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SACRED SPACES

cascade-environment-falls-2214386At first you might find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred space and use it, eventually something will happen. Your sacred space is where you find yourself again and again.   Joseph Campbell

I find more and more I need a place to go that takes me from the busyness of my days.  A place where I can slow down. When I slow down, I show up to myself. This is what a sacred space gives me. I was first introduced to the power of sacred spaces in Japan. Below is an excerpt from my journal while in Japan.

Shinto shrines dot my walks through the city streets of  Kyoto.  I am in awe of the gardens and temples, the sacred spaces that are throughout this city.  Lingering at a small Buddhist temple tucked between two large high rises I feel a sense of peace engulf me. I am taken by how space is used in this crowded city. Hallowed grounds are found throughout the busy city blocks in the form of Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. In the west we build large edifices called churches and visit them once a week. The remainder of the week we lock them up for safekeeping. Sacred spaces are part of the landscape of Asia, offering quiet retreats throughout a busy day. 

I linger in a garden, one of many that grace this city.  Walking the path I look out upon a beautiful pond surrounded by trees shaped by the winds.  It is fall and the colors astound my senses.  Reds, with backdrops of gold and yellow create a kaleidoscope of exploding, vivid shapes of various hues. I hear the cuckoo bird and get lost in its melody. I cherish the comfort these gardens bring.   Sitting quietly for a moment centers me, before, once again, entering the busy stream of foot traffic. 

I learn that the natural roots of Shinto come from the ancient dwellers of Japan.  It was their response to the stunning natural environment they found. Shinto honors Earth as a partner, seeing mystery in all of Earth’s gifts. The gardens symbolize their reverence for earth and all of creation.  As I come upon Shinto shrines throughout Tokyo and Kyoto, I enter the peace these small gardens offer. The Shinto belief calls for us to harmonize with “Great Nature’.

My sacred spaces always include someplace in nature. Some people create alters in their homes as sacred space. Where do you find your sacred spaces? Take time to pay attention to when you are in a place of peace and quiet.

Living Fully

When I’m questioning my life, wondering if I am playing it safe or living fully, I turn to a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke. I invite you to practice an abbreviate form of Lectio Divina, sacred or divine reading, as you read this poem. I’ll have some questions at the end to reflect on and write about. Read the poem slowly and pay attention to what line(s) or word pops out for you.

God speaks to all of us as he(she) makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall, go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

Sit with the line or word you chose for a bit, then turn to the following questions.

  1. 1)  What feelings are evoked within you?
  2. 2)  How does this line/word touch you?
  3. 3)  What does this line/word say about your life?
  4. 4)  What struggle or longing in your life today is speaking to you?

Civility

Nature Thrives on Differences

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I continue to mourn the loss of civility in our country. It seems our main discourse is to blame, accuse, threaten, or denigrate people who we disagree with. I recently read a quote about civility from the Institute for Civility in Government that Brene Brown shares in her book Braving the Wilderness.

Civility is claiming and caring for one’s identity, needs, and beliefs without degrading someone else’s in the process. Civility is about disagreeing without disrespect, seeking common ground as a starting point for dialogue about differences, listening past one’s preconceptions, and teaching others to do the same. Civility is the hard work of staying present even with those with whom we have deep-rooted and fierce disagreements. It is political in the sense that it is a necessary prerequisite for civic action. But it is political, too, in the sense that it is about negotiating interpersonal power such that everyone’s voice is heard, and nobody’s is ignored.

As I read this I knew it was true, yet so hard for me to do. We are so polarized at this point I have a hard time wanting to hear what the other side has to say. I have made preconceived assumptions about them that preclude me from wanting to hear their point of view. I have family in very different political camps than me and although I love them I find I don’t want to talk to them. This is wrong–for me and for my family.

My commitment is to practice deep listening, first with my family and then others. This will require me to pay attention, be present, and be open. If I can’t bridge the divide with family how can I expect our country to bridge the divide. May we all find peaceful ways to begin to bridge the divides that separate us from our fellow citizens. It starts with one relationship at a time, and I believe it is probably the most important work we can do at this time.

Peace be with all of us in our endeavors to listen to each other and find common ground.

 

 

 

Family Relationships

The stories were remembered for a reason. Family stories, they were told and retold because they contained essential truths. Life and ourselves were in these stories, whether they were flattering or not, straightforward or opaque, legend or history. They showed us, in one way or another, how to live.
Elizabeth Ehrlich, from Miriam’s Kitchen

Our families create our first stories and are our first teachers. Writing about families is an important tool to help us understand our own life stories. Below are prompts to generate writing about you and your family.

1)  What are your favorite family stories? Take a few minutes to jot them down. These
are the stories you grew-up with, stories you heard around the kitchen table, stories
you heard from your parents.

2)  Choose one or two of the stories listed and write about them. Write about who told
the story, how the story happened, and when it happened?

