Friday, October 31, 2014

Living small

Have you noticed the sky lately? Not sure how you could miss it or how I could have taken it for granted all of these years. Now, it commands my attention.

Inflated, cotton-candy spun clouds effortlessly wading across a pure cerulean sky calm me, ground me and remind me that there is something bigger. Much. That my struggles, really, are minuscule in the grand scheme of the universe.

Orange ice-cream-coned top confections embrace me with color. Color is my muse. It inspires, brings joy and serves as life's varnish.

Sunlit, lemony-green foliage sparkles against a crystal, cobalt sky as I sit on my porch toward the end of summer. I am refreshed, pausing for reflection on a perfect day. A day God has bestowed as a gift.

Striking shadows under energetic, elongated clouds mark the ground, sweeping the rows of corn right along. The visit reminds me of the beauty of the Midwest I take for granted, sometimes feeling stuck here ... when all I must do it look up for renewal.

Fierce, sharp warrior clouds bathed in pink and blue race me along the highway, taunting, teasing, telling me that I am not in charge, that the will shift or disappear at any minute. That I ought to notice. Now. Be present or miss the opportunity.

A sky pregnant with wisps accompanies me, sharing spots of blue and sun filtering through. I feel more whole with their appearance as we drift home together.

Trees stand as dark creatures against an ominous, early fall firmament signaling the change of seasons from "come out into the sun to play" to "time for a long, nap."

Organic, billowy jets charge north across the horizon gathering as if for attack. I observe from the distance their power, glory and precision. Nature is not to be messed with.

Low afternoon vapors obstruct the sun and blue, riding along like the Amish bicyclist ahead. He goes one direction, they cross his path. Movement, dance and display disarm me, charm me.

Slogging out of the grocery at dusk one late-summer's eve, I drop everything as does everyone else. Flies would have a field day invading our open mouths. Pedestrians and drivers alike are stopped in their tracks to witness the miracle of floating pink, purple and blue usurp the landscape. Invade our consciousness. Though moving very much like Harry Potter's dementors, these are hauntingly beautiful as God reaches out to say hello. See me. Know me.

My favorite day of the year the past three has been blessed with stunningly dry air and sunny, blue-sky days. A real answer to prayer. This September's Oakwood Art Day is no exception. My heart smiles at the brightness of the weather, only surpassed by the spirit of the children at play.

Saturated clouds slowly unload at first glimpse of the Appalachian foothills as I head east to a reunion of old friends. They stoke my anticipation and gratitude, mirroring that I, too, am full.

The sky tapped me this summer on a trip to Iowa. The lush corn stalks, extended family and childhood memories welcomed me home. I was sucked into the stunning, familiar landscape and echo of the past calling.

Mother Nature has my attention. I can't help BUT look up, check in and see that God exists and all, really, is right with my soul.

• Have you noticed the sky lately?
• What, exactly, have you noticed?
• How has the experience (re)connected you to Mother Nature?
• To Spirit?
• How has your spirit been lifted?

no wonder
my neck hurts

I am nearly
always looking

at my phone
at the ground
at the computer screen


but up

until She

jerked her arm
down and
said pay attention


she's stunned
me with her

and reminded

that I don't
have to live
so small

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Ever-present key

Sunday, as I sat in worship in the warm sun filtering through the paned windows, a softened image entered my mind: a cross made of stiffened gauze, undulating. Shortly after, Mike gave the message on his experience of worship, using Billy Joel's great lyrics from "The River of Dreams" to punctuate his words:
" ... But the river is wide                                                                                              And it's too hard to cross"
Cross, I thought, then found my mind's eye envisioning a heart pulsating at the center of an elaborate cross, much like the ones I saw at Sacre Coeur this summer. It was the sacred heart pulsating in the middle of the cross, representing love at the center and through which we must pass.

The cross morphed into the wavy patterns of the river moving vertically and the wavy horizontal line a person crossing would make, then a multitude of wavy horizontal lines representing many people crossing. I wrote river/living water in the margin.

Crossing implies an obstacle or impediment, it occurred to me. That you can't cross without intention and attention because there are elements of danger. We speak of crossing the street, a bridge, the river, the globe, the ocean, a path and the road. There's an energy and movement involved and that whatever you are crossing is some sort of pathway. It is a choice, maybe instinct or drive pushing us forward so we're not stagnant.

But, something happens at the intersection: leaving the old behind and moving into the unknown. That concept has haunted me for months.

My Quaker friend Stuart, whom I only met once at a mystics gathering, periodically checks in. About ten days ago he wrote:
"Just wanted to tell you that I've been using the drawing of your Cross query 'What's at the intersection?' as my phone wallpaper soon after I first saw it. The gift I was given of a message and a vision regarding the "intersection" has been a spiritual breakthrough for me in declaring my worthiness and providing me a deeper level of centering. During this past year the Spirit has called on me to speak of my centering practice of which the intersection is now an integral part. The vision had only appeared to me a short while when I first learned of your drawing and query. Your query, the timing of it and your drawing are incredible proof for me that miracles happen!!! OMG do they!!! For me Help was at the intersection."
I haven't been able to reply to his e-mail until now. We first met directly through prayer on some other plane. He stood up in the first worship of that conference and merely said "Help me." Those words so totally expressed what was deep in my heart and opened me as never before. Enough so that I heard, and slowly obeyed, God ask me to lay down and surrender at the closing worship. It was pivotal and as we were saying our good-byes, I hugged Stuart and said it all been his fault for uttering those two words!

