Isolation Journal: Week 7 – One true thing

The tree of life, my soul has seen,
laden with fruit and always green.
– Elizabeth Poston

IMG_0596At this point we are all getting down to brass tacks, I think. Comedians are struggling to find fresh humor, government leaders, gurus and ministers are struggling to find anything new or enlightening to say (though I truly do appreciate the effort). The rest of us struggle to find purpose in our daily routines – other than just biding our time. There’s this faint little air of desperation that kind of lingers in the background – even in our jokes.

Here’s my rant for the day (Disclaimer: This paragraph is completely optional and probably not very helpful):

I am tired of most online conversations (and I’ve only had a few), tired of online worship, workshops, and audiobooks. I am sick to death of Hallmark and murder mysteries. I’m tired of my boring healthy food routine. (We again placed a Chipotle order this week – savored every bite.) I am so sick of political bickering that I really need to follow my Colorado friends’ example and howl. I’m tired of trying to figure out if I need to wear a facemask on my walks in 95-plus-degree weather and I’m tired of crossing the street or leaving the sidewalk to avoid my unmasked neighbors. I’m tired of those flagrantly huddling in groups, laughing and conspiring about the rest of us who are apparently “just paranoid.” I’m tired of my own thoughts. The list continues: tired of bathing my groceries, washing my hands, and so on and so forth ad infinitum. Ugh!

So, here’s where the brass tacks come in. What do I actually love?

I love the Holy, the Divine. I love my husband, our kids and grandkids, our siblings, their families, cousins, aunts and uncle. I love my friends – though I long to hang out with them in person. I love Mother Earth and Mother Nature. I love delicious food, fresh water, safe shelter. I love laughing. I love the freedom to walk on safe streets. I love art and music. I love the moments when I can find my center, my core and feel its connection to all of these beloved things above.

Are we all at that point? Are we getting tired of Covid-humor, Covid-rules, Covid-monotony, Zoom torture, and television? Is that why beaches are crowded and the police are having to enforce social distancing rules? I know a few of my friends are handling this with more grace than I. But I’m pretty sure it is not just me who is losing it.

I shared this article by Amy Weatherly on Facebook this morning and thought that this says it all. Weatherly writes:

“I think it was Brene Brown who told a story about a village where all the women washed clothes together down by the river. When they all got washing machines, there was a sudden outbreak of depression and no one could figure out why.

“It wasn’t the washing machines in and of themselves. It was the absence of time spent doing things together. It was the absence of community.

“Friends, we’ve gotten so independent.

“We’re ‘fine’ we tell ourselves even when in reality we’re depressed, we’re overwhelmed, we’re lonely, and we’re hurting. ‘We’re fine, we’re just too busy right now’ we say when days, weeks, months, and years go by without connecting with friends. I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine. It’s so easy to say even when it’s not true.

“We’ve become so isolated and it’s hard to know how to get back….”

This morning, I sat out on the patio and sipped my coffee. I reached out to the Divine and asked for support, for connection and presence. As I did so, that deep down sadness popped up again, a few tears flowed. I asked the emotion where it had come from, what it needed. It just wanted to be held, acknowledged, and allowed to be. It needed gentle, loving care.

IMG_0588I again asked the Divine for presence, for wisdom, for support. While the birds sang and quails warbled, a breeze blew softly. I watched a lizard on my fence walk sideways, then do pushups in the sun. And then I saw this. Last summer a huge bud appeared on this cactus, then it just folded up and faded away. Today, there was a fragile pink-tinged white bloom with gorgeous yellow center on the most unattractive, lumpy cactus.

And then I thought of this phrase, this Truth that I had put into words long ago:

“…The only thing of which I am sure is that God has been with me, is with me now and will always be with me. From that, I trust, when faced with other persons’ fears and crises that God has been with them, God is with them now, and God will always be with them. That is my one true thing. It is the point of reference from which I go out and come back. It is this truth that has allowed me to put IMG_0587my children on the school bus or the airplane. It is this truth that allows me to sit by a loved one who is gravely ill and not be so afraid. It is this truth that under-girds my hope for humankind.”

