I've admired the work and philosophy of Rachel Naomi Remen, MD, for a long time now. With great heartfulness, she consistently reminds us how important it is to listen to one another. She writes:
"Listening is the oldest and perhaps the most powerful tool of healing. It is often through the quality of our listening and not the wisdom of our words that we are able to effect the most profound changes in the people around us. When we listen, we offer with our attention an opportunity for wholeness. Our listening creates sanctuary for the homeless parts within the other person. That which has been denied, unloved, devalued by themselves and others. That which is hidden."
As a spiritual guide, I know what Dr. Remen says is true. Genuine listening is one of the greatest gifts we can give to another person.
The other day, when I read this passage yet again, I was struck by how, in the spirit of good self-care and self-compassion, we could change the orientation of her words to acknowledge how important it also is to listen to ourselves—to our inner voice. Consider this shift in language:
"Listening is the oldest and perhaps the most powerful tool of healing. It is often through the quality of our listening and not the wisdom of our words that we are able to effect the most profound changes within ourselves. When we listen, we offer with our attention an opportunity for wholeness. Our listening creates sanctuary for the homeless parts within us. That which has been denied, unloved, devalued by themselves and others. That which is hidden."
This word play touches a chord of recognition in me. You?
How often do we ignore our inner wisdom? How often do we silence the parts of ourselves that need to speak? To be seen and heard? If we take our healing journey seriously, it is vital that we listen to "the still small voice" within us and pay it heed. It knows things! It can know what's best for us on the deepest level. It has something important to say about our well-being.
Again, in the spirit of healing it might whisper, "Slow down, you're pushing yourself too hard." Or, "Stop saying that you "should" do those things, especially to please others?" Or, "You are good enough, just as you are." If we desire to feel more whole—at home within ourselves—then we simply must offer listening presence to ourselves, just as we would to others. And offer a hospitable welcome to all the parts of ourselves that need a warm and loving home. Nobody wants to feel homeless.
It's November, and as I pondered what to write here, it came to me how grateful I am for the practice of gratefulness! A thanks-filled mind and heart have been an important part of my journey to live more gently with myself. Why? Because it takes so much energy to maintain the opposite.
When we're focused on what is going wrong in our lives—or how much we wish our lives were different—a great deal of energy is expended. Negativity, or living in lack, can be exhausting. Over the years, I've found there's a better way...
Today's blog post is an excerpt from the Introduction of my book, "Thank You" Is My Prayer. Reflections, Prayers and Blessings for a Grateful Heart. The words speak for themselves. I hope they touch your heart this November!
A spiritual practice is a unique opportunity to experience sacred time and space; to remove ourselves from the distractions and noise of a too busy world, and to remember our spiritual connection. Spiritual practices, properly cultivated, help us access all of the virtues of the Spirit: inner calm, joy, compassion, and gratitude.
Our inner landscape can shift dramatically when we have the diligence to root our spiritual practice in the cultivation of just one virtue of the Spirit. Focusing our intention and attention on just one thing allows us to deepen our understanding and experience of it. This deeper experience reveals previously hidden truths, even, a truer reality. Gratitude can be this one focal point, and, in Eckhart-like fashion, it can be enough. I know this from my own experience and from gathering up the success stories of similar seekers.
For many years, I was not particularly attuned to the generosity of the Divine One and the natural abundance available to us on a day-to-day basis. In fact, when I discovered gratitude as a spiritual practice, I was at a low point in my life. I was stressed, sick and overwhelmed. I had no clarity about how to reverse my situation. A friend suggested the daily gratitude practice espoused by Sarah Ban Breathnach in her book, Simple Abundance. I chortled at her premise that recording five things you were grateful for each day could transform your life. But I gave the practice a go. I was desperate for inner change.
