Spiritual Dimensions of Showing Up to Illness

December and January have been deeply healing months.  I knew that I needed to slow down; that I needed to show up to myself more fully.

I wanted my smile to come back.  I turned to nature, knowing that I also needed some time to hibernate, that I needed to let certain things die, without knowing where this journey would end up.  Historically, my healing accelerates in the winter, and so I intentionally have made time to invest in myself at the start of this year.

I intentionally took a 4 week Christmas break.  It was so restful & needed.  I had a session with my therapist.  I set up an individual healing session with a resident teacher at my old yoga studio.  I have been participating in a weekly breathing circle.  I’m learning Qigong.  I traveled to Chicago to attend Mystic Soul and visit with friends.  I celebrated my birthday & came out as an asexual. I took several epsom salt baths.  I loved myself well.

What has been the result of all this healing work is a lot of grief dissolving, allowing creativity to come forward.  I’ve needed time to continue to explore certain spiritual practices in order to figure out how I am going to grow my energy reserve as I continue to grow my business and work more hours.

What this looks like right now is that I’m writing a book!  I have no idea where this will lead, but right now, I’m just focused on my shitty first draft.  It’s a memoir; my journey with chronic illness and the gifts that come along the way.  I wake up every morning, do some breathwork and then dive into writing for about 25 minutes, at the beginning of my day.  It’s becoming a beautiful rhythm, and a wonderful way to start my day, and my resistance to show up to my story is lessening day by day.

Although I still live in my body day to day and am affected my by illness, I’m gaining the skill to look at my life more objectively.

I’m learning to say, “The fact that I have a chronic illness is not my fault, and yet I do have the responsibility to show up in my body and be attentive to the lessons it gives.”

What I keep coming back to is that autoimmune disease is the pattern of the body attacking itself.  There’s a scientific way to describe this, but that’s not what I’m interested in now.  What I’m interested in is that in order for my body to attack itself—I must have moved very far away from my true self.  I must have tried to conform to someone that I was never meant to be.

So I’m learning to stop throughout the day and breathe.  I’m learning to check in with myself, to feel my own energy, to understand my own essence.

At Mystic Soul, we were encouraged to sit with this question:

“Who are you and how do you know?”

In one sense, I will be answering this question for the rest of my life.  In another, I am a healer, a witness, a truth-teller, an advocate, a friend.  I am a work-in-progress–yet there are spiritual dimensions to stepping into my own narrative, telling my own story.  Ultimately showing up to myself, so that I can show up with others.

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To Breathe More Deeply

There’s so much I could say about Mystic Soul, and yet I’m not ready to.

Above all, it was an experience.  A very different experience of spirituality and justice and healing, than I’d ever experienced before–and it was so good.

Maybe all I can do for now is talk about the shifts, speak to how my friends of color across the country are trying to decolonize Christianity.  There was a tangible feeling of healing in the body, for everyone involved.  We all breathed much more deeply together.

We faced each other in a circle, rather than sitting in rows.

We never sat for a full-hour lecture.  We talked to each other, engaged in spiritual practice together, got out of our seats and talked to people we didn’t know.

We told personal stories, rather than just quote highly-acclaimed authors.

We participated in healing silence and ritual in community.

We valued rhythm over time, not prioritizing order & efficiency over healing.

We engaged the reality that sometimes contemplation is quiet & sometimes it is loud.

We returned to the effects of trauma and how we all need to be in touch with our personal narratives in order to heal.

At times, the room of 400 people was silent and we all just breathed deeply together.

I don’t think any of these realities fit into the questions, “How was it?” or “How were you impacted?” or “What are you going to do now?”

I experienced wholeness in community.

I knew I was in a room filled with the leaders of contemplative spirituality for today & tomorrow.  And I want to listen and keep listening.

 

 

I Resolve…

2017 was a rough year.  Most of us can agree on that.  And yet 2017 did have white evangelicals having to make a decision if we were going to wake up or not.

What’s hard for us white people to come to grips with is that Trump, in many ways is the white, heterosexual, patriarchal, evangelical consciousness.  He reveals our sickness, our evil, our complicity.  And just patting our backs and thinking, “I didn’t vote for Trump” isn’t going to cut it.

For much of my life, I’ve been pretty ignorant.  And yet, I cannot be anymore.

There’s too many people of color hurting and dying.  There’s too many sermons about the Good Samaritan without it having any effect in the streets. And I am among the guilty.

On Wednesday, I leave for Chicago to attend the Mystic Soul Conference.  It’s a POC-centered conference bringing to life what the Christian contemplative tradition and healing justice looks like, led by those who have been silenced again and again.  Yet their voices are dynamic and strong; and I know that I will be richly blessed by them, as they ask me to follow, not to lead.  As a white person, I’ve been invited to attend to learn, and to continue to let go of the many layers of white supremacy and patriarchy that infiltrate my being.  I will definitely write more about the conference when I get back.

 

In 2018, I resolve…

  • To follow the lead of black women (make sure to watch the video)
  • To lean into difficult conversations, rather than shy away from them.
  • To support local POC-led organizations financially
  • To make steps to figure out how my business can reach those without access to high-quality dyslexia resources.
  • To call out racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, religious discrimination, etc when I see it.  To confront it in myself.

I want to dig into the question more, “What do I do with my privilege?”  I’m grateful that I’m on this healing journey-and yet I’m also very aware that it’s possible because of my privilege.

And having just moved to Westfield, I’m aware that I’m grateful that living in this apartment has caused greater healing for myself.  I’m also aware that I live in a town that’s 91% white, and I live down the street from the 6th best high school in Indiana.

In 2018, I resolve to be aware, to question, to be myself in the present moment.  And out of this awareness, hopefully come a little bit closer to loving my neighbor as myself.

 

Letting James Cone Speak

“Such personal suffering challenges faith, but social suffering which comes from human hate , challenges it even more.  White supremacy tears the heart to pieces and turns the heart away from God.  The more I believed in God, the harder it became to sustain any faith.  White supremacy was so pervasive that everywhere I went, it was there staring me in the face -in the North as well as the South.  If God loves black people, why then do we suffer so much?  That was my question as a child; that is still my question.”

-James H. Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree

 

There’s not much I want to say in this post; this quote speaks for itself.  I want to be quiet enough, so I can let it sink in.  As a white person, I’m wanting to pay more attention to how I’ve read the Advent story in a sanitized way.  How I’ve been encouraged every Christmas since I can remember how I could respond like Mary, like Joseph, like Elizabeth, like the shepherds, like the wise men.  How we haven’t considered deeply that unless we, the white church, are willing to give up our power, we are Herod.  We are continuing to harm Christ Himself, in the form of our marginalized brothers and sisters, who are banding together to humbly lead us if we are willing to follow. And likely lose our life as we know it, so we can actually find it.

Autoimmune Disease-Result of Neglecting Feminine Consciousness?

These thoughts I’m writing in this post have been in me for awhile; I just didn’t have the words.  I needed to wander around for awhile before things started to make sense.

I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s 2 1/2 years ago.  I dove into my healing with tenacity-my anger had a healthy place to be channeled.  The first many months revolved around lifestyle changes, doctor appointments, food prep and food reintroductions, and finding a supportive health community.  The first 6 months after my diagnosis I took care of myself full time.  I had no idea yet of how these practices were forming me.

After the physical changes seemed manageable, I dove into emotional healing–through spiritual direction, writing, therapy, yoga and meditation.  Finding friends who could compassionately listen to the fact that chronic illness takes a heavy toll on my body.  And being sick in a world created for healthy people is a daily challenge even on a good day.

What has taken the longest to articulate are the drastic spiritual shifts that have occurred.  No doubt that all these aspects are interconnected.  The combination of going back to therapy, starting a meditation practice, re-entering the world of bodywork as a patient, and writing publicly about my assault have launched me into the question, “Where is my intuition and vulnerability leading me?”  I don’t really know the answer to this question, but at least for now, I’m writing this post.  And this post speaks of the beginning of my journey into the Sacred Feminine.

