Spiritual Practice, Finding Your Authentic Self During Quarantine

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This pandemic is stripping away many things. For some, it’s revealing the natural color of their hair, nails, and skin. For others, without sports into which to pour their adrenalin, it is revealing anger and restlessness that might otherwise be masked. For parents, it’s adding homeschooling to already full lives. For people living together, it’s adding strain to relationships. This is a hard time—no doubt about that.

But, could it be that in time of isolation from all the things that comfort and numb us, our authentic selves are starting to emerge? I was speaking to a young, single mom who has been trapped in a house for six weeks with her children while she was working, going to graduate school, and trying to home school her kids. I was expecting her to complain, but her comment surprised me, “I’ve actually enjoyed my time with the girls,” she said. “I’ve felt my heart grow three sizes bigger.”

We all have our inborn authentic selves that get covered by the adaptive selves, which develop as we face later hard circumstances. Those adaptive selves mask who we were created to be and come out in full force during times of stress. As we face the ugliness of our impatience, anxiety, and fear, perhaps we will also begin to see our true selves, and our hearts will start to expand toward ourselves and others.

Loretta Brady, in her book “Beginning Your Enneagram Journey,” said,

“We need to find a way to shed our cover, to let go of our ego, to retrieve our original God-gifted selves, to discover the lost treasure of our true persons.”

Perhaps this virus is putting us on a fast track to uncovering the treasure of our true, authentic selves. But, how do we deal with our false, adapted selves to get to the real us? Ruth Haley Barton, in her book “Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership suggests,

“Some of us will wear ourselves out trying to change ourselves before we realize it is not about fixing; it is about letting go – letting go of old patterns that no longer serve us… All we stand to lose is the false self – the adaptive behaviors that are ultimately in opposition to the life of love and trust and being led by God that our hearts long for.”

Right now, we are in a forge of pressure, which is unprecedented in our lifetime. It is the perfect time to let things go, to try on new ways of being, to unmask ourselves and find healing. But we might need help in the unveiling of our authentic selves. In light of that, I offer these ideas for catalysts toward change:

If your authentic self is hidden under layers of pain and trauma from your life experiences, I recommend counseling. Yep, therapists are still working right now online, and some in offices. Maybe you’ve thought about seeing a counselor for a long time but keep putting it off. This might be the perfect time to give It a try.

Spiritual directors are also wonderful folks who will walk you through spiritual growth. You can find one near you on the spiritual directors international website.

The Enneagram is a fantastic tool for helping understand your authentic self and your adapted self. I’ve spoken a lot about this tool, and you can see the books I’ve read on the topic here. I’m currently reading, “Self to Lose, Self to Find,” by Marilyn Vancil, but find a book that works for you.

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You know I’m all about silence for discovering clarity. What a perfect time this might be to give it a try. Sit for five minutes (or more) a day with no agenda. Just let your mind wander. It’s amazing what will bubble up. Or use one of the many apps to do a guided meditation. I use Insight Timer. Others use Calm or Headspace. Give it a try.

Many folks have COVID-19 dreams. It might be a good time to start a dream journal. Keeping track, even if you only remember a dream fragment, write it down. This will prime the pump for more dream memories to stay with you. Writing them down and over time, they will reveal themes of things you can ponder.

Many of us shelter in place with loved ones, but I have many friends who are sheltering alone. Most of them find solace in their contemplative practices. This blog is full of easy onramp spiritual practices to try. Try on different ones until you find some you like.

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And pets! Several friends have found adopting an animal is really helping them survive this time well. They’ve told me that having a pet has reconnected them to “play,” which is something important that we often forget how to do — especially in serious times like this. There is something so calming about having a pet right now. And if it is a dog, it will get you out of the house for walks and sunshine. That is a huge benefit.

If your relationship with your partner is strained, it’s time to get help. I saw a meme that said, “You can’t spell Divorce without COVID.” Watch this thirty-minute Red Table Talk for some practical help with your partner during quarantine.

