Category Archives: Bodies

Journaling is a Revolutionary Act: 10 Ways to Journal

Found on @IHAVECAT

Found on @IHAVECAT, Tamar Aslanian’s blog

I owe Donald Trump a debt of gratitude.

Sisters, after the events of the last week, I understand that journaling is so much more than a feel-good activity. Journaling is an act of revolution.

My original intro to this post was blah blah blah – journaling is good for you and here’s why… The fall is such a perfect time to journal, what with cool days and long nights and evenings by the fireside… Many studies (google “journaling and mental health”) support journaling’s positive effect on anxiety, depression, and other mental ailments…

All these things are true, and they’re way less relevant than this: We must know how beautiful, precious, and priceless we are. We must know how freaking IMPORTANT and NECESSARY we are, so we can more powerfully express and defend ourselves.

I believe it’s imperative that we find our voice. We must know what we think, feel, and want in order to stand up and resist the sorts of all-too-prevalent attitudes we saw on such glaring display in Trump’s “pussy” video. Journaling is, for many of us, a valuable tool in our self-knowledge tool kit.

Our knowledge of our belovedness gets obscured by our culture, our families, our schools, and even our churches. Uncovering our essential, true, deeply loved core and living from that part of us is what the world needs. Our world craves our honest, passionate, whole, beautiful voices. Our clearly-articulated love, for ourselves and for all of creation, will heal.

One caveat: journaling is NOT helpful when we use our journal to beat ourselves up. If you’re doing this, please stop. And maybe try one of these suggestions…

Here are ten forms your journaling could take. There are so many others. If journaling makes you crazy or bores you silly, perhaps one of these will be a vehicle for knowing yourself more fully.

  1. A happiness journal. Shawn Achor, a Harvard happiness researcher, recommends five simple actions that build happiness over time:
  • List three things you’re grateful for every day. Three NEW things every day.
  • Journal for two minutes about a positive experience. (This practice rewires your brain for happiness. Our brains are hard-wired to notice the negative things, so intentionally noticing the positive builds new neural pathways.)
  • Meditate for as little as two minutes daily. Meditation will help you learn to direct your attention where it’s most helpful.
  • Perform one random act of kindness daily. Write down what you did.
  • Exercise

(I found Shawn’s research in Jeff Olson’s The Slight Edge.)

 

  1. A nature journal. You can go easy by simply noting the weather and one or two observations. You can go hardcore, too. One of my favorite nature journaling resources is Irene Brady’s Illustrating Nature. She also has many useful blog posts about drawing and sketching nature.

 

  1. A sensory journal. Note at least one thing daily that you saw, heard, tasted, touched, and smelled. This is a great way to gently get in touch with your body, if you’ve lost yours. Add on number 4 to go deeper.

 

  1. A body journal. Four or more times during the day (set an alarm on your phone to remind yourself), take five minutes and check in with your body. Put your feet flat on the floor and take three deep breaths. Ask yourself these questions: What am I feeling emotionally? What sensations do I feel in my body? What are these emotions and sensations telling me? Can I simply allow them? We’re not trying to fix anything, we’re just noticing. After a few days, you should have a fairly good sense of what your baseline is. Body journaling is an effective way to get ahold of what you might want to bring to coaching. If you want to get fancy, note your exercise patterns and your cravings. See number 8 if you want to take this further.

 

  1. A morning pages journal. Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, recommends morning pages as a way to skim off the surface ramblings of your mind in order to get to the good stuff below. (Julia recommends three pages. Three pages takes me way too long, so I usually just write for 20 minutes as fast as I can, which is usually around two pages. Do what works for you.)

 

  1. An art journal. This can be especially useful if you’re more comfortable with words, because keeping a visual journal will help you access your right-brained intuitive non-linear wisdom. I love Daisy Yellow for instruction and inspiration.

