Category Archives: self-care

Beyond the Wardrobe Door…

Rainy dayI vividly remember, as a child, pressing my face up against the large picture window in our living room on a rainy day and wishing I could go outside and play. It is interesting that, in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis, the children would never have discovered Narnia if not for a rainy day. If not for days that keep us bored and stuck indoors, we would not be forced to use our imaginations and explore the interior of our lives.

Today, it is a rainy afternoon in the Rockies and our pale green grass and nearly budded trees are soaking in this steady saturation. After several days of being out in nature, out in community, it is a day to settle in and just observe.

It has been a good morning of clearing stale energy from our home by cleaning and decluttering. Things have been neglected a bit because we have been on the go. Just dusting, sorting through a few piles – rearranging some books and tucking things in brings new peace and joy into our space.

So, how do we clear space and open to new life, new growth in our inner world?

  • For energetically sensitive people, bringing some peace and order to our environment or living space may be a great first step to clearing out some of the chaos inside.
  • When in doubt, open windows (even just a bit), dust and vacuum and straighten up the clutter.
  • If that doesn’t do the job, get out some Epsom salts and take a warm bath (light some candles, put on soft music or soothing sounds) or smudge your space with some white sage.
  • If weather permits, of course, get outside, even just to sit in your backyard or on a balcony.
  • If you have access to Reiki energy, definitely use it to clear those chakras and get the energy flowing again – yoga and tai chi work too…especially the gentle restorative stuff.
  • Chop veggies and create a nourishing soup, stew or dal. Taking the time to nourish your physical self in a healthy, nurturing way can also be a spiritual practice.

Lately, I’ve been really aware of the benefits of even a very brief time of seated meditation, meditative breathing, or contemplative prayer. Taking even a few minutes to go inward and to simply be present to your highest Self and tune in to the Sacred, the Universe, has a powerfully restorative effect. It can be like the children opening the door to the wardrobe – a gateway to inner adventure and transformation. And it is as close as our breath, as radical as utter simplicity. Give it a try. It may lead you from a hectic or stressful day to a magical one

Intro to Meditation and Contemplative Prayer:
How to meditate by Pema Chodron:
Mindfulness Meditation by Jon Kabat Zinn
Centering Prayer by Fr. Thomas Keating

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)

Tending the Flame

candleWe are children quickly tired:
children who are up in the night and fall asleep as the rocket is fired;
and the day is long for work or play.
We tire of distraction or concentration, we sleep and are glad to sleep.
Controlled by the rhythm of blood and the day and the night and the seasons.
And we must extinguish the candle, put out the light and relight it;
Forever must quench, forever relight the flame.
Therefore we thank Thee for our little light, that is dappled with shadow.
We thank Thee who hast moved us to building, to finding,
to forming at the ends of our fingers and beams of our eyes.

– T.S. Eliot, “Choruses from the Rock”

Some seasons are about tending the flame. We want to prove to others that we are worthy – of love, attention, appreciation. Others of us need to be needed. And one way to be needed is to make oneself indispensable…which also requires a lot of activity. Historically, this is how I’ve spent my time.

I’m noticing, though, that recently things have started to change. I’m less concerned about showing my worth by doing. And, remarkably, I’m beginning to actually know that it is better for the people around me and the people I love to do their own work, whatever that may be. I don’t need to be indispensable.

When I tend my own inner flame, it means taking time – to breathe, to exercise, to create nutritious meals, to rest and play creatively. I’m finding that I’m less interested in teaching and more interested in absorbing and observing.

One part of me that I’m beginning to trust and rely on is “the Observer.” She is quiet, centered and peaceful all of the time. I can rely on her as a steady presence who isn’t swept away by mood or emotion. She notices those things, but stands outside of them trusting that “all shall indeed be well.” She seems to have one foot in this world and one in a higher realm, a place of knowing.

I was listening to a teacher last night who said, in giving advice for spiritual growth, to take some time to meditate and go outside each day, and then “be a bit lazy.” Hearing this actually affirmed what I’ve been doing lately. I’ve been trying to break the cycle of go, go, go – seeking to live a life that is more about “being” than “doing.”

Spiritually speaking, I often feel like I should be doing more – reading another book, studying another teacher, integrating another practice. Yet part of me knows that this is not the way.  Less is truly more. Simply being fully present in the moment is actually all we need to do.

So here’s some advice that I’d like to pass on: “Be a bit lazy.” Take the time to breathe and be aware. Here. Now. That’s it. Relax and enjoy the ride. Allow beauty to draw you in, and joy to touch your heart. Let your rest be peaceful and luxurious. Soak in the splendor of this moment. And again, just breathe. That’s what I plan to be doing.mandala

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?