Whatever you decide, go easy on yourself right now—lower the bar. Try to be a good parent instead of a great one. Allow yourself to be a mediocre worker instead of a star. One of my friend’s children are in a school that is putting massive pressure on the parents to keep up all the kids’ work. She is spending nine hours a day on schoolwork between her three kids. She is afraid their grades will go down. You know, if your kid’s grades drop a bit in a PANDEMIC, I think that’s gonna be okay. This is not a time to shame yourself about anything. But, if you have it in you, try to uncover a bit of your true selves from your adapted selves. I promise it will be worth the effort.

I’d love to know how you are handling this pandemic. Feel free to drop me a note about the adaptive or authentic parts of yourselves that you are uncovering. There will be no judgment here.  I’m also leaving you with a bedtime story. It is my prayer for all of us and my hope for the future of our planet.

 

Top Photo by Ichad Windhiagiri on Pexels.com
Lower Photo by Marek Mucha on Pexels.com

Spiritual Practice: Guided Meditation for Times of Stress

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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.

 

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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: Calming Anxiety

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I believe anxiety is running rampant in our society. We need to help each other learn to calm our nervous systems and relax. Short term stress can be good for us but long term stress can affect our health, our relationships, our sleep and our functioning.

Once I had the privilege of being with a group of 10 twenty-somethings for a retreat. At the end of their time we were talking about what they had to go back to, and I was surprised to learn how many of them live with debilitating anxiety. One fellow said that sometimes at night, as he lies in bed, he has to remind himself to breathe. That hurt my heart.

Later I was in a similar group of thirty-somethings. At the end of the discussion, a question was asked about “What is holding you back in life.” Every single person in the room said, “fear.” Again, I was shocked to see how many beautiful, intelligent people live in fear.

These two experiences made me wonder about anxiety and fear. Is this epidemic caused by something in our culture? Is it something in this generation specifically, or is it a combination of factors? I started asking friends for their opinions as I tried to sort this out and I’d love to hear yours.

  1. I went to a neuropsychology conference once on the explosion of childhood behavior disorders and it was postulated that children are now being incubated in an environment of low-grade stress, which is compromising their immune systems and lowering their resistance to disorders like ADHD. Could this same logic be applied to anxiety?
    At a similar conference, these disorders were linked to environmental toxins, again causing a compromised immune system and the easier triggering of latent issues like anxiety disorders.
  2. My husband’s theory was that we now have too many choices. Formerly, people grew up in well-defined cultures with their own rules, norms, taboos, and expectations. Nowadays, kids are members of national and international cultures defined by media and the internet. Choice is often equated with power, but perhaps too much choice can cause increased fear and anxiety.
  3. My daughter’s theory is that because we are constantly bombarded with stimulation that is anxiety producing, like horror movies, violent video games, the nightly news, and even the Discovery Channel, we learn about all the things that can go wrong — which creates this stressful soup we live in.
  4. One could make a similar argument about our inability to unplug. We are wired at the hip to our phones and electronic devices; we can stream movies, TV shows and music at any time from any device and we have forgotten how to be quiet. In my work with college students one thing mystified me. It is their inability to be alone. They told me they were afraid to be alone, and always texted or talked to friends if they were forced to be alone. What caused these changes? Could the neuropathways for peaceful existence that we’ve neglected by being constantly wired in have died off? Are they re-growable?
  5. I led a week-long seminar over spring break with college students. On one day they are required to be silent for twelve hours. It is the day of the week they fear the most. At the end of the week, it is the one thing most highly talked about and valued. But being alone means facing yourself. Perhaps part of our anxiety comes from not being at peace with who we are. IMG_9042

We could speculate on the causes all day but what do we do about anxiety?

No one should have to live with debilitating fear and anxiety. If you are living like that, get help! My husband, the retired therapist, saw a lot of people that came in with these symptoms. He taught biofeedback and relaxation techniques that really helped people learn to calm their own bodies. Learning to breathe deeply is the first step in relaxation.

Many times, fear and anxiety are linked to past trauma. These days there are wonderful healing therapies for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Look for specialists in EDMR or others who identify as a specialist in trauma or anxiety.

PTSD is triggered when a predictable set of occurrences happen at one time: A person, or situation that seemed safe, suddenly becomes unsafe. Something startles you, and at some point, you think you might die. This causes anxiety and fear to get “stuck” in the animal (fight or flight) part of your brain. The above-mentioned therapies can help move the trauma to the logic part of your brain where it can be processed and healed.

