Thursday, January 29, 2015

Thursday's Reflection: The Endless Practice by Mark Nepo

An ongoing theme for me in my writing and in the rest of my living is to become the person I was created to be, to let my essential being thrive and grow. Imagine my delight, therefore,  when I discovered Mark Nepo's most recent book The Endless Practice, Becoming Who You Were Born to Be. Nepo, who is a poet, philosopher, cancer survivor and author of fifteen books, is one of my sacred companions, even though I have never meant him, but his words have often offered me exactly the direction or insight I needed.

My gift to you today is a sampling of Mark Nepo's wisdom found in The Endless Practice. I invite you to read them carefully, perhaps even reading them out loud, and allow the teaching to enter your heart. What is the meaning for you? Is there a reason these words are offered to you right now? What is the invitation for you in these words?

Here we go. 

Life is now about uncovering the essence in each moment, each conversation, each experience, and less about building anything or journeying toward some imagined destination. At this stage of life, I'm being asked to exhaust the struggle and deepen my relationship to the mystery. p. 55

Often, in our drive to make sense of our experience, we go too far and assume our experience is the experience. In our want to find patterns, we often extrapolate what happens to us into a philosophy of life, which in time we think is the philosophy of life. We burn our hand on a stove or break our heart in love and then we're teaching others that fire and love are dangerous, not to be trusted. Soon, the only ideas that have value are those that confirm what happened to us. We certainly need to make meaning and form our own direct understanding of life, but only to offer that understanding, that philosophy, as one thread in the fabric of life. To understand the weave, we need to find other threads. pp.94-95.

Being human, there are always cloud like veils that drop between us and our direct living. Sometimes, we have to part the veil with the clarity of our mind. Sometimes, we have to let the rush of our heart billow the veil away. Sometimes, we need the love of others to pull the veil aside. Parting the veil is a working act of faith; an act of ultimate concerns; an act of bringing all of who we are to bear on opening ourselves up when we're shut down. For when we're shut down, we tend to sink. When we're open, we tend to meet that buoyancy and rise. p. 193

Little by little, it's the courage to assume our full stature one more time that enables us to do the heartwork that always makes us come alive. It's the turn from hiding to giving that releases Heaven on Earth. p. 232

Quick Hits

"daily taste of holiness"
"repotting ourselves"
"living a life of care"
"Lean into the tender place."
"Experience is the taste of God."
"We are here to love the light out of each other."
"What's in the way is the way."

More Nepo--My Favorites
* The Book of Awakening, Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have
* Facing the Lion, Being the Lion, Finding Inner Courage Where It Lives
* The Exquisite Risk, Daring to Live an Authentic Life
* Seven Thousand Ways to Listen, Staying Close to What is Sacred

Also, and

An Invitation
Do any of Nepo's words resonate with you? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Tuesday's Reflection: Compassion and Community

Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, St Paul, MN
I can't get him out of my mind.

            Last week my husband and I registered members of our congregation for their church directory photo sessions. When we were asked to do this, it was suggested, since we are new members, this would be a nice way to meet a few people, and it was.

            One interaction, however, was upsetting. 

            As I registered a couple, perhaps in their late 60's, I would guess, the man remarked about the "fact" that the Bible says women must subjugate themselves to man. "God says." At first I thought he was trying to be funny. I teased that he was "trouble--big trouble," and he seemed to like that and be encouraged by that, repeating, insisting, declaring the same words. I am not sure what he wanted from me, but I stiffened and wanted to rebuff and reprove, but I was certain I would not be successful.
          Other people arrived, and I redirected my attention, as did my husband. How grateful I was when the photographer arrived for their session. (I wonder how that went!) After the session he returned to the registration table, however, and leaned in towards me and said, "Your punishment is to be subjugated to your husband for the rest of your life."

          I told him that was enough and he should leave now. 

          Since then I have wondered what his story is and what life with him is like. How is it possible he reconciles his beliefs with the fact that one of our congregation's pastors is a woman, as is our intern, and the former senior pastor is a woman, and many women are in leadership roles. This is a congregation whose mission states,  "By God's grace we are called to be a caring, healing, and welcoming community who proclaim and celebrate the love of Jesus Christ, live as God's servants and seek justice for all people."  What does that means to him?

