SLOWING DOWN

The idea of slowing down has intrigued me for some time. For years, life felt too busy and internally I often felt restless and discontent.I had the privilege of choosing to work part time instead of full time, which allowed me time and space to think about my priorities, a luxury most are never afforded. Ideas about time, money, relationships, consumerism, food, justice, opportunity, community, health and wellness began to converge. Opportunities to read, listen, learn and engage with others all influenced some
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I can’t necessarily make life slow down but I can choose to rebel against societal norms of always being busy and instead enjoy life. Many of us find ourselves at a unique time and place in history with the current global pandemic. Much of life has slowed down….against our will. This forced slowing down may be causing some anxiety, fear, frustration, sadness, disappointment, etc. Not only are you navigating your own emotions, you are likely dealing with the emotions of family and friends as well. Be kind and gentle with yourself. Let go of pressure and expectations.

Although this time of slowing down has been thrust upon us against our will, I believe there are some things we can do, some positive choices we can make in the midst. Maybe one or two of these ideas will resonate with you.

1. DO LESS– Clearly for many this is already happening. However, it’s likely that if you’ve been stuck at home for a few days, you may have already created a new routine, a daily schedule, trying to keep yourself occupied and productive during quarantine. What would it feel like to make the conscious choice to do less? Focus on what’s really important, what really must be done, and let the rest go. Create space between your appointments/tasks so you can move through your day with more ease and leisure.

2. BE PRESENT– It’s not just enough to slow down and do less, you need to be mindful of whatever you’re doing at the present moment. This is much easier said than done…..but when you find yourself thinking about something that happened in the past or something you’re going to be doing later on, gently bring yourself back to the present. Focus on what’s happening in the present, what you are doing, observe the environment around you, or others you are interacting with. This can be challenging and takes practice.

3. APPRECIATE NATURE– Most of our lives are spent in offices, at jobs and in our homes. This is ever more true right now as many of our cities/states/countries have us staying home to help stop the spread of COVID-19. But there are still ways we can connect with nature. I live in a very urban part of San Diego. I’m fortunate enough to have a beautiful backyard that backs up to a canyon and have always enjoyed sitting outside watching and listening to the birds. But for the last week, it’s a whole new experience. There are no longer construction crews causing noise pollution. I rarely hear sirens or cars of any kind. Various birdsongs fill the air and I hear distant crows from roosters at City Farmers Nursery. Regardless of your surroundings, we can all step outside to feel the warmth of sunshine or the coolness of the breeze. And if all else fails, watch a nature video. Try doing something at least once a day to connect with nature and notice the impact this has.

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4. DISCONNECT– How many of us always have our phone on and accessible? Don’t get me wrong, I’m so grateful for technology, especially at this unique time. It’s a wonderful tool to help us stay connected to those we love. However, there is also the risk of constantly being interrupted by a call/text, the onslaught of information we can access anytime/anywhere and the tendency to be available to everyone all the time. It’s hard to slow down when we’re constantly checking messages, scrolling through Facebook/Instagram and reading news updates. It’s also been proven to increase stress and depression. So why not choose to unplug? Maybe that means turning off your phone for a couple hours each day. Maybe it means only checking the news once a day. Find what works for you. And if this is a subject that interests you, I highly recommend the book Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. And if you’re wanting to support a local bookshop, buy it from Bluestocking Books (they can ship anywhere).

5. BREATHE– Our breath is our greatest asset when it comes to slowing down. When you find yourself stressed out or speeding up, stop, pause and take a deep breath. Take a few. Really be present to your body and feel it filling up with fresh air. Inhale peace and serenity. Exhale all stress and tension. Inhale light and love. Exhale your fears and worries. By paying attention to your breath, you come back to the present moment .

What helps you to slow down? What are some positive things you are noticing or experiencing during this unique time in life? Leave a comment below, your experience may be the encouragement someone needs to hear today.

BODIES

I grew up in a small midwestern town where almost everyone I knew believed in God and most of them went to church. Sunday was the Lord’s Day and if the church doors were open, you were there. That meant twice on Sundays and Wednesday nights too. Potlucks were a monthly ritual that included a lot of casseroles and if you went to the hospital the prayer chain kept everyone informed. Somehow in the midst of these very bodily experiences (gathering for worship, sharing meals and caring for the sick) I acquired a belief system that not only disregarded the body but often viewed it as a liability.

