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Archive for the ‘spirituality’ Category

Finding Nemo (video game)

In the movie Finding Nemo, the “natural blue” fish Dorie sings:

Hey Mr Grumpy Gills
You know what you gotta do when life gets you down?
Just keep swimming
Just keep swimming
Just keep swimming swimming swimming
What do we do we swim, swim, swim
OH HO HO How I love to swim
When you WAAAAAANNTTT to swim you want to swim

This keeps going through my head these days, because frankly, life has got me down.  Why is it that trouble comes in clumps?

Let the Airing of the Grievances begin:  (1) a week and a half ago, my elderly mother got knocked down by some supermarket automatic sliding doors and has been suffering the aftereffects from that freak accident; (2) Little Bird has had intense nasal congestion and swelling the past week, along with a terrible cough, which has made sleep problematic for all of us; (3) My Guys’ father is in declining health; and 4) to top it all off,  My Guy and I caught a weird stomach flu bug the night after Thanksgiving and are still trying to recover.

I thought of Dorie at zero dark thirty last night, when my face was wedged against the bed rails on Little Bird’s bed, while Little Bird snored like a buzz saw in my ear.  Just keep swimming, I thought.

I don’ t have any spiritual insights to help me through this, not really.  Sometimes life is hard, and the best I can do is try to remember to let go and simply accept what is happening in the present moment, without judgment.   At least it lifts a little of the mental burden of thinking, “Why is this happening to me?”

I guess Reinhold Neibuhr’s “Serenity Prayer” says it about right, although most of the time I feel like screaming in protest rather than living into the attitude of this prayer:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.
Amen.

–Reinhold Niebuhr

In other words, just keep swimming, just keep swimming.

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Just when I was wondering what I was going to write about next, Little Bird handed me a lulu.  We were driving in the car to her tumbling class, and here’s how it went down:

LB:  Mommy, some people can’t see very well.

Me:  Mmm-hmmm.

LB:  And some people can’t walk very well.  And some people can’t hear very well, right?

Me:  Yes, that’s right.  We are all different.  (pause while I’m trying to think what to say next.)  What do you think about that?

LB:  I like it!

Me (internal sigh of relief):  Yeah!  It would be really boring if we were all the same, wouldn’t it?

LB: Yes.

Me (seeing teachable moment):  God loves us all, Little Bird.

LB (without missing a beat): God loves to shake his little booty!

Me:  Laughing.

Now, I’m not crazy about the fact that she has already, at 3 1/2 years old, internalized the idea that God is exclusively male.   But I love the image that sprang into my mind when she said this — an old white man, with a long white beard, shaking his booty and having a great time doing the cosmic dance.  It might look something like Mr. Natural:

Mr. Natural (comics)

It expresses something fundamental about the nature of God that I, for one, want to connect with more fully:  God is joyfully exuberant, God loves to move around and shake things up, God is loose.

Once upon a time, after a painfully introverted and lonely adolescence, I found that kind of joy, through dance.  I was a new student at U.C. Berkeley, living off-campus in a private home, and was overwhelmed with the hugeness of the place.  In desperation, I applied to live in one of the student cooperatives around campus.

Of course, the student coops are run and operated by students, so they tended to be wild and woolly places.  You would think that shy, sheltered me would wilt in such a place, but instead I thrived.  I had found my people — quirky, intelligent, off-beat, and funny.  And the parties!  Hoo, mama.  That was where I finally loosened up, let go, and learned how to dance.

I moved,  I shimmied, I shook my little booty.  There was no self-consciousness, no thinking involved at all — just sheer joy in movement.  I have never felt so free in my life.  I was pouring out energy, a waterfall of sheer joyfulness shared with all those around me, who were also dancing with abandon.

This self-giving, ever-moving quality of God is well-described by the fancy Greek theological term perichoresis.  First used by the Church Fathers, the term refers to the mutual indwelling and intersecting of the three persons of the Trinity: God the Father/Mother (sorry, I just had to); God the Son; and God the Holy Spirit.

I love Episcopal priest Cynthia Bourgeault’s take on this concept in her book The Wisdom Jesus:

The Trinity, understood in a wisdom sense, is really an icon of self-emptying love. The three persons go round and round like buckets on a watermill, constantly overspilling into one another. And as they do so, the mill turns and the energy of love becomes manifest and accessible. The Cappadocians called this complete intercirculation of love perichoresis, which literally means ‘the dance around.’ Their wonderful and profound insight is that God reveals his own innermost nature through a continuous round dance of self-emptying (p. 72).

