WEEKLY STRETCH – 6-26-17 ~ The Gift of Sabbath Time

The following was written on Saturday night, just before heading up to bed.

It’s been one of those rare days. No obligations. No plans. No appointments. No urgency to get anything done. A perfect June day of sunshine, low humidity, and gentle breezes. I can’t remember the last time I felt this sort of spaciousness for an entire day. Early this morning we had a wild and crazy storm that seems to have cleared away an array of toxins in the environment and left us with this beautiful clear day to stand in Creation and enjoy it.

My husband and I spent the early part of the day running a few errands after dropping Sophie at the groomer. We lollygagged (is that a real word) around the neighborhood getting a few odds and ends done and came home to decide how we would spend the rest of the gift of the day ahead. We desperately needed this sort of day. Bob loves his job, but it is mentally and physically taxing and his days are exhausting. After the winter we had, with my health problems and Bob caring for me, and the active life we lead, we desperately needed some time to just be home, doing what we do, without running hither and yon. Today was the day and the Universe provided us a doozy.

Don’t get me wrong – we love our life. We have great jobs, a multitude of interests, spectacular friends and family, and so many wonderful ways to spend our free time. Today, though, we had the spaciousness to be still. We did things we rarely do. Bob wanted to go to our pool. In the two and a half years we’ve lived here we’ve visited our pool exactly twice. I wanted to stay back, sit on our deck, read and nap. Another very rare occurrence. So that’s exactly what we did. After reading my book and snoozing awhile, I created a wonderful summer dinner for us. Bob came home from his pool time and as the sun hung low in the sky we sat on our deck, sipped our wine and ate our yummy summer dinner. We talked and dreamed and planned. We listened to our favorite music – Pat Matheny, Earth Wind and Fire, Eric Clapton, Steely Dan, Jackson Browne and rehearsal recordings from the bands Bob’s been playing music with the last few years. We relaxed. We celebrated. It was Sabbath.

Wayne Muller is one of the authors whose wisdom has informed much of our lives since we began our ministry sixteen years ago. In his book, Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives, Muller says, “Like a path through the forest, Sabbath creates a marker for ourselves so, if we are lost, we can find our way back to our center.” Today we gave ourselves the gift of Sabbath Rest. In Judaism we wish each other, “Shabbat Shalom”, which translates as “Sabbath Peace”. Sabbath is considered Judaism’s most sacred day. It’s the one day we can put down all our work, our responsibilities, our concerns – and just rest. It’s not an easy practice to maintain in our busy lives. But it is a wonderful concept to consider and great gift to give ourselves. Today I was reminded how much I love Sabbath time and how important it is to integrate into our week. Sabbath time can be as simple as a designated time to share a meal with loved ones each week, or a weekly walk in the woods or along the beach. It can be designated time to sit in contemplation or time set aside for self-care. The key to taking Sabbath time is to make it habit and take the time to rest and replenish our stores of physical and spiritual energy. It is a time to make space for peace.

I am so grateful for the blessing of today’s Sabbath. It’s been a day of rest and renewal after what seems like a very, very long stretch of time. I am mindful of how much this time is needed in our lives and will make it a point to bring it back as a true weekly ritual in whatever way works for us.
I leave you with another quote from Muller’s book.

“If busyness can become a kind of violence, we do not have to stretch our perception very far to see that Sabbath time – effortless, nourishing rest – can invite a healing of this violence. When we consecrate a time to listen to the still, small voices, we remember the root of inner wisdom that makes work fruitful. We remember from where we are most deeply nourished, and see more clearly the shape and texture of the people and things before us.”

STRETCH: Sabbath is gift you give yourself. Create Sabbath time in your week. It can be a morning, a few hours, an evening or a whole day. Give yourself the gift of Sabbath. You deserve it.

Postcript: I had a perfectly wonderful, restful, restorative night of sleep for the first time in weeks. Sabbath time works on many levels.

