Cissy Brady-Rogers
Cissy Brady-Rogers Cissy Brady-Rogers Cissy Brady-Rogers

Tag: listen to your life

I posted a Mary Oliver inspired Sabbath painting on Instagram recently, along with the first line of her poem “Thirst” and my comment “Thanks be to God for grace that does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.” Quite a few friends “liked” it along with several “Amen” comments and a “Thanks. I needed that today.”

Mary Oliver Inspired

Mary Oliver Inspired

One social media friend responded “I wake with a thirst for the goodness I have!” followed by a party hat emoji. Something about that struck my heart. It evoked my curiosity about the distinction between the goodness we have just by being “good” human beings with positive attitudes and the goodness we do not have.

Ordinary human goodness has to do with reliability, competence, strength, behavior, thoroughness, morality, enjoyment, attractiveness, freshness, worthiness, desirability, promise and so on. We say things like:

“He’s a good person.”

“She’s good looking.”

“It was a good party.”

But what is the goodness we do not have and why does it matter?

It is the goodness of a world where we love our neighbors as ourselves, where every child has clean water, nutritious food, access to health care and education. It’s the goodness of an earth that isn’t being destroyed by toxins and depleted of resources because of greed. It’s the goodness of communities where women receive equal access to education and hold equal earning power to men. It’s the goodness of nations where all lives matter and no one is pulled over by law enforcement just because of the color of their skin.

It matters because many people wake up each morning unable to find any goodness within them or around them. Depression, anxiety, abuse, neglect, trauma, addiction, poverty, violence and the social injustice that underlies much human suffering are among the afflictions that leave some of us to wake thirsting for goodness we do not have. Like dear Mary Oliver,  who suffered a painful childhood, we too long for something more than merely human goodness.

Mary Oliver became a Pulitzer Prize winner and was declared by the NY Times “far and away, this country’s best-selling poet.” I don’t think it was her thirst for the goodness she already had that nourished her creative capacity.  As author and teacher Pat Schneider writes in How the Light Gets In: writing as a spiritual practice, by naming “the bottom of the night within myself…I can begin to understand the darkness of the world” (my paraphrase). I suspect Mary Oliver cultivated her remarkable capacity to hold the tension of the dark and the light by working with her shadow – the goodness she does not have. She is beloved not because she paints the world with a rosy hue, but because she lives in the in-between of the goodness that is and that which is not yet. And that’s the place most of us live – in that tension between owning all that is good, true, beautiful and worthy about us and acknowledging how far short we fall.

I went to mass this morning at my neighborhood Catholic church. I watched a long line of the ordinary “good” people process up for Eucharist, their humble acknowledgement of thirst for the goodness they do not have.  A simple but powerful receptivity to the grace that does for us and through us what we cannot do ourselves.

I am grateful for the goodness I have. But I’m even more grateful for the grace that enables me to acknowledge the goodness I have, forgive the goodness I lack and live with the tensions and sufferings of a world where we do not love as we ought!

“Another morning and I wake with thirst for the goodness I do not have.”

Thanks be to God.

 

The helping professionals I train in self-care often have long-standing patterns of accommodating, people pleasing and over-extending themselves to the point of burnout. I equip them with skills and information and help them create personalized self-care plans to support optimal health.

But life-long relational dynamics frequently sabotage self-care efforts. We know what we want to do, make a short-lived success at it, but then get pulled off track and back into self-neglect.

Adam Grant’s book Give and Take: Why Helping others Drives our Success took my understanding of the costs and rewards of giving to a new level. His identification of three types of reciprocity styles–givers, matchers and takers–gave me a conceptual framework for thinking about how to work with myself and other helpers who are blessed and cursed with the “giver” style.

A Revolutionary Approach to Success

A Revolutionary Approach to Success

Takers strive to get as much as possible from others–it’s all about them!

– Matchers seek to give evenly with others–tit-for-tat!

– Givers contribute to others without expecting anything back!

