Thursday, October 31, 2013

Remembering All The Saints

All Saint's Day is the church's Memorial Day, a day to remember all those who have died in the faith of Christ, as one of my favorite hymns says,
             For all the saints who from their labors rest,
             All who by faith before the world confessed,
             Your name, O Jesus, be forever blest.
             Alleluia! Alleluia! 

Regardless of your faith tradition, however, this is a good day to honor the faithfulness of the saints, all those who have been transformed through death into new life. And to give thanks for God's faithfulness to the saints; God's love, mercy, forgiveness. 

My Understanding of Sainthood
I must admit I have always held in some disdain how a deceased parent or spouse becomes a saint in the eyes of loved ones. All faults and foibles are conveniently forgotten. Well, after my mother died, I finally understood. We don't make them into saints. We don't need to reframe how they behaved, what they did while alive, in order to induct them into sainthood. We don't need to enlist them in the process of canonization, proving the miracles they did on earth. We have nothing to do with it, for they have attained sainthood through death, in death. Mom is now a saint. I feel such joy in that awareness. Not only are you now perfect, Mom, but I, too, will be perfect some day. I, too, will be a saint. We will be saints together. We will know each other in our perfection. 

For the time being, however, I am here and quite alive. All Saints Eve and All Saints Day give me the opportunity to connect to that which is larger than myself, bigger than the death of my beloved mother and others whom I have loved and now miss. In a way, All Saints Day prepares me for my own death.

The Purpose of Ritual
This calls for a ritual, however simple it may be. Barbara Bizou quotes Angeles Arrien in her book The Joy of Ritual, Spiritual Rituals to Celebrate Milestones, Ease Transitions, and Make Every Day Sacred, "Ritual is recognizing a life change and doing something to honor and support the change." p. 10. 

"Rituals keep us centered in the present, and at the same time allow us to deal with the past and envision our futures in a very healthy, directed way." (Bizou, p. 17)

My Ritual for My Mother
Therefore on the first All Saints Day following my mother's death, I placed the candle hospice had given us on my altar space in my office, along with pictures of Mom representing various times of her life.  Mom as a little girl, a toddler, with her grandmother. Mom in her 20's, in her beauty, sitting on a porch stoop; legs primly crossed at her ankles, hands folded in her lap. A formal portrait of me, about a year old, with her. I look adoringly at her. Mom and my grandma and me on a summer day on the farm. Mom is about 31. Mom and I on my daughter Kate's wedding day. She wears floral silk and her hair is perfectly coifed as always. Mom and Dad standing on the porch at Sweetwater Farm, our Ohio home, on a crisp, smell the apples, fall day. Two Christmas pictures: one of the three of us siblings with Mom and Dad. Dad is holding her hand. One of Kate and I with her, and she is holding her first great grandchild, Maren, only weeks old. We knew that would be Mom's last Christmas, but she radiated holiday joy, wearing red blazer and holly decorated Christmas shoes. Oh how she loved shoes. 

Rituals take place outside ordinary life and within sacred space, which I created by gathering those beloved pictures and by sitting in silence, remembering our connection and cherishing my union with her.  I created an intentional time to honor not only my mother, but my own feelings as well. And to move ahead in my own life. I offered these words:
            I bless you. I release you. I carry you always 
            and forever in all that is dearest to me. Amen."
                       Meditations for the Passages and 
                       Celebrations of Life, A Book of Vigils
                       Noela N. Evans, p. 17.

Your Chance to Create Ritual
What about you? Who are the Saints you need to remember? Who are the Saints you carry with you? How can you honor them and honor your connection to them? 
Here are some simple ways to consider:
Light a candle and sit in silence as if your Saint was with you.
Ring a bell and say your Saint's name out loud three times. Close by ringing the bell again.
Recall a special memory and share that with someone who misses that Saint as well. 
Give a gift to a charity that meant something special to your Saint.
Plant a tree. 
Spend time in walking meditation or walk a labyrinth.

In some way mark this time. Know that your Saint will be with you as do this. 

An Invitation
I invite you to share your experience of All Saints Day. What is your experience of ritual on this day or any day?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Tuesday's Reflection: Little Smiles, Big Smiles

What has made you smile today? 

If you've walked by our house recently, perhaps the sight of a rubber ducky in the birdbath made you smile. I hope so. My husband got the idea to add this little piece of amusement to the front garden, and it does make me smile every time I go in or out the front door. It reminds me to smile and also to be open to smile-producing possibilities around me. 

What's There to Smile About?
Having a house on the market is serious business, and nothing about it makes me smile. Our home has been reduced to more of a product than our shelter and source of contentment, creativity, and connection. The goal has been to reduce our own identity in the house and return it to a more neutral state in hopes that potential buyers can imagine themselves in the house. I get it and have done what needs to be done, but smiling about it seems too much to ask. 

The rubber ducky in the birdbath, therefore, is even more of a treat. 

