It’s Been Awhile…

It’s good to sit down to write a blog post. It’s been awhile.

I’m gonna keep it short, and kinda reflective, since it’s New Year’s Eve after all.

Right now it’s raining, and I’m writing to the rhythm of the rain falling on my windows. It’s wonderful.

I don’t write resolutions. I’m a type #1 on the Enneagram, and I never need extra encouragement to work harder and reach for a goal! Ha. I do this enough every day as it is.

Instead, I sink into longings, into dreams, into rest. This year over Thanksgiving break, I wrote out my longings for 2019; these become my prayers and an ordinary piece of paper I return to as a reminder if I am choosing what I truly desire, or if I am hiding out of fear.

2019 looks like a lot of creativity! Of sinking even deeper roots, and to operate out of a foundation of gratitude.

Photo by Leonard von Bibra on Unsplash

2018 was a lot of letting go, and making room for new. It was a year about expression and asking questions about home. I came out as asexual, I got confirmed (what!?) in the Episcopal church, I learned qigong, I went back to Michigan, I did EMDR, I built my business to full-capacity, started my second year of spiritual direction training, & wrote my first draft of my . healing journey.

I made new friends, and I laughed a lot. My natural smile came back. I took myself more seriously. And more lightly. I came home to myself.

And I also spent more time alone & outside. And I loved it! And I learned that it’s not just about being an introvert, but about being serious about what I want and need. And that I can give myself permission to that time, while not neglecting community.

In 2018, I asked myself these questions, and they are ones I will keep asking.

What do I need?

What do I want?

What do I crave?

I often find myself needing and wanting rest so badly, and there are ways that I sabotage the rest that is right in front of me. This awareness is painful and yet I’ve done deep work to discover my right-sized capacity and also coming back to the question, “What is mine to do?”

2018 has been joy and grief. Loss and newness. Risk-taking and slowing down. Making mistakes and getting back up. Finding my power in the quiet places. Being a witness to my own life. Being a witness to the lives of others.

And as fatigue seemed to be all encompassing and overwhelming this December, I’m ending the year slowing down, coming back to simple eating, energy practices, spending lots of time in my sauna, sleeping. Spending less time asking the question, “What went wrong?” and instead trusting that my body knows how to heal itself.

May 2019 be a year of risk-taking, truth-telling, and joy. You deserve it.

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Gratitude

I attended a Wednesday morning Eucharist service at my church last week.  I took deep breaths and opened the Book of Common Prayer, and listened to the Scriptures being read, and I turned to the elderly women sitting by me during the Passing of the Peace.

One woman shook my hand, looked me in the eyes, and said,

“You have the prettiest smile.  Thanks for making my day.”

I sat back down in my seat, breathed even more deeply, my thighs resting more heavily.  Immediately, I thought of writing my blog post about just wanting my smile to return.  I wasn’t faking it.  It was a real smile; and it was lighter.  Healing is happening and I am smiling.

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As I sat with my spiritual director last month, and we spoke briefly about Lent.  We spoke about how hard, how tiring the last 5 years have been.  How it’s been a long Lent.  How my hope is that in this Lent, that more and more healing will emerge.  And she just sat with me in my hope.

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I just attended a Silent Retreat in Omaha with the Gravity Center.  50 of us meditated together, did yoga together, ate meals silently together.  And when we could finally talk, one woman asked me my name, and then said, “I’m so glad I know your name now.  Alyssa-the one with the most effortless, beautiful smile.”

Happy tears welled up in my eyes, as others were giving voice to the profound amount of healing that has happened these last four months.

As others ask about the retreat, I’m saying, “I keep moving more and more deeply into the process of letting go.  And a by-product of letting go is joy.”

The last night of the retreat, we all sat silently in the chapel and were led through a lovingkindness meditation.

We repeated the mantra:

May I be well.

May I have love.

May I find peace in this life.

And then we repeated this mantra for our loved ones & for our enemies.

May you be well.

May you have love.

May you find peace in this life.

As a group claiming various or no faith tradition, we were opening ourselves up to Love, so we could love.  And it was beautiful.

The Flu and Thoughts on Letting Go

I got the flu last week.  The 24 hour kind, where I woke up and thought I was fine, until I was sweating one moment and freezing and next, and then I had the sudden urge to get to the bathroom as fast as I could.

I texted all my clients and told them that I needed to cancel.  I didn’t go to my last Qigong group.  I read an entire book, and listened to several podcasts.  I would throw up occasionally, then take a nap.

The details aren’t that interesting (ha!), and yet a few things hit me last Wednesday.

First, I know how to rest.  It’s like my body just let myself throw up.  It let me know when I was ready to try a cracker, to try a pretzel and see how my body did.  My body guided me to equilibrium and I trusted it the entire time.  Having the flu didn’t feel like an inconvenience, but just a time to slow down and have my body instruct me in how to get well.  Quite honestly, over the past several years, I had to learn how to rest.  I had traveled way too far over false ground.  The fact that resting came naturally, and I didn’t fight it, just means that I’m much closer to living in line with who I am.

