Category Archives: Spiritual journey

Tips on Sanity in an Insane World

One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.

– William Wordsworth

These are largely “notes to myself” or my gratitude list. What helps me today after I do my morning scan through Twitter and Facebook and digest headlines? I’m curious, too, what is helping you? Let’s share our wisdom!

Things that help me:

  • Decaf coffee & tea.
  • Balanced diet (boring, I know, but of great benefit. Very grounding. Includes dark chocolate.)
  • Exercise! Walking outside or yoga or even the treadmill at the gym, in a pinch.
  • Reading books with perspective and humor (vs. social media.) (Just read “The Road to Little Dribbling” by Bill Bryson very slowly. Good for several laughs a day.)
  • Babysitting a 5 year old, or hanging out with 10 and 12 year olds – keeps one in the present in a demanding and different sort of way. 🙂
  • Knowing that I’m signed up for an all day meditation workshop in Boulder in a few
    weeks with one of my favorite teachers – holds the prospect of being fully centered for a whole day!
  • Writing.
  • Talking with trusted friends about something – anything – that means something other than politics. Helps get the heart center tuned up and moving in the right direction.
  • Laughing.
  • Anything that helps to let go of compulsive activity, even for a few hours. I hosted a family birthday party a week ago and that put me in a great mood – channeling creativity for a full day. hoosier-pass
  • Singing or listening to music.
  • Short road trip deeper into nature. REALLY fun around here.
  • Knowing I’ve done some small thing to be connected to the larger group of people making a positive difference in the world – even if it is just posting joyful art on social media. It makes me smile…and one or two others, also.
  • It may be unhealthy, but I vent my frustrations on Twitter. I live in an isolated area and I have my tiny little rant-of-the-day via reposts that gets it (frustration) all out of my system, sort of. As long as I move on to the list above for the remains of the day. There’s probably a better method for this…do let me know….

Would truly love to hear your list! Send via comments!

Love & blessings, Karen

Back to Basics: Who do we stand with?

“Speak for those who cannot speak;
seek justice for all those on the verge of destruction.”
– Proverbs 31:8 (ISV)

interfaith-symbols

Everybody has their point of reference – a family, a community from which they discover their perspective. Sometimes we stay the same as our original family or group; other times, our perspectives are reactions against the way we’ve been raised; and sometimes we take what our families have given us and put our own spin on it. For the most part, I’m in the latter category. (Image source: http://www.peacemonger.org)

Lately, the world has been dividing itself into categories. So, who do you identify with? What categories do you fall in? Mine are:

+ Progressive Christian
+ Interfaith spirituality/eclectic Universalist beliefs
+ According to a conservative definition, I think I fall into the “hippie” category (which is somewhat hilarious – a truly boring hippie)
+ Feminist (prayerfully, peacefully, lovingly)
+ Nature lover/environmentalist (with some realism, some idealism)
+ Celebrate diverse humanity – I believe we are better humans when we embrace lots of differences – racial diversity, age diversity, ethnic diversity, diverse expressions of gender and sexual preferences, diversity of body size/shape, religious diversity and so on and so forth….

I could go on, but you get the picture. So, when certain groups are targeted and under fire, who do you stand up with and for?  What kind of oppression and persecution gets you so riled up that you get off your couch and march/make a phone call/write a letter/join a group?

As a long-time person of faith, a progressive Christian minister, the go-to phrases that come to mind during times of crisis are well known: “Love your neighbor as yourself,” “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The Judeo-Christian tradition is filled with reminders to never oppress, always to welcome “foreigners” or strangers, because we were once strangers ourselves. And there is that lovely passage from the old King James bible, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” (Hebrews 13:2) I believe this is reminding us that there is God-light in every person and we dare not turn away people based on our own fear of differences – we have no idea how precious that person is to the Divine (or how sacred to others).

So, I guess I arrive at a place where my job is to stand up to oppressors for any human being who is being unjustly treated. Of all the values taught in each world religion and for anyone claiming to be Christian, the highest value is Love. To use the words of Jesus or Buddha or Mohammed or any of our great spiritual leaders to do harm or to persecute is the greatest perversion of the Truth. So, we must revive an old saying and, “Speak the Truth to Power with Love.” Say it, sing it, paint it, dance it, mail it, phone it, sculpt it, shout it. But do it for love (not anger or hate). Stand up.

we-all-belong-here-poster

Note: Downloadable poster or coloring book may be found here.

