Spiritual Practice, Finding Your Authentic Self During Quarantine

photo of woman holding mirror

This pandemic is stripping away many things. For some, it’s revealing the natural color of their hair, nails, and skin. For others, without sports into which to pour their adrenalin, it is revealing anger and restlessness that might otherwise be masked. For parents, it’s adding homeschooling to already full lives. For people living together, it’s adding strain to relationships. This is a hard time—no doubt about that.

But, could it be that in time of isolation from all the things that comfort and numb us, our authentic selves are starting to emerge? I was speaking to a young, single mom who has been trapped in a house for six weeks with her children while she was working, going to graduate school, and trying to home school her kids. I was expecting her to complain, but her comment surprised me, “I’ve actually enjoyed my time with the girls,” she said. “I’ve felt my heart grow three sizes bigger.”

We all have our inborn authentic selves that get covered by the adaptive selves, which develop as we face later hard circumstances. Those adaptive selves mask who we were created to be and come out in full force during times of stress. As we face the ugliness of our impatience, anxiety, and fear, perhaps we will also begin to see our true selves, and our hearts will start to expand toward ourselves and others.

Loretta Brady, in her book “Beginning Your Enneagram Journey,” said,

“We need to find a way to shed our cover, to let go of our ego, to retrieve our original God-gifted selves, to discover the lost treasure of our true persons.”

Perhaps this virus is putting us on a fast track to uncovering the treasure of our true, authentic selves. But, how do we deal with our false, adapted selves to get to the real us? Ruth Haley Barton, in her book “Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership suggests,

“Some of us will wear ourselves out trying to change ourselves before we realize it is not about fixing; it is about letting go – letting go of old patterns that no longer serve us… All we stand to lose is the false self – the adaptive behaviors that are ultimately in opposition to the life of love and trust and being led by God that our hearts long for.”

Right now, we are in a forge of pressure, which is unprecedented in our lifetime. It is the perfect time to let things go, to try on new ways of being, to unmask ourselves and find healing. But we might need help in the unveiling of our authentic selves. In light of that, I offer these ideas for catalysts toward change:

If your authentic self is hidden under layers of pain and trauma from your life experiences, I recommend counseling. Yep, therapists are still working right now online, and some in offices. Maybe you’ve thought about seeing a counselor for a long time but keep putting it off. This might be the perfect time to give It a try.

Spiritual directors are also wonderful folks who will walk you through spiritual growth. You can find one near you on the spiritual directors international website.

The Enneagram is a fantastic tool for helping understand your authentic self and your adapted self. I’ve spoken a lot about this tool, and you can see the books I’ve read on the topic here. I’m currently reading, “Self to Lose, Self to Find,” by Marilyn Vancil, but find a book that works for you.

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You know I’m all about silence for discovering clarity. What a perfect time this might be to give it a try. Sit for five minutes (or more) a day with no agenda. Just let your mind wander. It’s amazing what will bubble up. Or use one of the many apps to do a guided meditation. I use Insight Timer. Others use Calm or Headspace. Give it a try.

Many folks have COVID-19 dreams. It might be a good time to start a dream journal. Keeping track, even if you only remember a dream fragment, write it down. This will prime the pump for more dream memories to stay with you. Writing them down and over time, they will reveal themes of things you can ponder.

Many of us shelter in place with loved ones, but I have many friends who are sheltering alone. Most of them find solace in their contemplative practices. This blog is full of easy onramp spiritual practices to try. Try on different ones until you find some you like.

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And pets! Several friends have found adopting an animal is really helping them survive this time well. They’ve told me that having a pet has reconnected them to “play,” which is something important that we often forget how to do — especially in serious times like this. There is something so calming about having a pet right now. And if it is a dog, it will get you out of the house for walks and sunshine. That is a huge benefit.

If your relationship with your partner is strained, it’s time to get help. I saw a meme that said, “You can’t spell Divorce without COVID.” Watch this thirty-minute Red Table Talk for some practical help with your partner during quarantine.

