Talk softly.

There is no one right way to get through a pandemic. Perhaps you’ve seen social posts suggesting you write a book, paint your house, or finish some other huge project. And some people do respond to stress by throwing themselves into activity. (And, apparently, love to post about it.) But others don’t. And that’s ok. We are each unique and need to listen to our own hearts and bodies to figure out what self-care looks like right now. Perhaps it’s enjoying tea, watching the sunset, reading a good book, or cleaning out a closet. Perhaps it is being still. Perhaps it is taking a break from social media to enjoy some introspective time. There are as many answers as there are people asking the question, ‘How can I best care for myself right now?’ Listen to yourself, and be gentle with yourself. This is tough.

Spring is still on.

Patience is tough. But even in the most aggravating times of waiting, nature keeps going and sends us messages of hope. Dead looking trees budding, flowers blossoming, birds singing and looking for places to build their nests. Warmth seeping back into the frigid ground.

Spring hasn’t been cancelled.

Hold on.

Reaching out

What are we here for anyway? What’s the point? Some people joke, ‘Life is hard, and then you die’, and there’s some truth to that. We are finite. We struggle. But there is purpose to life, and it lies in what we do for others. Andre Agassi says,

“Remember this. Hold on to this. This is the only perfection there is, the perfection of helping others. This is the only thing we can do that has any lasting value or meaning. This is why we’re here.”

Others joke ‘The one who dies with the most toys wins,’ but those things we do purely for ourselves are vanity. Instead, when we use our gifs and talents to reach out and help others, we’ve upped the good in the world. We’ve made a difference.

Though isolated, each of us has the ability to reach out. Phone calls, cards, texts, care packages. Others need to hear from you. They need to know someone cares. And you need to know you care about others. If you have extra, you can share. If you are going to the store, you can pick up something for someone who can’t go out. So many ways to help. And in the helping, we help ourselves as well.

Surprise!

How much do our expectations get in the way of our gratefulness? If we were expecting nothing, would our eyes open more to all the gifts we receive each day. Brother David Steindhal-Rast explores just this link between surprise and gratitude:

Have you ever noticed how your eyes open a bit wider when you are surprised? It is as if you had been asleep, merely day-dreaming or sleepwalking through some routine activity, and you hear your favorite tune on the radio, or look up from the puddles on the parking lot and see a rainbow, or the telephone rings and it’s the voice of an old friend, and all of a sudden you’re awake. Even an unwelcome surprise shakes us out of complacency and makes us come alive. We may not like it at first, but looking back, we can always recognize it as a gift. Humdrum equals deadness; surprise equals life. In fact, my favorite name for the One I worship in wonder – the only name that does not limit God – is Surprise.

Right this moment, as I remember spiritual giants I have been privileged to meet – Mother Teresa, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, His Holiness the Dalai Lama – I can still feel the life energy they radiated. But how did they come by this vitality? There is no lack of surprises in this world, but such radiant aliveness is rare. What I observed was that these people were all profoundly grateful, and then I understood the secret.

Surprise is a seed. Gratefulness sprouts when we rise to the challenge of surprise

A surprise does not make us automatically alive. Aliveness is a matter of give-and-take, of response. If we allow surprise to merely baffle us, it will stun us and stunt our growth. Instead, every surprise is a challenge to trust in life and so to grow. Surprise is a seed. Gratefulness sprouts when we rise to the challenge of surprise. The great ones in the realm of Spirit are so intensely alive because they are so deeply grateful.

Gratefulness can be improved by practice. But where shall beginners begin? The obvious starting point is surprise. You will find that you can grow the seeds of gratefulness just by making room. If surprise happens when something unexpected shows up, let’s not expect anything at all. Let’s follow Alice Walker’s advice. “Expect nothing. Live frugally on surprise.”

To expect nothing may mean not taking for granted that your car will start when you turn the key. Try this and you will be surprised by a marvel of technology worthy of sincere gratitude. Or you may not be thrilled by your job, but if for a moment you can stop taking it for granted, you will taste the surprise of having a job at all, while millions are unemployed. If this makes you feel a flicker of gratefulness, you’ll be a little more joyful all day, a little more alive.

Once we stop taking things for granted our own bodies become some of the most surprising things of all.

Once we stop taking things for granted our own bodies become some of the most surprising things of all. It never ceases to amaze me that my body both produces and destroys 15 million red blood cells every second. Fifteen million! That’s nearly twice the census figure for New York City. I am told that the blood vessels in my body, if lined up end to end, would reach around the world. Yet my heart needs only one minute to pump my blood through this filigree network and back again. It has been doing so minute by minute, day by day, for the past 75 years and still keeps pumping away at 100,000 heartbeats every 24 hours. Obviously this is a matter of life and death for me, yet I have no idea how it works and it seems to work amazingly well in spite of my ignorance.

I do not know how my eyes adapt, yet when I chant by candlelight they are 100,000 times more sensitive to light than when I read outdoors on the porch at noon. I wouldn’t know how to give instructions to the 35 million digestive glands in my stomach for digesting one single strawberry; fortunately, they know how to do their job without my advice. When I think of this as I sit down to eat, my heart brims with gratefulness.