Interestingly, givers are both the champs and chumps when it comes to professional success. When we make others better off at our own expense we end up at the bottom of the success ladder. “It appears that givers are just too caring, too trusting, and too willing to sacrifice their own interests for the benefit of others.” But when we learn what Grant calls the skill of “sincerity screening” we can create value for ourselves while maximizing opportunities to give to others.

Sincerity screening involves learning “to distinguish genuine givers from takers and fakers. Successful givers need to know who’s likely to manipulate them so that they can protect themselves.” To learn more about assessing motivations check out Adam’s presentation at Google.

Give and Take is full of research and examples of the many factors involved in assessing reciprocity styles. Illustrations from business, education, sports and health professions along with fascinating studies of corporate dynamics makes the book entertaining as well as information.

My reading in Henri Nouwen’s The Inner Voice of Love this morning brought spiritual insight about how to give without burning out:

When you get exhausted, frustrated, over-whelmed or run down, your body is saying that you are doing things that are none of your business. God does not require of you what is beyond your ability, what leads you away from God, or what makes you depressed or sad.

I want to follow Jesus’ revolutionary call to “give to everyone who asks…”  I don’t know what Jesus would have said about giving to the takers and fakers. I suspect it’s related to what he said to the Scribes and Pharisees about the dangers of hypocrisy. It’s a matter of discernment that I’ll continue to ponder and pray over as I seek to give to those who ask as I do what is within my ability to do.

I give thanks in advance for the good that will come as I listen to the inner voice of love and deepen my understanding of how to identify the takers and fakers who aren’t operating from the same value system.

In 2007 I began offering retreats, workshops and groups for women struggling to live in harmonious relationship with their bodies. Topics have included: dieting, fitness, health, beauty, perfectionism, sexuality, stress, mind-body connection, compassion, self-care and mindful awareness–just to name a few.

Sharon Song was an early adopter of the alive and well way. What began when she attended a Christ-centered yoga class back in 2007 has evolved into a shared mission to help women heal shame-based relationships with our bodies so we can love and enjoy being in our bodies, just as we are!

AWW VisionIf you relate to Sharon’s story, please visit our Alive and Well Women Facebook page.  We’d love to have you join us in creating communities where women can be ourselves, unconstrained by other people’s agendas for our lives.

Sharon Song

Sharon Song

Over-caffeinated, over-sugared, over-stressed and over-committed is how Sharon once described herself. She was on the verge of burnout and completely disconnected from what her body really needed.

“Alive and Well helped me learn to listen to my body–especially the stress that was telling me I needed better self-care. I learned that loving and caring for myself is a way to connect to God’s love for me.”

Sharon lives and works in South Los Angeles with an urban ministry community. Inspired by her own transformation, Sharon became a certified fitness trainer and is training to be a spiritual director. She’s committed to using what she’s learned to support others in living healthy, sustainable, urban spiritual lives.

For more from Sharon, please visit her blog “Live Move Be in the city” – a journey of South Los Angeles urban life. Featuring the Sonshine Shop thrift store and vintage items. Explorations on faith, fitness, fashion, food, fun, and more.

Today hasn’t gone according to schedule. At only 9:30 this morning it was already “one of those days…”

I’m grateful the wise reminders from Eveyln Underhill and my friend Stephanie that came to me before the day started going sideways.

In her Lent devotional, Evelyn reminded me that Saint Paul did not say that the Spirit of God would bring forth qualities of productivity, organization, effectiveness or success. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. These hallmarks of spiritual maturity may at times manifest in productivity, efficiency, etc., but can’t take primacy over love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. The energy of the fruit of the Spirit may fuel my capacity for effectiveness and successful completion of my tasks for the day. But sacrificing peace and patience in order to “get things done” isn’t worth it!

Soul School with Stephanie

Soul School with Stephanie

My friend Stephanie Jenkin’s blog about her journey with infertility in today’s Monk in the World guest post reminds me of what I most value. She writes:

As a monk in the world, I am called to live authentically into who I am at the core. Infertility stripped off the false pretense of perfectionism and control and made me see that Love is bigger.  And I am called to choose Love each day. I am called to strip off the demands, the deadlines, the pressure to perform and conform. I am called to live in to and out of my heart.

