and then get jobs that don’t pay enough for many years.
  2. They are the first generation where it is not assumed they will have better lives than their parents.
  3. They are priced out of the housing market.
  4. Cell phones have made work difficult, if not impossible, to leave “at the office.” They are expected to be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  5. Many suffer from anxiety and depression.

It was a harsh reality to read about. I was from the last generation of folks who could, “work their way through college” and graduate without debt. My undergraduate classes were about $150 a semester and books were another $50. Now a single textbook can cost $350!

We tell people that they need a degree to get meaningful work, but the jobs they get aren’t paying enough to even make minimum payments on the debt they stack up. It’s overwhelming for me to even think about it.

tried buisnessman

 

I believe America is headed for burnout. Many things are contributing to burn-out. Working too much, taking on too many volunteer activities, working with emotionally intense populations, being a single parent, parenting in general. It’s a difficult issue, rooted in some systemic problems, like the college student loan situation. But, mostly it’s the American culture, even the Christian culture, which seems to celebrate busyness as a virtue. There is nothing Biblical about that. If we look at Jesus as a model of life, he even left his healing ministry while there were still people waiting to be healed, and went off for some alone time with God. (Mark 1:35ff) God created Sabbath rest because we need it, yet how many of us really take a day to rest?

adult beverage breakfast celebration

So, how do we begin to heal burnout? It’s a complex problem, but here are some ideas.

  1. Intentionally limit your time on social media. The stress of constantly comparing yourself to others’ “online” personas is exhausting.
  2. Limit your time on the news stream. It can be toxic.
  3. Set your phone to silent, not vibrate, but silent. You can check your phone for messages, but the constant vibration and buzzing is stress-producing. I’m not sure how to turn off notifications on a watch, but I hope there is a way.
  4. Intentionally put short getaways into your life. Take a weekend to walk by the ocean or in the forest and reconnect with God through creation. I try to do this monthly. Try turning your phone to airport mode for a few hours of these trips.
  5. Allow yourself five minutes to sit still in silence each day. As your thoughts quiet, priorities can become clear.
  6. Learn to take naps, even if you don’t fall asleep, just lie down for fifteen minutes and rest. I’ve been trying this one. I rarely sleep, but it is nice to rest.
  7. Make choices for a simpler life. My husband and I have always lived simply, which led to no debt, paid off cars, house, and no credit card bills. We live way below the standard of most of our friends who have more very attractive luxuries. But we are debt-free and happy.
  8. Find a group, a tribe, a community to help support your “less busy” lifestyle. Invite folks over for potluck dinners, or game nights, where all the phones get put in a basket upon entry.
  9. One of my favorite things from The Burnout Generation was the story about a church that was raising money to help pay off student loans. What a wonderful idea! What freedom that would bring to those individuals!
  10. The book also mentioned the importance of therapy. As a therapist, that made me happy. If you have insurance or can afford private pay, a therapist can help with the anxiety, depression, or PTSD that contributes to burnout. They can also help you assess your quality of life and offer solutions to life problems. Life Coaches and Spiritual Directors can help with that too.

I’d love to hear how you have dealt with burnout in your life. Maybe together we can figure out how to turn America from a “Burned out nation,” to a healthy one.

 

Photo credits: Matches,    Tired Businessman

Fireplace Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

 

Spiritual Practice: Aging Well

Aging

I’ve been thinking a lot about aging lately because, well, I am aging. I don’t feel any older inside, but the years keep adding up.

How do we look at aging as a spiritual practice?

I’ve watched my husband wrestle with these questions as he turned sixty-five and the warranty on his body seems to have expired. Suddenly he needs cataract surgery and hearing aids. With his spiritual director, he has come to a “letting go,” and “embracing of,” stance. You gotta understand. My husband is tall, handsome, with a full head of brown hair. He gets flirted with constantly and is often confused as our granddaughters’ father. These aging issues should feel like a personal affront to him, yet he is choosing to let go of what he has no control over and embrace the process of aging, looking for its gifts. And for him, these gifts are well worth the losses of aging.

This attitude seems to be the key in the books I’m reading on aging. Also, growing older does not mean stopping living.

parker plamer

Parker Palmer, in his fantastic book, On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity and Getting Old, writes a series of essays about the aging process. I love this book for his warmth, honesty, and humor. One of my favorite quotes from the book is this:

“Old age is no time to hunker down unless disability demands it. Old is just another word for nothing left to lose, a time of life to take bigger risks on behalf of the common good.” Pg.2

Palmer speaks a lot about the importance of gratitude and the ability, to tell the truth in love, no longer needing to posture or pretend. That is beautiful. He also says we need to embrace everything inside us, our true selves and our shadows, with grace and love. This leads to our wholeness.

falling upward

That reminded me of a book by Richard Rohr, “Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life,” in which he describes one of the main tasks of the second half of life as sifting through the first half and making sense of it, learning its lessons, facing our shadows.  Rohr says this process is not necessarily about aging but after suffering a loss, any of us can begin this process of facing the difficult truths about ourselves, though some choose not to. As we do, we become wise instead of bitter. Parker agrees, saying these traumas can either break our heart apart or break it open to love more.  (pg. 161)

women rowing

Another book that has helped me is, “Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age.” In this book, Mary Pipher uses case studies describing how different women have navigated the aging process. She writes a lot about gratitude and the inner work of aging:

“This may be the most important thing – that we learn to grant ourselves mercy. That we forgive ourselves, that we accept our pain, mistakes, and vulnerability, and somehow manage to love ourselves and our own lives…It is only when we grant ourselves mercy that we can extend mercy to others.” Pg. 158

What I’m learning so far is that aging is about grieving and letting go of the physical losses we can’t control and working hard on the things we can control. Processing our lives, integrating our lessons, and being honest with ourselves about ourselves in grace and love. As we do this difficult inner work it frees us to give back to the world. It allows us, as Parker Palmer says, to “take bigger risks for the common good.”

