Category Archives: spirituality

Alone

Today is the third day of Lent — the forty non-Sunday days before Easter. For me, it is a period of intentional time dedicated to introspection and reflection. Like the silent, contemplative walks that I’ve recently enjoyed with my companion, I find a surprising amplification of this seemingly solitary practice when I am aware of the millions of people around the world who are similarly-focused.

This year, the United Methodist Church that I attend invited us to a Lenten practice of focusing together on one pre-determined word for each of the forty days. We were encouraged to share a photograph on social media each day that speaks to us of the word for that day. Eureka!  As someone who has struggled for months trying to develop a daily discipline and rhythm of writing, this is exactly what I’ve been looking for. I welcomed this opportunity to not only think about a visual image to represent the ‘word of the day’ but to also form a daily practice of writing about it. .

Today’s word is: ALONE. Admittedly, my first, visceral reaction was, well, “Yuck.” As someone who has been alone for nearly 2 1/2 years after being widowed, I winced at the word. Sure, I have a plethora of family, friends and a faith community that often fills my days. And I also spend a good portion of my time alone. ALONE. It carries a certain sadness in its five combined letters, doesn’t it? I can think of plenty of other words that I’d much rather focus on.

But here it is. ALONE. Okay, let’s give this a go.

As I sit in ALONE, reflect on ALONE, let ALONE wash over and seep into myself, I feel an unexpected lighten-ing within. I’m alone as I write this post. And, aside from the whirling sound of my washing machine as it enters the spin cycle downstairs, it is quiet. I am dry. I am warm. I am neither hungry nor thirsty. My heartbeat and breathing slow. I am calm.

I begin to wonder how many people at this very moment are in a place that is not at all quiet? How many people right now are not dry nor warm? How many are both hungry and thirsty? How many in a state of turmoil? How many would love to have a washing machine with a spin cycle? I feel them. Somehow, in this moment, I see them. I sense oneness with them, though our present circumstances couldn’t be more different.

In the confines of this house, with its roof and walls, sure, I’m alone. And yet, I can hear my next-door neighbor’s dog barking. I know that there are other people who are home right now in my neighborhood.

I wonder: Is there some arbitrarily-defined distance between one living being and another that somehow constitutes aloneness?

I often visualize a metaphorical river that runs beneath all things. A river of life. And all of us – people, animals, plants, insects, sea creatures, and organisms – have metaphorical roots that tap into the very same water source. I look up the word origin of ALONE on Dictionary.com and am stunned by the obvious. ALONE comes from the Middle English ‘al – one’; all (wholly) one.

Suddenly, my initial reaction of “Yuck” to the word, ALONE has been turned on its head. I am really not ALONE. You are really not ALONE. And yet, we are all (wholly) one – connected by the same river-waters into which our roots plunge. ALONE. It’s a great word!

“Then how can it be said I am alone

When all the world is here to look on me?”

William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

And a Worm on the Sidewalk

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been walking in the mornings – not at all something unusual. Except that it is Wonderfully Unusual.

A friend recently invited me to join her in her new practice of intentional, silent, contemplative walking. Together. While this seemed to be a practice more suited for solitude, I was intrigued, and agreed to join her.

At first, it felt strange to walk silently next to someone with whom I actually wanted to be better acquainted. I have questions I want to ask her. I want to engage in one-one-one dialogue; of listening and sharing. Yet, in the thud-thud rhythm of our feet on the sidewalk and synchronized swish-swish of our rain-jacketed arms, I’ve noticed something completely unexpected. As we walk in silence I am keenly aware of a deep-calling-to-deep connection — a sacred journey of sorts — smack-dab in the middle of a suburban neighborhood. How profoundly powerful, to walk side-by-side with another person who, for those moments, has the same intention of being fully present.

As a spiritual seeker, I’ve developed a level of observation that often allows me to see the sacred, not only in nature, but in ordinary and often man-made things. Yet, I’ve noticed an accelerated deepening of my senses as I journey with my silent companion. Somehow, in this joint activity, I become more fully myself, with a heightened sense of awareness and ability to notice things that seem to be wanting to show themselves to me:

  • A plethora of well-chewed gum, stuck to a sign post at a neighborhood bus stop – a youthful statement of rebellion, as well as a desire to be noticed.
  • A bright red rocking chair in a garden clearing near the sidewalk – a sign of welcome and of radical hospitality.
  • A broken sidewalk – a powerful testament to the man-made concrete conceding to the God-made roots beneath it.
  • Three cherry trees, planted in a row, at the same time, in the same soil and light conditions. One of them in nearly-full bloom, another beginning to bud and the third still deep in its winter dormancy – each a reflection of the perfect balance of the wisdom found in diverse reactions to the same situation.
  • A child’s pedal-powered, 1950’s-era red metal car now parked in a garden and reimagined as a planter – embodying the passing of time and the sometimes-unwanted truth of the consistent presence of change in our lives.
  • And, a worm on the sidewalk – a tender reminder of the very moment I fell in love with my husband over 20 years ago when he rescued such a humble creature from a hot sidewalk and placed it carefully in someone’s garden.

