I am doing “A Year of Mindfulness” at soundstrue.com. I am still working through the beginning practices of “Daily Mindfulness.” I very much appreciate the teachers, Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach. I recommend this whole experience.
I led the annual retreat for the Clergy and CREs of the Wyoming Presbytery, June 5-8. What a time we had together at Camp Story! There were resources available to explore a variety of spiritual practices. We built a labyrinth for the camp. We engaged a set of reflections I call the Journey. The participants gave a lot in the journaling and sharing. Together we stretched our awareness and our sense of God in our spiritual journey. What a wonderful God to have created such wonderful, committed people and such a place for us to spend a few days!
the labyrinth at Camp Story
the prayer center
It’s the new year. Most of us have some idea about what we would like to change in the year ahead – weight, happiness, finances, relationships. So how do you get the results you want? Make a plan, start a diet, work for career advancement, spend more time doing what you enjoy and less on what annoys you, develop relationship skills. So how’s it working for you so far? For some people some of the time, a good plan and some perseverance can accomplish a lot. If you have already gotten started, remember that the new brain research says that it takes 21 days to establish a new habit.
It is just as true that for many, a good plan and perseverance are not nearly enough to make the changes we desire. We slog along with little bursts in the right direction, but too soon we feel defeated and give up, leaving us feeling as though nothing will ever change. If you have arrived at this point, then it is probably time to get some help.
As a Life Consultant, I can help you work toward your goals. One of the aspects I listen for when I work with clients is what is gained by keeping your life the way it is. What are the forces in your life resisting change? It is common to overlook the fact that we have made choices that get us stuck in the life we have. And there were reasons we made those choices, mostly based on our most familiar ways to cope with our anxieties at the moment.
It can take a little work to bring what have become familiar patterns back into awareness so that you have the opportunity to make new more life-giving choices, but what a worthwhile use of your time and money — to be able to make your life move in the directions you deeply desire, to feel that you are actively shaping the life you want. I’d be glad to talk with you about what you want for this year. Remember, your initial consultation is free.
Life is full of challenges and sometimes a lot is required of us — the strength to stand up for what we believe, a fateful decision, intense conflict with a lot on the line. That’s stress. Of course, we do everything we can to meet our challenges — work hard, plan, strategize, prepare. But often the anxiety raised in such situations is not dissipated, even with all these activities. Your mind still races in the middle of the night. Your body is stiff and sore from tension. Rest doesn’t come easily. You exhaust yourself with endless trivial activity. What else is there to do?
Exercise can help regulate your body, but when your soul is anxious, you need to exercise it, too. In general, spiritual practices can help us explore and become more familiar with different aspects of our existence: yoga – our bodies and energy; journaling – our feelings and patterns of behavior; prayer – our sense of God; meditation – our mind and intuition. In stressful situations, we are less open to exploration and we may find ourselves avoiding our customary spiritual practice or feeling too tired to make the effort. It is tempting to skip your usual practice for a day or two, but continuing can be very helpful, too. Doing your spiritual practice — even half-heartedly — can provide some sense of normalcy and routine. Continuing your practice can help you process the stressful experiences and come to terms with your situation. Doing your spiritual practices even under stress can help you begin to find a way to welcome the challenges and find meaning even in the hardships. It is OK to take a break from spiritual practices when you need to, but keeping up your practices even when you don’t feel like it can also be a blessing.
In the Nov. 3 Chicago, Tribune Deann Groen Bayless is quoted saying that she mostly reads to find spiritual inspiration. This is a response typical of the Protestant upbringing she described. But it is only part of the spiritual journey. Certainly I read a lot. There are so many teachers from a world of religious traditions and from the ages that came before us. But the one teacher who typically gets overlooked in this tradition is the most important, God. Born of the enlightenment era, in protestantism God is often conceived as an intellectual abstraction. The possibility that God can be experienced immediately, face-to-face, is often viewed with suspicion. Yet, exactly the discovery of that possibility is what has sparked the widely cited concept, “spiritual but not religious.” Taking seriously that God is everywhere and that all creation is a revelation of God opens up the exciting adventure of the spiritual journey. With this perspective, there is supreme importance in every moment of experience. What is less observed about the spiritual path is that there are just as many temptations and seductions along this path as any other. The wisdom to seek God and continue the journey has been recorded through the ages, but is less familiar to this “scientific” age. Such wisdom is not merely information. Wisdom is truth that is being lived, that has flesh and blood. We negotiate the spiritual path with the help of wise people.
A man came to the door of my office. As we sat down, he showed me his ID and said he was a vet. I could see he was unnerved. He told me that his wife had just used the police to order him out of his own car. The two of them had just been out to lunch. He was stationed in another state, but having just returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan he had come to see his wife, to see if they would still make it together. It hadn’t gone well. After lunch she started beeping the car horn to get the attention of the police. It worked. A policeman came to the car and let the man know that it would be an instance of domestic violence if he didn’t exit the car immediately. He complied and got out. When he told me about it, he couldn’t hide how much he was hurting. All he wanted was to be able to collect his things, get back to the base and start dealing with the life that was ahead of him. I offered my sympathy and support. How much he had to deal with, first in war and now at home! Back at the base there would be resources to help him. I congratulated him on the strength it took to get out of the car and walk away.
I woke up from a dream. It is usual for me to feel as though I have just shifted from one totally real environment to another. Usually the dream reality and my lying-in-bed-awake-in-the-middle-of-the-night reality are distinct, separate. Then in my lying-in-bed-in-the-middle-of-the-night reality I began to wonder if my dream had something in particular to say to me. I began to remember the dream, not trying to return to the dream, but bringing the things, the other people and the environment to mind, individually, slowly, paying attention to what each might evoke in me, memories, feelings, other associations. This time I did not discover any especially provocative reactions. It was a fun dream. Sometimes it is OK just to enjoy dreaming.