 My Smiling Experiment
On a recent Target run, I decided, as I walked through the door, I was not only going to smile my way through the aisles, but I was going to find one thing to smile about for every item on my list. Here's my list and what produced smiles.
Toilet paper. A baby about 8 months old wearing the most colorful combination of dots and stripes. I smiled at her. She smiled at me.
Kleenex. An older couple, each with a cane, in a minor skirmish about which paper towels to buy. I smiled at them. They smiled at me. 
Laundry detergent and dishwasher detergent. No one in these aisles, so I smiled at myself. That works, too.
French vanilla lowfat yogurt.  A Target employee unpacking cartons of yogurt. I asked him what flavor of yogurt he likes best. "None of it," he said. "My mom made me eat it all the time when I was a kid and now I don't even like unpacking it!" I smiled at him, and he smiled at me. 
Eggs. Eggs just by themselves should make anyone smile. Think about it--the whites, the yolk, inside a hard, yet fragile container. Weird. Why not smile just because?

At the check-out line I smiled at the college-aged girl in front of me. She didn't return my smile. I smiled at the clerk and asked her how her day was going so far. "Fine," she said and sort of smiled. At least I am going to interpret it as a smile. 

Smiling Words
Caren Goldman in her book Healing Words for the Body, Mind, and Spirit, 101 Words to Inspire and Affirm explores what Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh has to say about smiling.

       Our smiles affirm our awareness and determination
       to live lives filled with peace and joy. Moreover, when
       we remember to smile when awakening--even if it takes
       hanging a reminder such as a branch, a leaf, a painting,
       or some inspiring words close by--it helps us approach
       the day with gentleness and understanding. Even the tiniest
       bud of a smile on our lips has the healing power to
       relax all the muscles in our face, banish worries and 
       fatigue, nourish awareness, calm us, and return us to
       the peace we thought we had lost.

I returned home to the rubber ducky in the bird bath, and we exchanged smiles. 

An Invitation
I invite you to do your own smiling experiment. What happens when you smile? What makes you smile? What difference, if any, does it make when you smile? I await your comments. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

October's Interview: Cindy Garis and Exploring Variety in Spiritual Practice

On the fourth Thursday of each month I will introduce you to someone whom I look up to as a spiritual friend and teacher. The focus of my questions is on their spiritual practices and what nurtures their deepening spirituality.

This month meet Cindy Garis whom I met when we were beginning our training as spiritual directors through Oasis Ministries for Spiritual Development. Cindy, who is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, has been the executive director of Oasis since 2004. She received her M.Div from Lancaster Theological Seminary (Lancaster, PA) and served six years as co-pastor for a congregation in Lebanon, PA, before beginning her ministry with Oasis. Cindy leads prayer retreats for congregations and small groups, including a favorite one with the theme of Wizard of Oz. 

Please describe your spiritual practice? What do you identify as your main spiritual practice?

My main spiritual practice right now is mindfulness, but walking, forgiveness, and playing with the dog are part of my spiritual practice as well. 

Every morning and evening I practice the basic mindfulness breath meditation for at least five minutes, but perhaps up to 30 minutes. What that means is that I focus on my breath. I don't breathe differently, but am aware of my breath as it flows in and out and through my body.

How did that become your main practice?

It actually became my primary practice after I was invited to lead a workshop entitled "A Mindful Approach to Stress Reduction." I found it to be so helpful in the way it moved me to be present to what is, right now, not in the future or the past. 

I had a similar experience with meditation when I was asked to substitute for someone who was supposed to teach a class on meditation techniques. By preparing for the class, I converted myself to a practice of meditation. 

When I asked about your main spiritual practice you said mindfulness is the key one "right now." What other spiritual practices have been or are important to you?

Honestly, I find that I need variety in my life, and my spiritual practice is no different. So while mindfulness has become very important in order to keep my life grounded, I would say that many other practices have held the primary role at one time or another.

For example?

I find that walking in nature is very sacred to me. Hiking, walking a labyrinth, even walking the dog is holy time. It often clears my head and becomes prayerful activity...a chance to be reminded of God's creative presence on a grand and large scale, but also on a small scale. 

When I have led retreats, I have invited participants to make a hole on an index card with a paper hole punch and then take that index card outside and look through the hole with an "attentive gaze," focusing on something specific. What happens in that exercise is that we notice the Cosmic Creator in the very small. Perhaps it is a bug or a leaf or bark on a tree. The hole in the card helps us focus our attention. 

Similar attentiveness can be aided by using a flashlight at night to help you focus your gaze. Or if you are walking a labyrinth, wear a veil or head covering, so that all you are able to see is the next step.

I love this idea and can't wait to try it myself. Any other practices you care to mention?

Group spiritual direction or group contemplation. I am amazed at how much I enjoy sitting in silence WITH others. Again, it helps me remain focused and more centered. It also reminds me that being a contemplative in this world might make you a bit counter-cultural, but you do have company.

