Happy Place

It’s come to my attention that not just laboring mothers need a “happy place,” some place – real or imaginary – to escape mentally when what is real is overbearing. Sometimes what we have to deal with is too much, and we need an immediate OUT.

I remember guiding my childbirth classes through such exercises, hoping to give them another tool for pain management.  Labor is painful; use what you can, and the more options you have lined up, the better.  When the physical demands start to overwhelm, it’s okay to put mind over matter.

Close your eyes.

Visualize your most favorite place in the world, down to the smell . . . feel . . . taste . . . look . . . and sound of it.

Have your loved one whisper about it in your ears or just hold your hand and be with you.

Before you know it, a minute has passed.  The pain subsides.  You might even look forward to the next contraction so you can go back to that magical place.  Maybe not.

Yesterday, in the office, we took turns, the three of us present, to share where we would go given carte blanche.  Where would we go?  What would we do?  Apparently we would scatter across the states and the globe, doing something we’d love or have always wanted to do, being with whomever we chose.

“I’m happier just thinking about it,” one woman said.

Maybe that’s inevitable.  listen to what your heart wants, let the mind pay attention, feeding it a little detail, and see what happens.

Even today on Facebook during my lunchbreak, I saw a friend post about her happy place, and in the comments I read how other friends were joining her!  We are attracted to what is good, no?  Take an everyday, mundane chore, and let yourself use the time to take a vacation.  Take others with you.  Enjoy it for the moment it lasts, and be happy.

Escapist?  Yes.  But for me, a moment to dream is not a wasteful use of time.  I have dreams.  There is so much beauty in the world.  I need to remember this when life bogs me down, heart and soul.  There is so much more to life than what I can see or even imagine in any given moment, and most of that is good.

For a quick reminder, I have a postcard of a German castle surrounded by mountains and trees in autumn color.  It works.  🙂

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Meditation & Ponytails

Each day brings a reminder that I cannot practice enough.  I have  more to learn, more awareness to be had, more compassion to cultivate.  So I sit when I can — just sit.

Meditation often carries with it a connotation of being lofty, something mystics and monastics do because they can; their whole life devoted to being fully awakened.  I’m sure monks would laugh at this.  I know some nuns who certainly would.  They, too, live in the real world with real people.  Truthfully, meditation is for everyone.  It’s an opportunity to be still, be clear, and be quiet — mind, body, and soul. So I sit when I can.  I don’t do it often enough.

One morning not long ago I made time to sit.  Intention is part of the doing, but ultimately one does have to do it.  Ten minutes, twenty minutes.  I can’t even remember how long I intended to sit.  Most of the time I don’t set a timer.  When I’m ready to quit, I know I need to stay longer.

Sitting.  Breathing.  Counting.  Wandering.  Returning.  Sitting.  Breathing.  Footsteps . . . coming closer.

I feel the presence of our youngest creeping closer to me until she’s at my side, her mouth conveniently ear-level.

“Mom, I want a ponytail.”

Sweetness embodied in one simple request.  I smiled, eyes still half-shut.  I breathed deeply before turning to look at her.  Her gaze met mine, neither hopeful nor pleading.  She met me there in the moment.

“Alright,” I said softly.

I arose and went with her to the kids’ bathroom.  I fixed her hair into a ponytail.  Neither of us spoke.

The was no anger, no frustration.  She had a ponytail, and I continued my meditation for the day.

My teacher didn’t smile, but she did run out of the bathroom quickly, happily moving on to her next adventure.

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Who Am I?

This isn’t a question about who I am in relation to you or my family, nor is it a question for others to answer for me.  Read the title aloud to yourself three times, pausing in between each reading, as if using it for lectio divina.  What response arises within?

The Journey to Authenticity class I’ve been taking is all about folks who have come together because we’re trying to answer this very question.  Each of us, on our own journeys, have come to a point in our lives where we’re trying to figure this out.  We may have hoped to get the fast-food version of self-discovery —  get it now and get it quick.  The truth remains, however, that the specifics of our individual calling can only be heard by ourselves.  The “still, small voice” doesn’t come over an intercom but gently from within, and we have to listen carefully and discern what we hear, think, and feel to discover what is true and what is not true to ourselves.

According to Parker Palmer in Let Your Life Speak and to many others who have covered the topic of spirituality, purpose and calling, “Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic selfhood.”  This is the purpose for each of us, universally, but it is also “the universal tendency to want to be someone else.”  How often have we wanted to be like so and so, running ourselves into the ground, being miserable as we try to achieve what may not be ours to have?  I love the Hasidic tale Palmer shares to illustrate this:

Rabbi Zusya, when he was an old man, said, “In the coming world, they will not ask me: ‘Why were you not Moses?’  They will ask me: ‘Why were you not Zusya?'”

