Spiritual Practice: Guided Meditation for Times of Stress

adventure balance balanced balancing

In my private practice, we use a lot of mindfulness and meditation to help clients learn to relax and lower their anxiety. I believe these practices are great spiritual practices to help connect our minds, hearts, and bodies.

Most of us are living in a time of increased anxiety, although as the popular meme says, we are all in the same boat but not in the same storm.

 

not in same storm

 

To help my clients, I’ve been leading them through some guided meditations and I thought I’d offer one to you today. So, wait until you have ten minutes, get to a quiet place and allow yourself to relax. If this helps you, there are a lot of apps like Insight Timer and Head Space that offer free guided meditations.

Let me know if this helps you or what guided meditations you’ve enjoyed during this difficult time.

 

 

 

Photo at top by Life Of Pix on Pexels.com
Storm Meme from Facebook. No author noted

Spiritual Practice: Facing Death During a Pandemic

man in black jacket holding mirror

 

In the last month, we have all been confronted with our mortality. If you have not, you’re not paying attention. This virus is a killer, of any age, race, or socioeconomic status. 

How do we face the reality that we might die sooner than later? I’m not trying to be morbid or doomsaying, but simply invite us to look at how we handle this as spiritually focused people. Besides pulling up your, “I’m not afraid to die because I know where I’m going,” boots, how do we live in this current reality? Here are some ideas:

This reality, and our new social isolation, give us a unique opportunity to reflect on our lives. It’s a good time to look back and review. How do I feel about life so far? How do I feel about the choices I’ve made, the job I have, or the people I’ve committed to? What are my regrets? What might be some things I’d like to change if I live through this pandemic?

As we look back, are there people we need to forgive? People we need to affirm? Perhaps it’s a good time to make a phone call or send a letter to someone you have unfinished business with — or a card of encouragement to someone who has loved you well.

When I worked for hospice with people staring death in the face, the number one thing they wanted was to reconnect with people they’d been estranged from. When we could make that happen, both parties always cried tears of joy and relief. 

Many of my therapy clients were anxious and stressed the first week of social distancing. By the second week, all but the teenagers were starting to enjoy a slower pace and relax into it. What lessons have we learned about ourselves and a slower pace that we might want to take into the next season when life gets back to “normal?” Perhaps we would like to keep some of the slowness we are experiencing now. 

woman putting on a face mask

On a practical side, is it time to update your will? Perhaps you need to share your passwords with someone you trust or let the people you love know how you feel about being kept alive by extreme measures. If your family were to have a funeral down the road or a memorial service, is there something specific you’d like to happen there? Is there anything important you need to share with anyone?

It might be good to make a video or write a letter to your family or friends, saying what’s important. People that are dying of the virus are dying quickly, and they are isolated from their families, many without a chance to even call and say goodbye. You can proactively do this for your family by making a video or writing a letter just in case. 

And finally, how are you doing with God? God loves every inch of you, just the way you are, and longs for a relationship with you. God is good, kind, loving, and accepting. God is not the sole property of any one religion, but available to all. If you’ve become estranged from God, this might be a good time to reconnect. I’ve found that faith communities can be a good support to you and your loved ones during a time of crisis or death. 

It’s a scary time, but not facing these things will not help you. American’s are notoriously afraid of talking about death. It’s time to change that narrative and take away the fear and panic. We can be proactive and use this crisis as a time to grow spiritually and prepare ourselves. 

 

Let me know if you have some ideas to help you as you think about your own mortality.

 

Photo of man with mirror by Marlon Schmeiski on Pexels.com
Photo of woman in mirror by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

Spiritual Practice: Reimagining Lent

 

afterglow backlit beautiful crescent moon

I did not grow up in a church that celebrated or marked the Christian liturgical calendar. Well, I did not grow up in a church at all, but later, when I did attend church, it was one of those big box non-denominational churches that didn’t pay attention to the church calendar. In fact, we skipped right over Lent and Good Friday and went straight to Easter. It was Happy Clappy Christianity, baby. But life is not all roses and it’s good to have time to mourn, grieve, and contemplate change.

