Unfolding: From Shame to Praise

I’ve been sitting here looking at a blank piece of paper, interspersed with time searching for ideas of what to write about for this blog released to be released on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent for Christians.  I’ve had a few thoughts pass through my head:

  • The childhood years of eggs and noodles for Friday dinner and tuna fish for lunch – no meat on Fridays was required. 
  • Grade school years of giving up chocolate, candy, cookies, or something else and putting a penny in the missions’ box to collect money for those in need.
  • Junior year religion class when we were challenged to show love to someone each day instead of forgoing a favorite treat (a la Fr. Martin’s blog last year – Be Kind at https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2019/03/01/fr-james-martin-sj-be-kind-lent
  • Looking out the window this morning and wondering at the cloudy sky and my cold feet while considering how to make this day into something growth-inspired.  This afternoon revealed a bright blue sky, clean and shiny leaves from yesterday’s rain, and beautiful pink and purple flowering shrubs. And this evening it is followed by dark clouds.  Such a metaphor of life – constant evolution.
  • Finley’s facial expression, as I showed in an Instagram post and below – full of joy and expectation.  Which brought me to thoughts of C.S. Lewis via a blog by Dawn Klinge where she talks about  Lewis’s view of joy.  (You can check it out here https://www.dawnklinge.com/abovethewaves/7-thoughts-on-joy-from-cs-lewis).
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  • Searching and finding a book recommended for Lenten journeys by one of my favorite authors related to growth spiritually, Sue Monk Kidd.  She recommended Gifts from Within, written by a group in Texas at Brigid’s Place.  Interestingly, this is also tied back to my ancestral motherland of Ireland. 

What is the common thread in all the musings I’ve had?  I believe it to be there is no perfect way through Lent, or preparation for Easter or Passover.  In reality, no perfect way to reach and experience joy, resurrected hope, true presence in our own lives of and with God.  But it does take preparation, time, energy, and choices daily. 

So, whether it is by 1) sacrifice, i.e.: fasting or giving up something; or giving something like love and kindness; or 2) reading the thoughts of others as shared in Gifts from Within; or 3) reading for my Jewish friends Kurshan in her first person article in The New York Jewish Week, “Preparing for Passover Physically and Spiritually” that reminds us that the history of Passover “begins with shame and ends with praise”  (see https://jewishweek.timesofisrael.com/preparing-for-passover-physically-and-spiritually/); or 4) stretching and committing to really look at something around you (or within) each day like the change in the day from dreary to spring-like to stormy; or 5) watching the joy around you that comes from hope and expectation – they all count.  Each one can take you farther along your spiritual path.  And your psychological healing.  And isn’t this really unfolding – opening up to more of what you want to be, hope to be, are within; but perhaps are unaware of because of something blocking you?  Moving from shame to joy.  So, start thinking – has one of the above ideas struck you as one to use?  I’m using the book recommended by Sue Monk Kidd and a daily thought prompt from another group.  One person I know is using a specific book with a goal of reading the complete book by Easter.  Another person is writing her prayers daily.  And another is just working on breathing – with reminders to himself in his calendar to work on decreasing his anxiety. 

Pema Chodron said, “Nothing goes away until it teaches us what we need to know”.  Carolyn Myss said it a bit differently, “Always go with the choice that scares you the most, because that’s the one that is going to help you grow”.  Lent and preparation for Passover are times for such growth for all.  So…choose wisely this year.

Take care,

Dr. Beth   

Delving Deeper Into My Spirituality and God

Lenten season is upon us once again and as we have begun, I’ve noticed a similar theme crop up in a couple of places and it’s had me thinking, how is my relationship with God at the moment? Am I letting Him in, and growing? Or am I going through my busy life with time only for church on Sunday and prayers for sick ones, people I’m concerned for, guidance for myself? That type of superficial relationship is not what fills me up the best. Am I listening to Him? Are you?

The first quote that resonated with me was posted on social media by a friend:

When I was younger, I thought Lent was about giving up something I liked and that was it.