This is what it’s all about.  Each of us living into our role in this life, filling a great need, not only for ourselves but for others, ultimately for the glory of God, if you believe that, or at least for the benefit for all, no matter what you believe.  And for all the group therapy, coffee talk, breakdowns, ecstasy, exploration, we will find as we get closer to what is Real, “that the sacred center is here and now — in every moment of the journey, everywhere in the world around us, and deep within our own hearts.”

So simple.  So true.  So difficult.

Palmer, Parker.  Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation (San Francisco:  Jossey-Bass, 2000).

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Who Are Your Heroes?

Part of this blog is sharing my spiritual journey, lessons and discoveries.  With me taking a spirituality-based class at church, we all have much to benefit.  (for legality purposes, know that none of this information is used for or meant to be used for financial/personal gain)

From what I’ve gathered so far (not just from this class but from every spirituality book I’ve ever read), we have to sit in quiet — whether it is in zazen or contemplative prayer — for as long as we can each day.  Sometimes three minutes is all we have.  Mother Teresa would pray for four hours.

To figure out where you are going, you have to know who you are, who you are meant to be (which is who you are already but haven’t realized yet).  The first part of the Journey to Authenticity class I am taking is about discovering your spiritual gifts.  You have to have the right tools for the job, right?  It’s good to have goals, to know where you’re headed.

The first exercise was this:

  • List at least 10 of your heroes/heroines.  Don’t have heroes, per se?  List people you greatly admire.
  • Underline 6 of those.
  • For each of those 6, list three characteristics that embody that person’s greatness to you.
  • For those 6, now describe more specifically how that person has exemplified, lived into and through those characteristics (i.e. Mother Teresa was compassionate, self-sacrificing, and wholly spiritual through her service to the poor, ultimately living into and through the will of God.)

Now, it’s best to do this kind of work in groups, to share with others your heroes, their descriptions.  Many found, as they described those they admired, they were overcome with emotion.  Sharing the descriptions of your heroes out loud/in writing helps more fully to revive those characteristics that speak to you.

The punch line, of course, is that these characteristics you admire are within you.   These are you at your best.  This is what you need to be doing to be living at full potential.  This is a close glimpse of what God has in store for you.

Don’t believe it?  Sit in silence/prayer a while each day and see what happens.

Peace be with you.

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Prayer of Silence

At the Servant Leadership class I attend, one of the things we focused on was centering prayer, particularly as described by Thomas Keating.  Considering the day that I had had and the night to come, I knew I needed this, and I was grateful.

First of all, it’s a Monday.  Second, it’s Columbus Day so the bank is closed, and I can’t take care of the ridiculous charges we have on our account that should be closed.  Third, I’ve been going full force all day, starting way earlier than I’m used to.  Fourth, I’m not sure how long the upcoming birth will be, and I may be up for days.

My saving grace:  a nap, the centering prayer, and knowing that a baby is soon to be born.

In our class, we wipe the slate clean in the beginning (which I missed by being a few minutes late).  In the centering prayer, you sit in silence, still, with one word that sums up your consent to the will and activity of God to move through you.  Twenty minutes.

Now, my background in meditation is Buddhist in nature.  I admit that when I first came to this church and heard talk of centering prayer, I thought, isn’t it really just meditation?  For some reason, I couldn’t understand.  Now, I realize that, yes, it’s just meditation.  No, it doesn’t matter whether it’s Buddhist or Christian or anything.  It is just being here and now.  This way of doing it has a word to bring you back when your drunken monkey brain steers you astray.  I could be counting my breaths.  I could be counting to ten over and over again.

But this time I had a word, and with that word I had an image of me doing something.  Over and over again I thought this word, this movement, gently, “as gently as placing a feather on a cotton ball,” as they said in class.  And we sat for twenty minutes that only felt like ten.  I wonder if I could have sat for an hour.

In this prayer I consented to God.  In this silence, I subconsciously challenged myself to let go of the day, of my will, worries, fears, and agenda.  Nothing happened.  I wasn’t going anywhere or becoming anything.  I just was.  I just showed up.  I just sat.  But I offered my bowl to God.  Whether it was empty or full, only God knows.  Whether I can make time to do this everyday, God and I both know I won’t.  But I hope God knows I’d love to.  I know I need to.

They told us in class that Mother Teresa spent four hours a day in prayer, which for her was in silence, listening for the will of God.  Asked why she spent four hours in prayer when there was so much to do, she said she spent four hours in prayer because there was so much to do.  Clearly she knew her work was greater than her.  She knew that she could only do with the help of God.

May we all be so willing.

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