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 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!

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.

 

 

Winter scene Photo by Simon Matzinger on Pexels.com
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

 

 

Spiritual Practice: Reconnecting to our bodies

body mind

 

Have you ever had to experience someone asking how you’re doing and you realize that you have no idea how to answer that question? This is something I notice all the time. When I get busy or just go into my automatic to-do-list mode, I can forget to connect with myself. And yet, when I take the time to slow down, sit in my prayer chair or go to yoga, I often feel sad. It’s like my body knows how I’m doing, but I’m not listening to it.  I’ve cried in yoga or during a massage more than once.

There are many reasons we disconnect from our bodies. A culture of busyness is one. Women often have the experience of putting others first for so long, that when their children leave home, they have no idea who they are or what they want in life. Men who throw themselves into careers are often cut off from their emotions. As one young man said to me this week, “It’s not okay for men to cry in our culture.” Of course, these gender stereotypes are changing, but these are still things I hear about every day in my counseling office.

Children are running from event to event, piled with homework, and in their downtime their focus in on screens. They have no time to know what they are feeling – or even how to feel. They have little unstructured time to play, think, daydream or use their imaginations.

 

children playing soccer

Trauma can separate us from our bodies. The best book I’ve read on this topic is, “The Body Keeps the Score,” which explains how trauma lodges in the brain and comes out somatically in our bodies. Whether it’s asthma, migraines, or stomach aches, our bodies are reacting to stress and trying to get our attention. They want us to slow down and listen and learn to feel all of our feelings — even the difficult ones.

For people who have experienced trauma, this lack of connection to their own bodies can be very hard to correct. EMDR or other therapies can help immensely.

Unfortunately, even religious teachings can disconnect us from our bodies. The ancient Hebrew understanding of the soul was a unified view of body, mind, and spirit together. All three are equally important. At some point in history for Christians, the body became suspect. Puritans had to keep it covered, bodily functions became shameful, and talking about body biology was often taboo. My mother, even though she had three older sisters, thought she was dying when her period started. No one had prepared her.

I’m grateful for my children’s generation, and possibly the internet/social media, as these strictures are loosening. People now talk openly about the menstrual cycle, masturbation, and sex. Hopefully, these changes will help reconnect us to our bodies. I’ve seen adds for cry pillows and gatherings for women to come together and cry, or for men who come together and snuggle to learn how to be both masculine and nurturing. At some deep level, people are understanding that our need for bodily contact and non-sexual intimate connection is important.

adult beverage breakfast celebration
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

How do we reclaim the connection to our bodies?

  1. Prayer or meditation helps ground and connect us. The Insight Timer App has thousands of guided meditations to help with that. You can try any length, with many different topics, or just use the timer and sit in silence.   The practice of centering prayer is growing in our faith culture, and there are many guides available or possibly centering prayer groups near you to join.
  2. For trauma, I’d recommend a therapist who specializes in trauma. If you don’t feel the first therapist you try is a good fit, try another one!
  3. Any activity that helps you connect with your body will help. Walking, hiking, swimming, gym workouts, yoga, and massage will all help. You are NOT being selfish when you give yourself time and money to do these things.
  4. If you have someone to hug, do it. Body contact is HUGE. If you don’t have someone to hug, get a pet, or volunteer at an animal shelter or the church nursery. We need to feel another presence near us to help with the calming of our parasympathetic nervous system. Think about the elders in your world. Often, if their spouse is gone, they very rarely get touched. Hug a lonely elder!
  5. Breathe and listen. Our bodies wait to tell us how we are, who we are, and what we need.

Let me know how you keep in touch with yourself. What works for you?

Photo credit, body

children playing soccer

Spiritual Practice: Healing Burnout

burnout

I listened to an interesting audiobook the other day called, The Burnout Generation. It talked about millennials and how they are increasingly facing burnout. Why?

  1. They graduate from college with an average of $35,000 in debt hanging over their heads and then get jobs that don’t pay enough for many years.
  2. They are the first generation where it is not assumed they will have better lives than their parents.
  3. They are priced out of the housing market.
  4. Cell phones have made work difficult, if not impossible, to leave “at the office.” They are expected to be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  5. Many suffer from anxiety and depression.

It was a harsh reality to read about. I was from the last generation of folks who could, “work their way through college” and graduate without debt. My undergraduate classes were about $150 a semester and books were another $50. Now a single textbook can cost $350!

We tell people that they need a degree to get meaningful work, but the jobs they get aren’t paying enough to even make minimum payments on the debt they stack up. It’s overwhelming for me to even think about it.

tried buisnessman

 

I believe America is headed for burnout. Many things are contributing to burn-out. Working too much, taking on too many volunteer activities, working with emotionally intense populations, being a single parent, parenting in general. It’s a difficult issue, rooted in some systemic problems, like the college student loan situation. But, mostly it’s the American culture, even the Christian culture, which seems to celebrate busyness as a virtue. There is nothing Biblical about that. If we look at Jesus as a model of life, he even left his healing ministry while there were still people waiting to be healed, and went off for some alone time with God. (Mark 1:35ff) God created Sabbath rest because we need it, yet how many of us really take a day to rest?

adult beverage breakfast celebration

So, how do we begin to heal burnout? It’s a complex problem, but here are some ideas.