On top of that, I was on my period!  Through vomiting and bleeding, I was getting a double message of letting myself let go of what I no longer needed.  Since last summer, I’ve transitioned in so many ways.  My health moved me into these decisions quickly–and yet now I can see that my health was nudging me in different directions that I’ve needed to go.

New job.  New home. New church.  New self-care routines.

I understood none of this while it was happening–we normally don’t!

More questions emerged that I’ve just let be questions:

  • Why do I live in Westfield?
  • What kind of church am I looking for?  Why?  Or am I looking for a church at all?
  • How can my self-care sustain these longer work hours?
  • How can I make Orton-Gilllingham more accessible to more people, while still caring for myself?
  • Who am I accountable to in this time?  And how to do I know?
  • Who am I and how do I know?

Deep questions usually surface in the new.  And they have.  And I’ve been pushed to lean into these questions.  I needed to let go of two jobs, that I liked at one point but were no longer working.  I needed to let go of a home that was close and convenient to everything, but was damaging my health.  I needed to let go of a church, where I had found community, and yet because of several factors I needed to say goodbye.

There are always new opportunities behind the grief.  Once my eyes were fully opened, no longer filled with exhaustion and tears–I saw my life for what it was.  Although I built a business feeling at about 15% myself–I am at capacity now, and I’m making plans for how I want to expand my services when there is a wait list.

Living in Westfield has been a place of rest, with a lot more country driving!  I had this strong sense when I was preparing to move that although busier in several years, that this was a season of rest.  It’s quieter.  I can see the stars.  I can easily walk down the street.  And my health has most definitely improved living here.

I’ve moved to more gentle self-care routines.  I engage in breathwork, in Qigong, in daily creativity through writing.  I can do these at home or with a group.  In fact, I see that I need both.  I’ve let everything that felt vigorous fall away.  This wasn’t the plan, but it just happened.  No more vinyasa yoga.  No more regular trips to the yoga studio.

As far as church goes, coming into the Episcopal church has felt like a homecoming to me.  I started going to an Anglican church in Memphis 4 years ago during the Epiphany season.  The liturgy truly was healing to my sick body. I didn’t realize how much I longed for that liturgy again, until I stepped through St. Christopher’s doors.  I didn’t realize how much I needed to come out as an asexual, until I looked on their website and read “You are welcome here. You are welcome if you are rich or poor, gay or straight, single or married, Democrat, Republican or something else.”

I wept when I was researching Episcopal churches in the area and I saw that they had a Lay Eucharistic Minister ministry where a volunteer would bring  the Eucharist to your home if you were homebound.  I thought of how many Sundays I didn’t go to church because of how sick I felt, or knowing that I would react to mold.  How over time that made me feel disconnected and isolated.  It was comforting to know that if I needed to stay home, I could just give the church a call and someone would come and visit me.

I let tears fall from my eyes when there were prayers for the sick imbedded into the liturgy.  I felt seen and represented.  I felt encouraged that there was an anti-racism work group, that the assistant rector was a woman and the bishop of the Diocese is a strong black woman.

Saying goodbye to those things last summer opened up space for my practices to align more with who I am, to give me excitement and hope for where I might be headed.

Last month, in my spiritual direction session, my director reflected back to me, that I speaking about themes that all began with c: community, courage, collaboration, construction, creativity, claiming, curiosity, contentment.  She encouraged me to see this time not necessarily as de-construction, but actually construction.  “You are constructing a beautiful life,” she said.

We also talked about how St. Christophers begins with a c.  My director said, “It would be interesting to look at what patron saint Christopher is.”  A few days later I did some research and found that St. Christopher is the patron saint of children and travel.

That seemed too fitting.  The last several years have been an adventure, with so much literal travel, but also a deep traveling inward.  I’ve been on a crazy adventure, oftentimes one that doesn’t make sense.  But then there are those moments, where time feels like it just stands still, and for a moment you know in your body that you are right where you are supposed to be.

I suppose you could say, that instead of fighting the flu, and being frustrated that I had to miss work, I simply took it as an opportunity to say, “I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.”

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.

 

 

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?   

A Celebration

On Saturday afternoon I completed Year 1 of my spiritual direction training.  What a beautiful nine months these have been for me!  There has been lots of reading, of practicing spiritual direction on “guinea pigs”, of writing, of discussion and camaraderie in our cohort as we listen to the Lord’s work in our own lives and in others’.

We were given an hour to reflect on the major take-a-ways of this year, pieces we want to hold onto and not forget.  As I lean into this ministry of spiritual direction, however this looks in the future, I want to always come back to the fact that God is speaking and that in each person is the face of Christ.

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How thankful I am for meeting these people, and hopefully continuing to journey with them, whether near or far away.

Solitude

In her book Silence: Making the Journey to Inner Quiet, Barbara Taylor writes,

“I began to know quiet in a way I have never known it before.  No black hole of emptiness or infinite nothingness. Rather a fullness, a coming-into, a vast, unexplored region.”

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I felt at home with these sentences when I read them.  I’m journeying to pull back the layers and understand why.  Signing up for spiritual direction still seems like a mystery for me, and yet practicing spiritual disciplines in a community has been a homecoming.  I’m discovering a deep longing for solitude that I’ve always had.

