Red Carpet Faith: Reaching Out and Letting Go

(Thank you to  https://rippoffthedisguise.deviantart.com/art/Holding-hands-167975370 for the beautiful artwork.)

“Let go…” I say, gently giving my massage client’s arm a little jiggle.  “Be like a wet noodle.  Just lay there and let me do all the work.”  Sometimes this works, and sometimes it doesn’t; and I continue to be met with resistance and holding in every new position I move to, or body part I pick up.  This is very normal in massage for first-timer’s, type A personalities, or just really tense people who have an unconscious need to stay in control in some small aspect or moments in their lives which tend to feel mostly out of control.  I get that.   Ask anyone who has worked on me… I used to be that.  I would lay on the table with my fists clenched and not even realize it until my therapist picked up my hand.

The key for me as a therapist, and now as a student of self-awareness, is the unconscious nature of this holding.  It is not just in session that people hold their bodies and their breath.  It often takes someone pointing it out before we ever know we are doing it.  Even then, a few seconds later, we can reflexively return to this state of chronic low grade tension.  As the therapist I experience two reactions to a client who “fights” me without knowing it.  One, a compassionate awareness that many things are pulling at this person, and they are in need of comfort and freedom of space.  Two, a frustration that we could do so much more and work so much deeper if he or she would just LET GO.

This morning in spiritual direction, I was reminded of something I have heard and said so many times it could be a cliché; but later in the day when I was the one saying, “let go,” it became the most poignant wake-up call I have had in a while.  I have been struggling with my process of discernment and formation as an Episcopal priest.  Apparently, this is all very “normal.”  How irritating… 😊  In these past blogs I have been writing about feeling like I am more able to move through difficult feelings and fears in my every day life; yet lately this one HUGE aspect has been met with clinging and resistance.  I worry what it will be like when I am ordained.  Will I be more or less of myself- who God has made and called me to be?  Is there some other way I should be living out my call?  I have been “shoulding” and “what-if-ing” all over the place about this one huge decision.  Well, it is not a decision, it is a PROCESS; and it is one I do not face alone.

As my director, who is an Episcopal nun, spoke of how nervous she was taking her final vows until she looked into the chapel and saw all her family and friends sitting there supporting her, I remembered not being nervous at all on my wedding day, because I was surrounded by people who loved me and had traveled every step of the dating and commitment process with me.  Still today, in the struggles that marriage brings, I am supported by a community of other married people.  Being a priest, living out any call in this life for that matter, is done in community.  Additionally, I was reminded to ask God for more help, not just the people around me.  (I abhor asking for help!  “I am the helper.”  You can see what I mean about the control and the holding….)   But, when I put this concept in terms of being on God’s table (yes massage—but maybe communion too!) you see that, like me feeling frustrated that I could be doing so much more, so much better if the person on the table would just let go, perhaps God feels that way about me sometimes!

God knows and loves us beyond any human concept of love.  When I work on people and God works through me, I get just the tiniest, but still extremely powerful side benefit of that love moving through me on its way to my client.  At times it is truly overwhelming and takes my breath away and brings tears to my eyes.  I think to myself, “I hope you are feeling this!  Even if for one moment everyone could feel this tremendous love wash over and through them, they could hold that sensation for the rest of their lives.”  Over and over I have felt that.  And just like with my clenched fists or stiff arm, I still need a reminder.

My director said to take the hand of God and let God lead me instead of trying to figure it all out.  I have seen what God can do even in the worst tragedies, which is why I want to be a chaplain and a priest.  Yet, I admit when it comes to what I think is most important I struggle to let go and trust.  I need the reminder that God knows better, more beautiful, productive, efficient ways of serving more people than I ever could.  I like all of those things; and I love God!  “But,” my director said, “Remember, in order to take God’s hand and let God lead you, you have to be willing to reach out to God and let God hold you.”

You have to reach out and let go.  It is almost unbearably hard at times to let go of attachment to outcomes regarding something in which we are so deeply invested.  What does that look like?!  God is WAAAAY more capable and creative than I am.  Always I want what is best in any situation for the most people.  So always what I want is God’s will, not my limited version of planning and anticipation.  This is not to diminish personal gifts and abilities, it is to Glorify the One who gave them to each one of us and has Ways beyond our wildest imaginations.  Thank you!

How does it feel to be vulnerable enough to reach out to God, knowing that as far as the future goes, we are blind folded and every day is a trust walk?  I am reminded of the Footprints in the Sand story.  But instead of looking back at how God has worked in my life, I take that comfort and spread it before me like a daring red carpet! 

May we each know that our every step and every breath is known and inhabited by God whether we are conscious of it or not.  May we have the faith and courage to let God do the hard work through us, and just take one step at a time onto the red carpet of faith.

