Loneliness epidemic.

Loneliness is an epidemic. That heart to heart connection with others, our world, our communities is lost as we race from one To Do to the next. Superficial greetings take the place of deep conversation, and we substitute more for better.

When was the last time you felt truly heard by another person–not heard so they could diagnose you or give you instructions for how to do better–but heard as though someone paused to notice the real you, the deep down you?

When was the last time you paused to consider another person, not as a means to an end on your own journey, but as a person with their own dreams and heart desires, their own wants and needs, their own untold story hoping to be heard?

When was the last time you paused to consider the world around you, from the beauty of nature to the miracle of your own next breath?

Perhaps our loneliness epidemic would be eased if we all were to slow down and notice each other, pause to realize we are here for each other,  and be vulnerable enough to allow ourselves to see and be seen.

Mary Oliver’s poems open us in so many ways– to nature, to each other, to our own hidden places. Perhaps this one on loneliness will speak to you today:

Loneliness

When loneliness comes stalking, go into the fields, consider
the orderliness of the world. Notice
something you have never noticed before,

like the tambourine sound of the snow-cricket
whose pale green body is no longer than your thumb.

Stare hard at the hummingbird, in the summer rain,
shaking the water-sparks from its wings.

Let grief be your sister, she will whether or not.
Rise up from the stump of sorrow, and be green also,
like the diligent leaves.

A lifetime isn’t long enough for the beauty of this world
and the responsibilities of your life.

Scatter your flowers over the graves, and walk away.
Be good-natured and untidy in your exuberance.

In the glare of your mind, be modest.
And beholden to what is tactile, and thrilling.

Live with the beetle, and the wind.

~ Mary Oliver ~

From Shari: what have you noticed today that helps you feel connected?

The groans of your heart.

Sometimes it is hard to know what to pray for. Things are uncertain, feelings so complex, emotions so raw. Words may fail you. But yet you yearn to reach out to God and ask for help. For you, for those you love, for the world. Please help.

It is in times like these when we don’t need words. God will hear the longing in our heart.

“The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” Romans 8:26.

You don’t need words. You don’t need to figure out if you’re feeling anger, grief, frustration, desperation. You just want God to keep you safe. Open your heart. God will hear its groanings.

For an inspiring prayer sung by a father-daughter duo, take a moment to savor this.

https://youtu.be/cqFCbtRz1Z0

It’s OK to struggle.

Sometimes life is hard. Really hard. Relationships falter. Obstacles seem insurmountable. And just getting to the next day feels overwhelming. At times like these, we have to remember that it is OK to struggle.

We don’t have to be perfect. We do not need to have all the answers. Sometimes all we have are questions. But that is often a good place to start. And then we begin again, one foot in front of the other, perhaps not seeing the whole path ahead, but just enough to know where to put each foot.

“Just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Uncomfortable? Yes. Exhausting and overwhelming and painfully hard? Yes. But not impossible. And it won’t necessarily feel this difficult and debilitating forever. You’ve made it through similar hard things before. You’ve survived every single bad day and every obstacle the universe has ever thrown at you. You’ve survived all the things you felt convinced would break you. Every single one. And this is evidence that you can make it through this too.

“You don’t have to figure everything out today. You don’t have to solve your whole life tonight. And you don’t have to tackle everything at once. You just have to show up and try. You just have to focus on the most immediate thing in front of you. And you have to trust that you’ll figure out the rest along the way. It’s okay to struggle. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed. And its okay to make mistakes. You’re still learning how to navigate this new path. It’s going to take time, and you’re allowed to give yourself that time. You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to get all A’s or be the best version of yourself or outperform everyone else. All you have to do is show up and try. It’s always been enough before. It will be enough this time too.”

— Daniell Koepke

Here’s to you finding the light to take that next step, and then the next and the next, until your path leads you out of this present darkness. It is OK to struggle.

Consider the birds.

silence

Consider the birds. They have so much to teach us. They sing; they fly; they soar. When the storm is over, they come out and sing, fly, and soar again. They vary dramatically from the tiny hummingbird to the great bald eagle, but they have so much in common. And, when we are quiet, they remind us to look up, to look to the future and the possibility that lies there. It turns out considering the birds is good for our well-being, keeping depression at bay.

Be still and notice the birds. Do you see the vulture with its huge wings soaring above you? Do you hear the hawk shriek?  Do you see the crows tuck in their wings and dive to open them again and rise only after you gasp, worried?

Watch the little sparrows bathe in a puddle, delighting in the way the water splashes around them. Listen to them sing.

They sing for you.

Stay curious.

catwindow

Curiosity is a powerful motivator. It keeps us searching, questioning, wondering, hoping. It keeps us engaged in life. Think of all the things you have left to learn, the places yet to see, the surprises yet to unfold. Sometimes our best days and moments follow our absolute worst.  There is always something next.

Choose kindness.

kindgesture

So much of our suffering is invisible. Loneliness, sorrow, depression, not fitting in. We can bind up our own cuts and scrapes, but how do we bind up those kind of wounds?

There is an old parable about heaven and hell. In both, people are forced to eat with spoons that are too long to feed themselves. In hell, they are starving. In heaven, they feed each other.

When it comes to these invisible hurts, we are healed by kindness, one to another. We don’t know when we are being kind that it may help someone, but it certainly can’t hurt. And it may be just the long-spooned nourishment that someone else needs.

To inspire acts of kindness today, watch this video of a poor baby elephant stuck in a muddy hole. The gratitude its mother shows its rescuers will melt your heart.

 

Give yourself a break.

yourself

If one of your friends were struggling with the problems you are facing right now, what words would you offer in support? Would you call them names, berate them, remind them of all the other times they messed up just like this and how, honestly, can they ever expect to get anything right, ever?

Probably not. Right? But often this is the way we talk to ourselves. We replay all our other mistakes in our minds, call ourselves stupid, sink into our shells scared to face the world.

But why do we do this? If the words we would offer our friend are what we think would help, why are we so reticent to speak kind encouraging words to ourselves? Maybe today is a good day to try a different approach.

Be a kind friend to yourself. Offer yourself words of support and encouragement. Focus on all the many times you got things right. Tell yourself the truth: you are precious and beloved.

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

Get dirty.

 

futuregardenThe daffodils are coming. Planted last fall–before the snow, before the holidays, before the divisive American election– they are starting to poke up. Soon they will be blooming everywhere adding cheer to the lives of whomever might see them.

A garden is a microcosm of life. Seasons of vibrance and beauty fall away into a frozen landscape seemingly devoid of color. But then, maybe when you’ve almost forgotten, there is blossoming and rebirth.

Gardeners and children know something that many of us have forgotten: there is joy in the dirt.

Literally.

It turns out, “Prozac may not be the only way to get rid of your serious blues. Soil microbes have been found to have similar effects on the brain and are without side effects and chemical dependency potential.”

Studies show the benefits gardeners and children will swear by of playing in the dirt are actually based on science.

It’s true. Mycobacterium vaccae is the substance under study and has indeed been found to mirror the effect on neurons that drugs like Prozac provide. The bacterium is found in soil and may stimulate serotonin production, which makes you relaxed and happier. Studies were conducted on cancer patients and they reported a better quality of life and less stress. Lack of serotonin has been linked to depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and bipolar problems. The bacterium appears to be a natural antidepressant in soil and has no adverse health effects. These antidepressant microbes in soil may be as easy to use as just playing in the dirt.

So go ahead. Get dirty.