Week 5: Isolation Journal (I carry you in my heart…)

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)
– e. e. cummings

IMG_0449I had some intense sadness this week…hurt feelings for a moment put a “crack” into my shell that allowed sadness to well out and spill over. I tended to my hurting heart in gentle ways, but really only set it aside.

Most of the week I’ve been ricocheting off the floors, ceiling and walls in a sort of empty-headed routine (getting very little done, I might add). Best moments include Tuesday’s soul collage session with my friend by phone. I had trouble coming into focus long enough to pick images I resonated with – but eventually got momentum, scissors and glue were employed, and finished cards began to appear in front of me.

Each day this week has included a walk – usually 3-4 miles, one day near 5 miles. Today will be a lazy day to give my heel a short break. The weather is warming so we now go later and later in the day. Soon it will become early and earlier to catch the cool morning air. We are looking forward to the switch but we aren’t quite ready. We have seen deer, lizards, bunnies and quail galore, a few coyotes at home, and the occasional javelina.

I must confess that social distancing with humans while walking is an imperfect art. We are not crowded here by any means, but John and I take the distance rules seriously – and we walk in the bike lane or cross the road as needed. There are spots on the route where this becomes challenging maybe once or twice per walk. I must write this up to, “we’re all doing our best” or else I would complain about my neighbors’ awareness or lack thereof. It has, for the most part, done away with the friendly social component of the neighborhood walk except for a wave here and there. There’s a certain tension one senses even in those speeding by as runners or cruising past at high speeds on bikes.

Wednesday we had a grocery delivery and it was so exciting. I told John that I get a little flutter in my heart seeing fresh raspberries, strawberries, and red bell peppers. He said, “You need to get out more.” Then added, “We all do.” Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed the bathing of groceries and gently tucking them each into their places in the pantry, cupboard or refrigerator.

IMG_0460I completely forgot to mention that Sunday was Easter and Monday was my birthday. Monday, I was showered with greetings and attention from beloved family and friends all day long. On Easter, I had spent the day doing church with friends from Colorado (via Zoom). We got to see the Easter happiness of the grandkids during video calls. Easter afternoon included a tasty meal and lots of Minecraft with two granddaughters, and an hour of chit chat with the youngest.

Anyway, on my b-day, my sister sent me a beautiful succulent plant via the florist. Who knew that florists were vital workers? Very cool. Homemade and virtual cards from the grandkids and a special Lord of the Rings birthday card from my daughters now adorn the house and my various “altars.” I hate to say that the highlight of the day from a material celebration standpoint was the delivery of some pizza (gluten and dairy-free for me), but it was like I was on a reality TV survival show and had just found a stash of the most delectable food. I wolfed it down at first, then paused to savor realizing that I might not see this again for some time. It was like a tangible connection to “normal” life for which I was starved.

IMG_0400Anyway, here we are on Friday – feels like two weeks later. In my meditation this morning, as I mentioned earlier, I touched on some real tenderness again, sadness, and heard the word “vulnerability.” Somewhere inside we are processing everything that is going on. Though there is a promise of states returning to more normalcy, we are not all feeling the comfort of this.

There have been moments of clarity this week in which I’ve had an awareness of another source of this vulnerability and pain. As a person whose almost entire female gene pool has in common traits of “control,” “resourcefulness” or (my husband might add) “stubborn individualism.” We don’t have great trust, overall, in other people to direct or protect us. We tend to want to chart our own path. We have reasons for these traits. The people in our lives who were supposed to be adept at protecting and directing did an often questionable (and in some cases downright lousy) job.

In addition to social isolation and upheaval in our lives – right now government leaders in charge of our well-being trigger us all day long. There is a degree of deceit and ineptitude that is overwhelming – especially for those of us who don’t trust others easily to begin with. Sane, grounded leaders shine out like beacons.

It brings me back to vulnerability. No amount of control, resourcefulness, or thinking ourselves out of predicaments is going to protect any one of us individually. Brene Brown writes that “vulnerability is the only bridge to build connection.” So, I’m not going to help you by pretending that I’ve got this all together. We’re not going to connect by demonstrating the big routines we’ve built into our new normal. Maybe we can build a bridge to one another by sharing the tenderness, the tears that overflow now and again when we least expect them. Maybe we can be each other’s Winnie the Pooh and Piglet (or Eeyore) and just hang out and let each other be where we are.

There’s a prayerful ritual that I have learned from Sharon McErlane and my friend, Constance, called, “casting the net of light.” When I have enough presence of mind, I do this in the morning or evening. Here’s how it’s done: Prayerfully and energetically – using our imaginations to assist – we envision the Net of Light which covers our earth, its people, creatures, plants, earth, air, water, everything, and connects us. We find our place on the Net, connect to it, and call in those other lights – friends, family, spiritual guides, angels and ancestors, our spiritual anchors, and we find connection. It was during this deep connection, today, that tears came. In the comforting connection of the Net there was enough security to allow vulnerable places to be held.

In Braving the Wilderness, Brene Brown reminds, “An experience of collective pain does not deliver us from grief or sadness; it is a ministry of presence. These moments remind us that we are not alone in our darkness and that our broken heart is connected to every heart that has known pain since the beginning of time.”

So, friends, my beloveds, I reach out to you. I need your presence on the great Net of Light now. And I hold you – your heart – in my heart.

Love, Karen

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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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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

Autumn Leaves

_ACT5558When things are shaky and nothing is working,
we might realize that we are on the verge of something.
We might realize that this is a very vulnerable and tender place,
and that tenderness can go either way.
We can shut down and feel resentful
or we can touch in on that throbbing quality.” 

― Pema ChödrönWhen Things Fall Apart:
Heartfelt Advice for Hard Times

It has been a while since I have put pen to paper. It may be that I have been:

  • scattered
  • in the midst of seasonal change
  • confused (When someone I’m close to is struggling, I’m not sure how to stay in my own stuff.)
  • distracted

It is possible that the scattered and distracted energy I have been experiencing is more or less on purpose. If I’m scattered, then I don’t have to focus on what is really going on inside or around me. If I’m distracted – by tasks, urgent emails and phone calls, silly addictive computer games, and so on – then I can stay somewhat numb. After one is substance-free, food isn’t the only thing we can use to numb out!

So today, in this lovely fall weather, in the quiet and somewhat solitary journey I find myself on – instead of being distracted, busy, confused, I’m just hanging out with myself. When painful thoughts or feelings arise, instead of slamming them down like those little whack-a-mole, pop-up games in the arcade, I’m trying to soften into them.

Having compassion for ourselves sometimes means stopping completely when we’ve been going full-tilt on our favorite numbing behaviors. Sometimes seated meditation is just sitting still and breathing – allowing what we feel to be there without running from it.

Can I love and accept everything that bubbles up inside and just let it be? Gently sitting with ourselves with the same unconditional acceptance that we find for others is often the most powerful therapy we can experience.

I know about this. I’m sitting here meeting each temper tantrum, screaming fear with love…and it is the most peaceful I have been in weeks (or months).

Welcome autumn. Let the leaves fall. I’m just going to observe them them and maybe even find some beauty in the process.