Thursday, October 29, 2015

Choices: Thursday's Reflections

I think of myself as a voracious reader, but lately, my reading has been scattered, and I have been yearning for a reading retreat. I fantasize about heading to the North Shore for several days to read. I would want a view of the water and a comfortable chair and ottoman because I like to read with my legs stretched out in front of me. A fireplace would be nice. Good simple food, hot chocolate, some wine, and a shawl wrapped around my shoulders. 

And, of course, a big pile of books. I would bring more books with me than I know I could read in the allotted time, but a book lover is always concerned about finishing a book and not having another one right there. Read the last page of one book and immediately open to the first book of another. Or there is the anxiety of bringing a book you are sure you will love only to discover you don't like it at all. Be prepared, is my motto, and bring a stack of possibilities. (I know that issue could be solved by reading E books, but I cling to the feel of a book in my hand.)

Louise deSalvo, author of The Art of Slow Writing, Reflections on Time, Craft, and Creativity, refers to "in and out" reading. Reading  a few pages in-between other activities. I think of that as "stolen reading." She recalls the luxury of falling into reading when she was a child, bringing home a stack of books from the library in the summer and sitting on her porch and reading as long as she wanted.  

The summer before sixth grade I read so much my mother said I wore out the upholstery on a chair. How delicious were those days of total reading immersion.

So what is preventing me from doing that kind of reading right now? I don't have the water view, but I certainly have more than one comfortable chair and ottoman in quiet spaces. Hot chocolate and wine are available. Plus, I have more than enough books to stack at my side, awaiting their turn. 

I have been making different choices about my time. I do read in the morning during my morning meditation and devotion time, and  usually I read a bit before turning off my bedside light, but more and more I put my head on the pillow and close my eyes as soon as I crawl into bed. What has changed in recent months is how I spend my evenings. We have been eating our dinner on trays in front of the tv (I can't believe I am admitting this!) and have immersed ourselves in one series after another on Netflix or Acorn. We just finished watching season one of The Great British Bake Off, for example, but we also loved Restless and George Gently and Foyle's War and Partners in Crime and Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries. Being able to watch one right after the other and as many as we want is seductive. One of us will say, "Just one more," and there we are for another hour. 

In conversations with others in our age category I have discovered we are not alone in this new attraction and I don't feel a need to justify it, but like everything else, when I choose to spend my time in this way, I am not choosing something else. 

Elizabeth Gilbert in her book Big Magic says, "If you can't do what you long to do, go do something else." I may long for a reading retreat, but I also know I don't want to take more time away from my writing. That happens enough as it is.  Going away for a chunk of time just isn't in the cards right now. That means it is time to make some different choices.

This week we are eating at the dining room table, and after dinner I gather my current pile of books and move into the room we call the Snuggery, our sun porch, and I read ALL evening and even read more when I crawl into bed. It is divine. I am immersed in a novel called The Tortoise and the Hare by an English writer in the 40's and 50's, Elizabeth Jenkins, previously unknown to me, but I am also reading Mary Karr's The Art of Memoir and a memoir by Sandra Gubar, Memoir of a Debulked Woman, Enduring Ovarian Cancer.  I have another book in the stack, The Last Gift of Time, Life Beyond Sixty by Carolyn Heilbrun, but haven't started that. Yet. 

I am not saying this is what I will do every evening, but I listened to my yearning and realized what I needed in that moment was to make a different choice. I did that, and I can do that in the future. 

An Invitation
What different choice could you make right now that would touch a yearning within you? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Fall Transitions and Transformation: Tuesday's Reflection

In what ways have you made the transition into fall? What are you doing that is different from even a month ago? What are signs of this shift?

I now shut the front door when I come in from outside, instead of keeping it open to the glass storm door. 

I fix a cup of hot chocolate when I return from my morning walk, especially if I have neglected to grab a pair of lightweight gloves as I leave the house. The steam from the hot chocolate mimics the steam on my glasses when I step back into the house.

I wrap myself in a shawl during morning devotion time and sometimes even later when I work at my desk. 

I turn on the kitchen lights when I fix dinner, for the darkness appears earlier and earlier. And dinner these days is often soup or squash or other hearty food. 

