Spiritual Practice – Entering the New Year with Intention

woman dream portrait happy

 

We’ve spent the last two blogs looking back at 2019 and now it’s time to look forward to 2020. I usually pick a word or phrase to pray into for the new year, but a friend says the universe likes specifics, so this year I’m trying to think more specifically and set intentions that I can observe. Let’s look again at our categories:

Body, Mind, and Spirit, Emotions, Work, Relationships, and Fun/Creativity.

Body – As I turn sixty-one this year, I see my friends having increasing health issues. I cannot magically avoid this with intentions, but I do believe I’m stronger for working the last three years with a personal trainer; more flexible for doing yoga; and less heavy for using intermittent fasting each day. These very specific intentions will come with me into 2020. I used to get very bad lung infections every winter but have not for the last two winters. I believe my immune system is stronger because of the exercise, and I hope to keep it that way. What specific intentions do you have for your body in 2020?

Spirit – My spirit has gone through many changes in the last decade. From finding its home in the evangelical tribe to finding its home in a broader, progressive Christian family. I want to continue to learn what it means to see “That of God” in everyone, as the Quakers say. Or in the words of my pastor, who gives the same homework every week,

“To go out and love everyone you meet, even those you don’t think are worthy, because God thinks they are.”

What specific intention do you have for your spirit in 2020?

me and roy

Emotions – I used to be a 10/10 on the extroversion scale, but I have become much more introverted over time. I feel happiest alone in my room with a good book, but this does not help those I love to feel loved. I want to connect emotionally with my husband more in 2020 to keep our 36-year marriage strong. What intentions do you have for your emotions in 2020?

Work – I have three jobs. I work two days a week as a therapist, I run a non-profit that trains spiritual directors, and I write books and blogs. My intention in 2020 is to try and give equal attention to all three jobs, even though the one that pays the bills isn’t as fun as the two that don’t bring in much income. What is your intention for work in 2020?

Relationships – My friendship circle has grown smaller, probably due to the introversion thing. That’s okay, but I do want to invest time in the relationships I value and not let them atrophy. My 2020 intention is to be more intentional with the small group of friends that I have. What’s yours?

Fun/Creativity – I’d like to get back to who I was as a child when my confidence was unlimited, my creativity high, and magic was real. If I can let my mind revisit that time, I think it will positively impact my writing. This is my most sincere intention, to get back to the creativity of my youth. For fun, I love to travel and to learn. I’ve got two fun trips planned already for February, and I want more, more, more in 2020. How about you?

I’d love to hear how you go into the new year. Do you make resolutions? Do you choose words or phrases? How do you stay present in the midst of the craziness of this world?

 

 

Photo top: Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

The second pic is mine. Me and my man!

Spiritual Practice: End of the Year Reflection

silhouette photo of person standing in cave

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.

the great spiritual migration

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

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 Practice: Finding Your Tribe

backlit dawn foggy friendship

When I say tribe, I’m not referring to a group of people you were born into, as in a Native American tribe, but in the popular understanding of the word: a distinctive or close-knit group, a group of kindred spirits, people you feel safe with.

Sadly, these are not always the same people as the tribe you were born into, though it is for some lucky folks. Also, your tribe will change over time depending on where you live, work, play and grow as a person. Sometimes, a change in beliefs or political understanding will move you from one tribe to another. Sometimes a job promotion or increase/decrease in your standard of living will propel you from one group to another.

The important thing is, we all need a tribe — people that “get us,” people that are safe. I recently met a young woman who had developed a great group of friends. Later, something happened that showed her they were not her tribe. They betrayed her deeply and gossiped horribly about her. She was devastated and is now having trouble trusting anyone else. That is a hard thing; betrayals can stick with us causing us to withdraw and put up walls of protection around our hearts.

My husband and I went through a tribe change when we started standing with the LGBTQ community. Our faith tribe, some family members, and many friends could not understand this decision and we felt exiled from that tribe. It was a very painful thing. But it was also freeing. We had been tiptoeing around on eggshells, trying to avoid rocking the boat in our tribe, and when we left, we could walk more freely. Suddenly, it was as if we could breathe, we could be ourselves, and we could advocate for justice. We remained close to many of our longtime friends, but it felt as if our tribal allegiance had undergone a seismic shift. Eventually, we found likeminded people with whom we could be more candid with about topics that were previously difficult to discuss. It took a while but we are now enjoying exploring a new tribal identity.

 

photo of a person wearing printed crew neck t shirt

How do you find a tribe?