 

  1. A “Pray Rain” Journal. I learned about this from Martha Beck, who learned about it from Jeannette Maw. Jeannette’s language is a little too “Law of Attraction” for my comfort, but the way Martha talks about it makes sense to me. Basically what you do is write an entry in the journal that describes your life as you want it to be. Think really big here. Shoot for the moon. I’ve used this tool to uncover what I really wanted underneath the scar tissue and the social conditioning. It’s powerful, people. And knowing what we want is the first step to actually getting it, right?

 

  1. A thoughts journal. Complete one awareness-wheel daily, then do inquiry on one thought that you identified using Byron Katie’s method she calls simply The Work. Call me and I’ll walk you through this, with pleasure and for free.

 

  1. A prayer journal. Write down the people and the needs you’re holding in prayer. This is useful for me because I always forget who it was in Facebook groups asking to be held in light, or for good vibes, or healing juju. (These are all alternative ways to ask for prayer, IMHO.) I also note my flesh and blood friends and relations whom I’m carrying in my heart, and for what. Life gets complicated and I want to remember.

 

  1. A Lectio Divina Journal. Use the four steps of Lectio (I go into depth about Lectio in this blog post) to meditate on a bible passage, a poem, a photo, a natural object, a memory, etc. Write down what you hear.

 

I don’t do all of these all the time. (Who has many hours each day to do every one of these? I don’t.) My journal is a mish-mash of all of these. I also have several journals going at once – a small notebook in my bag, a larger notebook in my backpack, and the biggest unlined sketchbook one next to my morning sit spot. And different types of journaling meet different needs and are appropriate for different seasons of life.

What’s your journaling practice? Which of these suggestions appeal? What journal type would you add to this list?

 

 

Self-Care Is Your Job, Part 2

Episcopal coach and writer“You can’t get enough of what you didn’t want in the first place.” – Sam Keen.

Somewhere along the way, most of us learned to substitute fake self-care for what we really wanted.  Maybe the things that really nurtured us seemed foolish, or selfish, or unimportant to the people whom we were depending on for survival, and we stopped knowing what we really wanted.

Many of us don’t trust that what we desire is okay to desire, and that we have permission to give ourselves what we want.

So we start substituting pale imitations. We eat junk food because we don’t think we deserve the real thing. The real thing takes time, preparation, and discernment. Real self-care, like real food, takes effort.

Last week we looked at what self-care is and what it isn’t, why self-care is our job, and one way to get clarity on what authentic self-care is for us.

This week’s focus is discerning real self-care from the faux self-care we’ve often substituted.

In a nutshell, like junk food, fake self-care offers short-term relief from painful emotions and leaves us feeling worse in the long run. Fake self-care is usually easy, mass-produced and ultimately unsatisfying. Fake self-care often takes the form of an addiction: something we need to do or we feel anxious, and when we do it we still feel anxious.

True self-care, on the other hand, is deeply nourishing, sustaining, and connecting. True self-care connects me to Source/God, empowers me to know what I know, and helps me grow. True self-care sustains me as I feel what I’m feeling. It connects me to my body. It nourishes my ability to let painful emotions move through me. True self-care helps me know I’m loved, no matter what, and that it’s okay to let go of what needs to be let go.

If we’re afraid that knowing what’s really true and real for us will cause all hell to break loose, we usually choose not to know it. When we don’t want to know what we know, we indulge in fake self-care.

So, how to tell the difference?

Simple. Our bodies know the difference. True self-care ultimately feels free, expansive, and authentic. Fake self-care feels caged and tight, small, and in our box.

In Martha Beck world, we refer to these feelings as “shackles on” and “shackles off.” And you always have the tool for discernment with you. It’s your body. Here’s a useful link about the body compass, written by coach Pamela Slim. It’s helpful to have someone lead you through this exercise. Call me and I’ll do it with you. You know the difference, I promise.

Another very helpful aid in rediscovering how to truly care for yourself is meditation. Anything that helps you see that you are not your thoughts is going to aid you on this journey. Meditation in its many forms trains us to find the space between ourselves and our thoughts.

We relearn how to take care of ourselves by paying attention to what we really want, testing our self-care habits with our bodies, and learning to notice what we’re thinking.

My guess is that when you truly care for yourself, you’ll notice some increased friction in your life. Next time, we’ll talk about what’s going on there. Hint: boundaries.

