Tag Archives: practice

Follow my lead

I’ve been reading a great book called “A Tree Full of Angels” by Macrina Wiederkehr. One line that held my attention this morning was about how everything is renewed under the eye of God. I took that into meditation and found myself asking some deep questions. What in me needs to be renewed? What do I feel I’ve lost? Doesn’t seem that I should have nothing stale in me, nothing that needs to be renewed after a six week sabbatical? Okay, that last question is silly and I know it. Of course there are things that need to be renewed in all of us. Still, it begs the question. What in you feels like it might have gotten misplaced or lost in your life?

For me, the big issue that came up is trust. In my childhood, I learned not to ask for help. Either help wouldn’t come and I would get in trouble for asking or someone would take the project away from me and do it for me. I also admit that I started out with an independent spirit. Family lore has it that my first sentence was “I do it myself”. So I sat there, flowing between meditation and prayer and contemplated how much I trust the Universe. It’s scary to trust someone or Someone else with my well-being. However, trust in the Universe is not optional. It is, after all, the title of this blog. I am responsible for what I create in my life, so if I’ve created a version of God that I don’t trust… well, I don’t like that. So I sat and asked my own deepest heart, how do I heal the trust issue? How do I learn to trust You?

As often happens, my meditation was then disturbed by a song running through my head. Ed Sheeran does a version of the song “Shape of you”[1] and I had just a line or two running on a loop. The lines were:

“Girl, you know I want your love

Your love was handmade for somebody like me

Come on now, follow my lead…”

It was as if Spirit was singing to me. All I need to do is follow Spirit’s lead. Spirit does want my love and feels it is valuable. When someone leads me in dancing, I find that there’s a balance between getting some small subtle signals and some obvious ones. The more I can relax and let my body just respond to those signals, the less I think about what I’m doing, the better off I am. If I think too much about Spirit and what God-in-me wants from me, I get off track. I get tense and scared and my trust issues get into the driver’s seat of my life. Very soon, I’m in a ditch, calling the spiritual AAA. If I let each small hint of guidance, each subtle lead pull me towards my good, then eventually it all works out.

Now, the Divine Dancer doesn’t mind stumbling about with me too much. It’s part of the learning and oh, by the way, part of the fun of dancing together. What someone else thinks about our dance is not my business. Well, it is, actually, literally, but I find that most folks have done their own stumbling and are willing to learn from mine.

So even when you think you have gotten off track, I encourage you to let Spirit lead in whatever dance to whatever song might come up. Don’t worry about it. Practice trust one dance step at a time. God doesn’t mind getting his toes stepped on; God just wants to dance with you.

[1] Written by John McDaid, Steve Mac, Edward Christopher Sheeran, Kandi L Burruss, Kevin Jerome Briggs, Tameka D. Cottle, Félix Ortiz Torres, Gabriel Pizarro, Chris Jeday • Copyright © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd., Universal Music Publishing Group, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

Feces or Fertilizer

Here’s the thing that I am learning. Being spiritual, even being relatively advanced spiritually, doesn’t mean you won’t have bad days. Jesus went off on the money lenders at the temple. He also displayed racism toward the Canaanite woman whose daughter had a demon and he yelled at his disciples when he got frustrated with them.

I nursed my mom (well, was her “go-to” person anyway) during her last days. She was a good person. I’m a good person. I still found myself in my car, alone, screaming with frustration because of the demands that were being placed on me. I never thought of myself as a screamer, but there I was. I was so afraid some poor cop was going to pull me over and end up having to listen to my hysterics. I had a bad couple hours this morning. (Notice I didn’t say “had a bad day”.) I was expected to form full sentences before the coffee hit, answering actual fact based questions and requests for help. I had a full day in front of me and knew I was forgetting something important but couldn’t get quiet enough to have actual cognition happen. I had only been back at work for three days and I was already over-whelmed. And then I got a text from someone who asked me for something I found unreasonable. That was it. I lost it.

The most spiritual thing I could do in that moment was to pull out the Holy No. No, I won’t ask for that favor on your behalf. No, I won’t cover for people. No, I won’t pretend that I’m happy about having to start over and pay $220 for another person’s mistake. No. No. No. It doesn’t feel spiritual for me when I say no. It feels frustrated and beyond my ability to handle. It feels like I’m being mean. It feels like I should be above this, should handle it all calmly no matter what “it” is. After all, I meditated this morning. I prayed and read and I made sure I got up in time to do it. Isn’t that how it works?

