The phone rang early this morning with heartbreaking news. I answered the phone to hear the sobs of a dear friend. Very unexpectedly last night her mother died. Her father passed away only a year before. She just moved her mother across country to live with her only a few months ago. We cried together as she recounted all that she had lost. As is our way of coping, we soon found ourselves laughing (bitterly) about the Vortex of Senseless Tragedy that she seems to be living in of late. I hung up the phone feeling helpless to ease my friend’s sorrow.
Helpless is not a pill I swallow easily. I am scrappy. I am the person you want around when an emergency comes your way. I will take care of business. I’ll problem-solve the heck out of a situation then bring you hot tea and a cookie. In the face of a crisis I am a warrior. I know how to get it done!
Those who know me well understand that I am very familiar with the Vortex of Senseless Tragedy. Over the past few years tragedy, trauma, loss, fear, hardship and chaos have littered my days at a remarkable rate. My close friends and I celebrated those rare weeks in which nothing awful happened. Mostly I handled this like the warrior I am. I did what needed to be done to respond to the latest crisis. I organized, advocated, worked, scrapped, strived, struggled, brainstormed and planned my way through it. I also cried, begged, pleaded, and railed against God. There were times when I didn’t think I could get out of bed to face another day of chaos and loss. Surely there was something I could do that would loosen the Vortex’s grip on my life. Enough already!!
A few months ago, I unpacked a box from my recent move and found a book that I read a decade ago by Pema Chroden, When Things Fall Apart. In those pages the author suggests getting comfortable and familiar with your messy life and all of those equally messy feelings that are born of the experience. Our instinct is to escape as fast as we can from our pain. We find lots of things to do to run and hide from all of the feelings the chaos stirs up. The completely crazy thing is that the healing place is right where we are at any given moment. When we run away from the fear and pain we are also running away from ourselves.
I’m not going to tell you that your grief or loss was given to you for a reason. I’m not sure I believe in a God or Spirit that hands out painful situations just to teach us a lesson. That seems like the acts of a cruel deity and that doesn’t mesh with my deepest intuition about who God is. I’m not sure why it all happens.
What I am beginning to know for myself is that there is wisdom in surrendering to whatever moment I find myself in. It is a moment by moment practice of relaxing my grip on what I want to happen and leaning into what is. There is healing and peace to be found in living the life that I am given as I am given it. Sure it hurts like hell and is often not what I would choose if I could, but it is my life to live. This is the only life I get. If I spend less time plotting my escape and more time compassionately staying with my experience…I just might find healing and wholeness in spite of the chaos.
Ironically, as I was writing the lines before this, I received a phone call informing me of a new bit of chaos. Sigh. Life happens. I have a choice about how I respond to this. So…… I breathe in. I breathe out. I ask God to help me be brave enough to surrender. Repeat.
We have come to a crossroads in the life of the Table community. We were blessed to have seed money that has helped us come this far in building an open, inclusive and creative spiritual community. That initial funding is nearly exhausted. We are in a position of needing to tighten our belts, develop creative fundraising strategies and move out of the Sac center that has hosted many of our spiritual practice groups, dinners, and celebrations over the last 4 years. What a gift that space has been to us!
For weeks we have meditated, prayed and pondered the question of “where” for the future of the Table community. It has certainly been a nail-biter! Recently our fellow spiritual sojourners at Epworth UMC invited us to host our Drumming As Spiritual Practice sessions in their beautiful building on Hopkins Street in Berkeley. We will meet for the first time there May 19th at 7:30pm (1953 Hopkins Street). Plan to join us as we settle into our a new rhythm in a new place.
Where will our other groups meet in the future? Some of our groups will continue to meet in public places like cafes, coffee shops and such. Another Berkeley faith community has offered us space for small group gatherings in their facility. This space is likely to be a perfect fit for smaller groups such as Inquire Within, Meditation and/or Spiritual Topics & Practice. When we have the details worked out we will let you know. We are so fortunate to be members of such a generous community of Berkeley people of faith and spiritual practice!
What looked like it might have been an ending for us has turned into an incredible opportunity for new adventures and possibilities for continued enriching spiritual practice within community.
It is time for us to let our creative juices flow and do what we do best as a community....dream big dreams and find new ways of living into them!
We are creatures of comfortable routine. Every night my dog has a ritual that she performs without deviation before she settles down to sleep. She grabs a pair of clean socks out of the open dresser drawer and jumps on the bed. She will circle around a couple of times with socks in mouth and then settle down for sleep with the socks nestled between her paws and head. She is a creature of comfy habits.