I remember when I was attending the Spiritual Direction for Spiritual Guides two-year program at Oasis, I could hardly wait for the morning circle time when we would all gather in silence. It was so powerful to sit in silence with others. You mentioned the practice of forgiveness. Say more, please.

Both the practice of forgiveness and the practice of play are important to me on my spiritual journey because they help me not take myself too seriously. They remind me I am not the center of the universe. Love is. They help me celebrate imperfection and connect with all of humanity.

What hints or advice do you have for someone developing a spiritual practice?

Don't give up! Spiritual practice is about "practicing," not "mastering." That's why I like the term "spiritual practice" a bit more than "spiritual discipline." I am not a very disciplined person, but I can practice again and again and again. 

Spiritual practices are about noticing...noticing the sacred in the ordinary. For me, it is recognizing how I notice God or the sacred in the everyday of life. 

 Noticing how we notice. Can you give an example? 

Well, I,  at times play Candy Crush Saga. Yep, an addicting matching game app. Recently, I found myself asking, "Now what does Candy Crush have to teach me about the contemplative life?" What I discovered is that it reminded me to be focused on the invitation, not on the distraction. In Candy Crush, if it asks you to "clear all the jellies," do not get distracted by the blinking candy pieces. In my every day life, I am reminded to focus on what God's 
invitation is, instead of focusing on other stressors or distractions. 

Any book titles or other resources you care to recommend that would support my readers on their journey?

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown

Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn
Also, visit Ronald Siegel's The Mindfulness Solution website for more information and to listen to various mindful meditations.

Thank you Cindy for sharing insights into your spiritual practices and extending the invitation to notice what and how we are noticing. Not only are you are a blessing in my life, but so is Oasis Ministries for Spiritual Development. 

Oasis Ministries located in Camp Hill, Pa is an ecumenical Christian ministry that brings together people who long to listen for and encounter the Holy Spirit and invites them to center their everyday lives deep in God. Single-day gatherings, retreats, pilgrimages, short-term and long-term courses form individuals into communities that nurture quiet prayer and open up souls to discover and practice God's presence. Since 1988, they have been teaching people how to companion others on their spiritual journey, listening to people's longing for Divine Love.

An Invitation

What questions do you have for Cindy? What are you noticing as you are noticing your encounters with the Holy in your everyday life? Post your comments and questions. 


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Tuesday's Reflection: Discovering Your Own Magic

When I forwarded the picture of our grandson on his first day of school to a friend, she responded, "How did this happen?" I thought to myself, "It's magic." Well, of course, it isn't. He is growing day by day, and the years pass, and he is five years old, going on six, and he is ready for school. The way of the world.

But I like thinking of the magic involved in his transformation from his glorious entry into the world to confidently walking up the steps and through the doors to his kindergarten classroom. 

Magic and Transformation
Magic, after all,  involves transformation from one thing to another. 

Remember the fairy tales. Straw into gold. Magic beans overnight becoming a beanstalk reaching far into the sky. The wave of a magic wand creating something that wasn't there only a moment ago. Pumpkins into coaches and white mice into horses to take Cinderella to the ball. Hocus pocus and Bippity-boppity boo! 

We are all magic-makers. 

When did you help turn someone's tears into laughter or cans of ingredients into a healthy, warming soup or when did you realize an acquaintance was becoming a friend? When did you find the missing keys or coast into the gas station on empty? When did you find just the right words to soothe someone's aching heart and when did you wake up in the morning with a clear answer to a troubling quandary?  

October as a Time of Magic
October is a wonderful time to think about the presence of magic
in your life. Yes, I know it is a natural cycle for the leaves to change colors and drop off the trees and for birds to begin their migration south and for squirrels to begin hoarding nuts for winter, but it all seems like magic to me. And is there anything more magical than pumpkins becoming Jack O'Lanterns and being lit up on front porches everywhere? How much more magical could it be than to put on a costume or a mask or a witch's hat and for a few short hours be someone else? Someone with magic powers. 

Discover Your Own Magic
Sarah Ban Breathnach in her bestseller of many years ago, Simple Abundance, A Daybook of Comfort and Joy says, "Isn't it magic what you're performing when you create an authentic lifestyle for yourself and for those you love? Aren't you shaping unseen forces with your creativity and soul crafts, bringing into the physical world through passion what has only existed in the spiritual realm? If you can do this unconsciously, how much more could you accomplish if you were fully aware of your powers?"

We deserve to re-discover the magic within ourselves. The magic that lives inside of us is the ability and desire to bring our sacred essence into its fullest expression--to be all we were created to be. 

We become aware of our powers by attending to spiritual practices that help us open our hearts. When we sit in the quiet of sacred space and ask the Divine to whisper reminders of the magic that is possible in our lives and when we open our eyes to the magic all around us, and when we are grateful for the magic of being alive, we embody magic ourselves. 

