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 Practices: Archetypes — The Warrior

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We continue to explore our true selves through the window of archetypes, using as my guide the book: Illuminating the Way: Embracing the Wisdom of Monks and Mystics by Christine Valters Paintner. You can join us in reading the book or just follow along with the blog.

Archetypes are “instinctual and universal patterns of thought developed in human beings over thousands of years.” (pg. xi) Today we will look at the archetype of The Warrior.

“The Warrior is that part of ourselves which is ready to protect and defend whatever is necessary.” pg. 71

There are lots of examples of the Warrior in literature. The knight who is loyal to the Sovereign and who is willing to fight to the death for a just cause; but I am most intrigued by the idea of the Warrior who helps us fight our internal battles, especially when it comes to maintaining our personal boundaries.

As the adult child of an alcoholic (ACOA), the idea of boundaries took much too long for me to understand. They say that children raised in an alcoholic system don’t understand moderation. The first time I heard that it made so much sense to me. I had always been an “all in” kind of gal. I was the first to jump off the cliff, eat too much, or drink too much. I started to learn about moderation when I and began to read about the features of ACOAs. It was like lights began turning on, but growth with boundaries came slowly for me because they can be so blurred for children of alcoholics.

Thankfully, my husband would help me. He taught me that when my mom called, and I could hear the ice tinkling in the glass, I didn’t have to stay on the call. Or when the family dynamic tried to pull me into the middle in my role as mediator, which I’d been firmly placed in since the age of six, I could resist the pull to rescue. These boundary making behaviors were things I had to learn and I needed the help of my inner Warrior for them to begin to come from me instead of from my husband. It took a lot of courage from this peacemaker to uninvite some family members to holidays or to start saying Richard Rohr’s sacred “no” that Paintner describes in this chapter. Unfortunately, decades of family gatherings were ruined until I learned to put my own little family first, but I finally did and it was a huge relief to all concerned. Well, to my little family anyway.

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Amma Syncletcia, the desert mother who is the author’s Icon for the Warrior, was a brave woman who took to the desert with her blind sister where she could throw off cultural constraints of women in the 400’s and be focused on God, offering wisdom to those who sought it. Many women joined her there, seeking healing for their inner wounds. We need the courage to deal with our inner wounds and the Warrior can help us, and we can help each other as Amma Syncletica did.

The shadow side of the warrior is our Inner Critic, which we are encouraged to listen to and then dismiss. As a writer, I’m very familiar with this little fella. I love Elizabeth Gilbert’s take on this in her book, Big Magic. She says (and I’m paraphrasing here) fear (the inner critic) is allowed along on the trip, but never allowed to drive!  Another shadow of the Warrior is the tyrant we can become if we let our Warrior run amok.

I love the prayer at the end of this chapter and offer it to you now,

“May you find the fierceness within to honor and protect that which is most precious. May you find the courage to say no to all that drains and disempowers so your yes may be all the more radiant.” (pg.89)

What has been your experience of the Warrior? Mine is limited by my family system but I’m interested in how it has helped others.

Photo credit: Warrior

Amma Syncletica

Spiritual Practices: Archetypes — The Mother

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We are continuing our study of archetypes as a spiritual practice through the book, Illuminating the Way, by Christine Valters Paintner. You’re welcome to get the book and follow along, or just enjoy the blog and comments. This week we are in the third chapter, the archetype of the Mother.

To review from my last blog, Archetypes are “instinctual and universal patterns of thought developed in human beings over thousands of years.” (pg. xi) “The Mother, in the fullness of her form, is the source of all life and nourishment, of unconditional love and care, the generous flow of abundance and grace.” (pg. 38)

Boy, I thought the Sovereign was a rough chapter. The archetype of the Mother has brought up all of my own mama drama. I had to read the chapter twice.  Mothers are complicated. My own mother was incredibly beautiful and fun and adventurous. She was also a workaholic during the day and an alcoholic at night. As you can imagine, trying to work through the shadow issues I may have inherited from my own mother has been a painful, lifelong work, some of which I’ll share here.

But first, the good stuff. I think it is interesting to look at Mary, the mother of Jesus, as an icon of this archetype. As a non-Catholic, I have not spent much time thinking about Mary, save the yearly Christmas story. I loved the idea that she was there for Jesus birth with her brave YES, and she was also there at Jesus death, with a gut-wrenching NOOOOO.

mary mother of jesus

The idea that the inner Mother helps us call forth a YES to birth new things, new ideas, and creativity, while also holding us during our loss and grief was very comforting to me. I grew up with a very masculine idea of God and I’m eager to press into the feminine side of God. I understand thresholds, having navigated, and helped others navigate, both physical births and deaths, as well as other kinds of thresholds. I love the idea that the Mother is there to help lead us, comfort and guide us over those thresholds.