Prayer and meditative practices can help relieve stress. There is an app I use called the Insight Timer that has hundreds of guided meditations. You can choose the length and theme or just use the timer to sit in silence.

In my opinion, one of the most commons things that cause stress is having a calendar with no margin – that is, no room for contingencies. I learned the hard way that life is what happens in the margins, and if you have no margin in your schedule, then when life happens (the car breaks down, your mom needs your help, a child’s project is due…) there is no room and everything becomes stressful. I’d encourage a strong examination of your schedule with a trusted advisor to see how to create margin in your life.

The best short term cure for anxiety is to get your mind off yourself. Anything you can do to think outside of yourself will help. Call a friend, take the dog for a walk, gaze on something beautiful, serve the homeless, or go to a funny movie. All of these things will help, at least temporarily.
Let me know what you have found helpful in getting rid of your fear and anxiety!

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Spiritual Practices: Gratitude

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I’ve always been a pretty happy person. I like my life, like my eggs, sunny side up. But I was stopped in my tracks by a line I read in the fantastic book, “The Return of the Prodigal Son,” by Henri J.M. Nouwen.

“Resentment and gratitude cannot co-exist, since resentment blocks the perception and experience of life as a gift. My resentment tells me that I don’t receive what I deserve. It always manifests itself in envy.”

Now I have to admit that I am occasionally resentful. When I don’t get noticed for a job well done when my sibling seems to get more of my parent’s attention, when someone else gets a promotion…

So, how do we live a life of gratitude when failure and disappointment are bound to come our way?

The book by Nouwen is about the famous Biblical story of the Prodigal son found in Luke 15:11-32. But, the book is also based on the above painting by Rembrandt that Nouwen spent years contemplating. In the story a younger son asks his father for his share of the family money, takes it and goes off, losing it all to wild living. He comes home broke and broken. The father’s love for this son is beautifully overwhelming; he welcomes him home and throws a lavish party.

But, the older son (standing to the right in the painting) is bitter and envious — feeling that his good and faithful ways have gone unnoticed by his father who has welcomed his no-good brother home with such fanfare. And that is where the gratitude quote comes in. When he complains, the father tells him “You are with me always, all I have is yours.” The father encouraged him to come to the party.

I have much experience being the resentful sibling. It is easy to feel overlooked and resentful when you’re “the easy one, the good one, the perfect one,” and your siblings are literally punching holes in walls or having mental breakdowns. But, this kind of attitude poisons the well and I’ve spent a lifetime trying to untangle myself from it. I need to see that the father’s prodigal love is just as great for my errant siblings and just as genuine and available for me. One does not negate the other.

So, how do we move from resentment to gratitude? We have to look through and beyond our resentment to see that the father’s love is available to us every day. Nouwen says, “Gratitude as a discipline involves a conscious choice…There is always a choice between resentment and gratitude because God has appeared in my darkness, urged me to come home, and declared in a voice filled with affection, ‘You are with me always, all I have is yours.’”

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Today I will choose gratitude. I mean, really, there is so much to be thankful for. I’m sitting at a retreat center, looking out the window at leafy green trees moving in a gentle breeze. I have a loving spouse, meaningful work, a full and beautiful life. Today, and for the next two weeks, I will focus on choosing gratitude and letting go of resentment. Want to try it with me? Let me know how it goes.

Photos Link


To learn more about spiritual practices, check out my book: The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening

Spiritual Practice: Visio Divina

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Today we will talk about Visio Divina (Latin: Divine Seeing). It is very similar to Lectio Divina which you can read about here. Instead of meditating on scripture or poetry or other holy writings, you are meditating on something visual.

There is a great precedent for this in scripture (visions and dreams, metaphors from nature) and in history with icons, as I discussed in my last blog.

Basically, we approach a picture or something in nature, with openness and spend time (about 20 minutes) gazing at something beautiful or meaningful with a prayerful attitude. Then, you ask yourself some questions. The following set of instructions comes from the Patheos website:

As your prayer deepens, open yourself to what the image might reveal to you. What does it and the Spirit want to say, evoke, make known, or express to you as you attend to it in quiet meditation? Become aware of the feelings, thoughts, desires, and meanings evoked by the image and how they are directly connected to your life.

