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

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!

 

 

 

Crying Here: For a Good Reason

boxes of books!

We interrupt this blog to bring you exciting news!

Hello, book-loving friends!

I have some exciting news to share with you. I feel shy to share it because it is so overwhelming to me. I’ll tell you why in a minute.

I have a friend who chooses to remain anonymous. She has read my books and decided they needed to be in the schools. She made an appointment with the heads of the Washoe County School Libraries, and we met with them. She said she would like to donate a set (of five hardback books) of the Finding Home Series to each elementary school. That’s sixty schools! And, she wanted to buy a classroom set (of thirty books) for each middle school of Snapped and Cracker!

As you can imagine, I was overwhelmed. I do not benefit financially as we bought the books at cost, but I benefit in a much greater way! The hardest part of being an author is trying to figure out how to get your books into the hands of the actual readers they were written for. In my case, writing middle grade fiction and young adult fiction, it’s hard to market to those age groups. The gatekeepers for these books are Librarians, Teachers, and Parents. The fact that three thousand of my books will now be available to students is entirely unreal.

The Librarians have invited me to speak to all the school librarians when they meet in late August and present them with the books at that time. Because Snapped tackles the issue of cyber sexual bullying and Cracker tackles racism, the librarians are also hopeful that I can speak to the social studies teachers, as these issues are part of their curriculum.

more boxes

In the meantime, boxes of books are stacked all over my little house, reminding me daily how incredibly blessed I am with good friends. Thank you for your love and support. I couldn’t wait to share this news with all of you.

Spiritual Practice: Pilgrimage

pilgrimage

The idea of Pilgrimage is an interesting one to me. Four of my friends have completed the El Camino de Santiago, which leads to the traditional burial ground of the apostle James. People take pilgrimages to seek wisdom, find God, or visit a thin place where earth and heaven seem very close to each other. There are three principal Christian pilgrimages: Jerusalem, Rome, and El Camino.

I have made only one of these pilgrimages: Jerusalem. Many people go there to “walk where Jesus walked,” and for those that can’t go there, the stations of the cross were created. The stations take you through Jesus’ path to the cross, and you don’t even have to leave home to do it.

I still consider my summer living in Tel Aviv, Israel, one of the highlights of my life; but I think it had less to do with the location and more to do with displacing myself into another culture, where I didn’t know the language or customs. That kind of pilgrimage sort of breaks open the walls we build to keep ourselves safe; we come face to face with our shadow side, and we have an opportunity to heal.

Displacement is a shortcut to this kind of growth and healing, and you don’t have to leave town to displace yourself. Just immerse yourself in a different cultural group. Hang out with people in a church, synagogue, or community group that is different than yours.

The idea of pilgrimage goes deeper than traveling somewhere to visit a holy site. In her book, Illuminating the Way: Embracing the wisdom of Monks and Mystics,” Christine Valters Painter suggests that we each have an inner Pilgrim —

“The part of ourselves drawn to make long voyages in search of something for which we long. This inward geography of the journey, one where we may physically travel only a few feet or miles but where the soul moves in astronomical measure.” (pg. 100)

We are all pilgrims, trying to find our place in the world, in the universe. We look for wisdom, and we search to know God. How can we do it?

  • Travel to a holy place; it doesn’t have to be sacred to your religion, displace yourself into someone else’s holy place and see what you find of God there. I would desperately love to go to the Island of Iona, a thin place in Scotland; it’s on my bucket list.
  • Try walking with Jesus through the stations of the cross. As a non-Catholic, I find this an enlightening exercise. Many churches and Catholic retreat centers have these open to the public, or you can google one to try online.
  • Take yourself on an inner pilgrimage without leaving home. Many good books will lead you into a deeper place you long for. You might follow Phileena Heuretz on her pilgrimage to El Camino in her book “Pilgrimage of the Soul: Contemplative Spirituality for the Active Life.”
  • Take a pilgrimage into your own emotions. We generally want to flee from difficult emotions like anger, fear, or sadness. Instead, welcome them, sit with them, explore them, and see what they have to teach you.

