Tag Archives: self-care

A SPIRITUAL TOOLBOX for TURBULENT TIMES

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive [God] to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.
– Max Ehrmann, Desiderata, 1952.

It is possible to come to each day as grounded, loving people, who are forces for hope even though the world may seem uncentered, unkind or even hateful. Here are seven tools:

candleTool 1: SELF LOVE – When you are thrown off course, listen to the emotions that arise inside you.  Use your anger as a messenger –  listen to it and allow it to tell you what you need at that moment to be whole, to be safe. Do what you need to do. Listen to your fear and adjust your sense of safety by utilizing your own energy and self-love. You can give yourself this gift of wholeness and safety by treating each emotion with loving care and compassion. If you just stuff your feelings down, that isn’t going to work for long. By attending to our inner world, we will be able to be calm observers rather than haters and bring a positive energy to our efforts.

Tool 2: SPIRITUAL SUPPORT – (An obvious one…) Whatever your sense of God, the Sacred, Higher Concept or Higher Power in the Universe, turn to this Source when your perspective becomes lost and you feel rattled (often many times per day). Carry the resources with you that you need to support you in doing this. If you can, start your day with a positive Intention, prayer, or affirmation and end the day with gratitude.

Tool 3: GROUPS – If at all possible, form small groups in which to share your Truth, fears, hopes, brokenness. Find perspective. Then develop your Intentions for positive action. Enjoy this time of community. Enjoy some laughter together, share some food – nourish your hearts and souls.

Tool 4: SELF CARE! Days or hours “off” from saving the world. Have some fun, get out into nature, go shopping, dance, enjoy your favorite movie or people or meal.  Playtime is essential to the Soul.

Tool 5: SMALL STEPS – Do what you can do to be a positive force for change in the world. Hook up with established groups and organizations to be of support. If all you do today to make a difference is offer love, affirmation and support to someone you know who is out there doing things, that is enough.FullSizeRender (9)

Tool 6: CREATIVITY, EXERCISE & MUSIC – Color, paint, write poetry, write stories, create a vision board, dance, walk, run, do yoga or Tai Chi, sing, play an instrument,  listen to or create music. All of these connect us with our Higher Selves and our Source. Share your creations with the world.

Tool 7: ALL IS WELL – It is difficult to remember, but it is the Truth of all faith traditions. There is something more (God, the Sacred, the Universe) that holds us – a spiritual reality that is beyond what we can see today. Remember these words from the Desiderata by Max Ehrmann:

“You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”

This is just the beginning. There is a long road ahead. Pace yourself! Take it one joyful, loving step at a time and, remember, as Dame Julian of Norwich once said, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Love & blessings, Karen

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

Tending the Flame

candleWe are children quickly tired:
children who are up in the night and fall asleep as the rocket is fired;
and the day is long for work or play.
We tire of distraction or concentration, we sleep and are glad to sleep.
Controlled by the rhythm of blood and the day and the night and the seasons.
And we must extinguish the candle, put out the light and relight it;
Forever must quench, forever relight the flame.
Therefore we thank Thee for our little light, that is dappled with shadow.
We thank Thee who hast moved us to building, to finding,
to forming at the ends of our fingers and beams of our eyes.

– T.S. Eliot, “Choruses from the Rock”

Some seasons are about tending the flame. We want to prove to others that we are worthy – of love, attention, appreciation. Others of us need to be needed. And one way to be needed is to make oneself indispensable…which also requires a lot of activity. Historically, this is how I’ve spent my time.

I’m noticing, though, that recently things have started to change. I’m less concerned about showing my worth by doing. And, remarkably, I’m beginning to actually know that it is better for the people around me and the people I love to do their own work, whatever that may be. I don’t need to be indispensable.

When I tend my own inner flame, it means taking time – to breathe, to exercise, to create nutritious meals, to rest and play creatively. I’m finding that I’m less interested in teaching and more interested in absorbing and observing.

One part of me that I’m beginning to trust and rely on is “the Observer.” She is quiet, centered and peaceful all of the time. I can rely on her as a steady presence who isn’t swept away by mood or emotion. She notices those things, but stands outside of them trusting that “all shall indeed be well.” She seems to have one foot in this world and one in a higher realm, a place of knowing.

I was listening to a teacher last night who said, in giving advice for spiritual growth, to take some time to meditate and go outside each day, and then “be a bit lazy.” Hearing this actually affirmed what I’ve been doing lately. I’ve been trying to break the cycle of go, go, go – seeking to live a life that is more about “being” than “doing.”

Spiritually speaking, I often feel like I should be doing more – reading another book, studying another teacher, integrating another practice. Yet part of me knows that this is not the way.  Less is truly more. Simply being fully present in the moment is actually all we need to do.

So here’s some advice that I’d like to pass on: “Be a bit lazy.” Take the time to breathe and be aware. Here. Now. That’s it. Relax and enjoy the ride. Allow beauty to draw you in, and joy to touch your heart. Let your rest be peaceful and luxurious. Soak in the splendor of this moment. And again, just breathe. That’s what I plan to be doing.mandala

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.