My sacred symbols have become the feather and the leaf. Whether I am flying like the feather or falling like the leaf, I am surrendered to God who is greater than I.

I am loved. I am Beloved. That is more than enough. It is in this great Love that I am naked and unashamed.

For the rest of her story, please visit the Abbey of the Arts.

Thanks for taking me to soul school this morning Stephanie. I am loved. I am Beloved. That is enough!

Amen!

Your capacity to remind me of who I am and what is most important is a precious gift. You are a blessing to me and all who know you.

 

Lent commemorates the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert fasting, praying and being tempted by Satan with what my former pastor Darrell Johnson calls “the world’s trinity” – power, possessions and control. As one New Testament author wrote: Because he suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those being tempted. That’s the good news we enter Lent with: we aren’t alone in our struggles. God gets it. Lent is a time to reflect on our lives, acknowledge temptations to be conformed to the culture around us and take stock of our investments.

In our media-saturated, often too busy lifestyles, many people, things and opportunities invite attention. The internet is a vast network of lanes going an infinite number of places. Thanks to technology we don’t even need to leave home to engage with hundreds of people and travel the world.

Every day I delete dozens of emails from retailers and service providers I subscribe to and organizations I value. I’d love to investigate the new brain book that Amazon recommends or the workshop offered by the Center for Non-Violent Communication. But to do so takes me on detours that eat up time, energy and, potentially, money. I delete 90% of what enters my in-box, but don’t unsubscribe because I think “Someday, I might want to go down that path…”

I like to keep my options open.

Cissy, Marva, Kathy and Diane

Cissy, Marva, Kathy and Diane

But, as my prayer partner Marva’s dad so wisely counseled her on many occasions, I need to stay in my own lane!

When Marva came home, complaining about some person or circumstance over which she had no control, he’d say “Marva, you’ve just got to learn to stay in your own lane.”

For Lent, I’m choosing to practice staying in my own lane!

When I find myself tempted to open a superfluous email or click on a link to who-knows-where, I’m going to take a deep breath and stay in my own lane.

When I am on the road and become frustrated with how others choose to drive, I’m going to take a deep breath and stay in my own lane.

When I feel irritated because my husband left crumbs on the counter, I’m going to take a deep breath and stay in my own lane.

A deep inhale, followed by a long, slow, pursed lip exhale, activates the calming system of my body and brings me back to center. It’s a quick way to down shift my nervous system when it starts to amp up in response to the excitements and aggravations of life. It’s a powerful tool to bring my attention back to myself, let go of what I can’t control and change what I can–my own response.

I know I will fall short. I’ll probably veer into  Dave’s lane at least once by the time we go to bed tonight.

Thanks be to God that in Christ, I am already forgiven. And that’s exactly what makes Lent possible–I can reflect on how far short I fall because I walk into my darkness with Christ at my side. Before me, behind me, to my left, to my right, over and under, all around me. Nothing can separate me from God’s love. He’s in my lane with me, ready to help me bring my attention back where it belongs.

That’s Great News for this driver!

 

 

This is old news that our instant gratification conditioned culture doesn’t want to hear. So here’s the reminder as we begin 2015:

DIETS DON’T WORK!

When I first saw this Daily Beast article, I was hesitant to re-post on Facebook. I prefer to encourage rather than discourage. The negative spin of the headline “Why Your New Year’s Diet Will Fail” activated my resistance to generalizations and absolutes. But, truth is truth. All the research indicates that most often, diets offer temporary weight loss at best and in many cases contribute to increased metabolic efficiency — they train your fat cells to hold on tighter to that stored energy you’re trying to get rid of!

DIET = SLOWER METABOLISM = WEIGHT GAIN

Sure, some people begin their road to better health with a specific diet and eventually transition into permanent lifestyle changes. But they are the exceptions, not the norm.