I clean my closet, folding and storing summer clothes, replacing them with sweaters and corduroy shirts and pants. I switch spring jackets and raincoat for winter vests and heavy coats. 

I don't miss a chance to comment on the glories of these days, the gifts of a long fall. Often the response from stranger or friend will be about the dreaded winter. I nod and smile, as if in agreement, but I am a winter-lover, as much as a fall enthusiast. 

And yet, just the other day I sat outside on the front step and ate my turkey sandwich and read in the noontime sunshine. The shift is not yet complete.

That's the thing about fall. 

          Autumn holds fragments of other seasons in transform-
          ative arms. Even while forecasting an end to lush green
          summer, we are still gifted with some warm, green
          moments. The quiet turning of the leaves from summer
          green to radiant arrays of color offers us a splendor as 
          lovely as the blossoms of spring. Sitting in autumn's
          quiet sunlight can be a sonnet without words. Ever so
          slowly, this season turns its face toward winter. It is a
          bridge between the warmth and the cold. Beginning
          with summer's dew still in its hair, it can quickly
           become a friend of winter's frost. 
                                   The Circle of Life,
                                   The Heart's Journey Through the Seasons
                                   Joyce Rupp and Macrina Wiederkehr

Fall is the perfect time to think about the shifts in our lives. Yes, our external lives, but also our inner lives. Where on the bridge of your life are you standing? "What do we need to gather into our spiritual barns? What in our lives needs to fall away like autumn leaves so another life waiting in the wings can have its turn to live?" (The Circle of Life, p. 168)

The balance between trees still sheltered by leaves in rich colors to bare branches shifts daily, even hourly. The sidewalk becomes a broadcast of leaf shuffling, and pumpkins seem to appear spontaneously on steps. We can wake to the trees as they surrender their hold on the leaves and to the leaves as they let go. 

Come, let us discover what needs to shift in our own lives and awaken to the next stage of our lives.

An Invitation
How is fall your teacher? What message does fall have for your inner life? I would love to know.  

Note: Thanks to Daniel Mauer for including one of my recent posts on "transformation" on his dynamic site Transformation Is Real. Daniel is a writer and speaker and recovery advocate and is passionate about sharing stories about the role of transformation in people's lives. You can read my post and visit his site here.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Transformation, Part 2: Thursday's Reflection

The transformation of our house from its previous pale gold color to the new aqua blue, which signals the colors inside our house, is not quite done. It may look done, if you don't know the plan and besides it certainly looks different to anyone passing by, but I know what's missing.

The red door. 

I know the transformation is not done. 

Sometimes one change leads to another. 

Sometimes we simply need more time, especially when other parts of life intervene. That is true for the red door, which will be a project for next summer, and that is just fine. 

Sometimes we need to live with one change before we can be intentional about making another change. 

And sometimes we need help.

This week we are getting help with the house's transformation. Bruce was uncomfortable painting the back of the house because of the electrical wires, so he hired professional painters to complete the job. As I work on this post, one of the painters is working outside my garret window. I am willing to accept the scraping noise and the sounds of conversation and their radio in order to move forward with this transformation.

What a relief it is to know that someone with more experience and training is available to help when help is needed. And wasn't Bruce smart to recognize the need for help and to take the step to get it? One more step towards transformation is underway. 

Homes On Our Block

One more thought about transformation: The homes in our cozy neighborhood are mainly painted in shades of beige, cream, white, grey with an occasional sage green. The color of our house is not the norm, to say the least, but the neighbors have been complimentary. I wonder if the transformation of our house will encourage others to make a change, too. Perhaps not as radical a change as we have made, but maybe others will become more open to color in some area of their life or perhaps just seeing the lightness as they walk to the bus stop every morning will give them an unexpected lift. 

Who knows, but I do know that transformation spreads and doesn't contain itself. 

Thanks to Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat and their book Spiritual Rx, Prescriptions for Living a Meaningful Life for this bit of mindfulness:
          Breathing in: As Spirit transforms me,…
          Breathing out: may I transform the world.