Self-Care Is Your Job, part 1

Episcopal coach and writer “Self-care.”

What’s your reaction to that word? When you read or hear “self-care,” do you light up? Do you feel warm and relaxed? Do you cringe and indulge in an inner eye-roll?

I think it’s a rare woman in our culture who hears the advice to take care of herself and responds, “Of course. Duh.” I think most of us are tired of being told to take care of ourselves. We’re either already doing it, or we’re confused about what self-care means and if it’s really okay.

If you’re struggling with whether you have the right to take care of yourself, and how to do it, you’re in good company. Self-care’s a tricky subject with lots of layers, and it can be difficult to manage.

Let’s take a deeper look at self-care. Let’s delve into what self-care is and isn’t, why it’s crucial, how to determine whether our current self-care is really serving us and what to do if it’s not, and barriers to taking good care of yourself in this four-part blog series.

(You can download a PDF to collect your answers to my questions here: Self-care lesson one pdf)

First of all, what is self-care? Self-care is anything that feeds our true selves. Self-care is doing things that strengthen our connection to Source/God and that bring us joy. Self-care is taking the time to figure out what we really want, down in our core. Figuring out what truly nourishes us.

What self-care isn’t: Self-care is NOT numbing ourselves to anger, boredom, anxiety, sadness, or any other painful feeling. Self-care is NOT finding ways to tolerate intolerable situations. Self-care is NOT behaving destructively – destructive anger, being mean, indulging in addictions.

Why is self-care crucial?

Because we are HOLONS.

The concept of holons comes from the New Cosmology, a way of describing reality rooted in modern physics. So this is science, yo. The theory of holons suggests that everything is a whole/part, that nothing is separate and distinct. Life consists of nested holons of increasing complexity. Everything is connected.

We know this is true. Our bodies are made from organs, which are made of tissues, which are made of cells, which are made of atoms, which are made of sub-atomic particles… In turn, we’re part of families and neighborhoods and communities and nations. Plants and animals are composed of atoms and cells and tissues, and in turn make up forests and biomes and ecosystems and the world. Nothing living exists apart and separate. We’re all connected.

Being a holon means that self-care is your job. When you take care of yourself you take care of both the smaller components of yourself and the larger systems of which you are a part. No one can take care of yourself but you. Self-care is crucial, and it’s your job.

So why does self-care feel like such a struggle, and how can we get better at it?

When we were little kids we were better at giving ourselves what we really needed. For most of us, that skill’s been replaced with figuring out what those around us want from us and giving them what they want. Being able to read our environment and keep ourselves safe by squashing our wants was a necessary skill when we were dependent on others for our survival. It doesn’t serve us as adults.

We’re told that self-care is selfish, and being selfish is bad. We’re usually told this by people who benefit from our selflessness. When we take care of ourselves, we set and keep boundaries and other people get uncomfortable.

We’re told that those things we used to do as kids that brought us bliss are silly and unimportant. Our lives become filled with “important things” like school and work and getting through the days. Bliss becomes a self-indulgent luxury.

How can we get in touch with what really truly feeds us?

Maybe you’re already doing a good job of this. You can be our mentors!

Many of us will need to remember the kid who loved simple, everyday things. Maybe it was finger painting or playing with your dog. Early mornings or late nights when no one else was around. A favorite tree. A game you could play for hours. What smells and sensations delighted your young self? What person or place made you happy?

Consider how those kid-bliss experiences and activities are expressed in your adult life. If they aren’t, how might they be?

Being a holon means we can hold paradox. Opposite things being true is built into our whole/part DNA. Self-care is both selfish and generous. We care for ourselves both for ourselves and for the world.

So this week, pay attention to what truly feeds you, and do more of it. Next week we’ll think about the ways we practice faux self-care, why we do that, and how to tell the difference between fake self-care and the real thing. Hint: it’s like the difference between junk food and healthy food. Healthy food takes more effort, and it’s sustaining!

