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.

self to lose

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.

black and white siberian husky besides man wearing blue jacket

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.

 

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Lower Photo by Marek Mucha 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: Trying New Things During Hard Times

woman wearing white sleeveless top

 

Well, the world has changed since I wrote my last blog two weeks ago. There is a lot of fear, panic, and anxiety now. We’ve added new terms to our vocabulary like social distancing, six-feet-apart, and panic buying. Our brave men and women on the front line of the pandemic are still working, but the rest of us can help most by staying home and praying for them, supporting small businesses, and giving help to those in need.

But amidst the negative, there is one thing I’ve noticed that is super interesting.  The old saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention,” is true. People who are been confined to their homes are starting to create and share what they are doing. Sewers are making masks for hospitals, gyms are sharing workouts, singers are sharing songs, and writers are reading their books.

So, I took this question to the virtual streets and asked folks what they were trying at home that’s new for them. As for me, I’ve tried Zoom as have many of you including my friends Andy and Sharon. I was a Skype gal before, but now it’s Zoom staff meetings, Zoom counseling, and I even had a Zoom happy hour with my friends and family. Don’t be afraid to try this. It really helps you feel less isolated.

I also tried Yin Yoga online. It’s way harder than it sounds. You hold an uncomfortable position for five minutes and then switch to another uncomfortable position for five minutes. You do this for an hour. I’m not a huge fan but I’d probably try it again. There are tons of free workout options to try. Keep your body moving!

What a great time to try new things. This turns our despair into hope and our sadness into joy. Here are answers from my friends and you’re invited to add your new things to the comments below.

photo of woman cooking near her family

Cooking: I personally have not tried this but you can!

Randy: I’m making bread (Navajo flatbread came out pretty well, and I’ll be trying beer bread this week).

Julie: Made “Swiss biscuits” this morning

Whitney: Trying TONS of new recipes to use all the food that has been sitting in the pantry forever.

man in coveralls holding spray bottle

Cleaning: This is also on my list of things to do but…not yet.

Shelly: Spring cleaning, lots of dishes

Jack: Cleaning all the door handles and light switches.

Jane: Consolidating all my sample creams/lotions into one container to use them up. Making tags (using luggage tags) to label black vs navy pants on the hangers in my closet.

toddler in white hoodie during daytime

Spiritual Practices: Mine have stayed largely the same, but these are great.

Misty: I am adding a deeper level to my mediation practice. Super humbling.

Whitney: Added a daily mediation.

Rittie: Walking more. Trusting more.

Chris: News distancing.

Kim: Online church

man leaning over table using magnifying lens

Fun and Creative Things: This section cracks me up and gives me hope. Step out, create, try new things!

Shelly: Things I’m Not doing: My hair or makeup; Getting my nails done; Getting out of bed at 6am

Jodie: Drawing more

Rod:  Trying to learn Russian on DuoLingo

Whitney, Getting a Wellness Coach online certification.

Jane: Passive—letting my hair grow the longest it has been since high school.
Drawing pictures of the homes I lived in growing up in the military (at least 12), to be converted later into quilt squares for a wall hanging.
Writing a message to my grown children in case I must be separated from them in the hospital. Will form the basis for an ethical will later.

Patty and Shelly: jigsaw puzzles

Sarah: Had a zoom playdate for the kids. It was great to see them dancing together and showing each other their pets.

I’m anxious to hear more! Drop a comment below to share what you are trying to make this time less treading water and more growth-oriented.

 

 

Yoga Photo by Valeria Ushakova on Pexels.com
Cooking Photo by Elly Fairytale on Pexels.com
Cleaning Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com
Spiritual PRactice Photo by Negative Space onPexels.com
Creativity Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Spiritual Practice: Reimagining Lent

 

afterglow backlit beautiful crescent moon

I did not grow up in a church that celebrated or marked the Christian liturgical calendar. Well, I did not grow up in a church at all, but later, when I did attend church, it was one of those big box non-denominational churches that didn’t pay attention to the church calendar. In fact, we skipped right over Lent and Good Friday and went straight to Easter. It was Happy Clappy Christianity, baby. But life is not all roses and it’s good to have time to mourn, grieve, and contemplate change.