The diet industry is profiting heavily off our discontent. Recent estimates indicate that in the U.S. alone $20 billion of our hard earned money goes into diets that don’t work. As nutritionist Evelyn Tribole points out, the diet business model uses our culturally induced shame to create a fail proof business model: “It’s the only thing we buy that, when the product fails, we all blame ourselves and then go buy another version.”

So, before you go waste your money on another diet program, I suggest you take time to reflect on the core issues:

How’s your relationship with your body?

– Do you honor your need for 7-9 hours of sleep a night?

– Do you drink plenty of water and stay well hydrated?

– Do you minimize the use of caffeine, alcohol and over-the-counter medications to regulate your energy?

Begin with the basics of self-care so your body will trust that you have your own best interest in mind.

If you aren’t already getting adequate sleep, start with that. Insufficient sleep disrupts the hormone cycles and metabolic functioning that support your body’s optimal energy efficiency.

If you aren’t drinking enough water, start with a commitment to hydration. Most of us need 9-13 cups a day minimum. More in some cases.

And if you’re using “legal” drugs (yes coffee and alcohol are drugs) to compensate for disrupted sleep and energy cycles, begin with getting that part of your energy regulation normalized.

If you’d like support in making these foundational changes in your relationship with your body, I’d love to be of service. Contact me about how health coaching can help you create a more loving relationship with your body that will support positive behavioral changes.

I look forward to journeying with you in 2015 as we love and enjoy living in our good bodies, just as we are.

My senses rejoice in the sights and sounds of this dark, wet morning. Raindrops dripping from naked tree branches, birds chirping as they hop through glistening bushes, white ceiling of clouds softening the rumble and clanking of trash trucks rolling up and down the street.

Christmas at our house

“Around me the trees stir in their leaves and call out, ‘Stay awhile.’ The light flows from their branches.”

Mary Oliver’s images in “When I am Among the Trees” sank deep into me years ago. Her words resurface frequently–reminding me of the unhurried rhythm of God’s grace I long to embody.

“I am so distant from the hope of myself, in which I have goodness, and discernment, and never hurry through the world…”

Trees, bushes and birds instinctively follow their own rhythm. Unlike me, they live in alignment with their natural  pace and entrust their blossoming to their Creator.

Long a significant symbol for me, I’m surprised to notice we have four trees gracing our living space.

Guests at our annual open house a few weeks ago dressed our ThanksLiving tree with gratitude lists.

ThanksLiving Tree 2014

A living Christmas tree and a rosemary “tree” arrived as gifts from guests. And we carried our baby Christmas tree home from our local nursery on Saturday.

As I move through the busyness of the next ten days I don’t want to forget the message of the trees:

“…You too have come into the world to do this, to easy, be filled with light, and to shine.”

May the unhurried rhythm that comes without effort to the trees, bushes and birds grow in those of us who aspire to entrust our lives to the care of the Light of the world who came to enlighten everyone and empower us to go easy, be filled with light and shine.

For the full text of Mary Oliver’s poem, see her anthology Thirst.

Go easy, be filled with light and shine!

This morning at my conditioning class one of the other students commented that for him exercise was a “necessary evil.” I immediately jumped into my cheerleader mode: “Just imagine how good you’ll feel afterwards.” He was friendly enough but clearly wasn’t buying into my attempt to re-frame of his view of reality.

It got me thinking about the destructive power of habituation and conditioning. We get stuck doing things the way we’ve always done them and  let our limited view of reality and ourselves create attitudes that undermine our efforts before we’ve even begun. We’ve all said things like: “That’s just the way I am…” or “I’m just not a person who…” or “I’ve never liked…” or “I’ve always…”  While there may be valid reasons for viewing exercise as a necessary evil, but it certainly isn’t contributing in a positive way to anyone’s life.

It also got me thinking about what emerging research reveals about identity. Historically Western philosophy, theology and psychology have tended toward a static view of the self: there is an “I” that I am becoming/finding/developing. Freud dubbed this the ego. But post-modern thinking and neuroscience studies on the brain and mind indicate that the “I” that I think I am is not as set in cement as many of us believe.

