Spiritual Practice – Cherishing the Real

As Americans, prior to 2020, we have been insulated from much of the pain and suffering others face in our world daily. We have busied ourselves with overwork, material possessions, technology and substance abuse to the point we often forget what is real and what is important. 

Now all our comfort and predictability are being stripped away. We have more time than most of us know what to do with. Acquiring possessions has lost its shine and everyone is getting sick of staring at screens, although I imagine substance abuse is at an all-time high (pun intended).

What are we learning about ourselves? Hopefully we are learning to BE with ourselves, and face the sometimes-hard reality of who we are. I used to take students on a week of camp to focus on different spiritual practices. Our one day of silence and solitude scared them to death. A whole day without talking to each other, or using their phones was frightening. Yet, it was the day they loved most. It was a day to listen to themselves and to God; a day to be in nature; a day to rest and be restored; a day to face truths about themselves — sometimes difficult truths. but always deeply healing. Don’t miss this unique time in history to reevaluate your life, your decisions, your use of time and money. Don’t forget to BE.

I hope we are learning not to live in FEAR. There is so much to be afraid of right now. I could get the virus. My father could die if he gets it. All you have to do is turn on the news and your blood pressure will skyrocket; fearmongering has become a national pastime. I find the fear flowing from Christian sources especially disturbing. We are told to “fear not” 365 times in the Bible (that’s one for every day of the year!) and in 2 Timothy we read 1:7

For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. 

We could use some sound minds about now. We cannot live in sustained fear. It’s been a year now; our adrenal glands can’t take much more of it. So how do we let go of fear? We learn to cherish the real. What is real?

People and relationships are real. Christmas this year was especially precious. I saw it all over Facebook. People were saying how Christmas was small but oh so special because they got to be together with a small group of loved ones. It felt that way at our house. Everyone was so careful the two weeks before so we could be together. My children hadn’t seen each other since March. We laughed, and talked and opened presents made by small businesses and local crafters. It was simple and fun and unrushed. I hope it is something we can keep. If you haven’t already, make spending time with those you love a priority this year. 

Pets are real. Our dog Rosie is keeping us grounded. She gets us out of the house every day for a walk. She cuddles with us as we watch TV at night. She loves us unconditionally and she is right there when things get so hard one of us breaks down to cry. In fact, when my husband and I recently had a spat, Rosie ran back and forth between us until we made up! She’s a marriage therapy dog!

Nature is real. Now, even in when it is cold, we need to get outside. Trust me, we have very cold mornings here but we bundle up and get out and walk and it is always restorative to our souls. 

Work is real. Hopefully you are able to continue to work. Work is hard right now. It’s not the same to work from home. It’s not the same if you go in. But work is important. We have to face the reality of doing work differently and pray for the grace to do our jobs well and with a good attitude. Sometimes I find I’m praying through the whole day of work. 

Pain is real. People are dealing with incredible pain. Life is full of pain. Things are hard. But this truth has always been with us; we’ve just been able to mask it. Now it’s time to face it. How? Try the Welcoming Prayer. Sit with your difficult feelings, let yourself really feel the sadness, anger, fear, or whatever it is. Don’t push it away. Denying hard feelings won’t make them leave, it just makes them come out in your body as headaches, stomachs aches, or back aches. Welcome them. Feel them. Then ask them, “What do you want me to know?” and listen. You will learn something important if you allow yourself to cherish even the hard things. There is wisdom inside us if we will listen. 

Creativity is real. I’ve loved seeing people press into creativity during this pandemic. My husband picked up a craft he hadn’t tried in 25 years and made beautiful Christmas gifts for our whole family. It has given him new energy and joy and we have all benefited. Creativity is lifegiving. Allow yourself the freedom to try something new this year. Don’t worry if it doesn’t turn out perfect, Fail Forward. No one cares and it’s fun. 

How will you be cherishing the real this year? What have you learned about yourself that has fed your soul during this difficult year? 


Top Photo by Kaique Rocha on Pexels.com

Photo of girl with flowers by Gabby K on Pexels.com

Photo of girl in mask by Nandhu Kumar on Pexels.com

Photo of people with dog by Burst on Pexels.com

Photo of broken mirror by Thiago Matos on Pexels.com

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Spiritual Practice: Guided Meditation for Times of Stress

adventure balance balanced balancing

In my private practice, we use a lot of mindfulness and meditation to help clients learn to relax and lower their anxiety. I believe these practices are great spiritual practices to help connect our minds, hearts, and bodies.

Most of us are living in a time of increased anxiety, although as the popular meme says, we are all in the same boat but not in the same storm.

