Category Archives: Bringing in the body

Are you ready?

Fall is here.  School is underway.

Are you ready?

Are you ready?

And now our own school (RE) at Unity has begun.  In teacher training this fall KP challenged us to bring our passions to our practice of teaching; to practice meeting the passions of our children, to risk being undone.  A beautiful and sober invitation as we begin the year.  At it’s heart we are called to prepare ourselves to be fully alive and fully in relationship to ourselves and the children we companion and witness in our classes.  It is to be ready to be lit up like our flaming chalice.  We are called to be present in kindness and generosity whether we judge our class successful or wanting.  And there is always something to learn.

This Sunday we learned to “get ready” in our class.  We get ready as we begin by sitting criss cross apple sauce with our hands in our lap.  We quiet our minds and our voices and our bodies so that we can listen.  We practiced this in my class several times when the attention of the children began to wander.  I practiced it myself as I realized a piece of ritual I missed or did out of order, remembering for myself and my class that we are all learning Spirit Play together.
Part of the philosophy of Spirit Play is to use whatever comes up as an opportunity for us to learn in community and this is something that I sometimes am not quite ready for.  This week we had one child who wanted to play at the sand table instead of sitting on the rug or with the door teacher.  I invited him to sit a few times, but he did not accept my invitation.  After a few attempts I brought my attention back to our circle and let the moment be what it was.  We began our circle and one child heard the scraping of a tool scooping sand against the bottom of the table and spoke up to say she was distracted.  I listened and suggested we all get ready again and focus our attention on what was happening in our circle.  We moved on with class and a second child raised her voice to say that the sound of the sand table was distracting.  I also listened to this comment and reflected back to her that it was hard to listen with that noise and then I kept going with class.  I recognize in myself my desire to smoothly lead our class ritual and my loss at what to do after having extended an invitation that wasn’t accepted.  As I play it back in my head, I wish I would have let our community of children voice their distraction and offered it as another invitation into the circle.  Or to have started a conversation that might include the question, “What would help you come into our circle?”  I wanted to model acceptance and kindness, which maybe felt more accepting to the sand scraping then to the children asking for help to not be distracted in the circle.  I maybe forgot that we all have a place and a voice, and part of what church is, is to navigate that in community and in love.  If I had gone this imaginary route, maybe we would have all come to awareness that our friend at the sand table arrived at class needing to go to the bathroom which was making him uncomfortable.  Instead, as we went on with our circle, he had an accident and then happily joined us on the rug after he was relieved and clean.  There are many ways to get ready.
So, how do you get ready?  In what ways are you quieting your mind, heart and body in order to listen to the moment?  Are you showing up to class having met the needs of your body and soul?  Are you receptive and open to the unexpected lessons that emerge in this room every week?
Come, let us wonder together.

I Would be Fed

After traveling and Easter and spring break, I was back in my classroom this week.  Our story was the “Life Cycle of the Human Being”.  We looked at pictures of people in different stages of life and thought about how we weren’t two any more.  All of us are much older than that now!  We talked about all the many things we can do now that we couldn’t do when we were two.  It’s a lot of things, even for those of us who are only three.

2016-04-21 14.08.50After our story we took time as we always do, to wonder together.  We always ask, “If you were something or someone in this story, who or what would you be?”  One of my children answered that she would be the person being fed.  I had to clarify because part of the life cycle lesson is a baby being fed and completing the cycle by showing an elderly person being fed.  “Which person being fed are you?  The old person or the baby?”  “Both”, she said.

This answer struck me.  Probably it caught my attention because I tend to be the person feeding and not the person being fed.  That was even part of the focus of the lesson.  We can do so much as we grow.  We can keep learning and our hearts can keep growing even when our bodies reach their full height and start shrinking again.  We can do.  We can grow.  I like being a do-er of many things.  I like being the leader.  I like imagining and sharing a new way.  I like growing in my thoughts and growing in compassion as I age.