Circumstances change.

People change.

Change happens.

For many years I’ve struggle with getting things done in an orderly, systematic fashion. I tend to be random, intuitive, spontaneous, sometimes impulsive, and on a bad day tending toward chaotic movement in so many directions that I fall into an emotional tailspin which can end in an meltdown. And that is not a pretty sight. Just ask my poor husband!

Thanks be to God that the scenario has changed over the years. I’ve changed. Through mindful awareness, centering prayer, yoga and other mind-body practices I’m better able to regulate my energy and attention.  I rarely go into tailspins anymore and it’s been a very long time since I had a meltdown. I still tend toward randomness and spontaneity in accomplishing non-appointment related work. In fact this morning my calendar tells me I’m supposed to be clearing out my email in-boxes. But I had an inspiration to write and made an executive decision, spontaneous as seems to be part of my creative capacity, but not impulsive. I evaluated the decision in a mindful manner, aware that the in-box project remains to be tackled.

Consistently exercising the capacity to focus my attention and stay present through these practices has strengthened the connections between the executive brain (at the front of the head behind the forehead) and the emotional and survival centers in the middle and back of the brain. Neuroplasticity is the technical name for the brain’s capacity to develop these new neural pathways that are integral to our capacity for change.

It isn’t as much about my efforts to change as it is about opening to the Spirit of Grace that does for me what I can’t do for myself. It isn’t trying harder, but softening each time I fall short of my ideals and asking for help. Change happens when I am willing to be changed and engage in practices that make myself available to be changed.

Jesus asked a man who’d been an invalid for 38 years if he wanted to get well. The man responded with his static view of himself and his reality, reciting his scenario as to why change wasn’t possible. We all have our versions of this story: “It’s always been this way…”

In another story Jesus met a man whose son had suffered convulsions since childhood. His response to Jesus’ statement that everything is possible for one who believes is one of my favorite prayers: “I do believe, help my unbelief.”

Unbelief is the crack that opens us up to grace. God does for us what we can’t do for ourselves, not because we have 100% belief, but in the midst of our unbelief.

The first question to ask ourselves isn’t “Can I change?” but “Am I willing to be changed?”

Holding onto a static view of ourselves or reality not only is ineffective, it isn’t true! If you’re a person who “hates exercise…” or “doesn’t like to eat…” or “has always eaten…” or “never could imagine yourself….” then you’re in good company. Many of the people Jesus healed were in exactly the same position.

Will you choose to believe, in the midst of your unbelief?

Today I choose to move at a mindful pace in the unhurried rhythm of God’s grace. After posting this blog I’ll get back on schedule with gratitude that degree by degree I am being changed. And while one hoped for change is that I’ll continue to grow in getting things done in a systematic, orderly fashion, I trust that today’s version of that is good enough for today.

What version of who you think you are might you need to let go of in order to have the life your really want?

Are you willing to be changed?

The extra fat living on my belly these days reminds me that in my sphere of reality over consumption is a way of life. While a large percentage of people on planet earth struggle for access to enough, I have too much.

I want to give thanks for the abundance.

I want to be grateful that my refrigerator and pantry are full, that I can drive my car a few miles and purchase mass amounts of consumables or dine on gourmet food at a restaurant where the portions are so large I take some home for the dog.

But this Thanksgiving morning I’m aware that the abundance of my Thanksgiving table, along with the month of consumption ahead, has come to reflect the too muchness of life in the USA. We have so much available that unless we are highly conscious about our choices we will end up consuming too much and storing that excess in our bodies’ remarkably efficient energy storage systems.

I want to be grateful for my body’s amazing capacity to survive potential famine by storing energy as fat.

I want to be grateful that I am so aware of my body that I notice even subtle shifts in my body mass composition.

I want to be grateful that I can take a rigorous walk this morning, get a little sweat going and seek to come into alignment with my body.

I want to be grateful that I no longer regulate my energy intake and output based on external guidelines or fears of weight gain.