I was intrigued that our inner Mother is to be a source of stability for us. She helps us stay in difficult places and feel our hard feelings. She gives us love and compassion and shows us the gifts that come from staying in those liminal places of unknowing. I need that right now. Even though I’m older, I’m in a very “what am I supposed to do with my life” space. It is difficult and uncomfortable.

My own mother was a seven on the Enneagram. She craved new experiences like a junkie craves drugs. She worked as a nurse, a dental assistant, a hairdresser, a real-estate agent, and she owned two different beauty shops. We moved every three years whether we needed to or not, and difficult feelings like sadness or anger were not welcomed in our house. As a sensitive child, I was labeled a crybaby and I learned at a young age to stuff my hurt feelings.

Sorting through these patterns has been a life work for me; to stay with hard feelings and not run from them. I’m learning to practice the welcoming prayer and acknowledge that these feelings are a part of me and learn from their wisdom and pain. I have worked with my husband to create a stable home for my children, ignoring the internal clock that tells me every three years that it’s time to move, change jobs, or run away.

As I did the imagery of sitting in the presence of the Mother, I felt that she wanted to hold me. I was reluctant but as I allowed myself to be held, I received a mother’s blessing, calling me out of my shell to risk again. She called me to create boldly and to hold my head high, walking in the confidence of my sixty years of wisdom, love, and acceptance of others.

I loved this prayer at the end of the chapter,

“May you be blessed with a yes on your lips and in your heart to the holy invitations that come your way. May you find yourselves in intimate partnership at all of the times of birth that you are called to labor through, and may you know yourself held through a thousand losses and times of grief. May the Mother nourish you with lavish generosity.” (pg. 48)

I’d love to hear how you relate to the archetype of the mother in your own life, or how your own mother gave you grist for the mill of your own growth. Feel free to share in the comments below.

Photo Credits. The Mother, Mary Mother of Jesus

Spiritual Practices: Archetypes – The Fool

stFrancis

My next few blogs will look at twelve archetypes as described in the book, Illuminating the Way: Embracing the Wisdom of Monks and Mystics, by Christine Valters Paintner.

If you would like to get the book and read along, that would be fabulous. I think it’s a really fun read. It has fun and interesting features, like Icons, Scripture and mandala art — and there is no way I can cover all that in this blog, so you might enjoy checking it out. I also think this book would be fun to discuss in an in-person group and I might try that later too. In the meantime, here are my thoughts on the introduction and the first chapter.

Archetypes are “instinctual and universal patterns of thought developed in human beings over thousands of years.” (pg. xi)

They are useful in spiritual practices because they help us get in touch with different parts of ourselves that may be previously hidden to us but can be helpful when revealed. It also helps us get in touch with the shadow sides of ourselves that might be keeping us from living from our true selves.

I have never studied archetypes, so this book is a revelation to me. When I saw the first chapter was entitled, “The Fool,” I thought, “I’m not like that at all.” Boy was I wrong. I’m glad that the author chose St. Francis as the Archetype for The Fool as he has always been a favorite historical mentor of mine. He is most often depicted with birds and other creatures around him, as he loved all living things. He left a wealthy Italian family, gave all he had to the poor and wore a simple brown habit. He lived among and ministered to the marginalized. The church, at that time, was all about money, so he was living in a way that seemed foolish to those in power. He challenged the status quo and began a whole new movement of like-minded followers.

The world could use some more Fools right now, right?

I so relate to St. Francis and the archetype of The Fool. “He described nature as a theophany, a place of divine encounter and intimate relationship.” (pg. 3) If you’ve been following my blogs for any time you know I feel the same way. The “thinnest” places for me are out in the middle of a forest or by the ocean.

It’s only been within the last six years that I’ve identified with my inner Fool. When I aligned myself with my friends in the LGBTQIA community, I was called many things, ”foolish” among them. It was painful to have been an influential teacher, trainer, and speaker, in the evangelical community, and suddenly become “suspect,” and rapidly uninvited to places of influence. I had not changed, people’s perspective of me had changed when I started speaking my truth.

The Fool is like a prophet sometimes, telling the truth by standing on the outside of traditional thinking and seeing things differently. Truth-telling, done with love and humor, can be a subversive act. It can also be painful and lonely, so you have to find other fools to stand with you. St. Francis started a movement of Holy Fools that had a profound effect on the world, then and now.

sparrow

Each archetype has a high side and a low side, a true self and a shadow self, much like how we talk about the Enneagram. The shadow side of The Fool involves hurting others by using humor to tear them down. I have definitely done that and it grieves me terribly. Once you say something flippantly, to be funny, no matter how many times you apologize, it can’t be unsaid. Another shadow side of The Fool is cynicism. When I was in college I was often referred to as “guileless.” Unfortunately, that is not true of me anymore. The world is such a difficult and hurting place that I’m often given to cynicism and despair.