So, even though I firmly believe in the value of simply being, of simply breathing, I have to admit that it’s very difficult for me to be graceful about being fed.  I am ok at exchange.  I am ok with mutuality.  I can open to receiving most of the time if I know there will be an opportunity to give back or if I have already given something first.  The pictures we witnessed together were of being fed.  Not just someone else setting dinner in front of me which they have prepared with their love and effort, but a human with a spoon in their mouth that they weren’t holding themselves.  I do not desire to be the person being fed.

It makes me a little uncomfortable to think of myself in a position where I cannot manage to get a spoon to my own mouth.  It makes me uncomfortable to think about someone sitting in front of me, loving or indifferent, feeding me.  And this discomfort is not just about the idea of physically being fed, although receiving that with grace must be a challenging practice for those who experience it.  This way of being for me is also spiritual.  It’s difficult for me to be vulnerable and admit that kind of need.  I like leading the group and asking the questions.  I like opening the space, observing and going inward.  And there are spaces in my life where I share deeply and those are a refuge.  However, I don’t often experience the kind of spiritual need that would require the equivalent of someone lifting a spoon to my soul.

I am going through significant transition in my life right now and it has highlighted to me the ways in which I struggle to stay steady, to be confident, to be unafraid and to show that face to my own self and others.  It’s hard to allow feelings of fear and doubt and anxiety to surface.  They sometimes do.  They come when someone asks a compassionate question about how I’m doing.  They come when all that emotion gets so stuck in my body that I’m in physical pain.  But I’m having a hard time welcoming my own feelings of helplessness and despair and brokenness.  When I was two, I could just cry and release every difficult feeling and the adults who loved me would hold and comfort me.  When I was two I could ask for help for everything.  These things seem to be much more difficult as an adult.  So I find that I need to keep doing my work.  I need to continue letting my children teach me what it means to surrender.  I need to remember the love inherent in the Universe that makes it ok to know when despair needs expression and company.  And I need to open, not just to giving kindness to others when they are in need, but to receiving it when I have nothing to give or am overwhelmed by the feelings that seem much bigger than me.

Who or what are you in this story?  Are you the one being fed?


I Might be Ice

Life Cycle/Water CycleLast week in our Spirit Play class things started a little haphazardly.  I was running late for one and my teacher friends were running even later than me.  There was a little chaos as we gathered in the hallway together and then moved into the classroom in a big bunch to sit on the rug.  Somehow everyone decided to sit in one corner instead of on their square.  Name tags were missing.  None of us were “ready” to begin class.  Someone brought over a book.  Someone wanted to sit on my lap.

One persistent child has been asking for weeks if we would please talk about death today.  I have been telling her that in some way, all stories of change are stories about life and death, but she did not want to deal with metaphor.  She wanted to talk, straight up, about death.  This was our second week of life cycle stories so I assured her that yes, we would talk about frogs today…and death.   Before I could get us organized, another child piped up and wistfully said that she really wished she was Jesus so when she gets dead, she will come alive again.  And that’s all it took.  The conversation was out of the mouth.  Someone chimed in that they know that, yes, all things do die.  Someone else wondered what happens after someone dies.  Another child said that things die, but maybe not her.  Yet another child insisted that their mother told her that everything else might die, but not her.  I smiled amused and echoed that yes, everything does die.  That’s true.  And then, someone wondered what we would be when we came back.  Would we be ice?

Now this question captured me.  A few years ago when our cat was killed, my son asked to hear stories about kids who had died and come back.  I did a lot of research on near death experiences and so that reading entered my mind at the thought of coming back after death.  When I talk to my kids about death and they ask this question about coming back we trace the mystery….no one knows, but some people think we are just gone when we die, others think we come back again maybe in a new life.  But ice?  I had never thought of coming back as ice.  So we thought about it together.

