prayer; dear some something

james-douglas-730photo by James Douglas

Prayer. When I was little, I prayed. But it was really more of an OCD. My own version of If I die before I wake…was an anxious plea to keep myself, family and friends safe, healthy, happy, and alive. If I didn’t perform this prayer the same way every single night, right after closing my eyes but before drifting off to sleep, I feared something bad would happen.

Unfortunately, something bad happens whether you pray or don’t, have an OCD or not.

I never learned how to pray. And I didn’t know whom or what I was praying to exactly.

But I did it anyway. It soothed me and felt essential in some curious way.

I didn’t see my parents pray. If they did, it was personal and discreet, perhaps it was something done at night or first thing in the morning behind closed doors.

When I was younger and heard someone say, “I’ll pray for you”, it sounded like an insult. But, “You are in my prayers”, sounded more inclusive, gentler and not so judgemental.

Tosha Silver in her exquisitely beautiful book, Outrageous Openness, seems to echo this sentiment when she writes that worrying about someone is the worst energy we can send them (and ourselves). She writes, ” It’s simple instead to learn to send blessings as soon as worry begins. Just hold the person in your mind filled with light and happiness, see them peaceful and content. Do it day after day. That’s the single most useful gift you can mentally offer anyone you love.”

I also read somewhere that while meditation (and or stillness and silence) is listening to the divine, prayer is talking to the divine. To be in a relationship requires both; talking and listening, giving and receiving.

But every dawn of every new day, my definition of prayer expands. It is deeper, wider and more forgiving. The particulars are irrelevant. All that matters is that I do it. Prayer to me is inviting sacred meaning into my day.

And now when I think back to my dad admiring the desert sunset with a gin and tonic in hand, swaths of orange and purple sky embracing him, I see him in prayer. My mom, on the beach, sitting in her chair, toes in the sand, drinking up the sunshine as waves play and roll around in the background, feels like prayer. A positive intention, a wish on behalf of a loved one or stranger can also be prayer. Singing Happy Birthday around a cake lit with the soft glow of candles and smiling faces, prayer. Art, prayer. Walking for charity, collective prayer. Writing this blog, prayer.

While reading the book Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist, I loved the visual she offers of imagining a bottle of vinegar and oil. When we pray, her friend Geri says, “pour out the vinegar first – the acid, whatever’s troubling you, whatever hurt you, whatever is harsh, and jangling your nerves or spirit.” I am worried, scared, sad. 

And then what you find underneath is golden. There, lies the oil. There, the divine is working. There, we are not alone. Please give me strength. Please provide comfort and peace to those I love.

We get to bring our whole selves to prayer. We are honest and naked in prayer with nothing to prove and nothing to hide.

I am reminded of Anne Lamott’s book, Help, Thanks, Wow, The Three Essential Prayers. We pray when we or others are in need. We pray to give thanks. We pray when we are standing in the midst of sacred awe.  And sometimes we pray simply because we don’t know what else to do.

“Most good, honest prayers remind me that I am not in charge, that I cannot fix anything, and that I open myself up to being helped by something, some force, some friends, some something. These prayers say, “Dear Some Something, I don’t know what I’m doing. I can’t see where I’m going. I’m getting more lost, more afraid, more clenched. Help.”

“These prayers acknowledge that I am clueless but something else isn’t. While I am not going to go limp, I am asking for the willingness to step into truth.”

Prayer is said to be powerful. I used to think that meant powerful as in the realm of magic and miracles, powerful. And while that might be true, prayer is also powerful because of what it does to the person praying.

In a recent article in Outdoor Magazine, neuroscientist Andrew Newberg writes about his research on prayer. “Newberg found that prayer allowed his subjects to more ­quickly and ­efficiently achieve flow, that coveted state of mind most commonly described as being ‘in the zone.’ During flow, a cascade of neurochemicals descend into the brain, including dopamine (which regulates pleasure), serotonin (which reduces stress), and norepinephrine (which activates the fight-or-flight response). The brain also undergoes electrical changes.”

Prayer is good medicine.

Prayer for me is no longer an anxious plea. It is a letting go, a ride on the crest of a breaking wave. It is an open arm surrendering, falling backward onto a field of velvety green grass. Prayer is resting. It is being carried. It listens, it holds, and it is always an option. Sometimes, it is the only option.