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I am on a journey of reclaiming my understanding, appreciation and celebration of what it means to live in a  human body. My faith continues to inform me and I’m grateful for a tradition that believes and teaches that our bodies are made of dust (the earth) and that we are both body and spirit; equally embodied souls and ensouled bodies, not emphasizing one over the other. We have the unique ability to know upward communion with God, mutual relationship with other  bodies, and a sacramental stewardship with the rest of creation. This gives a unique dignity and worth to the human body. The body is not merely a shell that contains the ‘real’ person; rather, the real person is embodied.

Yoga continues to play a significant part of this reclamation of my body. It invites me to a deeper awareness and appreciation for my body’s many components; my breath, the strength and flexibility of my bones and muscles, the quietness of my mind, the desires and passions of my heart. Yoga helps me to embrace my body and to acknowledge it’s vast capacity as well and its limitations.

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, a Christian Holy Day marking the advent of Lent. Although the service is often characterized as somber, I generally look forward to it. What is more bodily than acknowledging one’s mortality? Rising from one’s seat, walking forward and standing before the priest, one waits. And as ashes make the sign of the cross on my forehead, I hear the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”Ash-Wednesday+1

ASHES

It was 98˚F when we landed in Sydney at 8:30 PM on January 4th, the hottest day to date since the bushfires started months ago. Most of us have seen the images by now, 10 million hectares of land burning (about 17% of the total land mass), animals injured, homes destroyed. It’s overwhelming, devastating really.

We spent two weeks in the land we call our second home. We did not see any wildfires (which were about 50 miles away), though we did see a burnt park in the city (apparently started by fireworks). Some days we could smell smoke and the city was often veiled by a grey haze, impacting air quality.

It is feared that some habitats may never recover. However, in recent days, in some of the worst-affected areas, there are signs of new life. Trees are literally sprouting out of layers of ash. This is good news.

Before arriving in Sydney, we spent 6 days in New Zealand. Since seeing our photo of Te Werahi Beach in 2012, my dad always said that was where he wished to go upon his death.IMG_7766

He continued to make this clear in 2018 when doctors gave him a couple of weeks to live. Although he never said so, I’ve come to believe that his wish was really a gift to me, a way of ensuring that Gary and I would go back to that magical place, that we would continue to travel and experience the world in ways that are meaningful to us but weren’t necessarily to him. And so we did. And for a few hours, I carried that box of ashes on my back. And as I walked, I reflected. I remembered what it was like for seven days to fully take care of my dying dad, to lift him in and out of a wheelchair, to feed him small bites of his favorite ice cream, to wake in the middle of the night to give him his medicine and after his last breath, to clean and dress him for the last time. And as we silently made our way down to the beach, something inside me began to shift. My sorrow and grief were now joined with a deep sense of gratitude.  I’m grateful for the gift of my dad and the privilege of being the one to care for him, to honor his wishes of dying with dignity in his own home.

And as we continued to walk my memories were no longer limited to those long and difficult final days but were instead about the positive qualities and characteristics my dad possessed that I hope to emulate: generosity, perseverance, humility, patience and faithfulness. Gary and I enjoyed a picnic lunch on the beach, told funny stories about my dad as we enjoyed the warm sun and gentle waves. Just before making our way back up the hillside, I took one last walk with my dad out into the water. For the past 17 months my dad’s ashes had been nothing but a reminder of his death. But at Te Werahi Beach they also became a symbol of hope, hope that death does not have the final say, that out of ashes, there will be signs of new life.

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GRATITUDE

I’m guessing we’ve all been there…witnessing an epic meltdown because a child has been told, “no.” One minute they’re enjoying a delicious treat, an ice cream, and before the last bite is taken, they are asking for more. So focused on what’s next, they can’t even enjoy what’s right in front of them.

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It does make me wonder….where does this response come from? Maybe kids just want more, are highly unsatisfied or just can’t stand to hear the word “no.” I don’t have children and understand very little about them. However, I wonder…I wonder how much dissatisfaction they witness in the adults around them. I wonder if it’s not just children, but all of us, that are constantly asking, seeking, striving for more, completely unaware of the good things in our midst. How many of us have thought life would be better if……if I just got that promotion, if I had a bigger house or better car, if my family didn’t have this dark secret, if…if…if. Now, don’t misunderstand me, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting or desiring things or even striving for more. I just know that for myself, the more time I spend thinking about the future and all the “ifs,” I find myself more discontent and dissatisfied with what I have.

Unfortunately, what often happens as we focus on the future and what’s next, we completely remove ourselves from the present moment and as a result often miss the immense goodness that’s right in front of us.

