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: Cutting off Toxic Relationships

cutting off toxic relationships

 

How is breaking off a relationship a spiritual practice? Read on!

Shouldn’t we all try to live at peace with one another? The answer is yes, of course, we should. Yet, there are people and even institutions who don’t have your best interests at heart. They can actually become crippling to your soul, and when they are revealed as toxic, sometimes the best thing you can do is cut them out of your life.

I have a friend who was once a part of a very controlling church. When she thinks about it now, she shakes her head in wonder and says, “I was drinking the Kool-Aid!”

For you younglings, this is a reference to the Jim Jones cult, where, in Jonestown, Guyana, 909 followers were killed by murder/suicide when they “voluntarily” drank cyanide-laced Kool-Aid. My friend’s church wasn’t as cultish as the Jonestown group, but it had some very controlling features like needing approval from leadership to date someone, etc. It was definitely heading down the Jonestown road.

I was thinking about how churches can become controlling and toxic when differences of opinion aren’t tolerated and everyone is forced to believe a certain way. I’ve had many friends hurt by being part of the “inside group” of a church, then when they don’t tow the party line, they suddenly find themselves on “the outside.” The hardest part is their “friends” don’t want to hang out with them anymore. It is devastating.

But churches aren’t the only ones who have this cult-like, controlling, or toxic behavior. I’ve seen it in businesses, marriages, and even friendships. Often, you don’t know you’re drinking the Kool-Aid until you leave that place/relationship and get some distance from it.

One example of a corporation with Borg-like tendencies (you know, “resistance is futile” …Star Trek…) is the behavior of a local, unnamed hospital. Hospitals send recruiters to nursing schools for an employment fair before the students graduate. But this particular hospital sent recruiters a month before the others came, then told the applicants, “If you agree to take a job with us before you graduate, then change your mind, you will be blacklisted from ever working for us.” This kind of proprietary behavior is downright evil. It doesn’t give the nurses a chance to compare offers from other hospitals. When a corporation uses threats to control behavior, it is a “cult-like” practice. Making a choice to work there is choosing into a toxic work environment. Trust me, it won’t be good for your soul.

This toxicity is easiest to see in marriages or romantic relationships. Usually, the controlling behavior involves money and/or jealousy. If your partner is keeping a tight rein on the finances, questioning you every time you go somewhere, or using anger to control you, you are probably drinking the Kool-Aid.

I made the mistake of mentioning to my middle-aged hairdresser that I’m a licensed therapist. I don’t usually mention this fact, for a good reason, because she then felt free to tell me too much information about her and her boyfriend. “He gets mad and jealous whenever I go anywhere,” she said. “And he wants sex all the time; isn’t once a day enough?” I wanted to scream, “Run! Run away from him as fast as you can!” But, she was still wielding scissors near my head.

I’ve also seen this same dynamic in friendships, usually in women. If your friend gets jealous and you feel like you have to lie to him/her about spending time with other friends, you’re drinking the Kool-Aid.

koolaid


So, how do you know if you’re in a toxic relationship at home, work, church, or with friends?

  1. When someone tries to change your personality by using manipulation, anger, or guilt, to make you into someone you are not.
    2. When you don’t feel free to express your own beliefs or opinions.
    3. When someone tries to limit your access to money, time, friendships, options, or your own body.
    4. When you feel like you can’t talk to anyone about these problems: You can’t go see a counselor or talk to anyone about your issues.

 

If this blog is making you uncomfortable, sit with it for a while.

Ask yourself “Where do I feel this discomfort in my body: stomach, back, head…?

Ask your body, “What are you trying to tell me?”

Ask the Divine, “What do I do now?”

You may need to seek the help of a trusted counselor, spiritual director or wise friend for help in disentangling yourself from a toxic situation, but your soul will expand and rejoice if you do!

So, is breaking off a relationship a spiritual practice? You bet it is when your soul is suddenly free to breathe and grow after being bound and suffocated by a situation or another person.

I’d love to hear what you think about this idea and/or any times you’ve left a toxic situation and what it was like for you.

 

Photo: Woman at top