Monday, September 26, 2011

Just showing up ... to pray

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Thankfully, I experienced deep, rich worship yesterday. The kind that often arrives after more than an hour in silence. I am transported no place and yet every place. I am vaguely aware of my physical surroundings, but I burrow inside. The stray cough, pen dropping or pew creaking are now my friendly reminders that I am in worship, not merely distractions. That wasn't always the case.

That space is so wonderful, words can not do it justice. I really think I need to paint this space. What I can say is that is healing to the core, as if I have collapsed on God's or Jesus' lap. I don't need to do, say or be anything. I just need to be and that, my friend, feels so freeing and radical from the material world.

I am certain my journey this day was facilitated by our minister's message on prayer. She spoke of the time, ritual, presence and gift of viewing God view you. I have referred to it as experiencing God's pure gaze of love. Everything else melts.

About seven years ago, when I was introduced to Centering Prayer, I was given a rather precious gift and, fortunately, I think I understood that at the time. A wonderful Quaker teacher, Chris Ravndal, offered a session on "No-Strings-Attached prayer," just show up, he said. He walked us through the simple and profound steps to this method and, for the first time, I found myself on God's lap: limp, wounded and so grateful to be there – much like Jesus on Mary in Michelangelo's Pieta´. It was as if a portal opened. I found the aperture to my heart shifted ... as if I even sensed it had one since, I am pretty certain, it closed up tight after childhood. Following that experience, though the hole has undulated at varying widths, it is permanently opened and I almost always feel that Divine connection. That doesn't mean I am especially enlightened, free from worry, fear or always act from my highest self. I still stumble and bumble, emotions clouding the door, but I do so knowing that I am never alone. That I am part of God and She, part of me ... always. Of course, my awareness fades or my mind and feelings take over, but the passage remains clear, linking myself to the Divine.

My next piece of work is recalibrating my sense of where God is when I pray. My brain wants to place her outside, but my heart knows She also resides within.

• How have I experienced deep worship or prayer?
• What facilitates that?
• How do I clear the time and space for that connection?
• How does the experience transform me?
• What is the current state of my heart's aperture?

This piece comes from my in-process book: Turtlebox Stories: Nurturing the Divine within

Centering Prayer
There are specific instructions for centering prayer, a resting in God, defined by Thomas Keating, you may wish to use. I was lured to the practice by an experienced Quaker teacher, Chris Ravndal, who asked merely that we “show up – no strings attached.” He, too, had his own technique, which I have simplified. Choose a quiet place, work out your willies with some stretches, then sit in a straight chair, feet planted, knees apart, arms resting on them palms down, eyes closed. If you feel the need (and I often do) chose a simple word or your breath on which to focus. Often, the word is my intention, such as enter, open or heal. In emptying thoughts, gently return to the word, not punishing yourself for the natural transgression. Wait, breathing and focusing. I give myself at least 15 minutes as it takes me awhile to settle. In the waiting the transformation happens. You find yourself opening in unexpected ways to unanticipated places. I am told it is most beneficial when practiced daily. It always helps me even when used sporadically.
[Centering Prayer in Daily Life and Ministry by Thomas Keating and Basil Pennington, 1998/2006 The Continuum Publishing Company, New York]

Friday, September 23, 2011

Messy palette of awareness

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Is life a cluster of unrelated loose ends or do those ends seem to connect when we are listening and aware?

I have to confess to almost a week of roller-coasting with doors opening, closing, then opening in a different direction. I don't appear to be any closer to my goal [and I am learning who am I to judge? My vision is very narrow], but it certainly has been an interesting ride.

Some of it you know. Like whirling off a marketing package to a local business, then bumping into the owner two days later. I danced, dreamlike for a couple of days until I called his office. I never got a live person, but was patched through three times to his secretary, who finally left a voicemail saying he's rarely in this office, so she passed my materials on to their "creative" person. No name or contact info. I called back to ask who, specifically, only to get voice mail. I hung up, called the general number and asked who did marketing. "Jim," the operator said. How about creative services? "Jim," she parroted. The guy I have been trying to get to again. Finally, she gave me the name of someone. I Googled this person and found her on Linkedin. She is real. I guess I should confess that I scoured the internet for this company's corporate structure before I settled on sending it to the Big Guy. There's none on their website, in local news articles or anywhere.

So, I screw up the courage to call this person and a live voice answers. But quickly tells me that, yes, my materials landed with her and no, there are no positions open for my qualifications. "But I'm only looking for part-time or freelance," I brightly respond. The voice seems to soften. "So, shall I keep in touch ... I know you'll be opening a second location?" "We have your things on file," she says.