As I’ve grown older, I pray now, “Jesus, what’s keeping me from you?” Usually, I already know the answer. It’s usually the one thing, action, or thought I don’t want to give up.

But every time I do give something up, or take on something else, allowing and inviting Jesus the time and space to change me, I’ve grown in love and sacrifice. “He loved His own in the world, and He loved them to the end.” -John 13:1

He’s longing to love you this Lent.

He’s longing to lead you deeper this Lent.

He’s longing to call you this Lent.

What’s keeping you from Him?

Her comments really hit home and challenged me to look at my life and how I could improve my relationship with God during this Lenten season. This led me to search a few other books, blogs, and videos highlighting Lent as well as my relationship with God.  I found a wonderful video posted which focused on our relationship and how Lent can re-energize our relationship with God.  You can see it at Lent , but be sure to listen to the entire thing or go to about the last minute and a half.  As I’ve been mulling over these in the last 2 days  another voice popped in from a popular blogger I follow, Emily of Jones Design Company. She writes:

In my lifetime of following Jesus, I can only count a few times when I know I’ve heard God speak to me. There are lots of times when He speaks through scripture, music, dreams, conversations or nature. I adore these special moments of closeness and connection.

This time was different.

It wasn’t a conversation or an affirmation. It wasn’t even in response to something I had been talking with Him about. It was a catch-you-off-guard, clear as day directive.

It’s time to write.

I stopped mid-tread, listened, and agreed.

The first two encounters above made me truly consider what is keeping me from allowing me to be closer to my God.  Not just through my actions showing my belief; but also knowing more about Him/Her and especially trusting and allowing Him to really know me.  Offering up the openness in myself to really allow Him to enrich my life and grow in my spirituality, healing; and, in turn, in my own loving, supporting, and giving to others. When I read Emily’s quote it made me wonder whether I’m spending the time to really listen for God, for His word, or for what I’m to learn through different experiences.  In other words, am I responding to my God when He/She is calling me to love me and be with and in relationship.  The question is really one of whether I am allowing intimacy, or deeper intimacy, with God.

What is intimacy with God?  I believe time spent with and quality of that time together with the other(s) are always signs of intimacy in human relationships.  Is this really any different that with God?  I don’t think so.  And in reviewing what others have said I found these additionally:

  1.  There’s an excellent article titled, “5 Ways to Improve Your Relationship with God“,  and one suggestion is to “Abide and Meditate”.  This means finding some time for silence each day. Set a time in your schedule–while you have your morning coffee, just before you go to sleep, or sometime in between–that you turn off your devices, pick up the word of God and really read it and ponder it. Maybe a verse, maybe a chapter, maybe a book. Meditate on what you’ve read and really internalize the meaning.

2.  One of my favorite authors is Thomas Keating, OCSO, a Franciscan priest who truly           gave us all a gift when he was shared how Centering Prayer can allow us to enter a           more intimate, and deep, relationship with God through Centering Prayer.  As he said:       “As we move from conversation to communion with God’s human and divine nature,         Christ, we experience the divine intimacy. ” (You can read more about this form of             prayer at Centering Prayer).

3.  The closeness so evident that God hears us before we even turn to Him or know                  what we need:  “Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will                  hear” (Isaiah 65:24).

So now I believe some are asking, what does faith have to do with my psychological functioning?  I’m going to take a risk here and say, it has everything to do with our functioning in life emotionally.  When I presented a workshop last year the intersection between the two was clear, it allows us to be whole people.