An Invitation
What steps remain in a change you know you need to make? Is it time to ask for help? How has one transformation in your life led to others? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Transformation, Part I: Tuesday's Reflection

All summer Bruce has been painting the exterior of our house. Now, instead of a more gold than yellow color, the house is a refreshing and uplifting aqua blue. The trim is a clean white as is the stucco, replacing an off white in need of a good scrubbing, and the window boxes are now a crisp black, rather than the faded forest green of previous years. 

The house is transformed, and we love the new look.  

This house may date from the 20's, but this new look has given it new life and it has become, as Meridel Le Sueur wrote, "luminous with age." 

Of course, this transformation did not happen without a vision of what this house could look like, nor did it happen without work. Bruce spent many days on the ladder this summer, and once he started there was no turning back. True, we could have second guessed ourselves and decided we didn't like the chosen color. We then would have needed to select a different color, maybe a safer one like white or grey, but it would not have been possible to return to the way it was. 

My job was to notice the change and to encourage and compliment and reinforce. Sometimes one just needs to get used to the change.

Transformation is like that. 

Joan Chittister says that an important part of the aging process "lies in simply getting accustomed to being older." But hasn't that always been the case. We've needed time to get used to other changes in our life, even when we have chosen them. Time to adjust to living or working some place new or time to accept a health challenge or a loss of a relationship. Over our many years we have had experience with change and transformation. 

We know how to do this, even when it isn't easy, even when it requires patience, but here's what I love about transformation.

The process of transformation reminds us that no matter who you are, how old you are or what has happened to you in the past or what you have done, it is still possible to be and do something new. Just look at our sweet little 1920's cottage.

An Invitation
What is waiting to be transformed in your life? What new "color" is calling you? I would love to know. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Distraction vs Everything Else: Thursdays Reflection

Last week I entered a time of "writing recovery," a term Louise DeSalvo uses in her book The Art of Slow Writing. I had not worked on my book project for several weeks. A road trip followed by planning for a retreat took precedence. No regrets, but that hasn't made the recovery process any easier. 

I had no idea where I left off and what I had written and what the next step should be. I had passed the stage of missing my writing time and had entered a time of wondering if it just might be easier to let the project go. I could easily keep myself busy and even feel productive and purposeful. The retreat itself led to a number of other ideas to pursue. In other words this was a dangerous time; a time when it was important to sit and listen to the various voices trying to make conversation with me. 

Fortunately, I had Elizabeth Gilbert who wrote Eat, Pray Love, and her new book Big Magic, Creative Living Beyond Fear, to cheer me on or was it to slap some sense into the voice that said, "Why bother. You don't need to do this."? Gilbert spoke recently in Minneapolis and over 700 of us heard her encourage each of us in our creative endeavors. Someone in the audience asked her about how to stay focused and Gilbert suggested the importance of knowing the difference between curiosity and distraction. In other words when does an Internet search for some essential piece of information for the article you are writing (curiosity) turn into a lost in time, one website leading to another till you forget what your initial question was waste of time (distraction)? 

In my life distraction disguises itself as busyness, as in a need to wash floors and polish silver.  Sometimes as opportunities. Sometimes as flattery, as in "You are the perfect person to do x, y, z." Sometimes as laziness, as in a pile of magazines beckoning me or another episode of Miss Fisher's Mysteries. (Netflix--great fun and a little racy!) Sometimes another name for distraction is fear. 

Gilbert says, "Everyone's song of fear has exactly the same tedious lyric, 'STOP, STOP, STOP, STOP.'"

That's the voice I was hearing. The voice wasn't telling me to stop because I might die if I continue or I might contract a catastrophic illness or I might lose our entire savings or I might totally alienate everyone I love and hold dear. The voice I was hearing was undermining my own creativity and my desire to use that creativity. The voice I was hearing, frankly, was not very trustworthy, for over the years that voice has gotten in the way of growth and openness. 

When I brushed that voice aside, of course, there was room for something new and far more interesting. I still had no idea how to return to my writing, but teachers are often right there when you need them. Louise DeSalvo says, "And beginning anew requires us to be patient with ourselves." Patience vs distraction. 