         If I felt abused, what does his partner feel? And I wondered what else I could have done, should have done. I may see him on Sunday mornings or at other church events. Do I greet him and move on? Do I attempt to get to know him? Do I engage him in a theological conversation? Do I tell him how offended I was? Do I ignore him?

         I have no idea, but I know my first task, which was not my first inclination, I must admit, is to hold him in the light, to send him lovingkindness. As I sit in morning meditation time, I ask that my heart open to him, not as a vehicle to convince him of the error in his beliefs and behavior, but as a way to extend peace, to help him soothe what seems to be his own troubled heart. 

         Can I do that? Not alone, for sure. I need all the help I can get to see others without judgment, to be a compassionate presence, even as I honor my own personhood. 

          Perhaps the following prayer is one you and I can pray together as we live and grow in community:

           All that we ought to have thought
                 and have not thought.
           All that we ought to have said,
                 and have not said.
           All that we ought to have done,
                 and have not done.
           All that we ought not to have thought,
                 and yet have thought.
           All that we ought not to have spoken,
                 and yet have spoken.
           All that we ought not to have done,
                 and yet have done.

                 For thoughts, words, and works,
                 pray we, O God, for forgiveness.
                                  --A Persian Prayer

An Invitation
      Who are the difficult people in your life or community who could use a boost of lovingkindness? What casual encounters have you had recently that have disturbed you either because of what was said or perhaps because of the way you responded or failed to respond? What are you willing to do to hold yourself and others in the light?  


Thursday, January 22, 2015

Thursday's Reflection: Being Mindful


Here's my gift for you today, as passed on to me by a good friend -a list to live by, a list to challenge and encourage you, as you deepen your awareness of who you were created to be.           



          Seven Things Mindful People Do Differently

1. Approach everyday things with curiosity --and savor them.

2.  Forgive their mistakes --big or small.

3.  Show gratitude for good moments --and grace for bad ones.

4.  Practice compassion and nurture connections.

5.  Make peace with imperfection --inside and out.

6.  Embrace vulnerability by trusting others --and themselves.

7.   Accept --and appreciate -- that things come and go. 



Now let's change the words just a bit, making them your own.


                   Seven Things I Do To Be Mindful

1.  I approach everyday things with curiosity --and savor them.

2.  I forgive myself for my own mistakes --big or small.

3.  I show gratitude for good moments --and grace for bad ones.

4.  I practice compassion and nurture connections.

5.  I make peace with my own imperfections --inside and out.

6.  I embrace vulnerability by trusting others --and myself.

7.   I accept --and appreciate -- that things come and go.

Read the list aloud and listen to yourself as you read them. How does the change from the third person to the first change the meaning of this list for you? Is there anything on the list that causes you to pause. "Whoops, I'm not so good at forgiving myself." Or perhaps, I judge first and often, instead of compassion being my default response. 

Think about yesterday and how mindful were you as you moved through the day. What did you savor and what did you take for granted? Where might there be room for some additional mindfulness in your life? 

Ok, one more change. Let's imagine someone is describing you and how mindful you are. 

                  Seven Things You Do To Be Mindful

1. You approach everyday things with curiosity --and savor them.

2. You forgive yourself for your mistakes --big or small.

3.  You show gratitude for good moments --and grace for bad ones.

4.  You practice compassion and nurture connections.

5.  You make peace with your imperfections --inside and out.

6.  You embrace vulnerability by trusting others --and yourself.

7.  You accept --and appreciate -- that things come and go.

Are you blushing with the recognition for a life lived mindfully or are you cringing inside, knowing you have a long way to go to be considered mindful? Which of these sentences feel true to you and which ones false?

Reread numbers 2 and 5. Forgive yourself and make peace with your imperfections. 