Nope, sorry. Being spiritual means we have the tools to deal with what comes up, even when what comes up is icky. Everyone gets to deal with some stuff in their lives. Everyone – me, you, Jesus, Buddha and every other John Q Public that has walked the planet. There’s a reason the spiritual leader Anne Lamott called her new book “Hallelujah Anyway.”

The difference between me and a Chris-ted being is the rate at which we recognize the feces we’ve been handed can be used as fertilizer for some great field of good. I am lucky. I have a great prayer partner willing to answer my call, pull over her car and not fall for my crazy as I spew it. I knew I would feel better at some point after talking with her. And sure enough, the right and perfect person came to me for counsel… about my exact same issue. How do I allow myself to say no and still feel in integrity as a spiritual being? How do I forgive myself for not being willing to stretch even one more inch in service to humanity? How can I be a Christed being before the coffee hits?

Here’s the thing that I am learning. I am still a good person if I am frustrated with having consequences for someone else’s bad customer service. I am a good person when I just can’t listen to one more person asking for one more thing. I am a good person even when people insist on talking in the morning.

We are good people, Christed beings, because we stay awake and aware and try our best. Not because we walk on water… but because we want to.

 

Meditations on a pencil sharpener

I have an electric pencil sharpener behind my desk. I love this thing. I love having a really sharp pencil for balancing my checkbook and writing out ideas. In both cases, the eraser comes in handy, but I like having the sharp point to make my numbers and ideas clear and easy to read.

I noticed as I was sharpening some pencils today that if I push too hard, the whole thing stops. There’s a level of pressure that is right between too hard and not hard enough that is perfect. It lets the machine do its work, shaving off the next level of wood and lead. Push too hard and the machine will dig too deep and break the pencil. Don’t push hard enough and nothing really gets sharpened. Isn’t it the same with creativity? Push too hard to make “art” or deep change and you end up jamming up the works. You try to go too fast and everyone feels pushed and stressed out. Don’t work at all, and you end up with no results. Eventually, the project gets boring because there’s no forward motion.

I also noticed that my pencil sharpener is a Boston product. To me, the town of Boston is my past. My family is mostly from New England and the Boston mindset (and accent) feels like home sometimes. There’s so much good back there. Of course, if it was really for me, I’d be living there. It’s not a bad place, just not my place to live all the time. When I’m in my creative mindset, when I’m living the life I’m creating, it’s important to know where I belong and what is now a part of my past. The outer layer of wood on my pencil has also served me well at some previous point. It’s not useful now because it’s covering up the lead I need to write my next chapter with.

Today I dumped out the reservoir of pencil shavings. It’s important to consciously let go of what no longer serves us on a regular basis. That might be the clothes in your closet, the relationships you’ve outgrown or the mindset that has been leading you into confusion and unhappiness. All of this benefits from regular evaluation and release.

Finally, I notice that this is an electric pencil sharpener. What a great metaphor! No matter what tools I am using, the energy behind the tool is something outside of me. As I create my world, as I sharpen my own consciousness and bring forth balance or new ideas, I’m powered by a greater energy. I don’t need to provide that power. It’s there for me to use whenever I use this machine. It will wait for me to be ready. I never feel guilty for not sharpening something in my office. The pencil sharpener is there for my use when I’m ready, as are the pencils and every other physical and metaphorical tool I have.

Isn’t it great that Spirit shows up in such beautiful, mundane ways? God is in my pencil sharpener as much as the majestic mountains and all the miracles we all recognize in our daily lives.

Reaching out

 

I’ve heard that the biggest issue in America today is loneliness. I don’t know – maybe it’s actually homelessness or the fact that we are still at war or that bookstores and libraries are closing. Still the loneliness thing seems to be attached to all the other issues, so we may as well see what we can do about this one.

I’ve started several groups that meet on a regular basis to offer mutual support. Sometimes the groups really take off. Sometimes they take off after the third or fourth attempt. Sometimes I’ve found that the reason they didn’t take off is because there’s already a group and so I join that one.