I have found that practicing yoga is one of the key ways for me to stay in the present moment. Having time to be still, to focus on my breath and to be present to my mind, body and emotions all contribute to learning to be fully present in the moment. And these practices seem to foster a sense of gratitude, an awareness of so many good things in my life.  So how can we apply these practices off our mats?

  1. Notice when your thoughts go to the future and how it makes you feel. Do these thoughts bring feelings of joy, excitement, hope? Or do they leave you feeling dissatisfied, frustrated or disappointed?
  2. Delay instant gratification. This is a tough one. We live in a world of instant gratification. We have fast food drive thru, Amazon deliveries, constant streaming of tv and movies. It seems everything we could possibly want is available with a push or a swipe. But what if we just hit the pause button? Rather than having a thought or feeling and instantly acting on, what if we just let it sit for a while? We might find that within a few days, we’ve forgotten about it or that with some time we realized it’s not really what we need or want.
  3. Be intentional about being grateful. Practice gratitude by expressing the goodness in your current situation. This could be by making a list (a gratitude journal perhaps) or even just sharing with someone else something you are grateful for. Studies show the presence of gratitude in our lives helps us manage and cope with illness and mental stress, improving our overall health.

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So what’s one thing you are grateful for? Share in the comments. You could be a source of encouragement to someone else.

LET GO

The autumn equinox was just a few weeks ago and although in San Diego we don’t experience the change of seasons like other parts of the country, there have been slight shifts: shorter days and longer nights, cooler mornings and evenings. All of this has me thinking about transitions.  I don’t know about you, but transitions are hard for me. Change is hard. Even if the change is positive, the process can be difficult. Seasonal shifts are nature’s way of reminding us to pay attention. While it may seem obvious to adjust our outer lives to acclimate to changing weather, we often forget the necessary internal shift when seasons change.

By aligning ourselves with nature, we help ourselves live the path of least resistance. By tuning into our body and spirit, it’s not too difficult to notice an inner calling to “shed,” to let go, during this autumn season.  Look at the trees, colors start to turn and the dead leaves begin to fall away. The trees do not fight to hold on to the leaves but let them go. And after a time of rest, new growth begins to emerge. Fall is a great time to slow down, turn inward and reflect. What is serving you well right now? For me it’s time in my garden, my yoga practice, reading good books and walks with friends. What is not serving your highest good? I’m currently wasting too much time online and procrastinating some worthwhile projects.

I often say in my yoga classes, “Let go of what no longer serves you.” I encourage you to take some time and really think about how you might apply this philosophical idea to your life. With Fall on your side, consider ways you might shed your “dead leaves” this time of year:

  • Forgive someone. Let go of resentment.
  • Let go of your thoughts and feelings of insecurity. Replace them with positive affirmations
  • Simplify your schedule. Shed excessive socializing and over-scheduling. Prioritze your time.
  • Be easier on yourself. Practice self-compassion.
  • Take a break from self-improvement. Spend this season accepting and loving yourself as you are.
  • Stop trying to people-please.
  • Purify your body. Eat healthy and get your digestion on track.
  • Clear up your clutter. While we tend to associate this with Spring, clear away and weed out what’s weighing you down.

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I’d love to hear your thoughts. What is serving you well right now? What is not serving your highest good? Please comment below. Your words have the power to encourage others on their journey.

VOCATION

I’ve found myself thinking about vocation lately. And not just vocation, but “work,” and “jobs” and “calling.” Growing up in an evangelical Christian environment, there was a great emphasis on God’s will for your life and the importance of not only discovering God’s will, but doing it. It’s no surprise that I, along with many of my peers, sensed a “call” to ministry from a young age. This “call” led to studying and preparing for ministry in the local church. By the time I finished graduate school, my idea of ministry had changed so dramatically I never imagined working in a church. Instead I found myself working at various universities as well as a hospice. There were aspects of all of these jobs that I enjoyed.

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However, in 2011 an unexpected opportunity presented itself to work at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church. And for 7.5 years my job as the Ministries Coordinator was the most challenging, satisfying and rewarding work I had ever been a part of.

Next month will mark one year since I left that job. As a part of my healing journey after the death of my father, Gary and I agreed that I would take a year off and not work. The intent was to have freedom, time and space to grieve, heal and to just live without the pressures and responsibilities of a job. I recognize the extreme privilege this is and do not take for granted this immense gift.

As that year anniversary is fast approaching, I’ve been struck by how much has happened this past year and all the incredible experiences and opportunities I’ve had. I’ve traveled with friends and family exploring Europe, Puerto Rico and Canada, with plans to return to New Zealand and Australia this winter. I’ve started gardening again, growing food for my family and sharing some with friends and neighbors. I’ve volunteered time writing grants for a local refugee tutoring program. And I’ve had more time to spend with my favorite Syrian family, taking the girls on outings and helping one adjust to life at a new high school. I’ve been able to develop a more regular yoga practice and led a yoga retreat.