 

Present Moment, Perfect Moment

In his book Being Peace, and in his meditation instruction, Thich Nhat Hanh says,

“Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment I know this is the only moment.”  

I don’t know if it’s true for all of you, but I suspect that a few of you out there share the tendency to worry, analyze and plan.  I have learned over the years that this can be a wonderful gift when it helps me anticipate the needs of others well and succeed in my professional and personal service.  On the other hand, when it causes me to make the bold and useless attempt to pre-grieve; inaccurately displace words, thoughts or feelings onto other people; or totally miss the good that is happening right now; it is more of a curse than a blessing.

I recently read (I wish I could remember where!!) a story about a man who learned through life’s early hardships to protect himself emotionally from being too happy, in an effort to prevent too much sadness in the future.  So when he eventually found the partner of his dreams, he did fall in love; but in anticipation of how much pain love could bring, tempered his expression of that love.  As it turned out, when she finally passed away his pain was extremely intense and overwhelming.  And, in addition, there was guilt and sadness that he had missed the counterpart times of great happiness, enjoyment, and closeness when he had the chance; all in an effort to protect himself from the pain he was feeling in her absence.  We absolutely cannot prevent ourselves from pain and suffering.  It is part of the mix.  It’s a human thing…

It is not helpful for us to try to skip over or fast-forward through feelings.  I have tried several times unsuccessfully!  😉   It is helpful to be deeply present exactly where we are, when and with whom living or dying is happening.  As that last anecdote reminds us, avoiding the fullness and vulnerability of closeness and joy certainly does not rescue us from hurting; it only robs us of the greatest gifts of life- the memories that float us through the rapids of challenges.  The only way to be sure that we are not missing anything- which ironically is the intended purpose of all the worrying, planning, and anticipating- is to be mindful and aware.

Be aware of your thoughts and feelings.  Breathe in and ask yourself and Spirit, “In this moment, what is mine to do?”  Sometimes (pay attention helpers and overachievers!) the answer is “nothing, it’s someone else’s business.”  Other times the answer might be, “Just be there.  There is nothing to say or do.  Just be there.”  It is in those moments that we are often faced with feelings of helplessness, loss of control, sadness, anxiety that we want to skip to the next experience.  We can do it with music, TV, electronic communications, but not face to face rawness!  Those raw moments when nothing else feels real and possible force us to surrender to the present, and in the Present is where God is!   That means- in the fullness of intimacy and ecstasy, as well as the dungeons and vacuums of despair- in the moment- God is there.

Sometimes God is there in the flesh- in us being there for each other; for ourselves even.  Being exactly where we are and feeling exactly what we are feeling grows the soul, and engenders compassion for other people when we notice them in places we remember.  We can more freely celebrate with them; and more genuinely support them through hardship, because we too have visited those places.  This kind of mindfulness and compassionate self-awareness increase our ability to discern and act with grace when it is necessary; and when to Be Still on Know God is there (Psalm 46:10).  Practice, practice, practice.  This breath.  Now this one. Now this one…

“Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile.  Dwelling in the present moment I know this is the only moment.”

― Thich Nhat HanhBeing Peace

Suburban Wilderness: Perspectives on Gratitude

The Hebrew Bible (aka Old Testament) speaks often of “wilderness”.  Spiritually, the wilderness is understood as a time of separation from one’s geographic home, community, physical and emotional comforts; often with no idea when that separation will end.  Whether it is literally a desert, like the ones the Jewish people were forced to call home throughout long intense years of exile, or psychological and biological as with grief and illness, it feels dry and desolate in many ways.  It is often associated with a time of testing.  Despite many biblical references to it, in my personal understanding of God, I do not believe God tests us.  I do not believe that hardship is personally directed; but I know Love is.

This time of year, more than any other, we are inundated with the reminder to be joyful and fill our homes with food, music, decorations, gifts, and hopefully family and friends.  There are so many people for whom this constant public call to joy is a dramatic emphasis on the absence of all of those things; whether it be due to a lack of employment, grief, mental illness, physical illness, transition, separation due to military service, or a host of other challenges and disappointments.  It is Both: for many a time of great Joy, and for many a time of great suffering.  As a Christian I use the dichotomy of the Incarnation, for which we prepare and celebrate in churches this time of year, to give flesh and continuity to the two drastically different ends of the spectrum of human experience.  Just as we celebrate the miraculous mystery that God came into the world as a fully human being to Love us ever so particularly through this unique experience of the flesh, God is with us in every moment- mountaintops and desert wildernesses.  God was with the Jewish people in the desert, and is with the mother who is bereft of her still-born child when she should have been celebrating their first Christmas together.  Likewise, God is celebrating with families for whom Christmas is a fun and beautiful time to make happy memories.  Life really is that dramatic- high, low, and everything in between.

