Spiritual Practice: Listening and Learning

            Wow, it’s been an intense few weeks, hasn’t it? Black brothers and sisters are sharing their stories of pain and suffering. They are being extremely vulnerable and we honor their courage.

            In light of that, I’ve had some white male friends reaching out with questions, and I must say I’m thrilled this is happening.

            The first person asked, “Is there a place for us in the Black Lives Matter movement?” The answer is, “Yes. We are invited to the table, but not to lead, and not to dominate the discussion — but to listen and learn. Then, we are invited to help our white friends as they navigate this conversation.”

Fantastic things are coming from this. Large numbers of white people are gathering to read books by black authors and watch informative movies. Netflix and Amazon prime are highlighting these movies. Large numbers of white folks are joining protests. There will not be a race war; we will stand side by side for equality.

I think I’ve gotten an email from every business where I’ve ever purchased something telling me they support Black Lives Matter. If you want to be encouraged by an example that shows people are listening, check out https://www.babynames.com/.

            Another white friend asked if it would help to share his story of suffering at the hands of the police when he was nearly homeless and supporting himself by dumpster diving. His story was horrendous and his pain and suffering were real, but the answer was “No, not now. Maybe later.” The black community has been unheard for four hundred years. It’s time to let them speak.

            Another white friend asked if it would help to share his history of pain and suffering because of his extremely white skin. It has been very painful for him and it has affected many parts of his life. The answer again is “No, not now. Maybe later.”

            The beautiful thing about these conversations is first, they are asking! And second, they are receiving the “no” answer without flinching. They are graciously stepping back and making room for black stories to dominate. This is wonderful progress. Thank you, wonderful white brothers!

            This reminds me of the #metoo movement. I’m sure there were men who could have used the #metoo awareness to talk about being passed over at work, but they let the women speak. Because of that, things are changing. High profile rapists are now in prison, and a record number of women are now holding political office, and we are witnessing renewed progress in in women in sports and other places demanding equal pay.

            The BLM protests are already having an impact as well. Policy changes and new legislation are being passed to change the way police operate. We can hope this translates to more black people and people of color moving into leadership in all of our places of power in the nation and to changes in the prison system as well. Only if we live, work, and get to know each other as humans will we truly learn to look beyond the color of our skin.

Lantern Festival, Nevada

            When my daughter adopted a black child, I wanted it to be easy. I wanted her to be “ours.” But I have to admit, it took a while to see beyond our skin color difference. She felt “other” to me. Only as I grew to know her and love her did that “otherness” fade away and she became bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh.

When my husband’s gay colleague started inviting us to birthday parties, I wanted it to be easy, but I felt on the outside. Only as I came to know them, to rejoice over their joys, and mourn over their pain, did they cease to be my “gay friends” and just become my friends. Now they are more like family to me.

            There is another kind of listening and learning that is critical right now in our polarized nation. A conservative friend who told me via text that she disagreed with me about a social media post I made about mail-in ballots. I suggested we meet for a stroll and conversation. We had a fantastic talk and I learned things from her I didn’t know. I now understand why some folks are against mail in balloting. The sad part is that she has reached out to other friends who don’t even text back.

I would never let politics get in the way of my relationship with someone I love. We are better together, if we can listen and learn from each other.

            How are you listening and learning? We need to encourage each other. If you have questions, this is a safe place to dialogue about uncomfortable topics. I have to approve comments, so no one can attack you! Comment away.

Photos: Top Reno Black Lives Matter Vigil, mine

Photo of white man by Inzmam Khan on Pexels.com

Photo of the Lantern Festival, mine

Spiritual Practice: Listening to Trees

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What do you mean, Jacci, trees don’t talk! Well, even though new scientific research is showing that trees actually do communicate, that’s not exactly what I’m referring to.

I’m talking about sitting in nature: listening, observing and being in awe of creation. We forget, in our busy lives, just how much nature is good for our souls.

If we live in cities, or in my case the desert, it might be hard to find a beautiful place to sit and reflect. This calls for some creativity, but most cities have parks, marinas or protected areas like wetlands and arboretums nearby. It’s time to investigate your area!