Some things don’t change. This one true thing – “brass tack” or touchstone – still rings true for me.

And so we put one foot in front of the other, trusting that on some plane of existence – in the sacred dimension – we are always, always held. And if we need to, we can just lean back into that and let go of all our exhaustion and effort. This week, maybe lean back into your Truth. And then, together, we won’t need to make things into such a demanding duty. Maybe we can kind of luxuriate in the peace of being held. At least until we turn on the T.V…..

xoxoxoxoxoxoxo
– Karen

P.S. Back in the days when I was delivering sermons, I came to realize that I hardly have any advice. There are only one or two things that I really, really know and, therefore, I say the same things over and over and over again in different words. And here we are again.

 

All hands on deck…

I awoke this morning with these words of wisdom from Clarissa Pinkola Estes on my mind. It is good to re-read them and soak in the reminder:

My friends, do not lose heart. We were made for these times. I have heard from so many recently who are deeply and properly bewildered. They are concerned about the state of affairs in our world now. Ours is a time of almost daily astonishment and often righteous rage over the latest degradations of what matters most to civilized, visionary people.

You are right in your assessments. The lustre and hubris some have aspired to while endorsing acts so heinous against children, elders, everyday people, the poor, the unguarded, the helpless, is breathtaking. Yet, I urge you, ask you, gentle you, to please not spend your spirit dry by bewailing these difficult times. Especially do not lose hope. Most particularly because, the fact is that we were made for these times. Yes. For years, we have been learning, practicing, been in training for and just waiting to meet on this exact plain of engagement.

pexels-photo-1118874I grew up on the Great Lakes and recognize a seaworthy vessel when I see one. Regarding awakened souls, there have never been more able vessels in the waters than there are right now across the world. And they are fully provisioned and able to signal one another as never before in the history of humankind.

Look out over the prow; there are millions of boats of righteous souls on the waters with you. Even though your veneers may shiver from every wave in this stormy roil, I assure you that the long timbers composing your prow and rudder come from a greater forest. That long-grained lumber is known to withstand storms, to hold together, to hold its own, and to advance, regardless.

In any dark time, there is a tendency to veer toward fainting over how much is wrong or unmended in the world. Do not focus on that. There is a tendency, too, to fall into being weakened by dwelling on what is outside your reach, by what cannot yet be. Do not focus there. That is spending the wind without raising the sails.

This is such an important bit of wisdom. Estes goes on to say that we must each do what is in front of us to contribute, to share our light in our tiny corner of the world. I remember words from Mother Teresa, Abraham Heschel, Julian of Norwich, Martin Luther King, Jr. and others that would reinforce this. We are not required to solve the world’s problems, but neither are we encouraged to simply give up and remove ourselves completely from responsibility for our small corner of the world.

In these odd days of COVID-19, toilet paper and hand-sanitizer hoarding, and self-isolating, social-distancing, what can we do for one another?

The average person can:

  • be responsible about not sharing or spreading our germs (hand-washing, covering coughs and sneezes, etc., etc.)
  • be loving and caring in our encounters with strangers (service workers, delivery people, grocery clerks, the neighbors we distance ourselves from)
  • send money to those we would typically support – yoga teachers, churches, other charitable organizations and step up our giving to food shelves, shelters, and other organizations like the Red Cross or Salvation Army who will have greater expenses in delivering services right now
  • check on friends and family and offer encouragement and support; help problem-solve or take on a needed task
  • entertain children virtually via Skype, FaceTime, etc., so that their caregivers can take a break or send crafts, books, etc. for their enjoyment.

Another way we can contribute is by:

  • Taking care of our physical and spiritual wellness – continue to meditate and pray; eat as healthily as you can during a time of scarcity; walk, exercise, stretch, do yoga; keep your environment bright, peaceful, and clean
  • Listen to music, be creative, write words of encouragement – for yourself and others, send love to yourself by living with self-compassion
  • Forgive yourself and others as needed, pick yourself up and move on with a fresh start
  • Keep a sense of humor – laugh as much as you can
  • Limit the alcohol, food excess and other substance reliance and focus on connecting with your Source and other people who share concern and provide inspiration for your highest good
  • Share love, love love – for yourself, for family, for neighbor, for strangers. Keep your lamps burning, sisters & brothers
  • Be grateful for the smallest moments of beauty, light, joy, safety, calm
  • Breathe

Pinkola Estes concludes:

One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these – to be fierce and to show mercy toward others; both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity.

Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do.

All aboard, friends. Let’s get those vessels out on the metaphorical sea and share our light as brightly and broadly as we can.

Wherever you are... Rumi

 

A SPIRITUAL TOOLBOX for TURBULENT TIMES

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive [God] to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.
– Max Ehrmann, Desiderata, 1952.

It is possible to come to each day as grounded, loving people, who are forces for hope even though the world may seem uncentered, unkind or even hateful. Here are seven tools:

candleTool 1: SELF LOVE – When you are thrown off course, listen to the emotions that arise inside you.  Use your anger as a messenger –  listen to it and allow it to tell you what you need at that moment to be whole, to be safe. Do what you need to do. Listen to your fear and adjust your sense of safety by utilizing your own energy and self-love. You can give yourself this gift of wholeness and safety by treating each emotion with loving care and compassion. If you just stuff your feelings down, that isn’t going to work for long. By attending to our inner world, we will be able to be calm observers rather than haters and bring a positive energy to our efforts.

Tool 2: SPIRITUAL SUPPORT – (An obvious one…) Whatever your sense of God, the Sacred, Higher Concept or Higher Power in the Universe, turn to this Source when your perspective becomes lost and you feel rattled (often many times per day). Carry the resources with you that you need to support you in doing this. If you can, start your day with a positive Intention, prayer, or affirmation and end the day with gratitude.

Tool 3: GROUPS – If at all possible, form small groups in which to share your Truth, fears, hopes, brokenness. Find perspective. Then develop your Intentions for positive action. Enjoy this time of community. Enjoy some laughter together, share some food – nourish your hearts and souls.

Tool 4: SELF CARE! Days or hours “off” from saving the world. Have some fun, get out into nature, go shopping, dance, enjoy your favorite movie or people or meal.  Playtime is essential to the Soul.

Tool 5: SMALL STEPS – Do what you can do to be a positive force for change in the world. Hook up with established groups and organizations to be of support. If all you do today to make a difference is offer love, affirmation and support to someone you know who is out there doing things, that is enough.FullSizeRender (9)

Tool 6: CREATIVITY, EXERCISE & MUSIC – Color, paint, write poetry, write stories, create a vision board, dance, walk, run, do yoga or Tai Chi, sing, play an instrument,  listen to or create music. All of these connect us with our Higher Selves and our Source. Share your creations with the world.

Tool 7: ALL IS WELL – It is difficult to remember, but it is the Truth of all faith traditions. There is something more (God, the Sacred, the Universe) that holds us – a spiritual reality that is beyond what we can see today. Remember these words from the Desiderata by Max Ehrmann:

“You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”

This is just the beginning. There is a long road ahead. Pace yourself! Take it one joyful, loving step at a time and, remember, as Dame Julian of Norwich once said, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Love & blessings, Karen

The bumpy and mysterious journey of grief and remembrance…

I believe in love and I live my life accordingly
But I choose to let the mystery be

– Iris Dement

Fairy garden Judy Burns photoI’ve been reluctant to put pen to paper recently. I guess because writing means I need to check in and ask myself how it’s going. In the past weeks, the answer has often been, “Not well. Still hurting.” So, I have put the task of writing off and simply tried to put one foot in front of the other.

About two months ago, my sister died of a rare type of cancer. Next to my parents (who have both died), this sister was the “constant” in my life. As my friend, Grace, recently said of her sister, “She was my memory.” My sister had been through all of my childhood stuff – some of it fun, some of it painful – with me. Like war buddies, we each knew the other’s formative trials and tribulations (most of them, at least). (I have two other sisters, who are a little bit older than she. They are equally wonderful, but they were nearly grown by my childhood and didn’t share our house for long.) She also was the person with whom I shared some quirky, childish traits. Whenever I was excited that a new children’s story was being released on film – like the newest Harry Potter – I knew my sister would be equally, if not more excited. We each put on Harry Potter Halloween parties over the years and had more fun than the children.

