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 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

The Closet is No Place to Live!

fat dancer

My Zumba instructor is at least 75 lbs. overweight. I wondered when she came in to replace the petite blond, with impossible abs and a tight rear, if people would leave the class. Surprisingly, the class got bigger. As my new instructor danced with joy, her jiggly bits happily bouncing to the music, I started thinking about the power and freedom of authenticity. What does it mean to be your true self in front of the whole world?

You see, none of us could ever hope to look like my first teacher, but all of us could look at the second and say, “Well, if she can do this workout, so can I!” It was freeing not to be held up to an impossible standard, even if the standard was only in my mind.

I’ve just had a similar “coming out” experience. For the last two years, I was asked by my Christian employer to keep my advocacy for the LBGTQ community under wraps. My advocacy didn’t fit into the parameters of my employer’s theology. Because I loved and wanted to keep my job, I submitted to this request.

The problem is that when you agree to muzzle yourself about something important to you — to live in the closet — it has negative effects on your life.

First, you feel like a hypocrite. If I believe that equal rights is a justice issue, and I don’t speak out about it, then I’m promoting an unjust system. But, I justified my silence with the hope that I might be able to be a voice of reason from within my organization, so I stayed. Still, I felt bad about it every day.

Second, you spend a lot of time walking on eggshells. Walking on eggshells is exhausting. Wondering if pressing “like” on a Facebook post will get you fired is not a good way to live. I have a friend who was going through the exact same thing with me, and when we talked, we’d often end our conversations with, “At least I’m not fired today!” Until I was.

Third, you live with a muzzle around your mouth, constantly monitoring what you say to make it palatable to your bosses and others. Being muzzled is not fun. My dental hygienist says I’ve been clenching my teeth. “It’s the muzzle,” I say.

Forth, you become paranoid. Knowing that my Facebook posts were being monitored, that conversations were being reported, made me anxious. It felt like I was in the Red Scare, that I was about to be accused of being a communist at any minute. I just love gay people for Christ’s sake! Literally, for Christ’s sake.  Aren’t there bigger things we should be putting our energy into? Sex trafficking, racial injustice, world hunger…

Fifth, I lived in fear of the backlash. Would friends and relatives not like me if I came out of my self-imposed closet? Thankfully, for the most part this turned out not to be true. Sure, there were the exceptions; like being unfriended me on Facebook by someone dear. But, the support from friends and supporters was overwhelming! Even those who disagreed still assured me of their love. And the beautiful stories that started coming our way, almost daily, from gay friends, and parents of gays and those still living in closets, were worth it! What a privilege it is to be a safe person to talk to! There are so many who have no one in the Christian community they can trust with their hugely painful story.

So, what does it feel like when the closet door swings open and the fat girl comes out to dance? Ahhhh freedom, sweet freedom.  I feel at peace, lighter, happier even as I mourn the loss of all that I knew before. I feel the hope of living an authentic life. The thing is, I’m extremely aware that my hardships over the last two years are only a tiny taste of what my gay friends live with EVERY SINGLE DAY! As my wonderful husband is fond of saying, “The closet is no place to live.”

So, this is me, folks, I’m not the perky blond you might think I am. I’m the fat, dancing Zumba instructor with all of my jiggly bits out for the world to see. I love gay people and I want to help them heal from the pain the church has caused them and provide a safe place for them to be with Jesus. I’m sorry if you’re disappointed in me, but I’m not sorry enough to stay in the closet any longer.

I’m too busy inviting people to dance with me! Would you like to dance?

 

Beautiful Photo Credit: Ragen Chastain: 5’4, 284 pounds. Photo by Richard Sabel

A Grief Observed…Mine

micah at occupy dc

Continuing to reminisce about how life was two years ago when Micah went missing. This is what I learned about grief.

Having my son missing for almost a month now has been the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through. I think the next closest was having my daughter in Sri Lanka after the Tsunami in a very dangerous situation, but at least then there was contact.
In the counseling world, they say that the person who won’t speak has the most power. I understand that in a new way now. Micah, for whatever reason, has chosen to keep us out of the loop of his grand adventure and the silence, as they say, “is deafening.”
So, I’m learning a lot about grief, and I thought I’d write it down so when Micah is older and has children of his own, and those kids do something really scary, I can send him a copy of this. That’s a parental prerogative right, to say, “Touché!”