When people talked about Lent, it was a mystery to me — still is a bit. It just seemed like a difficult time when people gave up chocolate or alcohol and were miserable. When I first tried lent, I gave up sugar, just in time for a week at camp with college students who were happily eating sugar all week. I. Was. Miserable! And, worse, I wasn’t sure why I was doing it.

christian year

So, let’s break it down and re-imagine what Lent can be. Here is a handy picture of the church year, aka the Christian calendar. On it, you’ll see that Lent is the forty-day period of time when we contemplate the crucifixion of Jesus and prepare our hearts for Easter resurrection. During that time, Jesus knew he was heading to the cross and he was saying the things he most wanted us to hear and remember. “Love one another, serve each other, share food with your enemies…” It’s a good time to re-read those last words.  My pastor, Kris Gallagher, calls Lent, “Christian Spring Training.”

People fast during lent as a reminder of the season and to identify with Christ’s forty- days in the wilderness. It is a time to reflect, review your life, and perhaps prepare to make some changes. It is the season of spring where new life is about to break forth in the earth; we need to be prepared for new growth in our lives too.

If we are giving something up for Lent, Pastor Kris encourages us to ask, “what for?” If you are giving up chocolate or coffee, what is it for? If you eat a lot of chocolate or drink a lot of coffee, you can take that money and give it to someone who is struggling. That’s a good “what for.”

fasting from pope francis

You can also think of adding something to your Lent instead of merely giving something up. Or both, as in the above list from Pope Francis. Try adding a season of gratefulness or thank-you note writing, or make a commitment to listen deeply to someone each day. I love the idea of adding something new during Lent instead of giving something up. Whatever you choose, it can be a mindfulness exercise to keep you present to God, to yourself, and to others during this season. Who wants to join me in trying something new for Lent this year?

Let me know what Lent means to you and how you are trying to reimagine it this season.

 

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Spiritual Practice – Seeing God In All Living Things

beautiful bloom blooming blossom

 

I’m just back from a weekend with John Philip Newell, a Celtic Poet, Peacemaker, Minister, and Scholar. He’s the author of one of my favorite books, The Rebirthing of God: Christianity’s Struggle for New Beginnings. When I read this book my heart rejoiced, saying, “These are my people!” The words he wrote spoke deeply to the kind of faith my faith has evolved into. I didn’t know this, but apparently, it’s a Celtic faith. Early Scottish Christianity was a holistic and valued caring for the earth and acknowledging the divine in all people. This kind of faith was eventually opposed and suppressed by the church that had founded the Scottish church, the Roman Catholic Church.  Now, this ancient Celtic Christian stream is reemerging at a time we need it most, as care for the earth has never been more important.

john philip newell

The Celtic Christians say we see God in all things. I’m not talking about pantheism, I’m talking about pan-en-theism: Not that everything is God, but God is in all living things. It’s about the very light that spoke the universe into being existing at the heart of all created things. Newell says we all know this; we just need to be reminded. At the heart of all living things, is light and love and divine spark.

Here’s a practice you can try to get in touch with that of God in everything. Find a place outside, sit and look at something, a tree, a flower, a blade of grass. Then say, I’m here God, I’m listening. Then be present to that thing, ask yourself what do you see, what do you notice, what might you learn from this created thing?

We did this during my weekend with John Philip. I found an oak tree, gnarled and unruly, with branches stretching up in many directions. I felt drawn to get as close to it as I could. I climbed up, studied the branches, felt the texture, admired its rough bark, sniffed it and the soft lichens that lived on it. It stood next to a beautiful tall and stately pine tree, but I realized that I was much more like the oak. My life had taken many twisted paths, not a straight and beautiful one, but much more interesting. I wasn’t beautiful anymore, but strong, sturdy, full of life and providing a safe place for others. There was even an empty nest at the top of that oak tree. I felt the tree was as happy to be with me as I was with it, and I remembered my childhood of climbing oaks and the wonder and joy of it all.

me in tree

One of my granddaughters likes to be in my lap. She’s nine years old and very tall, 4’8” already. She is all elbows and knees, but she wants to be as close to me as she physically can. She balls into my lap and presses her cheek to mine as if she just can’t get close enough. I treasure this because by next year she might not be interested in sitting in Nana’s lap. But that is how I felt with that tree, like I just couldn’t get close enough. It was beautiful.