She also mentioned somewhere in The Art of Slow Writing that when she is working on a book she keeps a separate notebook for each main section of the book. That was it--that was the clue I needed to get back to work. 

Without further hesitation I drove to Target and bought 5 new three-ring notebooks, one for each section in my book, and a bunch of dividers, which I labelled "drafts," "feedback," "journal entries," "notes," etc for each notebook. (My labelmaker, one of my favorite toys, got quite the work-out!) I reorganized all the material I have amassed these past months in a way that is far more accessible and in the process, I re-acquainted myself with what I have done so far and what I need to do next. 

Sometimes organizing can be a distraction for me, but this time it was a step forward, and because I spend time getting to know my various voices, I knew that would be the case. 

That was last week, and this week I have been writing. Actually working on a new chapter and I now have several pages of what Anne Lamott calls the SFD or "shitty first draft." It's a start, and I am definitely in writing recovery. 

An Invitation

What does distraction look like, sound like in your life? What do you do when you recognize it? What is waiting to be recovered in your life? What's keeping you from setting aside distraction and moving forward into your own creative living? I would love to know.


Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic
Louise DeSalvo's The Art of Slow Writing
Anne Lamott

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Doing What You Need: Tuesday's Reflection

I suspect by this stage of our lives we each know what we need to do, whether it is for the health of our body, our mind or our spirit, but how often do we actually do what we most need? 

In recent posts I mentioned the retreat I co-facilitated recently. I truly love preparing for and offering retreats, but they require excessive amounts of time and energy, and at the end of a retreat I am tired mentally and physically. Spiritually, I feel almost too full.  Absorbed by people's stories and challenges. Inspired by and eager to integrate the wisdom shared, but how?

My normal mode of operation when making a transition from one major activity or event to whatever is next is to clean, to sort and organize. When returning from a vacation, for example, I immediately unpack. Suitcases are returned to storage and laundry is started. Mail is sorted and if early enough in the day, I make a trip to the grocery store for the basics. Re-entry is not delayed. 

When something has required time and attention and lots of preparation and when other projects and even ordinary tasks have needed to be set aside, I am usually eager to do whatever it takes to return my normal routine. I assumed I would follow that usual plan of action after the retreat, but I surprised myself.

I got as far as unloading all my retreat stuff from the car into the entry of the house, but then there they sat. I made no further efforts to reshelve the books, to file the papers or return the various props used throughout the day to their proper spots. I left it all in a pile right inside the door.  I decided I could deal with it another day. 

I knew what I needed was time to empty, to make room for what was most essential, to restore energy. I knew what would help me bridge the recent time of intense activity and interaction and would return me to equilibrium. I needed to see Big Water. I needed to hear Big Water.  

Therefore, the day after the retreat Bruce and I drove north to Duluth and along the North Shore of Lake Superior toward Split Rock Lighthouse. I didn't have a list of sights to see or things to do. I did no research, except to see what the weather forecast would be. We had no real plan, but just headed north. Towards Big Water.

Each time we stopped to take in the view I could feel a shift inside my body. I started to empty and make room for some needed spaciousness. As the waves landed on the shore and then retreated back out beyond where I could see, I felt the wrinkles on my forehead, and even the ones I imagine on my heart, disappear. I experienced a smoothness, a lightening. I could feel the beginnings of a rhythmic flow again. 

By the time we returned home, I was awake once again. 

I had resisted what seemed most logical and instead responded to what my soul told me I most needed to do. 

I realize it isn't always possible to do the one thing you feel would be most beneficial for your spirit, but more than likely there is something that would be a good stand-in. If I hadn't been able to take a full day for my soul or if I didn't have access to Big Water, which I have learned over the years is healing and inspiring for me, I hope I would have spent time meditating and writing in my journal, my two main spiritual practices. I hope I would have taken a longer than usual walk or spent time coloring and listening to music. 

I know what I need at those kinds of overflowing time, and this time I allowed myself to actually respond to that need. 

An Invitation

Do you know what restores you? How often do you actually do what you most need? I would love to know. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Wisdom, Part 2: Thursday's Reflection

During the retreat I co-facilitated recently, "Growing Older with Grace, Spiritual Practices for the Second Half of Life," I opened with an exercise in which each participant emptied a bag of glass pebbles, one for each year of their life, into a large glass bowl, and then shared a significant piece of wisdom from their life.