The past few weeks, I have been sort of perking up and getting on with life, and then my birthday came along. I can’t tell you how many bereaved friends have told me over the years how difficult first holidays are without their loved ones. I hadn’t really thought about birthdays. But it took me by surprise and hit me all over again. No sister to call and tease me, to wish me a happy birthday. I’m terrible at remembering birthdays (except maybe my kids’ and husband’s) – she only forgot my birthday once in 58 years – the year her husband had a stroke.

As we went through this long process of her cancer and its treatment, somewhere way in the back of my mind, I felt, “I’m familiar with grief, I’ll be okay.” I knew we could walk through this as a family and that we would all go on after my sister was gone – though I couldn’t imagine life without her. She is/was a person of such deep faith that I knew, she knew, that she would ultimately be fine (though she was pretty bewildered and pissed off about the timing of this thing). A belief in some kind of eternal existence was comforting and knowing that she was no longer suffering gave us a moment of relief when we lost her. But when we got over the initial relief and felt the actual parting and loss, I remembered then that one cannot “skip over” grief. You don’t ever get completely experienced and familiar with it. The feeling of loss was full, deep, overwhelming.

If one skips over it, grief is going to be there lurking in the background, underneath everything we do. It is that proverbial deep valley that that we each have to walk through if we want to know sunlight again. Whew! I’m still walking that road. I come up to little green hilltops and think I’ve moved onto the next chapter and then the road (as on my birthday) takes a steep plunge. I’m committed to allowing myself the space and time to see the full journey of grief through.

Philosophically and spiritually, my sister and I were on different pages, but as I said, we each had a sense of an eternal “self” that continues on. So, I talk to my sister now. When my dad died, I “saw” him in crowds and dreamed of him for many years. With my mom, I have felt her strong presence in sublime moments in nature – sunsets especially, at which she often cried. With my sister, now, I have the growing sense of her sort of “working on my spiritual team.” Her energy supporting me, her spirit swirling around here and there, making sure I’m okay and even nudging me onward. I’ve had only one dream of her. She was in the next room and I could hear her voice. It was very comforting.

In conversations with scientific and pragmatic friends over the years, I’ve been challenged, occasionally, for having that ongoing sense of presence and being. As I was explaining to a very scientific friend last week, some of us “know” things through data, method, and intellectual understanding. Some of us “know” things intuitively, through our senses, feelings, and experience. I know that it is too “woo woo” and doesn’t fit for some and I’m not expecting anyone to agree with me. Yes, it is possible that it is all imagined. No, I can’t give you any proof. But I’m okay with that.

The fun thing is that my sister was like me in this regard, times ten. She was totally okay with the magic, the reality of the unseen sparkle of the Universe. We are and were both child-like in this regard. And if it is good enough for my big sister, it is good enough for me.

Fairy in garden Judy Burns photoSo I’ll keep talking to her, sipping our favorite tea, planting fairy gardens, wearing the bracelets she made me and my butterfly t-shirt. I’ll plant the eucalyptus seeds that my daughter gave me to remind me of her neighborhood, and read her favorite poem (that my other daughter read at her memorial service) every Christmas. And perhaps I’ll toast her with a glass of butterbeer and get out my best robe and wand every Halloween and we can see what we can conjure up together.

(Photos by Judy Burns 2012)

Autumn Leaves

_ACT5558When things are shaky and nothing is working,
we might realize that we are on the verge of something.
We might realize that this is a very vulnerable and tender place,
and that tenderness can go either way.
We can shut down and feel resentful
or we can touch in on that throbbing quality.” 