  1. Look for people who might have the same interests as you. Perhaps in a church, community organizing group, book club, hiking group or political action group.
  2. Look for people you feel comfortable around.
  3. Try sharing a bit of yourself and see how that part of you is handled by others in the group. Are you welcomed or held at a distance?
  4. Not everyone you meet will fall into the category of tribe-worthy. We all have friends, acquaintances, and family members that we love, but that does not automatically make them part of your tribe. Don’t put all your energy into forming a tribe at work. Jobs can disappear and your tribe along with them.

Why do we need a tribe? Life is hard, and we are all busy. Having a small group of people you can be yourself with is important. You don’t have to agree on everything to be part of a tribe. The best tribes can challenge and disagree but continue to love and be connected. The best tribes can bring in new ideas and expose each member to new things. But tribes don’t just happen, they need to be cultivated. Meeting with people regularly is the only way to develop a tribe. Weekly or monthly gatherings, dinners, or any event where you can talk deeply with one another can lead to a tribe. You must take risks to form a tribe. Tribes can be healing. As we share our pain in the safety of a tribe, we can heal.

five women laughing

When we left our former tribe, we started a new one called “Shalom.” It was to be a place of healing for people from the LGBTQ family who had been hurt by the church. This became a tribe of safety and love, but it took over a year before we could all trust each other. After five years we officially dissolved the group, not because anything bad had happened, but because it had met its purpose. Everyone in Shalom, including us, had found safety and healing, and life had gotten better and busier for everyone. Everyone agreed it was time to stop our meetings which had gone from weekly for three years, to monthly for the last two. We will still be friends, but it was time to let the tribe scatter.

How do you know it’s time to move on from a tribe? Sometimes it is just natural as life and priorities change. But tribes can also become toxic, as what happened to the young woman I mentioned. If there is gossip, lying, or intolerance of who you are, it might be time to leave. If you find yourself avoiding the folks in your tribe, you might need to reevaluate. A tribe is somewhere you are not just tolerated, but celebrated.

Do you have a tribe? How did you find it? Have you ever had to switch tribes? I’d love to hear your stories.

 

 

Photos: Top pic 

Man in shirt pic

Women laughing pic

 

Spiritual Practices: Archetypes – The Healer

Healing

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.

puzzle pieces

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

Middle pic

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:

pile of assorted title book lot selective focus photographt
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?

Photo Credit

Spiritual Practice: Massage Therapy

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I can hear what you’re thinking right now, “Now THERE’S a spiritual practice I can get into!”

The first time I went in for a massage I was surprised to find myself crying. But, the massage therapist was not surprised. She said it happens a lot because massage releases stress, tension, and trauma from within the body.

I’d heard about body memory during my training as a Marriage and Family Therapist, but I wasn’t sure that I believed it. How could our very cells hold a memory? Then one day I was sitting in my private counseling practice, across from a woman who was describing a difficult memory that she had never told anyone. She recounted how, years before, an abuser had grabbed her arm and as she spoke to me four finger sized bruises appeared on her arm. Did you catch that? Four bruises in the shape of the abuser’s fingers appeared on her arm before my eyes!

The cells of her body had held that memory all those years.  

This is why I’m including massage in a blog on spiritual practices. We are whole people. You’ve heard me say before that the ancient eastern understanding of the soul is body, mind, and spirit – all three. But, when it comes to trauma, most of us look for healing for our spirit and our mind but forget to include our bodies.

A friend of mine who runs spiritual practice retreats in Fresno California suggested CranioSacral therapy is another body practice that can be helpful in releasing deep trauma and tension through light touch to pressure points in your head. He actually has a CranioSacral therapist come to his retreats and offer 15-minute sessions, saying that it goes hand in hand with other spiritual practices to bring health and healing to the whole soul.

So, here’s some homework you have always wished someone would give you: Go get a massage!! Or try CranioSacral therapy. Don’t have much money? Most cities have schools where students will give you a one-hour massage at a greatly reduced rate. Enjoy!

Now for some shameless self-promotion: We’ve just finished creating new covers for my Finding Home Series and I think they look amazing. Plus, book five is almost out! So, if you have, or know of a child age eight and up, please share this series. It is very popular with the kiddos. Here is a text I received two days ago from a friend regarding the first book, Bending Willow:

“So, my “little brother” (through big Brothers big sisters) was describing to me a book today. He begins with, “I really don’t usually read books about girls lives, but this one was recommended to me by my teacher, and they went to burning man… it was soooo good.” He described the scene and then I asked him if the book was by chance called Bending Willow. He said yes, and I told him my friend actually wrote that book. He said he loves it, and he wants me to get his copies autographed 😀

Thanks for reading and I would love to hear if any of you have tried CranioSacral therapy and how it was for you. Also, how massage has helped your soul!

Photo Credit