This year I find myself frustrated with doing things that are not fun to set up a house in a new place, not to be able to visit friends and loved ones like in past years, missing my home church and the friends I made there, not to be able to make left turns (silly New Jersey), having to buy or get water delivered instead of drinking out of our own faucet.  Ahh, the First World, Suburban Wilderness!  How incredibly fortunate I am that these are the struggles I move through this year.  Always there are more and deeper things moving in the undercurrents of our lives, but often these get our attention.  I have noticed the things that are hard about settling in a new place far from all that is comfortably familiar and my personal team of supportive people.  I am really feeling the tension and hardship.  Each time I come up with a new complaint is an opportunity to take a breath and realize, the excitement of making new friends, the amazement at how many people I love enough to send out an inordinate number of holiday cards, that no one is trying to bomb my quiet neighborhood on a regular basis, how fun it is to “church shop”, the fact that I have reliable transportation at all, and finally– that I am not in Puerto Rico or parts of Africa where there is no clean water at all!

Every disappointment or irritation is an invitation back to gratitude.  God is big enough and loving enough to comfort me in my Suburban Wilderness and to get in the trenches with those in total life threatening crisis.  THANK YOU!!!  As Centering Prayer instructor Thomas Keating teaches, every time our minds wander during prayer or meditation is an invitation to return to awareness of the presence of the Holy in our lives.  Just so, during a time that is a Dark Night and a Wilderness for some, and a Winter Wonderland for others, it is a time for Gratitude for all.  The more we practice in times of evenness and contentment, the more it is there to support us in times of turmoil.  Consider keeping a Gratitude Journal.  At some point each day, write down a Minimum of 5 things for which you are grateful.  On a good day it may take up a page and be wonderfully descriptive.  On a challenging day it may be things like the names of family members, clean water, air conditioning, a car.  Those may appear to be small, mundane things—until they are gone.  But knowing you are committed to acknowledging and tracking the moments of grace, gratitude, and ways which you see God working in your life each day may just change your awareness to begin intentionally focusing on the Blessings in your life.

Whether you are in the Wilderness, the desert, or suffering a Dark Night of spiritual separation; or on the Mountain Top brimming with spiritual epiphanies and Creative Abundance- you matter, and you are Loved deeply.

(Please visit https://www.contemplativeoutreach.org/fr-thomas-keating for more information about the healing practice of Centering Prayer)

Sensory Comforts Can be Soothing while Grieving a Mom

There are many ways to mother.  And, some of us know there is a huge difference between being a mother and being a mom.  Some have been traumatic; and some have been life giving and affirming in every way.  For those of you who were closely linked with your mom and may be experiencing loss quite profoundly, I offer this reflection inspired by a conversation with my dear friend Lolly who is bravely and openly moving through the loss of the deeply touching and talented woman and brilliant mom: Edie Kellar Mahaney.  Speaking of invigorating sensory experiences… Enjoy her work at the above link!  🙂

The comforts of sensory experiences- music, family recipes, uplifting smells from aromatherapy oils or teas, can be very soothing to draw us out of dark, lonely intense periods.  You may surprise yourself by feeling perfectly fine one minute, and then quite suddenly after seeing a picture or an item of clothing pulled into an abyss that feels too expansive and exhausting to extract yourself from.  It is our bodies, our humanness, that needs saving in the wake of the loss of a mom.  Somewhere our best, purest selves which are everlasting, are connected with the Spirit who created us and certainly with the person and her spirit who physically birthed our particular incarnation into the physical plane.

Our spirits, which are perfect unique pieces of the One God, are always connected to the same pure and unending essence of our moms; but in death it is our physical lives, our earthly identities which are greatly altered in the absence of our mothers.  It was from this one body that we became incarnate into this life.  The first intersection between body and soul.  One end of the threshold between heaven and earth that we passed through to begin our worldly existence has closed.  It was the earliest introduction our spirits had to the physical life that came from our mothers.  Until we make our own journey towards releasing the physical world, the absence of that bond will be intensely sensed.   This is why these small physical comforts go such a long and gentle way to offer moments of respite and connection.

The best part ourselves holds the wisdom of the divine and can draw on the Spirit for strength and comfort.  But our fleshy, vulnerable physical lives are dramatically altered.  Who are we?  How shall we spend our time?  From where will stability, meaning, and comfort come?  In addition to snuggles and kisses, it was through the textures of cuddly blankets, beds made, food prepared, and clothes made or lovingly chosen that care was given to our bodies, emotions and souls as we struggled to grow into this world.  So of course reaching out for those things which we were taught so early to associate with love, belonging, security, and joy makes perfect sense.  Find those things.  Celebrate the woman who shared them with you!  Incorporate them into your life intentionally.