I vividly recall the day I chose to begin the practice. I was lying in bed in the wee hours of the morning. Five things, I thought to myself. Just five. And this is what I came up with: Birds singing outside my window, the smell of coffee brewing in the kitchen, the sounds of my children’s laughter in the next room. Wait, I thought to myself, that’s only three. Despite earnest effort, a trio of “Gratitudes” was all I could come up with. Heaven knows why (after that failed beginning) I stuck with the practice, but I did. By week’s end, I was up to five Gratitudes, and I was feeling noticeably better.
What I realized was that by “looking for the good”, my way of perceiving the world was changed. Instead of focusing on what was wrong or missing in my life, I began to see with the eyes of my heart. And what I saw when I looked was a cornucopia of things that did not cost money or require effort. Things that helped me acknowledge the generosity of the Creator, particularly through nature. Things that were beautiful, timeless and true. Surprisingly, at the end of one month of gratitude practice, I felt truly happy again. Hallelujah! I believe the same can hold true for any of us.
With an ongoing practice of thankfulness (one that has now spanned twenty years), I’ve witnessed how gratitude gives rise to all of the virtues of the Spirit. A grateful heart is a joyous heart because there is nothing perceived as lacking. A grateful heart is a peaceful heart because we are satisfied with what is here, now, with life just as it is. A grateful heart is a loving heart because we are supremely aware of how fortunate we are to be givers and receivers of love, both human and Divine.
With intention, attention and practice over time, gratitude delivers us into the arms of Presence: a profound awareness that the Divine is always here, within us and around us, showering us with invitations to look more deeply and to see the inherent blessings in everything. Even when life is difficult, blessings are present.
Excerpted from "Thank You" Is My Prayer. Reflections, Prayers and Blessings for a Grateful Heart, available in our online store.
©2016, Janice L. Lundy. Heart to Heart Press
These are not easy times in which to live. Daily we are bombarded with stories of tragedy and loss. Daily we deal with a myriad of responsibilities at home and at work. Daily we may care for others, shouldering burdens that feel too heavy to bear.
If this is true for you, and if you happen to be a sensitive person, the door of your heart can gradually drift shut from the "too muchness" of life. Have you ever experienced this?
Body and mind fatigue may set in. Compassion fatigue too. When they do, it is time to be extra gentle with yourself and open the door of your heart. This practice from my book Portable Peace: A Weekly Guidebook, can help:
Week 25: Open The Door to Your Heart
Feeling closed down, agitated, irritated with yourself or others? Stop what you are doing and open your heart. Heart opening stretches not only release bodily tension, but enable your emotional heart—your heart center, the 4thchakra—to open if it feels tight or closed down. It allows self-awareness through self-love to return.
You can do this exercise anywhere. Simply stand up, stretch your arms out wide to the sides as if you were an airplane. Breathing slowly and evenly, gently arch your body back as if there were an imaginary string connecting your heart to the sky. Stay in this position for at least a minute. Continue to breathe in a relaxed way so you can feel any constriction that is present open up and release. You may need to repeat this heart-opening practice a few times if you’re feeling especially resistant.
This practice can also be done lying on the floor. Lie flat on your back, arms at your sides or spread wide like airplane wings. Relax your torso and allow your legs to rest comfortably, feet comfortable so they fall gently to their sides.
Slowly and gently lift and arch your back, raising your torso just a few inches off the ground. Don’t strain or lift too high. Attune your awareness to your heart center so that you can intuitively feel when your chest is beginning to feel less constricted, more open. Hold this position for a few seconds, then release gently back to the floor.
Our thoughts and feelings move in energetic patterns throughout our body and often house themselves in certain regions. They can get “stuck” in one area or another. Thus the phrase, “I feel like my heart is breaking,” when sorrow is present. Discomfort can actually be felt in the heart center. Anger can also be felt in this region by tightness or the discomfiting experience of pressure in the chest. Often simple physical movements can help redistribute the energy and, ultimately, release it.
Sometimes a less formal practice of movement can do the trick, too. Try it yourself and see. Lie down on the floor and very slowly, gently, move your body around. Wiggle, stretch, lift and raise, move from side to side—however your intuition instructs you. Listen to your body and feel where lack of peace may have housed itself. Release it by moving your body.