The bowl of pebbles symbolized all the years of wisdom in the room. 2, 623 years of wisdom to be exact, although as one person told me, some of her years were more foolish than wise. I know the feeling!

All day long I wanted to run my fingers through the bowl filled nearly to the top with multi-colored pebbles. I thought perhaps I could capture all that wisdom through osmosis. If I stirred up handfuls of those pebbles, would I become wiser myself, would wisdom seep through my fingertips and reach my heart and my mind? Would the coolness of the pebbles extinguish the flames of my ego which so often gets in the way of openness and calm? Would dipping into all this wisdom reinforce the wisdom that has come to me slowly and often painfully? 

And where would this day of wisdom shared and received lead?

One person shared her discomfort about offering wisdom to those she viewed as being so much wiser than herself. We talked briefly about the root of her concern, and I urged her to sit quietly and have a conversation with her own wisdom. Invite her for a cup of coffee and get to know her. Ask her what she knows, what she has learned. What is her name?

It seems to me that at this stage of our life, we need to become comfortable with our own wisdom. This is the time to uncover the wisdom we have learned along the way. This is the time to live our wisdom, not just know it. To be our wisdom, not just expect respect for our years lived. Knowing our wisdom is a deep form of coming to know our essence, the person we were created to be. And knowing our own wisdom is a step, often a big and sometimes a surprising step, towards understanding our purpose during this stage of our lives. A step to living our wisdom.

Ok, here's a caveat. Listen to the tone of your wisdom. Is it whiney or bossy or wedded to the past, beginning sentences with "in my day," or "in the day." Listen to your wisdom and notice if it is acting from a "I have a right to be heard." stance. Are you open to the wisdom of others, including those younger than you, or do you pronounce your wisdom as if it is the end all, be all? Notice if the wisdom you offer, comes from your heart and is that heart truly beating with compassion and love? Is your wisdom willing to grow and deepen or is it stuck in "that's the way it is"? 

In a recent sermon at our church Barbara Lundblad, the now retired, former professor of preaching at Union Theological Seminary said, "What is the word you have been called to say that only you can say?" That is your wisdom, and it is good to develop a deep and abiding relationship with that wisdom.

An Invitation
How are you living your wisdom? What are the opportunities you might have to model and share and be your wisdom at this stage of your life. I would love to know. 

Barbara Lundblad

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Wisdom, Part One: Tuesday's Reflection

One day last week I was in the presence of 2,623 years of wisdom, thanks to a retreat, "Growing Older with Grace, Spiritual Practices for the Second Half of Life," which I helped organize and facilitate. Wisdom overflowed the entire day, beginning with our opening exercise. 

Each participant was given a white gauze bag filled with glass pebbles--one for each year of his or her life. Some bags were heavier than others, since our oldest participant was in her mid80's and the youngest in her 40's. On a table in front of our retreat room I had placed a large empty glass bowl, and I asked each person to one by one empty their bag of shiny pebbles into the bowl and to share a piece of wisdom they had acquired during their lifetime. 

My pebbles were the first in the bowl, making an almost metallic sound as my 67 pebbles spilled into the glass bowl. I turned to the group and said, "One piece of wisdom I keep relearning is the awareness that when I give myself time to move into silence, to become still, I seem to have more time and am more open."

Little by little, person by person, the pile of pebbles grew into multicolored layers and the sound, as the mound grew, became richer and deeper, not unlike the kind of wisdom that comes with the added years. The room was hushed as we yearned to receive each offering of wisdom. Wisdom about learning to live alone following the death of a spouse. Wisdom about patience and about appreciating the small and ordinary pleasures of life. Wisdom about trust and forgiveness and letting go of regret. 

Before this opening exercise I had led the group in a meditation, in order for each of us to become centered and present to our time together. I said, "You are in a safe place. You are in a place where your wisdom is welcome. You are in a time of spiritual deepening. Today is for you. Breathe in and out, receiving and surrendering. And when you are ready, open your eyes, gaze in silence around the room and feel yourself in this sacred moment."

