Tag Archives: challenges

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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Isolation Journal: Week Two

I think we dream so we don’t have to be apart for so long.
If we’re in each other’s dreams,
we can be together all the time.
– A.A. Milne

IMG-0169Last Sunday, I “attended” two full and one partial live-streamed worship. One was more technically successful than the others (must have had someone onboard who knew how to piece these things together – music, written prayers, speaker). The others, as many people discovered, had issues due to the internet capacity on Zoom and FaceBook livestream having overload issues. But they got their points across – their love and care – and all was done with isolation protocols intact.

Another online worship showed a congregation full of mostly elderly people and a regular procession up the center aisle…and it was live. Shocking! I went away making note of that congregation and observing that they apparently live in LaLa Land, not in Tucson.

Later in the week, I listened to pre-recorded meditations and did some chanting, as suggested by a friend. We’ve now got a list of great yoga classes from teachers I know, yoga nidra, gong bath, and other beautiful opportunities coming up – from Brene Brown, David Whyte, Deva Premal, and others. And don’t forget the “happy hour” (and A.A.) invites!

I find that I can only “fit” a few of these online activities in even living in isolation – maybe one or two a day. Then I need time just to be. To putter around and clean, to rest (even napping now and then), to take a break from social media and texting, to put together some nourishing food, hopefully, to exercise or, at minimum, sit in the sun.

Best moments:

  • IMG-0125More Minecraft with my granddaughter (mostly cheerful, but challenging one day – virtually pelting grandma with glass potion bottles) – pretty much like “real” playtime (LOL)
  • A playdate with my friend in which we spent a couple of hours doing soul collage (virtual togetherness)
  • Chatted and shared spiritual direction by phone with another friend twice. Very mentally and spiritually therapeutic
  • Exchanged numerous texts with family and friends encouraging one another – love, humor, support.

Yesterday:

  • Shared an hour, virtually, with church friends via Zoom
  • Picked up groceries from a grocery store parking lot and drove home the long way – the scenic route – which was scope for the imagination and refreshing to the mind (except for irritation at the pack of sweaty adult bicyclists – 10 or more – riding in a non-socially-distanced clump and clumsily crossing the busy roadway)
  • Unloaded the groceries using our special “outside stuff” gloves, I spent half an hour using the grocery sanitizing protocol from the video by Dr. Jeffrey VanWingen while John used his new clippers and cut his own hair on the patio (actually looks great!)
  • To celebrate, I then went wild and ordered lunch from Chipotle. (They had our food here in less time than we would have taken to get there and back – but don’t tell anyone, I don’t want them to be inundated next time we want to order. Also, next time, I will order food that can be zapped in the microwave – which I don’t generally use – before serving to terminate any virus germs in the food.)

IMG-0132We’ve now made it to the two-week mark from when we visited my sister. I’m relieved that none of us are having any illness symptoms – so it looks like we weren’t carriers as we thoughtlessly traveled and ignorantly left germs in our wake.

Yesterday, I watched a couple of movies, one of which was Disney’s “Christopher Robin.” It reminded me of the gift of slowing down and living simply and didn’t ramp up my anxiety.

Self observation:

  • As someone who generally brings a non-anxious presence into the world, I am very aware of moments (hours?) of turbulent anxiety.
  • I’m aware, also, of a cabin fever-type irritation that rears its ugly head, and I’m not as calm and self-possessed as I’d like to be (like wanting to shout, “Idiots!” at the cyclists we encountered)
  • The scope of our activities has really narrowed. We’re nesting to keep ourselves (we’re both in high risk groups) and others (many in our retirement community are in highest risk group) safe.

Basic self-care and self-love is in order! Prayer, meditation, walking, yoga, hot baths or showers, naps, nourishment and more.

We are all doing our best in slightly different ways. The wave of illness is quickly moving into our home states, cities and towns. Keep those lines of loving communication open. Share what is working for you with others. Patience, compassion, and love are the watchwords.

Do what you can to soak in the love and light – then share them where you are able.

Love you!
– Karen

P.S. When all else fails: Serenity Prayer, Psalm 23, Philippians 4:13, Gayatri Mantra,  Om mani padme hum….