Anytime you connect with your body and allow it to help to release what’s burdening you, honor its trustworthy service. Place your hands in prayer pose, thumbs touching your heart center, and thank it for serving you well.
©2015, Janice L. Lundy
Portable Peace: A Weekly Guidebook
Portable Peace: A Weekly Guidebook contains 52 original practicing for accessing the deep peace that lives within you. It is available as a paperback book and as a downloadable book here.
After eight weeks of in and out travel (and pretty much living out of a suitcase), I'm home and getting back into a routine that honors my contemplative nature and needs. And though I have plenty to catch up on, including caring for our house, my body, and my work life, this segment I wrote for Living Gently with Myself is the focus of my efforts as I "regroup." I hope you enjoy and find it helpful ... wherever you are.
When I wrote my first book Coming Home to Ourselves, I was living a completely unbalanced life, which I set out to correct. I created a system whereby I would spend an allotted amount of time each day on each part of my personal triad: body, mind, and spirit. I theorized that by doing so I would get my life back in balance. Much to my surprise, my theory, put into practice, worked. One year after I implemented it, I felt great and my health returned. My life did feel more balanced.
Yet, walking the beach one year later, realized I was not completely at ease within myself. I felt unsettled much of the time and was not sure why. That afternoon, as I lay on the beach, relaxing, soaking up some sun while my children were occupied elsewhere, I found myself drawn to read a new book I’d picked up featuring the poetry of the 12thcentury Persian poet, Rumi. Rumi was madly in love with God.
As I read, listening to the waves lap upon the shore, I felt internal waves of peace and love wash through me, carrying me into what I can only call a unitive experience, a genuine feeling of oneness. Of belonging. Of deep connection to the God of my understanding, which, ironically, was very limited at the time.
In that moment, an awareness whooshed in (dare I call it grace?) that I was still living “upside down.” I was working too hard at getting my life just right by focusing on balance; trying to do all the right things for myself—body, mind and spirit. I experienced a new knowing that life, ultimately, was not about balance at all, but about harmony.
Balance, by its very nature, is impossible. Nothing is ever in perfect balance. I often assure myself of this by visualizing a teeter totter. The plank on which we sit is never completely parallel to the ground, it’s always tipped a bit, one way or the other; more up than down, more down than up.
The words of Rumi I read were not about balance and getting our lives just right, but about spiritual living, heeding the voice of the soul. When we can listen in thus way, he said, the soul points us toward the One. We are divine creatures in human form and we are most happy when we are living in harmony with the Creator, the Beloved, as Rumi called it. I knew in my bones that what he said was true, because in that moment, lying in the sun on a hot August day, I came to realize I was supremely happy feeling connected to Source.
From that day forward, I shifted my daily focus to take care of my spiritual life first, and then my body-mind second. The “balancing act” approach to life suddenly felt like striving and was deeply unsatisfying. I experienced a shift when I addressed my spiritual connection first. Everything in life seemed to fall into place as a result of this. Prioritizing my relationship with the Sacred through various spiritual practices enabled me to feel harmonious within myself, and at ease with all aspects of my life. The same can be true for any of us.
Putting your spiritual life first is a game changer. In fact, when you do, you will realize there is no “game” at all, just a beautiful Flow and you are part of That.
Is your inner life a priority or does it play second fiddle to attending to all of the responsibilities of your daily life?
© 2018, Janice L. Lundy
Excerpted from Living Gently with Myself: A 30-Day Guidebook.
Heart to Heart Press
It's been one heck of a summer. As I am sure many of you know, you can plan all you want, hope all you want, even send forth a thousand intentions into the great, wide universe, and life can still ignore your well-formed wishes, delivering something else altogether.
This was the story of my summer, beginning with a freak accident in a grocery store which resulted in many weeks of PT, multiple (unexpected) surgeries for my husband, and other dear loved ones with plenty of their own challenges. Mega doses of TLC was distributed all around.
As I navigated each surprising event as it unfolded, I was profoundly aware that I was being invited to be even MORE gentle with myself than I had been before. I wasn't sure this was possible, but it was.