This list is not a test. Instead, this list is an open door to living more mindfully. We each have the opportunity each day to live with a wide heart; a heart that is so big there is no choice, but to be curious, forgiving, grateful, compassionate, peaceful, trusting, and accepting. Make the list your spiritual practice. 

An Invitation

Try using this list as your morning litany. Recite it out loud before you begin your day. Perhaps every day focus on one of the numbers --maybe the one that feels the hardest for you. What happens? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Tuesday's Reflection: Little By Little, Step By Step

I had one of those "I might as well give up" moments again the other day. This fall I took an excellent online writing class through The Loft Literary Center, ,"Your Book Starts Here" taught by Mary Carroll Moore. Doing the work for that class propelled me from envisioning and imagining the book that has been in my head for quite some time to the first stages of writing it. The class is over, Moore's weekly blog, however, helps keep me on track with its suggestions and exercises. Usually.

Last week's post cautioned before spending much time structuring a book, it is wise to have about 90,000 words of free writing or rough unrevised drafts. I thought I had about 60,000 words, but after checking my drafts I discovered I only have about 28,000. EEEK!

Immediately, I spiraled out of commitment into despair and discouragement, disillusionment. Lots of "dis" words.

I left my garret office wondering why I was wasting my time. After all, lots of people my age are more than content to move through their days without any big shining purpose to guide them, motivate and stimulate them. I could do that, too. Why am protecting my mornings for writing? Think of all the book shelves and drawers I could reclaim, if I donated my writing books some place and shredded my files. I'm in my mid-60's, and maybe I don't have the kind of energy or time left to accomplish what I have set before myself. 

Yes, I tend to get a bit dramatic. 

The next morning I went right back up the stairs to my garret and re-introduced my writing self to my disgruntled and despondent self. I remembered Anne Lamott's words about facing big projects, "Bird by bird. Just take it bird by bird." Bird by Bird, Some Instructions of Writing and Life, p. 19.

Yup, I needed to move forward word by word. Morning by morning. Day by day. Page by page. This was not the time to focus on all the words not yet written, but instead, the 28,000 I have written already, even though they await drastic revision. This was the time to focus on the current word, the one coming out of my fingertips in the present moment. 

And so I did. This past week I wrote almost 5,000 words--word by word--and, of course the more I wrote, the more I wanted to write and the more ideas I had, and the deeper commitment I felt, and the more possible this project seems. 

Over the weekend my husband and I went to see the movie Wild based on the book of the same name by Cheryl Strayed about walking the Pacific Coast Trail by herself. In many scenes Reese Witherspoon, who plays Strayed, stops to look at the trail stretched out in front of her, and you can see on her face the temptation to give up. Somehow, however, she takes the next step and the one after that and on and on until she makes it months later to her destination.  Step by step.

Obviously, I have not had my last experience of falling into the "dis" words nor was it the first. You might recall an earlier post in which I was tempted to disown myself as a writer. For now, however, I am on the path again, remembering that each step is preceded by a previous one, and each step adds on to the steps before and the steps to come. What is easier to recognize at this stage of my life is that my goal to write a book is not so much about accomplishing the goal as it is about writing the book, word by word, learning as I go, digging into clearer understanding of who I was created to be and forming a deeper relationship with Creator God.  

Mark Nepo says, "Little by little, the way the hundredth drop of water opens a seed…Everything on Earth moves by this inching between ease and pain. It's how we grow. And praising both, surrendering to both, accepting both is the work of love. The Endless Practice, p. 116.

Perhaps you have a "bird by bird" in your life, although it may be drawer by drawer or box by box as you attempt to organize and simplify your home. Or perhaps it is pound by pound or class by class. Or conversation by conversation as you attempt to forgive or seek forgiveness or restore or deepen a relationship that matters to you. Whatever is in front of you, calling you, can only be experienced step by step. 

An Invitation
What in your life needs to be divided into smaller increments? What are the bird by bird lessons waiting to be revealed and practiced in your life? I would love to know. 