Some of us have gotten into such a comfy routine with our spiritual practice that the meaning of the practice is lost on us. We might drone the same affirmation or prayer over and over until we no longer remember why it was instructive or helpful to us when we started. If your spiritual practice has become as automatic as my dog’s sock ritual then perhaps you might need to mix it up a bit.
Spiritual practice is intended to be a challenge. It is no coincidence that the term Spiritual practice includes the word practice. In order to develop a spiritual attribute we must practice it. If we are not challenging ourselves then we are not growing. If we are not practicing that which challenges us then we will not continue to become that which we are intended to become.
The important thing to remember about Spiritual Practice is that it actually takes practice to incorporate a new way of being into the rhythm of our lives. Start today to challenge yourself to take one step each day toward developing a deeper spiritual awareness. Spiritual growth and maturity is the result of intention, commitment and practice. May you find grace and joy for your spiritual journey!
* Stay tuned! In the coming days I will post some spiritual practice ideas and suggestions for your consideration.
Most often when we think of meditation we envision someone sitting on a pillow, hands on their knees and serene look on their face. If you have tried this and only find yourself twitchy and frustrated— don’t be discouraged! Throughout time people have found myriad ways to experience the benefits of a calm mind and spirit through meditative movement. Some of us are just wired differently than others and need movement to get centered. Below are a few practices that you might want to try:
These are just a few of the many different ways meditation can be practiced through movement. What creative ways have you found to integrate movement into your meditation practice?
****In an attempt to delete a several spam-type posts I mistakenly deleted this posting and the comments of several people. My apologies! Here is my post but I couldn't retrieve your comments*****
Recently, I had the pleasure of spending time with a two year old who likes to wear a hot pink tutu every day. Her tutu seems to imbue her with super powers available only to young ladies with such fashion sense. While I envy her fashion-forward power, this morning I am reflecting on a point in our play time together when she wanted what she wanted, NOW and not a moment later.
If you have spent any time with a toddler you will recognize this scenario. My young friend decided she wanted to go outside to play in her bare feet. Summer in the San Francisco Bay area is cold(ish). You need shoes on when you go out on a foggy chilly day. I asked my friend to let me help her put on her shoes before we went out. This seemed a reasonable request. She screwed up her face, shook her head of curls, planted her feet wide in a super-hero stance and bellowed, “NOOOOO!” She wanted what she wanted now, not in a minute or next week, now! Or better yet, yesterday.
I wish I could say I have no memory of my tantrum phase of life. I wish I could chuckle at the antics of my two year old friend with the superiority of someone who has long lived past her days of tantrums. Much to my shame, I saw myself in her rigid stance and recognized my voice in her insistent demand.
I have been having a bit of a spiritual tantrum lately. It seems like so many things that I either want or anticipate needing are just beyond my grasp. Like my young friend I don’t want to put on my shoes before I can realize the many desires of my heart or anticipated needs in my life. I don’t want to have to wait and trust God with all of this important stuff! I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna!!!
Unfortunately, my spiritual tantrums are just about as productive and as exhausting as stomping and screaming is for my little friend. The thing about spiritual tantrums is that if we (ok, I) could just trust that after I put on my shoes I will get to play outside. Then it would be abundantly clear that thrashing, kicking and screaming will get me no where fast. Tantrums waste precious energy and time. I don’t have near as much energy and time to waste as I did at two years old.
What would my life look like if I could just believe and trust that all I have been told about the Spirit’s unfaltering care for me is true? How would I behave if I knew down to the very core of my being that my needs would be met in creative and timely ways? How would I spend my time and energy if I understood that the visions I have for my work and life were born in the heart and imagination of God? I want to see what it feels like to just sit down and let the Universe tie my shoes before I go out to play.
Do you have spiritual tantrums? What are your tantrums about? What would it look like for you to trust?
Last week a friend generously offered to help me move a trundle bed across town to my place. We loaded the side and head boards into my little old Rav4 and strapped the mattresses and base boards onto the roof. Moving along the highway toward our destination we noted how hungry we were and began making plans for lunch. As we began to ponder that age old question, “what do you feel like eating?”, a powerful gust of wind snatched the mattresses and base boards off the roof of my car and flung them across the busy highway. Stunned, we stopped the car, jumped out and ran back to where the bed pieces were scattered on the road.