“Maybe” I said.  The more I thought about it, the more it seemed to me likely that we are indeed ice at some point in our lives and after our deaths.  “Did you know”, I said “that your body is mostly made of water?  Actually, if you live in St. Paul and drink water from the sink, most of your body is made out of the Mississippi River.”  The room exploded with exclamations.  “No!  We aren’t the river!  What?!”  “Yes”, I said “We are the river and that water moves through our bodies all the time.  Was there ice on the river this winter?”  The children said yes there was ice on the river.  “Then it’s probably a sure thing that some of the water that has made your body was ice before it was part of you and will be ice again after you die.”  Again, loud exclamations erupted.  “No way!  That can’t be true!  I don’t believe that!”  It was a delightful exploration that ended as we found our way to our squares marveling at the amazing things that were just said.

This reflection has sat with me this week.  I often contemplate breath in my own practice.  The breath is a transient part of our body and aliveness.  We share the breath with all things breathing that have ever lived on our planet.  The words for spirit and breath are the same in many languages and the action and metaphor of the breath can hold deep meanings for our reflection….but water.  I don’t think of myself often as a water cycle, but I am.  Water is coming and going through me all the time.  It is a resource that is finite on our planet and shared among all living things.  The water was yesterday part of the river and today is nourishing me and then will move back into the river, be evaporated into the sky, fall as rain on a pond and nourish the frog and the fish and the plants.  It makes me wonder as much as meditation on the breath, where my edges are?  If I am water am I everywhere at once?  Am I the oceans?  Am I the clouds?  Who am I to feel separate and alone if we are all one wave together or one fog or one sheet of ice?  What an interesting version of eternal life.  How do I care for the water in me, for the water of our planet so it is pure and healthy and not degraded and fouled?  How do I honor the connection between us that is so much more than the difference?  I am contemplating this as I drink in the Mississippi River, as I walk in the rain and look for the greening of spring, as I look into your eyes.

Moving in Moving Out

Today I joined a group of women to walk an indoor labyrinth in silence.  I love community labyrinth walks.

Grow Soul Labyrinth

Grow Soul Labyrinth

Not only do you experience the twists of the path itself and it’s movement towards and away from the center, but you also meet fellow travelers, move with them, walk away from them and meet them again.  The moving bodies were a dance, were thresholds and doorways, were eyes filled with love and compassion, strangers or angels coming into presence with me.  The form of the labyrinth itself is truth that I am trying over and over to remember.  We are not lost.  We move in.  We move out.  We move in toward the center of the path, toward the center of our breath, toward the center of love and then back out as we lose our balance, step aside for another, get blurred in the lines and go back the way we came.

This week the darkness has been thick, has left me blinking and reminding myself to breathe.  The darkness has felt reassuring, then terrifying, then peaceful then empty.  I know that there are beautiful things hiding in the darkness.  I know that to sit there I need more than what I know or see.  The next moment is impenetrable.  The next moment may be a cliff edge or a warm bed of leaves in a safe place.  The next moment will change everything whether we notice or not.  The next moment will change everything.  It always does.

So tonight I am sitting in the dark, but not alone.  This transformation is only possible because of love;  because I am held in love, because I reach out, because I open myself when another’s hands find mine groping for something to hold on to.  This is the death I chose, holding hands in the dark with you, with the Universe.  I know that I cannot get lost.  I know that I am not alone.  I am moving in.  I am moving out.

Do I Know You?

Today I had the lovely opportunity to meet a new person who does incredible artistic work.  She obviously pours her soul- her whole self- into her work and the work pours itself back into her, a mutually sustaining practice.

Labyrinth- Holding on and Letting go

Labyrinth- Holding on and Letting go

I find that the more I engage my own soul purpose, more of these people appear in my path.  They inspire me, help me and show me that the life I can’t quite dream up for myself is indeed possible.  I find myself feeling recognition when I meet a soul which has found it’s beautiful and unique expression.  For Marilyn, who I met today, her healing, her medicine, her work is creating Labyrinths.  She spread several out on her floor.  She had gorgeous paper paintings on the wall with beautiful designs.  One of them was a butterfly pattern in a circle of blue and white.  The circle border was the path leading into the contour of the wings.  She stood reverently before this painting, arms upraised tracing various configurations as she moved in, out and around the design.  It was beautiful and sacred to watch her.  It was like dance and worship and beauty reflecting beauty.

