How do you care for yourself when your heart feels tender? Hurting? Sad?
We each have our ways, each one unique, just as our fingerprint is unique. It seems to me that it's not the method that matters, but the acceptance of our soul's call to tend well to ourselves when we are feeling vulnerable or unable to engage in life in the usual fashion.
I've been feeling that inner pull to silence and the quiet comfort that comes with a more gentle rhythm of my days since my dear mother passed away in March. Since then, I often find myself simply sitting, gazing out the window, resting my attention on the trees, or listening to the birds that come to our deck. But mostly, I am drawn to walking by myself. I hear a small whisper from within that says, "Just walk." It feels healing to do so.
I walk mostly in quiet places with very few people. I stop, listen to the wind in the trees, notice the chirping of birds happily building their nests, and pause by the little brook that soothes my heart with wordless babbles. So sweet.
I'm also soothed by poetry. I notice that my brain doesn't easily absorb the content of "regular" books right now. But the gentle turn of a phrase offered by a poet can land in my heart in just the right way. And that's all I need in the moment, a heart hug.
How do you extend spiritual care to yourself when your whole being longs for gentle understanding?
As I continue to sit with others as a spiritual companion (director-guide) and listen to the ponderings of their hearts, the invitation to each of us is clear: stay steady. This is not easy when the nature of the energy flowing through the universe can be picked up as fear, worry or anxiety. These emotions are not unknown to me either. I know from experience how important it is to be able to access inner stability when everything around you and in you may feel tumultuous.
I love trees. I believe trees are living, breathing beings who feel and experience life in its fullness in a unique way. I also believe that one of their highest purposes on the planet is to sustain life, including ours. Trees represent stability to me. Their roots go deep, holding them steady when the winds come and threaten to uproot them from their very core.
Years ago, I began to imagine what it would actually feel like to be a tree when life felt frightening—more rooted than topsy Turvey. I crafted this practice to help me and I featured it in my book Portable Peace. I'd like to share it with you here because in times like these we can certainly use any help we can get, especially practices, if they can predictably deliver us to a place within ourselves that feels more steady and stable. I hope you find it useful.
Breathe deep. May peace be upon you.
It was 1994 and I was in the midst of a health crisis when I discovered the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh. Or should I say, his teachings found me. To this day I believe that his book, Peace Is Every Step, saved my life. Since then, Thay has been the wisest of teachers for me and I always keep one of his books close at hand.
"In the rush of modern life, we tend to lose touch with the peace that is available in each moment."
All those years ago, I had lost my peace. In fact, I didn't know how, in the midst of a crazy busy life, peace was even possible. Chronic illness and anxiety had taken over. My life felt completely unmanageable. Yet reading Thay's words again and again created an opening and somehow, miraculously, the light broke through and healing began.
Relief poured in from the simplest of teachings:
You only have to do one thing at a time.
This teaching sounded incredulous to me. The relief it brought was remarkable and many tears flowed. This concept--doing just one thing with full and present attention—marked the beginning of my (now) nearly 30-year-journey with mindfulness.
Lately, I've been returning to one of his most well-known Gathas. It holds a potent invitation for me, for living in these times when presence for one's deep self may be difficult to access. There is so much that can pull us away from our innate peace.
Breathing in, I calm my body
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment,
I know this is a wonderful moment.
I understand during times that feel chaotic and uncertain, breathing out with a smile might be difficult. Even more challenging might be embracing this moment--just as it is—as a wonderful moment. But I do it anyway. You can too.
Why is this moment wonderful? Because we are awake, we are here, we are alive. What a gift it is to be alive! Thay writes:
“People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don't even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child—our own two eyes. All is a miracle.”
This morning I engaged in a lovely practice: honoring Thay's invitation to be fully present on the earth with peace in my heart, no matter what is happening in the world. I sit with a photo of one of his works of calligraphy. I randomly open the book I've chosen to any page and allow its ambient message to flow through me. Today, it was this:
I've adopted "meditation calligraphy practice" for many reasons but key among them is to stay close to Thay's wisdom even though he has made his transition from this earth. Since his passing I feel his presence and the impact of his teachings more than ever. It is as if, in his death, his essence exploded into a trillion rose petals floating through the atmosphere, showering us with loving presence and compassion. Indeed, it is a miracle to be alive, to be the recipient of this. And, hopefully, to pay the transmission forward.
May it be so for you. May Love hold us all ...