Spiritual Journeying in Northern California

It was already late/ enough, and a wild night, / and the road full of fallen / branches and stones. / But little by little, / as you left their voices behind, / the stars began to burn / through the sheets of clouds, / and there was a new voice / which you slowly recognized as your own, / that kept you company / as you strode deeper and deeper / into the world, / determined to do / the only thing you could do – / determined to save / the only life you could save.                                            – from Mary Oliver, The Journey

Here’s a quick and somewhat disjointed reflection on my first week of study in interfaith spiritual direction at Chaplaincy Institute, Berkeley:

Last week at this time, the Campanile on the Cal Berkeley campus would be chiming 7:00 p.m. It would just be starting to turn cool and, from my “holy hill” window, I might see the marine layer of fog forming in the distance. The memory provides a stark contrast to the dry 106 degree weather-reality this evening, here in Bakersfield.

What a rich week of experience, learning and “being.” I wasn’t sure if I would love the course or hate it. My reaction to things like this tend not to be “in the middle”! Upon arriving at the funky, comfortable classroom – located in a section of a church gymnasium with a wood floor, large worn rug and numerous worn couches – I had the chance to encounter my fellow classmates for the first time.

We didn’t waste much time before sharing and listening to one another – practicing the skills of listening with open hearts and minds. We began to discover that our fellow journeyers were fascinating folks. The conversations that ensued falls under the veil of solemn sharing – so I won’t recount much in the way of anecdotes. But the diversity of my fellow students – from traditional Southern Baptist and Roman Catholic to Unitarian, Wiccan, Jewish, and Buddhist – was powerful. Not that such variety is unusual, but that such openness and respect from all these varied directions is rare indeed.

Each student was open to learning from the others and from the speakers who shared with us. During this first unit we heard from a Wiccan high priestess, a Daoist priest, and a Hindu Swami. As a group, we “sampled” some of each tradition so that spoken word became sacred experience. This, for me, is part of the wonder and excitement of being a part of this process.

We also, as I said, began to learn some of the skills we will employ as “spiritual directors” or spiritual mentors, and guides. I was glad to hear our instructor say that the historic and traditional term “spiritual direction” is problematic because what we do is largely non-directional. To me, that was great news!

Our time with clients is about “deep and mindful listening.” The spiritual (non-) director’s most important job is to hold space for the other person as he or she encounters the sacred or explores mystical energies. We are here to witness and accompany the other on the journey.

It was also affirming to discover that each of us seems to have gifts and experiences that have prepared us to do this. For many of us, our spiritual experience has been our lifeline through life’s challenges and trials.

By carefully opening doors and removing the barriers, we begin to embark upon this journey together. We get ourselves out of the way and let the mystical encounter begin.

I love being a part of a small group of people who have chosen to make this experience, study and practice a part of our growth over the next eighteen months. We are chaplains, therapists, hospice volunteers, clergy, artists and ordinary human beings on spiritual journeys. We are wise, foolish, whole, wounded, veterans and beginners. But we each share openness to experiencing the Divine, the sacred, the energy that vibrates through the universe. Who knows where it will take us?

May the unfolding begin….

Ari Bhöd

It is hard to describe my visits to Ari Bhöd*. It is a bit of an adventure just bumping up the winding dirt road to get there. But it is hard to encapsulate the experience. I can tell you what I’ve done when up there…

On my first visit:

  • Watched four Tibetan lamas create a sand mandala & listened to them chant a prayer and blessing

And as a volunteer:

  • Cleaned bedrooms, bathroom, kitchen of winter dust and mouse droppings
  • organized a couple of freezers
  • organized closets and bedding into categories – family guests, lamas, and rimpoche
  • climbed up the hillside to cut fir branches for the smoke offering
  • ate wonderful food
  • learned to clean and fill butter lamps

The activities have been oddly fun and invigorating but fairly mundane on the surface. Each time I go up there I lose track of time, feel peaceful, and as my friend, Marilyn, puts it, “experience of sense of spaciousness.” Good, sustaining energy.

I am not sure of a purpose for my time there, but I feel strongly drawn. Images that remain:

  • White smoke above snowy ground billowing out of the outdoor fireplace chimney (Joey told me the name for this stove, but I’ve forgotten)
  • Prayer flags blowing in the strong mountain wind with crisp blue sky as a backdrop
  • Evergreen boughs on the ground and the sound of the machete as branches are trimmed and cut
  • Linnea (and Yeshe) in the kitchen brewing up nourishing and enlightening foods
  • The 3-D mandala, Zangdok Palri
  • The wonderful scent in the empty temple
  • Radiant faces and smiles

And each time I visit, the lingering sense of peace. The soul-support for just being.

* Ari Bhod is a Tibetan Buddhist retreat center that hosts guests, visiting monks, lamas, and rimpoches. They host a summer camp for Tools for Peace. They are home to several stunning and unique mandalas, including at least two three dimensional mandalas. The center has many volunteers and a small group of residents. It was founded by the Venerable Lama Chödak Gyatso Nubpa.