I meet with a group of eight female ministers once a month for lunch. It took a few tries to get this group going, but we did it and have been meeting for several years now. I don’t know what I’d do without these women. They have heard me celebrate big and little victories. They have heard me lose it over big (and little) tragedies. They have remained in principle and unmoved by my story, although they are always wonderfully compassionate and loving to me (they just don’t buy my story – it’s a good thing). I’ve heard them in the same types of circumstances. We laugh together about the crazy gig called ministry that we all love. It is more than worth driving an hour and a half each way to eat salad with these beautiful souls.

The thing is, this started as a semi-professional meeting. We met because we were all ministers in a particular philosophy in a male dominated profession. We do share best practices, new books and trainings and what to never try again, but mostly we share our lives. This is the big secret. There is a lot more professional development and worth in creating the connection than in finding out which fundraiser works the best.

Because of this group, I answered the call to be a Regional Support Representative for our region. Our region is five states, with about thirty Centers. I did it because 1. They asked me and I didn’t think “they” even knew my name and 2. I wanted to pay the good I got my from minister friends. Now, I don’t get to meet with all the ministers or Boards in my region on a regular basis. We certainly don’t get to do lunch together more than once a year, if ever. But I can call, and send silly emails, and that’s a connection. They all have my number. I know before I took over, I sometimes thought my RSC was watching me and would call just as I was losing perspective. And she usually said exactly the right thing or pointed me in the direction to find the right thing myself.

Here’s another secret. I’m massively shy. I don’t reach out easily. I’ve gotten myself into hot water more times than I care to say because I let myself get isolated. I get why loneliness might feel like the biggest issue in our country right now. And I’ve learned that the best way to heal my own loneliness is to reach out to someone who might be in the same boat. In that way, neither one of us is lonely anymore. So it’s really a self-serving spiritual practice. I’m not nice as much as smart. And I offer my trick to you as a cure of any loneliness or isolation you  might be feeling.

Worthy of consideration

Today I found out that the report I worked so hard to get out…hadn’t been sent. For whatever reason, I attached a report from several years ago to the email. I got the right report out this morning, and heard back from our manager that I have another month before my report is actually due. Son of a motherless goat! This is a great opportunity to stop for a moment and chill. I don’t need to get everything done right now. I am trying to make sure all my bases are covered so when I leave (in over a month) I have everything done for the time I’ll be gone. What I need to remember is that, due to my compulsively responsible nature, I’m actually ahead of the game.

I spoke last Sunday about realizing that sometimes the things we most hold against ourselves are actually strengths in disguise. Okay, they can be strengths when seen correctly, as part of God/Good. That’s more accurate. I used to take it very personally when I made a mistake because I thought/believed that mistakes or dropping the ball was a direct reflection of my worth as a person. I didn’t know that worthiness is something we all inherently carry. When I know I’m worthy of love or my space on the planet or whatever good I feel I need, life is just easier. I have nothing to prove. When I don’t know I’m worthy, I have everything to prove and no hope of ever proving it.

If I still believed in the lie about being unworthy or inherently broken and bad (anyone else ever feel that way?) I would be deeply embarrassed by sending so many emails to folks who are already busy. This morning, I laughed it off and let it slow me down enough to notice what is going right. I have plenty of time to get things done. I have time to go slow and be creative. I have time to do whichever project I want because I’ll get to the others in due time.

What aspects of yourself can you reframe in a positive way? What would allow you to feel worthy, or notice that you were never unworthy? What will it take for you to live from worthiness?

A balanced budget

It seems like balance is a big issue for me. When I was in ministerial school, one of our instructors often reminded us to aim for the B. As you may guess, many of us were over-achiever types who put pressure on ourselves to get all A’s. Now in this case, the B stood for balance. We were to pay as much attention to creating work and life balance as we were to creating an awesome business plan or powerful Sunday talks. Balance is what really matters, we are told.

What if there’s no such thing, really? What if, when I say balance, what I mean is to be really present in whatever I’m doing? So if I’m at work, I’m not thinking about the weeds that are out of control in my yard at home? If I’m at home, I’m not obsessing over my next talk or even contemplating how to fit in an extra pastoral care visit in this week. I find that being fully present is enough of a challenge for me. If I add in trying to be completely balanced between work and play then it becomes too much. The truth is that, for me, there will be times I need or want to be at home for longer periods. There are times of the year when I simply expect to be busy at work. Basically don’t really expect my full attention between Thanksgiving and Christmas unless we are in my office talking about the work of ministry.

