How does your body let you know?
Here's how mine lets me know that the chaos is starting to overwhelm:
...eyes feel strained and tired.
...brain feels like an electrical storm of overstimulation.
...breathing is shallow or I'm holding my breath.
...adrenaline surges, making it hard to be still.
...chest feels heavy and tight with anxiety.
...shoulders and neck get tense.
...head begins to ache from all of the above!
This is a sure sign to me that it’s time to step away from the phone, stop scrolling through social media, or reading/watching/listening to the news. I won’t find what I’m really looking (or longing for) anyway!
And no, I'm not not talking dissociation (disconnecting with reality) and ignoring what is going on in the world. I'm talking about connecting with reality as it is experienced and revealed by our bodies so that we can connect to reality as it is outside of our bodies in a healthy way.
What if we asked ourselves, "Who is the me I'm bringing to the world (and to the issues at hand)?" Am I bringing my frantic, survival self or my grounded, truer self? Which would you prefer, by the way?
How do we do we connect with our true self (hint: not through more social media or news!)?
By diving under the chaotic surface of the waves (remember they’re connected to the calming deep but few venture to go there!), we discover our truer self. In the deep we surprisingly find we’re able to breathe, rest (physically & more!), and receive what’s next (or what isn’t next).
Instead of my frazzled, overstimulated, chaotic mind making decisions, I can bring to the world (& all its issues) the contemplative mind…the mind of Christ.
So here’s some permission. Dive (or if you’re extremely tired, sink) into the deep for a while.
Still don’t know how? Are you breathing as you read this? That is your starting place. Then maybe some Spiritual Direction for further exploration.
Pause for a moment. Notice your breath.
Are you shallow-breathing or holding your breath?
Both are common when in front of a screen. Both are common during times of fight, flight, or freeze.
Our heart rate increases and breathing becomes restricted readying us for whatever action is needed to help us survive a threatening situation. While being in front of a screen is a false threat (our survival is not at stake), it can trigger the same bodily responses.
What we see, hear, and read on screens often keeps threats right in front of us keeping us in fear of what looms around every corner…and it’s certainly heightened this year!
Interestingly enough, the breath is in the spotlight this year—the ability to breathe being threatened by COVID-19, breath being forcibly cut off by a police officer’s knee, fear of being unable to breathe when wearing facemasks, fear of others’ breath who are not wearing facemasks…
Survival breathing can become the norm when our days (and nights) are filled with hypervigilance (compulsively on the lookout for threats). This “survival breathing” can lead to a host of issues from sleep problems to overly consuming food or information, from chronic anxiety to the inability to make wise decisions.
Our bodies, minds, emotions, and souls need the fullness of the breath.
Without breath, there is no life (literally and metaphorically). Poet Mary Oliver speaks of the latter when she writes, “Listen, are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?” To live fully, creatively, and wisely, we need the breath.
Earlier this year, I taught “Meditating with the Aramaic Beatitudes.” In Jesus’ native language of Aramaic (which lends itself to various images & layers of meaning), one translation of the very first Beatitude found in Matthew 5:3 reads, “Ripe are those who find their home in the breath (the Spirit); they shall be attuned to the inner reign of God.”
The word for “spirit,” rukha in Aramaic (like ruach in Hebrew and pneuma in Greek), can also be translated as “breath.” What does finding your home in the breath (which is also Spirit) offer you today? How is breathing foundational to your ability to be present to God, yourself, and others? What actions can you take to help others’ “find their home in the breath,” too? After all, we are all connected by the same breath!
Several years ago after teaching classes on “Breathing as a Spiritual Practice,” I created a short, 3-part video series with light-hearted exercises to give our diaphragms needed attention so that a slow, relaxed breath is more easily remembered and accessible to us. Even in times of trouble.
You can find those videos here. I’m going to practice some with my facemask on to remind myself that the mask itself does not need to be a threat! While I hope you’ll watch the videos, you do not have to in order to receive the gift of a full, slow, relaxed breath…it’s available to you right now (just like God’s presence)!
So pause for a moment again.
Whether privately without a facemask or publicly with a facemask, whether in front of a screen or not, let breathing be your prayer today. Breathe deep the Breath of God.
For a related article, see "What do the Coronavirus and the Reign of Love have in Common?: A Facebook Post from June 27th"
Do you know the difference between Self-Comfort and Self-Care?
Yesterday I presented “Resilience for Spiritual Caregivers,” a slideshow from The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology (I attended their online webinar in May).
It's so important for those of us caring for the souls of others to not neglect our own. Yet it’s all-too-common for neglect to happen, especially during times of anxiety/trauma/crisis.
One insight from The Seattle School’s Resilient Leaders’ Project was the differences between the coping behaviors of “Self-Comfort vs. Self-Care”---
Both are very much a part of our specific stories (what we turn to for comfort and care differ for each of us).
Both have their place.