You can download the PDF that supports this week’s work here: Self-care lesson one pdf

Leave a comment and let me know what your self-care challenges are. And your successes!

Loving is Listening. Loving is Feeling. Loving is Embodied.

Feelings (vantagephotography.com)

Feelings (vantagephotography.com)

“Loving is listening. Loving is feeling. Loving is embodied.”

I wrote these words in my journal this Valentine’s Day morning. I had woken up with a feeling of trepidation about an event I had on my schedule today, and I felt myself push that feeling away.

I noticed myself not listening to my heart.

I learned not to “do feelings” as a kid. I grew up in a family where feelings weren’t especially welcome.

Growing up in a family that “doesn’t do feelings” is common.

I think many middle-aged Americans grew up in families that greeted our feelings with irritation or even hostility. My mom used to say, “If you’re going to cry, I’ll give you something to cry about.”

I learned from my parents, and from the culture, that my feelings were best ignored. What I felt was both unimportant AND something to be feared, controlled, and sequestered. Very confusing.

Over time, I learned to ignore my emotions myself before anyone else got the chance to tell me they were silly, and I got really good at it. Why have feelings, or desires, if they only cause pain? Ignoring my feelings, or judging myself for my feelings, is probably the most common way that I’m mean to myself.

Unfortunately for me, and for all of us who have learned to ignore our feelings, they don’t go away. Feelings exist to be felt, and when they’re not felt, they do all sorts of damage.

What I’m finally learning, in ripe middle age, is that my feelings are precious pearls of wisdom. My feelings are jewels. My feelings are signposts. My feelings are priceless.

My word for 2016 is “heart,” and the Lenten discipline that chose me this year is to listen. (Is it a coincidence that the first four letters of “heart” spell “hear”?)

I’m feeling led to further refine my Lenten discipline. I’m committing to listening to other people with intention and presence. I’m also committing to listening to myself with compassion — to hearing and honoring my feelings.

I’m finding two tools very useful in practicing compassionate listening to myself.

The first one is Dr. Tara Brach’s RAIN processRecognize the feeling. Allow the feeling. Investigate the feeling. Non-identify with the feeling.

The second tool I’m finding useful is the Awareness Wheel, a tool developed to help couples communicate more effectively. I find “doing a wheel” an extremely helpful tool for clarifying what’s going on with me on many levels, and to help my brain talk to my heart. Here’s a link.

If you, like me, have gotten really good at being mean to yourself by ignoring or belittling your feelings, I invite you to join me in giving yourself the gift of feeling what you feel. You’ll survive, and your life will be enriched beyond your wildest hopes.

Loving is listening. Loving is feeling. Loving is being in this miraculous body on this amazing Earth with gratitude and compassion.

 

If You’re Worried About Food

Kundalini Original Art

Kundalini
Original Art

Are you worried about food? I am. I know I’m not alone, because I’ve been talking to a lot of women these days who are worried about food. We women are often worried about food, and the holiday season is just a scary time when you’re worried about food.

So, let’s take a collective deep breath and investigate with kindness this thing we have about food, okay?

First of all, is it true that your eating is a problem?  Do you have data that you eat too much, or the wrong things? Here are some questions to ponder:

  • How’s your blood work? Do you have elevated cholesterol, triglycerides, or blood sugar?
  • How’s your waist to height ratio? This is a better indicator of obesity and health risk than BMI, for most of us.
  • How’s your fitness level? Do you get through your day without too much fatigue or a lot of caffeine? Can you do what you like to do?
  • Do you often eat when you’re not hungry?
  • Do you often keep eating when you’re full?
  • Does thinking about your eating take up too much mind space?
  • Do you feel anxious about food and eating?
  • Do you make food rules and then break them?

The answers to these questions will help you decide if you’re actually overeating, or if you just think you are.