Know that you are loved- always without exception.  You were created, born, and will be welcomed again by Love.

Roller Coaster Breathing

When I was a teenager and started to ride roller coasters, I realized I didn’t like the feeling of that stomach leap that happens just over the crest of the big hills.  After a few drops, I discovered that if I breathed in as deeply as possible instead of screaming or holding my breath, it kind of held my internal organs in place and relieved the intensity of the dropping feeling.  It was a great trick that really helped me enjoy the rest of the amusement park rides.

The last year or so, my husband and I have been the emotional roller coaster of a nationwide job search which involved us being separated for almost six months (down), discovering a new place (up), leaving friends and places I have known for nearly my entire life (down), and being close to very special extended family for the first time (up), and so on…  The feelings were an intense mix that kept me up many nights.  It was a blend of deep uncertainty, sadness, anxiety, eagerness, and curiosity.  It was neither good nor bad all together, but a composition of a wide range of emotions.

The last night I spent in Indiana, my friend Ruth who gave me a comforting and beautiful home during the transition asked what she could do to help me.  I said, “Meditate with me.”  So we did. It was daunting, to sit in silence with the waves of all those emotions so poignantly present, knowing that the next morning I would leave the only place I have called home, and would finally be with my husband again after a long separation.  I needed a little  back-up so we used the Tara Brach “Opening and Calming” guided meditation on you-tube.  At one point we switched from being aware of body sensations to watching whatever came to mind and heart and just being with it.  Instead of trying to return to a mantra or making the feelings clouds that float away, exercises of non-attachment, Tara instructed us to be fully present with what surfaced.  It felt like there was not enough room for the depth and breadth of some of the emotions and physical sensations, or for trying to accommodate them into and through my body and awareness.  I felt like I would explode, or start crying and never stop.  Months of semi-mitigated stress and not yet grieved goodbyes, several major disappointments, and a final precipice of relief were undulating through me.  I was on the roller coaster.

With Tara’s invitation not to move around those feelings, but through them,  I BREATHED With and Into them.  I breathed again.  The sinking feelings of the drops was actually manageable.  It became safe to enter more fully into the course of reality again.  After we finished this session  I thought to myself, that if only I could remember that sensation of Relief through Breath the next time something really gut wrenching occurred, how Empowering it would be.  But I know now that it will continue to take much practice.  Breathing and staying, and Loving Into What Is…

Peace to you wherever you are at this moment…

The Big Share

For a New Beginning

In out of the way places of the heart
Where your thoughts never think to wander
This beginning has been quietly forming
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

For a long time it has watched your desire
Feeling the emptiness grow inside you
Noticing how you willed yourself on
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.

It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the grey promises that sameness whispered
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent
Wondered would you always live like this.

Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream
A path of plenitude opening before you.

Though your destination is not clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is one with your life’s desire.

Awaken your spirit to adventure
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.

~John O’Donahue

Friends, Welcome to the Perennial Sojourner Blog!  I am thrilled to actually be publishing this blog with the help and support of wonderful friends Ruth, Lisa, and Robin.  It has been bubbling up inside me to share my late night epiphanies and lessons from bodywork, meditation, and religious studies.  Sharing our stories gives voice to our souls and opens space for others to do the same.  It takes courage to share your insides on the outside.  Always, I am looking for the inner and outer aspects of my life to be in coherence.  How our beliefs about who we are, why we are here, and what we are meant to do shapes our choices, our responses to circumstances in our lives, and how we move into the next chapters of our spiritual autobiographies.

I am especially interested these days in an up and coming degree in Narrative Medicine at Columbia University, seeking to make the healing capacity of Story Sharing mainstream in our modern culture’s medical system.  Indigenous cultures and healers have known since the beginning of humankind how valuable a person and community’s stories are to one’s health and identity.  In today’s rapidly evolving social and spiritual environment, I see an intersection between story sharing in the provocative concept of evangelization for modern Christian churches, and in the shift in the nature and actualization of healthcare.  I imagine a program for lay and ordained people with a curriculum designed to help each of us discover, explore, and express our spiritual autobiographies- expanding the narrative of human history and exponentially educating each other and our growing members in this planetary family.

Like the perennial philosophy of many paths leading to one loving and unified Beingness, each of our stories is a puzzle piece in the ornate panorama of existence.  So I take this leap into cyberspace at the end of a year, and the beginning of a new practice in risking the Big Share to invite you to begin considering who you are, how you got to this moment, and where you feel Spirit calling you forward.  I imagine this to be a space of connectedness; sharing of resources; and gentle, yet brave exploration.

Check out my links to books and podcasts for some highly influential resources.

Start writing, moving your body, and feeding your soul in the all the ways that already matter most to you; and better yet- all the ways you have been dreaming of trying!

Peace and Love,

Gina