Self-Comfort behaviors are…
-short-term solutions which are often detrimental to our long-term health.
-often isolating, done in private.
-support our long-term well-being.
-increase our sense of connection to self, others, & God.
Binging on Netflix all day may help me cope for a short while by forgetting my own story. But losing myself in the stories of others while sitting on the couch is not what my mind, body, and soul are deeply craving.
It may be okay in the short-term; it’s not a good long-term solution. In fact, self-comforting behaviors can turn into unhealthy patterns (addictions) if not recognized.
A pandemic and the current political climate will certainly bring out the need for self-comfort (which can be a cause for self-shaming)! Rather than criticize ourselves, we can try being curious and compassionate instead. We might ask questions like:
-Why do I try to comfort myself with food (or where did I learn to comfort myself in this way)?
-What gets in the way of me doing what is healthy for myself?
Two self-comforting strategies that had turned into unhealthy distractions for me:
The first I argued was a way to keep me connected to others but honestly, it had become more of a life-draining rather than life-giving habit. My 9-year-old encouraged me to remove it, so I did. I’m reaching for my phone less and present to my kids more without the pressure to narrate my days with posts & photos.
The second offered a way to zone out alongside my spouse once the kids were in bed but kept me riled up until the point of exhaustion! So rather than the news, I’m now taking the hour before bed to read fiction and draw with color pencils...my whole being (& my family) is affirming this choice!
I still need my time watching Masterpiece dramas as well as baking (& eating) fun desserts, but I recognize these are self-comforting strategies. Binging on either day-after-day will have negative consequences!
Art, Zumba, Centering Prayer, poetry, juggling, delighting in healthy meals, dancing to 80s music with my kids, chats on the porch swing with my spouse, socially-distanced socializing with friends, talking with my Spiritual Director on the phone...when engaged in healthy and not legalistic ways, are self-caring behaviors that support me as I walk in the way that leads to Life.
May you be curious as to the ways you comfort and care for yourself. Since everything is interconnected, the ways you care for yourself (or don't) will impact those in your care!
I’m happy to join you in discerning what will best support your journey (especially during this time of global anxiety). Schedule a 30 minute or 1 hour session of Spiritual Direction &/or Dreamwork.
Learn more about The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology's Certificate in Resilient Service (going online for the first time!).
A poem written in 2013 about what led me to meditation & other contemplative practices years ago.
All my old ways of
finding God kept failing
And one rage-filled
day I stopped trying
Sat down wondering
if I was worth finding
Let go of seeking
and began trusting
Many are the ways
seeming right to a man
I started recalling
My ways kept putting
me in charge of
who the Psalmist
found futile escaping.
The day after school ended, my kids and I headed out-of-state to visit friends and family. I was tired before this trip down memory lane began so I really needed to engage the Fruit of the Spirit (patience & gentleness don't come easily in such circumstances)!
I tried breathing in and out each fruit, dwelling on those especially needed. However, being out of my normal exercise routine, this didn't suffice...my whole body wanted to join in on the practice.
So I found myself revisiting the prayer postures that my daughter and her yoga teacher, spiritual director, and author of Holy Listening with Breath, Body, and the Spirit, Whitney Simpson, put together to remember and receive the Fruits of the Spirit. Together we wrote a blog series for Ministry Matters in 2014, found here.
With the celebration of the Holy Spirit's presence & power happening just two days ago on Pentecost Sunday, I thought I'd take another trip down memory lane by reminding us all of these prayer postures and the devotionals that go with them. Come taste and see...
Holy Trinity, as we allow ourselves to feast on the fruit of You in our lives, may we become what we eat. May we embody love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control, and truly become the Body of Christ in this world. Amen.
Three final breathing practices offering an even deeper experience of the Spirit of Life through our breath. Continue to experience a full breath and incorporate your breath into prayer.
Continue to learn what a full breath feels like through 3 more breathing exercises! Greater calm, clarity & creativity are offered to us by the Breath of Life, are we ready to receive such a gift?
Did you know that breathing can be a spiritual practice?
Discover how to welcome the Spirit of Life and receive the free gift of a deep, calm, relaxed breath. Over the next three weeks, I'll introduce you to nine simple (& fun!) breathing practices.
Or the imagination? How about touch?
Well the obvious answer is no one.
But many Christians act as though they are forbidden territory. If it's anything other than the Bible and words (and even those are under regulation) it's to be feared. When I mention Centering Prayer or Reiki there are those who say "Oh isn't that New Age or Eastern? I can't do that, it's dangerous, I could be opening myself up to the Devil."
I once heard a well-meaning pastor urge his congregation to trust God rather than the imagination thus setting the imagination in opposition to its Creator. It's not the imagination itself that is the problem, it's where we let it go. Saint Ignatius was transformed by God through his imagination in the 14th century and so developed spiritual practices to engage Scripture and prayer in this way.