Secondly, whether you really do overeat, or if your diet is actually fine and you’re just in the habit of worrying about food, it’s not your fault. There are SO many reasons why we can feel like a mess around food:

  • Our survival brains are wired to love sugar and fat.
  • The chemical cascade that happens in the brain when we eat sugary fatty salty crunchy foods is identical to the cascade that happens when an addict takes a hit. These foods are addictive and they act on our brains like street drugs.
  • Food is everywhere! And we have to eat.
  • Our culture encourages us to live in our heads, so we lose touch with our bodies. We forget what “hungry” and “full” actually feel like.
  • We don’t eat in a vacuum. We experience social pressure to eat and drink certain things at certain times. This is especially true around the holidays.
  • There’s so much choice, and so much conflicting advice, about food.
  • and on and on and on…

Third, if you do habitually overeat, overeating is almost certainly a “treatment plan” to handle discomfort.

If you worry about food, it’s not your fault. However, your eating is your responsibility.

Your body is your responsibility.

Your health and peaceful mind are your responsibility.

Feeding yourself well is your responsibility.

Reclaiming ownership and taking grown-up responsibility for ourselves requires two things: mindfulness and compassion. So for the next week, notice with gentleness and kindness what’s going on in your heart and mind and body when you eat:

  • Notice if you’re hungry, and what “hungry” feels like.
  • Notice what you really want to eat.
  • Notice if you’re full, and what “full” feels like.
  • Notice what emotions you’re feeling before, during, and after you eat.
  • Notice how your body feels after you eat.

Just notice and attend, with gentle kindness. Keep a food and emotion diary if that floats your boat, recording what you ate and what was going on with you internally and externally when you ate it.

Next week we’ll dive more deeply into the power of mindfulness and compassion. In the meantime, here are some resources:

Happy Eating!

~Barb

(Wondering where I’ve been since July? I took a break from my blog and coaching practice to catch up with myself, emotionally and physically, after this last year’s transitions.)

Lessons Learned: “Re-Camino” Week 6

Camino Journal 12 June 2014 Santiago de Compostela

Camino Journal
12 June 2014
Santiago de Compostela

“It’s closing time. Time for you to go out to the places you will be from… Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end… I know who I want to take me home… Take me home.” –Semisonic, “Closing Time”

Jed and I walked into Santiago on June 11, 2014 – a little over a year ago. I’ve been intentionally revisiting journal entries and photos from our walk, a discipline I’ve come to see as “Lectio Camino.”  As this Lectio Camino draws to an end, I’m reflecting on what I learned from walking 500 miles across northern Spain, from southern France to Santiago de Compostela.

 

Here’s what I learned on the Way:

  1. Just say “no” to other people’s Caminos. Corollary: Walk my Camino.
  2. The big things (parenthood, marriage, vocation, big grief, big journeys, etc.) are never finished.
  3. I can do hard stuff. It’s much easier to do hard stuff when it’s what I want, however. See no. 1.
  4. There’s always enough.
  5. Hospitality and community are necessities.
  6. Spirituality and religion are heart-based, not head-based. Like swimming or riding a bike, we learn important things by doing, not by thinking.
  7. I am my body.
  8. I know so little about most things, so stay curious and stop needing to be right.
  9. Do, make, create, and stay present, rather than consuming and escaping.
  10. Practice gratitude. Gratitude is the way to accepting what cannot be changed.
  11. Take the first step, and trust that guidance for the next step will appear

Thank you for walking the Way with me, again.

¡Buen Camino!

Camino Journal 11 June 2014

Camino Journal
11 June 2014

I’m Leaving the Cult of Perfection

I took a walk alongwabi sabi Buddha the Deschutes River early this morning and thought about perfection. I evidently have a belief that if I’m not perfect something bad will happen. I won’t be loved, or someone will hurt me, or I’ll be laughed at. I know I’m not alone in this belief. Many of us are card-carrying members of the cult of perfection.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about stability as I develop a coaching program for women who are navigating change. Especially for those of us in midlife, the changes we’re experiencing tend to be associated with losses. We yearn for stability and comfort, and feel flawed because they’re elusive.

The cults of perfection and stability are intimately linked. They’re also profoundly misogynistic, rooted in a patriarchal, mechanistic, linear belief system that denigrates women’s bodies and the cyclical nature of life on earth. When we believe that our job as humans is to figure out how to get life right, and then spend all our energy keeping what we’ve built from changing and falling apart, we’re worshiping at the altars of stability and perfection.