"Magic is what happens when you have encountered the Divine. It is the life-altering experience of connecting to the divinity that dwells within yourself and in the world." Phyllis Curott 

Your life is your magic. 

An Invitation
When and where have you experienced magic in your life? What spiritual practices enhance your awareness of magic in your life?  How has "magic" helped you connect to the Divine? I love the magic of a conversation and hope you will choose to comment on this post. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

October's Book: The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit

Delicious!  A new book by Rebecca Solnit. I loved two previous books by her, A Field Guide to Getting Lost and Wanderlust, A History of Walking. Both titles intrigued me before I knew anything about the contents, and the same was true for this new  book, The Faraway Nearby. 

The title comes from the way Georgia O'Keefe signed her letters to loved ones after she moved from New York City to New Mexico.  "It was a way to measure physical and psychic geography together. Emotion has its geography, affection is what is nearby, within the boundaries of the self." (p. 108)

Solnit investigates those boundaries of the self. 
        The self is also a creation, the principal work of 
        your life, the crafting of which makes everyone an
        artist. This unfinished work of becoming ends only 
        when you do, if then, and the consequences live on. 
        We make ourselves and in so doing are the gods of 
        the small universe of self and the large world of
        repercussions.  p. 53  

I can't really tell you what this book is about, for there are stories within stories and sometimes connections are made, but then sometimes not. One thread is her mother and the Alzheimer's that is enveloping her. But then there are the stories of Frankenstein and of Che Guevara and of an interlude in Iceland and many others. I like books that take me for a labyrinthine journey, and this book does that for sure. 

        You can speak as though your life is a thread, a 
        narrative unspooling in time, and a story is a thread, 
        but each of us is an island from which countless threads
        extend out into the world. p. 144

The Art of Preservation
The entrance to the labyrinth is apricots from her mother's tree; apricots that needed attention before they decayed, before they were rotten, and at the same time her mother was disintegrating.
One strand in that thread of the story is the act of preserving something. 
        I wish I could put up yesterday's evening sky for all 
        posterity, could preserve a night of love, the sound 
        of a mountain stream, a realization as it sets my mind 
        afire, a dance, a day of harmony, ten thousand glorious 
        days of clouds that will instead vanish and never be seen
        again, line them up in jars where they might be admired 
        in the interim and tasted again as needed. pp. 83-84 

What would you preserve if you could?

I would preserve the first glimpse of each child, each grandchild. And so many other firsts--the first taste of chocolate, the first shared secret with a friend, and the first sight of Paris. I would  preserve my mother's next to last breath and a collection of  "I love yous" -- how pretty they would be displayed in a glass bowl, sparkling in candlelight. How could I not preserve women gathered on the beach doing T'ai Chi together, absorbing the energy of the waves and the warmth of the sun and sand? And the feeling of being home when I walked in the back door of our once upon a time home, Sweetwater Farm? 

What I would preserve are blessings gathered through a lifetime.

The Take Away
With a book like this it is not always easy to pinpoint its fruits. 

What do I take away from this book? 

I think I take away the reminder that each of us has more than one story going on in our lives at the same time, and some of those stories twist and wind around each other and can't be separated in order to find the beginning and the end. Some of those stories are  influenced mightily by others' stories and not necessarily others' whom you can easily identify. Not always someone in your family tree. 

Some are stories we tell ourselves, and some are ones we have been told and adopt for ourselves, but ultimately we need to choose which ones to preserve and what they are going to look like and sound like. 
         The present rearranges the past. We never tell the story 
      whole because a life isn't a story; it's a whole Milky Way 
      of events and we are forever picking out constellations 
      from it to fit who and where we are. p. 246. 

 Mary Hayes Grieco in a book I was reading at the same time, The New Kitchen Mystic, refers to the "front and the back" of our stories. I often refer, instead, to shadow and light, but Solnit sees story as "the point of entry to larger territories," (p. 194)

      Listen: you are not yourself, you are crowds of others,
      you are as leaky a vessel as was ever made, you have
      spent vast amounts of your life as someone else, as
      people who died long ago, as people who never lived,
      as people you never met....There are other ways of 
      telling.  p. 248.

The Call
Do you see why I can't tell you what this book is about and why I can't state in one sentence what the take away from this book is for me? 

Still, however, I know it is a call similar to what the call of this stage of life is--to examine my story, to identify the threads, and to do the best I can to let go of what no longer serves the larger constellation.  
      The two jars before me are like stories written down;
       they preserve something that might otherwise vanish. 
       Some stories are best let go, but the process of writing 
       down and giving stories away fixes a story in its 
       particulars, like the apricots fixed in their sweet syrup, 
       and the tale no longer belongs to the writer but to the 
       readers. And what is left out is left out forever. p. 239.

Through my spiritual practices I fill the jars and preserve the fruit and offer it to others, both in hopes that I will know my own essence, but also that others will be nourished. 