I hang up deflated. Almost immediately the phone rings. I check caller ID because I am not in much of a mood to talk. The listed name makes me smile and dive for the phone: Renee. I was in her first class of yoga students. She touched me deeply, we share the same Myers-Briggs type and have stayed in fairly close touch over the years. Our journeys also seem to echo each other's. Ostensibly, she's calling to arrange a time to return something she borrowed. We both know that's just the excuse. She's struggling and knows I understand. We often give each other permission to duck out of life and care for ourselves, to lay down our guilt and perfectionism because we personally know the burden of carrying so much. After a few minutes, I share my recent upset. "You know," she says, "my neighbor does [such and such] for that company." My ears and heart perk up. She knows someone there. Not just someone, it turns out ... the someone I have just spoken to. She says if she runs into her, she'll mentioned she knows me.

What in the world does that mean, I wonder:
– That I keep trying?
– That I attempt a different approach?
– That I hang it up?
– That I continue to seek out the big guy?
– That I get more creative?
– That I write nice thank-yous to the secretary and person with whom I did manage a live conversation?

"Why isn't it clear and easy?" I ask Renee. "Well," she says, "that's been my prayer lately."

I am holding several ends in my hands and seeking guidance on how to weave them. Something is different this time: I am aware I have the ends and I hold faith that they will – eventually – connect somehow.

• Am I in a period of scattered loose ends or beginning to sense some connection?
• How can I discern next steps?
• How have I used or can I use prayer in this discernment?
• Do I have a human sounding board I can tap?
• How can I deepen my awareness in the midst of unknowing?

I had forgotten the exhilaration
of the roller coaster

exciting highs,
dizzying lows

a messy palette of 
vibrant colors,
constantly changing

and preferable

to the dull greys of hopelessness

at least now I recognize the ends
may connect

Monday, September 19, 2011

When God's magic unfolds

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Coincidence, karma, sychronicity or grace? I'm not sure what this is, but it's really happening and, I wonder, if it has something to do my my purposely attempting to live in the present. Well, not that I have  much to do with it.

• Last week, after days of deliberating, I sent off a package to a place I would love to work, where my gifts and interests would be a definite fit and I would like to be. Friday night, as we were having dinner in one of our favorite spots, the person to whom I addressed my package was sitting a table away. I approached him, mentioning I'd just sent him a large black portfolio-type envelope that could not be missed. A free-spiritied conversation ensured, ending in my writing my name and contact information on a scrap of paper (I really think had I had a business card with me, it would have looked planned or like I was stalking him) for him, agreeing we'd connect after he got the package.

What are the odds?

• Yesterday, after clipping a newspaper ad out about 10 days ago, I attended a retreat workshop based on some spiritual teachings new to me. A Quaker friend introduced me to the practice about six months ago, or I would not have noticed the ad. I go, enter a bit late and look around to see a former language teacher from my high school. I sit where I can find a free spot and, soon, we are asked to shuffle ourselves. This is a workshop on change, after all. I gravitate to the table where this teacher is and introduce myself. She remembered me, though I was never her student. During a small-group exercise, I extraneously spit out I have fibromyalgia. I am really here to clarify my vocational path. "Let me tell you something," she says at my interjection. "I had fibromyalgia for 12 years and spent a year with a message therapist deeply working all of the negativity out of my body. It's gone now." I almost have no response because that's about how long I've had it. "I used to laugh at it and say, get out of me," she adds, A few minutes later, we are asked if our original intention that we jotted down on a notecard has changed. My hand involuntarily shoots up and the speaker points in my direction. "I am now realizing my has thanks to a comment from a group member," I announce. A shiver runs through my body as I recognize God has called me here for something bigger than vocational change. She has placed me here in a step toward healing. I exchange e-mail addresses with this teacher and we pledge to stay in touch.

What are the chances?

• I also remember several weeks ago searching for a book, one I have meant to read for 10 years, but seems so pertinent now, among my Quaker meetinghouse stacks to be interrupted by the hired minister who "happened" to be holding a just donated copy of exactly the book I needed.

How probable is that?

Do these things happen all of the time and yet we are only aware in rare moments? Do they happen only when we are opened?

Last week during one particular lap swim, I glided effortlessly the entire 44 lengths. That's rare, but I especially noticed and felt like I was encountering the wonderful flow of the living water. Usually, it seems like such a struggle. But my recent mantra has been one of acceptance and detachment, no more fighting and envying what I don't have.