3)  What is your favorite family story and why? Where do you fit into this story, or how
did this story shape you or your understanding of your family?

4)  What stories have you passed onto your children or other family members?

5)  As you think about these family stories is there one relative you would like to spend
a day with? Write a story of how you would spend a day with that person.

These prompts were adapted from Your Life, Your Story by Pat Flathouse, With Catherine Cogburn and Susan Wittig Albert.

Trees

I think that I shall never see, a poem lovely as a tree.  Joyce Kilmer

The beautiful Service Berry tree offers gifts each of the four seasons.  After the blossoms turn to berries, the Cedar Waxwings come in droves and denude the tree of berries within two days. It is a wonder to see, especially since I don’t see them again until next year. Do they have a special radar that tells them when and where the service berries are?  The fall gift this tree bestows is vivid fall colors of red, yellow, and orange. Winter offers time for rest. Her leaves have let go and she hunkers down for the winter, renewing her energy.

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Service Berry tree in backyard.

Trees continue to be my solace and my teacher. They are rooted to the earth. When I’m fragmented and unsure, I return to nature and the beautiful trees dotting her landscape. I reconnect with the Universe, becoming rooted, centered–coming home to my core essence.

Visiting Northern California, I saw a mighty redwood standing with a gapping burned out hole in its trunk—surviving, but scarred.  My life has had raging fires that have burned and scarred. I too have survived these fires that have swept through my life.  I stand taller and am stronger for the burning. Trees continue to teach me how to live.

The cypress that bends to the mighty winds–bending but not breaking. It teaches me how to live with the power of the wind and not resist it.  I am learning to flow with the changes that take place. To fly with the wind, instead of pushing against it, diminishes the stress that comes with resistance.  I feel the freedom that comes with trusting the flow of life.

The trees that have died become nursing logs and new growth begins.  As parts of me die, old patterns or habits no longer necessary or useful, space opens for me to create new stories.  Death brings life, and my old ways of being are a nursing log for the person I am becoming.

The tree stands in all its glory—proud, majestic, and strong. It survives the many elements and still reaches for the sun with hope of renewed life.

I continue to reach for the sun, to stretch and grow.  The sun heals me and gives me hope for tomorrow. May you find and befriend the gifts of trees to support nourishing growth within your being.

Spring is Here

Spring is nature’s way of saying “let’s party.”  Robin Williams

I’m always amazed at how much lighter I feel when we turn the cornerIMG_0951.jpg

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from winter to spring. The burst of color from the first flowers of spring: daffodils, crocus, and hyacinth bring me such joy. Their winter rest has produced such beauty. A good lesson for me in my busy schedule. “Rest in the stillness,” is a thought that comes to me when I get too busy running from one activity to another. When I say this I feel myself slow down and breathe.  Always a good thing.

Spring affirms the changing of the season reminding me that life is constantly changing. I need this reminder periodically in these tumultuous and divisive times we are living through. I use the word through purposefully because we will live through these times as we have other hard times in our history. It is just sometimes hard for me to remember when I am feeling the angst of our country’s divide. Spring is a great reminder that life continues and dark turns toward the light.

It is hard to pick my favorite season, but I think I would have to say it is Spring. The beauty of the flowers, the birds preparing their nests, and the return of sunny warm days.  It is the sense of rebirth and renewal. I wonder what is being rebirthed in me, what wants to emerge? I think of Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote, “Where there are flowers there is hope.”  Yes, Spring opens my heart to hope and trust that all will be well.

Follow Robin Williams’ sage advice, “Party” and enjoy the vibrancy this season offers.

The Healing Power of Letter Writing

We often have unfinished business with a loved one, a friend, an ex that we would like to resolve but don’t know how. Write them a letter, not for them, for you. It is a letter that you won’t mail. This letter is for you to get all your pain, hurt, confusion, questions, anger out. Whether the person is alive or has passed on, this is a wonderful way to begin your healing process by sharing your thoughts and feelings.

My mother died suddenly when I was in my early thirties. At the time I still held a lot of unresolved anger and resentment toward her. Not only was I in deep grief, I was crushed by the guilt of my feelings. I decided to write her a letter sharing my hurt and confusion regarding our relationship. It was surprising how long the letter turned out to be. I went to the cemetery and read the letter to her. I then put it in an envelop and saved it.

Over the years I have periodically read the letter and added to it. Each new addition showed my growth and understanding of our relationship. Over forty years these moments with my mother, through letter writing, have been very healing. The last letter I wrote was this past Mother’s Day and it was filled with love, compassion, forgiveness, and understanding for both my mother and myself.

I invite you to think of someone you would like to write a letter to expressing your sense of unfinished business between the two of you. Write them, sharing your feelings and confusion regarding your relationship. Writing this type of letter is not about them, it is about you and your desire to heal yourself.