Admittedly, I still pray, hoping to keep the bad at bay, but in addition, I pray to be given the strength and courage to endure whatever happens. I pray to be of service. I pray as a way of showing up.

I pray to stay open.

And, slowly, prayerfully, I am learning.

 

 

 

 

i love you, i am listening

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When Rabbi Rami Shapiro was asked how he experienced God, he responded that God is the experience.

“How are you?,” asked a neighbor of mine the other day during a wave of abrasive heat on a walk with my dog. He asked in such a way that it brought me to tears. Right away. No time to think or process or adjust. Bam! Waterworks. I don’t know, it took me off guard somehow. I wasn’t expecting it. His asking was so earnest and innocent. So sweet. God is in the details some say.

The thing is, I am grieving. I am mourning. But the weird thing is that sometimes we do this before a loss. It is referred to as anticipatory grief. There are so many incremental losses along the way that can and often do paralyze us. Or when we feel triggered by the pain associated with our losses, we may feel more forgetful, angry, irritable, tired, heartbroken, distant, distracted. You name it.

And then sometimes grief does the opposite. You grieve. You cry. But then you feel like part of the world. Part of this seamless mystery that makes flowers bloom. Sometimes grief motivates us to be more human, more kind, more selfless, more apt to just get out there put our grievances aside and show up as much as we can, knowing that this is our one shot at doing so. No need to worry about saying the right thing, looking perfect, or sounding wise. That shit doesn’t matter. What is in your heart, that matters.

What a gift. What an opportunity. What a blessing.

Grief is internal but mourning is the outward expression of our grief. We need both. Sometimes solitude is the healing salve our soul yearns for and other times we need to share our laughter and tears with others.  We don’t need to say things are o.k. or well because they may not be in that moment. They will be again…someday. But crying right in the middle of a heat wave on the sidewalk happens sometimes.

There is no right or wrong way to do this. When we are grieving, our resilience is down and all of our emotions are so close to the surface. Seaweed floating on top of the salty sea. Seaweed, green, tough, and seemingly everywhere. And you have the choice to get entangled in it or swim through the clumps, revealing the clear water everywhere else. The clear water waiting to hold you, to support you, and wipe your beautiful tears away with an incoming wave, dispelling it and joining it with the rest of the sea.

We stop resisting. We surrender. We float.

And when we grieve, we don’t squander or squelch our feelings as much as we normally do, they just come out and recede like moving water, like passing weather.

And this too, as hard and awkward as it is, is also a gift.

Just swim through it like the seaweed.

After being embarrassed for much of my life about my readily available tears, I don’t apologize for them anymore. I don’t wave them away. I tell them I love them. I thank them. They are doing their job.

Which reminds me of a circle of lovely women I sat with recently on a nearby dock. On the steamy summer solstice evening, we listened to the lapping water and mind numbing planes overhead while discussing how we love ourselves in the midst of heavy, hard stuff.

Forgiveness. Self Care. Compassion. And sometimes if we are challenged to access this kind of compassion and forgiveness towards ourselves, we may think of how we would approach a dearly beloved friend and then turn that kind of attention to our own thirsty souls.

Life is here too in this grief. Laughter, smiles, rainbows, big colorful ones that keep appearing over the Bay, and then there is my littlest girl naked with a fuzzy halo on her head playing with flowers.

It is all Spirit. Truth. Source. God. You choose the name you are comfortable with, maybe there isn’t a name.  The soul in me and the soul in you.

It is the experience.

How do you love yourself? How do you thank your tears and your anger as well as your waves of joy?

They are all here to help us heal and to encourage our growth, to encourage our union with Spirit. Loneliness and Separation are an illusion. Or as my friend Erica said the other day, “a thinking error”.

It may be as simple as putting our hands over our hearts and saying, “I love you. I am listening.” – ( From the beautiful and soul enriching podcast, Live Awake by Sarah Blondin).

This is the experience.

 

 

 

 

Rasta Cowboy Unicorn

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When I was home for the holidays, I found a letter I had written to my mom. I was 15 and at an overnight retreat with a group of kids from different high schools in the area. The letter was an apol0gy for an argument I don’t remember having. Seems I was a pain in the ass and then felt really bad about it. Not uncommon in those years. (And regretfully, maybe something that happens on occasion now).  But the sentence that stood out most for me was this one, “It is so nice to be here with people who have open hearts and minds and walk around with their masks off.”