Perhaps, like me, you do things in seasons. I'm not an avid journaler, for example, but I do engage in it when the time is right—in a certain season of life when some aspect of my life or inner being needs attention. Or while on retreat.
A spiritual practice can be like that. We may not have the self-discipline to do it everyday, but if we listen deeply to the voice of intuition, or to those subtle urgings of Spirit, we find ourselves magnetically drawn back to it. The deeper, truer part of us (soul? essence? God-self?) knows what we need to connect with That which will enable us to connect to the truth of our being.
This winter, as the snow falls and frigid temps keep me inside, I have taken to a classic spiritual practice in the early hours of the morning: devotional reading and "journaling lite." I've returned to an old classic, translated by one of our worldly wisdom guides. I read just a small section each day and sit with it, ponder it, let it roll through my heart-mind like gossamer rays of sunlight, illuminating that which needs to be seen. Then, I choose just a few words or lines to capture the wisdom of the moment and record it in the narrow spaces of a day planner. That's it.
Taking in just enough to satisfy, small bites, to savor and enjoy. For me, this is an act of Presence. Discarding the notion (and tendency) to gobble up information (even divine wisdom) and quickly swallow to call it "good." Or engaging in a spiritual practice half-heartedly so we can check it off our To-Do List. Presence, in this way, is cultivated by going slowly and taking our time; creating space for ourselves to sit and take pleasure in the process.
Presence involves a generosity to self that is not selfish by any means, but an invitation to being with ourself in simple, kindly ways that nourish wholeness.
It's not too late to begin again, to launch (or relaunch!) a gentle morning practice of Presence through gentle spiritual engagement, welcoming that which wants to make itself known to you.
Every day offers a new beginning. With the dawn, comes the opportunity to begin again. Just as the sun rises each day, creating a unique and breathtaking panorama, so can you paint a fresh and brilliant day for yourself.
A Guided Meditation
A Peaceful Pause for New Beginnings (3 min.)
I've been pondering this post for a while now. Actually, I have been in discernment for months about how to best focus my energies and heart in terms of my work in the world, my heath and well-being, my relationships and, most importantly, my relationship with the Divine. I was surprised to see that my last post here was in April!
The pandemic caused many of us to redirect our life's focus. For me, the pandemic offered a unique opportunity to get "off the road." Staying home for this extended period of time revealed some very interesting (and timely!) things. In my case, the "quieting" (as my friend Sr. Ann calls it) was just what my soul needed to get clear about my habits, as well as my heart's desires.
I don't use the word "soul" lightly here. Its use is purposeful. Being home and staying home was an act of genuine soul care for me. You see, I have been teaching and traveling—public speaking, leading programs and retreats--traveling, traveling, since 1985 when two of my three children were very young (and one was not even born yet). It feels as if I have been "on the road" forever. The pandemic helped me create space for the awareness that I am weary of traveling and have been deeply nourished by being home, and leading a more contemplative life.
I've also been a care-taking partner for two of my dear ones for the last 18 years. Yes, I am one of the "Sandwich Generation," helping to provide compassionate care and support for a parent and a child at the same time. Had this been wearying me? The pandemic affirmed my inner "yes."
But it wasn't until I gave myself the gift of genuine presence in the form of a 5-day silent retreat in June that the call to engage even more deeply with silence and solitude in my everyday life became crystal clear. This gentle week of resting in my inner being with the Sacred—walking, listening to bird song, watching the clouds move across the sky, the waves dance along the shore—all offered deep restoration. And it brought much-needed clarity.
Sunset and a moonrise along the shores of Little Traverse Bay
I spoke with my spiritual director at the retreat about this. She affirmed what my soul was saying. I have a monastic heart. I am deeply nourished by solitude and silence. I am healthier and I also serve others better when I am truly invested in my contemplative life. I require large doses of nature for grounding and restoration. She also validated the truth of what Ram Dass had told me a few years ago: "Jan, you need to be more "in" than "out."
Since the retreat, I have continued to listen deeply and to honor what I am hearing. I have continued to make discernments about how to honor my "inner monk" (as author Beverly Lanzetta speaks of it) and, at the same time, how to continue to do the work in the world that I am called to do. This fall, I will begin sharing more about this journey with you through new offerings about stillness, silence, and the contemplative life.
