Spiritual Practice: Internal Family Meeting

family meeting 2

The Internal Family Meeting – 

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I was thrilled when I ran across a spiritual practice involving internal family meetings. It’s similar to my work with families using family systems therapy, but instead of a meeting of various family members, the internal family meeting looks at the different parts of who you are as an individual.  We all say things like, “Part of me wants to go to the party, but part of me wants to stay home.” Looking at how these parts interact can be a really insightful way to work on becoming our truest self. 

It’s good to get to know the different parts of ourselves, but it can be hard to face the parts we prefer didn’t exist. Yet, much of what we are meant to know and learn from comes from unpleasant and difficult circumstances — or realities about ourselves, parts of ourselves that we don’t like. We must learn not to shun these uncomfortable parts, but to embrace and learn from them. My spiritual director shared this Buddhist poem with me about staying present in good and bad times, and I thought it would be appropriate here. 

 

In This Passing Moment
by Hogen Bays

In this passing moment karma ripens
and all things come to be.
I vow to choose what is:
If there is cost, I choose to pay.
If there is need, I choose to give.
If there is pain, I choose to feel.
If there is sorrow, I choose to grieve.
When burning — I choose heat.
When calm — I choose peace.
When starving — I choose hunger.
When happy — I choose joy.
Whom I encounter, I choose to meet.
What I shoulder, I choose to bear.
When it is my death, I choose to die.
Where this takes me, I choose to go.
Being with what is — I respond to what is.

 

family-meetings

So, how do we have an internal family meeting and welcome all the parts of ourselves? Try this:

First, find a comfortable seat, somewhere you won’t be interrupted. Take several deep breaths and picture sitting around a table with the different “parts” of yourself. There might be parts of you at the table that you don’t like or aren’t comfortable with, but remember the poem, be present to what IS. If you are a visual person you can sketch this out with stick figures with labels over the heads of the different parts. There might be The Parent, The Lover, The Teacher, The Protector, The Spiritual one, The Hurt one, The Cynic, etc.

Then, once you’ve identified them, welcome each part of yourself to the table. Listen to each part. Ask where they came from. For instance, there may be a part of you that protected you as a child during a difficult time. Thank them for their service. Perhaps you no longer need to be protected, this part of you might now be keeping you from getting to know and trust other people. Talk to that part of yourself about your new reality and how you only need their protection when you are actually threatened. 

Have a “family meeting,” with those around the table to discern how best the parts of you can work together for your good. As you hear and heal the different parts of yourself, you will be better able to hear God as well. 

Let me know if you try this spiritual practice and what you think. 

 

Photo Credit: top pic

bottom pic

Spiritual Practice: Mindfulness During Advent

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mind·ful·nessˈmīn(d)f(ə)lnəs/ noun

– the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.

– a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

The word mindfulness is everywhere these days. I’m quite enjoying it, actually. I need to learn to be fully present in my body and to others. It is one of my greatest spiritual formation challenges: To stay in the moment; to be here, now – with myself, with you, and with God.

ad·vent /ˈadˌvent/ noun

– the first season of the Christian church year, leading up to Christmas and including the four preceding Sundays.

-Advent is a season observed in many Christian churches as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas as well as the return of Jesus at the second coming.

In the faith tradition, I was brought up in there is no celebration of Advent, so I’m a newbie and I love it. What I have since learned about advent is that it helps slow me down and savor the season instead of dashing to stores, decorating the house, baking, worrying about finances. These activities do not lend themselves to mindfulness. That’s why I’m learning to enjoy advent. It helps me slow down and anticipate the birth of Christ before all the craziness.

At many churches, an Advent wreath sits on the altar and each week a different candle is lit to represent Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace. The center candle is The Christ candle. These are very good things to focus on, helping us to slow down and be mindful during the holiday season.

My dear friend, Deana Rogers wrote a beautiful Advent guide.  It’s called, Wrapped in Grace: The birth story that changes everything.  It is a beautifully illustrated slim edition.

When I was reading this book, I came across the word, “Mindfulness.” It was in the story where Mary (Jesus’ mom, freshly pregnant with him) goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth (who is old, not supposed to have kids, pregnant with John the Baptist). Mary launches into a song, which the author explains is very similar to other songs women have sung throughout the Bible. In it Mary says:

“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.”

In this story (New International Version) in the gospel of Luke, God is said to be “mindful of Mary.”

God, the power of the universe, the one who holds it all together, is fully present with Mary.

God knows her circumstances (an unwed teenager, carrying a baby that does not belong to her fiancé). God also knows her heart.