Now, as the season of Fall beckons, I am keenly aware that the invitation continues. Certain issues are somewhat resolved. Others are not, but things feel hopeful. Perhaps a light at the end of the tunnel? I live into the Mystery of the moment and stay attuned to all the ways I may yet need to let go ... to flow with life as it presents itself.
I wish the same for you so you are at ease within yourself and your life.
This week I appeared on this radio show:
My good friend, Kenny Brixey, invited me to speak to his listeners on Empower Radio about what it means to live gently with one's self.
The show is 25 min. I loved that Kenny shared much about his own journey to live more gently with himself too—from a guy's perspective! :-)
Listen here: https://goo.gl/AM3P5k
For many of us, the predominant message today is “do more.” Our society it seems is so achievement oriented that we have unconsciously adopted this maxim, wrapping it around anything that reeks of “not enough.” As a result, we continue to work hard at being thin enough or successful enough. If we are not self-aware, we can fall into the trap of applying “not enough” to everything. We may find ourselves caught in its web, working too hard in multiple arenas, trying to get everything “just right.” And why? Because on a very deep level, we still want approval and recognition. It’s an ironic fact that we may even want approval from the people who contributed to our lack of feeling good enough in the first place.
Reorientation, for me, has often been the key. When a disempowering message of "You are not enough" breaks through, I can turn my attention in another direction. I know this message is untrue, so it is up to me to turn toward that which is true. I am enough—and you are too. We all are.
Loving yourself more—just as you are—is a good solution. Can affirmations of this truth be helpful? I believe they can. Statements like, “I am enough,” repeated often can become more comfortable, as if they are seeping into our consciousness like warm, syrupy love. In this case, self-love! And self-appreciation. We now know that thoughts, intentionally heard or repeated and internalized, whether positive or negative, can change our brain, forging new neural pathways that are beneficial or injurious in terms of self-image. In my journeys with women over the years, I am amazed how the use of the simple phrase “I am enough” can minister to what is injured inside of us. Like a healing balm, we have an inner knowing that if we use it often, its reparative nature will work. Why? Because on the deepest level, we know these words are true. We are enough.We are not broken or damaged goods. We are not a self-improvement project. We do not need to win the approval of others. We are good people and simply being here in the world—just as we are—is enough.
1. In what areas of your life do you strive to be more, do more? Do you have a sense of where this striving comes from?
2. When you say the words, “I am enough” to yourself, how do you feel? Practice using this phrase when you catch yourself striving, pleasing, or doubting your choices for yourself.
© 2018, Janice L. Lundy
Adapted from Living Gently with Myself: A 30-Day Guidebook
Since completing my new book, Living Gently with Yourself, I'm a bit low on words—at least the handwritten kind—so I thought I'd post this short video which speaks rather than writes what's on my mind. I hope it supports what's in your heart.
I believe in the power of practice. In order to be proficient at anything, you have to do it again and again. Whether it's learning to change a diaper, writing a grant or rock climbing, practice makes progress. Taking good care of yourself and modulating your emotions works the same way.
Emotions are running high for many of us these days. The world does not go gently. It takes dedication and practice to know how to keep yourself calm and steady in difficult circumstances. In my new book, Living Gently with Myself, I reveal one of my favorite practices for doing just this. I call it "Gentling Down."
I'd like to share the full selection from the book with you here, hoping that it will help you shift gears from stressed to serene when you need it most.
Lesson 23: "Gentling Down"
When we are unfocused, stressed, worried, or hurrying, we begin to feel off center, disconnected from what matters most—living gently with ourselves. It doesn’t take much for this to happen, the world and its pressures being what they are. The good news is that we always have the opportunity to “return” again and again. We are creatures of choice and we can turn ourselves in any direction we wish. It simply takes remembering to do so.
When we do remember, we can stop to take a sacred pause. A sacred pause begins by taking one, genuinely deep breath. A full inhale followed by a full exhale. Feel the effect of that. Fully feel the breath working its magic upon you.