ON LOVING THE BODY ~ 3-3-17


image from holisticmama.co.uk

I have made the decision to love my body. I’ve spent many years hating my body. It started when I was a young girl, eight or nine years old. My body was round and kids teased me. My mom tried to minimize my pudginess but the kids thought I was a “teakettle” and the teasing started me on my path to body shame. I started “developing” shortly after and got my first period at nine-and-a-half. That added to my dislike of my body despite my mom’s kind attempts to soothe and reassure me. At twelve we discovered that I had thyroid disease and the doctor told my parents, in my presence, that “she’ll always have a weight problem”. That was one of the great set-ups of the century. I heard him and so it has been, at least in my mind.

I spent years hating my body, thinking I didn’t measure up, feeling less than others, and way too much in other ways. Of course, the fashion industry didn’t help. This body shame has followed me all my life. It’s funny when I see pictures of myself from various decades. I always notice my weight, and I always remember how I was feeling about it when the photo was taken. I usually look at myself and say, “Wow I was so much smaller then. And I thought I was too fat.” Regardless of what size I was wearing, I felt like I didn’t measure up and criticized every part of my body. Legs too heavy, boobs too small, butt way to big, and on. Aging added a bit more fuel to the fire as gravity showed its effect on certain parts. More shame. It’s been a battle to learn to love myself – all of myself. I’ve made progress along the way but I admit it’s been a journey of fits and starts.

During my recent health challenge, as my body did some unpleasant things and I was fearful that I was facing something life-threatening, I found myself falling in love with my body. I wondered if the shame was being mirrored back to me in the way my illness was manifesting. One day I looked at myself in the mirror and decided that I love my body and that from now on I would respect it and view it – all of it – as sacred. This is no small thing. It’s been a lifelong habit to dislike what I see in the mirror when clothes shopping, dread the beach (especially shopping for a swimsuit), and compare myself to other women. I finally learned that my body belongs to me and I have been taking all its gifts for granted. I have been blessed with so many beautiful “parts”, even the ones I really have hated. My legs take me where I want to go, my extra weight protects my bones, I have eyes to see and a heart that beats. My arms can hug, my mouth can speak words of love and comfort, I can smell food cooking and taste it when the cooking is done. I can think with my brain and create art with my hands. My ears can hear music and the words, “I’m home” and “I love you”. I can smell a rose and feel the breeze against my skin. My body is a treasure and I can only love it and be grateful that I have this vehicle to carry my spirit on this life journey.

So, I make the commitment to love it unconditionally. I make the commitment to care for it and do all in my power to keep it healthy and fit. I may falter from time to time, but I make the commitment to remember the time when I feared I might lose it. I will say “I love you” to my body every day. I have learned a great lesson, a bit late in coming but I have learned it finally. And I am so grateful.

Rather than a stretch this week I want to thank you for holding space for me during this time. My long odyssey should be over next week when I will have a gallstone removed. Please keep holding that space and help me envision my health returning to normal so that I can move on and back into the life I love living so much. I send you all blessings, love, and gratitude. ~ F

WEEKLY STRETCH 2-8-17 ~ FROM STRESSED TO REST

Yesterday in a discussion with my instructor after painting class, we were speaking about the issues of the day (imagine that!), sharing our frustrations and concerns, and I found myself on the usual emotional rollercoaster ride that accompanies these discussions. The conversation started with him asking why I had missed class last week. I was ill with the awful stomach virus that has been making the rounds everywhere and had to leave class abruptly to get myself home to bed. The virus took over my life for about a week and had me quite concerned when it seemed to be back with a vengeance four days after it began. My concern took me to the doctor on Monday who ordered some tests which, I’m happy to say, showed nothing of any significance and we concluded that it is just a very unpleasant virus that seems to like hanging around for a long time.

Back to my conversation with my instructor, we were noticing that this winter seems to be effecting people’s health dramatically; more than any winter in recent memory. As a holistic health practitioner, this observation has me thinking that the phenomenon is the result of extreme stress most people have been experiencing for many months. Stress is a notorious culprit in compromising the immune system. My theory is that stress has made many people more vulnerable to whatever cooties are floating about.

