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 

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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

 

 

 

Spiritual Practice: Finding Your Calling

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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!

 

 

 

Spiritual Practice: Being a Light

Lantern-Light-Festival

 

I have a dear friend who is often housebound by one of those horrible autoimmune diseases. She told me that once in desperation, she cried out to God, “What can I do for you, I can’t even leave the house?” God answered, “Be a sunflower.” The image of being a sunflower, of turning your face toward the light of God is beautiful and doable. She thought, I can do that!

Poet Mary Oliver, in her poem, The Buddha’s Last Instruction, suggests the Buddha’s last words were, “Make of yourself a light.” Mary Oliver’s poem is about the sun coming up and filling the land with light. In one stanza she writes,

“And then I feel the sun itself

 as it blazes over the hills,

like a million flowers on fire –

clearly I’m not needed,

yet I feel myself turning

into something of inexplicable value.

 

sunrise

 

The light does this to us. It shines on us, in us, hanging and healing us, so that, as the Buddha says, we can be a light to others.

John Donohue, a beautiful writer, and prayer of the Celtic tradition of Christianity wrote,

“May the light of your soul guide you. May the light of your soul bless the work you do with the secret love and warmth of your heart…May the sacredness of your work bring healing, light, and renewal to those who you work with and to those who see and receive your work.”

When Quakers pray they say, “I’ll hold you in the Light.” I think that is beautiful.

sunflower

It seems clear to me that our job is to be a sunflower, turning our face to the light of God’s love. As God’s love fills us, it guides us, blesses our work with love and warmth. Then, it does as the Buddha suggests, it makes a light of love and healing to a hurting world.

How have you experienced the light? How does light flow through you to others?

 

Photo credit: Sunflower Lantern FestivalSunrise  

Spiritual Practice: Internal Family Meeting

family meeting 2

The Internal Family Meeting – 

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I was thrilled when I ran across a spiritual practice involving internal family meetings. It’s similar to my work with families using family systems therapy, but instead of a meeting of various family members, the internal family meeting looks at the different parts of who you are as an individual.  We all say things like, “Part of me wants to go to the party, but part of me wants to stay home.” Looking at how these parts interact can be a really insightful way to work on becoming our truest self. 

It’s good to get to know the different parts of ourselves, but it can be hard to face the parts we prefer didn’t exist. Yet, much of what we are meant to know and learn from comes from unpleasant and difficult circumstances — or realities about ourselves, parts of ourselves that we don’t like. We must learn not to shun these uncomfortable parts, but to embrace and learn from them. My spiritual director shared this Buddhist poem with me about staying present in good and bad times, and I thought it would be appropriate here. 

 

In This Passing Moment
by Hogen Bays

In this passing moment karma ripens
and all things come to be.
I vow to choose what is:
If there is cost, I choose to pay.
If there is need, I choose to give.
If there is pain, I choose to feel.
If there is sorrow, I choose to grieve.
When burning — I choose heat.
When calm — I choose peace.
When starving — I choose hunger.
When happy — I choose joy.
Whom I encounter, I choose to meet.
What I shoulder, I choose to bear.
When it is my death, I choose to die.
Where this takes me, I choose to go.
Being with what is — I respond to what is.

 

family-meetings

So, how do we have an internal family meeting and welcome all the parts of ourselves? Try this:

First, find a comfortable seat, somewhere you won’t be interrupted. Take several deep breaths and picture sitting around a table with the different “parts” of yourself. There might be parts of you at the table that you don’t like or aren’t comfortable with, but remember the poem, be present to what IS. If you are a visual person you can sketch this out with stick figures with labels over the heads of the different parts. There might be The Parent, The Lover, The Teacher, The Protector, The Spiritual one, The Hurt one, The Cynic, etc.

Then, once you’ve identified them, welcome each part of yourself to the table. Listen to each part. Ask where they came from. For instance, there may be a part of you that protected you as a child during a difficult time. Thank them for their service. Perhaps you no longer need to be protected, this part of you might now be keeping you from getting to know and trust other people. Talk to that part of yourself about your new reality and how you only need their protection when you are actually threatened. 

Have a “family meeting,” with those around the table to discern how best the parts of you can work together for your good. As you hear and heal the different parts of yourself, you will be better able to hear God as well. 

Let me know if you try this spiritual practice and what you think. 

 

Photo Credit: top pic

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Spiritual Practice: Visioning

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I have often been skeptical of visionaries. I once worked with a youth group at a church where several young women came to me privately, confiding that God had told them they were to marry a certain young man. Unfortunately, they all named the same young man! I’m pretty sure hormones were speaking and not God.

Yet, I have experienced God speaking to me and others through dreams, visions, and intuitions as well. And, there are people who are particularly in touch with what God is doing in the world; they are careful observers, who can see what the rest of us might miss. We call these people prophets or visionaries. They are people who see beyond the status-quo.

Yet I believe we can all be in line with what God wants to do in the world if we just give ourselves time to listen. As in most spiritual practices, the ability to vision starts with quiet listening.

Here are some exercises you might try to begin a visioning journey:

Caution: If we get stretched too thin, we will not be able to stop and listen to God without falling asleep. Regular contemplative spiritual practices prepare our heart, mind, and soul to receive what God is trying to tell us. But, if you try to listen and get drowsy, honor your body by taking a nap. I believe we live in a chronically sleep deprived world. Sometimes the most spiritual thing we can do is sleep.

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Take a walk in nature:

Getting out into nature is also an important way to listen to the heartbeat of God. God’s creation speaks or creates an atmosphere for us to hear things better. Visionary Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) was what they call a “landscape mystic.” Christine Valters Paintner talks about Hildegard in her book, Illuminating the Way, “that the geography of her world was a means of ongoing revelation into the nature of God.” I’ve found this to be true for myself. Getting out into nature, whether it’s a walk in the desert with my dog, or a trip with my honey to the ocean or forest always restores my soul, clears my head and helps me hear God better.

Make a visioning board:

Gather some magazines, glue and, scissors. Think about what things are most important to your true self and are in line with your values. This is not a wish list for material possessions or fame, but a chance to clarify what unique dreams, personality, and purposes God has given you. It could be goals, dreams, or desires. It could be things you don’t see in your life right now that you would hope to see in the future. Or it could be things you already see but want to continue experiencing. Begin to look for pictures in the magazines that represent those values. When you find them, cut them out glue them in any way you want on a paper or canvass. Keep your vision board near you to remind yourself what is important.

When I did this exercise, the things I noticed that were important to me were: time with my family and friends, traveling adventures with my husband, writing meaningful books, helping people grow spiritually, and empowering women. Three years later, this board still reflects my basic values and has been a way to say “no” to things that would take me away from things that are not life-giving.

Your board will reflect what is important to you. Let me know if you try any of these practices and connect with your inner visionary.

When you feel you have heard from God it’s always good to run what you’ve heard through spiritual friends you trust and the holy books you treasure. God is good and loving and wants you to be involved in your own healing, the healing of others, and the healing of the earth. The things you hear will line up with the loving nature of God.