I’m working on the Center budget right now. The big goal is to find a way to fit in everything we think we need and have a plan to pay for it all. When I start this process, I find that the first version of the budget, where we just plug in numbers that seem to make sense based on what we spent in previous years, is almost always way out of whack. Never in our favor, either. It takes more time and more thought to bring us into balance. I’m starting to think that life balance requires the same time and attention to expenditures and income. Where do I get my energy? Am I willing to invest enough time in the things that feed me so that I don’t end up in the red at the end of the day or week or year? I’m so careful to balance the financial budgets in my life – time to look at other kinds of energy as well.

So… is your energetic budget balanced? How do you make sure?

Back in the saddle again

I took last week off kind of by necessity as our building including my office was all packed up. We got new flooring – and it’s absolutely beautiful.  On Saturday a bunch of folks put everything back and I am happily sitting in my office, back in the saddle and ready to go.

My sister was/is an equestrian. She did dressage and competed in cross country stuff. What I learned from her boils down to which direction to face while mounted on a horse, but life has taught me that getting back in the saddle, especially after a fall is important. I hear people talk about “less than active time” as down time. I often hear folks talk about just sitting around and doing nothing as if it were a waste of time. I hear myself talk about not having time to take breaks, having too much to do. What a load of horse….. you know.

What happened as a result of not being in the office this week? I got some down time and let my brain rest. I got some visits with shut-ins done on Valentine’s Day that would otherwise have felt rushed. I read some books and contemplated the vision for this Center. I did some dream-weaving around what I’d love to see happen here over the next few years. I took the time to get to an appointment that will help with my allergies.

While I “did nothing”, the building was beautified and dusty old carpet was removed (so my allergies might even be better). My office is now set up again – and much better organized. I don’t have a lot of the clutter because who puts that back? I finally looked at all the books I inherited seven years ago and decided which ones I’d actually keep here. I got the sanctuary chairs set up in the way I like, with a definite aisle down the center that is straight.

How often have I told myself that it was important not to stop and take downtime? And how often have I taught that “downtime” is another word for spiritual practice? After all, I’ve defined meditation as sitting and waiting for nothing to happen.

I’m back in the saddle, but I’m going to remember this time that it’s important to climb down and wander around every so often. And I’m going to remember that it’s been the horse that carried me when I was in the saddle. I don’t need to make things happen. I don’t have to carry the saddle OR the horse. Stopping long enough to contemplate, slowing down long enough to actually look at my life and my calling and being willing to be in the stillness… that is the essence of the spiritual life and my work. I’m so glad that Spirit found a way to make me do it.

Politics Unusual

Dictionary.com defines politics as “use of intrigue or strategy in obtaining any position of power or control, as in business, university, etc.” That’s actually the sixth definition, but it’s the first that does not use the word politics in the definition. If this is an accurate definition, is it any wonder that I hear folks talk about being sick of politics? I don’t like playing manipulation games, either. And yet, we all do it. We all have methods of getting what we need and/or want that are less than direct. We all hint at things we want to ask for rather than just asking. Why? For most of us (okay, me) it’s because I no longer realize I’m using a coping mechanism that worked when I was a child. Or I am making the assumption that it’s obvious what I’m asking for directly when the words I use actually mean something entirely different to the person I’m asking.

I have a friend who asked “Do you mind if I manipulate you into your greatness?” at the beginning of a class of adults. The uproar was immediate. No one wants to be manipulated. It feels like a power play. Even if the stated reason is to show you your greatness, the word manipulate makes it icky.

I have had lots of reasons to look at what manipulation means and especially what it means to “talk politics” lately. As a minister, it is mine to say the hard stuff sometimes. Like, are we really living from Principle in our interactions with each other and with strangers? Or are we just defending the status quo by remaining silent, not speaking out when we feel in our hearts something is going sideways? I don’t want to talk politics from the pulpit. I feel comfortable saying that the strategy I am willing to employ to use the inherent power that I have is really just spiritual techniques that help me govern my own thoughts. Yes, of course, there are times when I wish folks would just stop arguing and do as I say, but that’s not my usual modus operandi. I don’t want to lead a cult; I want to share a spiritual journey.