Elijah did not hear the voice of God in the earthquake, wind or fire but in the sound of sheer silence. Jesus made seeking out a quiet place (to listen to the Father who spoke within him) a regular spiritual practice.
Jesus also touched people and they were healed (and the way he went about healing was different depending on the situation and person). He breathed on his disciples before telling them to receive the Holy Spirit (the name for Spirit in both the Hebrew and Greek can also mean "breath"). Much of his ministry looked more "Eastern" than "Western."
There are some religions and traditions that have done a better job incorporating things like silence and the body into their spiritual practices. Rather than allowing fear from keeping us from receiving a gift, we can learn from them. With discernment (sifting wheat from chaff), we can integrate, or more likely recapture, what's been missing in our own tradition. Questions arising from the Biblical narrative can help us with the sifting.
If we're to love God with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength, I think we need to humbly leave space for "holy envy." Theologian and scholar, Krister Stendahl coined this phrase, referring to the practice of recognizing and admiring elements in another religious tradition, even allowing those elements to enrich one's own faith tradition (or wishing it could).
As a United Methodist, I've experienced holy envy in denominations like Episcopalian, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Southern Baptist, and others. As a Protestant, I've experienced holy envy with Catholic, Orthodox, Celtic Christian and Saint Thomas Christian practices and beliefs. As a Christian, I've experienced holy envy in Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sufism (mystical Islam) and others. And without exception, the places of holy envy have invited me to a deeper awareness and experience of the love of God, neighbor and self.
No one owns breathing, imagination, silence, the body, or even truth (this is not to say that all religious truth claims are equal, but that truths are found in all religions). Rabbi Rami Shapiro closes his emails with "Alles iz Gott." He wants to remind me or whoever else emails him looking for wisdom that, "All is God" because God embraces, transcends and is the source of everything! And our Creator is amazingly generous (as Matthew 5:45 reminds us that the rain falls and sun shines on everyone).
So with your heart, mind, soul and strength listen and learn. Allow yourself to remain open to holy envy. Discern. Let go, discover anew, or integrate. And find yourself further on the path of Shalom, this already-not yet living into the Kingdom of God where individuals, communities and all of creation experience wholeness, peace and completeness...and a holy sigh of relief!
You name it. When the season of madness hits, what do you not have time for?
Yes the ball games are on at my house until late in the evening causing sleep-deprivation, but aside from those, I'm talking about a season when you're super busy.
Have you been running from one thing to the next, barely having time to breathe?—that's the kind of madness I'm talking about.
Even Jesus had days and weeks when no matter how hard he tried to find some peace & quiet, someone hunted him down and interrupted it (see Mark 1:35-39 or Mark 6:31-34).
As I look at my calendar, my March got busy rather quickly. I started getting that "hunted down" feeling. Holding my breath has been happening more often than I'd like this month. Spending time alone has been elusive. And I certainly don't have time to blog. So I'll keep this short.
Once upon a time I believed in balance. I quit believing in balance. I saw what striving for balance was doing to me and others...adding so much stress that the very things and people we were trying to balance ended up suffering!
Instead, I started believing in appropriately tending to each area of life. Each getting its turn. Equity rather than equality. Depending on school projects, health, extracurricular schedules and the like, there are some days (and even weeks) my daughter gets more of my time than my son and vice versa. It doesn't mean I like one of them more than the other (though they may accuse me of it!). However, if I consistently ignore one of them, clearly they are not being tended to appropriately. Same with housework and my husband (just to be clear, I do like the latter way better than the former!).
I'm a juggler. I don't throw all three balls in the air at the same time and try to keep them there. And I don't want to learn to keep plates spinning and balanced. That doesn't even sound remotely fun to me. I already learned that trying to keep life spinning and balanced causes a lot of crashes--that's no fun for me or anyone around me, especially if they were one of my "plates"!
Tending also offers the image of gardening. Not everything gets tended to at the same time and in the same way. The tomato seeds don't have to fret because the lettuce has been planted and tended to before them!
The next two weeks are really heavy on the work-side for me. My family knows this. They won't accuse me of being a workaholic (which I actually am a recovering one). They know I need to tend to the work I love and I'm called to do in this world. And they know it happens to have fallen rather thick at the end of March. Thus, March Madness. But I'm blowing the whistle. Even the Big Dance includes time-outs. Want to take one with me?
May we pause right now to take a slow, relaxed breath, receiving this unhurried Breath of Life. And may this Holy Breath be a reminder that the God who sustained Jesus when the crowds kept coming and the days grew long, can sustain you and me. May we allow this same Spirit of Life to show us how to tend to each part of and person in our lives in due season. Amen.
Kasey is a scarf, ball and club juggling spiritual director just outside of Nashville, TN. Play helps her Type-A, Enneagram 1 personality relax, creating space for poetry and other words to emerge. She also likes playing with theological ideas like perichoresis, and all the ways we're invited into this Triune dance.