Would I have noticed these things, had I been walking alone? I have no way of knowing. Perhaps so, yet I am quite sure that their message to me would have been more muddled, more abstract, less substantial.

And so we journey on. In this contemplative, companionable just-short-of-power-walking pace, the miracle of our need for each other plays itself out. Like the glorious frog-concert that was part of our recent walk past a neighborhood pond, we each sing in our silence a song of harmony and oneness.

Shhhhhh — listen – can you hear it?

Tending Toward

I delight in finding clever gifts. And for Christmas this year, I found one for my avid-hiker and good-humored brother: a t-shirt with a stick-figure picture of a man in the woods with a tent and the words, ‘Good In Tent’. Ha, Ha — get it?!  Aside from being clever and funny, the message of that shirt kept lingering about my heart and mind for days. What a ‘sticky’ phrase: Good Intent.

Then this morning, on New Years Day, my Facebook news feed included a link to a post entitled One Word. It was written by a woman who had chosen the word “Rise” as her one-word daily intention for 2015 (www.oneword.com). I was inspired. What  would be my one word for this brand-new year? After a moment of quiet, I knew. My word is ‘POSSIBLE.’ I fell in love with the idea of keeping this word in my heart and letting it greet me each day. My daily intention: to open myself to what is POSSIBLE. Yet something within me bristled with anything that smacked of a Resolution — something that is destined to fail after a few well-meaning days.

Smack-dab in the middle of this consideration — a full-circle moment. I could see in my mind’s eye that stick-figure man on my brother’s t-shirt and those sticky words: Good Intent.

Word-lover that I am, I decided to look up the definition of the word, intention, and found all of the expected phrases like ‘aim or purpose’ and ‘a determination to act in a certain way.’ But as I scrolled down the page a bit, I found what I had been seeking:

“In knowing, the mind is said to “intend” or “tend toward” its object.”

A new sticky, yet grace-laden phrase: Tending Toward. Leaning In. Feeding, nurturing and watering. Some days perhaps more than others. My gardening experience has taught me the forgiving nature of most plants. If you miss a day of water, or forget to fertilize, more often than not, the beautiful flower still emerges.

Tending toward. I like that gentle phrase; so free of the rigidity baggage that comes with a Resolution.

This new year, like the stick-figure man on my brother’s new t-shirt, may you discover the Good Intent in your life; perfectly imperfectly tending toward it; leaning in to your own possibilities.

That’s my kind of camping!

‘Tis the Season for … Waiting

A former manager at work put it well when she said that “WAIT” is a four-letter word. I hate to wait. I don’t know anyone who likes to wait. Yet, it seems that (darn it!) we spend much of our lives waiting. Waiting in line. Waiting for that promotion. Waiting for healing. Waiting for that big break. Waiting for vacation. Waiting for spring. Waiting for morning during a sleepless night. Waiting for just a moment to breathe. Waiting in traffic.

It feels like all my loved ones are waiting for something right now: To be able to walk after shattering the bones in a leg for one person, and after foot surgery for another. For a much-needed job. For blood test results that will allow for another round of needed chemotherapy. For a baby to be born. For love.

And, in this season, for many of us, we are waiting in the season of Advent for Christmas. Waiting for peace on earth. Waiting for Santa. Waiting for that perfect gift to be opened. Waiting for hope.

Waiting, waiting and more waiting.

With all this waiting, it seemed like a good time to ask myself what good can come from waiting? If I’m going to spend a large chunk of my life doing it, shouldn’t I find some meaning in it? If ‘waiting’ is a verb, what do I want it to DO for me? How can it be for me more than simply something to endure?

So, lately, I’ve been experimenting with a new way of waiting. I look at the people in the cars around me, also stuck in gridlock, and I wonder about them and their lives. Where are they going? I look at the person in front of me in the grocery store line, and I pray a blessing over them. I try to be present with my friend who is many weeks away from being able to put weight on her leg so she can begin the process of walking. I try not to offer solutions or make things something that they are not (as much as I’d love to!). I’m trying to just BE in whatever I’m in, and to look for what it is there to teach me.

Lofting ambitions, yes. And while I’m only successful at doing this approximately 4% of the time, I must say that when I can quiet my mind from only longing for the desired future state (my loved one’s healing, MY turn with the cashier at the store), I do find that there can be gifts in the waiting. Gifts of presence, strength, and unexpected connectedness with a stranger.

The prophet Isaiah had some wise things to say about waiting. When I read these words today, it seemed to me that some very powerful, and seemingly contrary verbs were associated with waiting.

“Yet those who wait for the Lord
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.”   — Isaiah 40:31

Gaining strength, flying, running, walking … found in the midst of waiting?!  Sounds like this kind of waiting is active and much more beneficial than I had thought!

I, for one am going to keep learning how to wait. And to find blessings before they are expected.

