Thursday, February 26, 2015

Thursday's Reflection: Key Questions

While transcribing some journal entries from 2008 for the book I am writing about the spiritual lessons of moving and finding home wherever one lives, I found material from a book I was reading at that time, Claiming Your Place at the Fire, Living the Second Half of Your Life on Purpose by Richard J. Leider and David A. Shapiro 

Leider and Shapiro write about "re-inventing" our lives as we enter our second half of life, as "new elders." Just when do we enter this second half of life? I was 60 years old when I was reading this book and even if I live to be a 100, I was already well into the "second half" of my life, and when I was in my 40's and 50's, the more realistic second half of my life, I was in my prime and certainly didn't feel like a new elder yet. Don't get me wrong, there is lots of good material in this book --and many, many others about how to live as we get older--but I have a bit of a problem with some of the terminology. 

I understand the need to label and name. Recently, I was putting together an agenda for a retreat I am leading, and I didn't yet have a title, a name for the retreat. I knew a name would help me focus and clarify the purpose and plans for the retreat. That had been true many years ago when I started a small writing and editing service I called Word Choice, and even when I was newly pregnant--the child growing inside felt so much more real to me when we picked out potential names. Naming is important, but somehow New Elder doesn't work for me. Another name I've heard used for this time of life is "second adulthood," and this stage has been referred to as "The Third Chapter" or even "Second Chapter." We Baby Boomers seem to be struggling to find a name, a title for ourselves and for our aging, but I suspect the real struggle is an individual one--how to live these years. 

That's where books like this one can be helpful. In 2008 I clearly was looking for guidance in what was an in-between time in my life.

My husband Bruce had recently started a new position as chief medical officer for Agrace Hospice in Madison, WI, and we were living in a bleak apartment we sarcastically called the LA for "luxury apartment." While we yearned to get settled in a new home, our home in Ohio had not yet sold, and we needed to wait. I had no idea what my life would hold in Madison, but hoped I could continue what had fulfilled me in Cleveland--a small spiritual direction practice, teaching in various venues on topics related to spirituality, perhaps even T'ai Chi. I wondered, however, in what ways I would need to re-invent myself, how I would need to adjust.  Even though the move to Madison was a good one, I had no idea what my next steps would be, could be. 

Leider and Shapiro posed some key questions to consider, and they seem just as relevant, perhaps more so, now that I am even further into my elderhood. pp. 37-38

Who am I?
      * What, and how deep, is my spiritual foundation?
      * What is my relationship with death?
      * Who are my spiritual teachers?
      *  How present am I in the moment?

Where Do I Belong?
      * How healthy is the place I'm living for me?
      * How at home do I feel in my home?
      * To what extent do I feel I belong in my community?
      * What opportunities do I have where I live to do the things I love to do?
       * How well do I manage my life so I mostly do what I care about?

What Do I Care About?
        * Who comes to me for help?
        * What are my gifts?
        * How am I using my gifts on the things I care about?
        * How fulfilling is my work?
        * How is the balance of work and play in my life?
What Is My Purpose?
         * How clear am I of my purpose?
         * How aware am I of my legacy?
         * What difference am I making in the world?
         * Who have I voluntarily helped in the last month?
         * What connections do I have to something greater than myself?

At the time I focused on questions of home, finding home. At other times I have focused more on the Who Am I? questions. Now I seem to reflect more on questions about my purpose and how to best use my gifts. However, one question flows into and relates to others, and all are part of our spiritual work.

We lived in Madison for almost 7 years, and I now know those were transition years in many ways, preparing us and ultimately allowing us to move back to Minnesota, to return home. I discovered while living in Madison I had retired. That was a huge surprise to me, but I eventually relaxed and enjoyed our years there. Now, however, I feel a resurgence of energy, of purpose, and feel I am in a place where I can use my gifts in meaningful ways. 

An Aside
One of the ideas I had started exploring not long before we made the move here was to start a group which would reflect on the key questions of this age and help participants enhance strategies and spiritual practices for this time of our life. I even thought of names for such groups--Contemplative Retirement or Enlightened Retirement Circles. See what I mean about the need to name? Anyone interested?

An Invitation
Which of the key questions from Claiming Your Place at the Fire resonate with you? Which ones are calling you for further reflection? I would love to know.