While I was walking, I did The Work on this thought. (See Byron Katie’s website for a refresher on the four questions and turnarounds.)

I know that I think this thought is true. I know how much this thought keeps me playing safe and on alert, constantly scoping for what’s wrong. It keeps me small and judgmental of myself and others. Believing that I have to be perfect causes me stress that I feel in my body as anxiety and tension. This thought hurts.

When I drop the belief that I have to be perfect, I feel free and light. I’m generous with my work and my ideas and my creativity. I’m open about how I feel and what I think. I’m generous with other people and accept them as they are. Living is fun.

The obvious turnaround for “I have to be perfect” is “I have to be imperfect.” But “imperfect” is not a loving, positive word. Its English synonyms, according to Roget’s Thesaurus, are “deficient, defective, faulty, unsound, cracked, warped, frail, gimcrack, tottering, decrepit, rickety, battered, worn out, threadbare, seedy, worm-eaten, used up, decayed, mutilated.” See what I mean about the cult of perfection?? There is no English word that expresses “imperfection” positively.

So I looked beyond English to the Japanese, who thankfully do have such a word: “wabi-sabi.” Wabi-sabi is the Japanese conception of beauty as “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.” A rickety tea house, a roughly-glazed vase, a gnarly tree in the garden – all wabi-sabi and all beautiful because they are flawed, transient, and unfinished.

“I have to be wabi-sabi.” Yes. That’s most decidedly true. I have to be wabi-sabi because I am flawed, transient, and unfinished. What choice do I have but to be wabi-sabi?  Sure, I could keep trying to be perfect, but I’d rather be a card-carrying member of the wabi-sabi cult. Here’s to us, people of wabi-sabi!

I’m looking for women to test-drive my new program focused on change and loss. If you’re interested, please contact me.

as always, I offer free hour-long conversations to help you achieve peace and clarity, whatever’s going on. Contact me using the form below.

Life is change. Change is life.

Fechange_sign1eling buffeted by change? This post is for you! Read on for some insights and concrete practices that will help you be in change more peacefully.

When my mom was dying over the summer of 1995, my supervisor, an older woman, told me that in the first few decades of our lives, change is usually experienced as positive: birthdays, graduations, beginning a career, establishing families and independent households… These are all exciting, longed-for changes. As we move into midlife, change starts to more often feel like loss: a job loss, a scary diagnosis, deaths of parents and spouses, moving, kids leaving home, aging… These changes, even though sometimes eagerly anticipated, feel painful. And they accumulate. We get tired of feeling like there’s no stability and life’s out of control.

Some “comforting” truths about change:

To be alive is to change. The cycle of death and rebirth is embedded in creation. Look around you! Spring is springing after a long winter.

All change is a loss of some sort, even changes we choose and anticipate. Therefore they hurt, and grief must be felt.

Change follows a predictable pattern. Death of the old must happen before new life can be born.

Acceptance and leaning in is the only way through death to the other side, where new life awaits. Resistance is futile. Addictions, distractions, and denial delay the new life that wants to come, and we can easily get stuck in them.

Our bodies and our souls are our peaceful center. While you and I are alive, we have our bodies. Our connection to the Ground of Being, which is our soul, evidently endures beyond death. Practices that nurture and strengthen our mind’s awareness of our bodies and our soul’s connection to Source help us walk our change journey peacefully.

Some practices to strengthen our body awareness:

  • Work hard. Get sweaty and tired and dirty.
  • Go outside. Feel the sun and wind and rain.
  • Practice yoga or tai chi. Walk or run. Any form of body-aware exercise will do.
  • Find a piece of ground that feels good and go there consistently and frequently.
  • Pay conscious attention to your body, toe to scalp.
  • Eat mindfully.
  • Forego alcohol and other distracting habits, for now.