I want to be grateful that when I eat our Thanksgiving feast this evening I will savor the love of family and friends around the table as I take in the delicious meal set before us.

But my mind is on those who don’t have enough. On the hungry and the homeless. And, on how ironic it is that many of the homeless and needy I’ve met when volunteering in local soup kitchens are also carrying extra fat on their bellies!

Current research on nutrition and fat storage indicate that the number of calories we eat as well as the quality and types of food we consume contribute to how our bodies metabolize and store energy. Much of the food served to those showing up at soup kitchens are high glycemic carbohydrates (breads, pastas, rice, potatoes, sugar) that increase the likelihood of weight gain in many of us.

I’m not sure what I can do about that today. But expanding my view of reality to consider those who don’t have a home to gather in, a table of their own around which to dine, or loved ones to share it with, gives me perspective that helps me love and enjoy living in my body, just as I am. Because ultimately my life is not measured by my level of fitness or my body mass composition, but by the degree to which I live in loving relationship with myself, my family and friends, my colleagues and acquaintances, my neighbors, as well as the “strangers” around the world who are my brothers and sisters here on planet earth.

For me it comes back to gratitude and living in the tension of celebrating the goodness of life that has come to me as I remember that while all is well in my world, much of the rest of the world suffers.

Today I will seek to savor rather than consume

Today I will seek to listen to my body not just for me, but as a reminder that over consumption of resources doesn’t just impact me and my health, but contributes in a small way to the unequal distribution of resources that leaves many homeless and hungry on this day of Thanksgiving.

It isn’t about guilt for having more than enough. Rather it’s about loving myself and my neighbor enough to pay attention to my consumption so that I don’t carry around more than I really need either in fat stores on my body or otherwise.

This holiday season I am going to work on compassionate consumption. Compassion recognizes suffering with kindness and non-judgement and comes alongside with intention to alleviate that suffering to the degree that I can.

Eating just enough is one way to do that today. And if I choose to eat more than enough, not judging myself for breaking my intention but kindly stopping when I recognize I’ve passed the point of satiation.

As we head into the holiday consumption madness begins tomorrow, may we consider what compassionate consumption might look like in our lives. What presents, decorations and other stuff do we really need? What is enough? What is too much? And how can we take our excess and use it to alleviate suffering in ourselves and others?

How can we choose to let go of our possibility of having it all so that all may have?

Two commentaries on the challenges of being female in the church and in the broader culture came to my attention this week.

Andrea Heinrichs’ blog “What I Would Tell my 12-Year Old Self About Gender Roles” reminded me that in spite of great strides toward egalitarian relationships between women and men through groups like Christians for Biblical Equality, most of the church is still stuck in a binary model that assigns roles, capabilities and value according to gender. Similarly, in the culture-at-large women continue to be underrepresented in leadership roles in government, media and business. On top of all of that, media stereotypes about masculinity (“real men” are tough, stoic and violent) and femininity (“real women” are sex-objects) limit our options for moving beyond the binary model.

I first came across Laci Green when searching for videos for my human sexuality and sex therapy class. She began her public work on gender and sexuality as a sex educator while studying at U.C. Berkley. In her signature irreverently humorous style, her video “Why is Zero a Size Tho?” confronts multiple issues related to women’s embodiment As she points out, “zero means nothing…It suggests that a woman should take up so little space that she actually disappears.” A culture filled with both covert and overt messages that make staying small and taking up as little space as possible severely limit the possibilities for female empowerment.

Finally, I love the way Richard Rohr’s daily mediation this morning reminds me what my faith in Christ says about who I am and what it means to be a real woman or man:

The object and goal of all spirituality is finally the same for all genders: union, divine love, inner aliveness, soul abundance, forgiveness of offenses, and generous service to the neighbor and the world. Here “there is no distinction…between male and female” (Galatians 3:28). Mature Christian spirituality leads us toward such universals and essentials. Yet people invariably divide and argue about non-essentials!”

Amen!