When people talked about Lent, it was a mystery to me — still is a bit. It just seemed like a difficult time when people gave up chocolate or alcohol and were miserable. When I first tried lent, I gave up sugar, just in time for a week at camp with college students who were happily eating sugar all week. I. Was. Miserable! And, worse, I wasn’t sure why I was doing it.

christian year

So, let’s break it down and re-imagine what Lent can be. Here is a handy picture of the church year, aka the Christian calendar. On it, you’ll see that Lent is the forty-day period of time when we contemplate the crucifixion of Jesus and prepare our hearts for Easter resurrection. During that time, Jesus knew he was heading to the cross and he was saying the things he most wanted us to hear and remember. “Love one another, serve each other, share food with your enemies…” It’s a good time to re-read those last words.  My pastor, Kris Gallagher, calls Lent, “Christian Spring Training.”

People fast during lent as a reminder of the season and to identify with Christ’s forty- days in the wilderness. It is a time to reflect, review your life, and perhaps prepare to make some changes. It is the season of spring where new life is about to break forth in the earth; we need to be prepared for new growth in our lives too.

If we are giving something up for Lent, Pastor Kris encourages us to ask, “what for?” If you are giving up chocolate or coffee, what is it for? If you eat a lot of chocolate or drink a lot of coffee, you can take that money and give it to someone who is struggling. That’s a good “what for.”

fasting from pope francis

You can also think of adding something to your Lent instead of merely giving something up. Or both, as in the above list from Pope Francis. Try adding a season of gratefulness or thank-you note writing, or make a commitment to listen deeply to someone each day. I love the idea of adding something new during Lent instead of giving something up. Whatever you choose, it can be a mindfulness exercise to keep you present to God, to yourself, and to others during this season. Who wants to join me in trying something new for Lent this year?

Let me know what Lent means to you and how you are trying to reimagine it this season.

 

Top Photo by luizclas on Pexels.com

Spiritual Practice – Seeing God In All Living Things

beautiful bloom blooming blossom

 

I’m just back from a weekend with John Philip Newell, a Celtic Poet, Peacemaker, Minister, and Scholar. He’s the author of one of my favorite books, The Rebirthing of God: Christianity’s Struggle for New Beginnings. When I read this book my heart rejoiced, saying, “These are my people!” The words he wrote spoke deeply to the kind of faith my faith has evolved into. I didn’t know this, but apparently, it’s a Celtic faith. Early Scottish Christianity was a holistic and valued caring for the earth and acknowledging the divine in all people. This kind of faith was eventually opposed and suppressed by the church that had founded the Scottish church, the Roman Catholic Church.  Now, this ancient Celtic Christian stream is reemerging at a time we need it most, as care for the earth has never been more important.

john philip newell

The Celtic Christians say we see God in all things. I’m not talking about pantheism, I’m talking about pan-en-theism: Not that everything is God, but God is in all living things. It’s about the very light that spoke the universe into being existing at the heart of all created things. Newell says we all know this; we just need to be reminded. At the heart of all living things, is light and love and divine spark.

Here’s a practice you can try to get in touch with that of God in everything. Find a place outside, sit and look at something, a tree, a flower, a blade of grass. Then say, I’m here God, I’m listening. Then be present to that thing, ask yourself what do you see, what do you notice, what might you learn from this created thing?

We did this during my weekend with John Philip. I found an oak tree, gnarled and unruly, with branches stretching up in many directions. I felt drawn to get as close to it as I could. I climbed up, studied the branches, felt the texture, admired its rough bark, sniffed it and the soft lichens that lived on it. It stood next to a beautiful tall and stately pine tree, but I realized that I was much more like the oak. My life had taken many twisted paths, not a straight and beautiful one, but much more interesting. I wasn’t beautiful anymore, but strong, sturdy, full of life and providing a safe place for others. There was even an empty nest at the top of that oak tree. I felt the tree was as happy to be with me as I was with it, and I remembered my childhood of climbing oaks and the wonder and joy of it all.

me in tree

One of my granddaughters likes to be in my lap. She’s nine years old and very tall, 4’8” already. She is all elbows and knees, but she wants to be as close to me as she physically can. She balls into my lap and presses her cheek to mine as if she just can’t get close enough. I treasure this because by next year she might not be interested in sitting in Nana’s lap. But that is how I felt with that tree, like I just couldn’t get close enough. It was beautiful.

Each person at the retreat had some kind of loving interaction with the life around us. It’s so easy to go through life with blinders on, not seeing the beauty of the clouds, the wonder of snow on the mountains, or wildflowers in a field.

Try that this week. Take your blinders off. Walk slowly. Sit, if you can, and listen. Look for that divine spark in all living things and let me know how it goes.

 

Butterfly Photo by Pixabay 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 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