A Few Additional Resources
* Inventing the Rest of Our Lives: Women in Second Adulthood, What Matters, What Works, What's Next? by Suzanne Braun Levine
* The Third Chapter: Passion, Risk, and Adventure in the 25 Years After 50 by Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot
* Creative Aging: Rethinking Retirement and Non-Retirement in a Changing World by Marjory Zoet Bankson
* Creating a Spiritual Retirement: A Guide to the Unseen Possibilities in Our Lives by Molly Strode
* The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully by Joan Chittister



Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Tuesday's Reflection: Walking in the Sand

Walking a straight line on a sandy beach is not easy. The sand shifts and gives way as I walk, swallowing, capturing my feet. Even so I relish the coolness of the sand, the softness, and even how it clings to my skin and hides between my toes. I am awed by how the sand shifts and gives way as I create my own path, but when I look back, the sand has nearly filled in the indentations of my footprints. Had I really been there? 

Sand seems to welcome movement. In Zanzibar many years ago I celebrated my 50th birthday by practicing T'ai Chi on a beach, my dancing feet creating a crevice. Years later I led a circle of women on a Captiva beach in that same T'ai Chi meditation at sunset. We formed spiral patterns, our feet becoming one with the sand. 

Soon, however, water and wind erased all signs of our presence on the beach. No, sand is not a firm foundation, and yet the way it shifts and gives way forces me to pay attention, just as the ashes I received in the form of a cross on my forehead at last week's Ash Wednesday service reminds me to pay attention to the sacredness of life. When I returned home, I washed the smudge of ash off my forehead, and the next day no one knew I participated in the ritual marking the beginning of the church season of Lent, just as the beach no longer carries a sign of my presence. 

But I know I was there. Both on the beach and in the darkness of the sanctuary. 

I walked a labyrinth recently. I felt each measured step, pausing at each curve, reviewing the many twists and turns of the last couple years in my life. I moved forward easily and lightly not worrying about when I would reach the center--a new sensation for me. Often when I reach the center of a labyrinth I am hungry for revelation, for insight and direction, but this time it was enough just to be there. I had not doubted my ability to get there, but nonetheless, it was good to actually arrive. 

And then it was time to walk back out, to retrace the steps I had made, but there were no visible steps. The path was clear with no sign I had made the journey. Had I really walked that pathway? Had I really been there? 

I am reminded of something Luci Shaw says in her book Adventure of Ascent, Field Notes from a Lifelong Journey:

          Why do I struggle to find meaning in everything I
          see, and everything that happens? I'm wishing I could
          learn to simply attend to what is there, and then to
          open myself to being seen and enlightened by God. 
          Might this become the place of balance and
          peacefulness? p. 77

She goes on to quote Annie Dillard.

             We are here to notice everything so each thing gets 
          noticed and Creation need not play to an empty house.

If I could lighten my desire to find meaning, to have a presence and to leave my mark, I suspect I would experience more peace and be more able to pay attention and to notice the shifting sands.

An Invitation
At what times in your life have you wondered about the meaning of your life and if and how you have left a mark? What have you done to find peace as the shifting sands fill in your footprints? What spiritual practices enhance your ability to notice and pay attention? I would love to know. 

A Gift
In case you missed it, this essay by Oliver Sacks recently published in the New York Times is well worth reading.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Thursday's Post: Returning Home

Ready to Head Home
After two weeks of fun and easy time in Florida warmth and sunshine, we have returned home. One of the purposes of traveling and vacationing, it seems to me, is to know the pleasure of returning home--in spite of the frigid below zero temperatures here in Minnesota. Even though we loved our time with our dear and generous friends, how good it was to open the door of The Little House and to be home. 

Never mind that one of the smoke alarms was beeping and the battery needed to be changed, (Note to self: February, 2016, change all smoke alarm batteries.) and one of the window shades had pulled away from the top.  Those are only minor "that will teach you to leave for two weeks" pokes. Our daughter had stopped by to turn up the furnace before picking us up from the airport, making the house toasty warm for our arrival. I had worked to leave the house clean and ordered, which I knew would add to the ease of re-entry. Our daughter invited us for supper and even though it was shocking to head back out into tundra temperatures, we were eager to reunite with our family. Oh, how we missed the grands! Seeing them right away was another signal that we are truly home.

