Category Archives: Self care

Isolation Journal: Week Three (needing some Love)

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.

Cast me not away from your presence
and take not your holy Spirit from me.

Give me the joy of you saving help again
and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit.
–     from Psalm 51

IMG-0220I am in a religious-y mood today, which probably makes sense. In two days it will be Palm Sunday which marks the beginning of Holy Week, the most solemn week in the Christian tradition. Passover begins next Wednesday – the Jewish celebration of the Exodus from slavery in Egypt and God’s sparing of the children of Israel from a deadly plague. It is a religious-y time. Undoubtedly, much will be made of the experience of suffering and the ultimately hopeful messages in these traditions in the week to come and parallels to our current situation will be drawn.

I am no longer tasked, though, with helping to make sense of such things for others (as I was in my ministry). I am, like many others who are now mostly retired, left instead to simply live the experiences life brings me from day to day. Primarily, the task for me now is to find meaning in the rhythms of the day. This is a challenge for those of us who have found our worth in serving others, or just in doing.

IMG-0266Most of this week has been quiet, with moments of true contentment in our sweet little life. We putter around, we clean and cook, we chat, we go for our walk. We had one joyful delivery of food and one mildly frustrating delivery (the frustration lies in the lack of control over things). Spring – nearly summer here in Arizona – brings beauty and new life. John and I are also celebrating 10 years of being back in contact with each other in just over a week – a reunion for which we are grateful each day.

We are all also living under stress and new circumstances – which change somewhat every hour. We have new rules, new routines. We have new challenges and fears. And we are bombarded with numbers, stories, theories, and fears by the dozens. We see people rising to heroics and people hoarding and buying handguns. We wonder where to look for wisdom and leadership.

So, today, I am sad. There’s no one particular reason. Mortality and the exhausting efforts to stay healthy have worn me down a bit. The world’s grief is palpable, loss is palpable. Danger lurks around every turn.

IMG-0248Oddly, I think part of it is also that my birthday is coming up, too. In adulthood, I have often had an emotional “dip” around my birthday. I don’t think I’m sad about getting older at birthday time. It feels like a grief about how life and gifts and things aren’t able to soothe the soul. Grief that stuff like food, presents, activities don’t deliver joy or healing.

When melancholy sets in like this, I’ve found only the most basic steps will help.

  • Being gentle with oneself. Curling up with a blanket and a book or movie, taking a hot bath, having a cry as needed, then a nap. Sometimes writing helps, music helps.
  • Subtle, real nourishment. Comfort food helps only a bit, but real nourishing food – like soup or stew – seems to help the healing along.
  • It helps to tell a friend that you’re feeling blue, feeling low. It especially helps to talk to a friend who won’t try to fix us, who will just walk with us and be with us as we find our way.
  • Words and prayers like the ones in the psalm, above, help me. This psalm has been one I have resonated with since my early 12 Step days. The words recognize that the one speaking them is off kilter – perhaps based on actions, or perhaps based on attitude – but they remind us that the Sacred is waiting, in fact invites us, to reunite and get back on track. Divine Love is waiting for each of us (as needed) with open arms. And I have learned again and again and again that there is nothing (yes, nothing) that can separate us from this Love.

I think we all need to give ourselves a little break right now. A break from high expectations. At least a momentary break from the rigors we are putting ourselves through. Spiritually and emotionally, we each need to be held for a moment in this divine Love and Compassion.

This reality brings to mind a chapter in a beloved book, Traveling Mercies, by Anne Lamott. In this memoir, Anne tells of the death of a beloved friend in her eighties and how it had really brought her to a low point. It was springtime and had been rainy, but her friend, Nashama, suggested that they go for a walk – so they did. Lamott writes:

Suddenly…the ground and vegetation at our feet began to get a little watery, and then we began to hear sucking noises, swampy quicksandy sucking noises, and pretty soon my overpriced walking sandals had been swallowed up by mud…

“Let me help you there, little lady,” I said. “I’ll go up first and then give you a hand.”
        …
“Is this a good idea?” she asked. “Are you braced?”

“Yes,” I insisted, and pulled her toward me, and she lifted up off the ground and moved upward a couple of feet, until I started sliding back down toward her and we both landed noisily on our butts in the mud….

I was laughing so hard that I felt maniacal and not at all sure that I wasn’t about to cry. But I felt like air was bubbling into a place inside me that hadn’t been getting much lately….

Against the sparkly black screen behind my eyes, all these people appeared, like people in a come-as-you-are fashion show, strangers to each but beloved by me. There were all the sick little kids we know, and all the friends who had died…and the old people in my family and church who had grown so suddenly frail.… And I thought to myself, “Well, no wonder you’re this sad.” The silence of the marsh was…profound….

When Neshama and I finally got up to go, I was still sad, but better. This is the most profound spiritual truth I know: that even when we’re most sure that love can’t conquer all, it seems to anyway. It goes down into the rat hole with us, in the guise of our friends, and there it swells and comforts. It gives us second winds, third winds, hundredth winds. It struck me that I have spent so much time trying to pump my way into feeling…solace.… The truth is that your spirits don’t rise until you get way down. Maybe it’s because this – the mud, the bottom – is where it all rises from…. At the marsh, all that mud and one old friend worked like a tenderizing mallet. Where before there had been tough fibers, hardness, and held breath, now there were mud, dirt, water, air, mess – and I felt soft and clean.   (Traveling Mercies, Pantheon Books, NY, 1999, pages 257-265.)

Go easy on yourself and your loved ones right now. We are all raw and hurting. No wonder we are all so sad underneath it all. Life is tough in a big, real way. But love – human or divine – can bring us through. Turn toward love, turn toward the Source of solace, and you will find that you are held.

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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

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