Spiritual Practice: End of the Year Reflection

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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.

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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

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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.

 

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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.

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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: Truth Speaking

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Warning: This is not a “how to win friends and influence people” post. You may actually lose some friends by speaking truth, but you might also gain some new and very interesting friends.

I’m not talking about truth-telling as in pointing out to your friend that she has lettuce in her teeth. That is a common courtesy, although awkward, depending on the depth of the friendship.

And I’m not talking about a fundy, stick your nose in my business, “Just speaking the truth in love, brother, you shouldn’t be dating her.”

I’m talking about the kind of truth-telling that happens when one looks at the world, at the dominant culture, and realizes that “we” have gotten off track. Telling the truth in that situation is much harder. People don’t like to hear that kind of truth because we don’t like to admit we’re hurting people with our words, actions, or laws. But that is exactly the kind of truth we need to tell in order to get back on track. It’s a prophetic voice.

*In his book, The Prophetic Imagination, theologian Walter Brueggemann writes, the dominant culture, now and in every time, is grossly uncritical, cannot tolerate any fundamental criticism, and will go to great lengths to stop it. It is the role of the Prophet to help “nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and a perception” alternative to the dominant narrative.” 

I had this experience when I began to align myself with my LGBT brothers and sisters, which cost me my job with a large evangelical ministry. I was not trying to be a prophet or rattle any cages, but the very act of standing with my rainbow family was apparently enough to challenge the power structures of the dominant Christian culture. Once you see an injustice, you cannot un-see it and the way the “church” was treating my gay friends was clearly wrong. I felt called to stand up against this injustice and consequently was booted from my spiritual tribe. This was an excellent opportunity to know what it feels like to be a gay Christian. In the aftermath, I gained a wonderful, supportive rainbow family, and found a new spiritual tribe among affirming churches, parents of LGBT children, and others standing with them.

 

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Our job as truth tellers is, to tell the truth, then stand in that truth. My spiritual director once told me that staying in a difficult place was a form of intercession. The good news is, we are not responsible for the outcome, we are just called to stand firm. It can be hard and it can be lonely, but it is always worth it. Here are some ways to sustain your energy during times of truth-telling.

  1. Give yourself radical rest. This in itself is a statement to the dominant busy, consumer culture we live in. It is a radical thing to choose to stop and rest. Rest, Sabbath, silence, and solitude will restore your soul and sustain your activism.
  2. Meditation/prayer/yoga: These things help connect your body, mind, and spirit which can get burnt-out and disconnected during times of cultural upheaval and chaos.
  3. Dance with your friends. I love to watch Grey’s Anatomy, where the characters model a “dance it out,” way of dealing with stress. We also see this modeled in scripture. When Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, away from slavery and into freedom, his sister Marion whipped out her tambourine and led the women in a dance. When David returned with the Ark of God, he ripped off his clothes and danced. Dancing in the midst of pain, heartache, and push-back is a testament of hope, a celebration of battles won, or a prophetic statement that we believe they can be won despite evidence to the contrary.

What has helped you in your quest to speak the truth? I’d love to hear about it or stand with you as you find your voice against injustice.

 

*This quote and many of these ideas are from Christine Valters Paintner in Illuminating the Way: Embracing the Wisdom of Monks and Mystics

 

Photo credit: protest

 

Spiritual Practice: Seeking Wisdom

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Let’s be honest, when push comes to shove most of us go to other people for wisdom. We ask friends for advice, we read books written by experts, we search the scriptures and holy books, but we often forget that wisdom lies inside each of us.

Why is it so hard to believe that we have wisdom inside? Why is our own inner voice often the last place we look for advice? It is partly because it takes more time, more effort, and more silence than most of us westerners are comfortable with. We want the quick fix, the fast food, the easy answers.

But, if we believe like the Quakers and the Benedictines do, that the holy resides within each of us, then it would be logical there is great wisdom within us just waiting to be sought. One of my favorite verses from the Bible says, If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1:5.

So, how do we listen? How do we get still enough to hear the wisdom within? Here are some easy steps.