If God was mindful of Mary and chose to use her to (literally) carry out God’s will, it occurred to me that God is also mindful of us. God knows our circumstances, however, messed up they may be. God knows our hearts, and many of us may be hurting this year. God is not concerned that we are too young, like Mary, or too old, like Elizabeth. God can and will use us to carry out Divine good on earth.

What was Mary’s end of the deal?  To say yes. Yes, yes, yes.

This advent season, I want to be fully present to myself (what God is doing within me).  I want to be fully present to others (what God is doing in the world); I want to be fully present to God (to help carry out Divine plans). That is what I’m pressing into this Advent Season.

In what ways are you being mindful this Advent Season?

Photos: Advent WreathDeana’s Book

Spiritual Practice: Giving a Blessing

Mother and daughter
Words are powerful. We see it every day when someone uses the wrong word on social media and a career is over, or a relationship, or… The wrong words can inflame a nation to war, but the right words can move a people to peace.

Recently I ran into a familiar face during my yoga class. Afterwards, I said, “You are so familiar, how I know you?”

She said that we had worked together in the school district over fifteen years ago. She remembered me because she had just moved to town from a different state and knew no one. Another woman and I hosted a party for her and made her feel very welcome.

The thing is, I remember none of that; I’m absolutely blank about the whole story. But kindness stays with us, and she remembered. Then she added, “You look fantastic! You look younger now than you did back then.” Well, that made my month! Every time after that, when I thought of her words, a smile lit up my face.

Bad words stay with us too. In fact, they are stickier than the good ones. I can probably remember every mean thing ever said to me. Thankfully there weren’t too many, but you can see why bullied kids sometimes take their lives.

Last week I was in a medical office and the office staff greeted me with, “Unfortunately our computers are down so please be patient with us.” I took my clipboard to sit down with the rest of those waiting patiently when a man came in. He got visibly upset when he heard the computers were down. Somehow, it was as if the office workers had done it personally to him. He threw a fit and stomped out shouting that he “didn’t have time for this sort of bulls**t.” It was very disturbing.

I went on to my appointment and on my way out heard the office workers still discussing his behavior. I imagine that it set the tone for their whole day and they would probably be retelling the story for a while. That man needed a good dose of the book of Proverbs, which has a lot of say about our words including: “A gentle answer turns anger away. But mean words stir up anger.” Proverbs 15:1

Unfortunately, we live in a time when it is easy to say bad things about others. People from both sides of the political spectrum seem eager to hurl insults online that they would never say face-to-face. I have found myself in this mindset too and I am trying to replace this behavior with either silence or kindness.

I’ve noticed that when I get attacked online if I either don’t engage or continue over and over to respond with kindness, it takes the fight out of people. I’m trying to live from what the New Testament book of James has to say about our words, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” James 1:19b

blessing 2

So, how do we push against our baser instincts and bless others? Here are some ideas:

First, the best way to bless is not by speaking, but by listening. If a person feels listened to they will feel loved. If they are sharing something you don’t agree with, you might say, “wow,” or “hmm,” but you don’t need to volunteer your opinion unless asked. This builds trust and relationship for a more open conversation later on. Who doesn’t like to be listened to? And here’s a bonus: the elderly and the otherwise marginalized are RARELY listened to – what a gift you can give.

Second, sometimes we toss the word “blessing” around, as in “God bless you,” when someone sneezes, or “Blessings,” at the end of a letter. But, what does giving a blessing really mean? Well, if you’ve ever received one from someone you respect, you won’t soon forget it. Have you ever had one of your parents look you in the eye and say, “I’m proud of you,”? Or a mentor that touched your shoulder and said, “Good work,”? Or had someone pray a blessing over you that sent waves of peace and love flowing through you, suddenly you’re crying and you don’t know why? These are real blessings that come from the heart. It’s as if the person giving them is giving you a part of themselves. Even if we haven’t experienced receiving these kinds of blessings, we can still give them to others.

Third, another huge way to bless is to ask for and offer forgiveness. Recently, when my boss and I had a big disagreement, it took a few days to work it through as I strongly disagreed with a decision he made. But still, he is my boss and I trust him, so at the end of the conflict, when I had calmed down, I went up and offered him a hug, saying, “I understand why you did what you did and I’m not mad at you.” He was very grateful for those words of forgiveness. And, just so you don’t freak out, I work in a hospice – we hug.

So, here is our challenge. Let’s spend November sharing blessings. It is the month of gratefulness anyway and we can give others something to be grateful for. Listening, blessing and forgiving will help bring light and love into a desperately hurting world.

How have you received blessings? How have you given them? I’d love to hear your stories.

For more on spiritual practices check out my new book, The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening.

Photo Credit: Top Picture, Second Picture