Spiritual Practice: Withholding Judgement

Walkingthecamino

People walk along the Camino De Santiago in Spain as a spiritual practice of pilgrimage. Recently I was involved in an online version of this pilgrimage which was very interesting. One thing our leaders emphasized in the orientation is every person has a different Camino, meaning you can’t compare your experience to that of anyone else as each is unique.

I’ve been trying to develop this mindset about the pandemic when I want to judge someone else’s experience. When I feel angry about protesters or people not wearing masks, I get really judgy.

The truth is, each person is experiencing this pandemic completely differently.

Some are overwhelmed with having small kids at home and trying to work, some are facing financial ruin, some are experiencing acute anxiety, and some have to work no matter what. I don’t have any idea what you are going through and I want to stop comparing my quarantine experience to yours.

Recently I was listening to Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday with Eckhart Tolle and he pointed out that America has not gone through anything this catastrophic since WW2. Since most of us did not live through WW2, this is a first for most of us! We are all just trying our best for ourselves and our families.

symmetrical photography of clouds covered blue sky

How do we keep from judging others during this time?

First, limit social media. It can be a black hole of division. I was hoping this pandemic would be a time of coming together in love, but it seems only to be strengthening the divide between us among some groups. If there is someone whose posts are constantly bringing you down, unfollow or mute them in some way, at least for a time.

The same can be said for the news as well. We all need to stay informed, but an hour a day can do that. Don’t let yourself get sucked into that black hole of fear.

Instead, give yourself time to meditate, pray, and focus on something positive. We need positivity now more than ever. John Krasinski’s SGN (Some Good News) broadcasts have been a lifesaver for me. They make me laugh and cry and see the hope in the world every week. Thank you, John!

Get outside. I know this will be harder for some of you than for others but there is nothing like fresh air and nature to bring peace, joy, and cleansing into your life.

Think of your various relationships as having either a net negative or net positive charge. The folks that are always draining your battery need to be balanced by those that bring a positive charge. Take an inventory. Is your life full of net negative people? Time to add some net positive folks or at least limit time with the net negatives.

Most of all maintain an attitude of GRACE. We are all just trying to figure this out. People are reacting out of fear in very public ways. Let’s offer each other love, support, and grace and let go of the critical judgments.  I’m speaking to myself here first.

Let me know how you are navigating your pandemic. We can get through this together.

Photo Credit Camino 

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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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Spiritual Practice: Facing Death During a Pandemic

man in black jacket holding mirror

 

In the last month, we have all been confronted with our mortality. If you have not, you’re not paying attention. This virus is a killer, of any age, race, or socioeconomic status. 

How do we face the reality that we might die sooner than later? I’m not trying to be morbid or doomsaying, but simply invite us to look at how we handle this as spiritually focused people. Besides pulling up your, “I’m not afraid to die because I know where I’m going,” boots, how do we live in this current reality? Here are some ideas:

This reality, and our new social isolation, give us a unique opportunity to reflect on our lives. It’s a good time to look back and review. How do I feel about life so far? How do I feel about the choices I’ve made, the job I have, or the people I’ve committed to? What are my regrets? What might be some things I’d like to change if I live through this pandemic?

As we look back, are there people we need to forgive? People we need to affirm? Perhaps it’s a good time to make a phone call or send a letter to someone you have unfinished business with — or a card of encouragement to someone who has loved you well.

When I worked for hospice with people staring death in the face, the number one thing they wanted was to reconnect with people they’d been estranged from. When we could make that happen, both parties always cried tears of joy and relief. 

Many of my therapy clients were anxious and stressed the first week of social distancing. By the second week, all but the teenagers were starting to enjoy a slower pace and relax into it. What lessons have we learned about ourselves and a slower pace that we might want to take into the next season when life gets back to “normal?” Perhaps we would like to keep some of the slowness we are experiencing now. 

woman putting on a face mask

On a practical side, is it time to update your will? Perhaps you need to share your passwords with someone you trust or let the people you love know how you feel about being kept alive by extreme measures. If your family were to have a funeral down the road or a memorial service, is there something specific you’d like to happen there? Is there anything important you need to share with anyone?

It might be good to make a video or write a letter to your family or friends, saying what’s important. People that are dying of the virus are dying quickly, and they are isolated from their families, many without a chance to even call and say goodbye. You can proactively do this for your family by making a video or writing a letter just in case. 

And finally, how are you doing with God? God loves every inch of you, just the way you are, and longs for a relationship with you. God is good, kind, loving, and accepting. God is not the sole property of any one religion, but available to all. If you’ve become estranged from God, this might be a good time to reconnect. I’ve found that faith communities can be a good support to you and your loved ones during a time of crisis or death. 