A place for anger…

Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Anger and outrage have a place at the table – they are motivating, they help us set boundaries and say when enough is enough. But hatred is different. Hatred excludes. Hatred says “I’m in, you’re out” based on whatever we choose. We set the rules.

Self-righteous indignation can help us remember who we are, what we stand for. But when it becomes a disguise for hatred, we need to stop.

I recently read tweet from a respected progressive theologian who was trashing people for switching sides and joining #resist. Huh? What? I do not get that at all.

Isn’t that what we want? For people to awaken from entrenched positions and see reality and truth seems like the goal to me. I love it when someone’s narrow beliefs are shaken and they broaden rather than narrowing further still.

If I’m missing something here, please help me to understand. But if we scream or hurl insults at those whose eyes are opened by our efforts, who are we? What have we become?

Spread the love, friends. 💜💜💜.

Be Impeccable

From The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz:

“Agreement One: I am impeccable with my words. I am loving to myself and others – I let go of fear.”

From the Dalai Lama:

“Hard times build determination and inner strength. Through them we can also come to appreciate the uselessness of anger. Instead of getting angry nurture a deep caring and respect for troublemakers because by creating such trying circumstance they provide us with invaluable opportunities to practice tolerance and patience.”

And

“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”

Do you have other “words from the wise” to add?

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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

Going Out in a Blaze of Glory

IMG_8997We went from blazing hot, full-steam summer to cool, gray fall weather overnight. Throughout all the (extremely short) summer, I’ve been feeling that I wasn’t in my usual inward mode, I have been outwardly focused. I haven’t been reflective, meditative, thoughtful – I’ve been active. We’ve pruned, planted, nurtured, watered, weeded, cleaned, cooked, entertained, flown kites, picnicked, played, visited, driven, hiked, paraded, organized. It was a season of busy-ness. And that’s what summer is all about, right? I couldn’t even be held inside my kitchen – we barbecued at every opportunity (or better yet, ate somewhere else – preferably on a patio). We made some new friends and connected with treasured friends and family.

For someone who had focused energy inward for months, it was a dramatic energetic shift. And now, suddenly, here we are and it is raining. Not a summer storm, it is gray and drizzly – something we’ve prayed for, but now that it’s here, it is sad. The party is over. The kids started school last week. For mountain-dwelling, semi-retired folks we know what this means.

It means we’ll have some spectacular blazing gold weeks and chances to watch the leaves fall. It means there will be moments of play out in nature – some blissful, crisp hikes with gorgeous autumn light. It means tucking away the summer growth, trimming back, turning over, covering up. And it means more silence, more quiet moments, more days looking out but staying in.

IMG_9011I’m going to fight this a bit. I can feel it. I’m going to fantasize about how I might make winter (the inevitable next thought) more like summer. But as they say, “Resistance is futile.” I will be assimilated. I will be swept along by the cosmic dance, the rhythm of the seasons. You will, too. It probably won’t happen without some grief and a bit of a fight.

Perhaps instead of protest, instead of throwing a collective hissy fit, we could try to turn the seasonal gods on their heads like Olympic wrestlers. Our surprise move could be to savor the process instead of fighting, and to observe each magnificent moment. Take every raindrop as a gift, each opportunity to warm up by the fire as a treasured relief.
And instead of go, go, go, we can just BE in each moment. We can snuggle up in a blanket or put on a rainjacket and take a stroll through the neighborhood. We can put the barbecue away and get out the slow cooker.

IMG_9018Okay, I’m talking myself into it. This could (possibly) work. Let me know how you do.

P.S. Remember hot cocoa with cayenne. And hot baths.

 

 

 

God is In*

Looking outI’ve spent a good deal of my professional life playing with “how we share our spiritual lives with children.” My own children, with very different approaches to life and varied learning styles, were often my teachers. “Boring!” was often the comment after a morning at church.

I am also enough of an overgrown adolescent that I quickly glaze over when traditional, rote styles of teaching are used. I am frequently as uninspired as they are. Experiencing God, the Sacred, should not be boring. By definition, the Sacred stops us in our tracks, and causes to do strange things: remove our shoes, drop to the ground, bow our heads, touch our hearts, stand in wonder, or sing with joy. In some cases, the presence of the Sacred in our lives changes everything – things look different, sound different, and we, in turn, act differently when the Holy blows through our lives.