Thursday, January 15, 2015

Thursday's Reflection: Living Mindfully

On my way up to the garret, I glanced out the window and what did I see? This agile and daring squirrel. He was willing to stretch and take a chance in hopes of getting the desired morsel of bird seed. I suspect he was successful. If he wasn't successful, chances are he will try again until he gets what he wants or until he decides the effort isn't worth it, and he spots another place with potential for an afternoon snack. 

This squirrel is always good for a laugh and a smile. And a pause in the day. 

I had been gone all morning, attending a workshop at church about health care directives. Although not the lightest of topics, the time was congenial with pleasant people and helpful information.  However, I was eager to return to my desk before it would be time to pick up our granddaughter from school. The time seemed to be oozing away from the day. More than pressured to accomplish some self-designated task, I was eager to return to the writing I had started earlier in the day. I didn't want to lose momentum or what seemed to me to be deep insights--so deep they may have disappeared. 

But then there was that squirrel, showing off, auditioning for Cirque du Soleil, and cheating the birds out of what should rightfully be theirs. I had no choice but to pause and watch and even now as I sit at my desk, I wonder what that squirrel is plotting next. 

Mark Nepo uses the phrase, "a daily dose of holiness," in his book The Endless Practice, p. 192. I'm not saying the squirrel is holy, but if you want to view him that way, that is fine with me, but the pause I gave myself to stand and watch him and delight in his antics, even though only moments earlier I had been pulled in my own direction was holy. The lure to pause was holy. 

How many opportunities are there in your day for a dose of holiness? The trick is to be aware of them, to allow them past your closed door, to soften and soak up the scene. What was the soft drink slogan? "The pause that refreshes."

In the unplanned moment, I was holy. 

By "holy," I don't mean wearing long robes and removing myself from the world, and I certainly don't mean being better than anyone else. Holiness is not about perfection or about being wrapped in some golden light, too pure to be touched by what is harmful or hurtful. Rather, holiness is being alive to the extraordinary in the ordinary, returning to our center, even though the feeling may last no longer than one cycle of inhale and exhale. 

We each have the potential to bring holiness into our day to day experiences and realities. We each have the promise of noticing the holy and therefore, bringing holiness into our being. 

Perhaps the following prayer will encourage your own practice of holiness.

Surprising One, coming in ways I least expect, open me to your dynamic presence.
          Awaken me, Surprising One!
Perceptive Guide, always available o direct my ways, advise me in self-discipline and decision-making.
           Awaken me, Perceptive Guide!
Freedom Bringer, asking for my willingness to surrender, help me to let go, to let in, to let be.
            Awaken me, Freedom Bringer!
Source of Power, providing stamina and strength for my soul, support me when I am weak and vulnerable.
             Awaken me, Source of Power!
Arousing One, stirring up why is dead or stale, urge my stagnant, sleeping gifts into life.
              Awaken me, Arousing One!
Divine Transformer, encouraging continued growth, grant me both patient and acceptance.
               Awaken me, Divine Transformer!
Peacemaker, offering forgiveness and understanding, encourage me to communicate love.
                Awaken me, Peacemaker! 
Bearer of Love, never-ending font of charity and compassion, may I share my goodness generously.
                Awaken me, Bearer of Love!
                                                adapted from Out of the Ordinary Prayers, Poems, Reflections for Every Season, Joyce Rupp

An Invitation
I invite you to see the holy and be the holy. What happens as you invite the holy into your life and as you offer your own holiness into the life around you? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Tuesday's Reflection: Choosing the Next Book to Read

Sunday morning before getting up and ready for the day I finished reading our current book club selection, Only the Dead by Norwegian author Vidar Sundstol. I has happy to finish the book, for it had not been particularly satisfying, especially since it is the second part of a trilogy, and there are many questions yet to be answered. We will discuss this book and the first in the series, The Land of Dreams, at our next gathering. As always, I look forward to being with our book group because I know I will understand and probably appreciate more about the books than I currently do. Those lively discussions broaden my perspective and encourage me to read more carefully and critically, and that increases my reading pleasure. 

