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.
Our journey with making friends with ourselves is not a selfish thing. We’re not trying to get all the goodies for ourselves.
It’s a process of developing loving-kindness and a true understanding for other people as well.
~ Pema Chodron
(from The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving-kindness)
As I read this quote this morning I thought to myself, “Yes, yes!” This is exactly what I try to tell others about the importance of befriending ourselves. The idea of treating ourselves as kindly and gently as we would others is so often perceived as mushy gushy, self-centered, the harbinger of laziness, and, yes, selfish—a word I have come to abhor. There are not many things or words I abhor but this notion is one of them. I’ve actually banned this “S” word from my vocabulary.
We are living in a culture (U.S. culture, I can only speak from my own experience here) that feels as if it is becoming so absorbed in ideas and actions of “me and mine,” we are losing all sense of what it really means to be kind and generous human beings. And, yet, when someone like me or Pema Chodron or any other person who is passionate about self-awareness speaks of “befriending”, we are often perceived as self-absorbed navel gazers. Oy vay. What a tangled web we weave for ourselves!
What I discovered over the years was this: the more I WAS able to treat myself compassionately—like a dear friend would—I naturally felt more loving toward others. By seeing all of the ways I would push myself, judge myself, and feel as if I were never enough, I could look around me and see that so many others were doing the same. I could see more clearly how we are ALL trapped in ways of behaving that are not beneficial to our ultimate well-being. This can range from stressing over things that have not happened (or may never happen), to not ever feeling good enough because we consistently compare ourselves to others.
When we are ready and able to look into the mirror of our own heart, we can see the many ways we are still be caught up in “if only.” If only I were more attractive. If only I were smarter. If only I were further along on my spiritual path. Meaning, all the ways we could be better, or our lives could be better, if we just put our shoulder to the self-help grindstone one more time.
The truth of the matter is, if we talked like this to someone we cared about we’d stop ourselves mid-sentence, realizing this would not be a kind thing to say: “If only you were …” “If only you had …” reeks of disappointment. And disappointment—many disappointments stacked one upon the other—are absolutely soul crushing.
I heard a psychologist speak to this truth on Oprah’s daily show many years ago. She said that the great destroyer of intimate relationships is disappointment—disappointed in the partner about what they did or did not do. Stack up all those disappointments year after year and intimacy fades. The relationship will most likely fall apart. I have never forgotten her words.
Applying this to ourselves, if we are continually disappointed in our self, how will our relationship with our self eventually end up? Bruised. Defeated. Broken.
If we are genuinely interested in self-awareness (not so much self-improvement, there is a difference, you know) and embodying the truth of who we are and can be, we need to break this cycle of self-defeating behavior. I believe we can do this by taking baby steps toward befriending. Something as simple as catching yourself in the act is a good (and compassionate!) place to start.
When you hear yourself saying something unkind to yourself, imagine that your best friend (or your grandmother who loved you dearly) is gently placing her hand on your shoulder saying, “Shhh, don’t say that about yourself, sweetheart, because it’s not true.” And believe her because it’s not.
Who you are is so much more than a big stack of disappointments. Or a self-improvement project. Or something broken that needs to be fixed. Who you are is goodness. This is your true nature. This is everyone’s true nature.
And, so, we come full circle back to Ani Pema’s thought: “Our journey with making friends with ourselves is not a selfish thing. We’re not trying to get all the goodies for ourselves. It’s a process of developing loving-kindness and a true understanding for other people as well.”
When the door of loving-kindness opens for us, we invariably see that on the other side stands an entire group of people who are having the same kind of experiences we are. And because they are, each person is deserving of loving-kindness—as are we.
If we are committed to living more gently with ourselves there are some things that are not negotiable, in my view anyway. One of them is waking up to our own suffering so we can treat ourselves more kindly.
The problem is that most of us don't realize when we are suffering. Our suffering moves in like an invisible stranger, completely unnoticed. We are moving too quickly or completely caught up in what's happening to pause to notice "suffering".
Or we don't want to acknowledge that we are "suffering". (Such an unattractive word!) After all, other people suffer. But us? No, we are simply having a hard time, because we know from past experience that we can soldier on, pushing through with the best of them.
The truth of the matter is, when we're having a difficult time with anything, this can (and should) be acknowledged as a moment of suffering. It's ok to let go of our pride, our perfection, even our resiliency to say, "This is difficult!" and admit that suffering is happening. Period.