 

LOVE AND LIGHT IN THE DESERT

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

 

New Year’s Blessing

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting; the Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting and cometh from afar;
Not in entire forgetfulness, and not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come…

William Wordsworth, c. 1804

This week I had the opportunity to share the gifts of my spiritual journey with my husband and a good friend. We had both deeply spiritual and highly irreverent conversations. We touched on our deepest difficulties and hurts and we laughed until our sides hurt about our current lives and all that confounds us in this world.

Now, it is New Year’s Day. I’m remembering that we are not here to conquer or control life. We are here to open our eyes – to heighten our senses – and be present. If we pay attention, we will witness a series of miracles and moments of grace – of extraordinary moments in a sea of confusingly ordinary and sometimes overwhelming ones. That’s my experience, anyway. Whenever I feel that I have things figured out, the cosmos stirs things up and turns the world upside down, just to keep the process interesting. Laughter and a sense of humor are as essential, as is the ability to ride the ever-changing waves.

At midnight last night, after a quiet evening at home, I came upstairs and discovered my new year’s gift. The moon was shining bright and it had snowed about an eighth of an inch of big elegant flakes – enough to cover our deck and the fields below. The moon reflected like diamonds, making each surface sparkle with light. If you have eyes to see, ears to hear, and a soul that senses – our Source is seeking our awareness.

Let’s see if this year sparkles with that same promise as it continues to unfold. Let’s tell each other about the miracles we experience. Let’s laugh and cry and hold each other in our grief. And in the midst of all that, let’s find out if it is possible to stand in awe and soak in gratitude each and every day.

Valley clouds

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

Sacred Training Ground(lessness)

“Our discomfort arises from all of our efforts to put ground under our feet,
to realize our dream of constant okayness….
But when…we can embrace the groundlessness of our situation
and relax into its dynamic quality, that’s called enlightenment….”  

– Pema Chodron

For many years, whenever my household had a financial surplus for a moment, it seemed a law of the universe that a car would break down and use it up. It didn’t seem fair at times, when friends’ lives appeared to be much more abundant. They took vacations, they celebrated special occasions in style. The benefit, however, was that this “life close to the edge” kept me always returning to my Source for comfort.

In those days, we named our Source our “Higher Power” and we found solace, guidance, strength, and peace each time we humbly returned to this spiritual well. Sometimes we found our Source in prayer and meditation, oftentimes we found these things in the words of other people – while they lovingly advised us or as they told of their own pain, struggle, or joy.

A belief that I lived by then was to “live simply.” This elevated my lack of abundance to a more spiritual simplicity – though I was never tempted to embrace the concept of “voluntary poverty.” I was fairly certain that abundance had its place, too, alongside simplicity.

Anyway, these days in a similar pattern, I’m recognizing that each time I reach a place in which it feels like I’ve finally integrated a spiritual concept that I’ve been struggling with for years, life seems to offer a challenge to put our integrity and groundedness to the test.

In the world of “manifesting” what we focus upon, I hope I’m not somehow calling for these challenges. If so, it is time to figure that one out – and soon!

No sooner do I have the sense of “Wow! I finally understand this!” that in the next breath the challenge appears. I guess if life is really and truly our spiritual training ground, this could make sense (though it seems kind of brutal!)

Pema Chodron print Etsy
Rebecca Borrelli, artist

In the midst of our most recent crisis, on an evening in which I felt my foundation shaking, my loving daughter sent my husband some encouraging notes. The last image she sent was beautiful – like a lovely Zen tangle. I zoomed in to read the words that encircled an image of waves crashing within a turbulent sea. It read, “Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible in us be found.” Tears of recognition rimmed my eyes.

I read it again. This simple statement from wise woman, Pema Chodron, calmed and centered me. It reminded me that when overwhelming challenges arise, though they blow us off course and tear everything apart, they help us to grow. Though we would never knowingly wish for such chaos, they raise before us the possibility that maybe the goal is not to “have it all together.” Perhaps the goal is, when we are a shaken to pieces, to learn how to lovingly hold each tiny shard that’s been tossed, turned, broken, and tossed again. Perhaps it is also to recognize the calm, unmoving center in the storm.

So my daily practice, as we walk through this turbulent landscape together, is to ask: “Which places within need the most love and care today? And how shall I hold and honor them today – in myself and in my fellow journeyers?” In stillness, the answers arise for the moment.

Sigh. It is really pretty basic, isn’t it? And then I laugh at how complicated I make it.