I've long believed that each season of the year holds a unique invitation for our soul life. I am blessed to live in a location where four magical seasons can be enjoyed. Right now, Autumn is calling and each day brings unexpected changes. This is one of the Soul Invitations of Fall--change. Others are letting go, trust and surrender.
All we have to do to witness this soul call in action is open our eyes to see what is unfolding before us. As the leaves of the trees turn from verdant green to bright orange, red or gold, we observe how naturally they accept and adapt to changing conditions. In time, we see them grow brittle, release from branches, and float on the wind to their next destination. Letting go, trust and surrender poignantly played out in the kaleidoscope of nature.
Today, may you take a few moments to look and listen deeply. As you gaze upon nature's beauty, consider how the current season might be calling you. What soul invitation may be yours this Autumn?
Come away with me, says Mother Nature. Live here in this place of timeless beauty and possibility. This is who you really are. Do you see yourself in my creation? The beauty that surrounds you is a reflection of the beauty within you. You are mine and I am yours. Let us enjoy and delight in one another.
Excerpted from This Sacred Moment. Subscribe here.
In 1994, when I discovered the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, I felt such relief, like I could breath again. It was his focus on slowing down, looking and listening deeply, that shifted how I perceive the world.
What did this mean for me? Looking deeply meant seeing things in their unique form and appreciating them. An example would be watching a sunset; truly seeing it in all its majesty and savoring it. Allowing its essence to touch your inner being. When we are moving too quickly and a sunset comes into view, we might say, "Oh, how pretty," and move on to the next thing. We might even check it off our mental "Good-To-Do" list—Sunset, check!
As I walk I try to bring my full presence to the experience. I want to look deeply and appreciate all that is before me. As Thich Nhat Hanh taught, "When you walk, just walk." But I also intend to savor and appreciate what I see because it enriches my connection to the world around me. If someone were to ask me where I consistently feel connected to the Sacred, I would tell them it is through nature.
As you move through your world today, how can you look deeply? Really see what is in front of you and bring your presence to it—your heartfulness and appreciation too. Notice how this makes you feel and consider how it just might be a "God wink." Or Something inviting you deeper. The Sacred is all around us if we have the eyes to perceive It and the heart to receive It.
Today, may you experience the world with Sacred Vision.
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.
I'm surprised at how often I remember the character, "Roseanna Danna", played by Gilda Radner on the TV show Saturday Night Live? Her wise-mouthed mantra was, “It’s always something!” It's true! It IS always something, something that will yank us out of any sweet spot of serenity we’ve found. Such is the nature of life as a human being.
The "something" that upsets our equanimity can be big or small, seemingly trivial or completely life-altering. As I read through headline news these days, it feels as if there are more somethings than ever before. At least that's what my anxiety prone mind tells me. In truth, life has always been difficult for humans for as long as we've inhabited the earth. Violence is ever-present and the suffering it creates as well. Sickness, old age, and death are but a blink away.
With all these somethings going on, how can we stay in touch with a more balanced state of mind, our wise and hopeful heart? For me, it always comes back to re-connecting with my breath. This breath is not just any breath but, to me, a sacred breath. Breathing in, breathing out, with "restful purposefulness" welcomes me Home.
These days, I am engaging with my breath in this welcoming way as if each breath I take actually whispers "Welcome back" into the ear of my heart. The tone of this wise voice is sweet, full of loving-kindness, ever so gentle. It comes from a part of my own self that recognizes how other parts of me have wandered too far afield and how they long for a loving embrace.
Breathing in, "Welcome back. I am glad you're here."
Breathing out, "Rest in this moment."
Breathing in, "Welcome back. You are home."
Breathing out, "Let go and simply be here now."
What words of welcome might your inner wisdom whisper into the ear of your heart?
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?
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, PsyD, DMin, MPC
is an interspiritual director/guide, educator and counselor who has been pointing people back toward the Sacred for nearly thirty years. She is the author of several spiritual growth books, including My Deepest Me; Your Truest Self; and Portable Peace. She is the co-founder and co-director of the Spiritual Guidance Training Institute.