Over the weekend, I attended a retreat with the Rev. Dr. Cynthia Bourgeault. She taught us a form of self-awareness and personal meditation called Centering Prayer. It’s all about letting go of daily distractions and finding new pathways into the heart. The method is simple and yet challenging for most of us. In silence, we simply release any thoughts and come back to our spacious soul. She spoke about the tyranny of thoughts in our lives and how our thinking drives us crazy.
Centering Prayer gives us a way to notice just how often we unconsciously live out of those thoughts. As our hearts become strong and clear through this spiritual practice, we are able to be present to divine goodness within us and are able to live out of our authentic self.
Sometimes in my work I see the mood of resignation. A resigned person does not see the future as a place of positive possibility where her or his actions can contribute to make a different future. And sadly, often this person does not see how this mood of resignation impacts not only the future, but the present.
I talked to a mom about her upcoming summer. She is stressed about one of her girls starting middle school and how her part time job does not get them through the month. She said, with slow resignation: “I am doing the best I can. What else can I do?” I said one action we all can take—even when discouraged—is to learn something new. This learning can lead to a new future. I told her about a micro-finance loan for women who are interested in taking classes to advance their careers.
All of us can stay in the space of “same old, same old” (resignation) or we can always take one piece of action—learning something new. What is on your reading list this summer?
When I was a little girl, I remember that my mother would stop at odd moments and then stretch her body somehow and make a sound. I always wondered what on earth she was doing. Now I think I understand. She was using her body to change her disposition.
Perhaps one of us four children just tracked in mud from outside or she just realized she did not have beans to go with the hotdogs. The stretch and the sound through her body gave her a small window to shift to a different next step.
The body, obviously always with us, provides a vehicle for us use to transform stress into a more flexible and open option. Stretch today at the onset of distress and notice how your body can take you in a new direction
I purchased some Kava Stress Relief tea to send to a relative who is going through a “rough patch.” On the side of the box there were instructions entitled “Get the most out of every cup.” While making tea seems obvious, perhaps when troubled we need to be reminded to pause and allow the stress “to melt away” by being still and kind to ourselves.
In the workshop on “Change”, I suggested that one way to deal with the stress of change is to invite the fear to tea. When going through a challenging time in life, we will actually feel better if we confront the fear. And one way to do this, with some lightness and ease, is to boil some water, get still and present to the reality of the situation, and have a direct conversation with fear…over tea.
Between our kitchen and dining room, we have a door that makes a funny noise and slowly opens and then stays open. When we have our hands full, we can back up into the door and it swings open with ease…no pushing or struggling required.
Our group is trying to make decisions about a new year of working with the children at Partnership Village. We ask: “Does this seem like a door opening easily or does it seem like we are pushing and pounding on a closed door?” We trust the goodness of the universe to swing open opportunities that seem easy and graceful. We walk through and smile.
A young man called with an idea about his company providing nutritious snacks…relatively effortless. But then, we tried to get the families and children to tend a vegetable garden…considerably coercive. We were pushing on a locked door.
How do we trust and step through the easy doors, and then accept and move away from the locked or stuck doors? How do we live lives of effortless grace? How do we lean into the goodness swinging open all around us?
In the movie Spinal Tap, the lead guitarist turned the volume up to eleven. This is what I felt like when a woman interrupted the flow of a meeting with one of her incessant questions. She inserts her odd questions into the discussion and takes the conversation in a completely new direction. I was aware that another meeting was going to begin in thirty minutes in that very room and that pausing to answer her inquiry would lengthen the meeting. Also her question had little bearing on the issue at hand. I had no patience in the moment. The volume in my voice indicated irritation. Inside the volume was eleven. I am not sure what came out. I moved the meeting along. She tried to say something again. I ignored her and kept talking. I happen to know she has chronic interpersonal needs and often the group, while visibly irritated with her constant interruption, listens. I felt like I lost it (inside) and wondered if she and others noticed. Yet I felt responsible to use the allocated time wisely. Can we hold the quirks of others in a compassionate way—and move the agenda along—without turning the volume up to eleven?
On May 5th, 1970 classes were cancelled at Geneva College. On the previous day, protesting students at Kent State were killed by the national guard. I went to a meeting on campus and watched Mrs. Fox extend her hand to an angry colleague. I saw him recoil from her attempt to comfort him. I felt helpless as I witnessed this small reaction of human interaction. Somehow it captured the cultural moment. Disagreement over a policy led to violence and death. Now 40 years later, while I do not remember all the political arguments, I do recall vividly that attempt at connection rebuffed. How do we stay connected—no matter what? How do we communicate our sometimes extreme disagreements—yet remain in relationship? How do we reinvent rather than recoil?
An old friend reconnected and told me about her new five-year exit strategy. She would tolerate 2,125 more days at work and then she would be free. I recognized the impulse to grit my teeth and plow through the stress and hope for a better future. However, I notice how many of my newly retried participants in the servant leadership classes talk longingly about past work lives—now that they have attained so-called freedom. This reminds me of how I used to dream about vacations—counting the days during the stressful week and then once on the vacation how I tended to think about the progress of projects back at work. Avoiding the present by dreaming about the future or reminiscing about the past. So I ask: Am I tolerating my current life? Am I convincing myself that with the next degree, job, house or relationship I will finally have a meaningful life? Do I live a life of perpetual exit strategies? Or do I stand still; fully engaged in the life given to me this day? Instead of an exit strategy, how about an entrance strategy into full-blown participation in this day?
I was stumped at the computer once again. The printer would not print—even after changing the main printer head. All of a sudden, every project I considered needed the printer. I was physically exhausted from the previous day’s “fullness” and gave myself hesitant permission to see who was on Oprah. I knew I was avoiding something or allowing myself to become distracted. I paused yet I still reached for the remote. Elton John and Russell Crowe were the guests and, naturally, there were all the commercials in between. My mind was “at rest” but not really engaged. Actually I do not even like Russell Crowe at all but I sat there in a kind of trance. Yogurt commercial reminded me of ice cream in the freezer. Oprah’s hair had me considering new hair products. I was in a haze. I knew I was allowing myself to be lulled into this distraction and simply rode it for most of the hour. I did marvel at Elton John’s piano playing ability and appreciated his hairpin turn story initiated by the death of Ryan White. At what point are distractions okay? Part of life? Even helpful? And at what edge are they avoidance and not very helpful at all? Letting go (even of my dislike for Crowe) and starting again is always a great option. What part of your life do you not even like—that you spend time on? What would it look like to let go of it? When you get frustrated (as I did on the computer) do you handle it with distractions? (as I did?)
A friend calls breathless and begins with a torrent of self-criticism: “I am so stupid! I cannot believe I did not read the one sentence in the e-mail that made all the difference.” I heard her panic get louder and stronger with each sentence. She was in one of those “wheels of miss-fortune” that goes round and round. I listened to her-I was feeling helpless as well. She stopped and I slipped in: “I am taking some deep breaths for all of this.” I noticed a bird hopping on the roof next door and asked if she could possibly step outside for a moment. She slowed down her rant to a rumble and repeated her dilemna. She said she was not going to go outside. I described to her this crazy bird hopping around like its feet were on fire. She paused. Then I said slowly: “Okay this happened—you were not expecting this—what could you do in the next 30 minutes that might provide you with some information you need?” She repeated: “In the next thirty minutes” and then she said: “I could e-mail Jim who might know someone in that industry.” I could hear her brain shift from panic and going around and around and going nowhere to focus and moving somewhere. The bird flew away. Her panic turned into energized focus. Breathing, posing a question and taking one action changed panic into possibility.