Well, my college dancing days are long over.  And I’ll be honest: time has hardened me.  Fear, disappointment, and maybe just the passing of time have formed a brittle shell around my heart that sometimes seems impossible to crack.  It’s hard to admit, but there it is.

The challenge is to keep my heart open to change and possibility and love.  The challenge is to stay loose.

Fortunately, Little Bird and My Guy have come into my life to help me.  Life is fresh and new for Little Bird, and her heart is wide open.  My heart, in turn, is unable to resist her.  She dances and I dance with her, and we spill love into each others’ buckets.

As for My Guy, by nature he is predisposed to enjoy change, rather than resist it (like me).  When he is not being a rocket scientist, he loves weird activities like conscious dance, going to drum circles and sweat lodges, and communing with our backyard on his shamanic journeys.  His predilection to try new things invariably pulls me along, and I am forced to look at life in different ways, and to stay open.  What a nut.  God, I love him.

We are not perfect — we get annoyed with each other, frustrated and resentful.  Just this morning in a fit of pique I threw a roll of toilet paper at My Guy.  Well, not directly at his face, but definitely in his general direction.  We are human beings, not God.  But God is within us and around us, and we overspill into each other, giving and receiving in turn, making the energy of love palpably “manifest and accessible.”

How is the energy of love manifest and accessible in your life?

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Little Bird is not what you would call a “restful” child.  She stopped taking naps around age two, and the concept of quiet time has never caught on with her.  She craves constant attention.  She sings, chatters, and asks questions nonstop all day long.  On the rare occasion when she runs out of things to say, she blows loud and juicy raspberries.

I wouldn’t change her a jot, and it is pretty darn draining to my quiet, introverted self.  It’s probably number one on my list of top ten things that are hard about parenting:  insufficient amounts of quiet to keep me sane.  So I am writing this post to help me remind myself of simple things that can help me find some inner quiet, even when external quiet is not an option.

Here are a few:

Look at a Peaceful Image

Take a look at this:

Stillness

This image makes me think of Jesus, going off to one of his “lonely places,” to be present with God in silence.  It immediately and wordlessly takes me to a place of inner stillness where thoughts cease, and there is simply a spacious awareness of being.

Take One Conscious Breath

For one breath, be fully conscious.  Close your eyes, and be aware of the breath coming in through your nostrils and entering your lungs.  Feel your abdomen rise, then fall.  Don’t try to change your breath or control what is happening.  Simply be present to your breath and attend to what is happening in your body at that moment.  In that moment, as Eckhart Tolle says, “you are aware of awareness.”  If you like it, do it again.  And again.

Try doing this at odd moments during the day, and see if it makes a difference in your quality of life and state of mind.

Slow Down . . . Way Down

Just as an experiment, try doing something really, really slowly, and see what happens.  For example, I was taking my pooch, Sonny Brown, for a walk one day.  He was dawdling as usual, and I was getting really impatient to be back in the house doing all the things on my to do list.  Like they were so important.

I got fed up with the hamster in my brain, turning his wheel over and over the same thoughts, so as an experiment, I slowed down my steps to a snail’s pace.  I noticed each movement of my foot as the heel landed on the ground to when the ball pushed off again.  And, as I slowed down, time also slowed down.  I became aware of all the beauty that was around me: the plants, flowers, sky and earth; the miracle that was my body; my friend dog walking beside me.  It was as if I could suddenly hear on a deeper level of my being all that the plants and the natural world were saying to me.

You can do this anytime:  while washing the dishes, slicing carrots for dinner, cleaning the house.  All of life can become a spiritual practice.

Take a Dose of Vitamin Nature

Stop what you are doing, and go outside.  Look at a tree, or a flower, or the clouds in the sky.  Even if it is only for a second, really see it — without thought, without judgment, without labeling.  In our modern world, we tend to be starved for connection with nature, and not even realize it.  And it’s not the amount of time you spend in nature, it’s the quality of time that is so important.  You can be in the most beautiful place in the world, but if you are not present to it, you might as well be in a padded cell.

Connect with the larger natural world around you, and your soul will expand.