What are you learning about the process of aging? Are there books you’d like to share?

 

 

Photo credit

 

 

 

A Tribute To My daughters On International Daughters Day

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I have five daughters. I gave birth to one, and the other four came along later and claimed my heart.

Sarah, my firstborn, is my lioness. She is strong and a fierce protector of her tribe of children, pets, friends, family, and those on the margins. People look to her to lead.

Natalie is my koala bear. She longs to create a warm and loving home, full of light, beauty, laughter, and creativity.

Stephanie is my owl. She is wise, observant, quiet, pondering, and thoughtful. When she talks, we listen because her insights are compelling.

Camilla is my beaver. She is industrious, busy, smart, and competent. People rely on her to keep order in the chaos of life.

Susie is my fox. She is shy, with a quick mind that can solve intricate problems and a loyal heart. She has good boundaries as she makes a life with my son, and a playful side that delights her nieces.

This is the thing: All five of my daughters are brilliant, creative, kind, and beautiful. And, all of them have experienced trauma, disappointments, or devastating losses in their young lives. I wish this weren’t true. I wish we were handing them a world which is an easier, kinder, safer place, but we are not.

I know each of you is strong and resilient, but I wish you didn’t have to be. I don’t have much wisdom to offer you, but you know how I feel about trees, so I give you this one. Look at it; its beauty stopped me in my tracks and took my breath away. For me, the world is also like this tree, beautiful, strong, breathtaking, and wise. It will stop you in your tracks, take away your breath, and give you the strength you need to go on. So, here are some things I’ve learned, and I wish for you.

Rest, under the tree, like a lioness. You all constantly give to others, take time to rest, play, and create.

lioness

Cling, to the tree like a koala. Cling to your values, your loved ones, your faith in humanity, in God, in yourself. Being rooted in a community will carry you through every storm. Relationships are important.

photo of gray koala bear hugging tree

Sit in silence, like the owl. We live in a crazy busy world, and you all have over-full lives, but there is so much wisdom in silence. I hear you protesting, “When?” But, take five minutes to settle yourself, sift through your priorities, then make decisions about your day.

brown owl on tree branch

Hide behind the tree, like the fox. In a “just say yes” world, we need to learn to say, “no.” We need boundaries around our time, our energy, and our souls. It’s okay to say no, and don’t forget to play. Life can be serious. Find a way to belly laugh.

black and brown animal

Work with the tree, like the beaver. Find meaningful work that enlivens you instead of drains you. You all work hard. If you can work from that place of rest, silence, safety, and boundaries, your work won’t burn you out, and you might even find that elusive quality we are always looking for, that is, balance.

Beaver with stick

Know this, my daughters: Know that I think you’re amazing. I find you endlessly fascinating, and I enjoy spending time with each of you. Know that I am always on your side and that you always, always have a place in my home and my heart.

Mom

 

 

Pictures from WordPress Pixel except for beaver which has a link and the tree is mine.

Spiritual Practice: Finding Your Calling

improve-spanish-listening

 

I used to think that “calling” involved a specific word from God about your life. As if there was only one thing on earth you were called to do. For instance, when I was in full-time ministry, I thought that was my calling. But what happens if, like me, you leave the ministry? Are you suddenly “out of your calling?” Are you, “between callings?” This led me to a lot of questions. What if I’m working in a gas station, is it a calling? What if I’m housebound by illness? Is there still a calling?

Recently I’ve been reading, On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity and Getting Old by Parker Palmer. I love Parker Palmer; he is warm, engaging and funny. My copy of his book is now marked with smiley faces where he has made me laugh. In this book of essays, he brings up the topic of calling or vocation. In it he says,

“The way I’ve earned my keep has changed frequently, but my vocation has remained the same: I’m a teacher-and-learner, a vocation I’ve pursued through thick and thin in every era of my life.” Pg. 85

This thought rocked my world. I was feeling “calling-less” until I read those words. Then, the lights came on. Learning can be a vocation??? Oh my, that is me; I LOVE to learn. Learning something new is what drives me to get up in the morning. It’s why I read, it’s why I write, it’s why I listen deeply to people. I love to learn. I didn’t understand that calling was more about who you are than what you do. It’s more internal than external.

But, unlike Parker Palmer, teaching was not my vocation. I had to think hard about how to describe the other part of my calling. I realized it’s communication, and, specifically, communicating hope. The tag line on my website is “Infusing Reality with Hope.” Hope is in all my books, it is reflected in how I do counseling, it’s in my spiritual direction practice. It’s evident every time I speak, teach, or train. It’s just who I am.

parker plamer

So, my calling is learning-and-communicating hope. What is yours? Here are some ideas to consider when trying to discover your calling:

  1. I think most callings have an inward and outward expression.
  2. I think these callings are innate within you already, from the time you are born. They are part of your inborn personality, or as the Quaker’s say, a birthright gift.
  3. I think they are evident no matter what you are doing for a job. You’ll be able to see these gifts across your lifetime whether you’re scrubbing toilets, teaching kindergarten, or living as an AIDS worker in Africa.

Why is it important to find your calling? For me, it was a freeing exercise. Once I left the ministry, I felt “calling-less,” and I tried to think of my next jobs as callings, but they just didn’t fit. Realizing that your calling/vocation is about who you are, relieves a lot of pressure on the things you do for a living. I like to write, but if writing was my calling, it would feel very weighty and it would lose its lightness and fun. If I put the burden on something I “do,” it feels heavy. If my calling is something I “am,” it feels natural. So, what is your calling? Let me know if you think you find it. This should be fun!