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75% of those affected by autoimmune disease are women.  Researchers now know that in order to get an autoimmune disease, a “perfect storm” must present itself.  25% can be “blamed” on genes, yet 75% comes from a variety of environmental triggers-be it diet, leaky gut, a parasite or gut infection, stress, environmental toxins or mold.  Someone could have the genes for an autoimmune disorder, but not have the disease “turned on” because the gut micro-biome is in good shape.  (That is, my belief is that all autoimmune disease starts in the gut.)

The next question that surfaces is: “Could our lifestyle help these genes to not be “turned on” and have a full-blown autoimmune disease surface?

Well, if this is true, we have a lot of culturally pressures, that we must learn to resist, even if it feels almost impossible.  But generally what do we as Americans give into?

Our over-structured, over-scheduled pace of life.  Productivity.  Efficiency.

Stress.  Fear of Missing Out.  Accumulating Stuff.  Hiding Our Emotions.

Our body wasn’t meant to be this busy.  And people intuitively know this if they would be honest with themselves.  And this isn’t just about sick people.

We don’t know how to rest anymore.  And most of us, feeling hopeless, just assume we have to succumb to the busyness and connectedness of the world that isn’t going to change.

But I want to step back and say that the subconscious of our nation is toxic.  We have valued to the extreme, masculine ideals and neglected the feminine to our demise.  Pushing harder and doing more and making money isn’t ultimately fulfilling.  And my generation knows this.  We long for authenticity, for stories, for ritual, for meaning.


What aspects of the feminine consciousness have we neglected?

(And when I say feminine consciousness, this exists in everyone!)

We have neglected the earth, our bodies, rest, emotions, intuition, and friendship.

When we neglect the earth, when we decimate forests, when we throw chemicals on crops, when we mistreat animals, we endanger ecosystems, create contaminated soil (rotating crops and not just making corn for high fructose corn syrup would be a good idea!) and contaminated food.

When we neglect the body, we live in a dull, numb, and painful state.  We push too hard to be productive, to “make it” in today’s world, but we become deaf to our bodies’ cries.

When we neglect rest, we can no longer live in the moment.  We lose the ability to cultivate gratitude and to unplug from external and internal demands the mind is constantly making.

When we neglect our emotions, we hold in or lash out in anger, bitterness, and resentment. Forgiveness of ourselves becomes impossible.  Forgiveness of our enemy unthinkable.

When we neglect our collective intuition, we graduate smart people who have no empathy.  We have doctors who believe that many women in this nation are hypochondriacs.  We create a nation where many people suffer alone, because we don’t have guides of people following their intuition, or we don’t know how to find those people.

When we neglect friendship, work or family takes over.  Neither work or family are bad–yet we have more needs and desires than these.  We need different experiences.  We need to laugh.  We need people to keep showing up because they want to.


How do we wake up?

I feel like that question can only be answered in honest community, not just by reading this post and giving it a minute’s thought.  I’m confident though that in honest community, through stories and fights and listening, through prioritizing women’s voices-you might just find your way to an answer.  Investment will be involved though.

On a personal level though, I will speak of the practices that have been part of my “awakening.”

  • A mindfulness practice.  There’s plenty to pick from.  Choose one.  Stick to it.  Pay attention to the subtle changes.  Warning: no instant gratification here.
  • Yoga, or another form of mindful exercise that brings you into your body and out of your head.
  • Friendships with people who are open to growth and change.
  • Deep soul searching of ways we are harming the earth.
  • Listening to the answers to these questions:
    • What do I want?
    • Where do I hurt?

Having Hashimoto’s has shifted my spirituality in that I no longer have a choice whether or not I want to neglect my body or not.  So I’m letting my body speak, and I’m listening.  I’m integrating the feminine into my culturally-conditioned, unbalanced masculine soul.  I’m more willing to let my personal journey lead me into the unknown.

75% of people with autoimmune conditions are women.  That’s  a hard fact to come back to.  For in fact, the unbalanced masculine,  wanting to dominate nature has in fact harmed women most.  For women intuitively know that the health of the earth and our bodies are interconnected.