Spiritual Journeying in Northern California

It was already late/ enough, and a wild night, / and the road full of fallen / branches and stones. / But little by little, / as you left their voices behind, / the stars began to burn / through the sheets of clouds, / and there was a new voice / which you slowly recognized as your own, / that kept you company / as you strode deeper and deeper / into the world, / determined to do / the only thing you could do – / determined to save / the only life you could save.                                            – from Mary Oliver, The Journey

Here’s a quick and somewhat disjointed reflection on my first week of study in interfaith spiritual direction at Chaplaincy Institute, Berkeley:

Last week at this time, the Campanile on the Cal Berkeley campus would be chiming 7:00 p.m. It would just be starting to turn cool and, from my “holy hill” window, I might see the marine layer of fog forming in the distance. The memory provides a stark contrast to the dry 106 degree weather-reality this evening, here in Bakersfield.

What a rich week of experience, learning and “being.” I wasn’t sure if I would love the course or hate it. My reaction to things like this tend not to be “in the middle”! Upon arriving at the funky, comfortable classroom – located in a section of a church gymnasium with a wood floor, large worn rug and numerous worn couches – I had the chance to encounter my fellow classmates for the first time.

We didn’t waste much time before sharing and listening to one another – practicing the skills of listening with open hearts and minds. We began to discover that our fellow journeyers were fascinating folks. The conversations that ensued falls under the veil of solemn sharing – so I won’t recount much in the way of anecdotes. But the diversity of my fellow students – from traditional Southern Baptist and Roman Catholic to Unitarian, Wiccan, Jewish, and Buddhist – was powerful. Not that such variety is unusual, but that such openness and respect from all these varied directions is rare indeed.

Each student was open to learning from the others and from the speakers who shared with us. During this first unit we heard from a Wiccan high priestess, a Daoist priest, and a Hindu Swami. As a group, we “sampled” some of each tradition so that spoken word became sacred experience. This, for me, is part of the wonder and excitement of being a part of this process.

We also, as I said, began to learn some of the skills we will employ as “spiritual directors” or spiritual mentors, and guides. I was glad to hear our instructor say that the historic and traditional term “spiritual direction” is problematic because what we do is largely non-directional. To me, that was great news!

Our time with clients is about “deep and mindful listening.” The spiritual (non-) director’s most important job is to hold space for the other person as he or she encounters the sacred or explores mystical energies. We are here to witness and accompany the other on the journey.

It was also affirming to discover that each of us seems to have gifts and experiences that have prepared us to do this. For many of us, our spiritual experience has been our lifeline through life’s challenges and trials.

By carefully opening doors and removing the barriers, we begin to embark upon this journey together. We get ourselves out of the way and let the mystical encounter begin.

I love being a part of a small group of people who have chosen to make this experience, study and practice a part of our growth over the next eighteen months. We are chaplains, therapists, hospice volunteers, clergy, artists and ordinary human beings on spiritual journeys. We are wise, foolish, whole, wounded, veterans and beginners. But we each share openness to experiencing the Divine, the sacred, the energy that vibrates through the universe. Who knows where it will take us?

May the unfolding begin….

Ari Bhöd

It is hard to describe my visits to Ari Bhöd*. It is a bit of an adventure just bumping up the winding dirt road to get there. But it is hard to encapsulate the experience. I can tell you what I’ve done when up there…

On my first visit:

  • Watched four Tibetan lamas create a sand mandala & listened to them chant a prayer and blessing

And as a volunteer:

  • Cleaned bedrooms, bathroom, kitchen of winter dust and mouse droppings
  • organized a couple of freezers
  • organized closets and bedding into categories – family guests, lamas, and rimpoche
  • climbed up the hillside to cut fir branches for the smoke offering
  • ate wonderful food
  • learned to clean and fill butter lamps

The activities have been oddly fun and invigorating but fairly mundane on the surface. Each time I go up there I lose track of time, feel peaceful, and as my friend, Marilyn, puts it, “experience of sense of spaciousness.” Good, sustaining energy.

I am not sure of a purpose for my time there, but I feel strongly drawn. Images that remain:

  • White smoke above snowy ground billowing out of the outdoor fireplace chimney (Joey told me the name for this stove, but I’ve forgotten)
  • Prayer flags blowing in the strong mountain wind with crisp blue sky as a backdrop
  • Evergreen boughs on the ground and the sound of the machete as branches are trimmed and cut
  • Linnea (and Yeshe) in the kitchen brewing up nourishing and enlightening foods
  • The 3-D mandala, Zangdok Palri
  • The wonderful scent in the empty temple
  • Radiant faces and smiles

And each time I visit, the lingering sense of peace. The soul-support for just being.

* Ari Bhod is a Tibetan Buddhist retreat center that hosts guests, visiting monks, lamas, and rimpoches. They host a summer camp for Tools for Peace. They are home to several stunning and unique mandalas, including at least two three dimensional mandalas. The center has many volunteers and a small group of residents. It was founded by the Venerable Lama Chödak Gyatso Nubpa.

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!

If I were to pray…

If I were to pray,
I would ask the life energy that buzzes inside to grow.
I would feel it as it touches each molecule and vibrates on,
out beyond the boundary of my skin…
Life, vibrancy,
At the heart of every moment
Light that erases angerdoubtjealousydepressionresentmentandonandonandon
Light that burns my universe clean and opens my heart.
Breathe in this moment.
Greet the breeze, the blossom, the birds,
Greet the motorcycle, the leaf blower, the truck turning too close to where you stand.
Send your fear down into the earth where it may be healed and transformed.
Bring it back up as a spring bubbling up with new life.
If I were to pray,
I would feel the light, the energy that holds you and holds me in one embrace
and I would know that you are held by a beauty, a force, so vast
that nothing could ever do anything but
multiply
our joy.

Amen.

– Karen Gatlin, February 2014

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

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