Listen to Something Really Beautiful

I’m not sure that this takes me to a place of stillness, but I couldn’t resist sharing this YouTube video of K.D. Lang singing Leonard Cohen’s song “Hallelujah” at the Juno Awards.  It is six minutes of transcendent beauty:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P_NpxTWbovE

What do you do to find stillness in the midst of your everyday life?  Please share.

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A nagging sense of frustration has been nipping at my heels lately.  I am certainly busy enough these days — taking care of Little Bird, taking care of the house, taking care of the veggie garden, taking care of the animals.  I am a caregiver, yet lately it all feels like a bit much.  It is time to take stock and see where the imbalance lies and what can be done about it.

I hope you will indulge this rambling discourse on the state of my life, as I see it.

Looking Back

It’s been almost a year of craziness.  We moved from our very urban life in Pasadena to Northern California in November of last year, and lived for two months in a hotel while we found our house and closed escrow.  We moved into our new house in the semi-rural Santa Cruz mountains in January.

For about six months after our move, we went through some crazy illnesses — sponsored by Little Bird’s preschool buddies — and my mother’s move into a retirement community and sale of her house.  These events, combined with the dislocation of the move, were very stressful to me.  Like a pebble dropped into a pond, the ripples of my dislocation spread in my little family unit.  Little Bird became crazy clingy to me, and My Guy became over-protective and exhausted from carrying so much burden.

Finally, our lives here are smoothing out.  I can take a deep breath, look back, and see how hard it really was.  But I’m on the other side of that now.  My health is back, I’ve lost seventeen pounds, my back only hurts a little, and I can sleep again.  Thank you, Baby Jesus!

Looking Forward

     Home and the Natural World

To be honest, I don’t feel entirely integrated with my home yet.  This life is so different from what I’m used to:  in Los Angeles, we lived in a two-bedroom condominium overlooking city and freeway, with no outdoor space of our own.  Now, we have an actual house with a third of an acre of backyard.  Talk about an embarrassment of riches!  It’s hard to know what to do with it all.

Since we moved here I have noticed that my comfort zone is definitely indoors, working in the kitchen or reading in the bedroom or living room.  I’m not a natural gardener, and I feel hesitant about working in our garden, like I might offend or hurt the plants somehow.  I have a long ways to go before I’m fully comfortable and at home in our outdoor space.

Yet, we have the most amazingly generous land around and beneath us.  Our peach tree literally showered us with hundreds of white peaches.  The neighbor’s Bartlett pear tree rained down delicious pears into our yard for weeks.  My summer squash grew into the size of alien spacecraft.  Sun Gold cherry tomatoes voluntarily sprang up in odd parts of the yard.  Every turn of the season, the garden gave us wonderful surprises.

I had no idea how estranged I had become from the natural world after living in the city for so long.  I look forward to becoming more comfortable in it, and receiving with gratitude the gifts it brings.  I think that if I just spend an hour or two outside each day, it will make all the difference.

    My Own Self

I have become aware recently how ingrained is my habit of not taking care of myself.  Our culture  encourages us to put everything and everyone else ahead of our own needs.  Women are supposed to put other peoples’ needs ahead of our own. Men are supposed to put the needs of work ahead of their own.

I think the most important thing I can do is to continually remind myself that I am the most important person in my life, that I matter.  I have my own needs that must be attended to first, or else my well will run dry. To use another great metaphor, in the event of an emergency landing, I need to put on my own oxygen mask first, then put on Little Bird’s.  Otherwise, we’ll both go down.

I still have much to do to become mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually healthy — establish a regular centering prayer practice again; find  a new spiritual director; start doing some regular physical exercise again; and connect in a meaningful way with other people, i.e., make some new friends.

And finally, I come to perhaps the most important thing for me:  my writing.  Ironically, this one is hard to write about.  I have suffered for many years from the dual convictions that I both need to write, and that no one has any interest in what I have to say.  I won’t go into the whys and hows that that second bad seed got planted inside me, but suffice to say that it has created great frustration for me almost my entire life.

I think that I may be finally ready for a change.  On a car trip to Los Angeles recently, I became dimly aware of  a series of thoughts running through my head on a semi-conscious level  (from “so and so wrote a book about exactly the topic I am interested in” to “it looks really good and has gotten really good reviews” to “there’s no point in me writing at all because it’s already been done, and much better than I could do, so what’s the point.”).