So, for me, The Fool challenges me to weigh my words, speak the truth in love and not use humor to hurt. Also, I want to keep hoping for a better world and not give into cynicism. When I need strength to stand against injustice, I need to channel my inner Fool. And, The Fool is fun! The Fools energy helps us to not take ourselves so seriously.

Do you relate to The Fool? I’d love to hear about it. There are many archetypes so there may be some we relate to more than others, but I bet we can find some of each one in ourselves and I think the goal is to bring all of their voices and wisdom to the table to be strong, complete persons. Remember this started as an exercise to find out what it means to be our True Selves. “The self that arrives is the self that was loved into existence by Divine Love. This is the person we are destined from eternity to become – the I that is hidden in the I AM.” David G. Benner

Spiritual Practice: Nurturing Relationships

 

plant

You know if you follow me that I work with people that are dying. Nothing clarifies a person’s priorities like knowing they are going to die. One thing becomes crystal clear. When you know you’re dying, it’s the relationships you will miss. As someone wise once said, “No one says on their deathbed, I wish I’d spent more time at work.”

Nurturing relationships is a spiritual practice that takes time and intention.

Consider these three stories:

I’m working with a young man who is dying from lung disease. When I asked him if he had any “spiritual background,” he said, “I sort of just believe in the Universe.” I asked how he felt about the Universe. He said, “The Universe has been giving me s**t for years.” I asked if the Universe had given him anything good. He pointed to his fiance and said, “It gave me her.” She was the only joy in his otherwise miserable life, the one bright spot.

I worked with a man who had spent the last decades of his life as a houseless alcoholic. Because of his choices, he had been alienated from his many children and siblings. Then he told me about his cat, Jewel, and he wept bitterly, missing her. His only comfort was that Jewel would be waiting for him on the “other side.”

Today I sat with a woman who is deaf but can still see. She still has a strong mind, on good days. I was paging through her photo albums with her, impressed that she had traveled the world as a nurse. Her son even told me that she had smuggled Bibles into Russia. But the only photos she commented on, and did so consistently, were of her son. “My son,” she would say with pride. Nothing else mattered to her but him.

So, if relationships are so important to us when we are dying, we’d better start building them now. You might be wondering, who will I miss when I’m gone? Who will miss me? If you’re looking around, thinking, “Wow, my friendship pool is pretty small,” it might be time to nurture some relationships.

Spiritually, nurturing relationships is the natural progression of loving God, loving yourself and loving others.

Friendships are mysterious. Some last forever, like perennial flowers. Some, like annuals, are only for a season. Here are some ideas on forming new friendships:]

  1. Facebook is a wonderful place to find and reconnect with old friends, long lost cousins, or past loves. Old friends are cool because of your shared history. I’ve attended class reunions I would have skipped because I’ve reconnected with so many old friends.
  2. Join a small group on something that interests you: a Bible Study, a gardening group, a stamp collecting club. I’ve found that, in these kinds of groups, it generally takes time to get to know others. Don’t give up. It helps to become a leader in the group and bond with others in leadership. Once, when I had moved to a new city, I joined an exercise class that also did crafts. I had first thought I had NOTHING in common with the women in the group, but eventually, I learned we had many things in common and we became good friends.
  3. Get on “Meet ups” and find an active group to join: hiking, softball, writing, painting. Don’t be afraid to try something new, you may discover a hidden or forgotten talent. My daughter once gave me a membership to a writer’s group for my birthday. Nine years and eleven published books later, I’m still attending.
  4. Take a class. Especially a class that involves participation, like wine-tasting, travel, improvisation, or dancing. Having to work together builds friendships.
  5. Join a group that serves others. This takes care of any self-pity issues and bonds you together with like-minded people. Try Habitat for Humanity and build a house for a needy family.
  6. Nurture your existing friendships. A group of friends and I started a “Game Night” group 30 years ago. We meet monthly and each couple hosts the group once per year. These are the folks I would call if I needed anything. We may not hang out much outside of Game Night, but if there is ever an emergency, we’re all there in a heartbeat.
  7. Adopt a pet. My step-dad came home with a dog the SPCA had brought to a baseball game to give-away. That little fellow has become his constant companion, filling a big void since my mother died. Our own dog, Rocky, has been a very important part of our family.
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  9. Start small. If these ideas seem overwhelming, just invite a friend to lunch. Unfortunately, no one can make friends for you. It can be intimidating to reach out, but it is worth the risk.
  10. And above all, cherish your parents while they are still alive. Today I sat with a patient who was deeply asleep. There was nothing I could do to wake her no matter what I tried. Then her daughter walked into the room, and before her daughter even reached the bed, she became fully awake and engaged. Love them while you can. They won’t be here forever.