When we are moving quickly or overcome with emotion, it is not always easy to immediately settle down, as much as we might like this to be the case. Instead, we might require some time and space to do so. When this happens to you, you can give yourself a few extra minutes to gentle down. Here is how gentling down works:
When you are driving a car, for example, at some point you may need to shift the car into neutral; to glide or coast to a stop. Gentling down works exactly like this. Imagine yourself grabbing hold of your inner gear shift and moving it into Neutral position. Continue imagining that your body vehicle is starting to slow down. With each inhale and exhale—breathing in, breathing out, ever so kindly—it rolls to a gentle halt. Feel this slowing down take place within you and ride its rhythm. Give yourself as much time as you need to slow way down.
When you have “stopped” inside yourself, give yourself an additional gift: rest there for a few more moments. Maybe minutes, if you have them to spare, and I hope you do. Continue to breathe by feeling yourself “being breathed,” which is a wonderful sensation because it invites you to let go of any pressure you might be feeling to breathe correctly. You can let go and allow your body’s system to do what it does best. You can also put a spiritual spin on this process and imagine that the Creator (Spirit, God, Love) is actually breathing through you to gentle you down, sustaining your life so you don’t have to do anything at all but accept the gift of breath.
Gentling down is a supremely self-compassionate thing to do. Self-compassion, as you will recall, involves catching yourself in a moment of suffering, and then doing “the kindest thing.” When you have gentled down and are breathing normally once again, you may notice that your clarity returns, bubbling up like water from a refreshing spring. And with this clarity, you will know what to do next, whether it is to put your feet up and relax more deeply, or to make that phone call you’ve been putting off; to step out into your garden to smell the roses or get started making dinner.
When there is so much that life demands of us, gentling down is a very good tool to use to come back to center—no matter where you are or what you are doing. Gentling down may take a bit of practice but, if you’re like me, you’ll soon discover that this technique of literally “shifting gears” is oh, so helpful. And healing.
Excerpted from Living Gently with Myself: A 30-Day Guidebook
©2018, Janice L. Lundy
Living Gently is here.
Purchase your copy today.
Living Gently and kindly with yourself is absolutely possible whether you are the CEO of a corporation or a stay-at-home mother; a college student or a retiree; a “regular” person who is doing the best she can to live in harmony with herself and others but, perhaps, struggling along the way.
As summer heats up, we may find ourselves busier than ever. Summer is the time for extra activities like family reunions and vacations. It is a "social season" too, a time of entertaining and visiting, and we may find ourselves overwhelmed by all of these interactions in different settings, forgetting the importance of our personal "private time."
In my book, Your Truest Self, I wrote about this. I'd like to share an excerpt with you, one that will invite you to create "island time" for yourself this summer, one wonderful way of living more gently with yourself.
Excerpt from Chapter 5: I Cultivate Compassion for Myself
Anne Morrow Lindbergh (author and wife of aviator Charles Lindbergh) is another woman who grants us permission to be gentle with ourselves. Every year Anne spent two weeks by herself on retreat on an island off the Florida coast. Alone, she walked the beaches, gathered shells, and mulled over her life. With nature as her teacher, she journaled about what it means to be a woman. Her book Gift from the Sea is a series of essays about what she discovered on retreat.
One of her reflections on a moon shell she’d found on a beach walk offers wisdom about the importance of solitude to restore and reclaim ourselves. Anne wrote:
Moon Shell. . . . You will make me think, with your smooth circles winding inward to the tiny core, of the island I lived on for a few weeks. You will say to me “Solitude.” You will remind me that I must try to be alone for part of each year—even a week or a few days, and for a part of each day, even for an hour or a few minutes, in order to keep my core, my center, my island quality.
Anne’s powerful words speak to the universal feminine need for sacred space and time spent blessedly alone.