Worried that an accident was sure to happen we held our breath, watching as several cars and semi-trucks ran over and swerved around the stuff. Waiting for a break in the traffic to clear, we saw one last semi-truck approaching at a high speed. As the truck reached one of the base boards the driver slammed on his brakes. The truck began to skid sideways, smoke rising from its tires. It was sliding straight toward us. We had no where to go. In front of us, a ton of skidding medal. Behind us, a cement barricade and a three story drop to the highway below. In that moment, I thought “We are going to die!” I envisioned my friend and I crushed by the 18 wheeler, and the trucker plunging off the side of the road to his certain demise. With the stench of burning tire in the air and the vision of the truck skidding toward us, the second thing that came to my mind was “I am really hungry”. (Yes. You read that correctly. Hungry.)
So a week later I am sitting in my comfy chair with my laptop writing this, so obviously I didn’t die. In a moment of unbelievable grace, the truck driver let off the brakes and steered the huge vehicle out of the near jack knife and on down the road safely. But let’s get back to my rather humbling thoughts when faced with the possibility of death. I would like to think that when the chips are down I will have high-minded-profound reflections as I face my final moments. Instead my thoughts went to a basic: hunger.
Recently I read an interview with Geneen Roth about her new book, Women, Food and God. I understand the book is about women’s complicated relationship with food and our emotional/spiritual well-being. In the interview she states that the most important question to ask ourselves is “What are you hungry for?” Chances are that the answer is not Thai food or pizza. We are hungry for much more than food. Perhaps the more precise question is “What is your soul hungry for?”
That question has been nagging me for days now. It is no wonder that hunger asserted itself as I watched that truck careening towards me. Hunger is about as basic as it gets. Every living being experiences hunger. In order to survive I need to be fed. Hunger leads me to what I need to nourish myself. The nature of hunger is just as important as the way in which that hunger is satisfied.
I am soul hungry. My soul longs for much not yet within my grasp. Hunger keeps me moving forward, growing. Yearning can be an opportunity to lean into the experience of this moment. Just as I search the refrigerator for something to satisfy my hungry stomach, yearning opens up a space within me to recognize the desires and needs of my soul. What am I hungry for? Intimacy? Comfort? Joy? I can only nurture and feed my soul if I know for what I hunger.
Soul hunger can be like a prayer. It is a way in which the Divine guides me to what I need. Ignore my hunger and I will feel the pang of emptiness or the twinge of restlessness. It is my hunger that will guide me to feed my spirit in life-giving ways. Hunger isn’t just an annoying feeling that I need to quiet, it is a holy companion on my spiritual journey.
So what are you hungry for today?
My laptop screen flashed blue a heartbeat after the letters quivered and disappeared. This could not be happening! I work from a home office so my laptop is my professional and personal lifeline. After several hours of messing around trying to perform a mechanical resurrection, I headed out to the store to see if I could find a cheap replacement computer. My blood pressure was off the charts as I tried to imagine how I was going to pull together the money for this shopping adventure. My head throbbing, my muscles tense and …what am I invisible? Why did that idiot cut me off? He could have killed us both!... How was I going to pay for this new computer? Jaw clenching…..what? When did my car’s engine light come on? Stomach aching, heart racing…..
It would be lovely if that scenario was a product of my imagination, however that was a day in which my dog was sick (read: vet bill), the computer crashed, and my car needed a couple thousand dollars in repairs. We have all had those horrible days when a family member is ill, the car is totaled, the divorce is final, or the pink slip waits on your desk. Those days our bodies tighten, clench and ache. Those days are minds panic, race and react. Those days our spirits fear, despair and withdraw.
Let’s be clear…life can be challenging. We can not control or plan for all that may be thrown our way. There is no magic potion or 4-step program that will protect us from life’s uncertainties. How we respond to what comes our way is what seems to matter the most.
I have found that being attentive to the moment that I am in is the best way to find my way back from despair and fear. I ask myself this simple question, “Do I have everything I need in this moment?” Have I eaten today? Did I have a place to sleep last night? Is there at least one person in the world who I know loves me? If the answer is yes, then I give thanks for the generosity of the Universe/God/Spirit. Yeah, I understand that it sounds a bit simple, but that is the point. Simple gratitude can bring you back to the moment you are living in. Fear, despair and panic flourish in our past and our future. What matters is the moment we are living in now. I can not remember a time when my answer to that question was no. If I am ever in a moment when my answer is no, I will have all of those yeses before to help me trust that I will be ok until the answer is yes again.
Do I have everything I need in this moment? Yes, thank you!