As I journey back, I think about my preferences.  No music in the car doesn’t bother me.  Big crowds have always been overwhelming.  A loud concert isn’t where I’d prefer to spend my time.

Yet I have also felt the black hole of silence.  Living alone in an apartment being sick.  Turning on music or a show to keep me company.  I detested quiet because it reminded me I was alone and at the core I didn’t really like myself.

I’m glad I’m learning to journey inward.  I’m more readily accepting my gifts and limitations.  I’m getting acquainted with my “shadow side” or my false self that I tend to portray socially.

Yet no matter what personality type we are: introvert or extrovert, I believe that we all long for quiet.  We long to feel whole, to feel loved, to be still and not perform for applause.  To be rooted and grounded.  We want to be loved at our worst.  We long to be gentle with ourselves and be able to love and forgive others.

What is your relationship with solitude? What emotions surface when you are quiet?

What Can’t You Do Without?

On Friday, I sat down with my spiritual director in the basement library in her church.  She engaged with me in my past month, how I met God and saw Him at work.

We started in silence.

I shared about how God is working in me to accept my hiddenness that comes with sickness-and to embrace my gifts with joy.

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As I spoke my spiritual director asked well-timed questions.  She spoke of themes of hiddenness and stability, of contentment and gratitude.  She sat with me in the silence, in my rambling.

She invited me into a time of silence and contemplating my gratitude for life right now. She closed by praying for me in soft tones.

As we said goodbye, we hugged and talked for a few minutes about the upcoming month.

I left thinking, “I can’t do without people who share healthy silence with me.”

There’s something refreshing to me about just getting to reflect and speak knowing that the person listening truly cares.  She isn’t going to interrupt me or take the conversation in another direction.  The hour is mine-and she isn’t looking to fix my problems.

She simply finds joy in being with me, hearing from me, and experiencing God’s presence together.

I’m thankful for the practice of spiritual direction and the silence we experience together.

What can’t you do without?

Where Do You Hurt?

This fall, I read through the book Holy Listening by Margaret Guenther.  The author is an Episcopal priest, author, mother, wife, teacher, and a spiritual director.  The book was gritty, yet nurturing at the same time.  There’s a part in the book where she describes the two most important questions that she asks her directees during spiritual direction:

  1. What do you want?
  2. Where do you hurt?

These two questions sum up so much of what we think about, dream about, worry about, cry over.  These questions dig deep and reveal a person’s true self and his or her deepest longings.  The theological language is stripped away; in fact these questions are quite simple.

But maybe not so simple to answer.  

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Can you imagine if the question “Where do you hurt?” was imbedded into everyday conversation?  How would that change our interactions?

First, we must know how to answer this question ourselves.  Our answer might be physical, emotional, spiritual, psychological.  There isn’t a right answer–but the desire to truly search ourselves and be honest must be there.

Some mornings while doing yoga, I feel that my hips are tight, that my stomach hurts from what I ate yesterday, that my breathing is more shallow.

Some mornings I woke up having cried the night before.  I was worrying about money, about relationships, about my job, my health.  Some mornings I wake up apathetic and just feel like I’m floundering. Some mornings I process the past and feel guilty or sad or angry, and must acknowledge that I need to feel these emotions until freedom can come.

Some mornings, I feel far away from God, or I can’t seem to sit still and just be.  Some mornings thankfulness comes easily and simply as I just seem to pray as I do everyday tasks.

The beauty (or possibly fear) is that there are difficult answers to these questions every morning.

God, and those close to us truly want to know these answers.  The Lord cares where you hurt, where you feel you fall short, how your body is feeling in this very moment.

The challenge today is to sit still long enough and linger with the question, “Where do you hurt?” Answer honestly.  Acknowledge where you are at in this moment, not where you want to be.  Accept love from God and others, for who you are, for where you at right now.

You truly are loved, even in the hurting, the stumbling, the groaning.  He groans with you.

Where do you hurt today?  Feel free to share in the comments, if you feel comfortable.

I will be sharing how I daily try to answer this question with you all on Friday.

Brisk Morning Walks

This week, my mornings were free.  So I would bundle up and step out into 37 degrees, drive to a gravel path along the canal, and start walking north.  Each day I would observe more hues of orange, yellow and red.  By Thursday, there were numerous baby ducks following their mothers, darting leaves floating along. I discovered an access point to the Museum of Art and a side entrance to the Museum’s neighboring park, filled with quirky metal benches and intricate statues.

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In the busy day-to-day, I forget how much I long to be in nature.  How nature gives my soul space to rest and to expand.  Nature creates no agenda except to linger, to enjoy, to rest, to observe and seek its beauty.  All beautiful gifts.  As I keep digging into this ancient practice of spiritual direction, I find that this is what I desire all my waking hours to be like.  Nature gives me a beautiful glimpse into how God desires to be with me.  A relationship in which I linger, He enjoys me and allows me to rest, I seek his beauty both individually and corporately.

Autumn also invites me to examine:

In which ways am I being made more beautiful? 

What layers or old habits am I shedding?

More on these questions next post…