In the spirit of self-compassion, it is vital that we learn how to catch ourselves having a difficult moment ... caught right in the midst of struggle, like a fish dangling from the line, hook in mouth, flopping around, hoping to break free. By catching ourselves in a moment of difficulty, by acknowledging that we are hooked, we can do something different and kind. We can stop, take a breath (or two or three), and offer ourselves some empathy, a bit of tenderness. Let's do that right now, shall we?
Take 3 deep breaths. Then go with the flow of your breath. Breathe easily, naturally. Allow yourself to be breathed. Drop into a kinder, gentler place within yourself and rest your attention there.
Bring to mind a difficult situation in your life. This can involve you or someone you care about. Notice how this issue tugs at your heart strings. Notice any difficult thoughts that arise; any emotions that come forth. Breathe.
Acknowledge that this is a tender moment for you by placing your hand on your heart and saying with a kind, loving voice, "This is difficult." Or something like, "I am having a hard time with this." "I wish this were not so."
As you place your hand on your heart, feel the warmth of your hand. Feel a kind breath moving through you. Re-focus on your breath, letting go of the difficult story line.
Next, say something hopeful and tender to yourself, "May I be held in compassion." Or, "This too shall pass." "It's alright." "I trust my higher power to care for me (or my dear one)." "I let go and let God." "I can rest into Love." Find a phrase that works for you.
Anytime (no matter how large or small), when you are having a difficult moment, acknowledge this moment and surround it with compassion. Give yourself permission to be kind to yourself because this IS a difficult moment. Rest assured, by compassionately caring for yourself, you can change the intensity of the moment. Ease can be yours.
"At that very moment, when things are difficult - at that very moment of panic or fear, that moment of loneliness or anger - that is actually the key moment for a person who is wishing to open their heart and their mind, because these are the moments where life can soften us. The difficulties of our lives can soften us, make us kinder to each other and more compassionate."
~ Pema Chodron
This post is a sneak peek from my forthcoming book,
Living Gently with Myself. Enjoy!
Permission to Begin Again
I wrote the passage below many years ago while on silent retreat on the California coast. I’d left home and family behind to spend quiet days restoring my soul.
As the sun rises, bringing the dawn of a new day, celebrate and give thanks for the blessing of second chances.
I believe in second chances and our ability (our birthright!) to begin again. I’ve begun again so many times in my life I’ve lost count. I’ve also started over multiple times each day when things were not going as well as I’d hoped. The same can be true for any of us. We can begin again … over and over again.
Beginning again is one of the kindest things we can do for ourselves. Why? Just imagine the opposite. What happens to you when you succumb to inner pressure to keep going even when your wise self tells you to stop? What happens when you keep pushing ahead even though your body says no? Beginning again allows us to lay down the tasks of the day when we need to. Granted, industriousness in many situations is admirable. In others, it's depleting, even damaging.
There is something in many of us that urges us to just keep going and going and going. This “something” can be sourced in a myriad of things: cultural and workplace expectations, familial habits, or personal agendas that are not rooted in reality. This varies with each of us and only we can know which “voice” we are listening to when we continue to push ourselves beyond reasonable limits.
I know this voice well. It truly is my nemesis voice. “Keep going,” it says. “Press on. You can do it!” It spouts off even when I’m tired or have done enough for the day. Like a chameleon, it might change its colors to whisper, “Just a little longer,” even overriding ache of body or fogginess of mind. I’ve ignored it in all its guises and I’ve finally learned that answering its beckon call is usually the worst thing I can do.
Enter “Permission granted to begin again!” a commanding voice as well, but one that is sourced in good self-awareness and the ability to honor the call of body-mind when enough is enough. When enough is good enough. Now that’s what a kind inner voice would say!
The truth of the matter is we can always begin again. The sun does always rise in the morning. We can depend on that. Will we always be guaranteed that we’ll have another day to welcome it, knowing that our days on earth are numbered? Not always. There is a path of clarity that runs between these two.
You can learn to trust the wiser voices inside your mind—the ones that care deeply for your well-being—and follow their sage advice. “It’s ok to stop. You can pick it up tomorrow. Begin again when you feel rested, clear and ready to go. I give you permission.”
is a touchpoint. a resting place, a "remembering" of who we really are and how we can best live—kindly and compassionately with ourselves and others.
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 co-director of the Spiritual Guidance Training Institute.