(choose one of these images to try)

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Does it evoke for you important meanings or values, remind you of an important event or season, or suggest a new or different way of being? What desires and longings are evoked in your prayer? How do you find yourself wanting to respond to what you are experiencing? Take the time to respond to God in ways commensurate with your prayer: gratitude, supplication, wonder, lament, confession, dance, song, praise, etc.

Then spend some time journaling your insights. I find this spiritual practice very refreshing and look forward to trying it with you for the next two weeks.

Let’s see how we do!

 

Spiritual Practice: Breath Prayer

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Every two weeks, I’ve been posting a blog about a different spiritual practice, and you, hopefully, have been trying them with me. For more information, as to why we are doing this, read the bottom paragraph.*  

Review: The Labyrinth, how did it go? Did you find one in a strange place? If not, keep looking; they are around and worth the search.

This week we are going to try something called “A Breath Prayer,” also known as “The Jesus Prayer.” This way of praying has been around a long time — since the sixth century! It’s a very easy discipline to learn and helps a lot when you are stressed. Traditionally monks would pray these phrases as they took slow even breaths. The phrase comes from the verse,  Luke 18:10-14 and is “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”

This has been shortened over time to “Lord Jesus, have mercy,” or even “Jesus, Mercy.”

When I was at a wonderful “Grounding Retreat” at the Gravity Center in Nebraska, we learned a few variations on this prayer and you can try them all on their helpful website:  https://gravitycenter.com/practice/breath-prayer/

Heres one that stuck with me: The leader, Chris, asked us to think of a name God would call us, to listen for a name specific to us from the holy. I listened and heard the name, “My Beloved.” Then he had us think of our heart’s greatest need from God in that moment. For me, the issue was TRUST. I was just coming off a very difficult time and in need of a job; my future was uncertain and my heart was sore. So, my breath prayer became, “My Beloved, Trust Me.”

I got to practice this breath prayer immediately when leaving the conference for the airport that day. My ride was late and I practiced breathing and praying all the way to the airport. I remembered I could trust God. God has always been faithful in my life. As I was standing in the body scanning machine with my hands over my head, praying, “My Beloved, Trust Me,” I heard my name called over the loudspeaker. “Final boarding call for Jacci Turner.” And I knew then, that even if I missed my plane, it wouldn’t be the end of the world; I could trust that God was good and would take care of me. And, I made it on that plane too, dirty looks from those waiting passengers and all.

So, take a moment, think of what name the Spirit wants to give you. Then listen for what you most need right now. Put them together to make your own breath prayer for the next two weeks. Try praying it in traffic jams, check-out lines, waiting for your child to buckle their car seat or on your way to work. Let me know how it goes!

*This book is fiction but came out of my time at the Grounding Retreat. In anticipation of its release, I invite you to join me on a journey of spiritual awakening as we try different spiritual practices together. As I said above, every two weeks, I will blog about a different spiritual practice; we can try it together and discuss how it is or isn’t working for you! Ready, set, GO!

Breath Photo Credit

Spiritual Practice: Body Listening

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 I invite you to continue with me on a journey of spiritual awakening as we try different spiritual practices together. Every two weeks, I will blog about a different spiritual practice, we can try it together and discuss how it is or isn’t working for you! Ready, set, GO!

Review: Silence and Solitude – How did the silence go for you? On my last spiritual retreat, I added Body Listening to my silence. I was experiencing post-election stress when I met with my spiritual director and she helped me with a body listening exercise. It was very helpful so that is what we will focus on today. I had the rest of the 24 hours to sift through what my body was telling me.

Body listening is something I generally forget to do until my body is screaming at me in some way, but it’s better if you don’t wait that long and make it a more regular practice.

Here’s how it works. Sit comfortably in a chair and practice breathing deeply, allowing your body to relax and your mind to focus. As your body relaxes, let your mind wander around the different parts of your body until something catches your attention. Once something draws you, either because it is hurting or just wants your attention, let that part know you are listening. You might even say, “I’m here. What do you need.” This might feel a bit silly, but trust me it works.

When that part of your body tells you why it needs attention, let it know that you heard and you will give it what it needs. Don’t forget to follow through and do what your body needs.