I will be "at home" doing this and not on the road. For now, I sense my road warrior days might be over. I turn 68-years-old this week. I'm attending my 50th high school reunion soon. Life feels fleeting and time passes so quickly. I see the end of the trail as never before. And like many others today, I want more than ever to live each day of my life with meaning and purpose; honoring true self; honoring how the Divine lives and breathes through me; engaging my desire to be of service in this world; living with Peace, with Joy. In Love with All of it.
May it be so for me. May it be so for you if this is your heart's desire too. I am glad we are journeying together.
Shalom, Peace, Om Shanti,
For me, the ability to hold presence for oneself and for others is firmly rooted in good self-care. If my self-care is in place, it's much more likely that I will feel calm and centered, and better able to hold presence for someone else. When I've not taken good care of myself I am impatient, crabby, and easily exhausted. Does this sound familiar?
During this time of pandemic, and in this strange time of what I call "re-entry," it's difficult to know what is the right thing to do; what is the best thing to do. This can cause ongoing feelings of distress. 'Do I stay in or venture out?' 'Do I meet up with my friends like I used to, or do I continue to stay away from social gatherings?'
No matter what your answers to these questions might be, beneath them all remains the need to continue to ground yourself in good self-care practices. It's vital that we stay faithful to what nourishes us, keeps our minds calm, and our hearts open.
I read this article today and felt it contained such good, basic information about self-care that I wanted to pass it along to you.
Even if you don't have strong indicators of depression or anxiety, the 10 practices cited here can help you feel stronger, steadier, more present.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that, for the most part, I have been staying faithful to these practices. Of course, there's always the off day, but I do notice that I've maintained my equilibrium most of the time the last 14 months. I even took journaling back up a while ago. It felt good to put pen to paper and write about what I was feeling and experiencing. I talk to my spiritual director every month. I get solid sleep, try to eat healthy, go for brisk walks, and color (my hobby). I prioritize getting out in nature. (I have to engage in personal hygiene because I am on Zoom a lot!) I do not drink. I try to be mindful in all that I do. Mindfulness, very truthfully, has been my saving grace since 1994. Without it, I am prone to anxiety and worry.
I share these thoughts with you not because I am trying to get it all right, but because I have found that these 10 things really do work to keep us well and fully present—especially when life is difficult.
When you look at the list of 10, what do you notice? What are you doing well? What could be improved upon?
Let's remember that we can make wise choices moment by moment, and that at any time we can begin again. Let us be patient and gentle with ourselves as we do. After all, practice makes progress! And all of these things combined help us be more present to ourselves and capable of offering presence to others -- which is a very wise and loving thing to do in today's fragile world.
I was digging through some files today and found a series of videos I created a few years back on "Peaceful Transitions." Ironically, perhaps this work is even more valuable today for we are all living in a time of profound transition.
What is familiar is gone. What is new is unfamiliar and uncomfortable, likely unwanted. The future is not unforeseeable with things as they are and everything feels uncertain. Transitions can be rough.
In times of transition, I believe our contemplative (spiritual) practices can hold us. They can provide comfort and insight. Staying faithful to them can feel as if we are holding on to the tiller of our boat as we navigate the stormy seas of life just a little more firmly. These practices keep us steady. They are also a powerful way to hold presence for ourselves.
Today, I'd like to share one of the videos from this series. I introduce a favorite contemplative practice--Lectio Divina (modified version). In this video, I use a poem for our reflection, and one that can bring an invitation to look deeply into the nature of any personal transition we might be experiencing. I hope you find this practice meaningful.
(The poem cited is featured below.)
Poem by Juan Ramon Jimenez - "Oceans"
I have a feeling that my boat
has struck, down there in the depths,
against a great thing.
--Nothing happens? Or has everything happened,
and are we standing now, quietly, in the new life?
I don't know anyone who doesn't wish to be more loving. A loving attitude is difficult to access, however, if we are being assailed by other emotions, especially those that we might deem negative.
Today, I share a Guided Practice with you that can help you turn your attention away from difficult emotions to refocus on the love that lives in you and can be transmitted through you. I call it "Leaning into Love." Attending well to our emotional selves is an attribute of Presence. Taking good care of ourselves—our moods, thoughts and feelings—ultimately enables us to be more present and loving toward others.
I hope you find it helpful. (Mp3 is 5 min. long.)
Sometime, if you’re fortunate, you’ll come across a string of well-intentioned words that not only turn your head, but have the power to turn your life around. In 2007, I ran into one such strand.