  1. Intentionally limit your time on social media. The stress of constantly comparing yourself to others’ “online” personas is exhausting.
  2. Limit your time on the news stream. It can be toxic.
  3. Set your phone to silent, not vibrate, but silent. You can check your phone for messages, but the constant vibration and buzzing is stress-producing. I’m not sure how to turn off notifications on a watch, but I hope there is a way.
  4. Intentionally put short getaways into your life. Take a weekend to walk by the ocean or in the forest and reconnect with God through creation. I try to do this monthly. Try turning your phone to airport mode for a few hours of these trips.
  5. Allow yourself five minutes to sit still in silence each day. As your thoughts quiet, priorities can become clear.
  6. Learn to take naps, even if you don’t fall asleep, just lie down for fifteen minutes and rest. I’ve been trying this one. I rarely sleep, but it is nice to rest.
  7. Make choices for a simpler life. My husband and I have always lived simply, which led to no debt, paid off cars, house, and no credit card bills. We live way below the standard of most of our friends who have more very attractive luxuries. But we are debt-free and happy.
  8. Find a group, a tribe, a community to help support your “less busy” lifestyle. Invite folks over for potluck dinners, or game nights, where all the phones get put in a basket upon entry.
  9. One of my favorite things from The Burnout Generation was the story about a church that was raising money to help pay off student loans. What a wonderful idea! What freedom that would bring to those individuals!
  10. The book also mentioned the importance of therapy. As a therapist, that made me happy. If you have insurance or can afford private pay, a therapist can help with the anxiety, depression, or PTSD that contributes to burnout. They can also help you assess your quality of life and offer solutions to life problems. Life Coaches and Spiritual Directors can help with that too.

I’d love to hear how you have dealt with burnout in your life. Maybe together we can figure out how to turn America from a “Burned out nation,” to a healthy one.

 

Photo credits: Matches,    Tired Businessman

Fireplace Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

 

Spiritual Practice: Aging Well

Aging

I’ve been thinking a lot about aging lately because, well, I am aging. I don’t feel any older inside, but the years keep adding up.

How do we look at aging as a spiritual practice?

I’ve watched my husband wrestle with these questions as he turned sixty-five and the warranty on his body seems to have expired. Suddenly he needs cataract surgery and hearing aids. With his spiritual director, he has come to a “letting go,” and “embracing of,” stance. You gotta understand. My husband is tall, handsome, with a full head of brown hair. He gets flirted with constantly and is often confused as our granddaughters’ father. These aging issues should feel like a personal affront to him, yet he is choosing to let go of what he has no control over and embrace the process of aging, looking for its gifts. And for him, these gifts are well worth the losses of aging.

This attitude seems to be the key in the books I’m reading on aging. Also, growing older does not mean stopping living.

parker plamer

Parker Palmer, in his fantastic book, On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity and Getting Old, writes a series of essays about the aging process. I love this book for his warmth, honesty, and humor. One of my favorite quotes from the book is this:

“Old age is no time to hunker down unless disability demands it. Old is just another word for nothing left to lose, a time of life to take bigger risks on behalf of the common good.” Pg.2

Palmer speaks a lot about the importance of gratitude and the ability, to tell the truth in love, no longer needing to posture or pretend. That is beautiful. He also says we need to embrace everything inside us, our true selves and our shadows, with grace and love. This leads to our wholeness.

falling upward

That reminded me of a book by Richard Rohr, “Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life,” in which he describes one of the main tasks of the second half of life as sifting through the first half and making sense of it, learning its lessons, facing our shadows.  Rohr says this process is not necessarily about aging but after suffering a loss, any of us can begin this process of facing the difficult truths about ourselves, though some choose not to. As we do, we become wise instead of bitter. Parker agrees, saying these traumas can either break our heart apart or break it open to love more.  (pg. 161)

women rowing

Another book that has helped me is, “Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age.” In this book, Mary Pipher uses case studies describing how different women have navigated the aging process. She writes a lot about gratitude and the inner work of aging:

“This may be the most important thing – that we learn to grant ourselves mercy. That we forgive ourselves, that we accept our pain, mistakes, and vulnerability, and somehow manage to love ourselves and our own lives…It is only when we grant ourselves mercy that we can extend mercy to others.” Pg. 158

What I’m learning so far is that aging is about grieving and letting go of the physical losses we can’t control and working hard on the things we can control. Processing our lives, integrating our lessons, and being honest with ourselves about ourselves in grace and love. As we do this difficult inner work it frees us to give back to the world. It allows us, as Parker Palmer says, to “take bigger risks for the common good.”

What are you learning about the process of aging? Are there books you’d like to share?

 

 

Photo credit