― Pema ChödrönWhen Things Fall Apart:
Heartfelt Advice for Hard Times

It has been a while since I have put pen to paper. It may be that I have been:

  • scattered
  • in the midst of seasonal change
  • confused (When someone I’m close to is struggling, I’m not sure how to stay in my own stuff.)
  • distracted

It is possible that the scattered and distracted energy I have been experiencing is more or less on purpose. If I’m scattered, then I don’t have to focus on what is really going on inside or around me. If I’m distracted – by tasks, urgent emails and phone calls, silly addictive computer games, and so on – then I can stay somewhat numb. After one is substance-free, food isn’t the only thing we can use to numb out!

So today, in this lovely fall weather, in the quiet and somewhat solitary journey I find myself on – instead of being distracted, busy, confused, I’m just hanging out with myself. When painful thoughts or feelings arise, instead of slamming them down like those little whack-a-mole, pop-up games in the arcade, I’m trying to soften into them.

Having compassion for ourselves sometimes means stopping completely when we’ve been going full-tilt on our favorite numbing behaviors. Sometimes seated meditation is just sitting still and breathing – allowing what we feel to be there without running from it.

Can I love and accept everything that bubbles up inside and just let it be? Gently sitting with ourselves with the same unconditional acceptance that we find for others is often the most powerful therapy we can experience.

I know about this. I’m sitting here meeting each temper tantrum, screaming fear with love…and it is the most peaceful I have been in weeks (or months).

Welcome autumn. Let the leaves fall. I’m just going to observe them them and maybe even find some beauty in the process.

Strange, But True

Few things can make us feel crazier than expecting something from someone who has nothing to give. Few things can frustrate us more than trying to make a person someone he or she isn’t; we feel crazy when we try to pretend that person is someone he or she is not. We may have spent years negotiating with reality concerning particular people from our past and our present….
– Melody Beattie, The Language of Letting Go

Hmmmmmmm…. During my morning meditation today, this passage (one I have read many, many times) returned to me. This time, I was not thinking about a particular person, but about all people, every situation.

I think the dominant motivator in my life has been to try to keep everyone around me happy and well – and the bonus for me is that I then feel needed. There is some completely insane part of my brain that believes that I can do this – keep others happy (and well)! But when has it succeeded? With my parents? My ex-spouse? My kids, siblings, and extended family? My workplace? The world? Again, I say, “Hmmmmm….” And then I have to let out a big sigh and step back.

Is anyone else like me?

In Melody Beattie’s reflection, above, she goes on to say, “We take responsibility for our life. We go ahead with the process of loving and taking care of ourselves.” Essentially, she states, “We detach in love.” So, we take care of ourselves, we continue loving, we forgive whatever needs forgiving, and we allow the other person to live his or her own life, to learn their own lessons – painfully or with grace – and find their own growth and truth. And she reassures us that we can give ourselves permission to do what we need to allow this to occur.

Growing up in an alcoholic household, that is not how we rolled. We learned to control things – be quiet, be funny, be helpful, be conversational, be heroic – all depending on the family’s mood. It was our job to make peace, make harmony, to bring happiness. The trait is deeply ingrained.

Strangely, the question that ultimately opens up, when we stop doing all of this is, “If I’m now taking responsibility only for myself – no longer focusing on others and controlling the world – do I have any clue how to be happy?” Often, my answer has been, “No. I don’t have a clue.”

In this, I’m guessing everybody’s response will be quite different. In the past, discovering the answer has meant making some radical shifts in my life. Today, it seems more simple. It means getting out of my head and more into my body – yoga, walking, swimming, breathing, and nourishing with wholesome foods. It means opening my eyes to the beauty around me and soaking it in. Living with gratitude for the love and friendship in my life. Staying in the moment instead of the past or future.

And for me, it means holding with tenderness the place inside that needs to be needed in order to feel worthy. Sometimes that involves recognizing the child-Self that needs some extra love and attention. It always means having compassion.

Byron Katie talks about “Loving What Is.” Whatever is churning around inside is my reality at this moment. Whatever is spinning around in the world around me is also reality. It is craziness to think we need to change it. It is what it is.

imageThe hilarious part is that – instead of fighting or fixing – all of it is transformed (changed) by recognizing and lovingly accepting our reality and moving on from there. Who knew?