As I finished the last page of the book that morning, I realized I didn't know what I was going to read next. That is not normal for me and was a bit unsettling. True, I am in the midst of reading other books, but they fulfill other functions. I am reading a couple books as part of my meditation time and a book while I am on the exercycle and a book about writing as part of my writing routine, and I am reading Azar Nafisi's The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Books on a here and there basis, but what novel will I pick up next? What book will I read when I put my feet up on the ottoman in the room we call the snuggery and what book will I carry with me to bed to read before lights out? What book will I eagerly turn to when I need a break from the day's list? 

I recently read two engrossing books, The Paying Guests by Sarah Walters and Florence Gordon by Brian Morton, and sometimes after such absorption, it is hard to make a transition into the next book. Of course, it is not as if I didn't have choices in front of me. I have piles of books waiting to be read and a long list of books on my iPhone I want to read. Just the other day I requested a few titles from the library, but there are other people ahead of me in the queue for each title. I didn't have them in my hands. 

What to do? First, I gathered a stack of possible books and sat with each one. I read the back cover and the inside flap and I read the first page or two or three. Yes, there were good possibilities, but nothing grabbed me solidly. It was time for a step back. A deep breath. I entered a time of discernment.

 Now I know choosing the next book to read is not on the same level as making decisions about when or where to retire and what to do when retirement is a reality. This is not in the category of life-changing decisions we made earlier in our lives--whether or not to have children, for example, or which career path to follow, but more and more I realize that even the small decisions in my life offer opportunities to listen, to pay attention, to receive guidance from the movement of Spirit.

I have been reading about discernment for a writing project, making me aware of how the process of discernment lives in my life. The word "discernment" comes from the Latin word discernerer: dis meaning "to separate" and cerenere, "to sift." On a minor level that's what we do when we choose the next book to read, but when the decision has greater import, such as whether or not to say yes to a volunteer opportunity or to put your house on the market and downsize into a condo, the process of discernment has more relevance. 

As part of my research about discernment I read an article called "Seek Your Calling and Your Calling Will Seek You: Exploring Discernment as a Way of Life  (Presence, An International Journal of Spiritual Direction Volume 18, no. 1, March, 2012) in which Monika Ellis, OSD,  says one can develop a skill set for discernment by creating space to be with oneself, making time to center and connect to our inner depths, and being quiet in order to listen. When one does that, 
       Discernment eventually becomes a way of living, a way
       of walking with one's heart, ears and eyes wide open, all
       in readiness for receiving God… p. 41

As I intentionally develop the skills  and context for discernment, I  hope I will become more aware of what is going on inside, and how to uncover what to accept and when to create change. How to move forward and what  to release. JaneVennard in her book Fully Awake and Truly Alive, Spiritual Practices to Nurture Your Soul says, 

          I used to think that discernment was problem solving
          with a spiritual dimension. I thought we were simply 
          to include God in the process of rational decision 
          making. We might consult others and gather as much
          information as possible and then pray for clarity. Or we 
          could list everything in favor of one possibility, list
          everything against it, and then pray for guidance. I 
          have discovered that discernment is much more than
          learning to make wise decisions.
              The practice of discernment is the willingness to 
          listen deeply, engaging the body, mind, and feelings
          to help us pay attention to the possibilities and choices
          before us. It is more about being receptive than about
          taking action. Spiritual writer Wendy Wright imagines
          discernment as the movement of the sunflower turning
          to the sun… or like being grasped in the spirit's arms 
          and led in the rhythms of an unknown dance.  p.132  

Perhaps discernment is another word for mindfulness. I don't know, but it seems to me that when I attend to the process of discernment, I move closer to the person I was created to be. May it be so. 

An Invitation
When have you invited the process of discernment into your life? Are you making room in your life for quiet, for time and space to be alone and connect with yourself? What are the fruits of doing that for you? Are you considering a decision, a potential change, or call in your life? If so, how are you approaching it and what spiritual practices are you using to lighten and enlighten you? I would love to know.