In thinking about the stress our current climate has created and how it has effected health, specifically mine, I have concluded that I need to take some measures to coax my immune system back to its optimal state.

1. I am meditating – that’s my first step. I am stopping myself from moving, from thinking (well, as best I can anyway), from doing, and I’m allowing myself to be still.
2. Now that I can eat normally again (that was fun) I am eating a clean and conscious diet and drinking a lot of water and healthy teas.
3. I am limiting exposure to the toxicity of our current environment (something we’ve discussed before) and I’m paying attention to simple things that give me joy.
4. I’m also taking some herbs and supplements designed for managing stress,
5. Using essential oils,
6. Having massage and energy work,
7. Getting outdoors and taking walks,
8. Watching my thoughts and shifting them as soon as I realize they’ve meandered once again to the “dark side” – wearing my red “Thoughts Become Things” bracelet that reminds me to “Choose The Good Ones”.
9. I’m reading a great book that is tremendously uplifting,
10.And anything else I can find that will help me shift my perspective from stress to rest.

By no means does this mean I am disengaging from my own brand of staying awake and aware. It means that I am making it my business to manage my day in ways that keep me healthy as well. It takes practice.

This morning I awoke after a much needed and very rare night of long deep sleep. My first thought was “Thank You” and I took the moment to speak with Creator and offer gratitude for the rest I so needed. I made my way downstairs to start the coffee and as it began to drip and the aroma filled my kitchen I stopped and breathed in the simple pleasure of appreciating the rich smell that I love so much – the smell that means home, and safety, and comfort. I allowed myself to enjoy that simple pleasure and I will do the same when I take that first delicious sip. I am setting the intention to pay close attention to these simple pleasures. When I do I feel present, my breathing is easy, my heartrate is smooth, my senses are alive and my awareness is sharpened. My immune system likes it and right now it needs all the loving de-stressing it can get.

At this moment, my dog is curling up beside me making her little “nest”. I can feel the warmth of her sweet little body next to mine and that makes me feel happy. I’m going to cuddle Sophie and take my first sip of coffee, the taste of which I will savor and enjoy to the fullest. I will notice all the gifts embedded in the simplicity of those things. Then I will move into my day bringing the intention of good health, vitality, and peace along with me. I invite you to do the same.

STRETCH: Where are the simple pleasures in your life? What gives you a feeling of comfort, of home, of safety, of peace? An aroma, a vision, a song, a favorite piece of clothing, a hug – it can be anything that feels good. Pay attention. Look for the simple pleasures that enrich your day. Breathe into them and allow yourself the simplicity of enjoyment.

COMING OUT OF THE DARK REVISITED – Depression and The Dark Night

Last year I wrote a piece about depression and how this time of year often puts me into a dark place. While it may seem like “cheating” I’m reposting that piece again because I feel it bears repeating. I’m happy to report that this year I am in a much better place, enjoying the holiday vibes and feeling the excitement and joy of the season. I am focused on giving, I am focused on my family and friends and the gratitude I feel for having lived yet another year on the planet. I am focused on hope for the future. I’m focused on what is right in front of me. My prayer is that we may all live from the radiance of our inner light and that we shine that light out to the world to illuminate the dark places.

And so, below is COMING OUT OF THE DARK, take 2. I hope in some way it offers hope and comfort. Thank you for reading and thank you for walking alongside me. I see you. I love you.

FD
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I’ve read many articles and books on clinical depression. Thankfully it’s a topic that is addressed more and more openly in our culture. Yet there is still a stigma surrounding it in terms of speaking about it. Unlike a condition like diabetes, or COPD, or even cancer, depression carries with it the aspect of shame and something to be hidden or whispered about.

I’ve been managing clinical depression for decades. This condition has its tendrils throughout my family. In my nuclear family my brother, my mother, father and daughter all have battled with at one time or another. My understanding is that it is commonly hereditary. It certainly seems to be in my case. The phenomenon is far-reaching.