Spirit and Psych Intersection

If we look at this, we notice that the first item is related to intimacy and authenticity in our relationships.  Thus as we have a lived sense of spirituality, and this means a healthy spiritual practice, then we will experience more intimacy with others as well.  In Lent, a major focus is that of developing our relationships with God and others.  Any tradition can borrow from this, and take on a period of 40 days to focus on our Higher Power, our God. Colleen’s post indicated that her deeper question for this period this year is what is keeping her from accepting God’s love and being more deeply in a relationship with God.  My suggestion for each and every one of you is to ask yourself:

  1.  What is keeping me from a deeper relationship in my spiritual life?  Is it laziness, or is it fear, or is it a lack of awareness of relationship and has become more rote practice?  Or, is it _________________________?  Fill in your own blank.
  2.  What is one step that I can take during this time to grow psychologically and spiritually?  Do I need to spend more time with God in a way that is meaningful to me on a regular basis?  I am committing to go to some Taize prayer services (see Taize Prayer for an idea about these services if you’re interested).  For some this will be through nature.  I loved Episcopal Bishop Kirk Smith’s e-Pistle where he recently wrote about nature and God.  In it he was discussing Richard Rohr’s quote:  “Ever since God created the world, God’s everlasting power and deity–however invisible–have been there for the mind to see in the things God has made” as well as Thomas Acquinas’ quote: “Sacred writings are bound in two volumes–that of creation and that of Holy Scripture.”  So perhaps this can be a way to come closer to your Higher Power, your God, this season.  Or, perhaps it needs to be in centering prayer as I mentioned above.  Or, for does it need to be through gratitude?  This is in part the recognition that your Higher Power is at your side even during the times of difficulty. Whether all is well in life at present or you have challenges you’re facing, God’s plan is in place. Thus focusing on recalling the moments where you have been blessed and offer up thanks.  Again, fill in your own blank here:  The step I will take this Lent to inspire my relationship with God is to ____________________________________.
  3. Am I an active participant in my relationship to God or within my spiritual walk?  Many have written about this and how to be more active.  Perhaps read “A Praying Life” by Paul Miller that focuses on how to live in this busy world we have and yet still stay connected with God.  Or, perhaps taking the 7 steps each day that Joyce Rupp talks about, see 7 Steps of Morning .  Maybe it will be watching movies that lead you to deeper awareness of how to be more connected spiritually, like Walking the Camino or The Shack.  Or perhaps looking to music to inspire your spiritual participation with God.  Never tried listening to chants?  Or what about Tibetan bowls?  Or perhaps gospel music is more your speed, but with an Elvis twist:  Lead Me Guide Me  For me, a beautiful classic piece can do it, as can Every Grain of Sand by Bob Dylan and sung by Emmylou Harris at  Every Grain of Sand .Get creative – how can you experience, try new activities to express your feelings or thoughts in relationship with God or in a spiritual manner.  So, answer this question:  I will try a new spiritual practice to become more aware of my participation in relationship to God by ____________________________.

You now have three steps you can take this Lent.  Are you going to use this Lenten season as I am, to delve deeper into your relationship with God? Some focused effort in these coming weeks may really deepen your faith and bring you greater peace. Will you join me?

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Thoughts on fall

This Saturday marks the start of a new, welcome season for me—fall begins. Growing up in the Midwest, apple farms were prevalent and roadside stands with fresh apples, apple cider, and apple cider donuts were among my favorite stops. The leaves changing, the chill in the air in the morning slowly changing from dew to frost on the lawns, the fields being harvested, and the fall décor—cornstalks, hay bales, and pumpkins appearing in lawns everywhere, were all signs of the season.

Apples are one of my favorite fruits. I enjoy them year-round, but I always love the time of year I begin seeing the Honeycrisps show up in the produce sections. Every other year my extended family gathers at our family cabin to harvest apples from our tree and begin the weekend long task of peeling and canning apples and applesauce. It is a weekend full of work, undeniably. It is a weekend where we fill up every inch of the cabin, lots of people under one reasonably small roof. But it is a weekend of laughs, of love, of bonding that I look forward to often months ahead of time. This year the crop is not as plentiful, so we aren’t going to have that time.  But I still found myself thinking of apples and looking at pictures from past years this weekend. Some years the apple harvests are showy with an abundance of fruit, other years the work is happening underground and within the body of the tree. The fruit crop may be less, but the growth cycle is just as important.