How have you made friendships that last? Share any ideas you have for developing and nurturing relationships.

 

Photos: Plant through pavement, perennial, annuals, Rocky — mine.

 

Spiritual Practice: Poetry

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Those of you who are poets, or love to read poetry, already know that poetry is good for your soul. This post is for those who have not considered this connection. I am one of those people who never really “got” poetry. Most of it I find incomprehensible. But, when I have been guided through it by someone else, it touches my heart. But now I have discovered Mary Oliver. A friend gave me this HUGE book called Devotions that is a collection of Mary Oliver poems. I thought, “great, a book I’ll never read.”


I tried it. Let me tell you, Mary Oliver writes poetry even I can understand. She writes about the natural world. She listens, observes and writes about nature. Her poetry fills my soul.

I believe poetry (or any creative art form) connects us to the creative energy of the universe and lets us join God in continuing to make the world a more beautiful place.

It involves listening, really seeing, and hearing. Once we stop and do that, we can not miss being filled with joy and hope and beauty. In a time in our world which can seem so desperate, this hope and beauty is a needed comfort.

So here is my attempt (with pictures) of a Mary Oliver-Esq poem. I hope you will try some poetry-writing yourself. Or at least some reading!

Beauty

I leave the desert to fill my weary soul with beauty

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I marvel at the colors, a vast array

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The shades of green alone could fill a book.

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Flowers, take my breath away,

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and clouds are sonnet worthy

The rushing water is a breath of heaven.

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And I wonder…

Do those who live here

Forget to notice this beauty?

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Are they too busy trimming, mowing and clipping,

To stop and gaze in awe?

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Not this desert dweller. Never.

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How could I cease to be amazed by wonders like these?

Alright friends, let’s hear your attempts! And, before I get any hate mail, I do love the desert and see beauty in it, but mostly in its people.

Photo Credit: Blue Horses: A painting by Franz Marc about which Mary Oliver wrote a wonderful poem.

The rest of the pictures are mine, taken in Auburn California.

Spiritual Practice: Assenting to Change

change

Most mornings I walk in the high desert. I’ve noticed that after one of our rare, intense rains, the landscape of the trail changes dramatically.  Large rocks, previously hidden, are uncovered. Smaller rocks washed down slopes, make the trail tricky to navigate. In some places, fine sand washes down to cover the trail in a delightfully soft carpet.

Our interior landscape also changes when the storms of life descend on us. The loss of a loved one, a job loss, or the onset of a chronic illness will forever alter the landscape of our lives. These major changes have the ability to make us bitter and angry people or soft and loving people. The difference is whether we are willing to assent to the changes that are happening to us. We don’t have to like them, welcome them or look forward to them. Change can be really hard! But, it is also inevitable. Therefore, we can choose how to respond to it. Can we see change as God’s grace to help form us into more loving people? Can we look for the good or the gift in the change?

Large boulders, exposed by the rain, are like those parts of us previously unexamined. which in times of stress now rise to the surface. Our fears, insecurities, and stubborn bitter roots are exposed for all to see. Do we try to cover them up, or can we be honest with ourselves and others so that healing can begin?

The rocks that cover the path are like the myriad decisions we have to make after a huge storm. These take careful navigation at a time when emotional resources are low. Do we hide from the enormity of these decisions or ask for help from our trusted soul friends?

The soft sands which have washed across the path are like the unexpected graces that surprise us: the support of friends, the sudden brilliance of a sunset, or a double rainbow. These glimpses of beauty are reminders that we are not forgotten in our pain. We do not walk alone.

wildflowers

There are also beautiful landscape changes in the desert after a storm; new life springs up almost at once. Desert flowers bloom afresh and small creatures, their numbers previously diminished by drought, are born in abundance.

This same hope for growth and life are ours in times of landscape renovation. They are a reminder of the God who is known for recycling ashes into beauty, turning mourning into joy, and exchanging the spirit of heaviness for garments of praise. All that God asks is our assent to the transformation.

These are the markers of hope to look for as we walk the now altered trail. What new insights will we receive? What new skills will we learn? What adventure is ahead…just around the bend?

Change is not easy, and I have faced more than my share, so if you need someone to walk with you, let me know in the comments below.

 

Photo credit:

Erosion, wildflowers