Generally, we handle re-entry well. I know some people like to ease into their return, unpacking in stages, for example, but we move into action. We unload our suitcases and get the laundry going right away. We sort through the mail, even opening the bills that arrived while we were gone. I make a grocery list and if we have returned early in the day do the grocery shopping right away. If this were summer, Bruce would mow the lawn and begin working in the garden. Soon one would never know we have been gone. 

For some people this kind of immediate settling-in routine might feel as if they are letting go of the pleasures, the adventures, the sights and sounds and experiences of being away, but, instead, for me re-bonding with our life here at home is part of integrating those times. For example, if we have brought any treasures home with us, I find a place for them, re-living, as I do so, the enjoyment of finding them at an outdoor art fair or the terrific independent bookstore we had read about or the beach in Sanibel. 

Along with these treasures, I usually return from trips with various resolutions tucked into my suitcases--to eat better or exercise more, for example. Or I have formulated some redecorating plans or I have jotted down lots of ideas and thoughts for future teaching or writing. I am not sure what the long term effects of this recent time away will be, and not everything sticks as ordinary days take over, but I know if I listen carefully and if I plan for reflection time, I am more apt to clarify the gifts of this recent time. 

In fact, I experienced one gift the first morning home. In recent months I have not routinely included meditation time in my morning quiet time. I have read stimulating and thought-provoking material. I have written in my journal and spent time in prayer, but meditating has fallen by the wayside. Ah-ha, I realized while sitting on the beach. I need to change where I sit when I meditate, for my reading chair is  too cushy, and I also need to change when I meditate. Instead of doing it first thing after getting up and coming up to my garret space, I need to keep that activity separate from the rest of my devotion time, doing it after my shower when I am more awake, and doing it right before I begin my writing time. And that is what I am now doing. Who knows if this new thought about a spiritual practice that nurtures me would have occurred if I had not stepped away from it for a period of time? 

When I facilitate a retreat for a group or an individual, I often end the retreat by asking the participants to consider what they might do to bring the learnings and new awarenesses into their day-to day life. I ask them to think ahead to what they might need in the first days home--both from themselves and from those around them who were not part of the retreat. What do you want them to know? What will it be important for you to share? Is there a next step you want to take now that you have had this experience, one that may have been profound for you? How will you make home even more your home because of what you have just experienced? 

The time away, the time-out, has added to who we are, although it may take awhile to discover what that means, and this process of settling-in is a way to blur the lines between vacation time and life at home. 

     …sometimes  we don't know our true home, or where 
     we most belong, until we leave there. The pilgrim's
     journey home is an opportunity to integrate the 
     learning and experiences of the present with the memories
     and relationships of our past…The way of the pilgrim is
     essentially about fostering greater connection between our
     past, our present, and our future…To become whole, we
     need the journey and we need to journey home.
                                      Pilgrimage, The Sacred Art, Journey
                                      to the Center of the Heart
                                      Dr. Sheryl A. Kujawa-Holbrook
                                      pp. 148-150                           

Even though being away from home is not always a pilgrimage and even though travel may not be considered an intentional retreat, still, there is always the possibility for new growth and insights when we are not in our daily routine and are away from our accepted loop of life. In these first days of resettlement how important it is to pay attention and watch and listen for the gifts of being away and returning home. 

An Invitation
When did you last leave home? How did that time enrich your life and what have you done to integrate that time into your ordinary life? Are you currently planning a trip, and if so, what can you do to ensure that you are awake and aware from the time you leave home till you are safely resettled? I would love to know.   

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Tuesday's Reflection: Beach Time

I have always wanted to live somewhere with a water view; preferably, by big water. In a way that doesn't make sense, for I am not a great swimmer and will do most anything not to wear a swimsuit. I do own one, but it is tucked away in a dresser drawer. I don't fish or boat, and I certainly do not walk on water. However, I love being in sight of water, having water as one of the boundaries or edges of my immediate life. 

My first years were in Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Lakes, where  one is never far from a lake and on the weekends in summer the recurrent theme is "going to the lake," the lake of your choice. My family would spend one or two weeks at a resort on Lake Nisswa, a not so very big lake, but I have fond memories of sleeping on the screen porch and hearing the waves lapping the sandy beach at night and during the day floating on an air mattress to some dreamy location in my fantasy life. 

When I was in seventh grade, we moved to Long Island, and I think that is when my attraction to water, big water, really began. I could bike from our house to a small beach where Nathan Hale, a spy against the British in the Revolutionary War, supposedly landed during the Battle of Long Island. The move to Long Island was a difficult one for me, but watching the water soothed some of my loneliness. 