In a rare burst of insight, I stepped back and observed those toxic thoughts from a healthy distance.  I realized I had been hearing thoughts like these all my life, which were designed to keep me from failure and disappointment.  These thoughts were like a brick wall separating me from the writing life that I want and need.

There is no magic button to delete these thoughts and feelings from my psyche.  They come from a deep place of hurt and fear inside me.  However, what I can do is this:  keep working on being aware of them when they rise up inside me. Simply giving them a space and observing them compassionately will free up space inside me to do what I really want:  to continue writing.

And as a pledge to myself, now that Little Bird is in preschool again after summer break, I promise to give myself the first couple hours of that me-time.  Instead of going home and immediately starting work on cleaning up the messy kitchen or doing laundry or any of the hundreds of household tasks pulling at my sleeves, I am going to the local coffeehouse to write.

And now that I have done so, I’m going home to clean the kitchen!  I’ll see you again soon.

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I hate to be a walking cliche, but the truth cannot be denied:  I wrote a blog for a few weeks, then stopped.  Now I am back, and hope to redeem myself by writing a kick-ass, sublimely beautiful post that will make you weep with emotion.  No?  Okay, I’ll settle for words strung together that make some sort of weird, demented sense and don’t make you nauseous.  That might be achievable.

So, we have made our big move from Los Angeles to the ridiculously gorgeous Santa Cruz mountains.  It feels like an epic movie now in my memory, a Ten Commandments-style Charleton Heston saga.  Our saga included the following:

  • losing Little Bird’s beloved pillow pet pig;
  • running to the vet after our dog’s delightful pre-trip dog fight left him with a torn ear;
  • fixing our broken-down car on the I-5 in the middle of East Jesus;
  • bad colds and sinus infections galore;
  • living in a hotel for two months — TWO MONTHS! — while we sweated out escrow on our condo and new house.

Finally, we made it to the land of milk and honey.  The very first house we looked at with a realtor was our house, with a third of an acre of sunny, useable land, solar panels, the kitchen of my dreams, and to top it all off, a play structure and sandbox for Little Bird.  We left the hotel and moved in mid-January.

More on all that in another post.

What I really want to talk about is this:  there is always a dark side to any bright dream.  If we are to live this dream called life with grace and presence, we must acknowledge — as far as we are able — the shadow side.

I find that life provides plenty of opportunities to encounter the shadow side, if I am open to it.   A simple event can trigger a cascade of challenging emotions.  The day or two before we left L.A., I realized that we had lost Little Bird’s pig, which I was counting on to help ease the transition for her.  As I drove from place to place looking for it, I cried buckets of tears.  Buckets, I tell you.

That one little thing triggered all of my overwhelming grief at leaving dear friends and our long-time church home. I felt unbearably sad at leaving the place of Little Bird’s infancy, and more, at realizing anew that Little Bird was growing up, was no longer a baby.  And underneath that is my grief that everything changes, that everything must change for life to continue.

Change!  I’m against it.

It would certainly be more comfortable to ignore or push down all those hard feelings.  In the short run, that is.  The problem with that plan is that it blocks healing.  All those repressed feelings coalesce into one big ball o’ pain, and everything freezes up inside.

So, the next time hard feelings well up inside of you, try welcoming them, as far as you are able.  Although it seems counter-intuitive, welcoming the crap in life actually transforms it into gold in some weird kind of alchemy.  (Please note that “welcome” does not mean “enjoy.”  It simply means making a space for those feelings.)

It is embracing all of life, the hard and the good both, the sorrow and the joy both.  And in the embrace, God has an opportunity to heal your deepest wounds, which is God’s greatest desire.  As St. Irenaeus said, “The glory of God is the human person, fully alive.”

It’s good to be back.

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Cliff Diver, MAZATLAN

It takes radical trust to live a life based on love rather than fear.  It takes a freefall dive off the Cliffs of Insanity (I do love my Princess Bride references) into the flowing waters of God’s mercy, not knowing for sure whether you will ever surface again.

When Big Change is happening — as it is in my personal life and as it is happening in the world — it is easy to live in fear.  It’s all around us, almost in the air we breathe.   The world encourages us to feel that there is no security, either for ourselves or for our children.