I know I sound like a broken drum about this, but first and foremost, we must cultivate a life that allows for times of silence. Sitting in silence allows the dust to settle and clears away the noise, helping us to hear our God-given wisdom.

And this is the harder part: Wisdom comes from the school of hard knocks. Christine Valters Paintener says,

 “Wisdom comes through navigating life experiences that stretch us, push us to our edges, all the while staying as present as possible without running away.” (pg. 117 Illuminating the Way: Embracing the Wisdom of Monks and Mystics).

Let me highlight the line, “while as staying present as possible without running away.” This one is tough. Most of us want to run as fast as we can away from hard times and difficult feelings. We want to numb those painful events with drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, denial or whatever works. Wisdom comes from the maturity to stay present and learn from the experience. Yikes!

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

We learn about this concept in yoga when the instructor says to “stay in your breath,” through a difficult pose. This is a tool we can take with us when things get hard and we are tempted to run. Just breathe.

Spiritual practices will keep us centered and growing in wisdom. This blog is full of practices, but I also enjoy some help with my spiritual practices. I meet monthly with a spiritual director, whose purpose is not to give me answers, but to help me find them within, by listening to God’s voice inside me and by trying new practices. You can find a director through Spiritual Directors international.

So next time you need wisdom, resist the urge to run to a friend, authority, or book. Try seeking the wisdom within and let me know how it goes!

 

Photo credit, top

Spiritual Practice: Self-care

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*If you’re looking for the book study on archetypes see the note below.

Self-care is getting a lot of press these days, but in my experience, a lot of people struggle with it, especially Christians. For some of us, the idea of taking time for ourselves feels selfish. I have felt guilty for even taking a nap. Yes, we are to love and serve others, but we can’t do so from an empty well. Burn out will always result.

So how do we develop self-care as a spiritual practice? First, we need to remember that God came up with the whole self-care idea. Remember the, “cease from work and take a nap day” idea? I feel like Americans especially have a hard time unplugging from work. Now that we are attached to our phones, work can find us no matter where we are. And when we are off work, we often let our brains vegetate in front of the TV because we are so worn out. The universe knew of our need to rest, and hence the idea of the Sabbath.

Next, it’s important to know that you are worth taking care of. Often, we worry about everyone else’s needs and put ourselves last on the “take care of” list.

Women are famous for this. The reality of the situation is if you don’t take care of yourself, no one else will. Actually, it’s no one else’s job. Your kids won’t do it, and your spouse shouldn’t have to. You need to take care of you. You are important.

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So, what are some ways we can care for ourselves that don’t involve spending a ton of money at the spa? (My boss gave us a spa day for Christmas and I now know why people like to go there)!

For me, the most important thing I can give myself is time. Time away from other people, from my responsibilities, from my work, kids, and spouse. Why is that important? Am I super introverted? Nope. Actually, I’m an extrovert. But I’ve learned that we all need time alone in order to sort out our thoughts and feelings and to get ourselves realigned with the universe or God, or however, you think of your higher power. It’s like plugging your body into a battery charger. Even sitting alone for ten minutes with NO AGENDA can be life-changing. This is where our strength and wisdom come from. This is where direction and ideas have time to formulate. This is where the magic happens. Start with ten minutes and see what it will do for you.

I’ve expanded this concept for myself. I try to give myself an hour a day to reorder. I spend some of that time reading, writing, praying or meditating. I have a couple good apps I use for this time. The Insight Timer app has guided meditations for many topics as well as a timer you can set for any length of silence you want to try. And the Pray as you Go app has a short scriptural mediation that I’ve been enjoying lately.

I also try to keep Tuesdays as my Sabbath, as a day I do fun things to restore my soul. For me, that can mean sleeping in, going to the library to write, taking the dog for a hike, attending a yoga class, watching shows with my daughter, or any number of things.