The entire day was a succession of sacred moments, for when wisdom is shared, when wisdom is received, the moment is sacred. The glass bowl of 2, 623 pebbles was a visual reminder of all we have learned on our spiritual journeys and how much we can benefit from the wisdom of others. I wish I had thought to add more pebbles to the bowl throughout the day as we shared insights and reflections and as we opened to the movement of God in our lives. If I had done that, the bowl would have been overflowing by the end of our time together. 

At the end of the day I invited each person to come to the front of the room again and share with the group a gratitude, a hope, a learning they had acquired during our time together and then to take pebbles from the bowl as a reminder and symbol of our day of wisdom. 

The bowl remained full even though pebbles had been removed. I think wisdom is like that--wisdom shared, wisdom received creates more wisdom, grows more wisdom.

An Invitation
I invite you to share a piece of wisdom that guides your daily life and leads you to greater awareness of the movement of Spirit in your life. What pebbles of wisdom do you have to offer? I would love to know. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Nadia Bolz: Weber, Sinner and Saint: Thursday's Reflection

Recently, the Lutheran pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber spoke to a standing room only crowd at our church, Gloria Dei, in St Paul. I knew many would come to hear her, but I had no idea I would end up sitting in the last row of the balcony, instead of my usual left side in the middle pew. She is used to these kinds of crowds, for she speaks honestly and clearly, often with words many would consider not appropriate in the church. Instead of "pious" as most would define it, she acknowledges her flaws and how they formed the faithful, although unconventional, woman she is. The name of her congregation in Denver is appropriate: House for All Sinners and Saints. I love that the word "sinners" comes before the name "saints" in the name of the congregation. 

Her appearance  tall, heavily tattooed, not an ounce of fat in those tight ripped jeans, is at first startling to one who still dresses up for church, but then she starts speaking about why she is a Lutheran and about grace and how God is a source of wholeness and "my brokenness is not the final word." 

Here's a sampler of what she said that night:

"Me, too," are connecting words.

"It is in our jagged edges where God gets hold of us and yet we keep trying to smooth ourselves out." 

"What we say in church may be true, but not honest."

"Church is a place where we should be able to dive into our difficulties."

The words that particularly grabbed me were about experience. She encouraged us to trust our personal experience. Early in her book Pastrix. The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint, she writes,
          I once heard someone say that my belief in Jesus 
          makes them suspect that I intellectually suck my
          thumb at night. But I can not pretend, as much as 
          sometimes I would like to, that I have not throughout
          my life experienced the redeeming, destabilizing
          love of a surprising God. Even when my mind protests,
          I still can't deny my experiences. This thing is real to me.
          Sometimes I experience God when someone speaks 
          the truth to me, sometimes in the moments when I 
          admit I am wrong, sometimes in the loving of 
          someone unlovable, sometimes in reconciliation that
          feels like it comes from somewhere outside of myself,
          but always when I experience God it comes in the 
          form of some kind of death and resurrection. pp. xvi-xvii

She confesses what she has experienced to be true. 

I wonder how often I disregard my own experiences in favor of what someone else tells me is "true" or how often I diss my own responses, in favor of what I have been told I should feel or believe or know. Yes, that includes church, too. 

What I am coming to understand is that this stage of my life is awakening to my own experience, my own wisdom, my own truths. I am not interested in converting you to what I understand to be true, but if as I come to know the essence of who I am, you also come to greater awareness, I will be most gratified. 

I felt the audience of young and old, church and unchurched, believers and nonbelievers, breathe in unison with Nadia. I glanced at the two young people seated next to me, each holding a phone, but no texting or checking messages was happening. They were rapt in attention. I could feel their yearning energy. After the talk I greeted them--just what they needed was an old lady trying to have a conversation with them--and asked them how they happened to be there. They had seen Nadia on YouTube and heard she would be here. I thanked them for coming, expressed hope that this had been a life-enhancing experience for them and invited them to visit anytime. They would be most welcome.  

An Invitation
What have you experienced to be true? I would love to know. 

Nadia Bolz-Weber
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