Some practices to strengthen our soul’s connection to the Ground of Being:

  • Pray honestly. Tell God how you feel and what you want.
  • Engage in ritual, first thing in the morning and throughout the day.
  • Say “thank you” frequently — to yourself, to others, and to the Universe.
  • Meditate. Pay attention to your breath moving in and out.
  • Eliminate distractions. Keep a Sabbath day.

Change is life. Life is change. How do you stay peaceful in the midst of change?

If you’re feeling pushed around by change and loss, I can help. Contact me to schedule a complimentary one-hour clarity conversation. I’d love to talk with you!

Photo credit: www.jamesaltucher.com

 

Christmas is God Becoming Meat

“The ultimate effect oBaby and parentf a worthy spiritual life would be beautiful lives in a beautiful world.” – Thomas Moore

“The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” John 1:14, The Message (Eugene Peterson)

I’ve been pondering the Incarnation. (“Incarnation” comes from the same root word as “meat.” So it’s the Christian doctrine that says God became meat.) What exactly is this gift of Jesus that we celebrate these twelve days of Christmas? What does it mean to say that “Jesus is the reason for the season”?

These are easy questions for Christians who believe in and practice sacrificial atonement: Jesus is the only Son of God, sent into the world in human form by God to take my sins upon him and to die for me. If I believe this I go to Heaven instead of Hell. Jesus needed to be born in a stable in Bethlehem so that he could die on the cross for me. Without Christmas, there is no Easter, and no salvation.

I am not one of those Christians. For me, Jesus is the supreme example of how to live in the world as fully human – fully engaged with his friends, his community, his family, his world, and his Source. Christmas means that the energy we call God is fundamentally interwoven in the fabric of the world. Creation is God. The universe, and all creation, is made of holiness. I sin when I sell myself and others short – when I forget that God lives in me, and in them. (This alternative understanding of Jesus is gleaned from the writings of Marcus Borg, Richard Rohr, Cynthia Bourgeault, and others.)

What good is it to believe these things about God and Jesus and the Universe if no one else benefits? So what if I spend an hour every morning praying and journaling and meditating if it doesn’t show on the outside? What difference does it make to have a spiritual life if my embodied life and the physical lives of those around me aren’t more beautiful as a result?

I’m beginning to conclude that a relationship with God that exists only in my heart and my head is pretty worthless. I am called to incarnate God in my physical embodied life. A spiritual life that doesn’t bear physical fruit isn’t real.

Last week’s blog touched on some practices to welcome darkness and the New Year. Yesterday a group of us worked through this process A Word for the New Year to discern a word for 2015. My word for 2015 seems to be “shine.” What’s yours?

Gifts of the Dark

CandlesDear ones,

Today is the Winter Solstice, Midwinter’s Day, the longest night of the year. At 3:03 pm here in Oregon the sun will reach its lowest point.

If you live in the northern hemisphere, I’m sure you’ve noticed that it’s really dark these days. Dark and cold. Dark and cold and sometimes icy. And cloudy. And windy and snowy. Did I say cold? And dark.

Isn’t winter lovely? I mean that sincerely. Our days are short, our nights are long, and we are immersed in darkness.

Darkness is necessary for life and light. Seeds germinate in the dark. Babies gestate in the dark. Restorative sleep happens in the dark. The earth rests in the dark — caterpillars are resting, waiting to become butterflies. Leaf buds are resting, waiting to unfurl. Animals are resting, waiting for the sun’s return and the resumption of their forest revels.

Some ways to mark the Solstice and the turning of the year:

  • Give yourself the gift of time. Sit in the dark. Light a candle and simply be present to darkness.
  • Create a poem or piece of art honoring darkness and your human connection to this gift.
  • Choose a word or theme for 2015. The dark is the perfect place to do this. Some resources: Abbey of the Arts “Give me a word” is a series of twelve short meditations to help you dig deep and surface your word for 2015. Coach Anna Kunnecke’s blog on this topic looks at words from a different perspective.

The sun begins its slow rise now. Soon the days will be noticeably longer and the dark will dissipate. Let’s celebrate darkness, friends!

I’d love to hear about your word for 2015, and how you celebrate darkness, in the comments. More about words next week in this space.