I was reading, Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Path of Happiness, by meditation teacher, Sharon Salzberg. I was keen on learning more about a blessing practice called metta, a Pali word, for “unconditional friendliness.” It is sourced in Buddhist tradition, yet versions of it are found in many spiritual traditions, including Judaism and Celtic Christianity. It is an inter-spiritual practice that supports all theologies. One of the chapters opened with a portion of a poem by Galway Kinnell:
stands for all things,
even for those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing.
As I read it, a chord of recognition quivered in my throat. I was much in need of self-blessing! You see, as a born nurturer, someone prone to give and give, I rarely took time to turn goodwill toward myself. As a result, I often felt parched and depleted, my own fault, of course. Reading about the notion of self-blessing was like finding a cool pool from which to drink in the middle of a desert. I knew immediately I must dedicate myself to the practice of metta. It would be healing. I would flower. I also knew that the love I so desperately needed to show myself would flow out to others when my own well was suitably replenished. There was no sense of selfishness, only self-awareness that would allow me to be more present to others by being present to myself.
In time, self-blessing became my oasis. Placing my hand upon my heart, I breathed slowly and rhythmically, pacing my breath with the phrases of metta, offering them to myself first:
May I be safe.
May I be strong.
May I be happy.
May I be peaceful and at ease.
The phrases served me well over the next few months. I repeated them several times a day at pivotal moments. They were quite the prescription: calming my too-busy mind and reducing heart-racing anxiety. Repeating the phrases also softened my emotions, expanded my feelings toward myself, and gave me permission to be with myself in a kind, nonjudgmental way. This is one of the miracles of metta: as we say the phrases to ourselves, we get to notice all of our stories and excuses, the way we fool ourselves, shedding light on our wounds, and, ultimately, engaging in self-forgiveness and healing.
This generous act of blessing organically opened the doors of my heart toward others too. I began to feel softer towards them, more understanding, patient and kind. I could more clearly see how we all struggle with a Pandora’s box of inner ailments and outward challenges. Self-compassion and compassion grew in me like a well-tended flower.
When we adopt the whole of this contemplative practice, extending the phrases of goodwill to five categories of others (benefactors, loved ones, strangers, difficult people, all beings and creatures), goodwill begins to flow like a river. With ongoing metta practice, our judgments and expectations of others are illuminated. Metta is a powerful tool for undoing anything that has limited our ability to love.
In the end, when we offer the phrases of blessing to sentient beings everywhere, we realize that we are all connected in a great web of being-ness. We are all trying to be happy. We are all trying to find our way "home." We are more alike than dissimilar. We are actually one body.
What Galway Kinnell wrote was true: “everything flowers from within, of self-blessing.” Indeed, a universal garden of compassionate humans can bloom, one tender bud at a time. Blessing ourselves and others is a supremely kind (and healing) thing to do.
A Self-Blessing Practice:
Place your hand on your heart. See if you can receive your own goodwill right now. How does this feel? Are you experiencing any resistance blessing yourself in this way? Do thoughts of selfishness arise? Rest assured that blessing yourself is not an act of self- absorption, but a way to calm and soothe your overworked mind and heart.
©2018, Janice L. Lundy
Excerpted from Living Gently with Myself: A 30-Day Guidebook by Janice L. Lundy. Heart to Heart Press, 2018.
The other day my daughter shared with me an exercise that was given to her in a healing group she was attending. The question was: "What is your Super Power and can you draw it?"
I loved this question and I was curious what her Super Power would be. She sent me her drawing in response.
Of course, I was so touched by her drawing. It felt precious to me and deeply tender. But instead of interpreting it for myself, I asked her to tell me what her Super Power was.
"Compassion" was her answer. My heart skipped a bit because I felt genuinely happy that this is how she perceives herself; as someone who is skilled at not only feeling compassionate, but able to offer compassion to others. Needless to say, this was a Proud Mama moment.
When it comes to Presence, what would you say your Super Power is? Is it Patience, Humility, Loving-Kindness, Deep Listening, or some other Virtue of the Spirit? Perhaps it's Compassion like my daughter. I am still pondering mine. Right now I think it's Equanimity—staying steady in these times of global challenge.
Whatever your answer, may your Super Power continue to rise and shine so all your interactions with others are of the healing kind.
a calm, open-hearted space of welcome & service.
I'm glad you're here. Welcome to this space of exploration, deepening understanding & the practice of presence across traditions.
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Janice Lynne Lundy, DMin, MPC
is an educator, interspiritual director/guide, and retreat leader who has been pointing people back toward the Sacred for more than twenty-five 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.