While I have never managed to live with a water view, I have relished visits to beaches, even celebrating my 50th birthday by doing Tai Chi on a beach in Zanzibar.  Could it get any better than that! Most recently, we visited friends in Florida and our days on the beach were among the most pleasurable of our getaway time. (My apologies to all of you who are buried under snow and deluged with rain or are layered in wool, thanks to cold, cold temperatures.) 

What is it about the water that resonates with me more than the beauty of mountains or forests? Why is it that when in the presence of water I feel most at home with myself?

For one thing I love the vastness, the spaciousness. While others are bothered by the inability to see the other side, I am attracted to the openness, the unknown of what might be ahead. I know it will be a mixed bag, for loss can not be avoided, but I also know there will be gifts and opportunities I am too limited to imagine. 

One of our beach days was marked with high waves. Such entertainment, including surfers, who perhaps had called in "sick" for the day and little children holding a parent's hand, wanting to venture forth, but not quite daring. I sat there listening to the sound of the waves, a sound that covered all the monkey mind thoughts that normally rattle around my head. I normally yearn for quiet and stillness, but in this time and place, it was the waves announcing themselves over and over along the shore that created free space in my mind. 

Each wave erased whatever was written in the sand and pulled out to sea what needed to be released. I followed each wave surging to the shore as if it were the first one, and when it receded, I renewed my own ability to retreat and recreate, to begin again. I felt an exchange in those waves--if you let me carry you, I will refresh and restore you. 

When we lived in New York, the chart for high tide and low tide was hung on the inside of a kitchen cabinet. The tides were part of everyday conversation even if you weren't a fisherman. It clarified the best time to go to a beach and which beach to choose.  As we sat on the beach the other day and the waves slid higher along the shore, we knew we were approaching High Tide. 

We have all had High Tide, but also Low Tide times in our life; times when our energy or our feelings are at their peak or just the opposite. It isn't always as clear as a line in the sand where we are, however, until we look back, until the transition from one to the other is underway. Until we can see the shore with a new perspective. Being near water stretches my perceptions of myself and those around me and the life I am privileged to have.

Walking along a beach during our recent vacation in Florida, I said to my husband, "I could live here." I felt wistful and sad as I said that. Knowing that seeing water as I look out my kitchen window  has not been part of my everyday life nor will it be touches something very deep within. I don't know what I would have had to do earlier in my life to fulfill that longing, but at this stage in my life it is enough to acknowledge it and to listen to the waves I sense washing over my soul.  

An Invitation
What is the landscape of your soul? Do you know why? In what kind of setting do you feel most at home, most yourself? I would love to know. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Thursday's Reflection: What's In Your Boat?

Recently, we visited the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Coral Gables, Florida, and a bonus in the gorgeous gardens full of palms and orchids and bromeliads, a term my gardener husband taught me, was an exhibit of Chihuly glass sculptures. Looking through the lushness one could spot a blast of color.  Always a wow of a surprise. 

Perhaps my favorite surprise was a rowboat full of glass balls of every color.  Chihuly once said there isn't a color he doesn't love, and I tend to agree with him, but in this case the exuberance of color is not what remains. It's the fullness.

How full is your boat? What fills your boat?

A few weeks ago the Gospel lesson was from the first chapter of Mark, which includes the story of Jesus recruiting fishermen to follow him. They left their boats "immediately" to follow him. The sermon focused on the word "immediately" and asked the congregation to consider circumstances in which we would respond "immediately." Fire, a lost child, a crash of some sort--all dire situations in which time is of the essence with a need to do something right now without thinking. Situations in which instinct takes over. 

In reading the lesson again later I discovered that the word "immediately" was used six more times in the chapter. As a writer, I try to be aware of when I use a word too often. Most likely I would not use the same descriptive word over and over again in a few short lines. There must be a reason for the repetition, a call for reflection.  Dani Shapiro in her book Still Writing, The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life says repeated words are clues and suggests, "When you discover them, slow down. In fact, stop. Become willing to press against the bruise--it's there anyway--and see what it yields." p. 113

I am someone who often needs to think about how to respond to an opportunity, a conversation that perhaps has upset me, an out of the ordinary experience. I believe in PAUSE. Stepping back, taking time out, building in time for reflection, practicing silence. Often that is just what is needed, but, as with everything, there is a shadow side to that light. What have I missed because I have not responded in the moment, because I have not been spontaneous and said, "Yes" immediately?