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So, once you find a tree, how do you listen? I suggest if it is possible, laying on the ground underneath it. I know, you have to throw your dignity out for this one. But, looking up into the beauty and the structure of a tree is amazing. If you can’t do that, just find a good spot, even if it is from inside, and then be quiet.

Turn off your cell phone, quiet your mind and just look and listen. Trees are amazing. They have seen and heard and experienced years of history. The bigger the tree, the more they have seen. If you can get to an old growth of redwoods, prepare for a holy experience; some of these trees have been around since Christ walked the earth. Can you imagine what they have been through? Fires, storms, births, deaths, wars, love.

Many trees are connected through their root system and live in family groups, holding each other up through storms and floods. Aspen trees grow in groves and all share the same DNA! Ponder the deciduous trees that lose their leaves every autumn. They understand birth, death, growth, starting over, pain, dormancy. Let the trees speak to you about your life. Listen to their wisdom.

Tree Singer (1)

I’d love to hear how you feel about trees. Is it just me? Am I crazy to get such life from being among them? One day I was sitting in a cabin I had rented for this purpose, looking at trees out of the window, and the idea for my book Tree Singer, was born. If you’d like to follow it you can see the available chapters here.

Also, in book news: I got this stunning review of my new book, Snapped! Give it a listen. It is for young adults aged 11 and up. It’s about cyberbullying and empowerment. This review makes me cry every time I listen, and she says the book “changed her life!”

Spiritual Practice: Body Listening

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 I invite you to continue with me on a journey of spiritual awakening as we try different spiritual practices together. Every two weeks, I will blog about a different spiritual practice, we can try it together and discuss how it is or isn’t working for you! Ready, set, GO!

Review: Silence and Solitude – How did the silence go for you? On my last spiritual retreat, I added Body Listening to my silence. I was experiencing post-election stress when I met with my spiritual director and she helped me with a body listening exercise. It was very helpful so that is what we will focus on today. I had the rest of the 24 hours to sift through what my body was telling me.

Body listening is something I generally forget to do until my body is screaming at me in some way, but it’s better if you don’t wait that long and make it a more regular practice.

Here’s how it works. Sit comfortably in a chair and practice breathing deeply, allowing your body to relax and your mind to focus. As your body relaxes, let your mind wander around the different parts of your body until something catches your attention. Once something draws you, either because it is hurting or just wants your attention, let that part know you are listening. You might even say, “I’m here. What do you need.” This might feel a bit silly, but trust me it works.

When that part of your body tells you why it needs attention, let it know that you heard and you will give it what it needs. Don’t forget to follow through and do what your body needs.

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Photo by Alise AliNari on Pexels.com

I have a friend who teaches a Listening class at the university. She has me come in and do this exercise with her class. When the students listen to their bodies, they usually realize that they are hungry, sleepy or need to exercise. No surprises there.

But I’ve also seen some deep things come out of these exercises. One woman was drawn to a freckle on her arm; it was itching. She ignored it, then that night had a dream that she went to her dermatologist. She chose to listen to her body and went to see the doctor who found that freckle was actually a melanoma. She had it removed and she is fine.

One woman was drawn to her non-dominant foot. She felt she was being called to step out in leadership in ways she was not comfortable with.

The first time I did this exercise, I was drawn to my lungs. They felt tight and said they needed more room. This was true because I had a lung infection and needed to go to the doctor, but I also saw it as true in my life; I physically and spiritually needed more room. I went home and used one of our spare rooms to create a prayer room. It gave me space to be with God and be creative. That is when I started writing books.

As I mentioned earlier, I did this exercise the last time I was on a silent retreat, with my spiritual director (we will explore spiritual direction later). My eyes were twitching terribly. This is what happens when I’m under a great deal of stress for an extended period. They had been twitching since the election, as many of my friends of color and from the LGBTQI community were in great pain and fear.  I was somatizing that stress. When I stopped to listen to my eyes, they told me they were worn out from seeing so much pain and hurt. They told me they needed to rest and to turn off Facebook for a while. I promised to listen and did those two things. They immediately calmed down.

Listening to your body can be a powerful thing. Give it a try a few times in the next two weeks and let me know how it goes.

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Bonus: I recently did a podcast with Merritt Onsa at Momentum Podcast. We talk about spiritual practices join us by listening in!

Girl with shell: Photo Credit: