Reserving and Expanding

It’s a season of reserving: my energy, my resources, my health.  My own body thinks it feels counter-intuitive to rest more in the summer.  People are swimming, going to sporting events and concerts. The sun is out and typically people feel more free.

Again, I’m learning to sink my patterns to my own body, rather than mainstream culture.  And I’m wondering about new ways that I might be able to be more active in the winter, when others decide to stay inside.

One of the early lessons to learn in chronic illness is to reserve your energy, to use it on the things or people most important to you before you run out of energy for the day.  It’s a hard reality to keep coming back to-especially in my 20’s.

But after years of learning to reserve my energy-it’s all bottled up.  And yes, I have given to others in these past several years, and yet there’s more.  There’s more I want to say, do, experience.  I feel that my youth does not match the severity of my illness.

And that lends itself to these awkward growing pains.   The tension of letting myself dream and asking myself questions like, “What do you want?” and also being willing to let go. And let go again. And let go again. And still having the courage to wake up in the morning wanting to have fun, not just manage an illness.

Yet, it’s also a season of expanding. Of a new job. Soon to be a new home. Of investing time in new friendships. Learning more about mold toxicity and what I need to be aware of. Letting others help me.  Empowering others so that they can begin to understand what I’m going through.

What I continue to be amazed about, even in these days of fatigue and nausea from detox reactions is that my body tells me all I need to know.  Of course I need help from doctors and friends-but my body tells me all I need to know.

The key is to listen–and have the courage to listen to those quiet whispers day after day after day. Your body tells you that you’re reaching your limit or that it’s time to take a risk.  It tells you if you need to reserve or expand.

The truth is: My body doesn’t lie. And on the hard days of chronic illness it would feel better to be ignorant of this fact.  But the more I learn to lean into the tension, I more I learn to appreciate all my body has to say.

Those years of severe inflammation was the communication of an autoimmune disorder.  My body was trying to alert me to the fact that my body was beginning to attack itself. My brain fog alerts me of chemicals and mold. My fatigue was a result of severely depleted thyroid and adrenal glands.  All this was hard information to swallow-yet my body doesn’t lie.

Yet, so much gratitude exists in a clear mind, a strong body, sleeping eight hours per night and waking up rested.  My body is communicating, “You are on your way toward health. Be thankful for each moment. Pay attention. Beautiful things are happening right now.”

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In order to listen we must be still.  In order to be still, we must accept ourselves.  As we accept ourselves, we have the capacity to build this self-awareness.  And out of this self-awareness and love comes compassion.

Be compassionate towards your body-in all it’s resilience and limitation. As we accept all that our body has to say, we will be able to listen to others.  We will be able to accept them as they are- in all their resilience and limitation.

We will learn to reserve and expand together, honoring each others needs and celebrating the milestones.  This kind of relating is hard work and yet I think it’s possible.

But first we must be still.  We cannot relate authentically if we do not first do the hard work of listening to and accepting ourselves. I’m learning to do this better and better every day.  Some days get pretty ugly, yet the outcome is worth it.

Learning to Sit in Silence

Ever since I got back from Omaha, I have tried to maintain  two 20 minute silent prayer sits per day. Forming a habit is a messy process, so sometimes I forget, other days I only do it once, and I’ve played with the best times of day.  I’ve also attended a weekend meditation workshop at my yoga studio, and picked up some pointers there.  One helpful hint was to meditate before dinner, but that doesn’t really work for me because I’m so hungry by the time I get home!

 

But even though this habit is imperfect and in-process, it’s still forming.  I wake up, and these days I’m trying to wake up without an alarm, and hit my sounding bowl 3 times.  I sit with my back against the wall, on my yoga mat and I close my eyes, placing my palms on my knees.  Some days I hold a more traditional meditation practice repeating a mantra, accepting all the thoughts, emotions and sensations that come up.  Other days, I practice centering prayer, which is more about releasing those thoughts, emotions and sensations, returning to my sacred word, not as a mantra, but when a thought or emotion comes to mind.  The focus is on letting go.  I repeat this same practice right before bed.

There are not really “a-ha” moments.  It’s just a practice in being still. It’s a practice in letting go, so in my active life I will know how when the time comes.  Contemplation and action are not truly separate.  However, even in only intentionally practicing this for one month, I am noticing some shifts.

In silence, it is much easier to embrace the reality that we all are one. And that at the core of our being, we are full of love and goodness.

Not every day, but slowly, my mind can come to stillness more quickly.  In the beginning, I felt like I was constantly returning to my sacred word because my mind could not come to quiet.

It can be quite emotional.  Being quiet and still in our culture is hard!  Hard memories have come to the forefront of my mind.  There has been some freedom for me in letting them go in my prayer sits, but processing them in counseling.

My true self surfaces in these prayer sits and I’m asked to shed my false self.  Letting agendas, plans, titles, and relationships fall away is both scary and a relief.  I am more than what my culture, family, or friends say about me.

Simply, it’s an embrace of the unknown.  And in this quiet space, my perception slowly shifts.  I see reality differently. Once I emerge from my prayer sit, hopefully, I am more grounded, and over time full of compassion for myself and the world.

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? 

Practices Towards Non-violence

Today I am going to a spiritual direction appointment.  This is a time for me to reflect on the past month, a time for centering.  I’ve come to love this precious time and am glad that spiritual direction has become a rhythm in my life the last 1 1/2 years.  This practice helps me to be aware of my own life, to notice spiritual themes, and pay attention to invitations I may be receiving.  Through spiritual direction, I know myself better.

I have kept going to yoga four times per week.  My body is getting stronger.  I’m getting more flexible, day by day.  I’m learning to be more mindful.  And listening to my breath. My mind is more clear.  I am more aware of where I can push myself, and where I must limit myself.

Over the past year, I’ve tried to take seriously what it means to rest.  My body is learning to adjust to how much I need to rest on the weekend, after adding in more work hours during the week.  Weekends are a time for sleeping in, for cooking, for yoga, for writing, for time with friends.  Weekends are a time for play and rejuvenation and not for work.

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For me, these must be the foundation for non-violence.  If I live a greater percentage of my life from a centered place, I am observant, yet not reactive.  I may have the courage to name an injustice I see, yet I may see more clearly how I should respond, from a place of knowing myself.  From this calm, self-aware place, I am more willing to embrace another, than build up artificial barriers.

If I choose busyness and running myself ragged, I am choosing to be violent towards myself, and that, no doubt, will be violent towards others as well, whether it surfaces in the form of ignoring, of poor listening, of constant talking, of fighting or simply not expressing that another has value.  If I choose busyness and constant distraction, I am not choosing time for hospitality, for paying attention to nature, for tending to my own health.  I am not choosing what is best. I am not choosing to listen to my life of the lives of others.

Yet, these personal practices, should not just be limited to myself.  These practices actually lead to an outward focus, with increasing desires for justice and peace in this world.  These practices allow me to see suffering (rather than ignore it), and lament.  These allow me to listen, without my own agenda getting in the way.

Martin Luther King Jr’s first two principles of non-violence were:

  1. Non-violence is a way of life for courageous people.
  2. Non-violence seeks to win friendship and understanding.

These words were timely then, and most needed now.

May you walk through your day with ease, even while being observant to injustice that lurks in power-hungry institutions and lonely corners.

What are some non-violent practices in your own life?  

How do these help you know yourself more deeply?   

What I’m Learning in Yoga

The past few Decembers, I’ve taken a silent retreat at Sustainable Faith Indy, as part of my celebration of Advent. I also write down my longings for the year. The first one I wrote down for 2017 was:

Establish a regular yoga practice at Breathing Space

 

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Over Christmas break, I was going to this yoga studio daily, and it’s still my goal to make it at least four times per week, now that work has started back.

This longing is no longing to meet an exercise quota, but because I feel so much better.  I have enough energy to work towards a new goal and try something new.

I get to embrace a form of exercise I never would have if I hadn’t gotten sick.  I choose to move towards yoga with a smile, even though flexibility has never been my strong suit.

My life is slowly being altered as I make these small decisions.

To enter into a sacred space, where I’m encouraged to honor my body and its limitations.  I’m deciding to enter into a yoga studio, rather than buy a gym membership.

To listen to my breath, to notice how relaxed or stressed I am.  I’m deciding to observe my body’s reactions, rather than judge them.

To hold a pose when I feel the right amount of tension, neither under-extending or overextending. I’m deciding to listen to my body’s signals, not to ignore pain or think I can master it.

To stay in the present moment.  I’m noticing when my mind drifts and remind it to come back into focus.

To honor my body’s innate knowledge.  To listen to my body’s wisdom, rather than believing that wisdom just comes from my head.

To rest in Shavasana.  To remember that the culmination of work is rest, not more work.

Here’s to more flexibility and healing in 2017!

What new habits are you taking up in 2017? 

 

 

A Perfect Fall Breakfast

This fall, I’ve developed a Saturday breakfast routine, not necessarily by choice, but because I love it so much.

I’ve been making this Morrocan-Inspired Breakfast Skillet.

If you’re looking for a new breakfast food or to eat less sugar for breakfast, check this out.  It’s a perfect combination of sweet and savory, and combines anti-inflammatory turmeric with the seasonal favorite cinnamon.  Enjoy!

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Downward Descent

My fastest 5K ever came on the first meet of my high school career.  I ran for two more years and never got faster–but in fact more sick, as symptoms of my Hashimoto’s began to surface.

I made the most money my first year teaching in Memphis.  It doesn’t look like I’ll make close to that anytime soon.

These two facts have made me ask important questions lately:

  • What does it mean to live a simple life?
  • What have I gained in giving up power and prestige?
  • How has my life’s course been redirected?

I now see the world from a different lens, than I did even a few years ago.  I’m more observant of human struggle, more likely to seek solidarity among the weak, with those who have a powerful voice, but that voice is culturally silenced. I’ve learned that the powerful only have one view of the world-and they try to perpetuate that view as correct, rather than simply as one view.

The weak and the vulnerable have an entirely different view of the world.  And theirs’ is the view I wish to know.  The one I hope to emulate.

Credentials do not mean that much to me now. I gave up the much edgier world of urban education where I wrongly believed that these kids needed me.  I now spend many hours in a cubicle without windows working with children one-on-one helping them to read.  It’s not a glamorous job, yet its a beautiful way to spend my days.  There’s a simplicity about my life now that I crave more and more of.

I’m free to speak softly to my students.

I’m free to look at them with tears streaming down their face and say, “You’re doing a good job.”

I’m free to see elementary students who struggle as having immense strength and courage.

I’m free to tell parents who wonder if they’ve failed their children that “You have done nothing wrong.”

 

I more readily believe that these one-on-one interactions are changing me. Yes, I help students learn to read, and help encourage their potential and I encounter students who encourage me to be brave and to embrace my limitations.

Ironically in learning to accept my descent downward, I have found my voice.  I hear it growing louder and louder, even as I live simpler and simpler. I desire to heal, not to be entertained.  I desire to be an active participant in my own life, not wish that I was living someone else’s.

Some people ask me if I run anymore.  I don’t.  Somedays I wish I still could, but I can’t make it more than a quarter mile.  Some days I care, but most days I don’t.  I entered a yoga studio last weekend for the first time in over a year, and I felt at home.  I was spoken to gently, and the movements were nurturing to my body.  I listened to my breath, rather than racing to see if I could win.

I now have the margin to pay attention and to enjoy my life and those around me.  This is the greatest gift.

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Poetry for Your Monday

So, life has been a little crazy.  Between my last post and now, Chels and I have moved again (not because I wanted to, but environmental issues in the house were making me really sick)!  So, we found an apartment quickly and moved in last Monday.