I’d love to hear about any pilgrimages you have taken and how they have affected you!

Photo Credit Top Pic.

Spiritual Practices: Archetypes — The Orphan

Little orphan annie

We are continuing our study of archetypes as a spiritual practice, through the book, Illuminating the Way, by Christine Valters Paintner. You’re welcome to get the book and follow along, or just enjoy the blog and comments. This week we are in the third chapter, the archetype of the Orphan.

To review, archetypes are “instinctual and universal patterns of thought developed in human beings over thousands of years.” (pg. xi) “The Fundamental experience of the Orphan is abandonment, feeling like an exile, and longing for an experience of being at home.” (pg.54)

The inner Orphan invites us to feel the pain of unpleasant experiences… great. This is something I’ve been working on for a long time. In the past, if I had a feeling of rejection, loss or grief, I would pull away from it and stuff those feelings deep. This led to also being cut off from good feelings of joy and happiness because we can’t separate ourselves from only half our feelings.

When I was younger, I lived in Israel for a summer. The Israelis are often referred to as “Sabra,” which is a cactus fruit that is hard on the outside and sweet in the middle. It is hard, at first, to get past the tough exteriors of native-born Israelis, but once you do, you find the sweet, tender person inside. When I was living in there, I was given a nickname by my housemates, “Tough Cookie.” This was not a compliment. God used my time in Israel to help crack open my tough exterior, a safety wall I had built to protect me from my own abandonment issues and help me learn to face my inner pain. They say Israel is like the salt-filled dead sea, it exposes all of your wounds but also helps them heal more quickly. That was my experience for sure.

Welcoming difficult feelings is something I’m still working on decades later. I find the Welcoming Prayer most helpful. You can read more about it
here but just let me say it involves sitting with the uncomfortable feelings, giving them space as an important part of you, asking what they need, and then letting them go.

“Conscious suffering is the gateway to our own spiritual awakening and maturity.” (pg. 55)

dorothy day

Our book uses Dorothy Day as an icon for the Orphan, as she was a woman who cared for many orphans and widows. She was committed to social justice at a time when few were talking about this topic. You should google her, as she was quite before her time.

The Orphan is a very popular archetype in literature, especially children’s lit. Think of Little Orphan Annie, Anne of Green Gables, and Oliver. When I was a child, my best friend always wanted to play horses while I wanted to play orphanage. It was not because I had a terrible home life but because I was a fan of The Boxcar Children mysteries. Orphans had all the fun and the inner resources to meet whatever came at them. I made orphans the heroes of one of my book series, The Finding Home Series.

We are living in a time of many difficult realities. Perhaps this has always been true, but now they are thrust into our faces every day on the internet. How do we survive the weight of them? How do we keep from being overwhelmed by the immensity of the pain we are exposed to? Our inner Orphan can help us by giving us strength and resilience. I don’t know who said it first, but I love an idea I heard from Glennon Doyle on a podcast recently, “Just do the next good thing.” That is, we can always do something simple and immediate, in the present. We can’t do it all, but we must do something. This takes the pressure off being overwhelmed and thinking that we must save the world.

Of course, the Orphan has a shadow side, as do all the parts of our true selves. The Shadow of the orphan could be fear of abandonment leads us to abandon others first, or do something to force someone to reject us in advance. It can also lead to betraying our own hopes and dreams for fear of disappointment.

In what ways have you faced feelings of abandonment? How can you use your inner Orphan to help you face discouraging feelings or experiences? Have you experienced the Orphan’s shadow?

Photo Credit. Little Orphan Annie: Young actor Aileen Quinn made her film debut in the 1982 smash-hit musical Annie. Picture: Supplied.Source: Supplied

Dorothy Day

Spiritual Practice: Displacement

displacement

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 I 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 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.)

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 in 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

Mindfulness-in-the-Classroom

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 calmer.

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 truest and best 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