From the humble starting point of daily surprises, the practice of gratefulness leads to these transcendent heights.

In those moments, I can identify with the Psalmist who cried out in amazement, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Ps.139:14) From there it is only a small step to seeing the whole universe and every smallest part of it as surprising. From the humble starting point of daily surprises, the practice of gratefulness leads to these transcendent heights. Thomas Carlyle pointed to these peaks of spiritual awareness when he wrote, “Worship is transcendent wonder” – transcendent surprise.

Surprise is a seed; let it sprout and blossom today to color your life with gratitude.

Embracing our inner child and our inner crone.

In an interview with Oprah, Elizabeth Gilbert talks about her Inner Crone — a version of herself old, happy, and well past the point of fear — that she pictures when she needs a shot of courage. She considers her Inner Crone to be “a badass old lady who already dwells somewhere deep within [her] and whom [she] hope[s] to fully become someday.” Picturing her Inner Crone gives Gilbert gumption.

But she also remembers her Inner Child, and pictures that child particularly when she is feeling depressed or hard on herself:

Many years ago when I was going through a dark season of depression and self-loathing, I taped a sweet photograph of myself at the tender age of 2 on my bathroom mirror. Looking at that photo every day reminded me that I once was this blameless little person, deserving of all tenderness–and that part of me would always be this blameless little person deserving of all tenderness. Meditating upon a smaller and more innocent version of my face helped me to learn to be more compassionate to myself. I was finally able to recognize that any harm I inflicted on me, I was also inflicting on her. And that little kid clearly didn’t deserve to be harmed.

We could all benefit from picturing our Inner Child when we are being hard on ourselves. Would you criticize that little child the way you are criticizing yourself now, or would you be more patient and encouraging? Would you demand perfection from that child, or would you celebrate progress? If you were wounded by adults when you were a child, you now are an adult who can support that little child in a healing way.

Think back. Can you remember that Inner Child who is still a part of you? The joy and exuberance, enthusiasm and trust, innocence and promise? No matter how far you’ve come from that start, treat yourself with kindness, patience, and compassion. That Inner Child is alive and well…and trusts you.

Stay brave

There are so many ways to be brave. Doing something that needs to be done even though you’re scared. And not doing something everyone else is doing when it feels wrong. Standing up for yourself or others. Speaking out against injustice when it would be so much easier to stay quiet. Facing a tough diagnosis with hope and patience. Being there for someone when they are hurting. Each of these experiences is the right thing to do in a less than wonderful situation.

What is your idea of being brave?

Sending love and encouragement to anyone going through a less than wonderful time right now.

Grief, that’s what it is

We are grieving, collectively, the world over, all of us. Grieving the past we’ve lost and the loss of the future we expected. Things will be forever different for us. There are stages to this grief, and we will all experience it differently. But it is in acceptance where we will find the ability to process it and move forward into an uncertain future. This is our now. This is what we have to work with.

In this excellent article on grief, David Kessler shares his thoughts on what we are all going through:

“Yes, we’re also feeling anticipatory grief. Anticipatory grief is that feeling we get about what the future holds when we’re uncertain. Usually it centers on death. We feel it when someone gets a dire diagnosis or when we have the normal thought that we’ll lose a parent someday. Anticipatory grief is also more broadly imagined futures. There is a storm coming. There’s something bad out there. With a virus, this kind of grief is so confusing for people. Our primitive mind knows something bad is happening, but you can’t see it. This breaks our sense of safety. We’re feeling that loss of safety. I don’t think we’ve collectively lost our sense of general safety like this. Individually or as smaller groups, people have felt this, but all together this is new. We are grieving on a micro and a macro level.”

The article is well worth a read, as it helps us put the issues we face now in perspective and give voice to our feelings. He states:

“Understanding the stages of grief is a start. But whenever I talk about the stages of grief, I have to remind people that the stages aren’t linear and may not happen in this order. It’s not a map but it provides some scaffolding for this unknown world. There’s denial, which we say a lot of early on: This virus won’t affect us. There’s anger: You’re making me stay home and taking away my activities. There’s bargaining: Okay, if I social distance for two weeks everything will be better, right? There’s sadness: I don’t know when this will end. And finally there’s Acceptance. This is happening; I have to figure out how to proceed.

“Acceptance, as you might imagine, is where the power lies. We find control in acceptance. I can wash my hands. I can keep a safe distance. I can learn how to work virtually.”

Sometimes dealing with a problem begins with naming it. Grief, that’s what it is. Have compassion on yourself and others. This is hard.

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

Happy St. Patrick’s Day

An Irish blessing for St. Patrick’s Day.

And another:

May there always be work for your hands to do
May your purse always hold a coin or two;
May the sun always shine on your windowpane;
May a rainbow be certain to follow each rain;
May the hand of a friend always be near you;
May God fill your heart with gladness to cheer you.

And one more for the road:

May the blessing of light be upon you,
Light on the outside,
Light on the inside.

With God’s sunlight shining on you,
May your heart glow with warmth,
Like a turf fire
that welcomes friends and strangers alike.

May the light of the Lord shine from your eyes,
Like a candle in the window,
Welcoming the weary traveller.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!