As I sit remembering, I am savoring the experience of simply being present with someone as they speak and dream and share about a pursuit which captures them and brings them deeper down into its mystery and our own mystery.  I appreciated her dreaming and scheming and listening as we looked at a design I hoped to incorporate.  I could see and feel the creative spirit moving through her.  She had me walk a new design that was a long rectangle so it could be used in a hallway.  At the end/center of the path, she had drawn concentric arches that invited one into a threshold instead of an ending.  Standing in the several thresholds of that path, I was moved to say, “yes” with every step to remind me that I am choosing to walk into the center of everything.  I am choosing my own dying, my own birth.  And we had opportunity to sit in some silence, a gift for her she said.  The silence is rich.  It is one more threshold.

So tonight I am grateful.  I am grateful to see the Beloved, the Divine Friend in the eyes and the art and the work of another.  I am grateful that my own reflection in their presence brings me into my own holy center, from where my love and my art and my work emerge.  I am not only grateful to Marilyn, but also to the many many countless people who have gifted me with their deep selves.  Some of them have shared their work, their story, some a simple gaze that speaks more profoundly than anything.  We are present here together in this beautiful, difficult, wonderful and amazing world.  We are gifts for one another.  I thank the Universe to be witness to such unfolding Light as it is constantly born among us.  I thank the Love beyond all Love that I can look around and meet so many eyes and think, “Oh yes, I know you.  I recognize you.”

Fists full of Blessings

Last week in my Spirit Play class, one of the children was working with the Celebration of New Lives story.

Blessed by Earth and Water

Blessed by Earth and Water

This has been a popular story to work with in our class.  The baby dolls in the story have been amply blessed with water and dirt making some fantastically muddy babies.  The blessing by beauty takes place with a rose that is gently stroked down the baby’s cheek in our church’s ritual.  We have enough artificial flowers for all the children in our room and I observed this child as she held big bunches of those flowers gripped in each hand and vigorously blessed the doll she was working with.  She blessed the doll so enthusiastically she literally swept it across the floor with her flower bunches.  It rolled over and over being tumbled and swept away by beauty.

I wondered about this encounter with beauty.  Are there ever times when I am that moved by something beautiful?  Would an encounter like that be profoundly disorienting?  Would I want to encounter a blessing like that?  I have also lately been thinking about where in my own journey I am a little too serious and could use a little humor.  Well placed humor can completely change the energy of a tense or sad situation sometimes allowing us to move through those emotions with a little more ease.  So I wondered again what this kind of encounter with beauty might look and feel like.  I remember as a child being in the bright sun and rolling down grassy hills.  The feeling of spinning and rolling and getting faster until I either rolled to the bottom or flung my arms out wide to stop myself.  I remember laughing and being dizzy and enjoying that feeling of, well, of disorientation I suppose.  Not something I tend to enjoy as an adult.  But I imagined that if I was the baby being swept by flowers, that the flowers may even tickle and it might be a great delight to be surrounded by the scent and softness of petals.  I might find it enjoyable to be rolled along.  I might laugh.

I thought about the blessings of that moment in class.  I am grateful to have had the presence to observe this play without getting distracted by the mess of the earth and water blessing.  I am glad I did not try to shut down the active blessing with the flowers.  I could simply delight in the moment and ponder it.  That’s spiritual growth for me!  I also thought about those astounding blessings we receive in our lives like close friends, the kindness of another when we feel alone, the gift of self acceptance and compassion; some are so generous and profound that we hardly have words to articulate our gratitude or their importance to us.  In that profound and ordinary moments where words can fail, maybe laughter is the only adequate response to our blessings.

Beginning again- yes to life

Beach Art

Beach Art

So what to do when you realize that you aren’t so great at compassion…in fact that you have a big problem choosing to drink when you are thirsty?  Since I am someone who wants to be better at choosing love and life, I sat with my Spiritual Director and subsequently with my journal to try to listen to the message my body was trying to send me.  The choice not to drink, to not meet the need of my body was not just a matter of making sure I had my water bottle with me or filling my cup at meals and not leaving till I finished.  This was a harmful habit.  When I wrote about it, the voice in my head revealed a familiar script.  “You can have water later.  Right now you need to get something done.  If you do this next thing, then you can have the water.”  And then, “Great job getting that done, but it wasn’t really that hard and there is much more to do.  After this next task, then, maybe if there is time, you can have the water.”  Except I never gave myself the water.  Sub in whatever life giving experience or nourishment you want.  When you can’t choose to at least occasionally give yourself something good,  there is a big problem.