applesatcabin

Something similar happens in the cycles of our lives. We have times that our lives feel overflowing, with commitments, with friends, with family. Other times we have more moments of solitude. Those quiet moments, while at times may feel uncomfortable, are just as important. Such as it is for me this year. The end of summer and this fall will be one less harried, more intentional, and with more quiet time for me.  I spent a weekend by myself at the cabin a few weeks ago, enjoying the peace, quiet, and hikes with Murphy. While fall is about letting go, solitude allows me to stop, think, pray, dream, or do some art to sort out where I’ve been and where I’m going. This reflective time allows some of the work to be done internally and spiritually as I consider the next steps for me in life.  And it allows for contemplation of progress made – perhaps to release, as apples ripe for picking; or perhaps it is the season for growth and change, a new bud on the apple tree. So, a time to wait. And to be at peace with waiting. “Solitude is very different from a ’time-out’ from our busy lives. Solitude is the very ground from which community grows. Whenever we pray alone, study, read, write, or simply spend quiet time away from the places where we interact with each other directly, we are potentially opened for a deeper intimacy with each other.” ~ Henri J.M. Nouwen

As the apples are released from their branches, some fall and others are caught, only some make it to the applesauce.  So too with the meaning of fall – let go, release, transition.  F. Scott Fitzgerald:  “Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.” If you are looking to do some spiritual reflection of your own during this season of harvest, please consider joining me for my upcoming workshop—Spirituality and Psychotherapy: Hope, Courage, and Presence. Spots are limited but I do still have a few seats available, for more details see www.thewholenessinstitute.com/workshops or call us at 602.508.9190.

The apples were harvested, let’s enjoy them one bite at a time.

With hope,

Dr. Beth

Living Life Within and In Community

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It’s been quite a start to 2017, hasn’t it? As a country we have waited, and now have, a new president in office; and this brings reactions for most, regardless of the person we voted for in November. The news and social media filled with stories, pictures, editorials, and comments from the public. I can’t look at my personal Facebook page without being inundated with posts pro and con. Whatever else 2017 brings we have a year of change, growth, and living life in the middle of it.

It’s living life in the middle that is what so many of us look for in guidance, support, ideas, and spiritual support.  I spent a couple of hours, as I do each Sunday morning, reading and listening to spiritual and psychological leaders. This is my weekly reset time. The burdens of the world, my life, my family’s lives, my clients, and my friends can weigh heavy at times, other times lightly, but I need reset time regardless. I came across an author of whom I’d not previously become acquainted, Frederick Buechner. One of the themes I understand his writing talks about is that of “listening to your life”. I might call it paying attention, or living life in the middle. Essentially, he is saying we have to be aware of what is happening in and around us each day, and by noting these things we learn about ourselves. He also says to listen within to our quiet places, to Spirit within, to memories, reactions, discernment, and guidance we are given.

As I pursued this thought today I also thought about hope. What Buechner was saying, in essence, is that there is always hope if we go within; by doing so we will grow, and that enables us to deal with our faults, life around us, and each other. An unusual source who was talking of hope this morning was Tom Brokaw in an interview with Maria Shriver. He reminded her, and me, that hope also requires action. So while Buechner reminded me to go within and listen, Brokaw reminded me that then I must determine what step I need to take, to choose to be active in my community, country, and world.

Finally, I listened to Henri Nouwen, who in his writing reminded me that both are intertwined. If I go within, in solitude, I strengthen my connection to community. Thus, in going to my center I can connect to others at their centers. This brings deeper connection, but also requires deeper respect, trust, and also requires action where called. An unusual thought came to me as I pondered this. I recalled a conversation with my father when he was 83 or 84. In trying to make a decision on a ballot he asked my thoughts, and shared he had also asked my brother’s opinion. He wasn’t going to follow either of us blindly, but he was attempting to discern what to choose. We had a thoughtful decision on the topic and I never did know what he decided. But his decision required that he go within, then reach out to community, and finally go back within to decide and then act.