Favorite Lines
Yes, there is the big story of the book, but then there are the lines that resonate all on their own. Here are a few:

"Never turn down an adventure without a really good reason." pp. 35, 74, and 250. 

"Books are solitudes in which we meet." p. 54

"Your door is my wall; your wall is my door." 58

About Buddhist monks: "They lived in the trust that the bowls would be filled." p. 146

"Creation is always in the dark because you can only do the work of making by not quite knowing what you're doing, by walking into darkness, not staying in the light. Ideas emerge from edges and shadows to arrive in the light..." p. 185

An Invitation
Of course, I invite you to read this book or any of Solnit's other books, but I am also interested to know your ideas about story. And how about sending me a list of what you want to preserve? 


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Bonus: Fall Pictures and Poetry from Readers

Don't these pictures just make you smile? My sister-in-law, Sue Kelly, is becoming quite the nature photographer and she especially enjoys watching the squirrels at her house. 
Thanks for sharing these, Sue. 

Another reader, Charlene Nevans shared this wonderful prayer by Edward Hays from Earth Prayers. She used it recently at the beginning of a T'ai Chi class she teaches. Thank you, Charlene. 

O sacred season of Autumn, be my teacher,
for I wish to learn the virtue of contentment.
As I gaze upon your full-colored beauty,
I sense all about you
an at-homeness with your amber riches.

You are the season of retirement,
of full barns and harvested fields.
The cycle of growth has ceased,
and the busy work of giving life
is now completed.
I sense in you no regrets:
you’ve lived a full life.

May I know the contentment
that allows the totality of my energies
to come to full flower.
May I know that like you I am rich beyond measure.

As you, O Autumn, take pleasure in your great bounty,
let me also take delight
in the abundance of the simple things in life
which are the true source of joy.
With the golden glow of peaceful contentment
may I truly appreciate this autumn day.

by Edward Hays in Earth Prayers

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Tuesday's Reflection: What are you going to be for Halloween?

Remember when deciding what you were going to be for Halloween was the most important decision in your life? Were you going to be a superhero or something more traditional, like a witch or princess or ghost? Did you have one of those creative Moms who could turn you into Peter Pan or a fire hydrant with a whirl of her sewing machine? My children were at a clear disadvantage in that department, having me for a Mom. I remember one year Kate was a mouse. We used sheets that I somehow stitched together and filled with wads of paper for fullness, and another year Geof was Goldy Gopher, the University of Minnesota mascot. I think I made the tail to go along with U of M sweatshirt and pants and a mask or maybe my talented sister made it for him. 

Halloween was a challenge for me, but that's not to say I haven't worn many masks, many costumes in my lifetime. How about you? 

The Costumes and Masks of Life
 I have worn costumes called student, mother, wife and daughter and friend, business owner, spiritual director, teacher, and writer. For the most part I have loved those roles, and they have represented true aspects of myself and the life I have been privileged to live. However, there have also been moments when I have questioned my own authenticity.

Sue Monk Kidd in When the Heart Waits, Spiritual Direction for Life's Sacred Questions says, "We become adept at playing games, wearing masks as if life were a masquerade party." p. 47.  She wonders, "Had my masks gotten stuck to my face?" p. 53. 

Emotional Masks
I have worn the mask of confidence when feeling little or no confidence in myself. I have worn the mask of contentment and ease when my heart was breaking inside. I have worn the hostess mask when I would have preferred to be completely alone. I have worn a mask of courage, when I have been scared, and the mask of adulthood when I have felt like a child. I have worn the mask of seeker when I have instead been lazy. I have worn the mask of anger when what I really felt was fear.  I have worn the mask of belief when I felt on shaky ground. 

To quote Carl Jung, "We meet ourselves time and again in a thousand disguises on the path of life." 

Beyond Costumes and Masks
Occasionally over the years we bumped into an identity crisis. Perhaps when our youngest child went off to kindergarten or when we faced an empty-nest or when we lost a job unexpectedly or a long-term relationship ended. Those raw times became doorways of discovery leading to our True Selves, or as Meister Eckhart identifies, "There is something in the soul which is only God." 

What in you is only God? 

How does our True Self radiate over and around the margins of the mask?

Who are you beyond masks, roles, work, skills, history, experiences and associations? 

If all my identifications -- "Bruce's wife, Kate and Geof's mother and Maren and Peter's GrandNan, Betty and Dick's daughter, a spiritual director, a teacher, a writer, a friend --were suddenly stripped away, and some day they will be, who would I be? Who am I?

This is the work of these years. The work for today. 

Today's Challenge and Opportunity
Many of our roles have already disappeared or at least are worn less frequently. Fewer costumes in the closet may make it easier to "embrace our new wisdom face as it emerges," says Angeles Arrien in The Second Half of Life, Opening the Eight Gates of Wisdom. p. 45 or we may continue to mourn their loss, refusing to see they are two sizes too small or frayed around the collar. Send them to the resale shop. It's someone else's turn to use them wisely.    