It has been a battle for most of my life. I can trace it back to early childhood when I would feel the need to isolate myself, or would have long bouts of tears for no apparent reason. I had very low self-esteem at a young age, which went hand in hand with the episodes of depression that began early and followed me into adolescence, early adulthood and into my middle and later years.

Ordinarily I am known as a pretty vivacious and gregarious person. I love to laugh and spend time with family and friends. I’m a good listener and a compassionate presence. My husband and I have a wonderful life and people who know us often envy our marriage. Materially we have everything we need and more and enjoy our life tremendously in spite of limited financial resources. My work is a great gift and I’m blessed with the time to pursue many of the interests and passions I once had to set aside for other more pressing pursuits like a fulltime job and parenting. I’ve certainly have had my challenges, ups and downs, gains and losses and continue to work at navigating the curveballs that often come. I’ve gained wisdom over the years and continue to be curious learner and a spiritual seeker.

All of that said, when the clouds of depression gather it’s easy to look at the wonderful state of my life and wonder how on earth I could ever be depressed. In fact that thought often exacerbates an already blooming bout of depression. As many like me report, the onset often accompanies the changing seasons from summer into the winter months. At times it begins like a creeping fog around the end of August or early September barely noticeable and often ignored since the symptoms are subtle at that point and easy to blow off as little rumbles. That’s how it started this time.

The creep began in late August when summer was waning. I began to notice some changes in my energy, extra sensitivity to my surroundings, some sadness at the end of long days and short nights, flowers dying off and trees beginning to change. I love the colors of Fall, yet this year it was reminding me of the tremendous challenges we were facing a year ago and I felt my emotions reflecting on the loss, sadness, chaos and anger that were all part of last year’s events, the events that subsequently brought us to this point. Thankfully I was about to start working with a new therapist and I felt hopeful that I would bypass any sort of downward spiral from “anniversary syndrome”. Ironically our 25th wedding anniversary was on October 14th and we fully expected it would be celebrated with a bang. We were also anticipating a 10-day trip to Sedona at the end of the month as our gift to each other, so there was much to celebrate and anticipate. Unfortunately my expectations were far greater than the reality and the day came and went with very little “bang”…it was more like a little “poof”. I made the mistake of creating some unrealistic expectations that fell flat and when they fell they took my teetering emotions with them. Any hope I’d had of avoiding the spiral was dashed that week and I could feel my footing slipping all over the place. We did go to Sedona and it was a wonderful trip, one of the best we ever had. Unfortunately, the spiral came along and while it wasn’t dominant, it was there and felt. Upon our return it began to spin and the pull began. Shortly after we got home my husband learned that the job that saved him and us a year ago would be coming to an end and he needed to reignite his job search. This brought up some old feelings for both of us and I began to worry that it might usurp the progress my beloved husband had made in recovering from a nightmare experience he’d had in his previous job. I knew my own emotional
well-being was teetering and held fast to the hope that his was more firmly rooted. Thankfully he was/is in good form and is well along the way in his search, with a great attitude and some real prospects.

I, on the other hand, in spite of bringing forth all of the tools I know to employ when the darkness looms, have been making a slow and consistent slide downward, accompanied by the always present guilt and anxiety that goes along for the ride. I thought I was hanging in there and could possibly minimize the trip to the “dark side” when I had a deeply disturbing encounter with a friend that essentially pushed me over, and I landed fully in the downward momentum of my spiraling emotions where I now find myself. I can sense that light is nearby, but right now I simply can’t seem to reach it consistently. The holiday season carries its own challenges and I have been plodding through the dense fog of depression in order to try to be present with my family and friends in their celebrations, even coming up a bit and poking my head out of the dark cave. Yet when I do, it seems as if there is a vacuum that pulls me back into that place and wraps me in a swirling energy of doubt, sadness, suspicion, and negativity.