Then, once a month I go to a retreat center for 24 hours of silence. I usually take a couple friends. That way we can talk as we drive the two hours to the center. We share what is happening in our lives and what we need from our alone time. At the center, we are in silence until dinner, when we talk about our time alone so far. On the way home, we debrief. Having friends along is fun and makes it a community experience, but I also enjoy going alone. While I’m at the center I meet with my spiritual director, who is a spiritual source of help and encouragement. I try to have NO AGENDA while at the center. They have beautiful grounds to walk around, a labyrinth to enjoy, and a little forest to stroll in. I almost always take a nap and a long walk too.

If you live in Northern California or Northern Nevada, you can join me for a weekend retreat this summer.  It will be a guided silent retreat and you can learn more here.

You might think this all sounds like I’m spending A LOT of time on myself, and I know that might not be doable for you, depending on your life phase or financial means. But truthfully, the discipline of spending time alone, with myself and with God, has brought the most significant change to my life. When I skip any of those opportunities to be alone, I really miss it. My husband definitely sees a difference in my attitude when I return from time away. I’m more patient, loving, creative, and calm when I take the time to care for myself.

Self-care involves more than just silence and solitude. Exercise, eating right, getting adequate sleep, and working on inner healing are all a part of self-care. But I think the first place to start is with ten minutes of silence each day. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

*I decided to let go of the book study on Illuminating the Way: Embracing the Wisdom of Monks and Mystics by Christine Valters Paintner, because I was losing readership and even though many people said they wanted to do the book study and follow along with the blog, very few people commented. So, I will continue the study on my own and if you are still doing the study, feel free to email me at Jacciturnerauthor at gmail.com, and we can continue the conversation there.

Photo credit: candle

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Spiritual Practices: Archetypes – The Healer

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We continue to explore our true selves through the window of archetypes, using as my guide, the book: Illuminating the Way: Embracing the Wisdom of Monks and Mystics by Christine Valters Paintner. You can join us in reading the book or just follow along with the blog.

Archetypes are “instinctual and universal patterns of thought developed in human beings over thousands of years.” (pg. xi) Today we will look at the archetype of The Healer.

“The Healer is the one who helps us to overcome inner divisions of body, mind, soul, heart, and spirit…the Healer is the one who helps us to welcome the stranger and find reconciliation – perhaps even gratitude for the parts of the self that have for so long vexed us.” pg. 87.

I find the phrase, “even gratitude for the parts of the self that have for so long vexed us,” quite intriguing. In my last blog, I described my experience as an adult child of an alcoholic.  When I was in graduate school, I took a Drug and Alcohol class. I clearly remember asking the teacher, “When will I ever be able to heal from the experience my family’s substance abuse issues?”

She said without a beat, “When you get to the place you can be thankful for them.”

I replied right away, “Well, that will never happen.”

Yet now I find myself thankful for the experiences that made me who I am. I am a much more loving, compassionate, and non-judgmental person than I would have been without these hard lessons. But there were many years of hard work with my inner Healer, and with healers on the outside: therapists, friends, fellowship groups, and spiritual directors. I understand that healing is a life work. A transformed life is a continual conversion; it never ends.

The idea of “Holy Pause” or “statio” in this chapter was new to me and so helpful. To take a break between one thing and another, to pause long enough to sift through what we learned from the last thing before starting the next, was a novel concept. I’m particularly interested in the idea because my husband and I have recently both experienced the unexpected pain and beauty of it.

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He recently retired and his goal was to go from “doing,” to “being.” After two years of absolutely loving this time of rest and reflection, he began to get restless.  Just as this shift occurred, a small but eternally significant job was offered to him, helping foster children graduate from high school. It is perfect. He used those two years to sift through the first thing before he was ready for the second.

I had a less chosen rest. After leaving the hospice agency I worked for, I expected to have a few months off, but this turned into seven long months of unemployment. I was restless, depressed, and bored. But looking back, I see that that time between what was and what is, was time to rest, nap, read, pray, play, and visit friends. I watched lots of movies and laughed a lot with friends. It was time with my inner Healer to process what came before and put back the pieces of who I am now, a changed, and hopefully better person who can take that change into my new counseling practice. We need to pause in order to synthesize our experiences before moving on to the next one. It’s as fascinating as it is true.