 "Embracing our wisdom face, we can meet the challenge with which the eighth-century Buddhist Sage Hui-Neng is reputed to have confronted his disciples: 'Show me the face you had before even your parents were born.'" (Arrien, p. 51)

So how do we do this? This is the time to fully engage your spiritual practices. This is the time to know the part of you that is "only God." This is the time to get a bit uncomfortable and ask yourself what roles, masks and costumes you are having a hard time releasing. This is a time to "stop performing, pretending, and hiding to sustain our false identities and cultivated masks," (Arrien, p.48) and instead, "to be someone who is fully alive, a courageous explorer and adventurer who is willing to discover the true face that lies beneath family conditioning and cultural imprinting." (Arrien, p. 47). 

Open yourself to a time of moving beyond what you have always done and whom you've always been. 

This is a time of deepening. 

An Invitation
Share the masks and costumes you are leaving behind and what you are discovering about your true essence. Angeles Arrien suggests stretching yourself in order to learn something new about yourself everyday. I would love to know about those discoveries and adventures. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

October Reflection: I Never Met a Pumpkin I Didn't Like!

Delicious autumn!
My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird
I would fly about the earth seeking successive autumns.
                        George Elliot

My sentiments exactly. Or almost exactly, for Elliot forgot to mention that the bird would be looking for pumpkin patches!

I love every aspect of fall, but perhaps my favorite part of fall is the pumpkins. 

Pumpkin Diversity
How ironic in the season that we focus on words like "dying" and
"surrender" and "letting go" and "moving into darkness," there are pumpkins. What could be sillier than something big, round and orange? And what about all the varieties of pumpkins: Cinderella, Aladdin, Baby Boo, Jack Be Little, Lumina and Red Warty Thing. And what about the one that looks like peanut shells have been attached with a glue gun? 

Furthermore, pumpkins just aren't orange any more. They are pale green, almost grey, and darker green and peach, and white, and yellow and red. I love them all. 

Light on the Meaning. 
For once I am not going to do a deep reflection here.  I won't meditate on the meaning of my love of pumpkins.  They make me smile. They bring me pleasure, and I like to think that people walking by our home experience a touch of pleasure when they see my collection of pumpkins as well. 

Pumpkins are playful. Yes, I could turn them all into pies or soups and stews. Recipes abound, and maybe I will do one or two, but I am content with the way they seem to smile back at anyone who notices them. "Yup, I know I look kind of silly, but that's my job."

Pumpkin Memories
Of course, as with anything now that I am in my mid 60's, there are memories attached, even to pumpkins. Perhaps my favorite is remembering our son and daughter-in-love's October wedding. The rehearsal dinner was outside under a tent at our farm, and your eye could not rest without seeing a pumpkin --in
the gardens, on the tables, stacked outside the garage and at the entrance to the tent. I loved roaming the countryside, scouting out every Amish farmstand and loading the back of my Jeep with pumpkins. Maybe just one more. And then as if that weren't enough, a friend of the bride's painted a tiny pumpkin for every guest as their place card and favor at the wedding reception! Loved it. 

I also recall that it was my mother who enlightened me about white pumpkins. many years ago.  I didn't know there was such a thing--had never seen one. When Mom and Dad came to visit us in Ohio one fall, we headed into the countryside on a mission to find white pumpkins. Now they are everywhere, but at that time, we were trendsetters! 

I Lied! 
Of course, I can't close without at least a little reflection. Pumpkins remind me to see the beauty, to allow surprise to enter my life, to play, even for a few minutes. 

Pumpkins offer me an opportunity to consider what I have been gathering in these last months and to ask myself what I will make of what I have gathered within. 

Pumpkins, in their bounty and their individuality, remind me to give of myself. Generously. To reveal my own inner riches. 

Invite a pumpkin to come home with you and let it entertain you. 

An Invitation
Many people love fall, but dread winter. What is it about fall you love? Do you have pumpkin stories to share? Or pictures? 
What does fall mean to you emotionally? Spiritually?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Tuesday's Reflection: The Lure of the Lamp

I love coming downstairs on these dark mornings and turning on the kitchen desk lamp. For just an instant I stand in the glow of a little circle of light. It is still dark outside and in the rest of the house, but right there in that sheltered space, there is light. 

Just enough light to remind me of the light to come.

"Holy Dark"
Joyce Rupp O.S.M in her book Little Pieces of Light, Darkness and Personal Growth calls the kind of darkness that is essential for our growth "holy dark." That's how the early morning dark into light feels to me. 

That one light is a reminder to me to get quiet, listen to the inner promptings. It is in the little circle of light that I meditate and pray. I write. I read. I sit in silence. It is in the little circle of light where there is shelter for deep conversations and connection. The lit lamp reminds me of the inner light that never goes out, even when I may feel overwhelmed by darkness. Light follows the dark. 

