Category Archives: Self care

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

Savoring the Sweet Life

Big SurIt is interesting that staying grounded, and not living inside my head too much for the past week and a half has meant not writing. Hmmmmm… What’s that about? I’ve been on many little adventures and celebrated another year of life. What a lovely little chapter it has been.

On my birthday, a friend celebrated with John and me. Gifts of music, beauty and art seem to have come my way from friends and loved ones: a CD of a favorite group (Wailin’ Jennys) and a soft t-shirt, a bottle of sparkling water, a yummy bar of dark chocolate, pens, pencil, pretty journal and drawing paper, watercolor pencils (fun!), and a GUITAR (and folk music books to go with it)! Everyone seems to see this as a creative year ahead.

I packed all of my goodies in my car the day after my birthday and headed up to a time of silent retreat with my friend. We talked all the way up there – catching up on what we’ve each been doing and getting the words out of our system. We shared where the Sacred has been nudging us both.

Okay, so Big Sur is a pretty fabulous place to go for a silent retreat. Who needs words there? Upon our arrival at the top of a small mountain looking out over the sea, we popped out of the car. Inside the small office/bookshop, we discovered: a lack of silence, slight disorganization, a delightfully flaky woman, some monastic granola and fruitcake and everything from rosaries and Thomas Merton books to incense, sage and wooden prayer beads. I had to get myself a little stretchy bracelet full of wooden prayer beads. Awesome!

Then each of our super cool little rooms were more spacious and comfy than we had expected – with a wall of windows at one end looking out at the view and our own little backyard complete with a plastic chair, flowers, birds and a spectacular view. We bowed, “goodbye and Namaste” and each took to our rooms – both happy campers.

So much happens when you are in silence. I tried to write down all I had done in that first half day (including taking a nap) and the list was long. Reading a memoir and some sacred writing, lighting a candle, trying out my prayer beads, sitting in the sun and watching the world, just BEING. Sigh. Soaking in the peace.

San SimeonA highlight for me was that this retreat (unlike my last one) actually brought me back to my home practice of yoga. The last one shook me up, showed me my vulnerabilities, threw me off balance. This one nurtured me and helped me live in my yogi skin up there on the mountain. At sunset the first night, I cleared a little desk and covered it with a scarf, placing a glass candle holder in the center. I lit it. I unrolled my purple yoga mat and pulled out my little list for home practice. I found my center and felt the energy streaming through as the sun got lower and the sky turned pink and orange over the water. Whew! Just awesome.

I could go on for pages about just those three days.

A few other highlights include: Both of us realizing that (though we had some trepidation upon arrival) we could have done several more days of silence; the good feeling of hiking up and down the two mile driveway until our calves ached and looking at the turquoise water and ocean of fog below us, alternately. Also, on the drive home, in addition to laughter and good music, we shared a terrific meal in the sun and a carefree hike along the bluffs before San Simeon. Then home to my sweet husband and a fun evening laughing and sharing the “good vibrations” from Big Sur.

Sunset on retreatMore about the rest of the week later. Right now, I’m just basking in joy, gratitude and savoring the sweetness of life. Hope you are too!

Grasping the First Two Limbs

Three steps are required to reach the state of absorption:
repetition, understanding, and sincerity of purpose….
An attitude of humility and receptivity is essential
to catch any light of knowledge that comes.
– “Yoga, the Iyengar Way” by Silva Mehta

Let’s see… instead of focusing on the confusing and the complicated -in the spirit of fostering Contentment, let me think about the Light I’ve experienced during the past week . Some highlights:

  • Breakfast and good conversation with a friend
  • Phone, email and text connection with my daughters, family and my friends
  • Weekly fellowship and spiritual/philosophical conversation with my Tribe
  • A good 90 minutes of yoga (I will omit the 60 minutes of wacky, spinning-out, crazy mind yoga)
  • A couple of lovely walks
  • Good conversation during a workshop about the Eight Limbs of Yoga
  • Fun afternoon picking out my birthday present (a guitar) up at Mountain Music in Tehachapi and coming home and playing until my fingers were raw
  • A spectacular session with my counselor/spiritual coach in which I had a footbath, reflexology and talked about old wounds and a readiness to heal
  • Many warm conversations with my partner and the promise of many lovely adventures in the near future as we plan our spring and summer

From the workshop, led by Shanan, on the Eight Limbs of Yoga (that focused on Yama and Niyama), some concepts that jumped out at me were:

Contentment – This may be one of my many life challenges – fostering contentment. But this is a lovely project, right? To spend time turning around perfectionism and nit-picking and live into gratitude and appreciation for the grace of being.