Yet if our collective longing is healing and wholeness, maybe then we will have enough courage to say, “We are all sick.”  Not broken, but in need of healing.  Maybe then we would lean on each other in friendship and tell our stories.  Speak of the evil in our own hearts and how we want to dominate the “other.”  Maybe then our relationships would be mutual, separated from roles of “giver” and “receiver.” Maybe we could learn to be quiet in community again, not needing to fix, but simply being present.  Maybe we could risk being awkward and breaking social norms.

Maybe, just maybe the swarms of chronically ill women in this country, as they commit themselves to healing–will be the wise healers, one of the most sought after female archetypes.

Reflection on 2017 so far…

 

Last week I completed a 15 question health reflection given by a leading Hashimoto’s author.  It was easy to quickly realize the themes.  One question was about a word to describe 2017 so far.  My word is growth.

With a chronic illness, it’s so easy to feel like your life is putting out fires.  The setbacks can be overwhelming, because you know they aren’t going to end.  You never get a vacation from your illness (even if you go on vacation!)

But what this reflection invited me into was a reflection on my entire year.  This year I’ve committed to a yoga practice, and I’m still far from flexible, but I have a really strong practice.  There’s definition in my calf muscles again!  And I have really strong arm muscles–actually in proportion to my leg strength.  That’s a new thing for me.  In a massage session, my therapist asked me if I was a swimmer in my past life.  I laughed and said, “No a runner.  With big thighs and skinny arms.  Yoga has given me the arms and shoulders that I have now.”  It feels really good to have an athletic outlet again.

This year I visited Omaha, Nebraska and went on a weekend silent retreat that was pivotal in experiencing silence in community.  It was important to me to meet other 20 and 30 somethings that were cultivating a contemplative practice.  And since this weekend, my spiritual practices have grown and shifted.  They are more aligned with who I am, what I need, and how I go back into the world as a healing presence.  And I will be going back on retreat here next year.  Gravity Center facilitates hope and healing–the work they do is beautiful.

I read so much and I love that!  I read 2-3 books/week.  And people ask how I do it.  I don’t know.  I just have to rest a lot–and I prefer reading to watching TV just about any day, so a lot of reading gets done.

I’m moving again for a better environment for my health.  Better air quality.  New.  Less carpet.  No mold.  While this has been stressful, it will feel great once I’m moved in (which is this week!)

I quit two jobs that I needed to.  And I started my own tutoring business!  I haven’t written much about this on the blog yet.  But yes, Staying Power Resources launched this summer.  I continue tutoring students with learning differences, and have a more flexible schedule more myself.

I posted about the female healers in my life, and entering back into massage and acupuncture.  I posted publicly about my assault.

Through my circumstances, in being invited to change directions, I’ve been invited to grow.  By necessity, growth is awkward and clumsy, and in the process I’ve raised so many questions and seen so much doubt.  I was thinking that healing might mean that I enter back as a classroom teacher again.  And I’m learning that’s a dream that will not come to fruition as I saw it in my mind.

I’m learning about the severity of my mold toxicity, and the unpredictability of Indiana weather and which buildings I can go into and which ones I can’t.  I’m going to write much more about this in the future.

While I’ve made great gains, I’ve also been fatigued for a good part of this year.  In the winter, I felt great.  And once the late spring hit, I’ve really been quite exhausted ever since.

So many interesting questions surface when my health is deteriorating, and everything feels like its in transition.  Job. Home. Health.  Future.

Survival questions like:

  • Can I make it?
  • Do I have enough energy not to quit my business as soon as I started it?
  • If this doesn’t work, then what next?
  • To what extent can I heal?

The questions are real.  And yet so is my growth.  So is all the risk of this year, so is all the loss.  A very human adventure.  With many twists and turns, decisions I wasn’t ready to make and yet was thrust in a certain direction anyway.

Here’s to more risk.  More adventure.  More growth.

 

Simple Questions

Last week I listened to a podcast, where the person being interviewed expressed that the words of her yoga teacher were still rattling around in her mind:

“How tender do you want to get? How soft do you want to become?”