Luckily, this isn’t my first go with depression. I’ve been in this cave before and managed to crawl out. I know the drill and in some ways I am luckier than others since I know I’ll survive it. Some people call an episode like this a “dark night of the soul”. I remember hearing this term during my seminary training and wondered if some of my trips to the cave qualified. I’ve since learned that for me episodes of depression that take me this deep absolutely qualify as “dark nights of the soul” and have a slightly different quality than those that come and go and hover somewhat higher in depth.

themystic.org defines The Dark Night of the Soul this way: “The dark night occurs after considerable advancement toward higher consciousness. Indeed, the dark night usually occurs like an initiation before one of these special seekers is admitted into regular relationship with higher consciousness. The dark night also occurs to those who do not seek relationship but immersion or unity in the higher consciousness. While the term dark night of the soul is used broadly, its general meaning — in the field of higher consciousness — is a lengthy and profound absence of light and hope. In the dark night you feel profoundly alone.”

It goes on to describe various characteristics: “You see the principles of a higher power at work in your life. Yet, all in all, you find yourself somehow painfully on the outside. You feel caught between your old way of living, your old tendencies and associations, and this nebulous, unreachable realm of higher consciousness.”

The article continues with great accuracy to describe how this way of being manifests, and depression certainly is a worthy tagalong for the process. I’ve been here before.

For me, there has been a notable difference between deep clinical depression and the Dark Night experience. Twice in my life I have found myself in deep clinical depression. This is a place from which it seems there is no doorway out. And for some there is no real desire to come out. That’s how it was for me. I had gotten so far away from light that being in the darkness was where I wanted to stay. It felt safer than the alternative. It was pathological and dangerous, and I was quite ill. Thankfully I had the right people, the right support, abundant love and a great doctor to help me find my way back. It took time and after the second episode I made a solemn promise to myself that I’d never go there again and haven’t. This means I have chosen to recognize the symptoms, acknowledge them, and treat them with respect and appropriate measures. I will not go there again.

And yet, depression is part of my make-up as are some other maladies that I routinely acknowledge and accept as part of the deal. Acceptance is the first step in healing. And by healing I don’t mean curing. To me healing is a term that applies to the ethereal body rather than the physical body. And each time I emerge from a state of depression or Dark Night, I emerge healed in some way. This healing brings with it wisdom and peace. I’m looking forward to that.

For now I’m here in my Dark Night/Depression cocktail. This condition does not respond to platitudes and slogans. How did I arrive here? It’s a long laundry list of circumstances that brought me, beginning about three years ago when my father passed away, followed by a series of circumstances that lined up one after the other and simply didn’t allow me the “luxury” of a full blown breakdown. Instead we installed the “keep going” program to get through it all, putting any sort of breakdown at the bottom of the “To Do” list. One platitude that I will coin here is this: “What you resist persists”, hence the Dark Night of the Soul experience makes it way into the picture and voila, we stop and the spiral takes hold. It feels in some ways like a Law of the Universe. Sooner or later we must stop and be there, wherever “there” is, which will be unique for each person. I am “there”.

The good news about a Dark Night experience, and my present combo plate is that, primarily, I have a support system that is impeccable. I have my best friend and Love who understands and supports unconditionally; I have exemplary medical care that incorporates all manner of healing modalities; I have close family and trusted friends who understand my process and see me and my unique process; and I accept that the process is unfolding in its time and I am allowing the time and space for it do so. The dichotomy here is that this is both the hard part and the easy part. Hard because it’s lonely in here and I feel disconnected from pretty much everything. Easy, because there is nothing else for me to do but surrender to the process. Some days I can go through the motions. Some days not. But, life goes on and my heart still beats, I breathe, I live. I am grateful. History has shown that the light does return and with it comes insight, wisdom, and transformation.