Generosity/Non-Hoarding – Generosity seems to be one of my gifts – I like to give what I have to others and share my good fortune – I never keep money in the bank for long (and it isn’t because I buy much for myself). I spend considerable time critiquing myself for what I accumulate in closets and storage areas. But perhaps I should be gentle with myself because my “hoard” is relatively small by American standards? HOWEVER, letting go of what I accumulate without guilt or fear of scarcity is an ongoing challenge. When I do this, the reward in inner peace is great. I am most peaceful when I have the least stuff.

Kindness/Non-Violence – In the big areas of non-violence, I’m doing well. Like others who spoke in my class, the small unkindnesses that seem to pop up cause me the greatest challenges. Little sarcasm and put-downs. Thinking I know better than another person how to live their life. Arrogance. Ego gets in the way here. This thinking is in total conflict with reality (i.e., “He/she should do what I think is best.”) Perhaps kindness includes respect for how others choose to live their lives even if it seems to cause them problems or unhappiness?

Truthfulness/Non-Lying – Again, in the area of big stuff, we’re good. In the small stuff, I’m not honest with myself, others, when I try to frame things in the best light and make myself look good. Strangely, part of self-honesty for me is probably lightening up a little bit and being more generous in my self-appraisal. There’s another kind of lying I do when I view myself as bad or not worthy. This definitely is intertwined with opening to more kindness.

The other thing that I heard at the workshop that I am going to meditate about is the need for “repetition and familiarity” – things I often wish to skip over. I want to master things instantly. Instead, I was reminded that we need to take the time to repeat even short periods of asanas (postures), pranayama (breathwork), and meditation each day so that they may begin to be a part of us (I’m sure the same goes for whatever your own spiritual practice is). Seems fairly obvious, right?

Okay, let the practice begin (again)….

8 Limbs image

Down-shifting (and shifting Up)

Reaching out to other people carries a Divine power,
whether recognized as such or not.
Divine power isn’t metaphorical but literal,
actually releasing calming chemicals in your brain.
…Spirit does more than calm you; it heals you.
It reverses entrenched patterns.
It is nothing short of miraculous.
– Marianne Williamson, A Course in Weight Loss

Stuck in inertia again. How does this happen???

One Day: Sailing along on the wind of spirit, I am open to the universe and its revelations. I am motivated and moving. Finding my true Center, nothing can throw me off balance.
The Next: I have trouble getting out of bed.

OR alternately:

One Moment: Plans, great ideas and goals for the day.
The Next: Two hours have gone by and I’m still scrolling through Facebook, feeling the big Blah.

The thing I love about Byron Katie and Eckhart Tolle is that they have both had their big “aha” moments while in their sluggish, dark and depressed modes. They were not practitioners of some big system or followers of a certain way. Each had a simple shift in perception and awoke to reality – which was more wonderful and simple than they had ever imagined.

I believe one of the messages the universe has been trying to send me lately is that what I need for peace of mind is not about doing more. It is about the shift in perception and knowing I have already done enough. More doing is not going to help it now.

Part of my problem, is that my pattern when I am alone and not “doing” is to sink down low. If I’m not busy and productive, then I kind of submerge into isolation and negativity rather than resting in tranquility. That may be why yoga or a morning walk turn the key for me – they literally move me out of inertia and help me find balance. If I don’t have a group or a friend to hang out with, this is crucial for me.