It’s just like the idea of “liminal space,” the time between times, the now and not yet, where cool things happen. In the quiet work of the desert, or the tomb, or even in the cocoon, there is new life being born. You can’t see it, but it’s happening.

Paintner’s icon of Brigid of Kildare was interesting. Brigid of Kildare took her healing to the poor, with milk from her cow and a supernatural healing fire that was often depicted as flames in her palms. We are encouraged to take our healing to others also, wounded healers (as Nouwen says), though we may be.

The shadow of The Healer is very interesting to me. It includes the charlatan healers offering miracles, often for a price. I feel the world of writing is full of them. “Ten easy steps to making $100,000 writing your book.” “Take my free webinar,” which always ends with a hard sell to buy a program. It wears me out. I’m skeptical of folks who offer easy solutions to hard problems. And if you are sick, or poor, or not healed, or don’t make $100,00 on your book, then it is somehow your fault. I see this in some, “name it and claim it,” types of Christianity and other self-help groups that promise you will prosper if you say the right words, but it is somehow your fault if you don’t. These are lies and will poison your soul. Beware of quick fixes, and do the hard work with your inner Healer.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on The Healer Archetype and how it has been helpful or unhelpful in your life!

photo credit: Top Pic

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Spiritual Practice: Pursuing Healing

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When I was in graduate school to be a marriage and family therapist, one of the requirements was to go to counseling yourself — to pursue your own healing. The wisdom was that you can’t take someone where you haven’t been yourself. I remember my husband and I going together to work on some marriage issues. I loved it while the therapist was talking to him, but when that searchlight turned on me, I felt naked and exposed. I hated it. Yet, I wouldn’t trade those three years of therapy for anything. First, it gave us a much better footing for our marriage, and second, when I transitioned to individual therapy I was able to deal with my mama drama and my daddy dysfunction. I was able to bring to light my own family of origin pain and, like a boil being lanced, let the poison drain away and the healing begin.

In the same graduate school program, I had a friend who somehow skirted the counseling requirement. I know it would have helped him as he was mostly raised living in a car and had some really important pain to process. But, he chose not to, and instead of becoming one a wounded healer, he became a wounded wounder. Through having multiple affairs, he wrecked the lives of his wife, children, and who knows how many others.

Therapy is not the only way toward healing. During the same program, I became acutely aware that I was the product of an alcoholic system. I learned that in these families there are predictable rolls the children play. My brother was the “clown,” my sister the “lost child” and I was the “perfect one.” Do you have a perfect friend? One who is always loving and kind and on-time for everything? Don’t assume that this friend’s attributes are coming from a place of functionality, we ALL have our battle scars.

A lot of my healing around family substance abuse issues came through books:

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Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Adult Children Of Alcoholics was foundational for me.

Boundaries: When To Say Yes, How To Say No To Take Control Of Your Life, gave me skills I wasn’t raised with. Books can be really helpful in our healing.

If you suspect you had a borderline parent or spouse, the book I Hate You, Don’t Leave Me: Understanding The Borderline Personality,  could be your salvation.

If you’ve been sexually abused, the book On The Threshold Of Hope could guide you through it. I suggest you read this with a trusted friend.

Other things helped me during this time. Hypnotherapy, EMDR and Prayer Healing sessions helped me work through a rape I experience at seventeen. All three do the same kind of work in your brain, moving the trauma from the animal part of your (fight, flight, freeze) brain to the logic center where it can be processed logically. But, Prayer Healing has a divine component and I’ve seen people grow exponentially from it.

Over the last ten years, spiritual direction has kept me moving forward in my spiritual growth and development.

You can read about spiritual direction here.

The point is that no one is going to do the hard work of healing for us. God will bring people to help you and be with you during the process. God may even speed up the healing, but you have to show up and do the work.

Why pursue the work of healing? I believe it is the calling of each of us to bring the best, most complete “us” to the world. You were created to live a life only you can live. First, do no harm. So, get some healing, and do some good. The world is waiting for your gifts, your voice, and your compassionate action. Together, as wounded healers, we can help heal the world.

In what ways have you found healing? What has been most helpful?

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