Each person at the retreat had some kind of loving interaction with the life around us. It’s so easy to go through life with blinders on, not seeing the beauty of the clouds, the wonder of snow on the mountains, or wildflowers in a field.

Try that this week. Take your blinders off. Walk slowly. Sit, if you can, and listen. Look for that divine spark in all living things and let me know how it goes.

 

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Spiritual Practice: Trying Things

woman wearing grey long sleeved top photography

I know some young people are so stressed about “not having a plan” after high school that they become unable to move forward in any way. AFTER HIGH SCHOOL!!

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average person changes jobs 10-15 times and careers seven times over their working years. I wish everyone could understand you don’t have to know when you’re 18, 22 or even 65, what you want to be when you grow up! Very few people know that right out of the shoot. For most of us, it’s about trying things.

Job’s I’ve had: babysitter, burger flipper, house number painter, hair cutter, charm school teaching assistant, grocery bagger, airline front desk, art class model, waitress…and those were all before I graduated from college! I could go on but you get the point. You have to try a lot of things before you find something that gives you joy or at least pays you enough to find your joy outside of work. I changed my major four times in college and when I graduated with two majors, I didn’t work in either field. Now I work as a therapist; I write, and I train spiritual directors.

It took me a long time to figure out what kinds of work gave me joy, and it’s still not just one thing.

In the church world, we talk about spiritual gifts. It’s a similar idea. I’ve worked in the church nursery, set up chairs, taught Sunday school, led a creative team, been on the missions committee… In the end, I found I most love helping people grow spiritually.

Trying things helps us know what we love and what we don’t — what feeds our soul and what drains it. When we figure that out, we can work smarter, not harder. I don’t have to run around like a chicken trying to be all things to all people. I can say no to boards and committees and childcare because they aren’t in my giftset. I can say yes to teaching a spiritual formation class because it is something I do well and enjoy. Trying things helps us prioritize our time and energy, making us more effective for the greater good.

woman walking on a log in the forest

Some tips for trying things:

  1. Don’t be afraid to try a job for which you aren’t fully qualified. Men tend to take a job they are semi-qualified for because they know they can learn the rest. Women tend to take only jobs they know they can do. Stretch yourself by taking something a bit out of your comfort zone, having faith you can learn the rest.
  2. My motto: “I’ll try anything once.” This goes for food and adventures. Although I do draw the line at bungee jumping. And also raw oysters — sorry, they make me gag.
  3. Christians often feel they have to wait for God to speak directly to them about something without moving forward. I always liked the saying, “It’s hard to steer a parked car.” My husband says he likes to gently kick a lot of doors and see which ones open. Move in some direction and guidance will come.  I believe that God will be with you whatever path you choose all are opportunities for growth and learning.
  4. Don’t let fear keep you from trying new things. I remember reading, “The Year of Yes,” by Shonda Rhimes. She challenges you to say “yes” to new and risky things for a year. My daughter and I did it and had fun. Full disclosure: the next year we chose, “the year of no,” for our theme. We were tired.
  5. One summer my husband and I did what I called “Groupon dating.” We didn’t have money for a vacation so we just tried all these weird groupon adventures. Some of them were great, but most of them were extremely disappointing, like the “wine and cheese steam engine train ride” that lasted about 20 minutes and served a thumb-sized bit of wine in a plastic cup. People started to riot, chanting “We want wine!” Or there was the horseback “trail ride” where the gal led us around the inside of a fenced field. But oddly, the disappointing dates are the ones we still laugh about today. Make some memories by trying things you wouldn’t normally try.

Can you see trying new things as a spiritual practice? We have a big God and a big beautiful world. Let me know what kinds of things you’ve tried and what they taught you. I’d love to hear your stories!

 

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Trees Photo by Brady Knoll on Pexels.com

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!