Yesterday, meeting with a friend and chatting one-on-one brought me to life, group discussion later gave me insight and serenity, but later on in the day, individual dynamics within a group sent my head to swirling. When faced with some tricky social waters to navigate, I decided to bail. In that particular situation, maybe it was a good decision.

Allowing myself these occasional ungraceful moves – kind of ungainly and not totally open and honest – is the beginning of a shift in perception for me. It is okay. I’m doing my best to be loving and compassionate with all – including myself. It is no longer my expectation that I have to do things perfectly or take care of everyone around me. That’s a new one, and I’m still learning.

I’m also learning that solitude and isolation are two distinctly different things. Solitude is the time we take for self-nurture, rest and reflection. Isolation is when we seek to escape from those who love us, when we mentally and physically punish ourselves, and when we’re most at risk for addictive behaviors (for me today, that means over-eating, not exercising, and too much “screen time”).

So, being gentle with ourselves, the solution is awareness. Breathing, stretching, doing any small constructive activity (taking a shower, doing the dishes, putting in a load of laundry) when I get into this place is a good start. My spiritual counselor even talks about “shaking it off” like dogs and other animals do. Get up and shake that negative energy off! Put on some music, perhaps, and move around. Dance a bit! And reach out to others – whether to offer help, to snuggle up, or just for a chat – any breaking of isolation is a start.

This simple stuff shifts our perception within the moment and breaks the energetic barriers we  build. Ahhhhh…what a relief! Everything I’m seeking is available to me here and NOW. Who knew?

Allowing It to Unfold

 “So when we cry out for Help, or whisper it into our chests,
we enter the paradox of not going limp
and not feeling so hopeless that we can barely walk,
and we release ourselves from the absolute craziness
of trying to be our own – or other people’s – higher powers. Help.”
– 
Anne Lamott, “Help, Thanks, Wow!”

Can you believe it? We don’t have to be other people’s higher power. I don’t have to fix everyone’s problems or figure life out so that others can be enlightened. I just have to take care of me.

On top of that, it is okay to ask for Help! Who knew? I keep striving for perfection when no one ever really thought that was a good idea – and certainly no one ever thought it was any fun. I keep believing I need to be self sufficient when there is a whole interdependent universe of creative resources that I could lean on and draw strength from.

The other astonishing thing is that although there is a universe inside me and all around me, I don’t have to invent it myself or make things happen. It is my job to witness it, give thanks for it, and tune in with awareness – but the whole spiraling miracle doesn’t depend on me to keep it swirling. Whew!

My moment of awareness today was a flash of recognition: When I get uncomfortable, I tend to fall back on old habits, old addictions, old patterns. Those things have temporarily lifted discomfort in the past. However, none of these things has sustained me. The only thing that has ever sustained me is letting go – leaning into the wave and letting it lift me and pull me along.

I wonder how many times and in how many ways I’m going to have to repeat this pattern? But something must be changing. I no longer fear the process. Riding the wave is so wonderful, I know I’m going to eventually paddle out there again and trust.

Messages from Above

(Rumpled Blue Jay, Julia Warner)
(Rumpled Blue Jay, Julia Warner)

Most of my observations these days are from my walks. As I’ve said, this is a very good practice for me. Walking my little feet down the street shakes loose the cobwebs. And the occasional feather…

FEATHERS

When my mother died,
we cleaned out her home.
Among her collections –
of coins, stamps, rubber bands –
we discovered feathers.
Feathers of every color, size and shape.
We shook our heads, laughing.
My sisters and I threw each baggie and coffee can
filled with blue, brown, white, gray feathers
in the trash
with thoughts of mites and germs.
This morning, like so many mornings,
I left my home in sneakers, sunglasses and baseball cap.
Looking up, always up –
watching for hummingbird, jay, and nuthatch,
sparrows, doves, the occasional swallow or finch.

On the coast, I spend hours watching
while pelicans glide, float, and dive –
setting my soul back in harmony,
de-cluttering my crowded mind.
Simplifying.
Purifying.
Setting me free.

A small blue feather settles on the sidewalk,
and I bend, shaking my head, smiling,
telling my mother that
at last I grasp her message.

– Karen Gatlin, February 2014