Having said that – there are some social justice issues that for me are purely about Principle. I can’t teach Oneness and sit quietly by while my LGBTQ friends are excluded from enjoying basic civil rights (like the right to work or rent an apartment while gay). I would hope I’d have the courage to intercede somehow if a woman was being attacked for wearing hijab (I grew up with nuns; one doesn’t touch the veil any more than one tugs on Superman’s cape). To be comfortable in my skin and in my role as minister, I need to put into action the things I teach on Sundays. So if that’s not okay…that’s okay.

Looking for Wisdom

I have begun a practice of reading in bed before I get up (well, getting back in bed after starting the coffee). Right now I’m all about Emma Curtis Hopkins, possibly because I finished a class recently that opened my eyes to her awesome writings. At the best of times, her writing can require a dictionary. The wording is outdated and complex. Her writing also references a lot of knowledge I don’t have about Hinduism, Hebrew and Latin references, mythology and ancient Greek philosophy. And all of that is before I even get to her encyclopedic knowledge of the Bible.
Here’s what I’m learning – it’s not the words or the references I need to notice. It’s those glimmering bits of wisdom that shine just for me. When Emma tells me “look up” or that “Facing Thee, there is no evil in my path”, what I get out of it is a reminder that by focusing on the Spirit Within Me, all my so-called problems melt away. She reminds me that asthma is not the boss of me –my physical lungs heal when I rely on a power greater than myself and if that seems pie-in-the-sky, well, it’s not. She lists over and over the examples throughout history of when allowing Spirit to lead not only worked, it worked miracles.
It’s jarring to go from that kind of consciousness to needing to get on with my day. What would Emma say about Facebook? What would she say about the minutia of ministry – writing the reports, noting the attendance numbers, making sure the Christmas decorations are put away and ready for next year? What would she say about keeping up with email and visits? Not much probably. I think she’d look at all that and remind me – Facing Thee, there is no evil in my path. Spirit isn’t tied to time or limited by a data plan.
These things that worked for the prophets of Israel also worked for yogis and the Brahmans. Focusing on the Divine Self worked for Druids in what became Ireland and the United Kingdom. It worked for the priests of Huitzilopochtli in the Aztec Empire and the seekers of the three-faced Goddess Hecate. It doesn’t matter what the details of the story are – Spirit is timeless, ageless and without limit. So…. With a nod to Emma….
Dude – facing Thee, It’s all Good!

Cosmic two by four

So this week I got to experience a cosmic two by four. The end result of ignoring self-care was a nasty case of walking pneumonia exacerbated by acute asthma. In case you were wondering why I haven’t posted in so long…. I was ignoring the cold, then the bronchitis that lead up to the other stuff. I’m not going to pretend there wasn’t a good reason (hello, minister at Christmas?) and I’m really not going to pretend there wasn’t a great breakthrough and blessing from it all.

In the midst of the experience, with the side effect of high anxiety from the medication that was keeping my lungs open, I realized that most of my anxiety came from not being at work. How would I have any worth if I wasn’t producing? I would get fired. My sister would have no reason to speak to me ever again because I’d lose the house. People would hate me for not being there during the crisis that came up while I was down for the count. What kind of horrible person takes a nap while others are suffering and responsibilities are being ignored? Remember please, that I was heavily medicated with a stimulant known to cause anxiety. What sounds ridiculous in the light of day had to get very real for me in the moment of darkness for me to hear it.Maybe I had to get that far out of my own mind to hear the whispers from my subconscious, but hear it I did. And of course it shocked me back into rationality (thank God!).

For many of us, it’s not the things we think we believe that get us into trouble. It’s the little assumptions and underlying, completely unconscious beliefs that are at work behind the scenes that create havoc in our lives. I know I’m hyper-responsible and that’s probably not something I should beat myself up over not having resolved yet. I can put the brakes on that though by being conscious of when I’m doing it, when that “work= worth” belief is at work in my life and is guiding my behavior.

Now… this is a short post but it’s also my first day back. I’m going to go home and take another nap.