In closing I offer another quote from themystic.org: “You, in passing successfully through the dark night, enter the realms of higher consciousness. You’ve been cleansed of the most deep-rooted sickness: your ignorance of your true nature and your inadequate, often totally wrong opinion of who you are. You now cease your inner conflict and abide serenely in your true nature. The night is over. The dawn of a new life in higher consciousness transforms your bleak life of the past few months into one with a heavenly nature. You have been delivered of the intolerable bondage to ego. Henceforth, you will walk the earth seeing others afresh, living a new life, and abiding in your true nature. You have become a son or daughter of higher consciousness. Now your words and actions will be attuned with your true self. Now you express inspiration and comfort.
The dark night has passed. It is over.”

My hope is that discussions about mental health, the challenges of depression, and The Dark Night of the Soul will increase so that care becomes easily available and consciousness is raised. We are all on the Path in one way or another and when we meet we can honor each other’s trials and triumphs with a deeper understanding.
In the meantime I remain in my cocoon until such time as I emerge with my wings extended fully and I fly once again.
Peace and blessings. ~ FD

The In-Crowd and The Periphery Queen

left out = umbrellasI have vivid memories of those painful adolescent years when being in with the “in” crowd was the highest aspiration of everyone in school. You know, the “cool kids” – always surrounded by a little collective of admirers. The kids whose friends were also cool kids, usually the ones with the good grades, teacher’s pets, cheerleaders, athletes, class officers, in all the important clubs, at all the games, asked to dance – getting my drift? Oh how I wanted to be one of them. And oh how I tried, and failed, to be accepted into their midst. Oh yeah, every once in a while we might talk in the hallway or connect over homework or some odd thing we had in common. But those were rare moments and, like in the movie “The Breakfast Club”, back in the daily grind I wasn’t really anyone that mattered in their very special and privileged world.

That phenomenon followed me all the way through High School. I hated High School for the most part. I was bored with most of my classes, with the exception of music, art, and, when the teacher was really good, English. I was one of those kids who knew lots of people, but didn’t really belong anywhere. I had one or two people I hung with, but they were always attached more strongly to one group or another and when push came to shove, I got shoved. I was shy and uncomfortable; not terribly confident; and trying hard to figure out who the hell I was. Not fun for a young girl trying to know herself.

I was so happy when I graduated and got away from the personalities that seemed to reinforce how unappealing I thought I was. I went off to The Fashion Institute of Technology and found some other escapees who felt liberated from their former high school pigeonholes. We hung together for dear life and gave each other solace. Those liaisons lasted a while, until new little groups began to form and some of my newfound pigeons flew the coop. Suddenly I was living the same bad dream I’d had in high school. I knew lots of people, but the cool kids had attached themselves to each other and I was once again on the periphery. The pattern continued.

I left school and went to work. More liberation! I had grown some, had some experiences under my belt and felt a little (only a little) more confident. I met a lot of people from many different backgrounds and began to see my world expanding. I worked in a large company and found some like-minded people to hang with. We had music, clothes, and righteous indignation in common and we had fun together. UNTIL…enter the divisive “groups”. And, over time I found myself on the periphery once again.

Fast-forward about 40 years and here I sit making a really important and informed observation. I am the “Periphery Queen”. And more importantly, I like it. I’ve found that the more I try to “fit in” the less the likelihood that I will. Why? Simple. I’m not a “fitter-inner” and I have found that being part of any group, while for a bit feels good and secure and welcoming, usually means that I need to compromise something that isn’t worth compromising. It also means that I’m part of something that somehow is excluding someone else and that is exactly the energy that has made me feel so lonely and left out all these years. I finally know that I need to be authentically myself, which often means that I simply won’t fully fit into whatever group has formed around some topic, theme, effort, or program. I inevitably will find myself on the periphery, watching and observing while I do my own thing to support whatever effort I’ve chosen to work with. Yes, sometimes it gets lonely and I might feel left out from time to time. And, when that happens I try to work with the feelings that come up and remind myself that I’m OK being the Periphery Queen because I have chosen it in order to keep myself grounded in my integrity and authenticity rather than jump in up to my neck so that I can be part of the “in-crowd”. It’s a choice I’ve made. I love choices.

~ FD
1/31/16