It’s been a whirlwind and I’m exhausted.  Yet, in the course of this crazy week, I still have managed to:

  • Walk on the Fall Creek Greenway close to the apartment.  There are beautiful homes on small lakes and best of all, it’s quiet. (Rabbits like it too!)
  • Venture into Half Price books and buy some poetry.
  • Visit the Harrison Center and admire Jed Dorsey’s artwork.
  • Play with Chels’ new dog Cash.
  • Sit in a local coffee shop and read, while listening to old men talk about the election.
  • Explore a new farmer’s market and decide that I like the Broad Ripple market better.
  • Fall asleep watching the Olympics.

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Slowly, my longed-for rhythms are returning, which are little reminders of the abundance that is mine.

While my life just seems like transition after transition, William Stafford has helped me slow down and see that wisdom can even be in the chaos.

 

The Little Ways That Encourage Good Fortune

Wisdom is having things right in your life

and knowing why.

If you do not have things right in your life

you will be overwhelmed:

you may be heroic, but you will not be wise.

If you have things right in your life

but do not know why,

you are just lucky, and you will not move

in the little ways that encourage good fortune.

 

The saddest are those not right in their lives

who are acting to make things right for others:

they act only from the self–

and that self will never be right:

no luck, no help, no wisdom.

Tethered to Home

On Friday, I posted about taking a break from the blog as I underwent some major transitions.  This weekend, I enjoyed grounding myself in my home in the 98 degree heat, and doing some cooking of all things!

While vacation felt lavish in the eating out and staying one night in a 4 star hotel, my body can’t go too long without intensely craving the food of home, the food that I make.  My body missed the rhythms of waking up and eating breakfast at 6:30am, only to be hungry for lunch by 10:30am.  I missed meat and vegetables.  I missed my creativity coming out, by cooking and trying new dishes.

So Saturday night was pizza night!  Chels and I rushed home from church, to make the pizza dough and throw that in the oven.

  1. You can find the auto-immune paleo pizza crust here.  (Note: pictures aren’t glamorous, just a result of two messy cooks in a small-ish kitchen!)

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2. Spread the kale pesto as an alternative to tomato sauce!

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3. Add the toppings, which this time happened to be ground turkey and goat cheese.

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4. Throw the pizza back into the oven for several minutes, until the goat cheese is melted to your satisfaction.

5. Take out the pizza, and put on some arugula.  Let it cool, and then serve.

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What activities do you enjoy that tether you to your home?  

The Examen

In my spiritual direction cohort, we are practicing the examen, a practice of silently and prayerfully reviewing one’s day, noticing where the Lord was present what resistance may have occurred during the day.

I decided to practice this discipline in my car on my commute home from work.  So I’m learning to turn off my radio for the beginning of my car ride.  I’m trying to slow down immediately after I leave work.

Today, what did I notice? How was God speaking? Did I listen?

Some days I completely forget. Some days I’m exhausted and my brain is not primed for noticing.  Yet slowly, I can see this practice shaping me.

I’ve noticed myself being more playful with my students after Spring Break, letting myself incorporating more play into their work. I’ve noticed that I’m giving myself more freedom to write.  I’ve let myself linger with uncomfortable feelings and emotions a little longer, not as scared to see the dark side of myself. I’ve let myself ask for forgiveness and be forgiven.

I’ve seen myself get angry with waiting, and I’ve been patient with my body when I just needed a vitamin IV.  I’ve allowed myself to embrace the mundane and get frustrated by it.  I’ve felt lonely and exhilarated.

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I’m seeing that the examen is me seeing that so many times a day God says, “I’m here.  I’m glad to do this day with you.” And so often I reject His words and more easily settle into boredom, comparing, ferociously cleaning, feeling like I’m not enough.

He’s reminding me that I’m shaped by the daily things: a hug after work, winding down the day with a game of Yahtzee, going to bed early because I’m ornery, affirming friends, asking hard questions and not having answers, giving my car a tune-up that it so badly needs.

Life can be so much about creating a facade of control, that I miss out on how I’m being formed.  But I’m learning to listen for whispers, accept change with grace, and live into my questions.  He’s just waiting to remind me what I’ve already forgotten.

He’s here and he’s listening.