stress
1. Grief comes in waves: I knew this from when my dad died and I had to switch to waterproof mascara because I never knew when I’d be crying. Thankfully I gave up mascara altogether during Micah’s first deployment to Afghanistan. The grief now is always just below the surface. I’m not a good faker so when some poor innocent folks say, “how are you?” they tend to get more than they bargained for.
2. It is really hard, nearly impossible, not to let your mind go to the dark side. Focusing on the negative possibilities has been overwhelming. The list of bad things that could be happening to my son is unending. These thoughts can suck you down into the “depths of despair” as Anne of Green Gables would say.
3. Sometimes, I can get my eyes off the waves and onto Jesus. These are the good days when I remember that the name Micah means “There is no one like God.” I remember he was named after the prophet of Justice. Just because he’s trying to work out his heart for justice in a way that will harm him, doesn’t mean God can’t use this to build him into the man he was created to be.
4. I can swing from the above #2 to #3 and back to #2 in a heartbeat. Pity the fool who gets in my way. Some days I wake up mad and just can’t shake it. Some days I wake up sad and can’t shake that either. You know the “stages of grief?” Yeah, I’ve met them all, except acceptance. I only flirt with that one from a distance.
5. Hope springs eternal. My husband and I clutch our phones with manic fever awaiting good news.
6. Life happens; we are expected to do our jobs in the midst of this pain. This is both a blessing, as it gets our minds off our current troubles and a curse as we feel we are unable to give 100% to our jobs. We have other children that need our attention, time and love. We have family and friends that are hurting too. We try to stay present. Sometimes things fall by the wayside. When tragedy strikes we tend to pull inward into a protective shell. Friends get shut out. Social obligations get neglected. It happens. Hopefully, there is grace.
7. Sleep is elusive for those who grieve. I have trouble going to sleep. I’m exhausted all the time, but when I get in bed I’m either overwhelmed with sadness or my mind starts circling the ‘what ifs.’ That is why I’m writing this blog at 12:38am. David goes to sleep okay but never makes it through the night. He wakes up startled, heart, pounding as if there were an emergency. And there is; only it’s one we have no control over.
8. We must work hard to treat each other with kindness. David and I are working overtime to love each other well during this season of grief. I clean the house, he cleans the house. We hold each other and cry. We pray. When I’m angry he doesn’t take it personally. Having a partner in grief is really helpful.
9. Having the presence of God and a supportive community is really amazing during this time. We have been buoyed by the love and support we feel from our friends right now. I honestly cannot imagine doing this alone. My friend Bob has been searching the Bible for universal promises. So far he’s found only four. Two of them are: We will suffer and God will be with us. I’m sure glad those two go together.
10. God gives us emotional “manna,” right when we need it. He’s given us letters, songs, movies, phone calls, rainbows, pictures on websites of Micah and even a video. These little encouragements have been enough to keep us trusting Him when we would otherwise give up. The picture above is from the occupy rally in D.C. this week. He is in the green shirt. Yep, that’s my boy.
These are some of the things I’ve observed about grief so far. I’ll keep you posted. Are there any observations about grief you want to add?

Glimpses of God– The Sequel

 

micah1

In my last blog, I talked about terror and shared the story of my recent car wreck. I hinted that my children had the ability to take me to a place of fear 100X greater than the wreck. And so, part two.
The reason I was trying to get home over the mountain at night was because I wanted to maximize my time with my son Micah who would be coming back from Burning Man. He had only two days in Reno before heading back to Fort Bragg. We had a good last two days, and then David put him on a plane back to his base. The next morning I received a call that Micah didn’t show up for work.
At first, we thought, “Oh, it’s just like Micah to get home late and not realize he has to be at work right away. He probably thinks he starts tomorrow.” But, just in case we decided to check with the airline and look at his bank account. He had made it all the way to Fayetteville, North Carolina where Ft. Bragg is located. Then, he’d gone on base, filled up his car and then emptied his bank account. So, he had either been robbed (beaten, lying on the side of the road dead?) or gone AWOL. Panic set in.
Two hours later, after a conversation with my daughter, we found that he’d talked about going AWOL at Burning Man. In fact, they’d had a big fight about it. She was sure he’d changed his mind by the end of the week, so she didn’t mention it.
The next four days were sheer torture. We’d had no word from Micah. I spent most days alternating between trust and despair. I had no words to pray so I turned to the Psalms:
“I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears.” Psalm 6:6
Our friends and family stood with us and sustained us. And there were glimpses of God. One morning I was so despondent I prayed, “I just want to know that you are with me. It would help if someone I didn’t even really know was praying for me right now. I need to know you see me.” After that, I took a shower and when I came out my husband had put the mail on the dresser. In it was an envelope addressed to me from a woman I hardly know – I met her two years ago at a women’s retreat. On the outside of the envelope was a picture of birds. Under it she had written, “He is watching over you.” Inside was her assurance that I was not alone and she was praying for me! It was so unexpected, so needed. I cried tears of thanksgiving.
Two days later, again despondent I took the dog up in the hills for a walk. It was a warm, dry Reno evening, but when I turned and looked up, there was a big fat rainbow. Not the kind that arches across the sky, but a straight fat one that looked like an exclamation point, slamming into the earth. I sat on a rock and starred at it in wonder. All the promises of the rainbow came back to me and I felt God say, “This will not end in destruction.”
Micah has called us every Sunday for the five years that he’s been in the Army. On Sunday we received a Facebook message, “Alive and Safe, I love you.”
We were so relieved, he was alive and safe!
Our worry for him continues. We know he needs to go back to the base ASAP. We held on to the hope that he would contact us again this Sunday. When he did not, we again sunk into despair. We held each other in bed that night and cried.
Monday morning my husband had an inkling: It was the one year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. He went to a Flickr and put in Occupy Wall Street into the search engine. After two hours of searching, he was rewarded with the above picture of our boy.
Another glimpse from God. We are not alone. We stand with so many who are praying with us, and God continues to sustain us.
Many of you are going through equally difficult times right now. Let me know what they are so we can hold each other up. These things are too much to bear alone.