And it always does. 

Rituals of Light and Dark
I recall my mother's habit of turning a light on in the bedroom she shared with my father in the early evening or late afternoon during the dark months, and when I was still living at home or in later years if I was visiting, she turned on a lamp in my bedroom as well. When I finally ascended the stairs to my room, the light would be waiting for me, welcoming me and protecting me as I moved into the darkness. That lamp on my dresser symbolized her love for me. I felt loved. 

Now if I stay with my father, I try to remember to turn on a light in his room before he goes to bed. And at home, even though I know it isn't energy efficient, I always leave a lamp on in our bedroom, so whenever my husband or I enter that room, a sign of protection and welcome and love greets us. I think Mom would approve. 

Sometimes during the day the house flashes with light. When potential buyers come to view the house, the routine is to turn on every single light in the house, per realtor instructions.  No matter the time of day or if the sun is blazing. My husband resists this ritual and suggests the realtor can turn on the lights when she/he arrives, but I think the house with all its lights on welcomes its guests and says, "This is a safe place. This is a place where you can create your own light." At other times I imagine someone walking by our house at night and seeing light in the upstairs bedroom window or downstairs in the den or living room. How could anyone not think, "Cozy, peaceful, comfortable"?

Later as one of the last acts of the days I walk through the house turning off each of the lamps which have kept me in the light throughout the day. I put the house to bed before I put myself to bed, trusting that light will follow the darkness. 

And it always does. 

A Gift
                    Turning on the Light

          Without this darkness--no awareness of light.
          Without this light--no awareness of darkness.
           In the flickering of the flame,
           in the delicate filament of the bulb
           is the light that is also the dark,
           the dark that is also the light.

           I shall never understand this mystery.
           Light and dark are somehow the same.
           I want not to prefer one over the other
           but to appreciate their unique
           and simultaneous truth. 

           Now light. Now dark. The switch turns,
           the wick catches fire. In that split second
           dark and light are one
           as is everything in the universe.
                                  Gunilla Norris 
                                  Being Home, A Book of Meditations

An Invitation
How comfortable are you in the dark? How do you create light in the darkness? What are your rituals of light and dark? I look forward to your comments.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Your October Meditation: Halloween and Other Fears

The first Thursday of each month I will offer you a meditation to use during that month. Here is the meditation for October. 

If you are afraid of something, you give it power.
                                        Moroccan Proverb

October is the month of ghosts and goblins. This is the month in which being scared is supposed to be fun, and opportunities to scare someone else are expected.  

I remember my toddler daughter or son holding on to my pant leg when I answered the door on Halloween night. I would move forward with the big graniteware bowl overflowing with candy in my arms, and Kate perhaps in her Wonder Woman pajamas or Geof in his Superman ones would peek around the door. They wanted to see what or who was on the front porch, but did they really? They were fearful, but also, fascinated and attracted to the realm of the scary at the same time. I think they knew real people, perhaps even people they knew, were behind the vampire mask or underneath the flowing white sheet, but at the moment they wanted to experience it from a safe distance. 

The next year, however, they started talking about Halloween costumes in the summer and eventually, they were the ones ringing the doorbell and dashing off to the next house laughing and teasing each other about "being so scared!" 

What happened to their fear? When did the fear become something to conquer? How did they know that being scared need not prevent them from moving forward? 

Fear and You
What about you? When have you been afraid? What have you done to conquer that fear? And was it worth it? 

At some time or another we are all afraid. After all, the human condition is scary. The question is, however, what do we do with the fear we experience? Is it possible to replace fear with faith? What would that look like in your life? 

A Meditation on the Role of Fear In Your Life
I invite you to sit in a quiet place and close your eyes, lightly, not tightly. Take a couple deep cleansing breaths and allow your body to relax into slow, even breathing. 

In this quiet, sacred, and safe place you create for yourself, invite a memory of when you were afraid as a child to appear. That memory is in the distance, outside of your safe place. 

Note the feelings you experienced then without feeling them now. That was then, this is now. You are safe, and there is no need to relive any fear you experienced as a child. Instead, that long ago fear can be your teacher. 

If you feel your body tense, especially in your shoulders, hands, or belly, remember to breathe deeply and fully and remember you are in a sacred and safe place. Remember, too, that you can open your eyes whenever you choose. 

As you continue to breathe steadily and evenly, look at the fear. If that fear is no longer in your life, how did you conquer it? How did conquering that fear teach you to respond to other fears in your life?

As you continue to breathe steadily and evenly, ask your heart to open to the possibility of releasing any fear that has room in your life now. What would that feel like? Be with that awareness and the feelings that surround the desire to live life with less fear. 

What do you need to move beyond and through fear? Imagine yourself with the courage to unlearn fears and the ability to seek help.  Imagine trusting your own inner wisdom. Open to these possibilities. 