Is that the difference? It's hard to know which is life and which is dream, but I'm not sure it matters as I am in a lovely space: the present.

• When have I felt swept up?
• To what do I attribute that?
• When has sychronicity played a role in my life?
• How was I opened in that time?
• What keeps me open?

accepting what is
not fighting it

is not the American way

we fight for what we believe
we fight for what is right
we fight for our God-given rights

we fight all of the time

addressing a past grievance or
one we perceive may happen

past and future

we don't learn the secret
of living now

when we do,
God's magic unfolds,
sweeping us along

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Everyday teachers

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When I am open, almost everyone I encounter has something to teach me.

Tuesday morning, one of my water pals mentioned the "new normal." Ever thought of that? Me either until this gifted healer said she had been working with a new client struggling to get back to normal. "I couldn't tell her she won't ever get back there, instead, I am working on her visualizing a new normal," one, my friend said, that incorporates the aches and pains of aging and being in a new place physically.

This concept has opened so many possibilities for me – all positive. Instead of grasping for the past or hoping for the future, embracing a new normal brings one to the present. I also believe it may bring one out of the pain or physical change with some distance and detachment. That space between our being and our physicality is important to honor, I am learning.

The same wise friend struggles with sleep and says she has learned to "befriend" her insomnia as time to meditate, pray and be alone without interruption – no phone, doorbell or e-mail to answer. "It's so peaceful in the middle of the night," she said.

I can't imagine a more healing attitude. She's had a lot of experience with pain, acceptance and wisdom. A bus struck her down and broke most of her leg bones when she was small. And yet she effuses a gentleness, patience and grace.

In the sauna after yoga Wednesday, a yoga buddy with fibromyalgia who has also battled the early stages of breast cancer says she's ready to look for a part-time job. "I find," she said, "that the less I do, the less I want to do, so I keep moving."

It was that thought that drug my butt of bed this morning and to yoga through the haze of yesterday's migraine. Her energy, enthusiasm and zest never cease to amaze and inspire me. Cancer, she once told me, has shown her show blessed her life has been. Though she recently retried to Florida, retuned for treatment and, eventually moved back, she accepts that "I got to live my retirement dream." No bitterness, just pure, joyful acceptance. In that same spirit, when she lost her curly blonde locks, she sported dashing berets that only she could pull off. I think she's on the lookout for the next adventure.

Yesterday, when a new friend and I gathered for lunch, we learned how similarly we struggle toward wholeness and that we share parallel journeys. It's a blessing of relief to encounter another who seems flawless on the surface, yet readily showed me her imperfections. We can be mirrors for each other. After a serious lunch, we took off on an unexpected adventure, which we plan to do more often. We both can use more humor and levity in our lives. I have already learned from her not to compare myself against others that I am who I am and there are others like me.

Last night, a very dear old friend called just to tell me about the funky dark bar that has become her Cheers, where everyone knows her name and she feels at home. We had discovered that alley watering hole together decades ago. She stirred memories of spontaneity and thoroughly enjoying life sans the entrapments of age and complication. We have not spoken for months and I was so anxious to tell her about my approaching trip to Italy. She, too, enjoys travel. I had hardly gotten it out of my mouth, when she screeched that she was going to Greece at the same time. We will miss each other returning through Paris by only a day. She reminds me that I have a fun-loving side and adore artsy friends.

During that conversation, a close college friend left word in a voice mail that the father of one of our freshman-corridor buddies just died. She was in tears, I realized, because he had been her paternal presence since her father died quite some time ago. I was touched because we haven't spoken in over a year, but it was just as if she'd knocked on my dorm door for a heart-to-heart. We'll need to do that, but she stirred in my deep gratitude for the love and wisdom I have been shown and continue to receive through friends.

• What wisdom has recently been imparted to me?
• How do I open to that which may be offering itself from everyday sources?
• How do I nurture circles of friends?
• How may I depend this connections?
• Do I remember to practice gratitude for the friends and wisdom they bestow?

some days,
I feel like a loner:
ugly, grouchy touchy

I close myself off
giving nothing,
taking nothing

other days,
better days

I open to the wealth of
companionship and wisdom
surrounding me

because I am
I am:
beautiful, serene and
want to be touched

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Giving away abundance

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Abundance is not about receiving, but, rather giving, I am learning. Late into the night, I awoke continuing a recent pattern. Instead of dreading the experience, I decided to befriend it as a wise healer has suggested. Amazingly, when I did, my breath began to deepen and push out the swirling energy lodged in my chest.