So I found myself thinking about what I wanted to choose and I realized that in many places I was carrying around old pain and I felt ready to set it down.  I wanted to open my hands to joy instead of clinging to old bad habits.  I returned to my regular yoga practice with a wise teacher.  I made my way back to a place where I had worked specifically on this water issue before.

I had been to see a healer/shaman/Chinese Medicine person when I was ready to get pregnant with my second child.  I had seen him till I became pregnant and then went on my way.  The thing is, the space he worked in had totally intrigued me.  I came in fairly soon after we started working together saying I realized that I hadn’t been in a healing space before quite like this.  In my experience of western medicine, practitioners will touch you anywhere, but not talk to you about your experience/feelings/soul and you can go to therapy to talk, but they won’t really touch you.  My healer would do dream work and body work with me as I explored and moved toward opening to receive another baby.  It was a profoundly whole space and when I became pregnant, I left reluctantly.  I felt like I was on the verge of learning something that I really needed to know.

When I returned to my healer, I did have a tight shoulder that wouldn’t release for weeks, but really I went back to finish learning wholeness and to let go of old pain so I could be open to joy.  This sounds great, and it was, but any time we make a choice like this…if we are serious about doing our work, we have no idea what we’re in for.  When you say yes to Life, sometimes what it demands back from you is death the of something else.  In those first moments of choice I didn’t know what I was asking for.  I just wanted to find some internal kindness, to drink freely.  What do you say yes to?  When have you said yes and it took you out beyond what you could imagine?  As you look back on your own journey, what yes sparked you to set out into this path?

In the beginning- there was yes


Where we might begin a story is a moving target.  Did it start with a particular moment?  And what moments led to that moment?  How does one decide where to locate the beginning or tell the story of the journey; the arrival at the next journey?  Does one start with the feeling of the new, or the small ending that gave rise to that feeling?  Or is there a way to speak at all what we know or who we are as the infinite present moment that is all of existence?  I suppose this is the unending quest of the seeker, to place this moment in all moments and yet, to trace the journey and it’s infinite complexity and unfolding.  The beginning I am thinking of tonight is a moment that lives in this moment and brought me traveling here instead of someplace else.  I was tired.  It seems the past 4 years have just been that.  This particular weekend, I was spent.  I was past my edge and the message that I engaged in was around compassion.  I felt like I was a thoughtful student of compassion.  I took a small inventory and felt I had it  mostly covered.  And as I listened to the speaker, I noticed I was thirsty.  We had been specifically instructed to take care of our physical needs…even if it meant getting up in the middle of a speaker and I sat there.  I looked around and located the hospitality table.  I sat there.  I checked my watch.  I sat there.  And when break came, I went on my way to my next workshop.  I didn’t get a drink.

And then there was the dream.  “She comes home and finds that he has joined the military.  He says he needs to take his fitness goals seriously.  She is enraged and confused.  Will she have to move?  Will he have to go to war?  Is there any way out of it?”  My shoulder was clenched tight for weeks and wouldn’t release.  I believe it was threatening me with military action if I couldn’t pay attention to my self compassion.  Oh.

It was time.  It was a moment of letting go.  It was a moment of decision to choose something better and more beautiful.  The yes, one of the yeses began there.  Yes I hear you.  Yes I will care for you.  Yes, I will get a drink.  I will choose life over death.  But it hasn’t stopped.  Since then I’ve had to make this a practice.  When I said yes to that, over and over,  I opened the door to a kind of fantastical chaos that is billowing through my life turning everything over.  The in-breaking of Spirit is always disruptive….and profoundly alive.  Yes.  Yes to Life.