Here's another aspect of pausing: Is it possible that when we take time for quiet time, we prepare ourselves for the moments when an immediate response of the heart is required? I think a fruit of ongoing spiritual practice in which we become aware of the movement of Spirit in and around us is the ability to be in the moment and to know, to really know, what we are called to do and how we are to act. Immediately.

That leads me back to the boat full of balls of various sizes and colors. The preacher of the day also challenged us to get out of the boat. How easy is it to get out of the boat and respond immediately when the boat is full to the brim, overfull, and what thoughts might there be about what is left in the boat? How easy is it to climb over all that stuff? How reluctant are we to leave it all behind, whatever IT is. What is actually in the boat? Regrets, judgements, painful memories and old stories that no longer serve us well? Relationships that are more harmful than graceful or habits and routines that limit us  rather than restore us?

This is the time, my friends, to examine what's in the boat and do some bailing. If not now, when?

That is not what I thought about when I first saw the boat of Chihuly balls, however. What I first thought about was the boatload of blessings in my life. A blessing is not a limitation and need not inhibit our ability to get out of the boat immediately. Not if we are awake. 

In fact, like blessings, the glass balls are just as beautiful when they are allowed to float and move freely. 

An Invitation
What's in your boat and are you able to move freely and openly when called upon? I would love to know.


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Tuesday's Post: Blessings

Our Granddaughter's School
Almost daily I drive past one or both of the schools our grandchildren attend and when I do, I say a blessing. 
May all who walk those halls be blessed.

I started offering this blessing in the fall when I drove past the school our granddaughter was attending. The halls were more chaotic than calm, and the challenges of actually conducting school seemed difficult at best. I worried for her safety and the safety of all who enter those doors, but I knew adding my anxious energy was not helpful. Instead, I decided to send a loving blessing, which is really a way of showing one's care. 

Our granddaughter has moved to another school, one that is a better match for her and is a place where the focus can be on learning. We are so grateful she has the luxurious opportunity to be there, and when I drive by her new school, I offer the same blessing. "May all who walk those halls be blessed," but I also continue to whisper the same blessing to her former school each time I pass.

I think blessings matter, and I am attempting to build a blessing habit in my life.

Early morning when I go up to my garret for meditation and devotion time, I hear a car in the alley, a neighbor heading to work, I presume, and I say a quick "blessings to you." About that same time I hear a bird, one I have not identified, but I think that bird is blessing me, and I offer one in return. "Blessings to you, too." If during the day I hear or see an ambulance or police car with sirens blaring, I put my hand on my heart, and say, "Blessed be you." I don't need to know what has happened, what the emergency is, but I want to extend my human caring, and I can do that in the form of a blessing.

Many years ago I sat in a MacDonalds writing or reading before heading to a meeting. A couple about my age sat across from me. They were having an intense, although quiet, conversation, and I could tell they were struggling with each other. I have no idea what the issue was, and I did not need to know, but I stopped my writing and reading. I put down my book and my pen and closing my eyes, I took a deep, long breath and inside my head and heart repeated, "May you be blessed. May you be blessed." I have often wondered how those two are and if they resolved the painful problems between them, but I also thank them for they introduced me to the spiritual practice of blessing those I don't know. I felt their humanity, wounded, but striving, and I felt connected to them and knew I could offer something they needed. A blessing. 

Barbara Brown Taylor in her An Altar in the World, A Geography of Faith says, "…a blessing does not confer holiness. The holiness is already there, embedded in the very giveness of the thing." p. 203. When you start offering blessings, you start noticing--blessings are a kind of mindfulness. 

One more story. We have been privileged over the years to be included in the celebration of Jewish holidays, and I hold in my heart the remembrance of our dear friend lighting the candles and reciting a blessing. 

           Baruch Atah, Adonai Elohenu, Melech Ha-Olam,
           Ha-Motzi Lehem Min Ha-Aretz.

           Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe,
           who brings forth bread from the earth.

I didn't know the Hebrew she was speaking, but I felt blessed in those moments, we were all closer to the Divine. 

An Invitation
When have you blessed? When have you offered blessings and who or what is waiting for your blessing? I would love to know. 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Thursday's Reflection: Always Time for Spiritual Practice.