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Photo by Alise AliNari on Pexels.com

I have a friend who teaches a Listening class at the university. She has me come in and do this exercise with her class. When the students listen to their bodies, they usually realize that they are hungry, sleepy or need to exercise. No surprises there.

But I’ve also seen some deep things come out of these exercises. One woman was drawn to a freckle on her arm; it was itching. She ignored it, then that night had a dream that she went to her dermatologist. She chose to listen to her body and went to see the doctor who found that freckle was actually a melanoma. She had it removed and she is fine.

One woman was drawn to her non-dominant foot. She felt she was being called to step out in leadership in ways she was not comfortable with.

The first time I did this exercise, I was drawn to my lungs. They felt tight and said they needed more room. This was true because I had a lung infection and needed to go to the doctor, but I also saw it as true in my life; I physically and spiritually needed more room. I went home and used one of our spare rooms to create a prayer room. It gave me space to be with God and be creative. That is when I started writing books.

As I mentioned earlier, I did this exercise the last time I was on a silent retreat, with my spiritual director (we will explore spiritual direction later). My eyes were twitching terribly. This is what happens when I’m under a great deal of stress for an extended period. They had been twitching since the election, as many of my friends of color and from the LGBTQI community were in great pain and fear.  I was somatizing that stress. When I stopped to listen to my eyes, they told me they were worn out from seeing so much pain and hurt. They told me they needed to rest and to turn off Facebook for a while. I promised to listen and did those two things. They immediately calmed down.

Listening to your body can be a powerful thing. Give it a try a few times in the next two weeks and let me know how it goes.

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Click to Listen

Bonus: I recently did a podcast with Merritt Onsa at Momentum Podcast. We talk about spiritual practices join us by listening in!

Girl with shell: Photo Credit:

Lead me to a Rock that is higher than I

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Often times when I’m stressed by many concerns, I’m comforted by Biblical images: God as a hen, sheltering her children under the safety of her wings. God as a strong tower, a refuge, and then my favorite, “God is a rock that is higher than I.”

Generally, when I picture the rock image I see it high above the stormy seas of life, safe from the foaming current below. But last week that changed for me. I had the privilege of spending five days at an oceanfront house on California’s northern coast.  I grew up near the ocean, but my beaches were sandy and flat, perfect for a swim or some light body surfing. This coast in no way resembled the ocean of my youth. This coastline was lined with cliffs that dropped down into a raging rock-strewn sea. It was powerful, beautiful, terrifying.

At one point my friends and I ventured down a cliff to the sea at high tide. I found a rock that was just at the edge of the waves and climbed up on top. It wasn’t a huge rock, maybe eight feet tall, but it was higher than I. The experience of sitting on this rock was in no way related to my biblical images of a tall rock above the fray. This rock was IN the fray. Huge waves came rolling in, one after the other. They all felt powerful and threatening. They broke before they got to me, but not before I clung to the rock in frightened anticipation that they wouldn’t.  I have never experienced the roaring sound, the rushing water, the huge power of the surf so close.

And I was reminded of that plea from Psalm 61:2, “Place me on a rock that is higher than I.” It made more sense than my previous image. When we face difficult times, we often feel that our head is barely above the water, that we are threatened on all sides, scared to death that we might not make it out alive. But we do because we ARE on a rock that is high enough. Perhaps we’d like a higher rock; I know I would. I would love a huge rock far above the rough water. But I guess the Psalmist knew that just a small rock, just high enough, would keep him safe.

It took me a while to trust that rock that day on the beach. To see wave after wave break before it, aware it was high tide, I realized the waves weren’t going to get worse than they were. I could relax and take in the power and the beauty of the fight around me, resting on the rock. It was frightening, thrilling and beautiful.

Sometimes our rocks are all we have to cling to during difficult times. As I sat on my rock, I was reminded of my friend Edie. She was fighting a losing battle with cancer and her daughter-in-law, a fantastic artist, painted a picture of her clinging to a rock that was just above the thrashing storm.  Sometimes we can only cling. And sometimes we are still carried over to the other side clinging to our trusted rock.

It’s not a safe, calm picture, but it is a realistic one. The Rock will hold us. Carry us. Sustain us. Even if it is the last thing we do.

Are you being tossed by waves right now? How are you finding purchase on The Rock?  

What is helping to sustain you as you weather the storm?