Two of my granddaughters are off for their first week of camp right now. Their family practices mindfulness in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. My daughter teaches “Sunday school” at a local Buddhist monastery where they attend. The camp they are attending is called “IdRaHaJe” – short for “I’d Rather Have Jesus.” Should be an interesting week. But they’ll be sleeping in tepees under the stars, doing ropes courses, swimming, singing, riding horses, you name it. They’ll be encountering the Sacred one way or another. Thich Nhat Hanh would love this place – but it might be a bit loud for his taste.

I find the Sacred all over during summertime and so do kids. It is seldom that we need to talk about it. We live the experience. These days, I find the Sacred when I’m hiking, weeding our hillside or feel a crisp breeze. The sacred surprises me in a strain of music, a grandchild’s joy, and peace that arrives even though my instinct is to latch on to anger or pain.

My daughter is less discriminating than I am about Christian traditions. I’m fussy. It took me a year to find a church I was comfortable attending (and I tried out the Buddhist community, the non-dual philosophy community, some of the shamanic and energy groups, too). My daughter has close friends who are mainline Protestant, Mormon, and Evangelical Christian. I do, too, but I’m quite aware of our “differences”; she isn’t so much. My husband is kind of like her in that respect – give him a short sermon, a decent choir, kind people, and organist who isn’t out to shake the rafters and he’s content…or he’s happy to not go at all.

I, on the other hand, am always longing for a spiritual community of somewhat like-minded folks who can support me on my journey and with whom I can share the task of carrying love and compassion into the world. But like I said: I’m picky.

It is funny, though, where I actually landed and found a spiritual home – after all that searching and deliberation. It wasn’t in a group of enlightened folk with perfected spiritual practices, nor in a place with a gorgeous facility on a high mountaintop. No rock-star preachers or fancy, high-tech sanctuaries for me, I guess. Who knew?

pride parade deer park umc

It turns out what I was longing for was a group of people who were authentic and down-to-earth…and imperfect like me. So I’m hanging out in a tiny, fairly traditional, progressive church on Sunday mornings (one that honors all paths to the Sacred) and I love it. They let us help wash the coffee hour dishes and hand out bulletins and we feel at home.

In the end, it isn’t about labels, philosophies, or who’s in and who’s out of our spiritual tribe. Hopefully, my granddaughters are finding that, too, as they sing, ride, create, shout, praise, and splash this week. In the best of all worlds, we find that everyone is “in” our Sacred tribe.

(*The song, “God Is In” by Billy Jonas was discovered by one of our beloved students on a youth service trip to Alamosa, CO to serve at San Luis Valley Habitat and La Puente Home.  It became the year’s theme song 🙂 This blogpost reminded me of that trip.)

Memorial Day: It’s Complicated… 

As I’m doing research on family ancestry, I’m finding a very high percentage of our family’s forebears who served in the Civil War (both north and south); quite a few Revolutionary War veterans, and several WWI AND WWII military. We have a couple of career military relatives who are currently serving who have been brave, earnest and dutiful in their service and we are proud of their sincerity.

I’ve both spoken and written in opposition to various wars and have filled many care packages for those serving overseas. It seems there is rarely “one right way” to view war and peace. I’ve been about speaking against misguided military intervention but honoring and respecting our soldiers. Kind of confusing.

In another case, I feel passionately that it was right to intervene with Hitler’s activities in WWII. But the internment camps for Japanese Americans during the same war was a misguided exercise in fear and racism, not unlike the attitude some hold toward “all Muslims” today (post-9/11 and post-Isis terrorism). And certainly the use of the atomic bomb demonstrated that there clearly are moral limits to the use of indiscriminate force.

On holidays like Memorial Day, I often wish I could just be patriotic or just be completely against it all. It would be simpler, more fun for the moment to feel morally certain.

Unfortunately, we somehow have to keep walking the less popular road of the not-quite-middle-ground. It can be a lonely road in today’s political climate. To live a deeply spiritual life in our complex world means seeing the Sacred in every person and having compassion even for those whose point of view would choose to obliterate our viewpoint. Ugh!

It is easier when I watch birds fly, feel the wind in my face, pray and meditate at sunrise, look out on vast oceans and deserts, see the sunset over the horizon or hike up a tall mountain to view wilderness. It is easier when I let go of “us vs. them” and focus on oneness.

There is so much more to this universe than our own perspective. So I will lift my gratitude today for the triumph of love, unity, respect, diversity, kindness, and courage. I will celebrate the passage of time, moments of healing and reunion, and I will honor ancestors who sought to do their best – whatever their beliefs – and seek compassion and forgiveness for us all.

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)