It’s a scary time, but not facing these things will not help you. American’s are notoriously afraid of talking about death. It’s time to change that narrative and take away the fear and panic. We can be proactive and use this crisis as a time to grow spiritually and prepare ourselves. 

 

Let me know if you have some ideas to help you as you think about your own mortality.

 

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Spiritual Practice: Loving Difficult People

man wearing white dress shirt with black necktie

 

We all have people we would not spend time with if we were given a choice. But because of work, family, or social obligations, we need to do so occasionally. How do we love difficult people?

First, I believe it’s good to know that we don’t need to “like” everyone we meet. There are people you just won’t like, and there are people who won’t like you, and it’s okay. But love is different. We are called if we are to walk in the way of love, to love everyone. What does that look like? How do we do it?

We must first love ourselves, which can be hard to do. But it is part of the greatest wisdom, “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as YOURSELF (Mark 12:30-31). How do we get there?  We choose to press into our belief we are completely, unconditionally loved by God. One way to do so includes sitting in the presence of the divine while listening to and feeling God’s love for us until we begin to absorb and believe it. That work, between us and God, creates pathways for us to truly love our neighbor, even the difficult ones.

My hubby and I have been listening to the podcast for Richard Rohr’s new book, The Universal Christ. The podcast is called, Another Name for Every Thing, and it is fantastic! During these interviews with Fr. Richard, they talk a lot about this concept of seeing yourself loved by God. Within the divine gaze, there is no good or bad, right or wrong, approval or disapproval. We just are. We are loved.

woman taking selfie

We can also pray a blessing on difficult people as suggested in the beatitudes, “Love your enemies, bless those cursing you, do good to those hating you, and pray for those accusing you falsely, and persecuting you” Matthew 5:44.

I love the scene from Fiddler on the Roof where someone asks the Rabbi if he had a blessing for the Czar. The Rabbi replies, “Lord, bless and keep the Czar…far away from us!” And sometimes that is the best we can do. From the view of the universal Christ, it is good to remember that there is no “us or them,” there is only “we.” If we can try and put on the lens of love, we can usually find compassion for a difficult person. If they are unliked by nearly everyone, something bad must have happened for them to become who they are, right? So, we can pray for their healing, softening, loneliness.

Ultimately, when we feel triggered by another person’s actions, words or behavior, it’s probably about us. The hard work is really pressing into what buttons they are pushing in us that are making us uncomfortable. Is being trapped in a social stimulation with someone who is ranting about politics pushing your buttons because as a child you were trapped in abusive situations? It’s a good opportunity for self-reflection and it’s fodder for your time with your spiritual director or therapist.

Truthfully, it’s good to love difficult people, but it is – difficult. So, don’t beat yourself up too hard. “Failing” to be gracious and merciful toward another is an excellent opportunity to admit we are still growing and ask God for help along the way. Just try your best and do some reflection afterward — and try to do better tomorrow.

 

Have you had success in loving difficult people? I’d love to hear your stories and what has worked for you.

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Photo of a woman by Edu Carvalho on Pexels.com

 

 

 

Spiritual Practice – Encountering People

person with body painting

If you’re like me you tend to go through life with blinders on. I’m so task-oriented that I often don’t notice people at all.

Recently I’ve been reading, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor. A thought in her chapter on The Practice of Encountering Others caught my attention. She said,

“What we have most in common is not religion, but humanity. I learned this from my religion, which also teaches me that encountering another human being is as close to God as I may ever get – in the eye-to-eye thing, the person-to-person thing – which is where God’s Beloved has promised to show up.” (page 102)

As we go through our day, she suggests we look at people, really look. We don’t have to engage with everyone and ask their life stories, but just notice, perhaps say hello to the person bagging your groceries. Perhaps they look tired, or kind, or sad. You might feel led to say something encouraging like, “Thank You,” “Have a nice day,” or “You have a pretty name.”

This goes nicely with the Quaker teacher George Fox when he said,

“Walk joyfully on earth and respond to that of God in every human being.”

What a great thing to practice this can be. I need the reminder daily. We live in a fast-paced world and the practice of being with people is especially hard with the draw of the cell phone. What a discipline it is to put it away, to put it on silent and truly be present to someone. I feel the draw to check my phone constantly. Keeping it on silent at least keeps me from being interrupted constantly with vibrations or distracting tones.

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If you do have the time to be with someone, try turning off your phone and putting it away; give that person your full attention. When my granddaughters were old enough, my husband rigged up some old cell phones so they could play games on them when they came over. This quickly became an obsession for both of them. Gone were the fun interactions we had previously enjoyed. Finally, my husband locked the phones up in the safe and said, “no more.” The girls were disappointed about it but soon got over it. Now they are much happier to sit in our laps for reading books together or playing silly games with us. I’m thankful for this time with them. They grow so quickly that soon they will be on to other interests.