Whatever you decide, go easy on yourself right now—lower the bar. Try to be a good parent instead of a great one. Allow yourself to be a mediocre worker instead of a star. One of my friend’s children are in a school that is putting massive pressure on the parents to keep up all the kids’ work. She is spending nine hours a day on schoolwork between her three kids. She is afraid their grades will go down. You know, if your kid’s grades drop a bit in a PANDEMIC, I think that’s gonna be okay. This is not a time to shame yourself about anything. But, if you have it in you, try to uncover a bit of your true selves from your adapted selves. I promise it will be worth the effort.

I’d love to know how you are handling this pandemic. Feel free to drop me a note about the adaptive or authentic parts of yourselves that you are uncovering. There will be no judgment here.  I’m also leaving you with a bedtime story. It is my prayer for all of us and my hope for the future of our planet.

 

Top Photo by Ichad Windhiagiri on Pexels.com
Lower Photo by Marek Mucha on Pexels.com

Spiritual Practices: for the Classroom

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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.

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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

Glimpses of God– The Sequel

 

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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.

Glimpses of God

 

glimpses of God

I often feel more evidence of God’s presence during difficult times. Maybe I’m just more aware of what actually goes on around me every day, or my radio dial gets tuned in quicker during trauma. Maybe I just pay more attention when my legs get kicked out from under me.
Labor Day weekend was my 35th class reunion and my high school besties and I decided to make a girls weekend of it. We got stranded in a bar for several hours (a long and humorous story for another time) and played the game, “Tell me a Story.” This is a game I invented when I was young to entertain my little sister on long road trips. In this game, someone gives you a word or phrase and you have to tell a true story about your life related to that prompt. My friend gave me the word “Terror.” I laughed and said, “I’m not sure what the story will be, but I’m positive it will have something to do with my kids.” Kids have a way of pushing our fear buttons faster than anything I can think of.
Driving home from the weekend, I got a first-hand look at another form of terror. I was driving up the Sierra Nevada Mountains at night when I came upon a pick-up truck stopped in my lane with no lights on. Instant decision: plow into him or try to miss him. I swerved left, overcorrected right and plowed head-on into the guard rail at 65 mph. I won’t go on about all that happened next. I won’t tell you how I found out the guy in the truck was a four-time DUI offender and plastered. I won’t tell you about his wasted female passenger who I thought was coming up to ask if I was okay but instead asked for a ride to the next town. Or the sheer miracle of how I walked away alive and unbroken even though my car was totaled and sitting in the same lane as the truck. I will say that I finally had the clarity to get out of my car and onto the side of the road. Then Brain-Trust in the truck opened his door so an oncoming car could take it off and fling it at me. At that moment I had an epiphany: I felt terrified! I knew that if I ever got asked that question again playing Tell Me a Story, I’d have an answer.

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But, I do want to mention a glimpse of God I got that night.
The tow-truck driver dropped me and all my worldly goods, including my grand-baby’s car seat, at an all-night gas station in a small mountain town. It was a warm night and there was a man sitting on the bench where I was deposited. He was sipping a soda and smoking a cigarette. After noting my arrival he asked if there was a baby in the accident. I assured him there was not and we started chatting. It was very comforting to have someone to talk to. He told me of his life as a journalist in the bay area.
After about an hour I asked, “Why are you here?” I mean, it was about nine-thirty by then and he seemed content to sit and talk to me. He said he managed an apartment complex down the road and came here to get away from the noise. As the temp cooled he even got me a shirt from his car to cover my bare arms.
When my frazzled husband arrived around ten-thirty, my nameless angel got up to leave. “Thank you for staying with me,” I said, knowing that sentiment was inadequate for the situation.
“I just wanted someone to be with you until your husband arrived,” he said, shrugging as he walked away – just an every-day hero, just a glimpse of God. I wondered as we drove away, if he was real or a soda sipping, cigarette smoking angel? It didn’t matter, he was exactly what I needed in that moment and I was grateful.
There is a part two to this story, where the terror and the glimpses both crank up about a hundred notches. If you are a careful reader you will know where this is headed. But…since I’m still in the middle of this one I think I’ll wait a bit for that post.
Let me know of times you’ve seen glimpses of God.

 

Photo Credit, Believe Sign – Debbie Mitchell Pinjuv