Oh, and by the way, Sunday afternoon my husband and I spent time at Birchbark Books, a wonderful independent bookstore in Minneapolis owned by the acclaimed author Louise Erdrich, and I spotted a book I had purchased a month or so ago, but had not read yet. In that moment The Children Act by Ian McEwan moved to the top of the pile, a most worthy selection. Needless to say, we didn't leave the store without additional books for our existing piles. Happy reading!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Thursday's Reflection: Surprise!

Sometimes I have to be forced to have new experiences. The other night was one of those times, but I kept thinking about the quotation I included in my last post.


         May your coming year be filled with magic and 
         dreams and good madness. I hope you read some
         fine books and kiss someone who thinks you're
         wonderful. And don't forget to make some art--write
         or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And,
         I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise
                                 Neil Gaiman

I want you to know I took Gaiman's words to heart, and I made some art and I surprised myself. The surprise was not that I made great art or discovered myself as a budding artist. That didn't happen! The surprise was how much fun the whole experience was. And what I learned about myself in the process.

I would have preferred to stay at home. It was ridiculously cold, and I had been out and about all day. Plus, I had just started a book, Florence Gordon by Brian Morton, that has totally captured me and could get in the way of doing all the tasks I have set for myself, including writing this post, but good friend Becky had made arrangements for the two of us and our spouses to attend a two hour watercolor class. We had cancelled the plan in December because Bruce and I had the flu, using up that excuse. 

Because Becky has taken a number of watercolor classes and is becoming quite accomplished, I had teased her she just wanted to show off, but really all she wanted was to share her enthusiasm and to offer us a new experience. The class was held at a restaurant, and we all joked that wine would get us through the embarrassment of producing something only a preschooler would be proud to hang on the refrigerator. 

Noticing us carrying cocktails and plates of appetizers, the instructor wisely gave the four of us our own table. Yes, we bantered back and forth about not knowing what we were doing, but soon, we were each quite intent on our projects. We listened carefully to our instructor, following her gentle and nonjudgmental guidance as we attempted to bring to light our inner artist. 

She teased Gary, Becky's husband, calling him Mr Free Spirit as he did his own thing, and she referred to me as Ms Light Touch as I started filling in my paper with only whispers of color. I thought that was my preference, but I learned as I continued that I was actually hiding behind caution, not wanting to make a mistake I couldn't undo. I wanted to know how something was going to look before my brush actually touched the paper. When I write, I know I can edit. I can change a word, cut a sentence, rearrange a paragraph with the goal of improving what I am writing. I had no idea how to do that with the media of watercolor. 

I was hesitant. I shrunk the trees, not wanting my ineptitude to be even more visible in their bigness. Along the way, however, I learned that even in painting there are ways to revise, to modify what feels like a mistake or misstep. I learned by doing, by giving up some control --and by asking for help. I wanted to learn, to know more than I did in that moment, and I liked that I wasn't unwilling to ask for help.

I had moments of being more concerned about the product, of worrying how what I was doing would measure up, but in those moments I amazingly remembered to breathe, to lighten my grip on the brush, and to go with the metaphor of watercolor on paper--flow. I liked that feeling.

Somehow we each miraculously ended the evening with a painting  uniquely reminiscent of our point of reference painting. Will we be framing our masterpieces? Not so much, nor am I signing up for additional classes, but the whole experience, something I had not done before, was fun. Pleasurable. 

I have said many times that I want my life as I age to get bigger. I know there are many losses along the way, many ways our lives change and seem to get smaller as we leave jobs or learn to cope with physical challenges, but right now, in this moment, I have a choice. I can isolate myself with the comfortable and the familiar. I can hold my routine tightly wrapped around myself and be satisfied with how I have always done something. I can say "no" more than "yes" without listening to my inner voice asking me to reconsider. 

Or I can choose to open.

Mark Nepo uses the term "experience greed" to describe what can be almost an addiction to the new, staying full, cramming all we can into our lives and I don't advocate that. What I do suggest, however, is that we can choose, especially when we listen to the quiet, sacred space of our inner voice, to be open to new experiences, to play, to stretch, to take a chance.  I can make room for surprise.