God has helped us open each other over many months. Somewhere in my centering Sunday, Stuart was in the mix, though I wasn't consciously aware. I thought I had ministry forming, but worship broke and I was left holding this:
"I am stopped at the bank, asking the small questions:
– Where do I move?
– How will I have enough? 
– How can I be supported?
When, to cross, I must plunge in with the BIG question:
 –  Lord, where do you want me?"
Monday, I added "to cross a threshold is to make a conscious decision," a doodle and Stuart's name.

Today, sitting in the sauna after meditatively swimming a mile broken only by the beautiful red sky streaming down, I again, thought about the gauze cross and how I must make one to tangibly know what's at the intersection when this hit: it's where two join and become one. God's eternal invitation into love.

I thank Stuart and Mike for letting Spirit's words come through them to speak to me. That's how Quaker worship is meant to work.

• What does the cross represent for me?
• How do I see it as a metaphor?
• How have the words and wisdom coming through others reached me?
• And reshaped my thinking?
• What do I find at the intersection?

it emerged in a form
see-through, light
and slightly malleable

easy to play with

then it became
an energy, full
of force 

next, it shifted
to flowing water,
begging to be

always with the
same mysterious

holding the

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Friday, October 24, 2014

Pain and the light of compassion

Pain as spiritual teacher is a concept I have been exploring for a number of years. I was introduced to the idea of pain holding a sacred message by Quaker healer John Calvi and was riveted by its truth.

More recently, I have been co-creating and leading a series of workshops on the topic with a trusted friend and healer. We both have lived with chronic pain and I had thought of her over the years. When I finally approached her about a year-and-a-half ago, she said "I was wondering when you'd ask." We have spent those 18 months plotting, planning, researching and devising such a strong mix of our skills, experience and gifts. We know this is right, but we have yet to reach the right audience. We've been seeking those in chronic pain ready to take a deeper approach. Typically that doesn't happen until you've exhausted traditional avenues.

So now, we're questioning everything. Should we omit the world spiritual? Is the idea of linking pain and anger just too much for people? Where can we go directly to those in pain? Should we find a compatible sponsor to pay for those attending and in pain.

In this mode, Renee suggested we explain what we're doing as if to a second grader. "Oh you mean an elevator speech of sorts?" I asked. "No, not to adults, but at a kids' level."

And I have been toying with that, getting at the root of what we do. It's been an interesting journey that's heading somewhere like this:

Pain as Spiritual Teacher is a series of workshops where people talk, play, create, share and think about the meaning of the pain in their life. The point is that pain always has a reason for showing up, but we’re too busy trying to cover it up to listen or recognize this.

Two people who live with pain want to help others in pain discover what they have: there is a spiritual side to living with constant pain that helps us manage our lives better. By doing exactly the opposite of what our culture tells us to do, which is run from or numb the pain, we can listen to the pain, learn its language and decipher its message. This gives us power and control and opens us from the tightness and isolation of ignoring or fighting pain.

We want to dive into the psychological side to find the silver lining. If we can find meaning, or a new direction or perspective, we can be more accepting of our condition and closer to peacefulness. When we deny our pain, we add to our suffering. When we understand it, we lessen our suffering. When we employ compassion, we make great leaps away from suffering.

That still sounded too adult, so I went deeper and simpler:

Our world teaches us to run away from pain.

If you have a headache, you take an aspirin.
If you’re bleeding, you get a band-aid.
If you have the flu, you get medicine.

We learn to take or do things to hide the pain. Some people live with constant pain that does not go away with an aspirin, band-aid or medicine. Sometimes they try riskier things to make it go away. Sometimes doctors will tell them there is nothing else to do or that the pain is imaginary. It is not. Pain is supposed to tell us something, a signal from the brain that something is wrong or not working in our body. If we cover it up and don’t listen, how are we supposed to know what it is telling us?

Two women became friends because of their pain and helped each other learn to listen. They still have pain, but they understand better.

Here's what my pain says to me:
• You’ve overdone it
• You’re not doing things for the right reason
• You are fighting yourself
• You need to be who you are, not who you think you should be
• You are beautiful as you are
• You are not your pain
• You are loved regardless
• You have life and a purpose

That may sound as if it has nothing to do with physical pain, but as webmd.com pointed out "when chronic pain sets in, your life shrinks to fit your pain." Self compassion often gets cut out.

So easily, we can fall into letting our pain define us. I find that less true if I meet it head on and really look at what it is signaling. Some of the fighting yourself stems from the comparison to who I was before the pain, what I could do then and how I am limited now. So much of that is unconscious.

What we're really striving to do is help people become aware of unconscious messages in a playful, safe manner and, most importantly, in community. Pain does isolate. An understanding community is crucial to managing chronic pain. So many of us quit talking about it to our families and friends because we feel like a broken record that no one listens because they do not share this experience. We bury it deep and try to suck it up and move on, which really causes suffering.

This work excites both of us and we are open to ideas for what to do with what we feel we have been given. Prayers, of course, are always welcome.

• What is my experience of pain?
• How do I handle it?
• Have I ever listened to it?
• What response have I received from others?
• What could it be like to find a community that listens, understand and helps me move forward?

we are bodily creatures
and want to experience
pleasure, not pain

so when it persists,
we really have
no roadmap

except numbness
and denial

pushing any
meaning as
deep as possible

in the darkness
it festers

but if we
shine the light
of compassion

we open
to Truth and
much less suffering

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