I read it out loud to my husband and we both laughed at how it sounded like something I very well could have written in my journal five minutes ago.

Seems as if I have been craving this my whole life.

And it made me think about what I can do or be to keep this yearning alive. How can I bring openness and realness into my life and my relationships with others?

When we were out to dinner for my husbands birthday the day before New Year’s Eve, we were discussing our word for the new year. We also committed to doing one little practice every day for one month. Something the author Lois Hay writes about and Dr. Christiane Northrup talks to Oprah about and that is looking at the mirror every day and saying I love you. It may sound funny but once you do it, it impacts the way you treat yourself and others.

Because when you look at yourself in the mirror with your tired eyes and messy hair and imperfect skin and increasing wrinkles and all the mistakes you’ve made and you love yourself anyway, it helps you to love everyone else out there in the world with all of their imperfections too. Maybe you don’t see their pain in the assness as much. Maybe you see their souls peeking through more.

And more importantly than a word, resolution or goal, what is the energy you want to emit? What is it that you craved as a child that still stands true for you today? How can you bring more of this energy out into our world?

With the help of my son who is really interested in Reggae and Rastafarianism at the moment, to my daughter who declared that 2017 was to be the year of the cowboy, to a game on Facebook that my friend Jules shared, I have decided the energy I choose to bring forth this year is that of the one loving, ass kicking, rainbow making, magical, mystical, Rasta Cowboy Unicorn. Yee Haw and One Love amigos!

the soul in everything

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This morning on Rosh Hashanah, one of the holiest days of the year, I walked with my baby girl in her stroller to the sound of  birds chirping. From high up tree branches, they sang their little hearts out. Giving voice to that which needed to be sung.

I left my phone at home this time. With no temptation to pick it up and check messages, I felt truly anchored to the unfolding of life happening all around me. The messages that needed to reach me were not on my phone, they were outside in nature. Messages to keep going and stay connected. Messages to reach out. To practice gratitude every step of the way. And to keep giving voice to that which needs to be sung within me.

We can start over at anytime. We can mend and heal. A new day, a new beginning, a new intention, a new year.

And as a slight breeze swam through the humid air, it dawned on me that mother nature truly feels like a mother. Anytime we are feeling lost, plagued by a worrisome thought or just need a hug, we can head outdoors and be held by the beauty and unconditional love hidden in every leave, scurrying squirrel, singing bird, dancing tree, social butterfly and color in the dreamy sky.

They are there to keep us connected to our souls. When we connect to our own souls, we connect to the soul in everything.

It is a lullaby, a hushed comfort telling us that everything is going to be okay. On this new day of this new year, find your words, your tune, your melody and share it with those around you. We need your voice and all the voices of the world to keep us connected to the soul in everything.

your personal Everest

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A while back I heard Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind mountain climber to summit Everest, speak on T.V. He said…

“When I am climbing – the scariest part is when I’m reaching out and I’m not exactly sure what I’m gonna find – I mean I’m hoping and praying and predicting I’m gonna find what I’m looking for.

He went on…

“I think sometimes the fear of reaching out into the unknown paralyzes people to the point where they decide not to reach out at all.”

“For me all of the greatest things that have ever come have come through me reaching out into the unknown.”

For me that looks like an honest blog post. It may be reaching out to someone in a text or email. Sometimes it is getting up and dancing when no one else is.

But whatever my personal Everest is at the moment, it is usually marked by my heart beating out of my chest while fiery heat rises to my face. It is an indication that this reaching out means something important to me.

When I was in middle school I chose not to audition for plays because I wasn’t “that good”. I thought to myself that miracles of miracles if I did get the part then I didn’t want the mean girls to make fun of me anyway. So I didn’t try out. Instead I sang and acted with my friends at home.

But that wasn’t enough. I missed out on challenging myself and experiencing something different with new people. I ignored my souls request which left me feeling stifled. And like every single human being, I had something to say, something to share. Something creative was stirring inside of me but it didn’t know where to go.