It doesn’t help that life seems to be arranged so that we can only see a step or two ahead of us.  We can’t see what will happen, and no matter how hard we try to control things, life often refuses to cooperate with our plans.  One of my favorite prayers, written by Thomas Merton, acknowledges this truth:

MY LORD GOD,

I have no idea where I am going.

I do not see the road ahead of me.

I cannot know for certain where it will end.

Nor do I really know myself,

and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.

And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.

I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.

And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.

I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

– Thomas Merton, “Thoughts in Solitude”

The fearful honesty in this prayer is both frightening and comforting at the same time.  Frightening, because in order finally to admit that we don’t know where we are going, a part of ourselves has to die.  Comforting, because once we do accept that truth deep in our bones, we find that we are held and supported in ways that are unseen, yet tangible.

A year and a half or so ago, My Guy and I were driving back from the Bay Area to Southern California, with Little Bird sleeping in the back seat.  We talked about how we wanted to live a life that was more aligned with nature.  We wanted to grow at least some of our own food and have some outdoor space for a change.  We wanted to be closer to family in the Bay Area.  It seemed impossible.

Now comes the part that will make my non-religious peeps cringe:  we prayed about it.  We asked for help.  We let go of the idea that we could make this happen.  And now here we are, getting ready to move to a house in the Santa Cruz mountains with a third of an acre of usable land, a chicken house, and solar panels.  It defies belief.

I know a lot of people who are going through some dark times.  I have gone through some dark times myself, and have wondered when the light would shine again.  Right now, however, the sun is shining, and I simply want to shout out from the other side, “You can trust in the goodness of life.”

I know that everything could change tomorrow, but that God would be with me still.  And because I know that, Hildegard of Bingen’s reassurance rings true:  “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

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Centering prayer meditation and temper tantrums don’t normally go together, but sometimes, they do.  This is my story, and I swear it’s true:

Here’s What Little Bird Did

Little Bird had her very first public temper tantrum this week.  We were at a local kid’s museum, where they stamp your hand on admission.  Although she adores stamps, when I went to get her, she did the two-year-old thing:  “NO!!” and ran away in the store.  The guy said it was okay if she didn’t have a stamp, so I just let it go.

Naturally, she wandered back around, wondering why I wasn’t chasing her to give her a stamp.  Here’s how the exchange went:

“Mama, I ready for my stamp.”

“It’s okay, you don’t have to have a stamp.”

“I want a stamp!”

“I’m sorry, honey, but it’s too late for a stamp now.  You can’t have one.”

And that’s when all hell broke loose.

She had always pulled back from the brink before in public, but not this time.  She went the whole nine yards — screaming, crying, flinging herself on the ground, kicking.  I gotta give the kid credit; she gave it her all.

Now, those super-moms who home-school their six kids while blogging regularly and selling artisanal organic free-range hemp cookies on the side could deal with this in their sleep.  But I’m a first-time mom with no experience.  The one burning question in my mind was, “WHAT DO I DO NOW?”

Here’s What I Did

She was in a public walkway, so I tried to pick her up and move her out of the way.  She went limp and slid to the ground, kicking and screaming.  I looked around, saw the other moms looking at us, and . . . decided not to care.  Hey, if they haven’t dealt with it yet, they soon will.

Since I couldn’t pick her up, I said, “I’m walking away.”  She immediately leaped up and grabbed onto my leg, still screaming.  With her clinging to my leg, I hobbled, Quasimoto-like, over to some tables outside where it was quiet.

I unpacked the snacks I had brought, and then I was simply present with Little Bird while the emotional storm passed through her.  I didn’t feel particularly bothered by the screaming or the difficult feelings.  After a while, she climbed on my lap and kept crying.  And a while after that, she said, “Mama, I want a snack,” and started to eat.  We talked about the stamp and why I didn’t let her have it.  And then we went on about the business of enjoying our day and having fun.

How Centering Prayer Helped

Okay, so here’s the deal.  If this had happened before I started practicing centering prayer, I would have become unhinged.  My nervous system would have zapped out and bad things would have happened.

However, after ten years of practicing centering prayer, apparently some stillness has seeped over into my daily life.  I’m certainly not this calm all the time!  However, in this particular situation, I dropped into a zone of quiet that I have come to recognize as the presence of the Infinite.   Only one thing mattered to me: being a non-anxious, non-reactive presence for Little Bird while she worked through the emotions raging inside her.  My drama didn’t become her drama.  And that made all the difference.

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