One of my first tasks of the day is to open the shades in the entry and dining room, just as one of the last tasks of the day is to close the shades. If I am aware, that simple homey gesture becomes a time of prayer --morning and night time prayers, bookending the day.

       Thank you for a restful night's sleep 
       and for the grace
       of a new day. May I move through it
       in openness and with love and

       Thank you for the gift of the day now ending.  I am
       grateful for the many riches I have received today. 
       Forgive me for the ways I have been more closed than 
       open. May the rest I receive tonight lead me to be present 
       to the light that flows within and around me.  

It is possible for most anything we do to become a spiritual practice, especially "If you approach it in the right way--with intentionality, humility, receptivity, hope. And of course with an attentive eye on the activity of the divine." (The Sacred Year, Michael Yankoski, p. 12) 

I can be intentional about being present to activities I enjoy and welcome doing, no matter how ordinary. For example, I enjoy most aspects of home tending, even cleaning bathrooms and kitchens.  I start dinner in the evening and as I chop and stir and simmer I can give thanks for this daily sustenance, and I pray for all those who go hungry. I can sweep the front steps and breathe in the glories of the sun or the crispness of the air. At the ironing board I can smooth the creases in my husband's shirts and be grateful for the love we share. I can put away the books and papers accumulated in my office over the days and feel such gratitude for the freedom I have to read and write for hours on end. I can and do pray my way through the day--as long as it goes smoothly, and I am doing something I enjoy doing.

What happens, however, when I am doing something that I don't enjoy doing? I don't like to vacuum or lug bags of groceries in from the car and then unpack them. I am not crazy about folding the laundry or changing the bed. I get frustrated when I am doing errands and I get stuck in traffic or when I am not able to find what I need in the grocery store. Viewing those times as an opportunity for spiritual practice usually doesn't occur to me. However, I know that by filling my life with intentional spiritual practices which simply put are "ways of seeing and being in the world that help us wake up and become fully, truly alive." (Fully Awake and Truly Alive, Spiritual Practices to Nurture Your Soul, Rev. Jane Vennard, p. xviii) I am more likely to ground myself in light and love when hit with times of stress, fear, grief and loss. 

Father Thomas Keating who teaches the spiritual practice of centering prayer says, "The only way to judge your practice is by its long-range fruits: whether in daily life you enjoy greater peace, humility and charity." Who doesn't want to live a more loving and compassionate life? 

Examples of Spiritual Practices
When considering spiritual practices, most people think about reading the Bible or praying at certain times of the day. Or meditating. I write in my journal, and that is one of my main spiritual practices, but I also walk a labyrinth when I can and in the past one of my main spiritual practices was doing Tai Chi. Meeting with a spiritual director is a spiritual practice, as is going on retreats or a pilgrimage. 

But what about making music, baking bread, pulling weeds, cleaning your house, driving a parent to a doctor's appointment, volunteering at your grandchild's school, sitting with a friend who is recovering from surgery, attending a yoga class, reading or writing poetry, walking along the river every morning? 

Barbara Brown Taylor wrote a wonderful book called An Altar in the World, A Geography of Faith says, "No one's spiritual practice is exactly like anyone else's. Life meets each of us where we need to be met, leading us to the doors with our names on them." 

If what you do at any moment opens you to the fullness of life and fills your heart with love and compassion and gratitude and a new awareness of our own essence, you are in the midst of a spiritual practice. How exciting is that? 

Vennard writes about on-cushion and off-cushion practices, (p.  xx) using Buddhist language. On-cushion practices are the more structured and formal practices and in the Buddhist tradition that would be meditation time. Off-cushion practices are spontaneous and informal and can happen and be available to us at any time, for in any moment there is the opportunity to be mindful. I think, as does Vennard, that a combination of both off and on-cushion practices are necessary to live a fully awakened life, and one leads to the other which leads back to the other and so on. A wonderful circular  energy.  

Barbara Brown Taylor adds further illumination about on-cushion and off-cushion spiritual practices, although she doesn't use those words. She writes about practices of walking the earth, getting lost, encountering others, living with purpose, feeling pain, and other ways of living fully. This is what she says about living her life as a spiritual practice.