I believe in tumultuous times we all need reminders of the basics. This applies to personal upheaval such as a new diagnosis, or death of a loved one, or a job not panning out as hoped; and it applies to business decisions, personal choices; as well it applies to community or national situations such as a police officer killed or lock down at a school due to violence. In the many situations and events we are confronted with weekly we can remain balanced as we go within, go to Spirit, and then reach out. There is nothing earth shaking or new above. But the truth, from writings years ago, discussions 10 years ago, and last week’s interview all came together to remind me to go back to the basics. In doing so I was reminded of my own belief, as Brokaw said, “there is always hope”.

(See Tom Brokaw’s interview, “I am hopeful” with Maria Shriver in The Sunday Paper).

Be Still: Preparation Within and Around

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Guest Blogger Danielle Counihan with Beth Sikora, PhD

Well, it’s the holiday season, and if your life is anything like mine, everything is at a higher pitch with more demands for time, energy, and thought. Many of Christian faith, me included, prepare through the Advent period preceding Christmas. A time of preparation, going inward to prepare for the birth of Christ remembered, the birth within each of us, and the birth of a new time. What a contrast to the harried preparation for “holidays” – shopping, cooking, wrapping, planning schedules, etc. that both Christians and Jewish prepare for in looking forward to Christmas and Hanukkah. This year I’m following an on-line retreat and the focus is to daily “be still” – stop, quiet, be still.

Given that in the midst of this preparation the stress combined with family interactions and even drama that happens, as well as the overall busyness, this period of time can present a difficult combination for maintaining strong mental health. Fortunately, as we began to learn last month, the bullet journal provides an amazing platform to see trends, set, and track goals, as well as vent frustrations in a healthy way. As we look forward to this new month, and a new year, we also want to start thinking about our new goals, and new ways, better ways of tracking them.

One way we can do this is by visualizing where we are and choosing one or two areas we want to improve when it comes to our balanced mental health. Here is one layout that could be helpful as a monthly check in. This layout focuses on the mandala- a symbol of a balanced life – and is a great way to see how in balance one’s life is. This balance is what can help bring us peace this holiday season.

mandala

This layout focuses on the mandala -on a balanced life. (I’ve written more about this mandala ). On the left page, we have the mandala with each area of mental health in a different color. I did the shading by going through each area and self-evaluating on a scale of 1 to 10 how I felt I was doing in each area, with a 10 being that I’m doing really well in that area and 1 being very poorly. This is a great way to see how out of balance our lives can become if we do not make balance our focus. It also enables us to see easily where we need the most improvement.

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On the right hand page, I wrote out each area and gave myself ideas for goals. This next month, as I’m walking through my Advent, I’m going to focus on the three areas that are in the lower range- intellectual, spiritual, and emotional- and work on the goals respective to those areas. Then, at the end of the month, I will re-evaluate and see if I have improved and make new goals for January and the New Year.

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Now, the question is, how does this help us prepare for the holidays? I know for myself, being in balance, that is, knowing that I am striving toward good health in all areas of my life, helps me to deal with stress with a much more peaceful attitude. When I know that I am at peace with myself, I am better able to be at peace with others and things out of my control. As we prepare for these holidays, we can strive to balance our lives, thus bringing peace to our lives and enabling us to truly enter into the holidays fully. Preparing for Hanukkah and Christmas give us wonderful opportunities to evaluate our lives and see what we have that we can be thankful for, how we have grown over the past year, and prepare to set new goals to take into the new year. As I don’t always do this as well on my own, I also am doing a program for the Advent and post-Christmas period. As I mentioned, the focus on Be Still each day. So for the spiritual piece of my pie I am spending time each day in readings and praying, and even listening to outside sources of music. One piece I enjoy that is short and yet slows my heart and pace is Be Still by The Fray. You can listen to it on Be Still. So get creative a bit, even the 5 minutes to search out a new idea to implement will slow you down.

As we end and you continue your walk this December, think about how you need to balance your life to enhance your peace within and without this year. How can the mandala help you find peace and balance? Set one or two goals from this, make them realistic, and be still as you prepare for the holidays.

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