The Gift of the Morning Moon

Yesterday morning was a bright, sparkly blue-skied gift. As I showered, I was filled with anticipation for my drive to Cannon Beach, Oregon and for a few days at the beach. And, while most of my anticipation held the feeling of excitement, I also knew that this trip was also a time to be in a healing place as I marked the day two years ago when my husband passed. Like so many things in life, there was a mixture of feelings– a blending of happiness and difficulty; the yin and the yang. I have learned that things in life are rarely one thing or another. They are almost always one thing and another, at the same time.

Back to my shower. Rinsing my hair, I looked up through the skylight in my bathroom and saw the moon; still visible even in the bright morning light. In that moment, I became aware of the gift of the morning moon. It reminded me of the night that was, as well as the night that would come again – and of the presence of light, even in darkness.

Two years ago, almost at this very moment, I kissed my husband good-morning. How could I have known that it would have been the last kiss? As I re-visit that day today, I sense the gift of the morning moon. I have come through the night. And while the night of that loss will always be with me, it can be a reminder to me of the light I experienced that day in the shining-moon presence of God as expressed through the family and friends who surrounded me. Healing has come, yet sometimes the wound is as raw and gaping as that first day. Those days are becoming fewer.

When the barista handed me my morning coffee today, there, in the foam was a lovely heart. Randy is here with me. That last kiss — seen at the top of my cup. Here in this heaven-on-earth spot where surf meets rock and sand, I experience the morning-moon gifts of presence, love and light.

A dear friend reminded me today of this Grief blessing, by John O’Donohue:

“Gradually, you will learn acquaintance

With the invisible form of your departed,

And when the grief work is done,

The wound of your loss will heal

And you will have learned

To wean your eyes

From the gap in the air

And to enter the hearth

In your soul where your loved one

Has awaited your return

All the time.”

Morning moon, indeed.

Fear-less and Present-more

As a new writer, I yearn to create my art without fearing what people will think of my creation. Easier said than done, people. After all, isn’t the very purpose of writing for publication is for public to read it? When I press that Publish button, whatever I’ve written is Out There. For all to see. Yikes. Just this morning, I read a blog post entitled Fearless Writing by Bill Kenower from his book, Write Within Yourself: A Writer’s Companion:

“It feels a little selfish not to care what other people think about my writing, narcissistic even. Yet it remains the only way to write something worth sharing with anyone else. After all, what better gift is there to give someone than the knowledge that they are complete as they are? And how might I share this gift unless I receive it first myself? This is how I practice forgetting to be afraid, by returning my attention again and again and again to the gift I wish to share and away from how I dream it will be received.” — Bill Kenower

These wise words embolden me, and I pause to consider: What does it mean to be fearless? In my experience, it is very difficult to simply wish or pray fear away. And even if this were possible, wouldn’t the vacuum that the absence of fear would create simply fill itself with more fear? To be absent of fear, I realize, I must be intentional about filling that space with something different. If I want to fear less, what do I want to be more of? And then, it dawns on me: I can fear less by being more present. After all, isn’t the fear I feel about what will happen (future) when someone reads my writing? By being present as I write, what matters is the birthing of the words that are come to me now. In this moment. We all are artists. We all create be simply being in this world, whether we write, or garden, or care for our families or work hard in our job every day. Do you fear what others think of what you create? In our culture of comparison, it is easy to not feel good enough and to fear what others will think. And so, my gift to you this day: Receive my gift that was created by the filling of present-ness, and in so receiving, know that in this moment, you, too, are enough.

Living in Our Newest Chamber

You may be wondering why I used a chambered nautilus as the banner photo on my blog site. This sea creature, with its spiral shell holds deep meaning for me, and a lesson in living from which we can all benefit. As the nautilus grows, its body moves forward, and in so doing, produces a wall that seals off the older chambers of its shell. This process not only ensures that the nautilus always lives in the newest and largest of its chambers, it also helps to keep the nautilus buoyant.

I came to understand the rich lesson of the chambered nautilus in a daily devotional reading from The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo. Not coincidentally, the date of this reading was September 16 — the day of my husband’s death — read exactly one year after it happened. Mark Nepo’s words helped me to see the point at which, by moving forward, we resolve and honor our past. An excerpt:

“Can we, in this way, build strong chambers for our traumas: not living there, but breaking our past down till it is fluid enough to lose most of its weight? Can we internalize where we’ve been enough to know that we are no longer living there? When we can, life will seem lighter.” — Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

This reading, so timely in my grieving process, brought healing, hope and, quite literally, a sense of lightness. Such a wise lesson in living — whether or not your past holds traumatic events — that only by integrating the whole of our life can we dwell the fresh expanse of its newest chamber.

Could it be that, in the creation of this magnificent sea creature, God encourages us not to ‘stuff’ our past, but to honor and draw from its lessons so fully that its very edges can no longer hold us? In this, we become fully present to what is before us — here and now. With gratitude, I embrace and aspire to the message of the chambered nautilus; to enlarge my capacity to love deeply and to live completely.