I didn’t reach out because I was scared of the outcome.

So now I am reaching out to you and wondering…

What does reaching out into the unknown mean to you? What are you not doing because you are scared of what you may or may not find?

What if you quit everything to try this one thing and you fail?

And maybe the most important question is…

“What’s worth doing even if I fail?”  Brene Brown

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

fierce with reality

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When we open up to our brokenness, we begin the path to wholeness. 

When I was younger, I used to hope that when I turned 20 and then 30 and now 50, that I would be free from getting so humiliated or feeling fearful or anxious. I thought I just needed to grow up.

I still get humiliated, fearful, and anxious. But what is different now is that while I don’t particular enjoy these strong feelings,  I am more okay with them because I see them as passing conditions. They are simply tools to work with. And they don’t define me.

Wholeness is not perfection. Wholeness is acceptance. It is simply a willingness to look at all of it…the good, the bad, and the ugly.

When we give voice to our brokenness, we in turn let light shine on and from these places.

And who knows how this light will change our lives and illuminate the hearts of others.

As Parker Palmer says, the way to God is down.

And when we are mindful of our pain, when we hear it and can identify it as sadness, anger, jealousy, grief, whatever it may be…we see our brokenness as something to understand and not necessarily fix. We change our relationship to it. It becomes something to work with and grow from.

It becomes a portal to awakening not a pathology to treat.

Barrie Davenport in her book, Peace of Mindfulness, writes, “Don’t add another layer of suffering by fretting over your suffering.”

There is nothing wrong with you. You are not perfect thank goodness! But you are beautiful in your brokenness. Because you are fierce with reality.

we connect

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“There are so few places in our normal social lives where we are privileged to meet one another so vulnerably-to laugh, and cry and laugh again. ” – Pat Schneider from Writing Alone and with others

Tonight I am feeling very moved and grateful for the opportunity to lead women’s groups.

When people ask me what we do in these groups, I struggle with forming a concise and intelligible response.  It is hard to convey exactly what transpires in a room full of women sharing their thoughts, feelings, and vulnerabilities with one another.

Many of us lead isolated lives. As a stay at home mother, I will never forget how lonely I felt those first few months after having my son and not returning to work. I was thrilled to be home with my sweet new baby and I also missed many aspects of my job. It was a very strange time for me and for many women I know.

Before I became a mom, I worked with a local Hospice. It was an incredibly fulfilling and life affirming job. I loved the people I worked with. And training and managing hospice volunteers was a constant reminder of how much good there is in the world.

I will never forget talking to a lovely woman on the phone one day when she told me she had not been out with her family since taking over the care of her uncle. She was beside herself pushing back tears when I told her that a volunteer would be coming over to sit with her beloved uncle so she could go out and enjoy a nice dinner with her children.

It brings me to tears thinking about it. Or the gentleman who helped a beautiful 18 year old woman make a video so that her family would always be able to watch her when she was no longer here.

It is no surprise that I missed this work.

The quiet at home felt very odd. I would go to the park, meet friends, and get coffee but it all felt like a weird world I wasn’t sure I had signed up for. As much as I like being alone, I like to be with people too!

And we human beings are social creatures wired for connection. We thrive from deep bonds with one another. Bonds that help us make meaning out of our days and bonds that help us navigate the spectrum of emotions and experiences.

This brings me back to my groups. Really they are about connection. And not just the connection to one another but the connection to ourselves. Sometimes we get so busy or overwhelmed, we may not even be able to identify what in our life brings us joy. So we snap at our loved ones because we are so depleted.

Or maybe shut down or clam up because we feel fearful.

But then we talk to others struggling and we feel less afraid. Or we share what we are grateful for and we are reminded just how much there is to celebrate.

It is a reminder that we have more similarities than we do differences. It is a reminder of how much we need each other. And how much can happen when we come together in the spirit of collaboration and soulfulness.

And if you think these groups are selfish, they are a bit. And this is a good thing. We deserve it. If we all took responsibility for our emotions, thoughts, and behaviors, we would live in a much healthier and well-balanced world.

So what do we do in these women’s groups?

We show up for each other. We wake up. We listen. We share. We laugh and sometimes we cry. We write. We play. We feel. We breathe. We connect.

And for that I am so grateful.