Joan Chittister says “There are no gifts as precious as the gifts of time and listening.”

I agree. As a therapist and a spiritual director, I believe I’m offering that gift to others daily. What a healing thing it is to be heard and understood at a deep level. When I meet with my spiritual director, I’m often clueless as to how I even feel. But though her patient listening, gentle questions and observations, clarity slowly comes to me and I can connect with myself and God. This helps me feel more grounded and able to connect to others.

So, give this a try:

  1. Notice those you pass by today; perhaps say, “hi” or send up a quick prayer for them. Everyone is going through something that could use prayer.
  2. If you do have the opportunity to be with someone, look for that of God in them. Despite our differences in age, politics, social economics, religion, or culture, we can see God in each human and it is our connection point. I love that!
  3. Put away the phone, give that person your full attention and see what happens.

I imagine it will be a thin place, a holy encounter with a beautiful soul who is loved by God.

Let me know how it goes!

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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?

 

 

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The second pic is mine. Me and my man!

Spiritual Practices – End of the Year Reflection (part two)

brown tree with snow

The end of the year is a good time for reflection. If you’re a Christian, Advent will help guide you into reflection. The advent story features a harried and oppressed people, under the boot of an unjust government, finding hope in a radical new call to a life of love and action. Isn’t that what we all need this year?

In my last blog, we talked about reflecting on what we 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. We looked at the categories of Body, Mind, and Spirit; today we will reflect on our Emotions, Work, Relationships, and Fun/Creativity.

Set aside some time before the month ends to journal some thoughts on the last year/decade, and what you want to see in the next!

Emotions: For me, when someone asks how I’m feeling I honestly have to stop and think, even though in the language of Meyers Briggs Temperament Indicator, I’m a Feeler. I’m often out of touch with how I feel. Looking back at 2019, however, I see a glaring period of depression. A job I loved ended the previous July, but my grief was postponed by the anticipation of our planned trip to Denmark, Scotland, and Ireland in October. That was fantastic!

The problem started when we returned. First, we had an endless winter Seriously, for a town that generally has over 250 days of sunlight, we were overcast for months on end. That, combined with the job I thought I was coming home to vanishing, and then the job I eventually got taking months to materialize, led to some dark times. I am not unfamiliar with depression, but I must say it always surprises me with its lethargy and lack of energy. I’ve learned not to fight it, but to go easy on myself during those times and lower my expectations. I generally re-watch the Harry Potter movies to help lift my spirits. Healing came with the summer sun, and from about June on I was back in better spirits, ready to enjoy some family fun. I learned that seasonal affective disorder is real and that I tend to tie my identity to what I am able to produce.

person wearing red hoodie sitting in front of body of water

How were your emotions this last year? What can you learn from them?

Work: My work this year transitioned from my beloved hospice to a part-time private counseling practice. The first few months, as I mentioned, were extremely slow and frustrating, with new computer charting to learn, and rather rusty counseling skills. But now my days are full and I’m enjoying the work. Apparently, I’m becoming a sought-after trauma therapist and am training in EMDR to enhance that work. I learned it’s never too late to learn new things and that age does bring wisdom!

How was work for you this year? Are you happy? Do you need to make a change?

Relationships: Relationships have always been important to me, but when I look closely, I have many people that I love and just a few I spend time with regularly. I cherish my husband, my kids, and grands, and I marvel that friendships shift with new ones moving up in importance and others moving to less frequent interactions. I made two new friends this year and I’m so grateful for both. Good friends are a surprise and a joy.

Have you made or lost friends this year? Who are you thankful for? Are there relationships you need to grieve?

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Fun/Creativity – I put those two together but they might be separate for you. For me, I have the most fun when I’m creating. Although my writing has been slow this year (see the section on depression), I’ve published all of my eleven books over the decade! But now I’m slowing down, taking my time, not afraid to rest. Looking back, the most fun I had this year was attending two writing conferences with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators — one in Las Vegas and the other in Los Angeles. I felt truly encouraged at those not to give up. Our world often seems dark and our creativity can bring much needed light. The writing itself has been a bit of a slog and I’m grateful for a critique group to hold me accountable.

I’m also happy anytime my husband and I can take a road trip. We had fun this year going to meet the biggest Sequoias, exploring caves, and traveling to southern California to see family. We did a tad of camping and got to watch the grandkids frolic in the water in several locations.

Did you remember to have fun this year? Did you spend any time creating? If not, it might be important to add some in for next year.

Thanks for taking a look back with me on your Body, Mind, Spirit, Emotions, Work, Relationships, and Fun/Creativity. Next time we’ll look forward into the new year/decade and set some goals and dreams for what is next!

I’d love to hear how your end of the year reflection is going.

 

 

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