          My life depends on engaging the most ordinary physical
          activities with the most exquisite attention I can give
          them. My life depends on ignoring all touted distinctions
          between the secular and the sacred, the physical and the
          spiritual, the body and the soul. What is saving my life
          now is becoming more fully human, trusting that there
          is no way to God apart from real life in the real world. 
                                                                         p. xv 

Yes and Amen. 

An Invitation
What on-cushion spiritual practices are part of your life? What do you do in your ongoing day-to day existence that with greater focus and intention could become off-cushion practices? In what ways can you fill your life with spiritual practices? I would love to know. 

Monday, February 2, 2015

Tuesday's Reflection: Opening to Change

For several months my sister and I and our spouses gently posed the idea to our 91 year-old father of getting one of those chairs that lifts, raising him to a standing level. His knees are degenerating and although the orthopedist had tried a couple different things, all that was left was knee replacement surgery. He was clear about not doing that, and we all agreed with that decision, but what could we do in light of that decision to at least make getting out of his comfortable chair, where he spends much of his day, easier and less painful?

He wasn't keen on the idea of the new chair, which wouldn't be as attractive as his large leather chair, but over time he decided to at least be introduced to THE CHAIR. My husband and I took him to the medical supply store where in a clear and non-pushy manner, the benefits of the chair were explained, and he experienced the possibilities first hand. Success--we bought the chair and after several weeks, it has finally found a home in Dad's den. He is thrilled. And so are we.

Following back surgery in 2013, Dad decided it was time to sell his house and move into a senior living facility. That was not an easy decision for him, and it, too, was prefaced by conversations we, as a family, gently had with him. Over time he came to the conclusion that moving was the best thing to do, and he settled into a beautiful spacious apartment he loves in a new facility. 

In both of these examples, Dad made the decisions. We paved the way, sharing our concerns and offering suggestions and possibilities, which we let percolate until he became more comfortable with the proposed change.  Once he made the decision we did everything we could to support him, and especially in the case of moving, we all put in lots of hours to make it happen. How grateful I am we didn't have to force these decisions or take away the decision from him. 

I realize not everyone with older parents has the luxury of a parent who is capable of making good decisions for themselves, but in listening to conversations about what to do with Mom or Dad, I hear almost a sense of entitlement --that we are entitled to make the decisions now. All those years of raising us they made the decisions for us--where we would go to school and what kind of health care we received and where we lived, along with lots of input about our activities and our friends. Then there were the years when we made our own decisions, perhaps raising our own families, and our parents were living their own empty nest lives. Now, our parents are developing some dependency on us, and we feel some responsibility for the way they manage their lives. And the result can be conflict between parents and adult children with both parties digging in their heels. Not fun!

I recall a conversation I had with friends about our parents in which I said I hope that I will make things easy for my children when difficult decisions need to be made. One of my friends who is older than I am said, "Don't count on it. It won't be easy for you or for them." 

I would like to think she is not right in her assessment. I would like to think I am more flexible, more able to respond to and make changes, but the truth is I haven't been faced with the kinds of change my Dad and others who have lived as long as he has have had to make. I still have my spouse by my side. My body is certainly not youthful, but I don't have ongoing health issues that color how I live and move. My vibrant circle of friends stimulate and bring joy to my life, and I am still able to use my gifts in productive ways. I know I have lived more days than I will live in the future, but the end of my days doesn't feel as close as it would to someone in their 90's. How do I really know how I will respond to the losses that are surely ahead of me? 

One of my ongoing prayers is for an open heart --now and into the future; I pray I may respond to the losses and challenges of old age with grace, with humor and humility, and from the very best part of myself. Living a life that makes room for intentional spiritual practices I hope will help me continue to grow towards the person I was created to be, even or perhaps especially as I grow old, assuming I have that privilege.  

In the meantime, I can learn from my father. Those of us who love him have been allowed to help him make life-enhancing decisions, and at the same time he has remained his own person. I can, also, listen to the challenges others are having with their parents and look into my own heart and ask how I need to live now in order to ease the challenges that will come. 

One more thing: I'm sure you have heard people say that 60 is the new 40 or something similar--plug in the numbers of your choice. That has always bothered me. Do you mean I have to do 40 all over again? Well, recently, I heard someone speaking to a group about choices in retirement and he said, "60 is the new 60." Yes, yes, yes. I will be who I am the age that I am. 

An Invitation
How have you faced the challenges of your parents aging? How are you facing your own aging? What are your spiritual practices that support you as you face change? I would love to know.