Once again, take a couple deep cleansing, breaths and open your eyes, feeling safe and free. 

Take a few minutes to note, perhaps in a journal or by whispering to yourself, what you felt or learned during this brief time of meditation. What will you now bring into your life? 

A Blessing
May you trust your inner courage and wisdom. 

May fears be your teacher and lead you to a life in which you achieve your highest vision of yourself. 

May you feel surrounded by a spirit of growth and mindfulness, recognizing fear as a basic human emotion, which can lead us to the miracle of faith and love. 

Resources For Further Exploration
1.      Radical Acceptance, Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha by Tara Brach, Ph.D, especially chapter seven, "Opening Our Heart in the Face of Fear." 

2.      The Right Questions, Ten Essential Questions to Guide You to an Extraordinary Life by Debbie Ford, especially chapter twelve, "Is This an Act of Faith or Is It an Act of Fear?"

3.      Healing Through the Dark Emotions, The Wisdom of Grief, Fear, and Despair by Miriam Greenspan, especially chapter seven "From Fear to Joy."

4.      Fear and Other Uninvited Guests, Tackling the Anxiety, Fear, and Shame That Keep us from Optimal Living and Loving by Harriet Lerner, Ph.D.  

An Invitation
I welcome your thoughts about the role of fears in your life and also your comments about the meditation.     

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Tuesday's Reflection: Where Would You Rather Be?

One day this summer, when I was feeling a bit blue, I made a list of where I would rather be at that moment. I listed places where I knew I would feel relaxed and content and where I would focus on more than just myself and whatever was bothering me. 

The first item on that list was Door County.

The "Thumb" of Wisconsin
For those of you who aren't familiar with Door County, it is the "thumb" of Wisconsin. Drive beyond Green Bay, home of the Packers and keep going north. The water known as Green Bay is on one side of the peninsula and Lake Michigan on the other side. Some people call it the "Cape Cod of the Midwest," and I understand the comparison, but it is its own unique setting --and is only a few hours away from our Madison home. 

I could do a whole travelogue about Door County--what to see and what to do--but none of that addresses why it is the first place I think of when I feel a need to be some place else. Yes, I know it can be crowded with visitors and you sometimes need to wait for over an hour at our favorite breakfast spot, The White Gull Inn, voted the "best place for breakfast in the United States" on the Today show, and it can be hard to get a last minute reservation for a place to stay, but here's the thing. My breath changes there. 

Recently, my husband and I spent a long weekend in Door County. Part of the reason was to mark Bruce's slight movement towards retirement. Now instead of working eight days a week, he works four. A very good thing. But another reason was to catch up on breathing. 

One shouldn't go too long without breathing. 

Breathing in Door County

The plan was simple: sit on the balcony of our modest hotel where we could see the water, read and nap; wander the back roads of the peninsula where there are few cars; return to favorite galleries, such as Morning Mist Studio, and enjoy leisurely meals. Sleep late. And breathe. 

We didn't just catch our breath, we followed our breath. We became our breath. We emptied and then filled with restorative breath. Before we realized it, we were no longer holding our breath, but we were using our breath to laugh, to share memories and to notice all the beauties around us. 

Sacred Places and Spiritual Practice

When I think of someplace I would rather be at this exact moment, it isn't so much about "escape," or that I yearn for another kind of life. Instead words like "sanctuary" and "sacred" and "spirit" come to mind. The places on my list are places where I feel more like myself, the me I was created to be. They are places where rest and renewal are possible, intentional, and where the inner being meets the vastness of the universe. Most often for me, that means being near water, but not always. Someplace I would rather be is as near now as my front porch, and the garden at our Ohio country home was one of those places for many years. 

I know what a privileged life I lead. I am able to periodically
physically go to one of the "places where I would rather be." Even so, that is not always practically possible, but that's what developing and attending to a spiritual practice is all about. 

Spiritual practices provide sacred space and create a sanctuary where your inner being aligns with the vastness of the universe. When, for example, I write in my journal, letting the pen empty my mind and my heart, I can discover the invitations of spirit. I slow down and breathe and it is on the breath that recognition of the sacred in my life lives. 

Places You Would Rather Be
How about you? Where are the places you would sometimes rather be? Right now, without thinking or setting limits make a list of any place you would rather be when life gets too complicated. 
As many places as you want. 
When you have made your list--and it is ok to add to this list any time you want, take a few minutes to notice what it is about these places that appeal to you. 

What are the feelings that arise simply by thinking about those places or naming them? Do these places have anything in common? How are they sacred for you?

Go beyond the memories or fantasies connected with them and allow the spirit of the place to address your own spirit and notice that conversation. Breathe into what message there may be for you.

Explore these places and their messages for you. 

An Invitation
I would love to know about the places on your list and what they offer and teach you and how they restore you? I invite your comments.