Conversation is medicine
Throughout the years I’ve been fortunate to have many people listen me into speech and clarity. What a gift it was in my early 30’s to have Mur Carrington sit with me each week at The Potter’s House in Washington D.C. I was processing various issues, sometimes in the depths of feeling empty; she would listen deeply and say back to me: this is what I see in you… I often found my way via those conversations and am grateful to many gifted listeners in my life.
In my work with people in the midst of change, I find myself in the privileged role of holy listening. Conversation is primary in my one-to-one sessions; often I feel drawn to guiding people into daily spiritual practices integrating silence, writing, simple drawings, solitude. Considering what is needed in someone’s “toolbox” is important for me, trying out different ways of centering one’s self, processing losses and unresolved questions, increasing self-care, looking at how we love and what/who we love, and developing an inner compass for ongoing use.
For me spirituality is about the way we connect with nature, others, ourselves, the sacred and the common. Spirituality is that huge life-long process of integrating body, mind and heart. It’s about integrity and fullness of heart. Developing a life practice of reflection/action brings to consciousness the fragmented pieces in our lives, the blind spots. We can enter into places of inner tension where we feel stretched, and see what’s there for us in those uncomfortable spaces.
Journaling, free-flow writing, haiku, poetry are tools for reflection, sorting, taking those swirling thoughts and placing them on paper, sometimes revealing new insights. John Fox’s book is an excellent guide and inspiration for writing one’s experience into poetry.
Nature / Walking / Movement
I am on a path learning from wildness, desert lands, the ground under my feet. Times of solitude and being surrounded by wilderness are changing me. I am curious what it means as we more frequently insulate ourselves from the weather and natural surroundings. What do we lose in exchange for comfort?
I liked reading therapist Susan Scott’s “Healing with Nature” where she recounts how a back injury and pain created a new way of working. Because of pain she was unable to sit and experimented with walking out in nature with her clients. What began as a concession to my injury became an invaluable discovery: that interaction with natural environments is deeply healing. When we open our eyes to the natural world, we are constantly prompted and coaxed to alter our ingrained patterns of thinking. We subtly change the ways in which our brains process both inner and outer perceptions. The result of this, as both my patients and I found, is that healing often takes place more rapidly – and at a much deeper level – than might be conceivable while seated indoors… I imagined myself to be more closely aligned with the sense of being a wilderness scout or guide interested in exploring the terrain, all the while honoring each client’s particular and unique interest and orientation. I learned later that this was one of the steps along the way of training to be a Jungian analyst: to become a companion to the soul on its path. “Healing with Nature” by Susan S. Scott, 2003
Silence and Solitude
Creating spaces for silence is challenging in busy lives. Mystic Thomas Merton wrote: I, solitude, am your professor. What might silence want to teach you? We move so quickly and have many distractions that we miss the still voice within.
Mindfulness through breath
We know through scientific research that the way we breathe impacts our bodies; through our breathing we can reduce the effects of stress. Mindful breathing can relax the places we are holding tightly in our bodies, whether from pain, fatigue or anxiousness. Many faith traditions make a connection between breath and spirit. For Christians, Spirit or breath is referred to by the same word: pneuma in Greek. In Hebrew it is the word ruach. In Hebrew scripture, God brings life to dry bones by breathing into them.
Resource: True Love: A Practice for Awakening the Heart, Thich Nhat Hanh (Shambhala, 2004)
For years I’ve torn paper and pasted my way through difficult times. “National Geographics” are my favorite magazine to use, filled with amazing photos. I quiet and center myself. Paging through a magazine, I tear out pages and photos I’m drawn to WITHOUT analyzing or critiquing the choices. I like tearing photos, leaving frayed white edges to add interest rather than sharp clear edges. Taking a black piece of construction paper, I play with the pieces, seeing what I like side by side, or sometimes ripping pieces further, turning them upside-down and around like an ongoing puzzle. As I play/work, I jot down words or phrases or feelings that come to me. I sometimes write haiku poetry to go with the collage. This whole process often brings clarity to me or a new insight and understanding. Sometimes it simply brings calmness and peace.
During a time when I received some stings of criticism, I came across this quote from Thomas Merton: Our minds are like crows. They pick up everything that glitters, no matter how uncomfortable our nest gets with all that metal in them. I realized I had been drawn to the negative comments like a magnet, and downplayed all the positive affirmation. I created the collage and haiku as a way of trying to integrate a change within myself.
I collect sharp things:
Glittering barbs of comments.
Time to divest now.
Choose to spill them out.
Let go of glittering things
that really snag/hurt.
Mandala: a circle represents wholeness, healing, the eternal, unending… Mandala is a Sanskrit word meaning “circle.” The circle can appear in dreams, is found in many aspects of daily life, or it can be created as a work of art. Circles are present across cultures and in religious traditions and art. Working with mandalas can help create a peaceful inner space during times of confusion, depression or anxiety.
Analyst Carl Jung, during a time of depression, created a mandala daily and saw it as a significant exercise in leading him to wholeness. In Jung’s view, the mandala takes a person into the center and leads towards individuation (self-knowing and understanding.) I saw that everything, all paths I had been following, all steps I had taken, were leading back to a single point — namely, to the mid-point. It became increasingly plain to me that the mandala is the centre. It is the exponent of all paths. It is the path to the centre, to individuation. …I knew that in finding the mandala as an expression of the self I had attained what was for me the ultimate. –C. G. Jung, “Memories, Dreams, Reflections”
Whether it is creating your own mandala or coloring one, the process is an opportunity for stillness and wordless prayer. Do one mandala at a time, completing one before moving on to another. They can be created with colored pencils, markers or an ordinary pencil where shading can add depth and contrast. If words or phrases pop up while creating a mandala, jot the words down and return to stillness. Later reflect on any words that emerged, the colors used, and any associations you want to explore further. Allow the time to be one where your mind is quiet, where you lay aside any ability to analyze for a later time.
Gratitude in the midst of difficulty
Sarah Breathnach’s “Simple Gratitude” suggests keeping a Gratitude Journal. She states that this practice “can change the quality of your life beyond belief.” The daily instruction is simple: list five things you are grateful for. Or check out researcher Robert Emmons’ book “Gratitude Works!” He recommends writing only one gratitude each day and then listing 5 specifics about that one thing or person. He believes this gets a person to go deeper rather than slipping into list-making.
Transitions, chosen or involuntary, bring us into unknown territory where we can feel out of control. Our focus can narrow as we find ourselves up against losses or confusion. We lose sight of ways in which we are healthy and alive. Practicing “gratitude” broadens our vision, intentionally seeing what is going well, finding beauty in small things. This is a radical way of living and a doorway into healing. Developing a daily practice of gratitude is one way to take initiative, seeking a greater level of health and healing while finding direction.