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Posts Tagged ‘spirituality’

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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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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One of several versions of the painting "...

Image via Wikipedia

“I’m so tired my face feels weird.”  I actually said this to my mommy group the other day, after a night of maybe 2-3 hours sleep.  And my face did feel weird — can eyes actually feel hollow?  Mine did.

Like I said — weird.

It got me to thinking about the different kinds of fatigue I have experienced since Little Bird came along.  Here are a few:

  •  “Zombie Effect”: caused by straight-on massive sleep deprivation due to infancy, illness, nightmares, etc.;
  • “Mommy Ears”: a state of sensitized hearing, such that the slightest noise results in extended sleeplessness;
  • “Frayed Nerve Syndrome”: brought on by the regular auditory onslaught of whining, screaming, and crying;
  • “Total Brain Collapse”: results from excess amounts of responsibility for extended periods (partner absence is usually involved here);
  • “Extreme Elmo Exhaustion”: no explanation necessary for parents of toddlers.

Fatigue is one of the shadow sides of being a parent.  Some days — many days — I’m just too tired even to think, much less be nurturing, playful and consistent in discipline vis-a-vis the adorable moppet who is sapping whatever meager portion of strength, energy and youth I once had.

But I’m not bitter about it.

It’s just that nobody warned me.  All you see in the magazines are glowing, dewy-faced portraits of the 40-plus celebrity moms who are just Over the Moon about their little addition.  Everything in our culture celebrates the cult of momhood, with nary a sideways glance at the sometimes significant downsides to this role.  Let’s face it, parenthood is a mixed bag.

It helps to laugh.  And that’s why my mommy group is essential to my self-care.  Over coffee and tea, we complain, laugh, and sometimes cry as well.  We try to be real with ourselves and with each other.  If we’re having a hard time, we say so.

So to my fellow moms there as well as moms and dads elsewhere, I offer you this ditty, based on “There Are 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover” (with apologies to Paul Simon):

The problem is all inside your bed
She said to me
The answer is easy if you
Stop and count your sheep
I’d like to help you in your struggle
To get sleep
There must be fifty ways
To feel exhausted.

She said it’s really not my habit
To think of you
Or your needs, which
are just irrelevant too
But I’ll repeat it many times
Until you come unglued
There must be fifty ways
To feel exhausted
Fifty ways to feel exhausted

[CHORUS:]
You just throw up your snack, Jack
Get real sick, Nick
Let go of the toy, Roy
Now listen to me
Stop making a fuss, Gus
Would you please just hush
Go learn how to pee, Lee
In your little potty

She said it peeves me so
To see you in such pain
I wish there was something I could do
So you would play with me again
I said I appreciate that
And would you please explain
Why you won’t let me rest

She said why don’t we both
Just stay awake tonight
And I believe in the morning
You will fall apart, all right
And then she hit me
And I realized she probably was right
There must be fifty ways
To feel exhausted
Fifty ways to feel exhausted

[CHORUS]

Ugh, that’s horrible.  I must really be tired.

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o is for open

Image by Michael W. May via Flick

“I’m in charge here.”

My 2 1/2-year-old girl, known here as Little Bird, uttered these words recently and repeatedly.  This was the latest salvo in her ongoing battle to control everyone in her world and everything that happens to her.  As her pediatrician said at her 2-year checkup, “It’s all about control at this age.”  Boy howdy, is it ever.

But don’t we all want to be in charge?  I know I do, and I get just plain cranky when I lose the control.  Which happens about a million times a day, every day.  The trick for me is knowing:

(a) which things I can control;

(b) which things I cannot control; and

(c) letting go of the things that fall under (b) above.

That rotten old (c) is the kicker, of course, and the most difficult part of the journey.

In The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See, Richard Rohr says that “all great spirituality is somehow about letting go.”  (64)  The good news — or bad news, depending on how you look at it — is that being a stay-at-home mom or dad is a spiritual bootcamp.  Every single freakin’ day presents multiple opportunities to practice letting go of control.  We should all be canonized as saints.

For example, a few months ago, my Little Bird was suffering from fierce separation anxiety, especially at naptime and bedtime.  When I tried to leave her room, she would cry big fat tears and say pitifully, “Mama walked away!”  I was at my wit’s end to know how to help her through this.  Mama Guilt started to whisper in my ear, “You’re such a crappy Mom . . . why can’t you help her . . . why can’t you solve this problem?”

Two grace moments occurred to help me through this.  First, I did some Internet research, and realized that this was just a phase.  That’s all it was, not the end of the world as we know it.  Whew.

Second, I realized that I am not responsible for my child’s feelings.  She is her own person, with her own feelings.  If I try to control or manage her feelings, I am essentially violating her personhood.  I can do my best to support her in what she is going through, but in the end, she must go through it herself — as we all must.

This recognition helped me to surrender my desire to change Little Bird’s feelings.  I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and let it go.  Once I did that, I felt a spaciousness inside me.  My frustration and guilt washed away like the tide, and compassion flowed in.  It was both cleansing and liberating.

I was then able to say to Little Bird with a calm heart, “I can see that you are having a hard time and you are having some big feelings.  I know that you will be okay.”  While her anxiety didn’t completely go away, it did ease up, and we had a rest period before entering the next scene in the drama called “Bedtime.”

This particular scene reminded me that I can live my life like a tight fist, grasping for control over life’s uncertainties.  Or I can live life with open hands, freely surrendering those things that do not serve me or those I love.

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