Since I was 12 years old I’ve always had a job, minus a few months here and there. Paper routes, fast food and retail account for my teen years. My parents emphasized the importance of working hard and earning money and learning responsibility. So as I continue to live into this season of life of not having a job or regular work or consistent income, I’m learning to let go of some old ideas about identity, meaning and purpose. Hindus and Buddhists use the word dharma like evangelicals use calling or vocation. But dharma seems to have less attachment to work/job and a broader understanding of life purpose. Although there may be a relationship between your dharma and what you do for work, it’s more about who you are, how you live and interact with the world around you.

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A friend recently recommended the book, THE FOUR DESIRES. I’m slowly working through and have been challenged to discover my “dharma code,” the individual expression of my soul’s purpose. So far I know that parts of my dharma code or vocation include: serving others, creating safe spaces, desiring all living things to experience Divine Love. My prayer is that regardless of a job title, I will live into my soul’s purpose, knowing in my heart that vocation and work are not synonymous.

GRIEF

This month marked one year since my dad died. It is the most significant loss I’ve experienced and I find myself still experiencing waves of grief. Certain sights smells, songs and stories are obvious triggers. But it’s the unexplained, unexpected moments of sheer sadness that catch me by surprise, that sneak up out of nowhere, that leave me breathless, tear-stricken and broken hearted. Grief is unpredictable and doesn’t follow any rules. There’s no guidebook or timeline and everyone’s journey is unique.

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Here are some things I’ve found helpful as I journey with grief:

  1. I quit my job– This is not something I would recommend to everyone. I would have likely quit my job regardless of my dad’s death, but this certainly expedited the decision. I no longer had the emotional resources or physical stamina to continue with such intense work. Although I loved my work for many years, this is a decision that I’ve never regretted.
  2. Self-care– This is a work in progress. It’s probably my mid-western, Protestant upbringing but “self-care” still strikes me at times as selfish or lazy and leaves me feeling weak. Despite all of that, I have done the following: participated in a weeklong retreat on Boundless Compassion, prioritized my health with exercise (see more below) and continued with psychotherapy and spiritual direction. I’ve also had days where I just gave myself permission to not “do” anything.
  3. Support group– As a former bereavement coordinator with hospice, I knew the importance and helpfulness of support groups. I just wasn’t sure it was for me. But I tried it. And I met some amazing people (all experiencing parent loss) and we shared about our loved ones and our experiences.
  4. Reaching out– This has probably been one of the hardest and scariest for me. I’ve called more than one friend to just say that I’m sad and having a hard time. I asked two friends to rearrange their lives to come to California and spend my birthday with me (and they did)! Not sure why this is difficult, given that I have the most amazing friends.
  5. Remembering my dad– I don’t think there’s a single day that’s passed that I haven’t thought about my dad. The reality is we talked everyday, sometimes multiple times a day. He was a significant part of my daily life and now that is gone. But I want to remember him. I want to share stories and hear other people’s memories….even if it still makes me cry. I’m grateful for the Nava family and the times we’ve been able to share this past year. They knew and loved my dad deeply and being with them is a joy.
  6. Yoga– I had no idea when I started my Yoga Teacher Training (YTT) in Feb. 2018 that 6 months later I would be saying goodbye to my dad. Upon returning to San Diego last August after a wild month in Illinois, I spent days on my living room couch, stunned and unable to move. When I eventually made my way back to yoga I found an emotional release I hadn’t anticipated. Being in a safe and supportive space, as well as the quietness and stillness throughout the practice, allowed my body to relax and release. Yoga has continued to bring healing physically and emotionally. It has also provided opportunities to try new things: teaching private yoga, teaching community classes, even leading a yoga retreat.
  7. Dogs– Sooner & Aussie provide incredible support. They are loving and affectionate. They also forced me to get up and get moving. Whether it was sitting out on the patio watching them chase birds or actually taking them for a walk, getting outside always felt good. And if I was having a sad day, I could just hold them and pet them and even cry on them. I’m convinced dogs just make everything better.

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I don’t expect I’ll ever “get over it.” And I don’t want to. I’ve been forever changed by the experience of losing my dad. My hope is that I continue to learn, grow and heal. What has been helpful this past year may change in the days ahead and that’s ok.

Grief changes us and shapes us. Hopefully it makes us more gracious and compassionate, to others and ourselves.