Tag Archives: spiritual

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

The “Other” Way Counts

I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.

                                   – Walt Whitman

The words of the poem, above, were printed on a poster that hung on my wall during high school. I think they were somehow emblazoned on my teenage soul, too, and have stayed with me.

I have so many friends and relatives who, in one way or another, deal with being “other” everywhere they go. They don’t quite fit. They don’t have a traditional career or any career. They are retired, but they don’t fit with the bridge group or the church circle. They are part of a spiritual tradition, but they don’t feel comfortable. They are not part of any spiritual tradition, but they know there is something more to life than what meets the eye, something deeper.

It isn’t a coincidence that my fellow sangha member, family members, classmates, acquaintances, and neighbors fall in this category. So do I. My life has been a richly woven tapestry – its patterns and circuitous routes often seeming without a unifying scheme. Good and bad, up and down, try this, now that, and so on. But as this website indicates, there is a common thread that runs through it all. I call that thread my spiritual path.

These days, I am integrating all kinds of things that I have learned from all kinds of places. I see the golden thread between traditions and non-traditions sparkling like crazy. One friend calls this “energy.” Yes. That’s it. Another friend calls this “God,” another “Vibration,” and another “Goddess.” Yes. Yes. Yes. Another says it is silence, mystery. One of my less spiritually-oriented friends calls it health and fitness, another “art.” Many call it nature. A teacher calls it the landscape of our dreams.

Each of these people is sorting out what it means to live in such a way that his or her life is in harmony with a higher purpose. They have each tried the traditional path and often it didn’t work, or some part of it doesn’t work. They were miserable. I say, “Yay, misery!” Very often it is a gift that sends us in our new direction.

Sequoia hikeYesterday, I was part of a discussion in which a room full of people shared this sense of “social dis-harmony” – or being out of step with traditional values. I could hear the struggle, which is often my struggle: the challenge to believe that our Way counts. Maybe a person gets paid for what he/she does, or maybe does not. Perhaps a person has a degree of fame or appreciation and maybe they’re completely unknown to the world. Is their way valid? Perhaps they have a plan or goal or perhaps they don’t. Maybe, instead of a goal, the present moment, lived mindfully or peacefully or with joy, is the whole reward.

I know that one thing I’ve learned on my circuitous route is that it IS real, it does count. I know this, because my pay is in my inner well-being, not cash. The real currency of this journey is good vibration, grace, peace, wholeness. Whatever our higher path or purpose, living true to it affects EVERYTHING.

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….

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

New Beginnings

flowerAsh Wednesday 2014…

The branch that was nearly bare last week
bursts with leaves – shiny, delicate, green.
Finches and sparrows dart among moist, shady branches.
Showing off, the grass glistens with dew.
Irridescent leaves and blades
reds, greens and yellows, too –
translucent and shimmering with new life.
Opening my eyes, I am awake to beauty;
Breathing in, I am reborn, soaking in new life –
potential and possibility
in each moment.

My phone lights up with words
calling me back to tasks,
to familiar thoughts and worries.

Will I breathe this new breath
and be a bearer of new life
or return to habitual anxiety
as I reply?

Today is Ash Wednesday. I wouldn’t have remembered except for the posts on Facebook and the foreheads of various people (who I’m assuming were Roman Catholic) in Trader Joe’s this afternoon, marked with a gray cross. On the drive home, I felt a pang of displacement, of being “without a community.” As I have continued to think about it, I realize that I do have a spiritual community, it is just more diverse these days and more spread out geographically.

My local spiritual community embraces Buddhism, Christianity, Taoism, Hinduism, and accepts a person’s freedom to walk his or her own path – with or without God at the center. In many ways it is a community which reflects my childhood upbringing – equally diverse – and my years in Twelve Step circles where members are free to define their Higher Power or God as each person understands God. Throughout my years of Christian ministry, this has always been my core. It is freeing to both return to my spiritual roots and to open new doors to deeper understanding.

Still, I honor the Christian tradition which has been my home and teacher for over twenty years. I am finding more and more – and this pertains to my thoughts on Ash Wednesday – that I reject much of the institution but I embrace the heart of the church – the life and teachings of Jesus, the wisdom of various prophets and disciples, the legacy of people learning what it means to live life in relationship with the living Spirit of the Holy.

If Lent is about death, guilt, rejecting one’s own worth and embracing only God’s worth, then I don’t think I it is my path. But if it is about spiritual housekeeping and renewal, deepening one’s relationship to the Holy, embracing each moment as a revelation of the Sacred, opening one’s heart in compassion for all living beings, letting go of ways of living that keep us stuck and which blot out light and life, then I can get with that program. That, after all, is what I am now dedicating myself to each day.

When I think of the ancient concept of Ash Wednesday as a day to meet with one’s spiritual counselor, have a heart-to-heart conversation, and commit to doing a thorough inventory of oneself in the weeks to come, I’m all for that. The intent isn’t to identify “wrong” or sin or flaws. The point is to open to the Sacred, and, if necessary, to remove obstacles to that opening.

Byron Katie defines God or the Sacred as Reality or “What Is.” She teaches us how to live in Reality. Eckhart Tolle talks about the difference between living life attached to the “pain Body” versus living life from one’s inner or eternal self or body. He teaches about the transformative quality of living in the Now. Pema Chodron, Lama Surya Das, Thich Nat Hanh and others (like the Dalai Lama!) teach about awareness, awakening – seeing our egoic mind and lower self along with our higher self, our Buddha nature. They teach ways of awakening the Buddha nature within each one of us.

Christians who are truly centered in Jesus’ teachings do much the same thing using different words and practices. They open their eyes and awaken to the “Kingdom” or Realm of God which is present for us in each moment, in every location – and become aware of the image of God, the image of Christ revealed in each person we meet.

So today, I will play in the dirt a little bit, transplanting some potted plants. As I play, I’ll reflect on the concept of “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” and think about the transient quality of my current reality and the eternal nature of my deepest self and its unity with the same nature in all living beings. I will light candles and blow them out.

I hope to open to joy, to the eternal, in as many moments as possible. And breathe in that life-giving breath – stretch my body, bend and release tension and fear – so that I may approach each person and creature I meet with love.

Namaste.  Peace.