Those words made me stop.

I want to be a person who can receive. Someone who can be present, accepting the simple moments as they come and go. I want to be able to be still myself, so I realize what I need and want, and not be so terrified of my fatigue.

I want others to know that they are so important, that I’m willing to get close enough so that they change me.

And yet I’ve lived enough to know that this vulnerability is costly.  My generation values authenticity and vulnerability and yet it’s hard to be the first person to speak, the person to say, “I’m not okay.”

These months have been ones of seeing myself more honestly, seeing my protective walls, and knowing that they don’t just come crashing down in a moment.  It’s more like a slow melting away.

Receptiveness doesn’t mean being a push-over, just as sacrifice means that one must first recognize that there is a self to sacrifice. Without a discerning eye, receptiveness could look like people pleasing and helping could be avoidance.

So I keep returning to stillness, to myself and the Divine, to see how much my ego actually is at work and to see my own goodness and worth more clearly.

Sometimes receptiveness looks like receiving love, being affirmed, being reminded of how valuable I am just for being me. It could mean a hug, a compliment, being still enough to receive this moment, and the unknown that comes with it.

In order to be soft, I want to live into my body, knowing its joys and its pains.  I want to feel what I’m actually feeling, when my jaw tenses up, when my shoulders scrunch to my ears, or when I can actually touch my toes! I want to know when my breath is shallow and when its full. I want to listen to the emotions that rise up in me.

As I daily pay attention to myself, I will be more attune to others, having extra capacity for laughter and tears.

For in times of vulnerability, there is a shared tenderness, and we both could become softer as a result.  Of course, the choice is ours.  We have to be willing to sit “on the mourner’s bench” as Nicholas Wolterstorff likes to say.

The one who is tender speaks bravely, inviting everyone else in the room into a softer, gentler place.

Into a more expansive view of the world.  Into a new emotion, understanding, or empathy.

But there is no force. She could be met with unhelpful silence, misunderstanding, pet answers.

But she also could be met with love and acceptance.  There is great risk in seeking to be tender.

Yet there’s also an invitation to everyone else in the room.

Do you want to be tender and soft too? Will you join me on this journey of honesty, risk, and feeling deeply?

 

 

What’s Saving My Life-Winter Edition

Quite simply, this winter, learning to practice yoga and meditation as a regular practice are saving my life.

I’m learning to be still, to breathe deeply, to be present to this moment, which is a gift I so often look past.

At this place in my healing journey, I expected my life to become faster-more health, more vitality, more relationships, more things on my calendar.  And yes, I can do so much more than two years ago.

And yet the transforming parts of this season are in the stillness, often on my yoga mat.  My life is getting slower yet.

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My prayers are quieter.  There’s just not as much to say.  I’m less reactionary in my conversations with God-not because I’m lessening my honesty or the intensity of emotions.  But instead, because if I’m actually present to a moment of solitude, not much is happening.  Through meditation, my brain is changing (and if you’re a doubter, read this), and I’m practicing paying attention to my body and my breath.  I’m re-teaching myself, that my true self is not necessarily the thoughts I think.

What may be more true about myself is how I breathe and the messages my body is telling me.

It’s not been an easy process (what process is?!).  When I started, I could not touch my toes, and my mind would wander constantly.  After six weeks though, I’m seeing small changes.  I come to a place of stillness more easily.  I’m gaining more flexibility and my posture is improving.  But I’m not practicing yoga for the quick changes.

The most powerful, subtle change has happened in my mind.  Yoga and meditation has helped reduce anxiety.  It has allowed me to take a more receptive approach to life.

I’m learning to see more kindness, rather than threat.

More safety, rather than violence.

More love, rather than hate.

More acceptance, rather than self-destruction.

More friendship, rather than exclusion.

More inclusiveness, rather than competition.

 

I want to be someone who views myself and the world from a place of compassion.

A person who can be still enough to see reality for what it actually is.

A person who is gentle and empathetic, and yet isn’t afraid to speak honestly.

My life is being saved in the daily moments, and I’m grateful.

What is saving your life this winter?