I'd had a reiki session earlier in the day and the practitioner did a lot of sweeping. "I just felt like you had so much on you that needed to be [re]moved. For awhile your exhales will be deeper than your inhales as you shed, but watch for the moment when that changes and your inhales become longer. That's when you will begin to take in something like a wind sweeping through."

So the long exhales took over in the night, sweeping the swirling up, not down where I had been focusing them. Up into my throat. A voice suggested I work on giving rather than receiving and I felt a much-needed shift in my body and psyche.

I am slowly experiencing the process of the shedding exhales and, meanwhile, contemplating giving. My morning swim was all about breathing and noticing. Paying attention to how much better it felt to release [give]. In the sauna. which I have affectionately named my prayer box, the concept of giving again embraced me, replacing the fear, withholding and scarcity mode in which I have been operating. It feels wonderful: freeing, opening and my path, not a dark detour.

About two weeks ago I had a revelation about my vocation and my faith community that was big. Too big, I now realize. I have been discerning it – wisely, for once – and see that inspiration was the whole picture, not the manageable steps I need to move forward. Those involve merely giving for now with trust (via a little nudging) that if I can give for the sheer joy of it, abundance will follow through grace and no action or thought of my own.

I am to revel in my freedom of giving, casting off the shackles of seeking to receive. One of the tools I hold is the practice of gratitude. When I look at all that I have been bequeathed, it bolsters my courage to trust I will have the energy to give because it emanates not from my broken body by from the Source.

Perhaps 2:30 a.m. is my prime prayer and meditation time. Who'd have thought?

• What is my experience of giving?
• Of receiving?
• How has that affected my perception of abundance?
• How and when do I experience abundance?
• How do I practice gratitude?

hoarding is,
well, unhealthy

it closes us off,
builds walls and isolation

grows fear, anxiety and separation

we are meant to share,
give and, by doing so,

in community
through community
and for community

then, we are truly

even in our solitude

Monday, September 5, 2011

Magic of the mosaic

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My mantra lately seems to be broken open. It was even the theme of our minister's message yesterday. She spoke of  it in the context of 9-11, how, immediately following, there was an outpouring of love and kindness [light] that, eventually, faded into revenge [darkness]. We were, she says, broken open.

I have been broken open time and time again. We all have. I've experienced it recently and it's not an easy place, let alone one our culture acknowledges. The darkness of re-grounding, examining and sifting through what's been broken is, however, necessary if we expect to grow personally or spiritually. I believe it's where our country is as well, though we refuse to cast off the past and what no longer fits. As we cling to old institutions and attitudes, we'll never transform. Just this afternoon at the movie kiosk I had a pleasant exchange with two strangers, the more silent of whom said: "When will America get back to what it was?"

My hope is we never will. And, personally, I know how easy it is to slide back into comfortable, if harmful, patterns. When I told my shamanic pastoral counselor about a recent inspiration for merging my work with my faith community, he responded: "Yes, this is something you have to do, but you have to be prepared, otherwise, you'll go to the place you always do. I've seen you here before."

That's a place of stepping back and down, dishonoring my power and spirit and not trusting for "way to open" in Quakerspeak. It's a place of fear that I almost recognize as home because I know it. I admit, I am afraid of sharing my heart and its work in my spiritual community. It would be much easier to slink backwards. I fear they will say no or not affirm what I feel is my ministry with funding. Of course, they would hardly say no to my volunteering. But what I am after is my vocation and that includes an exchange of my energy for another form of energy.

That's where my work lies: to trust God enough to go to my community and ask for what I need. Not hint or wait for them to approach me, but me to ask boldly, fearlessly and with no attachment to the response.

I am beginning to see the magic of the mosaic in myself and others. A reforming after the breaking apart: so many tiny, colorful pieces, dancing side by side, the jagged edges smoothed by what holds us together. Our healed wounds binds us more strongly than before our cracking because the salve is Divine, connecting us more deeply to Spirit, ourselves and each others. If only we'll let it.

How have I been broken open?
• What is my usual response?
• What happens when I surrender into it?
• What challenges me to trust and not follow the path of least resistance?
• How does my personal trusting help change the world?

the route I think is easy
just because it's known
require so much more of me
than I realize

shadowing my light
and drawing me further from
the Truth

which creeps in when I surrender
imperfect and in pain and
ask for help

the only kind that can
heal AND transform
my wounds