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: 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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Photo of woman in mirror by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

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.

Photo of a man by Craig Adderley on Pexels.com
Photo of a woman by Edu Carvalho 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 – 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!

Photos by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

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?

amazing balance blur boulder

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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Person sitting alone Photo by Quintin Gellar on Pexels.com
 Cairn Photo by Nandhu Kumar on Pexels.com

Spiritual Practice: End of the Year Reflection

silhouette photo of person standing in cave

I love December for many reasons: the winter weather, Christmas lights, festive parties; but I also love it as it brings the end to one year and the promise of something new in January. This year is especially fun as it brings a close to a whole decade and opens up a new beginning in 2020.

At the end of each year, I enjoy reflecting back, to see what I 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 (which we can do in a later blog).

Today we will look at the categories: Body, Mind, and Spirit, and next time we’ll tackle Emotions, Work, Relationships, and Fun/Creativity.

Body: Thinking back on 2019, how did you feel about your body? I don’t mean, were you thin or fit enough, I mean, were you at peace with it? Do you try to be an integrated person who honors, loves, and accepts your body? If so, how did you do it? Where did you fall short?

This year I grew in loving my body. As a post-menopausal woman, this has been a challenge. My stomach, which has always been a small part of my body, has become distended and refuses to regain its shape. I work with a personal trainer twice a week and have been enjoying getting stronger. But I believe that yoga has done the most to help me love and accept my body the way it is. The practice of yoga, breathing and stretching together, works to reestablish balance in our parasympathetic nervous systems. These systems get out of balance with stress, and yoga helps us realign. When I’m practicing yoga, I often find myself grateful for my body and sending it love.

How about you? How is your relationship with your body?

Mind: For me, reading is always the best way to improve my mind. I also listen to podcasts, attend lectures and enjoy interesting conversations. Looking back on the year, I’d like to share two books that have been stretching my thinking.

the body keeps the score

First, the book, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk M.D. has helped me understand how Trauma affects the body. I’ve been working with trauma personally, and in my counseling practice for decades, and this book synthesis all the things I’ve learned into one helpful package. I’ve signed up to become an EMDR practitioner just so I can learn to help the traumatized even more. I highly recommend this book if you or someone you know has experienced trauma. Caution: It can be triggering, so it’s best to read and discuss with a trusted friend or counselor.

the great spiritual migration

The second book that is giving words to my experience is called, “The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World’s Largest Religion is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian.” By Brian D. McLaren.

I’ve felt that old ways of thinking of my faith aren’t working for me anymore but not sure what that means for the future. Don’t get me wrong, I still love God and Jesus and my faith is stronger than ever, but it’s different. The old forms don’t fit. McLaren gets that and he has vision, hope, and direction for renewing or reinventing our faith “for the common good,” as it was originally meant to be.

How have you grown your mind this year? What helps you stretch your thinking?

How about your spirit? This year my spirit has been happiest in helping others grow spiritually. I’ve been leading a spiritual formation class where we try different spiritual formation contemplative practices together, such as Lectio Divina or praying a labyrinth. That has been a blast! But personally, I feel a bit restless or maybe lethargic in my spiritual self. I feel weary. I’m still taking my monthly retreats of silence and meeting with my spiritual director, but I have a hard time just being quiet, settling in. That is something for me to reflect on for the new year/decade. What do I need to unplug from so I can settle? Maybe I need less time on my phone and more time in the trees.

How about your spirit? How are you nurturing that part of you that needs time in nature, time in silence, time in fellowship?

Thanks for joining me in part one of reflecting on the year. Tune in next time for part two where we will reflect on Emotions, Work, Relationships, and Fun/Creativity. Then get ready to create some dreams and hope for the new year. Let me know how you best sort through a year and plan for the next.

 

Photo Credit: Snow cave: Photo by Maël BALLAND on Pexels.com