An Invitation
What's new in your life? Are you more inclined to stick to the tried and true or is there room in your life for freshness and newness? What are you willing to do to make that happen? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Tuesday's Reflections: Moving into the New Year

These are cold days here in Minnesota, and I am not inclined to leave the warmth and coziness of our house. Instead, I become a bear, which in Native American spirituality symbolizes introspection, and I willingly hibernate. My hibernation is not so much about escaping from the cold or taking a time out from life's varied activities, especially after the busyness of the holidays, but rather this is a time to reset my timer and my pace, and to guide me towards my intentions , direction and outlook for living in this new year.  

Creating a Container of Space: A Meditation
Perhaps, you need a time of hibernation and introspection, too. Perhaps, you feel a bit muddled about direction for this new year or you may feel a bit reluctant to let go of what was and move to what is and what can be. If so, here's a way to begin.  

Close your eyes, lightly, not tightly, and take deep cleansing breaths until you find your own easy rhythm. 

Picture a square. Choose a corner of that square. Count to four as you slowly inhale, keeping your focus on the corner of the square you have chosen.

As you exhale, move to the next corner, reaching it on the count of four. Rest in that corner, inhaling to four.

Leave the corner on the exhale and move to the third corner. Inhale again. Exhale again as you move to the corner where you started this journey. Inhale again to complete the square.

Notice the space you have created as you gently inhale and exhale. Notice the boundaries and the space outside of the square. You have created a container of sacred space in which you can rest and restore and reset what needs to be refreshed. 

Your sacred space is also a space of exploration. What is inside the square with you? What is there no longer room for in your space? What would like to enter the space with you? What is hovering outside the space, just barely within sight, but you know it is there, awaiting a welcome from you? What questions, images, sounds arise as you move within your sacred space? In what ways are you challenged to expand the boundaries of your own experience? Move into the center of the square and pay attention to what that feels like.

When you are ready, open your eyes and take a deep cleansing breath. This breath releases all tension you might be holding without erasing the sacred space you have created for yourself. This space can be a sanctuary whenever you need it, allowing you to connect with your inner voice, with Spirit, whenever you need it. You can breathe yourself into awareness of the holy. You can breathe yourself into deeper understanding of who you were created to be. 

          If we choose to believe that there are many questions
          to life, we must also believe that the answers to these
          questions reside within us. Each and every being has 
          the capacity to quiet the mind, enter the silence and
                           Jamie Sams and David Carson
                           Medicine Cards, The Discovery of Power
                           Through The Ways of Animals, p. 57
Working With My Square
I spent time at the beginning of this week responding to a New Year's Exercise for Writers posed by Mary Carroll Moore, the facilitator of the online writing class I took this fall. She suggested listing writing accomplishments of this past year, grounding oneself in the strengths of the past year. That is not always easy to do, but frankly, I was quite surprised at what I did in 2014, even though it was a challenging year in a variety of ways and a year in which I thought my writing goals had taken a back seat. The next step was to examine what writing has given me this past year, and words like purpose, balance, stability, joy and pleasure, inner growth, structure, and self-confidence came tumbling out on the page. 

Then, and only then, was it time to look ahead to this new year. "Imagine yourself at the end of 2015," the exercise prompts, "what would you most want to accomplish during the year?"  

I sat quietly, closed my eyes and breathed myself back to the sacred space I had created. I moved from corner to corner and then rested in the center, allowing the litany of possibilities to flow over and through and around me. As always, there is so much I want to do, so much I hope to accomplish, and with each new year, I am more and more aware of the need not to set aside, not to put off what is most important. Within my sacred space, I found clarity, at least for the moment and I now feel more prepared to enter this new year. 

         May your coming year be filled with magic and 
         dreams and good madness. I hope you read some
         fine books and kiss someone who thinks you're
         wonderful. And don't forget to make some art--write
         or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And,
         I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise
                                 Neil Gaiman

An Invitation
I invite you to create your inner sacred space as you enter this new year. Perhaps use the Mary Carroll Moore's questions as a guide and allow yourself to see what comes into clearer view and how you are called to live this year? What are you prepared to do to make this year one that finds you being the person you were created to be? I would love to know. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Thursday Reflection: Happy New Year!