“You remind me,” she went on to say, "that unless I keep the island quality intact somewhere within me, I will have little to give my husband, my children, my friends or the world at large. You will remind me that woman must be still, as the axis of a wheel in the midst of her activities; that she must be the pioneer in achieving this stillness, not only for her own salvation, but for the salvation of family life, of society, perhaps even of our civilization."6
“Island quality” is what Anne called it—this sense of being self-contained in a good, solid way. We find it most easily when we are apart from others. We become beautiful islands unto ourselves, as she did, when we no longer depend upon others for our emotional well-being or for affirmation. When we are self-sustaining and can give ourselves what we need to be nourished and honored, our island quality grows. Anne’s lovely prose inspired me to give myself more “island time.” I did so by creating daily “mini-retreats”—an hour or two spent alone with myself at the beginning or end of each day. I also gave myself permission to take occasional weekend retreats. “Island times” such as these can provide the sacred time and space needed to begin to gentle ourselves, gentle our lives.
©2008, Janice L. Lundy
Create some "island time" this summer by taking a retreat in beautiful pastoral Michigan.
Read the details here.
"If the breathing is at all unsettled, life is not your own."
"Heaven and Earth," c. Ming dynasty work Anthology on the Cultivation of Realization by unknown author, translated by Thomas Cleary in Taoist Meditation
On any given day, how do you truly feel? Do you feel calm and centered, or do you feel as if you've taken a seat on the carousel of life, whirling 'round and 'round, at its mercy?
I'm recalling a time when I climbed aboard the Tilt-A-Whirl at our local fair with my youngest daughter—against my better judgment. You see, I do not like carnival rides. The motion actually makes me very ill. But she begged me to ride with her and I reluctantly agreed. We climbed aboard, and as the whirling began, I thought to myself, "This isn't so bad. I think I can handle it." Within seconds though, the operator shifted gears and dramatically increased the speed and rotation factor. Sheer terror came over me, that out-of-control feeling knowing I was at the mercy of this man (who had a profoundly menacing look on his face), and there was no way I could get off the ride to regain my equilibrium. The whirling seemed to go on forever. I nearly cried with relief when it stopped, wobbled my way to a nearby restroom, where I collapsed on the floor and emptied the contents of my stomach into the commode. I lay there for what seemed like forever trying to regain my footing. I felt dizzy and nauseous for the rest of the day and upset with myself because of the poor choice I'd made.
Of course, my over-the-top carnival ride isn't a perfect metaphor for what can happen to us in daily life, but it is similar. Many of us are familiar with that spinning, out-of-control feeling as we move through our days; a loss of equanimity from the pace or "too-muchness" of life.
The only "remedy" I know for this is to come back to "center" as quickly as we can with the healing power of our own breath. I think of breath as our sacred touchpoint, the fulcrum of the human teeter-totter of life. It calms and stabilizes us like no other force or practice. It is simply miraculous! We carry our breath with us and can access it any time: "Portable Peace." And, as you know so well, the challenge is remembering to use it when you need it.
But did you also know that breath can bring you back to center in a variety of ways? Conscious breathing is not just for stabilizing, but for deep calm, and also for raising our energy level when we are feeling sluggish or worn out. Yogis of the past and present document the differences for us. Breathing one way, we get super relaxed, in another way we attain equanimity. And in yet another way, we can raise our energy to very high levels of strength and endurance.
I love this thought, offered by an unknown yogi. "When you own your breath, nobody can steal your peace." If we are to live more gently with ourselves, it is vital that we own our breath, claim its power to do whatever our body/mind needs in the moment—whether it be rest, balance, or energy—so we can continue to serve ourselves and others well. The beautiful breath that moves through your being is a gift of the greatest measure. I invite you to learn to harness it for your own good.
is a touchpoint. a resting place, a "remembering" of who we really are and how we are meant to live.
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Janice Lynne Lundy, DMin
is an educator, interspiritual director/guide and retreat leader who has been pointing people back toward the Sacred for more than twenty years. She is the author of several spiritual growth books, including Your Truest Self, My Deepest Me and Portable Peace., and is the co-founder and director of the Spiritual Guidance Training Institute.