 

not in same storm

 

To help my clients, I’ve been leading them through some guided meditations and I thought I’d offer one to you today. So, wait until you have ten minutes, get to a quiet place and allow yourself to relax. If this helps you, there are a lot of apps like Insight Timer and Head Space that offer free guided meditations.

Let me know if this helps you or what guided meditations you’ve enjoyed during this difficult time.

 

 

 

Photo at top by Life Of Pix on Pexels.com
Storm Meme from Facebook. No author noted

Spiritual Practice: Calming Anxiety

stress

 

I believe anxiety is running rampant in our society. We need to help each other learn to calm our nervous systems and relax. Short term stress can be good for us but long term stress can affect our health, our relationships, our sleep and our functioning.

Once I had the privilege of being with a group of 10 twenty-somethings for a retreat. At the end of their time we were talking about what they had to go back to, and I was surprised to learn how many of them live with debilitating anxiety. One fellow said that sometimes at night, as he lies in bed, he has to remind himself to breathe. That hurt my heart.

Later I was in a similar group of thirty-somethings. At the end of the discussion, a question was asked about “What is holding you back in life.” Every single person in the room said, “fear.” Again, I was shocked to see how many beautiful, intelligent people live in fear.

These two experiences made me wonder about anxiety and fear. Is this epidemic caused by something in our culture? Is it something in this generation specifically, or is it a combination of factors? I started asking friends for their opinions as I tried to sort this out and I’d love to hear yours.

  1. I went to a neuropsychology conference once on the explosion of childhood behavior disorders and it was postulated that children are now being incubated in an environment of low-grade stress, which is compromising their immune systems and lowering their resistance to disorders like ADHD. Could this same logic be applied to anxiety?
    At a similar conference, these disorders were linked to environmental toxins, again causing a compromised immune system and the easier triggering of latent issues like anxiety disorders.
  2. My husband’s theory was that we now have too many choices. Formerly, people grew up in well-defined cultures with their own rules, norms, taboos, and expectations. Nowadays, kids are members of national and international cultures defined by media and the internet. Choice is often equated with power, but perhaps too much choice can cause increased fear and anxiety.
  3. My daughter’s theory is that because we are constantly bombarded with stimulation that is anxiety producing, like horror movies, violent video games, the nightly news, and even the Discovery Channel, we learn about all the things that can go wrong — which creates this stressful soup we live in.
  4. One could make a similar argument about our inability to unplug. We are wired at the hip to our phones and electronic devices; we can stream movies, TV shows and music at any time from any device and we have forgotten how to be quiet. In my work with college students one thing mystified me. It is their inability to be alone. They told me they were afraid to be alone, and always texted or talked to friends if they were forced to be alone. What caused these changes? Could the neuropathways for peaceful existence that we’ve neglected by being constantly wired in have died off? Are they re-growable?
  5. I led a week-long seminar over spring break with college students. On one day they are required to be silent for twelve hours. It is the day of the week they fear the most. At the end of the week, it is the one thing most highly talked about and valued. But being alone means facing yourself. Perhaps part of our anxiety comes from not being at peace with who we are. IMG_9042

We could speculate on the causes all day but what do we do about anxiety?

No one should have to live with debilitating fear and anxiety. If you are living like that, get help! My husband, the retired therapist, saw a lot of people that came in with these symptoms. He taught biofeedback and relaxation techniques that really helped people learn to calm their own bodies. Learning to breathe deeply is the first step in relaxation.

Many times, fear and anxiety are linked to past trauma. These days there are wonderful healing therapies for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Look for specialists in EDMR or others who identify as a specialist in trauma or anxiety.

PTSD is triggered when a predictable set of occurrences happen at one time: A person, or situation that seemed safe, suddenly becomes unsafe. Something startles you, and at some point, you think you might die. This causes anxiety and fear to get “stuck” in the animal (fight or flight) part of your brain. The above-mentioned therapies can help move the trauma to the logic part of your brain where it can be processed and healed.

Prayer and meditative practices can help relieve stress. There is an app I use called the Insight Timer that has hundreds of guided meditations. You can choose the length and theme or just use the timer to sit in silence.

In my opinion, one of the most commons things that cause stress is having a calendar with no margin – that is, no room for contingencies. I learned the hard way that life is what happens in the margins, and if you have no margin in your schedule, then when life happens (the car breaks down, your mom needs your help, a child’s project is due…) there is no room and everything becomes stressful. I’d encourage a strong examination of your schedule with a trusted advisor to see how to create margin in your life.

The best short term cure for anxiety is to get your mind off yourself. Anything you can do to think outside of yourself will help. Call a friend, take the dog for a walk, gaze on something beautiful, serve the homeless, or go to a funny movie. All of these things will help, at least temporarily.
Let me know what you have found helpful in getting rid of your fear and anxiety!

Picture of stressed woman