Dear Friends, Happy New Year and welcome to 2015!  

New Year's Day is not the only time during the year when we experience a fresh start, a new beginning. Perhaps you have that feeling at the start of the school year, even though you haven't been in a classroom for many years, or maybe it occurs on the first day of  turning earth for a new garden or opening a can of paint to bring new life to an outdated room. Have you have known that feeling of "newness" with the birth of a grandchild or a decision to make a major change in your life? Yes, one can experience a feeling of beginning anew often throughout the year, but somehow January 1 is unlike all other launches. 

In January we seem to be bombarded with suggestions about how to organize and declutter our lives. Target's aisles of plastic bins are marauded by those who have resolved to bring more order into their lives. Magazines and newspapers and blogs and other websites all give hints for how to deal with the material stuff in our life, all in the hope of living easier. 

Many of us create lists in these first days of the new year of what needs to be done in our homes. In our home, today is the designated "demolition" day. No walls are coming down. Just the Christmas decorations. As much as I have loved decorating this year, and the house has been so cozy in the glow of candles and Christmas lights, IT IS TIME! I can't wait to return Christmas bins to the storage area, and then my first 2015 house task will be to tackle the laundry room. Mundane, I know, but so be it. 

My list is long as we continue to deal with all the possessions from a lifetime of collecting. Not only do we live in a much smaller home now, but we are oh, so ready to shed, declutter, and lighten up, giving us both the appearance of a new beginning, as well as the space and the emotional energy to live anew. To be open to the new, instead of attached to whatever has cluttered, not only our homes, but our hearts and our minds.

That, of course, is the real purpose of decluttering--to let go of what no longer serves us well, of what impedes us from being the person we were created to be. Dealing with all the physical stuff in our lives is important, but it is not enough. 

What is cluttering and burdening our hearts and minds?

I am reminded of what one of my favorite spiritual guides, Mark Nepo, says on the subject of decluttering and letting go in his book, The Book of Awakening. He tells the story of a friend preparing to paint his family room. He mixed the paint outside and then loaded himself with everything he needed to begin painting. You can guess what happened. He struggled to get the door open and in the process spilled the gallon of red paint. 
          It's such a simple thing, but in a moment of ego we
          refuse to put down what we carry in order to open the
          door. Time and time again, we are offered the chance
          to truly learn this: We cannot hold on to things and 
          enter. We must put down what we carry, open the
          door, and then take up only what we need to bring
          inside. p. 3

The spiritual writer Joyce Rupp refers to this time of year as a time of "freshness," a time when we are encouraged to let go of old hurts and fears; feelings of failure and weakness or of the old stories dwelt on for far too long. She quotes the poet Gerald Manley Hopkins, "There lies the dearest freshness deep down things." and then Rupp goes on to say,
          Freshness. That's it. That is what this new year is 
          offering me as I pray to God of my life this sparkling
          morning. God is holding out a freshness of life to me.
          God is offering me a new beginning with this new 
                                Fresh Bread And Other Gifts of Spiritual
                                Nourishment, p. 19

As we declutter our homes and attempt to live simpler, easier lives, what I think we are moving towards is that feeling of freshness, like putting fresh sheets on the bed or eating fresh grapefruit in the morning or looking out into the fresh morning sunshine even on a below zero day. We yearn to see life with a fresh perspective and to live with fresh pep in our steps. We want to freshen up! 

Freshness comes when we forgive ourselves and others, when we move through and beyond the ways we restrict ourselves, when we recognize what is stale in our inner lives and needs to be tossed. Along with freshness comes deeper and wider compassion or as Nepo says, "our heart becomes our skin." (The Endless Practice, Becoming Who You Were Born to Be, p. 119)

Call it decluttering or downsizing or call it creating freshness. Whatever you call it, make 2015 a year when you open the door and cross the threshold holding only what you need. 

An Invitation
What areas of your inner life need decluttering and where does your life need freshening? What are your plans for bringing freshness into your life? I would love to know.